Too many Black youth have no idea where Black folk have been and only dimly know what we’ve had to do to get where we are. But it isn’t primarily their fault. We have reneged on our responsibility as Black adults to keep the culture vital by making it relevant to contemporary struggles. That means translating the terms of past struggle into present action. Instead, older Blacks often nostagically rehash romantic memories of the past, failing to acknowledge just how remarkably similar our failures and prospects for triumph are to those of the hip-hop generation.” –Michael Eric Dyson, The Michael Eric Dyson Reader
Our struggle has existed for generations, centuries even. Granted, I do believe there was more of a committment to the upliftment of our community and our people, more pride in the purest essence of who we are back in, say, the 20s up to The Sixties, the entire Civil Rights Era; but, that doesn’t mean there weren’t young drunkards, dope peddlers, and everyday miscreants. The escalation of violence due to the infiltration of crack cocaine into our neighborhoods along with the lure of gangs who offered “immediate material gratification (Dyson, 141)” and the lifestyle that came with it isn’t anything new. For us, the adults, I think it’s pure fallacy to romanticize our upbringing as if the younger generation is far worse than we ever were. As Dyson notes here, generationally speaking, our failures are about the same, so are our struggles, as was the generation before, and the generation before. It’s a cycle. The underdevelopment of our youth, quite frankly, could partly be blamed on our inability to secure economic stability through gainful employment and career opportunities, an identity, eteem and self-worth. I would, however, like to emphasis the word ‘partly‘ because we have always struggled with socio-political disenfranchisement, discrimination, and racism. But my point here is to emphasize that we have reneged on our responsibility as adults, and it’s up to us, as Dyson posits, to translate “the terms of past struggle into present action.”
Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farworkers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another. –Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
You thoughts? What implications does this have for our future leaders? What can we learn from this quote?
Our progression as a people can partly be attributed to our heroic trailblazers. However, when our leaders were killed or forced into exile, we were left with a void in our soul as a people, the effect that a dying star has in a galaxy—a black hole, if you will, an intense gravitational collapse; or, in this case, an intense social and moral collapse. Spiritually, many of our souls were sucked away into the abyss only to fall into the hands of the street gangs of the 70s, the crack cocaine of the 80s, and the gangsta rap of the 90s. Willingly or maybe out of hopelessness and aimlessness, our children followed, and continue to do so.
I was perusing through Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom looking for a little inspiration to write my next blog post (which turned out to be this one) and I came across a number of powerful statements on leadership and commitment which gave me goose bumps. He wrote:
“A garden was one of the few things in prison that one could control. To plant a seed, watch it grow, to tend it and then harvest it, offered a simple but enduring satisfaction. The sense of being the custodian of this small patch of earth offered a small taste of freedom. In some ways, I saw the garden as a metaphor for certain aspects of my life. A leader must also tend his garden; he too, plants seeds, and then watches, cultivates, and harvests the result. Life the gardener, a leader must take responsibility for what he cultivates; he must mind his work, try to repel enemies, preserve what can be preserved, and eliminate what cannot succeed.”
He further writes,
“In life, every man has twin obligations—obligations to his family, to his parents, to his wife and children; and he has an obligation to his people, his community, his country. In a civil and humane society, each man is able to fulfill those obligations according to his own inclinations and abilities.”
I recall on a few occasions being asked about why I mentor, why I spend as much time with these young bros as I do, why I am constantly lending myself to volunteerism. My usual response is that this is not a choice. It’s an obligation. Before I stand corrected or criticized, I do believe all Americans should hold themselves to this principle, but as an African-American, I believe we, of all people, through our tumultuous history and our continuous struggle, have a moral, spiritual, and ancestral obligation to our people, our community, and especially our youth. James Baldwin is quoted with having said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” Whether you like it or not, they’re watching us, imitating the example set by us. So when you speak judgmentally on them, you’re speaking on your ineffectiveness as a positive change agent in our community.
Using Mandela’s metaphor, as gardeners it is all of our responsibility to see to it that our crops are cultivated and harvested under our watchful eyes; and, take responsibility for what we cultivate. I think we’ve lost sight of this. We blame the rappers. Rappers blame society. Society blames all of us. We blame parents. The blame game continues. Although all of these facets of our community are responsible for influence on our children’s minds, I believe that the blaming is a passive approach. We cannot continue to solely blame parents for recklessness we see in our youth, nor can we put it all on the rappers. These are not solutions. Yes, parenting is a huge problem, but what about you? How much time have you put into the community? How much time have you spent reaching out to the younger generation that is not a part of your immediate family? Or are you simply concerned with yourself and your own family? I debated a brotha once and he basically told me, “Well, I’m from a single parent household too and I made it. My grandma was there..blah blah blah. These parents nowadays suck.” I applaud you for pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, but the strength of our people rests on the shoulders of all of us, not just you. Whatever happened to “It takes a village…”? Have we gotten that afraid of our kids? Our own kids? Have we given up? We cannot continue to blame the prison industrial complex for locking up our kids if we’re not actively engaged in our communities, if we’re not taking responsibility for our crops. Our children need leadership, love, guidance, understanding, compassion, and most importantly, an entire community of gardeners present, actively participating in the watering, the nurturing, and even procreation of successful generations. A gardener is all of those, including protector. We are not protecting our youth from the vices that entrap so many by educating them on the pitfalls to come, and then reaching down to pull them up when they fall. So in the spirit of Mandela and all those who shed blood, sweat, tears and even their own lives, let’s be gardeners.
One of the segments I’m most proud of in this manhood development program are our book studies. We’ve wrapped up the 2nd year of our literacy and historical study initiative, and I believe our young bros were enlightened and inspired by the texts we read. The first year we started this, we read The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley, and during this most recent school year, 2012-13, we finished Narratives in the Life of Fredrick Douglass. And throughout the year, we read texts about Fred Hampton, a little of the Willie Lynch letter, and “What to the Slave is the 4th of July” by Fredrick Douglass.
Because I want to make this a yearly initiative, I’m always on the hunt for new material for the next book study. I look for books that are empowering, but I also look for titles that they can relate to on a historical and cultural level. What I really want them to get from the titles I choose is a deep understanding of history and social nuances, the perspective of the author or main protagonist the book is written about (maybe even the antagonists, too), and hopefully something they can take from it for personal growth.
So here are some titles I’m considering for the fall semester of the next school year: (I plan on finishing the book by December and starting another by January.)
I’m at a lost as to what other books I should consider. That’s where you come in at…comment with your suggestions.
In every representation of the Negro, he was pictured as a gorilla dressed up like a man. His picture was never carried in the newspapers of the South (the same rule holds today in most parts of the South) unless he committed a crime….All of this fitted into the stereotype which represented the Negro as subhuman or a beast, without any human qualities. –E. Franklin Frazier, The Black Bourgeoisie, 1957
How do we dispell such stereotypes, or is it even possible? The basis of this manhood development program is to examine such misrepresentations and empower our youth to challenge those in every facet of their lives–to be positive, productive, and purposeful members of society who exhibit thoughts and actions beyond the expected. I remember the Nortorius B.I.G. saying, “Stereotypes of the Black male misunderstood, and it’s still all good.” I agree, Big, we’re misunderstood.
“Black people are told that white people are the cause of just about everything that is wrong with them…They are told that they are victims. And in fact, they are victims, but willing victims. They are not victims of white people. They are victims of a philosophy of victimization. The messages they are getting about their victimization are destroying them. They are taught to see themselves as vitcims, as powerless pawns in the white man’s racist scheme. As long as they think they are powerless victims, that is all the will ever be. Powerless people who accept they powerlessness as permanent have no desire to become educated.” –William Jenkins, Understanding and Educating African-American children.”
I considered our 2011-12 fraternal year my best year. The bond I created with a few of those young bros was amazing. Because some of these young men had more troubled backgrounds than guys I’ve previously brought into the bond, I opened myself up a lot more. With these guys, I found that our struggles were similar; not the same, but painfully similar. I knew that the only way I could connect Continue reading →
I became familiar with DuBois “Talented Tenth” ideaology back in college and since I was, at the time, a so-called “college-bred” Black man who could not relate to strives of making a living with my hands, DuBois’ philosophy resonated with me quite loudly. However, as I began to grow into my own thoughts on social and educational upliftment for African-Americans, I began to see this piece as exceptional in theory, but overly ambitious and short-sighted in practice. DuBois contends that the small college-educated Black men were to serve as the vanguards for the masses, to teach, mold, train and uplift the rest. Again, I agree with this philosophy in theory; my issue was that this certainly wasn’t and still isn’t the case in reality. Our college-educated are NOT giving back. We are not working tirelessly to empower the masses, to reach down and pull up another brother or sister. We obtain our big, fancy college degrees, move off to the suburbs, have a family and shake our heads in shame at those who couldn’t acquire the same for themselves. The more I grew conscious of jobless rates of Black men and waves of Hispanics and Asians who are moving to this country building stable lives for themselves by learning trades and starting businesses, I began to align myself more with the Washingtonian ideaology. Don’t get me wrong: Washington, to me, goes down in history as an advocator of silent submission to injustice; in other words, an “Uncle Tom”, but still, his advocacy for economic empowerment, self-sufficiency and autonomy is exactly what our community is lacking. More on my views of Booker T. Washington later in another post.
Anyways, I decided to re-read “The Talented Tenth” and I have a newfound understanding and appreciation for it. I totally agree DuBois on much of it, but I also believe Washington was onto something as well. After reading it, here are some of the most profound statements I came across:
[On the goal of education]
“Education is that whole system of human training within and without house walls, which molds and develops men.”
In other words, education should be holistic. It should cater to the mind, body and soul of the student, and do more than prepare our youth to be master test-takers and even more than prepare our kids for college; education, at its best, should give our students the tools and confidence to be positive, productive, and purposeful citizens who are committed to the betterment of their respective communities.
[On the demand for positive role models]
To furnish five millions and more of ignorant people with teachers of their own race and blood, in one generation, was not only a very difficult undertaking, but a very important one, in that, it placed before the eyes of almost every Negro child an attainable ideal. It brought the masses of the Blacks in contact with modern civilization, made Black men the leaders of their communities and trainers of the new generation.”
Every single one of is, college degree or not, should be obligated to serve our communities positively and responsibly, so that, in turn, we provide the younger generation with a standard of morale, responsibility, and integrity. We should train those in our communities to be leaders so that in our inevetibale demise, our “heirloom”, or legacy, if you will, will be the inheritance of those same ideals catalyzing the procreation of another generation stand-up men and women.
[On the education of the college-bred Black man]
“…He is, as he ought to be, the group leader, the man who sets the ideals of the community where he lives, directs its thoughts and heads its social movements.” A leader is a visionary is sets the example and paves the road to follow.
[on the role of manual training in the Black community]
“I believe that next to the founding of Negro colleges the most valuable addition to Nefor education since the war, has been industrial training for Black boys. Nevertheless, I insist that the object of all true education is not to make men carpenters, it is to make carpenters men.”
The last line of this quote is extremely moving. This is a direct charge at Washington’s postulation that manual labor is the best means of progression for the Black man.
“Men of America, the problem is plain before you. Here is a race transplanted through the criminal foolishness of your fathers. Whether you like it or not the millions are here, and here they will remain. If you do not lift them up, they will pull you down. Education and work are levers to uplift a people. Work alone will not do it unless inspired by the right ideals and guided by intelligence. Education must not simply teach work–it must teach Life. The Talented Tenth of the Negro race must be made leaders of thought and missionaries of culture among their people. No others can do this work and Negro colleges must train men for it. The Negro race, like all other races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men.”
I’ll leave you with this. He Ain’t Heavy by Donny Hathaway http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HFDAp8XVrk
The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where
But I am strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
So on we go
His welfare is my concern
No burden is he to bear
We’ll get there
For I know he will not encumber me
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
If I’m laden at all
I’m laden with sadness
That everyone’s heart
Is not filled with gladness
Of love for one another
Thank you, Lord
Said it’s a long…
I said it’s a long…
Heyyy, it’s a long, hard road
From which there is no return
While we’re on the way to there
Why not share?
And the load
Doesn’t weigh, doesn’t weigh me down at all
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
The school cheating scandal in Atlanta that led to criminal indictments against dozens of teachers, principals and administrators last month contains at least three lessons for states that are developing teacher evaluation systems.
The first is that overemphasizing scores is a mistake. The second is that teacher evaluation systems — now under development in most states — will be of little use unless they include mechanisms for showing teachers who receive average ratings how to become great, or at least good, at what they do.
MICHIGAN charter school makes a brilliant academic comeback after receiving notice of imminent closure
MUSKEGON, Mich. – The great thing about charter schools is that if they fail, they can be closed.
Three Oaks Public School Academy in Muskegon, Michigan was definitely failing three years ago, and the college that authorizes the school was ready to pull the plug.
But Three Oaks officials decided that failure was not the legacy they cared to leave behind.