This month, this year marks my official entry into the retirement years. Because I am turning 66, I can collect Social Security, Medicare and retirement benefits.
How did I get here? It seems like only yesterday I was a 6-year-old kid sitting on the curb by the white wall in Cabrini Green making mud pies as I pondered a concept known as the future. I actually remember thinking about the year 2020 and being unable to imagine myself at that age and what it would be like. I can still recall being in wonderment at the notion that one day it would occur and in awe of what it would be like should I live to see it.
I haven’t had a perfect life. But I am content with the life I’ve had. I have been the captain of my own ship, steering my life for the most part in the way it went. There is a famous Serenity Prayer on which I have based my life’s journey. It goes: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
One of the most compelling things about that prayer is the determination and acceptance of what cannot change. I learned many years ago that I cannot control someone else’s behavior, but I can control my response to it. That’s a lesson applicable to the majority of us, and especially within the black community. An obvious example: Racism exists. But it should not be the singular limitation determinant of what one can or cannot do. Sadly, with so many opportunities available today that were not there 60 years ago, I am concerned seeing so many young people today who bandy that word about, and thus limit themselves because of a perceived hindrance.
In a lot of ways, I embraced the courage to change things. When my daughter was a toddler, I was given the opportunity to go back to school tuition-free. Even though it meant I literally lost a year of her life, working eight hours and then dedicating another six hours at school, I did it. That decision and that education was a major game-changer for me. I took on the professional work environment which transformed me from the mindset of an hourly worker to the freer environment of a salaried worker, where bosses didn’t get upset if you were 10 minutes late coming back from lunch, and a simple phone call to let them know you would be in late was met with understanding as opposed to stern admonishments.
I have aged into the wisdom to know the difference. It is a learned experience to know that there are some battles worthy to take on, while other battles just aren’t worth it. Cleaning up the black community, for instance, is a battle we need to take on.
This year also marks the 155th anniversary of the end of slavery. And it marks the end of the first score of the 21st century. 2020 should be our clarion call, like perfect 20/20 vision, as the year when every descendant of an enslaved African clearly visualizes their road to success based on their own personal accountability.
America has never been perfect. For the descendants of enslaved Africans, the “Make America Great Again” slogan has never been our reality. But even for those who do embrace that slogan as reality, to become the country that America is, it had to fight numerous brother-brother (BB) wars. The American Revolution (1775-1783) had the 13 British colonies fighting against their relatives in Great Britain for independence. The first person to die at the beginning of that war? Crispus Attucks, a black man. The War of 1812 was another BB war: the USA vs the United Kingdom (Great Britain and her allies). The greatest BB war was the Civil War, Union soldiers in the North vs Confederate soldiers from the South. America established slavery. America ended slavery. Although only four months in length, the Spanish-American War of 1898 between Spain and America ended Spain’s colonial rule in the Americas, gave us Puerto Rico as a territory and is another notch on the BB war belt.
Through all those conflicts, the lives and blood of black America ran as deep as anyone else who makes claims to it. The majority of the descendants of enslaved Africans have no desire to be anywhere else but here. So as we move into the next decade in our adopted country, it is time we embrace America as our own and move forward.
As we take those first steps forward in our 2020/20-20 journey, there are those who are going to be left behind. Just like the BB wars of others, we are going to have one within the black community. Ours will not be a physical fight though. It will be the realization that just because you look like us doesn’t make you one of us. And as we struggle to progress, we must accept the reality that we cannot save those who don’t want to be saved. From the education our children get in school, to the personal education we undertake to move forward in this country, it is a journey we take on collectively, though in truth it is an individual responsibility.
There are two things we can do to begin this journey. The first is to reject the criminal behavior of those among us. This is especially important now. With the legalization of marijuana sales by the state, and the taxes coming from it, the police are now authorized to begin to crack down on the competition (aka street-level sales).
Arlene Jones writes a weekly column for our sister publication, the Austin Weekly News.