Let Your Light Shine
I say that title in my mind in a conflated manner, you would think I do a great job at it with ease. Just let your light shine. It’s simple. It’s easy, right? I want to say yes, but my ego keeps alot of that light from showing. I guess I could give you an example…
Many times I am the only black guy in those so called important meetings. Everyone goes around the room saying their name and what they do. The worst part of that whole introduction piece is saying what it is that I do. Because honestly, I’m not always sure I know waht it is that I do. Sometimes I’m Eric Brown, the only black guy in a local prison who isn’t doing a stint or securing the people on the property to do their time. I’m just the guy they allow to facilitate classes around identity and purpose through popular culture references. They like me because I show them the other side of the coin when it comes to what it means to be educated. On another occasion, I am Eric Brown, the preacher who hates being called, Reverend or expected to be heavenly minded that I am no earthly good. I’ll perform a marriage, preach a sermon, do a scripture or prayer. But I am hoping that people think of their faith in the form of an action in this world instead of wishful thinking into the next world. I’ll explain that later at another time.
Sometimes I’m Eric Brown who is behind the scenes of making sure people read about a person or event in the local newspaper, helping someone create a plan for a group or an event, or coaching someone to do exactly what they are called to do while they try talking themselves out of it. Sometimes I am Eric Brown who deals with social issues around children, criminal justice, local community economics, or minority rights. But when it’s my turn to say what it is I do for the group to hear, I freeze, become prideful, and simply say my name and might say I’m a community leader. Usually, someone will ask me to elaborate, and I give them a one word answer that can be translated to mean, “Leave me the hell alone.”
I am afraid of people seeing me for who I am, so I force them to see me in a certain light that is a fragment of my identity, and an obscure one at that. It is said that I come off mad or unfriendly at first glance, but honestly that really isn’t my intention. I have a serious case of, “Not stepping into the sterotype I assume you think I am, while at the same time playing into it.” Yea… I guess I should explain.
Knowing that I am the only black man in the room causes an insecurity to flare up inside of me. I assume that people think I am either here because I was in prison and this is my way of giving back to my community. Or that I am a charity case that is here as a victim of making these white folk around me feel like it is there time to be a savior in my life. Or, I assume that they think I know nothing about real issues like politics, business, or organizational development, so they need to explain everything to me in a five minute 101 tutorial as the meeting is going on. While those feeling are happening inside of me, other feelings are conflicting with these feelings. I might want to smile, but I feel it will come off as fake. So I just keep a straight face that must come off as anger because someone will say, “Smile.” Now the moment that happens, I get prideful and decide right then and there, I will not smile for the remainder of the meeting. And this must be every meeting because I am always asked this command. Then, its the white gentleman that wants to bring up some subject around African-American pop culture as a way to be friendly which pisses me off more because I probably didn’t watch the game or hear the song he is talking about. So now I have to pretend I know what he is talking about in fear of me losing my blackness to this non-black person that will think they know more about my culture than me.
While this is going on, I also have more contradictory feeling going on about making sure I don’t look at a wall where a woman is seated. Too many friends have came off as pervs (Most because there are, which is probably why I don’t have many friends anymore). So I’m afraid this woman is going to think amything I say is about hitting on her or flirting with her. So I become extremely serious. I would rather her think I am rude than sexual like I assume she thinks all black guys are. This usually comes up because she will make sure to tell a story about some guy flirting with her and it being unwarranted as a sign or hint not to hit on her. Which wasn’t goign to happen because: A. Brittney Jackson Brown doesn’t play and B. I don’t have money for lawyers this early in my life. Though I usally wear my wedding band everywhere I go, but I assume that doesn’t mean much to the guys who have talked to her with the same wedding band on their hand. I make sure to keep a short conversation. I make sure to either look away or look her straight in the eye. The last thng I want her to think is that I am looking down at her body, or concentrating too hard as if I want her. Then, that feeling is also contradicted by me wanting to sometimes tell a joke, but not wanting to be the “Coon in the Room.” If you are too funny than everyone think you will not take your job serious. But the problem with this is everyone thinks I am too serious and if I do try to tell a joke, people are afraid to laugh.
If you actually read all of those words, that is a reality on the two minutes in my mind before opening my mouth in groups of people, you will see I have a bad case of anxiety. If I could make a profile that people could read before meeting me, I hope this would help them out into wondering why I might seem so aloof to them. It’s because I’m not sure how I should interact with people in fear that they are going to think badly about me, which by the time all of this happens in my mind, they probably already did.Welcome to the world of Eric Brown. The guy that hides the goodness he has in fear that it will be misinterpreted.
As much as I would like to think I am on my own with this feeling, I have come to find out that I am not alone. At least with the teenagers I speak to about this same topic. Many of them being black boys also feel that they are going to be misinterpreted in a world that already thinks negative about them. So we cover up the vulnerability with mean mugs and gangster hugs. We pretend we do not feel the emotions that run through us because it looks like a sign of weakness. We would rather be seen as callous people, because at least you acknowledge us. But we rarely talk about this because no one wants to be a victim. We keep all of the sadness and vulnerable elements on the inside, which is shield by the anger we express on the outside, while also pushing back the goodness into a corner of our mental psyche. Why are we afraid to be good, happy, and proud? When I say proud, I don’t mean as just black men. I mean proud of the things that are opposite to throwing money in the air, popping bottles in the club, or express our masculinity through violence and our sexual bravado? There is more to us than that.
Then, I read Matthew 5 in the Bible where it talks about not putting a lighted lamp under a basket. You put it on a lampstand so the whole room can shine. If I know that, why am I afraid to let my light shine? Am I afraid someone will take that light that I neglect away from me? Am I afraid that when I show that light, it will diminish to the sounds of laughter and ridicule? But then I think of Marianne Williamson saying, “As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.” That’s powerful and yet so risky. It’s risky to shine in the streets of North Nashville. Why would I show the goodness to the world when momma or daddy are the biggest critics? Is it that their light was tamed at such a young age that they feel it’s their responsibility to do it to their children too? We will shine lights from our watches that bling, Clothing line brands that keep the electric billed unpaid for next week, but we still won’t let our lights shine. I went to American Baptist College, where they told us to light a flame that will last forever, but I still cover up that light.
Well my people, I am going to have to shine. Not in the form of cars, clothes, bankrolls, and ladies that our accessories around me of how I want people to see me. Naw, I want to shine in brillance. I want to shine in dedication to see those teenagers shine their light. I want to shine with responsibility of seeing my community become a beacon of light for the rest of Nashville to see. I want to shine so that education is not simply the proof from a degree, but the application that bears it mark from who the people treat and respect their community members through their trust for one another. I want to shine so when I am asked that question of what it is that I do, I can say I am Eric Brown, a fellow restorer of North Nashville that wants to stop assuming that you are assuming I am not as valuable as you are and I am able to see the value we can bring to one another. I want to shine in positivity, love, and compassion. I want to shine in intelligence, innovation, and imagination. I want to shine and let go of the anxiety that keeps me from showing the wholeness of my character and the passion of my soul. I want this to be a reminder everyday, that I have the right to shine.
So, let’s shine.
Eric Brown, A North Nashville “Shiner”