I was thirteen years old. I’ll never forget the sounds of the buckles, straps, and buttons on my football equipment. The three week old cut grass smell ran wild through the air as my teammates and I gathered into a circle for a helmet clashing session of post practice “bull in the ring.” You see, I had two problems growing up: I was hella small and I loved big challenges. So, of course coach put a human twice my size in the ring with me, and of course I stood taller than I actually was, kept myself low, and SMACKED him with full force. When I rose, my head was ringing because I had just thrown my entire mind, body, and soul at another human. And because of the resulting cheers, laughter, and excitement. I had flipped a giant. At this moment, for the first time, I went from being underestimated to respected— a common theme through this wicked life for my family, my foster family, and me. For us all.
Let’s double back even farther, back to 88. My Mother, Beverly, brought me into this world on May 26, 1988. My Foster Mother became my mother not too many hours later. Mother’s shrieks of agony and joy rang loud, and echoed through hospital hallways, alleyways and sometimes subways. Beverly’s piercing falsetto grew more distant every second, every day, every week, until I was two years old—when we were reunited. Harold, My Father, hasn’t shared a breath over a phone call, a secret handshake, or a talk about how to go from zero to 100 real quick with the ladies. Ever.
Her agony and joy became mine, a shriek I never shared out loud because I looked around and saw nothing and no one to share a single emotion with. I couldn’t be weak in my Jamaican household, and I couldn’t be weak in the streets where I befriended the boys from cross town reppin’ their sets and pushing their packs.
Alone. Another theme in my childhood, teenage, and adult life. I can still feel the cold blade on my right cheek, a helpless boy faced by his helpless mother. Helpless beings trying to exist in a helpless world.
What does a boy do when trapped? He seeks. He creates. He lives.
We’re left to be raised by idealized, romanticized icons. Praising the Two Three, Michael Jordan, or attempting to perfect our moonwalk and tenor tones to achieve Michael Jackson heights on American Idol. Writing rhyme after rhyme, and bars in our Mead notebooks. Erasing the fiction-filled tales of childhood novels, while replacing the mental space with Jay-Z stardom.
Well, here I stand, here we stand. Creating. Living.
We stand navigating a world of “glass half empty” gazes, faced with short broken glass shards of promises to swallow. A country for the people, by the people, who seem to have forgotten about us…people.
You see, I’ve slept on a mattress, with no bed frame, and no headboard. Just a mattress on the floor of a dark dingy warehouse with no shower, no kitchen, and barely any sunlight. Invisible to the world, the government, family, friends, and society.
But, I still fought. For freedom, far from fearful. Stepping up to every circumstance and challenge with a stern face and fist. With a mental toughness that’s innate in all of us. We are the hope for the hopeless.
Here we sit, the forgotten few—together—while an infinite number of brothers and sisters are fighting their societal projections. Exhausted, and on their last leg and breath every day. Where ignorance is a burden, glimmers of hope come in the form of hashtags like: #BlackLivesMatter and #ForgottenFew.
Whether it’s on a park bench or in a warehouse, we fall victim to becoming our societal projections—invisible, insecure, lost. How does one become fulfilled when they’ve never been full? When no one has poured into them? When they were born in a dry well in the middle of nowhere? It takes a kind, courageous, and adventurous heart and a selfless act of compassion.
I ask. No, I scream, I beat my chest, I roar. Give yourself permission to be okay with the suffering, the dark side, because we wouldn’t be here were it not for all these indifferent acts. No, I didn’t have a father, but a had tribe of role models: my immigrant family, who rolled their sleeves up and took on the American Dream how they wanted it. They stood strong together, and pushed me to work harder and harder to never make their minimums my maximums.
Just as we stand here today with pride, it’s our job to come together, to own the title, Forgotten Few, and be role models for our fellow brothers and sisters still hidden amongst the many.
So I ask, how will you stand tall? Will you be:
- That resourceful scrappy teacher in North Philly with no budget, but a fire inside to make sure your students have an art class (with art supplies) and can grasp the idea of art as a concept?
- That thought leader diving into the history of African American culture and societal issues to help support activism one rally, sit-in, and advocacy campaign at a time?
- The young face at the police academy crushing the course, being a protector of the future, holding your peers more accountable, and sacrificing yourself to create change from the inside out?
- That real estate mogul protecting the integrity of our communities and cultures across this nation and the world?
- The entrepreneur creating new waves in your industry, pushing everyone around you to be better, faster, and stronger, while creating new economy?
We are the light for the kids. We must be the role models. We are upward mobility. We are the Forgotten Few.
Dem Nah stop us now or EVAH. Today and forever we will be respected.