At 9:04 am on October 1, 2016, exactly one year ago today, I published this very status on my personal Facebook page.
When I posted that status on Facebook a year ago, I was laying in my bed trying to sleep after working a 16-hour-shift that previous night. I was exasperated with many emotions stemming from my encounter. The look in that young man’s eyes was haunting me and try as I might, I couldn’t rest my mind as I laid in the bed that morning.
Honestly, it wasn’t until I made that post, was I finally able to relax and get to sleep. Essentially, the entire status was therapeutic in it allowed me to release the emotions I was feeling out to the rest of the world.
When I originally posted it, I didn’t even know that status’ privacy setting was public. To this day, I don’t know how or why that status was public. The rest of my post were set so they could only be viewed by my approved friends. Truthfully, looking back, the unexplainable reason that post was public is merely one of many mysterious occurrences that led up to that morning. Many of which, I’ve never shared with anyone.
Finally, able to sleep, it wouldn’t be until around six hours later, when I woke up, that I would discover my world had suddenly changed.
When my phone’s alarm went off that afternoon, I engaged in the same ritual that most people do when they are forced to wake up before their body naturally tells them they should.
I hit the snooze button about three times.
Finally, after shutting off the alarm, I looked at my phone. I don’t remember exactly how many notifications were showing on the icon to my iPhone’s Facebook app. I do however recall that my first thought upon seeing it was, “Holy Shit!”
I would discover that the status I had posted earlier that morning had gone viral. Within only six hours the post had been shared close to 30,000 times already! By this point, there were close to 400 messages in my inbox. I have no idea how many friends request I had received, however, as I kept scrolling and scrolling, it seemed like I could never reach the bottom of the list.
I thumbed through some of the comments and messages as I made my way downstairs. When I saw my wife, I said, “Have you seen this?” She said, “Yeah isn’t that crazy.” Honestly, there was very little time for us to discuss this sudden social media popularity, or for me to really process any of it at all. Because just like every other red-blooded American, I had set my alarm to wake me up, in just enough time to run around like Kevin’s family in the movie “Home Alone,” just to ensure I made it to work on time.
One of the things that have always been amusing to my wife, family, friends, and myself, is that to all of us, what I had said that morning was by no means overly exciting to us.
I frequently used my Facebook page to discuss things a little more significant than the typical meme or funny video. Additionally, equality, race issues, and standing up for others, was the norm for me. Basically, to those close to me, what I said may have been moving, however, it wasn’t for me by any means abnormal for me.
By that evening at work, my Facebook friends request had reached the max number of 5,000 and people could no longer even request me. As far as messages go, I have no idea how many messages I had received at that point. Well over 1,000. Honestly, I still have messages that are now a year old, I never got a chance to open.
I’ve never wavered from the fact that the place I am today, actually had nothing to do with the sudden popularity my original status generated. In actuality, it was those early messages that I received that led me on the path I’ve been on for the past year.
My message box was filled with countless numbers of people, teens in inner-cities, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, brothers, sisters… truly countless numbers of people, who reached out to me and shared their stories with me. For the first time in my entire life, I suddenly gained a front row seat to the lives of minorities in America. Again, I had always been someone who had stood up for minorities and civil rights. However, as much as I thought I “got it,” that day I REALLY “got it” when I read those messages.
By the next day, I was still awestruck watching my original status get shared and discussed by so many people. I could literally watch as the “like,” “share,” and “comment” numbers would steadily climb in real time. It was the second day, October 2nd, that a friend of mine who was a police dispatcher suggested I create a Facebook page and use it to reach out to people and share my thoughts. I remember initially saying, “What? That’s crazy. I would feel silly doing something like that.”
However, as I continued to comb through and answer as many messages as I could, I suddenly found myself in a huge moral dilemma.
People were messaging me and sharing their own stories of angst regarding their interactions with the police across America. In light of some harrowing accounts, people were also expressing how meaningful it was to them to read my Facebook status. I remember receiving several messages from some Black teens from inner-city Chicago who told me that their opinion of the police “had forever been changed” because of what I had said.
I never wanted to be a cop growing up. I wanted to be an astronomer or research psychologist. I only got into law enforcement after two friends were murdered in 2002. It was then that I decided I wanted to try to do something meaningful in this world. My entire adult life up to this point, since 2003, was spent pursuing ways to help people as much as any one person could. Suddenly, as a result of what was initially just an emotional plea after a traffic stop, I had thousands of people saying they needed help. Moreover, for whatever reason, my words seemed to somehow offer comfort in light of tragic hardships.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, after 14-years in a career, I had essentially fallen into, I was going to become an overnight advocate for people, simply because my own conscious and ethical compass would not let me just walk away from people asking for help. So early, the morning of October 3rd, I ended up creating the “Lt. Tim McMillan.” Facebook page that I have now.
Within the first week, after I posted the initial status, my post reached almost 300,000,000 people worldwide. This was helped in large part by the fact that by midweek 123 news media organizations in 17 different countries covered stories about me. Additionally, within those first days, celebrities and politicians started sharing my original status. In a seemingly incomprehensible feat, Blue Lives Matter, police unions, and pro-law enforcement support groups; and Black Lives Matter, African American, civil rights and social justice groups, aLL separately yet collectively endorsed what I had said.
To the best anyone can recall, my original status was the first and only time, Blue Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter agreed on anything.
Of course, the incredible thing about most of this is that while this whole whirlwind of notoriety was going on, I was actually oblivious to it all.
Within three days after I posted my original status, I was activated at work because Hurricane Matthew was bearing down on our local area. Many of those days in which my name had become a media frenzy, I was stuck in post-Hurricane Savannah, with sporadic internet and cell phone service. It wouldn’t be until a week later that I would find out just how many news organizations or talk shows had reached out to me while I was stuck helping recover from Matthew’s effects. By this point, I was to most of the mainstream media “old news.”
Another remarkable aspect of the entire ordeal is that because of the timing in which my post went viral and the arrival of a Category 2 hurricane to our low-lying coastal region, the vast majority of people in my local area were unaware of the viral social media hoopla about me. To aid in my local obscurity, many national news publications incorrectly attributed me to working all over the country, other than where I actually worked in Georgia.
One of the greatest quotes I ever saw regarding the wide-ranging number of locations I had been reported to work was in a comment to CNN’s story (who did accurately portray the entire incident and interviewed me). This person said:
“I’ve heard this cop is from New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Missouri… now Georgia! Can we be sure he’s some hero? It sounds to me like he’s been driving all over the country pulling over only Black kids.”
Essentially, to this day, one year later, I am still virtually unknown in my hometown of Savannah. This is something I chuckled about when back in April, someone recognized me on one of my trips to Washington D.C.
So now, here I am… one year later…
Honestly, it has been so coincidental that I don’t consider it coincidental, that the one-year anniversary of when all this started, identically coincides with Yom Kippur. As a Jew, Yom Kippur represents that Jewish Day of Atonement. Essentially, this is the time that one reflects on all of the events over the past year, examines their good, bad, and ugly, to determine what does it all mean for you in terms of God’s plans. You look at your shortcomings and mistakes and examine why they occurred and what you learned from them. All so that you can move forward along your path without having to go through those same tough life lessons again.
In looking back over the last year I consider all of the incredible things that I have had an opportunity to do. I’ve been able to travel to places I’d never been to before in my life. Additionally, I’ve had incredible opportunities, such as appearing in the documentary film “Walking While Black- L.O.V.E. is the Answer.
Undoubtedly, the greatest thing I have gained over the last year has been in the new friendships and relationships I have discovered. I truly have been blessed in meeting some incredible people from all over the world. Many of these people will forever be a part of my life and family now. This alone has made it all worth it.
Additionally, I do truly believe that I have been able to inspire some people to consider different views about life. I believe this from the time's people have told me so in comments or messages. I also consider there are many other people who I have never heard from who have indeed somehow been positively impacted by something I have said.
I have also felt stress and hardships over the past year that I’d never imagined before in my life.
One thing that I think most people never realize is that a large part of what drives me is the fact that I am empathic and can feel the emotions of others. At times this has been a curse because when I examine or speak out about the hardships a person or group of people are facing, indeed whether people realize it or not, I FEEL others pain as well.
This has been both a blessing and curse, as it allows me to truly care about people passionately. However, it has also caused me to take on their pain at times. This transference of emotion can sometimes wear me down and cause a great deal of emotional stress.
I like to say that my relationship with God is that he is like my old, grizzled, boxing coach with a thick New York accent. Essentially, I feel like he knocks me down to the mat a lot in life. However, when I am down, he always seems to reach out and then lift me back up. It is kind of like a very loving and close relationship in which I know my coach is hard on me because he wants me to succeed.
Basically, over the past year, by being knocked down many times, I have become a better and more seasoned fighter.
It is remarkable that a lot of people assume that people who speak out about human or civil rights, only do so in support of some shadowy agenda. In fact, over the year I have lost some friends and quite a bit of esteem in my own profession because I am assumed to be furthering some agenda for acclaim.
Now, if indeed there is some clandestine cabal that highlights social issues in order to further their global agenda, either I’m not that attractive to them, or I have no idea where the hell they are. Because, everything and I mean everything, that people have seen from me over the past year has come solely from myself.
In the past year, I had to learn how to create websites, as I single-handedly created my own website and the one for my nonprofit. Speaking of nonprofits, I had to learn, almost completely on my own, how to found a nonprofit and then business management. Still, to this day, I have yet to truly figure out how to fund the program so it can technically be operational.
A large part of me didn’t expect this much difficulty when I established, The Four Trees Project. I assumed with so many people crying out about problems, there would be plenty of people offering to help grow some solutions. I may have been a little naïve in this regard.
Ultimately, now a year later, I am truly pleased with where I am. Indeed, I’ve made mistakes. Undoubtedly, I’ve had failures and have had to make some apologies from time-to-time.
However, a year later, I can at least say that I have in a large part, separated myself from the initial viral reason why people know who I am. In fact, quite of few people know me from things I have written or said over the past year, and they are unaware of the events of a year ago.
For me, that is probably one of the greatest comforts I take in all of this. I have never been perfect, but I have always been just me. What I say, what I believe in, and who I strive to be, is who I am. I’ve never felt like at any point I ever played a role in order to simply gain attention or represent something I thought people wanted me to be.
As I step forward in my path in life, one year removed from the unimaginable events that brought me to this day, I am excited to see what the future holds. I am grateful for the fact that even through hardships, I have still only gained more appreciation for life.
Additionally, I am thankful that when it comes to my overall goals, year two is no different than year one. In essence, I’ve never been anything but who I really am. The peace that comes with simply being who you are and standing up for what you believe is right, provides peace in the fact I just have to continue to be me. Then sit back and see what happens.
Lastly, I accept that not everyone has or will ever agree with everything I have said over the past year. In truth, I hope no matter what, I have at least been able to express that my desire has always been to see people get along and in the belief that true freedom is an inalienable right all human beings should enjoy.
“I've got a song and I carry it with me and I sing it loud
If it gets me nowhere, I'll go there proud” – Jim Croce “I Got a Name”