Slip Away – A journey of love, loss and showing up

 

I didn’t know Charles Roberts, my paternal father.

My mother divorced him when I was a toddler.

Upon reflection and an examination of the facts, as I recall them, my father did very little to foster a relationship with me.

In fact, my father’s most important relationship was with alcohol…and, ultimately, it is the thing that took his life. He drank himself to death.

Much of the credit for the man I have become is due to my mother.

A single Black female, full of grit and moxie, determined to make a good life for herself and her son.  She is part of a legacy of strong Black women who wore multiple hats, made sacrifices and like a momma bear, nurtured and protected her cub.

Credit is also due to a man named James Burks.

My mother didn’t have a lot of boyfriends.

There were, of course, men that she dated, but “Mr. Burks+” was somehow a consistent presence in our lives.

He was the only constant adult male in my life while I was growing up.

As far back as I can remember, he always treated me with love, respect and dignity.  He treated me as if I were his own flesh and blood.

I questioned him about that recently and he replied,

“What was I supposed to do? I was dating your mother and had no choice but to love you and fill the void that was there.  You needed me.”

Over time, to the outside world, including family and friends, Jim Burks was my father.  To me he was Dad.

He taught me how to properly care for myself – things, I assume that men teach their sons – how to shave, how to groom and. most importantly, how to best navigate through life as a Black man.  Who better equipped to teach a young Black man these lessons than another Black man?

There are countless snapshots and memories from the past that solidify his presence and importance in my life.

An appreciation of the arts, mostly music: introductions to James Baldwin, Billy Strayhorn, Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Puccini, the simplicity and vibrancy of a Harold Wheeler string arrangement. He was passionate about history and antiques and he shared his passions with me. Like a sponge, I absorbed them all.

Education: He hired a tutor for me when I needed to improve my grasp of arithmetic.

When my boarding school tuition was due and my mother was short, Jim made up the difference and added a sweetener on top.

In my early teenage years when my maternal grandfather’s body was riddled with cancer and he was dying, it was Jim Burks who showed up at school to take me to Boston in order to say goodbye.  He didn’t tell me “how to” mourn, but through his actions, he taught me that it is okay for a man to be vulnerable, to cry and express empathy.

My mother and Jim came to visit me in the eighties.  I was in my twenties, living in New York – in an apartment that I could not afford, in a relationship that was toxic and detrimental to my well-being, and visibly thin and in trouble.

Disgusted and disappointed by what he saw, Jim called me later and told me to pack up my things.  He was coming to take me home.  On the appointed day with no more than a hello, we loaded his car with my belongings and he brought me home.  The two-hour car ride was filled with silence.

All that was needed to be said remained unspoken. He rescued me. He saved my life.  He saved me. He showed up when i needed him most.

Eight months ago, I got a telephone call from my dad’s doctor…He was concerned that he had missed two appointments.

“These are radiation treatments for the skin cancer, Eric.  It is important that Dad not miss these appointments. They are scheduled every weekday for the next two weeks, and you have to make sure he gets there.”

Skin cancer? Radiation? This was new information to me.

When questioned, my dad made light of the situation and referred to the treatments as “this thing.”  He saw it as no big deal and, at 95 years of age, I assumed that, given all that he had been through in his life, it was no big deal.  So, for two weeks we would go to the oncology treatment center at the hospital.  Outwardly he appeared fine and without any visible side effects.

Three weeks later, everything changed and the world turned upside down.

 

 

+As a child, I was instructed to refer to any adults as “Mr” or “Miss.” My mother believed that it was not only a sign of respect, but, in her mind, a differentiator, that separated her child from others.  So for close to twenty years, I referred to my dad as “Mr. Burks.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Other Threat to Men of Color

iStock_000000403827LargeImprisonment and gun violence are the threats to the lives of Black men that are most commonly discussed and reported…for valid reason.

Approximately 12–13% of the American population is African-American.  African-Americans make up 60% of the 2.1 million male inmates in jail or prison

According to a study from the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, a young Black man is nearly five times more likely to be killed by a gun than a young White man. If a Black person is killed by a gun, it is judged a homicide 82 percent of the time. For the broad population, most gun deaths are ruled accidental or the result of suicide; only 34 percent of gun deaths are attributed to murder.

There is another threat.  Click here to learn more.

HIV is a pervasive threat that continues to spread rapidly.  Chief among the challenges that contribute to its spread are poverty, lack of access to health care, higher incidence of sexually transmitted infections, lack of awareness and stigma.

Unfortunately, HIV awareness and how people of color are disproportionately affected are not reported enough.  We are midst of a health crisis.  Education and information about the HIV epidemic is essential.

 

When Gas Becomes Cheaper, We Buy Premium!

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I am continually fascinated by consumer behavior.  And just when I think I have it pretty much figured out, a new finding shows that there is so much to learn.

“When gas prices fall, Americans reliably do two things that don’t make much sense.  They spend more of the windfall on gasoline than they would if the money came from somewhere else. And they don’t just buy more gasoline. They switch from regular gas to high-octane.”

Click When Gas Becomes Cheaper, Americans Buy More Expensive Gas to read the full article.

Tough Love and Truth about the Ad Industry

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Pepsico President — Global Beverages Group, Brad Jakeman  

and

Harley-Davidson, Chief Marketing Officer Mark-Hans Richter “truth tell”  about the ad industry.

“The Lack of Diversity”

“I am sick and tired as a client of sitting in agency meetings with a whole bunch of white straight males talking to me about how we are going to sell our brands that are bought 85% by women,” he said. “Innovation and disruption does not come from homogeneous groups of people.”

“Fake Fight: Millennials vs. Boomers” — Why limit (your) growth to marketing directed to young adults?

“Youth does not own cool. Youth does not own growth. Youth does not own innovation or disruption.” he said. “Old people are a growth market, too.”

The article, Pepsico Exec Has Tough Words For Agencies, underscores issues that have long been prevalent in the ad industry.

Chief among these is diversity or more appropriately, the lack of diversity within the industry.

Whether the target audience is African- American, Latino, Asian, Women, LGBT or combinations including one or more, your agency has to have knowledgeable staff in order to effectively connect.

 

Give Them Something to Talk About

The importance and value of local store marketing are powerful and should be taken seriously by every business owner.  The potential and return on investment should never be underestimated.  A Black Enterprise article, 8 Ways to Get Free Publicity For Your Small Business or Startup, is a great place to start.  Check out the article — numbers 1, 4, 6 & 8 are easy to implement!  If you’re interested in learning more or discussing how you can generate a buzz and demand in your local market, let’s have a conversation.