What being let go from my job during Sandra Bland and #SayHerName taught me about diversity and inclusion.

Sandra Bland
Photo of Sandra Bland

Last month, I was suddenly and suspiciously let go from my job at a local media production company in Houston. Prior to being let go, I’d been in New York City for a couple of days hoping to retrieve the last of my things left there over a year ago.

While away, I received very few email correspondences from work, but since I had planned ahead, I assumed the non-communication was because I was out of town. I didn’t sweat it; I was actually eager to return to work. We were up for mid-year reviews and recently, two exciting projects had landed on my plate. I felt as if I could finally stretch my creative legs after six months of settling in. It had not been perfect, but I worked to be a team player and give everything I could.

The day I left New York City, I spoke to a partner to update them on my return to Houston and to find out when to expect my review. I was then emailed by another partner confirming the meeting time of 8:30am. Shortly after I arrived that morning, the partner got right to it and said, “We have to lay you off .“

I felt like someone had just slapped me. A layoff was the last thing I expected, but here they were, insisting that the decision was purely financial and expressing sympathy.

I pushed back with the details of a new hire starting that week and upcoming projects that I had recently pitched and was awarded. I mentioned the conversation about job security we had during my meeting only one week earlier, where I was assured that I was fine and had nothing to worry about.

Suddenly, I was being reminded that my work wasn’t “billable” and that projects were drying up. I remembered being told that summers were usually slow. I was confused. A sudden layoff just didn’t make sense to me. I asked if there was something else going on and got nothing. “It’s financial,” they repeated.

I cried. I shook. I left. “Downsizing” was the subject line of the email I received finalizing my termination.

I was bewildered. What could have transpired in the four days of my being in New York City that would constitute a layoff? How could the company suddenly need to lay me off without my knowing? I did work in the department that handled billing. I had nothing. Eventually, I began to consider the timing of my layoff.

I live and work 45-minutes away from Waller County, the place where Sandra Bland lost her life. I know I easily could have been Sandra Bland. I’ve driven to lots of different places for work in Southern Texas. Some places where my black woman’s body would be unwelcome and potentially destroyed, had I not had whiteness around to “protect” me. I’ve always been acutely aware of this fact, but Sandra Bland’s death made me ache with it.

The day more details about Sandra Bland’s death were revealed, I was leaving for New York City, so I was not in the office. The office where I am the only person of color — ever — to have worked. The office where I had recently experienced casual racist comments from a colleague at a morning meeting. Comments that hit a personal nerve. In an email to everyone in the office, I called out those comments. Sharing how the experience affected me and how I would like to move forward. My email was responded to with non-apologies and excuses. To my knowledge, that colleague experienced no recourse for their statements. I was only assured they “didn’t mean to hurt my feelings” via an email.

Undoubtedly, my pain about Sandra Bland would have been invisible to them had I been in the office so I was grateful to not be. I expressed this amongst a series of tweets about police brutality. Given the culture of that office, I would bet (if I had the funds) they didn’t even know who Sandra Bland was that day. But they didn’t have to know who she was or what happened to her. They don’t have to care about her death. But, it sits in my chest like a bubble and swells every time I see a police car in my rearview mirror because … I could’ve been her. My mother, sisters, cousins, and friends, all could’ve been her.

Janet-Tweet-1Twitter is my preferred social media in times like these. I follow well-informed, brilliant and humorous people from multiple and diverse walks of life. I am able to stay informed, share my thoughts and find connection when I can’t find it anywhere else. I purposely keep my Twitter updates private. I prefer to not have people see everything I’m sharing. Plus, it keeps the trolling to a minimum. It’s also not connected to my employment in a professional manner, so I kept it private for that reason as well.

A tweet about white privilege and being offended by it was retweeted though, removing the usual protection filter. I didn’t care. I was too busy hurting for Sandra Bland, for Kindra Chapman, and their families and for collective blackness to care. I was too busy reeling from another black death. It was happening again: another black person gone from trivial circumstances. This time, a woman, and we know that black women’s death under any circumstances can and has been so easily forgotten. I was committed that day to saying her name: Sandra Bland.

When I began working in Houston, I knew that the experience of racism could and likely would occur on some level. While Houston is hailed for it’s diversity, the majority of the establishment in my experience here is white centered. I understood, as a free black woman, I would have to choose if that racism was “worth” challenging. Then, how would I handle that once it happened. I even stated in the office several times that I did not like casual racism or sexism, but that was when I believed what I had to say mattered at my job. I now know different.

Racial diversity is a tricky thing. If your office is homogeneously white, you have to be intentional about diversity to have it actually be successful. It requires being willing to actually confront the very thing you think diverse hiring is the solution for: privilege. In this case, white privilege. Diversity, or rather Inclusion, requires those who don’t experience race based systemic oppression or marginalization to be challenged in ways that make them uncomfortable resulting in white guilt or “white tears”. Inclusion requires setting the precedence for intolerance to racism. It means that when an employee or colleague makes an out-of-bounds statement, you are willing to correct them, and if it’s in your power, take action to eradicate the behavior immediately.

It means that you are intolerant to any microaggressions and will listen when the person of color in your office speaks up about it. You will create dialogue and action because that is what is required for true inclusion. That didn’t happen in my office on multiple occasions, but I kept working there.

The majority of the time I kept my mouth shut when it came to questionable statements in the office. I did speak up when I was asked about Patricia Arquette’s commentary at the Oscars, which turned into an all day conversation summed up by the phrase “meant well.” I spoke up when a person of color’s name was said to make them incapable of being taken seriously. I specifically addressed this, not because of its personal foul to me but because those kinds of comments have power when voiced by white bodies and implicate flagrant bias.

Maybe I should’ve never said anything. Maybe I should have kept my head low and just kept my job and let the racism go unchecked because hey, I was employed, had bills and “White folks don’t care no way.” That’s the way it is when you are the “only.” That’s the choice or so I’ve been told over and over in the wake of my layoff. It’s the choice most marginalized persons find themselves making. Accepting environments that are dismissive and most often intolerant of their pain due to financial need and/or limited options.

Your economic stability is dependent on how you operate in what could be considered a hostile environment. An environment of constant microaggressions, confusing social interactions and unapologetic cultural insensitivity. Have the nerve to challenge it on any level? You could be fired. Don’t challenge it and still end up fired because of being deemed a threat. I had the audacity to challenge it because I was led to believe this company was open to that. It wasn’t.

I’ve come to the conclusion that people of color deserve to be in a work environment where we don’t have to be silent in the face of social injustice for the comfort of others. We deserve to not live in silence and fear of losing our job if we challenge racism. We deserve culturally inclusive environments free of unchecked and often flagrant racism. We deserve to be heard so that those with privilege can understand that their oblivious indifference and unconscionable dedication to white supremacy is the very same violence that caused Sandra Bland’s death and so many others. The same people who claim to support and exalt diversity, and who claim they “don’t see color” are the same people whose silence hurts even more than my defending my right to be comfortable alone in a culturally white space. Those who insist on my silence as a means of comfort in their existence. Those whose privilege is so intertwined with my oppression, the idea of my pain never even causes a question of consciousness or a hint of human empathy. Those whose racism shows up as complicity, duplicitous and is out of integrity with who they claim to be.

Let me say this. I don’t have any evidence that my job fired me for that tweet. This is just a feeling in my gut. It seems strange to me that they would award me projects one week and then lay me off the next. That they would hire someone a week prior to letting me go. That I wasn’t hired to have billable work in the first place but now, I’m laid off because my work isn’t billable. Without warning. Without initiated compromise.

If I was laid off for those tweets on my private twitter, that would mean that someone searched for something to challenge my role there. Maybe to stop me from working on a prized project or maybe just to put me in my place. In any event, they went out of their way to inflict their privilege on my livelihood because I made them uncomfortable and refused to be silent.

Zora Neale Hurston, one of the inspirations of my free black womanhood, says “If you are silent in your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.” So I refuse to be silent. I will continue saying the names of those who have experienced physical death at the hands of white supremacy. I will continue lifting up and adding my voice with those pushing back on the very racism that will never be satisfied with our silence anyway.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetUche Wogwugwu is a media professional and culture curator. Most known as the creator and outspoken co host of HipHopis4Lovers.com (HH4L). A weekly online radio show/podcast exploring the many platitudes of gender, sexuality and intimacy in Hip Hop. HH4L is presently on hiatus until the Fall 2015.

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RACE AND BEYOND: The Enduring Legacy of Julian Bond

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Julian Bond was such an omnipresent civil rights figure that I can’t remember the first or last time I saw him in person. During the 1980s and 1990s, at the height of my news reporting days, I had countless interviews with Bond, who seemed to enjoy the company of journalists—especially black ones like me. I appreciated the fact that unlike so many others who lived in the constant glare of the public’s curiosity, he answered questions patiently, often with an insight into the civil rights history that he had played a part in writing.

It seems now, upon hearing news of his death, that I thought he would always be somewhere nearby or just a phone call away. Maybe that’s why I never felt an urgency to celebrate Bond’s frequent comings and goings as they intersected with my own life and work: I assumed he’d be around forever. I’m sad to have been so wrong.

At the end of a charmed life filled with an array of struggles and accomplishments, Bond died last Saturday in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, of complications of vascular disease, his wife Pamela Sue Horowitz toldThe New York Times. He was 75.

Bond was a fixture in the civil rights constellation. He burst into public life in the early 1960s as a preternaturally handsome and youthful Morehouse College student, who dropped out to co-found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, an upstart youth-led organization that challenged racist restrictions on public accommodations and voting rights.

From his early days as a leader and spokesman for SNCC, Bond worked tirelessly both inside and outside the halls of American power, serving in the Georgia legislature and eventually becoming chairman of the NAACP. He was, to use an old-fashioned term, something of a renaissance man. Or as The New York Times’ obituary described him, “a writer, poet, television commentator, lecturer and college teacher, and persistent opponent of the stubborn remnants of white supremacy.”

It’s tempting—and easy—to herald his sad, sudden, and surprising death as the end of something. But what has ended? The traditional civil rights era? Or the 1960s, a decade that was marked by the imposing strategy of sit-in protests? Or perhaps it’s the end of respectability politics—as it’s often derided by the restless youth of today—which seeks to work within existing power structures to bring about social change.

I don’t believe that Bond’s death should be viewed in such a finite way. Instead, his life should serve as a road map for social change—one that can’t easily be folded and put away simply because he is no longer among us to lead the charge.

Much like Bond’s SNCC of half a century ago, a new generation of young, energetic activists have taken to the streets today under the banner of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The similarities are strikingly similar. Black Lives Matter activists have challenged traditional political leaders to include racial justice at the forefront of their platforms. That’s in the style of SNCC, which was far more aggressive and confrontational in demanding the desegregation of lunch counters and the registration of black voters across the South than the more cautious NAACP of its day.

It’s too early to make definitive statements about the success or failure of Black Lives Matter. Perhaps, in time and through struggle, a striking figure in the mold of Julian Bond will emerge from the Black Lives Matter protests. This leader may seek to move from bullhorn agitation to voting compromise and collaboration within the larger political system.

To be sure, nobody in 1961 could have imagined how young, smart, and articulate Julian Bond’s life would unfold. The same may be said of the emerging leadership of Black Lives Matter. Regardless of what ultimately comes of the contemporary movement, however, there is a lesson to be learned, remembered, and taught from Bond’s historic legacy.

In a remarkable 2013 interview with my Center for American Progress colleague Heidi Williamson, Bond explained that he never imagined where his activism would lead, only that he thought it critical to engage in changing the nation for the better:

We didn’t plot it; we didn’t plan it. We didn’t say, “Now let’s work on this issue. Now let’s work on that issue.” The issues seemed to come to us. And we grappled with them and said, “Here is the best way to go about this thing. Here’s poverty. Here’s hunger. Here’s something else. Here’s absence of voting rights. Here’s inability to sit at the lunch counter.” All these things are both separate and connected. And we can easily handle them all if we develop a thoughtful campaign to do so. And we did.

I heard him say similar things many times over the decades. Indeed, what I learned from Bond through years of observation and countless conversations is that the struggle for equality is a never-ending journey. And it assuredly won’t stop with this singularly noble activist’s passing.

Sam Fulwood III is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and Director of the CAP Leadership Institute. His work with the Center’s Progress 2050project examines the impact of policies on the nation when there will be no clear racial or ethnic majority by the year 2050.

*For more information or to speak with Mr. Fulwood, please contact Tanya S. Arditi at tarditi@americanprogress.org or 202-741-6258.

How the death of my friend changed how I see this world

Victory Over Violence: How the death of my friend changed how I see this world

BlackWomanOutside

I still find it hard to wrap my mind around the fact that one of my friends isn’t alive anymore. I don’t like to say he was killed the way cancer or disease or car accidents kill the body. He didn’t just die like people do when they get older or have a heart attack or stroke. My friend was murdered. His life was taken from him by another life. My life-long friend Victor was shot and killed in a parking lot in Newport News, Virginia. He was only 23 years old and would’ve turned 24 just weeks after the shooting. He was a father and a friend. Now he is another nameless face on the list of victims of gun violence in my city and in this country.

VictorThere will be no marches in the street for Victor. His mother won’t be invited to the White House. The President isn’t going to cry on national television over his death. The world will never know the young man who always kept people laughing, who was always trying to have fun, and who had unconditional love for his young son. And the people who did know him will never know the man he could’ve grown to be. And its a shame, really. It’s a shame that violence like this is too common to make a big deal of it each time a person gets shot in the street.

When someone gets killed in this country, I think we get sad for a few minutes then eventually get on with our lives. I don’t want that to happen in Victor’s case. It’s so easy for us to turn a blind eye to all of the violence going on around us all of the time. The violence against young people in our communities, especially young people of color, is like a modern-day lynching. Just as crowds gathered around the bodies hanging from trees, today’s Americans stand idly by as our young people are slain in parking lots in Virginia, while walking home in Florida, in public parks in Chicago, and in elementary schools in Connecticut.

We are a nation in denial about what is happening in our front yards, right before our eyes. We legitimize this violence in the name of our Constitutional rights. But the issue of “gun control” is not a political issue, it is a moral one. No person who values life can value the usage of guns and weapons. A gun’s only function is to take life away. Despite what advocates for weapons may say, protecting someone’s right to bear arms is not more important that protecting the people’s right to life. But even with all of the horrific and bloody murders that take place in the country, we still can’t seem to put a face to the lost lives and protect those who are still living. But Victor’s face will always be in my mind.

At his wake, I held Victor’s mother and we cried while looking down at his face for the last time. But I keep thinking that he wasn’t the only life that was lost that night. While one mother has to bury her son, another mother will have her son put in jail for a senseless murder. That’s the life cycle of murder in our communities: One body goes in the ground, another body goes in a jail cell. Who wins in this scenario? We are living in a culture in which young men have a need to prove themselves to a society that tells them that “you aren’t a man” if you let yourself get punked. When someone steps on your shoe, looks at your girlfriend or boyfriend, posts on your Facebook page or what have you, we feel we have no choice but to react. There’s a hopelessness to this lifestyle. We get into arguments and allow our anger to escalate to the point when the only way to solve a problem is to end a life. So many self images are warped by false ideals of what it takes to be a “real man”.

Victor was a man. He was a loyal friend. He was a selfless father. He was one of the funniest, hyperactive, brutally honest people I’ve ever known. He was an athlete, a college graduate, and natural comedian. He tried to make a joke out of every stressful situation. He didn’t need to use violence or anger to get what he wanted out of life. I know there are others who aren’t able to see another way to live their lives without arguments, fighting, and guns. Funerals, drive-bys, and constant crime is the reality for too many of our young people. We’re exposed to violence which makes it easier for us to transcend into violent lifestyles ourselves. I’m sure in some cases, a gun seems like the only thing in life that you can use to escape the frustrating restrictions of life in our communities. We have unemployment, lack of interest in school, and such a comical ease in getting weapons, our young people turn to violence as a outlet for brief control in a society that automatically writes them off.

Victor was very young when he succumbed to his fate. He would have celebrated his 24th birthday just 5 weeks after the shooting that took his life. Although I’d like to think he’s still turning up at a birthday party somewhere in the universe, he is not here to celebrate with his friends and family who continue to mourn his loss. One bullet took away that birthday. Unfortunately, this is the fate that seems to awaits many young black men. Violence is not definitely not just a black issue, but it cannot be denied that violent crimes plague areas with high black populations like an incurable disease. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, homicide is the leading cause of death for Black men ages 15-19. Is that shocking to anyone besides me?

Apparently not. Shortly after the news broke of another fatal shooting in Hampton Roads, my fellow citizens took to the Internet ready to criticize the victims in the shooting that took Victor’s life. Comments like: “not shocked by another murder on the Peninsula” … “I do wonder, how have you lived your life?” … “keep wanting to live like a gangsta you’re gonna die like one” made me want to cry. We blame others for having to live life in a violent depression instead of trying to find a solution. We don’t help the ex-offenders in our communities resimilate into society. We don’t press upon our children the doors that education can open for them. We shame our single mothers away from getting government assistance so their families turn to crime to provide for their basic needs. We suffer from an endless stream of disappointments that cause us to react violently in desperation.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on guns, life in “the ‘hood”, the Constitution, or even what really happened the night Victor lost his life. But I know we’ll never make progress if we keep allowing the lack of opportunities in our neighborhoods to make us to feel hopeless and worthless. That’s how we break this cycle and claim victory over violence: We reclaim the value of life. We show our young people all of the doors an education can open for them. We press upon others how much more courage it takes to be “weak” and to not react. We help others who need help, instead of making them feel ashamed. Jimmy Greene, father of 6 year old Ana Grace who was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting said it best: “we’re so consumed by the political fight…what about the fight for our children”. We are indeed in a fight for our lives. At the end of the day, our political standpoints won’t protect us. Our young people need to have a shot at a life filled with success, not a shot through the body with a bullet.

I see all of my friends and family posting to social media “Live4Vick”, “RIPVick”, “Gone but not forgotten” and the other typical mantras used to commemorate a lost life. But I sincerely hope we never forget Victor or the others wounded and killed by unnecessary violence in this country. I hope we do live our lives for these fallen souls and stop taking lives away. The best way I can honor Victors memory is to never forget what happened to him. We all can use our gifts to uplift the hopeless young man who sees a gun as the only way to control what goes on around him. We can control our emotions when we begin to get angry about little things. We can try to love instead.

I titled this piece “Victory over Violence” in memory of my friend Victor and also in the hope that one day this nation and people of color will rise above our tendencies to hurt one another. I know nothing we do will bring back the loved ones we’ve lost. But we should not allow ourselves or others to forget what happened to the ones we’ve lost. We have to really live for those who’ve died. We may never have a true victory over violence, but everyday we can make progress towards a more peaceful existence.

 

Jolie A. Doggett is a 22-year-old blogger from Hampton, VA currently living in the DC Metro Area. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2012. Since them, Jolie’s worked with Sirius XM Radio, National Public Radio, Patch.com, The National Congress of Black Women, and more.

Her musings on race, gender, and the 21st century have been featured on numerous blogs and websites, including her personal site, JolieDoggett.com. Her goal is to continue writing and to expand her social commentary into documentary film making. Her passions include Harry Potter, Chipotle, afro puffs, and volunteering in elementary schools.

 

 

 

Is My HBCU Degree Worthless?

That is the question I asked myself as I stared at the following tweet:

Ignorant-Tweet

No shade?? Honey, you threw shade all the way back to my forefathers with this tweet. Although her page is now private this very public tweet caused a major firestorm that I am sure @med_school12 did not anticipate when she tweeted this. A little research informed me that she is an undergraduate student at James Madison University, a PWI. This means that she in no way is able to make such a broad, sweeping opinion and present it as fact. No ma’am.

The debate over PWIs and HBCUs is nothing new. Every year as thousands of black students pack up and head to college, we debate the nuances of both. I am aware of the backlash blacks receive for being “sell outs” for choosing to attend PWIs just as I am aware of blacks being accused of having “Hillman Syndrome” because they attended a HBCU. Personally, I do not care. All I care about is that black students are given the chance to sit in a classroom and receive an education at the collegiate level if they so choose to.

That is why I have shied away from this debate. But this tweet…rubbed my spirit wrong. So wrong that I broke away from a term paper to tweet my concerns for why this young woman of color would make such a statement. Then I realized that she, along with those who defended her, have no idea that they bought into the superiority of “whiteness.” That whiteness equates to rigor. Although she did not mention race, it is implied in the nomenclature: Predominately WHITE Institutions versus Historically BLACK Colleges and Universities.

We all know the legacies of HBCUs. But the legacies of PWIs need another reexamination. The legacy of PWIs, particular southern PWIs are clouded in racial segregation and white supremacy. The legacies of HBCUs are the response to that racial segregation and white supremacy. Black students were routinely denied admittance to PWIs because of COLOR. Black students who could not afford the migration north were left with no opportunities at the collegiate level, especially in the American South. This means that @Med_School12’s grandparents would have received a denial letter from the institution she attends now. Also, PWIs would routinely hand over “scholarships” to black students to attend an out of state school, just so they would not apply to theirs. But it gets better! I can imply from her twitter handle that @Med_school12 either loves the BET show “The Game,” or she wishes to attend medical school one day. I would hope it’s a desire to attend medical school. I wonder if she knew that states HAPPILY gave money to HBCUs to establish graduate and professional programs so black graduates would not apply to theirs. Yes, HBCU presidents (shoutout to Dr. James E. Shepard) lobbied states for money to establish professional and graduate programs so their students would not face rejection from PWIs. Lastly, let us not forget the violence that black students were subjected to for attempting to integrate PWIs. Does anyone remember James Meredith? I am pretty sure that was not mentioned in freshman orientation. But it was an ugly stain on University of Mississippi’s otherwise “glorious” Dixie southern past.

HBCUs are not without issues. However, that had NOTHING to do with the education I received. My tenure at North Carolina Central University was indeed rigorous. NCCU put me through the ringer before it let me snatch that degree. I anguished over failed exams, cried over classes I could have done better in. I watched my friends fight over the right to not only graduate but graduate with honors. When I graduated, I did a little shout right on the field. Yes, while my parents watched, I had a “Won’t He do it?” moment. I must have been a glutton for punishment because the following fall; I was back for that Master’s. In reality, I knew there was no better program for me. This M.A. in History program was top notch. I learned and was cultivated by the best. We were required to take a Foreign Language Exam, sit for Master’s Comprehensive Exams and successfully defend a thesis of original research before our professor allowed us to hope that graduation was possible. I know PWIs who never even heard of a comp exam until their doctorate program. My cohorts and I walked around like zombies in the months leading up to graduation. By the time I snatched that degree from NCCU (again), I knew that I was well prepared for life at the doctorate level at Morgan State Univetsity. I have a friend who received the same master’s degree from a PWI, yet called me freaking out about writing a historiographical essay as a doctoral student, a skill I learned in undergrad. So yes, the path to my degree was rigorous.

I commend any person who makes the decision to attend college. It is not an easy feat, no matter the instituion. I am not one that buys into exceptionalism, the notion that an institution is sooooo great that it’s above criticism. But HBCUs are constantly attacked for their “perceived” inferiority and I am over it. Sick of it actually. Let us be great! Even though she did not intend to throw shade…she caused every person reading that tweet to take pause. The degree comes from the GPA. The GPA comes from the grades and the grades comes from the ability to perform. So when she questioned the weight of the GPA…she called into question the entire academic experience at HBCUs.

Recently, a young black high school student was bashed for his decision to turn down an Ivy League school in favor of an HBCU. At the end of the day, he made a decision based on proximity to his home and funding. There were no racial issues in his decision. I know black people who chose PWIs because it’s “better” but could never tell me how. Let’s be clear…being black does not mean you have to attend a HBCU…choose a PWI as long as you are making a decision not clouded by mythology. Or that you think that because you attend a PWI that you are given a slice of “white privilege.” Oh and before I’m hit with the “employers choose applicants from PWIs over HBCUs” statement…allow me to flip it this way. What is a black student and a white student from the same PWI were up for that same position? At the end of the day your PWI will not shield you from racial discrimination. It will not protect you and give you special powers. Sorry.

A friend of mine pointed out that HBCU students trash each other. Ummm yes…this is true (HEYYY AGGIES!!!!) but that trash talk is limited to football games and who has the best “yard” or homecoming. But when it comes to its central core mission, and the education of young black scholars, we stand united. I was inspired by the rallying of black scholars in the Twitterverse who came to the defense of not only their HBCUs but the legacy of HBCUs in general. I understand that in the process some people tweeted things that were deplorable and disrespectful to this young woman. That is unacceptable behavior. But I wish this young lady would understand where the sensitivity comes from. It comes from a legacy that we are taught and will defend. It is a legacy that we are proud of.

HBCUs are important because it gave us a chance at the same education that PWIs had to be forced by federal law to give us. If you want to have this debate then I welcome it. I am open to an exchange of dialogue that will foster growth and development. There is much that PWIs and HBCUs can teach each other. But what I will not allow are advocates of PWIs to come to the table with feelings of superiority…and I will not allow them to leave that table feeling victorious because they left HBCU alums and current students feeling inferior. Because when I snatch that degree (for a third time) I will proudly proclaim that ALL my degrees belong to a the “rigor” of a HBCU.

 

Bridgette-RobinsonBridgette Robinson is a graduate of North Carolina Central University where she received both her B.A. and M.A. degrees in history. She is currently enrolled in doctoral studies at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. She is also an adjunct professor at Prince George’s Community College and Howard Community College, where she teaches American and European history courses. Her research interest includes gender and class issues as it intersects with minority groups. Her blog, “The Misadventures of a Black Woman Scholar,” can be found at tmbws.wordpress.com.

I Just Called The Cops On A Group Of Young Black Boys

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I wasn’t expecting my walk home to be like this at all.

“I just called the cops on a group of young black boys. I feel horrible.”

I’d just entered my house and was getting to ready to tell my sister and mother about what just happened to me walking home from the train, when my sister blurts out those words to me.

“Why? You were helping someone. What if they killed the boy, how would you feel then?” my mother replied.

Right now, I’m feeling a bit disheveled and visibly teary-eyed. My heart is pounding. I feel sad. A slow, aching type of sad.

Let me rewind a few minutes.

It’s about 6:45PM and I’m about two blocks away from home.  A cop car races past me and joins a cluster of other cop cars that are parked near a group of apartment buildings up ahead.

“Oh no, what happened now?” is what I’m thinking to myself.

As I get a little further head, the scene is much clearer.

About four black boys are sitting down with their backs against a fence, feet drawn in front of them,  and their hands in their laps. I can’t tell if they are handcuffed. Two cops are standing over them.

“Excuse me, can you please walk to the other side?” asks one of the officers.

I realize what’s happening. These boys, who couldn’t have been more than fourteen are about to get arrested.  I stop for a second and turn to look at the boys in their faces.

I see a range of brown, fear leaking from their  face. To me, they look like babies. What are they doing on the floor? What did they do in the first place? I shake my head so they can see me and give them the “there’s more to life than this” look.

I walk a few feet ahead to where another cop car is and I say to the officers, “Isn’t this a shame? Young black boys getting arrested.” I must have annoyed  one of the cops because he replies, “I thought you had something  important to say. As you see, we’re in the middle of an investigation right now.”

Oh, I get it. What I’m saying really isn’t useful to their “investigation”.  I mutter a quick, “It’s just on my mind” and keep it moving.

I walk about fifteen more feet and stop. I’ve been trying to hold back the tears from when I first looked at those baby faces. I’ve been trying to hold back the tears but I can’t hold them in anymore.  I turn around. The boys are still lined up along the fence.

I start to cry.

The lights on the police cars flash.  My vision is blurred from my tears. The lights look purple.

A cop approaches me. I see his badge twinkle in the light. He’s Black.  I wonder, “What made you become a cop?”

“Are you okay?”

I reply, “No.” I then go on to tell this cop how much seeing those young kids lined up on the floor affected me. I tell him that because of the work I do now at my job (and did in college), I’ve been to prisons.  I’ve seen firsthand the life once you’re booked and sentenced.

If I had a little brother, they could have been my brother.

I saw those boys’ lives flash before my eyes, but I didn’t see success. I saw more handcuffs. I saw prison fences. Orange uniforms. Black men. Lots of them.

I told him that coming home from work to see this was like shooting a bullet into my heart. It’s not what I wanted for my community. Why are these kids allowed to be out here getting in trouble? Where are their parents? I told him I didn’t know what they did, but the fact still remains these are little boys.  It hurt me deep.

 He sympathized with me. I apologized for my rambling. We parted ways.

I had to talk about this. I tried calling my best friend. No answer. I called a woman I know whose son was in prison. No answer.

By this time, I’m home. I sit in my couch in the living room for a while and then walk to the kitchen where my mom and sister are.

“Oh my gosh, guys…. I just had an emotional breakdown,” I start out.

And then this is  where the story first began.

My sister, unusually loud, says, “I just called the cops on a group of young black boys. I feel horrible.”

She  tells me the story. She’s on her way home from work and she sees a group of boys chasing another boy. The group is holding up traffic on the main street. Cars and pedestrians are annoyed. The group crosses over the busy intersection.

They’re attacking another boy. The mob starts to take off their belts and repeatedly whip  and stomp the boy.

“I was scared. I called the cops. By the time the operator was on the phone, they told me someone was on the way. A cop got there and tried breaking them up. I asked the operator if she needed me to stay on the scene. She said no.”

By the time she reached home, she asked a group of young children who were passing by if they had seen what went on. The children told her that the boys were a part of a Haitian gang called “The Gate Boys.” Then, they saw some of the members of that gang coming their way and said they had to go.

For the next few minutes, my mother, sister and I had a brief conversation about what had just happened.  My sister talked about the lack of social and emotional supports that are provided to kids in urban communities such as ours (Orange, NJ).  I talked about wondering what’s going to happen next for those boys.  She knew my sister did the right thing by calling the cops but she couldn’t understand why we were so affected by it.

How angry would a group of fourteen year-old boys have to be to beat another young person in such a manner? Think about the peer pressure. Maybe even the psychological term “group think” at its best.

She really felt bad that she had to call the cops on the boys.

I couldn’t help but to think of those baby faces I saw as I walked home. What’s next for them? More than likely, they’ll be sent to the town’s holding cells for juveniles. Charges may (or may not) be pressed. They may be shipped to a juvenile facility.

Will they be angry? At whom? The cops? The boy? Their parents? Themselves?

I don’t know. Walking home from the investigation scene, I had this feeling come inside of me.  A feeling of injustice for those kids.

From the story I was told, they did something wrong, but I couldn’t help but feel this deep pang in my body for what comes next. For what will be repeated. Over and over again.

My mind flashes  to the face of one the boys lined up on the fence. I’d seen him before. I’m coming out of the corner store. He’s walking up to another guy his age. They do an elaborate handshake, and I think to myself “baby gangbangers.”

I wanted to go up to the boy and ask him what he thought of himself. What his dreams were. If he thought he could actually achieve them.

But, I didn’t. I walked past him.

It’s crazy how things come full circle.

Now back to that second where our eyes lock again and that same thought crosses my mind. This time, I want to walk up to all of them and ask them these questions.

But I don’t.

My heart pangs, and I realize that maybe one day I will get that opportunity to do so.

Then, I think about the work I already have in my arsenal. The beginnings of what could be important work for my community. My Princeton Senior Thesis: Policing in Orange New Jersey, my documentary Lost Boy.

I don’t know what today meant for me, but I was compelled to write about it and share.

I don’t know if I’ll ever save or help a brown baby face, but today showed me just how much they need it.

This is not about whether those boys were guilty or not. It’s about our future and what we can do to positively affect it.

So why am I ending this with a sigh instead of a smile?

Rana-CampbellRana Campbell graduated from Princeton University in 2013 with a degree in Sociology. She is currently completing a one year fellowship at the Vera Institute of Justice in NYC, where she works on the Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project. Rana is also a freelance content and branding strategist, specializing in copywriting/editing, branding strategy, and email marketing for growing businesses. Fun fact about Rana: Her favorite color is Turquoise and she loves a good workout mixed with dancehall music. Her interests include inner city community building, portrait photography, and fitness blogging. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram @rainshineluv. For more information, visit ranacampbell.com.

I’m A Single Parent And I’m Not Responsible

Single Mothers

As a single parent, there is nothing I hate more than someone saying,

“Is his father around?  Did you know he was an asshole before you got pregnant?”

As if I am responsible for him being a ‘deadbeat dad.’  Yes, I am partially responsible for him being a dad.  He is solely responsible for him being a deadbeat.

Now, let me say that I completely understand why someone would ask that but know this:  Our relationship, good or bad, before having our son does not absolve him from being a good father.  Nor does that make me responsible for him being a bad father.

I raise my son alone.  I have a great support system in my family and my son’s paternal family.  I clothe him, feed him, care for him, protect him and love him AS I SHOULD.  I am taking responsibility for my actions and choices. I’m doing what I am supposed to be doing as a mother.  Being irresponsible led to my being a mother.  It also led to me making the responsible choice of taking care of my son.

That there is where the responsibility rope ends for me.  I AM NOT responsible for his father not being present.  I am not responsible for his father choosing to not be a parent.  When a person tells a woman, “well, you should have known….” you are taking the responsibility away from the man and placing it on the woman.  You are telling her, “it is your fault that your child’s father is not around.”  I now know that not to be true.

For a long time I beat myself up thinking that it was my fault that my son is growing up without his father. It took me a while to realize that I was blaming myself for something of which I have absolutely no control.  Once my son was born all of the shoulda, coulda, woulda’s became irrelevant.  I couldn’t go back and change anything.   All I could do was be the best mother possible.  And that’s what I’m doing.

We both chose to engage in irresponsible sex and our son is the outcome.  However, I am taking responsibility for my actions.  I refuse to take responsibility for his inactions, also.

Destyne-MillerDestyne is a single mother and educator. Through personal experiences and life lessons she hopes to bring a different perspective to everyday issues in a simple, straightforward, yet positive way.  With her free spirit and ever evolving thought process she takes on the challenge of bringing people together.  Not to make them think the same but to be able to exist as different and unique individuals. Visit her blog Destynefulfilled.wordpress.com.

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A Man With No Land

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Today at work I sat discussing heritage with three of my coworkers: a Haitian African, a Jamaican and a Dominican. They all conversed about revolutions, events and people from their homelands who are stapled into their histories. They spoke with such pride because various people and situations have helped to shape their people’s identity and culture. Whatever happened on their land happened in their history. I sat a bit envious, for though they are like African Americans in which most of them were brought to their respected lands; they and their lands are one.  They are tied to their old-new homes. They love it, and it claims them. These thoughts led me to ponder what land do African Americans associate themselves with? And what land claims the African American? From my experience, it is clear that African Americans are not deeply connected to any land.

When I consider each of my coworkers land heritage, I am troubled with my lack thereof. In African American history we have many heroes who have, on American soil, fought for us, descendants of slaves, to attain many freedoms. In a land where we were brought to as slaves, we now have rights, liberties and representation in the highest office in the free world. But does America really claim the African American as his brother, or are we simply overstayed visitors? From slavery to lynching and the countless murders of minorities throughout the years among other things, I presume that the land of the free hasn’t truly accepted the free slave. When so many injustices are allowed against us, it’s hard to feel like America is really our home. Well, I know that’s how I feel. So, if America seems unsure of our kinship, where do we call home? Where are we connected to?

At times, it seems like nowhere.

Both my parents are from the south and came north to escape the tumultuous south of the 50’s. My mother was born in Savannah Georgia, and my dad was born in Lee South Carolina. Neither of them, nor I, have ever traveled outside of the country. We don’t go visit cousin so and so in Nigeria. When we go visit family, we go down south. When West Indians or Africans ask me where my family is from, I often say the south because I have no other point of reference. I was born and raised in the New York; I have no connection to the south or Africa. I tried reconnecting with my family from the south, and as pleasant it was it left more questions. Who are we really as a family? Where are we from? I learned that one of my great grandfathers was a musician and that excited me. I felt a sense of rootedness.

I realized that I wasn’t an island, but that men who came before me excelled in similar ways and shared similar pains. Still, questions like where certain relatives got specific strengths haunt me. Not having a home land that is filled with my people, my heritage and my culture leaves me a bit misguided about who I am. It also concerns me of who we are as black men and women. Does our legacy end with jazz and the civil rights and a certain black vernacular? Or is there more? Though my parents are from the south, we are so much more than southerners. My parents themselves do not claim to be from anywhere else but the south. They have, like many of our parents and people, no connection with who they really are and where they really from: Africans from Africa.

Many attempts have been and are being made to mend the lack of identity and culture that resulted from slavery. Kwanzaa, created by an activist and scholar named Maulana Karenga, was conceived to give Afro-Americans their own holiday: a sense spiritually individuality. The Pan-American Flag was crafted with a similar intent: to give us culture and identity. With all these attempts, the thirst for a home hasn’t been quenched within blacks. Recently, many celebrities have begun to participate in DNA analysis that traces back ones genealogy. African American Lives, hosted and narrated by Henry Louis Gates Jr that premiered on PBS in February of 2006, is an example of this. It is a documentary that explores the history of men like T D Jakes, Chris Tucker, and Dr. Ben Carson as well as women like Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, and Dr. Mae Jemison through genealogical research. It married these Africa Americans to various countries and tribes in Africa which us remarkable.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the norm. Most blacks, if not in financial constraints, are at least misinformed about their access to such options. Many black men like me live either in the state of creation or in a state of assimilation. We either try to create an identity and culture for ourselves or we simply put on the American self. We align ourselves with American values, belief systems and ambitions ignoring any connection or reflection to our damaged past. We are a people whose culture continuously changes, for we have no foundation. Land-heritage brings foundation.

Going back to live in Africa can prove to be problematic, for we have no trusted relatives there.  However, finding out where our families originate from, give each of us a better context than what many of us have as African Americans. We are able to associate with outstanding music, attire, and spiritual practices that outdate our Kwanzaa, jazz, hip-hop, pan African flag creations. It is not a matter of better or worse but context. I believe saying to be extremely true: “you don’t know where you’re going, unless you know where you come from.”

On February 6, 2008, African Ancestry posted a video on YouTube of Judge Hatchett discovering her roots and she told this story while speaking to a young man:

I went to Africa with my sons last summer. And there was a Massai warrior who’s a little bit older than you are. And he said ‘where are you from?” And I said, naively, I said I’m from the United States. He said ‘nah nah nah nah nah no! Where are you from my sister?” And I didn’t know. And so when you got tested I got tested, so you have my results which I have not said I have been dying for this to come back today so I can have my result because never ever do I want to say again I don’t know.

Ask African Americans where they are from, and they will tell you some state or county, but the truth is most of our answers are like Judge Hatchett’s: we don’t know.

For black history month, I want my African descendant brothers and sisters to consider going home. Consider investing in these DNA genealogical tests because with land-heritage comes a stable culture and identity and most importantly wholeness which our people so desperately lack. Imagine finding out that your people are from Morocco, Egypt, Kenya, Namibia, Cameroon or Liberia, not from Savannah Georgia or Boston or Mississippi but Africa. Wouldn’t that be something? One real way that we can begin to rid ourselves from the evils of slavery is by reconnecting. It is by going back home. With the new advancements in science we can at least know where to start. It’s better to be a man a long way from home than a man with no land.

corey-spencerC. Lionel Spencer is a New York resident and writer, who is devoted to using his talent of writing to move our world community forward.