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Love Lessons: Musiq Soulchild and Tressie Cottom

11 Feb

When I sat down to write the song that came to mind for me was Musiq Soulchild’s Love.  I thought about this beautiful ballad because it allows for a much bigger vision of love that includes all manner of relationships including the one we have with ourselves.  Soulchild sings…

Love
So many people use your name in vain
Love
Those who have faith in you sometimes go astray
Love
Through all the ups and downs the joys and hurts
Love
For better or worse I still will choose you first

I have been reflecting on the love of my sisters, particularly in feminism.  I have been troubled by the fact that many of my sisters have been struggling for a number of reasons, but there are certain hurts that just should not be.  A few weeks ago I read a blog by my sister-in-scholarship, Tressie Cottom, super-scholar and new friend who lamented on the lack of love demonstrated when a student at the University of Chicago threatened to circulate a mugshot photo of her in an effort criminalize her, attack her character, and denounce her scholarship, simply because he disagreed with her perspective on the importance of grades in graduate school.  REALLY! While for many of you this is old news, I bring this up because I realized that the reason she was even in the Atlanta University Center area near Morehouse College is because she was lost trying to get to me to join my class for a celebration dinner.  But instead of weighing in on the ridiculousness that occurred, both Morehouse police for pulling her over and “booking” her and U of C brotha-student lacking basic decency and manners, I want to focus on how love guides much of the work the feminists in my life do regularly.

Sometime Yes! is a powerful statement.  I teach a Poverty and Social Justice course at Spelman College and I wanted my students to learn to write in ways that encourage them to enter public discussions now.  The five page paper and the research papers have their place, but students should be cultivating their voices as students.  With all their access to the interwebs and simple applications I believe they need to work on a little more production and a lot less consumption.  I called Tressie because she was highly recommended by another sister scholar to do a workshop on Opinion Editorials for my class.  She did not know me.  She said, “Yes!”  In fact, she said, “Yes!” again in the Fall, and again she has said “Yes!” for this Spring.

On the night she was pulled over I had invited her to have dinner with my class to thank her for sharing her time and talent with us, but she did not show up.  I assumed something came up and let it be.  I found out through her blog two months later that she was arrested.  So here is where the challenge comes in.  When my sisters need help all too often too many of them do not call.  They say, “I did not want to bother anyone” or “It wasn’t that big a deal.” And it would not have been if someone did not decide to look for ways to tear her down.

Love
So many people use your name in vain
Love
Those who have faith in you sometimes go astray
Love
Through all the ups and downs the joys and hurts
Love
For better or worse I still will choose you first

One of the most important commitments of the Crunk Feminist Collective is self-care.  We insist on figuring out ways to care for ourselves and one another.  We send care packages to one another and others as we can and we remind each other to take care of ourselves.  What we realize is that working in the academy and advancing feminist politics in a broken nation can be toxic and while we don’t want to be negative one of our goals is to “not die” trying to do this work.  Too many of our feminist foremothers and forefathers have died too soon trying to do this work.  I am thinking of Audre Lorde, June Jordan, and recently Rudolph Byrd.  The way that we move forward and “live” is by caring for one another by saying Yes! and sometimes No!, but also by agreeing to engage one another in love.  To engage one another in love may mean getting crunk when need be, but it also means sending a lifeline (text, email, phone call, lunch) when you know someone needs it.  Instead of getting Crunk online, this time we chose to send life lines to our sister to let her know that while the principles of online engagement are important to figure out, making sure she was okay was our top priority.

I have women in my life right now trying to figure out how to be in community with one another and love sometimes feels like it isn’t enough.  I have to believe that “love in struggle” is enough.  I love Tressie because she gives of her time and talent because she loves working with young scholars-of-color to develop their voice through their writing.  I love Tressie because instead of attacking another scholar she reached out to invite him to participate on a panel to discuss academic engagement and social media.  I love the CFC because in this community I am so much more informed about the people and issues I care about, like Tressie’s situation.  This time she did not call me, but in this community of love I did get the message and was able to respond.

For me the love lessons are many; brotha Soulchild teaches us that sometime folks ain’t gone act right, Tressie teaches us that we can choose to let love guide our engagement both online and off-line.  The love lesson I want to leave you with is this…

Sometimes our folks need our support and love but don’t know how to ask for it or don’t think it is important enough, so we have to tell them regularly that they can call on us.  Sometimes people who give love need invitations to be loved back.  After scolding Tressie for not calling on me, I let her know that I love her and that next time she has to give me the opportunity to say, “Yes!.”

2012: It’s the End of the World & Our Hearts Are Broken

17 Dec

The Mayans had it right

A world came to an end

Ask any parent of six or seven year old children

But there is however a conflict

About the date of this major event

This world ended December 14th in Newtown Connecticut

Our hearts are broken

Our hearts are broken

In what world does this happen?

Our hearts are so tragically broken

For the loss of 27 women and children

Our hearts are irreparably broken

This kind of a world has got to end

2012 marks a record for the worst year of U.S. mass shootings

Georgia

Ohio

Pittsburgh

California

Oklahoma

Washington

Colorado

Wisconsin

Texas

Minnesota

Missouri

Oregon

Connecticut

From a Newtown a renewed world will begin

In this our new world love shall prevail

Violence and terrorism are of worlds past

Our hearts are so deeply broken

Sandy Hook Elementary must be the last

Image

Charlotte

Daniel

Olivia

Josephine

Ana

Dylan

Madeleine

Catherine

Chase

Jesse

James

Grace

Emilie

Jack

Noah

Caroline

Jessica

Avielle

Benjamin

Allison

Rachel

Dawn

Anne Marie

Mary

Victoria

Lauren

Nancy

I’m mourning for the dead

I’m calling out to the living

Let love guide our actions for renewal

And peace be our everlasting world tradition

Mourning and Name Calling!

1 Nov

For some reason this week I have been visited by and/or reminded of people who passed away over my lifetime.  Their passing was sense-less so it hurt without boundaries or the protection provided by reason.

  1. Sharon was my stepmother and she was shot at my father’s work league basketball game while cheering for him in the stands.  She was 33 years old, a huge sports fanatic, she had big cheeks and my final memory is my 8-year-old self kissing her cheek good-bye at the funeral.
  2. Johnny was my friend from high school who committed suicide when he was a senior.  He was struggling with being successful at a predominantly white high school as a black male and being relevant in a predominantly black neighborhood.  He got caught stealing sneakers at a local retailer and hung himself with his Judo rope; he felt that he had dishonored his family.  A Judo champion on the yearbook staff and student government, a cutie pie, and smart.  He could not have been older than 17.
  3. Brandon was another friend from high school in the same senior class as Johnny.  He was shot breaking up a fight at a football game between two celebrated black schools (neither of which he attended).  He was an athlete, popular, cute, smart, great personality, and just plain nice.
  4. Cassandra, my distant cousin died suddenly alone in her home in her fifties.
  5. Stacy, an elementary school friend died last December.  She was missing for months before they discovered her body in the woods.  Her cause of death was ruled “hypothermia.”  I had reconnected with her and had dinner six months prior to her death.  She was quiet in school and a quiet adult.  She had a beautiful smile.

While I feel I’m in mourning that came over me like a soft blanket, I also feel surrounded by many of my people surrounding me at once.  Daisy and Jack Davis were my older grandparents, both died in their nineties and celebrated a 70 year wedding anniversary.  Dot and Pappy were my younger “sharp-tongued” grandparents both died early of cancer but they sure knew how to Get Crunk! when the occasion required it.  Some I only knew through their words, lyrics, and offerings, but I feel them here with me.  Giving me guidance.  Holding me accountable.  Showing me my path.

ImageNina Simone (Waring Cuney)

“She does not know her beauty.  She thinks her brown body has no glory. If she could dance naked under palm trees, and see her image in the river she would know.”

ImageLangston Hughes

I’ve know rivers.  I’ve know rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.  My soul has grown deep like the rivers….  I’ve known rivers, ancient dusky rivers, my soul has grown deep like the rivers.

 

ImageOctavia Butler

All that you touch, you change.  All that you change, changes you.  The only lasting truth is change, God Is Change.

 

ImageAudre Lorde

Change means growth, and growth can be painful.  But we sharpen self-definition by exposing the self in work and struggle together with those whom we define as different from ourselves, although sharing the same goals.

 

ImageJune Jordan

Freedom is indivisible or it is nothing at all besides sloganeering and temporary shortsighted, and short-lived advancement for a few.  Freedom is indivisible, and either you are working freedom or you are working for the sake of your self-interests and I am working for mine.

I hear these voices talking me through my mourning.  When you are mourning, but can not identify the cause try name-calling and see if doesn’t help just a little.  Name-calling is recognition.  Recognize mourning and be at peace. 

Who are you mourning? Whose name will you call?

Striking Teachers are Also Parents

17 Sep

Image

After a civil and frank discussion, the House of Delegates voted NOT to suspend the strike, but to allow two more days for delegates to take the information back to the picket lines and hold discussions with the union’s more than 26,000 members throughout Chicago. Teachers and school staff will return to the picket lines of the schools at which they teach at 7:30 a.m. Monday and, after picketing together, will meet to share and discuss the proposal. (http://www.teachersforjustice.org/)

When I look at this picture I see striking teachers and staff, but I also see mothers, grandmothers, fathers, aunties, workers just out of college, homeowners, community members, taxpayers, etc.  When I look at this image I see folks that look like the parents and children that are most effected by the strike and have been most impacted by high stakes testing policies.  To be clear, these policies have not produced significant gains for poor, working poor, and working class students of color in Chicago or nationally, but they are doing other types of political, social, and economic work.  Unionized workers have less political voice, schools are largely re-segregated (public/private), and testing is big business.

I recently spoke with a friend who used to teach in Atlanta Public Schools, which has been devastated by test cheating scandals and subsequent school closings( largely in black communities).  She now works at a Kipp charter school. When I asked if there was a significant difference in administrative support for her as a teacher her response was, “Not really.”  But now she works from 7:30am-5:30pm.  I keep hearing the “whatever it takes” mantra often from male administrators in elected office, charter management companies, and school officials.  What I do not hear is any recognition that my friend may want to have children or that many teachers do have children which should not decrease their ability to be teachers.

My experience working in labor taught me that I had to look at the whole person.  A teacher is not just a worker, then a parent, then a spouse, then a daughter, then a grad student, then an active church member, then an involved member of the polity, then a block captain for her street.  She is all of those things at once.  A ten hour work day, with impromptu mandatory meetings at 5:30pm, or an Open House at 6pm after the ten hour day is exactly what unions should be fighting against.  The lions share of the burden for improving our children’s education can not rest on the shoulders of women.  Teachers need protections and they must have the ability to exercise their voice to fight for the rights of children in the classroom, and to protect the best interests of their households as members of Chicago communities.

26,000 teachers and staff made a decision to strike in a Chicago climate where youth violence has been horrific, a housing crisis has wrecked communities, and the financial “crises” have destroyed households.  There is so much more to the story of Chicago education woes.  I have to believe that recent college graduates who choose to go into this profession and veterans who choose to stay in this profession, knowing that all the difficulties the city experiences show up in the classroom everyday; I have to believe that they are bargaining for long-term investments not only in our children, but our collective future as a nation.

For more than a decade now teachers have been vilified as the reason for poor educations standards.  In this moment they are making themselves visible and speaking back in a collective voice.  I for one, as a parent, am listening.

For more on the Chicago teacher’s strike check out the following links:

THE STRIKE IS STILL ON!

The Chicago Teachers’ Strike: Its National Significance

Why I Support Chicago Teachers and Parents: $15 Billion Wasted on NYC Teacher Evaluation System

Mayor Rahm-Ney’s Attack on the Chicago Teachers Union

 

Throwback Thursday: A Love Poem for Single Mothers

16 Aug

Hey girl, I’m calling

Cause I got your text

Seems you might need a hug

And a minute to vent

So you spent one more night

Trying to find the words

To explain that joint parenting

Means JOINT WORK!

Image

That what he can’t pay for

Can be supplemented with time

Especially since you’re working

And studying at night

Image

He seems to believe

That you are well paid

Even though you are overqualified

For a job that you hate

But you stay cause you have to

And your boss knows that well

But her singing your praises

Is not paying your bills

Image

And you’re tired I know

Because you tell me so

From the bullshit at work

To the bullshit at home

Cause he said he was coming

But then something came up

You finally made plans

But now you are stuck

He says they can visit

Now that he’s moved away

As long as you pay for

Plane tickets each way

Now he’s taking you to court

Because he has not seen them

But has not paid ANY child support

Since you left him

Image

You are buying the school clothes

Supplies and new shoes

Paying for aftercare

Shopping for good schools

There’s soccer, dance class

And pediatric care

Dropping off, picking-up

Brushing her hair

Managing the five emotions

they have in five minutes

Begging for bathroom privacy

until you are finished

All this seems to happen

In a matter of weeks

You are wanting to scream

You can barely speak

So just bring them over

You need some time

To breath, do yoga,

Sleep and unwind,

Have sex if you want to

Do nothing at all

They can hang with their auntie

I was waiting for your call

And here is some money

For that overdue bill

Some tickets to a play

A container with a meal

Don’t fight me just take it

You deserve a full day

To get yourself centered

To just get away

Image

And when you return

Feeling rested and loved

You’ll get your children, a small bag of dirty clothes

And that hug.

Image

The Wait of the Nation II: Parent Companies, the “Bain” of our Existence!

16 Jul

On May 24th I posted the blog “The Wait of the Nation” in response to the four-part HBO documentary “The Weight of the Nation,” and I specifically focused on part three “Children in Crisis.”  My major concern is both the blaming of individual parents as the primary problem and the marketing of obesity clinics as a primary solution.  For the record, I do not believe parents have no role in children’s health and that health care clinics are not important,  however, I am extremely bothered by the trend of conflating weight-loss, previously considered part of the beauty and cosmetics industry, with fast growing health care industry.  I am also wanting to discuss the parents that are rarely made available for scrutiny in the popular “obesity” narrative.  Ask yourself, what does the private equity firm, Bain Capital whose co-founder and previous owner is Mitt Romney, have to do with “the weight of our nation?”

I started paying closer attention to the money behind the obesity framing and solutions when Style Network aired Too Fat for 15 in the Fall of 2010.  This reality series chronicled the lives of teenagers attending Wellspring Academy of the Carolinas, a weight-loss boarding school.

Dr. Oz featured one of the stars and success stories of the reality series, Tanisha Mitchell, identified initially as “supermorbidly obese” by Wellspring staff.  His two-part series on childhood obesity was entitled “Win the Fight Against Obesity” followed by “Is it Child Abuse to Have a Fat Child.”  To introduce the series Oz (and I do recognize that black women seemingly swear by Dr. Oz) makes this opening statement before introducing Tanisha…

If it’s child abuse to have an obese kid, then your home is the scene of the crime.  And sometimes the only option is to take them out of the abusive environment.  One school says they have the answer when parents run out of options.

Quick review of the Too Fat for 15: Tanisha Mitchell was diagnosed with Blounts’ Disease, a disability that made it difficulty for her to walk, as a child so she had more than a dozen surgeries on her legs throughout her childhood.  She had to be home schooled, was a fantastic student, an avid reader, a loving sister, and aspired to be a justice on the Supreme Court.

Mitchell’s mother was continuously depicted as the problem/the obstacle on Too Fat for 15 Season 1 and in follow-up talk show appearances like Dr. Oz.  Mitchell’s father was rarely addressed, which points to the gendered pattern of criminalizing of mothers as the blamed parents even when fathers are in the home.  But here is the major point, Mitchell’s father took $26K from his 401K plan to cover the cost of one semester at the Wellspring school Dr. Oz promotes.  Mitchell was at Wellspring for nearly two years.  Again, this is the cost for a private boarding school, not Harvard University–there are no marble columns.  In the reality series and talk shows parents are the problem and removing children from their home, according to Dr. Oz, and sending them to an obesity boarding school is marketed as a reasonable solution.

I chose to focus on the parents who are rarely made present for scrutiny, parent companies.  So if we look at Wellspring Academy they are part of the larger Wellspring family, which is owned by CRC Healthgroup.  The founder and owner of Wellspring is Ryan Craig, formerly of global management consultant firm McKinsey & Co not Dr. “such and such” from any part of the health care profession.  Bain Capital “acquired” CRC Healthgroup in 2005 and is therefore the parent company of Wellspring Academy (the $26K per semester private boarding school for the obese).  No big deal right?  Wrong! barnesandnoble.comA quick look at Bain Capital’s portfolio shows that they also own Dunkin Brands and from my research they previously owned Burger King and Domino’s Pizza (still have Domino’s Pizza Japan).  Burger King, according to Susan Linn, author of Consuming Kids and founding member of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, has spent more than $80 million in one year on child marketing alone.  Marketing tactics have included the use of advergames, mobile phone ads, and celeb spokespeople like Sean “P-Diddy” Combs.  Surprisingly Mitt Romney is threatening that, if elected, he will advance policies that force PBS to include advertising on shows like Sesame Street.

No big deal -parents just need to police their kids phones, online usage, radio, television, schools, convenience store visits, birthday party experiences, afterschool program snacks, Scholastic magazine ads, textbooks that teach adding with M&Ms, food commercials with embedded action movie characters, and kids movies with embedded food marketing.  Also when they are done with that they should start a garden at their kids school, be on the nutrition committee, do a cooking program teaching them to cook healthy foods, start a Zumba club, and go jogging with them after work.  But that’s just it, Bain Capital has not only influenced the business and marketing practices of Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, and Dunkin Brands so that they are more profitable by targeting youth with food marketing but likely keeping food service jobs low-wage with poor benefits.

Domino’s delivered for Bain
January 26, 2012| By Beth Healy
The Boston Globe

They in conjunction with their big brother, Bain and Co., a global management consulting firm, take part in what Walter Keischel calls a “fiercening of capitalism” in The Lords of Strategy.  In this culture of fierce capitalism, Tanisha Mitchell’s mother is depicted as the villian, yet there were 21 Bain Capital parented fast food restaurants (BK, Dunkin Doughnuts, and Domino’s Pizzas) within a five miles radius of their hometown Suitland, Maryland in 2011.  Does anyone see anything wrong with Bain Capital making money in Suitland in the fast food industry and then gettin PAID in Brevard in the weight-loss/”health care industry?”  I do.   It may make good business sense, but it is poor “parenting” at best and morally unethical to say the least.

I’m waiting for the nation to start talking about corporate parents (especially private equity firms) and how their poor parenting is sustaining a state of crisis in America and globally in terms of unsustainable economies and incomprehensible health care.  In this neoliberal narrative individual households are being held accountable even though corporate parents are functioning like invisible vacuums sucking families at every angle from “cradle to grave.”  I am convinced the solutions will come from local communities, not money market investors, global consultant firms, Mitt Romney, or Wallstreet.

Here is a list of organizations doing good work with a broad health frame that I can certainly get behind.

The Praxis Project

Communities Creating Healthy Environments

Southwest Youth Collaborative

Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan

Power U for Social Change

Mary Queen of Vietnam (Aquaponics Project)

Mvskoke Food Sovereignty Initiative

Malcom X Grassroots Movement

La Union del Pueblo Entero

Inner-city Muslim Action Network

Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments- Fort Yukon, AK

Chinese Progressive Association-San Fransico

Center for Media Justice

Brooklyn Food Coalition

Thinking of Happiness and Black Female Bodies

19 Jun

So over the past few weeks there has been much controversy over “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” Flaming Lips video that was edited and released without the knowledge/approval of the featured artist, Erykah Badu.  Honestly, I have mixed emotions about the video, liking some parts and disturbed by others.  Full disclosure: I found the “Window Seat” video to be a very powerful statement.  I felt it viscerally, I was both anxious and fearful of the backlash and envious of what I perceived to be free-spiritedness and freedom of Badu’s actions. But for this recent one I’m still trying to figure it out, but it got me thinking about artists that have done body work in their lyrics.  The song that is always with me is “Images,” a haunting ballad sung by Nina Simone based on the 1920’s poem written by Waring Cuney.  The lyrics are as follows:

She does not know her beauty

She thinks her brown body

Has no glory

If she could dance naked

under palm trees

And see her image in the river

She would know

But there are no palm trees

In the streets

And dishwater gives back

No image

Whenever I hear this song I think of a series of songs that support Cuney’s basic body philosophy.  I think of this song/poem because we have lots of discussions about appropriate body narratives and body visuals through popular culture, but on a basic level it feels like television is the “dishwater” and shameful billboards take the place of palm trees. We could truly benefit from some time at the river, no mirrors, no media, just nature.  In these moments of uncontrollable swirling images I prescribe “nature care,” literature, and history for your happiness tool box.

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