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Plant the Seed and Walk Away

BMNB (My husband, Black Man Not Blogging) doesn't know I'm writing this, but I'll take my chances. He won't be happy that I'm putting his business out on the street, but I think there's something to be learned from his experience.

I watch BMNB alot, and not just when he's coming out of the shower naked, although I do make a point of being awake for that wonderful marital privilege. He works hard -- REALLY hard -- at trying to help younger family members advance in life. Not for the sake of material gain, mind you, but for the same reasons I wrote about in my post about why I want my family to be educated -- so that they will be free. Independent and financially free.

And it's sad that I've had to watch BMNB slowly come to the conclusion I reached a long time ago about family -- they don't always want to advance, or at least they don't want to do the work it takes to do so. Your family -- and I'm not just talking about our family, but any family -- doesn't always want better. And you working harder than a two-dollar hooker to help them advance isn't going to make them want it any more.

BMNB commits Wednesday evenings during the school year to not only taking a child in our family to a church program that teaches young African American boys personal responsibility and morals; he teaches in the program. Bear in mind that BMNB and I don't have any children. But BMNB does this because he thinks it's important for this young child in our family and he knows that if he's responsible for making sure this child attends this program, then it will be done. He's afraid that if he doesn't do it, it won't get done, and it's that important to him that it gets done.

I watched BMNB work hard to get the word out about a recent job fair, going so far as to try to coordinate transportation for family members to get to the job fair and taking fliers about the job fair to family members' homes. Mind you, this was no ordinary job fair -- this job fair had on-site child care, hair stylists and barbers to help job seekers get a more professional look, a clothes closet to give away interview clothes, as well as the usual resume help, mock interviews, and, of course, employers on site. BMNB and I were scheduled to attend a graduation party that day so he could not attend, but a family member told him that if certain transportation requirements weren't met, the family member wouldn't attend.

My response? "So what. Honey, you've got a job, a law license, a law degree, a Master's degree and a Bachelor's. It's the folks who don't have a job that need to worry about getting to the job fair."

What was so hard to watch was the slow realization that came over BMNB that, as much as he wants better for family, they don't want it for themselves. That, try as he might, he can't make them want it. He cannot wave a magic wand and implant within folks he loves so dearly the desire to improve their lot in life.

Black people, times are hard and they're going to get harder. Recent demographics show that, at least in California, the Baby Boom generation of taxpayers is getting older and they don't want to pay taxes for the institutions we traditionally looked to in order to lift people into the middle class -- public schools, job training, and public universities. They're also so over welfare. They've done for their kids and they have no interest in doing for the next generation statewide, especially since those successive generations don't look like them. If you don't have an education or a skill that will make you competitive not only with other Americans but with workers around the world, you are economic road kill.

BMNB is keenly aware of this, as am I. So he hustles to do what he can to help family advance themselves career-wise and educationally. But he's hit a brick wall because he wants better for our family than they want for themselves. And it hurts him to watch our family slide slowly behind. And it hurts me to watch him hurt.

"Why?," he asked, with a plea in his voice. "Why does my family have to hit the reset button with every generation? Why can't we build on the gains of the generations that came before us instead of starting from zero generation after generation?" The look of disillusionment in his eyes hurt me to my core. He's been giving and giving and giving of himself, so much so that it's affecting his health, and he's realized that, to put it bluntly, the folks he's been giving so much of himself to in order to help them don't really want his help. They're content hitting the reset button, so to speak.

BMNB's parents and mine accomplished alot with a little. His parents graduated high school; mine did not. Both our parents were able to create a solidly middle class foundation for their kids through hard work, and they, unlike our younger generations, were homeowners. They worked in menial or clerical jobs that provided solid benefits and pensions. In the case of my parents, they laid the foundation for us to reach the next level, and put up with a lot of crap and discrimination in the workplace along they way, so that we would be able to get a college education and have better lives. My husband and his two brothers have or had between them one A.A. degree, two Bachelor's degrees, two Master's degrees, and one law degree. Between my siblings and myself, we have one A.A. degree, three Bachelor's degrees, one Master's degree, and one law degree.

The gains of our parents are remarkable in light of what their parents had to offer. My husband's grandmother was illiterate, but she was a homeowner. My grandfather, who was born in the 1870's during Reconstruction, appears in the U.S. census as a black man who could not only read and write, but had two skills listed in the census -- he was a carpenter and a shoe cobbler. My dad used to tell me that he was also a mason, constructed many of the buildings where they lived, and had a few small businesses he was in the process of selling in their rural Arkansas town before his death. He had planned to move his family to Chicago so they would have a better life and a better shot at opportunity. He died unexpectedly and, according to my father, the businesses were taken from my then 27 year-old grandmother by white men, plunging my dad's family into poverty. That my grandfather had the foresight and desire to move his young brood to Chicago for a better opportunity speaks volumes.

But the generation that has followed us? Pretty much zilch. None of the nieces or nephews on my side of the family have college degrees, and I'm not certain they all have high school diplomas. Only two of the nieces and nephews on my husband's side of the family have college degrees. Few are homeowners. And BMNB and I see this younger generation struggle --struggle to raise kids they weren't prepared to have, struggle to keep jobs because they don't have either a high school diploma or a college degree to have much choice in what they do for a living, just struggle, period. And we know that it doesn't have to be that way. It's only going to get harder for them because the government assistance to help people get an education (Pell grants, Cal grants) that was plentiful when we were young is going to evaporate because of state and federal deficits. The window of educational opportunity for poor and uneducated folks is closing and closing fast.

It's like watching a train wreck, except it's your family on the train and they don't want to get off. Hell, they can't even imagine getting off.

I've watched disillusionment with our family wash over BMNB like a death pallor and I've had to tell him that as much as it hurts him to watch our family hit the reset button, so to speak, you can't want something for someone more than they want it for themselves. All you can do is plant the seed of an idea and walk away. If they want what the seed offers, they will nourish it, cultivate it, and enjoy the fruits of it. If not, they'll let it languish. You cannot create the desire to want better within others; you can only nurture it if it's already there. Only they can want more.
It's been so hard watching an already cynical BMNB come to this realization and to impart upon him the words that have helped bring him to this point. But I want him to enjoy his life, too -- because he DID do all the things he was supposed to do to move to the next level. He's been too busy trying to bring others up behind him to enjoy where he is, stressing himself out along the way. Well, that's so over. From now own, we're planting seeds and walking away. Hard as it may sound, we've got ours, and if you're smart, you better get yours. We're more than willing to help you if you want it, but not at the expense of our health and well-being, especially BMNB's.

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