Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Art of Staying Informed...

There's a saying-- If you want to hide it from the Black man,
put it in a book. There's another saying-- The more you know, the more you owe!

Messengers of Lies - A Conversation with a Disillusioned Student

Since my earlier postings, I've interviewed students who I think are outstanding in both their outlook on life and ability to overcome their personal struggles. This time around, I'd like you to meet 22yrld  Mohammed Shakur who's studying criminal justice and coming of age after surviving parental abandonment, an abusive father, the foster care system, teen homelessness, racism, and marginalization from his own for his unwillingness to shed his locks and africentric beliefs and attire. In addition to making sense of all this, he has become disillusioned with our public education system from elementary school to college level studies because of the emphasis on standardized testing and euro-American philosohpy.

How'bout we start with what you're most passionate about, and that's school reform. What is it you'd like to see in our schools?
Black Studies as a regular part of the regiment from first grade to high school, so that other cultures learn our value; not just us. Even in college I gotta beef with my English teacher about his one-sided syllabus. 
What topics would you like to see covered?
Well, not the same usual safe stuff like frederick douglass and Dr. King, but a more pan African approach that looks at the world from the perspective of the invaded and not the invader.

Is Black Studies offered at your community college?
Yea, but it's taught either by wack professors or non-Black instructors, and I find that very insulting to us cos we know better. I mean, I don't understand why a course on the Black man is being taught by a White or Asian man, or a feminist.

What's a wack professor?
One who's afraid of teaching truth and waters down the info to avoid discussions on race relations and privilege.

You don't play!
No, I don't and I intimidate professors cos I know my past and current history.

What about your classmates? Do you vibe with them?
A lotta them don't mind the bullsht. They just wanna sit in their chairs, accept what's given to them and then graduate. They don't even challenge the indoctrination. They're dead and don't even know it!

Have you tried letting your professors know; maybe
offer some suggestions to better reach you?

They don't wanna hear it. Plus, their hands are tied. They have to follow the regiment or get fired. I know how it works, and that's why I get so agitated when I sit in these classes cos the messengers look like me and you, but they're nothing but messengers of lies.

How was high school for you?
Pretty much the same, except back then I wasn't yet aware of the mindgame being played on Black students.

Didn't you at least have one teacher or guidance counselor you connected with?
To be honest, no.

And what about now, at the college level?
Still wack, but there's a professor and a counselor I respect. And they keep it real with me.

Respect is important to you.
Mos def. I don't respect you just cos you got a title and a fancy degree. And that's why teachers get aggy with me cos I challenge them whenever I catch em in a lie or on an ism. Like this one teacher, first day of class, says to us we can't wear our head wraps.

What course was this?
English. And the professor was like, "I don't allow head wraps in my class." That said to me that he didn't want us expressing and feeling proud of our Caribbean African heritage.

What'you do?
I dropped that sucka' fast! Cos if I don't then I'm part of the problem.

So let's talk about your background, where and how you grew up.
I live in the Bronx, but grew up in Brownsville. My mom got on drugs and I had to raise my little sister and brother on my own. My dad wasn't around. We cool now, but back then he was M.I.A.. I forgive him. But it was crazy cos like, what'I know bout raising kids and I'm 9 and my lil brother and sister are like 6 and 5. But I had to learn how to be a parent fast.

You didn't have any relatives to take your mom's place?
My aunt stepped in later when I started high school, but before that we was homeless and at a shelter and then in foster care. My aunt's a foster parent, but she did it mainly for the money and makes me take care of her kids for her.

So you never really had a childhood.
Nope. I had no time for that. And I seen some grimy sht! But it is what it is. I'm here.

How's your relationship with your mother at this point?
I know I'm supposed to say I forgive her and all that, but I don't. I think messed up people shouldn't have kids. Some of my cousins tried getting me to be all nice and forget what she did; even told me to show respect. Black folk can be so stupid sometimes, for the sake of image. I have no respect for her or for them. I was on my own then and on my own now.

What about your aunt? She took you in.
And I'm thankful for that, but she also got money from the state and then made me take care of her foster kids while she went out. I don't thank her for that.

I know you were unemployed for a while. Are you working at all now?
I found an airport gig. Doesn't pay much, but it's something. When people see me, they see my locks and right away I get attitude; and a lotta times from my own. It's like we gotta conform to White standards if we wanna live.

I'd say corporate standards cos White kids gotta conform too.
But they got that White privilege working on their side. Me, I gotta pull back my locks and put down my Black some if I want an interview. But the White kid sitting next to me with no experience will get the job. And this is why I'm not getting caught up with the hype over Obama.

I'm guessing you're not voting for him.
I'm not voting for either clown cos it's all show to me. If it's not even safe for him to address mass unemployment for young Black males, then what good is he, really? All these Black folk treating him like he Jesus or something, but what has he really done for Black people? Please tell me.

I get your point. but it's an amazing story for him to become President when it was African American slaves who built the White House.
But that's all it is. Symbolism. Your generation might be excited about him, but a lotta people my age see him as just another puppet. And I think we like puppets. We used to like revolutionaries. Now we like people who can fit in and play the part. I don't wanna play the part.

But the Million Man March was about symbolism, wasn't it? I was there and it was beautiful. But in the end, it was about speeches with no follow-ups; no specific plans. You might have been a toddler then, but I'm sure you've heard about the March.
Yea, you'right. I mean, I wasn't there but I know y'all headed back home to the same bullsht. But you see what I mean, tho. We like symbolism. We like bullsht!

Do you think that's why the young vote isn't as high as it was when Obama first dropped?
Of course. Plus, the jobs factor. Jay-Z and Beyonce threw high price dinners for him, but ain't nobody in the hood talkin bout voting like before. We got bamboozled and we learned. Now, we're like, prove it mfkr! Come up with a Black agenda or don't come at all!

I'm with you on the symbolism. But his opponent will open the door to crazies who wanna go backwards. And a country that doesn't give women the right to make their own choices is a dangerous place to live in. But let's talk about criminal justice and why you're majoring in it?
I wanna teach criminology from our perspective. This whole Stop and Frisk debate is huge. I didn't think it would reach the Supreme Court. Plus I finally got a professor I respect. I'm taking Policing and Policy by a Black man who's not afraid to talk about White privilege. Schools and colleges don't usually hire strong Black males. Strong in the sense that they stand up for themselves, demand respect and get it. I mean, how many Koromantee's have you seen on your campus?

True that. So what are some things you'd like my readers to know? And who do you have as support? Because it seems you've been on your own since you were raising your sibblngs while being a child yourself.
I deal. My father's not a dad, but if I'm in trouble he'd look out. I don't miss family cos I never had it. Wouldn't mind having a lovely, but not too many females impress me. A lotta them are simple, to me; only interested in what they can get from a dude and don't wanna look at their sht. And since I'm not easily impressed with looks and clothes, they can't figure me out. It's not just girls. If you're not down with pop culture and nigga smack, dudes can't firgure you out either. But there're others like myself and we meet at poetry jams and community cyphers.

Whay's a cypher, for those who might not be in the know?
A cypher is when you make a human circle and take turns dropping wisdom. It can be a poem, Rap, an affirmation. But it's all about building; and for me personally, it helps me feel not so different and isolated.

And what are you doing to heal from all that isolation? Certainly, having to deal with adult problems as a young boy was traumatic enough. And having to define manhood on your own is problematic in itself. Cyphers, sports; religion, even are good distractions. But how do you address the wounds; the rage that we carry in our collective psyche, whether consciously or unconsciously? How does a Black man even begin talking about it when he's told to man up and suppress his feelings?
I've seen dudes self-destruct from suppressing their feelings. I think you just have to open yourself to letting someone help you work through it. But it's finding that right person who you know can relate. You can't come at it from a textbook. All I can tell you is that I make smart choices. I pick out who and what's good for me, and avoid the rest. I meditate. And I do poetry open mics to let my sht out. I think I'm as angry as the next Black man. And I don't think the rage goes away. You just get better at dealing with it. Like getting stopped and frisked almost every day in your own hood, and just dealing with it. But I feel like I'm gonna get the break I been waiting for. I'm finally getting my own place next month; found a room in a house that my counselor found for me. I'm good.

I know youre not gonna vote, and I'm gonna respect that for the reasons we talked about. But for that voter who just finished pressing yes for obama, what do you wanna tell them?
Wake up. Look around you. What exactly has changed? Are our sons working? Are they even smiling? Look at our daughters. Why do they wanna be baby mamas and not married women? And look at our local leaders? do we know our local leaders? What exactly are they're doing to make your hood better? Obama can say he wasn't the one who left us in a recession. But mass unemployment and incarceration for young Black males been going on when we had a surplus under Clinton. It's the same'o game, and we keep falling for it. Wake up!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The proFATHERS Project: A Proposal

As a youth motivational book writer and male-based counselor, I find the forFATHERS Project to be a welcomed alternative student development program. Considering the role of music, story-telling and other art forms in African, African American and Caribbean American culture, the forFATHERS Project addresses the many social ills that typically hinder both academic and personal development, namely low expectations, lack of opportunities and few to no exposure to positive male caregivers. In my twenty years working with overlooked populations, from incarcerated teens to secondary-level students having difficulty transitioning from high school to college, I find that the common denominator in at-risk youth is the absence of fathers who may have fathered them but neglected to help raise them or want to be involved in their daughters’ and sons’ lives, but are not allowed to by resentful mothers. For girls, it means carrying the burden of defining their pre-teen years and young womanhood without the input of a male figure in the home. For boys, it’s even more urgent as the burden of defining manhood on their own creates counter-productive behavior in the family system and overall community, as street life becomes the over-arching dad that teaches hyper-masculinity and urban warfare as prerequisites to ideal manhood. School and community incentives that specifically address Black and Hispanic youth are currently the trend, in an effort to improve scholastic performance and college retention. However, the standards or formulas that policy-makers tend to use rarely place the father front and center. He is instead treated—on paper, at least—as a cultural piece of the puzzle too complex and perhaps too controversial to fit at the decision-making table. The inconvenient truth here is that fathers—Black fathers, especially—are expected to be missing in action, while the actions caused by family court biases, ineffective welfare programs, and principals and college administrators who do not take the input of fathers seriously; much less, as a crucial piece of the family unit and overall child development all add to the problem at hand and not the solution.

To the single mother not prone to viewing her son’s or daughter’s father as the enemy, the forFATHERS Project is a solution to feeling alone and powerless. To the frustrated mom who is unaware of her options, it’s an opportunity to learn how to begin the healing process by being exposed to responsible and reliable male instructors and counselors who provide a refreshing contradiction to Black male stereotypes. And to the single father, still invisible yet quite prominent in our communities, the forFATHERS Project mirrors their plight as determined agents of positive change. The children themselves undoubtedly benefit from non-traditional approaches to addressing an on-going national crisis. That is, how do we engage our youth in the American educational experience? How do we make it worth their time to come in and stay? How do we effectively compete with crime lords and the realities of unemployment and entire communities suffering from depression and victimization? 

I believe that supporting the forFATHERS Project is supporting the next generation and those to follow. I can say the children smile more; participate more and learn more. Because their aspirations in the eyes of innovative instructors and program leaders are not limited to standardized testing, but rather reflect sensible and realistic approaches to effective education.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Blessings Keep Coming!...

This is an interesting week. Earlier this morning, a John Jay College psychology student interviewed me on my youth counseling experience and natural know-how for his graduate studies, a group interview I did earlier this summer with local cable show 'In the Black' airing tonight, a one-on-one interview with the show later this month, an invitation to present at a Brooklyn community forum on the plotics of educating our youth this coming Wednesday, Oct. 3rd, and now I learned that my book Message to a Youngblood is sold out on My blessings keep coming which tells me I'm on my divine path. Cos when you're doing what you came here to do, good things come to you effortlessly. Thank you so much to those near and far who support my mission and follow my blogs. On-line purchases can still be made through Paypal or feel free to contact me directly at
Meanwhile, tonight on Time Warner Cable, Channel 34 or my interview with 'In the Black' will air @ 8:30pm. Also on Fios Ch. 33 and Rcn Ch. 82.