A Glimpse Into My Life

See it through my eyes & understand me a little more

Category Archives: Youth

Help Youth in New Orleans by Voting for Project Excel in the Pepsi Refresh Challenge

Project Excel is in the Pepsi Refresh Challenge.

Project Excel, a youth tutoring and enrichment program focused on the long-term academic success of youth in under-resourced areas of New Orleans, is an organization that sprouted in 2008. In the wake of school-restructuring post-Katrina, a Ninth Ward church organization, Compassion Outreach of America, decided that their community needed to gather volunteers to staff the nearby elementary and high schools, to provide tutoring, hallway monitoring and cleanup, teacher appreciation, and other services. Between 2008 and 2010, the program provided on-site tutoring services to Frederick Douglass High School and off-school site services to Charles Drew Elementary School.

Currently, we (Project Excel) are facing restructuring efforts ourselves that started with the hiring of a new Program Director. We are moving in a new direction while maintaining our grassroots approach to youth development and academic support to make an impact in struggling New Orleans schools.

Now Project Excel wishes to continue to make a difference by building a multimedia arts center for youth in the 9th Ward of New Orleans…and we want YOUR help!

Here’s what you need to know:

Project Excel is in the $50k group.
We are hoping to receive $50,000 from the Pepsi-Cola Corporation but they only award 10 of these a month. With our $50k, we’d use the money to renovate a building, lease the space for a year, and purchase the much needed supplies. The great thing? You can vote once a day EVERY day for our idea.

Make Sure You Vote Every Day!
Voting takes place from September 1, 12 pm ET – September 30, 11:59:59 pm EST with finalists being announced on October 1st.

Ways to Vote!
For the next 25 days, you can vote one of three ways!

  1. Vote online at refresheverything.com/projectexcel by using your FB login. You can vote every day!
  2. Text 108737 to 73774 (remember that standard rates apply for this method).
  3. Buy specially marked Pepsi bottles and give a power vote to Project Excel by entering the code online. This method is called the power vote method and can give us 5 to 100 extra votes!

You can help us reach our momentous goal by voting for us in the Pepsi Refresh Challenge and we sure hope that you will!

~Project Excel

For more information on Project Excel, visit us at: Project Excel NOLA

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What If “The Fresh Prince” Had Been An Honor Roll Student?

Today, I was reminded of a time I came of age (geez, I say this and sound “old”) while speaking with a younger cousin of mine. The conversation started out innocently enough where I simply asked if he found that he was enjoying his school year thus far. All of 11 years old, he emphatically responded with “No.”

No.

That’s it. A simple word, yet it seemed to hold the weight of something much heavier. Inquisitively, I asked him for details. I’ll note here that like most boys, my younger Cousin doesn’t bring his problems to me. Why would he want to present himself as “weak” to (his words here) a family member with the Lady Parts? As other Black men in my family, he wants to be seen as strong, so I knew that the words following his audible sigh were sure to be unexpected.

“I’m not cool because I’m smart. They pick on me because I’m smart. Why can’t I be cool and smart?”

I’m going to make a provocative statement and people can take it or leave it — but kids, especially Black boys, can’t be cool AND smart because parents don’t encourage that behavior.

Now, to me, this kid is possibly one of the coolest people I know. He’s a borderline genius and he’s humble about it. He’s not one of those “I know the answer to everything so let me answer the question that you didn’t ask” type of children. He’s also the kind of person that helps out those when they need help. He’s athletic but he’s a bit on the short side; and he’d rather just be himself rather than conforming to some trend.

Take it or leave it — that’s been his attitude until now. Now, he’s wondering, “Why don’t they like me?” and as someone who dealt with that, I know how dangerous it can be to navigate “life as you know it.”

In a day and age where parents already have to worry about their Black boys being tracked into slower classes, being reprimanded more than non-Black peers, or being tracked into the juvenile justice system via zero-tolerance polices, no one is seriously discussing what we value in our culture and it’s impact on what is already a challenging time.

As a culture (I cringe a bit when I type this), we focus too much on toughening our boys physically; yet we hesitate when it comes to encouraging our boys to strengthen their intellectual prowess. As a culture, we’re ready to cheer on our boys for their physical displays of excellence through sports such as basketball and football; yet we cringe when they inquire about chess, checkers, writing competitions, or unorthodox sports. As a culture, we focus on our bigger boys and reward them for their luck in the genetic draw while we disregard or neglect our boys who are shorter in stature or slighter in build.

But it leads me to the question of, “What if the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had been an honor roll student?”

I bring him up because like most people my age (I’m 25), I’m aware of his character and what he meant. He was the cool kid on the show (and in life) and I can only wonder how my male friends who faithfully watched the show would have approached school if they made it look like Will Smith’s character loved school? I even wonder about Eddie Winslow, the free-spirited but not-so-bright foil of Steve Urkel’s character on Family Matters. I even think about how wonderful it would have been had they shown Theo, the academically-challenged only son of the successful Huxtables, overcoming the limitations of his dyslexia and exceeding the academic standards that were set for him.

What would be different today had a generation of young men grown up watching the Cool Kids also exhibit characteristics of the Smart Kids?

Possibly nothing. But the idealist person that I am thinks that maybe something today would be a bit different. Maybe more of our young men would have become Scholar-Athletes. Maybe more would have found a way to balance the commercialized rap/hip-hop culture that became so prevalent to us as pre-teens and teens with the academic geniuses that many of them were capable of being. Maybe this group would have reached back to help out the younger boys behind them, thus starting an academic culture that was accepting of the Smart Kid Only or the Smart Kid Hybrid.

Maybe and then maybe not because as I think about this, I go back to my original point — it’s up to the parents to encourage accepting the Smart Kids at school and it starts with accepting the Smart Kids at home.

I just hope that my Cousin, and young boys like him, can find a way to navigate through school without succumbing to the pressure of “dumbing it down.”

Artificial Masculinity

Artificial (adj) – Made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally, typically as a copy of something natural; contrived or false; conventional as opposed to natural; insincere or affected

In essence, a facade.

The Issue

With the recent release of Rihanna’s “Man Down” video (here), people have decided to raise their voices concerning a very important issue to the Black community. For those who haven’t seen the video causing all of the controversy, Rihanna essentially shoots an assailant after he stalks her when she leaves a party and rapes her in an alley.

Given that scenario, it was no surprise that people had something to say.

I was surprised by what people decided to take issue with  — the murder of a Black man. Not the rape. Not the stalking. Not the depression of the victim. But the murder of a Black man (who in my eyes was no longer a man when he decided to assert his masculinity and take what wasn’t willingly given to him).

Why Does This Happen?

But the question is why does this type of behavior towards Black women take place, especially at the hand of Black men?

During a discussion on Twitter concerning Black men, Black women, and various forms of harassment, @purplepeace79 posed the question, “Do we think over generations of being unable to do anything to protect Black women, that Black men simply gave up?” It was a very interesting thought and I found myself saying yes. I then responded with, “I’d also say that it stems from not being able to be a man in larger society, so they mimic negative behavior towards us.”

And this is what I mean by artificial masculinity.

For far too long, the Black community has had to cope with the negative implications of our men being feminized (made something more characteristic of women) by larger society. What could possibly come from a legacy of slavery where Black men were used to breed and family units were almost nonexistent (roughly 1619 until 1863)? What could possibly come from the disenfranchisement we faced (as a community) after the Reconstruction era (roughly 1870 until 1964)? How could we cope as a community when men were pushed from the home with the Vietnam War and subsequent Welfare Laws? How could we possibly rebuild ourselves after the Crack Epidemic (1984 to 1990) and then the War on Drugs? And let us not forget the war on poverty. After all of this, we really feel that as a community, we are unscathed and that men are…Men?

No. They are not. Not fully anyhow.

What we are witnessing with the majority of men is simply what happens when role models are only present through the television and gang culture has seem to become the law of the land. Stereotypes are projected through media and impressionable young people come of age idolizing those who experienced a quick rise to riches and a fast fall to nothing (think American Gangster, Scarface, and the main character from GTA). For most, fathers are not around and our community has moved from the stance that “It Takes A Village To Raise A Child” (which has been capitalized upon by white women, most notably HIllary Clinton) to one of, “If that’s your kid, then you deal with it.”

We’ve moved to silence.

Because of this, we’ve put our entire community in danger because we are allowing young men to run around with free rein doing what they think a man should do. men say what they want to women without regard to how disrespectful it is. men don’t heed the word no and when a woman speaks up, she becomes a bitch. Or a ho. men congregate in hopeless flocks with nowhere to go except the streets. Men are doing what they think defines masculinity and it’s simply contributing to the demise of a community. Our entire community has become like an antique plate which is perched on a perilous ledge waiting to fall over and shatter.

What Can Be Done

Just as the problem affects the whole community, it will take all of us to fix it.

Men raise your Sons. You all constantly walk around bashing single mothers and harping on their inability to raise young boys up properly. So you take up the task and do so. For those of you who don’t have any Sons (or children for that matter), MENTOR. Move back to a time of community and work with the young men in your neighborhood. Take something as simple as coaching a team, and instituting principles of manhood into practices. Tutor someone and mention that young men should respect young women within the classroom. When you teach a young man to tie a tie, mention that he’s to hold open doors for young women as well AND to not react if she doesn’t say thank you. As a woman, she could just be silenced by the shock of the situation (because it doesn’t happen often). But most of all, highlight that they can not respect women if they don’t respect themselves or their Mothers.

Make sure respect for self translates into respect for women and the larger community.

Women, we aren’t off the hook either. While men are busy raising their sons, teach your daughters that it is okay to speak up (unless her intuition is telling her to shush it). After reviewing some of the responses to purplepeace79’s tweet, I’ve come to the conclusion that while some men are fully aware that the disrespectful behavior is just that, they remain silent because we remain silent. Tell your Daughters that it is okay to have a voice. Give them a whistle and tell them to blow the hell out of it when males say some crazy mess to them. Teach your Sons that their masculinity is not predicated upon how disrespectful they are towards women. When walking out with them, encourage them to compliment women (as youngsters and to address them respectfully). Promote positive behavior towards young women by you yourself being positive towards yourself (which is an entirely different blog all on it’s on). ALWAYS. Children mimic what they see. But most of all, highlight that they can not respect women if they don’t respect themselves or their Mothers.

Make sure respect for self translates into respect for women and the larger community.

It’s time that we work on reclaiming what is ours, and men, this means that you have to raise your Sons. For some of you guys out there, this may mean that you’ll finally have to raise yourselves.

The Best Interest of the Child

Today, I came across an article about a woman who’s homeless and had been arrested for using her son’s babysitter’s address to enroll him into school. She was arrested and she’s out on bond. She’s now awaiting trial (or whatever they are going to do next). For me, this is more than about a woman who is criminalized because she did the best that she could with what she had. Granted, I don’t know the details of the story but from what I can gather, it is a miscarriage of justice. Read the story for yourselves.

I’m upset because this story is about much more than education. For those of you that don’t know, I have a BS in Psychology and a MA in Urban Education Policy, which means when I see stories like this in the media, it never is just about the issue at hand. In this case, people are concerned because they feel a woman (she’s not even a Mother at this point) deserves to be made an example of because she stole education for a child.

Let’s break this down —

The biggest concern of the school (not even the district) is that a woman stole education. Education in this country is guaranteed, which means that in my mind, you technically can’t steal it. To go from this idea that everyone is “guaranteed an adequate education” to the idea that it’s okay to prosecute marginalized constituents because they sought an adequate education for their children is ludicrous. For me, this directly highlights the issue of the “Us” versus “Them” that we desperately struggle with in our country. In this case, the “Us” happens to be those who look like they can afford a $15,000 education, while those who are identified as “Them” happen to be any one person who could mess up that image. At this level, it’s really about stereotyping and presenting an image.

The second thing that truly bothered me was that no one is concerned with the identity and development of the young boy in question. We live in a country that tramples on the rights of the child daily. We read and hear about children who are arrested for simple infractions that become blown out of proportion because of Zero Tolerance Policies. We hear and read about children who are abused daily, yet their parents/caregivers remain free because people operate under the best interest of the adult while promulgating that they are concerned with the rights/best interest of the child. As someone who studied (somewhat seriously) development in youth, a child being suddenly stripped from an environment they may have thrived in, especially if it concerns education, is alarming. No one saw anything wrong with disrupting this young man’s emotional, physical, mental, and educational development? That’s an issue for me.

Finally, the question that no one is asking is what happens to the people who have now become criminalized? Will the Mother have the opportunity to get a job (I’m not sure if she had one in the first place but if she did, I hope she didn’t lose it)? What about the woman who was evicted from her public housing unit for allowing them to use her address? Where is she staying? Is she now a member of the homeless population? For those that don’t know, when you commit a crime or you happen to be an accessory to a crime and you live in public housing, should you become evicted from your space, you’re no longer eligible for said assistance. Then there’s always the question of cyclical poverty AND imprisonment. Let’s operate from the stance that the Mother didn’t have a record. Now she does. Statistics show time and again that children whose parents have been incarcerated are much more likely to become institutionalized/imprisoned than their peers who haven’t? So have we set this young man on a path of destruction now? What about his future? What are the implications there?

Laying A Foundation For Her Future

I normally don’t do posts like these. However, I’m making an exception.

Meet Victoria.

 

Victoria, The Next Face of Gerber

 

 

We want her to be the face of Gerber and win a $25,000 scholarship (possibly) and so, her Mom has entered her into the Gerber Generation contest. To help her possibly win, you simply need to click the link to vote, submit your email address and a verification code (they want to make sure you’re not spam), and then verify your vote by clicking a link they send to your email address. You can vote ONCE a day from ONE computer AND email address.

VOTE FOR HER HERE!

Thanks for your support!

The Problem of Public Education

The hot topic of today, without question, has been that of Education. Not just any education but the education of (primarily) urban youth and closing the Achievement Gap. It’s interesting to me to note that many of the people who have been invited to speak on a national stage concerning this issue have what seems to be an undisputed amount of influence, be it fame or financial. There is no doubt that the conversation surrounding the education of the nation’s most vulnerable youth is highly politicized and many people should understand that this forum being used to highlight the issue probably won’t lead to large scale improvement in the area of educating our low-income youth. This is not to say that those who have been invited to speak on the issue are not doing justice to these youth; I simply mean that we must be careful when speaking about these issues because of the emotional tone being lent to them.

Historical Lens

The U.S. at once boasted a world-class system of education. It was the first nation (at least that I know of) where the commoner was educated. This allowed us to train and produce more technical professionals than countries that largely kept their underclass uneducated. This is not to say that our nation produced scientists and mathematicians at all levels of society; but the idea and intent behind “educating every citizen for the good of the nation” was a novel one. From this, we were ranked first as a nation in literacy because nearly all citizens had the opportunity to at least learn to write, read enough to understand who they were voting for, and do basic math. Again, this idea is a novel one because many countries (especially those of European influence) relied heavily on the feudal system and maintaining the wealth of the crown.

If we continue to examine the history of public education in our nation, we’d see that it was wrought with issues from the beginning, particularly between genders and classes (but that is another discussion for another day). Continuing on, we see that Boston has been credited with providing its citizens with the first public school, meaning that taxpayers paid into a system of education that benefitted all of its constituency. We see that people were educated based on their social group identification due to the racial stratification in our country, and that this practice continued on without much interference until the Chicano Movement and their efforts surrounding education (student walkouts at the high school level and lobbying for culturally sensitive educational practices) and the historical Brown v. Board of Education ruling. It was only then that we saw a shift at the political level in what was determined to be “equal education for all.”

What’s Been Discussed?

After reviewing the historical record and taking note of current educational statistics, we still see that our nation has had much trouble in educating those who are largely identified as people of color and those who live below the poverty lines. We are largely concerned with our international ranking in literacy, math, and science (15, 24, and 21 respectively) and many agree that the fastest way to improve our standings would be to educate our poor students better (and there we go blaming those who have the least).

Of course, many people have said that charters are the answer. Geoffrey Canada, Founder of Harlem Children’s Zone which in fact boasts on the best schools in the nation, has been found saying that charters are the only educational tool that you can research and evaluate due to the autonomy that many of them possess. However, as a trained and budding researcher, many of my professors have told us that we must be careful about statements such as these because they can be misleading. In my opinion, charters are NOT the answer. We can point out as many charters that are failing as we can that are succeeding (but no one wants to do that) and even the research is tough to conduct (this would lead into a discussion about true experiments, control groups, and the such). We must remember that charters are still public schools and that many people don’t want to be transparent about their practices within these buildings. So we should take heed with touting this as the antibiotic that would cure the virus of unequal education.

Longer school terms have also suggested. Many people highlight that students in the United States go to school less often that students in the top-ranking countries. I always find this argument interesting because the underlying argument is that “if kids go to school longer, they can learn more; therefore they would become smarter.” It isn’t so much a problem that our kids don’t know enough, it’s that they aren’t given the necessary time to learn, practice, possibly relearn, and implement the lessons that are currently being taught in our schools. As an advocate of After-School Programming, I can’t tell you how important it is that students are given the extra time to learn certain concepts. I also have a problem with this argument because it suggests that all students have the same resources OR that even those who don’t have the necessary resources would be able to learn these concepts because they had more time to process it. As a student, I went to elementary and middle schools that was largely under-resourced. To this day, I remember my surprise at seeing a real Erlenmeyer flask and thinking to myself, “This looks nothing like the 2-D pictures that we practiced with in middle school.” That’s food for thought.

There have definitely been more ideas discussed surrounding this issue; however, many of them still call to mind that people truly believe you can throw money at the problem and fix it. We must certainly move away from this ideal.

Where Should We Go?

I’m of the opinion that we must examine our commitment to our most forgotten brethren in society. I’m also of the opinion that we must have a critical discussion about our biases and why we feel the way we do concerning the education of our most humble (wo)man. The stinging reality is that education will continue to be unequal so long as we believe in the fundamental tenets of this nation – wealth building which in my opinion, comes at the expense of those we can most easily forget: the poor, single parents (largely mothers) with children, the elderly, the homeless, People of Color, etc.

If you want to improve education (especially for those poor kids), then give them an infrastructure that they can thrive in. Give them shelter that is fit for a human. It is sickening to go to some of our most destitute communities and realize that more money is given to the care and facilities concerning animals than that of humans. Build these communities economically. Invest in a workforce that doesn’t continue to replicate a class system in our nation (after all, we believe that we will only succeed as a country if we invest equally in all of our citizens). No more should we think it’s okay that the only commercials concerning “higher” education in Urban communities are those which tout certification programs to be some assistant to a well-paid professional (think DeVry). Sustain these communities with good food. Have you ever gone grocery shopping in a poor community? Juxtapose that to a shopping experience in the “nice” area and there is a stark difference in quality of food (I promise, I can’t make this up). This sounds simple but it must cause a pain for many entrepreneurs because they’ve yet to do it. I mean, I could really go on and on and on about the simple things that cities can do to say, “Hey, we care about you, we really do,” but I won’t. This is long enough and I won’t go on to beat the proverbial Dead Horse.

At some level, our nation must begin to be honest with the striking similarities between “post-racial” America and the America that was described as “Separate But Equal.” I am of the opinion that it is futile to simply look at largely European countries and say, “Hey, this is what works there; so let’s just do it here!” Also, we can’t continue to take money and dump it on the problem. Targeted interventions that WORK for that community must be implemented that rectify many of the ills our society still faces. We must call on the Intellectual Capital that all communities possess and move from this idea that “experts” who have nothing to do with these communities we want to save KNOW the answer and can actively tell us how to fix our “problems.” Remember, these children that we are trying to save have lives outside of the schoolhouse that often dictate how they perform in school.

Take care of what has been seen as the “Necessary Evils” in our society, and we will no doubt find ourselves boasting of a world class educational system once again.

The thoughts included in this post are the original thought of the author (as presented), except where cited.

Counter-Narrative: What’s Behind African-American Views on Swimming?

I have a habit of reading news articles and blog postings in the morning. It’s my way of staying abreast of “hot” topics and I get to hear others’ opinions on issues that I deem relevant. So imagine my surprise when I saw @BlackInformant tweet of a blog posting entitled, “Hair or History: What’s Behind African-American Views on Swimming?” I thought, “Oh, someone is taking a look at why African-Americans (largely) don’t swim.” I clicked and immediately became disappointed. In keeping with the current trend to garner readers and generate hits to blogs, this author immediately took the spin that African-Americans don’t swim because women are afraid of their hair reverting to its pre-relaxed state. *yawn*

 Before I get into my opinion on this matter and offer to you all a different perspective as to why African-Americans don’t swim, I’ll say that this is tired. This angle (let’s lambast African-American women and their choices about themselves) is old news. Can we let it go already? Please.

 To begin with, my initial reaction to this piece was negative. Since when did African-American women become synonymous with African-Americans (as a whole)? Our designation, racial or otherwise, includes two genders: male and female. This point alone cannot be argued and the fact that the author chose to focus only on African-American women devalued whatever point they wanted to make. In keeping with the misleading focus, the only “historical” evidence is the connection drawn between the European standard of beauty (e.g., straightening one’s hair so that it’s less African). In my opinion, this perspective, while valid in a sense, is indirect and doesn’t lead to a critical analysis of the topic at hand.

 Now the question is, “What should have been said surrounding this issue?”

 It is true. African-Americans, in large part, do not swim and our children are put at an increased risk of “accidental drowning” (a death that is very preventable). According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), “in 2007, there were 3,443 fatal unintentional drownings in the United States, averaging ten deaths per day; more than one in five fatal drowning victims are children 14 and younger; and the fatal unintentional drowning rate for African Americans across all ages was 1.2 times that of whites.” Studies also show that 6 out of 10 African-American children are unable to swim. This is the reality that we live with today, but why?

 In taking note of our historical record in the United States, it is no surprise that we are largely unable to swim. I’m of the opinion that children do as their parents have done – if a parent can swim, there is an increased likelihood that you can. This seems common sense to me. So why haven’t our parents learned to swim?

 If we examine largely segregated neighborhoods TODAY, we’ll see that many do not possess the facilities that would allow daily, or even weekly, swimming. Our high schools, by and large, do not have swimming pools, so there is no need for a swimming team or the need to swim. If a child does attend a school where there is the requirement that they swim for Physical Education credit (and subsequently a passing grade), there are ways to get around this issue and many educators/facilitators of this class readily sign slips because it’s hard to teach a person how to swim.

 If we examine the racial housing practices in the 80s, we see that a large number of African-Americans were relegated to “red-lined” neighborhoods (this practice had gone on for quite some time but it was brought to prominence as the Black middle class began to grow). Again, these neighborhoods, while a step up, may have lacked the facilities.

If we examine the practices of Segregation in the 60s (and before), we see that community pools prohibited African-Americans on the grounds that allowing a non-White person to swim in the pools would lead to water contamination. I commend the author of the original article for mentioning this briefly, but more has to be said about this.

 I’ll pause here and note that I’ve already gone back about 3 generations. So is it fair to say that African-Americans don’t swim because of something as simple as “hair care” issues? Isn’t that “blaming the victim” in some ways? Back to my argument.

 If we examine racial tension prior to the 1960s and dare to go back to slavery, we’ll see that there was no reason for African-Americans to swim. Largely, we were not given the opportunity for free time and I’m pretty sure that there weren’t very many swimming holes in the South…that were safe. For any person that is familiar with the landscape of the South (or the North before industrialization), you’ll realize that swimming holes were in isolated places…and it was never a safe bet for a Black person to be caught alone and/or having fun during these times.

 I think that I’ve made my point, but in the even that I haven’t, I want you all to take a few points with you:

1. We should encourage our Youth to learn how to swim properly. There is nothing more exciting in the summer than to cool off at a local pool and given the rates of accidental drownings in African-American youth, the ability to swim is a necessary skill.

2. Don’t reduce (or mislabel) a topic that applies to an entire diaspora to one sect of that population. If you want to write on African-American women, be up front about it. If it’s your intention to generate critical thought about the racial group as a whole, then speak on the group as a whole. I speak for many women when I say, we’re sick and tired of being the scapegoat simply to generate hits to your blogs/articles.

3. Finally, if you wish to analyze an issue historically, then do so. Provide evidence that backs you up. Provide anecdotes from older people. Look up statistics, it’s not that hard.

 But remember: be pure about your intentions. As a writer, the only thing that you have is your name.

Original article: Hair or History: What’s Behind African-American Views on Swimming? 

Sources:

Center for Disease Control and Prevention – http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Water-Safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html

Despite Olympic Gold, Swimming Statistics Are Grim. Author: Tara Parker-Pope

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.

Until Further Notice…

…whatever I was writing about has been put on hold. Recent events that have taken place have been the push for writing this.

In the news today, I read a story about a young man named Derrion Albert. He was a high school student beaten by members of his community, who happened to belong to a gang. He died as a result of this (the event happened on Thursday). Now there are many issues that I have with this whole situation:

The first issue is that people in the community feel that they can’t live a life that is free from violence. People feel that it’s necessary to join a gang, or some group, for their safety and sanity. That scares me. Gangs promote violence and often operate with a mentality that is detrimental to a healthy and functioning larger community. Gangs, as we know them, promote fear and instability. No person should have to live through that and when communities are subjected to that, they suffer.

The second issue is that people feel they can’t tell. I know the reasons and the rationale behind why people choose not to. It’s understandable. Everyone doesn’t feel the way I do. I’d tell (I’ve done it before). There are some communities where some members enough grief, stress, and fear to the point that other community members just silently wish for better days and hope that their children are not caught in the crossfire.

But that’s not really what this post is about. No. This post is about the ignorance of people. On Twitter, I wrote a pulse and stated:

“There is especially one kind of person I don’t like in this world – one who CHOOSES to stay ignorant about the world around them.”

This wasn’t in reference to educational attainment (and I can see why some people may feel that way). No, this was about the people who live in communities where rage becomes the pulse of that place and dictates the actions of its members. The ignorant people I referred to are those who would readily tell someone to stop snitching or to hush someone else when asked if they’d heard about what happened to another person. These are the people who witness crimes, yet close their mouths and their minds when the police come to question. These are also the people who will offer their condolences to a family who is grieving over a family member lost in the violence.

I’ve taken this stance (and believe me, it’s not always easy to argue why a person needs to tell when they see wrong-doing) because of an experience I had when I was 10, almost 11. You never forget what it’s like to hear that a family member passed and their death was from the hands of someone else who wanted to play God for a moment (or make a point). You definitely don’t forget the image of the person who did it, if you witnessed it. You don’t forget how your Mother reacts to the news that her “only” son (who was actually her eldest child and was 16 years older than his next sibling) is gunned down because a “woman” was mad at him. You don’t forget the funeral. You don’t forget the condolences. You don’t forget the police. You don’t forget the depression. You don’t forget any of those things.

Most of all, the one thing that you don’t forget is that “life is not fair” or that he “was taken too soon.”

I remembered those lines from the wake. I remember how rigid my Mom became. I remember how cold the room suddenly felt. I remember wanting to scream and just ask the person how could they say that. A Mother lost her oldest child (a parent should never have to bury a child). Siblings lost their role model (he was our “Male” figure). Children lost a father (my nieces were young and I still see what this has done to them). A Wife lost her husband. I mean, I can go on and on about this…but I won’t. You all should get the picture.

But I think about all of that as I think about the family of Derrion Albert. I think about all of those things as I think about the community he lives in. I think about where I am now and I can only wonder if he dreamed of getting here. People don’t realize what happens when someone passes.

A void is left. A void that is unimaginable and may never be filled. Dreams are taken. Laughter is removed. A family is fragmented in the worst way.

My only hope, after all of this, is that something happens to restore the communities that Derrion Albert comes from to better places. Happiness needs to come back. Safety needs to come back. Peace, it definitely needs to come back. I just hope people take the necessary steps so that those things happen and another mother doesn’t lose a child to something so senseless.

This is an original work of Miss C. Jayne. © September 28, 2009.