About the Author
Sylvester Stephens is an author and playwright who performs motivational speaking engagements to motivate youths and encourage literary awareness. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Visit SylvesterStephens.com.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The Office Girls chapter 1
I knew the day I was born with an umbilical cord wrapped tightly around my throat, my mother crying, and the doctor screaming the words, “unless it’s necessary, don’t look at the face,” my life was going to be nothing but pure hell.
I was born the eldest of two boys in Buena Vista, Michigan. My parents were very religious and very strict. They preached two subjects constantly, heaven and hell. If you listened to what they said, you were bound for heaven, but if not, you were on a fast track to hell. Needless to say, I was very obedient. Well, as far they knew anyway. My younger brother, Johnny, on the other hand, wasn’t afraid to go to hell. He brought hell with him.
Yes, I was the golden boy in my parents’ eyes. So why was my life such a mess, you ask? Well, it’s easy to fool Mom and Dad. The world, however, is not so easily bamboozled!
My childhood was one of confusion and misunderstanding. I was always confused why people misunderstood me. I was very bright for my age; I understood situations that were beyond my years. I had superior book sense without having to read books. Intellectual inclination, I think it’s called.
I was a social misfit. I didn’t fit in with the intellectual kids, and I certainly didn’t fit in with the cool kids. I did, however, manage to indulge myself in mischievous behavior to hang out with the bad kids. But I always had limitations on just how much trouble in which I would dabble, and soon, I wouldn’t fit in with them, either. Consequently, I spent a lot of time alone.
Loneliness is said to feed the prowess of the imagination. After spending so much time with myself, I started to create my own friends. I’m not talking about the imaginary friends you have when you’re five or six years old. I was married and divorced twice before I let my imaginary friend, Bernice, return back to the world of the subliminal. Yes, I had an imaginary best friend, and no, I was not insane. I knew she was only imaginary, insane people don’t recognize that!
As a youth I was extremely shy to approach girls. I created Bernice to be my confidante and advisor to the female species. She wore long ponytails and dressed like a tomboy. She wasn’t very feminine, but then she wasn’t overly masculine, either. She was the type of girl I certainly wouldn’t be attracted to in real life. I liked prissy, very feminine girls. But despite her outwardly appearance, I still kind of had a crush on Bernice. Whenever I was around Bernice, I always had a sense of familiarity.
I felt comfortable discussing personal issues with her that I could never discuss with anyone else. As I grew older the comfort remained, and so did Bernice. Bernice always talked about karma, and doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, so to speak. She was very kind, and helped me stay on the right side of the tracks.
Some of Bernice’s advice I held under scrutiny. She convinced me to marry my first wife. Bad idea! That didn’t turn out well at all. Then she convinced me to marry my second wife, which turned out even worse. After my second divorce, I told her to kiss my ass and get the hell out of my life. And just like that, she was gone.
I met my first wife, Tonita, in high school. We didn’t start to date until after we both wound up unknowingly at the same college. We broke up, off and on, until we graduated. We ended up living in the same city and started to date seriously. After shacking up for a while we decided to get married. We both had our doubts, but we had been through so much for so long we figured, what could possibly break us up? We’d been through infidelity, poverty, distance, and managed to survive it all. But to answer that question of what could possibly break us up? Marriage!
Within one year of our marriage we had packed our bags and called it quits. We did, however, manage a beautiful little girl, Brimone, who captured my heart. Once the anger and pain of our divorce subsided, we found that we were still great friends. She remarried, and I got along with her husband quite well.
I met my second wife, Cecelia, shortly after my divorce from my first wife was final. We were passionately in love, but once the passion ran out, so did everything else. We never took the time to become friends while we were together, so now we are strangers who were once in love. Once again, out of my disastrous marriage, I managed a beautiful girl, Alexiah.
It is said that an artist does not know his best work until his heart has known suffering. I can confess that I truly know my best work, and know it well, because suffer my heart has done.
In high school I decided that I wanted to become a lawyer. One of my high school teachers instructed me to choose English and political science as majors—political science to prepare me for law, and English to prepare me on how to articulate the law to others. I took his advice and did simply that.
During my undergraduate studies I was an excellent student, never once dropping below a 4.0 grade-point average in my four years of academia. Physically, my once small, fragile frame had exploded into a strapping muscular young man. A once tenor voice had become deep bass. Though I was not recruited, I tried out for football, and made the team easily as a walk-on. During my senior year, I was an All-American and later drafted by the New England Patriots in the second round.
I played professional football for two years, seeing a little playing time in my sophomore season. I couldn’t, or didn’t want to, commit to the brutal time-consuming practices. I simply wanted to show up and play on Sundays. That didn’t go over well with my team. So I walked away from professional football and never once looked back. Well, maybe once.
As my sports career dwindled, my romantic career accelerated at a high velocity. Women were plentiful. I was rich! Young! And handsome! I stood six feet, two inches tall with dark-brown smooth skin, a nice clean faded haircut with dark shiny eyebrows and absolutely no facial hair. I had a size forty-eight-inch chest, with a thirty-two-inch waistline. It was once stated that if we ever had a problem landing a 747 plane at the airport, my shoulders were always an option. I spoke poetically and artistically when conversing with women, creating an element of mystery and charm. I guess most people would call this being a bit ostentatious, but I dispute that claim. In my case, it is merely an observation of one’s self.
After I completed my undergraduate degree and my short stint in the National Football League, I studied law at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The one major benefit of playing professional football was not the money, but the opportunity to get into Harvard’s prestigious law school. After two attempts, I passed the bar and moved to Atlanta, Georgia.
As fate would have it, my career would not be law, but writing professionally. I submitted my manuscripts to more publishers than I care to mention, and was rejected by each and every one of them. Somehow my manuscript fell into the hands of an independent publisher who had ties to a major distributor, and he decided to publish my work. I was offered a three-book deal with a pretty generous advance on my sales. I accepted, and I masterfully wrote creative, socially oriented books: books that all Americans should have appreciated, particularly African-Americans.
My books depicted America in her biased political and social structure of race and class. Unfortunately, for my career and me, the books barely made it out of the printer’s bindery before they were being shipped right back. I wrote three books in three years, and barely sold enough to cover the cost of the ink. Thank God for that generous non-refundable advance!
In my opinion, I had written some of the most gripping conscientious writings in modern era. The public didn’t respond favorably to politically fictional books that didn’t scandalize a political figure, so my literary career went down the tube quickly.
I started to write entertainment news after that. I wrote articles for a local newspaper using the pseudonym, Cyrus. The articles led to my own daily column and I made a pretty good living.
One day I ran across an article that read, “Black Women: The New Civil Rights Movement!” I read the article and couldn’t believe my eyes. The article told how black men have been left behind in the movement of political, economic, and social progression due to laziness and ignorance. It stated that black women no longer needed black men to raise a family. The article explained that women in corporate America could be just as competitive and productive as men, without the stress and agitation brought upon by men.
It gave the staggering statistics of black men in jail in comparison to those in college. Those jailed twice outnumbered those in college. And she added that those black men who were successful enough to make it up the ranks in corporate America often became much like their white male predecessors; too competitive, too arrogant, and too greedy. I was furious. When it came to black men, it seemed that we’re damned if we do, and we’re damned if we don’t. I thought to myself, am I the only person angry by this bullshit?
I contacted the lady who wrote the article, a Mrs. Jaline Dandy, and found that her column was her moonlighting job. She was actually a manager of the claims department at a major corporation called Upskon. To my surprise, she was a white woman who was born and raised in Oregon. Oregon? What the hell? Are there any black people in Oregon? Her closest contact to a black man was probably watching professional sports on television, so where was she getting her research?
It turns out her research was not based on interviews from black men, but black women only. The perception of black men could be very one-sided if the black man himself was not a part of the research.
I tried to get her to rewrite the article to paint a fair perception of all black men and not those who had only been the perpetrators of scorned black women. We shared our differences of opinions, but she wouldn’t change a word. I figured if she wouldn’t rewrite the article, I would write an article in defense of black men. That’s exactly what I did. I blasted the columnist for exploiting the plight of black men. However, by no means did I intend to insult black women in the process. And once again, that’s exactly what I did.
I received more emails and telephone calls in one day than I had ever received in my entire literary career. But it wasn’t only black women responding. Women of all races began to email me, calling me such names as misogynist, sexist, chauvinist, and even racist. Black women called me racist! Luckily, they never found out my true name was Michael B. Forrester, and not Cyrus. If they had, I would have had to change my name and move to another country to escape their wrath.
After so many complaints for my politically incorrect article, I was fired. My boss, a woman of course, called me into her office and kindly explained to me how I had gone wrong with my article. Then she kindly showed me to the door. I worked from my home, so I had no desk to clean out. I left the newspaper in a raging huff. I was pissed off and I blamed every woman on the planet earth for me being fired.
My anger sparked me to expose women for all of their glory. I was angry because I knew that my comments were not chauvinistic and sexist, and certainly didn’t warrant termination. I was simply stating that gender does not determine the behavior of corporate CEOs and managers. Power and greed is to blame. I also explained that race does not determine the number of black men in jail to black men in college, poverty does.
This is how my column read:
“Given the struggling conditions of poverty, any man, any woman of any race will take whatever measures necessary to survive. Never say what you will or will not do, if your child needs food for its belly, or shoes for its feet. For those who never have the luxury of living with a bank account to support their bills, crime as it may, may not be construed as a crime, but more of an opportunity. Perhaps if we increase their opportunity to survive like human beings, we will decrease the probability of them resulting to survive like animals with the dog-eat-dog mentality. Which brings me to my point; African-American men are stigmatized as being lazy and ignorant because of the existing conditions of the African-American community. But if you’ve ever lived in poverty you know the major reason for crime is not laziness, nor ignorance, its hopelessness. I was raised with my parents living from check to check. It wasn’t easy for me to stay focused with school and getting my education, but I did. But there were also those days when I wanted new sneakers like everyone else. Or I wanted my own car, or something as simple as just wanting to go to a fast-food restaurant and order a burger. But I couldn’t because I didn’t have a dime to my name. And after paying all of the family bills, neither did my parents. On those days I felt that it was unfair that I could not afford to buy me a burger when others were living in big houses with money to burn. On those days, I wanted to get money, however and wherever I could. On those days, I felt that if life was going to be unfair to me, I didn’t have to be fair to anyone else. On those days, I lost so many friends to jail or the grave because they felt the same sense of hopelessness. Looking back on those days, I too, had the mind of a criminal. I just didn’t act upon my impulse. And no, it wasn’t wisdom that prevented me from crime; it was fear, the fear of captivity. The same captivity those who live in poverty try to escape every day.
“And some may say that if I stayed focused and became an educated man and not a criminal, my friends could have withstood the strife of poverty, as did I. But to each man’s back, a cross he bears. Some men’s backs are tired, but their will is strong, so they journey on. Some men’s backs are sore, but their will is strong, so they journey on. And some men, when their will is broken, so too are their backs. And once your back is broken, you don’t give a damn about a cross.
“This is not to excuse the behavior of those men who are behind bars who have caused pain or injury to anyone, be it physically, or psychologically. My hypothesis is this: if violence and crime were biological traits of the black man, why is it that white men who are not in poverty, commit many more crimes than black men who are not in poverty? This is a fact that is never mentioned in our articles.
“African-American men no longer have a voice of defense; we are an easy target to judge. Our society, our laws, our government, nor our black women have the compassion or courage to defend us anymore. And when we try to defend ourselves, we are viewed as self-pitying crybabies who complain too much. Anything black men have to say in defense of ourselves these days is considered whining, even when there is a young man lying on the street with his skull bashed in from the club of a white police officer’s baton!
“Society’s biggest triumph over the black man is when it offered black women their own civil rights movement in conjunction with white women and they accepted the deal wholeheartedly. Their pride and their commitment are to womanhood, and no longer to their race.
“This goes out to black women only: in your usurpation of the household, your rapacious attack upon the character of black men, need I remind you of your hi...
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