Stephen has been a member of our Kairos permanent housing program for over a year. This February, we sat down to hear his thoughts on Black History Month.
Do you do anything to celebrate Black History Month?
In the past I have – today I don’t. The month is not sufficient enough for Black history – it’s all year long. My focus is more on Black Lives Matter type issues due to the climate of our past administration. There’s been an increase in awareness of Black males being killed by the police. People think it’s new but this has been happening for a large part of our history. Black History Month is not anything significant because every day there is Black History.
Can you tell me more about your thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement?
It all goes back to the first one – the Trayvon Martin incident. Some people look at it as news, but I see it as a sadness. That an individual has to lose his life like that, and then again and again and again. I started to fear for my nephews who are between 18-30. For them, who knows. I remember reading an article about one gentleman who got pulled over by the police and he started to cry and shake out of fear. It affected him so drastically he shook and cried.
The families aren’t talked about as much. They suffer in public – no privacy. Always about a trial, always about video cameras. That angers me because that’s where the focus goes to immediately after the shooting. I see it sensationalized rather than focusing on the sadness of the whole thing. I support the movement. I don’t support violence. Peaceful protesting is fine – if it weren’t for COVID-19 I would have gone to protests likely. It’s too dangerous in more than one aspect right now to protest, but I supported those who did protest on my behalf.
I’m much older, I see things in a different light. It’s like I don’t remember the MLK marches and things like that, but I remember my parents. Their reaction to these news things – their whole demeanor would change. I couldn’t understand it until I got older. The day MLK was shot I couldn’t understand why everyone was crying – my grandmother, mom, aunt. I couldn’t understand then (I was only 3 years old). Now it’s like a repeat in history in a sense. There was a lull for awhile where it looked like things had gotten better, but there’s a strong undercurrent and when that’s exposed here we are again. Those issues were never resolved, they were just hushed over.
It’s not that Black Lives Matter more. All lives matter, but because more black males are being killed than any other ethnic group, it raises the question of why this is happening. I can only imagine what those families felt.
What does America’s future look like to you?
Coming together in a peaceful and calm way where everyone lives together side by side. Welcoming each other and learning each other’s cultures. I’d like to know other people’s culture and to share my own. You can’t look at a person and go by the things you’ve heard, because they could be so wrong. To get it from authentically the person – I would welcome that experience for the future for all of Americans to be able to experience all of our cultures. Our country has come to be a melting pot of collective cultures.
Who is a Black icon who inspires you and why?
I have so many inspirational people. Just recently, the young lady poet laureate who did the speech at Inauguration: Amanda Gorman. I was proud for her, and for her accomplishments, and that she was part of my culture. It made me really proud that she was so young but so wise. That’s who I would choose today because she portrays the future – what we aspire to be as a culture, as Americans, as a country. She’s like a young Maya Angelou.
We’re seeing the finished product being there of her reading the poem, but all the things she may have had to struggle and go through to get there, we won’t know. But I can only imagine it was a challenge.
What does “Black Joy” mean to you?
I haven’t heard that term before, but it would mean the lifting of the burden on our culture. To have that burden lifted and removed – especially from the past behaviors of the country and present behaviors. It’d be like taking off a sweater. Even though it doesn’t weigh a lot, you would notice that you’re lighter. I associate joy with peace.