Archive for parenting

Where My Girls At? Images of Black Girls and Girls of Color in Media

So, I shared before how I’d had the distinct honor to attend the Oprah Winfrey Network Doc Club screening of MissRepresentationand its subsequent taped discussion on the Rosie Show. The reviews have been phenomenal and garnered lots of calls for action. I absolutely loved the doc. It served the purpose media, especially documentaries, have to not only call attention to an issue, but empower as well.

MissRepresentation’s overall premise is familiar to most, yet the critical component is the campaign to strategically use information as teachable moments. This will definitively build a movement to change the portrayal of women by/in the media. What’s more amazing is that the film is a catalyst for funding organizations such as the Women’s Media Center to continue the discourse, advocacy, media literacy and research. Simply powerful.

While watching, I was hard pressed to keep track of all the fascinating and inspiring quotes.

Pat Mitchell, President and CEO for Media Former President & CEO of PBS shared this insight, “The media is the message and the messenger, and increasingly a powerful one.”

“You can’t be what you can’t see,”  was a quote from Marie Wilson, founding President White House Project

And though I sought us out, I must say the lack of diversity and representation of Black women and girls beyond the narrow lens of reality TV, albeit the mainstream go –tos like Miss Winfrey and Soledad O’Brien, was obvious.

It was only when I heard the reference to symbolic annihilation that the documentary fully resonated with me and connected to what is my life’s work; empowering girls like me in urban America to use critical analysis to navigate beyond media and cultural messages. Girls Like me who are portrayed as “bad girls”, violent, angry, poor, uneducated, low-class and “ghetto.” Black women who are “successful” or who meet the standards of beauty are held up as seemingly novelties, with no connection to urban America.

So as soon as Rosie invited questions from the audience, I jumped to speak to that point. In the midst of a studio full of white women, I could feel the discomfort in the room as soon as the words came from my mouth. But it is a necessary conversation, and if we are to truly tackle media’s exploitation and misrepresentation of women, there must be intentional inclusion of perspective from all women, pointedly those who have the least voice in shaping their own stories in the mainstream.

Carol Jenkins, journalist, producer, and founding President of the Women’s Media Center gave such a poignant response that penetrates to the very essence of why this matters so much. Watch our exchange in this video:

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Still, a few days prior to the MissRepresentation screening one of the oldest and most prominent girl-focused organizations hosted a Twitter chat on media images and girls. I noticed there and in  other arenas exploring the topic, somehow race and culture are skirted around. This troubles me.

What about you… do you agree race and culture belong in this conversation? What are the media images that you most connect/resist? Are they tied to you as a woman or to your experience as a fill in the blank woman

It apparently troubled others like Bessie Akuba Winn-Afeku, founder of She is Me Program. Now we have both linked arms to collaborate and host a Twitter chat dedicated to examining the images of girls of color in media and to offer best practices that resist stereotypes, empowering girls to create their own messages.

That is the goal of #girlsmediachat which will take place on Twitter Thursdays, 8p CST, beginning Nov. 3.  We hope you will join us, share your perspective, recommend guests/topics, and invite others.

Follow us on Twitter

Girls Like Me

She is Me Program   

Please share and follow the hashtag #Girlsmediachat

Also, MissRepresentation is now a movement. Take a moment to take the pledge to join the fight!

Missrepresentation—what we need to see on TV!

As soon as the link popped into my Twitter timeline, I was compelled to see what MissRepresentation was all about. I watched the trailer and immediately recognized this documentary was speaking to me, about me and for me. For goodness sake, what woman has not felt slighted and exploited by media because of her gender? In today’s society one of the most powerful forces in the universe, feminine energy and perspective, are discounted and played cheap by media powers that be.

But I think the world had better get ready to reckon with women everywhere as Missrepresentation has remixed our view, put the spotlight where it belongs. The film made its debut at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and was subsequently picked up by the mighty Oprah Winfrey Network as a part of its documentary Club. Before January 2011, there has not been a space for this kind of film on network television. That is not until a woman owned a television network. Marinate on that thought and absorb the powerful impact…

I can hardly express how excited I was when I was invited to screen the film on the Rosie O’Donnell Show, taped here in Chicago at Harpo Studios. Without giving away too much, I will say the statistics that are revealed in the film, the incredible testimonies, pull you out of the graphic haze of American media. It forces us as viewers to give a critical eye to the portrayal of women in the media and how this shapes our society.

Missrepresentation is a conversation-starter. Yet, beyond the revelations, shocking stats and information, the take away is that everyone who watches will have clear direction on next steps. It is a film that empowers with the knowledge and belief that we can make a difference to change the media landscape to be better for our daughters and future generations of boys and girls alike. Each viewer understands it is our individual responsibility to do so.

So much of the film resonated with me, but more than anything there was a phrase from one of the doc’s sources. It struck me and held me captive. It is because of the implications of this phrase is what pushed me to create my program Girls Like Me. I caught my breath in an Oprah “aha moment,” that I’d been given a name, a way to articulate what I have felt since I was a little girl watching television.

It was so powerful for me, that I jumped up to ask the first question when Rosie opened the floor to the audience. If I don’t get left on the editor’s cutting floor, you’ll be able to hear for yourself what struck me so.

Still, my question is but among the millions you and others will have after watching. I know you will hear the call of action, too. So take a moment to view the trailer, then be sure to tune in to OWN, Thursday, October 20 at 9/8 CST. I can’t wait for us to watch it collectively and move the discussion forward!

In the meantime, take the first steps in challenging the media’s portrayal of women:

Like the MissRepresentation FB page

Follow MissRepresentation on Twitter

Now take the pledge to represent!

Lambs among wolves: Blind generalizations hurt all our youth

The other morning, I woke up to a news story that caught me off guard. There had been a series of violent attacks against students who attend Urban Prep, an all-boys college preparatory high school here in Chicago. The network of schools has three campuses and boasts very impressive numbers in terms of graduating college-bound students. Its students must embrace a culture of mutual respect, accountability and nonviolence . So no doubt the basic premise of the report caused me to shake my head in dismay. For goodness sake, how disgraceful is it students on a path to be their best selves are targets of ruthless, loose aggression…every day?

As a mother of a soon to be high school student, I can’t begin to imagine how I would encourage my child to adhere to a school’s creed of being non-violent while bearing the brunt of fists. I’d be livid…not to mention frightened out of my mind. In fact, this acute fear has reached me on a personal level. Over the last few years, my children and their classmates who attend another network of Charter schools here in the city have faced similar incidents involving children from neighboring schools or who hang out in the area surrounding their schools. Thank God the incidents at my son’s middle school last year resulted in nothing more than a bruised jaw and ribs. That was mild in comparison to the many violent robberies of laptops that have happened, shootings at the high school. None of this initiated or provoked by the students.

So as a parent I completely identify with the outrage of the Urban Prep parents who want something done. One of the most attractive facets of charter schools is that parents’ voices are solicited and embraced. And these parents were not shy about voicing their concerns. Point blank they want their children to learn in peace; free from stress and worry of the long way home. Their children do not deserve to deal with this type of trauma. They expect community support including police presence to put an end to it all. More than that, though, they are willing to step up themselves.

That is a beautiful thing.

Still, there is an ugly side to all this…. a path that leads us back into the defeated cycle of failed community. And it is imperative that we fully examine and rectify every angle.

When I heard this story, what caught my attention more than anything was the reporter’s lead and characterization of the youthwho attacked the students. The reporter stated that the motive behind the attacks was the Urban Prep’s impressive academic reputation. I’m sorry, but I find that hard to believe. Other remarks followed describing the youth as gangs and thugs.

First of all, Urban Prep is a non-selective enrollment school (thank God for that, Chicago needs more schools that serve all its students equally with the expectation of success. But I digress). So there is nothing determining whether the children donning the Urban Prep uniforms are any smarter or any more proficient than those throwing fists. Nor was there any irrefragable proof that they all live in housing projects and belong to gangs (and which gang have deep seated rivalry with innocent school boys?)

When we allow media to frame our stories and direct our course of conversation, it reinforces stereotypes our community homologates about ourselves, especially concerning our youth.

The bottom line is this, for all who saw the movie Waiting for Superman, or for those who are living the movie; whether it be concerning decent education, housing or basic quality of life, we all are aware that the youth are the ones who suffer and it breeds a spirit of anger and resentment when for no other reason than socio-economics you are left out by design.

What thought process goes into building a shiny new school in an area surrounded by devastation while neglecting to do any community outreach and engagement? What were the expectations of dressing students up in crisp uniformed suits to walk with heads high amongst those who can only look low for loose change and lost hope? I ask again what was expected?

Too often we want to walk among the community, but not with the community. Community is not a neighborhood. It is not only about geographical boundaries. It is about common goals, shared values, thought or communicative exchange.

So now today parents and school officials must scramble to do what is absolutely necessary given the initial dilatory negligence.

See, we must understand the children at Urban Prep are there but for one reason, they have advocates. Either their parents, grandparents, neighbor, mentor or church family is making sure they have every opportunity to keep them eligible for fair play in the game of life. This does not make them any better than the children who reside in the nearby public housing, nor the ones who used to live there before their respective families were forcefully evicted, yet they still come back to the old ‘hood misdirected.

No. None of our children are better than the other, save but the grace of God they could switch places at any moment.

They have more in common than we would like to believe. And I would affirm they are all capable of greatness. They all have the potential to excel. Every one of them needs love and guidance. They all need model standards and mentors.

So what are we going to do about our youth…about our babies? Because at the end of the day, you can proceed ahead believing that your child is better than a child based on your income level or the fact that their parents are recipients of section 8. You can believe your nephew is promised a bright shining future because he attends the best ranking school in the nation. But, here is the reality check chickens come home to roost. So you can build up the few to fall to the many.

Here’s my two cents.

Hold community meetings and symposiums with the COMMUNITY; you provide resources like mentoring opportunities for neighborhood youth; job opportunities or free legal advice

Open the gym for basketball tourneys

Host peer mentor session partnering students w/community youth

Our view of the world is only as good as our point of reference. How we choose to view our youth will tell us for sure what our tomorrow holds. Are they all either good or ghetto? Perhaps they are either nerd or thugs? Is every at risk child an incorrigible monster destined to fail?

The Interrupters, a Sundance Film offers a clear view of solutions. Watch it and use as a beginning to address this issue in your city.

Fixing the broken reality of a few is akin to bandaging an open gunshot wound. You get the picture?

Troy Davis-Why I care pt. 1

All the way up until the announcement that the state of Georgia had indeed killed Troy Davis, I prayed and hoped against hope for a miracle. That miracle being that the United States of America would prove itself to be everything she has ever claimed to be in the name of justice and humanity. I had scanty logical reasons fueling my hope. After all, our Country has paid major lip service to being the home of the free and the brave; yet all too often our actions just don’t measure up. Yet I am human, and with my humanity comes an inherent hope for the good and righteous to prevail.

The following post is merely my first and most base reaction to the tragedy that has befallen us all.

Let me state upfront how impossibly catastrophic it is that a human being lost his life simply doing his job as Mark Allen MacPhail did in 1989. My heart hurts for his wife and children who never got to rush into his arms when he returned home that fateful night.

While we know Troy Davis was the man convicted for taking Officer MacPhail’s life, I don’t purport to know Troy Davis’ full history. Admittedly, from my limited familiarity with this case dating back only three years ago, it may appear his alleged activities and personal choices on that monumental day of August 19, 1989 put him in a place that ultimately may have been the determining factor in his fate. This is all debatable, and really neither here nor there when getting to the heart of the matter.

And where does the heart lie in this matter? Well, all over the place actually.

First, it is in the fact that the most industrialized country in the western hemisphere, a land that proclaims to be a republic for the people by the people; and with the might and money to rule the entire world, citizens are legally murdered at the hands of their own government. It is a practice borne centuries ago for us, one as inhumane as any atrocity we can imagine on distant shores.

As much as we like to pretty up history, conveniently ignoring the deep scars on our historical psyche, the truth is America has reigned supreme in executing the calculated and deliberate murder against its own citizens. In fact it has been given a very strident name, “capitol punishment,” surviving variations of its delivery methods throughout history, the practice that had first been used by law-enforcers as punishment soon became widely used by extremists for revenge and as domestic terror.

There was a time, that children growing up in post Civil War America through our Civil Rights victories in the 1960s had at the least a very valid fear or even greater an intimate understanding of a loved one or neighbor accused of a crime (real or imagined; just or exaggerated) taken from their homes to be found dead later, body swaying from a tree with toes, fingers, genitalia or ears missing. Sometimes a faint wind would blow the stench of burnt flesh that gave away the scene of the crime.

Alleged victims and their families ceremoniously gathered along with those seeking blood for sport and overall disdain for Blacks (those who were overwhelmingly on the other end of the rope) watched the lynching and celebrated.

It’s no secret or great historical find. It is common knowledge. In fact, my shero, Ida B. Wells, dedicated her life to advocating around the globe to bring attention and an end to that particular brand of barbaric insanity heartily adopted here.

But this is where I find myself choking back tears at the insanity. Where I have to put the laptop down and walk into my kitchen to wash a lone dish, or drink a glass of water attempting to drown reality. No matter the strides Ida B. Wells made along with others like Walter White and the NAACP; Leonidas Dyer; and press outlets like the Chicago Defender, the system always finds a way to mock what is right and just…to shake a stick at our presumption of freedom.

Never did I expect that my children would be witness to the same sadistic blood hunt reminiscent of the terror which prompted the second wave of the great migration from the south. Today, sitting “up north,” none of us can escape the ugly embarassment that our moral compass remains stuck in the woods of hate as more than half of these United States still uphold capitol punishment….modern day lynching. It finds a way to add satire to our view of patriotic pride.

Because, after this latest tragic misstep, we must ask ourselves are we really free? Are you truly proud to be an American?

Secondly, the real painful heart wrenching reality is that I have to take a deep breath and despondently answer those questions with a sheepish no. No, I am not free when I walk everyday in the recognition that my husband can be stopped by a police officer for mistaken identity, accused of an unspeakable crime, then taken to prison- and in our current economic station, not afforded a fair and just trial. Same is true for my son at just 13 years of age.

My space as a Black mother provides the inherent understanding that I have to arm my CHILD with tools that will help navigate away from unsolicited contact with the police, lest be wary of wrongful charges and subsequent conviction. That more than likely his expereince with law enforcement will not yeild a favorable interaction. That justice in this country will elude him most of the time.

There is not enough bandwidth to list ALL the names of the wrongfully convicted held captive in the penal systems of this country. An overwhelming majority of them are there simply because of a lack of good counsel and a fair trial. The sadder fact is that so many layers of state law and federal meanderings and policies and damn near any convoluted sentence structure can be used as justification to deny justice.

So what is the point of all this. I don’t know where I’m going. It is hard to see through the tears. Even harder to think through the rage and mourning. Trying to add weight to the emptiness I feel. But make no mistake, what I do know is Troy Anthony Davis was yet another victim of our justified killing system. They lay him down strapped to a gurney, shot toxic chemicals in his body that took away his living breath. In my mind, they may as well have hung him from a tree, sent him to a guillotine, or placed him in a building with suicide bombers. It all paints the same savage picture, and America still has the blood on its hands.

I’ll be posting more thoughts on how a mother explains the unexplainable; the death penalty; acting out activism; and what happens when you don’t know Poli-ish or Poli-Sci.

Stay tuned.

For mow, please continuing fighting in Troy Davis’ name.

Join your local chapter of NAACP

Support independent media like Democracy Now (who has covered this case and others like it extensively for years)

Support Amnesty International Troy Davis Campaign

Learn more about Innocence Project and wrongful convictions

Register AND vote in all elections

And heed Stevie’s words…

Closing Catherine Ferguson Academy: Robbing the Cradle of Hope & Promise Part II

It seems like this story has been written for us since we were forced upon the shores of these United States of America. A grotesque picture book with chapter and verse depicting African men, who before being sold away or savagely beaten to death, granted only the freedom to breed Black children with the African women that would be left alone. The story, ripe with illustrations of these women held hostage by the sweet pain of mothering past loneliness-struggling to survive the harshest realities, the umbra of birthing babies void of hope.

Seems like the story was a grand mastermind of intentional design…and today the story lives on, yet told in epic portrayal.

So I instantaneously connected to that story when I began seriously contemplating the fate of Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit, a school for teen mothers and their children. To catch up on the struggle of CFA, read my previous post. But as I was saying, CFA is a school for teen mothers and their small children. We know from any evening news broadcast, the whereabouts of the fathers are highly likely behind prison walls and in detention centers, the new American plantation.We know this because our tragically failing education system disproportionately cripples our children, driving our boys into the prison pipeline and our girls into teen pregnancy and welfare dependency.

A hopeless cycle that has repeated itself unto our community so many times it has become the norm for too many across the African Diaspora. And so it is in Detroit. Yet, when vested and progressive educators got back to the basics, enhancing core curriculum by teaching economic development, agriculture and farming; honing affirmative parenting skills; encouraging breastfeeding (as we know the nutritional and research-based cognitive and sociological benefits this provides both mother and child); the results have stagnated the cycle of destitution and dependency. Now that the village of Catherine Ferguson Academy has found a way to slowly reverse a generational legacy of teenage pregnancy and dropout rates that buoy functional illiteracy, the system that created the “grand mastermind of intentional design” is interrupting progress and success.

Threatening the school with closure.

Now, granted not all Black girls are experience teen pregnancy or consider dropping out of high school. Many flourish, from being recognized as the brightest in their class to being accepted into distinguished universities to receiving Gates Scholarships. And so it may be very easy to separate the girls in our family on our block from those attending CFA. Maybe…

CFA girls and others like them may live a harsh life that when glanced at seem perpetuated by bad choices. However, we know inherently these are our little sisters…and we know their children are our children and future. What they become has strong implications on our community. We also know what plays out at CFA, is but a microcosm of the greater plan (call me a conspiracy theorist) to destruct the moral fabric and cultural fortitude that are implicit in our contributions to this country, and moreover the world. So much is invested in exacerbating vicious cycle of poverty and culpability to government. Many pockets are lined from the devastation of the poor. Jailhouses are built with the poor in mind, grants are written to big foundations, checks cut to lobby for the vices of the poor (tobacco, alcohol, gambling,). Poor people are preyed upon for the almighty green dollar. No question.

WHERE IS THE LOVE?

But here is where I become angry and a sinister dread hangs in my spirit. It is because of the obvious silence, or dare I say total disregard, in relation to the struggle of poor black girls by other Blacks.

Now, the Black community turned Jena Louisiana into a Mecca for the quest of justice when Back boys were damned into the bowels of a racist judicial system deep in the heart of Dixie. I was right there, so I know how we chartered buses, posse’d up our motorcycle clubs, and stepped into the fight with our sorority sisters and frat brothers. We braved KKK deep back roads to free our boys. Let us not forget the countless public voices that gave their platform to rally the community and urge us to keep up the fight. No proof or discernment was necessary. We fought the good fight.

Add to countless times we have swooped in to rally around Black boys in trouble. The Tookie’s and Genarlow’s and Troy’s.

I can even point out the cries of anguish as black boy after black boy is gunned down in our inner city streets. We cry hard when we’ve lost our fearless warriors. Oscar, Sean, Derrion, Amadou.

When we are threatened to lose our Black boys, we lose our collective minds. And this is as it should be.

Yet, on the other side of that, why is it, that the squalid life prospects we are losing our sisters to only renders us silent.

Where is the outrage? Yes, we hold a few conferences and have intellectual intercourse over subjects from films like Precious and Colored Girls. We wax poetic when a verbal injustice is done to our revered celebrity sisters. And we seem to come alive in all our fiery colorfulness if we discuss domestic violence of a high profile sister.

So why can’t we muster a single sentence or tweet or Facebook status or magazine spread for the sisters among us who struggle with some very real shit every single day of their young lives? How cheap do we play ourselves, and these sisters, who if not by the grace of God we could be sitting in their shoes. The little sisters at Catherine Ferguson Academy and ghettos across the country, Black girls like me and you, are living straight out of the Good Times theme song. Keeping their heads above water. Water that in their lives is a cesspool of abuse, broken hearts, hopelessness, neglect, welfare, toxic and temptation of cigarettes and alcohol, debris from failed education systems, and all the dank funk of poverty.

I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that CFA being a village of promise, where young mothers are given the tools to become self-sufficient with a vision of the future, is set to close yet I’ve not read or seen a single mention across my social networks dedicated to this issue. Is it because no one cares? Or have we too lost hope for our girls. But how can we? We’ve seen this story before… we know Maya Angelou, poor teen mother without a father for her child, high school drop out. We know Oprah, molested as a teen and left pregnant. What hope did they have…who pulled them along?

Our living legends give us a dazzling example as proof that the future can be bright for these girls, who among their alumna has produced doctors and PhD students. Let us not dim it by ignoring the present fight that we must engage. It is the responsibility of us all to put on the full armor. Put some gloss and add real shine to our lip service. Save Catherine Ferguson Academy. Save our community!

So I know the reason is not that there is no love for poor Black girls. It has to lie in that I am just not connected to the right folks in my virtual network. It’s simply because I have not reached you, but now that this has made its way to you…please take it personal. Catherine Ferguson Academy needs you to see the connection it has to you.

We need action! Many are gathering for a protest rally at the school today. Still, others around the country can support from afar. Sign the petition. Spread the word. Write letters to congressman and legislator, Detroit city officials and Detroit Public School administrators.

Beyond this travesty, let us please make meaningful connections to our little sisters in the struggle, before they ever believe they can walk a college campus. Join the National Cares Mentoring Movement in your city. Volunteer at a public school in your area. Invite a group from a girls’ home to lunch with you and your colleagues at work. We have more work to do. Need to add some shine to our lip service. For real!

Closing Catherine Ferguson Academy: Robbing the Cradle of Hope & Promise

NOTE: This post has been updated since its initial posting.

 

Here’s your friendly announcer, I have serious news to pass on to everybody. What I’m about to say, could mean the world’s disaster… could change your joy and laughter to tears and pain…” Stevie Wonder-Love’s in Need of Love

I’m so feeling Mr. Wonder on that, cause this piece here, more than anything I’ve ever took pen to, needs to get your attention. In past weeks I’ve seen sister bloggers and academicians  go hard to defend Beyonce and Rhianna’s respective artistic and creative prerogative.  Then too, there’s been much commentary clouding the internet with the age-old dark-skinned vs. light-skinned schism.

Even still, Black-focused magazines have posted countless pictures of Halle Berry and little Nahla, they’ve got really adorable piccs of JHud cuddling with her baby. They’ve spent loads of bandwidth flaming trite, yet popular discussions.

Alas, like Stevie sang, my news announcement is not fluffy and pretty. Nope, I’m here to interrupt the beauty salon flow and girlfriend rhetoric, boldy stating it is time to stop and desist with the mindless chatter. Though passionate and definitely tied to some serious “issues,” it is time to reshape our girl talk.

We can start by getting familiar with the young sisters who attend Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit, a school for young mothers and their children which is on the brink of closing.  Repeat-the school, Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit, is schedule to close June 16, 2011.

I recently attended the screening for Grown in Detroit, a documentary examining the implications of a learning environment that promotes urban farming; taught healthy parenting skills (including benefits of breastfeeding); mandated college admission as a prerequisite to graduating; and encouraged self-sufficiency. That was just for the teen mothers.

Their babies are also attending the school in a nursery/preschool developmental center. If there were a tag cloud for this school the words would include nurture, belief, hope, persistence, resilience, tenacity, strong, open, energy, village, fresh, direction, counsel, practical, free.

It is such a powerful concept, everyone who attended the screening wanted to literally and figuratively plant it in every impoverished community. Obviously that has been the overwhelming sentiment of  folks who have seen/heard about CFA, as the school earned the Breakthrough High School award in 2004 given by the National Association of Secondary School Principals for outstanding achievement among schools with high poverty rates.

Even Oprah took note and featured the school in the April 2008 issue of O Magazine

So how could closing be the fate of this nucleus of hope and promise for many of Detroit’s most marginalized youth? Girls who dropped out of other Detroit Public schools now maintain a 90% attendance rate while at CFA, a notable feat as the school’s location requires many students to take 2 buses and travel more than one hour each way…with babies and strollers.

Young sisters who would otherwise be left discarded by society, have flourished in the village of CFA where they’ve been given the basic yet most important tools for success.

Yet it is scheduled to close this week. In two days from the posting of this blog. But, we can help save this school and the fate of these mothers and babies. This is where our lip service needs some real gloss.

In April, some of the students were arrested in the halls of CFA after silently protesting the closing.

Rachel Maddow has dedicated a significant portion of her MSNBC airtime to this travesty.

http://maddowblog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/04/23/6517421-more-about-the-catherine-ferguson-academy

Let’s join her in using our voices to get folks moving to advocate for the children.For more information on what you can do to help save Catherine Ferguson Academy, call 855-ASK-BAMN or emaildonna.stern@bamn.com.

UPDATE: Catherine Ferguson Academy was saved from closing. Detroit Free Press reported on the decision and next steps.

Still let’s continue this discussion, we should begin building this very same model in our cities. Would you be down with that?

Stay posted for part II. I have much more to say on this.

Life Always Using Sensationalism to Target Black Community

Today here in Chicago, Life Always is expected to unveil a 30-billboard campaign featuring President Obama’s face and the words “Every 21 minutes, our next possible leader is aborted.”

Life Always is planning to“launch” their sensational billboards this morning at 11 a.m. near vacant lot at 5812 S. State Street, here on the south side, a part of the city that is predominantly Black and densely impoverished.

Life Always is the same group responsible for the disgusting billboard in NYC that claimed “the most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.” And  in ATL, their propaganda claimed “Black Children are an Endangered Species.”

These billboards are all tactics in this group’s concerted effort to silence and take away a woman’s right to choose.

Their tactic is to use guilt, misinformation, and limit reproductive justice. This fight may very well be used to perpetuate political interests and affect Roe v. Wade decision.

Much like activists in NYC and Sister Song in ATL, sisters and brothers in Chicago cannot allow Life Always to target our families with bombastic and exploitative messaging that incites fear and guilt, trivializes a complex and emotional human rights issue.

Today, a reproductive justice coalition will attend the press conference. I have also started a petition on Change. org

Please visit and sign the petition letting Life Always know their tactics do not support reproductive justice, human or civil rights, nor does it serve the best interest of Black and Latino communities.

We want to let Life Always know the African-American community does not welcome its exploitive and politically motivated billboards in any city of our nation.

We are demanding that Life Always cease and desist with its marketing scheme that uses sensational anti-abortion rhetoric to target Blacks and Latinos.

We do not want an influx of their billboards in NYC, Chicago, Dallas, LA, Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, etc.

Please sign the petition and share with your friends and community. You should also contact Marissa Gabrysch at Life Always 210.617.0967 and share your outrage at these sensational billboard antics.

Stay tuned for updates and I’ll be live tweeting from press conference today, posting video and audio.

Rocking and Whipping into 2011

Last year, or the year that ended yesterday, I crossed paths with so many remarkable sisters either on a personal level, virtually, or through their craft. The gift of these women was ever more awe-inspiring when I got to meet many of them in person and form authentic, enduring connections. These women and their voices have empowered me in my work moving into this New Year, new decade. Their voices honor community, invoke a spirit of self-love, and celebrate the power we all have in common. I salute them all and share their gifts with you so you too can connect to your purpose in 2011.

Divine Purpose…
Surprisingly, my most profound moments of 2010 came for me at the very beginning and end of the year. Both are testaments of how divine spirit navigates our lives and fulfills our wildest visions. Going into 2010 when I was called to lead the Chicago/Windy City Cares Mentoring Circle of the National Cares Mentoring Movement, I gave only a fleeting thought to the possibility that I’d get to meet, let alone become a true comrade with its national founder, Susan Taylor. You know who she is, but if not get your history lesson on. While I’d dreamed all my life of writing for Essence Magazine, this current work is beyond anything I imagined myself bold enough to take up. But Susan has proven to be committed to work that touches and saves the lives of our children, thereby saving our community. And her solution to our most alarming plights is all so simple, mentoring our youth. To that end, Susan’s work ethic and passion for our people is selfless and sets a standard for what we owe our community. Her motto, ‘Not on our watch.” Find out more about NCMM or connect with a mentor opportunity in your community.

A New Way Forward…

Then in early December I attended the inaugural healing retreat and release of A New Way Forward: Healing What’s Hurting Black America. Side note: ANWF manual was also edited by Susan Taylor. That’s just a minor detail when you take into account the power of this weekend. The experience awakened something in my spirit that had been shut down since the violent and senseless murder of my good friend/brother in March 2010. After that tragedy, I closed off unconditional love for my community, for my people. But sharing in the trainings, hearing the testimonies, and seeing the abundance of love from others who have been wounded while giving to others allowed me to open my heart. Adding to that were the numerous powerful sisters I met like Dereca Blackmon , Oakland Bay Area spiritual/community activist and member of Oakland Cares Mentoring Circle; Tracey Bell Borden, who moved fashion forward in the fight for justice in the Oscar Grant murder, using fashion to amplify the message during demonstrations you could spot her designs of Grants endearing face and freedom phrases on T-shirts and art; then there was funny lady Meshelle Shields who is not only a comedienne, but SWB (Sister with a brain) She’s on leave from her doctoral studies in Psychology at Temple University. The chance to reconnect with the wonderful Asha Bandele was also a highlight of the weekend further cemented by the simple fact that she understood the relevance of the date we all convened to begin a historical healing. It was also the anniversary of the assassination of Chairman Fred Hampton, Sr father to our mutual friend Chairman Fred Hampton, Jr.

Dereca Blackmon fighting for justice in Oscar Grant murder

Funny sister, Meshelle Shields, the Indie-Mom of Comedy

But here is some more sister goodness!

I have to be honest and put it out there. Tracy Taylor is my best friend, my closest confidante outside of my hubby for the past 13 years. It is because I am privy to her personal struggles and challenges that I am so in awe of her ambition and tenacity. Tracy moves against all odds and creates the reality she dreams of and subsequently dreams of creating the best visions of Blacks on screen. This year she took her web-series, The New 20s, to new heights. From major screenings including Writer’s Guild Of America Web Series Screening, LA Web Fest; and featured in film festivals such as Mid Atlantic and the Texas Black Film Festivals; not to mention the awards and commendations. Still, the web can’t hold her, The New 20s made its television debut in New York during the series’ run at the New York Television Festival’s Spotlight Series. Major moves indeed. Be sure to check out The New 20s and look for the next season coming Spring 2011. So yeah, I am her unofficial publicist and president of the Tracy Taylor fan club.

Digital sisterhood
You’ll probably see a common theme in this write-up and that is “connections.” Ananda Leeke is definitely connecting sisters through her research for her memoir coming Dec. 2011. I love how she defines digital sisterhood and how she helps other women stand in their own power. I can’t wait until the book is published. But then again, I don’t have to because I’m following her on Twitter.

I have never had the pleasure of meeting nor virtually connecting to these ladies, but their work has touched me deeply. Check them out…

When I heard Majora Carter’s feature on Democracy Now back in the spring, she reaffirmed my vision of changing the vacant lot a few doors from my house into a community garden. Because of her, I marched into my Alderman’s office with a plan for transformation. Proud to say we are building the blocks to have the garden started in spring 2011.

Watch her TED Talk on Greening the Ghetto

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf


Turning the page…
I’d taken my kids to the bookstore to browse, see what new books they wanted. My daughter spotted a new novel by Jewel Parker Rhodes. I surprised her with it for Christmas. It’s about a girl living in Ninth Ward-NOLA and how she pulls from the best of her to survive Katrina. Powerful story. Needless to say I fell in love with it myself.

It was purely accidental that I came upon Alisa Valdez Rodriguez’s acclaimed Dirty Girls Club which has a pretty robust cult following. I admire her fight with big media corporations to keep the integrity of her work and above all for her commitment in honoring the historical context of the African Diaspora, especially as it relates to the connection Blacks and Latinos. I love a Latino sister that celebrates her roots from the Motherland for sure!

Keepers of the culture

It was a bittersweet year for black art and culture, especially here in Chicago when we lost the mother of Black Art, Dr. Margaret Burroughs, who founded the Dusable Museum of African American History. Though she passed at the age of 95, she lived a full and giving life. The saving grace is that her legacy is being carried forth by Dr. Carol Adams whose leadership of Dusable Museum is fortifying the collection of works birthed by the African Diaspora. community If you visit Chicago, be sure to Du-something for history!

Let’s Move

FLOTUS Michelle Obama kick started the campaign that put America’s big problem front and center with her Let’s Move campaign, the fight against childhood obesity. Not that I’m biased (wink wink) but this sure beats “Just say No” and “Stay in School campaigns.” I’m most proud that she is bringing much needed resources to communities that are dealing with food deserts and how her work helped get the Healthy, Hunger Free Act passed.

Whip it real good!
Willow Smith. With just three words this pint sized girl made whipping your hair the coolest thing to do in 2010. I Whip My Hair is the anthem for her peers, and heck even pushed the confidence level of grown women off the charts.

Black Girls Rock

There was so much buzz following BET’s special programming, Black Girls Rock. The vibe was contagious and seemed to be an extension of the pervasive spirit evident of 2010. The founder of the organization and executive producer of the special programming Beverly Bond is a visionary and is filling an indomitable void in the media’s display of how awesome Black women are.

There was no other moment this year that shored up my definitive faith that I can step out and devote my entire lifestyle to the development of all black girls growing up in Urban America.

But of all the honorees, one voice rang with clarity, a trumpet call for the life work we are charged with doing as human beings. Mrs. Ruby Dee gave us this precious gem in her acceptance speech:
http://media.mtvnservices.com/mgid:media:video:bet.com:1429791

I was a lucky, lucky little kid because I was engaged very early with words and ideas. One of the jobs of an artist is to try to make real that force that you don’t really see it except when you look in the mirror. You don’t really see it until you look at somebody else…All through the dark ages of racism in America you will find women in the forefront of so much. When I think of Fannie Lou Hamer, Mary McCleod Bethune, Ida Wells Barnett, and the white sisters who joined them and helped in their struggle…all of those human beings, were just doing what they were supposed to do. They were clearing the path for the people who were to come after them. That’s what we supposed to do as human beings…we make it better.

I’m not where I’m supposed to be, then always becoming!”

And with those words, I enter into 2011!

Qualifications of a Change Agent

Saving the next generation is arguably the most pressing issue our community faces. The violence is deafening. The hyper-sexualized chorus of hot mommas and dope boys harmonizing over raging hormones and chemical imbalances is overwhelming. Startling statistics of illiteracy paralyze self-confidence and cripple ambition. There is desperation for resolve…a healing.

So many have researched and studied the systematic depression we find ourselves. From government entities to pedagogic institutions to interests groups many have invested in white papers and measured case studies. None though, have invested in solutions.

Yet there are those who know all too well what ails us. They are the ones living it. They are the ones perpetuating it. Too often they are the ones allowing our sickness to go untreated within our own families and neighborhoods.

The reality is, saving a generation is but a small facet of the problems the Black community faces. The larger of which is that generations are suffering. Mainly because for generations, able bodied and able minded people who recognize solutions that could begin to fix some of the wrongs are sitting back, waiting for the next person to save the day.

This is in large part due to how those government and pedagogic institutions identify great minds within our community who can play an integral role in their studies. These special minds are granted access to resources that enhance their natural minds. It is a wonderful thing when they return and give honor to the community.

However, because of their well-earned titles, often they are looked to be saviors. Preacher, educator, social worker, doctor, lawyer, celebrity are all assumed to be the answer. If any of them belong to a sorority, fraternity or professional organization they are really thought to possess the cure-all. Fact of the matter, while many of these people are driven everyday by a passion to help their communities, they are no more equipped to solve our issues than the other titled members of our community like mothers, fathers, uncles, god fathers, god mothers, neighbors, barbers, beauticians, shoe shiners, janitors, and elders.

Although the same government and pedagogic institutions tend to indoctrinate everyone with the belief that only the special people can help with societal dilemmas, we have got to embrace the redeeming value in members of our community who are not so sophisticated.

We have to believe, again, that though tongues may not possess articulate ponderings or because vocabularies are heavily laced with vernacular, every one of us have the ability to better our community. We all have what it takes to be a change agent.

Yet, I see it often. A school community that seeks only to provide support and resources for its students, but never fully engage families to take a responsible role. Panels are convened but missing is the voice of common people. Politicians seeking the vote from common folk, but rationing out provisions and incentives to social service agencies that manifest the “missionary” mind set that they have to deliver the community from itself, never going within to find solvent cures.

The reality is, in urban America a young black male can absorb as much knowledge sitting in a barbershop on a Saturday morning as he would sitting one week in a classroom.

There is an unassuming woman on the south side of Chicago saving lives. She doesn’t have any illustrious titles preceding her name, nor following. She is not a member of a high-profile family. This woman, Diane Latiker simply saw devastation around her and went into survival mode to ease the trauma. Diane started Kids Off the Block, an after-school tutoring and mentoring program, and infected other everyday folks like entrepreneurs and others who belong to neighborhood social clubs.

Across town on the southwest side one man, Sy Smith, leads a national movement, National Block Club University, where he empowers neighborhood residents to combat the crime in their area. He has an all hands on deck approach.

That is the point of it all. Obviously there is a sense of pride we all feel when our treasures are found and valued by others. We bask in the validation that we have produced and nurtured those who represent the super heroes amongst us. Still, there has to be an equation of value and balance. Time to stop putting it all on the shoulders of our educators, doctors, lawyers, preachers, etc. All of us can touch a life and brighten circumstances. We have to have confidence that we too are special enough to do the work of healing our community.

Question is what is holding us back from recognizing this?

I’m a Bitch

I’m a bitch. At least that is what the sister called me right after she slapped her daughter several times upside the head and told her to “shut the fuck up.” The mother had paused her reverse trek out of a grocery store’s parking space to deliver the slaps. She’d blocked traffic and turned her body full around to “really beat her ass,” as I guess the slaps didn’t demonstrate the full rage she intended. A little boy of about 5 or 6 sat next to the girl in the backseat looking on without emotion.

The girl couldn’t have been more than 10 years old. I’d heard the sound from the slap along with the reactionary cry that came on its heels. It was a child’s cry yet so full of anguish and disgrace, that I could feel the hurt…and I took it personally.
Something pulled the mother’s eyes to me, as I stood there staring into the car with my mouth hanging open in disbelief and shock. I know she could see the disgusted shade that I threw her way. If looks could kill, I was hoping to land her an eyeful to the throat. But they don’t. So she lived on and drew in her breath only to direct her rage towards me and say, “Bitch, I don’t give a fuck!”

Well, that was obvious.

I continued to stare at her and give her the evil eye, along with another woman who’d happen to witness it all, too. But she went about her business and sped out of the lot. I was thankful that for a few moments she’d redirected her rage at me and not on baby girl. I was glad La’Keisha had woke up focused on the 8a.m. trip to the local grocer. Relieved that Keisha was repressed in my body and still sleeping, not too alert and ready for the BS.

I walked into the store to do my shopping in deep thought. One thing’s for sure, it provided a moment to self reflect. A few years ago, Keisha would’ve invited the grown woman out of the car to hit a grown woman the way she hit that child, or at least told her how ignorant and common she was. Probably would’ve been mad enough to cuss her out, too. But for what?  The children witnessing yet more violence? Perpetuating the stigma to the children that fighting, cussing, and arguing is how black women get down and interact? Or worse, not getting the food for my home, locked up in a police station?

Not worth it. So I accepted being her bitch and whatever else she wanted to call me.

But something has to be worth it to advocate for children who are abused, in public or their own homes, at the hands of their mothers. The question is how?

Institutionalized policy has done a job on Black families. For instance, had I simply taken down the license plate and called the police to report the incident, what would happen? Either of two extremes. One extreme being that police would not be able to take any action, but simply make a report. The car probably didn’t really belong to the driver and so the woman would not be identified or pursued. OR, they could make out the report, call DCFS, have the lady investigated, she is found to be unfit and the children placed in child protective services or foster care to meet fates and circumstances much more horrific than slaps and blows.

This situation bothered me most of the day. Because I know that mother. She lives on my block, she is a parent at my children’s schools, and she is in my family. I went back to that parking lot today while reading Mary Mitchell’s column in the Chicago Suntimes.

And like Mary gives so many examples, we all can admit we know mothers like that. But how do we speak out and admonish her, force her to change her ways and PROTECT the children in her care.

True story…when I was little, I remember my mother telling my sisters and me that no one was to put their hands on us. If they did we should fight back and let her know about it. I took those words to heart. Nobody would cause me or my sisters harm, verbally or physically. Still I had an adult try on many occasions under the auspice of ‘disciplining” me. I was about 9 or 10 and I fought like a mad woman protecting her child. I refused to cry. I refused to be beaten.

I cried a little yesterday, though. Because from the sound of that baby girl’s cry, I know her spirit had been beaten and it was broken. I know it’ll be broken more and more, and more than likely, she’ll have her own little girl before she is healed.

Hopefully someone has some words of advice to help those who hurt in the hearts yet don’t know how to help mothers like this one and their babies.