Africa To America (Pt. 4 of 5): Family

Originally posted on Feb. 23, 2019 on Zoot580.blogspot.com.

It was my original intention to make the penultimate episode an expansive journey into family and the differences between then and now.  But in light of a very recent tragedy, I feel it necessary to share the importance of instilling certain beliefs while your children are young (as my father did for me and my siblings).  Beliefs, to which, they will adhere and ultimately, hopefully keep them safe(r) in life.  I know that this can easily be its own story outside of the series, but I think you will get equal value, if not greater.  And again, this is not race- or culture-specific, even though it IS highly needed in the black community.  Hope you enjoy…

[…and if you’re just now joining the series, you might want to start here with “Africa To America (Part 1): More Than Just A Slave Journey”.]

It’s Sunday, 5:55 p.m.  I’m sitting in my rocker-recliner as I wait for the family to turn off the video games, televisions and all lights before meeting me in the living room.  I look across the room and out of the window, offering my weekly thanks to God for the opportunity to meet under such circumstances.   You see, I promised God that if He blessed me with the means to build our first home, that I would honor Him by dedicating one of the rooms to discussion of His word, family unification, education and prayer.  I kept my promise.

Each Sunday at 6 p.m. is considered “The Dark Hour”.  No electronics, just family time.  And during this time, we engage, not in fun, but in formal discussion.  I know that some families have a dark hour of sorts for things like board game activity or reading, but we do that throughout the week.

My family pours in, taking a seat in their favorite spots, all with notepads and pens or pencils.  I start the meeting by talking about two all-too-familiar topics: Alcohol and drug use.  I tell them the difference between stimulants, depressants and hallucinogens.  I talk about the different ways people are introduced to these substances and how addiction occurs.  I talk about how the body’s need for more and stronger “fixes” leads people to do things they wouldn’t normally consider, just to buy that product so they can maintain that “high”.  I talk about the acute and chronic effects of substance abuse; how it changes personal health, lifestyles, dreams, careers and destroys families.  I talk about friends I’ve lost as a result of alcohol and drug use and those who are in prison for possession and distribution.  And not once, in any of the stories or lessons am I able to conjure a single positive reason for them to use or even CONSIDER trying any of it.

I can’t speak on personal experience because I’ve never been high or even tried drugs.  Hell, I’ve never even smoked a cigarette.  I stopped drinking in 1989 back in college, when I got drunk twice that summer and did two regrettable things.  I wasn’t a drinker, in fact, I had only drank on four occasions, dating back to the night I graduated high school.  I just didn’t care for the taste or how it made me feel.  I wasn’t perfect, but I did live a clean life, at least where that was concerned.

Of course, I had other vices.  Hey, I was young once, too!

I got that way because my father preached the dangers of drug use to us on a regular basis.  I’ll always remember the day I was too sleepy to get up on a Saturday morning because I’d been up all night (in bed) writing a song.  He wasn’t aware of my activity, only that I was sluggish in my words and dragging around the house.  He picked me up and planted me (hard) high against the wall with one hand, demanding to know if I had been taking “downers”.  I was terrified because the look on his face was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.  He later explained that he would sooner kill one child and mourn the loss, than to have that child come home, desperate for a fix and harm someone in our family.   Terrifying as he was, my father was an amazing man.  And strong as HELL.

Anyway, after the regular talk,  I share a quick lesson from the bible, something that my boys could all understand, given their various ages with 8 years between the four of them.  I share stories like the the Tower of Babel, the Selfish Motivation and Jealousy of Cain Towards Abel, the Patience of Job, the Parable of the Talents, the Denial of Peter, etc.  After the story or lesson, I let them give their interpretation of what they’d heard and what they would take away from it.

At this point, they all review their “To Do” list from the previous week’s meeting and provide status updates of the self-improvement items they created or were assigned.  My wife and I share ours as well.  We all offer thoughts and suggestions to support each other because this is an open forum, where no one is greater than anyone else.  Everyone is equal.  I only serve as the teacher and facilitator of the meetings.  We add whatever items we decide necessary to continue our personal or collective efforts into the notes of our respective notebooks.  I also allow everyone to share anything new that they wish to discuss.  Anything they feel.  Issues at school, my job, family trips, whatever…

In addition, I share topics such as:

  • Their position in society as African Americans aka being “Black In America”.  
  • What to expect and how to conduct themselves: respecting all races and cultures and being mature/professional in all walks of life.  
  • Exhibiting dignity and pride without being ashamed of who they are.  
  • Being book smart AND street smart.  
  • Peer pressure and how to stand their ground.  
  • Teen pregnancy and the plight of many children in the world, whether abused, neglected, etc as a result of poor, inappropriate or uneducated parenting.  
  • Knowing their ascendants.  
  • Protecting their mother above all things.  
  • Respecting authority.
  • Respecting and loving women as a whole.  
  • Knowing their black history and leaders of today, as well as current events and efforts to advance our race.

We end the meeting in family prayer and hug each other before closing out our evenings however we see fit.  Most of the time, they’re playing video games until I remind them to go wash up and make sure their clothes are ready for school the next day.

Although scheduled for an hour, these meetings often run as long as 2, once, up to 3.  Still, I work hard to keep it within 60-75 minutes unless we’re all caught up in a very enjoyable and/or healthy discussion.

As I said before, I’m not perfect.  But I believe firmly in the teachings of my father, as well as the popular ad slogan, “Talk to your children about drugs”.  Don’t laugh.  It worked!

What was the end result? To this day (the youngest just graduated high school last year), and I can say this with all confidence, not a single one has ever tried drugs or alcohol.  I would often ask them if they’d experimented, being able to get easy access to it all.  They would always reply that they hadn’t and had no interest.  None of them desire to know what it’s like to be “high” or drunk.  And they DEFINITELY aren’t interested in a hangover, a chance at addiction or the likelihood of accidental overdose.  It helps when you tell them how much a bottle of wine costs and how many 2-liters of Barq’s Root Beer you can buy with the same amount of money.

I still smile to this day, thinking about our visit to Wright State University, where I met several of my oldest boy’s dorm buddies.  The song remained the same.  Each one remarked how amazing it was that Kenny (Jr.) didn’t do any drugs or drink.  He partied harder than anyone else, being the party-starter that he was, but if any illegal substances were brought out, he would be the first to leave and couldn’t be convinced to stay for any reason.  Son #3 is now 21 and an up and coming music artist.  Despite the crowds he runs with, he too draws the line at drugs and proudly admits that he has no desire to even experiment or have a simple drink.

I couldn’t possibly be more proud.  We may have our faults or shortcomings, but drugs and alcohol aren’t among them.  Are we any better than your family? No.  It’s what worked for mine.  I do hope, however, that there are things that people can use to fill any opportunities they’ve identified and would like to pursue.

In Africa, despite the many cultural differences, I’ve found one particular practice to be firm and unyielding across that great continent: Preservation of Family.   Within their communities, family is essential.  Family is priority.  Family is sacred.  Family is name.  Family is sustenance.  Family is joy.  Family is life.  Family is God’s grace and His beautiful blessing.  And it extends beyond the base unit.  They cling strongly to extended family members, particularly honoring the elders within and throughout the community.

That’s what my father wanted for us.  That’s what I want for mine.  That’s what my boys want for theirs.  As a race, we’ve lost a great deal since our journey from Africa to America (remember my lesson in Part 1?).  Thankfully, we haven’t lost this.  And for others that no longer practice and value the gift and love of family, I pray they eventually find it advantageous to do so.  This world is hurting right now and is crumbling apart with each sunset.  We need a better tomorrow and it begins with how we teach and raise our own.  If someone has lost their way, let them know that the love they’re missing is right where they left it.  Love your family, with all of your heart.  Save them.  Fight for your family.  RECLAIM your family and teach them to usher in the new generation as assets, not liabilities, to society…

So I guess I’ll stop here.  I have a sudden urge to go downstairs and hug any of the boys walking around the house right now and telling them I love them.

Yes, they still tell me they love me and yes, they still greet me at the door with hugs.  None ashamed.  Not one doggone bit.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”  Proverbs 22:6.

(About God’s word)

“Teach them to your children, speaking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”  Deuteronomy 11:19.

To Be Concluded Tomorrow in Pt. 5: “The Future.”

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