Updated: Nov 23
I woke up and chose violence. I chose violence against personalities I had created in my mind. I had entrusted them to guide me and support my journey. What started out as a battle for one became a war for many. I thought I knew who I was in the midst of the war but I continued to struggle to arrive when it mattered most. I realized I was a prop and not a person. I was in a tug of war in my mind. I was stuck somewhere between insecure and ambitious, enraged and self-righteous, holy and secular. I was constantly plunged between two realities with two possible outcomes. It was hell in my mind. I woke up today and chose violence over my identity and the need to please people.
Self-expression has always been a challenge for me. For some, expression is as simple as a quick edgy photo, complementary filter with a subliminal caption posted on Instagram. Bam! You're literally the coolest person in the world in 3 seconds these days. For me...well, it's not that simple. Because of my chosen system of beliefs there has always been a thin line between expression and carnality. My internal conflict was with who I allowed to call the measure of the two; God, people or my own convictions. Now, this won’t be a “woe is me” blog about how I’m limited as an artist because I believe in Jesus. I have learned to not allow my intentional decisions to breed resentment or regret. I would rather accept the lessons and focus on all I had to gain from them. I always knew there was a space where my expression could serve my beliefs as well as myself. Nonetheless, the struggle for contentment and catchy content has absolutely been real.
It is worth mentioning that I was born in the late 80’s. I was born in an era where expression was being forced upon America; enter Madonna and Prince. However, so many forms of expression were still taboo and only excused for the sake of rock n’ roll. I was raised in the 90’s; the era of hard core gangsta rap music, the million man march and the Nation of Islam movement that seemed to emerge as a result of the 92’ movie, Malcolm X. Then there was the Denzel Washington, who defined the ideal black man, all the Spike Lee joints, Michael Jordan, Deon Sanders, etc. The 90’s literally was the era of masculinity. Humph...needless to say I kept my theater aspirations and primary colors to myself.
Every Sunday, I happily attended a Baptist church in my hometown where holiness was still right. I lived in choir robes and good church shoes. I modeled my praise after the deacons and desired to be “up right” like them. Then it hit, The new millennium, floating in on the opening of RENT on Broadway, fluorescent colors and Will Smith’s album “Willennium.” Things were looking up for a suppressed, emerging artist like me. Maybe there was a place for my bigger than life ideas and poetic approaches? I hoped to no avail. I still hid in the shadows awaiting affirmation from my “brothas” for manhood, in fear that my aspirations for canvas’ and musical numbers would be misunderstood and seen as flamboyant. I was afraid that my gifts and talents would be seen as arrogance and worldly. I was a baby and this was the formation of the foundation I would crawl and walk on. Humility > confidence.
My fear of judgement made me indecisive even in my career choices. Was I to follow my heart in the arts or do “what pays the bills?” I often chose the latter expecting fulfillment to come from the praise of people or the success of my decision to settle. Fulfillment never came and the praise was never enough. Complacency is always an option when you're unstable in your mind. Whatever works, whatever quiets the torment of suppressed ambitions; that is your recourse. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t turn down opportunities to take risks and believe in myself in order to save face and appear mature and responsible to my imaginary naysayers. The unfortunate reality is, even if I did have a single naysayer, I don’t remember them or they were not significant enough to stifle my purpose. Yet, they did. I allowed it. Fear of judgement tugged and forced me into confusion in the mud more times than I like to acknowledge. Do I recall being discouraged? Have I had evil words said against me? Were there people who abused my gifts or mocked what they didn’t understand? Yes. Absolutely. Again, none of them should have been given the power that I gave them. I weaponized my own demons and was perplexed as to why my tugging at life never resulted in a win. My face in the mud... again.
Choosing corporate over creative and conforming into a role of assimilation is not my idea of freedom. But, there I was cutting off my Afro, two strand twists and starter locs to be accepted in a world who saw me as less valuable and unkempt because of my hair. This is not my story alone. I’ve had many conversations with black men who have had to deny their culture and expression in order to satisfy the status quo. This is a big ask for a race of people who are already oppressed and stripped of identity. Yet, I’ve answered in obedience and journeyed on with the hope that the end of my corporate climb will justify the means. Truth be told, I like a tapered fade every now and then but my competence should not be defined by it.
Everyday I struggle to tame the rage of a black man in America. Relax. I’m not angry at anyone. I’m just a BLACK MAN IN AMERICA. There is an innate righteous anger in me that I inherited and has constantly been proven as a necessity to survive in this country. Passing as whole and not traumatized has become a
routine double life. I sat across tables advocating for the voiceless with facts, figures and unapologetic reality. In the end, all that seems to matter is diplomacy and your ability to play the game without bruising egos. As an advocate , I deal in harsh realities. As a black man, I deal in harsh realities. The results of my efforts should never be predicated on if someone likes me or not ...but this is America. My fear has been that my passion for what is right would paint me as the “angry black man.” The truth is, I am, but not with a chip on my shoulder. I am in a passionate pursuit of solutions for myself and those I speak for. The world's perception of me and my own is a burden I gladly lay down. No more tugging one way or the other.
I believe we all have internal conflicts that challenge who we want to become and who we are destined to be, everyday. Those conflicts do not have to consume you. I woke up today and chose violence over my identity. The image that I was created in is worth fighting for. I am no longer in agreement with the double minded man I used to be; unstable in all my ways. The fear of judgement and the need to please people was never my portion to have. I wore it as my identity, but It did not serve me. I freed myself from unrealistic expectations and insignificant perceptions. Tormenting and toxic thoughts have no place here in my mind. It feels great in this new space I have proclaimed for myself. I am proof that you may lose that battle a few times because you are human. Yet, the war is yours for the taking if you accept that you are enough right in the moment. Realizing the source of your identity wins the war. I woke up today.