What I Learn from the Black Men in My Life

Part I: How not to silence myself

Three men: each of them I have known for more than fifteen years, all of them 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 is this: ask them poignant, in-depth questions about being men of color in this world today and see where it takes us. This is the result.


began the conversation with Dré talking about my weaknesses and what I expect of myself during therapy. “Some things, I am just not ready to discuss, you know? It’s heavy and I’d spend most of the session crying. I don’t want that . . . I felt like I’d waste her time and I know I wouldn’t, it’s just the way my brain works.”

“That’s actually a part of therapy.” He says this candidly — knowingly.

I take a moment to let it sink in, but don’t quite catch on. “Which is? Wasting time or crying? LOL!

No, talking about your issues and crying.”

It is one thing to be free, vulnerable, and open, but it is another to appear weak. Or, at least made to feel as though you are weak because you cannot hold back tearsIn the case of the “strong black woman,” the myth is that we do not cry. We do not have time for crying. We cannot let ourselves appear weak. There are walls that need to be held up, maintained, balanced . . . Who has time for the walls to come tumbling down?

“I cry at home.” I am uncomfortable crying in front of others. I have a problem releasing when someone else is around. I like to think that this is because a few of my teenage years were spent in a space full of young boys and a mother who almost NEVER cried in front of us. There was a mask to wear and all of us wore it well. He saw right through me.

“But, that’s like hiding, still, in a sense.”

“It kinda is, but it feels like being free. I felt a sense of comfort being able to just cry and be at home. Home is therapy, too.”

I sit with his words on how I am probably still hiding. This man, my close friend has overcome so much and stands tall in the face of adversity. I know he is right, there is no denying it. I must find a way to completely remove my shell. How does it feel to have nearly ten years stripped away from you — to be wrongly accused of something? To miss out on the world as you fight for your life in a caged environment? I have learned to lean in a bit closer when he has something to say. We segue into a discussion about his life after enduring obstacles and hurdles from his past. While reading his words, I could feel his relief.

“So far, what would you say is your biggest achievement in life?”

“I don’t know. Maybe surviving prison, coming home, becoming a husband and father, even a deacon.”

Now that we are adults and closer to forty and no longer eight years old, our experiences create much of who we are — our grit, our need to survive, and maintaining our sanity. His, even more so because of his background (wrongly accused and incarcerated for nearly ten years) that was given to him when we were teenagers without his consent. Not once has he made an excuse for his past, he has only worked harder and longer than anyone else I know. Dré, he is his own Central Park 5 and I hear him.


know men who do not use many words but say a lot with the words they use; men who make me think harder than I’d like to because I spend much of my time trying to speak louder than them. When you have had to yell for much of your adolescence in order to be heard, you become accustomed to either shouting or cowering when it is time to speak. I do not have to with the bonds that I have created with them. I hear them. They hear me. We simply are who we are.

Upon reaching out to Vic, I found that he has used the tools he learned in therapy to increase his sense of growth and understanding in life. He knows where he stands and he is secure in his skin. We discuss briefly what his takeaways are from therapy and how his experiences mirror mine.

“How has therapy benefited you?”

“It has given me the tools to see myself from outside myself. Through having to talk honestly, which is hard to do, about moments in my life. Therapy has helped me to connect the dots and see the patterns. From there, I can spot when the ego has stepped into the driver’s seat and have the wherewithal to dial it back. Or, how to adjust my perspective from a negative to a more positive spin. It sounds cliché but that really helps.”

His words ring true. I have known him for seventeen years and not only have I had the chance to watch a magnificent creature brave the tides of life, but I have also seen him overcome and jump some mighty high hurdles and he is still standing.

“What’s it like to be a man of color in the working world?”

“I’m not a big talker, to begin with, so it’s not a thing to me. I do my job which I love (graphic designer), then leave. Not saying I’m chummy-chummy with everybody, not hanging out with them on the weekends. But, yeah . . . I’m aware I’m the only black guy in the office side of the building. I’m left alone to do what I need to do which I’m appreciative of.”

Vic, he is an artist, a lyricist, and a strong voice of reason whenever I need it. And, I hear him.


I have written about Levy (The Outstanding) here on Medium twice before. He braves many things in life it seems, effortlessly, but today, I learned how equally hard he has it in the South in “this skin that we’re in.” I begin our conversation yearning to know how it feels being a black man and from there, Levy took me deep into his mind — his heart. He laid it all bare and all I could do was listen.

“What does it feel like to be a black man?”

To be a black man is to be routinely confronted with society’s preconceived viewpoints of who you are or who you should be. Although these points of view are ultimately beyond our control, black men, even at an early age, are burdened with either defying or reaffirming these stereotypes, as it often determines success or survival. However, what may be seen as a positive quality by one group may be seen negatively by another group. Masculinity in itself, for example, may be seen as an ideal quality by some and as a threat by others.”

When I compare some of his experiences to mine, I can relate, but it gets deeper . . .

“Therefore, when facing the world, black men are often required to raise or lower certain aspects of their personality depending on their immediate situation. This can lead to black men, at least on a subconscious level, conflicting with their own system of beliefs.”

At the very least, this becomes mentally draining; eventually, though, this can become psychologically damaging.”

Whoever you are, take a moment to sit with those words above, really sit with them. This is not to say that men, in general, do not have struggles, I do not take that lightly at all, they do — this is to express how much harder one struggles as a man of color in and of a system that is designed for —waiting for — them to fail. Next, we tackle the same question, but with a twist . . .

“How is it for you as a black man in your thirties and in the South?”

“As a black man in my thirties growing up in the South, the hardest thing to achieve has been complete peace of mind. Despite what I have achieved and may accomplish in the future, I will always have a deep-seated feeling of not totally fitting in. There will always be a part of me that remembers third grade, when John Rice told me to “move, Blackie” and my teacher heard it but did nothing about it. Always a part of me that will remember, at twenty-seven, being turned away from a nightclub due to the “dress code” although the person in front of me was just as casually-dressed. Always a part of me that will remember just a few weeks ago, when the bartender told me that she didn’t know how to fix the advertised special drink, but prepared the same drink for a white patron less than thirty minutes later.”

“At this point, I’m always aware of and prepared for ridicule or discrimination. I would love to be freed from this constant burden, or at least oblivious to it.”

Imagine yourself living in the year 2019 actually fearful of going into establishments built on serving others and not getting served or served properly. Do you know what it feels like to watch multiple non-black parties come into a restaurant and be seated within two minutes while you wait for more than ten to fifteen minutes when you arrived before them? Or, if you work in a public setting where you deal with people on a daily basis and they are rude to you for no other reason than the color of your skin. Just imagine what that feels like. Could you cope?

He shared his story. He shared his life. He isn’t one to be extremely loud and boisterous. Levy, he made his point and I hear him.


I often think that I know where they’re headed since they have good things going for them now, nothing bad will happen. But, that is a fantasy. Bad things happen to our men of color every second of every day. I pray that they are not pulled into the depths of deception ever again.

Being able to question each of my friends regarding their experiences in life opened up my heart — my ears to them so much more. What they have taught me is to stand tall, even in the face of adversity, even when I feel invisible. They have taught me to roar like a lion, not to be ashamed of admitting that I need help, and to strengthen my core and be prepared to fight as hard as I can to succeed in this world with my mental fortitude still intact. I feel a sense of relief being able to freely converse with each of them and I pray that as the years pile on, we can continue to trade thoughts and confess our fears too. With each of them around, I am guaranteed not to silence myself.

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

Who will you listen to? What do you hear? How will you learn?


Originally published in Our Human Family via Medium.

Featured Poem of the Week

Zuva

Zuva is one of our newest contributors to A Cornered Gurl and she comes to the publication with strength, power, brutal honesty, and “black excellence” in her bones. I love reading this young one and she decided to answer the “Young Minds of Medium Inspiration Call” with the following piece entitled: The Making of a Government Manifesto–Erasure Piece. At nearly twenty-three years old, Zuva is already making waves with her work and if you are in her way, you will be moved. And now, for her poem as our featured work for the week:


Photo by Rosemary Ketchum from Pexels

The Making of a Government Manifesto–Erasure Piece.

Immigrants are “stealing your jobs” but really it’s machines

A homeless man asks me for change, the world is contactless now

Education is free when it protects and promotes government agenda

Does the voice of oppressors get silenced or do they learn how to whisper and

pass secret notes?

men are taught to hate feminists when we want to help them too. Nothing changes

Obesity is a money-making industry,

that’s why salads ain’t cheap

They’re crippling our NHS to privatisation

This is how it’s meant to be

Trump is to cause divide

And illustrate your rights still don’t matter

People are gunned down for being people

Children are shot then and called victims


*It is very easy to look at the world and just see the negative. But when you look again you can find and create hope.


Originally published in A Cornered Gurl via Medium.

Sights and Scenes and a Haiku

So far, the lovely State of Alaska has given me so many memories and I will have extremely beautiful visions in my head for years to come. Thankfully, both flights were smooth, with minimal turbulence and I found myself sleeping both ways; from Charlotte, NC to Phoenix, AZ then from Phoenix, AZ to Anchorage, AK. I am happy that this was the case.

I landed on time each time with only one snafu. During the Phoenix connection, several of us were not alerted to the fact that there was a gate change so we found ourselves booking it from one end of the airport to another in order to make the flight within three minutes.

Let me tell you, that was a scary experience and gave me anxiety that shot THROUGH THE ROOF, however, I was amazed at how quick-on-my-feet I was in assisting one of my flight-mates in encouraging her to run or walk fast and that we’d surely make it because she was so much more frantic than I was. We made it, of course, and smiles stuck to our faces within minutes of the connection.

So far, I’ve experienced Girdwood and its beautiful mountains, hidden waterfalls, and wide open spaces and Portage for the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. And now, for the photos:

Hidden Beauty

Hidden Beauty #2

Hidden Beauty #3

Waterfall

Mountains Beyond the Ocean

Baby Elk

Bison

Moose

Mountains, Hidden Glacier, and Swirly Sky

Caribou

Black Bear Cub #1

Black Bear Cub #2

Black Bear Cub #3

A Beautiful Life

Halfway ’round the world
I’ve found beauty that connects
And lifts my spirits

Alaska Bound

Hydrant|Photo Credit: Tremaine L. Loadholt

This evening, I will be traveling to Alaska for a full workweek. It has been incredibly long since I took an actual week off of work for vacation. I am going to Alaska, more specifically, Anchorage. My reason for this is to celebrate my friend’s upcoming birthday and to experience beautiful sights and landmarks. I have never been to Alaska, having a close friend who lives there will inspire many more trips in the future. I will soon be able to mark this off my bucket list.

But first, I am looking forward to this time away and my internet usage will be limited as I intend to totally immerse myself in my surroundings. I need this. My mind, heart, and soul needs this. I know for a fact that this will be a great experience, not just for me, but for my writing, my mental fortitude.

Jernee will be with my Mom. I picked her up yesterday and she and Jernee will have a week together to enjoy each other’s company and get reacquainted. My friend has a complete itinerary and everything I envision to do in Alaska, within my means, will be done.

To say that I am excited is an understatement, however, I am nervous too. I hate flying. It makes me severely anxious. I intend to take one Aleve capsule (to curb any headaches or backaches) before boarding and will read and sleep for most of the flight or, try to.

It is my prayer that each of you will enjoy your week ahead and that life will be more than kind to you.

Peace and blessings.