When a black boy loses his innocence

In the summer of innocence at the age 11, I sprouted 4 inches in height going from 5'7 to 5'11. I remember this because everything in my body was going along with my age. 11 years old, size 11 shoe, 5'11.


I was tall, skinny & lanky AF, nothing but legs, feet & arms.


At family gatherings my elders would call me a "Tall glass of water" or "lank lank" and tell me how tall I got while older cousins & uncles would talk about giving me that work on the hoop courts. It was a great feeling, My height was the talk of the family functions.


I remember standing next to my father who was also 5'11 & saying "What up shorty?", us looking eye to eye and him saying "I'll still knock you out".


But I was still 5'11 at 11. My dreams of the NBA started that day hell, I was taller than a lot of point guards in the NBA all ready.


One day while school shopping with my mother people would stop & ask "How old is that child 15-16?" & my face would light up because in my mind people thought of me as a teenager or maybe even as an adult. I was taller than almost everyone in my immediate family at the age of 11. I was being told that I'd be 6'4, 6'6' or maybe even 7 foot. "My god, look at those feet & hands!" They would say.


I'll never forget this one time a white woman told my mother "He's not a boy, that's a grown man" and my mother not liking it telling her "No, he's a child!" I didn't understand at the time what the white woman said that was so different from all my cousins, aunts & uncles but my mother wasn't having it.


On the ride home my mother turned down her Luther Vandross which meant a lecture was about to happen & that's when she gave me "The talk".


Now if you're not black you might be thinking "Birds & bees" bless your heart. Naaaaahh, "The talk" black parents have with little black boys deals with "Cops & Robbers" "Flirtatious White women yelling "rape", dress codes, keep hands out of pockets, "stop frowning" and a whole bunch of other stuff that I didn't understand. There were a lot of "Do you hear/understand me?" & "Look at me" in "The talk"


Since I went to a private school with 85% white kids on sleepovers I could no longer play hide & seek in their neighborhood. "But Ricky & Brett can play...." as my mother would reply "I don't give a damn about Ricky & Brett, they're not black & they're not my son. YOU ARE!"


"This sucked!" Is what I thought, I mean what's the point of getting tall if I gotta live my life small?


I didn't know that my mother was scared, that she adopted a child at 6 months, chubby & chocolate not knowing one day he'd be 5'11 at 11. She was trying to prepare her 11 year old son for the world, That I am now tall enough for a night stick, illegal choke hold or a pistol drawn on me. That if I winked at a white woman my entire life might change. That I can't freely show frustration in public because that could come off as being "angry" and angry + black + 5'11 = dangerous. At 11 I was now a description from dispatch to a police officer.


No more water guns, no more beanies worn low, I can no longer run freely because it might come off as I'm fleeing a scene. All this over 4 inches? What happens when I get hairs on my face?


"The talk" is what my mother gave to me at 11. "The talk" is what is what I will one day have to give to my son Langston. "The talk" is what mothers across the country are contemplating right now on giving to their "Lanky" son after these recent events.


"The talk" is something that I once discussed with my brother in poetry Prentice Powell, on doing as a group piece about us speaking to our sons about what our mothers once spoke to us. We never finished the group piece but he kept the idea and created a beautiful poem that you should listen to on his IG page or on YouTube.


I now stand 6'5, no longer "lanky" way past 11and blessed to have lived past the age of 25 but I often wonder about that 11 year old boy that had his innocence taken. Wondering what the world would look like if he could be free to run or be frustrated in public like Ricky & Brett.


To all the growing black boys out there, I'm sorry for your loss of innocence but your parents are right. This world is not ready for you to be fully free.


@iamshawnwilliam

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