To young black men in Baltimore and beyond, you are not powerless. There is hope. Your life matters.
Even if life in the ‘hood sometimes seems fragile, and death and gunfire as faithful as the sunrise, there is a better way.
You are not powerless. Don’t believe the lie. You can rise.
Even if you have never known your father. Even amid an ocean of poverty and self-doubt. Even amid a dissonant chorus of voices, singing that you will never amount to anything. Shouting that you are more destined to fail than to succeed.
You are not worthless.
Even if you feel like “nothing,” know that you are something — wondrously made by your Creator. You are not some cosmic accident. Not born to be societal menace, even if born into the statistical abyss that holds too many of us captive to poverty to pathology to prison.
That is not your destiny. Not if you choose life.
You are not voiceless.
The greater threat to an oppressor is not an oppressed man with a gun in his hand but the man with a book. Your actions as a man speak volumes. Your dignified silence and character will resound like a trumpet before you as you walk diligently toward your purpose.
I used to wonder that myself as a young man growing up in an impoverished place called K-Town on Chicago’s West Side — as a boy when I could not afford a 5-cent cookie to go with my free lunch.
It was hard to “believe” amid the mice and roaches, amid the holes in my shoes, amid the gas or the electricity in our apartment being cut off again in the dead of another wind-whipped winter. Amid the pain of seeing my mother agonize over not being able to provide more materially, though what she could give was more substantive, sufficient: Faith.
Still, it was difficult back then to reconcile how my life might have some so-called divine destiny when my father had abandoned us by age 4. Never called to wish me “Happy Birthday.” Never showed up at my door for holidays or special days, like honors assemblies, basketball games, or awards ceremonies.
Never said, “Son, I’m proud.”
Difficult to believe when my father gave me nothing, except his DNA and his name.
Life for me as a young man sometimes seemed a cruel game. Poverty and fatherlessness were my shame.
That shame and hopelessness created inside me anger that eventually turned into silent rage. For the circumstances over which I had no control seemed to confine me to life in a cage.
I remember thinking some days that I would likely die in the ‘hood — gunshot wound to the head, or by a knife in the gut, during a robbery some late night.
I remember being afraid to die — an unknown soul, having passed mostly invisibly through this life.
And I remember deciding against the odds to choose life, to believe in something greater. To trust that there just might be greater forces at work, even if I couldn’t yet see. I chose to see me through the prism of possibility.
Now, many years later, I can say: Hard work does pay. That whatever a man sows, he will also reap. That education and reading are the keys to being free.
That there are much worse things than poverty: Selling drugs and contributing to the demise of my community. Disappointing my mother. Resorting to criminality. Shaming my family. Losing my self-respect and dignity.
You are not powerless. I know.
Because I am you. And you are me.