An Open Letter to My Son

What a joy you are. Indeed you are your namesake, Nathan..”a gift from God.” I watched in delight as you entered this world and now I recoil in fear and shame at the conditions plaguing the world I brought you to. I followed all the societal rules regarding your entrance, and acceptance, into society. Your father and I had been happily married for years, you had two older siblings, your own room, a backyard and a cul-de-sac. Per nutritional guidelines, I nursed you exclusively (15 months!!). I made your baby food. I loved on you and cherished you.

By the time you were born, I fancied myself a seasoned parent. I was also well aware of the unique positionality of Black boys in America. I had studied it, read it..but I had not lived it. Even though I knew all the research and statistics, I separated them out from how people would perceive you. After all, who could not love you as much as I do. Who could not recognize the sweetness of your spirit and the gentleness in your soul?

So it was with great pain when I realized that regardless of all that your father and I had done to provide you with access and opportunity to some you were, and will always be, just another Black boy. It all happened so early, kindergarten. I noticed how you (and other Black and Brown boys) were being treated differently and tried my best to write each incident off as an isolated event, because if they weren’t I was going to have the frightening and sobering realization that no matter what I try to do to protect you, the world would never be a safe place for you. My deep-seated fears were confirmed as I watched our nation react to the controversial killings of multiple Black boys and men.

Watching these events reminded me again of the loss of your innocence. When you were eight, your father and I knew it was time. You had entered an academically gifted program, making you the “only” in that classroom. You were beginning to display subtle signs of racial distress. Your innocent face crumbled and your eyes widened as you tried to make sense of the rules we were sharing with you. Don’t stand out. You only get once chance—it doesn’t matter what Paul does—you will be noticed. Even though you are the same, you are different. Helping you process this conversation was one of the most painful experiences of my life. Your innocent soul and nurturing spirit struggled to understand why you now had a different set of rules to live by than everyone else. I had no answers for you then. I have none now.

I do know that part of my parental obligation, as a mother of a Black son, is to warn him. Warn him of the perception the world has of him, without even getting to know him. Teach him how to respond. WHEN to respond. Pray for, and with, him. Love him. Love him some more.

Now that you are almost 16, I am in full blown panic mode. My heart skips a beat every time you put your hoodie up, pop in your earbuds and head out the door. I know you are heading to the neighbors to dog sit, or taking a quick jog to get in condition for Lacrosse, but those things don’t matter. What will the world think when they see you coming, and how will they react?

I wait for your return, it a different way than I waited for your sisters. I wait anxiously for you to come back home. To the only space I can control. Where you are truly free to be a boy until you become a man.




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© 2021 by Dr. Shawn Ricks          1400 Old Mill Circle Suite D Winston Salem NC 27103     336-937-8883