My mother was 20 when she gave birth to me. My childhood began in New York, where my mother lived with a prominent R&B/soul singer in the 1960s. With a failing career, his inability to financially care for us led my mom to do what she felt she had to do. She became a call girl. My biological father was also in the music business; he played the lead guitar for several artists and bands. The environment was not healthy for a youngster, and my father, fearing that I would die in the streets of New York, insisted I live with his parents.
I was nine when I got to Detroit. Already in their late fifties, my grandparents raised me on the east side of Detroit, which is considered the hood. But my minister-granddad was also a construction worker and my preacher’s wife-grandmother cleaned office buildings at night. Although we lived in the hood, we lived “good in the hood.” Meanwhile, ten years later, my mother died in the streets of New York at 39.
I’ve learned a simple truth over the 40-plus years since I came to Detroit to live with my grandparents: Life is a marathon. It takes time, patience and commitment to creating a comeback. In Detroit, I had opportunities to find both the lure of trouble and the faint song of success in the rough and turbulent times black people faced in inner-city Detroit and across this country. But I couldn’t settle for any lifestyle that seemed to promise immediate gratification, but would ultimately hold my success hostage. Simply put, I had to keep going.
I couldn’t be assured that I would make it to my eighteenth, twenty-first, thirty-ninth or fiftieth birthdays. Our people couldn’t be certain that, even with all of the worthy work of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. propelling us forward, we would overcome and King’s iconic dream would be realized. But somehow, and definitely by God’s grace, I did survive. Marginalized people have—we have—survived and even progressed when many thought we would crumble under the pressure of inequality, racism and the oppressive effects of Jim Crow laws.
Why? Because life is a marathon. We lived through each day to see the next. We fought each battle and then faced the next. We challenged each obstacle one by one and together. We continue to fight.
I know the struggle of my people.
With the institutional knowledge that we as African Americans have, it baffles me that with the struggle of our past and present in mind, how easily and speedily we can give our platform to the manipulative, insidious and bigoted rhetoric that Donald Trump has spouted—at all, and particularly in the last ten days concerning African Americans.
This weekend, the Impact Network, a Christian television network in Detroit that I was instrumental in establishing and on which I hosted various programming for several years, will broadcast an interview with Mr. Trump. This interview will be conducted by the network’s founder and president, Bishop Wayne T. Jackson. I parted ways with Impact on good terms in 2015, and I have no personal issue with Bishop Jackson. But I want to sound an alarm to those I lead, minister to, effect and reach in any way.
Many of us have wondered how this national election cycle has escalated to what seems like an endless circus of extreme personality and opinions. It’s all about our focus. Members of the news media have fueled the flame of controversy. We have added gas by engaging. I won’t help him by repeating Mr. Trump’s recent remarks and promises to the African-American community. But while he trumpets his ability to “make America great again,” we know that his rhetoric ignites the ideology that people of color should again be subjected to Jim Crow’s restrictive grip while we remain silent. Letting him say this in our own space forgets how much we’ve fought.
We should all know the struggle of our people. We should know what our parents, grandparents and ancestors—and we, ourselves—have encountered. We, more than any onlooker or anyone else wishing to capitalize upon, manipulate, minimize or embellish the dynamics of our community, ought to know and defend the honor that is awarded anyone who has endured hardship as a good soldier.
Sure, there has been internal struggle and even violence in our community. (Every community has its own specific and universal problems.) But we also know how our predecessors struggled to put many of us through school—primary, secondary and beyond. They jumped in front of the proverbial bullets of systemic racism and took the hit so that we could “make it out” of the disproportionate circumstances that threatened to perpetually hold us all back. We must not forget how our forefathers fought to feed us the fuel of faith so that we would hope beyond the sight of injustice and aim for goals that, often, they themselves had not been allowed to aim for, let alone reach. We cannot go backward.
That is why I am saddened and provoked. We cannot give our platform to anyone who radicalizes and stereotypes our struggle and story. Not for personal gain, not for the possibility of advancement in political or media circles or for ratings.
My fellow persons of color: Like me, you may not have been raised by your biological parents, but we are not orphans. Whether brought up by grandparents, aunties and godmother or godfathers, we—particularly us baby-boomers—have been raised. We’ve been taught by community leaders, teachers, activists and yes, preachers, that even in struggle and the most torrential of storms, we hold our heads high, we maintain a standard of dignity—and we hold on to each other, knowing that winning a battle today means that we empower the generations to come. And whatever we do, we certainly do not yield our power to those who will not honorably retell our story but will instead manipulate our narrative. We must not receive self-serving pandering from anyone, let alone one who insults our community by making light of and augmenting our challenges for his own gain. We are better than that.
Now, I will be honest, I am a supporter of Hillary Clinton. But I am not stumping for her today. I only implore you to use your own voice to help halt any deterrent to equality for all divinely created people in this country—even those who have been pushed to the perimeter of society but are making their way toward their own personal triumphs, like former offenders and returning citizens who are bouncing back from mistakes. They, too, must be urged and afforded the opportunity to voice their vote in America’s voting booths.
Advancement relies on our willingness to tell our story as it is, and to dismiss anything that would trivialize or demonize our community. We move forward toward equality day by day—in the boardroom, in the classroom and on the streets—seizing every opportunity to walk with integrity, to regain our balance when we stumble and to dust ourselves off when we fall. We do so for this reason: Life is a marathon, and we must not let anyone keep us from moving forward toward the victorious finish line.