Martyrdom: A Black Man’s Burden

The quests for longevity and greatness have eluded another one of our fallen brothers. The untimely death of Nipsey Hussle is a story too familiar to the black community. Dating back to heroes of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, black leaders have had little time to make a great impact. Even more frustrating, is that we seem to have more value, as black men, once we’re dead, than when we are alive.

Before Medgar Evers could see the fruits of his labor as a community activist, mobilizing the black vote in Mississippi during the tumultuous 1960s, he was gunned down in his driveway. Left to die just steps from his wife and children’s embrace. He was only 37-years-old. 51 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King was shot dead in Memphis, after all, but prophesying his death, just the night before:

In a prophetic finale to his speech, King revealed that he was not afraid to die: “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life—longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will…. And so I’m happy tonight; 

On the cusp of something greater than what he’d been known for, the Poor People’s Campaign was sure to truly unite the masses. Brother Malcolm X (el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz) was assassinated in a crowded ballroom in Harlem, after forming the Organization of African American Unity. Something revolutionary and inclusive, but at the age of 40, Malcolm was cut down. Not to mention Black Panther leader, the 21-year-old Fred Hampton, Jr. out of Chicago, murdered in cold blood by the Chicago Police department. Hampton had found a way to unify the youth of Chicago’s poorest and roughest areas, through natural leadership and truth. Too powerful. Too soon.

Longevity and greatness, a deadly combination they are. Fast forward a generation later. A 25-year-old Tupac Shakur, son of a Black Panther, was shot on the Las Vegas strip, eventually died from his wounds days later. Arguably the greatest hip hop icon of all-time. Reflecting on his life, I realize that he only had 5 years to inspire the world. With his feverish work ethic, and musical content, it’s as if he knew that an early death was imminent.

The premier of the music video, “I Ain’t Mad At Cha,” debuted just 3 days after Tupac’s death. The video and song itself captures the essence of how Pac dies in real life. It’s as if Tupac predicted his own demise. Years later, Pac’s musical catalog was revealed, and that’s when the world truly realized how brilliant this young man was. Imagine if he had more time.

The following year, the 24-year-old Notorious B.I.G. was taken from us. Is it a coincidence that the final song, on his final album, Life After Death is, “You’re Nobody (‘Till Somebody Kills You”)? A victim of a drive-by in Los Angeles, Pac’s rival and with only 2 albums under his belt, became a hip hop god. What if he had more time?

In recent years, camera phones and social media have shed light on the dark reality of police brutality and disregard for the black male form. 18-year-old Michael Brown left face down in the August sun, with 6 bullets in his body for 4 hours. 17-year-old Trayvon Martin stalked down and shot fatally yards from his father’s doorstep. Sister Sandra Bland at 28, found dead in her cell. Though not a man, our sisters have their own plight in this narrative as well. She was manhandled during her arrest and there is no telling what happened in her jail cell. Philando Castile 32, Tamir Rice 12 and Eric Garner 43, all gone within a matter of seconds. Although their circumstances were different, their stories… all the same; another black body laid dead. Obama served 8 years as our First Black President, we were all terrified for him, and rightfully so. Look at what happened to so many of our leaders before him.

Sunday, March 31st, 2019 a new name was added to America’s most infamous fraternity, Ermias Asghedom, more famously known as Nipsey Hussle.  Just hours before his final breath he sent out a chilling tweet, “Having strong enemies is a blessing.” Did he know something? Did he see something? Or was it just plain coincidence? We will never truly know. nipsey2 final tweetA role model, a man making positive change, not just in Los Angeles, but worldwide. In his death, he has become more revered than when he was alive. I had never listened to his music. I had heard his name a handful of times before Sunday. But sadly, I have known his story for the last 50 years. The stories of these fallen men remind me to live everyday to my fullest potential. Not because I fear that I to will parish too soon, but to honor each day that I have on this earth.

Let us, as black men vow to live our days to the fullest and leave our lasting impact on the world. Let us not be jealous of the next man, but lift him up. Any attack on my brother, is an attack on me. And any victory for my brother, is mine as well. Rest in love, freedom, power, peace and victory to all my fallen brothers. We simply do not have time to fight each other. The world has already placed enough obstacles in our path.

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A Coach’s Joy

 

After a long challenging week at work, coupled with a late Friday night at happy hour, I tried my best to wake up early on Saturday morning, in order to hold on to a promise that I had made. The one week that I showed up late for practice, is the only time we lost. During my post-game speech, I apologized to my athletes and their parents. I promised them, that it would never happen again. How could I hold my team accountable if I wasn’t discipline enough to be punctual myself?

We haven’t looked back ever since. And on we are on a five game winning streak. Next week we play our archrivals; a well coached team from Williamsburg, who has won the league championship; a few times. In my four years as head coach, I have yet to beat them, let alone the championship.

Three seasons ago, we lost to them in the finals, on the last play of the game. Even though we are the favorites this year, we cannot afford to take anyone lightly. I’m sure that my rival coach has some tricks up her sleeves.

There are a few kids on my roster who have been with me since they were 5th graders. It would be nice to send them off as seniors, with a championship trophy.

As an athlete, nothing felt better than winning. In college I remember being filled with tears of joy after making a game-winning play. Now that I am a coach, my joys as a player don’t even compare.
nice game

Make It Count

old-couple-dancing

My wife sent me a text the other day that threw me for a loop. She never usually sends me messages during the day, because she doesn’t want to interrupt, especially if I am in front of students teaching. But on this day, she sent it-“the girl died.” “Whoa!” I responded immediately as I read the text.

One of her classmates was admitted to the hospital the night before. She suffered an aneurysm. When my wife first told me about her friend’s condition, I must admit that I was nervous for her. I had only met her once, at a Superbowl party earlier this year, but my thoughts were on her from the time I got the news.

Immediately, I began to ask myself. What could cause an aneurysm in such a young person? Stress? Diet? Who really knows? We usually think of that kind of medical condition in older folks. As soon as I was able to get some fresh air, I called my brother. He’s a physician’s administrative assistant at Boston Medical Center, and works in neurology. Funny enough, his floor had admitted three young people (all in their 20’s) earlier that week for the same issue, aneurysms, severe blooding on the brain. They were all college students. Maybe it was stress.

Nonetheless, as busy as I find myself, I always try to find time to decompress and exhale. Even if it’s just two minutes of prayer, meditation, a light jog or even a glass of wine. Most people are never the same after an aneurysm or stroke. My aunt, uncle and grandmother all suffered from strokes-they were never the same, left paralyzed and unable to do much for themselves. Their conditions were due to life-long issues with diet, stress, coupled with genetics. But as for this beautiful 27 year old, Columbia Business School student; she had her entire life ahead of her.

It makes you put things into perspective. Sometimes I find myself complaining over the littlest things. When in actuality, I need to be grateful- for the littlest things.

As Dr. King said in his I Have Been to the Mountain Top speech,  “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place.” So if I do get a chance to live a long and full life, I’d like to look back and say that I did some remarkable things in my lifetime.

Check out this video of woman who has become my personal hero. Young or old, we all have an opportunity, each day, to do something special. Make each day count.

Giving Back

I was out celebrating with good friends the night before. We decided to meet up in the city for drinks and good music. I had a great time.

We joked around , partied and recited old rap lyrics, as the DJ spent hip-hop classics like Tribe Called Quest and Leader’s of the New School’s “Scenario” and “Slam” by Onyx. I felt like I had traveled back in time, to 1993.

As the night wound down, I realized that I had to get up in the morning to supervise three middle school basketball games.  It was a struggle to say the least. An hour subway commute from Harlem to  Brooklyn on a crisp Saturday morning is not exactly what one might call fantastic voyage.

I was running a little late because of typical weekend service in Brooklyn. No trains were available for several stops, so I had to take a shuttle to my final destination. Once I arrived at the school, I immediately began to set up. The gym was already stating to fill up with families and athletes from the other schools. The neighborhoods of Bushwick, East New York and Williamsburg had all converged on our gym in Crown Heights.

As the games played on, I finally relaxed and enjoyed the scene. A peace came over me that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I was home. Very few things bring me happiness like serving my people and my community. Mothers and fathers got an opportunity to watch their sons and daughters play basketball on a Saturday morning. The countless smiles, cheers and happy faces made me feel good. I guess this is important to me because even though I played high school and college athletics, I always wanted my family see me compete, but they never did. To look up in the crowd and see your mother cheering you on must feel awesome; I can only imagine.

African American youth have higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison.
African American youth have higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Saturday mornings, children in Crown Heights can be out getting into who knows what. But not these kids, they are with us, being kids, they are safe, working in tandem with their peers and learning to be part of a team.

It was tough, just functioning on a few hours of sleep, but it is always worth it. The next Lebron James, Kobe Bryant or Lisa Leslie could be playing at our gym and I was responsible for giving them the safe space to realize their talents. Someone did it for me. So how could I not give back? Personally, I suck at basketball. Football and track were my sports, but I understand the importance of giving children the opportunity to discover their abilities. I get to do that. All it takes is a key,  a light switch and a cup of coffee.

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The Impact a Coach Can Make

Now that I am in my 10th year of teaching and coaching, I am truly beginning to see the impact that I have had on the lives of my students. There is no greater feeling in the world, than to see your students go on to be successful adults. One of my former athletes sent this email to me a few weeks ago. The timing could not have been better. It was after a long and challenging work at week.

Everyday I feel like giving up, throwing it all way. At times I can’t find my inner strength to keep moving forward. To keep running to keep studying. Giving up is so easy to do, but than I realize nothing in life is easy. Coach I just want to say thank you, thank you for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I remember when I first joined your team, when I first started running you taught me more than form running, more than breathing exercise or drills, you taught me about life, every time I now want to give up stop running or even stop going to school I think of you , you effected my life more than you will ever know, you were like the father that I never had. I really just wanted to take the time out and say thank you. I know you probably are very disappointed in me and the thought of that urks me because I know I could of been way further out then where I am at now and for that Im sorry I know you saw more in me, it was always there I just never saw it. Well now I’m running again and it’s not easy at all but one thing I won’t do is give up. THANK YOU DADDY !

If it was not for sports, I am not sure where I would be today. We had very few options where I am from. My grades were not good enough to earn a scholarship to college, but I was athletic enough to earn a shot at college football and that was my path to higher education.

As a teacher, I understand that many of my students need sports and extracurricular, just as much as they need math and English. They need coaches, just as much as they need teachers.

Athletics can test your character and leadership the way no state test or final exam ever could. It is through teamwork that young people truly learn life’s lessons.

I am fortunate to have a coach who believed in me, when I did not believe in myself, a coach who never gave up on me. When I think about all of those who did not “make it,” maybe they just needed someone to push them. Maybe they just needed a coach.

In the communities that I serve, it may sound cliche’ but I am a role model, a mentor and big brother. In some cases a father figure, to those who don’t have fathers at home. It is a very important role and one can never take it lightly. Just look at the impact that I made and I did not even realize it.

2009 Florida State High School Track and Field State Finals, Girls 4×800 Relay 4th place

To Whom Much Is Given

I understand the importance of my career and I always have.  To whom much is given, much is required.  However, every now and then, I reach a place in which I feel like what we do as educators, is trivial and almost futile. No one really cares, they just act like they do.

We bust ours butts to give our kids a shot at something. Something more than what society says they deserve.  At times, I ask myself “who died and made me qualified?” How can I tell this child that this is what they need to do, and that everything will work out?  Am I any different than his uncle or older brother who hustles or who tells him that if he is clever enough, that he can hustle the system too?

Because of the times that we live in, I need to have concrete evidence that I am making a difference. Not just for my employer, but also for my own sanity. This is usually bundled up in standardized test scores and annual evaluations; certificates of merit you might say.

To say you have had over a decade of positive impact on children or an entire community is not enough. It just so happened that I was reading the news feed on my Facebook page and someone tagged me. The feed read “The best teacher any student will ever have Ashley Toussaint, he never gave up on me.” -Wilma

First and foremost Wilma is not a girl. He was a 9th grader that I taught during my first year of teaching in Miami, Florida. Wilma would come to school high, skip class, get into fights, curse at teachers and more.  As a result, he failed  the 9th grade. I would have Wilma for 3 more years.

I remember his senior year, with a huge grin on his face, he said to me, “you know what Mr. Toussaint, I’ve had you every single year of my high school career.”  Thankfully, by his senior year he had changed his tune. All the while I thought he was simply maturing and realizing that his errant ways were leading him down a “nowhere” path.

Truth be told, I had more of an impact than I realized. He didn’t “shout me out” because he passed his state exams or graduated from high school or got accepted into Florida State University. He thanked me for never giving up on him.
How do you measure that kind of impact? What is that really worth? How do you put that on a resume? We have been told time and time again that success is measured by test results. Well how about life results?  Even though the result of this third grade reading scores might have indicated that he would end up in prison, he defied the odds.

I have no problem taking credit for that.