Living in a Different Way

A lot of black men die early. And many die from preventable diseases and the sticky consequences of them.

When I read of John Singleton’s death, this came back in an undeniable brightness. I grew up loving his work. I didn’t know how young he was until obituaries began.

Then, I visited the catalog in my mind. The men I’ve loved as an adult who have died, namely my father Mardell Culley and my then father-in-law John McKinney. There’s the list of men I’ve served as a leader, a list of those living who, like Singleton, struggle quietly.

Among the responses to Mr. Singleton’s death, researchers have turned again to the problem of black folk dying, particularly black men. Dr. Clyde Yancy, a cardiologist at NM whose work around social determinants of health I respect, grow from, and learn from is a consistent care provider around these issues.

Dr. Yancy says bluntly, “I want this message to be explicitly clear: Check your blood pressure. That’s a hard stop. That’s the takeaway; and especially if you’re an African American man, check it today.”

That is within reach. Drop-in clinics, CVS, Target, your doctor, your cousin’s doctor, your family friend who is a nurse, your ex’s distant friend from third grade. Check your blood pressure.

Speaking about the rates of disease in the black community and after stating the men he has lost, Dr. Yancy sums it up, “It’s just unacceptable. We can live life a different way.”

It’s true. We can. And we can struggle while making noise for the health of our beautiful selves and the health of those we love.

Read the full, brief piece here.

Before Class

As this semester comes to an end, I have decided to accept that I will never like it when people come to class having not read the readings for the class.

I don’t have to know what the professor thinks. I don’t have to know what my classmates think. I think it’s a waste of time.

I think it’s a misuse of the learning process. I think it shortens the possibilities for which I prepared when I read the book the first time and the second time.

In the words of my previous professor-turned-president of CTS, Dr. Stephen Ray, I think people should “read the damn book!”

Exercising Perfect Control

I got hit hard in a class the other day. It was an illegal target–my chin–but I also dropped my guard. I was stunned, turned in a circle to shake passed the hit, indicated to my partner that I was okay, and returned to the work.

In sparring class, there’s a lot of partner work, and to complicate the learning, we always switch partners. Depending on how many learners are in the class that day, we get to spar with several partners in an hour.

Working with partners of varied abilities, skill levels, and histories with giving and receiving contact allows us all to moderate our approach, speed, pace, and more importantly, energy. If someone’s energy is low, you learn to lower yours. If someone’s energy is high, well, you might catch up!

In the dojo, we don’t fight, a subtle word that can be used by the uninitiated. Dojos are “places to learn.” There we practice. Martial arts is a practice. I’m trying to live this in front of my oldest son who is at another dojo, little fighter that he is. It’s not like I go to Thousand Waves to fight. I don’t go to learn to fight. Frankly, I go to learn how not to.

I’m used to fighting. After all, I’m a black man. I grew up on the South side of Chicago. And I was born fighting. I mean that literally. I spent the first six weeks of my life fighting without stopping. I came home from a neonatal intensive care unit tired of fighting.

In the dojo though, I learn how to be as non-violent as possible. I go to self-defense classes and I’m moving through our curriculum. I learn how to fight, but my personal spiritual integration is in the other direction. And sparring is a window into that. You take contact. You get hit. You give contact. You adjust so that you are learning how to meet the challenge. “How do I give as little power as possible, especially since I’m not threatened in our dojo? I’m safe and my partner is helping me. We’re here to learn.”

Our senior-most teacher said to us once that sparring is an exercise in perfect control. I love that. It’s true. You use as much power as needed for the situation. So for me, I’m learning how to yell when my inclination may be to punch. I’m learning to walk away when I want to yell. I’m learning to hit when I’d rather hit, kick, stomp, and rip (…a combination technique, if you will).

When one act accomplishes the need, don’t do two things. Practice perfect control. This is becoming my way of being, especially since I started training three and half years ago. If I can do one thing and end a situation, I will. If I have to act in three ways, I will not act in six ways. I’ll both reserve my energy and I’ll practice perfect control. That’s the learning.

While in sparring class, after turning in my “damn-that-hurt-circle,” I knew my jaw would have more to say later. I had to eat after class and it took a long time to chew on one side of my mouth. I muttered how old I was, too old in my view to start getting used to being hit in the face. Two days later, my teeth recognized themselves again and I was cool. Then, I wrote this post as a memorial.

I’m in class tomorrow. Keep my guard up. When hit, monitor energy. Keep practicing perfect control. If you see me walking around with a rear guard up, it’s because I’m practicing. Encourage me. Don’t tease me.

I may not be a good student, in that moment, if you do.

An Ode That Isn’t Exactly An Ode

I looked at you, the glossy, colorful ways you showed me what black beauty was.

I looked at the curves you featured. I took in the sumptuous reds on your lips and imprinted in my soul the kinky, curly, flat, puffy, drizzly, stringy, clipped, busy, avenues from your head.

I looked at smiling black men, fathers and uncles and brothers and teachers, people professing with their lives what it meant to make efforts, what it meant to pull it together, and what it meant to create for one’s own community counter-images which were truer, better, and accurate images.

You trained my gaze, expanded my vision, and showed me how to start my attraction, how to turn my sight, and how to see the bodies of women closer to me, men very near me, children around me, people whose faces would come to close to my nose, in conversation, around the table, at church, and on all my childhood playgrounds.

I sat struck and dumb and inspired to write because of images you created by showing up like a gift, directed to me, made for me, fashioned with me in mind, and in your every offering was an issue that made me imagine and reimagine how to be black and how to be man and how to be beautiful and how to be with other beautiful black people.

In you and saw what love and work looked like. I saw the sights of wonder. I saw the sights of accomplishment. In you was a body of work, a composed collection cracking my developing notions of the color that captured everything from cream to cacao and did so with hands and eyes and ears of appreciation for how good black looked.

Written on the latest public occasion to grieve a significant treasure all of us should remember well, Johnson Publishing, which is in its last stages as a necessary-but-dying institution.