I am a MAN
I take great joy and responsibility when mentoring some of the young men in my community, however, sometimes this joy is muted by youthful misguided attitudes that lead to nowhere. These misguided attitudes tend to originate from a simple question What is a ‘Man’?. The lack of understanding of the definition of a Man may have many reasons but the decimation of the African American male has a lot to do with it. The resulting lack of proper role models and legacy only serve to exacerbate the issue.
Overall my impression is that the African American sees a man as someone who isn’t disrespected and a provider. The dignity seems to be the more important characteristic. Understandably so as the dehumanization endured at the hand of society has narrowly focused dignity as someone beyond disrespect. 'I AM A MAN' phrase was used during the civil rights era to point out how inhumane African Americans were being treated, an affirmation of self-worth. After generations, this phrase has added meaning shifting from an external focus requesting from others equal treatment to an internal one reaffirming that I am equal to others.
This blog is meant to bring a positive message of a 'Can do' spirit but for that to happen I must talk of Men in the Motherland. Not because men do not exist in the African diaspora, quite the contrary. Many fine and able Men exist and thrive in the diaspora. But communities of men with generations of legacy are not so common. Why is this important? It’s important because the larger the kingdom a man controls the larger the man in many respects (please note that the same goes for women). These large kingdoms and the knowledge to control them are usually accumulated over generations. One of the sayings I usually use in my speeches is ' I can never be poor, my father’s father wasn't poor, therefore my children's children shall never be poor. I can be broke but never will I be poor'. This saying denotes the legacy which is my birthright as well as my grandchildren's yet to be born.
The saying allows me to talk with a certain gravitas as I am backed up by generations of achievements. I speak with a certain wisdom and perspective because I live for tomorrow as well as today because of the past. I have been exposed to a community of men who have been built in the exact same way, so role models are abundant. They advise and teach me how things work. My age mates are similarly trained not to consume jobs but create them. We are taught not to start from scratch but to carry on legacy entrusted in us. We hunt like wolves in packs and are a part of our own exclusive clique of entrepreneurs and industry leaders who man every station of significance in our society. A society where any person or position of power can be reached with a few phone calls because someone intimately knows someone who can move the situation in my favor. There is no credit score because everyone can find out your story and if you are worth investing in and you’re a serious person can be ascertained without a score. Well you get my gist, that's what living in a community of men with legacy is like.
From all the attributes some of the great men I have been exposed to have taught me is to respect the strength it takes to do nothing. Sounds ironic because usually men are measured by what they do and not by what they don't do. But what I refer to is the strength to handle any situation and not flinch, to do nothing until the right moment which usually comes after much reflection and preparation. The first thing I am usually asked will be 'what about in an emergency? How does one reflect and prepare them? My answer is usually most emergency issues are predictable to an extent and therefore within a level of control. If you reflect and prepare as the leader of your family, you will not waver when the moment of truth is here. You will be the 'ROCK' able to take all and be calm in the face of 'disaster'.
So that's what being a Man means to me. It means being a rock that has reflected and prepared for the family so that when the time comes he provides leadership and direction for those around him. Often the youth look at being a man as being this hyper sensitive individual who is constantly reacting to the many acts of disrespect and slights that come his way. He is constantly paying back society with a revengeful attitude for every infraction that tends to be done to him to prove undoubtedly how 'manly' he is. This never-ending plight to be 'macho' usually is very easy to defeat because of the reactive nature of interaction.
A young man I attempted to mentor, let's call him Joe, had this attitude. He had been granted a break of a lifetime by a caring female mentor. He had only a high school education and was now surrounded by extremely well-educated people. His main function in this setting was to provide the overall group with the perspective of the 'regular person' from a disadvantaged urban community. Yes, he was a young African American Male. Joe had been struggling with coping in this environment, only surviving as long as he had because of his mentor’s, who was of another race, willingness to overlook his issues and make excuses. After all she had taken him in 7 years earlier and she felt like a mother to him. Anyways, there was some marijuana and alcohol use that would visibly affect his performance but overall his attitude was his ultimate downfall.
His attitude was filled with passion which was good but also a misinformed perspective (obviously from a lack of role models and witnessing of black male leadership) was dominant that hampered him often. Joe would often provide great insight but never follow through on his insight. He would equate himself to others in his group that unlike him were extremely well educated and accomplished individuals. He seemed to focus on how people appeared and performed accordingly but not consider the painstaking work everyone put in. He seemed to lack the role models that would let him see the harsh reality that he needed to Man up, work hard and push to utilize his environment instead for resting on his laurels. When confronted with his failings he got a defensive and combative posture. He fell into victim mode blaming the world for his troubles, he jumped and reacted every issue and slight against him. Joe was having more and more behavioral issues at work until he eventually was put on paid leave. He apparently reacted with a persistent anger at work which was used by the overall group despite his mentor to have him removed.
His mentor did give him a last chance which was to work with me while being paid by them. A wonderful offer in anyone’s books. He started out with enthusiasm but once confronted with his failings (not keeping deadlines and poor work effort) he began to rebel. I took a very firm stance with him as I had been trained with in my formative years. I was taught that the world is hard, and we are responsible for knowing where we stand and making the right choices. This sometimes means taking someone's 'bullshit' because you have to based on where you are in life and where your trying to get to. That person may be in the way but you cannot let them derail you. I told him that his previous bosses would use his anger against him, purposely frustrate him baiting him to lose his cool and then blame and fire him for reacting. So, his number one goal should be to 'NOT REACT'. I even told him that's why I was purposely in his face because I wanted him to not react even though I was pushing his buttons. He eventually argued, lashed out and eventually withdrew. I never heard much from him again. His mentor called me to see how he was doing with me and it was unfortunate I had to give her the bad news. That's when I learnt he was being paid to be with me by them. That’s when I learnt about his issues and I realized it was way too late.
I do fault the employer for not doing more with educating him formally and enabling his behavior but ultimately it was Joe's responsibility to grow up and be a man. I also wonder the best approach I could have taken because he didn't value my years of experience and education, so he saw no difference between us. Without him realizing what it took for me to be in my position he could never respect and capitulate knowing this was the process he had to go through to be a man. He didn't see him dealing with my 'bullshit' as a character-building experience but as me disrespecting him. I once told him that 'why are we always talking about your emotions and how you feel ... I was like we are in a war and your sergeant is yelling grab you gun and your catching feelings because he didn't ask nice enough and hurt your feelings... MAN UP!!!'.
Anyways, the moral of the story is that any boss or leader has haters that will do anything to get you off your game. Imagine what President Obama went through and you see how classy he handled it all. Now imagine if Obama acted like Trump. How easy would Obama have been crippled in office. The angry black man is the easiest stereotype used to bring us down. Let's not feed into the narrative by reacting to everyone and everything that's pisses us off in an effort to prove we are men but instead acting like children.
Our communities need ROCKs to build strong foundations on and not emotional men that will pull a gun quick and take a life for nothing. Don't react unless you have something tangible to gain or something to tangible lose. Perceived concept of respect and disrespect while can be valuable are not worth reacting then and there in anger. The Yoruba tribe is known for wanting their enemy to come to them for help. It’s the ultimate sign of respect when someone comes to you to help them out a problem that unknowingly to them you cause them. This takes cunning, patience and emotional control. Its premeditation and not random acts of anger. It's the difference between being a boy or a MAN... live learn and grow ... be that rock... say I AM A MAN!!!