There is much to love about Sheldon Hawkes, not the least of which is the fact that he is a person to whom I can personally relate. I also have a good deal in common with Hill Harper, the talented actor who portrays Sheldon Hawkes. Sheldon and I are both characters of color (ask anyone who knows me--I'm a real character) and both New Yorkers. All three of us are well-educated and, by virtue of our education and our chosen professions, we often find ourselves thrust into a sometimes uncomfortable prominence, expected to excel when others are allowed to just coast. We are all role models, whether or not we choose to be, because we rank in the 99th percentile in terms of educational achievement for our race and gender, representing the best and brightest of our people.
Hill Harper and I both think a great deal about the young people we encounter on a daily basis and worry about their future. In light of those concerns, he wrote a book entitled Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny. While I have yet to read it, I still found myself writing this soliloquy this week whenever I sat down to write about Sheldon Hawkes. This little piece is written from his point of view.
All the world's a stage, my man, and you're on it. The whole world is watching.
A woman dressed in some old tired outfit may not sound all that desirable, but if she got a “nice rack,” a little “back” and a come-hither smile, no one's really going to care what she's wearing--especially if she's in heels. A man, now that's different. Clothes make the man.
Put a brother in a wife beater and some droopy-assed jeans and his look screams "don't." Hook him up with rapper's threads and he looks cliche'd, somewhat buffoonish and, depending on the neighborhood he happens to be in, possibly dangerous. But put the same man in a little J Crew polo, some pants that stay up on his butt, lose the hat, the grill and the gangsta lean, then heads begin to turn. People take notice. Go a little corporate with a button-down oxford shirt and some khakis and suddenly you hear voices saying, "I'd hit that." Put that same man in a designer suit with a silk shirt and a tasteful bit of bling and his woman will be dragging him home to meet her mother.
Yes, clothes do make the man. But only to a point; what a man makes of himself isn't determined by the garments on his back.
No matter how good he looks, when a black man opens his mouth it's his words that define him. Those words send a message far beyond whatever he intends to say. Rightly or wrongly, he carries the unenviable burden of speaking for all of us--past, present and future.
His actions, too, are inextricably linked to history. One wrong move and all of us slide down that slippery slope behind him. Our children's children's lives will depend on what he does today. Never, ever forget that, brother.
So choose your words carefully. Your words reflect a whole nation--our very history. And before you take a step, brother, remember the whole world is watching and judging you, judging all of us. Our whole world rests on your shoulders, young man. No matter what's in your closet, your words and actions speak loud and clear. They set the stage for the rest of us.
Think before you make that move, brother. Clothes may make the man, but what the man makes of himself, he makes of us all.