"On Pain" By: Kahlil Gibran
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.”
Well I don’t want to understand this pain of you leaving brother. I honestly feel as if- maybe you just had an even greater work to do! Maybe you needed a more angelic form and powers of light to get it all done. Maybe it was your way of increasing the capacity of your heart to do even more even if we thought you were doing more than enough. This line of thinking is the only rationale point of view that I can draw myself to because my selfishness doesn’t want to understand this pain.
Bernal E. Smith, II, was a fellow proud fraternity brother of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., avid journalist, strong editor, incredible leader, fair businessman, unflinching activist, outstanding father, mentor of many, and valued friend. He had an unwavering faith in Memphis to be better. He had a deep love of the black community, as a father would love a child. At times, I would sit back and just take notes on how he made everyone believe that he was their best friend. He had a profound ability to connect people and then to move them in a direction.
Personally, Bernal offered publication for so many of my events, needs as an educator, and consistently supported me financially and in spirit. He believed in the arts and the need for artists to use their platform to speak up about injustice. When I won the 2015 Spoken Word Artist of the Year award at The Best In Black Award, I was so humbled to see that so many were moved to vote for me. I did not know at that time how much the award would mean to my career. I also did not know how much Bernal would become a big brother to me, taking me under his wing while guiding me on how to write effective material to acquire funding for some of my educational goals in the classroom. My bookings went up 325%. I was overwhelmed with request and speaking engagements. I was receiving “Yes” calls for funding. It was an amazing year.
I called Bernal and told him that I had to give back some how. I volunteered to speak at the Woman’s banquet then I wrote a few freelance articles. One article about Sandra Bland went viral and I was blessed again. I vowed to Bernal to work even harder to be responsible for me holding this award. I guess it worked. In 2016, I won the Spoken Word Artist of the Year award at The Best In Black Award. My booking price quadrupled and I found myself traveling the nation again.
Bernal, asked me how I felt to repeat. I said, honestly. I’m afraid. I want to be a role model for poets in Memphis. I don’t know if I can bare any more gigs or what this award brings. Behind the curtain, we had a conversation about the Arts, Memphis, Purpose, and about trying to go for a three peat in 2017. He encouraged me. He said, brother you have won by one of the biggest margins in the two years almost 5 times the votes of my nearest colleague. He asked, “What was my secret to moving people?”
I told him, “I just pray and meditate before each poem.” He said, “I does the same before each meeting.” We agreed to try to do more together to move our community and use our voices. We did. In 2017, I asked for him to take me off the ballot. Not out of arrogance or out of unappreciation but because I wanted another poet to experience the beauty of what his vision was: allowing people of color to expand their brand, be applauded for their work, and to acknowledge the greatness that we in Memphis have created. He understood and granted my request but under one condition- He wanted me to write more topics about black fathers. I agreed.
In 2017, Yolanda “Quiet Storm” Gates won. I can only pray her blessings are half or doubled of what mine were. Why am I speaking of myself in an article about Bernal? Simple. Because Bernal single-handedly is responsible for boosting, creating, or opening avenues for average people to be awesome people. He was an amazing man of faith and vision that could see the very best in people. He weathered attacks and never bowed to pressure to just go with the status quo. He led with love and care for all. That is why our hearts hurt. I need you to know the affect of just one of the lives that he touched. I wanted to put in the medium that he adored which is print the magnitude of what we all lost. The magnitude rippled throughout our community so we mourn. We grieve. We question or at least I question, can I continue to be as great without such a wonderful catalyst and mentor? I need you to understand who Bernal Smith II was (and is) in his current state of transferred energy.
“And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.”
We are all in the “winters of our grief.” We will cry many tears but you are not alone: family, TSD staff, writers, artists, Black people, White people, People of color and non-color, All people, Memphis and this world. We will cry as we all take notice of the many lives that one man touched. I don’t claim to be the absolute best friend. There are so many before me: his wife and family, his Tri-State family, some of the elder Alpha’s and so many in this community because Bernal loved us all and made us all his family.
“And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.”
This pain will heal one day. How? Time, I guess or we can do as Bernal did and work. It won’t be easy but it will heal by working like he would have. We have an obligation that Bernal II realized when his father passed. I asked him when his father passed, “What now?” His only response was, “I have to be more and work smarter to ensure legacy.” The only way to heal is to work.
We have to work harder and smarter now to keep Tri-State blossoming, the Best In Black Awards prospering while reaching to provide avenues and outlets for our community. We have a responsibility to grow Black business and love each other while doing this work. We have a moral obligation to repay all that Bernal II gave us in a direct and intentional effort to be a family. It will take all of us all excelling in our individual lanes of expertise but now is not the time to ball up. It is the time to show the resiliency and the passion that Bernal II would want us to show.
It is in this work that we will remember. It is in this work that we will heal.
Personally, I will work brother! I owe it to you Mr. Smith for all that you have done for this community and my immediate family. I vow to do what I can for the Arts, Poetry in Memphis and as a freelance writer to use my platform. It is the least I can do to honor who and what you stood for.
Tell God that we are thankful that He shared an angel with us. You said it best in our last conversation. You said, "Our community has to love when hurt." So know that we love you brother, I love you brother, and we are so proud of what you accomplished. So take some time to rest a bit, Bernal Smith II, but I know aren't going to. You are already trying to zip around this whole universe right now: working, inspiring, being you but please get a little rest my friend, you deserve it for a job well done and a Black Life that Mattered so much to so many.
(To Bernal, You loved my poetry so here’s my last poem to you brother.)
Stardust by Urban Thoughts
They say the fallen, fall-
but I do not believe that.
You were to Giant to fall
so I believe you rose,
Back into the sky where the stars are-
you are just lighting the way for us to find you again.
Back into Heaven, where the Angels are-
they are gathering round the black star to see how he shines.
While you request to keep working in our dreams and visions
whispering-giving us inspiration and the courage to continue.
We will see you chuckle in the wind and bellow orders out the invisible thunder
these moments will remind us how to lead and better when too be humble enough to follow.
We will love, fight, struggle, and be brilliant, and be progress-
Until it is our time, to be beautiful enough to become stardust.
-Timothy "Urban Thoughts" Moore
Please share so that the legacy of Bernal Smith, II can be seen. He was my friend and I miss him.