My name is Aeneas Hawkins and I am from Cincinnati Ohio. I’m the son of a loving mother and father who have both been very active parents. I am a brother to four sisters. They are my best friends, and everything that I aspire towards is for them. I am a football player at Penn State, where I study broadcast journalism. My intentions are to go to law school and defend those who need legal help most. I grew up in church and that’s where most of my values stem from. I’m a firm believer that having positive role models within reach is crucial to a young person’s growth. Personally, I gravitated to the men on my father’s side of the family. Nearly every one of them either played Division I football or played professionally. We always joke that football is our family business, however it’s a reality that has played a big part in how my identity has developed over time.
I grew up in an all white neighborhood, but was homeschooled until I went to high school. I’d admit that being homeschooled sheltered me from the harsh realities of what being a black man in this country means. It was not until I got to Moeller High School that I began to see with my own eyes the ways in which people like me are made to feel less valued. In my own experience, I quickly learned that the stigma around big black football players is grim. I was presumed to be uneducated, violent, and incapable of making mature decisions before being given the opportunity to prove otherwise. As a young man especially, this realization angered me beyond anything I had ever felt. I would like to say, I’m not THE most intelligent person out there, but up until high school I had thrived academically, and played classical piano at a high level. I say that to say this- the anger and frustration that stemmed from the awareness of knowing that some of my own classmates and teachers looked down upon me purely because of the color of my skin sent me down a road of depression. The joy and peace that had defined who I was was stolen from me in my youth.
My mother one day pulled me aside and said it seemed as if I was just in “survival mode”. She said I had become a shell of myself. My grades suffered so much that I nearly did not qualify to accept an athletic scholarship. She told me she prayed for me. I’m a very spiritual man myself, and her saying that the only way she could help me was to pray spoke volumes. It showed me that neither of us had truly been equipped with ways to combat racism on an actionable level. I made a decision that day to find action and to take it.
My people are crying out for help. For hundreds of years black men, women, and children have been sold, raped, killed, oppressed, taken advantage of, run a muck, and belittled. I am angry and so are my people. As a football player, everything about my entire existence has built me to fight. I’ve learned to fight for my people and am still learning how to now. I educate myself through conversation and reading. I’ve learned the importance of going to vote. I’ve practiced hitting the streets with my brothers and sisters to protest and fight the oppression and violence we have been subjected to. What I was surprised to learn is that taking action has been the most healing activity for me yet. I remember the first protest I was a part of vividly. The pain in people’s voices moved me to goosebumps and tears. It was the first time I could see firsthand that these feelings and experiences I was having were shared. In these moments, I think about my four beautiful sisters, my future wife, and my kids. I want them to know their power, value, and beauty. I do not want them to ever feel the same way I have felt, or the way that my people sometimes feel.
Lately, my focus in life has shifted. I have spent too much time solely focused on becoming the best athlete I can be. I believe that my power is much greater off of the field and in my community than it is on the field. A part of my mission now is to help my fellow black student athletes realize the power and influence that they hold. I believe that if we can come together to combat these issues we are faced with, we can make a great difference.
Recently at a gas station, I was confronted by a racist man at my pump. As he closed the distance between us, all I could think about was the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery. I had done nothing wrong and was being aggressively targeted again for the color of my skin. I survived this incident, but the very evening it happened I made a promise that I would fight for my people because lives are still being threatened and taken daily. As we continue to move into the post George Floyd era, I’d encourage and challenge people to still be active and fight for change even when it’s not trendy or convenient to do so. This fight is not over. There is work to be done and we need people who will do it. Be the people.