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11 Vital Life Strategies Every Young Black Man Needs to Know Right Now.
So, I’m really sitting down today to write this article for my handsome, funny, 4-year-old son so he has some archived words of wisdom from his father when he becomes a man. My true hope is that he will listen, learn, and avoid some of the traps that his “old man” and other black men have fallen into in the past.
I write this article not only because I love my son and don’t want him to fail, I also love our black community enough to write about some tough issues that require a great degree of self-reflection and painful transparency. No, this article will not win me any fan mail or NAACP indorsements. So be it.
Newsflash: The Black community is in a state of extreme crisis right now that appears to be systematically and hopelessly spiraling out of control.
But you already knew that. Right?
But more specifically, our young black men are in a free fall state in this country. If you’ve been following the news for any reasonable period of time, you know that we’re at combative odds with essentially everyone: law enforcement, the media, the White House, the purse-clutching old lady on the elevator, and sadly enough … with ourselves.
We’ve essentially devolved from the great Martin Luther King and the powerful 1960s civil rights movement to trap houses, mumble rap, twerking teenage girls, exponential abortion rates, and homicide numbers in America’s largest cities that easily rival American military casualties in Vietnam and Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan. That’s insane!
The question is: how did we get here?
Have you ever mistakenly programmed the wrong address into your GPS and finally realize that it’s trying to send you to Boston, Ohio … instead of Boston, Massachusetts? That’s where many of us as black males are today: following GPS coordinates that were programmed for us generations and generations ago, and are still sending us to the wrong destination. Even worse, we tend to disparage or vilify those who attempt to mentor or call out those activities or characteristics that keep us headed toward mediocrity, poverty, and ultimate failure in life.
Why are brothers in our community who work hard to get an education or better themselves through traditional hard work and sweat called sell-outs or soft? There’s a plain and simple answer to that: perpetual negative social programming.
So what do we do?
It’s not rocket science, but it does take life-changing effort and dedication. And no … most young black men in crisis won’t have the internal drive or motivation to change their course in life without a coach or mentor kicking them in the ass every day. Like the GPS programmed to send you to the wrong city of Boston, our young black men have to be reprogrammed and set on the correct trajectory.
Remember that brother from the neighborhood whose Mom basically forced him to join the Army or Marines because he was either on a fast path to prison or the cemetery? Do you remember him disappearing off of the face of the earth for six to eights weeks, before finally reappearing at the corner store or at a friend’s party — squared away, standing a little taller, and sounding a little sharper cognitively?
Yep, that was the beauty of reprogramming that you witnessed there.
Unfortunately for way too many of us, our pastor, football coach, or military basic training drill sergeant will serve as the first influential male figure in our lives. The first male that is more than willing to get in our faces and tell us that we’re screwed up and need to get our *hit together if we want to be anything in life.
The direct, honest, and aggressive form of “mentoring” acts as a shock to the system for many of us and helps “reset and reprogram the GPS” if you will.
This article is certainly not a cloaked advertisement for the U.S. Armed Forces, but I will say that the military has saved as well as propelled the lives of many of our young black men for decades. Many troubled young black men in the past were told by a judge inside a tense courtroom that they had a choice of either joining the military or going to jail … you can easily guess which decision they chose.
But many of these same men went on to become successful professional soldiers and are now retired and excelling in the corporate world. All because they had a blunt, aggressive form of intervention in their lives at the right time, and by the right mentor.
I’m not saying that the military is the only solution for our misguided black men today … but I do believe that void of deliberate and methodical discipline and mentorship of any kind, many of our young men will continue down the inevitable path of destruction. And yes, there are wonderful single black mothers out there who are providing that effective, gritty, in-your-face discipline that we all need for success in life. But the news only reports the net results and effects of those men who don’t have that system in place. The drive by shootings, gang activity, homicides, drug overdoses, home invasions, baby momma drama, and the list continues.
This article will draw a considerable amount of fire from readers who choose to continue to blame “the white man” or society for the problems that we are having in our community right now. Yes, many of these variables serve as incredibly limiting factors to some degree, but none of them will be able to argue the fact that something drastic and urgent must be done if we are going to survive the next couple of decades. Regardless of our past, the excuses or finger-pointing, WE are ultimately responsible for initiating real change in our young men and communities. And that, ladies and gentlemen … falls squarely on our shoulders to fix. No one else’s … not government, law enforcement, the education system, the NAACP, Al Sharpton, Congresswomen Maxine Waters, Santa Clause, or the tooth fairy.
If our GPS plants us square in the middle of Boston, Ohio when we needed to be in Boston, Massachusettss; we can choose to blame Garmin, TomTom, or even the vehicle that we drove to get us there. But we will still remain in the wrong Boston until we take responsibility for our own actions and re-program the GPS correctly.
I believe that these following 11 life strategies are essential disciplines for our young black men today and need to be taught at the earliest age possible and of course, within reason. Love it or hate it … they will be taught to my son.
1. The CPT Stereotype Isn’t Funny! So Stop Perpetuating It.
Stop reading this article for 1 minute and set your watch 5 minutes ahead so you arrive on time to appointments and meetings — every time.
Remember that people judge you by your punctuality. “Colored People Time” is a racist phrase for a reason — because many of us chronically show up to meetings, appointments, church, and activities late. Hell … I once watched a sista’ walk into a movie theater with her three kids in tow–damn near at the half-way point of the movie. Don’t afford others the opportunity or satisfactory of excusing our actions because of this “unspoken” expectation. When you show up on time or ahead of time … you tell people that you’re serious about what you’re doing and should be taken seriously in kind. When you show up late to important meetings or events – you lose your “seat at the table” and in turn, lose you credibility. And let’s face it y’all … these are two things we can’t afford to forfeit as black people.
When you show up late to important meetings or events – you lose your “seat at the table” and in turn, lose you credibility. And let’s face it y’all … these are two things we can’t afford to forfeit as black people.
2. Change Your View of Success and Value. An “On-Fire” Community Volunteer With $100 in His Bank Account is More Valuable To Me Than a Social Leech With a $1.7 Million Bugatti in His Garage.
As you probably already know, American business magnate, investor, and philanthropist Warren Buffet is worth roughly $30 billion. He lives in a modest house in a middle class neighborhood, and drives around in a 2006 Cadillac XTS, that he purchased for $42,000 cash. Notice I said “drives around” … yep, he doesn’t employ a chauffeur to drive him around town in Omaha, Nebraska. The interesting thing is that most of us wouldn’t recognize Warren Buffet if we walked past him on the street today – yet he is one of the richest men on the face of the earth. Mr. Buffet doesn’t have to prove to you, me, or anyone else that he’s rich … that’s not important to him. He invests his time and efforts into things that have true value: family, great investments and philanthropic work.
Too many of us define success by the number of gold chains around our neck and the cars that we drive instead of investing in the things that matter — like education, family, and community. We value bling more than the church and spirituality. Many of us can fund a few semesters of college with the amount of cash we spend on new rims for our ride, clothes, jewelry, and Air Jordan sneakers. These things will eventually wear out and get tossed out however, your education and acquired skills will lead to a career and progressive income instead of a short-term appearance of success.
3. Stop Having Kids Out of Wedlock Dammit! It’s Destroying the Black Community.
During a conversation about problems in the African-American community, a popular CNN anchor stated, “just because you can have a baby, doesn’t mean you should.” He also went on to point out that more than 72 percent of African-American children are born out-of-wedlock. Although he faced a fire-storm of criticism from many who felt that his comment was insensitive and myopic … the truth is, he was spot-on. This goes back to the GPS programming theory: our community perpetuates a practice that “keeps on giving” if you will. The cycle of poverty and social failure will never end as long as we keep popping out children without stable families and solid support systems that put them on the right path. Black “intellectuals” citing socioeconomic statistics and blaming slave owners from 1619 is psychologically and emotionally satisfying, but not incredibly productive. Worst yet, impregnating a women who you have no intentions of building a life and family with — while leaving her on government assistance to raise your kid on her own is irresponsible, and has nothing to do with slavery, Jim Crow, white supremacy, or President Donald Trump. Bottomline: It just makes you an *ss-hole and part of our social economic problem. Be a man. Real men take care of their families. “Smart men” don’t start families until they can adequately support them.
The impacts are real. Read this Washington Post piece by Valerie Strauss. [Washington Post]
4. Hustle. Hustle. Hustle … and Outwork Everyone Around You.
The black man generally has to live with an abundance of damaging stereotypes every day. I think the one stereotype that bothers me the most is the one that says, “black males are lazy and unproductive.” Mind you, I’ve seen “lazy” people from every race in my lifetime, but I’ve lived my life out working everyone around me so supervisors and co-workers can’t use that excuse to marginalize my achievements or contributions to the job or organization. Out-working everyone around you means going above and beyond what is expected of you. Not just barely meeting expectations. It means exceeding expectations every opportunity you have. Doing this puts everyone on notice that you’re to be taken seriously and that you intend on expanding and accelerating your personal brand.
5. Treat Every Women You Meet Like You Want Other Men to Treat Your Mother.
Women are to be respected and honored [Period]. The fact that some of them don’t live up to that respect is on them, not you. That means women should never be called “hoes” or any other “cute” name referenced in any popular Little Wayne, Two Chainz, or Drake song today. A women brought you into this world and nurtured you to where you are in life right now. That deserves a special place of honor in our society. When you objectify, mistreat, abuse, and disrespect women, we not only devalue what it means to be a women, but it devalues everyone in our community. In addition, it teaches other races that our women have no true value to us [outside of sexual pursuits] and subconsciously invites others to do the same. Do you really want that for your mother? Yep, I didn’t think so.
6. Don’t Run Away From the Law, Learn How to Use It.
Yes, there are systemic problems with many of our law enforcement agencies in America right now and specifically, public engagement inequalities when dealing with African-Americans. These are matters that must be addressed at the local, state, and national level. However, I believe that “most” law enforcement officers are there to do the right thing and serve the public. I know many good police officers who would give their lives for our safety. I also believe that 50 percent of the negative engagements between black men and law enforcement that reach the levels that we see on CNN, could have been prevented with better behavioral strategies and rules of engagement. Here are mine:
- Police officers wear body cameras as evidential material if their actions or the subjects actions are called in question in a court of law. As a citizen, you also have every right to buy a vehicle camera or body camera to ensure that your civil liberties aren’t trampled on. However, cameras don’t give you the right to act like an *ss-hole. *ss-holes are despised by everyone … law enforcement included.
- Visit and speak with a trusted attorney in your town and ask them if you can have a few of their cards to keep on your person. During an engagement with police that you feel is getting out of control. Always show them your personal identification if requested, but also hand them the attorney’s card as an additional form of validation. Mind you, if you are in the wrong — an attorney’s business card won’t be of any value to you at that point. But if you happen to run into a bad cop who is operating outside of ethical lines, this non-threatening gesture puts them on notice that you know your rights and also know how to contact someone who makes a living from protecting them.
- Learn about The Fourth Amendment (Amendment IV). The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. It also requires governmental searches and seizures to be conducted only upon issuance of a warrant, judicially sanctioned by probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized. Yes, these are lessons we probably slept through in civics class in high school but our national situation is too serious not to know your rights as a citizen now. Especially as a black man. That means that police can’t just search you person or residence without probable cause. Probable cause is basically strong evidence that a crime has been committed and more importantly, that you are the brother who did it.
7. Memorize This Phrase if a Police Officer Engagement Goes Terribly Wrong.
First, follow “every” command that police officers give you during a traffic stop or on the streets. Your ego at the time is not worth occupying a drawer at the county morgue tonight. Leave the Tupac-thug posturing and chest-beating to the low-intelligence brothers. You have a life to live. Remember, police officers just want to get home in one piece just like anyone else … don’t give ’em a reason to think that goal will be put into jeopardy during your engagement. It’s not being a punk, or weak … it’s being smart and alive. It just doesn’t make sense to start beef with anyone with a weapon … police officer or otherwise.
However, if you are following all of the officer’s directions, but still feel that things are getting out of hand and the officer is artificially escalating the level of force being administered, repeat this phrase: “I am unarmed, in compliance, and not a threat to you officer … my hands are right here … please follow your department’s mandated use of force training and protocol.” Reciting this phrase tells the officer that 1) you are aware that this engagement may be witnessed by others in a legal environment in the future via video and that 2) you are aware that the officers are being held to a standard of performance that will be evaluated and scrutinized in the same court of law. Hearing an innocent suspect stating this phrase on video right before getting shot doesn’t make for good optics. Police officers and Police Chiefs know this.
Again….I repeat: this phrase only works if you are fully compliant and “indeed” not a threat. Saying this while holding a gun or knife is as useless as wearing shower shoes in the 100-yard dash.
“I am unarmed, in compliance, and not a threat to you officer … my hands are right here … please follow your department’s mandated use of force training and protocol.”
8. Respect Age, Rank, Position, and Authority.
Many of our young black men (yep, and sista’s too) are raised without a shred of respect for our elders and authority. I truly believe this lack of respect translates into and negatively impacts the classroom, the workplace, traffic stops, and the streets. The military demands discipline and respect for rank, position and authority because these variables are vital drivers for the execution of orders and missions. Young black men have to learn how to respect parents, their elders, and those in authority first, before we are going to address and fix many of the social issues that plague us today. This notion will certainly not be popular in this era of “pass the blame” and take no responsibility nonsense, but think about this: even gangs and organized crime syndicates have a hierarchy and rank structure that is respected and adhered to by its members. So you’re telling me that this concept shouldn’t be exercised in a positive way by our black men? Get out of here!
9. Treat Your Education Like a Business or Investment – It’s the Key to Your Future.
I remember sitting in my english literature class in high school and watching a brother sitting in the back of the class and tying his fat shoe laces into his new Adidas high tops (yes, I’m dating myself here … 1980s) for the entire duration of the class. He never looked at his text book, never followed the class instruction, and only looked up occasionally if he thought the teacher was about to call on him. Education was not important to him because he didn’t see the connection between what education offers him and his quality of life in the future. He was under the flawed assumption that being a “fly break-dancer” with “ill” high tops would sustain him into the future and put food on his table for life. I’m certain he was wrong. Treat your education like a business or investment. Mainly because it is. Poverty is serious business – there’s nothing funny about it, and certainly nothing cool about it.
10. Be A Hero to Your Community – Not a Cancer Within It.
You must treat drug-dealers, thugs, thieves, and general criminals in our community as a dangerous cancer that must be rooted out and eliminated. Stop pretending that they are heroes or role-models. Stop rapping about their exploits in our music. Stop putting these criminals on undeserved pedestals. They are systematically dismantling our neighborhoods and killing off our people at genocidal rates–far greater than the police, or other races by the way. Instead, help organize school supply and food drives for our neighborhoods. Volunteer for programs like Meals-on-Wheels that help take care of our valuable elders. In fact, take the time to listen to their stories and life lessons … they will be infinitely more insightful and interesting than I ever can be. Form a neighborhood watch program to help keep our youth and communities safe. Volunteer to escort our young ladies and youth safely home. Don’t leave this task solely to the cops. Volunteer at your local church … don’t just pray to the Almighty for social change, he’s already commissioned you to go out and be that change in our community.
Our neighborhoods need young “black leaders” – not “bottom-feeders” … we have enough of those already.
11. Save at Least 10% of Everything You Earn – Start Investing Early and Often.
Make it a habit of saving no less than 10% of every dollar that flows through your pockets right now. It doesn’t matter how large or small the amount is … get into a consistent routine of paying yourself first. Treat that 10% like you don’t even own it in the first place and drop it into a savings account, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or CDs. In addition, one of the best financial decisions you will ever make, will be to consult with a “certified” financial advisor who can help you assess your goals in life and develop a plan to reach them. As black men, we have to stop the “broke cycle” by starting small and managing the modest financial gains in our lives before we can begin to achieve significant economic growth in the future. Learn how to capitalize on the power of consistency and the beauty of the compound effect. Making small, but consistent deposits into your investment account of choice will eventually put you on the road to independence.
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