He Ain’t Heavy.

We have lowered our expectation, brothers, have decided that it is no longer necessary that you riot for us, that you ride elephants into Rome, that you heft the whole world on your back, attack unjust law, and convince wigged, impossibly white institutions to come up off a few bucks and revitalize our job market.

It was never a weight you bore alone, but we know it felt that way. We are here with you, always, though often we wonder if that’s been enough.

While we peeled open boll upon boll of rough cotton, wrested weevils from your hair in the night, we listened to the stones settling inside you, the flinty resolve with which you plotted our flight. Yes, we sighed within ourselves, we will slither through these fresh trenches with you, make second skin of the mud to deter the hounds. We will run with you and ward off your fright. We will keep your abiku at bay.

What we could not account for were the voices, trapped in the recesses of your minds for no other purpose than to iterate failure and to assure you that any victory can be stripped away far more easily that it was earned.

Your freedom papers, your driver’s licenses, your permanent records, your rap sheets can be falsified, can be manipulated, can vanish.

You are never entirely your own.

We understand now what we didn’t in centuries past: for some, the voices cannot be quieted. Many will die before knowing their courage was not for naught, and others still will squander the gains our ancestors’ courage provided.

So you needn’t worry about the impossibility of meeting our astronomical expectations, brothers. They have evolved. They are scaled back. They have become more reasonable.

We expect you to be present now and not preternatural. And we hope that, even if you cannot keep wrists and waists and ankles free of chains, you can keep them away from your mind. No longer do we expect you to do this alone. We have been made aware of the delicateness of the brain’s constitution and will no longer rely on our myths to explain away or exorcise an imbalance. We expect that you will demand a diagnosis when your sanity suddenly becomes elusive and agree to ingest the medication that will manage your fear, your depression, your rage, if prescribed.

Brothers, you were born to battle minotaurs; there has never been a choice. We gave birth to you inside this labyrinth that neither of us has constructed and because we have witnessed your strength, we’ve expected you to conquer every foe. We’ve wanted you marching and preaching of mountaintops; brandishing rifles while invoking the Second Amendment; and eventually leading our nation.

We have not always remembered to count the costs, have not considered that, in this unending fight, your minds might be counted among the collateral damage.

We are not at war with you brothers, not fixed at an opposite pole from which we berate you and proclaim to be better at all that you do. We do not want your burdens; we have our own.

But what we have always been willing to be are Ariadnes to your Theseuses. We are always willing to open our hand to you and offer the thread that can guide you toward a harbor, a home.

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