What piqued my curiosity about was a post for the Knight Foundation by Trabian Shorters formally announcing the program. Shorters' story sounded oddly similar to my own. He describes his grandfather as the paragon of his family. He had a number of men who made it their business to be involved in his life, a fact he did not recognize until he was at a conference in Philadelphia. I didn't realize just how many men stepped up to help me until Gumpy passed away.
Shorters was particularly profound when he said,
I had all these things. My grandfather, rest his soul, was the paragon of our family. My uncle Charles went off and fought in Vietnam, returned home and raised his family through whatever may come. My mother dated a man named Swoop who did right by us ‘til the day he died.
Yet I had stood here and dishonored all these men because I had become so used to focusing on what was missing that I neglected what was there.
Fact of the matter is, I would not be here now were it not for everyday men like these who do more than their part to lead others in the right way to go.For me, it was men like Cleo Prescott who gave me my first job and helped teach me patience. Or Dennis Vanderhoef who taught me how to play the trombone, took me bow hunting and let me raise his raccoon hunting dog George Butch. Or Bob Siple who taught me exactly what a hard day of work was really all about. Or Darwin Foster who let me use a cell phone for the first time back when the phone was the size of a briefcase. Or Gumpy, who taught me patience, golf, how to talk with people of all stripes, the value of understanding politics, how to love my family and many other invaluable life lessons.
In reality, this list is much longer. It really did take the village of Vermontville to raise me. And I am fortunate to have the opportunity to show my appreciation. Not everyone is so fortunate.
BME is a way for black men and boys to stop the bravado that is normally associated with being a man, replacing the bravado with true appreciation for the men in their lives who are role models. It gives them a chance to recognize the little things these men do to positively impact their community. The challenge does specifically focus on black men, which is fine with my world view given how many men of color this country insists on imprisoning each year. The boys that are left behind need to see examples of hope and service by people who look like them, or they risk believing that their fate is to live a life as a caged man.
But the challenge really should extend to all men. A man accepting to share his emotions is often met with questions about our sexual orientation, jokes about losing our manhood or outright humiliation if he is not careful. It generally causes us to shove those feelings aside, ignoring the need to give sincere thanks until it is too late. Thank goodness I had a grandfather who wasn't afraid to express his emotions!
Sieze the day men. Start small if necessary. But start thanking the men in your life who have made a positive difference. Make BME an inspiration for appreciation.