This Is Us star Lonnie Chavis penned a powerful essay about racism in America. The 12-year-old actor, who plays young Randall Pearson on the NBC drama, detailed his heartbreaking experiences with racism both on and off Hollywood sets in a lengthy piece that started out as a letter to his mother.
In the essay published by People, Chavis revealed that he didn’t realize what being black meant for him until he was 7 years old. The child star said his parents introduced him to books and movies such as Amistad and Malcolm X, but he got his real education as a young actor in Hollywood.
Chavis recalled being “treated very poorly by security or entrance checkers” at Hollywood events — where he noted that there were very few people of color — and he was also constantly asked if he was the child actor from Black-ish or Stranger Things, as if all young Black actors look alike.
The young star also revealed that he once began to cry during a scene when a racist grandmother was cruel to his character. While he was told by producers he didn’t have to cry during the scene, Chavis admitted that he began crying for himself because he could feel the real pain of racism.
In the essay, Chavis did not reveal if the scene he was referencing was from This Is Us, but his character did deal with a racist grandmother (played by Elizabeth Perkins) in the Season 2 episode “Still There.” Chavis was only 9 at the time.
Chavis also recalled instances of racial profiling in his young life. He wrote that he was once accused of trying to steal tips from a waitress at a San Diego restaurant, until a fan stepped in and pointed out that he’s an actor on a successful television show and probably didn’t need the few dollars in her tip cup.
The This Is Us actor was also once riding with his mom in the family’s new BMW en route to the Paramount Studios lot when they were pulled over by police and his mom was asked whose car she was driving.
In one of the scariest moments in his 12 years, Chavis witnessed a police officer show up at his family’s house in 2018 and twist his father’s arm over a traffic ticket. His mother instructed him to go upstairs, hold his baby brother in his arms, and stay away from the windows no matter what he heard outside. Chavis wrote that he thought “for sure” that his parents were “going to die going up against the police” that day.
“Can you imagine holding on to your three little brothers while thinking that you are all going to be orphans?” Chavis wrote. “I can.”
At the end of the essay, Chavis wrote that this is the truth in his America and that there must be change. The This Is Us star wrote that policies, laws, police, Hollywood, hearts, and America all need to change so that everyone can live without fear.
“Change has got to happen for unarmed Black citizens to not live in fear of being murdered,” he wrote, before asking, “Can you imagine being me in 2020 and wondering what the future holds? I can’t.”
In addition to his powerful words about racism, Chavis has also used his platform to be an anti-bullying advocate. Two years ago, at age 10, the young actor called out online trolls after they made fun of a gap between his teeth.
“I mean, braces can fix this,” Chavis said in an Instagram video. “But can you fix your heart?”