End of Daze

Not sure about you… but I’ve never been happier to see a Monday in quite some time!

In addition to it starting up a mercifully short work week, it also signifies that I made it through last week without incident. With such a busy news week, anything — and I do mean anything — was possible. (Slightly dramatic, but true.)

If you were a minority, female or homosexual, you had a smorgasbord of topics to choose from: The Trayvon Martin murder trial, Paula Deen’s racially charged deposition, the removal of the Voting Rights Act, more Edward Snowden leaks, the abortion law filibuster in Texas and finally the striking down of DOMA and Proposition 8.

If you fall under all the aforementioned categories, you were on an emotional roller-coaster, which likely ended with you dancing in the street in something festive while your lesser-clad male counterparts wore either speedos or the clothes your parents wanted you to wear before you came out. (Yes, even the slutty stuff.)

As thrilled as I was for my many LGBT friends, it was still a tough week for me to embrace. The beauty of that moment, when the courts acknowledged that their love is just as real as anyone else’s and deserved to be given the same rights and privileges, was so monumental that it overshadowed a glaring revocation of a law that could potentially set up (or back) the next presidential election.

Yes, it was a particularly sobering week for African-Americans. While many of us were busy calling out Paula Deen for using a word uttered by every hip hop artist, high-profile entertainer, urban and “wanna-be” suburban kid, we totally ignored a little piece of legislature which may decide how and if areas heavily populated by minorities can vote with ease — or at all.

And while many took to the internet to write disparaging commentary about Rachel Jeantel’s physical appearance and speech challenges (much the way they did Gabby Douglas), they completely glazed over the fact that this young girl not only carried the burden of being the last person to hear her friend’s voice before he took his final breath, but she stood her own ground against a legal system ironically trying to justify “stand your ground” as a reason to shoot unarmed kids on their way home.

Meanwhile, the outrage stemming from the discovery that the government is invading the privacy of millions hasn’t quite reached the sector where they also invade the private parts and reproductive rights of millions of women. The mettle and relentlessness of Wendy Davis should be applauded instead of being subjected to vilification. But in a world where it’s a fun fact that a man has fathered twenty-two children with fourteen different women, it just seems like a good idea to attack anyone trying to make sure no child is brought into this world without the love and stability they need to thrive in what’s increasingly becoming a cruel world for anyone not meeting the societal standard.

It’s no secret; I am angry. Angered by politicians voted into office to protect the rights of the people, only to vote against gun laws and healthcare. Angered by religious zealots who preach about the love and sacrifice that lead to dying for sinners, but condemn people based on their lifestyle and right to choose. Angered by a society that reveres well-known adulterers and creates examples of marriage and relationships in highly rated reality programs where the subjects are polygamists or former sex-tape veterans who have expensive short-lived marriages and sire strangely named children with self-absorbed megalomaniacs, but wants to throw out words like “sanctity” when it’s convenient. Angered by my own race who continue to point the finger of blame everywhere but at ourselves — much like Miss Deen and, dare I say, our current President — instead of simply sucking it up and taking accountability and saying “Okay, let me fix this… starting with me.” Angered by a mass of people whose origin is mostly based in the European continent who keep trying to define immigration, while Native Americans fight to be heard and lose their land, and later, their children, in custody battles with white adoptive parents. Angered by the amount of young black men in prison for possession of marijuana when there are a growing number of free men in possession of abducted women and children and people’s life savings. Angered by the amount of money we spend protecting our “interests” in other parts of the world while our own citizens struggle to find jobs and means of supporting their families.

The list goes on and on.

We spend our days sleepwalking through life obsessing over mundane things like Angry Cat photos, Facebook posts, Twitter rants and celebrity baby news and deaths. I almost wonder when was the precise moment I decided to pay more attention to the escapades of people who contribute nothing but sensationalism over people like Nelson Mandela, who contributed to the end of apartheid in South Africa. Naturally, I’m embarrassed.

With all the greatness — and potential for greatness — this country has, it seems like now is as good a time as any to ensure our future generations are more caught up on current events than Taylor Swift’s love life and viral videos about “twerking.”

Education and an awareness of world news and changes should be the gold standard of our society. Not the option that falls by the wayside when budgets are cut. That a heavily tattooed man-child athlete makes more than a teacher is criminal. That, nine times out of ten, he’s broke by the time he retires from his respective league after spending it all on extravagant and excessive things and people (that is, if they haven’t gone to jail for murder, rape, weapons assault, dog fighting, etc…), before the rest is taken by the IRS indicates the need for better teachers (preferably ones not having sex with students or making porn). 

As I step down from my soapbox for the night, I realize the challenges of this world are so much bigger than me. It’s a sobering thing… and an even more frightening truth when you haven’t been drinking.

On that note, it’s waaayyy past my bed time.

And now… it’s Tuesday.

Sigh…

In Slave

It’s February already.

The shortest month of the year, and the only one where you could run into timekeeping issues with your age if you were born at the very end of it during a Leap one. Thankfully, my dad dodged that bullet by a day… although sometimes I felt it would’ve explained a lot of his behavior.

It is also most notably Black History Month, which used to mean reports and special school plays in honor of famous people of color during my childhood.

Today, it means I spend the weekend watching the NAACP awards, frying shrimp the way my grandmother taught me in Savannah, catching “Django Unchained” finally, and taking to Twitter to read and review commentary on the performances and ads during the Super Bowl while simultaneously trying to watch the game and contain my audible reactions to the game. All in that order.

Like most New Yorkers, I went into watching this game more for the ads and Beyonce’s halftime show because the Giants weren’t in it and could therefore care less who won. I moderately appreciate football as a sport, but fully enjoy the uniforms and the use of words like “tight end”. I’m crass. Get over it.

That said, it turned out to be an awesome game.

But the NFL went full-on “Sista-girl power” with a line up that began with Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys, and ended with that fem-bot Sasha Fierce leaving no questions about live performances… or why she now performs without the other members of Destiny’s Child. It was like a precursor to the Essence Music Festival.

Anyway, back to the point of this story…

The NAACP awards turned out to be emotionally overwhelming. After tearing up from the story of Vice Admiral Michelle Howard, I was then struck by the iconic moment of Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte standing on stage together, as the former presented the latter with the Spingarin award in recognition of his tireless charity work. That’s when the cosmic shift in the room occurred.

Mr. Belafonte is no stranger to calling out black celebrities for not taking a more active role in enriching the lives and opportunities of the black youth. But on this particular night, he used his moment in the spotlight to challenge all of them to use their influence to make and be the change needed in the communities to ensure kids today are educated instead of incarcerated. His speech was so moving, it jarred Jamie Foxx to the point of getting him to stray from his rehearsed speech of the season (only briefly, unfortunately).

For me, it sparked thoughts of the days when black actors were “actorvists”, and entertainers were outspoken in their community and in turn the community responded. Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Poitier and Belafonte, Paul Robeson. All walked alongside the legendary Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X. Today, the number of celebrities willing to get their hands dirty are few, with exceptions such as Don Cheadle, who after making “Hotel Rwanda”, began campaigning and co-authored a book in efforts to end genocide in Darfur. The going trend is now to sign large tax-deductible checks or make photo-scripted appearances to boost one’s PR.

His speech stayed with me as I watched “Django”, which, when one isn’t focused on the graphic and gratuitous violence or the use of the N-word, you can appreciate for what it is: a good — no, great — revenge fantasy. Just like “Inglorious Basterds” before it, this movie takes a very real and very traumatic page in history for a race of people and asks the question “what if the tables were turned?” If you go looking for inaccuracies or expecting to be offended, you completely miss the true story buried within; the one where slaves were whipped, torn apart by dogs, put in “hot boxes”, and subjected to numerous atrocities — least of which is being called an N-word — worst of all being conditioned to betray and mistrust each other for their own survival.

And there it is… centuries later, we’ve become our worst enemies .

As Mr. Belafonte calls for an end to the penitentiary mindset that has been steadily crippling our communities over the last few decades, the city of Chicago has just tallied over forty homicides just in the month of January. Before the ball dropped to mark the end of 2012, they had notched over 500 murders in total for the year. Crime in minority neighborhoods have risen with the desperation of those who see more opportunity in guns, drugs, and professional sports than with degrees or specialized training for careers that can’t be outsourced.

It’s become customary to point the finger of blame at our lighter-hued counterparts for the lack of progression in our community, but we are squarely to blame for it. When we fail our children by denying them basic things such as quality education, stable and healthy home environments and just a strong sense of pride and self, we set up the future generations to follow suit.  When we put programs on where our women fight over men and money, put out songs that glorify violence and misogyny, and teach our kids at a young age to value expensive, high-tech and designer items they can’t possibly afford  — we are mixing a recipe for disaster. We are enslaving ourselves.

I’m sure they’d be remiss to admit it, but if Spike Lee had done that movie instead of Quentin Tarantino, they would be hailing him as a genius for sparking a conversation about slavery that hasn’t been explored since “Roots”. Personally, I think Spike should have done the film, so more people would be talking about it instead of fixating on a word.

It’s great that we celebrate the achievements of accomplished people of color. It would be even greater if we didn’t just allot a month out of an entire year to make them feel special. It’s almost akin to picking one day out of the other 364 to express your love for someone (hmmm… coincidence that it’s the same month?). It would be fantastic if we could make a habit out of excellence, instead of pointing people out like zoo animals, but I guess in some way it inspires one to aspire to something more.

But enough about this.

How about those Super Bowl commercials?

For The Children

This week might have been one of the most enlightening and enriching I’ve experienced in quite some time… and it’s all due to an uncanny instinct that comes over me when children are involved.

Starting off rather tumultuously, it all took a turn Tuesday night at my Young Authors class.  In the past, the group of rambunctious kids who assemble to write stories they eventually read to their peers has always been a source of joy in my day and week — even when some of their tales borderline frightening. But this night, their stories renewed my faith in positive thinking, and I was immediately reminded of why I love being a volunteer… nevermind the fact that my heart bursts every time they hug me when I walk in the door!

Then Thursday came, and I had the pleasure of working a toy sale in an office filled with new and established mothers who brought in their little ones. The proceeds from the sale would go directly to St. Jude, the hospital that specializes in Pediatric Cancer care. At the end of the sale, I wasn’t sure if I was feeling delirium from starting the day so early, or from the amount of money raised, but my journey home was filled with smiles.

And then came Friday. While temping at an office, I made conversation with an employee who also happened to run a website, Teennewsnet, where young writers that he teaches and mentors contribute to the website. After telling him about the Young Authors, he immediately expressed an interest not only to volunteer for the program, but to speak with our current class to possibly recruit writers. Still on a high from that moment, I ran over to volunteer for Kevin Powell’s annual holiday party.  Powell, a well-known writer, activist, and public speaker, has used his influence and connections over the years to bring like-minded people together to promote change and awareness in African-American communities.  He has also used what has come to be a well attended event to collect funds and clothing for Safe Horizon, an organization that has been assisting homeless and abused youth and adults for thirty years. Until that night, I was unaware of their existence, but left with a personal goal to contribute my time and whatever resources I can give to assist not only in their cause, but to raise awareness that they exist.  (This is about the time I wish I had more readers.)

By the end of the week, it occurred to me that the events of it could very well have been a message I’d been ignoring for some time: that perhaps my calling may be related to children.  Why else would every seemingly natural career move fall through?  Perhaps my own dysfunctional upbringing has just made me extra sensitive about the environments and information that a young person is retaining their information from.  It doesn’t help that I hear reports in the media or stories from my friends who are educators that indicate a need for more adults who actually care about how a child is raised, treated and spoken to, and perhaps recognize that there is, in fact, a correlation between that and the path that child chooses through life… at least those who get a chance at life.

And in this moment, it hits me, everything about this week was about getting a better chance in life. I made tough choices and left my comfort zone in order to find the path that would build a better me, and in the process sought out anything that ensured that a child wouldn’t have to wait until they’re my age to recognize the potential they have for a life they deserve.

As it becomes clearer that the possibility of having my own child may not happen, it just seems selfish to not want to make sure other children in the world don’t benefit from the lessons learned, the mistakes made, and the many experiences and wisdom collected over time.

These days, time is all I have to give, but I’ll gladly give it all if it makes at least one kid aware of how special they are.