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

I Haven’t Forgotten You

You’re All I Think About

Kids by delfi de la Rua via Unsplash

I wonder who has told you. If you know. If you’ve always known. If you want to know. I think about the right moment to say something, casually bring it up, but there’s nothing casual about coming out — again. I know you should hear it from me, but I am dragging my feet as it has been hard getting them from up under me — I have been sitting on them for too long. You should have known years ago or at least, in October when I told our brothers or when our father called and I confirmed what he already knew in January. Every time I dance around the subject of repeating those words again and this time, to you, I get an ache in my heart. My eyes water. My soul screams.

Everything in me stops.

I see you, but not the woman you are now, more like the infant-to-toddler that you were years ago and I want to hold you close and sing “You are my sunshine” until my throat becomes sore. I suspect that the task has been completed by someone else and you were not given the opportunity to hear me — see me as I spoke those words to you. I hope it hasn’t. I hope I still have time. I tend to sit on precious things, cover them up, then release them when everyone has stopped worrying about the potential harm they can cause. It has always been easiest for me, this method. I am learning to not lean into fear or hide behind it as much as I used to.

You don’t seem to have this issue, but then again, I have only watched you grow up from a distance. Much of my teenage to early adult life was lived before you even began to figure out things on your own. That’s what a nineteen-year gap does to sisters. It pushes them apart without either one knowing it is happening. I can call. I can text. I can pop up at important events. I can do all of this on a whim simply because you ask for my presence, but I can’t even tell you what presses on me more than anything.

I live with the thought of you daily. . . If you’re safe. If you’re learning how to maneuver through life and in the world without someone holding your hand. If your third year of college, now that you’re experiencing it, will strengthen you as much as mine did. You are strong, this is undeniable, but you have been sheltered. If I tell you, will you break? If I don’t, will you do so even more?

Bible, book, faith, and Psalm by Aaron Burden via Unsplash

“Truly, my soul silently waits for God; from Him comes my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be greatly moved.” Psalms 62, 1–2 NKJV

I have missed about twenty Sundays in a row. To sit and count them, to think that my body hasn’t met a pew in over three months, causes me distress, but every time I tell myself that I am going to get it in gear, Sunday arrives, and I sleep in longer than planned. I find peace at my church — strength. I feel what I need to and when I need to there, but my body won’t let me move. My heart won’t, either. I have no idea why. You checked on me first thing in the morning, the other day — said you could not start your day without sending me a note. I missed it. Nearly most of my day went by before seeing your message and by that time, I let the toll of my workday cost me change.

I shared with you my emotions, how I’d been in and out of crying fits, how I am in therapy. This concerned you. You instantly began to worry. You wanted to call me and these days, I don’t welcome phone conversations like I used to. I told you that I was okay, that I’d be fine, I’d only answered your question. I wonder if being too upfront with you will cause you pain or sadness. But, I am growing and learning that I can no longer bite my tongue or hold in what needs to be said based on what the other person may feel when my feelings are expressed. I cannot control the emotions of others. I can only move forward when I feel it’s best to.

There is time. There will be time. I feel that it is nearing. I’d much rather the opportunity to sit you down in my favorite coffee spot, buy your drink and danish of choice, and talk — really talk. I want to sit and be with you, big sister to little sister and spill out what we need to. There are things you have always wanted to share with me and I have things I need to share with you, but distance is our enemy. It won’t be for long. I write. It’s what I do and I have written you a letter. You can sit with my words and I can come out again without even opening my mouth to tell you in person.

After all, when will I ever get the chance?


Originally published in Other Doors via Medium.

were we the way we were?

musical selection: barbara streisand|the way we were

an experiment

Barbara S. Photo Credit: Tremaine L. Loadholt

i am connected to you
undoubtedly,
i know you are
connected to me too.

but, has this always been?
will it always be?
or have we walked into
a territory not suitable
for broken hearts
and broken minds?

i wish i could do the math,
make my head learn
to love the numbers
of us as it does the
psychological aspects.

but i am a seeker of words
relational to the heart
not equations found
inside my head.
i have made no promises
but my word was given —

you would know love
until i could no longer
show you, tell you.
and you did.

you always will.

drifters carry little baggage
and we have far too much
of it weakening our backs.

neither of us
willing to strip away
the parts that helped
to make us whole.

i say, in the secret spaces,
“were we always the way we were
or were we who we are now — unable
to see it all before?”

i haven’t found the answer.

i hope i never will.


Originally published in The Junction via Medium.

Your Labor Day Smile

Caison thinks he’s a big boy. He even put my slides on the right feet, no help from anyone. The kid is growing up far too fast.

 

He’s also into taking out all of his toys at once and not playing with any, in particular, he just likes to show me that he can do it. Then, we practice putting all of them up again and guess what he does? You got it! He takes them all out again and smiles or laughs while he does it. And since I am a big kid, I laugh or smile along with him. Good times. Nothing but good times.

Here’s hoping this day has been a labor of love for each of you.

Peace and blessings.

Scintillating Saturday Share #19

Every Saturday, I will share a photo that touches my heart, makes me happy, or lifts my spirits in some way. The purpose? To send love, light, peace, and kindness out into the ether. Scintillating Saturdays: one definition of the word scintillating is as follows: witty; brilliantly clever.”

Can we do that here, beautiful people, spark something brilliantly clever that touches others every Saturday? Please share this to all of your social media outlets. We can do what we can by spreading a little love, can’t we?

Nala and Jernee eating|Photo Credit: Tremaine L. Loadholt

Using up to 7 words, tell me what this photo sparks in you. Here’s mine:


best buds–
b e s t f o o d
best love.


Now, it’s your turn. This’ll be our “Scintillating Saturday Share #19.” You can respond to this post, reblog and respond, or create a standalone post of your own, but please ping or tag this post so that I’ll know to read and respond to yours.

Using up to 7 words, tell me what this photo sparks in you.

Care to get creative with me for this scintillating Saturday share?