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At 85, I’ve learned lessons that sadly remain relevant

‘Don’t start a fight, but don’t walk away from one.’

Sylvia Scott (right) with two of her grandchildren.HANDOUT

I used to tell my sons when they were going to school in the ’70s: Be careful. You’re Black, you’re in New York, come home before the sun goes down. Don’t be out all hours of the night, hanging out in big crowds. A police officer sees more than two or three boys together, they always think they’re up to no good.

Especially my one son, he had a Porsche when he was younger and I told him, “Look, you have this car. Everybody knows it’s expensive. Everybody knows it goes fast. A Black kid with a Porsche, everybody will think you’re either a pimp or a drug dealer. But you’re neither, so to you, this is just a car. Drive it the way you would drive an ordinary car. You see those police out there? They have a job to do, and some of them have more than a job to do. Don’t go near them, and don’t give them a reason to come near you.”


In 50 years, I’d hoped that we would have come further. When I moved to New York in 1967, the situation looked a lot like how it does today — rioting and burning and all that — and yet, I feel like I still remember some semblance of law and order. But now, every other day you hear about the police just shooting people for nothing, and we have this president with too much power and he’s only using it to make things worse. This country was always a racist country, but it seems so much more obvious now. I’ve never been too involved in politics because it didn’t feel like something I could control, but I vote when I feel like it matters. This time, I’ll be voting.

I was never into marching and protesting — I don’t like large crowds — but I’m not going to tell my grandson or granddaughters not to protest, even though I worry about them. What I do tell them: Don’t start a fight, but don’t walk away from one. There are certain things that people do or say, and the greatest insult is not to answer them. Just walk away. Don’t stoop to their level. Like Michelle Obama says, “When they go low, you go high.” If they’re being disrespectful, don’t pay them any mind. If they hit you, that’s another story.


Am I scared of the police? No, just angry. You can protest and you can try to make sure that the person responsible is punished, but that won’t change how I feel about what happened. It’s not pleasant to have to look at stuff like that — a police officer kneeling on a man’s neck or shooting someone in the back with his children right there. How can I not think of revenge?

Those kids you see rioting and burning and looting stores, getting violent, that’s why they turn out the way they do. They grow up with revenge in their hearts, and how can you blame them? Maybe the family has the resources to send them to therapy, maybe they don’t. But if I saw my father being shot like that, no matter what you do, I’m going to remember it. It’s going to make me mad, and that pain and anger might just last a lifetime.


Sylvia Scott, 85, is a retired nurse from Queens, N.Y.; Ivy Scott is her granddaughter. For more in this series, go to bostonglobe.com/opinion/black-voices-now.