It was 1990. I’d saved enough money to buy a Kansas City Chiefs sweatshirt. I finally had some authentic NFL gear and I was happy about it.
We lost our first football team in 1987 when the St. Louis Cardinals left for Arizona. My allegiance is to the Show-Me State and I rolled with the Chiefs in the absence of a hometown squad.
Mom wouldn’t let me wear the sweatshirt to school, though. St. Louis had fully adopted L.A. gang culture and that red sweatshirt may as well have been a bullseye if I got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I couldn’t wear blue, either. My wardrobe consisted of a lot of black, gray and some wild colors no gang wanted to associate with. I remember having a few orange t-shirts. I’ve always been a big guy, so imagine me walking down the street in a bright, orange t-shirt – looking like Halloween candy.
Mom was terrified I’d get killed if I wore the wrong clothes. This terror made her dress me in stuff gang members would either laugh at or ignore.
I survived the 90s and I don’t wear orange shirts anymore.
Fast forward some 25 years. St. Louis has lost another football team and what I have on is again an issue. This time, it’s not my clothes. I dress like a dad. I wear khakis and polo-style shirts most of the time. And the polo-style shirts are the ones I get from work.
This time…it’s my skin.
I feel some eye-rolls coming through the screen even as I write this. Oh, here he goes, playing the race card. Let me be clear: My race is not a card that I get to play like an ace in a poker game.
I’m black 24-7, 365. I’m black in a Leap Year. I’m black on holidays and weekends. I’m black in every city, state and time zone. I’m black when I leave and I’ll be black when I get back.
People who look like me are dying at the hands of those sworn to serve and protect them. I’m not here to play good cop vs. bad cop, either. Been down that road. I just want the killing to stop.
Beginning this Friday and for most of the next two months, I will speak to children about how they should have fun, be good, play right and live by the principles of good sportsmanship. Many of the children will look like me.
As I make them laugh, think and maybe tear up a little, a part of me will fear for them. A part of me will fear they will meet an authority figure who doesn’t see them the way I do.
I sometimes fear for myself. As I drive to schools all over the region, I hope I don’t roll through a stop sign, make an illegal lane change or go to fast to avoid being late. Paying for a traffic ticket with my hard-earned money isn’t a concern. Paying for a traffic ticket with my life, well, that’s another story entirely.