Let me tell you what I observed yesterday. Well, it wasn’t as much what I observed but rather, what happened to me. Friday morning on the way to my office, I noticed the train was unusually empty. There were only three riders, including me. Someone way on the other end of the train came closer to where I was sitting and struck up a conversation. I was hoping he maintained proper distance, and he did, thankfully. He stayed about three arm’s length away; that’s roughly six feet – the distance the CDC recommends for keeping ourselves and others safe from the spread of COVID-19. He was also wearing a mask just like I was. For some reason, I always think people are going to ask for money when they begin talking to me out of the blue. But that didn’t happen this time. I don’t mind helping people out, but working in a downtown area, I encounter more than my share of men and women who ask for some financial help. Some are more aggressive than others. I help when I can. Sometimes I’ll help even if they don’t ask if I’m feeling generous. I know not everyone will ask for help, no matter how bad things may get. When I’m not thinking people will ask for money, I expect them to snatch my phone and run or run away with my bookbag. I know of some situations in which people have started conversations with a stranger merely as a distraction to steal their belongings, sometimes working with a partner nearby. I observed a very well-orchestrated scheme of this sort when I visited Italy. I’ll tell you about that some other time.
This guy yesterday didn’t ask for any money nor did he try to take anything. He was genuinely a pleasant person and was very interesting. I still wondered what he wanted, though. I soon found out. He complimented me on how I was dressed and asked about my profession. “May I ask, what is your profession?” he asked. He was very polite and proper. I gave my little 20 – 30 second elevator speech about my job. Without missing a beat, CJ (I’m using a pseudonym …wouldn’t want to embarrass anybody) said, “Wow that’s quite fascinating. Can I get your number?” Instead of giving my number, I asked CJ about his career goals. I did a good job maintaining my poker face. Usually when I’m approached by a stranger, I have this, “What do you want, and why are you bothering me?” look on my face. But more than that, I don’t turn on until around 7:30 am on work days; it was only 6:15. But, I’m growing. I’ve been working on nurturing my emotional intelligence.
I still wasn’t about to give my number. I guesstimated he was approximately 20 years old, based on the timeline he gave on his life since high school. I could tell he wasn’t your garden variety, run-of-the-mill 20-year-old. I run in to a lot of them. CJ was very different. He was super confident, very well spoken, smart as a whip, and his dialogue was very intriguing. Notwithstanding those attributes, I’m not as fast as I used to be, so I didn’t give my number.
CJ was very conversant. He began talking about becoming an entrepreneur in the area of computer programming including Python, Unix, C++, web design, and JAVA — and he mentioned some other programming languages I knew nothing about. His goal, he said, is to become a small business owner and support other small businesses with their technology needs. He was certainly more aware of current affairs than I was at 20 years old. Not a lot of 20-year olds talk about being an entrepreneur with such a focused zeal. Then he began asking me lots of questions about classes and certifications and any resources I would recommend and asked again for my number. During the conversation, he asked for my number four times. As tempting as it was, I instead wrote down some websites that I thought would be helpful to him as he forges ahead with his entrepreneurial goals. He thanked me for talking with him and returned to his seat.
Maybe I should have given him my number or email address. I suspect I could have been a wealth of support and directed him toward many helpful resources. Young black men have a hard enough time just because of the color of their skin, no matter how smart and focused they are. They can always use a little help and guidance. After we parted ways, I thought of several additional resources I could have, should have shared. But I think I did the right thing not giving my number. I just don’t have it in me to be a mentor at this time, if that is what he wanted. Perhaps sometime in the future.
I don’t doubt that he really does want to be a technology entrepreneur. His goals were too detailed for him not to be. As smart and as organized as he was, I believe he will land on his feet and thrive as a business owner. Maybe asking me for resources was a ruse. Maybe it was authentic. Who knows? It was flattering that he took time to talk to me and ask me for tips, nonetheless. I could tell he was very disappointed that I didn’t give my number. What in the world would I do with a 20-year-old anyway? Of course, that’s just a rhetorical question.
Hope you’re enjoying your weekend.