The day I was born my mom looked at me with pride to determine if I had safely arrived. In response to my mother's request to determine if I was okay, she heard someone say, "It's a boy," which gave me a label on my first day.
As I navigated the neighborhoods away from my house, I was clearly in areas in which I clearly stood out. It was in these moments I learned that I would be described by a label regardless of the things that I brought to the table. The words that are often used don't describe who I am, but these types of descriptors are sometimes negatively attached to me instead of the positive man that I am.
In kindergarten I quickly learned that the rules weren't always going to be fair, as I was paddled in school for protecting myself from an attack that lead to a seat in my principal's chair. I pleaded my case as I did at the time of the attack. This was the first-time, I realized the significance of being black. The reality was that my voice would many times go unheard, because I would often be guilty before my thoughts were ever heard.
As I grew older and if I did something dumb, the label thug was attached to a kid who was just having stupid fun. These baseless judgments about who I was without any debate proved that I wouldn't always receive fair treatment while someone determined my fate.
During the early days of my academic success, I heard another label within my community because I was working toward success. If I did work to develop my academic roots, I learned a new term that my actions were considered to be white because I wanted to push toward my personal pursuits.
In junior high, I tried to prevent a female classmate from taking a drug. However, my attempts to help her got me again labeled a thug. I didn't do anything wrong, but to try to stop a preventable act. For my actions, I was suspended from school and because of it I started on a new track.
After being suspended from school for a normally commendable act, I determined if I was going to be punished for doing something good than I might as well do something that would gain more notoriety in my neighborhood.
I wasn't a bad student prior to this unjustified reaction to my attempt to save a friend; although, this moment made me start to go off the deep-end. I escalated my negative behavior to live-up to my alleged bad boy deeds, which interestingly changed my direction about my own creed.
The next year I started to withdraw from my old pack, and found a new group that didn't care if they were held back. The more I associated with this unsavory bunch, my life went from good-to-bad as quickly as completing my lunch.
It took many years before I got back on track, mostly because my high school principal -- Ms. Gwen Felder -- wasn't afraid to tackle an issue using many points of attack. Ms. Felder's tough lessons taught me a lot; although it took many years before I changed my behavior to pursue my dream to secure a college spot.
In college and during a visit to a mall, I learned that just being present could potentially lead to an emergency call. As I walked on my way on this particular day, I discovered that I was a threat because my skin appeared to be a certain way. It didn't matter that I was at a prestigious school, because I was observed to be just another fool.
At my first corporate job I rose through the ranks, but learned very quickly that my hard work didn't gain me any credit in the societal thought-tanks. As I moved boxes into my new office with zest, a co-worker whose office would be next to mine put my ability to be civil to the test. Upon his arrival and without any time at all, he directed me to move boxes into his office before he could make his next call.
Unfortunately, these scenarios wouldn't be the end of this crap because as a black man I feel like I'm always trying to avoid the next mousetrap.
After years of corporate success, I went on a vacation to have a little relaxation. As I stood in front of this location, a man directed a question unbelievably in my direction. While standing in front of my vacation place, a man tried to give me keys to move his car to some distant space. I wasn't dressed similar to the men who parked the cars, but while he attempted to hand me his keys I felt like some type of avatar. I had to quickly level my mental distress to prevent myself from getting into an unsavory mess. If I reacted and lost my control, I might have been led away by the police patrol.
A word that is missing from this whimsical prose is a term that there isn't a need for me to disclose. This word is used to describe many blacks, but I won't give it any space in this piece as it's a pointless reminder of ignorant attacks.
No matter the words that I've often heard spoken, these words won't leave me at all broken. I won't be bothered by those who lack any tact, as my destiny isn't determined by the way these individuals choose to act.
Your value comes from within and this will also give you the strength to begin.
Remember that a word can only be a limiter if it's believed to be a true descriptor of you; therefore, define and live by your own positive words to help make your dreams and others come true.
This post originally appeared on S. L. Young's blog on his website at: www.slyoung.com