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Bobby Drake: Because, I am Black

Months ago I started working on a one man show. It was an idea that was born out of my need to provide the kind of leadership that reminds you of old generals that had done all the things they told their soldiers to do.

My 2015 Independent Music Awards accomplishment, as the artist that won Best Spoken Word Album, gave me a unique set of skills. A combination of entrepreneurial drive and artistic audacity gave me the crazy idea to answer one question before I dіе. “Why can’t artists get loans for their art? It’s a business too right?”

This led to many things, but the most important was the creation of a program to teach other artists how to do the same thing. Like most entrepreneurs, I learned some hard lessons right away. But the biggest was that I needed to find a way to tour more for lower costs.

That lead to the “living room tours.” It was a concept as simple as entertaining your guests for a donation from each one, or a negotiated fee at the end of the performance.

In the midst of preparing to market this, as I embarked into random homes in random neighborhoods, many black men met their ends at the hands of law enforcement officers in what could only be described as tragic.

In my own mind, I couldn’t shake the possibility of being one of those men.

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The fear of the worst possible scenario, of a run in with police, won’t leave me alone. Imagine, what would happen in this scenario.

I walked up to the steps of a home, in a neighborhood filled with cars better than mine. Driveways for houses bigger than my own. The doors open as I shuffle to keep the big black case I carry from slipping. He’s white. And Republican. I’m black. And Democrat. Today we talk about the only things that matters, bourbon and lessons learned along the way.

We’re both at different stages in life, but he recognizes mine and tells me all about the hard lessons I have yet to experience.

“You know,” he says, “…some are unavoidable. You’ll be in a pinch, short on cash, your gonna have to make some short term decisions. Try to minimize those. Business is about getting past the pinch.”

Sage advice. I’ve heard it before. I express I’ve still fallen short on those long term decisions. He says I gotta be patient.

I set up for my performance. His guests begin to arrive. One by one he introduces me. Eventually, everyone is holding a beverage. Everyone has a smile. He makes a grandiose entrance into his own living room to introduce me.

This is golden. At this moment I am the most nervous I am going to be. The anticipation mixes with the fear of stoicism and I breath deeply to remember two things. God has given this to me to deliver, so the night is mine. And two, don’t drink before shows. The nervousness is why, the drink will run through me.

I turn the energy on and the show goes up. Some laugh. Some cry. The stiff upper lips fade by the end, and the host makes the play to his guests for donations. Asks me to stick around. Burn a cigar with him. I refuse. He offers the Davidoff for home. Its Nicaraguan. I accept.

We walk to the door and he hands me a white envelope. It’s the donations. I perform a donations-based show. He’s supposed to hand me this envelope, so that his neighbor outside notices him handing me. I notice him noticing the black man, with the less extravagant car accepting an envelope at the door of his white neighbor. I notice him noticing that not because because I am in precarious positions. Because, I am black. I have been taught to notice who is noticing me.

The whole thing crosses my mind for a second, I store it, but keep moving. My internal clock is now set. I’m now praying. I’m hoping. Hoping that I’m over reacting. I hope that my mind is just reaching. I calm myself. I will see my daughter soon. I will kiss my wife soon. I pick up my all black case and my black backpack and trek down the driveway.

I move faster, but not so fast as to draw suspicion as to why I would need to move that fast from anyone that might be watching from the comfort a nearby foyer. I have to be this aware. Not because I want to. It’s stressful to be this aware. To know your move and my move and the next move that either one of us could make at all times is stressful. It is heart disease in your thirties.

There used to be a time when someone like me could make it past his twenties and think, Ahh, I might live long enough to dіе of old age.

I get into my car. Driving down a road so well lit that it’d be hard not to notice that I was driving a car. I’m going at the right speed. Trying not to be noticed by the authorities. There is no reason to pull me over, which is the perfect reason, of course. I see the squad car in my rearview mirror. I am sure the neighbors called him. I see him put the sirens on, I pull over immediately. I turn on my phone and start Facebook Live, I make the announcement:

“Pulled over in a neighborhood not used to black faces for unknown reasons.”

People alert my wife, she comments and reassures. I say I love her. Tell her to love on our daughter for me. This situation is not out of the ordinary. I wish her a good day and tell her to be safe everyday. She offers the same for me. Because we are black and have to go outside of our home. Not because its more dangerous today than any other day. But because I left my home. Period.

The officer approaches in the way I have ever known an officer to approach. With his hand on his firearm. I don’t know if that’s standard procedure for approaching blacks, or just standard procedure. I know it feels wrong for a situation that did not involve any wrong doing. I have already removed my wallet and ID. If I had time during my Facebook or Periscope shuffle, I would have already grabbed the insurance card as well.

Legit. Legal. Everything. Because reaching for something in the presence of an officer as he approaches your car, with his hand already on his firearm, is a sure fire way to become a hashtag.

I roll down the window. He asks me if I can step out of the car. I cannot even ask why, because I know what will happen next.

I think about a man in Minnesota was shot by an officer, while sitting in his car. His girlfriend sat in the passenger seat, with his child in the backseat.

The reason the pain is so prevalent among us, is because so many unarmed black men have been kіIIed by police this year.

How many of them were breaking a law, due to a taillight, driving too slow, or neighbor calling about a disturbance when they are kіIIed? It could happen to anyone with skin that looks like mine. And for any reason someone wearing a shield deems worthy at any time.

My heart hurts. I am tired for my people. I do not know what to say next.

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About Bobby Drake
Milwaukee, Wisconsin born and bred. Husband. Father. Best Spoken Word Album Winner at the 2015 Independent Music Awards. Never Say Dіе is a free one-hour show, produced & performed by Bobby Drake about a man trying to reconcile the love of his art, with the women he loves.

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