Role Models

By Carl Hairston

As a child, I always had a love for music. I grew up in a household of R&B and funk; so my ears were very accustomed to the Ohio Players, Earth Wind &Fire, Marvin Gaye, George Clinton, Otis Redding, Teddy Pendergrass, etc. My introduction to rap was through OutKast. I was in kindergarten, riding in the car with my dad and uncle, and heard “Players Ball”.  Immediately I was enamored by the sound. The beat sounded like funk, but there were clear rhymes on top of it. Big Boi and Andre became my favorite rappers that day, and this was before I even knew exactly what they were saying. During the outro of Players Ball, a woman’s voice says:

Here’s a little something for the players out there hustling; Getting down for theirs
From East Point, College Park, Decatur, Da ‘Briar
You know, n*ggas worldwide
— OutKast

Because of my naivety, I thought players were high school football players, and that those areas listed were high schools. So I was confused why I didn’t hear any schools in my city listed. (Remember I wasn’t even 7 years old at the time). But I wanted them to shoutout my area, because high school football players were cool to me. I went to see my older cousins play on Fridays, and wanted to be like them because it seemed like the whole city was cheering for them. I felt the same way about OutKast, they were the two coolest rappers I knew (also two of the only I knew). So I admired both sets of males, which was very normal for a young boy of my age. However, I never looked at them as role models. They were just guys I thought were cool. Their actions didn’t over influence mine. Sure, I followed my cousins around all the time, but I didn’t want to do every single thing they did. It seems like we want our rappers and athletes to be role models for our kids.

In 1993 Nike released the famous commercial where Charles Barkley remarked: “I am not a role model”. It was a simple, yet complicated message. “Yes, I am a famous basketball player, who your child watches every other day, but raise them yourself, that’s not my job”. Harsh? Yes, but that’s always been my interpretation. As a black male it’s almost like we are expected to look up to rappers and ball players. The media portrays us as fatherless victims with nobody in the home to look up to. Since the negative narrative is created, they then force famous black males (primarily entertainers and athletes) to fill shoes they aren’t ready to fill. For instance, when Colin Kaepernick peacefully demonstrated by kneeling during the national anthem much of the outrage centered around the children who looked up to him. And there probably are thousands of kids who do. But if we’ve gotten to the point where Kaepernick is your child’s only role model, then we have an issue. He is contractually bound to athletically perform, but outside of morals, nothing binds him to be a role model for your child. But as I stated earlier, I never looked up to these people. I was blessed to have my father, grandfathers, and numerous uncles to look up to. Unfortunately, everyone doesn’t have that set up. And for some, they are just fine without that dominant male presence. Unlike George Karl, I am not going to sit up here and bash single mothers or the men that they raise; because many do a damn good job. But at the end of the day there are just some things that a young man needs to learn from a grown man. And if that grown man isn’t around, a child will look to famous men they admire. So when those men mess up, who is around to tell our young kings that following the mistakes of Radric Davis (s/o to the East Atlanta Santa) probably isn’t the best idea?

This is where my plea to my fellow black men of color comes in. Mentorship is my favorite form of volunteering. It really gives us the chance to directly benefit young men who may or may not have a positive male role model in their life on a consistent basis. And even if they do have that presence, then it is always beneficial to be the second voice backing up their father, uncle, grandfather, etc. Volunteer at your local Title 1 elementary school, rec center, community center, Boys & Girls club, Big Brother Big Sister, etc. I promise you that you’ll find it worthwhile. Try to be consistent. I’m not saying you have to go three times a week, but don’t go twice and never show back up. We hear people complain about our generation all the time for caring only about ourselves. This is a great way to show otherwise. Author Rasheed Ogunlaru stated: “Only the foolish would think that wisdom is something to keep locked in a drawer. Only the fearful would feel empowerment is something best kept to oneself, or the few, and not shared with all.”

Only the foolish would think that wisdom is something to keep locked in a drawer. Only the fearful would feel empowerment is something best kept to oneself, or the few, and not shared with all.
— Rasheed Ogunlaru

So share your wisdom. Mentor, and decide that you want to be a role model. Our generation needs you.

Photo Credit: Lee Chapman