Dear America: From a 30 Year Old Black Man

Dear America,

One of our poets, Mr. Tupac Shakur, is known for being incredibly passionate about his community, as well as his identity. In an old Swedish interview from 1994, brought back to life on Kendrick Lamar’s “Mortal Man” track on his “To Pimp A Butterfly” album, Tupac shares his thoughts about the strength of a black man. To quote him, “In this country, a black man only has five years where he can exhibit maximum strength...once you turn 30, it’s like they take the heart and soul out of a man.”

Seeing as how I’m about to turn 30 in a matter of days, my mind has been doing a lot of interesting things. I’ve been in a weird place of self-reflection and introspection, and that was before I’ve even heard this interview. For years, I’ve been aware of a change happening within me, but I wasn’t too certain on what it meant. A part of that, however, had to do with what our relationship was.

You and I, America and me.

According to Tupac, my clock is running out. A few more sunrises, and I’ve have exhausted my opportunity to leave an impact and go hard-body. After this, I should be done right?

In the past five years, I’ve done a lot. I’ve married the love of my life. We’ve made two beautiful brown babies. I’ve worked with and served dozens of local youth on the road of their clinical and mental health. I’ve started a non-profit organization, currently primed and prepared to do so much more. I’ve been recognized by community leaders and received awards.

And you mean to tell me that that was it?

It would seem that Tupac was speaking from a perspective that we’ve known all along. As far as you are concerned, you don’t want me to succeed. Your marketing and branding team have done an amazing job, because on paper, you say that anything is possible, and all dreams can come true.

Yet, here I am, at almost thirty, gripped by fear if I see police sirens in my rear view mirror. And I keep seeing men who look like me, all but executed, with no consequence to their murderers. I see women who look like my sister and my mother rejected, forgetted, reduced to body parts and hip-hop punchlines.  I see pain and confusion around me.

And you, who try to say that justice will reign supreme, offer none of the same.

You are confusing. It feels like you are lying to me. It feels like you’re trying to distract me. It feels like you are actively fulfilling what Tupac declared in 1994.

I think the most painful part is when I, or others like me, try to engage, try to tell you what’s going on, or at least what it looks like, you blame us. You won’t look me in the eye and recognize what’s happening. With all the songs and powerful poems and screen productions, even with actual life footage and first person reports, you are unwilling to make the first necessary step.

You won’t even say that you’re sorry.

America, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. It’s like you would rather burn from your own embers to maintain your own mythology.

We could be great. We could be great together. I believe we can be great together. And you say that we could be great again.

Somehow, I feel that we may be talking about two different things.

I listen to Kendrick's album pretty regularly, at least once a month. I listen to that track, and I recognize the dread I feel. But I am experiencing another emotion lately.

I really want to prove Tupac wrong.

I see my 30th year approaching, and with it, a whole host of rising opportunities. 

I see a chance to write with more wisdom, speak with more conviction, and connect with more clarity. I may not be a young loud mouth, but there's still fire in these bars.


A 30 Year Old Black Man