This home was a space to grow.  I find comfort in knowing there is proof of my various periods of growth and transition marked all around the house. 

There are small tire markings on the floorboards from when I was a kid playing with my toy trucks.  There are letters on the furniture from when I learned how to write and would write on just about anything. There are scuff marks from the various fights that occurred as I struggled to find myself during my teenage years.  However, the most recent markings are those that were made as I moved my belongings from that house to college and beyond.

My name is Jarryd Bethea, and this is my Crystal Stair.

What I can say about my home is that it was consistent; I grew up in the same house my whole life – I’d seen some ugly things and I’d seen some great things, but I was fortunate enough to still have that particular comfort of familiarity. 

My mother was a single mother with two kids, and I always felt like we were the weakest link in our larger family. She struggled to raise us on a teacher’s salary with very little help from my father. My aunts, uncles, and grandparents, who all lived ten minutes away from us in either direction, helped out whenever they could. It just seemed like we were the only ones who ever needed help.

But, monetary means aside, my mother was unconditional in her love for me and showed it every day of our lives. We lived in a failing school district, that was on the verge of losing accreditation as I was transitioning to high school. Wanting me to have the best possible chance to succeed, she emptied the funds in her retirement plan to send me to a private high school. It may have seemed like an unsure gamble to everyone else, but she believed that I had the academic potential within me to do great things.

She chose to love me and pouring into my future over herself and her long-term comfort. A sacrifice, that I will always be trying to repay.

I went on to graduate from my high school with honors, at the top of my class and secure a full scholarship to Vanderbilt University.

I worked and studied until I could show my mother how much her sacrifice meant to me, hoping that each day she knows how much I love her and how grateful I am.

STATE OF BLACK MEN

The black man is in a difficult place because the world perceives us as a threat, whether we are at our worst or very best. Managing to beat all the stereotypes and poor generalizations, I would find myself in the airport wearing Vanderbilt apparel being discredited. A white man or woman would ask time and time again, “Oh do you play ball there.” In their minds, it was a harmless question, but I always heard exactly what they meant.

The black man was never supposed to make it this far, which is why the media continues to only share negative things on the news. We are united because we share not only a skin tone but a unique history and struggle. My advice to any black man would be that, no matter what you believe may separate you from your identity, it doesn’t. You are a culmination of all those things.

You are black, beautiful, and capable of whatever your heart compels. Continuously break through the false images people have constructed of who you are and could be. You will always run into opposition, but that isn’t a reason to hide yourself and your gifts from the world. Your passions, desires, and devotions are the greatest gifts you can give to this world.