I came into the coffee shop to write, walking past a homeless black man holding a sign asking for change. I didn’t make eye contact; I read the sign surreptitiously. A few minutes after I walked by, Glenn came in. A large middle aged black man, he was loud and happy. He greeted the baristas by name. He mentioned his friend Reggie sitting outside with the sign.
“I’m sorry for being so boisterous this morning,” he smiled broadly to me.
“Not at all, I love it!” I said.
We began a conversation. He was a man who didn’t believe in negativity.
“You do look like you pumped yourself up before coming out this morning,” I said.
“You know it,” he chuckled.
“Do you really know him? Reggie?” I asked.
“I try to talk to every black man I see on the street,” he said, “find out what their story is, what they’re doing. Because they can’t stay on the street.”
“They can’t,” I repeated back.
“No. The street’s not a place to be. ‘Cause the cops are going to come. You think they’re going to say, ‘You want some coffee and a donut?’ They’re not. They got a job to do. My uncle was a cop. They got to do their job.”
“Do you give them resources, tell them where to go?”
“The black muslim temple’ll take him in anytime any day. But you can’t be on the street.”
He talked about race. I listened. I opened my mouth to confirm one of his viewpoints once. His head tipped and the polite look he gave me was chastening. It wasn’t mine to affirm. It was my turn to listen.
He talked about Colin Kaepernick and his comments about the flag.
“I’m gonna have Colin come out and talk to Reggie,” he said, “right here on Post and VanNess. ‘Cause this is who he’s talking about. And maybe he doesn’t know. There’s BlackLivesMatter, the new black panthers, and this guy you may have heard about, Barack Hussein Obama. I mean Barack Hussein Obama! You know where he is, right? He’s not a senator. He’s in the white house.”
He shook his head, “You gotta love this country. How is the black man supposed to accomplish anything in America if they hate America? We need to love America like Barack and Michelle. We gotta have their mindset.”
We talked about generational messages of negativity and oppression.
“How do you break chains of generational messaging like that?” he asked, quizzing me.
“Little by little, one generation at a time?” I asked.
He chuckled, “I’m afraid it’s gonna take something a little more drastic than that. Let me tell you. You want to hear my plan to shake things up?”
He leaned in and locked eyes. I had no idea what I would hear.
After a long pause he said, “We abolish the NBA.”
He continued, “We take all these fine African American men and put them in college and see what they can do.”
“By taking away options?” I said.
“Options?! There’s Google right here. The world doesn’t need another LeBron! We need a black Mark Zuckerberg!”
He called himself a social engineer. I found out he was a writer, self-published author, and Christian. I told him about my kids. He told me I needed to self-publish my book.
It wasn’t a long conversation. In the time I could’ve read an article and share it on Facebook, Glenn and I did the work of two strangers reading each other. In the time it would’ve taken me to click through a link and read Colin K’s comments, we shared a conversation.