4pm.

…that was the time my father always came home.  It marked the time when I stopped being the man of the house and I could become a kid again.  4pm. When all the responsibilities, issues, and inconveniences became his problem and not mine. It’s when I felt the safest and most at ease.

My name is Myles Henry and this is my Crystal Stair.

I wish black kids had the chance to actually be kids. I didn’t necessarily get to be one.  You see, the one thing you should know about Caribbean parents and Caribbean culture in general is that we are fiercely independent.  I grew up in a household that was never really whole, and it was by choice. My parents weren’t divorced, their jobs and career aspirations didn’t allow them to live together.

And that, I felt, was the ugly side of success.  The compromises and sacrifices you must make for yourself and others.  I’m sure my brother and I would have loved to have had both parents in the house at the same time.  However, for all intents and purposes, our parents were completely normal. They loved each other as much as any couple would and were disciplined enough to know what each needed to do in order to provide for our family.  What does that mean for us, as kids, growing up? It meant that we would become more responsible for shaping the person we became in society.

But growing up as a black boy in this country is unlike nothing else.

We are seen as men at ages 9 and 10 and seen as a threat at ages 10 and 11, and subsequently killed for it.  Our black boys aren’t seen as just that… boys. It’s important that they experience what it feels like to be children.  They are forced to grow up so fast; they’re unable to play, roughhouse or be childishly mischievous without perpetuating a certain stereotype.

Our defamation begins as early as primary school, where our punishments are more severe.  A white child might get detention or a phone call home, while a black child is immediately sentenced (ironically) to an In-School Suspension (ISS) for the same offense.  From there this antipathetic narrative continues to manifest itself in different ways throughout the life of these young men.

It has to stop.

I grew up between Miami and New Jersey.  Two totally different cultural epicenters that each taught me to embrace different aspects of my personality. Jersey gave me my impeccable rhythm (if you know me you know I love to dance anywhere at any time), and Miami put me closest to my U.S. Virgin Island roots; the food, the music. Everything.

One of the biggest lessons I learned was controlling my emotions.  After 20+ years of never seeing my father lose his temper even when life was unfair and frustrating, I learned from him temperance and the importance of being level–headed.  My personality is distinguished by my extreme optimism and my warm, magnetic energy. Almost to a fault, I go above and beyond to make others feel welcome and comfortable.  But being an empath means I put the weight of others’ burdens on my shoulders. I find myself projecting my own ill feelings of doubt on others and it’s something that my friends, family, and girlfriend have helped me process and work on.  It reminds me to check on the friends that are always happy, because we need support too, but won’t always say it.

Life is an interesting thing. No matter how strong a front you try to put up when it’s your time to get your ass handed to you by it, it’s going to happen. The worst thing you can do is keep fighting whatever feelings life wants to get out of you.

Unfortunately, as men, we are taught to fight them as long and as hard as possible and heaven help us if we fall victim to our own emotions. We have to change this and learn to work with our emotions. Feel them. Embrace them. We need them. And we can only win that fight for so long.