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.
“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
I do not go back to America to sit still, remain quiet, and enjoy ease and comfort. . . . I glory in the conflict, that I may hereafter exult in the victory. I know that victory is certain. I go, turning my back upon the ease, comfort, and respectability which I might maintain even here. . . Still, I will go back, for the sake of my brethren. I go to suffer with them; to toil with them; to endure insult with them; to undergo outrage with them; to lift up my voice in their behalf; to speak and write in their vindication; and struggle in their ranks for the emancipation which shall yet be achieved.
—-FAREWELL TO THE BRITISH PEOPLE, March 30, 1847
My young bros and I recently finished up reading Douglass’ first autobiography, “Narratives in the Life of Fredrick Douglass” and I was doing some extra research on him, particulary his old speeches, to bring into the study group discussion in the study group for the following week [Again, we meet twice a week. Tuesdays are book study meetings or biographical leader study, and Wednesdays are our normal body meetings]. I think the above quote is one of the most powerful messages I’ve ever read and is giving me goosebumps as I type this. In this quote I can hear Fred Hampton, Huey Newton and the Black Panther Party; I hear Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Medgar Evers; hell, I even hear Public Enemy, Tupac and Common, especially what I consider my personal theme song, “The People.
For Common’s, “The People” official video, click here —->>>http://youtu.be/S7B2VgRShew
I guess what I’m saying is Douglass is a father to us all–all that are committed to empowering others in our schools, churches, community and grassroots organizations, and any other facet of society that works tirelessly for the upliftment of a people.
Lessons from Douglass/Principles of Success
* Understanding that the proper use of power is to help others.
* Giving up something you want in order to help someone else.
* Learning how to challenge and overcome doubt.
* Understanding why and how to control the human ego.
* Doing what is right and proper without delay, even if no one is looking.
* Learning how to use knowledge and understanding wisely.
* Overcoming indecisiveness by developing proper organizational skills.
* Making gratitude a part of every thought and action.
* Practicing the skill of listening before making judgments.
* Remaining true to your word.
* Practicing the art of giving without expecting something in return.
* Recognizing that success is as much a motivation to others as to you.
The above bullets are By Author Fred Morsell
Fremarjo Enterprises, Inc.
The Great Liberator, The Little Giant
We started our day early this morning at around 9:30 or so and made the 20 minute journey to our destination at Trinity United Methodist Church located in downtown Atlanta. Now I’ve worked in a soup kitchen several times before and so had one of the other young bros I brought with me, but I don’t think either of us was prepared for what our day was about to be. In my life, I’ve worked at Food Fare (local grocery store), Golden Coral, and Chik-Fil-A, and I don’t think I ever worked that hard in no one’s kitchen! Almost immediately, we were put in charge of the chilli. There were two huge, stainless steal pots (they were more than just a traditional pot around the house; I just don’t know the proper term for them) that the coordiator told us that we would use these to cook the chilli in. Well thankfully, we didn’t actually have to make it. There was a also church group there who had many of their members cook it and place into big Ziplock bags. There were about 30 bags. Seriously. So our first task was to cut open all the bags and dump the frozen chilli into the pots to melt them down, a heating process that took up the better part of an hour.
- Served 186 total
- 166 African-American (about 10 women)
- 2 Asians
- 12 Hispanics
- 6 whites
These numbers are not 100% accurate. I told you I deleted the photo of the data sheet. I do know, however, that we did in fact serve 186 people and 166 of them were African-American. The number stuck out to me like the elephant in the room. I can’t help but to ask myself what factors contribute to this dilemma; its a socio-economical enigma that I wholeheartedly believe isn’t being addressed, or pursuing as actively as it should be. Is the achievement gap and dropout rate linked to homelessness? How so? How do the rising rates of alcoholism, drug addiction, family structure and background, and mental health problems such as depression and bipolarism impact the numbers of potential homeless Black men and women. What proactive measures can be taken to ensure our youth are not sucucmbed to the same fate?
Anyway, it turned out to be a GREAT day! We worked very hard and absolutely every bit of sweat was worth it. I’ll do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, we ARE going to do it again. See you again next week!
Just to give you a real quick update since my last post, February was a very busy month for us. I didn’t really do much Black History Month stuff because I feel practically everything we do is somehow tied back to the appreciation of our history. Not to undermine the month, but I do BHM stuff all year long.
Now, I’ve spent a great deal of weekend time with my young bros before, but this was the first time we did like a “Shakespeare Weekend Camp”-type of thing. Needless to say, I was painfully exhausted. We didn’t have school on that Friday so we basically spent the ENTIRE day together. That morning, starting at around 8, we made our journey down to Clark-Atlanta Univ. to visit their art gallery, but we actually walked in on the opportunity of an official campus visit. The best part about the visit was that it was during school hours, so we saw the hustle of students going to and from class; we saw the hang-out spots on the CAU’s “Promenade” Walk; it was Alpha Week so we saw the bros stepping out in front of the student center. They were truly welcomed into a microcosm of what campus life is like, at least on the campus of an HBCU. CAU’s gallery was interesting, to say the least. The tour guide gave them a thorough tour from the lens of “our” history. Many of the themes we saw expressed in paint, were the same historical lessons I was giving them in our meetings. It was good to actually see an artistic expression of the trauma Sarah Baartman experienced, a story I taught them for them so they’ll better understand why we should appreciate, not denigrate, our Black women. Not to dwell any further, we left CAU and went straight to the Atlanta HIGH Museum to study one of my favorite artists, Frida Kahlo. This was to give them a different cultural experience to broaden their perspectives on art, and even their place in the world as young men of color. We examined artwork of Frid, her husband Diego and the works of contemporary artists like Radcliff Bailey, Elizabeth Catlett, Thornton Dial, Picasso, etc. I created a tour guide for them where they had to list the titles and artist names for 10 pieces, followed by a ranking system on a scale of 1-4 with 4 meaning “liked it a lot” and 1 being “I’m not feelin’ this at all.” This allowed them to really examine the artwork from an analytical and appreciative standpoint as opposed to wondering around the halls of the gallery aimlessly.
After the HIGH, we found ourselves at the UniverSoul Circus, the world’s only African-American circus. After gut-wrenching laughs, sugar-highs, “stanky legs”, lean-wit-it-rock-wit-it, and swag surfin’, we called it a night about 11 pm to only get up the following day to go to Monster Jam, an experience neither of us ever had before. Aside from all the fun, one thing stood out in my head–while at CAU, the bros expressed an interest in wearing bowties. I remember I was wearing one that day, and I think we may have run across a couple CAU students who were also neatly dressed in the bow. I made it my mission to solicit funds and/or donations to acquire them some bowties. It took me faster than I expected, but thanks to the outlet of social media, I had the bowties within 2 weeks. I had a couple Facebook friends donate money to the cause, and I have a cousin, a Morehouse grad, who actually donated ties from his personal collection. After a brief history, I mentioned some notable Black men who were often seen suited in a man’s most formal wardrobe piece, the bowtie: men like Malcolm X and the Black Muslims, W.E.B. DuBois, sports contributor and former NBA champion, Bruce Bowen, and of course the brothers of the illustrious Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. Once I brought out the ties their excitement left it practically impossible to contain them in a seat long enough for me to show them how to tie it. After much redirection, I finally managed to get them seated long enough to start, but then I realized I was forgetting the most important piece to tying a bow–the mirror. It’s practically impossible to tie one without it. All in all, I finished our meeting slightly disappointed because I felt they didn’t learn anything. I don’t know how I failed to realize I would need mirrors. We adjourned the meeting with repeated our ’11 Standards of Manhood’ and went home. I may have beat myself up for a couple hours for not accomplishing my task of ensuring every young bro would know how to tie a bowtie by the time w all went home. I left them with the resources to teach themselves, and they may be successful at it, but it doesn’t leave me with the satisfaction thay I taught it to them. I don’t know. That sounds pompous in nature, but that’s how I feel. I want them to one day look back and thank me for teaching them how to tie a bowtie at the age of 12, something most men can’t even do. Next week, we’ll try it again and this time I’m going to make sure I bring mirrors.
I’ll leave you all with some pics from the day’s event.
[I try to keep a composition notebook as somewhat of a journal, but I figure I should start posting my experiences here.]
I think I had my smallest turnout ever today— a total of 6 young bros showed up—which is cool because I’ve had groups as large as 20-25 and with me being the only adult it was extremely difficult to manage (and feed) them all at one time. Smaller groups are more intimate. We usually begin the meetings with just frolicking around. We talk about the latest in sports news or we joke around with one another. I may go around the room and ask questions about girlfriends, crushes, problems at school or home, just random things. I don’t know if this is apropos or not, but to me, it lets me get to know them on a more personal level, and it also helps them to get to know me a little more as well, almost as “one of the boys” type of guy. Again, many may disagree but I think it helps kids relate to me and become more comfortable with me.
Today’s theme was a continuation of our initial communication exercises that we began back in November. I tried to give them a lot of practice speaking to a large group using the 30-second impromptu speech game which turned out to be a lot of fun, by the way. The objective now is to continue to build off those skills learned, and what better way to do that than to begin teaching the art of debate? I opened our session with a clip from the movie, The Great Debaters, and we discussed effective communication skills observed as well as other characteristics that make a good debater.
Then, I showed them a clip of one of my favorite educators, Salaam Thomas El, author of I Choose to Stay, on FOX News debating two of the biggest members of the hip-hop community at the time, Cam’Ron and Damon Dash. The debate centered on the impact of rap
music on young, inner city kids. Since this is a very poor example of a good debate because of Cam’Ron’s poor etiquette and untrained street antics, and of course, Bill O’Reilly’s nonsense, I felt this would be a great clip to juxtapose with The Great Debaters so they
could get a better grasp of effective and ineffective communication.
Due to time constraints, I didn’t get the opportunity to give them a little “hands-on” activity with debating where I actually “teach” them, so I decided I’d save that activity for next week. So in the end, I wrapped it up with a reminder that poise is one of the greatest strengths in your interpersonal relationships, and further, in debating. I stressed the importance of controlling one’s anger for the smooth flow of rational thought and decision-making. As effective debaters should have poise as one of their greatest strengths, so do men, especially African-American men. All in all, it was an ok day, but I could’ve been a little more prepared since the whole theme for the day didn’t come to me until the day came. It should’ve been planned out a little better, but I’m still happy with the day’s outcome.