In May, the arrests of Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson in a Philadelphia Starbucks may have marked 2018’s most highly publicized incident of black people being harassed in spaces where white people, for one reason or another, thought they didn’t belong.
Since then, a host of others have been engrained in our memory and history — many with clever descriptors: “BBQ Becky,” “Permit Patty,” “Golfcart Gail.” The cute names given them exemplify the very common black experience of documenting trauma through humor. But their acts — in these cases, eagerly calling the police on black people ― were not victimless. And despite the levity we use to classify and mock them, the encounters they spurred between black people and law enforcement were serious matters.
These stories can occur in such rapid succession that it becomes easy to forget those who are subjected to this kind of harassment. It also becomes easy to understate just how bizarre it can be for them to relive that trauma along with millions of other people analyzing it on the internet.
Before Corey Lewis became the central figure in this year’s “babysitting while black” story, he was a youth mentor in Georgia. Today, he remains a youth mentor. In fact, his mentorship program, Inspired by Lewis, has grown through the donations it received after a white woman saw him taking care of two white children in October and decided to call the police.
But Lewis still wears the trauma from that day, and it influences his work.
“I’m paranoid now when I’m out with the kids,” he said. “Now I’m thinking about who’s watching me — who’s watching us.”
He noted that because he tends to mentor children with behavioral issues, it’s not uncommon for him to have to physically separate them from each other.
“But someone from the outside may not know that I’m working with a group of kids with behavioral issues,” Lewis said, “so they just see a black man wrestling with these little kids and it’s ‘Oh my gosh! What’s going on?!’”
Lewis believes the October incident has helped the parents paying for his services grasp the anxiety he faces throughout the workday. On that fall day, he was caring for Dana Mango and David Parker’s children when the police were called. In an interview with “Good Morning America,” the two said the officers scared their kids.
“[Mango and Parker] have become much more understanding of what it takes to live a day in my shoes,” Lewis said. “We went through this together and they’ve always said, ‘Whatever you need, whatever you want to say, we’re with you.’”
Lewis said he hopes to open a school of his own that would educate kids, among other things, about biases and stereotypes.
“The curriculum would teach the upcoming generation about experiences like these and help improve on social skills and life skills,” he said.
His belief in himself as a teacher is what drives Lewis to spin positivity from the incident.
“I’m not a babysitter,” he said.
“My day job is to teach children how to conduct themselves while they’re in the public eye. Even as the incident was happening, I wanted to set an example for the kids as they watched me react. I want to keep being that example.”