Recently I came upon a young African male approximately 18 years old leaning against a brick wall smoking a cigarette outside a Kroger store. I silently cried when he looked up. I saw his face was inundated with tattoos. These tears came from knowing the pain and suffering he would have to endure with a face riddled with tattoos. My sorrow and pity arose from the fact that in my reality, the world will not be so kind and accepting of him as he becomes older seeking employment. My hurt for him was only intensified on how it had come to the point that he felt he could desecrate his face as a form of self-identity, having no one to stop him or offer much needed advice. Was he not told that while tattoos may be acceptable by his peers he needed to be able to cover them up unless he was planning on being self-employed or his own boss?
My pity and concern was how he could live in an environment that may have given him the idea that this type of self-identifying desecration of one’s face was acceptable. Where was the much-needed voice of an adult offering words of wisdom and advice? Where was the father, uncle, grandfather, mother, aunt, or grandmother to tell him how hard it is for a man (especially a Black man) in this world without bringing himself unnecessary attention. I shun thinking that he is a victim of an environment that sees nothing wrong with his choice and endorses such action.
I cried because one day this young man (if it has not already happened) is going to question why in the hell he did this to himself and why someone didn’t try to stop him. Was he on drugs and not aware of what he was doing at the time, regardless of much advice from others not to submit to facial tattoos? That is the only excuse that could make sense. As a community, we adults have an obligation and responsibility to offer advice and nurturing to our young adult children. We can’t use the excuse that we are afraid of our children or it is a waste of time because they won’t listen. If we don’t lead and guide our children in the right direction, who will?
We cannot give up on our children and give them to the streets. We need to rescue, prepare and educate them about an unsympathetic system that doesn’t always have their best interests as a priority. They cannot go around believing the world is fair and they will be given everything they want without putting forth an effort. Part of the problem is decreasing the number of Black youth flooding the penal system. All too often when these young men finally realize how the real world works, it is too late. They have been incarcerated and labeled as felons—negating their ability to find decent work and become productive citizens. Thus, they become part of a vicious cycle that many acknowledge as the new form of slavery.
We can’t wait till it is too late to teach our young Black men that the deck is stacked against them. Without education they have a propensity to gravitate toward selling drugs. Unfortunately they think they are running things but are unaware that they are only being played as pawns in a chess game—never being in charge of their own destiny. When adults refuse to address these issues (e.g., absent fathers and no male adults in their lives), we are endorsing gangs and unsolicited behaviors. These young men will seek the warmth, love, and attention from their peers that is missing in their own lives. It is often a case of the blind leading the blind because their peers lack the guidance and positive influence needed to make commendable choices in planning for the future.
I guess you could say I cry a lot because too many children are abandoned, and too many adults look at them with sneers. We should have our arms out to embrace and educate them. I cry because we have lost the grassroots community that at one time embraced all our children. I cry because too many African adults have acquiesced, waiting for a bureaucracy to fix what it systematically supports.
If you feel my pain, make a pledge to help save our young boys if only by offering a young man your time as a counselor or mentor. We are the only ones that can save our own children.
Thanks go out to the coaches, teachers, tutors, mentors, fraternities, sororities and conscientious parents who know what time it is and are already on board. However, we need the help of the whole African American community to win this war.
Don’t procrastinate if you can help make a difference.