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HAPPY 50TH BIRTHDAY, TAVIS SMILEY!

“You can‘t LEAD the people if you don’t LOVE the people. You can’t SAVE the people if you won’t SERVE the people.” Motto of the Tavis Smiley Foundation, Youth 2 Leaders

Tavis

Barnes and Noble, September 2014 NYC

On Thursday, September 11th, 2014, I sat in an audience of people—friends, supporters,  and employees of Tavis Smiley—in  New York City’s Union Square Barnes and Noble for the signing of his seventeenth and latest book, The Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Final Year.

While on the stage underscoring his level of commitment to his work, he called my name, told the audience I worked with the young people in his foundation—Youth 2 Leaders—and led me in completing the motto of the foundation.  I was in the notes section of my iPad trying to take down his most salient and thought-provoking points (there are so many all the time) so I was initially caught off guard, but I fell right in line with him in reciting our motto.  Tavis responded, “See? She understands it. That’s what this work is all about.”

For nearly 20 years (I first met Tavis Smiley when I was 19 years old), I have been a student of Tavis Smiley.  I have learned that he is deeply committed to the growth and development of all people, and particularly to Black people.

“I believe if we make Black America better, we make all of America better.” Tavis Smiley

I can appreciate the unapologetic resolve in that premise.

TavisZak1

Fail Up Book Signing, 2011 NYC

For ten (10) years, he provided a platform for many of our community’s intellectuals and cultural critics; and, they gained national notoriety from their inclusion and involvement in the State of the Black Union symposiums. As a spectator and as an attendee, I would look at the panelists and think to myself, “If Tavis Smiley included this person, they must be something!”

Tavis has always been my barometer of intellectual excellence and my go-to example of critical curiosity and inquiry.  And, he fits perfectly into the cast of leadership. Through the publishing of books such as the Covenant with Black America (2006), and my all-time favorite, Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure (2011), Tavis has consistently provided an entry point for Black communities into discussions of politics and socio-economic growth. While his vocabulary is impressive and vast, his approach to giving our community the wings to fly in areas that sometimes compromise our esteem, has been practical, doable, and enumerated in a way that keeps many of us from getting lost or resorting to the comfort of believing our inability for doing better is because of not knowing how.

March 2014, Georgia

March 2014, Georgia

What I know for sure is that Tavis Smiley has always done what he has publicly said he would.  I respect that on his imprint (Smiley Books), he publishes books that help to guide our ways of thinking about issues.  Through media outlets in television and radio, The Tavis Smiley Show is what he uses to package his voice and his truth, on his terms.  I also know that Tavis is personable, engaging, loves Black people, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

I like Tavis Smiley!

At his young age, Tavis Smiley has done so much and he has not nearly tipped the scale in the more to come.

Happy 50th Birthday, Tavis Smiley!

Remembering Michael Jackson: There Can Be But One King

When Oprah Winfrey asked Michael Jackson, in a sit down interview on his Neverland Ranch, what he believed was his purpose on our great Earth, he responded,

“To give in the best way I can through song and through dance and through music…I mean, I am committed to my art. I believe that all art has as its ultimate goal the union between the material and the spiritual. The human and the Divine. I believe that to be the reason for the very existence of art. And, um, I feel I was chosen as an instrument to uh, just give music and love and harmony to the world.”

It almost makes you want to weep that this purposeful man is here no more. But, just as soon as the tears of sadness begin to swell on the edges of the lines of my eyes, they crest and fall with the same joy of watching a Michael Jackson performance hearing one of his many great songs and feeling a magic all his own–the Michael Jackson magic.

Michael Jackson Magic

Michael Jackson Magic

Born today on August 29th in 1958, Michael Jackson quickly became the star of nine (9) siblings. Even as a baby he had his own special magic, but it was written that way. The Divine Creator had already cast Michael Jackson as the king…of all artistry. He just had to study his lines and perform them well each and every time he was given the opportunity.

And he did.

As a five-year old child, he stood in front of his brothers and adoring audiences and belted out maturely written songs. With every breath of his tiny frame he rocked and swayed, and kicked and spun. He perfected his art through constant practice while growing as the lead singer of the Jackson 5 and as the mega solo star that transfixed all generations. Through the lyrics of his songs he sang about love and solutions to making our world a better place.  He was political and social and helpful and loving and he had conviction in his artistry.  For 45 years, he was the headliner with the starring role and the audience was still ready to watch the show and to join the cause.

Whether Michael Jackson knew each of us individually or not, he crafted a personalized experience for the millions of us. That was the Michael Jackson magic.

The smiles Michael Jackson shared when he spoke about his family suggested that his journey to the physical world had been birthed in the marriage of the material and spiritual worlds. His family offered him a love that was tangible–they could hug and hold him. But his fans offered him a love that energized his spirit. Whenever we showed up, he showed out by proving he had learned the lines the Creator had written for him through song, dance, and music.

When we make it to this world, there is already a script and a role for each of us to play. We have to be willing to learn our lines and to play our parts because everyday is the dress rehearsal when we know our purpose.

Thank you Michael Jackson for learning your lines, knowing your purpose and filling us with the Michael Jackson magic for 45 years.

Happy Birthday!

Remembering W.E.B. DuBois

IMG_2579One of the best and brightest minds to ever walk the Earth, W.E.B DuBois, died today in 1963 at the sage age of 95, the night before the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28th, 1963.

With his thinking cultivated in his family’s experiences and formally in the trailblazing HBCU, Fisk University, DuBois was later able to attend Harvard University where he earned another bachelors degree and became the first African American to receive a PhD from this school.

As a sociologist, Dr. DuBois dedicated his life to Black excellence through education. While he was certain that freedoms could be limited, suppressed and even taken away, one thing he knew that could never be taken was a person’s education.

He knew what he knew.

He knew Black people in the United States of America lived and navigated two worlds–a Black and questionable America and a White, less-forgiven one, too. He said so in his book, The Souls of Black Folk.  In fact, it’s as if incidences like the shooting death of teen Michael Brown by Police Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri and all of the other acts of unjustifiable crime committed against Blacks by others, is DuBois’ research coming back to haunt us.

In his scholarship, he knew Black people were capable of doing whatever our minds could fathom, and college degrees were our manumission papers.

He knew what he knew.

As the Crisis Magazine editor, founder of the Niagara Movement, and co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), DuBois was determined to show America that education was the equalizer of all other man-made inequities.

After a relentless pursuit, Dr. DuBois gave up his American citizenship in 1961 for the remainder of his life to be lived in Ghana. He became friends with similar brilliant minds and was honored at his funeral by Ghana’s First President, Kwame Nkrumah.

May the soul of W.E.B. DuBois forever rest in eternal peace and paradise.

For more information go to:
http://www.blackpast.org/aah/dubois-william-edward-burghardt-1868-1963

Remembering Nat Turner

Stevie Wonder’s album, “Hotter Than July” naturally evokes the question, “what’s hotter than July?” 

August.

August is hotter than July. Below is a list of historical August events:

  • African Americans began our traverse into slavery on August 20th, 1619 (see our post called “Standing on Bones, Part I).
  • Fourteen year-old Emmett Till was lynched by Southern racists and brothers, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam  in Money, Mississippi on August 28, 1955.
  • The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was held in Washington DC. on August 28th, 1963 and its 50 year commemoration was greatly celebrated for a new generation of young people to become connected with its importance and legacy.
  • Freedom Summer concluded in August of 1964.
  • The Watts Riots took place in August of 1995.
  • Black August, a practice that began to honor freedom fighters and revolutionaries Jonathan Jackson, George Jackson, William Christmas, James McClain, Khatari Gaulden, and survivor Ruchell Magee, began in California’s San Quentin prison following the killing of George Jackson during a rebellion on August 21st, 1971, is still one of our nation’s largest disturbances among Black Liberation circles.

Nat TurnerAlso on this day, August 21st, 1831 the man regarded as “The Prophet” by other enslaved Blacks, Nathaniel “Nat” Turner, waged the Nat Turner Rebellion.  Born on October 2, 1800, Nat Turner had been born into slavery in Southampton County, Virginia. Unlike most enslaved Blacks of his time, Nat Turner was taught to read by his owner’s son.  It was his ability to read that turned him to a deeper reading and understanding of Christianity. The ideas that had been taught to enslaved Blacks during slavery that supported slavery, were contradicted when Nat Turner read Christian doctrines; and, he actually came to the belief and understanding that Christianity condemned slavery.  An eclipse of the sun represented a sign from God to Turner that it was finally time to change the condition of Black people held captive by the institution of slavery.  In 1830, Nat Turner has been sold to Joseph Travis, and when he saw the eclipsing sun’s color change, he took that as a final sign to move forward with his insurrection.

Nat Turner had recruited seven (7) others to assist in his efforts and they killed all members of the Travis family first. They also killed fifty (50) more whites. In total, Nat Turner’s efforts only attracted the assistance of seventy-five (75) others–enslaved and free Blacks.  When the state militia received information about what was happening under Nat Turner’s leadership, they were determined to suppress it.  Nat Turner and his team were outnumbered by more than three-thousand (3000) militiamen.  In 48 hours, the Nat Turner Rebellion was suppressed.  One of Nat Turner’s men had been killed and the rest were taken into custody.  For two (2) months, Nat Turner was able to elude police, but he was eventually caught.  He was tried for murder and insurrection.  Six (6) days after his trial, he was executed and some two-hundred (200) other innocent enslaved Blacks were murdered.

Many people hail Nat Turner as a hero for the stance that he took in attempting to rid America of slavery.  Others have labeled him a fanatic preacher.  While his actions did not stop slavery, the Nat Turner Rebellion was indeed a turning point in the savage institution of slavery.  Southern slave owners inflicted even more harsh and severe punishments on their enslaved populations–overall the state of paranoia among whites nationwide was intense.  Some abolitionists, however, used the Nat Turner rebellion to heighten their efforts to help end slavery.

The discourse over how right or wrong Nat Turner’s actions were will forever be debated, but what can never be debated is that Nat Turner ensued action that he felt would provide him the best quality of life.  Since he believed in the Bible and believed in its condemnation of slavery, Nat Turner followed the sign he believe had come from God to change the condition of other Blacks and for himself.

Much of what happens in history is never pretty, especially when it involves the subjugation of others.

How will we remember Nat Turner?

 

 

 

Happy 94th Birthday, Nineteenth (19th) Amendment!

On this August 18th, in the year 2014, we celebrate 94 years of women federally getting the right to vote through the passage of the Nineteenth (19th) Amendment!!

Happy Birthday!

(Getty Photo)

(Getty Photo)

Over the course of these 94 years, women have helped to produce a better America.  From the pioneering faces of strength and resolve like Queens Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, to courageous women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, all the way to generations of fantastic collegians joining forces with the Women’s Suffrage Movement such as the “sorority girls” of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated (1920), and the other women of the Divine Nine–Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated (1908), Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated (1913), and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Incorporated (1922), women have always been on the front lines urging for political inclusion.

To the young 18 year-old girl who will register and then cast her vote on Election Day in 78 days on November 4th, 2014 because she has watched earlier generations of women vote–she is adding her vote to create a better America.

To the Baby Boomer, that walked with her mother to the polls while watching her cast many votes, and has now decided to pick up the baton to cast her own votes, in her own voice, while her children look on–she is making America better.

To the Octogenarian that has never known a world of not being able to vote and who will hopefully live to cast a few more votes–she is continuing to make America better.

To every woman in the home and the classroom, driving the school bus and in the boardroom, folding laundry and flying the airplanes, shopping for perfume and creating the next new formula, making us all look beautiful and helping to save our lives, lobbying for equal pay and passing legislation, today is for each of us. While we have impacted the world since the beginning of time, it is great to celebrate having the right to vote by the American government for the past 94 years.

Women make America better.

Happy 94th Birthday, Nineteenth Amendment!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Marcus Garvey!

“The whole thing, my friends, is a bloody farce, and that the police and soldiers did nothing to stem the murder thirst of the mob is a conspiracy on the part of the civil authorities to condone the acts of the white mob against Negroes.” Marcus Garvey

With a few minor changes in the words, one would think this quote was in reference the unrest happening right now in Ferguson, Missouri due to the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, but it isn’t.

The quote above by Marcus Garvey was delivered when he responded to the 1917 East St. Louis Race Riot, nearly 100 years ago.

marcus Garvey paradeMarcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association, historically known as the UNIA, responded to the race riot of East St. Louis by calling it a “crime against humanity.”  This riot occurred after 470 African Americans has been hired to fill positions left abandoned by white workers that had gone on strike against the local Aluminum Ore Company.  The angry whites of the town filed formal complaints to the Mayor against Black migration to the city of East St. Louis.  Soon after the formal complaints, an alleged attempted robbery of a white man by an unarmed Black man began to circulate.  As a result, an angry white mob began beating and violating the Blacks of the city—these actions resulted in the National Guard being called in to quell the violence, but it only grew worse. The end result of the St. Louis Race Riots, amidst all of the violence and the maimed and murdered African Americans, was that several officers of the East St. Louis police force were indicted for not doing enough to eradicate the mob violence.

Marcus Garvey, born in St. Ann’s Bay Jamaica on August 17, 1887 was a fearless, enterprising man of great conviction.  Highly inspired by the formerly enslaved American hero, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey set out to establish a united Black people.  He encouraged repatriation to Africa, the industrialization of Blacks and the establishment of an organization that would help Blacks to meet his goals, the UNIA formed in 1914. Further inspired by the large numbers of Black people living in Harlem, Marcus Garvey relocated the UNIA to Harlem’s 138th Street in 1917, and was a leading voice against racial injustice every time these injustices arose.  As demonstrated above, Marcus Garvey spoke against the East St. Louis Race Riots of 1917, and his vigilance against the killings that occurred during the Red Summer of 1919 led to the continued growth of the UNIA.

rbg flagUsing Madison Square Garden as his venue, Marcus Garvey attracted 25,000 people to hear him deliver the Declaration of Rights the Negro Peoples of the World at the UNIA International Convention of 1920.

This man was on a mission.

To fulfill his dream of Blacks repatriating to Africa, Marcus Garvey and the efforts of the UNIA purchased a fleet of ships, The Blackstar Steamship Line.  Although the ships were never able to fulfill the purpose intended by Garvey and the UNIA, purchasing the ships was a promising move by any Black leader, and a clear testament to the UNIA’s economic prowess.

Like most leaders of his time, Marcus Garvey was not devoid of controversy that would taint his reputation among Black followers and otherUNIA Flyer Black organizations.  The point, however, is that Marcus Garvey was a visionary and he was emphatic about the direction he thought would suit Black people best.  He had an “All Black Everything” vision; under the banner of Red, Black and Green he envisioned a Black Army.  He lauded Black women as “queens” that gave “color to the world.”  He also was clear and staunch in this assertion that he was equal to the white man and he wanted other Blacks to feel and know the same thing.

Marcus Garvey, having been consumed by the poetic and political potential of the United States, specifically Harlem (He was in Harlem in the height of the Harlem Renaissance), as well as the ideas of Black Unity and a Black nation, Marcus Garvey was a true Renaissance Man.

Marcus Garvey died in 1940 while in London, England after having two strokes.

He has influenced people who still follow his teachings, Garveyites.  Rastafarianism is highly influenced by Garveyism.   The man heralded by Ossie Davis as “our own Black shining Prince,” El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X), was raised by a Garveyite, his father Earl Little. And, all around the world we can find many examples of people holding true to Marcus Garvey’s call, “Up you mighty race; you can conquer what you will.”

On this Centennial (100 years!) of the UNIA and on what would have been the 127th year of Mr. Garvey’s birth, we say HAPPY BIRTHDAY Marcus Garvey!

What Would Dred Scott Do?

“How long has this pressure been building between the police and the people of Ferguson?”

That was the question Reverend Al Sharpton on Politics Nation asked on Tuesday August 12th, 2014 to Mr. Joseph Anderson, President of 100 Black Men of Metropolitan St. Louis (watch the segment called “Ferguson, MO, a history of racial profiling?).

Joseph Anderson responded:

“Well Reverend Sharpton, I would say it’s been building for years.”

How about 158 years.

A photo I took on January 29th, 2012.

A photo I took on January 29th, 2012.

Since March 6th, 1857 Blacks have been trying to find a legitimate right to exist in the state of Missouri as freedmen and women rather than as the “imported” property of slave holders.  In the landmark 1854 Dred Scott vs. Sanford Supreme Court case (I really enjoy teaching it to my students) the powerful pioneer, Dred Scott, sued John Sanford for his freedom. And, it took careful planning and courage on Dred Scott’s behalf.

Dred Scott’s efforts for his own freedom was so powerful that his case led to the Supreme Court declaring that the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the legislation that declared states North of the 36 30’ parallel line (the Mason-Dixon Line) were “free” and all states beneath it would be “slave” states, was an act of Congress that was unconstitutional.

Oh yes! Dred Scott was that brother.

Through all of the legal proceedings, all but two of the justices of the case consented that Dred Scott, due to his status as property, had no legal claims to sue for his freedom.  Chief Justice Roger B. Taney offered that since Blacks had already been considered an inferior race, and because we had been subjects of importation due to the slave trade, we were a different group of people, even more different from the Native Americans—to Taney, we were an “unfortunate” race without any claims to independence and therefore, “had no rights the white man was bound to respect.”

Ultimately, Dred Scott did not win his freedom through the Supreme Court–he was purchased by the son of the first owner he sued in 1847, Peter Blow, after the 1857 decision.  Dred Scott made a strong statement about asserting our rights to stand on principles of freedom, justice and equality.  He knew what it would mean to have them heard by the highest authorities, even when those authorities did not want to listen.  And, he made a profound statement about the love he had for us.

Amazing.

Ferguson has not happened in a vacuum.  The tensions between the people and the authorities in St. Louis and the surrounding municipalities have always existed.  According to the Los Angeles Times, the demographics of the Ferguson city officials have little or no Black representation; Ferguson’s city council has sixteen percent (16%) Black representation, its police department only boasts of a whopping six percent (6%) Black representation—of its fifty-three (53) commissioned officers, three (3) are Black and its school board has zero percent (0%). However, sixty-seven percent (67%) of Ferguson’s population is Black according the US Census!

The statistics from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office show that Blacks are far more likely to be pulled over in “routine” traffic stops than whites— in 2013 for whites, it was a mere thirteen percent (13%), whereas for Blacks, it was an astonishing eighty-six percent (86%)!

Finally, according to Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post, the residents have relayed to him that “these tensions have been simmering to the surface for years.”

Sometimes old issues lay dormant until something—a change in the times or the looming feeling that something and/or someone has been lost, comes along and helps whatever lies dormant to resurface again.  In the case of Ferguson, it is the killing of Michael Brown.

The energy of the people in Ferguson is telling me that the people are conjuring the conviction of St. Louis’ greatest democracy bearer, Mr. Dred Scott.  Michael Brown’s life, while prematurely taken, serves a greater purpose and he now joins the ranks of the ancestors.  None of us are happy that this beautiful 18 year-old teenager is no long living a physical experience with us. None of us are happy that 158 year-old tensions still exist in Missouri and around our nation. But, we have the power to change all of this madness by continuing the fight for what our ancestors started, improve our quality of life by electing the policymakers at the helm of that quality through our votes, and by declaring our rights to be. Unapologetically.

We can do this Dred Scott’s way and give 158 years an expiration date of now.

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