The older woman, maybe in her late-fifties to early sixties turned to me, "That was very nice of him." I nodded in agreement. "Young man!" she called out to the boy. "Young man, that was very kind of you. Thank you." The boy was standing next to and chatting up what looked to be a mentor or coach. He humbly nodded, but before he could carry on his conversation, the woman launched into a sermon.
"You see we have to acknowledge our young men when they do something right. We draw too much attention to all the bad stuff, and we just ignore the good things. There are still gentleman in this world! Your mother raised you right," she told him. Then she asked the big question: "What do you intend to do when you get out into the world and finish school?"
Sheesh. I thought to myself. He hesitated on his answer. His mentor chimed in, "Tell her where you're going right now."
"Perform where?" the mentor nudged.
"The APOLLO!" Some girl classmates hollered for him.
"Well that's wonderful," the woman acknowledged. "But what do you want to be when you grow up?"
"A rapper," he responded.
"NO." She said firmly. "That is not an option. What else would you like to do?"
"Mmmm... be a doctor?"
"There you go! What will be your specialty?"
"I like to help kids..."
"A pediatrician! Excellent. And if being a doctor doesn't work out, what will be your third option?"
"A football player," he grinned and finally spoke with confidence.
"NO." She said again, shutting him down. "A doctor is something you pursue. Not being a rapper and a football player. We have enough of those. We need more doctors and lawyers and senators and scientists and researchers and professors." The black middle aged and older population on the train nodded, rocked and hummed in agreement with her sermon. "ACADEMICS is what you pursue! What happens when your record deal doesn't work out? Or you get injured? Then what are you going to do? You have to have a back up plan." The boy nodded respectfully, and made his way to the other side of the train.
I sat next to the woman... offended.
Le sigh. I get what she is saying because it seems like every black boy for the past 20 years is trying to get out of the hood by being a rapper or a baller. Seriously, I get where she is coming from. And maybe the truth of the matter is, he does not even know the extent of his options because the successful men of color he sees in the media most are those involved in music, sports and other various modes of entertainment, except, oh you know... THE PRESIDENT.
But as I've said before, having a black president does not cure all ills, and the age old adage that you have to have a "Plan B," flat out offended me as I sat there; to the point that I contemplated getting into a debate with her on the train, but decided that I had better things to do then convince old ladies out of their convictions.
Here's my issue: Who is she or I or anyone else to tell this boy not to pursue his dream, if that's what he really wants? As far as I'm concerned, the dream is the truth, and he absolutely can do whatever he puts his mind to and works for. I reject the notion that being a rapper or football player or dancer or musician or artist or actor or writer etc. etc. etc. is not a real career option. I reject the notion that one needs a Plan B when choosing any of the aforementioned fields. No one is telling the kid who goes to med school: *Hey Soon-to-be-Surgeon! Make sure you put your time and energy into studying something else, just in case you get Parkinson's disease and you can't operate anymore.* Like really, what kind of ish is that?
If it's one thing I've learned these past few years while I've been actively making a career out of dancing, it's that those people who are successful, are the ones willing to run the race - and it's no sprint... it's a straight up marathon. But if you are committed, and putting in the work, you will accomplish whatever it is that you have set out to accomplish. Lawyer or Painter. Congressman or Professional Scuba Diver.
It is much more our place and social responsibility as adults who have an understanding of the world at large to expose that boy to as much as possible; to satisfactorily educate him in all academic subject areas, to make sure he has traveled and meets many people and cultures different than his own, to study as many artistic disciplines as possible, and to learn how to reflect, ask questions and find answers. It is with all those tools that he can be successful in any career he chooses. And he will certainly choose one that meets the needs of his family and lifestyle, interests and abilities.
Furthermore, let us not forget that we are living in a day and age where people now have multiple lives. They start off a lawyer for five years, or twenty, and then become a painter, then a congressman, and then a professional scuba diver. People don't choose a singular job, or even a singular industry anymore in which they work for 35 years before retiring. Career lives for some may build vertically, stacking one work experience on top of another, while others are multiplicitous always and integrally support one another. And then sometimes, people just totally reinvent themselves every 10-20 years, and do something entirely new.
|What different career paths might look like.|
So here's to that young boy on the train: May he learn and absorb as much as possible in this world. May his options be expanded. May he choose his own path(s). May he pursue his dreams whole heartedly... all or nothing... plan A A A A A A A A...