Hip-hop journalists Rob Markman, Sway Calloway, Elliott Wilson, Brian “B. Dot” Miller, and scholars MK Asante, Robin D.G. Kelly and BET commentator/author, Marc Lamont Hill, among others, are today’s leading voices and thinkers on hip-hop culture, issues affecting black America, and in academia. Because of their passion for the culture, potent and well informed opinions, energetic authenticity and charisma, these men have stood out in their chosen fields all the while staying connected to millennials.
Whether one is standing in line at a concert, on campus discussing the history of social movements, or at work mulling over the latest crisis in the black community, the aforementioned names, thoughts and ideas are chewed over by poor and middle class alike.
My career goal has always been to be a leading voice of my culture. As a kid, I pored over the stories of hip-hop journalists like Datwon Thomas, Shaheem Reid, John F. Kennedy as well as scholars like Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson. These men inspired me to have strong, valid and well-informed opinions about black America. However, I never saw, touched nor talked to these men, nor men of their caliber. For the most part, these types of men weren’t in my ‘hood, so my dreams of being like them seemed like more of a fantasy.
From my experience, black professionals have the power to have a profound impact on the lives of kids living in poverty-stricken areas. Given the fact that many fathers are missing in the homes, black professionals are needed to pick up the slack in black communities. Especially with black men and fathers being murdered by cops as of late.
Unrest has hit America, once again, as the world watched cops murder 37-year-old Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge, La. and 32-year-old Philando Castile of St. Paul, Minn. These killings lead to protests in cities like Atlanta, New York City, Baton Rouge, Dallas and St. Paul. Also, it was during a Dallas protest where rogue activist Micah Johnson allegedly killed five Dallas police officers and injured others, adding more fuel to battles with Black vs. White, Black vs. the Police, and Black vs. the System.
Unfortunately, cops getting away with killing blacks isn’t new. We’ve seen these scenarios play out on several occasions and each time, I’m filled with an acidulous rage with each unjust murder committed by cops. But one of the images that touched my soul last week was seeing Sterling’s 15-year-old son, Cameron Sterling, uncontrollably burst into tears during a press conference about the murder of his father—his hero, his protector, his sagacious life guide, provider and motivator. Also, nearly 1200 miles away, a four-year-old girl sat in the backseat of a car as a St. Paul police officer pumped shells into Castile, her mother’s boyfriend, beside her.
As these killings played out on our television screens, I was reminded of my childhood and the absence of my dad, a crack addict who died while serving a 20-year prison sentence for aggravated assault. According to the Center for Disease Control, a father’s involvement in his child’s life increases the chances of academic success, reduces the chances of delinquency and and substance abuse. I can count the times on one hand that I had a conversation with my father, and I’ve experienced and battled all of the the aforementioned.
I never knew my dad. I remember seeing him once when I was about five or six years old. Then, when I was 12 years old, I received a letter from him while he was in a Texas prison. As I got older, I learned that he battled a crack habit. In retrospect, not having a father in my life depleted my confidence, so I was always defensive. Also, not having a male in my life to chew over my thoughts, feelings and fears taught me to be aloof from people, which I’m just now learning to break out of. More importantly, not having a father left space for me to have deleterious relationships with other men.
Unlike Cameron, who had a positive male role model in Alton Sterling before a cop decided his fate, my first personal male role model was a 19-year-old neighborhood drug dealer, Keon. He was always decked in clean sneakers and dipped in the latest fashion. As a 11-year-old, it was always exciting to see what outfit he’d wear each day. For some reason, Keon had an interest in me. I was a callow sixth grader during this time. It was Keon who introduced me to crack and gave me my first piece of rocks to sell. Under one condition: once I sold the crack, I had to buy more crack from him. Now, I see that he was using me to make money.
Even as a sixth grader, with Mom off doing her thing, I ran the streets freely, so I knew all of the crackheads and crack spots. I didn’t know it then, but chilling in a basement with crack heads as I fed them crack exposed me to a rock-like way of living and taught me how not to have sympathy for others.
When I would go to buy more crack from Keon to sell, he bragged to his friends about me being a young hustler. He even gave me a nickname, “Lil’ Nino Brown.” Honestly, this was the first time that I felt wanted. Needed. Important. For the first time in my life someone saw promise in me and gave me confidence that I could do something.
Later in life I connected with more organized, bigger dope boys. It was the same scenario. I was a callow teenager now. They were O.G.s who embraced me, gave me advice and even provided a degree of protection from the dangers that they knew I couldn’t handle. There were even instances where they went on robberies but made me stay in the ‘hood. Instances like this made me feel as if they cared for me. There was also a situation where my O.G. resorted to gun violence in my defense. In retrospect, and unconsciously, I embraced love from my O.G.’s because I never had an older male show love.
These are some of the dangers that fatherless children face in our neighborhoods. Seeing Sterling’s son cry touched me because I understand that shell that he’s likely to crawl into: always being defensive, losing confidence, not to mention the anger, hurt and confusion that he’ll face with constantly seeing his father be pinned down and shot throughout mass media.
Out of everything that I’ve been through in my life, there was one thing that was always consistent and brought me joy: reading. I’ve always been fascinated with books and magazines, namely works from the aforementioned West, Dyson, Thomas, Kennedy and more. They were the only positive men in my life, but I never knew them. I read their stories and their books, but in the back of my mind, I knew that I’d never meet them. These men were famous. They’d never come to my ‘hood, where I could touch them, see them, talk to them and hear them say: “Darryl, you can do this, too.” That sh** would never happen, I thought.
Now for a minute, let’s imagine that any of them came to my ‘hood to talk to the Cameron Sterlings’ and Darryl Robertsons.’ How much of an impact would that have? Sometimes kids need to see, touch and talk to black professionals.
Instead of protecting us, police are killing black men without even facing a jury, taking the few father-figures we do have. With that, black professionals should go into these marginalized neighborhoods more often and make themselves real to kids like Cameron Sterling and others who never had a father. We’re talking about communities that see police brutality, minimum wage workers, drug dealers and crack heads. We don’t see editor-in-chiefs of mainstream magazines, university professors, business executives and record company executives in person. Only on television, in books and in magazines.
If black professionals make themselves available in communities where cops harass, abuse and kill us, there are a few things that can happen. One, we close the gap on the silent, yet damaging class war that plagues blacks. Secondly, the two classes learn from each other. Each side gains new perspectives, which equates to more profound solutions to the problems that blacks face. Lastly, we take a chance at saving a future profound thinker, filmmaker, activist, or professor from falling through the cracks because no one has offered up hope by making themselves available to the less fortunate. But in order for this to happen, kids in the ghetto need to see and know that it’s real. And this can happen if black professionals can find the time to actually go into these poor communities and dialogue with kids down on their luck, and tell them to their face that they can actually climb out of the ghetto with their minds, thoughts and ideas.
Sometimes all we need is a little hope and a positive example to steer us away from the Keons’ of the world.