remembering daddy, remembering me: a 5-paragraph writing assignment for intermediate composition

Daddy told me I was a revolutionary w/no cause. I don’t know what I was doing at that very moment he made that comment. Maybe I was reciting a poem I wrote about crackers makin it on black folks’ bended backs. Or maybe I was organizing a showcase for Black History Month. I probably was just sittin at the dining room table wearing a dashiki–most likely his blue & black dashiki whose neck & chest plate were embroidered w/gold thread mimicking the intricate beaded necklaces that members of the Maasai Tribe wear. Whatever I was doing, my behaviors seemed, to him, unwarrantedly rebellious.

I grew up feeling like I was born into the wrong era, so maybe my behaviors reflected that feeling: I wrote poetry about civil rights movements I only read about. In them, I called white people “cracker,” spelled America w/a “k,” & discussed civil injustices I had never experienced. I was an active member of the NAACP’s Youth Council, where I met Kweisi Mfume, Myrlie Evers, & Rosa Parks; president of the Afro-American Heritage Club in both middle & high school, where I took tours of Martin Luther King Jr.’s home & competed in African American Brain Bowls; & I wore wooden necklaces & leather African medallions I bought from the Muslim man who stood on the corner of 27th Avenue & 183rd Street selling them, along w/bean pies & The Final Call. I was a revolutionary.

I was “as-salaam-alaikum“-ing folks after watching Spike Lee’s Malcolm X. I wrote letters to Ruchell Cinque MaGee, my prison pen pal, whose address I discovered after reading Herb Boyd’s Black Panthers for Beginners. & after those white cops were acquitted of beating Rodney King, I, too, asked, “Can we all just get along?” & remembered his question when O.J. Simpson was acquitted, secretly believing Simpson’s liberation was reparations for Rodney King, Martin Luther King, & all the other kings made to be our martyrs. Daddy clearly saw the revolutionary in me; yet, he claimed my movements had no purpose.

*      *      *

I grew up in the 80s & 90s when The 2LiveCrew was being banned in the USA, Maya Angelou was reciting “On the Pulse of Morning,” & Hillman College depicted the HBCU experience all my Black friends & I wanted to encounter. The “Star Spangled Banner” signaled television’s cut-off, mainstream radio was void of profane language, & reality television was limited to MTV’s Road Rules. The era, as I experienced it, was quite innocuous. & although the Gulf War was happening, besides watching the Spaceship Challenger explode during take off, witnessing Baby Jessica’s rescue, & being amongst Hurricane Andrew’s destruction, my lived experiences were just as–if not more–innocuous than the late 20th century. Daddy was right. I was a revolutionary w/no cause.

I spent all of my middle & high school years embodying a Black persona that was foreign to me, wishing to have a Black experience–a narrative–that was interesting enuf to hang on museum walls, to publish in Norton anthologies, & to revise into rap lyrics. I was no different than Alice Walker’s Dee (or Wangero)–believing that consuming everything Black outside of me & my own experiences made me Blacker, like Malcolm X, pro-nationalist Black. & while I learned so much about my ancestors, I wasn’t as intentional about knowing myself, not just in relationship to my Black history, but to the stories & to the people that were unfolding in the era & area in which I was actively living. I was so busy being Black that I neglected being me. I reckon that‘s what Daddy meant when he claimed me a useless revolutionary: to be the change I want to see in the world, I must first have a clear vision of myself.  I am still looking.

 

 

 

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#TBT “no es facil”: tryin to capture President Barack Obama

I spent two years trying to paint President Barack Obama. My first attempt was a lightweight disaster:

However, my Instagram responders were supportive:

instagram-comments

So, I tried again:

But I stopped. I was afraid to continue painting–afraid that if I kept going, I would lose him. ‘Cause this looks like Barack Obama, right? I left that painting unfinished, & I placed it–as well as the one I painted of “our next Black president”– against a wall behind my couch. They are still there.

Nonetheless, after about a year or so–when President Barack Obama began restorations w/Cuba–I was moved to paint Barack again. Obama’s humanitarian spirit moved me, & although I have witnessed it long before his Cuba relationship, I was–I am inspirited by his decision to rebuild relationship w/a country that America has so long denied. Obama appeared to me as a Black Panther who understood the problem w/capitalism & the possibilities in communism. At that moment, he remembered that Cuba provided Assata Shakur & Huey Newton refuge. It was as though he, too, saw Alice Walker in arms w/Fidel Castro. Of course I, who have long loved Alice, Assata, & Huey, fell in love (again) w/Barack Obama.

In his 2014 “Statement by the President on Cuba Policy Changes,” Obama says:

Cubans have a saying about daily life:  “No es facil” –- it’s not easy.  Today, the United States wants to be a partner in making the lives of ordinary Cubans a little bit easier, more free, more prosperous.

With “No es facil” in mind, I painted Barack Obama’s head in front of the Cuban flag. I imagine if Cuba ever reprinted its currency, it might look a little like this (or at least it should):

barack-obama-no-es-facil

Long live Obama!


“Up, you mighty race!”: from the African American Museum Inauguration to the Black Panther’s 50th Anniversary

Martin Luther King held fast to dreams, while Huey P. Newton gave all power to the people, & Jesse Jackson insisted we keep hope alive. Thru each of them, & many others, Barack Obama assured us we can—

Be young, gifted, & black.

Be unbought & unbossed.

Be revolutionary.

Be-long.

In light of the #icantbreathe #amInext #blacklivesmatter movement, the inauguration of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture, along w/the 50th Anniversary of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, affirm the genius & spirituality of black people who were taken from Africa & dehumanized in a New World, yet insisted on being. Words can’t express how magical black people are. It’s like trying to describe God. Words become meaningless in such an endeavor, & therefore, as Amiri Baraka argues in “The Myth of a Negro Literature,” only jazz & blues make Truth. (& to the gospel singer, a moaning hum.)

I attended the inauguration of the national African American museum & am both relieved & honored that Black history & culture is archived & freely available to anyone so interested in engaging black genius. Albeit, I struggle w/the notion that we be a spectacle, I understand that the NMAAHC is important to civil rights leaders & black folk who insist on not just being human, but on being American. According to John Lewis, the museum was a long time coming. It symbolizes our place in the American story, said Lonnie Bunch, NMAAHC director, who, by the way, referred to the museum as “home.”

Expanding four floors, the NMAAHC—whose architectural structure reflects Yoruban art, honors enslaved iron workers, & remembers the American South—carries visitors thru slavery & reconstruction, segregation & the civil rights movement, black culture & liberal arts, thus revealing to a nation that denies Black excellence the beautiful flamboyance & buoyancy of Black people. We are an esoteric folk—a people that can only be understood by our permission, said Nikki Giovanni in her 1972 “Ego Tripping” poem. & so it is.

I had time to visit only the museum’s top floor, which is a mecca for the Black artist, thinker, musician, comedian, actor, & (fill-in-the-blank). Yo! We in there! You name it, & the NMAAHC got it: Jet & Ebony magazines, Cosby Show re-runs, Moms Mabley recordings, The Funkadelics’ Mothership, a boombox & Ladies First album, pots & pans, hot irons, & dashikis, Aaron Douglas & Augusta Savage originals, Nikky Finney & Morrison speeches, Negro sermons, Alice Walker quotes, afro picks & civil rights buttons. Although I couldn’t see it all, I’m pretty sure the NMAAHC carries everything, thought, & practice specific to Black people—including hot sausages & pig’s feet in jars of red vinegar. We in there, & I am relieved & honored about it because our ancestors, grandparents, teachers, & heroes, are made more visible & permanent, & our African American ethos—as is expressed in our theories & practices—is acknowledged for its creative spirituality, which is how we reclaim/ed our humanity.

It’s all good.

However, Sonia Sanchez, Black Arts Movement poet, reminded inauguration attendees that a museum cannot make our history; we make history (& herstory), she said. When she took the podium on a platform called “The Fannie Lou Hamer Stage,” Sanchez professed, “Today is a baaaad day. It’s a bad day, a good day,” she said, “but it’s a baaaad day.” She proceeded to explain that a museum of Black history & culture is not a measurement of our freedom, for our freedom still relies on the act of grassroots organization. Her sentiments echo those of former Black Panther leader Elaine Brown, who, about two weeks after the NMAAHC inauguration, also insisted that we continue to organize ourselves toward freedom.

During the “Reflections on the Black Panther Party at 50: Elaine Brown with Beverly Guy-Sheftall” lecture that inaugurated the James Weldon Johnson Institute’s Public Dialogues in Race and Difference Series, the bodacious Elaine Brown vocalized her experiences as Minister of Information for the Black Panther Party Movement. With radically detailed stories about unlawful policing, COINTELPRO shenanigans, and Jim Crow laws, Brown explained how she & her Oakland, California comrades took ownership of the Black community by offering its members free breakfast, free clinics, & free legal aid. In the spirit of Marxism-Leninism, said Brown, the Black Panther Party—whose ten-point program began with “We Want Freedom” & ended with “We Want Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice, & Peace”—aimed to liberate Black people from capitalism. According to Brown, the BPP were intellectually organized socialists whose quest for freedom ignited their movement. She, like Sonia Sanchez, insisted that we organize, & echoing Gil Scott Heron’s often quoted phrase, maintained, “The revolution won’t be televised.”

Translation: Twitter tweets, Facebook updates, Instagram &Tumblr posts (as well as museums) are not social movements that will fuel revolution.

*             *             *

During a class discussion last week about the probability of peace & freedom in an America that justifies war & boasts about its military strength, a white student referenced recent race matters to argue the impossibility of peace: “The Black Lives Matter Movement isn’t going to change anything,” she said. She went on to explain that Black people think BLM is making a difference, but police officers continue to murder Black people. In an effort to facilitate an objective classroom discussion, I kept my comments to myself; however, I wholeheartedly agree w/her (& Sanchez & Brown). Although that student’s comment was not a critique of the social media platform on which the Black Lives Matter Movement receives momentum, her attention to BLM absolutely responds to the failed tendency of activists to seemingly use social media as revolutionary movements.

Surely, social media (like newspapers, television, & radio) serves as a communications technology that disseminate propaganda to the masses. However, revolution requires real time action that transcends static museums & hashtags. We need to organize, said Elaine Brown & Sonia Sanchez.

In other words:

  1. We need invested leadership. Surely, each of us can independently stand in righteousness. However, collectively we need a leader who is solely committed to our freedom. How can we focus on, understand, believe & participate in a movement when so many of our “leaders” are more invested in guest appearing in reality/sitcom TV & Tyler Perry films than teaching, strategizing, and organizing?
  2. We need to boycott. In 1955, Martin Luther King, Jr. led the most successful boycott in the nation when he encouraged Black Montgomery to avoid riding segregated busses. In 2015, Greek sororities boycotted VH-1’s Sorority Sisters, causing brands to pull their advertisements, thus resulting in the show’s cancellation. Why aren’t we collectively boycotting white America?
  3. We need to know our enemy. Elaine Brown said that the BPP read literature, understood the art of war, & was familiar w/systems of oppression—all of which allowed them to make informed decisions about the movement. How are we going to fight a system that we know very little about?
  4. We need to vote. From Fannie Lou Hamer to Medgar Evers, Shirley Chisolm, & Barack Obama, Black politicians have stressed the importance of voting in all elections, particularly at the local & State levels. What good is a Black president if elected state & local officials are white sheets?
  5. We need to practice self-love. Be it a result of integration or mass media, too many of us promote & mimic whiteness, support white businesses, & choose white thought over Black experience. We have lost sight of our True selves, & therefore, have become subdued in our fight for freedom. The struggle really does continue. How can we lead successful movements when we are ashamed of our Blackness?
  6. We need to make mainstream music that raises self-consciousness & self-love. Overusing vulgar language (w/no substance) is tired. According to Amiri Baraka and Langston Hughes, Black music is the only form of art authentic to Black people; it is the only art form, says Baraka, that White folks have not whitewashed—until now. What feels good about encouraged drug use & materialism? Why would Black people ever consume a song that compares a woman’s sexualized body parts to Emmett Till’s disfigured face? Why do we continue to support mainstream music that doesn’t inspirit & uplift Black people?
  7. We need to support Black. Integration seemed like a good idea, but because of it, we have abandoned black businesses, black colleges & universities, & (fill-in-the-blank). In turn, black businesses & black schools often abandon those who do support them. When are we going to do away w/this white is right, crab-in-a-barrel mentality?
  8. We need to read more fluently & actively. Nothing is new under the sun. Our activists have given us their stories & insights; we need to seriously engage them as well as other texts that enlighten us to ourselves. We can learn much thru Carter G. Woodson’s The Miseducation of the Negro; The Autobiography of Assata Shakur; The Autobiography of Malcolm X, w/Alex Haley; Washington’s, The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King; Cornel West’s Race Matters; Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens; DuBois’s Souls of Black Folks; Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery; Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider; & so on & so on. Are we really going to be a group of ignorant people, especially in a 21st century that makes information more readily available?
  9. We need to bridge the gap between generations. During the Atlanta protests this past summer, 84 year-old former civil rights activist Rev. Andrew Young called Black Lives Matter protestors “unlovable little brats.” The disconnection between generations is wide. King was 26 when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 36 when he led the Selma to Montgomery Marches, & 37 when he delivered his infamous “I Have a Dream” speech. Not only did King have a counsel of his elders guiding & encouraging him, but King turned to his elders for guidance. How can we ensure that the patience & wisdom of our experienced elders are seamlessly integrated w/the ready enthusiasm of our young leaders?
  10. We need to be present. Activism depends on an awareness of self & one’s relationship to others. It relies on a healthy mind, body, & soul. It requires a moment-to-moment existence that makes possible King’s agape love and the Panthers’ revolutionary love—both of which ensure beloved communities grounded in Truth & justice. How can we organize movements when we are not grounded in present awareness—an active state of being that allows us to acknowledge the first nine directives?

*             *             *

When I was a child, my father accused me of being a revolutionary with no cause. I was a Black nationalist before knowing what a Black nationalist is. From pen-palling incarcerated Black Panthers to writing poems about Black power, to stealing his dashiki to wear in high school & tattooing a gun w/the phrase: “Power to the People” underneath my underarm, I have always loved being Black. & so it goes w/out saying: I love & am proud of the National Museum of African American History & Culture. Witnessing my Black experiences archived in it—as well as within social media hashtags—feels righteous. However, we must be careful not to stagnate our movements in such static compositions. We must organize so that we don’t become causeless revolutionaries.

June Jordan wrote, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” & so it is. Let’s get it, & “accomplish what we will.”


#TBT Poem 2: we be theorizin

I wrote “We Be Theorizin” after reading Barbara Christian’s 1987 “The Race for Theory” essay. I was sitting in Shirley Toland-Dix’s 20th century African American Literature course at The University of South Florida (circa 2009) when I read this work and finally received language for a Black genius I knew, but had yet to understand. “We Be Theorizin”  was first printed in Deboarh G. Plant’s “The Inside Light”: New Criticisms of Zora Neale Hurston (2010, Praeger Press).

We Be Theorizin

They thought we was over there

shuckin & jivin

when all the while we been theorizin

How else you think black folks survivin

They try to keep us down

but we keeps on thrivin

Can’t no oppression keep us from strivin

They try to break our souls

but we keeps on smilin

& through grins & lies

we master guisin

Gotta be a trickster for humanizin

But we’ll wear the mask

cause we be theorizin

 

So right on Zora Neale

Write on

Right on W. DuBois

Write on

Right on Booker T.

Write on

Cause we been watchin God

while they been in the dark

The souls of black folks

produce the purest heart

& our plantin seeds

is just a start

See / we sowin wisdom

with literary arts

& through performances

that’s how we impart

the theory they claim, rename, and bogart

So right on Langston Hughes

Write on

Right on Richard Wright

Write on

Right on James Baldwin

Write on

Cause the Negro speaks of rivers

& the weary blues

He’s the native son, the outsider

if she choose

& if Beale Street could talk

it would share some news

cause we’ve gone a piece of the way

in our travelin shoes

& tho our cuttin the rug might seem our muse

we be theorizin & maskin the clues

So right on Nella Larsen

Write on

Right on Countee Cullen

Write on

Right on Claude McKay

Write on

Cause just as quick as sand

we can change our tune

We speak in vernaculars

they call us a coon

But once they’re out of our way

& have left the room

out comes Harlem wine

& intellectuals bloom

& when the Harlem dancer makes her body croon

that’s our theory that esoterically looms

 

So talk that talk money

& walk that walk

Black feeling & judgment compels them to gawk

It’s our colorful brilliance

that makes them balk at the notion that we be a theory

 

Cause we be theorizin

in our baptizin

In churches & clubs

we signifyin

Gospel jazz / blues got us cryin

Oral traditions keep us from dyin

We flyin on tryin

We hypnotizin

& dance floors are our silver linin’s

Creatin the arts keep us glidin

So we paintin faith & buildin horizons

Keepin hope alive & eyes on prizes

& writin poetry makes us the wisest

We are the ones that we’ve been waitin for

 

We soar . . .

Like . . . birds . . . in . . . the sky . . .

 

So high five

Gwendolyn Brooks & James Weldon Johnson

Nina Simone & Alice Walker

Give me some skin

Malcolm X & Leopold Senghor

Toni Morrison & Martin Luther King

Tell me something good

Jamaica Kincaid & Audre Lorde

Houston Baker & Frantz Fanon

Throw me a shimmy

bell hooks & Lauryn Hill

Angela Davis & Assata Shakur

Pass me the mic

Marcus Garvey & Henry Louis Gates

Aime Cesaire & Cornel West

Bet that up

Mos Def & Wole Soyinka

Huey Newton & Amiri Baraka

All givin life to Barack Obama!

 

See our theorizin

be our salvation

thru the Middle Passage & their plantations

Thru Jim Crow laws & humiliation

cointelpro & subjugation

Our theorizin so bright it’s blazin

We are the light that gives them life

blacker than the blackest night

we’re the blues on the left tryin to be the funk on the right

magical & dynOmite—

we are the world’s good time. . . .

 

Cause we be theorizin

which is our uprisin

No reparations / but we’re enterprisin

Creatin life to keep us from dyin

Singin, dancin, paintin, & writin

We are the titans

& our hue gives the world humanity.


FAMU just tried it w/its Blue Lives Matter talk

Florida A&M University (who, by the way, Wendy Williams, graduated Wimbledon’s first Black woman’s single crown winner, Althea Gibson; acclaimeFullSizeRender(1)d cancer surgeon Dr. LaSalle Leffall; congresswoman Carrie Meek; singer/actress Anika Noni Rose; & screenwriter/director Dee Rees to name a few) is holding a university-wide conversation this afternoon that its organizers have titled: “Healing Voices: Black and Blue Lives Matter | A Conversation.”

What. thee. hell?

With the exception of a few poems I’ve written & paintings I’ve created, I have not publicly engaged conversations re: America’s current climate. While I have discussed, with a few friends, my concerns re: modern movements & offered my theories for proactivity–most of which are grounded in a Sankofa spirit–I have chosen to distance myself from what feels like disoriented ranting about racism, police brutality, & the human condition. However, as trivial as this may be, I could not keep quiet about FAMU’s contribution to minimizing the “Black Lives Matter” movement, its mantra, & its affirmation re: black people, black bodies, & black genius.

Why do “blue lives” have to be an integral part of this current discussion? Why do we–any of us, black, white, Latina/o folk–have to over explain the significance of affirming “black lives matter”? Why can’t “black lives matter” be an unapologetic proclamation that doesn’t require “all lives” “blue lives” or “white lives” in order to exist in the love & truth that grounds its definition? While I am the biggest advocate of King’s beloved community, enuf is enuf already! Got damnit! Love begins with the self. We need to unapologetically exist in the “‘Say it out loud! I’m black & I’m proud!’ ‘Black power!’ ‘Black is beautiful!’ ‘To be young, gifted, & black.’ ‘The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.’ ‘The blacker the college, the sweeter the knowledge'” language that affirms our being, for no such affirmation denies the other her or his humanity–& it definitely does not affect the humanity of black people.

Black people are the most huemane creatures to walk this earth. Our black grandmothers nursed white babies. Our black teachers built HBCUs that never denied any person a right to education. Our black civil rights activists–including Malcolm X–advocated justice for all human beings. Our black poets, painters, & philosophers imagined humanity in inhumane situations. & our researchers, inventors, scientists, & doctors promoted safety & well being for all people by way of gas masks, blood banks, traffic signals, & open heart surgeries. Aaaaaand, moreover, from Mamie Till to Cameron Sterling, the mothers, fathers, & children of our murdered brothers & sisters maintain (& publicly promote) peace & non-violence despite the violent nature of their losses. Hell, African-American people civilize the world. No one has to tell us that “all lives” matter.

So, stop it, FAMU! You are one of the top HBCUs in the nation whose mission claims to serve the “underrepresented and underprivileged.” Shame on you, first, for not having a university-wide conversation re: our current climate long before five Dallas policemen were murdered. While their deaths are an unfortunate result of one man’s understandable rage, their deaths should not have been the slingshot that hurled your call-to-action. & secondly, shame on you for terming a university-wide conversation that decenters black people & the “black lives matter” movement, “healing.” (& it doesn’t help that your flier includes an illustration of a white police officer.) “Excellence with caring” begins at home, with the self. So stop it. Get off of that media inspirited bandwagon that maintains black servility & second-class citizenship.

I ain’t going.

 


Happy Teacher Appreciation Week: w/Special Re: to College Profs

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week all over America, & I light weight feel a way. All week, my Facebook timeline has been inundated w/testimonies & pictures that express gratitude for teachers: flowers, candy, handwritten letters, & gift cards. You name it, this week, a teacher got it. S/he got The View shout out, the Barnes & Noble 25% discount, & the Google doodle.  S/he got the #thankateacher hashtag, the free pack of Target pens, & the President’s Proclamation.  S/he got a free Chipotle bowl, a free annual membership to the MOSI Museum of Science & Industry, & complimentary admission to Sea World.  S/he even got a free classroom pet. <—-really?  I feel a way.

National Teacher Appreciation Week (NTAW) is undoubtedly reserved for K-12 teachers, but mainly elementary school teachers.  I mean, all of this week’s freebies are reserved for K-12 teachers. (Classroom pet?)  Aaaaand, not only does President Barack Obama publicly thank his 5th grade teacher, but throughout his Teacher Appreciation Day & National Teacher Appreciation Week Proclamation, he totally implies the intended teacher demographic for this needed celebration.  For instance, he writes: “I have worked hard throughout my Presidency to make sure my Administration does its part to support our educators and our education system, but the incredible progress our country has seen—from achieving record high graduation rates to holding more students to high standards that prepare them for success in college and future careers—is thanks to the dedicated teachers, families, and school leaders who work tirelessly on behalf of our young people.”  The phrase “prepare them for success in college” light weight excludes college professors from NTAW. I’m just sayin. So, I feel a way.

I’m an assistant professor of English at an HBCU whose mission includes teaching the “underrepresented” and “underprivileged” student, & I, as well as every college professor—especially those not teaching in the STEM programs to which President Obama has given immediate attention—deserves to walk into a Barnes & Noble and receive her 25% discount, too.

While we may not have to (directly) address standardized testing, helicopter parenting, & runny noses, we have to address standardized testing, helicopter parenting, & runny noses. Although we have (give or take) a month “off” for holiday break, a week “off” for Spring break, & potentially two-three months “off” for summer recess, we have the year round obligation of conferencing, engaging in community service, sitting on University & departmental wide committees, & publishing (in academic journals whose editors can make us feel as incompetent as the end-of-semester student grievances that are grounded in false complaints)—all the while spending nine months out of the year making less than $60,000 a year, stressing over a $130,000+ student loan, & teaching over 150 students, most of whom are first-generation college students w/reading & writing skills that reflect middle school ability, who have no money (or care) for purchasing required textbooks, who maintain outrageous senses of entitlement (to undeserved grades, to spoon-feeding, & to our free time—our very souls), who—despite being considered members of the “Google generation”—cannot type a paper, determine reputable online sources, or use their smartphones for anything but socializing, who submit late papers w/their own names misspelled, w/blocked text that excludes paragraph breaks, & w/sentences that include lowercased proper nouns, who publicly debase us via ratemyprofessor.com after they’ve earned a failing grade in the course, & whose priorities rest in working a 9-5, looking flyyy, joining a Greek organization, looking flyyy, finding a lover, looking flyyy, going home every other weekend, looking flyyy, & then, maybe then, being a “full-time” student at the University in which they enrolled. I’m just sayin. We want free admission into Sea World, too. We want discounts to Banana Republic, Staples, & The Swan & Dolphin Resort at Disney World.  All teachers deserve such recognition, not just our K-12 comrades.

According to Obama’s NTAW Proclamation, “In working to ensure all our daughters and sons have the chance to add their voice and perspective to America’s story, our teachers help shape a Nation that better reflects the values we were founded upon.”  While Obama’s Proclamation never concretely excludes the college professor, America’s interpretation of it absolutely does.  Come on! College professors (adjuncts & instructors) deserve a seat at the table, too.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week (especially to my mother, Choling Bryant-Walker, a retired 3rd grade teacher & my own Master teacher. I am because she is.)    


Madea Comes to FAMU

Recently, I sat on a discussion panel in Florida A&M University’s Writing Resource Center where three other colleagues of mine & I were invited to discuss our literary contributions to the English department’s required Freshman Communicative Skills II reader, Writing from the Hill. The custom text, which includes an anthology of poems, short stories, creative non-fiction, visuals, & a play, reflects a literary genius that the department expects will foster the creative genius in our predominantly Black learners. The reader also includes one sample text of each genre (sans the play) from faculty members so that students can relate to their teachers as writers, too. Contributing teacher-writers include: short story writer, Melanie A. Rawls; poet, Kristine Snodgrass; creative non-fiction writer, Rick Campbell; & I, visual artist, Kendra N. Bryant.

During our discussion on Melanie A. Rawls’ excerpt of her short story, “Who You Love . . .,” one of my students claimed that Rawls’ main character, Cherokee, reminds him of Tyler Perry. More specifically, Cherokee–who protects herself from rape by holding her aggressor at gunpoint (a shot gun, actually) & then keeping him tied to a chair until her husband & sons come home, at which point, they all have dinner together–mirrors Tyler Perry’s Madea. My student didn’t think of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, or his own grandmother; but he thought of Madea–our 21st century minstrel in drag.

Now, I totally understand that Tyler Perry serves as a point of departure for many students’ experiences with film & popular culture. I also understand that Madea is seemingly emblematic of an aggressively strong, gun carrying Black woman who goes to all lengths to protect herself & her loved ones. & I understand that despite her hyperbolic, vindictive nature, apparently, many of her fans view Madea as a more satirical character than the clown I think she is. I totally get it: Madea has become Black folk’s cultural heroin–oops. I mean, “heroine.”

Although I was surprised that my student compared Cherokee to Madea, I understood his comparison. I would even support his decision to write a thorough essay titled, “The Madea in Cherokee.” Yet, despite the clear relationship between Cherokee & Madea, Madea’s invitation into our panel discussion still bothers me. Let me explain.

Although I am a classroom teacher who believes that I should meet my students where they are, that class assignments should reflect their experiences, that I should communicate instruction in a language they understand, & that I should provide lessons that help them make meaning of their own lives, I am a bit overwhelmed–even drained–by my teacherly responsibilities, which seems to grow larger & wider as a result of popular culture’s irresponsible behaviors.

While I often bring popular culture into classroom discussion in order to assist with student comprehension, I am saddened that so many of my University students seemingly don’t have (or care to mention) any other references outside of the ones reflected via popular culture. If popular culture–particularly ideas that are not critically analyzed–is my students’ only point of reference, then the 21st century White patriarchy is just as successful at brainwashing Blacks as the mythical Willie Lynch.

In other words, popular culture (mainstream TV, radio, film) is predominantly controlled by Whites–& when it’s not (like Oprah’s OWN), it definitely is White-influenced. (Note: Some folks believe Bill Cosby was publicly lynched because he was promising to purchase NBC. Ijs. Read CNN’s article here.) Anyway, although most of us choose what information we allow to penetrate our minds & hearts, media control is out of our control, unless we opt for a monastic or Amish lifestyle. Undoubtedly, Tyler Perry, whose birth name is Emmitt, by the way, is a great example of this penetrating–of the media’s control over our thinking.

Tyler Perry’s Madea has starred in nine plays, eight Box Office films, & an animated film; has made guest appearances in two television series (Love Thy Neighbor & House of Payne), while mentioned in Meet the Browns; and has “authored” a book, Don’t Make A Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings, 2006. Her Wikipedia page is just as long as Harriet Tubman’s, Sojourner Truth’s, & Rosa Park’s, & she’s been parodied in both South Park & Saturday Night Live. Wait. Madea has a Wikipedia page? Not even fictional characters like Morrison’s Sula, Jack Hill’s Foxy Brown, nor Alice Walker’s Sophia–from whom Madea borrows the line, “All my life I had to fight”–has her own Wikipedia page. Argh! Nevertheless, because Tyler Perry’s Madea character dominates popular culture, the dominion minimizes (damn near erases) other literary, historical, & even familial references that are just as significant to Black culture–if not more than–Perry’s Madea.

Now, to be fair, a day after the panel discussion, I did ask other students how they felt about their classmate’s Madea comparison. While they claim they were indifferent, after some probing, one student did say he saw Walker’s Sophia in Cherokee; another said she thought of Harriet Tubman, & another expressed remembering her own grandmother as shared thru her mother’s story-telling. Of course, none of these students mentioned any of those comparisons during the panel discussion. As a result, their silence more or less invited Madea to further penetrate & govern another predominantly Black space. Why are we giving Tyler Perry & Madea so much of our energy? Ugh! I’ll stop my own energizing now.

*      *     *

Neither one person nor one system is to blame for students’ limited knowledge re: self, history, religion, law, literature & the like. & I am specifically referring to the African American Millennial student & the basic knowledge bank that (I think) s/he should carry with her/him into a University. While I am not much of a conspiracy theorist, I am under the impression that superstructures (as Karl Marx defines them) are used to maintain White power & privilege, & therefore, Tyler Perry & Madea are mere pawns in a bigger scheme to keep Black folk on a short leash.

While students have more access to information than any other generation before them, they still know (or remember or are interested in) very little beyond the popular culture that pervades their daily lives. For instance, to date, as a post secondary English teacher at a historically Black university, I’ve had a student tell me that Martin Luther King led the 1995 Million Man March & another define “apartheid” as “apartment.” Other students have mindlessly claimed racism & segregation occurred “back in the day,” while a few complained that the Civil Rights Movement is boring. I’ve had one student insist that Beyoncé is life, while another argued that Lil Wayne shouldn’t have been criticized for his derogatory reference to Emmett Till because it educated listeners on the 15-year-old Chicagoan who was brutally murdered in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a White woman. & this semester, aside from Madea entering a literary discussion, many of my students confessed that they never realized the negative connotations associated with the word “black.”

From the looks of it, popular culture is, indeed, Willie Lynching our 21st century students. Alas, until more of our main stream entertainers insist on releasing works that do more than depict Black folks as shuckers & jivers, as superficial reality stars, as gang banging thugs, & as violently profane World Stars Hip Hoppers, the job of the classroom teacher to enlighten & restore her students’ humanity will continue to be an uphill battle.

#eachoneteachone.


A Tweet A Day Keeps The Brain Cells Away

Source: A Tweet A Day Keeps The Brain Cells Away


Teens Carry Smartphones, But Are They Getting Smarter? A Response to My Fresh(wo)man Student

My fresh(wo)man composition students were charged with blogging reader responses to their chapter readings in Robert Atwan’s America Now text re: social media. In his first chapter, “Social Media: What Do We Gain? What Do We Lose?” authors Andrew Santella (“This Is Not About You,” 2013); Yzzy Gonzalez (“Technology Taking Over?” 2013); and Clive Thompson (“The Parent Trap: How Teens Lost the Ability to Socialize,” 2014) offer readers personal narratives and explications regarding social media’s influence/effect on its users, particularly its teenage and young adult users. Andrew Santella says social media encourages narcissistic behavior, while student writer Gonzalez illustrates her dependency to communication technologies–a dependency, says Thompson, for which parents are solely to blame. As I read through all of my student blog responses, one student (click here to read her blog, “Teens, Technology and Social Media”) posed two questions that I thought deserved an immediate response: “Are young adults the only ones active on social media?” she asked. “Why are we the only ones scrutinized when older adults have their smartphones in their hands just as much as us?” 

Well, Ms. Johnson, as a teacher who’s been in the classroom for 15 years, as an auntie who’s assisted in rearing two nieces (one who is nearing 17 years old), and as a sentient 36 year old being who longs and depends on human connection, I often scrutinize everyone’s attachment to and distraction with their communication technologies (smartphones and tablets) and social media networks (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter). I scrutinize myself. However, as is often the case when one generation gazes at another, “killin yo vibe” is easier to do because as a member of a generation who glimpsed at social media networks via Doogie Howser and Zapp & Roger, I have experienced the world without technologies that tend to distract, disengage, and dehumanize their users. In other words, you Millennial students feel just as alien to me as I probably felt to my grandmother–and I’m light weight stretching that notion because only TV and landline telephones could possibly distance me from my grandmother (although we watched “Golden Girls” and “Star Search” together, and I didn’t call my friends while I was at Grandma’s house. As a matter of fact, I don’t recall talking to anyone on Grandmother’s phone who wasn’t a family member.)

Nevertheless, I realize how student focus, creativity, and commitment to academia has dramatically shifted as communication technologies advance. While students are reading more via tweets, updates, and posts, neither they’re reading skills nor their interests have increased. Albeit, students write more with social media; however, issues in clarity, mechanics, organization and development, as well as spelling and word choices also continue to increase. Additionally, many students are challenged to focus their attention long enough to sit through a 50-minute class or read a two page essay. Nicholas Carr in “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” believes that folks aren’t as focused anymore because their brains are becoming like the communication technologies they use. As a matter of fact–and I was so exited about it–my student Brandon wrote about this very phenomenon in his blog response. (Click here to read his blog, “A Tweet A Day Keeps the Brain Cells Away.”)

Moreover, I’ve watched my 17 year old niece become the narcissist that Santella describes. With over 3000 Instagram friends, my niece finds it absolutely necessary to take a photo shoot of herself every single day. Her front yard serves as her backdrop, her mother the photographer, and her smartphone her camera. That child moves her body into at least ten poses including a fake laugh pose, the traditional peace sign pose, and what my sister has coined, “the Precious Moments” pose. I’m pretty sure if my niece received no likes on her daily postings, she would feel inferior, lonely, and unattractive. As Douglas Rushkoff writes in Program or Be Programmed, people’s connections to social media actually disconnect them from their authentic selves as well as the ability to form meaningful relationships with actual human beings. These feelings of disconnection actually encourage people to post more, tweet more, and Facebook more, because they are hungry for a sense of belonging. Look at me! Look at me! Look at me! Cause when you (followers) like my posts, it secures my sense of self. yiKes!

I’m just like my niece, however. Well, not just like. Since my smartphone purchase many years ago, I, too, carry my phone in hand and use it to check (at least 20 times a day) all of my social networks. Like Gonzalez writes in her essay, my phone is my alarm clock; it rests under my pillow. I take it with me into the bathroom where I enjoy my morning shit and check my work emails and Facebook messages, which I never have at 6 a.m. Then, I power up my tablet (I’m lying. It stays on.) and blast my gospel music playlist while I shower and get dressed. I don’t have time for a photo shoot in the morning, however. But occasionally, I’ll post a morning Facebook status while en route to work. Then throughout the day, when I am not teaching or conferencing with students, I, too, take hold of my smartphone and fish for likes re: my quotes, inquiries, and latest painting and/or outfit. I think I’m humorous, engaging, and creative, so the more likes I receive, of course my ego expands, and I feel like the Queen of Zemunda. Look at me! So yes, Ms. Johnson, I also engage in narcissistic behaviors. However, unlike my niece and the many young people her age (and even some of my own peers), I can live–happily and successfully–without social media networks and without a smartphone. And I believe THAT ability and experience conjure the scrutiny that young people receive re: their attachments to computer technologies and social media networks.

Of course, technology is AWEsome and beneficial to our lives. I can’t imagine having to have used a typewriter to type my 200 page dissertation, and I thank God I didn’t have to use quill pens and oil lamps. Shit, I can barely stand teaching in a classroom void of an overhead projector, document camera, and white board. So, I get it. Being born in an era where one has access to communication technologies that make life a virtual walk in the park is a privilege, seemingly a birth right. I get it. I’m completely at awe with myself for locating books via a library’s card catalogue, and for recording songs off radio stations and movies off HBO, and for retrieving lyrics from WordUp magazine–or by simply pausing and transcribing, pausing and transcribing, pausing and transcribing–by hand–lyrics from the mix tape I made. Yes, communications technologies are absolutely convenient. Long gone the days of retrieving the newspaper from the front yard in order to get the TV guide where I rummaged TV listings that are now made available through a simple guide button on my remote control. Goodbye clunky phone books, dictionaries, encyclopedias, almanacs, and thesauri. Farewell dusty chalkboard, germy payphone, and tattered address book. Smartphone applications are heaven sent. I feel like Jesus built a fence all around me when techies created apps like maps, flixster, shazam, webmd, turboscan, 1password, checkplease, aroundme, and wordbook. They have contributed to my increased proficiency in various areas, especially those grounded in mathematics. However, because my childhood and teenage experiences were void of such computer technologies, I have the know how to do what too many of my students claim they cannot or are not inspired to do.

I read books, for fun. I read seven novels this summer, and yes, doing so required me to put down my phone. (However, it didn’t stop me from tweeting and posting author quotes.) Nonetheless, I read, which meant, I spent a lot of time alone, in deep thought, inside a focused attention where I could explore myself and others. I also know how to research and find what I need without an app. I don’t need a machine to teach me how to think and problem solve. Before I ask Google (or even Siri) for a potato souffle recipe, or before I got to webmd for diabetic symptoms, I call my mother and retrieve her recipe, our family history. I also still write and mail letters versus solely sending emails and text messages. I shuffle through, purchase, and send greeting cards versus sifting through millions of giphs and memes. I give people my undivided attention when I’m in their company–during dinner, in school, while walking. In other words, I am present to real life situations that allow me to remain in touch with myself and other actual beings. So, does my concern for student awareness make me (or any of my peers, mothers and grandmothers born before the 1980s) a “scrutinizing” member of a seasoned generation who ridicules a current generation’s behaviors and innovations just because I think the ideas and behaviors to which I am accustomed are “right” or better? And really, if scrutinizing encourages self-reflection, is scrutiny insulting or debasing? (Shakes head.) Naw.

What I do believe, however, is that computer technologies and social media are just as distracting and disabling as they are connecting and inviting. Therefore, millennial students (or any person, really) who struggle with identity, who have not had to “troubleshoot” life, who don’t realize who they are, what they’re made of, or to whom they belong–these millennials, who don’t know what genius they carry–get carried away with computer technologies and social media networks. Alas, many of them don’t even realize their virtual walk in the park is actually costing them their true inheritance. And so, older folks like me, who have engaged in the aforementioned activities that my students claim happened “back in the day,” are in a better position to exercise patience, focus, compassion, understanding, problem solving, creativity, inclusion, and critical thinking–all of which help people to understand themselves in relationship to others.The ability and absolute beauty in knowing Self becomes a practice in spirituality that encourages human beings to live as authentically and unapologetically as possible. And for sure, I am constantly practicing.

So, Ms. Johnson, while older folks are carrying their smartphones just as much as you and your peers are, I think part of the “scrutiny” you and your peers receive are grounded in the disconnected, disabled, and dehumanized behaviors many of you showcase that just don’t seem to be about a generational gap, per se. Arguably, you all will continue to be scrutinized, especially if so many of you proceed to claim, “I can’t, I can’t , I can’t,” like, “I can’t live without my phone.”


From Cairo to Compton: a self reflection

I traveled to Cairo, Egypt this summer.  But by no means am I a “deep” siSTAR belonging to an Afrikan consciousness group whose members have changed their names to something that reflects their Kemet energy.  As a matter of fact, besides the commercialized ankh—which I’ve tattooed thrice on my body; the pyramids—which I throw up to express my sorority affiliation; and Queen Nefertiti—whose 18k gold head I used to rock around my neck in the 90s, I know very little about Egypt.  I mean, of course I know (from elementary school lessons) that the Nile & Sahara represent the longest river & largest desert in the world, & I also know that hieroglyphics are a pictorial mode of communication.  However, other than that, my Black self—whose father used to tease about being a revolutionary with no cause—knows very little about Egypt. Very.  Little.  I went on this trip, a pilgrimage, really, simply because my sorority sister was going.  As a result, I could safely take a trip to Africa with a friend.  That’s it; nothing more, nothing less.

I—along with 16 others—traveled with Yirser Ra Hotep of Yoga Skills through Cairo, Luxor, & Aswan/Nubian Village, where we toured pyramids, tombs, & museums; traveled the Nile River by cruise ship, viewed the Valley of Kings by hot air balloon, caravanned to Abu Simbel through a sand storm, & took a horse & buggy ride in Aswan.  Together, we ate plenty of grilled chicken & fish, drank lots of bottled water, walked too many steps to calculate, laughed about everything, learned about more than we laughed at, & grew larger & wider as each day passed.

I grew larger & wider as each day passed, & now I don’t know how to “be” here anymore.  Actually, I can’t “be” here anymore.

How does one—a Black one, particularly—travel to Egypt, BE in spiritually, antiquitious spaces filled with monumental structures whose architecture is Ipad Pics 103so perfectly & magnificently built that they are beyond comprehension— go back to business as usual? How does one crawl through divine pyramids & tombs, touch the hieroglyphic carvings that are the world’s first sacred scriptures, see her own image reflected in the images of Egyptian Kings & Queens, go back to business as usual?  I am so full that I believe at any moment I will explode into star dust.  (‘Cause of course, I really am a siSTAR.)  I believe at any moment I will explode, because there’s this spirituality in me that wants to bust loose, & my exploring Egypt has roughly nudged that spirit.

You see, I believe one’s spirituality is expressed through one’s creative genius.  I mean, hands down, the ancient Egyptians expressed/manifested their divinity through their architecture, jewelry, ceremonies, & text—which is why all of it is so perfect & incomprehensible.  I imagine if they did not live through their spiritual selves—which, alas, is what most of us fail to do—civilization as we know it would not exist.  Right?  With that idea in mind, I don’t believe I am existing.  In other words, I am—I am here.  But I am not existing (read: creating) so that when I transcend this Earth, I, too, like my Egyptian ancestors, would have contributed to civilization.  I am not living my full potential, which really means I am not expressing the goddess in me.

As a result, I feel like at any moment I will explode into star dust, because I have given into the fear that oppresses my spiritual self.  Such oppression looks like restlessness, pessimism, depression, & loneliness. & it sounds like that “back to reality” phrase we tell ourselves after we’ve vacationed & gone “back to business as usual.”  Since I’ve been back from Egypt—where, by the way—I befriended a group of people who prove that “we are more alike than we are unalike,” I have wanted to turn myself into mySelf.  But I’ve been stuck.  In fear.  Afraid to lose—(fill this blank w/any meaningless possession).

*     *     *

I celebrated my 36th birthday about two weeks after my return from Egypt, & I felt restless, pessimistic, depressed, & lonely.  I wanted to do only what I’ve been doing since I re-entered “reality,” which was watch Netflix all. day. long.  However, my colleague-friend literally drug me out of my bed & required I do something for my birthday.  Whatever I wanted to do, she was going to make it happen.  I settled on seeing Straight Outta Compton.

Without turning this into a film review, I will say this: F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton may be, for the gangsta rap generation, what Allan Arkush’s 1998 The Temptations TV movie is for generation Motown.  It’s out of sight.  & what made it so is the Black genius that manifested itself through gangsta rap.  Sure,  gangsta rap culture is complete with profanity, misogyny, & hyper-masculinity; however, it undoubtedly is an example of what can be created when one liberates spirituality & falls into a consciousness that does not inflict harm upon his/her oppressor—even when that oppressor is the self—but creates an environment (art, dance, music) that contributes to civilization.

Now, I’m clear: Many may find my ideas re: gangsta rap absurd, especially as I claim that N.W.A. exercised a practice in spiritual freedom & reconciliation.  However, while their more popular hooks like “fuck tha police” inspirits rebellion, it’s a necessary act of insubordination that allows the oppressed to eliminate his/her rage.  Right?  “Fuck tha police” is “Power to the people.”  & so, these niggas with attitudes responded to the inhumane treatment imposed by law enforcement by totally expressing themSelves; they turned themselves into themSelves (capital S, higher Selves) & more or less embodied Ma’at, the ancient Egyptian concept of truth, law, & justice.

Am I reaching?  Shoulder shrug.  So what.

After having watched Straight Outta Compton—coupled with my re-memories re: my Egyptian tour—I am waddling, perhaps even suffering, in wanting.  Wanting faith like Dr. Dre, commitment like Ice Cube, & courage like Eazy-E.  I am left wanting wisdom like Nefertiti, fortitude like Nuit, & agility like each Egyptian who sculpted, carved, & built a civilization.  I want to be a member of  N.W.A.  But not necessarily a nigga with attitude, but a Nubian with audacity.  I’m pretty sure my life depends on it.

#NWA x<3