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