As a society, we have gone too far proclaiming who is right and who is wrong. Instead, we should be considering the lens individuals use to interpret the world. Each one of us uses our lends to navigate life. Most likely, the lens used is shaped by the experiences in each of our lives: the successes, the failures, and the traumas. When we choose to place our values on those outlooks to determine what is right and what is wrong, we have conflict.
For example, I know people who think that Ronald Regan was a fabulous President. They can point to all of the wonderful things he did- all of the policies that he created (I mean, he did help bring down the Berlin Wall). But I know others that see his presidency from a different lens. They see policies that deteriorated the African American community, they see his participation in COINTELPRO which places him in a different light. Does that mean that either side is wrong? That may depend on your subjective definition of right…
The important thing about a lens is that is brings perspective – it is not just about ethnicity. A lens is shaped by an assortment of experiences: sexual preference, social economic status, trauma, gender, etc. This is why it is so important that we as a society understand that representation matters. Without it, we are creating an environment that promotes group-think.
Nobody ever wins with group-think. Think about how easy it is to govern when everybody has the same line of thinking.
We’ve started to place right and wrong based solely on people’s lenses.
We’ve stopped trying to look at events through the eyes of others.
We’ve stopped walking in other peoples shoes.
When a person has the job of managing and/or dealing with groups of people, the perspective of self as well as others becomes ever-so more important. When we educate, when we govern, when we serve, we are tasked with taking on the responsibility to look at situations from different lenses Although considering different perspectives is not an easy task (no matter how much education and training you have), it is imperative to the success of any entity.
History has shown us that we are a weaker society when we strive to be homogeneous. It leads to the closing of ideas, the stunting of progress, and the eventual collapse of civilization. Sure, it looks nice on its face, but when you dig a little deeper, you uncover a people who are stuck in time with ideas that won’t stand the test of time.
To be a black male is to live a life that is full of contradictions. Contradictions that cause us to make decisions that we may not understand. Decision that now our black boys are having to make.
It is a critical one that directly affects them future and the future of their children.
It is one that has been overlooked in our society for far too long, and it is time we discussed it.
It is a decision whether to assimilate or not.
Each path comes with favorable and less favorable outcomes. And, it is a decision that each black individual will need to make for himself.
The decision is whether to become an assimilationist or a non-conformist.
The definition of assimilation is to act accordingly with the intent of fitting in and or conforming. In this case, we are talking about societal norms and expectations.
A non-conformist is a person whose behavior or views do not conform to prevailing ideas or practices. Again, we are talking about societal norms and expectations.
For a black male, assimilation can be considered a good thing. A black person who chooses to assimilate is more likely to be accepted and given privileges that maybe not part of their original environment — an environment that could deviate from society’s expectations of “success.” On the other hand, choosing to assimilate could come at a great price. The acceptance of one set of norms could mean the a denial of another. The ability to attain and keep street credit within ones own community (not just geographical location) is an important part of the black society. To be able to walk down the street and get “the nod” from peers means acceptability and the ability to walk through certain neighborhoods with confidence and respect.
For a black person, to be a non-conformist is to keep and maintain street credit, which holds the ability to walk around a neighborhood as a leader or a a well-respected member of that community (again looking at more than geographical location). People who do not understand this may ask, “Why would anyone forgo the opportunity to improve themselves for street credit?” Those people would be missing the point.
Improving oneself is only relative to society’s definitions of success. If a house, a car, and a picket fence is society’s definition of successful, then the non-conformist may net ever meet the expectations for success, which is why it is important that society does not create perimeters for what it is to be successful. Success can come in many forms and is only contingent on each individual who must decide for oneself when enough is enough.
In order for black youth to be able to make a concious decision, they must first be presented with the question through conversation. This conversation between older and younger generations of blacks males needs to be had and must continue because it is critical. The conversation has not gotten any easier — especially for those of us who live in homogenous communities.
Look no further than the current state of events. It is getting harder and harder to avoid the elephant in the room. It is harder to look past the fact that if it were a group of African Americans that stormed The Capitol, we would be reading a different story. But, who bears the cross of uncomfortable silence? Is it me – who fears that the conversation could go too far and disrupt my livelihood or my life’s work? Or is it my community — who has to live with the fact that there are some truths that they must come to terms with? Especially since the community knows and interacts with me, my wife, and my children daily.
Once again, I, a forty-year-old man, am forced to decide between assimilation and non-conformity. I am once again forced to make a decision that can derail what I have worked for. I am forced to make the same type of decision that I had to as a youth.
Is it fair? No.
Is it real? Yes.
So, here I am, stuck between two worlds — forced to navigate this world without a playbook, instructional manual, or a tour guide. Trying to be successful, while trying not to become a traitor –
An Uncle Tom.
While also not trying to be angry —
It is a terrible thing to be black male to be labeled as one of these things. But, it is a reality.
This is why representation matters. This is why we need black people in positions that matter. Black males deserve to have people in positions that matter!
We shouldn’t have to make this decision. But we do — and, as a whole community, it is our job to guide our black youth and not judge their decision. There are no wrong answers, only consequences.
For the past 12 years, I have brought you the ins and outs of my entire family, Mostly the times when I stick my foot in my mouth. I am sure you all enjoy typing “Heather is a Saint” in the comments.
My household has come to a milestone. A benchmark.
My first-born is a teenager…ish.
I am not ready for this bullshit.
For the past 12 years, I would see something funny, dumb, or light-hearted, and quickly publish it for the world to share.
And, whether you want to admit it or not, that shit is funny.
After a while, she would become perturbed.
“Dad! Really! Do you really have to take pictures of everything?”
“Does it have to go to social media?”
*Marches out of the room without swinging arms in a pre-teenagerly way.
(Just to dig one in) “I legally own your likeness until 16!”
I have come to the conclusion that when she becomes a teenager, she is to own her likeness. Yes, really I own it, but she should have a say in how she is represented. I have to accept the fact that she is no longer a little girl and she should be able to choose the way that people interpret her actions. She has a personality, and (God help us) it is damn similar to mine.
Next, will come the lesson on digital citizenship and etiquette.
Before I could even get this first part posted comes the other question:
Why can I not get a (insert social media here)?
I am usually the “because you are too young now shut up and go away” parent. But this time I decided to be the “transformational leader”.
I should have stuck with what I knew.
Do you know how hard it is to explain digital marketing and business ownership to a pre-teen? It is full of, “So, what,” and, “I know that,” and, “All of my friends have it.” Seriously, let’s just forget the chapter about owning your own likeness, digital theft, and copyright.
“Do I really need to know all of this if all I want to do is have fun?”
Fuck. Yes. Little girl.
First of all, the world is a cruel place with shitty people looking to make a buck anywhere they can get it. And second, what is the first thing a potential employer or recruiter does before contacting you about a position?
They Google your name. That’s right, you may not get a call back at 20 because of the shit you did at 13 and thought it was funny. So please forgive the long-winded, passionate overprotective speech that your dear, caring father is giving you.
…and spare me the eye roll please.
Am I going to give you your own social media, yes — prohibition in the digital age will work just as well as prohibition in the 1940’s. But you are going to learn the rules, you are going to give me the password to your accounts, and you are going to get used to constantly looking over your back to spot me on my helicopter.
“Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang!” – John Proctor, The Crucible
Your last name is everything. It may not seem like it now, but it is one thing that will carry more with it than you can imagine. It is not only an identifier, but it is an identity. That is why it is extremely important that you take ownership of that last name very seriously.
You are your own company
Pick a company — any company you want. Would you purchase the company’s product if it had very bad reviews? Would you purchase products from a company that treated you in a negative way? Would you spend your hard-earned money on that company’s product if you knew that it would make you look like an idiot? I believe you would answer no to all of these questions.
Think about it, your last name is your company.
There are millions of people in the world that wish that they could own companies. They think about the possible financial freedom that comes with it, the awesomeness of being your own boss, and the ability to influence others within the “company.”
The problem is, they cannot keep their own names clean. Seriously, if your company sold a product that was intended to be used on infants, do you trust yourself enough to buy the product and use it on your own newborn. If the answer is no; you have to seriously analyze who you are as a person. Being able to think of yourself as a business is something that athletes have to learn. Some learn it the easy way, and some learn it the hard way. Either way, reality usually hits them like a ton of bricks. They often find out that becoming an athlete and making the team was the easiest part of the journey. They find that teachers, bosses, community members, and teammates hold them to a totally different set of expectations — higher expectations. Talent is not enough to get them through, they need hard work, a set of values and beliefs, and a moral compass. Those who step up to those expectations find that the journey may become a little easier for them. Those who choose to go the other direction often find themselves in trouble the institution and/or the law.
There is going to come a time in your life when you are going to need someone to help you achieve a goal. Maybe it is a recommendation for a position that you wish to have, or maybe you need to get into a program and want one of the “higher-ups” to put in a good word for you. Here is a question: Did you do everything you could to make sure that the person you are asking sees you in a positive light? Like I said before, your last name is everything; that person’s last name is everything to them. When you ask somebody for a recommendation, you are asking a person to put their name, credibility, and reputation on the line in order to vouch for you — that is a big deal.
But how are you to know whom you would need a recommendation from? You’re not, which is the reason why you should be very careful about burning bridges.
“It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and only a second to destroy it.”
Back in junior high, I decided to try my hand at organized basketball. It was the sport that I grew up around. The Dream Team was big at the time, and everyone in my neighborhood of us would go to the local park for a pick-up game where we would pretend to be one of the members. In my eighth-grade year, I was excited to try out for the junior high varsity squad.
This was going to be my year!
During tryouts, I would hustle for every loose ball, grab every rebound with authority, and make every type of impossible layup that I could to impress the coach. When tryouts were over. The coach said that he would deliberate and paste a list on the locker room floor. I left out of there feeling like I conquered the world — of course I made it!
Until hours later, when I, along with another friend and teammate were summoned into the head coaches’ office:
“Well, I am going to come right out and say it, you two are at the bottom of the varsity list, so I will give you a choice. You either can choose to be on varsity squad were you may not play very much — if at all, or you can play junior varsity as an 8th grader, where you will most likely start. I will give you a day to think about it.”
Both of us looked at each other and said in unison,
“Nope. We don’t need a day, We’ll play junior varsity.”
Truthfully, we did not give a shit which team we played on, we just wanted to play basketball.
Towards the middle of the season, I started noticing a guy sitting awkwardly in the bleachers after halftime of each home game. He would sit with his back on the above bleachers with his elbows pulled up, chest level rested on them — like he was sitting in a Laz-E-Boy. He was lightly swinging a bottle of Diet Coke in one hand, his legs were crossed, and he was wearing a red and light blue jumpsuit. The expression on his face was as if he did not have a care in the world.
Who in the Hell is this joker?!
Whose dad is this?
Each home game, I would often make jokes about the awkward, guy white-haired guy who sat mid-bleacher.
Until one day, one of the varsity players overheard me.
“Dude, that is Chuck White. That is the head coach of the East Anchorage Thunderbirds!”
I will take this time to add context —
The East Anchorage Thunderbirds are a storied team coached by a legend. They literally were the “New York Yankees of Alaska” — everyone loved to hate us. We are talking about a team that not only won the basketball boys state championship almost every year but also had players going to play college ball somewhere in the country. As far as anyone in our school was concerned, making a Thunderbird roster was making it out of any kind of negative environment that you were in.
And so, I found my mission: play junior varsity this year, impress the coach with my play while I had him in the audience during the second half, and make a Thunderbird roster when I got to high school.
And, wouldn’t you know it, my sophomore year, I, along with four others made the team.
Let me be clear, there were significant benefits to making the varsity team. You received:
A practice jersey with shorts,
Travel sweats with your jersey number,
A travel jacket and pants embroidered with your name and number (the same red and blue ones that I would see him wear when in junior high), and,
Team shoes. Yup. As a sophomore, I had arrived.
What I did not realize was, making the team would be the easiest part of this journey. In the three years that I was on the squad, Coach White would continue to teach me lessons that I would carry with me for the rest of my life.
Although you are small, you can still be mighty: I have no idea what Coach saw in me when he decided to put me on varsity sophomore year. I couldn’t shoot well, my free throw percentage was garbage, and at 5’11”, I played post — where everyone else was 6’2″ and up. Years later when I asked coached why he chose me, he said, “Just because you aren’t six-foot-five does not mean you can’t play like you are six-foot-five.”
Coach them hard, love them harder: A majority of the tactics employed by coach would not be accepted by parents today. He expected a lot from you both on, and off, of the court. If you were not able to perform, keep promises, or take care of responsibilities, he did not have time for you. Being part of his team meant playing your part a system that required maximum time and effort; not everybody was cut out for that system. But if you stayed around long enough, you knew that you were part of a brotherhood – something that was bigger than you.
A measure of a man is not by how much he uses profanity: Although this is true, I do use a lot of profanity still (Sorry, Chuck). Many would watch this man become splittingly mad (seriously, splittingly). But he would never curse. He would stomp his foot or hit his chair, exclaiming, “GOD BLESS IT!” But cursing was beneath him.
Although people are not perfect. It does not mean that you cannot expect it from your athletes. He would always say. “I know we can’t be perfect all of the time, but we can darn sure work towards it.” Coach paid attention to every detail, which is why his teams would execute every offensive and defensive play with precision.
If your athletes make mistakes, it is the coach’s lack of preparation: Coach did not take too kindly to losing; we barely ever did. But he knew that when we did lose, we were not prepared physically, or mentally. So he did everything he could to help us get another victory.
The “Our Father” prayer: He was careful to never participate with us. But he knew how important prayer was. So, every game, he would give us our pre-game talk, then quickly leave so that we had our moment of prayer.
Not to give a damn what other people thought: I have never seen a person who was hated, but loved; respected, yet revered; accepted, but feared. I thought those things could not go together. But they can. And truth be told, I don’t think he gave one damn who was on what side. I watched him chew a ref out, get kicked out of a game, then joke around with the same referee 15 minutes after the game had ended. He never took it personally.
Fake Hustle. This is something that he would yell constantly. (the other thing he would do – call you by your mother’s name while your mother sat behind you, laughing).
Every tough guy has a soft spot: East High teams were known for their defensive schemes. You had to be able to interpret a crazy numbering system he had and be able to carry out any directives to perfection. This system, when done correctly, made our team one of the most feared in the state. This meant that players had to be in their top physical condition in order to keep up with these demands.We ran.A lot.And after we ran, we ran some more.
But there was a way out of running — his daughter showing up to practice. We had finally found his kryptonite. She was the same age as I and would often go to the practices waiting for her father. When she did, he got a big smile on his face and eased up on the crushers. During classes, we would often beg her to show up at the end — before conditioning, of course.
It doesn’t matter if the other team knows your plays, winning is about execution: Anyone who has played for or against a Coach White team knows the plays 2 High (or 4 High), 4 Low, Kentucky, Open and Basic (there were a few others, but it really didn’t deviate from there). So why did they work? How was he so successful? Because there was a lot of autonomy in those plays. There was always an option B, C, and D if A did not work. He played chess while the opposing coach played checkers.
I could go on and on with the lessons both big and small that I learned from Coach White. But, I was not the only athlete that had the privilege to be under his care. Upon his passing, hundreds of men gave testimony to his caring, nurturing, and tough-as-nails discipline. His 914 wins, 18 state titles, and 81 percent winning average pails in comparison to the impact that he left on so many young men. He gave 45 years of coaching and mentorship to a community that so desperately needed it; his wife gave a piece of her husband and gained many sons; his daughter and son gave a piece of their father and gained many brothers. Learning of his death was a sad day for many. A pivotal figure in our lives went to heaven. What a gift he gave us all. Rest in paradise, Coach. We love you.
When I was in junior high, I had the opportunity to take part in an accelerated language arts program. This meant that I was able to handle a bigger workload and take on more responsibility. The teacher was a plump man with a round face, facial hair, and a ponytail that went down to the middle of his back. He looked like the type of guy who loved books.
No, I love books.
I mean, LOOOOVES books.
The first assignment he gave us on the very first day of school (really, who does that!) was to read Fahrenheit 451 within the first two weeks of school. As I shockingly gazed at the thickness of the book, along with the “further required reading” list that accompanied the book. I knew that this class wasn’t for me.
I went to my counselor.
So my counselor took me out of the program and placed me in one of the regular classes. I walked into the class and gave the transfer sheet to the teacher. This was no ordinary teacher, this was a woman — a black woman, which was weird because I had only ever once encountered a black female teacher throughout my academic career (at that point).
She took the slip from me.
“Mmmmm-hmm. You can sit over there.”
I sat — still in shock.
She had a personality that was bigger than life, she had a loud, booming voice, she had a slight southern twang to her voice, and she did not take shit from anyone.
…and I mean anyone.
To tell the truth, I was scared of this woman for the first quarter of the school year. Every time she asked for a volunteer, I sank a little lower in my seat. When she wanted one of the students to diagram a sentence, I would stare directly at my paper, trying my damnedest not to make eye contact. When it was time to go, I would hurriedly get my shit together and get the hell out of that room.
One day, everything changed. That day, I did not get my shit together fast enough.
“How come you never give the answer?”
“What do you mean?”
“I know you have the answer. I know you came from the accelerated class. You need to start answering the questions in class. Don’t hide your genius.”
I was confused as hell. Although I have been trying to avoid her, she has been paying attention to me.
“Tell your mom and your sister, I said hello.”
From that moment on, she would push me academically and personally. She would be one of the most influential people in my life — often giving me lessons not only on being a man but a black man as well. She would teach me about responsibility, she would teach me about perseverance, and she would also teach me about respect for myself and for others. I had a mother at home, and I had a mother at school.
What started out as a teacher to student relationship would years later become a relationship as colleagues as I was hired in the same district that I grew up in, and that she still taught in. What I did not know was that she was always looking out for me and doing what she could to give me every opportunity to succeed.
Sixteen years after I sat in her classroom, moved to another state, and started a family, I embarked on a mission to attain my doctoral degree. In the orientation class, we were tasked with writing a letter of appreciation to the person who got you to this point. To tell the truth, many helped me along the way. But there was one person who took it upon herself to not only discuss just how successful I could be but to hold me to a higher standard based on that potential.
I found out that Mrs. Francine Jackson passed away on May 11th. I never knew if she received that letter in particular, but I think she knew the impact that she would have on my life and the lives of countless students in our area. I can only hope that I am living my life in a way that would do her memory justice.
All teachers become educators to make a difference in the lives of their students. Tomorrow I will watch a student who became a friend, a friend who became a brother get married to the girl of his dreams. And, he chose me to be in his wedding. There are many awards that I could win for teaching. But, nothing will compare to the honor that I will have to share this experience with Cody and Kate. He often writes about how I was a mentor to him. What he does not understand is how much of an influence he has been on me and my career.
When I look back on my career I will remember the conversations that we had in the weight room about life, about love, and about sacrifice. I will remember the pimple face twerp who listened to my every word as if I knew what the hell I was talking about. And I will remember the day that he came to my home and told me that he had fallen in love and how this is definitely the one.
I hope I have made some type of influence on all of my students throughout my career. I may not have been your best, or favorite, teacher, but I hope that on some level we connected and that you learned something from me whether that was from the content or just from life.
Earlier this year, My oldest daughter and I had a conversation about leadership on and off the basketball court. Since her father is very long winded, she got more than she wanted:
Okay. you want to be a leader, then be a leader. But be careful; you will be criticized for your decisions. Everybody wants to take a leadership role until it is time for the criticism. As soon as the criticism comes, they will tuck their tale and hide in the shadows. Don’t hide from it; Learn from it. Use it to make yourself and the people around you better.
If you want to be a leader, then take adversity head on. If you are truly right about something, then you have to fight for it; be smart about how you choose to fight. Choose craftiness over brute force.
If you want to be a leader, then know that there are two things that are extremely dangerous to you, and to your group – sincere ignorance, and conscientious stupidity. Eliminate both.
If you want to be a leader, you need to be dynamic. Know the differing types of leadership and apply the correct type of leadership as situations arise. Find a balance between using data and using your heart in decision making. Too much data, and people will think that you are cold, too much heart, and people will think you are blinding yourself to what is right in front of you.
If you want to be a leader, then represent the whole. Leaders never speak as individuals, they are always representative of the team. Give the team the credit when things go right, take the blame when things go wrong. When they do go wrong, first look at yourself as part of the problem, then assess if there are people who are the problem – deal with them head on. If you have something to say, then say it to their faces. Never hide amongst the faction – that’s cowardice.
If you want to lead, then be quiet and lead by example. Anybody can be loud and demanding to get things done. Leaders themselves do what needs to be done. Leaders influence others without them knowing that they are being lead. They lead because there is a need. When people see you are willing fulfill that need, they will follow. When you choose to speak up, speak up for things that you are passionate about and are willing to sacrifice for – you may be called to do so.
If you want to lead, then don’t expect a leadership title. Leaders don’t need titles. Even if you get a title, nobody gives a damn. Leaders are leaders because they work harder than the rest. Make sure you work hard when people are not looking at you; share your hard work when they are. You do not need a statue to tell you how nice you are. Let others talk about your work ethic; you don’t need to proclaim it. Work behind the scenes.
If you want to be a leader, then expect to sacrifice greatly. You will sacrifice time; you will need it to perfect your craft. You will sacrifice friends; your friends will see the path you’ve chosen and understand. You will sacrifice relationships unless you choose people who are on your path and/or have common interests. It will be trying, but remember – the difference between a moment and a movement is sacrifice.
If you want to lead, then expect the haters. You will have critics everywhere. People will say, “Well, I would’ve done it this way…” But don’t listen – they’ve never done it. When asked to step up, they never will.
If you want to lead, then expect to be alone. Not so much “by yourself” physically (that will also happen), but mentally. You are carving out a path, and that path holds uncertainty. Uncertainty is uncomfortable. Uniformity is comfortable. If you want to lead, always choose uncertainty.
Leadership is not easily attained and is even harder to keep. Leadership isn’t for everyone. So, if you choose to follow, that’s okay. Just choose who you follow wisely. Don’t let someone tell you that they are leading you to the mountain top, only to find yourself in a crevasse.
Something tells me that she will never ask for advice again…