Chuck Creekmur’s Collections: Dear Denzel Washington

October 10, 2012  |  

Denzel Washington is at the top of the list.

“What list,” you’re asking yourself with your inside voice. I know. Well, I have a very short list of people that I look up to and, quite frankly, serve as faux role models in this world of entertainment and celebrity. To be honest, I like how these gentlemen have aged and maintained their style. Denzel is the number one dude, along with others like Clooney, Will and even Tom Cruise.

Presently, the ubiquitously classic Mr. Washington is featured on the cover of the style issue of GQ magazine. I was one of the first people to send a tweet out a couple of weeks ago – in the most manly way possible – gushing over the coolness of the cover.

The glorious cover touted Denzel, almost 60, with his hair all salt-and-peppery and in a suit as sharp as a ninja’s blade. Inside, the feature story confirmed all that we already know about Denzel: He’s the modern Sidney, Cos, and Harry Belafonte. He is known as an African-American icon and the ultimate man of distinction.

But, since I sent that tweet out, something has nagged me and the only way I could shake it was to write this letter to Mr. Washington:

Dear Denzel,

I hope you don’t mind me using your first name like that. But, I’ve been following you for quite some time. I feel like I know you on some level. I love the moves you’ve made and even more how you’ve aged. Grace is a fleeting trait with just about everybody. But, I’ve got to hand it to you … you’re that dude. We never got to meet, but we almost did at boxing legend Butch Lewis’ funeral in my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.

But, I’m writing you about something else … frankly, something that concerns me. It was your closing remark in your GQ cover story, where you talked about Black men. You said:

“Take responsibility. One of the things that saddens me the most about my people is fathers that don’t take care of their sons and daughters. And you can’t blame that on The Man or getting frisked. Take responsibility. Look in the mirror and say, “What can I do better?” There is opportunity; you can make it. Whatever it is that you choose, be the best at it. You have an African-American president. You can do it. But take responsibility. Put your slippers way under your bed so when you get up in the morning, you have to get on your knees to find them. And while you’re down there, start your day with prayer. Ask for wisdom. Ask for understanding. I’m not telling you what religion to be, but work on your spirit. You know, mind, body, and spirit. Imagine—work the brain muscle. Keep the body in tune—it’s your temple. All things in moderation. Continue to search. That’s the best part of life for me—continue to try to be the best man.”

Now, I’d like you to take a look at this picture I took in Cincinnati, OH.

I thought of you when I snapped it outside of Elementz, a venue dedicated to helping urban kids (keeping it real: budding Black men) on the right path. This young brother was with this beautiful girl, who I assume is his daughter. She never strayed far from him. She seemed happy. He seemed deep in thought, stressed even. This image prompted me to write this letter.

I work with a number of Black men of all ages, backgrounds and social statuses with varying degrees of influence. We huddle up often in support of each other. We build on how to be better men, better fathers, better significant others … just better. This particular event we spent a full day talking to folks about making change in their community through the process of voting, particularly on a local level.

It’s become almost cliché to tell Black men something stern. Pull up your pants. Do better. Step your game up. Take responsibility! Barack Obama did the same thing in 2008 – in front of the world. (He’s another brother on my list of role models. Cool as Alaskan air condition.)

I clearly cannot tell another grown man what to do, especially one as accomplished as yourself. But I humbly urge you to encourage the brothers if you are going to paint a broad stroke. Instead of “Step it up.” Tell us to “Stay strong.” Ask us to “hang in there,” because you know how hard it is out here. A pat on the back and a word of encouragement is often all you need.

I’ve held on to four words Dr. Cornel West once told me: “You’re going to fly.” Black men are still an endangered species of sorts. We still out index every population in AIDS, incarceration rates, death rates, conviction rates, and we’re still here. You mentioned “The Man” and getting frisked, but in New York City, they stopped and frisked more Black men than actually statistically lived in the city! The playing field isn’t level yet, despite our issues.

Not everybody is doing the right thing, and yes we have a lot of work to do, but I guarantee you there are more responsible Black men out here than your quote suggests. I see them, talk to them and mentor them, and they are my friends and family.

Your brother,

Chuck Creekmur

PS: The new movie, “Flight,” looks great.

PPS: Will you mentor me? Please?

Chuck “Jigsaw” Creekmur is a father, son and the co-founder of He’s a cultural critic, pundit and trailblazer that has been featured on National Public Radio (NPR), BET, TVOne, VH1, The E! Channel, MTV, The O’Reilly Factor, USA Today, The New York Times, New York’s Hot 97 FM and like a zillion other outlets.

Chuck Creekmur’s Collections: Dear Denzel Washington

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  • amilcar

    This is such a good conversation that needs to happen more. Yeah, I get where Denzel is coming from but the problem is is that Black men are being stigmatized for “not being there” for their children. Those statements tend to generalize even though that is not the intent but it becomes the reality. Too many of us are “doing the right thing” even with the challenges we face

  • Terri Bandele

    I’m reminded of a Maya Angelou Quote ” People may not always remember what you did or what you said but they will always remember how it made them feel!!!!

  • GailS

    What a wonderful letter and thank you for writing it. If and when Denzel reads this, I’m sure he’ll take in the same spirit it was given.

  • I hit you up on Facebook. When are connected, we can share our info. 🙂

  • slendergrl

    Love this…bless you Malcolm..Keep showing up at practice in those suits!!!

  • slendergrl

    I agree with you Chuck. Denzel was right for SOME but not for all. I work at a high school and I know young men in my community who just do NOT have support or know how to navigate to find resources to be self-sufficient. The ones who decide to do wrong, gang bang, sell drugs, etc. They TOO need some love. If they had it, maybe they wouldn’t have turn to other things in order to suffice. Im not saying a hug will cure everything but we need a different approach to our brothers. We don’t love them anymore. We don’t. The murder rates for black on black male homicides for 2012 were/are absolutely horrendous. WTF??? Yeah, Im with you Chuck. We need some positive reinforcement for my men. I love ya’ll..I’ll be the first to say it.

  • I never said Denzel was wrong in what he said. I said this notion of “Black men doing better” has become a cliche and, at this point, not a solution-oriented way to get people to do better.

  • Malcolm Pigford

    I think that Chuck is absolutely correct and I’ve been saying this for years but I don’t have a platform like Chuck. My name is Malcolm and I’m from South Central Los Angeles. Funny thing is, one of Denzel’s first movies is about how bad a high school was in LA… I went to that School, Washington High school in south central. I had a 2 parent house and a great up bringing but I wasn’t far away from peers who weren’t as fortunate. I was able to graduate and go to play football at Morehouse College in Atlanta. I came back to LA after a while and got a great job. But I wasn’t doing my duty of giving back until I was able to coach high school football in the neighborhood. I learned 1st hand as an adult, what our black and Latino men need. First off, all day every day they are barked at. Told to “do this, do that, be better, don’t do that.” Be it from the single mothers who are stressed out from working 2 jobs to support who simply don’t have the time or resources to give their young man the attention he needs. Or from teachers to administrators. They are all talked down to and basically told they aren’t good enough, but aren’t really the attention and talked to in the tone to encourage them to be better. I know this first hand. I’ve coached at Washington High in South Central. I’ve coached at Locke high in Watts. I’ve coached at Roosevelt high in EAST LA. And what I’ve found out is POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT is the way to approach black and Latino men to get them to reach their potential. Understand, they’ve been talked down to their entire life and they are still what they are. How about take a different approach as Chuck is suggesting and encourage our young men. Now I do teach accountability and responsibility, but I also take into consideration most of these kids simply don’t know. It’s easy to say its excuse making, but like I said, I’ve been on the front lines of these issues. Try talking TO them and not AT them. Lastly I’ll give an example of how they simply don’t see success as an option. I wear a suit every day to work and I would leave my office and head to coach at Locke high in Watts CA. Well after my 2nd week one of the kids came up to me and said “Coach Pigford, you be going to Court like every day huh” I said “no why do you assume that” he replied “cuz’ you always be comin’ here in a suit.” The possibility that I, a black/latino man was actually wearing a suit to work and not a court case was non-existent. Or a kid from Washington high who assumed I was coming from a funeral because I had on a black suit. This is what I’m talking about. They just don’t know. They don’t know their potential, and its our job to tell them, not bark at them on how bad they’re doing. Sorry for the long winded post, this one just hit home.

  • World Wide

    What did Denzel say that was wrong? What he said was completely accurate. The problem is this “victim” mentality that many of our people still carry and sites this constantly fuel. Every time a rapper goes to jail we scream free him or it’s the white
    man or it’s the illuminati or whatever b.s excuse before we even begin to think maybe just maybe that rapper did something that warrants him being in jail. Not every black man is Nelson Mandela or MLK but yet we always treat them like they are or try to justify them and their behavior in some way shape or form.

    For example well he’s from the hood and there no jobs in the hood so he had to sell drugs. Bullshit! We always have a choice in life! I’m from the same type of areas where 90% of the Hip Hop community is from. Did I sell drugs? Did I join a gang? No. I worked two jobs to put my self through college and now I’m working towards my Doctorate in
    Behavioral Psychology. And I know plenty of other black men that have done the same.

    The difference between a successful man and a non successful one is that we are willing to do everything non successful people aren’t willing too do. That includes working hard, sacrificing and taking complete responsibility for your actions. So asking Denzel to take pity on these guys by asking him to tell them to “stand strong” is bull shit.
    Pity and stating the obvious (it’s hard out here) gets you no where in life. But eliminating the victim mentality and understanding that no one has power of your destiny (unless you give it to them) will take you far in life.

    I don’t mean to rant but I hate when I hear people make excuses or try to make excuses for other people.

  • kierah

    The statistic is ridiculous because it means the same people keep getting stopped. How many of them have changed their habits? When was the last time someone was stopped and frisked at a library? The NYPD has their own ridiculous agenda so when are going to develop and implement our own?
    I save my loving nurturing words for my 5 month old son so that hopefully he will not look for reassurance in the streets when he grows up.
    I agree everyone could use encouragement, but grown men need a dose of cold hard truth sometimes.

  • Terri Bandele

    Hey my friend I think of you so often, I’m on FB my name is Terri Bandele and if you have a hard time with finding me look for Imani Carr-Damu.So much to talk about I’d love to catch up. Listen I really looked at the photo in your article and I have a few thoughts about that as well. One being the ideal of closeness yet a certain detachment, there was apathy and hope in the photo could this is so relevant in our society the children of the 80’s crack heads have come of age, what were they fed how can we feed into the spirit of those who don’t even know what or how to eat. I have some ideas. It pains me to know that for the first time in our history that Grandma’s hand don’t always issue out a warning(Bill Withers)Holla at me when you get some time. Much more to discuss on a personal level with where I am in my life today.

  • Kierah – nobody said anything about our ability to do better. We know this and I think it is safe to say that EVERYBODY can do better, especially if you look at the statistics on just about everything. The point is, it is cliche to single out Black men, even by our own. There are Draconian laws that exist that home in on Black men and there are newer ones that do as well, ie Stop And Frisk. In NY, the police stopped and frisked more Black men that actually live in the city. If that’s not ridiculous to you, then we will agree to disagree. Again, my point is a kind word – as opposed to a coarse, critical one – can make all the difference in the world to somebody – and maybe you.

  • Hey Terri! How are you? Glad to hear from you! I was just talking about that Thankgiving at your house a few years ago. Much to catch up on! Thanks for reading. If you are on facebook, lets connect and I will pass you my personal info.

  • Terri Bandele

    Hey Chuck, I hope you remember me from the old MBNA days when we would talk about who you really were and where you really wanted to be in this world; well I see that your beacon of light is shining BRIGHT I saw it 16 years ago and to see that you stepped fearlessly into it makes my heart sing. Terri Bandele aka Terri Shaw

  • kierah

    I know Black men have it hard, but I know we can do better. If I can’t change the system, I know I can change my OWN behavior and maybe the outcome will be different for me. So many people have thrown in the towel too early and blame their circumstances without analyzing how a change in their behavior could have made a difference.
    My husband has never been stopped and frisked and he’s lived in Harlem and Bed-Stuy for 20 years. My husband doesn’t hang out on street corners all. Perhaps there is a correlation.
    My friend’s teenage son got the stop and frisk treatment. He was in the stairway with some guys at 1 am. He said he was on his way to return a jacket to a friend and ran into his friends. He lives on the 14th floor so I have no idea if he usually takes the stairs 14 flights.
    Just saying – the cops want to know why some young men are hanging out in a building stairwell at the time of night…and no, I don’t believe his story. No one got arrested. They weren’t doing anything wrong (at the time.) I had to point out to him “Yeah, you didn’t get arrested. But know the cops know your face. That cop is going to remember you. Not a good look.” SMDH!