There was brokenness, faith, and community in my home. I grew up in what you would call the “hood” of Detroit, Michigan. My mother struggled with drug addiction and my father, in response to my mother’s addiction, struggled with drinking.
My name is Brandon Allen, and this is my Crystal Stair.
Sleepovers weren’t a thing in my childhood. I didn’t want people involved so closely in my personal life – so much so that they knew what was really happening and/or understood the dynamics of my living situation. Oddly enough, however, my house was the main hub for family gatherings. I had poor family and well-off family members who all found a particular solace and entertainment within the walls of my childhood home. Amid the dysfunction and toxicity, there was something warm and inviting about the food and comfort of our home. You knew that if you needed a meal or a quick place to sleep you could come to my house.
I lived only three blocks away from my elementary/ middle school – so I walked there every morning and every afternoon. School was an escape for me. It was the place where I was spotlighted for my merit, and not my circumstances. I excelled greatly in school – having been placed in the Gifted and Talented program from 1st grade – until my 8th-grade graduation where I was our valedictorian. I would fully immerse myself in my books, school activities and after school programs – something that has managed to stick with me over the years. It allowed me to forget where I was, and although rather uncanny, created an imaginary world in my head – which motivated me to push harder and harder for the things in life I wanted and still want.
Going to college
Home for me was like a nest… you never want to leave. The caveat to that is – since a young age I was in many ways in charge of that nest. My biggest fear was that if an emergency happened at home, I wouldn’t be as accessible. In addition to that, I didn’t have any family in Washington DC (where I attended Howard University). Needless to say, I had a lot of reservations about moving, but I had this feeling of discernment that I had to go to Howard. I started to get comfortable and slowly but surely, I stopped checking in and calling in as frequently.
Then at the end of my first college semester, my mother died.
And I thought to myself, what if I had just checked in more? I would have known what was going on! Why did I choose to go so far from home? I should have been there! I was painfully and achingly forced to grow because my mother was now no longer a resource. Although I had been largely self-sufficient for an extended period of my life, it’s a different feeling when you are forced to be without any other possibilities. I was forced to feel comfortable and self-assured that I was making the most out of my opportunities in school and that I could function as an adult.
She died right before I was named Mr. Howard University, a leadership title bestowed upon individuals who compete based on talent, community and collegiate service, and pageantry. I always found it interesting how our darkest moments come right before some of our brightest. I was battling heartache and feeling a sense of overwhelming happiness all at the same time. I never questioned why things happened why and when they did, I was conscious that all things happen for a reason and in divine order. I knew that I was given a platform to reach people who like me felt like they couldn’t talk about the dark moments because of fear of what others would think. For the first time, I felt compelled to share my story with a room full of young black men. Many of who, like myself, were first-generation college students, who for the first time was leaving their inner-city background, who were escaping a world of drug abuse and unhealthy habits. I was there to show them, the grass gets greener and to wear your scars from the battles you faced proudly. They remind you of all of you’ve overcome.
On the State of Black Men
The conversation of, or conceptualization of, masculinity wasn’t something explicitly discussed in my immediate family growing up – and I actually am thankful for that. I wasn’t reprimanded for crying, or guided to a particular career direction because it was deemed manlier by a misguided society. Though, in that same token, I was not told it was okay for me to cry or judged for the choices I naturally made.
Contrary to the environment I was raised in – when it came to values, I’ve always had a liberated perspective and that’s something I strive to keep with me every day. Learning “later” in life about the social construct surrounding masculinity, I’d been rebellious in accepting it. Being masculine to me is just to be someone who can do and be whoever it is they want without having to ask themselves if they’re “masculine enough”. That feeling of liberation plays directly into the idea of masculinity. I don’t believe as a man, you can have one without the other. I will teach my son that masculinity facilitates a man to be his true self without doubting his values as a human being first.