Hello friends! My name is Kevin. A few months ago I was asked to help steer a group known as the Bucks County Anti-Racism Coalition. Just last month we received 501c(3) nonprofit status. We’re hoping to continue doing good things here.
First, I just want to let everyone know, that while I like giving speeches, I LOVE telling stories.
So I’d like to tell you a story today. About two boys.
In order to tell you about boy #1 I’m going to need you to travel back with me. To the midwestern suburbs during the great migration, summer, circa 1955. Boy #1 is walking through town with some friends from grade school. They pass a shop window, and he sees the whole group reflected in it. For a split second he wonders “Who is that black kid?”
That black kid in the window was him, and he would have to sit outside the swimming pool fence, watching all his friends swim. As he grew up, he’d almost always get straight A’s with the occasional B, which allowed him to go to a good college. Where one night, walking to the library to study, he’d be shot by local law enforcement.
Boy #2 also grew up in the suburbs but on the east coast in the 1980s. His parents, through diligent struggle, had obtained the means to acclimate themselves to suburban life and culture. They did this well enough that they were more than equipped to not only give him the tools he needed to survive, but to thrive there, and offer him luxuries they had missed out on. Private elementary school, Music lessons, Travel to foreign countries…
…The ability to swim at the pool with all his friends in the summer.
And yet, His dad, due to past interactions with police made sure to give him “the talk” on the regular. His Mom, due to her first-hand involvement working with the Kings and their family (yes, that King family) made sure he knew he’d have to strive harder than his friends if he wanted similar results. Both of them instilling in him the reality that unfortunately for boys that look like he looks, life isn’t fair, and he’d need to set his expectations accordingly.
The first boy, from Topeka, Kansas, was my father. Had that cop aimed just a little differently, I wouldn’t be standing here (He’s ok). The second boy, from Wilmington, Delaware, as you might have guessed, was me.
I’m not sure how many of you know what it’s like to grow up black in the suburbs of America. What it’s like to be a five year old wishing I would wake up as someone else, and someone else would wake up as Kevin. My very next thought would be “Well, SOMEONE has to be Kevin.” Wanting “Kevin”, whomever he was, to be someone white — if even for only a day. My entire childhood, up to and well into my adulthood, feeling displaced. Like I wouldn’t know who I was if I saw my own reflection in a store window.
You see, in order to exist in spaces defined with our exclusion mind, my parents, their parents, I had to adhere to patterns. Patterns of always putting ourselves in our place, lest someone else do it for us. Letting others define us. Placing ourselves second. Deferring.
Always striving to “get it right” in order to feel included, yet, never quite feeling welcome. Tiptoeing through life, sidestepping others’ expectations of us, no matter how misguided those expectations were. Mindful never to break the patterns.
Patterns I was convinced, as I’m sure my parents were, would spare me from the evils of racism, or at the very least, minimize its affects. Not realizing that those very patterns had their roots in it. And that by internalizing those patterns I was internalizing a pattern of hating me. Decades later, and through continuous effort I personally am coming to terms with those patterns, rejecting them, redefining me.
It’s hard to wake up and realize you’re racist.
It was even harder to wake up on November 9th 2016, and learn that nearly half the country not only realizes it, but wants to keep things that way. Or even take it further back to the way it was for my parents. For their parents. Anyone else know that feeling? Of being seen as a stranger in your own land? As an uninvited guest in your own home? Or worse yet, somehow a threat to it? On that day, I also realized that all the work, sacrifices, and hardship of those that had come before me was in danger of being nullified. Of being erased. My mom, My dad, My grandparents, I used to think that they had done what they did so we wouldn’t have to. Used to think that all their tales of taking action for civil rights were just that — tales of bygone days.
Something from their time. But it’s not. Because now it would seem it’s our turn. Now it’s our time.
And we are here — because y’all — I do not intend to go back. If you take nothing else away from anything I’ve said here today, take that. My parents did not do all they did and march this far forward so we could watch it all vanish under this… I don’t even know what you call this, anomaly, this… phenomenon that we’ve all been enduring for the past four years.
Whatever you want to call it, please do not call in “normal”. Please, please do not call it “great”.
Now, the Coalition I’m speaking on behalf of today is not political in nature. However…
Time and time again we send out the call for peaceful efforts in the name of unity. We take action on behalf of marginalized people of all varieties. When we do this, we never mention candidates. We never mention party. Yet over and over we meet opposition in the name of, and for the supposed benefit of our current “president”. It happens so often, that I’m continually baffled that the “leader” of the nation became antonymous with equality. With unity. A “president” that claims he’s “done more for minorities than any president since Lincoln.” Ironically — he isn’t entirely wrong here. Just not for the reasons he claims.
The book “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson likens this nation to an elaborate house resting on a foundation. The deeper our “president” digs with his lies, his rhetoric, his unapologetic coddling of nationalistic extremism, the more that foundation gets exposed for what it is — crumbling and in dire need of repair. It’s going to take a lot to repair it. But folks, he’s not the one to get that done. He has no intention of getting that done because he and his ilk benefit from it staying broken.
So how do we fix it? Good question. I wish I had all the answers.
But I can tell you where to start:
The Color Purple. Right now that’s how we’re being seen. In the national spotlight, This state, this county, this very town — right now, and for the next two days will be considered “Purple”. A friend of mine as far away as Seattle recognized the work that we are doing here. And she said it well over a month ago that, — and I quote “Bucks County NEEDS this.” People — we have 2 more days. Bucks needs this. Pennsylvania and all the other states need this.
And we’ll need it well beyond Tuesday.
Thanks everyone for listening.