I wake up, say my prayers, listen to some motivational words from Pastor Mitchell, Pastor Freeman, Bill Winston, TD Jakes or some other minister. I turn on the news and hear three black men were arrested in a shooting spree, two black men were caught robbing a bank, a black man leaves his child home alone for three days, cops shoot and kill an unarmed black man, or an armed black man kills a police officer, etc. I put my boys on the school bus, kiss my wife and get to work.
Getting to work may involve carrying four or five suits to a few different job training programs throughout the city. I have founded That Suits You (TSY), a nonprofit organization that collects and distributes professional attire to qualified men. The team at TSY does this to try to help change the image of today's black male. While we have given suits to all races and will continue to do so, I do not believe any image has a worse perception than that of the black man.
The argument can be, well they deserve it or they bring it upon themselves by their actions. There are many occasions when the negative actions of some black men are totally irresponsible and definitely add to that perception. But from what I have witnessed, all races have similar isolated incidents all the time. Yeah, but with blacks it is more frequent. That may be true, but if we just go by what we see in the media it would leave individuals to believe that 80-90 percent of black men are criminals, which is not accurate. I really dislike when I hear a black man proudly say, "I am one of the good ones!" or "We are not all bad," like there are only a handful of good black men around. But, again, that goes back to that perception. Since starting up That Suits You I have come across plenty of "good" black men. However, that negative perception is very hard to shake. The "general" perception of almost every other race is nowhere near as bad as that of black men.
So as I am carrying these suits to men to help change that perception, I see differences all the time. We have some very wealthy donors, so when I enter their buildings or homes I can see the looks. When I am on the train, and someone decides not to sit next to me, someone holds their bag tighter just as I walk pass them, as I enter a designer store, security just decides to walk down my aisle, or when I walk into a meeting and they say, "Oh you're the founder" (also when I am the only person of color in an important meeting). All this happens while I am wearing a nice suit, with a lapel, pocket square, colorful socks and shoes. So I can just imagine how black men are viewed who are not dressed in suits. Now I know simply wearing a suit will not change everything, but it can help men get to a place where they can do more for their family. I always tell people, a suit is not just for work, a suit is for you. You are the CEO of YOU, so always represent yourself the best way you can.
Another big thing is that this perception is taught to every generation... lighter is better, don't support black businesses, blacks are inferior. These thoughts most times are from other blacks. Yeah black men get it from all sides. The experiences, situations and challenges that black men go through daily from all sides can be quite daunting. So it is time we stand up and not wait for the change to happen, but make it happen. Let's destroy every misperception about black men and what they can do. Lets make a stand in unity and lets do it suited as well.
So through all the misperceptions, and negative images that we see on TV, or on the front of newspapers on news stands, through all the young black men we see sagging, through all the driving-while-black police stops, racial profiling, through all the jealousy and envy from different races, we can still stand strong and help others to stand with us. Some people say it's lonely at the top, and I say only because you didn't help others get there with you.
So after a long day, I go home to my boys and feed them, shower them, pray with them, then put them to sleep and do it all over again.
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