Michael Jenkins-Brown is the editor and main contributor to South Bay Foodies. He is based in a very specific part of Los Angeles–the South Bay. It’s a part of the city that lies south of LAX Airport and west of the bustling 110 freeway. His site’s mission is to share our knowledge of the fabulous (and sometimes, the not so fabulous) cuisine and happenings that the South Bay has to offer. Today, Michael celebrates Kujichagulia, or self-determination.
Happy Kwanzaa! I’m so happy to be working with all the great bloggers on this Kwanzaa Culinarians project. It’s a great way for us to share a bit of ourselves and what we do with our communities. Today, I’m reflecting on Kujichagulia, “Self-Determination,” Speaking for yourself and making choices that benefit the community. Let me give a bit of background before I get into the choice I want to share with you.
I have two daughters in my blended household. The first is a wiry twelve year old that plays trumpet, runs the 100 meter dash for her track team, and is an expert in all things Pokémon. The other is a quick witted ten year old that is learning the violin, excels at soccer, and can sing just about any Beyonce song by heart. I am raising my girls as best as I can, with expectations for them to graduate high school, go to college, and then go out into the “real world” to contribute to society as bright, successful young women.
However, one of the things I worry about for their futures as adults is the availability of educated, self-sustaining young men as options for balanced, long term relationships. Even though I’ve heard the numbers for years, I am still stunned when I hear the statistics* on the declining number of African-American young men that graduate high school and attend four-year colleges or universities. I’m even more dismayed when I encounter young men that don’t have social skills or are disrespectful. I know my girls will be able to take care of themselves; I’m making it a point to raise them that way. But will there be a young man of color that they can turn to as an equal partner when they decide to make a lifetime commitment to marriage and family? I wonder sometimes, “Are the parents of boys the same age as my daughters putting in the work needed to make their sons worthy of courting my daughters in the future?” I hope they are. But I’m not content with leaving it up to them.
For my community, I am making a choice to help raise these young men. I exercise that choice by participating in “Junior Gents”, a program presented each year by the Mu Sigma Lambda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, Incorporated. The goal of Junior Gents is to work with young men in the community, teaching them life skills they might not be getting at school or at home.We teach them about the importance of finishing high school and going to college, how to write a resume, how to prepare for job interviews, and even how to tie full Windsor knots in neckties. We take our efforts further with etiquette lessons, frank talks about avoiding teen pregnancy and STDs, and the importance of respect for one self and others. Finally, we share with the young men the importance of community service and volunteerism.
One of the highlights for me while working with Junior Gents was preparing a meal for the men and boys participating in the program. Our meetings are held on Saturday afternoons around lunch time and the fraternity brothers take turns providing a meal for the participants. Pizza and chicken are frequently served, and while no one frowns on those dishes, I knew I could bring some variety into the picture. I love grilling, so when my turn to host came around, I volunteered to put on a backyard style cookout. Who better to help me serve than my two lovely ladies!
It was a joy to be cooking with them and having them help me serve the men and boys that were there for our Junior Gents meeting. I was pleased to see the union of my parenting efforts with my daughters and the work I was doing in the community to raise young men. As I reflect on my choice to contribute to the edification of young men in my community, I realize that I probably won’t have much say in which ones will pique the interest of my two daughters. I do feel better, though, knowing that because of my choices and the work of my fraternity brothers, the pool of educated, self-sustaining young men will be just a little bit bigger.
* The Educational Experience of Young Men of Color A Review of Research, Pathways and Progress, College Board, http://youngmenofcolor.collegeboard.org/sites/default/files/downloads/EEYMC-ResearchReport.pdf