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When will I die? When will they kill me? Would it be someone who looks like me? Would it be a white man? Would it be a police officer? Maybe I would be murdered for whistling at a white woman like Emmett Till. Perhaps I would be killed for jogging like Ahmaud Arbery. I don't want to run anymore — I'm dead. Dead to the world and ready to live. Live on earth or live in heaven. My bright smile doesn't negate the sin of my blackness. I am guilty until proven innocent. Dead until I prove that I am worthy of living.

I accept the fate of my blackness, my life snatched away with every encounter of white rage. They hate me because I dare to live. They hate my optimism, ha. If only they knew that my optimism is a last resort. I am closer to the edge than one may think. One blink away from sobbing. So I hold my breath, refusing to let a tear fall. Big boys don't cry. Oh, they want me to be feminine. They speak of toxic masculinity, not knowing that these traditions kept my ancestors alive.

My father is tender, but fearless. He earned his respect and gave me mine. He told me not to let them see me sweat, so I grew alligator skin and cry crocodile tears. There's no space for me in this white man's world — so I survive. I survive like my father, and he like his father. My name is everything. I would do anything for my respect, and I won't tolerate anything less than. If this system continues to oppress me I have no choice but to rebel.

I remember the first time that I watched Rosewood. Ving Rhames was my favorite character. Like him, society tried to lynch me — but I escaped. I escaped to save my family. I am fearless. Some people in my family may have been afraid, but I gave them hope. I showed them that they did not have to take these beatings. I showed them that they could be liberated.

There was a scene in Rosewood when the brother hid in his mother's casket. I thought he was dead, but he escaped death. Black folks sure know how to survive. A town destroyed over a lie. Reminds me of Amy Cooper, intentionally lying as a way to destroy a Black man’s life — instigating a murder on camera for the world to see.

We were socially conditioned to be oppressed. Who said that slavery was abolished? The only freedom we have is the freedom to consume — clothes, shoes, cars and property. Some Black folks think that freedom can be purchased. Buy land, they say, as if Black Americans didn't own land before just to be murdered on their doorsteps. I'm not afraid to die, and I refuse to be murdered on my doorstep over a lie. We have a right to protect ourselves and I will protect my family.

Before I die, let me see if love works. Maybe I will love, be loved, spread love and still be murdered like Dr. King. Will my words liberate the minds of those who are mentally paralyzed? Will they walk for me? Will they honor my death by loving their brothers and sisters regardless of color? I have so many questions, and I don't know if the most celebrated scholars can help me.

My older brother is a Jehovah's Witness. Maybe I'll study with him to see if the contents of The Watchtower can help free me of my suffering. He seems happy, his family is beautiful and, despite our negative experiences, his optimism is authentic. He has faith in the new system — maybe I should as well. He tells me that we will have the opportunity to see my baby sister again. She was killed when she was 10 years old; I was 13. Yes, that's all that I need to take his studies seriously.

Maybe I'll find liberation in Islam and become a leader for Black people, like Minister Louis Farrakhan. Perhaps I'll practice mindfulness to escape the pain of the world through thought — or absence of thought. I don't know what to do, and this is the harsh reality for all Black Americans. The constant reality of not knowing, using belief as an escape. Many times faith is all we have, and when we become hopeless, we explode.

I wonder if white people dream of escaping their reality. I wonder if they ever have the conflict of loving their skin so much while simultaneously hating the pain that it brings. I wonder if they occasionally hate themselves until they feel guilty for betraying their ancestors. I love my brown skin, golden red, caramel and glazed. My skin looks battered and bruised. My skin is flawless with the bloodstains and residue of gunpowder.

Oh, how they love my warm smile. White like the sheet their colleagues wanted so badly to place over my bullet-riddled body. Makes me wonder if I am inspirational because I smile. Am I loved because I am positive? I don't know. Oh, white America loves it when we are passive. Black folks even love it. “You are so brave for forgiving, that is so inspirational,” they say. They commend me for taking a graceful ass-whooping. Yes, America whooped my ass — and I smile. I guess it's the God in me. I can't control it. Sometimes I want to explode. However, this presence inside of me encourages me to keep pushing, keep smiling, keep going.

I'm on the road, not knowing where it leads to — but it feels good. I feel like this road is leading me to life, while the other path leads to death. I'm comfortable with death; it's a comfort zone that I am not afraid to leave. Some wonder how I am so audacious. Well, if your comfort zone was hell, you'd try something different too. I just want to see if heaven is real. So I run, run toward that feeling in my heart that is warm, fulfilling and purposeful.

There is still hope for me, even though I tend to be hopeless. I don't think anyone wants to live more than a man who is comfortable with death. I don't think there is anyone who wants to be as hopeful as a man who has found comfort in hopelessness. This is what it's like to be a young Black man in America. Frightened and fearless, dead and surviving, hopeless and hopeful, either dying to live or living to die.

They say that we are made in his image; some build while others destroy. It all depends on how hardened our hearts have become. It all depends on how far we are pushed. I'm not a killer, but don't push me. I am a lover, and I will die for those who have built fortresses in my heart.