When initially given this assignment I knew that this would be the perfect opportunity to learn more about my family and culture, and to explain the background and relationship of my heritage with the African American culture. The man I decided to interview was my father Bryant Gentle. My father was born in Belize, and before getting into his life’s journey I believe it is important to first give some history on his country, which he takes much pride in.
Belize was first home to the Mayas and colonized by the British in 1840. It’s name then was “British Honduras”, but on September 21, 1981 it became an independent country and was then named “Belize”. Belize is now a very diverse country, being home to those of Mayan, Mestizo, Creole, Garifuna, and other descent. Belize also has a history of slavery that integrated those of African descent. Slaves were brought over from the Caribbean in the early 18th century. The Garifuna people of Hunduras were also of African descent. It is often that I am asked if my family and I are “technically” black. Perhaps this brief history will provide a explanation as to why my father’s story and contribution to his community is relevant to the African American culture. As he stated. “My skin is dark, so regardless of whether or not I was born here, I am black.”
On June 25th, 1956 Rosalind Gentle gave birth to Bryant Gentle in Belize City, Belize. The Belizean culture has a strict parenting style that has been passed on for many generations. Parents work extremely hard to instill a number of values that include respect at all times, a strong sense of pride, and a humble domineer. There was no exception in the way my grandmother, Rosalind raised my father. She provided him with the foundation needed to get out and accomplish what many of his peers could not. School in itself was a struggle, but there was also the violence and other negative barriers that pledged his community. Belizean parents worked together to raise their children and provide safety and security. “If we did something bad and an adult caught us, they would beat us and then tell our parents. Then we would get beat by our parents too”, my father said, as he gave an example of the “It takes a village to raise a child” mentality his mother had. He stated, “In Belize we had many parents, and you could be punished from school, to the neighbors house, and then again at home.” This was in fact the norm and believed to be a helpful method in keeping the youth in line.
As a child my dad attended school and took on a number of small jobs to earn money. Belize’s education system is very different from that of the United States. Primary school is broken into six standards. Unfortunately the high cost of education is a too much of a burden for many families. It is not uncommon for the youth in Belize to gear towards trades or labor work as a source of productivity and/or income. My father attended one of highest levels of education at Belize Technical College.
In his teenage years my father was somewhat of a rebel. Becoming a father gave him a different perspective on things. Instead of continuing his life in the fast lane, he began to think of how his lifestyle would effect his future and his children. As a young adult, my father made many mistakes that were not necessarily uncommon for young men his age. Considering the area in which he lived in, both in Belize and in the United States. He has always shared his experiences with me and urged me to make better decisions.
As most immigrants do, my father made his move to the United States, in 1981, in hopes of having better opportunities and a shot at a better life. The transition was not that easy. The American culture has a way of imposing assimilation on those who are not natives to it’s land. My father’s heavy accent automatically labeled him as different, foreign, and odd. “It was hard at first, getting use to how different things are here in the States. But then you come across a lot of folks from back home. It makes the transition less difficult”, he stated as he recalled the move to the U.S. When he moved to Los Angeles, where he now resides, he was shocked to see that there was a reasonable amount of Belizean that had established a small community with one another.
It was not long after that he too began to play a role in this community. He got involved with music and began to participate in the promotion of Reggea concerts and albums. He then began to DJ for local socials, and events for Belizeans in the Los Angeles area. This provided him an avenue to be a mentor to a few young men in the community. He was able to take advantage of little opportunities that were not as easy to come across back in Belize. He used is career as a DJ as an avenue to mentor.
My father’s story does not fit into the stereotypically idea of a black man. Not only was he able to over come many obstacles that others would have allowed to hinder them from success, he was also able to influence the next generation. His role as a mentor proved that African American males too could be a positive influence and role model. Black males today are automatically labeled as violent, aggressive, threatening, uneducated, and gang affiliated. These labels are even placed on African American males from those within the community. Along with the struggles of adapting and becoming accustomed to American culture, he had to fight against these stereotypes as well. He acknowledged the fact that he did at times play into them, but also believed that his circumstances in South Central was the primary factor.
It wasn’t easy trying to make a living, living in a area like we do. South Central is a war zone and anyone living it is at risk of being caught up in the madness. Young men have it the hardest because gangs are always recruiting, They don’t care if you’re born here or not. We have gangs here with a lot of Belizeans, and they’ve taken the life style back home (Belize).
In our class we discussed the concept of what it is to be a man. Unfortunately our society tends to define masculinity with more negative aspect than positive. Many young men in the South Central area are constantly trying to prove their manliness through violent acts and other disruptive behavior. My father was able to stand tall and not allow those things to destroy the man, with strong values, his mother raised him to be. In many ways he exemplifies the progressive black male. He is aware of the realities of both black men and women in his community, and has worked towards executing the labels placed on us. He is progressive in that he does not play into the stereotypes. He is constantly showing young men in our community that it is possible to be a productive and well respected man without being any of the negative characters they are expected to be.
I’m only human, and I’ve made lots of mistakes. But I am man enough to acknowledge that. I hope that someday it will all be worth it, because getting to where I’m at now was not an easy journey. But I know it was one of the best decisions I could’ve made, because my kids will have a better shot, and better opportunities than me.