The word “Thug”.
A dog whistle of sorts.
A word that has echoes of an uglier connotation.
On the other hand.
When I was growing up I found myself tarred and feathered with this label more times than I care to admit, but I took it with a grain of salt, initially.
I’ll never forget this teacher I had in grammar school who wielded that word and others with scalpel-like efficiency.
The sneer on her face when she used it towards me was omnipresent.
“You’re a young thug.”
“You’re not supposed to be here.”
“You’re just a hoodlum.”
This word and others, hit like a sledgehammer, one that shattered my sense of self into pieces that would have been fodder for the wind, if not for a support system that told me otherwise.
However, I wandered lost, angry and sullen for years afterwards without knowing why.
I held this grudge at a world that I felt had scorned me, after enduring varying degrees of this approach throughout my academic career, I grew jaded.
I liked “Thugs” – so I decided to go all in.
On the other side of the coin, I liked books, I frequented museums with my Dad, I watched National Geographic, Cosmos and Nova on public television him and I liked to write.
When the school topics were laid in front of me, I got it, something clicked.
I couldn’t be flushed down the academic toilet because I was book smart, but my successes were discounted time and again.
Because I was a “thug”.
Accordingly, I tried to squeeze myself into the confines of what I thought the word to be.
I was expelled from two institutions in my middle school years and I figured.
Being a “Thug” might have some merits – given my disciplinary record, I had to contend with going to a high school that was nestled in the heart of Chicago’s notorious Cabrini Green Housing projects.
Before I could reach the point of no return.
I learned that “Thug” was a label meant to disempower those who could be the most impactful, but only if they were compelled to believe it.
It was “Thugs” who pulled me to the side and gave me wisdom, lifted me up, peppered me with aspirational notions, showed me the unvarnished visage of who they were, on many occasions doing it as they battled back tears and encouraged me to be better – for their sake.
With the exception of a group of teachers who I can count on my hand, I was otherwise discarded and left as a statistic to be gobbled up by an ugly world.
But – the “Thugs” showed me a love that didn’t judge, directing me to another path while telling me:
“That you’re better this”.
And – those words from “thugs” echoed louder than those “teachers” who said “I wasn’t good enough”.
That being said, I often who the real “Thugs” were?
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