By now, most people have heard of the shameful hate crimes perpetrated against Jamal Woods, the University of Mississippi freshman targeted because of his race. Not surprisingly, these incidents have taken both a physical and mental toll on the young man. I would love a way to get in touch with Jamal, but since I don't have one, I'd like to write him an open letter. I hope it will reach him and any other young men and women who are undoubtedly suffering under similar circumstances in their lives.
As a white man, I cannot and would not presume to know what you are going through right now. Still, I want to let you know that you can overcome this and you can be better for it.
Know that you're being targeted by ignorant and small people. You've been threatened and abused by cowards who want to keep you down. In your state of Mississippi, they don't take kindly to ambition and accomplishment by people who look like you. An unfortunately large portion of the population around you longs for a day when they could be appointed societal significance not based upon the merits, but based upon their white skin alone. The tide is changing, though, and you are a driver of that tide.
Be proud of yourself for getting into Ole Miss and even prouder of the scholarship that you earned. Take pride in the hard work you've put in to get to college, a distinction that many people around you will never attain. Just know that you have many more great and significant things to do.
You might be the next great doctor or the next civil rights activist. You might go on to law school or design the planes of 2035. Whatever your goals and dreams, you won't make it if you let the ignorant fools knock you off track.
Do the only thing that you can do now. Take these experiences, reflect on them, and let them drive you to success for the next 50 years. It might be easier to just get mad, but anger won't get you anywhere. Know that facing great trials will make you stronger in the end. Know that when you finally graduate college, you will have faced - and conquered - greater obstacles than almost everyone in your class. Understand that the character you build through these difficult days will outweigh the combined integrity of all the people who have perpetrated hate crimes against you. While they will one day be left to ponder what drove them to spread their insidious and vile attitude, you will walk with the pride and dignity that accompanies those who've shown their strength of will.
Be proud of your mother and appreciate the strength and courage that she's showing on your behalf. Your life from this point forward can and will be a tribute to the great sacrifices she has made - as a single mother - to help you reach this point. If you have to credit your ignorant attackers with one thing, let it be for the fact that they helped to forge an unbreakable bond between you and your family.
Understand what can happen when the institution - in this case the University of Mississippi - so spectacularly fails to protect people like yourself. Instead of getting angry with Ole Miss, walk away with your head held high and with a determination to one day have a positive impact on the systemic forces in our society that fail to provide justice and equality each and every day.
What you have gone through will provide you with a unique perspective. Allow these experiences to marinate and to make you the most thoughtful and compassionate person around. Once you have conquered these challenges - and you will - use your experiences to support and encourage other young people in a way that's more profound than anything I could write to you.
Know that you have stared the worst of humanity in the face. You're an awesome young kid who has taken the first significant steps toward prosperity. Use these experiences to sharpen yourself into the exact person these assailants don't want you to be.
And Jamal, "keep the faith."