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The Talk I Wish I Didn’t Have To Give

25 Years ago, early one morning while rushing to work in my car, I was pulled over by a police officer for speeding. I put my car in park, rolled down my window, put both hands on my steering wheel and waited for the officer to approach my door. When he reached my window, the police officer politely asked, “Do you know why I’ve pulled you over?” “No officer”, I replied. “I’ve pulled you over because you were going 10 miles over the speed limit”, said the officer, to which I replied, “OK”.

The officer then asked me for my driver’s license and it was at this moment that our encounter almost became fatal for me. With my left hand still on the steering wheel, I reached with my right hand into the left hand pocket of my suit jacket to retrieve my wallet and in the same second that it took me to perform that action, I observed the police officer reaching for his gun, so I froze.

I politely and calmly looked directly into the police officer’s eyes and said, “Officer, you did ask me to show you my driver’s license, yes?” “Yes!” the officer replied. “Well, it’s here in my wallet and I am attempting to get it for you. What would you like me to do?” From that moment on, the rest of my encounter with this police officer went fairly smoothly; however, I do think he became slightly annoyed by my repeating each of his requests and asking him to confirm before taking any action.

That experience happened to me 25 years ago. But, if I had that same encounter today, I am highly concerned and in great fear that this same white police officer would have pulled his weapon from his holster and shot me three or more times before ever giving me the chance to prevent such a fatal escalation. Am I exaggerating? Absolutely not! Are my fears warranted? They absolutely are! We have all borne witness to such a fatal outcome less than one week ago.

The truth of the matter is that I can ride my bicycle 50 miles deep into valleys and up 5000-foot mountains with only two water bottles, one inner tube, a CO2 cartridge and a cell phone that hardly works in the mountains and valleys most of the time and not have a single worry for my health and safety.

And yet when I get in my car to leave my home and drive less than two miles to my favorite restaurant, in that five-minute trip, my physical and mental experience is quite different from that of my bicycle rides; it is stressful because I’m a black man in a car. I know that if I’m pulled over for any reason, for any reason whatsoever, in that next five minutes my life can very possibly come to an end.

I must live with this concern every single time I get into my car. Every man and woman of color must live with this concern each time they drive their car.

When I spoke with my son on his birthday only a month or so ago, he told me that his mother bought him a car; so, after congratulating him, I had to give him THE TALK, the same talk that my father didn’t want to give but had to give to me.

Son, now that you have a car, I must tell you these three things and ask you to take them to heart.

One, never ever, ever drive your car intoxicated.

Two, please know that in your early experience driving your car, you do not fully understand the laws of physics, centrifugal force, laws of inertia and the energy present when driving your car. So, please observe and follow all speed limits especially around curves for your safety as well as the safety of others.

Son, this third one is the most important; listen very carefully. When driving your car, if you are ever pulled over by a police officer for any reason, any reason at all, even if you think you’re in the right and there was no good reason for the police officer pulling you over, I want you to take the following steps:

  • Pull your car over to the curb
  • Turn your car off
  • Place your car in park
  • Turn on your hazard lights
  • If it is dark out, turn on the ceiling lights in your car
  • Roll down your driver side window and if you have electric windows, roll them all down
  • Place your hands on your steering wheel
  • When the officer speaks to you, always respond with “Yes officer” and “No officer”
  • When the officer asks you to do something, before doing it, repeat back to the officer what he or she has asked you to do and ask for their confirmation; doing this may annoy them, but it should keep them basically calm and you safe.

Son, at all times you must be in control of your interaction with the police officer. Even if the officer is disrespectful to you, calls you outside of your name, raises his voice to you or tries to provoke you into conflict do not, I repeat, do not lose your composure; do not raise your voice to the police officer and do not argue with the police officer; remain calm, at all times remain calm and in control of your environment.

Son, please remember this; if a police officer is being disrespectful to you in any way, shape or form, but you are continuing to converse with the police officer calmly and respectfully, at no time should you ever consider or feel that you are having to compromise or to swallow your pride.

Son, please hear me on this; if you are walking alone in the woods and you happen upon a wild or injured animal, what do you do? You freeze and calmly assess the situation; for you know if you’re not in control of your encounter with this wild or injured animal, it may attack you because it is weak, in fear of you and in fear for its life. Thus, if you ever have such an encounter with a wild or weak animal, you know the actions you’re taking have no effect on denigrating your pride; on the contrary, it is your pride and your survival instincts that will kick in so that you can take charge of your situation allowing you and the wild or injured animal to survive your encounter with each other.

Son, not all police officers are weak and dishonorable, not all police officers that you may encounter during your lifetime will treat you dishonorably, but you must be prepared for the ones that are and the ones that do.

Son, please comprehend this; if you are ever in a situation where you are being victimized by a police officer, you are NOT the victim; the police officer is the victim. The police officer is a victim of his or her own fears and prejudices that have been drummed into them from others and by a societal set of ill-fated norms and incorrect beliefs systems that have yet to be fully dispelled and dissipated, but have permeated the mind of the police officer and restricted his or her ability to think correctly, function responsibly and to see you as a human being equal in all rights and respect, honor and sovereignty equally afforded to them. Even if the police officer is taller than you, is larger than you, weighs more than you, is wearing body armor and carries a weapon that can maim or kill you, that police officer is more afraid of you than you are of that police officer.

Son, your goal in all encounters with any police officer is to be respectful as humanly possible, always remain calm, present, in control of the situation and to the best of your ability, stay alive.

To all men, women and children of color I implore you to remain calm, present and in control of your situation; stay alive and come home to your children and your parents each evening; live to see another day.

Though you may be victimized by a police officer, you are not the victim; the police officer is the victim.

Though you may be being mistreated by a police officer, cursed at, spat upon, beat down, shot at and brought to your knees, you are not the weaker vessel in your situation; the police officer is the weaker vessel.

Though you may not see justice done to the police officer who has persecuted you or done worse to you and is set free by a judicial system that is unbalanced, unconcerned and slated in the officer’s favor, judge not lest ye be judged.

You are already exalted by the creator, the one who transcends all religions, race, sex, color, creed and knows and loves you even as equally as the misguided, feeble minded police officer who has wrongly harmed you; your pride has not been altered nor shaken and your spirit cannot be broken; it is the pathetic police officer who has no pride, whose spirit is lost and in great need of rescue and the one we must pray for even as we deal with our own pain and anger and pray for our own dead and wounded.

Hycel B. Taylor III
I and My Father Are One

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Thanking My Guardian Angel for 50 Years

DSC00094This was an awesome 50th birthday. I am very happy, extremely grateful and truly thankful to have made it this far; for I know I have kept my guardian angel really busy over these past 50 years. When I count the number of times I have tested the limits of my mortality, it’s a miracle that I’m even here.

When I was in the sixth grade, on a very rainy day, while rushing home on my bicycle from Haven Middle School, I was hit bar a car or you could say that a car was hit by me; but that’s just semantics; either way I lost.

I had recently won a beautiful red Schwinn Varsity bicycle in a Haven Middle School raffle. I remember telling my mom, when she encouraged me to buy a ticket, “OK, I’ll buy a ticket if only to help some needy kid win that bike.” Little did I realize that needy kid was going to be me. This would also be my first bicycle with handlebar breaks and I had no idea that break pads on a bicycle do not work well in the rain if at all.

I remember this experience like it was yesterday; it was raining cats and dogs, I was soaking wet and was riding as fast as I possibly could so that I could get home and out of the rain. I had just past Evanston Town Ship High School speeding down a slight hill just after crossing some railroad tracks and coming up on an intersection when a green Chevy Nova coming toward me turned left and into my path. The car was about 10 yards away when I applied my breaks and nothing happened; I mean my bike didn’t even slow down; the brakes were too wet, the car was too near and I was moving too fast; so I slammed into the right rear panel of the car and went flying over the trunk.

The car kept going, I jumped up, grabbed my disfigured bike from the middle of the road and watched the car disappear around the next corner. That’s when I noticed that my right leg was searing with pain, so I peered down at the ground and observed that my right gym shoe was very quickly changing to a dark red color as it was being drenched with blood pouring from a huge gash on my leg hidden beneath my blue jeans.

I limped over to a filling station across the street from where I had crashed dragging my critically wounded bike behind me and called my mom whom I hoped was still at Haven Middle School. When she picked up the phone, I told her that I was in a minor car accident with my bike, I was bleeding pretty badly and asked if she wouldn’t mind coming to get me at the filling station. Mom calmly said, “sure” and hung up on me. Five minutes later there she was driving up to the filling station. Mom literally threw me into the back seat of her Volvo and like speed racer drove me as fast as she could to Evanston hospital. I never new my mom could drive so fast and well; it was a pretty thrilling experience.

At the emergency room I received about 30 stitches to close a deep gash two inches below my right knee and after few days in bed and a few weeks on crutches I was all healed up; but to this day I still cannot feel a portion of my lower right calf because of that accident.

This was the beginning of what my dad would call the worry years (not the wonder years). In the following years of my life my guardian angel has had to call on a cadre of angels to keep me from doing myself major or fatal harm:

  • There was the 10-pound speaker that fell from a wall, nailed me squarely on the top of my head, briefly knocked me out and caused me to have a few stitches. I still carry the dent of it on the top of my head and occasionally cut it when shaving.
  • There was the heatstroke that nearly killed me because I was playing with my friends on the beach in the hot, hot sun way too long without hydrating; but a life guard noticed my shallow breathing and got me medical help just in the nick of time.
  • There was the time I attempted to ride down a really steep hill on my first skateboard and quickly discovered the finer points about the laws of gravity and inertia and went crashing into the pavement; but heavily scarred and bruised, I slowly got up and walked away.
  • There was the large German Sheppard that attacked me, bit my face just beneath my right eye, punctured my nose and tore flesh on both hands; but I still look pretty.
  • There was the time, in high school, when I was pushing a heavy piece of basketball equipment way too fast and it fell on me; had it not been for Cactus Bill who was there to help pull it off of me, I would have surely suffocated to death.
  • There was the time of my senior year in college, when so exhausted and dazed after completing one of my computer science finals, I mistakenly stepped off a curb into on-coming traffic; had it not been for David Grey who grabbed my right arm and yanked me be back to safety, I would have been a tragic story on that day’s evening news.
  • There was my 30th birthday when on my bicycle I swerved to miss a car that did not see me crossing its path; it was moving around 35 miles per hour and I was moving around 25; we missed each other by inches, but I could not avoid the three large, thick wooden polls on the side of the road. I hit the first poll so hard that it yanked my feet right out of my clipped-in peddles, flipped me upside down and threw me in to the second poll. I laid flat on my back for 15 minutes waiting and trying to fully catch my breath while a group of strangers surrounded and took care of me until an ambulance showed up. My bicycle received a minor dent on the upper bar of the frame but not enough to weaken the frame. Believe it or not, after the paramedics gave me a brief checkup right there on the scene, I got back on my bike and continued riding.
  • Oh yeah, there was the time that dad and I almost literally blew ourselves up trying to light the gas furnace in the basement of our house in Skokie Illinois. Now that’s a great story that I shall describe in detail some other time.

I could keep going, but I think you get the idea.

I want to thank everyone that wished me a happy birthday. And a special thanks to the crew at Landrey’s Bicycle, in Quincy Massachusetts (one of my favorite places to hangout) for throwing me a surprise birthday party while I was there getting my bike tuned up.

On Father’s Day, one of my adoptive fathers, Jim Tilmon, said to me, “You may never fully appreciate each and every breath of life you take until you reach your very last breath; so live your life to the fullest.”

My other adoptive father, Don High, said to me, “To hell with anyone that get’s in the way of you achieving your goals and making all of your dreams come true. Man up and live your life to the fullest.”

On my birthday, Burlenda Hurbert, the beautiful woman who literally taught me how not just to sing but to own every note, of every word, of every song I sing, wrote to me, “You are so incredibly gifted and accomplished. This is the time of your life where the fruits of the Spirit are truly maximized and realized. Watch God bless you exponentially.”

I am blessed to have so many angels in my life that watch over me and remind me everyday what a gift life is and to cherish every second of it.

I know that by the way I ride my bike and just by the way I push my envelope for life I may not get to see my 75th birthday; but that’s not what matters and that’s not my goal. My goal is to live every life experience to it’s fullest and when I’ve breathed my very last breath I’m moving on to the next great thing beyond physical life experience.

But for today, tomorrow and the days that follow, “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free. His eye is on that sparrow, but I know he watches me.”

Hycel B. Taylor III