—Smiling stranger on the street
My father (whose name is Drake, for those of you who prefer to pray with names) has taught me a lot in the way of things one needs to know in order to survive life as a Black man in America. It was from him that I learned what it means to be pulled over by the police. I witnessed it happen to him, and he was wise and insightful enough to explain to my brother and I what had just occurred. That was an important, life-saving lesson.
Another important lesson he taught me was to always acknowledge the other Black folks I see around town. I was to greet those I knew with the highest respect and give them as much time as it takes. For those I don't know, a simple nod, smile, or “Aight, bruh” would do. You see, Black people are so accustomed to being ignored and invisible that a simple acknowledgement—a simple I see you—from a peer goes a long way. Also, Black people carry enough in their days that any lightening of the load is appreciated.
This lesson resonated with me, and I committed to “seeing” every Black person I come across in my daily life. I understood this practice in theory, but perhaps subconsciously believed it to be outdated. Since moving to Portland, Oregon (a city that’s more than three-quarters White), I have come to recognize each Black face as precious, and each opportunity to greet them a blessing.
I'm not sure if the best word to describe the experience is joy or relief, but I can say that it is a sense of remembering that I am not alone. There's an immediate recognition that someone else knows, in a very real way, what my day has been like so far. And, from that recognition comes necessary peace and blessed assurance. Thanks, Dad.
That which is in us, all around us, and which constantly draws us to our holiest selves, thank you for community that can exist beyond the need to know names and faces. At times when it becomes difficult to see the truth, remind me that my struggles are not unique. Remind me that, for the sake of those like me, especially those to come, it is important to keep going and show new ways to love.