Given an opportunity to chronicle the experience of traversing America as a Black man, I elect to convey a less frequently told vantage point. This is the perspective of the ‘accomplished’ bootless.
I argue that this world let me know I was a Black person before I came out of my mother’s womb. Dr Martin Luther King said, “And when white Americans tell the negro to lift himself by his own bootstraps, they don’t look over the legacy of slavery and segregation. Now I believe we ought to do all we can and seek to lift ourselves by our own bootstraps. But it is a cruel jest to say to the bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps. And many negroes, by the thousands and millions have been left bootless as a result of all of these years of oppression and as a result of a society that deliberately made his color a stigma and something worthless and degrading.” My mother reared me by herself, and in that, she was like the stereotypical single Black mother that America sees on TV and in the movies. My dear Sheila Ledet, working as a certified nurse’s aide, did the only thing she could afford and knew to do: she exposed me to books, such that I could always rely on knowledge, because, as she said, that knowledge could never be taken away from me. I am certain that by the time I reached my senior year of high school, I had read well over 2,000 books, yet I had no idea that college could be an option for me. My experience, and that of those around me, made it pretty clear: white people go to college, and people like me just work jobs. In fact, I was more comfortable with dumpster diving for food behind a Sam’s Club in Lake Charles, Louisiana, than with contemplating going to college right out of high school. So, instead of raking up college campus visits, I enlisted in the US Navy, because this is one of the ways that the bootless can try to acquire those boots needed in order to start pulling themselves up by the straps.