Friday, March 8, 2013

Moving to Wordpress!

Hello Friends -
Thanks so much for your support over the years. This blog is moving to Wordpress.  I hope you'll join me at

Monday, November 21, 2011

Complicated: The Occupy Movement, Folks of Color, and Bad Checks

Dr. King taught us about cashing checks.  Sooner or later, everyone's bill comes due...on Front Street (or Wall Street).

In case any of us had forgotten, recent years have served as a strong reminder that hard times bring out the truth in just about anyone.

The highest - and lowest representations of the nation's character have been on display in ways that are often heartwarming, and other times downright shameful.  So many of our greatest citizens have demonstrated the amazing spirit and fortitude to be found in our country - volunteering, banding together, protesting, and truly making a difference in the lives of their neighbors.

Other folks have been busy booing our First Lady (seriously?), and demonstrating their very worst in a series of public bad behavior incidents that have been too numerous to count.  So, why start now?

I just stopped by to discuss the ways in which the Occupy Protests have become such a defining movement in recent weeks.  Some of us are wondering whether that bad check could finally clear.  And no, I'm not speaking of community and personal bail-outs.

I'm talking about a tally of moral obligation to everyday folks in America.

I'll be the first to admit that there are some troubling aspects of the 99 movement.  Certainly, the issue of the inclusion of people of color and of other underrepresented communities can't be overlooked.  Nor should the tactics employed by Occupy Protester groups, which keep many would-be activists at bay.

Let's face it: While a number of privileged, Gen-X educated younger folks have been subject to unjustifiable violence at the hands of police, many black folk, people of color generally, and LGBT folk can't afford to place themselves in a position where a beat-down at the hands of police (in public, among witnesses and cameras) would likely be the least of their worries.

Many of these folks are too busy trying to hold their families together, hang on to a "piece a" job, and/or put food on their tables.  The trouble with discussions about the Occupy Movement is that the uprisings themselves are fraught with complex issues of race, gender and class, even as the actions attempt to draw attention to those issues (or in most cases, at least the latter).

Too, speaking of the issue of class and the protests, we also shouldn't ignore the fact that people in the halls of privilege aren't immune to the issues of the 99 Percent.  Comfort doesn't make one blind (necessarily). Take the example of these Harvard University students.

And there's also been some amazing work happening on the ground in many cities.  The organizing capacity of many Occupy protesters, both in new media and on the ground, is notable.  The communal and democratic nature of day-to-day activities have been extraordinary to watch.  Speakers' words are repeated to aid comprehension in the absence of megaphones.  Sanitation solutions in lean-to tent cities are better than in some rural areas around the country.  The committees for education, for the arts, and for other major initiatives have been formidable.

This all makes the discussion...Complicated.

You can't hate on progress.  And you don't want to draw attention to those moments when the progress ain't so progressive. Even when that's your mission.

And you don't want to point out a minor (...okay) categorical list of flaws in an uprising, especially when you're still breathing a sigh of relief over the fact that people still seem to know how to stand up at all. Or, when you are wondering whether that promissory note is finally worth it's weight in paper.  Heck, even with the sinking feeling that the "bank of justice" is no less bankrupt than it was nearly 50 years ago, a movement is a movement.

Now that more folk know what a bad check is...who knows? Weary folks can't be choosers.

It's funky.

But it isn't hopeless.  Case in point: Some intrepid journalists have pointed to the participation of activists and supporters of color who are making good use of the Occupy platform in various cities.  Of course, the equity of leadership and participation, along with some of that support, has been called into question: Think Jay-Z and Russell Simmons, for example (apparently, the duo has an Occupy Wall Street concert in the works).  But it can't be overlooked.

What history, herstory, and ourstory will write about these events has yet to be seen.

But some of us are watching...and maybe even hoping.


Below: Talib Kweli has shown up.

Along with Angela Davis.

And grass-roots community folk in Oakland, where the newest encampment has just met the same fate that befell the Occupy Wall Street camp at the hands of police and city authorities.

And, too, they have gathered in DC.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Visions of a Heavenly TED Conference: Remembering Shuttlesworth, Bell, and Jobs

Occasionally, I think the Universe is planning some mega project and calls people back to make it happen.

Back in 2003, when we lost Gregory Hines, Nell Carter, Barry White, and other musical and theatre luminaries in such a short span, I was sure it was a Broadway musical or something that God was putting on.  I imagined the earth-sharttering encores.

Today, I envision a heavenly TED Conference featuring figures who changed the world, even as I'm saddened by the loss of Civil Rights Icon Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, legal scholar Derrick Bell, and Apple visionary Steve Jobs.

So many of my friends and colleagues had the opportunity to work with or sit at the feet of the extremely generous Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, whose courageous work as a Civil Rights leader in Birmingham, Alabama was underscored by the suffering he endured for the cause.  He was beaten nearly to death numerous times, jailed more than 30 times, and bombed at least twice. But as one of the Civil Rights Movement's "big three"(Rev. Dr. M.L. King and Rev. Ralph Abernathy), he had remained the last towering giant of an era and an example of fearless struggle.  Shuttlesworth founded the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights when the NAACP was outlawed in the state.  Later, he became a founding member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, leading with King and Abernathy.  At different turns, he took on injustice, Bull Conner, and death.  He bested two and, for a long time, defied the third.

Scholar Derrick Bell, the first African American professor of Law at Harvard University, and a man with the ethical convictions to walk away from that post, and from a post at the U.S. Department of Justice, also passed away yesterday.  I recall taking nearly 20 of my students on a field trip to hear he scholar speak on concepts of Critical Race Theory, which he pioneered.  It literally changed the trajectory of that semester.  I wanted my students to meet a scholar and theorist who challenged us to think freely about the legacy of Brown v. Board of Ed. and the Integration movement - and its implications in today's culture. Bell created knowledge and gave others permission: first to think, and then to create knowledge of their own.  This great teacher lived the truth of his convictions and, in the process, touched the lives of so many students and citizens at large.

I'm typing these thoughts on my Apple.  I podcast on Garage Band.  Use iWeb.  Would grab the Mac in a fire....and then the photo album.  I don't have the superlatives to describe the ways in which Jobs changed the world of computing and empowered an entire generation of younger artists and visionaries just in time (Sure, no one told us how awful this economy would be.  But no one told us we could take a 13-inch laptop and a wireless connection and start our own businesses either).  Jobs' proprietary bent got to a lot of folks, but whether or not one bought into the Apple barrel, it's hard to ignore the way that Jobs changed the game.

Now I can head off and create mini-docs about Rev. Shuttlesworth and Prof. Bell and share them for free, in high def.  And my friends can watch them on devices they carry in their pockets. My friends can buy those devices because Bell and Shuttlesworth ensured the legal and social circumstances that made those purchases and our mobility possible.

Those are heady and extraordinary achievements.

What an impressive gathering.  A facebook friend, Kymberly, reminds me that Wangari Maathai and Ralph Steinman have likely already taken their place on the stage.

Imagine the panel discussions.  The presentations.  Do you guess there's a TED Talk time limit in Heaven?

I'm thinking the Universe has them working on something extraordinary.   Goodness knows we have some challenges to surmount.

Just when I had become fatalistic about the economy, the environment, human rights, social networks, politics, and justice...

Suddenly, I'm feeling a little hopeful.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Saheela Ibraheem: A Lesson in Possibilities for America's Kids

Photo Credit:
While I haven't been posting lately, I have been thinking a great deal about education, what the community's role has to be in our (often) unspoken promise to nurture young minds for the future, and what it means to commit to that mission. 

In recent weeks, I came across the story of Saheela Ibraheem of  Piscataway, New Jersey.  At 15 years old, she has the distinction of heading off to Harvard next year.  The University is one of six Ivy League colleges and 13 (of 14) colleges that accepted the young scholar.  Saheela, the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, skipped 2 grades, plays the trombone, and is a 3-sport athlete.

The teen left the public school system to attend the private Wardlaw-Hartridge School because she wanted a more challenging academic atmosphere.
Like so many, I was elated to hear this great report about the future scientist.  As a Jersey Girl, I was particularly proud.  It was encouraging to see Miss Ibraheem's impact on so many diverse communities.

Then I started thinking about that public school.

I was glad to hear that the Ibraheem family was willing to do whatever it took to secure the best resources for their daughter.  Yet, I was disheartened to hear that those resources couldn't be found in the local public high school.  I was reminded of the story of another whiz kid, teenage Morehouse Man Stephen Stafford, II, whose parents chose home-schooling over public options.

I think we know that we need to do "whatever it takes" to make the difference in our kids' lives.  By now, the documentaries and talk shows and debates have driven this home.

But the questions still remain - and the problems still need solving.

What can we as concerned educators, parents and community members do to change that environment - creating a schools where young scientists/artists/teachers/business leaders are challenged, inspired, and nurtured.  How can we turn Saheela's story into one of many in schools around the country?

If we can tap into that, Saheela's story can be a lesson for us all.

Check out this brief interview with Saheela and her mom:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Remembering Elizabeth Edwards

Sending out love tonight to the family and loved ones of the late Elizabeth Edwards.

I was honored to share the stage with Ms. Edwards at The Monti, a monthly storytelling event here in the North Carolina triangle, earlier this year. She offered me a warm smile and handshake, many compliments, and a heap of grace -- despite how difficult that night must have been. I will always remember the fearless, truth-telling woman who held on to grace and humor in the face of adversity.
I sat among the rapt audience as Ms. Edwards told a beautiful, revelatory story that gave us a glimpse on an extraordinary life. We all knew we were witnessing something special that night. Ms. Edwards was a woman on a mission to tell her story, in her own words, to those who would listen -- even as that story was coming to a close. She was reminding us that even the most dignified, well planned lives sometimes take turns we couldn't possibly plan for, deal cards nearly impossible to play. So we learned much about forbearance that night. Fortitude. Forgiveness. We learned a lot about life.
We laughed. And together, we honored her with a standing ovation. It wasn't enough.
North Carolina - and America - lost a great woman today.
On July 4, 2010, WUNC - the local NPR affiliate here in Durham, NC - aired a special featuring mine and Elizabeth Edwards' story at The Monti. Ms. Edwards' heartwarming story about her late father holds special meaning tonight.
Rest in Peace, Ms. Edwards.
Link: Many are sharing tributes and condolences at Elizabeth Edward's Facebook Page.