To my two sons,
It is an honor and privilege to send you the first of many letters as you continue to grow. This letter comes at an important time as the world is grappling with change. There is isolation, division and chaos all around us during this pandemic.
Over the weekend you asked questions that I was not prepared to answer: “Why do police kill Black people all the time? Do they not like us?” For a 7-year old, that was very profound yet obvious, and I knew not just any answer would quench your burning desire for the truth. As a Black man, I have had to deal with this brutal reality far too long. But being caught off guard, I replied, “It was just an accident and sometimes accidents happen to Black people at the hands of some police.”
My comments shortly thereafter ate me up and made me angrier because I had just lied to you, my oldest son, to protect your humanity and innocence not from COVID-19, but from a bigger plague in our community called racism. I wish it was an anomaly or something that could be swept under the rug, but Black people have had to live with it in America for 400 years, and pretending that everything is fine can no longer be tolerated.
The truth is painful, my dear sons, and I fear I’ve failed you by teaching you skin color doesn’t matter. It clearly does.
Who would’ve ever predicted that today we’d be living in the most racially charged climate in our country since the civil rights movement? I’m sorry, my sons, that you’ll have to work so hard to prove your intelligence and worth – perhaps even your humanity – because of the Black skin covering your hearts.
I wish it were easy to tell you what being a Black man in America entails, but all I can tell you is that for most of your life you will battle between who you think you want to be, and who you truly are.
Society will tell you that being a Black man means possessing muscles, athleticism, a hip-hop lifestyle, sports cars and flashy things. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but rarely do they depict the businessmen, contractors, doctors, educators, and owners of real estate. I want to let you know that it is perfectly acceptable to pursue those things, but it is also perfectly acceptable to not adhere to others’ expectations for you.
My dear sons, being raised by my grandparents and growing up without a father and rarely a mother was hard. But I was always instilled with three principles to overcome life challenges. First, dream big. Second, plan even bigger. And third, always follow your passion and purpose. No matter what, hold on to your vision and dreams.
Perhaps you wonder what I mean by that. You may have a vision while on life’s mountaintop. It can be glorious.
But the height of an experience on the mountaintop is always measured by the depth of one in the valley.
I can tell you, my valley experience is deep, but the deeper the better as growth comes from learning from mistakes, overcoming obstacles, enduring adversity and sacrificing. During valley experiences, positive things are diminished, and negative things are amplified; however, character also is built.
Trials and tribulations truly try us all, but this is where faithfulness to your vision will be revealed. You must live in the shadow of others as you work hard and wait. I firmly believe that with challenge comes great opportunity, and success is possible if you do not give up in the face of discrimination and racism.
Whatever you want out of life, you must create it. We are all born with dry paintbrushes, and it is up to us to paint the kind of life we want to live.
Before I forget, here are a few qualities passed down to me that you must have to be successful in life. I have been waiting to create a letter like this, given my father was taken from me at a young age and never prepared me for what was to come. I had to borrow wisdom from extended family and friends from different races and backgrounds to consistently remind myself how Black youths can live meaningful lives after facing unprecedented challenges. Here are my thoughts:
Today’s world needs a lot, especially given the current racial and economic climate. Your community will need your time, talents, teamwork and critical thinking to solve the challenges in the world.
Use your talents as communicators and storytellers. A story can be the catalyst for bringing people together. Life is about bonding and building relationships – not just on social media and via technology, but up close and personal. It is very important to listen, ask questions and even understand body language. These are skills associated with emotional intelligence, which is very important.
In closing, define your purpose and passion in life and think critically about the positive impacts and relationships you build; this will drive your growth and success, as it has for your dad.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best: “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” I challenge you and other Black youths in the community to give back and to give forward on your journey to the mountaintop. Your knowledge of self and community will serve you well and make all the difference in cementing your contributions and legacy in the world. Thank you, good luck and God bless you and all the other Black youths across America.
Your father, Nate McCoy
Nate McCoy is the executive director of the National Association of Minority Contractors’ Oregon chapter. Contact him at 503-288-1393 or [email protected]