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A Cup of Fish Tea and the Resilience of the Black Male Spirit


In the days leading up to my first steps, my mother, brother, and I traveled to Jamaica. For my brother and I, it was the first of many trips back to our ancestral land.


In Jamaica, my mother left us in the trusted care of my grandaunt, Hestriana while she finalized plans for her baby sister's pending nuptials.


Under my grandaunt's care, I tasted Jamaican Fish Tea for the first time and built up the courage necessary to take my first steps as a Black boy and man in this world.



It is fitting that my first steps took place in the safety of a free majority-Black nation under the caring and watchful eye of one of my family's greatest matriarchs. It is even more fitting that these first steps were taken to one of Jamaica's most tasty yet complicated delicacies.


Made out of fresh whole fish, yam, pumpkin, cassava, potatoes, thyme, pimento, scallions and green bananas cooked until very soft, Fish Tea is a silky, smooth, and rich dish packed with flavors drawn from the land and caught from the sea.


As a culinary ode to Jamaica's rich heritage and culture, and our commitment to preserving our African roots while adapting to the Caribbean environment that enslavement and colonialism brought upon us, Fish Tea represents the power of Black male resilience.


With heat, pressure and time that’s critical in the soup's preparation, this dish also requires a watchful and loving human eye. In my case, Hestriana brought that love. While overwhelming pressure and heat shaped the Black male experience, the community’s sense of love made us resilient.


Whether it’s personified by March on Washington organizer Bayard Rustin, NBA great LeBron James, or a Black dad in Washington, D.C. who coaches his niece’s soccer team coach, Black male resilience influences American life and culture. Conversations about this phenomenon are necessary in a country that continues to devalue the worth of Black bodies and erase Black men’s foundational role in American history.


Many folks might disagree with that notion, but their lack of outrage about Black men’s plight should be a dead giveaway on where they stand. The alarmingly low life expectancy and the abysmally high unemployment facing Black men in this country are the makings of a national emergency that should push state, local, and federal governments and nonprofits to marshall all their resources toward a solution.


Regrettably, no one in power has declared a national emergency because they don't see our contributions as a necessary ingredient for their soup.



This active erasure of our experience, contribution, and commitment to this country, the likes of which we see in Florida, Texas, and South Carolina, could make us question our value. Still, our value has and will continue to come from within. That’s where we find the ingredients needed to ensure that our community is safe, our neighborhoods are thriving, and our children are afforded the best opportunities.


Black men have survived enslavement, convict leasing and false prosecution of our leadership. We overcame the pressure endured as the sons of fighters and the grandsons of royalty. While the heinous killing of Tyre Nichols and George Floyd have brought tremendous pain, our outpouring of love has made their lives become part of a movement and an inflection point for change.


For years, I wondered why I took my first steps in my Aunt Hestriana's Montego Bay backyard versus the Evanston, IL basement apartment where I spent most of my formidable years. And at 34 years old, I figured it out.


In my grandaunt's eyes, I found a sense of safety that I carry with me today. The stresses that besiege Black women in America didn’t encumber her. Her Black joy was so unrestricted it became infectious.


In asking me to take my first steps to taste her homemade Fish Tea, Aunt Hestriana affirmed that my life matters; that I was worthy of good and tasty things; and though my destiny would be challenging, I could prevail. With every brave step I take, her watchful, loving eye would be right there.



During my early teen years, Aunt Hestriana passed away from Alzheimer's. She was 96. And, I see her spirit reflected in Black women who courageously go out of their way to instill similar beliefs in their sons, grandsons, nephews, and young Black men they encounter.


That’s why we must start instilling these principles of safety, worthiness, and goodness in each other. This work is already happening. Now is the time to double down on our efforts.


Black men come in all different shapes, sexualities, sexual identities and sizes. We also represent different ZIP codes, immigration statuses, and corners of the African Diaspora. Thus, bringing us together, similar to the ingredients in Jamaican Fish Tea, is challenging.


Still, in the end, if we can find our resilience through all the pain and pressure, we will find our power, reclaim our community, and most importantly, create a society where Black male existence is valued for the first-rate, brilliant, beautiful and bold flavor we represent to America and the world at large.


Written by: Richard Fowler


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