Branded In My Memory
I am a 35-year-old black man, and I was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. As a child, my parents regularly warned me that I would be treated differently because of my skin color.
I never wanted to believe them because living in a predominantly Haitian community, I was protected from experiencing racism. I loved my country and could not believe that I would be treated differently because of my skin color. When I was 11 years old, all of that changed when my father was assaulted and arrested in front of his family at the annual Brockton Fair in Massachusetts.
That week, my parents made a promise to take us to the Brockton Fair, and we were excited. My three siblings, four cousins, and I spent the entire week planning, anticipating, and imagining the amount of fun we were going to have at the fair.
When we arrived at around 3 PM that day, we went to the ticket booth to purchase tickets. My father started to ask the woman selling the tickets, who was caucasian, questions about which package would be the best for the family. My dad has a master’s degree in education and was pastor of a congregation of 56. Those who know him know that he loves to ask questions. But those questions started to annoy the woman selling tickets.
After several questions, she became more aggravated, told my dad to piss off (in much harsher language), and refused to sell him tickets. After a minute of going back and forth with my father, the woman called over nearby police officers.
The police immediately grabbed my father and slammed him against the fence. My father told the police that he had done nothing wrong, but they yelled at him to shut his mouth. My siblings, cousins, and I all started crying hysterically, and my mom begged my dad not to say a word. My father again asked what he had done wrong. He told the officers he had rights and that they were treating him unjustly. That’s when two of the officers pulled out their batons. As the two police officers were about to hit my father, a third officer assisting with the process saw us children. He realized that they were about to beat my father in front of his children and stopped them. The officers promptly threw my father in the police car and hauled him off to the police station -- car keys, money, and all.
In those days, there were no cell phones, and we had no way to get in touch with my father to know what happened to him. We were in a different town, with no friends and family nearby. All we knew was that he was at the police station, which was two and a half miles away, and the only way to get to him was by walking. So we walked...
That was the longest two and a half-mile walk in my life...
When we arrived at the police station, we found my dad waiting for us there. The police accused him of disturbing the peace, a charge that was eventually thrown out. By the time we returned home that night, I was asleep from the emotional and physical drain of that night. However, my sister was still awake and witnessed for the first and only time in her life my father break down and cry at the dining room table. We have never seen him cry since then, even though he is now 68 years old and has since lost both his parents and a brother and sister.
The story I described to you was the earth-shattering moment in my life when I realized that I was not safe and would never be truly safe because of my skin color. Since then, I have been pulled over and yelled and screamed at profusely by police, had objects thrown at me by Caucasians driving by me as I was jogging, worked around openly racist coworkers, been prevented from entering peoples home because they did not want black people on their homes, had a police officer put his hand on his gun when I approached him for directions, and much more. I moved to New London County at the age of 22 when I graduated from college to work as a mechanical engineer, and many of the events that I described to you happened to me while I’ve lived here, some as recently as 2019.
The experiences that I share with you today are not unique, and in all honesty, I am fortunate to have only suffered those “minor” experiences. It could have been worse, I could have been beaten, I could have been jailed, I could be dead. Even now, it is still not over for me. I walk around daily knowing that if I am in the wrong place at the right time, I could easily find myself -- a married man, father of three, engineer, and business owner in Norwich -- in my father’s shoes.
The racism buck did not stop at my father’s generation, and it has not stopped at mine. Since my daughter was four years old (she is now 8), I have had to console and explain to her why some of her classmates and in other cases, kids in her children’s ministry class, didn’t want to play with her because she has “brown skin.”
If I were to invite you to a family gathering and you were to speak with my relatives and ask them about their experience, you could write several books. If racism and police brutality against my family is not dead and we live in New England, how much more is happening in the other parts of the country where whole communities and elected officials are openly racist?
I am a 35-year-old, married black man, with three kids, a degree in mechanical engineering, with no criminal record, a volunteer at my church, and my wife and I are business owners and I still experience racism living here in New London County.
Racism is real and ever-present. Until we are willing to accept that truth, we will not be able to bring the change and healing that our black community and this country needs to move forward. I hope that by reading this letter, it will help you see the reality of what our black American community across the country, including New London County, faces so that you can join the much-needed conversations to bring change in our country and communities.