Middlesex United Way: Racist incident will never leave man's memory

This week’s Middlesex United Way guest column is using our platform to help elevate the voices of those in the Black community. This week features a guest column written by Joshua Rivera, a resident of Middlesex County. We want to do our part to create an environment where everyone is heard and seen. — President and CEO Kevin Wilhelm
MIDDLETOWN — Due to the recent attention given to the Black American struggle this year regarding the police and disproportionate treatment, I have been attending meetings at the town level where we discuss this topic, among others, through Zoom calls. One of the most recognized cases is of George Floyd who was murdered by a police officer that knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while three other officers stood by and watched. They listened to his pleas for his mother and disgustingly his pleas to breathe.
During these meetings, we discuss what other towns/cities are doing or thinking of doing in response to this now highlighted issue. I say now highlighted, but this issue has been plaguing the Black community since we were brought here unwillingly. The issue obviously is racism.
I was asked to write this piece because of the perspective I can bring being a Black American. I wanted to give perspective as to what inspired and brought me to this column. I will not be writing about police brutality, redlining, segregation, slavery, or the other publicly factual information we all have at our fingertips. I will be sharing a very short yet impactful story of a boy, a Black boy — me.
First, a little about me: I grew up in a small town in Connecticut. Out of respect for the town I love, I will not name which, although this town is where this particular event took place. I am Black, Puerto Rican and Native American. The school I went to, and my town, is predominantly white by a vast majority.
During high school, there was only a few other minorities. Since this was the case, one of the major events I was looking forward to was graduating high school, because I looked forward to no longer being the minority. Being one in my town, I was used to racially charged jokes and expectations, but they were kids, what are you going to do?
Throughout my academic career, I always wanted to make sure I was not seen as the stereotype the media portrays of what a Black person is. I thoroughly felt this way at a very young age. For this reason, for both of my collegiate degrees, I achieved a perfect 4.0 grade-point average and top spot in my class/programs. I am now 25 and about to tell the short story of when I was middle-school aged.
One of my favorite activities growing up was biking around town with my friends or to a friend’s house as my transportation (dual purpose for me, since I was obese as a kid, so I needed it). Similar occurrences have happened to the one I am about to describe, but this one was the most memorable.
One day, I was biking up the street. I am talking maybe a mile from my home. Let me remind, you I am young, so young that I am riding one of those vibrantly colored bikes where when you peddle backwards, it brakes. No gears, just super cool yellow and black on a bike made for children.
I live on a main road, so it is already a necessary precaution to be extra safe when biking since it is a small town without bike lanes or sidewalk in most areas. On my way to my friend’s house on this day a truck passed by and shouted the n-word at me as he sped past. I was used to similar, less serious forms of racism or racist types of words from kids. This, though, was an adult. An adult man yelling at a young boy struggling on his gearless bike as he speeds by yelling one of the most degrading terms. This was the shocking part to me — that an adult did it.
I really wanted to believe in the movies like “Remember the Titans” and that the kids around me would grow out of their ignorant thoughts. It was understandable to me even as a child why these kids would say “dumb” things: They’re kids.
This was when I truly realized I was not going to be able to outgrow and age out of racism. I also realized that it did not matter that I was a kid. My innocence was ignored due to the color of my skin and my Afro. I was not afforded the parental instinct of protection.
I believe it is because I did not reflect what his own kid(s) would look like. If he did see me as equal, he would not have committed the dangerous speeding, which, by itself, was irresponsible and messed up to do to any kid, and, matter of fact any person.
Maybe he thought it was funny like a teenager would. Maybe he isn’t racist. What I do know is a grown man did something very dangerous and intentionally hurtful to a Black child, which caused lasting suspicion and fear of “does this person hate me for no reason? I guess we’ll find out … or not…”
Because of the nature of it, it’s the type of thing most people would never do to your face, especially now with smartphones.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Please stay safe and well.
Joshua Rivera recently obtained his bachelor’s degree in business management.