Why simply living as a black man in America is exhausting.

I’m so tired. You really don’t know what I mean.

I live in a neighborhood filled with beautiful homes, but I don't feel safe admiring the architecture for too long or too obviously because eventually someone will think I’m casing the property.

I keep my hands clasped behind my back when I’m browsing in stores so employees might feel less inclined to follow me quite as closely.


I slow down when I’m walking behind someone or cross the street if it’s at night because nothing good happens when my fellow pedestrians start with the nervous over-the-shoulder glances.

I make sure to wear Columbia University gear if I have to travel, whether I’m feeling some school pride or not. I do my best not to get any bigger, not just to be healthy or feel good, but because the only thing scarier than a black man is a large black man. I know this.

Me and my parents at my 2012 graduation. Photo courtesy of Khalil Romain.

I smile and laugh, even when I’m miserable or angry, because these pinchable cheeks might save me some headaches down the line. I never raise my voice, and I never ever lose my temper in public — even when I’d be in the right to do so. I know how to manufacture joy and charm as a defense mechanism and survival tool.

I do all of this extra work, these constant calculations in the back of my head, fully aware that it’s bullshit.

It’s all bullshit because respectability politics have and always will be bullshit. If the police can gun down a 12-year-old boy in under two seconds of arriving on the scene, of course I don’t stand a chance. Body cameras and smartphone evidence still don’t get an indictment, much less a conviction, so of course what I say, how I dress, or what I do doesn’t matter. Who I am doesn’t matter. It never will, not until my life does.

I do all of these little things for the placebo effect — to feel like I have some control over what does or does not happen to me when I walk out the door. It’s not real.

In every single direct interaction I have had with a police officer, their weapon has been unholstered. I know for a fact that those conversations often begin with a gun pointed in your face. I know they’re not supposed to, and for the majority of Americans, they don’t. I know that knowing that doesn’t matter. This is the way it works.

So I’m tired. I’m tired because the nonstop mental math, which runs in the background like a computer program every single waking moment of the day, is exhausting.

The futility of turning every single one those precautions into a habit is fucking exhausting. Watching people die again and again and again for being black in public is exhausting.

Knowing that one day it will be you or the people you love — that it will be someone else’s loved ones until then — is exhausting. Knowing there will still be people who respond with "but all lives..." is exhausting.

Figuring out how to be a functional adult is hard enough. Against all odds, I have managed to carve out a teeny tiny slice of life for myself in which I’m actually happy.

Friends and me in Brazil. Photo courtesy of Khalil Romain.

I have, miraculously, made a home with a person I love with a depth and sincerity I never imagined I’d be so lucky as to share. I’m increasingly certain my cat, Langston, is getting fluffier every day. I have incredible friends and family that I adore. It would be an unimaginable privilege to give my whole heart to living these parts of my life and not always chain a portion of my mind to simply trying to survive.

I am very, very tired.

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less