Old people talk; real elders also listen

News Analysis
By Brandie Hill and
Regetta Webber
Contributing Writers

We are young women who are part of WE WIN Institute’s “Women of Distinction” at Cooper High School. The program started three years ago to help African American girls help themselves be successful in school and go on to college.

The program has been fantastic. After two years, Brandie graduated as an honor student and is in her first year of college. She comes back and volunteers with the program. Regetta is a junior at Cooper and is mentoring younger girls in the program.

We went to the United Negro College Fund Empower Me Tour with the director of WE WIN, and it was amazing. We were able to meet African American role models that we look up to, and they gave us good advice on life. They emphasized the importance of not letting anyone tell us that we can’t do something — that we can accomplish anything we put our minds to and that we are willing to work for.

There were workshops that focused on males and females. The males’ sessions had as many women as men in it, including us. The workshop with Jeff Johnson, Malik Yoba, Warren Ballentine, Chef DAS and Amir Windom was the best of all the workshops.

They talked about all the obstacles they had been through in their lives and how they had no regrets. They emphasized how it serves no purpose to have regrets, because it doesn’t change anything; just learn from what you have been through and move forward.

Some adults may not like some of the words of Jeff Johnson, but we think he kept it real. Of all the speakers, he talked in ways that had so much meaning for us.

He said he believes that “Sometimes older people need to shut up and listen.

Real elders listen, and old people talk a lot. Real elders understand that, before I can talk to you about where you ought to be, they’ve got to be quiet for a minute so they can listen to where young people are and understand their spirit.

“They need to understand what is going on in young people’s lives. Once they care about young people’s passion, they can help them navigate through the process.”

Jeff Johnson went on to explain that it was not about demonizing young people’s lack of maturity about not knowing how to go on the journey. He said that he listens to young people and then asks them where they want go. Then he helps them understand what the responsibilities are and what the consequences might be.

He said that if we say, for example, that we want to go into banking or law, the elders should teach us what we need to know to be successful in that profession and prepare us to walk that walk.

Johnson went on to criticize adults when he said, “They put all this stuff on young people like young people are supposed to raise themselves. We demonize young people. They ask why young people are crazy; because you crazy.”

He said that we have a crazy adult community around us that has not prepared young people. He said that boys have to see what a man looks like, that boys pretending to be men are raising boys. He feels that the conversation would be different if men would step up to the plate and let young men know that they are ready to be mentors and ready to be father figures. He said that most boys are emulating the males they see.

Johnson was bold in his conversation: He said there are a whole lot of guys who are trying to be mentors to mamas and not mentor the children. They try to get hooked up with the mama and are spending more time with the mama than mentoring the child.

He said that he is talking about the genuine men who understand their responsibility, starting with an hour a month in mentoring a child. He went on to say that brothers don’t have to be perfect — when they fall down, they need to get back up and keep moving. He talked about how ridiculous it is for so many students settling for the grade of “C” or “D” when they are more than capable of earning “A’s and “B’s”.

Jeff Johnson’s words were as important for the girls to hear as they were for boys. Girls need good male role models and examples that will help us in better deciding on the kinds of men we want in our lives. We also need men that model the best of African American men.

The workshop for girls was called “Define Your Pretty.” The panel included celebrity guests Kita Williams, Monique Jackson, Ledisi and Tatiyana Ali.

They had powerful words of encouragement regarding the African American woman’s perception of beauty.

We were particularly impressed with Ledisi, an African American celebrity who is dark-skinned with natural hair. She shared how the music industry told her she had to lose weight, change her hair, and basically become a different person in order to do business with them.

She refused, and she went on to promote herself. She did so well, the same company that told her she had to change herself has now given her a music contract. This showed us that you have to be yourself and not let anyone steal your passion.

Malik Yoba, known for his role in Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?, said that he didn’t understand why people scream when a celebrity comes out. That is an easy question for us to answer. We scream because we want to show the love we have for them. We want to show them that we have the deepest respect for them and that we are appreciative that they have chosen to be role models to us.

We are very proud that Malik and all the rest of the celebrities have been successful in their lives. We have every intention of being successful.

We are happy they didn’t become successful and not look back. They have made a deliberate choice to inspire young people all over the country.

The UNCF Empower Me Tour was a good experience. It inspired us to be the best we can be and to work on being strong leaders and have a passion to succeed.

It helped to reinforce our belief that we can and we will be part of making the world the best it can be, and we will be part of the powerful African American leadership in the United States.

Thanks to the WE WIN Institute for story and photos.