Interview with Mr. Neil III

What does it mean to be influential/successful as a black man? 

I don’t know. I’m still working on it. I have things I want to do. My inspiration is Colonel Harland Sanders, founder of KFC. He didn’t start frying chicken until he retired. It doesn’t matter when you get started, as long as you get started. There’s a lot of things I want to do now that I’m reaching retiring age. I’m hoping for the future. Maybe I will be successful. I wouldn’t mind being rich for awhile. I don’t think I’d mind that at all.  

Do you think influence/success is different for a black man than say a white man? How so? 

Everything is different when you’re black. It’s similar, but there’s a different dynamic just being black in America. I’m seeing that the civil rights movement, which started hundreds of years ago in America, we’re still fighting some of those same battles today. So, I can’t risk it. I can’t take a break because we are not there yet. As a society of people, we still have problems. It doesn’t matter which country you go to. Every country has their problems. And I have mine in America, and I’m not going anywhere, so I’m going to have to work towards finding a solution. 

How do you achieve that influence/success?

I am going to embark on a speaking tour. I am preparing myself for that. Because once I’m through teaching, I’m not going to sit around and do nothing. But I don’t mind speaking in front of large groups of people. I lost my fear of that a long time ago.The people I’ve known and met that are doing are making quite a bit of money. So I thought, okay, I might be one of those successful people.

Do you think money is a bad thing to aspire to?

Money is a tool. It’s not good or bad, it’s just a tool. Now what you do with it might be good or bad. But money itself is just a tool. If money is all you’re after, maybe it could be bad. But, it’s a way of getting things done or buying what you need. But, just going after money, I’ve never done that. That’s why I’m a school teacher. 

How is your vision of being influential affected by working in the prison system?

I don’t see myself as being influential. I try to keep a low profile. When I have to speak up I do. And I promised myself I was not going to say anything unless I had to. And, when I speak, I want to have something worth saying.

What would you say to younger black men that are inspiring to be influential/successful?

Let’s do this two ways. I always say follow your heart. But then I would clarify by saying is what you want realistic? I have to tell that to my students who, once they get out of jail, there are certain jobs they’ll never be able to get. So I don’t tell them about those jobs. I tell them here’s the jobs you can have and you can make a good living with these jobs, but don’t bang your head against a brick wall that’s not going to move. Be realistic. But I would love to tell my young black men don’t let anybody limit your aspiration. Go as high as you can, and when you can’t go any higher, quit that job, make your own business and go as high as you want. 

What do you think when you hear ‘Black History Month’?

I appreciate it. But to me every month is Black History Month. Education doesn’t stop just because it turns to march. I try to honor people all the time rather than just some of the time. There is so much history, you can’t do it in one month. I don’t even try. I’m not limiting Black History Month to one month. In my church, it’s everyday. As a black person, I see it as an everyday thing.

Is there anything else you would want to say? 

I work in the penal system. The penal system is the only place where black men have a majority. More black men are locked up in America than any other group and I’m always seeking a way to take advantage of that. Well, I’m an educator, so I try to take advantage of it by educating young men about what they can do when they get out of jail. That’s what I do. But, I know I’m missing a big segment because my jail is sexually segregated. I’m just seeing young men, no ladies. So I have little to no contact with them. I miss that. I miss talking to young ladies because I want them to see a positive male role model. Unless those of us that are positive role models can step up and be seen then those ladies will keep picking the bad boys and ending up in bad situations. I want to reach young people, both male and female. 

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