Attending the Black Lives Matter solidarity march in Auckland was personal for me. This recognition and love New Zealand shared for African Americans was a prime example of what humanity needs.
I've never felt more proud to be considered a New Zealander. What I've seen in New Zealand contrasts to the US protests, which often appear insidiously complex and at times infiltrated outside of their genuine intentions. In much confusion, I only hope that globally, the universal intention of ending racism can be undeterred or distracted.
My home state of Virginia has deep roots in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The degree of separation for most free African Americans to slavery is only three generations and civil rights is one. In 2020, these rights have yet to fully form in a civil manner, without even asking to receive equal rights. Africans trafficked to Jamestown, Virginia, were policed by a slave patrol known as Paddy Rollers. The trauma of being heavily policed is what led to the Black Panther Party, of which most members were executed by the police with the assistance of the FBI's Edgar J Hoover.
As a child, I innately hid from police while playing outside, in a way that felt second nature. The first time a police officer pulled a firearm on me I was 17 years old, sneaking out to date a Caucasian girl. The fear of race-related attacks by police and people drove a wedge between my family. My parents asked me to move out because of the ethnicity of the girl and the family wanting no trouble.
I was homeless for two months, sleeping in the woods, a treehouse in someone's backyard and school bus, where an uncle of the young lady I was seeing kicked in the door. To this day, I have a plastic covering over my eye socket, which was fractured. This attack would not have happened had I had not been in a vulnerable state, because of the ethnicity of the person I thought I loved.
What is occurring in America presently is a plea for rehabilitation. Acknowledgment of human rights violations for a conscious present. This consciousness brought about New Zealand's Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 and Australia's national apology to the Aborigines in 1996. Jewish people received an apology from Germany in 1951 and reparations followed from 1953. South Africa received an apology from The Netherlands when the Dutch Reformed Church apologised for their role in Apartheid in 1997.
The effects of European colonisation has highlighted disproportionate opportunities in indigenous communities around the world. Africans trafficked under colonial rule hold a massive forgotten human rights case. We often learned about other countries - English, Spanish, French, Portuguese - while, in turn, others learned our "nothing".
The world "black" seems to distract from our message, a colour code invented by German anthropologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach in 1779. I prefer to say African to humanise myself more than a colour. To be specific is to be respected and I myself do not want to be painted, or paint others, as one hue.
What John Boyega has done in London and martial artist Israel Adesanya led me to share this other side of the prism as an American here. This is bigger than career, my screentime on Come Dine With Me New Zealand or being part of a New Zealand Emmy-nominated docu-drama. Acting is a job, but I am a human being before all things.
In light of Black Lives Matter and the current state of world, I wanted to thank the New Zealand people for doing their part to help this world, not just for African Americans but for everyone.
The police in New Zealand are lovely but underpaid and sometimes under-staffed. We all love hip-hop, which was one of many music forms birthed from struggle. Art has saved my life and African American people's sanity.
However, that police angst in America does not need to be shared here. To have any organisation that is often self-governed, accountability is needed but comparison is the killer of compassion. Keep our love with all things individual, not painted grouped together with police, ethnic groups, genders or walks of life.
Let's keep doing better and showing the world how to love humanly.
This is my love letter to New Zealand for all you've done for me after escaping a country that made me feel like a natural-born refugee and becoming a well-rounded human to show the same enduring openness you've given me.
Let's keep the kindness with us.