During a much-needed vacation, an event that I have learned is a must-have if I am to continue the work that I do, I was presented an ‘opportunity’ to work with a group of African-American youth from my indigenous community in a significant way. I was most certainly aware that there was a sizable group of young African-American males and females who were presently occupying a space that is eerily similar to one I called home nearly thirty-years ago.
The socioeconomic feebleness of my indigenous community is so common that one could use the term stereotypical when describing it. I would venture to suggest that many of you have emanated from similar environs. My hometown of Mansfield, Ohio, the location that the Hollywood Blockbuster Film The Shawshank Redemption was filmed, is a city whose economy totally rested upon long-forgotten automotive and steel industries, respectively.
Although we did not realize it as a relatively privileged community, our beloved city was securely nestled in the arms of what can only be termed a slowly-decaying ‘Rust Belt’. As I am certain that you can imagine, cities like Mansfield, Ohio, are contemporary testaments to the old labor saying of “without work ALL is rotten.”
One need not look much further than the economic decline of ‘Rust Belt’ areas to gather a significant understanding of why my hometown has emerged as a city that should be considered an area that absurdly mimics declining major American cities such as Detroit or Chicago with an unprecedented escalation of crime, drug-infestation, and nihilism that should never have reared its head in such areas. Sadly, it appears that beyond fleeting moments of jubilant Sunday church services and weekly Bible-study sessions, hope for a better day is a rare commodity in Mansfield, Ohio. I have come to understand that the “brain drain” that such areas experience when individuals such as myself flee for what we consider far greener pastures has proven devastating for the communities and more specifically the children that we have left behind.
It is this harsh reality that framed much of the discussion that occurred with my aforementioned mentor; an individual who has continued the arduous task of paving a roadway for future generations of African-American youth to pursue their hopes, dreams, and professional goals.
Although I would prefer to say that our meeting was an attempt to gauge my interest in returning in some capacity to aid those African-American youth who are presently situate in the same position I occupied nearly thirty-years ago; however, the truth of the matter is that I hail from a time where my mentors and elders do very little asking or requesting; particularly, when they are addressing those that they had a significant hand in advising, molding, and therefore creating. It did not take me long to realize that I was not there to offer my services, rather, I was called forth to receive notice that “the bill had come due.”
I am certain that you are wondering ‘what bill?’ had come due. If it were itemized, the alluded to ‘bill’ would reflect the thousands of hours my teachers, the vast majority of them African-American, mentors, and the overall community had dedicated to not only throwing down a road that provided me with an opportunity to travel toward that often elusive place called success, but also the tens-of-thousands of man hours that were spent building my self-esteem and convincing an extremely shy child that “yes, you are good enough to compete with the others. And you better not lose.”
Although I wish that I could say the contrary, however, I not only knew that this ‘bill’ would eventually be called in, but also I actually have no choice in regards to addressing this most important matter. The message is obvious, I must return home in some form, shape, or fashion and resume building the same road that others built and maintained for me. This road is critical to the future of Black America as it will be the path that the latest generation of African-Americans will travel upon as they hurry toward success.
It is in many ways the least that I can do to honor all of those that poured wisdom into me. I can feel my ancestors smiling as I move to pick up the same ‘rugged cross’ that they carried for so long. I guess in many ways it is my destiny and whether ‘hook or crook’ I’ve got to kneel to this call.
My question for you, yes, you the reader, is a relatively simple one, “Do you have a similar bill that has come due? Are you attempting to ignore that call?” If so, you may want to tend to that matter, because I can tell you that bill’s tend to hang around. And this is most certainly one that we all should pay; the ancestors demand it and our children need it.
So how could we ever resist paying this ‘Bill’?
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016