Saturday, January 10, 2015

Reasons to love SELMA

I eagerly awaited my chance to see SELMA because from all that I knew about the project, it was going to be a classic.  I am proud to say that it did not disappoint.  I look forward to sitting down with my sons at some point in the near future to share this with them so that they have a full understanding of the significance of Bloody Sunday and the march to Montgomery.  My Top 5 reasons to love this movie:

Civil Rights leaders portrayed as humans not Superheroes
This movie depicted the vulnerable moments when the leaders were not doing the work and how they made sense of what they were doing as it related to their families. You get a glimpse into the toll that it took on these men to keep risking their lives and losing peers to violence.

Recognition of the unsung heroes who also sacrificed
I didn't know the names Annie Lee Cooper, Sullivan Jackson, Cager Lee, or Viola Liuzzo before seeing this movie, but they are just as important as Bevel, Abernathy, and Young because they were the people who believed in the message and readily joined the front lines. In some cases they made the ultimate sacrifice.

Layers to the history
- Martin and Malcolm: It is very easy to believe the narrative that Martin and Malcolm were diametrically opposed and therefore enemies. At it's most sinister the popular narrative of their relationship pushes you as a Black person to decide whether you're with Malcolm (By Any Means Necessary) or Martin (Nonviolent Nonviolent). The movie complicates the popular perception and at least gets you to understand that Brother Malcolm had respect for Dr. King and that there were ways they could work in tandem.

- Presence and importance of women
When I think of the way the Civil Rights Movement is taught in schools, the talking points are Rosa Parks, and then the famous male leaders like Medger Evers, King, and X. The contributions of women are largely ignored. SELMA portrays how central to the movement women like Diane Nash and Amelia Boynton were. It even gives Corretta Scott King a stronger voice than she is often credited with in most narratives.

Gripping imagery
You read about Bloody Sunday and Birmingham when you are a child and you remember the dates and the death toll.  You understand that it happened. It is a whole different experience to watch a dramatization of these events and have to sit with the emotion of it. The emotion makes the stamp even more indelible in my mind so that when I think about my right to vote, those images will always spring forth.

Superb casting
Unlike the Aaliyah movie where casting alone discredited its believability, this movie had superb casting. From David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo as Mr and Mrs King to  Tim Roth as George Wallace, it all fit and the performances were brilliant. Tom Wilkinson as LBJ should have gotten some award consideration.

Finally, I salute David Oyelowo and Ava DuVernay for their commitment to making sure this project made it to the screen.  When I was a young student, I had Paul Winfield's portrayal of Dr. King to learn from and understand the Movement.  Now the current generation has their upgraded version to use as a teachable moment.  I hope all parents, educators, mentors and stakeholders in the lives of children will take advantage of this film as a resource.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Reasons to love Bobby Seale's Seize the Time

Got a chance to do some independent reading over the Holidays.  With all that is going on in the world concerning young Black men and communities of color, I was moved to pick up Bobby Seale's Seize the Time to understand the rise of the Black Panther Party and why we don't have more organizations like it today in the face of increased predation in predominantly Black communities.  My Top Five takeaways:

1.  The Panthers were deeply dedicated to the community
Bobby Seale and Huey Newton came up advocating for and the poorest members of their community. They had a firm understanding of the needs and frustrations of the people of Oakland and they developed the Party to directly address those needs.  Early in the book, Seale tells the story of how hard he and Huey Newton fought to get a traffic light installed in the community and how important that was.  They were equally committed to resisting an increasingly militarized police for which was unjustly targeting Black residents of Oakland (that sounds familiar).  There are lessons here for today's Black leaders who often rise from more affluent backgrounds and struggle to connect with poorer members of the community.

2.  The Panthers advocated an Anti-Racist philosophy
The imagery of the Panthers is all about the Black leather jackets, the berets and the guns.  What is lost in that is the message that the Panthers were pushing for the eradication of racism in all forms. Throughout Seize the Power, Seale denounces Black Cultural Nationalists who espoused an
anti-white agenda.  The Panthers put actions to these words by forming coalitions with predominantly White groups who shared similar goals.

3.  Members were not only educated, but were held accountable
Newton and Seale were so adamant that members adhere to the principles of the Party that they were willing to kick people out when their actions ran counter to the beliefs of the organization.  It was not simply about how many people they could boast about on their member rolls, but who was willing to commit to the work of fighting inequality.

4.  The Panthers sought to sustain themselves without strings attached
Speaking engagements and the sale of the Panther newspaper were the main revenue streams for the Panthers and many of the leaders broke their backs to do this revolutionary work without getting paid.  They did not seek to be in bed with corporate entities who might try to dilute their message or divert them from their mission.

5.  The Panthers actively sought to broker coalitions that would serve their mission
The Panthers knew that to maximize the spread of their mission they would need to work with like-minded organizations.  This shows a willingness to put egos aside for the greater good.  It also shows how much the actual work of improving the plight of the poor and disenfranchised meant to Seale and Newton.

Monday, August 11, 2014

An Even Dozen Anniversaries in the Books: Cars, Sports and The notion of Balance

As the Mrs. and I prepared to celebrate another year of partnership, we were blessed with the news that she had sold her first TV show.  Aside from all of the euphoria that followed immediately after, it was a reminder of what can happen when you stick to the plan you have set out to reach your goals.  These milestones become even sweeter when we reach them now as they happen within the context of trying to raise our boys to be responsible citizens who will grow to pursue their own passions knowing that their parents are there at their back every step of the way which is no easy task.  Plotting out how to achieve these professional and familial goals at the same damn time has been one of the lessons for me this year and I have found myself seeking out the advice of my marriage mentors more than ever.

Lil Man discovered a passion this summer for baseball and it took over our world.  He not only completed his first season of Little League, but was honored with a spot on his age group All-Star team.  This commitment meant more practices and weekend-long tournaments that changed the way weekend family time was constituted.  Date nights became more sparse, and it became more necessary to plan time to catch up and make sure that we were still on the same page.  In the span of year, we went from a rec league mindset to the borders of travel ball land, no small feat.  I'm wary of specialization and want to hold it off as long as possible, but it's no easy task when Lil Man would happily play everyday year-round.  The increased commitment to kid activities means the excitement of seeing game winners and winning tournaments.  However, it also means professional sacrifices need to be made.

In order to be the parent that I want to be, the kind who is present to witness as many kid "firsts" as possible, there's some things that won't happen.  I haven't been able to be as civically active as I'd like, I didn't get to go out and get my "Married to the Franchise" world tour on in the way that I would've liked, but the book is done, and I will always have time to spread the word.  One of the things I learned this summer is that a passion project is by definition a pursuit that is meant to stay in the background, until the time that it becomes the main hustle.  It doesn't take precedent over making sure we find the right day care for Munchkin or make sure that Lil Man is prepared for school to start.  Somehow with all that's going on Nkechi and I have found enough creativity to maintain the excitement of our partnership.

I had good reason to pat myself on the back about when I successfully surprised the Mrs. with a new ring set at my book signing.  With the increasing number of days when we don't get to go to bed together, I feel it necessary to not just say "I love you" and "I appreciate you", but to create moments that show it.  I know that she feels pressure to continue to excel in her profession and these special moments are meant for her to understand that I've got her back and she doesn't have to feel like she has to be superhuman.  The thing that continues to make us work is that she has the same mindset.  This week she matched my new ring set by surprising me with a new car, complete with bows.  Her message came through loud and clear, and all I could muster was a "Thank you".  So now we start Year 13 working on getting TV shows on the air, winning CIF titles, and raising Rhodes Scholars.  Looking forward to what another year of work will bring.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Contract Extension for the Franchise, Navigating the Waters of Sports Parenthood

Most dudes figure out the most elaborate plan that they can to propose to the one that they want to spend the rest of their days with.  The hope that is that the public pronouncement and accompanying symbol that will adorn the index finger will sufficiently demonstrate one's love.  For some reason, I wasn't that dude in 2001.  I don't know why I didn't figure out how to gather all of Nkechi's family and friends in one place so that I could get on bended knee in front of them.  Perhaps I was too much of a wimp for such a public display.  I do know that I felt I had a good enough sense of our relationship that I didn't need to have the Rock of Gibraltar for her to say yes.  In fact, I had no ring at all (click for the whole story).  Over the years it became a goal of mine to deliver that public proposal as I felt it was something that the Franchise Player of Team Carroll deserved.  My original goal, the ten year marker, came and went and I couldn't quite deliver.  As we come up on Year 12, I wanted to make up for being overdue.  The celebration of my book launch seemed like an appropriately public event as many of our friends who've embraced us since switching coasts would be in attendance.  One thing that I've realized all these years later is that the public proposal when done in the presence of loved ones, is a way to say "Thank you".  It's a tip of the hat to recognize their part in keeping the relationship together.

All that said, twelve years of marriage doesn't erase the nervousness that comes with getting down on bended knee and asking the one you love to be your (continued) partner moving forward.  My heart was racing and I tried to move slowly so I didn't fall over or drop the ring.  Thankfully, unlike the first time I ever asked for her hand, she said yes.  Now to start thinking of what to do at the 20yr marker of this journey.

Speaking of journeys, Lil Man's selection to an "all-star" baseball team this summer has fully immersed us into the abyss of Sports Parenthood, a land where the allure of scholarships and the pros become more palpable with each strong throw, hit, or cleanly fielded grounder.  I'm shocked at the practice schedule for a seven year old, but he seems to love it, so like most parents I know, I'll have my stadium chair in hand all summer as I cheer him on.  I've sworn to keep from pushing Lil Man over the edge into burn out land by swearing these three things.  I expect my friends to hold me accountable as you're part of the village.

1.  NO year-round baseball (or any other sport) until high school.  This baseball road is looooong.  Might as well keep it fresh and fun as long as possible.  In my own experience as an athlete, I know the cost of being immersed in a sport for so long without a break.  I've also seen it as a coach.

2.  NO extra "work" with Dad unless requested.  There's plenty of practice time.  No need for me to add to it to satisfy my ego.  If Lil Man doesn't like his performance at practice or a game and wants to take some extra time, then I'm there with my glove.  Otherwise, I'm just Dad.

3.  NO "coaching" once we leave the field.  I know nothing substantive about baseball.  I like it that way.  I trust the coaches to do their job, so I can just do mine of being the loudest cheering Dad.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

5 Reasons I Wrote A Marriage Book

For almost five years now I've been reflecting on my marriage in this space.  They are the most personal things I write and they resonate the most with those of you who take the time to read this blog.  Three years ago, the Mrs. and I celebrated significant career milestones as I finished my Ph.D. and Nkechi became a full-time TV writer.  In that moment, I thought it would be cool to write a book to memorialize that day.  Over the last three years as I've worked to complete the project, I've realized a number of other reasons why I needed to do this work.  Below are a few of the most notable.  Hopefully you'll check out Married to the Franchise when I finally release it on the world.

- I'm not that cool - A lot of married dudes act like they walked the aisle because they got tired of so many women chasing after them, so they finally had to pick one. Or they only got married because their wives wore them down. It's not the cool narrative to admit that you fell for a woman, and did everything you could to make sure you could spend as much time with her as possible for the rest of your life.  I'm not that cool. Most men aren't. I'm also not too cool to share what my journey to the altar was like . It took a lot of hard work, and people need to understand what that hard work is all about.  By the way, it still takes a lot of hard work.

- It needs to be told - Most married men are so busy tending to their business that they have little to no time to share how they're making it work. I suggest that some probably think sharing would jinx everything if they started to speak about how they make it work.  Therefore, they keep their heads down and focused on the grind. Thankfully I've had some free time to share.

- A way to say thanks - We have had a large cheering squad supporting us along the way to thirteen years. This book is a way to acknowledge those who've looked out for us, mentored, cheered, loved and befriended us.  The circle people that we actually count as friends starts to shrink as you become more immersed in maintaining a family and we sincerely appreciate all of those who have taken the ride with us.

- The discussion needs a remix - Too many men and women are lead to believe that they are lesser humans if they can't find a partner. Men who delay commitment are "immature", women who reach a certain age and haven't partnered up might as well wear the Scarlet Letter "F" for failing to achieve their womanly duties. That philosophy needs some rethinking and our children need to be taught as much. The partnership life is a choice and those who choose to blaze their own trail of independent happiness should not be seen as somehow missing a chromosome. In addition, I get tired of so much of the relationship discussion being about blame and not about the lessons learned from taking accountability for mistakes. Remember, I'm not that cool, so sharing my stumbles and mess along the way wasn't that hard.

- Defense mechanism - It's easy to share and reflect when things are going well. However, at some point there will be struggle and I see this project as a reminder of the blueprint, a reminder of how far we've come and of where we're trying to go. When the distractions come, you've got to have your defense mechanisms that keep you focused. This book is one of mine.  My goal is that it will also help someone avoid some of the pitfalls that I fell into along the way. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Unintended Lessons of Competition

As a parent I often watch with one eye covered when Lil Man participates in anything competitive.  I worry about dealing with the failure.  My instinct as a parent is to protect both of my boys from the hard stuff, and I've found that if I don't check myself, I will prevent my offspring from learning valuable lessons that they will need for the rest of their lives.  The irony of this is that I spend the majority of my time encouraging and prodding athletes to compete at  the highest levels they possibly can.  It's this knowledge of what the competitive process can do for a young person that outweighs the parental instinct and has me watching Lil Man compete in a variety of events on almost a weekly basis while the coach and parent personas within me battle it out to see who's agenda will prevail.  This site of this week's lesson came was the school Spelling Bee.

It was good enough for me that Lil Man got selected to participate in the Bee in the first place.  He was sent home with a list of 100+ words to study that could potentially be used in the competition.  Every thing from "jam" to "pictograph" and as we went through the words in practice, I became more and more impressed with the amount of words that he could tick off without even having to think about it.  Of course, being seven, there was a limit to how long he would practice before becoming bored and irritable.  On the eve of the Bee, we only got in fifty words and the parent overruled the coach.  Squeezing out an extra thirty-minutes of spelling practice with a whiny kid just throws too much drama into the equation.  Lil man was insistent that he was ready so the coach just had to sit on his hands and stew, knowing that something might go horribly wrong.

As a rule, I try to sit in the shadows while watching the Lil Man because then I can go through the anxiety of whether or not he'll succeed by myself.  I settled into the back row of the dance room with the Mrs, camera in hand interested to see how things would turn out for my naturally talented speller.  He got through the first two rounds with no problem.  "Jam" and "Nail" were child's play, but "Worm", a nemesis in practice, was his downfall.  As he got to the end of spelling it "W-A-R-M", he knew that he'd made a mistake, and the confident smile disappeared as he sat down.  I thought for sure that as he took the short walk from the row of chairs where his fellow competitors sat to the holding area that there would be tears as he was the first to miss a word.  When he sat down, there was a quiver of his lips downward, but then he pulled it all together and composed himself as he awaited for the competition to end.  The parent wanted to jump from the back row and console him, but this time the coach won and I sat there to watch him figure it out on his own.  In that moment, I forgot all about the fact that he, as he put it, "won 12th place".  He whiffed on a word that he could have gotten if he would have practiced it a few more times, but that didn't matter anymore.  Nor did it matter that he routinely rattled off many of the words that were spelled throughout the rest of the competition.  I was extremely proud at how resilient he had been in a moment of failure.

The coach hoped that Lil Man had learned that with a little more practice, he could've lasted longer into the competition.  When I asked him what he thought of the Bee he said "It was good, I was just a little upset because I know I could've gotten first place.  I knew all those words."  So much for learning the work ethic lesson.  I guess that will have to wait a little longer.  The parent, however is still smiling at how well he handled that moment of expecting so much and dealing with not even coming close.  I know this will serve him well going forward.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Lessons I Have to Teach

George Zimmerman walked for killing a young Black man armed with Skittles and tea.  Michael Dunn shoots ten times into a car, feeling threatened by loud music, kills a teen and is convicted only of ATTEMPTED murder.  These stories piled on top of countless others of young men killed while being Black make me understand what James Baldwin meant when he said the following:

It's a dangerous feeling to have the fire of rage stoked within.  And the irony of it is that the more educated I become, the more frustrated and helpless I occasionally feel. The prison industrial complex, the destruction of public education and the criminalization of people of color all continue to  occur with little resistance.  I empathize with those youth who survey the social landscape and decide not to care because they understand that the game is rigged against them.  If I were still a single man, I could easily see making a move as Mr. Baldwin did to another country because this jungle is far from safe.  Thankfully, I'm blessed with a family, and I've got to make sure my boys are equipped to maximize their potential.  My focus on them keeps my inner Incredible Hulk in David Banner mode.  There are too many lessons they need me to teach to let rage get the best of me.

My not-so Lil Man, for all his smarts at seven, struggles with the notion that in the eyes of the world he is not Brown.  Recently we took a field trip to the historic black bookstore, Eso Won Books and I explained that the trip was appropriate given that it's Black History Month.  He replied by asking why it's called Black History Month, when his skin is brown.  I've also had to explain to him that his mother and brother are not peach, but are black like he is.  This empirical evidence that notions of racism and prejudice are the product of nurture not nature leave me no time to wallow in anger.  It's not productive.  I've got to figure out how to equip my boys with an identity where they are both aware of the ignorance prevalent in the world, but hopeful about their potential to be great in it.  I can only hope that I do a good enough job that they become skilled in disarming those who would view them as a threat because of their physique, dress or music.  This is but one of necessary skills of the Black Man survival handbook.  American history has made it crystal clear that it's justice system is not blind enough to protect all of its citizens.  Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, and now Jordan Davis have all now paid the ultimate price in teaching us this lesson.