Say it today. Say every one of their names. Say them out loud. Because it’s too late to say it when they’re gone.
Gil, the light skin hero. Dr. Charles Sweat, the thoracic surgeon. Ricky Hinds, the Navy veteran. Johnny Silvercloud, the Soul Brotha #1 of a Kind. Jason Lewis, my Yellowjacket brother for life.
Every time a black man dies at the hands of the police in America, I see the hashtag. #sayhisname
AJ Green, Jr. the actor. Oba Freeman the advocate. Kirk McElroy, my teacher in high school. Eric Gerton, my internet sports friend. John Pennymon, who befriended me after we did a podcast together.
It’s not enough to value them when they’re gone. These are my friends. And I want the world to know that their lives are valuable to me and to so many others. If you value the black men in your life, you have to say so, because the value of black men doesn’t seem to register with certain folks.
Magz Montana and his four sons. George Palmer, Jr., union rep and one of the finest men I know. Chris Gray, husband and father. Terry Jackson, master chef and one of the best friends I’ve ever had. Dr. Andre Key, one of the first men to help me wake up.
The value of these black men is not in some news story. It’s not in a movement. It’s not in a fight to make police treat everybody with respect and dignity. Their value is not when they are gone. Their value is right here. And if we want to keep them here, we have to show that we value them. Show that we will not tolerate having their lives taken from us.
Mark Stampley, the blues man. Joseph Goins, III, the truck driver and talented photographer. Michael Jenkins, my brother who teaches the children who need the most help. Adam Ferguson, a sensitive and brilliant mind. Keith Stokes, husband and father and sports nut.
Their value is right here, right now. Heart still beating, hands still working. This world depends on them. They have wives and children, or careers and friends, or it doesn’t really matter, because they have the right to wake up tomorrow. The right to live freely, without the fear of being executed in a parking lot or a city street or park or a Walmart or the back of a police van.
Neil Spillman, my friend since childhood. Kyron Anderson, who lifted himself out of impossible circumstances. Demetrius Holloway, the accomplished attorney. Tim Newsome, who seems to know everything there is to know about college hoops. Greg Jordan, who I’ve known since we were 10, the talented graphic designer.
Read their names and know they are men, children of God and entitled to the pursuit of happiness. This truth is self-evident: if all men are created equal, these men have fought harder than anyone just to be treated equally.
Bryan Comer, Sr., husband and father. Brian Raines, brother and sports columnist. Alex Dorsey, football fanatic. Antwoine Harris, who became my friend in a sports group. DeShawn Standard, one of my oldest friends, who rose from the projects to an Ivy League education.
Read their names and know that tonight they are at home, praying to God that they never meet the fate that will leave their families without a husband and a father, their communities without leadership, this world with another blank space where a good man should stand.
Derwin Webb, college basketball player turned attorney-at-law. Julyan Watkins, old friend and fine gentleman. Willie Earl, hustling the right way every day. Stookey Slaughter, California Sports Guy. Tim Sugg, my coworker for years and a fine family man, whose son is in the Air Force.
Read their names and the places they hold in my world, the places they hold in the world around them. How can you devalue them when you know for what they stand? Can you still see them as less when you know their hopes and fears and effort and pain are just like yours?
Tony Duncan-Sanders, my big sister’s oldest son, named after his grandfather, one of the finest men who ever lived and a US Marine. Joseph Burrell, an internet friend who found me after another column. Jawann Peacock, my Central High brother with the singing voice of an angel. Christopher II X, who fights for everybody and doesn’t care what you think. Jary Wright, another sports group friend who became much more.
Read their names and know that these men are at home, right now, telling their black sons that they have to act differently, be more cautious, submit unfairly, accept their inequity, to protect their lives. They have to look their children in the eye and tell them that, in America, in 2016, they can be shot without consequence for walking to the store in the rain, for being mistaken for a thief, for playing with a BB gun in a park, for having expired license plates, for selling cigarettes or CDs outside a corner store. Have you ever had to say that to your son? Have you ever had to tell your child that the people sworn to protect and serve everybody else are allowed to kill him with impugnity?
Greg King, my dear friend’s roommate who fights for women too. Detrick Trotter, who I sat next to in the fifth grade and my daughter sat next to his son in the fifth grade. Darren Staples, the talented musician. Andre Ferrell, the comedian and social warrior. ShonTae Mapp, DJ and musician and kind soul.
Don’t you dare reduce them to a list. They’re not perpetrators, or criminals, or threats, or a drain on their community. They are men with rights, who shouldn’t have to earn your approval to live another day.
Jalecoe Washington, who finds people jobs for a living. Stephen Keene, the greatest singing voice I know, who teaches music to kids. Wayne Shemwell, who saves souls because it’s his calling. Troy Banks, who cares for the dead. Jason Owens, my school friend who’s still down.
Say their names today, not when they’re gone. When the people you love are gone, it’s too late to show the world how valuable they are. Maybe if the world knows how valuable they are, they’ll stop shooting them in the streets.
Goldie Ashford, the quarterback. Eddie Snead, the physically strongest man I’ve ever met. Chris Snead, Eddie’s brother. Richard Weathers, Jr. the cameraman. Jerrial Shavers, who’s just coming into his own.
These are my people. When you shoot them down, you shoot me down. When you say they deserved it, you say I deserve it. My life is no more valuable than theirs. To lose any one of these men would break my heart. I am my brother’s keeper, and some of my brothers happen to be black men.
Junie Walkup, my old school friend. Shamar Hightower, my big sister’s younger son. Charles Sullivan, my old school friend and one of the funniest cats I’ve ever met. Toree Sims, holding it down on the inside. PJ Parker, the fabulous artist whose best work is still to come.
Say their names. Tell them you love them. Give them value while they are here. Make it personal for every single person who holds the power of life and death in their hands. Don’t give them the comfort of not seeing their faces, not knowing who they are killing and what they are taking away. Say their names, and make them equal. Make them men to their oppressors, and save their lives, and in the process, save our souls.
Don’t wait until they’re gone. #saytheirnames today.