Raising Revolutionaries

Power to the PeopleIt might have started when I shaped black construction paper into Amadou’s 41 bullets and created a timeline in the back of my classroom for my 8th graders to follow the case. They collected articles, watched the evening news and reported from the streets as we watched and waited for justice.

The result of that case and the one’s to follow and a teacher’s struggle to talk children–black and latino children–through their confusion about the justice system is a conversation for another day. Another blog post altogether.

This post is about my introducing young people to their ability to be socially conscious, socially active and forward-thinking young people without even realizing it. 

Today is one of those full circle moments that makes you realize that without speaking it, your mission has manifested. Today I will host a HBCU Panel proposed and spearheaded by Howard University freshman and RCA alumna, Princess and my heart is full!

Since stepping into my first classroom in East New York, I have insisted that my students take a look at what is really going on around them so they can address it.

Wait. Maybe it started before that. Maybe it was while attending NYC public schools, before video footage could capture Friday afternoon beat downs, and wondering at the kind of pain and rage that drove young people to self-sabotage and self-destruction that planted the seed. It could have very well been the teachers who turned a blind eye, hopped in their cars and drove past and through the self-destruction that really sparked this need in me to make kids see, truly see, so they could fend fo’self and create the life they wanted.

I never thought about that as social activism. But it is.

And so it occurred to me that between changing trends, pedagogical debates and over testing, I have been about the work of raising revolutionaries.

And the blessing, I am proud to acknowledge, is that countless former students–always my babies–have reached back and shared their experiences and talents with the students sitting in my classroom at the time.
LegendsI already carried them in my spirit so it was natural to share their stories with  current students, but back in 2010, I actually paired my former students with my then 8th grade students in a pen-pal, words-of-wisdom exchange.

I called them “Living Legends” and some of my former students shook their heads at the title. But I wanted to honor the lives they were creating for themselves, no matter their status. I wanted them to value the ups and downs they were navigating. Especially because the system was not, is not, set up for the faint of heart. They were already legendary because they were hustling to come up and were striving to bring friends and family with them. Social Activism on the block is as grassroots as it gets. Their insistence on social change is activism. Period.

And in preparing for today’s event I stopped short…

tiara-howardu.jpgGuess who was part of that lesson in passing down wisdom? Yes. Miss Princess, who years later is giving back by reaching out to share her experience with the next generation so they know what she didn’t about the myths and misgivings about Historically Black Colleges and Universities that could have blocked her blessing.

I will remind her today about the “Living Legends” experience she had long ago in the 8th grade and proudly add her to the list of young social activists set to enact change on the block and beyond.



She had me at Hello.

That’s right I said it. The line from the film Jerry Maguire that in an instant became the ridiculed cliché that sent hopeless romantics underground to utter the phrase and wonder at the mere thought of following a man to the ends of the earth because he pushed past cynical girlfriends and machismo to say how he felt. To say it for all the world to hear.

Okay. It was a movie.

But lately my sister and I have noticed how difficult it is to agree on a movie or television show to watch with husbands who relish action that includes death-murder-kills. Even before bedtime.

I hiss my teeth. I read until the shoot out gets too loud. I question why we are watching this then I finally excuse myself. More dramatically than these lines suggest. Every now and again my protest allows me the romcom I then pretend just happens to be on. So I have to admit what I have always known, but haven’t always professed.

I am a romantic. Period.

I love electric glances and needing to hear his voice and the accidental touch that blooms into a first kiss. I love love! And why should I be ashamed? I still remember meeting Ras Baraka during my early poeting days and having him tell me that I needed to write about more serious topics. I didn’t get how he didn’t get that Love is life. It is the creation of new possibilities, a new home, and even the blessing of new life. And whether the haze lifts and you wonder what you were thinking or you grow silvery-gray over countless cups of morning coffee, love is life. It is the adventure that makes you jump out of your skin and follow your heart blindly just to feel and feel amazing. Amazing feeling loved, loving and lovely all at once.

And in Erykah’s Hello, I can’t help but recall the goodbye of “Green Eyes,” on her album Mama’s Gun. I loved Erykah and Andre 3000 together. Drank in their eccentric naturalism as they lived life and music for all of us to see, most poetically in the video for “The Other Side of the Game.”  You couldn’t tell me I wasn’t a fly on the wall of their life together. That is how seamless their coupling appeared. Until it wasn’t.

Their ending yielded the most heart-wrenching and authentic break up song to date.

And I felt it. Felt her. Knew the tragic swan song of, I don’t love you anymore. Yes, I do, I think… because I had loved and had hurt and had gambled on remember-when sex, remember-us sex only to add insult to my own injury. Whatever it had been, it was over. And I retreated, swearing off love, but somehow knowing that this moment was as much a part of love and life as the first time I saw him. Sigh. And Miss Badu was creative in her reenactment of lost love: a small voice on a crackling record to dramatize the pouty, “I ‘on’t care” stage of the break up, moody blues confessing her insecurity and finally a desperate crescendo  of accusations blaring from the soul. Yes, I felt her! 

And years later, having recovered from my share of heartaches, I certainly feel this. The song, Hello opens with Andre 3000’s spitfire flow revealing him as unsure about how much to invest in a relationship he tests with a phone lying within reach, the phone being the end-all, be-all, and his waiting to see how she handles it. The romantic in me wants this new duet to be another peek in. A peek at their–ahem–reconciliation.

But this ain’t no movie man.

What I’m really moved by is that, in real life, their reconciliation was to love. Evidenced by the son they are parenting. A young man now.

Love moved from eros to agape and I am really feeling that. The idea of allowing love to unfurl and become what it intends. In spite of us.

So she sings, “Hello. It’s me. It’s me, baby. I thought about us for a long, long time…” and I draw closer. Cross one leg over the other and lean in. Because the melody has me. It’s hypnotic. Sultry. Then their voices join and I tingle in their sexy confidence as they knowingly tease us romantics to the point of abandon. So we give ourselves over to the healing power of love.

There. Revolution.

Letting old ideas go…

JILL SCOTT couldn’t have stated it more simply and in the last days of 2015 her words resounded beautifully and on repeat.

“I just wanna be prepared…”

It was the opening line of the song that first caught my attention.

“I been reading my old journals…checking to see where my head has been.”

All I could think was How brave! I have been so many versions of myself over the years with written stories, prayers and journal entries capturing each flawed line of reasoning, trip, fall, adjustments and rise. Do I want to relive those aches and pains? But I have to admit she has me curious about what I thought then, how I moved then and how I arrived at this moment.

Even more importantly, I am curious about which ideas, hurts and wishes I am afraid to revisit because they are ingrained in my every day and have to be discarded. They have to be left to yellow and fade so I can truly prepare for what is coming for me.

Because it is coming.

I stall the progress at times like this when the sources are right in front of me and I refuse to look deeply into them. Into myself. Fear barring me from the freedom that will allow me to return to the little girl, the teenager that may not have always known how to keep still for small talk, but could wind one sentence into a story exposing the soul.

Everyone cannot manage that. So I know it’s coming because it is what I was designed for.

I am and always have been a storyteller with the ability to influence and inspire. My passion for history and making sure people are seen, feel seen is all I have ever known. But my insistence on my own truth, or my own lies, resulted in receiving and inflicting bumps and bruises that are scary to revisit. I know I didn’t get it right the first time or the third and reading the episode as it unfolds, or recognizing the moment it all went awry–well, I’m not sure how ready I am to face it, but something is drawing me besides Jill’s wisdom.

See. You invent a doctrine as you negotiate ups and downs. You decide what things mean for you so you can keep going, but secretly you know they are words to get you through. Not the answers that would free you. These words galvanize into ideas to help you shrug off the offense or the question or the pain. And without a real answer. And without real peace about the blank spaces, I simply adorn these wounds of unmet needs and haunting shoulda-woulda-couldas and sprinkle them over pages of prose and poetry to make them the silver lining to the ache.

And whatever this hurt is is soothed in the clever dialogue of characters or the measured cadence of  free verse lines. The pain has no specific name in this realm. But it exists. Pinning me to this moment and keeping me from manifesting what I know is coming.

So I guess I’ll be reading my old journals. Checking to see where my head has been. 

And I’ll be lettin’ some old ideas go. Making room for my life to grow…

I just wanna be prepared.

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