Student Oral History Projects ———————————————————————————— “Hershey Norise” by Kimberly Mayo

MayoI interviewed my friend’s father named Hershey Norise. Mr. Norise grew up on the South Side of Chicago in the Englewood area, a community that is notorious for its violence and high crime rate. He lived with both of his parents plus seven brothers and two sisters. Mr. Norise felt he had a good support system as well as a stable family considering he grew up with both parents. As a pastime, he would play basketball everyday to keep himself distracted from negative influences that were present in his neighborhood. In high school, he was considered a nerd since he was seen as the weird kid in the neighborhood. Also, even though his community was heavily gang affiliated, he never got involved and never even had a police record. He took it upon himself to make sure his younger brothers were out of trouble. He also made it his responsibility for his younger brothers to also finish high school.

While he was a teenager, he and his friends have had more than a few racist encounters with white police officers. In one encounter in particular, he and his friend were kicked out of the beach by a white police officer, most presumably because they were both black. After that encounter, he told himself that he would become a police officer to work to stop such injustices from occurring towards Black males as well as other people of color. After high school, he attended Wilson Junior College and at twenty-two years old, he worked at the police office. As he lived through his twenties, he decided that becoming a police officer would give him the privilege of also helping all kinds of people be protected from harms way. As his older brother was one of the greatest influences in his life, he was inspired by him to not only become a police officer, but to also become a county sheriff. At age twenty-four, he was called into the sheriff’s office and then became a Cook County sheriff.

After being a Cook County sheriff for ten years, he married his wife and had two daughters, Catherine and Sarah. After being a sheriff for twenty-seven years, Mr. Norise was able to retire early. As he has been able to provide for his family, he feels that he is successful for a Black man in Chicago. Now, one of his daughters is in medical school while the other one is attending college with the pursuit of attending an institution of even higher education. Because both of his daughters are successful, he also feels that is an accomplishment in and of itself. He can’t ask for any better. To this day, he has continued to help his younger brothers find jobs if they have not been able to do so. For his community, he served as neighborhood watch for a time to keep the community he lives in safe. With all of his life experiences that came along with being a Black male, Mr. Norise has been able to successfully overcome the stereotypes put upon him.

After interviewing Mr. Norise, I noticed that there are many aspects of his Black male experience that contribute to the argument that Black males are not limited to stereotypes that plague Black men in the media. While in high school, Mr. Norise was considered the weird kid in his neighborhood because he wasn’t in any gangs or in any kind of trouble whatsoever. As many rap artists glorify crime, drug use, and joining gangs, Mr. Norise finished school and instead became a Cook County sheriff. Also, instead of giving into violence and crimes, he became a sheriff to work to prevent such violence from occurring. Furthermore, he became a sheriff to try to stop injustices as well as racial profiling done towards Black males and other people of color. During his time of being a Cook County Sheriff, Mr. Norise worked in a job that may be considered the opposite of a job that a Black male would have considering the stereotypes portrayed of Black men. Because he was able to become a county sheriff, he has proven that Black males are not limited to the stereotype that all Black men want to be affiliated in violence or just want to become basketball players or rap artists. For young Black men, education is not seen as a goal to accomplish for future successes. Mr. Norise knew he had to finish school in order to become a police officer and fulfill his other life goals.

Mr. Norise also helps disprove the stereotypes of Black men as docile, violent, mentally inadequate, and indolent as plagued by the media. Mr. Norise successfully completed his education and even went further to become a police officer and then a Cook County sheriff. The hard work and dedication he put into becoming an accomplished Black man is certainly more proof to the argument that Black men are not just limited to stereotypes from the media that are related to their work ethic. By being a county sheriff, he has had to live up to completely opposite methods of work and life that are not expected of Black men. Like Mr. Norise, other Black males are also capable of achieving educational goals as well as higher standards of living that are not always expected of them.

Lastly, as plagued by the media, Black males are seen as unable to provide for their families and are often times portrayed as not willing to care for them. Mr. Norise has been able to once again defeat those stereotypes and has willfully cared for his wife and children. In addition, he has supported, helped, and motivated both of his daughters to pursue higher education and an even higher standard of living. By not only motivating himself, but his children as well, he is exhibiting other work ethics that are not generally expected from Black males. By also becoming a county sheriff to help prevent racial injustices towards Black males and other people of color, he is exhibiting other work ethics not expected from Black males such as the willingness to help, care, and protect others as well as help bring social justice to disadvantaged races. In many aspects of the life Mr. Norise has lived, he has contributed in a number of ways to the argument that ultimately, Black men are not limited to the stereotypes that plague them by the media. Like Mr. Norise, Black men are capable of being just as successful as any other man no matter what race they are.

“Tadesse Bekele” by Brittany Hughes

Brittany HughesOn April 1st, 1953 Yeshi and Bekele Kidane gave birth to Tadesse Bekele, who would show and prove to be the biggest April’s fool that I know on the institutionalized structures of hegemonic masculinity. Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Tadesse began fooling the systemic forms of oppression, which most Black males fall victim to, at a very young age. In a time where war is no longer occurring on battlefields, but rather in our own households, in our hierarchies of Western Eurocentric structures of power, and within our own consciousness Tadesse Bekele shines as a beacon of light or “jegna” meaning hero in the Ethiopian community for combating the hegemonic forces that have misguided our Black men on what masculinity truly is. Through leading by example, Tadesse Bekele not only has begun to reconstruct the foundation of masculinity for his own son and daughters, but also those in the community that look up to him as a father figure.

The first form of oppression, which most Black males encounter in their life, begin in the household with parenting or the lack there of.  In the case of Tadesse, he and his mother witnessed and suffered from physical abuse of his father and at the age of nine months Tadesse’s mother was kicked out of the household. Therefore, Tadesse’s grandmother stepped in to raise him until she died when he was eight years old and from here on he still lived with his father, but he supported and fed himself.

This young boy was left with no mother or real father figure exemplifying what it means to be a real man as many African Americans and even African households often experience. Like most young African American boys and young men of African descent, Tadesse was exposed to the same institutionalized powers of hegemonic masculinity, which were put in place to still control the Black man and thus the Black community. Tadesse’s father exemplified many of these qualities through his dominance, violence, abuse of his partner –showing a lack of respect and control he felt towards women, and incapability to father his own children and express love towards them despite his presence in the household.  The ultimate culmination of Tadesse’s father inability to be a father and truly fight these systemic forms of oppression was after years of also physically abusing Tadesse his father kicked him out of the house. Tadesse was only a teenage in the tenth grade. From here on Tadesse had to have his school fees waived since he was not an adult yet and rented a flat with multiple people so that he can have shelter. Meanwhile, he began to teach underclassman for money to support him self and continued to succeed despite his circumstances.

Typically when young men are faced with having to fend for themselves when they do not know how to, often fall victim to institutionalized powers due to modeling the wrong examples provided for them in the environment. In these toxic situations, things like gangs and living an “ underworld” lifestyle usually present themselves to lost young men like Tadesse. However, when God says that he does not put too much on you than you can bear, he means it because he had a great blessing and plan in stored for Tadesse’s life.

Despite having a hard upbringing, Tadesse was still able to complete high school and finish the first part of God’s journey for him and he finished it strongly. Not only did Tadesse graduate from high school he also received a gold ring from the King, King Haile Selassie I, also known as Rastafari, for his academic excellence. Moreover, he received a grant scholarship to attend college in India and then go on to graduate school at the University of Ohio. This was only the beginning of how God would use Tadesse to not only be blessed, but also be a blessing to others. While in college Tadesse received a bachelor degree in science and went on to also receive a master’s in it as well. Tadesse demonstrated hard work and resilience that would help other lost Black males, especially in a society where Black man are now being able to look up to a better role model than the ones provided,; those who actually go to college and graduate school and major in fields like engineering, which was something Black man let alone the Black community was deemed not able to accomplish for many years.

Tadesse realized this and recognized that in spite of his negative past he had a brilliant future and God was using him to help those like him, whom institutionalized structures wanted fail. More importantly Tadesse said that he forgave his mother and father for not being there and I believe it is because of this that propelled Tadesse into his career and the multiple community organizations that he would later implement. For many years Tadesse would become employed for the Ethiopian Engineers Association and become a representative for an East African pharmaceutical company, however, his work did not end there. Tadesse would go on to be an East African representative for Alcatel, start up is own construction company and also become a leader in the community.

Within the community, one of the many organizations that Tadesse became involved with was a community organization called Edir, which he headed and objective is to invest money into the community for families that need financial support while keeping the community unified and encouraging togetherness. The next contribution Tadesse would make was establishing a banking system within his own community. This system is called Equb and how it worked was through each household donating a fixed amount of money each month and each month there would be a draw, in which one family would win a raffle each month that consisted of all of the money that had been saved up. Every month this raffle would be done until each household won once throughout the given year. In addition, in the case of an emergency a household could request their money if they were in a financial jam and thus be removed from the draw. However, the list does not stop here, Tadesse would go on to accomplish more. Later on, Tadesse would become the chairman of an organization called U.N.I.C.O.N, which was a consultant firm that helped people or companies construct the foundations and give expert advice on what materials should be acquired or needed for the construction of buildings within the community.

Tadesse worked hard to give back to his community, however, those organizations would not be his most important contribution to the community; instead, Tadesse’s most imperative contribution to the community would be his role as a father figure. Tadesse has three children, two girls and one boy, named Fiker, Hiwote, and Edel and his characteristics as a father truly shows the progression that needs to start taking place in the Black community. In spite, of his parents and the abuse that he endured as a child, Tadesse would go on in life to love his children, protect them, teach them right from wrong, teach his daughters to fully understand their worth and teach his son how to be a respectable man who does not fall victim to the qualities of hegemonic masculinity. Tadesse believes that it is because of his upbringing that allows him to provide a better life for his family and to be a great husband to his wife, in which he treats her with the utmost respect.

Tadesse not only performed this role or duty for his children, but those of the community, as well. Tadesse took this very seriously and even would end friendships with people who he deemed did not properly raise their own children. Tadesse is constantly providing an example for troubled youth and advocating ideals and actions that are opposite of what hegemonic structures would expect and thus he act as a catalyst and more so as a hero or jegna throughout this battle and struggle to define what is truly a Black person, Black Husband, Black father and most imperatively a Black male within our community.

“Allan Lambert ” by Marquise D. Brown

Marquise BrownAllan Lambert was born April 5, 1958, to Nathaniel and Pamela Lambert in Arima, Trinidad & Tobago. Both Nathaniel and Pamela were hardworking and cared for Allan and his two brothers and sister. At an early age, Allan and his siblings had to deal with the death of their beloved parents. “I grew up in a small town and was always a simple guy often staying to myself wasn’t much to socialize.  When my parents passed at an early age I had the drive and determination to survive not entirely because I wanted to but I had to, mainly to provide for my brothers and sisters.  My mentality, per say, didn’t change but my motivation was geared to provide which has been a major part of me since even in my own family and the same value instilled in my sons.” After taking over the responsibilities of his parents, and caring for his siblings, Allan went on to start his own family and he brought the same teachings from childhood with him.

Allan Lambert married Christine Blackette on December 26, 1979. Allan and Christine went on to have three children, all boys.  I asked Mr. Lambert as a black male, what qualities do he feel are needed in order to be a successful black male? How has he embodied these qualities? And how has he instilled these qualities in your sons? He responded by saying, “the strongest weapon I have is my connection and devotion to God.  Each day I start with him and it has been a blessing.  Knowledge is also a key to success.  Reading about the world around you gaining an education not only in the field you are looking to work in but just general knowledge will broaden your mind and outlook on life.  I have three boys and each of my sons know the value of education and learning.  I have done many things to keep their minds focused.  Each of my children has that special interest in culture.  I think that’s one thing all of my boys share is the love and appreciating for all cultures around the world and learning what they can from them and the events that take place around the world.” Beyond eradicating hegemonic masculinity and stereotypes of the black male inside of his household, Mr. Lambert shares his teachings with his community. “I spent a long time working with the Trinidad embassy working to better the streets and clean up the community.  The country has come a long way from poverty to the bettering ourselves through education, employment, and more government involvement working with the people.  Trinidad as a whole has grown economically and the dollar value has been enriched. Thus being able to build, and pave streets allows for the development of major cities and through the completion of many other projects creates a more valued community.”

In my opinion, Mr. Lambert defies the stereotypical black male and exemplifies what it means to be a progressive black male. The qualities most commonly associated with black men of today included and are not limited to being hegemonic, hyper-violent, hyper-sexual, unintelligent, incapable of success, and uncaring about relationships. Mr. Lambert by no means represents any of these qualities. Mr. Lambert even goes the extra step to instill this same attitude and attributes in his three sons and shares it with his community. The exploitation of the black body is in abundance in the media. The black body has become a phallic symbol, a source of entertainment to others. The Hip Hop Industry is a major industry used to exploit the black body. The women displayed in videos are always half naked and committing submissive acts for the men. These women are also degraded by being called “bitches” and “hos”. The male rappers reference their male genitals to weapons perpetuating the idea that they are hyper-sexual and phallic symbols. Even female rap artists are pinned against each other and are in a sense competing to see who can claim the title of being “the baddest bitch.” When asked what advice he has for the black youth of today, Mr. Lambert replied, “the youth of today need to discover who they are.  Many kids are lost trying to be who they are not.  Trying to imitate what they see on TV or how their friends act.  Individuality is an aspect of life that many youth forget.  Also many youth forget who they belong to.  Many black children grow up in some form of religious atmosphere lot’s lose their way and go astray.  The youth of today need to focus on what’s important.  Learn from the older generations who have lived and experienced, stay focused on your creator and don’t get corrupted by what seems nice because in the end it’s a path that always leads to destruction.” Taking heed to Mr. Lambert’s advice, I plan to embody his teachings and share them with my family and community to further promote progression in the black community.

“James Armstrong” by LaThelma Armstrong

“I remember walking down the dirt road in Turrell Arkansas. Sweat dripping down my fo’head”. It was always hot and I always had to walk-you know because we didn’t have a car or nothin’. It was hard, but you know Tee life can be hard but we survive”

 My Grandfather is a man of few words. His slow speech still reminiscent of his southern upbringing reminds me that his past is always an ever-present part of his life. My grandfather, James Armstrong was born in 1933, the last of nine siblings. Raised by a single mother, my grandfather spent most of his childhood picking cotton as a sharecropper. “Sharecropping is a system” in which” the landlord allows individuals to “use the land in exchange for a share of the crop”.[1] During the 1930’s, many former slaves and children of former slaves found work as planters and laborers in a post civil war era. Black families were still renting land from white owners, working for cash crops such as “cotton, tobacco, and rice”.[2] Accordingly, “In that absence cash or an independent credit system” the system of sharecropping emerged”.[3] As a sharecropper my grandfather faced the challenges of erratic harvest and deceitful landlords often causing him to move from place to place in search of work.

A tin roof house with 3 bedrooms and a kitchen was what my grandfather called home. His meals consisted of any form of meat that could be cleaned and put into soup.  “Big mama could make anything taste great. We ate rabbit and squirrel, pretty much any meat we could find”. Every 3 to 5 years, my grandfather would move to various farms to find work. Due to his financial obligation to his family, he was able to only attain a ninth grade education. My grandfather’s dream for a better life lead him to almost every town in Arkansas, Florida, Detroit and finally Chicago in 1949. My grandfather occupied every job from harvesting fruit, working in a scrap yard to a factory job at Deluxe packing company. The American dream has been characterized as the attainment of the wife, dog and two kids. When asked to describe his proudest moment, my grandfather responded, “Marrying your grandmother, moving into our first house and having my first child.” Together my grandparents had five kids, seven grandchildren and ten great grandchildren. At 79 years old, my grandfather has lived through the two world wars, the civil rights movement and the election of the first Black president.

 “I was always a man whether it was chopping cotton or ploughing a mule. I have always thought of myself as a man. I was proud to be saved and alive”

           From a very young age, my grandfather has always had a progressive sense of masculinity. Segregated public spaces and schools characterized most of his childhood and adult life. African American men are the victims of “psycho-socio-economic suppression” relative to African American women and their White female and male counterparts.[4] Additionally “a major feature of the experience of African American men has involved coping with the challenges associated with being victimized by institutional arrangements that have been designed to hinder their capacity to achieve political and economic equality with White men”[5] Thus, many Black men like my grandfather are forced to find alternative avenues of masculinity. Many Black men choose avenues that include hypersexuality, concern with expressive styles of speech, dress, and appearance, and toughness or violence or choose to the subculture that has been ethnographically described through the various manhood roles of the tough guy, the hustler, the player, the “gangsta”.[6] I am proud to say that my grandfather practiced self-definition and self-valuation early on and choose to measure his manhood according to his own standard that included internal qualities. “I ain’t neva looked to the White man to give me my identity as a man. I was a man because I had integrity, character and good work ethic. That’s somethin’ that only God can give any human being and no one can ever take away.”

Within U.S. society, Black men encounter contradictory expectations concerning their manhood[7]. For example, historically Black men have been characterized as” sexually violent rapists, as brutes and as irresponsible boys who fail to marry the mothers of their children and financially support their children.”[8] My grandfather has been the only father figure in my life and in the lives of many young girls and boys in my neighborhood. In addition, he has always demonstrated respect towards his female counterparts and is very proud of celebrating his 62nd wedding anniversary to my grandmother this year. He said with great pride, “my marriage to your grandmother has been my first and my only.”

My grandfather has raised his two daughters, his two granddaughters and currently his two great granddaughters. Therefore, whether by circumstance or choice, my grandfather has adopted a Black feminist consciousness. To this day, my grandfather always reminds me of my independence and has warned me early on of the issues that I may face in a society where Black women are faced with interlocking oppression. I learned how to be a strong Black woman from both my grandfather and my grandmother. My grandfather rejects the dominant gendered assumption of Black deviancy that suggests that African Americans have women who are too strong and men who are too weak. He has always told me, “Never change the woman you are to please a man. Find a strong man that is not afraid of a strong independent woman.” I especially admire my grandfather for his resilience and overall love for his family. For the past 4 years, I have watched my grandfather become the primary caregiver for my grandmother who has suffered from a stroke and my two toddler nieces. My grandfather has made himself learn how to manage all of the domestic chores in the house while still making time to read Princess books and attend pretend tea parties with my nieces.

I strongly believe that my grandfather is an example of a progressive Black man. I am proud to call the sharecropper from Turrell, Arkansas with only a ninth grade education, my grandfather. Looking at my grandfather now, I would have never imagined the struggles he has endured to become the man he has today. Even with all the accomplishments and achievements, his last few words were, “I am just proud to be alive and saved.”

[1] “Sharecropping.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 09 May 2013.

[2] Ibid..

[3] Ibid.

[4] Hampton, Robert L. Violence in the Black Family: Correlates and Consequences. Lexington, MA: Lexington, 1987.: 96 Print.

[5] Hampton, Robert, William Oliver, and Lucia Magarian. “Domestic Violence in the African American Community: An Analysis of Social and Structural Factors.” Violence Against Women 9.5 (2003): 533-58. Print.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Hill, Collins Patricia. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.

[8] Ibid., 156.

“Keith Johnson ” by Vanessa Feder

Vanessa Feder

Keith Johnson is the name of an independent, strong, intelligent, comical, resourceful, and caring man: also known as my father. My dad was born in Toledo, Ohio where he lived until he was 5 years old when his family moved to Southern California. He lived amongst his two younger brothers, an older sister, and his mother and father. My dad was a role model for his younger brothers which was important when they wanted to become involved in the same activities as my dad. My dad was conscious of this and knew his responsibility as the eldest male of the siblings. His parents remained married until his mother passed after my dad was grown up and on his own. One important factor in his upbringing was the role his parents played in shaping his future experiences. His mother (my grandmother) was a ‘stay-at-home mom’ in my dad’s younger years which he says, “she took very seriously.” She made sure she was an instrumental part in each of her children’s lives, encouraging the importance of an education, assisting in activities outside of school, and passing down ‘old wives tales’ (which my dad still tells me today). She was involved with the PTA at his school, fundraisers, and other activities that helped the community. She later went back to work to insure that her family was never ‘in need’. Her husband, my father’s father, achieved an advanced education and was always busy working to support the family. On weekend he did house chores usually assigned by his wife and spent his free time on creative projects such as model airplanes, cars, etc. My dad said to me, “Strong leadership and character building was impressed upon me as the oldest male child.” He took part in Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Eagle Scouts, and Civil Air Patrol and dreamt of being able to fly real airplanes someday. At a young age, he had his hands on “all things electronic and mechanical.” He had multiple jobs, did well in school, and even paid for the electrical bills as a young man (due to his obsession with electronics and using up the most energy in the house out of anyone). In junior high school, my dad had a HAM Radio License and knew he was bound for a career in Electronic Engineering. He went to college in Arizona and went on to get his master’s degree in Santa Clara. He worked three jobs during school and paid for his own car and tuition. It was not a surprise when he worked for Research and Development (R&D) facilities, Telecommunications, and other related careers after college. He also managed and DJ’d his own nightclubs as a unique way to reach out to the youth and provide a safe and fun place to hang out. My dad expressed to me that positive experiences from his childhood have shaped the various interests he has today: a love for music, cars, airplanes, building and creating things, or even just mentoring youth for the future. He believes it is imperative for adults to lead by example and not just advocating their views.

My dad does not fit under the misconceptions and stereotypes people have placed upon Black males in the United States today. The fact that my dad had married parents that were able to support a family of 6 was both honorable and goes against conventional views of Black families. My grandfather made sure to obtain a higher education even when it was not common or easy to do. All of my father’s siblings went to college and either received scholarships for athletics, academics, payed their own way through college, or used whatever money their parents had saved for them to get a degree. My dad defied odds when he was one of the only Black males to graduate in his senior class of college or to obtain a job at the Research and Development laboratory he worked at. His knowledge surprised some but did not make him feel superior to others. My dad thinks every experience enriches his own learning and he constantly reminds me to ask questions and listen to every opinion before speaking my mind. My dad has lived a life which is not shown in the media. A movie about my dad would not consist of running

from the cops, selling drugs, becoming a sports legend, or being saved by a White man. He, with the help of his family, has created his own path and successfully so. My dad, although he does love women, is not hyper-sexual like Black men are perceived to be. He is faithful to my step mother and is open about his feelings towards other women. Also, because my dad has had to be a role model to his siblings and had strict parents, my dad is one of the calmest people I know. He does not use violence or or even verbally negative language. This goes against the stereotype that Black males are all hyper aggressive. Lastly, my dad is one of the smartest men I have ever met and not just because he is my father. My dad likes to learn new things and is very interested in exploring new subjects. This could explain his attraction to mechanics, math, engineering, art, music, people, etc. This challenges the false idea that Black people are unintelligent.

I am so proud to call the man I interviewed my father not because of the stereotypes he refuses to conform to, but because he is his own man. A few qualities he possesses that goes against the Westernized definition of masculinity as well as the perception of Black masculinity is his ability to express love to other male friends of his, his openness to talk about his feelings, and the value he places on women. Many times he will express to me, “Women are much stronger than men, Vanessa. You guys are in a whole other playing field.” He admires how females seem to be more expressive and willing to be vulnerable, although he recognizes all people are different. He is a man of both wisdom and courage. He is wise with his decisions, wise with his words, and wise with his actions. On the other hand, my dad is courageous in the way he takes risks to better himself and his family. He is courageous for creating his own life even when institutional barriers and racism have prohibited him from doing so. He has been a positive role model, a caring brother, an admirable son, an intelligent student,a hard worker, a creative individual, an outstanding father, and yes, he’s Black.

“Johnnie Lloyd Damon III” by Jontoya Damon

Jontoya DamonThe person that I chose to interview for the black male elder recognition project was my father, Johnnie Lloyd Damon III. My father is 56 years old, born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. He grew up in a two-parent household but his father had passed away when he was 10 years old. He has two younger siblings, a brother and a sister. He grew up poor in the projects, on welfare, in a chaotic and dysfunctional family. His father was verbally and physically abusive to his mother and suffered during his first 10 years of life watching his father abuse and cheat on his mother. My grandfather (his father) was a long distance semi tractor-trailer truck driver and my grandmother (his mother) was a substitute teacher, worked for a nurse in the home, and a domestic worker cooking and taking care of families.

Growing up my grandmother kept my father and his siblings in church participating in all types of church activities such as choir, and bible study. My grandfather wasn’t around much due to traveling because of the truck driving. My father stated that although he loved his father he knew that he had some underlying problems that caused the family to be chaotic and dysfunctional. (Damon, 2013) His father was an alcoholic and when under the influence he would hear his parents arguing and fighting and would take his younger siblings out the house so that they didn’t hear or see anything. My father seen my grandmother working hard by working more than one job to feed the family as well as keeping the family together by going to church together on the regular. Once my grandfather passed away that was when my father stepped in and took on the fatherly figure role. It was that moment in time where he had no choice but to step up to the plate to help take care of his younger siblings and to help my grandmother. (Damon, 2013)

At an early age my father got a job bagging groceries at the local grocery store, to becoming the head of the meat department in the grocery store just to help his mother take care of the family. He stated that when he was paid, which wasn’t very much, he would give every dime to his mother. (Damon, 2013)They received canned food from the community food bank. I asked my father if he felt that by growing up in an abusive household made it harder for him in terms of becoming a man and being a positive role model for his younger siblings. He replied that his father was extremely strict, yet aggressive and was an alcoholic but tried to look at it as a sickness. He learned what it meant to be a man by staying in church and having positive godly men around him at all times. (Damon, 2013) His mother kept him in church to help mold him mentally into the man he is today.

To keep from trouble while growing up he formed a vocal group with his neighborhood buddies and would perform at talent shows around the city, as a hobby. At the age of 17 my father joined the Army to get away and be independent. After serving in Germany he was stationed in Monterey where he met my mom and started the family.

When it came to women my father didn’t have a positive role model on what it means to have a progressive and healthy relationship. My father was never around and was abusive. He said that with the absence of his father he suffered with certain aspects of being in relationship but has always known that with the experiences of helping his mother and by stepping up to help take care of his younger siblings at a young age his respect for his mom was greater than anything. He had to learn to forgive his father. (Damon, 2013) He stated that there was always someone in his life that would steer him in the right directions. My father felt that part of being a strong masculine black man is to never be afraid or ashamed to admit wrongs and that being masculine has nothing to do with possessions but all to do with personal responsibility and accountability. (Damon, 2013)

Based on the information my father had given during the interview gives insight into how much of a difference in which people are raised and the generation gap. Now and days black males limit themselves and become a factor to the stereotypes that black males can only portray their masculinity through being some form of an entertainer. Fortunately for my father his way of learning and internalizing the idea of being a masculine black man was through the church. He did not have a father throughout his whole teenage years, but depended on the relationships he developed with people in the church.

In the black community it is quite common for the single mother to place their children in sports a young age, not just single parents, but black parents in general. With my dads father dying while he was 10 not only forced him to mature a bit faster than the average but also pushed him into taking on the fatherly figure role in the family. A lot of the ideas of masculinity and being a man stems from being young and having many jobs just to help his mother and helping take care of the rest of his siblings. His younger siblings began to look up to him as an extremely influential role so he had no choice but to only do things that not encourage them to be do the right things but to help them look forward to a better situation than they were in. My father does sing but didn’t use entertainment as a means of an escape. He joined the military as an escape route to independency and to travel the world.

Overall the church, religion period, are one of the major missing pieces to the puzzle in the lives of a lot of young African American men. When a father is missing in the home not only does community groups pose as positive ways in which men can learn some positive influences but religion and worshiping a higher power is what our ancestors were so loyal to and is what has gotten us thus far. Although my father was taught to appreciate all types of genres of music, he believes the music today exemplifies weaknesses. He doesn’t listen to hip hop and refuses to watch music videos for the simple fact that violence, sex, and money are all that is being talked about and because of the way he was brought up and the belief that those negative messages damage peoples character and self esteem. (Damon, 2013) It confuses people, in terms of who they really are, and often times leads them to believe that one entertainment is the only way to make a living, acting a fool.


“Randal Dana Dawson” by Lauren Dawson

Lauren DawsonAfter learning that we would be conducting the Black Elder Project, I became extremely ecstatic because I had an array of progressive Black males to choose from.  I thought that it was nice that our class is representing the Black males who the media fails to represent.  It was always a no-brainer that I would choose my father because in my eyes he is the epitome of a progressive Black male.

Randal Dana Dawson was born on August 7, 1957 in Topeka, Kansas to Buddy and Reba Dawson.  He is the second oldest of four boys.

Randal stated that he had a normal Midwest upbringing.  He told me, “While I was growing up in Kansas, it was very clear that you had to work hard.”  His family instilled the fact that education was important at a very early age.  He noted that, “Education can change your life.”

His childhood had a large emphasis on friends and family.  Randal had a lot of family that lived nearby and they always got together for major holidays.  He and his brothers spent a lot of time together and can remember playing outside from sun up to sun down.  Randal had a very enriching childhood and was extremely active.  He attended church every Sunday at Shiloh Baptist Church and was even a junior deacon.  He spent a large portion of his childhood participating in the boy scouts.  He became a Cub Scout at age eight, Boy Scout at twelve, and then attained the highest honor, Eagle Scout, at age 15.  One of his fondest memories of his childhood is when his Boy Scout troop canoed from International Falls, Minnesota to Canada.  The troop had 15 canoes and sailed to Canada over the course of seven days.  He stated that the trip instilled perseverance and made him realize that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

Randal was also an extremely competitive junior wrestler.  He would wake up every morning to run and followed a strict diet.  He told me that any one person has the power to be successful at whatever they choose to do in life.  During high school, he was a camp counselor for eight weeks every summer at a camp two hours from Topeka.  There, he was able to teach younger children how to canoe, sail, and row.  He stated that his childhood has shaped him into the well-rounded person he is today.

Randal attended the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas.  He told me that he knew he would always attend KU and that it was the only college that he applied to.  His father wanted him to attend KU because it was the only school in the Big Eight Conference that admitted Black students in the early 1900’s.  He told me that in 1954, Wilt Chamberlin was the first African American to play collegiate sports at a Big Eight school.  Although Wilt was admitted, he could not, as it was with other Blacks at that time, live on campus.  Randal’s father believed that KU was more progressive than many other schools, so he urged his sons to go and that is exactly what Randal did.

After graduating with a Business degree from KU, Randal had several jobs before landing his current position.  Today Randal is a Senior Vice President in the north-central region of the United States for the world’s largest international real estate service company.  He attributes his success to having dreams, setting goals, and relentless determination.  He said, “You have to know your particular strengths and talents, and then combined it with precise goal setting strategies and discipline.  You can’t have someone else define what success is for you.  You have to believe in yourself, be true to yourself, and have faith.”  Randal now resides in suburban Chicago with his wife Carole and daughter Lauren.


Throughout the course of the semester, we have critically analyzed Black masculinity.  From the moment Black males are born, they are marginalized by society.  Social class issues, for-profit imprisonment, and lack of education are just a few elements that continue to plague the Black male.  In my opinion, a Black progressive male is one that rejects the stereotypes that are imposed on him and strives toward self-improvement.  My father exemplifies a progressive Black male because he has done just that.  He has never been handed a silver spoon and has rightfully earned all the success he has achieved.  He taught me that whatever happens in life, both good and bad, is based on a succession of choices we make.  The Black community, (specifically black males), need guidance and support from family and members of the community.  They need positive role models and mentors that they can interact with.  My father was lucky to come from a strong family, as well as, have people who were positive influences in his life.  He had a support system in the ups and the downs of his life.  He believes that the community, both Black and white, has a responsibility in helping those who need guidance.  My father has given back in many ways.

Growing up in Kansas, my father experienced racism and constantly had to prove himself.  He was unable to caddie at the local private country club because they didn’t hire Blacks as caddies nor as waiters or bus boys in the restaurant.  In spite of this racism, he has never let others define what he should become in life.  When he was a senior in high school, his Caucasian counselor suggested that he become a shipping and receiving clerk at the Santa Fe Railroad instead of attending college.  At an early age, African American boys need pride and self-confidence instilled in them so they don’t get discouraged when confronted with discrimination and insults.  My father turned his frustration with racism into his determination for success.  I asked him what advice he would give to young Black males that want to obtain success in society.  He told me six key things, which include: education, values, morals, manners, life experiences, and most importantly self-confidence.  A progressive Black male is one that embodies all of these attributes.  My father knew that the odds were against him, but persevered through all adversity.  He is the only African American that works in his office and, although he has achieved success, he still deals with overt and covert racism.  He is a progressive Black male because he understood that he had the power to become one.