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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The Opportunity To Transform

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to transform the lives of a group of young men, a group that I believe will transform the lives of other people, young and old, around the world.

A week ago, a friend of mine, Ms. Shanice Harrington, teacher extraordinaire, texted me and asked me if I had a few minutes to talk. I responded yes. She went on to let me know that she was working with a group of black boys in an after school program who weren’t understanding the importance of their roles as leaders at Seawell Elementary School, which just so happens to have been my elementary school. She wanted me to FaceTime in and chat with them. So that’s exactly what I did. Being that I was working from home that day, I put on a shirt and a tie (while still in my basketball shorts, which I knew wouldn’t be seen) and I called Shanice on FaceTime. At that moment, I stepped into the lives of those five young men. We chatted and connected about everything from my job to their ages to my first (and only) pair of Air Jordans to who my favorite rapper/NBA team/NFL team/college team was.


It was fun, but it wasn’t enough. So, yesterday morning, I texted Shanice and asked her if the boys were meeting again this week. She said yes and gave me the times. I said I’d be there. At 2:45, I was in their classroom and they all re-introduced themselves to me, much like they had the week before. The difference is, this time, I required Joshua, Jabraon, and Amari to shake my hand after their introductions. This time, we felt like friends. They knew me and I knew them. I didn’t talk at them, I talked to them. Ms. Harrington sat and listened, interjecting every so often with points she wanted me to touch on, but, most of all, she let us enjoy one another’s company. At the end of it (which I hope isn’t an end at all but instead another beginning), I felt like I had made a difference in these leaders’ lives.

If you have the opportunity, make a difference. Don’t expect anything from it except that someone somewhere will benefit from it. Tomorrow is not promised so, today, leave a bit of goodness behind for the world to hold on to.

 

Make making the world a better place a priority.

I’m Your Pusher

 

Yes. I admit it. I’m guilty. I am a pusher. Not a pusher of illicit substances but of an unpopular point of view. I am a pusher of black positivity. I believe that, historically, barriers have been set up that force Americans of all races, black and otherwise, to look at people of African descent through less than favorable lenses. Negative or less-than-sophisticated images of black folks are spread across the world, affecting the global views of us. Often, at worst, we are stereotyped as violent, undisciplined deviants. At best, entertainers. Though portrayals have changed thanks to shows like Grey’s Anatomy, the black doctor, lawyer, and professional are still viewed as anomalies while the black prisoner or athlete is seen as the status quo.

There is nothing wrong with being a rapper, singer, or ball player. Nothing at all. I have respect for anyone who does these things and uses their talent to uplift the community. But there are other options. As a professional, it is sometimes challenging to walk into room after room after room and meeting after meeting after meeting where I don’t see anyone who looks like me. So I have to change the narrative. I have a responsibility to myself, my family, my community, and my nation to provide true facts of the positive impact that blacks have every day on America, as opposed to the alternative facts that we are all murderers, drug users, and dependents of the welfare system.

Yesterday, I went out of my way to make the point of associating positive image of with the hashtag #OmegaPsiPhi on each of my social media accounts. I didn’t do it because I have great friends that are Ques or because my football coach from high school is a Que or to go viral. I did it because they, like  Alpha Phi Alpha (my fraternity), are focused on doing positive things across this nation, specifically in the black community, and anyone feeding positivity into my life deserves to have me do the same.  Secondly, negativity associated with any historically black fraternity is not good for any of us. Hiring managers probably do not know Alpha Phi Alpha from Omega Psi Phi from Iota Phi Theta. They just know that Steve Stephens was apart of one of those black step groups and his organization got bad publicity as a result.

People of all races, we must change the narratives surrounding non-whites in America. All blacks are not here to either rob or entertain you. All Jewish people aren’t here to be your lawyers or manage your money. All Latinos aren’t here illegally and looking for migrant work. All Middle Easterners aren’t looking for an opportunity to commit acts of violence. This is the point in history where we have the most access to the most information but we are regressing as a society. So, just as all white domestic terrorists are categorized as either mentally unstable or “lone wolves”, let’s start placing the same designation on non-white individuals whose actions are not a depiction of love for all humankind. And, when we see a group being negatively stereotyped, whether members of that group or not, we have a responsibility as good individuals to say “Not all people from group x commit the act of y. John Doe was acting as an individual and not as a representative.”

You have a sphere of influence. Change the narrative.

As a starting point, type #BlackMenSmile in on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. As J. Cole said, “There’s beauty in the struggle.”

 

Make peace and love priorities.

In The Mix

How often do you hear stories of black kids robbing stores? Or getting into trouble at school? Or participating in gang violence? For me, it’s too often, especially when there are more instances of black kids succeeding and working hard and dreaming the impossible.

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Desirée listening attentively as Michael and Madison explain why TheGifted Arts is such a necessity.

This weekend, I got to see the often overlooked personified by young people like Michael and Madison, pictured above advocating for the support of TheGifted Arts. The Mix, an event hosted at the Google Fiber location in Raleigh, NC, was a powerful display of discipline, dedication, and a genuine joy that many adults have to rediscover if we’re going to get back to loving life like we ought to.

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Brandon Foster sharing his gifted voice with us.

TheGifted Arts, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that aims to influence academic outcomes and help build confidence with our students, by utilizing character building techniques and arts access, such as through: dance, music, fashion and drama, as a means of both creative expression

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Michael letting the music move through him.

outlets and social personal development. Though it is not restricted to minority children, it was refreshing to see a group of kids who were undeniably of African descent expressing themselves freely through the arts, especially with so much negativity and desensitizing going on. When you see, without reservation, the bodies of black people, be they youth or adults being either placed in restraints like those from chattel slavery or, possibly worse, left to lie cold in the streets, you may become cold to the stories behind the negative pictures. These children and teenagers, through their various forms of art, brought back the positive warmth that I associate with my blackness. Their love and passion spoke to me like I didn’t know young people could.

On April 8th, TheGifted Arts is putting on “Anthem: Fashion with Purpose.” This is its fourth annual fashion show and is a major fundraiser for the participants of TheGifted Arts. We got a taste of these artists’ talent at The Mix and, if that’s any indication of how awesome Anthem will be, you are going to be in for a treat. So, if you’re in North Carolina on the second weekend

There’s very little that’s more important to a performer than an engaged crowd.

of April, I strongly suggest you invest your time (and dollars) in these kids. Make a night of it. Go to dinner before, catch the fashion show, and then catch some live music after. Support these young people and their intentional effort to use their energies to add hope and expression to a world and a media system that, more often than not, does not give us hope.

To buy Tickets to “Anthem: Fashion with Purpose,” click here.

Or, to learn more about TheGifted Arts, click here. And, whether you can make the fashion show or not, please donate. Even if it’s only $5, give to these students’ and their dreams.

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Make community engagement a priority.

The King in You

Today, I write in honor of Rev. Bro. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and I ask us all to look introspectively for the King in us. Search for the love, not the hate. Look for the integrity before the opportunity. Believe in the good in your fellow human being as opposed to pointing out the evil.

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”

Do you see the selflessness in that language? He is a human who, like all humans, would love comfortable immortality. But he put himself in a position to sacrifice his own life for the betterment of the oppressed. These words were not just empty rhetoric. The day after Bro. King delivered this speech, his life was taken by an assassin’s bullet. He truly lived (and, as a result, died from) his selflessness. That’s a great way to loose your life isn’t it? In a selfless fashion? For a just cause? What is important enough that you would go to jail, or even die, for? Are you passionate about anything greater than you? I’m not saying you have to go out and get locked up but know there are causes that you should, as a human being, care about. People are being poisoned by the water supply in Flint, MI. Under-trained law enforcement officers are killing innocent people because their fear leads them to make rash decisions. Property tax hikes are forcing people out of the neighborhoods they have lived in their entire lives so that more money can be made. The prison industrial complex is forcing minority and impoverished people back to the slave class every day, many even before they are being convicted. These are issues we don’t have to die for to change. Or maybe we do. The Sioux tribe was ready to die for their water supply at Standing Rock. Those in the Black Lives Matter movement are ready to endure the billy clubs once experienced by our ancestors for equality under the law.

An established system will push back against radical change. Don’t believe me? Look at these recent elections on every level. People don’t like uncondoned, unforeseen change.  In 1998, Tupac Shakur said that “we ain’t ready to see a black president,” but, a decade later, one was elected. Like Martin, Barack received numerous death threats. But, instead of assassinating him, his opposition is looking to undo much of the progress made during his presidency. Either way, Barack believes this nation is important enough to put his life on the line for. Figure out what cause is as important to you and fight for it.

Believe so beautifully in something that you are willing to give up your freedom (or even your life) so the next generation can have it better. That beautiful belief, my friends, is the King in you.

 

Make a love of all humankind a priority.

Leave a Legacy

In the autumn of 2003, I was asked to represent the Chapel Hill-Carborro City Schools district at a conference for high-performing minority students across the country. After my first conference, my presence was requested two more times, one conference being in Princeton, NJ and the other in Cambridge, MA. On my travels, I met some driven, like-minded young people who come from underrepresented populations within high achieving school systems. We hashed out issues, discussed solutions that would help us close the minority student achievement gap, and worked to inspire change. Each conference was a transformative experience and they were the first of many experiences like this that I would have during my high school years.

This morning, I had the opportunity to speak to around 150 students in this year’s group at the Minority Student Achievement Network’s annual conference. I was honored because, 13 years before, I sat right where those students sat and I knew, in part, what they were experiencing. What I had not seen at their age was the level of racial and political polarity that they are seeing right now. I had not seen videos of people who look just like me killed at the hands of those who were supposed to protect me. So, as I moderated the panel of more recent MSAN alumni (interjecting when I felt the question was pivotal and my experience would add to the conference attendees’ collective understanding), I worked to provide wisdom. I told them things that I felt would help them succeed as students, as minority students, as young adults, and as minority young adults.

The level of attentiveness to myself and the four panelists was inspiring. They sat, listened, asked great questions (one very articulate young lady asked “How did your experience at MSAN change the way you viewed your purpose?”), and were obviously trying to understand how they could carry the legacy that began 16 years ago. I was transparent with them. I told them my successes and my challenges. I told them to stand for what they believe but to know that what you believe, if not popular, could come with consequences. I let them know that they ought not let anyone else define their success.

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It is important to me to give back, especially to those who gave to me. When Ms. Lorie Clark called me and asked if I could moderate this alumni panel, even though I knew this was my last day at work before my vacation, I made sure to block off 2 hours on my schedule. Do you know why? Because 1) the students needed me and 2) my job wouldn’t have me were it not for programs like MSAN and LEAD and AVID and YLI, so any chance I have to give back to them, I will. I am a firm believer in the fact that young people need to see someone who looks like them in a position of success.

Now, whether you’re reading this and you’re a minority or a white male who comes from a long line of financial wealth, you have a responsibility as a human being to reach back and pull someone else up to stand beside you. And then, as they get to your level, propel them forward ahead of you. The next generation is not your competition. The next generation is your legacy. Today, I saw mine and I was proud of the work that they are doing.

 

Make your legacy a priority.

Giving Back: National Suit Drive

As much as I love business, I love giving back to those in need even more.  I got this email last week and decided today is the day to share it with you all.  I hope you have the opportunity to either donate or tell someone who could benefit from this program.


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Men's Wearhouse(R) National Suit Drive
Suit Karma | Pass it on | June 22-July 31
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The National Suit Drive benefits at-risk men and women transitioning into the workforce by providing them with professional clothing.
DONATE  
Bring your gently used items  to any Men's Wearhouse location thru July 31. As a thank you, receive 50% OFF YOUR NEXT PURCHASE.*

SPREAD THE WORD
Share our #giveasuit post on Facebook and we'll donate $1 (up to $25,000) for each share to local nonprofits!