The Visible Men: They Are Probably More Prevalent Than You Think

I never had the chance to thank Mr. Dorsey.

I played second base in little league baseball in middle school. One game my coach asked me to play center field against the team that Mr. Dorsey, who knew my father from high school, coached. Every time a ball was hit to me, I ran up to catch it only to watch it sail over my head. These were the days when the stands were filled with parents, friends, girls….and more girls. We won the game, but I lost all confidence in my skills as a player.

Society would have us believe that Black men like Mr. Dorsey do not exist anymore – that we as African-American men are collectively oversexed, unfaithful, and ungodly. People are then quick to say, “Well, not all Black men” – as if to validate their argument for positive Black male role models disappearing.

Two days later as I sat on my grandmother’s porch, I saw Mr. Dorsey. He waved me over and told me something unexpectedly. He said, “You’re pretty good in the outfield. Try something next time you’re out here. Instead of running in to catch a pop fly, take two or three small steps back first. That way you can see the flight of the ball a little better. You’re fast enough to run in to catch it if you need to.” He waved at my grandmother sitting on the porch. I could hardly wait for our next game. The first time the ball was hit to me I tried it. I was amazed. I caught it. I would go on to catch every other ball hit in my direction through my college baseball career.

Society would have us believe that Black men like Mr. Dorsey do not exist anymore – that we as African-American men are collectively oversexed, unfaithful, and ungodly. People are then quick to say, “Well, not all Black men” – as if to validate their argument for positive Black male role models disappearing.

There is no getting around the fact that issues impact our existence, especially for young African-American men. I am reminded of this each time I shop for clothes for my teenage son and have to remember that I cannot buy him anything red because it could be misconstrued as a gang affiliation. We continue to kill each other at an alarming rate. All or most of our misdeeds are chronicled on the evening news and, even worse, in every other conversation among our sisters looking for that ‘good man’.

There are those – some within our own community – who have made a living on placing blame for the missteps of Black men on everything from the courts to the cosmos. They take so much pride in their ministries to the ‘under-served’ and incarcerated as well as those who have yet to touch the American dream. How much better served would those incarcerated have been had those resources for prison ministries been spent on high school and middle school ministries? How sad that we need a flood light over the plight of our communities before we are moved to offer any assistance. The light that Hurricane Katrina cast was on conditions that already existed. People meet, march and hold forums on our plight, thereby validating the very condition that society continues to foster. But, that’s okay, they’re not talking about all Black men..right?

They cry, when no one is looking, at sentimental movies and laugh out loud when they see their children make the same mistakes they made at their age. Wall Street Week is not there when they decide to pay their car note a little late, so they can but their wife that special outfit that she had her eye on. They cook dinner from time to time and they die in war in a faraway land at a higher rate than their White and Latino counterparts.

Then there are those Black men who go about their lives in a different way – well under the radar of society’s awareness – and visible only to those whose lives they touch on a daily basis. CNN cameras are not around when they go to work five or six days a week, sometimes working more than one job. They provide for their families and root for their home teams. They escort their daughters to father-daughter dances and take pride in their sons who can now beat them in a game of chess. They understand that all kids cannot play basketball like Michael, so they learn soccer to later coach it. BET is nowhere to be found as they teach Sunday school and shovel the snow for their 70-year-old neighbor’s sidewalk. When they have ‘Boy’s Night Out’, the conversation is just as likely to be about kids and wife, than sports and cars.

The visible men

They cry, when no one is looking, at sentimental movies and laugh out loud when they see their children make the same mistakes they made at their age. Wall Street Week is not there when they decide to pay their car note a little late, so they can but their wife that special outfit that she had her eye on. They cook dinner from time to time and they die in war in a faraway land at a higher rate than their White and Latino counterparts. They do this and so much more because it is what they are supposed to do, not for public gain. They ask more of each other than they ever ask from their government, no matter how well intended. They worry, pray, wait too late to go to the doctor, wash their cars on Saturday morning, and take responsibility. In fact, they flourish with and cherish the responsibility and blessings given to them.

There is definitely more that can be done to ensure the preservation of our dignity, but we must first realize where we are and where we are not. Black men are in the condition that we as Black men say and see we are in and not in the condition that others paint us into. Our condition should be based on the condition of our home, our family, and our community. Within that environment, some things we can control and some we cannot. We must identify which is which and control what we can in a positive way. We cannot control the day’s coming, but we most assuredly can control what we do in that day. We can tell our sons to pull their pants up, carry ourselves in a manner that makes ourselves and others proud, and thank God for our strength of mind and character. Then we begin to paint the portrait of our own reality.

I remember attending an event honoring the community contributions of African-Americans in Lake County, Illinois, in such areas as politics and business. The honorees were mostly Black men, whose accolades, without exception, including mentoring, coaching, or extended parenting contributions to better their communities. The event did not have television cameras, newspaper reporters, or an internet blog, and none were expected. Those present were only the proud families and friends and the honorees themselves – a group of men who remember that sometimes you have to take three steps back, take the hand of a child, and then run forward to catch the dream.

Oh, yeah. Thanks, Mr. Dorsey.

Dale S. Johnson is an accomplished author of over 3,000 lyrical compositions, essays, poems and short stories as well as published interviews with the then Senator Barack Obama and Russ Feingold. One of his pieces, The Perfect Wife was featured on the nationally syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show, and is included in the Tavis Smiley book, Keeping the Faith, which was awarded the NAACP Image Award for inspirational writing. He has spoken on the importance of developing effective relationships from both a personal and professional basis at major universities in Michigan, Texas, Washington, DC and Indiana. Dale received his Bachelor of Science degree from Purdue University and has completed post graduate work at Purdue and the Chicago Kent School of Law.