Slowly. Thoughtfully. Deliberately. Cautiously. That is the answer my father gave when I called him recently. “It’s been damn near 78 years. How have you made it as a Black man in America that long?” I asked.
His response was measured and even-tempered, as he always is. Interestingly, there was no need for him to elaborate.
I don’t know what I expected to hear him say, but I was taken aback by his response. My dad has seen and participated in his fair share of history. He was born in a small town in Florida, the oldest of 11, and spent his formative years as a migrant farm worker. He tells stories of living in a simpler time (he once told me about him building a radio from things lying around the house — a technical skill which skipped right over me!) and it was also much more dangerous.
I called him after the most recent racially targeted shooting in Jacksonville. This one again hit close to home because it wasn’t just something I saw on TV — it was a place I went to when I lived there. A place my friends who still live there might have been.
I was angry and sad and feeling a host of other emotions, so I called my dad.
Slowly. I was surprised this was his first word, especially since this is counter to the “bigger and faster” culture we’re living in. As I took the time to reflect, it made perfect sense to me — moving slowly allows us to take more detailed notes of the world around us so we can move with intention. It ensures we don’t miss important happenings and make careless mistakes.
Thoughtfully. My parents are children of the late ‘40s/early ‘50s, growing up in a post-World War II America on the precipice of the Civil Rights Movement meant that they navigated the world in a very different way than I had to, but they shared their stories with me so I knew all of the unseen and unspoken things that were at play. This reminded me there is always more happening beneath the surface than we can acknowledge in any given moment.
Deliberately. We aren’t afforded the opportunity to make mistakes, be careless or reckless. Every word, thought, action and choice should be carefully considered and not made hastily. What he was saying to me with this statement was, “son, move with clear purpose and intent.”
Cautiously. Defined as deliberately proceeding in a manner that avoids potential problems or dangers, what he was saying is, “son, be aware and be careful.”
My conversation with my dad may have centered on being a Black man in America, but this conversation transcends race. This same advice can be applied to so many other groups of people who are being marginalized, attacked, used in games of political volleyball and more.
And in that moment, I realized that I had also been living my life in this same way. For the past two years I have been the 30-something, Black, gay, leader of a very prominent performing arts organization. As I reflect, I recall moments where I moved slowly, moments that I had to navigate thoughtfully and times when I needed to be very cautious. I am most proud of my intentional choice to center my public persona on intersectionality. I am bigger than any box or static label that could be assigned to me and waving my “this is who I am flag” as a deliberate choice has allowed me to connect with so many more people.
My dad is legally blind and won’t have the joy of reading these words personally, but I hope the lessons he shared with me resonate with you as much as they did with me.
In the future, I look forward to moving a little more quickly and a little less cautiously, but in the same thoughtful and deliberate manner that has served my dad so well. I encourage you all to do the same.
Terrance Hunter is the CEO of Central Florida Community Arts. Hunter is an Orlando native who has been involved in the arts since elementary school. He received his degree in education and brings his passion for the arts and his commitment to education to CFCArts. Hunter has worked with a variety of nonprofits, from the Orange County Regional History Center to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville to the Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of Florida. He serves on multiple boards including Hope CommUnity Center, Central Florida Vocal Arts, Central Florida Chapter of Association of Fundraising Professionals, National Alliance for Music in Vulnerable Communities and the Florida Association of Museums.