Ah, Brothers

by Rhonda Sherrod, J.D., Ph.D.  (c) 2013

“I’m always annoyed about why black people have to bear the brunt of everybody else’s contempt. If we are not totally understanding and smiling, suddenly we’re demons.” 

Toni Morrison 


On Friday, I bounced onto the bus, en route to downtown Chicago from my suburban home, briefcase flying one way and my purse another.  When the bus lurched forward as I was advancing toward a seat, my attempts at maintaining my equilibrium ended with the papers I had been reading, while waiting at the bus stop, high-flight sailing all over the back of the bus as I stumbled to a seat.  It was a decidedly less than graceful moment.

Just as I was about to exhale a disgusted little sigh two brothers bolted from their seats, practically fighting over who would perform the rescue.  Finally, the victor caught the papers, before they even hit the filthy floor of the bus, and served them up to me with a smile.

“Thank you, thank you so much,” I gushed to my hero.  Then I turned to his competitor and enthusiastically thanked him, too, for trying.

Both smiled that coolness that brothers exude as another older brother, flanking me on my other side, engaged:

“Got somewhere important to go?” he ventured, smiling sweetly.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Going downtown?”

“Yes, I am.”

He waited… so, I continued:  “I have an important business luncheon.  I just started my own business not too long ago.”

“Wow?  I hope it goes well,” he enthused, with such sincerity and genuineness it almost startled me.  This stranger, whom I had never seen before, seemed so invested in my success – it was a throwback to the way it used to be.

“I do, too,”  I smiled warmly.  “I do, too.”

“Well,” he said, continuing emphatically,  “I always start with ‘I will.’  You know, ‘I will have a good meeting.  I will get what I need to make this business go.’”

“Okay,” I said, by now lost in his thoughts on the matter.

Eventually, I returned to reading the papers that had cascaded out of my hands.  When I looked up again, I found myself scrutinizing each of the three Black men with whom I had just briefly interacted.  I studied them intently.  One was looking out the window with his headphones on, his face tight and weary from life, but still comfortably lost in his music, at least for the moment, I supposed.  The younger one was, no doubt, reading a text or looking at something amusing on the internet judging from his laughter and the delighted little expression on his face as he viewed his cell phone; and my “philosopher” — that sweet, gentlemanly elder  — well, he was scanning his environment with what I came to realize was a perpetual smile on his face.

Suddenly, I felt overwhelmed – overwhelmed with a sense of grief and sadness.  My thoughts centered around how unfair it is for Black men to have to constantly fight the vicious stereotypes, long put forth by the dominant culture, that portray them as anything but who they are:  good, kind, generous human beings doing what we are all doing.  They are trying to make it in a tough, often cold, and unforgiving world.  Then, to have to constantly carry that reprobate baggage that others have draped around their necks, like a huge oppressive weight, well, anyone can grasp just how unfair that is…

On my way home from a successful meeting, I sat down on the bus and heard an excited,  “Hey!”  I looked up into the smiling face of my philosopher.  What were the chances that I would run into him again on my way home…

He interrupted my thoughts:  “How did it go?”  he asked with the same benevolent intensity he had displayed earlier.

“It went well — really, really well,” I replied.

“Wonderful,” he exclaimed.  “I knew it would.  I’ll see you later.”

We were at his stop, so he bounced off the bus, still smiling.

Ah, brothers… I wish other people would stop projecting their problems and inhumanity  onto you.  I wish you were free of other people’s psychopathology, and I wish so many of you would stop internalizing other people’s sickness to your extreme detriment.  I wish more of you could see yourselves the way I do, because it really is okay for you to throw off the yoke of other people’s insanity and step into your greatness.


Looking north from Chicago 'L' station Adams a...

Looking north from Chicago ‘L’ station Adams and Wabash Français : Vue depuis la station Adams and Wabash du métro aérien de Chicago vers le nord. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Downtown Chicago skyline (Aon Center ...

English: Downtown Chicago skyline (Aon Center – left; Sears Tower – right), viewed from the John Hancock Center observatory. Français : (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a
    bloody peace be written in the sky. Let a second
    generation full of courage issue forth; let a people
    loving freedom come to growth. Let a beauty full of
    healing and a strength of final clenching be the pulsing
    in our spirits and our blood. Let the martial songs
    be written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men now
    rise and take control.”
From acclaimed author and poet Margaret Walker‘s epic poem entitled
For My People

20 thoughts on “Ah, Brothers

  1. What a refreshing and heartfelt story. I had a similar experience on the train a few months ago heading back home from the loop. When I spoke to the middle aged gentleman sitting across the aisle from me, he appeared startled, 1) because I spoke and 2) because my greeting was with a smile. I responded to him that it takes nothing away from you by greeting an individual with a smile and often you never know what that does for a person who may have just lost a love one, lost their job, or just learned of some serious medical condition. It was nice to hear that the two young men who made an attempt to rescue you were gentlemen. I believe there are more in our community, we just need to acknowledge that they exist a little more often.


  2. Great perspective, one way is for people to write about what they experience even when it is positive. Too often we only pay attention when things are shared in a negative way. Of course we hear about all of the violence these days but none or hardly any of the positive

  3. Thanks Dr. Rhonda, I agree. We need to support the wonderful black men in our lives! They are working hard, going to school, loving their families and helping others. As a professor at an HBCU, I see it all the time. Thanks for making this more transparent.

  4. It’s been almost five years since I relocated to the United States from Ghana. At first, I used to see African Americans as “them,” a group of people who were different from me: they spoke differently, acted differently and had different goals. Till one evening at the convenient store where I used to work. A group of young black men came in and the Asian owner whispered:”Keep an eye on them-these blacks are no good at all. They steal everything.” Then I realized I WAS ONE OF THEM. I pointed this out to the owner. Embarrassed, he tried to mollify me. “Oh, you’re not like that-you’re from Africa.” I gave him a long, cold, hard look. He couldn’t return the look and sneaked off into his office. From that moment I began to recognize that look anytime I entered a shop, except when I was in a suit. And I used to think most people gave me a second look on account of my good looks!

  5. Awesome story! I can truly say that I too have these same emotions when it comes to our brothers! The song “Brotha” by Angie Stone came to mind as I read this, but more specifically, these lyrics:

    “He’s misunderstood, some say that
    He’s up to no good around the neighborhood
    Well, for your information
    A lot of my brothas got education”

    So much potential and greatness lies within them but it’s clouded by the negative stereotypes, mindsets and, like you said, personal issues of others.

  6. So good to hear of the good/black love for each other. It’s bad to have to say, but we go on the defense with each other too much. We have to get back to those days of the sixties when it was a greeting of “Hello brother” or “Hello sister” and we meant it. We only have each other.

  7. How absolutely beautiful! What a positive and refreshing perspective on African American men, one that is long overdue. May the Lord continually bless you and increase your significant endeavors with speaking out about what needs to be heard in print.

  8. Dr. Sherrod,
    Thank you for sharing. It is great to hear something positive regarding Black men. What I really admire about this story is that in one day you had a brief encounter with three Black men who left you with a positive impression.

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