Good morning brothers. When I think of Black people, I think about their strength, intelligence, resiliency, and compassion. As I develop, I recognize that I need to embrace it, respect it, nourish it, and celebrate it -- this Blackness. This has not always been the case. All to often, I have tried to escape from it, suppress it, blame it for my shortcomings, and get angry at it due to access and opportunities denied. This Blackness has become an embedded gem in my person and like a gem I need to polish it so that it will shine with perfection.
It is such an honor to see so many Black men across so many generations here at the University of Northern Iowa. The theme of today's summit is to focus on living, loving, and learning as Black males and to align what we learn at the summit to the needs of our community. My introductory remarks will focus on my reflections as a Black male as I live, love, and learn.
As I navigate this world, I live my life through a few guiding principles. These principles are:
People are important
Many of my principles were solidified in my youth while growing up in the 60s and 70s in the segregated South. Although I had limited means, I grew up with a loving family in which I was the youngest of six children along with two supportive parents as well as maternal and paternal grandparents that lived in the neighborhood.
I grew up in a community in which I had a fortress of support – the family, the school, and the church. I grew up as Charlie Watson’s son and as his son this gave all of his children a solid reputation in the community. My dad was known for his hard and honest work as a mechanic and his strong commitment to the church. Because of my upbringing, I have a strong faith and a sense of pride in being Black. Being a Black male has not always been easy, but the struggles I have had has made me stronger, resourceful, and resilient.
As I turn 50 this year, I have been flooded with much reflection that grounds me in humility. I recognized that at 50, I have probably lived longer than I will live and as I move forward I need to live my life right. I need to let the right people in my life so that I can benefit from their wisdom, but I also have to give back, pay it forward, and have others benefit from what I have learned and experienced. I am now the senior, the sir, the mister, the mentor and as such what I say and how I say it matters as I am the role model and I must own it.
Barack Obama stated in one his campaign speeches that we are the ones we have been waiting for. I love this sentiment because to me it means that we must step up and do for ourselves because no one else will have our interest in mine more explicitly than ourselves. To live our lives as Black mean, we must live with integrity because many depend on us to be the ones that they have been waiting on.
Integrity comes from the word integer. From mathematics teaching, we know that an integer is a whole number. To be a person of integrity is to do the right thing all the time, even when the wrong thing may be easier or more profitable. It is about being prepared and not just winging it. It is about being honest, reliable, dependable, and consistent in what we do.
As Black men, I want us to be known for our love. We must love carefully in which we are full of care and not careless with love. One of my greatest regrets is that I might have been foolish and somewhat careless with love in my youth. The Greeks spoke of love in three ways:
Agape – Unconditional love, usually of or from God ï
Philos – Love based on friendship that is platonic
Eros – The romantic love between two people
As we embrace these three types of love, we should have love of family, friends, faith and our relationships should be a measure of our success. As I traversed through life, I have set goals for myself. I focused on educational attainments, positional attainment, and economic attainment. I missed out on relational attainment, but as I move to the next half century of my life, I will be intentional as I cherish and honor the relationships that I have developed.
Learning is essential. My education is the one thing that cannot be taken from me. To be wise, you must seek wisdom. Wisdom comes from several finite places such as book knowledge, interactions with others, and life experiences. I pride myself in having a pedigree of experiences. I want to benefit from the wisdom of others. When I am in the presence of wisdom, I simply sit and listen. We need to respect, honor, and interact with our elders for they have this wisdom of the ages and we must tap into this wealth of knowledge and experience.
Living, loving, learning is the theme of this summit. As you interact through out the day, reflect on how you live your life, how you love, and your capacity to learn.
I will end with a quote I recently discovered that I think sums up my remarks and gives us a challenge as we do this rich work of enhancing and embracing our Black male heritage, history, and future.
“Walk with the dreamers, the believers, the courageous, the cheerful, the planners, the doers, the successful people with their feet on the ground. Let their spirit ignite a fire within you to leave this world better than you found it.”