I Wouldn’t Be Surprised If I Was Shot When This Happened

John Boyega at a London protest.
Shuttershock

“I’m speaking to you from my heart,” Boyega told the crowd. “Look, I don’t know if I’m going to have a career after this, but f— that. This is a moment where we are now a physical representation of our mentality, of our shared idea that Black lives matter.” Words by John Boyega, Variety

Racism.

It’s not just the burning crosses, the hoods, the blackface, the lynchings, the killings, the inadequate healthcare, the traffic stops, the “Oh wow, you attended an ivy league?”, the being followed around the store, the park while birding, the final breaths while jogging, the “But, I don’t see color”, the “I worked hard to get to where I am. They should too”, the countless times they mistake you for the janitor or the sales associate no matter how you’re dressed, the countless times they ask you about when the doctor’s coming in even though you graduated medical school years ago and are highly applauded in your field, the look they give when you walk in a room because they pictured someone else from the phone interview. 

It’s not just the slurs slung ’round in your house as a kid, the clutch of a purse, the suburb you live in where the inhabitants are as homogeneous as the lawns. 

It’s all of this. It’s the stories. The ones that are untold. The ones your friends, coworkers, parishioners, patients, clients, and significant others silently and painfully hold. 

Here are a few of my own. 

I. 

Our university dining hall was basically the United Nations. At any given table you’d see someone from Nepal, Bulgaria, Trinidad, or Brooklyn, sitting and eating together. But diversity doesn’t equal inclusion.

Once, I asked several people from different countries: “Would your parents be okay if you married someone Black?”

Each person said no, quickly, without hesitation.

Some said their family might go so far as to disown them.

II. 

We sat in a parked car at a lake in Gresham, Oregon. Weeks before I moved there, my grandfather said I’d be a “speck of pepper in a bowl of milk.”

I sat in the passenger seat and my girlfriend was behind the wheel. The sun had just set, and there were no restrictions posted. It was okay for us to be there.

A cop pulled up after about 15 minutes. Moments later he was outside my window shining a bright flashlight in my face and asking for my ID. Not for my white girlfriend’s ID, mine. I handed it to him. I was shaking. My girlfriend said nothing. A few days prior, she told me she didn’t see color, we were all equal.

The officer never addressed her, he just returned my ID and told us we had to head home.

Years later, a cop pulled me over because I didn’t have a license plate on my front bumper. Pennsylvania, where I purchased my car, had different rules than Maryland. He did a warrant check on me, he asked me a few questions to see if the car was actually mine. It was a 30 minute interaction. My wife was on speakerphone the entire time. My knuckles lightening from gripping the steering wheel so tightly. She kept telling me I was okay and reminding me to breathe. I pulled off with a warning. It shouldn’t have been like this, I shouldn’t have had to fear for my life for a damn traffic stop. Still, if things would have escalated for some imaginary reason, I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up dead.

III.

Someone stoked the fire as we shared stories from childhood. I was on break from college and wanted to catch up with guys I hadn’t seen since we were all nervous about middle school dances. Earlier that day, one guy treated me to an overpriced buffet. He said I didn’t owe him anything, he was just happy to see me.

It was getting late, but I didn’t want the fun to end. It felt like old times. Then they began talking about this race war that hit the neighborhood a few years back.

One said, “Those n*****s stole our bikes, messed with us, and were always looking for a fight. I’m glad one of them got locked up!” More laughter. But I sat with my head down.

It got silent.

All eyes on me.

I said, “I don’t have a problem with you using the word. I mean your people invented it!” I was incensed but my smile suggested they were all forgiven. We laughed and I excused myself. 

I haven’t spoken to them in over 10 years.

Resist.

There’s much you can do as the world collectively centers Black people.

You can support those in the Black LGBTQ+ community. You can support Black owned businesses in your city. You can support the families of Breonna TaylorGeorge Floyd, and others whose lives have been devastated by racism and murder. 

Be wary of the litany of distractions that accompany any uprising, any call to wake up. Fannie Lou Hamer said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

This is your burden too, no matter how far you believe you are from the problem.

If you would like to support my work as a Black writer, speaker, and educator, you can do so via: 

Cash App: $SinclairCeasar
Venmo: @Sinclair-Ceasar
PayPal: paypal.me/SinclairCeasar

Your contribution is much appreciated.

Stop Waiting & Get What’s Yours

“Baby I’m too busy counting all these blessings, blessings” – Blessings x Lecrae ft. Ty Dolla $ign

Less qualified people have filled positions you’ve been hesitant to apply to. 

Let that sink in.

There’s no use in waiting another five years to do what you could do right now. Draft up the proposal. Get the resume edited. Call up your connections, and get your blessing. 

Listen, you getting your blessing isn’t a selfish thing. It’s actually worse if you don’t say yes to taking the necessary steps needed to actualize the dreams that have been burning inside you all this time. Saying yes means that others will be blessed. Your hard work, your talents, your gifts, your doing things even if you fail, will absolutely mean answered prayer for someone else.

And no, you may never hear about those prayers, but that isn’t for you. You don’t do it for the glory, you do it because you have to. 

Own that. 

You get to note the responsibility you hold as an educator, an artist, a songwriter, a parent, a lawyer, a student, a mentor, an accountant, a researcher, a police officer, a solider. The responsibility to use the abilities you were born with, to sharpen them by being a student of your craft, to seek feedback from those who are where you want to be. 

This post might make you upset because I’m calling you out. These words might be shining light on the places you’ve been ignoring.

But, you need this.

It’s time to stop thinking you’re not good enough. It’s time to imagine what your life would be like if doubt wasn’t an added ingredient.

People have failed you, but you’re still here, You’ve dropped out at some points along the way, but you’re still here. Your friends and family may be saying, “What are you even doing with your life?” but you are still here.

And because you exist, because you have breath in your body, means you have another opportunity (if only the next 24 hours) to surprise yourself. 

Don’t miss it. None of this discounts everything you’ve done in your life up until now. It doesn’t take away from every heart you’ve touched. It’s not a: “Your best wasn’t good enough, so do better.” No, this message is for the person who’s become comfortable letting others fill shoes that they know they should be wearing. 

You know who you are. Go and get yours. Go and do it like only you can. Don’t let another excuse keep you from it.

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But Actually, You Were Made For This

Photo by Zoe Graham on Unsplash

You’re gonna find yourself somewhere, somehow” Put Your Records On x Corrine Bailey Rae


You were wonderfully made, but you might have forgotten this because of all the:


heartbreak

disappointment

comparison

codependency

cold nights

layoffs

they never called back

they don’t want me

where’d they go

mistakes 

failures

semicolons 

full stops

If you look closely, none of those things were you. They happened to you, but they are not you. You are not the pain and tears and hardships. You are wonderfully made, full of gifts, and skill, and wit, and persistence. 

You didn’t make it this far by accident. Your mistakes have shaped you like river smoothed stones. Things fell apart, and in some ways, you fell into the person you were meant to be. 

There are few reminders of our brilliance. Our innate, God-given, brilliance. Let this serve as another one. Don’t miss it. Don’t allow it to tumble away. Don’t call it empty. Dare to call it truth. The truth about you.

The truth that’s evidenced by your: 

resilience

growth

curiosity

integrity

ability to (though very hard to do) admit where you messed up

scars

willingness to call them back at 3am because they’re going through it

untouched worth 

This is a hand reaching over to you from someone who knows what it’s like to forget who’s he is

And if you do believe it this time, that you were made well, hold onto that. You need it to remind the next person. Keep it going.

If you’ve made other’s stories about you your mirror, this is your permission to smash the glass. Step from the behind the veil of self-limiting beliefs established when they put you down, teased you, wrote you off, told you you’d never make it, set you up, gave you the idea that you weren’t who we need. 

Often, we’ve leaned so far into the lies we tell ourselves that we lose sight of our fullness. Of what we’re made of. Of how we used to overflow with a hunger for life, our knees skinned from us discovering our world. 

I’m reminded of who I used to be when I look at my daughter. When I see how she climbs all the things we don’t want her to climb because she just wants to know what’s on the other side of not knowing.

Where did your thirst go?

It never left. It’s still there. All of you. It’s all there. 



As we start a new week, as restrictions are slowly lifted, I invite you to explore those parts of yourself you’ve set aside, turned away from, pushed off, or downplayed. The bright places that those who love you see every time you enter a room. The places that are uniquely you. 

Think: 

What used to excite me?

What intrigued me?


What was I naturally good at?

What did I care about before they told me it wasn’t okay to care about?

What did I leave behind because I couldn’t take it with me at the time?

Where do I dim when I really could be turning it up a little? 


I assure you, dear reader, there’s more there than you’ve been accounting for. So much more. 

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For the Mothers: This is the Realist Thing I’ve Ever Written

Photo by sergio salamanca on Unsplash

“Dedicated to my mom and I swear my word is bond \ Everything will be OK and it won’t even take that long” The Calm x Drake

I.

Silence.

Then: “I’m sorry I missed your birthday again, son.” 

The treetops are waving like wacky wailing arm flailing tube men you see when driving past car dealerships. A Virgin Mobile flip phone rests down by my knee and restless shaking leg as I stare out my second floor bedroom window. This old house used to be a monastery and sits across from a small parish. While we painted every inch of wall, our home remains unassuming. The air is still and the space can be unnervingly quiet when no one else is here and your CD mix-tape has ended. 

At some point, silver clouds meet my misty-eyed gaze.

Rain might follow, but who can tell on a day like this, in a lush green state with a sky that hangs lower than anywhere else?

I’ve been doing a year of service for Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest in Gresham, Oregon for some time now, and have begun a reconciliation process with my parents after having an emotional spiritual advising session with a pastor at East Hill Church, because those are the type of ways you challenge yourself in this particular program in addition to training for half-marathons, living on $100 of disposable income per month, being what my grandfather called “a speck of pepper in a bowl of milk”, and living with four other people you’d never chose to live with otherwise but who will eventually become life-long friends.

It’s a reality show with no script, an experiment in solidarity, community, spirituality, and faith. 

The economy is a disaster. Obama is months into his first term. Teach for America received a record high of applications. Honduras is surviving earthquakes and coups. Many of the 20-somethings with whom I graduated from Saint Peter’s University are drowning in doubt and debt, and I’m here trying to mend things with my mother while living in voluntary poverty and dressed like I’m headed to Woodstock. 

“Hello…you there?” my mom asks. Her southern accent familiar as she curls her “r”. 

“I’m here,” I whisper back with a mix of frustration and sorrow. “It’s okay, mom. Don’t worry about it.”

“I really am sorry.” 

II.

Vulnerability wasn’t always in my friend group. Rather, I was quick to lead with humor or anger. But leading with the heart, my mother’s a master at that. 

For all the times I’ve been disappointed with my parents, I can think of a myriad of positive traits they’ve unknowingly passed along to me. My mom gave me her wide smile, her curiosity, her creative spirit, her love of dance, her propensity to try new things, her lack of patience with unethical leadership, and her thirst for life. She’s been praying for me in ways I’m recently learning to speak with God, and been working to actualize her dreams similar to how I’ve been hungry to craft a life for myself as a writer and a speaker.

If I were writing this 11 years ago when we were facing a different set of crises I’d have nothing but terrible things to say about my mother. I was a Black boy lost at sea, swimming in the infancy of budding grief. I wouldn’t tell you about countless soup kitchen counters she’s served behind, or about how much she’s ministered to complete strangers – often giving them a shoulder to cry on, or how she can easily see color and light in the most dire circumstances. I wouldn’t tell you about how bright she is, about her humility, about how seriously she takes her relationship with the Lord.

Younger me couldn’t see past the pain. And when he could, at times he chose not to. I was reluctant to carry a shred of grace because grace could put a cap on my anger. I didn’t want a salve for my resentment. If we’re being honest, I’d really only share about the places my mother fell short. “Way way way short,” I’d say with a punch of judgment in my tone. 

But healing can takes us places, especially when we work it (and I’m finally working it with God). I’m in a different, better place where nuance and gray areas live, where breathing is easier and less strenuous like when you finally take your mask off after leaving Target.

Where I can’t shout: “WHY weren’t you there all those years!” without considering: my mother’s struggles; the places where she still slips; the sad little girl within her needing restoration. I can’t complain without considering how a lot of parents are far from feeling (or being) prepared to care for a new life. How scary and complicated that can be whether your child was rescued from a dangerous living situation, or born with a compromised immune system, or was initially raised by your sibling but can no longer live there. And now, you’re their mother, a giant in their eyes. 

I can’t preach to my mom about the long term consequences of abandonment or divorce on a child without thinking about how much my father put her through. Without considering that no matter how distant she might have been in the past, I have her in my life now, in a time where so many have lost their mothers to cancer, stress, dementia, addiction, environmental racism, domestic violence, overdose, mental illness, or the hard thing of being a woman (especially a Black woman) in this world. 

While my hurts and wounds are very much present and valid, so is the truth that God healsGod can, and God will. He’s brought me to a place where I can talk with my mother about her new multi-level marketing venture without becoming incensed or condescending. I can be happy for her while disagreeing with her decisions. I can look at her through my own brokenness the same way she viewed me during the year after my mind malfunctioned. 

My Verizon phone bill reflects daily calls to her and from her. 2019 calls filled with prayer, new perspectives, stories from her present life as a private taxi driver, laughter, and reminders that I still had a shot at life. That she still loved her son even though he felt so unlovable. That she was continually praying for his marriage, her daughter-in-law, and her granddaughter. 

I smile at the memories of my mom showing up to every graduation. At how proud she looked during the entire Mother’s Day brunch following my grad school commencement. At how lovely she looked walking me down the aisle at my wedding on the most gorgeous July day you’ve ever seen. At how loving and playful she is when talking to my 16-month-old on speakerphone. 

Yes, I still hold resentment. I’ve woken up crying, reaching for someone who wasn’t there when I faced 5th grade bullies or had 7th grade basketball games. For someone who lived several states away. Who forgot birthdays and milestones. Who had enough of a challenge raising her other, younger, four children. 

There are cracks in this Black man who’s still learning what it means to love a Black woman when he didn’t see it done in healthy ways as a child. Still, I’m inspired by Maya Angelou’s words: “Do the best you can until you know better, then when you know better do better.” 

III.

I hold appreciation for all the moms that have “adopted” me along the way. For the aunties, grandmas, cousins, teachers, youth group leaders, tv moms (I see you season one Aunt Viv), friend’s moms who took me in, church mothers, all of them. 

I salute the moms in your life – no matter what side of life or joy they are on. 

Much love to the soccer moms, the accidental moms, the single moms, the step-moms, the baby-mamas, the moms grieving their baby, the moms who say, “Just call me, Tracey. I’ll always be here for you and your brother and I know I’m new in your life and I have to earn your trust,” the moms who feel like they’re in a constant fumbling motion and are messing everything up when their kids are just glad to be loved, to the moms in active duty overseas, to the moms in rehab, to the moms trying to get their children back, to the moms working nights and weekends and all day as well. 

I hold an ever present awareness that days like yesterday can be complicated. That they’re happy for some and dreadful for some and just another Sunday for others. That tear soaked flowers were left on cold tombstones, and some bouquets weren’t even purchased. I’m aware that being a new mother while not having your own mother can be a hollow chamber of devastation all it’s own. 

I invite you to join me this week as I take time thinking about the ones who took care of me. Who did the best they could. Who – whether there in person or spirit or otherwise – sought to protect us, teach us, raise us, and/or encourage us. And if this is too painful for you to do, well as with anything, take care of yourself. This might not be the time, and that’s alright

I’m off to call my mom.

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There’s Absolutely Nothing to Smile About Right Now & Other Lies

Photo of a young Black girl smiling and standing in front of a gate. She's wearing a blue dress.
Photo by IIONA VIRGIN on Unsplash

“I smile, even though I hurt see I smile / I know God is working so I smile / Even though I’ve been here for a while / I smile, smile”  Smile x Kirk Franklin


 

“I really hope I didn’t mess that whole thing up!”  This is me straight trippin’ last week. I had a final round interview for a full-time master’s level salaried position. I haven’t worked 40+ hours a week since I left my previous higher ed position in 2018 due to mental realness.

Since then, my quasi professional life has been working retail on weekends, and being a stay-at-home dad during the week (pre-corona).

Would I ever get my groove back? 

Our dining room table was covered in an assortment of neon colored flash cards, a notepad, and my $10 tripod which was atop the thickest books we own so I could have the best angle for Zoom. I felt exhausted with so much on the line. My nerves were a wreck.

Job searches, am I right?

What’s worse was doubt that attempted to interrupt my rehearsed sentences. The sinking feeling that had (and still has) me believing I’m not worth being hired.

They can’t hire someone like me. The kid whose life was completely upended by a hijacked mind, who still has students and colleagues and professors he didn’t get to say goodbye to, who’s worn pajamas more than he’s worn suits, who damaged credit and lost all credibility, who’s sifting through relationships to see which ones still stick, who doesn’t smile because he’s used to (and far more comfortable) wearing a frown.

Sometimes grief feels like the forever home you never meant to purchase. The rooms are low lit and small. It’s a place you don’t want to leave because it’s all you know now. 

Thank God for the prayer warriors in my life and for the love of my life.

Where would I be? Fortunately it hasn’t been all bad. I’ve had many reasons to smile, to rejoice, to take my mind off the ashes, and I’m working on being humble enough to know that my joy doesn’t come from things of this world – there’s another, everlasting source.

Joy isn’t a comet. At times it’s a sun faintly shimmering in a gray sky.  

Let’s be real.

You’ve had your own doubts. Doubts about: where your next meal will come from, when your check will arrive or clear, if your kids will act right/come back, if your new relationship (borne on a dating website and continued via Facetime) will even make it out of this quarantine alive, if you can cover those medical fees, if people actually care as much as they say they do with their “hope your family is well during all of this” messages, if God even exists (and if He is real, does He even care?). 

And when you’ve felt a smile creeping up, you too, at times, have withstood joy. 

Let me tell you, sometimes it seems better to wallow in pity, regret, frustration, and disappointment, than let light flow through you. Because what if, right?

What if I let this positive feeling wash over me, does that mean all my suffering was in vain? What if I smile for no reason except for respite from sadness? Then what? It’s not like everything will suddenly be okay. 

A friend once told me: “Sometimes I feel like if I smile during heartache, God will think I’m trivializing the trial He’s allowing. But I need to think more highly of God.”

Whew. 

I used to constantly make cases for optimism. Part of that was to be contrarian in what felt like a world of trolls and haters, people out to make lives worse just because.

But now I know it’s essential. It’s essential to not only go searching for hope, but to nourish the joy that – at times – sweeps over us in our darkest moments. Our genuine joy – the kind that’s not easily killed or diminished – is essential.

In short, it’s necessary to let yourself smile.

Take it like a pill. Follow the doctor’s orders this time and do a new thing for your body, for your family, for your sanity, for your soul. 

You know me. You know I’ll invite you to cry until your eyes burn if that’s what you need. But as with most things, life is very much both/and. We have the capacity to carry hope and still be drowning in high water. 

Can you do it?

Can you stand before a mirror and practice a smile for no one to see? Your heart needs to witness this. 

It’s time to be a walking contradiction. Go against the tide of your indignant nature. Relish in some gratitude.

Take apart a good memory: 

where were you

who were you with

what can you hear and see and smell

what did the space look like

how good did you feel 

deep breath

let it all sink in

are you smiling 

 

I dare you to. 

God is still working for your good and the good of those you love. Let Him shine through you this week. It’s not a fake or forced thing. It’s what you’ve been needing. Medicine. But not a panacea. Courage. But not a cure. Do the brave thing, beloved. 

I’ll be smiling back…this time.

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What I Did During the Loneliest Time in My Life

Photo by CW on Unsplash

“Sittin here with my tears/ All alone with my fears / I’m wonderin if I have to do / Withoutcha” – I Get Lonely x Janet Jackson 

“How are you feeling today?” I asked the young lady while I scanned the last of her items. 

“Really alone,” she whispered. 

Beat.

“What’s that?” I asked.

I knew what she said but for some reason I asked again. I thought about validating her response with: “I get it, I really do. I’ve been to hell and back when it comes to isolation. There are some useful online resources out there for mental health though.”

But, I figured that was too much and might come off as insincere from a neighborhood cashier.

I gulped my words and looked at her lowered amber eyes as she dryly replied:

“It’s just really hard these days.” 


That      b   r   o   k   e    me. 
 

Ding. 

Time was up.

I handed her the bags and kicked myself a little.

Her friend had the same melancholy tone as I scanned her few items. Both long-haired women were clad in gray sweatpants and over sized hoodies. Their faces sullen, pale. They appeared to have missed a few showers. They looked wholly troubled.

I wondered if they at least hugged each other or if the resounding ache of loneliness had reached their bones and joints. If they had run out of love to give in a world overflowing with fear. 

I still think about them. About the mom who got laid off from her job at the spa (she and her husband are raising three kids and burning through their savings account).

About the elderly couple that comes through my lane each week. They’re always kind and have helped me refine my small talk skills with every conversation about canned soup.

I think about the people who still haven’t found toilet paper and miss out every time we get a new shipment of hand sanitizer.

I want to help them all, console them all, meet them with an embrace unencumbered by protective barriers because my bones don’t ache. Not anymore. Not today.

I was self-quarantined long before this crisis – one of the small blessings from having had a manic episode.

I’ve mastered crafting worlds within the confines of eggshell colored apartment walls. I’ve had too much time to revisit every mistake I’ve ever made, to go so deep into wounds that I choke.

Too much time to swear at God. To cry myself to sleep. 

Isolation can do this to you, even if you live with people who fiercely love you.

And so, I feel the pain of the person I’ve never met, who’s lonely and unsure and full of shame over losing their job or worried about life after graduation or anxious about how they’ll support their undocumented family members or really missing their grandparents they can’t even travel to visit. But in no way does this mean I know exactly what they’re going through because suffering varies like snowflakes and it’s cold out here. 

One thing I’ve learned about the wintry mix of heartbreak and uncertainty is that we can get caught up with hourglasses. Time becomes an enemy because we spend so much of it wishing things would return back to normal, or trying to adjust to a new normal.

There is no right answer but there are plenty of unhelpful answers.

It’s unhelpful to beat ourselves up. It’s unhelpful to further isolate. It’s unhelpful to stuff hope in the back of the fridge. Unhelpful isn’t wrong, but it sinks you. It fools you into thinking you’re helping when you’re hurting. 

On the flip, reaching out seems like a chore and like something ineffective. How does connecting with someone else improve anything when they’re going through what I’m going through? 

Positive self-talk feels empty. It’s not putting food on the table! 

Hope? Where was hope when my friend died? 

Do you see the spiral, the caught-up-ness of it all? It becomes a perpetual nightmare and we begin to implode – not all at once – slowly, on our own, but in plain sight. 

I don’t want that for you

I want you to overcome and get through this and know this midnight isn’t forever. We cannot turn this car around, there’s no going back, but we will get through this.

Prom still happened. We will get through this. 

A couple got married over Facetime. We will get through this.

Several animal shelters are emptying. We will get through this. 

Mom and hero, Donna Shaw, sent nurses masks and gloves. We will get through this. 

This fine gentleman sang to his girlfriend from outside her nursing home window. We will get through this. 

There is value in every single healthy thing you do to ease your ache and connect in a time of 5G this and NWO that. In a time of fake news and real blues. Don’t get too swept up. Pull away from the drama.

We’re all searching for answers, refreshing for updates, grasping for straws where there aren’t any.

ALL of us. 

And yet, you were never alone (1 Corinthians 3:16). I pray you be reminded of this. Keep praying for my family and I too. 

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