What I Learn from the Black Men in My Life

Part II: No matter what, hold your head up high

Two men: each of them I have known for more than fifteen years, both of them are close to me. I love them. I try my best to understand them. I want nothing more than to always support them. And I pray that this world sees the beauty in them just as I do. I thought, “How can I have the world listen to them for several minutes? What can I do to gift someone other than myself the opportunity to get a glimpse of walking in their shoes?” The idea that turned into the words you see before you: ask them poignant, in-depth questions about being men of color in this world today and see where it takes us. This is part two of the series.


I begin this installment with Dre, just as I did in the first one. During this short conversation, we touch on his feelings about being wrongly accused, incarcerated, and blamed for being nothing other than a black male, driving to his destination, and having a car that at that time, fit a cop’s “description.”

I want to share this truth with those of you reading. A lot of what we will share are hard issues and heavy situations to discuss and each of my friends has agreed to do this — to open up and let their voices be heard because there is always someone else out there struggling to speak up and struggling to get by and get over their constant obstacles. Dre was the first to tell me upon asking if he will continue this project, “Yes, I’m doing it — having to deal with stuff internally . . . Those questions open up so much.”

And he is right. They do. But he also recognizes the importance of the project and stated, “I need to start sharing this. Somebody needs it,” which leads us to the first question.

“Did you or do you ever blame yourself for being in the wrong place at the wrong time? If you did, how have you worked through that? If you do, what are you doing now to remind yourself that it wasn’t your fault?”

“No, I don’t blame myself because it wasn’t a wrong place type of thing or from hanging around the wrong people. I was pulled over while driving down the street and basically escorted to the precinct. The only thing I regret is not telling my mother soon enough and cooperating. I just felt I was good since I knew I didn’t do anything that brought about everything that followed.”

I sat with his words and read and re-read them several times. I appreciate Dre for his candor. I have known him for thirty-one years and one thing that makes up his character is honesty without being rude in the process. Can you imagine yourself, a young man, eighteen years of age, driving in your car, heading to your destination, but stopped because of well . . . a car that looked like one your local police precinct informed you fit the description they had?

“I just felt I was good since I knew I didn’t do anything that brought about everything that followed.”

The next question gets deeper. “At this point in your life, what motivates you to meet your daily goals? Would you say it is harder for you to meet them based on your past? How much of a struggle is it, if so?”

“My motivation comes in different forms. It’s kinda hard to put one higher than the other outside of my relationship with Jesus. However, not going back to prison is a constant driving force along with my daughter, my wife, and just an overall desire to shove their statistics (the Bureau of Justice) in their face because I’m not joining in on the cycle of the high percentage of people who go back. Nothing has been hard, my perspective is way different than most due to the situation, so because of that, you can’t throw anything at me harder than that almost.”

I think about his experiences and I am reminded to stand tall and strong and to not let anything overpower me.

I know talking about this has opened up some wounds for him that are healing — have healed, but getting it out in the open as a way to perhaps help others is most important to him. Knowing all that I know about Dre, his resilience, his efforts to defeat anything harmful on his path, and his love for the Creator, I have no doubt that he is walking headstrong, upright, and with confidence. I think about his experiences and I am reminded to stand tall and strong and to not let anything overpower me.

Through him, I am learning to never back down. He has been out of prison for twelve years after being incarcerated for nearly ten years and I foresee many years ahead of him without being re-incarcerated. He has a beautiful wife and an adorable little girl and his “family” is the light of his days. I can hear it in his voice when he speaks or decipher it in his tone when we correspond via email or text message. The most important thing to him is staying “free.” The only thing he wants to be is free.


Man leaning against his hand by Patrick Pierre
Vic is next. To say that I admire Vic’s career choice would be an understatement. He gets to share his artwork with the world. Pieces of his artistic expression are on T-shirts, flyers, posters, stickers, and prints. He is the ultimate modern Renaissance man with a powerful voice found at the click of a mouse. I value his brevity, his need to shine a light on problematic subjects, and his overall appreciation of knowing there is always more in store for him. We began his introduction to this installment with the following:

“While residing in a red state, as a man of color, and in your industry, are you compensated fairly based on your experience and talent?”

“I’d say close . . . but no. As a graphic artist in the apparel and promotional industry — it’s in a weird space right now. Commercial art is up against the more “sexier” fields such as UI/UX along with these websites where they keep thousands of stock graphics on hand. All the customer needs to do is punch in some text and boom, (their item) arrives in the mail. Now it’s almost as if my profession is considered “niche” because . . . I create custom graphics to meet the customers’ needs. You’ll always need shirts for some kind of an event along with other accompanying personalized items. I freelance on the side as well so, I’m able to support myself.”

“I create custom graphics to meet the customers’ needs.”

Regardless of the ups and downs of his chosen profession and the not-so-fair compensation for the art he creates, Vic knows his worth. He freelances as a means to supplement his income and some of his work can be found here and here. He knows what he brings to the table and can continue to keep his brand and his work alive. Knowing this, led me to the next question for him.

“If anything, what would you change about the industry?”

“I don’t think it’s the industry I’d look to change. I need to change myself in how I operate within this industry. You know how the talk of the day goes . . . “Gotta be your own boss,” you gotta have that entrepreneurial spirit. I’ve looked into equipment, costs in renting commercial spaces, and proposals needed to fund all of this. It’s kinda daunting.”

Reading and re-reading his second answer and connecting with it made me feel a strong sense of pain. In his profession, if he truly wanted to be successful or maintain steady work, he would probably have to break the bank to do so and even then, it is not guaranteed. Because of his “entrepreneurial spirit” and his ability to network successfully, he has been selected to be among a group of artists to showcase his work at an event this December in Austin, Texas.

As a man of brevity, Vic’s art in most cases is his speech. The expressiveness in his print work and hand-drawn images is gripping and aesthetically pleasing to someone who appreciates art. His digital designs are popular as well.

Creative Art by Victor Garcia
As he continues to branch out within the graphic design industry as well as becoming a better-known freelancer, the sky is not only the limit, it is well within reach. Vic is teaching me that I am of great value — that my skills within my line of work are necessary and if I stopped now, what would I gain?

Photographer 1, Black Man by Victoria Leigh
Being able to have these in-depth conversations with my friends is eye-opening. I am honored to aim a camera at them, angle it accordingly, and capture the right moment in order to share it with each of you. From them, I am learning to continue to be my best self. I am also learning that this world — the world in which we, People of Color, are still oppressed, underappreciated, underpaid, underfunded, and under-promoted will never give us anything. We have to continue to create our own paths, strut down them, and open up new doors and walk through them, into a fruitful life.

Read: What I Learn from the Black Men in My Life: Part I

I think of them and I am eager to continue to walk boldly into my future knowing that I do not have the need to quit anywhere in my bones. It cannot be done, not if I want to truly succeed. I know now that no matter what may come my way, I can and will hold my head up high and remain focused.

I want to thank both of these men for continuing this series with me and giving me more to digest as it pertains to life and the ways of this world for a man of color. Andre Murray and Victor Garcia— here you will find their voices. Here, you will find their hearts.

We cannot afford to quit. It isn’t allowed.


Originally published in Our Human Family on Medium.

Part I

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