Dear Antron: You are a hero and we are broken too
BWNC –June 13, 2019– Extraordinaire and American Film maker Ava DuVernay forces America to contend with its legal brutality toward men of color with her hit Netflix miniseries “When They See Us.” The special intimately recounts the painful and horrid experiences of the FIVE EXONERATED men involved in the “Central Park Five” Case — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise.
If you have been living under a rock, I advise you to get cho’ ass up and get ya’ cousin’s Netflix password and watch it.
Yesterday, Oprah hosted a panel featuring the cast and FIVE EXONERATED men. The interview special “When They See Us Now“ provides a deeper and intimate discussion about their experiences and the intricacies of the film.
For those of us who watched the special last night, I think we can all agree that the powerful remarks from cast members and the EXONERATED FIVE made us ugly cry. But it was Antron McCray’s testimony and truth that had you laid out on the floor like it was an altar- wasn’t it?
In 1989, the boys were coerced by detectives and police to confess to the rape and assault of 28-year-old Trisha Meili in New York’s Central Park.
Except Antron McCray.
It was his own father, Bobby McCray, who told him to lie. DuVernay’s four-part, mini-series highlights this betrayal and its impact on Antron and his family. In Oprah’s interview, Antron opens up about the residual scars and bitter feelings he harbors toward his father.
Oprah: Do you ever forgive him for convincing you to lie? Antron replied:
“No ma’am. I said before he’s a coward. I hate him. My life is ruined.”
I ain’t gonna lie, I couldn’t help but think about the enduring scars of my father’s absence, the shit I watched my mother live and how it all impacted me. But when Antron said he didn’t forgive his father, I felt that. It was liberating! Antron taught two powerful lesson. (1) Parents often inflict the most pain on their children, and (2) we don’t owe “no damn body” forgiveness, nor are we required to keep folks in our lives because they are family. Whew!
Our parents are often the culprits of much of our emotional scarring. There, I said it since nobody wanted to. Acknowledging that doesn’t diminish their love and sacrifices for us. It’s just the truth. Antron’s feelings are painfully obvious throughout the interview. Even more painful is his acceptance of those feelings. He was careful with his words, so when he said he hated his father I knew that he had weathered, questioned and battled those feelings. While many of us have and will NEVER share Antron’s experience, the feelings he has for his father are all too familiar to many.
Like Antron, many of us are victims of our parents traumatic and hurtful actions towards us. I hope his story helps parents to see that children aren’t blind to the negligence, manipulation and disregard for their feelings. I hope that his painful experience inspires parents to see that children grow up to understand how their parents abused their innocence. I hope his story is one that forces all of us to understand that children aren’t trinkets of disposal. They are people with feelings and futures.
My wish is that Antron is a painful reminder of the grave obligation we have to love, protect and honor children. That we are responsible for ensuring that they don’t have to fight against the world and parents too. We are accountable for them. I pray that parents stop acting like they don’t understand the impact they have on children’s behavioral, emotional and mental development.
More importantly, I hope Antron inspires parents to understand that while healing is a personal responsibility, the apology must come from them. We owe it our children to apologize for inconsistencies and trauma that we CAUSE them. The truth is that many of us are affected and scarred by what our parent(s) did to us- the way we love, the way we communicate, the way we move throughout life. The hope is that we choose to be different. We owe it to Antron and our children to stop the chain reaction of broken people.
Antron’s story brought to focus another truth. We don’t have to accept forgiveness from those who hurt us, even if it’s our “mamas and daddies.” Clearly visible was his hurt, but also visible was certainty in his unwillingness to accept an apology. He didn’t want to accept his father’s forgiveness for betraying him. And guess what? He doesn’t have to. While a lot of us believe that forgiveness is essential for healing, Antron teaches us that sometimes, accepting someone’s forgiveness isn’t necessary for us to move forward- and that’s okay.
That was hard for me to swallow.
More importantly, we’re not obligated to forgive and keep people in our lives because we are related to them. Antron’s story illustrates that relation doesn’t equal family. So many of us struggle to love family members that constantly hurt and abuse us. We chain ourselves to the trauma because we feel indebted, bound, obligated. You don’t have to speak to that uncle who raped you, that father who left you, that mother who abused you, that aunt who neglected you, that grandmother who made you work for her love. You don’t fucking have to! If it’s too emotionally triggering, you don’t have to accept their apology nor keep them in your life.
Message: If they hurt you and are toxic, it is okay to remove them. We owe it to ourselves to live our fullest life surrounded by people who love, respect and show up for us. That is your family, and it doesn’t matter who is comprised in that circle. So, if that means never speaking to a toxic family member again, so be it! Peroidt!
But it wasn’t just Antron’s statement about his father that weakened us, it was his raw and beautiful honesty about brokenness that forced many of us to contend with how powerful and necessary the truth really is. When Oprah asked the men how they maintained sanity, Antron replied:
“Even to this day. I’m damaged. I need help. I know it, but I just try to keep myself busy. The system broke a lot of things in me that can’t be fixed.”
Acknowledgement: The first step
Many took to social media, especially Twitter, to express concern for Antron because he was brutally honest about being broken. Let me tell you, don’t worry about Antron. Acknowledging that you need help is the first step in the healing process. Antron’s vulnerability was so powerful because it forced many of us to face the reality that we aren’t ready to admit that we need help too. It’s taboo, especially in the Black community, to talk about emotional and mental scarring. We are taught that emotional and mental instability or illness is a sign of weakness.
It was especially essential for Black men and boys to see Antron be vulnerable. Black men don’t get to be hurt. They don’t get to feel. Manliness and manhood are cloaked with hegemonic overtones that assume them to be emotionally void and withstanding; overtones that ask them to “chin-up” in situations where their heads are being forced down. But DuVernay’s series exposed the darker tones underneath, forcing America to grapple with the reality of little brown boys who are scared, who cry, who hurt- in silence. It’s so important for us to be able to express our pain and frustrations, especially brown, baby boys.
No, the fact that Antron was able to sit before a national audience and admit that he is damaged doesn’t mean we should be overly concerned for him. In fact, we need to grow accustomed to the reality that most of America is Antron- broken. Being able to live in his truth, means Antron is so fucking powerful. The fact that Antron was able to admit that he is emotionally ill and scarred makes him strong. The fact that Antron was able to cry, in a world that shuns men for sensibilities, makes him a hero for little brown boys.
There are so many of us battling with emotional and mental turmoil and illnesses who are afraid to even utter half of what Antron said, let alone look in the mirror and repeat those words to ourselves. Yes, Antron should seek professional help, but healing is a process that we must go through alone, no matter how many people walk with us on that journey. I believe and pray that he’ll go when he’s ready. But for now-
Dear Antron, Thank you for being brave enough to take the first step – a step that so many of us needed to see. Thank you.