And For What?

Let’s see. A Black man murders five and injures seven white policemen and two non-police citizen during a peaceful gathering intended to protest  the killing of Black boys and men by white police officers. A Black man murders three police officers – two white, one black and injures two others. A white man murders 49 LBGTQ people socializing at a night club. A white man murdered nine men and women during a prayer service in their church. Dallas Texas. Orlando Florida, Charleston, South Carolina, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Sixty-six more people dead- taken out of the mix – 12 injured. And for what? Because the men who pulled the triggers lost their humanity and their humility.

The two Black men are no different than their White counterparts. They are murderers – plain and simple. They just wanted to kill White police officers just as the White man in Orlando just wanted to kill LBGTQ people and the White man in Charleston just wanted to kill Black people. As I was reminded, one of the police officers killed by the Baton Rouge murderer is Black. That is true. But, maybe in the mind of the murderer the second worse thing you can be is a Black police officer. Or maybe his death is what is meant by the saying, “when you dig one ditch, you better dig two.”

People’s feelings and opinions range from this is wrong to they got what they deserved. Be that as it may, these murders must not be given and does not deserve a speck of credit for increasing awareness of, causing an awakening about or bringing renewed energy to the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Black lives did not matter to them. Their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and other family members did not matter to them. They did not care that their families will live with the choice they made the same as one must live with the affects of a painful debilitating disease. They were incapable of considering, how, for generations, their actions will slowly but sturdily suck the nutrients from their family’s tree.

The little Sister of the Dallas murderer, no doubt unduly influenced by her older Brother’s beliefs, said the day before his rampage “These cops need to get a taste of the life we now fear.” Her words would have just been rhetoric had he not killed the very people she thought deserved to die. While I think she is too young to understand the full implications of her words, that does not matter now. Those words, as Faulkner explains in Lights in August, “will just be there inside (of her), lodged between memory and forgetting, musing quiet, steadfast, not fading and not particularly threatful, but of itself alone serene, of itself alone (and) triumphant because nothing is ever escaped.”

These men are not messengers. They are not an inspiration. They are not leaders. We reserve these identities for Black men and women who say, “I am standing in the gap of injustice until it is closed.” And then they stand without that senseless and self-destructive eye-for-an eye mentality. That is what Civil Right Activist Fannie Lou Hammer did after she lost her job and her home simply because she registered to vote. It is what Dr. Martin Luther King did after he’d “been to the mountain top.” It is what Nelson Mandela was doing when he was imprisoned for 27 years and it is what he continued to do after his release. It is what Harriet Tubman was doing when she made “nineteen trips” to the South to free over “three hundred slaves” and what she was doing when she said, “If I could have convinced more slaves that they were slaves, I could have freed thousands more.”

It is hard to paint a verbal picture of the raw emotions that can get stirred up when an action by the police reminds us that cities across this country have for years treated police brutality as if it is a figment of Black people’s imagination. The conglomerate of inequities in the criminal justice system has caused many of us to ask what will it take? But, most of us are shaken by how this question might be answered at the extreme. And so we, one way or another, let our hearts be guided by questions Dr. King asked in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, “will we be extremist for hate or will we be extremist for love? Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or will we be extremist for the cause of justice? The vast majority of us, take a deep breath, count to ten, hug each other, dry our tears and intentionally act out of love and justice. It is not easy but we do it anyway.

These men chose to be extremist for hate and to preserve injustice because it is what they believed in. So we have to remember that their acts of violence did not contribute anything to the Black Lives Matter Movement. And, should not take anything from it either. Those who have taken “The movement made them do it’ stance is no different than these men. Those who are blaming the movement are pulling a different kind of trigger hoping to turn others against the movement and therefore against an undeniable truth. All of us need to be in America’s face so American can face its historical shame. But, killing white police officers and blaming Black Lives Matters is not the way.

Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “It is not surprising that those accused of horrendous deeds and the communities they come from, for whom they believe they are committing these atrocities almost always find ways out of even admitting that they were indeed capable of such deeds. They adopt the denial mode, asserting that such-and-such has not happened, when the evidence is incontrovertible they take refuge in feigned ignorance.”

When it comes to justice for black men, women and children, this is what the criminal justice system is doing. This is what police departments are doing. It is what the Fraternal Order of Police is doing. It is what local politician are doing. It is what some police officers are doing – denying and then feigning ignorance.

In their own way, it is what these men would have us do – deny that they used a legitimate social movement as an excuse to satisfy their personal agenda and then either killed themselves or forced someone to kill them because they did not have the guts to stay here and face the people on whose behalf they claim to have acted. But the majority of us will not let them get away with that. Forgive? Yes. Excuse? No.

We will not excuse their actions because Black lives do matter. We want our children to know why Black lives matter. We want our children to know what we (Black people) do and do not do because black lives matter to us and what other people do and will not dare do when Black lives matter to them. And, equally as important, we want our children to understand, as our ancestors did, “Nothing is ever escaped.”

Whose “Bad” Was It? Whose “Bad” Is It?

And there are people still in darkness, And they just can’t see the light. If you don’t say it’s wrong, then that says its right.
Solomon Burke

1917: The Labor Union in East St. Louis who, after the strike ended, told its white members, ”Drastic action must be taken to retard this growing menace,” (referring to Negro immigrant coming from the south and those who “are already here.”) thus causing 39 blacks to be killed, a two-year old to be shot and thrown into a burning building, 100 plus black people to be shot or maimed and 5000 to be driven from their home, would not have incited the riot if black people who wanted and needed to work had not allowed themselves to be hired into union job. Right?

1920: The racist white mob who carried out the “Black Holocaust, “by burning every home, business and church and murdering children, women and men would not have done so if Black people with an entrepreneurial spirit, had not, through self-determine and faith, responded to segregation by making the Tulsa, Oklahoma Greenwood District so successful it was known “Black Wall Street. Right?

1954: The White people who burned crosses in front of a house, shot through the house ten times with a rifle and finally, because the family refused to accept what they called “reasonable offers to leave”, bombed the house.  But the White people would not have had to do this if the Black family had not moved in the White suburb of Louisville. Right?

1955: Missippissians, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam who gouged out Emmett Till’s left eye, shot him in the head, bashed his face in and threw his body in the Tallahatchie River would not have done so if this 14-year old Black boy had not said, “Bye Baby” to a white girl as he was leaving the store. Right?

1958: The State of Virginia would not have had to sentenced the Lovings, Mildred, a black woman and Richard, a white man to a year in jail for violating its 1924 Racial Integrity Law that prohibited marriage between “people classified as “white and people classed as black” if Mildred and Richard just had not fallen in love. Right?

1963: The Ku Klux Klan would not have bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church and killed four little girls if Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and other has not campaigned against racial injustice and fought for civil rights. Right?

Keep in mind that these are just six examples of race-related atrocities rooted in America’s “one-drop of blood” rule. This rule ranked Black Americans lower than White American thus giving White Americans permission to enslave, beat, murder, lynch, rape and deny our pursuit of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” without fear of meaningful consequences.

So whose “bad” was it? Ours for having that one drop of blood or the individual whose hand was stained by it or the society that provided the towel to wipe it off?

It saddens me that these  questions have to be asked but when people imply the gunman who killed 45 people and seriously injured 53 more would not have done so if two men had not been seen kissing or if LBGTQ people would simply avoid PDA (public display of affection) or if “those people” would “stop disobeying the Word of God, the questions  must be asked and some attempt made to answer.

Robert W. Fuller, in his book, Somebodies and Nobodies. Overcoming the Abuse of Rank, provide some answers for me. Fuller would, I think, say the gunman “suffered” from Rankism which according to Fuller is a claim to superiority.” It allows us to see our group as somebody and other groups as nobodies. Rankism justifies  “maltreatment, discrimination, disrespect, discourtesy, disdain derision and condescension. It is the “Mother of all isms” because it is the sources from which all forms of discrimination gets its “lifeblood.”

in my opinion, the Orlando terrorist attack is an example of how rankism “Erodes the will to learn, distorts personal relationships, taxes economic productivity, strokes ethnic hatred and why it causes “dysfunction and sometimes even violence, in families, schools and the workplace.”

Given that, I visualize a Sexual Preference Rankism Ladder. Those who identify as heterosexual, rank higher than a homosexual. A heterosexual Christian ranks higher than a heterosexual who is not Christians. A Christian heterosexual who also believe homosexuality is a sin, ranks higher than all the others. And, the highest rank belongs to the Christian heterosexual who believes it is his or her responsibility to assist God in executing “great vengeance” on homosexuals. The gunman and those who, whether they intend to or not, offer justification for his actions are high up on this ladder.

Your rank on this ladder makes you a more deserving “somebody” than those on the rungs below you. This is how you acquire your sense of somebody-ness. Like so many things, once you get it, you want to keep it so you conform to beliefs touted by  the people with whom you are ranked.

In The Science of Fear, Daniel Gardner, calls this “pooling information. “One person knows only what he knows, but thirty people can draw on the knowledge and experience of thirty, and so when everyone is convinced there are loins in the tall grass it’s reasonable to set aside your doubts and take another route to camp.” The problem comes when all you do is just take another route. There is no attempt to verify the facts – Did you see lions? How many were there? Who did they attack? What happened at the time of the attack? But there is no space in rankism for independent thinking. That is what makes it so easy for ranked people to treat rhetoric that makes no sense as if it is an inarguable fact as plain and simple as one plus one equals two.

Thomas Merton (No Man is An Island), reminds us that “one of the moral diseases we communicate to one another in society comes from huddling together in the pale light of insufficient answers to a question we are afraid to ask.”

Pooled information breeds empowerment. Armed with information sanctioned by those with whom you are ranked gives you the authority to practice “Rank-based discrimination.” Rank-based discrimination breeds what is thought to be justifiable violence. Its purpose is to remind the lesser somebodies that they are nobody compared to you and those with whom you are ranked. And, what is the point in being on the top rungs of this ladder if you cannot demonstrate to the world your willingness to fulfill your moral obligation to keep the nobodies in their place by any means necessary at any time and any place.

And so on June 17, 2015, 21-year old Dylann Roof, empowered by his rank, walked into a prayer service at the Emanuel African Methodist Church. sat for an hour, then shot and killed nine black men and women because, “You rape our women and you are taking our country.” And, consistent with the arrogance rank-based discrimination can breed he “let” a woman live because he wanted her to “tell them what happened.”

So the man who, on June 12, 2016, carried out, as President Obama called it, an “Act of hate” that has altered all of our lives forever, cannot be understood for anything but his hatred. This 29-year old killer and coward who used his pool of contaminated information to spray his hatred in an Orlando night club is no different than the killer and coward who sprayed his hatred in a place of worship in Charleston.

As Fuller points out, we have all been “No-bodied” by somebody and if we are to tell the truth, we have from our perceived rank, “no-bodied somebody else. And most of the time, we can offer an apology and it will be accepted. But when we even think about justifying the actions of a man whose beliefs allowed him to openly identify with a hate group who ranks itself so superior that its members reportedly throw people identified as LGBTQ (self or assumed to be) off a roof, there is no apology long enough or strong enough to undo the destruction to which we are contributing. So If we want to rank ourselves superior to people whose lifestyle and life choices are different than ours, we can do that. We just have to remember, what history has shown us, Rankism, in the final analysis is about power – about lording it over somebody you have convinced yourself is a lesser somebody than you. And, we’ve been living with the results of that for how many year now?

So we can place the burden of the Orlando “Bad” on the shoulders of the LBGTQ community or we can embrace Solomon Burke’s wisdom: “We got try to feel for each other, let our brother’s know that we care. Got to get the message, send it out loud and clear.”

Who Is Shaping Our Kids’ Sense of Self?

A child’s self-concept is learned.  He senses, feels, and assigns meaning to external stimuli in his life.       Jawanza Kunjufu

The Whole Brain Child (Daniel Siegel, M.D and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.) talks about the downstairs and upstairs brain.  The basic functions of the downstairs brain are innate reaction and impulses, fight and flight, anger and fear.   The upstairs brain facilitates sound decision making and planning, control over emotions and body, self-understanding, empathy and morality.   At its best, the brain is integrated.  The upstairs monitors the downstairs; the downstairs monitors the body.

Brain integration occurs when children are supported in learning to use their brains just as they are when learning to ride a bike. Even kids growing in the most supportive situations have to develop the skills needed to effectively use the upstairs brain rather than giving in to the reactive downstairs brain; also known as the primitive brain.

So imagine kids, mostly males (ages 7- 20) involved in an activity that requires them to lie, run game, steal, duck and dodge business owners and the police, carry a persona that can be interpreted as aggressive or potentially violent while living with the threat of being arrested.  Then, ask yourself which brain are they learning to rely on?

This writing is about that activity and related behavior that puts kids brains at risk because they’re caught up in a game of hustle and be hustled between guilty White people and African-American adults.  Both are liabilities.  White people because they allow themselves to be hustled.  African-American adults because they are using our kids to play white guilt like it’s a fiddle without regard for how this can shape African-American kids’ sense of self and the impact it can have on how they perceive their place in the world.

Here’s what’s happening.

The young “hustlers-in-training” have flyers asking for money to support sports teams associated with public schools, private schools, churches and community organizations or groups such as the Southern Little Rock Association for the Deaf.   As I understand it, the kids are instructed not to let the hustled take a flyer which might be why the kids extend them the way you would a tissue on which you have blown your nose.  Thus discouraging the hustled from reaching for it, let alone touching it.

(I bought a flyer asking for money to buy uniforms and equipment for “S.O.S.A.D (Save Our Sons and Daughters) Youth” whose “goals and dreams is to play in the ALL AMERICAN YMCA NATIONAL SOFTBALL FINALS.”  The team location: YMCA, 6330 S. Stony Island.  I called.  The YM has no such team.   (SOSAD NFP started in Detroit, Michigan in 1987 but show no activity since 2002)

Anyway, kids who don’t have flyers cradle a box of Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies – the ones generally purchased in bulk from wholesale grocery houses.  But, from what I observe, the cookies are props, maybe to show the African-American male’s willingness to do whatever is necessary to earn an honest living even if it means publicly laying his dignity prostrate at the feet of the very people who, as one grown hustler said, “Think a black man ain’t shit.”    I refrained from asking the obvious question.

Although young males, up to early teens, also work the streets, their primary assignment seems to be inside of businesses.   Some of the hustlers are young but obviously too old to be in anybody’s elementary or high school.  Then there are older men who claim to be coaches or sponsors.   They work the streets and are almost never seen with the kids on whose behalf they are hustling.

Here’s how it works.

Young kids, mostly males, go in Starbucks, Panera and other eating establishments three or four at a time.  They walk through the way you do when you want to get the lay of the land.  Then they split up and go from table to table asking customers for money.  If a customer’s cell phone is on the table a kid might put the flyer on top of it. When he picks up the flyer, he takes the phone and break for the door.  All of the other kids follow.   I have, on four occasions, seen kids snatch a wallet or purse.  Whatever the thievery, try to imagine the commotion that must be going on in the downstairs brain of these young kids.  The “excitement’ created by this kind of primitive behavior probably cause their bodies to feel like a working garbage truck sounds.

On weekends, some kids come in the same business several times a day.  Sometimes Managers let the kids leave on their own.  Most of the time they ask them to leave.  Some kids just leave.  Some refuse and leave when they get ready.  Others leave a trail of profanity behind them and if the manger is white, they remember to call him a racist.   Managers say they don’t call the police, the kids know they’re not going to call.  “So, one manager asked, “What can we do?”

This is not the behavior of kids who are being developmentally appropriately silly so when you say, “Boy, what is wrong with you? they run and giggle so hard they almost knock each other down and all you can do is shake your head.   These kids are being coached and monitored by what Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed) calls sub-oppressors – people who become oppressors of their own people.   They employ the same tactics as drug dealers:  give the shorty a few dollars to do their dirty work because they probably won’t get stopped.  If they do, they probably won’t get arrested.  If they get arrested, they’ll just go to ju-vey.

An eight-year old who came into Panera verified this.  During our conversation, I asked, “How would you feel if I came into your business bothering your customers? “I’d be mad,” he said.  “What would you do?”  “I’d tell you to get out.   Our conversation ended with me saying, “I want you to go home.”  His response: “I can’t. My Father is outside.”    And, he was with four other children – one girl, all under the age of ten hustling their hearts out while he stood watching like their overseer.   Granted this man may not have been the kid’s father but he was real grown.

So, I asked myself, am I witnessing African-American sub-oppressors making people who are ashamed of their history of oppression pay?   Could be.  What if this is about reparations?

Contributors to Should America Pay?  Slavery and The Raging Debate on Reparations, believe masses of African-Americans are engaged in a reparations movement because, “They have not lost the memory of the historical atrocities inflicted upon them and they will never forget or dismiss the continuation of this mistreatment by this country.”    Molly Secours, also a contributor who identifies herself as a middle-aged White woman, believes reparations are due because of “all of the subtleties that prohibit people of color from walking though the world with the same ease and privilege that most Whites enjoy.”  In a Case for Reparations (Atlantic Monthly, June 2014) Taneshi Coates says America will never be whole until it pays its debt to African-Americans who are systematically shut out of wealth-building opportunities.

People are genuinely attempting to work through the complexities associated with America paying this debt but hustling sub-oppressors are not among them.  And neither are guilty White people.

In The Content of Our Character, Shelby Steel says, guilt “makes us afraid for ourselves and so generates as much preoccupation as concern for others.   The nature of this preoccupation is always the redemption of innocence, the reestablishment of good feeling about oneself…. It can lead us to put our own need for innocence above our concern for the problem that makes us feel guilty in the first place.”

Nine and a half times out of ten, our kids are hitting up White people for money.  This gives me some sense of what sub oppressors are filling their heads with.  And, it makes me think Shelby might be on to something.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched kids walk right past me and other African-Americans and take their appeal to the white person.  Now, unless white people suffer from a collective visual impairment, there is no way they don’t see this too.  I have ease-dropped on my share of conversations between the hustler and hustled. The kids approach White people with just the right amount of deference.  The responses that “Make Me Wanna Holla” include –  You’re going to be the next Michael Jordan?  Who is your favorite football player?   I bet this is a big help to your Mother.  It’s nice of you to help your school out.

I know from experience, White people are good at asking questions but I have never heard a hustled White person ask the questions I and other African-Americans asked:  Do you have a school ID?   Does your school have a website?  Why does your coach have you out here collecting money?  Do you have your coach’s phone number?  Can I get a receipt for my donation?  But, I guess one does not ask questions if as Shelby says, “An ill gotten advantage is not hard to bear – it can be a mark of fate – until it touches the human pain it brought into the world.”

Guilt, reparations and hustling.  And our kids are doing the asking and the collecting.  African-American sub-oppressors willing to accept a dime, a quarter, a dollar as payment toward a debt that is bigger than most of us can comprehend is using “make whitey pay” as an excuse to hustle.   And, guilt-ridden White people willing to pay because “Blacks, then, become their redemption and as such, they must be seen as generally less than others with needs that are “special,” “unique,” “different.”  (Shelby)

I’ve talked with a lot of African-Americans about this.  Most are concerned about what it means for our kids.  “What can I do?” they ask.  But, sadly, it’s more a statement of resignation than an action question.  To those who justified this activity by saying, “They’re just trying to make a little money, Yvonne,” I say, “This is not training for budding entrepreneurs.   And, to those who said, White kids “do the same thing.”   I say, “White privilege is not transferrable.  African-American kids, even in 2016, cannot move around in this society with the same fluidity as White kids.  All this does is make them more vulnerable than any kid ought to be.

It is not ok for our kids to be running from a place of business because they have stolen something or to be “evicted” because they are doing something they have no business doing.

It is not ok for us to be asking the same question store managers are asking.   And, it is not ok for us to leave our children’s understanding of how African-Americans are and will response to racism and racist practices in the hands of the guilty and the hustler.

So what can we do?

For starter, we ought to follow the lead of those African-Americans who don’t give these kids money:  The message – I do not approve of what you are doing.  We can also put voice to this in our homes, churches, community organizations, CAPS programs, youth groups, parent meetings, mentoring groups, schools, theater and other arts.   We can use this as an opportunity to engage in dialogue around a salient point made by Coates: our focus needs to be on systemic racism rather than the individual racist.  If we do this, we make individual white people responsible for their own guilt and the hustler responsible for earning his own living.   We force them to leave our kids out of their self-serving mess.

Most importantly, we need to wrap our kids in the blanket of protective factors we know are required for their brain health.  These include positive socialization, consistent and growth- producing guidance and disciplinary practices and modeling from authentic cultural bearers and community influencers.

By the way, people employed as teachers, coaches, youth development specialist, etc. who are encouraging our kids by making flyers for them ought to be fired.  Trusting the fox to watch the hen house makes no sense.  To paraphrase Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man) we don’t need African-Americans who render our kids invisible simply because they refuse to see who they are and what they can become.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Whom Does Black Lives Matter?

Unless we look the beast in the eye we find it has an uncanny habit of returning to hold us hostage. Desmond Tutu

Who might they have become? What might they have done? What might we have learned from each of them that none of us will ever know. How might we all, race, ethnicity, class and gender aside, be different had each of them lived?

Who knows? These are questions about which we can speculate but never hope to answer. But, they form the basis of my wondering when I think about African-Americans from utero to 83 years of age who are dead. I am not talking about African-Americans who are dead due to catastrophic illnesses, or horrible accidents or suicide or because they went to sleep and did not wake up. As much as these deaths can leave love one’s swimming in tears with hearts as fragile as egg shells, there is some vestige of rhyme and reason that makes for a kind of healing born out of hope. I am talking about African-American infants, toddlers, young children, adolescents, young adults, middle age and senior citizens who are dead because some other African-Americans (primarily men) decided like so many whites (primarily men) they did not deserve to live. And what for? White men murdered African-American for being in their neighborhood. African-Americans murdered other African-Americans for being in their hood. One group motivated by racism and separatism. The other by drugs and separatism. White men’s greed put African-American families at risk. African-American drug dealers/gangs’ greed puts the African-American families at risk. Both are representative of capitalism at its finest. So, when the torch passed to 2016, several thousand African-American could not join us in singing “Old Lang Syne,” because either the policemen or another African-American murdered them. No matter how you frame it, it is the same thing.

The violence in the African-American community by African-American and the violence against African-American men by policemen is not an iceberg lettuce and hot-house tomato sandwich held together by a slice of white bread on top and a slice of brown bread on the bottom. So we need to deconstruct the arguments used to build the comparative analysis intended to prove who is the worse murderer: African-American “Thugs” or police, specifically the ones who are “white racist.” It is a stupid, self-serving comparison because 11-year old Shamija Adams who was murdered when a stray bullet tore through the wall of the home she was at for a sleep-over has been dead 18 months and is no less dead than 17-year old Justus Howell murdered by police during a confrontation  a few days ago.

For the benefit of my loving friends who will demand to see my long birth certificate to authenticate my blackness, I am not giving credence to the justifications offered by FOX NEWS, Donald Trump and other Insensitives that imply police will stop killing us if we stop killing each other. But I am also not giving it to those who say we will stop killing each other if white people would just give us good jobs, etc.
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It is true that we, African-American are responsible for the shooting deaths of most African-American. But it is also true that most white, Hispanic, Asian, Native Americans, etc. kill people in their racial/ethnic groups. But, what is true of other groups put African-Americans on front street because of the indisputable evidence that black lives have not and do not matter in America in the way they ought to matter simple because we are Americans.

The Black Lives Matter Movement is a timely and necessary movement that ought to be unnecessary. But it isn’t. So in-your-face action is the only way to bring attention to the behavior of men and women who have legal, professional and moral obligations to serve and protect but also have the permission of the systems that extended these obligations to murder African-Americans. Not only do they have permission to murder, they can do it knowing they have the guaranteed protection of the blue code of silence. For years, the gate keepers of the code – federal, state, local political leaders and the legal system, have been so efficient, policemen who disregarded their obligations can do, as a police investigator said about an arrested murderer, “Go have a beer and a burger as if nothing had happened.”

A goal of the Black Lives Matter Movement is, I think, to call attention to laws, policies and day-to-day practices that makes this continued blatant disregard for black lives possible not to position the value of black lives against the lives of other groups. This attention, it is hoped, will lead to the kind of systemic change that will make this the last time people will have to ask, “How much do Black lives matter in Chicago? In America?

White American keeps answering this question but only when forced to and in ways comparable to patching the levees but not repairing them so they would not break. But, it is not like white American does not know what to do to make sure everyone is clear about what she or he is suppose to do and not do when a people’s life matters. Its walls are covered with laws, acts, articles, amendments, codes, bills, mandates and other sources of communication to get the word out: White Lives Matter

It is bad enough that white American keeps acting like this question is too complex to understand let alone answer definitively. But why are we, African-Americans even having to ask this question?

What, God forbid, if black lives never matter to white American as much as they ought to? Does this mean our lives will never matter as much to us as they ought to? If this is the case and policemen continue to murder us and we continue to murder us, I and others will, on January 1, 2017, be wondering what thousands of other murdered African-Americans might have become, might have done, might have taught us?

Zora Neale Hurston, stated in Their Eyes Were Watching God, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” What year is 2016 for African-Americans?

Want Your Child to Go to A Failing School? Hell No! Education Is Too Important

I imagine there are several reasons people did not vote for Rahm Emanuel in the February Mayoral election but the one that gets repeated and discussed most often by Black people is closing 51 Chicago Public schools, most of which were in the black community. Most of the people I talked with about the upcoming election and the kind of Mayor I think Chicago needs at this juncture are still angry enough about the school closings to vote for a candidate they acknowledge when pushed, is unquestionably less qualified. The prevailing message: That will fix Rahm! The problem is, it will in my opinion, fix the rest of us too.

In an effort to broaden people’s thinking or at the very least make myself feel better, I asked what I believed to be the next logical question, “Why do you think he closed the schools?” The answers mentioned most often: “He is looking out for his business cronies.” He is going to replace public schools with charter schools” (which by the way are public schools.) He doesn’t care about the black community.” “They’re South side children. He gives less than a damn about them. All he cares about is the north side. He takes from us to give to them.” “He doesn’t care if black children get killed.” So I, motivated by my belief in the power of fairness, said, “But none of the children who went to receiving schools have been shot or murdered. Is he still the “Murder Mayor?” The silence that followed was deafening. Most telling is not one of them (at least 20) mentioned academic performance as a reason for closing the school. This prompted me to start the remainder of my conversations with “The 51 schools the Mayor closed are known as “Underperforming” or “Failing” schools. Should they have been closed? Eleven of twelve people said, “No” because they are neighborhood schools, the majority is in the black community and children have to cross gang territories to get to the new schools. My next question, “Would you want your child, grandchild, niece, nephew, etc. to go to those schools?” The answers: Twelve resounding “No’s.”

People are angry because the schools are closed. They believe a racist has once again robbed the black community; taken something of value from black children and yet none of the “I-am-not-voting-for-Rahm-because-he-closed-those-schools” people want their children to go to the schools they are mad at him for closing. I dropped, maybe on purpose, the interviewer’s ball so to speak and did not ask, “Why?” But one person, young with preschool children and a budding career said, “Education is too important,” which I suspect, reflects the thoughts and feelings of the others.

In less than three weeks, Chicago’s next Mayor will be seated but the dust that has been stirred around how we think about quality education for black children will not settle as easily, I hope. The very fact that all of the people with whom I spoke would not send their kids to a failing school but are stringently angry about the school closings ought to raise some troubling questions for all of us. We ought to be asking, “Whose kids do we want to go to those school? Does this mean we believe there are black children for whom the education offered at these underperforming schools is good enough? Beyond race, who are these children? What characteristics make them “eligible” for such schools?

There are a multitude of things to consider when we think about how this cluster of schools in the black community got in the shape they were in. I venture to say there are a variety of reasons and more than enough blame to loop around a few times. One thing for sure, if we are in the mood for truth telling, is the children who attended these schools have been the political football CPS, CTU and other political and community leaders including parents with white hands and black hands and brown hands have passed, ran and carried to their goal lines.

Talks of closing some of these same schools when Richard M. Daley was Mayor met with the threat of not being re-elected. Turnaround efforts at some of these schools were met with resistance in the form of rhetoric comparable to what has been said about closing schools during the recent protest. And, where turnaround was implemented, the schools ‘ status did not change substantially. But, some people believe, as was said by a demonstrator, “He’s making a big mistake.” Bigger I suppose than black children continuing to be educated in schools in need of cost prohibitive repairs; schools that are under resourced; schools with enrollment that is far below capacity; schools where the academic performance of too many children for too many years has been below anything that ought to be acceptable to any black student or black parent, and any principle or teacher in any neighborhood school? So, to hear a black person say, “Those schools were not that bad,” ought make us ask out loud, “Compared to what?” And, “How bad does a school have to be to not be good enough for black children?”

Some people said if closing is the only option, it does not need to be done right now. When, I wonder, will it be ok to do it? Four years from now? No, that will be too soon because the fifth floor will be up for grabs again. Candidates will be scared of not getting elected and they, along with their constituencies will be passing and running with that football. And the children. Well, they can wait until…

Some people think the Mayor would have shown higher regard for the black community if all of the schools had not been closed at the same time. The Mayor could have, some said, closed the schools over, let us say, a three-year period. Had this option been acceptable to CPS, some people might have felt victorious because they “showed” the Mayor. The problem is the number of black children who would then be waiting to be rescued from underperforming schools will not directly affect the education of any of the children in the next Mayor’s family. And, if this appeasement plan were implemented, how would we decide which children deserve to get out first? Well, maybe we can employ the model our white southern brethren used to decide which “colored” people were smart enough to vote.

A primary point of contention for people who fought to prevent the school closings is the importance of the neighborhood school. Protest signs held by children and adults announced, “We love the kids. We love this school.” “Its where they feel most comfortable.” “School is their second home.” Who can argue with the value of going to a school that is just a hop, skip and jump from where most of the children in the surrounding neighborhoods go? Just thinking about it can give you goose pimples but what if the neighborhood school is not what it used to be? What if it has not been that for a while? What if it no longer needs to be what it was? If we keep under performing school open while we figure this out, what do black children do especially since words that are said to have been spoken for the first time in the 13th century still holds true: Time waits for no man?

Opponents argued that black children and black neighborhoods and black parents were disproportionately affected by the closings. That is sadly true. Alumni whose children and grandchildren are attending the same elementary schools said the “school is like a family where people look out for each other.” That they fear the lost of this “village” is understandable. An adult said, “To lose that sense of belonging and that sense of community must be a traumatic event for a child.” And a little girl talked about being worried about being new and fitting in. These heartfelt emotions and beliefs are about attachment and should not be minimized. However, when we insist on keeping these schools open are we suggesting that black children lack the resilience to adapt to new environments? Are we suggesting that they would not, even with psychological support from the parents, teachers and community leaders, choose other schools that offer greater opportunities for academic achievement and life success?

“Protest signs held by children and adults announced that child safety is a major concern. This is as it should be. I do not know a parent for whom this is not true. And, I cannot imagine a principle or teacher for whom the safety of students is not a top priority. But, does safety and high quality education have to be pitted against each other? Does quality education for black children have to be defined by trade offs?

CPS Teacher, Craig Allen Cleve’s, describes school named for famous African-Americans as touchstones of possibilities and promise,” and asked in his article “CPS Kick Black History to the Curb, ”Where do African-American children go for inspiration, when the institutions bearing the names of such eminent individuals are eradicated?” This implies that there is a positive correlation between student performance and the person for whom a school is named. Robert Henry Lawrence, the first Black Astronaut, Mary Bethune, advocate for women and children, founder and President of Bethune-Cookman College and Arna Bontemps, novelist, cultural historian and professor are just three famous black people whose names are on underperforming schools. If Cleve’s premise is true, does this require us to ask, “What happened?” And, how would the names attached to these schools make a difference in student performance were they to remain open?

Failing school, underperforming school is a brand. Children, those who attended and those who did not, clearly understood the value of this brand. And, as is repeatedly discussed in marketing literature, a brand engages customers on the level of their senses and emotions and therefore influences their perceptions and motivations. So, just as the black community is disproportionately affected by the closings, the same can be said for a child who attended one of these “Failing” schools. While a failing school is not an indication of its students’ abilities, the students bear the burden. And the brand, I suspect, eventually had more of an impact than the name of the famous black person for whom the school is named.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, worked with a Commission headed a by Frank Clark, former CEO of ComEd who is known and respected for his commitment to improving the quality of life for Black people. Clark said, “I came out of retirement for one reason – a better education for Chicago children.” And, yet his reputation and involvement in the process was not enough for Black people who are mad to conclude that as hard as it might be for children to leave their neighborhood schools, closing them was the best thing, the only thing that made sense if the decision was for and about children and their future.

Closing these schools is not going to fix the problems. It is just a few significant steps in the right direction. As warned by Frederick Hess, author of The Same Thing Over and Over, we cannot, should not “romanticize” school reform. But we had to start somewhere. Closing 51 failing schools will not be any easier on some distance tomorrow than it was on that day in 2013, when CPS finally had the courage to say out loud and in public for the nation to hear, “It is not ok for the words ‘failing” and “school” to be in the same sentence, especially when black children, even those in the best circumstances, have to be prepared to face the invisible challenges that come with succeeding in “post-racial” America.”

Is CPS prepared to keep its word? We’ll see! But, they said it now. And they cannot take it back.

Can You Do It Just For You?

The story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short.” Abraham Maslow, Humanistic Psychologist

I was writing this as 2015 made its entry. It did so without asking my permission or apologizing or delaying its entry to give me more time to finish my 2014 business. It did what the New Year is in the habit of doing – beginning without any regard for what I think, feel or want.

I’ve had a lot of practice ending and beginning of years but have nothing profound to say about how to best prepare to end one and beginning another. What I can tell you is that my awareness that the year is coming to an end begins in the fall, the season poet Emily Dickinson accurately describes as “A little this side of snow and that side of haze.” It’s the season that increases awareness – awareness prompted by wonder rather than worry. At least that’s how it is for me. It’s nature’s slideshow of leaves that turns from shades of green to an amazingly beautiful array of colors and then casually flutter to the ground that starts me wondering about a question I ask myself and answer on the first day of every year, “How satisfied am I with the way I lived my life the last 12 months?

The 2014 answer is “Somewhat” which means not as dissatisfied as I could be but not a satisfied as I hoped I’d be. If 2014 issued me a report card; my average grade would be “C” with 4 ++++. I can hear people who know me saying, “You’re too hard on yourself.” That is true sometimes but this grade is well earned. If my 2014 grade was based just on what I did, it would be an “A” because the things I did, I did well. But life doesn’t work like that. Living, learning, giving, receiving and growing is affected as much by what we don’t do as by what we do. So, my “C” with four ++++ reflects decisions I didn’t make or actions I didn’t take because not taking them was the easy way out or things I did that were simply an excuse for not doing something else that was clearly more important or things I insisted I wanted to do and either started them but didn’t complete or never got around to doing more than talking about them.

I have repeated this behavior often enough not to do the negative self-talk it is so easy for us to engage in when we don’t keep our commitment to ourselves but apparently not long enough not to have to say, “No” for the umpteenth time when asked “Are you taking piano lessons?”

Playing the piano is my “Just-for-me-thing.” As seem to be typical of people who keep putting off doing their “Just-for-me-thing” it’s easy for me to visualize myself playing the piano and imagine the satisfaction I would feel. But, when it came to using the space in between January 1, 2014 and January 1, 2015 learning to do something I have wanted to do since I was little (which was a while ago) I did little more than talk about it. Despite this, I believe “just for me things” are necessary because of what they can mean for the body, mind and spirit and how they can demonstrate what “To thine own self be true” means on an individual level.

So what is a “Just-for-me-thing.” It’s either something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t done, something you enjoyed doing but don’t do anymore with any degree of regularity or something you need to do stop doing.

“Just-for-me-things” meets two board types of needs: self-actualizing and stabilizing. Self –actualization, according to Dr. Abraham Maslow, Founder of Humanistic Psychology, is “The desire for self-fulfillment; to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.” On the other hand, I define stabilization as one’s desire to achieve his or her “normal” and doing what is necessary to maintaining it.

Self-actualizing just-for-me-things are described as something people need to do but not because it is required but because of how “rewarding, and emotionally fulfilling” they are. My Friend Beverly said, “My Just-for-me-thing,” is singing in a choir. My favorite memory is of the choir singing Peace Be Still. When our voices blended, I’d feel as if we were one voice proclaiming a universal message.” Cindy’s” Just-for Me-thing” is providing affectionate care for four-legged family members. Caring for cat and dogs, especially those who are ill and reaching the end of their life is a comfort to everyone. Shirley, who knew in first grade that she was an artist, paints scenes that are “vacations on canvass.” Paint feel “natural” to Shirley,” like something I am suppose to do. “ These are just three examples of people who have no doubt about what their “Just-for-me-thing” is. And, yet Beverly hasn’t sang in almost 20 years. Cindy works with pets occasionally, Shirley goes months without picking up a paintbrush and there’s me who bought a piano I never used and paid for lessons I didn’t take.

Stabilizer “just-for-me things” are described as things people’s need to start doing or stop doing. They’re life style changes that, if made, can potentially improve the quality of one’s life. The need to stabilize an area of one’s life: physical health, mental health, fitness, education, employment, recreation, social interaction and religious or spiritual practices, etc. requires an investment in doing something just for you.

Unlike self-actualizing needs, unmet stabilizer needs are visible to others either because of how they show up on our bodies or influence our thinking. But more importantly, they tend to have a profound impact on our interactions with others, including strangers. Just as there are positive consequences from doing self- actualizing “Just-for-me-things,” there are generally negative consequences for not doing stabilizer just-for me-things. Would Larry’s toes have been amputated if he ‘d done the “Just-for-me-things” his doctors recommended? Is the horsiness in my favorite Nephew’s voice the beginning of something that will make him wish he’d done a “Just-for me-thing – stop smoking cigars? If Sherry had done her “just-for-me thing” – going away to college on scholarship, instead of meeting her boyfriend’s need for her to stay in Chicago, (If you love, you won’t go) would it have prevented more than decade of despair that has come with three babies, three daddies and drugs. The answer to these questions: “Don’t know.”

Whether we’re talking about unmet self-actualizing or unmet stabilizing needs, I think we wonder as Shirley did, “Why so many of us put off doing the things that gives us the greatest satisfaction or would afford us a higher quality of life?” Cindy thinks its because we’re afraid of appearing to be selfish. That’s understandable when neglecting self become a habit that’s viewed as you’re doing “unto others as you would have then do unto you.” While this is an important guideline for reciprocity, most of us, especially women don’t know how to practice healthy selfishness. Therefore we think we’ll do our ‘just-for-me-thing” tomorrow but for far too many of us that tomorrow never comes. If that tomorrow never comes for a self-actualizing need it is sad but not devastating. But when it doesn’t come soon enough to meet a stabilizer need, the price may be greater than we are emotionally prepared to pay.

The explanations most often given for not doing our just-for me-things” are not enough time or money. No doubt, people are busy, some more than other. But, time, which doesn’t discriminate, is our to use however we will. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Time Use Survey, the average American over 15 spends 2.8 hours per day watching TV. Neilson reports that the Average American over 2 years of age spends 34 hours a week watching TV and eMarketers reports adults spend approximately five hours daily on non-voice mobile devices. Could we borrow a few hours a week from this form of leisure for “Just-for-me-things”? I asked my friend, a piano tuner, “How much time do I need to devote each week to learning to play the piano? Her answer: a one-hour lesson and 1 hour and 50 minutes practice per week. Gym (Health club memberships) can meet both self-actualizing and stabilizer needs. Either way, a 2014 study reports that 67% of Americans who hold a gym (health club) membership never used it. Some things require both time and money; some one or the other. If my scanty research means anything maybe they are not the intruders. So if we can’t blame them, maybe the question, I need to ask about piano lessons and you need to ask about your just-for-me-thing is, “Am I worth it?

Doing Just-for-me things are, in my opinion, as essential as earning a living wage, eating healthy and sleeping but unlike these necessities, you can live your entire life and never do them. The reason: nobody can make you do them, punish you for not doing them, talk you into doing them or love you enough to get you to do them. Don’t do them. They don’t get done. They don’t get done because they’re the things nobody can do for you but you.

Today is the 12th day of the New Year. There are 353 days, 8472 hours left in this year. ” I can devote 850 of those hours to learning to play the piano. But will I? That is the challenge all of us face when it comes right down to it. Do I do unto me and them or just unto them? Only time will tell. I don’t know about you but when fall comes again and the leaves turn colors and flutter to the ground prompting me to think about my end-of the-year question, I will know whether I am still among those Maslow speaks of when he says, “The story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short.

Happy 2015, whatever that means for you.

Burn? Tear Up? Fight? Hug?

Choice is what enables us to tell the world who we are and what we care about.
Barry Schwartz, Paradox of Choice

We have grown accustom to having someone to which we can adorn with the title “The leader.” Some we elect. Some we select. Some are self-appointed. Others are imposed. Some are highly effective. Some are equally ineffective. Most are somewhere in-between. Our need for “the leader” has allows us to become experts at using the TW strategy – tolerate and wait. Therefore leaders tend to retain their positions, some for years, even when our satisfaction with their leadership is far below what it is reasonable to expect.

There is, however, a kind of leader – a Just-In-Time Leader – that is not selected, elected, self-appointed, cannot be imposed upon a group and, is not granted the leadership role because of education or economic status, name recognition or any of the other reasons we use to justify our decisions.

Like other leaders, the affect and effect of the words and actions of the Just-in-Time leader will be longlasting. People will be forced to live with the consequences – negative or positive. Unlike other leaders, his or her credibility comes almost exclusively from what he or she demonstrates and/or is perceived to know about a particular situation. His or her time on the leadership stage is limited. He or she is expected to recognize the urgency of the situation and speak to it in a way that gifts his or her audience with both relief and direction. It is a kind of leadership for which there is no training but of which all of us need to be aware if and when a situation beckons us to the stage.

…………

He stands on top of a vehicle. The waiting is over. The announcement has been made. The decision is what people hoped it would not be but what they expected it to be. Tensions are high. A crowd of strange bedfellows wait – wait to see what he is going to do. ‘Lead us, their silence demand. Tell us what you want us to do.” “Burn the Bitch down! Burn the Bitch down,” he shouts. And they do.

He stands behind the podium but in front of hundreds of people seated on the ground floor and in the balcony at Morgan State College. The waiting is over. They may be angry but they are not disappointed because their belief that the system will always protect the life of a white man over that of a black man and the job of a white policemen over the rights of a dead black man has been confirmed. Hope for change is low – maybe nonexistent after all, they have been through this before. They need to hear what their leader has to say: “There is a law for retaliation. We’re tired. We want some of this earth or we’ll tear this goddamn country up.” They are on their feet. The applause from their hands and the sounds from their voices say, “We hear you. We understand.” We agree.”

He stands behind a circular podium against a backdrop of classic red robes worn by members of the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church Choir and in front of congregants who are living with a decision that for some means things are as they have always been. They need his help reconciling thoughts that are most likely in conflict with the Church’s mission and vision of Rebirth and Restoration and those that come with knowing Michael Brown “could be my Son.” ” You can’t leave the injured out of the process…, We lost the first round but the fight ain’t over. You don’t judge a fight on one round. Even if we get knocked down, we get up and go to the corner and come out fighting the next round. You won the first round Mr. Prosecutor. Don’t cut your gloves off cause the fight is not over. Justice will come to Ferguson.” Voices giving off different sounds blend together as only they can do when there is understanding and agreement.

He stands in front of a police barricade. He is one of many in Portland, Oregon protesting an injustice that occurred approximately 1,500 miles away in someplace called Ferguson, Missouri. He is twelve. “The level of police brutality toward young black kids,” is causing tears, the kind you just cannot stop, to stream down his cheeks. He is carrying an 11 x 17 poster board – white letters against a black background: FREE. HUGS!! “Can I have one of your hugs,” a policeman asked? They step to each other. A boy and a man, a black citizen, a white policeman. They embrace and for a moment, hold onto each other.

………

Stepfather Louis Head. Reverend Louis Farrakhan. Reverend Al Sharpton. DeVonte Hart: all four justified in their emotions. All four up-front and out front just in time to bathe the ears of people across the globe with the verbal concoction of his choice. Some may need them to be the “angry, aggressive black man.” Some may want them to play the role of the “Magical Negro” (the stereotypical black man shown in movies whose greatest joy comes from using his wisdom to help the white man understand and overcome his racism and therefore become a better person.) Still other may expect them to string together words that confront the injustice while offering hope, calls for action while honoring accountability. Ultimately it is his choice. It is not an easy one. The political agendas of the audience are as varied as their physical characteristics. Adding to this is the fact that the same people’s rights are violated over and over again by representatives of the system whose obligation it is to guarantee fairness and justice for all. But, that, as the saying goes, comes with the territory

So, what are the best words for a Just-in-Time leader to speak for this situation? How does he know the best words are the right words? Does he tell people what they need to hear? And, is what they need to hear, the best thing for the leader to say? These are questions for which I have no answers. But I remembered a word – Ubuntu – used by Bishop Desmond Tutu who served as Chairman of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. Maybe, I say, to myself, I am asking the wrong questions. Maybe the correct question (or better question) is “Is this (Ubuntu) what a Just-In-Time Leader need in order to speak to people’s minds and hearts, about their history and their future?

Ubuntu, Bishop Tutu explains in No Future Without Forgiveness, is very difficult to render into Western language. It speaks to the very essence of being human.
When we give high praise to someone we say, “Yu, u nobuntu.” A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming others… He or she has the proper self-assurance that comes with knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed or treated as if they were less than who they are. Harmony, friendliness, community are great goods. Social harmony is for us the greatest good. Any thing that subverts, that undermines this sought-after good is to be avoided like the plague. Anger, resentment, lust for revenge, even success through aggressive competitiveness are corrosive of this good.”

In summary, ubuntu means, “My humanity is caught up; is inextricably bound up in yours.”

It seems to me (This is admittedly my western view) it is impossible for a person not to have any ubuntu. So, for whom do you have ubuntu and how much do you have for them is the question? It is hard, I think, to have as much ubuntu for other groups as you have for “your people” even when things are good. And, it is not hard to understand how expecting someone to imagine his humanity being bound up in the same people who belong to groups that perpetuates racism and discrimination and the abiding injustice that nourishes these two evils can be interpreted as just plain crazy. But, that according to Bishop Tutu is the real Ubuntu test – imagining not because of what is but because of what can be.

This was the challenge these four Just-In-Time leaders faced as each stood before audiences, by choice or chance, responding to a situation he did not create. What must he have imagined as he spoke with and on behalf of people who could not be faulted if their mouths were watering for the taste of retributive justice? Did he walk away for his audience satisfied with what he left behind? What is he feeling now that he has had time to reflect on his message? What did his audience learned about his humanity, their humanity, and our humanity? What, now can they imagine doing with their Ubuntu that they would not have done before?

Imagine John Lennon Lyrics on Screen
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