The quiet violence of denying Black men opportunities to redeem themselves prevents them from being seen as good and strong, making Black communities weaker.
I am thankful for most of my adult life to be surrounded by good Black men. Not perfect men, but good ones. My childhood, like so many Black households, was void of a lot of good, strong Black men. Many Black fathers are absent from their children’s lives because the mothers pushed their fathers out of their lives or made it impossible to maintain healthy connections. In my case, my mother made it impossible for my dad to be in our household. She cheated on him with some married pretty dude who had a trillion side kids and two children in his home.
I was only in kindergarten, but I can recall the events vividly leading up to my dad’s departure. My mom let a sorry man ruin her marriage and remove the man who was supposed to be the head of our household. Her selfish decision changed our lives forever.
My daddy was an unselfish man. He worked two jobs so my mom didn’t have to work. He would get off from his third-shift job and walk me to school every morning. In the afternoons, he would walk and pick me up, carrying me on his neck all the way home. I remember my dad spending so much quality time with me. My brother and I had our own bedrooms, we had all the best toys including a big wheel, and all the other good stuff folks had in their homes back in the mid-70s. I remember riding my big wheel around the house for hours. We had hardwood floors so I bet I was annoying as hell, but he never said one word. My dad was all about keeping his Black wife and Black kids comfortable, happy, and together. He understood the importance and strength of family.
That all changed when my mom decided she was leaving my dad for her pretty, married side-piece. The breakup was nasty. She decided she would leave my dad while he was at work. Someone told him, he showed up, and to put it the best way I can, the marriage was over that day. My mom was trying to secretly move with all the stuff he’d purchased and his kids without letting my dad know.
After all that he’d done to provide for his high school sweetheart and the children they bore together, suddenly his best wasn’t good enough.
The dissolution of my parents’ marriage ended with my father going to jail for physically beating my mom to the point she needed plastic surgery. We lived with family members for at least a year because my mom’s face was so horrifically disfigured; we were afraid of her. My dad was in jail for hurting her. My mother’s involuntary dissolution of her marriage combined with my dad’s crime of passion snatched the last good man I’d see in a long time from my life. While I don’t agree with my dad’s handling of my mother’s indiscretions, I understand it. He was just 24-years old.
When I got older, my dad told me he’s told my mom prior to marrying her he didn’t want to have children if he couldn’t be there with them. He had grown up without a dad in his life, and as a result, his mom raised him to be the father-figure for his mother’s household. Some of it was also natural. He watched his mother work hard for White folks all day and cleaning their houses and could barely feed him. My dad didn’t get to have a childhood because his father was absent. He had to become a man quickly to support his mom. He was attempting to break the cycle of fatherlessness in his family tree when he married my mom and started a family. Sadly, my mom prevented that.
Dad didn’t want his children to lack the way he did or to experience fatherlessness the way he had. He understood what leading a family entailed, and he was ready for the job. I sorely missed my dad. Because my dad wasn’t in the home, it left me unprotected. My mom’s fatal decision placed us in poverty for a period. We had to move into subsidized-housing, and until she got remarried, my grandmother and aunts helped her with us until I got big enough to become the second responsible person in my household. I went from being home with two parents to being a latch-key kid.
My mom made sure as we aged, my mom did all she could to keep us away from my dad. It was as if she didn’t want her child to have in a father in their lives like she didn’t. If she wasn’t happy, nobody would be happy. I watched my dad do many things to ensure we knew he was trying to stay in touch with us while my mom violated child custody orders. He would ride the neighborhoods and catch us walking home from school. My mom prevented him from coming to the campus to check on us. My mom took advantage of his inability to continue paying for legal fees to challenges her actions and behavior, but he never stopped trying.
Living Without My Dad Made Me Want Them In My Life
As I got older, I saw the importance of having me in my life. I heard all the bullshit the Black women in my life spewed about not needing a man, but I never felt that way. I always wanted good men in my life. I knew the value of having good men in my life. I didn’t get the luxury of having my dad in my life. My mom picked up side-dude and made him her husband, and he was a whole-ass Tyler Perry movie character. He wasn’t a leader or a protector. He was anything but that. He was a predator.
My step-dad was a child molester, physically abusive to my brother and I, he showed partiality towards his biological children, and my mom allowed him and his children to treat us like crap. I couldn’t wait to grow and get out of my mom’s house. She acted hostile towards my brother and I. We knew we were burdens. On the flip-side, when I got to see my dad during visitations, he always modeled a strong Black man. My dad showed my brother and I that he was a good Black man. When my paternal side of the family had family gatherings, my dad was the uncle/granddad, buying Christmas presents for his sisters’ kids. He was a father to fatherless cousins, acknowledging their good school grades. My dad loved his mother dearly for hanging in there with him through his long rough patch, supporting his family emotionally and financially when they needed him.
He was everybody’s “good” man
My dad’s goodness has nothing to do with any letters behind his name or credentials, the number of zeros (or lack of) in his bank account, or the jobs he’s held. My dad is good because he’s the man that takes care of his responsibilities, he looks after his family and friends; he leads with his words and actions, and he loves Black people, Black women, Black life, and respects the diaspora of our Black struggle. Growing up through Jim Crow, my dad understands what it is to be a Black man in America. Like so many other good, invisible Black men in America, my dad musters up the strength to be that dude every day, making sure the people he’s responsible for are good. Watching my dad makes me appreciate and cherish the rise, fall, struggle, and resurrection of the Black man.
My dad rejected White supremacy and the illusions of perfectionism planted into our minds by Anglo-culture to lead his family, and I’m glad about it. Watching my dad taught me how to love, help, support, and follow good, imperfect Black men. He has spent the rest of his life trying to redeem himself after his marriage to my mom. I’d say he accomplished his mission. It makes me feel good my imperfect dad could put his life together after my mom to become the dependable, responsible father, brother, uncle, and granddad we all rely on today.
As I’ve gotten older and able to have a relationship with my dad free of my mom, we talked about the traumatic events caused by mother’s actions. I was never angry with my dad. He didn’t break up his family. My mom did that. I never listened to all the negative stuff she said about my dad or how she berated men, talking about “men ain’t shit,” or her favorite spin “I don’t need no man,” because I knew better. I knew her story. I remember her contributions to breaking up our family, and I watched my dad struggle for nearly two decades to rebuild his life.
“But the quiet violence of denying men opportunities to redeem themselves in a society set up for them to fail goes ignored.”
He started rebuilding his life in an industry that has given a lot of brothers a second chance, to pay their child support and avoid returning to jail, and sustain themselves until things get better. He used to tell me his truck was his home. His entire check went to my mom, leaving him with just enough money for food. Today he lives in his home with his wife of almost 40-years that’s paid for, and my mom lives with my sister. Evil doesn’t pay in the long-run sisters.
My dad was able to return to school and get a degree in Automotive Technology. He got Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certified and built the first state-of-the-art Black owned-Black operated automotive shop in his city. He’s had his difficulties like any business owner, but he was a proud man and he knew his family was depending on him, looking up to him, and his friends and church family were standing by him. None of this would’ve been possible if he didn’t persist despite all my mom tried to do.
Far too often we in the Black community discard good men the same way that White folks discard us when we have brushes with the law. My dad was in his early 20s when he married my mom and started a family. His life was rough for a minute, but he never gave up, he always kept striving. Back then, people were more than willing (and able) to give second chances. My grandma was there for him too. She made him visible again. In return for her love, emotional, and sometimes financial support, he spent the rest of his life taking care of her until she died last year at 90.
My dad is almost 70-years old today, and I think about how men like George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Eric Garner, didn’t get the chance to start over as my dad did. Their lives were taken by the police too soon, causing incalculable family grief and suffering.
I didn’t know any of these men personally. I just know they were Black men like my dad, and had they been extended olive branches and second chances, perhaps they would be alive today to care for their own children. I have another invisible man in my life. He’s my son. Like my dad, the trajectory of his life changed when he came in contact with a woman — a White one. It started with being followed by police and charged a $1,000 fine littering while riding with his white high school girlfriend at 17. He didn’t let me know about it so that I could rectify it because he knew how I felt about that girl.
I knew she would be trouble for him, and by golly, she was. He went to jail, and for the 2-years after he continued to have brushes with the law because he thought having a White girlfriend would help him. Some help.
My son is a little older than Rayshard Brooks today and still putting his life back together. I tried my best to raise a wonderful man, but sometimes good men latch on to jealous, evil, and troublesome women who mean them no good. By the time they figure it out, it’s too late. Their lives are ruined and they’ve become invisible men.
Today, white supremacy has a system in place that almost guarantees once Black men have a brush with the law, even after all restitution has been paid, there are no second chances. Black men are the only men who don’t get second chances if they’ve made a mistake or had brushes with the law. White boys and men get opportunities to redeem themselves all the time for crimes they commit, with White judges citing those young White men’s potential. Our men don’t get to have potential. They get killed or spend a lifetime dealing with brushes with the law, forced to work in America’s underground economy.
The video of Rashard Brooks being interviewed reminded me of how a good young Black man full of potential was taken away far too soon because the supports that were there for my dad aren’t there for young brothers today who make mistakes and need to start over.
I didn’t say Brooks was perfect because none of us are perfect. I say good because he was flawed, just like we all are. Most of us don’t get caught doing our dirt, and because we haven’t, our sins ain’t out on front street. Maybe Mr. Brooks got caught up in the system, the one imperfect moment that resulted in the trajectory of his entire life-changing. Maybe it was poverty, and maybe he was just a naïve kid trying to find himself which led to trouble, which led to his involvement with the criminal justice system. Our communities are over-policed thanks to racist predictive policing, making it highly likely our young Black men have contact with racist and scary White police.
No matter the reason, brother Rayshard wanted to be better. He was trying to be better. He wanted to be the good man who provided for his lady and his family. The world let him down. In his own words, Rayshard noted he tried to be a good man. I’m sure he suffered the inhumanity of seeking redemption in silence. He didn’t have a voice when he was alive, and we didn’t speak up for him when he needed us. He lost his life because we have turned into the White people of Black people, leaving him and thousands of our brothers stranded, punishing them the same way America punishes us.
We must do better. Brooks’ death cannot be in vain.
Few people are beyond redemption. American needs to give brothers a second chance to redeem themselves. But when America won’t, Black folks need to be in positions to provide those chances. We are failing our own people when we don’t help our own.
Our community needs more good Black men to lead. We need more strong Black men to follow. Sisters need to change their attitudes and get our shit together. We make poor decisions too, and we’re far from perfect. The Black community needs more people to care about Black men before they die or come in contact with desperate police. We need more Black men to be strong when our young brothers are weak, broken, and lost. We need more men like my dad to show what them what redemption looks like.
We would have so many more good Black men like Brooks, Floyd, and my dad in our communities. We would be in a lot better shape if we invested more in our Black men instead of trying to turn our Black men into White ones. We could do so much better if we decolonized our minds. So many of us are trying to create perfect little people, or we’re chasing the perfect person, the perfect life, or busy searching for the perfect Black man that we’re overlooking the good. That picture-perfect fantasy was presented to us by white supremacy. It’s an unrealistic and unattainable goal that has plenty of Black men and women in our communities fucked up.
We have plenty of good, imperfect Black brothers in our communities, but we overlook them. As one of my Twitter favorites Torraine Walker at Context Media so eloquently noted in his piece titled “Invisible Men,” imperfect men are invisible to us. We don’t see or care about the millions of men like Brooks, Floyd, Garner, or my son until they are dead. Wonderful men don’t drop out of the sky or come out of their momma’s vagina ready for the world. Just like it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to make a good man.
Walker writes, “So many Black men in America exist in a sort of twilight world, hanging on to their freedom by a thread, a permanent underclass that people can project their fears and hatred on until that projection materializes in brutality.” One of those men Walker describes was my dad. He changed his situation, but it wasn’t easy. People loved the man they saw at the end of the journey. No one cared about the paths my dad took or the people who helped him along the way that got him there. We can say the same for those imperfect men who lost their lives at the hands of extra judicious police like George Floyd, Eric Garner, or Rayshard Brooks. My dad could have been one of these men.
If you believe our community hasn’t made good men, ask yourselves what you’ve done to make one? If you’re one of those sisters who believe there aren’t any good men, maybe there are plenty. Your views of good are perhaps warped. You’re looking for a perfect man, not a good one like my dad was. If there aren’t enough good Black men to follow, maybe just maybe we need to build them up instead of tearing them down. It’s our job to make the kind of men we want and need.
We can no longer act as if investing in Black men is a choice. It’s literally a matter of life and death. When we don’t have good, strong Black men to lead us, we end up following White and other men who don’t have the same interests as Black people and who often do more damage us to collectively than they do good. We must do a better job of understanding how white supremacy divides our communities and prevents our men from becoming the good men we need to stand against injustices while protecting their communities and families.
The quiet violence of denying Black men opportunities to redeem themselves in a society set up for them to fail goes ignored must end.
It’s time we support Black men before they die.