‘This is Us’ star Lonnie Chavis’s letter about being Black in America will make you cry

Lonnie Chavis is just 12 years old, he’s a young star on This is US, and he wrote a letter published in People Magazine about some of the things he’s witnessed as a Black person in America so far. He’s not even a teenager yet, he has some “privilege” as a young, famous actor, but none of that matters. His parents get pulled over for driving while Black, he gets accused of crimes even though he’s just a boy, and he worries for his life and his parents’ lives. I’m trying to imagine how it must feel to realize that you and your family members could be murdered at any time, and how it must be to know that police very likely won’t protect you or help you get justice if you’re the victim of a crime. Lenny’s letter asks us to do that.

He gets asked if he’s on Black-ish or Stranger Things
I can recall the time when I realized there are not a lot of people that look like me on these Hollywood sets and asked my mom where all the Black people were. I also remember being invited to events but then being treated very poorly by security or entrance checkers, like I wasn’t supposed to be there, until I had a publicist to announce me. I think of going to Hollywood events with other actors and actresses where I was constantly asked if I’m the boy from Black-ish or the boy from Stranger Things. I guess we all look alike since we are all Black. Can you imagine being confused for any other Black kid just because you all share the same profession? I can.

He was racially profiled at a restaurant
I was racially profiled at a restaurant in San Diego while visiting one of my young Black costars. Her Black cousins and I were accused by a young white girl working the cash register of trying to steal the few tips in her tip cup. It was a huge ordeal that almost led to police being called on us while we were with our parents — until some wonderful fan who happened to be white told them that I was a professional actor on two television series currently airing and argued that he doubted I would need to steal her few dollars. My mother never played the “he’s an actor” card. She definitely knew and argued that we were being targeted merely because we were a group of young Black children. Can you imagine someone thinking you are a thief just because of the color of your skin? I can.

He worried that he would be orphaned when he was 10, on his birthday!
After coming home late with my family from my birthday party, a Long Beach police officer twisted my dad’s arm behind his back and pulled him from our doorstep with the door opened, claiming he was being detained for a traffic ticket. My mother ran to my room and told me with fear in her eyes to go into my little brother’s room and stay away from the windows. She put my new baby brother in my arms and told me that no matter what I hear from our front yard to not come to the door — no matter what. I held my baby brother and cried as I could hear my mother yelling outside of our home. I thought my parents were for sure going to die going up against the police. By the grace of God, they are both still with me, and that racially motivated harassment against my father was dismissed. Can you imagine holding on to your three little brothers while thinking that you are all going to be orphans? I can.

[From People]

I’m crying now trying to write this. This kid is 12 years old! Tamir Rice was 12 years old. I’m thinking of his mom making him go in the back of his house with his little brothers to protect him when the cops targeted his dad. I’m imagining someone having to tell a cashier that he’s a famous actor because he was accused of stealing. I’m trying to consider how it must feel to be confused with people who look nothing like you and how hurt I would be by that. As he ended his letter, so much needs to change, and we need to recognize it and call it what it is first.

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14 Responses to “‘This is Us’ star Lonnie Chavis’s letter about being Black in America will make you cry”

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  1. Christine says:

    Was the comment about his mother helping him edit necessary? Why did you include it?

    This is a heartbreaking and eye opening essay. I can only imagine the trauma, generationally… It is not PTSD because the P stands for Post. It is ongoing trauma at the hands of police and white people using their privilege to wield it. The depth and breadth of it is shattering.

    • tanesha86 says:

      I personally don’t think it was necessary and found it a little disrespectful. I know his mother, went to middle and high school with her and I know she and her husband are raising 4 very intelligent young men. Kids don’t get enough credit for how much they understand, especially Black children who oftentimes are forced to grow up fast.

    • Celebitchy says:

      Ok I’ll take it out and am sorry.

  2. TIFFANY says:

    He and Caleb or even Miles look NOTHING alike.

    I am so sick of these idiots in power in Hollywood. Sick of it.

  3. Case says:

    What beautiful words, and what a beautiful family he has. Reading this just further made me realize how deeply I will never understand even a sliver of what it is like to be Black in America. The things this child has seen and dealt with at 12 years old is horrifying.

  4. stormsmama says:

    Beautiful boy. Heart shattering reality.

  5. Christina says:

    Supporting Black people means allowing them to just be. Supporting Black people means understanding history. And it means supporting changing laws that allow discrimination to go unchecked. It means paying labor more so that the jobs disenfranchised people get are paid a living wage. Too many whites and non-Black POC in power don’t care and believe that the structural racism in place is there for a reason instead of questioning it, so families like the Chavis’ are forced to push up against a system that has always been against them.

    My nephew just got his engineering degree and was second in his class. He is a Black man, and I worry that he will have to push against anti-Black racism in tech. He told me, “Don’t worry, auntie. I’m applying to Stanford, and I will start my own firm.” What I really worry about is him being shot by police.

    When he was a little boy. We were eating brunch with my mom, my daughter, and he and his brother in Berkeley, CA. There was a big fish tank, and the boys wanted to look at it. I said, “Sure”. They were about 6 and 8. Suddenly I heard a woman at another table scold them, telling them that they were going to push over the fish tank. I had to tell her racist ass off. The tank had to weigh around 2 tons. How were two little boys that weighed 95 lbs together going to topple it over? They had been pointing at and discussing the fish.

  6. Northern_Girl20 says:

    My god this is so sad. I can’t imagine. I have a 12 year old I couldn’t bear him going through this. It’s heartbreaking.

  7. Tiffany :) says:

    This made me sob. He’s such a young little boy, and for him to have these experiences already is such a tragedy. Our country has failed so many people. The trauma is real.

    I can’t imagine how it feels to be a parent of black children in this country. How you could function in spite of the fear and not lock your children away from the world. My heart goes out to you and I rack my brain to find actual solutions that will make a meaningful difference in these unjust outcomes. We need massive systemic change NOW.

  8. BnLurkN4eva says:

    I’ve lurked here for over a decade, found the site from another I used to visit called Princess Chantel of Grease, or something like that. This is the first post that made me delurk so I can say, my heart breaks for this young man and all those who suffer similar indignities. It’s traumatic to read, I can’t even imagine living it. I wish this post received more attention than it’s gotten so far.

  9. lucy2 says:

    This is heartbreaking. I hope his words are shared far and wide, because he has more wisdom and clarity at 12 than many adults.

  10. Yup, Me says:

    Thank you for this post. Please take some time to look up the history of “white women’s tears” and revisit the decision to reference your own tears in response to Black folks’ painful experiences. I know saying you were crying is a culturally understood way of expressing empathy for someone else’s experience, but given the looooooong history of white women’s tears being weaponized against Black men, Black Women and even Black children, it rarely ever lands the way it’s intended.

    Feel the feelings, take action as a result of them but recognize that it’s going to take a very very long time before white women’s tears (or references to them) come across as anything other than centering yourselves and your feelings on OUR experiences.