There's an image I can't get out of my head.
It's of a mother silently sitting beside her 15 year old daughter's body as it lay in the casket. The girl's life was violently taken in a drive-by shooting just a week before her 16th birthday.
Just eleven months after her 10 year old brother was killed in an accidental shooting.
I strongly believe that America is the Land of Opportunity. There are more millionaires per capita here than anywhere else in the world. 8,008,000 to be exact.
Only 35,000 of those are Black.
Colin Kaepernick is one of those few.
And he risked it all to make an unpopular political statement criticizing "America, the Great".
He chose not to stand during the playing of the National Anthem because he felt it would have been selfish of him to look the other way while this country continues to oppress Black people and people of color.
I can relate to and respect Colin Kaepernick and others who use one of the biggest platforms in the world and risk their entire professional careers to remind privileged Americans that people of color are treated like step-children in a family where Patriotism and White Nationalism are kissing cousins.
I'm not offended when professional ball players exercise their constitutional rights and draw attention to the fact that while they are privileged enough to make millions of dollars in a country which affords them that opportunity - the general playing field in America isn't even for everyone. The fact of the matter, those athletes are a miniscule fraction of those who make it out of the economic disenfranchisement that is sustained by the racist infrastructure which built America.
I am very appreciative that celebrities like Kaepernick and others have brought to light the maddening hypocrisy which many privileged Americans demonstrate and call Patriotism when I, as a Black man in America, know that same country which we celebrate with the Star Spangled Banner, was built on the backs and with the blood sweat and tears of slaves, my ancestors.
At one time, the Constitution which proclaims "All men were created equal...with liberty and justice for all" also declared that slaves were only 3/5 of a person. (Google "three fifths compromise"). And while I, personally, am grateful to live in America, I find it extremely presumptive that some people who are privileged enough to have never experienced racism believe I and other Black Americans should feel an innate sense of patriotism for a county that kidnapped my ancestors, abused, raped and killed them and continues to systematically oppress us educationally, geographically, economically and socially.
I still find it amazingly ironic that the last sentence of the National Anthem reads "...land of the free and the home of the brave." when at the time it was adopted as the anthem, it would have been more appropriate to say "where the black man's not free and the home of the slaves." And while those aren't real lyrics, the anthem, which was written by a self-admitted and confirmed slave holder has a third verse clearly mentions slavery specifically.
"No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,"
For many years I chose not to stand during the singing of the National Anthem, for all of the reasons I mentioned. It wasn't until post-911, in my late 20s that I changed my mind. I remember realizing then, that no matter how messed up things were in this country for Black people, there were people who would kill us indiscriminately, just for being born American, in a land of opportunity, rights, and privileges.
One of those privileges is being able to choose to stand, or not at the for the National Anthem. That privilege becomes an inalienable right of free speech when that action is a political statement.
And that's what makes this country great.
The Christian bible says in Isaiah 55:11 -
"So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper [in the thing] whereto I sent it."
In other words, you get what you ask for.
There is even a belief that the magical" word "Abracadabra" may derive from an Aramaic phrase meaning "I create as I speak"
Again, in other words, you speak things into existence.
I say all this because, on this date 20 years ago hip-hop legend Tupac A. Shakur died. He was gunned down at age 25.
During his short life he spoke, wrote and sang prolifically about dying young.
Just a few examples of the titles or lines of his extensive catalog of songs and poems are:
"In my mind, I've always been an A-list Hollywood superstar. Y'all just didn't know yet."
I regularly speak about dangers of telling young black men that they are part of an endangered species and suggesting to them that they are undervalued in society's eyes because it creates a hopeless paradigm which leads to underachievement and recklessness.
Last school year I facilitated an after-school goal setting workshop with 4th and 5th grade boys of color. At the rite-of-passage ceremony, each young man stated his name and declared "I am better than average! I am destined for success!" because I empowered them with success skills like goal setting techniques and personal development training. Each one was awarded with a certificate of accomplishment recognizing them as being "Better Than Average"
A couple of school years ago I facilitated an after-school goal setting workshop with 4th and 5th grade boys of color.
At the rite-of-passage ceremony, each young man stated his name and declared "I am better than average! I am destined for success!" and was awarded a certificate of accomplishment recognizing them as being "Better Than Average"
I have continued that affirmation ritual at every single workshop and seminar which I have facilitated since.
Each time the young men emphatically announce "I am better than average" they are empowered with a strengthening and resolve of their identity . That is the first step in changing how they perceive themselves, what they believe they can and deserve to accomplish, what motivates them to achieve and how willing they are to do what is necessary to be successful.
We as parents, teachers, pastors, mentors, community leaders and as a society in general must teach our young people to think and speak about themselves with their ideal success at the front of their minds so that they breathe life into those futures -- not death. We must teach them to think of themselves as capable architects of the lives they want to live because when it comes down to it; they are what they think, say and do.
Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" is one the most inspiring songs I've ever heard.
I usually listen to it once or twice a week because it's like a personal theme song for the journey I've been on.
Frequently I recite the lyrics "Emancipate yourself from mental slavery. None but our self can free our minds”.
I say those words to replace the self-talk which sabotaged me for many, many years:“I can’t.”
I don’t remember what the task was. I don’t remember how old I was. All I remember was my mom yelling at me to “never say that” phrase.
“Don’t tell me what you can’t do.” she said. “There’s nothing you can’t do.”
We lost music royalty this week. In April 20th, Prince Roger Nelson, arguably, one of the most influential musicians ever, died at age 57. There is no doubt that a void in the world of music and culture which he once filled abundantly, even with his demure statue.
Prince didn't just personify music (as if that were a insignificant achievement). He defined "transcendent". There were no boundaries he couldn't or wouldn't cross. Whether they be generational, musical genres or sexuality norms.
The word traditional was a challenge to him. To him, the word Acceptable meant whatever he created. And this is why his creations represented courage so many of us wish we could express in our own lives. Just by listening to our favorite songs, we were vicariously brave like Prince. He was our avatar in a spiritual/emotional place where rules were meant to be broken.
So it's understandable why so many people are grieving the physical death of the legend. Post after post on social media start off with "I am so sad."
Remember "I Am" are the two most powerful words you can speak or even think. Those words create or destroy your potential success before you even get started. It is literally a powerful prayer to the God in you which determines who or what you will be.
So, even while mourning, it's critically important that you choose your words and character wisely. Saying "I am sad" means so much more than just how you feel. It also determines what you do and how you think. It's much more productive to choose powerful words to finish your "I am" statement. What words did Prince leave behind as his legacy? These three come to mind for me.
Choose to be inspired by Prince's life rather than sad about his passing. Stop living the life you dream about through Prince's songs and begin to deliberately create and live a better than average life. We tend to think that celebrities like Prince and Michael Jackson were the only ones who inspire people through their ability to entertain the masses. However, there are hundreds of thousands of singers who are just as talented but go unnoticed. What's the difference? Is it that they don't push themselves to be more and do more with their talents? Is it because they don't think to use their gift as a contribution to the world, so they play small with it? You must define your truth by choosing three or four words that you want to describe who you are to yourself and others. Choose characteristics and personality traits that naturally generate pride. Select personality traits like caring, devoted, driven, compassionate, helpful. Living your life in congruence with what you feel is worthy of pride and holding yourself to that standard; making that your absolute truth - removes any suggestion of arrogance. It will be evident that you are living to inspire by being the best you that is possible.
The ability to inspire other people is a skill very few people develop because they don't know they can. It's not a talent in of itself nor is it dependant on any particular innate ability. It's a skill that you can develop no matter if you're a customer service agent or a singer, a bank teller or an actor. You have the ability to inspire someone by contributing to the world you live in. How so? By being the best you that you can possibly be.
You have the ability to inspire someone by contributing to the world you live in. How so? By being the best you that you can possibly be.
Choose to be grateful that your lifetime experienced one of the few people who personified music.
Be grateful he created enough beautiful music to help us get through this thing called life which means forever and that's a mighty long time!
Choose to celebrate that Prince made it to that "something else" he told us about:
The after world.
A world of never ending happiness
You can always see the sun, day or night.
Whatever your personal beliefs about religion or spirituality, have faith that Prince is where he wants to be now; at peace.
Choose to honor Prince the best you can by being Better Than Average at whatever it is you do.
What's It Gonna Take?
A loved one's death? A divorce? An life threatening accident? An addiction? Incarceration? Homelessness? Illness or worse?
Most often it takes a great tragedy to occur before people decide to make significant changes in their lives.
If you're waiting for the right moment or the right inspiration or that day to come before you decide you're going to be more and do more with your life remember that most often it takes a great tragedy to occur before we see the need for improvement and personal development in our lives - I can tell you from experience, that will most likely be the most miserable day of your life.
I sit in this empty conference room waiting for the final class of my small business boot camp to begin and I come to the full realization the real work of being a business owner hasn't even started yet.
The 17 hour days I've put in for the past 12 weeks didn't really count. That was only conditioning.
The agonizing brainstorming sessions spent trying to create effective yet affordable marketing tactics were just warm up drills before the actual game.
The stressful days spent developing operations and management strategies that maximize output and minimize costs were just a preliminary bouts before the main event: Me, the underdog versus a heavyweight champion called the world.
All the while, the critics, sceptics and even haters watch with exhilaration, feverishly rooting against me, anxiously waiting, hoping and some even praying for me to fail.
"Are you not entertained?!?" I yell to them in my head.
Funding, awards, recognition, prestige that often goes hand in hand with the human services "industry" can be appealing and alluring. Especially when, often times, you go unrecognized and unappreciated by those closest to you.
It's times like this I'm glad I have clearly defined my Y.U.R.
For those unfamiliar with that acronym, that is a mnemonic device meaning "Why You Are..." It is my emotionally compelling reason for doing what I do in order to get what I want, defined. In other words; my motivation.
I've said it before and I'll probably say it another 10,000 times. There was a time when I believed I was destined for failure simply because of my skin color, age and gender. The story that society told me about what was expected out of people who looked me was, we weren't expected to succeed. We weren't expected to even live.
I learned the truth and changed the trajectory of my life. And now I want to teach others that same truth.
I have worked really hard to build a platform where I can inspire people to be, do and have more than what they believe they is possible. Whether that be the gangbanger, the ex-con, the knucklehead kid still in elementary school or the single mother who wants more for herself and her family. They each deserve to know the truth about what they are capable of achieving and having and being.
As I write this on April 4th, the anniversary of Dr King's death I understand he didn't plan to be an activist, celebrity or rich man. He simply had a goal to make a difference. Money, ego and turf weren't the motivating factors for him.
A few months ago I realized that Dr. Martin Luther King didn't plan to be an activist, celebrity or rich man. He simply had a goal to make a difference. Money, ego and turf weren't the motivating factors for him to live the life he is now remembered for. And while I hold no illusions that I'm the next great Dr. Martin Luther King jr, I want to create and leave a legacy as being a beacon of inspiration for what is possible when you choose to live a better than average life. Even if I'm not specifically remembered by name, I would like for my ideas to contribute to the restoration hope to our society for generations and generations to come.
Fear is the Unforgivable Sin
Let's be honest. You have dreams and ambitions for you and your family. You know generally, if not exactly, what you have to do to achieve the goals that you set for yourself but something stops you from taking action.
Fear has immobilized you.
You fear how others will perceive you and what they'll say about you.
You fear the changes you'll have to make in your lifestyle.
You fear the possibility of failure.
Fear is completely natural and usually understandable, but in order to live the live the life and experience the happiness you long for, you cannot let these fears override your your desire for what you know is best for you and your family.
Identifying these fears is the first step in defeating them. Read the following descriptions of commons fears which limit success. Which one is most jeopardizing the potential success you know you’re capable of achieving and deserve?
1. Leaving Your Comfort Zone
You are slowing dying in a comfort zone that is more fragile than you can ever imagine. Compare it to an egg. Only one good thing can happen to an unhatched egg. In order to live you must apply pressure from the inside and leave that shell under your own initiative. I highly advise you force yourself to leave that comfort zone behind now by purposefully creating a better than average life for yourself. You have to choose to either be the chef or the omelette. The later means sitting back in that eggshell comfort zone and patiently wait to be a casualty of someone else's change.
“Progress is a nice word. But change is its motivator and change has its enemies." - Robert F. Kennedy
Change is inevitable and a lot of times it is downright violent and destructive to the status quo. But when it's managed and purposeful it can be gloriously beautiful and inspire not only those close to you, but also an entire revolution that makes a difference in the quality of the world. That revolution starts with someone and that someone can be you.
“Find someone who is willing to share the truth with you." - Jim Rohn
Sadly, in today's American society to point out an opportunity for improvement equates to the average person as "being hated on". It's become cool to be a victim and anyone who points out an avenue to travel in the direction of success is seen as victimizing them even further by challenging that way of thinking. Even the most well meaning, helpful advice is now heard as judgement. Better than average people seek out constructive criticism and embrace the feedback.
“Critical feedback is the breakfast of champions. Defensiveness is the dinner of losers.” –Dharmesh Shah
4. What Other People Think About You
The other side of the criticism coin is worrying about what other people think about you. It’s none of your business. Unless the people whose opinions you’re concerned about are the ones who are in a position and willing to help you achieve your goals then why do you care? It’s silly stupid to spend time and energy trying to be a person who you’re not happy being in the process of trying to make someone else happy. It’s even more stupid to not pursue your goals out of fear of what someone else thinks. The truth of the matter is; no one cares. Yes, everyone has an opinion of you, no matter what you do. But opinions are like buttholes; everyone has one and they’re all full of crap.
People often live lives full of meaningless victories and only do things they are sure they can achieve out of fear of failing at something they really want. Challenges are supposed to push you to or at least close to your limits. Real challenges don't leave you as the same person you were before you attempted to overcome them. You're either broken or better. That's why, in order to grow personally, professionally, spiritually, emotionally, and financially, it's important to take on real challenges that will develop you into a better person.
6. Asking For Help
People who are truly sincere about achieving their goals seek out people who are successful at the things that they don’t know how to do. They find mentors who have achieved the goals that they are working towards to help guide and teach them. This is an area where you cannot allow fear to stop you from doing what is necessary. You cannot be shy, introverted, timid nor too proud to ask someone wiser than you to teach you how to achieve the goals you've set.
It's important to remember that failure can be the most valuable weapon in your arsenal if you embrace it as an opportunity to become wiser and more valuable. Yet most people never even try to succeed out of fear of failure.
But like Will Smith’s character stated in the film After Earth;
What that soliloquy illustrates is the power of emotionalizing. That is the act of imagining how it will feel when you achieve, or don’t achieve your goal.
For most people, fear is an emotion that motivates them to create and achieve goals so insignificant they are practically subconscious. The fear of getting fired, or being homeless is exactly what keeps them diligently showing up to an unsatisfying job where they perform just well enough not to get fired. Paying bills, rent, and putting food on the table - just surviving - becomes the goal.
Emotionalizing what not surviving feels like is what keeps them going. Emotionalizing what it feels like to fail is what keeps most people from ever trying anything new or taking any risks. Whether it be new foods or new careers. We turn up our noses and scowl our faces at the mere thought of trying foods that are untasted but different. They could be disgusting! But they also could be delicious!
What if you focused the power of emotionalizing not on fear, but rather on something good like how achievements and successes would make you feel? How much more would you accomplish if you emotionalized pride? How much bigger and significant would the goals you set be? Chances are they would be better than average.
Learn How to Crush Your Fears and Achieve Your Goals
Are you interested in learning how to overcome your fears and begin to accomplish the goals that will make your life significant and worth living? Do you want to learn proven strategies and techniques that will help you accomplish your biggest goals?
"There is only one way to avoid criticism: Do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing." - Aristotle
There is an old saying: "Only two things in are certain in life; Death and taxes."
I'd like to add a third; criticism.
Someone will always have something to say about what and how you do or don't do something. Always.
“Success happens to those who are willing to put in the hours.” - Alex Kassan
There comes a time when you must do more than what is required to get what you want out of life.
The great part is, once you commit to doing it, going that extra mile isn't as difficult as you imagine.
For example, I'm on a mission to lose 20 pounds by the new year so I've begun working out pretty regularly.
The other day, while finishing up on the recumbent exercise bike I took notice of one of the motivational sayings recently painted on the walls of the exercise room of my apartment complex.
"Just 5 more minutes"
I mentally agreed "That's doable" and then set about to not only go five more minutes but even go a literal extra mile on the treadmill.
I am a simple man who has lived a complicated life. The lessons I've learned from the experiences I've been through and the challenges I've conquered have helped me develop a philosophy that life is meant to be lived at a level better than average.