“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men” Fredrick Douglas
I grew up in relative poverty. The common dream to transcend the chasm of socio-economic divides in society always seemed impossible, but somehow, I managed to scale those esoteric heights. I am often asked how? What made it possible? I am so stubborn to think that I could to do whatever I put my mind to that I have stumbled upon comparative triumph at a flattering rate. My secret to success. An infallible belief in myself which undoubtably, often, landed me in trouble rather than glory. It is, however, the foundation of who I am today. Where did such resilience come from? In a time where negative influences and stories dominate society and media, where do we look to for guidance and structure?
Unfortunately, for young black men, positive black role models are rare. Even more sparse are those positive role models who exist in middle class or professional environments in which our society is built on trying to emulate. I can only speak for my own influences and what I know of the black British communities. There is no doubt the experiences I have had will have an eerie resemblance in different ways across varying cultures. For me, my most influential role model was my father. At a superficial glance you would see the ordinary working-class Caribbean man. When I look at him, I see that history I was never taught in school. I see more.
My father is a traditional man with simple goals in life; to build a family and provide for us. Often the simplest things can be the most complex in practise. When I was four years old, my mother died quite suddenly. It is a story that requires its own personal blog to explain how her memory is part of who I am today. Retrospectively, I can honestly say I was too young to really understand or feel true pain. My sadness on reflection was probably mirroring the emotions of those around me. Having since experienced love, relationships and the pain of break ups, I can not imagine the difficulty and suffering my father went through. The woman he built a life with, his everything, the mother of his children was taken from him. All he knew had to change. Not too long after he was made redundant. He persevered through shift work, low paying jobs, absence from his children. He was on his own with two sons and all the stress of life and finances. Furthermore, in later life, his new wife had cancer on two separate occasions. Now with four children he was responsible for, I can only speculate on the complexity of emotions he overcame to be the rock of our family in such a difficult time.
Despite the duress and pressure my father must have been under, he never wavered. He taught us morals, shared his religious faith, gave rules and taught us accountability. He disciplined us. He showed us love and affection. He educated us about the responsibilities and dangers of being young and black in England. He taught me about hard work and dedication and had an undying faith that I could be successful in anything. He made me work for the things I wanted whilst encouraging me to push beyond. Not only did he tell me these things. He showed me. His whole persona embodied all he taught me. Family always first. Not to shy from hard work. What you put in is what you get out. Rules are important but you must break boundaries. Be creative and express it in whichever way you are so inclined. Without knowing it, the power struggle and the annoying consistencies I experienced as a child prepared me for those things that I had no idea would come. My father was my very own black king. Strong and vulnerable. Brave and unwavering in faith. Humble yet proud. The history I was never taught. I see so much more because of him.
My relationship with my father was not perfect. In fact, in some points it was fractured to dangerous and almost catastrophic amounts. One thing I can only say now is I am eternally grateful and so blessed to have him in my life. Now not everyone is as lucky to have such a person in their life. Despite that, there are many strong and positive black men and women in our communities. I say to them, do not be afraid to be proud. You may not have achieved as much as you wanted or gained the title you craved, yet in your struggle there is so much beauty. Be proud and stand up and share your stories. Invest in your own communities. There is so much good there. We are so much more than how we are portrayed. Be proud of your blackness. Be proud of your struggle. Even the humblest achievement is inspiring. Even ‘just’ surviving.
The lack of positivity in the black community is the child of institutional racism combined with poverty. It seems inevitable that a worrying majority of young black boys and girls, regardless of their ‘class’ will become exposed to either discrimination, violence, crime or gangs. Again, another subject that requires its own dissembling and exploration. It exposed me to violence, death, crime, police, fear, comradery and fellowship. As a young man, I had two of my closest friends murdered, many of my friends stabbed or seriously injured, arrested and harassed. I had experienced what an urban warzone is. Fear of death and violence daily, a powerful motivating factor to positive but mostly the negative behaviours of those living in these communities. I accepted my circumstances. Despite this, I always believed I was destined for more. My pride and self-belief drove me beyond the norm. I had no one to tell me which way to go. I had to stride for myself. This is the way my father believes each person must live their life. We must all decide in the end who we are and live with the consequences. I decided despite my beginning I would end well. I think that came from him.
To those young adults and children looking to their futures and looking for guidance. There are Kings and Queens around you if you look. Do not be discouraged by the barriers society has placed in front of you. You can overcome anything. You need to believe in yourself for someone else to believe in you. Find your fire, your passion. We are more than gangs, more than knifes, more than a statistic. We are more than athletes, more than music, more than entertainers. Whilst I am proud of our sporting achievements, our cultural prowess, our musical and performing talents, we are so much more. We are beautiful, we are smart, we are whatever you believe yourself to be. We are a community. Find your role model and remember to be one to someone else. You do not have to be perfect to inspire those around you. There is no remote to life, you need to stand up to create change.
Written by Dr Jerome McIntosh