Brotherhood

Frederick L. Cox

Mortal Man

Brotherhood

By: Frederick Leon Cox

FIRST of all, SERVANTS of all, we shall TRANSCEND all.
— Alpha Phi Alpha

I have always felt a sense of loneliness. For many who know me, they wouldn’t believe that. I was raised with multiple siblings, two older (by 5 and 7 years) and three younger (6-10 years), seemingly a big family but I always felt alone. When I heard J Cole’s Middle Child lyric, “Dead in the middle of two generations. I’m little bro and big bro all at once”, I felt that in my spirit. In my family, I always wished I had a roll dog. Someone close to my age that I would ride for and they would return the loyalty. With so many people around, I felt awkward, it caused me to isolate myself. 

As I transitioned throughout grade school, my personality made me one of the most social people in the room. While it was natural for me to be extroverted, there are multiple memories of feeling like the most awkward person in the room. I attended an Arts high school where I majored in theatre. From a very early space, I learned to be comfortable being laughed at, and to shake it off as if I wasn’t bothered. Graduating high school I received the superlative Mr. Stivers High School, an individual that exemplified the most high school spirit. It was proof that I knew how to wear the mask well. 

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I then matriculated to the University of Dayton, at that point the institution was no more than 3% Black and so the feeling of isolation met me at the front door. It didn’t take me long to realize that I may need to leave the institution. I had two friends that felt similar and instantly we began discussing Greek Life. As I considered which organization would best suit me, I realized that I identified with Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., more than any other. Not only was I inspired by the history, but the intellectual brothers that helped shaped Black ideology confirmed that I would be in good company. The lack of Black students at the university made the idea of joining a Historically Black Fraternity seem like the answer to all my challenges at the time. Not only would I have the opportunity to bond with over 200,000 Black men all over the world, but I would be able to travel to other universities to make my college experience larger than what I was currently being offered. In short, those feelings of isolation would end. 

On March 7th, 2009, I joined the best fraternity in the entire world. It didn’t take long for me to become a recognizable Alpha in the area. I soon ran for statewide, regional, and national positions within the fraternity. I tried to get to know every Alpha I could and I traveled to support brothers as much as possible. Striving to be the best Alpha made me feel like I was truly living the mission of our fraternity. I met some of the strongest, forward thinking, family centered men that I had ever known. Needless to say, I had no regrets. Years after college, I not only remained active but as exuberant as I was the day in which I became a member. Two months ago I celebrated 10 years within the fold and as I look back at my experience, I realize that I have returned back to that space of isolation. But how? My dream came true, I was a member of a leading Black Male organization with tons of connections.

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I begin to therapy to look more into this. As I explained my circumstance, I was guided to understand that isolation was centered in my genuine friendships with other Black men. I thought about how my entire life I was able to create strong and affirming relationships with Black women but was missing that with my Black male peers. Examining my relationships with the Black males in my family, it became clear that they weren’t as strong either (four brothers not close to me in age and a father that I had yet to build an authentic relationship with). Specifically in the context I Alpha, I pledged with the hopes of building relationships, but I spent the majority of my time working to serve the organization rather than sitting back and building relationships with my brothers inside. Therapy helped me realize that in my friendships with men, I compete. Rather than sharing and supporting, I fight for leadership roles and often isolate myself from the general experience. 

That was tough pill to swallow.

Alpha Man

As I approach my 30s, I realize that I don’t just need to passively be part of a brotherhood and directly invested in the business. I realized that I am complicit in my own isolation. I was so focused on leading the brotherhood that I hadn’t taken the time to focus on what I truly needed with the group. This even allowed me to think about the ways I was complicit in my surface relationships with men within my family. I joined Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated to be part of brotherhood of Black men. Black men bonded by their vulnerabilities, not just their professional acumen. If that was what I wanted, I would need to focus on being more vulnerable and judging the actions of others less. Most importantly, I realize that my contributions to the fold isn’t solely based on leadership roles but my ability to truly be my brother’s keeper.

I shared this story because what I gained from this fraternity was reality that brotherhood is an exchange and not just shared space. As I continue on my journey to build healthy relationships with Black male peers, I’m able to consider the roles I play. These next few years will be filled with apologies, listening, sharing, asking questions and taking on intentional leadership roles that feed my needs. Brotherhood is no longer something I long for, it’s something that I am an active agent in creating. 

Frederick Leon Cox
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. develops leaders, promotes brotherhood and academic excellence, while providing service and advocacy for our communities.
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Brotherhood

By: Frederick Leon Cox

Son | Brother | Uncle | Godfather | Alpha

Be sure to keep up with Fred on social media:

Instagram: @coxfredl

Facebook: Frederick Leon Cox

The Game of Life

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Mortal Man

The Game of Life

By: Cleavon (Proph3ssorX) Matthews Jr.

Mortal: 1.) That must die at sometime 2.) Of man as a being who must die 3.) Causing death of the body and or soul 4.) Lasting until death  5.) Very great; Extreme

Man: Noun- 1) An adult, male human being 2) Any human being; Person 3) The human race 4) Human Servant 5) A husband 6) Any piece used in a game. Verb- 1) to supply with people for work, defense ect. 2) To take one’s place at on, or in 3) To make oneself stronger or braver  Suffix- 1) A person of a certain country 2) A person doing a certain work 3) A person who uses or works some device.

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When we are young we wish to be old. When we become old we seek our youth; however, it is when we mature that we learn to appreciate each moment that makes up this thing called life. Any and every human being will encounter struggles, even without them the scales of life are not the easiest to balance. Yet, there is only one fact that remains no matter who you are or what you do; there must come a time where all living things must die. So what will you do with the time you have here? Do you get consumed in your ego and drown? Have you allowed defeat to get the last laugh? Or did you overcome that in which seemed impossible?  Did you hide in shame of guilt or did you share your story so that one day when met with the same challenges as you someone else can know that they too can make it? Or did you just share in order to boast?

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With that being said.

What are you willing to die for?

Better yet, What are you living for?

The games life plays can you deal with it?

The constant repenting and sinning cause we all fall short

It's not the trip but how you recovered the slip

When times get rough did you just dip?

What work did you supply?

Whom did you serve?

What legacy did you leave?

What marks did you achieve?

If none then I respect you still

It can’t be an office without the real people in the field

So I salute you

Your value isn’t placed in a bank account and possessions

But the opportunities to learn lessons

Protect yourself at all times realize

Sometimes the tricks are only in your mind

Don’t forget to be kind
No matter what country you are in don’t miss the chance to meet a friend

share a bit of time to admire each others works

Growing stronger and braver together in order to take our rightful place.

Understanding we are apart of one race.

Clipping dying buds blooming bountiful blossoms of bliss

We are more than just husbands, sons, brothers, uncles, cousins, friends, we can not be bound to our professions and the ideals impressed upon us by society

We carry the seed of life

Molded by Mistakes

Made through Mishaps

Manifested outta Misery

Mounted on the shoulders of those who has come before us

Mortal men we are

Monuments to love

UnMeasured and Magnified

Mortal Men are We

 
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The Game of Life

Cleavon (Proph3ssorX) Matthews Jr.

Human | Artist | Writer | Teacher | Culture Critique

Cleavon is my friend that collaborated with me at my (The Way I See It) photography exhibit. Our conversations on life helped plant the seed for me to start the Mortal Man project.

You can keep up with him on social media at:

Instagram: @proph3ssorx

Twitter: @prophessorx

The Comeback Kid

Ryan Reese

Mortal Man

The Comeback Kid

By: Ryan Reese

I grew up with a ball in my hand. From the time I was three years old I have played at least one sport per season. My love for sports has been a place where I have gotten most of my accolades, praise and accomplishments. Things were not quite this way in school or in the classroom. I battled being one of few black students at my school so I often felt like I was the target of criticism, discipline, and shame. Not to mention my stubborn spirit to dig in my heels, this behavior usually landed me in trouble at home and at school.

All throughout my years in school, I was the biggest or one of the biggest kids in the school. This made it easy for everyone in school to know exactly who I was. I would joke with my mother and say, “if something goes on they’ll just blame it on me The Big Black Guy!” That was my light hearted way of dealing with the systematic racism that I didn’t understand at the time.

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The dream I wanted was so close but I could feel it slipping away from me rapidly.

As the years continued to pass by, I was put out of a predominately white elementary school twice. I turned 13 that summer right before starting Middle School. My mother and I had discussed in great lengths that this was an opportunity for me to have a fresh start in a new school system. I’d also finally get to go to the same school as some of my friends and teammates. All my friends were good athletes too, we played sports together for years and vowed to stick by one another. Our primary goal was to make our dreams to become professional athletes a reality. 

Middle school also came with a new set of challenges. I was transitioning from attending private school to now entering the public school system and the culture was night and day. I was astounded by the fact that not all students did their homework. I quickly adapted to these new school practices. In that regard school was not hard for me, I just refused to work up to my level of ability. I had a few D’s but never brought home any F’s on my report cards. Looking back I refused to buy into the idea that I could be just as good of a student in the classroom that I was on the basketball court or football field. 

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As I moved into high school I became an instant star on the football field. I played on the varsity team as a Freshman. Our team was full of good players. Some got Division I scholarships and I couldn’t wait for it to be my turn to go through the recruiting process.

My grades were mediocre my freshman year. Sophomore year I stepped it up in the classroom and made the honor roll the last two quarters of the school year. Our football team also won the Division II Ohio State Championship.

The summer before my Junior my great grandmother passed away and I was heartbroken! I didn’t realize that my grief was lingering inside of me - causing me to begin to self -destruct. The first quarter of my Junior year I had a 2.9 grade point average that declined several points each quarter after resulting in me having to attend summer school. I had begun to get recruiting letters from schools all over the country to play football. The dream I wanted was so close but I could feel it slipping away from me rapidly. Our team went to the state championship game the next two years as well and my Senior year I received the high honor of Defensive Player of the Year.

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My destructive behavior began to cost me more than I had ever realized, I was being advised to leave traditional high school because my grades weren’t where they needed to be. I spiraled all over the country never taking advantage of several different opportunities that were provided to me. 

This year I have been able to see my future and take action to begin to repair my life and broken dreams. “What does that mean?” I’m not quite sure yet but what I know now is that I am more than just a boy with an athletic dream. I am a man put here on this earth for a purpose and I have begun to realize and live up to. I’m beginning by reaching out to and  pouring into other boys like me that are trying to find their path and make their dreams come true. The best of me has not been seen yet!  

Stay WOKE!

THE COMEBACK KID!  

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The Comeback Kid

Ryan Reese

Son | Athlete

You can keep up with Ryan’s progress, offer words of encouragement and interact with him on facebook here: Ryan Reese

Persevere

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mortal man

Persevere

by: Alexander L.A. Huff

Persevere
per·se·vere | /ˌpərsəˈvir/
continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or no prospect of success.

At the age of (22) I was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL). It was something that just kind of happened out of the blue. It was January, 2017 and at the time I worked a full-time job and attended school at Central State University full-time taking (18) credit hours. My days consisted of going to school and on certain days I would leave class about (20) minutes early to make it to work on time. I worked at a group home for adults with special needs and I loved what I was doing because it tied in to special education which is what I’m studying in school. The reason I took the job is because I believed it would give me a clear picture of what life for my students would be like after the (K-12) educational setting. Many of them go to these adult homes and pretty much live in them forever. They go to dayhabs and work jobs that pay less than minimum wage. These are things that I had no idea or concept of so it’s a job that I’m grateful for. This was my routine for about a year. One night I was at work and felt a little stiffness in my lower back. I didn’t think much of it, I just thought it came from me doing too much.

When I got home I took some pain pills and went to bed. When I woke up the next morning the pain had kinda went away but not completely so I took some more pain medicine and headed off to class. This became a recurring routine for a week or so. Finally the pain got so bad that I couldn’t sleep and driving became difficult because it was too painful for me to sit upright. I went to the emergency room and was diagnosed with a really bad back sprain. I was prescribed pain medicine and sent home. The medicine helped with the pain for about a week but right after that the pain came back and it was so intense this time that I couldn’t attend class or make it into work.

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I went to urgent care and this time I was diagnosed with a really, really bad back sprain so they increased my pain medicine and the pain did seem to go away. It would come back in small spurts but not bad enough to warrant another trip to the ER or urgent care. A bit later I went to my doctor for a routine physical and follow up appointment. She ran tests on me and everything came back normal with the exception of my liver count and white blood cells being slightly elevated but not to a level that would cause any concern. Months went by and the pain returned so I underwent more testing. We did tests for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, leukemia, anemia, all types of things and everything test came back negative. After completing these test and not finding anything my primary doctor referred me to an oncologist.

The oncologist ran multiple tests and again everything came back negative. At this point, I also began having very bad night sweats. I would wake up and my sheets would be completely drenched. I thought”maybe I have the heat up too high” so I turned the heat down that worked for about two weeks before starting back again. I finally mentioned it to my oncologist and it’s so ironic that I did because in that same appointment she felt like the combination of my counts not being off by much along with all the tests coming back normal that she’d release me and see me in a few months. My oncologist told me she’d see me in six months and was about to head out of the door and I said “okay, and oh and by the way I’m having these night sweats and my whole bed is wet.” At the time the numbers from my test results weren’t in the range for Hodgkin’s or Non-Hodkin’s Lymphoma so there appeared no reason to test for them. However, the news of my night sweats changed the whole game and although my counts weren’t in range for Hodgkin’s or non-Hodkin’s lymphoma news of my night sweats prompted her to test me for it. 

It was May and I went home to Cleveland to spend Mother’s Day with my mom. My mother doesn’t like to go through my mail so I had a bunch of envelopes and mail to go through. I had bills from Kettering Medical Center, CompuNet and other places… all of these bills came up to about $12,000. Bills for every test that I had ran and from the emergency room and urgent care visits. I found out that all of these visits and tests were happening outside of our insurance’s network. That forced me to transfer all of my tests and healthcare needs to MetroHealth in Cleveland. The paperwork took some time and MetroHealth wanted to run their own tests on me so that was time consuming as well.

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There would be nights when I would feel so bad that I would question “is this what dying feels like?

In July of 2017, I was at an internship in Boston where I was  one of twenty five students chosen to participate in a program in which we did Mock GRE and Mock Graduate coursework all to help prepare us for grad school. I had to leave the internship early to return to MetroHealth for more tests. When I got to Cleveland they told me that my test results came back positive for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma but that later changed because they really didn’t know if it was Hodgkin’s or non- Hodgkins Lymphoma. I was told that I could return to Boston for the last week and a half of my internship but that when I returned to Cleveland I would have to start chemotherapy. When I got back there was still some confusion about if I had Hodgkin’s or non-Hodgkins Lymphoma but either way a bone marrow test would be required.

The bone marrow test caused the most pain that I have ever experienced in my life! They literally dig inside of your bone to get to the marrow and they’re tapping on it so that’s pretty painful. The test results came back in two days or so. It was determined that the lymphoma had spread into my bones which meant that I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. At this time, I was told by the doctors that it would be in my best interest to withdraw from school because they didn’t think I could handle the workload while going trough chemotherapy. I was already about a semester and a half behind in school so I told them that withdrawing from school was not an option. Sick or not ,I was determined to finish school on my schedule so I was committed to push through. The doctors reluctantly agreed to let me go back to school they just instructed me to reduce my credit hours “they didn’t know it but I still took a full load of classes.” 

I returned to Central State University that fall semester and thankfully all of my teachers and professors were willing to work with me. They were flexible and even allowed me complete most of my work online and attend classes when I felt strong enough. My insurance was still out of network which meant that I had to commute between CSU and Cleveland for my chemotherapy. I would leave CSU on Thursdays to have chemotherapy in Cleveland on Fridays. After chemo I would sleep the rest of the day on Fridays, all day on Saturdays and half of the day on Sundays. On Sunday evenings, I would drive back to CSU for class. Even though I wasn’t physically going to class I still needed to be there to turn in my work and to get any new assignments. It was also better for me mentally. I did this for a few months and my treatments were complete.

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I tried to get my life before cancer back as much as I could. It was very challenging for me mentally because there were times when I would wake up in the middle of the night and wouldn’t feel well at all. There would be nights when I would feel so bad that I would question “is this what dying feels like? Am I going to survive? How is it that this can happen to someone like me that has been fairly healthy? Am I going to make it through this?” All of these questions would cross my mind. In these hours I would have to dig deep and really call on my faith. I would remind myself that I haven’t been brought this far just to be dumped off here. I know that better things are coming. I just have to endure all of the sickness and emotions and then also not to forget my own purpose and why I was planted here. So holding onto that faith is what helped me get through because it was a very, very difficult time. I went back for MetroHealth for scans and there was some confusion about the results. Eventually they said that my cancer was in remission.

This past summer I went back for scans and they determined that they wanted to send me back through another round of tests. This time I was under an insurance plan that allowed me to have things done at The James “which is Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.” After undergoing all of the tests they found that the cancer had returned and began going over different treatment options. Since the first treatment method of (R-CHOP) chemotherapy didn’t work they decided that they would try the (RICE) regimen followed by a stem cell transplant.  This meant that they would take my own stem cells; cleanse them and then freeze them until it was time to replace them. Essentially they were taking out my old immune system and replacing it with a new one. This process required six consecutive days of around the clock chemotherapy and a hospital stay of (21) days in which I would be allowed to have visitors but they would be required to wear gowns and masks.

It seemed like a daunting task but my whole motto throughout all of this was “Do what you have to do to survive. Do what you have to do to make it to the next day.” I knew it wouldn’t feel good but if it’s going to improve my quality of life and if it’s going to improve how I live life I have to do what I have to do to make it to the next day. With all of this in mind I embarked on this journey again, this time with a different regimen all while still trying to make it through school. All of my classwork at Central State was done and I was at a point where it was just a matter of completing my student teaching. I had twelve weeks of student teaching that I needed to do so I asked the doctors “how can I make this happen with chemotherapy and student teaching?” The doctors weren’t sure if it was possible and tried to talk me out of it. My overachieving spirit wouldn’t accept that answer so I put a plan in place.

This time around my chemotherapy was a lot more intense than the first time so my bounce back wasn’t as strong as I thought it would be. After the first round of treatment I went back to school and felt pretty good. The second round of treatment was a lot more taxing and I had a hard time even making it into the house without throwing up. I’d go to sleep and wake up feeling like I hadn’t been to sleep at all. That’s what chemo does to you. It's a toxic treatment that drains you physically. I suffered a lot of pain, I lost a lot of weight as well as all of the hair on my body. It also effects you mentally. Most people are prepared for not physically feeling well but we often overlook the mental aspect. That’s something that took it’s toll on me. I saw myself healthy and vibrant and then all of a sudden I looked as though I had a foot in the grave - that does something to you mentally. To see yourself with hair and then with no hair at all anywhere; no eyebrows, no mustache, no beard… no hair anywhere on your body - that does something to you mentally. To see all of the weight loss where your clothes no longer fit you anymore and they all fall off of your body - that does something to you mentally. Going out in public wearing a mask and seeing people stare at you - that does something to you mentally.

There were times I felt as if I was fighting three battles at once. I was trying to maintain and make it through school. I was try to keep afloat mentally while fighting for my life, “it’s me or the disease. How do I fight this fight over something that I see wipe people out every day of the week?” I reached a point where I finally stopped going to school and I stopped working. I was living off of support from my family and the money that I had in my savings account. A huge weight was lifted from my shoulders once the chemo was complete. I still had concerns though because I had been here before. You can end chemotherapy but that doesn’t mean that you’re healthy.

It was time for the stem cell transplant and that was very trying. There were times that I couldn’t eat because I still had sores in my mouth from chemotherapy. There were times where I would throw up on myself because I couldn’t make it to the restroom or to the barf bag. When I was going through all of this I was still trying to do my schoolwork so that I could still stay afloat in school. I got out of the hospital and still needed to complete my student teaching. My family and friends told me that I really needed to take it easy. I told them that I would but I needed to get back and for many reasons. I needed to finish school for my own mental well being and also I had ran out of financial aid and if I didn’t finish that would cause me to have to pay out of pocket along with a few other concerns.

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I was back in school three weeks after leaving the hospital so the turnaround time was quick but it was something that I had to do for myself. I just finished student teaching last Thursday and graduation is May 4th. I was able to maintain my honor role status and I finally feel like “I did it!” I know I didn’t do it alone. I definitely didn’t do it alone. God is definitely amazing and good. Without God, I wouldn’t have made it through cancer the first time let alone the second time. So here I am. My cancer is gone, it’s currently in remission. For the first time in two years, I feel like I know what my health looks like. I know what’s going on with me right now. I am optimistic that my future will be great and that my status of being a cancer survivor will be just that, a “survivor”. I will never again have to say that I am a cancer “patient” again. So much comes with that. People hear the word “cancer patient” and they immediately count you out. They look at you like you have an expiration date over you that is soon to run out. 

I aspire to be a beacon of hope for somebody to know that you have a disease but the disease doesn’t have you. You can still live a full life and have cancer. My mission is to show people that you can sill live life on your term. You can still be upbeat and positive about life when you're battling cancer. Overall, I feel blessed and fortunate. I will graduate from Central State University with a degree in Education. I didn’t shelve my goals and dreams. I hope that I have shown people that you can battle cancer with grace, that you can fight through any challenges that may present themselves.

 
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PERSEVERE

Alexander L.A. Huff

Educator | Vocalist | Advocate of Individuals with Special Needs | Fighter | Cancer Survivor

You can keep up with Alexander and offer words of encouragement by leaving comments on the website and by following him on instagram.

@thisisalexander_

The Lamb is the Lion

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Mortal Man

The Lamb is the Lion

by: amaha sellassie

I am beginning to ponder life and how much of it I could possibly have left.  While some may find this to be morbid or unhealthy, for me it is becoming liberating because it is propelling me past my fears and internal obstructions into walking in my medicine on the road we call life.

I find myself understanding my role in the human body, which is giving me the courage to say no to great things that don’t line up with my highest self. It is giving me boldness knowing that the lamb is the lion because the Sheppard is Supreme.

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Pondering my mortality has given me patience.  What is five years of intense focus if in the end I can utilize a PHD for 50 years towards emerging equity and collective hope on the earth as we emerge the heart of humanity?

It is said when an elder dies a library is lost.  How do I share now so when I am gone all those who have freely poured into me live on in future generations? Dr Twe always teaches us to leave the earth better than we found it, I pray for the power to do that.

I want my daughter to inherit a world where as Stevie puts it “hate is a dream and Love forever stands”.

To birth Love we must give Love, therefore by grace I give my life to be Loves domain that humanity can know and make Love Supreme.

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As we walk in the Way, we make the way known. The older I get the more I realize the power of action, walking out vision and re-imaging a world that honors the dignity and worth of every human being. The power of being the invitation thru occupying grace and acknowledging my interrelated interdependence with all things in the single garment of destiny. Ubuntu, for the supremacy of Love is the underlying assumption.

By grace I am a conductor on the above ground railroad, walking with humanity as we press towards higher ground, cooperation and mutual understanding. 

The conductors of today are building an ecosystem of equity that structuralizes the dignity every human being posses in order to release their potential for the benefit of all. I am learning to forgive in this exodus into One Love.

I am because we are.

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The Lamb is the Lion

amaha sellassie

Practitioner Scholar, Social Healer, Health Equity Seeker, Public Sociologist, Community Based Participatory Researcher, Roots Doctor, Lover of Music & Comics and Friend of Humanity


Thankful participant in West Dayton Strong and Gem City Market

You can connect and build with Amaha on:

Instagram: @international_morality

Twitter: @intl_morality

Facebook: amaha sellassie

Out of the Shadows

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Mortal Man

Out of the Shadows

By: Marc Dewitt

Jere Isiah DeWitt was a master conversationalist… a consummate networker, and he was ever curious. Pop was a corporate trainer, a storyteller, but so much more… he was loud and boisterous, proud and arrogant, dad loved his family, and introduced us to “kinfolk” often. To me he was a motivator, a confidante, later, even a friend.  But he was an antagonizer and my biggest critic. He was my nemesis… and all the while, my greatest cheerleader. Pop once told me I was a better father than him.  It’s the greatest compliment my father ever paid me...  Nathan LaMont DeWitt is a world traveler, a husband and father, a runner, a weekend warrior, a voracious reader and a terrible driver. Nathan is Jere’s spitting image and my parent’s oldest child. Nathan is also a corporate trainer, a world class professional, an international lecturer, an adjunct professor, and a consummate storyteller. A great friend. Nathan is my person. One of my fondest memories is being the best man in his wedding. He has quietly guided me my entire life. Although only 18 months my senior, standing 5’10”, or 11” if you ask him, he is to me larger than life. He is my big brother and my best friend.

Through their lived experiences, I’ve finally come to understand, life is short, but worth it. I grew up in the shadow of my big brother, it seemed he could do no wrong… so I did a lot of it. Nate was a great student, a shining example, literally a Boy Scout and choirboy. I was asthmatic, awkward and I missed a lot of school. I wasn’t socialized to students my own age. So I was more than a little unruly. I could not participate in gym, sometimes recess or any extra curriculars until middle school. I did not learn to ride a bike until 10 or 11.  Outdoors and physical exertion held every danger for me, and I could end up in the hospital, and often times did. I missed an average of 5 weeks of school a year, until middle school. When hospitalized I always wanted the IV to be put in my left hand so I could draw with my right. That did not usually work, so I became really good with my left. I was a comic book enthusiast growing up, absorbing mountains of comic books. 

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As I entered middle school I was no longer excused from gym. Then came the ridicule from being big and not good at sports. Luckily the breathing issues were easing up but the “social” animal was rearing its ugly head.  Kids are cruel. And I was angry… all the time. Further, I wanted nothing to do with other kids. I was picked on some, but usually my brother ran interference. Nathan was wildly popular too. He could sing, and seemed to enjoy being really smart, and he was. And because of that I was always being called on the carpet by teachers who had Nate the previous year asking, “Marc, what’s wrong with you? Nate was such a good student!” or worse they’d call him down to deliver messages to the parents. Did I say I grew up in his shadow?

Then came high school, Nathan went with his friends and the rest of my neighborhood to Meadowdale.  When it was my turn, I chose John H. Patterson Cooperative High School. Where students learned a trade and got jobs while in high school. I didn’t want to go to college anyway. “right!?” Patterson was a little too “open”, or so my Father thought. So after my second year, and a lot of skipping class, Pop sent me to Meadowdale.  Insert that really long shadow again. Nate was still… Nate, only more so. He was beloved by teachers and classmates alike… I was an unknown. It was Nate’s senior year. That summer he called the house in the midst of a celebration and told me one of the realest things he’d ever say, “I have to see the world.”  After graduation, Nathan went to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. That shadow that had been there my whole life was gone, but so was my big brother, my interpreter of the world around me. He made it look easy because he was so eager to experience life. Stranger still, he was hours away and while I finally had my own room, it seemed all I did now… was seek him out. Every chance I got I was in Athens, Ohio. After college, Nate moved to Japan to teach English, and live an incredible life. Leaving me with a stop the presses thought. He told me I was smarter than him. While I didn’t believe him, I thought that’s like your parents telling you something intended to push you. I still don’t agree, but it turns out, he meant it. Meanwhile, I graduated from high school and enrolled at Sinclair.  

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It was Sinclair that would next play a huge role in my life. I was an admissions assistant a week after graduating high school. The job was fun but then I had to go to class. And deal with what I thought was a math disability, which was actually just a phobia. Anthony Ponder helped me with that by not letting me shy away. Challenging me to dig deeper, and conquering College Algebra. Rigor was my next lesson, courtesy of Marc Smith’s introductory Biology class. The next few years would take me to work full-time and a measure of independence. It would also introduce me to Christopher K. Welch. Chris challenged me to take on my first real job, earning for the first time, a living wage. As well as what I did not want to hear, “DeWitt” he said, “you have to go back to school.”

Enter, Central State University. Although I knew it was an HBCU, I was still caught off guard by the people I met. They were from all around the country and the world. But things were different, I was determined to make it. And although I did ok at first, two things happened in the first year. One, I made the decision to prioritize school like never before so I resigned my position and became part time. Two, I met William Henry Caldwell, a relatively small guy from Demopolis, Alabama.  He was/is a giant. Mr. Caldwell is probably the foremost authority on Black vocal choral music in the country, if not the world. He served as the Conductor of the Grammy Nominated Central State University Chorus. Caldwell offered me a scholarship, made me a principle voice, a part of something bigger than me. And thereby changed my world. That summer I was one of three students from Central’s chorus that served as guest vocalists for Wilberforce University’s Choir. Their spring tour would be a return visit to Egypt where they toured the previous year. They were invited back, this time, as guests to the US ambassador. We were to sing for his 4th of July Celebration at the Opera House in Cairo. In route, we spent the day (14 hour layover) in Amsterdam, visited Anne Frank’s house, and ate, before our connecting flight to Egypt. After singing at the opera house in Cairo, something occurred to me. My mother was in Japan visiting Nate. Pop was in South Africa on a mission trip for with his church. My step mom and younger brother, Jeremy, were in Europe. No one in either household I grew up in was in the continental United States. My world was suddenly so much bigger, all the while so much smaller.

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Central State would afford me a similar experience in Europe touring England and France a few years later.  Between Egypt and Europe I spent nearly every term on the Dean’s List, traveled the US extensively, and accomplished the one thing I never imagined growing up; earning a bachelor’s degree in History and Economics. Sinclair and Central State changed my life. I’m thankful to the Most High for putting the men I’ve mentioned in my life when he did. I strive to be that difference maker for brothers I encounter. I am thankful for SaVon Isaiah, Ethan LaVance, Caden Matthew and Landon Thomas DeWitt… you teach your father daily. I love you. Pop keep an eye on them and us.

 
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Out of the Shadows

By: Marc DeWitt

Son, Father, Brother, Educator, Artist, Mentor, Alpha, Student Advocate

Keep up with Marc on instagram at:

@6__5

Winter in America: a journey in education

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Mortal man

Winter in America:

a journey in education

by: Christopher James

A journey in education is a look at the path that is all too common to the everyday walk of young black males.  Through various interactions and experiences, the feelings of inadequacy and the lack of confidence are easier to embrace than the motivation to try.  For any growing child the embrace of love is what’s wanted, but often youth do not know how to seek that love.  The love that an educator gives can inspire a student or shield a student from challenges that can instigate self-assurance.  

All throughout my educational experience, I was told that I could be anything I put my mind to. If I just get good grades the rest will work out, I will get a good job, good money, and be able to buy the car of my dreams.  This all sounded good but even in the fourth grade, I knew that this was not all that I needed.  Every day I saw my parents working hard, father preaching to the masses, and my mother teaching youth my own age at the time.  

In the early 90’s when Starter jackets were the greatest symbol for being fresh, my brother headed off to walk to his middle school with his friends as he did every day.  He was excited because he had on one of the most sought-after Starter jackets, the infamous Georgetown Hoyas with an embroidered bulldog logo on the front and back.  As he turned off of his home street, he heard a car come to a screeching stop beside him.  My brother stopped with a friend who were both curious to the abrupt stop when a guy in a black hoodie jumped out wielding a Smith and Wesson.  I remember the explanation of the gun because that was the first time I heard of Smith and Wesson as a gun manufacturer, I only heard the name in reference to rap duo Smif – N- Wessun, now known as Cocoa Brovas.  

Thankfully, my brother survived the incident without physical harm, but the toll was greater on my mother and father who felt helpless.  Here they are working to provide the best for their children for an incident to occur down the street from where we laid our heads.  

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That incident sparked my parents to sacrifice more and send my brother and I to prestigious private schools.  My brother went to a private high school while I was sent to a Christian elementary school to start fourth grade.  My experience was anything but Christian.  I was forced to repeatedly apologize in the front of the class for proclaiming my innocence and not taking accountability, which in the fourth grade I didn’t know what it meant.  I was threatened with suspension because of a design in my haircut due to the school being against gang activity.  An experience that my parents reminded me of that I must have purposefully forgotten was when my class went on a school field trip and one of the school workers who was tasked to take me, and three other minority students back to school decided to drop us off at a near gas station because she didn’t want us in her car.  

After all of these incidents, my parents called a meeting that they insisted I be a part of with school administration.  Here I am, a child whose chest was barely at table level while sitting.  I remember vividly the discussion at the meeting.  I never saw my father mad aside from when I would break something, but today he carried a wave of calculated anger that appeared calm but deliberate. 

My father asked the teacher and the acting principal, “You asked my son to apologize for incidents he was not a part of? You’ve held him back from activities, and tried to suspend him for a squiggly-line in his hair? Will you apologize to us and him for our inconvenience?”  The principal jumped in “That’s a reasonable request and on behalf of the school I do apologize”, my father stopped the principal.   “Thank you, but I am asking the teacher.”  The teacher played with her keys and without making eye contact said, “You know, I do not have the courage to apologize right now.”  

As a child sitting at the table, I was hoping that the teacher would stop playing with the keys, I knew what my mother would do to me had I been playing like that.  I also immediately thought about that word “accountability”.  I had been hounded to write that word and what it meant for pages and pages and my teacher could not put that word into action.

Needless to say, that summer we moved from the urban-city environment to the suburbs.  In retrospect, these years planted a question in my mind as to why my environment was so different from this new community.  This new community was building new stores, homes, and in the process of building a new high school.  Years later, the urban neighborhood I grew up in looked the same as it did the morning my brother was robbed.   

This new community was great because I didn’t grow up worrying if I too would be robbed for my Air Force 1's, or my Sean John jacket.  This was a new frontier and a different type of challenge to conquer.  As a black student I was accepted, I was told that I served a purpose and that purpose was sports.  Sports was often said to be my only access to college.  The biggest thing with this experience for myself and other black youth, I received love due to my physical abilities and was not taken seriously in any other facets of the school. 

Prior to the beginning of my senior year as a family, we moved out of state so my father could take advantage of a new position/promotion within the church.  This was a complete culture shock for me.  I had been in class with white students before, had white teachers, black women teachers, but never a black male teacher.  This standard did not change as I entered this new school for my senior year.  Instead, I was faced with the reality that I would be a member of a group that represented only 5% of the students in the entire school.  This new normal meant that I would be the only black student in the class, and when questions of race, slavery, or affirmative action came up, teachers would use me to confirm that the country was in a good place, even to my objections.

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The experiences in grade school prepared me for the perceived utopian society that college is and the real world stipulations involved.  In an environment where students are eagerly finding themselves and searching for representations of who they wish to become it was especially difficult to find myself in this space.  As an American male who is black, I did not have a black male teacher or professor until my final year in college.   

The effects of limited representation continued into college as I dealt with finding myself in an environment that was not conducive to young black men.  The college experience is tough as it is, being away from home, student responsibility, and the yearning to make a difference in a world unknown.  I was taught many lessons in college while trying to find myself in all of these mentioned roles.  I was faced with professors who allowed their implicit bias to calculate my grades, a professor kicked me out of class because she thought I wasn’t human.  I like to refer to her as Mrs. Turnpin, a fictional character from a book we read in that course of a lady who thought she was righteous by upholding standards even though those standards were rooted in racism and bigotry.  Lastly, the staple in a black youth’s life, the rite of passage of being harassed, mocked, arrested, and falsely charged by the finest in blue.  This was a journey of discovery to move from a black youth to a black man fighting for distinction.   

To bring this full circle, I have always wanted to be a representation for my community but mostly for youth that are searching for an authentic person that can represent and support them.  With this motivation driving my passion I jumped to the opportunity to be an administrator in a K-8 elementary school in Cleveland, Ohio.  In this role, I was the quasi-assistant principal tasked with ensuring school engagement in the community and finding ways to support students and staff needs.  As I began to find my way in this new role I was rocked with a tragedy that would gain national attention.  A student that took a liking to me and began a relationship with was gunned down in a “good shoot” police encounter.  The school student body looked to me to help navigate them through this traumatic experience with the killing of their classmate, Tamir Rice.  As Dean of this school, I attempted to seek out any and all organizations and supports to help students with trauma until my efforts were hindered by leadership that wanted to operate this traumatic event as a normal occurrence.  Missing the point that this decision would reinforce the stigma that urban youth do not matter. 

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This brief scope into my educational experience is not out of the norm for students who share my skin tone. The importance of representation goes beyond just seeing someone who looks like you in a position of success or power.  Representation is about having individuals of different experiences and insights that will have a say and seat at the table where the variety of experiences, cultures, and philosophies will add value and sensitivity to decision making.  My inspiration for helping youth in education, community, and life is driven from a motto I learned when I decided to enter the teaching field, “your job is to get at least one student to listen.”  

At the time, I thought this idea was right.  I no longer feel that way because I found out early that the students who listened to me were often the cast-offs or troublemakers.  This revealed to me that all students can be great if they’re taken seriously, given unbiased time and attention, and know that someone cares.  Instead, we choose to forget them.  Just like the forest beneath the highway never given a chance to grow, and now it’s Winter in America (Gil Scott Heron). 

 
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WINTER IN AMERICA

A JOURNEY IN EDUCATION

Christopher James

Father, Educator, Nupe, Community Advocate, Freedom Fighter

Keep with Christopher on instagram at: @bionik_man_man

A Eulogy: One Last Conversation with My Big Bruh

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Mortal Man

A Eulogy: One Last Conversation with My Big Bruh

By: Karlos L. Marshall

At some point in our lives, most people are faced with an unexpected and possibly even a tragic death of a loved one. The process of healing looks different for all, but sharing one’s testimony publicly with others is largely a sign of recovery. A few years ago, the unforeseen death of my brother shook me to my core and I have largely been private about that experience and its impact since. It was his death that made me discern the truth and reality of mortality, legacy, and life’s purpose. This project is part of the ongoing healing process for me, as I have decided to share intimate details of our brotherhood with the world — that only our family members and closest friends have known.
— Karlos L. Marshall
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I would like to just take this time to thank everyone for coming out and just to have one more conversation with my Big Bruh. Big Bruh, I would be remiss if I didn’t speak on your legacy, beliefs, and our experiences together amongst loved ones — on your celebration day. I’m just praying that my words could provide some level of justice to the life, in which you lived. Big Bruh, there are no words in the human diction that are capable of sorrow and suffrage of your loss.

When some individuals pass its unexpected. But you see — this here was unforeseen. It was unforeseen that we would not be afforded another opportunity of conversation — to cast a vision upon the present and future generations of all the children that bear our last name. It was unforeseen that I wouldn’t get another opportunity to call you on your way to work, as we oftentimes spoke about the plight of the Black community and creative avenues of change and upward-mobility for our people.

Big Bruh, it was unforeseen I wouldn’t be able to give you one more hug, one more backsided hand-slap that you thought was so cool. Big Bruh, it was unforeseen that we wouldn’t get to watch one more athletic event together. Or play one more game of one-on-one or horse even though I would mostly win.

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But even when we played a few years ago, you played off of me because you said I couldn’t even shoot when we were growing up as kids. Big Bruh, it was unforeseen we would no longer get to reminisce on our own childhood — by watching our sons interact with one another; as you undoubtedly said it best: “they’re cousins, but more like brothers.”

It was unforeseen that the first day the world welcomed me — would be the same day I speak to you for the very last time 26 years later. “Happy Birthday Little Brother,” you texted me. I replied, “Appreciate it. Hope all is well with you and the kids.” You said “most def. Same to you.” Big Bruh, it was unforeseen that after many childhood years of endless nightly conversations — that those would be the last humble words we would ever speak to one another.

Big Bruh, it was unforeseen that we would never be able to relive and recreate the good ol’ days. We would no longer get to laugh at our oldest brother for throwing the baseball over the backstop from the outfield. It was unforeseen I would no longer get to crack jokes on you for always having ashy knees when we were growing up. Big Bruh, it was unforeseen that I would be standing here right now — telling you I would miss your jokes about how light-skinned dudes was out-of-style.

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Big Bruh, do you recall telling me: how proud you were of me—after I got my master’s and bought my first house. A house that you went to take me to go see. You said, “you way ahead of the game Lil Bruh.” But you already knew, you were always the person I looked up to, as one person recently reminded me: “remember, I knew you when you were his Little Brother.”

Some called you “Truth.” I just called you Big Bruh. Big Bruh, growing up being able to say I was your Little Brother gave me a credential—that not even my own young hype could buy. Big Bruh, do you recall telling me that your daughter asked you: “is Uncle Karlos like my Daddy too?” You said, “no baby, but he’s like your Daddy when I’m not around.”

But that is one thing that I do know — is that you loved those kids. I’ve always attempted to try to emulate you and fill your shoes; something I still cannot do at this very moment, as I currently wear a pair of shoes that you once provided me.

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But it would be unforeseen the seismic void you would leave. Big Bruh, if there’s one thing I knew, it’s that you loved those kids. Big Bruh: a Man of God, a Father, a Son, a Brother, an Uncle, a Nephew, a Grandson, a Cousin, a Best Friend, a Colleague, and a Man of the Community you were —— with a vision to take our people to see the world and see the world they will. Big Bruh, it was unforeseen that you would never get the opportunity to be my Best Man. For that — I will never have the privilege of having one; because my Best Man — that you still are.

Big Bruh, we choose to relish the way in which you lived, rather than ponder the ways in which you may have died. Big Bruh, you were one of the very best men I will ever meet. And it was a pleasure and honor to walk in your footsteps for as long as I have.

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A fighter you were. You showed us that to your very last breath. Big Bruh, I know you have a great legacy because I still wear our last name proudly. I was your Little Brother then and I’m your Little Brother now. “Marshall Men: there are none stronger.” Ain’t that what you used to always tell me? Big Bruh, in the words of our favorite urban philosopher, “we gon’ be aight.”

In the true spirit of the African proverb—that it takes a village to raise a child, before you today brotha — is that village. We—will help raise your children. And Mom and Pops, also before you today is the village that helped deliver you second child to his righteoushome — for now — is your time to rest.

Big Bruh, it was and still is — unforseen, unimaginable, and incomprehensible — that my very first time being a pallbearer will be for you on this here very day. Big Bruh, that is the irony — for it is you—that has carried me, lifted me up, and propelled me forward to greatness — when I didn’t even know I possessed greatness in and of myself. That was the responsibility you felt to me your Little Brother. And for that — Big Bruh — I will forever love you!

Karlos L. Marshall

Educator | Civic Innovator | Brother

Founder of The Conscious Connect, INC.

Born and raised in the Champion City of Springfield, Ohio, Karlos L. Marshall has been recognized as an international thought leader at the intersections of urban education, civic innovation, and neighborhood revitalization. He has been named an honoree of the Forbes '30 Under 30' Class of 2019 and the International Literacy Association's '30 Under 30' Class of 2019. Through his nontraditional approaches, Mr. Marshall seeks to speak a world-class 21st Century cultural renaissance.

Resilience

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Mortal Man

Resilience

By: Diecer Delfin

My family and I are originally from the Philippines. Growing up I dealt with domestic violence and my father use to do shaboo, (Filipino term for meth) and crack. His drug habit would make him paranoid and when that happened we all knew it, especially if he wasn’t home by a certain time of night. We knew that he would come home drunk or high and start wailing away on my mother. My two sisters and I couldn’t do anything to help her: we were too small. I remember my oldest sister hiding us to protect us from my father. There was one instance when my oldest sister confessed to us that my father and his friend were doing drugs at our house one day and his friend tried to rape her. So I wasn’t the only one that was traumatized in our house - it was my sisters as well (especially my oldest sister because her memories are more vivid.)

Going back to my childhood I realize that I learned what depression was at an early age. I can recall wanting to die so that I wouldn’t have to suffer through day to day life. This is at five or six years old. I can’t even imagine a child feeling that way. For me no day was safe. Not birthdays, not holidays - there were no safe days in my childhood. Something always happened. That’s affected me as a husband. I find myself expecting the worst. My wife always has my back and reminds me that I’m not my father.

As I look back at my adolescence I realize that I didn’t really have a mother or father figure. It was just me and my sisters. My sisters and I talk about our childhood a lot and how messed up it was.

When we were still living in the Philippines I remember my dad coming home with the intention of chopping my mother up with a machete. My mother grabbed my sisters and I and hid us in the bushes. She left us there and told us she was going to call for help. Later my aunt “my dad’s sister” came and got us. At this point we had no idea where our mother was. We didn’t now if she was still living or not. That day lives in the back of my mind.

I can vividly remember my father often waking me up early in the morning. High on drugs and coupled with his OCD kicking in. He gave me the choice of mopping the floor or being beaten. We lived in a rural area and he would tell us that he was going into the city to look for a job. Twenty-four hours would go by and the neighbors would notice that he was gone so they would call me in and tell me to eat with them. There would be days when my father would send me to the public market to beg for food. “Who does that as a father?” So yeah, I can’t help but be angry.

Our family immigrated to Chicago just before the attacks on September 11th with hopes of living a better life. My parents sold their land so we could have money to survive on when we got here. When we got to Chicago we thought that we turned a new page and that things would get better but as the years went by things continued to happen that would tear our family apart. Though my sisters and I remain close we are currently all living in different parts of the country. Even in Chicago my father continued to do drugs. The beatings didn't stop.

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My mother was the provider of our family but provided very little “if any” emotional support. She handled her “responsibilities” as a mother but she was never present as the “nurturing” mother. As I grew up I started questioning things. A lot of doubt crept into my mind on top of all of the anxiety that I experienced every night. The nights continue to be hard for me. When 9:00pm hits I always feel like something is gonna pop off.

I go through depression to the point that I’m seeing somebody to help me deal with it but you can only talk so much. I to try to make sense of things. The physical effects are always there no matter how much I try to alleviate it. I use medication and photography to help me cope but the things that I have experienced will never leave my body and I have come to terms with the fact that there’s no escaping that. I have to find a way to make peace with things.

I’ve had some really bad lows in my life and I have thought about suicide a lot. Just being so fed up - replaying the same thing every day; even when I don’t want to - it just invades my mind. Some days I don’t even want to go outside and deal with people because I feel like they can sense everything that I’ve been through.

I know one day I’m going to have a child of my own and they are going to want to know about my childhood; “what am I going to say?”

To this very day I try to make sense of the things my dad did. The way my mother would talk down to me out of anger. She would call me worthless. That’s part of the reason that I enlisted in the army. She was at the table eating dinner and I came home and laid the contract on the table. I told her “I’m gonna be out of here.” The army was my way out. Living in Chicago and looking back everyone is still doing the same things now that they were doing at an early age. I knew that I had to get out of Chicago in order to establish myself.

I can’t help but get angry when I think about my past. I do know that I need to talk about it because if I don’t it builds up. With that all being said and despite the unfortunate things that I had to see and experience I learned at a young age what not to do. I learned resilience early in life.

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My father never asked for help, I wish that he knew he needed it. To this day it’s hard for him to take accountability for his actions. When I talk to him now I don’t see him as my father. He helped give me life but that’s it. I completely shut myself off from him. I’ve already discussed with my wife and sisters that I don’t think I will want him around my kids once my wife and I decide to have them. We’ve given him so many chances and things always end the same.

My dad is manipulative. I can remember him giving me a camera and I loved it! I told him he was the best dad ever. Then we got into a disagreement and he took it away. That was his thing - he’d buy us things only to use them against us and eventually take them away. That messes with you.

He would take me on “joy rides” around the city. He’d come to a sudden stop and tell me to wait in the car. I would see a woman open the door. At that age I was so naive that I didn’t realize what was going on. Now looking back I’m able to put the pieces together and I’m like man. Me and my sisters are ashamed and embarrassed that we are linked to him because we are nothing like him. I guess I still need to learn what “real” forgiveness is.

 
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Resilience

By: Diecer Delfin

Husband + Friend + Photographer + Storyteller

instagram: @_diecer

The Highest Human Act Is To Inspire

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Mortal Man

The Highest Human Act Is To Inspire

By: Faheem Curtis-Khidr

Living in poverty does something to your psyche that I’m not sure how to fully quantify.
— Faheem Curtis-Khidr


My mother prays…a lot. In the Christian colloquial reference, she would be considered a, “prayer warrior.” I’m convinced the summation of her prayers and my behalf have a played a significant part in my survival and now current success. Growing up those prayers and God sent mentors were necessary life lines for my often reckless and wrongheaded behavior. Living in poverty does something to your psyche that I’m not sure how to fully quantify. It creates odd insecurities that are not noticeable to the human eye, but very much effect how you interact with the world around you. I made the chitlin circuit of poverty living in Dayton. I spent time in Olive Hill homes, Westwood (off Brooklyn Avenue), and Riverside. My mother worked two full time jobs and was in Nursing School. My father was present in my early life, but I would see him once or twice a month for much of my younger years. I resented him for that and am still working on my daddy issues as a father myself, although as a man I better understand why he made some of the decisions he made even though I do not agree with them. 

My older sisters/brothers/aunts/cousins were responsible for my care in my younger years (ages 1-10) while my mother was at work. They did their very best to shield me from the pitfalls of poverty and inequitable living. I love them for that. I was surrounded by love and affection. Even with their best efforts there are certain environmental staples that you can’t avoid. I remember eating cold hotdogs, having cold cut sandwiches several days straight. I didn’t know it was because the heat was off, or we couldn’t afford much else besides deli meat. It didn’t matter to me. In fact, I didn’t even know I was poor until my mother made the choice to send me to a parochial school, St. Peter’s in Huber Heights. I was one of eight black students in the entire school at the time. It was a very uncomfortable experience for me. The teacher did not have a culturally sensitive or responsive pedagogy and was not able to communicate with me effectively. My experience from preschool through kindergarten had been with black educators who were in tune with how to communicate and ingratiate minority babies into activities etc. As a result of this culture shock my behavior was less than ideal. When I was living in Riverside (which is right next to Huber Heights) I became cognoscente of the reputation of the area for being poor. I would often lie to my peers in school and say I lived in Huber Heights. Huber Heights did not have the stigma of poverty that Riverside did, and I resented how I would be approached when that came up. That resentment often spilled out in outward aggression. I would fight without much room for recourse for other solutions. I began to get a reputation for being hostile. My reputation provided a safe-haven to protect myself from the jeers of being associated with poverty and the racialized tension of being black in majority white bigoted school. It did result in my temporary placement in a juvenile facility and later military school. I remember the sheriff coming to our duplex to pick me up. It was surreal. 

As my difficulties at St. Peter continued, the teachers and administration told my mother that they thought I had a learning disability. Anything but take accountability for the toxic learning environment I was in. She refused to accept that thankfully. I took what was then a standard national assessment called the California Achievement Test. I tested well…really, really, well. My scores were at the top of my class and near the top of national scores. The discussions changed quickly. Even to the point where they began to pinpoint other students’ behavior as being the catalyst to provoking some of my violent outburst. It was weird to see the about face. My mother grew frustrated with St. Peters and took me out of the school. She took me to Mama Renee Mclendon seeking a fresh start and perspective on the learning experience for me. Mamma Renee had a learning institute located off W. Third Street. It was exactly what I needed. The trauma of the St. Peter’s experience left me jilted and distant. Mamma Renee wrapped her arms around me literally and figuratively and helped restore my confidence, and love of learning. There is not enough ink available to express to her my gratitude for what she did. Her mentorship was healing and transformative. Inshallah I can reach my students the way she reached me. 

We soon moved again, this time to Harrison Township. My mother enrolled me at St. Rita Catholic school. It was not ideal for me, but it was less than a 5 minutes’ drive to our new home. My initial time there was rough. The teachers I had were very similar to St. Peters’. I was fortunate to have other minority students and parents who readily identified with minority exclusion who became lifelong friends. Desiree Alexander, Logan Allen, Nick Dean, Andy Smith thank you for your friendship. Those persons parents understood some of the institutional difficulties for minority children of putting your child in a position to receive a quality education. Mr. Allen and Mr. Alexander always went out of their way to make sure I was doing ok and give me words of encouragement or scold me when I was wrong if that’s what was needed. I’m thankful for the extra love. Most of my teachers struggled to manage me in the classroom, finally they moved me to Ms. Maloney’s 8th grade classroom when I was in 5th grade. She had a reputation of being a stern disciplinarian. She involved me in classroom activities, challenged me to do the work, and be accountable for my behavior. It went well. I preferred being in her room compared to other teachers and even got in trouble on purpose when I was agitated with the 5th, 6th and 7th grade teachers to be sent there. She was an amazing history and government teacher. Her passion and authenticity made it easy for me to be fully engaged in my learning experience. 

Football has always been an outlet for me. I love the game, and still do. It was one of the few things I could have a legitimate conversation with my dad about that wasn’t awkward or lead to an argument. He played collegiately and then professionally for several years. From all accounts he was good. One of my dear friends’ father who went to college with him even mentioned he should be in the college athletics Hall of Fame. That’s high praise. I wore 78 (his Highschool, college and pro number) from grade school through college to honor him. I never told him that maybe I will one day soon. I relished the full speed collisions and imposing my will on my opponent for 3-5 seconds at a time 40-60 times a game. It offered me an opportunity to be violent and hostile and get rewarded for it. It was encouraged. 

My high school coach Jim Place is a great man. My grades at Chaminade Julienne were horrid 3/4ths of the year. The spring semester I would turn into a 3.5 student to be eligible and then go back to be a bad student during the season. I drove Coach Place nuts. A week before I was to be moved up to varsity my freshman year, I tore ligaments in my right ankle. It was the first time I had ever gotten hurt in any meaningful way. My surgery and rehab went well but I was depressed and angry at my circumstance. My grades were poorer than usual that year and my Spring grade rally wasn’t enough to make me eligible for the first half of the season the next year. I was heartbroken, but I put myself in that spot. Coach Place sat down with my parents and told them I had the ability to play high level collegiate football if…I took school seriously. My sophomore year I practiced with varsity all year despite being unable to play in games. It kept me focused and attached to the team. My teammates Brandon McKinney, Tim Crouch and Michael Thompson kept me encouraged and pushed me in practice. I was able to start the first playoff game against Eaton. I’ll never forget the feeling of walking out onto the field again, feeling vindicated that I didn’t fold or quit. I went off that game. The next week in practice I reagitated my right ankle and sat out the rest of the playoffs. As college coaches began to more frequently ask about me Coach Place recommended, I step up my academic performance to help with my qualifying score for the SAT. He would have me over to his house to work with tutors on study techniques etc. I took it for granted at that time, but he was investing in me not only as a player but a person. I scored a 1250 on my SAT. But my core gpa was 1.9. I remember Coach Place calling me down to his office my senior year after the season was over. With tears in his eyes he went through a list he had and on big whiteboard. They were D-1 colleges who called or came by the office and wanted to offer me. Big names. But because of my gpa they didn’t think I would qualify. 

I attended two different junior colleges. My first stop North Iowa Area Community College was eye opening. It was a rural location. The college was outside a small town called Mason City Iowa. It was known as the crystal meth capital of the world. Quite the distinction. While there I struggled to adjust. There were literal corn fields in between campus buildings. The coaching staff who recruited me and gave me a full scholarship (which was unheard of for JUCO at the time) left before the season started. We later found out it was over control of the athletic department. I no longer had the support system I was accustomed to in Dayton and it showed. I only received 3 out of 15 credits that Fall Semester. The three credits I received were for being on the football team. That Spring Semester I was shot hanging out a friend’s off campus home. The shooters were looking for someone who happened to look like me. I remember the burning feeling of metal spiraling through my flesh and laying on my back on a wooden porch before I lost consciousness, thinking this is the way and place I’m going to die - in Mason City Iowa.

I transferred the following year to a JUCO in Minnesota. My good friend Ishmael Wright from Dayton (between Ish and my guy Diamond they were the best cover corners I played with high school or college) was there already, and the coaching staff recruited me during high school. The familiarity helped a great deal. Minnesota is a different type of cold. 5 inches of snow in six hours means nothing to them. After being there for a year I transferred to a four-year college, North Carolina A&T. Coach Patterson recruited me, but my credits were an issue. I was blessed to have two friends Jesse Junius and Robert Palmer who were already students at A&T and working in the admissions office. They had a good repour with the Dean of Admissions at the time Mr. Lee Young. Initially after viewing my transcript the university told me I was not likely to get in. I began to look at other options from schools who had offered primarily HBCU’s like Southern, Texas Southern, Lane and Arkansas Pine-Bluff. My friends lobbied hard with Mr. Young. Although my academic performance was trending upwards my off the field behavior was erratic, and I was attached to sectors of society that were not idyllic for a college athlete. My friends wanted to keep me close. I’m thankful they cared that much about me. Eventually the admissions office in conjunction with the NCAA granted me a letter of acceptance stating I was academically compliant and could enroll in the summer. I came into A&T under strict academic guide lines. Mr. Young played a pivotal role in my life, eventually my football career faded, and I was struggling to find my balance without being an athlete. His mentorship was critical in my development as a man. Injuries took me away from the game and I struggled to find my identity outside of being a football player-- it is after all why I was even able to go to college. Although I did not recognize it at the time Allah had already placed a cohort around me to push into the next phase of my life. With Mr. Young the standard was the standard and the expectations were for me to meet it. I feel short multiple times, but he never gave up on me and I’m thankful for that. I had several great professors who helped to mold me as a historian and academic at A&T. I lived in Gibbs Hall, in Bluford Library (Club Bluford during finals week) and my professors offices. Dr. Millicent Brown, Dr. Quaye, Dr. Roberto and others challenged me academically and pushed me to levels cognitively that I did not know I could reach. I’m thankful for them, even though when I was writing multiple 20-page papers for them I was not their biggest fan. 

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Being from Dayton and teaching in higher ed locally adds a certain level of anxiety for me. I understand what my students who are from the town are up against and the hurdles they must clear just to come to class regularly, let alone graduate. I understand the value of visual cues to validify your existence in the classroom and to have representation in the larger institution. There is a sense of urgency I have for my students because time is not always guaranteed to be on your side. I think back to my own educational experiences and how wildly they varied, and the settings that promoted my own academic success. When I thrived, it was because someone saw me, and not a statistic or derivative from an Affirmative Action compliancy initiative. Inshallah I can have the same influence on some of my students that Mamma Renee, Mrs. Maloney, Dr. Brown and Dr. Young had on me. Allah knows I’m trying. 

 
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THE HIGHEST HUMAN ACT IS TO INSPIRE

Faheem Curtis-Khidr

Muslim, Historian, Professor, Data Guru, A&T Alumni

instagram: @histprof1911

My Jewelry

M. Carter cover

Mortal Man

My Jewelry

By: Michael Carter

“Your hearing loss is more noticeable than your hearing aids will be.” My audiologist said those words to me as I sat in her office for my consultation about my hearing loss. Much to my wife’s frustration, I put off going to a hearing specialist for a very long time, and now I was afraid what the test results would reveal. For years, I tried to compensate for my hearing loss, by turning my head when in quiet conversation, to get people to speak into my right ear, which could pick up voices a little easier than my left one. My wife often said the TV volume and the radio in the car were too loud, and I frequently had trouble understanding what my grandkids were saying.

M. Carter

In the small soundproof booth designed to expose my auditory failings, I concentrated and strained to hear every tiny beep, and buzz. When the test was over, I was informed that I would not need one hearing aid, but two due to moderate hearing loss.

 I tried to recall the cause of my predicament. Was it the Hong Kong Flu that I suffered when I was 7 years old? Was it being hit on the chin by a baseball bat at age 12? Being the music lover that I am, was it listening to Earth, Wind and Fire, The Police, and Heatwave with my headphones, volume on high? Was this a side effect of some medication I had taken at some point?

Ultimately, does knowing the cause really matter at this point?

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Several days later, I picked up my hearing aids with much anticipation, wondering how my life might change. After a brief tutorial, I placed one in one ear, then the other. The difference was dramatic and immediate. I could hear the air conditioning unit pushing out cold air; I heard my sleeve being rustled by my hand. I scratched my forehead, and not only did I feel it, I HEARD it as well, Wow!

As we drove home, the radio played at half the volume I had previously had it on, and I heard the turn signal of my car for the first time in a long time. I began to realize more and more how much I had been impacted by hearing loss, and how selfish I have been all of this time because the loss had not only affected me, but those around me.

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As my wife and I went for a walk that evening, I heard sounds, which I had not heard with such gusto in a number of years, birds chirping and leaves crunching under our feet. I also heard a train in the distance. 

I discovered that wearing hearing aids has not made me feel old and incapable as I thought they would. In many ways, it has been liberating; allowing me to enjoy many things more richly. My wife calls my hearing aids “jewelry”, and like what happens when one buys a car and notices other cars of that model never noticed before, I began to notice other people wearing their “jewelry.”

My “jewelry” has enhanced the quality of my life by improving my interactions with people at work, my family and friends.

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According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately 15% of American adults report some trouble hearing. Men are almost twice as likely as women to have hearing loss among adults aged 20-69; and One in eight people in the U.S. aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears, based on standard hearing examinations. Armed with this knowledge and “my jewelry” I am now an ambassador for the importance of good hearing.



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Michael Carter

My Jewelry

Husband, Father, Brother, Mentor

Chief Diversity Officer at Sinclair Community College

Hearing loss affects 48 million people in the United States. It is one of the most common conditions affecting older and elderly adults.

Some degree of hearing loss may be a normal part of aging. Age-related hearing loss occurs gradually and tends to affect each ear equally. It's often the result of changes in the inner ear. Because age-related hearing loss occurs over time, it can be difficult to recognize.

Signs and symptoms of hearing loss may include:

Muffling of speech and other sounds. Difficulty understanding words, especially against background noise or in a crowd of people. Trouble hearing consonants. Frequently asking others to speak more slowly, clearly and loudly.

Permission to Cry

mortal man

permission to cry

by: tripp fontane

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Permission to cry, mama?

I know you say big boys aren't supposed to

What about when I don’t feel so big

When I feel as small as singular salt stain on cheek

I’m hurt

Watching you hurt

Forcing your body well past 40 hours

Working your fingers to arthritis

Struggling to interlock your fingers

Planting prayers under your pillow

Crying over them nightly

At least let me cry with you

Maybe they’ll grow faster

 

Permission to cry, babe?

I know it makes me weaker

A little less man with every tear

But I'm tired

Exasperated

From keeping it all in

My arms aren't big enough to hold us both together at once

I'd rather let it out than let you go

Are my tears safe with you?

Can I trust you enough to lay down my burdens

And them not being weaponized and held against me?

Can I be imperfect?

More man than super

Must my masculinity be my kryptonite here too?

 

Permission to cry, my nigga?

I mean I was there when it happened

I know it's against the code

But I don't wanna be a G right now

I just wanna grieve

My eyelids ain’t got much strength no way

Closing my eyes couldn’t stop closed casket

Couldn’t stop me from seeing just how cruel fate can be

I can’t continue on congested

Heavy

No Paul could bear the weight

Eyelids weary from playing dam to an overdue river of truth

My eyelids not strong enough to stop me seeing

 

Permission to cry, dad?

I know it’s not how you raised me

But, I’ve fallen

Too many times to ignore pain

I’ve been in pain too long to continue neglecting the healing process

‘Cuz I don’t wanna be the man your actions taught me to be

Cold

Bitter as tears that never fell

Oppressive weight you were too “strong” to let go

You taught me emotionally immature

You taught me to trap myself behind walls of bravado

To call them protection

Call them manhood

Do you even remember how to cry out for help?

 

Permission to cry?

‘Cuz I’m broken

From contorting spirit into stereotypes called masculinity

From trying so hard to pull the pieces together

They’re never all they cracked up to be

Permission to be

Okay

Or

Not okay

And express is

Permission to express

To evict negative energy without fear of judgment

Permission to breath

To sigh in the name of relief

Permission to baptize

To be cleansed in a collection of my own tears

Permission to...… to...… to...


Tripp Fontane

Rapper | Poet | Educator | Author

Tripp Fontane is a Dayton native - rapper, poet, educator, author of the book (All Is Fair - A Collection of Poems and Thoughts on Love) and founding member of the spoken word group of Underdog Academy.

instagram: @trippfontane and @underdogacademy

facebook: Tripp Fontane

twitter: @TrippFontane

website: uapoetry.com

booking inquiries: trippfontane@gmail.com

order Tripp’s (All Is Fair) book: All Is Fair

Redemption Song of an O.G.

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MORTAL MAN

REDEMPTION SONG OF AN O.G.

BY: SAMUEL E. GOODE

My path in life got fucked up early in life when my mother married my stepfather. When they got together I felt like I pretty much became an outsider. Things got so bad that I left there and went to live with my grandfather. I think I was six or seven when this all happened. My grandfather had remarried and his second wife was abusive towards me. She was an abuser and I caught a lot of hell and took a lot of unnecessary beatings from her. That part of my life hardened me and shaped me for the streets. When I left my grandfather’s house I went straight from the country to the city. The beatings that I took as a kid toughened me up physically and damaged me mentally. All and all I think I handled things pretty well because it didn’t fuck me up. I know other people that have been abused that simply couldn’t deal with life.

During one of the darkest times in my life I felt like it was pretty much “kill or be killed.” I was just out there. At the time me and three of my best friends were running a crack house and things were running smooth. We did all of our dope in the basement of a house that we had taken over and we would rent the other rooms out, “we had the girls working” and money was flowing. We shut everything down to take a break and chill down in Florida. As we were about to leave a rival that we didn’t even know about moved on us and all hell broke out. They came up to the car shooting at us, glass was flying everywhere. All three of my best friends at the time lost their lives that day. I suffered a bullet wound. Somehow my face was covered in blood so they thought I was dead too. They checked the car for our drugs and our money but it wasn’t there. What really saved my life was an ambulance that was going down the highway. The guys thought it was coming down the street that we were on so they stopped going through the car and sped off.

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I feel guilty for surviving that day and what I went through still haunts me to this day. When you see people that close to you get murdered like that it does something to you. When you’re in the streets it conditions you to seek your own justice. When you add that up with all of the abuse that I took as a kid it primed me for a life of violence and that’s something that I was good at it. When I got out of that car and saw what happened to my friends I went on a rampage. I did things that still hurt me to this day. I did things that I want to talk about and that I need to talk about but whenever I try there’s always something that holds me back. Also I’ve done certain things don’t come with a statute of limitations and I don’t want to share or say things that may lead to me going back to jail.

When I moved to Atlanta it was like I entered a completely different world. This was during the crack era when there were all kinds of drugs hitting the streets so there was a lot of money changing hands. Crack and dope was so heavy in Atlanta that you could take $100 and flip it so fast that it would turn into $100,000 in no time and the faster it came the faster it went. I lived on the west side of Atlanta and at the time I was pretty big and muscular. I mean I grew up on a farm so I was a big, strong kid but I didn’t know shit about the streets. Well as things unfolded I pretty much got tricked into becoming a pimp at this hotel I was working at. I thought I was just working security but the next thing I knew I had about six girls working the streets for me. This was a quick phase in my life that lasted for about two years. I’m an old fashion guy so I didn’t really like exploiting women. At that time in my life I felt like pimping was the only way that I could survive so I did what I felt I had to do to survive. During this whole stretch I had been looking for my brother and as soon as I found him I left all that stuff behind me that same day and never looked back.

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My brother and I were tight so we were glad to be back together but we both worked two or three jobs and felt like we weren’t getting anywhere. One of my jobs was at the Lennox Mall and I met this rich white guy named “John” that wanted to play gangsta’. Meeting him took me down a whole different path in life and most of it wasn’t good. During this time in my life I saw a lot of shit and I did a lot of shit that I still struggle to come to terms with. The people that “John” introduced me to were looking for people that were ruthless and that didn’t ask any questions; that fit me well. When I lived in North Carolina I did a little time here and there for petty crimes that I committed but things I was doing in Atlanta was on a whole different level.

Everybody that “John” introduced me to was rich. There wasn’t a single low-level dude and once I got to that level I hated it. I loved the life but it came with a cost. I’m lucky to be alive today because when you’re in the game there’s only a couple of ways out… prison and more than likely death. When I left Atlanta I was on the run. I stole a truck from a guy that I did yard work for and went back to North Carolina.

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In North Carolina me and my partners went on a robbing spree. We hit gas stations, convenient stores, broke into houses; just taking stuff and selling it. There was a 38 special that I stole from a gas station that I really liked so I kept it. One night I was down at a juke joint; I was drunk and shooting the gun off. Just wilding out and shit. My grandfather was a deputy sheriff so one of my cousins that was at the juke joint called my grandfather and told him to come and get me and try to calm me down. When my grandfather got there he pulled up beside me and told me to give him the gun. I just threw it in the trunk and he shut the door and drove off. Shit caught up with me about the robbing the gas station that I stole the gun. My finger prints were all over everything so I couldn’t deny it. They asked about the gun and I told them I didn’t know shit about it. They asked my grandfather if he’d ever seen me with a gun and he told them about the night at the juke joint when he took the gun from me. My grandfather lost his job and had to do a year in prison. My mother, grandmother and my aunts never talk about it but I still feel like they have animosity towards me about that. We all get along now so I guess that’s all that matters. My grandfather was mad about the shit I did to get the gun but he knew the shit that went down after that was more about the people that didn’t like him getting him out of the way more than anything. This was a town in the south with a black deputy sheriff so they tried to tie him into my shit but were unable to. They charged him with some bogus conspiracy charge but that was it.

When I got out I left North Carolina again and got caught up in some more shit. I was on the run again and went back to North Carolina. I was there for about a week before I got caught. I did about two years and went to my grandfather’s house when I got out. One day my grandfather and I sat and talked out on the porch for about four hours. I remember him telling me that he wanted me to get to know the other side of my family. Two days after that conversation my grandfather passed away. Right after his funeral I packed up and moved to Dayton and I’ve been here ever since. This is exactly where I need to be because this family means everything to me. Thugging, street life - all of that stuff takes a backseat to my family. I want the generations behind me to see me in a better light. I know I could easily go back to Atlanta or wherever and get right back into the life I lived before. I’ve put that so far behind me that I don’t even have that urge. I just like to sit at home and enjoy my family.

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I’ve lost best friends, seen people killed that I knew right in front of my face and it ain’t shit that I can do about it. Nothing. I feel so lucky to be here in Dayton. I feel like if I hadn’t moved back to my grandfather’s house after I got out of the joint that I would be dead or somewhere rotting in prison. The people I have surrounding me now look at me without fear in their eyes. They love me unconditionally. When I was young I didn’t have this type of love. I love my family and I don’t want to disappoint them. This family gave me a brand new start and they are the reason that I’m the man that I am today. It wasn’t an easy transition and early on I got into a little trouble here but nothing compared to the things I did in Atlanta or North Carolina.

Now even with that being said I have no problem going to jail or to hell for defending my family. I wouldn’t even bat an eyebrow. But I try tell them to handle their business the right way so that they don’t feel like they have to go to the streets. One thing is that I know them and I know that they wouldn’t be able to handle the streets. I’m proud that I’ve played a role in keeping my family away from the streets. That’s my purpose now. It’s nothing cool about being in the streets. Jail is not a place you want to be. It’s nothing but concrete and steel. I tell them if they have a problem “come see me, I’ll take care of it.” If you feel that you’re getting upset or that you need to get violent, call me. I can talk them down or get them out of the situation without even going to that next level BUT if we have to “let me handle it.” At this time in my life I’m here for them. No matter how early or late it is, if they need me they can call me. That gives me the strength to keep pushing on and to stay planted. I’m so proud of where I am right now because I know where I could be. I’m at peace. Before I came here and surrounded myself with family I couldn’t even sleep without knowing I had somebody around me that had my back. I wouldn’t trade the peace of mind that I have right now for anything else in the world.

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When it was just me and I felt like I was alone in the world I would do things without even thinking about the consequences. Now I know that if I do things my family will suffer and I don’t want to put them through that. I don’t want to disappoint them. Having people that love and depend on me makes me think two or three times before jumping into action. I never thought I’d be in this role but I love it. Man life is short so get out there and enjoy yourself, leave your mark and live the best life.

I still have nightmares about the things that I’ve seen, done and been through. I’ve done things that I’ll take with me to the grave. I’ve seen shit that’s been burnt into my brain. You can’t unsee the shit that I’ve seen and like I said that shit does something to you. I’ve seen things that people that have been in wars haven’t even seen. I can’t undo the things that I’ve done so I’ve come to terms with them and I let the following generations know that this street life ain’t nothing to fuck with. 

My Marble

Mortal Man DKirkman

MORTAL MAN

MY MARBLE

BY: DAWAYNE KIRKMAN

This is a personal story of mine that I like to share with my friends. Maya Angelou said “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I hope in some small way, it can inspire hope. Dumbo said it best, “The very things that held you down are going to carry you up.” 

I grew up in Elkton, Kentucky (one hour north of Nashville). My dad had a drinking problem (that is probably the most polite term that I can use to describe his situation) and was forced to go to a detox center after many arrests. I was in third or fourth grade during this time. We would go visit my dad after church on Sundays at Western State in Hopkinsville, Kentucky during those weeks of his mandatory stay. When he arrived at the rehab facility, he had been given a marble which represented sobriety. No more drinking allowed if he wanted to keep it. He could keep it in his pocket as long as he did not ever drink alcohol again.

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My mother (my hero), my sister (three years older than me), and I all found those Sunday conversations to be initially awkward, as we were not used to talking to a sober Stanley. But each Sunday, he would be so excited to pull his marble out of his pocket. As the weeks passed, we also got excited to see his beautiful marble. He finished the program and we all went to Bonanza to eat and went to look at new trailers. It was a new beginning!

However, after being away from his siblings and other family for weeks, he naturally wanted to visit them. They loved the fun loving, drinking Stanley. We begged him not to go as we were afraid he would drink, but we were unsuccessful in our plea. Very shortly after arriving at his brother’s house, my dad started drinking beer and it just got worse from there on.

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I remember after he drank several beers he threw the marble across the field, cussing at it and laughing. It seemed like everyone was laughing at it. My mom, sister, and I were devastated though. The next day my dad, in a very hung-over condition, went to that field to look for that marble that he so easily let go of the day before. I could tell his heart was broken from literally throwing it all away. Even as a child, I knew he would not be able to find that marble in that big field, physically or mentally. But, I did find that marble. Maybe not literally, but I did find it and I have carried it for years. 


The last time I saw my dad alive, he was in jail on Christmas in 1995. My dad took his life in 1996 when I was twenty years old and a junior at Berea College. I always promised to carry that marble for my dad. Sometimes we have to carry things for our family who are unable to do so. He was an alcoholic, yet I have never had a beer or been drunk or done illegal drugs. He did not graduate from high school, yet I am finishing up my dissertation at the University of Dayton. He did not work, yet I have been working at Sinclair Community College for almost 16 years. He did not go to church; I have been a Sunday School teacher for more than 18 years.

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I am NOT a better man than my father; I have just been a blessed man. And, it has been an honor to have had the opportunity to carry a marble for a man that I will forever owe for getting me to this earth—even though I hardly knew him. When I get to my heaven, I will hug his neck and say “no apologies needed, Dad” and grab his hand and give him his marble back and declare we made it. 

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I share this story as often as I can to encourage people—to know that they may have to carry the marble for a person that they love.
— Dawayne Kirkman
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The Perfect Father: Lessons Learned from a Fatherless Childhood

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Mortal Man

The Perfect Father

Lessons Learned From a Fatherless Childhood

By: Frank "Buddy" Pitts Jr.

 

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Untraced

My childhood consisted of experiences in a lot of different neighborhoods in Dayton, Ohio, from Westwood to Harrison Township to Dayton View…one thing that they all had in common is that my dad wasn’t with me in any of them. Growing up I never realized that he even should’ve been there, I wasn’t naive or oblivious to it, it just wasn’t something that was a big deal. Most of my friends and pretty much all of my cousins grew up without their pops around so it wasn’t the most disheartening thing for me to grow up without having him there. Now every once and a while there would be a moments when I would think like “damn, I wish my dad was here” but i never really made my home in those thoughts, nor was I real emotional about it because I grew up around very, very strong women that took on the workload.

I never heard my mother say anything bad about my dad. I didn’t get to see my father often and when I did it would only be two or three times out of the year and there were some years that I didn’t see him at all. Those times he may have been in and out of jail or wherever. Even with all of the time gaps in our relationship I thought very highly of my father. I didn’t know a lot about my dad during that time other than he was going through a lot of transitions. There were times in his life where he was a drug dealer and a drug abuser and so of course he went through a phase where he lost his ranks from being at the top of the game to then falling right back down because of the whole crack epidemic that happened in the 80’s. He went through a downward spiral where a lot of things effected his notions on life in general, he was doing crazy things, spending time in and out of jail - he was unpredictable during this time in his life. 

I remember him picking me up during my childhood and I also remember the days that he didn’t come when he was supposed to, that was our relationship. I didn’t realize it at the time but as I got older and looked back it was like man… “I think he may have been on crack,  shooting up or definitely dibble and dabbling in hard drugs.” At one point my dad would wear a big, fat gold chain and bracelets and have wads of money, “he would always give me money” and we would go places and do stuff and just talk and hangout. As things progressed I noticed that the gold chains and watches were gone, his physique was fading away - he was starting to get a gut, his hair wasn’t always cut. All of this stood out to me because my dad was one of those guys that was ALWAYS spiffy. It didn’t matter where he was going, he always dressed like he was going to church. He wasn’t a pimp “at least I don’t think so” but he always dressed nice and kept his hair on point. I remember being in my twenties and seeing this dude get out the shower and take a pound of regular hand lotion and rub it in his hair; with every stroke it was like a huge wave would form in his hair so by the end of about thirty strokes he’d have a head full of waves that any surfer would be proud of!

When I was young I saw that clean cut, nice looking version of my father. I would see him in three piece suits and really nice jeans. One thing my dad used to do, that would drive me crazy and I would always laugh at him, is he would always press and crease his jeans. I’m sure they could’ve easily stood up on their own. I remember my dad being like that, that clean cut creased jeans and all but when I look back I recognize that there was a declining difference in him. The gold chains had been replaced with an urgency for things, an urgency to do stuff and fast talk and even though I noticed these changes in him at the time I didn’t really pick up on what was really going on with him. He started having sudden mood changes and a quick temper. He never went off on me but I would see him act this way. 

My dad knew a lot of people and he had a lot of women so anytime I was with him it would kind of be like we were on an adventure. We would go over a bunch of people’s houses, I would meet a lot of other kids and people in general from these outings. I remember going over one lady’s house, she was FINE… and I remember my dad bragging about her in the car on the way to her house. When we got there it was not what I expected at all. The house was messy and there were roaches everywhere! I remember thinking “why are we over here with this lady with all of these roaches?” So yeah, like I said it was an adventure pretty much every time we spent time together. At that point I noticed the decline and that there was something different about my dad. Honestly with the huge gaps in time that I actually got to spend time with him I didn’t see the gradual changes… they were drastic. So when I would see him it would be like a three piece suit today, then jeans and a beater the next time. 

Though my mother never talked bad or down about my dad or kept my sister and I away from him she would never let us go see him when he was in jail. We didn’t talk to him on the phone or anything like that when he was locked up so I never saw him in that environment. When I was older I saw pictures of him when he was in jail and as I grew old enough to talk to him on my own I would reach out to him however I could, he would also send letters and hand drawn cards that were nothing short of masterpieces. He was in and out of jail a lot, most of the time for petty things. 

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Community Gardens

Don’t get me wrong this is no where near meant to be a sad story, it just is what it what it is. I have a lot of friends that were in similar situations in terms of “insert reason here” their dad wasn’t there, so with it being such a common thing, it felt “normal.” I’m grateful that I was raised with a heavily spiritual background, with an active church family, a strong support system and definitely for having a really strong mother. I’m sure there were plenty of time where we went without but we didn’t know it – we didn’t realize it.  My childhood experience was actually quite amazing, especially looking back on it now. My mother remarried when I was in the third or fourth grade. Her husband, Jeff is an awesome dude. His teaching style was a bit hard and unorthodox but I learned a lot of things from him, he played one of the biggest roles in teaching me how to be a man. What’s interesting about it, and by the way I love Jeff to this day - he was a hard-nosed cat growing up, we never really “got along” that well but I learned so much from him and I still thank him to this day. It’s like “if you weren’t there I really don’t know how I would have turned out.” I think his presence helped me deal with my actual father a lot better than I otherwise would have. Jeff helped me mature and the lessons that I took from him have stuck with me to this day and though I would never call Jeff “dad” because I had too much respect for my pops, he definitely stepped in and stepped up in BIG way!

I’m very grateful that I had a lot of great men around me. With the inclusion of my stepdad, I had a host of “real men” in my corner. By real men, I mean that old school type of man that was hard-nosed and work hard for every dollar. They made sure that I learned the basics of being a man as far as how to change a tire and check the oil on a car, basic things that most boys learn from simply being around their dads. Things like being a leader, being the voice of the household, knowing how to do certain things around the house… those are the type of men that I grew up around and I’m so thankful for that. At the church, Pastor Senior, his son  and the youth pastor were God gifted examples for me, along with some of my boys’ pops who would play basketball with us, cut our hair and let us wild out in the garage to MJ (Michael Jackson.) Growing up I played all type of sports and some of the coaches were very impactful on me so I was fortunate to have a culmination of really good men in my life. 

I have my mom to thank for placing me in position to stay grounded and sustaining a solid foundation. We stayed at church, like literally I swear we lived there… ok just kidding no we didn’t but I’m not sure if there’s a difference. As I started to become more aware of the importance of having a spiritual foundation I believe God worked his hand at placing specific people in my life. My mentor at that time and for a long while after that was one of those people - his name was Dion, he was our youth pastor. Dion, following God’s lead and strong emphasis on study showed me a way of life that has proven to be impactful time and time again. He was the gateway to catapulting my spiritual maturation. He also was really influential in showing me what unconditional love looks like and the priority that we need to place around it. When I have children or even when I mentor kids, one of the things that I always think about is how to just genuinely show them love, no matter the circumstance, background, competency level, social status…etc… One thing that I believe men don’t realize, mostly because we are always trying to be so hardcore, is that we have a hard time having intimate conversations. I am for sure guilty of it and furthermore expressing the depth of my emotions. For a long time I would not let my nephew cry without getting on him about it. Now he rarely shows any emotions and with me being the most consistent man in his life you would think that he would be able to show me some type of love but he guards those emotions, that softer side and he’s weird about showing it. 

All of the men that I had in my life have helped shape my viewpoint on how I see my dad and also why I say that I grew up with somewhat of a perfect fatherhood. Even with all of the challenges my mother endured she never claimed that she could replace a man. She just did what she had to do. One thing that she definitely preached was that God is all of our fathers and he will always be there for us. That’s something that’s had a huge impact on my life when it comes to my views on fatherhood and my father in specific. It allows me to accept him for who he is and to look at all of the positive things that he has done “along with his mistakes” as lessons. 

I didn’t have my first drink of alcohol until I was 25. The primary reason that I avoided drinking is because my father dealt with alcoholism for as long as I knew him even up until the time of his death. My dad was a different type of character. I learned that he wasn’t the great guy that I pictured him to be when I was a child. I saw him do so many things when he was under the influence of alcohol. There’s one specific time that I remember so vividly. I was with him in Columbus where he lived and we were about to leave my grandmother’s house. He told me to go sit in the truck. He went back to the house and all of a sudden I heard a lot of arguing and commotion. My dad was arguing with his girlfriend. She wouldn’t give him the keys because she didn’t want him to drive while he was under the influence. I remember her telling him “you have your son with you!” This was the first time that I realized that something was going on with my dad and I remember thinking he was crazy. “My mother nor anyone else that I was around drank so I didn’t know what it was like to be around someone that was actually drunk.” My dad and his girlfriend argued for awhile and then I saw him come outside. Even though I was sitting in the truck I could still see and hear everything that was going on. My dad was banging on the door and demanding his keys. I could see the rage on his face. All of a sudden he ran around to the front of the house and came back with a knife and started stabbing at the door. I watched him and tried to process exactly what was happening. I didn’t realize how crazy all of this really was until I got older.

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Activated Lenses

When I was old enough to drive my mother would let me go see my dad. At that particular time in my life I was committed to not being anything like my dad. I remember saying “if I ever have kids I’m going to be in their lives. If I say that I’m a great man I’m going to be a great man and my actions will reflect that.” So I committed to Christ and started worshipping and praying - it was my whole life. So I was really trying to be the best person that I knew how to be. I stopped hanging out with the wrong people and avoided anything that I felt mirrored some of the bad things that I knew my dad did in his life.

Some of my best friends at that time sold and smoked weed and did other things that I felt was wrong. Even though they were my boys I felt the need to distance myself from them. I was the guy that would tell them that those things weren’t for me and would challenge them to stop. Looking back I can see where my mindset could have been a little immature at the time. I never considered why they may have felt led to do some of the things that they were doing. One of my best friends had a really rough childhood and was pretty much on his own when he was 14 or 15 years old. I can’t imagine what I would have done if I had to try to figure out how to pay the rent, keep the lights on and keep food on the table at the age of 15. Those were thing that I just didn’t have to think about so I was probably a little hard on my friends at that time but I did stay away from the trouble that goes along with that type of lifestyle.

There was a time where I started having a different perspective on what a father figure, dad, mentor, role model or coach should look like. I don’t know if I intentionally thought about it or not but it was something that was building in my sub-conscience and I knew at that point that I had to take ownership over my relationship with my father. I understood that for whatever reason he was unable to do it so I took on that responsibility. The spirituality that my mother instilled in me had a lot to do with that. I remember thinking that no matter what goes on in life “you only got one pops!” He’s the actual person that gave me life to be here so I was determined that I wasn’t going to leave this earth without getting to know who he was or at least trying to. That’s when my curiosity really hit and I began to question things like; “why do I act like this when certain things happen? Why do I look this way? Why does my hair always curl up when it grows a certain length?” I wanted to know everything about him.

I wanted to know what my dad was like as a kid, what type of father was he to my older sister? “She’s seven years older than me so I thought that he was around more.” I learned that he wasn’t really a part of her life either. My mother along with the support system that I grew up around made me so strong. Now that I’m thinking about it there’s times that my father would tell me things that he said or did that hurt my mother and how easy it was for me to be like “oh, okay I forgive you.” Not that it was up to me to forgive him but to me it was things that happened in the past, nothing could be done to change his actions and more importantly it wasn’t for me to cast judgement. Obviously he did some things that effected me but I just dealt with them and moved on.

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Late sophomore year going into my junior year of high school I struggled with trying to maintain my virginity. I had girlfriends and I talked to girls ALL of the time. I had all type of girls throughout high school so that sexual temptation was always there. I felt like I was “The Man” but deep inside I also felt like I was doing something wrong. I wanted to entertain all of these women and I embraced the challenge of getting them. I wasn’t trying to compete with other guys so it was more like if I want this girl I’m going to get her. If she seemed unapproachable or seemed like she was all of that - I wanted her. If she was quiet and pretty I wanted her. I was a trip! I got to this point where I was trying to be this Godly person and started realizing different things about myself and started to question why. “Is being this girl crazy and horny all of the time something that all boys go through or is it just me?” I struggled with that for a while.

Every time I was with my dad he was always with a different woman. There was never a time that I can remember being with my dad where he did not stop to visit a woman. It wasn’t until I got in my early twenties that I saw him with the same woman for a long amount of time. Even then we stopped to see another women. So the whole womanizing thing is something that has always been a lingering wonder.

One night I had this dream that was crazy. I fell asleep on the floor and in my dream I couldn’t wake up. I felt like I could control what was happening in the dream but I really couldn’t. In the dream I was lying on the floor and all of a sudden a silhouette of a bunch of rats started crawling all over my body, “I’ve always had a phobia about swarms of things, especially small things and I hate rodents!” so I was going crazy in the dream but I couldn’t wake up. A silhouette of a man in a long trench coat walked in and all of the rats scattered. This man exuded power, his coat was swinging back and forth as he walked and he had on a black brimmed hat. His presence changed the whole atmosphere. When I woke up I was just stuck. I’ve always been a deep thinker. I like to study and do research so I immediately looked up what swarms of rats in dreams meant, I tried to process all of the crazy things that took place in my dream and I equate them to all of the struggles that I was going through during that period of my life. Trying to maintain my virginity, trying to avoid making the same mistakes that my dad made and trying avoid becoming a womanizer. I realized that I was doing some of those very things. I felt like that dream was confirmation that yeah… “you are on your way to walking down that same path as your father.” I know that the man in my dream was my pops. That dream showed me that I have a lot of my father in me. 

From that point on I calmed down and controlled myself. I paid attention to the amount of girls that I talked to at one time. I got super picky about the girls that I talked to. I did eventually lose my virginity and it really became a struggle at that point. I didn’t want to be like my dad when it came to women. Any girl that I was intimate with was someone that I felt a connection with so it was never just a physical thing. One thing that I definitely admired about my pops was his swag! His normal everyday talk and his persona was something that most women seemed to flock to. It was natural for him so it wasn’t something that he was trying to do. It was just him being him. My wife says that I’m the same way even though I don't think I am nor do I try to. That time period taught me that even though I may be tempted to - womanizing isn’t something that was for me. 

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Wildflowers 

I wanted to take control over my relationship with my dad and it turned out to be a beautiful thing and one of the best decisions I have made in my life. I didn’t like everything that happened while we were building our relationship. My dad was a pill popper, still maintained a cocaine diet and was definitely an alcoholic. My dad drank all day every day. My dad would get drunk and he would talk about my mom. He would express his regrets and be really remorseful about the way things went between them. Saying things like, “man, I wish I could get your mom back, I wish we were all together as a family” and things like that. 

My dad would get like superman when he drank. I was impressed at how functional he could be when he was under the influence of alcohol and all of the other substances he would indulge in. It hurt to see my pops like this but over time I grew somewhat numb to it. I would feel it but I wouldn’t deal with things as they happened. I would push these feelings to the side and deal with any emotional issues I had later. There would be times when we developed this routine of me calming him down like; “look pops, it’s okay… calm down.” After a while I would be hard on him and stop him from talking about his lifestyle and regrets. I would sternly tell him “no need to talk about this or that, let’s move on to something else.” I would literally be that strict and hard with him. I talked to my mentors about how I should handle things when he got like that and they helped me realize that I should just let him vent and get those issues off of his chest. That was a huge shift in our relationship because me allowing him to just talk his way through things and express himself allowed me to become an outlet for him. That did a lot for him and for our relationship. It was funny because it almost seemed like our roles reversed and I was the father and he was the son. That revealed some of the void that I have concerning a father/son relationship.

I mentioned the men that I was around in the early stages of my life and how they showed me love. It still hurt that the man that I needed and wanted the most love from when I was growing up wasn’t there to give it to me on a consistent basis and that created a void. When we did get closer I was the one that had to give and show love as opposed to receiving it so that caused me to harden up and it’s difficult for me to show any emotions in sad or touching moments. I don’t know if that stems directly from the issues I have surrounding my father but I’m sure it’s relative.  

A huge amount of understanding came through in these conversations with my dad. The biggest thing that I got was just genuine appreciation for having the opportunity to nurture our relationship going forward. I understood that there was no way to go back in time and change the first 18 years of my life but what I could do for as long as we both are here is to make the best of things. So I started appreciating our phone calls and time together more. We would just sit and talk for hours and hours. Even when he’d get drunk and start doing crazy things, “which is when he’d really start telling it all” I would just sit back and appreciate those times. He’d go on as if he was preaching a sermon, and I’m the say way now when I drink a little too much. I can preach, not like a pastor but I talk a lot and it will be in depth. The conversations may be spiritual, they may be emotional and I don’t know if it’s because of a trait passed down to me from my father but I definitely do it just as he would.

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I think my dad wanted me to know that he realized that all of the things that he did that caused him to be absent in my life, along with the bad things that he did to my mother was a huge mistake. I don’t think my dad was looking for my forgiveness but I think it hurt him to realize that I turned out okay without him being around. I think he had those confessional type of conversations with me in an attempt to forgive himself. I also think that I was a constant reminder to him on what he missed out on. That I was his son and I was really right there in his presence talking to him. 

Some of the things that he revealed to me were shocking. I wish that I would have taken time to really cherish those conversations because I remember sometimes thinking, “okay - he’s getting drunk and he’s about to go to sleep. I’m about to get out the house and go kick it!” I was young so I wasn’t mature enough to stay focused and cherish all of that time with him. I did enjoy spending time and talking to my pops but at the same time the conversations would get long winded and at that age I would want to go hoop or go talk to some girls, the typical things that teenagers would want to do. I look back and wish that I would have just cherished every second with him.

I went to college at Urbana which was roughly 30 - 45 minutes or so away from my pop’s house in Columbus. I would go visit him quite a bit. My step-dad has this thing for finding and buying used cars. To this day I can go over my mom’s house and he’ll be there looking at cars on the computer. While I was in college he found me a car that was a beater but it was great on gas. One day I was at my dad’s house and he was like “let me get that car from you.”  I had been working and saving money so we went out and bought a Buick Roadmaster. I kept the Roadmaster and gave my dad the beater. One day I needed to drive the beater and my dad still needed to take care of the insurance and all of that stuff. Well my dad got in a wreck that same weekend and the Roadmaster got totaled. He didn’t file any type of claim or get any money back from it so the money that I spent on it was gone. I was pissed too because the car was nice! It was a green Buick Roadmaster that I called the Green Machine. It was clean, with all digital displays, nice interior and no dents or scratches. 

I played football at Urbana so during the offseason me and some of my teammates were in Columbus pretty much all of the time. We would go out and kick it and no matter what time we hit my dad’s spot he would always cook us these big meals for us. I can remember coming in at 3 o’clock in the morning and he’d start cooking us steak and baked potatoes, all of these big meals. I’d tell him that he didn’t have to do all of that but that was just the way he was. That was his thing.

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Jump!

At this time I was intentional about going to Columbus to spend time and build my relationship with my dad. Outside of everything else that I would do once I got there spending time with my pops was my top priority. That continued even after I had left Urbana. I would go to Columbus quite a bit. I would spend a couple of days and up to a week there just hanging out with him. Sometimes I would take my nieces and nephews with me and through that he was able to spend time with his grandkids and also mend his relationship with my sister. At that time neither of my sisters were really talking to him and that made me upset. I encouraged them to get over it, nothing about the past could be changed. My oldest sister that I grew up with would make me mad to the point that I would cuss her out. I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t want him in her life. I have another sister “by a different mother” that’s the same age as me that had a lot of resentment towards my dad. My father would try to build a relationship with her and would often tell me how frustrated he would get by her rejections. I had to explain to him that he hadn’t been there for her when she felt she needed him and that he had to be patient and keep trying. I told him the only thing that he could do is tell her and show her that he loves her. It was rough on me to hear the frustrations from both my dad and my sisters.

I prayed for God to allow me to have a good relationship with my dad. To provide a way for us to be able to continue to see each other. I wanted my dad to love me and to miss me if he went an extended amount of time without seeing or hearing from me. Our relationship wasn’t perfect but it was developing. That’s when he got sick and it was directly related to his habits. My dad was always a worker and never shied away from hard work. He had nerve damage in his back that required surgery. Before this happened he was starting to clean up his life and was cutting out some of his bad habits. The surgery slowed him but he still couldn’t sit still. He would take pain medication and go out and work and he was still drinking. He went back to the hospital and this time he almost died. He had so much in his system with the pain medications along with the drugs and alcohol. He was in a place where it was pretty much fight or flight. That was a crazy few weeks for me because while all of this was going on I was both working and going to school full-time. I had to juggle taking time off from work and making up assignments so that I could be there with my dad. It was a very trying time that happened right when things seemed to be trending up for my dad, he was spending time and developing a relationship with his grandkids, cleaning up his life and things were just going good.

The year after all of this happened was different. He physically wasn’t able to do some of the things that were part of his normal everyday life. He would still try to do things and we would tell him to sit down and take care of himself. He went back to the hospital for the same thing almost a year later but this time he had more drugs in his system, hard drugs - not just the prescribed medication, “ he had been warned the year prior that if he continued to drink it could be fatal” this time he didn’t make it. Just like the first time it was a crazy time but it was less emotional on me this time. I took on a weird vibe that’s hard for me to describe. I felt like I had to handle everything. I became “the voice” on my dad’s side of the family. My dad left me as the beneficiary for everything, I was left to make all of the decisions and his brothers and sisters had a rough time accepting that. It was a time that I had to speak up and be a man. This time period made me thankful for all of the men that helped shape my life and for having a strong mother that guided me along the way.

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Things that I deal with now as far as my dad no longer being here is missing the fact that I can’t continue building on the relationship that we started. Looking back at the years that we missed out on during my childhood and wishing things had been different. My dad was close to a lot of people so I have a goal to get in touch with as many of them as I can so that I can get to know more about my dad from their point of view.

When I worked at De’Lish there was a guy that came in a few times looking for me. When we finally met he told me that he was one of my dad’s friends. He knew so much about my dad and told me some of the things that they used to do. That made me do my own research and I found out that he has more friends like that out there with similar stories. I also have a couple of cousins that grew up around my dad and actually got to spend more time with him than I did as a kid so it’s nice to hear them share their memories of my dad. It’s a fine line though and I have to place limits on it because sometimes it becomes overwhelming. I find myself getting emotional and teary-eyed about things that I didn’t before. Even talking about him now I can feel myself getting emotional.

Two things that I deal with since my dad passed seven years ago is that other than my wife I don’t have that one person that I can go to and talk to about anything. I did have a cousin “Willie” that I looked up to like a big brother but he passed away not that long ago so two of the men that I was the closest to are gone. I have a wife now and it’s been rough not to have them to lean on when I have questions or need guidance. Even if they didn’t tell me the right things; just to have them there as a sounding board. That’s something that I deal with more often than I realize. The other thing is that I don’t know as much about my dad as I thought I did. I hear stories from my cousins and other people that spark my curiosities about him even more.

I missed my dad and broke down when I graduated. We had talked about it so much. He was looking forward to it just as much as I was and would always say he was going to be there, so I felt it that day, it hurt. Then my wedding I was like “man neither my pops or Willie are here.” It sucks that my wife never got the opportunity to meet and know my dad, she would’ve loved him and he for sure would’ve loved her and probably even tried to steal her from me, even though that battle would’ve resulted in a lost! Ironically my wife’s dad has a lot of the same characteristics as mine minus the habits. We have a very natural relationship that doesn’t require any force, I’m thankful for that and I’m sure, the universe worked her hand at that. 

There has never been a lack of fatherhood for me. Had things been different or I traveled a different path I would not have had the perfect experience with fatherhood as I did. The men that helped shaped me all played a role in my development and have enabled me to say that I had the perfect experience with Fatherhood. I live my life trying to be a good person. I may not always right but my intentions are always good.

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Frank "Buddy" Pitts Jr.

The Perfect Father

Lessons Learned From a Fatherless Childhood

Husband + Entrpreneur + Creative Director + Life Enthusiast + Brand Marketer + Educator + Beyond Superior + PSMD + Metaphorically Speaking + BR360 + Benjimen Syracuse

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Identity Crisis

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Mortal Man

Identity Crisis

By: Milton A. Wilkes

I grew up in Toledo, OH - my mother was a drug addict, or should I say is a drug addict. For at least the last 32 years she’s been on drugs. That’s all that I have ever known her to be, I’ve never known her to be sober. I was raised by my grandmothers’ sister who had four sons of her own before I came along.

Even though I was raised by my family I still had abandonment issues. Although she raised me from an infant, a child naturally desires to be taken care of by its mother. It’s just like an animal – if you take them out of their natural habitat and you put them somewhere else with the same type of animals they are still going to feel like they don’t fit in or belong there because it is not where they are from. 

There have been a lot of events that have happened in my life that has served as an incubator for my abandonment issues. When I was three, my sister “who is three years older than me” and I went to spend some time with my mother and she disappeared for the whole weekend. My sister was worried and didn’t know what to do. My clothes were all dirty and messed up so my sister put me in one of her dresses and we walked up and down one of the main streets of Toledo looking for my mother. That right there hurt. Even though I don’t remember that as vividly as my sister does; to hear how that effected both of us... it does something to you.

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“There are times
In all of our lives
When we feel as though
No one truly knows us.”

A big hurdle to get over is being okay with someone that does not want to take responsibility for their actions. You have to be okay without receiving an apology, without getting the closure that you want and need. But you can’t hold on to that and say that you need those things to happen so that you can move on with life because life is going to move on without you if you don’t let go.

When I talked to my mother I’d often find myself drifting into a childlike mentality. Fantasizing like, “okay mommy, things are going to change and you’re going to get your life together.” It took me realizing that drug abuse is actually a disease for me to understand why I couldn’t get closure and why I may never get that “I’m sorry” from her. She was actually looking out for my siblings’ and I best interest by giving us up to other family members to raise. My sister and my brother were raised by my grandmother and our younger brother was adopted outside of the family. Even though I was raised along with other kids I still didn’t have the connectivity I could have had with my own siblings. As a child I could not understand why things were the way they were, in the long run it caused me to fall into some extremely risky circumstances.

I became promiscuous, I had issues with low self-esteem and was suicidal. Trying to find yourself and your identity is hard when you don’t know how to look at yourself in the mirror. The reason that I say that is because my father had a whole other family on the side. For the most part my dad was in my life but I never knew any of my siblings. I did not meet them siblings until I was 21. When I met them they knew nothing about me either - that hurt. My response was “wow! I wasn’t worthy enough for you to tell my siblings that I existed?” That caused me to resent my father. However my father has been great about having dialogue and attempting to get closure. He’s given his point of view on that period of our lives, not trying to defend himself or say that what he did was right but just having those conversations so that we can move forward.

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I have two kids of my own, (four and eight years old) and I vowed that I would never put them through any of the things that I have gone through in life because it wasn’t fair and caused me much pain. Therapy helped me with recovering from various events in my life. I don’t think that you ever really get over events as traumatic as what I’ve gone through – you just learn how to deal with them and how to manage them better.

The things that I’ve been through have also empowered me to try to help other people. I’m back in school studying to be a mental therapist and I’m also in the midst of becoming licensed as a chemical dependency counselor. They say most chemical dependency counselors have either been on drugs or have been directly impacted by drug abuse. I’m also becoming certified as a life coach. I believe that it’s very important to have an outlet, someone to talk to “especially as black men” because we don’t feel comfortable enough to show those vulnerable places. We if you don’t have anyone or anywhere to go to; which causes us to have deviant behaviors such as drug abuse, gang activity, depravity and promiscuity. Those things aren’t normal so we have to find what the root cause is in order to figure things out and progress.

I believe I struggled with loving myself because my family was not one of those families that openly exhibited love. We didn’t hear “I love you” or show much affection to one another on a regular basis. So in relationships it’s been hard for me to express love in the traditional sense that most people expect or are used to. I try to show love but there are times where I feel like I didn’t know how to. I didn’t have my mother around to nurture and display that motherly love so there’s no example for me to go by. I try to overcompensate that when it comes to my kids because I want them to feel and know that they are loved. 

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Having high expectations of people can leave you very disappointed because most of those expectations go unfulfilled. I mentioned earlier that I was raised in a house with four other boys who were my cousins. Being that we were all raised together under the same roof I viewed them as brothers. So to hear them say “you’re not my brother” stung really bad. It’s like “wait a minute, we’ve been through so many things together, you know everything that I’m going through so for you to say that… how dare you”- it hurt really bad.  

Coming together with all of my siblings from both my mother’s and my father’s side gives me a sense of wholeness. In my opinion I had a non-ideal childhood but I intentionally forge a bond with my siblings. I have gained a relationship with my siblings where I feel free to talk to them about anything. I feel like that’s what most people want, an opportunity to talk without being ostracized, but feeling unconditional love.  

I teach my kids to stand up for one each other. If someone comes after one of you they’re coming after both of you. I want them to have that connection. I want them to have what I didn’t have in my childhood. That’s important to me.

It doesn’t feel good but I think about if I had stayed with my mother, I probably would have lived under far worse conditions with a whole boatload of other issues versus going and staying with my aunt, who sent me great schools, instilled life lessons and showed me how to take care of business. But, growing up with unresolved of issues that I was unaware of until later in life created issues that later were harder to deal with. Which one would I have chosen if it was up to me? That’s a hard question but in my heart I know that staying with my aunt was best for me.

My faith has played a huge part in being able to move forward. As a kid I was in church all of the time. That’s where I’ve always found peace. I’ve also been able to find my inner solace through music. I sing. I write music. Music has been my outlet- my way of gaining freedom from all of my inner feelings. 

Music takes me away – it heals me.

Thank you,

Milton A Wilkes

 

 
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Milton A. Wilkes

Identity Crisis

Image Consultant + Music Head

instagram: @mr_airyon

 

facebook: Milton AirYón

A Name I'll Never Forget

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Mortal Man

A Name I'll Never Forget

By: Jason Doherty

It was the summer of 1996 and me and two of my buddies decided to head out to Brookville Lake to go to a party on another friend's houseboat. When we got there, we had to take a shuttle boat over to the houseboat. Once we got onboard and got situated, we drank a few beers and did a little swimming. We were having a good time. My friend that was hosting the party decided to invite one of his friends that lived out on the lake over and he came along with two of his friends.

They got on the boat and we all introduced ourselves and partied a little bit more. I don't know how much they had to drink before they got onboard the houseboat, but after two hours or so went by me and one of my buddies decided to go around to the back of the boat to hangout with them. We got to the back of the boat and saw one of the guys joking around with a girl and then asked her "are you going to get in?".  I didn't really hear her clear enough to make out what she said, but the guy kept joking around and then he pushed her in the lake. 

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We were all laughing but after about 30 seconds and she still hadn't came up.  My buddy and I looked at each other and I thought "that's weird". I thought that maybe she swam around to the front or to the other side of the boat. We walked around all sides of the boat and couldn't spot her anywhere. That's when I thought "oh-uh, this isn't good!" I was scared out of my mind and so I jumped in the lake to try to find her. I swam underneath the boat but didn't find her there. My buddy and I dove in close to where she was pushed in. We dove in so deep that we would lose our breath and have to come back up to grasp for air. We did this numerous times trying to find her but the lake was 27 feet deep and the water was so dark that we just couldn't see anything. We were exhausted, so we got back on the boat and heard one of our other friends on the CB radio saying "we have someone overboard!"

When the diver and police got there the diver wasn't suited up.  It took him about a minute or so to get prepped to dive in. He asked us where was the last place that we saw anything and we pointed in the direction of the last place that we saw bubbles come up from in the water. He dropped a line and dove in. The diver went in and found her immediately. He brought her up and laid her on the back of the boat. The policeman told me, my buddy and the guy that pushed her into the lake to go to one side of the boat and kept us separated from everyone else that was on the boat. I looked across the boat and saw that the girl was completely gray and that they were trying to revive her. The police told us to stop looking that way and to move to the front of the boat. 

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I always wonder what she would have became in life had she not died that night...

At the time, I was relieved that they found her but I didn't know what was going on. I didn't know if she was alive or not. They put us on the shuttle boat and as we went around the houseboat, I saw that they were putting her in a body bag. I knew right then that... my heart it just went straight to my gut. They couldn't revive her. She was dead.

She passed away and it was probably the worst nightmare I could have ever experienced. Her name was Jessica - I'll never forget her name. I always wonder what she would have became in life had she not died that night... maybe she would have became a doctor, a loving mother and wife. I always wonder about that.

We all had to go to the police station and give reports. We sat in the police station for eight to nine hours before we were even eligible to get bailed out. We had to got to court and that's when I learned that Jessica didn't know how to swim. That was really scary to me; learning that she didn't know how to swim but still went out drinking on a boat. I was held in jail for underage drinking. I called my mom and told her what happened and she said, "that's horrible." I told her my charges and she said, "you're 18 now, bail yourself out." It just so happened that another friend of ours had drove out to Brookville to party with us. He came as everything was going down, so he never made it to the houseboat. His dad bailed me out that night, otherwise I would have sat in jail until the arraignment. I was put on unmonitored probation.

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The guy that pushed Jessica in the lake was charged with involuntary manslaughter and spent some time in jail. He didn't know that she couldn't swim and he tried all that he could to help us find her in the lake that night. There was no parental supervision at all that night, so the family that owned the houseboat was sued. We were just a few kids out trying to have a good time. I was 18 years old when this happened and later I learned that Jessica was only 17. 

I turned to drugs pretty hard to help me cope and one day I woke up and said, "I can't do this anymore." I had to get my shit together. Jessica's death was a life lesson for me. I only knew Jessica for two hours before she was gone forever. It's crazy how things can be all good one minute and then... 

It's something that I'll never forget, even though I think about it all of the time. I've never talked about it. I'm glad that I have this opportunity, this outlet to share it. I definitely feel a little better now that I've talked about it.

I still talk to my buddy that dove into the lake with me but we never talk about what happened that night. Every time I've tried talking about it with him, he shuts me down and tells me that he can't do it. I have no idea how it weighs on him, how he's dealing with it or if he's dealing with it at all.

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I will always remember Jessica's name. Twenty years after that night it's still embedded in my brain. Even though I didn't push her in the lake I still feel guilty. I always wish I would have been able to find her - been able to save her. 

I still have nightmares about what happened that night. When they found her , I felt a sense of relief.  Then I saw her and saw how gray she was, it was almost like death was staring right at me. That right there is when I knew that if I don't swim "in life", I'm going to sink. I've been swimming every since. 

It took me almost 18 years to get back on a boat. Even though, I know how to swim I still wore a life jacket. To this day I still don't really like being out on boats a whole lot.

 
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Jason Doherty

A Name I'll Never Forget

Husband + Son + Drummer

facebook: Jason Doherty

Gild The Lilly Band Page

Hit Harder

Zack Cover

Mortal Man

Hit Harder

By: Zack Sliver

I was in Louisville, KY for my brother's bachelor party. We were at a bar and we split into two different groups. I was walking down the street and I noticed a woman being pulled and screamed at by two guys. Truthfully I knew if I kept walking away something bad would happen to this lady -  I also knew that if I intervened something bad was likely to happen to me, I still chose to intervene.

When I took up for the lady the guys started screaming and throwing punches at me. I know how to fight from being in the marines but I wasn't looking for a fight. I just wanted to help the the woman in distress. I pushed them off of me and said; "hey, I'm not trying to fight".  They started hitting me in the side of the head and I tried to protect myself and just get away.

Four more guys ran over and now there were six guys beating on me. The funny thing is that at first I thought they were going to help me. I  went down on the ground at one point and one of the guys picked me up and started choking me. Another guy was hitting me in the face. It was a benchmark moment in my life, my vision was going in and out. I was like, "Is this really how I die? What are people going to think about me when I'm gone? What are people going to say when they find out I died? Will they think I just died in a fight in Louisville? Will they know that I stood up for somebody and that I was trying to do the right thing in the face of evil?"

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I took off running - some random guy was chasing me. He was trying to help me but I wasn't sure so I pushed him away. I fell, got up and started crawling away but was  grabbed by the back of my hair and hit in the side of the head, caving my skull in. My equilibrium was gone. I didn't recognize that until I was running full speed down the street. I remember thinking, "why can't I keep my balance ?" I was covered in blood and fell down. The guy that tried to help me ran up to me but I wasn't sure who he was or what he was trying to do so I tried to fight him. He said, "no I'm trying to help you!" He grabbed my phone and the lady that I tried to help scooped up my glasses and handed them to me. I remember just lying there bleeding.

I called my brother and told him that I needed him. He came over and a police officer called an ambulance. I refused to take  an ambulance because of the price so my friends Josh Boone and Cory DD Miller got me to the hospital. They were in the waiting room while I had my cat scan and stayed and kept me company until I was transferred to the next hospital. The whole group met up at the University of Louisville Hospital to support me and make sure that I made it through surgery okay.

The nurses and doctors didn't believe what happened, they thought I was drunk because I was slurring my words. I told them, "No! I only had two beers in four hours, I'm not drunk. My skull is messed up!' They told me to go in the next room and take a nap. I told them that I was sweating, that I didn't feel right and that I didn't think that everything was going to be fine." They continued to tell me that I would be fine after a nap. It took me screaming at the top of my lungs for them to give me a cat scan - that's when they realized that my skull was caved in.

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I was leaking brain fluids and it was mixing with the air. They finally got the results and took me to the University of Louisville Hospital. I talked to my mom while I was being transported in the ambulance and told her everything. It was just - it was hard. I remember right before going into brain surgery; my brother and my best friend Brett were so jovial they made me feel like everything was going to be  alright. They were joking about one of the doctors working on a patient, (Dr. Potts working on Mr. Himp) they kept laughing about that which made me laugh even harder.

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Truthfully when I woke up, I felt like a different person. Not in a bad way, not like I didn't know who I was or who anyone else was. I just knew that I was completely going to have a different life than before. I made a choice to help somebody. I feel like if I went into that with adverse intentions, like "oh, I just wanted to look cool in front of this woman" that I wouldn't have made it out. The fact that I tried to do the right thing - and I did do the right thing helped me through.  

After my surgery I had a lot of complications with the V.A. Hospital. Eleven days went by and they still had not called me like they were supposed to. That's where the struggle came from. I got different doctors but still wasn't getting the treatment or medication that I needed. It's like, "This is not a football injury from ten years ago, I just had brain surgery. I need physical therapy, I need all these things and will you please help me?" They didn't for quite some time. 

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I had to teach myself how to walk again - my equilibrium wasn't coming back fast enough. I would walk the stairs at my parent's house, I would get up and just shake my head. I'd fall or feel like I was going to. The following four months I literally just watched the X-Files and other shows and slept. I was hospitalized a few times from getting fevers. It was just challenging.

What's really cool about the entire thing is anytime I've helped somebody I've done it out of the kindness of my heart. I'd never do big inspiring stuff, I'd never do turkey giveaways for anybody just for me to be like, "Oh, I hope if I ever get hurt somebody is going to help me." 

This girl Jessica Jones started a Gofundme account for me while I was in the hospital.  It raised almost six grand ($5,500) that took care of five months of my bills. I called her about two weeks into the Gofundme campaign, "it's supposed to last about a month" and asked her to stop it. She was like, "What? Why would you do that?" I told her I appreciated it but this is going to get me through four/five months and I feel like in that time I can recover from brain surgery.  At the same time people assume that I had brain surgery a year ago. When I tell them that it's only been roughly six months they're kind of bewildered that i'm not just lounging and trying to heal. 

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Going back to work was hard. Especially when it's loud. I wait tables and I'm still a little deaf in my left ear. People make a lot of jokes about it. They'll be like, "you're deaf in your left ear and you work in a bar? How can you hear?" They're jerks. I get dizzy often and they say I might get seizures. I still wouldn't trade it for anything. I can only imagine how bad I would feel if I didn't help that lady that night and she ended up hurt or dead while I was somewhere drunk in a bar.

When the lady handed me my glasses, she kept thanking me. She told me I was so nice and she couldn't believe what happened to me. I remember posting about this online telling people that I was healing. A guy that I was stationed with in Japan messaged me asking "What are you doing for justice?" Justice? I remember thinking; "can I learn how to walk first?" They are never going to find the guys, they're never going to. I’m alright with that. Louisville Police – I’m pretty sure they let them go that night. They almost arrested my friends for telling them to do their jobs. I don't think it's that's hard to do your job. I've had a badge and a gun before and I did my job. I left the detective a voicemail and sent him pictures of where everything took place. He didn't even call me back. 

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Even when I was in the ambulance I was thinking about how I was supposed to play a show that Sunday. I remember texting the guy and telling him that I didn't know if I was going to be able to play. I think that's so funny because I thought they were just gonna wrap my head, give me some Tylenol, and I would just gonna go home. All of the doctors and nurses - everyone at the University of Louisville Hospital were phenomenal, they were just amazing. I remember this doctor looking at me and telling me about how they were going to cut me. I was thinking, "Oh! This got serious." I was supposed to start the end of my junior year of college and also begin interning for a judge that Monday. So I was like; "you're telling me that I can't do these things? I can't do the things that make me feel like anything is possible? I can't continue my career? I can't continue these things?" That part of it was demoralizing.

Learning to walk again was pretty cool. The guy who woke me up in morning looked like Dana Carvey, it could've been the pain meds, but it could've been Dana Carvey. I don't know if he moonlights as a nurse or RN. I might've told him that, which could've made him laugh a bit.

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If I talked to the people that did this to me I would tell them that they didn't win. I might even thank them, not physically thank them but in a weird way I think it was the best thing that has ever happened to me. I feel like it opened my eyes and gave me a new pair of glasses. I still experience pain from my injuries and I have trouble formulating sentences. Those things aren't going to hold me back from doing the things I need to and want to do. I would just tell them "you didn't win and next time HIT HARDER." Well... maybe I wouldn't tell them to hit harder, "that's a joke from the marine corps.

I've had people who didn't like me. I've been in fights before and if a person hit the ground, you don't hit them while they were down.  It took six grown men to beat up on one man that stood up for a woman. They kind of gave me a glimpse of what women have to deal with. I have two sisters and tragic things have happened to them. It makes me wonder what women have to deal with on the regular basis? Not just people saying stupid things to them as they walk down the street. To have a man grabbing a woman and nobody on the street says anything but me? I'm not the best man in the world, man of the year - or any of that but I know to not put my hands on a woman.

 

 

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Zack Sliver

Hit Harder

Marine Veteran + Student + Singer & Guitarist of Yuppie

instagram: @zack_sliver

facebook: Zack Sliver

website: theyuppiemusic.com

band instagram: @theyuppiemusic

Memories Live...

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Mortal Man

Memories Live

By: Dan Tres Omi

While I did not have a father, I had a diverse group of elders who made sure I stayed on the path I still continue to travel. They were stern and wise. They gave no quarter. They loved hard and disciplined harder. They were fathers and husbands. They were community leaders and they led by example. They were not perfect and it is their imperfection that made me realize that I could be better than them.

Upon their transition, I never imagined I would utter those words. However, they told me several times that we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. That we are our ancestors wildest dreams: to be better than what they were on every conceivable level. That idea sounds far fetched. To some, this could even be sacrilege. How could we be better than those before us?

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Even as a child, I always wanted to be the parent that my Uncle Fe was. I never heard him yell at anyone. If one of us got in trouble, he would plead with us to do right. That always fascinated me. While other adults would yell, cuss, threaten, or provide corporal punishment, Uncle Fe would urge us to do right. Without any abuse, he made us feel guilty for screwing up. He was very encouraging and always explained to me how amazing I was and of my potential to do much better. I never wanted to dissappoint him. He showered all of his children with love and affection. I rarely saw that and was also amazed by him. He lost his battle with cancer and everyone was devastated by it. His standard as a parent has never been forgotten and while I have failed so many times, I shall always endeavor to meet it.

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Speaking through the voices of the spirits speaking to me, I think back in the day, I absorbed everything like a sponge. Took a plunge into my past to share with my son.
— Talib Kweli/Reflection Eternal - Memories Live "from the Train of Thought album"

I met Brother George when I moved to Norfolk, Virginia after being discharged from the Navy. He owned a book store on 35th Street. With a group of men around my age, we started a book/Black History club there. Many of us were members and leaders of local community groups. Brother George and I quickly developed a long relationship as mentor/mentee. My eldest son affectionately called his store “The Black Man's Store,” and always asked when we would return to it. Brother George was my plug for bean pies and he would call me as soon as he got a new shipment in. He knew me before I was married and watched my family grow. As he became older and began cancer treatments due to his exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam, he asked me to take over the store. I was honored but immediately refused. I knew that I could never fill his shoes. I knew that the work he did for our community was one that many hands had to do. When he passed away, a void was left in my heart. Our entire community was rocked by his passing. As a community activist, he made it clear that he was always willing to serve in whatever capacity he could. As community worker, I use his example as a mission statement.

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I met Baba Varner through my very good friend, Seko. The thing about the entire Varner clan was that they took me and my wife in as family even before we had children. Baba Varner was a life long activist and minister. Over the years, I have met several of his mentees, students, and congregants who he has had a positive impact on. Baba Varner was amazing. He had the best stories of growing up, going to college, and fighting for Civil Rights. He was strong in every way. In every aspect, I learned so much from him. I recall him telling me that he was upset that he did not marry my wife and I. I vowed to let him “marry” us on our 10th anniversary. He passed away before this happened.

All these men set several standards for me. One of their lessons was in their transition. They made me ask the question: "how do we honor the actions of those who came before us and are no longer here?" How can we do that when they have done so much? I remember both Baba Varner and Brother George telling me: make your community a better place than it was before you inherited it. That is and will always be our marching orders. In this manner, we will honor them and their memories.

Ase! 

This is Part Three of Dan Tres Omi’s story. Click the links below to read the others.
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Dan Tres Omi

Memories Live...

Son, Husband, Father, Teacher, Afro Latino B-Boy, Author, Capoeirista, T-shirt Model, Pro-Feminist, Hip Hop Diplomat

 

Keep up with Danny on social media...

instagram: @brothereromi

twitter: @DaTresOmi

podcast: Where My Killa Tape At soundcloud.com/dantresomi

medium: @DanTresOmi

 

Leave comments here to keep the conversation going, to offer words of encouragement or to share your story.

LORE

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Mortal Man

Lore

by: Ty Greenwood

Currently, my work centers on toxic Black Masculinity and the negative representation of Black Men in media, television & film and other visual rhetorics. I argue that Black Males are voiceless and invisible, groomed not to ever show their emotions, groomed into a vision of hyper-masculinity heightened by the media, but even more so by their own environment. Therefore, it is time for an INTERVENTION and BLACK REVOLUTION that showcases positive portrayals of Black men that are not damaging to their identity, existence and Black bodies. The associations built around masculinity include: white, powerful, heterosexual, college educated, upper class, strong, tough, aggressive, sexually dominant, ripped body and the list goes on and on. This concept has shaped and molded the way Black men are viewed and the unrealistic standards conjured by white people.

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The Black male experience today has become one inflicted with fear imposed by the seemingly never ending police killings of Black men. Black men are at risk. The same qualities and values that white people have placed on Black masculinity are the same ones killing them today. Black men can’t breathe, walk down the street, go into a convenience store without being feared, followed and or killed. Black bodies are adding up. The qualities of being aggressive, thugs, criminals, ghetto, uneducated, drug dealers, sexual assaulters, professional athletes, sex symbols, the Black muscular body,  deadbeat fathers and unprofessional, are just few of the commonly publicized descriptions in today’s media and various other forms of rhetoric. Thus, when it comes to the Black performance it is nothing more than a minstrel puppet show that is being composed by white people and sold to white audiences who buy into a false sense of what being a Black man really is. It is time for this to end. How many more Black bodies have to be sacrificed for it to really mean something?

Black men can no longer be a sacrifice and killed off senselessly and carelessly. Who will protect the innocent Black boy who is walking down the street to the candy store? Who will protect the innocent Black boy who goes to college and must deal with all the white faces that don’t understand him? Who will protect the innocent Black men when the white cops who are suppose to protect them murder them in cold blood and leave their bodies on the street for all to see? WHO WILL PROTECT OUR BLACK MEN? 

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An excerpt from my short play, “LORE”:

 

DAD:  So, what color is Sasha’s dress?

JR.: It’s an African print dress. 

DAD:  African print? She ain’t African, hell she barely black!

JR.:  Dad!

DAD:  What?

Jr.: turns his back to his dad and approaches the clerk’s desk

CLERK:  Hi, can I help you?

JR.:  Yes.  A pick up for Jeffrey Cole Jr. 

The clerk goes to the back. He comes back with a long dashiki in a gourmet bag. 

 DAD:  What the hell is that?

JR.:  It’s called a dashiki, dad.

DAD:  A what? That’s a damn dress!

CLERK:  The dashiki is a colorful garment for men widely worn in West Africaand other parts of Africa as well.

DAD:  Sir, I know what a dashiki is, I grew up in the 70’s but this is a damn dress! I’m not paying for that shit! Jr. you’re suppose to wear a suit to prom. A tailored, fitted suit.

JR.:  Dad it’s not a dress. Just think of it as a long t-shirt. And look it even comes with pants.

DAD:  A long t-shirt? This is prom not a sleepover. And if that’s what you’re planning I can tell you right now Sasha ain’t gonna give up nothing with you in that shit.  Uh-Uh. Excuse me, sir? Where are your suits?

CLERK:  We have suits over to your left, but we wouldn’t be able to have it tailored in time for your son’s prom. I’m sorry sir.

JR.:  Dad would you stop embarrassing me?

DAD:  Embarrassing you? Jr. you’re embarrassing me! Picking out a damn costume to wear to prom. What the hell is wrong with you?

JR.:  It’s not a costume, dad, it goes with Sasha's African dress.

DAD:  Why the hell are you two even wearing this African shit? Ain’t neither of you African. Let me guess, you saw it on tv.

JR.:  Dad this is in style! They wore these back in your day!

DAD:  Back in my day men wore suits to proms and formal, son. Hell a tux even. But this shit here, NO!

JR.:  What is the big deal?

DAD:  The big deal is that you don’t understand the purpose of tradition. You leave out of the house everyday wearing pants off your ass and clothes too big for even me but tonight of all nights you’re supposed to look like you have some sense. We have family coming over and I am supposed to sit there and just smile while you come down stairs looking like the Prince of Zamunda? I’m not paying for that. I trusted you to come to the store, pick out something sensible, didn’t even give you a price limit because this is your day…

JR.:  If it’s my day then why are you trying to control everything?

DAD:  Jr., listen to me, you are going to wear a suit to this prom. We can pick out a dress shirt to go with your black suit at home. And we can find a nice tie.

JR.:  Dad that’s not want Sasha wants. She wanted us to wear/

DAD:  I don’t give a damn what she wanted. It’s not happening!

JR.:  But Dad/

DAD:  I’m not paying for you to wear some dress to look like a little bitch Jr. If you want it, you pay for it.

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This is the third and final entry in Ty’s three part series. The others can be read by clicking on the following links:
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Ty Greenwood

I Danced With Death

Writer, Poet, Actor, Director, Teacher, Student… MULTIFACETED

twitter: @ty_greenwood

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email: greenwoodet26@gmail.com

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