Each of us starts as young boy. Someone has to be there for each of us to become a man. Are you there for the young boys in your life?

My grandfather wasn’t exactly the most-intellectual person I’ve ever met. Nor was he the type to sit a person down to teach any lessons. He did, however, teach me how to ride a two-wheeler, mix and pour concrete, fry an egg over easy and use a soldering iron. He also taught me to tie a tie four-in-hand (I use Windsor knots these days) and how to shave (badly, as it turns out). Those were among the things he explicitly taught me while growing up.

Then there were the lessons I learned from him that he only showed. Lessons I carry with me to this day.

I saw him read a newspaper every day and watch Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather every night. I also saw him leave home every morning at 4:30 a.m. to work in the kitchens of the Hilton Inn at which he worked for almost 40 years. I watched him treat every stranger with kindness, greet every neighbor with a smile. I observed him experimenting, trying out new things, challenging himself to do new things. And I saw him drive my mother to the hospital when she needed surgery, drive two of my cousins to the emergency room when they suffered asthma and watched him visit my grandmother at the nursing home where she stayed during her final days.

From watching him, I learned the value of reading, learning about the world, working hard (and smart) every day, the Golden Rule, challenging oneself to do better, and be dutiful and caring to the ones you love. That life isn’t always about you and your desires; you should leave something behind that makes the lives of those around you better.

I can say proudly that my grandfather helped forge the person I am today. A lot of black men cannot say the same. It shouldn’t be that way. And it’s the duty of each of us to be the iron that forges the iron of youth.

Listen to Sunday’s Dropout Nation Podcast and learn how you can make the lives of young black men (and all young men) better.