Solomon Jones: Daily News column spurs 'Nightline' dialogue
"As others used Ferguson as an excuse to argue the finer points of civil rights and excessive force, I viewed Ferguson through a much more personal lens, because I am the father of a black son."
"AS OTHERS used Ferguson as an excuse to argue the finer points of civil rights and excessive force, I viewed Ferguson through a much more personal lens, because I am the father of a black son."
Two weeks ago, when those words tumbled out of me like prisoners rushing toward freedom, I was caught somewhere between fatherhood and manhood, between anxiety and apprehension, between possibility and certainty.
Yet as I struggled through that jumble of disparate emotions, I was certain of one thing: I had to speak out. Not with witty anecdotes or universal experiences. Not with pithy phrases or homespun tales, but with the raw emotion of a black father who'd seen black boys fall dead at the hands of police officers.
I wrote of the apprehension I feel when I see police officers go unpunished for killing people of color. I wrote of the knot that forms in my stomach when I think of the danger to my son. I wrote my truth, and wrote it unfettered, and something miraculous happened.
Producers at ABC reached out to me. Within 24 hours of the initial conversation, a film crew from "Nightline" had arrived in Philadelphia, and my 10-year-old son and I were sitting in my kitchen, having an intimate conversation about race, police and Ferguson. Just outside Philadelphia, a white father and son spoke with "Nightline" about the same topics. The resultant story - told from both perspectives - was honest and transparent and real.
I learned through our conversation that my son had felt the sting of what he believed to be discrimination when he was 8 years old, when a teacher took the word of a white classmate over his.
"How did that make you feel?" I asked.
"It made me feel angry."
At that, tears of heartbreak and anger welled up in my eyes, and as the cameras rolled, waiting anxiously for those teardrops to fall, I held them back. Still, my voice broke as I spoke.
"It makes me angry, too," I said to my son, as "Nightline" anchor Byron Pitts looked on.
It makes me angry because I don't want to see my son hurt. I don't want to see him suffer unjustly. I don't want to see him treated unfairly and I don't want to see him experience the kind of racial bias that I, and his grandfather before him, have faced.
My father, when he was just a year older than my son and living in his native Florida, was told to enter a restaurant through a back door if he wanted to be served. In my early teens, a group of whites threw objects at my friends and me as we rode our bicycles through their neighborhood.
As an adult, I sometimes have trouble hailing cabs. I've been followed through department stores by security and ignored by employees at sales counters.
None of these incidents are earth-shattering, but each of them is like a tiny cut; the kind you mostly ignore. Taken in isolation, each one bleeds just a little, until what began as a trickle of blood becomes a full-blown hemorrhage.
I don't want my son to feel that, but I know that he will, and I know that my daughters will, too. So I build them up. I love them fiercely. I teach them our history, so they understand what they might face.
And then, in my own imperfect way, I instruct them to love and to forgive, and how to heal from each of the tiny cuts that they will inevitably suffer through the biases of others.
Perhaps, after we've learned the lessons of Ferguson, and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, and all the other unarmed men and boys who've died at the hands of police in recent months, I will share moments of laughter with you once again.
For now, however, I need to share something bigger, in the hopes that our collective cuts will heal.