Standing Tall

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I'm African-American and six foot tall. Growing up everyone has told me I would be a professional basketball player. But, I was more concerned with something else -- seeming smaller.

Since middle school, I've been taller than almost everyone else in the room. Taller than most of my teachers. Adults acted like my height was something I should be proud of.

But they weren't there when I walked home and the locks on every single car door shut tight. Cops didn't eye the other kids like they were already grown. Being tall never felt like it made me special. It felt like it made me a target.

In high school, I tried to "not be tall." I walked with hunched shoulders and my eyes down. I practiced walking quietly. When I entered a classroom, I tried to anticipate where I could sit without getting in the way.

I'm in college now, and I barely even recognize that person. Now, I sit up straight. I look people in the eyes. When I walk, I don't shrink into myself. If people feel the need to lock their car doors when I walk by, it doesn't make me feel guilty. I know I'm not the one scaring them.


Sometimes, it still feels like being tall makes me a target, especially considering the headlines I see coming out of Ferguson and Baltimore. And walking into a grocery store is still an exercise in my patience, when all eyes go to me and my backpack, and I'm asked time and time again if I "need help finding anything."

I know I'm never going to be able to make other people 100 percent comfortable around me. People might still see me as a horror movie monster or a walking front page headline. That's fine. Changing the perceptions others have about me isn't my job. Instead, I'm focused on being confident in myself. And while I still have no interest in playing professional basketball, I've learned to enjoy some aspects of being the tallest person in the room. Cause in the end, I'll always be tall.

With a Perspective, I'm Rafael Johns.

Rafael Johns is a 20-year old college sophomore living in El Cerrito. His commentary was produced by Youth Radio.