Thursday, June 25, 2009
Though Vol. 1 did and continues to do well, its cover design was just ok. But hey, I was just starting this author thing and at the time I didn't even know what a palm card was!!! But then Morisset came to the rescue. He took the lovely Tania, one of my students who is now on her way to Brooklyn College (congrats again!), and me by water and told us to just talk as we usually do. I ended up being more nervous than her because I'm better behind the cam than in front of it. But our photo man still managed to do his magic and this time around I got what the kids would call a bangin' cover!!! And wait 'til you see the back cover, but that's for later. This is just a sneakpeak at the process. I'm looking at a July release in time for school purchases, while the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival has already given me a kind nod. Thanks again, Morisset. You're the best!
Friday, June 12, 2009
And remember when dumb wasn't cool? It was the days when Pan-African pride was not only a sign of the times, but just plain good mental health.
You'd walk the 125th Street strip in Harlem and see all the red, black and green; and if that weren't enough to quench your natural thirst you had the mart where there were rented booths that looked more like typical enclaves you would find at any West African market. There was a consciousness back then that pushed for Black solidarity left over from the 70s, innocent of our preoccupation with bling and fluff that was soon to come. We'd say words like peace, my brotha and blessings, my sista, and meant it. It was an exciting period because Malcolm's bright smile and Assata's legendary words--If I hate all Black people, it still won't stop the revolution!--were still cruising the air, while a young music promoter named Sean Combs was just beginning to make a name for himself on The City College campus. Crack, AIDS and gangsta mindset hadn't made their impact on our hoods yet, so Black and Brown children were still smiling. It was a time when Hip Hop was the alternative to Reaganomics--all about self--and not an accomplice, while Run, Jesse, Run! was the latest craze.
But something happened along the way. Black folks began losing their cufis and nat'rals for look-at-me watches and diva wigs. Wearing locks became more of a fashion statement than a politcal one. Greed was now in vogue, followed by Rappers who had plenty to show but nothing to say. Misogyny, too, was making its mark, so much that my six-year-old daughter was banned from watching BET videos. It was a delicate time to be a socially-conscious father, especially when consciousness appeared to be dying. By the time she hit her teen years, the general formula for music videos was flash, cash and half-naked bunnies. Words like cufi, kente, shells, frankincense, and Arrested Development were now taboo. The new cool was flash, ice, weaves, and arrested development! You'd hear young Black males say they were keepin' it real, while Chris Rock's translation was keepin' it real dumb! It placed him on the map for being the Stanley Crouch of comedy. But folks in da hood only got the joke but not the message. They didn't realize he was sounding off the alarm to put the word out that we need to think more critically about ourselves, that our image as a people was in question. In other words, Black America was at a new crossroads. Not just economically and culturally, but fundamentally a war had begun between Blacks and niggaz. Much like the war between gays and queers, but with the added burden of post-slavery psychosis. Because brothas were now dogs; sistas, ho's and a shiny belt buckle was becoming more important than getting a decent gpa. Then Lauryn Hill tried to smack us back into reality by dropping her mic and announcing, I'm done! But ignorance was far too bliss by that time, so we responded by labelling her crazy when all she was trying to do was school us from another angle. Still, dumb got more publicity so she disappeared into reclusion and let Wyclef carry the Fugee banner by himself.
On Saturday mornings I watch the war reach as far as Nigeria when The Africa Channel and BET Africa compete for attention. One pushes culture and ethnic pride while the other pushes the bunnies. It's a contradiction that can confuse your brain cells, if not your sense of Black solidarity. Like seeing a tribe member wear an Obama T-shirt while carrying on like a clown. Makes you wonder where some of us are getting their sustenance. But then it's these same types of contradictions that are being pushed-- dog, pimp, bitch, crib. All of which degrade us as a people yet we defend the right to self-destruct. So while Chuck D back in the days was droppin' knowledge to open up our eyes and minds, now the public enemy was in the mirror, whether we were ready to admit it or not. Some will tell you that calling each other in demeaning ways is merely a form of endearment. But if you take a minute to reflect on that; if you have any African left in you, you can see the psychosis for yourself. Problem is many of us are either too stubborn or too lazy to change our vocab. It's gotten to the point where it's much easier to say nigga than brotha. And walking with a pit bull is still the best crutch to walk with when you don't know who you are, or maybe even afraid to find out.
I was working in a prison when all this was brewing. At the time, getting locked up was still an embarrassment. It wasn't yet a rite of passage for many young Black males, and the police and court officials who exploited the ills. Some blame the prison system for originating sick trends, including young kats wearing their pants low because of the no belt policy behind bars. But in all my years of helping incarcerated brothas reinvent themselves I've never once seen one with his pants so low that it required him to walk like a toddler. Yet today you see young kats--and sadly enough, older ones too-- doin' the toddler so as not to trip and fall, and people don't even flinch over it. They'll give me a fearful, maybe even a disgusted stare whenever I wear my cufi but they won't question self-debasement. It's as if they expect Black males to look dilapidated. And I'm not just talking White folks, I'm talking us. We've become so disentisized by our own demise that it doesn't even phase us when we see our sons looking so grub. As a matter of fact, grub is in, with retailers offering all sorts of shiny new stuff to add to our detriment.
But niggaz don't see it that way. They call it Not givin' a fuk! or keepin' it gangsta to give homage to those Rappers who can't even spell dilapidated, while the rest of the world decides our fate.
So guess what? The City of Dallas, TX has proposed a new ordinance against young men wearing their pants closer to their knees than their waist. Yep, you heard me. They want to make it a crime to look stupid, since we can't figure that sht out on our own! And Louisiana, Georgia and Connecticut are right behind (excuse the pun!). This bizness of waiting for others to do our critical thinking for us has been going on even before we thought jheri curls were cool. And this waiting for a messiah to encourage us to do the obvious has been going on since the first American slave auction. We've become experts in victim mentality but not in coming together, if only for the sake of unity. We don't like unity if it means letting go of dumb trends and picking up instead a book on serious self-reflecting or, God forbid, Black history. Not anymore. We don't listen to what Brotha Crouch keeps trying to tell us. Instead we make fun of his looks as a way of avoiding the work. But how do you avoid something that reveals itself on the faces of our youth and the questionable manner in which they carry themselves? How do you tell a kid that the most gangsta thing he can do is be himself, with so much pressure to stay dumb? What if his self is based on ignorance passed on from one misinformed generation to another, and that he needs trends to help him forget his pains? And what if I don't give a fuk simply means he doesn't expect to see 30?
The answers are hidden within the very thing we've lost respect for-- our old African ways. The same traditions that were ripped from our souls to control our minds. Like how we used to put Shango before paper, the loving way in which fathers would raise their sons, or how my grandmother would squat down to peel potatos. Simple, everyday things that have either become foreign to us or replaced by fast love and fast food. When we lost that, we lost our sons. Because it's not cash that will bring them back but the notion that, though it's nice to have paper, it's in knowing your glory lives in you and not outside of you that's the real money.
Every year a group of Afri-centered folk meet at the Coney Island beach to give honor to the ancestors and those who've recently transitioned. No bufoonery. No self-degradation. No dissension. Just beautiful Black people coming together as one for one sole purpose, and it ain't a Lil Wayne concert! This is the real cool. Our cool. Or do you still want to forget?
Photos by Ocean Morisset
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Harlem lost another angel...
Barbara J. Cochran helped so many of us keep our spirits up, including my students who saw her as the ultimate student activities enforcer. Lady B had a knack for telling it like it is without mincing her words, so if you were accustomed to mere formalities
you were in for a rude awakening! Truth is, those of us who earned Barbara's respect knew the softy behind the rough edges. She'd give you the world if it was in her power to do just so; and in speaking with folks who attended her wake--standing room only, by the way--or showed their respect in private like I did by lighting a white candle and sending her off in unition with the words of a reverand who'd never seen so many praisers fill up a funeral home, you would've thought that St. Nicholas Ave was letting Sugar Hill know that sweet popularity is not made of stone!
Each of us carries with them their own story to share sbout B. How they first met her, what they learned from her, how she turned their catastrophe into a minor setback that was soon resolved in a flash of a sec, followed by the usual words-- What else you need?
I first met Barbara when she was helping Streetsmarts--now a grassroots movement still spearheaded by my first son, Logic--organize a campus event. She was no nonsense yet gave us love because of our dedication to the Community. She had never seen an ordinary student club do extraordinary things like helping ex-convicts get into college and addressing the high number of students on academic probation, so needless to say we stood out from the crowd. But it became clear to me that the one who was making the most difference was the Lady herself. And after chipping away at that don't bring me no mess attitude 'til she couldn't stand it any longer, I finally got to see the doting mother in her, as she in turn got to know the street comedian behind my seriousness. From that point on, we had each other's backs. She got my frustration with Black on Black mess and I got why she chose to give CBS News an interview on cancer. I'm that much in love with my people, even when they dis me and she was that much of a champion to offer others who might benefit from her fortitude. The members of People In Action later gave B a plaque for inspiring such humility on and off campus; and, as a kind of award for our own efforts to make a difference, she said though she had received several awards before, ours was the first one that didn't have the word service insribed. We hadn't even considered that until she pointed it out to us. It was a peek at the possibility that perhaps one of Harlem's angels hadn't felt appreciated. But sometimes gratitude and recognition don't reveal themselves until the person's gone. Or what I prefer saying, transitions. Because we don't die, y'all. We simply move on to yet another level of awareness and form.
I'm not even gonna try to pass on to you the kind words I heard the speakers offer. Just know that Barbara leaves us three beautiful children to look after for her and a family that deserves our utmost respect for having given us such a loving, real and forgiving spirit. She was also daddy's little girl. It wouldn't be fair to either of them if I didn't mention this. They say when you move on, a friendly face is there to greet you. I'm betting dad and daughter are now smiling and hugging one another, and then looking at us saying, What else you need?
A special mention to Lady B's best friend too, Mary Gabrielle Lauture who's shown us what loyal friendship looks like. The two eventually made my office their home and I feel blessed to have also witnessed such a bond. I can only offer my sincere condolences to you, as well as to all others who may be missing B's laughter, colorful outfits, sharp mind and the ability to turn kool aid into Thanksgiving!
We will always love you, Barbara.
1/24/63 - 5/30/09
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
The Borough of Manhattan Community College's Learning Resource Center has added my book in their collection of literary works by CUNY faculty and staff, so kudos to them for supporting local talent!!!
And for those who are just now hearing about my book, Before You Fly Off is a youth and parent guide for inner-city African American female teens from a father's perspective.
Volume 2 of the book is scheduled for release this summer.