Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Self Mastery: Moving beyond Ego Trippin—finding the lesson on the other side of our mistakes — Ádìsá

There is the mistake. There is the acknowledgment of the mistake. There is the understanding of the mistake, clearly. There is the invitation to the lesson. There is the acceptance of the invitation. There is learning the lesson. This is how most of us grow from our mistakes and avoid repeating them. All too often we don't acknowledge the mistake because of pain or ego or perhaps both. We confuse an awesome poem for a life lesson: In Nikki G's poem Ego Trippin even God's mistakes are correct; in real life, our mistakes are incorrect, that's what makes them mistakes lol. Many of us acknowledge the mistake but jump to the lesson without clearly understanding the mistake, so we keep repeating the mistake, over and over again.

It is particular quality of internal weakness to jump past the mistake to the fairly tale ending: The assumption that no matter the intensity of the damage our mistake caused "everything worked out for the best." Which usually means worked out for us, not those hurt by our mistake. It is after we acknowledge and understand our mistake clearly that the invitation to learn from it appears. Still we have to accept the invitation in order to step into the truth about ourselves that the lesson is intended to teach us.

When we find ourselves in serial bad relationships, serial bad jobs, the same problems with our children, getting in our own way repeatedly, most of the time these stem from our not acknowledging our mistake (ego/pride) or not understanding the mistake (listening to what our spirit is trying to tell us about ourselves). So we don't get the lesson and we just keep repeating the mistakes so often that without even noticing it, the mistake has now become a habit--few things are as depressing as the recognition that a mistake has now become a lifestyle.

Ancient wisdom tells that human beings are three things: a force of perpetual vitality, that we are teachable, and therefore, perfectible. As been said all too often the basis of all knowledge is self-knowledge. The most important degree any of us can hold is in the knowledge and mastery of self--it is from that space, that deep expansive cosmos that all other beauties flower, flourish and fertilize.

"[We] so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal
[We] cannot be comprehended except by [our] permission..."

 Nikki Giovanni is absolutely correct.

— Ádìsá 

(Emphasis mine)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Straight Outta Nostalgia: Things Were Never As They Used to Be—Reflexions on Straight Outta Compton — Ádìsá

Nostalgia has a way of situating us in the world such that at times we recall things not as they occurred, but as we long for them to have occurred. It is a kind of faith, an inaccurate recollection of the past formed out of the substance of memories hoped for, evidence of things not seen because they didn’t occur quite as we remember them. Nostalgia is a “search for lost time,” a psychological artifact of memory and longing. Its job is simple: reframe the past to suit our needs in the present—it has little interest in balance or accuracy, only in justifying the present by employing a convenient version of the past.

This expedient misremembering masks layered—and at times inconvenient—truths getting in the way of how we want or need to remember something. Consider the popular mainstream (read: white folks and politicians) narrative of how “we’ve become so divided as a nation around race” which opportunely misremembers there has been no point in American history when we were united around race, because there has no been a point in American history when Black and Brown folks weren’t subjected to the whims of interpersonal white racial animus and its structural and systemic amplifications. The story sounds good, though. That’s a part of nostalgia’s mission: to create a false version of the past that feels so comforting that you want it to be true.

The beat giving F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton (SOC) its storytelling rhythm is its skillful use of nostalgia in the retelling of NWA’s shooting star like appearance in the hip-hop firmament, not as it actually occurred, but as the filmmaker and producers want us to believe it occurred. And in so doing the film also successfully invokes nostalgia in many of us who came of age during NWA’s ascension. Our discussions and debates around the film have been informed in part by our own search for lost time and in part by our convenient misremembering.

This true even for those who weren’t even embryos when NWA’s first CD dropped. You see nostalgia doesn’t require you to actually have lived the experience, only that you believe you did. Not only has SOC invoked nostalgia, it provides the very basis for its existence and the substance of its plot. In short, SOC is nostalgia offered as truth in the form of cinema. Nostalgia, however, by it very nature strips complexity from the context; the falsity of nostalgia resides in its absence of complexity. Just as underneath the nostalgic reflections of the self sufficient days of the 1950s “when Black folks were more unified and did for self” rests on stripping away the complexity of injurious class stratification and strange fruit grown in the blood saturated soil of the Jim Crow era. It is not complexity alone that matters but rather it is complexity in context where truth is most fertile.

Forget about Babylon, We may be in Palestine: Boyz and Girlz in the Hood

Heraclitus noted that character is destiny. Perhaps that’s true, if you’re white, in America, and, if by character, Heraclitus meant the myriad unearned advantages whiteness provides. If by chance you are born Black or Brown and poor in America, then geography and pigmentation are often destiny. To live in the war zones of South Central LA, Watts, Inglewood, Compton, Long Beach or any of the other impoverished communities in the United States was/is to be walled off from life sustaining and enhancing opportunities by a series of concentric circles of systemic disempowerment—systemic racism, structured poverty, organized tyranny, granular terror, oppression and planned obsolescence, all designed to control, discipline and punish Black and Brown peoples—ringing impoverished communities in America just as Israel’s wall surrounds occupied Palestine.

Much like Palestine these occupied cities are often discontinuous territories comprised of the same peoples. There is about as much difference between the folks in Compton, Long Beach, Watts, Inglewood and South Central LA as there is between the folks in Ramallah and Gaza, which is to say there isn’t any. And much like Palestine, many of our communities are encroached upon by members of the oppressive group—in Palestine they are called them illegal settlers; here we call them gentrifiers. If you are Black, Brown, Red and poor there are a lot of Gazas in America, and just like the folks in the West Bank and Gaza, every day in these occupied territories people of color make magic in spaces designed to suffocate laughter and smiles and drain hope from us like pus from an infected wound.

There is a long, awful history of organized destruction and well-orchestrated chaos perpetrated against Black folks has occurred long before Easy E knocks on the door of the crack house in Compton during the opening scene of the film. Growing up in 1980s/early 1990s, South Central Los Angeles, as it was called then, was a dangerous and magical place. The danger wasn’t always visible but it was always palpable. You could feel it the same way you can feel the television is on. Life was balanced precariously on a razors edge of poverty, job insecurity, despair and the ominous specter of death coming for you too soon, whether by heartbreak, poor diet, inadequate healthcare or homicide (via police terrorism, gang conflicts or drug turf battles) or some lethal combination of all of the above.

In the 1980s/1990s, South Central LA was an active war zone, having been infused with drugs thanks to the covert efforts of our government on Reagan’s watch courtesy of the Iran-Contra Affair. With municipalities waging war on Black and Brown folks from outside with their policies firmed anchored in a planned obsolescence, de jure apartheid and police departments serving as an occupying force, everyone was treated as an enemy combatant. On the sides of their black and white patrol cars was the joke masquerading as a motto, “To Serve and Protect.” Everyone from the hood clearly understood the true translation: “To Serve and Protect—and Break A Nigga’s Neck.” It wasn’t until I got bused to school in a white enclave that I actually witnessed Five-Oh “Serve and Protect” anyone other than donut shops.

Within the perimeter of these occupied territories, the Blood and Crips and street pharmacists all engaged in mutually assured destruction of themselves and the rest of us over territory none of us owned. It was a world in which everyone inside the perimeter was considered collateral damage. Your first occasion for shopping for suit or a dress was as likely to be for friend’s funeral as for a graduation or Easter. Overseeing the controlled carnage was Tom Bradley, a political fixture as a five-term mayor of Los Angeles whose blackness was incidental to his political commitments and aspirations; Darryl Gates, Chief of Police, who served under Bradley (the Batter Ram in the opening scene of SOC is Gates contribution to serving and protecting); Governor George Deukmejian, who had won largely on campaign of Law and Order (read: “To Serve and Protect—and Break A...” you already know); and President Reagan’s trickle down policies which only trickled down penury, violence, planned destruction and depraved indifference towards Black and Brown life.

Gary Webb’s brilliant and courageous reporting at the Sacramento Bee documented how the CIA was more than eager to turn on the faucet full throttle and let the misery and drugs flow freely into our communities via the Iran-Contra Affair. To add insult to injury, Proposition 13 had a devastating impact on public schools, libraries and city services. Bad policy doesn’t have to be intentionally evil to be destructive; it just has to be effective in its destruction. The truth is for peoples of color bad policy is usually both intentionally evil and effective in its destruction.

The Tyranny Of Color Blindness

Survival in every ecological niche requires certain adaptations, what is an ecological advantage in one ecology may be a disadvantage in another. Consider color blindness, for example. In America, colorblindness confers certain advantages upon white folks—being blind to any color other than white effectively allows those who are colorblind to behave as if anyone who isn’t white is invisible.  Only being able to see gradations of whiteness frees the possessor of this form of colorblindness from considering the broadest range of human possibility, believing the only color they can see—white—constitutes the whole spectrum humanity, thus they are empowered to move through the world with destructive indifference because white colorblindness means people of color are effectively invisible. In short, colorblindness—seeing only white humanity—provides whites with an ecological advantage in society heavily stratified according to race.

If you lived in South Central or Compton, on the other hand, colorblindness was an ecological disadvantage, one that could be fatal. In the hood—your very survival was predicated upon your ability to distinguish between three very important primary colors: Blue, Red and White. White police officers draped in blue trained to view blackness as a crime and Black police officers draped in an unshakeable blackness off duty but bled only blue while on duty. Then you had the Crips and Bloods who could only see their way to love either blue or red but were colorblind and indifferent when it came to the sanctity of Black life.

Long before the commercial use of GPS (Global Positioning System), we had our own GPS (Gang Positioning System). Having hood GPS was critical for knowing which area you were in at all times, making a mistake and misreading the boundaries of, say, the Rollin 60s hood and ending up in Eight Tray territory could get you dead ended. This was life in the hood, a mélange of danger and existential magic was walled in by a system designed to place Black and Brown people under erasure by utilizing urban planning, racism and structured poverty, all shaped by consciously and unconsciously by proximal and distal relations to whiteness.

We are an ancient people. We have learned and mastered a thing or two about survival, resilience, improvisation and transcendence—existential magic. That is how we have endured this hostile, toxic place for so long. And growing up there was plenty of magic: Saturday bus rides up Slauson Avenue in route to Fox Hills Mall—after Soul Train, of course.  The girls of Ladera Heights, they were NuNu long before she showed up in the movie ATL. Crenshaw Blvd on Sunday nights—the collage of bebop strolls under baseball caps and starter jackets, the sashay of hips animating form fitting Levi 501s, Sundresses and spandex, people everywhere walking tall, cars riding low on shiny rims rattled by the heavy bass of sound systems that seemed to levitate the cars and getting our grub on at Fatburgers. The feel of being in control of the world as you switched between 103.9 KACE and 102.3 KJLH on the FM and 1580 KDAY holding down the AM. Crenshaw and Dorsey rivalries—you chose a side whether or not you ever attended either school, united only by the fact that no one knew whom Susan Miller Dorsey was, and no one cared to know. We managed to find or create beauty out of the terribleness of the situation we had been put it by virtue of ethnicity and history, and occasionally we produced spirits here, minds there that dared to be free. Or maybe I’m just being nostalgic.

Biopics are not biographies, they only resemble them; they are mythologies by necessity. One cannot capture a whole life in two or three hours no matter how earnest and skilled the filmmaker. The choice is, more often than not, which type of mythology to employ—hagiography or propaganda; both rely on nostalgia. F. Gary Gray, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube chose to propaganda and nostalgia over inconvenient truths for reasons seeming to have more to do with sanitizing the group’s image for greater commercial success and profit. It succeeded. As Chairman Mao noted: “In order for art to succeed as propaganda, it must first succeed as art.” And SOC has succeeded as nostalgic propaganda precisely because F. Gary Gray succeeded in making a very good and entertaining film—part biopic, part love story, part concert film. The thing is even in a lie if you look closely enough you can still find the truth.

Scene as metaphor for mentacide: The Psychology of Oppression

Sight is ability to see what is in front of you. Insight is the ability to use what is inside you to see what is going on around you. Vision is sight and insight combined with courage so you can see those things fear renders invisible to others. It requires neither sight nor insight just common sense to grasp why F. Gary Gray’s film intentionally ignores Dr. Dre’s history of violence towards women and completely places under erasure NWA’s dedicated contempt and religious disdain for Black women’s human beingness which animated a great deal of NWA’s second studio album, Niggaz4Life, which offered us such misogynistic gems like "Findum, F*ckum & Flee", "One Less Bitch" and "She Swallowed It." It does, however, require vision for one to recognize that misogyny runs through the film.

Upon closer examination of the opening scene what emerges is both an inadvertent display of the complexity of misogyny and dynamic inherent in the psychology of oppression in microcosm. The opening scene tells us a great deal about the misogyny the film placed under erasure, it also tells us about the insidious ways the psychology of oppression operates in our communities. The film begins in 1986 with Easy E (brilliantly acted by Jason Mitchell, on whose performance the story its weight) early in his career as a …let’s call him a …sales rep walking up to crack house call on a supplier and handle a transaction in…let’s call it, pharmaceutical sales.

Upon entering the house we are introduced to two Black men, we can assume are the managers and two Black women who are corporate employees of this reputable enterprise—and who are referred to and respond to being called b*tches so casually one could be forgiven if one assumed B*tch was the name on their birth certificates. There is disagreement over the terms of the contract and two men decide to renege on the deal with Easy E, the two women, who we now discover are security, draw their gats to make their point ballistic. The hood early warning system kicks in—too late, what else would we expect) as a batter ram rolls up. Each person in the house begins scurrying like roaches when the kitchen light comes on, each concerned only with securing their own isolate survival.

It’s all right there in front of us: the reduction of women to things, to set pieces and props, their complicity in the own disrespect, the reduction of their humanity, the sisters willingness to still support the brothers even though they are being disrespected, a banality of evil surpassed only by the men’s indifference to the two women’s humanity. It is right there in front of us. We miss it because we have become so inured to violence against women that even those of us who are vigilant cant see it unless it is in its most extreme form. Misogyny works best, is at its most insidious in close quarters in the ordinariness of silencing women, in the normalcy of its violence, through the reduction of our sisters’ humanity to objects, playthings for men because this is the crucible where venality is forged into brute force resulting in the physically violent manifestations for which we seem acutely attuned.

But there is more to be seen. Look closer. If we go past sight and insight and apply our vision we see five young Black people locked into a system created for their destruction, in a business whose success and profitability relies on the destruction of other Black people. The batter ram represents literally and figuratively the racist use of force by the very system that created the illicit system of commerce destroying the lives of very people the system positioned to destroy other black lives. To put another way, the system has position certain Black folks to destroy our communities and then it in turn destroys them too.

In the midst of this monstrous system are five young Black people who have no real plan for escape, each thinking they can find survival’s grasp individually; three men pitted against one another, but unified only in their shared disdain and disregard for the police and Black women (this monstrous carnival escalating soul-death can hardly be called Male privilege, but it is certainly suicidal) and two Black women who even in the cesspool their denigration still seek to make sure the men have a chance to stay afloat as they scurry furiously hiding the drugs, and yet one person manages to escape, Easy E, who goes onto fame and success.

The psychology of oppression in its most seductively brutal form results in a person or peoples being “prejudiced against their own survival.” Extrapolate the psychology of that scene into forty five million varying iterations and you have our predicament in America. Locked into systems predicated on our destruction, pitted against one another, devaluing of half of our community and each of us scurrying for isolate survival, and the one person who escapes the carnage having left everyone else behind for slaughterhouse of the soul—this person we celebrate without irony as a success.

Nostalgia can makes us careless in our remembering, moving to overreach in our explanations of our past and positioning us to misunderstand our current realities. NWA for their part have intentionally misremembered who they were in favor of a sanitized commercially profitable version of whom they wished they had been—a revolutionary group driven by the socio political concerns of Black folks. Rather than who they actually were—an oppositional group that traded on misogyny, a betrayal of the sanctity of Black lives and negro nihilism for fame and profit. In other words, the filmmaker want us to mistake Frank Lucas for Malcolm X. Jesus may have been able to turn water to wine but it’s a whole different magnitude of miracle to turn NWA into Public Enemy. I respect that they had the guts to try. What NWA was is the most basic cliché in American culture—creating a come up by playing up to an illusory Black Pathology because there is always a market for it because the demand always exceeds the supply.

There is no denying NWA’s sonic force and musical creativity even if it served to mask the stench of betrayal of our people’s best image and interests. In making the decision they made they were standing firmly within a white supremacist capitalist tradition that extends back to the Transatlantic Trade in enslaved Africans: There are always profits to be made trading in Black misery, suffering and illusory Black pathology. There is difference between standing for something better and different and merely standing against something wrong even as you promote it for profit. The surest way to success and notoriety in America is to sell Black pathology. Ask Fox. Ask CNN. It has been such a cliché, so ordinary that it doesn’t require genius. The most ordinary thing in the world to do is talk about what’s wrong with Black folks and get notoriety and a paycheck.

The movie, like the group it is based on, is a significant cinematic achievement. Certainly seeing Black men tell their story, their way (we’ll overlook the inconvenient truth that the writers were white, all of them) and seeing that story represented in way that conveys grit, self-determination and hustle as levers to escape the claws of entrenched poverty is existential poetry. I know this seems like a contradiction, and it is. It is, however, also to say that you can both offer a critique of art—as it was then and now, and recognize a significant Black achievement within a white supremacist capitalist framework. For example, the Obama Presidency—many celebrate his achievements as a Black man in the White House even as we (well, some of us) acknowledge he has advanced the same imperial interests as his predecessors (just under uniquely American racist pressures). Even when you cooperate with white misanthropy (supremacy) it doesn’t cooperate with you.

The contradiction represents our conundrum here in America: How to survive and thrive in a system predicated on our destruction without being wholly complicit in our own destruction. The distinction is a matter of degree, not difference. Although the magnitude of degree accounts for the differential impact—we all take one step forward and one step back when it comes to white supremacy, some of us simply move in ways in which those steps are deliberately placed on the necks and heads of Black folks. This is how we get by, balancing several life sustaining and life threatening contradictions at a time. In a world that wishes us a swift destruction sometimes the best genius we can muster is finding the best ways to kill ourselves slowly.

It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

Straight Outta Compton still leaves us to ponder enduring questions: Why do we continue to subsidize our own oppression? Why do we purchase, consume, support and celebrate the basest elements of our culture, even as we protest them as inaccurate? Why do Black men who have abundant examples of strong positive loving women in their lives still feel the need to have them be subordinate? What is the character of any man who would benefit from the help and support of Black women and then turn around disrespect them as a practiced principle? How does one manage to be feudal serfs in the work world, while asserting they are emperors at home, and yet building empires nowhere? How do you resolve that contradiction? In what ways does that unresolved contradiction eat away at the soul like a cancer? How do we heal it?

How is that we can have really strong sisters who actively fight against misogyny in the world and yet actively seek to reproduce patriarchy in their relationships with stunning alacrity? What are we to make of some of sisters who actively oppose misogyny and yet still listen to it and then with a straight face turn around criticize brothers for making, listening and celebrating the very same music? Perhaps three of the best known clichés in our communities are those Christians who expect everyone to behave as Christ except them, for whom Matthew 7:1-3 serves as a shield while using judgment as a sword against everyone else; that category of Africentrist/Nationalist who boast of the greatness of Africa and nationibuilding and yet at every turn can be found draping white supremacy in kente cloth, renting from white folks and modeling notions of familyhood that appear no more healthier than any other segment of our communities; and those Black feminist who’s reading list touts bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, bell hooks, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw and Patricia Hill Collins, but whose playlist resembles The Misogynoir All Stars" greatest hits.

Ideologies, if they are to create liveable realities that position people grow into better into better versions of themselves, all carry the same responsibility: To have its adherents model as matter of practiced principle the world they wish to make come alive by confronting as the demons outside and the demons within. All of these ideologies ask to do one thing: Be better humans. And in that sense all of us have an equal opportunity to succeed or fail in the effort. But to get there we must learn to separate blame from responsibility—we have to own our complicity and we have to do our part to fight the system.

Those of us who grew up alongside the Hip Hop, nostalgia has moved some of us to overreach in our appraisals of NWA. Some of us seeing the group as a defiant, revolutionary group, others of us seeming them as a part of successful effort to coopt the more progressive conscious trend in the music by groups like X Clan and Public Enemy. Still others of us have blamed gangsta rap for glorifying and spreading the disease of self-hate and self-destruction, having gone so far as to assert that gangsta rap is responsible for the chronic community violence and the high rates of homicides in our communities. Nostalgia has funny way of positioning us to look through the wrong end of the telescope placing things we should be able to see clearly with the benefit of historical insight farther away. If we look the telescope of history from the proper end a few things become clear:

(1)   NWA was not a revolutionary group; they were oppositional group that gave us a much need voice around police terrorism and who also exploited Black suffering and raised misogyny in rap to an art form for profit. No amount of nostalgia is going to change that—not if you have Spotify or Pandora.

(2)   Gangsta rap was not the cause of violence in our communities. Malcolm X counseled us that of all our studies history is best qualified to reward our research. History tells us that the first gangsta rap song was by Schooly D and the first gangsta album, Criminal Minded by KRS-One both dropped in 1987. The Center for Disease Control noted that from 1978-1987 there were 20,315 Black men killed over 90% of those by other Black men. In short, before the first Gangsta rap album ever dropped Black men had been killing one another at rates comparable to casualties rates during the Viet Nam war. Still there is something reprehensible about seeing your people in a burning house and throwing gasoline on the fire, which is what NWA did. They didn’t start the fire but they certainly did their part to help to keep it burning.

(3)   Chronic community violence has proven to be an intransigent feature of our oppression here. One need only read W.E.B Dubois Philadelphia Negro written in 1899 to get sense that this is an ongoing problem and one that we will have to develop solutions to because it is clear that animating cause of it is system of white misanthropy. That however is not the whole story: violence is a persistent feature of American culture and is exported by way of its foreign policy. The violence in the African-American community was born on the American side of the hyphen.

As we have watched the Hip Hop artists we grew up with grow older, take on more responsibility, acquire the habit of running away from risk, as we have watched their bodies expand and contort to the pull of time, their music like their bodies wear the habits of age, maybe we are slowly coming to realize that hip hop—our musical contribution—like its creators is revealing itself not to be transcendent as we hoped but merely mortal, showing the ravages of age.

Just as soul music had higher aspirations before it eventually found its grounding as the soundtrack of our parents, its coming of age replete with the accouterments of white counterculture betrayals which included counter culture white folks who by the 1980s had cut their hair, went from public drug use at concerts and parks to private drug in suites use, while prosecuting the Black and Brown youth for their public use, having assumed the levers of oppressive power.

Now those of us who came of age having seen our music shift from vinyl to cassettes to CDs to MP3s and watch as we now run away from risk while witnessing our white counterparts, who celebrated the music and its pageantry but never us, assume the lever of oppressive control—behind every forty-ish white corporate banker, gentrifier, police officer, mayor, politician is a Beastie Boys album and a bong, remnants of their safaris through blackness in their youth. That in the end Hip Hop is not some larger movement that achieved socio political changes but rather like Jazz, 70s Soul, 80s R&B it is just the soundtrack of our moment?

Fight The Power

F**k the Police is an enduring anthem, and it may yet prove useful in these times as an anthem for struggle, although I favor Public Enemy’s Fight The Power. It is important to remember that artists don't lead social movements; they follow them and the most meaningful artists find a way to lend their art to the movement. Where artists can be of acicular importance is in providing an emancipatory vision. All of your artists and art can’t simply be invested in "keepin it real", some of them have to invested in keepin’ it visionary.

WE need artists who have courageous vision, who place a better future in front of us to strive for, who hold a mirror up to our people showing them not just who they are, but who they have been, and of exceeding importance, who they still can be, to offer our people varying visions of what freedom looks like. To offer this to our people is more than good art, it is god-work.

Our time is now,  the children are ready and watching us. All we have to do is given them the vision.

Black Love is Black Power.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Under the FUBU is a Guru: Towards a model of Self Mastery and Meaningful Black Manhood — Ádìsá

“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”

― Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

Under the FUBU is a Guru Untapped

— Common, Sixth Sense

Meaningful Black Manhood is about standing in the rivers of African ancestral memory and shared social history, navigating its undulating currents hand in hand with Black (African) women and children. It is a river dance that extends millennia. It is to index a particular constellation of struggles, tragedies and triumphs we've endured alongside Black (African) women in defense of our image and interest and which give contours to the meaningfulness of  Black (African) manhood. 

It is to identify a set of cultural footprints that other Black (African) women and men have walked together before us, leaving trails and paths for us to consider and pursue; it is to say that we are connected to multiple histories and cultures which provide us with a general design for living and patterns for interpreting a shared reality with African women and children. It means to live and work in ways that inspire African women, children and other Black men to be their best, biggest and boldest selves; to reject manipulation, discrimination and oppression, to see those things for what they are—soul cancers.

It means to work to develop ourselves as fully grown men rather than asking African women to miniaturize themselves to fit the contours our egos; it means that we don’t ask them to bow down to us but rather look for ways to help them stand up under the oppressive weigh of this soul crippling society; it means standing side by side as we look for fertile paths forward, together; it means that the only thing we expect to submit to our will is white misanthropy.

It means that we look for generous ways to work with other brothers to find ways to help each other meet the demands of meaningful manhood with a kind mastery that helps births better lives for all of us; that we model complementarity in love, work, struggle, joy, laughter and victory; that we understand that conscious, committed and continuous soul-work that leads to positive growth and development is one of the best ways to bind oneself to God in ways that makes the practice of all other religions generously beautiful. 

I admit I am visionary or perhaps I’m a dreamer who prefers to dream while fully awake. I imagine an increasing army of Black men who seek to cultivate strength in their relationships rather than power. I imagine safe spaces for women and children everywhere our men are—spaces made safe because meaningful Black men are there. I imagine a time in which Black men and women will come to understand that debates about who is treated worse on the plantation is a cruel joke that has no punchline; that freedom for half a people is the same as being brain dead with a heartbeat. 

African (Black) men shouldn’t simply strive to be allies with Black (African) women; we should recognize that we are the silent pause between each other’s heartbeats. The heartbeat was our first music. Our saying yes to each other was our first song; our shared future a coordinated dance—an Aqua Boogie. 

Black Love is Black Power.

— Ádìsá

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Elementary school to be named after Seba Asa G. Hilliard III

A Fulton County elementary school has been renamed after a prominent educator. Mount Olive Elementary School in East Point will be renamed Asa Hilliard Elementary School. The Fulton County School Board of Education voted 7-0 to rename the school during Wednesday night’s meeting at Hamilton E. Holmes Elementary School in East Point.

Hilliard was an educational psychologist who promoted African-American studies and achievement. He died in 2007.

District 6 board member Catherine Maddox said she knew Hilliard and his family. “The naming of the school is not out of any personal obligation but solely on the distinguished accomplishments and the merit of Dr. Hilliard,” Maddox said.  Maddox said the board followed district policy to rename the school after the late Hilliard and there was strong community support for the change.

New interim Superintendent Ken Zeff received 150 signed petitions from residents in East Point and the surrounding area, Maddox said, and five East Point City Council members signed a letter of support.

“This was Dr. Hilliard’s community, which he brought the standards of excellence in education, and we want this school to have those same standards,” she said.

This was the first board meeting for Zeff. June 2 he replaced Robert Avossa, who served as the district leader for four years. In April, Avossa announced he was taking a job as superintendent of the School District of Palm Beach County in Florida.

In other business, the board recognized Robert Morales, chief financial officer, who attended his final meeting with the district. Morales was recently hired at the new chief financial officer of Atlanta Public Schools.

The school board also approved 2015-16 budget adjustments to commit $2.1 million for the records management fund and de-commit $500,000 for risk management. The overall $1.3 billion budget was approved at the board’s June 9 work session.

Read more: Neighbor Newspapers - Fulton Co school district renames East Point school 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

In the Time of Butterflies — Àdisà

“What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.”

― Lao Tzu

The process of transformation is often ugly and uncomfortable in the beginning. The transition stage from where we are to where we want to be—whether it’s our hair, our bodies, our minds or our disposition—is uncomfortable. And it's meant to be. The beauty in the early stages of moving from one state of being to another comes from embracing the struggle in the transition; the comfort is to be found later in having achieved our goals.

A common mistake many of us make is that we are more invested in being comfortable during the transition phase before we achieve anything to be comfortable about. ("I'll eat this and then work it off tomorrow" before we have met our dietary or weight goals; "I'm going natural but this weave will help with my transition" ...when the goal is to be natural) If we are honest what this really says about is we are more committed to whom we are than to whom we desire to be.

The transition process with all of its difficulties is the time to get to know whom we are, to reexamine notions bequeathed to us about ugliness and beauty, our worth and our values, about our identity and our consciousness, our hurt, pain and traumas, etc. What good is a beautiful natural head of healthy hair, if it shrouds a dead mind? What good is new found body beauty, if it houses the same toxic mentality about body image? What good does it do to be culturally conscious, if our behavior is still rooted in the mentality of the plantation? We confuse conversion experiences with actual transformation; we may think differently about our faith or our political commitments but very often they merely become the mask we pull over toxic behavioral patterns, which re-emerge eventually.

If we don't embrace the struggle of transition we may end up thinking we are free, confusing a more spacious cage for freedom, unaware that we are still held hostage by old insecurities, deep. Transition is the place where you do battle with yourself for your best self; transformation is where you discover whom emerged victorious.

The caterpillar loves being a caterpillar even as it embraces the difficult transition to becoming a butterfly...and then it loves being a butterfly. Loving whom you are while appreciating that you are not where you want to be are also means embracing the self-work and growth necessary to be transformed into a better version of us. Ancient African wisdom teaches us that human being are teachable and perfectible. 

Often we can see where we want to be in our lives but don't realize that to get there are we going to have to learn to fly, and before we can do that we have to embrace the struggle that comes along with the transition process that will create our wings. The caterpillar literally dissolves in the cocoon and is then repurposed into a butterfly. All the elements of caterpillar are there; they have merely been reconstituted to suit a higher purpose.

Healing requires memory, imagination and courage. Part of the work of healers is to inspire us by reminding us that a butterfly is just a caterpillar courageous enough to do the work to meet its highest destiny.

In life, love and liberation,