Young, Shiftless, & Black & Purpose
I was put on earth to liberate the minds of Black people. Everything I do, every endeavor I take on, every degree I’ve earned, and every job I’ve held, has been with one intention: to free the minds of my people. That is my purpose. That is why I breathe. That is why I get out of bed every single day. Is it easy? It’s actually the opposite of easy.
I knew my purpose in this life at 5 years old. My family had just moved to Atlanta from Mississippi. My mom had accepted a job in the city and me, my father, and infant brother packed up the Uhaul and braved a random and rare blizzard in January of 1991 to join her in the A.
Anyway, sometime after we’d settled in my uncle’s home, me and my parents were watching a PBS special on the life of Dr. King. Don’t tell me why my 5-year old self was so enthralled in this 2 hour documentary, but I. Was. Riveted. I was so mesmerized by this man’s power to move people to action. He was an awesome orator, a master organizer, and had the power the unite people across racial lines in the name of Black liberation. I remember laying on the floor at the foot of my parents, hanging on every word and every hymn.
Then, he was murdered.
Nothing, and I mean nothing could have prepared me for Martin Luther King, Jr being shot in the face. At 5 years old, my mind could not process how a man who had done so much good, and talked about so much about love and peace, would be shot down in cold blood like a dog. When the documentary ended, I turned to my parents and said very coldly, “I am going to get the man who killed my brother.”
They were puzzled. My two-year brother was sitting in my mom’s lap. “Son,” my mom said, “Your brother is right here.”
“I’m going to get the man who killed my brother,” I repeated. When that documentary ended, at 5 years old, my bones were on fire and my soul was unanchored; it was like a switch had been hit and could not be turned offf. At the moment, I knew what I had been placed here to do. At 5 years old, I knew my purpose.
Purpose & “The Why”
Some people go all of their lives searching and wondering what their purpose is in life. For me, it came early. I knew at 5 that I would spend the rest of my life battling the demons of global white supremacy. Of course, I didn’t think about it in those terms or in that way. As I got older and I began to navigate this world on my own, I stepped away from religion and indoctrinated thinking, I slowly began to uncover for myself what my “why” was. The “Why” is the only thing that matters in life. It is the only thing that will keep you going when the money runs out, the “No’s” pile up, and all hope seems lost.
I truly believe in my heart most of us know our “why” very early on and thus, we know our purpose very early on. But, for many people, knowing why God (or whoever you pray to) put you here and what your responsibilities are is something most of us would rather not want to deal with. Sure, its easy to say, “I want to know my purpose in life,” but our actions say otherwise. We constantly do things that pull us in the opposite direction of life’s calling and then hide behind every excuse to avoid uncovering it. Lets be honest, it’s scary as shit once you realize why you’re put on earth.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Fear is the only reason we pretend to not know why we’re here. Mostly, it’s the fear of the unknown. How am I going to take on global white supremacy — a system that has taken the lives of virtually every Black political, social and spiritual leader of the past 700 years? Its a question I used to ask myself everyday. That is, until I realized that my purpose — though unique in design — was not exclusive. My purpose was directly tied to the purpose of others. By connecting with like-minded individuals, attending institutions like Florida A&M, and reading the works of men like DuBois, Garvey, and Douglas, I realized my purpose was merely a brick to be layed in a road that had already been paved. I was not the first brick, nor would I be the last. My brick was my brick. But, my brick belonged to a community road that had been traveled years before I was even a thought in the back of the mind of my ancestor’s ancestors. When you think about your purpose as being a part of a whole, the fear of the unknown begins to subside.
How Do Your Know What Your Purpose Is?
Youtube is crawling with thousands of videos that teach you “how to know your purpose in life.” I could post some here but in all honestly, they all pretty much say the same thing: To know your purpose is to know yourself. But, to know yourself is to cut through all of the bullshit, all of the “image conscious” characters we’ve created that do nothing but delay our journeys.
To know yourself is to do the work. The hard soul searching that may require you to log off of Facebook, turn off the tv, close your eyes and turn within. Everybody wasn’t put here to fight global white supremacy — and that’s fine. But you won’t know what your purpose is until you know who you are. That can be a life long journey, or it can be a 20 minute process if you really stop fucking around and admit to yourself that:
- You are not alone, no matter how many times you tell yourself you are
- You have always known what it is you were put here to do, you’ve just been running from it all of your life
- You will not die until you have fulfilled that purpose
Accept these things, do the work, and watch how clearly your “Why” comes to you.
The spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King has guided my life since that time. In the fourth grade, I won a school-wide poetry contest on a poem I’d written about his assassination. In high school, I co-founded and organized a Black History club that led a school-wide march in honor of His birthday. In college, I organized a dozen community service projects across the nation in honor of him and Coretta. When I moved to Chicago and found myself homeless, it was nothing but fate that led me to a shelter less than a mile from the very same place that he laid his head when he moved to the city exactly 50 years earlier to the day I did. When I’ve found myself questioning my “why”or my purpose in life, the spirit of King always reassures me that I am moving in the right direction.
Like everybody, I have my days. I question my purpose and my abilities. I allow the fear of the unknown to stop me in my tracks at times. I am flesh and I am human. It’s in those days, and at my darkest hour when I have to listen the most intently for the voice of Martin. He’s nudged me several times and I have kept on pushing. I made it my business to get the man who killed my brother and I intend to make good on my promise.
And, those days where Martin just can’t seem to get through to me, I am reminded by forces beyond this place that I have work to do. These particular forces, however, aren’t as…gentle.