I am having a tough time concentrating at work. No I don’t have big plans for the evening nor am I making it a long weekend. I don’t have any out-of-town guests and don’t have any distracting relationships problems keeping me from doing my work. I am having a hard time concentrating because I am a Black man and last weekend a Ferguson, Missouri police officer shot and killed an unarmed teenager that looks just like me. That same police force has put on their riot gear, aligned the streets and is now aiming their guns at outraged community members seeking justice.
This is very upsetting and the reason I am having a hard time concentrating. See, the professional me desires to simply focus in on my work, update students’ enrollment statuses and submit our enrollment report by the end of today. The other me is sad, heartbroken and angry, looking for a way to join the protests and express my discontent with the situation.
For the last few days I have read the reports and followed the feeds on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I have seen pictures, heard the stories, read the comments and it all saddens me. This is not the first death of this kind. I’m not too old to remember when Tyisha Miller was shot and killed while in her car while having a seizure. I remember New Year’s Day 2009 when Oscar Grant was unlawfully detained, shot and then pronounced dead at the hospital. Most have heard the story of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager who was fatally shot in 2012 by George Zimmerman. Just last month Eric Garner died after being placed in a chokehold by a NYPD officer and trust me, this list can go on.
As I sit at my desk I cannot stop thinking about these deaths and the fact that any one of these individuals could have been me. I am a 25 year old Black man who grew up in a low-income community and was raised in a single-parent household where my mother struggled to provide food and shelter for her three kids. I remember the shootings and gang fights. I remember the sirens, police stand-offs and body bags. That was my world and here it is being displayed across the TV screens in a time where the majority of American people think that the problems facing the urban community were resolved with the election of the Nation’s first Black President. What many don’t realize in the situation America’s most disadvantaged now face may be worse than in past decades. Racism and discrimination has went from overt to covert. Some would argue that the two have been systemically supported by federal, state and local laws, policies and practices.
What is going on is crazy when you really sit back and think about it. A great leader once said, “ what you see happening afar will soon come to your doorstep.” This may have never been as true as now. We’ve seen the protests, conflicts and wars abroad. We’ve seen the unrest and chaos and paid little attention. Now we see American law enforcement agents in the same military gear with guns aimed at OUR people and it is sparking that same emotion our foreign counterparts experienced. It is both frustrating and scary.
I want to just scream and cry, but I keep my composure because I don’t want to come off as angry and aggressive, because we see where that has gotten a few of my young Black brothas. So how do I cope? How do we cope? Sitting behind this computer screen as a community of AMERICAN people are shot, peppered sprayed, and drowned in tear gas just doesn’t seem right. These are my feelings, I wonder what the students are thinking, especially the Black ones. I wonder how they are balancing the fear of being a victim of police brutality and gaining a college education. I wonder how they are balancing the desire to scream and the desire to learn. I wonder how the news reports, articles, tweets, pictures and posts are affecting them. I wonder if they are holding it all in too, waiting for the perfect time to explode. As professionals we often focus on students’ needs in times like this, but I want to be selfish, what about me? How do I cope, as Black man, working in higher education with a strong interest in providing educational opportunities to a subpopulation of people that I belong to, yet who lives are seemingly under valued in our media, legal system AND educational system.