He Ain’t Heavy – Birthday Brotherhood Meditation

Joyful Boys – Dance in My Light
African American children, False River, Louisiana. Lomax, Alan, 1915-2002, photographer. 1934 July. Lomax Collection (LOT 7414), Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Photographic Print. Link: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/ppmsc.00324/?co=lomax

* Helen Cate, Research Librarian; Funded in part by The Pollination Project; #seedthechange; design by Julie Ray Creative

I turn 65 on April 26. WTF how did THAT happen! I offer you a stream of concentrated moments, and a praise poem, Always a Black Man, to celebrate a lifetime of instructive and illuminating brotherhood.

Lip-synching classic Temptations and stepping in rhythm to Motown’s Funk Brothers at Bernard’s apartment during my adolescence in Southeast D.C.

Laughing at Blazing Saddles with Lawrence and Chris and Steve in the dark of a movie house; laughing even harder when I fell over a seat blocking our aisle as we filed out the theater!

Marveling as my brother Ron played a favorite Motown song for what seemed like 25 straight times on turntable during the 1960s; on iPod in the 21st Century!

Cringing as my brother Glenn cussed me out from the pitcher’s mound after my fourth straight error at shortstop during a college baseball game.

Clenching David’s handshake for the first time after a TV interview when he stood inches from my face insisting: “WE need to meet!”

Listening in awe to this ineffable rendition of He Ain’t Heavy by Donny Hathaway.

Interviewing Richard Pryor at his home with Greg Tate for Vibe Magazine.

Missing my comeback cue later that night when Richard Pryor snapped, “nigger would you shut the fuck up” outside House of Blues waiting for his wife to escort him to see Etta James perform.

Scanning the audience in fear as Dick Gregory welcomed “the CIA agent assigned to follow me” before a speech at Howard University’s Cramton Auditorium!

Interviewing Dick Gregory after he’d just returned from Iran in a Delaware hotel with Rock Newman for the Wilmington News Journal.

Distilling my own uncensored voice from Pryor, Gregory, and the Laughing, Lying, and Signifying—The Underground Tradition of African-American Humor that Transformed American Culture, from Slavery to Richard Pryor examined in Mel Watkins’ book On the Real Side.

Listening in awe to this ineffable rendition of Everything Must Change by Benard Ighner.

Wiping tears as my father told stories in the car outside our old house on 5th Street S.E. on the rainy December afternoon one month before he died.

Blushing as my father asked me if I pulled my lover’s hairs apart when I showed him a rash on my adolescent Johnson.

Smoldering as my father yelled defensively about his drinking: “Don’t I go to work everyday? Don’t I put food on the table?”

Thanking my father for allowing my wife and I to live temporarily in his basement apartment when we moved from Cali to DC!

Understanding my father saying I could not live temporarily in his basement apartment after my wife and I separated!

Listening in awe to this ineffable rendition of Dance With My Father by Luther Vandross.

Always a Black Man

For Brian, Anthony, Curtis, David, Terrell, Roger G., Datcher, O’shea, Conney, Willie, Zef, Cleve, Jamil, Gilmore, Kenny, Charles, Ethelbert, Paul, Milton, Ketema, Greg, Jelani, Kahari   

there’s always a Black man in my life
a Homie found the power of spine
with ways to
my crisis
extend   my   climax
this man is there
even when it’s a drag for him
he steps through the shadows
becomes an incorruptible senator
the instant my troubling light
falls on his empathetic face
& right away
he’s gathering all the facts
to start a public hearing
with hours as convenient as a 7-11

there’s always a Black man who grants my wishes
a Walkboy lined his pockets with psalms
with ways to
my doubt
prolong   my   high
that man is here
even when confusion weakens his meaning
he steps through the contradictions
becomes a medicating genie
soon as we make eye contact
& right away
he’s floating up under my confessions
X-raying through the bullshit
sifting for faults
measuring for serenity
while always
speaking his revelations
like Miles on All Blues

there’s always a Black man in my life
my man
laughing desert water in my ears

so unstatistical
for more than just the weekend

we’re crammed between
every second of our lives
without a mirror’s yardstick
without a hint
that any generosity
will be reimbursed
& in the grinding
steady guarding against specified meltdowns

there are Black men in our lives
yes, Black men
in our lives
there’s always a Black man in our lives
in our lives alive alive alive   well

Spending the night at Melvin’s house after my first divorce.

Eating fries at McDonald’s after Melvin picked me up from BWI to drive me to my mother’s funeral.

Standing with Melvin at his own father’s funeral.

Reuniting at Melvin’s house with Daki, Avon and Ralph for a gray-haired reunion of the  1970s cohort who used to meet weekly at Ralph’s crib in downtown Baltimore.

Shouting ‘remember-when’ stories at Melvin from his guest room as two grown-ass men fought to stay awake on a sleepover at his house in Baltimore.

Listening in awe to this ineffable rendition of Ooh Child by Dwight Trible.

Learning from Thomas A. Gordon that Master Negotiators can ‘walk away!’

Swooning to Kofi Opoku’s idea that proverbs are the Haiku of a people’s wisdom.

Relaxing when Sterling A. Brown told me, “if I can’t read my poetry louder than a toddler’s babble,” then he shouldn’t be standing at the microphone.

Honoring Haki Madhubuti, Kofi Lomotey, Kweli Tutashinda, Kalamu ya Salaam, Professor Samuel F. Yette and Professor Lewis Fenderson for educating me in books and classrooms, on sidewalks and in cyberspace.

Listening in awe to this ineffable rendition of Chimes of Freedom by Youssou N’Dour.

Laughing with Darrell until we ignited smiles in other passengers while riding the train to Brighton Beach on my first visit to London.

Risking public laughter with total strangers while riding LA’s Metro buses and trains.

Believing Michael’s assurances that ‘we have what we need’ no matter the circumstances.

Harmonizing along with big brother Ron while attending Smokey Robinson’s Hollywood Bowl concert.

Smiling at the wistful way big brother Glenn told us to “Go in Friendship” when he retired from his Emmy-winning TV show SportsTalk.

Listening in awe to this ineffable rendition of The Places You Find Love by Quincy Jones.

BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right,’ WINNER, 2015 AMERICAN BOOK AWARD: “… Listen … it’s no question, and I understood this even in my 20s, that great singing, great music, is an ineffable emotional aphrodisiac under any circumstances. I am definitely not saying I had to lip synch Rose Royce (“…I’m going down …”) in order for pop ballads to become 4-minute mantras of metamorphoses. But I have come to discern that this unbidden, flu-ridden, rite of passage was a genuine Round the Way Initiation. I had a 20-something revelation that I could face what scared me, what scarred me, what stymied me, but only if I invested in my own genius and established my own elemental endowment. I sensed I had discovered a sensual and regenerative operating system for the rest of my life, to deal with my drama, to activate my potential, to consolidate my triumphs. My insights have distilled over the years into my own mantras.

Accountability is the midwife of credibility. Refuse the siren song of blame. Withstand the sting of conviction. Measure your own value and distinction. Recognize that creativity is my ally in the worst seasons. Apply creativity in the worst seasons. Start at the age epiphany strikes. Trust that familiar tools, currencies, and modes often come embedded (encoded?) with motivation, abundance, and exhilaration. Don’t let the snap, crackle, pop of new grooves throw you off beat. Communication is the currency of collaboration. Never be afraid to wear your Griot Clothes.

Then repeat, peep game, adopt lessons, evaluate.
Repeat, peep game, adopt lessons, evaluate.
Repeat, peep game, adopt lessons, evaluate.
Until, like compound interest on a spiritual exercise regimen, life affirming patterns can become lifetime practical habits.…” www.blackmanofhappiness.com/shop

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