Listen up, brother. Just because the statistics say Black American males are fading away – or maybe I should say being erased off the face of the earth – doesn't mean we should sit on the corner nursing a 40-ounce and cradling a gun, waiting for the Grim Reaper to come and take us away.
There are better ways for us to spend our time. One of them is living in defiance of the Grim Reaper. Just because Grim shows up doesn't always mean we have to follow orders and go. I know for a fact how good young brothers can be at being defiant, so maybe it's time to be defiant in defense of your own lives.
If you're gonna talk trash, talk trash in the face of death.
The statistics say we're a dying breed, but statistics don't have heart. If there's one thing a lot of young brothers do have, it's heart. It may not always be in the right place, but Lord knows the brothers have heart.
When I say that the heart is not always in the right place, I mean that for too many of us, having “heart” means making sure anybody and everybody knows that we're not gonna take any mess and that we will kill anybody who dares to put a stain on our honor as men. Since Black men in America are proportionately poorer than everyone else, less likely to have a job than everyone else, more likely to be in jail than everyone else, and less likely to graduate from high school – let alone go to or graduate from college – than everyone else, perhaps our honor feels like the one thing we can still hold onto as indisputable proof of our manhood.
If you want to be a man, you gotta have heart, right? Because if you've got heart, then you get respect, and respect is all that matters. To some young brothers, getting respect means more than love. If you show too much love you might get called out as a punk, or worse, but if you've got that respect, you feel you can walk the streets like a man, without fear.
Unless, of course, another brother with heart decides to kill you. In case you didn't know, homicide is the leading cause of death for African American males. And as I mentioned at the beginning of this series, we are not being gunned down in the streets by the White man. More than 90 percent of all homicides in the Black community are Black people killing other Black people, most of them Black men.
What this means is that we, as Black men, have to come up with a new definition of “heart.” We need to figure out other ways of earning respect that don't involve a willingness to commit violence against one another because that way simply isn't working. Too many of us are dying, and too many more are preparing to die whether we know it or not.
The goal in life should be to live. It wasn't that long ago when it seemed like everybody, White folks included, were singing how it's hard out here for a pimp. Yeah, well, it should be hard out here for a pimp. Pimps asked for it. Unfortunately, it's even harder out here for far too many young Black males simply trying to get from one day to the next, and we all know it shouldn't be that way. But it is that way, and it's not going to change, so this is where the new definition of “heart” comes in.
We need to have enough heart to get the education we need by any means necessary. I already know about the poor condition of too many of Detroit's public schools, and the wrecked home life of too many Detroit youngsters who grow up exposed to things that no child should ever be exposed to. Sometimes it seems like there are too many barriers to count, and that to be asked to succeed against such insurmountable odds is asking too much. Maybe so, but fighting for your life against insurmountable odds is a much better choice than the early acceptance of death by making all the wrong choices in the pursuit of a false manhood. Choosing an education is no guarantee that life will be wonderful and racism will cease to be a problem for you, but it does guarantee more positive life choices and options, and we need all the positive choices and options we can get. Without an education there is little chance for a job — or at least a job that pays enough to pay the rent in a decent place and buy food at the same time — and without a job that pays a living wage, it becomes much more tempting to pursue those kinds of jobs that guarantee short life expectancy and/or long prison sentences.
If you doubt what I'm saying, take a look at all the brothers behind bars. A large number of them are there for drug-related offenses, and very few of them were working normal good-paying jobs before they got snatched into the system. That may be because the majority of inmates – not just in Michigan but in the country – are functionally illiterate. That means they couldn't qualify for a decent job even if they wanted to because they can barely read. Do you see the connection here? Barely being able to read doesn't mean you're stupid, but it definitely means your life is likely to disappear between the cracks.
The other thing brothers need to do is to learn how to love themselves, and then to love one another. If you need help, don't be afraid to ask for it. If someone else needs your help, don't be afraid to give it.
Don't be afraid to walk through the doors and live. The price for admission has already been paid in blood.
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