Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Remember the 80's?
Fashion was mad corny
Hair was either tower high
Or wet n greasy
But we were cool, innocent cool
Like not yet learning how to walk over crack vials cool

Rap was still an underground movement
So Tupac hadn't landed yet
Just schoolyard rhymes to add to the mix
Cos at the time
A rapperextraordinaire was merely accessory
Not like today when it's the other way around
And though hair weaves were making their mark
They hadn't yet learned to bend gracefully, effortlessly
Not like they do now

The synthesizer was our main form of transportation
Less you were from da hood
Where vinyl scratching
And putting base in your bebop was more the thing
But we loved it
And we loved him
Our complicated prince
The one who disrupted the color code
And taught us what a music video should look like

Still, they plucked him out for switching skin shades
While we looked the other way
Hip Hop had busted its way out from the cement tiles
And we were preoccupied with finding the right definition
Or what position to give the sistas
Some of them not waiting for permission to take the mic
Especially after Lady T had already squared the biz
No matter what complexion
Pretty much what he'd been saying all along--

Black or White
Man In the Mirror
You Are Not Alone
Heal the World...


No matter what the headlines say

And unforgetable
Not like the latest trends
Gone Too Soon...

Made you wish you could take his pains for him
Maybe leave him alone like he kept telling us to
Or see our own pains through an incredible yet fragile life
So sadly interrupted by suicide
(Asking a doctor to live with you so he can kill you softly
is another form of suicide)

But we need MJ to be more than a tragic star
Cos you can still find him in the dance moves of the up and coming
In the hopes of children who haven't yet lost their innocence
And on the minds of fans who miss the days
When we'd all--and I mean all--hurry home to watch his latest classic

Remember the Time...

No one else created such a fuss
No other sis is left to carry such a public burden
(Don't you go missing too!)

If we end up crashing just to start over again
He'll still be the one we protect the most.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Tiger To Your Feelings

You don’t have to look to the ocean
For answers that reveal the meaning of life
A river takes years before earning its name
Hold out before leaving for good

You don’t have to sit by an ocean
For me to understand exactly how you feel
To be so hard was never natural for me
There was a time when I was even more sensitive than you

Though most tigers can't change their stripes,
A man like me can learn to be naked
To punish us both is considered overkill
Hold out before leaving me for good

You don’t have to call out to the ocean
To take back your armor
A man like me can learn to play nice
Even when my own jungle becomes unfamiliar territory

Most of what you see is learned behavior
From other kats who haven't yet shed their fears
But a sudden turn of events can last a lifetime
Hold out before leaving for good

You don't have to die in an ocean
To prove how much passion you possess
A bridge needs strong currents before taking ground
And while sea angels are waiting to finally greet you,
Tigers are yours from the start.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

To Be Noticed (for Naomi Sims 1948-2009)

picking out her clothes

cos dark may be lovely
but not the thing
not for sistas
brothas maybe
since we still tell ourselves
that dark and male means sex and basketball

carrying a bucket
on her head
tryina balance herself
between a photographer's admiration
and what we tell her she's supposed to look like

just like my mama
but waits her turn
cos lightskin is fly
but over-exposed
just like the people who set the standards

made history
this time for dating her own shade
cos good hair is relative
depending on tribe
while modern day pioneers are the ones who embrace the mirror

Remember that rhyme we used to climb?
What was it again?...

White is bright
Brown stick around
Yellow is the color
Black get back!

and berry
looks silly
under a wig
But that's the price you pay
to be noticed.*

*From my next book, Throw.

Dear Dad (excerpt from new book)

Dear Dad,

I know we’ve never met, but I still imagine you being there for me the way I see other fathers being there for their daughters; makes me wonder how it would feel to be pushed on a swing, walked to school, carried on your shoulder or just be held so tightly like I matter. You see, I’m grown up now and my needs have changed from learning how to ride a tricycle to knowing how to drive. Yet I find myself still wishing you were around to help me understand myself and this crazy thing called life. And though you broke up with mom, I just wished you hadn’t broken up with me because it’s not easy for a girl in the hood to grow up without a dad. Boys step to you any ol’ way ‘cause they know you don’t have back-up; and grown men step to you too, many of them fathers themselves, and try to get you into their cars ‘cause they think you’re that desperate for affection. I see it happen every day. Even males in my family try to play me just ‘cause I’m female and nothing’s ever done about it. Seems like no matter how fowl a boy is, he gets away with stuff just ‘cause he’s male while a girl who brings in good grades and stays out of trouble is expected to cater to him. That’s what I mean by this crazy thing called life. There’re so many different sets of rules and I need to understand why. Like I don’t understand how a man can make a baby and never check to see if she’s okay. How does that work? Do you block it out of your mind like it didn’t happen? Help me understand. Whenever you see a dad and his daughter, do you think of me? Or do you wonder at what age she’ll be before she’s ready to date you?

I’m almost done with high school and plan on attending college, thanks to mom and all the troubles she went through to help me get this far without ever a single hand or dollar from you. I don’t know why exactly you and mom split up, and I guess grown-ups have the right to go their own way when they don’t get along anymore. But you could’ve at least tried seeing me, even if she was too angry with you to let you. You could’ve gone to family court and demanded your weekend visits. Kids of divorced and separated parents know the drill now. We’re smart enough to know that mothers can be very spiteful and fathers innocent. But to not even try ‘cause you just don’t want to be bothered with courts and child support? Help me understand.

I’m happy, though. Got lots of friends, and I’m the one most likely to succeed in whatever I put my mind to. ‘Cause not only am I a survivor, I’m a miracle! I wasn’t even supposed to be here, in case you didn’t know that I was born premature. But my grandmother told me that I was making such a fuss inside mom’s belly that the doctor said, ‘This child has important things to do and she’s not waiting any longer!’ And that’s how I got my name. If you even know my name.

Sometimes when I’m quiet and just looking out the window, I wonder what you might look like; if I got your ways, and if you’re somewhere by a window too wondering about me. But I’m not alone. Most of my friends either don’t get along with their dads or never even seen them, so how can I miss out on something so many others don’t have either? But it must be nice to just go about your bizness without a care in the world. Must be cool to go out on a date and never mention me. Must be peachy-king to go around chasing chics who’re old enough to be your daughter. Must be real nice!

Anywho—that’s how I like to say it, by the way. One of my little quirks. Like French fries and mayo, sitting by water, or writing poems. Am I your daughter?

But I’m doing fine without you, considering how challenging my early teens were. It wasn’t the growing pains so much or trying to figure boys out, but deciding who I’m supposed to be with so many different messages I was getting in music videos, at afterschool hangouts and in the school cafeteria. As much as mom tried to teach me the difference between a decent boy and a playa, your loud absence told me that even a good guy can play you. In a way, you did do your part in raising me. So I should thank you for helping me find my way on my own and learning that I’m much stronger than I thought; that the best thing I can do is keep my head up and make the ones who matter proud!

Not yet mailed

"This book was a joy to read and share with others...It should be seriously considered by persons conducting workshops, teaching courses, or providing counseling on [youth] development..."

-- Dr. Alvin Lee Keyes, Clinical Psychologist

Monday, August 3, 2009


In a time when Black athletes are treated as semi-gods and getting stupid money without being expected to have any kind of social consciousness, Dikembe Mutombo made the choice to open an all-star hospital in his native Congo, not only to save a village but his country. Just the kind of pride you'd expect a brotha with mad money right here in the States to show. Not to hold down the very same projects he came from but to create legit jobs, so more of his folk can get out of them. This is what giving back looks like. No handout, but a lookout; and not more exploitation of things already gone bad. You already know. Time to step up the game or pass the ball to someone who thinks in terms of us rather than I; we instead of me, if that's even in style anymore.

No, I'm no news reporter, though my words and images inform and if I'm fortunate enough, sometimes inspire. What I am is a responsible educator who understands the importance of young Black boys, especially, needing role models who have a strong sense of self and community.

So while we're taking polls on which athlete is hated the most or whether or not dog-fighting is cultural or just plain evil, lemme bring up Muhammad Ali who refused to enlist in the Vietnam War to go shoot at people he didn't have beef with. It cost him his championship belt but supersized his rep as a global hero and a proud, undisputable Black man. He didn't buy a ghetto mansion, twelve cars and crazy jewelry to prove his manhood. He simply stayed true to self in a manner that not only helped shape the icon he is today but also exemplified to the rest of us what Black manhood can look like, particularly when the images that are pushed the most are either demonic or show total buffoonery.

This is what we need. More Alis, more Mutombos, more Magic Johnsons who stand for the Black Collective; more principals like Steve Perry and Frank

Mickens (R.I.P.) who think out the box...

More rappers who choose to drop knowledge instead of their pants!

Whether we're re-acting to racism or tolerating misogyny in our music videos, we're still missing out on coming up with a healthier, more significant definition of what pride looks like or what Black manhood is supposed to be about.

Or how'bout I put it to you this way--

Fiction: All Black males are good in basketball
Fact: Most Black boys who want to be NBA stars will not be picked

Fiction: Flash and cash make you important
Fact: Acting like you matter, without using a crutch like an excuse or a pit bull, is part of being a man

Fiction: Black people don't love themselves
Fact: Mutombo's and Wyclef Jean's foundations are saving lives every day

Fiction: Blacks need money to become better students
Fact: All of Perry's low income high school students move on to college

Fiction: Progress means teaching Black kids to be better test-takers
Fact: Progess means testing Black kids on their natural know-how, rather than administering exams that don't take into account culture, income and social class

Fiction: Black children don't like school
Fact: Black parents don't get involved enough in their children's education

Fact: A typical Black kid can regurgitate an entire Rap verse filled with self-hate and woman-hate yet can still fail English
Fact: Mutombo speaks English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, five African languages, and never uses the N word!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

When the President Calls You Stupid...

I think it's safe to say that for Black and Brown males, racial profiling is somewhat of an initiation into full American citizenship. I got my badge of dishonor late. As a matter of fact, just last winter when a White New York City Port Authorities Officer stopped me for "looking like a hustler". It had just snowed the night before and I was wearing a winter jacket, my timbs and a ski hat. Things normal people wear in normal cold weather. But the idiot decided that that was criminal wear. You can read more about it in my essay, Put A Dent In It. But in the end, it was about a stupid police officer who couldn't accept that my friend's 20yrld son--a White kid--was in the care of a Black man. That came off strange, to him. And out of all the regid things I could've allowed in my head, justifyingly so, all I kept thinking about was White folks adopting colored children; wondering if another skin shade would've made a difference.

This refusal to apologize for stupidity is directly related to the art of denial, along with a public school curriculum that avoids open and honest dialogue about race relations in America. So at this point we should know better than to act like we just got off the boat! Best to focus on the goal and cherish the ones who make a difference.

Nevermine the media frenzy. Pumped up drama makes great news. But I like a leader who's not afraid of the obvious. It's a nice breeze after an administration that encouraged its citizens to use fear and ignorance as their mantra. Because when the President calls you stupid on national tv, you've pretty much disappointed the Chief Enforcement Officer, especially after your mayor apologizes for you. But then that's only the surface of it. The real story is the scab of racism itself being carefully picked at by everyone. It burns a little, even if the cure is for it to come off.