The police shootings of African American men in the U.S. over the last few weeks—and the shootings of police by African American military veterans—have really hit home for me. I told my wife that, in the past, any of these young men could have easily been me.
When I came back to Missouri after receiving my military discharge, I returned home as a young man trained to be an angry, cold-blooded killer, an expert marksman and sniper.
I joined the Marines at just 16 years old, and started training for it at 13. I knew that this was the path for me, even though many people said that the Armed Forces is not a place for a Black man. I wanted to take this path and not follow the path to criminality, college or commerce. I wanted to be a member of the few and the proud.
But when I got home, no one ever called me. No one transitioned me back into society. They didn’t care. I even asked for assistance, and got nothing.
I was lost, and I paid for it by losing my first family. They left me, and I remember that I stayed in my home by myself for over a month, like a zombie. I still, to this day, don’t fully understand how I managed to climb out of that deep pit of despair.
My wife left when she realized I was ready to snap and go postal. But even though she was right, something stayed my hand. I remembered a quote from the Bible that attracted me and that my grandparents had taught me:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. – Ephesians 6:10-17.
Like the young men in the news recently, I have had many encounters with law enforcement, some good and bad. I have always had to remind and tell them that I am their equal, because I too put on a uniform and fought for my country. Despite that, they seldom treated me kindly or listened to what I said. I shared with them that I knew that their job was a tough one, and many times thankless, and that as a serviceman, we had often felt the same way. But like them, we did not enlist and sign up to do the job for accolades and trophies, but to ensure that our families, friends and communities could live in peace.
When I had interactions with the police, they normally acted haughty, treated me unprofessionally and were blatantly disrespectful. My only plea to them, made many times, was to treat me with respect, and to at least smile during times when no direct emergency existed. In short, I just wanted to be treated like a fellow human being.
Eventually, though, I had to choose to rehabilitate myself by giving back through community service initiatives, by giving my life up to God, and by serving the Lord as a non-denominational servant of Christ. I hosted a weekly radio talk show called Kore Issues for 15 years, discussing my own core issues, and creating my own soulful hip hop music to express myself, offer a release and battle open forms of oppression. I wrote a song about my struggles at the time, called Ghetto WarKry:
I pray to God that He holds my reins
If it wasn’t for your love Lord, I’ll have the world up in flames
And you can never understand the rage, of ghetto braves
Street doctors and chemist, adding decimals and digits
Stuck in the game, can’t even afford to be tame
Pass the fame, Don’t want you chumps to even know my name
I just want you to feel the same pain, you dish out
The name of the game, is survival in chaos, then blaze out.
But rather than strike out violently, I focused on healing my inner wounds, and building bonds with my family by being an active father and husband. I began to realize that society could do better for its military veterans, by offering sensitivity training when we re-enter society, no matter the discharge status or service record. We could provide veterans with transitional and financial assistance for that post-discharge period, and give them opportunities for career training and counseling to assist in them reprogramming their minds to deal with the trauma and the changes they’ve experienced in wartime. Perhaps then we could avoid tragedies like the ones we’ve seen in the past few weeks.
During the time of my slow healing, without the benefit of any of the potentially helpful programs I just mentioned, I kept coming back to my foundation, and the realization that all the trials we face are spiritual. That spiritual arena, I knew, allows each of us to reach out and fulfill our goals. I also realized that I was not alone. In prayer I called upon my biological father, who had died before I was born, and he assisted me in spirit, to arise. I also continued to read the scriptures and find the tools that would aid me to compete in this spiritual arena.
O ye servants of the Sacred Threshold! The triumphant hosts of the Celestial Concourse, arrayed and marshalled in the Realms above, stand ready and expectant to assist and assure victory to that valiant horseman who with confidence spurs on his charger into the arena of service. Well is it with that fearless warrior, who armed with the power of true Knowledge, hastens unto the field, disperses the armies of ignorance, and scatters the hosts of error, who holds aloft the Standard of Divine Guidance, and sounds the Clarion of Victory. By the righteousness of the Lord! He hath achieved a glorious triumph and obtained the true victory. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 264.
My heart was changed. I chose to serve good instead of evil. I chose love, instead of war.