Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Whose Responsibility Is It Anyway?: On the Brutal & Inexplicable Death of Derrion Albert

Earlier this week, I awoke to find my wife standing directly in front of the television with a look of abject terror on her face. Both her hands were clasped to either side of her face, and in the dimness of the room, I could make out her slowly mouthing, “Oh, my God!,” drawing out and extending the pronunciation of each word.

I could not see the video, but from the bed, I could plainly hear the audio. Even after pulling the covers over my head as if to hide from the sound, I could hear the audio. Long after the television was turned off and I was in my car headed to work, I could hear the audio.

Maybe it’s the sound of a group of teenagers beating another teenager to death that has affected me so deeply. Perhaps it was the shrieks of on-lookers, the shouts of encouragement from both instigators and participants, the blare of car horns trying to shock the teenagers back to their senses, I just don’t know.

But I wasn’t going to say anything. I wasn’t going to write about it all. However, over the last day or so, this post has been writing and re-writing itself in my head. Each time I mentally disposed of a draft, it would soon return, subconsciously revised and edited and awaiting publication.

And the question that keeps returning to my mind is “Whose responsibility is this?”. Let me rephrase this question. Those teenagers, those children, running amok in the street seemingly intoxicated by the violence taking place around them, seemingly under the spell of an inexplicable bloodlust, “Whose responsibility are they?”.

I posed this question before I number of friends and colleagues, and the answer was almost invariably the same. The answer usually began with “Those people…” and was framed in term of “Them [you supply the racial epithet].” But rarely did I hear the answer framed in terms of “we” or “us.” And these were all African Americans—black folk.

For some time now, I have been cognizant of the wide and ever growing chasm between classes within the African American community; the lower socio-economic class seems to devalue all those things the other class deems worthwhile and necessary, while the middle to upper socio-economic class seems to devalue them because of it. But, while you can take umbrage at adult foolishness, children are a completely different story.

Keep in mind, those were our children out there in that street whether we want to admit it or not. Though we may not know them, though we may not be able to claim a sanguineous kinship, a blood relationship, I believe that they still belong to us.

But I ask you again for your opinion: “Whose responsibility are they?”

And I keep hearing people say, “Those folk need to raise their children” or “Black folk need to raise their kids,” and I do not disagree with this one bit. But, in the same instance, in some segments of the African American community, you have a generation of parents, who were never raised themselves, attempting to raise another generation. You have a generation of parents who were never taught how to conduct themselves, how to think critically and rationally, passing on what they know about conducting themselves and thinking critically and rationally.

But in reality, what do they have to offer the younger generation? They need remedial instruction themselves. And more often than not, just merely providing the daily necessities--food, clothing, shelter--takes them outside the home so often and for so long, they have little time to offer their children. Who will teach this younger generation how to conduct themselves, how to use their minds and talents to their greatest advantage?

Whose responsibility is this?

You have whole families stuck in a perpetual cycle, a never ending narrative, of poverty and ignorance for whom the chaos and privation and struggle of the inner city ghetto are the driving plot elements; this is their reality, and they know no other.

I sure many want to do better, many hope to do better, but simply know of no way out. But who will offer them a counter-narrative, a glimpse at an alternate reality? Who will be the one to step up and offer hope to the hopeless, enlightenment to the unenlightened?

Whose responsibility is this?

Previously, I have mentioned Henry Louis Gates’ conjecture that perhaps crisis was desirable because only when we are faced with crisis do we make the difficult decisions necessary. Only crisis will force the necessary players out of the darkness into the light. Only crisis will force the timid to summon the courage to take a stand. A teenager has been beaten to death in the street; if this is not crisis, what is?

Or maybe we should just wait until the violence spreads out of the inner city into the suburbs. Maybe we should wait until one of my children or one of your children is senselessly beaten to death in the street before we finally declare a crisis and take action.

However, we seem to be stuck trying to decide, just whose responsibility it is.

My blog brother RiPPa of The Intersection of Madness and Reality has also chosen today to turn a critical and discerning eye on the this incident and its root causes. [Click here to read his post, "Understanding the Culture of Violence in America."]

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Upcoming Documentary: The Cotton Pickin' Truth...Still on the Plantation

I found this trailer via Facebook where it was first posted by Benjamin Woods of the blog freetheland. The trailer for the upcoming documentary The Cotton Pickin’ Truth…Still on the Plantation seeks to expose the present day system of slavery and peonage still in existence in many parts of the United States.

I must admit that when I watched the opening segment of this trailer, I was a bit incredulous at first. I am somewhat leery of conspiracy theories whether they come from the right or the left, and the story of the lady speaking seemed a bit outlandish when taken out of context. The notion that she was held in perpetual servitude as a slave up until 1960 is a bit hard to take even if it is in the state of Mississippi.

But as the trailer progressed, it gained a bit more credibility in my eyes. I have been through Mississippi, and I have witnessed firsthand many of the intolerable conditions some African Americans and whites continue to live under. I have witnessed the shotgun shacks and dilapidated trailers often housing successive generations under one roof, permeated by the overwhelming smell of urine and feces emanating from nonexistent or insufficient human waste disposal systems.

And I have witnessed the dearth of educational opportunities which might lead to meaningful employment among those still living a rural agrarian existence devoid of technological advances and advantages even as the nation and the world moves forward. Needless to say, some of the conditions I have witnessed firsthand in the state of Mississippi and in forgotten communities throughout the nation are abominable in a nation boasting of plenty.

I look forward to being able to see the completed product which is due to be available right around January 10th, 2010. After you have watched the trailer, let me know what you think, and if you have any questions for the filmmaker, she can be reached by email at

Just Gathering My Strength (Calling on the Ancestors)

On Sunday I alluded to those men who have gone before me who have contributed, either directly or indirectly, to the man I have become. My maternal grandfather, Linzie “Sam” Butler, was one of those men.

He passed on very early in my life. In fact, I suddenly realize that when he passed, he was just about the same age I am now. And of all of his grandchildren, I have the singular distinction of having met him, having sat with him, having talked with him, having been blessed by him. He is who I measure myself against. And I always stop to ask myself, will I ever be as great a man as he?

It’s funny how a child’s perception works. When I was a child, I could have sworn that he was well over six feet tall. I could have sworn he was a giant. However, just last evening while I was going through some papers, I found that he was not much taller than I am now.

But he worked hard, very hard all his life, much harder and under conditions that I could not imagine having to endure. Perhaps he worked so hard then so that I would not have to work so hard now.

And with the little he had, he managed to do great things. He began as a sharecropper, but he managed to finally own his own farm, his own piece of land, his own home. He also managed to raise six children and see to it that all six went to college, and four even went on to receive advanced degrees.

How did he manage to do so much with so little, at least far less than I have right now?

Toward the end of his life, when his death was imminent, no one told me. Perhaps as a child, I would not have understood. Perhaps, I would not have believed it, or maybe I would have been overcome by just the thought. But I know now when the life began to leave him. I know now when the struggle became too great.

He was a man who was perpetually in motion. Very seldom did he just sit still. He slowed down only so I might catch up to him; he shortened his stride only so that I might keep up with him, so that I might walk at his side. But suddenly I would find him around the house, in the yard, just sitting, staring into space trying to catch his breath.

And I would playfully smile at him, and ask him, “Granddaddy, whatcha’ doin’?”

And he would smile back at me. I still remember that smile. He had one tooth missing right there in front. The gleam would momentarily return to his eye, and with what strength he had left, he would lift me unto his lap and hug me and say to me, “Nothing, son. Just sitting here for spell gathering my strength is all. Just sitting here gathering my strength.”

So, I may be tired, perhaps as tired as he was then. And sometimes I feel like just giving it up, throwing in the towel, just living quietly here with my wife and children and take life as it comes, as it’s given to me. But I feel I owe it to my grandfather to be that much better. I owe it to my grandfather to go just that much farther. I think I owe it to my grandfather to leave a proud legacy to my children just as he left to me so that they might pass that legacy to their children, so that they might pass to their children and so on.

So, at this very moment I am tired. Very tired. I wonder if my grandfather was ever this tired, as tired as I am now, or everyday of his life he may have been this tired, this beat.

But I am going to say to my children, to those that look up to me, those that depend on me, those looking to me for guidance and inspiration, just let me just sit here a spell and gather my strength. Just give me a moment to catch my breath, and shortly, I’ll be alright and prepared to move onward and upward with you walking beside me, matching me stride for stride.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Stupid Things People Do #4

Get peed on by pugs and then hurl them violently to the floor.

Excited Pug Ruins Kodak Moment - Watch more Crazy Pet Tricks

Hat tip to@doodlebug

39 lessons for boys [Guest post by Kenn Bivins]

Guest blogger Kenn Bivins spends some quality time with his two sons.

This first appeared on Kenn Bivins’ eponymous blog, kenn bivins. I have always admired Kenn's work because the absolute love of affection he has for his sons seems to color everything he does.

Additionally, Kenn has the singular distinction of being the very first reader to leave a comment on my blog when I started back in March of this year. I still have that comment saved in my email. Thanks for your support, Kenn!

The legacy of a father is what he leaves in his stead for his children. I love my sons (and nephews) and at age 39, the following are 39 lessons or observations I hope to teach (or have taught) them. This is, by no means, a comprehensive list.

1. manhood is earned, not inherited

2. there is a God

3. you are not Him

4. but God did make you special

5. give more than you take

6. don’t run with the crowd, unless you’re the leader

7. make your life, your work

8. never make work, your life

9. failure is a sign that you’re trying

10. never never never give up

11. no one owes you anything

12. true education starts after school ends

13. money is not equal to success

14. never lose self-control (unless you want to)

15. healthy relationships are built on communication which leads to trust

16. physical confrontation with a girl/woman = lose/lose odds

17. credit card debt is a brutal master

18. if you can’t afford it with cash, save for it or pass it by

19. learning starts with leaving your comfort zone

20. invest in teaching others what you learn

21. love yourself before you expect a girl/woman to love you

22. never point a gun that you’re not prepared to shoot

23. some fights are best won by walking away

24. don’t judge others just because they are different from you

25. learn from the mistakes of others

26. save more than you spend

27. girls/women think completely different from you

28. celebrate the differences

29. give respect to others

30. let your presence command respect from all

31. give thanks daily for what you have

32. it’s okay to cry

33. smile more than you frown

34. stand up straight

35. (almost always) tell the truth

36. look people in the eyes when you talk to them

37. self-discipline comes from you and only you

38. always consider the consequence

39. seek God always

I Have Two Sons

I have two sons.

Perhaps, this comes as unexpected. Perhaps, it seems to come out of the blue even. But this morning I would like to take the time to clarify a bit of confusion I may have caused. But I stand ready to remedy that confusion.

Two recent events prompted this acknowledgement. Recently I had a conversation with a friend, and when I mentioned my oldest son, she seemed genuinely surprised. She stated that I had not mentioned him before. But I am almost sure I have; perhaps she just forgot.

And when on yesterday I was searching through my archives for something, I found frequent and detailed mentions of one son and only infrequent and cursory mentions of the other. But that does not mean that I favor one son over the other. Both sons are on my mind and in my heart continually. I am equally proud of each of them. But the one remains here at home with me. I see him daily, and he is constantly underfoot, so when I reach for material to write on, he often comes to mind.

But I love each son equally, however, for different reasons. Each represents a distinct period in my life, a distinct consciousness.

I fathered my first son when I was yet still very young, still in need of being raised myself. It’s funny how human development works. The human reproductive system often develops far ahead of the capacity to reason.

I marvel at my grandfather. He and my grandmother were married when they were in their early teens; this was not uncommon at the time. And from his early teens on, he was able to play the role of a man. He and my grandmother had six children, three boys and three girls, and with the little they had, they were able t raise six strong productive human beings and send them to college.

I was perhaps the same age as my grandfather when his first son was born when my oldest son was born. Perhaps because times had changed drastically, perhaps because I had the luxury of enjoying an adolescence, I wasn’t ready financially, mentally, maturely, or otherwise to be a father. And my mistakes, my lack of maturity, and my lack of depth of consciousness were repeated by my son. And I accept full responsibility for this.

However, just as I was able to do, he was able to pull it together in the end, and now he is an entrepreneur and business student living in Atlanta.

But my youngest son came at such a time that I had finally found myself. I possessed the financial means, the mental maturity, and the lived experience and consciousness requisite to being a good father. The way has no ways been completely smooth, however. Even know I must rethink my earlier positions and assumptions and relearn new ways of dealing with old problems.

The lesson to be taken away, though, is this: The student cannot progress beyond the knowledge and consciousness of the teacher. If our young men are running amok, if our young men are not living up to our expectations of them, then before we point an accusatory finger at them, we must stop to think and acknowledge our role in their development.

What examples are we setting? Are we actively and proactively seeking to influence their lives, to raise their consciousness, to change their worldview? Or are we content to sit back and point out and write and complain about their shortcomings, smug in our own psudeo-greatness, without offering ourselves up as part of the solution?

Whether they are close in proximity or far away, they are still our sons, and if they are to improve their situation, they must have and deserve our acknowledgement. And furthermore, they deserve our time and attention. What have you done today to improve the lives of our young men whether far away or right in the next room?

And let me remind you so you might now know. I have two sons. Two. And the eternal connection of the lifeblood that flows within is validated by the immense love and respect that flows between.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Thank You Note to My Father and Black Men Everywhere [Guest post by Charles J.]

I received this post from my good friend Charles J. last week. This post is responsible for me reconsidering my point of view and taking the time to [re]find and refine my voice. Sometimes even an old, stubborn man can learn from a young, wise man.

Before I sat down and began to write, I wasn’t sure what to write about. I was going to write about how black men need to step up and be fathers to their children. I was going to talk about the numbers of brothers in jail. I even started along these lines, but before long I bored myself and felt as though I was sounding redundant.

Then I thought about my own childhood. I grew up in a two parent household. My father was there for me and still is here for me now, so instead of writing and downing more black men ala Bill Cosby. I just wanted to say thank you to my father and to the other Black fathers (biological or otherwise).

Too often we hear there are no more good Black men out there, but I disagree. I feel too often we tend to extend our appreciation to those who have been indispensible to us throughout our lives only when they are dead instead of giving them their accolades while still here on earth. So here goes…

First I would like to begin with my own father. Thank you, Dad, for loving me and allowing me to make mistakes. Thank you for trying to teach me how to throw a ball even though I never got really good at it. Thank you for enrolling me in acting classes at the age of ten when you saw that I preferred music and arts better than a bat and ball. Many fathers would have been disappointed at my preference, but you were not. Thank you for being a living example of how to treat my future wife by treating my mother with the utmost love and respect.

When I needed you, you were there. When I cried, you dried my tears and calmed my fears. You taught me manhood is not about what’s between my legs but what’s between my ears. Because of you I walk taller and work harder. You don’t think you hear this enough.

And this message is also for every good black man out there who is doing it right. It seems we hear most often about those who are not acting as men. We hear about those who have selfishly shrugged off their responsibilities. But as a son, nephew, cousin and mentee of many good black men, thank you all for just being you. Keep up the good work.

Charles J

Because I Am Preceded by Much Greater Men than I: [Re]Finding/Refining My Voice

I began Black Men and Boys Week last week with the greatest expectations. I put much time and effort into writing what I thought to be genuinely honest and thought provoking posts, and I enlisted a host of other people to make submissions as well.

But as I was scheduling the posts, I began to notice a trend. The admissions I received were for the most part negative in tone. Some were almost scolding even. Even I composed all my posts from a deficit model, meaning I wrote from the stance that African American men are in deep trouble; they face issues such as an rising rate of imprisonment, failing relationships and a seeming reluctance to marry, lagging behind in education, lagging behind in job skills and marketability, an increasing rate of senseless and increasingly brutal violence, and the list goes on and on.

And this all my be true; however, I absolutely abhor arguing from a deficit model, and I have always resisted writing from such a model in the past. No one wants to be reminded of their shortcomings and to argue from such a model, especially when seeking a solution, is often counterproductive. In addition, it obfuscates and obscures the achievements and the positive steps forward by black men.

So, at the risk of leaving my page blank, I had to step back and reload. I would rather put something I thought to be worthwhile on my page or just put nothing at all. I had to [re]find and refine my voice, and in doing so, I realized that I can get across the same message by celebrating black men and boys, as I could by criticizing them.

In fact, by reversing the paradigm, by writing from a positive as opposed to negative point of view would free me to use my greatest gifts, my strengths in arguing for the need to [re]define African American manhood, the ways in which black men and boys see themselves in relation to the nation and the world.

I realized that I am who I am only because I am preceded by greater men than I, who while sometimes facing almost insurmountable obstacles, challenges that I might have possibly withered in the face of, proved themselves as giants among men.

Some of these men I knew personally. Some I share a common bloodline with. Some I have read about only in books, in biographies and autobiographies. Some of the names are famous, celebrated, while others are more obscure. Some of the names can be found in history books, while others exist only in my memory.

But nevertheless they left a legacy that I, that we, can be proud of. They left behind a blueprint for uplift and success. And it would be perhaps arrogant of me to scold other black men, to take such a pedantic tone in speaking of them, with them, to them. Because everything I am, everything I have been able to achieve has been because of other black men who preceded me who were perhaps greater than I can ever hope to be.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Web-based Resources for the Parents and Educators of Young Black Males

In an effort to provide additional information and resources to those raising young black males, I have put together a list of web resources that I hope you will find useful in that regards. This list is in no ways comprehensive; I am sure there are more than a few I may have missed. So, if you know of any additional links, please leave them in the comments section.

Raising Him Alone

The is perhaps the most comprehensive site providing resources and support for single mothers raising boys. The site includes empowerment activities, various multi-media resources, parenting resources and strategies, and date and research.

If you are a mother raising a son alone, this is a site you cannot afford to overlook. Also, if you are on Facebook, you can join the site’s Facebook group. [Click here to access site.]

Tied to Greatness

Tied to Greatness is the official site for the Tied to Greatness National Tour that seeks to improve the self-image and esteem of at-risk, inner-city males. The site gives a comprehensive overview of the tour to include a video presentation.

The site also includes a listing of volunteer opportunities as well as links to a number of articles aimed at improving the lives of young black males.

If you work for or are in charge of an institution or organization serving young black males, then you should definitely give this site a look. It might be worth the time and effort to encourage the tour to visit your institution or organization. [Click here to access site.]

The Black Star Project

The Black Star Project was founded for the expressed purpose of improving the quality of life in the black and Latino communities of Chicago and nationwide by eliminating the racial achievement gap.

The site contains a comprehensive overview of the program in addition to a catalogue of means by which you can get involved. [Click here to access site.]

Resources for Parents and Teachers Working with Boys and Young Men

This resource is in the PDF format and includes an extensive list of videos to watch with the young male in your charge, books for boys to have read to them or read themselves. The list was compiled in an effort to drive rich, provocative discussions. [Click here to access PDF.]

junior the Magazine

junior the Magazine is billed as the premier resource guide for engaged parents and educators of boys 9 to 19. junior features resources, feature columns from leading experts, informative articles and product reviews. [Click here to access site.]

Offering an Alternative Paradigm: Young American American Men and the Prison System

I scheduled this post to run later in the week; however, I thought it would be a logical follow-up to the conversation on yesterday. And thank you to those who happened by and thank you to those who contributed to the conversation.

On Friday, November 27, 1989, the day after Thanksgiving, a police officer from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office came to my home, and in front of my children and wife, he arrested me in a case of mistaken identity.

Ironically, the white arresting officer recognized it to be a case of mistaken identity, but the African American sergeant who arrived on the scene shortly after simply looked at me, looked at my family, looked at my home and neighborhood, and then with an unmistaken look of contempt on his face, told the white officer to take me in anyway. The white officer protested, but the African American sergeant just sneered and told him we would work it out at the station.

So, I was taken down to the city jail. I was booked. I was fingerprinted. I was photographed. And for the next twelve hours, I sat in a cell awaiting bail to be set.

When my wife picked me up from the station, she was hoarse from having yelled and screamed for twelve hours straight in the face of anyone and everyone at the city jail. But I was calm, too calm for her. So, she demanded to know why I was not angrier, why I was not absolutely infuriated at my treatment. I tried to explain it to her; I tried to articulate my emotions, but she could not be made to understand.

In a word, I felt relieved. Not relieved to have finally made it out of jail, but finally relieved to have made it into jail. You see, by the time I was arrested, I had witnessed so many young black men go to jail, and I had worked with so many young black men who, despite my and others’ greatest efforts, ended up in jail, that I actually began wondering why I was yet to go to jail.

The more I achieved, the more I realized some measure of success, the more apprehensive I got. The more frightened I became. And it all didn’t make sense because when I was growing up, prison, or as my grandmother called it—the pen, was frowned on. It was shameful. If a family member happened to go to “the pen,” then the family lied and said he was in East St. Louis or something. If he was from East St. Louis, then the family lied and said he was down South.

But my point is this: Despite my upbringing, despite my education, despite my achievements, if all that was going on around me, if all I witnessed could work to convince me that going to jail was inevitable as a young black man, what must those young African American men still stuck in inner-city, crime infested neighborhoods, those still under the thumb of poverty, feel. What do they believe their life prospects to be?

It appears to me that incarceration or having family members incarcerated has become an all too familiar part of African American lives. I read somewhere that for young African American males, going to jail has become almost a rite of passage. And remnants of prison culture are creeping into the mainstream culture, for instance the sagging pants and tattoos.

But we all know how ruinous a prison record can be, what an absolutely devastating effect a prison record can have on a young person’s future.

But the challenge then becomes to counter this normalization of deviancy with another paradigm. For all those images of deviancy we must counter with images of success and acheivement. I believe that those of us who have managed to make it out, those of us who have managed to achieve some measure of success, have an unequivocal responsibility to return and serve as role models, as mentors, for those still looking for a way out.

Have you had an experience similar to mine? What do you think can be done to reduce the number of young African American men entering the prison system?

Additional web resource:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Black Men and Boys Week Continues: Can a woman raise a man?

Today is day one of Black Men and Boys week, and the question we will be exploring today is whether or not women can effectively raise men.

I wrote a piece a while back entitled “Spoiling Our Daughters and Raising Our Sons” in which I discussed my propensity to come down hard on my sons while acquiescing to my daughters’ every whim in an effort to raise strong, productive men and without realizing the effect this might be having on my daughters.

I knew when I composed the piece that my experience might be unique to me. In working with young people from the inner-city, most often the case is reversed. I find myself working with young men in need of guidance who are being raised by single mothers. And most often these mothers are simply spoiling these young men rotten much to their detriment.

So, I did anticipate the possibility that a number of readers would speak out of an experience very dissimilar to my own; however, I did not anticipate the sheer number of readers who would do so. As I watched a conversation around the post develop on twitter, some suggested that my experience was not representative of the African American experience at all. Someone even suggested that I had created an alternate reality with me at the center.

But the reality is that the majority of households in the African American community are headed by African American women. In fact, the last reliable statistic I could find approximated that about fifty-four percent of African American households are headed solely by African American women. And implicit in that statement is that within those households there are surely to be young African American men, and there is perhaps no way to determine how many of these young men being raised in woman headed households have little or no contact with their fathers.

I mentioned this fact to a friend, someone who has been my professional mentor for many years, who then launched into a diatribe citing this fact as the major factor in the number of young African American men caught up in the legal system and/or who are poorly equipped to contribute to the community or the culture in a positive way.

Of course I disagreed with him. And in doing so I cited the scores of African American men I knew or had encountered who had been raised solely by women but had managed to become successful, who had managed to break the cycle of poverty. Additionally, I reminded him that in many of these homes, though there was no father present, no man present, surely there were “other fathers.” There were grandfathers and uncles, teachers and coaches, even mentors like myself who could serve as role models for these young men.

I still remember his retort:

“But the home is where the rubber meets the road. What happens within the home is what counts. Max, you could teach these children to walk on water, you could teach them the knowledge of alchemy required to turn water into wine, but keep in mind that you are with them only a few hours a day a couple of days a week. If what you teach them, model for them, try to instill in them is not reinforced in the home, then it goes for naught.”

Then he finished his speech, “You are too naïve, Max. You are too idealistic, Max. Only a woman can raise a woman; only a man can raise a man.”

I respect his point of view, and I value his life experience and wisdom, but I cannot wholly agree with him. Certainly, while I agree that a number of young African American have been spoiled and cuddled to their detriment, I believe this is the exception and not the rule. Furthermore, I believe that perhaps socio-economic factors have a greater impact that anything single mothers may or may not be doing.

When a mother must devote a significant portion of her time to keeping food on the table and a roof over her family’s head, when a mother must devote a significant portion of her time meeting the basic necessities of life, then that is time taken away from time that could be spent going over homework or teaching life lessons or providing the attention and oversight requisite to the rearing of children.

And to my friend and mentor, thank you for everything you have done for me. You have been an invaluable force in my life. You have been wonderful as a mentor, an “other father.” But with me your job was easy. I was already raised when our paths crossed; you just needed to answer the questions to which I had no answer or could not be found in books. Perhaps if you will come with me only a few hours a day, a couple of days a week, then we could really affect change.

Help me with this one. Can a woman effectively raise a man?

And come back later today for other exhibits and artifacts I have in store.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

I AM A MAN: An Attempt to [Re]Define African American Manhood

photo credit: Christopher Sims, I Am a Man, 2008

African American Men and Boys Week begins today; allow this post to be my introduction to all that follows.

Allow me to please apologize before hand because this post will certainly run long; any time an issue inspires me, infuriates me, puzzles me, I tend to be unable to control myself, and I go on much longer than I should.

But a few weeks ago I resumed my work with young African American men and women in the community, and though I see a number of reasons to be encouraged, abject foolishness is still for the most part the order of the day. And from what I read and what I see in the various media, my personal observation reflects the situation of our young men and women throughout the country.

And I do not mean to slight African American girls and women by concentrating on the issues faced by boys and men; many of the issues are one in the same. But I feel that I am better able to discuss issues of manhood and masculinity because this is my academic area of concentration, and even further, the condition of most social groups are measured by the status of the men representing those social groups.

I will not revisit and rehearse the baleful statistics here; we have all heard and read them over and over again. African American males lead in almost every conceivable negative indicator. But my first question is “Does this constitute an actual crisis?”.

I think it was Henry Louis Gates who wrote that crisis is sometimes desirable because crisis signals a turning point. Crisis signals a crossroads of sorts at which a decision must be made, an action must be taken.

But allow me to take the time to outline my position.

Though I know many people cringe when they hear someone bring up Africa to explain current African American problems and issues, but that is where we must go. With any potential pathology, you must go back to the original trauma to begin to find an effective, suitable remedy.

The institution of slavery is the single most traumatic event in our history. I think because of our distance in time and space from that event, we often underestimate its effects.

But within pre-slavery Africa, regardless of the societal structure, regardless if that structure was patriarchal or matriarchal, the African man had a place; he had a specific, clearly defined role in that community. And, perhaps most importantly, that manhood role was passed down inter-generationally by fathers, by male elders. In other words, there were always role models there to explain and define that role and model manhood and guide the African male child from childhood to manhood.

However, within the pernicious cauldron of that peculiar institution that memory was all but forgotten, all but lost. The African slaves, men and women, found themselves without a clearly defined role other than as menial servants, and in post slavery America they attempted to claim a role for themselves within American society, and in claiming that role, they drew upon the models most available to them—white men and white women. Keep in mind Frantz Fanon’s postulate, “For the black man there is only white destiny. And it is white.”

The European manhood model has almost always been expressed in terms of a rugged individualism, pulling oneself up by the bootstrap, in stark contrast to the interdependence of manhood models of most African cultures. Part and parcel of the European model, among others I will explore later this week, is the notion of economic independence; in other words, manhood is measured by the amount of wealth one might amass, the level of comfort he might be able to afford his family.

However, due to a documented history of racism and discrimination, African American men, for the most part, have never been able to realize this ideal. And neither have most white men for that matter. And it logically follows that in our inability to realize this ideal, African American men have been repeated and continually maligned as not being men, as somehow falling down in our duties to our communities and our society.

To sum up my argument, many of the problems facing African American men, many of the pathologies exhibited by African American men, arise as a result of an inability to realize the manhood model and ideal as posited by American society and have turned toward alternate avenues, most of which can be judged as inappropriate.

If that argument is true, then the most readily available remedy would be to redefine manhood in our own terms. Maybe I don’t make a lot of money and cannot afford my wife and family the luxuries that advertisers insist that we must have to be happy, but we are comfortable and my children are not hungry, therefore I AM A MAN. Certainly, I am soft spoken, and sometimes I would just prefer to just listen and not be heard, but nevertheless I AM A MAN. I don’t need to exhibit a proclivity toward violence, toward bellicosity, but I AM A MAN. I feel emotion and I am willing to express those emotions and not keep them bottled up within, but this makes me no less a man; I AM A MAN.

Whatever you say about me, whatever charges you level against me, I am self-assured of my being, of my place in the world. I AM A MAN.

Do you agree with my argument? Are African American males really in a state of crisis? What possible solutions can you offer to the problems and issues facing African American men and boys?

And do come back during the upcoming week. Tomorrow the question will be, "Can women effectively raise men?".

Saturday, September 19, 2009

BlogTalkRadio Apperance: Black Men Re-inventing Ourselves

To kick off Black Boys and Men Week here on soulbrother v.2, this evening I will be sitting in on a blogtalkradio panel discussing the various issues black boys and men in this country face. The panel will be moderated by @TheHighRoad.

If you are not familiar with @TheHighRoad, you can get a sense of this devoted husband and father’s efforts to improve the conditions of our communities by going to his site, The High Road, by clicking here.

I really, really need your support on this one; this is a subject that I am very passionate about, and I am sure you will agree that the needs are many. The show will be aired this evening at 5:30 PM EST. Please call in to comment and have a say in the discussion. The call in number is (347)215-9596.

But if you cannot call in, or you will not be able to hear the show live, you can click here to go to the broadcast page to hear a replay or download the podcast.

Friday, September 18, 2009

I really wish I were able to write more stuff like this.

This morning looks as if it will be a beautiful morning indeed. I decided to turn the television off last night, so as I slept, I did not hear the noise in the background. I did not hear the arguing and fussing back and forth. I did not hear the lies and accusations. But I slept peacefully, perhaps more peacefully than I have slept in quite some time. Perhaps I should turn off the television each night.

And I got up early enough to assist my wife in making breakfast, but now I’m just sipping on a cup of coffee and watching. I tried to surprise her by cooking the oatmeal, but I burned it. I always burn the oatmeal. So we just had a good laugh, dumped it out and started all over again.

When is the last time the two of us have been up this early and alone, all alone? No children, just us. When is the last time we got to just sit and talk and poke fun at one another and laugh like children? When is the last time we wished for time to just stop for a minute or two so that we would have just that much longer to do nothing but enjoy the other’s company?

But soon we’ll have to wake the children up and the chaos of the morning routine will begin. And my wife will be off to work and the children off to school. I don’t have any classes on Friday, but usually I go in just to prepare for the upcoming week. However, today I think I will stay home. I will stay home and just write. I feel like just writing.

But I do not want to write anything angry, anything polemical. I don’t want to write in short, clipped, harsh sentences filled with anger, with disappointment, with resentment. Instead I would like to write long flowing sentences filled with the pleasant dulcet tones of remembrance, of love, of longing.

Perhaps I’ll write something about my grandmother. I am finally at that point in my grief that I can look at her picture without tearing up. I can finally think of her without having to choke down that lump in my throat. I still miss her deeply, but now her memory is soothing, not upsetting. Now I can finally appreciate what a blessing she always was, always will be.

Perhaps I’ll finish that piece I started for my wife. It has a catchy title: “Because I Could Never Love You Nearly Enough.” But I must find the prose, the flow, the language to live up to the promise of that title. And if I finish it in time, I can get it out in the morning mail, and the letter will arrive in the mail tomorrow just in time to find someplace for the kids to spend the evening. But I’m getting way ahead of myself. One thing at a time.

I know I need to write a letter to my oldest daughter. I feel the need to tell her I love her, and that I am proud of her, and that I think about her daily, almost hourly. She is always on my mind. She is always in my heart even though she is so far away.

Of course, I could just pick up the phone and just call her, but a phone call does not have the permanence of writing. Whenever she is down, whenever she is lonely, whenever she feels defeated, I want her to be able to pick up her father’s letter and read it. And read it over again and know that whatever she is going through, I am there for her, and I am there with her even though she is so far away.

Alisia, if you read this today, please know that I love you even more than I love myself. And I miss you terribly and look forward to seeing you shortly.

Yes, this is turning out to be an exceptional day. I wish every day was just like this one; I wish I could just spend every day writing more stuff like this. But if every day was like this one, would this moment still be as sweet?
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