The author, a native Detroiter, is a Detroit Police Department homicide detective. The married father of three is also a poet, photographer, storyteller and occasional contributor to Deadline Detroit. The 12 photos were taken by Mason on a trip to universities in the South with members of Sound Mind Sound Body Football Academy.
By Khary Mason
During Spring break, my son Ronin and I went on a tour of 12 colleges in the south with 89 impressive jogging suit-clad young men from Sound Mind Sound Body Football Academy, a nationally recognized, extracurricular organization based in Detroit that integrates academics, life skills, development and athletic instruction. The majority of the kids are from the city.
A few years from now these young men, including my son, will begin to make contributions to the future of mankind. I was never able to do anything like this with my father. To understand the significance of this journey and what it means to me, we need to travel 30 years back in time to my childhood.
As a young boy, male role models would be temporary fixtures passing through my life going somewhere else, my house was never their destination. The only constant positive was my mother. When I was 7 my father proved that he was unable to deal with the stresses and challenges of everyday life without lashing out against those he promised to protect.
My superhero, my mother, managed to rescue us -- spiriting my siblings and I away without aid of the cloak of darkness. In that moment she had no way of knowing that this road would be one that all of us would not survive, and those of us who did would emerge deeply damaged individuals.
The family dynamic that I had known up to that point had been shattered. The shaping of my identity under the tutelage of my father ceased forever, in an instant, ceased forever. From then on it became a part-time project for many men, from my grandfather, to the corner boys and addicts who appeared only when the street lights came on.
My grandfather was a giant man. When he passed away I felt his absence for many years. To be honest, I still do.
Stumbling Through Life
I stumbled through life lost, with the tattered bag of broken tools I’d been given. I am thankful for the life that I have, but I realize that all who are successful don’t run the same race.
The foundation laid by our predecessors plays a large part in the level of success that we achieve as adults. Many of my friends' fathers were also absent.
Even though my mother was able to answer many questions for me, there were some questions that only my father could answer. My father's lack of presence left me angry, always searching for a place to belong, often seeking comfort in the belly of the beast, like a baby climbing into the mouth of an alligator.
Manhood does not come with a book of instruction, it is a lived experience. Traditionally, but not always these teachings are passed down from father to son. The things that are second nature to fathers arming their sons with the intellectual weapons and the subtle nuances that are particular to each patriarch, these ingredients that go into teaching boys how to navigate life appropriately and wield power as men come from memories that I do not possess.
For example, I don’t recall ever hearing my father tell me that he loved me. As a result, I did not know until I was many years into fatherhood that a son needs to hear -- "I love you" -- from his father. With the help of my mother, my wife and many others, I managed to figure it out. Some of the kids I grew up with haven’t been so lucky, and have gone on to repeat the destructive cycle we lived by not being present in their children's lives.
Being a Man
It should not be this hard to learn what it is to be a man, this schooling should not be a secret reserved only for those who happen to be born into a stable environment. Thanks to programs like Sound Mind Sound Body, those who don’t have access to positive male role models are able to use these programs to add to their toolbox of life lessons and enlighten the next generation.
On this journey, touring colleges, we listened to words of wisdom told to us by the coaching staff of the institutions we visited. But I think Super Bowl #37 MVP Dexter Jackson of Clark Atlanta University put everything into perspective when he told us: “The most powerful man is an educated man; that is why they try to take education away from us.”
Let us make sure another generation doesn't have to struggle. The road to success is paved with the bones of forgotten children who were educated by the lost, from the block to the penitentiary.