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June 9th, 2020

7:05 PM

The Saddest Words I've Ever Heard

One of the most depressing experiences I have ever faced as an educator is hearing a young man cry out the following.

"€œMy daddy'€™s in jail!"

This toddler wasn'€™t the first to have said those unfortunate words. As I advanced in my teaching career, I've had young men in my classes whose fathers were in jail for whatever offenses they committed. The years have passed since I've seen those same young men but I can only hope they went in a different direction than the one their fathers traveled. It'€™s easy for us who don'€™t have or never had a family member in jail to speak our thoughts laced with indifference and haughtiness. It doesn't change the fact when I heard that toddler say those words to me over thirty years ago, I can still hear the hurt in his voice today.

You know, growing up here in South Los Angeles there is always the chance you will hear or know of someone who went to jail or prison because of whatever crime they committed. It's easy for us to point fingers and judge these individuals for what they'€™ve done. A young man who needs a father in his life to show him how to become a man. The young men I met didn't have that. Their fathers sit in a correctional facility far away from the city. So the son only hears from his father by way of snail mail, a phone call or some other method they do to keep in touch. Either these young men will grow up with their father in jail, Lord knows how long they will remain that way.

You and I, can sit back at home in our chairs and judge these men, but their sons aren'€™t to blame. As a teacher, I am one of a few Black male role models the young men either look to or if I'm not strong in my heart, just another person they will disrespect. I've seen it happen to other teachers. I am not lying. Since I am not their father, the only authority I have is within those four walls of a classroom. Once they step outside those walls, you only hope they will get their lives and act together. When you consider a generation or two (maybe three) of young men who didn'€™t grow up without a father either by death or imprisonment, they may feel worthless, invaluable, thrown away by the larger society with its "you go girl"€ attitudes of pumping up our Black sistas. When it comes to the young men whose fathers are in jail or laid down in the ground, it'€™s a reality they can't cope with and someone such as I can'€™t accept.

For only His reasons, God has saw to it that I was there for the young men in my community as a youth leader, football and basketball coach, baseball coach in one middle school, involved with my local YMCA in their youth programs, other projects involving our young men. I'm proud to know that somehow,  I made a difference to them. I say this not to pat myself on the back or toot my own horn. I do realize for all the good I'€™ve done, there are scores, numbers of young Black men who don'€™t have a mentor, a coach, someone in their lives to point them in the right direction. I'€™ve spent time with those types too.

To all you Black Lives Matter righteous souls, I challenge you to spend time with our young men. Get to know them, listen to them. Love them. It is this author'€™s fervent hope you who tout yourselves to the height as '€˜activists'€™, will be active enough to not hear the same sad words I once heard from a toddler with tears in his eyes. I pray to the Lord above that no longer will I have to hear the words from a youngster that his daddy is in jail. He'€™s at home with his mother taking care of business. Those are the words I long to hear.

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