For parents, mentors, coaches, barbers, ministers, and other caring adults:
They say Black boys don’t read. I disagree. I say too few books are written with Black boys as the audience. I say too many families and schools aren’t cultivating the inherent genius of Black boys and encouraging them to read. I say the world is afraid to find out what happens when Black boys turn into powerful Black men.
This book is about family. It’s more of a personal book than an expert book. I hope it raises more questions than provides answers. It’s designed to facilitate meaningful conversations that result in stronger families. This book focuses on Black families, because that’s where I come from. And since it’s a personal book, I want to share from a place that I’m most familiar. I hope, though, that people of all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, classes, religions, and shoe sizes find the book useful. Some topics require specific attention but that doesn’t have to cause division.
Black families have lots of challenges, so there are lots of opportunities for solutions. One solution is to develop stronger men. Which will create stronger partners in relationships. And stronger fathers. But first, we must figure out what a “strong man” is. How does one become such a thing, and what are the obstacles? We, as men, have to think and talk about how our relationships with women impact our manhood (and are impacted by our manhood). We must also realize that there’s really no such thing as “a strong man”. There are many different ways to express manhood. And strength does not always roar. Often strength is compassion. Or tenderness, or humility.
Lots of programs and organizations have been designed to help Black boys. Meanwhile, the most fundamental unit of organization continues to suffer: the family. It is much easier to blame all Black family problems on “the system” but we must also consider how conflict within our own communities is also a factor. We may be hurting ourselves faster than any organizations or programs can help save us.
Most family institutions are structured around the stability of the primary unit: the relationship between adult male and adult female. Black families often include extended members in useful ways. In addition, there are other types of relationships that families are centered around: men loving men, women loving women, polygamous families, etc. This book, however, will focus on one-on-one heterosexual relationships, since that is still the primary arrangement for most Black families. Other family structures must also be written about and discussed, but by someone with more personal experience in those areas than I have. The identity, socialization and power dynamics of same sex and polygamous families deserve specific attention.
We know from the heterosexual divorce statistics, single parent mother statistics and from our own lives that Black folk are having a difficult time creating and maintaining healthy relationships. Often because some of the fundamental elements of successful relationships are missing: trust, compatibility, honest communication, and community support.
There are a lot of books about relationships, but their audience tends to be women. Women are talking in salons, re-posting blogs, going to seminars, having book clubs, watching Oprah’s network, and whatever other stereotypical things men think women do. The point is women are encouraging each other to think about healthy relationships more frequently than men. There is no such parallel process for men. So I often wonder, when women figure out all the secrets to the dating game, who are they supposed to partner with?
This book focuses on the men. We should prepare young men for relationships while they’re in their early stages of developing identity, manhood, and their ideas about women.
This book is a socialization tool. Too often young men develop their ideas about relationships and women through socialization tools that lack the benefit of caring adults with valuable experience. A lot of socialization happens through peers, and is guided by media images and messages. Or mis-guided, because media producers are also motivated by money, not just wellness.
The power to change the circumstances of Black families is within us. We have everything we need. Which does not ignore the aggressive, systematic, and diverse attacks against Black families. Embedded in the social, political, and historical narrative of this country and many other countries are deliberate strategies to maintain institutions that elevate White/European descendants and keep Black /African descendants struggling to survive. It’s an old story. It’s a familiar story. And it’s a story that’s coming to its end.
As the world evolves so do the challenges of Black people. It’s not as simple as a Black vs. White problem anymore. In many cases the sources of attack have become more difficult to detect. As Black people have fought for and achieved access to money, opportunity, and decision making roles we have often had to make compromises to maintain that “success”. And the ascension of a few has done little to affect the well-being of the masses.
The young men that really need to read this book may not do so willingly. As their parents, mentors, teachers, etc. it will be important for you to create incentives for them to read. For example, don’t buy him another pair of shoes or another video game until he has read. Or offer him his favorite meal and some extra time with you after he writes a page of reflection for each chapter. Sit and listen to the music in the mixtape with him and discuss how the themes compare to what he already listens to. Also, since we know too many schools aren’t preparing them properly, some young men may have a difficult time actually reading and comprehending, so read it with them. Be prepared to disagree with some of the points I make. That’s a good thing, because it creates opportunities to engage young people in critical conversations.
This is a book about relationships. On one hand, it’s about fostering healthy relationships between young men and young women. And young men and themselves. At the same time, it is about your relationship, as a caring adult, with the young people in your life. It’s not enough to hand the book to a young man. Even if you feel unqualified to guide a young person for whatever reason, this book is designed to assist you. You have to read it with him, talk about where you agree and disagree, stay engaged in conversations and relationships with him, and do your absolute best to show him peaceful, loving, productive relationships by demonstrating it in your own life.