The series began in April 2011 and our family has been catching up on episodes over the last few weeks. Henry Louis Gates Jr. does a phenomenal job exploring the lives of African descendants in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico and Peru. Every story goes into the history of how Africans arrived in that country and why those descendants are in the economical and cultural condition they are in today.
Does your family need to watch?
Do YOU need to watch?
Ask yourself and your children a few of the following questions and decide:
– What does my family know about the Trans-Atlantic slave trade?
– Was the United States the only country that imported African slaves?
– If not, did the United States import the most African slaves?
– Why is Haiti so poor?
– Why does baseball bring players from the Dominican Republic and not Haiti when they are right next to each other geographically?
– Why does the United States not have a good relationship with Cuba?
– Why do Brazilians speak Portuguese?
– Why does Brazil consider itself free of racism but not the United States?
– If you are considered an African-American in the United States because of your dark skin, what is someone from Mexico considered if they look just like me?
– If they are considered different, why, and how did it get that way?
There is so much more that can be asked as those only scratch the surface!
Ironically, American’s often speak of the necessity of knowing a second language like so many other nations around the world. However, American’s often want to learn a country’s language in a vacuum, without learning about the country’s culture, it’s people or the history.
Then again, American’s tend to have selective amnesia when it comes to its own history, so I’m really not surprised.
Today, Mr. October Reggie Jackson turned 65 years old. My dad recently turned nearly the same age at almost the same time. Reggie Jackson is a lover of muscle cars, my dad is as well. Reggie Jackson’s public persona seems extremely complex. Well, my dad’s public and private personas are complex as well. Reggie seemed to be one who did not believe in turning the other cheek. My dad’s advice to me was always throw the first punch because you don’t know if he’ll lay you out with his first blow. Reggie was born in Pennsylvania, my dad’s relatives are in Pennsylvania (okay, that one’s a stretch but I still counted it as a kid!).
But there is one glaring difference between the two men. Reggie made his fame and fortune from baseball and my dad hated sports. He made his fame at home and his fortune in the plant. Both men got dirty and worked with their hands, but in two very different ways.
Yet, had it not been for my father, I never would have looked up to “the straw that stirs the drink” (and Reggie did not mean that the way the reporter told it by the way).
Despite the fact that my dad never liked sports, he never discouraged my passion for baseball. As a matter of fact, two things he taught me early on that I’ve carried for over 30 years:
1.) Do not cheer for the home team, because they are losers.
2.) Look at Reggie, and how he handles himself, and that’s how you must handle yourself in this world.
Dad knew the impact the ‘hood could have had on me. While we weren’t exactly living in the projects, many of the problems of the projects existed, just in a cleaner neighborhood. Selling drugs, or what we called “rollin'”, was still the fastest way for a kid to make a lot of money and have a lot of girls fast. Shootings across the street from our house were common along with break-ins, car theft, and fighting. Thankfully, we also had many parents working solid middle-class jobs to always keep the neighborhood a float. Since they weren’t allowed to move into traditional white suburbs, they were forced to stay in their own community so in many ways, it benefited us all as a whole.
What we also had commercially, was a lack of black athletes on television when they were not on the field. But when dad saw how Reggie mastered the King’s English and commanded respect for his knowledge of the game and demeanor, he was wise to tell me to observe. Reggie often commentated for ABC in the ’70s and ’80s if the Yankees were out of the playoffs.
Little did I know at that time that one day I would have to at least know many of the rules of the King’s English as well when I grew up. I would also have to not be the “typical nigga or black guy” that many of my colleagues would expect me to be, just like Reggie. I would have to talk a certain way at job interviews, avoid being labeled and yet stand up for myself and prove that I deserved to be in that class or office and not because of Affirmative Action. At the same time, I would have to be just as complex, for people in America have a hard time understanding how you can be pro-black and yet marry someone of a different race. I’m sure Reggie ran into this as to some black folks, Reggie was a sell-out with his proper talking, candy bars, and white girls. But Reggie seemed to always make sure that he represented himself and the black community well. He spoke out about teams that did not have enough black players and even advised former teammate Willie Randolph not to take the Detroit Tiger job. They were the worst of the worst in Major League baseball. Reggie threw out the question the black community always asks, “Why do we only get the job/call/White House when things cannot get any worse? That’s just setting us up to fail!”
I can’t say I idolized Reggie. The man never put food on my table, but he did wave at me when I yelled his name at a California Angels game…he did…really! I’ve memorized many of his stats, read his autobiography, visited the Baseball Hall of Fame to have my picture taken with his bust, and even named one of my kids after him. But my fascination with Mr. Jackson was never about him, but about what he represented. He was a man of class, determination, dependable, clutch-performer, and he danced to the beat of his own drum all the while paying homage to those like Robinson, Aaron, and Mays that bought the drum.
Overall, the man was much like my father.
So dad, who are you allowing to influence your son? Is it a street pimp, a corporate pimp, a drug-dealer, or a prescription drug-dealer? Do those people reflect the values that you want your son to have or the values that you have or at least want to have?
Understand this, somebody and something will influence your boys. You better take advantage of the time that you have to determine what kind of influence that will be. I’m glad my dad had the insight to do that when I was younger. While I’m no where near the man that I wanted to be, I’m no where near the man I could have been.
In my house, we just celebrated three birthdays over a ten day span. I’m broke from buying gifts, fat from cake and ice cream, and I feel old as Methuselah. But my kids hit me with a few sayings that I, and you, may want to remember the next time we celebrate our birthday.
I told Boney that Daddy’s girl was getting older.
“Daddy”, she immediately replied, “I’m not getting older, I’m getting BIGGER!”
Yea kid, that’s the same for the rest of us and really becomes the case after 35.
My boy, aka the Large Professor, turned 12 years old. I asked him how it felt to be 12 and I was quite surprised at his response. “It feels good, and I’m glad that God let me live to be 12.”
Wow, I wasn’t expecting that.
He later went on to explain that since God still has allowed him to live, he must have more for him to do on this earth, and he wants to do what God wants him to do…and one thing he knows is that God does not want him to fall away from him.
I told him that his work is only beginning.
How about you?
Are you just getting bigger each birthday and just “living”, or are you doing the work God has for you to do?
6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 (NIV)
4 Fathers,do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.