“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.

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