A LETTER FROM FATHER TO CHILD
Kevin Powell writes to his future child about how to survive in a world filled with fear, violence, sexism and racism.
By Kevin Powell
This letter is excerpted from Kevin Powell’s new book, “When We Free The World,” a collection of personal essays.
I honestly do not know where to begin, because these are very harsh and frightening times. Times so harsh and frightening that I have openly wondered — as my mother used to say to me when I was a boy — if I am going to make it.
I would be lying to you if I also did not say that these years in which we live have also nearly destroyed me on a few occasions, at times strained my marriage. Additionally, my mother has been ill, and that weighs on me mightily.
As you will likely be, I am an only child, the only child of my ma, so the heavy burden of caring for her as she struggles with severe pain in the form of diabetes, high blood pressure and arthritis, falls squarely on me.
And as her child, one who has sought love and comfort from her my entire life, I cannot begin to tell you how much it still shocks and paralyzes me every single time my mother screams or calls me a name — a curse word — because she has no other vocabulary to express the bottomless hurt of all she continues to endure.
Her body has broken down because the world has broken my mother. Yes, when people are hurt, when people are emotionally damaged, they transfer that hurt, that damage, to others, to loved ones, co-workers, strangers and, yes, to their children.
That is why I am writing this letter to you. I do not want to transfer my sorrow songs or my many traumas to you. The cycles must be broken. I so desperately want to heal, I so desperately want to be different for you.
So, I write this letter, to your soul, to your heart, because I do not even know if my wife and I will ever have you, if we will ever produce a child. I do want a child, badly, because I want to do for you what my mother and my absent father were never able to do for me.
I want to tell you I love you from the minute you are conceived. I want to hold and hug and kiss you, no matter your gender identity, at every opportunity.
I want to make you feel safe.
I still carry around the profound scars of what I have endured. Scars born of my childhood and youth. Scars born of my tumultuous adult years, of my years now in middle age, questioning, to be mad honest, how long I will be here on this Earth, and what I can and should be for the rest of my life.
Please do not get me wrong: I am clear who I am, what I do, but what I am talking about is my soul, my spirit, and the soul, the spirit, of America, of this planet. I have been steadfastly troubled by the absence of kindness, by the absence of compassion, by how foul and disrespectful so many people are toward each other, in public, on social media, like everywhere.
I am scared, to be blunt, of bringing a black child into this world, with them having to deal with the same racism your mother and I encounter regularly. Racism is the sinister and deadly cancer in America.
This is your birthright, my child, and it is also your curse, that you’ve got to come into this world, be you boy or girl, be you straight or queer, be you one gender identity or multiple gender identities or no gender identity at all; the ugly and meanspirited reality is that you are black, will be black, and from the moment you begin to truly open your eyes and your pores and see America, and feel America, and hear America, and taste and smell America, it will become abundantly clear, soon enough, that you are hated by some because you are black, and for no other reason.
And this is why I am terrified — twice over — if you happen to be born a girl, if you grow up identifying as a girl, as a woman. And the fact that, like my wife and my mother, you would have to deal with both racism and sexism your entire life.
I think about this a lot because, as a man, I know what men do to women, what boys do to girls, and I think of how much my wife and I would have to prepare you, from a very early age, for the attempts to control and abuse and damage you. Or kill you, the way Breonna Taylor and Sandra Bland were killed.
Please know that you are the equal of any male, that you should never allow anyone to tell you what a girl or a woman can and cannot do, that your mother and her mother and her grandmothers and my mother and my grandmother and my aunts are all extraordinary and strong and resourceful women.
That is what runs through your veins, and if you should ever wonder why the world is the way it is, also remember that no women have endured so much as black women, and still do. Remember that Gloria Steinem is right: Black women truly are the original feminists, which means you can do anything, you can be anything, and you will.
And if you happen to identify as a boy, as a man, as a male, I want you to respect and honor women and girls as your equals — always. I will teach you a different way to be a boy, a different way to be a man, one rooted in love, peace, nonviolence and healthy ways of expressing yourself, not definitions that hurt you, or that will lead you to hurt other males, to hurt and have a reckless disregard for women and girls, as so many of us have been socialized to be.
You must not make the same mistakes so many of us men and boys have made, generation to generation, culture to culture, across the entire universe.
You must be different; you will be different.
And I need you to hear me, should you be a black boy, to know that you will be viewed as dangerous, as an animal, as a monster, as a menace, by some, just because you are a black male. My great fear, the great fear of my wife, would be getting a call one day, as my mother did many years back, that I was arrested, that you have been arrested. Our great fear would be your being killed, the way George Floyd was killed. The way Trayvon Martin was killed, the way Eric Garner or Michael Brown were killed, and many others, simply because they, you, are black and male in America.
This terror we would feel is unfair, is unreal, is the terror every black parent has who has a male child or male children. That it will be their son next who is murdered in cold blood, because of who they are.
These are the risks we take when we bring a child, children, into this world.
And if some openly express hate and venom toward you, my child, you must respond with love always, despite the need to keep great distance from the haters. You must never become hate, or fear, or violence, or division, or ignorance. You must forever be the highest example of humanity, of what the world should be, not what the world is.
For the sake of your own soul, for the sake of your own heart, for the sake of your own sanity, especially during the roughest times, and there will be many, I can guarantee that. Live, please, be free, be you, whoever you have been ordained to be.
Be better than me, be better than your mother, be better than all who’ve come before you. That is my dream, that is my dream for you. And so it shall be.
Kevin Powell is a poet, journalist, civil and human rights activist, and the author of 14 books.