Martyrdom: A Black Man’s Burden

The quests for longevity and greatness have eluded another one of our fallen brothers. The untimely death of Nipsey Hussle is a story too familiar to the black community. Dating back to heroes of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, black leaders have had little time to make a great impact. Even more frustrating, is that we seem to have more value, as black men, once we’re dead, than when we are alive.

Before Medgar Evers could see the fruits of his labor as a community activist, mobilizing the black vote in Mississippi during the tumultuous 1960s, he was gunned down in his driveway. Left to die just steps from his wife and children’s embrace. He was only 37-years-old. 51 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King was shot dead in Memphis, after all, but prophesying his death, just the night before:

In a prophetic finale to his speech, King revealed that he was not afraid to die: “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life—longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will…. And so I’m happy tonight; 

On the cusp of something greater than what he’d been known for, the Poor People’s Campaign was sure to truly unite the masses. Brother Malcolm X (el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz) was assassinated in a crowded ballroom in Harlem, after forming the Organization of African American Unity. Something revolutionary and inclusive, but at the age of 40, Malcolm was cut down. Not to mention Black Panther leader, the 21-year-old Fred Hampton, Jr. out of Chicago, murdered in cold blood by the Chicago Police department. Hampton had found a way to unify the youth of Chicago’s poorest and roughest areas, through natural leadership and truth. Too powerful. Too soon.

Longevity and greatness, a deadly combination they are. Fast forward a generation later. A 25-year-old Tupac Shakur, son of a Black Panther, was shot on the Las Vegas strip, eventually died from his wounds days later. Arguably the greatest hip hop icon of all-time. Reflecting on his life, I realize that he only had 5 years to inspire the world. With his feverish work ethic, and musical content, it’s as if he knew that an early death was imminent.

The premier of the music video, “I Ain’t Mad At Cha,” debuted just 3 days after Tupac’s death. The video and song itself captures the essence of how Pac dies in real life. It’s as if Tupac predicted his own demise. Years later, Pac’s musical catalog was revealed, and that’s when the world truly realized how brilliant this young man was. Imagine if he had more time.

The following year, the 24-year-old Notorious B.I.G. was taken from us. Is it a coincidence that the final song, on his final album, Life After Death is, “You’re Nobody (‘Till Somebody Kills You”)? A victim of a drive-by in Los Angeles, Pac’s rival and with only 2 albums under his belt, became a hip hop god. What if he had more time?

In recent years, camera phones and social media have shed light on the dark reality of police brutality and disregard for the black male form. 18-year-old Michael Brown left face down in the August sun, with 6 bullets in his body for 4 hours. 17-year-old Trayvon Martin stalked down and shot fatally yards from his father’s doorstep. Sister Sandra Bland at 28, found dead in her cell. Though not a man, our sisters have their own plight in this narrative as well. She was manhandled during her arrest and there is no telling what happened in her jail cell. Philando Castile 32, Tamir Rice 12 and Eric Garner 43, all gone within a matter of seconds. Although their circumstances were different, their stories… all the same; another black body laid dead. Obama served 8 years as our First Black President, we were all terrified for him, and rightfully so. Look at what happened to so many of our leaders before him.

Sunday, March 31st, 2019 a new name was added to America’s most infamous fraternity, Ermias Asghedom, more famously known as Nipsey Hussle.  Just hours before his final breath he sent out a chilling tweet, “Having strong enemies is a blessing.” Did he know something? Did he see something? Or was it just plain coincidence? We will never truly know. nipsey2 final tweetA role model, a man making positive change, not just in Los Angeles, but worldwide. In his death, he has become more revered than when he was alive. I had never listened to his music. I had heard his name a handful of times before Sunday. But sadly, I have known his story for the last 50 years. The stories of these fallen men remind me to live everyday to my fullest potential. Not because I fear that I to will parish too soon, but to honor each day that I have on this earth.

Let us, as black men vow to live our days to the fullest and leave our lasting impact on the world. Let us not be jealous of the next man, but lift him up. Any attack on my brother, is an attack on me. And any victory for my brother, is mine as well. Rest in love, freedom, power, peace and victory to all my fallen brothers. We simply do not have time to fight each other. The world has already placed enough obstacles in our path.

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The Only One

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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. 

 

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.

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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

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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 . 

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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. 

Whose America?

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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.”

 

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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.

 

Thy Kingdom Come: Hidden History and the Fall of Haiti

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The story of Haiti, is the story of a fallen champion. Today, Haiti is tagged as, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. However, this tag it is unfair, incomplete, inaccurate and therefore misleading, as it proclaims Haiti’s present, without giving a full scope of its past.

Why don’t headlines ever talk about how Haiti was once, one of the most prosperous colonies in the world and one of the world’s leaders in coffee and sugar exports? Why don’t headlines emphasize how it was the first Black republic in the world and for that, it was isolated, punished and blackballed by its former colonizers and their slave-holding allies? Why don’t the headlines report how Haiti was occupied by the United States military for nearly 20 years and how the Haitian people were exploited for cheap labor against their will? Why don’t the headlines mention how the United States government sponsored Jean- Claude Duvalier, also known as “Papa Doc,” one of the most ruthless and notorious dictators of the 20th century with money and arms to rule Haiti for decades under pure fear and terror? I don’t hear many headlines tagging Haiti for having its already fragile economy destroyed in the 1990’s by Bill Clinton’s backdoor deal, that bankrupted and pushed out Haitian rice farmers, while subsidizing farmers from the Clinton’s home state of Arkansas. And more despicably, the hundreds of millions of dollars of humanitarian aid to Haiti in response to the 2010 earthquake that the American Red Cross used to build gated communities for its workers, instead of homes for the victims of the actual earthquake. Oh yeah! What about the United Nation “peace keepers” who have impregnated hundreds if not thousands of Haitian girls and women, while leaving them to raise a generation of children on their own.  Did I mention how those same “peace keepers” brought cholera to Haiti, by contaminating the Haitian water supply with their human waste and feces, leading to the deaths of thousands of people?

To continue to simply tag Haiti as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere is like watching Mike Tyson’s last fight against Lennox Lewis and deciding that Mike Tyson’s legacy would be cemented from the results of a fight, that should have never happened in the first place. Tyson had been far beyond his prime and to say that he was damaged goods, would have been a compliment. Tyson was merely a shell, a shadow of what his name meant to millions, who watched him in his prime destroy anything that dared to stand in the square with him. And let us rest assure, that his fall from glory, was not by happenstance. The untimely death of his mentor, coupled with his exploitation by the infamous Don King among others; lead one of the greatest fighters the world has ever known, to his back on a canvas mat, in an arena filled with perplexed eyes, pitied hearts and the realization, that this once great boxing warrior-god, had been reduced to a mere mortal. But still, in his downfall, Tyson will always be recognized as one of the greatest. We do not honor hour heroes in their defeat, but in their glory. We should do the same for Haiti.

Haiti has been down for quite some time now, but its true historical and cultural narrative, still outweighs its current calamitous present.  The black sheep, the dark child, prodigal son, the underdog. All these metaphors hold the real story of a nation that continues to fight for its rightful place in the history books and in a world that is quick to forget and dismiss the mighty legacy of the land where black people actually came together to achieve the unspeakable and the unthinkable… FREEDOM.

Many nations have built tremendous wealth on the backs of the oppressed. Just over 200 years ago in 1804, when New World slavery was at its relative peak in places like Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia, 1000 miles away, nearly half a million slaves had flipped the script. Greater than any March on Washington, Million Man March, Emancipation Proclamation, Thirteenth, Fourteenth Amendment or Black Lives Matters hashtag… Just as the Patriots had defeated the British, the Africans on the island of Hispaniola had defeated the French army.  Inscribed on the Haitian flag you will find the quote, L’union fait la force, In unity there is strength; which is a kin to the motto of the Thirteen Colonies during the American Revolution… “Join or die.” To be Haitian is to know that you come from the same ilk of the only nation on earth to ever lead a successful slave revolt and to know that running in your veins is the same blood of men in women, who were the original freedom fighters. This is what Haiti should be known for. Because if not, then to be fair, accurate and transparent, we must tag those countries responsible for Haiti’s economic demise … France, the country that still owes Haiti billions in reparations. England, the country that colonized and enslaved millions of people and bled their resources dry until the mid 20th century. The United States, the wealthiest country in the world by inheriting a lucrative slave economy from the British and continued to profit for nearly a century from free labor and has yet to provide reparations to the families of former slaves, while the families of former slave owners continue to thrive from generational wealth.

With the recent landfall of Hurricane Matthew, today, Haiti is clinging onto the ropes. The combination of natural disasters, political and economic sabotage have taken its toll on Haiti. Her opponents have hit her with every hook, jab, uppercut and combination imaginable. She is hurt, wounded and bloodied. And though she has been knocked down and knocked out, she continues to pick herself up and fight again. What a mighty people! What a mighty nation! Haiti, the strongest country in the world, the champion of the people. 

The Right to Remain Violent

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It is in America’s DNA to mistrust and be fearful of black people or anyone who speaks out against the poor treatment of blacks. When the early boatloads of enslaved Africans reached the shores of the Americas in the early 1600’s, there was already a social order in place, that forced black people to the bottom of society. A century later, The Making of a Slave ( A speech that was said to have been delivered by Willie Lynch on the bank of the James River in the colony of Virginia in 1712.  Lynch was a British slave owner in the West Indies. He was invited to the colony of Virginia in 1712 to teach his methods to slave owners there) became the official blue print of how to totally destroy the black spirit and mind through physical violence. Since virtually every black person that arrived in the Americas or born on American soil during the first 300 years were considered slaves, essentially, the foundation of the New World was rooted in a social order that promoted and sustained itself by means of subjugating black people. Just think, slavery existed in the Americas for four centuries, while blacks have only been emancipated for 151 years in the United States.

With 300 years of psychological and physical damage to the minds of blacks and whites, who were programed to believe that the black man, woman and child were inherently inferior, makes the very difficult task of unlearning the systematic racism that exists deep in the pores of our culture, our laws and our everyday existence. Though we have made tremendous gains in technology and science; socially, we are still at an impasse. America still struggles and struggles terribly to treat black people as full citizens. It still does not give black people equal representation, opportunities, protection or privileges.

When we continue to see unnecessary force being used on black men, women and children by law enforcement, it is simply the reminisce and vestigial components of a time when to be black, meant that the black body belonged to someone else. As unfathomable as it may seem, unfortunately the laws in America continue to be enforced in this archaic fashion. A runaway slave did not get to determine his or her own path or plot in life. If a slave ran away, they were considered a fugitive. Depending on the values, economic standing or mindset of the slave owner, the fugitive slave might be spared upon capture, so that they could continue to produce and be profitable. However, there were times when an example had to be made. Black bodies were beaten, battered, crushed and torn on public display, so that anyone else who thought to runaway would surely be aware of the inevitable consequence of physical torture and in some cases death. These were the original policing practices of black people in America.

Centuries later we are still witnessing the outcomes. When the slave did not comply, they were beaten back into submission. In 1816, to comply was to acquiesce to being nothing more than an ox or a mule; a beast of burden. To be noncompliant meant to want to be free, to be human and to actually act upon those notions of freedom and dignity. Slavery in the United States was legally abolished in 1865 with the Thirteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment  in 1868, granted black people equal rights and protection under the law. However today, blacks are not asking to be freed. Black people are asking for equal protection. If a white man can sit in a parked car and not be approached or questioned or searched, then a black man should have that same right. Nonetheless, it seems as if law enforcement are still being trained in the ways of America’s barbaric past; under the philosophy that black people are inherently criminal.

The spirit of Willie Lynch and the Fugitive Slave laws are still entrenched in the social and cultural fabric of the United States and are alive and well within the legal system. Without equality, there can never be justice. Black people in America have been emancipated for well over a century, but in 2016, America’s ghosts continue to haunt her, one dead unarmed black body at a time.