This powerful message from Majida Abdul-Karim
(https://www.facebook.com/majida.abdulkarim) got me going this morning. Talk about giving a gift on your birthday!
“Try not. Do or do not, there is no try”….Yoda; Star Wars
“Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.”….Yogi Berra
I confess that I see the world through the corrective lens of education. Every waking moment is for me, a teaching and learning opportunity. We are (all of us) always teaching; we teach by what we do; and by what we fail to do. We teach volumes by what we give to those around us; and by what we withhold from them. And I suspect that the really smart and successful people know that they are always teaching. They “decenter”, and are like good classroom teachers able to step outside of themselves and see themselves teaching, as if they were sitting in their own classroom. But great and wise teachers are constantly aware that at every moment of their lives they are also students. The goal is to achieve a state of learning to be excellent in every aspect of one’s life (spiritual, relationships, professional, creative gifts, etc.). But excellence is like reaching infinity via the number line. As soon as you reach the highest number imagined; you realize that by just adding the single digit 1 means there is another higher number. Does the seeking of excellence sound like a meaningless journey and effort? Not quite, the true meaning and purpose of the effort, is in the effort. I would think that if one actually was able to obtain excellence; that state would be meaningless, and boring; for it is our imperfections, short comings, and incompleteness, undiscovered and underdeveloped gifts, which make both us and life interesting. The “trick” is to be every ready to receive the ever-present lesson. The best Learner is not distracted by the age, race, gender, educational level, credentials, social status, material wealth or titles of the teacher. What they are intrinsically attracted to, is the ultimate value for growth from the lesson. Settings can also be misleading; as some of the best and most important lessons take place outside of formal educational settings. The best Learners see the entire world as just one big classroom.
One of my first out of school learning experiences occurred during the 4 years I worked the 12: AM-8: AM shift at the post office, and attended college full time. The many Black American “mail-handlers” I worked with had every reason to be bitter and not wish me well. Many of them were intellectually capable to go to college but opted to take care of their families by securing a “safe” civil service job; many indeed had college degrees but were unable, because of racial discrimination, to obtain jobs in their fields of study. But the opposite happen. These men collectively willed me to gather strength every day to travel after work, up to CCNY and take a full day of classes. I needed all of the support and encouragement I could get since I faced moments of extreme exhaustion, and often said: “I can’t do this”. On one of those days I did something I had never done before, or since. We were unloading a truck full with heavy bags of mail, loading the bags onto skids that would take them to other trucks. While dragging a bag to a skid; I felt more tired than I had ever felt in my life. I was thinking about all of the class assignments I had to complete and in particular the demanding work of the “Clark Brothers”; I was taking a class in history with John Henrick Clarke; and a psychology class with Kenneth Clark. They both demanded nothing less than your best; it was just impossible to fake a “weak” paper pass these brilliant professors; they were both masters in their fields of study. All this is going through my mind as I am (as least believing to be) dragging this heavy mail bag across the floor; when suddenly I hear a loud: “Johnson!” it seemed; that I had actually stopped, and had fallen asleep standing up. The guys told me to get off the floor before I injure myself. I was sent to the “swing-room” (locker room) to get some much needed rest. “We will cover for you”; just make sure you do something with that schooling, and help somebody”. I have never forgotten their lesson of kindness, or their charge for me to use my education, not to make money, but to be able to perform a service for others. I was thinking about them this week as I started the first session of my Yoga classes. I find joy in things I have not already accomplished and mastered. I am also interested in noble efforts, where there is a strong possibility I can lose or fail (or why bother?). But as I attempted to do some of the powerful stretching positions in the class, my age “told on me”. I thought: “I can’t do this”. I was struggling to even get into a position that looked similar to the one being demonstrated by the instructor. I have learn over the years to give myself permission for a few moments of regret at the beginning of a challenging effort;( knowing that my feelings of regret are on a limited timer) I thought: “What was I thinking about when I signed up for this class?” and, “Why did I let my “exercise fan” doctor; who thought yoga was a great idea; talk me into this. What am I doing here? I am feeling ancient, but not in the wisdom sense. The younger folks around me seem to bend and twist into the many simple yet complex positions with much less psychological and physical effort then I was expending. Ten minutes into the class I said to myself; that if I can escape from this alive I will never come back again; “this, is killing me”. I was stretching and exercising muscles both known and unknown; and all the while the sister teacher kept saying: “Now watch, and manage your breathing”. “ Well”, I thought hoping she could not hear my thoughts; “Whenever I am able to catch my breath, I will indeed try to watch it”. I thought at some point: “I am making a complete fool of myself; and that I really need to “act my age”. But paying attention to your own breathing; mentally observing the resistance and surrender of your own muscles, forces your thoughts to go inside of yourself. Quite honestly, I always thought Yoga wasn’t “that much”. After all people aren’t running for miles, shaking their “Zumbas”, or lifting heavy weights. They are not “moving around that much”; and so how hard can this be? It was hard, very hard. At that moment I felt as if I was receiving some type of cosmic pay back for all of the dismissive thoughts I had about Yoga. A sister yogi next to me, surrounded me with encouraging words; she help to carry me through what seem like an entire day (1 hour) of exhaustive, strenuous exercise. She gently, graciously, quietly and softly encouraged me forward even as I made a physical mess, and an unintended mockery of just about every Yoga position. She was at that moment the Black women of my youthful church, who encouraged the children in every, public speaking, every Shepherd (with towel around head) role in the Christmas plays, recitation, publicly reading scripture, or memorization and presentations of the books of the bible. It never occurred to us kids that even when we made a mistake in our presentations, we still received the same standing ovation, the same wonderful encouragement. When I look back, the tremendous praise and adulation of those mothers of the church was like my Yoga sister probably more than I deserved. But they knew what they were doing; they were insulating us against self- defeat, and against a world committed to defeating our sense of self-hood. The instructor (Anacostia Yogi) is a wonderful teacher; and having evaluated teachers for so many years, I know good teaching when I see it. All excellent teachers seem to have the similar quality of effortlessly delivering efficacy while making the student feel welcomed and worthy of the teachers hard work. She both pushed and carried us to do our best. Her persistent encouragement along with my fellow classmate reminded me of my 70’s post-office buddies (without the salty language of course). If we are to be successful human beings; we are in many ways the end results of encouragement, both internal and external. When we feel tired we need the strength of another, to see our own strength. When we are unwilling, or our will is weakened by a perceived or real limitation; the kind words of another can will us forward to a different possibility. And, as often is the case, when we feel we don’t have enough of what is needed for the moment; a great teacher, and a caring fellow student can gently push us into our unrealized strength. You then feel obligated to succeed based on the pact you made through their inspirational and emotional investment in you. And at some point in the class something interesting occurred. I became less conscious of my struggling self, and more aware of another less conscious self. I was no longer concerned about what I could not do; and felt very powerful in what I was able to do. I felt powerful and accomplished when I made even the smallest progress. I became aware of myself improving at every moment. I compared myself to myself at the start of the class, and to where I was now in the present moment. Progress can be known, and had form one minute to the next; the key is to continue to move forward. At the end of the class I felt I had been on a spiritual journey; like an earlier version of myself who went mountain climbing in Canada (Oh, didn’t know that?). It is that time; after you reach the top, and leave the total concentration of the physical climb behind; that you look down and realize that you are both the mountain, and the climb; at that moment your entire life comes into focus. After spending more than 35 years in high stress positions; the last meditating position we assumed in the class put me into a relaxing state that took me back to my adolescence. I could see myself in my youthful activity of kite flying. We young Brooklyn aviators made our kites climb and sour to the clouds over Prospect Park (and we believed the planet earth itself). At some point in kite flying (and kite flyers will fully appreciate this); there is a moment when there is no distance between you and the kite, you are tethered to something great, high and wonderful; you are magically attached to the freedom and power of the sky; or you forget you are holding the string; and you feel yourself, and not the kite dancing just below the canopy of the clouds. The kite soars, you soar, the kite descends, and you descend. When the kite returns to earth; you mentally plan the necessary repairs; and all you can think about on the walk home is the next flying date. The moment the yoga class ends; is the moment I begin; in all of my fleeing exhaustion, to miss it. A strange feeling for an I, who for so many years found himself not missing much of anything outside of working in education. I begin to feel; “There is a life, after (or alongside) a life”; hidden from us; but accessible; reached by Kite or on this particular day, Yoga.
Driving home from the class I was amazed at my vivid memory of the details and techniques of childhood kite flying. Where had that memory gone for so many years? Perhaps you can only find your deepest childhood memories in a safe space; a place where you are relived of the heavy burden of managing a image. That night after the Yoga class I experienced a powerful sleep; a deep sleep; the type of sleep I last felt many years ago; when a very tired 20 year old was pulling a mail bag across that post office floor; back then nothing, and I mean nothing in the world existed at that moment, except sleep.
‘Preachers’ Daughters’ Premiere: 17-Year-Old Taylor Wants To Be A Porn Star Or Stripper…’ ….. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/13/preachers-daughters-porn-star-stripper-video_n_2866229.html?utm_hp_ref=black-voices&ir=Black%20Voices
I guess my concern is that the crazy and lowest denominator is presented as the “reality-norm”. And whose reality is it, really? I suppose that every type of known or imagined depraved behavior is someone’s reality but my 2 other concerns are the attempts to pass these shows off as normal reality comedy as opposed to aberration and distortions of “generalized” Black reality; driven by human distraction and destruction. We are more, much more.
It is not the comedic aspect of these ‘Reality’ shows in itself that is the problem; even as I cringe at the attempt to play into stereotypical gender; ( the never ending female ‘cat fights’ over the senseless and meaningless); and the racial (happy go lucky Negroes with much artificially created concerns and drama in the world; and without politically progressive idea in their heads. They live out their lives careening from designed “crises to crises” in a modern over the top passion play of ‘minstrelality’. There is something very odd here. When watching shows in the 50’s and 60’s like The Three Stooges (the name alone told you where the show was going); they acted in the most unreal sense of reality. The behavior was so, bizarre, so extreme, so “slap-stickish” that there was no way that the TV networks could call what they did “reality”. In a subtle way we were provided with a sort of “Intellectual sub titles”; a kind of disclaimer, that informed us: “What you are watching is for entertainment purposes only; it is not for reality consumption”.
I remember one of my P.S. 9 (elementary school) classmates getting into serious trouble, when he performed a “Moe on Curley” (2 of the 3 Stooges) technique on another student in the school yard. (Two fingers eyes poke; blocked by Curley; followed up by an overhand “head-bop”, unable to be blocked by Curley). He never got to the “head-bop” part. The young victim, lacking a script, and acting technique did not block the “eye-poking” move. He suffered a not too serious eye injury, but had to be taken to the hospital. This resulted in us boys (the girls, apparently had more sense, even back then); to miss a day of recess so that we could listen to a lecture from the Assistant principal, Mr. Grant, concerning the absence of reality in shows like The Three Stooges and “Professional Wresting”. All activities related to these TV shows were hence forth banned from the territory of P.S. 9. Obviously (as history records); we all collectively made a mental note that his prohibition did not mention after-school on the way home, on the block and on weekends. Little did I know then; but many years later I would be presenting a modern and version of Mr. Grant’s “reality speech” to a young man in my office for performing the (from “Professional TV Wresting”) infamous “sleeper-hold” on another student. His defense (and I am being charitable in calling it a defense); “I was not trying to hurt him; I was only trying to see if it works”. His attempt at directing and acting in his own reality show did not put the other student to sleep; but it did succeed in activating the victim’s asthma. “What amount of Knuckle in your head prevents you from understanding that professional wresting is not real?” I asked. His non-response signaled that he understood that my question was rhetorical; did not require an answer; and was intended to “shock” a sense of reality into his world view. After waiting the standard “principals pause” to allow for the gravity of the situation to sink in; I then pronounced the link of pedagogy to punishment (As I always told my Ed. Administration interns: “we are ultimately in the teaching, not the punishment business”). “Since you will now have a few days to reflect and contemplate the results of your actions; away from the social contact of your fellow students; I want to be helpful here” The look on the students face revealed that he knew that my offer “to help”; would somehow be problematic for him. “I will need you to write a 25 page paper on the history of Greco-Roman wrestling and U.S. “professional wresting”; and then compare and contrast them.” (All good knowledge is ultimately put to some good use; so somewhere in this world there is a young man; who knows a heck of a lot about Greco- Roman wrestling!)
Our view of reality is very much shaped by our reality. And, perhaps there is an ongoing “back and forth” of shaping by the internal and external realities. Knowledge, is truly power, and powerful in helping us to distinguish which “reality” is in charge and when. As a youngster my friends and I played “superheroes” (bathrobes became capes); and, (out of the knowing of my mother); did leap from dresser top to bed; but it never occurred to us to do what seem to be an annual event of some youngsters at the time, to literally jump out of a window playing Superman. Somehow we were totally absorbed in playing the Superhero game; and yet we knew we were only playing superheroes. And although the Three Stooges were clearly White; we somehow did not think of them as being White. It perhaps helped that TV, motion pictures, the news media; school (history lessons absent Black) gave us an overwhelming access to see many White people who were not stooges. The Black folks we saw on TV were either in some type of servitude position; or grunted some incomprehensible “African language” on shows like Tarzan.
Because we as a nation have failed to honestly discuss the unresolved issues of Race across racial barriers; these “reality” shows must be analyzed in a racial/political context; for example, when Black and White viewers are watching the same reality show scenes are they laughing at the same things? I wonder how much of our social reality drives our vision and understanding of these TV Reality shows; drives the cause and context for our sense of humor? We don’t know because we fearfully avoid the discussion of race; even when the topic is race. Unfortunately, what we presently have now in our nation is like the title of the August Wilson’s Play Two Trains Running; separate conversations moving along in parallel, but never touching. And until we have that “painful discussion”; I will remain suspicious of the motives and intent of the cultural, news, entertainment, sports, TV, and motion picture industries.
I think that many of these Black focused “reality shows” trace their philosophical ancestry not to the Three Stooges (although their behavior can be very stooge like) but rather to the Amos and Andy school of “reality” where characters like “Kingfish” and “Lightning” were playing out the racist interpreted vision of Black Americans; the “few” (actually the majority) of Black Americans who did not act, or live like them; were either “exceptions” or “credits” to their Race.
I would think that the daughters of preachers are as diverse in their thoughts about career choices as any other daughters. And so clearly it is the shock of, juxtaposition and the contradiction of this young lady’s career choice, and her father’s vocation, that is the objective here. All done in that endless search for a space and place to make money. Another woman objectified and commercialized in an unimaginative entertainment vehicle; (where do they find these people?). And of course; on full display: The “joy” of seeing the hypocrisy and failures of Christian parenting skills. Another reason to say: “You see, that’s why I don’t go to church…; that’s why I don’t listen to ministers”. There is something strange and unsettling about the public’s thirst to see public figures fail and fall. Do we find a collective comfort to see that like us, they often live in a sad reality? We know where this show is heading, the plot and the necessary conflicts story line. And if it is successful, were the producers responding to the reality of a desire on the part of the audience; or, are they creating that desired reality? And even if she is only “thinking” about this particular career move; I would think that being the child of a preacher, could offer us many important and interesting insights as to its unique challenges, beyond the extreme of pornography and striping.
OK, so I am really going to stop saying about these “reality shows”: “It can’t possibly get any worse” (It’s only a matter of time: “The Real Hip-Hop-Probasketball/Football Players Baby-Mommas-Stripper Housewives of Atlanta”…majmuse.net). Clearly, I am just setting myself up for disappointment. This: ‘Preachers’ Daughters’ Premiere: 17-Year-Old Taylor Wants To Be A Porn Star or Stripper…’ ; moves us tragically closer to worse, at least I hope!
(Or does the “Education Governor” have low expectations; and low Teaching & Learning standards?)
Has the concept of ‘hypocrisy’ gone out of style? Imagine, utilizing a divisive statement to explain how an opponent was ‘divisive. A good linguistic magic trick to use, if no one notices. Now, I know good high school English teachers have continued the practice of teaching the conceptual understanding of words like “Irony,” “contradiction” and “Paradox,” through fictional text (novels, short stories). Is this then, an example of the dumbing down of public speaking? The conservative Republican version of, “keeping it real”? Perhaps, this is just another example of the type of hubris we see so often in the world of politics that says; “I will just say it, and since very few people fact-check, read or listen critically, I can get away with it”. I have found it intellectually painful to watch some elected official pontificate proudly and poorly on the female physiology, as if they had never set foot inside of a high school Biology class. But what of all of those millions of Americas who did get into that Biology class; do these politicians really expect to fool all of them? This does not bode well for the 2016 candidacy of the “Education Governor.” And if by some chance, he does get elected in 2016 (Yikes, NCLB-2 the sequel coming to close a school near you); we are in trouble, if he turns out to be a poorly educated president.
Unlike one of my favorite fictional characters, Jack Ryan (Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games); there are some performances you don’t want to ever see repeated. We left our last adventures in the “Bush”; searching for “weapons of mass destruction” which like The Russian submarine in “Red October,” was fictional. But in the case of Bush 2; the two wars that followed were very real, deadly, painful and costly. We saw the Clinton surpluses turned tragically into deficits; and unregulated financial raiders played the very Unpatriotic Game of mugging the American taxpayers; and then making them pay to replace the stolen money. They were “Too big to fail”, but not too big to fail to steal.
But I do hope our “educational governor”, has higher proposals for English Language Standards than what was presented in this “Face the Nation” Interview. Perhaps he was attempting to “meet” his reality challenged fan club at a ‘standard level’ for which they could grasp, and would feel comfortable. And then hope that anyone else watching who took more than 2 classes of high school English utilized his air time as a bathroom break. Unfortunately, his “red meat” pitch to the anti-obamaist fails horribly as a teaching methodology. As an educator you must always strive to take a student to a higher level of competency. It is not where they are; but rather, what they can become, and what they will be able to do greater, and better, after encountering you. He could have taught an authentic lesson utilizing (Bad Research, Wishful Thinking; and in the end, “You can’t hurry love”. http://majmuse.net ) on the rational for the Republican loss to a sitting president in the face of a very slow recovering economy. The race was the Republicans to lose, and that’s exactly what they did. But I suspect that the angry right wing crowd watching was not in the mood for meta-cognition (thinking about what’s going on in their own heads); or a thoughtfully deconstructed political analysis of the last presidential campaign. That type of approach would not allow them to pour salt on their own festering wounds of resentment.
If in the future Mr. Bush does opt for a more pedagogically authentic (honestly teach) route; I would refer, and recommend him to the now infamous “47%” Mitt Romney speech,” and the “spiting mad”, and literally “Spiting mad Tea Party demonstrators”; both available on YouTube. There he will find two excellent metaphorical examples; without fear of hypocrisy, for describing divisiveness in its glorious and demonstrative best…. “Jeb Bush: Obama ‘won by, in some ways, dividing the country’”… http://www.washingtontimes.com/blog/inside-politics/2013/mar/10/jeb-bush-obama-won-some-ways-dividing-country/
“How the demographic shift could hurt Democrats too”……. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/how-the-demographic-shift-could-hurt-democrats-too/2013/03/08/de82ab38-8128-11e2-a350-49866afab584_story.html
Putting aside the poor research methodology. Demographics, present and trending, is both the cause and indicator, (but not the driving cause) of the future recruitment problems facing the Republican Party (GOP). The problem is centered in their ideas, or as some would say, the lack of. Any “business plan” that calls for an appeal to a shrinking customer base is doomed to fail. Food chains like Burger King and McDonald are seeking to now appear more “health conscious” because the consumers are showing a greater interest in health and caloric intake. The former “Fast” label that was their claim to fame is less appealing, since many food outlets (i.e. Chipotle) have learned to serve food fast and healthier. The Republicans need an MBA marketing team, not a bad social science researcher, who acting like a celebrity “groupie” tells them what they want to hear, as opposed to what they need to hear. The GOP has decided to pursue policies that appeal to a small shrinking segment of the American population. The author’s thesis here, is that this cohort can be artificially grown. It is the height of wishful thinking to believe that bad ideas could just be “artificially implanted” (I just couldn’t help it) into a generation of Americans, such that they would shift their politically loyalties. The real problem is in the details of policies that are based on principles that offend a larger, and growing segment of the population. Women for example are going to seek more, and better equality in all segments of society; and to the GOP’s dismay, complete control concerning matters that affect their personal physiology. Those same women are going to join a large coalition of Americans who want to see support, not senseless cuts to education and health care. The writer forgets that Democrats, unlike the Republicans have been learning for some time how to “manage” their language. We have not heard them use the word “Liberal” in quite a while; and even the ascendancy of the first Black President has not stop the trend started by the Clinton administration of going silent on the vocabulary of helping the “Poor” (heavily concentrated in our communities of color). The poor (working and not working) have been dropped for a serious, exclusive and committed relationship with the “Middle-Class”. There is however, a glimmer of hope for the GOP in that the Democrats are now running real scared of sounding, well, compassionate and caring toward those in our society who are suffering due to no fault of their own. The Democrats could in the future, overplay this appeal to those “hard to find and define”; independents and ‘moderate conservatives’. I predict (since we are in the utilizing bad research mode) that as the economy improves, unemployment drops and the employed feel more secure in their present jobs; Americans will shift toward a more giving and caring society (Oh, that dreaded word, “entitlements”; imagine being entitled to a decent: home, food, health and education, being something bad!). This can’t bode well for the Grand Opposition Party. To stop the bleeding, and rationalize their presence in government, they are going to have to start being for something, as opposed to being against most things governmental. But “Birthing” (I could not help it again) more old conservative angry White Guys, is not happening. We can juggle research data to say whatever we want it to say; but the maternity ward numbers don’t lie. And even if they put some type of love potion into bottles, and distribute them to the Tea Party faithful; we humans, unlike some other organisms on the planet, aren’t built for producing large numbers of offspring. This means the GOP is fighting a three front war against: mathematics,science and time. The end is predictable; for as those Motown biologists, the Supremes, have told us; our species can do research; but we “Can’t Hurry Love”
Colbert King: “Illiteracy is D.C.’s biggest challenge…. Without readers, there’s no hope for the District.”
Indeed; But so is “weak (far below grade level) literacy”. And, where is the outrage, the sense of urgency? Frederick Douglass said it best in his autobiography; Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave:
“The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers. I could regard them in no other light than a band of successful robbers, who had left their homes, and gone to Africa, and stolen us from our homes, and in a strange land reduced us to slavery. I loathed them as being the meanest as well as the most wicked of men. As I read and contemplated the subject, behold! that very discontentment which Master Hugh had predicted would follow my learning to read had already come, to torment and sting my soul to unutterable anguish.”
Yes, the ability to read, and reading, opens a space in us that is forever open. When we read we are placed in a place, that is resistant to the confined space created by any who would under-expect our potential, or undermine our high expectations for ourselves. Reading invites that “anything good is possible” into our hearts. The mind can’t be held captive; can’t be designated to the back seat of the #47% bus. As a poor kid growing up in some very dangerous Brooklyn streets; I spent endless hours in the demilitarize zone of the Brooklyn Public Library. Once safely in the warm embrace of those bookshelves; I could travel anywhere in the world; yes, time travel to the past or the future; I could read and imagine a different world other than my own; and I could imagine myself being something and somebody special in that world. And when I left that temple of hope, I strategically picked the check-out clerk who I knew would allow me to go over the Book-lending maximum (Oh Bless you, wherever you are:-) For I was the reading version of the “young and the restless”, If I ran out of books to read. I did not give much thought then (what adolescent would) as to why so many other kids my age did not see the transcending-transformational joy and power of reading. Later when I pursued education as career I realized that for many young people their experience with reading was/is the opposite of my own. Reading for them is not immersing and relaxing yourself in language; it is more like being lost, and struggling to learn a “second foreign language”. Those strange figures and symbols, called words, that were printed on the page were not your friend; they were rather, some type of cruel unsolvable puzzle. Reading produced a source of dread and embarrassment when they were called upon to read aloud in class. I on the other hand could not wait to read aloud in class; my struggle was to “slow-down”, as I was reading for public consumption. I loved my super-mastery powers to be able to pronounce “hard words”; to soar fearlessly over the text. I was a Muhammad Ali of reading for; I could float over sentences, and sting difficult words like a bee. And at the end of my reading presentation, the ever expected and received: “Good job, Michael”; from the teacher. At that time I had no idea who Frederick Douglass was, or anything about his book. But when reading I knew I felt proud, and empowered. It was like being poor and having a lot of money in your pocket. One of my proudest moments in the power of reading was when Ms. Shapiro, my fourth grade teacher put a newly arrived to class student named Juan in the seat next to me. Juan had just arrived half-way into the school year from Puerto Rico. Back then there were no ESL programs; and so my teacher called me to her desk and said: “Michael, I want you to help Juan when we have reading time, he is just learning to speak English”. It was one of those kind acts, and kind of acts that positively mark you for life. You would think I had just won an Academy Award, an Oscar, or the Nobel Peace Prize for Reading. I took on the task of helping Juan with his reading like it was a paying job. I helped him during class, before class, after-class, in the school yard, in the lunch room. I was determined, and took it on as a personal mission that Juan and I would not go on to the 5th grade, and he was not able to read. And of course, no self-respecting 4th grader back then wanted to disappoint their teacher; or fail at an esteem boosting honorable appointment. Naturally, the teacher did not tell me Juan’s end of year reading score; and I didn’t ask. But it seem to me that by all of my knowledgeable and objective 4th grade criteria Juan had greatly improved in his reading. In any event we went on to the 5th grade; and Juan latter united with me in a gifted and talented middle school program; where he was one of the top readers. Over the years I have watched the pained look of high school students who beg with their eyes that you don’t call on them to read out loud, either something on the board, or in a book. I have known brilliant 9th grade students who are able to master Biology through visual picture and auditory methods; because they can’t read the text book. I have read the “elementary level” translations of the lesson notes in their notebook (This is actually a smart decision: why take class notes that you can’t latter read). They very often do well because the “language” of science is essentially a new language for everyone in the class; but good readers have an advantage; for example they can read and/or already familiar with the word “diversity”, or they have seen “di” in front of other words they knew from other readings, and so putting “Bio” in front of it does not stretch their understanding. Finally, they have had a lot of reading practice where they utilized “context clues” to decipher word meaning; thus, they can move quickly on to the next phrase. The “poor” reading student can do well (in fact we proved in Brooklyn that you can actually teach a 3rd or 4th grader to master high school Biology by minimizing the text book, and teaching it like foreign language acquisition) in science, but they can’t ever do their best. And, You are left to wonder; wow, what if this kid could read, and study the text book! Good reading skills are essential to all subject areas; a poor test score in mathematics, could in part be due to the inability to “read and understand the question”. It is not that students don’t know the algorithm (the way to solve the problem); they simply don’t know what they are being asked to do.
Reading ability in the 1800’s was political; and in the year 2013 it is still political. You ever think of what would happen if we taught all children to read? If we did not have a small group of winners (good-readers), and a larger group of those who are lost (non-readers)? The problem then is; what do you do with so many aspiring young people who are prepared to enter higher education and/or the workforce? How could our economy cope with high school graduation rates that exceeded 60%(and what if 100% of that 60% really graduated by truly meeting 12th grade literacy standards!) What we need Mr. King is a militant-serious-take no prisoners; lobby/advocacy group to fight for these kids. A real, and not rhetorical educational civil/human rights movement. Time, in this situation is not an ally. Our public schools are quickly becoming the feeding grounds for venture capitalist. “Play-pens” for inexperienced ghetto adventurist cashing big checks, while waiting out a slow economy. The non- reading children of color, the children of the poor, of any color are being relegated to a permanent underclass, which will only serve to feed the social service and criminal justice systems. It is a new twist on a “slave narrative” that removes opportunity by crippling the ability; eliminates potentiality by reading skills denial.. It is a cruel reversal of the Douglass experience. We need no slave masters, no laws prohibiting the teaching of slaves to read; no chains, no slave quarters, just send them to school.
“Alleging Human Rights Violations, Howard Students Sue to Get Into Sorority”; Washington City Paper; 3/5/13
“Can I get a witness”, to real Human Rights Violations that exist in the world? My first thoughts ran toward the “idle hands and devil’s workshop theory”; meaning: Don’t these young folks have more/better work to do? Maybe their parents should sue Howard for not working them hard enough academically (just kidding, no more suing!). Imagine our AKA joining the disgraced ranks of the leadership of North Korea; a group that systemically starves their population of food and freedom; or the modern day slave traffickers operating in parts of Africa. AKA, human rights violators, give me a break! This action belittles the meaning and terrible pain that real human rights violations inflict on many of the citizens of our planet. I am Just wondering if we can possibly raise the bar a bit on the issue of “Human Rights Violations”. Or, at the very least tutor some public school students in walking distance of the Howard campus; children, whose basic human right to be educated is violated every day (The UN DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD; Sec. 7) What we most need, must have right now is educational “Spartans” (those were the ancient Greeks who prefer fighting over philosophizing). We need college students who are learners and fighters for a better world. Students who see the “big picture” purpose of education that has been the historical hallmark and connecting theme of all HBCU’s. And I would think that Howard with its proud civil rights traditions could inspire students to take on at least one of the many real human rights violations issues that exist in, and outside of the U.S.
Shame on them, and shame on those of us who are their educators for not adequately raising their consciousness, sensitivity and commitment to righting “real” wrongs in the world….Forgive us: Carter G. Woodson, Zora Neale Hurston, Thurgood Marshall, Toni Morrison, E.E. Just, Doris Evans McGinty, Kenneth Clark, Vashti Murphy McKenzie, Kelly Miller, Pearl Cleage, David Blackwell, Edison O. Jackson, Beth A. Brown, E. Franklin Frazier, Elizabeth Catlett, et al…….For, how far we have fallen!
‘Strip Club Queens Atlanta’ to debut March 5” (Washington Post March 5, 2013)
From the poem: “She does not know her beauty”
“My name is Iyeoka Ivie Arabomen Okoawo.
My father named me after my grandmother.
My name means I want to be respected.”
“She does not know her beauty
She thinks her brown skin has too many flaws
If she could see her image in the Unogbo River where her mother was born
She would know…”
Poetic excerpts from the pen of Gerald W. Deas, MD:
“I wanna be my own man don’t wanna be on loan man”
“..For you’d rather walk barefoot than to lose your soul..”
I really thought we scraped (and actually avoided) the bottom with the cancellation of the proposed “babies mommas” series. Clearly, I underestimated the extent to which this cultural negation and denigration would sink. But then again, they are not kidnapping and forcing Black people at gun point to do these modern day minstrel shows; at least that is what I believe. It is not like the participants are slaves, and working without the right to self-will and determination; but then again, maybe this is a modern day expression of a form of economic slavery. They are, I guess “getting paid”. But at what price do you sell your very person-hood. Now I can anticipate all of the standard responses: (1) The economy is always on the down-turn in the Black community and people must make a living, somehow. (2) “It would not be on if the “public” did not “want” it. To 1 & 2, it is absolutely true that a ‘slow’ economy for America in general, translates into a very slow-motion, damn near stopped economy for Black America. A Black American can only get a ‘whiff’ of notice if they are fortunate enough to be a member of that often lauded “middle-class”.
But we have seen these and worse times since the issuance of Mr. Lincoln’s Proclamation of Emancipation. And opting to return to slavery was never an option. “There is a river”; (the title of that wonderful Poetic-Historical book by Vincent Harding) that flows throughout our sojourn here in America. The flow of that river constantly pushes us forward, albeit sometimes slowly; but forward nonetheless, to a greater expression of dignity and freedom. Dr. Harding was relying on a Biblical reference to explain the collective power of perseverance and hope that always got us through the worst of times, and the worse days in those times.
Many Black Americans were forced in the pre-civil rights era to take jobs that were far below their educational or skills capability. I met the largest number of Black college graduates in one place, in my 18 year old life, when I started working at the General Post Office in Manhattan. These Black Americas took and held those hard jobs in the hope that their children, unlike them, could one day be able to realize their full human potential. They held these “lessor” jobs with great pride and dignity. They endured, they did what they had to do, but they did it in the right way. “there is”; as some of those old folks use to say; “no right way to do wrong”. I remember many years ago talking to a drug dealing neighborhood friend (who did eventually give it up) who tried to apologize and rationalize his actions by saying: “Well, I would not be selling drugs, if people did not want it”. I conceded his point: “You are right”; but as he begin to smile in an anticipated victory, I completed my thought: “You would not be selling drug’s; instead you would be engaged in some other type of community destructive behavior; you need to stop because it is the wrong thing for you to do to people; you can’t do wrong just because people want to pay you to let them harm themselves; and because I care about you, you should also stop because there are no retirement homes for drug dealers; and the odds are you are going to end up dead or in prison; and we both know your mother is going to suffer greatly at having to ‘funeralize’ and bury you”. The issue is not one of a willing “audience”; it is a matter of your willingness to accept that the only way for me to achieve X is to do harm to myself or others. (3)“There are many “White Americans” who play self-depreciating, and shall we say “embarrassing” roles in the entertainment industry. And Poor Snooki and her crew always get thrown under the bus when, The: “See there is some ‘White’ embarrassment on TV” defense is offered.(Poor Snooki, It must be hard out here bearing the White folks burden of embarrassment). First, I don’t think anyone should feel that in order to practice their craft, they must be open to diminishing their person-hood; to be laugh at in a racially or culturally derogatory way. Is all “self-depreciating” humor bad, no. Comedians like Jerry Lewis, Jackie Gleason or Red Skelton transformed into many funny characters, and made fun of themselves; but it was their performance not their race or nationality that was the source of the humor. And yes, there are many “unflattering” roles performed by White entertainers; but one important difference: There is a very large spectrum of opportunities that enable these folks to avoid these roles, if they choose to do so. For Black performers, it all falls on their level of self- worth and self- esteem. There is a wide opportunity of choice that is just not open to Black creative artist. This was comically and honestly portrayed in the Robert Townsend movie Hollywood Shuffle. In this tragic satire we saw “classically” trained Black actors; who had an excellent mastery of the spoken English language, being forced to transform themselves into odd characterizations of “street-hoods, pimps and hoes”; not to stretch their acting skills, but because these were the only roles open to them.
As we ready ourselves for the “Strip Club” show; one or two of whom who actually could be designated a “housewife”; but I suspect that even the producers thought that “Strip Club Housewives of Atlanta” was a bit much (although I have wrongly over-expected, and been disappointed in the past).
I can only wonder what creative, inspiring and lifting “magic” all of these lost folks would create if given the opportunity to create in dignity and beauty? Perhaps some would still choose ‘Stripperdom’, and perhaps not; but the absence of choice; and that choice was removed early in their lives, is critical here. This is a version of Hughes’s “Dream Differed”. When people are unable to fulfill the calling of their natural talents, the loss of the creative visions of themselves; they slip sadly into a self-hatred nightmare that forces them to take on Dunbar’s ‘We wear the mask’, approach to life. Without too much coaxing, they transform themselves into a cartoonish expression of what was divinely conceived and crafted in greatness and goodness. To reflect on the words of the poet Iyeoka Ivie Arabomen Okoawo; “She does not see her beauty”… And we don’t know or see our beauty. This renders us unable to face and accept our own amazing strengths and gifts. We work, oh so hard to hide our beauty; not just from the world, but more importantly, from ourselves.
“..Only in God does the difference between ‘to have’ and ‘to be’ completely disappear.”
Man leaps in front of Metro train, survives.. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/man-leaps-in-front-of-metro-train-survives/2013/03/02/5def6328-83b0-11e2-a350-49866afab584_story.html
He got up in the morning, I guess like most people. He shook the sleep from his memory. He may have even ritually whispered a few holy words into the fleeing darkness. He put on clothes. He put on coffee. Made buttered toast and oatmeal. And then thought about the goal of dying. He was alone in his thoughts, and he was alone to his thoughts; and so there was no one there to give him the “things to live for speech”; this was seen by him as pointless. It was always being delivered (so he thought) by someone who did indeed have a great deal to live for! By “coaches” who were never really in the game you were playing; by those who made their living, and live by convincing you as to why you should live. He read them all, he heard them all. He knew of all of the reasons for living, and all of the reason for ending his life, and living came up short. This final act must feel like the most singularly powerful expression we can undertake; and yet it is in every way the least singular powerful event in the human experience. Our personal existential cross and the full extent of its burden are hidden from even the people who are close, and love us dearly. Its crushing weight is known and understood in its true fullness only to us. I once wrote an essay about people who suffered from depression; surprisingly most people saw them as happy, outgoing and jovial. I wrote in summary : “It is a feeling that is lacking in causality, rootless (and persistently ruthless), meaningless, disconnected from a particular event; it is an everyday struggle of waking up in a cloud of sadness; and then spending the rest of the day fighting through that cloud to get through one day, one day at a time.” Despair would lose its powerful meaning and its power over us, if we did not feel that not only are we facing our suffering alone, but further, our particular version is greater than any others in this world. We would gladly trade our lives for the seemingly happy life of another; while they, in their private thoughts dream of trading their painful life for our perceived happy life.
As a youngster growing up in Brooklyn there was a house in our neighborhood for which I was forbidden to even enter the doorway. To a young boy, any restriction or intrusion onto the natural instinct to explore was problematic. My mother offered no explanation, only the prohibition. My friend who lived in that house was welcomed as were all of my friends to visit my house; where my mother was always willing to feed the group of us friends with tasty food and her specialty, coconut bread. My mother saw “feeding someone” as synonymous with love. But no matter how often my young friend was welcomed to my house; I was absolutely forbidden to go to his house. I reluctantly obeyed. In those days parents were not required to provide a reason or a rational for a decision they made; and of course there was only one line of appeal; I took it. “How; I humbly asked, do I explain to _________ why I can go to other friends’ houses but I can’t go to his house?” “That” she said; “was not my problem”; end of the appeal process. What I did not say to my mother was that I was extremely curios about that house (the prohibition did not help), and what went on there. This curiosity was driven quite honestly by the fact that I envied my friend. It seemed that he was not under the rigidly high expectations and rules of a first generation Caribbean emigrant’s child. For example, I was never “awarded” anything for high grades and academic achievement; it was expected and meant only that I could avoid the penalties and sanctions of receiving a low grade. I had very tough rules about weekly church attendance, curfews times that never seem to match those of my friends; and all of that West Indian “hard work’ and “perseverance” stuff I had to endure; “I don’t care if everyone else has ‘it’; or what everyone else is doing, you must learn to do without it, and to not follow the crowd.” Or, “wait until you save enough money to buy it.” (I learned later in developmental psychology class that my mother was teaching a lesson in: “deferred gratification”; an important life skill) My mother alas, was totally immune to the marketing tricks concocted by me, or Madison Avenue.
But my friend (of the banned house) seemed to have a “better” life than my own. He had more freedom; more independence; more choices about the things that impacted on his life; and I wanted to see up close, the source of his power. Oh how I so envied him, his house seemed to be “loose” ,fun, a child’s version of a liberated territory. He ate what he wanted, and when he wanted. He could even (unimaginable for me) bring “purchased cooked food” into his house, and actually eat it!
It was only many years later when we both were grown men in our 20’s that we ran into each other on the subway (ironically connecting to the inspiration for this story). The young man looked twice our age, he was haggard, dirty and clearly was engaged in a battle with alcohol, a battle he seemed to be losing. We sat on a bench in the Borough Hall IRT station and reminisced about all of our exciting childhood exploits; like playing “Army” in Prospect Park, in those “wars” we always argued about who shot who first, but in the end, we all went home, and nobody really permanently died. I asked him about his brothers and sisters; the scientific part of me was inclined toward some order so I started with the oldest sister ________. He said that, “she was doing the best out of all of us as she was in a residency drug rehab program”. I was stunned, “the best”, I thought, but I struggled hard not to show my thoughts. He then went person by person through each of his five siblings, and how sad each of them turned out. How all of their lives ended in some type of tragic end, driven by a litany of capture in some social-psycho pathological swamp. (As it did not seem to be any good news that was forthcoming, and so I stop asking questions; but at the same time I felt ashamed to not ask about his mother and father; and he did not offer an update.) He left his own story for last. He led me through a tragic tale that led from our being together in a “gifted and talented” class to his present state of mess; he had nothing left to lose because everything he cared for in life was already gone. He was in tears as he recounted what he thought was the origin of all of his and the siblings collective defeat; his childhood home. “Michael”, you have no idea what was going on in my house; it was nothing like your house”. He went on to tell a story of physical and sexual abuse, of alcohol addiction, of neglect, pain and denigration. “No one”; speaking of all of us friends; “knew that my house was a living hell!” At that moment I could only recall my mother’s face, and I could hear her words, when she issued that no explanation ban on visiting his house (oh, the endless fount of youthful “Wis-Dum”). Not only was she exercising her right back then as an adult to be able to issue a non-explanatory directive; she was also following that era’s rule of not discussing “adult matters” with children; while at the same time lovingly protecting them from their own ignorance.
My friend continued; “Michael, I loved to visit your house just to have peace; to see what a real home felt like”. He ended our talk by asking me for $3 to get something to eat; I gave him $10 but as he limped away (due to some injury that was a result of a chapter of his sad biography); I doubted seriously if he was going to buy food; and at that moment I really didn’t care; I just wanted to sit and think, as I watched several of my (#4) trains enter and leave the station; thinking each train, like a life looked better than the one that just left the station, but in reality they were all the same. Yes, we think that everyone else’s train (ride) is better than our own, that is, until we get on, and sit down.
Perhaps (to borrow from P.L. Dunbar), we all wear a mask. There is the ‘us’, and then there is the other ‘us’, who is so inferior, at least we think, to the public ‘us’. And, because of this, maybe we value the speculative Art of life trading, over the more difficult, but authentic Arc of life changing. People, even if they are in some stage (going in or coming out) of sadness or disappointment; may want to seriously think about keeping the life they have, both physically and metaphysically; and think twice about trading for the life they think they want, or no longer want. It seems we all either have too little of something, or too much of something else; and often the “something” reverses itself over time. What we have too much of, someone else wants more of; and what someone else has too little of (and thus is unhappy); we have an abundance of it; but it is the abundance of “it” that makes our unhappiness equal to theirs. Celebrity seeks and longs for the serenity of the peace found only in obscure non-recognition. The “star” says: “Oh if only I could spend a nice weekend morning in a coffee shop, sans the paparazzi”. The “unrecognized” (in a recognition driven society where the image, not the person is the marketable commodity) lives for the bright blinding lights of fame. We are taught to strive from childhood (the false purpose of schooling?) to “win”. But what is “wining”? It is by definition implies a losing, and many, many more losers. And since the space for “winners” is so small, as is its lack of permanence; when we “lose” we feel we have lost everything we consider to be ourselves. Thus our own presence becomes a burden to us. Everyone at the Naval, Army and Air Force academies (who desires to be so) can’t be an Admiral or a General. In the Performing arts; vocal- instrumental, plays, movies, professional dance companies; every good and sincere performer can’t always get a part to play let alone be a “marketable star”. And even if one “reaches” a position of “star” recognition; they quickly realize that the “there” they thought was there is not really there at all. It is not just a matter of being “lonely at the top”; rather it is being empty at the top. And now you must expend all of your waking hours, all of your mental energy, all of your ethical and moral values preventing others from taking your place in that big bright house of emptiness. Is this what happened to the gentleman who is the focus of this article? Did he come to realize that in a world where everything and everyone is on the auction block in a perpetual state of selling themselves , being sold, traded and tossed away when the new version of ‘you’ is invented in someone else; ( who by the way, also is on a timer for discarding). Did he say: “Wait, this whole thing, everything I have been told is a lie; a clever marketing trick to convince me that I am actually living, and not renting a life?
And now, it seems, I can’t even get my escape right. “At the very least”, he is thinking; “One should be able to properly end one’s life?” And so the important question after an unsuccessful suicide attempt is: “What do I do now?”
One thought I imagine he would ponder; “perhaps, I will try again”. After all, the entire world for which he was saved to and from is the same world. “All I have done is added another “failure” to my biography”
But there is another stubborn thought he may gather in a slow haltingly, reflective moment; “I am”…simply because I am aware of my presence……. “I am alive… I am not dead”… and …..“For some reason …I am alive”..and “for some purpose, I am alive”…and…—- “perhaps, I was not supposed to die!”…and……. “My life has more meaning than my death”…”But how?”. As our friend searches deeper he may come to realize that his life is really not his to take; at least, not to take nowhere. Death for us all is an eventuality; but we don’t operate dying in the same way that we operate our living. We can separate ourselves from negative people and things in life. But we must live to confront the negativity that holds us and all of humanity captive. It is not fighting to live; rather it is living to fight. What if, instead of ending our lives, we started our lives? Imagine if we decided to design the game, design the rules of the game. Boldly invent our own definition of “winning” that allowed us to express and exercise our unique talents, not for profit or glory, but in the interest of a creativity that could give birth to beauty in the womb of service; living, not dying to create meaning in our lives.
Death can be accidental, incidental or inevitable but, it cannot be casual, and most important it must be redeemable. I am speaking here of a noble death; like someone in the military, or a Martin Luther King who offers their life in the cause of some noble healing objective. I suspect that our gentleman has been given a second chance to create a first chance. We are in a strange way found, when we find ourselves the most lost in this world. A world saturated with the distorted values of over-acquisition, and the strain of keeping all that we have selfishly acquired. Perhaps the meaning that he seeks is not found at the edge of a subway platform; maybe meaning is best translated and realized by meaning something to someone else. I can’t believe that all of the imaginative and creative design that went into making a human, any human; was random. Our lives are biologically unique; ‘ourstory’ is stored in the volumes of our personal genetic library. And also stored in our transcending spiritual DNA is our unique purpose, reason, gift we (and only we, each of us alone) must bring to the world. This transcendence does not follow the standard rubrics of our mathematical systems. In this system not only can a second chance be converted into a first chance; life plus any number of difficult circumstances always can be resolved in hope, and in service to those who are experiencing more or the same level of suffering we find ourselves in. In fact helping others may be the antidote to this crazy world; which is why the “irrational” decision to serve, is the only logical response to an absurd world. As we help others, through their disappointments and pain; it oddly becomes the key to our own emotional healing. Our spiritual DNA has given each of us an equal opportunity to transcend the flawed aspects of our individual lives; and do, each day, as much good as possible; everyone is necessary, everyone is needed. The ultimate reality is that no life is uncalled for; mere presence pronounces and signifies a purpose. The real death then is not found on the edge of a subway platform. It is however, in every present moment that our unique, individual gifts and talents lay unrealized in a world; so in need, and waiting on our arrival.
I know it was drilled into our brains by our very able high school English teachers: “Don’t mix your metaphors!” This and other sacred literally rules could only be broken by that priestly class of “writers” , who committed these violations with the knowledge, awareness and competence of a “literary license” (so we were told) “But”, our teachers said “as for you initiates, don’t even think about it!” And so I was completely overjoyed to hear the POTUS engage in an exercise of linguistic creativity (and with Star Trek & Star Wars no less!); that like all good art forms forces us to stop and “work with it for a while”. I have always been convinced that part of this “not schmoozing” thing was really about the president not wanting to waste time with the “slow of thinking”; I really believe that often these “debates with the opposition” is him engaging in a conversation that is far above the comprehension of his opponents. It’s like having a meaningful conversation with Jabba the Hut , without Lt. Uhura engaging the “universal translator”. This is not just about a political difference; it’s the ability to conceptualize the problem in a new and different way; and come up with a solution in a new non-confrontational and dynamically positive way. It must be very hard when you are ask to compromise with the other side, and the only “ideas” the other side brings to the table are “cut”, “stop”, “no” and “deny”. Or to quote Yogi Berra: “There are some people who, if they don’t already know, you can’t tell ’em.” And so on the day the Republicans engage in the practice of running the government by running the game clock out; all the POTUS and anyone at that point can do is rely on the power of literary imagery. Or, when you find yourself in a place that makes no senses; sense making can only be found in literature. The brilliant use of a mixed metaphor by Obama that escaped most people; took me a few minutes to work through. The “Mind Meld” is a technique used by Vulcans (Star Trek) to read a person’s mind, by placing the hand on their face; translation: “I can’t figure out (read) what the Republicans are thinking because there is nothing to read.” The “Jedi Trick” of entering an opponent’s consciousness and then convincing them toward a particular action (i.e. good) does not work on an entity who has “Jedi” like mental powers (control of the congress?) but may not use these powers for doing good; ex. Darth Vader and the emperor are both Jedi albeit ; and I hate this definition, “working from the Dark Side”. Short translation: I can’t figure out what these folks (Republicans) are thinking to bring such harm to our fragile economy, and purposely create unemployment and economic suffering to ordinary Americas. They are mostly worried about a Borg attack in a local primary; and I can’t get them to see the world beyond their blind allegiance to a Ferengi world view. They resist all of my attempts to convince them to think beyond the benefits to the rich and big business; and do the right thing for the nation and its people.
Perhaps what we see on display in Washington is: Despite all of the efforts on the part of the Jedi to bring peace, prosperity and justice to the nation; the Klingons, watching their world fade and die, find meaning now only in a culture of doing battle, for the sake of just doing battle.