Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Birthday Isaiah. Five Already?!

There's an inherent anxiety, when you find out out you're going to be a father. You start doing math in your head thinking: Do I make enough money? How much do I need to save for college? And I'm realizing that this anxiety never goes away.  I watched my Lil Man grow in his mother's belly and with each passing day the anticipation grew of being able to do all the things with my little one that a father looks forward to doing with his child. Only the Mrs and her doctor can explain the Kool Aid smiles that my father and I sported as we high fived and hugged upon hearing the news that Baby Carroll would be a boy and the Carroll lineage would continue. Given that his parents both hover around six feet tall, there would be sports to teach, I'd get to show him how to shoot a basketball, and talk to him about how to treat a woman right like his grandfather did me. The awesome responsibility of making sure my son stays on the straight and narrow excited me because I knew I was prepared, and I looked forward to beginning the journey.

What I didn't have a full grasp of when Isaiah was born five years ago was that there's a little bit of lag time before I get to drop all this wisdom on him. While we spent plenty of quality time together in the pre-walk, pre-talk days, if I didn't have any milk when it was feeding time, then I was useless. If he fell, there were times when only Mommy's bosom could settle him down. Watching football with Dad came a distant second to watching "Shake It Up" with Mom.  As we reach birthday number five, however, the balance of parental contribution is starting to move back towards the middle.

Most days I'm up and out of the house before the rooster hits his snooze alarm. While this means little sleep for me, it gives me the chance to get back home before Lil man goes to school or meet him when he gets there. On the days where he asks me to take him to school or when he runs to tell his teacher that I've come to visit, I know that he's glad to have me around and that my effort is appreciated even though he promptly tells me to go back to work when he's done with me. Every exuberant greeting affirms that the foundation is being laid so that when he needs me for more serious issues, he knows I'll be there. I've got too much to share with him not to be.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Year 9 of Marriage in the Books

I can't believe it is already time to pen the now annual "Celebrate My Marriage" blog, but here we are at year 9. I am happy to say that I am actually home to pen the blog this year as opposed to being at work on a pool deck somewhere as I have been for at least three anniversaries. I look forward to a great date night with the Mrs. as we take in Anthony Hamilton and Jill Scott at the Gibson Amphitheater. Let me now get on with the annual message as it has truly been a banner year for the Carrolls.

Last year as I reflected on marriage from coaches hospitality at Junior Nationals and I shared my dad's consistent mantra that "You've got to find a woman who's going to be in your corner". As I got older, he added to his relationship talks the idea that "You've got to find ways to continue to grow together." This piece of wisdom has not been that hard to follow given that I actually listened to his most repeated note of advice. Finding my "Franchise Player" made it easy to leave family (remember, I'm spoiled), friends, and connections on the East Coast to start a California Adventure on New Years Day 2004. Mrs. Carroll was ready to take over the entertainment industry, and I knew I could teach anywhere, so stepping out on faith was easy. Turns out that "making it" in Hollywood is as hard if not harder than advertised and after realizing that mass mailings and submitting for every audition wasn't going to get her anywhere quickly, the Mrs. set about creating her own niche which would allow her to find a place here all while supporting my desire to teach, coach, and ultimately go back to graduate school for a Ph.D in education. Oh yeah, the Mrs. held down a 9-5 job the whole time.

Fast forward to June 11, 2011, and I walk into Napa Valley Grille for a "small" graduation celebration after receiving my Ph.D from UCLA only to find that the Mrs. has once again gone above and beyond and executed a surprise celebration complete with East Coast and West Coast family and friends in attendance to celebrate the moment. It was a great moment because she managed to assemble many people instrumental in our adjustment to California who shared in our journey and helped us make a way for ourselves. Little did I know when the Mrs.' literary manager, Adesuwa McCalla (aka "The Hustler"), got up to address the group just how much our marriage and congruent growth would be affirmed. At the time that I was reading Freire, DuBois, and writing a dissertation in grad school, the Mrs. made three short films, got her SAG card, and put together a showcase which raised money to combat domestic violence. Spring 2011 had already been a very productive "casting season" and as we sat at the Napa Valley Grille, we were hopeful that this was the year she would make it onto the writing staff of a show. When "The Hustler" finished her speech about the beauty of our partnership with the news that the Mrs. had in fact earned a position as a staff writer on The Finder, set to premiere on FOX in December, we both shed tears because the journey had not been easy, and it had required sacrifices for both of us.

Shortly after I was accepted into UCLA, we made an agreement that at the end of the five year program, we would make a decision about whether or not we would stay in Cali to continue pursuing the Hollywood dream or see where the road to tenured professorhood would lead. As the Mrs. tirelessly worked on scripts and projects, often falling asleep at the computer after a full day of work, and tending to a child who acts like he's been raised on a Five Hour Energy diet, I knew that we couldn't leave just because I was finishing my degree. This meant a limited job search which, for those looking to obtain assistant professor positions is not advisable. I ended up applying to only five places, only got one interview, and not surprisingly, no job offers. While all this was going on, the Mrs. had to keep the 9-5 job which limited her time to work on projects because "swim coach" and "grad student" aren't occupations that allow for financial comfort. Many years, she kept the Carroll household afloat when research money and loans dried up in the summer. So to receive the news that she was going to be able to leave her 9-5 for a career she had been striving for on the same night that I received my degree was only just. It was a testament to our commitment to prop each other up, and my lasting memory of Year 9 will be that both of us started to see the return on our "investment" of time and resources and head into Year 10 in a position to do better than we have before giving us a the financial freedom to do things we haven't been able to do previously. So as I conclude this year's blog, I only say to my friends young and old that you can never lose sight of how you and your partner will reach your individual goals TOGETHER. Think of your favorite sports team, and how often a singular member of the team makes it all happen by themselves. It doesn't. Marriage is no different, and as I watch the size of our friends' families grow, I can only hope that everyone is continuing to communicate like when the rings were first exchanged. I'll catch you guys soon. Time to get dressed for the concert.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My Graduation Speech

It was important for me to put together this message because the response I often get from people when I tell them about my doctoral studies is one of surprise. "Oh my gosh that's incredible", and while I'm humbled to have reached this milestone, the message that I want to share with all of you is that my journey is not in any way incredible or special, but instead the inevitable outcome when you match passion with a strong support system. My own network consisted of parents, who were career educators with advanced degrees, teachers like Lois Hamilton in 1st grade and my doctoral sherpa, Megan Franke who never let me rest on my laurels, swim coaches, church deacons, fraternal brothers,

and parents of peers who taught me discipline, maturity, and respect. If education is to return to prominence in this country, it will not just be the result of some miracle policy, but instead from everyone taking an active role in the support network of one or more students. My fellow graduates, as we celebrate the completion of our programs today we must not shy away from the responsibility of making a mark on the field of education by impacting the lives of students on a daily basis. We live in an increasingly skill-based economy, so with that in mind, our research and our practice need to reflect the best of what is working to engage youth in learning and developing literacies that will be useful in a global context.

This preparation is no easy task in schools that more and more look and operate like prisons. Financial resources are being misappropriated or not appropriated at all, students are being bullied in new and complex ways, and the pressure to meet standardized test benchmarks only grows. Not to mention that "Last In First Out" policies, which sacrifice talented young teachers for more veteran educators, are a reality. What's at stake however is more sobering. The private prison industry is booming, and the demand for future prisons is being determined by elementary test scores. Add to this that graduation rates in CA for Black and Hispanic males hover around 50% and that dropouts are almost 4x more likely to be arrested and it becomes evident that our schools are doing a better job producing future inmates who can be exploited as a cheap labor force than future leaders.

As an early career educator, this is a challenging context to enter, but you must remember that you are not alone. When it all seems so overwhelming, that you are ready to quit, I encourage you to remember what you have built here. Remember your friend, Paolo Freire and his dedication to the oppressed, or Sonia Nieto and her ideas for educating youth from differing ethnic backgrounds, John Dewey who believed in the public school as a community anchor, or W.E.B DuBois who outlined the blueprint for what Black children in particular need educationally. Remember the network of UCLA professors who have prepared you, and that they are forever a part of your network.

When I received my BA and was looking to become a teacher, after realizing that I was hard-wired to be an educator and that pre-med was not for me, I immediately enrolled in a Masters program while also working as a teaching assistant. A couple years into the program, I got my first lead teaching position, and there was a part of me that said, "You accomplished the goal, forget the rest of that Masters program. How much debt are you willing to take on for this?" But the support system, said “Keep going, there's a bigger plan for you.” When I moved to California shortly after finishing my Masters, I applied to UCLA because I had fallen in love with the work Danny Solorzano was doing around Affirmative Action in education. I wanted to have an impact on education on that level, and Dr. Solorzano was even gracious enough to sit down with me. When I got my rejection letter, part of me said "Well maybe you're just supposed to be a teacher, the work of the classroom is fulfilling enough" But again the support network kept pushing. And then I met Megan Franke, and when she said apply again, I listened. So when I tell you that to develop and maintain a support network in education is vital, I speak as one who has benefited and continues to benefit from those relationships. Not only have I been pushed and held accountable by my support network, my advisors were the same ones who worked with me when Isaiah Obiesie Carroll entered this world in November of my first year as a graduate student. I can honestly say I would not be here if I had been left to my own devices because I would not have been able to see what the big picture held. At the end of the day, education is about relationships that turn into communities where learning is the outcome. I wish you all the best in entering, creating, and sustaining such communities with the support of your networks.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The NAACP Has Lost It's Way

When the Civil Rights Movement is introduced to most students, you learn about court battles in the aftermath of the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case that eventually lead to a string of desegregation cases which culminated in the 1954 landmark case, Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. Thurgood Marshall, among other lawyers becomes a central figure of this fight as does the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). As a youngster, you come to understand that the NAACP advocates for social justice, and that education is a key arena in the struggle for rights. At least, that's how I always saw it, and would look to explain it to Lil Man. Now, however, it seems that the NAACP, particularly it's NY chapter has lost it's mission statement for it is incomprehensible to read that the NAACP has joined in a lawsuit with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) in NY that would prevent the closure of schools with traditions of failure which in turn would keep charter schools, many with records of achievement, from expanding their enrollment and occupying more space. This is space currently shared with traditional public school entities.

In their plan to systematically deconstruct segregated schools, the NAACP challenged the notion of equality principle of the "separate but equal" Plessy decision. The lawyers correctly bet that educational institutions would not be able to construct and maintain equal facilities for both black and white students. Fast forward 2011, and while the words of NY NAACP representatives indicate that they want to advocate for the right of students, they say that they want to insure equal access for students, their actions say something totally different to the point that 2000+ members of the public marched on the NY NAACP offices recently. It is clear that there are schools in NY that are not getting it done. Attempts to close these schools continue to be blocked by the UFT in the name of saving teacher jobs, NOT thinking about what's best for students, which is what the NAACP should be thinking about. The head of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), Michael Lomax, and former DC School Chancellor, Michelle Rhee, can't understand the position the NAACP has taken either and co-wrote an
op-ed in the NY Daily News questioning the possible motivation behind siding with the UFT to the potential detriment of thousands of students.

If there is one thing you take away from movies like The Lottery and Waiting for Superman there is a definite desire and desperation in some urban centers to move away from traditional public education models because the opportunity and educational gaps for students are too large. I know as a parent, I would be remiss in my duties if I let Lil Man languish in a place that would make him less likely to be a less competitive college applicant and have fewer options in a global job market. 50,000 students were denied placement in NY Charter schools this year according to the Lomax/Rhee op-ed which shows that the disdain for how public education is being administered is wide-spread. As a teacher, I understand that the union is supposed to fight for the jobs of teachers on the chopping block, but the NAACP has no business on the side of the UFT if they are trying to do what's right for the children. As an educator, if I was not doing my job with kids, then I have to step aside and let someone else have a turn. The public schools in question have had plenty of time to improve their situation, and they have not. So if I am Mayor Bloomberg, I would have little tolerance for their complaints about their space being diminished. It's that simple, there's too much at stake not to have only the most serious professionals working with the youth of today.

On the homepage of the NY NAACP site, there is a banner advertising the upcoming 75th Diamond Jubilee Convention in NY. I hope the same 2000+ who marched on the NY headquarters make their presence felt at this event as well because the NAACP has made a bad deal here, and they need to hear from those affected loud and clear. In interviews, national NAACP chair, Ben Jealous seems sincere in his vision to reenergize the organization and recapture it's importance within the community. If this is truly the case, then he will speak out against this action swiftly because if the NAACP goes any further off-course, they risk losing their way in the community permanently.

Friday, June 3, 2011

See What Happens? What Next for Terelle Pryor and Coach Tress

In my house when Lil' Man does something he's not supposed to do, or is warned not to do, he's met with a "See what happens?" from either the Mrs. or I when he hurts himself jumping on the couch or spills juice all over the floor because he was running around with an open cup. As I watch the mess unfold with THE Ohio State University football team, "See what happens?" is the phrase that comes to mind because the warnings have been there for YEARS about how dirty big-time college football is, particularly in the most prominent conferences. My beloved Miami Hurricanes have been sanctioned following years of dominance, the LA pro team, USC, fell to a similar fate, and Auburn is potentially going to face penalties even though they won a National Championship this year. The thing that is maddening about THE Ohio State is that at the head of it all is Coach Tressel, who has built a coaching brand based on integrity rivaled only by Coach K at Duke, and in the aftermath, when Pandora's Box has been unlocked, that integrity still remains largely unquestioned by most lay people because of how many games he won and because Coach is taking the easy escape of plausible deniability aka the "I didn't have first hand knowledge this was going on" excuse. So I'm bringing heat to Coach Tressel because as a coach myself, I believe you take responsibility for the welfare of the athletes in your care as if they were your own children. This means you are accountable when you knowlingly let them break the rules without consequence. It sets a bad precedent that you can profit so greatly off of a facade of morality, and the complementary demonization of the players, but then not face the music when those morals come into question.

My disdain for the Coach Tressel mode of leadership began to grow with the way he handled the initial "Tattoo 5" incident in December 2010 where it came out that prominent players Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron, DeVier Posey, Solomon Thomas, and Mike Adams, had traded team memorabilia for tattoos. Instead of suspending the players on the spot for their missteps, Coach Tressel, backed by THE Ohio State and the Sugar Bowl arranged it so the players would play, and their punishment would be to sit out 5 games at the beginning of the 2011 season, games against "powerhouses" such as Akron, Toledo, and a decimated Colorado program. Instead of teaching the players a valuable lesson as a man of high integrity would, Tressel put the interests of his University and a Corporation first. Turns out the rabbit hole was much deeper, and the contrast between what we saw of Coach Tressel and the reality of his character was very large. When I read the George Dohrmann Sports Illustrated article delineating the yearly history of transgressions by players under Coach Tressel's leadership, I was not surprised, but disappointed because this story has happened before, whether with SMU, Alabama, or Florida St. There is a great deal wrong with the current college athletic model, and until the players in these hugely profitable sports receive compensation for their efforts, these scandals will continue to happen. Parents know the game, and just like Cecil Newton (father of NFL 1st overall draft pick, Cam), they will be less shy about putting a value on their child's talent and asking for those benefits up front. This mindset leads to athletes feeling entitled to not have to earn anything, and the vicious cycle will continue. Unfortunately, when it all blows up, coaches will continue to walk away with millions of dollars and a slap on the wrist while many student-athletes get nothing, particularly if they are not pro-level talent. So as much as I hope Terrelle Pryor and his teammates take this lesson and make sure to get a degree from THE Ohio State University, I won't be surprised when that does not happen.

I also hope somewhere on THE Ohio State trustee board there are those who are as equally disgusted and disappointed as I am and move swiftly to replace the athletic director and president who allowed this to happen. For E. Gordon Gee to stand up and say "I hope he [Coach Tressel] doesn't fire me." in a press conference is a clear indication of how far his priorities have shifted in the wrong direction. To give tacit approval to the leadership Coach Tressel has provided the football team given what has come to light is ridiculous, and it's even more ridiculous to think he had no idea what was going on either. The same can be said for the athletic director, Gene Smith. Terrelle Pryor took shoulder pads from the equipment room and pawned them. Is it really that easy? Was there nobody to answer to on the football staff? I know at PENN, I could barely get a towel to dry off after swim practice without showing my ID, so to say nobody in the athletic department knew about the equipment leaving the building is ludicrous. I'm going to stop now so I can try and think of ways to keep the next "See What Happens?" moment from going down with Lil' Man. It continues to be obvious that big-time athletic universities are more concerned with getting what they can out of student-athletes than with providing the academic program, which they were built on.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hear The Words: Bernard Hopkins, Cornel West, Melissa Harris-Parry Speak

A week ago, I was caught by surprise to see that an elite athlete I've had the pleasure to meet in Bernard Hopkins had unleashed a quiver of verbal darts at ex-Philadelphia Eagle quarterback, Donovan McNabb lethal enough to fell a herd of buffalo. Hopkins poison of choice was to attack the "Blackness" of McNabb, saying that he simply has a "sun tan", and that during his tenure with the Eagles he was more or less a house slave. As a Philly native, this spat strikes a chord because I know well that sports icons like McNabb, Hopkins, Iverson, and Vick all appeal to many, but also have their detractors. That being said, none of them is more or less "Black" than the other, so while I couldn't disagree more with Hopkins assessment of McNabb, I do think it is necessary to hear what he is saying and understand the context from which it arises because I believe that it speaks more to a class divide than a racial divide, which is growing not just in the Black community, but in all communities of color. As the week following Hopkins comments unfolded, another Black-0n-Black squabble erupted as the esteemed Dr. Cornel West aired his personal disappointment with President Obama and sunk to the level of questioning his Blackness. This is a dangerous practice which must be addressed, for it threatens to rip apart communities which need to be able unite in order to shift current power structures.

The immediate responses that I read to Bernard Hopkins comments were that he should largely be ignored because the misunderstanding of racial construction that his comments displayed was not worth validating with a response. Michael Wilbon, of PTI fame, and an ESPN columnist tweeted that "What he said is moronic and he ought to be ridiculed at every chance." Other Facebook responses I read noted that B-Hop may be feeling the effects of too many headshots. I agree that the degree of ignorance in the comments is sky high and have no intention of defending them. The irony of the comments is also high considering that I met Bernard Hopkins and his kids at a Country Club while he was a guest of his lawyer, which suggests that he, and more importantly his children, currently live a life that he suggests make one less Black. I do, however, disagree that the response should be to summarily dismiss B-Hop because like it or not, his comments represent a stream of thought which is prevalent not only in the Black community, but in every community of color. With the increasing disappearance of the middle class due to the changing formation of the labor force, there is an increasing poor class not content to see other members of their ethnic group "make it" and not reach back to help those who are struggling. This mindset brings to mind a verse from Philly rapper Freeway who describes a tendency towards violence when one's situation is disparate:

"If a sneak start leanin' and the heat stop workin'
Then my heat start workin' I'm-a rob me a person
Catch a n#*&a sleepin' while he out in the open...and I'm-a get him"

Bernard Hopkins embodies the mindset Freeway rhymes about despite his current lifestyle because before he became a champion fighter, he served almost five years for burglary, so he knows what it is not to have and seek to get by any means necessary. If you do a quick google search, you might be surprised to see how many pro athletes have been robbed either in their homes or in their cars because they are seen, particularly in the Black community as the elite. It is lazy to simply point out race as the reason for this contempt, because it's the easy common denominator, but as Cornel West proved this week, even the most educated among us can slip.

In the academic world, Dr. Cornel West, much like Hopkins, is seen as a heavyweight Champion. He's cited by young scholars endlessly, he speaks everywhere, and you could make the argument that he's America's scholar. This week, he showed that even he could be knocked off his normal academic posture in an interview he gave to Chris Hedges where he detailed his estranged relationship with the President. He then went on to offer the speculative analysis that the President has chosen a particular set of advisors based largely on his racial identity. Dr West asserts that because of his upbringing in a largely White context "He's always had to fear being a White man with Black skin. All he has known culturally is white." If you take away the visual in your mind of an afro-wearing brother in a Black suit making these comments, you could make the leap that they came out of the mouth of a fellow inmate of B-Hop's as opposed to a Harvard-educated, Princeton-tenured professor. Dr. West's racial analysis is as simplistic as Hopkins and he should know better. I was happy to see Dr. West's former colleague at Princeton, Dr. Melissa-Harris Perry pointedly note the flaws in West's analysis in The Nation this week because we do not get to the true root of the issue when we attack and discredit each other based on racial viability.

The point that gets lost in all of the racial dart throwing is that poor people in communities all across the nation are hurting more than ever, and they do not see help coming down the tracks anytime soon or lasting much longer than the CNN or MSNBC cameras stay in town. New Orleans is still hurting, Alabama and Memphis are currently hurting, and when those who have been blessed with financial and human resources do not lend a hand to help, then contempt is an inevitable result. So yes, Bernard Hopkins and Cornel West may be flawed in the presentation of their arguments, but the source and sentiment of the argument has merit. Hopkins took issue with how McNabb treated him and teammates. Fine. Dr. West continues to take issue with President Obama's commitment to the poor and downtrodden. Fine. Those critiques, however, can be offered without invoking historically provocative racial archetypes like the "house slave". A little research on life for folks who live around the Appalachian mountains will show you that times are tough for everyone, and race is only a piece of the issue. The best recommendation I can make is to find a way to spend some time in area where folks are hurting and lend a hand wherever possible. The disparity between haves and have nots will continue to rage if the privileged do not take it upon themselves to share their blessings with those less fortunate.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Breakup With the N-word

I don't know if it's the two gray hairs I consistently notice sticking out of my scalp no matter how short I cut my hair. I don't know if it's the soon-to-be five year old running around my house, or if it's the fact that I'm about to finish my marathon of a doctoral program, but some kind of development has occurred over the last few years which has brought me to the point where every time I hear the N-word, it's like someone smacks me on the back of my neck, and yells "Open neck, no respect", like when I was younger and had just gotten a fresh haircut. My reaction then as it is now was to hunch my shoulders in order to absorb the sting. In the name of not developing a permanent nervous tick, I'm going to have to break up with the N-word, for I can no longer defend it's use, particularly in the Black vernacular lexicon.

For years as a lover of hip-hop, I have tolerated the N-word as it was creatively laced through the rhymes of some of my favorite artists. I even tried to convince myself of the argument that through hip-hop culture, the meaning of the word had somehow been changed from a venom-laced word that had the power to send the most serene and tranquil into a rage into a term of endearment as some of my generation have argued. Alas, the two gray hairs, the five year-old, and the nearly completed doctorate have forced me to recognize that at best, my beloved hip hop culture has altered the definition in the Webster's Dictionary from meaning ALWAYS offensive to USUALLY offensive. It cannot be denied that hip hop has been instructive in helping to engage the use of the word, however too often, the attempts at social commentary are drowned out by reckless use of the word. A Tribe Called Quest's Sucka N***a and Mos Def's Mr. N***a stand out as texts which have helped the world understand the complexities of the relationship with the word while also understanding the historical baggage that the word carries. Almost twenty years ago Q-tip rhymed:
"See, nigga first was used back in the Deep South Fallin out between the dome of the white man's mouth It means that we will never grow, you know the word dummy Other niggas in the community think it's crummy But I don't, neither does the youth cause we em-brace adversity it goes right with the race"
I remember as a first year teacher laying the song for my first class of HS Seniors so that they could understand the tension over the use of the word, and as I examine the lyrics almost a decade later, I realize that the definition that Q-Tip put on himself and the Black "youth" of embracing adversity (read: negativity) because it goes hand in hand with Black people is limiting.  It is a nod to the idea that Black people have always been and always will be the oppressed.  This is a notion of Blackness that I would never want the five year-old to have, and it is a notion that I try to get the high schoolers I work with to resist because embracing negativity limits aspiration.  It's the negativity that creates the stinging sensation like the "Open neck no respect" slap, and it's what Mos Def so eloquently rhymed about in Mr Nigga:
"They stay on n***a patrol on american roads And when you travel abroad they got world n***a law Some folks get on a plane go as they please But I go over seas and I get over-SEIZED London Heathrow, me and my people They think that illegal's a synonym for negro"
Whether the commentary comes from Mos Def or Chris Rock, the negative connotation to the N-word is never far away.  So when it comes to fighting against racism, that endeavor becomes more difficult when it appears that Black people are more than willing to indulge in self-hate through music and other popular forms of expression.  Most ethnic groups have similar derogatory terms that they grapple with, however, few words have the same historical legacy of hatred attached to them as the N-word, and we therefore need to let it go.  There are more than enough other words in the lexicon to describe the ignorant, and the N-word doesn't need to be one of them.  You can't name  me one song that is enhanced by the use of the word, and while I don't advocate for erasure of the word from historical texts like Uncle Tom's Cabin, which we use to provide context for the word's sordid history, I don't think the word needs to continue to have a life in some of our most cherished art forms.  Perhaps if more people start to breakup with the N-word, then those who are not Black will not have such a fascination with it's usage (yes you Quentin Tarantino, J-Lo, and Michael Richards).  
Now that I have broken up with the word, I'll be buying a lot more radio edits, and talking to a lot more young people, because the more people can understand not only the history of the word, but also the history of the people for whom the word is intended, then they would be less apt to want to use the word.  The gray hairs, the five year-old and the doctoral degree won't let me do anything else.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Birthdays and Milestones JC style

Tuesday marked 34 years of living for me and while I usually do very little on my birthday beyond my normal daily activities, this year I decided to change my approach to April 19th slightly. My first change was to tweek my Facebook settings and see what all the hoopla was about in terms of receiving birthday shout outs from the friend base. Since creating my Facebook page, I'd been skeptical about shenanigans so I restricted the ability to post on my wall. Three years in, I've come to realize that 1. It's not that serious 2. I can delete foolishness quickly, so I threw open the gates. The other thing I decided to do was take advantage of the fact that Mom (aka Grams the Child Spolier) is in town and get out for a change, so I invited some folks to join me and the Mrs. for a night of Live R&B, food and drink. Both decisions proved to be worth their weight in gold. The number of posts on my wall, messages, and texts far exceeded my expectation. Yes, Facebook interaction is not the same as picking up the phone, but it's something, and I know how busy people are so I was touched and made sure to respond to every birthday wish I received. I do not consider myself someone who has a large circle of friends, so to hear from so many folks was an affirmation that the folks I'm connected to are quality folks, and that I'm at least important enough to warrant some key strokes on the computer or phone when 4/19 rolls around. So again I say thank you to those who hit me up this week to wish me well on my birthday. Your thoughts along with typical California weather made for a great week and have been like a cold cup of Gatorade that energizes as I'm in the midst of a run.

The way I look at my birthday has also forever been changed because of the proximity of it to my man Fran Crippen who tragically passed this October while competing in and Open Water race that had no business being contested in the UAE. In a cruel twist of fate, I got the horrible news via text while getting ready to celebrate the marriage of my Fraternal line brother. It had been almost 12 years since I met Fran when he was a sophomore at Germantown Academy. We developed a relationship over those HS years where we kept in touch as he compiled numerous accolades at the University of Virginia and as a member of the Mission Viejo Nadadores. The last time I saw him is the perfect snapshot for my memory. He had just won the Open Water Nationals 10k event, and helped a teammate win the 5k race two days later. I met him and some of his closest friends and family at a Long Beach restaurant to celebrate his victory and the marathon I had just run. He was truly at the top of his game and I looked forward to his eventual coronation as an Olympian, which was his dream. The fact that that opportunity was taken away from him, means that for me, enjoying the milestones takes on a new meaning. They are not moments to be played down, but instead should be given their proper recognition. When my son danced all over the house Monday as he presented me with my very own Star Wars light saber, all I could do was watch and take it all in. The fact that my wife, parents, and mother-in-law chipped in to surprise me with a computer, two weeks after my laptop died moved me to the point where my eyes were "sweating". The motto of the Elevation Foundation, created in Fran's memory, is "Live Your Dash", and for me, the emotion generated by people's large and small acts of kindness is what that mantra is all about. Fran embodied that in all aspects of his life while he was with us, and he leaves it behind as a valuable reminder to us all.

As I move beyond the celebration of my birth this week, the countdown begins to the end of my doctoral program, a milestone five years in the making. I have no idea the emotions I will feel as I defend my dissertation, participate in the Hooding Ceremony, and walk the stage at graduation, but I know that I will be surrounded by family and friends who have supported me the whole way. It has been a process that has not only developed my skills as an educational researcher, but has also cemented my commitment to use the entirety of my skill set to have an impact on the lives of as many young people as possible. I have been blessed with much, and have had a privileged life in many ways. The friends that I have developed over the years have been a huge part of that along with my family. I'll be checking in here on the blog more often now that there is a functional dissertation with my name on it. I feel that the most exciting part of my journey is just beginning, and it's not fun if you can't share with those who you not only care about, but have played a role in making it happen.