What’s your number?
“Eh, no. Not that number. My number was 35. “
“Oh, well I’m 32 and…”
“Wait wait wait, let me explain. This has to do with mortality.”
If you had asked my 12 year old self when I thought I would die, I would have told you that if I were lucky, I’d make it to 35. That was my dream, because for me, that was surpassing the odds. It was clear that as a black youth during the early 70’s, that the deck was stacked against me. No one told me I had a short life expectancy, it was just understood. I didn’t come from a bad neighborhood; both my parents were gainfully employed. Heck, my father was one of the first black engineers at Chrysler and GM. A real trailblazer, but Detroit is a city of pockets. Nice areas next to “not so nice” areas. A melting pot of varying skill sets and morals. I often felt like “the Beav” with “Good Times” friends on the “Brady bunch” block with both the “Sanfords” and “Jeffersons” as relatives. The media didn’t help my perceptions. There was a climate of failure ascribed to black male youth. Prison or dead by 25. When I turned 26, I said out loud, “I made it!”
Through the first set of hurdles anyway.
I had many friends who did not. Elementary and Junior high school was about survival. I saw more violence during those years than I’d care to admit. It wasn’t until I arrived at Cass Technical High, that I found out things could be different. College life, however, was sobering. So was my first work experience as an adult. It was also about survival and based on a similar set of principles. You had to work hard and pick which battles to fight and which ones to walk away from, knowing all along that ultimate success may not be in the cards for you. When we were 12, we all had a number, a time when we thought our lives would expire. An age when we’d thought that if we reached certain milestones, than certainly we made it. But what is making it?
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had dreams, milestones that he hoped to see. His life was cut short as were so many others’. His dreams inspired a nation. Maybe making it has more to do with the footprint we leave behind in the minds of those we inspire. My 12-year-old daughter tells me she will live into her late 90’s, and swears I’ll still be around living in the north wing of her mansion. I prefer her vision of the future over that of my 12-year-old self, and I’m glad to see how far we’ve come evidenced by the hopes and dreams of our children.
So think way back and tell me, what was your number?