Monday, November 15, 2010
Do you remember the news from the evening of November 19, 2005? Four young men were brutally executed that night. The community was shocked to discover the men murdered were from middle class families. They were college students with promising futures. They had no criminal records. In other words, they didn’t fit the conventional profile of black men killed.
I was shocked to get the news that Lennis Harris, Jr. was one of the men killed. Harris, 24 at the time of his death, is the son of Lennis Sr., a firefighter in Durham. Lennis and his wife, Donnamaria, are close friends. I conducted their wedding ceremony in my office close to 15 years ago, and often tease Donnamaria due to her claim that she has the best husband in the world. She might be right about that. There are few people like Lennis.
I remember weeping all day when I got the word. I also remember the agony caused by going to the funeral at the White Rock Baptist Church. I cried so hard that morning that I got there late. Too late to get a seat. People came to grieve the loss of Harris, Juan Coleman, 27, Jamel Holloway, 27, and Jonathan Skinner, 26. Each person at the church was familiar with death. We all know too well what it feels like to hear of a young black man taken too soon. There was something different this time. It hurt more than past tragedies.
It’s been five years. A year after the homicides, police charged Rodrick Venard Duncan, with four counts of first degree murder, one count of attempted murder and one count of attempted robbery. Police claim victims were the targets of a drug-related robbery. Witnesses told police they saw four men fleeing the scene of the shooting after they heard gun shots. It’s been five years, and no other arrests have been made.
“We were told the case was placed on the backburner due to the Duke Rape case,” Harris told me five years ago when I interviewed him for a story in the Independent Weekly. He was told they didn’t have enough resources to investigate both cases. The case with national exposure took precedent over the death of four black men.
After five years it’s time to march. Keep in mind that I retired from marching a few years back. I’m tired of singing “we shall overcome” and yelling “no justice, no peace”. There was a time for passive resistance, and there are times when we have to stand today. It’s not that I don’t understand the need to march. My feet have been worn by the multitude of causes that demand a protest.
This isn’t a protest. “Five years later the case is not solved, the murderers still roam the streets, the families are still deeply grieved and the community is still waiting for answers,” wrote Donnamaria Harris. “We have not forgotten.”
There will be no singing. There will be no chants. The family will lead us in a silent “Memory March” around the Durham Police Department’s administration building in downtown Durham. It takes place five years later-Friday, November 19, 2010, beginning at 7pm. We walk in silence twice in memory if each victim. Eight times. Five years later.
How long lord? How Long?
Monday, October 18, 2010
Someone told me to let go of all of the evils from my past. I was reminded of it every day when I stepped into my living room. There it was, all those albums used to entertain people who came to my parties and who listened to me on the radio. Hundreds of them were stacked against the wall. The voices within me were too much to bear-you hypocrite. They had to go. I had to exorcise them from my life, and I did. I took my albums and placed them in front of my house for the sanitation workers to take away. I was relieved.
I missed them, but felt like Abraham on that mountain that day when he was asked to sacrifice his only son. I killed that part of me that enjoyed the beat of the bass. Lord knows I loved my Jazz and Funk. I placed Miles’ “Kind of Blue” next to Con Funk Shun and Parliament. I was diverse in my collection. They were like my children, and I cried as the garbage truck took them away.
Later, I came to regret my moment of stupidity. I began to process why people consider music evil and place labels to minimize the significance different genres can play in molding a life beyond the moves made on the dance floor. I came to grips with discovering how the Gospel can be found in music that isn’t called Gospel, and that some of what we call Gospel should be ashamed for using that word to define its lyrics.
Suffice to say, I feel silly for throwing away all those albums. More than that, sometimes I get angry at how Church Folks seem bent on robbing people of having a good time. That’s why I get excited whenever there is a concert that takes me back to those days before I was manipulated into throwing my jewels to the swine.
So, get this. This Preacha’ Man loves that funk. I’m not ashamed of it, and it really doesn’t bother me if people look at me strange when I show up to reminisce on the good ole days before Lil’ Wayne and the crew of madness (that’s what I call them) made music a thug thang. I’m tired of listening to beats made by a machine, and lyrics that reduce women to sperm depositories.
You can imagine how excited I got when I received the news that a few of my favorites are coming to town. Con Funk Shun, Zapp and Taste of Honey will perform at the Carolina Theatre on Saturday, October 30 at 7p.m. They will be in town to help North Carolina Central University celebrate their Homecoming. The Eagles who will be in the house need to prepare for the good Rev. and Connie, my preacher side kick, as we do what we do best-shake our groove thangs until the party stops.
For the Holy rollers too sanctified, saved and full of the Holy Ghost to participate in all of that, ‘cuse me for knowing how to have a good time. My reading of the scriptures makes it clear that Jesus was hip on the benefits of having a good party.
And, if you are going to have a party, the best way to get it all started is with some old school grooves. I’m all pumped up and ready to get up and move to Zapp performing “More Bounce to the Ounce.” Come on people, you can’t get funkier than that! Oh, let’s not forget one of my all time favorites “Computer Love”
I’ve got to hear Taste of Honey give me some “Boogie Oogie Oogie” and Con Funk Shun’s “Shake and Dance With Me.” The only issue is if I will have energy to preach on Sunday. You know what Parliament says, “The Funk moves and removes.” I can feel my help coming! The Funk is more than music to me, it’s an experience. It moves the body and it removes the pain by taking you to a place where having a good time is all that matters
Tickets on sale now at the Carolina Theater box office and Ticketmaster. For tickets visit www.carolinatheatre.com or www.ticketmaster.com . Ticket prices: $25 and $39.50.
See you at the show! I need to purchase some CD’s.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Sandra Jones Thompson is in need of a heart transplant. For years she has suffered from Congestive Heart Failure. Her condition has deteriorated and the only suitable course of action is a new heart. To do so she has to be placed on the waiting list. She can’t be placed on the list until she pays $7,500. That’s right, she can’t be considered until she pays to get on the list.
Issues like this that gets under my skin. It’s confirmation again, after all of that talk about health reform, that the granting of quality health comes down to who has the money to get access to the best in healthcare. Who among us has $7,500 sitting around just in case we need a new heart? What should we say about a system that reduces access to who has the cash to be placed on the list?
I in no way intend to minimize the stress placed on the system. I’m certain there are more people who need new hearts than there are donors. However, This is yet another example related to the complexity of the provision of health in our nation. With that being said, I would rather focus on the need and beg my readers to do what they can to help Sandra get on the list.
It’s easy for me to get motivated around this issue. I know Sandra. I know her tender spirit. I know her love for her daughter, Erica, and her faith in God. I have witnessed her cry in the midst of worship. I have seen her praise God for the gift of life, and for the gentle beats of her heart. Put another way, I love this woman. That love is rooted in my relationship with her and her daughter.
So, I beg you to help my friend. There are a few ways for you to help. The first is easy. The family is conducting a pre-sale Spaghetti Meal Fundraiser in which funds will assist in getting Sandra’s name in the national transplant waiting list. These funds will also be used for after care medication following the heart transplant.
Spaghetti meals are $8.00 and includes salad and breadstick. Pre-sales are from October 6, 2010 - October 13, 2010. Log on to www.PayPal.com and send $8.00 to firstname.lastname@example.org. Meals will be available for pick up at Dillards BBQ located at 3291 Fayetteville Road, Durham NC on Saturday October 16, 2010 from 12pm - 12:30pm.
The second way for you to help is to pull out the old check book and write a check. If you prefer to make a monetary donation, contact Erica Jones by calling 919-824-5038 or send an email to email@example.com. You can also donate via the PayPal information above.
There’s so much we take for granted. I’m thankful for the way my heart functions. Can’t imagine what it would feel like to have to live with an inconsistent beat. Its times like these that we should pause to be thankful for every thump. After we give our thanks, why not help a person living without what we take for granted.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Purchase Backslide by going to the link below. Available in book soft and hard cover
I completed the first novel less than a month before being asked to leave the church I had worked tirelessly to build. For those looking from the outside, the story reads like a sad tale of a man going through some form of identity crisis. It appears as an account of failure among those standing on the side of maintaining traditional mores, while seeming like a reminder of the evils of Church folks among those fed up with the way churches have changed.
My own story serves as a lab test for those seeking to make sense out of the transition taking place within the Southern black faith community. Critics are quick to point o the emergence of prosperity motifs that have rendered the prophetic converge of black faith lacking in emphasis and direction. It is easy to recount those good ole days when men like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Wyatt T. Walker stepped to the beat of a different drummer. I contend that our fascination with those glory days are no more than a myth conjured in the aftermath of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the passage of Civil Rights legislation. The Black Church has never been a harmonious community that transcended denominational and cultural barriers.
With that being said, it is hard to deny Black faith is enduring a metamorphic process that is hard to define. My first book forced a critique of the implications related to building works of faith designed to replicate the most recent fad. Our desire for bigger and better collectives of faith has blinded many to the amazing truth often found where small groups gather. When faith is measured it renders the prophetic message rankled by the façade of impotence. We simply can’t see hope in places that fail to enumerate our expectation for more. It simply isn’t real when the numbers fail to reflect what we claim to be true.
Preacha’ Man is the story of a pastor who finds the strength to walk away. He leaves the comforts shaped by his faith to capture the freedom to live within a faith not limited by the constrictions of the Church. The book is a reminder that the work of the Church often diminishes faith rather than to facilitate the nurture of authentic spirituality. Releasing the first book was a thorny task. As much as I knew it was an important message, I feared how my baby, my book, would be dragged through the mud of public humiliation.
Now comes the second novel. Backslide exposes more of me than the first novel. This is a book about a man broken by innuendos and the stripping of security. Simon, the main character, comes back. Back into ministry. Back into the shambles that comes with allowing the imagination of others to damage the integrity of the work he does. He confronts the continued stabbing at his credibility and the fabrications told to explain how all the changes came to pass.
Underneath the sadness of change is a deeper truth. Those forced to rekindle lives, after the locus come to eat hope away, are given spiritual task far deeper than the words of our hallowed hymns. Once stripped of leftovers and reserve accounts, faith demands answers that no sermon can address. This is the story of what happens when faith no longer works in ways that help keep the tears away.
My newest baby has been released into the universe. Baby Backslide is certain to be disparaged for failing to speak in ways common to folks who call faith their home. This is my truth. More than that, this is my story. The sad truth is there are countless others who share the pain sprayed on the pages of my books.
Paul Tillich says there is a God above the God of our understanding. A God beyond the God we sing about on Sunday morning. A God present with us when all we know fails to counter the pain. Sometimes we cry alone. Often, those who claim to care walk away because they can’t take the sadness we bear. It especially hurts when the Church adds to the madness. Backslide is a going back to the work that makes us cry; even when that work should be the very thing to stop the pain.
My book as available at all bookstores across the nation and on the internet. Please, read it and tell me what you think.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
“I have five rocks, and I haven’t thrown any yet,” I listened as Eddie Long rallied the masses. He used an old story to portray himself as the victim. Like David confronted with a massive Goliath, Long pleaded with his mega-congregation to support him in a battle waged to destroy his empire.
He hasn’t thrown rocks yet. I was saddened by the usage of this metaphor. I was moved more by what wasn’t said than with what Long preached. I was prepared for his claim that this is spiritual warfare pitting good versus evil. I’m not shocked that he positioned his spiritual army to stand with him as he approached the giant in the court of law.
Those rocks waiting to be thrown trouble me. Should we affirm the shedding of spiritual blood among those hurting enough to file a lawsuit? Have the people calling for the death of these young men forgotten that they are members of the family with spirits in need of ministry? Has Long become so entrenched in his own quest to be liberated that he is willing to do anything to prove his innocence? Is this the image of the crucified Christ who stood before his own court of law?
In a previous blog posting, I challenged readers to consider the distinction between king and prophet. Long’s response places this conversation within a working framework. Kings fight while prophets humbly endure. Prophets seek ways to teach beyond the intentions of others while kings seek to punish those who come against the kingdom. In other words, kings throw rocks.
There is a theological truth that is spoken within Quaker thought. Quakers contend the spark of God is present within all of us. The work of the kingdom is to seek the presence of God in others-no matter how deviant they become. The challenge of people of faith is to find the good and to minister to it, even when doing so leaves us broken due to the manipulation and abuse coming from those we love. It is the loving response of the people of God that stands as witness to the transformative power of the resurrected Christ.
We are challenged to love those who despitefully use us. We are asked to humbly seek ways to impact the lives of those desirous of our destruction. Long’s response to throw rocks bears witness of a deeper theological mandate. Long, and the members of his congregation, are positioned to protect the kingdom. They will do so in the court of justice rather than in the court of love. They will throw rocks to further humiliate these young men.
No word was uttered regarding the need for the church to prayerfully seek ways to minister to the brokenness created by this scandal. There was no word of forgiveness, no word of the love that should be shown for those who filed the lawsuit. These are family members hurt enough to bring voice to their pain. The congregation has chosen to stand by their king and daddy, and to blame these young men for falsely accusing the man they worship.
This dynamic should not surprise any of us. It’s what transpires when a child accuses an adult of abuse. We are quick to come to the defense of the father or mother, aunt or uncle, friend or minister. The victim is ostracized as the family defends the character of the person accused. This is classic family dynamics. The thing that makes it different is the family, in this case, is the church.
One would think Long would use the message of Christ to guide him in handling this matter. That’s hard to do when you have made yourself into a king.
Prepare for the slingshot.
Monday, September 27, 2010
It could be said that I have been a hypocrite. I have vocally supported my gay brothers and sisters. I spoke at a protest when Proposition 8 passed in California. I have written and encouraged readers to fight against homophobia. I have preached about the need to become open and affirming communities of faith. With all of that being said, I have been a hypocrite. Until Saturday, I had not been to the Gay Pride Parade in Durham, NC
I wish I could say it has been due to some conflict in schedule. Not the case. I would be dishonest if I said it has been due to the location of the event. Nope. It takes place within walking distance of my downtown loft. I have stayed away due to fear. I dreaded having to contend with the assumptions people would make when they saw me in the crowd. I was afraid that people would assume I’m gay.
The fear is rooted in my journey as an advocate for gay rights. Sadly, I have carried the label for some time now. The whispers began after my second divorce. People wanted to uncover the truth behind why it all ended. That’s when the rumors started-that he must be gay.
It took years for me to discover how deep the lie had become embedded into the lore of black folks in Durham. It became lucid to me when I was asked to write an article for the Independent Weekly. The editor wanted me to share how I transformed while serving as Pastor of the Orange Grove Missionary Baptist Church. I became perplexed when she continued to send it back asking me to share more about my personal change. Later, I discovered she assumed I’m gay and wanted me to discuss how my coming out of the closet impacted my life and work.
I soon discovered the impact of the rumor. The gossip mutilated my spirit. Being an advocate comes with a price. It was then that my admiration for the non blacks of the Civil Rights movement escalated. The real heroes and sheroes of change are those who stand when doing so creates discord in their lives.
I imagined being called ‘Nigger lover” by members of the family. I considered those willing to literally take bullets for people they love for reasons deeper than family ties. It was then that I became disgusted with my own grapple with not attending the Gay Pride Parade. I had allowed bitterness to distort my message of unity. I was more concerned with what people thought of me than I was of my need to stand in solidarity with those who endured much more than the scandal of a rumor.
I sucked it up on Saturday. I made the walk to the Duke wall. People were gathered in preparation for the unveiling of their pride. With each step, my courage rose above the venom of the rumors. I passed people I know along the way. “Hey Mr. Kenney,” a young photographer called my name with a smile as he prepared to take a picture. I kept walking.
I found a place on the wall and embraced the pride. I celebrated the bravery of those bold enough to resist years of discrimination. Tears began to pour as I witnessed the procession of churches there to support a prideful community. I cried because the church I pastor was not in the parade. We were not there because of my fear. My words weren’t strong enough to transform my own fear into action. I needed to march. Instead, I stood on the wall and watched as others made their bold statement of faith
I walked in the direction of Whole Foods to purchase items to cook. Then, I heard a scream. “Pastor, Pastor,” one of the congregant screamed as I approached. We embraced. “This is my Pastor everyone.” I felt the release of fear. His embrace said more than enough to eradicate the disappointment of my hypocrisy. Yes, I’m your Pastor.
From there I approached that dreaded intersection-the corner of Main and Broad St. Hate stood there with signs of damnation. The van that transported them had the name of love-JESUS-on the side in bold print. They were there, the church folks, to remind people of their fate. One sign spoke of the rapture. The urge to preach love came to me. I carried the rage that led me to my hiding place. I rekindled the memories related to how people like these spread hearsay on me. I reflected on how they used the sacred truth to damage the souls of the people I love so much.
“I don’t care what you think of me,” I screamed to myself as I considered the hate that robbed me of my former life. Hate sucked my work and robbed me of my security. Lies damaged my integrity and ruined the promise of a blooming work. Gossip stagnated the proclamation of truth and prophetic message of a world where love eradicates hate.
I stood and glared at the hatred on the other side of the street. A float passed by. On the float was a man with a microphone. He said more than I could. “God loves you too,” he spoke as he passed the holy folks on the side of the street. “God loves us all. God doesn’t discriminate, people do that.”
Amen my brother. Amen. That’s the good news. It doesn’t matter what people think of us, God loves us. Each of us must stand for truth. When we fail to do so we give power to the hatred that reduces others to the mind of their imagination. Love has to stand, even when labels come with taking that position.
So, forgive me for my hypocrisy. Forgive me for allowing fear to rule. Next time my truth will participate in the parade. I’m calling other people of faith from the African American tradition to walk with me. It’s the least we can do.
Friday, September 24, 2010
An investigation by Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter John Blake uncovered serious questions about the compensation Long collected from the nonprofit, tax-exempt charity he created in 1995 to help the needy and spread the good news. Between 1997 and 2000, Bishop Eddie Long Ministries, Inc. provided its founder with at least $3.07 million in salary, benefits and use of property. In those same four years, the charity only made $3.1 million in other donations. It was impossible to tell to whom those donations went as the records aren’t itemized-a violation of IRS rules.
On the surface, this appears as a tragic epic of a powerful man gone wild due to the trappings of his defects. The press clippings are reminiscent of other clerics unable to tame the demons lurking deep within. The hall of shame is enough to kindle questions related to the motivations of those who decide to give themselves to the call they profess. From Jim Baker to Jimmy Swaggart and all the way back to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., people are left with a sour taste in their souls due to the misconduct of those who verbalize a faith they are unable to reflect in their actions.
As saddening as all of that may be, this is more than a story about a minister who may have been on the down low with boys in his own church. The noise in the crowd is to tag Long a hypocrite if these allegations are true. And, why not? His anti gay message has harmed many of the gay and lesbians in need of a place to worship void of the negative rhetoric that challenges them to change their evil ways as they find their way to Jesus. The real critique of Long transcends a conversation about what happens when the lights go out. We should pause to reflect on both the theology and ethics that make Long’s bent on ministry in grave discord with the elementary claims of the Christian faith.
Eddie Long, T.D. Jakes and Creflo “Give Me Some” Dollars have become the forerunners in shifting the way African American ministers process the design of faith movements. The departure away from the Church as a community of social reconstruction emerged with the awakening that money can be made in that sacred space. The prophets have been transformed into kings and people are more than willing to bow before their leaders and lavish them with impious riches.
These are multi millionaires who hide behind the words of faith to assemble their businesses. Their marketing strategy is to manipulate people into embracing the notion that God desires them to walk with fame and fortune as a way of modeling what could be in the lives of those who sign on the dotted line by dropping money into the collection plate.
This is a story about how Long uses the money dropped in that collection plate. The public wants to know if he had sex with those young men. We want the gruesome details to unlock the closet of Long’s sex life to bring more fuel to the flame that proves the evils of those in the pulpit. Others will claim Long is only human, and we should be careful not to judge him for what each of us is capable of doing.
So true my friends. Ministers are only human, but who placed Long on the pedestal he stands? Who gave him the power to purchase not one, not two, but four Bentley’s. Who gave him the right to stand before his people and rant about his God given right to be a symbol of success for all to praise? Long created a world that imprisoned him into fulfilling the hollowness of his own claims. He made himself into a king, and the people in return worship him for giving them someone human to praise.
25,000 members believe the charade of his prosperity message. It’s a theology that strips the Christ of humility and replaces the crucified Christ with David on the throne. It takes the message of servant hood and trades it in for a system that opens the door to more money in the bank. It seduces people into giving more and more, while their spirits remain bankrupt due to the superficial theological claims erupting from the pulpit.
Yes, these are serious allegations. If true, and we should give this time to play out, Long used his money and power in a way that tarnished the spirit of these three men. If not true, some things are still true. Long, and those who desire to be like him, should be challenged for using God and the work of the kingdom to lace their pockets with mo money.
Some call them pimps in the pulpit. If they’re pimps it’s time for the ho’s to be set free. So, for those who have participated in a work of faith void of theological substance, run away my child. Find a place where people aren’t being tricked and seduced into pouring buckets of money into the lap of the king. Last time I checked the king was killed and rose on the third day.
He didn’t come back looking for a Bentley.
He came looking for men and women carrying crosses on their backs.
Monday, February 22, 2010
I placed the question in my status box on Facebook. I wasn’t a bit shocked at what came back. From, “I’m tired of this topic,” to “You must be kidding” it was clear most believe Woods owes no apology for having sex with “those women.” They grown enough to know what they were getting into. They should apologize to his wife. They participated in this fiasco by coming after Tiger because of his fame and cash.
The consensus among most is the same. The responses to that question leaves me brooding the implications of a world where sex is viewed as no more than a game pitting men versus women for the sake of whatever comes their way. The humanity of the people under the sheets has been stripped and transformed into objects there to satisfy the desire of the one in need of a release.
The names of the objects don’t matter. It doesn’t matter that there is a family back home, that there is a history connected to that warm body. She or he (yes, women do it too) is reduced to a depository there to stimulate his or her need for something missing. She becomes his crack fix. He becomes her mood altering sedative. People aren’t present in that space. They are toys to be played with.
The public has spoken. They knew better. They participated in his act of play. That may be true, but there is a deeper issue to bear in this matter. If Tiger is engaged in a therapeutic process, and he is, then he must dig deeper and deal with the way he has reduced women to no more than those objects for his self-gratification. Until he does that he will remain stuck in a place where he contends he deserved to be the recipient of their offer to play due to his entitlement as a man with money and power.
Having willing participants doesn’t resolve a man or woman of a deeper obligation to consider the humanity of those they use for play. Failing to make that apology absolves responsibility for the way one views those used for sex game. Tiger was able to do it because he minimized those women. In doing so he not only disregarded the worth of those women, he did the same with his wife. He engaged in a practice that has become common within the larger society-the placement of people within boxes to be used at the discretion of the one in control.
Tiger’s wife served a purpose-take care of the children and to make him look good in public space. The women he had sex with served another role-to give him the space to engage in behavior that he felt he deserved as a man. He viewed women like the little white ball he hits on the golf course. They are there for play.
This conversation should not be relegated to a quarrel regarding Tiger’s personal business. As he so eloquently put it, he needs to be left alone to rebuild his relationship with his wife. I raise the question for reasons beyond how the King of the golf course fell in the bunker. Critical in this matter is how the humanity of the other has been detached from the act of sex.
It’s easy to get caught up in the game of sex when no person is connected to the act. To move forward, men and women like Tiger need to examine how they have used others for the sake of their self-gratification. It is true the other has willingly participated in that game, but that doesn’t absolve a person of their responsibility to consider the worth of the people used in the game of sex. Failure to make that acknowledgement creates space for the continuation of the same form of manipulation.
Sorry folks, it’s more than just sex. There’s a person connected to that climatic experience. When women and men are used for the purposes of self-gratifications, the manipulator needs to apologize for living with a screwed up concept regarding the worth of those used in their game. It’s not just Tiger’s cross to bear.
So, go apologize for the game you’ve played.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
A couple of things ring true in evaluating those who have responded to my work. I’ve discovered that most of my critics lack sound reading comprehension. This happens on a number of fronts. There are those who don’t read what I write, but rather listen to what others think about what I write. As a journalist, I have learned to read the original document before drawing your own conclusions. Most of my detractors draw suppositions based on what someone else said about what I said. This is why I listen, as hard as it has been, to Rush Limbaugh. I dislike what he says not because of what others say about what he says, but because of what I have heard him say.
Sounds simple, but trust me when I say it gets hard reading what people say about what you say when you hold in your hand the original document. I would like to believe that most of what has been posted on my blog is the outcome of people responding based on what they have heard, rather than from what they have read. Otherwise, we are contending with a generation that lacks basic reading comprehension skills.
I’m not alone in this assessment. “I'm very concerned about the lack of basic communication skills exhibited by those students who fired off angry, reactionary messages fueled, in some cases, by the default ‘the media's out to get us’ attitude that plagues that school in particular and the DPS central office, IMO,” a local reporter responded in an email. “It was clear that some of them commented after hearing about, but not checking out for themselves w/some degree of objectivity, what you wrote!”
The reporter continued. “Some of our kids really need to have someone with patience to teach them critical thinking skills, or they'll be doomed to marginal opportunities and glass ceilings after graduation that wouldn't be there if they saw themselves as well prepared, truly educated, possibly bilingual and very curious citizens of the world...with minimal (if any) hobbled self-image generated chips on their shoulders.”
My colleagues concern for the state of critical thinking and reading comprehension led me to write this post. Most disturbing is how prevalent it is among a vast percentage of those who read my recent post. Critical thinking involves a level of responsibility that many of my readers lack. Before speaking, do the homework. Study the subject being criticized. Develop an opinion based on significant research around the subject matter. Simply do the homework.
I don’t blame the students at Hillside for lacking a historical perceptive. They’re not aware of my role in writing columns when the new Hillside was built. They are too young to remember the viscous attacks I launched at Ann Denlinger, the former Superintendent. They are too young to remember how I fought, since the inception of their school, for the promotion of all that is good at Hillside. They are too young to remember Richard Hicks, the principal who led Hillside from the old building to the new. They haven’t read the columns I wrote back in the late 90’s about Richard Hicks and the strengths at Hillside.
The youth at Hillside are too young to remember that, back in the day, there was a fight to merge the City and County school systems. They don’t know the heated battles to complete what Mayor Bill Bell started when he was Chair of the County Commission. They weren’t there to listen to the fear laced comments coming from white residents. They didn’t have to read what the paper wrote back in the day. They are reaping the benefits of having a local press that has been stripped due to the economy. In other words, if not for the reduction in staffing at both the Herald-Sun and the News & Observer things would be much worse.
This generation makes assumptions related to their school that those who came before them never had the privilege of embracing. They have the guile to believe citizens have no right to know about what happens in their schools. They pick fun at those in the press and attack them for reporting on what the public has a right to know. When guns are found in the schools, when academic performance is low, when drop-out rates are high and there are other issues in the school, people have a right to know. Why, because there is a history that predates this discussion, and it is incumbent upon those within this merged school system to prove the experiment is working.
As I’ve stated, I can’t blame the students for not knowing better. I can’t blame them for not being there, for not reading my work from the past, for not knowing the work that has been done or for making far too many misguided statements about the reporting on matters involving their school. As disturbing as all of that may be, what gets under my skin is their lack of comprehension or, and I hope this is it, not reading before they write.
A suggestion on reading within context-read all of the relevant material before formulating an opinion on the subject. Read it for yourself. Don’t take the comments of others. Let me give you a bit of history on this subject. There were two previous blogs. The first raised eyebrows after I exposed Pappy would not be returning to Hillside. In that post I discussed reasons behind his leaving. For those who missed it, the reference to the man in the nice suit was not a criticism of Pappy, but rather a statement related to the cycle implored by DPS administrators-place the job in the hands of the guy in the suit or the lady in the dress. My suggestion to the administration was to give Pappy more time. The post was not an attack against Pappy, but more of a call to action.
The second post was an apology to the students at Hillside. It was written after Mr. Pappy exposed how hurt the students were after the first blog post. It was my personal gut check. It seems that responses to this recent post failed to read the second blog, or, just maybe, they care less that an apology was made in the first place. If that is true, and I hope it isn’t, students need a lesson involving character and forgiveness.
With all of that being said, the students who have posted on this blog make some great points. Posting in this public form is one of the ways to alter any misperception. It is up to the students at Hillside, and other low performing schools across the state, to remind us all that test scores are not the only way to measure academic excellence. The students often refer to the drama department at Hillside. Hillside New Tech and the International Baccalaureate program are gems within the Durham Public School system. Great things are happening at Hillside, but beyond these obvious reminders of success, great things are happening that can’t be measured by test scores and graduation rates.
The best way to alter all of those perceptions is in how students present themselves in public space. When arguments are formed based on sound, credible evidence-people listen. Those arguments should be made not as an attack against the character of those engaged in reporting and giving commentary on the news. The best way to shift the tide of public opinion is not to engage in a war, but to raise the bar. Speak with credibility. Do your homework. Don’t make assumptions. Speak with passion, but when you do, be sure you have read the evidence before you speak.
And please keep posting. Let us know how you feel. Don’t be afraid to say what’s on your mind. This blog belongs to you. Challenge me when I’m wrong, but when you do that, do it with respect. Not because my feelings will be hurt, but because all eyes are on you and your school. This blog has given the world a chance to see you in a different light, and that light is shinning. Your school is better because of your words.
Go mix those words with truth. Read.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
I didn’t want to believe the text message. I ran upstairs to my loft and began making calls to confirm the news. “Yeah man,” Delbert “DJ Kraze” Jarmon said. “He died of a heart attack this morning. Earl Pappy, the former Principal of Hillside High School, died on Sunday morning.
I soon discovered that his last days were engulfed in a tussle to find work after resigning his post at Hillside. He walked away after being pressured by members of the alumni association, some parents and folks like me to turn things around at the troubled school. People were tired of all the negatives that came with having a student enrolled at the Hillside. It was time to shift the cycle of dismay that made Hillside a laughingstock among North Carolina schools.
I’ll never forget my last encounter with Earl Pappy. It was during a meeting with the Site Based Management Team at Hillside. They were troubled after reading a blog I posted that called for a change in the culture at Hillside. Pappy was angry because the students were angry. I listened as other members of the committee shared their opinions about my blog. It wasn’t until Pappy spoke that I decided to write an apology to the students.
“I haven’t read what you wrote,” he said. “I don’t need to read it. My students are upset and that’s all I need to know about what you wrote.” It was the look on his face that got my attention. I could tell he cared about the students. He was right. They had heard enough bad news about their school.
“He was more like a friend than a Principal,” Cortland “Big Dre” Gallaway said. “He really cared about us.” Big Dre talked to me about how Pappy would listen to the students. In his mind that was a good thing. In the minds of some of the teachers it’s what made it difficult for him to succeed.
One teacher told me Pappy was a bad match for Hillside. The school, in that teacher’s opinion, needed a disciplinarian, someone who would tell the boys to pull up their pants. “He would have been great in a school like Hillside New Teach or in a setting where the emphasis was just on the academics. The problem I have is in how he was set up to fail.”
From all accounts Pappy had a hard time finding work after leaving Hillside. I’m told he spent his last days depressed due to the stress caused by having to deal with a career change. Is that what happens after we throw people among the wolves to be devoured while attempting to make a difference? After being forced to leave his job, the school system failed to find a place for Pappy to continue to use the gifts that landed him the job. What happened to all those accolades that had leaders of the system raving about how he would make a difference?
“He was easy to work with,” said Nakia Jones. Jones has served as a substitute teacher at Hillside since 1996. She has watched Principals come and go. “The one thing that set him apart from others was his support for the arts. He really believed in what we were doing and did all he could to support us.”
Pappy’s biggest critics acknowledge that he was a great person. “I can separate how I feel about a person from how I feel about them as a leader,” Jarmon said. “As much as I liked him as a person I did not think he was the right person for Hillside.”
It is hard to talk about a person after they die. During his life I believed Pappy was set up to fail. I wrote that the Alumni hindered his progress. I believed then, and still do, that it was a lack of support from the community that led to his end at Hillside. I believed then, and I still do, that our expectation for Pappy to save the ship from sinking void of help from those looking from the outside would set him up to fail-just like those who came before him at Hillside.
What troubles me most is what happened after he walked away. No one was there to offer him a job. No one cared enough to help Pappy stand with integrity after the pressure was too much for him to continue in his role at Hillside. It is disturbing to me that black men with insight take that risk everyday to make a difference. They throw themselves in the midst of the hardest battles only to be cast to the side after they are unable to make the expected change.
This man deserved the right to work with dignity. Why didn’t we support him after he walked away? Why couldn’t we find a way to utilize his enormous gift? Why do we give black men one chance to fail?
This was a great man who loved the students at Hillside. They cared for him for reasons some may never understand. He made a difference in their lives. Despite all of that he couldn’t get a job.
Help me understand why. It’s a shame. No, it’s a damn shame!
Friday, January 15, 2010
I thought of my mama’s trip when I heard of the earthquake in the most impoverished nation in the Western hemisphere. She returned with stories about the people she met there. She talked about the beauty of the country and her experience with voodoo. She was moved by the power of the worship service which ended with a chicken being decapitated. Haiti changed my mother, but not because of the landscape our rituals of the people. It was the poverty that opened her eyes and paved the way for her work as a true catalyst of change.
From her work with women to the founding of a homeless shelter back in Missouri, my mother’s trip to Haiti began my own journey down that lonely road of doing all I can to make a difference. There was something in her eyes when she returned that forced me to rethink the decisions I would soon make. Those pictures of the poor would not let me sleep.
I called my mother after the earthquake. I asked her about Haiti. Her response was simple, “You know I went there,” she said. “It hurts so much.” Then a pause. “My God it hurts so much.”
My friend Glenda Jones called just before I made that call back home. Her call reminded me of one I received after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. Back then Inga Willis and Sima Flower, owners of Peace Fire Galleries, called me disgusted by the lack of attention given to the horrific pictures that consumed us-people unable to get off roofs. Pictures of dead bodies floating, children crying and senior citizens dazed by it all. One gloomy image after another left us feeling mortified and disgusted by a lack of movement.
We moved to the streets crying for help. We stood there begging people to help in some way, any way, to put an end to the pain of our brothers and sisters down there. We held buckets to collect money. We had no permit. We did not know we needed one. Soon, donations came and an organized followed and hope took over. Glenda’s voice was another call to move.
“We will be taking donations on Saturday,” she said. “We want to collect items for babies. Will you help?” Of course I will. I called my mother. When I hung up the phone I cried. I cried because of the sound of my mama’s voice. I could tell she wanted to go back. I knew the faces of the orphans she visited while there came to mind. I knew she thought of all the poor people who now had to endure even more pain.
So, items will be collected on Saturday at Glenda’s salon-Sincerely Yours at 2718 Hillsborough Road (next to Merchants Tire). They will collect items to be shipped from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. The drive is in collaboration with the Family Health Ministries, a charitable organization based in Durham, NC that provides medical care in Haiti with 70 volunteers in the country. Family Health Ministries will ship the items to Haiti.
Family Health Ministries is requesting specific donations:
· CLOTH DIAPERS
· DIAPER PINS
· RUBBER PANTS
· LARGE WOUND CARE (BANDAGES, BRACES)
· ANY OTC DRUGS (I.E., TYLENOL, TUMS, MOTRIN)
· ALCOHOL PREPS
· AS MUCH BABY FORMULA AS POSSIBLE
Because of cultural differences or weight concerns the following items are NOT requested:
· NO Pampers
· NO Baby Food
· NO Water
· NO bottles of alcohol or antiseptics
The number at Sincerely Yours Salon is (919) 286-7777 or call Liz at (919) 260-0357. It happens tomorrow, January 16th. It’s interesting it all happens on the weekend of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday celebration. What better way to honor Dr. King than to participate in a cause that he would have encouraged.
Our prayers go out to all the people in Haiti. We send them our love. We send them our support. I send them the spirit of an amazing mother who taught a son how to love and give. This is the work of the kingdom of God.
Yes, it hurts so much mama, but you son will do what he can to do what you taught him to do.
Take that Pat Robertson.