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What If…?

I got a call this morning at 9:02AM: Alpha. Recardo. William. Emmanuel. They were waiting for Randelle.

With the phone on speaker, they shared with me their success of being selected for an internship with the Federal Reserve Bank in New York City. They were excited and so was I. These boys, my Big Sons, also belong to a category ofBig Sons students that I refer to as my Forever-Never-Former students. Although I am not currently teaching this group of students, I have been a part of their entire high school careers; and, I have written all of them recommendations, looked over personal statements, given them advice, listened to their expectations for my life, taken them on college tours, and / or shared in other major turning points in their lives. Their success is mine, too.

The call only lasted 4 minutes, but it spoke a lifetime about how opportunities change lives, the importance of having someone with whom to share experiences, and that our children–Black boys, deserve to experience lives in which they are embraced, not feared. Forever we will be connected to each other’s lives. The reasons may vary, but they will always be nothing less than my beautifully human, Black boys. With the support and advocacy and investment of others and myself, they will undoubtedly become beautifully human…men.

What if these boys were not ambitious enough to meet the opportunity to attend an internship at the Federal Reserve Back in New York when it was presented?

Approximately 30 minutes after midnight this morning, while inside of the Village Underground, a popular performance venue that hosts Cheryl Pepsi Riley’s Black Velvet Mondays Open Mic night with the amazingly talented Hot Chocolate Band, an overzealous, drunk White man, “Mr. Belligerent”, aggressively grabbed my hand and tried to give me an unsolicited hug. He was met with my requests to leave me alone and to let me go and reciprocal aggression because he repeatedly refused my requests. The interaction became so contentious that a Black man, “Mr. J”, seated in the booth next to me with his wife intervened by telling the man to move on. Apprehensively, the man moved away. Thank goodness for “Mr. J.”

photo (1)What if I felt a fear of imminent assault by “Mr. Belligerent” and proceeded to inflict harmful/deadly force upon him because of my feelings?

With every national confrontation and conversation of the Stand Your Ground Law, I am always driven to inquiry:

What if the deaths of Black boys weren’t discussed as hypothetical scenarios and talking points by socially empathetic people trying to make sense as to why so many keep getting killed without anyone being held criminally responsible for their deaths in the state of Florida under this Stand Your Ground Law?

What if due process actually applied to every citizen in Stand Your Ground trials?
What if the fear of imminent death white men like Michael Dunn felt as a result of being in the presence of young Black boys was real rather than simply a real excuse used to kill?

Florida’s Civil War on Black Boys

In less than one year’s time, the jurors in the infamous state of Florida have released rabid, white males into the civilized world to maim other people and/ or to walk away with vindication of ridding our world of what they perceive as enemy combatants.

Jordan Davis 2

On July 13th, 2013 the self-admitted killer of Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, was found not guilty in Martin’s death. On February 15th, 2014 another self-confessed killer, Michael Dunn, was a little less fortunate than his Black-boy-murdering fraternity brother, Zimmerman, as he was charged with 3 counts of 2nd Degree attempted murder and 1 charge for shooting into the vehicle four young Black males occupied.  Of the four teenagers in the vehicle, three walked away and one, Jordan Davis, became another of the fatalities of Florida’s civil war on Black boys.  As a result of Dunn’s actions, he faces at least 75 years in jail. On the more serious charge of murder, however, Judge Russell Healey declared a mistrial as Florida Jurors could not reach an agreement.

The war rages on.  

In accordance with the law, these vicious beasts were afforded their Constitutional rights; and, despite the perpetrators’ lawlessness, we still remain a nation of laws. The killers were offered speedy trials by juries of their peers (6th and 7th Amendments). When the killers were arrested, they were issued writs of habeas corpus, explanations for why they were being held in jail. We even granted them Miranda Rights (5th Amendment) so as to not incriminate themselves for crimes, but these killers eagerly confessed!

Michael Dunn, George Zimmerman, and others like them are vampires out for blood that wish to make us all feel afraid because they are insecure, racist bigots. We are not afraid of our humanity, but they are. These killers are restless deviants that patrol rainy nights as self-appointed neighborhood watchmen or noise pollution patrols in gas station parking lots.  These killers and the jurors are in a civil war against young, teen, Black boys because Blacks boys don’t deserve to live in their eyes.

In Florida and the nation over, mothers train their boys to be quiet and to not exist in certain spaces. Fathers feel guilty for not 

Jordan Davisbeing in a position to help their boys because they know that despite their ages and experiences, criminality only sees their Blackness–what has happened to their sons, can, will, and has probably already happened to them.  Black boys like Jordan Davis have no protection in Florida.  And, in Florida’s civil war, no national guard has been ordered to guide these boys through life. No suspension of the writ of habeas corpus has been issued to pick up any suspecting, white male that could be a potential killer or worse, a juror that doesn’t believe crimes occur to Black boys, but are committed by them–even when they are dead. There is no Emancipation Proclamation promising Black boys protection for standing with their nation and leading us to victory by being upstanding teenaged citizens.  Black boys wear red markers on their bodies and bullets travel where they are aimed when theblind justice trigger man is an angry, white male with a license to carry a gun. The luke-warm and not guilty verdicts issued by registered Florida voters serving jury duty are equally as lethal as the gun-wielding, angry, white-male killer–they also see red.

Justice is not blind.  

There will be no Gettysburg Address to declare Florida consecrated land because there is no righteous indignation in shooting unarmed teenage boys before they are even old enough to become voters and enter into Florida’s jury pool. The only ground we stand is one that drags our nation further into a bloody civil war–Black boys are the enemy.  Florida is just like South Carolina in 1861–it is defiant and eager to uphold states rights (10th Amendment) more than it values being a part of this nation. Fundamentally, Florida has already seceded.  According to ThinkProgress.org, at least 26 children or teens have died as a result of this war-inducing, powder-keg law.

Stand Your Ground has to go! The Dream Defenders are leading the way.

If we have learned anything from the Civil War, it should be that in addition to the institution of slavery which is why the war began, the Civil War is our greatest stain.  Black bodies, dead or alive, have always been the sacred prize in a land of cannibals and vampires.  Nearly one million Americans were killed during the Civil War. America’s East coast became a hallowed cemetery between 1861-1865–that’s shameful! Not only did our soldiers die, but we also lost our president to assassination, Abraham Lincoln, by another gun-toting, racist, angry, white male.  

When will we begin to hold angry, white men accountable for murder, cowardice and malicious behavior?

When will we declare a cease-fire on Stand Your Ground?

Happy 19th Birthday Jordan Davis!!

Hip Hop, Liberation & Outcasts

“There’s a fine line between love and hate you see…” ~Outkast

Outkast: Black, male, Atlanta Hip Hop, diamond platinum-selling duo making some of the hottest, consciously written music the world will ever hear, feel, and vibe to. Embraced. Accepted. Loved.

Outcast: an entity living outside of the realm of what is popular, cool, loved, and accepted. Blackness. Rejected. Hated.

On Outkast’s Aquemini album, they recorded a song calledOutkast Aquemini “Liberation” about the daily struggles of life, being accepted, pretentious love, and the freedom that comes when we don’t “worry ’bout what anotha nigga think.” In light of the recent Nicki Minaj / Malcolm X controversy, I traveled my memory to thoughts of Outkast and Mrs. Rosa Parks. Both instances made me question the liberties we take in honoring our historical heroes; and I couldn’t help but to ask, do we love them? Do we hate them?

We still do not even know them.

On this same album Outkast recorded a song called Rosa Parks and it resulted in a lawsuit by the Rosa Parks estate. In the song Outkast made references to the people going “to the back of the bus” and having a honky-tonk good time with Outkast to “get crunk.” The song was a declaration to naysayers that had written Outkast off as not having what was required to be the Hip Hop supergroup that they have become today. In 1999, Rosa Parks sued Outkast and by 2005, after a series of dismissals, the case was settled out of court; Outkast paid a cash settlement and agreed to educate people on the life of Mrs. Rosa Parks.

Rosa Parks arrestedIn 1955 Mrs. Parks became historically famous when she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. Because of Jim Crow laws, Blacks and Whites were separated in all settings, even buses. Blacks were required to enter and sit in backs of buses; and, if there were not anymore seats in the “White” section, Blacks in the “Colored” section nearest the “White” section were made to give up those seats, too. Mrs. Parks, a married seamstress and upstanding citizen seated in the “Colored” section, refused, became arrested, and her actions catapulted a virtually unknown Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. into civil rights history and stardom as he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott on December 1st, 1955 at the tender age of 26.

I’m pretty glad she didn’t “hush that fuss” and “move to the back of the bus.” Mrs. Rosa Parks is no outcast.

Hip Hop artist, Nicki Minaj is now under fire for using the likeness of Malcolm X, a most revered historical hero, for the cover of her latest single, “Looking Ass Nigga.” She chose the image of Malcolm X holding a rifle as he looks out of the window of his home, more than malcolm Xlikely to protect his family from another bombing or himself from an attempted murder. The song’s lyrics belittles men she considers the bottom dwellers of life; men that don’t have enough money to purchase over-priced bottles of liquor and are forced to share one bottle, men with an affinity for looking at her [enhanced] buttocks, men with small penises, men telling lies about their material gains, their street-life gimmicks, and men living life without a plan. While there are descriptors in this song that are easily relatable, what isn’t adding up is why Nicki Minaj chose to use the likeness of Malcolm X as the cover art for this song.

In her explanation, she said:

“What seems to be the issue now? Do you have a problem with me referring to the people Malcolm X was ready to pull his gun out on as Lookin Ass Niggaz? Well, I apologize. That was never the official artwork nor is this an official single. This is a conversation. Not a single. I am in the video shooting at Lookin Ass Niggaz and there happened to be an iconic photo of Malcolm X ready to do the same thing for what he believed in!!!! It is in no way to undermine his efforts and legacy. I apologize to the Malcolm X estate if the meaning of the photo was misconstrued. The word “nigga” causes so much debate in our community while the “nigga” behavior gets praised and worship. Let’s not. Apologies again to his family. I have nothing but respect an(sic) adoration for u. The photo was removed hours ago. Thank you”

The issue is that the image of our heroes is synonymous to the work of these heroes. These men and women are emblazoned within the images, texts and iconography of national and international communities because of their courage to be vessels of transformation in very tough social and political times. We don’t have the right to rewrite and politicize their works or images to suit perceptions that are not aligned with the archives of their lives. Nicki Minaj needs a comprehensive history lesson. I offer my classroom.

The issue is that Nicki Minaj is still unaware of the error in her choice of imagery. In her apology she stated, “I apologize to the Malcolm X estate if the meaning of the photo was misconstrued.” Sure she has eyes, but she doesn’t see. She has a brain, but she doesn’t know. She has ears, but she does not hear the hurt of communities for whom Malcolm X was and is a a guiding light out of immense social and political darkness; thus, her “What seems to be the issue now,” inquiry.

I cannot help but be reminded of Mister (Danny Glover) in The Color Purple and his reaction to Shug Avery (Margaret Johnson) when she informs him that Celie (Whoopi Goldberg) will be traveling with Shug and Shug’s new husband to Memphis. Mister’s question, through a smug grin is, “Now what’s wrong with you?” He doesn’t understand that since Celie has been his wife she has lived in his prison of abuse, misogyny and rejection just like Nicki Minaj doesn’t understand that it is not okay to imply that Malcolm X lives within the context of the men she described in her abusive and male-degrading song.

The issue is that Nicki Minaj does not realize how powerful a platform she has in music, especially within Hip Hop now. Since coming onto the scene some forty years ago, Hip Hop has always taught the masses–whether the lessons were of pain, rejection, fear, or new-found wealth, Hip Hop has always taught. But not all of Hip Hop’s artist have been well learned. Not that Nicki Minaj should bear all of the weight and be the voice for all women, she must understand that the same men she disses in her “Looking Ass Nigga” song are the same men with the capacity to be “hard-working men” or “truth-telling teachers” and “life-loving brothers” that she could groom through her image and work.

Malcolm X is continuously marred in controversy, but I wonder whatmalcolm smile is controversial about justice, rights and humanity for all people? What’s so controversial about our life’s journeys leading us to greater understandings about the reasons for which we live? Malcolm X was on a path of discovery like every other man and woman, yet we choose to disassociate our classrooms and other institutions with his history and legacy for false assertions and poor images. Let’s not.

Malcolm X is no outcast.

Our lives, how we live them, and the very essence of how we use them become our copyright. For another person to use our lives and likeness and misconstrue our body of work in any way, is akin to copyright infringement. And, it is simply wrong.

Ossie Davis eulogyIt has been nearly fifty years since the assassination death of Malcolm X and he still makes headlines whenever there is an attempt to dishonor and desecrate this “Black shining prince (Ossie Davis).” And every time it happens, the people will speak up and we will speak out because we will not stand for the assassination of his image, too.

Lessons: Youth, Seahawks, and Championships

When’s the last time you ever heard someone proud to be “old at heart” or refer to the night as “mature” or “old”? Maybe never and I doubt that you ever will.

While there is a special proclivity for the wisdom and experience age brings, youth brings a fresher set of limbs, naïveté, and a dreamy hunger that allows for doubtful feats to become attainable realities. The Seattle Seahawks are a young team with an invincible drive that drove them all the way to Super Bowl victory. Whitney Houston once sang, “Tell me no, and I’ll show you I can.”

Often times young people ignore the word ‘no’. It isn’t because they mean to defy; it’s more of not wanting to betray a mind that tells them anything is possible and that they can. Because they believe they can, they often do.

According to Fox News and the National Football League’ statisticians, the average age of the Seahawks franchise is 25.4 years old. Their game winning Quarterback, Russell Wilson is the third youngest QB to win a Super Bowl Championship. The lesson is if you want victory, youth helps.

Our nation is only 50 years off of the heels of the 1963 March on Washington.John Lewis Galvanizing such an enormous number of people, approximately 250,000, happened with the help of all demographics, including the youth. A very young, hopeful and determined future Congressman named John Lewis mesmerized the crowd. At 23, he seized a moment to address the nation about racist policies thwarting the youth and preventing America’s victory. Regarding the proposed Civil Rights bill that would eventually become the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in his original non-censored speech he said,

This bill will not protect young children and old women from police dogs and fire hoses, for engaging in peaceful demonstrations”

He’s been a champion ever since. Youth groups such as the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee(SNCC), of which John Lewis was the chairman, gave young people a sense of responsibility. SNCC’s job was to help distribute information about the March on Washington, but it was also their job to be present. Even today, young people are not complacent having peripheral views of the changing world. History supports that our world has advanced only because of the spirit and the work of the youth.

There is something special about a nation that can produce Asean Johnson, the third-grade, 9 year-old, Chicago activist that spoke against school closures.

seahawks logoThe Seattle Seahawks’ Legion of Boom (L.O.B.), its defensive line of players, and the rest of the franchise came to New Jersey’s Met Life stadium with a duty and a mission–to win a championship and take a place in the NFL record books. From the very first exchange of the game, every Seahawk player was in his proper place, every eye was on the gridiron, and every mind was focused on fulfilling the mission. From Wilson to Chancellor to Sherman to Lynch to Harvin, these young men taught America that youth matters.

And so they won. Big.

As a nation we have to learn to respect the power of our youth. We often expect that young people should do only as they are told, never of what they are capable–and, as a nation we lose big, too. Youth plays a major role in elevating nations and orchestrating movements that older, more seasoned people have grown too weary, and sometimes too disenchanted, to continue.

In an ESPN interview Monday morning following the “Big Game” Russell Wilson commended his coach, Pete Carroll, and the entire Seahawks organization for taking a chance on him and his teammates. Not by any wilson and carrollmeasure of our expectations of Super Bowl champions does a team with a roster of 21 non-drafted players, a fourth-round draft pick Quarterback like Wilson, a fifth-round draft pick corner back like Sherman, and a seventh-round draft pick Superbowl MVP like Malcolm Smith, win the Superbowl. In each of their stories is the narrative that they were given a chance. Our nation of young people have to be given more chances to apply what they have learned and more chances to play in the other “Big Game” called life.

In a post game interview, Richard Sherman was asked where Super Bowl XLVIII (48) ranked in terms of other great Super Bowl victories and his response was, “It doesn’t matter what order you put us in just put us in the conversation.”

The biggest lesson learned from the Seahawks organization? Young people matter and they win Super Bowls, too!

A Super Bowl Salute

It’s here! This Super Bowl moment is the day some fans have “waited” for “since 2006 (David Cheek on Facebook)!!!”

Heralded as the “Big Game” Super Bowl fever has been swept all over New Jersey, the state in which the game is going to be played, and New York, the state in which tourists, visitors, and diehard fans are going to spend all of their money and time.

Not much of a football fan, I sometimes don’t understand why some people would actually want to sit in a cold stadium and watch big, burly, lean, fit, strong, virile men shuffle up and down a grassy field with the objective of getting a leather ball from one end to the next. But then again, we are talking about watching beautiful men using football to serve a far greater purpose than the entertainment of the stadium superbowlspectators. These men are beautiful because most of the NFL players suit up to save their lives and the lives of others; while the armor they wear may be uniform so as to identify the teams with which they play, each player’s uniform is his own distinct Super Hero costume. When the players are in the personal huddles of their minds, they discuss the worries of their lives that include the loss of loved ones and the obligation to financially and emotionally support their family members. Some of them repeatedly, and in flashing moments, run through how they could have handled a high-profile, public situation differently. They also use the game as the one medium they can use to access incarcerated friends and family. Suddenly the “Big Game” comes with high stakes so I tune in to watch the players navigate these plays in life.

During this Black History month, I’d like to salute the NFL for hosting a profitable and accommodating space for Black players to engage in these personal life huddles, and for providing the means for them to be able to financially solve some of these issues. javon belcherWhile money cannot fix every player’s problems as is evident in the suicide deaths of players like Paul Oliver and Javon Belcher, many of the NFL’s Black players are able to experience life completely different from what any of them ever could have imagined. They have greater access to being better people because of the notoriety that comes along with the game. I don’t doubt, however, that many of these players would do philanthropic and humanitarian gestures even if there were no paparazzi lights.

I salute these players even more for seizing the opportunity, through prayer, hard work, and talent, to use the NFL as tool to enrich their lives and the lives of others.

forty million dollar slavesThere will always be arguments about the treatment of Black players in institutions like the NFL and NBA like what the fantastic Mr. Bill Rhoden laid out in his book $40 Million Dollar Slaves. Generally, there is no institution without its share of setbacks and marginalization. According to USA Today, Black players

Profiled by Ohio police

Profiled by Ohio police

are 10 times more likely to be arrested than White players. The kryptonite that effects some of these Black players (Black players make up approximately 65% of the NFL according to reports by William Rhoden and others) are societal ills like profiling, racism, and a lack of humanity. Through it all, they persevere most times by rising above these issues and committing to the excellence of taking their teams to the Super Bowl.

In 1933, there were 2 Black players and the NFL did not have any more Black players until after World War II. Today the level of sportsmanship, athleticism and notoriety that Black players have added to the NFL makes it hard to believe that football could even have been a sport without them.

Happy Super Bowl Sunday and here’s a Super salute to the NFL’s Black players!

American History is Black History

“No man knows what he can do until he tries.” –Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro

It’s officially Black History Month! This month we celebrate, in greater concentration, rbg flagthe phenomenal acknowledgement and representation of Black People in America.

I especially love this time of year because I get to experience potent lectures, panels, movie screenings, plays, performances, etc. with the common thread of showcasing Black excellence.

This is also the time of year in which I get to read commentaries on how Black History Month is racist and unnecessary since Blacks have not been the only contributors to America’s prominence, and because America has moved beyond slavery. Some of these arguments make me laugh and others just lead me to shake my head; none of these arguments ever get to the core of understanding how America gained the leverage to attract others’ continual immigration and pursuit of opportunity in America in the first place.

Black people have evolved the human race and some still insist on resisting this evolution.

“The bondage of the Negro brought captive from Africa is one of the greatest dramas in history, and the writer who merely sees in that ordeal something to approve or condemn fails to understand the evolution of the human race.” –Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro

I support that other races and ethnicities have contributed greatly to our America; Marcus Garvey’s work influenced one of America’s greatest, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X), many Chinese workers constructed the trans-continental Railroad, and Hispanics like Cesar Chavez worked tirelessly for the advancement of Hispanics as they continue to come to America. But like historian and Black History Month Founder Carter G. Woodson, I also support that Black Americans have been terribly misrepresented, underrepresented, and ignored as contributors in the greater American success story.

Carter G. WoodsonIn 1926, the Virginia historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History which he founded, began Negro History Week to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.  By 1976 (such a great year), Negro History Week had become federally recognized as Black History Month.

Carter G. Woodson was an academic who found it imperative for Black American history to serve a greater role within school curricula.

“As another has well said, to handicap a student by teaching him that his black face is a curse and that his struggle to change his condition is hopeless is the worst sort of lynching.” –Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro

He was a self-proclaimed radical; and, Woodson was a fearless man who was relentless in his pursuit to honor the contributions of Black America using the expertise he had gained from his education in Berea College, the University of Chicago, and Harvard University.  Mr. Woodson eventually wrote his acclaimed, The Mis-Education of the Negro in 1933 which has sold over a million copies and has been in print for 81 years.

He had numerous teaching stints in places like the Philippines and the prestigious Howard University. His greatest influencers, besides the history of his own parents’ enslavement and perseverance, were the relationships he developed with other self-determined Blacks like W.E.B DuBois, Arturo Schomburg, and what he felt he had not been learned properly about Black Americans.

There are institutions andWilder Building organizations worldwide that celebrate and continue his work; my very own alma mater, Virginia State University, has a Carter G. Woodson Avenue on which sits our United States Department of Agriculture supported building, named in honor of the first Black governor of Virginia and any state since Reconstruction, Mr. Douglas Wilder.

American economics and politics were created as a result of the presence and citizenship of Black Americans, since colonial times. In the midst of the state’s rights argument was the issue of how states would be represented in Congress–that argument was fixed through the passing of the Three-Fifths Compromise. From Jamestown to the Constitution, from the Black Farmers to the Prison Pipeline conundrum plaguing urban communities to President Obama, there is more to learn about Black Americans than the untruths foreigners learn and bring with them to America. There’s more to learn about Black Americans than the scornful, resentful sentiment other Americas cast in our direction.

To love America is to acknowledge Black Americans.

Through Carter G. Woodson’s efforts, he has left an enduring and persistent legacy in how I define Black Americans.

Black Americans:

  1. An elite and small group of descendants of indigenous Africans (mostly of Western Africa); native people BORN in the United States of America due to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade;
  2. NOT immigrants; Citizens.
  3. Architects and maintainers of America’s infrastructure; preservers of America’s food bank;  innovators of American culture; creators of America’s multitudinous opportunities.
  4. Inheritors of racism, discrimination, prejudice, black codes, Jim Crow, the New Jim Crow, the Prison Industrial Complex, mandatory sentencing drug laws, and all other disparate American behaviors; Stalwarts.
  5. Reflectors of why America is NOT a “more perfect Union.”
  6. Human;
  7. Americans; Survivors;
  8. Special;
  9. Rare;
  10. Royal.

Stevie Wonder: The Cosmic Delight

“Not only do we live among the stars, the stars live within us.” ~Neil deGrasse Tyson

According to CNN, “the 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards attracted 28.5 million viewers to CBS.”

At one time, in various places on Earth, the atomic energy of that many people was directed to a variety of flat screen televisions to view some our favorite artists’ finest moments as they collected golden gramophone baubles in recognition of making quality and / or well-liked music.

CNN speculated that perhaps everybody had watched to see a besotted Beyonce or the vintage Beatles or maybe even both. Once I had learned the stevie daft punk Master Blaster, Mr. Stevie Wonder would be joining Daft Punk featuring the super talented Pharrell Williams and the legendarily funky Nile Rodgers, I knew I would be happy.  I felt like I had gotten lucky to be able to see Stevie Wonder in his usual rare form join one of today’s hippest groups perform their song, but to also witness the performance of one of the best songs ever written by Mr. Wonder, “Another Star.”

In 1976, he released the quintessential Songs in the Key of Life. Featured on this double album of 17 craftily recorded songs and four bonus tracks, wereSongs in the Key of Life many of the songs that multiple generations have been able to sing to, including “Another Star.”

On this same album, Stevie Wonder included a song “Isn’t She Lovely”  that he had written for his newly born daughter, Aisha, where she is heard crying.  Since Songs in the Key of Life was released in September of 1976, I like to consider it an ode to me, too.

Following the success of two albums that had already amassed Stevie Wonder star power since 1973, Innervisions and Fulfillingness’ First Finale respectively, Songs in the Key of Life catapulted him into another dimension. Stevie Wonder has consistently been nominated, made appearances, performed, and been a big-time winner at the GRAMMY Awards–he has earned 22! He is more than just another star–he is cosmic delight and humanitarian nutriment!

Most of us don’t know that Mr. Wonder’s convictions towards human rights almost led to his retiring from music; and, he was thinking of moving to Africa to work with disadvantaged youth.  We may never have had Songs in the Key of Life! 

But then the stars aligned.

Stevie Wonder, has contributed his artistry to everything from supporting a Stevie We are the Worldfederal Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday (his song Happy Birthday is pretty much the only rendition I sing when I wish someone a happy birthday) to famine endeavors (He co-wrote, with Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, We Are the World).  

From raising AIDS awareness (That’s What Friends are For) to the Anti-Apartheid Movement, from increasing awareness about Domestic Violence (How Come, How Long duet with Babyface) to announcing that he will not perform in Florida because of Florida’s Stand Your Ground Laws, Stevie Wonder has persevered like stars often do because he knows that through his artistry and beyond, he emits light.

I am such a music fan!  Although I wasn’t moved by most of the performances outside of the amazing  Hip Hop artist Kendrick Lamar and the Rock group Imagine Dragons, Daft Punk with Pharrell and Nile Rodgers and the amazing collaboration with Stevie Wonder was worth the entire show! Daft PunkDaft Punk, an electronic music group from France, has obviously meandered through the galaxy and landed on planet Stevie Wonder because millions watched them rock out to his genius and follow in his footsteps by winning the Album of the Year award.  But then again, Stevie Wonder sends all of us into orbit.

He has always elevated artistry to a higher plateau and standard. He supports causes that will change the world and not just boost his album sales.  He stevie wondermakes music that speaks to our intellect, not only to our carnal desires, and he showcases performances that entire families can feel proud to watch.

“For you, there might be another star, but through my eyes” the light of Mr. Stevie Wonder is all I see!

Congratulations to the GRAMMY Awards for its long-standing relationship with Stevie Wonder; he validates this awards show.

The quotes above and below are from Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, an Africanneil degrasse tyson American astrophysicist, cosmologist and author. His voice can be heard narrating Dark Universe. Just as Dr. Tyson believes there is no way to deny the magnitude and magnificence of the Creator’s design, there is equally no way to discount Stevie Wonder as one of the Creator’s best contributions to our Universe.

“We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the Earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.” ~Neil Degrasse Tyson

Richard Sherman: No Black Boy, No Invisible Man

“I knew that I lived in a country in which the aspirations of black people were limited, marked-off. Yet I felt that I had to go somewhere and do something to redeem my being alive.” ― Richard Wright, Black Boysmiling richard sherman

The Richard Shermans of the world know all too well about living a life that feels like any level of the supremely popular Candy Crush Saga game; for many their zip codes are the lone pieces of candy, and intermittent pieces of “candy” like gangs, poverty, low expectations, and limitations align these zip codes. Eventually this pulsating combination explodes into something ugly, or in the case of Richard Sherman, something beautiful.

And so I write about them.

I write about them because I imagine that if Sherman has ever read Richard Wright’s Black Boy (with his academic record, I suspect that he has), he can unequivocally relate to the above-mentioned quote; and, because I recognize that we still suppress the “alive” black boy because a dead one poses no serious threat.

I know that if they carry and dribble balls, or weave seamless lines of nouns, verbs, adjectives, metaphors, and similes, and create bountiful mounds of wealthy industries, the perception is that we don’t ever have to worry about them being great humanitarians, philanthropists, academics, or even good fathers and faithful husbands.

It appears that we want these men to become invisible, but still commit magical acts like leaping from VIP Boxes to dunk basketballs or catching a football pass moving 3000 miles per hour, but if the basket isn’t made or the ball isn’t caught, these invisible men become outcasts and labeled as visible failures.

There is no love for Black boys or Richard Shermans that express passion and confidence. The message is always “shut and play” or “shut up and rhyme” or “shut up and make me money!” And, it’s time we just shut up with these demands!

Richard sherman2So today I write to thank Richard Sherman for advancing us in this crushing saga; I want you to know that I see you and you are not invisible to me, Mr. Sherman.

For most of my academic life, I was taught by strong, positive Black men. They enhanced my confidence because they were so; I have always wanted to be just like them in subtle and not so subtle ways. When my band teacher, Mr. Elston Fitzgerald, Jr. told my peers and I that we were the best high school band in Norfolk, VA, he affirmed our practice and skill as much as he affirmed what he had taught us. When he became angry at any semblance of doubt directed from others to us, he wasn’t ranting, he was being protective of what he had invested in our lives.

For all of my academic practice, the Black boys (my Big Sons) I teach are always allowed to be. However they come is how I accept them. However they leave is how I haverichard sherman groomed them. Whoever they become is what the Creator has established as their journey.

If Richard Sherman did not believe “I’m the best [corner] back in the game,” would it even be worth our time to watch him play? If he didn’t contribute to advancing his team to the largest event in sports outside of the World Cup, would we even care to know more about Sherman? Had he never given such an honest post-game interview, would the inner-bully ensconced in some of us ever had been revealed?


And so I write in honor of the Richard Shermans that are not too afraid to be visible, honest, and alive.

“I was never more hated than when I tried to be honest. Or when, even as just now I’ve tried to articulate exactly what I felt to be the truth. No one was satisfied.” Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man



Amiri Baraka: A New Ark Has Sailed

Amiri Baraka young 2Amiri Baraka.

The Sacrilegious Sixties saw the coming of age of (Everett) LeRoi Jones. Mired in violence that was spawned by racial degradation, tension, riots and murders / assassinations, anybody that made it through this decade is a survivor.  And, the scars they sustained are battle wounds. Some made it through the battles and some even withstood the war by living to tell the tales that robbed children of their fathers, men and women of their careers, people of their rights, and people of their lives.  This was the time in which LeRoi Jones lived.

The Sacrilegious Sixties saw the assassination deaths of 5 people: Medgar Evers, John F. Kennedy, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.  It witnessed the lynchings of too many to name, and only a very few made it to the newspapers headlines like Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner.  There waschaneygoodmanschwerner nothing sacred about living during this time, and so LeRoi Jones leaned on the ancestors, turned to the Blues and Jazz and he became a poet. The music provided the rhythm and the tumultuous conditions of life for Black people, disenfranchised people, poor people became an elixir; from his Black man soul, he poured it out into poems and stories.

The Sacrilegious Sixties wouldn’t allow the world to look rosy through Baraka’s glasses because the lenses were too blood-stained from the violence of murder of Amiri Baraka Blues Peoplethis time. The glass from which he wished to drink wouldn’t quench his thirst because it was always half full of equal rights and justice.  The Golden Rule looked more like yellowing caulk–had Amiri Baraka and others of his time followed the Golden Rule, there may not have been one perpetrator of racial violence, or racist injustice standing. But they were too kind and shrouded with too much spirit to act on their anger. And so they wrote about it just like what a therapist would have recommended.

Who were we to think that these men and women of the 60s had no rights to feel anger and anguish? Who were we to limit the expression of the poets when poets have always used imagination, expression and thought to shape the ways in which the world is viewed–whether that view is good or bad?

The Sacrilegious Sixties gave birth to a new-found self-determination through organizations like the Nation of Islam and the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Subsequently, these organizations gave people like Amiri Baraka a reason to believe that life could actually be better than the 60s decade that they survived.  And, like Muhammad Ali, LeRoi Jones changed his name in 1967 and became Amiri Baraka.

Amiri Baraka oldAmiri Baraka is the Father of the Black Studies Movement. He leveraged education by teaching next generations of thinkers in schools like Stonybrook, Columbia and Rutgers.  He was appointed New Jersey’s Poet Laureate in 2002. Amiri Baraka lived long enough to see some of the 60s energy transferred to other decades, and [prayerfully] he lived to see traces of brighter days shining through, too.

Amiri Baraka made his transition from Earth on January 9th, 2014 at 79 years old. Today in New Jersey’s Newark Symphony Hall, Brother Amiri Baraka will be honored for his life, his work and the truths he packaged in tiny rectangular books and whose messages and impact will forever be too large to contain.  This New Ark has sailed to be with the ancestors. 

Click here for more details about his funeral arrangements: Amiri Baraka’s Funeral Arrangements

If We Must Die…Let Us Live Like King


If I [we] speak immortality, I [we] will always BE.

If life and death lie in the power of the tongue, I choose to speak LIFE.

I saw Chi Raq, a documentary film by London-born filmmaker /photographer, Will Robson-Scott about the ruthlessness of Chicago’s urban streets today. While the film is only 13:06 minutes long, the grittiness of the realities of the men in this video live inspired the writing of this post.  In addition, I was driven by an inquiry into how our thinking shapes the trajectory of our lives.

Midway through the video, I also thought of Claude McKay (Who is Claude McKay?), the phenomenal Harlem Renaissance writer and his amazing challenge to mankind posed inclaude mckay his poem, “If We Must Die.”  When McKay wrote this poem in 1919, World War I had recently ended.   Soldiers were returning to adverse situations; not enough employment and the harsh reality that a “new” group of Americans had filled their positions and moved into “their” cities. While America’s involvement in the war was abbreviated (America did not enter World War I until 1917 under the leadership of President Woodrow Wilson), it was long enough for Blacks to impact the social aesthetics of some of America’s largest cities.  And, soon enough the domestic terrorism of racial violence America faced was just getting started.  Whites resented the Blacks that had taken vacant jobs and Black resented being treated less than human even though slavery days had ended long enough for Blacks to adjust to having an improved quality of life.  Between the communist paranoia plaguing people’s’ minds (The Red Scare) and the heightened racial tensions that led to intense race riots (Red Summer), America was falling apart at its seams–and even then Chicago was a powder keg of senselessness and murder.

Claude McKay, while observing the world in which he lived, took a very bold stand in support of life and living.  He didn’t write “when we die” instead he chose a more inquiry and definitive approach by writing, “If we must die.”  All our lives, many of us have been taught to do all that we can on this Earth because eventually we will die. For Blacks during the slavery institution, and beyond, the lesson has always been to wait to reap the rewards in death; for, our lives are an impasse until we get “to glory.” Today, that message rings out louder and clearer.  The only difference is that today, impoverished and crime-ridden neighborhoods, often deemed “the hood”  are not waiting for their members to become aged to see what glory is all about.  In “The Hood”, glory is an RIP Mural on the side of an obscure building that will eventually go “down dilapidated (Erykah Badu).”  Glory is sporting of an over-sized, boldly printed, white T-shirt bearing a slain person’s obituary.

And, Glory is also serving fervently in life and in death like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. KingDr. King, the immortalized Civil Rights leader was killed on April 4th, 1968, but he has not served one day in death. Dr. King spoke words that emanated life and today, he lives. He lives through our deeds, by our observances, via our intentions and through our service. Living like King is not to live a life beyond reproach, but one that inspires others to not be afraid to stand/walk/march…run the world in the shoes they bear.  To live like King is not to be afraid of taking risks, but to keep trying when adversity blares the strongest.  To live like King is not to wither in hate, but to grow in love. To live like King is not to wallow in an abyss of ignorance, but to soar in knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. To live like King is to never die giving up, but to live life fighting back, standing up, speaking out, and pushing on.



If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O, kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!


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