As we grow older and step into the future, we often reflect on the past and introspect within ourselves. We think about who we are and how we came to be this way.
With Mother’s Day around the corner, I reflect on three special women who helped me become who I am: a warrior of a mother (Ma), a sage of a grandmother (Granny) and an eccentric aunt (Jackie). These women allowed me to grow into a stereotype-breaking man who believes he can be anything he wants.
My story is not the most original, as there are many black kids out there who were raised by a village as they navigated personal trials and tribulations. Hopefully, however, my tale will lead you to look at your mom and say, “You’re the best and I love you.”
My story begins similarly to those of many other black men; I was born to a single mother in a predominantly black neighborhood. Ma, Granny and I lived under one roof until I was in first grade, when my mom and I moved two blocks away into our very own house.
Before that, my mother commuted between Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Fort Wayne on dangerously insufficient amounts of sleep while my grandmother took care of me. Around then is when Ma decided that things needed to change. She joined the Fort Wayne Police Department and started her plans to help me succeed.
Some of these plans included getting me into a magnet school, buying me Schoolhouse Rock tapes, signing me up for sports and music lessons and pushing me to dream big.
With Granny a short walk away and Jackie flying me to New Jersey every summer, I always had a woman in my corner, watching over me and molding me into an adult. It was during these formative years that I began breaking through many common black stereotypes.
My grandmother would read with me, and in time, I became such a strong reader that I read stories to older kids. My aunt had me read a passage at her wedding and encouraged me to write poetry. Ma always kept me busy, even when she had to work late nights and weekends. Plus, she never let me stay out after dark. My ladies instilled in me a passion for the arts and music, as well as for sports and fancy clothes.
Sure, there were many problems I had to navigate. I took a 45-minute bus ride from my part of town to school with the rest of the black kids, being teased the entire time that I “sounded white” and had a nicer house than most. I never felt that I truly never belonged to any group of people — the “too black for whites, too white for blacks” adage rappers like Childish Gambino and Earl Sweatshirt address.
All of this was demoralizing, even unbearable at times. However, there were major deterrents to rebelling and acting like an idiot that kept me in line: a belt, the never-ending wrath of a mother who would not allow me to become something I simply was not, a grandmother who spoiled me rotten and an aunt who would yell at me from 600 miles away when my mother wasn't there to do it herself.
Regardless of the situation, these women refused to allow me to cave into the pressure, whether it was taking me to school for honors society at 7 am or yelling at me for fighting (and losing to) older kids for cracking "Yo Mama" jokes. I was able to persevere through it all to become the struggling artist in Los Angeles that I am today. Go figure.
Still, everything takes baby steps. Circumstances seemed to get even tougher when that little boy turned 13.
With middle and high school came changes on all fronts. Ma and I moved north to a predominantly white neighborhood, peach fuzz turned into a musky beard and teenage angst and horniness ruled my body like Genghis Khan.
Feelings of isolation and separation intensified and Mama’s little boy was becoming a disgruntled narcissist who dreamed of leaving for greener pastures. You know, typical teenager stuff.
It’s during these years that many black kids could go one of two ways: Some make it out and some — maybe even most — don’t. Does this go hand-in-hand with not having a father? Unlikely.
However, the truth is, without a father, who is a young black kid — or any kid, for that matter — supposed to turn to when it comes to becoming a responsible, self-sustaining man? Sadly, many turn to others to learn those lessons, despite the fact that many of these shady characters are not good teachers.
Thankfully, no matter how much we disagreed, my three ladies taught me the basic qualities of humanity and civility. They had me ready for the real world and for things like student loans, unemployment and “what the f*ck am I doing with my life" moments.
Like other teenagers, I struggled. I never totally knew who I was, and sometimes, I still feel like I lack an identity. But, I had three wing women who said it was okay to be different, unique and even weird. Before I knew it, I was standing tall, ready to move forward.
I look to the future and still ask myself the same questions: What does it mean to be an adult? What makes a man a man? Will I be successful and achieve my dreams? Will I get married or have kids who will fill my baby shoes?
You know, typical adult ruminations. The last two questions I can’t answer nor will I discover the answers until the day comes. But, I think I’m starting to solve the first two questions.
Unfortunately, gender roles, social constructs and stereotypes seek to label what adulthood and manhood are. I can confidently say that I have an idea about what it means to be a man.
I believe a man should treat himself with dignity and respect. A man picks himself up after he gets knocked down. A man doesn’t forget where he came from but doesn’t dwell on the past. A man should acknowledge all people as equals. A man should call his mother, thank her and tell her he loves her, often.
It is because of these truths that every year, I am truly thankful that there is a holiday for mothers. I wouldn’t be alive, let alone a (somewhat) functioning adult, without my warrior, my sage and my eccentric. You are all appreciated.