Black activist offers advice to younger self on growing up person of color

Andre Jackson spoke at a Black Lives Matter rally on June 13 in Marble Falls

Andre 'Dre' Jackson read a letter to his younger self at the Marble Fall Black Lives Matter Peaceful Protest on June 13. Jackson is the head choir director at Marble Falls Middle School. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Speaking at the Marble Fall Black Lives Matter Peaceful Protest on June 13, Andre “Dre” Jackson evoked his personal experience growing up Black in America. The head choir director at Marble Falls Middle School was just one of a strong lineup of inspiring voices who addressed the diverse crowd of about 500 people in Johnson Park.

“As a teacher, I make it my purpose to invest in my students, to know my students, before I teach them,” Jackson said at the beginning of his remarks. “I look at my students of color, my Black students, my Hispanic students, my students of Asian descent, and I wonder if they have had to experience the same conversations that I did as a child. As a teacher, I ask myself what my students need from me, what I needed when I was a Black boy in this country. We have data, statistics, trainings, and meetings on how to be better. In my time of reflection, I realize maybe we just need a perspective, a voice, an experience.”

Looking back on what happened to him in his life, Jackson wrote a letter to his younger self, which made up the heart of his speech. Here are some excerpts from his remarks, which elicited a standing ovation. 
Dear younger Dre,

Before you head out and begin your life, I want to prepare you for what’s to come — not to keep you from stepping out, because that is your right as a human being — but more so to send you out with armor.
Kids will be kids, but you can’t act out the same way. Your discipline will be harsher because your teachers have already determined what you are capable and not capable of because you are a Black boy. Your history has been reduced to a month. Many times, your history will be reduced to a week. You will have to do your own research to learn about yourself. 

As you move through elementary school, you will want to defend yourself when bullied; but know that when you fight back, your punishment will get you put in a broom closet for the entirety of your school day. 

As you become a young Black man in this country, be mindful of what you wear. You can wear your favorite hoodie, that snapback you love, and basketball shorts because it’s hot; just know that’s the same attire used to depict “thugs” on TV. You’re going to fear the police before you have “The Talk” about the police, just by watching the news, or a movie, or stepping outside. You will be thrown to the ground, handcuffed, and put in the back of a police car because you fit the description of “a Black guy walking on this street.”
You’ll be the friend that’s expected to know all of the latest dance trends. You will learn to adjust your spoken dialect to make other people comfortable, depending on who you’re around. You’ll be congratulated because you made it to high school graduation without having kids.
As you go into college, you will find a few others like yourself, and by a few, I do mean three. As a music education major, there are not many spaces for you but go ahead and create them. Remember that as you grow into your manhood, the leading cause of death as a Black man in this country becomes the use of force by police. When you get pulled over, have your phone on record, put your hands where they can see them, remember the talk your grandpa gave you: “Dre, my boy, make sure you explain to them every step you’re going to take before you do it. They don’t love you like I do. They don’t see you like I do. Your goal is to come home.”

Be sure to smile at everyone when you enter a building — you will pose less of a threat. You will have to be THAT much better and/or more “approachable” at every interview, apartment viewing, meeting of the parents, orientation, job training, and grocery store run.

Younger Dre, you will grow up hating the skin you’re in until you’re 27, when you see yourself on the big screen for the first time, in the Marvel movie “Black Panther.” You will begin to see yourself in the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. When you finally see what you could be in all of your greatness, when you finally see yourself as the superhero, even then, you won’t fully grasp the beauty your skin holds because the world doesn’t allow you to do so. You will be exhausted but won’t stop. You are a descendant of a strong people who endured unimaginable suffering. They survived so you could be here.

(Now turning his point of view from his younger self to the audience.)

Do not let this protest be the beginning and end of your life education. Do not let this be your only action. I ask that my voice be your call to action. I’m asking you to stand with me.

I invite you, I implore you, I plead with you to stand with me, and if you’re going to stand with me, STAND with me. Just know and understand that it takes real and continuous action to make change. If my life matters, show me. 

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