How do I keep going as a black man? Easy. I prepare for death.

TJ Young
5 min readMay 30, 2020

Yesterday I got a video call from a dear old friend of mine. She was at a bar, having broken her 70 days of sobriety because of the state of the US and the continual death of Black people. She called for two reasons: 1) We were supposed to be doing work yesterday together, she wanted to apologize for being in a state where she couldn't follow through, and 2) she wanted to check up on me.

She asked me, as she sat on the patio of this bar in Kentucky after she peeled away from the other patrons that were out there, how I deal with this on a daily basis. She admitted that, as a white woman, she didn’t think she could ever properly understand what it means to be a black man in America. She was on the verge of tears when she asked me, “how do you do it?”

I revealed something to her that only a handful of people know.

I have an “In-Case-Of-Death” plan in place.

My husband is white, and older, and is completely aware of the luxury that affords him. Even today, as we plan to go to the protest in our city, he is wearing a “White Supremacy is Terrorism” t-shirt and is ready to stand between any POC and a police officer. We have talked about what to do if things go south, what to bring in preparation of pepper spray or tear gas, and even what to do if they start arresting people. Part of it is because we understand the danger is very real, and the other part of it is that I’m simply a planner. We have also planned for what happens if I am the victim of police brutality or a racist attack.

Our protocol for if/when I get pulled over: There is a text message sent, a GPS ping, and a time limit to get back in touch with him before he starts to head to that location. If all goes well, I give him a call giving the all-clear before I start driving again. I wait for the cop to leave to make this call. But what if he doesn’t make it? What if I can’t send that text and he is notified by simply being next-of-kin or through the emergency contact listing on my phone? He makes a phone call to a friend of mine. That friend has a list of a couple of names to contact. Between my husband and my friend, all of those who are closest to me will know what happened before a CNN article hits social media. Because that is a terrible way to find out someone you love or care about has died. Someone has access to all my most recent writings, I’m finishing up a password management emergency kit that can be used to tidy up any accounts I might have open, and in general, leaving things as neat as I can so in the event of my demise…

I didn’t think that at the age of 32 I would be thinking about the end. My uncle, whom I’m named after, was buried on my birthday. He had the entire funeral planned out. They found him, in his home, with his will on the table and instructions of exactly what to do. That kind of preparedness came from him realizing his mortality because of his age and ailments. Still, it kick-started something in me. I realize my mortality because of the color of my skin. It has become more and more foolish for me to feel like I shouldn’t be prepared.

I understand that this is a strange way to go about things. But, as I said, I’m a planner. I plan because it removes a level of fear from my life. Right now, this is the thing I am most afraid of. It has been the thing I have always been afraid of, I think. Because of that, I have been planning on ways for it to not happen. I did what I thought I must — speak a certain way, get educated in certain places, learn certain skills, and live in certain places. I leave bars before closing to avoid potential police interactions, I’ve clocked exits in almost every place I’ve ever been to, and I’ve actively avoided things that I think might, even in the slightest, bring me trouble. I have tried to be above reproach. I’m human, so I fail often, but I try. I try pretty much every day.

I have realized that it doesn’t matter. More times than not, they will see a 6'2" black man with locks and I will be labeled in an instant. My education won’t matter, where I live won’t matter, my family won’t matter, my work won’t matter, the parts of myself that I want to be seen for won’t matter. And because of that, my life could easily be reduced to a headline.

I have planned for every way I can think to avoid that situation. Now, I have planned for what may well be inevitable one day. I don’t say this to seem better than anyone. On the contrary, I write this knowing it shows how scared I really am. No one can function, let alone, thrive in fear. I have to mitigate it somehow. It is helpful to me to know that things will be taken care of in a caring way if I were to go. My hope is that the phone call never has to be made. I want that phone tree to never be activated. But, I have to be real. It might need to be.

I can’t say that I have been granted all the peace in the world through this process. Some times it’s really hard to put myself in a place where I can “get ready.” When I’m finished though, a part of me feels lighter. It helps me remove some of the ideas that there is anything I can do to stop it from happening to me. By realizing that, hey, I’m not that special regardless of what I’ve done or accomplished or who I am, it allows me to be more of myself. I can just be.

I was reminded of the Audry Lorde poem “A Litany for Survival” (Go read the whole thing). But the last lines have started to become my mantra in a way.

“…when we are loved we are afraid/love will vanish/ when we are alone we are afraid/ love will never return/ and when we speak we are afraid/ our words will not be heard/ nor welcomed/ but when we are silent/ we are still afraid

So it is better to speak/ remembering/ we were never meant to survive.”

Let’s be honest, I might not be meant to survive. But at least, now, I’m ready.