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When I was a kid, even though I always received accolades based on my excellent academic abilities, I never believed all the hype.
I used to be not just humble, but meek. I was always teased on for being rail thin and not having any sort of muscle definition. I was the skinny black nerdy kid almost all my life. The nerds among us understand how hurtful it is when you're constantly passed up for basketball or other activities in elementary school because people just don't think you have any athleticism whatsoever.
I struggle to this day with that athletic insecurity. When I was playing lacrosse for CMU, I never wanted to commit the sort of time it took to get better because I began to think it was futile to teach myself new tricks. I began to think that since I'd always been labeled unathletic that I should stick to the books and stop wasting mine and everyone else's time.
Well, the other source of insecurity for me was my skin tone, especially in middle school when I was super awkward. I was constantly being compared to my good friend at the time Sam; people used to call him blacky and darky and a host of other names. I received a good share of the ridicule for my dark brown skin. Growing up I can still remember people, family members saying that I would look better if I was lighter. Girls used to comment like "damn, you need to stop playing outside."
My own family members particularly the females used to comment about the quality of my skin tone, saying if you were lighter like your little brother you would be so handsome. Back then, people were probably just trying to get a rise out of me, particularly my sisters and other relatives who said these things, but they have had an undeniable impression on my psychological development. I was so depressed when I was a kid that I used to ask God, "why didn't you make me lighter like my little brother?" I thought no one would ever love me for me. It was so awful.
My father has always been an intimidating person in my life, not only because he's revered by many, but he has high expectations. I was told time and again by him that I wasn't working hard enough. Even though I was naturally gifted, I never strove to learn more than I had to and now I'm reaping the consequences. My disinterest in learning independently began when I was sought out for gifted in the first grade. I felt uncomfortable being labeled "gifted." Gifted meant not having people play with you during recess, not being a kid, not being one of the popular kids, teachers asked me if I wanted to skip grades and all I thought of was how I could ruin my chances of being "popular." I did not want to be the lonely smart kid in my school.
It was all a vicious cycle of self-loathing and self-destruction. My insecurities started really coming through in high school though when I was usually the only black male in all of my advanced placement or honors courses. I could literally count on one finger how many other black men were in these classes with me, even though Lely, my old school had a large percentage of African American and Haitian people compared to other area high schools.
I knew that my college readiness began much earlier than high school that these things had been in the making since I was at least 10, but sadly most of the boys in my peer group were unaware of how far they now lagged behind. I saw their lives ending in tragedy. Most of the people that I grew up with have children and haven't completed their college education, those that still go to school are having tough lives trying to pay out of pocket. It's a life that I never ever wanted.
I decided to not be like the rest of the black guys when, at the tender age of 14, my friend Maria became pregnant. Maria and I had a little puppy love going on in middle school and then she had a baby for one of my "best" friends at the time. It was devastating emotionally. I thought, wow, I have friends who are parents and they can't even drive or work a full time job.
I became self-conscious about my not having even had sex at a young age. I thought that I was never going to find someone, I should not have been thinking about sex and girls at such a young age, but society makes black boys grow up a lot quicker than we might like.
For instance, black males are exposed to all types of crude sexual behavior in the form of music videos. We're taught to believe that a man cares about his skills in the bedroom and not his books. A man doesn't read, he fucks!
Well, I'm glad that I never completely accepted that narrow definition of what a man should be. Although, I found myself becoming more of a stereotype in college consequently.
The very thing that I had worked hard not to become was now my identity.
I listened to rap music almost exclusively until high school when I began exploring different genres. One of my good friends recommended Pink Floyd and I fell in love with Dark Side of the Moon. I also got into old acts like the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Led Zeppelin, and Bob Dylan.
I was becoming more nuanced and cultured, but then I sort of reverted back to rap in college freshman year because I was still on my afro-centric tip. I had actually made it to college, and not just any college Carnegie Mellon University, a world-renowned institution of higher learning. I got cocky, lazy, and started thinking that I was entitled to an award for having made it far, farther than anyone could have predicted. I was especially proud of myself for being one of the only ones out of my friends to not receive either an ROTC or athletic scholarship (not that there's anything wrong with those) but I was proud of being recognized for my intellectual rather than physical abilities.
I rejected all athletics and grew to parody those who participated in them. I was slowly becoming a bitter individual. I was too jealous to admit that I secretly still craved the attention that the fit brothers received from the women. All my life I struggled with the notion that I should be promiscuous because for so many around me that was the quintessential norm.
I should have been keeping my eyes on the prize always, that college degree. It's the most important slip of paper that I will ever receive in life. It demonstrates my commitment to learning. After all, we all have it in us to learn, some more than others.
Over the course of this weekend, I have so much to look forward to, papers, exams, and more work. It's actually a blessing to not have real problems on my mind. I could be a father, or trying to pay for my education all by myself, granted I have financial issues, but even those can be helped by the 'rents.
I have it easy now...it's funny to look back now to that time in my life when I thought I'd be the nervous little boy forever.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
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