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Berdine's Corner

Being an Individual in a Crowd

by Kenney X. Dennard

berdine dennard
Berdine Dillard Dennard

Life Lessons from a Matriarch

Berdine Dillard Dennard with her son Kenney Dennard

I got a lot of whippings as a child. Most of them I deserved. At one point, when I was around 8, I honestly think I got a butt whipping everyday or at least 4-5 days a week. I got whippings for stuff like playing with matches, peeing in the tub, climbing on top of the refrigerator just to jump off, beating up my little cousins and/or stuffing my pockets with squash and other vegetables that I was supposed to eat at the dinner table. Yeah, thinking back, I did some of everything.

One whipping that I got though I didn't understand as a child. But as an adult I understand it clearly. It was when I was in middle school and some of the guys in my class decided we were going to have a bathroom brawl. Someone would cut the lights off and in pitch black darkness, every man (or child) would fight for himself. In the midst of the fighting someone got hurt. He ended up going to the emergency room and getting stitches. The entire class had to see our Assistant Principle Mrs Hardnett. We were in deep trouble.

When that days activity got back to my mother she sat me down to talk. She mainly wanted to know why I was involved. My response was all the other guys in the class did it too. I watched my mothers face go from concerned to upset. She said, "So you fighting because everyone else was fighting?" Unsure where she was going with that question I replied, "Well, Yeah, everyone was in it. All the boys in my class." With that, my mama broke out her belt appropriately named, "Hitchiti." (It really did have that name on it with no buckle. It was bought as a whipping belt.) My mom proceeded to whip my butt once more. By now, I think I was immune to the licks I was getting, so I barely cried. I got much more than a whipping though. My mom fussed and lectured me as she beat me. What I thought was funny was she didn't focus on the bathroom brawl. She focused on the excuse I had given; because everyone else did it. That was the beginning of a powerful message she would echo to me the rest of her life.

My mama didn't have many friends growing up. She once told me that a lot of girls in her school had looked down at her and her family because they were poor. That definitely didn’t make her want to run behind them to be accepted. It made her go the other way, sticking closer to her "Don't follow anyone. Make them all follow you. Be a leader. Set the example. Be your own man." I did just that. As a kid, the whole neighborhood hung out at my house. I called most of the shots on my block.

Looking at our communities today I wish our youth possessed more of that leadership and independent thinking. They don't. For example, a very stupid fashion trend started when I was in high-school; sagging of the jeans. That was 20 years ago and they still do it. I think to myself all the time, "No one has been bright enough to come up with anything else in 20 years?"

I remember as a teenager I desired to follow trends like an earring or tattoos for a short period of time. I even wanted gold teeth. Although my mama was against it, that's not how she addressed it with me. She asked me why would I want to do something everyone else is doing? She said if everyone is doing it, you'll stick out more by not doing it. She was right. Today as I meet new people, the question is not if you have a tattoo but how many and of what. When I hear the number and the things people are tattooing on their bodies I’m really confused, but thankful that I never followed a crowd.

The Black community is in a rut. We don't have our own jobs, very few businesses, and very little in our own neighborhoods to call our own. But even worse, most of the youth don’t think twice about it. We allow other races and ethnic groups to come in, take our money and take it back to their communities; many times even shipping their monies back to their homelands while we live in broke down neighborhoods wondering why. Then we complain and look for politicians and lawmakers to make our communities and lifestyles better. What our people lack are independent thinkers. We need a community of youth that are not conditioned to work on someone else's job to make a living but inspired to start his/her own business and keep it in our communities; hiring our own. Our race needs that to come to the table with other races and be respected as human beings, and not just retailers and workers. Independence and thinking as individuals is what this nation was built on and our people contributed heavily in building it.

My mother had the right idea. Somehow we have to get away from doing what was done before because it was done before. We have to break the mold and make our communities better for everyone's sake. This is all taught at an elementary level and its starts with each individual. Think for yourself. Be a leader. Be independent for the cause of helping many. Or like the seal on the dollar bill says, "E Pluribus Uno." Out of many, one.


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