Dear Nubia and Zakiya:
First and foremost, I love you both and have done my best to demonstrate that in various ways. I have also fallen short in some ways. But I want you to know that much of my life was spent in preparation for you and in service to you. I’ve done the best I can with what I knew and had – and I’ve tried to be mature, fair and very loving in my interactions with you. I don’t trust my legacy in the hands or mouths of others, so I’m writing my feelings and thoughts for myself. The following is written for you and I hope it brings you clarity, wisdom and empowerment now and in the future, when we cannot speak directly – or inevitably – when I transition to the ancestral realm.
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. As a young man growing up, I remember:
- Trying to establish my identity.
- Being curious about and awkward with young ladies I found attractive
- Balancing my love for football and Hip Hop 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 school, and the neighborhood.
- Contemplating my future career.
- Often feeling confused or anxious about all of the above.
Much has 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. My reflections led me to specific thoughts and lessons I’d like to share with you……
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 impulsive or overemotional. Don’t be quick to respond, or react to everything. Instead, strive to be mature, strategic and wise.
4. Focus on understanding and perceiving things and people as they actually are, not as you wish them to be. We must always perceive reality accurately so that we can respond or act appropriately to it. To do otherwise is the literal definition of insanity.
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. You will find that accurately assessing people and being a good judge of character are indispensable tools. Trust me.
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 malicious or unjust however, are more serious offenses that create negative karma.
8. Spend a good 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 body of 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. Make sure however that this authority and confidence are authentic rather than empty or vain. Develop true confidence by identifying your unique qualities, overcoming challenges, learning more and accomplishing things.
14. Develop the habit of reading between the lines, or seeing what lies beneath the surface. Don’t be simple-minded; 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. Give thought to the resources at your disposal which can help you solve the problem. Calm down and think clearly. Don’t become dramatic, become peaceful and thoughtful.
17. Choose friends wisely. Too often, our friendships are chosen lightly, according to things like proximity (living in the same building, neighborhood, or attending the same school). Friends should be chosen based on 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, competition, or attacks to your spirit, this is a “friend” you don’t need or want.
18. Should you choose to be a parent, please understand what a powerful blessing and responsibility that role entails. Please do not choose to have children until you are mature enough and ready to put them before yourself. Too many people have children then abandon them to partying, dating, the streets, etc. Children that are abandoned and deprived of love often grow up bitter, vindictive and dysfunctional, and they often abandon or neglect their own children. Make sure you respect and love the person you choose to have children with, along with their family. When this time comes in your life, be sure to review daddy’s book “Truth for our Youth” (wink). Also, think of the kind of spouse, student, employer, neighbor and friend you want them to be one day. Then factor this into the values you teach them, and the structures you provide for them. Work to raise a community resource not a community burden or predator or problem in someone else’s life.
19. Identify your purpose in life. It will likely involve something you are good at doing, love to do, receive good feedback for doing, and could do all day….Don’t be swayed by what others think, or the money/status it supposedly brings. Identify your purpose, and sharpen your skills/knowledge to fulfill it. Yes, you must sustain yourself, but money should not be your only concern. Sustaining yourself honorably while serving others is truly a life well lived.
20. Identify and eliminate toxic people from your life. Deeply dysfunctional and toxic people are energy drainers not worth your time or resources.. They are always a bad bet and an investment that never pays dividends. We are not put here to have our lives constantly affected and tainted by others who deep down inside are unwilling to let go of the pain, ignorance and chronically bad choices that dominate their lives.. Let them and the toxic energy they bring GO! You will see these people 10, 20 and 30 years from now complaining about the same things and still surrounded by misery (unless of course they finally evolve). We must attach ourselves to people who build not those who walk with a mist of failure, self-hate and denial the way Pig Pen walks with a mist of filth….Through their attitudes and actions, they deserve the misfortune and pain they complain about because in most cases their laziness, enabling, poor decisions, and desire to be liked over being respected created such. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. You will meet people who appreciate and can reciprocate the beauty, warmth, and empowerment you bring to the table.
21. Whatever you do and wherever you are, find ways to educate, empower and liberate Black people, and do so unashamedly! Our ultimate objective is not to be comfortable on the plantation, but to develop our own nation!
22. Work to become a producer, not simply a consumer of what others produce. You will have more power over your life and be a greater resource to others. Be a slave, overseer or docile worker of no one! Remember what your last name means….
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei 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. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and lead. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Currently, Agyei is a member of the Black Power Cypher, five Black Nationalist men with organizing backgrounds, who host a monthly internet show addressing issues and proposing solutions. He runs his own business publishing books, public speaking, and teaching Black people how to organize and fight for empowerment.
Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.