Let me start out by saying this: “Being Black ain’t easy,” but I remain hopeful that one day it will be.

I am the product of parents, both now deceased, who were born in the Jim Crow South. My father was born in 1943; my mother, in 1948. I did not hear much about her growing-up years, but my father shared his stories with me about growing up in Senatobia, Mississippi, as a Black man. As he was talking I could see the anger and sadness that came upon him. His permanent scars because of racism lasted until he departed this earth on Sept. 24, 2015. Now, in 2020, I carry his memory and his experiences as I navigate being a Black man in America, hoping to never experience the pain he felt simply because of his skin color.

In the days since the death of George Floyd, I have felt a mix of sadness, optimism and exhaustion. Sadness from seeing the nation’s scab being ripped again when it comes to race in America, and at the rising tensions because of the deaths of African-Americans coming at the hands of White police officers.

I am also optimistic in seeing people of all races and age groups come together to lift their voices and protest in the streets for equality and justice for all. I also nearly shed tears with seeing law enforcement in Maine and across the country kneel in support of the demonstrators’ message. Granted, I have been on this earth for only 29 years, but I have never seen that kind of recognition by law enforcement of those who are speaking out against police brutality. It was symbolic and powerful, and law enforcement should be commended for this. Some say significant change is needed in policing in general and in black and brown communities in particular. This feels different. For the better.

I have also experienced exhaustion. Exhausted by the news, exhausted by the fact of being Black and having to think about the times I clenched as a police car was approaching me, and the wave of uncertainty that entered my consciousness. I know I was not doing anything to raise the officers’ attention. They probably were not paying attention to me at all. But the seconds of anxiety of wondering, over and over, if I was going to be stopped for some reason eventually take their toll. Recently that same old anxiety and tension came to fruition again as I was sitting on a bench and watching Portland Police driving past, circling around the area multiple times, and wondering again if I was going to be stopped. Yet again I say, exhaustion.

Hearing the words “I can’t breathe” as Derek Chauvin’s knee was placed on George Floyd’s neck – not just for seconds, but for eight minutes and 46 seconds – should be appalling to all of us. Imagine holding your breath for eight minutes and 46 seconds. At some point you may kick into gear to fight for air after a minute or so. Eventually you can stop holding your breath and regain your air. George, on the other hand, lost that right. I cannot begin to think about the pure hell he must have experienced after three minutes of no air, four minutes, five minutes, six minutes, seven minutes, eight minutes and 46 seconds.

My call of action for everyone, including myself, is to confront racism, bigotry and all other forms of discrimination head on, but leave room for open minds and hearts for conversations with others about racism. Sometimes we need to educate each other in order to understand each other.

This time, we do not have sports to distract us. Furthermore, because of COVID-19, many of us have more time at home to think, reflect and to talk about racism. It is OK if it becomes uncomfortable. That is how growth happens.

I am sad, I am exhausted, but I am optimistic that change is coming.

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