Reflection of Darkness

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We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,–

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.



Why should the world be overwise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

We wear the mask.



We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream otherwise,

We wear the mask!

– Paul Laurence Dunbar, We Wear the Mask

My manifesto on darkness is an attempt to talk about race in America through a theatrical piece. Since reading Toni Morrison’s book, Playing in the Dark, I have tried to see the occasions where discussions or portrayals of my race were “playing in the dark” in my own life. A perfect example is why I and others are considered Black or African-American. This misnomer makes the assumption that any ethnicity other than a European-American is not an American. This is inaccurate because I am American, born and raised in the U.S. Morrison (1992) states, “As a metaphor for transacting the whole process of Americanization, while burying its particular racial ingredients, this Africanist presence may be something the United States cannot do without. Deep within the word ‘American’ is its association with race… American means white, and Africanist people struggle to make the term applicable to themselves with ethnicity and hyphen after hyphen after hyphen… The American nation negotiated both its disdain and its envy in the same way Dunbar did: through a self-reflexive contemplation of fabricated, mythological Africanism.” This reflection is my musing over being a minority in the overall population but the majority of illiterate, impoverished, and imprisoned populations in America.

In the words of W.E.B Du Bois (1904), “Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house” (p. 3). Yes, we just elected our first black President but what is the likelihood that we will ever elect one again? This is what is considered the dark comedy of this milestone in history. We can celebrate but are quickly somber by the reality that most political, civil, and social relations will elude race.

One of my favorite quotes from a professor of my undergrad history classes was, “We are a great nation in spite of our history and not despite…” As a country we are wrought with misunderstanding, fear, frustration, and confusion. These feelings often rear their ugly heads concerning difference, and what is more different than “white” and “black” Americans? As Du Bois states about our complex history, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line — the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea. It was a phase of this problem that caused the Civil War” (Du Bois, p. 13, 1904). Therefore, how do I negotiate the dark and the light.

If I could write a play, the first scene would be:
Narrator at center stage
the lights evade the narrator
until finally the narrator speaks

“Call me by my color dark for that is what I am…The dark compared to light.
I will let you describe me
to dream up exaggerations like blackface
and keep silent as you are engrossed, enchanted, enthralled, intrigued, and entertained by my darkness.”

Remember that darkness is quiet, an ever silent presence; but, a presence nonetheless. For example, Du Bois in his book, The Souls of Black Folks, states, “To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.” (Du Bois, p. 2, 1904). In America, race matters and diversity counts. Before Morrison’s study, race in literature was often not questioned nor explored; but rather hidden like a dark stain on the white dining room linens. Many black characters in literature are racialized and/or stereotyped; yet, race is unlikely to be a major theme in the plot. Race is rather used to highlight the differences between the minor Africanist characters who are portrayed as poor, silly, criminal, ignorant, and/or superstitious; in contrast to the major White American characters who are portrayed as well-to-do, smart, brave, beautiful, and forthright. In other words, the color/race of the the character means something to the author that is transferred to the reader. Morrison points out that most literature uses race as caricatures which is misinformed, ignorant, and/or exaggerated entertainment.

Although race was first conceived as this country was developing, the race concept and racism are some of the oldest social theories upheld in America from the 17th century to the present. At the same time our founding fathers agreed on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; they also agreed to participate in the Transatlantic Slave Trade and adopted the policy that a slave is only ⅗ of a person in the U.S. Scientists in the 18th century said race was genetic and manifested through genotype and phenotype characteristics such as skin color, behavior, and intelligence. There was a Negroid, Mongoloid, and Caucasoid, American Indian, and Malayan race. They tried to explain difference with science and Darwinism; as a result, miscegenation laws were enforced so that the races were separated because they were considered different. Current historians, anthropologists, and sociologist scholars understand that race is a social concept to maintain hierarchy and stratification in America.

The American dichotomy is the concept of slavery and freedom. While, African-Americans have been freed from chattel slavery a little more than 140 years, freedom still evades most due to lack of education, poverty, and imprisonment.

Scene Two:
A voice comes from the dark.
“I may not understand,
but I know why I was silenced
in order to be free, the founders felt that
they had to enslave
you, have your freedom
now let my people go.”

Light center stage on narrator
“I will no longer be silent or in the shadows
1954, 1968, 1972, 2005, 2009 will come.”

When I first read Morrison’s Playing in the Dark, I first concentrated on her overall message. Yet, it wasn’t until I really started to delve in and understand the text that Morrison began to explain her thoughts on race. For instance, she states, “The need to establish difference stemmed not only from the Old World but from a difference in the New. What was distinctive in the New was, first of all, its claim to freedom and, second, the presence of the unfree within the heart of democratic experiment – the critical absence of democracy, its echo, shadow, and silent force in the political and intellectual activity of some not-Americans. The distinguishing features of the not-Americans were their slave status, their social status – and their color. It was not simply that this slave population had a distinctive color; it was that this color “meant” something (Morrison, 1992).” She eloquently explains her research and literary critic to unearth the underlying messages of race by American literary giants in order to better understand the connections with attitudes and policies concerning race (formal and informal) in America. For instance, Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, had a central black character yet his voice and perspective was told through Huck Finn’s interpretation and stereotypes.

Through her research, she found that there is still a shadow among the dark. Especially, when the experiment of democracy is still being conducted and attacked everyday by private interests—that is how she was able to write Recitatif. She showed that the characters, plot, and journey have no significance if they do not have attributes whether they are black or white. These colors mean something in everyday America.

Race is an example of the highest forms of human rationalization. We make differences when there is similarity. We make similarities when there is difference. What is “White” when it constitutes such different cultures, religions, and traditions spanning North America, Europe, Middle East, Latin America, North and South Africa, Australia, Asia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands. What is “Black” when it constitutes such differences as well spanning the Caribbean, Central America, Latin America, Africa, South America, Europe, North America, Australia, and Middle East. Morrison (1992) states, “Images of blackness can be evil and protective, rebellious and forgiving, fearful and desirable—all of the self-contradictory features of the self.” Race gives us a finite understanding of ourselves as opposed to the uncertainty of infinite possibilities. The Africanist character is a surrogate and enabler for tangible and finite characteristics such as desire and fear. In other words, Race/color is a physical attribute but also a social and mental characteristic.

Scene Three:
Center stage with bright lights on narrator.
“We would rather be compared to each other
in order to define our finiteness
in opposition to otherness
rather than embrace the infinite
Lawd, have mercy on us
for trying to define our own souls

Lights turn different colors depending on the narrators command
“It’s black, red, yellow, brown, white…
it’s grey
a complicated mixture of light and dark.”

DuBois states beautifully, “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” As an African American there is a dual nature to your identity. You are dark in the midst of light; you are enslaved in some sense but free in others; you have African roots but American born and bred.

So after reflecting on this issue, I can better understand who I am as an African and an American. It’s a balancing act not to be overwhelmed or be torn apart from this inner battle. I like both sides to my human nature. I know what it means to be multicultural. Yet, I can not let either side have control of my entire being. I am a fluidic identity of both African American as opposed to a static definition of either.

Scene 4:
narrator at center stage
Dances in and out of the spotlight
To represent moving in and out
Of Black and American identities
music and dance
Ragtime
Jazz
R&B
Hip Hop
music and dance

Then the narrator is flooded with lights
Blinded and surprised
Then dark
Narrator speaks from out of the dark

Narrator: “Call me by my color dark for that is what I am…
to you, and you, and you, and you, and you.”
light spotlights wherever the narrator points

P.S. It’s important to be cognizant of discussions or portrayals of multicultural issues “playing in the dark” in our own lives.

References

Dunbar, P.L. (1993). The Collected Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Joanne M. Braxton, ed. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.

DuBois, W.E.B (1904). The Souls of Black Folks. A.C. McClurg & Co. Publishing: Chicago, IL. pgs. 1-265.

Morrison, T. (1992). Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Vintage Books: New York City, NY. pgs. 1-91.

Morrison, T. (1992). Recitatif. Vintage Books: New York City, NY. pgs. 1-91.

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More Than A Woman

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It’s all about being more than you expect.

More than a name, a symbol, or a role. It is I AM woman… Hear me roar! Hehe!

What good timing that I would write about the adventures (and misadventures) of being a women in the 21st century when the media is heavily focused on the recent comments of Sen. Arkin concerning women’s bodies.

In context of this media frenzy surrounding women, I recently watched a movie that looked at the identity of women in society. It is an unusual movie full of symbolism and more artistic than a boy meets girl story. There was a young woman character that really intrigued me because she was trying to cope with adolescence and her journey of becoming a woman.

She looks to the other women in the movie for guidance but they are so stuck in their own identity crises that she is over-looked. The women characters symbolize different roles of women in society: the successful professional, the intellectual scientist, the hopeful romantic, and the provocative stripper… almost like my favorite show Sex and the City!

Fortunately, there are many more roles for women that are not portrayed in the movie. There is also much more flexibility to shift and out of these roles to have an identity matrix. Thinking about the women in my life, they have dynamic and fluid identities to be a… DaughterSisterStudentLoverWifePartnerMotherWorkerColleagueAdvocateProfessionalMember and the list goes on and on. Often I have seen these roles as representation of the relationships that we have with family, friends, romance, school, work, church, recreation, and others.

Feminist and black liberation scholar bell hooks states that, “[Women] have resisted continued devaluation by countering the dominant stereotypes about us that prevail in white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy by decolonizing our minds. Here decolonization refers to breaking with the ways our reality is defined and shaped by the dominant culture and asserting our understanding of that reality, of our own experience (pg. 2).” In other words, women have utilized mass media such as this film and pop culture to offer different images of womanhood.

Yet, like this movie and other pop culture, women are typecast in rigid and static definitions of femininity. There’s Ellen DeGeneres, Toni Morrison, Missy Franklin, Jennifer Lopez, Audra McDonald, Meryl Streep, Snookie, Toni Cade Bambara, Angela Merkel, Gabby Douglas, Debbie Allen, Soledad O’Brien, the Teen moms, Whitney Houston, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kimora Lee Simmons, Queen Elizabeth, Margaret Cho, Paula Abdul, Beyonce, Sarah Palin, Anika Noni Rose, Diane Ravitch, Lady Gaga, Rachel Roy, Oprah, Taylor Swift, Suze Orman, the Girls Next Door, Maya Angelou, Gwyneth Paltrow, RuPaul, Adele, Jean Phinney, Tina Fey, Sandra Cisneros, Judge Judy, Nicki Minaj, Anna Freud, Alanis Morrisett, Sofia Vergara, Barbara Streisand, Connie Chung, Sally Fields, M.I.A, Paula Deen, Phylicia Rashad, Mia Michaels, Alice Walker, Karrine Steffans, Esperanza Spalding, Susan Lucci, Penelope Cruz, Jane Austen, Madea, Lisa Leslie, Housewives of Orange County, Michelle Obama, Kim Kardashian, Kristen Stewart, Alice Davis, Miley Cyrus, Diane Ravitch, Emma Stone, Shakira, Rachel Ray, Condoleeza Rice, Betsey Johnson, Nikki Giovanni, Mary Ainsworth, Laila Ali, Drew Gilpin Faust, Lindsay Lohan, Cathie Black, Michelle Rhee, Pamela Anderson, Yoko Ono, Ellen DeGeneres, The View, Billy Jean King, Hilary Clinton, Tyra Banks, Britney Spears, Sara Lawrence Lightfoot, Kathy Lee Gifford, Serena and Venus Williams, Barbara Walters, Marlee Maitlin, Madonna, Heidi Klum, Candis Cayne, Margaret Meade, Halle Berry, Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, J.K. Rowling, Whoopi Goldberg, Angelina Jolie, Sonia Sotomayor, Scarlett Johansson, Rachel Maddow, Brittney Griner, bell hooks, etc. Most of these women are known for one talent or accomplishment. The public most often does not see that these and other women have diversified their images (esp. fame and fortune) in other areas to fulfill their work and dreams.

I don’t blame pop culture for using gender roles in marketing or exaggerating roles for entertainment purposes. However, we do need to offer some alternatives for young girls trying to become women, like the character Edina in the movie. I still remember my mother’s words to me, “Congratulations on becoming a woman!” I looked at her as if she had two heads because I had no idea what she was talking about. Yet, she and other women in my life were the best role models. Also, I remember my Dad telling me that I can do anything that I wanted to do. Again, I looked at my parents as if they had four heads. I thought to myself, “Of course, I could do anything!” I had their love and support to help me. This is how we can be more than a name, a symbol, or a role. We can become more than woman.

bell hooks (1993) states, “The white-dominated mass media have changed little in the way in which they represent black women. We have changed. In the last twenty years black women have collectively challenged both the racism and sexism that not only shape how we are seen but determine how everyone interacts with us (pg. 1).”

I love pop music like the next chick, yet it is really disheartening when I hear music lyrics that stereotype women as consolation prizes, employees, sex objects, or wardrobe accessories. As most women I’m not defined by a color, body part, music lyric, advertisement, poem, clothing, or painting. I’m influenced by my gender but I define my roles as a woman. For most of us we don’t dress and act to simply please ourselves but to gain approval from the other women in our lives. They have such strong influence to help us figure out who we are as women.

The movie ends with the professional talking to the young woman about her choices in life that lead to success. Then she embraces the young woman to comfort and reassure her that everything will be alright. As women we have to deal with our own identities as well as help others realize their potential.

Bell hooks (1993) states that, “… [Women] have had the joy of ecstatic sustained bonding with one another. We have witnessed the power of sisterhood. We have experienced self-recovery. We have known, and continue to know, the rewards of struggling together to change society so that we can live in a world that affirms the dignity and presence of black womanhood (pg. 6).” Yes I am a “bad chick” but I am so much more than a name. We must be ever vigilant because the struggle continues. We are more than women.

P.S. Celebrate how YOU are more than a name, a symbol, or a role in your life and the lives of others.

The 1st Anniversary of my blog, PlainSpeak!

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“Speech is of three kinds: the first comes from the desire of the self, the second from reason, and the third from love. Speech which arises from desire is troubling and insipid, giving neither pleasure to those who speak nor profit to those who listen. That which arises from reason is accepted by the wise and gives pleasure to the listener and the speaker, and speech that arises from love renders enraptured those who listen and those who speak.”
– Rumi, In the Name of our Infinitely Compassionate and Merciful Source.*

This post marks the 1st anniversary of my blog!

So in this post, I want to reflect on the past year.

First, I want to say thank you to everyone who has read and/or subscribed to my blog! It’s refreshing to know that others share my views and care enough about the world to stay informed. I am fortunate to have a fair number of readers that span the world and every demographic; so, I want to continue to expand my writing topics.

As I’m reflecting over the past year of blogging, I would like to share some timeless wisdom; so, who better to help reflect on this past year than Rumi, the beloved Sufi master.

So who is Rumi?

Rumi was a Sufi mystic of Islam that flourished in the 13th century in the Persian-speaking lands from Turkey to Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. According to Rumi scholars Kabir and Camille Helminski, Rumi dedicated himself to be open and rely on the deeper joy of Love, through every gesture, experience, and poem he wrote.

So the first Rumi poem that I want to share is “Everything is Inscribed Within,” which states, “A human being is a wondrous thing: everything is inscribed within him, but “veils” and “cloudiness” are various preoccupations, worldly schemes, and desires. Yet, despite all these things that are hidden in the “darkness” behind the “veils,” the human being can still read something and is aware of what he reads. Consider how “aware” he will become when the veils are lifted and the darkness disappears and what knowledge of himself he will discover within. All these different trades – tailoring, building, farming, gold-smithery, astronomy, medicine – innumerable professions – have been discovered from within the human being…”**

This is a perfect way to reflect on this 1st year anniversary of my adventures in blogging. As a parallel to Rumi’s journeys, this blog has been a great adventure for me. The adventure is allowing my inner quest for knowledge to explore some of today’s problems and discuss possible solutions. I’m grateful for thie opportunity because I am able to not only elaborate on my own thoughts; but also, take inspiration from current events in order for my posts to be relavent to everyday life. For me, it is a process of combining experience and knowledge, which wells up and flows from within the heart. The Helminskis (2012) state that, ” ‘Consult your heart,’ is Rumi’s continual advice, and if the heart is pure it will lead you to the highest spiritual truth (pg. xiii).” I truly and wholeheartedly believe this!

Through my blog I have stayed true to myself and my concern for education in the U.S. and the world. I frame my conversation in the context of current events, people, places, and policies; yet, the topics of blog including diversity, multiculturalism, innovation, creativity, youth, education, and development are timeless and universal.

In addition, the Helminskis’ (2012) state that according to Rumi, “Everything beautiful is made for the eye of one who sees, and the human being has an extraordinary potential for vision (pg. xiii ).” Vision is one skill that I have in abundance. Being a creative and innovative person, I have many ideas and inspiration comes from even the slightest or most remote comment/gesture. This can also be painstaking as I can be a perfectionist and stubborn about carrying out my vision. Yet, in the end I always enjoy the process of transforming ideas into a project/plan (such as PlainSpeak!) because my visions come from a humble, cheerful, good, hopeful, and faithful heart.

My family and friends have commented that my blog can sometimes be much more complex than just plain-speaking. This may be due to the fact that I am writing or “speaking” from my mind as well as my heart. When I choose a topic for discussion, although it is an intellectual approach to a common, everyday topic, I write with passion because I care deeply about people who may be impacted by my writing. I care very deeply and I hope it shows in my writing.

Although my style varies from education jargon to slang, I try to give a unique vision of what education and the world can be. I use a narrative voice that connects the post from beginning to end. I also try to present a clear and succinct opinion, in order make sense to such a diverse demographic. This is often missing in some intellectual conversations because the objective can be more about being persuasive rather than educational. It is important to present different views and/or limitations in your own perspective. I’ve also tried different styles of writing such as op-eds, reviews, articles, and my all time favorite of plain ol’ venting. Overall, I want to provide a different perspective with solid information to add to the discourse on education.

So we are all capable of intelligent thinking and enlightenment through opening our hearts and minds; yet, what about staying true to one’s heart?? Kabir and Camille Helminski (2012) explain, “One of the important themes in Rumi’s universe is the metaphysical notion that what is most real is beyond appearances and forms, yet perceptible to the purified heart. The human heart has the capacity to directly perceive the spiritual nature of reality, to witness the qualities and signs of God in the theater of manifest life, and yet too often we chase after shadows that have no real substance. We have an itch and a restlessness that we do not know how to satisfy. Underneath all our forms of restlessness and desiring is a yearning that is precious, but when we scatter ourselves we betray and abandon that yearning (pg. xiii).” As a sect, Sufis commit themselves to spiritual practices to harmonize their wills with the Divine Will. In a sense, they choose to ignore the ego and live through Divine Intelligence and Love.

Throughout the joys and pains of this past year, which included major milestones in my life but also financial trials, I’m still standing! I would even go as far to say that I’m better at this point in my life than last year. This is due to the fact that I’m still doing the best that I can with my mind, body, heart, and soul to make an impact in this world. It seems that every year, my restlessness grows less and my yearning grows more. I’m able to apply the lessons learned so that my life is more and more fulfilled. The acts of learning, reading, writing and/or teaching, without taking human truths and enlightenment to heart, is empty. In other words, one has to pursue meaning to receive the blessing of living.

This leads to transformation. And, quoting from many spiritual traditions, the greatest agent of transformation is love. Out of his most well known book, The Mathnawi, Rumi explains that love is an explosive force that causes, “the bitter to become sweet; copper into gold; the king becomes a slave.”*** So this blog is a lesson in learning and speaking with my heart to grow in love. However, what about being an agent of change??

In another poem, “With One Answer All Problems Are Solved,” Rumi explains that, “All desires, affections, loves, and attachments people have for all sorts of things, such as fathers, mothers, the heavens and the earth, gardens, places, endeavors, knowledge, food, and drink – one comes to realize that every desire is a desire for the Divine, and these things are all “veils.” When one passes beyond this world and sees that Sovereign without these “veils,” and “coverings” and that all along what everyone was seeking was really that one thing. Every difficulty will then be resolved, and every thing will be seen face to face. It is not God’s way to answer every problem individually, but rather with one answer all problems are solved…”** As humans, we have to understand that it is not just “Me” or “I” but “We”! Once we make this realization, we can truly celebrate with each other and our Creator. We will be able to share and rejoice in every human being’s efforts to find fulfillment and better understand the mysteries of life.

Another theme in my blog is that it takes a united effort to be an agent of change and make a lasting impact. I write from a Black American woman’s perspective and write about topics that are important to me. I write from my own experiences because it is how I understand the world. In doing this, I’ve been able to share my experiences, facts, life lessons, history, popular culture, media, philosophy, religion, etc. to add to the dialogue of education for a multicultural world.

However, through writing and the responses that I’ve received, many of the topics that I discuss affect every race, culture, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender, age, ability, nationality, religion, etc. In essence, we are all seeking one thing… fulfillment. What makes us individuals is what we consider fulfillment and how we each pursue it.

We are all unique in one way or another. Yet, we have similarities as human beings to strive to be a more knowledgeable person. Humanity shares truths and a collective experience of being human such as birth, family, learning, growth/development, love, friendship, sex, adversity, pain/suffering, success, play, work, sickness, death, etc. In America, our Western/individualistic society enables us to explore our unique strengths and weaknesses. Yet, what is the purpose of learning or enlightenment if we keep it to ourselves? In the words of my little cousin, “This little light of mine. I’m going to let it shine!” Therefore, through realizing one’s potential, we can share our experiences and perspectives to work together for a common goal. Then, our efforts to impact our world are even greater. Multiple approaches/strategies are always better than one!

Rumi’s poems are great inspiration to understand how a person can sync his/her heart, mind, body, and soul to be an agent of love and change. Furthermore, each of us has to work together to help each other seek fulfillment of important human truths.

All in all, last year my blog focused on creating a brand for myself and my views. This coming year will be even more fun to stretch my ideas and find more ways to apply my heart to my ideas.

P.S. In reflection, PlainSpeak has been a project of enlightenment, mindfulness, and love from my heart to yours.

*Menaqib al-Arifin, passage 414, excerpted from Rumi and His Friends, Stories of the Wise, selections from Aflacki, translated by Camille Helminski and Susan Blaylock. Boston: Threshold Books 1995.

**Fihi ma Fihi (Farsi), Amir Kabir, Tehran, 1385 (AH). Discourse 9 and 11.

***Mathnawi III: 4, 129. From Jewels of Rememberance, translated by Camille and Kabir Helminski. Boston: Threshold Books 1996.

****The Mathnawi of Jalalu’ddin Rumi, translated by Reynold A. Nicholson with Persian text. London: Luzac & Co. 1925, 1929, 1933 reprinted 1982 E.J.W Gibb Memorial Trust, Cambridge, England.

The Rumi Daybook, selected and translated by Kabir and Camille Helminski. Boston: Threshold Books 2012.

Freedom!… You gotta give for what you take!

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“The best things in life are free”
– Janet Jackson

“Freedom! You gotta give for what you take”
– George Michael

So this blog is all about everything free!

If you’re anything like me, you have days where you’re trying to do something and anything for free.

However, freedom is not free. It comes at a cost.

Some examples include: the barriers for women to attend higher education in some cultures/countries, the ban of gay/lesbian couples to marry in most U.S. states, the limitations for disabled individuals to adopt children, the insecure and unsafe measures of deportation for immigrants, the lack of religous tolerance and freedom for public worship of religious traditions, and also the heavy cost of treament and health insurance for poor families.

People often pay for freedom over many years or lifetimes. People often pay in blood, sweat, and tears. A few even pay with their lives. It includes days and nights of adversity, hardship, and grueling work without praise, admiration, and/or rewards. In one way or another, everyone sacrifices for the cost of freedom.

Since we have celebrated the 4th of July U.S. Independence Day and the 2012 London Summer Olympics, I thought I would reflect on freedom and its impact on me as an African American.

Chris Rock tweeted an extreme statement that he viewed the 4th of July as European American’s Independence Day. I strongly disagree due to the civil rights struggles and sacrifices that have enabled me to enjoy civil rights, liberties, and freedoms as an African American. With every abolition speech, stop on the underground railroad, Buffalo soldier, Historically Black College, reformation policy, lynching, bombing/fire, assasination, fire hose blast, police dog attack, arrest/incarceration, raid, broken color barrier, sit-in, march, vote, worker strike, boycott, act of civil disobedience, elected official, court case, and desegregation policy, my freedom was bought and paid for by my ancestors, elders, and their allies.

I’m so proud to be American because of this special tradition… freedom. This is ironic for a Black person to say (trust me I really had to think hard about saying this!). Yet, no where in the world do I have as much freedom as a minority. I’m not saying that I have total freedom as an African American with policies such as racial profiling and inequalities such as racial achievement gaps; but comparatively, I have lots of freedom as a progressive young heterosexual able-bodied single African American women protestant in America than anywhere in the world! Go America!

Then I read a quote from President Barack Obama where he stated, “We need to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world,” he said. “We have to make America the best place on earth to do business. We need to take responsibility for our deficit and reform our government. That’s how our people will prosper.”

My answer is we do. We out-freedom everybody.

We need to keep these traditions such as democratic education so that people understand and appreciate the great sacrifices that people have made for our freedom. Democracy is a grandiose ideal in America that has taken many years of reformation to improve. We need to understand that, as Americans, we have always been contradictory and conflicting in our views of freedom and access. Our democractic government ensures that we can pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Yet, for whom?

Early in American history, democracy and freedom did not include various groups such as Blacks, Native Americans, ethnic groups, women, disabled, immigrants, Catholics, Jews, or the poor. These groups did not experience full American citizenship, if at all. However, From the work of diverse minority groups, individuals, and allies, more and more people are able to experience the ideals of freedom and democracy in their everyday lives.

Through democracy, we have the freedom to be creative, critical, and innovative without fear. I could denounce the American flag without worrying about any government repercussions. I can praise Jesus, Allah, Yahweh, Buddha, Brahma, money, the moon goddess, Mother Nature, the Sun, etc. and I will not be condemned or ostracized in society.

As a progressive person, it’s a double-edged sword to seek further equality because in America we equate equal rights to infringing on others’ freedoms. However, if everyone can’t experience democracy, then no one can truly be free. Freedom will always come at a cost for someone. In this world, we have enough resources and freedom to share with the world; therefore, we must work towards life, liberty, and happiness for all. In theory, we wouldn’t need social programs, if people had full freedom and resources to provide for themselves. For example, I have told people that I hope my job and research in ethnic minority recruitment would no longer need to exist. Someday, underrepresented minority groups would no longer need to be considered a special population. Then, minorities will be fully integrated in mainstream society and equal opportunities.

As a people, we have to care for freedom and for people. Therefore, I will continue to be assertive for freedom for all. In true American tradition… Give me freedom (liberty) for all or give me death!

P.S. Everyone has degrees of freedom in their lives. So, why and how are you thankful for the freedoms that you enjoy? What can you do to ensure your freedom and the freedom of others?

Cultural Literacy is Fundamental!

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I’m not only talking about reading fairy tales to kids like Little Red Riding Hood or perusing through the O magazine. I’m talking about literacy and particularly cultural literacy. For example, during the singing of the national anthem, everyone acts respectfully. It is respectful in Latin and some European cultures to greet people with kisses on each cheek. In some Asian cultures, it’s respectful to take your shoes off when entering someone’s homes. As a matter of respect in some African cultures, you must first take care of your elders before eating your meal.

In my experience, a liberal arts education is a prime place where social rules and cultural traditions are taught. We all have the capabilities to understand different cultures. Yet, how is cultural literacy learned without intentionally teaching students in the liberal arts tradition to be socially aware and critical thinkers.

Globalization has made our small world even smaller. Therefore, students need to be prepared to work and learn in many different environments and people with different backgrounds.

My college pursuits allowed me to have a very different life prior to turning 18. I decided to attend Notre Dame, an historically European American private Catholic university which was very different from my African Methodist faith and European American Protestant public school background. Yes, I was only going to the next state to attend school but it was a world of difference. Even though there were philosophical differences between these two worlds, I learned more about my own beliefs. In college, I majored in psychology and conducted multicultural psychology research. To further my education I attended Harvard, another predominately European American private university, for graduate school. In Cambridge, I studied multicultural education to better understand the relation between education and human development.

Since college I’ve enjoyed working in higher education, where I have been able to help students transition from high school to college. When talking to families, most parents feel apprehensive when their son/daughter are interested in a liberal arts major like psychology. They explain that it’s not engineering or business where the student is guaranteed a job. They often ask me how their student can use a liberal arts education.

This is my simplified answer… You will learn so much about yourself that you will embark on a lifelong journey of finding out exactly what you want to do. In laymen’s terms you will have a basic foundation of skills to help guide you for whatever, whenever, wherever for the rest of your life.

My experiences taught me to appreciate diversity and gain cultural literacy. So, no matter where I am or who I am working with, I have the interpersonal skills and cultural competence to work effectively with others. My research training improved my skills of inquiry and critical thinking. Plus, I want to emphasize the importance of reading and writing in our world today. From psychology, I learned the importance of understanding adolescent development and it’s impact on career and college choices. Due to my liberal arts education, I was able to study my academic interests and be a knowledgeable person always seeking to find creative solutions for a problem.

One of the most prolific current works in education and human development is Howard Gardner’s Theory on Multiple Intelligence. We all know kids that are smart in many different ways. For instance, we know students who are good with their hands, have advanced musical abilities, or athletically talented. This theory of multiple intelligences should be applied to career choices… Are you good with math and problem solving? You should consider a career as a statistician. Are you a creative thinker and enjoy writing? You could be a web marketing designer. Do you enjoy science and helping others? You could pursue a career in health public policy. All of these jobs stem from majors in liberal arts.

Cultural literacy is not an easy skill to learn. So, this is my advice to students and their parents concerning liberal arts education:
I was never guaranteed a job and I didn’t choose the typical path for a psychologist. Yet, I can say that I am happy and I am pursuing what I love. I have so many options such as teaching, research, leadership in higher education, non-profit philanthropy, educational event planning, and even blogging!

P.S. Learning cultural literacy will not only open your personal world but also career possibilities. So, with a liberal arts education, don’t do what’s easy… Do what is right for you!

What’s your calling!?!

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An interesting quote from Mike Rose, in his book Why School, can be used as the general overview for this post, “Why school? provides the occasion – within limited space, admittedly – to consider issues together in their lived, human context.” (Rose, 2009). Rose used personal stories to convey his message about schools that is much more than standardized tests and data. He used the vignettes as emotional connections to show a humanistic approach to school. So, as educators, we have to convey our own personal stories to show the transformative power of education.

We’ll start with one question – What does education or your profession mean to you?

I think this is a good question to think about why one wants to work in education. There’s a light switch that comes on which signifies the moment you decided to be an educator. Some call it a calling, a burden, a curse… yet Angelina Jolie has stated on popular media channel E! News that, “Teachers are the real heroes who educate our children and are doing a wonderful job.”

But why be an educator or anything else for that matter? Is it because it’s what I chose to do or something that I fell into?

There are a lot of questions; yet, it’s not about having answers. It’s the reflective and contemplative process, which is almost like a religious experience or calling.

I can remember when I was a little girl in church how people would become overwhelmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. People would shout, clap, cry, sing, and wave their hands all in praise and worship. No one ever made them act this way; yet, many would testify about the wonderful things that the Lord made possible in his/her life. They overcame obstacles such as sickness, financial problems, domestic strife, unemployment, abuse, drugs/alcohol addiction, etc. In this reflective state, many would become overwhelmed AND overjoyed.

In a community like the church, each person has a role or duty to others so that the community can function effectively. Someone is the pastor, some are the trustees, some are the stewards, some handle administrative work, some sing in the choir, and we even need someone to keep the church clean.

So I picked the role of educator or did it pick me?

In my family I come from a long line of teachers and preachers. It’s as hereditary as high blood pressure and diabetes. Therefore, was I destined to be an educator? Is it my destiny to ask these questions? Rose explains, “We educate to pass on traditions and knowledge, to prepare the young for democratic life to foster moral and intellectual growth, to enable individual and societal economic prosperity” (Rose, 2009). I feel this has been my training to accept the role of education in my family.

The legacy of higher education in my family goes back three generations. Although we are not well off and working class, my family understood the value of education. A favorite saying in my family is, “They can take your freedom away, but they can’t take away your education.” We couldn’t pass wealth on from parent to child but we could pass education. We understood that freedom is knowledge but, being African American, we are a marginalized group that struggles to attain equal opportunities in education. Education is so important in my own family history, which correlates with my attitudes towards higher education in African American history.

My family has a history of graduates from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, which was founded in 1891. Most of my family members have attended NC A & T for their undergraduate degrees, including my parents. My family like other African Americans participated in the W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington debate over the purpose of education. My family sided with DuBois’ argument that a liberal education will not only free the mind but also the person as well. In essence, it isn’t meaningful to earn a living without enjoying the rights of citizenship and equality. Also, without a liberal education of disciplines such as history, psychology, mathematics, sciences, English, and sociology, knowledge isn’t complete. It’s important to achieve higher education for not only a career but to understand the importance of the self, one’s community, and society. That’s the importance of education. As I reflect on my family and their goals in education, it has always been the key to improving ourselves.

This is my family’s story and legacy. I am third generation of college graduates and one of the few who attended a top 25 predominately white universities. With all of my family behind me, I graduated from the University of Notre Dame. I would be the first to attend Harvard University where I earned my Masters Degree in Education. I will be the second on my mom’s side and the first on my dad’s side to earn their doctorate.

Yet, I will be one of many who have become educators.

I do have many talents that I could have chosen many fields but none make me as impassioned as education. It is the be all and end all. It is the answer to the inequalities in a society; so when money, power, and politics can’t fix it… education will.

Yet why did I choose a profession where as Rose explains politicians and everyone else thinks that he/she can teach or be “teacher for a day”. Educators are sometimes praised but also blamed as the problem in public education.

Education is empowerment to know and understand one’s worth in the world. Anyone can learn to do something. It’s democratic; a right and a duty. This is the reason that we must teach people to fish; so, that they can make a living as opposed to giving them fish so that they live.

Rose states, “Americans have long looked to education as a way to advance themselves. They also see it is as the primary means to overcome social class inequalities; Horace Mann called education ‘the great equalizer’ for those born of humble origins. These powerful beliefs lead us to another cultural tangle. Education is a means to enhance one’s economic prospect.” (Rose, 2009)

Yet, Rose goes on to explain that education alone can’t trump the inequalities in our society such as racism, sexism, classism, etc. There needs to be other public services/programs packaged together in order to completely help families like the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) program. HCZ adopts a a block in Harlem and provides services and programs for the families that live on that block. This is a comprehensive and holistic vision for families with education being a big factor. Rose would agree with the implementing HCZ-like programs and states, “In essence, we need a bountiful vision of human potential, illustrated through the schoolhouse, the workplace, and the community” (Rose, 2009).

Rose does take a liberal stance when he poses questions such as what is the purpose of education especially considering intellectual, civil, and moral development. He writes in a way that is storytelling to drive his points. Is it life or rebirth for some and death or pain for others? Is it reaching your potential by doing your best?

Why be an educator? Why do we educate?

I’m a nontraditional educator with traditional beliefs in education because I believe education is a crucial part of human development. In trying to reach the youth today, we must be honest with ourselves and understand our struggle to work for them, with them, through them. As Rose states, “Young people mystify and frighten us; they’re opaque, alienated, asocial” (Rose, 2009). They are fascinating creatures because they can be anything that we say they are and most will internalize it. These mini-Mes have work ethic, talents, challenges, potential, values, behavior, attitude, and opportunity. They are truly miracles in a vexed and perplexed existence. We’re expected to guide when we may not know all of the answers; yet, we can be used as references to get the right information or go to the right resource.

Again Rose explains the importance of education, “A good education helps us make sense of the world and find our way in it… Reading and writing gave me skills to create with and to act on the world” (Rose, 2009). I fully agree with Rose that the education that I gained from attending school fulfilled my identity and way of life. We have to continue the freedoms of education and not be gatekeepers to privatize education

Rose asks pertinent questions, “How to educate a vast and stratified population? How to bring schooling to all? What to teach and how to teach it? Who will do it? What will the work mean to them?” Most importantly, how do we address the many needs of young people?

In order to solve our big societal problems, the nation will look to education. This the reason why I’m an educator so that I can make the biggest impact. Our education reflects us as a nation.

As educators, most of us enjoy where we are at the present moment. We wouldn’t have dedicated most of our lives to education and sacrificed so much for something that we didn’t love. For most of us, we know that this is where it’s at!

P.S. We all need to reflect on why we were called to our profession in order to go forward in our lives. When were you called?

Education is Caring

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Stakeholders and educators who advocate for the common core standards often neglect the needs of students at-risk of dropping out who are, primarily, minority, poor, and urban students. This is a special population that requires unique and varied resources, accordingly. For example, schools can provide safe spaces for learning and explorations on a myriad of topics (Leadbetter and Way, 1996; Selman, 2007). More and more, scholars are finding that schools should take a comprehensive approach to addressing students’ strengths and weaknesses (Canada, 2012; Bangs et al., 2010). This is not a direct expense but it does cost time, resources, personnel, and takes great skill. No matter how many strategies, processes, and/or procedures, without understanding and caring, schools will continue to be ineffective for at-risk students.

In the Douglas Harper dictionary (2010), the word education* is derived from the 15th century Latin word educationem or educare which means to bring up, to rear, to educate. With the common schools of the 19th century, educators asked how to educate a vast population, what to teach, who will do it, and what the work will mean (Tyack, 2007). We still ask these questions today, mainly because we haven’t satisfactorily answered them for ALL students. The way we answer these questions says a lot about who we are—and what we want to become.

The reasons education matters in our society should be a reflection of what we want students to learn. Most educators, business, and legislators want students to develop into responsible and civil adults. Yet, the difference in our own upbringing and education… was that someone cared! It was not the millions of dollars invested in schools; but, a teacher, principal, coach, or secretary cared about how you or I learned. These educators were not micro-managers with little projects to do; but, pushed you or I to learn as much as possible. Most importantly, these educators let you or I learn to use our imagination.

I will pose this question, if education is to develop students, then why is there a lack of conversation among educators about the needs of students and caring in schools?
In his book, Why School, Mike Rose (2009) used personal narratives to illustrate education as caring instead of a checklist of things to know and do. Education is a venture that should include: critical thinking, problem-solving, global awareness, exploration and experimentation, discovery and innovation, interdisciplinary. More importantly, it should delve into issues of life, love, and loss.
How can students be prepared for the 21st Century world if there are not exposed to all of these ways of learning?

Rose (2009) states “There’s not much public discussion of achievement that includes curiosity, reflectiveness, imagination, or a willingness to take a chance, to blunder. Consider how little we hear about intellect, aesthetics, joy, courage, creativity, civility, understanding.” He goes on to say, “If we abstract out of education policy a profile of the American student in our time it would be this: a young person being prepared for the world of work, measured regularly, trained to demonstrate on a particular kind of test a particular kind of knowledge. This is not Jefferson’s citizen-in-the-making. And in my experience most parents of a wide range of backgrounds, though they want their children to develop basic skills and be prepared for work, want much more.”

In these quotes Rose is refusing to accept the current rhetoric of governance and social stability that surrounds the field of education. In his work, he pushes against common reform beliefs and arguments about public schools, showing teachers and students in a more inclusive, positive, and hopeful light. I also want to challenge the notion that it’s simply a link between education and economic mobility. For me, my loved ones, and most of my friends, it’s more than a paycheck. It’s giving back to youth and a community that needs it.

Education is for educators who love and respect students and want to reclaim the developmental and transformational rhetoric around public school, the work of teaching and learning, and—more generally—what counts as intelligence.

It is the current national education agenda that the US is lagging behind in education, due to the failures of public schools (Ravitch, 2011; Rose, 2009). Therefore, the government has intervened with legislation that has mandated actions and measures to raise standardized test scores (Ravitch, 2011; Rose, 2009). One suggestion is that the government could also go one more step and mandate moral education in our schools. Unfortunately, most of the public would argue that the government would overstep its boundaries by legislating policies on caring and moral education in schools. Yet, it is the same public that argues that the educational system is at fault for the lack of moral education among students and not finding the best practices of student achievement.

One insight that I got from Ravitch’s book (2011), The Life and Death of the Great American School System, as a country we have to face that there are NO BEST PRACTICES for each country, each state, each school district. This is especially true because all are not equal. Yet, over and over again, research finds that it is teachers expectations that GREATLY affects student achievement especially among minority students (Delpit, 1995; Ogbu, 1994; Ogbu, 2004).

As I stated earlier, educators must invest in schools as a developmentally protective environment. A place of not only physical but psychological and emotional safety and healing… we need safe spaces for our children. We have begun to understand the challenges facing students when it comes to bullying. However, it shouldn’t take a bullying or shooting incident to be a catalyst for being concerned about the well-being of our students. Students need a place to be understood and a place to connect to others, gain social support, and offer hope in these challenging times. As educators and as the public, we need to start the conversations on caring in our schools so that everyone has the potential to develop into the civil and democratic adults that we can be proud of.

P.S. I urge all of you to put the educare back into education.

* educate. (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved June 09, 2012, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/educate