Thursday, October 28, 2010

Images XII - November Flowers

"This is a time of great transition when the old is falling away, the new emerging, so attachments to the old creates only painful experiences and consequences. How anguishing it must be to grieve the rising of the sun each morning."-- Gary Zukav

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Note to Self...

Community activist and photgrapher, Rico Washington (We the People: The Citizens of NYCHA in Pictures) wrote a note to himself-- "Don't blindly follow pop culture and adorn yourself with extra-cultural signifiers that have meaning beyond your immediate scope of comprehension."

Note to self--I gotta remember to thank Rico to show my profound appreciation for the bookstore hook-up. The Black proprietor of the posh spot had invited a few guest writers to showcase their work and left me out cos she didn't think my book would bring in any money. So Rico did his magic and suddenly I was in, tho I still got the nsvip treatment (not so very important person). That night I ended up selling 20 copies while the favorites sold none. This is to say that although the politics of marketing and selling your book (who you know) is just part of a writer's reality, it's nice when Black people actually act like brothers and sisters....thanks again, superbizzee!!!

About Rico's current project: Informed by the spirit of Jacob Riis, Gordon Parks, and former NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority) resident Honorable Sonia Sotomayor, journalist Rico Washington and photographer Shino Yanagawa aim to challenge popular stigmas and stereotypes applied to housing projects and the residents who live there. We The People culls from the very essence of sustainability, ingenuity, hope, perseverence, and transcendence through candid interviews and photo shoots with former and current residents of NYCHA's various housing projects. The culmination of the aforementioned photos and interviews is a prospective gallery exhibition in NYC featuring 50 photos, printed interview excerpts, and insightful essays. A prospective book project is also in the making. We The People features interviews from such noteable former NYCHA residents as author/ filmmaker/ cultural critic Nelson George, lauded photographer Jamel Shabazz, Young Lords co-founder/ original Last Poets member/ Emmy award-winning news reporter Felipe Luciano, venerable jazz musician/ recording artist Olu Dara, author/ Emmy award-winning filmmaker Dennis Watlington, Hip-Hop artist/ music industry CEO Buckshot, and more.

We The People is slated to be exhibited in amended form as part of the New York City Economic Development Corporation and Full Spectrum's collaborative city-wide exhibition Curate NYC this October. In addition, We The People has been accepted for exhibition at the Fesman 2010 world festival of Black arts being held in Dakar, Senegal this December.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

7 Rules for Writers

Rule #1:
Don't chase publishers who don't chase you

Rule #2:
You don't need a publisher or agent to give you your voice

Rule #3:
Sure it's nice to receive that advanced check and have your name up in lights, but the real money is your market knowin' and feelin' you!

Rule #4:
Good writing is not following standard procedure, but being able to relay your message clearly and profoundly

Rule #5:
Decide whether you want to be a star or a classic, for a star has to keep things Hollywood while classic means transforming people

Rule #6:
A writers' group is not about cocktails and flossin, but workshops and supporting one another

Rule #7:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Books For and About Black Men

Souls of My Brothers
Becoming Dad
Black Genius
Living to Tell About It
Standing in the Shadows
Black Men Can't Shoot
Black Men: Obsolete, Single, Dangerous?
Letters to a Young Brother
Why Are So Many Black Men in Prison?
We Are Cool: Black Men and Masculinity
Beyond the Down Low
Manchild in the Promised Land
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Read Like Yor Life Depends On It
Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys
The Miseducation of the Negro
Sacred Bond: Black Men and Their Mothers
Men in Black
Black Men Have Feelings Too
Successfully Raising Young Black Men
I Killed a Black Man
Stupid Black Men
Soulfires: Young Black Men on Love and Violence

The Minds of Marginalized Black Men
Color Him Father
Brother to Brother: Black Men Speak to Young Black Men
Visions For Black Men
What Black Men Should Do Now
The Black Male Handbook
Black Men Left Behind
Motivating Black Males to Achieve in School and Life
The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual
Letters to Young Black Men
Freedom in This Village
From Superman to Man
Stolen Legacy
Know What I Mean?
Black Skin, White Masks
The Community of Self
Walking Proud: Black Men Living Beyond Stereotypes
The Spirit of a Man: A Vision of Transformation for Black Men and the Women Who Love Them

Note: Authors' names have been purposely left out, so that you not only research them on your own and make the connections, but also to show how a title alone can conjur up all types of emotions, and assumptions. The title to my own book on Black males has also been left out, since I'm still too many chapters from sharing and too green to stand next to gold!

Monday, October 11, 2010


Blue mountains
are waiting for you
To come back home
to solitude
Back to paradise
back to loving you

I've been thinking of all those years
I spent searching for you
my soul crying for rescue

O, Taina
my heart is full
Have endless love in store for you
take me back with you
Back to dreams come true

Slaveships and traitors
couldn't keep me from you
My love is free and strong for you
strong like pyramids
Strong like eyes that tell the truth

I've been thinking of all my brothas in jail
their souls cry out to me--

Take us back with you
Take us back to when life was good

O, Taina
we're hungry for you
To bring us home to untainted shores
where mountains wait for you
This one wants you too.

This is not a love note...

Saturday, October 9, 2010

You Need Hair!

If you're studying social science, you need Good Hair. If you're raising a Black daughter, you need Good Hair. If you owe rent on account of your weave, YOU NEED GOOD HAIR!....oh, mercy mercy me. Things went right back to how they used to be...

Friday, October 8, 2010

If I Interviewed Obama...

After reading Rolling Stone's recent interview with Obama I fell back some from being so critical of him, considering how difficult it is to run a fragmented country, along with constant sabotaging from Republicans. There're many parts in the script that were worth underlining, but my favorite line was, "It is inexcusable for any Democrat to stand on the sideline in this [November] election. Change is hard. If you're serious, now is exactly the time you have to step up!". Still, I put the mag down feeling half-empty because my voice wasn't in it, or our collective issues weren't represented. So here's the rest of the interview,
had it gone my way--

So, Mr. President, the current national unemployment rate is 9.5% while the rate for Blacks is 15.8% and increasing. The Black Congressional Caucus has been asking you to develop a Black Agenda from day 1 but you're still avoiding it. And when a BET reporter brought it up at one of your press conferences you said change would trickle down to us. What's up with that?

I do remember the young man who asked me that question. But afterwards I took him aside to remind him that we have to have two faces in this country, so as not to scare White folks. Had I told him and the Caucus that yes, there's a Black agenda and I want to meet with all our leaders, including Farrakhan, Whites would be up in arms about the fear of a Black planet! Right now my hands are tied, but once I'm out of Office I'll be able to help Black people more directly.

The way Clinton and Carter' been making moves?

Clinton's just trying to get rid of his guilt issues over not doing anything about the Rwanda genocide and then that whole fiasco over getting his dik sucked by a White House aide! And I didn't forget that sht he pulled in South Carolina during the presidential elections. But we showed him what happens when dead people wake up. And now he's trying to come off like he's Haiti's savior, but look how he let them down. Them poor fools always fall for it because of that White Jesus gonna come save you crap. But Carter, now he deserves more credit. I may not like how he called out Ted Kennedy in his new book, but he's all gangsta now ever since he left Office. That's what I'm trying to break down to you. When you're President, there're all kinds of handcuffs placed on you that you got to pick just three or four things you want to accomplish. If I get to do a second term then I'll be able to get more Black on folks like Gov. Patterson did. Because at that point you're like, Fuck it!

I'm not gonna harass you about your being a Christian or not, but the obvious question, to me at least, is what would be so wrong if we did have a Muslim President if we're all Americans?

Maybe you were too young to remember, but JFK almost didn't win because he was Catholic. You've got a lot of religious fanatics who want the country to stay in the Dark Ages where women had no rights and anyone seen as different was seen as evil. They say they're God-fearing people and all that, but if you close your eyes and listen to their message you'll notice they're a lot like Muslim fanatics. Same mindset. Same willingness to bomb innocent people over a cause.

I felt bad for you when you were forced to separate from your surrogate father, Rev. Wright.

Yes, that was tough emotionally, especially since he knew I was campaigning. I mean, even Farrakhan and his camp stayed cool because they knew what was at stake. He let his ego come before the prize, like so many Black nations tend to do.

Where is he now?

Trying to sell his book, I guess.

Since we're on the subject of religion, what's your take on this whole Rev. Long thing?

Man, that's some juicy sht right there! Every week I wait for the latest scandal. But seriously speaking, I think it's actually a good thing because it gives the Black community an opportunity to look at the hypocrisies of our ways and our institutions, particularly the Church. We were suspiciously quiet when the scandal was happening to the Pope and White people, but now that it's in our own backyard we're not to sure where to put our faces. I love Black; wouldn't have married Black if I didn't. But we love blaming others for our ills. When it comes to cleaning up our own yard, we panick.

Do you think he did it?

I can't call it, of course. But you and I both know that Black men, young or older, don't typically put their bizness out there like that unless some serious damage has been done. But what I want to know is why is the pastor still preaching? Usually, the person in question is put on desk duty until court proceedings are completed. By him still preaching to the choir, as it were, his congregation is sending a message to these young males and their parents that their feelings don't matter. So we'll have to see how it all pans out.

You said Gen. McCrystal is a fine man. How is a back stabber a fine man?

I keep telling you, brotha--uh, can I say 'brotha'?

We can call ourselves and each other nigga and not brotha, but there're no niggaz here, sir.

Ok, then. Brotha, I keep having to explain to you that I have to wear two faces, three if you count my mother.

I'm sorry about you losing your mom, by the way. Most of us know how much she sacrificed for you. Does it bother you to be called our first Black President when in fact you're bi-racial?

We live in a color-conscious society and maybe global, so I'm fully aware of how people see color first and nationality second. I could've run as a bi-racial, but most Whites would see Black. We, on the other hand, would see dark-skinned and that would've still been a triumph for us.



Reggie, your personal aide, keeps you up on Rappers like Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and Nas but they're no longer living in the projects. Is he keeping you informed on what's going down in da hood? Because there's a perception that you're not connected with our reality, especially when we don't see you making any moves on Black unemployment.

Be specific, I'm a law professor.

We think you're a punk, sir; that you spend way too much time appeasing your haters, and that if it were a basketball game you'd be the one standing there with the ball in your hand right under the hoop while your opponents are still way on the other side of the court and instead of shooting you ask, may I?

That's fucked up!

Sorry, sir. But that's the feeling out there. Maybe not with the Blacks who play it safe and just follow along, but those of us who have been marginalized taught change also meant no more soft steppin'. Plus, someone should've told you to put jobs before healthcare. Nervous White people will let public healthcare go thru if they have jobs.

Reggie didn't tell me that.

Reggie lives close by you, sir.

Look, I realize people are impatient but like I said, change is hard. It took a while to end slavery and...

Sir, we already heard that speech and we're not expecting you to part the seas. But how'bout some job incentives like giving a break to that bruh buying a van so he can use to pick up people to and from the subway? How'bout helping the kat who sells incense by re-opening the 125th Mart, for example, and giving him a break on the rental space so he can live?

The Mart is still standing?

Yes, sir. And we don't undertsand why it's just sitting there just waiting to rot when it can be put to good use again. You could also make the Victoria Theatre a viable place for youth to vent through poetry jams, workshops, space for under-represented artists to showcase their work. Vision, sir. That's all young people need while they're waiting for change. You can set up temporary programs like Roosevelt did where a bruh gets paid for helping to make his own hood look better, so he won't have to sell drugs to take his girl out to the movies. And other incentives, like helping us open up our own internet cafes. Letting Starbuck's set up in Harlem and Bed-Stuy is not empowerment but more feel-good decorations while beggars stand outside. You don't even have to announce you have a Black agenda. Just keep it on da low by calling on Black folks with money to come together to make sht happen while the recession takes its toll. Oprah alone can help create jobs, instead of--excuse me--playing the modern mammy. We know you got her personal cell number. Tell the bitch to set up some schools right here, not all the way in Africa! Young people don't comprehend words like 'retroactive' and 'will kick in'. They want sht done now. Because, to them, if you don't see it, it ain't happening.

Okay. I'll look into all that but remember, I can't do it out in the open. And after what happened with Beloved, Oprah learned to keep sht safe.

We know that, sir. That's why we're Black.

Good point.

So let me ask you just a few more questions. Like, why is Nancy Pelosi so despised? We don't get that.

It's more of a White male thing. See, there's a segment of our population that doesn't like women in high positions. That's how I got to win over Hillary. Those are the ones who'd rather see a cleancut nigger in The White House before an intelligent, opinionated White female. This is why they love what's her face? The one who reminds me of Britney Spears teaching sociology. Bitch is as dumb as my toe nail! But they love her because she doesn't read and doesn't bring up sht they don't wanna deal with. Corporations love her because they can make a doll after her and create more winkadinks. The other thing is that she's a far left progressive. That scares a lot of people and so that's one of the reasons why I'm center left instead.

For my students who might not fully understand this bizness of far and center left, can you break it down some?

Center left means you'll get whatever healthcare reform you can get, soft environmental regulations, that you'll consider gay civil union but not the word 'marriage' or doing away with Don't Ask/Don't tell but waiting for the military heads to get it together, or coming up with an energy plan, compromising on gun crontrol and allowing scientists to clone mice for the purpose of finding cures for cancer and AIDS. Far left means healthcare for everyone, straight-up gangsta environmental laws, gun control, no more racial profiling, calling two people of the same sex who want marry 'marriage', letting gays serve in the military openly...

Reparations for African and Caribbean Americans?

Oh, hell no! Jews and Japanese received them because they're not as threatening. But giving reparations to a goup of people who know how to turn Kool-Aid into Thanksgiving? Ain't gonna happen. At least not for a very, very, very long time. Didn't we get an apology only two President's ago?

So you can understand why Blacks have mixed feelings about the flag, right?

Of course, I do. But then there are Whites who have mixed feelings about our flag also. It's important to keep that in mind or else you get stuck on victim mode.

I might as well ask the question-- will you make Hillary Clinton your running mate for 2012?

Now, you know I can't say right now. But if people want a winkadink, I might have to get my own!

And what's this I hear about Democrats considering placing weed on the ballot?

Fuckin' Biden, man! Yea, just to lure the youth back into the voting booths. But I can see now all the Republican fallout from that and using Cheech n Chong ads to scare the old folks.

I know you want to keep your fam out of the limelight and we respect that, but I gotta ask this last question-- Does it bother your wife at all to have to water down her power? After all, she did mentor you.

If I had married a blonde she would've been able to lead a march on Washington and not cause too much of a fuss. But because she's a tall, intelligent and no nonsense Black woman everyone's waiting for her to pull out her Angela Davis afro! But she's good. Her work with military wives and pushing healthier eating keeps her fulfilled. And look, they're calling her names because she wants to fight obesity. You can't win with these people. But wasn't it something to see Black presidential love that January? C'mon, you know you were feelin' it!

We all were, especially since it was practically illegal not too long ago to see Black loving Black. That's one of the many reasons why we're not giving up on you. Between giving each other them pounds, those kisses, those hugs, and that visit to Ghana to visit the old slave quarters; and the message you sent to African powerfreaks by not visiting their nations cos you want them to stop killing their own, we love you for that! But prez, why'you let Sen. Reid call you a safe negro? And don't tell me he's a fine man too cos he's another who stabbed you in the back.

If I used my fist or my mouth for every jive thrown at me, I probably wouldn't even have been senator. Yes, young people want sht done now. They want to hit back now. They want the future right now, and I get that. But I know a little about you too. When a hater blocked you from teaching a Black Studies course because he felt you had way too much influence over your stduents, what'you do?

I wrote.

And then what happened?

The book sold out.

Never underestimate the power of patience!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Urban Juke Joint

I'll be reading (or spitting, like my sons say) at Urban Juke Joint in the Baha'i Unity Center on Friday, October 29th; 53 East 11th Street, nyc; doors open @ 8p, show starts @ 9p and it's free. The piece below called For Us will most definitely be on the menu! And depending on the crowd, vibe and even requests, I might also serve some of my more popular pieces like Had To Do It, Poetry, A Stench in Jamaica, Tuesday and Waterchild. Hope to see y'all there!

In this place
This sacred place
We held so dear in our hearts
And in our collective consciousnes
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 upon 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 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.*

*From my book of poems, The Dredlocks Tree

Monday, October 4, 2010

If Life is a Dance, Where's the Music?

Last year I introduced y'all to a student of mine who I hadn't seen since my years teaching life skills to Rikers Island young male inmates. As the universe would have it, he was looking for a colleague of mine when he passed by my office door and noticed my name and office hours. It was an unexpected but welcomed surprise. And in interviewing him, I discovered that during the ten years of each of us moving on with our lives that he had survived the war in Iraq, drug addiction, unemployment, depression, and yet somehow managed to come out of it all as a survivor. There may be hundreds of similar stories; thousands, maybe. But what made this one story stand out for me was how he reinvented himself. Paulo's journey is what initially inspired me to push other student success stories with my on-line readers. This time I'm introducing Shanelle, a military veteran herself whose own journey is one worth sharing--

Shanelle, one of the things I appreciate about you, and that I know my readers will find appealing as well, is that you're forthright in expressing who you are and what you stand for. So I'm gonna let you tell your story without interrupting too much, asking you questions between the various visuals you provide...

I was born and raised in Harlem. My mother had me when she was 19. Maybe not a big deal these days, but it still was back in the 80s. I love my mother and know that she did her best to raise me, but the fact that she had me at such a young age is a scary thought for me. Because my mother's circumstances at the time determined the opportunities I would and would not have. But I did luck out when Harlem Hospital launched a dance program that allowed young girls to see the world beyond da hood. Pictures of me dancing are all throughout Harlem. I performed for many dance schools. This program is still available to our kids, but because of lack of funds it never grew and they hardly travel overseas anymore. As a matter of fact, all they basically do now is teach little Black girls how to shake their bootie like Byonce!

I learned discipline through dance, though. Every weekend I had a place to be and sometimes after school too. This means I was active, so I was not a fat kid and I was learning what it meant to be a part of something and having a responsibility to an obligation. But today these types of programs are disappearing while our kids are home stuck to a tube, becoming lazy and obese. They have no obligations or feel responsible to have any; and their parents or grandparents don't seem to think it's a problem.

What made you choose a business major, as opposed to history or Black Studies?

I wanted to do something about the way things are going in our community, and a Black Studies or history major would only allow me to talk about what has already been done. I feel that Black people need to stop playing around and be about their business first. We have families to feed and we can’t eat civil rights documents! Very few of us own farms or factories because we weren't considered human when the government was handing out land and grants, so we're unable to produce and feed ourselves. Last time I checked, transfer of land and money was considered a business transaction. You have to be about your business, in order to eat and survive.

Is this why you currently work as as property appraiser?

Yes! Every day I appraise homes, apartments and condos. I'm exposed to the segregation displayed throughout our city. It allows me to see where everyone is positioned. Not many Blacks get to see what I see. I appraise the high rise condos being built in Harlem, so I know what they look like and who they're for. But I'm Harlem. You're Harlem; and this is where it begins to hit home for me.

How does one continue being africentered in an environment that seems to be bent against it? Do you feel isolated at all?

A lot of times I do feel isolated and it hurts, but every day I wake up I'm still Black. The way to get through it is by trying different methods. The key word is 'different' because we have been trying the same old methods for centuries. Power is in the population, and I belong to a people that have become the walking dead. Their soul and human instincts have been stolen. We should recognize that Church and the law will not help us escape. Those are the same institutions that were used to harm us.

Now, you know we just lost the religious folks! But how'bout elaborating some? I get your point, but explain to those who might not fully understand what you mean by the Church harming Black people? Especially since it was the old spirituals that catapulted us to emancipation and beyond.

That worked then. But times have changed while the Church hasn't. They're pushing Jesus and not political empowerment. So we think all is well just because we can shop at Macy's or order a meal at a popular diner. But we're still investing in everyone else but ourselves.

Where did you get your passion for Black consciousness? Who educated or inspired you?

I developed this passion over time. I am very curious about everything. I have always questioned everything; and experiences have had a tremendous affect on me. There are two White women who've had a profound effect on the way I view things. I took an African American women studies course taught by a young White woman which initially shocked me, even made me angry yet curious. I wanted to know why a White woman was so passionate about me!

I like that.

I found it very disturbing, however, to watch her struggle to get people who look like me to read the material. She turned out to be quite a knowledgeable instructor, though I still resented that the college couldn't find an African American to teach the couse. But what made me even more upset was the fact that a huge number of Black women didn’t know half the information she did. I found out later that her passion for Black Studies came from a basic human place, a curiosity like my own. The second woman taught American History. She was tough and also had a lot of passion for how everyone came to be. She didn't sugarcoat or leave out information, which I liked. For the first time I was learning and understanding what and who this nation was built on straight from the mouth of an anglo-saxon. Although she was White, she made no attempt to cover the brutality that her ancestors engaged in. She also did not discredited them for their achievements. When I sit in some of my classes today I feel like screaming. Because it's one thing for someone to kill your family, but it's another for them to tell you they'll continue to attack you and there's nothing you can do about it. This is part of the isolation I feel. But I'm learning to accept or at least tolerate.

You have a daughter. How does all this affect the way you raise her?

Having a child can be the most enlightening experience a woman can go through, placing drive behind the passion that was already there and allowing the person to continue receiving and delivering information that is pertaining to their well-being.

Some Blacks equate Black consciousness with the Nation of Islam; and I admit when I first met you I wondered if you were a member of N.O.I.. Are you? And if not, are you a member of any religious demonination? Do you even believe there's a God?

I'm far from being an atheist. I just don’t believe that He engages in the buying and selling of His Word. If we're all His children and He created all of us, then wouldn’t He want us to get the Word even if you couldn't afford it?

Poor people in Haiti and the Deep South get the Word.

Yes, but why would He want it packaged and marketed to make a few rich and the rest of us stay in poverty? In my opinion, religion is one of the biggest invisible chains worn by Black people; and they can’t remove it because they can’t see it.

They might see it now, what with the embarassment over the Rev. Long case.

I doubt it. They're so in denial that they'll somehow find a way to excuse it or say it's a conspiracy to attack their leader.

Do you think it's the same with Islam and other organized religions?

Black Muslim, Black Jews, Black Christians... They're discriminated against because of their skin complexion, not because of their religion. Otherwise, we'd own some of the corner stores that sell our kids vanilla dutches, loosy's, guns and drug paraphernalia. And if White Christians, especially, are so Christ-like then how is it that they tolerated, even supported the brutal enslavement of Black people? I'd like to see Black Muslims question there so-called Arab brothers and sisters about Darfur. I'd like Black Jews to explain Israel's ill-teatment of Ethiopian immigrants.


There's so much wealth displayed in the Vatican. But as a Black Christian, how is it that your fellow Christians have prospered in a Christian nation but you can't even afford to bury yourself? Black people are putting their religions before who they are and that's so disturbing to me. My mother may not have had any idea what religion I would grow up to believe in when I was in her stomach, nor what sex I would be. But the one thing she did know was that she was having a Black baby. We are Black first, then everything else secondary.

What's your take on our public school system and the fact that New York City's Dept. of Education just recently rejected Obama's $700 million for reform?

My family is under attack. The Black family is under attack; and although I'm educated, there's still nothing I can do about it because of how corrupt the system and the players are. When a White child learns, it's an enlightened experience. But when a Black child learns they're introduced to an unavoidable pain that is handled differently, depending on the teacher. The additional disparities come from our communities and the individualistic attitudes that flood our nerighborhoods are killing us as a whole.

Tell me more about that unavoidable pain.

No one wants to just be Black. I know you’ve heard people use terms such as Blackasian and biracial. I got Indian in me. But I consider myself Black. We try so hard to stray from what we obviously have in common in order to escape the judging that comes with being Black. Some feel more comfortable not being classified as Black, period. I guess because they feel they will only have to deal with half the problems an all Black person deals with. That's very disturbing, to me.

I hear you. When I was growing up it wasn't cool to be Haitian or African. My lighter-complexioned friends tagged themselves Dominican or Puerto Rican, while others put baby oil in their hair to make them appear less Black. This was before the du-rag. But I remember the Black girls with naturally long hair having the hardest time. Were you picked on because of your hair length?

Oh, yes! But it's that self-hatred and miseducation again. If them girls and their mothers knew that our hair can be long without putting chemicals in them, they wouldn't be so mean-spirited.

I think it's also men's fault. Because there was a time when I only dated females with long hair. I grew up around a lot of males who thought that way and would notice how it added to females competing with one another for our attention. It wasn't until my adulthood that I began seeing the illness behind that. Not to mention, a few of my own Black Studies courses which helped put things in their proper perspectives.

But let's switch guears a bit. You were in the armed forces. What was that like, especially being a woman? Did you join for the benefits you'd receive later on or for patriotic reasons? And as a Black woman, did you experience any slack from the brothas?

I didn't run into any sexism. Or at least it didn't come to me. I came in commanding respect from the go, so maybe that was part of it. But I do remember being protected by the Black male soldiers because I was small and appeared somewhat innocent until I opened my mouth!

Traveling is one of the benefits of serving. The more you travel, the more your mind expands. And it wasn't so much going to places like Japan or Germany, but meeting other people from other parts of the U.S.. That was really the best part, for me. Plus, I was good with machines and got respect from the males for it. I do recall this one time when I had to wash my hair and a female officer commenting on it, almost in a jealous way.

That hair thing is so deeply ingrained in us.

Yes, it is. Slavery did a number on us and continues to do so.

What's your take on the 'Don't ask, Don't tell'?

Well, I hope I don't sound harsh, but I see homosexuality as yet another attack on us. I mean, I'm for everyone having their civil rights and all. But personally, I can't comprehend the whole gay thing.

I think it's fair to not get it. But to prevent others to have the same legal rights you have is crossing the line.

Now, that's a whole other discussion.

Yes, you're right. And I imagine the Rev. Long thing will put more light on the Black community's hyporcrisy when it comes to sexuality, in general, no matter what our personal beliefs.

Whenever I see you you've got some wisdom to drop on me. For example, Obama boycotting the National Conference on Racism. Educate us on that one, because I don't think too many people heard of this. I certainly haven't.

Blacks see Obama as this saviour. Truth is he's just another politician and has made statements regarding Black people that would anger us if a klansman said it. But somehow we look away. Like the time a Black reporter at one of his press conferences asked him if he had an agenda for Blacks, considering the alarming rate of unemployment, poverty and gang violence. He told the brother--or he looked like a brother-- that he didn't have one, that all his social programs will trickled down to Black folks and then asked for the next question. The next day nobody said a word.

I'm not making excuses for him, but it's clear to me that he's trying not to make Whites too upset. Just like the other day when he was asked to explain why he's a Christian. I don't mind him being a politician so much. Comes with the job. But it's the kind of scrutiny he has to endure that bothers me. It's as if they're trying to make him into this safe Tiger Woods type of negro!

You funny!

I keep asking myself, 'And what would be so bad about having a muslim U.S. President?'

Huh, that's not gonna happen. At least not for a very, very long time. If at all!

This anti-other/us versus them stuff is so blatant, you know; so typical of this country. Anyway, you live in D.R. territory (Washington Heights, NYC) and said they've had to adjust to you and your look. Explain that.

I'm a Black woman with long, natural hair. I don't wear a wig or weave, nor do I need someone's approval to feel beautiful. And I know my history, and theirs. I know they're Black. I know they despise that fact. So they're not sure what to make of me, since Black, to many of them, is a negative. And yet I walk with my head high and don't try to speak Spanish to fit in. I make them speak English because this is America, not Santo Domingo. And my people built this land while Haiti was ruling them, so give me my respect!

You also consider yourself an american and not African American. I know some Blacks who prefer 'American African' because it's the type of African they are; keeps the focus on African. But why simply 'American'?

Because if you and I were to visit Africa right now, we would be considered American and not African anything.

Good point. And how do you think Obama is doing?

I don't see what all the fuss is about. He's just another politician, to me.

But he's our first Black President.

In appearance, maybe. But I don't see how he's so radical. Unemployment for us is still the highest, even more so now. And the on-going problems we face every day in our communities-- crime, gun control, miseducation, police brutality--all these issues are still not being treated as priority. He's just playing it safe at our expense.

Well, I do admit I was very disappointed when Senator Reid called him a safe negro and he didn't check him.

I've read older articles from when he was at Harvard that show he actually doesn't relate to Black folks. But most of us don't follow the more critical readings. We wait for others to tell us what to think. It's all symbolism and decorations. By the end of his term, things will still be status quo and we'll go, Damn. We'been bamboozled!

I'm still hopeful.

Alright, but don't say I didn't warn you.

So what's after graduation?

Not sure right now. First I want to transfer because I'm not satisfied with the professors here. They always get shocked when they find out I know a little more than them. The last one was actually intimidated by me; wouldn't let me talk because the other students began paying more attention to me than him.

I can see you teaching.

Maybe, but I found a business professor at the college I'm transferring to who warned me that I may feel angry at the information she'll share. She gave me a sample article, and she was right. But I like her. She's not afraid of tackling gentrification and how Blacks still haven't received land owed to them; how vital information about home ownership is kept from us. Not the usual mush these egotripping professors hand you. It's hard not to get angry. Like finding out what Christopher Columbus really did to the natives but calling it a discovery and then later on a holiday. But we need to know the truth instead of avoiding it. We want to dress nice and drive flashy cars, but won't pick up a book about why we are suffering inside. I see these Black parents buying designer clothes for their children, but won't invest in their minds. It's just sad and frustrating.

Yes, I agree.

I have a question for you. How do you deal with the isolation, if you feel isolated at all?

Of course, I do. And it's not only because I wear a cufi, but the fact that I don't like pop culture. When you come off serious like that people label you crazy, strange, not with the times. I'm working with a student now who feels like an outcast in his own family and hood. But he hasn't yet learned to stop seeking approval from his haters. I've learned to be proud of the fact that I make a difference, so standing alone, for me, is not a matter of feeling ostracized but an opportunity to represent. In these times where bling is in and everyone seems to be dumbing down, it's very important to stand out of the herd, even if it means not being popular. Because popular just means you're part of the symptoms, not the cure.

Thanks for asking that. And thanks for the interview. I'm curious to see where your degree and life, in general, takes you next. Please keep me posted. I got a feeling you're going to make an impact on the Community, whether appraising homes, teaching or politics.


Yes, why not? Shanelle for President!

I wouldn't be able to make any changes, as a politician. Too many handcuffs.

But you are a Black woman.

That I am!

Thanks again, Shanelle.

Your're welcome.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Men Fall Down, Women Get Up

Whatever anyone thinks of Wyclef Jean's bid for the presidency of Haiti, we can all agree on one thing: his potential running brought attention to the important elections in November for the devastated nation. Now, it seems the world is once again looking away. There is no news of the elections or information on the candidates running. So why should we still be interested? Because 53 women are running for Congress and Senate, and if elected, they could change the dynamic of the rebuilding of Haiti, end decades of corruption and turn the old Haitian system of politics upside down. It is not with the president but within the Parliament where the real power in Haiti lies.

The national elections are at the end of November and the truth is this: If more women win seats in Congress and Senate, it will change the political game in Haiti and be a model for other developing nations. A recent World Bank study found that an increase of women in government has been shown to decrease corruption. Other studies are showing that countries that have high percentages of women in leadership positions are more apt to focus on children's health and education, social justice and economic stability. A case in point is Rwanda post-genocide, which now has the highest percentage of women in the electorate and one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.

The earthquake of January 12, 2010 severely affected Haiti's women's movement. Three women leaders, who played a key role in organizing around women's rights and making discrimination and gender-based violence visible, lost their lives during the earthquake. Their deaths, coupled with the destruction of the headquarters of the
and of women's organizations, impaired the ability of women to regroup and make their voices heard in the discussion for the reconstruction of Haiti. While women's voices have not so far been heard, these voices have not been silent.

There are many other capable women working in the shadows to address women's issues, advocating for gender equality, and social and economic justice. It is important that these women, as well as emerging and young leaders, be identified and supported so that they can blossom, gain confidence and be provided with the opportunities to play a role in the reconstruction of Haiti.

There are currently 45 women running for Congress out of a total of 816 candidates (5 percent). There are 99 seats in Congress. Eight women are running for Senate out of a total of 95 candidates (8 percent). There are 30 seats in the senate. As of now, there are more than 70 different parties sitting in parliament, and they have traditionally voted on laws that were in line with the central government. If more women are elected, it is most likely that they will vote in a block, increasing legislation that will take into account women and children's issues, that includes the Haitian diaspora in the political and reconstruction process and anti-corruption laws. These female candidates represent a new generation of women leaders with the skills to advocate for social change, decentralization and local development, women's and children rights, their equal participation in economic and social development and active participation in the reconstruction of the country.

Women in Parliament will question the rules of the political game, set new rules and more transparent procedures, and influence legislative agendas in favor of social and economic transformation responsive to women's, children's and community needs. They will also influence the budget in favor of social investments and collectively take leadership in programming and implementing grassroots operations throughout the rebuilding process.

The exquisite handbag and accessory designer, Judith Leiber, saw the urgency when hearing of the millions of displaced, the increase in sexual violence in the camps, and the devastation of the women's movement. She stepped up immediately and came up with the idea to design and sell the "Don't Forget" pendant to support initiatives such as the women candidates' campaigns. The proceeds are going to support Femmes en Démocratie (FED), the Haitian arm of Vital Voices 
Global Partnership, based in Washington, D.C. FED, a non-partisan organization that dates back to 1999, works to empower Haitian women leaders. It has a vibrant network of more than 300 women including politicians, businesswomen, artisans and civil society leaders.

I have worked with the amazing founder of FED, Danielle St. Lot, over the last year and have met many of the women candidates -- I can assure you of their integrity and commitment to strengthening the role of women in Haiti's reconstruction, development and justice. I believe in their unflinching courage to bring everyone in their country a higher quality of life in the face of the "old boys' club" that has traditionally run Haiti. I am advocating for partners to help them on their journey because without immediate technical and financial resources, these fierce and dedicated women will have no chance to make that change.

On September 13, 2010, I attended the Women Donors Network (WDN) conference on Haiti where I showed a preview of the campaign video filmed and produced by Haitian-American photographer Marc Baptiste. WDN is a community where women multiply their energy, their strategic savvy and their philanthropic dollars to build a just and fair world. Immediately after the conference, after seeing the campaign video, WDN members stood up to give their financial and technical support to the women, who, by the way, represent 14 different political parties. The WDN thankfully does not have the bureaucracy of other large groups and NGOs, so it can help raise funds when they are needed most -- and for those of you interested in helping all women candidates in Haiti, that time is now.

by Maria Bello

And be sure to checkout this here video clip on why it's time for a woman to lead Haiti!