What is Service?

Yesterday was the day that America honors the life and sacrifices made by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the world’s most impactful leaders. As opposed to being a day off, it is supposed to be a day of service. But that leads me to ask a question of us all: What are we doing to help humanity on a regular basis? Could you imagine what your relationship would be like if you only celebrated your significant other once or twice a year? How would you feel if your parents had only acknowledged you quarterly? They would just be meaningless displays from people looking to check off a box.

Just as people need to be loved every day, we should be doing something good for someone else on a daily basis. Maybe it’s letting the person at the stoplight know (s)he left the gas tank open. Maybe it’s stopping by your local co-op to grab a hot meal for the homeless person on the corner. Maybe it’s donating some money to keep Bennett College open. But we have to do something if we truly want to honor the legacy not only of Dr. King but the spirit of what America claims to be. And everyone shouldn’t know you did it. Just do it. If you are recognized for it, great. If you’re not, great. Either way, you did something beautiful for someone who can do nothing for you except pay it forward.

Oh, and, by the way, I found that cool graphic by following one of my favorite accounts on Instagram, The 9 to 5 Podcast. Check them out by clicking here.

 

Make embracing a spirit of service a priority.

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It’s Not About Money

“It’s never ’bout the money ‘cuz I burn bread. It’s the principalities like Big Worm said” — Fabolous

Some people get so caught up with the dollars. I could care less about what my bank account said if I knew I lived in a nation that cared enough to make sure that I didn’t ever lose it all. I’ve been there and I can say that pursing happiness can be pretty tough when you can’t pay your rent/mortgage, don’t have health insurance, and are working a job you hate just to make ends meet.

Bankruptcy and poor credit don’t only affect those whose names they are attached to, but also the people attached to those names. Families get evicted, children lose memories as a result of going from home to home, and those things that could’ve grown to mean the world to a person end up in a storage auction never to be seen again. Or, worse, uninsured people enter a hospital only to be told they will be helped only to a certain level and, after that, they’re on their own. What makes any one human more or less deserving than another to receive quality medical care, housing, or nourishment?

America, if you take anything at all from this blog, know that it’s not about the money. It’s never been about the money. Money just provides security. But what if (imagine this…) community provided security? What if we didn’t let our neighbors slip through the cracks? Or if we buy things to fill the voids we created by not giving our family time? What if we taught integrity before integers? We shouldn’t be privatizing education. Actually, we should be doing the opposite and equally distributing the resources that elite institutions (private and public alike) have.

If we want to make America great in the truest sense, we have to teach love and empathy. Yes, we have to take care of our own households but who will really want to kill us when we show them love? Proposing a truce (within reason) isn’t weak in the eyes of anyone who doesn’t subscribe to a toxic school of thought. I am a vocal proponent of self-defense but let’s have a little faith in God’s ability to put the humanity in mankind. And, in our everyday lives, let’s exhibit that humanity. We should not let anyone be homeless or hungry. Our children ought not learn untruths that the school system teaches. We can change this world together, one neighbor at a time.

And if you think me telling you to love your neighbor is too political, you probably don’t understand the denotation of the word “politics.” But there’s a wonderful book someone put together once that’ll explain that to you if need be.

 

Make money an avenue to improve the world as opposed to a goal in and of itself.

Changing Language

I had a great talk today with a married couple that I’m friends with. They’re black (yes, in this conversation, that matters). Our conversation ran the gamut, from #EatPray10v3 to children and the sleep deprivation that accompanies them. Because of prior commitments and certainly not boredom or anger, our conversation ended on the topic of race in America and specifically the term “White Privilege.” The man in the couple (we’ll call him “Solomon” since he brought Ecclesiastes into the convo) said that the term “white privilege” may be a misnomer at this point and that it has served its purpose. If progress is to be made, we must focus less on the white privilege and more on the economic inequity that plagues the nation. Solomon comes from a less luxurious region of America where opportunities are difficult to find, regardless of race. He, as a professional black man who made it out of that setting, said that the overlooked white people in his hometown would consider it a slap in the face if he, with his “polished shoes and tailored suits went to them talking about their privilege.” The word, though unintentionally, is offensive when we are talking to those whites who have, as far as they can see, experience no semblance of the privilege that the mainstream so often speaks of and shames. Those white families who populate the mining communities of  America’s mountainous regions or the ones who must laboriously provide for their families in less than luxurious settings are not feeling the privilege that many of us speak of. Certainly, the media does not paint them as the faces of philanthropic need and government welfare but they overwhelmingly are and they’re angry. Are they being gunned down by a culture of policing that says “The black man is most likely guilty of something so shoot him”? No and, in that conversation, they do have privilege. But when we’re discussing generational wealth, a strong majority of whites are not much better off than blacks. There are, however, a gross number of white households who are doing as poorly as black households and those households have historically had less access to resources that will provide them with the upward mobility required to transition the next generation of their legacy into the next economic class. In short, there is a plethora of programs that I, as an underrepresented minority, have access to that will allow me to traverse America’s economic landscape (even against the system’s desire for me to). Poor whites don’t have that. So, in my lack of privilege, there is a sliver of privilege.

Don’t get it twisted, I still believe that, in the face of a trigger happy cop, poor and rich white people have a better chance of coming out alive than I do as a black man of any background. But, when we’re talking about having access to resources and education, poor whites don’t fare better than poor blacks (excluding consideration of cultural bias when it comes to names). Therefore, these unwealthy white people are upset because of what they don’t have when it appears that everyone else, including the poor blacks who society tells them that they are supposed to be doing better than, is making forward strides. This leads to things like the election of those who pander to their fears, the clinging to a hateful pride in a treasonous culture, and the dogwhistles that are reaching a low enough frequency for us all to hear.

Which brings me to the short, but direct, point: We must change the language. While white people have an indisputable cultural advantage in America (sometimes because of language but more often than not because of a propensity to engage media before we do people), white privilege is not universal in its application. I’m not sure what language we need to use or whether we need to be more specific when we speak of what arenas whites are privileged in, as opposed to using it as the blanket statement we’ve been using it as.

I won’t lie, I grew up around some rich white folks. I mean, RICH! There were Benzes, Porsches and Land Rovers in my high school parking lot. Multiples. In double digits. So I can relate to the concept of white privilege because I perceived white wealth and I came from, at times, a black family wrought with financial instability. But, the older I get and the more I speak with people of varying backgrounds, I see that, in affluent areas like NC’s Research Triangle, you’ll see quite a few well-off white people. These areas fuel the narrative of the rich whites. But, when you look across the nation, economic disparities even out across racial lines. Therefore, in an attempt to break down the barriers that the rich have built to keep the poor fighting one another, we must either be cautious or more specific when we speak of white privilege. We cannot build allies if we do not. How we do that is up for conversation but the fact that it must happen is indisputable.

 

Make using intentional language a priority.

Taking a Loss

Yesterday, a divided nation decided that it would, in part, continue to go down a path that leads toward its demise. But, just because you’re going down the wrong path doesn’t mean you can’t pause, reflect, and commit to bettering yourself.

It’s time for us to demand more of our leaders. As I continue to prepare myself for elevated levels of leadership by taking on more roles and remaining a lifelong learner, I am adding more best practices to my arsenal. Today, as I was reading some of John Maxwell’s work, I was reminded that “(l)eaders lose the right to be selfish.”

We have to start holding our leaders, elected and otherwise, to a higher standard. Sometimes that means turning down campaign dollars from sources that lack integrity. Other times, it means foregoing a raise or rejecting a bonus so your support staff maintains its morale. Paying bills and engaging in self-care are not selfish. Shoot, even getting a bonus when everyone’s doing well is ok. But when, as a leader, you look out for yourself at the expense of those around you, you’re doing damage to the culture and community you’re suppose to be protecting.

Think of it like this: As a leader, if you do something selfish and stupid that jeopardizes your community’s reputation, you’re not only risking your job but also the jobs of everyone that supports you. Let’s look at all the companies that have gone down the drain because of poor leadership. The leaders were not the only ones affected. Their employees weren’t only affected. The employees’ families were affected. The generations that follow that employee are affected. Our decisions, as leaders, will have everlasting impacts on the world.

Yesterday’s election results, though some positive change took place, disappointed me on a large scale. The battle may be a wash but the war is far from over. Over the next two years (and long after that), let us, as follower-leaders, pledge to change the culture across political, economic, and social arenas. We have to get to a point where we can disagree without being mean-spirited and that starts with requiring our leaders to model that. We influence them by demanding more of them so that they can influence us. It’s a simple cycle.

 

Make selfless leadership a requirement.

It’s Pronounced FOO-KET and It Looks Like…

Went to Phuket. Thought it was pronounced like that thing I say when someone pisses me off. I was wrong.

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Somebody get this man some Winterfresh. His breath is HOT!

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Around the corner from the garden.

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Wipeout!

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What harm have these eyes witnessed?

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What’s the point of a beach if you can’t swim there?

 

Make seeing the world a priority.

Fear the Sky

“Due to the decades-long War on Terror, US drones have killed civilians at weddings and taught young children to fear the sky.” — Namira Islam

As a child, I looked to the heavens in awe, eyes filled with intrigue
I dreamt the cumulus cloud to be the magnificent home I would one day build
I appreciated the beautiful background it provided for all of life
Whether a dark blue before the rain came
A light blue on a magnificently perfect day in May
Or a night full of fireworks before I found that the 4th was not meant for my kind,
I loved the sky
It housed the sun and the moon
It was a limitless highway for airplanes and birds alike
The sky was amazing
Fast-forward two point five decades
As I read an article articulating that there are children who fear the sky
Children who are brown like I, or a few shades lighter
Brown like my children could be
To them, the sky brings terror
How ironic
Those we categorize as terrorists before they can form an intelligent sentence
Those are the ones we terrorize and traumatize
With our drones, missiles, and air strikes
“Well, their parents shouldn’t have been first cousins of someone
Someone who was on a watch list for…
Well, no they didn’t but they may have thought it”
Well, to that 1984-esq thought, I say,
“Your grandparents shouldn’t have been the descendents
Descendants of slave owners who brutally raped human beings
Working them to death and dividing families
Because their broken religion claimed Christ
But in actuality was devoid of Him as Xmas in a Hebrew home.”
Has anyone ever held that against you?
If so, did it cause more than a temporary temper tantrum?
One stemming from the guilt that it may be true?
You see, I believe that, just as God is not in the hate America spews,
Allah is not in the evil that violent Middle Eastern sects promote
God is love
Allah is love
But the hate?
Much like His blood-stained words,
I challenge you to
Render therefore unto Satan the things which are Satan’s
And unto God the things that are God’s.

Superhero Status

I’ll tell you my favorite thing about volunteering with young people: It enhances my superpowers. Inspiring children allows me to reach into the future and impact a generation I may never see born. That’s pretty dope.

Yesterday, I visited my old elementary school and spoke to a group of young brothers who are where I was 25 years ago. Talking to them about their aspirations reminded me of my own imagination at the time. I encouraged them to be there for one another because there are rooms in this world where, if we as black men don’t cheer for one another, no one will. I let them know we are one another’s tribe.

Find a way to inspire a kid between now and Monday morning. Even if it’s just a quick word of encouragement to the little girl sitting on the floor of Barnes & Noble reading. Let her know she matters. Or if it’s a little boy on the basketball court working on a certain move, let him know that, if he keeps practicing, he can perfect it. If it’s positive, encourage it and that positive mindset will spill over into other sections of their lives.

 

Make reaching into the future a priority.