I want to be seen as an individual. Not a statistic. Not as some stereotype. I want to be judged for my actions. I want to be seen for who I am, on a personal level.
How do you think you are seen by society?
That requires a lot of thought for me. I think in a broad general sense, people view me a little bit better than they would have 20-30 years ago. I think people’s view of me, if they just see me walking down the street, I think it’s a lot better than it was. But I just want to be viewed as some guy walking down the street. I carry myself in a way where I know most people don’t judge me negatively, and I would hope that most people would just have a mutual opinion of me.
Have your actions or words ever been misinterpreted by people, especially from different backgrounds?
All of them minor and trivial except for one incident. Where I was honestly judged before the person got to know me. Do you want me to tell the story?
If you don’t mind.
So, there was a time right after I got out of the military. And I was at home with my family, I was just enjoying the freedom that I had. And I had to go to the store because I needed to pick some things up. And I didn’t bother writing everything down, I just tried to remember it all in my head. I went to a Publix. By the time I got there I couldn’t quite remember everything I needed. So I spent some time going through the aisles, just trying to remind myself what I needed. By the time I collected everything I needed, I found I needed to go to the bathroom. So I ended up putting everything back. I went to the bathroom and came back out. I proceeded to pick everything back up, and that’s when I heard a voice say, “Put back what you stole.” I was kind of confused, I looked up and saw this man standing there saying that he was with loss prevention and they had been monitoring me since I came into the store. And they explained to me that I had been shoplifting. And I told them, “well that’s not the case, I just came in to pick up a couple of things.” And the guy told me, “Well, you know what, take what you’ve got, go pay for it and leave.” It was very hurtful. I have to say, that is probably my only true experience where I viewed the frame of racism directed toward myself. Because they had no business monitoring ME in particular. They were saying they watched me since I came in to the store, why? Why was it me? And I didn’t take anything, and they were claiming I did. I paid for my goods, I left. And it really bothered me. I told my folks about it, it bothered them as well. And it wasn’t so much the fact that I was black. Yeah, it definitely was that issue, but it wasn’t this scary black guy thing. Because the guy who stopped me was black himself. That just goes to tell me that it’s not one-sided.
Yeah, and he was probably told to look out for black people…
I was just sorely disappointed. Here I am, I had just got done serving our country. I was relaxing on my off time, sure I didn’t shave for a little while, but that’s no reason to target me. And I definitely felt targeted.
How do you want to improve your community?
I want to improve my community however I can. I know my life, just like for everyone else, it can get hectic, and it can get busy. But the times when you can find a chance to help, you help. A long time ago someone said to me, “If you have the ability to make a difference, you should make that difference.” You should do what you can. If you don’t, you’re just adding to the problems and nothing will change. I’ve helped do what I could. I’ve helped look for people who have gone missing, I donate to charities and to the homeless. Whenever I can, it may not be much, but it’s something. At the end of the day at least I can say I’ve done one good thing with my life.
How do you feel about the state of things right now?
I’m definitely very worried. Like a lot of people out there I was kind of disappointed with the way things wound up after the election. With the whole election, not just the results. I kind of saw some of these things coming, and I’m not a political guy. I don’t align myself to one party or another. We have to learn to compromise again, and to start looking for what we like about each other. It’s ok to disagree, but it’s important to maintain a common respect for one another.
I came up with my own personal credo: “try to view things from every possible angle, try to view things from others’ perspective. It will help you come up with a solution or other options you have not thought of before.” I don’t think there is such thing as a perfect world. Perfect implies that there’s an upper limit. I don’t believe there is such a thing for humanity in general. I’m an idealist who believes we are imperfect beings constantly trying to improve ourselves. And that’s what we should be striving for every day, that’s the type of world we should want to live in. To always try to improve ourselves, better ourselves. It’s never going to be perfect or ideal, but one step at a time. And we should do this together.
How do you feel about the future? For yourself, your family, your friends?
I feel it’s on track, but we should always be vigilant. We should always watch out for one another and help make sure we reach our goals. Never get complacent. And always take a moment to not only look back, but to see where you are and see what your path ahead is.
Based on everything we’ve just talked about, if you had one message to say to the world, what do you think that would be?
I think it’s exactly what I said earlier: have a spherical point of view. View things from every possible angle. If you have to, get an outside perspective. Sometimes it’s hard for us to see a situation for what it is because we are too close to it, or too far away.
What do you think your biggest contribution has been thus far? What are you most proud of?
It’s not about the biggest contribution for me, it’s what I can do every day. It’s not like there is a one and done type of thing. It’s the little things, the little contributions that count. And I think it’s important to do good things, not because you are looking for some type of reward in life, or the life to come after. You do good things because it’s the right thing to do. And if my actions inspire someone to do better, even if it’s just in their own life, well then I’m proud of that.