We all have sobering events that happen in our lives that leave distinct impacts. For me, growing up as a young black man -- and later, once I realized it, a gay black man -- meant that I always had to prove I was good enough.
I remember being five years old and wanting to go over to my friend's house, only to be told no because my friend's dad didn't want their white son playing with a kid who "wasn't familiar to them". The realization that it was because of my skin color didn't occur until later, but it was my first sobering brush with the new racism in my life.
I remember going to senior prom absolutely deflated because I was the only gay kid that I knew. I just wanted to have fun with a date like my friends, but I couldn't.
Yet the most sobering moments in my life have occurred over the past two months, with the Pulse night club shooting in Orlando and the deaths of two more African-American men who didn't deserve to die. It has been a sobering two months, but months that have changed my perspective on the world I live in.
I woke up the morning after the Pulse shooting with my heart having sunk down to my feet. I couldn't function. I couldn't comprehend how people who were simply enjoying life and love could so suddenly be gone.
Love is supposed to win. Love is supposed to be the strongest force in the world. But on that night it wasn't. Our community was devastated and hurting. We felt under attack in our safe space. We were faced with two choices: live in fear or embrace love.
For me the decision was easy. Love became the focus of my every move. I made a decision to live my truth every day. I attended Chicago Pride, made great LGBT friends, danced for those who no longer could, and I saw how powerful we are as a community. The togetherness that is felt when bad events happen needs to continue in the better times. If we stand together, then the bad times will occur less frequently and love will truly light the day.
The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are just another reminder of what it's like to be black in this country. So much progress has been made, yet we still experience being "put in our place." People in the majority are often not impacted when hardships occur to the minority. I have felt that in recent weeks.
There was a night after the shootings that I couldn't sleep. I was crying. Ugly crying, actually. I had to call my mom at 1 a.m. because I was afraid to leave the house the next day, all because of my skin. I was afraid of being judged, and I knew that no one would understand that.
I understand that not all police officers are bad. It is just like the black community, a couple of bad seeds make the whole apple look bad. Reality is that there are so many great apples that make up the community. Yet you have to get rid of the bad seeds in order to regain trust. You must root out the problem in order to grow something that flourishes.
Being a black man is something that I am proud of, yet I know it is something that takes a little more work and requires more patience, as people doubt you and expect you to fail. Their deaths make me embrace my skin, not run from it.
Black lives matter because for so long they didn't. The movement is about getting respect as human beings and being treated as such. We are not asking for revenge. We are asking simply for equality.
Being a double minority has its great moments, but also its drawbacks when the two groups don't see eye to eye.
After the Pulse shooting I saw many in the black community silent, while after the police shootings I saw many in the gay community silent. We have to support each other and lean on one another in the tough times. We are stronger together.
Many times I feel outcast with the homophobia that exists in the black community because black men are taught that you have to be tough, you have to be brave, you have to get the girl to prove your worth. Being gay is seen as being weak and being weak is unacceptable. That mindset has to be dissolved into a community where all members are accepted as valid.
It is no different in the LGBT community, where racism still runs rampant. Many times I get told that I am "cute for a black guy." What does that even mean? My race has nothing to do with my attractiveness level, and it shouldn't. The whole value of a person needs to be considered, not just the outside appearance.
Sometimes it seems that the only voices that get heard in the LGBT community are those of cisgender white men. Their voices are important, but people of color have experiences and stories to tell that are just as strong. Make the community whole by giving everyone a voice and respecting all races and not just the majority.
Hope is not a strategy. This is something that was drilled in me at a young age and sticks with me today. You need action instead of words. Ideas are beautiful, but not enough. Many situations would be improved with just a little more understanding and compassion.
Love goes a long way. It's important to take time to love yourself in the hard times because your feelings are valid and it's okay to process them. Lean on members of your communities and use them to lift you up and continue to fight the good fight. Take care of yourself and each other.
Spenser Clark is an intern at the MLB front office and a former batboy for the Washington Nationals. You can find him on Facebook, and on Twitter @spenser_clark. You can also reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Clark is a regular contributor to Outsports.