Pendarvis Harshaw started gathering advice from older black men at a young age. Raised by a single mother, when he needed instruction on everything from tying a tie to navigating the streets of Oakland, he looked to the men in his community.
“Not having my father in the house definitely influenced me to seek wisdom from elders,” he said.
Eventually Harshaw's childhood habit of collecting this advice in a notebook grew into an online photo-essay project called “OG Told Me,” for which he interviewed more than 50 black men.
He’ll be discussing this project and his recently published memoir, also called “OG Told Me,” onstage with comedian W. Kamau Bell at the New Parish on June 15 during a live presentation of the KALW-FM talk show, “Kamau Right Now!”
In several chapters, young Pendarvis benefits from advice that keeps him out of serious trouble—or worse. For example, after getting robbed at gunpoint in West Oakland, Harshaw and his friends’ first instinct was to seek revenge.
When they contacted an OG for backup, he wisely suggested that they drop it; losing a few bucks isn’t worth escalating a feud that could land them in body bags.
Learning how to deal with violence was a necessary skill while growing up in the East Bay, said Harshaw. Simply avoiding conflict was not an option. “I needed to have understanding, so that I wasn’t living in fear,” he told Hoodline.
Although he’s just 30, Harshaw has more than enough material for an autobiography. His jobs have ranged from working in a taco truck to selling weed to journalism. He officially launched the “OG Told Me” project while he was teaching an African-American male achievement class at Oakland Technical High School.
His goal was to create something that his students would actually connect with, so he gathered what he calls “philosophical nuggets” from local elders that would be easy to remember and share.
There’s one question that he asked in every interview: “If you had the ear of the youth and could give them any wisdom based on your life experiences, what would you tell them?”
Although some of the responses were predictable (“Go to church and love your mother”), the advice shared ranges from funny to inspirational. One of Harshaw's favorite tips came from the community leader Baba Arnold Perkins and began with the question: “How does a chicken get out of the egg?”
The answer: “By pecking with persistence and consistency. Sometimes it pecks slow, sometimes fast, but it doesn’t stop because it knows it’s got to get out of that egg to survive.”
Harshaw said the metaphorical eggshell that he had to break through was self-doubt. Judging by the enthusiastic response to his book, which generated a glowing profile in the Los Angeles Times, that particular eggshell has been shattered.
Pendarvis Harshaw will be live onstage with W. Kamau Bell, actress/playwright Sarah Jones, poet/novelist/activist Aya de Leon and radio producer extraordinaire Sam Greenspan on Thursday, June 15 at The New Parish, 1743 San Pablo Ave, Oakland. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased here.
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