The Art of Reaching Troubled Youth

It hadn’t occurred to me prior to writing about young males to add visuals to my books. Before You Fly Off, inspired by my own teenage daughter, offered hard to reach Black and Brown girls an alternative tool to addressing their self-destructive behavior and learning more productive ways to express themselves from learning effective communicating to relationship concerns. Barely one hundred pages each, I broke the conversation in two books. I use the term ‘conversation’ because that’s how I write. Like the angry young man or the girl bully is sitting right in front of me or next to me, being more open to receiving intervention because there’s no judging here; no red pen or agenda to kill their sense of originality for the sake of conforming to standards that we know now do more harm than good to their emotional lives. 

When a mother approached me at a book signing and asked, What about the boys? Or more specifically, what about her son? I went into immediate action on a motivational book for Black males in their upper teens and nearing adulthood. I was advising both High School and college students at the time, along with group homes and youth detention centers, so the material was literally taking turns sitting in my office. But unlike with the girls, there was so much more to talk about with the boys. Their self-esteem issues were just as alarming as the criminalization of problem Black girls in schools, with the added burden of living in immediate and surrounding communities that still don’t allow our sons to fully express their emotional selves, as they learn to perfect their hyper-masculinity or what they’ve been taught to understand as socially appropriate maleness, Black maleness. And this is when the idea of adding visuals to match the various topics, too difficult to talk about for most maybe but now with images they could relate to or even see themselves in, helped shape the continued success of Message to a Youngblood – A Conversation with Our Sons.

But Chris has an artistic gift for translating anything I asked him to draw from. Show me what struggling with your studies looks like? Show me a good day. Show me a couple in love. How does functional depression look like to you? What can freedom look like in the hood?... We were beginning a kindred partnership we both under-estimated until readers started asking about the artwork.

I had already known Chris Evans through his mother, a single parent determined to keep her 21yrld off the streets and out of police bullet range. Chris was creative but not focused; kind but easily aggravated. He was like most young Black males I meet. Angry at the System for leaving them with very few options and angry at Black parents for dropping the ball. But Chris has an artistic gift for translating anything I asked him to draw from. Show me what struggling with your studies looks like? Show me a good day. Show me a couple in love. How does functional depression look like to you? What can freedom look like in the hood?... We were beginning a kindred partnership we both under-estimated until readers started asking about the artwork.

More young artists came on board with my following book, I’m Not Gay. I Just Mess with Guys Sometimes where we ask the question Why so many Black young and older men who have sex with other men choose not to self-identify as gay or queer, or other labels they feel do not represent their day to day realities. As a youth counselor and advocate, I see this as somewhat of a second sexual revolution where in the 60s it was about being whatever you wanted to be and sexing whoever you wanted sex. Now it’s more about lifting the labels that say who’s supposed to be with who.  It’s also a look at how the Black Community is being faced with having to choose between religious indoctrination based on the rejection of sexuality as an indefinite and returning to ancient African teachings where all masculinities and all femininities were recognized and celebrated before invaders taught us shame. And how do you say all that through art? But these great young artists I’ve had the honor to work did just that!

My next book project is on youth in group homes and residential facilities, as well as those aging out of foster care and the transition process between being a ward of the state to independent living. New artists like Carlos Gee encourages me to consider middle aged youth who are already pipelined to prisons. And 15yrld Jay reminds me to include transgender teens in the conversation. But as always, Chris takes front seat in leading the artwork to interpret the personal struggles of these amazing young people living adult lives.

Life Coaching Marilyn Manson and Drinking Moonshine

I was doing family mediation at a youth residential facility in North Carolina where my duties included supervising a staff of college graduates interested in pursuing a career in counseling hard to reach young men and women. But that’s going too far into the story without beginning where this essay couldn’t have been written had certain events not take their places. I had just ended a six-year stint as a writing and general life skills instructor on Rikers Island, after deciding that my salary being dependent on how many new inmates came through Intake didn’t sit right with me. Doesn’t lessen the tremendous value of and rewards from teaching the incarcerated. But I was at a point in my career life where alternative education and family mediation were crisscrossing, and I hadn’t yet figured out a way to bring them together.

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They Kill Grandmothers, Don't They? Policing the Mentally Ill, and Is My Mother Next?

I usually write for and about hard to reach youth. But the recent police killing of an emotionally disturbed grandmother turned my attention to not only the on-going over-policing of Black people, but more so on my mother who is currently at the final stages of Alzheimer’s where unexpected outbursts are the norm and caring for her requires both the fortitude of a well-informed son and the patience of a monk. The kind of patience a short-fused police cadet may not necessarily learn in de-escalation training, but close enough when the objective is to avoid shooting an elderly. 66yrld Deborah Danner of the Bronx, this week’s victim of police terrorism, was shot and killed by an NYPD officer after allegedly lunging towards officers while wielding a pair of scissors and a baseball bat inside of her apartment. The fact that this happened in her home is just as relevant as what was in her hands, because it shows a distressed person in a space they ought to feel the safest. Why this senior citizen had scissors and a bat in her hands is still up for grabs. What we do know is that neighbors called police for help and told them she was an elderly woman with a history of mental illness. How popo went from courtesy, professionalism and respect or CPR, as indicated on their vehicles, to shoot the grandmother twice in the chest first then ask questions later is what Sgt. Hugh Barry has to explain to a nation exhausted from weekly police killings of Black bodies and a Community already victimized by generational trauma from having to witness their skin color and voice be treated without courtesy, professionalism or respect.  

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The Thing about Grace

(Message to a High School Kid Who Never Heard of a Winnie) 

Now that the Nelson Mandela hype is over, your young brain cells most likely forgot all about the significance of both his transition (we don't die, we change form) and his legacy. Your school teacher or college professor might have added him to their lesson plan, what with all the media attention on the 90yrld global icon. The same media who once considered him a terrorist for speaking against the mistreatment of Black South Africans; as in, I invade your home, call it mine and implement a system where you need a pass to get to one room to another and back just to keep the house that's no longer yours expendable, and then have you locked up or murdered if you got a problem with that.

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The Color Complex…Still

A good writer not only reads, but also gets other writers' perspectives in order to expand her or his skills and mind. This time around I'm reading The Color Complex. A look at how American Africans still play skin shade politics with one another. I'd add that Hispanics play it too, big time. But this book focuses on Black Americans and where the glorification of light-skinned Blacks and the pulling away from anything African comes from. The obvious reason, of course, is the Willie Lynch doctrine that stipulated exactly how wealthy White men should go about pitting shades and age against one another in order to control the slaves. But what makes this book stand out for me is how the writers leave out the usual culprit and focus instead on our own isms, how we perpetuate them through our words (she's darkskin but so pretty), our music videos (always a lightskin with long hair and if darkskin, must have a long weave or wig), our parenting (giving a 6yrld a perm), our grooming (perm for females/texturizer for males), our miseducation (he ugly like an African) and our dating (I only date this shade/that shade or I mess with this shade but marry that shade).

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I’m In

The Taboo Yardies Documentary

I recently saw a film by Selena Blake documenting the raping and murdering of same gender loving people in Jamaica, and how the police actually help promote this type terrorism. But the violence goes even further than that/gets deeper than that. Parents are known to abandon their children once they find out they were bullied or violated to avoid talk from the community. Neighbors report to police who they even think might be homosexual to stay on the 'right' list and island officials add to the terrorism by equating same gender love with incest and bestiality. There’re homosexuals themselves who beat up and burn their own, so that their communities don't target them. As difficult as it was to hear testimonies from lesbians who were gang raped by male thugs whose intention is to ‘fix’ these women, as in 'corrective raping', and seeing the scars on their arms from self-inflicted knife wounds as their way of dealing with trauma unresolved; as painful as it was to watch scenes of young and older males being slashed by machetes and burned to death by other Black people simply for being a sexual minority, it was important for me to watch the damn thing and learn.

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Slave Auction - Just For Fun

I love the American southwest. It’s been pulling at me ever since I discovered I had blood relatives there from my father’s side. Something I had somehow sensed all along but needed proof; and it may very well be where I eventually decide to retire. It’s the red soil. The mysterious yet beautiful desert landscape. All the mystical rumors we hear about that go back to Native American tribes and African cowboys who framed their windows in turquoise colors to ward off evil spirits. The finger-sized blue lizards that tag along old beaten down trucks. Never ending highways that disappear into the horizon. And that majestic blue sky hovering over stories of past discoveries, dusty adventures and escape from forced servitude. All this had been waiting for me, so I flew to New Mexico as soon as I made the chance happen.

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