Denzel Washington is at the top of the list.
"What list," you're asking yourself with your inside voice. I know. Well, I have a very short list of people that I look up to and, quite frankly, serve as faux role models in this world of entertainment and celebrity. To be honest, I like how these gentlemen have aged and maintained their style. Denzel is the number one dude, along with others like Clooney, Will and even Tom Cruise.
Presently, the ubiquitously classic Mr. Washington is featured on the cover of the style issue of GQ magazine. I was one of the first people to send a tweet out a couple of weeks ago - in the most manly way possible - gushing over the coolness of the cover.
The glorious cover touted Denzel, almost 60, with his hair all salt-and-peppery and in a suit as sharp as a ninja's blade. Inside, the feature story confirmed all that we already know about Denzel: He's the modern Sidney, Cos, and Harry Belafonte. He is known as an African-American icon and the ultimate man of distinction.
But, since I sent that tweet out, something has nagged me and the only way I could shake it was to write this letter to Mr. Washington:
I hope you don't mind me using your first name like that. But, I've been following you for quite some time. I feel like I know you on some level. I love the moves you've made and even more how you've aged. Grace is a fleeting trait with just about everybody. But, I've got to hand it to you … you're that dude. We never got to meet, but we almost did at boxing legend Butch Lewis' funeral in my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.
But, I'm writing you about something else … frankly, something that concerns me. It was your closing remark in your GQ cover story, where you talked about Black men. You said:
“Take responsibility. One of the things that saddens me the most about my people is fathers that don’t take care of their sons and daughters. And you can’t blame that on The Man or getting frisked. Take responsibility. Look in the mirror and say, “What can I do better?” There is opportunity; you can make it. Whatever it is that you choose, be the best at it. You have an African-American president. You can do it. But take responsibility. Put your slippers way under your bed so when you get up in the morning, you have to get on your knees to find them. And while you’re down there, start your day with prayer. Ask for wisdom. Ask for understanding. I’m not telling you what religion to be, but work on your spirit. You know, mind, body, and spirit. Imagine—work the brain muscle. Keep the body in tune—it’s your temple. All things in moderation. Continue to search. That’s the best part of life for me—continue to try to be the best man.”
Now, I'd like you to take a look at this picture I took in Cincinnati, OH.
I thought of you when I snapped it outside of Elementz, a venue dedicated to helping urban kids (keeping it real: budding Black men) on the right path. This young brother was with this beautiful girl, who I assume is his daughter. She never strayed far from him. She seemed happy. He seemed deep in thought, stressed even. This image prompted me to write this letter.
I work with a number of Black men of all ages, backgrounds and social statuses with varying degrees of influence. We huddle up often in support of each other. We build on how to be better men, better fathers, better significant others … just better. This particular event we spent a full day talking to folks about making change in their community through the process of voting, particularly on a local level.
It’s become almost cliché to tell Black men something stern. Pull up your pants. Do better. Step your game up. Take responsibility! Barack Obama did the same thing in 2008 - in front of the world. (He's another brother on my list of role models. Cool as Alaskan air condition.)
I clearly cannot tell another grown man what to do, especially one as accomplished as yourself. But I humbly urge you to encourage the brothers if you are going to paint a broad stroke. Instead of "Step it up." Tell us to "Stay strong." Ask us to "hang in there," because you know how hard it is out here. A pat on the back and a word of encouragement is often all you need.
I've held on to four words Dr. Cornel West once told me: "You're going to fly." Black men are still an endangered species of sorts. We still out index every population in AIDS, incarceration rates, death rates, conviction rates, and we're still here. You mentioned "The Man" and getting frisked, but in New York City, they stopped and frisked more Black men than actually statistically lived in the city! The playing field isn't level yet, despite our issues.
Not everybody is doing the right thing, and yes we have a lot of work to do, but I guarantee you there are more responsible Black men out here than your quote suggests. I see them, talk to them and mentor them, and they are my friends and family.
PS: The new movie, "Flight," looks great.
PPS: Will you mentor me? Please?
Chuck "Jigsaw" Creekmur is a father, son and the co-founder of AllHipHop.com. He's a cultural critic, pundit and trailblazer that has been featured on National Public Radio (NPR), BET, TVOne, VH1, The E! Channel, MTV, The O’Reilly Factor, USA Today, The New York Times, New York’s Hot 97 FM and like a zillion other outlets.