Lately, I have had the pleasure of spending quality time with my younger brother. Seeing him play with his fellow peers has felt more like ethnography than just playtime in the backyard. One thing that is certain and upsetting: The current issues that black adults are fighting about today are being carried out by their children. The colorism, teasing about blackness, and masculinity is being expressed at micro levels. Sadly, I have begun to fear that if anyone isn't out there encouraging the youth more socially, the cycle will continue.
Yes, we have made progress in building more youth camps for fitness and active fellowship, but sometimes words of advice can go a long way as well. As I look back at my childhood, it was the advice that my mother, grandmother and elders had instilled in me that still resides in my now adult conscience.
So here is what I've learned and my only hope is that others will carry it on:
1. You are entering a world of prejudgment, but you can still redefine yourself.
Racism exists and prejudice are still prominent in society; however, those disappointments are not too harsh for one to tear down stereotypes and assumptions in their own social circles and groups. Black youth must know that just because society has their phony statistics and expectations of how they will turn out, they don't have to give in to it.
2. Don't ever let anyone question your blackness -- it's not their right.
Whether rich or poor, preppy or acoustic, your blackness isn't going to go away. Race in many ways is a social construct and black youth must learn very early that the experiences they encounter based on the color of their skin has nothing to do with their own personal expressions. If one uses proper grammar or chooses to listen to hip hop, one isn't less or more black than the other and we must not treat it as such.
3. Success is not only through fame and fortune, but hard work and integrity.
Being rich or having nice things is not necessarily success, it's material wealth. Although these things might come as a result of hard work and effort, it doesn't happen all the time and doesn't have to. Black youth should be encouraged to value even the smaller victories in life and then look to individual goals accomplished as signs of success rather than monetary acknowledgement.
4. Athletes and entertainers are not the only aspiring role models -- search for mentors in your community and elsewhere.
For every young girl who wants to be like Beyonce or young boy who aspires to be the next Lebron James, we should also challenge them to aspire outside the box. Although these famous individuals have done some noteworthy things, black youth must also be able to see themselves as talented outside the court and stage, but moreover in various fields of service, innovation and community endeavors in order to enact real change.
5. Being light or dark-skinned makes you no better or inferior of a person.
Enough with complimenting our youth on having "high yellow" skin or belittling them for being too dark. If we want to actually empower all black youth, we must respect them equally and encourage them to treat each other the same.
6. Boys, it's okay to express your emotions; and girls, it's okay to exercise independence.
Black boys can cry and still grow up to be a man -- it's a scientific fact. And black girls don't always need a man to save them... this too is a proven fact. Oppressive gender roles and norms in our community start early and black youth should be encouraged to step outside these negative constructs in order to become more self reliant and mentally secure.
7. Education is, and will always be, essential -- no matter what career you choose.
Stop creating a culture early on that "college isn't for everyone" when we are most likely to drop out of high school. Emphasize to black youth that no matter what profession they choose, education is not just something you check off once you graduate, but should instead consider as a lifelong pursuit.
8. Words are stronger than fists. Use them more.
Violence is not the only answer and we can express ourselves better than that. We must encourage black youth to channel frustration through verbal communication and writing rather than easily resort to physical violence that can only induce more suffering to come.
9. Let your inner beauty be shown through your personal creativity, not just from pop culture.
Whether it is the hair style they choose to flaunt or the clothes they rock, let it be something that suits them and not just the fashion police on television. Black youth must aspire to value their unique beauty characteristics and we should be encouraging them to embrace that more through art and innovation rather than just body politics.
10. You are smart and entitled to happiness just like anyone else in the world.
Believe it or not, a great number of black youth feel inferior and insufficient to the rest of their peers in the classroom and elsewhere. Although society has a great part in instigating this matter, we also can do a better job at reminding them that they are just as great, if not better, in being great in whatever they choose to be. Black youth need to be reminded of how bright they are and even though discipline is sometimes necessary in ensuring decorum, it doesn't hurt to also acknowledge and celebrate the achievements as well.
Lastly, I hope that many read this as a way to strengthen the black youth of today rather than just dismiss it as another guy preaching respectability politics. I am only 22-years-old and while many before me have tried to encourage blacks to "be just like the rest of them" or learn how other races do it, I am instead trying to pass down lessons that I have learned coming up so that one day my younger brother won't have to grow up to see lists like this or wonder why there aren't as many visible high achieving black role models outside of sports and entertainment that he can publicly look up to.
Sometimes while we are asking the world to change for us, we must also seek that same change in our own communities. Let's make it happen!
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