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Open Letter To My Friends: Reflections on the Death of George Floyd

by Angel Valdez

In the last few months, I’ve had to have conversations with my kids about things I shouldn’t have to. They have asked questions about why black people seem to have been hated by other races from what they’ve been learning.   

I need to get something off my chest. Please oblige me.   Let me start by sharing a bit of my resume. Not because I am trying to put any focus on me or any accomplishments. I need to illustrate my point.

I have a finance degree from a US university. Cum Laude. I have an MBA with a finance concentration. I have been blessed to have worked in the past in businesses and on projects that literally changed the world for many marginalized people.

Today, I am blessed to run a growing business that has been hiring and growing even in the midst of this COVID19 pandemic. I am blessed to also run a Christian nonprofit that gives housing to asylum seekers that would be otherwise homeless. I have also been blessed with the opportunity to help young people from my native Zimbabwe to attend university at a Christian university here in Texas.

Back in Zimbabwe I work with my mother and we help many orphaned or poor kids to attend school.   Yet I live in fear.

Seeing the images and videos of the latest killing of George Floyd – a black man – in Minneapolis has heightened my fear to the point that I can’t stay quiet any more.

Last summer I was pulled over at night for going 10 over the speed limit while driving back home from San Antonio for ministry work. I was scared. I didn’t have anything to hide. But I was scared.

If I am being honest, I have become more and more scared of encounters with law enforcement because so many of them between black civilians and white law enforcement officers start as a routine stop and end with a black body in the morgue.

As soon as I managed to stop my car safely, I was quick to roll down all the windows to be sure the officer could see everything in my car. I was intentional about getting my driver’s license and insurance documents out quickly before the officer came to my car so that I would not have to make any significant movements with him standing next to the car. I made sure my hands rested on my steering wheel as he approached – legitimately scared that this encounter could go sideways.

Fortunately, the encounter was very professional.   A few weeks later I was pulled over on I-20 for not having a front license plate on the car I was driving. I couldn’t help but feel like I needed to be extra courteous, extra cooperative to improve my chances of not being harmed.  But I was scared.

I have never committed a crime in my life. In fact, I believe that I am an upstanding citizen of the world who actually is contributing to make it better in small ways.   But I am afraid every time I have encounters with the police in America.

A few days into the COVID19 lockdown I took my kids for a walk in the neighborhood. The route we took went by our local police station. As we walked past it, a police car approached us and the officer suddenly stopped in front of us and turned on the police lights.

My initial reaction was panic. I didn’t know what to expect. You can imagine the relief when the police officer came out of her car, said hello to us, and gave my kids some candy and toys- just because!

In the last few months, I’ve had to have conversations with my kids about things I shouldn’t have to. They have asked questions about why black people seem to have been hated by other races from what they’ve been learning. They want to understand why blacks in Africa were made to feel inferior by the colonizing Europeans. I have no answers for them.

They want to understand why white people actually thought it was okay to own blacks as slaves in America. They want to understand why some white people, in 2020, still refer to us as niggers. I have no answers for them.

My kids are 10, 7, and 6.

by Angel Valdez

I’ve already started talking to them about how to handle themselves around police and in situations where they are the only black kids around. I’ve been teaching them that they must hold themselves to the highest standards possible everywhere because there are people who are waiting for an opportunity to point out that black people are inferior.

I am preparing them to live in a world where some will judge them by the color of their skin and not the content of their character.

I already know that I’m going to have to teach them how to speak to police officers….how to behave to increase their chances of surviving routine encounters with law enforcement…how to minimize the impact of racial profiling.. How to look the other way when confronted with hate and bigotry.

I shouldn’t have to plan those conversations but I have to – in this America.

The reason I’m sharing this with you today is because I see you as a friend. A good, God- fearing person. I don’t see you as racist. I don’t see you as a bigot.

But I need you to hear my heart. I need you to care about me and my family. I need you to see me as yourself. To see me as your son. I need you to see my kids as your own. To see them as your grandkids. I need you to ask yourself how you would feel if you were me. If you were my parent. If you looked like me.   I need you to care.

To care to the point of action. To care that my kids can grow up as carefree as yours. As fear free as yours. To care that my life matters as much as yours. My kids’ lives too.

My kids have seen the news about George Floyd. They know his name. They want answers. Answers I’m incapable of giving them. It’s bad when your 6 year old says “why have they killed another black man Dad”. When he sees images of a white police officer refusing to get off a dying man.   You have seen these images too by now.

I am asking that this time, you do something about it. I am asking that you start a conversation in your community. That you reach out to your elected officials and express outrage at the fact that this is still happening in America.

To ask them to do something to make this go away. I am asking that you reach out to your local law enforcement department about the conversation. I am asking that you tell them that I am willing and available to come and have conversations with them and maybe, just maybe, we can help each other out. I am asking that you see this as a human issue and not a political issue. I am asking that you put away judgment and seek to understand.

I am asking because, despite the resume I shared, I could be the next victim.

Houston Catholic Worker, July-September 2020, Vol. XL, No. 3.