One of my favorite parts of being an educator is working with students of all races and nationalities; however, with regards to this letter and as black men, there are some things that we can only do for ourselves. If you are reading this and you are not one of my young black brothers, that’s fine; however, I would ask that you share this letter with a black young man that you may know.
Here we go…
Firstly, I do not want to blindly assume that all of you are in a tough spot or that all of you are in need of any of my words. To my young black brothers out there doing ya thing…man I am proud of you and I appreciate what you’re doing out here. I understand some of the pitfalls that this world can throw at you and the fact that you have been able to successfully traverse life’s labyrinth to this point is a feat worth acknowledging. Understand that your hard work and drive to attain a goal larger than yourself will be all worth it in the end and that your day of prominence will eventually come. Trust me when I say, you will never get all of the praise that you think you deserve (the older you get, the less positive affirmation will come your way); however, that’s ok…living a full life where you have the opportunity to leave a positive impact on someone else and whereby you have the opportunity to control your own destiny is worth all the struggle. This is especially true when you get to my age (30). Every decision that you’ve made thus far is for your 30 year old self and he will love you without regrets for keeping your nose to the grindstone and going about your business in the right way. Keep being the leader and trailblazer that you are and the world will know your name soon enough. Again, I am proud of you, I love you, and you will always have an ally in me.
Now to my young black brother who may have made a few wrong decisions along the way or who may just be trying to figure out this thing called life…it’s all good. The beautiful thing about life is that every day that you are not incarcerated is an opportunity to start a new life. So what’s the first key to life success??? Avoid incarceration. I have to say that blatantly because as young black males, we are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system. Many times you are behind the eight ball before you even start. Understand that if you get pulled into the criminal justice system, even for something minor, in the future it may serve as the rationale to put you away for a long time (exhibiting a history of delinquency). So the first key to life success is to AVOID INCARCERATION! Don’t even give them a reason to take you in.
My next declaration to you is that you are much stronger than you understand and your strength (both mental and physical) is also your biggest weakness. See we have a VERY strong tendency to be tough and strong for our family or for those weaker than us. The flip-side of that is that we fail to acknowledge our own pain and suffering in the process. Instead of venting our frustration in healthy ways, we tend to internalize our pain as a symbol of toughness, but we fail to realize that the human psyche does not work like that…eventually all that pain, suffering, and trauma will come back and since it has not been resolved we are not prepared to handle it. This may result in us exhibiting uncontrollable spurts of rage or unexplainable sadness or depression. To avoid this downward spiral of negative emotions, do this…simply get a group of your trusted fellas and OPENLY talk it through. Everybody has problems, true enough, and I know that you are probably thinking that you don’t want to burden someone else with your problems, but you will be surprised by the therapy that you can create for yourself and your other fellas by being comfortable in venting your frustrations and sadness. Acknowledge your pain and come to resolution with it. Do not hold it in bro. Trust me on that. Think about all the examples of people making terrible and life changing decisions because they let their emotions control their actions (See “Boyz N the Hood” and “Menace to Society”). Your biggest strength is your strength, but it is also your biggest weakness.
The next thing that I want to share is NO EXCUSES! Bro it’s cool if you mess up…think about the BIG PICTURE. Making a mistake is never the real problem, but you can’t grow or be trusted to get it right the next time if you can’t acknowledge that a mistake has been made. Don’t lie about it, don’t blame someone or something else for YOUR shortcoming. Man up and don’t make any excuses for yourself. Simply say this…”Yeah, I messed up. I intended for (fill in the blank) to happen, but I did not get it done.” If the other person wants to know why, then tell them outright; otherwise, keep it short and to the point and be prepared to take any consequences that may come to you. A huge part of growing up is accepting responsibility for your actions. Start practicing with little things and when it really matters, then you’ll be prepared.
My final declaration to all of my young black brothers is that you need to find 2-3 mentors in your life. Like I said before… Your biggest strength is your strength, but it is also your biggest weakness. Do not practice taking on the world ALL alone! You’re strong and smart so I know you can, but the largest of gains come when you have well-positioned allies. Most young people have energy and drive without the funds to do anything; however, older more established people tend to have the funds to do whatever they want but they lack the physical energy and/or time to do anything at all. If you start building strong relationships with people who can serve as a mentor for you now, then you may prosper from the benefits of their past experience and monetary support. Work together, bridge gaps with older generations, and minimize mistakes. That’s how to escape the trap.
As I bring this letter to a close, I want all of you young brothers to know that I love you and that I want this letter to serve as an invitation to discuss tough scenarios and to pose or answer any life questions that you may have. Nobody ever does, but I believe that you will…shoot me a message, leave a comment on this post, or hit me up on social media (@educatetheswag – IG or @DrGabrielBurks – Twitter).
Bro this letter is for you. Share it, question it, respond to it, and use it.
Dr. Gabriel R. Burks, PhD Materials Science & Engineering
Postdoctoral Research Associate – University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Founder of the Educate the Swag Blog