I Can’t Breathe

Ade Olonoh
3 min readJun 8, 2020


I’ve struggled with whether or not to write this. My stories aren’t all that special. There are countless others who’ve experienced worse.

But I’m writing this to those of you in my life that don’t quite understand what’s going on right now. Who think that people are making too big a deal out of all this.

I wanted to blame you for not getting it, but maybe in some part, it’s my fault.

It’s my fault that I haven’t told you my stories. It’s rare that I’ve opened up about my pain. And because of this it’s possible that I’ve left the impression that I haven’t been affected. Maybe I’m the example that you go to when you make the argument about how everything’s okay.

I haven’t told you that I can’t breathe.

I didn’t tell you about the first time I realized that my life in America was going to be different because I’m black. When I took one of my best friends to a middle school dance. And then her mom found out after the fact, and forbade the girl from speaking with me ever again. Because she’s white, and I’m black.

I didn’t tell you about how that broke my heart, and birthed a rage inside of me. I didn’t tell you that her mom was an employee at our school, and I had to walk by her every day, feeling her eyes burn into my back.

There’s a story I was sold: keep your head down, work hard, get good grades, stay out of trouble. If you do all that, your blackness won’t matter.

I didn’t tell you how suffocating that was — to be held up to that standard, just in the hope that I get seen in the same way as the people around me.

I didn’t tell you about all the moments in my life that helped me understand that this story was a lie. The comments heard in earshot. The furrowed brows directed my way. The jokes I didn’t find funny. Wondering about the job offers I didn’t get. Wondering about the investors that told me no.

How every time I started to forget the story was a lie, someone would faithfully remind me.

I didn’t tell you about the time I took a road trip with friends when I was 15 years old. When we started playing with a BB gun in the car, and someone called the cops. I didn’t tell you about the shotgun pointed at my back, my hands in the air. How I knew we weren’t speeding, so was confused about why we were pulled over.

I didn’t tell you how I couldn’t understand anything he was saying because the wind was loud and there were cars whizzing by us. How he started screaming because clearly I was doing something wrong, but I didn’t know what. And how all I could think about was the shotgun blast that could rip through my chest.

I didn’t tell you how I felt after John Crawford. Or Tamir Rice. I didn’t tell you about my tears.

I don’t tell you about all the ways I live my life differently than you do. How I think about it nearly every day, and it’s suffocating.

How it comes up in things you might not expect, like when I trained for a half marathon. How I never ran after dark. How I chose clothes to try to make it clear to everyone that I was just a runner, not a black man running away from something. How I’d sometimes cross the street if I was coming up on someone too fast.

I didn’t tell you how I felt after Ahmaud Arbery.

I don’t tell you how it’s not just those with hate in their hearts that I’ve come to fear. That I fear more the system that might not protect me.

So I’m telling you now. I’m one of the lucky ones. But even still, I can’t breathe.



Ade Olonoh

Entrepreneur. Created @Formstack, @Formspring, and other stuff. Investor @StartingLineVC.