I am told that I am supposed to be in the throes of a midlife crisis; my older brother and friends had always warned me that it would appear soon after reaching my 40s. Being a medical doctor affords me insight such that I can recognize it from a mile away - usually in the form of a grey-haired man in a shiny two-seater. Well, I am currently in my mid-forties and have seen no signs of frivolously changing my career or making rash decisions any time soon that could devastate my retirement savings; things are going pretty well. Love my career - check. Make good money - check. Got the country club membership - check. Tall and look like Denzel when the light hits my face just right - double check ... life is gooood! Or so it seems.
However, being in your 40s does force one to reflect; you think about retirement a lot more, health issues, your legacy, purpose and the future. Even so, the focus on the 'future' part of my self analysis has become more laser-like in light of what has been occurring all across this country with unarmed black men and boys being killed at the hands of law enforcement. Countless articles and op-eds about racial, economic and justice disparities abound. In unadorned clarity, I've come to realize I am facing one of the most pervasive midlife crises of my life - literally! Despite all the privileges I have - height, being a man and an advanced degree -, one thing has remained constant: my skin color continues to be marginalized and demonized and can result in death from a routine traffic stop. I have nieces, nephews and cousins and want for their futures to be different; skin color is not a 'probable cause.’ And this, my friends is no laughing matter.
I was in the jaws of not only a midlife crisis, but also a mid-millennial crisis, a mid-generational crisis, a mid-intersectional crisis and a mid-injustice crisis. Instead of being tired of my career, I was fed up with injustice - disproportionate incarceration rates and sentencing irregularities. Instead of a shiny new two-seater, I opened my eyes and embraced advocacy. Instead of being restless on my couch, I pressed the activism and protest button and have not looked back. It has become an imperative if I want to be a part of the change we all should want to occur. I had heard this before and even yawned when someone would post it on Facebook or said it in a speech. Even though we must continue to have "the talk" with our black young men, I am tired of the fact that it is still needed and the rhetoric surrounding solutions. The marginalization and criminalization of black and brown skin reek of the absurd and I, like many others, want it to stop. We desire to be a part of a tangible change to the narrative.
So, after the multiple Trayvon, Garner, Rice and local Baker tragedies, I decided to act. I began to just show up - not really knowing what I could do, per se - but, at the very least, just show up. I knew my intuition would direct me to the right path and justice conduit I was seeking. I went to protests, gatherings and vigils and then in one particular town hall meeting I found my voice - the voice of activism and the voice that said 'no more!’ At the closing of the town hall meeting, I heard the heads of an organization outline specific initiatives to increase diversity of grand juries, overall transparency and oversight of the criminal justice system. Their message spoke to me. They spoke of the organization’s goals and have an unwavering intent and design.
I got involved by helping with forum planning, writing correspondences to potential supporters, opened my home as a meeting place for strategy sessions, signed up applicants for the 1000 grand jury sign-up initiative, offered perspective, bought pens and water and just listened and learned. So, if you are in a pre-midlife crisis, in midlife crisis or post midlife crisis come join this movement; we all are needed in this collaborative effort for substantive change to a system where statistics illustrate preferential justice is afoot. I see it now; we see it now and there is no doubt that we will be a part of the change for a more just system and as the leaders of The Houston Justice Coalition frequently tout, the road to end this crisis is THIS WAY forward, THIS WAY to change and THIS WAY to justice!
Cedrick Smith, MD