Read an Excerpt
The Human Choice
There is absolute magic in this being called Black -- splendor and purpose in every single cell. For within us are the genetics of the warrior, who steps boldly into the future, and the connection of family that binds us together with love. There is unlimited power and innate intelligence in the very soul that drives us.
Joseph McClendon III
The conflict is classic: The difference between what we feel in our souls and what we deal with in the real world is all too often like night and day. Inside each and every one of us is a seed of greatness, a deep yearning to grow and contribute, to make a difference. All of us want to believe we deserve the good life -- that we can actually achieve it.
So what prevents us from having our dreams? What keeps us from achieving what we long for in the core of our being? There is no question that racial and cultural differences all too often show up as challenges that could impede our forward motion. But if any of us truly believes those differences determine our destiny, then our future is dim indeed. To allow ourselves to fall into the cultural hypnosis of thinking that the outside world ultimately controls our lives -- instead of realizing that each day is replete with opportunities to become powerful beyond belief -- is to surrender the magic given to us at conception and guaranteed with our very first breath of life.
Deep inside, we all know the real truth: It is in fact our differences -- our points of uniqueness -- that make every human being worthy of greatness, and adversity strengthens our very souls. Muscles only grow withdemand. Anything that doesn't kill us makes us stronger if we learn from it, and challenges are God's way of preparing us for what we ask for.
When I look into the eyes and hearts of others who share my beautiful heritage, I feel alive and proud. When I see how much we've grown, contributed, and loved as a culture over the years, I have a sense of connection that is unshakable. I feel extremely privileged and humble to be able to share my thoughts with you, and I deeply thank you for the opportunity to walk this new path together on this enchanted journey we call life.
As I look at my life today, I can't help but feel incredibly grateful. But it wasn't always that way. Like most people, I experienced a time so full of self-doubt and confusion about who I was and what I was capable of that it all but paralyzed me. While I was raised in a family that taught equality and fairness, often the outside world showed me quite a different picture.
We've all had times in our lives when being different was a liability for the moment -- and those moments can seem like an eternity. All too often these "defining" moments can powerfully shape our beliefs about people, opportunities, and the world as a whole, thereby shaping our lives for better or worse. Without warning, something happens. Things change, and we can be thrust into horrific situations. Life turns on a dime, and depending on how we interpret those turns, they can either limit us or accelerate us on our journey to fulfillment.
The Opportunity to Transform
My own life has been full of incidents where being Black was the catalyst for sometimes vicious treatment. Let me tell you about one such event...a long, long time ago.
On a cold, windy November night, out in the middle of nowhere, life as I knew it was about to change. Darkness hung in the air like a thick, black, velvet blanket. And even the thin slice of the moon that shone that evening seemed frozen in place by the emptiness of the desert sky.
It was about 11:30 on a Friday night, and I was riding my motorcycle from Los Angeles to San Jose to visit my father and sister. I was passing through the small town of Oildale near Bakersfield, on the way to Interstate 5. (In those days, to say that Oildale was a "redneck" town was like saying that the Grand Canyon was just a little hole in the ground, or that Adolf Hitler had just a few minor personality glitches he needed to work out!) I had a full tank of gas and only about three more hours to go before I reached my destination. I always traveled late at night to avoid traffic, and I loved the feeling of freedom that being the only one on the road gave me. It was sometimes scary but always exciting. I was blasting down the roadway on my Harley-Davidson at about sixty-five miles per hour, and under normal circumstances I would have been able to pass right by Oildale.
Unfortunately, on this particular evening I had neglected to tighten the rear chain on my bike. With a loud bang it came flying off the sprocket, leaving the bike powerless and out of control. I coasted to a stop, walked back to collect the pieces of chain, then pushed the bike to the nearest freeway off-ramp about a hundred yards away. I pulled into a closed gas station nearby to make the necessary repairs.
I had been there about half an hour when an old Chevy pickup truck appeared with three men in the cab. They pulled into the station and screeched to a stop between me and the pumps. At first I thought they had stopped to help me, but as they stumbled out of the truck I knew I was in trouble. It was obvious they had been drinking, and they seemed so excited over what they had found that they fell all over each other, laughing about who would get to deliver the opening line.
As I stood there, afraid for my life and trying to figure out what to do, I couldn't help thinking that most of us have probably feared this type of situation more than once in our lives. All the stories of vicious mistreatment of Blacks flashed through my mind like some horrible civil rights newsreel from the 1960s on fast-forward. Now it seemed I was about to relive one of those events. For a split second I thought everything was going to be okay, because the large one (the one with the stained overalls and all the teeth missing) stepped to the front and grinned. But my hopes were instantly crushed when he drawled, "Well, niggra, looks lak you picked the wrong place to git broke down at."
After that, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. They all charged me at once, kicking over my bike and trying to pull me out into the open where they could beat me down. "It's time for you to die now, nigger!" one of them shouted as they encircled me. Instinctively I wedged myself between the gas pumps for protection, and I was able to defend myself for a short while, but not before taking some pretty intense hits. Wherever I turned there was another one of them taking a swing at me. In total fear, I realized I did have a weapon: The wrench I had been using to work on the bike was still in my hand. I lashed out with it in hopes of driving them away. It helped for a time, but there were too many of them. I remember being kicked and punched in the head and ribs, actually hearing the impact and knowing the blows were serious. The dull thud of someone's foot in my side or fist in my teeth seemed to be coming out of nowhere, too fast for me to block or dodge. I remember being more angry than scared, feeling like I was going to pass out but fighting to stay conscious. I knew if I lost consciousness, they would rip me to pieces. I don't really know what made them stop, but I do remember running after one of them, yelling at the top of my lungs, ultimately hurling the wrench at him.
Finally, they all piled into the truck and peeled out of there. The rage and hate I felt in those moments was overwhelming. My mind was screaming, You bastards! How dare you do this to me! How dare you! I looked down at my shirt and saw my own blood all over it. I felt my insides on fire, and the bitter taste of blood in my mouth brought a lump to my throat. My face felt like it was tom to shreds, my nose and mouth were bleeding, and I was having difficulty br