Growing up I was always the new kid on the block. My dad was a minister and we moved often. My parents divorced and we moved several more times. By the time I was in the third grade I had lived in seven homes, three cities and two different states.
Not all preachers’ kids are straight and narrow, but I was. In elementary school I was focused. I took church lessons to heart and tried to make the world a better place by spreading the gospel. I wanted to do right and show respect to others in the process. Unfortunately that wasn’t the priority of the other project kids I rode the school bus with.
His name was JaCory, and he picked on me because he wanted to. He was popular, rough around the edges and had street credit. I was known as the PK who wore tight pants, Cosby sweaters and spoke proper. Girls even picked on me. One day as we fought, JaCory connected a solid punch to my face and I saw my own blood for the first time. This was when I truly found God.
A strange thing happened. The crowd went crazy, but everything quieted in my head. Something inside gave me permission to not care. I walked up to JaCory and unleashed 13 years of not being good enough, the resentment built from being told I acted white, the pain of my father not being around and the shame I had of growing up poor. In turn, he had a busted lip and black eye. The next day had a lot of respect and a new attitude.
Identity has always been something I struggled with, but around this time I first decided people would know me by the terms I chose. I braided my hair, listened to rap and jazz, kept my good grades, joined the debate team, played football, lifted weights, graduated with honors, spoke in tongues at Wednesday night bible studies, dialogued about my experience with people who looked like me and with those who were different.
To me black is determined, powerful, unforgettable and carries a heavy punch. I am not of ashamed of it. In fact, I unabashedly embrace it.
Gabriel Lawrence is a New York-based actor and filmmaker.