I finally understand the phrase ‘Be safe’


Editor’s note: Last week’s national and local incidents of violence have compelled this sportswriter to submit a column unrelated to prep sports.

“Be safe.”

Prep sceneMy mother would say those words to me from early childhood and adolescence well into my adulthood. I admit that I didn’t pay attention to those words.

The moment I heard about the police shooting that took the life of 32-year old Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights last week, those words rang out loud and clear.

My mother — as a Black woman in America — was my protector. From the time I was born, she graciously and enthusiastically took responsibility for raising me and ensuring my safety.

When I heard Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds calmly livestream the events that took place after the shooting — with her four-year-old daughter in the back seat — and watched Valerie Castile calmly react to the death of her son before a national audience on CNN, I finally realized where my mom was coming from.

Processing what happened to Philando Castile, a Black man who worked for the St. Paul Public School District, I thought about all of the Black kings (males) that have been part of my life as a social studies teacher, prep sports photojournalist, basketball coach and friend.

My mom knew what I would face as a Black man in America long before I did. From beginning to end, Mary Frances Palmer McDonald was my protector.

The day after Philando Castile’s death, I was at a convenience store getting a snack. As I was leaving, the checkout clerk (a Black woman) told me very sincerely to “be safe.” The last person to say those words to me was my mom, who passed away in 2010.

By handling this tragic situation in a calm, cool and collected manner, Diamond Reynolds, Valerie Castile, and the young woman in the convenience store were doing what Black women in America have done for centuries.

They were serving as our protectors.

“Be safe.”


Mitchell Palmer McDonald welcomes reader responses to mmcdonald@spokesman-recorder.com.

2 Comments on “I finally understand the phrase ‘Be safe’”

  1. As an educator of color and mother of a Black man, sister of two Black men, nephews and uncles, etc. in America, I felt your mother’s urgency yet calmness in building this protection in her son… The fear is real and only getting worse. Thank you for sharing this story and acknowledging the heart of Black mothers in America.

  2. A very moving article. Thanks for telling us your story. As a fellow black man, I wish you and all brothers safety and wellness through this journey called life.

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