I often reflect upon my own life and experiences to find meaning in them. I’ve worked with Black and Latino youth and their families for most of my life, so naturally, I’ve given much thought to my own youth.
- Trying to establish identity.
- Curious about and awkward with young ladies I found attractive
- Balancing my love for football with my growing political consciousness.
- Fighting and “snapping” (joking others and getting joked on) as a Black boys rite of passage.
- Resolving the disparity between what my parents taught me versus the messages/lessons I received from the neighborhood.
- Contemplating my future career.
- Often feeling confused about all of the above.
Much as changed since my childhood/teen years, yet some things never change. Children and teens still struggle with identity issues, body image, being accepted, peer pressure, etc.
This is a summary of advice for my own daughters (23 and 19) that black youth in general might find helpful as well.
1. Listen to those who are wiser than you and more accomplished than you…..especially when they are giving you advice that will make you better. Only fools resent wise and thoughtful advice and appreciate nonsense and disharmony. Don’t let your pride or ego get in the way of getting information that can really help you.
2. Identify and begin fulfilling your purpose in life. Don’t float around aimlessly like a feather in the wind. You’ll be surprised at how this will keep you out of trouble, foolishness and counterproductive activities….
3. Avoid being hasty or impulsive. Don’t be quick to respond, or react to everything. Focus on understanding and perceiving things and people as they are, not as you wish them to be. Defensiveness is a sign of immaturity and this quality impedes personal growth.
4. Discover and be your authentic self in all of its dimensions; Then work on expressing your authentic self accurately and eloquently. Don’t falsely represent yourself to others. An authentic jerk will often be more respected than a fake role model.
5. The things you produce or that emanate from you (including your children one day) are a reflection of your work ethic, values and priorities. Study and closely observe what people produce/create. The things you produce and that emanate from you say more about who and what you are than any words from your mouth.
6. You are a culmination of your decisions. Learn early on how to make wise decisions. The decisions you make are a reflection of your wisdom or lack thereof, and you will often feel the effects of your decisions long after you make them.
7. Integrity is defined by how closely what you do corresponds with what you say or the principles you believe. Mistakes, which we all make, will be forgiven. Being dishonest with yourself or others however, is a more serious offense that creates negative karma.
8. Spend a great portion of your time investing in your talents, intelligence and character. Use your youth to prepare for an empowered and properly equipped adulthood. It’s never too late to learn and prepare, but such things become more difficult and complicated with age, as career, health and family obligations become involved. Be wary of those who don’t invest time toward empowering and enriching themselves. This is a huge red flag that will come back in negative ways to hurt them and those that closely associate with them.
9. Don’t put too much stock in what people say. Pay close attention to how people use their “free” time, what discussions or activities energize them, and who they consider close friends and mentors. Often times, these factors will tell you all you need to know about people.
10. Remember this law of Physics: A body at rest tends to stay at rest (unless a force comes along to move it), and a body in motion tends to stay in motion (unless a force comes along to stop it). In life, you will find that some people are bodies in motion, while others are bodies at rest. Observe this physical law at all times. Lastly, make sure YOU are a body in motion!
11. People will always make their own judgments of you, fairly or unfairly. Some of their criticisms about you will be valid, because no one is perfect. At the end of the day, let your consistently excellent work, accomplishments, and network of appreciative and loving relatives, friends and associates speak for you. Also, be aware that some will resent and envy you. Don’t assume that your haters will only be people on the outside. Many times, they will be people in your inner circle, who claim to love and respect you.
12. Leave a legacy. Live your life with such intensity, purpose and excellence, that others are inspired by your example and your accomplishments. Don’t just read history watch television and live vicariously through the achievements of others. Make history yourself and make your own dreams come true. Distinguish yourself from people who talk big, but produce nothing of value. Be a useful resource to others.
13. Speak and act with authority and confidence. This world destroys and violates the weak and timid.
14. Develop the habit of reading between the lines, or seeing what lies beneath the surface.be a thinker.
15. No matter how empowered you are, you will sometimes make mistakes, experience errors of judgement or even cause pain yourself or other people. Be willing to humbly admit your errors and make amends when possible. Rather than beating yourself up, work to learn from your errors and become wiser from them
16. Anticipate and learn how to deal with defeat and pain. You will experience these things no matter how intelligent or talented you are. When faced with life challenges, give yourself some time to cry, complain or vent. Then quickly get to work on solving the problem and overcoming the challenge. Make sure you understand the true nature of the problem, and don’t make it bigger or smaller than it is. Calm down and think clearly. Don’t become dramatic, become peaceful and thoughtful.
17. Choose friends wisely. Too often, our friendships are chosen arbitrarily, according to things like proximity (living in the same building, neighborhood, or attending the same school). Friends should be chosen based on more far-reaching criteria like interests, values, goals, and personality traits. Also know that people bring different things into your life. Some bring fun and stress relief; others bring engaging conversation and stimulating thoughts; some inspire or console you. However, if you find yourself dealing with issues of envy, negative confrontation or competition, or attacks to your spirit, this is a “friend” you don’t need or want.
Agyei Tyehimba is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak to your organization, please visit his page at the Great Black Speaker’s Bureau.