Today is April Fool’s Day, but it appears that I’m the only one who’s been a fool. I have been retired since October of 2013 and I can honestly say that I’ve worked harder since retirement than I ever worked as an employee of AT&T. I’ve seen the sun come up on many occasions where I’ve worked through the night. I’ve learned more about the world and my existence in it in the last 17 months than I have in my entire academic career. Ironically, what I’m learning now is more precious and valuable than most of what I received in pursuit of degrees and it has all been free, courtesy of the internet. The internet has also allowed me to see that there is a great deal of work yet to be done to impact the lives of our youth.
I’ve learned many new things and improved some old skill sets via the all-free internet. I learned how to use Photoshop better. I learned how to build a website (and all the nuances and details that come with creating a secured site) with the use of templates and plugins and built this website with the internet as the only resource. I learned how to create, edit and upload the instructional videos and the music mixes within the pages of this website by accessing the internet. And I’ve experienced a degree of success in exposing my style of dance to the world as a result of utilizing the internet as a self-promotion tool. I’m trying to make a point here, but I need you to follow my logic for a moment…
Via internet access, I’ve read about and celebrated the successes of organizations such as YearUp around the country that are doing their part to help make this country a better place for all of its citizens, especially our youth. Internet access has allowed me to broaden my worldview and learn more about myself, my culture and the history that was hidden from me. The internet has also been the vehicle that allows me to be that which I desired to be years ago: an entrepreneur in control of my own destiny.
Internet access has also shown me how great the inequities are that our youth experience (education, job opportunities, etc.) and how discouraging their futures appear to be. Current high school dropout rates aren’t as alarming as the naysayers claim, yet there’s room for improvement. A recent report from kidscount.org reveals a discouraging story of a future even bleaker than mine was as a youth for fourth graders of color. In practically every state in America fourth graders are reading, on average, eighty percent below proficient levels. What happens to these young people if they can’t read? What options will they have? What hopes and dreams will they have?
“The foundation of every state is the education of its youth” ~ Diogenes
In contrast, I read an article recently where a young man by the name of Kwasi Enin, was accepted at eight Ivy-league schools. The writer of the article felt that it was Kwasi’s essay about his love for music that ultimately persuaded each school to admit him (his academic accomplishments notwithstanding). His essay was about his love for music and how music has helped him become the person that he is. Check out his story in the link above and read his moving admissions essay on how music impacted his life. I can relate to every word he wrote. The way he feels about music and the impact it has on his life is the same way I feel about dancing. It helped change my life and helped me in ways unimaginable, including meeting some pretty amazing people across the country that will be in my life for as long as I live.
There are also people like Alfred Liggins, the CEO of Radio One – the only African-American owned multi-media conglomerate in the country – who realize the need to get more involved in the community to spur the growth of entrepreneurial thinking. There are success stories of young men pledging their allegiance to one another despite the conditions in which they lived who experienced a level of success that was viewed as statistically impossible given where they came from. The GINN Academy, a charter school for at-risk youth in Ohio with a curriculum heavily concentrated on math and science (insert link) has a zero percent dropout rate. ZERO PERCENT!!
Good role models and good people can come from anywhere! People simply need to care about others and do something as a result of caring. That’s where I am. That’s why I’m doing it. One of the most rewarding experiences of my life was helping some high school students realize they had the capacity to change their circumstances and many of them did. I helped change the trajectory of the lives of a few young people and it felt wonderful. I want to live that experience again. This is where I start and it is only the beginning.
I’m grateful that I have the ability to market my limited talent to a broader array of people. I’m grateful for the opportunity to create a new career post-retirement. I’m truly grateful for everything I’ve learned over the past fifteen months…and now it’s the time for me to give back. I wrote a blog post a couple of weeks ago entitled “Give the Gift of Dance: It May Save a Life”. That post has become my mantra. Beginning April 6th, access to the instructional videos on this website will be absolutely FREE of charge. Why? Because I cannot, in good conscience anyway, ask others to pay for a talent that I have and provide via the web when to this very day I benefit from the talents of others who have shared their knowledge or talent freely (or for small donations) via the same medium. But it’s much deeper than that for me…
I know what dance had done for me over the course of my life. I know how music and dance has shaped my life. It kept me out of trouble. It allowed me to see how others lived that I wouldn’t have otherwise had access to and gave me reason to hope. My dance “talent” kept me distracted from thinking about the hopelessness, fear and despair that would grip me at times when I thought about my future. I can’t tell you how many times I sat in my bedroom as a teenager and later as a young adult fearing that I had no future; that I couldn’t see where my life would be ten days, ten weeks, ten months or ten years into the future. Dance was the perfect “meantime” for me while I blindly figured out what I needed to do and where I needed to go.
Dance allowed me to date girls who had futures much brighter than mine. Dating them allowed them to ask questions of me, in particular, what I planned to do with my life. Most of the girls I dated had both parents in the home and it was established early on in their lives that their futures would not be jeopardized by the foolishness and lack of direction of a young, uninspired, directionless black male. “Dancing is cool and all, but what happens when you leave the floor, how will you live?” is what I was asked often. For the longest time I had no answer. Dancing was the perfect “meantime” for me while I figured things out for myself.
What I have is something that should also be shared with young people freely as an alternative to that which they call dancing these days. There is nothing in the world like couples dancing, and there is no other dance in the world that offers the levels of diversity, mastery and creative expression that Steppin’ does. In a world highly influenced by Jazz and R&B, Steppin’ is the only dance that I know of that can accommodate these musical genres along with Pop, Hip-hop, New Age and Fusion. Young people need hope. They need healthy options to negate unhealthy lifestyles and behaviors. They need to know that there are people who care, that have walked in their shoes and understand their situation. I’m one of those people, raised in a government subsidized neighborhood, living on food stamps and government cheese. I’ve lived it…been there, done that, I own the t-shirt!
“Those of us who have been privileged to receive education, skills, and experiences and even power must be role models for the next generation of leadership”
Caring for and about our youth cannot be a casual endeavor. It has to be your passion. You have to believe. You have to know what it feels like to have no options, no hopes, no dreams or aspirations. If you’ve never been there because of your good fortune – you came from a two-parent home, or you had relatives who filled the void – you can’t fathom the sense of hopelessness and despair that a youth with no purpose or direction experiences. You simply can’t. I can because I lived it. I was that youth. I made it out of the cycle of poverty and as a result, I have a son who will never, ever know what poverty feels like. While he was growing up he had teammates that did, and even as a very young man he saw how they lived their lives and the challenges they faced. Even then he wanted to help his peers live a different experience as we interacted with them. My son saw beyond himself, with compassion for his friends. What a beautiful thing to witness!
I danced very little as I raised my son and it wasn’t until after my divorce that I picked it back up again. In doing so I was reunited with the one thing that kept me sane, focused and patient. It was dance and faith in a power greater than me that allowed me to make the right decisions about how to pattern my life. It was dancing that got me to the place where I could see that I needed to make better decisions by exposing me to people who were already doing so. It was the “gift” of dance that changed my life. My hope is that I can help someone else get on the right path using this dance as the vehicle to do so. If I can use the limited talent that I have to help change a life; to leave the world better in my departure than it was when I entered it, I’ve completed my life’s mission. What a great way to transition out of this life! What a great way to make a difference. What a great way to change the world! I absolutely love this dance! I absolutely love Steppin’!!
You can make a commitment too. In what ways can you make a difference in the lives of our young people? Share you experience. Leave a comment. Share this blog post with others who have the same passion for our youth.