A letter to Robert at fifteen years old

Posted: July 18, 2013 in Robert P.

The vulnerability that cannot be prevented

Professor Shaeeda Mensah, Morgan State University philosopher, in Social and Political Philosophy, Critical Philosophy of Race, and African American and Feminist Philosophy, asked myself and other Summer Philosophy Seminar students at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, to “write a letter to our fifteen year old self” given what we know now as adults. It’s a strange fact to consider but one worth revisiting because the facts stand, that as adults we were once all fifteen and full of life, innocence, imagination, and creativity. Our childhood and especially the curious fiber of our teenage years should be resumed from time to time with vigor, to perhaps get a sense of how far we, as adults have come in our social life, professional life, love life, and in life in general.

A letter to Robert Pleasant at fifteen years old

“So boy, don’t you turn back. Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard. Don’t you fall now” Langston Hughes, Mother to Son.

Dear Robert:

What I am about to say to you and why I am saying it to you, may not make sense now but it will when you become older and aware of life and both its’ possibilities and impossibilities. The world that which you know and understand as a comfort, will not always be such. Why am I telling you this? I tell you this because I love you and I want to prepare you for the harsh realities that await you outside of basketball in the park, extra-curriculum activities after school, free food and board, and the minimum responsibility that surrounds your existence at the moment. I know these punitive elements of our lifecycle to be true and actual with no exaggeration, because I have come face-to-face with them and on some level failed at maintenance.
I see your strengths and understand the ripe fruit of your curiosity, with that I would like to assist you with is providing you with some books, that I believe can and will broaden your thinking and interest. Here are a list of books that I would like to suggest to you: Black Boy by Richard Wright, The Ways of Folk by Langston Hughes, The Notes of the Native Son by James Baldwin, Nigger by Dick Gregory, Race Matters by Dr. Cornel West, The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B Du Bois, The Awakening of Intelligence by Jiddu Krishnamurti, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, The Blacker the Berry by Wallace Thurman, and the New Negro by Dr. Allan Locke. These books may not save your life or find you salvation, but they will provide information that will enable you to look within yourself as a young Black man and beyond yourself.
Because of your youth and exciting liberty at fifteen years old, the understanding that resides within your home stability and community, your vulnerability as a child has the opportunity to not be exacerbated by certain social conditions that many kids your age face every day. When faced with inadequate protection such as, lack of parental guidance from a parent, lack of moral support from your community or insufficient attention from your educators you might feel as if everything is crumb

  1. Liam says:

    Thank you for your contribution, Robert. Your actual letter was interesting; you must have been a very intellectual child for those books to have been something you’d have appreciated. I agree that they are great things for anybody to read, particularly young African Americans just starting to face life’s realities. But they would have been wasted on me when I was 15, for all their worthiness. But I also found your reflections on the relationship between childhood and adult interesting. Do you think we can ever really recapture the “curious fibre” (like that expression) of our teenage years? I am pessimistic.

    • Robert Pleasant says:

      You know Liam, I think about those years, and I too, think about if I can capture again the curious fiber as an adult that I once had as a 15 year old. I missed those years but I also missed out on those years, by not having a future to look forward to or plan for. So now, every step is a step of playing catch up. In the words of Ghost Face Killah, ” I wanna go back to school.”

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