I was on my morning run as the sun was rising in the blue California skies. There was hardly anybody out at that time. You learn real young not to run too early in the morning or too late at night.
I guess I forgot the lessons, the safety agenda my parents taught me. They knew what would happen. I brought my identification like my wife tells me to every time I leave. During the run, I wasn’t worried about anything, and I felt good. I couldn’t wait to check my pace on my fitness tracker.
Then it happened. I looked in the distance, and there was this white man on his porch taking photos of me. Every shot he took, I got more confused. I said, “It’s a good morning out here, isn’t it?” as if me being respectable was going to shield me in this situation or get him to finally see me as a human.
He didn’t answer. Here we go again.
My fear quickly turned to rage. I wanted to fight for my dignity in the face of being documented by a stranger and being told I didn’t belong here. Policed by a man standing on his front porch. Right there in Southern California, the ghost of Jim Crow’s “What are you doing here, n—r?” showed up.
But ultimately, I felt powerless. I couldn’t even call the cops because they might’ve mistaken me for the aggressor. This is what black men have to deal with, while others can enjoy their runs. Again and again, year after year. This rage forces me to be angry about our reality and have the faith to believe that better is possible.
But on that day last year, my rage that turned into deep sadness. On the walk home, I stopped, bowed my head, and cried. These were not tears of weakness. I cried because I felt what many of those who looked like me have felt: the violence of an unloving world. He robbed me that day. He stole something from me in his cruelty.
I was a college athlete; now I run and bike. I’ve run half marathons and completed an Ironman. But I can’t enjoy it like I used to. Where is the joy and freedom of getting out on the road, of training my body, when I have to wonder if one day I won’t make it to the end? I’ve been running all my life, and in some ways now, I have to run to keep it. My wife is legit afraid of getting that call: Your husband is dead.
Many believe that cases like the attack on Ahmaud Arbery are isolated. Or that they’re the kind of thing that can only happen in the South. No, this society has been taught anti-blackness. We see it in how they police our movements, criminalize our humanity, and avoid racial reckoning while enjoying the fruit that came from rotten trees—trees from which my ancestors hung lifeless.