In Wynn, Arkansas on February 10th, 1936, a man who I would one day grow to admire, respect and give anything to be like was born. This man has shown me that a grandfather is the pure definition of a role model, a best friend, teacher and mentor. This man I have been honored to call my grandfather is named Charles Norman Edwards. Thanks to my great grandfather Sam Troy Edwards and my great grandmother Othella Ashley-Edwards, I have been blessed with such a hard working and family oriented grandfather.
In the fourth grade, when my great grandfather was drafted to the U.S. Navy, so my great grandmother, my grandfather, his three brothers and two sisters packed up and moved to Alameda, CA. Just a few miles outside of Oakland, the family lived in the naval housing. While living there, Charles was able to see a lot of what my great grandfather, Sam, had to do in the Navy. This had a great bearing on his life. While, Sam was in navy seals training, he would come home and take my grandfather through similar types of training; teaching him how to workout, fight, and swim. This made my grandfather an extremely hard worker, while only in the 6th grade. Charles believe this is one of the most relevant life lessons he learned from his father, as he was able to become a more understanding and forgiving person. These training lessons taught him that a man should learn to look past insignificant issues that may cause stress and never to be belligerent or aggressive (unless necessary).
As tension and gang life began to develop in the neighboring city of Oakland, the family moved from Alameda to Madera, CA. This was a much calmer town that revolved around farming. While the family settled in Madera, my great grandfather maintained a job in Alameda, which only allowed him to visit my grandfather and the rest of the family every other weekend. Despite the slight absence of my great grandfather, Charles was still able to become a strong black man by attending church every Sunday and from learning from his mother.
“Your great grandmother, Othella, was just as strong a woman, as your great grandfather was a strong man. Just as he taught me the rights and wrongs about manhood, she instilled in me the rights and wrongs about Life.”
Although she taught him a lot about life, it was still a struggle for her to teach four boys how to become men. This is why Charles feels so many young black males have struggled in today’s society. Despite the strength of a woman, a single mother has to take on too much of the burden and cannot teach a young boy how to become a man. He states that as a result of not having a father in the home, young males in today’s society are more impulsive, argumentative, have loss their work ethic and lack caring for other people; which is a byproduct of not respecting their elders. So, he felt it was extremely valuable that his father came home on weekends, not only to see the family but also to teach the boys what it takes to be real men. He showed them what sacrifices must be made for the good of the family and how to learn from their mistakes.
In Madera, Charles began to grow into his own man, venturing out into the town and finding work. Living in this small, pleasant farming town, majority of the jobs opportunities for young men came from working in the fields bailing hay. As a hard working young man making money, Charles was able to attend “juke joints”. At these “juke joints” he observed many young men focused on chasing girls, drinking, or smoking cigarettes, meanwhile he was focused on boxing. Boxing was shaping up to become a promising career for Charles, as he was the best boxer for his age and weight class. He believes his success in boxing was dedicated to the hard work he put into his training. His dream did not follow through, since he got drafted to the United States Army in August of 1959. During physical testing in his first few months in the Army, Charles scored such high scores that he qualified for the Ten Special Forces, which stationed him in Germany. This is just another pure example of how his hard work and dedication to doing his best, took Charles to his highest potential.
“Many others in the Army at that time would just do what it took to get by and pass there time. I always believed in the idea that you must do your best at everything you try to do. Always do your best, and don’t try to short your duties. If that’s all you can do, put all your faith in God and put your best foot forward.”
After two years in the Army, by refusing to resign for two more years, Charles missed the deadline by two days of being deported with his battalion to Vietnam (a military unit which he later found out all lost their lives in the Vietnam war). Charles dedicates his blessings and wise decisions to God, for bestowing onto him the knowledge that it was time to move on with his life. After leaving Germany and the military, Charles returned to California. He was soon offered a job working in Torrance at Martin Marietta metals, which was later turned into International Light Metals, a company he worked with for 32 years making aluminum, titanium and brass. While working there as a supervisor, he settled down in the neighboring city of Compton, where he began a family of his own. He still lives in Compton today, with the wife and family he has worked so hard for.
Charles Edwards is the prime example of what I would call a true vision of a progressive black masculinity. Throughout his life, he earned everything through great work ethic and dedication to doing his best. As a mentor of mine, Charles has always tried to instill in me good work habits. He has also always preached to me that I must follow my passion and do what is really good for me. Another important element of life that Charles has stressed to me and other young males, is the notion of being our own man. While living in a society where masculinity is constructed into one Westernized ideology, so many young black males fall into the stereotypes and notions that construct these hegemonic masculinities. Similar to the what we saw in the movie ‘Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned’, Socrates was his own man who was able to defend himself with force or intellect when necessary. Socrates also showed compassion to others, mentored younger males and taught them to take responsibility of their actions. In this movie, Socrates was the example of a changed man demonstrating a progressive black masculinity.
The purpose of the Black Male Elder Recognition Project was to document a figure who we thought embodied an alternative type of masculinity from what we recognize in the media and society today. Charles Norman Edwards is one of the best ways to see the real life definition of a progressive black masculinity. As he has taught me to respect others like I want to be respected, always be strong enough to be my own man, to proceed through life with the best work ethic and always place my best foot forward. My grandfather is probably the best example I have ever seen of a man who has not let pop culture change him; and one day I wish to become half the man that he has been throughout his life.