You are my son. I love you. I am scared for you, but I believe you will make it in life. I believe you will be safe in life.
Why do I believe that? I don’t know. I guess I am an optimist.
You are now 18 years old. You are a man. You are leaving high school with a better chance at life than I did. But you are still a black male who is feared by others although you would never hurt a fly.
I wanted your life to be easier than mine. I wanted your life to be better than mine. I wanted your life to be safer than mine. But first I needed to escape the hood.
This is a game plan that began when I was 18 years old. It began before I enrolled at Central Michigan University. It began when I was afraid of asking girls out and well before you came into the world. I began thinking about you decades before you were born.
You are on this path during troubling times. You are a black male. You are feared and you are targeted. We’ve seen this play out on television with the murders of black males across the country.
Do you remember when you hung out with your white friends at the mall? One of them stole from a store. Mall security immediately came to you even though you knew nothing about the heist. Thankfully your friend fessed up and let you off the hook.
Do you remember how mad I was when security followed me in Macy’s? I built a career in this city along with a reputation. I was taught by the women who raised me never to steal. And I never let them down.
You’ve been stopped by the police for speeding. But there was no incident. You remembered the talk we gave you and you executed the game plan to perfection although you were scared.
Remain calm. Do as you are told. No sudden movements. And you remembered that the police are right even when they are wrong.
The saga of George Floyd created an uproar in this country. Blacks, whites, Asians have all said they’ve had enough. Maybe there might be change. I’ve always told you that change will never happen until white people say they’ve had enough.
The world appears to be fed up after the murder of Floyd by a Minneapolis officer. I was through after Travon Martin and Eric Garner. I felt the pain of the choke holds when Garner and Floyd lay dying on the ground.
I could see me begging for my life. It was your sister’s biggest fear that dad would run into the wrong cop at the wrong time.
Change could not happen until white people took to the streets because they have more numbers and are more powerful in this country. That change appears to be happening. You attended a peaceful protest and I was proud of you for doing so.
You are in a better spot than me when I was 18 years old. Now you must take advantage of it. You found your passion, marketing and communications. You have found the next chapter of your book. Michigan State University.
Don’t blow it.
This path you now walk was paved when I was 18 well before you were born. In order to blaze this trail I needed to escape the hood. I needed to escape the hood even when my hopes and dreams were called selling out by my black friends and called impossible by people who did not believe in me. But I escaped in a series of chaotic moves with the help of family and friends which sometimes looked like a middle of the night jail break.
I had a policeman train a shot gun at my chest at age 11. A neighborhood tough threatened to shoot me at age 13 for the crime of walking past his house. I watched firemen wash the caked blood of a murdered insurance adjuster two blocks from where I grew up because the gun man wanted a pair of orange pants.
Also it was time to teach whitey a lesson. So it made it easier for that guy to pull the trigger.
I’ve been detained by the police for suspicion of bank robbery. For the record. I did not do it. I ended up having an enjoyable experience with the officers who stopped me. They showed me the photo of the suspect and I screamed: “Hey I’m not that fat.”
We all laughed.
You have seen none of that growing up in West Bloomfield. Your world is different. You grew up with white friends, black friends, Muslim, Gays and friends who identify as Sikh. I did not know what a Sikh was growing up on the west side of Detroit.
All my friends were black and Christian. They were also angry at white people.
You embrace Gay people. We made fun of them.
You come from a family of pioneers although the barriers they broke are nothing to write a book about or create a documentary on CNN. Your great aunt was the first black to work as an elevator operator at a downtown department store called JL Hudson’s. She got the job because she had a great personality. And Hudson’s HR thought she was white.
Your great, great grandfather was the only black to work as a carpenter when they built the Penobscot building in downtown Detroit.
You have a great opportunity in life now. Your chances would have been greatly diminished if I remained in my old neighborhood. Many of the houses are burned out shells along with the dreams of the people.
There are abandoned boats although there are no lakes, rivers or streams in my old neighborhood.
The party store I got penny candy was burned to the ground. The drug dealers and numbers runners are still there. So are the criminals who are so desperate in life that they will knock you upside the head to put food on the table.
I did not want you growing up in that environment.
A few years ago I got mad at your sister because she said our 2,700 square foot home with the finished basement was too small for four people to live in. I immediately took you to a 700 square foot home built on a slab where eight people lived in inner city Detroit.
You guys did not understand why I wasted a Saturday usually reserved for the Eastern Market or the bakery to go to this run down home in Detroit. I wanted you to see what life was like for other people.
I grew up without a father. Ronald Eugene Foster enlisted in the Army, fought in the Korean War and was stationed in Germany. When he returned home he was shot dead within two years by a police officer who accused him of stealing a car.
The car my dad was accused of stealing was his. It was the same Volkswagen Beatle he used to drive around Belle Isle in.
You are the primary reason I fought so hard to live after suffering a stroke four years ago. I did not want one second of your childhood to be without a dad. Even though you get mad at me sometimes I wanted to be there every step of the way for you.
Son, I want you to move forward and make life easier for your children than the life I provided for you. Be a good husband. Be a good father. Be a good provider. And be a good citizen.
Despite what we see on television, it will all work out. I’m an optimist. Maybe that’s my biggest flaw.
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