by Sylvester Brown, Jr.
March 22, 2020
|Photo by Kathleen Wyatt|
Today’s my birthday. It also happens to be another day when millions around the world are gripped by fear of a pandemic of monstrous proportions. Like so many others, I’m at home, being cautious. But I'm also grateful and reflective.
I’m grateful to still be here. I’m relatively healthy; so many I have known at my age (older or younger) have transitioned. I’m blessed to still be dreaming, creating and doing my dead level best to be a contribution to the world. At the ripe age of 63, I’m humbled to have so many people who know me, read me, support me and some…even love me.
It’s been a wild, crazy, wonderful journey. Poverty, an absentee father, low self-esteem, poor choices positioned me to be a young statistic. I was a high school dropout, a busboy, a “gas man,” drug abuser and philanderer. Raised in the cocoon of a rigid but nurturing religion, I was not prepared for the realities of racism. In my early 20s, I was a hot mess in need of direction. I was self-destructive, hurting myself and the ones who loved me. The gift of words, books, knowledge of self and my unique history woke me up and put me on a new path.
In my early 20s, I was a hot mess in need of direction. I was self-destructive, hurting myself and the ones who loved me.
Armed with a sense of purpose, I started my own publication. There, for 15 years, under the tutelage and company of some very talented people, I learned to write and established a voice. The written word became my shield, my armor, my sword. It was my comforter, enforcer and arsenal before and after my tenure at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It was the resource needed when I went to work for Tavis Smiley, working with him and other great writers like Tom Burrell and Cornel West. Writing, researching, being aware of the history and plight of my people convinced me to start a nonprofit aimed at teaching young people who share my hue and impoverished background to become entrepreneurs in their own neighborhoods by growing and selling food.
It’s as if all things in my life-bad, good or horrible-prepared me, projected me to a new place or new vista. Looking back, I sense divine, universal intervention or guidance. From the time I was a little, bitty boy to now, as a seasoned griot, I have had benevolent people who believed in me and walked me to opportunity. It's something I will never forget and will pay forward.
So, on this day of my birth, I reflect on our current challenge, my next chapter and new opportunities. I’ve placed the Sweet Potato Project on hold for now. It has outgrown my meager skills. My goal is to put it under the umbrella of a larger, better funded organization. I am still convinced and committed to the notion that the only way out (and up) for my people is to go back to the mission that Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, MLK and Malcolm X preached-we must find a way to do-for-self. We must resist the greater society’s intent to define us by our worst and redefine ourselves by our best. The plight of the poor and disenfranchised is once again endangered. Always remember our proud history of resiliency, tenacity, creativity and our legacy of surviving and thriving under horrific and inhumane circumstances.
There is no better time than now, under the siege of this worldwide pandemic, to remember who we are and how far we’ve come. Of course, other races, other groups of people have suffered oppression and hardship. For me though, I'm impacted and shaped by the history of black people who have survived social, civil, political and economic epidemics for centuries. I'm inspired by the fact that we’re still here. We're still dreaming, still hoping and still fighting.
Now is the time to reflect on the lessons of our parents, our grandparents and ancestors. Remember those old remedies, cost-effective meals and common-sense warnings. Remember how we, as communities, knew each other, looked out for one another’s kids, pooled our resources and depended on each other, because institutionalized racism and segregation gave us no choice.
Now is the time to reflect on the lessons of our parents, our grandparents and our ancestors. Remember those old remedies, cost-effective meals and common-sense warnings.
Yes, like so many of you, I worry about the direction of this country. The fact that an uninformed, narcissistic, pathological liar oversees our government, especially during this health crisis, should concern us all. Yet, even if Trump disappeared tomorrow, corporate greed, “exceptionalism” and the erosion of the constitution all dressed up as “capitalism” is the new norm. We have work to do.
I worry about the direction of this country. The fact that an uninformed, narcissistic, pathological liar oversees our government, especially during this health crisis, should concern us all.
During these times of fear and forced isolation, I rely on my favorite Scripture, Psalm 46:10: "Be still, and know that I am God.” You can take this literally or philosophically. For me it means, slow down, reflect on your blessings, those you love and those who love you. It means there’s divine wisdom in the universe no matter how bad things may appear.
During these times of fear and forced isolation, I rely on my favorite Scripture, Psalm 46:10:
"Be still, and know that I am God."
You, me, us we…we woke up breathing today. That means we have another shot. We have another chance to, like Dr. King said, “help somebody with a word or song.” We have another chance to make a better world for our kids.
Thank you for indulging me on this my born day. My hope is to share my honest reflections and leave you with two words that I hope gives you some level of comfort: