This is the first of a series of letters John Fountain writes to his son on the verge of turning 16.
Dear Son, you have greatness inside of you. It cannot be measured in dollars and cents.
It is incalculable. It is your self-worth. The infinite value of you assigned by The Creator. And it requires that you only be you. That you perfect you. Even as the forces within this universe conspire with you to bring you to your divine destiny.
Designer clothes pale in comparison to the worth of the skin you are in. A suit does not make the man. What do you call a bum after he puts on a million-dollar suit?
Your true worth was assigned while you were in your mother’s womb. It is embodied by the name we bestowed upon you. Your net worth extends far beyond your material possessions.
You are the asset.
The breath of generations, you are. The once fragile hope and aspirations of a nation. The heart and soul through which those things once thought to be impossible become possible. There is greatness inside of you.
It lies within the nakedness of your character. It shone brighter from the first time I laid eyes on you. And nothing you could ever do, no mountain you could climb could compare to the pride I feel as your father for you simply being the you God gave to me as a son.
Son, I am proud of you. Your worth is incomparable. You are the embodiment of our ancestral strength, endurance and fortitude. Of the indomitable unquenchable spirit of the slave and the beauty and power of a people unconquerable, even by the grave.
You are wondrously made.
You are not a criminal. Not meant to be a thug. Not a prisoner. Nobody’s slave.
Son, I must warn you: the world will not feel this way.
But never allow the world to make you feel different, less than, insignificant in any way. Never allow the world, which can be murderously cruel, to sway you from your core. To mold you into the miscreation of its worst insidious imaginations about young men in black and brown skin.
For the world does not know the depths of you. Cannot comprehend your social and spiritual DNA, the heart of you. The world — which slayed Martin and Malcolm at 39, Medgar, at 37, Fred Hampton, at 21, Emmett Till, at 14, Tamir Rice, at 12 — despises the very essence of you.
And still you rise …
The world inevitably will seek to pigeonhole you into its misperceptions — jaded by its pettiness, racial hate and evil fascinations. The world will be intimidated most by your blackness fused with intellect, character, cultural assuredness and steadfast faith and divine hope.
And still you rise. … In the words of Maya Angelou: You are “the dream and the hope of the slave.”
So rise. And work. Build and dream. And always remember who you are — never allowing the stinging commentary and putdowns that spill from haters’ mouths to defeat you. Let it instead drive you. Let it be fuel that hastens your journey to success and greatness.
Finally, be strong in purpose and determination. Be strong in your commitment to family.
Be who you are and are called to be. Follow what is good and right. Remember God’s word and His divine principles and embrace them. And even in those moments when you may feel low, just know: There is greatness inside of you.
How do you know? Because you have a father who loves and knows you. And he has told you so.
So, dear son, embrace your greatness. Never apologize for it. Stand. Shine. Achieve. Your destiny is in your hands.