32 before 32 – Lesson 20: Be the Adult You Needed when You were a Kid

Whenever you are reading this I am excited for you because we have reached what I have called a mile marker in our 32 before 32 series. This post, in addition to 30 and 32 will be longer posts that highlight what I believe are the most important foundational pillars of who I am as a person. Because these mile marker posts will be longer, I will spend more time writing on these aspects of the lessons that have shaped me into the man I am now.

Let’s hook the kids in right away. Hamilton is still cool right? It is? Grand!

Okay, lets talk about Hamilton, every accolade that has been given to the show is justly deserved all these years later. With it’s meteoric rise around the world numerous official and non-official merchandise has been put into circulation to try to grab on the rocket that is Hamilton. One of them is a book highlighting the creative process and people behind the show. It is called “Hamilton: The Revolution” by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. In the book there are breakdowns of all the songs in the show including notes about lyrics from songs, pictures of the performers and behind the scenes looks into the process. What is most fascinating in my opinion is the cast/creative profiles. The principle actors all get in depth looks into their individual stories that brought them to the show. Daveed Diggs, the actor who portrayed Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson, is one that I keep coming back to whenever I open the book. Diggs, an Oakland native, talks about his unconventional upbringing and path to the show. Diggs talks specifically about how if he saw a black man playing either George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or James Madison when he was younger, it would have changed his life. It strikes me in a different way because here’s this successful actor, pin pointing a time in his life where he needed something as a child, and by happenstance he became what he needed when he was a kid.

Yay Hamlet!

For my 20th post, I talk about the importance of becoming someone you needed as a child. It is interesting that I am in my 30s and constantly reflecting on what events in my past has lead me to who I am now. As a child I was not in a lot of dire situations where I had a lack of proper support or love, and I acknowledge how privileged I am to say that. My needs as a kid were almost always met and because of that, I developed a strong bit of independence and grit. I learned to manage for self over the course of being young. However, there were some instances in my childhood where I didn’t have something and it felt a bit off when I reflect upon it as an adult. My first instance is this: I never had a black teacher growing up.

Going into my 8th year being an educator, I have been a lot of kids’ first black and male teacher. What an honor but also all the pressure.

As is common in American education, the first 6 years of my school life I was taught by amazing, caring and most of all patient women who were partially responsible (my family was the other part) for instilling in me the importance of being a good student, working hard and challenging myself to grow. But in all that time, I just thought that women mostly taught elementary school and males, if they did teach at all, taught after elementary school. I didn’t have my first full time male teacher until 6th grade, my science/math teacher. In fact my time from 6-12th grade I had more male teachers to make up for the lack of while in elementary schools. Now what I am saying is something that is not terribly uncommon. Male teachers tend to be in the secondary grades and focus on subjects rather than focusing on the emotional teaching that is heavily required in the primary grades. From k-12 I had 3 substitute teachers who were black, and they were all women, which is again not terribly uncommon occurrence. From time to time I would find myself reflecting: “why don’t I have black teachers?” I knew black people were teachers; My grandparents, great aunts, uncles, and even my parents have all worked in education in some capacity. I saw other schools that have black science, math, reading teachers when I was a kid. But of all things that I could have wanted to experience growing up, having a full time black teacher has to rank towards the top. Like Daveed Diggs, I believe if I had a black teacher, specifically black male teacher, my life would have possibly been changed in unknown ways, certainly for the positive. My solution? Become what I didn’t have growing up.

It’s a rough job, even being a black male, but someone’s gotta do it

Part of the issue with becoming something you didn’t have growing up is you have no reference level for how they carry out their job. For example: if I wanted to be a football coach, I had Coach Keith, Coach Treder, Coach Stein, or Coach Dwayne to model after. If I wanted to be a dad, I had my father. But because I didn’t have black teacher, I didn’t know what to do or how to conduct myself in the role. I did have my sense of independence and grit however, so using those attributes I carved out my own path and to this day I still try to carve that path out so students don’t have to feel as if they are missing out on a unique experience. Since graduating, I have been blessed to work in literally every grade level from birth – seniors in high school. I was an early childhood educator while in college and first two years after graduation. I can say with certain confidence that for those kids in my preschool room, I was their first black and male teacher. Two paradigms instantly shifted, two realities that are forever altered, in good ways! Because being able to have students that can say I did have a black teacher, I did have a male teacher and you know he was…passable. But in all seriousness, being able as a leader in a position of influence to try and shift the narrative on who people can grow up to be is one of the reasons I still press on with this career.

It’s okay to not get it right if you’re trying to be someone you didn’t have while younger. Just learn to laugh at yourself from time to time.

I have no doubt, that in my years, I maybe have come across a student a lot like me as a kid. A kid who really needed to see a black male in a position of leadership and positive influence. I remember my late grandmother telling me how monumental it was to have Barack Obama elected president in 2008, a woman who grew up in the racist south and raised a family in Chicago in 60s, imagine going almost 70 years seeing black citizens harassed, killed, oppressed unfairly treated only to finally one day have a person, in the highest position in the country who looks like you. Many accounts from that night show adults my grandmother’s age having the same reactions to seeing President Obama step into office.

My hope is that you are able to reflect on who you are now. Are you making who you were as a kid proud? Is there a kid who you see yourself in that could benefit from your presence? A leader is defined as anyone who has influence over another person. Why not try to positively impact the future with your leadership? Can you be a positive role model knowing that a younger you can be out there looking to you for guidance? Wether in attitude or action, look for inspiration on who you used to be to help mold you in to who you want to be.

With love and support as always,

YFBF.

Are you gonna be your own Daveed Diggs today?

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