When I was a kid, my family, my mother and my two brothers, and I, we would take long road trips. Sometimes we would drive from Massachusetts where I lived, and we would drive to Chicago, Illinois. And that took us across New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and then in Illinois. And Indiana was one of the most racist places that we would encounter.
And I have lots of stories of encounters we had with police and, and locals at restaurants and places where in, you know, 1986, 87, 88, and those years, like a single mother with three kids was not treated— three black kids, black women, and three black kids—was not treated terribly well. Sometimes I had a friend who lived in North Carolina and we would take trips from Boston and we would drive through DC, Virginia, North Carolina. And we also, we had these like, you know, really racist encounters that it was difficult, it was a hard thing to see. But the hardest thing to see and to be honest with you, I don’t remember where we were driving. I don’t remember if it was a trip to Chicago or a trip down south.
I don’t remember if we were in Indiana or Virginia, you know, didn’t really matter as a 10 year old, you just like taking trips. But something happened that was profound to me and I wanna share it because I think here in Black History Month, it’s an important lesson to learn. And what happened was, so we drove and growing up in New England, it’s a very integrated society. And not that there’s not racial issues in New England, Boston in particular, cuz of course there are, but it’s not like the Jim Crow South. It’s not, you know, where the Ku Klux Klan was prominent and founded it, it’s not, you know, slave states, you know.
So whenever we drove west, we would go through some of those states, the Ku Klux was founded in Indiana, or we drove south, we were driving into kind of the slave states. And on one of these trips, we stopped to go to the restroom. And it was like a, like an office building that, that my mother went to.
We went to like a McDonald’s and the next door was like an office building. And me and my two brothers ran in there to go to the bathroom. And I remember going into the hallway of this place and finding the bathroom, and it said ‘whites only’ on it, and it was painted over. So it was, it was obvious that like this was the same door that it existed, you know, 25 years prior when whites only meant only whites could use this bathroom. Now at this time it’s probably 1986, maybe 87. So obviously those kind of race laws had changed, but this door was like the same door that was used to divide people by race. So this door said whites only, and it had brown paint over. It was a brown door and had brown paint over it.
And I remember as a little 10 year old staring there and I knew I could go into the bathroom. I knew I wasn’t breaking any laws, but I just remember staring at that door thinking like, this is the door that was used in America’s racist past. And I stared at that door and I thought about all the people that sacrificed and all the things that went into, now this is not a law, this is a, this is a relic. This is not a, this is not a current thing. This is like an antique. This is, you know, this has changed. And I thought about Martin Luther King Jr. And his marches. I thought about Medgar Evers and trying to get people to vote in Mississippi.
I thought about the lives that were lost. I thought about Emmett Till, even as a young person at that age, I knew about Emmett Till because Emmett Till was in the Jet Magazine on the cover. And the famous story of Emmett’s mother Mamie Till saying, “Look what they did to my baby”. And I want, I want them to see.
And having the open casket, like I knew these things as a 10 year old, I thought about the assassination of Medgar Evers, who was shot down in the driveway of his own home in front of his wife and children, simply because he wanted people to be able to vote in Mississippi. And I, and I thought about Martin Luther King Jr. who was assassinated at the, at that motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Thought about Malcolm X. I just I thought about all of the leaders, all of the work, all of the organizing. I thought about Rosa Parks and, and the bus boycott. I mean, I thought about all the things that I knew at that age as a 10 year old that went into changing.
Like, it was kind of like this door was built and someone put a sign on it that said whites only. But what had to happen in order for the paint to go over it, I thought about all of that stuff that like, that paint exists because all of these people sacrificed all of these things and did all of this work. And that’s what allowed the paint to go over and allowed me all these years later as a 10 year old to go in the bathroom and confidently use it knowing that I have every right to use this.
So now I fast forward life and you know, I’ve got multiple degrees and I’ve got a business that I run. I’ve got a brand. And I think all of it exists because those people sacrificed those things and those people and loads more. I mean, people that didn’t even make it into the history books, like all of those people gave so much of themselves so that I could do the work that I do.
And I, and I have the abilities and freedoms to do the things that I do. And I don’t just mean freedoms by law, I just mean freedoms that like sometimes we take for granted that I can just buy a house in any neighborhood I want to, I can go to school in any school I want to, I can, I can move throughout society in any way that I want to.
And it’s all because these people gave and sacrificed of themselves. And when people ask me sometimes like why, why I have the energy that I have and why I go so hard and why I make the videos and the content that I make, it’s because I stand on the shoulders of such greatness. I wanna honor that and I wanna make sure someone can stand on my shoulders going forward because like those people didn’t sacrifice just so Elliot could be Elliot. They sacrificed so that generations can continue to go and I have an obligation to carry that on. So I also need to, to be cognizant of this and make sure that I’m laying a foundation that someone who comes after me can build upon. And I’m so grateful that all of those people laid a foundation for me to build upon. So understand that our history is glorious.
I think sometimes we think about Black History and we, we think about slavery and we think about Jim Crow laws, but I want people to think about the overcoming of those things. I want people to think about the strength it took. I want people to understand, like, I went on a journey a couple years ago where I went across the American south and I drove from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery. And that was, that’s a long drive. I mean that’s, that’s not a, you know, 10 minute drive and Martin Luther King Jr. and a bunch of people walked that journey, like they walked it, but they walked it to create change and ultimately did because now black people can vote. You’ve gotta understand that our history isn’t tragic, it’s triumphant. But we have to be able to talk about the tragic, the tragedy part so we can honor where we’ve come from. Cuz you can’t understand the triumph if you don’t understand the tragedy. So thank you so much to all of those people who came before me who fought for justice regardless of their race. I mean, there were lots of white people in the civil rights movement that made a huge difference for Martin Luther King Jr.
And Medgar Evers and Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks. I mean, the list goes on and on and on. I want to thank them all because I wouldn’t be able to do what I do if it wasn’t for them. And I hope, you know, 30, 40, 50 years later, somebody would be making a video saying that they stood on Elliott Connie’s shoulders because I hope there’s a, like a ground swell of enthusiasm of people of color in the psychotherapy space and in the entertainment space and in the academic space. Like all the places where, where I show up and work very hard to be a good representation of my culture and who we are. I hope that in the future you guys can, can stand on my shoulders as well. So thank you.
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