As a delivery driver, I’m on the same route everyday. With the amount of hours I work and with my responsibilities as a husband and father, I often forget what national holidays are coming up. But a perk of my job is that I get reminders from the very customers I deliver to.
I hadn’t realized how close to the Fourth of July it was until I started seeing American flags lining a couple of the streets on my route. One afternoon, I was hit with an uber-dose of patriotism. Below a flag hanging from a telephone pole on the curb was a pickup truck adorned with all sorts of stickers. (Yes, there are folks in NYC who drive trucks.) The truck had stickers from the NRA, hunting brands that used silhouettes of big bucks, and a bumper sticker that declared in all caps: PROUD AMERICAN.
That hunter’s collage of stickers had me ask myself, Am I a proud American? Better yet, Am I a proud American bowhunter? Now think about this: When someone says “American bowhunter,” it doesn’t necessarily conjure visions of a black guy in a hoodie, jeans, and the latest pair of Air Jordans. But that’s me. So I guess the question I’m really asking myself is, Am I a proud black American bowhunter?
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A Proud American
I am proud to be an American. When I think of my parents, I can’t answer that question any other way. They came to this country with little to their names. But they worked hard, achieved multiple degrees in their chosen professions, and accomplished it all while raising me. They are both retired now and living the good life down in Florida. It’s a life well-earned.
My path has been a little different. Immediately after graduating high school, I was homeless for about a year. Despite my parents setting an ideal example of what this “land of opportunity” could provide, I blew an academic scholarship to a great university and my stupidity led me to the streets. With no roof over my head and barely any food in my gut, I looked to the armed services for “three hots and a cot.”
So I enlisted in the Marine Corps. It was either that, or find my food and shelter in jail. You’d think the Corps might have instilled some discipline in me. Unfortunately, I didn’t take to it very well. To say my military career was less than stellar would be an understatement and I eventually ended up home and, later, the very place I had been trying to avoid by enlisting: jail.
After that jolt of reality, I was able to pull myself together, work hard, and build a life worth living. One of the great things about this country is its ability to provide second chances for success. That’s not always the norm. The reality is that for many people—especially people of color—the opportunities to succeed are few and far between. Second chances are even rarer. But they are there. And I’m proud I was able to pull it off.
A Proud Bowhunter
As an adult-onset bowhunter, I came into the sport with zero knowledge. But I was eager to learn. Like my parents, I went through an education of sorts, and I worked diligently to hone my shooting skills and my hunting savvy on the chance that a shot opportunity would present itself. But in my three years of hunting, I’ve only been successful once.
And I’m still proud of that. Like life, hunting affords us the opportunity to learn, make mistakes, and then learn some more. We get out into the woods to stalk our prey. We can make too much noise. We can allow the wind to hit our backs. But we adapt, overcome, and learn enough to hunt another day.
A Black American Bowhunter
Am I proud to be all of these things together? I can’t always say yes. I’d like to, but I can’t. The hunting community has been preaching about inclusivity for the last few years. I believe the thought is that the drive to make hunting an inclusive activity will lead to the hunting community’s population more closely reflecting the diversity of our country and thus increasing its numbers.
That’s encouraging. But then I get a little reality check. In May 2019, just a few months before my first hunt, Patrick Durkin penned the article “Is Hunting Too White?” I swear the hunting community went bat-shit crazy focusing only on the title of the piece and ignoring its content. The comments I read in various forums made me realize that there’s a certain old guard hunter who believes that there’s nothing about the hunting community that needs changing.
A little over year later, I heard about a young man by the name of Dennis, who was simply trying to a enjoy a day of hunting in Florida when the neighbors deliberately started blasting racist, hate-filled music. Although that incident took place down in Florida, stuff like that makes my wife worry about my safety when I’m in the woods by myself. Incidents like that may not be the norm, but it makes me realize that we have more work to do.
The Declaration of Independence states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
As we celebrate that sentiment on this 246th anniversary of that document’s adoption by our country’s founders, it’s not lost on me that we celebrated Juneteenth just two weeks ago. It was almost 90 years from when America declared its independence to when the last enslaved peoples were made aware of their own freedom, and a little over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Am I proud to be a black, American bowhunter? Yes. But that pride lies in knowing that I’ve worked hard and I’ve learned tough lessons. I’ve worked hard to be able to shoot well with my bow and I’ve earned every hunting opportunity I get. There’s pride in acknowledging that I am different, too. I don’t fit the mold of what people traditionally see in the outdoors. I’ve worked for and earned that acknowledgement. But there’s also pride in knowing that I have a long way to go before my hunting journey is complete, and in knowing that this country has a long way to go as well.
So I will be celebrating this Independence Day—as a proud black American bowhunter—with all of that in mind.