A Glimpse Into My Life

See it through my eyes & understand me a little more

Monthly Archives: February 2010

Thoughts On The Label Militant

I’ve never liked that label. If you really know me, then you know why. I remember my first encounter with being called “militant.” I was in the 8th grade and a teacher asked me what influential Black (African) American I looked up to. So, I spouted off a few people and my list included:

Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Sonia Sanchez.

*Actually, my list was entirely women but that’s a trivial matter.

This led to a string of questions and I answered them all to the best of my 13-year-old ability and was then called “MILITANT.” Sheesh…I managed to go ONE week without a teacher saying something sideways and three weeks, THREE, before graduation, I’m called a militant by my Social Studies teacher.

I was heartbroken.

I knew that folks got a sour taste in their mouth when they said the world. I knew that militants were looked at as troublemakers. I’d heard that people felt militants didn’t shower and that they just wanted to shoot everything and everyone down in their path (I was 13, highly impressionable, and had cousins who took advantage of that). I knew that folks did not like militant people and I wanted to be liked.

Besides, I didn’t believe in the use of guns (although I feel you SHOULD have the right to protect yourself). I didn’t believe in not showering (if there were ever to be an 11th Commandment, “Thou shall wash thyself daily” would be it). I was an Honor Roll student, not a troublemaker (unless you count the fact that I dropped pencils and knocked stuff off of desks because I was clumsy).

So I couldn’t be militant! There was no way I was a militant.

Well, I went home and I thought about my arguments. I pulled out my encyclopedias (yes…we had these because I begged my Mom to buy them) to look up the platforms that they stood on. I went to the library the next day (on Saturday) and I did more research on the people that I looked up to. I read archived newspaper articles and I even wrote a mock “Press Release” about them.

*My teacher knew I’d do something like this…he told me later. lol

I wrote up my findings. I even made him a nice poster, so he could understand exactly what I was trying to convey. I had a little speech and everything. *I was a trip.

Sidenote: I can actually remember my presentation.

So, on the next Monday, I found him on my lunch hour and asked if he had any time at all because I wanted to talk to him. He waved me into the room and said, “Sure Ms. Lawrence (that was my last name then). I set up my materials and I cleared my throat. (Now, we were required to do weekly presentations on the materials we learned in Social Studies to our class, but I was nervous. It was just this big dude who loved History sitting in this empty classroom. I could even hear the heating system kicking on and off).

I started with, “This country was ‘built’ upon principles of equality and fundamental rights that spoke to our humanity.” <— I should be someone’s speech writer. My teacher sat back in his chair and began to smile.

I continued with, “The historical record shows that only one group has ever benefitted from the system as it was structured — White males. Groups that have been seen as militant were often just arguing for the system to be restructured, so that they too could participate as full citizens and enjoy the liberties that have been set out in our country’s most important documents.”

At this point, I put down my paper. I didn’t care about what else I’d written down. Then I whipped out my poster board. On it, I’d placed major movements, political parties, and people and the things they asked for.

The heading, “What Makes A Militant.”

The byline: “I’m Militant Because…”

This is what my poster actually said:

*I will choose to exercise my right to vote, remain informed as a citizen in this country, and hold my politicians accountable.

*I believe that every child has the right to a healthy start, decent housing, adequate nutrition, and EQUAL AND FREE education.

*I believe that we all have the right to healthcare.

*I want economic stability in my community and I believe that we should have the opportunity to be business and homeowners, as well as shareholders in corporations.

*I believe in the rights of humans, which includes women, GLBT, children, and communities of color that have been oppressed.

I ended my presentation with: IF this is what makes a militant, I’m fine with that. I just hope that other people realize that what’s being asked is ONLY radical because we’ve been duped into believing that our resources are SO STRAPPED that competition has become a necessary evil in our society. Everyone COULD have the same opportunities to succeed here…if the powers that be wanted us to.

My teacher was proud of me (Sucka knew I’d go home and do that). Said that I needed to remember all that I stood for. A lot of people were going to question, point, laugh, and demean me BUT I had to remember these things.

So I do. I wonder if he’s around still. I hope so, kids today need an influential presence like him.

Thoughts?

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What If?

Last night, I had the opportunity to hear Sonia Sanchez speak at my university. I would describe the experience as life-altering and most would probably feel as though it were an exaggeration. However, that’s what it was.

I had never gone through some many emotions in one discussion. To hear her poetry, I felt elation. To hear the stories she told of young people (much like myself), I felt extreme sadness. To hear her list the people that she’s acquainted with (either through personal experience or through study), I felt immense pride. To hear her speak of the human experience, I felt connected to every person in that auditorium. She spoke. Her words were living beings. Dancing…singing…painting a picture for all of us to see, feel, love, and experience.

And at one point, I wondered, “What if she lost her words?”

In that moment, I almost cried. I began to think of the people who had come before her. Who dared to speak. What if they had lost their words? I thought of those people who walked and ran to freedom. What if they had lost their will? I thought of the many unnamed faces that marched behind Dr. King. What if they had lost their courage?

What if?

This question is of immense importance. It’s one that must be asked and one that must be remembered. My generation. We don’t remember that those who came before us had to dig within themselves and find some courage to resist (she spoke on this too). They had a right to life, yet they had to resist for it. Resist for the right to vote. Resist for a voice. Resist for the right to be addressed as adults. Resist for the right to equal housing. Resist and make claims for schools that weren’t dilapidated. Resist.

Yet, my generation…we sit back. We don’t use our words except to hurt. We don’t use our limbs except to strike. We don’t use our courage to go against the grain. We don’t use our minds. We don’t use our music to encourage. We don’t depend on one another. We don’t recognize the need for community. We don’t. They did and those that are able continue to do. But. We. Don’t.

You see, I’m not a poet. I’ll probably never travel and paint pictures with my words as Sanchez is able to do. I haven’t been gifted with the ability to compose a melody with my nouns. I probably won’t write a book that many will read and wait for me to sign. But as reminded last night, I have a right to life. We all do. As such, we must all use our gifts. The one I was given allows me to the opportunity to resist and ask, “What if your child had to attend a failing school?”

I’ll take my words. I’ll use them. I’ll craft opportunities for young people. I’ll teach others what I’ve been taught from those who’ve walked before me. I’ll remember and I’ll work to make life better for those around and after me. The most profound (yet simple) thing that she said, “Everyone has a contract to life.” I signed my contract in the field of Educational Policy. I’ll take my contract (since it’s renewed everyday) into my community. I’ll speak words of peace. I’ll live love. I’ll hand out contracts of life to others. I’ll hope they sign. I’ll do this all because I remember those before me and I ask the question, “What if?”

And I hope that you do to.

Dream.Hope.Believe.

10 Things Pocahontas Taught Me That Miley Cyrus Never Could

Now, one thing you should know about me is that I like Disney movies. But not the “new” ones. Those are too flashy for my tastes. The ones from the 90s/early 2000s. I think it stops after Mulan (hmm, I’ll have to look into that). Anyway, this post comes about after I watch Pocahontas for the eleventh-million time. I thought of all the lessons that the movie teaches you (now that I’m 23, it all makes sense). Here I was thinking it’s a love story and it’s much more than that. I hope you enjoy this post!

*Editor’s Note: These are in no particular order. I apologize if you are at all confused.

1. Things Should Never Be Done In Anger

There are quite a few moments in the movie where you just cry out, “No…don’t do it! You’re just mad right now.” Okay. Maybe that was just me. Still though, there are times where see exactly what anger can lead you to do. My good friend Kocoum ultimately meets his demise in the movie because of anger (and/or jealousy, the jury is still out on this one). He witnesses intimate behavior between Pocahontas and John Smith (it was a kiss you all) and proceeds to attack. He’s shot. What sent him there? Nokoma (Pocahontas’ best friend forever) is upset that she wants her to keep the secret that she leaves the compound and out of worry (and/or anger) she sends Kocoum after her. See, ladies and gentlemen? It’s all bad! Anger is all bad. What you should do when you’re angry is think about the situation. Breathe in through your nose and out through mouth. Then proceed. Things often said and done in anger are remembered most and can lead to awful endings.

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2. True Acceptance of Others Comes from Understanding and Appreciating the Differences and Gifts

This relates to the Savages vs Civilized Folk issue. John Smith mistakenly calls Pocahontas and her people savages. This word, filthy and despicable, hurts Pocahontas deeply. It then leads her to sing the most beautiful song in the movie, “Colors of the Wind” (check it out if you haven’t heard it). It talks about judgement and acceptance of others. The lesson: You can do no such thing until you know someone. Until you’ve walked in their moccasins (oh wait…that’s a book I read as a child). BUT YOU ALL GET THE POINT! Don’t judge people. You can’t do that. If you do, you don’t appreciate them and you definitely can’t accept them. And if you can’t accept them, how will you recognize that they are a gift to your life?

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3. Nothing Can Stop True Love…So Don’t You Try To

Seriously! This is pretty straight forward. Person A meets Person B. There’s a spark. Things get pretty intense. Person A or B, for whatever reason, decide to cool it…or fight it…or let other people come between it. But you know who wins in the end? LOVE! So don’t fight.

“And that’s all I have to say about that!” – Forrest Gump

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4. The Earth IS Important. Take Care of It As It Has Taken Care of You

So, here’s the gist of this. John Smith comes to the “New World”. People are already living there. In his mind, they aren’t using the land “to its full potential” because they “don’t know any better.” His buddies (and of course him) want to tear down the trees, build big buildings, roads, and stuff because that’s what the “civilized” do. However, Pocahontas teaches him a lesson (through song…amazing! I want to say it’s Colors of the Wind) about loving the earth and taking ONLY what’s necessary. Everything else…leave it there. Because it’s good and that is the CIVIL thing to do. We can take a lesson from this. As the weather continues to lose its mind, we should use that as the reminder for finding sustainable and alternative energy options. We are killing Mother Earth and she’s not happy (then again, when have you known anything that’s dying unwillingly to be happy?). We need to remember that this world isn’t for us. It’s for our Children’s Children’s Children — three generations out folks. Give it to them in the best condition possible.

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5. Best Friends Do Things Because They Love Us, It Doesn’t Always Make Sense

Sometimes people do things that we don’t understand. Sometimes we do things that people don’t understand. It makes it even harder to understand when the person is close to you. But you should never doubt for one second that the person loves you (unless of course, their behavior says, “I don’t love you!”). In a very telling scene, the very one that makes me dislike Nokoma (Pocahontas’ best friend forever, in case you forgot), I also see why I love her more. She worried about her. That’s what you do when you love someone. Now, I wasn’t down with the whole “Tell the serious suitor who wants to marry your best friend that’s she traipsing in the woods” deal, but I understood it. I got why she did. It’s because she loved her and she meant it. She showed it through her actions and did what she thought was best for her. That’s all that best friends (and family) do. But sometimes it doesn’t make sense. And that’s fine too.

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6. Hindsight Will ALWAYS Be 20/20

Boy oh boy! This snippet says it all. We go through life. We stumble. We make mistakes. We wonder what if? We get things WRONG! After it’s over, we say, “If I just would have done this differently…” Well, you didn’t! So suck it up! Stop looking back! Hindsight is ALWAYS 20/20. It’s perfect because it’s the past. But we can’t let that stop us. We can learn and use it as a reference (like we use our encyclopedias, dictionaries, thesauruses, and other reference books…because I know we use them). And that’s the great thing about life…we’ll keep going.

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7. Follow Your Heart, Stay True to Your Path

There’s a huge theme that comes up in the movie, very early on. Pocahontas tells her father that she “feels” something happening and then inquire as to what it is. Many of us do this. We feel something. It moves us. It pushes us into a certain direction. And like Pocahontas, we often look to others to ask what it is. The key difference between her Father and Grandmother Willow was that Pocahontas was told to listen to her heart. We should all do this. We’re only given one life to live, one path to take. No one else can do this for us. Suggestions are good…but they are NOT our roadmaps. So close your eyes, breathe in, listen to your heart, and take off down your path!

After you open your eyes of course.

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8. Listen to Those Who Have Come Before You (People and Spirits Alike)

In this movie, there are key elders for Pocahontas. One being her Father and the other being Grandmother Willow. I think it’s great that Disney gives her two figures to look to advice to. We’re all experienced at something, so find the elders that are willing to teach you, even if for a moment. Listen to them! They’ve lived life. I know, this can be a hard thing to do, especially if your experience is greatly different from theirs (in my own experience, I’ve gone further in my education than either my parents, aunts, uncles, and godparents, but I still go to them for help and advice). However, there’s one thing that they’ll always have on you that hopefully comes with wisdom and that’s AGE. So listen. Take the encouragement, bottle it up, and put it in your pocket. Take the tongue-lashings, bottle it up, and put it on the shelf (as a reminder sometimes, don’t carry that with you though…just the encouragement). They’ve LIVED! So listen.

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9. There Is A Leader In Every One Of Us

At the end of the movie, or very close to the end, we see that Young Thomas (why doesn’t he have a last name) becomes the one that the older men look to for answers. Why? It’s simple. He’s pure of heart and showed leadership potential. Every one of us has something that just moves our spirit to the point that we HAVE to do something. So go do it! Be that leader. If you’re afraid, just dig deep. You may see that someone is cheering you on and is very willing to follow! GO LEAD!

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10. Crooked Politicians Should Never Be Trusted

The Governor was downright despicable. Not my kind of guy AT ALL. He manipulated men who had dreams to further his own agenda. Even after he realized his agenda was false, he continued on his path of destruction. Don’t be like him. You never want to be like him. But he WAS the Governor. How many politicians do we see like this? Doesn’t it hurt to know the people you’ve placed your trust in by casting a vote only wants to further their own agenda and not the interests of the people? It hurts me whenever I think about it. So what can we do? Simple! Stay involved. Stay on their heads. Put their numbers next to the ones that you call the most. Write a letter every now and then to say, “I really hope you’re doing what I voted you to do. If not, I need to get on the CORRECT agenda. Thanks.” They are there to work for us…not the other way around.

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So, while I enjoy Miley and Partying cuz I’m in the U.S.A., Pocahontas was a necessary movie for me while growing up. These are the things that it taught/reinforced (I believe I was 5 when it was released…or 6) for me. These are things that have since become important tenets in how I lead my life today. I just hope that young girls are finding lessons in the things that Miley and Hannah are showing them.

Dream.Hope.Believe.

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© This post was written on February 12, 2010 after watching the fantastic Disney movie, Pocahontas™. All thoughts in this post are that of the author except where credit is given.

Classism: Why The Big Secret?

What began as a tweet on Twitter:

#random: I’m always amazed at people who want to discuss concerns for the lowest of us in society. Most of that comes as common sense to me

led to my subsequent imprisonment on the site (I had too many tweets in an hour it seems)…

Okay, I really jumped the gun on that one! It REALLY led to a series of questions (of which I still have no answers to) on my account. However, I stand by my statement because I am truly amazed at the questions asked about social “ills” in our society.

To be fair, I will acknowledge that many people grow up sheltered. This means that their parents go out of their way to keep them from experiencing any harm that peers of a lower social standing may experience. This is right. This is the aim of a parent – to protect.

But at which point does it cease to be “protection” and then move into the realm of foolishness?

It’s foolishness in the sense that every parent wishes to prepare their child for the “real world” (side note: these are my observations, I’m not a parent). So why is it that most children who make that step toward adulthood (through various transitions) aren’t prepared for what they encounter? Why is it that children who grow up in better economic conditions are more aware of suffering in other countries than in their own cities? Their own states? Their OWN country?

I’ve never understood that.

What comes as an even bigger surprise is that children who grow up relatively poor are always aware of the “Good Life.” Always. That’s what we aspire to (I could recount my experience growing up homeless, but that’s not the point of this post). We want the nice car, the nice house, the lawn, and the gated communities. We know about most expensive fashions. We can name designers. We can name the amount that a car retails at. Poor children can do all of those things and more. We know about the lives that “wealthy” and “well-to-do” people live.

But no one knows about us? I’m always surprised.

So imagine my excitement when I finally saw an invitation to a discussion on the very social ills of our society while an undergraduate student. I decided to go. I thought I would be inspired. I thought I would finally hear from people who understood what it was like to be a “have-not.” But as I listened, I quickly realized this discussion was tainted with stereotypes and questions as to why “poor people” just “couldn’t get it together.” I was disgusted.

In spite of that, I remained in the discussion and brought up questions that people rarely think about (I was also misquoted in the school newspaper). It was then that I knew I wanted to do something…but what? I majored in Psychology at my State university where many peers had similar backgrounds. I graduated. Then I went on to graduate school to work on a Master’s degree in Urban Education Policy at an Ivy League university.

On this morning, I was at once delighted to see a campus invitation to a discussion on “Classism and War.” These are the questions framing the discussion:

Does war have a
 disproportionate effect on certain socioeconomic groups? How does it
influence existing class disparities at home and abroad?

At once after reading that, I remembered the first discussion on classism that I sat through. I thought of questions that I’ve heard and the responses that I would like to give. I thought of questions that I haven’t heard and the responses that I’d like to give. I thought of quotes that I’ve read and the questions that they’ve personally brought up.

Q: Why are many communities of color in shambles? A: Is it any coincidence that our talented minds are attracted away by “other” companies?

Q: Why are so many people of color up in arms about health insurance reform? A: Have you ever had to sit in an emergency room b/c of asthma?

Q: What effects does militarism have on education? A: Did your schools lose funding b/c of an increase in the defense budget?

Q: Does the war disproportionately affect social classes? A: Did your neighbors sign up for the military b/c of no money for school?

To me (and to perhaps my readers), these questions fall into the “How can you ask that?” category. It all seems so straightforward to me and I again wonder, “Why was I expected to know about life from many standpoints, but my more affluent peers were not?” This may be the million-dollar question.

It has yet to be decided on whether or not I’ll go. While I’m apprehensive, I would love to sit in on the discussion just to hear what my academic peers have to share.

Who knows, I may finally learn something new myself?

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @MsCJayne.

© February 10, 2010 :: All thoughts expressed within this post belong to the author except where due credit is given.