Road to DC: Durham, NC (Part 2) — In part two of our Durham, NC conversation with four young men, we hear from Charles: husband, father, mentor, banking executive and Duke University graduate. Among his siblings he’s the one who “made it out.” But that success carries with it certain family expectations that often feel like a strong pull backward.
On America today
Racial tension has been at, for my generation, an all time high—from the shootings to this election. So for me, as a black person, I ask myself, where does this go now that’s Trump’s in office? What does this mean for my community? For my sons? For the community of people I work with? And how do I actually make a difference?
I was fortunate enough to be a part of an institution that allows me to enter certain gates. But some people are not afforded those opportunities. So with this recent election and this administration, what does that mean for people who are not able to open certain gates for themselves?
Being able to have that conversation is really difficult. Especially if you don’t know what systems have been in place, before my time, to divide and to disenfranchise.
I was just looking at the new person who’s the overall head of education, Betsy DeVos. When I see her inability to answer certain questions, or even take a stance on certain things, it’s extremely scary. Like, you’re responsible for a trillion dollars of funding! And these are my kids that I’m thinking about, and anyone else who has kids who are going to be growing up in this system.
And it’s really like disheartening. You know, you can have some comic relief, with all these different people trying to make fun of it, but if you really take a step back and look at it, it’s really scary. What is this going to mean in the next 4 years? And I really believe it may even be another 4 years. And some people may say ‘no, that’s crazy.’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t think you understand the power of the white supremacist system. This is not something that just happened out of the blue.’
On the role of conversations
Conversations do excellent things. I think that’s the starting point, allowing space for people to talk…I think that’s the first step. But I don’t think conversations alone get things done.
I’ve been in meetings similar to this where we’ve had police officers, and people of the community, particularly black and Latino, and we all sat in the room and had our discussions, and we talked about the disrespect the police officers go through, and people from the community say ‘well, I don’t think that justifies people losing their lives.’ And so you have these dialogues and then the police officers go to their homes, and the black people go back to their community with all the crime.
My personal story is an example. You know, I graduated from Duke but I have a brother who’s been in prison for 10 years. He just got out, can’t get a job, can’t get an apartment. I got another brother who’s struggled with alcohol and drug addiction.
To this day, my own mother is sleeping on the couch with my aunt and my uncle, who are staying at my uncle’s mother’s house. And every single one of them is educated. My aunt is a pharmacist; my mom got her doctorate in pharmacy.
So we can have these conversations, which I think is excellent, just to allow people to vent their stance so that people can open up their minds to more solutions. But after I have this conversation with you guys, I’m going to go where I’m staying, and there’s a story about my life that no conversation is going to change. That’s just the honest truth.
On ‘pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps’
When my wife and I came back from the Philippines, we didn’t have a place to stay, so we were staying with a friend of ours, he’s white, and he builds subdivisions. And we had a conversation about how he and his wife don’t understand why black people can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
And you know, a few months later, he’s in the process of possibly going bankrupt, losing everything. And he’s a Christian, and he said the Lord told him to reach out to his father, who’s a millionaire, and ask him for support. And his father says he will cover all of his son’s expenses for two years, until he can pay back that loan.
And it’s disheartening, it’s extremely disheartening, and the reason why I say that is because we had that conversation—we were very open, and he heard my perspective, and I heard his perspective, and then as time went by, my mom is still sleeping on the couch, my aunt is still sleeping on the couch, and they’re both educated, and they can’t call anyone for that kind of support because there’s no one able to do anything like that. So when they screw up, their margin of error is like this [pinches fingers together].
So as soon as they f-up, it’s all gone. And then when their kid gets out of prison, they look to the son that got out, and it’s like, ok, alright, I have to help you. So the money that I would be saving to prepare for my kids for their future, I’m spending tens of thousands of dollars on rehab for my brother for drug and alcohol addiction.
And the solution is very unclear, outside of dismantling this system, and I truly don’t know how to do that, outside of educating the people within my sphere of influence.