This Is Us star Lonnie Chavis, who plays a young Randall on the show, penned a heartbreakingly open essay for People on Wednesday, detailing the history of his personal experiences with racism over the last decade. In the letter, the 12-year-old actor opened up about the injustices both he and his family have faced in Hollywood and at the hands of police officers. "America paints a very clear picture of how I should view myself," Lonnie wrote. "America shows me that my Blackness is a threat, and I am treated as such."
"If you don't understand what's going on in the world, then understand this: This is what the world looks like for me. A 12-year-old Black boy. This is my America."
Lonnie began the letter by detailing what it has been like consistently being mistaken for his fellow young Black actors. He also opened up about facing acts of discrimination at work-related events that his non-Black co-stars would never be subjected to. As he grew older, Lonnie began to notice more parallels between the real-life injustices he faced and his work on screen. "I can recall a time on set when I started crying listening to an actor portray a racist grandmother toward my character," Lonnie wrote. "The director and writers told me that they didn't need me to cry for the scene. However, it was hard for me not to cry as I witnessed what I had just learned was my reality."
The young actor went on to recount a time when he and his Black friends were racially profiled and accused of stealing tips from a jar at a restaurant by a white employee, who threatened to call the police until a white customer intervened. Lonnie also recalls an instance in which he and his mother were in their BMW and a police officer pulled them over. "My mom was guilty of driving while Black," he wrote. "She had to go to her trunk for more paperwork, and I watched the cop hold his hand on his gun as if my mom was a threat. I was scared for her; I was scared for me." Toward the end of the powerful letter, Lonnie also recounts the night of his 10th birthday, when his father was arrested in front of their home for an alleged traffic ticket and his mother hid him and his siblings away in a bedroom for their protection. "Can you imagine holding on to your three little brothers while thinking that you are all going to be orphans? I can," he wrote.
"If you don't understand what's going on in the world, then understand this: This is what the world looks like for me. A 12-year-old Black boy. This is my America," Lonnie added. "Policies need to change, laws need to change, the police need to change, Hollywood needs to change, hearts need to change, America needs to change. Change has got to happen for unarmed Black citizens to not live in fear of being murdered. Can you imagine being me in 2020 and wondering what the future holds? I can't."
In addition to sharing his personal experiences with racial injustice, Lonnie is also an advocate against bullying. He even hosts an IGTV show as part of his #FixYourHeart campaign to encourage self-reflection and self-acceptance as a means of eradicating bullying culture among children.