Over the weekend, I had a remarkable experience at the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival in Brooklyn, New York, with my daughter in tow.
On Saturday afternoon, I got a pair of calls from two esteemed brothers I know in the Nation of Islam. They asked me if I knew what was going down at the festival and requested my presence. Mind you I had other personal plans. Furthermore, the men didn’t even tell me exactly what was going to happen, only that it had to do with Jay Electronica. Lastly, I already had plans with my daughter. Still, when these specific men call, I listen and trust. Soon enough, I found myself in Brooklyn, New York, in the thick of hip-hop in all of its infinite glory.
As my daughter and I walked up to the designated spot, we were greeted by a number of young brothers from The Nation. All were dressed in suits with the bow ties. They were sharp and they acted accordingly. There was no foolishness and they had a certain stance that even my daughter noticed. She said something like, “Look at how they are standing, straight up.” They definitely looked like soldiers in suits, but there were no scowls or false machismo. The brothers in The Nation (my friends) that connected me to these others told me to talk to one specific younger brother and he would “take care of us.” From there, it was on.
Jay Electronica arrived with a cadre of older men similarly dressed as the younger ones. From the moment they touched down, everybody around was taken care of. My daughter and I. Jay Electronica’s mother. Jay Z (who arrived later). Wives, daughters and other friends, too. And Jay Electronica was consistently surrounded by strong men that were disciplined, orderly, polite and - honestly - nothing to play with.
What I saw is representative of a bigger issue I know most parents are concerned with.
As a father I am compelled to envision the type man that my daughter will eventually be with. And I have to be honest, there are instances where I get very, very fearful. This sentiment was exacerbated recently by a story from a friend. He told me he would not be able to be in the same hospital with the father of his pregnant daughter even though she is soon to give birth. My homeboy felt he might be compelled murder the younger man for a number of reasons beyond impregnating his 21-year old. Now, he may have been joking, but he didn’t seem to be. He seemed uncharacteristically serious. I am not the sort of man to line up suitors for my daughter (she's gonna pick her own mate), but of those surrounding us at the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, I saw men of respect. None of the young men I saw would upset me if my daughter introduced me to one of them. These are the things I ponder even though my daughter isn’t even a teenager yet.
So, I am not suggesting that she’s got to come home with a brother in a bow tie and suit one day, but I am suggesting that that is the sort of individual we need more of in the community. Protectors. Respectful. Disciplined. Caring. Concerned. And, even Classy.
The Nation of Islam isn’t the only group like this, but they are one of the more universal groups that are able to bring order to the chaos that surrounds Black men daily. Black men, for the most part, lack life training. We tend to either stay ignorant of it, or we learn these skills later in life, like myself. For me, growing up (as a man even) was often like on-the-job training, sometimes figuring conundrums out as I went along. These quandaries could be things as simple as learning to tie a tie, to etiquette with women, or knowing how to act when you are dealing with police.
If you have a son, get him into a program or organization that can help grow him into a man of distinction. But, you can check out the nationally organized One Circle Foundation in California, One Village Foundation's "Raising Kings" Program (Wilmington, Delaware), or Brotherhood Sister Sol in Harlem, New York. A number of community centers and churches offer a myriad of services. (FYI: Most of these are for boys, girls and, in a lot of cases, adults. Get to Googling!)
There is a religious and cultural facet to the Nation of Islam, so perhaps they may not work for everybody. That's OK. They weren't for everybody at the multicultural, motley crew crowd Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival either, but they were delighted at what they viewed nevertheless. And I will venture to say that their support is a game changer for a man named Jay Electronica.
Jay Electronica was so respectful of my daughter - bowed, kissed her hand and briefly chatted with her before taking a picture - that it was eery. Rap artists aren't "supposed" to act that way, by the standard presented in the media and television. He had a different energy that permeated for the duration that he was there. Similarly, the security brothers from The Nation, The Fruit of Islam, made sure nothing happened to my princess or the other females present. SALUTE!