‘It’s time for us as Black men to step up’

After completing his syndicated morning radio show on August 7, radio host, author and comedian Steve Harvey sat down with Final Call Assistant Editor Ashahed M. Muhammad for a brief interview at the Harold Washington Cultural Center, on Chicago’s south side.

The Final Call (FC:) First question I want to ask you is about the Steve Harvey Foundation. Many saw your manhood training program featured on CNN. Why did you start the foundation, and why do you think it is important?

Final Call Assistant Editor Ashahed M. Muhammad speaks one-on-one with radio host, author and comedian Steve Harvey at the Harold Washington Cultural Center in Chicago. Photo: Timothy 6X

Steve Harvey (SH): Well, the foundation started originally about the educational needs of children. But, as I got into it more and more, one of my main objectives became mentoring programs for young African American men because that’s our problem in our community–it’s the African American men. I don’t see the women as a problem. The women are doing all they can do. They’re heading up households; they’re single parents; they’re breadwinners; they’re the ‘mamas,’ they’re the ‘daddies,’ they’re the ‘uncles.’ They take the kids to school; they take them to doctors, you know? They take them to games. I see it all the time.

So, the problem in our community is not the women–I mean, they’ve done all they can do. You can’t ask the women to do anymore. It’s time for us as Black men to step up and be what we’re supposed to be. And I found that the best way to go about that is to produce better men. And I think if we get them at a younger age, and start teaching these young brothers the principles of manhood: That real men go to work everyday; Real men honor God; Real men respect and adore women–that’s what real men do.

Our only teachers and role models for our young men cannot be, you know, videos, and, the hip hop community.

The hip hop community is not at fault here–I’m definitely not blaming them. But, that can’t be the only view of manhood for our young men. Because, if you think “sagging,” and, how many women you’ve got, and how big a chain you’ve got, and how much dope you’re slangin’, and how much money you’ve got in your pocket makes you a “man,” then you’re sadly mistaken. You’re going to be a misguided soul your entire life. And so the mentoring program is to teach young boys the principles of manhood.

FC: You’re in a business where ratings, or how many advertisers you bring in, how much money you generate for the station or the channel, etc.–that’s really what’s predominately in the minds of many of our entertainers. You are an exception, I would say, because you use comedy but you weave in truth with the comedy in the tradition of like a Dick Gregory, or some of the others who make you laugh and think by injecting social commentary into the routine. How have you been able to maintain your integrity while working and operating in such an industry?

SH: Well, basically because I’ve lost my fear of man, and what man can do. See, man didn’t put me in this place. I’m in this position because of God. And so, if man didn’t put me in this place, I really don’t see no man that can take me out of here.

I think that once you lose your fear, and understand that your position is God-given, then, if you lose your fear of what man can do, it enables you to do some things that God wants you to do. I mean, you know–at one point in time, you’ve just got to be a brave soldier, and speak up. What are you scared of, you know? So many of our entertainers have that fear because we’re afraid of opposition.

Now, there are some–I talked to Minister Farrakhan many times about this subject–there is our reality that we have to deal with on an ongoing basis because we have to exist in order for certain things to get done. So, you have to pick your places to “step up” and you have you pick your spots. If you’re just going to run out there, and, just be what/who you want to be, then you won’t be that long. But, you know, through a lot of conversations with the Minister, just pick your spots, you know? You’ve got to know when to say something. But if you are forever going to be afraid to say anything, then you become irrelevant–as a force. I mean, so the God-given gift that you got, you’re not a relevant player in the game–you’re just a dude whose got money, got a big house and some cars.

FC: Was it always like that for you, or did you have to build up a sufficient reputation in the business, a certain level of drawing power?

SH: Well, I’ve always been this way. My father taught this to me. See, here’s the thing, man, you have to understand; the thing about having money: Money and fame don’t change you, all it does is allow you to be more of who you are anyway. If you ain’t nothing when you get money and fame, you’re just going to be more nothing. If you don’t stand for nothing, when you get money and fame, you ain’t suddenly fin to stand for nothing! You’re just fin to be richer and more famous–standing for nothing! If you’re a generous person, when you get money and fame, you’re going to be more generous. If you’re a sharer, you’re going to be more sharing. If you’re a coward, you’re just going to be a bigger coward. That’s all money and fame does. So, a lot of times we expect people who get money and fame to suddenly become this “role model” or this “icon.” That ain’t how it works, man. Money and fame–all it does it just allows you to be more of who you really are.

FC: Is there a responsibility to those who achieve a certain level of fame and notoriety to have more of a responsibility to those who idolize them?

SH: Yeah! Yeah! It’s supposed to be.

FC: So, those artists and entertainers, others who say, “I’m not a role model. I’m just a performer…”

SH: They can get up out of here with that! They are because anytime you’ve got young people emulating you, and wanting to be like you–ready or not. See, to whom much is given, much is required. You think that God positioned you here so you can just have it all to yourself? God blesses you to become a blessing. That’s the deal. Now, if you don’t want that on you, man, don’t worry. You won’t have it long. Please know: You will not have this long. So, it’s cool, you know? I mean, God does things for us because He trusts us; that when He gives it to us, that we will do the right thing. We’ll open up our eyes and see the plan He has for us. If we’re not going to open up our eyes, don’t worry–you’re not going to have it long. You’re short-lived.

FC: That actually leads into my final question. How will you avoid what we see when many of our artists and entertainers who have different business interests, who do different things, and then ultimately end up penniless, with tax problems because of lack of management of finances and really no legacy to leave behind?

SH: Well, you know, man … you know, I’ve had my share of problems along the way. Don’t get me wrong, because there is no school for this. You go from a poor person to a rich person. My parents didn’t have no money; didn’t tell me nothing about investments. No–I didn’t have nobody in my family tell me how to [inaudible statement]. When I first got money, I went through it like everybody else, because I didn’t know. But, right now, I’ve educated myself and placed smart people around me. I surrounded myself with people who not only are intelligent and effective about finances, taxes, and money management, but they (also) love me.

And then, I don’t let nobody sign for my money. Me and my wife write our own checks. So, if there’s some money missing, we know how it got missing.

You can tell me anything you want to about investment, but you can’t move no money of mine, so I know where all of mine is. Now, if we ain’t got a lot, it’s our fault. But what you ain’t fin to do is gyp me. And then plus, I’m a old hoodlum, so I will jump on you if I have to.

FC: [Laughing]

SH: You probably won’t put that in The Final Call … I will jump on you if I have to, if necessary. You know, I will go back to what I used to be.

FC: Thank you.

(For more information on Steve Harvey’s manhood training camp visit www.steveharveyfoundation.com.)