This Is My Race: To Be Anti-Racist and Move My Community Forward

I’ve been at a loss for words, overwhelmed, anxious and tense over the last month, more so than usual.  It almost feels like Baghdad in ’04.
I’ve been pretty tense with leading a school through a pandemic, then the news of Ahmaud Arbery, then Breonna Taylor, then Christian Cooper, then George Floyd and the uprisings across the country and a couple towns over.  I’ve been processing and trying to put into words all of my emotions while also figuring out the pace for my race to be anti-racist and move my community forward.
I‘m exhausted.  Since I was in middle school I’ve been trying to make sure strangers around me are comfortable.  During COVID-19 going out in public in a mask doesn’t help much.
I run and I race as my release.  I run to clear my head, and most days it works.  I like running when it’s cold, in the predawn hours, that’s what makes me comfortable.  I wear more reflective gear than most would imagine, reflectors on my shoes, ankles, flashing red light on my waist, my vest, and a headlamp, to make those around me comfortable.
I run through my neighborhood to clear my head, but my head is sometimes clouded with thoughts that someone may call the police because there aren’t many black men running around San Ramon period, let alone at 4 & 5am.  That is part of my race.
I just moved into a brand new neighborhood and they are still building houses and condos across the street. At the end of my run last week I peeked into one of the condos that’s under construction (Could my family have fit into this space instead of the one we bought?), and when I walked back across the street I thought, “What are you thinking?! You can’t do that just because you see all those other people do it.” My wife and I talked about those condos later in the day and she almost jumped out of her skin when I told her what I did. “Are you crazy!?” she exclaimed.  “I know,” was my reply.  Neither one of us had to say it, but we were both thinking it: Ahmaud.
I ran again a couple days later.  I waited until the sun was up, just to be safe. I run in the bike lane and a guy looking down at his phone swerved into the bike lane about 25 yards in front of me. I saw him looking down at his phone, but my initial reaction was, “Was that on purpose? Am I going to be the next hashtag?”  That is part of my race.
I think about my children.  I have three black sons and a black daughter.
I do not know why, but it is automatic, that I go out of my way to make sure SRPD knows who I am when I see them in the community.  I have never had a negative interaction with law enforcement, but I know it only takes one time.  I make sure that SRPD knows who I am when I see them in the community, and every time they are with me, I introduce my kids to them.  I don’t want them to be seen as just some more black kids.  That is part of my race.
I’m in a professional development group with other school leaders. We take turns leading the group each week and last week was my turn. I showed a picture of my boys putting together their new bed and asked everyone to write down what they saw, and what the picture made them think about. One of our members said, “Those are beautiful boys, I hope they never have a negative encounter with the police.”  I have three black sons and a black daughter.  I hope they never have a negative encounter with the police, and it is my responsibility to prepare them for that possibility.  It is exhausting.  I’m reading Stamped (Reynolds) with my two oldest boys.  We finished Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community (Dr. King) a couple months ago. They are still in elementary school.  It’s been hard to explain some of the vocabulary and answer their questions, but it’s necessary for all of us to understand the history of race in America and be prepared to talk about it and become anti-racist.  As a husband, father, and educator that’s what I have to do.  That is part of my race.
One of the biggest problems we have as a society is that we’ve avoided talking about race & racism for so long that so many of us are just plain ignorant, are afraid to talk about, or even acknowledge that racism exists.  When we are in that spot mentally there is no way we can combat racism. Racism & racist structures are the air we breathe.  They are part of the fabric of our life.  Look at our economic system, our government, the legal system, housing, and our education system.  Really examine how these systems were built.  Who were they built for?  Who were they built to exclude?  I’ll be honest, I’ve been afraid for a long time. Afraid of being too black.  Afraid of being the “angry black man” as a Teacher, then an AP, and now as Principal, that only wants to talk about race.  I have been afraid mainly because I’ve been the only or one of a handful of black men in my district or on my campus, and I could not let anyone have that perception of me.  I’m so over that right now.  I have no choice.  I have to be my authentic social justice educator self every single day.  That is part of my race.
I’m not waiting for some leader above me to condemn the actions of the systems that do not value the lives of black and brown people. Systems that have led to the deaths of thousands including Ahmaud, Breonna, and George, or for them to call out the white privilege that Amy Cooper attempted to exercise to put Christian Cooper in that very same position.  I waited in 2015, when I lived and taught in Maryland, for my leaders to respond after Freddie Gray was killed, but they were peculiarly silent.  I can’t wait this time.  My community, my staff, and my students need me to lead.  We are creating the space on my campus to have these “difficult” and “courageous” conversations.   I refuse to allow the fear and doubt to creep in and keep us breathing this same racist air.  We are going to face the fear and doubt and move through it, together.  This Book is Anti-Racist is my staff’s summer read, our next step.
This race is so challenging, exhausting even, and I’ve only just begun, but I know that I have been put into my position for such a time as this.  This is my race.

16 thoughts on “This Is My Race: To Be Anti-Racist and Move My Community Forward

  1. Well said! My grandson will be in Cal high this fall. Please continue to work with the educators and students to help defeat this plaque as will I.

  2. Demetrius, my hope is the same as yours. I hope that there are major systemIc changes in our country that will protect all black and brown people now and into the future.

  3. So well said. As a northern white woman it is difficult to understand the blind prejudice. When living in Virginia & talking with several wonderful black nurses I gained some understanding. This was good to read. Keep up the good work. We all need to understand.

  4. Thank you for this thoughtful and emotional piece. Although I am not black, I have a black nephew and niece. I fear for them. We have to have these conversations and look at our own racism. We must change!

  5. My eyes well up in reflex. My heart breaks into a million pieces and I feel the pain, almost as if it’s physical. No one deserves to be treated this way. Absolutely no one. How do we heal ?

  6. Thank you for this beautifully written and frank perspective. I honestly did not know this was happening in our communities. Thank you for being a leader! I want to understand and be a part of the healing.

  7. Thank you for writing this. These were the most thought provoking words I have read in many days. We as parents are proud that our kid’s school is led by you who chose to talk about what really matters.

  8. Speak!!!! You did a great job this year! Thank you for sharing the reality. It is so hard and scary raising young black children especially men. I’ve explained to others the conversations we have at home with our children about how to handle yourself when driving or if confronted by police. They are dumbfounded because it is not anything they’ve ever had to consider. We live with a heightened sensitivity of how people may perceive us in a way that others do not understand. Why should your stress relieving run be laced with elements of “what if”? Because, that is our reality. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Thank you for writing this. We need more people to see the world through each others’ eyes, not just one’s own.

  10. Well said D. Proud to call you a friend. We need leaders like you now more than ever. Stay the course – May it be said, “Well Done.:

  11. “Since I was in middle school I’ve been trying to make sure strangers around me are comfortable. During COVID-19 going out in public in a mask doesn’t help much.” How do we end this and set things right? This is a freedom, among many, that I have overlooked my whole life.

  12. I am glad I had a chance to meet you at the Kapadia’s Christmas party, and to see you and your family on the basketball court for what turned out to be a very precious time for all of us to enjoy something like that before the pandemic spread. The recent events have helped me realize that continuing to add additional elements of race education for our 3 boys is very important. I welcome suggestions for resources to help with that (e.g., books, websites, videos, etc.).
    I look forward to seeing you in town again or at a school function soon! Until then, good luck with preparing for the 2020-2021 school reopening plans, and thank you for this entry.

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