When I was a kid growing up, my race was never really at the forefront of my mind. In high and school and college I played football, where I always played with other people who looked like me.

What I did struggle with was being a gay football player, feeling as if the intersectionality of homosexuality and athletics could not exist in the same space. Nobody around me could understand what I was going through.

This does not mean that I have not experienced racism in my life. In middle school, I was called an “Oreo” by other students because they perceived me as black on the outside, but white on the inside. I was not the “typical Black person” compared to other Black students in my school, I was told, most likely pertaining to the way that I behaved and talked, speaking “proper English.” Or so they said.

My freshman year in college, I went to Panama City Beach, Fla., for spring break with friends. One of the people we ended up hanging out with asked me if it was alright if they used the N-word. It made me extremely uncomfortable.

Having observed the death of Black Americans being killed by police because of racism and police brutality, lately I’ve been feeling a sense of numbness. This has been going on in this country for so long, and in the past few years it has happened so often it has become the new normal. It’s absurd.

Only with camera phones has this really come to the spotlight, as I am sure that this has been happening long before as well.

Also contributing to this feeling of numbness is the lack of justice and police officers getting away with murder. A prime example is Breonna Taylor, and how Louisville is paying the family a $12 million settlement, yet none of the officers involved are facing charges for her death. That is mind-boggling to me.

It took until the death of George Floyd for me to wake up and realize that this is just unacceptable.

Given everything that’s been going on (police brutality, COVID-19, the “45” administration – I can’t even say his name), I’ve ended up crying and just letting it all out after keeping it all in.

I’m a passionate tennis fan, and during the 2020 U.S. Open, Naomi Osaka wore a mask entering each match she played. Each day the mask carried the name of a Black American killed from police brutality, seven in total: Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile and Tamir Rice.

During one of her post-match interviews, a video was shown to her of parents of these victims thanking her for bringing awareness to their stories. That was very emotional for me to watch, because these people should still be alive. Black Americans have every right to live.

Given my numbness and complacency, I did forget that I could help to make a difference in this, and I felt horrible about just accepting the current state of our country. My emotional awakening propelled me into doing everything I can to speak up and speak out.

I work in the vacation-rental industry, and I reached out to my company pertaining to diversity, equity, inclusion and bias. I talked about how the diversity of the company’s employees can be increased, as well as how we can decrease bias in the company, as we all do have biases (it’s only natural).

I was selected to be a member of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion subcommittee of the Vacation Rental Management Association (VRMA), which will look to ensure that the VRMA embodies all facets of diversity so that all members have equal opportunity and thrive in the vacation-rental industry.

I am also searching online for organizations to join where I can make a difference, such as the NAACP & Black Trans Advocacy Coalition, which works to improve the Black trans human experience.

I have reached out to my local sheriff’s department and asked questions about what the department is doing internally in terms of “duty to intervene”, education in Fair & Impartial Policing & Procedural Justice, physical control training, and other important topics. They responded to me with their standard operating procedures about use of force, use of non-deadly force and reporting requirements and investigation procedures, so I could see what the department currently has in place.

I have also reached out to my state legislator to see what they are doing to help implement change, as they play a huge part in this as well. They intend to file three bills that will directly adjust training and requirements as to how law enforcement across Florida operate, create Citizen Review Boards throughout Florida and adjust the standards for the teaching of Black history in schools.

Having struggled being a gay football player and feeling that there was no purpose in my life, there were times when I thought of committing suicide, feeling that there was no way out to escape my reality. Thankfully I never put those thoughts to action.

To see so many Black people losing their lives involuntarily is heartbreaking. It took over 20 years for me to realize this, but please know that your life matters and it has purpose.

For the past 400 years since Africans were first enslaved and brought to America, Black people have been seen by this society as inferior in beauty, intelligence and many other areas.

Please know that you are smart and beautiful in every single way. I know that with so much going on right now, it is quite easy to feel hopelessness. Step by step, if we all contribute and make our voices heard, I believe that we can create everlasting equality and change.

You can find Etienne Aduya on Facebook.