When I was a young boy growing up in Detroit, I clearly remember a conversation I had with my father — a man born in rural Alabama whose formative years of education occurred in a one-room schoolhouse with splintered, wooden desks, a potbelly stove, a makeshift blackboard and just a handful of books.
I pleaded with him to allow me to begin working as a paperboy, following the example of other boys in my neighborhood, so I could make extra money and be able to buy more snacks, comic books – even a pair of the more popular gym shoes which cost a lot more than those my parents were willing to purchase given how quickly my feet continued to grow.
I strategically asked my father because, despite his gruff exterior, I had learned that between the two of them, convincing my dad to “say yes” was much easier than securing my mother’s approval. So, when he refused my request, I was more than a bit surprised. In fact, I was downright angry.
Then, he said something that I would never forget. While he certainly didn’t have to, he took advantage of a “teachable moment,” providing his rationale for denying my request.
As he shared memories from his youth and early adulthood that were often defined by hardship, poverty, prejudice, Jim Crow laws and traditions and both physical and mental abuse doled out by his father, I began to see Daddy in ways that I had never imagined. I began to understand the challenges he had faced and was proud of his accomplishments which I once viewed with little regard.
He said to me, “my job is to provide for you in every way possible and to make sure you have the chance to become the man that God intends. My job is to make sure you can go after your dreams and develop your gifts. You don’t have time to work after school. You have one job to do right now — to study as hard as you can and to get the best grades possible. My job is to make sure you can do just that.”
His encouragement and belief in me would be instrumental in my progress in more ways than I would ever know. It also led me to make sacrifices for my children so that their lives could be better than mine.
So, as I listen to the fears recently expressed by young girls and women in Afghanistan who wonder if with the changing of the guard, that is with the Taliban taking over as the rulers of their country, they will lose the right for education and working, I understand their concern.
Just one generation ago, girls in that county could not receive education like little boys, unless they were willing to attend secret, underground schools — a decision that could prove fatal. Many women were denied the right to go after high-profile jobs like city leaders, attorneys, judges or engineers.
In fact, many parents — perhaps one should really say “fathers” — in keeping with or hiding behind sharia law, accepted generations-old traditions of making girls and women work in jobs chosen by men while denying them the opportunity to learn how to read or write.
I can’t imagine the pain and frustration these little girls experienced day after day — knowing in their hearts the kinds of things they would like to do but forced to accept something far less for no other reason than because they had been born as girls and not boys.
What if I had been denied the opportunity to climb mountains that I knew I could somehow scale? What if I had lived in a time when the color of my skin would be the sole reason that doors remained locked, blocking my path despite my abilities to successfully move forward and reach my goals?
For now, the new leaders of Afghanistan promise that nothing will change. They say hard-fought rights secured by women and celebrated over the last two decades will continue.
We can only hope that the Taliban and its leaders are telling the truth and not just making a good show for the world to see. The truth will become apparent — and it won’t take long.
Meanwhile, I’m keeping my fingers crossed and praying for the girls and women of Afghanistan.

D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Dominic Kevin McNeir is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of service for the Black Press (NNPA). Prior to moving East to assist his aging parents in their struggles with Alzheimer’s,...

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