Awake and Aware: A Letter to a Young Black Boy

What the conversation about school shootings in America seems to overlook.

Dear Hassan,

You are only thirteen, much too young for your response to another report of “an unarmed Black man“ to be “stop killing Black people.” Much too young to have to think about these things. I wish that you didn’t have to live in a world where you can find videos of people who look just like you do being gunned down for being Black in the wrong place at the wrong time. I wish that I didn’t have to worry about your growing taller, taller than me (though I hate to admit). I know you don’t understand why I fear for the days when you finally grow out of your baby face but it’s because I know that as you grow older, the world will become more dangerous for you.

When we heard the sound of bullets being fired at Stephon Clark in his own backyard because another phone was mistaken for another gun, you said, “This makes me wish I would have gone to the walkout.” I was quiet. I couldn’t find the strength to tell you in that moment that bullets from a civilian with a gun pose the same amount of threat to you as any policeman. That the lack of gun control in this country is just as drastic as you walking out of a grocery store without a receipt.

I reminded you again, as you sat watching a marathon of bullets catch up with a man who could have been you, to always make sure that you get one when you leave a store, or at the very least a bag with a logo. That a thin sheet of paper or plastic could lengthen your life. You were in the passenger seat as we sat still in the driveway. I told you that it could save you from being another “unarmed Black man” but in all honesty, I don’t know that it can. I know that I certainly can’t.

I didn’t tell you in that moment that I didn’t walk out because my fear of being shot while sitting in a classroom is not paramount to my fear of being Black in America. Hassan, I want you to know that you can go far in this world and I know that it still doesn’t make sense to you why I hate when you wear hoodies and why I tell you not to walk with your hands in your pockets and to always be polite to the strangers that you walk past on the street and why you cannot afford to break the rules whether spoken or otherwise. I wish that we lived in a world where it didn’t have to make sense.

I hope that these lectures that I’ve given to you will always in some part stay with you because though I will not always be driving you around, you will always be in need of them. I cannot stop you from growing or keep you from knowing but I hope that it is never you.


Love from your sister,