Can’t afford to wait,
The future started yesterday
We’re already late.”
-John Legend, If You’re Out There
I’ve learned in my career as a teacher that the most important influences on people are their peer group. With that in mind, I owe you a debt and my thanks. You have, since we met those many years ago walking The Walk and Stepping up, been a mentor, friend, role model, brother and guide in my own journey to adulthood.
The email you wrote to some of us when Barack (yes, I feel like I know him) clinched the democratic nomination made me both proud and humble to have been a recipient, and energetic and enthused that I shared your excitement and your passion.
“Listening to his speech was one of the proudest and most defining moments in my life. The entire time he was speaking all I could do was think about all the injustices that black men have endured. I reflected on the opportunities denied; the police brutality; the ‘unjust’ justice system; the Tuskegee airmen who couldn’t get jobs as pilots after returning from war; the discrimination cases we’ve lost (we all have family or friends who’ve experienced it); the Rodney King verdict; Black Wall Street; the lynchings . . .
I thought of all we’ve had to endure for hundreds of years and how we’ve all seen/heard our elders cringe or frown at the mention of there one day being a black president. It was like white folks talking about going to the moon in the ’60s. Then I thought about all of YOU. All the black men I have encountered in my life that have inspired me and lifted me to greater heights. I began to think of how each of you have overcome impossible odds and obstacles in your own right…to get where you are. Then I realized, looking at Obama (speaking proudly, strongly and eloquently with thousands of black, white, female, Latino and Asian people cheering vigorously) that HE IS US!!! He was representing US!! Those black men who have striven despite stereotypes; that have been the ‘only black’ in the class…on the job…in that position, etc. Barack was not some n***a rapping on stage with gold chains, or holding a bible with a perm and shiny suit on (although I love and respect the rappers and preachers), but he was just an intelligent, hard-working, ambitious black man.
For the first time in my life, I saw YOU and ME on television…and America was cheering for us and supporting us to run the country!! Do you feel me? At that moment, for those 10-15 minutes that he spoke, I felt years of pain (yours, mine and our ancestors) melt away and give way to renewed hope, dreams and aspirations. Now we all know that whether he wins or not, it will not change the overall condition of blacks in America. But what I do know is that he has changed me. He has re-charged my battery. He has given me a boost to try harder, expand my horizons, think more strategically and see how I can become a greater role model to those who will come after me. I also believe he has done the same for most, if not all of you.
Well, he won.
I find myself looking at magazines, startled by the reality that we now have a black President-elect of the United States. It seems to be an afterthought, yet it is so front and center because it is part and parcel of who WE is. And that energy, that re-charged battery, that boost that you and he have given me have shifted my horizons.
I find myself asking now, when I hear that he’s appointed the first black attorney general, how can I help? We’ve been, you and I, traveling a path that’s about handling our business. We’re both educating the next generation of leaders, and doing our damndest to raise children who will stand higher and go further because they have our shoulders (and his) to stand on. Are we next taking our lives to Washington, D.C.?
When we began our journey, that middling day in Sproul Hall’s 2nd floor rec room, we were focused on representing the blue and white, looking for the social activities that would entertain us, trying to get to class, get the notes, get some dinner, and get to step practice. But we were also doing community service, packing Thanksgiving dinners for the homeless and the down’n out, painting classrooms in under-funded schools, delivering Christmas in April with that university across town, figuring out how we’d make the impact that our parents and grandparents made.
Here’s our chance.
I don’t know how and where we will go from here, but I know that we’re going. I feel like back then, we had the energy (my case) or the talent (your case), but we hadn’t quite put together the two with our intellect and our passion. In our advancing youth, I feel like we’re in the position now to do something. We’ve been working feverishly (and successfully) to get Brother Barack elected. Now we need to continue working to help Brother Barack be effective. And I have faith that we can, because we’ve shown that we possess the will.
From three UCLA Championships in a row to electing and re-electing the first black President in the history of the United States, you’ve helped and guided me, been a friend and mentor. I say thank you. From your email, I garner that maybe I’ve helped you a little . . . it’s a humbling thought. But since we are peers, since we are contemporaries, since there are many in our brotherhood who fall into the same category – young, intelligent, motivated, grounded, articulate, handsome, efficient, black, fathers, brothers, sons, teachers, lawyers, students, philosophers, believers, supporters, leaders . . . men, I think this is our time, specifically. We can marry our passions, talents, intellects and energy to sustain the wave that has been built, to be the change that we’ve talked about for so long, to insure that we are truly serving our community both by our service and by our example.
We are living in historic times. But as you said, Barack’s election doesn’t mean the end of hard times. The current administration continues to insure that the pit is deep, the inheritance short, that the road is rough . . . his election is only the end of the beginning. There are many more deeds to be done. And ours are the hands to do them.
A luta continua . . .