Lonnie writes a letter recalling the instances in his young life where he was racially profiled, treated poorly, and terrified of police brutality.
This Is Us star Lonnie Chavis, opens up about what it’s like growing up as a Black boy in America. He details his experiences with racism and encounters with the police that had him scared for his parents’ lives.
The 12-year-old plays Randall Pearson on This Is Us. He is the younger version of the Emmy winning actor Sterling K Brown. But he clarifies that his fame has not shielded him from the realities of systemic racism.
In an essay published by People, Lonnie recalls instances where he faced hurdles in his life because of the colour of his skin. He was racially profiled, treated poorly, mistaken for other Black actors, and fearful of police brutality.
The moving piece started as a letter to his mother, Naja. It talks about growing up as a black boy in the US as he struggled to process the death of George Floyd. Floyd, an unarmed Black man, was killed at the hands of a white police officer.
Lonnie starts out by saying his life matters, and questions his own statement asking “but does it?” He continues talking about how America paints a very clear picture of how he should view himself.
‘America shows me that my Blackness is a threat, and I am treated as such.” he wrote.
He continues writing how and when he learns about being Black. And what that would mean for him until he was seven years old.
‘It made me feel like I wasn’t supposed to be there’
Lonnie said his parents, Najah and Lonnie Chavis Sr., had long talks with him. They used books and movies such as Amistad and Malcolm X to educate him on being a Black man.
Lonnie explains feeling overwhelmed with confusion, fear, and sadness. He recalls how leaned on his faith in Christ for hope, protection, and understanding.
Lonnie explains that being a young Black actor in Hollywood has only made him more fearful. He described how security and entrance checkers at events would treat him ‘very poorly’. It made him feel like he wasn’t supposed to be there until he had a publicist to represent him.
Lonnie explains how he would think of going to Hollywood events with other actors and actresses; where constantly he was asked if he is the boy from Black-ish or the boy from Stranger Things. He writes mockingly that everyone who is black looks alike.
‘Can you imagine being confused for any other Black kid just because you all share the same profession? I can,’ he writes.
Lonnie went on to recount crying on set as he listened to an actor portray a grandmother who was a racist towards his character.
Although he didn’t name the show, a 2017 episode of This Is Us, titled Still There. It features a plotline in which Rebecca (Mandy Moore) confronts her mother Janet (Elizabeth Perkins) for her racist treatment of her adopted grandson Randall.
Lonnie said the director and writer told him he didn’t need to cry for the scene. But it was hard not to as he witnessed the show’s depiction of his reality as a Black boy.
‘My mom was guilty of driving while black’
He explains how he wasn’t acting, but was crying for himself. Lonnie questions if you can ‘imagine having to explain to a room full of white people why I couldn’t hold back my real tears while experiencing the pain of racism? I can.’
Lonnie also recounts being racially profiled at a restaurant in San Diego while visiting one of her young Black costars. He went out with his friend, her Black cousins, and their parents when a young white girl at the cash register accused them of trying to steal the money from her tip cup.
He said the police were about to be called when a ‘wonderful fan’ intervened. The white man told the restaurant employees that he is a professional actor on This Is Us and didn’t need the money.
Lonnie also witnessed his own parents being racially profiled and harassed by the police. He recalls how a white police officer pulled over her mother in their new BMW just blocks from the Paramount Studio lot when she was driving him to work.
When the cop approached the driver’s side window, he immediately asked her: ‘Whose car is this?
Lonnie continues in his letter saying he was taught about how to behave if ever getting stopped by the police, but nothing prepared him for that. He clarifies that his mom was guilty of driving while Black.
Lonnie explains how his mother had to go to her trunk for more paperwork. While he watched the cop hold his hand on his gun as if his mom was a threat.
‘I was scared for her; I was scared for me.’
He explains how he didn’t know what to do in that backseat, but just to get on the phone with his dad.
‘I thought my parents were going to die’
Lonnie said his parents have been pulled over three other times in Los Angeles simply because they ‘were Black in a nice car.’
But one of his family’s scariest encounters with the police occurred on his 10th birthday on Thanksgiving in 2018.
They had come home late from his birthday party when a Long Beach police officer twisted his father’s arm behind his back. And he yanked him away from the open door on the doorstep of their home.
Lonnie says the officer claimed his dad was detained for a traffic ticket. Full of fear, his mother told him to go into his little brother’s room and stay away from the windows.
He wrote how his mother put his new baby in his arms and told him, “that no matter what I hear from our front yard to not come to the door — no matter what.” Lonnie said he held his baby brother and cried as he could hear his mother yelling outside of their house.
He explains that he thought his parents were 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,’ he writes.
The activist, who launched the anti-bullying #FixYourHeart campaign on social media, stressed at the end of his essay. That America as a whole needs to change so Black citizens will no longer fear being murdered.
‘If you don’t understand what’s going on in the world, then understand this: This is what the world looks like for me. A 12-year-old Black boy,’ he wrote. ‘This is my America.’