The Only One

IMG-3914 (1)
At a time when I was the only black 7th grade teacher at a charter school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York (2015). 

Every day I stand in front of my diverse classroom intensely aware of my skin color. As the only black man teaching at my school, I am one of the 3.7 percent of New York City teachers that share my identity. This May, during Teacher Appreciation Month, I celebrated the critical impact black male educators have on the life of students who share similar experiences based on our gender, race, and life experiences. Despite the crucial impact we make, there are less black male teachers in NYC today than ten years ago. It is time for NYC, and the rest of America, to double down on recruiting, retaining, and developing excellent black male educators.

Growing up in Miami, I was one of the only black students through most of my schools and classes. Still, my teachers reflected the great diversity of my hometown – I had multiple African American, white, and Hispanic teachers of both genders throughout my K-12 education. It was these teachers that challenged and pushed me to become the learner, and later educator, that I am today.

Now, as the only black male teacher in a New York City public school, I am not just a teacher to my black boys and girls, I am a father figure, their uncle, their big brother, their mentor, and their hero. At the end of my first year in this school, a group of my black female students started to affectionately call me “Uncle” Toussaint. It has carried over into this school year. On my birthday, I found a card on my desk, signed by this group of four black girls and the card read, “Happy Birthday Uncle, you’ve done so much for us. You’re an amazing figure to have in our lives.” My connection with my students go beyond the content and test results. I look at them and see myself, 20 years ago. And in turn, I am someone they can see themselves becoming.

A study by the Institute for Labor Economics found that if a low-income black male student has a black teacher in elementary schools they are 39 percent less likely to drop out of school and more likely to attend college. These effects were even stronger when the teacher is a male or shares the gender as the students they teacher. Conversely, the media reports constantly about the disproportionately, higher rates of suspensions that black boys face in American schools. Not only are black boys susceptible to systematic racism and discrimination, but they are also susceptible to stereotypes that too often become self-fulling prophecies suffocated by dreams deferred.

In an age when our black boys are under constant attack, we must interrupt the status quo for young black male lives and the limited narrative that offer such limited options. As an educator of fifteen years, the solution I’ve seen work best is to recruit and retain black men in the teaching profession. Education is the most powerful vehicle people have to rise from humble circumstances and fight for better opportunities for their families and communities. When we recruit, support and retain black men in the crucial roles of educator, principal, counselor, or coach we provide a powerful opportunity for our young black boys. They are able to share some lessons that only a black man in American can truly pass on to a black boy; like how to survive an encounter with the police; how to code switch, how to fight with your words and not your fist, how to advocate for those like you and how to give back. This is the important difference a black male education can have on his students. It promotes a narrative that at times can seem non-existent, and makes it real, that black men can be intelligent, caring and a vital part of the development of children.

Nationwide, black men make up only 2 percent of the teachers, while half of all students are students of color. James Baldwin said, Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” Our children need to see black male educators, who are professional, passionate, intelligent and tangible. It is time to deeply invest in effective initiatives that develop and recruit black male educators that address this issue nationwide.

As a black male educator, I am not just a teacher to my black boys and girls, I am a father figure, an uncle, a big brother, a mentor, and their hero. They trust me. They love me. 30 years in the school system and it seems all too familiar. I look around and I am the only one. But this time, I am not the only black boy, I am the only black man. 

 

Advertisements

COMMON DAMN SENSE & WHY I NEED MY WHITE FRIENDS

Just be a descent human-being and use common damn sense!

When Colin Kaepernick is kneeling, he is exercising his “right” to peacefully protest. This is not a violent attack on our military or any civilians. Feelings may get hurt, but no one is in any physical danger. And yes, rich people have the right to protest too.

When openly racist members of white supremacy protest, but instead use violence to get their point across, that is not only dangerous, it is Un-American. It is the exact opposite of what our brothers and sisters in uniform or risking their lives for. It is a direct attack on American citizens. It is a direct attack on democracy. Our military fights for freedom, not oppression.

This battle for equality in America is not just for black people, gay people, women or immigrants. It’s about people. People who do bad things should be held accountable—that is all. People who use violence should be held accountable. Officials who abuse their power to oppress others, in order for their own benefit are just as guilty.

Nonetheless, I do believe in a system where white Americans have an inherit advantage; fair or not fair. That same privilege and power is what it is going to take to save our country. Who can come between a fight between two elephants?

Just like when viral youtube videos of black people acting ignorant makes all black people look bad; the same can be said for what is happening in Virginia right now. At this moment, this country needs descent, moral white Americans to openly and publicly be just as bold as the white supremacists; not just today and tomorrow, but everyday.

And to my black people. We need to continue to be good to each other; today, tomorrow and everyday.

charlotteville
A driver plows into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo by Associated Press

A New Standard: How Viola Davis and “Moonlight” Flipped the Script

JENKINS AND MCCRANEY-LIBERTY CITY
The playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, left, and the director Barry Jenkins teamed up to make the film “Moonlight.” NEW YORK TIMES

“Moonlight” won best picture and Viola Davis won best supporting actress. No one can deny the powerful cast and brilliance of Moonlight. Having grown up in Allapattah, a neighborhood some 20 blocks south of Liberty City, where the movie was set, gives me an even deeper appreciation for the film’s accolades and accomplishments. When “Moonlight” is celebrated, everyone who grew up in Black Miami celebrates. Black Miami has never existed outside of those of us who grew up there; on the other side of the bridge. Miami has always been perceived as a one night stand between “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” and  “Havana Nights.” I’m glad the cameras and stars took their talents to the hood this time; look at what they were able to create . 

Viola_Davis_t580
Viola Davis JEFF LIPSKAY/ A.M.PA.S PHOTO

The beauty, grace and talent of Viola Davis is undeniable. She continues to make history as a woman of color in film, but particularly as a dark-skinned black woman. Hollywood has always had a problem with colorism. America has a problem with colorism. Hell, the black community has a problem with colorism. White or anything associated with whiteness has always been the gold standard. So for Viola to be so successful in an industry driven by imagery and whiteness is extraordinary. With what she has had to overcome as a woman, a black woman, a dark-skinned black woman at that, might essentially make her the most talented actor that Hollywood has ever seen. 

While many will see the accomplishments of “Moonlight” and Viola’s Oscar-winning performances as monumental achievements for black actors and actresses, still, I am torn. On one hand, I realize that The Oscars is Hollywood’s Super Bowl. It’s the highest honor that any director, producer, film writer or actor could ever be bestowed with. However, The Oscars still represents an old American, patriarchy. According to a report written in 2016, 94% of the members of the Academy are white (The Economist). Ironically, this same group has the power and privilege to curate what art, beauty and the black experience is, from a white male perspective. And their perspective is golden? I have to be critical under those circumstances. I am genuinely happy for all the winners and nominees nonetheless. To have your life’s work and craft celebrated among your peers and fans must be a great honor.

In the same breath, Hollywood is also just as responsible for much of the social stereotypes and misconceptions of the black experience as any other American institution. The seemingly improbable journeys of the virtually all black cast and crew of “Moonlight,”along with Viola Davis’s personal triumphs, is what makes their achievements greater than the Oscars themselves. 

I shake my head at the the Oscars, for the many who were snubbed or pegged into subservient roles in order to be recognized. Black actors and actresses do not need the Oscars, if anything, the Oscars needs more diversity and representation. 

The No Look Pass- Why the Trump Administration Continues to Keep America on it’s Heels.

magic-johnson-no-look-pass
Earvin “Magic” Johnson confuses a pair of Atlanta Hawk defenders with one of his signature no look passes.

Earvin “Magic” Johnson was one of the most dynamic, durable and talented players in NBA history. His natural gifts gave him a distinct advantage over his opponents. At 6’9” 230lbs, he was built like a power forward, but had the grace, ball handling skills and on the court leadership of a point guard. And though his size at his was not customary for a point guard, he became the best point guard to ever wear Los Angeles Lakers jersey. Point guards are typically the smallest players on the court. Their job is to control the tempo of the game by making good decisions with the basketball and allowing the players around them to score, by embodying a pass first, shoot second mentality. But Magic, because of his size, intelligence and smarts, could play every position on the court. His combination of size and speed made him a complete package, a once in a generation caliber of player.

And though Magic had an arsenal of skills, he is best most known for his passing. Magic had an uncanny ability to place the ball in the hand of his teammates from under the most improbable scenarios; like magic. He was so good at dishing the ball around that he didn’t even have to look in the direction of his passes. Hence, “no look pass.” It’s like he had eyes in the back of his head and three arms. A player could be on the opposite side of the court, totally out of position to receive the ball, yet Magic could penetrate the defending team with a laser pass that was only attended for his player’s hands. Squared up with a defender in his face, closing in on him… and POOF, the ball was out of his hands and being laid up by someone else, for two points. And when teams tried to anticipate his passes, he would keep the ball and score himself.

For his entire career he deceived us into thinking he was going left, when in actuality, his true intention was to go right. We thought that he would surely take the open shot, but he actually passed it off to someone whom you forgot was on the court…because you had been so engulfed in watching him. How did he do it? How did he see it? It was unexplainable. But he did it time and time again. You could never predict how the play would end, once the basketball touched Magic’s hands.

As I watch news and read reports about the state of politics in the United States. I feel like I am watching Magic Johnson play again. We are all being told to focus on emanate threat of Islamic terrorists. For a slither of time, some of us would have been duped into thinking that the Trump administration had a legitimate concern about Muslim extremists finding their way into the United States. Even if the World Trade attacks took place over 15 years ago and we had virtually no “terrorist” attacks on American soil since.[i] As a matter of fact, more than 90% of all “terrorist” attacks perpetrated by Muslims are inflicted on other Muslims… in Muslim countries. With the exception of Antarctica, when you look at the facts, the United States might be the safest place on the planet when it comes to “so called” terrorist attacks. Europe, Asia and Africa catch far more hell than we could every dream of.

So while a travel ban was being placed on Muslims in the name of protecting America from terrorists, another play was being drawn up. Social media has been flooded with posts about ICE (Immigration Law Enforcement) [1]going into neighborhoods from Los Angeles, to New York City, to Miami to setup “check points.” Folks are being stopped, searched, detained and deported for being undocumented. The government is supposedly, only going after those with “criminal charges.” Whether the reports of checkpoints[ii] are true or false, Trumps rhetoric towards immigrants has fostered a growing climate of fear and mistrust of immigrants.

A few weeks ago, the Trump administration dribbled the ball down the right side of the court, telling us that Muslims were a threat because of their inherent ties to “terrorism.” But this week they through the ball to the opposite side of the court to our wide open ICE Agents who are allegedly boarding public transportation in places like Flatbush Brooklyn with a huge West Indian population and Flushing Queens, which is considered to be the most diverse neighborhood in the world, with families from virtually every country in Latin America and Asia. It seems that it’s not just about “criminals.”

The African American community already knows all too well about having their neighborhoods heavily policed. Black men very familiar with being stopped and frisked in the name of “proactive policing.” It seems like it will always be a reason to accuse people of color of being suspicious or a threat to America. It seems like all those years of stopping and frisking black people paid off after all. Those same protocols are now being practiced on the Latino and Muslim communities in America.

So what is this all about? Where is the Trump administration really going with their agenda? Unlike Magic, his “no-look” passes and skillful ball handling made those around him better. It made the team better. He led the Lakers to five NBA Championships.[iii] Also, in the game of basketball there are two teams on the court. The objective is to defeat your opponent. However, America is not a basketball court, it is a country. How is all this rhetoric and division making all Americans better? We are supposed to be unified. We should be trying our best include everyone, in our so-called democracy, polarizing and excluding certain groups. “United we stand. Divided we fall.” America is supposed to be a land of opportunity and refuge for those who cannot find refuge anywhere else. A land built on the backs of the same people who are now being systematically pushed away.

It is far too easy to place the blame of our shortcomings as a country on immigrants and people of color. It is far too easy to complain and pull on the emotions of the American people rather than make the necessary changes and sacrifices. America is not perfect, however, it is still one of the safest places in the world. It is still the land of opportunity. We cannot fall for the bait and allure of prejudice, fear and xenophobia. While it may look like hour president is going to work, to solve the problems of our nation, we need to look a little deeper. What is his real agenda? Because I know that expelling millions of immigrants and banning the entry of hundreds of thousands more, will not make America “great again.” But it will continue keep us confused, divided and distracted.

Sources

[1] ICE- Immigration Customs Enforcement

[i] ACLU FACTSHEET ON CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION’S 100-MILE ZONE https://www.aclu.org/other/aclu-factsheet-customs-and-border-protections-100-mile-zone?redirect=immigrants-rights/aclu-fact-sheet-customs-and-border-protections-100-mile-zone

[ii] False Stories About ICE Sweeps & Checkpoints Spark Fear In New York’s Immigrant Communities

http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2017/02/23/bogus-ice-reports/

[iii] NBA Encyclopedia –Earvin Johnson, Jr.

http://www.nba.com/history/players/johnsonm_stats.html

 

Whose America?

img_1701-1
Hundreds of thousands protested along 42nd Street in Manhattan during the Women’s March.

Crowds of protesters flooded the streets of every major city in the United States; hundreds of thousands in Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York City and Boston. Even my hometown of Miami drew over 10,000 protesters. To think, just days before the mass demonstrations, I had no idea of how immense the protests would be. As my social media feed continued to update, I learned that it was not just a movement in America, but it was a worldwide collaboration. London, Nairobi, Berlin, Paris and Prague too? Over 1 million people worldwide protested on Saturday (see article Washington Post ). It was a worldwide march lead by women, with a unified message; the disapproval of the recently elected United States President, Donald Trump.

There has been a tremendous amount of controversy surrounding this campaign and his ascent to the White House. Many have viewed his words as racist, misogynistic, xenophobic and divisive. One of Trump’s most troublesome ideas is to build a wall along the southern border of the United States, in which he initially stated that the Mexican government would pay for (see article Los Angeles Times). He also painted a grim picture of Mexicans and other immigrants from Latin American countries as being responsible for bringing crime and drugs into the United States.

On 16 June, at his campaign launch for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, Donald Trump aired his views on immigration, saying: ‘[Mexico is] sending people that have lots of problems … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.’ (see video The Guardian).  

Not only did Mr. Trump speak harshly  about Hispanics, but he also proposed a ban on immigrants from Muslim countries, (see video CNN News) creating a larger rift within America and its immigrant communities.

According to News One, Trump received single digit support from black voters throughout most of the campaign. His rallies were overwhelmingly white and there were several instances in which black people were physically assaulted by white crowds (see video Washington Post). Furthermore, Trump publicly received support from the white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) (see article Washington Post). Trump’s campaign swiftly denounced the group’s support, however their public endorsement left an undeniable stain. With this kind of negative press, relations with the black community became as tense as ever.

And just 24 hours before a nationally televised presidential debate, a recording of Mr. Trump having a conversation about groping women and “grabbing them by the pussy” was made public (see video New York Times). This brought even more controversy to his campaign and the timing could not have been worse. Surely, his approval ratings would drop. Surely Mrs. Clinton would expose Mr. Trump and use his words and ideas to show just how unfit of a candidate he was. But like a cat with nine lives, Trump survived yet another blow to his campaign and came out seemingly unscathed.  His crowd remained fervently supportive of him.

Going into the November election, the polls and experts had Hillary Clinton ahead with a double-digit lead (see article CNN News). But on the night of Tuesday, November 7th, the unexpected happened. Clinton’s so-called lead never actually materialized. As a matter of fact, the race was a lot closer than the experts had anticipated, and the world witnessed one of the biggest upsets in election history. Though reports will show that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.9 million votes, the electoral map was overwhelmingly red (see article CNN News). The results of the election created an uproar. Members of the Democratic party demanded a recount. It even brought our electoral college system into serious question; many legislators are now arguing to have it removed all together.

What a campaign year! Our country seems more divided than ever. Though many continue to contest Trump’s presidency, the fact remains that he is our nation’s leader.

I was part of the massive crowds that marched, chanted and protested. And as I marched among the throngs of people, something became apparent, more than ever. Dr. King’s words never rang truer:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

 

img_1681
Protesters crowd the streets at Grand Central Station.

The historic crowds were impressive and beautifully diverse. The marches brought people of all walks together. However, I had to ask myself:

 

  • When scores of unarmed black bodies were being mowed down by law enforcement, sparking protests and giving birth to the phrase Black Lives Matter, where was the uprising then?  Where was the outrage?
  • When mass shootings of innocent men, women and children in Colorado, Connecticut, and Florida revealed how our gun laws continue to put as all at risk, where were the mass protests then?
  • When families were being torn apart by aggressive deportation practices-again, where was everyone then?
  • When our native American brothers and sisters’ livelihoods were under direct attack by greedy and heartless companies threatening to build a pipeline directly through their water source and ancient burial grounds, where was everyone?
  • Where was everyone on November 7th?

 

All of our struggles are just as important, but they are not always treated with equal care, respect and the unity that they deserve.

The mere threat of the Trump administration galvanized millions world-wide. So what gave this march priority over everything else? I cannot quite say, but moving forward, if we want to preserve our rights and dignity as Americans, it would behoove us to capture a wider lens that includes everyone in the struggle. We can’t just protest when we are inconvenienced. We must speak out against oppression and injustice for everyone.

 

A New Year: One Day at a Time

img_6357
On Marcus Garvey Avenue. Photo by Anthony Dickens 

Approaching the new year is always a complicated process for me. I try to treat it like any other day, but it’s more than that. As a person who constantly self-reflects; how can I view the turning of a new calendar year as something simple or trivial?

As someone who loves history, dates and timelines are very important. Knowing when something happened in relation to other significant events, creates a sense of context and relevance in which all things are connected. For example, I was born in 1980. That’s the same year that Ronald Reagan was elected, the U.S. boycotted the summer Olympics, the Mariel boatlift resulted in the arrival of over one hundred thousand Cubans into Miami and my neighborhood of Liberty City (Miami)  burned for nearly a week after the McDuffie riots; one of the worst riots in the city’s history. Each year is shaped by the events that take place within them. Some years stand out more than others, as a result of the impact of those events. 2016 will be remembered for all the celebrity deaths and the election of Donald Trump. What will 2017 be remembered for?

Usually a few days before January 1st I hunker down to jot all the awesome feats that I plan to accomplish in the upcoming year. The list can become quite ambitious some years, while fluffy in other years. Open-ended goals like read more, exercise more and saving more, never actually seem attainable. Furthermore, if I don’t get started right away, then I probably won’t start at all, giving up on my resolutions before Valentine’s Day. This year I already read a status on social media that said, “I already messed up this year, but I’m ready for 2018.” We’re not even out of the first week of January for crying out loud.

Now, what I won’t do is declare my fate on the results of my annual to-do list. I also won’t pretend as if this isn’t a great opportunity to refocus and recharge. This New Year I’m just going to go for it. I’m going to remain committed to chasing my dreams. Your dreams don’t change from year to year; just your commitment to them do. Sometimes life changes our trajectory, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still pursue your passion.

img_6370
Laughter is a good thing. Photo by Anthony Dickens

As far as I know, you only get one chance at life. Why not give it your all? Just before the new year, I received word that one of my football players was diagnosed with leukemia. His name is Tariq and he’s a very gifted athlete. The news shocked all the coaches. Tariq had an amazing season, as one of the best players in the city. After suffering from severe chronic headaches, he eventually went to see his doctor. When the results of his blood-work came back, he was asked to return to the hospital and hasn’t left since.

Just imagine, at the age of 17 years old, having your entire life ahead of you and the next day being told that you have cancer. Though I’ve only known Tariq for a few months, we have always had a mutual respect for each other. I’d give him a few tips here and there and sometimes cover him practice. I had to go by the hospital and show my support; especially at a time like this. As I visited with him I couldn’t help but admire his courage and strength. He’s a fighter on the field and a fighter in life.

Some of his friends and teammates had also come by to see him. You could see the concern and fear in their eyes. One of the young men begin to shed tears as the time passed. From his hospital bed, with tubes in his arms, Tariq calmly and confidently said, “Don’t cry…” The young man looked up at Tariq and nodded his head.

Each day is a blessing and every year is a milestone. I pray that Tariq pulls through and that he gets the chance to celebrate many more New Years to come. In the meantime I am committed to living my best life, one day at a time.