Our sons are imploding on themselves. Across all ethnic and social groups, these young men-children are imploding AND WE ARE STANDING AROUND WATCHING AS IF THIS MESS WAS A QUENTIN TERANTINO MOVIE AND NOT REAL LIFE. If we are waiting for "the government" to "change" things, we are fighting a losing battle. The village needs to rise up again. The young men are sending us all of the signals we need that they are drowning and we are standing around with life vests in our hands WATCHING THE TIDE TAKE THEM OVER.
PARENTS/TEACHERS/COUNSELORS/COACHES/MENTORS: If you parent/mentor/teach a man-child who is a loner, spends hours playing video games, watches hours of violent television/movies, suffers from manic depression, is bullied, is fascinated by weapons (guns, knives, etc.), doesn't talk to you or anyone, spends hours developing his on-screen persona, THREATENS TO TAKE HIS LIFE OR OTHERS ---THESE ARE RED FLAGS. I'm not saying every young man who fits the descriptions above is a killer in training, but I am saying THOSE ARE SIGNS. If my son suddenly had trouble breathing, that's a sign something is wrong. I'm not waiting to see if something else goes wrong with him, all I need is ONE SIGN and I am investigating with all of the power my body and mind possesses. We will miss signs. We're human. But when the signs are FLASHING in our eyes, blinding us, how can we continue to ignore them?
WE DON'T NEED LEGISLATION TO FIGURE OUT OUR YOUNG MEN ARE DROWNING! THE VILLAGE NEEDS TO RISE UP AND RECLAIM OUR YOUNG MEN AGAIN.
I don't wait for the young men I teach to "come to me" if they have a problem anymore. I look for the signs, and I pounce. I don't have that kind of luxury to wait for them to realize they are drowning anymore because these men-children are not waiting on us anymore. They are crying out and acting out in ways that brings closure to the lives of others as well as their own.
While I wait, my classroom could easily turn into a blood bath. We see it on television every week, sometimes every day. I can't wait for my leaders to lead us out of this wilderness. I love living too much, and I love seeing life radiating on the faces of my students way too much to wait for my government or my employer or anyone else to FIX THE PROBLEM with band-aids and duct tape. And the overwhelming feeling I experience every day I walk into the classroom is, even with all of the precautions I take for myself and my students, we are still at risk. We are still on the frontlines with nothing but slingshots made out of useless rhetoric spoken by politicians and news people who don't even have a clue.
On average, I am responsible for 90+ students every semester. I am responsible for making sure that 180 +/- parents get to hold their child again after the semester is over. The days of throwing signals and hints to them to "share with me" if they are struggling has passed. While I'm waiting for them to get brave enough to approach me, I and my students could all be dead and gone. If I can see with my natural eyes that I have students, particularly male students--no matter the hue of their skins--who are coming apart at the seams, I run not walk to them, and engage them in nonjudgmental conversation. I give them my phone number if I see they are without a support system. I tell them, call me and I will not judge you. I encourage them to get counseling. And when necessary, I alert the powers that be that WE have a troubled man-child or girl-child in our village and WE have to do something to help them.
WE HAVE TO SEE THEM AGAIN. We have to stop being afraid of gathering them up in our protective wings. We have to stop being afraid of pissing off a teenager or a young adult by getting "in their business." We have to stop trying to be their "friends." That doesn't mean we can't be friendly, but these men-children need authority figures who care and are offering help and solutions more than they need a "buddy." We have to stop waiting for laws and laws and more laws to FIX what is wrong with our men-children. THEY ARE BROKEN. THEY ARE BROKEN. They are broken and no single law alone is going to fix their brokenness.
We see them drowning and we do nothing. Gun laws alone will not fix the problem. Mental health laws alone will not fix the problem. Putting warning labels on video games and movies alone will not fix the problem. Parents and teachers and neighbors have to re-engage with our young men. That means, we correct them. We challenge them. We support them. We love them and we DON'T judge them according to their zip codes. We love them because they are a part of our village and our village includes all parts of this country, not just the the dot on the map where we live.
WE HAVE TO RE-ENGAGE THE VILLAGE. THE VILLAGE HAS TO RECLAIM OUR MEN-CHILDREN AGAIN BECAUSE RIGHT NOW -- we are losing them.
It has been nine years since my daddy died. Nine years! I can’t believe it sometimes. There are mornings when I will wake up and reach for the phone to call him and then realize – he’s gone. Oh, I know all of the things we tell ourselves. ”He’s not really gone. He still lives in you.” I hear the words, but the bottom line is, sometimes I just want a hug from him. Sometimes I want to hear his wisdom. Sometimes I don’t want to be the one who has to have the answers. I actually remember when Daddy was my age. I was a little girl. He seemed so much older and wiser than I feel at this same age. He wasn’t without fault, but when it came to my questions, he seemed to know everything. Daddy, why is the sky blue? Daddy, what does God’s voice sound like? Daddy, how far is it to the end of the universe?
Of course, he didn’t have answers to questions like those, but he had a way of explaining things to my young childish mind that I was satisfied to not wonder anymore about things that were not easily explained – at least for a time. I fear that I do not have that same ability he had. Sometimes, my sons will turn to me for wisdom and insight and all I want to do is ask my daddy to tell me what to say to them. Sometimes I think about my future grandchildren and I wonder, what life lessons can I impart to them to help them become stronger – braver? I don’t know. And that scares me at times. I want to be their rock. I want to be their guiding hand. I pray that when that day comes, instinctively, I will know what to do and say.
A few days ago I spoke to my Aunt Lenora on the phone, and she said she was the last living member of her side of the Jackson family. I heard within her voice the fear and the loneliness of being the last elder standing in a long line of amazing people. As the matriarch of our family, we expect Aunt Lenora to always be brave and fearless. We expect her to always be knowledgeable about every question we might have. Yet, we forget. Like the rest of us, she was a little girl once who looked up to the heroes and she-roes in our family. She ran around outside and played with her siblings and cousins. She sat in front of her mother, the woman we lovingly called Big Mama, and asked her all of the questions little girls ask their mamas. She ran behind her daddy, Daddy Red, and hung on to his every word. Now, she must be the elder of our family. I know at times it must be overwhelming to be the one everyone comes to for answers. My conversation with her allowed me to have a greater understanding of what it really means to be an elder. Elders are wise, but they are also vulnerable, just like the rest of us.
We sometimes take for granted that when we reach some magical age we will be wise and ready to face anything life might send our way. But the older I get, the more I realize, we are all still just babes. Our hair might show white strands of wisdom, but when it is all said and done, no matter what our ages, we still crave someone to be just a little wiser than we are. We want those loving arms of someone older to wrap us up in an embrace that says, “Don’t worry. I’ve got you.” We want those things when we are seven and we want it when we are seventy-five.
I miss those days when my daddy was able to solve all of my problems with a reassuring look and a full-on loving hug. I pray my children and grandchildren will feel that safety I always felt in my daddy’s embrace. I hope that, in me, they will find some of the same traits I found in the the elders who helped to raise me to be the woman I have become.
In memory of Trayvon Martin
Today, as I think about Trayvon Martin, and young Black men all over this country like him who have been “counted out,” I realize I am fortunate. I am one of a few Black professors at a predominantly white university and over the last two semesters, I have had close to ten Black male students (all athletes) in my Freshman English classes, and thankfully, I see a future for them. I can close my eyes, and literally, I can imagine them in board rooms, clinics, hospitals, classrooms, and yes, football and basketball courts. Oh, I know what I’ve been told. Other teachers have warned me that these young men are not going to succeed. They’re dumb. They don’t try. They want something for nothing. They are intimidating and rude towards teachers, and all they want to do is play ball. Well, let me tell you this. ALL of my Black, male students these last two semesters passed my classes with Bs and better and not one (No not one) ever “sassed” me or acted in any way other than gentlemanly. How, might you ask, did these young “statistics” do so well in your class? Not because I didn’t grade them hard. Trust me on that. In fact, if you ask them, they would probably tell you I pushed them harder than any other student in the class. Maybe I did. Maybe I did because I was told by my daddy many, many years ago that black folks have to work harder than any other race of people just to receive half of the success. Is that argument still valid today? Depends on who you ask. But let’s just say, I teach my Black students (particularly my male students) to be prepared for anything—in the classroom or in “real life.” I try to impart to them my daddy’s wisdom that he shared with me and his grandsons. “Respect yourself.” “Respect your elders.” “Whatever you do, do it with a willing heart and a cheerful face.” And, of course, “go into a situation assuming you will have to PROVE you are worthy to be there (no matter where there is).”
So, yes, I demand excellence from them, just like I do any other student in my class, but with them, I know it is my duty to let them know things are going to be difficult – extremely difficult, in most cases. Therefore, I do not accept excuses. Period. I don’t care if they come from the Hood or Park Avenue. One semester, one of my Black male students emailed me his little girl didn’t have a babysitter so he couldn’t come to class. I emailed him back and told him to pack up all of her things: diapers, bottles, toys, etc. and get his butt to class on time. I also told him he better take good notes during class AND he better keep her quiet so she doesn’t disturb me or the other class members. I am proud to say, he accomplished all three things. Was I too tough on him? Should I have just been happy he was a young Black male trying to be a good dad? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I wanted this young man to know that yes, I was proud of him for taking care of his fatherly duties, but school was a duty as well, and it was up to him to make it work. I am proud to say this young man not only “made it work,” he will be graduating soon, and I am sure, there will be a smiling little girl in the audience clapping her hands for her daddy as he walks across the stage – the first in his family.
I try to Conference with all of my students in all of my classes near the beginning of the semester. I want to get to know them on a personal level, if possible. I always tell my Black male students I expect better than their best because they have a generation on their heels that will need their leadership and their counsel. But, don’t get me wrong. I also offer them my Mommy ears. Many of them are away from their Moms for the first time, so I often get treated like the surrogate mom. I don’t mind it. My prayer, always is, if I can’t be there for my sons, please allow there to be some other mama who can step up and offer them some motherly words of wisdom. So when these young men come to me, I listen to their fears, their concerns and their worries, because I know what it is like to be “one of the only Black students” at a predominantly White school. I know what it feels like to wonder, “Am I good enough?” or “Should I really be here?”
To my fellow teachers (regardless of your ethnicity, social and economic level, gender, sexual orientation, etc.): These young men might enter your classroom looking angry, bored, hostile, etc. Don’t buy it. They are only wearing that mask in order to protect themselves. They are afraid you are going to “punk them,” “make fun of them,” and/or “shame them.” So, before you can GET them, they try to GET you. Therefore, I challenge you – reach out to these young men and let them know they can remove their masks in your classroom, because in your classroom, masks are not required.
It’s growing close to the anniversary of the death of my daddy’s physical body. I’ll never forget the day he transitioned to the other side -- the day my beloved daddy, M.C. Jackson, exited this world to go join the elders who had gone on before him...his mama, daddy, sister and brothers. His sister-in-laws, cousins, best friends, nieces and nephews.
I know Heaven was jumping on that day he showed up. "Hey Lonnie, is that your brother M.C.?" someone asked, probably Mr. J.W. or Mr. Sonny Boy. Uncle Lonnie squinted, I'm sure, as he tried to get a good look. "Sure walks like him. Hey Preacher, is that you?" Uncle Lonnie called out. He used to call everyone Preacher, especially Daddy. "Yeah, it's me," Daddy called back. "Is that you, Lonnie?" Neither waited for confirmation. Both brothers, no longer encumbered by aches and pains, took off running towards each other. "My brother," they both said quietly as they embraced. And before you know it, there came Uncle J.C., Comer, Tony, Aunt Georgia Mae, Big Mama, Grandma Georgia and Grandpa Lee. All celebrating. All laughing and pounding Daddy on the back saying, "Welcome home, boy. Welcome, home."
If I think about Daddy dying and the story becomes a great homecoming for him, well, how can I be sad about that? But more often than not, I think about his final day, and my final day to spend with him. Below is a poem I wrote to commemorate that day when my world stopped for a time.
Daddy went to sleep.
That was it.
No grand speeches.
No fond farewells.
No wink of the eye.
No “Hang in there, kid.”
I was expecting more.
I had prepared myself for one last
But there was only a quiet.
A final in…a final out…and then
My best friend closed his eyes
I know you haven’t left me, Daddy…not really. But sometimes, I just want to reach out and touch your hand. Feel those callused, rough hands smooth away the tears I feel on my face now as I write. Have you take those hands and rub away the worry lines on my forehead as you tell me to stop frowning or I'll get wrinkles for sure. I want to look into your eyes and see the love I know you feel for me even with this great distance that exists between us. I want to smell that scent that is uniquely you…Ivory soap, tobacco, sweat from your day’s toil, and yes, a bit of the dark liquor that we both knew you drank because your life was no storybook and oftentimes, taking a little “nip” was the only way you knew to cope. I want to feel your arms embrace me, letting me know that if every person on earth forsakes me, you will always have my back.
Daddy, I would never pray for you to come back from where you are…you suffered so much in your latter days, what type of daughter would I be to call you back, even if I could call you back. But I do wish you’d whisper to me a little louder some days. Speak my name through the wind so that I know that distant breeze is meant just for me. Fly over me in the body of an eagle, so I know that even on my worst days of missing you, you are right here with me just like you said you would be. So death, back up, you have no sting.