What I Learn from the Black Men in My Life

Part II: No matter what, hold your head up high

Two men: each of them I have known for more than fifteen years, both of them are close to me. I love them. I try my best to understand them. I want nothing more than to always support them. And I pray that this world sees the beauty in them just as I do. I thought, “How can I have the world listen to them for several minutes? What can I do to gift someone other than myself the opportunity to get a glimpse of walking in their shoes?” The idea that turned into the words you see before you: ask them poignant, in-depth questions about being men of color in this world today and see where it takes us. This is part two of the series.


I begin this installment with Dre, just as I did in the first one. During this short conversation, we touch on his feelings about being wrongly accused, incarcerated, and blamed for being nothing other than a black male, driving to his destination, and having a car that at that time, fit a cop’s “description.”

I want to share this truth with those of you reading. A lot of what we will share are hard issues and heavy situations to discuss and each of my friends has agreed to do this — to open up and let their voices be heard because there is always someone else out there struggling to speak up and struggling to get by and get over their constant obstacles. Dre was the first to tell me upon asking if he will continue this project, “Yes, I’m doing it — having to deal with stuff internally . . . Those questions open up so much.”

And he is right. They do. But he also recognizes the importance of the project and stated, “I need to start sharing this. Somebody needs it,” which leads us to the first question.

“Did you or do you ever blame yourself for being in the wrong place at the wrong time? If you did, how have you worked through that? If you do, what are you doing now to remind yourself that it wasn’t your fault?”

“No, I don’t blame myself because it wasn’t a wrong place type of thing or from hanging around the wrong people. I was pulled over while driving down the street and basically escorted to the precinct. The only thing I regret is not telling my mother soon enough and cooperating. I just felt I was good since I knew I didn’t do anything that brought about everything that followed.”

I sat with his words and read and re-read them several times. I appreciate Dre for his candor. I have known him for thirty-one years and one thing that makes up his character is honesty without being rude in the process. Can you imagine yourself, a young man, eighteen years of age, driving in your car, heading to your destination, but stopped because of well . . . a car that looked like one your local police precinct informed you fit the description they had?

“I just felt I was good since I knew I didn’t do anything that brought about everything that followed.”

The next question gets deeper. “At this point in your life, what motivates you to meet your daily goals? Would you say it is harder for you to meet them based on your past? How much of a struggle is it, if so?”

“My motivation comes in different forms. It’s kinda hard to put one higher than the other outside of my relationship with Jesus. However, not going back to prison is a constant driving force along with my daughter, my wife, and just an overall desire to shove their statistics (the Bureau of Justice) in their face because I’m not joining in on the cycle of the high percentage of people who go back. Nothing has been hard, my perspective is way different than most due to the situation, so because of that, you can’t throw anything at me harder than that almost.”

I think about his experiences and I am reminded to stand tall and strong and to not let anything overpower me.

I know talking about this has opened up some wounds for him that are healing — have healed, but getting it out in the open as a way to perhaps help others is most important to him. Knowing all that I know about Dre, his resilience, his efforts to defeat anything harmful on his path, and his love for the Creator, I have no doubt that he is walking headstrong, upright, and with confidence. I think about his experiences and I am reminded to stand tall and strong and to not let anything overpower me.

Through him, I am learning to never back down. He has been out of prison for twelve years after being incarcerated for nearly ten years and I foresee many years ahead of him without being re-incarcerated. He has a beautiful wife and an adorable little girl and his “family” is the light of his days. I can hear it in his voice when he speaks or decipher it in his tone when we correspond via email or text message. The most important thing to him is staying “free.” The only thing he wants to be is free.


Man leaning against his hand by Patrick Pierre
Vic is next. To say that I admire Vic’s career choice would be an understatement. He gets to share his artwork with the world. Pieces of his artistic expression are on T-shirts, flyers, posters, stickers, and prints. He is the ultimate modern Renaissance man with a powerful voice found at the click of a mouse. I value his brevity, his need to shine a light on problematic subjects, and his overall appreciation of knowing there is always more in store for him. We began his introduction to this installment with the following:

“While residing in a red state, as a man of color, and in your industry, are you compensated fairly based on your experience and talent?”

“I’d say close . . . but no. As a graphic artist in the apparel and promotional industry — it’s in a weird space right now. Commercial art is up against the more “sexier” fields such as UI/UX along with these websites where they keep thousands of stock graphics on hand. All the customer needs to do is punch in some text and boom, (their item) arrives in the mail. Now it’s almost as if my profession is considered “niche” because . . . I create custom graphics to meet the customers’ needs. You’ll always need shirts for some kind of an event along with other accompanying personalized items. I freelance on the side as well so, I’m able to support myself.”

“I create custom graphics to meet the customers’ needs.”

Regardless of the ups and downs of his chosen profession and the not-so-fair compensation for the art he creates, Vic knows his worth. He freelances as a means to supplement his income and some of his work can be found here and here. He knows what he brings to the table and can continue to keep his brand and his work alive. Knowing this, led me to the next question for him.

“If anything, what would you change about the industry?”

“I don’t think it’s the industry I’d look to change. I need to change myself in how I operate within this industry. You know how the talk of the day goes . . . “Gotta be your own boss,” you gotta have that entrepreneurial spirit. I’ve looked into equipment, costs in renting commercial spaces, and proposals needed to fund all of this. It’s kinda daunting.”

Reading and re-reading his second answer and connecting with it made me feel a strong sense of pain. In his profession, if he truly wanted to be successful or maintain steady work, he would probably have to break the bank to do so and even then, it is not guaranteed. Because of his “entrepreneurial spirit” and his ability to network successfully, he has been selected to be among a group of artists to showcase his work at an event this December in Austin, Texas.

As a man of brevity, Vic’s art in most cases is his speech. The expressiveness in his print work and hand-drawn images is gripping and aesthetically pleasing to someone who appreciates art. His digital designs are popular as well.

Creative Art by Victor Garcia
As he continues to branch out within the graphic design industry as well as becoming a better-known freelancer, the sky is not only the limit, it is well within reach. Vic is teaching me that I am of great value — that my skills within my line of work are necessary and if I stopped now, what would I gain?

Photographer 1, Black Man by Victoria Leigh
Being able to have these in-depth conversations with my friends is eye-opening. I am honored to aim a camera at them, angle it accordingly, and capture the right moment in order to share it with each of you. From them, I am learning to continue to be my best self. I am also learning that this world — the world in which we, People of Color, are still oppressed, underappreciated, underpaid, underfunded, and under-promoted will never give us anything. We have to continue to create our own paths, strut down them, and open up new doors and walk through them, into a fruitful life.

Read: What I Learn from the Black Men in My Life: Part I

I think of them and I am eager to continue to walk boldly into my future knowing that I do not have the need to quit anywhere in my bones. It cannot be done, not if I want to truly succeed. I know now that no matter what may come my way, I can and will hold my head up high and remain focused.

I want to thank both of these men for continuing this series with me and giving me more to digest as it pertains to life and the ways of this world for a man of color. Andre Murray and Victor Garcia— here you will find their voices. Here, you will find their hearts.

We cannot afford to quit. It isn’t allowed.


Originally published in Our Human Family on Medium.

Part I

The Life I Gave Her

The Struggle Is Worth It

Sash Margrie Hunt via Unsplash

What does this picture say? I have an imagination that would bring itself back to life if it died, so instantly, I drum up a story. Who is this woman? What is her story? What is her struggle? She stands, book in hand, waiting for the train. What’s her background? I study her. I plant my eyes on an amazing creature and I think . . .

“What type of life can I create for her?”

She’s a graduate student, studying Socioeconomics with an emphasis on Urban Culture and the effects of gentrification on middle-aged people of color. She is working on her thesis and has fifteen pages of solid, stone-cold research that she can verbally back up in her sleep.

She’s fearless, the eldest of four children, and a full-time teller at the bank Uptown. She juggles school, work, and time-spent keeping her cousins out of the morgue. She does not complain. She struggles silently.

The promotion to financial advisor has been on and off the table for the last three years. She aims for it, going the extra mile: staying longer at work and arriving earlier than everyone else.

She does not complain. She struggles silently.

Her boss sees her but doesn’t see her. She stands out, but not in the way the company needs her to. She speaks four languages and can cuss him out in three of them. He wouldn’t know a thing. The offer on the table today: $16.25 per hour, 40 hours per week. A seventy-five cent increase.

He tells her, “It’s the best we can do.” She calls bullshit but with class. She knows Taylor, her window-mate, received a $1.05 increase and she trained her. The chick’s been clucking about it loud enough for the entire breakroom to hear. They don’t seem to care about her constant avoidance of company policies. Taylor’s untouchable. And since Taylor’s untouchable, she has to be ten times better at her job to receive less.

The chick’s been clucking about it loud enough for the entire breakroom to hear.

There is no one. She hasn’t been on a date in nearly four years. There’s never any time. Mark, her ex-boyfriend, calls regularly, says he’s “just checking in.” She entertains his advances for moments at a time weekly but he knows their ship sailed a long time ago.

There is no room for love. There is only time for work, school, writing her thesis, fighting for her rightful positions in life and society, and sleep. Everything else is on the back burner. Everything else will have to wait.

The guy standing next to her offers her the only seat left on the train after they enter. In exchange, he adds, for her number. She sighs, discontented with the constant barter and trade most men often dole out on a daily basis. She’s had a rough day. He doesn’t know it. He doesn’t care. His aim is to conquer, build up his ego, and slowly deflate hers. She declines.

She stands and reads the last chapter in her book on how to increase a company’s authorized share capital. She highlights key aspects and mentally preps a presentation. Tomorrow at work, she will turn in her resignation.

The guy standing next to her, offers her the only seat left on the train after they enter. In exchange, he adds, for her number.

Armed with a wealth of knowledge, ten years in the banking industry, and being multilingual, she remembers the job offer her classmate shared with her one week ago: Entry Level International Accountant for the International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation (IFRS Foundation).

She will leave her life to gain a life. She has her wings.

Starting now — It’s time to fly


Originally published as a metered paywall piece via Medium. I have included the “friend link” as it’s a paid piece via Medium, thus anyone who clicks on that link above can read for free.

stories, labels, and approvals (Collaboration with Barry)

not everything needs a story
it’s possible to want justice
without being seen as angry
and you’re damned right I’m angry
when our justice is perverted
time and again, and again
you fixate on the anger
spinning a yarn about
the irrational response
of us ungrateful thugs

the ones you want to
linger beneath the soles of your feet
will be the very ones who
you’ll beg to add more days
onto your life.
and when the Maker calls your number,
I will play bailiff,
executing all plans for your demise.
and the difference between you and I
will be that I had nothing
to do with it.

make your presence known in other ways.
show this world that there is
so much more to living than
constantly trying to flaunt your
privileges in my face
OR
belittling me every chance you get.
“when they go low, we go high,”
and it must feel like shit
watching angels scale the skies
while you reach into your pockets
for God-status and pull up lint instead

not everything needs a label
it’s possible to seek solitude
without being tagged as arrogant
I look inward for serenity
I demand airspace to be me
authentically free from the box
you cram to shove me in
I guess I’m arrogant enough
to exist in stout defiance
of your weights and measures

not everything needs approval
it’s possible to just want to breathe
without society constricting airflow
or to share life, laughter with a lover
without enraging a stranger lording
bizarre, anachronistic, dogmatic views
I wish to seek the warmth of the sun
free from fear of fatalistic reprisal
because I fit some unsavory description
or I love in a way that you don’t

and, I’ve watched you, watching me–
you want me to be this robotic
thing intent on following your lead:
no disputes, no disagreements, and
no opinion of my own,
and losing the biggest part of me
is not something I am willing to do.
this frustrates you . . .
it digs into places of your soul
that you aren’t willing to share and
I have fun witnessing your strength
dwindle to mere nothingness
since it feeds off hate.
***



This is a collaboration with my homie and long-time collaborator, Barry. Please, visit his blog and enjoy his genius mind.

Dreamy-eyed Boy

An Experiment Audio Poem

MUSICAL SELECTION: ABBOT KINNEY AND THE LIGHTHOUSE CHOIR|TROUBLE OF THIS WORLD

Caison in the sun|Photo Credit: Tremaine L. Loadholt

Dear Dreamy-eyed Boy,
promise me you won’t
let them pull you into their black holes — 
their secret places of regret

I need you stronger than the masses
of clicking tongues and forceful hands
under white robes and covered heads
trained to track you, shoot you,
and string your lifeless body up a tree
whose breath still beats in 
urban forests

I want to remember this smile — 
this innocent smile that overpowers me
whenever I see it
and I want the world to be
just as mesmerized with it too

They’re coming for you, they are trying — 
their methods are failing, but
they are in constant motion in
devising plans to take us out and
I don’t want to live in fear of losing you

You have so much life to live
the sun has not had its time 
on the bridge of your nose
the sky is seeking refuge under your arms
and I still need decades multiplied by three
before I can even begin to be satisfied 
with my love for you

Dear Dreamy-eyed Boy,
hold on — 
our help never fails us and 
when the time comes
we will be remembered in 
seasons throughout the years
our smiling mouths opened to
the sea’s stirred pots

We will sop them up with
buttery biscuits, wipe their
remnants on our plates,
and pray for their souls


*Author’s Note: Right at about “refuge,” I got a little choked up.I thought of stopping and beginning the audio again, but listened to it and felt that I should leave it.It seems to be the perfect flaw in a good spot of the poem.


Originally published in The Junction via Medium.