As educators we take on so many things. We learn how to multi task; grading papers, sending emails, disciplining that student that is on their cell phone 📲 (🙄🤔),hugging that student that you notice is having a bad, while making mental notes to contact parents, review that email that came through, and of course remembering to eat lunch.
I’ve been fortunate most of my career. One day I walked into class on my birthday to have balloons and other presents waiting for me. Another time I walked in to dinner. My students knew I was also in school, so they took it upon themselves to have dinner for all of us that night. Recently I attended an event and a young lady gestured for me to come near and shared I was her college professor some years ago. We hugged and she shared other sweet comments. I have been blessed.
I also have those students that become part of my family. They call me. They FaceTime me. They share a lot. As Anthony (my son says) they don’t hold back anything. We have special bonds.
These are the young people that inspire me. I have witnessed their struggles. I have listened to their happy moments. I have watched many cross the stage. I have been the recommender for many grad programs and employment opportunities.
I know that they will follow their hearts. They will push themselves. They will be there for my own son. Oftentimes we don’t know the impact we make on people, or the impact they might have on you!
Mr. Julian is one of those that Anthony considers his brother. We have adopted him into our family and words cannot express how proud I am of him. He strives high. He remains focused. He excels even when things becomes difficult. And he does it all with a smile and his two thumbs up (👍🏾 👍🏾)! From the first time I met him his freshmen year until post graduation, his spirit, his friendly demeanor, and his earnest pursuit to be his best has been observed.
I’m privy to receiving notifications of his successes and this is instrumental because my own 16 year old has him and so many others as his mentor. Although #ThisThingCalledLife happens and we do fall short sometimes and experience hardships, what is most important is recognizing the need to keep walking your journey. We often focus too much on the negative and fail to teach our young people that life happens…. even when it means using that “motherly” tone to remind them to remain humble, focused, and centered.
Life is filled with good people who are motivated just for selfish reasons, but it’s also filled with good people who understand passing it forward. Julian is the person that gives selflessly. Im truly blessed to have so many like him in my corner. As a young 20-something year old male, he along with others who are graduating, promoting positivity, volunteering directly and indirectly should be highlighted!
There has always been limited positive minority males in our media and those that are are educated are looked upon as an anomaly. Let’s embrace those that are being accepted to grad programs, following their pursuit of happiness, while making every effort to give back!
Kudos to my young son!
He shares a bit of his story to encourage other young men to “fight that good fight.”
Dear Ms. Davis,
For the last the couple of years I was not motivated. I graduated and I felt as if I was just waking up and going to work without a plan.
After I graduated, I didn’t have a plan and had no idea what I wanted to do. I had no jobs lined up for me. Luckily, I found a job within about a month at warehouse that paid decent where I’ve been ever since I was working there.
My grandmother, who was the cornerstone of the family passed away a little over four years ago. Her passing really hit home for me. I wasn’t comfortable telling people how I felt at the time. So instead, I started drinking to suppress my feelings.
I was not focused on school after she passed so my grades were pretty bad that semester. When the semester ended, you asked me to come speak with you (Kiera Vargas). I still remember that conversation. In a nut shell, you told me to get shit together. To this day, I don’t remember having a more impactful conversation with anyone else because the conversation was about more than just than school.
So when I am going through hard times or get frustrated about life, I say “Fight the good fight” to myself to remind myself to refocus, remain as level headed as possible, and push through.
Well, my short goal is to complete grad school and find a career utilizing the knowledge I gained. A long term goal of mine is to start a program that involves assisting the youth with depression. I vision having them come and work on cars. Studies have shown that in recent years, the number of youth dealing with symptoms of depression between the ages of 10-18, and even college students, has increased. This idea came to me a little while back when I was thinking about what I wanted to do that would involve youth and young adults dealing with depression.
I’ve been a car person for just about my whole life and stated working on them in college when my parts on my car needed to be replaced. Since I didn’t have the money to take it to the shop, I would go a salvage yard or a pull-a-part and replace the parts myself or with the help of a friend. Once I got comfortable working on my own car, I would work on other students cars to bring in a little extra money
The ability to help others and to do something I enjoyed doing has always been satisfying. So I was thinking to myself one day, why not do what I enjoy and do something that good help the youth in my community.
I am proud of you. I have been so amazed at how tough you are. I look forward to hearing about your milestones; whether good or bad. You are learning important things about life.
When you share such, you inspire Anthony. You give me hope. You inspire him. And you talk yourself though those tough situations.
As you begin this new journey at Hampton University, I want you to remember just how smart, and how extraordinary you are to so many around you!
You know I love Oprah and a quote from her that I believe will resonate for you is:
“You can see yourself as a wave in the ocean or you can see yourself as the ocean.”
Keep pushing, smiling, and understanding that life happens, but you are always in control! And yes, I will always be here to “encourage you with the use of my fine words” because we all need those reminders!
One of your favorite cheerleaders!!!
The Sport of the Gods by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Recently a millionaire…I mean billionaire, Robert F. Smith stated that he would pay the student loans for all of Morehouse 2019 graduates. Whoa!!! And I mean Whoa!!
I can attest to being beyond happy for them! I can also attest to being one of those who secretly wishes that my guest speaker would have done the same thing…..Bill Cosby….And yes…. I still watch the Cosby Show very often. I actually watched the episode last night when Sandra was sick and the grandmothers went to pick up the twins to help her… oh I love that show! It was because of Bill and Claire that allowed me to know that as a Black female I can do whatever I want to…. and it was because of the spin off A Different World that I saw what an HBCU was.
And besides, how can I condemn a man… I mean yup he did wrong but we are still…. (oh hush Ki… we are making America Great again…🤦🏾♀️🤦🏾♀️) and it’s interesting that so many are quick to do this; particularly folks who still place their grandparents on a pedestal and they were ones to…. (will you be quiet….you just keep going and going and even though it’s your blog, people are going to think you are a darn racist…. just be quiet…) do all sorts of things in the 1900’s… (don’t you know everyone does NOT care about this…only money)…but that’s another convo…
Let’s go back to Mr. Smith… how amazing is that ….
This is pretty big! It’s something that Oprah has been doing for years. She created a school, is currently working on building something in the US, and has paid for many young people to attend college; including those Morehouse men.
This is essential…it’s essential for us to be reminded that we need to give back. It’s essential for us to be reminded of the idea of Dubois. It’s essential for us to also understand the idea of B.T Washington and even my girl Maria Stewart. Once we make it, we uplift others. Once we make it, our task is to give back to ensure others have the same opportunities… heck….better opportunities. It’s unfair for us to turn our eye (our head…) on our brother, remain scared to assist him for fear of losing our jobs, or even lack the confidence to stand up to help those that have an unfair advantage. Dubois shares this, but then he becomes defeated…. tired…
and his ideas change…
Recently I re-read another AA classic; The Sport of the Gods. I wasn’t sure why I was reading this book again until I was halfway through the book. I was returning from a trip. I was refueled. I was refueled by like-minded people. I was refueled by the love from family members, and I was refueled by my own means to reflect. If you have not read this book, it’s a much better book than Huck Finn, and it provides a very accurate account of post slavery life for African Americans. I must warn you that the “n” word (I’m still going to sensor that word…) is in their a few times, but not even close to the 214 times that it can be seen in Huck Finn.
The book sheds light on how post slavery options were limited. Many slaves stayed with their old masters and continued being loyal to them. Sadly the slave masters … I mean “friends…” or shall I say their “new age bosses” were not so loyal. In this book, the loyal workers life falls apart when the slave masters (the new age boss) brother lies about money being stolen. He was the only one that could have “supposedly” committed the crime. Although he had his own money saved, he was extremely loyal to his boss, and he was trying to better his family…. but…. BUT….in one split moment he lost it all….
And guess what?? Years later when this slave master was told that he did not do it, he held the proof close to his chest… symbolism at its best. He states “What is that nigger to my brother? What are his sufferings to the honor of my family and name?” ( Dunbar 112) Yeah… I kept the word here otherwise it would not have been clear…🤷🏽♀️ but it continues with ….
“It must never be known, I say, if Berry has to rot in jail” (112). And this is quite symbolic to our America now… kind of like the sadness and anger and RAGE I’m sure was felt by many when the woman who Emmett Till “supposedly” whistled at was on her death bed… man… “so they wrote a lie to Frank, and buried the secret in their breasts, and Oakley wore its business form upon his heart” (112). This woman did the same thing until she was on her deathbed. And can you imagine how many do this? How the heck can you sleep at night after seeing what happened to him…. ??? But we condone others and not many even know who Carolyn Donham is…was…WHOA!! And #blacklivesmatter #imAware #1968lastrecordedlynching #1998JamesByrd #N-wordburied #BlackmenMatter #readMoreDiverseBooksThisSummer
And this is why…it’s important to teach all history and expose the youth. But of course this is scary because many teachers have to be uncomfortable…. and oh no!! I have a story about this later…
What happens if you continue to fail at this? We will still have kids who have so much potential lack the confidence in themselves…. and …. worst case scenarios happen…
So, people like Mr. Smith and of course my friend Oprah (I’m still claiming that we will meet soon for tea) are essential in us helping our youth who otherwise would graduate from college with so much debt they feel as if they are sharecroppers….😳😳😳😳😳😳(I feel that way….🤷🏽♀️🤦🏾♀️)
Because of his false imprisonment, this fictional character embodies much of those incarcerated men who are still sitting in prison because someone wanted to save their families name and because they could never face apologizing for doing wrong. Of course I didn’t do anything… I’m …(shut up Ki… you know you have a bigger blog audience now….hush it up!!…) I have to say it though…. I didn’t do anything and I have privilege….even in 2019….
And sadly even those within his race who knew he was innocent as that hummingbird (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase…) will save their face too…
So as you grow, regardless of race, creed, color, take time to uplift each other. As you continue to grow, expose yourself and learn about people that do not look like you. And lastly, add this book to your book list and take Huck Finn off…. it’s a much better read… and you don’t even have to skip over the “n-word….”😉
Dubar, Paul Laurence. The Sport of the
Gods. Signer Classics, 2011
Dubois publicized the phrase “the talented tenth” in his 1903 essay. This term fixated on the idea of preparing a tenth of African Americans for leadership within the US. Post slavery options for Africans Americans were limited, and while it was still new to see African Americans as free, Dubois and other northerners pushed for education amongst this group.
If ten percent of African Americans gain education, they would become those leaders to assist the ninety percent with following suit. This plan didn’t fail. As a matter of fact, over 100 years later, ways to modify and merge this concept with new and old ones are continuously being challenged. The goal to uplift is still as much in the souls and hearts of the new age “talented tenth.”
When I think of the numerous proposals that have been created in hopes of uplifting the African American communities, I feel that each activist, each solution thought of, and all followers contributed to making significant changes. We have read about those changes, and some of us continue to study those changes.
The person that I am introducing is a good friend of mine who I deem as clever and wise beyond his years. He is steadfast, he is observant, and his drive is gigantic. Yes… I really did use the adjective gigantic to describe his drive… 😳🧐
Dr. Terrell Morton’s energy and persistence, along with that steadfastness is noticed by those he is around.
I’ve been lucky to have worked with him in many capacities and he constantly impresses me. He is that person that I can see bridging all of those ideas into one to take in “all of those…(🤦🏾♀️I remember that convo we had Terrell…)babies” and assist them with not just believing in themselves, but to take moments to mentor and uplift the next.
From being my TA, to having long convos during his masters program, to being my lead counselor for the AISP program, to seeing the effort he put into obtaining a PhD program before he was 30, he is THAT Black male, the intellectual, the social activist, the mentor we need to have around our young Black males. He is THAT person that I can see to assist with impacting and implementing the much needed change to help elevate and advocate for ….US.
I can say so much more about him, but because I want you to focus on his words, I’ll refrain from saying…. (Well …. ok a few more words)
Terrell is a leader who (I’m certain I can speak for everyone that knows him) will be in the forefront to advocate change, while also using his free time to selflessly help others in all ways possible. I honestly don’t even know if he sleeps, but I know so many are appreciative of this characteristic that he has to just give…Selflessly…and all…of…the…time…
From being my terminal degree accountability partner to always being in the corner for someone who needs, Terrell should be applauded…🙏🏾
Thank you Dr. Morton!!
so…. How do you describe yourself?
Lately, my descriptions for myself have been contextually-specific. What I mean by this is that while the underlying premises are the same, the verbiage used changes. I do not necessarily consider it to be “code-switching,”but more so audience specific. How can I communicate all of the complex, amazing (if I might add) aspects of myself to let other individuals know who I am and what I stand for? So, to answer both your question and my own (seeing as how I pretty much reiterated your question with my own version of it—getting to the complexity of my response, smh) by response is as follows:
To my professional audience, I am a scholar-activists. What that means is that I live a life where I not only write, research, and discuss elements of my professional endeavors, but I live them on a daily basis. Currently, I am a Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) for Faculty Diversity Postdoctoral Fellow. This title simply means that I am in a program “designed” to give me a leg-up on the tenure-track faculty life, and that I do not do the work of more traditional postdoctoral scholars. Traditional postdocs either teach or do research that is assigned to them by their postdoctoral mentors. As a PFF, I am able to conduct my own research, co-design and teach courses, and engage in service as I see fit.
Why did I feel the need to explain that?
Well, that goes along with my activist identity of how I describe myself. In the academy (field of higher education, scholarly research, knowledge production, etc.) there are politics (and perceived and actual power) in names. When you say that you are a Postdoc, despite the accolades that you have amassed to get to this level, you are perceived to be at the bottom of the social hierarchy on university campuses. Postdocs are “expected” to “stay in their lane” and simply do what is asked of them. Those who know me, know that “my lane” is work that advocates, supports, empowers, uplifts, cultivates and engages racial justice, racial progress, and racial liberation. And so, with that being “my lane,” any work; no matter, what the project is that involves these elements; particularly within my loci of control and work environment will be my work and I will be involved to some capacity. These actions that I am describing transcend the traditional “expectations” of a postdoc, and to some degree a junior scholar (Assistant Professor, the next achievable rank in my current trajectory), aligning more with how Full, Endowed Professors carry themselves or Senior-Level Administrators who are tenured.
To my community audience, I am someone who loves and cares for my people! I use the talents God has given me, the knowledge and wisdom I have amassed, and my energy and effort to dismantle oppressive structures, create space and opportunity, and cultivate my people. My “professional” endeavors focus on transforming institutions of higher education; particularly for Black students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). My “work”also involves my service and support of my home community through the non-profit organization my family started: the Christine Avery Learning Center ( http://cwalearningcenter.com) for youth ages 2 to 16 and their families. It involves the informal mentoring that I do for individuals Ive come into contact with across the United States and throughout my many engagements (e.g., Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.; Kappa Kappa Psi National Honorary Band Fraternity, Inc.; Volunteering as an Assistant Band Director in Miami, FL and Durham, NC; Working as a Camp Counselor at various institutions).
To those I have dedicate my life to cultivating, empowering, and equipping—my students/mentees, broadly defined—I am someone who is “bout that life” or who can “walk it like I talk it.” I have a genuine, caring, somewhat abrasive demeanor when it comes to engaging with my students/mentees, and I demonstrate my commitment to supporting them and set high expectations for their performance when it comes to enhancing themselves and their overall quality of life.
In short, I describe myself as someone who loves, someone who gives, and someone who works to make a change for the better.
What do you do for a living? How did get into this field?
While I somewhat answered this question earlier, I work in education. As a scholar-activist, it is my job to create new knowledge, cultivate others, and hold myself to the same if not higher standards that I expect of those that I support. I got into this field after having some challenging yet reflective life circumstances. Without sharing my full story (part of it you can find here and here), here is the short and sweet version:
In the process of exploring my interest in science, ( receiving a B.S. in Chemistry and pursuing a Ph.D. program for Neuroscience-Neurobiology) I had an identity “crisis” that was complimented with family challenges. This identity crisis involved me questioning, “who am I?” as it aligned with what I was doing professionally, and what mattered most to me. During this reflective moment, I realized that while I was interested in science, my passion was education. These experiences were taking place during a time in which:
1.) My grandmother, a key figure in my life, passed away. She was the first person in our immediate family circle to do so causing a real shift in our family dynamic. This shift, thankfully, was one where we became closer as a family unit.
2.) I had several high school and college friends pass away from health-related conditions that one would “presume” would happen to someone who is much older in life. One of my high school friends was also murdered during this time span. These experiences brought about a whole different perspective for me regarding life and how it should be spent. At the time (and I can sometimes still be) I was very future oriented. I saw (see) my life lasting decades, and felt that I could achieve some of the joys of life much later and that now was a moment to grind, sacrifice, and work. My friends’ passing and murdering taught me that time is not guaranteed, and each moment should be filled with joy. Now to be fair, I am still future-oriented to some degree, but I now take and make more time to enjoy the present. What I mean by this is that I try to make decisions to that fulfill both my immediate and future happenings and circumstances. I try to be there for people in their moments, celebrating and loving them, and I try to make sure that “I close my eyes each night” being at peace with the decisions that I have made for that day or days prior.
3.) My grandfather, another major key figure in my life, became terminally ill and would now require assistance and care. And,
4.) My mother was also diagnosed with Graves Disease, an auto-immune disorder that results in hyperthyroidism, that to this date is only treatable and not curable.
All of these things were taking place while I was over 1000 miles away from home, fresh out of college where life was amazing. I was struggling financially to make ends meet (me buying the industrial jars of peanut butter and having it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner quite frequently). I was also in a professional space where I was quite often the only Black male or the only Black person trying to figure out if what I was doing was fulfilling and sustaining for my immediate and future life.
Among all of these occurrences, I found a way to connect with my passions of music and mentoring. I started volunteering at a local high school as their assistant band director. This experience made me aware of the grotesque inequity that was taking place along with showing me how it was affecting my students’ everyday life. I found a sense of fulfillment while being there to work with and support those students both inside and outside of band. It was then that I realized that I needed to make a switch. Since then, I have been involved in education, and I continue to develop and prosper in this field.
What do you do to promote positivity amongst your race? Do you think it’s necessary? Racism doesn’t exist, right? (I’m being extremely sarcastic here).
So, I don’t necessarily see the work that I do or the way that I live my life as promoting positivity among Black people. I more so understand myself to be someone who strives to empower and equip Black people. I would say that positivity—me interpreting it as self-love, self-valuing, self-worth, self-efficacy, and agency—is a key component to the empowerment aspect of my work. I make this distinction because in my professional world; particularly within positive psychology and splinters of the sort, there is a high chance that individuals will engage this work without acknowledging, critiquing, or challenging the structures and power that reside external to the individual that influence and shape the decisions and choices that individual makes to advance their lives.
At lot of positive psychologist tend to focus on the individual and ways by which they can adopt, modify, or change their practices to promote more positivity within their lived experiences. While individual choice and decision-making are key, these things do not happen in isolation or outside of the environmental conditions or cues experienced.
In connecting my response to your second point, it is because racism exists and it is because racism is systemic, institutionalized, and engrained within the very fabric of western philosophies and ideologies embroidered here within the United States (akin to colonialism and colonization more globally speaking) that we cannot separate the actions and experiences of the individual from the context. And, in cultivating and supporting Black people (my race), it is impossible and improbable for me to adequately do so absent of what Critical Race Theorist deem as a “Racial Realistic” perspective.
Having completed my Ph.D. in Education with an emphasis in Learning Science and Psychological Studies and combing it with my M.S in Neuroscience-Neurobiology, I take a critical-developmental-ecological perspective with scholarly and activist endeavors. Essentially, I look at how our identity informs and shapes our experience and choices (which are influenced by our perception of our experiences as they are housed within specific contexts and the challenges and support available), and how it contributes to our in the moment and overall outcomes, while also critically examining (along dimensions of racism, power, and oppression) the ways by which the immediate, surrounding, and larger societal environments impact and influence our identities, perceptions, experiences, and choices. This is a lot easier to explain with a graphic (check out some of my published and soon to be published scholarship). Maybe my scientific example will help unpack it more. In my Neuroscience-Neurobiology studies, I recall one of my professors lecturing on stem cell research. This is not the acronym STEM, but this is looking at the cells that are present during the human development process that generates the body and all of its organs. In this conversation, my professor said that a lot of people doing this work are looking at how you can inject stem cells into a diseased area as a way to revive that area and help it function. These examples were for the brain and thinking about diseases that destroy neurons like Alzheimer’s Disease. The professor continues to say that if you take new, healthy neural stem cells and inject them into an unhealthy environment (because of the glia and the various chemical signals they expose) then those once new and healthy neural stem cells will too become sick and die. It is the environment that kills!
And so, I say empowering and equipping because it not only provides my race with the tools, insight, and skills to cope with their immediate circumstances, but it also brings out and sharpens their desire for better, giving them the tools, insight, and skills to harness and use their voice to challenge and change structures of oppression.
Are their challenges as a black man in this field?
In short, HELL YES! Black men are numerically underrepresented in higher education, unless we are working in service-based jobs. This statement, in no way shape or fashion diminishes or is meant to slight those of us who do these jobs, because truthfully, those jobs are the backbone of higher education. But, those jobs are not given the power or respect they command.
When it comes to the jobs that “command” the respect and power (i.e., tenured or tenure-track faculty, senior-level administrators) there are very few Black men who hold these positions nationally speaking. There are even fewer who take the scholar-activist stance. The scholar-activist stance comes at tremendous costs; especially if it involves racial justice and liberation. Historically and currently, you find more Black women who take on this mantle in higher education. While I have various speculations as to why, I will not go into them.
To be a Black male, and a young Black male at that—young for my title, position, way by which I carry myself—there are enormous challenges that I face on a day to day basis. Some of these challenges, I think, are consistent for Black men in advanced positions (e.g., people with terminal degrees like MD, PhD, JD, DDS, etc.). There have been times in which I have been macro and micro-aggressed within my work environment. Some of these challenges are due to my internal conflicts with how I navigate the academy as a scholar-activist who does research on Black women in STEM. To unpack that sentence, being somewhat aware of the challenges Black women face as a result of me studying undergraduate Black women and reading on Black feminism, Intersectionality, womanism, etc. (somewhat because I am not a Black woman so I will never fully know or understand) I become exposed to the oppression that is unique to Black women. Being in higher education, I have many Black women colleagues and friends who I work with, collaborate with, (you name it) given shared interests, experiences, etc.
Recognizing the privileges that I do receive because of my male cis-hetero-gender identity, there are spaces and opportunities made available to me that are not readily made available to my Black women colleagues and friends who are equally or even more deserving of them. So, as a scholar-activist, being somewhat learned and “bout that life,” the challenge becomes how do I become an advocate and co-conspirator for my Black women colleagues and friends, particularly within a structure the values and rewards individuality? How do I “walk it like I talk it” regarding equity and justice, knowing that the system I work in will come for me for not exceeding their standards based in whiteness (i.e., solo or first-author publications, lead PI on research projects and grants, instructor of record on courses) as a Black male operating within “their” space? In education, we may preach collaboration, but when the doors are closed and the meeting is had, if you do “too much” collaboration or you are not the lead, then your intellectual merit, contributions, and work are all questioned, and “new rules” for evaluating and assessing your abilities come into play.
Now, do not get me wrong.l, because I can acknowledge these challenges and do not mean that I do not have solutions for them; particularly the second challenge that I shared about supporting Black women. While I think that a more “true” (yes, I know this is not the correct way to say it but it is my way of acknowledging that there is no capital T truth but only multiple truths that exisits) answer would come from my fellow Black women colleagues and friends who I collaborate with, I would like to think that how I work with and support them aligns with my scholar-activist stance. It does require more work on my part (again getting into the coping aspects of navigating whiteness embedded within structures) and I am ok with it.
What are challenges that you have had as a black professional man?
I think my responses to the first question cover this one as well. If there were anticipated distinctions between the two, it might be telling of my life that my one answers addressed both. In my reflective moment, I guess a question could be raised as to what is my life outside of work? Have a constructed a life where the things that make me, me, are the things that I get paid to do and so there are no differences between life, work, play, etc.? Or, am I so engrossed in my purpose and mission that I have reverted back to my old “future” oriented self and am not doing enough to enjoy the present?
What are ways that you have overcome obstacles that have been in your path?
I surround myself with very specific friend groups that help me unpack different aspects of my life. I am a very spiritual person and I seek understanding regarding what God has allowed to be in path and why. I look at my obstacles as stepping stones to what is bigger, better, and greater. And, I am content with knowing that should I come upon a challenge that I do not overcome (not trying to be morbid but that would be THE challenge), that I have lived my life in a way that the work that I have done and do speaks for who I am and what I believe.
What is your day to day mantra?
Ha! This changes day to day, sometimes hour to hour. It all depends on what I am going through at the moment and what type of words of encouragement I need for the circumstances. Some of my mantras include/ range from Romans 12:2, Philippians 4:9-13, May the work that I have done speak for me, to Young Stunna, “FTON”, Big Sean, “IDFWU” , and Soulja Boy, “Yahh – Yahh.”
There are plenty of other songs and sayings that also capture my mantras:
“Once a task has begun…” “I am lovable and capable” “If” “See it through” “I’m building this bridge for [them]” “YOU CAN’T STEAL MY JOY!” etc
How do you manage everything that you do?
This is also worthy of a good Ha! Lol. But, I put everything in calendar. If it is not on my calendar, then it does not exist! I also do to do lists. I know that the jury is out on them, but I get joy in knowing that I can cross something off of the list so I’m not going to let the jury steal my joy.
What or who inspires you?
Multiple people and things inspire me. I have your more traditional role-models who inspire me. These individuals do so because of how they carry themselves in service to their community. I was about to start a list and decided not to do so. This is because in giving mass recognition or public recognition to a large group, there is always somebody that you do not mention that gets in their feelings. And then mentioning individuals is also a political act because there are many individuals who go unnamed and unrecognized that should be named and recognized. And so, when you do or do not name and recognize some individuals or preference others, you engage in all kinds of social-political negotiations that have all kinds of social-cultural-political consequences.
What inspires me, the change that I see I am making and the impact and influence that my work has on the lives of those who have either been placed in my life of whose lives I have been placed in. That growth, progress, development, that I was involved with (directly or indirectly) inspires me. Seeing their outcomes improve and enhance inspires me. It shows that the work does not go in vain.
Any advice for young men who are facing challenges being black and trying to move up?
Yes, lots. To get adequate advice, I would say to hit me up. I make time to cultivate and support my people.
For more of a broad stroke, I say:
1. Know yourself! In knowing yourself, identify what you like, dislike, will tolerate, will not tolerate, etc. Having self-awareness allows you to make in the moment decisions that thoughtful and reflexive.
2. Take a stance! No matter where you lie on the “Blackness spectrum” in America, if you have the visible morphology of Black (e.g., skin tone, hair, bone structure, etc.) at some point in time, you will be treated as Black (e.g., socially, politically, culturally). Society projects identities and experiences onto us that we have to respond to. I know that people say that “perception is not reality” but argue the contrary. Perception is reality in that other people’s perception of you alter and inform the way you carry yourself and respond. Even if you do not necessarily “change” or “adapt” or “code-switch” or “fake,” what people think of you affects your decisions, actions and outcomes. For example, if as a Black male you are perceived as a threat in your environment (FYI even if they don’t say it they are still thinking it) you will be treated as a threat by those that perceive you as one.
This means that there are certain things that you will be given access to and certain things that you will not. There will be opportunities kept from you, there will be coded ways in which people talk to and about you, there will be expectations placed on you, there will be anticipations regarding your response to situations and scenarios. And even if despite this all, you stay “you,” the choices that you are making to stay “you” are still in response to the perceptions that people have put on you. That said, define who “you” are, and decide to be who “you” are, recognizing that no matter who “you” are and what “you” do, they will always be looking at and judging “you”. Let who “you” decide to be, be someone who “you” are comfortable with at all times. If you ever have to second guess who “you” are and how authentic or not “you” are then the only person “you” are fooling is yourself.
3. Find a community of individuals who are part of that area in which you are seeking to advance and connect with, grow with, learn from, and support them. As cliché as the saying goes, it really does take a village. And that is not just to raise a child, but to live life. Without a village, you will surely struggle in ways that are unnecessary.
4. Know that happiness and joy are not destinations but states of being. You cannot find happiness or joy, you have to create it. Now, that being said, you can find healthier environments that contribute to your holistic well-being. You do not and should not remain in a toxic environment looking to create happiness and joy. But, you should not constantly be seeking happiness and joy in your endeavors but rather creating those moments.
Any last words for our readers?
Know that my thoughts and responses reflect me, and who I am in this moment, at this time. Ask me these same questions 5 years later, and who knows what my responses will be.
“If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it”
– Toni Morrison
In my eyes this quote depicts my friend Chris. He has never been one that has complained about his life, although he has many reasons to feel as if life dealt him an unfair hand. When I see his posts, his videos, I see a man who has accepted that his past will never be his future. I see a man with confidence, determination, and the willingness to defy what society would have tried to place on him; failure…. but NOPE, he continues to grow and pay it forward by sharing his story with others!
I met “Chris Inspires You” in undergrad at the best HBCU; Can I get an Aggie Pride???
Yup…I hear it!
Over the years that I have known him, he has always been genuine, willing to be transparent in order to reach back and pay it forward, and he has always been so ecstatic about #ThisThingCalledLife…
What I have learned by watching clips of his videos and knowing his story is: while Iife might fail to provide you with a fair start, you have the ability to run your race and still make it to the finish line!
Chris is an amazing husband, father, and just overall person who desires to share his story to show our future that life happens, but you can always conquer...
And as Toni Morrison says, If you want to fly…..YUP…let it go! And my friend Chris’ story will empower you.
After you read about how Chris “INSPIRES,” please check out his links below and watch his most recent engagement. This is a man who understands the importance of hard work, remaining centered and focused, and believing in self.
How do you define yourself?
I’d define myself as a resilient champion, someone who is still growing, still realizing that there’s a real, true greatness in each person in this world and we feed that greatness with the things that we say, the things we think, the things we do and the type of people we choose to keep around us.
Discuss challenges you have overcome and are still overcoming?
I grew up largely in a single parent home with my father, who abused drugs and alcohol so much that he almost took his own life when I was 14. We moved eight different times from ages 5-16, from hood to hood, and resided in homes that were infested with roaches, communities that were littered with violence, drugs, prostitution and often had little food to eat or even clean clothes to wear. That. Was. Tough. But I honestly wouldn’t change it for the world. I do believe that challenges such as that shapes and molds you, helping to establish your foundation as you grow and become a better, stronger and more equipped leader. My upbringing in poverty in a single parent home never defined me. It prepared me. And even still, meeting my mom at 16 and still not having a strong relationship with her 20-some years later is an ongoing challenge that I’ve tried to channel and use it as fuel to be the very best father to my two sons. My mom, quite simply, doesn’t love me and has made it known. In her times of rage and anger, her go-to statement is “I could have thrown you in a trash can and no one would have ever known” and that’s as painful a statement as anyone can make, much less a parent to a child. My sons are getting old enough now to begin asking a lot of questions about my mother and as a father, I’ve got to be transparent with them and tell them the truth, as much as it may hurt. There are also challenges with growing success and those challenges sometimes come from those in the scope of your “circle.” As I’ve grown and have opted to be transparent with my story, some family have chided me and attempted to discredit my story for various reasons but namely because of embarrassment or an inability to see the silver linings in sheer transparency. Even after going off to college to earn a degree, there were some family and friends who’d make comments such as “you think you better than us,” comments that sting at its core, particularly for someone such as myself who worked sooooo hard to escape the grasp of poverty and wanted to make something of my life. Sometimes, these things will have you second-guess yourself and wonder whether success is worth it…..then you realize that not everyone will understand YOUR goals, dreams and desires. One of the foremost thoughts that remain present in my mind is this: This theory that you have something to lose by cutting folks off, trying something new or having a unique way of thinking is really just a delusion which limits ones ability to achieve his or her maximum potential. THAT RIGHT THERE is what drives me.
What is your current profession?
I am an Inspirational Speaker and Youth Development Leader.
Discuss your organization/ company. How can you be contacted and booked?
My Inspirational Speaking platform, ChrisInspiresYou, was founded in May 2016 and born of my vision to continue educating, empowering and inspiring young people to become the very best versions of themselves. The story is unique and certainly one that proves a resilient mentality and desire will often win out. ChrisInspiresYou grew up largely in a single-parent home with his father, who abused drugs and alcohol in Fayetteville, North Carolina’s poorest community and the 13th poorest in the state at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic. Chris, who didn’t formally meet his mother until he was 16 years old, spent a considerable amount of time looking for her and wondered why his mother didn’t want him or love him. Even after meeting his mother, she’d often, in moments of anger and frustration, call Chris names, berate his father and tell Chris “I could have thrown you in a garbage can somewhere and no one would have known.” Chris and his father moved eight times from roach-infested home to home from ages 5 to 16 because of eviction, with his father even spending time under the stars. They’ve spent time on the couches of other friends/family and his father stayed in a one-room motel for a lengthy period of time while he stayed with his grandmother during his latter years in high school. Having overcome this adversity with the strength of a support system who believed in him, including his dad, grandmother, several aunts and uncles, neighbors Mrs. Jones, Mrs. McEachern, Tonya, his youth league baseball and football coaches (Coach Blue, Coach Abraham and Coach Smokey) and a host of others, Chris went on to earn multiple college degrees and was honored for his public service and leadership with several high honors. He travels the states speaking to students about self-discovery, overcoming adversity and encouraging each to engage in service, which challenges them to become the best versions of themselves in spite of the challenges they face. Chris uses a unique approach that encourages young people to unpack their feelings of doubt, worthlessness, uncertainty and fear in a constructive manner which proves that they are not alone in their struggles.
My website is www.chrisinspiresyou.com and folks can follow me on IG, LinkedIn and Facebook @Chris Inspires You or using the hashtags #chrisinspiresyou, #educateempowerinspireserve or #inspirationalspeakerfromnc.
What was your motive for stepping out to share your story?
I’ve always felt that EVERYONE has a story to share and that by sharing YOUR story in YOUR way, you aren’t allowing others to write YOUR narrative. The big mistake that we sometimes make is that we attempt to tell others’ stories for them based on where they are from, how they look, who they are affiliated with and the like and ultimately, we end up not knowing a thing! As a person, you’ve got to take time to discover who you are, what you desire, what you like and what you suck at…..we all suck at something, right? Once we’re able to identify these things, we can then put our energy, effort and attention into the things we really, truly desire. My desire has always, and will always be, to push and challenge young people to become the best version of themselves and I’m a firm believer that God never put us on this Earth to just exist. We are here to lead with purpose and significance for others, more than ourselves so we can’t sit on our hands and waste the enormous gifts that God has provided us. Find something you enjoy doing and do it…A LOT! Our time here is limited so we’ve got to make the most of EVERY moment. Ultimately, people may forget your name, your affiliation and the like but a person will never, ever forget how you make them feel. My story, I hope, will make people feel like they are capable of sharing THEIR stories and doing the great things that they desire doing.
How do you feel this is a benefit to our youth?
Transparency will ALWAYS be a benefit to youth. Transparency often means love and love is THE most important, most powerful human emotion. I Love You are three of the most powerful words in the English language but is such a struggle for us to not only say to someone else but also to look ourselves in the mirror and say “I Love You.” Sharing YOUR story and being transparent is a byproduct of “I Love You” and every person, young or old, deserves transparency and deserves a love that is unfailing, undeniable and unmistakable. Even more, encouraging youth to embrace the struggle and understand the adversity will make the success feel that much better. You never want to forget those things…there’s a real beauty in that struggle that you’ve got to embrace. Losing/Adversity/Failure will teach you things that winning just simply can’t and once you begin to win, it’s an unstoppable force but with success comes more challenge and the better you prepare yourself NOW, the better prepared you’ll be at that time. Stay ready so you never have to get ready.
As a Black male, do you feel that the challenges you faced are or were because of your race?
The family challenges, no. Other challenges, perhaps at times but one must remember his or her purpose here. You’ve got to realize that you possess a gift and for some of us, we can see the gift…hear the gift…feel the gift. For others, it takes a little time to dig a little deeper to find that gift but it’s in there. Part of that gift, for me, is being a black male. I love being black. I love raising my handsome black sons and being married to a fine, strong, beautiful black woman. That makes my life as complete as you could imagine.
Do you feel successful?
Success is defined, in my opinion, by understanding who you are, what you like, what you desire and how you go about handling your life’s responsibilities. It ALL starts with how we choose to start our journeys…..how deeply we understand our roles, responsibilities and influence for those we lead…how MENTALLY, PHYSICALLY and EMOTIONALLY ready we are to do the kind of work that will drive thru communities and transcend an entire generation. I feel successful but I’m still grinding. I want more. I want to inspire more. I want people to feel personal success in such a way that it is an emotion that’s intoxicating.
What is the secret to your success?
I have no magic formula or secret to success. The mind controls the body so when the mind wants to win, the body follows.
You are in a Greek organization, would you share why you believe such organizations are important?
Greek life influences social life on many college campuses, particularly organizations whose focus remains on serving its community and uniting students. Speaking specifically from the perspective of a black student who earned degrees from an HBCU and a PWI, it is, in my opinion, critically important in the black community as greek organizations unite students who often share similar ideals, beliefs and core principles. The histories of each organization is rich and can be viewed by many as part of the foundation for one’s collegiate experience.
What mantra do you life by?
I have a few but the one that knocks them all over is this: You can never ever expect little of yourself and demand great results. The other is this: Your structures may be fractured but your foundation still stands. When I look in the mirror and remind myself of these things, I’m ready to grind. I’m ready to win. I’m ready to challenge myself to be the best version of myself while encouraging others to do much the same.
Do you have fears or concerns for your son?
Absolutely. As a father, my two sons are the wind beneath the wings of my life and I realize that growing up in the 80’s/90’s is considerably different than growing up now. They’ll experience challenges that I never even had to think about. Social media is often a driving force behind so much that is happening these days and we can’t shield them from EVERYTHING. What we CAN do however is keep them rooted in their foundational principles…God, love, service and respect.
What do you wish you would have known when you were a teenager?
I wish I had developed stronger relationships with family and friends. This isn’t to say that I lack strong relationships but as I’ve said, love is such a powerful emotion and when you show love and feel loved, it changes the trajectories of one’s life. Not having my mother around caused me to put up a shield, a barrier and not allow everyone in. I was often embarrassed by my circumstances but I wish I had embraced it much sooner, thus allowing that energy to flow naturally to those around me.
Last words for the readers?
As the late, great Dr. Maya Angelou once said, “You may encounter many defeats but you must not be defeated.”
ChrisInspiresYouThree-time award winning and seven-time award nominated Inspirational Speaker and Youth Director
JUST BElieve in YOUrself
Chris’ recent engagements: https://www.chrisinspiresyou.com speaking-engagements
Earlier this year I presented to a group of White women. I only say White women to help the readers understand the importance of being objective and understand that we all think differently based on the way we were raised, our environments, and especially our….privilege…
My topic was “Strategies For Assisting With Reluctant Readers.” I was extremely aware of the demographic that would be present; White women and a few Black women and maybe a handful of males. I was extremely aware of the solutions that I have heard over and over and OVER and OVER… about helping reluctant readers….I was extremely aware of the challenges that educators face with teaching…reluctant readers … I AM also very familiar with why those solutions will never ever ever work and why those challenges are not really there. It is a figment of …their…her…his…imagination.
For some it might seem as if I discuss racial issues a lot, but in reality it really is not discussed enough. Its always that elephant …or rhinoceros in the room. People think they are showing just how non-racist and objective and fair they are to our young people by taking them in their homes or teaching about Rosa Parks and MLK. Oh….whoa…there is more to diversity than that.
Individuals prefer to parallel the issues that Blacks still face and have faced 50 years ago, 75 years ago, 100 years ago, 200 years ago to those of ….well let me be quiet…
But as I continue to highlight Black men who are truly uplifting and strong and leaders of our community, I must highlight one that is close to me. This is my….can I say..baby daddy? (It’s my blog so I guess I can say what I want…🤷🏽♀️) I mean…we were married before, we speak very often, and we respect each other….and the way I have always understood this word….well…I’ll just say, my son’s dad because as hard as I have been on him, he has truly been one of the best people I have had in my life…
From being the support when our son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, to being that positive energy when our son was in a coma and doctors said he would not make it, we have supported each other. Even taking my advice when I have noticed things, he has shown our son how life makes us grow and learn from our mistakes. Less than seven months ago he was on a virtual call with me when our son almost passed out again from a diabetes related incident and as a team, we are always able to remain strong.
Regardless of life lessons I have learned, he listens and offers words of solace and always compliments me and tells me how great of a mom I am. This is definitely not the norm for many divorced couples, but we realize the importance of raising a Black male (yup… I am reiterating race again) in our America.
Mike is not just a great father, but he is a great police officer. Too often we do not take the time to uplift those officers or see the day to day issues that they face; particularly those Black men. They are disrespected, they have to deal with the double consciousness of being Black and a cop.
I applaud him, I pray for him, I admire the relationship that he has with his son. I sometimes smile at how attentive he has become to things that I share with him regarding his son and how he has taken moments to reflect. I am proud that I have such a respectful relationship with him and our son sees this.
We both agree that our son will turn out to be great and it is not because he is perfect or because he instantly learns the lessons that we and others around us try to instill, but it is because he sees and feels the love that we have for him and the respect that we show each other even when we have disagreed.
On Mother’s Day weekend, I applaud the father of my only child and thank him for the gift of having our own #GreatnessinTheMakingBlackMan
Thanks Michael Shaun for sharing….
YOU; Black Father, Entrepreneur…
I am a person who truly is “living the American dream.” I hear that quoted statement all the time from my colleagues in a sarcastic manner, but I say it with no sarcasm. I am “middle class,” educated, optimistic, happy, self aware, hardworking, humble, kind, odd, black father. Most of the time I feel like I am an alien, like artist Lil’ Wayne says, when I socialize with other members of our society. I am okay with it.
I am a police officer who patrols the lower economic, mostly black populated, area of a city. Since I can remember, I have always been fascinated with uniformed clothing professions. I grew up with a mother and father who wore uniforms in their line of work; military, post office and police. When I was nine years old, I attended my father’s graduation from the F.B.I. National Academy in Quantico. I was highly impressed by the facility and the men and women of the academy. Ever since that significant experience, I had an interest in being and F.B.I. Agent. I later learned, as an adult, being a police officer for a few years was the easiest path to becoming accepted in the F.B.I. Academy. Overtime, my interest in F.B.I. has weakened and my interest in remaining as a uniform police officer working in community I call “mine,” has grown.
Ironically, I promote positivity amongst my race by having an extreme positive attitude or optimistic dialogue with men and women of color. I also use media platforms to share positive content or create original positive content. I think positivity is one of three or four attributes that need to be used and shared by anyone to become successful in life; including financial, emotional, mental and spiritual success. (https://youtu.be/uZWI7xqYMbo)
Challenges as a black man in American law enforcement is the challenge of satisfying commanding officers and civilians that I swore to protect and serve simultaneously. On one side; we have old school police mentality, high ranking officers who do not know or forgot the culture of the majority of the people that we serve. On the other side; we have civilians who don’t trust police due to unwanted encounters with police, dislike or distrust opinions of the police due to unwanted encounters passed down from generation to generation and negative stereotypes (mostly created by media biases) ingrained in their minds. Imagine the challenge for a black female in my male dominant profession?
The biggest challenge I have as a professional black man is anything that I am involved in and has “profession” attached to it, seems like I have to accomplish more than the white man for us to be look at equal value in the thoughts of the person, group or organization in control of that profession. I am afraid of what I will find if I dig any deeper after inquiring many of my peers’ education history. So far, every black officer I know has a four year college degree and/or military experience but a few white officers I know have only a high school diploma and no military experience.
I overcame and overcome obstacles by using same formula every successful person I know, read about and watched overcame their obstacles. I believe the formula works for all people disregard of person’s “race, color, religion, national origin or citizenship status, sex, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, sexual orientation, age, disability, military status” and social economic class.
The formula is I am grateful for all I have regardless of quantity or quality, holding myself more accountable to things occurring in my life, not blaming others for my mishaps of failures, becoming more self aware of my weaknesses and strengths/gifts, doubling down on my strengths/gifts, using my strengths/gifts with empathy to help others via hard work and patience and not expecting anything in return.
I do not have any specific day to day mantra. Anytime my mind is idle or I feel a sense of complaint surfacing, I think or vocalize a list of as many things I have and express my gratitude for each and every noun that comes to mind.
I do not know how I manage everything I do. That is a weakness I am still working on. As mentioned earlier, self awareness is part of overcoming an obstacle. For now, I live one day at a time and I prioritized matters in order I think is best for all that is affected by the decision I make. Sometimes, I have to make a hard decision of saying “no” to make my tasks manageable.
People inspire me. Observing optimistic people who are aware of their gifts and use their gifts to propel themselves and others to success without compromising inspires me. My son and the potential I see in my son’s success and contribution to our society also inspire me.
The advice for any young black man who is facing challenges and trying to move up is use the tools listed in this blog.
Follow Mike at:
His YouTube channel: 2 Cops Inside the Uniform
Are you Greek???
Check out his Greek gear:
I’ve always been around great people. He actually pushes me to focus when we were in high school. No words except… kudos!! Keep uplifting…
As we continue to celebrate our black males, let’s give this young man and round of applause!!
A black male that is truly an inspiration ..