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Out of the ’hood, still down for the cause

Updated: May 29, 2011 12:24AM



Ain’t I black enough?

When did I lose my ’hood card, my street cred, the right to speak to or on issues concerning black folks? Ain’t I a black man, too?

Is growing up poor in ghetto America, longing to taste the American dream instead of dying in the bitterness of despair to which far too many succumb, insufficient to prove my Afro-authenticity? Do decades of ’hood residency and a hard path to success and middle-class status, make me bourgeois and irreparably disconnected from the plight of those left behind?

And even in this so-called Promised (suburban) Land, aren’t there still the same old issues that plague and threaten to consume. As writer — even as ghetto migrant — am I less fervent, less loving, less moved by those debilitating and insidious issues that still gnaw like cancer at the souls of black folks?

Lately, I hear the static, emanating from some brothers and also a few sisters — self-appointed regulators of the public relations of black folks, determiners of the blackness of those blacks who dare raise for discussion in the public way, so-called “family” issues.

White collar, master’s degree, house in the burbs, 2œ-car garage and a BMW. Yep. Got ’em. I earned ’em. And guess what, homey? I’m still black.

I know this before I look in the mirror each morning — daily inhaling the reality of my deep, coffee-brown skin, my black consciousness and the physical manifestation of the DNA of my West African ancestors. And I realize that inasmuch as skin color pales in comparison to the race that matters most — the human race — I am unapologetically, irrefutably black — and proud — in the same way that someone who is Irish, or Italian or Jewish American rightly celebrates and embraces their culture and heritage.

Years after my climb from poverty and teenage parenthood, from food stamps and fatherlessness, from ketchup sandwiches and mice and roaches and the shame of poverty, I am still “down” for the cause: the elevation of my people. So I write about trifling brothers and sisters, about the black church, about black life and death.

And so, some ask, “Why you putting our business in the street?”

I say, It’s already in the street: Murder, mayhem, misogyny, mamas on crack, more brothers in jail than in college.

“Stop putting our people down,” they say. “Stop being so self-righteous.”

I say: I love my people. There is none righteous but God.

“Your comments remind me of those uttered by Bill Cosby almost 10 years ago,” one brother wrote, referring to the outrage over Cos’ public statements in 2004 and his call for black folks to assume greater personal responsibility. “The problem I had with your comments, as with those of Mr. Cosby, was that you yelled ‘fire’ from across the street.”

I’m no Bill Cosby who has given millions to help us. And yet, I endeavor, like Cos, to speak the truth, in love — from either side of the street, or tracks — believing that no one can save us but us. I will continue doing so as a man with flaws and foibles; as a brother who’s made his share of mistakes, having sometimes stumbled, and as a black man having overcome by hard work, by choices, by faith and by grace.

I speak and write having stood over far too many caskets of African-American children; having witnessed in corporate America and even universities our conspicuous absence, and being sick and tired of the silence that allows the social chasm to widen. I write, believing in the reflection, discussion and the vision words can create and because I, too, have a dream: that we as a people can be better. I write without apology and without feeling the need to wave an old food stamp or my ’hood card.

Now, you can run and tell that, homeboy.



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