I attended a mentor training yesterday specifically for those of us who work with young black men. The session opened with this video.
I watched it and it broke me down.
I began to cry as I introduced myself to the group.
Not just cry, but damn near sob in front of a crowd of mostly strangers. My tears were a visceral reaction to both the reminder that this is the world that my sons will grow up in and the validation of my belief that we must give them skills to not just survive, but to thrive in these circumstances.
Earlier this week I was frustrated because I was involved in a debate with a family member who just wasn't able to see the danger in painting the bleakest picture possible when it comes to the survivability of a young black males encounter with law enforcement.
If I had to boil my message down to four words it would be "Don't steal their hope."
I guess now-a-days, that would have to be a heart wrenching catchy hash tag that like #BlackLivesMatter or #HandsUp #DontShoot or even #IAmMikeBrown to be taken seriously.
The expanded version of that message is we must build our young black men into empowered individuals who have an understanding of racism and it's potential impact on their lives and enable them to respond to events and circumstances without being victims.
It is important that we expect our young black men to only survive, but to thrive. It's imperative that they know we expect this of them and even more critical that they expect it of themselves. Otherwise they will continue to spiral the downward trajectory of failure and defeat which I and thousands of other young black men experienced in the late 80s/early 90s.
Growing up, we had been consistently told that we were a part of an endangered species as if we were wild animals. We were repeatedly reminded that more of us would head to prison than to college as if that path was predestined for us. We were pitied for the lack of fathers in our households and simultaneously forgiven for the broken homes we had not yet created as though breeding was the only skill most of us would ever possess. Although the stats and myths were used as tactics to scare us straight, they only served to be a blueprint or an instruction manual for many of us coming of age.
Since failure seemed to be all that was expected of us, we easily sunk to that level of mediocrity or worse. In his book “The Mis-education of the Negro”, The renowned educator and author, Carter G. Woodson wrote: “If you can control a man’s thinking, you don’t have to worry about his actions. If you can determine what a man thinks you do not have to worry about what he will do. If you can make a man believe that he is inferior, you don’t have to compel him to seek an inferior status, he will do so without being told.”
Yes, the deck is stacked. Yes, the dice are loaded. Yes, the playing field is uneven and the refs and officials who are entrusted in protecting the integrity of the game are complicit in the unfairness of it.
But young black men must still show up to play the game with all of their hearts otherwise they are guaranteed to lose. Period.
The fact of the matter is: hopelessness leads to recklessness. Recklessness leads to prison or the graveyard.
Us, the trusted adults who have choose to use our voices to identify the societal issues, injustices, burdens and hindrances faced by young black males must be prepared to find and/or create and then offer resources to help these young humans to succeed regardless. We who know the problems these boys and young men will face are required to coach these children to do the best they can to fully realize their potential. It is our job to help them identify and recognize the obstacles they will face. It is our duty to help them develop the skills and habits to properly overcome those obstacles. It is our obligation to be and also connect our young to mentors who will inspire, encourage, advise young black males to be champions .
In short, we must be the suppliers of an abundance of hope -- not the thieves who steal it.
Be better than average.
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.