Monday, October 5, 2015

Moving Beyond McGraw-Hill's Whitewashing of History

McGraw Hill publishers recently put out a history textbook approved by the state of Texas where the trans-atlantic slave trade is painted more as a migration of workers than a culture-stripping death voyage where survivors were forced to jump start the engine of capitalism or die.  It was not until a parent, Roni Dean-Burren, objected to the characterization that McGraw Hill admitted they could "do better" in communicating the facts about slavery in this country.  It is rare the textbook that actually gets it "right" when it comes to describing the ramifications of the slave trade on people of African descent, however this case is among the more egregious.  There are many astute people who lend their brain power to the creation of a textbook, and to believe that something like this is just an oversight is a stretch at best.  I am at the point now where I no longer expect those who guide the institution of education to accurately tell the stories of underrepresented minority groups.  It is simply beyond the scope of their mission.

At its best, American public education was designed to develop an informed citizenry so that the democratic process at the foundation of the country could flourish.  At its worst, public education serves to maintain a status quo of haves and have nots so that the bourgeoise will always be able to depend on the proletariat to do the work necessary to uphold their way of life.  Those who manage to combat the oppressive nature of public education manage to do so by augmenting what is offered in school through alternative methods.  Most notably I think of Chinese communities in America whose children attend weekend schools so that they have a full understanding of their language, history and practices.  I have seen the same model employed by both Russian and Jewish families as well.  There are great African-centered rites of passage programs that need to be scaled up in response to the continued revision of the history of African descendants in this country.  It is the only way the story will be told properly. One of favorite college professors, Dr. Howard Stevenson, would often say in class, "The lion's story will never be told as long as the hunter is the one to tell it."

More important than anything else, this most recent example of whitewashing the history books further motivates me to act and I hope that for all those who have read about this and other incidents, that they will do the same.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Blast Master Can Still Teach

Got the distinct pleasure to see KRS-1 perform at Whisky A Go-Go this weekend, and he did not disappoint.  The Teacha is on my Mount Rushmore of MCs and he showed why as he performed hits that are almost thirty years old and can still move a crowd.  In addition, he previewed songs off of a forthcoming album that display the unique mix of lyrical skill and depth of thought that put KRS in a stratosphere few others occupy.  A couple of other takeaways from watching Chris Parker do his thing:

1.  His voice is an instrument unto itself - Over and over again he told the DJ (his son) to turn the track down so he could showcase the lyrics or the freestyle that he was about to go into.  His voice thundered over the crowd and commanded their attention in the same way that you snapped to attention when he yelled "YOU MUST LEARN!" through the radio.

2.  When you are authentically talented, you will find your crowd - Whisky A Go-Go is far from doing the Tunnel in NYC or other famous spots where KRS made his name, but it didn't matter.  Fans of all sorts came out and sat through some awful openers to hear The Teacha do his thing.  He signed LPs that fans brought, and any other item that people handed him.  Most importantly, he showed that he remains a different breed from rappers who simply try to make a "hit" while saying nothing.  For that, the fans have remained loyal all over the world.

3.  I'm now a Hip-Hop old head - I'm officially of the age where I believe that the music of my generation trumps anything that will be made in the future.  In Hip-Hop that means that the music of the late eighties into the early oughts can't be touched as a body of work.  Are there certain albums/artists that are outliers?  Certainly, but as someone who tries to stay true to the culture that was a large part of my youth identity, I don't see the same kind of creativity of style and message that there was in the golden age of Hip-Hop.

As soon as I can get my hands on the new album Now Hear This, I'm getting it.  KRS clearly still has lessons to teach.  I'll be taking notes the same way I have for the last twenty years.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

They Will Always Let You Know When They're Ready

I try really hard as a parent to talk with my peers so that I can be equipped with strategies so that when "milestone moments" happen, I can handle the situation like it was no problem and keep it moving without getting my blood pressure up.  Sometimes this works, as in preparing for going to a new school or starting out a new sport.  There are occasions like yesterday, however, where you're just not ready for when the kiddos drop an unexpected bomb on you and you're left to improvise like Wayne Brady playing Whose Line Is It Anyway?

I was pulling into the driveway with the ever-growing Lil Man feeling good as we had just worked through a situation where he had missed an after school activity.  Turned out there was some miscommunication and it wasn't totally his fault, but he expected that when I found out, I was going to unleash my inner Jules Winnfield (And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger...)  Clearly I did a good job of reassuring the young man that he had steered clear of danger by fessing up and telling the truth because he felt confident enough to reveal other things on his mind as we hit the driveway.  I should have known I was in trouble when he started with:

"Daddy, there's just one thing I've been thinking about"

To which I replied "What's that buddy?"

"So like when you're having a baby, how does God know?  Like how does it get there to start growing?  How does he know if you want a boy or a girl?

Uh oh.  Those three questions hit me like tranquilizer darts.  I couldn't move.  I didn't even look in the rearview mirror.  My mind was on overdrive, and I just kept saying to myself Don't you punk out and punt on this question.  If you don't answer it, one of his little third grade friends will.  After what seemed like minutes, I calmly said

"Well buddy, Women have eggs in their body that must be fertilized before they can grow into babies. There's a process for that, but you're too young to hear about that now."

To which he replied "How old do I have to be to learn the process"


Which sent him into math mode figuring out approximately how many days he has before his tenth birthday (approx. 400).  Plenty of time to consult the village for how to Sex 101 talk.

LESSON:  No matter how much I want to be out in front of the development of young Isaiah and his brother, I will never fully grasp the rate at which they pick up information and seek to act on it.  The Munchkin, for example, went from only wanting to sit on the Elmo potty to only wanting to stand and "take aim" overnight.  It's good to know that when necessary, I've got some Improv skillz in the tool belt.  I'm sure I'll be calling on them again soon.

Monday, September 14, 2015

How ironic that the same cotton that Nubians grew and used to make clothing is the same cash crop that would be used to fuel American capitalism on the backs of Black slaves.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Nabta Playa is an ancient ceremonial stone formation which 

indicates the social nuance of Nubian civilization.  It dates

back to between 6500-4000 BC.

Monday, August 31, 2015

New School Year, New Mission to Struggle with Race

Now that the focus of my work centers around helping young middle-schoolers figure out who they are and what they want to become, I have felt an increased urge to think about my own identity. As I build relationships with new students and converse with them about their struggles, I want to be able to share my own journey and perhaps some of the strategies that I have used through the years to help me figure things out.  The discussions that I have had with students over the last few years have revealed that students travel a vastly different path to owning their identity than I have.  During these conversations, I have done more listening and reacting than "preaching".  More than anything I have been inspired to see how connected students seem to feel to one another and the fluidity with which they move in and out of social circles.

I aspire to see my own boys be able to parachute into any social situation as comfortably as some of the students who I've recently sent off to college.  To that end, they need to be able to understand #BlackLivesMattter and #BringBackOurGirls, the significance of #JeSuisCharlie and the dynamics of #FreePalestine.  To prepare for those conversations I will have with my boys and their peers, I am going to use this space moving forward to post historical facts about the African Diaspora of which I am a proud member.  Nothing has helped me gain a sense of who I am and pushed me to keep moving forward than knowing the heritage of which I am a part .  The more I understand about that legacy, the greater sense of purpose I have.  My mission is to inspire a similar sense of purpose in my boys and all young people with whom I come into contact so that travelling the identity path doesn't have to be so difficult.

FACT:  Ancient Nubia, a civilization dating to over 300,000 years ago, was originally named 
"Ta Sety", meaning "Land of the Bow"

Monday, August 10, 2015

13 Wins the Books for Team Carroll

Each year as my anniversary approaches, I start to ponder what I have learned about myself as a husband and father that is worth sharing and does not sound cliche.  I am finding that each year this becomes more difficult.  On the face of it, things have not changed much from last year.  We remain incredibly blessed.  This time last year, the Mrs. sold her first show.  A year later she has sold another.  Last year, Isaiah had just finished his first summer playing All-Star baseball.  This summer he had the privilege to do it again.  Of course, there have been changes, but they also have largely been for the good.  When the school year opens at the end of the month, I won't be sporting new Air Max's for the first time in years as a promotion to Dean means that I'll be a shirt and tie guy moving forward.  A year ago, we started taking Elijah to speech therapy to help increase his vocabulary in the hopes that he'd be able to express his frustrations better.  We have been delighted with his progress and are happy that we decided to seek help.  All of this good means that when it comes to assessing where there is room for improvement as we try to get "win" number 14 for the Team, I have to dig a little deeper and spend a little more time reflecting.  Thankfully a recent discussion with the Mrs. revealed an area that I'll need to devote more attention to moving forward.

With each passing year, it seems like the decisions we have to make have higher and higher stakes, particularly where the kids are involved.  Picking the wrong school can have a lasting impact. Deciding which extracurricular activities to involve the kids in among the endless pool of opportunities is daunting.  Each choice has an influence on the type of person we want them to be which makes the hand-wringing and stress around each decision high.  It also means that the conversations are bound to become emotional and intense.

The conversation that sparked my epiphany had to do with Isaiah's activity schedule for the Fall.  He'll be starting a new school and after two years of year round baseball, we decided long ago that he needed a break.  The parent-coach in me knows that it's best for him to try new things, work different muscle groups and be excited to return to baseball in the Spring.  However, there's also the competitive rogue coach (Coach Crazy Dad) in me who can fall prey to what others are doing and gets enticed by the opportunities that have come Isaiah's way based on the skill that he has shown.   One option that came up excited me because I thought it would be a good compromise between what the Mrs and I discussed and what might be best for Isaiah.  When I brought it to the Mrs, she reminded me why we made the plan that we did in the first place.  She also noted the reason we make team decisions in the first place is so that Coach Crazy Dad can't run amuck.  I heard the Mrs. and appreciated the reminder, but I didn't think she was understanding the case I was presenting, so I tried to restate it in a different way.  That wasn't the brightest idea, and when she hit me with this statement, Coach Crazy Dad was immediately put in check:

"You know what, go ahead and do what you want because everything I say, you have a counter for.."

Once I heard the "You know what..", I knew there was going to be trouble.  The Mrs and I have not kept the record spinning for 13 years based on making decisions together for our best interest only to have one of us audible the play at the last minute.  I realized later in thinking about the conversation that there is a higher level of patience that I need to aspire to.  Most of the time I can be more strategic and think in broader terms, but I have a weak spot when it comes to the kids and their sports.  I am sure that my involvement in athletics past and present plays a big part.

Beyond the sports, I am quickly realizing that Isaiah is quickly reaching the age where he will no longer hang on Daddy's every word.  To say that that thought concerns me is an understatement.  So as I prepare to start Season 14 for Team Carroll, I'm praying for more patience because on a day when we commemorate Mike Brown's life I am hyper-aware of the need to keep my boys close.  This is an increasingly violent world they are being raised in, and I want them properly prepared when they set out on their own.  To properly equip them, they will need both the Mrs and I in lock-step.  They will also need Dad to be patient enough to walk them through their mistakes as many times as necessary so that they don't end up making one down the road that costs them more than they are able to handle.