I believe that villains and “bad guys” are born in darkness, the same places where heroes are created. Heroes find their way out and stay in the light. We could all be very lost without folks to lead the way. Many of my blog posts start as prompts for my writing students. In my classroom, I notice, too often, folks are afraid to answer questions, to be wrong, to think. So many don’t want to get involved with their writing and their own voice. I think that we, as a culture, have grown to be afraid of speaking up or helping out. We are afraid of failing so much that we don’t try, and furthermore, we stop ourselves from seeing success. That failure to make an attempt is the antithesis of enlightenment. This is all ironic, to me, in a culture that worships super heroes.
So many of our modern day heroes are fictional characters, in colorful costumes in 3D and Blu Ray. As someone who often spends a large portion of time in imagination land, I know we need our heroes. Creativity and writing allow my students to see themselves thriving when they take time to pretend and play with ideas about the things they want to do, the people they want to be, the people who have helped, and hurt, their progress. Seeing is believing.
“Imagine if you made your own way . . .”
My song “What If” was written in one of the darkest periods of my life. I had no voice, no motivation, and, I thought, no one that would care about me if I disappeared. Writing saved my life and I had to save myself in order to be here and find the words to help others. I had to ask myself,
“What if you just did?”
I need my voice. To sing. To write. To draw in a listener at a market who needs my words that morning. Why don’t we all speak up and take a chance when it is presented? The first time I sang “What If” at a major show in Baltimore, I was joined by Ooh of Brownfish. He and I had an enlightening conversation about following our hearts towards music, wanting to give back to our communities, and staying the course. He was the first person to jump into a “What If” cypher. If you have my album QueenEarth & Friends, you know what I mean. Ooh is inspiring because he is true to himself, aware of his strengths and his skills, and he wants to help others stay on the right path. He joins me on stage on Saturday May 18, 2013 with his partner in rhyme Jahiti (https://www.facebook.com/events/517971141563435/?fref=ts). Both of them are heroes in the education and music communities of Baltimore.
I’ve always adored Superman. He is the ultimate “good guy” in my eyes. He is a writer, for the Daily Planet, and he speaks for justice. I carry him with my at all times, my Superman wallet in my pocket or bag. I carry his outlook with me at all times. My kryptonite is oppressive silence. When we do get the nerve to speak, so many of us ask for “things.” That’s okay. Things are not always concrete. They can be intangible. Often, when those things are right in our faces, we turn away, thinking we are not deserving and often assuming that something is too good to be true. What if someone told you that you could be a hero? What if you were gifted with a moment to change the course of your life or the life of someone else? For the better? Heroes are not passive. They may have been in their past, but it takes ONE big moment to change everything. Heroes never stop looking for that moment. Seizing opportunities, for good or bad, can make one powerful. Why are we afraid to be the captains of our own destinies?
Real life “bad guys” have secret underground lairs and dungeons. Once trapped in a basement by a neighborhood villain, Amanda Berry is a real life victim. One man, Charles Ramsey, decided to investigate and help out when he felt like something was wrong. He could have ignored that feeling. I wouldn’t have the impetus to write this blog, those women would still be trapped, and a “bad guy” would be getting away with a heinous crime, spending each moment ruining someone else’s life. “Bad Guys” are also always looking for their moment to act. Those who are afraid are fearing being the “bad guy” when they challenge behavior that many have come to normalize. More people, especially men, need to not be afraid of speaking up when rape culture’s lexicon and domestic violence jokes are allowed to permeate our streets, our conversations, and our attitudes. The Boston bombings reminded us that there are “bad guys” among us, duplicitous folks walking our streets and secretly hoping to do harm to innocent bystanders. Hate is an ugly disease. Heroes work to stop its spread.
Tomorrow, on my 31st birthday, my brother will receive his Masters. Earlier this month, he was a hero for stopping someone from committing more crimes. http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/847147_Lancaster-police-officer-tells-how-he-tackled-auto-theft-suspect.html You can watch this interview. He says that he was only fortunate that someone took that photo.
He was doing what many people do everyday, in many places. He doesn’t feel special or want any recognition. He chose his job because he wanted to help people and he wanted to stop “bad guys” from further injustices. I hope there are as many heroes as he believes there are. Ask anyone who knows me. I love my brother, and we share a special bond. We are not twins, but people often say we look alike. My brother played football in high school and college. He was never a straight A student. He has the unfortunate curse of being a large black man in America. Ironically, he was often bullied in middle school for being such a gentle spirit. He is far from being a “bad guy.”
Just yesterday, I met a man online who lost his voice to MS and would not be silenced. His “bad guy” came in the form of an illness and he refused to be silenced. He created an alter ego, DJ Rockbot when MS took away his voice. Mad props for making a way! One of my wishes for 2013 was to have more online radio. RockBot liked my submission and now I’ll be in rotation on his show (http://s2.voscast.com:8020/ ). He is a new hero on my list, and perhaps many new artists will find that he is helping them to further fulfill their dreams. I could’ve been waiting around for someone to find my music . . .
“What if you just did?”
When real life starts to look like scary scenes from the movies, I can only hope that there are an abundance of real life heroes to stop it all. Without Superman and Batman to look up to, would my brother have saved the day? My brother is a hero, like many policeman and firefighters. We have certainly witnessed their heroism these past few weeks and overall, found a new appreciation since 9/11. Charles Ramsey saved several lives by thinking, inquiring, and following his gut. Ooh and Jahiti are community leaders because they want to help young people in places where they are mirrored by folks with similar experiences and identities. It’s nice to know that with so much social justice work to do, as a nation, a black man can be a seen as hero, not a criminal. It’s even better to know that someone may follow in a heroes footsteps.
If a little boy or girl grows up with a dream of being like a hero from her favorite childhood adventure or from a real life triumph, imagine what they can do with that real life goal of saving the day. Imagine all the people they can help. Imagine if they help someone who grows up to pay it forward. Perhaps there would be no more bad guys. We wouldn’t NEED any heroes, and we could all focus on continuing to be good and better people, on a better planet than we inherited, with a bright future, without fear of being victims. That is heroism in its finest realm. Imagine, a little bit of time to ponder and play can go a long way. We can all be strong and powerful and enlightened. We have to look for helpers and heroes, yet we can’t wait around for them to appear. We have to find what calls us to action and make heroic changes within ourselves. Sometimes folks are looking for us to lead the way.
In early June of 2014, OOH passed away in a Baltimore hospital. I was leaving work in San Jose, CA when I heard the news. I am deeply saddened, but furthermore, it hurts that I cannot be in the city to celebrate his life. Anyone who knew him was lucky to feel his presence and learn of his contributions to the world. He saved so many young men and women, kept them off the streets, gave them an examples of what a father/brother/elder should be. I hope he has been a catalyst for more heroes. We will tell his stories for years. My loves goes out to Jahiti and his family, Neves and Derrick’s blood family, and the people who knew him well. #RIP #OOH #saveadopeboy