God Shed His Grace?

That ominous feeling we all had when Trump began to gain momentum in the primaries, has gone from just a feeling, to a palpable reality. The “polls” the “experts” will try t…

Source: God Shed His Grace?

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Guns and the City

Guns and the City
guns, pistols, rifle, revolvers, and ammunition

The second amendment gives U.S. citizens the right bare arms. This was essential during the American Revolutionary Era, when the British and Native Americans posed a realistic threat to invading our newly formed United States. However, hundreds of years later, we may have to revisit the amendment. It was originally intended to protect us from our foreign enemies, but now it seems as if  guns are  actually killing our nation from within. I wonder if the risk is worth the reward?

Over the past week in my hometown of Miami, Florida, there have been several fatal shooting deaths of children.  The most recent and probably the most tragic was the loss of of 8 year-old Jada Page. She was too young to have done anything to warrant such an untimely and unnecessary death. And even month before, because of the recent rash of gun violence in Miami, I had my  7th grade students in Brooklyn, write letters to students at Holmes Elementary in Liberty City, in show of support and encouragement, as they lead a protest against gone violence because they no longer felt safe enough to play outside, due to the constant threat of shootings in their neighborhood.

When 6 year old King Carter’s life was stricken down by a stray bullet, I, like many others had hoped that we would see a change or some type of reduction of senseless killing, but it seems as if our hopes have been dashed again. I prayed that these so called “revenge-seekers” would have more dignity and honor when it came to settling their beefs. But it is plain to see that there are far too many cowards with guns in Miami and around our nation for that matter, because it is not just a Miami thing. Gun violence is running rampant all over America.

But when I received the phone call from my sister, I was no longer simply reading about these killings in the newspaper or watching the reports from a screen. This time it was my family. My little cousin Christopher (19 years-old) was shot and killed last Friday. He was my cousin Rosita’s youngest son. She had already lost her only daughter Precious, to cancer 8 years ago. And now this? When I think of Chris, all I can think of is his infectious smile, his wit, his humor and good nature. I remember a bright and talented young man. Now he is gone. Days later, I am still in denial. You often read about this happening to someone else, but you never think it will happen in your own family.

Since receiving the news, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my cousin Rosita  and the pain she must be experiencing. I think of the hundreds of the other parents around the nation who have had to bury their children. I think of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and Tamir Rice’s mothers. I think of parents who have children in the military, who receive that call from the U.S. government relaying the message that their child died, while serving their country in some foreign land. I think about the families of police officers who wake up to hear that their loved ones never made it home. And I think of the parents of the hundreds of children all around the nation in cities like New Orleans, Chicago, Boston and Brooklyn, just to name a few. I think about the yellow crime scene tape, the body bags and the visits the the morgue to identify the bodies. I think about the doctors, first-respondents and good Samaritans that did all they could do to stop the bleeding, but to no avail.

When it is all said and done, there is no coming back from death. There are no words to comfort a grieving mother or father who has to continue living beyond the years of their own children. Life is not supposed to be this way. It is an unnatural process, that no one is built nor prepared for. Furthermore, to add more stress to grief, is the economic burden of burying a child. When an adult dies, there is a chance that they may have an insurance policy that will cover the funeral costs. But when a child dies, the family has to come up with the cash or borrow money. And it most be done in a timely manner.

It is going to be a difficult road ahead for my family. And an especially difficult road for my cousin Rosita. What is the lesson learned here? What is the moral in the shooting death of another black boy in America? There is none. None at all. But this is why we have to revisit our policies around gun laws. This is why we have to take care of our communities. We must look out for each other. We have to raise up our children to love each other, not to fear and hate each other. For only love, can conquer hate. I will continue to pray and continue to hope for a better future and take action towards a better tomorrow.

Christopher

If you would like to support, please visit Christopher’s Go Fund Me Page

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Black Girl Magic

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In the wake of the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the continued schism between the black community and local law enforcement, the Rio Olympics have provided a breath of life and hope into a people who need it; black people in America. Even the best and brightest have been victims of gross discrimination and harassment.  In  2013 Oprah Winfrey, a cultural icon and one of the wealthiest women in America, was told that she could not afford to buy a purse at a high-end store while traveling abroad in Zurich. Back in 2009 Henry Louis Gates, a prominent scholar, historian and professor at Harvard University, was falsely accused and arrested for breaking into his own home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s the same story… “you are black and you have no business here.” It is the sad truth, ignorance prevails far too often.

When these things happen to the best and brightest of the black community, it is easy  to see why so many black men and women in America my feel like they will never get a fair shake in this country. But what is even more disheartening is when black children internalize the obvious inequities of society and simply accept them. When children begin to believe that they will never be good enough and they have to “stay in their place,” is when you get the apathy and indifference that you see in so many communities. What is unfair, is to see the beauty and potential in the black community tucked away and hidden from the world, while their flaws, insecurities and misfortunes continue to be blasted and broadcast for the world to see.

But what has happened in Rio this summer cannot be ignored, dismissed or cast aside as an anomaly or aberration. The best and brightest have been on display and for the world to see; and it is awesome and amazing. It has not just been on display for the rest of the world, but more importantly for the millions of black people who have struggled to believe in a brighter opportunity for themselves and their children.

Sports icons such as Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan have done a great job of celebrating representing black masculinity and excellence in sports. More recently Venus and Serena Williams have been able to break down barriers for black people in tennis; especially black girls, as tennis has been traditionally seen as a “white” sport. But for most of their careers, it seems as if they have been alone. Ironically, Serena, the top player in the world was ousted in the early rounds of this year’s Olympics, but the mantel was lifted high by so many others.

However, there is a new movement that has caught fire in Rio; Black Girl Magic. The tag is showing up all over social media and for good reason. Historically, black women have been relatively invisible in American society, not to mention sports. There have been women throughout history who have definitely stood out and have made profound impacts on American culture and society, dating back to Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou and today, Michelle Obama. These women embody black girl magic. But they are part of a very small sorority; seen as exceptions to the rule. Black women are supposed to play support roles. Their contributions are helpful, but when it is all said and done, men have been overwhelmingly perceived as icons and leaders of the black community.

So what is Black Girl Magic all about and what does it mean? If you have been watching the Olympic Games, then you already know. But if you have not it is essentially this…The invisible woman is no more. For the last 10 days the world has had no choice but to witness the elegance, grace, class, power and potential of black women. The podium has been flooded with mocha brown, chocolate and deeper dark chocolate faces. Unapologetic. Black and beautiful. From the balance-beam to the swimming pool, black women have blessed the prime time world with their gifts, that have been overshadowed for far too long. It is inspiring. It is magical.

The irony is that the black body has historically been black peoples’ greatest asset, but also their biggest liability. Enslaved Africans’bodies were used to cut sugar cane, pick cotton, build empires and to breed.  Today those same bodies earn scholarships and lucrative contracts for themselves, while attracting billions of dollars for wealthy colleges, institutions and professional organizations. It is a precarious agreement, but many have reaped the benefits and have been able to advance themselves. However, historically, women, and especially black women have very rarely been able to benefit from any arrangement, in which their bodies were seen as their primary asset, without sexual implication or exploitation.

The Rio Olympics however has highlighted a different narrative for the black woman athlete and black women in general.  It is celebrating the beauty and body of black women; without objectification, and with the highest esteem. It is combating the images of black women using their powerful bodies to hurt each other or even themselves.  Instead it is  inspiring little black girls to be world-class gymnasts, swimmers, sprinters and throwers. To be ambassadors of their country.

This could not have manifested in a more appropriate place, as Brazil has the highest concentration of black people outside of Africa. More enslaved Africans were shipped to Brazil than any other place in the world. And yes the power and potential of black people in the New World, especially women, has historically been confined to making profits and growing wealth for others. This is an opportunity for black women to take back their power and create a more dignified legacy for themselves in a way the world has never seen before.

 

Gros Morne: The Other Side

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My mother was raised in a home similar to this pink and green wooden shotgun style house in Gros Morne, Haiti. (September 2014)

She never talked about what had happened in Haiti. She never talked about why she left home. She did not mention her family much. As a result, I never met my maternal grandparents, my mother’s older sister or her younger brother. She had left Gros Morne, when she was in her late teens, for the Bahamas and then Miami, back in the early 1970s with my father.

Haiti had been tumultuous during most of my childhood. My parents had come to the United States to seek a better life. However, Mommy, as we all call her, never spoke of the people back home. It was as if they never existed. As if she only had us, her four children. I only saw her as my mother, not as anything else.

After more than forty years, it was time to return with her children. She wanted us to finally to meet our “other side.” Her side. I’ve been to Haiti several times, but never to visit her family, only to visit my father’s people, in Port-de-Paix. In recent years, I have also had the opportunity to work with a Brooklyn-based non-profit, that is building a school in Petit Goave, which is a town located an hour and a half southwest of Port-au-Prince. Ironically, I have visited more parts of Haiti than my mother has, and she was born and raised there.

My sister, mother, grandmother's good friend and auntie in Gros Morne, Haiti (September 2014).
My sister, mother, grandmother’s good friend and  my aunt in Gros Morne, Haiti. (September 2014)

But I had never been to Gros Morne. The place where she had grown up. And so in early September of this year, Mommy, Lisa (my sister) and I, met in Port-au- Prince. They flew in from Miami, while I flew down from Brooklyn, to meet her younger brother Charlie, at Toussaint L’Overture Airport. We then set forth on a four-hour journey by car, north, to my mother’s hometown.

I spent the next few days meeting family and friends of family, in Gros Morne, a town of about 7,000 in the Northwest region of Haiti. Gros Morne was a small but busy place. It sat between beautiful green mountains, Trois Riviere, acres upon acres of farmland and rice fields. The women went to the market to purchase fresh food and other items for the household by day, while the men were entrepreneurs and bread winners.  My uncle Charlie was a barber,, farmer and landlord and had a shop in his living room. While his wife Jacqueline was a stay-at-home wife and mother. They had two children together, Sadel, 8 and Nathaline 12.

But most interestingly enough, my mother had an older sister Mirae, whom I had seldom heard my mother talk about. I knew my mother had a sister, but I did not know what she looked like, spoke like, or even how old she was. It was hard to imagine another women in the world that could resemble my mother or even act like my mother, but she did. I had discovered an entirely new family in Haiti. It was like being given a different identity. I had only seen myself as Toussaint, but I am also an Altidor.

Unfortunately, grandma and grandpa had died back in the early 2000s. I never got a chance to meet them. I would have been in college when they passed away. The story is, grandma died in ’01 and two years later, grandpa joined her. They are buried next to each other in the town cemetery, less than a five-minute walk from the home in which my mother grew up. Grandma and grandpa loved coffee. They drank it everyday. I wish they were still alive. I’d like to see if I had their traits. I’d like to hear stories about my mother as a child. I would have loved to ask them questions about our family history and how to make a marriage last for so long.

And all this time they knew about me us,  They watched us grow up through the photos  and audio cassettes that my mother had sent them over the decades.  They knew who we were, but we knew very little of them. I still have yet to sit with my mother and ask her why. Why did you keep us apart for so long? Nonetheless, I am forever grateful for the opportunity to finally connect with my family in Gros Morne.

Gros Morne, from the rooftop of my uncle's house. (September 2014)
Gros Morne, from the rooftop of my uncle’s house. The town of 7,000 sits between beautiful mountains and Trois Riviere, in northwest Haiti. (September 2014)

Farewell Mandela

mandela boy

When I heard the news of Mandela’s passing, it did not immediately resonate with me. I finally decided to head home from a long day at work, when Kendel, a night custodian at the school stopped me on my way out, and said,  ” You know Mandela died today?” I stopped to looked at my watch.  It was, December 5th , 2013 at 5:08 p.m. – 95 years old I thought to myself. Consequently, I will always remember where I was, the day Nelson Mandela died. It seemed instinctive, as I responded the same way when hearing about my grandmother’s passing. My father and I received the call. I looked down at my watch, it was 10:33 a.m. on September 12, 2012, she lived to be 88 years old.

It wasn’t until I logged on to facebook that evening, that I began to feel the weight of what had truly happened. Virtually everyone’s status was dedicated to Mandela. I continued to scroll down for what could have been an hour. The prayers, condolences and tributes went on and on.

He fought for freedom, equality and justice for all people. While Malcolm and Martin were fighting in America, Mandela’s fists were raised in Africa. The turbulent 1960’s  snatched the lives of our great freedom fighters, however, the durable and hopeful Mandela eventually emerged as the last man standing.

After serving a 28 year prison sentence, he never gave up and become the first black president of the Republic of South Africa, as the manacles of apartheid were summarily broken. What an incredible story! It is practically biblical.

This week, world leaders from over 100 countries ascended onto the beautiful nation of South Africa to honor this great man. I only wish that I could have been there to bid him farewell.

I never met Mandela, but his story made me want to change the world. If Mandela was a 900 page book, I would be honored to be a drop of ink on a single page…not even, a word, just a drop.

http://www.biography.com/people/nelson-mandela-9397017

 

Numbers don’t lie, but they can be deceiving

W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington had starkly different views on the direction of black education in America during the turn of the 20th century. The fundamental views around this topic is still a hot topic a century later.
W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington had starkly different views on the direction of black education in America during the turn of the 20th century. The fundamental views around this topic is still a hot topic a century later.

My colleagues and I will be faced with a tall order this year. Last year’s state scores came back and they were less than impressive. I can honestly say that we worked our butts off, but the results do not necessarily reflect that. So where do we go from here?

Coming off of a summer that was turbulent in the way of race relations, not only do we need to empower our students with the skills necessary to succeed in high school, college and beyond, but we also need to reassure our black and brown boys and girls that their lives do matter, in light of the Trayvon Martin verdict.

After 10 years of doing this work, it never gets old. There is still so much to be done. I am excited and hopeful. In two weeks my classroom will be filled with eager minds, ready to be molded and cultivated. Truth be told, I am just as ready. Despite what the numbers say, I am just as eager.

It has been said that the “Achievement Gap” is this generation’s Civil Rights Movement. If that is true, then I want to be part of that great American tradition of freedom fighters, dating back to the American Revolution…Crispus Attucks, Prince Estabrook, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, W.E.B. Dubois, Dr. King, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz.

Struggle is nothing new to my people. Without struggle, there is no progress. The revolution will not be televised, for the classroom is the new battlefield. And so let us march on, until victory is ours.

The Difference Between Trayvon and I

It is almost laughable when you think about how many Americans continue to ignore the proverbial pink elephant in the room and act like race had nothing to do with Trayvon Martin’s fate.  However, I do believe that we would devalue Trayvon’s story, if we only focused on the obvious racial implications, for this case runs deeper than race and bigotry.

This case has exposed poorly written legislation such as Florida’s Stand Your Ground and how it can be arbitrarily applied. I lived in Florida for nearly 30 years and had never heard of the law.  As a black man, the way in which it was applied in the Trayvon Martin Case makes me very nervous, given our country’s history of racial bias in the courtroom.

Emmett Till, Rodney King, Sean Bell and now Trayvon Martin are all part of an all too familiar American narrative, of black men, who have been forced to drink from the bitter cup injustice. George Zimmerman is also part of another narrative, of white defendants who have perpetuated violence towards black men and have been let off the hook by our court system.

Furthermore, this case reminds us of the underlying idea that some peoples’ lives have less value because of where they are from or their position along the spectrum of America’s socioeconomic hierarchy. The continued probing and questioning of Trayvon’s character during the trial had nothing to do with the fact that he was unarmed and fatally shot on his way to his father’s house from the store. Digging up unflattering images and comments made by Trayvon was not only an attack on him, it was an attack on anyone who looked like him, spoke like him or grew up like him. We were all being judged.

No one’s fundamental right to life and liberty should be compromised because of the clothes they wear or because of the genre of music that they listen to. Too many of our young people (especially black boys) are simply snatched away from us with no regard or recourse.

To make matters worse, the gun companies have lawmakers by the balls, making guns entirely too accessible, inevitably, setting up scores of calamitous incidents, such as the clash between Martin and Zimmerman, resulting in endless queues of bereaved families.

Trayvon will never be the first in his family to graduate from college. He will never have a chance to become a teacher, a coach or give back to his community. He will never have a chance to get married, to travel the world, to become a proud father or be elected president of the United States. A little more than a decade ago, I was Trayvon Martin, a black kid from Miami, Florida.

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A photo taken of a young Barack Obama smoking, marijuana. During the trial, Trayvon’s character and integrity were brought into question because he smoked and use the phrase “creepy ass cracker.”

So what is the difference between Trayvon and I?