They tell me, erasing one’s
bloodline is not something
they can do, however, I’m
censored and erased without permission
and I wonder,
“Is it what I’m saying or how
I’m saying it?”
And I sit and watch the people
of the world gather amongst
themselves to finally show us
their vocal sides of life.
I guess being silent came
at a heavy price and not everyone
can carry a cross.
Not everyone’s built for burdens
thrown upon their shoulders at
a moment’s notice.
I’ve found my cross to bear is mine
and mine alone — I carry it knowing
this life is not my last.
Many are learning about Tulsa, Rosewood, Atlanta, and Wilmington
and they think they know the struggles
of a people who have done nothing but
fight for basic rights to
claim the fight from us.
Yes, we need your voices.
We need you to understand that
this — this being black and fighting
is a thing that has been a thing and
now with new eyes placed upon
fresh faces, millions see what should
have been seen centuries ago.
Removed from history books, our stories
were buried in places where cobwebs
hide and tethered papers have been
forbidden to see the light of day.
You tear down a few statues, remove
racist blips from comedic performances,
change the names of products drenched in hate,
and feel as though this should . . .
Shut. Us. Up.
Oh, ye’ of little faith, we are only
growing stronger and the fight that
will come after this will be one
spoken about years beyond the depth
and breadth of the color of one’s skin.
How a Racist Patient Tried to Ruin My Day and Failed.
On Thursday, June 11, 2020, I was at my screening station doing the part of my job I have learned to love as much as I dislike it and things were going smoothly. I had only one incident of a patient who waltzed into our doors not wearing a mask and tried to quick-step past me to get into one of the waiting areas. I stopped her, advised her of the sign on the building’s doors that begins “This is a mask-requirement facility”, and offered her a mask. She declined it — stated she would not wear one. I obtained her name, the exam for which she was scheduled, and informed her she could either reschedule (by calling our scheduling department) for a later date or comply with the regulations. She chose the former.
Later on in the day, an elderly patient came for a procedure but brought her slightly older husband with her. We are currently on a “No visitor rule” of which many of our patients are made aware prior to scheduling and entering the building, however, some people forget or just want to test the waters. This patient knew the regulations but had her husband drive her. She said to me, “Baby, I know y’all ain’t letting anyone else in the building, but please, can my husband sit in here until I am done?” Now, I was raised to respect, love, and take care of my elders. Of course, I was not going to let an eighty-eight-year-old man sit in his car on one of the hottest days in June so far, while his wife had services rendered.
I obtained one of the chairs from our waiting area, sat it about ten feet from the entrance, and made sure he was comfortable. I screened both him and his wife and he sat with me in the foyer while I continued to do my job. While screening another patient, I could see a White, heavy-set, angry-looking male approaching our doors. He did not have on a mask. He would enter the building without one. I asked my patient to give me just a moment, put on some gloves, and met this young man at the door, greeted him, and gave him a mask and asked him to please put it on. He did not. Instantly, in my head, I said, “Oh, this is going to be interesting.”
I finished with my patient, asked the young man to please approach me, but put on his mask first. This is what followed:
Patient: “I would rather not.”
Me: “Okay, sir. It’s totally up to you what you would like to do, however, this is a mask-required facility, so no mask, no service.”
Patient. “You must watch CNN.”
Me: “I watch whatever is going to make me knowledgable about the events around me, sir. Now, we are going to begin your screening process. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
Patient: “Everything is NO NO NO NO & NO!”
Me: “I will log it in my memory bank that your answers will be no, sir, but I still have to ask the questions.”
I proceeded to ask him the screening questions, each of them already previously responded to, so I moved through them hastily. It was when I got to the last question that his entire demeanor shifted and his anger became even more concerning.
Me: “Thank you. Do you mind if I take your temperature?”
Me: “Sir, are you refusing to have your temperature taken?”
Patient: “Yes, I am!”
Me: “Okay, sir. You will turn around and exit the building for not cooperating with the screening process. We will call you at a later time to get you rescheduled. Please have a great day.”
This guy rips off his face mask, kicks our doors open, and starts shouting expletives as he’s leaving — loud enough for everyone in the foyer and our two waiting areas to hear him. One of the sentences being, “Ain’t no fucking Coronavirus, this is fucking ridiculous!” Now, bear in mind, I still had the eighty-eight-year-old man waiting in the foyer with me and by this time, two more women were waiting to be screened as well. One lady witnessed the entire exchange, the other came in on the tail-end of it. The lady who witnessed everything; White, heavy-set, and peaceful-looking, was next and I called her up to begin the screening process.
Me: “How are you doing today, ma’am?”
Nice Patient: “I am doing good, baby. I can tell this ain’t your first rodeo and I want to tell you that you handled that very well. Some people are just ignorant.”
Me: “Thank you, ma’am. I appreciate that. Do you mind if I ask you a few screening questions?”
Nice Patient: “You go on ahead and do what you need to do.”
I completed the screening process with her and apologized to her for witnessing what transpired and she quickly informed me I had no need to apologize but she thanked me just the same. I made her aware I would have to contact my center manager to explain the situation and asked if it would be okay to give her name just in case they want to contact her. She assured me she would be helpful in any way she could and agreed to me giving her information to our center manager. I walked over to the elderly man waiting and made sure he was okay. I apologized to him for having to witness the debacle and he said “You don’t need to apologize to me for a thing. I knew he was going to be trouble when I saw him walking towards the building.”
With everyone safe, screened, and sent to their respective waiting areas, I began to contact two of the modalities and my center manager. I keep my cell phone in the foyer with me as I have the direct phone numbers for each modality so we can communicate quickly and effectively about our patients. I contacted our Open MRI modality as the angry patient was scheduled for their scanner, explained the situation, and informed them our front desk was asked to please cancel the patient’s appointment for “Failure to comply with screening protocol.” I contacted the Mammogram department as their waiting area is the same as our Open MRI, so they could be aware — this is a person who could have potentially been waiting with others for their exams.
With those two modalities informed, I began to send my center manager a Microsoft Teams message. I explained the entire situation in full detail — making her aware the patient was far away from the facility and everyone who needed to be contacted had been so. Her response was, “Are you okay? Is everyone safe? Is anyone hurt?” I informed her I was fine, a bit shaken up, but otherwise okay and no one was hurt. She began her research on the patient and informed me she would speak with our Chief Tech in the morning who had taken the day off.
There was no, “Let me take a moment to collect myself” or “I am scared as hell, but I won’t let him see it.” I had to keep things moving regardless of what happened because other patients are a priority and their care is my concern. My team’s safety is my concern. This is simply another incident occurring living while Black and I am used to maneuvering through life simply for survival’s sake. I operate in peace on most days, however, I am stern in my explanations of our process while being tactful. I have a cheerful disposition, but please do not mistake this for weakness. If provoked — as in, if you lay your hands on me, I am not a stranger in having to cold punch you in your throat. I will do so if I have to. I do not want to.
Word traveled quickly throughout our facility and soon, my coworkers came out, one by one (up to six of them), to tell me how much they love me and are happy I am there doing what I do. One said, “I want to hug you so badly right now and I know I can’t.” I knew I needed that hug and I welcomed it. She held me and I could feel the tears starting to form in my eyes and I quickly gathered them and said to her, “I want to cry, but I am not going to. I cannot do anything about racists and their behavior. I can only do something about my reaction and he will not steal my joy, but I don’t want to die here.” She squeezed me and said, “I love you. We all love you. We have your back. You aren’t going to die here.”
At work, I am called, “The Sheriff,” “Top Flight Security,” “Drill Seargeant,” and “The Bouncer.” These are all names my coworkers have given me as they state I am meticulous in how I run our foyer, our waiting areas, as well as how I interact with my team. Plainly put, I get things done. Many of them, on various occasions, say “I don’t worry about a thing if you are out there screening our patients.” Regardless of what I encounter on a daily basis, I can look to the people I share the facility with for eight to ten hours a day and know they will come to my aid.
The next morning, Friday, June 12, 2020, the Chief Tech came to my station and said, “Tre, I want you to know I have called the referring physician’s office, spoken with his office manager, and gave her the details of the incident from yesterday. They were informed that we do not tolerate that type of behavior here and he will not be able to have his scans done in the future. I am sorry you had to experience that. I really am.”
I thanked her. I am grateful for people who are actually standing on their word. You can tell me what you are going to do or how you are going to do things, but I will tell you right now, loose lips do not provide me any service. You have to show me where you stand in order for me to believe you. Our staff has shown me, is showing me, and this, during a time of great turmoil, is a blessing.
As the day came to an end, my center manager checked on me once again. She made sure I had everything I needed and informed anyone with free time to relieve me whenever I needed to step away. She said something I truly do not want anyone to ever feel they have to say to me: “I wish I could be in your shoes for just one day, so I can know what this feels like.” I stopped her. It wasn’t her first time saying it and I know it’s a way of wanting to know — wanting to feel what I feel — I told her once again . . . “You do not want these shoes. I am Black every single day. I know how to carry what I carry. Everyone isn’t equipped to deal with this.” Her eyes teared up as did mine and I thanked her once again for allowing me room to vent and standing alongside me.
Knowing what I know at my place of work, I feel less alone, but I still am.
How My Boss Made Space for Me When I Needed It Most
I had an emotional breakdown at work. To be frank, I have been met with more responsibilities, lack of support from my direct higher-up, and an indescribable amount of tension within our walls due to America’s current state of affairs. My role has shifted. Not only do I register patients for imaging scans and invasive procedures, I also screen patients for COVID-19 symptoms prior to entering our waiting areas. My hours, on some days, are longer than others and my shifts have been inconsistent. I have been exposed to positive COVID-19 patients as well as patients who presented with symptoms or who have been around someone diagnosed with Coronavirus, COVID-19 in the last fourteen days.
I am currently on my ninth day of self-monitoring as our Employee Occupational Health team believes I have not been in contact with these patients long enough for it to warrant actual testing for COVID-19 — I am presumed to be safe enough to be at work. In each scenario, I was prepared, wearing a face mask, gloves, and goggles. They too had on face masks — one was wearing gloves. I was with each person for about five to six minutes. Upon verifying their status or confirming symptoms, these patients were directed to the PUI (Patient Under Investigation) facility where they would, in fact, receive their care.
I should have prefaced this by stating, we started the Coronavirus season with three screeners. One of my co-workers who screened with me is out on medical leave, post-surgery. The other has had two panic attacks due to exposure to positive patients and the fear it brings along with it. I stand alone, doing what I do to ensure the safety of myself and others.
But, I don’t feel safe at all.
From the constant cleaning of our front doors and entryways to questioning over one hundred fifty people per day, and dealing with the various attitudes that accompany some of these people, I am worn thin. Because we are short-staffed, there is no one else to turn to. We are all trying to make what we do work with the help we still have. It is not easy. There are many days where I dread getting up and taking another stab at the workday, but my bills are not going anywhere and I still have to take care of Jernee.
One of the recent changes among the ones listed above presented to us by my direct higher-up was to have us come in one hour early on our respective closing days and reduce our lunch break by thirty minutes. (That would be a 9 to 10-hour shift with a thirty-minute break.) She emailed this order to us one of the days I was scheduled to close. I received the message on my phone and upon reading it, the anger that had been boiling up in me unloaded.
I typed in a rage-response to her what I would and would not do and why it is wrong of them to ask more of us, then take even more from us as well. She passed my thoughts on to our center manager and since she and I have a history (she used to be our direct supervisor, left the center for a year, then returned, and is now the current center manager), she called me into her office to speak with her.
Come. Sit, Please. Tell Me What You’re Feeling.
I sat in her office knowing full-well why I was there. I had “acted out of character”, my response to an ill-fitting request of those who are already overworked, underpaid, and thrown into roles, not previously designed for them, was not what they were expecting. But, our center manager understood this. She said eight words to me, “Come. Sit, please. Tell me what you’re feeling.” And, I did. As I expressed what I felt and why and was open about how we’re being treated and what it does to me, the tears rolled down my face. My breaths quickened. My chest heaved. Sobbing became something that could not be contained.
She said, “You can take that mask off. I don’t need to be protected from you.” She handed me a box of Kleenex and let me continue. She listened to me, truly listened to me. I saw the expression on her face change from “concern” to “understanding.” In the midst of my storm, she tried her best to be a raft — something that provided safety. I cried until there was a sense of relief in my heart. She assured me they would find a way to lessen some of the weight hoisted upon us recently.
She did. She kept her word. But she has always done this. She informed me on that day if I ever felt the need to express myself to come to her — to not let my feelings stay pent up until they have nowhere else to go but out and in a way someone will not understand it or expect it. She ended our conversation by saying, “I am saying this because I care about your head (pointing to her head) and I care about your heart (pointing to her heart).”
Fast-forward to six days later on the evening of June 04, 2020, my co-worker, another African-American woman, was faced with the blatant tongue of a racist patient we have an obligation to serve. The next morning, she could not wait to come to my station in an attempt to tell me what happened. She teared up as soon as she saw me, and I felt it. I already knew something happened the night before that would change our center — change our leadership. We talked as quickly as we could and I ached for not being able to hug her — to provide comfort. I said, “We are not who they say we are. Do not let them live in your heart. Don’t give them room there.” She shook her head in agreement at me, wiped the tears from her eyes, thanked me quickly, and went back inside to register patients.
On the same day, I had my run-ins with a few racist patients who flaunted their “Trump for President 2020” paraphernalia upon entering the building and attempted to bypass donning masks. I was not having it. I stood my ground. I always do. I always will. You will not treat me in a way that is not aligned with how I wish to be treated or refuse me the respect I deserve. I am not a child. I will not be spoken to as one and I certainly will not bend to your rules for me without my consent.
I got through my workday as I always do — with prayer, belief in the work I do, and assistance from my co-workers. But, the pain was there. It sat in places in my body where I have not felt it before. My heart is heavy and it must show on my face because as I was leaving, our center manager said, “Tre . . . Come here, please. How are you feeling? How are you dealing with everything that’s going on in the world right now?” And all I needed was an invitation to tell her what was/is on my heart — to fully express just how hurt I am by the hands, tongues, actions, and behavior of her people.
I cannot be in her position. She cannot be in mine. She will never know how I truly feel just as I will never know what it’s like to be on her side of things trying to understand what is going on in my head — in my heart. But, she is empathetic to our plight. She has assured us we do not have to deal with ignorance and if someone brings their nasty behavior into our building and attempts to toss it at us, she is to be summoned to the location of such things. She let it be known, “You do not have to deal with the stupidity of others. You come and get me and I will handle it. I do not want anyone here feeling less than who they actually are. I won’t stand for that.”
I am forty years old. I have been working full-time since the age of eighteen. I have been Black my entire life — this will never change, however, this is the first time, someone in a position of power at any of my jobs has taken the time our center manager has to hear me.
Does it change what I feel or ease the heavy weight on my shoulders? No.
But, it is a start.
*Author’s Note: One of the worst things you can say to me is “I don’t see color” or “I don’t see race.” I need you to see me — to hear me. Seeing who I am and what my plight has been opens the doors to the conversations we need to have regarding systemic racism, social injustice, and how we can create change. I don’t need or want anything else.My boss has taken the necessary steps to sit her employees of color down to hear each of us out — to be there for us. That is how you move towards change.
Three men: each of them I have known for more than fifteen years, all of them 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 is this: ask them poignant, in-depth questions about being men of color in this world today and see where it takes us. This is the result.
I began the conversation with Dré talking about my weaknesses and what I expect of myself during therapy. “Some things, I am just not ready to discuss, you know? It’s heavy and I’d spend most of the session crying. I don’t want that . . . I felt like I’d waste her time and I know I wouldn’t, it’s just the way my brain works.”
“That’s actually a part of therapy.” He says this candidly — knowingly.
I take a moment to let it sink in, but don’t quite catch on. “Which is? Wasting time or crying? LOL!”
“No, talking about your issues and crying.”
It is one thing to be free, vulnerable, and open, but it is another to appear weak. Or, at least made to feel as though you are weak because you cannot hold back tears. In the case of the “strong black woman,” the myth is that we do not cry. We do not have time for crying. We cannot let ourselves appear weak. There are walls that need to be held up, maintained, balanced . . . Who has time for the walls to come tumbling down?
“I cry at home.” I am uncomfortable crying in front of others. I have a problem releasing when someone else is around. I like to think that this is because a few of my teenage years were spent in a space full of young boys and a mother who almost NEVER cried in front of us. There was a mask to wear and all of us wore it well. He saw right through me.
“But, that’s like hiding, still, in a sense.”
“It kinda is, but it feels like being free. I felt a sense of comfort being able to just cry and be at home. Home is therapy, too.”
I sit with his words on how I am probably still hiding. This man, my close friend has overcome so much and stands tall in the face of adversity. I know he is right, there is no denying it. I must find a way to completely remove my shell. How does it feel to have nearly ten years stripped away from you — to be wrongly accused of something? To miss out on the world as you fight for your life in a caged environment? I have learned to lean in a bit closer when he has something to say. We segue into a discussion about his life after enduring obstacles and hurdles from his past. While reading his words, I could feel his relief.
“So far, what would you say is your biggest achievement in life?”
“I don’t know. Maybe surviving prison, coming home, becoming a husband and father, even a deacon.”
Now that we are adults and closer to forty and no longer eight years old, our experiences create much of who we are — our grit, our need to survive, and maintaining our sanity. His, even more so because of his background (wrongly accused and incarcerated for nearly ten years) that was given to him when we were teenagers without his consent. Not once has he made an excuse for his past, he has only worked harder and longer than anyone else I know. Dré, he is his own Central Park 5 and I hear him.
I know men who do not use many words but say a lot with the words they use; men who make me think harder than I’d like to because I spend much of my time trying to speak louder than them. When you have had to yell for much of your adolescence in order to be heard, you become accustomed to either shouting or cowering when it is time to speak. I do not have to with the bonds that I have created with them. I hear them. They hear me. We simply are who we are.
Upon reaching out to Vic, I found that he has used the tools he learned in therapy to increase his sense of growth and understanding in life. He knows where he stands and he is secure in his skin. We discuss briefly what his takeaways are from therapy and how his experiences mirror mine.
“How has therapy benefited you?”
“It has given me the tools to see myself from outside myself. Through having to talk honestly, which is hard to do, about moments in my life. Therapy has helped me to connect the dots and see the patterns. From there, I can spot when the ego has stepped into the driver’s seat and have the wherewithal to dial it back. Or, how to adjust my perspective from a negative to a more positive spin. It sounds cliché but that really helps.”
His words ring true. I have known him for seventeen years and not only have I had the chance to watch a magnificent creature brave the tides of life, but I have also seen him overcome and jump some mighty high hurdles and he is still standing.
“What’s it like to be a man of color in the working world?”
“I’m not a big talker, to begin with, so it’s not a thing to me. I do my job which I love (graphic designer), then leave. Not saying I’m chummy-chummy with everybody, not hanging out with them on the weekends. But, yeah . . . I’m aware I’m the only black guy in the office side of the building. I’m left alone to do what I need to do which I’m appreciative of.”
Vic, he is an artist, a lyricist, and a strong voice of reason whenever I need it. And, I hear him.
I have written about Levy (The Outstanding) here on Medium twice before. He braves many things in life it seems, effortlessly, but today, I learned how equally hard he has it in the South in “this skin that we’re in.” I begin our conversation yearning to know how it feels being a black man and from there, Levy took me deep into his mind — his heart. He laid it all bare and all I could do was listen.
“What does it feel like to be a black man?”
“To be a black man is to be routinely confronted with society’s preconceived viewpoints of who you are or who you should be. Although these points of view are ultimately beyond our control, black men, even at an early age, are burdened with either defying or reaffirming these stereotypes, as it often determines success or survival. However, what may be seen as a positive quality by one group may be seen negatively by another group. Masculinity in itself, for example, may be seen as an ideal quality by some and as a threat by others.”
When I compare some of his experiences to mine, I can relate, but it gets deeper . . .
“Therefore, when facing the world, black men are often required to raise or lower certain aspects of their personality depending on their immediate situation. This can lead to black men, at least on a subconscious level, conflicting with their own system of beliefs.”
“At the very least, this becomes mentally draining; eventually, though, this can become psychologically damaging.”
Whoever you are, take a moment to sit with those words above, really sit with them. This is not to say that men, in general, do not have struggles, I do not take that lightly at all, they do — this is to express how much harder one struggles as a man of color in and of a system that is designed for —waiting for — them to fail. Next, we tackle the same question, but with a twist . . .
“How is it for you as a black man in your thirties and in the South?”
“As a black man in my thirties growing up in the South, the hardest thing to achieve has been complete peace of mind. Despite what I have achieved and may accomplish in the future, I will always have a deep-seated feeling of not totally fitting in. There will always be a part of me that remembers third grade, when John Rice told me to “move, Blackie” and my teacher heard it but did nothing about it. Always a part of me that will remember, at twenty-seven, being turned away from a nightclub due to the “dress code” although the person in front of me was just as casually-dressed. Always a part of me that will remember just a few weeks ago, when the bartender told me that she didn’t know how to fix the advertised special drink, but prepared the same drink for a white patron less than thirty minutes later.”
“At this point, I’m always aware of and prepared for ridicule or discrimination. I would love to be freed from this constant burden, or at least oblivious to it.”
Imagine yourself living in the year 2019 actually fearful of going into establishments built on serving others and not getting served or served properly. Do you know what it feels like to watch multiple non-black parties come into a restaurant and be seated within two minutes while you wait for more than ten to fifteen minutes when you arrived before them? Or, if you work in a public setting where you deal with people on a daily basis and they are rude to you for no other reason than the color of your skin. Just imagine what that feels like. Could you cope?
He shared his story. He shared his life. He isn’t one to be extremely loud and boisterous. Levy, he made his point and I hear him.
I often think that I know where they’re headed since they have good things going for them now, nothing bad will happen. But, that is a fantasy. Bad things happen to our men of color every second of every day. I pray that they are not pulled into the depths of deception ever again.
Being able to question each of my friends regarding their experiences in life opened up my heart — my ears to them so much more. What they have taught me is to stand tall, even in the face of adversity, even when I feel invisible.They have taught me to roar like a lion, not to be ashamed of admitting that I need help, and to strengthen my core and be prepared to fight as hard as I can to succeed in this world with my mental fortitude still intact. I feel a sense of relief being able to freely converse with each of them and I pray that as the years pile on, we can continue to trade thoughts and confess our fears too. With each of them around, I am guaranteed not to silence myself.
I want to thank each of these men for giving me more to digest as it pertains to life and the ways of this world for a man of color. Andre Murray, Victor Garcia, and Levy McLain — here you will find their voices. Here, you will find their hearts.
Who will you listen to? What do you hear? How will you learn?