If you’re reading this today, October 10th, it’s my birthday and I have been officially been around the sun 41 times.
I wanted to put together a perspective piece on turning 40 last year, but the timing didn’t work. With 41 being more of a regular celebration than the monument of turning 40, I now have more of an opportunity for sharing some perspective.
I’m putting this together as a letter to myself the day after my 13th birthday. I vividly remember the excitement of that turning point in my life. Becoming a teenager was a huge deal for me. Being that young though, my thoughts didn’t really go much past 13. I had a lot of dreams, but I thought they would all come true just because I wanted them to. From here at 41 looking back, this is what I would have told that 13 year old in the midst of his excitement.
Hey there! I’m Alfred.
Same name? Yup! I’m actually you in 28 years.
I know. Seems strange, right? Well according to your teachers, you have a huge imagination, so this shouldn’t seem too far fetched.
What a great party you had across the weekend! I know you’re super excited to be a teenager, and I know you’re particularly happy about your first extended stay out of town with your dad in Texas next summer. You’re going to have a great year being 13, but please take a moment for me to share some things with you about moving forward from 13. I didn’t want to bother you with all of this during the weekend because I wanted you to fully celebrate, but now you’ve got some time to read this before you catch the bus to school.
Take all of this in, and read it multiple times if you need to.
Start a journal, and write in it as often as possible. Every day if you can. It doesn’t have to be much. It can just be the happenings of your day, what you had for lunch at school, or even keeping count of how many times you’ve climbed that dogwood tree in the backyard.
There is so much you’ll want to remember, but your memories will get extremely fuzzy with age, so you’ll appreciate being able to go back and read over your younger years. Every time you sit with your journal, just pretend you’re writing a story, as you already do that extremely well.
Journal about your parents too. Your mother and your grandmother are also growing up and growing older just like you are, and you’ll want to cherish as many memories of them as possible. Your relationship with your dad will also grow and flourish as well, and though you two have physical distance between you, it won’t inhibit the connection you’ll establish with him.
You’ve had it a bit rough with other kids in school, but remember what your mother tells you every day. You’re a wonderful person. She’s absolutely right, and one day your friendships will mirror the beautiful light you have inside of you.
God is going to answer your prayers for friendships in a way you will not believe. You are going to have some amazing people in your life. Just hold on, because they’re coming.
You’re at church every Sunday with your parents, and that’s great, but let me tell you something. You’re going to feel like God is driving you crazy over the course of your life. You’re not going to understand everything God does, and there will be times where you pray and God will either be painfully silent, or the exact opposite of what you pray for will happen.
Remember this. Prayer isn’t as much about getting what you want from God as it is about connecting and communicating with God. Whether you get answers in the way you want or not, know that God loves you and is working everything out in your best interest. There are days when you won’t believe this, and there are days where you will want to scream at the sky and cry out of confusion, but please remember something else your mother tells you all the time. Keep the faith.
You’re going to have your first job in a couple of years through some great connections you’ll establish. SAVE YOUR MONEY! At your age there’s not a lot you’ll need to spend money on. I know you love sneakers and are anxious to buy your own clothes, but put away as much money as you can for rainy days kiddo, because financial hardships will come.
You’ll also need funds to help you in getting your career as an entertainer off the ground. Head shots, a website, it all costs money, and if you start saving now, you’ll have more to tap into when the time comes.
When you get to college you’re going to get credit card offers. Get only one, and use it for emergencies only. Use cash when you shop, and if you don’t need it, don’t use credit to pay for it. You will need to establish credit, but don’t be in a rush. When it comes to finances, America doesn’t see you as much as they see your credit score, (and your skin color, which we’ll get to), so keep it in good health.
You’re going to pray about money and ask God for help, and God will not make a move. You’re going to see people that don’t look like they’re working as hard as you make it. You’re going to see people that are doing the wrong thing become financially successful while you struggle. This is going to feel unfair and make you angry. God can handle your feelings, so have them, but don’t let them interrupt you from doing your work. Cry if you need to, but never ever quit. You want a lot out of life, and all of it is coming, just please, don’t give up. Don’t dare go down the road of comparison kid, because believe me, there is no one on Earth like you.
Not one single person. You are amazingly special.
You remember when one of your elementary school teachers took you to the library and introduced you to children that were in an advanced learning program? You remember that all of them were white? Your teacher told you she wanted you to test for the program because you were advanced enough to be in it.
You did pass the test. You got all the questions right just like you thought you did. The reason you didn’t get in the program is because you were black.
You love so easily, and you’re such a happy person, so I know for you to be treated differently doesn’t make sense, but pay attention here.
You are going to have your very existence questioned, all because of the color of your skin.
As you get older, the issue with race is going to blow up in this country. You’re going to see more and more unarmed black men be killed by police. You yourself are going to have more encounters with police than you care to think about, and unfortunately police officers will try to trigger you on purpose, but don’t let them trip you up. When you get pulled over.. and you will get pulled over, have your ID and insurance information out before they get to the car. Follow their commands and say as little as possible. Announce if you need to reach for something. Unfortunately you will need to keep this in mind for every encounter you have with police, especially if the officers are white, but even if they’re black.
You’ll grow to understand that unfortunately the constitution was not written with you in mind as a whole person. You’ll see that the criminal justice system was designed to keep you and boys that look like you locked away.
A divisive, racist person will be elected to run the country, and he will make the issue of race even more polarizing.
Speak your mind and never be afraid or ashamed of being a black man. Work as hard as you can, and call out racism when ever you see it, as you will see a lot of it. Use your skills as a writer to document what you see in a way that will draw people into healthy conversation. Dedicate yourself to using the platform you will one day have to advance the cause of people of color in this country.
At this point you haven’t given it a lot of critical thought, but I know you’re curious about boys. Your present attraction to them will grow. Even at your young age, I can tell that pleasing God is important to you, but believe me when I tell you that God is already pleased with you.
You’re going to hit a crossroad when you realize you’re attraction to the same sex is more than just a phase. You’re going to ask God to take it away from you, but that’s not how it’s going to work. It will stay with you.
You will be in anguish over your relationship with God because of your sexuality.
Remember this. There is nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with the way you were made. You’ll want to date men and women, and that’s OK. Follow the rhythm of who ever you may be attracted to. Don’t doom yourself into a pit of hate from God, because hate is the last thing God has for you as it relates to who you’re attracted to.
God is bigger than the church and more expansive than the bible verses against homosexuality that people will limit God to, and try to use against you. Don’t let your knowledge of God end with the Bible. Read the work of scholars and historians. Learn who God is for yourself.
You’re going to disappoint some people with your decision to date men, but you can only manage yourself and your life. You can’t manage the way anyone feels about who you are and who you love. Keep that in mind as you move forward. You will get married one day, and the person you marry is going to change your life for the better. I won’t reveal any more than that because I want you to truly enjoy the journey of discovering people. Be careful and cautious, but enjoy the journey.
Last Alfred, you are immensely talented. You can write, you’re going to have an amazing speaking and singing voice (yeah yeah I know, just wait for puberty!), and you’re going to be great for the stage in many capacities.
Everyone won’t support you. Sometimes you will feel like you’re spinning your wheels and nothing is happening, but keep working. Don’t be afraid to take risks that will help you advance. When you feel like you’re being ignored, dig even deeper and assess how you can possibly improve your crafts.
It will feel like God put your dreams and abilities on your heart to frustrate you because it may take some time for them to make way for you. Be patient.
God is putting together the things and the people that will take your life to the heights you want to reach.
Never believe in being “self made”, because you can’t, and you won’t achieve any of your dreams by yourself.
Stop when you need to catch your breath. Social media is going to become a thing (one that I won’t explain here as you’ll figure it out), and everyone on the various platforms it will host will go on and on about how hard they are “grinding”. Ignore them. Everyone’s definition of “grinding” doesn’t come from an authentic place, and is not going to be feasible for you.
You’re going to do some amazing things in your life Alfred. You’re going to touch a lot of people. So chin up and smile!
Share your light with others by doing something you already do. Hugging as many people are possible. They’ll appreciate it.
The light that naturally emits from you will shine back on your life. I promise.
Alfred Vines from 2019.