(written for my spring 2008 neos)
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.
This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.
Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must pay for all they get. If we ever get free from all the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and, if need be, by our lives, and the lives of others.” -frederick douglass
I pledged hard. I pledged hard because somewhere along one of the paths I had traveled up to that point in my life I had found out that we only get back what we put in. so in the cut, in the kappa tv, the chair, they dying cockroach in the middle of my living room and the many other places where set took place, I left everything because I knew that if I came out a victor, I’d go back to those places and get everything back, and rewards to last a lifetime. So I pledged.
For everything I left on those floors; for every tear shed in the shower, every fight with my line brother, every ear borrowed from a friend who couldn’t quite grasp my reasoning, and for every night my hand shook uncontrollably at the front door of a Nupe’s house, I made sure that when I brushed the sand from the bottom of my feet, I went and collected everything I had worked for. Everything I continue to work for.
I didn’t get my ass cracked to simply put on a t-shirt. I didn’t break down for thirty minutes in the dairy section at walmart for a jacket, nor did I stand in the cut for what seemed like an eternity taking wood from every able brother in the room to get my line brother’s scroll back just so I’d be able to put on a dog tag and stroll through a party. The permanence of my brands shows how long my heart will be in this.
Making that solemn promise takes a lot from a man. To gain that which is worth having, it may be necessary to lose everything else. It starts with the pride. Once the pride is gone, the mind is no longer the same, making it easier to find that crack to be slipped through. When all the pride has escaped, you gain humility. A grown man, looking like you, sounding like you, who once stood in your shoes, standing before you shouting obscenities, and then his hand comes across your face with a force unfathomable, and you stand there with your head down like a scorned child. There aren’t many more experiences more humbling.
Pride makes us artificial. Humility makes us real. I went through that. I lost my pride, my dignity, and on some nights, I swear my soul was absent as well. But I showed up with whatever I had left, and I left that too. That means something. That means that whenever I put on a shirt, I remember. Whenever I hear the name Kappa Alpha Psi, there’s something in me that clicks, and everything for that moment stops and gives me a few seconds to reflect.
If I find myself in a situation in which I must protect or defend the letters I may have across my chest, or the cane I have hanging from my left pocket, or the histories and traditions of this noble klan, there will be no more quivering hands, nor anymore stutters. There will be a man who was once covered in blood, sweat and tears, immovable with a blindfold and ripped shirt. A man who was literally dragged, then carried to a place where many have proven themselves unable to exist. The place where I broke.
And what I can now laugh at was once worth a million tears that were born in a place of sadness. But I can now cry at the memories, and I can laugh because I now understand the purpose for it all. I can laugh now because I can’t be broken anymore. And that means something.
And now I can come back, and see those who are standing in the exact same spot I once stood, committing to memory everything valuable to the fraternity I love, hands shaking before entering the arena, nerves of steel once inside. I can come back and become a piece of the stories told years from now. I can be that big brother I once wish existed, while doing everything everything that was done to poor ol’ me.
I own one piece of paraphernalia. A dog tag given to me by an older brother. I asked “what do i have to do to get that from you?” He told me “just ask.” For that one piece of paraphernalia I own, I paid a price many men couldn’t afford. I allowed men to break me down – to chip away at the concrete – until i became too shallow and too thin for even the smallest crack to be made. I left blood on my scroll as a reminder.
When your feet cool down, and your lungs are full of a new breath, and you are ready to begin building, I will remind you that because of the thousands before me, the two on my ship, the many that came afterwards, and your line brothers, that your debts are settled, and you owe no one.
Men may not get all they pay for in this world, but they must pay for all they get, and because of that, I never focus on my struggles. Only my progress.
Darnell Lamont Walker