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A black father and son at Wrigley Field in the 1970s
Chicago, 1973. Photo courtesy of U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Dear Black Man,

Greetings and salutations as we come together in a moment of kinship. First, let me say that I love you.

We hail from the same historical parents of slavery and Jim Crow, and yet our lives have been different. It is I who sits within these institutional confines designed to oppress, to suppress dreams of an outside reality to which some of us may never get to return. Why? Because of choices made throughout a life of blind rage and decades of self-hate that obscured our understanding of who we could be.

You came up through the ranks of city life, the urban side that carries a preconceived notion of where you, as a Black man, would wind up: either dead by the age of 23 or in prison. You made decisions to better yourself through a struggle designed for failure. Me? My life featured manicured lawns, picket fences and opportunities that almost guaranteed me of great things. 

Guess I showed them a thing or two.

I write this letter to you because Black men do not get the support or encouragement to push along in the good life that we are trying to live. You gave your all to remain free. You broke free from the stereotypical truths I currently portray. 

Though we were raised in different worlds, I have seen you fight all your life to be a man other than the one the world has tried to press down, to portray as a clown. You have strived for more while it waited for you to slip up, to become a headline we too often see. Another young Black man arrested for . . .  Another Black youth killed . . . When will we stop killing each other?

Who can tell you how you should be? It is by your own sweat and tears that you built the empire that you have — a family dynasty rivaled only by those who share the same painful past, a past we embrace for the courage to endure another day. Who can tell you how to do something? It is you who walked many miles to get to work so that your family had a roof overhead and a meal on the table.

And might I remind you: There was no father figure in your life to guide you through the hurdles and struggles of being a Black man yesterday or today.

No one among us is perfect. Even a smaller percentage can say they have never done wrong. You have suffered through so much, and I just want to let you know that you are appreciated. I love you and wish the best for you. I see you and thank you for the ability to grow in the shadow of your strength and devotion to be better than the world might expect of you. 

This keeps me going in this concrete slave ship, assured that I cannot quit. 

Please don’t give up when you are so close to the place you have been fighting to get to. Don’t forget those who have been by your side, the ones you can count on one hand, who stand in the lines of support only you can understand. You are a man, no one can take that from you, and a Black man’s defeat cannot get through. You are a good man. And no one should deny you that honor. You have proven yourself to that man in the mirror.

This, and the love of family, is what matters most. 

I love you, Dad.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Jeffery Shockley is a writer incarcerated in Pennsylvania.