I sat on crystal white sand washed with turquoise water. I played cards, read Baldwin, C. West, and meditated on democracy. Partly inspired by James and his letter to his nephew published in"The Fire Next Time I began to write a letter of my own to my younger brother, it is deeply indebted to the form and diction of that great writer.
I planned on writing you a letter by hand and post- but there is no guarante that it would reach you, and I doubt you could read half of what I wrote.
It's truly a gift, as an older brother to watch ones younger brother grow into a man. I remember your days as a toddler (when I cut off a good portion of your hair), a boy (with glasses who could not really smile), an awkward teenager (with too much hair), and now you have grown into a young man who brilliantly plays the guitar, who holds a much deeper level of compassion than his older brother- this I think they call grace; A masculine grace that you possess and which many will, in sure admire you for.
You are wiser than perhaps you know. Having an older brother who was, I know, a torment at far too many moments, but who made sure you were no punk. You are my oldest and dearest friend, marshall. I am terribly poor at expressing emotions, I'm sure you know this. Writing is always much more eloquent for me. But what I want to say is that the man you are growing into should bring you deep self pride.
From what I can tell it's becoming a dark time for democracy back home- something we've both know for sometime. I write to you, both to say happy birthday, and also to give some advice. Advice not because I know the particular right thing to say, but because I am your older brother.
Know that the road of life changes, something you are more than well aware of, but having been on this road 4 years more than you, I have seen just a tad more. And as you reach my age, your learning pace quickens, the curve of each year is a bit steeper- I'm sure by the time your 30 is flattens for a while until you reach those grey haired years. And as I have traveled a number of realizations have occurred to me. Most of the time as you rumble, sputter, and cruise along this great road you have some good visibility, but the great turns that take you veering away from what you thought you could see, those turns are mostly hidden. You have experienced them, I know, but I don't think you have probably fully realized (I have not) what this means. My guess is that these moments are the greatest moments of growth, of self improvement, and perfection (for we are if anything, when free- self perfecting beings).
Your probably being told to plan and have career goals- I know I was telling you this. Do this. But do not revere such plans as set in stone, do not let these plans become you. The character you develop is a traveler along this road. Life is not one stop, but the process of movement, the art of movement. This art, as all art is driven by inner passion, a purpose, by a deep purpose that transcends the quotidian experiences, and rather engulfs all that you have been and will be. Mold that force, revere that force, let that energetic drive forward you along the road, let that be your compass. A purposeful life will take on the sharpest veering turns, and the longest hard straightaways- don't let the University fool you. Don't let the madness of alienated labor fool you.
Don't slack- and I'm proud to hear how well you are doing in your academics. It does not surprise me the slightest. But remember there is greater work than academia.
Marshall, I started writing this from a small beach along the Caribbean- and now am completing it in a Caribbean city called Cartagena. Although it may seem to be an inconvenient time to be in America, it is, I think, the absolute right moment to be from the place we call home. Don't for a minute, as I have done, doubt or discredit your Americanness. The horrors of race have raveged our country and blinded many, far too many, of our countryman- yet despite this and all the other less favorable aspects of our home- what America can be, what it is meant to be, is worth fighting for.
I don't know what you intend to do in life- but if you meditate on this now, if you let the idea of both accepting and passionately challenging your country, this place we are from that appears now so flawed, within it there are deep wells of promise to democracy, can be what it is meant to be.
Above all remember the great privilege, the massive debt and responsibility that our family, that you, that I hold. Do not consider this an unearned privilege, know that his privilege of two continents and vastly different circumstances, that was built through sacrifice dedication and love, is a call to you, to me, to create something out of this place that is undoubtedly home.
If to reach this challenge (I now take worlds from the great James Baldwin and his letter to his nephew, a great inspiration for my letter to you) is anything, it is that we will force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become. It will be hard, but Marshall you come from a sturdy stock, men and woman who crossed oceans and deserts, vast continents, who fed this country, who mined its eastern mountains, who poured genius into its industries, who while sacrificing much of their home created the ingenuity that brought you and I to where we are.
This is the debt I say we have, the responsibility to hold America to her promise- a promise our forefamily took stock in, who trusted America to upkeep her promise to democracy. Not to hold true to that responsibility of shaping America into what it has never been, my brother that would be the deepest shame to what most of countrymen have forgotten- that is in a word, honor. These are heavy propositions. But you are scarcely a boy any longer. Your country needs you, I need you, and I hope you feel the same.
Happy birthday my dear brother. It is good to see you not making the mistakes I did and creating your own way out of this well worn but often forgotten path.