Posts Tagged ‘Colored Girls’

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!

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What’s the ‘wig’ deal…it’s post-racial America?

Halloween 2010 has come and gone this year. That’s not to say it was an uneventful season of horrors. In fact, there were quite a few shocking occurrences to usher in the traditional trick or treat festivities. Perhaps the most prevalent is the politricks for the upcoming elections, Still there was one other trick that came in the form of a supposed costume marketed by retailers, namely Kohl’s Department Store. It wasn’t entirely spooky or ghoulish as is customary for the “ultimate” Halloween costume. The item in question was simply a wig. Yes, a wig. Sounds harmless enough, right? It could have been. But… it freaked a lot of consumers out and exploded into a PR nightmare for Kohl’s.

Now, I’m sure Kohl’s and other retailers believed the costume would be a seasonal top-seller. Unfortunately, Kohl’s chose to market the wig as a “Ghetto Fab Wig.”  Granted the manufacture created the name for the wig, still the final decision rested with Kohl’s.

Outraged consumers found the wig’s name flagrantly offensive, a failed attempt at creative marketing. Social networks exploded with comments and blogs on the situation.

Eventually the company conceded with apologies and the removal of the wig from its online store.

This appeased many…and those who’d berated the company smugly tweeted, updated Facebook statuses and blogs about their assumed victory. Subsequently, Sears followed suit removing the product from their seasonal offerings, further prompting a declared social media victory celebrated with more glib posts, virtual high fives and fist bumps.

But here again, the root problem was NOT the wig.

Now that Halloween 2010 lives amongst the ghosts of holidays past, it has buried with it the impetus for a very necessary, American conversation.

In this century, where many love to wax poetic about our “post-racial” society, race, ethnicity and cultural differences seem to sneak back into our public conversation, all too often in ways that are not the most endearing. Truth is, we have never had a frank discussion on the matter in the first place, but then expect to jump over the real talk to get to the fluff. The only time we want to deal with complex issues is when a white person uses a racial slur or makes an evenly derogative comment.

Race and culture aside, it is an intricate and complex web of issues whenever you begin to discuss Black women’s hair.

The name prescribed to the focus wig symbolizes the utter ignorance related to cultural identity. It is a struggle that has always existed. And it is a painful struggle for Black women who share the history of Sara Baartman, paraded to the world as Venus Hottentot, as well as the fictitious Aunt Jemima. Over and over again in our history is a ripped wound where Black beauty has been ridiculed, parodied, yet simultaneously coveted in secret.

So when Whites use social class to describe hairstyles, fashion and the myriad ideologies culturally relevant to Black women, without an authentic understanding or appreciation, it is offensive at the surface level, and ignorant at its base. First to have some inherent knowledge for the origin and complexity of use for words is the only way to avoid misappropriation of language. Still, when a corporate entity commits the offense, it becomes much more reprehensible and is exploitative in nature.

Perhaps the virtual fist bumps and the high fives could’ve waited a tad bit longer. Because when, (as I know the situation has probably already made its way into a PowerPoint or Keynote), folks reference this as a case study for “social media activism,” I do hope they understand that this was merely a small scuffle, not credible enough to gain the title battle. We lost a momentous advantage to take up a worthy battle with deliberation. The battle yet to be won is when corporate entities confer with consumers who can speak to the messaging they aim at “targeted” audiences. It is to ensure proper representation is at the table when marketing “experts” seek to brand and promote “cultural” products as a parody. It is to put front of mind the imperative pairing of sensitivity and sensibility.

And though some may consider it a stretch, this outcome was/is the fear that caused such an emotional response from Black women following the news that Essence Magazine decided to hire a white woman as Fashion Director. We know the power put into the hands of those who first observe then seek to define us. One wrong move can crush progress and strangle race relations. Where intentions are mired with the end and hard to justify.

Even further, the battle is internal. We must define ourselves for ourselves. What we do and speak gives others consent to do the same, or worse. It is largely due to our own glamorization of certain terminology. While so many are quick to set up a “reality” scene with abject connotations to their very own culture; dismissing a group because of their social class all while sharing the same original pedigree, it gives way for misunderstandings from those on the perimeter. What is communal and a shared language amongst cultures always stands the risk of losing its meaning, but even more dangerous is the chance for outsiders to interpret the exchange with malice. This is a fact for strong consideration as we make music and art to express the gift of our culture. And it is especially detrimental if we do not consider it when purporting things as “reality,” no matter if we consider ourselves Housewives, editors, producers, journalists, and yes artists too.

Take caution in the use of language. After all I am a firm believer that words have the power to heal or kill. And so corporations and individuals must choose.