Will this keep my grandson safe? 8

I have an old acquaintance who types all of his emails in capital letters. They all begin, GREETINGS, and they are annoying.

On the other hand, my two-year-old grandson, Tommie, speaks his greetings in capital letters that sound as if they should be bold, under-lined and painted a vivid ORANGE.

“Hey, T-Pop,” he calls out enthusiastically to my husband.“GRANDI!” He shouts out to me.Thomas_745

I can hear his voice running through my head–musical, joyful and loud. He made me realize the lack of expression and diminished nature of my greetings to people. I exist on the cool side even when I feel warm and bubbly although a few years ago I began to hug people regularly upon seeing them. All of a sudden, one day, it didn’t feel right to say hello to friends and not hug them.

Howareyou? Tommie asks running the words together. When asked the same question, he responds, “Good!” pronounced “gud” as though he was German.

I saw Tommie most recently at my mother’s 80th birthday celebration in St. Louis. During the time the family was celebrating this momentous occasion, Michael Brown was murdered by a policeman in Ferguson, a short distance away. Many of my family members live in Florissant, adjacent to Ferguson. My brother-in-law teaches in Ferguson (although the start of school has continued to be delayed because of the shooting and its aftermath).

My sister, brother-in-law, Mom, and I watched the news obsessively while I was there, about what was going on in Ferguson and decided to go to the march/demonstration on West Florissant Blvd. on Thursday of the first week when Captain Ron Johnson of the State Police, himself a Ferguson native and Black man, took over from the local Police Chief. There were thousands of people walking and standing on both sides of the boulevard as cars in both directions honked their horns. It was night of peace and camaraderie. There was even a guy riding his horse.

That same night, we decided to drive a couple of blocks away to the historic district in Ferguson. It was peaceful, filled with quaint shops and restaurants. There was a gathering there in a large parking lot. We joined it, exhorted by a local, female D.J. (whose name I didn’t get) to pray together. Everyone did as asked and she invited clergy present (there were several) to lead us in prayer. In both gatherings, there were people of all ages bearing witness and making protests; greeting each other – “Hello, Sister, Lady, Brother, Gentlemen…Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.”


I wonder if Tommie will be part of a demonstration when he gets older. I pray that he will not be the reason for a demonstration.

I would preserve his innocence and enthusiasm if I could. The village of our extended family and friends will guide him and protect him as much as we can. We will train him on how to interact with police and other officials. (I gave my son the Little Black Book that Carol Taylor of  Brooklyn published many years ago in response to the shootings of Black men by policemen. I will see if he still has it.) We will instruct Tommie not to steal or lie and will discipline him swiftly when he steps out of line. We will teach him to choose his friends carefully and avoid certain situations.

Will this be enough to keep him safe?

We will educate him about African-American history and about how he will be viewed by some people while trying to help him not absorb or believe the negative expectations society has for him.

Will this be enough to keep him safe and sane?
Will this allow him to pursue his dreams?
Will this keep him alive?

For Tommie and all the men in my family, my network, the world, I say a constant prayer – be safe, be safe, because:

Walking as a black man, sitting as a black man, relaxing as a black man, vacationing as a black man, going to school as a black man, shopping as a black man, driving as a black man, hailing a cab as a black man, jogging as a black man, selling as a black man, just living as a black man is precarious.

You can live normally and peacefully until that one encounter that changes everything – that, too often, ends your life.

The people who stereotype you don’t stop to ask your purpose, credentials, personality or your value. Instead they automatically decide that because you are a black male* you are up to no good, don’t belong, and should be intimidated (at best) or eliminated (too frequently).

Greetings, Tommie, welcome to the world.


  • I am sorry, son, for the time the Northeastern University police made you and your friend who were walking across campus (where you were students) lay down on the snowy ground as they questioned your right to be there.
  • I am sorry, husband, for the time in your young adulthood, when you and your friend were made to lay down on the street by police looking for a stolen car that wasn’t even the same make you were driving and were taken to the police station.
  • I am sorry, former student, for the time an armed security guard came into the dorm where you were staying during the summer program I directed and pointed a gun at you and made you lay prone as he shouted questions at you.

I worry that in teaching Tommie his  rights as a citizen and to stand up for those rights might cause him to be hurt – psychologically or mortally – when he stands up for those rights.


(*Black women’s and children’s lives aren’t valued much more either.)

Who is Captain Ron Johnson?
Can’t Find the Words to Talk about Ferguson? Read These.

The Little Black Book by Carol Taylor


About Candelaria Silva

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a marketing, community outreach and programming consultant; writer; and trainer/facilitator who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has designed and facilitated workshops on a wide variety of topics including communication, facilitation, job search skills, team building, and parenting issues. She currently coordinates the Community Membership Program of the Huntington Theatre Company. Her work as Director of ACT Roxbury was profiled in several publications, including The Creative Communities Builders Handbook. Candelaria’s children’s stories, short stories, essays and reviews have been published in local and national publications and she is an active blogger. Her publications include the booklets, Handling Rejection; Pushing through Shyness: Networking Tips when You’re Shy, Slow to Warm Up or Just don’t Feel you Belong; and Real Questions about Sex & Relationships for Teens: A Discussion Guide for Parents. She has served on the boards of Goddard College, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston Foundation for Architecture, and Discover Roxbury. She is currently Chair, Designators of the Henderson Foundation.

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8 thoughts on “Will this keep my grandson safe?


    I’ve worried the last 40 years for my children, my brothers, friends and extended family…and now for my grandsons. Were they given the “talk,” about the police? And because they are bi-racial, but brown –will they “get it?” In this millennium we are still profiled, and sometimes sentenced, by the color of our skin.

  • Carolyn

    Thank you for these comments; I have not been able to speak about this because of the anger I feel I need to work through first. The insane commentary that I have heard about what has happened in Ferguson makes me crazy–the use of tanks and tear gas in the United States of America against unarmed people. My prayers go out for our men of color, our women, our children, our grandchildren and this country. THANK YOU FOR YOUR COMMENTS; I HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO SPEAK ABOUT THIS BECAUSE OF THE RAGE I FEEL I NEED TO WORK THROUGH FIRST.

  • Denise Dabney

    You echoed all my thoughts for our black sons, brothers, husbands, loved ones. Things will not change until we solve the problem of institutional racism. But we can’t give up and the community of Ferguson and everywhere in this country, black people must VOTE and we must also VOTE with our POCKETBOOKS! When it’s possible, boycott products and services of whites when we know they are doing harm to black people.

  • Evelyn V Monteiro

    Hello Candi, I really enjoyed reading. (Will this keep my grandson safe) while reading so many things ran through my mind, I got side tracked and had to start all over

  • sam

    .Painful truths. Eloquently expressed. Fear for our kids, their brothers, fathers, uncles, friends is overwhelming, enraging, and just plain scary. Your words help.