Tuesday, March 17, 2009

To Sir With Love

A show of appreciation from some of my students....

This is why I went for the letters. To build young minds, and even save lives whenever opportunity knocks. Convincing a street kid to choose college over quick money and earlier pregnancy is not a simple task. Not when marginalized youth see education as indoctrination. The trick is in proving to them that even if the educator himself is also marginalized for thinking out the box, it's worth the effort when the goal is to establish a career for yourself while still keeping your ethnic swag and hood membership. So receiving a plaque for mission accomplished is a sign that I must be doing something right!

I was recently asked by a blog policeman if I was worried about potential gigs and book sales falling low because of my non-traditional views. He seemed especially concerned about my essay, 25 Things Black People Don't Wanna Hear, suggesting that I consider not be so unapologetically direct and honest. I enjoy a good debate, but I can recognize fear and denial when they peer through even the best of intentions. Had I been Stanley Crouch, I would have pulled out my literary machine gun and punched holes in his concern, no doubt causing him to limp back to the factory that feeds his anxieties and wondering what happened? But education is not humiliation, so I chose instead to do a re-cap for the sake of possibly saving yet another life--

When I say we think street culture is Black culture, I'm referring to the infiltration of an already fragile community by gangsta mentality. When I suggest we wear wigs and weaves because we despise what natural hair represents, I'm merely asking the question, Where does freedom of choice ends and self-degradation begins? By pointing out that we tend to dehumanize our gay brothas and sistas--especially our effeminate gay males--by treating them as easy targets for comedy hour, I'm challenging us to think more critically about human sexuality and school bullying. When I push for open dialogue about internalized racism, and how religion hijacks people's minds, I'm trying to shed light on the difference between spirituality and dictatorship. By bringing up depression, it's my way of admitting we have relationship issues, and post slavey psychosis. When I use the term racismo, I'm calling on my hermanos to keep it real about the racism at their family table. And by putting R Kelly in it I'm simply asking the question, Who's sick? The one who exploits an already sad situation or the one who wants her or his union recognized legally, so their home and bank account are protected?

Fear and denial are merely symptoms of arrested development. When you define yourself on your own terms, you live a life free of doubt and worry because you know that Spirit has placed you where you're needed most, that your blessings come natually when you're living out your divine purpose, and therefore chasing the approval of others becomes an indication that you don't mind going against your personal mission--if you have a personal mission--that you bought into the belief that success is determined by how well you run the gerbil wheel.

When you get to that place of peace and harmony with your self, you really can't help telling it like it is. Your passion for the overall development of the under-represented and often times blatantly ignored tells the story of a pacesetter, whether recognized or not, who's not interested in editing his words and movement for the sake of appeasing to already questionable standards. It's this kind of revelation that has a direct affect on the way we lead, supervise, teach, counsel and advise.

What I'm interested in is connecting with other educators and healers who aren't stagnant in their approach to the overall development of Black and Brown youth. Out of the ordinary individuals who don't subscribe to safe formulas that are ultimately designed to avoid reality. I'm looking for leaders who have the power and the resources, and even more important, the kind of imagination it takes to create real change in the educating and de-socializing of those whose options are limited; directors who define staff development as working on their personal selves for the sake of providing more effective services to their students and not merely buying new office furniture; a PhD who wants to start an alternative school, or a youth center that's willing to address issues that the grown ups aren't prepared to deal with; a principal whose hands aren't handcuffed by bureaucracy or prejudice, who sees value in bringing in books that both educate and motivate our youth in a manner that empowers them personally, so that academia makes sense to them; teachers who are more about inspiring than showing who's in control; guidance counselors who are keeping up with the times; group homes and detention centers whose supervisors know that sometimes it's best to think out the box; and c.o.'s who are willing to take the time to drop some wisdom in a cage and hope it rattles. Otherwise, it's just more recycling. You feel me?

So I'm going to say this once. Pay attention, because you just might miss it if you let the slightest stir of distress cause you to look away...Ready?...You sure, now?...Alright, here it goes...

I don't do gerbil wheels!!!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Writer, Jason Trask Turns 55!

My good Scots buddy and writing comrade, Jason Trask. We tought English and general life skills at Rikers Island prison years back when our receding hairlines were just beginning to tell on us!

Jason turned 55 this week. An event worth mentioning, not only because he's fam but because it's important that we celebrate the many milestones in our lives...J proved his brotherhood to me when we were at a favorite deli of his in pre-gentrification Williamsburg, NYC. He'd bragged about the place so much that I decided to check it out with him one day after having both saved a few young lives. When we got to the deli I decided to look around, amazed at all the variety of imported foods. The owner didn't know I was with one of her regulars and proceeded to give me the sly; the typical undercover racial stuff that Black and Brown folk have to put up with every day. To get to the point, Jason caught it and not only called her out on it but made the decision to stop supporting her establishment.

This is what friendship looks and feels like. This is also what a White ally does to do their part in rejecting race-ism:

Acknowledge the race-ism

Call out the person on it

Admit that Whites benefit from White privilege

Talk about race-ism openly and honestly, without making excuses for it

Be aware of the shame of it, but don't be consumed by guilt. Just take action!

Learn from the children, since they're more interested in forward movement

Bring up Timothy McVeigh and ask why we're only profiling men of color for possible terrorism

Stop avoiding, and prove to our Attorney General that America is NOT a nation of cowards

Live in reality-- It ain't all about you...anymore!

Just like it took forward-thinking Whites to help put Obama in Office, it's gonna take those same Whites to help us become a post-racial society for real. If your own White allies don't do any of the above, then they're not your allies nor true friends. Just cleverly disguised racists who are into decorating. That is, they want to be able to tell people, Look at me. I'm hip 'cause I'm having lunch with a Black person! That's not taking action. Telling a relative, co-worker, friend, or spouse that you're not putting up with their sickness--because race-ism is a dis-ease--is.

If you'd like to see some of Jason's own writing, checkout John Jay College of Criminal Justice's literary journal called J Journal (Vol.1, Spring 2008), ironically enough. He wrote a piece called New Plantation, referring to his first day working with incarcerated youth. Here's a sample--

"...My first impression of the guards was that they all had this look of absolute boredom. It didn't look genuine somehow. It just went with the uniform. It was like they feared that if they looked anything but bored, people would think there were new. The look said, "I've seen everything. Don't even try to surprise me."...I parked in one of the incredibly huge parking lots and followed other pedestrians toward an uncertain destination. Huge chain link fences with razor wire lining the top were the stand-in for vegetation...After the door had shut completely, another door opened on the other side, and now I was at the intersection of several huge corridors, each a tunnel with lines converging into a vanishing point. But the thing I couldn't get over was the smell. This was a smell that seemed familiar, yet I didn't remember having smelled it before. It would take me a year to realize what it was. It was the smell of human barn...All of them were smoking except one who had a cigarette behind his ear. He stopped sweeping now and pulled it out and lit it. He flasshed a gold tooth in my direction with a smile that managed to be both shy and wicked. He took a deep drag on his cigarette then opened his mouth and drew his head back as he pushed out the smoke with his tongue, sculpting a perfect ball that hung there magically...At the time, it felt like he had created a hole for the white man and I had fallen into it...

Herds of inmates lined the walls. They just stood there waiting quietly with a bored looking Corrections Officer beside them smoking and telling them not to smoke. As we passed one group, an inmate started looking back at me and laughing and saying in white-manese, "Well, golly-gee; if it isn't a representative of the Caucasian persuasion coming to watch the negroes work the fields." And then in his own voice he shouted to me, "Welcome to the new plantation, Mister."..."

Happy Birthday, man. And here's to another 55!!!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Excerpt from Before You Fly Off - Volume 2

I know. What's up with that sequel to that teen book? I'm typing as fast as I can! But here's a peek at one of the chapters. This one on what I call The Race Game. My take on how race-ism works and how our youth can find ways to not only cope but overcome--

It’s not that you don’t already know this, because you felt it in your spirit the day you first learned how it feels to be treated second class. We were at a playground. You were maybe six or seven. A charming White boy around the same age stepped to you and asked, Why’s your hair like that? (You had a cute twist hairstyle back then). It was an innocent question, yet it was obvious how at such a young age he had already decided that your look was odd, that you were odd and that his look was the standard to aspire to. This is how subtle and yet so damaging race-ism can be. Because when we got back home, you asked your mother to take the twists out your hair.

Take the emotion out and you learn how to master The Race Game. This way you don’t internalize. That means someone calling you ugly so much that you start believing it. It’s a very dangerous game because it can make a whole group of people stop believing in themselves. So it’s important to me that my daughter (and young people, in general) has a clear understanding of not only how to cope with racist ways but how race-ism works. When you flip the script to find the real script, you see the purpose behind the hype. You know to keep your head high because the attempt to attack your grace can only backfire, so that instead of re-acting you look at the sickness of it. And it really is a sickness or a type of virus when you look at it as something that’s been passed on to the person, most likely from another who had it, and maybe from the one before, until somebody decides to find a cure.

There’re different types of racists. Some who take their meds, some who sometimes, some who can’t because of where they live or who they live under, some who’re thinking about taking meds, and some who just plain won’t because they don’t want change. Those aren’t the ones you need to watch, because they’re already showing you where they’re coming from. Watch out for the ones who don’t even know they need meds. A good way of protecting yourself is to remind them that they benefit from White privilege. If they’re real; if they’re willing to make history, they’ll admit it and make the decision to put in a prescription!!!...