April 5th is a special day to me. It's my uncle Larry's birthday, and it's always three days after mine. But the reason I remember it, is because he was the only thing standing between me and completely wasted potential.
Everyone has their own definition of success in life. Making lots of money, getting famous, blahblahinsertsuperficialreasonhere. I'll tell you flat out, mine is earning the ability to leave the world a better place than it was when I showed up. How? Through the ability to create. It's not something everyone can do, and if I can use it for anything, I want to use it in a way that'll get someone to see good in the world. If I can inspire even one person to do the right thing through my work, I'll be satisfied with what I've done with my time.
It was my uncle who got me to find that path for myself. When I was that little kid who drew on everything, he was the one who actually took interest in the things I drew. He read all of my comics, knew the characters, and encouraged me to keep at it. No matter how crap I thought I was, he inspired me, because that's what heroes do. And that was just my art.
Whenever we spent time together he'd notice my curiosity about the world and instead of giving me the answers, he'd give me clever ways to get to them. When I'd get sick in school, he'd stop whatever he was doing to come and get me out. When I was trying to get my first girlfriend, he was the one who got me to use my skills to reach the goal. When everyone picked on me just to be mean, he was the only person there telling me that I should never be ashamed of who I am. That's the kind of guy he was.
Every positive I have he had a hand in, and I was lucky. Simply put, there aren't many mentors for young black males. No one around to help us transition from fine boys into fine men, and because of that, a lot of us get lost in the shuffle. I didn't know it too well then, but my uncle was my mentor. Whether success or failure, he learned from everything, and he taught me that knowledge is an invaluable thing, because it truly is the power to do anything.
All my life I had someone to look up to, and I turned out a lot better than anyone could have hoped because of it. Brownsville got a lot of the dudes I grew up with, and it either changed them for the worse, or killed them outright. My uncle didn't let the streets get me, and he didn't even have to, but he did anyway because he believed that I had the potential to be somebody one day. So of course I'd go to his apartment and help him clean the place up. Little did I know, it would be the last time I got to talk with him.
He passed away 8 years ago from years of smoking. I was in high school then, and I took it really hard. I started screwing up in ways I didn't even know I could, and no one cared. I let myself down, and by proxy, I let him down. I dealt with it all alone, because no one understood the bond the two of us had, and if no one else gave a fuck, why would I? So I dropped out, because I thought it was all over. Then, something amazing happened: I happened upon a new school a few blocks from that same apartment. I enrolled and finished with flying colors. The rest was history.
People have called me many things: Intelligent. Talented. Modest. Selfless. Funny. Hell, even charming. There's many more, but no matter how many there are, my uncle went out of his way to make them possible. That's why even if I'm not doing too hot right now, I am a walking upside, and even if I have to climb mountains and break barriers alone for the remaining years of my life, I'm going to do it, because I believe in myself like my uncle believed in me.
And when you believe in yourself just a tiny bit, the world can suck as bad it does and you won't falter:
Happy birthday uncle, and thanks for everything.