Across generations, there has been a history of African Americans who excel in various professions and venues. We have great poets like Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou. Innovators like George Washington Carver, Madam CJ Walker and Lewis Latimer. Actors like Sidney Poitier and Denzel Washington. We are musicians, artists, politicians, medical professionals, and businesspeople. What connects us is the hue of our skin, the opportunities and struggles provided by our environment, our ability to code switch, and the desire to be kings and queens.
As a member of the Millennial Generation, one of our generational contentions is that we take the blame of not understanding enough about history, or we don’t reach out to prior generations for their collective wisdom. We are known for taking initiative and finding our own solutions, without always being informed cross-generationally. Add this to being a marginalized and often stigmatized member of the African American population, and biases compound to affect us. Imagine how these identities and effects of marginalization can be amplified when you experience homelessness as well.
It is unfortunate that we are required to fight through the barriers of socio-economic forces to find success like those great individuals mentioned earlier. The story of people who face oppression is first presented at face value… But then, they are often misconstrued, and twisted for gain’s sake – even unintentionally – in ways which benefit only a few of us. This results in an environment in which the most recognizable leaders rise, are chosen and are celebrated. This phenomenon can be better explained in W.E.B. Du Bois’s “Talented Tenth” perspective.
Why am I telling you this? The stories we want to celebrate and often promote as role models for African Americans are filled with so many layers that we must first detangle our own motivations and misinformed educations before becoming advocates or lifters of black thought and voice. Even before integrating for the cause of a collective community, I challenge you to get to know us, on an individual level. In my opinion, taking a walk in an African American’s shoes may be more difficult than just expressing sympathy or spending a night in our neighborhood. Initially, it can start as a one-on-one conversation. It may be an invite to a dinner table, or asking if you can come over for dinner. It could begin with coming to a drop in center where over 45% of members identify as African American.
Eventually, we, as a community, must evolve to incorporate all perspectives on discussions regarding policy, practice, and reform. It must involve both seasoned and unqualified individuals at the decision-making table. It must include youth of promise, but also those who have records, those who are being detained. These youth should fill our student boards and leadership committees. Unfulfilled dreamers, block boys, substance abusers, and individuals with unrepairable credit; these same individuals are our world’s biggest visionaries, mathematicians and scientists, and philanthropists without the education, ease of access, and positive-influential forces that their privileged peers may have. This is the difference between a Benjamin Banneker and a child on the west side of Baltimore who’s one decision away from a life of success or a life of status quo.
What will you do? How will you bridge the socio-economic, racial, generational, and the trauma-misinformed gap? The challenge is there for all of us to fix. It could start at HQ, a Drop-In Center in the heart of the city where 14-24 year old individuals desire to achieve their hopes and dreams. Let’s work together to make sure their basic needs are met. Let’s work together to make sure youth have access to not just a job, but a career that allows our youth of color to excel. Let’s work together to make sure an African American youth is on every one of our boards, committee,s or decision-making groups because of their lived experiences and not because of their clout. Let’s make sure that, as a city, we work together to see a youth and adult of color at every event, meeting, political gathering, graduation, and position of influence.
Let’s not only make February, Black-History-Month. Let’s make February, and beyond, a Black History Making Month…