rEVOLution Haikus: A Class Assignment

If I could, I would teach a poetry class.  Although I have a certificate in creative writing, I cannot teach poetry because academy culture prefers I teach within my discipline: rhetoric & composition.  It’s like checking a box named “African American” when you are also Native American & Hispanic.  I’m light-weight trapped.  Anyway, if I could, I would teach a poetry class.  & today, I did.

While grading resumes for my Improving Writing students, I discovered a poet in the midst.  A particular student currently has poems published in various spaces, & I wanted to share her with the rest of her classmates.  So, I did.  I required her to write a haiku to share w/her classmates.  Reluctantly, she did.  & after her brief presentation (for the haiku is a brief three-lined poem with 17 syllables), I required each student to write a haiku on the topic REVOLUTION.

Why REVOLUTION?

Well, at FAMU, students are engaged in SGA elections (& my FAMU alumn know how theatrical & fantastical this occasion is.) Anyway, two of my male students (who are/were members of the FAMU Court) were dressed in black suits w/a REVOLUTION campaign shirt.  The campaign is light-weight amazing, specifically because students are standing on the genius of civil rights activists.  Their entire campaign is the epitome of throwback.  I dig it–so much so that REVOLUTION became the topic of our haiku writing exercise.

Below, find the two haikus–well, I actually wrote one & provided two different last lines–that I wrote w/my students.  Each of their haikus should be available in my comments below.

rEVOLution

Can you see the love

hidden in revolution

like abstract notions?

*     *     *

Can you see the love

hidden in revolution

like it hides in us?

Beyond an Abecedarian Knowledge of Martin Luther King (w/regards to dp)

No one could have prepared me for the lackluster attitude regarding Civil Rights and Black History that I have faced amongst students attending an HBCU.  Some (& way too many) of my students believe King is an overrated, trite icon whose non-violent Civil Rights Movement IMagephilosophy created a stagnant Movement.  Students have claimed (loudly & proudly) that they have neither read nor heard the “I Have a Dream” speech in its entirety, that they did not know that King won the Nobel Peace Prize, helped to secure the Voting Rights Act, and led the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  Oh, but they did know, Dr. Bryant, that King led the Million Man March (or was it Malcolm X?).

I hated them for their ignorance, but I hated them more for not wanting to know.  “I’m so tired of hearing about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King.  How do they relate to me?” one of my students asked.  Another one, while giving a presentation on the images regarding the Vietnam War, the American Civil Rights Movement, and African Apartheid (which one student admitted he thought meant “apartment”), said–at the start of her presentation to the entire class–“I’m so tired of talking about civil rights.”  & then another “student,” who wanted to talk to me about Martin Luther King for anKing image argumentative essay she was writing, claimed Malcolm X’s “by any means necessary” approach to civil rights were more realistic than King’s non-violent approach.  But she hadn’t read anything about King or any of King’s work.  So, I gave her a book.  & most recently, I required each of my four writing classes to attend Ava Duvernay’s #SELMA movie–& without fail, in each class, at least 2-3 students moaned & groaned about it.  Even one student asked for an alternative assignment.

Why don’t Black students (& yes, I am overgeneralizing) want to know Martin Luther King? & why am I so adamant that they do?

But first, some background:

While I was teaching high school in 2004, I came across that one high school student who claimed to have never heard of Martin Luther King, Jr. before.  I was absolutely flabbergasted.  I felt embarrassed for this student, sad, & disappointed in the public school system, in mass media, and in her.  In that moment, while listening to her classmates laugh and poke fun at her, I knew I needed to do more with King in my English classrooms.  After all, most of those jokers who teased her didn’t know King beyond the King Holiday.  & so, for the 13 years that I’ve been teaching English, Martin Luther King, Jr. has been part of my curriculum.  He is as mandatory as Shakespeare & as necessary as the eight parts of speech.

Therefore, in between FCAT drills, I drilled students on King’s contributions to America.  Required bell ringers included journal entries on various King quotes.  & practice AP writing tasks required students to compare the rhetorical devices in King’s “I Have a Dream” speech with Aaron McGruder’s “Return of the King Speech.”  While George Bush was concerned with leaving no child behind via uniformed assessments, I was concerned with ensuring that no student left my high school English class without having a tighter grip on King than they had before.  That was my small contribution to social activism, if you will–my nod to American patriotism and Black genius.

However, when I left the high school classroom and began a teaching career in post secondary education, I learned–surprisingly–that many of my university students didn’t give a shit about social activism, didn’t believe that Black people were genius, and didn’t view Martin Luther King an American patriot.  Some of my white university students appreciated insights I offered them on King, while others viewed me a Black nationalist and an ethnocentric teacher. I hadn’t realized that requiring my White students to analyze the rhetorical language in King’s “I Have a Dream” or “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” would make me a “racist” teacher.

While I was aware that more often than not, White students will define their Black teacher racist should she teach anything from her Black perspective, I had not considered my teaching King a threat to anyone’s identity.  I didn’t realize that I was challenging my White students’ preconceived knowledge about King.  They understood him to be the Negro preacher who marched for human rights, particularly those of Black people.  Yet, here I was, barely 30 years old, situating King in an academic space that required students to acknowledge his intellectual capacity–to understand his writing prowess and know him as a genius.  Shoulder shrug.  Nevertheless, despite student discomfort and occasional complaints to my supervisor, I continued to teach King, & the more I taught him, the more personal I began to feel about students’ ignorance and resistance to my King curriculum.  But the resistance from my White students didn’t bother me as much as the push back I receive from the Black students I currently teach.

Every time I show King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in class, I well up with tears.  When I play Nina Simone’s “Why? The King of Love Is Dead,” a knot enters my throat.  & when I explicate King’s “The Power of Nonviolence,” “An Experiment in Love,” and “Where Do We Go from Here?”–speeches that define King’s agape love concept and non-violent approach–I feel, as I imagine the preacher does when he explicates the “Sermon on the Mount,” the Holy Ghost rising in me.  So, one can imagine how angry I am when a Black student sleeps through the “Dream,” is texting through Simone’s queries, & has failed to read any of the assigned speeches.  Why don’t Black students, especially these ones who are currently taking classes at a historically Black college & university, witnessing Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, & Eric Garner cases, & participating in #blacklivesmatter, #Icantbreathe, #dontshoot campaigns resisting academic discussions and tasks regarding Martin Luther King, & why do I care?  & I mean, I be bout to lose my mind care.

This morning, my mentor friend freed my mind.  She helped me to understand what I knew but had not known.

For about 13 years I thought I was frustrated with students’ lack of abecedarian knowledge regarding Martin Luther King, Jr.  With all of this free access to information via the Internet, how in the world can any (Black) student not be familiar with Martin Luther King, Jr.–at least with his “Dream” speech?  How does anyone in this 21st century America whose citizens actively engage in racism, sexism, ageism, classism, and the like, not be familiar with the Civil Rights Movement?  I thought that that negligent behavior annoyed me.  However, my mentor friend explained to me that those tidbits of information are all abecedarian; it’s a rudimentary understanding of things, which really, are not that important.

What is most important about King are not the marches, the speeches, and the awards, but it’s the spirit–the creative genius–that moved through him that you want your students to know so that they, too, can carry the King inside of them, she said.  & she is absolutely right.  My teaching King is primarily an effort at reminding students of their humanity & of their responsibility to ensuring peace & love.  She is right.  Many people will not know King, or Gandhi, or Leo Tolstoy, but if we each can be acquainted with their spirits, the Movement will keep moving; for, Spirit never dies.

& so, I will continue to use King as a primary source for instruction regarding rhetoric & composition practice, ’cause I believe King is a rhetorical genius.  However, I am okay with my students–Black or White–not being able to recall any of his contributions to America and the Civil Rights Movement.  No, King didn’t lead the Million Man March, but the spirit with which the Million Man March was organized is definitely a reflection of Martin Luther King.

 

 

 

FAMU’s DowJones High School Summer Camp 2014

This summer I worked again with Florida A&M University’s DowJones Summer Camp for high school students.  This grant-funded initiative aims to encourage 11th and 12th graders to pursue a bachelor’s degree in journalism/communications.  The grant requires students to use multimedia to deliver the news.  Therefore, in addition to teaching students the fundamentals of news writing and reporting, students learn how to use social media to deliver the news.  DowJones requires students to display their journalism skills–which they developed in an intense week-long workshop–via an online newspaper.  It can be viewed at the link below:

FAMU’s DowJones High School Summer Camp Online Newspaper

 

Remembering Amiri Baraka: Teaching “Somebody Blew Up America”

I was talking to @drrema when—in the middle of our conversation—she reported Amiri Baraka’s death.  My heart catapulted to my stomach floor.  Real story.  My heart catapulted to my stomach floor, & my mind immediately traveled back to about 2005 when I saw Amiri Baraka (for the second time—the first time I was a graduate student at Florida A&M University (FAMU), & our neighboring school, Florida State, invited him to lecture) at the Zora Neale Hurston Festival in Eatonville, Florida.  Baraka claimed to remember me.  & maybe he did reMe & Amiri Barakamember me, for the audience in FSU’s auditorium barely filled the room.  As a matter of fact, the audience was so small, that after his reading, Baraka stood at the stage’s edge & sold stapled copies of Somebody Blew Up America for under $5.  He signed each poem that he sold—right there, leaning over the stage’s edge.

I was so taken aback by the audacity of Baraka’s piece, as well as his apparent humility, that as the editor for the University of South Florida’s First Year Composition handbook (2010), I expressed my gratitude for his being by including “Somebody Blew Up America” in its anthology section.  I (& my co-editor JMcKee) felt not including Amiri Baraka & his courageous work in our anthology would be remiss.  I wanted the world to know Baraka, just as I had come to know him.

& I don’t know when or how I became acquainted with Amiri Baraka.  Perhaps another poet (of mine) mentioned him in their works.  Nikki Giovanni? Maya Angelou? Sonia Sanchez? Maybe I read him in some out-side-of-school anthology.  Or maybe I saw his name mentioned in some Black Nationalist literature I use to read while a high school student.  (Cause back in those days, I wanted to be that meaningful revolutionary that my daddy said I was not.  & though changing my name to something that sounded more African—like altering “Kendra” to “Kenya”—never appealed to my revolutionary desires, I wasn’t at all opposed to wearing my hair braided, borrowing my mother’s beaded necklaces, & pen-paling an imprisoned Black Panther.  & I sho nuff kept some Black author’s book clutched under my arms.)

But Amiri Baraka was undoubtedly a revolutionary.  A revolutionary with a BIG cause, & his enormity—his valiance—is why Mos Def, Kanye West, & The Roots do what they do.  He’s why we know & remember Huey P. Newton & ‘em, Martin Luther King & ‘em, & them who suffered through the Civil Rights Movement & South African Apartheid &.  He’s why Richard Blanco performed at Barack Obama’s Inauguration & why Barack Obama is president of the United States of America.  So, I couldn’t let Amiri Baraka pass on without passing him on to the students I currently teach at FAMU. & so, I introduced my students to Amiri Baraka by way of “Somebody Blew Up America.”

As I assumed, with the exception of the one and two students who had heard of Amiri Baraka only through the influx of Facebook, Instagram, & Twitter updates of his passing, NONE of my students were familiar with Amiri Baraka.  As a matter of fact, when I asked students if they know who Amiri Baraka is, one student guessed that he is our newly elected University President.  (Yikes! FAMU’s new President is a woman named Elvira Mangum.  Sigh.  I think it’s ok to tell students that an “I-don’t-know” response— a Buddha response—is often much more attractive than guessing, even in the learning environment.)  Anyway, my students were not aware of Baraka, so forfeiting a day of grammar lessons was well worth the time we would spend with him.  It was a necessary endeavor—passing Baraka on with hopes that my students would pass him on & their friends would pass him on, so that his passing would give him more life than his living did.  You know?

My students & I followed along with Amiri Baraka as he read “Somebody Blew Up America” via youtube (see below).  In one of my classes, a student snapped at every other line Baraka read, it seemed.  Other students laughed at lines like, “Who do Tom Ass Clarence Work for Who doo doo come out the Colon’s mouth Who know what kind of Skeeza is a Condoleeza.”  & I’m not sure if my students were laughing at the word “skeeza” or if they were snapping at lines because the juxtapositions were clever, for when I walked around the room eavesdropping on their group discussions, very few students seemed to know much about the historical references Amiri Baraka made in his piece.

Nevertheless, I asked my students three questions that they were required to contemplate in their group sessions: “Is the repetitive questioning ‘who . . .’ rhetorical, & if so, then who does Amiri Baraka suggest blew up America?” “What is the significance of the Owl whose (w)hoot  is used as onomatopoeia?”  & “What line, word, or phrase resonated with you?”  Most of the students consented that the White patriarchy blew up America, although one of my classes acted almost afraid to utter their conclusion out loud.  Their hesitancy was reminiscent of the experiences I have had with White students who were afraid to read the word “Nigger” in a piece of literature.  My students’ hesitancy, along with their not knowing why particular lines pulsated within them—we didn’t dig into the Owl metaphor because of time restrains and mixed reviews—disappointed me.  I light-weight wanted my students to shake their Black fists in the air.

Instead, the energy in a couple of my classrooms felt careless.  It reminded me of the same energy that surrounded me in a first year writing class some semesters ago when students complained about my teaching them the art of rhetoric & composition by way of Martin Luther King.  “Yea, yea, yea.  We already know enuf about Martin Luther King,” said one student. “I know he led the Million Man March.”  Sigh & sad face.  Anyway, despite their energy, I urged my current students to pass on Amiri Baraka.  But I wonder if they will.  I wonder if they believe he is worth passing on.

Since I’ve been teaching at Florida A&M, I have encountered a dis-identification with Blackness amongst my Black students for which I wasn’t prepared.  Their disengagement with their Blackness makes me rethink my purpose in the classroom, particularly in the historically Black classroom.  While their knowing how to compose resumes & cover letters, memos & proposals are important to their careers, and while writing responses to literature, composing grammatically sound sentences, & complying with MLA style & documentation is vital to their scholarship, how significant is any of that to their personhood?  To their humanity?  To their creative genius?

In Home: Social Essays (1961), Amiri Baraka says, “Thought is more important than art. To revere art and have no understanding of the process that forces it into existence, is finally not even to understand what art is.”  I don’t know most of what my students think about, but I can bet—with the exception of the art & humanities students (which I do not teach)—that the majority of my students don’t contemplate their thoughts, & they surely don’t give much thought at all about art—about poetry or even the music that blazes from the headphones that distract them from everything present around them. & so, I wonder “who”se fault is that?  Who distracts Black students from knowing & understanding & loving their Black selves?

I try to keep Black in the center of my writing classrooms, while being careful to not promote ethnocentricity.  I think if students are given the space to think about themselves in relationship to other beings, human & non-human, then they may grow to appreciate & understand the magnitude of Amiri Baraka & others whose poems, essays, short stories, paintings, & lyrics revolutionize, archive, & humanize.  Cause I want my students to have that “Like an Owl exploding In your life in your brain in your self / Like an Owl who know the devil All night, all day if you listen, Like an Owl Exploding / in fire” experience.  I want my students to awaken to a revelatory consciousness that transcends all understanding.  I want them to know themselves as they are known by Amiri Baraka & all of the ancestors who existed so that they may live.

 

FAMU’s JSchool Hosts Week-Long Summer Camp

Monday, July 8 – Friday, July 12 I participated in FAMU’s School of Journalism & Graphic Communication’s week-long summer camp for high school students interested in pursuing a career in journalism.  I assisted students in researching, writing, and developing their webpage. Click here to read the Democrat’s coverage on it.  And click here to see the students’ final production.

Composing for Martin Luther King

This semester I’ve integrated visual arts, poetry, and technology in my composition classroom by way of Creative Composition assignments that require writing students to explicate their understanding of Martin Luther King’s rhetoric and philosophy.  Students are given creative allowance, and therefore, can choose their medium.  Below are some examples of my students’ creative compositions, and here is my own, (A Poem for MLK), which I wrote at the bequest of a male student who has decided to drop out of school to sit by a lake and think.

Mr. Drummond's King Image

Goldwire's Collage

Goldwire's Collage 2