Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why Are You Leaving Me Daddy?

It is a common occurrence in the elementary years of schooling that kids will yo-yo up and down between loving school and hating it. On the upside this means, that kids will hardly look at their parents as they run for the doorway to school. On the downside, this means that you literally have to throw your child into the room, and slam the door to get them to stay. In a cruel twist of fate, yours truly, the former elementary teacher who was good at calming anxious parents who had to throw their kids in the classroom and run, now is on the other side of the coin. Little man has gone from pestering Mom and Dad about school from the moment he wakes up to being content sitting in front of the TV watching Elmo all morning. So as I've walked back to my car this week after dropping off my son, it's been hard not to turn around and go pick him up in my arms as I hear him crying. Even harder not to go back into the room and take him home as I see him standing at the window looking at "Daddy's Car" wondering "Why are you leaving me Daddy?" I empathized with parents before, but now it really hits home how difficult it is to go with what is "right" when your natural parental instinct tells you something totally different.

So as I've been trained to do now, I look to the written word for help, and thankfully I have an autographed copy of Stickin' To, Watchin Over, and Gettin With, by Howard Stevenson, Gwendolyn Davis, and Saburah Abdul-Kabir, to refer to. The title refers to the three ingredients of effective discipline that the authors recommend for effective parenting of black children. I knew when Dr. Stevenson signed my copy in 2003 that it would come in handy, and this week was cause to pull the book off the shelf and seek some guidance. As the authors describe it Stickin To refers to "unconditional love and support", Watchin Over means to provide "loving supervision", and Gettin' With means to hold children accountable for their behavior without breaking their spirit. I was relieved as I read to find that the plan the Mrs. and I have intiuitively hatched to deal with our little knucklehead match with what the "Doc" and his coauthors have recommended.
So as this week has gone on. I made it a point to stop in a couple times to day care during nap time to see how the day was going, just in case Little Man needed some extra watchin over. The amount of unconditional love he gets from his nuclear and extended family is endless, especially since he is the first grandson on both sides of the family, but this week he clearly needed a little more reassurance. So for now, I let him know that Mommy and I will be Stickin To him like we're siamese twins, and we'll be Watchin Over every move. We'll also continue to let him know that as he gets older, we're more than ready to Get With him to the level necessary. A week that started out with me watching my son crying in the window ended with reports of much more positive behavior. So while he may have moments when he's wondering why Daddy or Mommy is leaving, in the long run, he'll come to understand that neither I nor Mommy are going anywhere. That's what makes it possible to walk to the car while he's crying in the window.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Jigga and Hip Hop Identity

I grew up on East Coast hip hop. KRS1 schooled me in ways my school teachers couldn't. There was Eric B and Rakim, Kool G. Rap, Special Ed, EPMD, LL Cool J, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. If any of these artists dropped an album, that's where my lunch money for the week was getting spent. NWA, Too Short, Ice-T all had moments too, but the music from the Westisde never really stuck with me. None of these artists mentioned above have managed to stay relevant for 11 albums as Jay-Z has, and that is worthy of examination. Not only has Hov been a favorite since 1996 when Reasonable Doubt came out, he has remained one because he has moved the game forward.

In the same way that racial identity theory (see: William Cross, Beverly Daniel Tatum) examines the ways in which one makes sense of themselves as a "racial" being, I'm going to borrow from that tradition and posit that a hip hop identity allows one to investigate and make sense of attitudes having to do with being a "hip-hop head". As the music has gotten older, the generations identify with it differently much the same way my parents would eschew most of the R&B I grew up on for the Whispers, Temptations, and Gladys Knight of their youth. So follow me as I walk you through how Jay has been like no other in the hip hop game.

STAGE 1: CONTACT - The point at which we are introduced, and made aware of a new phenomena.
Jay comes on the scene with Reasonable Doubt after notable appearances on Jaz's "Hawaiian Sophie" and 'Can I Get Over" with Original Flavor. The album is an ode to the street life he came from and featured the instant hit Can't Knock the Hustle with Mary J. Blige. "Feelin' It", "Dead Presidents", and "Ain't No Nigga" also became classics. What's notable about this album is that it's often hailed as his best, but it took the longest to go platinum in sales. This album also introduced us to Roc-A-Fella records.

STAGE 2: IMMERSION/EMERSION - A period marked by total engagement into all things hip hop, a recognition of the larger context within which the hip hop world operates, and an action plan to institutionalize all that is hip hop.
Following Reasonable Doubt, the parade of almost endless hits continued, and you could not argue that Jay was outside of the Top five emcees all time. In My Lifetime, Vol 1 gave us "Who You With 2", "Imaginary Players", and "Streets is Watching". Vol 2 gave us "Hard Knock Life", "Money Ain't a Thang" with J. Dupri, "Nigga Wha, Nigga Who?" just to name a few. The hits kept coming on Life and Times of S. Carter, vol 3 ("Big Pimpin", "Do It Again"), Dynasty: Roc LaFamilia ("I Just Wanna Love You"). The critical juncture in this phase came when Jay ultimately ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor around the stabbing of producer, Lance "Un" Rivera, who allegedly bootlegged vol 3. In contrast to this incident, the music became more introspective as Jay did songs like "This Can't Be Life" feat. Scarface and Beanie Sigel and "Where Have you Been?" also featuring Beans. In analysis, the contradiction between Jay's actions and his music shows the multiple layers of the self with which we all struggle. In a hip hop sense, this was yet another example of how life and the music often combined like watercolors. Evidence of the emersion became apparent as the Roc launched Rocawear, and later took over distribution of Armadale vodka.

STAGE 3: INTERNALIZATION - Puttting all the BS aside, reclaiming the fundamental components of self, and being comfortable in that skin. The Blueprint came out in 2001, and featured "IZZO" and "Girls, Girls, Girls", but what amplified this album was the Unplugged version where Jay collaborated with The Roots to create a hip hop sound that was more vibrant because of the live instrumentation. "Song Cry" was better live. "Heart of the City" was better live. To illustrate that development is not a unilateral process, this apparent musical move forward came at a time when Jay was butting heads with Nas in one of the biggest rap "beefs" ever. The Blueprint 2 album also showed Jay trying to go in a different direction, and sacrificing some sales to do so. He hit paydirt with his 2004 Collision Course mashup EP with Linkin Park, which sold over 1 million in the US and won a grammy.
STAGE 4: COMMITTMENT - A sustained determination to take the hip hop game to places it has not been. It would have been easy for S. Carter to hang 'em up after The Black Album in 2003. He gave the full repertoire of his skill set on that album working with a top shelf selection of producers including Rick Rubin and Timbaland. There were party jams ("Encore"), bang in the car joints ("99 Problems", "Dirt Off Your Shoulder") and an increasing number of reflective numbers ("Moment of Clarity", "Lucifer"). This album was Jordan hitting a shot over B. Russell, Elway and Bettis winning Super Bowls at the end, and Sampras winning one more US Open. But yet he continues, and while pursuing numerous entrepreneurial endeavors, has given us now The Blueprint 3, where he continues to drop dimes about growing in the game, and how it is ludicrous to think that he would continue to rap about the same things in 2009 as he did in 1996 ("On To The Next One", "Home Already"). The song "Star Is Born" is especially telling as it recounts how the mantle in hip hop has been passed around in hip hop, and yet Jay still stands on top. He's made my MOUNT RUSHMORE of MCs (along with KRS, Rakim, and B.I.G) not only for the flow, but for the way he has influenced the whole culture of hip hop. "30 Something" no longer means the end of a hip hop career nor does it mean the death of your hip hop identity.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Time for School: Who Will You Mentor?

When I was a classroom teacher, I always smiled a little bigger when both parents walked into the room to sit down for a parent conference. My bias was that it was a small symbol of just how important the child's education was to the family. Clearly, this is not universally true because with two teachers for parents, there were inevitably parent conferences that one or the other of my parents had to miss depending on what was going on in their school. Nontheless, I continue to get the warm feeling when I see both parents visible for their child(ren) when it comes to their education. Today I went to school with my little guy for the welcome back half day at his day care, and it was cool to see the number of fathers engaging with their kids on the playground while dressed in three piece suits. If you've ever been to the playground with a little one, you know that that means sand, wood chips, shredded rubber, or some other material meant to make falling down not so traumatic, and here were a number of dads in their business attire and wingtips having no problem riding the see saw, playing house, and drawing with their little ones.

The question that arises for me is what happens to the kid who doesn't have any of that support for their schooling? Who has their back? Our little guy is lucky that he has two parents with all kinds of degrees who can make informed decisions about the direction of his schooling and hold him fully accountable when he slips up. But more and more I think about the millions of kids who don't have that. I can't watch CNN or MSNBC without some pundit referring to graduation rates in urban areas, and more specifically male minority students. So I have resolved to use my skills not only on my son, but on any other kid with whom I come in contact who needs help navigating the educational road, which for minority males in particular, is wrought with landmines and pitfalls. With this post, I make the call for everyone to consider who they might extend their hand to. No one Superman is going to save all the inner city and suburban minority students who struggle to graduate. It will take the effort of many samaritans willing to reach back and share the lessons they have learned and the resources they have accumulated, both social and financial. It is easy to sit in your corner office, or suburban home and shake your head about the behavior and values of some of today's youth, but unless you are willing to do some of the work to fix the problem, then it will only continue to get worse.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Eulls Saves the Day

Over the last few weeks I have become increasingly jaded about the way Black male celebrities get covered in the media, particularly athletes. Negative story after negative story about dudes falling from grace. I am not out to blame the media here, they have to cover this stuff as their job just as they have to report scores and contracts. For some reason, however, it just seems like open season on Black male athletes messing up and I just wonder where the support network is to snatch these dudes before it's too late. It seems that when prominent Black athletes fall, the consequence is far worse than it would be for anybody else. I needed to see a story that offset all the negativity. New York Giant wide receiver Plaxico Burress got two years for shooting HIMSELF in the leg when NY cops get off for shooting Sean Bell. NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, continues to let Michael Vick twist in the wind even after the man served TWO years in federal prison and declared bankruptcy. Michael Beasley had to check himself into a mental facility after years of being coddled for his basketball prowess, but not being held accountable for his schooling (Washington Post, 2007). The underlying message sent by these stories is clear: Black males can't handle the privilege of getting paid millions to play sports. Inevitably they will crumble and the media will be there front and center to cover every second. So whether it is Vince Young, Jamaal Tinsley, Ron Artest, or even Renaldo Balkman, whose lucky to be in the NBA and STILL got a DUI, they will all make the front page when they fall. Thankfully, there was reassurance this week that there is hope.

The reassurance came in the form of Kaleb Eulls, a star HS football player in Yazoo County, MS. While riding the school bus home with kids as young as 5, he confronted a girl walking up and down the aisle of the bus waving a gun, and ended up disarming her by tackling her. In the process he saved twenty plus lives. The story is striking in that the young man placed himself in the center of danger to save other kids when he could have easily just hid behind a seat. As a matter of fact, according to reports, he was not even AWAKE when the girl started pacing the bus with the gun. It is also striking the way the young man has handled all the attention that has resulted from this incident. At a time when we "deify" HS athletes from the time they enter 9th grade and wonder why they are cocky by the time they are seniors, this young man has been humble and understated. Needless to say it is refreshing to see.

While it was inspring to see the story of a young Black man risking so much to help his peers, it cannot be ignored that the 14 year-old female girl with the gun now faces 22 counts of attempted aggravated assault and kidnapping. Her life trajectory has now been altered to the point where it will be incredibly difficult to move past this incident. I pray that she is able to have people come into her life that can put her on a path where she can one day become a productive citizen. Hopefully she extracts a lesson from the actions of Mr. Eulls.