Friday, September 18, 2009

Mommas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Dumb Millionaires

By: Harold Michael Harvey

I’m a story teller. I learned to tell stories sitting at the side of my granddaddy Charlie. Although I never heard him orally tell a story. He was a very silent man and seldom spoke. When he did speak it was enough to make E. F. Hutton listen. He usually had something profound to say. A white mob once stopped to listen to what he had to say. It threw them off the tracks of the black man they were following and the man’s life was spared. While my grandfather talked to the men, my grandmother huddled the children and cried out, “Lord have mercy!” She prayed for the black man and the white men alike. I don’t know if her prayer diffused the situation or not. What I took away from it was not hatred for either the man running nor the men bent on murder who chased after him. I learned by example to pray in the midst of trouble.

My granddad lived his stories. He taught hard work, honesty, and letting your word be your bond through the manner he lived his life.

I learned to tell stories by sitting next to my grandad when the men in the farming community where we lived would drop by after a day’s work. In the summertime we would gather in a circle in the yard. Someone would light a fire in a barrel to smoke away the mosquitoes and flies. That’s when the stories started. Each man would take a turn telling a story. There was laughter galore. In the winter months we would gather around the fireplace, toss some sweet potatoes under the ashes and listen to tales of ghosts and goblins.

Years later when I left home for college my grand mom, Puella had but one admonishment: “Don’t be down there drinking no dope.” Marijuana was the craze in that day. Granny didn’t know you didn’t drink it. But she wanted to make it clear I was not to do anything that would make me behave less than I had been taught.

From the letters I have received of late, my stories pain some of my readers. I regret that they do. I come from a long line of story tellers, preachers and teachers who took the lemons of life experiences (the good, the bad, the indifferent) and made a lesson plan of lemonade.

When I coached youth league baseball, long before the term “teachable moment” was in the national lexicon, I used the mistakes my kids made to teach life principles. When I halted practice and instructed the infielders in the mechanics of the rundown play, they would say, “here goes coach Harvey with another one of his stories.” The rundown play is a perfect time to teach team work and responsibility, not only for yourself but for your teammates as well. In this way we built moral character and laid the foundation for a championship baseball team. The story was painful at the time because the life experience was oozing ugly before our very eyes. I didn’t let them hide from the fact that a bone-headed play distracted from the team’s goal of winning a championship.

Now, when I encounter a member of the Homestead Grays Youth Baseball Team and Educational Academy, they tell me how beneficial those life lessons were. I have my grandparents to thank for any success my baseball players have had. I will put their moral character up against any group of young men born any where in the world between 1983 and 1986.

Which brings me to the point of this piece. I sat dumbfounded before the television last weekend and witnessed the worst behavior imaginable from three very rich and very spoiled brats. They are in order of meltdown Michael Jordan, Serena Williams and Kayne West.

I’m not going to ask what were they thinking, because obviously they were not. But their behavior does bring forth the question; what were they smoking, drinking, snorting, sniffing or shooting?

Michael Jordan, the greatest pea shooter of his generation made a mockery of his induction into the National Basketball Hall of Fame. He made it a point to denigrate every single person whom he had passed along the way to greatness. His mom was there in the audience, how could she be proud of her progeny? The trouble with Michael happened a long time ago when someone should have periodically taken the basketball out of his hands and substituted a book for the basketball. Someone at the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, North Carolina should have read the Book of Micah to him. Instead of a graceful and humble warrior claiming the spoils of war, we get Jordan at age 46 foaming at the mouth because he was able to overcome the obstacles of life and stand atop the heap. It’s a good thing we now have a Harvard educated black man who has a mean left handed jump shot in the White House to emulate.

Serena Williams, so gifted a tennis player that the only person who can consistently beat her is her sister Venus, and herself. She is an object lesson of what happens when you take a small child and put a racket in her hands without occasionally lobbing a book across the net. As success came along the way, there were a lot of empty spaces that were taken up with bad precepts and examples. Thus, when under fire instead of choking down her expressions of outrage from an official call, she, in the vernacular of the day, twittered them to the whole world in 140 characters, more or less. Contrast Serena’s verbal outburst with the glare President Obama gave to Joe Wilson on the floor of the House last week. If looks could kill, Joe Wilson would have been pulverized. Yet Obama knew he could not say or do what he felt at the time. His parents and grandparents put something in his hands, his heart and inside his head. That something seems to be lacking in this world class athlete.

Kayne West, a multi talented and disturbed black man bum rushed Taylor Swift, a 19 year old white girl at the MTV Video Music Awards show last week. He took the microphone out of her hands and told those assembled he thought someone other than Ms. Swift should have won. He is still trying to out run grief, several years after the death of a mom, who tried her best to get him enrolled in college. His behavior was unbelievable, uncalled for and undeniably rude. He has at least apologized and plans to get off the public stage and begin the grieving process. My advice is to also go back to school.

In my time, I have given my mom some proud moments and some not so proud moments. I have pledged to her one more proud moment before she makes her curtain call. I am working hard every day to make good on that promise.

Mommas don’t let your babies grow up to be dumb millionaires, teach them reading, writing, “critical historical thinking” and such.

© September 15, 2009


jacqueline said...

I don't think this article could have been written any better. My advice is..."Grow up people. It's only a game."

Anonymous said...

I hear your thoughts, but they did what whites in their positions have done with no backlash. Bootstraps with no anti-racism equal not too helpful.

Ludovic Speaks

webmaster said...

Michael, great piece!

Man, that "Anonymous" comment is disturbing. Don't let it take away from your brilliant writing!

Just for clarification sake
"Whites in their position"
..John Stockton
..Taylor Swift?, ok more likely with Courtney Love
..Andy Roddick, mmm perhaps, lets go with Roger Federer

Anyway, great piece

Anonymous said...

I agree 100%. Education is one of the primary "causes" that drives me. Getting rich too young and too quick, without the intermediate steps.

Crystal Silver

Anonymous said...

Dr. Harvey,

Beautifully articulated! However, I'm not to mad at Serena Williams! Keep up the good work Sir!

Nickalus T. Holt

Pat said...

Mike - while school plays an important role in the lives of millionnaires, not-so-millionnaires, and not-even-close-to millionnaires, the educational venue is not where these three geniuses missed out. The lack of intelligence West, Williams and Jordan exhibited was not 'book' learning. They did not learn the fine art of grace, humility, common sense, or morality. While most teachers try to instill these values in their students, the concepts are still things which should be taught and exhibited in the home and church. It takes grace to accept admonishment without making a spectacle of oneself. It takes common sense to know you don't diminish another's accomplishment publically, and it takes humility at accept an accolade one did not HAVE to receive.

Max Reddick said...

I really enjoyed this piece. I, too, come from a long line of storytellers, preachers, and teachers. My fondest memories of my childhood consist of me sitting with my family listening to the many stories they had to tell.

And by now, my children are claim they are tired of hearing the stories. I say claim because one minute they are rolling their eyes at my stories and the next they are asking me to tell them one.

We are sorely in need of stories, of positive narratives that might inspire ours kids to do better, to go further, to aim higher.

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