I’ve always been passionate about black males – no, not in the Tyson Beckford way – I’m in a different zone like Mos Def. Nothing makes me happier to see us succeed; nothing irks me further when we go bad, like the 2% in the back of the fridge. And when we kill each other, it’s like I’ve lost a brother.
I zoned out this week when I read about the brutal death of 16-year-old Derrion Albert. Closed the office door, put myself on break, and stared into my computer screen. I could not, for the life of me, understand how or why this stuff goes down, and nothing is ever really done about it. Why is this not getting national tragedy coverage? Why aren’t people marching like the Jena 6 – Part Two? Why is there no intervention? Why is there no aid? Why do we go back to business as usual? Why don’t we all come together and help each other out? Certainly, I help out! I do my part!
Or do I?
I asked myself that question on my bus ride home, crossing the bridge to South Jersey. It was at that moment I realized my selective memory was on auto. I blocked my recollections like an overweight third wheel on a hot date. I had refused to acknowledge that I made a huge mistake awhile back. And like the Lipstick Alley Confessions, I had to own up.
You know how you go to those bourgie black-tie African-American events, right? And you convince yourself that you made a difference by dropping a $20 in a plastic scholarship fund bowl. Well, I had made a decision to make a REAL difference. Last year, in a totally spontaneous move, I signed up to be a Big Brother. I joined Big Brothers – Big Sisters of America, a mentoring program where associates link you with a little “sibling” and you have the opportunity to be a positive influence in their lives. It was a perfect initiative for the Black Man’s Black Man. I signed on like an NBA rookie.
After a strenuous application process to ensure I wasn’t a Bobby Brown – R. Kelly lovechild, I was finally introduced to my “little,” a nine year-old black boy named… well… let’s call him Rashid*. He had two older brothers who looked destined for trouble, and an exhausted mother desperate for help. She worked two shifts at McDonalds. Daddy was in jail. Yikes.
Rashid was quiet, but intuitive. Soft-spoken, observant, aware. He was a little guy, who wanted to be a football player; a wide receiver. He loved English, he hated math, he despised fighting; he was weary of drama. I asked him about his dad and his eyes welled up.
He had on a shirt that was about three sizes too big and hand-me-down shoes that looked well past its expiration date. He had stress on his face, but innocence in his eyes. He looked eager, he appeared hopeful, he oozed innocence. By all accounts, he was as pure of a child as I had ever seen. His whole aura embodied pre-adolescence; he was clumsy, he was unsure of himself, he was insecure, he was enthusiastic and he was hesitant. I don’t like to use this word as a man, but there was no other adjective I could think of for him, other than precious. And he was my new little brother. His mother couldn’t have been happier. “You can pick him up ANYTAAHHM!!” she said, trying not to sound too thrilled. It had taken her months to even find a match for him.
The first few months, I poured as much of myself into him as I could. I taught him how to pray, I told him to listen and respect his mother, and how to walk away from fights; how to focus on homework, how look to the future. I taught him simple things like how cars work, why girls suck and how to tackle in football. He wanted to be a wide receiver, so I showed him how to run a slant route. He liked reading, so I got him a few books. He was like family.
We were supposed to talk like two times per week. But it got to the point where he was calling twice per day. He was looking for more. I started missing calls. I remember picking him up to go to Pizza Hut, and he ran out the house before I could turn the corner; he ran to my car before I could pull over to the side of the road. He called me one of his favorite people.
I don’t know how, but just like those sick people on “Hoarders,” my life was overflowing with stuff; it consumed me towards the end of last year. My workload doubled. Wifey was expecting. I started working multiple gigs. I was looking for houses. I got my car stolen. I bought a new car. I got engaged. You know, LIFE. Stuff happened. And as my day-to-day plugged my free time, other things wound up without an outlet. I don’t know how, but Rashid was one of them.
He called a lot; I missed a lot of calls. Our conversations got shorter, our time together was diminished. I had to go. By the time I turned 25, he had all but stopped calling, and I hadn’t event thought about it. To say we fell out of touch was an understatement. We didn’t even see.
As Big Brothers, we were supposed to have these stupid 15 minute conversations with the advisors at BBBS during the month. If you missed it, then you couldn’t see your “little” anymore. During the month of February ’09, my inner angel was urging me to call my annoying advisor. Of course, I listened to Beelzibub, who told me that I “didn’t have the time.” I was too busy focusing on me, my future; my “real responsibilities.” I couldn’t be bothered with this!
I came home one ugly winter night and I saw a red piece of mail from BBBS. I didn’t even open it up. I already knew.
I wanted to call him, but I was too embarrassed. I admit, I was scared. I didn’t want to get cursed out, or see his face, dealing with the fact that I had let him down.
But I think about him often. And you know what? I’m terrified. You know why? I know. This is how black boys turn cold. Their dad lets them down, and then others let them down even more.
(I’ve realized within myself a major issue with a lot of today’s males: they don’t keep their word anymore. Their word is NOT their bond anymore. They don’t do what they SAY they will do. They lie (especially to women) and they change their minds. And it hurts people. Moreso, it hurts a man’s credibility. Maybe that’s why respect and trust is so hard to come by these days. Juuuuust a thought…)
The world screws these little boys, so it makes sense when they screw the world back as young men. All that pent-up pain and frustration is lashed out on the world and sometimes an unsuspecting victim. Is it fair? Of course not. But that’s how it is, most of the time.
I had nightmares of an older Black Man’s Black Man casually reading the paper in his 5-bedroom mini mansion in suburbia. And then reading my little’s name in another one of those “black males effin up again” stories. And then I would wonder, what if? What if I could have made a difference in his life? What if I could have done better by him? What if I helped to make him go bad? I think about that whenever I see the authentic NFL football I got for his birthday. It still sits in my closet. I never got to give it to him. I pray for him, I think about him, but I never called him. I guess it’s too late for me to turn back now… or is it?
So I came to a definitive conclusion. Tonight… this evening… right after work… I’m going to finally hit up Rashid’s house and man up. I’m going to give him the wrapped up football at his house, and give him a sorry card. I’m going to apologize to him and his family for letting him down. I’m going to apologize for not calling, and making some time for him. I’m going to apologize for taking so damned long to speak, for being selfish, for not doing what I said I would do. I don’t have his number anymore, so I’ll be straight up dropping in. I’m attempting to write/right my wrong. And whatever happens… happens. I’ll have to deal with it.
I’ll let you know how it goes in the next note…
Nathan Wilson is a pro-writer, pro-sports enthusiast, and is flat out pro-black. Check out his musings at www.thecolorcurve.com.