I remember when you moved here a few years ago. It was around Thanksgiving 2013. I remember you walking through the side door of our house with a confident stride and that leather jacket we teased you about later. You had just moved from Ethiopia so you weren't used to the cold weather yet, and I remember that story was one of the first ones you told to make me, our older sister and our cousin laugh hysterically.
Then the second semester of our sophomore year of high school began, and you were off to your first day at an American school. I wished we could've been at the same school so I could have guided you through the things you didn't know, but I didn't attend our district high school like you did. You took the bus to and from school and had to walk home from the bus stop every day.
I remember it was cold.
You hated the cold.
You wore a big hoodie with the hood pulled over your head. You shoved your hands deep in your pockets to keep your fingers from freezing. To you, this was just a way to keep warm. To you, it was no big deal.
See, you didn't know about the Trayvon Martin case. You didn't think about racial profiling, police brutality or the senseless killings of black people in the United States. All you wanted to do was pull your hood down a little more, push your hands a little bit deeper in your pockets and fight the cold.
When a new case of police brutality arises, there is one conversation I always think of. Dad was driving me home from school one random afternoon and we caught up to you as you were walking home from the bus stop in our neighborhood. Dad stopped the car and unlocked the door and you quickly got in, greeting us and asking us about our days. After speaking for a few minutes, Dad told you that walking in our neighborhood with a large hoodie on and with your hands in your pocket wasn't the best idea. We told you about Trayvon Martin and I think that was the first time you realized that America might not be the land of the free like you were told all your life.
I remember you didn't see the logic in what you were told. And truth be told, you shouldn't have had to. You shouldn't have had to understand why wearing a certain item of clothing or walking in a certain way could get you seriously hurt or killed. Yet, because you're a black man, you had to force yourself to understand.
Every time another hashtag comes about, I think of you. When I watched the video of the Alton Sterling shooting, I thought of you. When I watched the Facebook live stream containing the death of Philando Castile, I thought of you. Truth be told, I'm terrified for you. I'm scared that one day you could go out - to school, to a soccer game, to a restaurant, anywhere - and not come home. And it infuriates me that if a police officer were to ever hurt you, they would more than likely get paid administrative leave and eventually get off scot-free. These are sentiments I carry towards all of the men in my life: you, Dad, cousins, friends, uncles, etc. This goes for the black women in my life as well.
I don't understand senseless and brutal violence against black men and women and I can't tell you what to do in encounters with law enforcement to avoid being hurt or killed. (For the record, I know not every police officer is like the one that killed Alton Sterling or the one that killed Philando Castile.) I feel as though telling you to be safe does nothing, because I realize your safety might not even be up to you.
The events of this past week or so have kept me up at night. I've been confused, upset, sad, disgusted... Emotionally speaking, I'm drained. I'm hurting for the families of everyone killed by police brutality and gun violence and I'm saddened for you and all of our black brothers and sisters who now have to fear for their lives in encounters with law enforcement. The silver lining in all of this, however, has been the visible unification of our people.
I've seen such unity in the black community this past week . Through Twitter and other social media, through protests, through discussions, I have seen oneness. Our differences have been put aside and we've all worked towards a greater goal - the end of police brutality and racism and the beginning of true equality. I'm proud of our community, the black community, for rising up and demanding a change.
Your little sister.
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
― Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail
Lead Image Credit: Menna Admasu