Friday, August 06, 2004

Say Mane...Ya'll go 'Head

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a black guy. To be more specific, I’m one of those hard heads that grew up on the Southside of Houston Texas. Even though some folks may try to paint the Southside as all ghetto and thugged out, those of us who grew up here know that that is not a true characterization of all the inhabitants. Sure, we have low income federal housing facilities, Section 8 tenants and the like, but just because someone is poor or on the low side of the income scale does not mean that they’re thugs or stuck in a ghetto mentality. As a matter of fact, I would even say the majority of the natives of the Southside are hard working tax-paying folks trying to make their way in this world. They’re not selling drugs or pimpin hoz to make a living, they’re putting in an honest days work and diligently trying to survive in George Bush’s 2004 America.

A lot of people ask me, ‘How did somebody from the Southside, end up with an engineering degree from Stanford?’ Some of these are folks who have never been around a black guy from the hood with a good education. Instead, their hood experience has been with those uneducated ‘thugs & wanna-be thugs’ so when they talk to me, I trip them out (surprise them). This isn’t just white folks either, there’s a lot of upper-middle class black folks who are so far removed from what’s actually going on in the hood that their only glimpse is through what the media portrays. Rappers, singers, actors, movies, sitcoms, videos, all these images are what they’re internalizing as what’s going on in the hood. Some of the depictions of scantily clad women chasing after dudes in tight whips (real nice vehicle), and everybody carrying their 9mm ready to bust a cap in a hater (shoot someone who is out to do you harm) is true to some extent. But this is by no means indicative of the entire community; it’s only a small slice of reality.

Looking back on my trek, from my days of running around and hooping (playing basketball) on the streets of Sugarvalley, or rolling through 3rd Ward, South Park or Cloverland to find a game, there is a definite discrepancy which separated me from a lot of my Southside peers. It’s actually kinda a sad thing, because a lot of my friends that I grew up playing with everyday, are now locked up in some sort of correctional facility or out on parole. They’ve got their name on paper, that X (or two) on their back that says they’ve committed a felonious act.

A lot of my homies from the hood have a very common theme of failing to apply themselves in academic environments. Unlike a lot of them, my parents didn’t give me and my sister a choice. We had to go to school, pay attention and ‘get that lesson’! If they ever found out that I was acting up in class, or not completing my work? I was punished. One of my mother’s favorite sayings was,

“Even a monkey can sit down and be quiet in class.”

This is where discipline comes in, and this discipline is the core of what our children in the hood are in dire deficiency of today. Of course, this discipline starts in the home, with the way that the parents TRAIN their children, but it doesn’t stop there. Because once kids are properly trained, then they’re able to take this lesson and apply it in the real world when they’re faced with the various pressures of their peers, podnas and homies. The main thing that kept me from being one of those folks ‘on paper’, was the fact that I always had the foundation and courage to think independently of the group and make my own decisions. To put this another way, I was never afraid to stand up as a solitary figure and declare to the group, “Say mane…ya’ll go ‘head”. Because when you grow up on the Southside, it’s only a matter of time before that peer pressure starts knocking on your door. You want to be accepted, you want to be cool, you don’t want people to get you twisted and think you’re scared, so this pressure will sometimes lead you to environments and situations where you have to make a conscious decision NOT to go along with everyone else.

Gone and jump in D..we bout to ride over to Wesley Square.

Uhh..who’s car is this??

Don’t wurry bout all that n’ga..just gone and jump in.

Uhh..naww..ya’ll go ‘head mane..I’ll catch up with ya’ll later.

From stealing soda and candy from the neighborhood store, to riding around in stolen cars, there’s a lot of situations that may seem fun and harmless, but will eventually come back to bite you dead in the az. It is times like these, where an individual has to be secure and strong enough to break away from what the pack is doing and instead set out on that solitary trail. Even if it means ridicule and taunts of derision..

Aww n’ga..YOU SCAID! Just like a lil ol gal!! Gone and take yo hoe az back home to yo mama, you ain’t ready to hang out like REAL n’gaz anyway!

Aiight then..whateva.

See..that kinda stuff NEVER faded (bothered) me, because I never identified myself by what others thought of me. I had learned at an early age that my path was different than most Southsiders. Unlike most of my podnas in the hood, I never went to the neighborhood schools. Instead, I was bused across town to schools with Magnet Programs. They were still public schools in the Houston Independent School District system, but they all had curriculums for the ‘gifted and talented’ students. I had to wake up before light, so that we could eat our breakfast and catch the bus that would take us across town. This also meant that by the time I was getting off that yellow bus, and making that walk home, most of my podnas was already outside playing when they saw me walking by toting a biggo backpack full of books.

Ya’ll look at that n’ga D!! He got all them d’mn books that he gotta bring home and read everyday! AAAHHHHH-HAAAAAAAA!!! D’mn n’ga, you JUST now getting home??

Going through those years of being an ‘outsider’, that didn’t go to the same school and ride the same bus with all of the neighborhood kids, galvanized me on my own island. As embarrassing as it may have been sometimes to be called out, I always knew that there was a whole world of information, commerce and society out there that most of the guys ranking (verbal derision) on me knew nothing about. Sometimes they laughed at me because I ‘talked funny’. Going to a predominately white elementary school afforded me the opportunity to grow comfortable with the vernacular of white America. Of course the vocabulary is roughly the same as the hood, but the flow and diction is more precise and distinct. After a few years of being in both environments, white at school, black in the hood, I became bi-lingual so to speak. I could talk sh’t with the best of them on the court, and I could hold my own conversating with white folks too. I wasn’t afraid in either environment and I became adept of knowing when to ‘flip the switch’ and talk that Southside lingo, ‘What it do fool?’ or flip back to mainstream, ‘Well hello their guy!, how are things going with you?’ Same meaning, different vernaculars..ya feel me?

Too often the hood glorifies instant gratification and drug dealers, gangstas, rappers and athletes. These are the images that the kids see everyday and these are the images that they strive to become. My father recently gave me this wonderful article about Barrack Obama entitled, ‘Black Democrats had ears for this line from Obama’ . It was written by the chairman of Harvard University’s African- and African-American Studies, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. For those who don’t know the DYNAMIC brother, Barack Obama (pictured, rhymes with Yo’ Mama), he gave a very inspiring and emotionally charged speech as the keynote addressor for this years Democratic Convention. Being a TRUE ‘African-American’ (his dad was Kenyan, his mother is from Kansas and he was born in Hawaii). Obama has embraced the African-American community as his own and his political activism for the poor and underprivileged in the Southside of Chicago has vaulted him to the opportunity of being only the 3rd black U.S. senator since Reconstruction.

When you read through the article, you will see the stark reality of what we’re facing:

"According to the 2000 Census, there were more than 31,000 black physicians and surgeons, 33,000 black lawyers and 5,000 black dentist. Guess how many black athletes are playing professional basketball, football and baseball combined? About 1,400. In fact, there are more board certified black cardiologist than there are black professional basketball players."

Amazing isn’t it? But yet, our community and media continues to exalt and glorify the entertainment industry and the professional athletes for our kids, when the most reliable and proven way OUT of poverty and oppression for black folks, is through academic achievement and scholarship. This means not only going to school to LOOK fly, but going there to actually LEARN something. Applying yourself. Studying, being involved in different activities so that you have a better exposure to the real world, not just what’s going on in the hood.

No matter what all the ‘cool’ and ‘fly’ people are into. Whether it’s chasing skirts, drinking 40’s, smoking blunts, poppin pills or pulling stunts, the tried and true method of hitting licks that lasts for generations is through education. No matter our level of education, we all are susceptible to the pleasures of life that ‘seems to satisfy us all’, but if you don’t get that WORK done first? You’re gonna be stuck. Like Obama says, "Making it requires diligent effort and deferred gratification." Everything isn't about that QUICK dollar! Success was never meant to be served quickly, you can do it baby, just take your time and do it RIGHT.

I have an uncle who pastors a church in Port Arthur, Texas and he preached a sermon on ‘Perfect Planning’. I think this is a VITAL aspect for our kids (and adults) today, because most of us fail to plan. The Bible verse that he used was Phillipians 4:13, which is a very popular verse for Christians:

I can do all things through Christ which strengthened me.

He used this verse to highlight the fact that our dreams need Development, Dedication and Discipline. This isn’t to say that a person SHOULDN’T be an entertainer or a professional athlete, but whatever it is you want to do, you should make a plan. Because when you get an education, it will stick with you even if your knee blows out, or if some record company executives are ripping you off, that knowledge is still there. Don’t let others dissuade you from striving academically, because in the end, YOU are responsible for YOU.

Peer groups are very impressionable on our youth and even a lot of adults succumb to the pressures of what the ‘Jones’ are doing. Trying to keep up with the ‘in’ crowd, gotta be fresh, my ride gotta be tight…I’m so fly. Looking good is a good thing, but if you don’t have the KNOWLEDGE to back it up? You’re going to have a void in your life. Focus on that REAL and leave the bullsh’t to the side mane. True friends won’t let you down, true friends won’t lead you down and true friends won’t leave you down. No matter how tight you are with your crew, your click, your homies or your podnas, sometimes you just gotta let them know, "Say mane…ya’ll go ‘head”.