It was shortly after midnight on February 1st, 2015 when my girlfriend Lindsay (now fiance) gave birth to our first child, a beautiful baby girl we named Aaliyah Marie. Being a young man in my early 20’s with no siblings or any real experience in terms of parenting, the adjustment into the wonderful world of fatherhood came with challenges and was ultimately quite scary at times. Nonetheless being a dad is undoubtedly the greatest thing to ever happen to me. As cliche as it may be, it’s difficult to describe the emotional connection and unconditional love you have for them “out the gate” but it’s immediate. All of a sudden your personal wants and selfish desires don't matter so much, everything takes a backseat and they instantly become your main priority.
5 months after celebrating our daughters 1st birthday, a 32-year old black man from Minnesota by the name of Philando Castile was driving with his girlfriend and her 4-year old daughter. When he was pulled over during a traffic stop and fatally shot 7 times in front of his loved ones for explaining to the police officer that he had a registered firearm in the vehicle. Being a bi-racial father in North America, I am absolutely terrified to walk outside and carry on with my daily routine over concerns that I may not make it home to my wife and kids one night. The events which transpired that day resonate with me and instinctively my primary thought is; how is this going to affect that little girl in the backseat who just witnessed her mother’s boyfriend get murdered in broad daylight by a police officer? Her life will never be the same after experiencing something that traumatic at such a young age. I couldn’t begin to imagine the challenges she will face growing up, all of which emerged from this terrible although realistic first impression of the world we live in.
Jonathan Ferreira and his son Malakai
I now find myself nervous commuting to and from work on the daily basis, looking over my shoulder for no particular reason. Going out on a limb, I can confidently say that I am not the only coloured individual whose heart has sunk into their stomach while being behind the wheel and passing a police cruiser or hearing the sound of sirens approach, that adrenaline eventually makes you paranoid. My fiancé drives our vehicle whenever we go out as a family, mainly to relieve my own personal anxiety and to ensure we take every precaution to avoid a confrontation with law enforcement. Not because we’re committing a crime or performing illegal activities, but because these days you don’t have to go to jail to receive the death sentence. You could get killed in your vehicle, house, even on your own front lawn by the same people appointed to serve and protect you. Asides from enforcing the law and investigating crimes, the role of a police officer is to keep the peace and protect the people. All people! I’d do anything for my kids, it’s my job as a father to ensure their safety and well-being but instead of doing your job, you’re making mine harder.
What do you tell your kids?
I remember as a child my mother sitting me down and explaining, “you can go out with your friends just be home before dark and if you run into trouble call 911,” I couldn’t imagine myself having that same conversation with my kids today. Instead, am I supposed to tell them the truth? Since you're a member of the black community, and considered a person of colour, you will unfortunately in most cases be viewed as a suspect, regardless of the situation. Furthermore, expect to get judged, abused (mentally and physically) not to mention labelled throughout the course of your life. Being a person of colour, not only is it every man and woman for themselves but you’re ultimately considered the underdog in society and given limited opportunities compared to others whether that be in the form of education or within the workforce and beyond.
Jonathan Ferreira and his daughter Aaliyah Marie
Segregation is real! For example, my mother is the 1st child of 13 others and had a significantly lighter complexion in comparison to her siblings. I’ve heard of racism within black people, family members like my mom’s who shunned her out for being different and insisted my grandfather had an affair with a white woman. With that being said I think it’s important to note that racism comes in many forms, although we’ve seen a large number of incidents stem from white supremacy groups and corrupt justice systems, (undoubtedly leading to trust issues between members of the black community) these aren’t the only sources of discrimination. According to the 1860 census, an African-American cotton gin maker and blacksmith by the name of William Ellison Jr. owned 53 slaves making him the largest of the 171 black slaveholders in South Carolina alone.
There is only good vs. evil regardless of skin colour, what we need to understand as a minority is that classifying a group of individuals is ultimately what created this divide and you can’t fight fire with fire. There are good people throughout the world, who are ready to stand together for equality and put an end to the violence we’re experiencing today, within our communities. We need to encourage and support one another regardless of race, colour or background to get the message across - it’s everybody vs. racism! In my lifetime I’ve accumulated my fair share of racial encounters making me question some people’s morals, beliefs and up-bringing as racism isn’t born, it's taught. Since becoming a father I’ve begun to question our position in society as a black community and realized that nothing has changed in 100 plus years, as Will Smith said, “racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed.”
The movement and phrase “Black Lives Matter” is not denoting members of other races or ethnicities but was created as a cry for help by the black community who continue to lose sons, daughters, husbands and wives because of the colour of their skin. I don’t want my children to be the next it’s time for change, if not now then when? What if Ahmad Abrey was your son? What if Regis Korchinski-Paquet was your daughter? How many more do we need to lose for it to matter? How close to home does it have to hit before you decided to stand up and speak out? I’m not willing to wait and find out, neither should you! Enough is enough.
Aaliyah Marie & Malakai
June 1st, 2020