Letter to a Young Man Named K

"I hope you read my short letter with an open heart and mind, even though you do not know me. I've heard about your situation and wanted to personally reach out to you, because I believe in you, and because I believe in the potential and possibilities of your life."
01/31/2013 12:42 pm ET Updated Apr 02, 2013

Dear K:

I hope you read my short letter with an open heart and mind, even though you do not know me. I've heard about your situation and wanted to personally reach out to you, because I believe in you, and because I believe in the potential and possibilities of your life. As you may know, I am a writer of 11 books, I do speeches across America and overseas, my life is dedicated to public service, to helping others, and I have done many things on television. I feel very blessed to have the life that I have now.

But it has not always been that way for me, K. I come from a single mother, an absent father, and the kind of poverty and violence I would not wish on anyone. There were several occasions when I did not think I was going to make it, when my own mother thought I was not going to make it. You see, K, in spite of great grades and a love of education when I was growing up, I got into trouble a lot in school. I had a very bad temper, was prone to fighting and talking back to teachers, and got suspended from school regularly. By the time I was a teenager this had turned into me getting into trouble with the police and a couple of arrests. And this battle with low self-esteem, violence, and confusion about who I was carried on well into my 20s and 30s because I was very stuck emotionally and spiritually. I should be very honest here, K, and also say I have battled depression and thoughts of suicide myself at different points in my life, because I saw no reason to live. I have been where you are, and I understand 100 percent how you must feel this very moment, K.

In my lifetime I have been homeless, suspended from college, embarrassed by relationships, and both the perpetrator and victim of violence. I have had great life and career opportunities, and I have thrown away or otherwise sabotaged just as many opportunities. But, K, eventually I realized that I could no longer be mad at my absent father, or my mother, that I had to learn how to forgive myself, learn how to forgive them or anyone I felt had hurt me in some way, and that I had to be the man God put me on this earth to be. And that I had to do the things I really love in life, and surround myself with people and things that make me happy, in spite of how hard this world may be. Before I got to this point, K, I truly wanted to end my life, too, and I spent several years drowning my sadness with liquor. I would often drink simply to go to sleep.

Therefore when I hear about situations like yours, and how much your mother loves you, and how intelligent and talented you are, I feel compelled to say something, to reach out. You've got to live, K, because you and your life are so very valuable. You've been put on this earth to do incredible things, my friend. You are a prince and you are a genius. I need you to know these things as much as you know the blood that runs through your veins and the air you breathe. We cannot change the past; you must, again, let it go, forgive yourself, take the life lessons, and vow to make new mistakes, not the same old mistakes, because you've decided to live without fear, to live freely. Life is about good times and bad times, victories and mistakes, so there is nothing wrong with falling down. But you cannot stay down. You cannot give up. You have far too much to live for, far too much to give to yourself, to your mother, to your family, to your community, to this world. And you are not merely living for yourself. You are living for every young person who will never have the life chances that you have had, who do not even have a basic skill or talent they have nurtured as you have. This means, K, that you've gone through these very difficult times to make you stronger and wiser, to make you a greater human being and a greater man.

It took me a very long time to understand why I faced the many obstacles I faced. But now that I am in my 40s I can see it all very clearly. As a life-long lover of music, and especially as a life-long hiphop head, I also recognize that the soundtrack of my life, be it Tupac Shakur or Kendrick Lamar, The Beatles or The Black Keys, has always been about finding a way out of no way, you feel me? Especially when times are roughest and darkest. But it can be done, K, I know this because I am proof of it. Far too many people forgot about me, dissed me, abandoned me, and left me for dead. And I nearly did it to myself.

But you are much smarter and stronger than I was at your age, K, and I know you are going to be fine. I know that you want to live, and I know that you want to be. And one day, not long from today, you will look back on this period of your life and be thankful that you experienced what you've gone through. Because you decided, right in this moment, to take full control of your life once and for all. Just because you love yourself, K, more than ever.

Kevin Powell

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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.