I have always believed in the American Dream: work hard, get a quality education, get a good job, and live happily ever after. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, right? I did all of those things, but as a black man, it always seemed as if I had a different set of rules applied to me.

I’m a 51-year-old San Antonio resident who was born and raised in the rural South in the ‘70s. I saw a lot of racism, but it was never talked about. Honestly, I don’t know that as a young child I was aware of it. You just knew your place in society, and everybody appeared to be good with it. 

It was evident in the classroom setting, where students were segregated into cohorts of A, B, C, and D sections. The A section consisted of mostly white male and female students, with the occasional black student making their way into the ranks. I began to excel in the third grade and advanced from the C section to B section in fourth grade, and to A status in sixth grade. I studied hard, was active in sports, and joined the South Carolina Army National Guard as a way to fund my college education. I attended Clemson University, was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in the Signal Corps, and received my bachelor’s in Industrial Engineering. I secured a full-time position with Cooper Industries in their Manufacturing Training Program and later earned my MBA from Clemson.

Now I serve as the Chief Operations Officer in the San Antonio Independent School District. Not only have I worked hard and paid my taxes, but I also have been a good citizen, actively participating in and giving back to the community. I’m active in my place of worship, participating in programs where I could make a difference, including Leadership San Antonio and San Antonio African American Community Fund, where I raised $12,000 to help the program enhance the quality of living for the African-American community in San Antonio. I also sponsor the Tracie Washington Burroughs Minority Scholarship, an annual scholarship for a minority high schooler heading to college, in honor of my late wife.

I have done my part and followed the script. I committed myself to the American Dream only to have the rug dragged out from underneath me. The murder of George Floyd last week hit me hard – I could not finish watching the footage of his murder. It was like someone punched me in the stomach. It was a feeling I’d experienced before.

It took me back to 2007, when my friend and business partner Randy and I were traveling through Nacogdoches, Texas, from a business conference that we attended in Tennessee. We stopped at a convenience store to fill up the car, take a bathroom break, and grab some snacks. When we pulled into the gas station, a police car was just beginning to pull away. I went inside the store and when I finished my transaction and came out, I noticed the police car had moved to a location across the road. 

I told Randy to make sure to stay under the speed limit as we pulled out of the station. I called my wife to let her know our location and told her I believed we were going to get stopped by the cops. Sure enough, the lights came on and we were pulled over. The officer approached the car cautiously and asked for Randy’s license and registration. Randy asked why were we being stopped and the cop replied that we were speeding. 

Randy was upset and told the officer that we’d seen him across the street and that we were not speeding. When the officer went back to his car, I encouraged Randy to keep calm. All I wanted to do was to be able to be sent on our way without incident. 

It didn’t matter that we were two college-educated men. We were black. What is really sad is that we understood what was going on, that the only reason for stopping us was that we were black. 

As I watched much of the footage of the events surrounding Floyd’s death, I’m reminded of my own personal story as well as the similar stories of my friends all over the country.  My children have achieved great success – as a lawyer, a doctor, and an entrepreneur – but I find it difficult to convey to them that society considers  “their lives to matter” in light of these repeated occurrences.   

Floyd’s murder is disturbing, to say the least, but we’ve seen it time and time again: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many more. The list of men, women, and children whose lives have been taken at the hands of ruthless cowards who have been sworn to serve and protect is seemingly endless. 

When it comes to holding authorities accountable for these deaths, we think the cases are pretty clear cut. We see the videos, and we think justice will be served, only to have the obvious outcome not be the outcome. We believe that justice will prevail, only to be shaken by the reality that too often the scales of justice are not balanced. And it makes me angry. 

We can no longer remain silent to the injustices. It’s time that we stop making excuses. I’m reminded of the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.”

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I know that love is the answer for our nation and world. He is able to forgive us of our sins, but there are consequences for our actions. I pray that we as a nation will do what is commanded in 2nd Chronicles 7:14: “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

I am hopeful that this time is different. We need men and women to use their power and influence to bring about change and healing. We can no longer remain silent on this issue. Lift up your collective voices. Call things the way they are. 

Willie Burroughs

Willie Burroughs

Willie Burroughs is the chief operations officer for the San Antonio Independent School District, a member of Leadership San Antonio, and sponsors the Tracie Washington Burroughs Minority Scholarship.