He’s considered one of America’s sexiest men alive, not to mention one of the most intelligent. A classmate and friend of President Barack Obama, Hill Harper is an accomplished film actor, scholar and author. He wrote Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest your Destiny and Letters to a Young Sister: DeFINE Your Destiny. His most recent book, The Conversation: How Black Men and Women Can Build Loving, Trusting Relationships, is the topic of discussion in many social circles and family gatherings all over the country.
I believe timing is everything. Weeks before I was aware of the book, the same question plagued my mind every day as I walked down the streets to and from my job, my internship and my neighborhood. Why can’t black men and women get together? What has happened within our community that I rarely see black couples where I frequent? Perhaps the fact that I don’t work and live in predominantly black areas of the city may be one reason. Nevertheless, I still see it as an issue, and as it turns out, I’m not the only one who feels this way.
This is one of the reasons Harper wrote this particular book. In fact, he explained that a number of reasons sparked his idea for it, one of which included a dinner party he hosted where he was around the company of beautiful and successful black men and women who both expressed they couldn’t find mates for themselves. Not just hook-up buddies, but true potential life partners.
Then, two sets of alarming statistics reached his desk. The first one stated that in 1966, 84 percent of African American children were reared in two-parent households. Forty years later in 2006 that number plummeted to 31 percent. The other stat reported 70 percent of black professional women are single.
“That’s how I knew I had to do something,” says Harper. “I’m not going to stand by silent and witness the destruction of the African American family and African American male and female relationships. That’s how the book was born. I didn’t even know the title was going to be ‘The Conversation’.”
Harper says most books are written for women, but this book is different. The “conversation” he says that black men and women must have is made of three components. He says the first conversation deals with one’s self.
“It’s taking an honest assessment and honest look in the mirror, and having a real honest conversation with you,” he explained.
The second conversation involves your partner or potential partner. “Be willing to be completely honest and not send your representative,” said Harper. “Be vulnerable, honest and have a real conversation.”
The third conversation is with your friendship circles, your family and your community. “I hope it sparks conversations within our community, but moreover I hope people get married because of my book,” he says. “I want to be very honest; my book pushes for partnership.”
But first and foremost, we as a community must attempt to get to the meat of the problem. One of the points Harper addresses in his book was one of the reasons black men and women can’t get together is because we don’t talk to each other. How many times have you seen in movies (and in real life) groups of young brothers and sisters discussing their problems in their same-sex cliques? At what point do individuals from these groups converse with each other?
“I want to get singles talking to each other; I want real results,” says Harper.
Another reason we as a community can’t get together is because we don’t like each other. Think about it: How many negative stereotypes do we have about each other? Whether we realize it or not, those stereotypes subconsciously affect how we see each other.
“We need to move on from the ‘he say/she say’ to making the ‘he say/she say’ positive about one another,” he adds.
Harper revealed that those stereotypes don’t faze him. “The intelligence, energy, beauty, charisma, soul, spirit, wanting to help and give, the depth of experience, the legacy, history, common and shared experiences, their world views—I could go on forever,” says Harper about his love for black women. “Black women are magnificent, brilliant, beautiful, sexy and just incredible.”
In his book, Harper dedicates a chapter to crossing the other line and the issue of interracial relationships in our community.
“Freedom gives you the option to make choices,” says Jerry Clark of Chicago. Clark has been happily married to his African American wife, Robin, for 27 years.
(But I have to admit there’s just something about witnessing that ebony love that makes my heart skip a beat just a little, which leads me to the most recent example and model of this: the Obamas.)
Barack and Michelle represent what we aspire to be, as both a couple and as individuals. Both were hardworking, intelligent minds who found that special way to complement each other, and not complete each other, which is key! According to Harper, Michelle also saw the potential in Barack and not his status, which is one thing people in general (this goes beyond race) struggle.
“The fabric and the foundation of the partnership have allowed them [the Obamas] to rise to higher heights than they would be able to get to on their own, and that’s what I’m talking about in the book, that’s the ‘conversation’,” explains Harper.
Clark said he knew he was going to marry Robin when he met her but didn’t know how it would fall into plan. “If you’re committed, that’s not going away,” he says. Some of his secrets to his successful marriage include love, respect, honesty and commitment. “For us, it’s been about giving each other space and letting us be us—I never stepped on her dreams and she never did that to me.”
Potential goes beyond what you physically see and goes to the core of someone. Harper mentioned neither Michelle nor Barack would be where they are as individuals if it wasn’t for the other. He even ventured to say that principle applies to him.
“What I found for me is, I won’t reach the best level of myself on my own,” he comments. “I can stay a single man for the rest of my life and kick it with plenty of incredible women for the rest of my life, but the best version of me is in partnership. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to for me personally. I’m basically symbolic of someone in the book who’s going on a journey just like everyone else.”
The purpose of Hill’s book is to truly start a dialogue between black men and women about our hurts, fears, joys and loves, which can ultimately begin to heal those wounds and bring us together. Hill says he believes our community is going to witness the statistics mentioned earlier reverse for the first time in 40 years.
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Iya’s Facts: Iya Bakare is a freelance writer who earned both her Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees in Print Journalism. She earned her BA from Delta State University with a minor in English and recently graduated with a MA degree from Columbia College Chicago. The Chicago native currently freelances for Chicago-based online publications. She can be contacted at Iya@glossmagazineonline.com.