Letter to L.A.: ‘Hey, Negro, You Don’t Belong Here’ by Mark Eckhardt

As he honors the important legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., L.A.-native Mark Eckhardt details how he has been a target of frightening, racist incidents in his own neighborhood since the election of President Trump. In this eloquent Op-Ed, he encourages all of us to find the courage to confront the resurgence of bigotry by engaging in meaningful civic discourse and taking positive action to live according to the dreams of Dr. King.

It is the third Monday in January 2020–the day each year we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement in America.

For me, the day inspires personal reflection. As an African American who is the CEO and partner in a global organization dedicated to social impact, the MLK holiday evokes humility, honor and sincere gratitude.

I know that the opportunity to serve in my role as CEO was born through the work of civil rights activists in the ’50s and ’60s. As a result of their determination, a person of my complexion can work (as I do) globally at the highest levels of society. As I go about my days, I am inspired by the efforts of brown and black people everywhere who are embracing the opportunity to bring their gifts to whatever it is they choose to pursue.

The other side of the holiday is one of deep pain–this year especially.

My pain is due to an escalation of overt ethnic biases and racism in America. Several times in the last year someone has yelled, “Hey, Negro, you don’t belong here,” as I walked in my neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley. On four occasions, I have been approached by police or private security personnel who have expressed that they had received multiple calls about my presence in my own neighborhood. I now go about my days with a level of anxiety and fear that is new.

These experiences have ripped the scars that hold my suffering around race under the surface and allow me to function. They have thrust me back to the experience of being ambushed by a group of neo-Nazis while attending a party in the Inland Empire in my teens, dating women who had parents that disapproved of me because of my ethnicity, accused of kidnapping, hearing white childhood friends refer to “those niggers” and called nigger for the first time on a soccer field when I was 8 years old. I could go on.

As the trauma I have incurred resurfaced, I reached out to my brown and black friends and colleagues; an effect of racism is that you can doubt the accuracy of your experience and interpretation of events. Like me, they too are dealing with a resurgence of overt bias and racism, since the election of Trump. And like me, their past has been thrust back into the foreground of their thoughts and feelings–to be dealt with all over again.

In my conversations friends and colleagues shared about being called nigger daily, crosses burned on front lawns, their children followed in stores, stopped by authorities for no reason and experiencing a level of brutality that will leave you speechless.

These are the stories of good people who are Ivy League-educated, successful, enlightened and strong. They don’t lead with race as they go about their lives. And they don’t live as victims. Instead, they strive to transcend race in pursuit of human-to-human connection and understanding wherever they go.

What started as an attempt to connect with people who could relate to what I was going through became a stream and then a flood of painful, formative experiences–one after another. From it all, I concluded that ethnic bias and racism has a much larger and deeper grip than most of us in America dare to imagine–that includes me.

In the face of that which is unbearable, I invite you to step into civics and civil discourse. Learn about the experiences of others, reflect on the implications of dehumanization and marginalization playing out in our communities and choose to do something positive that contributes to being a better society. It is really that simple–yet it takes courage.

As I reflect today, I will embrace both sides of this holiday. I hope you do too.

Mark Eckhardt


Mark Eckhardt is the CEO of COMMON, a creative accelerator and community that catalyzes global-minded ideas and products. He lives in the San Fernando Valley with his family.