One man in Kenosha, Isiah Washington, told me that at seven years old, while in front of a school one evening, playing with his cousin, he had his first encounter with a police officer: gun drawn on them both. At seven? That is not my lived experience. Think about the trauma that caused him. When you think about why Black people tend to be so angry, so upset with the system, that's why. From the time Black Americans were children, they were told they don't matter, they were told they're criminals, they were told that there's a school-to-prison pipeline waiting for them. Growing up, my mom somehow isolated us in our Nigerian bubble, full of maxims on hard work, faith, and all of that, which protected us for some time.
Another story from Memphis comes to mind. Dr. Justin Dodson returned home after getting his Ph.D. His first week back, he was pulled over by cops while walking down the street with a friend, another Black man. The cops asked for IDs, asked what they were doing, before letting them go. Dr. Dodson tried to justify the random stop to himself: Could it have been the ripped-style jeans he had on? All this man wanted to do was walk around with agency and purpose, but he was stripped of that. He also mentioned that in his current work counseling young Black men, one of his clients recently told him, "I don't know a Black person who hasn't been touched up by a police officer." That right there is emblematic of America and the experiences of Black people in this country.
Q: You visited the Navajo Nation. What did you find there?
Shaandiin Parrish — who works directly with their President (they are sovereign from America), Jonathan Nez, in her role as Miss Navajo Nation — took me around to the different communities on the Arizona side. The Navajo Nation spans New Mexico and Arizona. One of the issues she walked me through and took me to are the landfills. When we hear landfills, we think climate change, methane levels, because it’s a danger to our present and future environment and health. This is a major issue for them, especially since a large number of their population are the elderly. The landfills haven’t been cleaned in years. She mentioned that they are now working with the U.S. government on clean-up efforts and long term solutions.