“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

On June 26, 2015, I remember three things: My mother held tightly to my arm, my uniform stuck to my skin, and my cousin, a leader, dedicated father, and South Carolina state senator, was dead.

That June day, I sat in the fourth row of the congregation, listening to a eulogy not delivered by a deacon, but by President Obama. Clementa was one of nine, killed in the Mother Emmanuel church shooting, and his death changed my worldview forever.

Hours after the President serenaded the arena with a teary Amazing Grace, we buried my cousin next to my grandfather. The flies buzzed, and the sun shone on our family plot, just feet away from the same land my family had toiled on, sharecroppers and slaves.

As I stood there, my family’s personal, political, and military destiny swirling around my mind, I thought about where I fit in the story laid in the ground beneath me and realized something. The same history and struggle and drive for something better wasn’t just etched in the stones, old and new, before me.

Instead, it was deep, vibrant, and most of all, alive in me. That night, I left that plot with a new plan: dedicated to using my life to strengthen the same community that had brought me in and carried me out of that dark time.

I am a Black man. I am a Marine. I am a native son of Virginia. And I am going to change my world, every day and right now.

— Phillip Jones