Wednesday, September 18, 2013

McFerrin Park Has Always Been Home

Communities are often defined by geographical boundaries and socioeconomic factors such as education and profession. In re-gentrifiying communities such as McFerrin Park certain folks tend to highlight the distinction between “the haves and the have nots”. Leading one to believe that there is no history and or relevance of the community neighborhood that is not shaped by White DINKs (dual income, no kids) and real estate investors. However, if you take a closer look (and listen) to the experiences of the diverse residents in McFerrin Park you will learn about real people with histories, some distinct and others quite familiar. Before there was an interest in Saving the Roxy Theater, there were Black parents that walked their children to and from the neighborhood schools. There were Black male coaches with booming voices directing young boys in the fundamentals of football. There were children inundating McFerrin Park Community Center for pro-social activities and outings. Working parents picked up infants from the child care center at Salvation Army’s Magness Potter Center while teens crowded the same building for leadership opportunities and help with homework and senior citizens gathered in a safe space. There were immigrant and refugee families learning new cultural norms while preserving their own. There were foster parents and halfway homes that provided some type of permanence for those in need. And always, there have been grandparents and elders on front porches with a knowing eye for “who belongs around here” and “who is here to cause trouble”. McFerrin Park is a community neighborhood of working, non-working and retired people, native born and transplants from other cities, artists and stay at home parents, social workers and entrepreneurs. It is a community neighborhood whose residents are inclusive and cautious and hopeful. Hopeful that as the property values increase, the real value of McFerrin Park will remain in its racially and economically diverse people and their willingness to appreciate that all of us do not share the same story but all of our stories are worth telling and documenting. McFerrin Park has always been home.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Ear Hustling on Race and Class

Allow me to set the stage. Neighborhood coffee spot, laptops and Ipads open and casual banter about what's keeping us busy (us: Stan, African American man and yours truly), updates on Manchild (his and mine) and then on to our business of serving and saving our African American community which included generational experiences of extended family, the role of Black men in parenting their children especially males when they are not in the same household with their mothers and as my brother Stan says being unapologetic about all of it. Cue Travis (White American man) sitting beside us and ear hustling. Later, we would learn that he was studying for the bar. Travis took advantage of a pause and asked if he could ask us a question.  I noticed that he did not wait for an affirmative response before posing the question- first observation. Or maybe he did receive an affirmative nod from Stan. Either way, I immediately started smiling and holding my hands. I did not want to discuss the Zimmerman verdict, period. In fact, I've avoided that conversation in several arenas this week. Trust and believe, I have my reasons.

His question was related to if we would attribute the differences in the African American community to a generational shift. Travis politely explained that he wasn't listening to our conversation and proceeded to refer to specific examples of generational experiences that both Stan and I discussed- second observation.  Let me say that I was so grateful that this was an experience I shared with Stan. Though Travis eventually got around to asking the Trayvon Martin question ("Do you think that Trayvon attacked Zimmerman?")  and a President Obama  question (third observation),  I welcomed the conversation that ensued from Travis' ear hustling. It provided an often avoided opportunity to discuss race and class across gender, race, and class bodies. I'm not making assumptions about Travis here- he shared that he went to school in Virginia and Nashville and is currently studying for the bar. He offered Charles Murray's Coming Apart for insights into White class beliefs. I also noticed that Travis was limited in what information he offered unless he was solicited. I inquired about the type of law he was pursuing, he shared tax law to start and offered a great self-diffusing comment about tax law killing cocktail conversations. The three of us continued on about race, class, and systems and legal gun ownership.  It was a conversation.

I won't wax poetic. I will say that I hope to meet more White folks that are willing to engage in an open conversation where my (and Stan's) differences are not threatening and we can see each other clearly. As Stan informed Travis, " I don't want you to be colorblind. This (pointing to his skin) is who I am."

Travis, if you read this, keep ear hustling and engaging folks that don't look like you and yours in conversation. I'd actually appreciate some honesty about the ear hustling, as in, "Excuse me, I was listening to your conversation and found some things you said interesting and in my circle I don't get the chance to talk with African American people."  Just don't be offended if they don't invite you in. Sometimes when a Standupbrothah and a Standupsistah are engrossed in a conversation in a public space, you may not be included. Unapologetically. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Sister Harriet and the ITP/RFP

While dreaming of sister Harriet down by the intersection of estuaries and next steps, I dared to crossover. Now, I must forewarn, that I'm on a healing journey and craving the whispering bricks of the ocean water so you may need a glass of wine to read this post. In the nonprofit world, opportunities to engage in programming are oftentimes managed by an ITP/RFP process- Invitation to Participation or Request for Proposal. The company or organization (read "funder") sends out an electronic solicitation with the specs-objectives or goals, population to be served, time frame, preferred strategies and anything else that would help you qualify for or weed yourself out of the process. Sometimes, it is just a formality because the company or organization already knows exactly whom they want to hire but the process must still be followed to appear equitable. Those of us in the slightly more seasoned category can read an ITP/RFP and detect what organization(s) the funder has in mind. Anyway, this is about the process and my dream with sister Harriet, down by the intersection of estuaries and next steps. As sister Harriet and I were making our way North, I asked how her current ITP was still open. Surely, there were millions of qualified service providers to help folks on their way. She shook her head and painstakingly explained to me that her search wasn't for service providers but for free people that wanted to share the journey. Slightly perplexed, I foolishly said "well, the history books stated you led people to freedom." Sister Harriet shook her head again and increased her gait, while very deliberately stating " Free people cannot be led by anything outside of themselves. I've walked this path countless times because this is my journey. I invite people to participate all day, every day. This is how I move in the world. Now, are you crossing over or just blocking the light?". So, I crossed over and started dreaming about my own ITP process. Hope Sister Harriet visits again.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Silence, Not So Much

It's been a while since I've sat and wrote. Been neglecting this blog and myself in various forms. I find myself in yet another space of personal transition which I embrace. I have been spending more time on the front porch, blackberry wine or whatever is in the frig. So eager to talk about next steps, next phase of my life that I recognized that I'm trying to skip right pass where I am today. In this moment. Feeling deserving and good enough and prepared. Committed to living the work that my dreams require. It really is that simple. I believe I am beginning to understand what my elders meant by "standing in your light". How frequently have I repeated those words to urge others onward to their greatness. I'm sitting here on the porch with the street lamp on, my laptop battery low, cell phone off and cackling as I type my truth. Decided today that I'll write when I have some words and not just all of the words. I'll write because however it comes to me is how it comes to me. Stop worrying about somebody else's format. Just write cuz silence, not so much. Feeling unapologetically me tonight. Cheers, standupsistah

Monday, September 17, 2012

Education Reform: Whose Job Is It Anyway?

This summer Oasis Youth Mobilizers (high school student citizens) participated in an academic intensive centered on the pop culture book series The Hunger Games. We were funded to compile data on school discipline practices and policies within the school district. However, too many of our Youth Mobilizers (YM) lacked the basic research skills (i.e. critical thinking, comprehension, comparison etc.) needed to delve into data collection and independent research assignments. We needed a “hook” to engage them in the process and we also felt compelled to address something that our students were concerned about- low ACT scores. On the lower end of our expectations, we believed we could help them read a single book during the summer and learn how to research public information about local schools. One the higher end of our expectations, we hoped we could teach information integration processing and expose them to some new vocabulary words. We did both and students exceeded our expectations. YM were given a copy of the first book in the series. Most of them had heard of the book but had not read it (though it was on the previous summer’s suggested reading list) and none of them had seen the movie. They were told that they would read the book each day over four weeks and draw a comparison from the book to students surviving in low performing schools. Each “district” in the book represented a “school” with specific assets and deficits. YM were also assigned two Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools for which they were responsible for researching suspension rates, the number of AP/Honors/Dual Enrollment subjects taught, scores from End of Course exams, ACT scores, GPA, attendance rates, graduation rates, mobility rates (frequency of changing schools), and the percentages of D’s and F’s. The initial plan allowed for two weeks of data collection after the students read the book in four weeks. On the first assigned reading day, Youth Mobilizers decided that they wanted to take turns and read the book aloud as opposed to reading independently. They created a vocabulary wall to post words that were unfamiliar and randomly assigned each other to look up definitions. When it was time to break for lunch, they actually voted for a shorter lunch break. They were readily identifying school and societal references without prompting and when the day was over, students were asking to take the book home to continue reading. Needless to say, the students finished reading the entire book within two weeks. This gave them more time to process what they read and compare it to their assigned research schools. It was not a huge stretch for students to assess how certain schools have an abundance of resources and high expectations for student performance and how some schools focus primarily on managing behavior. Oasis staff are not teachers AND we can encourage and influence students to assume responsibility for their education while assessing the roles of key players within and outside of their school system. Who said education reform is not our business?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pearl Cohn Unitown: Deconstructing the Myth of Black Kids at a Black School

Allow me to set the scene for you. It’s a charter bus of 35 African American students from a North Nashville neighborhood school headed towards White Bluff, Tennessee for a weekend leadership retreat. Yes, White Bluff. Enough said? Also, on this bus are two female school staff (one African American, one Caucasian), one Oasis Center male staff (African American), and two Tennessee State University college mentors (both African American males). Oh, and the bus driver is an African American female. Upon arriving at the camp site an hour late, the charter bus is greeted by 15 screaming camp counselors (both high school and college students, both African American and Caucasian ) that are pumped about their engaging curriculum and the opportunity to connect with new people. Oh, forgot to mention that the bus driver was lost and when the students asked if she needed directions, she gave much attitude and threatened to put them off the bus.

Cancel all of that hoopla and hype because the “Black kids from the Black school” were not having any of it. They were ready to go home before they even got off the bus. Being greeted with happy cheers of “welcome and we’re so glad that you’re here, and you are the ones we’ve been waiting for” fell on deaf ears and stone cold hearts. Too much undefined happiness, must be a set up. End Scene.

Fast forward to the gym where Adventure Works staff were waiting with additional cheers and quirky challenge ropes courses, and you know it, might as well fade to black, literally. Attitudes began to morph. Students started speaking up that this wasn’t what they had signed up for. Strange folks telling them what do and why they couldn’t stay in the cabin with their girlfriend/boyfriend. One male student said his girlfriend brought him so they could get away and not be bothered. Hold up, wait a minute. Camera one zoom in, you mean this is not a couple’s retreat? Hold it. End Scene.

Fast forward to activities after dinner, and conversations about contraband and who would not be sleeping with whom. Second plot begins to unfold. This camp was different. Students were leading the activities and adults were apologizing for rushing and not doing introductions. You mean you want to know what I think about what you just said and you’re not going to get an attitude when I say that I don’t want to be here? In fact, you offer to take me home but ask that I tell you what you could do differently to make me feel comfortable with all of this leadership stuff? And you’re not going to tell the principal that I had an attitude with you? Well, maybe I don’t really want to go home. Maybe I can wait til the morning to see what all of this is really about. And you really won’t be mad if I want to go home in the morning? Hmm, pause. Wait for it. Camera two pan the crowd to see who’s buying this crap. Oh, my friends are going stay. Well, why we gotta play these games? Oh, you want me to figure out what we can do to get to know one another? Well, I don’t mind playing the games but this is not my idea of leadership. End Scene.

Students to the cabins. Adult staff patrol the camp site. All. Night. Long. Yes, all night long. Cue rest of the weekend. Fun and empowerment was had by all.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Intersectionality or All of This Right Here

Maybe it's the end of the year blues or the climate change but I'm feeling very "now you see me, now you don't" these days. My mind and spirit are taking hits more frequently as I work to be whole and seen for all of my complex selves. I can no longer ignore or make excuses when folks attempt to erase some aspect of my identity in conversation or practice. I am so over whitefolks insisting that I'm angry when actually my feelings are hurt or I'm bored with the conversation, coloredfolks assuming I'm post-racial because I work for a white-led agency and therefore less committed, queerfolks demanding that I show up and show out for any cause, and nonvotingfolks accusing me of selling out because I removed my child from the local public school system. Damn, how many masters can one sistah serve? The last time I checked (and I check often), not one of you so called revolutionaries nursed me through a migraine or called to make me laugh or offered to go on 3 mile walk. I ask myself why do I keep fooling with you? You don't feed or sustain me. You don't inspire me to write.  Some of you don't even believe in the healing properties of dark chocolate. So, we decided it was time. Me, myself, and I are calling a moratorium on you. There, I said it outloud or wrote it down. I am giving myself permission to place ME on the priority list or Angel tree or whatever calls attention to the most at-risk and marginalized at this time of the year. I am most at-risk of losing my sanity while worrying about your acceptance and denying my complex desire to be whole. I'm running back to the center of my collective selves from your super-imposed margins and I will not be sorry for leaving you wherever you are on your journey. This is my crossroad and I choose the ones that lead to me. Blackberry wine at 6pm.