“Your faith in what you believe must be a living, working faith that draws you away from comfort and security, and toward risk and confrontation.” –Derrick Bell
Risk and confrontation. Who in the hell wants to take risks and confront things? At least thats how life feels as of late. I used to be so inspired and passionate, and while I still am, my inspiration and passion have been directed at different things. I used to want to change the world, and I still do, but I’m just not as inspired or passionate about it. Its as if my age and maturation have brought a healthy dose of cynicism. The man who used to see the glass as half full and was the eternal optimist has been really comfortable with the status quo as of late… and I hate that. Many factors have combined to make me this way, but I’m ready to change that. I’m ready to hop back on board with risk and confrontation. Its not really a choice either… its my only option.
I think back to undergrad, and man… was I militant. I was a dreamer. I wanted to leave my legacy on the world, and the legacy was ambitious. Dr. King, Malcolm X, Huey Newton ambitious. And that wasn’t some self-righteous dream, but rather a dream for the world. If I left my legacy on the world, that means I did some major damage with my time on earth, and became the change I wanted to see in the world. And the world was better for it. My optimism had me focused on a Utopian Black community, one where Black women were wholesome, street smart virgins; every man, woman and child was conscious and knowledgeable; and every negative statistic about black men, women and children was put to rest. This is 16 year old, freshman in college Sean by the way. I was fresh faced, and “bout dat.” I’m from the hood, and when you’re actually educated and conscious and from the hood, there is no way you can NOT have these dreams for your people. If you’re really “bout dat”, no way you can look at the deplorable status of the urban Black community and be cool about it. I truly wanted to lift every one up out the hood.
Then I grew up and realized it wasn’t gonna happen. I realized that everyone doesn’t want to be conscious or knowledgeable. Ignorance is bliss, and a lot of people thought it was more fun to watch 106 & Park every day and stand outside on campus or in the neighborhood shooting the breeze. I came to find that for people in the hood, every day life in the hood is so indoctrinated in them, that they often don’t see the issues. And I realized its pretty tough to find a virgin in this day and age. My utopia pretty much fell apart.
Even still, I was bout dat risk and confrontation when I got to school. Ended up hooking up with some good people, and we were bout dat together. I came in and moved into leadership positions. I eventually headed up the Black Student Association, founded the Collegiate 100 on my campus, joined Student Government as a senator and the Associate Vice-President of Special Interests (minorities), and pledged Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. (Double A, FA ’05).
We marched on the University administration building; we were those collegiate activists. I became known as the cat that I always had a suit on. But as I neared the end of my college experience, I realized that I didn’t have as much of an impact as I thought I did. The college bubble had shielded me, and while my legacy at the University of Cincinnati is pretty legit, I felt like I put in a ton of work, and didn’t have much to show for it. My resume was on point and my leadership skills had been birthed, but I was broke and I didn’t think people really appreciated it anyway. At least that’s how 21 year old college graduate Sean felt.
I realized my people didn’t really roll with the risk and confrontation like I thought they would. All the Black Panther books I read, the Autobiography of Malcolm X, the slave books, the Dr. King narratives, all the reading I did, all the books I owned, even my African American studies degree… they were all from a different era. When I looked around, in the 21st century, I saw that my people didn’t really have the same awareness of our struggles, the same call to consciousness, or the same passion. Everyone seemed pretty cool with the status quo. I was ready to change the world… but didn’t really know what to change. My crew of like-minded cats, it seemed like I couldn’t even get them to be as “bout dat” as we needed to be. (In hindsight, I now know that its tough to get inspired to save the people when you’re still trying to save yourself.) And I couldn’t take the people out the hood if they didn’t want to leave. At least that was my thought process at the time. So I switched gears.
I was always headed to law school, but I honestly felt like I wouldn’t have anything to do if I tried to take up civil rights law. I couldn’t be Thurgood with no NAACP Legal Defense Fund to work for. (If you visit that link, you’ll even see that the prominent cases have died down since 2000). So I decided not to take any leadership positions in law school. No Black Law Student Association presidency. No Student Bar Association leadership. Nothing. I was going to enjoy my life like everyone else does. Work, party, and bulls**t.
Its just not in me to BS though. There is a plan for me, and I can’t run from it, I can’t avoid it. And I feel the same way about all of us. We all have a reason for our existence, and our time here is bigger than us. Whether you’re the Juris Doctor changing the legal system or the day care provider changing the lives of children, its bigger than us. And I guess thats the dilemma I got caught up in. I was so tired of being broke, and so tired of working without “recognition” (flawed thinking), that I decided I needed to do things for myself.
My passion transitioned from activism to self-preservation. I had to handle my bills, get through law school, get a good job, make a ton of money, and be comfortable… and have a ton of fun along the way. And while my love for the community never left, I may have overcompensated on doing for self because of a fear of giving too much in vain. So with the focus on school/work, partying, and BS firmly established, and the love for community and lack of action there, I built up a level of comfort and security. But I’m so much better than that.
So I took a risk. The action manifested itself again with the creation of theFreshXpress.com. This site wasn’t founded with the intention to make money off of it. It actually started as an idea that came about because I saw that Black folk discussed so many important issues, and we educate each other, and we enlighten each other, yet we do it in a vacuum. And if the same enlightened people are enlightening each other, then who the hell is that helping? So the idea was to establish a medium that melded the conscious few with the streets. We wanted the input of everybody from the hood to the boardroom, all under the premise of educating each other.
It honestly was just going to be a discussion board at first. Message thread. We just wanted people to have a place to talk to each other, and not in a Facebook note. I took the idea to my homies, we discussed it over lunch and in the living room, and it evolved.
Where am I going with that? My passion and inspiration returned once I saw that I had another chance to impact people. I stepped out of my comfort zone, because I saw that I could help us become better than what we were. I embraced risk and confrontation again.
We wanted to be edgy, addressing issues that nobody else would address. We wanted to be cool enough to reach the cool people, fresh enough to relate to the urban community, yet serious enough to be… taken serious. And I’ll tell you, never did I think we would be where we are right now. We’ve impacted and enlightened so many people (so we’ve been told), and we reach so many people daily that its unbelievable. A lot of people, a lot publishers, a lot of websites are in it for the money. Of course I’d love to make a ton of money off of this especially given all the time and money we’ve put in to it, but it may never happen. And I’m completely fine with that. Because my passion and inspiration put me in a position to take a risk, and embrace a TON of confrontation along the way. And I think a lot of people are better for it, and definitely will be with what we have planned in our future.
We wanted to give Black writers who may not otherwise be given the opportunity, a chance to write and get their voice and opinion out. And our commitment to NOT being mainstream, and not being white bread, and not being what everyone may want us to be, has often incurred the wrath of the internetters. People wonder why we post “this” or post “that”. Well… because normally its an important topic, and could lead to productive debate. Whether that happens or not is Monday Morning Quarterbacking, but its all in good will. People speculate that some topics are for page views, and that’s not true. Honestly the rhyme to the reason is that some topics really ARE great topics, and yes, they do get people to come to the site… but the goal is to have people check out all of the topics/conversations occurring on the site. If Lil Boosie brings them to FXP, then maybe they’ll read something that helps them realize that Free Weezy (and Boosie) is misplaced activism. Maybe they’ll learn a little about politics or business. That was the goal from the start, and its inauthentic to change that up. If that loses a few fans, so be it. We didn’t get into it to have everyone agree with it. We got into it to spark productive discussion and debate. Its risky confrontation that makes people uneasy. And if we never embraced that confrontation, I’m telling you we wouldn’t even have your attention at this very moment.
People always want to be right, and they hate having their perspective rocked. Thats where that comfort and security comes into play. But the reality is that you have to challenge things in order to grow. If you have everything figured out, then you really don’t know anything. There is a quote by Andre Gide, “Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.” None of us have it figured out. So when someone wants to have a conversation about natural hair, its not some attempt to pit black women against black women. Its something the writer encountered, that he wanted to use this forum to further understand. Same with a conversation on obesity in Black women. Sure the delivery could sometimes be better, but these are real people, speaking real life. And the reality is that they are going to have the conversation no matter what, so why not post the article, have the conversation, and enlighten folks on different perspectives. That can be really productive. The problem lies in the fact that its extremely hard to control debate, especially over the interent. And people don’t read, and/or instantly take an adversarial position. That happens far too much on this site, and on the internet in general. Everyone is passionate about the issues that are near and dear to them, but that doesn’t mean you have to stand on a soapbox and spit your agenda. You can enlighten without being adversarial, and you can disagree without being disagreeable.
But that’s a risk we took, and we’re dealing with the confrontation that comes from it. I think in the end we’ll all be better for it, and our vision is strong enough to withstand our short term bumps in the road.
However, its a test of endurance. After putting so much time and effort into everything and trying to do things the right way, and seeing that we have crazy traffic, running the website became a “job”, because we got into the business of trying to do it for money. Again, the risk and confrontation gave way to comfort and security, and the pursuit of it. Its a bad deal to operate that way, if you’re trying to truly impact people, and I realized that I would much rather have an impact on people and do things the right way, than to lose my passion. I can’t lose my living, working faith, because when that happens, what am I really accomplishing?
Its great when your living, working faith can intersect with the ability to make money. But beyond that, you can’t lose who you are or why you do what you do. I think thats the problem we have right now. We have the ability to do so much, yet we’re so focused on comfort and security that it takes away from the potential greatness that all of us have inside of us. I look around at the people we admire both past and present. They share some common characteristics: selflessness, confidence, and fearlessness.
We’re too selfish, too insecure, and too fearful to be great. That’s an issue. And its not an issue with the typical Black folk we find issue with, its an issue with the Talented Twentieth in our community. We vainly pursue degrees and materialistic values, because we’re not confident or fearless enough to buck the status quo and change the world.
And its an issue for the “common folk” as well. We get caught up in going back and forth to work and trying to survive. We think we don’t have time to impact the world. We work jobs, rather than passionately pursuing our dreams. We lose our utopian hopes and ideals due to the apathy that we perceive to be around us. We forget about our brothers and sisters, and we focus on ourselves. I’ve been there. Its great to look out for self… but we’re so much better than that.
Since the launch of FXP, I’ve rekindled my utopian dreams, and thats off of the strength of my people. I’ve seen our greatness. I’ve met hundreds (maybe thousands) of authentically passionate people across the country who just want to be better, and do better.
I think if we can somehow embrace measured risks and calculated confrontation, we can change the world. We truly can. We just can’t be afraid of living our dreams, and embracing the plan that is laid out for us both individually and collectively.
I still remember the books I’ve read, the slave narratives, the struggles and the movement that arose from the struggle. And the change it created. I know we can do the same. We just can’t be comfortable, because we have so much further to go in our development as a people.
I recently had a moment of enlightenment. I realized I had lost my passion, became complacent, and in turn, lost my way.
Funny… while I was writing this I heard this quote from Black Thought in my headphones…
“…the only thing I hear is my heart, I’m inspired by the challenge that I find myself standing eye to eye with, to move like a wise warrior and not a coward, you can’t escape, the history that you were meant to make…”
Lets get it.