November 3, 2014
“Innovation requires discontent” those were the words of Eric Grimes, keynote speaker at the Nonprofit Center’s conference on Building Opportunity for Boys and Men of Color. The day was filled with workshops and activities on how we can change the path for boys and men of color. I went into the day wondering what change could really occur. How was I going to make a difference? I decided to stop simply listening for a moment and begin to really hear what was being said.
In a workshop entitled: Community Mediation: Building Capacity to Mediate, Resolve Conflict, Heal Trauma and End Violence an exercise was conducted where we all gave input on what it meant to belong to something, have freedom, security, power and fun. We shouted out answers enthusiastically from our own lives, things like family, hope, love, money, happiness, and self-worth. At the end of the workshop, facilitator LaShawndra Vernon looked at us and said “think about the deficit”. A lot of our young boys of color don’t start with any of these things. They don’t come to the table with family, hope, love, money, happiness or self-worth. Suggestions were made on how we change that. Don’t take the kid that is always on top, always doing the right thing and make him the leader. Grab the kid that annoys you, the one who gets on your nerves. THAT kid has the skills to mediate. Give him some structure to funnel that energy, make him a leader. Make him a leader.
We don’t do that well. We don’t understand that many of these boys come with deep rooted trauma that stems from a long history of racism. Many people don’t like that explanation, some will feel uncomfortable with that fact. But I remember those words: “innovation requires discontent.”
Some of the best leaders in this community are men of color, yet they have to speak loudly and often to be heard. Boys and Men of Color Week was the first of its kind in this country. If you think about that long and hard it is pretty difficult to swallow. Little has changed in this community around social and economic conditions. Eric Grimes stated “if your soul isn’t troubled by what is happening, get out of the way”. My soul is troubled-- it is time to feel discontent.
Allow those that have the voice to speak, make way for diverse boards and diverse staff. Stop labeling young men of color as “at risk” or “troubled” youth. Open of the door for those men to guide us in how to make things better in this community. The tables that we sit at need to look differently for change to occur. We need to be okay with that.
When I went home I thought about the young black boy who lives across the street. The boy who has been coming to my dinner table since he was four years old and is now 15, the boy who I have scolded for speaking out of turn, the boy who has no mother, no father, no family, the one who annoys me and gets on my nerves.
I walked across the street and handed him the t-shirt I received from the conference. We talked about how he is one of the 181,000 boys of color in this community, his community. He is a future leader. I told him I thought he would make a great leader one day. The smile on his face was something I will never forget. And I felt it strongly inside of me, the desire to get out of the way and let them lead.