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To be a millennial in 2018 is an interesting time. I constantly feel as if I am surrounded by individuals who believe that being average makes them ok. When I was growing up my mother would push us to go beyond what was expected of us. Just going to school and being average was not ok. Simply striving to just get a 9-5 was not ok. The expectation was set on us from an early age that we would be more than what society expected of us. This was especially important being African-American in a country that despite its’ progress still saw me as a potential statistic. Everything that I did was done with the intent that I was going to prove that I was the exception to the rule. I tried to surround myself with people who had similar aspirations as myself and who believed in being better than average. I did not want settle for average friends who did not mind doing just enough to get by. I wanted friends who wanted to stand out and be different in a world of followers. It felt good to say all my girls had degrees, their own place, or their own business, or their own achievements. The reason I chose to surround myself around these folks is because my mindset was that, people who are constantly progressing forward will never attempt to pull you backwards because they are moving just as you are. All too often average folks want you to be average just like them and that was not good enough for me. This does not mean I completely distanced myself from those “average” folks. Everyone deserves a chance to grow and sometimes they just need a push toward being great. At Hampton University, they teach all incoming freshman the phrase, “Good, better, best. Never let it rest until your good is better and your better is best.” Up until this point, if I have offended anyone, I apologize because my intent is not to put down those who are considered “average” but to say that we should never settle for just being “Average”.
See the thing is, we define what average is to us. For myself average is not using every minute of everyday to gradually improve myself and those around me. Average is not striving to be better than I was the day before. Average is doing what others tell me is the right thing to do instead of figuring out what the right thing to do is. Average is not being with the person I love because society deems it unacceptable. Average is going to a job everyday that I hate because I refuse to make the effort to start the business I love. Average is getting a “C” on a test knowing I was capable of an “A” but just didn’t care enough to put in the extra study time. Average is knowing that I have an opinion but never voicing it. I refuse to be average. I refuse to just do enough to get by. I refuse to live paycheck to paycheck and be ok as long as the lights are on. I refuse to be successful on the level that society deems “I have made it” if I don’t feel that I have made it. I refuse to let others around me fall short of great because being average makes them feel content. When is just being average going to not be enough? When I spend to much of my day not being productive I feel I have wasted time. It is ok to sit back and enjoy life but that doesn’t mean be “average” while doing it. Too many people who came before me worked too damn hard for me to just accept being “average”.
In the year 2016, we are experiencing things we thought we would only experience in our history classes. People are threatening lynchings, KKK rallies are being held, black churches are being bombed, cops are being killed maliciously, people are marching for equality, and police brutality is rearing its ugly head.
My grandparents grew up during the Jim Crow era of history and even went to all black high schools. I remember visiting with my mawmaw on my others side, in Mississippi to her high school. Her graduating class was the size of one of my English classes I took in school. She showed me the historic drive in movie theater where they would go watch movies and talked about having to go underneath houses to go vote. She attended a historically black college and went on to participate in protest just like those we have now. On my dads side my grandmother told stories of being called a nigger in a grocery store while shopping with her children. My parents were born two and four years prior to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. They were born right into the civil rights era which ended in 1968. Countless people before them fought for integrated school systems, which was achieved in 1954, the dissolution of colored only water fountains and having to sit at the back of the bus. They fought to be able to vote as an equal citizen and have the right to purchase homes in neighborhoods they were once not allowed to step foot in. They just wanted the same opportunities everyone else had.
Now…skip forward to 2016. Someone please explain to me why we are still having to march and ask for the same equal opportunities as everyone else? Some individuals might say, were all free, our schools are integrated, we go to college like everyone else, blah blah blah. However if that were the case, how come when educator and activist Jane Elliot stood in front of a room and posed the statement, “If you white folks want to be treated the way black citizens are treated in this society please stand…”, absolutely no one in the room stood up. Her response to no one standing was, why are you who did not stand and aware of what is happening so willing to accept it for others knowing you would not want it for you. My bigger question is, why are we still having this conversation in 2016.
Now…skip forward again…I have a son now. I have a son who will be two on October 19th and every time I look at him, I ask myself, will we still be having this conversation 10 years from now or 20 years from now. I become extremely paranoid every time his father leaves the house and is gone longer than usual. I have actually called the hospital and the local jail scared that something had happened to him before. As a mother, no one wants to make that phone call for their child or have that phone call made to them. Every time I am in a car whether alone or with my son in the back seat and a police officer is either in my lane or viewpoint, I drive a little more cautiously because I don’t want him to pull me over. Someone please explain to me why in 2016 I and those who like myself have to feel this way? I did not grow up afraid of cops or being told that police officers were bad. My father use to work with the K-9 unit for the Navy, so I never had a bad view of police officers. I have family and friends who swore to protect and serve. Why am I now afraid to have a broken tail-light, a graduation tassle hanging from my mirror, forget a turn signal, or just be in the wrong place at the wrong time? I was arrested once last year. There is a mug shot for me on file with the Virginia Beach city jail. If I am ever wrongfully shot by the police will Fox and CNN parade my mugshot all over the screen to justify why I was most likely shot? Will they treat me as a past criminal instead of a college graduate, a woman with a career, a mother, someones child? Will they dig into my past to find out every time I did something that justifies my being killed. The constitution states that ALL MEN and WOMEN have the right to a fair and speedy trial. Why are people that look like me and my son not granted that opportunity?
I write this long excerpt as my son runs through the house care free, unaware of the world he has been born into. I write this excerpt afraid that society will never change. I write this excerpt afraid that my son will always have to work 10 times harder because he was born black. My family who came before me fought hard and worked hard so that in 2016 I would not feel this way. I kiss my baby boy every night and every morning and wonder what hand life will deal him. What five lessons has society taught me as a mom?
- Even though legally by law me, my son, and those who look like us are free, we are still enslaved by our skin color. We will forever be judged and assumed to be animals regardless of where we come from.
- Not all police are bad but anyone who can stand by and defend their brother or sister knowing they have committed a wrongful act is just as much a part of the problem. I sell insurance but that does not mean I will stand by a fellow insurance agent who shows prejudice and makes racist remarks.
- All lives matter but Black Lives are a little lower on the totem pole and my son falls in that group. When Dylan Roof can kill 9 black people in a church and be given a bullet proof vest for protection, bought Burger King, and a chance at a trial BUT Alton Sterling can be pinned down to the ground and shot point blank range seven times for simply asking, “What did I do wrong officers?”, our lives are not as high on the priority list. What if that were your son?
- Raising a son is not the hardest job I will ever have. Raising a black son is. What type of life would 12 year old Tamir Rice have had if cops had handled the situation better for a little kid who had a toy gun? (Sold in toy stores everywhere) I guess toy guns will never be on the Christmas list.
- As a mother I will teach my son to love everyone regardless of color, religion, sexual orientation, etc. , but I will also teach him that sometimes the love we give is not always received back. He should be kind to those who do not look like him but realize they may not be kind back.
My job as a mother is to teach my son in the way that he should go. He should seek education outside of what he is taught in school. He should ask questions. He should form his own opinions and mind, not be swayed by others. He should treat others the way he wants to be treated back. He should be able to speak his mind but also know how to use respect when conveying a message. He should love everyone as a person and not place them into a category. He should be free to love as he chooses to love and be friends with anyone who treats him back with genuine friendship. He should be able to wake up and not be afraid to lose his life for being different.