This young man is black.
He likes rap music.
He wears his pants a bit low.
Those three sentences define him for many.
Some assume he is a thug because of how he dresses or because he is black.
I want to take you back to when I met him.
He was in my Spanish class over ten years ago.
I saw something in him right away.
He is quiet but outgoing when he feels welcomed.
He speaks softly and is reserved.
He will let you know what he is thinking when he is ready to tell you.
He is observative, taking his time to figure out what he wants to say or his next move.
It was not all roses in my class.
Sometimes he did not do his work.
Sometimes he got upset or talked back.
We always found our way through, however.
I knew how intelligent he was, and I knew that he could succeed.
When he scored poorly on an assignment, I would tell him, "You are more than this. You can do better."
He would hang his head down low, "I know, Miss. Silva, I know."
So, I pushed him.
Pushed him to do more.
Pushed him to seek more for his life than what society thought he could amount to.
After all, he was a black boy with dreads and pants that hang low, what could he achieve?
They did not see the boy beyond the outer appearance.
I saw his heart where many judged him by his skin.
He was curious and brilliant. He could problem solve at the drop of a dime.
I told him to keep his focus.
I reminded him to never lose sight of the big picture and to keep working hard.
He does not know this, but he inspired me.
In a world that told him he would not amount to much because he was a black boy, he kept going.
In a society that told him he was not worth much because he wore his pants a bit low, he kept going.
In a town that told him dreadlocks meant he would not be able to accomplish much, he kept going.
He defied the odds, and then he crushed them.
He drives a Silverado with wheels so big you would think he was appearing in a Monster Truck Rally.
While he is a fan of rap music, he actually enjoys all music, even country.
He cooks his meals with Spanish black beans and reads the words of Mandela and the Bible.
He is a jack of all trades.
He is much more than the color many cannot see past.
When he graduated from college, I cried.
One day, he messaged me asking for a reference,
"Miss. Silva, I'm applying for both my Doctorate of Physical Therapy and a Master's Degree in Science in Public Health."
I cried again.
I left that classroom many years ago, but the students that changed my life are forever in my heart.
He is one of them.
The dreads are still there.
Sometimes, he still wears his pants a little low.
His name is Robert, and he is much more than black. My hope is that the world sees this too.
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