Proud on Purpose

First written on July 31, 2014 by Marcus Simmons

by Marcus Simmons, Writing & Diversity Educator, Chicago

To be a black man is to be in a constant state of becoming. It is existence as an individual heart, mind, and soul that happens to echo the collective existence of other black men — those who have come before us, those who are with us now, and those who will come behind us. It is, as one poet put it, to “always be arriving” somewhere between the burden and blessing of humans who happen to be both black and men. For some people, black men represent violent, godless brutes who should be feared and need to be saved from themselves. For others, black men evoke images of leadership, strength, complexity, and community. If we’re being honest, black men have the capacity to be both — but at the core, I believe we embody the latter when we’re at our best. If I had to paint a picture to represent all of this, I’d probably paint a forest of enormous, ebony timbers facing the sea. Trees of all shapes and sizes that bend but don’t break, are strongest when gathered together, and help sustain others. As I aspire to become one of those majestic timbers, I am mindful of my roots.

“Daddy” Chambers, called that because we have no evidence of his real name, was among the first generations of my father’s family to be enslaved in the Carolinas. There were also others like Ben, Noah, Solomon, Isaac, and Yam[maho]. Some of these men were directly from Africa and others were born into American slavery. Under this barbaric system, the average lifespan of black men ended somewhere around age 35, yet many of these men and their children lived to be more than 100 years old. Noah became a life-saver. He could’ve easily let his owner, who claimed him among several other possessions on his tax returns, perish the day his boat overturned on the river. Standing well over six feet tall, Noah took mercy on the man, put him on his back, and helped him safely to shore instead. Rather than let his indigenous culture be totally erased, Yam[maho] taught some of his native language to others on the plantation. Seven generations later, I have a small piece of wherever it is we come from in the form of eight words.

However, I have much more than words and stories. I have an image of who and what black men are that reflects survival, compassion (even when abandonment might’ve been justified!), and the refusal to be completely erased. I am a proud, black man. I am proud — on purpose — because my ancestors endured the horrors of slavery. Understand that they were owned by Christian preachers and missionaries who believed that black was a curse — proof of their animalistic nature and inability to survive if left to alone. Yet, it was a black man who saved the life of a man who ranked him lower than livestock. Black men who came before me continued many of their indigenous ways and established a cultural inheritance for their sons. They demonstrated wholeness in the face of violent distortion.

Oh, but there’s more. Their sons and grandsons would take over many of the farms where they were once enslaved — this time as free men. One of them would become a respected advocate and intellectual in Philadelphia, and his son would become the first black graduate of what is now the University of Pennsylvania. Other black men in my family rose to high-ranking positions in the United States military, built and led houses of worship, became Olympic athletes, trekked across continents, and played music for Presidents. Black men do more than survive against the odds. They thrive. They achieve the impossible in the face of the unbearable. I rest in the legacies of the black men that have come before me. In turn they live through me and propel me forward when I am faced with difficult odds.

Old and new forms of enslavement continue to threaten black men today (racism, mass incarceration, patriarchy, and cycles of internal and external violence). Reclaiming the narrative of black men, I believe, is principally about correcting distortions concerning who we are and what we’re capable of. We have to continue to be proud on purpose like those that paved the way for us. Sometimes we may be bent, but we are not broken. In spite of all the death surrounding us, I see signs of life. I see my brothers gathering together again from the hood to the suburbs, in the classroom, in barbershops, in church pews, in dynamic online communities, and everywhere in between. I see those timbers breaking ground and stretching towards the sun again.

Marcus Simmons is a native son of Texas who has worked as an intercultural communications educator/artist and a writing coach in Chicago for the last nine years. With a background in performance, conflict transformation and higher education, he views his work as amplifying stories that reconcile, build community, and push deeply into the end of abuse culture. Marcus currently serves as the Coordinator of Student Engagement and Adjunct Professor at North Park University. He’s also involved in a number of creative projects ranging from blogging to video game modding. He is absolutely obsessed with music and double stuff oreos.



Collected Young Minds gave young minds a space to share their thoughts, engage with a community of peers, and gave voice to their views without censorship or prerequisites. This is a collection of essays written between 2013 and 2019 from various authors.

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Corey Ponder

Tech policy professional by day, wannabe superhero by night. Passionate about building communities, spaces, and platforms focused on inclusion and empathy.