These Two Sons…

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If there’s a picture that captured the beauty that was last summer’s Jenkins Family vacation, it’s this one. As the quintessential old-school Dad my job is pictures. My summer memories are that of my 1980s Dad walking us around LibertyLand in Memphis. Or that year’s family reunion swarming with literally hundreds of relatives. Or that year’s summer church convention in Detroit. Or Chicago. Or somewhere that was not the sweltering summers in Mississippi. Dad is armed with a fresh 80s style T-shirt, dark blue jeans even though the sun is blazing, tennis shoes (we didn’t say sneakers), and tube socks. Mama’s armed with a cooler full of bologna sandwiches and “red” kool-aid and chips. Lay’s chips–because no one could eat just one. Dad’s armed with a classic Canon camera with a neck strap so thick it looks like something from the military. And the man is takin’ pictures for literally every moment as the summer rolls on.

Stepping into my Dad’s shoes, last summer I snuck this pic as one rare moment of camaraderie and brotherhood for our two sons, Camden and Grand, as we enjoyed the brisk, yet refreshing waters of Lake Tahoe last July. It’s the best vacation I’ve ever known as, for a whole month, our family rested, reconnected, and were restored for another year of life and ministry. What a joy it was to watch our children play and dream about what they may become. So far Cam plans to be a preacher on Saturday nights like his dad, a tennis player on Wednesday’s, and a deep sea diver on Fridays so he can clean up the trash in the ocean. Grand is 3 years old. Rambunctious. Fiesty. And a perfect “8” on the Enneagram. ALL he wants to do is fight bad guys with his super ninja powers. I believe he will. Nonetheless it was a sweet summer vacation and we were exhilarated to step into the coming year.

Who knew that year would involve some serious tests in ministry as we navigated several transitions, prepared our church for a major capital campaign, deepened new friendships here in the valley, and oh yeah, embraced reality as a history altering pandemic torpedoed right at us.

Like you we’re at home all day now–and so far so good. We’re trying to be there for our church, be there for our city, be there for one another. It’s hard of course. No one knows the future. No one knows when our churches will gather corporately again. There’s uncertainty. My two sons can “say” the word “coronavirus.” But all they really understand is that they really can’t go anywhere but that means more pool time every day. They enjoy a perfectly innocent, blissful, boyish childhood. It’s the way their lives should be. But all in all we’re navigating this season of crisis with God’s grace and hope. It’s weighty. But we’ve been managing well.

Then I watched a video yesterday that captured the murder of a 25 yr old young man named Ahmaud Arbery from Brunswick, GA. And then my heart stopped. And I gasped for air. And I put my head down. And I cried. Because I lament the loss of Ahmaud on behalf of his mother. She lost a son. And he’s never coming back. He was unarmed. He was just jogging. And now he’s dead.

And then I cried again because, for me, there’s a second mourning that takes place as a parent of black children. You CANNOT HELP but think about your own children. And that’s where I’m at right now.

And as I thought about raising these two sons I was brought back to all the things my parents would say to me and my brothers before we would go ‘out’:

“Make sure you look at people in their eyes. Because you never know what they might think you’re doing.”

“Keep your hands outcha pockets when you walk into a store. You don’t want people thinking you’ve stolen anything!”

“If you get pulled over, look straight into the officers’ eyes. Say ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir.’ Don’t you EVER disrespect them. NEVER talk back. Don’t get loud. Don’t disagree. Be quiet. And pray.”

“Watch your posture when you walk out in public. Don’t slouch. Don’t look like you’re hiding something and up to no good. You never know when someone will call the law on you.”

What’s hilarious is that Mama raised church boys. You couldn’t have found a more straight-laced, boring set of young men. But Mama and Dad knew about the world. They had lived themselves. And stuff happened to them. They knew it could happen to us. And it did–but that’s another story for another time.

I’d have you know that, for the black family, this kind of ‘instruction’ was not abnormal. This was not a surprise. It’s just the way you were taught in order to survive. To this day, I am not comfortable walking into a bank because I fear what people are thinking about ‘what I might do’. To this day, I do not walk ‘freely’ anywhere. I’m always thinking about how I’m being perceived and how I’m being watched. Doesn’t matter if I’m in the South. Doesn’t matter if I’m in the North. This is how I THINK. And you need to know that this is EVERY black man I know. This is our normal. Double-consciousness is what the great thinker called it. 

I walk most mornings. And the neighborhood across the street from ours had its gated entry gates wide open. I’d always wanted to check out those houses. I remember walking past it thinking, “Oh! I can finally take a look at those houses and compare them to my neighborhood!” Then I immediately kept walking as I thought, “Nah…don’t feel like someone calling the authorities.” Now you may think this is drastic and unnecessary. I get that and for all intents and purposes, I agree. But my upbringing taught me that this way of processing and thinking is essential to survival. I just want you to know how I feel.

The tragedy of this murder reminded me that, before long, I’ll start these conversations with Camden and Grand. For sure it may be nuanced, but the message shall remain the same. Young sons, you are God’s children. Young sons, you are anointed of God and you’ve got a purpose. But young men, be careful, be watchful. Because there are realities out there that tend to way more heavily on you because of the way you look and what that look represents to some people in the world. I shall raise these two sons to love. To lead. To learn. To lament. To labor. But I shall also raise these two sons to “look out.” Because you never know.

I don’t have answers. Only sadness today. Only lament. Only pain. And anger. And frustration. And fear for young sons around the country today. My heart cries out “Maranatha” today. And I find rest only in the truth that a Savior looked ahead and saw the pain and woe of the world and said, “I shall die and rise again for them.” That is my hope and assurance this day. And that is the hope I shall translate….to these two sons.



3 thoughts on “These Two Sons…

  1. Denise says:

    It makes me sad to think that in this day and age black families need to have this conversation with their children. Thank you for sharing your story with us and making us aware that this is the reality for many families.

  2. JudyDeroshia says:

    Pastor Ricky. Thank you for sharing your heart. I’m crushed for this young mans death. There ar no words. I am beyond words for the stabbing of the 23 year old on Southwest grounds and the death of her 1 year old child. My heart goes out to these families and my heart goes out to you as well. I thank God he has brought such a sensitive compassionate concerned Pastor to Southwest. We need your heart and thank you for your wise teaching. May God continue to strengthen you and protect you and your beautiful family. JudyDeroshia

  3. Robin Northrup says:

    Ricky you have so beautifully and painfully articulated your feelings and your reality. Thank you for sharing this raw space you and so many find themselves in. It is so important for us to hear you. This post is powerful and gentle at the same time in your ability to expose your own heart and hold a mirror up to each of ours as well. I am so sorry and so sad that you even have the need to have “the conversation” with your precious boys. I will continue to hold your family up to the only One who can change men’s hearts and end this evil. Sending you and April and those 3 precious babies so much love. XO

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