“O courage, my soul, and let us journey on, For tho’ the night is dark, it won’t be very long. O thanks be to God, the morning light appears, And the storm is passing over, Hallelujah!”
Among other things, I am an entrepreneur. I chose some years ago to start an enterprise of my own rather than work for someone or something else. It was just a choice, on the surface no better or worse than anyones else’s. However, this decision did have consequences and many risks. One result is that my income over these years has been extremely unstable and frequently nonexistence for extended periods of time. The perils have been great, with personal sacrifices including both material creature comforts and life necessities as well as unintended tragedies like loss of contact with two of my children due to conflicts with my ex-wife over child support and visitation. While I am no stranger to lack and even poverty at times coming from a working class family, the disconnect from my daughter Issata and son Kwesi has been a cost brutal and severe for me (and I’m sure them) to bear.
This week the firm I lead was successful in renewing relatively large contracts with two of our primary clients, the Atlanta Housing Authority and The Food Commons. These arrangements will provide steady employment for me and my Partners over the next six months or so, perhaps even longer depending on certain factors. Despite all the real agony and pain it took to arrive at this plateau, it is truly an amazing feeling to create ones own job. I have never been really good at working for others. Inevitably, I would tire of doing things in ways that didn’t seem effective or efficient to me. My nature most often leaned toward improving systems and challenging the status quo. Of course, this characteristic of mine has not usually made for long term or staple occupations. Over the years I had learned to live with this handicap of sorts, switching frequently from one livelihood to the next with an seemingly unending stream of “Catch Me If You Can” type incarnations: waiter, grocery clerk, courier, officer manager, carpet salesman, public insurance adjuster, cosmetologist, truck driver, non-profit professional, urban farmer, etc. The list goes on.
Even as I worked in the past to make a living, I never seemed to thrive in any enduring way. In contrast, since I have set myself on this course as a consultant with Atlanta Food & Farm LLC (AF2) there has been no turning back. I have found my purpose and oh what a marvelous and powerful thing! Every day all day, my mission is to help communities and institutions be more successful with any goals they have related to the local food movement and urban agriculture. It is both a narrow specialization as well as an inexhaustible labyrinth of opportunities and possibilities. I happily lose myself in a rabbit hole of revelation, doggedly pursuing the maze of options to answer one simple question, “What ails thee, brother?”. My resulting quest for the Holy Grail of food justice and sovereignty for my community and beyond has set me on an incredible journey of discovery and personal development. It has not been as lucrative an endeavor as my debts and obligations need my occupation to be, but it has certainly been lavishly liberating for me.
One of the most difficult aspects of these past months rolling into years has been the strain and stress on other family ties and friendships, both personal and professional. There were times when it was not clear to me if I had lost all normal human feeling or fidelity as my focus on birthing this baby of business seemed to consume me to the exclusion of too much else. On one hand, my dear sweet mother was increasing lost to me and my extended family in the claustrophobic cloud of Alzheimer’s disease during this period. The needs of her care have spiked, but I have been unable to respond financially while in my mission midwifery position of building AF2. The burden has fallen unfairly to my more able siblings, though it is no easy weight to bear for most of them either. Another side has been debts to colleagues or friends that I have not been able to honor despite my best efforts. It is a painful thing to fail at responding when payments are owed to those you know and love, particularly when the value has already been given. I am extremely anxious to run from this dark place back into the light of greater integrity and trust again, hopefully agreed.
Greatest among all this desired redemption and resolution is reconciliation with my eldest children. I tremble at the thought of what may have been lost over these many months since we have been together. My psyche plays mind games of comparing the period to the deployment of a soldier away on a tour of duty, not seeing their loved ones for sometimes a year or so. Could I tell them daddy has been busy fighting for them and it not be a lie, which is why they have not seen me? Or should honesty prevail with my confession that I was just not capable enough to do two huge things at once. The gamble I have taken with my soul in this regard is fearful. But for this year I have made it through the storm of my own making to the light of also my own creation. When Issata and Kwesi are older, I will tell them the story of what it took to make sure they could go to college or have an inheritance to build homes for themselves and their own families. Grace be to God, I pray for their forbearance and forgiveness.