“I Look the Part” – An Open Letter to My Son, Demetrius D. McClendon II

A letter to my son to know the past and to use it as momentum to make your future better.

Demetrius, you mean the world to your mother and me. As our only son it continues to bring us great joy to be your parents. In the midst of being excited about your birth I was also met with an overwhelming sense of responsibility. I desired to do for you what my father continues to do for me, which is offering guidance and support towards becoming a man. Lessons like, looking people in their eyes when talking to them, shaking hands with a firm grip, being a man of my word and of course how to treat a lady. And more specifically we talked about being a black man. I did not understand all my Dad was saying, but I listened. He shared with me stories of my grandfather, your great grandfather (Leroy McClendon, Sr.), who was a sharecropper, and the harms he experienced only having a 3rd-grade education in the 20’s and 30’s. My Dad schooled me regarding his difficulties, growing up in rural East Texas in the 50’s and 60’s at the end of Jim Crow through Civil Rights. And for me, in the ’80s and 90s, experiencing the riots after the beating of Rodney King and yet still asking why can‘t we get along.

Today at 46, the problems of your forefathers still persist. That’s why I continue to talk to you regarding how to live as a Christian who happens to be a Black man in America. In many ways equality has progressed, yet we cannot be satisfied with things just being different, they must get better, which means equity for all. The discrimination and racial disparities among the human race, especially between Christians who are black and white, are an active reality of our community. The reality of 2020 is it has shown what people did not want to believe which is the reality that we do have some serious issues in America. 

Son, I do not want you to live in fear, therefore you must understand our reality as black men while maintaining our faith in God. One day as I was preparing to leave home, your mom had a peculiar look on her face and she addressed me regarding her concerns whenever I leave home. Of course, I’m thinking “what are you talking about?”. Her heart grieved because at any given moment anyone could accuse me of anything they wanted because I fit the biased narrative of being a big, bald, broad shouldered, bearded black man. In other words, “I Look the Part”. 

Our nation has experienced live visuals of Black men being killed for no lawful reason. And just like them, despite my achievements, connections and influence “I Look the Part”. I am challenging and encouraging you to know your presence and voice means something. People will not always agree, yet show up and speak your truth. You were made in the image of God, yet you have to contend with the likeness of your Dad. Here’s the truth.

I Look the Part: The pigmentation of our skin tone may differ, but you are a black man and will be treated as one. This is not to make you feel inferior, only to prepare you for the journey ahead. Like the men before you, some people, out of fear, rage, and or stupidity, will not appreciate the man that you are purely based on the color of your skin. The stereotypes adhered to black men have plagued our ancestors since being brought to these lands. The sad reality is, you are being held accountable for a false narrative that being a black man is threatening. The signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 released this fear that slaves would rise and take revenge on their oppressors. These animalistic thoughts regarding black men gave authority for others to function as domestic terrorists under the facade of public safety yet hiding behind a real mask. You, my son, look the part too. 

I Look the Part: In Addition to being black I am bald, bearded and big. For me this has been a triple whammy for a lot of my social interactions with strangers and some associates. Baldness has often been attributed to either a medical condition or involvement in a life of crime. Psychologically having a beard shows an internal identity crisis as if one is hiding their true intentions. And on top of all this I’m a big dude, 6’3 and 326lbs. Adding these three attributes of my manhood to being black in America and the sum for some is a threatening reality which deepens the gap between civility and unity. There are things I could do to make people feel more comfortable but the reality, my son, is no one should have to diminish who they are to make someone else feel more important. Do not allow the shallow thinking of people to lock you in a box of mediocrity. You are a McClendon man and above that a man of God. 

After watching the video of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder on February 23rd of this year, I had no more tears and the fact that people were actually developing a defense for these men who drove up behind him while jogging displaying guns because they thought he was a thief left me speechless and enraged. And then on May 25th, George Floyd was killed surrounded by police officers with one of them resting his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck. Seeing the officer’s face and his prideful unwillingness to get off this handcuffed man who was laying on the hot pavement illuminated the dark history in America. What will it take for the diverse cultures of humanity to co-exist? We must see ourselves not as a melting pot in which each ingredient is losing its identity but as a pot of stew. In the pot, every ingredient enhances the other. Okra tastes a lot better to me after it’s been simmering with potatoes and meat. The world will taste better as we maintain our identity by bringing out the taste in others. Son, you are the right man to navigate this conversation focusing on the things we have in common instead of the few things we do not. 

Therefore, Son, LIVE! Live with a sense of appreciation for others, those who do not live like you, those that do not look like you and for those who may not vote like you. You must be aware of the differences but not using those differences against others. One of the most offensive things that could be said is that a person claims to be color blind. Your sensitivity for humanity should never license you to look through someone discounting their worth. God formed, wired and placed everyone strategically all over the earth for a divine purpose. Because we are in God’s image, see people through the love lens of God. Even when we are not treating each other in a godly manner. 

Solomon writes to his sons, “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” (Proverbs 14.31) The respect you give towards humanity demonstrates your love for God. Continue being the gentle and kind person you have always been; no one will ever be able to take advantage of your kindness because this is your response to your love for God.

Son, LIVE with a sense of appreciation for today. Do not live in the past. It is my prayer that you learn from my mistakes and those of your grandfather so that you will not repeat them. Balance is the key. Knowing your history, yet not reliving it in responses today. We talk about our family’s history not to foster feelings of rage and vengeance but in thanksgiving that God brought us through and we realize the freedom in knowing God’s ableness. 

Asaph writes in Psalm 78:6-7, saying, “so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they, in turn, would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.” I inform you of our past, so you will know our history and in turn, you will tell your children. Then from the testimony of generations, they will trust our God. 

Son, LIVE, letting your Faith Lead. You are a young man of discipline, your challenge will be to use that discipline as you invest in your relationship with God. 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your understandings but in all your ways acknowledge God, and He will direct your path.” (Proverbs 3.5) Trusting in your abilities and connections will not produce a life of faith. Learn now to trust by putting your full weight on God. Your faith will be everything you need no matter the level or depth of biased or malicious acts towards you. Live Son Live.

Son, LIVE with your Word as your Bond. Whatever you say, make sure they are words of Truth, words that give life to the listeners. Do not be silenced by the evil intentions of men. Do not be silenced with fear because of a desire to be accepted. Let your voice ring out like the robust sound of a marching bands tuba section. Let it reverberate in the ears of all those that are around causing attention to the issues at hand. Silence cannot be the loudest voice heard so speak Son, speak your Truth. 

Solomon encourages his sons in Proverbs 12:22 saying, “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.” Let your words of truth cause conviction prevent injustices and deliver hope. Be a man of God’s word and speak the Truth. 

Demetrius be the man God desires for you to be. If anyone can bring the change that’s needed in our community and world it’s you. Gather your thoughts, open your mouth and allow God’s words to flow out. You are not alone. There are other men and women God has selected to walk with you through this journey. Walk-in it with a sense of belonging, a sense of pride. You walk in the shoes of Rueben McClendon; Jim McClendon; Fed McClendon; Leroy McClendon, Sr; Billy McClendon, Sr. and Demetrius McClendon, Sr.  Walk strong Son, …walk on. You are the seed of a man who honors God, a man who loves his wife, and a man that provides for his family.

I am so proud to say, “I am your Father and you are my Son.” We look the part we have been placed here to play. Play your role, play your game, play your instrument well. Son LIVE!

Love, Dad