Dear He is Me Community:
You are entitled to feel. You can feel angry. You can feel numb. You can feel defeated. You can feel however you feel.
You are entitled to react. You can react by writing. You can react by working within the system. You can react by protesting. You can react however you want.
Your feelings and reactions are allowed to have tiers. You can feel and react within yourself. You can share your feelings and reactions with others. You can show your feelings and reactions to the world. You can feel and react to whatever degree you want.
Dr. Bettina Love said it best, “We have not always agreed on the methods of liberation, but the work has never ceased.”We’ve seen peaceful protests. We’ve seen silent vigils. We’ve seen community meetings, and activist speeches, and complete and intentional ignorance about what's going on. I personally marched the streets of Boston in 2014, in the early days of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Copy and paste a modern, legal lynching, make a few edits to the storyline, and we’re back at it again. People are tired of the same narrative, but we must continue to do the work to make the change. The work that’s needed however, is up for interpretation.
When you’re not walking in the shoes of an individual, it’s easy to judge their form of protest-- to tell them that they’re doing it wrong. We do not have the authority to tell someone how to feel what they feel, nor should we want to. That’s misguided criticism,anyway.
Instead of raising an eyebrow to people’s form of protest, our brows should be directed towards those who made their citizens rebel. What is going on at the systems-level to cause this level of fury? How do we have people in this country who feel like their lives aren’t valued? Why are people afraid of the very persons who vowed to “protect and serve?” This doesn’t make sense in what is supposed to be a free and liberated society.
And somehow, we’re supposed to turn to our children and tell them that everything will be fine. That this country is the place for them? How can we do that in good conscience?
He is Me Institute was founded on the idea that we will not allow Black boys to navigate their personal and academic lives alone. We want to ensure that every young Black boy in this country has Black men in his life who can give him guidance through the American jungle.
But can we really do that if we have yet to figure it out? How can we tell our boys how to live in this country,when we’re not even able to live in this country? We have taken on a task that is an uphill battle. And we’re here for it.
We protest by gathering knowledge. We want our young kings to have the know-how to address their emotions and better yet, the skills to communicate them. Not to create docile, “good ole boys,” but quite the opposite. We are creating powerful men when we cultivate our boys to have the strength and savviness to express their emotions in a controlled manner.
Sometimes, those emotions may be to intentionally disrupt a system, and that’s okay. Other times, those emotions may be to get someone else to calmly understand your point of view. That’s okay too. Calm is strength, but silence is complicit.
We’re going to keep giving Black boys a space to process and a space to feel. They need to see and hear us process and feel. They need to see a range of what that looks like, so that they know the various ways that we respond to the situations that America puts us in. They need to know that there is no “Black man” way to feel right now. We are complex humans like all other people. They need to see the patterns of history, so that they can think critically about how to stop them from repeating. This is something that we have not been able to figure out.
The line between anarchy and democracy is ever-so-thin and we’re teetering it. Teaching our boys how to tightrope is a skill that they should master before long. We are on the brink of change and the next generation will be shaped by it. This country will either soon realize the power of oppression, or this country will soon feel the power of the oppressed. In both scenarios, we must prepare our children to face the emotional toll that they’re about to undergo.
This is why we will keep doing our work. We are empowering Black boys from across the country to be radical and to protest. We’re not telling them to take to the streets, but we’re telling them not to fit the narrative. We’re telling them that there are many forms of Blackness and manhood and their combination is no less valuable or no less true than any other depiction that they are supposed to limit themselves to. We want them to show the world what a Black man is and bring their unique emotional package along for the ride.
My adulthood has been defined by two presidencies with their own set of firsts, which will make them both iconic in their own right. The first was the Obama presidency in 2008 the second,obviously is his predecessor. During these administrations, our news cycle has become reminiscent of the pre-Civil Rights era. Unarmed Black folx being killed and an injustice system that protects the murders from their due punishment.And we’re somehow trying to tell people how to feel?
This is a message to Black boys everywhere:you are entitled to feel, and you are entitled to react. When you do, be intentional about how you direct it and who you direct it towards.
To all the condemners out there, don’t limit their feelings and reactions to the White-washed, peaceful version of pushback that you want from them. Where was this placid energy in 1773? If frustrations can boil over for you, they can for our people, too.
We have our work cut out for us. We have institutions to influence, narratives to write, and youth to empower. This is a tall task that is integral in the quest to push our kids beyond surviving in America, but to thrive in it.
We can do it because they will do it.Time to pay it forward.
Robert J. Hendricks III
Founder & Executive Director