I sat this past Saturday and watched “a kid from Coney Island: the Stephon Marbury documentary”. A story about the Brooklyn basketball phenom and his accession from the legendary arenas of New York basketball, to a rollercoaster ride of a professional career that span across a little over two decades-and two continents.
For decades, New York basketball has been to young Black boys, what Motown and the larger collective of preemptive Black record labels were to aspiring soul groups from Detroit and the nation in the 60s& 70s. What the Hip-Hop business and the rap game was, and still is, to young impoverished youth of color across America today; a road to economic salvation and deliverance from poverty. A way out of the oppression and violence of the inner cities, and the path to a fruitful life and shot at the “American dream”. It’s a story as old as time and one many black and brown folks have some personal connection to.
That age old poverty stricken misnomer which furthers the assumption that “ You either rap, got a wicked jump shot or you sling crack rock”.
Equipped with a mean jump shot, insane ball handle, and an unyielding competitive ferocity, Marbury played a 13 year stretch in the NBA filled with highs, lows, and a series of unsuccessful trades, mental breakdowns and depression. He picked up in 2010 and began a 8 year career in China, with the CBA; a move that proved vital in the resurgence of his mental health, the health of his brand and his basketball career. In his 8 year stint there he won three championships with the Beijing ducks. Bruh….. Marbury got a statue in Beijing; like Mj type ish; that’s how lit Marbury is in China.
Notwithstanding all that I just told you, I regret to inform you that this article is not about Stephon Marbury-but more so, about all of the little black and brown boys throughout this nation- the little Starbury’s with dreams of career in sports of entertainment; the expressway from the harsh realities of American poverty, to lavish promises of the American dream. Although I definitely think you all should check it out, this is not why I wrote this piece.
The documentary’s culminating scene is a shot of Marbury in his childhood barbershop, where he’s talking to a little boy from one of the housing projects in Coney Island. The little boy doesn’t seem to know him personally, but I’m assuming maybe due to the neighborhood’s reaction to him and the camera crews, that he realizes that Marbury is someone important. The boy’s name also happens to be Xavier, which coincidentally is Marbury’s middle name. While they talk, as Xavier gets a fresh cut, Steph begins to talk to him about his dreams, his hopes, and just making basic connections between two of Coney Islands sons; one an accomplished elder, and the other a young man in building his dreams and setting his intention for the future he wants to live.
After showing Xavier old clips of his basketball highlights, Steph then proceeds to ask the young man what he wants to do. In typical fashion he admits that he wants to play in the NBA and even comically answers the all-stars follow up question of “how you going to get there”, with a response of “I’m going to drive a car or take a train”- typical New York ish- which is too hilarious and totally the answer I would have given at that age.
What happens next is all to telling and something I see everyday in my work in education.
Steph tells Xavier “hey you know you can be president of the United States, right?” The young man is shocked which is indicated by his long pause, honestly bewildered facial expressions, and sense of “ is this nigga high?”sort of reaction. You can tell it’s the first time that any adult has ever poured into him this way and presented a way out of the hood, out of poverty, that isn’t often presented to us. It’s more likely that as youth of color in this country,that we will be seen for our entertainment value as opposed to intellectual prowess.
Steph cries and at that very moment I cried too. For some reason grown Black men crying set off, in other black men, this yawn like effect which is infectious and can’t be ignored. Many ghetto youth embody this “you can’t be what you can’t see mentality”, and having someone tell you that you can literally be the leader of the free world changes the way in which we form our dreams and aim for the stars. It’s the opposite of what many of us have been told we can aspire to be.
Many educators, educational systems, and other institutions of white supremacy reinforce this notion that Black kids can only be thugs, lowlifes and criminals; creating the atmosphere where you only chase those pathways that seem monetarily beneficial. Never taking into account the personal risk and sacrifice that comes with this lifestyle. Xaviers shock at the mere notion that he can aspire to aim as high as the presidency of the United States, is not unlike the shock myself and many other Black boys have experienced in these situations. It’s sort of a light bulb moment where you go from thinking all you can be is a baller or a rapper, to this eye awakening, life changing thought that you can be so much more. We are doctors; lawyers; politicians; judges; scientists; mathematicians; we are excellence personified!
The road to becoming any of the aforementioned things, starts with the simple realization that you can do anything to set your mind too. That the sky’s the limit as The Notorious BIG once said, and that in order to achieve you must first believe.
When I graduated 8th grade my mom wrote me a beautiful note in my autograph book, preparing me for the challenges of highschool and my teenage years. She told me that life is a journey, or rather a road that you travel. It’s important to always remember where you come from. That on this road you can expect that there will be many roadblocks,fluctuations in the speed of your journey, and other obstacles that may not be easily identified. Through it all as long as you have faith and never lose sight of where you’re going that you’ll always get to your destination safely. My beautiful Black mama never let me fall into those hood notions that limit where I could go in this life. She always told me I was a king and spoke life into me & my dreams. She saw my potential at times when it was oblivious to even me, and never stopped urging me on.
As educators it’s our charge to ensure that we are preparing black and brown youth to dream freely and reimagine their future outside of the confines of their current realities. How are we helping students to SEE all of the possibilities of what they can BE? Not what society tells them and not with the limitations set in place by those proximal to them; those individuals who may know all too well the pain of a Dream Deferred; or those who shrink their dreams to accommodate the expectations that society has placed on them.
Growing up I’m super grateful that my moms always pushed me to read and dream of a world bigger than my own. She pushed me to shoot for the moon. Knowing that even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. Maybe she did it because she knew my ball handling and jumper were about as average as my height, and that if she depended on that to bring me success; that a brother was doomed. LOL! I did end up becoming an educator, writer, consultant, father and so much more. So……………..
Thanks mom! LOL! I owe you one, or a million.