Marquel, the thinker, at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in June 2017. Marcus Jr. & Jaiden are below.
My nephew, Marquel, made the varsity chess team as a freshman! When my Dad shared the news with me, we lauded Marquel's old man wisdom and his confidence. He's a brain and a baller; a black boy, yes, that is important, who rocks his middle school championship chess sweatshirt as much as his basketball jersey. Dad and I laughed that his other grandsons of age, Marcus Jr. and Jaiden, had little patience for the game.
Then we went wordless. We knew we had to leave space for Nina. Tears well up in my eyes, now, just thinking about it.
This is what filled our silence: Ma was the one who decided when her grandsons were in about the 4th grade that they needed to take chess lessons. She harassed me (and if you knew my mother, you know her mastery of this skill) about bringing Marcus down to her house, so her three grandsons could take lessons together. She drove them and took them additionally to play with old men in the park. Marquel, she always contended, was a natural like her brother John. She bought each of her grandsons a chess set for Christmas that year. Marcus Jr used his to play checkers ...once. Marquel continued to play because Nina told him how good he was at it. He played Dad who was at that point the best player in our family until he decided Poppa was too slow and was only taking so much time to make his moves in an effort to avoid inevitable defeat.
Important detour: In the educational equity world, there has been much talk and research about access (something I am so interested in and hope to make it part of my future doctoral thesis). Access to opportunities and learning beyond a textbook or a basketball court (not that those are not vast and important learning experiences) is vital to young people of color. Access opens doors and broadens horizons.
Ma's large/loud voice: No one opened doors like Beverly Ann Bradley-Flanagan. I thank God for the access she provided so many but especially me. She opened our home to Natalie who was an exchange student from the south of France. She and my Dad sent me to France as a French exchange student in high school. This gave me a world view. She always said I came back more refined whether that was true or not I believed her and held tightly to that notation of self. It has allowed me to exist comfortably and combatantly (yup, I made up that word) in spaces I might otherwise feel intimidated in, but for the voice of my mother in the back of my head reminding me I am a refined, world traveler.
She provided jobs (GOOD JOBS) for so many people I can't even begin to count; giving us access to people and experiences outside of the confines of what was typical. Moving clear across the country to Cape Cod is a prime example of access for many. We lived less than 7 miles from the Kennedy's compound, and I sometimes felt the Census Bureau only needed to come to our house to count the black population of Cape Cod outside of Martha's Vineyard.
In her leadership position at Cape Cod Health System, she provided access for the people of color in the organization then and those to follow because she exuded intelligence, poise and confidence while maintaining her blackness resulting in a cult following of those who loved and others who hated her power. For friends and family back home, my parent's East Coast home was an open door, and they had a revolving door of visitors. Ma made sure everyone who came got to experience "the Cape" always introducing them to something new and encouraging them to try something beyond the Southside of Chicago or the cotton fields of the South. ACCESS!
Tejay has more stamps in his passport and more confidence than most because of the access Ma provided. Camps, colleges and support abound. ACCESS!
Kayla, my oldest and the oldest grandchild, got her first pair of golf clubs from Nina and Poppa when she was 3 years old. She played golf all four years in high school. ACCESS! Nina bought her horseback riding lessons in middle school. ACCESS!
Katie's stacks of diaries and opportunities to write big were because of Nina. ACCESS!
Jaiden's knowledge and confidence of the multitude of his talents including but not limited to baseball, basketball and an innate sensibility are because of Nina's support and ACCESS!
Bev's best moves:
Dad and I sat on the phone wordless for at least a minute. A moment of silence to honor all the access my mother gave to our family.
"Beverly did that. She would be so proud," brought us back into conversation. "Yup!" is all I could manage.
Marquel's accomplishment is AWESOME and we could not be more proud of him, nor of my mother for blowing the doors off so many things for us and so many others.
I sit with queens
Feet curled beneath me
Head back laughing
Comfortable but not conforming
Ready to laugh the big laugh
And dumped out
all the secrets of the Nile
under the weight
or lack thereof
Or past tense
Spoken & affirmed
No questions to answer
No explanations needed
Talk talked of intellect
and trivial pursuits just the same
The laughter does not change
Demolition of mankind
Construction of humanity
Demands and expectations
not our own
A conscientious ownership of power
Ready to laugh the big laugh
At the fools
who think we show our teeth in vain
We show our teeth
Not needing to grin & bear
But bare all
Original sins told
No posters hung
or milk cartons
or songbird to carry away
a redraft of the original
With new verses
Left open to curses
Given no commandments or small prayers
to guide inner demons
Heads thrown back
Ready to laugh the big laugh
Paul Laurence Dunbar was the first poet I ever slept with. His faded blue, tethered book worn white in some spots tucked neatly under my pillow. His words were exotic and romantic like foreign films. I was quickly and easily seduced even though and perhaps because I needed a translator. My mother had been the one to introduce us. He was not her first but one of her favorite lovers, so at around 10 years old she thought it time I met his acquaintance. I was in love.
After our introduction, my mother tasked my cousins and I to commit Dunbar's poem "In the Morning" (found here) to memory and to act it out. This meant we had to understand the poem's meaning and decipher its complex dialect. There was no bothering her to ask what this word meant or how to pronounce that. We were given an important assignment. She told us she loved the poem, and she knew we would do it justice.
We read and re-read--silently and aloud. Rehearsing and changing intonations to make it flow and match the meaning. We read other poems in that blue book to help us. It took awhile for us to all to be stage ready, but when the time came we performed our hearts out to unbridled applause.
That is the memory I have of my mother one year after her death.
She always challenged my cousins and I to be thinkers. As youngsters, we were unaware of the depth of the intellectual pursuits she challenged us with. We simply thought it was entertainment and we loved (as did she--being a true thesbian) to perform for an adorning audience which she always was.
I can still remember all the words and scenes we created for "In the Morning." To this day, I often breakout into poetic verse with ease ... we wear the mask that grins and lies ... but am not limited to Dunbar. Shakespeare's works, T.S. Elliott (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock was one of her favorites), and lines from her beloved David Copperfield roll freely from my tongue. Every word of "The Raven" nevermore is in my lexicon because of my mother. She set the stage for my love of learning and words. It is because of her example that I am a teacher today. Her education of a world of words and characters inspired and challenged me. I never wanted to let her down in life and now in death.
Today, I recited "Lias, Lias, bless the Lord ..." in honor of the smartest woman I will ever know. She'd want to be honored no other way!
Blasphemy! Heretic! Heathen! Sound the alarm (some already have--your distance speaks volumes. To "like" one of my pictures does not automatically link you to my religious ideology or lack thereof) religious zealots!
For the past year, I have not been on the best terms with the big Guy. I have questioned the hell out of Him. I have seriously asked multiple times why He hath forsaken me.
He was not listening to me and oblivious to my wants and needs. I needed to put some distance between us. That's what you do when you're in a relationship with an absentee partner, right?
The odd thing is He and I had a good thing--a really good thing. I could depend on Him and He always came through and most times exceeded my expectations. We talked all the time and understood one another.
Then my mother got sick, and that seemed to come between us. I was angry. I needed to focus on her. Even when I tried to make time for He and I, it wasn't the same. I withdrew, and it seemed He was giving me the cold shoulder. The feelings just weren't there anymore.
It's been hard to not be in that relationship; I am not sure it will ever be the same. I have been really resistant to taking Him back. If I am being honest, the trust isn't there. I have had people try to hook us up again, but their words of wisdom come off as canned and insincere (stop telling me I must, I must, I must increase my faith). It's like people just see His side of it and I am supposed to ignore feeling ignored.
I am working through the pain of multiple losses, and that's some heavy stuff. Maybe I have complicated a simple relationship. Maybe I put too much blame on Him. Maybe it's not Him but me.
Right now, our status is it's complicated. Sometimes I want Him back, but others times I think of the hurt and those feelings of abandonment and I am okay with our relationship limbo.
If it is meant to be, we will find our way back to each other.
This school year, one of my goals was to see my students grow in empathy and awareness of life outside of their bubble. I teach in a predominately white middle-to-upper class school in a Chicago suburb. My students are far removed from the realities of kids a mere 30 miles down the expressway; my reality as a product of the south side of Chicago. Their lives, while far from perfect, are utopian compared to the lives of some of their neighboring peers.
Research supports the need to provide students of color with culturally responsive pedagogy and curriculum. I wholeheartedly support and appreciate the pressing need for black and brown students to have instructional practices matching their learning styles and aptitudes as well as texts reflective of their interests and experiences. This is long overdue. I believe culturally responsive practices will help bridge the achievement gap offering marginalized students a voice and a means of championing who they are and from where they've come. But I ask, is this enough? Is this enough to disrupt the pervasive fear entangling and threatening to entrap our nation? I see the white elephant in the room. It is the curriculum of the white elite that only serves the status quo. It maintains white is right and to speak against its ideology is a cardinal sin.
How does education tackle this white elephant in the room? I believe as culturally responsive teaching builds awareness in the black and brown educational world; an awareness must also be taught in the educational world of the white elite. I have seen firsthand the pressing need for "Allies and Advocates" curriculum and pedagogy. As education reflects and responds to the needs of society, it is clear students need to be explicitly taught not to fear and exclude that which is other. In order for both sets of students ("majority" and "minority") to grow and evolve for the better, there must be an overhaul of teaching practices and curriculum for the white elite that does more than relegate the teaching of "minorities" and their heroes, causes and more to a month or one historical figure but engages students in ongoing discourse that humanizes all and offers a broad understanding of black and brown people along with the events and circumstances that impact their lives.
I realize what I am asking for is a total reformation of curricular ideology and development. I realize this will not be an easy task. I realize not everyone will agree there is a need for such change. I also realize teaching the "majority" to be allies and advocates through new approaches, texts and discourse geared toward the UN-whitewashing of curriculum is one of the only ways to bridge our divide and see real societal growth.
As an educator, I want to prepare my students to be productive citizens who contribute to the world. As an educator of color, I want the same and more, especially in the current American climate with its rampant and flourishing forms of -isms. It is increasingly imperative that students are able to move beyond their u-centric views, to see and interact with people and situations beyond the lens of their white privilege, to engage in honest and open conversations about the -isms refuting stereotypes and fighting prejudice, and to be allies of the world who advocate for people and causes that may not directly affect them but affect the greater good.
It's time to address that elephant in the classroom.
To say I am still pondering the myriad levels of Get Out is an understatement, I have probably consumed at least 10 articles and spent too much time dissecting the film's most minute details. My husband and I have knighted Jordan Peele and contemplated and revered the internal and external struggle inherent in creating this type of social art. Genius, we say--pure genius.
Last night, my daughter called me, on her own without prompting or to request money, to discuss the film as she saw I'd checked-in at the theater on Facebook (strategic on my part--folk need to know) the day prior. We talked for almost an hour about the film's hidden details and the brilliance of producing something so racially relevant and charged without totally alienating the majority, and yet intimately speaking to the minority--again I say, pure genius. And then we talked about Georgina, one of the two women of color in the film. The character who crept me out so much that I'd pushed her into the corner and far recesses of my mind until that point.
Unpacking Georgina and I
Why had I chosen to forget her? And upon remembering her, why has she now dominated my thoughts? How is Georgina really a representation of self? (Bear with me, I know I stand to lose my audience here, but hear me out.)
The very reason I pushed Georgina into the background is the very reason she is truly unforgettable: her presence and power evoke fear. Her character represents the house negro of past living among her masters (Is Walter ever in the Armitage home?) as a subservient matriarch (captive and grandmother), yet still somewhat conscious of who she really is (i.e. lone tear). Her character also represents the modern day black woman, similar in the aforementioned constructions, but also as more "woke" than her black male counterparts, less desirable in the eyes of the predominate culture (a black woman always fretting about her appearance) who was NOT vying for her (the black males were the prize bucks), and restless and apologetic (Georgina was always popping up out of nowhere moving fast and apologizing for her actions).
I see myself in Georgina--restlessly working to get it right and feeling the need to apologize for who I am. A recent encounter best illustrates this: I had a meeting where I felt pressed to apologize because I was not myself and I was not as vocal as expected and for something else totally out of my control. I have to run faster, spit farther, jump higher smiling all the while. I feel pressured to rein in my level of consciousness and advocacy based on what I believe is racially unjust as not to offend those who might perceive me as an angry black woman (some of you have thought just that).
I see you, Georgina! Sister, I understand how your power and presence evoked fear. Sister, I got the message that I have to get out of my own head and not be pushed to the background. Sister, I got that my beauty is not determined by outside forces and sources. Sister, I apologize no longer!
A product of my hood.
Black activism at its finest.
Chance the Rapper.
Why Chance is a real deal revolutionary:
Again and again, Chance proves he is a man of action, a man who believes in himself and his community, and a change agent empowering a broad base of young people through education. His activism is definitely planned, purposeful and certainly not by chance.
Revolutionaries act. What a challenge of greatness to us all!
I cautiously walk into this year looking both ways: looking back at the weight of 2016 and looking ahead at the expanse of 2017. I am leery to cross into hopeful, but just as leery to not--feathers of my soul aren't yet weightless as Dickinson reminds me 'Hope is a thing with feathers.'
I need something to ground me on this 2017 journey. Looking back, I had LOVE. My 2016 one little word never failed me. It wrapped me up, sang to me, talked to me and laid with me during my times of despair and continues to cling to me in memories and moments.
Looking ahead, my one little word needed to push me. It needed to be all things. Hard task, I know. Then it came to me on the lips of Yeezus, Kanye West, of all artists--yep, it had to be birthed from true craziness ... Don't let me get in my zone!
It was perfect to guide me through the expanse with purpose and passion. I need to get in the zone by staying laser focused, zoning in on the things that are important, and zoning out some things and people. Zone represents my space, my being and my direction. It represents my confidence and attitude. It is holistic and present and future. It is big and small enough to carry me through 2017.
I still have trepidations about this year considering my last, but hey "you need to crawl 'fore you ball" and I know one thing if I'm in the zone NOTHING CAN STOP ME!
Last year, I included a music video with my one little word, so here's to Kanye. Listen at YOUR OWN RISK but if you do, lean back, nod your head and enjoy!
She was remembered by who came right before her
(so close they almost touched the womb together)
and then after
(knitted together just the same)
sandwiched in between
her lullabies, a crecsendo of chaos,
coming so fast
there was little time to
or remember her tiny hands
or distinguish her from the others
in the solemn return to calm
coming so fast
But for her fair skin and heart shaped face
(Alpha & Omega)
Bouncing on her father's knee,
I wonder if she smiled.
Documenting my evolution by filling in space and matter one word at a time.