By: Terrence A. Merkerson
“I’ll tell y’all niggas right now, things have changed around here… all the wild niggas have calmed all the way down! That nigga that y’all met earlier today that was Polo’d down from head-to-toe, that nigga was a straight killer.. He didn’t give a fuck a few years back.. he all the way cool now. Niggas get a little life up under em, have kids and shit and realize they need to chill. But don’t get it fucked up! He still got that dog in him.. HOPEFULLY you’ll never have to see that shit come up out of him. Aye Merk, gimmie yo cup, pour up some of this Hen my dude! Aye, where you from bruh? Birmingham? Ah shit boy what part? The West? Boy you made it out? Aye congratulations nigga! Them motherfuckas on the Westside of Birmingham ain’t no motherfuckin joke. They ain’t fuckin with niggas from the ‘Burg tho.. That First 48 shit? Boy that shit started out here. Police wouldn’t even come out here. Only way you get out this motherfucka is in an ambulance… but we still here bruh! We still in this bitch… ”
There’s something remarkably honest and organic about the Black Male experience. So many of us share similar backgrounds, narratives and experiences that we when we get a chance to sit around each other and build in a safe space, our posturing changes, the wall breaks down, and a vulnerability within us that we only trust with other Black Men of a similar experience is exposed.
It’s dope AF.
We share stories about women, our childhood, hood politics, growth, love and survival. Whenever any of us that grew up under a particular set of socioeconomic conditions can come together and fellowship, it is a small, beautiful miracle. I remember being a very small child and listening to my grandpop tell old army and war stories. Those stories were colorful, jubilant, vivid and vibrant despite their violence, gore and indescribable despondency. He would always end those stories by saying, “Yea.. we lost a lot of good men, but that’s war. You either die trying to live or you live to finish the stories of the men that didn’t survive.”
That’s what it is out here for a lot of us every day… war.
“You know bruh, I never thought when I met you eight years ago that you’d become one of my best friends. It’s crazy how the world works my nigga, but I’m damn sure glad it worked in my favor. I’m proud of us my nigga. Too proud. We did ok.”
Last night, we laughed, joked and talked deep into the night. As exhausted as I was from a full-day of binge drinking, a 60-hour work week and only three hours of sleep from the night prior, I know how important these moments are. You suck it up and you build with your brothers. Of all of the guys there, outside of my two close friends, I had only met and spoke with one of them once before, about a year ago. But after a few tall boy styrofoam cups of that Hen-Dog, none of that mattered. We all knew each other. We recognized each other clearly and unmistakably. Three areas of Alabama were represented at the table, along with a small corner off the coast of Mississippi and a sprinkle of Southeastern Louisiana, yet many of the experiences were practically identical. For every character mentioned in a story and every encounter experienced, we all were able to share a separate but similar experience. It is as remarkable as it is disheartening.
“Bruh that nigga Bird sound just like a nigga I came up with named Wildman. Just crazy AF and will whoop any nigga ass two times over.”
— “Na bruh.. that motherfucka Bird ain’t no joke. I saw this nigga knock two or three motherfuckas out cold.. Like sleep nigga! That nigga just blackout and you better get the fuck out of his way! Friend or not, you’ll catch that fade easy…”
“Sound just like Wildman big dog.. that shit crazy.”
The Black Male experience in America is diverse but grossly disproportionate. A few of us go to college, have traveled a little, and occasionally may read books and shit. The vast majority of us don’t go to college.. Some of us get jobs.. Some of us don’t… Some of us caught a few breaks.. Far too many of us are not as fortunate. But we all are (or at least we should be) aware of each other. We understand it. We are far more forgiving of each other because we know this shit is deeper than dicks & dark skin. We love Black Women, but not as much as we should. We love our kids but have an often complicated and inept way of expressing it. We desire to be desired. But we can’t show it. We love being loved. But we can’t say it. Our strength rests somewhere comfortably between the threat of our potential and the fear of our failure. Our promise lies lost between confidence and insecurity. Pride is real. Paranoia is real AF. But we cope… blindly and assuredly.
We don’t seek to be understood. Understanding requires exposing vulnerability. Our vail of stoicism and indifference has protected us. It is one of the very few things in this world that makes us feel empowered. Emotional unavailability is counterproductive in our relationships with women and our children, but it almost feels like a necessary evil… a terrible, troubling and disparaging evil that we walk in every single day. You may catch us in moments… but they never last too long. But amongst ourselves there is freedom, openness and an understanding that needs no explanation. We are complicated and often cumbersome… we get it… well, some of us. Excuse us for just needing us sometimes. Maybe if we needed each other a little more, we would understand how much more we need Black Women. Maybe if we understood how much we need Black Women, we would understand how much our children and our communities need us to be fully-engaged and present. Maybe one day the world will be a safe space for us and society will accept us as something completely different than what we’ve been constructed to be. Maybe we will learn how to break our emotional flesh and bleed freely, without fear. Maybe we will hold each other more accountable and find liberation in the transgression… or maybe we won’t. In the meanwhile, these brief, fleeting moments are necessary and they are exclusive. They are rare, cherished and protected.
“Aye man we all out that drank! Aye Moose, go get that Pure White out man!”
— “Nigga if I go get it, it ain’t like you gon drank it!”
“You right! But I want y’all niggas dranking, gon head and tap that bottle or we can go to the store and get some more of that Hen. They don’t close til 2, we still got bout an hour.”
As I looked around that table last night, beyond the empty cans of Bud Light, the empty bottles of Hennessy, a pack of half-smoked Newport’s, and a half-eaten turkey sandwich from Subway, I did not see just men. I saw Black Men. I saw my brothers. I saw soldiers. We told our war stories. We spoke fondly of the close calls. We told the stories of our brothers lost in battle. We are finishing their stories.
“Aye, I know y’all brothers, so I’m you holding you responsible for them. You make sure y’all get back to the crib safe. I’m right here, up the street, I’ll be straight. You make sure y’all be straight. Take care of your brothers. I’m holding you responsible nigga…”
Terrence A. Merkerson is the Founder & Creator of Avenue Fifteen. Terrence earned Bachelor’s Degrees in both Political Science and Gender/Race Studies from the University of Alabama. Terrence also completed Graduate School at the University of Alabama earning a Master’s Degree in Communication.
He currently resides in Baton Rouge, LA.