The 2012 Election

The recent political conventions provided American voters with a very clear picture of the choices to be made in the November election. The political parties and their respective platforms offered detailed explanations of the values each espouses.

There are major challenges facing Americans as we move further into the 21st century. Each of us must decide which values, and the language used to explain them, resonate best with our own sense of values.

I am concerned about the lack of outrage at the overt and clearly purposeful effort to disenfranchise millions of Americans. I am angry because we have historically held ourselves above other nations as a model of democracy. Well- intentioned statesmen and others travel abroad to monitor the elections in other countries.  Will we not have need of such monitors given the insulting and disgraceful efforts already underway to thwart the democratic process by intimidating voters and poll-tax like barriers?

We cannot allow this travesty. Each and every one of us young, old, and in between must vote in November. Talk to those who feel “my vote won’t count anyway” ; remind them how important each and every vote is particularly given how close the upcoming election is projected to be. Someone said recently “we have the right to vote, but we don’t have to vote.” I say we do have to vote. This election represents that much. There is a lot of fairly recent history involving voting rights… a lot of suffering and loss of life. We owe it to their memory. We cannot dishonor their struggle with apathy and inaction.

We can and we must vote. If we don’t we will deserve what we get. The responsibility is ours.

Truth Hurts: Only If You Know It

The attached link from the new HBO show The Newsroom provides a compelling and painfully honest opinion on the state of our nation. The protagonist is angry and hurt, ashamed even, at how far we have fallen. His frustration with the lack of awareness among his young listeners and others is palpable. The Rising Above the Gathering Storm report (2007), the 2008 USDOE update on the 1983 A Nation at Risk report, much of what Thomas L. Friedman writes about and countless other reports with which too few are familiar, highlight our declining status in contrast with the rest of the world. The reality of the poor quality of our education system- in part due to less than adequate preparation of teachers, budget cuts, and a dysfunctional social support system- leads to poor health choices and outcomes, less than optimum preparation for and participation in a productive workforce, and the reality of our national decline.
Some might respond with a smirk and a this is a TV show remark. Until we face the facts the protagonist is highlighting. . .and make major improvements in social, educational, and political systems and services, the national decline will continue.
Truth hurts, but only if you know it.
There is cursing in the clip. I don’t wish to offend anyone so please take note of the caution. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIffq85zMI4&feature=related
Your thoughts?

I THOUGHT WE WERE ALL GOD’s CHILDREN

CNN published a piece yesterday about the question of the Black church and same-sex marriage. Ministers quoted in the piece point to everything from Scripture, history, culture, and sadly even to their own personal feelings. What happened to “We are all God’s children? Judge not lest ye be judged?”

The article also notes some pastors’ concerns with the reality of many couples choosing not to get the blessing of the church for their relationship, i.e. marriage. The data on marriage and successful relationships do not bode well for this argument. The realities of our world- among men and women -suggest that curiosity and openness with regard to sexual activities and relationships are not in sync with many in the Black church, most notably the Black church leadership.

Same-sex marriage isn’t the issue. The paucity of mature, faithful, and responsible partnerships is. We are raising children in a confused world with seemingly few standards. Moms, dads, and grandmas too allow young men and young women to leave home for school or the workforce inappropriately dressed. Young men with their pants hanging down, young women exposing as much skin as if they were at the beach… who is telling them this is unacceptable? What happened to the body is a temple? We are collectively lacking a moral compass. I think it muddies the water to blame social ills on same sex marriages. We need our children raised in homes with loving, mature, and responsible adults. Single moms and dads have done a great job; we just don’t hear as much about their stories.

The Bible the pastors quote was written by men and history is replete with examples of men relying on “the Word” to get, keep, and maintain control of society and its people. Chauvinism has been a hallmark of “church” for centuries; homophobia has been as well. The Civil Rights Movement in retrospect really did not embrace all civil rights or the issues that pertain. The GLBT Movement has much to teach us. It’s past time for us all to pay attention. We are all God’s children. Judge not lest ye be judged.
Good words to live by don’t you think?

Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair (Nina Simone)

The crayon color black is a word used to describe a color of something. The notion of a red truck, a blue sky, etc. is self-explanatory. The use of black when it refers to people does not relate to a descriptive color, but rather the race of the individual/group. A Black man refers to a man from a specific race much like a German man or woman refers to someone from a particular country/nation.

I believe it is time to recognize and honor the difference between a descriptive adjective (a black book) and a noun (Black man). The Black church does not refer to a building that is black in color, but rather to the people (Blacks) who are its members.

It is important to note this pertains to White people as it has similarly pertained to Spanish men, German women, and people from other nations. Race matters. It is beyond time to recognize the difference between the use of a color to describe an object and the reference to a race/ethnicity of men and women.

Regarding Free Speech, Unresolved Issues of Race, and the Perils of the 21st Century

The polarizing we have seen in this country since the election of President Barack Obama continues unabated. Historically unresolved issues of race and class wars, pervasive inequalities and inequities, and 24/7 news cycles have met in a perfect storm.
Most recently the Venezuelan- born manager of a baseball team was soundly criticized and punished for expressing his affection for a well-known and much maligned brutal Cuban dictator. Charles Garcia, a native of Panama who in my opinion is a bright, influential, and creative entrepreneur said in an interview with CNN recently,…” to dismiss Guillen’s words as inconsequential, so absurd as to not warrant serious analysis, is to ignore the depth and passion of Cubans who live in this country not as immigrants but as exiles.”
A female political strategist has been roundly criticized for her statement that the wife of a multimillionaire presidential candidate has not worked a day in her life. I can’t help but be reminded of former President Bill Clinton’s infamous question about what the definition of is, is.
The major pieces of information that have been made public in the Trayvon Martin case, most notably George Zimmerman’s own words on the 911 tapes speak volumes as to his state of mind during the event and to the as yet unresolved issues regarding race relations, inequities, and the pervasive consequences for all of us. Each of these points to the importance of the words used, the context, but also to a larger issue of personal freedom of speech issues.
Words do matter. The 21st century need for the skill sets of cultural and linguistic competency has never been more apparent. Particularly in the challenging economic and politically divisive climate we’re in it is important to listen aggressively and appreciate what is really being said. The difficulty is that we are collectively destroying the rights and protections of the First Amendment guaranteeing free speech.
Many Cubans whether here in exile or not may disagree with Guillen’s comments, but he is certainly guaranteed the right to have the opinion and to make the comments. He isn’t a policy-maker who will influence law-making or other areas pertaining to the lives of others. He isn’t a law-maker/politician, lawyer, police officer, teacher, or a physician for example.
Ms. Rosen, the strategist, said what she meant and meant what she said. Parenting is by definition a difficult and challenging journey even in the best of situations. It is disingenuous to suggest however that families with resources face the same work/challenges as those who do not have access to those resources. I think it is insulting to women to infer /charge that Rosen was disparaging stay at home wives. She erred by not better articulating what she meant by “work” in this context
Mr. Zimmerman’s own words highlight the underlying erosion of civility and respect for the lives and well-being of others based on perceptions from personal experiences and other stereotypes. The failure of the police department to more effectively intervene with Mr. Zimmerman based on the 56 calls prior to the one about Trayvon Martin speaks volumes about the work that remains to be done to heal from the sins of the past. We must also face the fact that the scars from the past run deep in part because the historical and institutionalized racism that permitted and promoted slavery and the aftermath continue. Spellings (2008) noted that this nation has consistently failed to properly educate minority and underrepresented children.
A direct consequence of that failure is evident in any data one may choose to peruse. Educational achievement, readiness for workforce, health disparities and consequent poor health outcomes, housing, crime, and the list can go on. Until such time as we value and appreciate one another, respect and understand cultural issues and traditions, and until we infuse our policies and procedures, our social discourse, and our interactions with language that is inclusive, respectful, and responsive, our social ills will remain.
Words matter. At a time when so much is at stake for this nation, for our people, and for our place in the world, it is crucial for us to be honest about race and unhealed wounds. The viability of this nation depends on it.

What Happens next? Trayvon’s Life Has to Count for Something !

The discussions in the media and on line have focused on a variety of perspectives. There have been calls for investigations and arrests and in too many cases calls for caution, so that we do not rush to judgment. The major judgment has already been made and acted upon. Young Trayvon Martin is dead; there was no evidence gathering, no statements taken…just assumptions and tragically misguided and unwarranted action. We have seen too many cases where the Black or Hispanic youth is arrested first, and questions asked later. Maybe.

The good news is that the loss of this young man seems to have touched millions and the parents are receiving much needed support in their quest for justice. The president’s message gently reminded all parents about the senselessness of the act and the critical need for all of us to understand how such a tragedy could have happened.

On Meet the Press on Sunday morning, Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, his voice evincing both angst and rage, reminded those who haven’t yet connected the dots that this loss is pervasive. The neglect by law enforcement and the lack of justice across this country, he said, in response to the deaths of Black youth regardless of whom or from which race/ethnicity the perpetrator comes is staggering.

The quiet rage that has been rumbling in the Black community is building. Some in the Hispanic communities are looking at the enmity that too often exists among young Blacks and Latinos. Thoughtful and mutually respectful Whites are wondering aloud how this can still be happening. On Sunday’s Meet the Press Doris Kearns, the noted presidential historian spoke poignantly about the youthful innocence reflected in young Trayvon’s face. She likened the situation to that of Emmitt Till! Remember that injustice?

The inequities and disparities are legend. The change since Emmitt Till, former Governor Haley Barbour noted, two generations ago, is that the outrage is so widespread. Even In the face of that he opined, we have to take time to find out what really happened. The question is staggering. . Would that this call for caution could be the same stance when young men of color have a weapon and “defend themselves.”
A man with a gun kills an unarmed teen carrying Skittles and tea! That same man has a history of calls to 911 for exaggerated or unnecessary requests for police assistance. In this instance he failed to heed the warnings of the 911 dispatcher and took matters into his own hands.

From the early days of the history of this country, Blacks have not been valued and or treated with respect. The history of the education system and   delivery are just two of the most egregious examples of the historical and unending inequities. Hispanic youth often find themselves in similar situations of Black youth …suspicious by virtue of skin color. Other immigrants have endured hostility to be sure, but the whiteness of their skin ultimately facilitated their assimilation regardless of country of origin.

History repeats and since we haven’t learned the lessons we are still encountering problems getting justice for the loss of innocent Black lives. We have an opportunity to make a difference. We know from the national conversations among many politicians and their followers that fear is pervasive throughout the land due to the demographic changes in the American landscape.

The numbers are our reality. Let’s face them. Let’s talk about feelings and concerns in classrooms, from the pulpit, social and community groups and in other venues as well. We say this country is founded on Christian beliefs but the national rhetoric is contrary to those widely held beliefs. The very notion of a focus on Christian beliefs underscores one of our nation’s major problems. We are a diverse, multicultural country with Americans representing many cultures and religions. Each has tenets embracing mutual respect and understanding.
It is time we practiced what we preach for all of our sakes. Trayvon Martin’s life matters. He cannot have died in vain. WE have an opportunity to correct the course. We have to pay more and better attention to police and judicial proceedings. We have to impress on all of the powers that be at all levels that our lives do matter.
Each time a life is lost let there be justice. In Trayvon’s memory say Amen. Make it so.

Valentine’s Day 2012=You Got to Love Yourself First

Crack babies are born addicted; the rest of us have no excuse. Times get tough, a friend offers something to relieve, revive, redirect the pain, sorrow, anger, frustration, fatigue, stress and the journey to a living hell begins.

The truest voices for me throughout the past few days were TV personality Jane Velez-Mitchell candidly admitting to the daily even hourly battle to resist the temptation once one is seduced by drugs of any type. She said you’re never free of it or words to that effect. Whitney, in her own words was the other one. When asked by Diane Sawyer in 2002 if she could name the most significant demon Whitney responded:  “I guess that would be me. Nobody makes me do the things I do. The decisions are mine”.

She’s right. The best choice is not to begin.  I know, easier said than done. We have to begin early and often to foster good self esteem and love of self so that we have healthier responses to stress, pain, frustration, and disappointment. So many say it is fame, fortune, overnight success . . . genius even. There are many throughout history and the present who have succumbed and countless others who have not.

It begins with a core belief in oneself and absolute faith in a higher power and NOT in the sanctity of the substance regardless of the name. We need a comprehensive national strategy that works like Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone- one block and one neighborhood at a time.

Valentine’s Day is upon us. Let’s try to instill a love of self this day and keep it going throughout the year. Loving words, chocolates, flowers, and the like are fleeting. Whitney and the others who died the other day won’t be the last. We’ve lost too many. Let their deaths not be in vain.

This Valentine’s Day make sure those around you, especially the little ones and the teens, know how wonderful they are and how much they are loved. In Margaret Walker’s For My People she writes about a new nation rising and taking control.

It’s time people. It’s time for us to pay attention to good health, nutrition, and healthier choices. It’s time to instill a love of self in all of our young people and to support those who are struggling. With this Valentine’s Day let’s begin a new generation of hope and healing designed to rid our communities of this horrible scourge. It is time to take control.

 

Response to Bomani Jones’ (Washington Post) piece entitled the Tragedy of Allen Iverson

 I agree with much of what Bomani Jones says. However we cannot fail to mention the impact of family and a poor quality education. Allen’s posse was his family. His loyalty, however much sometimes we wished he didn’t have so much,was born of a street culture he lived even if many of us didn’t.  He made the NBA stars respect him because of his work ethic,  his huge heart and his incredible talent. Practice my behind! Other NBA players admitted the stars didn’t do all the drills,etc. Couldn’t afford having them get injured in practice. Allen was blessed with a monster heart, not size. He gave it all on the afternoon/night of the game and then some. Sometimes I think all he had was his ego. He often seemed to will himself to maintain the stamina,  make the shot, dive for the ball, win the game.

The enemy isn’t Iverson;  it is a system that has consistently failed to educate all of its people thus ensuring parents who aren’t properly educated, adequately employed, and therefore unable  to provide the necessities for solid home and community life and well-being. It is easy to cast aspersions when folks don’t live up to their potential. The real tragedy I think is when society, that means us, fails to recognize and admit the part we collectively play in it.

 

What’s Culture Got To Do With It?

Culture is an all-encompassing phenomenon that impacts every aspect of daily life (Banks & Banks, 2007). The origins of culture 5derive from the activities of human beings (Banks & Banks, 2007). The interface between culture and beliefs manifests in a variety of ways (Corwin & Tierney, 2007). In an organization for example, culture is reflected in decorations, attitudes, practices, and patterns of interactions (Corwin & Tierney, 2007). Cultural norms can influence achievement outcomes in a school because students’ beliefs about themselves and what they perceive others believe about them reflect the impact of cultural norms (Banks & Banks, 2007; Corwin & Tierney, 2007; Grant & Sleeter, 2007; Murrell, 2007). Teachers who know little or nothing about the cultures of their students cannot provide an educational environment that meets students’ needs (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005; Howard, 2006). Strategies used to impart lessons which do not include cultural references are often perceived as irrelevant by students of color (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005; Howard, 2006).

The lack of respect for culture and diversity began in the early days of the American nation with the arrival of the first slaves from Africa(Darling-Hammond, 2006). Darling-Hammond (2006) wrote that Thomas Jefferson affirmed the importance of education and the connection to self-reliance. American history is replete with examples of the denial of educational opportunities for African slaves, and then freed Blacks (Fraser, 2007; Ogren, 2005; Woodson, 1945). The importance of cultural awareness in light of the cultural and linguistic diversity inAmerica’s classrooms has been written about extensively. Current immigrants focus more on retaining language and cultural traditions than previous immigrants who tended to assimilate into mainstream American culture (Banks & Banks, 2007). Clewell, Puma and McKay (2005) supported the notion that students of color benefitted from the cultural and linguistic commonalities shared between teacher and student.

Insufficient numbers of teachers of color are in classrooms or in teacher preparation programs to provide students with the commonalities noted in Clewell et al.’s (2005) study. Changes in demographics have created a situation that renders the perception of White as majority all but meaningless (Olsen, Bhattacharya, & Scharf, 2006). The student population in American classrooms has changed since the 1970s when minority students comprised twenty-two percent of the school population (Banks, Cochran-Smith, Moll, Richert et al., 2005). In less than thirty years minority will be a misnomer when applied to students of color; such students will be the majority in public schools in the United States(Banks, et al., 2005; USDOE, 2008).

Educators, unfamiliar with the cultures and languages of many of their students, may find themselves ill prepared to teach such diverse populations (Banks & Banks, 2007; Howard, 2006). Darling-Hammond and Branford (2005) provided a focus on what knowledge and competencies teachers need to successfully reach and teach diverse student populations in 21st century classrooms. The unique history of Blacks in the United States, the increase of immigration to the United States of Hispanics, Haitians, and Asians, the ever-increasing diversity among students, and the need for greater cultural competency among educators need to be at the forefront of any education reform effort.

The Teaching Commission (2004) reported that teacher education programs have not been successful in providing teachers with the requisite skills for 21st century learning environments: an increasingly diversified student body, a demand for greater academic rigor, particularly in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and technological advances in teaching practices and equipment. The focus cannot be just on diversity but also must be on the skill sets of cultural competency (Cross, Bazran, Dennis, & Isaacs, 1989; Olsen et al., 2006). Cultural competency is not simply an awareness of differences, but rather an ability to think, behave, and value differences responsively, inclusively, and respectfully (Elam, Robinson & McCloud, 2007).

A 2008 report indicates that in the past thirty years American students have not significantly improved on academic achievement outcomes compared to students in other countries. Students in the United Statesare in 10th place behind international students in high school completion rates (USDOE, 2008). American students lag in other areas of academic achievement. Flawn (2008) noted thatU. S. students score in the mediocre range in math achievement. Stine et al., (2005) stated that the American scientific community had concerns because American students had fallen below the rankings of twenty-one other countries in math and science. America’s educators must not only do a better job of educating students but must educate even greater numbers to more proficient and advanced levels (USDOE, 2008).

In a policy information report for the Educational Testing Service, Kirsch, Braun, Yamamoto, and Sum (2007) asserted that the changes in demographics would be significant, noting that the percentage of Latino students in the education system would increase from just fewer than 15% to more than 20% within the next 23 years or less. The reality of the increasing numbers of students of color, the import of better educating all students and preparing them for the workforce, and a 21st century world has become an even more important goal for educators (USDOE, 2008).

Achievement outcomes for Black students were also lagging, with fewer than 15% of Black fourth graders reading at proficient levels (USDOE, 2008). Common themes in other research reports included population increases due to immigration, increasing numbers of minority students entering American schools, and the ongoing and pervasive lack of preparation of students of color and underrepresented students at each transition point (Adelman, 2006; Kirsch et al., 2007; USDOE, 2008). Cultural competency in all teachers will benefit students in general, but particularly students of color and underrepresented students (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005; Grant & Sleeter, 2007; Howard, 2006). The viability of our nation demands it.