DeMar DeRozan is doing some reflecting about how experiences from his childhood influenced how he feels about police.
In an open letter shared by PEOPLE, the San Antonio Spurs guard and Compton, California native revealed how racism and police brutality taught him what it meant to be Black in America.
“Growing up, I often wondered why it was so hard for my close family friends and relatives to land a job,” he begins the letter. “Many were simply trying to do the right thing after getting into trouble, so why wouldn’t anyone hire them? It wasn’t until years later as a teenager that the answer became evident to me through the way I was treated by law enforcement.”
He continued: “As a student at Compton High School, my friends and I were regular targets of the police. They assumed we were gang members just because we were in a group, or did things just to mess with us. Once, a cousin of mine who did nothing wrong was arrested after the police said, ‘Well, somebody has to go to jail today.’ I still remember an older friend who was killed when the police shot him through the window of his car as he slept.”
Later, the 11-year NBA veteran said that after a while, he realized there were two different Americas and how that motivated him to become the best he could be.
“In time, I realized this treatment couldn’t just be attributed to ‘the police doing their jobs,’ it was something more. I better understood the struggles my loved ones faced when I was younger — in America, things were more difficult for us just because we were Black,” he said. “This gave me the motivation to do everything I could to make a better life. But for other people I grew up with, it made them rebellious, hateful and aggressive toward any type of authority. I completely understand why.”
DeMar DeRozan has used his own struggle as inspiration to become an outspoken advocate for mental health awareness. He’s also previously revealed his own difficulty in dealing with depression and anxiety.
Last October, DeRozan took to his social media in an effort to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental illness on World Mental Health Day.
“There should be zero shame or stigma for anyone working to make their mental health a priority,” DeRozan tweeted, while encouraging his followers to support fellow NBA star Kevin Love’s fund, which launched in 2018 to promote physical and mental well-being. Both Love and DeRozan made headlines when they revealed battling severe depression.
The two also appeared in an NBA ad that encouraged mental wellness.
Read DeMar DeRozan’s full open letter here.