Before you judge me, what do you know about me?Jun 15, 2019
At 19 years old I moved from rural South Jersey to NYC to pursue a dream of performing on Broadway. I only knew one person who had performed on Broadway and had no idea how I was going to manage the task of getting to the Great White Way. Some of the beauty of being young and clueless was I did not have to know the way I knew the beginning and I knew where I wanted to go the rest I would fill in by living. Not long after I arrived in NYC I heard a radio news report about the life expectancy of young Black men in urban areas. The news report stated that 3 in 10 Black men in urban areas would not live to see their 30th birthday. Although I had grown up in a rural area the life of the performer was lived in urban areas. I had a legitimate fear and the threat was the city itself. Every day I would hear on the radio or see on the news reports of young Black men killed in cities around the country. Many of these young men were killed because of mistaken identity. Some were killed for being Black in the wrong place. For unsuspectingly walking through gang territory wearing the wrong colors. For looking like the vague police sketch and fitting the vague police description. For appearing as a threat while wearing the hood up on a hoodie at night to keep a bald head warm. Some even for running down the street and making the police on the beat suspicious. With each incident my fears were pushed further. Each time a young Black man was gunned down I wondered if I would be next. Each night that fell while I lived in an urban area I did not know if I would return home alive. To coin a phrase “I kept my nose clean” I did not hang with the wrong crowd, I wore colorful bandanas with rainbow unicorns on my head so that no gang members would suspect me of being from a rival gang. After all who would have a beef with the rainbow unicorn gang? I truly hoped no one would have a beef with the rainbow unicorn gang. As I drew closer to my 30th birthday I felt that each time I stepped foot out of my apartment I was tempting fate. While living in San Francisco in the early nineties there was a murder of a well known activist one block from where I was living. Having such a horrific event happening so close to home is unnerving and this event had a compounding issue. The report of the suspect was for a Black man 6 foot 4 inches with a mustache and goatee between 200 and 220 lbs with an athletic build. That was me. Each day I would walk in the neighborhood I would slow as patrol cars passed me. I would make eye contact with the officers. I would smile. I would give the officer no reason to suspect me to be a murder. I would also brace myself for the arrest. Two full weeks of this occurred before the suspect was apprehended. I did not breathe a sigh of relief. I gave a silent prayer that they had gotten the right guy. My silent prayer was that they did not get another Black man like myself who was trying every day to survive being Black in the city. As I reflect a little smile comes to my face. The smile comes like a sigh because I would say I have lived a realatively stress free life and yet fearing for one’s life every day for a decade does not sound stress free to me now. One might asked “so why would you subject yourself to that kind of stress when you could easily resolve the issue by moving?” The only place I knew that I could ply my trade at the level I wanted was with urban areas, that is why. I am grateful that I survived. I am grateful that the career I sought materialized. I grateful that I could share my passion and my success and some of my struggle with other young Black men along the way. I hope those others received the hope for survival that I wished upon them. So before you judge me maybe this will give you a different perspective of who I am.