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  • Read This Or Suffer The Consequences: “Fifth Avenue, Uptown”

    Can a jarring look at pain and poverty — jolt you into a greater destiny? It might have for me!

    Can a jarring look at pain and poverty — jolt you into a greater destiny? It might have for me!

    A breathtaking, haunting and unfortunately prescient article from James Baldwin: one of America’s most revered — most unflinching writers, especially when looking at African American issues and poverty.

    I choose this book, because as a young African American man trying to find my voice — I’d been interested in a life-journey that seemed antithetical to the ones offered to me  by my family — extended to me from a loving, but “pained” community.

    James Baldwin said out loud what many poor and disenfranchised people were thinking, but could not articulate — what they didn’t have the energy, courage or autonomy to say:  that most African Americans had a human and civil right to live beyond a monolithic caste system — where ways to win for the rich and well-connected constantly changed, while the losers always remained the same.

    If you get a chance, read the Esquire Magazine article (originally published in July 1960), Fifth Avenue, Uptown, in its entirety: Baldwin illustrates the abject despair of black people: beautiful and resilient black people, who did not know they were in despair. It was one of the first times I read a black man putting a face on both conspicuous and subtle victimization: a victimization that black people accepted, settled into and made the best of: still a victimization many of them were reluctant to confront, while others never knew that they were intentionally being victimized. It was hard to read, because  after surviving slavery, Reconstruction and  Jim Crow — this is where black people had arrived, which had to be demoralizing, and more personally, it was hard to read: because I was living through the very thing Baldwin was writing about.

    I relate this to Upstart: Business and Management for 20-40 Year Old Professionals, because to become something — you have to go through stuff — some stuff a product of being born into — some by ephemeral choices and other adversities that are acts of God. You want to become a business owner: utilize all your experiences and insights — because you have much more resourcefulness, integrity and uplift than you consider — even now while struggling to launch your dream, collect and distill those experiences and turn them into “lights:” bright and empowering lights that illuminate the way forward, and hopefully — you will bring a few along with you.

    “Fifth Avenue, Uptown”
    Esquire Magazine
    July 1960

    “When we reach the end of this long block, we find ourselves on wide, filthy, hostile Fifth Avenue, facing that project which hangs over the avenue like a monument to the folly, and the cowardice, of good intentions. All along the block, for anyone who knows it, are immense human gaps, like craters. These gaps are not created merely by those who have moved away, inevitably into some other ghetto; or by those who have risen, almost always into a greater capacity for self-loathing and self-delusion; or yet by those who, by whatever means — War II, the Korean War, a policeman’s gun or billy, a gang war, a brawl, madness, an overdose of heroin, or, simply, unnatural exhaustion — are dead. I am talking about those who are left, and I am talking principally about the young. What are they doing? Well, some, a minority, are fanatical churchgoers, members of the more extreme of the Holy Roller sects. Many, many more are “moslems,” by affiliation or sympathy, that is to say that they are united by nothing more — and nothing less — than a hatred of the white world and all its works. They are present, for example, at every Buy Black street-corner meeting — meetings in which the speaker urges his hearers to cease trading with white men and establish a separate economy. Neither the speaker nor his hearers can possibly do this, of course, since Negroes do not own General Motors or RCA or the A&P, nor, indeed, do they own more than a wholly insufficient fraction of anything else in Harlem (those who do own anything are more interested in their profits than in their fellows). But these meetings nevertheless keep alive in the participators a certain pride of bitterness without which, however futile this bitterness may be, they could scarcely remain alive at all. Many have given up. They stay home and watch the TV screen, living on the earnings of their parents, cousins, brothers, or uncles, and only leave the house to go to the movies or to the nearest bar. “How’re you making it?” one may ask, running into them along the block, or in the bar. “Oh, I’m TV-ing it” ; with the saddest, sweetest, most shamefaced of smiles, and from a great distance. This distance one is compelled to respect; anyone who has traveled so far will not easily be dragged again into the world. There are further retreats, of course, than the TV screen or the bar. There are those who are simply sitting on their stoops, “stoned,” animated for a moment only, and hideously, by the approach of someone who may lend them the money for a “fix.” Or by the approach of someone from whom they can purchase it, one of the shrewd ones, on the way to prison or just coming out.”

    Good Luck.

    Calvin Wilson
    Founder and CEO
    Upstart: Business and Management for 20-40 Year Old Professionals

    Filed Under: Gamechangers


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