Success against the odds as a Black man in America
The Foundation of Resilience
A single parent home and very humble beginnings is where I started. We didn’t have money and yes it was a real struggle. My dad was a rolling stone, he had a lot of outside kids. It was my mom, my sister and myself, the three of us. My mom was my best friend.
Grief and Determination
Then on July 22nd 1998 my beautiful mother passed away, I was 11 years old. I still look up to her even to this day. My mom taught me everything, she nurtured my passion for drawing and encouraged me to never lose hope, no matter the situation. I still haven’t got over her death. Every birthday and mother’s day I always send her something.
At the age of 19, my sister dropped out of college and got a job to take care of me.
I started to get close to my dad at around the age of 16 years old. I had never really had a father figure in my life and then when I was 18 he was diagnosed with cancer and passed away soon after, exactly 7 years after my Mother on July 22nd 2005.
My mom had always kept me focussed and so I dedicated so much effort into my studies. Yes I was racially abused and called the ‘N’ word on so many occasions that hearing it didn’t shock me anymore. I have dealt with racist cops, even though my dad was a cop in that same neighbourhood for 20 years! I grew up with the attitude that ‘I may not be responsible for how I grow up, but I damn sure am responsible for how I live.’
While in high school, I received 100s of schools inviting me to apply, including multiple ivy league schools, but I didn’t want to move away from my sister. I ended up going to college at UCF in Orlando getting a degree in accounting before doing a double masters degree shortly afterwards in sport management and an MBA. The funny thing is, I have two master’s degrees, but I feel like I don’t know a damn thing about the world.
Recognizing Racial Barriers
I have always acknowledged racism and prejudice but had the attitude that If I got my head down and worked hard, then that would be enough. I got a great job working for the Golf Channel. Everyday I went into that job feeling uncomfortable. I was the only black guy working in sales and definitely felt like I was tolerated and not celebrated because of that. For me growing up, golf was for rich guys and none of them looked like me. I could feel that disconnect on a daily basis, I just didn’t know what to call it.
Since then I have worked in some fantastic companies and had some tough learning curves, but I came to realize that working hard simply wasn’t enough! They say you can’t escape from a prison that you don’t know you are in. I was so naive and positive to a fault, I didn’t see what others saw until I had the realisation that my skin color was a huge barrier. It doesn’t matter how great you may be, if you can’t get into the board room and get an opportunity. I could be a better basketball player than Lebron James, but if nobody wont let me pick up the ball it means nothing.But that’s how people keep control. I realised that as a black male I didn’t have the same access to opportunities as others.
If it takes me 12 steps to get somewhere where it only takes you two, then that is privilege.
It hurts because we are African American. African with no knowledge of our history and American with no privilege. People love to give the examples that Kobe made it, Oprah made it, yes but these are outliers. People just want a fair shot at life you know.
People always want to make it political, if they make it political then we don’t address the problem. It then becomes a debate about words. We always talk about China and their human rights issues, but we are so ignorant towards our own ones.
For me having lived in Orlando when Trayvon Martin was brutally killed, that is when I had my first real experience of the brutal injustices that we are still seeing today in the media. I was in a bubble whilst at college, but then Michael Brown, Philando Castille and Sandra Bland to name a few. I get really emotional just saying their names. The hardest one for me was 12 year old Tamir Rice. Police stories always keep changing for each case and the consistency of a lack of convictions is remarkable. It shows that black lives don’t matter as much as white lives. Dylan Roof Killed 9 black people in a church during a bible study in 2015 and he was taken in alive. It is always the white people who get taken in alive. Even if somebody robbed a bank, it doesn’t mean they deserve to die! Look at the death of Eric garner for example, the guy got killed for allegedly selling single cigarettes from packs without tax stamps. How pathetic is that when compared to Dylan Roof!
Then they’ll say, “ if he only complied with the officer and remained calm. Philando Castille remained calm and got killed. Only in America the cop has a gun and they’ll say things like, “you seem nervous,” of course I do, you have a gun and you expect me to stay calm! I am glad people have started protesting since George Floyd’s murder! I remember finding out about George Floyd’s death and feeling that same feeling when my mom died. I was breathless and so emotional.
I am not saying white people don’t work hard and I am not saying others lives don’t matter. What I am saying is that your skin color is never used as a barrier.
People simplify their lives, they’ll say I don’t say the N word or Im not a racist so I’m a good person. And my whole thing is if the bar is that low for your life, I mean its the same as justifying that you don’t hit your wife and coming to the conclusion that therefore you are a good person.
It is easy to forget because you don’t come into contact with it. If I accidentally drop a bowling ball on your foot and break it, the effect is a broken foot. I didn’t mean to drop in, it wasn’t on purpose but the effect is still the same, a broken foot. So with racism and prejudice people may not mean too but it still happens. It is important to challenge your prejudices and blind spots. You could be accidentally doing something and the collateral damage is other people suffering.
When I go out for a run I get nervous. If someone comes at me or the police harass me, I have nothing but my story against theirs. From the outside I am a 6 ft 2 inch black man, which automatically categorizes me as guilty.
If you have a dog and if you kick that dog every day for 6 months, it still may not bite you. But month number 7 , that dog goes ahead and bites you. People will say that the dog is a dangerous dog, but they fail to see the facts of how that dog has been treated. So don’t judge the reaction, judge the treatment.
People constantly talk about making America great again, but America was never great. The American way has always given people opportunities at the expense of other people’s suffering. Most people think that for you to be successful somebody else has to fail. That’s simply not true. When the ocean rises, remember every boat goes up.
The Road to Change
Right now the focus needs to be on black people. People keep saying that all lives matter and yes I agree. But If your partner said ‘ hunny do you love me?’ and your response was, ‘hunny I love everybody….’ Then your wife is gonna be pissed off. If you want to solve anything don’t look at who is suffering, look who benefits. Even with Rosa Parks, she didn’t give up her seat that is a fact, but it was the fact that black people refused to go to work and use the transport that changed the rights of black people in the USA. They affected the economy!
I just don’t want this to be just another fad. Einstein says “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” As Black people we have been oppressed for so long, believing that we are not worthy. But I say no more! Keep applying pressure and do not let up.
All cops aren’t bad cops I agree, but in most places of work you don’t get props for doing your job. I would hope that most surgeons don’t kill people, I would hope that most pilots actually land the plane. I can’t give you props for doing your job, I appreciate it. There are certain professions you can’t have bad apples. You can’t find out that the pilot lands the plane some of the time. If you are there to protect people and you hurt people then that is unacceptable.
It is all about small wins right. For me imagination is more important than reality. Me being from Florida, people thought Walt Disney was nuts, people thought Martin Luther King was crazy for thinking the way he did. That’s why I say protect the kid inside of you and keep dreaming. If you want to build a house, you have to lay each brick down. Small wins lead to success.
I don’t like to deal in absolutes. Yes many black people have stood up and lost their lives for black people and yes many white people have also and we will never know their names. I love people. I recognise when it is time to focus one one group of people and right now those people are black people. You can’t say all lives matter without thinking that Black lives matter.
My advice towards black people:
- Focus of the small wins
- Protect the kid in you, stay curious and always have hope.
- Continue to grow and ask for help when you need it.
My advice towards people who are not black:
- Reach out to people of color and have a conversation. Humility and conversations lead to comfort and comfort leads to trust and trust is how you change.
- Find a way to use your privilege for the better, challenge people and their beliefs,.
- Honestly check you grandparents. If you aren’t comfortable checking your grandparents then there is no way you feel comfortable enough asking someone you don’t know.
Now you are awake, refuse to allow yourself to be rocked back to sleep!