The initials ‘JB’
By QuaWanna Bannarbie
As soon as I saw it, I wanted to unsee it. I didn’t realize what it was at first, and I watched it again. The video was muted. I watched in silence. This video was of a man being shot in the back from close range as he attempted to get in his vehicle. You would think that I would be so familiar with these scenes that I recognized immediately what my eyes were viewing. But my peace could not take it. My reality did not want to accept it … again. Another black man and a police officer.
It has been hours since I watched that video. Several thoughts have run through my head. As disturbing as it was to watch the video, it was not the actions themselves that shook me to the core. I am still suppressing the scream that came to me when I suddenly became hauntingly aware of his name, Jacob Blake. His initials are J.B. Jacob Blake has the same initials as my sons and my nephew. In fact, my 15-year-old nephew is also named Jacob.
The initials ‘J.B.’ hung before my eyes like when your number is up on the public announcement system’s LED prompter at the Social Security Administration office. I couldn’t dim the LED lights in my mind. Then I began to consider well known men with the initials J.B., such as:
- Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics basketball player;
- James Bond, fiction character of the “007” movie franchise;
- Josh Brolin, the actor who plays the notorious Marvel comic villain Thanos;
- James Baskett, the original singer of my beloved Disney song, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” from the movie “Song of the South”;
- Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and brother of the U.S. president during the height of my military career, President George W. Bush;
- and Joseph Biden, the democratic party’s presidential nominee for this year’s election.
I read a brief biography of Jacob Blake. I discovered that he is the grandson of a retired AME pastor. His grandfather organized marches in Chicago following the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Jacob Blake comes from a family of activists that influenced the Evanston City Council members in Illinois to ban racial discrimination in housing. I discovered that he actually carries the name that has been passed down for two generations. He is the descendant of men who fight against injustice. None of that was evident or considered when seven bullets were fired into his back while his sons watched in horror. I can’t imagine how much they want to unsee that scene.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, analysts discovered that the combination of the letters ‘JB’ are the most popular initials in our nation. Joseph, Jeb, Jacob and my Judah all have the same initials. Considering this recent shooting, it seems that in the same way that my son’s initials share popularity in the U.S., my sons could just as easily share the fate of black sons lynched, murdered and silenced in the U.S. That takes my breath away.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, I pondered ways that I might keep my boys safe from the violence of our world. I wondered, “how do I make these people know that THESE ARE MY BOYS? Perhaps if they know they are mine, no one will harm them.” These are the thoughts of a black mother of black sons.
Weeks before this shooting, I began reading the words of Jasmine L. Holmes to my boys before they fall asleep at night. Her book, “Mother to Son: Letters to a black boy on identity and hope,” is more appropriately comforting to me, but I read it to prepare them for this world. Bedtime stories have become prayers combined with emotionally charged explanations in an effort to equip my children for a future that I hope they get to see. Until these modern-day scenes of lynching disappear completely, I am afraid that it is possible that the next J.B. in dismal headlines could be my boys. That truth is something that my mind cannot unsee. Lord help me.
QuaWanna Bannarbie is an adjunct professor of nonprofit leadership and management with Indiana Wesleyan University, National and Global. Connect with her via firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @QNikki_Notes.