One of my earliest memories in life is waiting in my mother’s car outside of my Aunt Jay’s project apartment. I remember swearing. I remember anger. I remember pity. I remember drugs.
The concept of ‘grown folks business’ keeps the details around the personal lives of adults away from the innocent ears of children. Unfortunately those ears always hear enough to pique their interest but usually lack context or understanding so the gaps are filled with imagination.
I was lucky enough to have the unfiltered Aunt Margaret to translate the uneasiness and ugliness in the room when others might cover my ears or tell me to ‘go play’ after I witnessed something more than colorful. She was my mother’s aunt and my most vocal protector.
“Watch her, Tex,” Aunt Margaret would tell me when certain family members would enter a room. “Hide your toys because she might be able get some money for those.” So I watched.
I watched my mother and father hand out money with a smile and some advice to family members on regular occasion. The looks on both sides of those transactions were of appreciation and hope. My assumption then and now was that they weren’t expecting anything in return. Folks needed. My folks had. Simple as that.
I also watched my mother and father hand out money without a smile or advice to family members on regular occasion. The looks on both sides of those transactions were of regret and frustration.
The only difference in those two scenarios for my young eyes was substance abuse.
That doesn’t mean that there was a definitive line in the sand. That same Aunt Margaret that warned me of the trouble at family reunions and church also taught me how to properly pour her beer at 8 years old because “nobody wants a glass of foam, Tex.”
I was Tex because I wore a cowboy hat to church when I was a toddler because I didn’t like looking at people. #sociallyawkward
As I grew older I learned more about my family’s trouble with drugs and alcohol. — including my own father who drunk his way out of his University of Michigan track and field scholarship.
My grandmother would explain to me that his trouble with alcohol were because our family was Native and our blood needed more alcohol to feel the effects — thus causing alcoholism. While my grandmother was indeed Native American and she might have believed that her blood needed more alcohol, I’m pretty certain she was simply trying to keep me away from drinking because she was my mother’s mother; not my fathers mother. There was nothing Native in his blood.
As I entered my teenage years in the late ‘80’s the crack epidemic was simply a part of life. Every school had nerds, athletes, cheerleaders, fast food employees and drug dealers. Some kids were all five.
While there wasn’t the slimmest chance that I would become a dealer or a user, the negativity of that space was wrapped around the lethal codes that defined the lifestyle. When a high schooler is accused of stealing from your inventory at Foot Locker, the expectation is that you fire them. When you’re inventory is drugs instead of sneakers and you need to show strength, we learned that the expectation was more permanent.
So if you don’t want that life, steer clear of that life.
With all of that as a backdrop it was easy for me to attend college and have zero personal interest in drugs or alcohol.
To this day I’m good with a single glass of wine or a rum and Coke every six months or so.
But along the way I make two friends that asked if I would assist them with their entrepreneurial endeavors. Hawaii Mike Salman owns Chef for Higher — a cannabis infused dinners and events community — and Julian Riley owns Harlem Blue Beer — an upstart beverage brand poured throughout Manhattan. Each of these businessmen asked me to help them with all things marketing and branding.
I love these two brothers for letting me participate in their livelihoods because being a CEO of a start up is extremely personal. Mike and Julian work with me in opposite ways — Mike has a big picture opinion with a lot of legal concerns with respect to cannabis laws where Julian likes to get into every detail that carries his brand.
Yet both respect that I’m not at all interested in the partake-portion of our business and personal relationships. I love working with both of them and I love learning about two industries that fascinate me. Their representation in business communities that don’t celebrate people of color is a big part of why I want to help. The idea that the black and brown bodies that fill prisons will be frozen out of the legalized industry version of their trade is not lost on me.
I want Mike and Julian to be successful because they are friends, they are clients and they are positive role models for everyone. And at no point have they made a second offer to try any of their product. I didn’t need to give them a religious or personal excuse for them to respect my lack of participation. In fact, my naïveté in the industries offered fresh insights.
I’m not saying that I won’t ever try the Chef for Higher Infused Honey or the Harlem Blue IPA, but right now I have no interest. Simple as that.
I’m just happy that they let me hang out with the cool kids.