I didn’t think he’d see me staring at him. I tried to fiddle with the People magazine in my hand — darted my eyes over the cuckoo clock above the Barista’s head.
He spotted me. And I couldn’t backpedal, couldn’t turn away fast enough. He was the color of pre-evening with onyx eyes and a James Earl Jones voice.
My entire body convulsed when he said, “I think you dropped this.” I looked down and he was holding my pen. I had been tackling a crossword puzzle, and the sleek writing tool must’ve escaped my grip when I saw him.
“I, uh … Yes, that’s mine.” I started tripping over my words. What was I doing?! Where was my head? I dragged the pen from his grip.
“I’m Loyal.” He extended his very manicured right hand to me.
“Um … I’m trustworthy.”
He giggled. I heard cherubs singing. I hadn’t caught the humor until he casually said, “No. Loyal is my name. Loyal Manor.”
His hand was still waiting for mine. I slapped it nervously, cupped it, then gave it two quick shakes.
“Oh! Oh! Haha. My apologies. I’m Grace … Grace Baron. It’s nice to meet you, Loyal.”
I glanced over at the Barista, who flawlessly prepares my order daily, and she flashed me a wink.
“Well, I’ll let you get back to your puzzle, Grace. Will you be here tomorrow?”
“WILL I?! I mean … Sure, I’ll be here.”
The dimple in his left cheek made my acquaintance, and I became as giddy as a schoolgirl. Everything about Loyal was smooth as a cup of pour-over coffee, and I wanted to learn more about him.
“Okay, then. I’ll see you tomorrow, Grace Baron.”
“Uh huh. Yes. Yes, you will.”
He turned to exit the building, and I knew it was rude to watch, but I wanted to be sure I wasn’t dreaming.
The Barista tipped her hat in my direction, and flashed me another wink. The server bought me a second cup of coffee and patted my hand. A piece of paper bounced off my knuckles.
There, on a strawberry-scented blueprint piece of stationery, was Loyal’s phone number.
“African Americans remain missing four times longer than White Americans”
I have been watching the HBO docuseries Black and Missing, which follows two sisters-in-law, Natalie and Derrica Wilson, founders of the Black and Missing Foundation, Inc., as they lend or give voices to the families and friends of missing persons of color. Black and Missing is “the four-part documentary series, by multiple Emmy® winner Geeta Gandbhir and award-winning documentarian, journalist, author and activist Soledad O’Brien.” That there even has to be a foundation to draw awareness to the numbers of missing persons who go unnoticed, underappreciated, or acknowledged should be enough to cause one’s stomach to turn.
But I am glad the organization exists. I am glad these Black women exist.
Their task is often defeating and exhausting, yet Natalie and Derrica Wilson make it their business to put in this type of work. They are the faces of an organization that cares about and will help fight to bring missing people of color home or design a way to get closure for the families left to ponder about and grieve their disappearances.
“African Americans remain missing four times longer than White Americans.” — Natalie Wilson
When you see that number before you, how does it make you feel? What builds in your system — in your soul — knowing African Americans can go on missing four times longer than White Americans? How does it shape you? We can go over many scenarios and we can hash out what the reasons could be, but one thing is clear — we have to fight so much harder to have our voices heard and engage with the media and public servants at higher rates just to get even a morsel of coverage for each person of color who goes missing.
The following trailer is just a snippet of what the duo is doing — has done. It’s an introduction to their efforts and how far they will go until actual change occurs.
Derrica Wilson is a former law enforcement officer who climbed the ranks and worked as a deputy sheriff and also became the first African American female officer to work for the City of Falls Church Police DepartmentinFalls Church, Virginia. Her experience as a public safety officer, recruiter, and background administrator has given her the tools she needs to interact with the public, assist in city-wide searches and canvassing of neighborhoods, and reach out to various police officers and detectives for assistance.
She is the Co-Founder and CEO of the organization and operates it with her sister-in-law, Natalie Wilson, since its inception in 2008.
Natalie Wilson has a background in public relations and devotes her time to interviewing families, maintaining pertinent outreach, and connecting families with various media outlets for the appropriate coverage for their missing family members. Her son had been wrongfully jailed based on a false report by a police officer and served nearly two years before his release. Natalie is no stranger to injustice and gives her expertise in any way she can to further catapult the organization in the right direction.
She is the Co-Founder and COO of Black and Missing Foundation, Inc.
Having these two Black women at the forefront of an organization that exhausts all of its resources to seek the recovery of hundreds of missing persons of color makes it easier to sleep at night. They are fighting to keep families’ voices alive. They are the center point of hope and undying faith. With their help, many families and friends have connected with their loved ones or have been given closure to open or cold cases that should have continued to be worked.
I could be one of these missing persons of color — my nieces, my nephews, any of my loved ones.
As a Black, bisexual, single woman living in the South, I have pondered about my death at the hands of another, or if I were kidnapped or taken into violent custody — who would look for me . . . Would I have any avengers? Would my family and friends be able to communicate effectively with the media to ensure my story is told? How long would the authorities search for me before they “give up” or “call it a day”? Would I even be important enough to them to conduct an adequate search?
Taking it a step further, suppose I was on the outside looking in and one of my nieces, nephews, or younger or older cousins goes missing — what then? I know myself and my ways . . . I would pull at every resource within my reach to pursue getting efficient assistance. I would lose my voice shouting throughout their neighborhoods. I would use up every cent in my bank account, creating and printing flyers, trying to get television interviews and media coverage.
There is no doubt I would endure many sleepless nights. No doubt.
And is this not how it should be? But would it not be best for the authorities to have these tasks unloaded on them as one would think — a missing person — should be recovered by those employed to protect and serve?
I felt their pain.
The families in this docuseries were open enough to share their stories — their pain. Listening to them shifted something within me. My heart ached. I felt tears streaming down my face and could not stop them. I wanted to single-handedly reach out to all of them and embrace them for what they have endured and all the pain that is ahead for them, too. But you cannot hug away worry. You cannot hug away the depths of pain. There is no antidote to reverse the various emotions many of them are feeling because of their significant losses.
However, with the Black and Missing Foundation, Inc. at the ready, there is light at the end of the tunnel for people of color. Derrica and Natalie Wilson make it their business to serve their community and help families lasso in resolutions.
It is not a safe world out there for dozens of people — for anyone, really. And times are getting much harder. To think about the possibilities of being neglected and forgotten if I were to go missing is another sliver of anxiety I do not need — do not want. But it is there, settling in the darkest spaces of my mind, and I cannot ignore it.
Listen . . . I gotta baby on the way and I’m three weeks outside of high school graduation. My mama ain’t trying to hear me staying at her place when the baby comes. Yeah, she’s happy to be a grandma soon. No one’s challenging that. She’s just . . . How do you say it? Ready to have her space to herself.
I don’t blame her. I’ll be nineteen years old when my little one gets here. I gotta job. Her mama does too. I work nights at a distribution warehouse for a major chain and her mama works second shift at one of the local ice cream spots. We’ve been saving. It ain’t nothing to write home about, but I got $2,300 saved so far and she has a little more than I do.
A cousin of mine owns a housing building — four floors, forty units. He said he’s willing to rent us a one-bedroom for $925.00 each month for up to twenty-four months.
It’s doable. Up in the sticks and far from the craziness of the city.
Between the two of us, we’ll make it work. We have to. I have a bike. Not no mountain bike or anything like that — a motorcycle. My girl hates it — won’t even come near it. But it’s paid for and gassing it up doesn’t cost much. She takes the train or an Uber to work.
I know we’ll have to look into some form of transportation convenient for young parents. I can’t haul my baby on my bike and I damn sure don’t want her and her mama lugging about on the train or in an Uber.
My homie Amar asked his uncle Khalil if he’d be willing to sell his 2017 Hyundai Elantra GT (hatchback) to us. He’s thinking about it. I hate that kinda shit, you know? That “thinking about it” shit. Either you want to sell the car to us or you don’t. Just be real.
But I’m trying to be patient. My girl says I’ll have to work on that much more now.
Four more months . . . That’s right around the corner. I’m scared as hell. I ain’t gonna sit here and lie to you — I’m scared. I gotta good heart, though. I make decent grades. I even have a supervisory position waiting for me at the warehouse when I graduate, so I feel confident about being a dad.
My dad is a good dude. Salt of the earth. He and Mama have their differences, but they’ve been together now for twenty-two years. That’s beautiful. I want that kinda love — that long-lasting, ain’t going nowhere until I die kinda love, you know? I think I’ll have that with Iesha. That’s my girl.
I want that. I really, really do.
I don’t talk about this kinda stuff with my boys. They’re in their feelings about me being a dad soon — said I’ll be missing out on shit, but I don’t think so. I’m gonna have a baby girl. Really, watching her grow up is gonna be the best gift anyone can ever give me. I ain’t missing out on nothing.
Not a thing.
My shift’s about to start. If you wanna drop back by sometime tomorrow to bend my ear and all that, I’ll see ya then. If not, that’s cool too. This money ain’t gonna make itself.