Saturday, September 20, 2008

P.S. Intermediate School Purchases K Books!!!

NYC's Intermediate School 50 ordered 25 copies of my first book, Before You Fly Off, thanks to Assistant Principal, Dr. Mable Elliot who wanted to offer her most outstanding graduating students a book they not only could relate to but also inspire them as they enter their teen years.

When I first started pitching my book to schools, Black teachers and guidance counselors were immediately impressed with how it promoted classroom management and critical thinking. Their principals and directors, however, handcuffed by curriculum policies that perpetuate the miseducation and warehousing of Black and Brown children, felt obligated to ignore even the success stories of those students and their parents who benefited from reading Before You Fly Off. I've met some Black teens who've asked why my book isn't offered right along with the standards which they feel do not address the everyday struggles of Black girls in the hood; that they would attend classes more if their schools provided books that empowered them, as opposed to training them to glorify dead folks who don't look like them!

I taught high school in New York City before, and I stayed within the alternative education format because it was the only division that allowed me and other alternative ed. educators to step out of the formula-based approach and reach our teens in a way they needed to be reached. That is, not to be talked down to and bombarded with texts and lesson plans that only end up increasing truancy. I even had a shot at principalship but turned it down once I saw how limiting a school official's authorities are, especially when it comes to the education of Black teenagers.

This is all to say how thankful I am for Dr. Elliot's effort to see beyond the bureaucratic barbwires for the sake of saving lives; young Black females' lives. At the same time, I'd be remiss not to mention that the Research Foundation of the City of New York had ordered 200 copies of my book for their own alternative education program soon after my book's publication. A remarkable event in itself for any first time author!!! It's a glance at a possible trend that could very well transcend policies in the name of re-evaluating the concept of educating inner city teens and pre-teens, to the point where academic success is not only judged by standardized tests but also by how well one survives a war zone.

So once again thank you, Dr. Elliot; and thank you, Children's Aid Society for the kind support. It is greatly appeciated!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Why All Community Colleges Need a Male Center?

Why All Community Colleges Need a Male Center is like asking why we need to develop university retention programs for male students. The answer is obvious— because we are in an academic and community crisis. With alarmingly low numbers of entering college male students nationally, specifically males of African descent, it would only make sense for university administrators to have a more proactive approach towards the recruitment and retention of marginalized populations. Without an established on-site setting for them to turn to for resources and guidance, their challenges are not only ignored but we take the risk of encouraging them to find less productive ways to cope, including illegal activities for those whose vision of academia and of themselves is even more limited. We who have been fortunate enough to receive one or more academic nods seem somewhat detached from these young men and their everyday struggles, concluding that they are either unprepared scholastically or crime-driven, and therefore inappropriate. Yet we forget why community colleges were created, in the first place which was to assist local and low-income students in pursuing a college degree and, as a result, be in a position to later compete in the market world.

Life In and Out of the Bubble
Even after being fortunate enough to be given the financial opportunity to attend college, there are a myriad of challenges that the African American college male student faces on a daily basis. While the college campus provides him with the necessary academic resources he needs in order to fulfill his major requirements, conflicts outside of what I call the bubble—the protective shield of campus life—are a constant threat to his academic success. There is a kind of dual identity that he quickly learns to adopt, as he trains himself to succeed in the classroom while still adhering to street codes that often times directly oppose taking scholarly endeavors seriously. And so the dilemma for the urban Black male commuting college student, then, is how to keep the Hip Hop in his game while still making the grade? or How to negate the perception that college is a White thing or simply easier for Black females to maneuver? Without intervention, whether be it conscientious parents, mentoring or a course specifically designed for first year students, our sons find it easier to live outside of the bubble rather than in it; and this is where the male center can be an ideal place for them to turn to when they’re bombarded with so many messages that tell them they do not belong in the classroom. Messages that even we as policy makers and instructors are guilty of sending them, whether we realize this or not, which only add to their demise. Policies and course outlines that do not take into consideration their raw talents and original ways of applying themselves to the very tasks we throw at them. We push, instead, for conformity and formulas that work for everyone else but them.

Specific Challenges
While most college students struggle with developing good note-taking and test-taking skills, finding part-time jobs and dealing with relationship issues, Black male students in urban settings face the following specific challenges:

Lack of culturally-sensitive professors and conservative Black professors who have become indifferent towards them

Getting messages that tell them something is wrong with who they are and how they look, as opposed to celebrating them while offering valuable guidance and alternatives

Conflicted with fast illegal money they can make off campus and the rich education they can benefit from later, and the realities that cause them to take risks

Counselors who have not updated their approach to counseling inner-city males, in particular

Factory-like advisement to make up for high student numbers and understaffing

More receptive to life skills instruction than textbook format; feelings of intimidation

Earlier low expectations in public school and, as a result, coming into the college setting virtually unprepared and uninformed about general college know-how

Pressures of being a first time college student in their family and not having role models to help them navigate

Academic probation and outside forces that have a direct affect on their grade point average; not having sufficient documentation to support their appeal for reinstatement

Possible criminal record and how that also adds to feelings of intimidation and low self-esteem; financial aid restrictions on ex-convicts

Undiagnosed depression; perceptions of the angry, violent Black male; no or not enough outlets to address their frustrations

No or not enough programs/courses addressing prejudice against dark-skinned males, especially and socio/historical conflicts between genders

Police harassment and brutality; discrimination, male bashing; feeling unwelcomed and not listened to; their own pains not taken seriously; always feeling one step away from incarceration

Unemployment, and the pressure to provide or to keep up with trends

Child care concerns; single fathers not being given the same serious attention

Fear of math and sciences

Difficulties with communicating on paper; being told earlier on that not following euro-centered standards of writing equals not knowing how to write

Not sure of how to choose a major, to begin with; not knowing the difference between a job and a career

No or not enough men’s studies to help them discover and develop healthier, more holistic definitions of male-hood

Defining leadership and success differently than academicians; having an innate distrust or resistance to the academic process stemmed from earlier teachings either from their communities or peer pressure

Feeling conflicted between peer pressure and assimilating into mainstream society

More Challenges
Having a limited view and definition of what Black is or can be

Giving up easily; not knowing that small failures often lead to academic success

Male identity concerns, as in being ‘cool’ vs. being looked at as a ‘nerd’

Sexual identity concerns and feelings of isolation; no or not enough programs addressing prejudice on and off campus

No or not enough exposure to Ivy League schools and international student travel programs; preference tends to be for students with higher gpa’s which in turn supports prejudices against those with lower gpa’s

No or not enough exposure to living, reachable heroes; many of them assume heroes are dead figures in history books

No or not enough programs addressing what they need (coping) vs. what we think they should need (assimilation)

Our definition for good critical thinking skills (researching, reviewing, debating) vs. their definition (creating, juggling, marketing)

Emphasis on partying; being a sexual man, as opposed to learning how to become a social man

Emphasis on hyper-masculinity; adopting prison lingo and war zone gear as a form of survival and definition of power and manhood

Health factors (HIV/STD’s, high blood pressure, weight problems, steroid use, promiscuity, premature fatherhood)

No fathers at home; no knowledge of father’s whereabouts; no introspective relationship with their fathers or older males

Fear of asking for help

The Ideal Male Center
After identifying the many factors that affect urban commuter Black male college students, an ideal format for a campus male center that would address these challenges are presented below as an overview—

The Center would provide assistance to both administrators and faculty regarding male leadership skills, retention and probation matters, freshman orientation, and mediation

The Center would assist the Counseling Center with intervention and prevention matters

The Center would play a direct role in male-based counseling

The Center would work along with the College’s Women’s Center, specifically with issues dealing with domestic abuse and conflict resolution, providing workshops that address real life dramas that tend to affect students’ grades

The Center would provide information on job leads and support the College’s Career Services in terms of dress codes and general interviewing skills

The Center would offer male mentoring

The Center would support community service

The Center would promote campus and university men’s studies and seminars

The Center would work closely with faculty members who have a strong interest and appreciation for under-represented, marginalized male students

The Center would sponsor poetry open mic nights to provide outlet for frustrated and disenfranchised males

The Center would provide information on all-male colleges, and vocational programs for students who have opted not to pursue a college degree

The Center would work closely with the College’s nurse for students who are to shy to discuss their sexually transmitted diseases

The Center would be the College’s hub for male anger management and/or referrals to off-campus programs

The Center would address relationship struggles and provide how to workshops by male facilitators who have proven to be effective not by administration, but by the students themselves

The Center would be a place of non-judgment in its effort and obligation to reach all male students, including homosexual, bisexual or what we are now calling in more colloquial terms ‘DL’, as in down low (males who have sex with other males, yet still identify themselves as heterosexual)

The Center would identify potential violent students suffering from depression or mental disorder to Counseling staff

The Center would serve as mediator in matters involving classroom or campus-wide violence

The Center would assist campus security and the counseling staff in identifying problematic but not necessarily violent male students, not as a way of encouraging negative profiling or even dismissal, but to link them with staff or faculty members who would be willing to mentor them

The Center would be linked with male centers from other university campus’, including Medgar Evers College’s Male Empowerment Program and Lehman College’s Male Center for Leadership

The Center would play a major, if not a leading role in our effort to fulfill a campus Black Male Initiative program

(June 2007)

Book Release - The Dredlocks Tree

My second book.

This time my poetry. Some ninety and change pieces that I mostly kept in my garage.

Open mics /
booksignings coming up in October and November but in the meantime, here are two excerpts--

Black man scared

White people don’t bother me
Black folks do
What with our tendency
To cling to dirty laundry
And post-slavery psychosis
We’ll sell videos of a pop star peeing on a minor
Rather than questioning
What makes that singer pop, in the first place?
It’s a wonder how we survive
All the atrocities we define ourselves by
When it’s the refusal to choose brotha over nigga
That helps gentrification lose its shock appeal
It’s simply not enough to use economics
As a reason to stay behind in the runnings
Not when sisterhood and masculinity
Are based on questionable pride
You pull at one end while I pull right back
And we do this dance of take and take
Until neither of us remembers their spirit
Preferring to answer to cattle calls
Rather than naming the cattle for what it is—
The worse kind of confinement
Where we hate ourselves so much
That we mistake rape for culture
And platnum wigs for status
Like climbing a dredlocks tree
But calling it shrub.

For us

In this place
This sacred place
We held so dear to our hearts
And in our collective consciousness
This bothered ground we called our home;
Our reason to fight and fight again
All in the name of Pan African salvation
We stand in truth
Having resolved our struggle with the pale one
And with one another
To now simply be
Each of us
Doing what we were called to do
As dedication to the promise
Those before us had made
Before relinquishing their very last breaths
To aborted uprisings and public castrations

In this here place
With our hands clutched together
Bowing our heads
As we call upon those who await us
For the renewal of our plight
We so lovingly give homage to
This borrowed soil
On which we’ve chosen
As our point of reference
Without division of any kind
But with the conviction of one force
One people
One objective
In the name of spiritual egression

It is at this moment
That we make the decision
To return to our most basic of rituals
As in before captivity and social buffoonery
To look on and ahead
Without the meaning of ‘I’

That this day
We begin at the end
At the beginning again
Our heels fixed firmly
In our agreement to transition
Having learned from our past
Leaving behind the chains that once defined us
And lift our heads towards the All Knowing
To finally
Once and for all
After being forced to despise our own
As we sing the praise of justice and forever
Give the sign
Then disappear.

Photo of sunrise by Morisset

The Dredlocks Tree can also be purchased on-line at Feel free to leave a comment or request for orders and guest engagements

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

J Journal Reception

Reading of my poem, Tuesday. I was setting up the scene by telling the audience how for a new fish--first time inmate--the intake process is a shocking and degrading experience. In this case, male prison intake.

One of my readers asked if Tuesday is a love story, so I wanted to set the record straight-- It's about prison intake, AND a love story!!! Even the College Prez got a kick out of it!

Audience reaction to my comment...At a quick glance, the sista looks like she's having a No, he didn't!!! moment.

Me and John Jay College Prez, Jeremy Travis who not only had enough vision to push J Journal, but even turned his office corridor into a faculty art gallery! I always say, supervising and directing has less to do with delegation and more to do with inspiration, motivation and support.

J Journal editors, Jeffrey Heiman (far left) and Adam Berlin (right).

Two very excited readers and one thankful writer!

Group pic-- The attending writers of the very fist issue of J Journal, with editors and College Prez

Photos by Morisset (Who else?!)

J Journal Launch

John Jay College of Criminal Justice's President Jeremy Travis invites you to celebrate the launch of J Journal on Wednesday, September 17th at 5p. This is the College's very first literary journal on crime and I'll be reading Tuesday, a piece I wrote about the quick and cold reality of male prison intake back when I taught writing to Rikers Island inmates. I'll also be reading The New Plantation, a piece my good friend Jason Trask wrote on the complicated, sometimes humorous process of educating young Black and Brown inmates. Jason unfortunately won't be able to attend but I'm honored to read what I believe is his best work yet!

John Jay is located at 899 Tenth Avenue and 59th Street. RSVP:

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Who Else is Gonna Call You Nigga but Another Nigga?...

I love a great quote. Like the one above by Whoppie Goldberg. Some sayings just make you laugh at life's contradictions. I like the ones that take you straight to your truth, and ours!--
"What Bill Cosby did was what too few people in our community do. He set a very high standard."-- Charles Barkley, Athlete and Commentator

"The most gangsta thing you can do is be yourself!"-- Lupe Fiasco, Muslim Rapper

"Fear is everything, and nothing!"-- Herb Billings, Marketing Agent

"The truth comes to me. The truth loves me."-- Sylvia Plath, Poet

"I was living a lie. This person, this illusion I created. It wasn't me. It was what people expected me to be. So I had to do some dying in order to start really being who I am. Everyone has the right to be who they are."-- Lauryn Hill, Social Activist

"The chief cause of failure and unhappiness is trading what we want most for what we want at the moment."-- Henry Ford, Founder of American Ford Company

"It may not be your fault that you're down, but it's your responsibility to get back up!"-- Rev. Al Sharpton, Social Activist

"If I can't be myself, I'm already dead!"-- My daughter, Chanou at 19

"They don't see it because they don't have it."-- Michelle Scarlet, Community Activist

"If your laundry is dirty, why would you want to keep it dirty?"-- Bill Cosby, Actor

"You direct yourself, and you are directed. Our greatest spiritual truth is that we are one with our Creator."-- Carol Adrienne, Numerologist

"We have become so addicted to struggling, when the way is
easy we are suspicious, and we do not want it."-- Iyanla Vanzant,
Spiritual Advisor

"The public school system is not about educating Black
children. Never has been. Inner-city schools are about social
control. They're operated as holding pens-- miniature jails, really. It's only when Black children start breaking out of their pens and
bothering White people that society even pays any attention to
the issue of whether or not these children are being educated."-- Barack Obama, President

"It's not all about you, but it's all for you."-- John Love, Jr., Actor

"Be the change you're looking for."-- Ocean Morisset, Photographer

"Grandma, he didn't have kidney problems, baby. He died of AIDS.
Because you were so ashamed of it, everyone else was ashamed
of it."-- Mo'Nique, Comedian

"We underestimate how we are still damaged by slavery...I
wouldn't want reparations. I'd want free psychological services
for every Black person
in America..."-- Marita Golden, Writer

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Hurricane Bush

I try not to turn my blog into a Michael Moore thing because I really did intend to keep it purely literary and visual, but not necessarily political. But being a Black man in America is indeed a political reality, isn't it? Like the time I brought up Shawn Bell and our on-going African holocaust. A nudge from Shango to say a few words about a crisis, a warning, a washing of sorts, whatever it is that makes us one in the struggle for justice. In this case, the victims of hurricane Katrina, and how this time around the powers that be were given an opportunity to redeem themselves by showing an elaborate display of community advocacy in the face of potential new victims from yet another blow. Yet as outstanding as the efforts of these officials were; as brilliantly organized as the evacuations turned out, and as amazingly as the federal, state and local reps worked together, I can't help still feeling the same anger towards them as we all did three years ago when poor people--poor Black people, especially--were left to fend for themselves.

Remember my question, why we're profiling men of color when it was a White male (Timothy McVeigh) who was the original terrorist back in '95? Well here's another question-- If the federal, state and local suits were able to come thru this time, why didn't they come through in the first place?....