Influential or transformational leadership is a powerful mechanism. As a leader, in any capacity,–be it teacher-leader, community leader, local school leader or school system leader–I believe the power of influence is the most forceful mechanism to progressivism. Influence and Transformation are tools that motivate and inspire people who have entrusted their direction to a certain individual capable of leading them. They encourage and empower others. Followers gladly and confidentially follow, not because of position, or authority, but because the leader is molded and guided by his own internal set of values. An effective school leader is an influencer who is a student-centered visionary, a knowledgeable practitioner, a problem solver, an agent of positive culture and change, and devoted to leader development—all skills of which I possess.
As Leaders, for the most part, we do these things naturally. We provide information and support, and we share our experiences for the greater good of our followers. As school leaders, we are not primarily doing things for people–we are helping them do things for themselves and for their families. I am not a Leader because I want people to rely on me–I’d feel awkward and uncomfortable and unqualified if that were the case. I’m a Leader because I want to empower others, enlightening them, provoking higher thought processes, helping them step outside of their comfort zones and still achieving a given set of goals. I am a leader because I feel that before I can effectively teach a student, I have to effectively build those positive relationships which, in my opinion, are an often overlooked task. Since I mainly focus on building relationships with students for them to feel motivated and successful, I feel applying the same philosophy to teachers, colleagues and those within the public at large is one of the most effective means of school and community progression.
I am a leader because my co-workers and colleagues I’ve met are role-models to me. I’ve watched them, I’ve mimicked them in and around the school and patterned those qualities and skills I liked or wished I had. I think this exemplifies another hallmark of leadership—followership. We listen to each other with respect and acceptance. We share insights, perspectives and experiences. Overall, I am not afraid to listen, to admire, or to take a step back and be reflective on my own successes and failures, opening myself up to learn from others. I still find new ideas to ponder and new insights at just about every interaction. The networking within my current school and others I’ve visited is irreplaceable because what I learn from others continues to help me on a day to day basis as an educator and even as a person. I am a leader because I am a follower of leaders. I am challenged by them, inspired by them, challenged, affirmed, educated by them and constantly strengthened by them.
I study leaders. I’ve read extensively on the life and legacies of leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, Mumia Abu Jamal, Dick Gregory, Fred Hampton, Huey P. Newton, Maya Angelou, Barack Obama, Colin Powell. The list continues. I study these characters, analyzing their leadership styles, both strenghts and weaknesses, and use them for my own edification and matriculation into the school of thought which is Black ideology and empowerment. My constant quest to learn more about history, culture and leadership from phenomenal Black leaders and circumstances is like religion to me. Since I feel I’ve never had a religous experience in the traditional sense, I would argue that my initial enlightenment and subsequent devouring of material would count as such. I say this because religion is defined as a set of beliefs and practices; how we individually or collectively make a sense of the world, of our sense of existence; a system of ideology and practices that ground us to a greater sense of purpose. It makes our lives meaningful. So with that said, my existence, my sense of purpose and committment, my “religion” is the life-long study of Blackness: our heroes, our heroines, our culture, pride, our history. It is the glue that keeps me grounded to my community and it is the driving force behind my existence as an educator and mentor. It gives me a sense of obligation to my community–Black America. That’s my religion, and that’s why I’m a leader.
I am a Leader because I value the skills I’ve learned thus far in my tenure as a professional educator, not necessarily as means for any future employment (although I am certain they’d be valuable) but because of how they enrich me and my life now, and how I can enrich that of others. Over the years, under the tutelage of so many great teachers and administrators at Duluth Middle School, I’ve learned to be more organized, to be a better manager, to listen to others more carefully, to respond more helpfully, to plan ahead, to be more conscious of how looks, words, and actions affect others, to be more aware of the long-range results of things I might do or say, to work cooperatively with others, to choose words carefully, to appreciate the differences in people, to respect the choices others make, to explain my thoughts and convictions to others and (possibly most valuable of all) to continually evaluate what I’m doing in my own life and to think about whether it’s helpful to me, my students, my colleagues, to my family, to others, or not–and to make changes, gradually.
I was one of several people sent a Facebook message from a frat brother of mine containing the video clip posted above in hopes of opening an interesting dialogue; and ironically, I had just posted a status about Chicago’s street warfare just a couple days beforehand: “Could gang violence…be classified as genocide or ethnic cleansing comparable to the Rwandan massacres between the Hutus and Tutsis?”
Considering that Chicago has had 400 murders in this year alone, one could argue that this is truly a sad case of genocide. Chicago proportionately buries as many young Black males as it graduates them. Fact: since the 1980s, 93% of Black males found murdered in the streets were killed by other Blacks. The Chicago Sun-Times even wrote an article that brought forth some horrifying illustrations: the number of our young men killed could fill the maximum capacity in Soldier Field and that of The University of Michigan’s football stadium, the largest in the U.S. The tally of Black males gunned down surpasses the total number of U.S. casualties in the Vietnam War and more than the total number of deaths in World War I.
I wholeheartedly respect all of the young men who were engaged in this Facebook thread. I respect them as individuals, as professionals, and intellectuals, and as positive Black men, of course. As they each chimed in their with their own individual origins and solutions to the problem, I thought my response to be too long so I decided to write it out in some length on this blog since this will be the first entry of 2012 (I started this last Fall under the site title, iLeadITransform).
Keep in mind, Chicago’s wanton and lawless street violence is not unique. This is a pervasive situation all over the country and our young Black males are our primary perpetrators as well as victims. In order to find a solution we have to examine the problem and all factors that interplay in the intricate dynamics of human aggression as it relates to African-Americans in certain social constructs. First of all, we must take into account the historical nuances at play here. African-Americans were largely deprived of the concept of social mobility through redlining, gerrymandering and gentrification all of which forced many of us into inner city neighborhoods where resources, education and opportunity were deliberately siphoned; thereby resulting in a decrepit educational system that birthed generations of unskilled workers; a welfare system that crippled, enabled, and that shamefully benefits single-mothers as long as they NOT keep a steady job and no permanent male figure in the household. For many of us, lingering historical and socio-economic circumstances has all but closed the window of opportunity of achieving that “American Dream” made readily available for the masses of white America.
Violence in the Black commmunity, in my humble opinion, is a manifestation of cultural denigration: a complete breakdown of values, self-worth, and family. I think violence is cultural, but not in a sense that African-American males are innately more agressive in their interactions with others, but in a sense that within the social constructs of survival, drugs and ganglore, then yes, violence is cultural. These conditions are ultimately manifested in young men who have absolutely no regard for human life, much less their own. You hear this in one of the young men’s response to the reporter when asked if there was a solution to the never-ending sanguinary modes conflict resolution: “Killing IS the solution.”, he said. You can hear the apathy and aloofness in his tone. There’s no conscious when it comes to taking another human life; it’s just another day in the game of survival.
When violence in the Black community is ever discussed you will almost always hear blame be placed on parents, a faulty educational system in need of more African-American male teachers, or rap music, all of which are valid reasons but rarely are all of these examined and interconnected conditions that help procreate this subculture. So let’s take a few these and analyze them a little further, because contrary to popular belief, the restoration of neither hold the silver bullet of eradicating Black on Black violence. It’s going to take a complete revolution:
1. Education: Of course the presence of African-American teachers in any given school is drastically necessary, but this won’t solve all our problems. I know of several Black male teachers who teach in predominantly African-American schools and who also educate our youth in a pedagogical methods that are culturally relevant. We see the same problems: apathy, aloofness, ganglore, thuggery. I’ve experienced similar circumstances with African-American male students I’ve taught over the years. Here’s my point: if students do not value education as the best means to social and economical mobility, then it means nothing. It does not wholly matter what you teach or who teaches it; if our young men do not value the toil of receiving a good education to better their plots and that of their families, then the presence of Black male teachers and a cuturally relevevant curriculum has only minimal value. Don’t get me wrong, I think Black history and Black male teachers can have a tremendous impact on our young men. I just think we first have to get our students to value an education, but how do you do that when the lure of instant gratification is too overwhelming? Our teens want the money, cars and girls now, not later. They won’t it now. Remember what the young man said in the clip when asked where he saw himself in 10 years: “Alotta money, cars and alotta women.” We must open serious dialogue about how to help these our young men yearn for the intrinsic value of a good education.
2. Parenting: As a teacher, I am the first to say that the mantra of “It takes a village to raise a child” has somewhat deteriorated, a noticeable shift even in my short tenure as an educator. What we have to understand is that over the past 50 years or so, there has been a complete disintegration of the nuclear family. In the Black community, it has become socially acceptable to have children out of wedlock. In fact, almost 80% of African-American children are born to unwed parents, a stark difference to a rough 45% in the 1960s. The destruction of the Black family has, and will continue to negatively impact the values we teach to our sons, how we deal with conflict, the emphasis placed on education, economic self-suffiency and relationships; furthermore exacerbating the cyclic repetition of fatherlessness, academic underachievement, social detachment, lack of workman skill and unemployment. The total breakdown of the family unit is generational. Therefore, we cannot look at today’s parents as the problem: we must peer into generations of aimlessness in almost a “blind leading the blind” paradigm. Our parents are not parenting because oftentimes, they were not taught to be parents themselves, also being products of broken homes themselves. Again, we must decide for ourselves, from a greassroots level, the best means to restore the family unit within our respective communities.
3. Rap music: Rap’s influence on the minds of young Black America has been debated on for years. There’s a Jay-Z song where he raps: “Scarface the movie did more than Scarface the rapper to me/ Still that ain’t the blame for all the s*** that’s happened to me…” Here, Hov is clearly differentiating the impact of Scarface and other old gangster movies on not only himself but for generations of Black men; music, as he describes in his book, Decoded, is enjoyed by millions of people for it’s auditory aestetic value. Its sheer entertainment. For years this debate has been ongoing with Jay-Z being the one of the most recognized and respected voices speaking on behalf of several rappers who also feel that rap lyrics have a minimal, if not any impact whatsoever, on the thoughts and actions of our young people. They say their lyrics are only uttertances of the voices of the streets. Many of our people live vicariously through them. I even heard rapper Game say it all falls down to parenting. I beg to differ. I do agree, however, that parents do play a role and I also agree that they speak for the voiceless; their lyrics are only a microcosm of an underworld that many of us only experience through our iPods and car stereos. But let’s not negate the facts here. Hiphop has a heavy influence on our youth, especially those who are products of broken homes. This music, for many of us, is like our fathers in a sense; it teaches us how to walk, to talk, to think, act, dress and even how to treat our women. In high school, Snoop Dogg taught me that “It ain’t no fun if the homies can’t have none.” Rapper Kurupt and the Dogg Pound taught me, “You can’t turn a hoe into a housewife.” And when I mistreated women, it was an accepted form of indoctrination into a disintegrated and misguided value system of Black manhood. This is a cultural indoctrination process. And I know kids of all cultures love hiphop; its been globalized. So of course whites and Asians listen to rap music, too, but I think we interpret the lyrics differently. For instance, I read a book by a guy named Thomas Chatterton Williams called, Losing My Cool: How a Father’s Love and 15,000 books helpd beat Hip-Hop Culture. In it, he explained that while all subgroups are affected by hip-hop culture, white surburban kids listen to it mainly for entertainment. It sounds good and they think rappers are cool; thus, Black people are “cool”. On the other hand, Black males, he says, immerse themselves in it much more deeply almost as a way of life, a blueprint of how to navigate through life: get money and f**** hoes. Preiod. It’s shameful.
Thuggery, violence, and sexual recklessness is mass produced, packaged and delivered to millions of impressionable young minds who imitate practically everything they see and hear, using these lyrics as manhood manifestos, all the while deeming it socially acceptable to think and behave like uncaged animals. Its cool to be a “goon”, a “thug”, “trap star”, or whatever else these rappers come up with. I recently read an article about the melee between rapper Gunplay (yes, he’s irrevelant) and 50 Cent sometime during the 2012 BET HipHop Awards. In an interview a day later, Gunplay admitted to shooting a gun in the air and vowed that he personally wants to murder 50 Cent and his whole G-Unit crew.
Ethnic cleansing? Yes, I would agree. Since education and opportunity, family structure, and cultural denigration in the form of rap music are all intricately connected, how do we restore our quintessential African values of love, honor, family and brotherhood?
I’ll leave you with this…