Besides the COVID-19 pandemic (which, paradoxically, has given our planet a chance to breathe), there is another pandemic that is front and center at this time, though it has been around far longer: systemic racism. Indeed, George Floyd’s murder has sparked a revolution around the world. However, it strikes far closer to home for me, because it took place in my hometown, in the neighborhood where I grew up.
Baby Boomer that I am, I can remember my own experiences with racism as a young Black gay man:
I remember riding my bike through certain neighborhoods in town and being called the N-word.
I remember being passed over for certain positions in the workplace because of my Blackness.
I remember the civil unrest on Plymouth Avenue in north Minneapolis in 1967.
I remember experiencing racism and ignorance at my alma mater in the ’70s.
I remember times, when I used to go to clubs as an adult, being carded and asked for several forms of ID while white gay men just walked on in without being stopped.
I remember what it was like to spend a night in jail for something I never did, because a white woman I’d never met accused me of aggravated robbery. Later, I found out from my father that she had actually given the kiosk money I had allegedly robbed her of to her boyfriend, and chose to lie about it; who knows what would have happened had I not had a lawyer, friends who could vouch for my whereabouts, and a father who wouldn’t take any crap off the police officer who tried to get him to get me to confess.
Today, I know what’s it like to have to tell my son, now a young Black male, to watch his back and stay off the police radar.
When these events unfolded over the past weeks, I found something fascinating. When I wrote the first draft of my Mark My Words trilogy over two decades ago, the very issues included in it–racism, police brutality, sexism, homophobia–are now the current events on people’s minds. My character of Allen Beckley Christopher may have become a multimillionaire, but he and his family weren’t free of the aforementioned issues in our country, internalized or externalized. Yet, when I wrote it, I had hope.
In You Never Know, I spoke of these issues less. However, the practice of redlining was a part of the history of Minneapolis, and as such it is included in my historical fiction. As an author, I’m inspired by the words of Toni Morrison: “If there is a story you want to read, and it hasn’t been written, then you must be the one to write it.” Yes, the books I want to read include success, making a difference, and hope. I have a voice, and my voice is in the pen. That being said, I want to take a moment to give thanks to the Black press (such as Insight News and the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder) for reporting the successes, strengths, and the inspiring people/events in the community as well as the challenges.
Never Give Up, as my upcoming historical novel in my series, takes place in 2012. In light of current events, I see this novel now, with the way I wrote the police investigation of my main character Judge Earl James Berry’s shooting, as something that could have been, or might have been, had things been different. In the midst of the storm of this particular pandemic, I still have hope. There is no quick, easy fix to 401 years of institutionalized racism, but there’s hope for substantive change, and I’ve witnessed it in the young people who are leading this revolution for justice.
My works-in-progress include two male/male romance novels (yes, romance is my favorite recreational reading). Because it is still underrepresented in the genre, I’ve made it a point to add my voice to Black Love, specifically between two Black men. My brothas and sistahs, if you have a story inside you that’s aching to be written, don’t wait. Allow nothing to stop you. Do it. Publish it yourself. You’d be amazed at the support that is out there waiting for you. And you can pay it forward by your support of other Black authors/authors of color.
This past Saturday, I tuned in to a Virtual Town Hall meeting on Facebook. The topic was, “Race in Minneapolis,” and what we can do to create substantive change in our culture of “business as usual” when it comes to dismantling racism. One of the words of wisdom was for us as African-Americans to tell our stories. If we don’t, who will?
At the end of the day, it’s all about the love. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was also a “Drum Major for Justice,” and he loved this country too much to let it alone.
Believe in dreams and never give up. There is hope.