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Dear Young Black Men,

YOU ARE VALUED!  YOU ARE POWERFUL!  YOU ARE PRICELESS!  YOU ARE MORE THAN A STEREOTYPE!

When I heard the words “not guilty,” I immediately wondered what message we are sending to young black men like you. It is a very clear message.  Again you are pushed aside and ignored in a way that sends the message that you are not valued.

I can’t help but flash back to that February night and wonder what that really must have been like for young Trayvon Martin who was simply walking home from the local store.  I wonder what were his last thoughts, feelings, and I wonder what dreams he had, what he wanted to grow up to be, and what he planned to do that night after he got home.

Being the father of two teenage boys, I wonder what they could or should do if ever they are faced with such a situation. Do I tell them to run, do I tell them to quickly grab their phone and call the police, or should they call me first.   I DON’T KNOW AND I WANT TO KNOW BECAUSE I NEED THEM AND YOU TO COME HOME.  I NEED YOU ALL TO GROW UP AND DREAM AND MATTER.  And I’m shouting through my tears and heartbreak because I want you all to know you have worth.  I’m trying to shout over the message after message that tells you otherwise.

Know this: This world is changed if one of you stops breathing.  THIS WORLD IS CHANGED WITH OUT YOU!

On that rainy night Trayvon did nothing wrong but the man that followed Trayvon had concluded Trayvon was a trouble maker.  Young men, hear me when I say this:  YOUR SKIN COLOR IS SEEN BEFORE YOUR HEART.  Some will see you like Zimmerman saw Trayvon, black first; dangerous; scary.   It will not matter what good you have done or have not done.  Trayvon’s actions never matched how he was defined.  He didn’t do anything suspicious yet was described that way.   The power that comes with your skin color is scary to some and some will feel unjustifiably threatened by you.  It is their thinking that is broken NOT YOU.

I’m frustrated because I want to give you instructions to keep you safe and I don’t have much.  My advice is to do whatever you have to do to make sure you walk through your front door later. If you can make it home by turning and running when followed by a stranger; run and scream and yell all the way home.  If you can reach your phone safely call someone with authority and let know what is going on.   But beware! Because of the fear some will have towards you the simplest action you do can be seen as as threatening.  Reaching for your phone could be seen as reaching for a weapon and it is through that lens you must look when contemplating how to respond.  If they are too close to you to run and you can’t safely reach your phone, move slowly and talk calmly and clearly, especially if they are loud and aggressive.  Keep your hands out of your pockets.  If you have on a hoodie with the hood over your head slowly take the hood off.  If you are in the dark slowly step in to the light.  If you have on sun glasses slowly take them off and look them in the eye.  Do not step towards them and don’t argue.  Your job is not to debate that you have every right to be where you are or that you did nothing wrong.  YOU JOB:  Do whatever it takes to make it home.  If that means you must defend yourself to get away then do so but that MUST be your last option.

I wish I could tell you more; give you more advice; give you the number to the Bat phone to assure your safety but I can’t.  Always remember,  it is the system that is broken,  NOT YOU.

YOU ARE VALUED!  YOU ARE POWERFUL!  YOU ARE PRICELESS!  YOU ARE MORE THAN A STEREOTYPE!  YOU ARE NOT BROKEN!

Kevin Hofmann.

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Not Black Enough

Each day is a treasure to be home in my office when my sons come home from school.  The first to burst through the door is my 14 year.  There are days when he bursts through the door and there are days when he barely pours across the threshold.  There are days when he will spend five minutes telling all about his day, his interactions with friends, and these strange creatures called girls.  Then there are days when all I get is a deep(his voice has changed and that’s a whole  different topic all together) groan which in the teenage world translates in to “Hi, Dad.”

Over the last week it seems all I’ve been getting is groans and caveman grunts and when I ask what’s wrong, I get, “hggh, ghdhg” which means “nothing.”  Over the past 6 months I have become very fluent in teenage gibberish.

After awhile the caveman-speak gets REALLY annoying and I am tempted to demand he tell me what’s bothering him.  Instead, I know he will tell me when he’s ready.  I know the bro-code.  Men will talk when they are ready.

My wife does not, however, have a subscription to the bro-code, nor does she have the official rule book.  Her approach is to question/interrogate him until he cracks like spring ice under a 350 pound man.

His issues are typical teenage issues but one issue  is something I can really relate with.  He is having a hard time with a group of  blacks in his school.  This group doesn’t  think he’s “black enough.”

He goes to a diverse school and his friends are really of every race and background including several black kids.  My son is light skinned like me.  We often joke and say we are the “high yellow brothers.”  I have learned growing up in the black community there is a struggle with racism in our own race.  There is s split between those who are BLACK and those who are “not black enough.”  There is also a split between light skinned and dark skinned blacks and the prejudices involved between them. (that is the topic of another blog)

I was an offender of this in-race racism in college.  I questioned those blacks around me that were better able to assimilate to their white environment.  I too wrote them off as not ‘black enough.”  I have also been on the other end of the spectrum and have also been accused of  not being black enough because I talk “white” and don’t dress a certain way.

This used to bother me just as it does my son.  To be charged by your peers as being “too white” is painful and the fact that my son is genetically just as black as those leveling the charges makes it sting even more.  It is painful because it screams, “You are not one of us.”

My fear was always that if I wasn’t accepted by blacks, and I wasn’t white than I would fall in the gap between the two never really fitting in with either.  My bigger fear was that neither would want me as part of their group.  Then what would I do?

I remember in college for a creative writing class I wrote a story called, Whited Out,  it was a story about a black teenager who moved from the city where he was surrounded by people who looked like him to a rural all-

white town.  I described his first day of school in this all white environment where he was not accepted by anyone and he didn’t know how to handle it.  At the end of the day he went home, went in to the garage, closed the garage door and turned on the car.  His solution to not fitting in was to kill himself.  When his parents found his lifeless body in the car, death had changed his skin color,  he was now more gray than black or white.  On his lifeless face he wore a partial  smile.

I know is was a like hokey but that story told a lot about how I was feeling in college and it vividly brought to life my fears; fears that I never put to rest until I was in my 30’s.

One day while wrestling with where I fit in, it occurred to me.  I was most comfortable around middle class blacks.  It may sound horribly classist to say it but while with this group I feel the most at ease.  Here I have the culture I love so much and I don’t get the questions about being black enough.  As I get older I find more of my peer group gravitates to this group and finally that’s alright.

The great news is I figured it out.  Being a part of the “black and strong” crowd didn’t make or break my survival.  Finding where I fit in did and once I understood that, what the “black and strong” crowd said or thought no longer mattered.  The better news is I can share this with my son and provide him with a detour that will eliminate 15 to 20 years of searching.

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I’m Holding On To February

Now that we have a Black President I have heard rumblings that some feel Black History Month is no longer necessary.

Growing up Black History Month simply meant we would hear the “I Have A Dream Speech,” in school and talk about Fredrick Douglas, Pierre Toussaint L’Ouverture, Nat Turner, Eli Whitney, Langston Hughes,  Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and the guy who invented the stop light and gas mask.( To this day I can’t remember his name.)  Once this obligation was filled we went right back to studying  a very colorless history.

The only other time blacks were mentioned in histrory was when we did our yearly review of slavery.   So I learned Black History was only discussed when it was forced and only when our role as Blacks was passive.

To get a well rounded view of how Blacks contributed to our country and  to the world I would have  had to dig that up on my own.   Quite frankly, as I was growing up I was trying to find ways out of studying, so additional study time was not on my radar.

In college I remember taking an American Literature class and we were reviewing all the great 20th Century American Poets.  Our final for the course was to write a research paper on an American poet from a provided list of poets.  I surveyed the list and all the poets were White.  The whole Harlem Renaissance and the group of powerful Black poets that came out of that was ignored.  I approached my Professor and requested a poet off the list, Gwendolyn Brooks and  I also pointed out the provided list lacked color.  The Professor was shocked and agreed that this was an oversight and allowed me to do my research paper on Gwendolyn Brooks.

It was frustrating and still is that in order to get equal time in history a special request has to be made.

I was overjoyed when President Obama took the oath to become our President.  My family and I drove the seven hours to D.C. to be a part of the inauguration.  Thinking about this amazing day in history I still tear up.  But I don’t think we have arrived just yet.

Sadly, Black History month is still necessary because it assures color will be added to our history lessons.

I long for the day when we can retire Black History month.  I yearn for the day when I don’t have to hear King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” on February first.  I covet the day when some of his other amazing speeches are studied along side Patrick Henry, Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.  When Yeats, Keating, Brown, and Milton are mentioned in the same sentence as Brooks, Hughes, Baraka, Dunbar, Collen, McKay, Bontemps , Angelou, and Hofmann(I guy can dream can’t he?)  I crave the day when I can spit out the name of the guy who invented the stop light and gas mask as easily as I can Thomas Edison.

I pray the day will come when Black History is consumed by American History and there is no distinction between the two.  On that day, I will gladly give up the shortest month of the year because it will no longer be necessary.

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Check out my book Website,  We have an update on the book,  http://growingupblackinwhite.com

Next post scheduled for 2-10-10—“Tips and Clips” video blog on my son’s hair cuts and tips on the barber shop experience.

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The red and blue lights turned on and began to circle as Mom looks in her rear view mirror.  The police car that sees her before she sees it  is pulling up closer to her car from the rear.  I am in the front passenger seat facing forward unaware of the cruiser quickly approaching us.

Mom, with a disappointed tone in her voice says,  “ahh shoot, I am being pulled over for speeding.”

Mom brings the car to a stop on the shoulder of the rural road.  The police officer approaches the car as Mom searches for her insurance card and asks me to get the registration out of the glove compartment.

The officer now standing at Mom’s window asks for the two pieces of information we are trying to locate.  Nervous fingers and hands often pass over the obvious.  The officer is understanding and tells us to continue to look as he returns to his cruiser.  Unfortunately, he promises to be right back.

As soon as he leaves and we are able to calm down the registration and insurance card are found.  Mom notices the insurance card shows it expired the day before.  Mom recalls the new insurance card is on the kitchen table, 25 miles away.

The officer is now back at the door with a pink ticket.  He explains Mom was doing 48 miles an hour in a 35 mile per hour zone.  He checks her insurance card and notices it has expired.  Mom explains she has the new one at home and he is very understanding.

He hands Mom a warning and asks that she pay more attention to the speed limit in this area.  She thanks him and he  tells her to have a nice day.  He returns to his cruiser.

Mom turns to me and says,  “Well, that was lucky.”

We continue down the road and I reflect on the many times I have been pulled over by the police.  Luck has never been so favorable in my encounters.  If I had a Leprechaun with a pot of gold in the front seat my luck would not have been as favorable as Mom’s luck today.

I am conflicted with my thoughts.  My initial thought is that if I had been driving I would have gotten a speeding ticket and a ticket for no insurance.  Did Mom get a pass because she has less melanin in her skin?  How would this have played out if I was the driver?

The only time I ever got a warning and not a ticket  was when I was pulled over with two white college friends in the car.

Is this an example of  white privilege or me being paranoid.  Since there is no way to verify either way I wrestle with the thought that because of my skin I am treated differently or I am being too sensitive.

When I go to the store and I am ignored is it because I am black?  When I go to the store and I am given too much attention is it because I am black?

Experience has taught me my skin color may be a factor.  I have been conditioned to question its involvement whenever I am treated rudely or unfairly.  It is the first thought that rushes to the front of my head.

“Did they do that because I am black?”  I spend then next 30 seconds debating the question.  It is automatic and a conditioned response.

This past summer I sat in a room with mostly white adults and we openly talked about white privilege.  To be in a room of whites who admit there is such a thing as white privilege was an experience in itself.

They were transracial adoptive parents and they were fearful of how white privilege would affect their children.

Since that conversation I think a lot about how it affects me and this is a great example.   I am not saying all incidents like the ones above are racially motivated.

The gray area of doubt that accompanies how I am treated and why gives way to a 30 second debate several times a day.  To be free of this debate would truly be a privilege.



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Forgive Me Please

This is just a short note to those that visit my blog.  I so appreciate you stopping by and reading my thoughts.  I especially like the comments and enjoy hearing your thoughts.

I just wanted to post a short note apologizing for the inconsistent posts lately.  My excuse is I have been spending all my time writing the second draft of the book.  I am happy to say that I have completed the second draft and will be forwarding it to my editor very soon.

Now I will recommit to the three post per week as I originally set out to do.  Again thanks for your patience.  I am back on the horse.

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Making Nuggets With God

Sitting still in church has always been a struggle for me.  Remembering back to the days when Dad would preach, I recall fighting off sleep or wrestling with unused energy.  The hard wooden pew on my small bottom didn’t make the bout any easier.

One Sunday, I took the cards that were in the back of the pew in front of me and I drew pictures on them.  These were the cards reserved for guest.  A guest would come to church and fill out the cards so the church could follow up with them.  Since there were no guests in my row, I used the cards to draw stick figures karate fighting.  The president of the church board found me after church and yelled at me for wasting the churches money.  It was a small sacrifice for getting through church without falling asleep or wiggling too much.  Both of these actions would draw the attention from Mom which meant the afternoon would not be a pleasant one.

Today, I struggle to sit still in church but for a different reason.  There is something peaceful and inspiring when I step in the church.  The whole time I am there, ideas are lobbed at my head.  Blog ideas, a creative way to describe something,  or a different way to say an every day thought.  My head is bombarded with creativity in HD.

During the week, while trying to think of what to write about I wish I could go back to church where the ideas are floating in the air.  In church, thoughts, and inspiring writings are like huge grapefruits hanging from the lowest branch.  If I reach out, I can pick them one after another.    Unfortunately, the ideas are like manna.  If they are not digested in church, that day, they spoil.  In the parking lot after church I try to recall them but they are gone forever.

Writing them down, preserves them.  The guilt of not paying attention and getting what I really need to get out of church prevents me from jotting down note after note.  Instead, I sit still and pray that God will inspire me again throughout the week.  I negotiate with God in church that if I listen in church he will save some of these nuggets for later in the week.  I agree and God doesn’t answer.

When I sit to write a blog, I have never had a complete thought.  God loans me an idea and we start.  Slowly the page fills and the direction I thought we were going in is no where close to were we ended.   The idea that something is created from absolutely nothing inspires me to sit down at the keyboard again and again.  During the week, God sits down at the keyboard with me and we spin the nuggets I begged for in church.

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Excuse My Layers of Yuck

16 years I ago I said “I do” and I should of said, “I didn’t.”  At 26 years old, I didn’t understand marriage.  I didn’t have the maturity level to handle being married.  I didn’t think beyond the honeymoon and I didn’t realize what “I do” really meant.

My wife endured the fact that I said “I do” when I really meant, “I didn’t,” “I won’t”  and “I can’t.”  Being married means being very selfless and for the first eight to ten years I was very selfish.  I assumed she would bend to me and I remained as inflexible as steel.

My wife waited patiently as I grew up.  She waited through all the growing pains that caused her more pain than me.  I thank God she waited as I matured and became more likeable.

She watched as I began to say, “I think I can.”  She smiled as growth slowly began to erase, “I won’t,” and “I can’t.”  She said nothing as, “I can” and “I will” became more of my everyday speech.

My actions eventually replaced the need for words.  I became more dependable and trustworthy and I became loveable.

Everyday I cherish this woman who said, “I do.”  She saw in me a great husband and father and patiently waited for the many layers of yuck to slowly fall off and reveal what she knew was there.

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