Part III: Breathe, it gets better
Two men: both of them I have known for more than fifteen years — they 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. I asked them poignant, in-depth questions about being men of color in this world today to see where it would take us. This is the third and final installment of this series.
It pains me somewhat to bring this series to a close, but a new project is already shaping itself in my heart and mind and will include snippets of their perspectives of this world from the various men and women in my life and will probably be a prose-poetry piece, so that is some consolation. Dre, like me, has been anxious for the publishing of each part of this series as we both wanted to see who our work would touch, speak to, and inspire.
He has been steadfast throughout this project — ready and willing to answer anything thrown his way and is supportive of every step we have taken to bring this project to light. It has been this project’s practice to begin with Dre and for this installment, that remains the same.
“While incarcerated, were you ever harassed for your arrest? Did other inmates attack or belittle you in any way? If so, how do you think that has shaped you?”
“I can’t say I was harassed at all. It didn’t change much of who I was. I was still quiet, reserved, and observant; as well as cool and down to earth. However, in prison, the weak are preyed upon so you have to develop some type of toughness or suffer the consequences. Funny thing is, being from Savannah, Georgia, you learn that there’s an unspoken brotherhood no matter if you knew any of the men prior to being incarcerated or if there was any type of hostility within any of them. In prison, Savannah stuck together, so there was no harassment from other cities. It shaped me to be alert in a sense, at all times, and always on guard — ready for the unexpected.”
However, in prison, the weak are preyed upon so you have to develop some type of toughness or suffer the consequences.
When I learned of Dre’s incarceration, I immediately thought, “I wonder how he held up. What happened to him and how did he survive it?” Dre’s incarceration took place while I was in college. I did not know about it until after his release. I knew him well enough before those years were taken away from him to know that he would survive this battle. I felt he would win that war. I was right. Every new day he is given is shaping him into the brilliant man that I know and reminds me of the persistent, observant, and inquisitive boy with whom I grew up.
“If you could say whatever you wanted to the arresting officers, what would it be?”
“I don’t know — really . . . I would ask why didn’t they investigate more to see if I was the person involved instead of just running with the first person (they could find) and probably the only person they thought was the criminal.”
Dre’s situation is one I have read about, one I have seen in movies — and one I learned about through word of mouth. I didn’t personally know of any cases of mistaken identity, cases of rushed or lack of thorough investigation, and cases of “arrest first, ask questions later” that hit so close to home. Dre has moved through the toughest part of his life and is an example of someone who is beating the odds.
My last question is one I thought I should ask — its relevance is pertinent to Dre’s life, what he has learned, and what he is enduring from it — both good and bad things.
“What advice would you give another young, Black man wrongfully accused, arrested, and incarcerated? How would you tell him how to survive while doing time?”
“ I would tell him: find a way to keep your mind active with some type of positivity. Don’t just sit in there stagnant. Stay away from those plotting to do more crimes upon release. And although it hurts and even when you feel all alone, life isn’t over but you have to want to succeed more than you want to succumb to the environment around you. Trust me, you can make it out here once released despite the felony on your record. But it will take hard work and determination. It’s beyond possible.”
Don’t just sit in there stagnant. Stay away from those plotting to do more crimes upon release.
I read through Dre’s responses. I sat with them and pulled the pain, anguish, and optimism from each one. He has sustained. He is sustaining. He has not been torn down. One of the things we both wanted to take place with this project is a connection — for someone to read this and feel it if they need to. Sometimes, it only takes one person to grasp something that has been said, share it with someone else, and the message moves without the messengers touching it.
This is our greatest hope for this project. As the years pile on, I know that my friend and I will continue to build upon what we have created and share our life’s experiences with those willing to hear them.
This is Dre. He is a loyal friend, a source of wisdom, beaten yet not broken, and a faithful follower of Christ. I have more to learn from him and I look forward to it.
Vic has his running shoes on — chasing his dream. He is creating art at a faster than normal pace due to an upcoming art exhibit to be hosted in Austin, Texas, in December 2019. While he was working on his contributions to the exhibit, I worried this project would interfere with his creative output. It has not. He has been more than willing to [move forward and] finish what we started. For this, I am grateful. But then again, that’s just Vic. I have learned over the years, he is a keeper of his word. If he says it, you can take it to the bank. And since he is getting his affairs in order for what could be a momentous event in his life, I felt it only fair to build the questions of our last installment around his future endeavors.
“You will soon have the opportunity to showcase your work again. How will you use this event to your advantage?”
“I actually plan to wash and repeat the method of going to galleries that host the art of my interests and speak with the owners. It’s how this opportunity came together. This event is great for putting my name and work out there for sure.”
But then again, that’s just Vic. I have learned over the years, he is a keeper of his word. If he says it, you can take it to the bank.
“Being a man of color, specifically a Honduran (Black Hispanic), living in the South, have you found it harder to network and build a name for yourself and your art?”
“What has made things hard for me is my unwillingness to jump out there — really just a lack of confidence in my art. In my opinion, art could possibly be that one space on earth where talent brings forth a bit more of a level playing field.”
Vic’s response to my second question is one in which I too, have struggled — lack of or not enough confidence in my work. Until recently, I dwelled in the shadows of fear and did not take many chances when it came to sharing my work through various outlets and reaching out to publications of interest. Things began to change significantly when I removed the crippling aspects of fear from my daily habits of operation. The task now is to continue to pursue these connections I have made in hopes of continued growth and finding a bigger audience for my work. It is an eye-opener and a thing of beauty to see Vic doing the same thing.
“Have there been any helpful devices and tools for your art at your job? Or, is your job set up for functionality and production based on the company’s brand? How has this stifled your growth as an artist?”
“There have been ‘ah-ha’ moments at my job, so far as what I can do with the software. Creating or aligning customer provided graphics and making sure those graphics are screenprint-ready is my primary job. So, all in all, yes, there are helpful devices in aiding the functionality and production, which we’ve been busy with these past two months of which I am appreciative. Stifling? Well, there’s also that. I don’t do much vector work at home as I once did. (See: F.U. Robot.) But it has led me back to more analog pursuits like said art show coming up soon.”
Vic has learned that his work will not reach a bigger audience without some additional help from others within the industry in positions of being able to catapult his artwork to higher heights and he has also learned that the move in that direction begins with him. Asking him the questions I prepared for this project has opened up my creative world significantly. From Vic, I have found that if we remain silent in our creative corners or comfortable with our old ways of creativity, we will never reach our goals. It begins with us. We must push our art to where we want it. No one else will do it for us.
This is Vic. A fellow artist, a die-hard motivator, and a great friend. I believe as we grow older, we will become more comfortable and confident in our work and less afraid to share it. He is teaching me that we must have a starting point in order to finish. I look forward to the years ahead.
This project is one of great importance to me and I am ecstatic simply because we have been able to come together as a team to finish this. We started off with an incredibly high level of momentum and I know the three of us have maintained it. Our purpose here is clear: to connect with others who may need to share their story but would benefit from a starting point or boost from someone else.
We’ve put our truths out in the universe. —Vic
When I think about how much I have learned and what I will learn from the men of color in my life, I become filled with joy and love. I am also filled with hurt, anguish, and some despair. There will always be struggles for anyone simply trying to move further along in life, however, these struggles are made harder for People of Color.
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. To know the struggles of those I love and watch them excel despite their previous circumstances or take notice of how they press on without giving up stirs a sense of action in me.
I will not give up. I know the importance of breathing after all.
It does get better.
p a s s i o n
Esther sent an email to me to become a writer for A Cornered Gurl because she had a piece in her drafts that she thought would be perfect for the publication and it was–it is. I have been reading Esther for at least a year now and with every post shared to Medium, she shows that her talents reach far and wide. She can do fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, and micropoetry.
I am sure these are probably just a few of her actual literary abilities. When she’s writing, you’re reading. It’s hard not to. And for this, she is the featured writer for October. And now, the piece:
To The Man Who Told Me I Wasn’t a Feminist
“You can’t be a feminist. Feminists are anti-Christian and anti-men. That’s not you at all.”
I was in university. I must have been about 21 or 22. I was attending a campus Christian group/club when the topic turned to feminism. I mentioned that I considered myself a feminist. You and the woman who was leading the group turned shocked looks toward me and proceeded to tell me that a “real” Christian cannot also be a feminist. It was mostly you talking, but the woman nodded along and agree with everything you said.
To be honest, I don’t remember much of your reasoning because I wasn’t really listening. I was so shocked at what you were saying that I just stared at you with my mouth open. I probably looked like a fish. You probably thought you taught me something. You did.
I grew up in the church, so you might be surprised that I hadn’t encountered such blatant religious sexism before. I suppose I had, but it was mostly coming from old people like my dad (you were about my age), and never from women (at least not in my hearing). I was baffled that any person my age could think that a Christian couldn’t be a feminist — at least while continuing to be a Christian — and horrified that a woman could agree. I guess I had lived a sheltered life.
I had known you for a few months at this point, and I had a respect for you as the leader of the group. I lost all respect for you.
You taught me that I couldn’t trust a man just because he is a leader. You taught me that I couldn’t trust a woman just because she is a woman. You taught me that some young, university-educated Christians still believe in stupid, outdated sexist ideas. You made me even more determined to call myself a feminist.
You see, your mistake was in thinking that just because I’m a woman that I will listen to you. I don’t like to do what I’m told to do or be what I’m told to be. Like my Biblical namesake, Queen Esther, I will walk into the king’s court uninvited and ask for justice for my people. “And if I perish, I perish.”
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.
“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.
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.