Calm Waters was created to help people in grief, and right now the Black community is facing so much grief and feeling a tremendous sense of loss. Grief doesn’t discriminate because of race, gender or socioeconomic status, and I’m proud to be associated with Calm Waters, an organization that stands with every grieving child, adult and family who is facing the injustice of racism and racial prejudice.
Collective Grief is the sense of loss felt by a group of people. In addition to the collective grief we are processing during this time of unrest, we are met with extreme stress, anxiety and sadness each time another Black life is lost. Simply put, we grieve.
As a Black father, I face a number of stressors as I parent my children. A common parental stress is when our children earn their driver’s license. My 16-year-old son just became a legal driver on these Oklahoman streets, but before I handed over the keys, he had to pass “Dad’s Test.”
A few months ago, my son and I were pulled over and the atmosphere was immediately hostile. I knew this was going to be an unfair stop, something I’d experienced before, but it would be a first for my son. The first officer began looking through each window of my Jeep, the second officer stating that he had a gun and would use it, given the chance.
During this live, high-stress situation, I quietly and calmly talked my son through our actions with the goal of rising above. I told my son to place his hands and feet on the dash, to not move and to listen to my voice. I told him to not respond to any of the aggressive comments from the officers because the intentions behind those words were bad. I quietly told my son that we would accept whatever ticket was given and handle the citation through the court of law. No matter what, we were to survive the situation and fight it the right way.
Later, I was informed by a police captain that we were truly stopped because I looked like a stereotype, as he bluntly stated, I’d been stopped for driving with Brown skin.
My son’s memory of instructions during the experience was the final answer to the “Dad Test.” His recitation of the words “survive the situation and fight it the right way” was what I needed to hear to feel comfortable with him on the road. Situations like this have got to change.
I urge you to be there to listen to the Black people in your life. When anyone gives voice to their emotions, a feeling of connection grows, and don’t we all need a little more connection right now? You don’t have to have answers. Just validate and acknowledge what is happening right now without judgment. Acknowledge the collective grief as we mourn George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin and so many others. I believe acknowledging grief will be the seed of change.
I thank each of you who read this for giving me the space to share my grief.
I encourage everyone to join the conversation and encourage systemic reform for change, even if it begins with an internal conversation with yourself about why you feel a certain way about specific issues and assumptions. If you are intentional about making this step, change will come to you, and to our future, and heal this collective grief.
Travis Hartfield is a proud father of three children and the chief executive officer of the Qadosh Health and Wellness Experience with a masters degree in Educational Technology from Oklahoma State University, where he also an adjunct professor. Travis’ story was originally shared via Calm Waters Center for Children and Families, for which he is a board member.