FEATURE — I have a nephew I’ve really never met. He is 17. He is smart and quiet. He plays piano and he loves to rap. He is gentle, even with his two head-strong little sisters. And he’s black.
My sister placed him for adoption when she was a teenager herself. She wanted him to have more than she was in a position to give.
It wasn’t an easy thing to share him with someone else, even so.
In their two days together, I remember them smooshed together in the hospital bed, her breasts bound against the coming milk. I remember how she’d stare at him, memorizing the scoop of his nose, the shape of his eyes and the tuck of his ears.
And I remember her collapsing tears right before she had to let him go.
But let him go she did. For an educated mother. For a strong black role model as a father. For a stable, loving home. For the promise of something better.
My sister and her firstborn met in person last year for the first time. She was struck by how familiar he felt.
Nothing of the baby form she’d memorized remained. But still, if she had closed her eyes, she might have sworn it was our brother, not her nearly grown son, who sidled up on the arm of the chair next to her.
After George Floyd was killed and protestors took to the streets across the nation, my sister texted to check on him.
He assured her that he was OK; his parents were only letting him out of the house to play basketball and buy groceries.
She wanted to ask him a million other things: Does he feel safe? Has he suffered discrimination? Is he scared? But she resisted. He shouldn’t have to educate her about what it’s like to be a young black man in America.
Instead, she simply said, “please stay safe.”
He responded, “promise me you’ll stay safe, too.”
She wanted to tell him that her being safe and him being safe are two different things entirely. But maybe he already knew that. Even if it breaks her heart to admit.
In spite of all the things she wanted better for him by placing him for adoption, and in spite of all the things he has better because of that adoption, an unfulfilled promise still remains for her boy. For something better. In the world at large.
Jackie Kennedy Onassis once said, “once you can express yourself, you can tell the world what you want from it … all the changes in the world, for good or evil, were first brought about by words.”
So, world, here is what I want from you today. On a day that we celebrate fathers and pave the way for the sons who will eventually grow up to be like them. White sons. Brown sons. Black sons.
And what I want is this: I want better for our black sons.
I want my nephew to be as safe as his white birth mother. And his white half-brothers. And his white male cousins.
I want him to be OK not just because he’s only allowed out of the house for basketball and groceries.
I want him to be able to run down the street free and safe. In the middle of the day. In the middle of the night.
I want people to assume the best in him when he’s walking down the street.
I want him to be able to make a little mistake and not pay for it with his life.
I want him to be judged by the content of his character.
I want him to feel like the police offer protection, not a threat.
And what I want most of all: I want him to have the promise of something better fulfilled.
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