I celebrate my Blackness inside by studying the lives of prominent men and women from the pre- and post-civil rights era.
I am learning that there was a lot of Black history that wasn’t taught to me in school, such as the Black Wall Street slaughter, also known as the Tulsa riot, in 1921 in Oklahoma as well as the Rosewood massacre of 1923 in Florida.
Learning about our history gives me strength to carry on. The words in the books feel like shouts of motivation. They give me a sense of purpose and hope because I am living in a time where I have opportunities because of the men and women back then who fought for me. I feel like I should be doing the same thing — fighting for the betterment of society.
My relationship with my racial identity has evolved since I’ve been inside, but I don’t think that it has anything to do with being inside. It comes more from the passing of time. I embrace my Blackness. I can’t run from it nor can I be uncomfortable with it because it is a reality.
A guy once said to me, “Reece, you look like a real African.”
“That’s because I am a real African,” I told him. I even have African tattoos.
I am an African born in the United States. For a long time, I never thought about my identity. I just existed. But now I look at myself in the mirror and I say, “Wow, I’m an African.”
We have come a long way, and I’m proud of everybody who fought for Black people throughout history with tactics that ranged from sit-ins and freedom rides to boycotts and protests — and through mass incarceration.
The people who deserve to be most honored this month are the single parents who raised multiple kids.
I really remember Black men disappearing from the neighborhood when I was growing up. One minute they were buying me ice cream and toys. The next minute they were gone. Fifteen years later when I was a teenager, they’d pop up again and I’d remember them.
“Where the f— you been?” I would ask.
“Prison,” they would respond.
I am now repeating the pattern, doing 17 years myself after coming down at age 20. There are going to be kids who are grown now who are going to remember me, and they are going to ask the same question.
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.