Sunday, December 26, 2010

Seating Arrangements

As we move through the remainder of the holiday season, many of us look back at the year for lessons learned and plan for the year ahead. What do we need to do to make the new year better than the current one? As we reflect, now is a good time to think about the seating arrangement in this stage of our lives.

Is it time to rearrange some seats in our life? Are there people front and center who might need to be moved a few rows back? Are there people on the main floor who need to take their place in the balcony? Are there people on the sides who need move up and in a few rows? Do you need a few fold able chairs for the people who come and go? Who needs to be in the nosebleed seats? Who doesn't deserve a seat at all? Are you still reserving seats for people who fail to show up?

The seating arrangements in our lives will change; very few chairs (if any) should be permanently assigned because we need to assign seats as needed in order to evolve into the people we are meant to be.

What seats need to be changed in your life?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Just say Ho. . .I mean No!

A ho is still a ho even in designer clothes is what I wanted to tell my girls this week when we were talking, and I did, in a roundabout sort of way but I dropped the ball in my efforts to engage them in a real conversation about how the adults in their lives fail them; how we tell them to do as we say but not as we do; how we don’t sit down and talk to them about what’s really going on in the world and arm them with knowledge to make better decisions.

I have listened to the girls being lectured and just verbally beat down about some of their promiscuous behavior. It seems that some of the students are sexing each other regularly and they are only in 7th and 8th grade. We have two boys (one in each grade) that are fathers, and just recently it was discovered that there was a plan in place to train some girls after school, and the girls voluntarily signed up for the ride; they had the condoms. Should they be commended for at least considering safer sex practices or condemned for just “being nasty”? (The latter of which they’ve been told countless times)

What do I say when the world tells them otherwise. A cover story of one of the magazines said Kim Kardashian is dating Halle Berry’s baby daddy, and everyone knows that Kim’s trajectory to fame came about as a result of a “leaked” sex tape with Ray J and now she’s being pushed in the public’s face as some sort of celebrity socialite. Chelsea Handler, who called Angelina Jolie a home wrecker, wrote a book on sexual exploits, My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands. The list goes on. Look at the John Edwards mess. But it doesn’t stop with wanna-be celebrities, I heard stories on the radio about a youth minister whose social networking moniker was Big Daddy or something twisted like that, and a man who asked his daughter to show him how to use some of the features on his phone and while trying to send a picture of his penis to the woman he was cheating on his wife with, he mistakenly sent the picture to his daughter. Let’s not forget about Bishop Long’s predatory practice of targeting and luring vulnerable young men into his bed. Bristol Palin has a baby and ends up on Dancing with the Stars and we wonder why are children are wilding out?

These young people live and breathe sex and we allow it because the needle on our adult moral compass is awry. How can I tell them to do the “right thing” and refrain from sex when far too many of us are leading by poor example? We do everything under the sun and share our exploits with the world via call-ins to the radio stations, Face book status, tweets or just talking on the cell phone for everyone to hear. We are in a sexual free fall.

Growing up, there was a line between adulthood and childhood and the teen years were the time to try and cross that line, but we had to sneak. Over the years I have watched that line retreat and finally disappear, and now our children are thrust into an adult world that they’re not equipped to handle. So, in the midst of a societal sexual orgy, we want children to just say no, and we wonder what’s wrong with them?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hurt People, Hurt People

My plan was to write a different blog post today, but a trip to the barber shop changed all that. The shop is on 110th and Longwood near the site of yesterday’s triple homicide of a mother and her two daughters. I am in this place again, trying to make sense out of the senseless.
Jade Hannah, 17, her 11 year-old sister and her mother were brutally stabbed to death by Jade’s 18 year-old boyfriend, Denzel Pittman. A young man in the shop who was in Jade’s senior division was saying that Pittman was the kind of guy who felt that if he couldn’t have her, nobody could.
The conversation swirled around how he could do something like that. Was it rage? Was he crazy? Was he trying not to leave any witnesses? “That’s something white people do,” one of the barbers remarked. I shook my head because it brought back a flood of memories of how many times I’ve heard the same sentiment spoken among people in the black community. We had a perverse pride in believing that the crazy stuff: kidnapping, killing the whole family, shooting sprees was “stuff that white people did.” It seemed like we got blamed for so many things that we took solace in saying there were some things that not even we would do.
We can’t say that anymore. But more than that, race aside, what these growing number of incidents show is that there a great deal of pain and mental anguish going untreated in our communities. According to an African-American Community Mental Health Fact Sheet available on African-Americans in the United States are less likely to receive diagnoses and treatment for their mental illnesses than Caucasian Americans. Here are some of the facts:
 African Americans tend to rely on family, religious and social communities for emotional support, rather than turning to health care professions. . .
 Mental illness is frequently stigmatized and misunderstood in the African American community
 African Americans are often at a socioeconomic disadvantage in terms of accessing both medical and mental health
 Across a recent 15 year span, suicide rates increase 233% among African Americans aged 10 to 14. . .
 People experiencing homelessness are at greater risk for developing mental illness. African Americans comprise 40% of the homeless population
 Children in foster care and the child welfare system are more likely to develop mental illness. African American children comprise 45% of the public foster care population

First, we have to acknowledge that given our horrific history in this country, we are probably suffering disproportionately from mental illness. Secondly, we have to move beyond the stigma of persons with mental illness as “crazy” and seek the help that we need. While I recognize that in spite of our history, we are a resilient people, the truth is that we did not come through unscathed. Many of us are hurting, and we need to take the necessary steps toward healing.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Death of a Daughter

What do you say to a woman’s whose daughter has been murdered? Three times I’ve been faced with this question, and three times I didn’t know what say.
Today I looked down into a casket into the face a young woman, 19 years-old strangled to death by her ex-boyfriend who refused to let go. Her mother was my neighbor growing up and I still see her when she comes back on the block. Today words escape me as my sister and I both hug her inside the funeral home where her daughter lay in state.

Earlier this week, I am driving down Halsted and as I stop for the light at 111th, I roll down the window to a familiar face—the mother of a former student killed in a fight over the summer. Because I didn’t make it to the funeral this is the first time I’ve seen her since her daughter died.
“You know Marquita got killed,” she says to me.

I nod first giving myself time to look for the words. “Yes. And I was very hurt and saddened when I heard about it. How are the girls?”

“They’re ok,” her lips say, but her eyes and the so-so gesture with her hands say otherwise.

“How are you, I ask?
“I’m ok.”

“How’s my girl? She still reading?”

She smiles. “Yes, she is. I’m about to go get them now.”

I nod and make my turn. What else is there for me to say? Twice in the same week near the anniversary of a friend’s death who also died at the hands of another. I remember like it was yesterday as it plays out vividly in my mind.

It is a breezy, over cast November morning. The screams of children running around on the playground punctuate the air. My school bag thrown across one arm, my purse in the other hand as I walk into the building, and head to the office to start my day passing out per functionary “Good mornings,” It is no different than any other day. Punch in, retrieve my mail and my keys from my mailbox and turn to look directly into the face of my dead friend’s mother. My world—in that moment—stops as I try to digest what is happening. Almost four years to the date when the police found Traci Todd’s dismembered body in the Beaubien Woods forest preserve, I am looking in to the face of her mother.

“I know you,” I say. “I used to be friends with your daughter Traci. We used to work together at Newsclip”.

A smile of recognition replaces the question that had just marked her face. She doesn’t remember me, but she knows I must have known Traci because I mentioned Newsclip. It was the last job Traci had before she became a flight attendant, and it was the last job in my other life before becoming a teacher.

“How are you I asked?” not knowing if it is the right thing to say. If there is such a thing as the right thing. Her daughter made headlines after being brutally murdered. It was nearly four years to the date. What else could I say?

“I’m doing ok,” she says nodding. “You know this is a bad time of the year for me. Thanksgiving is always bad because that’s when they found her.
It’s my turn to nod.

“How’s your other daughter?” I said steering the conversation away from Traci.
“Lisa’s fine.”

“And her boys, she has two boys right?”

She nods again, that same painful smile glued to her face. “You know Toddy’s little girl goes here. She’s in Mrs. Carol’s kindergarten class.”

What do you say to a woman’s whose daughter has been murdered? Pray that you never have to know.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sesame Street Vs Chris Rock

It took an Italian puppeteer on Sesame Street to do for African-American women and girls what Chris Rock's Good Hair should have done. A brown girl muppet with of mop of curly hair has become a social networking sensation and media darling as a result of 1 minute and 52 second video on You Tube.

Two concerned fathers, two different approaches. Joey Mazzarino, head writer for Sesame Street and father of 5 year-old, Segi, his adopted daughter from Ethiopia said that his inspiration for the song came about when his daughter said that she “wanted her hair to be long or blond like Barbie or a princess.” Rock’s daughter asked him, “Daddy why don’t I have good hair?” which inspired him to create the Good Hair documentary. I was excited about the film, but I left the theater disappointed. What I thought would have been an exploration of the whole notion of “good” hair in the African-American community that still exists today ending up being a not very funny or enlightening look the fact that so many Black women are obsessed with the notion of “good” hair as defined by a European standard. But Rock never explored the “why” behind the longing for what many of us don’t have naturally.

I wear my hair closely cropped sans chemical intervention, and I’m definitely not advocating that all Black women and girls cut their hair off and go natural. I’m happy with the choice I’ve made, but I also know what it took for me to make peace in my head with what’s on my head. I really just want to see us get rid of this ridiculous notion of “grade” or texture and length as what defines “good” hair. No matter what’s on top--relaxed or not, braided or locked, long or short— good hair is simply hair that is healthy.

In my work as an educator I see daily that hair is still an issue. I see the children who worship the long hair goddesses asking for permission to touch or stoke their hair. I hear “nappy headed” and “bald-headed” as insults regularly. Far too many African-American women and girls still believe the lie about the lye (relaxer). I see girls whose hair has been eaten away around the hairline where it is most fragile and broken off and badly damaged by misuse of chemicals. Chemically processed hair requires more maintenance, not less. And this mess that some of us put in our hair is truly unbeweaveable. In this day and age, even with the magic of relaxers and the wonders of weave, far too many of us are still trapped because we allow our hair to hamper our life styles—translation: we are not getting our hair wet nor are letting anyone mess it up. Run your fingers through what?

Rock resigns himself to the possibility of his daughters getting relaxers and wearing weaves, and that’s fine, but I wonder if his daughters saw Mazzarino’s muppet would it make them love their natural hair?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

All of God’s Creatures

Halloween is almost here and gone. Hallelujah!

Halloween means decorations that include mice, and I hate mice and any other furry animals that resemble them (gerbils, hamsters, squirrels). I don’t like them because—dead or alive, real or not—the sight of them really does give me creepy feeling that starts at the nape of my neck and moves all down my back at the same time that my heart beat revs up for the Indy 500. Mickey Mouse gets a pass because he doesn’t have fur, but Stuart Little is out and so are any stories or movies that feature the little critters. I watched much of The Green Mile through the spaces between my fingers because my hands were covering my eyes. As much as I try, I can’t get away from them because the little monsters are everywhere including Halloween setups. So, for the next seven days I’ll have to tip around stores and peek down aisles so that I don’t happen upon one of the rubber mice and damn near lose my mind.

I know it’s bad because it’s beyond fear; it’s a phobia. A mouse in my presence paralyzes me, and it’s been that way for as long as I can remember. It probably has something to do with my brother holding a dead mouse over my head when I was a child—a charge that he’ll deny to this day, but I know. Sometimes I think it’s getting better because if I see one I only jump five feet instead of ten and I can actually bring my heart back into a normal beating range in a shorter space of time, but I’m not ready to push my luck which is why I’ll be glad when we get to November 1st.

I’ve tried talking to my rationale self. I say, “Self, mice are God’s creatures, too. And they’re excellent way to conduct research that can be used to make human life better.” I even try to explain that mice are probably as afraid of me as I am of them. “Self!” I shout when I run across a dead mouse. “It’s dead.” But nothing works. My Irrational Self dominates the conversation screaming that she doesn’t want to share the planet with them no matter how valuable they are to research. I’ve told her that we need help and she agrees, but she knows that dealing with her fear means that she must face her fear, and she ain’t having not parts of no mouse. So, until my Irrational Self is ready, we pray that God will keep us and the mice outside of each other’s company.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Girl on Girl Love?

I know it can’t just be me, but for the past few years I’ve been noticing a disturbing trend among mostly some African-American women. Sometimes my thinking can be a little unorthodox. This might be one of those times. Recently I was out to dinner with my twin goddaughters, their mother and brother, and I noticed a couple sitting at the table next to us. She was light-skinned twenty-something woman with shoulder length black hair. I wouldn’t have paid them much mind except she had a mustache which kept drawing my attention to her face. Her other half had left and when He returned to the table, I realized that He was a She--slim build, locks at the nape of the neck left hanging and some in the top swooped up into a ponytail. “She” had on a white t-shirt, and slim jeans—a common outfit among African-American males. I asked my friend if she thought they were a couple and she said yes which confirmed my thinking, but there was no proof. They could have just been two friends out having dinner, but this phenomenon was something that I’ve witnessed frequently and there was no doubt that the two were a couple. Now before we get to the part about me being anti gay and anti lesbian, I’m not. People love who they love.

What’s disturbing about this trend is not the same-sex relationships, but the nature of the relationship. In the type of couplings that I’m speaking of, the “male” tries especially hard to evoke his manhood from the haircut, to the style of dress complete with sagging jeans and boxers showing, to the way He takes the lead in the relationship. One couple was shopping. He paid for the shoes and carried the boxes. Another twosome was sitting so close at the table that they only need one seat. This isn’t Nick and Jules in The Kids Are Alright or Hillary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry. This is Snoop from The Wire in real life, and they’re trying hard to imitate heterosexual couples. It’s like they’re playing dress-up, only they believe that it’s the real thing.

With all of the negative statistics about the state of black male/female relationships, I wonder if some women have resigned themselves to not having a “real” man so this is the next best thing to one. I’ve seen lesbian couples of different nationalities, but only among African-Americans have I seen this level of hyper masculinity that screams, “Look at me! And that’s what concerns me. Who’s trying to dupe who? Are the “males” transgender or gay? Are the females lesbian, bisexual or something else? Is this self-expression? Is it proof that sexuality is fluid and not stagnant like we’ve been taught to believe? Or is this another way to castrate the Black male image?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Drinking the Kool-Aid. . .or not

Until the recent scandal involving alleged acts of seduction and sexual impropriety, I knew only vaguely of Bishop Eddie Long. I’m not a fan of mega churches. They seem large and impersonal, and I don’t understand why the preachers need things like jets and really expensive cars. Maybe I shy away because as a child growing up in the 70s, my family didn’t do Church. We didn’t start every Sunday at Sunday school and end the day with the evening service. Church for us was Sunday morning radio, Jubilee Showcase and once a year on Easter Sunday. It wasn’t that we didn’t believe in God, it’s just that the path wasn’t straight and narrow. We were raised Christian, Baptist to be more specific but there was a sprinkling of indigenous African religion and some Eastern spiritualism, so I learned that the path to God was a winding one with many forks in the road.

When I was young, I felt that people tried to scare me to Jesus with their Biblical scriptures of hell and damnation, and even though I eventually joined Church and became an active member, something was always missing. As much as I appreciated the preacher’s words, I never became a walking testimonial for the pastor. One of those people who preface everything by saying, Pastor So-and-So or Bishop Somebody said. I never walked in what I think is blind faith. I always had questions. Unlike the Jim Jones followers, I never drank the Kool-Aid. I still don’t. I maybe dip my finger in it, and taste it. I may even sip it, but I never gulp it. I used to feel bad about this, but I’ve come to accept this is just who I am. I respect and admire people for who they are, wherever they might be in life, but I never forget that they are simply people. So, if I sip, I’m less likely to get choked on their humanity. Some of us gulp; some of us sip. Some of us don't partake at all. Drink or don't drink; it's up you.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Bottom

Bottom (n) the lowest part or place; also: an inferior position
Have you ever been to the bottom? Do you know what it’s like to fall face down, splat the ground and feel as though life has been knocked right out of you? The simple act of inhaling and exhaling becomes painful as you try to figure out not how you ended up there, but why did you end up there again?

At some point we all find ourselves in the posterior part of this place we call life—a place that when we get there we know that if we’re not careful, we may not ever leave. We’ve been there, but for each of us it’s different. How many times can we fall before we’re too broken to get back up again? How do we know when we’re dangling dangerously toward the bottom? Can we feel the roughness of the concrete against our lips? What’s our bottom?

Have we become so disoriented that we believe the bottom is really the top?

What was the bottom for you, and how did you climb out of it?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Nigger Rant--Oops! I mean N Word Rant

Here we go again. It seems that Dr. Laura’s recent nigger rant on the radio has forced her into quitting because she can't say what she wants to say, she said. But that's exactly what she did. The word that the NAACP and other African-American leaders held a mock funeral for, like Jesus has risen. Why are we still here?

What’s hard for people to get is that black folk are no more monolithic than any other group of people, and you will find mixed feelings about THE N WORD even among us. Despite its ugly racially tinged past, this word has always had multiple meanings as writer Gloria Naylor so eloquently explains in her essay, "The Meaning of a Word. This essay, which appeared in the New York Times in 1986, is still relevant today. Naylor explains that the “people in my grandmother’s living room took a word that whites used to signify worthlessness or degradation and rendered it impotent.”

Dr. Laura argued that people without enough melanin in their skin couldn’t use THE N WORD, and she’s right. Like it or not, membership has its privileges. A woman can talk about her good-for-nothing husband and her ungrateful children, and everything she says maybe true, but she is the only person that can utter those words because she’s vested in her husband and kids.

Black people have always used “nigger” in its various forms and levels of complexity, but we did it in the privacy of our own homes, and never in mixed company. Then some comedians and hip-hop artists took it out of the house and into the street, and all hell breaks open every time somebody non-white utters THE N WORD. There are two books devoted to this one word and even the titles of these books demonstrate a lack of consensus: The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t and Why by Jabar Asim and Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word by Randall Kelly. It will probably live on through eternity, so let’s move and talk about the real issue behind the rant.

The bigger issue for me was not her use of the word 13 times; it was what was really behind her outburst. A caller, an African-American woman married to a white man said that she was fed up with her husband’s friends making racial comments and Dr. Laura lost it, and told the world how she really felt. It wasn’t about the woman’s insensitive jerk-of-a husband, but about Dr. Laura's disappointment in President Barack Obama not being the be-all-and-end-all to this nation’s troubled racial past--and present if we're into truth telling. It was as if she thought him being President would magically erase this country’s racial history. And she's not alone in her thinking.

Dr. Laura accused African-Americans of voting for Obama because he’s half black saying that it, “It’s a black thing” not bothering to mention that the melanin in his skin cost him some votes, too. Then she went on to say that now that we have a black President there’s even more complaining about racism--something she thinks is "hilarious.” She thought that an African-American in the White House would stop blacks from demonizing whites as hating blacks, but it seems to have grown, thanks to black activists.

Are we there yet? If you have to ask, the answer is no. We are not living in post- racial American. When Obama was running for president, most people were asking was he ready? I was wondering if we were ready. Emmett Til was killed in 1954, not for whistling at a white woman, but because his killers were afraid of integration. They said in an interview with Life magazine they didn’t want their children going to school with black children. Even though schools were desegregated in 1954, it was nearly a decade later before it actually happened and there was still a great deal of resistance. We are not that far removed from that period in our history.

I’m not mad at Dr. Laura for her nigger rant because she said how she really feels, and that’s what we need to open up the dialogue so that we can move forward in this country.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What's a Girl to Do?

It began with an innocent comment on Facebook. Someone sent me a request to sign a petition against Target's support of a right wing political candidate, and I made a joke and said, "No Walmart, no Target, what's a girl supposed to do?"

There were two responses to my statement: I was advised to shop at Costco because they're owned by decent people, and it was also suggested that I patronize my local vendors.Even though both comments make perfectly good sense,I had to shake my head and laugh at the absurdity of it all. Something that began innocently has morphed into an internal debate about what do I do, really?

There has been a boycott of Walmart because of its unfair labor practices, and if there's no Walmart (which I'm not a big fan of anyway), then there's also no Sam's Club shopping since they are both owned by the Walmart family. And so, even though Walmart is cheaper, I honor the boycott and shop elsewhere. My co-worker had a computer notebook, and I asked her where she bought it because I'm in the market for one, and she said Walmart. I told her I didn't shop at Walmart, and explained my reason, and she said she likes to shop at Walmart and save her money. She said the notebook and some other items cost her $400.00 at Walmart, and the same items would have cost about $600.00 at Walmart.

The stores closest to me are Walgreens, Target and Jewel Osco, and I struggle with shopping in the blighted area where I live because the quality and quantity of vendors is lacking. The dollar circulates in the African-American community only once before leaving, and so I shop to keep to keep businesses in my community even when I have to ask for items that are housed under lock and key. I shop in my community when the store hours posted say 7:00 p.m. and the door is locked at 6:52, and I have to show the clerk the time on my phone so that she can open the door. Sometimes I don't shop where I live because the customer service because I know deserve better, but how will my community thrive as it once did if the people who live there shop elsewhere? What is my political stance because I have to take one.

I like Costco, but shopping there requires a membership fee, and it is not in close proximity to my home. So, I have to spend more time and money to shop there. It's only me, so I don't buy in large quantities so I don't know if I get much bang for my buck, but I can shop there if I want.If I want to travel I can go to Whole Foods or Treasure Island, too. I have options should I choose to exercise them, but what about people who have limited or no options--the ones who may not have the extra cash to spend or the transportation to travel outside of the 'hood?

Even on Facebook, I am reminded of the growing chasm between the "haves" and the "have nots" in our society and it's an settling like something I ate that didn't properly digest and is churning around in my stomach. I live in two worlds and they do collide. I don't want to support unfair labor practices, nor do I want to send the message that it's ok to support political candidates,but I also want to see my community thrive, and so I ask again, what's a girl supposed to do?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Pain and Peril

Pain and Peril
We are a nation in peril; we are a nation in pain.
I have grown used to the paradox of police presence in my neighborhood--a presence that can be both comforting and discomforting, but needed. Last summer I began to worry about the interactions between the police and the people because I could see that the people were not afraid. I have seen crowds disperse at the first sign of police presence, but I don’t see that as much anymore. I have stood and watched young people stand in defiance. They neither near fear nor respect an officer’s badge.
We are a nation in peril; we are a nation in pain.
Three police officers killed since May and not even in the line of duty, but after work when they should have been able to return to civilian life: Thomas Wortham IV was killed in a robbery attempt in front of his parents’ home. He had recently returned home from a second tour in Iraq. Thor Soderberg gun was taken from him and was used to take his life in broad day light in the parking lot of the police station after ending his shift. Michael R. Bailey, 62, weeks from retirement, was outside washing his retirement gift to himself--a new car, when he was shot.
We are a nation in peril; we are a nation in pain
How do we expect to survive when we will take anyone’s life for anything? When we kill those whose job it is to serve and protect, what hope is there for the rest of us? If we can kill an officer on a dare, shoot an officer with his own weapon, and kill an officer as he waxes his car, how are we living, really? We are living recklessly and it’s scary. People are angry people, and people are in pain. Hearts are bleeding and the blood is running into our streets. What can we do to stop the flow?
We are a nation in peril; we are a nation in pain.
How do we return to a place of respect? Have we trashed our humanity so much that it is as disposable as the paper and plastic goods we use for eating and throw away? We have and always will be imperfect people, but does our humanity have to render us inhumane in our actions toward one another?
We don’t have to live in peril; we don’t have to live in pain.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Up in the Air

Have you ever seen the George Clooney movie, Up in the Air? The movie takes its title from the main character, Ryan Bingam's quest for frequent flier miles as he zig zags across the country firing people. Bingam loves his job and is very efficient at it because he is detached from the people in his life. He is single, no children and has two sisters that he keeps in touch with via phone from time to time. I watched the movie thinking his job sucks never imagining that I would soon meet the likes of Ryan Bingam.

After sixteen years in the classroom, I decided to expand my career opportunities by becoming a mentor teacher. So, I left the comfort and security of the classroom to go from school to school helping beginning teachers become better teachers. Even though my work was challenging and sometimes disheartening, I took joy in the fact that I had an active role in shaping the minds of our children. All that changed on Wednesday, June 16, 2010.

I reported for a mandatory meeting at 8:30 a.m. and before 9:00 am, my career flight was canceled. After 18 years of service to the children in the Chicago Public School system I began my rapid descent to the bottom with no safety net--no pay out for my 10 weeks worth of sick days, no insurance after June 30, no regard for my tenured status or my commitment to the students in CPS. I stayed after being urged to get out of CPS students be damned.

Just as in the movie, two professionally dressed people (in my case, women) read from the prepared script and handed us our lives in brown envelopes addressed to each one of us individually. In there were our letters of "honorable termination", explanations of how we were further being screwed because of a loophole in our union contract, a sheet of FAQs, information on unemployment and health insurance which cost nearly as much as the maximum unemployment benefits.

Everything that was up in the air came crashing down in that surreal moment. Do you know what it feels like to fall and not know where you're going to land? Do you know how scary it is because you don't know what you'll slam into on the way down? Do you know what it feels like to not know if you're going to land on your feet, fall to your knees, or be flat on your back?

Me and 54 of my colleagues crash landed and now we have to sort through the debris that's left so we can get ready for the next leg of this journey. Bingam prided himself on not carrying excess baggage which made it easier for him to disconnect. Maybe we should take a lesson from Bingam and pack lightly but what's the point of traveling if you're not going to enjoy the trip?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Calling All Gatekeepers—Part 2

In my work as an educator, I go to schools in different areas of the city. My job is sit and observe the teaching and learning that is taking place and share what I’ve learned with the teachers. Today I'm going to share what some of what I've learned because it extends beyond the academic; I learn about life. And much of what I see saddens, frightens and angers me. Our children mirror us and the reflection is not always pretty.

Vignette #1
I am talking with a principal about a child’s in appropriate language in class. We are discussing how and why these children are able talk about the things that that do. Before our conversation ends, she shares with me a note that was confiscated from two girls. It read: I got an ass so big like the sun, Hope you got a mile for a dick I wanna run. She asked me how could these children--these little girls-- know these things, I told her they were probably song lyrics, and I volunteered to do some investigating. I googled the lyrics and found that the girls had written down the first verses verbatim from a song by Trina.

Vignette #2

I am working with a group of students in a classroom, when I hear commotion behind me. I turn around to see the teacher stepping between two girls trying to separate them before they fight. She manages to get one of the girls out of the room, and some of the girls in the room are holding onto the other girl as she yells, "Bitch, I will kill you! I will kill you right now!" as she tries to break free of their grip. “Y’all betta let me go,” she screams at them. They do. She heads toward the door, but I tell her she’s not going anywhere. She sits down and fumes at me. When her teacher returns she storms across the room, snatches a chair away from one of the desk and slams herself into the chair.

Vignette #3
It has been a particularly trying day in the classroom, and the teacher is frustrated and overwhelmed with trying to restore any order. She comes to where I am sitting and explains some of the problems that she’s having in the classroom. These two girls are talking. “She’ll sit back there and talk to her, but I bet she won’t say it to my face.”

The girls in all of these scenarios are in elementary school. The first Vignette is taken from a 4th grade classroom and the second and third vignettes are taken from 5th grade classrooms. These girls think they are on par with any adult. They look like women and act like women. I see blond weave, acrylic nails and nightclub outfits in elementary school. One girl came to school for Halloween and refused to come out of the bathroom. When I went to check on her and she came out of the stall, she had on a denim mini skirt, a v-neck low cut shirt, red strappy heels and a phony pony for her hair. When I asked her who she was supposed to be, she told me her mom told her to be a Diva.

Younger and younger they're being exposed to a world that they’re not
equipped to handle. And because they’re not ready, they end up being confused and very angry. They have no respect for self or anyone else.


Class is ending. A male student in the class has done something to one of the girls. I don’t know what he did, but I hear her tell him, “You a pussy.” There are three adults present and she has no regard for any of us. I wait for one of the other adults to say something, but they don't. So, I do even though my role in the schools is that of an observer.I get her attention and I tell her that I heard what she said. She apologizes. I ask her did it dawn on her that there were three adults in the room. She said no. I ask why she would use that type of language. She hunches up her shoulders. I tell her she should find a better way. I also tell her that she's too pretty to let something so ugly come out of her mouth.

This girl comes into class and she’s angry. Someone has said something to upset her friend, and her friend is crying. Her loyalty is fierce. Her respect is lacking. “I wish I would heard somebody say I suck a nigga dick. She be right there with me suckin’ it.” The teacher is in the hall and doesn't have a clue about the conversation that is going on inside the classroom. Again I say something. In either of these scenarios will it matter tomorrow? I don’t know, but I said something today because they need to know that somebody cares about them and is going to hold them accountable for their actions. They don't really want to be grown yet; they just think they do.

Incidents like these happen every day, and I share them not for shock value, but for us to take action. Our boys are in trouble, and our girls are, too. Is there a girl that you can help in anyway today?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Calling All Gatekeepers

I know. I know. I know already! Sex sells. But do we really need to put seven year-old girls on the auction block. Call me traditional, old school, old-fashioned, whatever, but I think the little girls dancing to Beyonce’s Put A Ring On It is another example of us blurring the lines between adults and children. We are not one and the same, and we need to stop acting like we are. These are little girls, not little women. Children do not have filters to determine what’s appropriate and what’s not; that’s our job—the adults, and too many of us are lousing it up.

We are the so-called gatekeepers in our community and we have flung the gates wide open and allowed the piped pipers of super sexuality, media, technology, and declining morality to come into our homes and seduce us with their hypnotic sign-of-the-times melodies. We think: it’s just the way things are these days. But is it? These little girls are dancing their hearts out to a well-choreographed routine which means that someone taught them, someone came up with the idea for the costumes, and someone thought this was a great way for them to showcase their talent. Hello! Adults. Anybody home?

There’s no argument that these little girls are talented and enthusiastic, but I am disturbed by the video because between the sexy costumes and the provocative dance moves, the only thing missing is a pole and maybe a few dollars thrown on the stage. I saw Little Miss Sunshine, and I thought her routine was hilarious, but was a movie full of satirical content.

I remember days from my childhood when I clomped around in my mother’s shoes playing dress up. I knew her shoes were too big for me, but for a little while I could pretend. We’re not allowing children to experience the magic and the joy of make believe. Today we’re forcing their feet into shoes they’re not ready to wear. So, I’m wondering when the gatekeepers are going come to our senses and close the gate.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Things Are Getting Interesting

Drive through any urban enclave and be seduced by the sexy-chic, beautiful people begging for your attention in the Remy Martin ads. Unless you’re blind or totally oblivious, you can’t miss them because they’re everywhere-- plastered all over bill boards and bus stops.
There are two ads. One with two women, one Black and one White and the Black woman has a chain in her mouth that extends from the White woman’s neck. The other features a Black man with two women of color. What’s interesting about these advertisements is hint at a funky kind of fluid sexuality that’s permeating our sexually-repressed-but-let’s-pretend-like-we’re not society.
It’s been said that one of the most popular male sexual fantasies is to have sex with two women and a woman’s sexual fantasy is to have sex with another woman. So, it seems that Remy Martin is capitalizing on these fantasies by pushing into the consciousness of certain aspects of society through its $3.8 million dollar ad campaign that is focused in five key areas: New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago and Miami with the brand’s core target market being “influential, social and urban males, ages 25 to 35.”
Supposedly the tagline: “Things Are Getting Interesting” is a “metaphor for an exclusive place, an underground lounge, where multicultural people mix and mingle, according to Roberto Cruz, brand director for Remy Martin Cognac USA said in an online article on I guess the definition of mixing and mingling is being taken to a whole new level.
The more my psyche is assaulted with these images, the more bothered I am by them. They reinforce the stereotype of African-American people as hypersexual and animalistic. If the ads truly denote a place where multicultural meet, then where are the other men? Why does the Black woman have the chain between her teeth? I guess I should give them credit for progress because she is the one holding the chain as opposed to the one being chained. Last, but not least, the ads blatantly lie about our evolving sexuality.
In our homophobic, paternalistic culture we are sending the message that sex between two women is ok because men egoistically believe that the only thing missing from the sandwich is the meat. And as long as a man feels that he can insert himself (pun intended) between two women, then all is well in the world.
Well, it may seem like “things are getting interesting” but it's really much of the same ol’ same ol.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Childless—Whose Choice?

Sitting at the table making small talk with the manicurist as she meticulously paints my nails a soft, slightly iridescent shade of pink I am caught off guard by The Question: “So, how many children do you have?” asks the forty year-old mother of three and grandmother of two. “None,” I reply as I watch her apply the three strokes to my nail: first down the center, and then one stroke of polish on each side. She stops and looks up at me.” It’s not something I wanted to do by myself,” I stammer. “When the husband didn’t come, I decided against it and now I’m too old,” is how I justify not being One of Them.
“It’s not too late,” she says pausing the brush in the air before going on to tell me about her clients who have opted to have babies alone. One woman had a baby through invitro, and her mother helps her care for the baby. “My mother is eighty-one,” I say. Still convinced that I need to have a baby, she shares the story of the “worthless” husband she left behind and still raised three children alone. I listen and nod at the appropriate times because I’ve learned that opposition to these you-need-to-have-a-baby conversations are futile.
“You seem like a good person, and you can do it,” she says trying to make her wad of words stick to my psyche. Even though I’ve been here before, I’m still amazed at how intrusive people can be in a matter that as personal and private as pregnancy. I recall a conversation that I’d had with this guy I barely knew who asked me if I had any children, and when I said no, he said, “I bet I can get you pregnant.” I didn’t take him up on his offer.
As an able bodied woman with the right credentials (degreed professional with middle class values and no history of mental illness), I should have children. Because of my medical history I don’t even know if I can have children. Battling fibroids since I was 28, I have had two major surgeries and one procedure to shrink them. But I still thought I might have children. I’ve been around kids all my life as an aunt, great aunt, “play” aunt, godmother and educator. As a child I loved dolls, and thought that I’d grow up and replace them with real babies of my own, but something happened—or didn’t-- along the way. And I don’t know if it was of my own doing or God’s design because I have never been pregnant nor have I ever tried.
Some of my friends are parents, others are grandparents, and I don’t envy them because I don’t have the patience that I used to have. I have been an auntie since I was two years old, and from as long as I can remember I have dragged my nieces and nephews and other folks kids from place to place. I now have two great nephews and twin goddaughters and I love and enjoy the four of them, but I also like returning them to their parents. I’ve accepted that I’m not going to have the starring role of Mama in this movie called Life, but I’m a pretty good supporting actress.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Rules of Engagement?

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the carriage. And somewhere between love and marriage there is/was engagement. Two stories that were in the news recently as well as an ode to potential babymamas in a couple of popular songs makes me think the rules of engagement have drastically changed and will soon go the way of dinosaurs.

The tragic death of Cincinnati Bengals player Chris Henry was attributed to a domestic dispute he was having with his fiancée. Even though the couple was scheduled to marry in March of this year, they already had three children: 10 months, 2 years and 3 years of age. I wonder why three babies in they decided to marry? Why not after the first? The second?

Then there was the headline grabber of America’s Top Model contestant, Nik Pace who is asking New Jets wide receiver Braylon Edwards for $70,000.00 a month in child support after she gave birth to a baby boy. Pace and Edwards, who were not believed to be in a serious relationship, are deadlocked over child support payments because Edwards filed in New York, but Pace objected and filed in New York. Pace’s attorney accused Braylon of trying to get the case litigated in Georgia because of Georgia’s less generous stance with child support payments. But Edwards’ lawyers claim that he filed in New York because that’s where Pace lived until recently when she moved to New York after he was traded to the Jets.

And if popular music is any indication of what’s going on in the world today, two new songs definitely promote the idea of babies without the benefit of marriage. R&B singer R. Kelly’s new song Pregnant tells the story of a man meeting a girl at a club. He sings, Girl you make me wanna get you pregnant . . . lay your body down . . . knock you up, pregnant . . .”

Then there is 50 cents song, Baby By Me in which the entire chorus repeats Have a baby by me, be a millionaire. He says he needs to plant his seed. Popular culture seems to dictate no love, no marriage, just a baby in a carriage with a hefty price tag.

And it’s not among the rich and famous that this type of logic prevails. I remember a conversation I had with a guy I worked with at the time. He had four children by a woman whom he said he wasn’t going to marry because she had him one way (by the children he fathered), but she wasn’t going to get him another way (marriage). He even went so far as to tell a married co-worker who had children that he was trapped because he was a father and husband.

This type of skewed logic is fodder for the many judge shows crowding the airways. There’s always some drama about a babydaddy or babymama. At least if you marry someone, and find out that you don’t like them, you can file papers and get rid of the person, (hopefully before you have a child together). But if you decide to just jump into co-parenting with someone without weighing the consequences of being tied to this person for the rest of your life, you might be in for a rude awakening.

This is not to say that marriage lasts for ever or that married couples make the best parents, but parenting is the toughest job in the world because you’re shaping and molding another human being. Who wants the added burden of doing this with someone you barely know or whose mere presence makes you ill? Engagement or long courtships give people the opportunity to get to know each other before they bring in another life.

Are we moving away from engagement and moving toward babies as commodities to be brokered between parents? Do we need love or marriage when a baby in the carriage might be the ticket to financial freedom without the emotional price tag?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


The rhythmic thump-thump of a beating heart in Rihanna’s Russian Roulette reverberates through me as the hypnotic lyrics pulsate in my brain. If you play, you play for keeps. . .Suicide—The unspeakable remains unspoken.

What pushes people so far to the edge that they’re ready to end it? What makes someone put a gun to his head and splatter his brains on the floor or the walls? What makes a person slit her wrists until she bleeds to death? Or swallows pills and mixes potent substances to silence the screaming pain? What flashes through their mind as they pass from this world to the next—triumphant, sorrow, regret or relief?
Many people are bothered by the idea of suicide. We wonder why some people want to kill themselves because nothing is that bad. We think people who commit suicide are cowards; that they’re selfish for putting other people through that. We think suicidal people are weak. We believe those that attempt suicide and those that complete the act are different from the rest of us.

I used to think those things too, but not anymore. Experience has taught me that we can never know the depth of another person’s pain. And the history and legacy of African-American people doesn’t really lend itself to healing the hurt because we’ve become so accustomed to the pain that we think it’s normal. We are socially conditioned to push ahead no matter what. And while many of us would never admit to even considering taking our lives, we engage in destructive behaviors that may ultimately lead to our death, but won’t be ruled a suicide.

How many of us subconsciously contemplate suicide everyday through our actions? We read. We watch the news. We listen to the radio. We surf the net. We know that there are things that can shorten our life span, and we figure out what the hell. We’re going to do it anyway. We eat and drink too much of the wrong things. We kill our spirit because we live to work instead of working to live. We walk around not wanting to die—not wanting to live. All of our troubles are someone else’s fault so we don’t even see our finger on the trigger.

I know I don’t. Every day I am thankful for my life, that I’ve lived to see another day. That I’m of sound mind and body with a few aches and pains and senior moments. But I play Russian roulette with my life even when I know better. I blow off workouts and trashy my system with food that tastes good too me but is not good for me. I know the risks, but I play anyway because I convince myself . . . that I must pass this test.

What’s in the chamber of the gun you have pointed at your head? What’s your trigger? A drink or two to unwind? Toxic people? A relationship beyond the staying point? What will you do, put the gun down or just pull the trigger?