- As it has been stated I am Dr. Irvin PeDro Cohen a product of Jacksonville’s Northside and I say that because I take pride in letting people know what we often times take for granted and that is that in the heart of many of our troubled communities good things do come from them. Not that I am something special or some anomaly, but it’s important to know and even more important to publicly state that roses do grow out of the concrete and I do consider myself one of those rose.
Whenever I give a speech I make it my business to lay out the aforementioned because so often the reality of what and who Black men are gets co opted by folks who have a vested interest in miss telling our story and leading us to embrace a paradigm that’s neither good for us or sometimes so far away from the reality of who and what we are that it borders on criminal and sometimes that fake reality can be flat out dangerous.
Case and point how many times have you heard misinformation regarding the following:
- There are more Black men in prison than in college.
- Better yet how about the idea that 1 out every 2 Black boys will drop out of high school and ultimately find themselves in prison.
- Black men are more likely to abandon their children than any other race.
Very rarely do I flex my academic credentials, but this is one of those moments that being Dr. Irvin PeDro Cohen allows me some level of authority and I am here to tell you that all of the above are utterly false. However, if you were to buy into these falsehoods you could easily buy into the notion that something is wrong with Black men.
However, the fact that I am here speaking at the Progressive Black Men Conference says to me that some if not all of you understand that a lot of the widely held beliefs about Black men are part of a larger manufactured crises as it relates to Black men and boys and the very same ones who are sounding the alarm are the very same ones who created the crises in the first place. This is not to say that Black men don’t have their issues, but so do white men, Asian men and Hispanic men and every other subset of men living.
By a show of hands how many of you know Black men who are taking care of their children, how many of you know Black men who are holding down jobs, how many of you know Black men who are either in college or on their way to college, how many of you know Black men who are not under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system.
From the looks of it by the number of people who raised their hands in this room I would say we have destroyed the myth about who and what we are as Black men. Now give yourselves a round of applause.
However, while we celebrate what we know to be true its imperative that we collectively understand we as Black men have work to do.
The first thing we have to do is realize that only the educated are FREE and as fathers, brothers, uncles and neighbors we have to return back to supporting, encouraging and nurturing the spiritual vision of our children, far to often in our quest to create some financial “security” for ourselves and our families we allow the spiritual vision of both ourselves and our love ones to be kidnapped by secular realities that have specific limitations attached to them meaning our reality for many of our Black boys begins and ends with being rappers or athletes. This is not to say there is no socially redeemable value to either, but it is to say there is just as much value being a teacher or a community service worker. However, when we put C.R.E.A.M above everything else it leads us collective down a narrow hall that makes ALL of us look like characters rather than MEN, can anybody say TWO CHAINZ. Again its not that I don’t like the brother but I find greater value in the fact that he is college educated rather than he wears two chains and True Religion jeans.
The second thing I want to leave you with is GREATNESS doesn’t come with a platform it allows you to create your own. Therefore, you are not shackled by any of the parameters associated with who you were born to, nor what circumstances you were born under. Those are all manufactured boundaries that we internalize and sometimes glorify based upon someone else’s idea of what constitutes a good or bad lot in life. If we are honest with ourselves we all know someone or we may even be that someone who were born in the least favorable circumstances yet they still managed to overcome the odds and while I don’t profess to be a theologian I can direct you to Jesus who was the son of a carpenter and born in a manger yet still had the capacity to be one of the greatest men ever to grace the face of this earth.
If you need further proof that limitations are not based upon genealogy nor geography I simply point to the fact that there is no achievement gap at birth and deficit thinking regarding any of your limitations can and will dissipate the moment you confess with your mouth and make moves with your actions I AM destined to be GREAT. The moment Muhammad Ali declared he was the Greatest, guess what he was.
The third thing I want to leave you with is that it is just as important to be adjectives as it is nouns. What I mean by this is so often we as men limit ourselves to sustaining careers and life roles that simply end at a noun father, coach, athlete, husband, lawyer, doctor, engineer, etc. However, I challenge you to see yourselves as an EXCEPTIONAL father, EXCEPTIONAL doctors, CARING coaches, BRILLIANT engineers, LOVING husbands and the list goes. Anyone with a level of academic aptitude and stamina can be doctor, any sperm donor can be a father and anyone who likes a sport enough can be a coach. However, it takes some next level stuff to have a descriptive adjective attached to who and what you are. Furthermore, we have to also challenge the narrative that allows us to be just lumped together as Black men. While I accept my melon content with a level of pride to stop my story right there is not recognizing my Serengeti origins nor the brilliance that I inherited from my ancestors who charted the moon and the stars to the ones who laid out the nations capital. Limiting me to just being a Black man is stating the obvious, now what?
The fourth thing I want to leave you with is as Black men we must be conscious of the fact that TRUE freedom requires each of us to be a legislator for humanity, which means we must be fearless and be willing to risk it all including life and liberty for what’s right. Far to many of us have become attached to the little bit of stuff we call our own, therefore we are not willing to risk it for anything. Yet what we don’t realize is that life and death share the same plain only the ego makes us think that one is more important than the other. The other portion of us are dying for streets, hoods, blocks and material possessions that mean nothing at the end of the day. If you were to add all of the aforementioned together many us die leave nothing cause we don’t have anything therefore, in retrospect our lives end up being a zero sum gain.
However, as I said earlier so many of us have allowed outside forces to shape not only our personal vision, but the larger vision of who and what we are as Black men. They say the mirror never lies, but I challenge that sentiment and say yes it does when you don’t even know who you are in the first place. As Black men we have to get back to a point where we own our reality and the vision of who and what we are is defined by us.
As I said in point 4 we have to be legislators for humanity, but what that requires which is my 5th and final point is for us as Black men we have to return to a point where service is real. What I need you to understand is REAL men see themselves in light of two entities and that is their families and their service to others. Real men understand that when you are dead and gone your stuff becomes other people stuff and no one is going to bury you with it. See real men understand that there is nothing more fulfilling that having been the change agent for their families and their communities. If you look at the lives of some of the greatest servants to ever live Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr. Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela etc. no one ever talks about their material possessions. Matter of fact Martin Luther King died with very few assets and scripture talks about Jesus coming to town riding a donkey. If anyone could have balled out it would have been Jesus, I mean after all he was the Son of God.
But when you think or talk about the legacy of these brothers lives and the service these brothers had to humanity that’s the stuff you remember, not how much money Martin Luther King had, or how many ladies Malcolm X had or what kind of watch Nelson Mandela wore or even what kind of robe Jesus rocked. None of that matters when you are a real man and a man of substance. Matter of fact they become distractions from what your true mission is and life is all about.
See real men stand up while males simply shake in their boots. Real men speak truth to power while boys’ integrity can be compromised by a little bit of cash. Often times in many of our communities’ boys are often the loudest, but when the rubber meets the road their integrity has been compromised for a fish sandwich and a bottle of Hennessey or Ciroc.
The beauty of being a real man is that real men realize that there are no safe positions in life no one gets out of here alive and the same fate awaits us all no matter if you were born to a President or a pauper, a pimp or a preacher, a teacher or a vagrant, if their names were Barack or Crip we all become the nocturnal delight of a parasitic animal. Men see themselves in light of their legacy and institutions they leave behind not in the meaningless things. Think about scripture giants like Solomon and David, those were men.
Therefore as I prepare to take my seat I leave you with the one of my favorite quotes by Maltbie Babcock not because I think any of you are weak men, but because as Langston Hughes suggested in “Mother to Son” there are going to be places where the carpet is going to be bear and you are going to need some words of encouragement.
Therefore, as Progressive Black Men I say to you…
We are not here to play, to dream, to drift;
We have hard work to do and loads to lift;
Shun not the struggle; ’tis God’s gift.”
Namascar and thank you for having me…