An open letter from Walgreens Chief Diversity Officer Steve Pemberton to his son:
Here, on your 13th birthday, it's time for The Talk. No, not the one about the birds and bees. We've had that one. The other one -- about what it means to be a young, black male in this country.
I knew the day you were going to come into the world. (It's a long story about your mother needing an operation to remove you from her belly.) Since I knew
when you were arriving I had time to plan but the truth is that I had been planning for you my entire life. Everything I had done up to that point -- every
sacrifice made, every struggle endured -- was for the day you would arrive. And when you did, I thought the whole world could see my chest swelling with
You know I had struggles, circumstances that I did not ask for and that I did not create. I decided a long time ago that I would end this cycle: a man is
not measured by what he inherits, over which he has no say, but by that which he builds, of which he is largely responsible. And while he is building, a man
dreams of what is to be and I want you to know that you have been greater than my dreams.
Now as you enter manhood, you need to know that you live in the greatest country in the world. Still, we are 'perfectable' and one of the areas where we
need to be more perfect is in how our country sees you: a young, black male. Our nation is bombarded with so many negative images of young, black men and
one of the biggest ones is that you are first and foremost, a threat. This relentless stereotyping began a long time ago and as a country we have not yet
let it go. It has led to cycles of inexplicable violence, the likes of which claimed my father and your grandfather.
So you have to be on guard but it is important that you never accept that this is the way it is. Do not accept this idea that you are dangerous and
endangered. I was there the day you were born and on that glorious, summer morning, you were neither of those things. Nor are you now.
Nevertheless, you must be conscious of swallowing that negative chain of someone else's perceptions. Doing so will weigh you down your entire life,
limiting your possibilities and stifling your dreams. No group of people are one single thing and no one looks like their story. Believe that our country
is better than that and do not underestimate our capacity to grow and learn. The idea that we can be a better nation is why your grandfathers, Joseph
Murphy and Joseph Pemberton, made the sacrifices they did.
That is not all you can do. Be a student of history because when you dust off those volumes you will see pages and pages of black men who made
extraordinary contributions to this nation -- and to the world. Read the entire story not just the pages on entertainers and athletes. Armed with that
knowledge and that history, you can carry yourself with the dignity of a king.
Do not chase money, fame or power: they are false gods. If you want to be known for something be known for changing the arc of a life; let somebody say
years from now that they were better because of you. Stand by the women in your life; if a man wants to know how God feels about him, he only has to look
at the women around him. Dare and dream and believe, knowing that your mother and I, and your brother and sister, and our village of family and friends
have you surrounded -- with unwavering support and unyielding love. Always.
When you were a little boy, you asked me if I had a daddy. When I told you no, you said "Maybe next time you will have a Daddy." Perhaps that day will
come but until then, know that I have been given something greater: the gift of being your dad.
Love you, Son,
Steve Pemberton is author of A Chance in the World: An Orphan Boy, a Mysterious Past and How He Found a Place Called Home