Beautiful, Black, Man
The following sentence rests at the root and the spirit of America.
The bodies of Black Men are to be worked and to be used for the service of America.
The trauma associated with this truth rests in the muscles and ligaments of young Black boys way before they are ever able to understand what that feeling is. It is coded, embedded from centuries of usury, tied so closely with our personalities that we can never distinguish where one ends and the other begins.
Ask a young Black boy what he wants to be when he grows up. Listen to him exclaim that he wants to be some sort of athlete or star. And then hear the implications of his answer. Even as a child, he is willing to give his body as an exchange for acceptance, success and validation. Because great Black thinkers and those who use their minds to succeed at business and at nation building, their value to this system seems significantly lessened when you compare them to our greatest basketball players and singers, and truly even compared to George Floyd and Eric Garner, for those Black Men also were compelled to give their bodies to this system.
Michael K Williams was a Black kid from Vanderveer Houses in Flatbush. Vanderveer, in the 70’s and 80’s, was the bottom, one of the many bottoms that kids like him and I smile about when we think back. Every social determinant of health is suffering in those bottoms – environment, education, nutrition, mental health – and scientist and those who receive high grants to research the human condition will tell you that when there is a place that has failing numbers with regards to the very basic social determinants of health, the people in that environment are not expected to thrive.
Michael K Williams could’ve become a shiftless, worthless, stagnant human being and the world wouldn’t have noticed, because kids that are raised in the bottom aren’t expected to thrive.
But Michael, he answered that itch that Black boys feel but can’t recognize, the echoed trauma that tells your flesh and bones that you can succeed and be validated in American society, if you just use your body.
Answering the call, Michael danced first. He connected with the ancestors in movement and rhythm. And, he was beautiful to watch. Even as a background dancer, he was special. His twisting and maneuvering spoke of the voyage of the past, and the beautiful struggle that it takes for a Black boy living in this country to become a man.
Later, as an actor, Michael gave us the terrifying range of human emotions in such a poignant way. He drew from deep in his spirit, from the parts he could remember and from the parts that he inherited unknowingly. His willingness to give of his body made the character Omar Little one of the most enigmatic television characters of our era.
I’ll tell you something… There is nothing more beautiful in this world than a Black Man who gives of himself with such honesty and vulnerability. And, there is nothing more dangerous than a society that can take that beauty and suck it dry, hungry as a succubus for more and more, until there is nothing left.
Michael gave us everything he had. They all did. Mums, Biz, DMX, Shock G. They gave of their bodies until there was nothing left to give.
The tragedy here is that we didn’t reciprocate. We didn’t appreciate the amazing ideal that a Black boy that comes from where it is designed for you to fail, figured out how to give of his body to create ripples and impact not just in his hood or in his city, but in the world. We didn’t take a moment to honor the absolute tenacity of this Black Man, because in this society we expect Black Men to give of their bodies without the expectation of reciprocity.
Michael and I live in the same neighborhood, literally five or so blocks apart. I wish that I could’ve bumped into him this weekend. I would’ve given him a big hug and told him that I loved him.
Sometimes that’s all a Black Man needs to keep going.
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