He loves toy cars, from Matchbox to Hot Wheels, and when he gets a new one, he holds it up to the light and studies its wheels, fender, slope and curve. He asks me to read the name of its make and model and when I pronounce the words he closes his eyes. It’s musical to him. Then, he repeats the name like its poetry.
In one of our family portraits all four of us smile bright, including Stephen, who poses with his favorite car in his hand.
At the car show, when my son saw the showroom of full-sized versions of his prized vehicles, his eyes lit up. He spotted a red sports car that had its door open for closer view and hopped right in. I stepped back and let him be the speed racer of his dreams. He smiled and pretended to turn corners and pass other vehicles.
An older white gentleman approached him and stopped to stare. I walked up and stood beside him. I looked up at the man to catch a glance and hopefully share a smile.
When I saw his face, though, he looked disgusted and seemingly angry that my son was sitting there.
“Driving it like you stole it,” he whispered and then walked off.
I reached and pulled my son out of the car and told him it was time to go NOW. My little 4 year-old was stunned, upset and pleaded to stay. I was relentless, though, and told my husband I was ready to leave right away. When I got in our car I cried. I couldn’t even hide it. I sat there and wept.
My kids asked me what was wrong and I couldn’t tell them. How could I?
How could I explain how anyone could seemingly hate my beautiful son who has big, bright brown eyes and a crooked, heartbreaking smile? Didn’t that man know that just about every day my son runs to me with arms open to squeeze me and kiss me on my cheek? Didn’t he know that my son’s dinnertime job is to say grace and his prayers are long because he loves to call out a laundry list of people he wants God to bless? Doesn’t he understand that we call Stephen the “animal rescuer” because he can’t bear to see any living creature hurt, even the tiniest of bugs?
Stephen is tall for his age. His doctor said he stands higher than 7 out of 10 boys, and also has a narrow waist and muscular build. As he gets older and taller and stronger, my prayer is that people will be quick to see him, my baby, and not imagine that he is the demonizing image from their supposed nightmares.
This country’s history of stringing up, dragging, and/or shooting black men without just cause, is a nightmare. No mother gives birth to, cares for, feeds, hugs and kisses, protects and sets free her son with that fate for him in mind.
Stephen is named after the biblical martyr who lost his life for the faith, but I pray to God he will never, ever loose his life because some gun-wielding madman sees a tall, muscular black boy and assumes he is a monster. He’s not. He is, and will always be, my baby.