OG Told Me: Essay About The Photo Essay.

One time, an OG Told Me: “We’re not getting older, we’re getting better.”

It made me think…

In life, there is beauty in growing old, why would I want to die young?

In America, why are we glorifying young death and degrading becoming an elder?

In Black America, If they don’t have fathers- where are they getting guidance about manhood from?

In manhood … WAIT … how did I get here?

… answer…

The 1st Entry: "My homework ate my dog."- Dick Gregory.
The 1st Entry: "My homework ate my dog."- Dick Gregory.

At 24, I find myself in this strange world called, “manhood”, you might have heard of it… but … not all of my homies made it, some of them never even heard of it.

So, once again I ask: How did I make it to manhood?

As a young man growing up in Oakland, Ca … I followed the OG’s. Religiously.

Their way of talking, thinking, breathing, and blinking… I studied that. Vigorously.

As an 80’s baby, growing up in urban America, surprisingly enough: I wasn’t the only one without a father. Eight of my friends were fatherless too. In turn, we came together as a brotherhood; a fraternal support group. This is sometimes called a gang, a posse, or a clique… na, we were just boys becoming men.

We would pick-up small insight into manhood ( i.e. ideas on approaching women, how to make money double, or even something as essential as: how to fight); we would bring that back to the boys and share the newly acquired knowledge.

From this, I quilted together my concept of manhood.

Through this photo essay, I wanted to recreate that quilt; and show the world my version going from boyhood to manhood.

I call it: OG Told Me.

The project takes the phenomenon that I’ve encountered throughout the process of growing up, and documents it- so now babies of the millennium can find concepts about manhood where they hang out: the internet.

Detroit bus driver Barry Ray told me a story about two gas station owners beefing over gas prices … until one owner killed the other. Over pennies.
Detroit bus driver Barry Ray told me a story about two gas station owners beefing over gas prices … until one owner killed the other. Over pennies.

A basic photo essay: head shots of elder Black men, with the addition of clever-wisdom laced quotes. This photo essay is not just documenting elders, no-it’s bridging the gap between generations. It’s giving young men an idea of what they might look like at a later date, and it’s … giving me insight to the problems that plague the black community.

Unexpectedly so.

I found a number of the issues that plague Black men in society through my OG told Me project:

– Lack of accountability.

– Communication issues.

– Self destruction.

– Hate.

– Total disregard for another man’s dream…

– Lack of critical thinking.

– Stubbornness.

– Idle time.

Through this same project, I also found some of the blessings that are found in Black men in society…

– Creativity.

– Wisdom.

– Eldership.

– Sincerity.

– Love.

– Deep beliefs.

– Kinship.

– A way of life that is unobserved by others- yet seen everyday: the invisible man.

-The natural occurrence of a rights of passage in the Black community.

“Ethiopian proverb: When spider webs unite- they can tie up a lion!” - Joe Brooks, VP Policy Link & An old Black man… Been there. Done that. What’s new?
“Ethiopian proverb: When spider webs unite- they can tie up a lion!” - Joe Brooks, VP Policy Link & An old Black man… Been there. Done that. What’s new?

The biggest conundrum I found myself facing during this year-long project: Finding the purpose of life…

All around the world people are living for two things: to get older and to get smarter.

This is survival. Basic survival.

However, where I grew up, people are living for two things: to get money and … to get money.

In result, our illusionary pursuit of money results not in getting older and getting smarter- no, it results in us dying young and dumb.

This is not survival. This is basic.

The aging process should be appreciated. It’s the beauty of life.

Raymond Bellinger, War vet from New Orleans who sits at the same bus stop all day. When asked about the greatest lessons ever learned, he recited the Lord’s Prayer. word for word.
Raymond Bellinger, War vet from New Orleans who sits at the same bus stop all day. When asked about the greatest lessons ever learned, he recited the Lord’s Prayer. word for word.

I haven’t made it all the way-I’m still growing, learning, aging- or as the OG told me, “getting better.”

And I’m enjoying every step of the way.

… And that is why I created this photo essay.

Now the question remains:

what exactly were those lessons that I was taught as I was growing from a boy to a man?

Book coming soon

Advertisements

Networking: Know Thy Self.

Networking: the key is getting out there, meeting everyone, and networking your ass off…but first:

know thy self.

Dame and the young men...

Damien Robinson, a college colleague, co-Californian, and all out cool cat, is putting work into his community. He works at the Independent Living Skills Program in San Francisco, Ca where he has the opportunity to mentor a small group of Black and Hispanic foster youth. Damien wants to one day rewrite special education curriculums in public schools; he is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in effort to bring this goal into fruition.

Damien asked me to come and speak with his group about networking, being a professional, and manhood in general.

Big task

in the classroom...

The world of networking is about having both internet savvy and personal connections, knowing how to decode body language and read eyes, and balancing on that dental floss- thin line between name dropping and citing references…

These are just three broad concepts, out of a plethora of ideas that are tied into networking. My task: exemplify what networking is, show how it relates to these young men, and help then perfect the art of networking.

wow

Inside the classroom we discussed how networking itself can be as deep as a mathematical equations that shows each individual’s degree of separation. And on the other hand, networking can be as simple as asking your friend where he gets his hair cut…. most importantly: when you meet a woman on the street, you are networking.

Our conversation brewed and we covered everything from firm handshakes to follow-up emails. And in the end, we did practice elevator pitches in effort to show these young men how to approach future contacts in a respectable manner.

I left out of the two-hour discussion thinking, all forms of networking: face to face networking, online networking, or even approaching a young lady in the street; all call for you to be clear about who you are and what you want.

Before anyone else can be confident to identify with you, or your business… you have to be confident in you.

…And that is manhood… or rather, that is adulthood… And it’s an amazing lesson to teach teenage boys in the hood.

Ring Leaders

She looked dead in the camera and asked, “if these guys are going around the country talking about manhood…why aren’t any of them married?”

I was in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood. It was muggy June night. June 14th, the day before Tupac’s birthday, and father’s day… I wonder which one is more readily celebrated in the Black community?…but, I digress…

I was in New York; a trip sponsored by the 21st Century Foundation’s initiative to alter the image of Black men in the media, “The 2025 campaign for Black Men and Boys“. We sat in conferences and workshops, we networked and cracked jokes, and above all…I documented the entire experience.

The conference was full of males: elder men with stories longer than their grey locks,young boys cut from a cloth that was newer than their suites, and I was there with a camera.

I met Kevin Powell. He was the figurehead, leader, and prime speaker for the conference. I was fortunate enough to be invited to a small dinner party with him and a handful of others. During the dinner party- I got antsy and decided to go outside. While outside, I good piece of advice from my mentor Cheo Tyehimba Taylor kicked in: this conference is all male- why not get some female perspective on manhood?

I saw this group of ladies. funny enough, when I initially accosted them, they brushed me completely. They thought I was trying to “holler” at them. But once they saw my approach was genuinely for journalism reasons, the conversation rolled…

And after all of the insightful input, they still inquired about attending the dinner party- trying to meet Kevin Powell…

But, the points made were thought provoking…how can you speak on the topic of manhood when you are not fully experienced in all manhood has to offer?

I think about this when I look at male leaders- namely politicians, business men, and members of the religious realm.

I almost always notice if a man has a ring on his left hand or not. Maybe a judgement on my part, but I cant help but thinking there is a correlation between a man who can uphold a solid union between he and his female counterpart, and a man upholding his position in society. After all, the family is the microcosm of society. family is the first society. If you cannot govern a family, how will you govern a people?

I bring this all to a forefront today, February 21st, 2010…45 years after the assassination of Malcolm X. The man.

In “man-hood circles”, Malcolm’s constant growth and development signified a man who was forever becoming greater. forever growing.They say manhood is a journey, and Malcolm X’s trials and tribulations symbolize that journey to a tee.

But a part that is often overlooked, and the part that inspires me to write this piece, was his relationship with his wife, the late Mrs. Betty Shabazz.

She was in his corner. She was his inspiration to move forward, comfortably; for he knew she would have his back. While Malcolm toured the Nation speaking and leading, and later toured the world reading and thinking, she did much of the rearing of the children.Malcolm and Betty...and 2 of three children

All day, my mind has been with Malcolm X; I have been watching youtube clips of Malcolm X, I have been posting quotes from Malcolm X on twitter, I have been reading random excerpts from his Autobiography… Today is Malcolm X day.

And even with all of my research, the most profound quote from, about, or having anything to do with Malcolm X is this….

“I loved him, he loved his people” – Betty Shabazz.

Rest in Peace Malcolm X

Rest in Peace Betty Shabazz

…this is just my train of thought…

Peace.

Foolish Pride…but That’s How P-Ride.

In middle school, I hated free lunch. You know how embarrassing it was to stand in that line? I don’t… Cause, I never stood in it. I’d sit and be hungry before I ate free lunch.

In high school, I hated going to the store with the foodstamp card, you know how embarrassing it is to whip out that colorful EBT card in-front of a store full of people? I don’t -I’d wait for everyone to walk out of the store before I made my purchase.

And now that I’m in college. The stage in life where everybody is struggling. I find the hardest thing in the world is to ask for financial assistance.

This is the classic example of having so much pride that I’m not willing to compromise my morals for money.

And this boggles the mind…

Is it an extension of the same middle school and high school shame?

Is it a Black folks thing- where we only brag of wealth, and shamefully hide our short comings?

Is it a man thing- where societal gender roles say: Pendarvis, you’re a man now, and your role in society is to protect and provide; and since you can’t provide for yourself, you must protect yourself…and your self-esteem?

This is deeper than the grumbles of my stomach on the late night. This more emotional than the frustration I feel as I try to call my family back home…and my phone is cut off.

This is the battle between morals and pride when your money gets tight.

Thursday night, my hunger caused me to swallow my pride: I asked a co-worker and long time friend, Jeremy Odoffin, if I could have a micro-wave TV dinner tonight cause I couldn’t afford to buy anything to eat.

On the first floor of the college dormitory in which we work, we sat and talked over the freshly microwaved blessing brought to me by Marie Calender.

Jeremy said, “At a point, you have to sit and question- What is it about society that put you into a position where compromising your morals is the only means to survival?”

I sat. I questioned.

what is it?

Why did I not eat free lunch in middle school? Why was I ashamed to use food stamps in High School? Why am I still ashamed to ask for a TV dinner in college?

I AM A MAN

I am a man.

haven’t I seen that slogan somewhere before?

The civil rights movement! thats right!

They had so much Black Pride that they collectively decided not to compromise their morals.

Many African-American’s took to the streets baring signs that read: I AM A MAN. Simultaneously, King’s Dream and Malcolm’s speech were about holding America accountable to the freedom promised to all citizens as defined by the US Constitution.

I should be able to wake up in the morning and be able to pursue my true happiness uninhibited by the societal requirements for survival…the societal requirements that cause many men to sale dope and rob innocent citizens…the societal requirements that cause many women to strip and prostitute…the societal requirements that cause many people to throw their morals out of the door when their money gets low.

When it boils down to it, I’m not going to sale dope to my community in order to eat tonight. I’ve been there, and I’m never going back. I’m not going to drive around women so they can dance for money, and give me a small percentage in order to pay my phone bill. I’ve been there, and I’m not going back. And I’m not going to plot on the pockets of intoxicated individuals who have more money than I. I’ve been there, and I’m not going back. I’m not going to compromise my morals and I take pride in that.

Ironic, some might this piece as a man calling out for help, and truthfully there is a touch of that present in my prose. But more evident than my need for financial assistance, is my need to see my self as a self-sufficient man.

In closing: I find it funny how, when I don’t NEED something, but want to see if I can get it for free, it starts off as a game: “can I use my words to get this or that” is the concept… and if I don’t get it, it’s kind of humiliating and humbling all in one. But when I sincerely NEED something and want to see if I can get it for free, it starts from a place of slight humiliation and complete humility…but when I don’t get it …its not a game.

Yea, It’s not a game.