CAAN-LA Black History Panel

7 02 2018

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position
that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he
has overcome while trying to succeed.”
— Booker T. Washington

One of the great privileges of being part of the Columbia College Chicago National Alumni Board is representing the Board at CAAN events. The CAAN-Los Angeles network has been ably built up and guided by Sarah Schroeder, the West Coast Regional Director for Columbia, and her events are always top notch, well represented by our up-and-coming alumni, and well attended.

Yesterday’s Black History Panel featured our Columbia alumni who are also some of the trailblazers and innovators in Black filmmaking and entertainment: Producer-Director-Writer George Tillman, Jr., who has been the creative force behind some of my favorite movies, including the Barbershop films and Men of Honor; Writer-Director-Actor Kenny Young, the genius behind You Can’t Fight Christmas, Chance, and One Week; Producer-Development Executive Crystal Holt, engineer behind Rebel (BET), and The Swap (Disney Channel); Actress Erica Hubbard, who had pivotal roles in Chicago Med, Let’s Stay Together, and Lincoln Heights; Producer Paul Garnes, who gave us Selma, and Queen Sugar; and on-air personality, Grammy-Nominated Music Producer-Songwriter, and co-founder of Da Internz, Marcos “Kosine” Palacios.

The panel was moderated by some really talented and thoughtful Columbia student moderators: Jocelyn Shelton and Marquise Davion.

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Gearing up for our CAAN-LA’s Black History Month Alumni Panel with some fabulous filmmakers and student moderators Marquis Davion and Jocelyn Shelton.

George Tillman, Jr. discussed how he got into film, and how the presence of African-American creators and filmmakers has grown since he first came to Hollywood.

Kosine talked about his journey, encouraged the alumni still pursuing their dreams to simply, “Stay in the game,” and urged that, “Black History Month is a great time for African-Americans to be networking with each other,” and to take advantage of this and motivate each other towards excellence.

As an actress, Erica Hubbard discussed the high bar set by the writing and talent she experienced on the “Lincoln Heights” set, and how it is difficult to accept projects that don’t meet that standard.

If Paul Garnes did nothing else, he helped launch director-producer Ava Duvernay to the world. Paul shared his journey in filmmaking, how he met and got started with Ava, and working on Selma with David Oyelowo, and Oprah, as well as Queen Sugar.

Kenny Young talked affectionately about his mentors and the people who helped steer him in his career. He also talked about making determinations. He said at one point that he didn’t want to work a full-time job ever again, and he hasn’t since then. He has found a way to juggle, struggle, and forge ahead on his drive and talent, while still earning a living in Los Angeles.

Crystal Holt gave, what I felt was the most powerful and practical advice. “Drive is something you cannot teach, and that goes further than talent… You have a goal in mind, and you are working toward that plan for your life. Don’t give up on that.”

She also gave some sage advice on contracts and equal pay: “Trust no one! Be contract literate, and read it from front to back before you sign.”

While this old dog gleaned from their practical wisdom, I also enjoyed hearing about the endeavors and adventures of our young alumni; like the delightful Toy Monique, who works for Will Packer Media in their scripted and unscripted television department. Toy is a recent transplant to L.A., having gone through Columbia’s Semester in L.A. program in 2016. She laid the groundwork back then, and came back to Los Angeles as an employee at the place where she interned! What a smart lady—we’ll definitely be keeping an eye on her, and very happy to stay in contact via Instagram and LinkedIn.

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Black History Month 2015: Zora Neale Hurston

5 02 2015

zora-neale-hurston

“It would be against all nature for all the Negroes to be either
at the bottom, top, or in between. We will go where the internal drive carries us like everybody else. It is up to the individual.”

Zora Neale Hurston

Zora is one of my favorite writers. Her language is beautiful, uplifting, elegant, and scarcely seen in modern literature. Literacy across the board is becoming a thing of the distant past, much to the detriment of of our people.

I explore this a bit more over at Communities Digital News, Black History Month 2015: Let’s promote a return to literacy:

“Sadly, the richness of literacy exhibited by her and her contemporaries—like Langston Hughes, who would have been 113 this week—is sorely lacking in today’s literature. Do our young people even know the names of these and other great writers, or the titles of their works? If the crisis in our culture is any indication, we are failing our children by starving them of the substantive words and sweeping vision of great writers while spoon-feeding them the steady pabulum of gangster rap and reality television.”

Read more here.





Black History Month 2015: Harriet Tubman

2 02 2015

harriet-tubman

“I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand
more if only they knew they were slaves
.
-Harriet Tubman

This famous quote by the “Black Moses” could well be applied today. The chains of slavery are evident in the mind, attitudes and allegiances of our race, and are being reflected in the lack of leadership and focus in the modern civil rights movement:

“Seeing the power, presence, and passion of Dr. King artfully portrayed by actor David Oyelowo, as well as the re-enactment of the give and take between Ralph Abernathy and Andrew Young of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and John Lewis of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, merely spotlights the total lack of conviction or moral authority in the civil rights movement of today. In place of an intelligent, articulate, and anointed Dr. King, we have the mush-mouthed Al Sharpton, and the empty bumper sticker slogans of “No Justice, No Peace,” and “Black Lives Matter.”

Dr. King is flipping in his grave.”

Read the rest at my Communities Digital News column: Martin Luther King Day, Selma, and the moral scarcity in modern-day civil rights.





Black Heritage Month: Week 4–Black Progress

1 03 2012

So leap day came and went, and Black Heritage month has officially ended. But I wanted to conclude my series with some thoughts on Black Progress.

The word “Progress” among Blacks is a relative term, and its parameters change depending on who you talk to. If you talk to a black young man in the inner city, he would probably say that Blacks have made little progress, and racist systems still hold our people back. Talk to a different black young man from a middle class neighborhood, who has greater access and opportunities, and he might see it differently. I know I had a much different take on Black progress growing up in a home that (initially) was in a middle class neighborhood, than my older brothers and sisters who spent much of their formative years in an apartment in the Cabrini-Green housing project.

Black Progress is a lens which, dependent upon the filter, projects a different image.

Which brings me to a pivotal gauge of Black Progress: How Blacks are portrayed on screen.

The Helpa movie about Black maids in the 1960s telling their stories to a white writer, was the talk of 2011. But despite its critical and box-office success, the movie was not received with open arms by everyone: liberal film critics dismissed the movie as racist, and certain aspects of the Black community were also up in arms.

The consensus among the detractors was that this was simply a rehashing of old stereotypes of “maids and mammies”, in a pastiche, cookie-cutter way. The fact that it was adapted from a book by white author Kathryn Stockett, who modeled her fictional character on the Black maid who raised her, didn’t help matters either.

The Association of Black Women Historians went as far as penning “An Open Statement to Fans of The Help“, decrying the stereotypes, phony dialects, and the glossing over of serious issues suffered by Black domestics like sexual harassment and physical abuse. Jessica Cumberbatch Anderson of the Huffington Post even felt the need to counter what she felt was a one-dimensional portrayal of Black women during the time period in which The Help is based, penning an article and slideshow “Black Female Trailblazers in the time of ‘The Help’“.

This last piece is informative, and nicely written; but it summarily discounts the acts of defiance, and the trail forged by the maids portrayed in The Help. What they did and chose to do was as much a part of the struggle for freedom as a Rosa Parks or a Fannie Lou Hamer.

The New Republic (of all places) actually called critics on the carpet for dismissing the movie as racist, and talked about the subtle nuances, rich characters,  and good storytelling that gets missed when projects such as this are rejected on their face. “‘The Help’ isn’t Racist. It’s Critics Are.”

The movie continued to stay in the forefront of conversation, particularly since it received several nominations. Viola Davis, played the central character “Abileen”, and Octavia Spencer played the supporting role of “Minny”. Both were nominated for Best Actress and Supporting Actress nods, and Octavia Spencer won the prize.

I have loved Viola Davis‘s work for many years; so the fact that she was nominated for an Academy Award came as no surprise. I consider Viola to be in a league of her own, creating seminal work and characters that are multi-layered, diverse, and amazingly credible.

Granted she was amongst her strongest peers, particularly Meryl Streep, who is also in a league of her own, and known for doing transformational work to achieve a character. Seventeen nominations and three wins says volumes.

But I was still greatly disappointed that Viola did not take home the Best Actress prize. It was, as they say, Meryl’s year. Among certain black–and white–peers, was the sense that despite The Help’s amazing performances, and focused reflection on an aspect of history that gets little regard or mention any more, Viola’s performance was possibly passed over by the Academy simply because the character was a “stereotypical maid.”

Back in August of 2011, Octavia Spencer spoke with Chris Witherspoon of The Grio about her role in the movieYou can watch the video (linked below), but one quote from her interview that stood out was when Chris Witherspoon asked her how she felt about playing a “stereotypical maid”:

“What is a stereotype of a maid? I’d like to know. Is it because she’s wearing a gray uniform serving people? Our moms do that every day, they just don’t wear a uniform […]

“We all serve as women: we serve our husbands, we serve our children, we serve each other in a sisterhood. So, I get really pissed off because I think that it’s discounting a person’s value.

“Do you know the some of the doctors and lawyers that we somehow aspire to be on screen are probably, perhaps, the most one-dimensional characters you ever get to play? These women–men and women–whether they’re butlers or gardeners or whomever; just because it’s not your station in life, doesn’t mean that you get the right to discount it. So, if it’s a maid, and if it’s a maid with dimension, if it’s a person with redeeming qualities, hell yeah I want to play her, and I don’t have a problem playing a maid.”

Octavia Spencer defends her role in The Help

In 1939, Hattie McDaniel was the first Black, and first woman to win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the maid “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind. As Blacks moved into more empowerment in the 60s and 70s, Hattie’s performances were criticized, demeaned, and not considered an image that reflected Black Progress. But Hattie herself said, “I’d rather play a maid than be one.”

The next time the Academy saw fit to convey this honor on a Black person was in 1963, when Sidney Poitier won the Best Actor statuette for his portrayal of an itinerant handyman in Lilies of the Field. Fast-forward to 1982, 19 years later, when Louis Gossett, Jr. won Best Supporting Actor for his turn as “Sergeant Emil Foley”, a role originally written for a white actor. Seven years later, in 1989, Denzel Washington won Best Supporting Actor for his role in Gloryabout the first all-Black regiment during the Civil War.

Since 1989, nominations and actual wins became more consistent. Whoopi Goldberg won Best Supporting Actress in 1990 for her portrayal of the medium “Oda Mae Brown” in Ghost. In 1996, Cuba Gooding, Jr. won Best Supporting for “Rod Tidwell” a failed football player who gets a resurrected career in Jerry Maguire.

Two-Thousand One was a high water mark: Denzel followed in Poitier’s footsteps, winning Best Actor for Training Day. Denzel played against type, taking on the role of a corrupt L.A. Police detective “Alonzo Harris”. That year was a two-fer, as Halle Berry took home the Best Actress prize for her performance of the brokenhearted widow “Leticia” in Monster’s Ball.  A mere three years later, Morgan Freeman won for his role as “Eddie ‘Scrap Iron’ Dupree” in Million Dollar Baby.  Then 2005, gave Jamie Foxx the Best Actor prize for Ray, as he powerfully enveloped the legendary Ray Charles. And the year 2006 saw Jennifer Hudson take home Best Supporting Actress for her turn as the talented, proud, and determined “Effie” in Dreamgirls.

Forest Whitaker won Best Actor in 2008 for The Last King of Scotland, channeling the crazed dictator Idi Amin.  Mo’Nique won Best Supporting Actress in 2009 for her frightening role of “Mary”, the abusive mother in Precious, and in 2011 Octavia Spencer picked up the same prize for her turn as “Minny”.

And this is only a list of Academy Awards for movie portrayals. There are countless television movies and series, from Roots to House of Payne that reflect Black images that have been lauded, applauded, and related to by audiences, as well as the award purveyors.

Among those Academy Award winners, we have a gamut of portrayals: dirty cop, military officer, washed-up football star, crazed world leader, medium, widow, boxing trainer, abusive mother, and maid. Why is one any greater than the other? They ALL represent the wealth of the Black experience–the wealth of life experiences of any race or color. Not to mention, we now have a substantial group of Black talent who can pick and choose not only the roles they wish to play, but make the movies they wish to see, and create the images they feel worthy to be portrayed on screen. Anyone heard of Spike Lee? John Singleton? Julie Dash? F. Gary Gray? And that’s just the short list.

As I said last week, framing the conversation and achievement within certain parameters does a disservice to those who fought, blazed trails, and worked just as hard to change the face of America in their corner of the world. They were as much a part of that Civil Rights Movement that transformed the nation, and they deserve rightful recognition.

Picking and choosing what Black images are an acceptable portrayal does the same thing as hunting for a “national black leader”. Freedom and equality is about looking at the full tapestry of the struggles and experiences, and these have no racial designation.

In discussing the role of “Abileen” in an interview with Urban Daily, Viola Davis challenged:

“I just feel like the most revolutionary thing that you could do is to humanize the Black woman. What I mean by that is there is no way, I am not going to believe this, that if Jodie Foster, or Meryl Streep, or any number of fabulous caucasian actresses were sitting in front of you–Emma Stone–is that you would–or anyone would ask them why they did a role if there was something about that character that they didn’t feel was politically correct. They would just look at the role. They would look at the complexities of it […]

I don’t want to play an image. I think the most revolutionary thing for me as an actress is just play the role. Whatever it is. However ugly it is, however politically incorrect it is. If I can do that for me, then I am sitting in the same seat as a Jodie Foster, or a Meryl Streep, or an Annette Benning.”

Hattie McDaniel did not have these options in 1939. In 2012, Viola Davis sets the tone and makes the choices. Is this not representative of Black Progress?

We would do well to clean the lens and adjust our filters.





Black Heritage Month: Week 3–Black Leadership

24 02 2012

Do We Still Need Black Leaders?” is the question Britni Danielle unpacked in Clutch Magazine this month. She mostly pulls from a more substantial article in the Washington Post by Kevin Powell, one of the new breed of “Black activists”. Powell writes in “Black Leadership is dead. Long Live Black Leadership“:

“This search for a national leader of the black community does a great disservice to the influential young African Americans who’ve done powerful activism, in some form, for a number of years. They hail from fields ranging from education (Dr. Zoe Spencer, Steve Jackson) to media (Melissa Harris Perry, Marc Lamont Hill) to technology (Malaney Hill, Tracey Cooper).”

The gist of both Powell’s and Danielle’s writings is that searching for a “de facto” Black leader to represent all Black concerns is futile. Leadership needs to come from a range of places in order to represent the myriad (and common) concerns faced by the varying economic, social, and political shades of the Black community. The very fact that we as a people continue to be trapped by this model means that true Black Leadership is either not recognized, or there are sectors of the community where a void is left.

While Powell’s bent and argument is decidedly left-leaning, I agree with the essence of his piece. I have long said that “Black Leaders” that are paraded in front of our face by the media and political class mostly represent themselves and their myopic point of view: whether they be an academic like Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, or a hack like Jesse Jackson. Powell makes an excellent point that the election of our first Black President, hailed with pomp, circumstance, and the supposed fulfillment of a “post-racial” America has led to dissatisfaction among the very Blacks that helped usher him into office. It is high time to chuck the model of some national voice or leader, and recognize the leadership that has already risen to address the specific faces and concerns of our communities.

And why does it always have to be about political or social activism? Back in the day it was about protecting and promoting strong Black families, communities, and supporting the education and spiritual growth of our people. The “activism” came into play by necessity–it wasn’t always the mode of operation. Activism is not all that Black Leadership entails, and often activism takes different shapes and forms. Hattie McDaniel and James Baldwin were as much activists as Sojourner Truth or A. Philip Randolph.

Merely thinking in terms of activism excludes a number of our leaders who are simply excellent at what they do, and give back to their people and the community in front of–and behind–the scenes. They lead with the fruit of their life and gifts, rather than the mounting of a soapbox. Both Powell and Danielle point out that behind the visible leadership of a Frederick Douglass or Dr. Martin Luther King were many other Black (and white) leaders and voices who partnered with these visionaries to see change come about.

My take? Stop looking for a leader, and be one.

 





Black Heritage Month: Week 2–Black Genocide

16 02 2012

I recently read an article in Religion Dispatches by Sikivu Hutchinson titled “God’s Body, God’s Plan: The Komen Furor and Abortion as Black/Latino ‘Genocide'”. An interesting, and well-written read, though I thorougly disagree with everything she posits.

Ms. Hutchinson holds to the argument that a woman’s “right” to do with her body what she wishes should be wholesale protected by the government. It’s part of “reproductive justice” and that blanket term: “family planning”. She holds the belief that the ills suffered by women and children of color are because these services are not readily available and protected, and that the pro-life lobby and its work to eradicate abortion is part of the work to maintain a racist power structure. Huh?

Specifically in her cross-hairs is a group called The International Coalition of Color for Life, founded by Eve Sanchez Silver. Ms. Hutchinson first minimizes Ms. Sanchez Silver, a Latina, with the throwaway description of her background: “a former medical research analyst for and charter member of the Komen Foundation, has been a leading advocate against Planned Parenthood within Komen.”

In fact, Ms. Sanchez Silver is more than that–she has a very impressive background in science and research. You can read her bio and find out for yourself. She also resigned from Komen after they chose to develop a relationship with Planned Parenthood;  so the “within Komen” statement is misleading, if not false.

In typical liberal fashion, Ms. Hutchinson cherry picks and uses the most stark images and statements from the website to build a straw man argument against the notion that abortion is being used as a form of Black Genocide. She sees abortion as a necessary service to help protect women of color, and prevent the high rate of out-of-wedlock births, foster children and incarcerated youth of color. Since Roe v. Wade’s institution in 1973, the United States has legally protected a woman’s right to obtain an abortion. Yet, none of those rates she mentions have been reduced–in fact, some of them have increased. You would think close to 40 years of abortion rights would have proven her argument, but apparently not.

Ms. Hutchinson also argues that to use Planned Parenthood’s founder Margaret Sanger‘s work and writings as a basis  “to vilify abortion, anti-abortion foes of color are actually savaging women’s right to agency.” Ms. Hutchinson even parades out the black leaders who were Sanger’s contemporaries, who backed her work: Dr. Martin Luther King, Mary McCleod Bethune, Ida B. Wells, and so on. This feels equivalent to certain Blacks paraded out by news organizations and political parties to prove their cause is just; however, it gives no basis of proof toward the validity of the cause just because certain people of color support it. But, I digress.

As a pro-life Black woman, I have watched this debate on both side for years. As a writer, I’ve seen the massaging of terms and wording on both sides to try to reshape the argument in their favor. Those opposed to abortion have re-crafted the language from “anti-abortion” to “pro-life”, from “crisis pregnancy centers” to “women’s centers” in order to re-frame their point-of-view. On the converse, terms like “family planning”, “reproductive rights”, and “birth control” are being used in the same way, to camouflage the fact that the act of abortion is central to their focus.

And now the latest term of “women’s health care” is being used to support the so-called pro-choice advocacy for wholesale government-funding of abortions and abortifacients.  A position strongly supported by our first Black President, who claims to “respect” religious liberties, even when he continues to trample upon them. Catholic Bishops aren’t buying it, and from their Wall Street Journal editorial, neither are David B. Rivkin, Jr. and Edward Whelan:

President Obama claims to respect Religious Liberties–offers token compromise

WSJ: Birth Control Mandate–Unconstitutional and Illegal.

I took enough women’s studies classes where Ms. Sanger’s goals and writings were presented in a glowing light, to have made up my own mind about her: she was a racist with genocidal intentions wrapped in a pretty package of benevolence.

Margaret Sanger was a eugenicist, and believed (as much as Adolph Hitler) in an elite race, and the elimination of any inferior races that would poison the well. Hitler had the Jews, homosexuals, and the infirm on his hit list; Sanger had the “feeble-minded”, poor immigrants, and minorities on hers. Her argument for “birth control” was to work toward the limitation of those inferior elements, so that superior races could thrive. Books like The Pivot of Civilization, and Women and the New Race trumpet these beliefs with brazen authority. Taken on their face, they present logical arguments that are totally antithesis to life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness for anyone except those she deemed “fit”.

With 17-million (and counting) black babies aborted through the work of Planned Parenthood, the organization Ms. Sanger founded seems well on its way to accomplishing her vision. While the Rev. Al Sharpton, Michael Eric Dyson, and other supposed black leaders are obsessed with calling anyone who opposes President Obama and his policies a racist, and slapping labels of “Uncle Tom” and “House Nigga” on Black conservatives like Shelby Steele and Congressman Allen West, you hear crickets from these same leaders about Planned Parenthood’s targeting of minority communities under the guise of “family planning” and “women’s health”.

Just as W.E.B. Dubois and Dr. Martin Luther King, were seduced by Margaret Sanger’s benevolent claims to understand and assist in the “Negro problem”, we have our modern-day equivalents advocating and shilling for “women’s reproductive rights” for a number of reasons. Some have drunk the Kool-Aid, others want the media recognition, but many others either want the financial gain (read: campaign contributions) or the votes. So, not much has changed.

Like Sikivu Hutchinson, Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution argues that the term “Black Genocide” is nonsense. Also like Ms. Hutchinson, Ms. Tucker uses ONE pro-life advocate (Johnny Hunter of Life Education and Resource Network-LEARN) as her whipping boy, pointing out how radical he is because he considers abortion a means to wipe out the black race. So extreme!

She builds her own straw man argument with these ridiculous statements:

“Oddly, the most vociferous critics of Planned Parenthood are also the least likely to support plans and proposals that might actually lower the abortion rate — among black women as well as among white and brown women.”

Abstinence education, and women’s centers that cater to ladies with unplanned pregnancies and offer alternatives that don’t involve termination are funded and supported by these critics she talks about. But I guess Ms. Tucker doesn’t consider those viable plans and proposals to getting the abortion rate down.

And then, Ms. Tucker trumpets her biggest fallacy: ” If birth control pills and devices were cheaper and more widely available, more women would use them. Unplanned pregnancies would drop. The abortion rate would decline.”

My young-adult niece would go to parties in Hollywood where they passed out free contraceptive samples and free condoms. When I had no insurance, this Black woman found discounts on my birth control pills. Heck, they pass out free condoms  in schools–so WHAT is Ms. Tucker talking about?

The Guttmacher Institute presented a revelatory report on Abortions in the United States. Just a snippet of their findings:

“Fifty-four percent of women who have abortions had used a contraceptive method (usually the condom or the pill) during the month they became pregnant. Among those women, 76% of pill users and 49% of condom users report having used their method inconsistently, while 13% of pill users and 14% of condom users report correct use.” (emphases mine.)

So more than half of abortions sought were by women who used contraception either incorrectly or inconsistently. Ms. Tucker’s treatise has hit bottom, yet she continues to dig.

I am thankful that there is still a percentage of my people who refuse to fall for the twin ruses of “women’s health” and “women’s reproductive rights”. Organizations like The International Coalition of Color for LifeLEARNLife DynamicsThe National Black Pro-Life UnionNational Black Pro-Life Coalition, and hundreds of others, are taking a stand to battle the continued encroachment of deception and lies.

Saysumthn‘s WordPress blog did an awesome video presentation in 2010 highlighting religious and civic leaders, and every day people, who are choosing to stand up for the lives of Black babies. Though a few years old, it is even more relevant in 2012: Black Genocide: African-American Leaders Speak Out.

Dr. Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, and Director of African-American Outreach for Priests for Life made a statement opposing the abortion mandate housed in Obamacare. Dr. Alveda King said:

“What really is racist is singling out minorities, who now receive about two-thirds of the abortions in this country, for discriminatory treatment[…]”

 “Those of us who care about the civil rights of all Americans, born and unborn, oppose Obamacare because we oppose the expansion of the most racist industry in America – the abortion industry.”
Black people, where will you stand?




Black Heritage Month: Week 1–Can’t we all just get along?

3 02 2012

Tom Nab/Photobucket.com

Lloyd Marcus, Black American, spokesperson for the Tea Party, and the author of the “Tea Party Anthem”, recently penned Another Black History Month: The Left’s Favorite Time of the Year.

Marcus clearly makes the point that Black “progress” is filtered through a liberal mindset:

“Rather than presenting a balanced, honest look at black history, leftist schoolteachers and the media say America is still racist and whites should feel eternally guilty.  Also included in the left’s message is that blacks must continue to vote monolithically for Democrats in order to keep rich white Republican racists at bay.  Yes, for the most part, Black History Month is a propaganda tool of the Democratic party.”

I could not have said it better myself. Most of the documentaries I have watched have either had the undercurrent of “pity poor us” or “we haven’t come far at all”. And rarely do I see positive representations of the strides and contributions of conservative Blacks.

Take for instance, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice–one of the smartest women in the world with a fascinating life and background. It doesn’t matter what her political affiliation is or that she was part of an administration that some people view in a less than positive light; as one of our Black trailblazers, she should get recognition for her accomplishments and how she has paved the way for others. But for the most part, all she has gotten is mockery and ridicule from liberal Blacks and whites alike.

And speaking of mockery and ridicule, I also read this article about a Black Memphis DJ who was allowed to verbally abuse, berate, and belittle a Black female Republican politician. Charlotte Bergmann is running for a congressional seat in Memphis, and as far as I can see, she acted with decorum and patience, while DJ Thaddeus Matthews simply beclowned himself.

Liberals are having fits over Arizona Governor Jan Brewer‘s supposed disrespect of President Obama a few weeks ago, yet I haven’t heard any outrage about this. The host was allowed to show blatant disrespect to a female and fellow person of his color, yet I doubt if he suffers any backlash, because he’s supposedly “down” with the struggle.

See for yourself. WARNING: Foul and unnecessary language.

Is this what the Freedom and Liberty that was bought and paid for by the Blood, sweat and toil of Blacks and whites is being used for? To point fingers, and call each other Toms and House Niggas? Our true Black leaders, from Harriet Tubman, to Frederick Douglass, to Dr. Martin Luther King are rolling in their graves. This is NOT what they risked their lives for, and if they could speak today, they would tell it like it is.

I have said in the past, and will continue to say this: Can we just teach American history in all its hues, and get rid of this “token” time of the year to supposedly honor Black progress–especially when that “progress” is left to the interpretation of a select few? Can we stop fighting battles that have already been won, and focus on battles that are still raging, and where people are actually dying?

We are a people who have forgotten who we are, where we came from, and the price others have paid so that we can wallow in our racial and political tunnel vision.

We cannot see the forest for the trees.





Illustrating Absurdity

6 03 2010
Illustrating Absurdity

Chicken crossing by Peter Griffin

Absurdity is the watchword for this week, on the local and national level.

Teacher suspensions seem to be the knee-jerk reaction to gray-area issues that, under different circumstances, could be interpreted in a number of ways.

Three white L.A. teachers at a South Los Angeles elementary school were suspended because they handed out pictures of O.J. Simpson, Dennis Rodman and RuPaul to students participating in a Black History Month parade.  Administrators admit that these black celebrities were on an “approved” list.  But with the racial incidents at UC San Diego, any non-minority administrator is now walking on eggshells.  Not to mention certain “community leaders” don’t feel suspensions are good enough for these teachers, and are demanding they be dismissed.

The ethnicity (or lack thereof) of the teachers is important here–had these been three black teachers would we be getting this overblown reaction?  I doubt it.  Not to mention that before their highly public falls from grace, O.J. Simpson and Dennis Rodman were heroes to the black community, and despite their own personal egregiousness, are still considered premier athletes.  And Ru Paul?  I would think he/she would be a perfect delivery system for teaching children tolerance and acceptance–but I digress…

Mayor Smilin’ Tony weighed in on the whole brouhaha, saying he is “shocked” and “outraged”.  Look at my title–I rest my case.  L.A. teachers suspended over Black History Month celebration.

Meanwhile, in the heartland of Guthrie Center, Iowa, a teacher has been placed on administrative leave because he refused to allow a student to build a Wiccan altar in shop class.  The instructor believed allowing him to build the altar would constitute a violation of separation of church and state laws, but civil liberties groups say he violated the student’s right to free speech.  The instructor has said he also did not allow a Christian student to create a cross in the same shop class.  I wonder, if the student had been a Christian who wanted to design a religious symbol cogent to his faith, would those same civil liberties groups be slathering to make an example of this instructor?  Now that the lawyers are involved, all bets are off that this 20-year classroom veteran will be able to return to work anytime soon, if at all.  Wiccan altar puts teacher, officials at odds.

And I can’t say this really falls under absurdity–but since I don’t do any posts illustrating tragedy, this spot will have to do.  Woman suspected of putting baby in trash ‘didn’t know she was pregnant’.

I am thankful for two things: 1) that I am not an elementary or high school teacher; and 2) that I know the difference between bad PMS and actual pregnancy and labor.  Apparently all those sex education classes failed this girl.





Sister Glue

28 02 2010

Black Heritage is my heritage–embodied in the history of my family.

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I could never love anyone as I love my sisters!
Jo March, Little Women 1994

My relationship with my sisters has been as individual as we are.  Often complicated, sometimes overly dramatic, but no less enriching and essential to my life.  The glue of faith, prayer, and family honor has held us together, when at times I felt we were irreparably parted.

These excepts are from different chapters of Fried Chicken and Sympathy.

Chapter 7:  Sister Interrupted.

During my young adult years, my contact with Barbara waxed and waned throughout the years as I sought to find myself and my life.  But I will never forget her constant love and worship of God, her childlike trusting faith, and her adherence to truth.

When I was a child, if you had told me I could get close to God if I stood on my head three times a day, I would have broken my neck trying.  During my time in Catholic school, I learned different forms of prayer, to saints and to Mary, that I used to say along with the other forms of praying I had learned at New Hope.  Barbara was walking past my room one day, and she heard me praying the Hail Mary.  She barreled into the room, in her blustery fashion, and demanded I stop.

Startled, I looked up at her.  “But I’m only praying,” I excused.

“You don’t have to pray to anyone but Jesus!  He is the only true God.”

That made an impression.  As loopy as other’s deemed her, and as convoluted as her thoughts sometimes could be, she was secure in who the Source was.  Despite the faulty teachings, and false hopes, she never lost faith in God that she would be healed, and she never got angry with God because it never manifested in this life.  She didn’t understand the whys, but it never stopped her from continuing to seek answers, ask questions, and trust God’s will and heart toward her.  I model much of my relationship with God from her example:  Unyielding faith, eternal trust, yet never afraid to be fully human.

Even when I thought I had stopped following her life, she was still committed to following mine.  Like Gerry, she loved her family, and was loyal to a fault.  When I would phone the Ferdinand house to speak with Bay, I would hear her excited voice in the background,

“Jennifer!  Oh yes—let me speak to my sister!”  Bay would surrender the phone, and she would ramble on about Lil Mike, Joshuah, Aimee, her job, or about nothing in particular; she just enjoyed the process of connecting with me.

I made a conscientious effort to be the “auntie” to my nephews and niece, particularly at Christmastime.  I made sure that Lil’ Mike, Joshuah and Aimee (who had the misfortune of being born on December 24) had something, even if it was only coloring books.  Barbara would exclaim, and ooh and ahh over the little gifts, as if I had given them college scholarships.  She was grateful for kindness, especially toward her children.

I didn’t understand the depths of her love for me until after she died.  At Barbara’s repast, a very thin and agitated young girl walked into the church hall where it was being held.  Joan greeted her, then brought her over to where I was sitting.  The woman was a coworker of Barbara’s, and she had traveled two hours by bus to pay her respects.  She was very apologetic, because she had gotten lost and missed the wake.  When Joan introduced her to me, her face lit up with recognition.

“You’re Jennifer!”  she exclaimed.

“Yes,” I replied, extremely puzzled at her highly familiar exclamation.

“Barbara talked about you all the time—how smart you were, and your clothes—and she used to tell me you wore these wild earrings!”  We all laughed, then she continued to go on and on about how Barbara talked about me.  I sat there and listened, and cried over this precious gift from a total stranger: a part of my sister that I never knew existed, and unfortunately, realized too late.  I mattered much to her, and was thought of, even in my chosen 3,000 mile exile.

Chapter 16:  The Law of Reflection.

Everyone has people who are mirrors in their lives; some render true reflections, others do not.  June’s mirror is a solid plane that has rendered an accurate reflection, allowing me to view myself and my world with some degree of normalcy.  I have never felt reduced in her presence, and I have never been made to feel as if I were “less than” in her eyes.  I know that I would not have had the courage to believe in myself, pursue my dreams, or move away from our family dysfunction had June not been in my life.  The mere fact of her acting as that solid plane has caused the direction of my “light” to change for the better.

Yet, while we share similar values, beliefs, and preferences, we are definitely opposites.  I’m more of a social butterfly, and she’s a homebody, preferring to sit in her place and read, or play her beloved computer games, than be in a roomful of people.  I’m extremely creative and innovative, enjoying projects that have a defined beginning and then moving on to the next task.  June is more analytical—she enjoys maintenance, and the mundane details and redundant tasks involved in it, where this type of work drives me insane.  She will often listen to my view on something, and she’ll say, “You know what, you’re a strange kid!”  But she means this with no malice, and it’s usually expressed with her dry wit.  The mirror defines our kinship.  Her positive reflection of me when I was younger helped me navigate what, for the most part, was a troubling and confusing childhood.  And now that I’m an adult, she still reflects a clear image, confirming who I have become and affirming who I can continue to be.  There are a handful of people who I know will love me no matter what I do, and she is at the top of the list.  She adores me and is among my true fans—always encouraging me to be true to who I am, to write, to not give up on my creativity.  Always reminding me that the dreams that I dream can, and will, come true.  She’s a great source of inspiration, an emotional support, and the epitome of what family means.

Chapter 15:  Enigma.

The intervening years had seen their share of divisiveness and rancor, and they has taken their toll on all of us as sisters.  June was always faithful to pray and hang on to hope of a restoration, when I had simply resigned myself to the fact that I lived on a different planet than the balance of my siblings, and had no expectation of any common ground for continued peaceable relations.

Two weeks before June died, Adrienne and Joan flew in from Chicago and took care for her.  This, as well as their concern for mine and Gabi’s welfare, reflected a stark contrast to the disregard and battling that had occurred in the past.  June was able to see us agree on ways to best care for her, and to see them reach out and sacrifice to ensure her health and well-being.  That was her prayer answered, and a promise fulfilled.

It was in 2006, that I began sensing the first thaw to the cold front that existed between me, Adrienne and Joan.

I received an email from Joan, inviting me to participate in this online movie site where you rate movies and chat with other people who have similar cinematic tastes.  I saw this as a hand through the door that I have left open, so I extended back and responded.  She’s shared snippets of her life (new cat, new job), then fully opened the dam, releasing a floodgate.  Sister is back in full swing, and we have chatted for hours on over instant messenger and on the phone, catching up on each others’ lives.  After June’s death, we have committed to spend at least one Holiday together each year, and so far that has gone well.

This recent development is as bittersweet as all the others—who knows when or if division may rear its ugly head.  But, I continue to hope that maybe this time, we are ready to actually be Sisters and that this will remain; no matter where we disagree, or what goes on with us.

With Adrienne, it began after a serious illness where she almost died.  June phoned me to let me know that she was in the hospital, so I tracked down the phone number and immediately called.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Adrienne, it’s Jennifer.”

“Well, hello!  How come you haven’t given me your new address?  I wanted to send you a birthday card!  It’s your 40th, right?

“Wow!  What a good memory you have,” I said.

“I have everyone’s birthday written down in my Bible, but I always remember yours.  Maybe because you were the last.”

“Well, thanks for remembering.”

“I have a pen and paper, so go ahead.”

I gave her my information, and we chatted for about twenty minutes about what happened at the Foxx Family Reunion, her condition, and what was going on in my life.

“Joan said she saw your writings on the Internet.”  I was initially shocked, then realized between my blogspot and my writing coach’s website, I could now be Googled.

“She must have happened on my writing coach’s website.  I’m finishing up my novel.”

She was impressed by this, and said she looked forward to when it was finished.  We talked a bit more, and then I decided to end the call.

“Do call me any time,” I said.  Again, she may never bother, but I still refuse to slam the door.

From the Epilogue: The Destination is There.

During their visit to care for June, I talked with Adrienne about things that we never shared in the past: challenges at their church, marriage, being a spouse and running a household.  In writing my memoir, I had collected many of the old photos of the Foxx and Oliver families, and Adrienne wanted a disc. Looking at the pictures together, we both noticed how our Aunts Allene and Everette had aged, then calculated how old our mother would be if she had lived.  It was 2008, so she would have been 77.  Adrienne marveled at this, then said, “Sometimes, I wish she were still here.”

I was quiet, as I had no immediate response.  In reflecting on this later, I realized what I did miss—the possibility of what might have been.  Surely the restoration and alteration of relationship would have extended to us as mother and daughter.  But that will never be in this life, though I am sure it will be in the next.





My Brother’s Keeper

19 02 2010

Black Heritage is my heritage–embodied in the history of my family.

Excerpted from Fried Chicken and Sympathy, Chapter 4: My Brother’s Keeper

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“This, too, I carefully explored: Even though the actions of godly and wise people are in God’s hands, no one knows whether or not God will show them favor in this life.”

Ecclesiastes 9:1

Death truly does comes in many forms, which don’t necessarily involve a dead body.  There are economic, psychological and emotional deaths as well.  Oliver was the sole economic provider for our family, and when he died, that element died with him too.  Bay now found herself burdened with providing for seven children, along with bearing the weight of our various struggles and illnesses, and the inevitable hardships that followed.  Oliver’s death changed our lives irrevocably.

But next to Bay, I think Gerry was affected the most deeply.

Gerry was supposed to have been the “baby” of the family; then I came along and usurped his place.  Because we were the closest in age of the siblings, we were often stuck together, while the others were off at school or doing the teenage thing.  The one family picture where I actually got to see myself as an infant was the one I described earlier, with Bay, the six older siblings, and me on her lap.  The other picture of me from early childhood was with Gerry; I was probably about one and a half, and he was about eight.  It had been a professionally-done black and white print, overlaid and enhanced with colored oil paint.  I am in a cute yellow dress, and Gerry is in a fine blue suit.  The photographer posed us with me sitting on his lap, and one of his arms draped around my waist, holding me securely in place.  We are both all smiles and glow, my milk teeth showing, his a sunny grin with tiny teeth, reflecting a closeness that became damaged and diminished.

When I was six, and Gerry twelve, my favorite T.V. show was Speed Racer, and his, Batman. The problem was, the shows aired at the same time on different channels, and these were the days of one TV per home, and no TiVo™.  We would have “good-natured” battles over who would watch what.

“I don’t want to watch Batman!  He’s stupid!” I’d whine.

“Is not! You got to see Speed Racer yesterday – so I’m watchin’ Batman!”

“No, you’re not!” I’d yell, stamping my foot.

“Yes, I am!”  he’d yell back, turning the knob on the TV and shoving me to the floor.  I would then hop on his neck and start punching him.

“Oww!” he screamed, trying to get me off his back.  “Leggo!”

“No!  I wanna watch Speed Racer!”  He attempted to topple me off his back, while I reached toward the channel knob.  I pretty much had him in a chokehold until Bay stepped in to arbitrate the mini-war.  Most of the time, I ended up watching Speed Racer, while Gerry pouted and fumed.  But with those he loved, Gerry rarely got ugly or violent—and I knew he loved me.

Our favorite game was hanging upside down on the couch with our heads toward the floor and our feet skyward.

“I’m falling down Niagara Falls!” Gerry would yell, pretending to drop.

“Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!” I’d scream, letting the blood rush to my head.  Then we’d roll off the couch, feet over head, and walk around woozy for a bit, before getting back on the couch and doing it again.

So my being born really didn’t cause any huge sibling tension, or affect Gerry’s place in the family.  He was still the baby boy, and Oliver’s little prince.  He was spoiled rotten, and got away with acts that would have been unacceptable with the older siblings: being able to stay up past bedtime, talking back, and eating whatever he wanted, even if it was bad for him.  This distinction was not lost on Teddy, Adrienne, Barbara, June and Joan, so they did what they could to put him in his place.  Any of his infractions of household behavior was gleefully reported to Bay or Oliver, in the hope of his getting a beating, or at least a scolding.  It mostly backfired, because in Oliver’s eyes, Gerry could do no wrong.

The same was true of Bay.  Her reactions to Gerry’s bratty behavior and outbursts were based on fear that he would do serious harm to himself; and in his case, her fears had a legitimate basis.  June said that when Gerry would throw a temper tantrum, it involved a lot of thrashing and crying, and three times it resulted in Gerry’s getting a head injury.  The first time Gerry pitched a fit, it was because Bay wouldn’t stop washing dishes to give him some sweets.  She tried to get him to wait, but he first tugged at her skirt, then eventually started hitting his head against the wall.  He did this with such force that he busted the skin above his brow, at his scalp.  Bay rushed him to the emergency-room at Cook County, and he had to have stitches.  Another time when he was upset, he ran into a table and gashed open his head, also requiring an emergency room visit and more stitches.  So it was no wonder that she gave in each time he became demanding, to avoid any more injuries or medical bills.

The coddling given by Bay and Oliver did nothing to improve his short attention span, or his even shorter temper, but I have always felt Gerry’s behavioral patterns had a deeper-seated cause that had little to do with lack of discipline.  From my own personal studies and observations, I suspect my brother suffered from one of the Autism Spectral Disorders (ASD), perhaps Asperger Syndrome.  Many of the behaviors outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) fit Gerry’s behavioral and social dysfunction.  From his difficulty communicating or perceiving what has been related to him, to repetitive behavior and motion, to the inability to interact and lack of sensory response, Gerry lacked the necessary frame of reference to be able to navigate in the outside world.  My curiosity and study led me to seek out a professional opinion.  So a friend referred me to Dr. David A. Reisbord, a Los Angeles neurologist who treats many cases of Autism and its related illnesses.  “The temper tantrums and self-injury are typical in Asperger patients,” says Dr. Reisbord.  “So are all of his other symptoms.”

If Gerry had been born today, and I had had a mother who were willing to seek help, he might have been appropriately diagnosed and treated.  Even if his condition had been recognized and attended to in his teens (during the mid-‘70s, when Autism was being recognized as a serious developmental disorder), some of his pain, and much of ours, might have been assuaged.  But back in the 1960s such syndromes were not commonly known, or were simply dismissed among “plain” folk like us.  Bay’s desire for privacy also tied into her myopic approach to Gerry’s problems.  What happened in the home, stayed in the home, and it was nobody’s business how it was handled.  Even if the appropriate help and treatment had been available then, Bay would never have sought it.








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