Do You Hear Me Now Black Male Vulnerability Don Cornelius Soul Train
Do You Hear Me Now? Black Male Vulnerability, Don Cornelius & Soul’s Train
“I am an invisible man. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. ” Ralph Ellison
I cowered at the revelation that our soul brother number one, musical architect Don Cornelius, whose funky good time was always buoyed by a distinguished gentleman aesthetic, had taken his own life. Not by a pill popping escapade gone woefully astray, but rather a volatile projectile to the dome. This was personal. The message was a profound proclamation of sadness with a mountainous burden. Do you hear me now?
Black man blues is often served cold. Only through tragedy’s rear view mirror does it warrant exploration. And even then, it’s through hastily penned fodder for newspapers or scant TV sound bites insinuating, quite simplistically, that brothers are beset with issues. The “hard bottom shoe mentality” of our forefathers/foremothers, one that limited performances of black masculinity to the physicality of providing, rarely made room for unmitigated black male vulnerability. In red kool aid terms, while our grandfathers passed down the tenets of hard work, very rarely did they equip us with the emotional chemistry and coping strategies to process the pain, raw emotion, and internal dilemmas of everyday living. As our dear brother Cornelius traversed TV land, pinched pennies to provide progressive images of black folk, and built world stages for performers once relegated to chitlin circuit bus tours, he never mouthed a complaint. All the while, we were all too busy grooving to fully examine his soul’s train. Why? Because to truly combat the invisibility of black male psychosis in our collective conscious, it would mean tackling an uncomfortable truth: black men are human beings who experience the entire gamut of emotions.
Hindrances to black folks seriously engaging mental health issues include, but are not limited to, the social stigma of help seeking, cultural mistrust of healthcare, and our own failings to heed persistent calls to provide safe spaces for therapeutic dialogue. These days we are more apt to forward salacious blog posts or trade up to the minute tweets of reality show buffoonery than sincere expressions of concern for the lives and emotional vitality of our close friends and family.
Depression rarely sends a direct text message to announce its onset. Depression lingers in the break room of downsizing corporate offices, invades working class families attempting to make down payments on their American dreams, resides in the bottom of mass marketed liquor bottles, and masks pain in forced smiles moving on down the family reunion Soul Train line.
To be sure, “counseling” for black folks rarely takes place on the couches of trained professionals. Barbershops, churches, beauty salons, community centers and grandma’s kitchen comprise the locations of our “therapy” sessions. Kinship networks must work on the front lines to provide healing suites neutralizing the dehumanizing messages confounding our spirits and mind.
In the still of the night, a good man, who seemed as well put together as his finely tailored suits and flawless fro, played us a blues song. Lawd’ knows we’d be well inclined to listen.
Atlanta native Edward M. Garnes, Jr. is an award winning journalist, counselor, educator, editor, producer, and activist. He is the founder of From Afros to Shelltoes, a community based organization uniquely focused on cultural productions that bridge generation gaps between youth, elders, and the hip hop community. The Atlanta Tribune Man Of Distinction holds a B.A. in English Writing from DePauw University and a M.A. in Counseling from Michigan State University where he studied as a Competitive Fellow in Urban Counseling. Recently honored as Chozen Awards 2011 Motivator of the Year, Garnes currently serves as an Adjunct Professor in Public Speaking at Spelman College.