“What the world witnessed last night was democracy on fire.”
— Rev. Osagyefo Sekou
“We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions. While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.”
— Michael Brown’s family statement after last night’s decision from the Grand Jury
“Real fathers aren’t the ones who never make any mistakes or the ones with perfect kids. They’re the ones like you who simply keep at it. Who rewind, review, restore, refocus, renew and repeat if needed, all the while loving that child as if your life depended on it…because you know it does.”
–– Rev. Collette Walker
I am mad as hell today. I’m mad, not only because Michael Brown’s mother and father were denied even the opportunity for due process last night, but because of how society induces media orgies (of all political persuasions) that trivialize Black Male Pain as if it does not have real historical precedents. I am mad as hell, and while I could offer another righteous critique amongst the myriad of angry voices pointing fingers, I am humbly choosing to channel my broken heart into a love letter to you. For I am your father, first and foremost.
Today I write to you because last night’s racially-charged events in Ferguson, MO, alongside that new tattoo I saw on your chest recently, speak to me in a very powerful way. I want to suggest that today, amidst all of the clamoring voices, that you — an Art Major in your first year of college — could cultivate your soul’s canvas and “flip the script” in regards to how you experience Ferguson, and live your life to the fullness of your God-given potential.
“One Life. One Chance.” I noticed that tattooed on your chest a few months back at your Freshman Orientation at Shawnee State University. Initially I thought it was another weird cry for attention on your behalf. “Huxtable Gangster.” I, for the life of me, could not understand why you continued to feel such a powerful and passionate connection to a culture that is no way in sync with “the way” you were raised. Yet, a dear friend reminded me that it is NOT for me to understand; that this life of yours is just that…YOURS. That is exactly why I am writing this letter to you today publicly, because there are thousands of young black men right now in Ferguson (and millions across the world of all hues) who do not have the painful luxury of a father and all that comes with it. Right now, there are untold numbers of young men (and increasingly young women) running through life with both a bulls-eye on their back, and no safe place to turn. My public prayer is that people will glimpse our love and share it, because your world is watching, son.
Bulls-eye on their back? That is correct. Literally, from the pre-natal care of underserved mothers to the hypertension that disproportionately produces any number of late life diseases, it is hell to be a Black Man in America. There is no need to list them out, because I have watched you over the last five years live them out as heroically as you could. To lose a friend tragically by death each year from the 8th through the 12th grade is to live under an emotional cloud that I cannot even imagine, but I still need from you to Flip The Script, Son! Yes, even under the very real threat of oppression from within and without, young brothers like yourself still have to find the courage to cultivate your soul.
As an Art Education major you should be well versed with that word…”Cultivate.” If not, look it up. (Smile) You must consider how to make the time to ‘tag’ your soul in the same way you would an easel, a tattoo, or even a wall. “How do I do it, Pops?” I’m glad you asked, because cultivating your inner genius will provide you with the strength to stare down any demons from within or from without. Here are a few suggestions.
First, your soul must cultivate complexity. Life is hard. It is a complex ordeal where you often will have to learn to live and make serious choices without the benefit of all the facts. When I look through the tears in my eyes and see the chaos coming out of Ferguson, I see powerful young men without tangible ways of living in the reality of a complex global world. MLK says that rioting is the “language of the unheard”, and the ways that small numbers of men continue to tear down their own communities is an indication of them literally dying to be heard. To be heard sincerely is to provide oxygen for hearts whose eyes have run out of tears.
To be heard above the morally reprehensible cries of so-called moderate people who justify stolen cigars as a legitimate reason for an unarmed teen to be shot six times. Heard above the ethically impotent explanation of St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch as to why a grand jury did not indict Ferguson, MO. police officer Darren Wilson. And even heard above a politically crippled President who continues to speak with paid pollsters as opposed to pained people. To “Flip The Script” you are going to have to find spaces (prayer, exercise, counseling, etc.) where your soul can breathe until you learn how to make your next move, your best move while dealing with the perpetual minefield of being Black in America. Precisely, why the cultivation of your soul must be followed by curiosity.
This is where the rage comes in the forms of Molotov cocktails. It is the pain of lonely souls that has been ignored for far too long. Today I apologize to you for not stopping long and enough to sit with you during times when your pain turned to rage. My prayer for you, son, is that your soul will cultivate curiosity and find an elder that will listen. Lord, I wish it was I, but I now know that it is … Your Life & Your Chance. Flip the Script, son. Go to your professor’s designated office hours. Get involved with student organizations on campus, so that in time you can learn the ins and outs of your new home called college. In doing so you are displaying courage by both leading by example as well as overcoming the anxieties that have long lived inside of you.
Complexity. Curiosity. These are the wheels and the body of the soul that will propel you to spaces divinely orchestrated since the day of your birth. Yet, courage is the engine that will permit you to walk into that destiny, because it involves a lifelong commitment to action. Action that sometimes is demonstrated more by what you don’t do than what you do. Close your eyes and see the scores of young brothers in riotous places like Cairo, Gaza, and Ferguson. Over and over again despite their religion or the language, they convey that their life is of no consequence. They state that they are willing to die, because up until this point they have no reason to live. Courage allows you to “Flip The Script” and knows that regardless of your situation or circumstance, your life does matter. That is not the case for you, because YOUR LIFE matters.
Despite being born in a world that is fearful of your existence to the point of tanks and snipers… you must find courage. Courage to lead. It may indeed be too late for many of the young men we witnessed on TV last night, but you son, must learn that courage is not about brute force, but rather inner strength. It is your soul pulling together the complexity of this world and curiosity of your mind in ways that can live an authentic life just the way God intended. To pull from whatever and whoever you need to pull from that you might live in ways (again) that will earn respect and offer inspiration. Courage is found when doing something meaningful, son. I have made far too many mistakes to count, but you must look within yourself to flip the script. FLIP THE SCRIPT, SON! FLIP IT!
In closing, I am still mad as hell. You and I will be leading a prayer vigil on behalf of the United Methodist Church. In my capacity as the Executive Director of the Wesley Foundation In Cincinnati, I signed up to foster spaces for reconciliation and redemption. Yet, my soul wants some damn justice! This is why I am so thankful that you are such an intimate part of my life, because you force me to look beyond my pain. You cause me not to be “stuck” with indifference or even indignation. Your mere existence causes my spirit to wait for rainbows even when humanity’s forecast offers only clouds for the foreseeable future. You give me hope, son. I love you.
As Michael’s parents struggle to give his life back to the Creator, Malcolm I give your life back to you. It is your life. Remember that when you look at your chest each morning in the mirror. It’s not “One Life. One Chance.” It’s YOUR LIFE. YOUR CHANCE. “Flip The Script.” Remember, your world is watching.
I love you,
Peter Matthews is much sought after author and speaker who has preached, lectured, or keynoted extensively throughout the U.S., India, Jamaica, England, Switzerland, and South Africa over the past two decades. He is currently serving as the first male African-American pastor in the 132-year history of Eden Chapel United Methodist Church (Saylor Park, Ohio), as well as the first African-American Executive Director/Campus Pastor in the 95-year history of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Cincinnati. A national board member of the Wild Goose Festival, Peter is currently finishing his 6th book on entitled “We Are The Ones” (Making Humanity Human Again) set for a June 2015 release.