Strong Personal Purpose and Conviction to Changing the Systemic Injustices that Urban Planning has Placed upon Black American Communities
Gunshots rang out just outside my home, startling a group of boys that had gathered for my 12 year old birthday party. Without panic or a second thought, I quickly moved further away from the windows, ducking down to assume the position taught to me by my parents. It was “drive-by drill” time. This was a drill that I was accustomed to, growing up in Denver’s, historically Black, but now gentrified, Five Points Neighborhood. However, during my drill movements, I noticed that something was wrong with my friends. Fear gripped their bodies and froze them into place. I wondered what in the world they were doing and why they weren’t getting down.
The drive-by shooting didn’t last long. After about 30 seconds of hearing the sound of bullets leaving the barrel of a gun and the screeching of tires on asphalt, my block was once again quiet. As I slowly got up, listening for more sounds, tears flooded the eyes of some of my friends. They were terrified. Each from outside of my neighborhood, they had always heard that the Five Points was ‘the hood’ and although some had visited my house before, the experience that they had that night was very new. For me, it was a Saturday night.
My young friends had originally intended to spend the night after pizza and a movie. The events that occurred no longer allowed them to comfortably do so, for fear of their safety. Each of them opted to call their parents to be picked up, ending the birthday party and the fun that I was having earlier. As the last child left my house, I felt crushed. My birthday was over sooner than I wanted it to be over something that I didn’t understand. At this time, I thought that drive-bys were a normal experience at every house and every neighborhood. I assumed that the drive-by drill was as normal as learning the fire drill at school, which is why I was shocked about the inaction of my friends. However, more importantly, I didn’t know that my feeling of safety was not as secure as my friends, based on where I lived. For them, this safety was an expectation. Gunshots were only heard in movies.
This was the first lesson in systemic injustice that I learned from my mother, a social justice warrior who spent her career fighting for equity in education and more specifically in early childhood. She delicately explained to me that my friends had the right to feel afraid and that the fear of the gunshots is actually healthy. She went on to explain that their neighborhoods were different than ours and attempted to clarify the complexity of why. I didn’t understand at the time, but it started a small fire within me. The pain and confusion swirled for years to come.
Combined with other harsh experiences as a Black man in the United States, I learned about the cost of inequity as it relates to overt racism and implicit bias. As I write this in 2020, in the heat of a pandemic and a revolution, I arrive at this time with great purpose and conviction. I have dedicated my life and career to changing the dynamics that created the need for any child to become normalized to the trauma that stems from slavery, segregation, socioeconomic struggle, disinvestment in neighborhood schools, racist policies, and police brutality, amongst a long list of things that have negatively impacted Black people in the United States. My mission is to cultivate equity, through my lived experiences and education, for Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC). To enable my mission, I chose the industry of Urban Planning.
© 2020 James Roy II. All rights reserved.
The following is part of a working draft to a thesis being written towards a Master in Urban & Regional Planning at the University of Colorado Denver. No part of the following work may be reproduced or used in any manner without written permission of the copyright owner (James Roy II).