40to40: 40 posts for 40 days until turning 40
Below is an excerpt of a piece I wrote for Tribes Magazine. It was sparked by the debate over some comments that Bill Cosby made at an event. This stuck out to me to share because I still eat at that Bojangles by Saint Augustine’s University Campus. There are still community elders there. On any given day you can be given or overhear some of the most interesting insights you will ever be exposed to. I’ve learned that you may not always understand it initially, but there is value there. I still believe it is in those spaces and at those moments that I find the real gems. Leaders, pundits, and trailblazers have earned the platform they have. But you have to also consider that there are also folks who have lived, worked, and fought each day for a better way that can provide you with just as much wisdom.
Now I am not here to spend more unnecessary time dissecting his speeches. We’ve heard the same comments from our parents, grandparents, and any other important elder in our lives. They all lament the state of young people today considering them a generation lost. I know Mr. Cosby is not alone. There are other “Cosbyists” (as I call them) who share some of the same views. They see our state as a direct result of a lack of parenting, mentoring, community, goals, sense of achievement, motivation, and vision. Many are our privileged black middle and upper class that look at the lower middle and lower class and say “carry your weight.”
Now, I am not writing this to agree or disagree. I’m here to ask what is the big deal? Is it that Bill is one of our favorite icons that we spend so much attention on speeches no different than Sunday dinner conversation at Big Mama’s? Is it because there is a fascination with black culture and our experiences, including our dirty laundry? I am here to say I gain so much more from the people who actually live this reality and have a more practical understanding of our everyday struggles than the results of research or products of philanthropy. The people we meet in grocery stores, at restaurants, at community meetings, demonstrations, college campuses, and at holiday dinners.
Let me give an example. I was sitting in Bojangles having just finished my lunch and was working through some concepts for a new piece. A man sitting at the next table saw me with my journals on the table and asked if I was a student. He began to talk about the value of education and his 4 kids that finished or were in college. He had one chemist, one potential chemist, a med school student, and an aspiring lawyer. He seemed to be a hardworking blue-collar father wearing a “super dad” tee shirt. He proceeded to offer me tidbits of knowledge that he had passed on to his children while pushing them to exceed. These were tidbits that inspired them to get the best grades possible and benefit from the doors that opened for them. This is someone who didn’t have money or academic intellectualism to give his children, just love, advice, and support within the framework of a system he saw for what it was. Below are some of the gems he gave to me.
There are eaters and there are readers. In this world there are too many readers. When faced with knowledge you have to decide to eat. You can’t be a spectator. Try going to a restaurant and just reading the menu. It doesn’t fill you up. By the same token, our leaders have to feed us. We need something substantial and practical.
Your faith is yours. You define what it is and how it manifests in your life. You don’t need anyone to tell you how to be a faithful person. You don’t need anyone to tell you about your relationship with your higher power. If we answer to the same father why does he have to keep telling you what to say to me? I can talk to him myself.
You send your child off to school to get an education but you make them smart at home. This system wasn’t made for us so you have to prepare your kids to overcome the obstacles set in their path. You need to value education, but also understand the system we live in and the challenges it presents to youth of color.
Leaders make flunkies out of followers. Look at a pack of birds flying south. They form a V and it seems the bird at the peak of the V is the leader. Not if you look closer. You will notice that when that bird gets tired he falls back and another takes his place (He then added an exclamation point with an “Oh my goodness”).
We are the beacons of light. Your heart is the switch that turns that light on. We have to remember that light and shine it whenever we can. It is a gift from heaven, the key to our happiness and the answer to relating to others. If you meet someone and there is no connection, if the switch isn’t working…leave it alone.
At the end, I left that Bojangles feeling like I learned something. Not just from the words he gave me, but the sincerity in which he spoke. I valued the conversation, not knowing the reason he offered the advice. I do know that he said that we meet people for a reason and to be open to the lesson. That day I learned more from him than I could ever learn from “Mr Huxtable” or any popular conservative. These are the lessons that make us the successes we are while Mr. Cosby just gives out a scholarship or passes accolades to those who listened to the voices closest to them.
God bless each one.