Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bryan Stevenson: We need to talk about an injustice

Saturday, September 15, 2012


There is endurance in hope, and strength in the silence of remembrance that causes me to pause in different moments throughout my life. This day, particularly, I paused and inhaled history, black and white, and gave thanks for heads bloodied but unbowed. I’m remembering faith through bullhorns, and cattle prongs. Grey scale clips potpourri my mental frames as I recall visions of struggle seen through fire hose cascades, and food that didn’t hit any lunch counters because of the will, passion, and God in our ancestors. I know I’m not talking about biblical times, but what matter of people were they?

It’s always Black History in my house. My wife and I deliberately point out inventions and advancements that black folk developed or had any input into. Our book shelves, all five, are littered with books like Nathaniel McCall’s “Makes Me Wanna Holler” to “the Souls of Black Folk” by W. E. B. Dubois. Children’s books with titles like “Brown like Me”, and Spike Lee’s “Please, Baby, Baby, Please” can be seen in toy bends and cubbies throughout the boys’ playroom. Granddad didn’t have the luxury of reading books that reflected him as a child; many died so that any of else could live in the world, literary or otherwise.

But this faith that they had, where did it come from? Who gave it to them? No lights were coming at the end of bats held by those blinded with tunnel vision supplied by hate. No end was in site for Sara, Johnny, or Buela to hold onto a little while. How could a race of people be so raped, and yet remain dignified? How could their heads be held in an upright position to sustain manhood when their sons were being bullied by day, and lynched by night? How could their homes be warm with love when their daughters were being stripped of all innocence, and beaten like defiant men in the streets? How could they have mustard up enough bravery to believe in something called equality, justice, liberty, and Civil Rights?

Even as I write this and try to capture the essence and spirit of a people, our people, black and white, as clever as I know how, I’m frustrated. Its depth is simply too potent, and its importance to enormous for me to pontificate on a meaning. Some people don’t understand why I get so angry at ignorance. They don’t understand why I consider it insulting when someone says that they don’t vote. I recognize that I’m but four generations removed from slavery, and two generations removed from “slavery by [other] names”. Though I contemplate what my thoughts, actions, and reactions would have been in those times, I thank God that I never had to meet a tyrant like “Jim Crow”. I thank God that my children will hear, and learn about his reach, but never see grandparents stained with his accusations, or bloodied by his ignorant rage. Hope.

Monday, July 30, 2012

"A History Lesson"

Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved History. It did help that my teachers in middle and high school were awesome; however, I’ve always been drawn to knowing the background, the foundation, or the origin of a thing. It’s a love and an appreciation that I hope my sons acquire.  I think I’ve done a pretty good job with their exposure to culture and all things musical; I should say I thought I exposed them to all things musical. Early one evening, I would learn that not only was the above not true, but that I had forgotten to expose them to one of the most significant contributors to music, hip hop, and pop culture.

I had just arrived from work when I encounter my “daddy” scream greetings by the boys. I thought to myself about how much I loved the love they showed me. There is nothing like a “daddy” scream greeting.  I was especially excited to hear my oldest scream.  A few months back, he got “cool”on me. You know the cool. It’s the one that doesn’t like his clothes. The cool that needs “Jordans” to wear, not just any Nikes will do. (Jordan’s were purchased only because he’s a great student and gives us no problems; otherwise, he would be wearing whatever Nikes were on sale.) I make it to the kitchen table and dropped my briefcase right before I was tackled by these jackals.  With one of each leg, I managed to make it to the stairs; from there, my room to change into my old sweats and a t-shirt. Once downstairs, I started talking to the boys about their day. It's something we do routinely so I wasn’t ready from what happened next.
We had finished talking about their days, and because they are such thoughtful boys, they both ask me about my day, kinds sort of. My oldest actually asked, and my youngest just echoes, or copies him. It’s the funniest dynamic sometimes, but I do feel bad for my oldest son because it’s “hella” annoying. I started telling them about my day, and about how busy I was all afternoon. Then I said that the best part of my day was getting in the car and listening to some good old 90’s rap music. Then it happened. The thing that would make my world stop. It's the thing that caused my heart to palpitate, my limbs to shake, and question the validity of me calling myself, a brutha, a homeboy, a black man. My sons, my poor sheltered uncultured sons, because of their slack father, asked, “What’s rap music?” What do you mean what’s rap music? Then my convulsions started. I screamed and kicked, and howled in disbelief. My wife looked at me and smiled that devilish smile that could mean something else in a different situation after 8PM, but I knew how to apply it here. Oh hell no; have I been talking about jazz, instruments, and showing photos to much that I forgot to talk about rap music? How in the hell does this happen?

I immediately grabbed them both by the hands and marched them to the office where the holy grail of all things musical rest. I was giddy as I loaded my iTunes account and my catalog of 7800 songs popped up. They were amazed, and danced as I went through the history of rap via song. We break-danced, cabbage patched, reeboked, and roger rabbit through the Sugar Hill Gang, Kool Moe D, Whodini, Big Daddy Kane, Chubb Rock, Run DMC, and Special Ed,to name a few. We then Prepped, Tootsie rolled, Mike Tysoned, and whopped to LLCool J, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Rakim, Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, and Nice and Smooth. With sweat dripping from my brow and an ache setting in on thirty something knees, I looked down at the screen and it was 30 minutes passed their bedtime, but it didn’t matter. This history lesson was too important to cut short; they were learning and having fun.

We finally managed to move our “soul train line” in the direction of their beds. And they were still dancing and wiggling as I tucked them in. They both told me that they enjoyed the songs and were happy to know how to rap. I was feeling good about myself; I just gave my boys the foundation of their “street credit”, I thought. “Daddy”, Reynolds said. “Yes?”I replied. “Those were the best songs ever; but the best one was…”, and he began to sing Ice Ice Baby! What? Ice Ice Baby? “Lord, what are you doing to me?” I screamed inside. I had to fight my inner man, and he was mad too.  I had spent an hour playing and dancing to some of the best rap music ever made with this boy, and he tells me out of all of that he loved “ice ice baby”? I prayed that my brother and none of my friends ever finds out because I wouldn’t be able to hold my head up, or even enter the barbershop. The boys don’t know yet, but “Young’s Rap Summer Camp”starts in three weeks. It’s indoctrination time!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"The Barbershop"

I don’t have too many Saturday mornings to myself these days. Of the four per month, two of them are spent working, and the other two are spent dressing the boys and heading out to the barbershop. I must confess that I do love the Saturday morning barbershop trips with the boys.
It’s the one place where black men let their hair down and talk about everything from their wives to Bank of America stock dropping to $6 per share. It’s the one place where you’re treated like a visiting King from a foreign land, regardless of your portfolio. Granddads, fathers, uncles, cousins, brothers, and sons line the graffiti walls like confetti, and mirrors dance with flat panel televisions on corners supported by history and braced for the future’s expectations of what those who line the walls will become.

Kut Kreator is the name of the place. Twin brothers, Javon and Clevon are the owner/operators. The boys love them. Javon, aka “J” is my barber. He takes care of me and the boys. Coop becomes “Smiley”, and RJ becomes “Lil Drile” in this aristocracy.
We have to rise early on Saturdays to beat the crowd to our Mecca. Typically, we arrive at 7am or 8am; we’re often disappointed that 10 or so others have beaten us to claim their place on the “throne” (the barber’s chair). As we approach the door, I always ask the boys whether they have enough books from the car, enough snacks, and lastly, do they need to use the restroom.
Believe it or not, a trip to the restroom, at the wrong time, will leave you standing for hours. It’s often quiet on the street as we approach and open the door. We can always see the chairs filled with our brothers, and some sisters, of different backgrounds through the plate glass windows. Once the doors open, noise, laughter, and trash talking overtakes you. You have to choose which conversation to jump in. “Man, you talkin’ crazy,” can always be heard as there is always a conversation between guys about whose team is the best, or why their particular team lost the game. That’s just the beginning.

The bells on the door constantly jingle as the crowd dances through the place. Between Javon and Clevon is the gallery of skilled barbers they employ. “What up Drile?,” or simply a loud “Drile!” can always be heard as I walk in with the boys. “There he is,” followed by “I need to talk to you” from someone across the shop, echoes as we make our way to our seats.
And there’s music, too. I love the music that plays there. Sometimes, when the shop isn’t too crowded, Javon lets me plug my iPod into the stereo and play my own personal blend of songs, while we wait for our “cutz.” They know I love my music, so I am always pulled into a conversation about new music that’s just dropped from “new release Tuesday.” The boys love the music too. They dance and sway to whatever jam is playing. Someone always says, “Man, look at them jam!” as they look at my boys or some other kids dancing in the middle of the shop. It’s a beautiful sight to see, and even better when our good time is met by a new day rising in grace and luminous reflection.

The barbershop is our social neighborhood of sorts. It’s diverse, unlike my actual neighborhood. It bothers me sometimes that out of 135 families within my neighborhood, there are only eight African American families and that number includes my family. Of the eight families, only two of us have children around the same age. Of the two, our children go to different schools because of the perks and choices that we are afforded based on our professions. Because of that, our children rarely play together.

Going to the barbershop helps reconcile this issue. The boys are able to talk, play, interact, and socialize with other children from different cultural and economic backgrounds. They are able to learn and pick up cultural cues important to their socialization and at the core of their own culture. The barbershop provides a median for me to introduce them to Dentists, MDs, Bankers, Entrepreneurs, Officers and Detectives, and College Professors that look like them. They meet other black children of success and of solid Christian families, with different skin hues from their own. That’s important because for a time, my oldest son thought he was “white” and referred to himself as white because of his fair skin. He didn’t understand that African Americans are made in very dark and very light shades of brown. That was a tough conversation to have with a five-year-old, but he eventually got it. He loves who he is as a “black boy” and sings and dances his heart out with the best of them at the barbershop to prove that point.

I miss my Saturdays sometimes. It would be nice, just once, to be able to sleep in. But, I love my boys. The times we spend together now are priceless to me. Sometimes, I sit and reflect on my days growing up without a father, and I just can’t, for the life of me, think of anything that would cause me to leave them. Time is flying passed us daily, and I tear up when I think of a day, soon, when Coop will not let me squeeze him and kiss him any longer. Soon, it will not be cool to jump on Dad’s lap and grab hold to Dad’s leg. In those thoughts, I know that regardless of how they grow and change, I’ll always have Saturday mornings at the barbershop and the lessons it’s taught us about people, life, love, family, community, and pure innocent fun.

“Drile, you’re up!” said Javon. “Boys, it’s time to get smooth,” I replied.