BBQ & Boardroom

Every morning, I would cross the ravine or enter into a residential area covered by woods and beautiful pillars, stepping into a world that I knew nothing about. My schools from the age of 12 to 17, were in the most affluent communities in the United States. That is no exaggeration. There was more money there than people knew what to do with.

When the school day was over, I would return down Lincoln Ave., where we were directly in the “hood.” Two blocks east was Raymond Ave., where you could buy anything or engage in any illegal activity for a ten-block radius. Up Lincoln, at Woodbury, was the gang territory dividing line where shoot outs between Bloods and Crips at Jim’s Burgers was a common occurrence.

My athletic prowess, my Dad’s O.G. status, and my Mom’s lending hand for youth at the public schools kept me safe. I had no fear and really no problems (there were a few scary moments but nothing that was a daily occurrence). Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t be caught wandering certain streets after dark and avoided certain sections of the park, but overall, I loved my hood.

I loved how the two molded a unique ability to become a chameleon. Some call it wearing different hats or dawning different masks. How we behaved in the hood was unacceptable in the affluent community where I attended a top-notch educational institute, with the support of damn near 100% financial aid. I learned the ways of both groups, the social norms, the etiquette, the language, how respect was earned, and the status symbols. It literally felt like two different cultures because it was.

These training grounds proved useful in my adult personal and professional life. I enjoyed having the ability to navigate both the Boardroom and the BBQ. What you saw in my professional setting, dealing with high level executives, was not what you got at our typical hood BBQ gathering. It couldn’t be more different than night and day.

As I continue in my own personal growth, this conceptualization has brought itself forward multiple times. I began to feel somewhat like a fraud for being able to maneuver in this way. It felt as though I had no true, unique identity of my own. I began to be more comfortable expressing bits of my BBQ personality traits in the Boardroom and vice versa. There are still certain forms of social protocol that demand some actions remain separate but by in large, everyone started see the “true” me and accepting it without issue or concern.

I hadn’t thought about it much as it became a moot point in blending the two until last night. At a social gathering, I watched an acquaintance completely change his identity. A month prior we were hanging out, as friends, completely enjoying each other’s company. When picking him up from the airport and when departing we smiled and embraced with a large grizzly hug. Seeing him at the gathering last night, I went in for the hug and he extended his limb for a handshake in front of the table of elders.

I ignored his hand and grabbed him, pulling him in for my style of hello. The embrace was returned but I did not speak with him for the next two hours. I saw him maneuvering and working the room but he never once came by and had a brief chat. I was introduced to his wife for the first time and outside of, “Nice to meet you,” no further action ensued.

I am not making an assumption or judgement about this gentleman. He could have had a million of reasons why he responded in that way. This is about my evaluation of self. My point is I saw the mask, in all its veracity. He was different that night. It made me wonder if that is how it looked and felt when I would sport the mask of the day. If so, I wasn’t proud of that fact. That did not suit me well.

This observation makes me further cement my appreciation for being authentically and unapologetically myself in any given situation. Again, that does not mean you do not recognize certain social conventions in specific arenas. It allows you to choose to conform or not and, in that decision, understand how to do it tactfully and with class. Seeing that scene last night made me happy and proud of my own authenticity revelations and progress.

Whether his early interactions a month prior or the interactions that night of this individual, his authenticity is his own and I judge him not for it. He has the right to maneuver as he will and though I don’t know the exact situation, I know it was different. I know I am different, today. I know my authenticity is now a priority. Whether he was authentic or not, it served as a reminder for me of what I felt and believed I looked like, in the past, and happy I was to engage differently today. Thank you, friend / acquaintance.