Monday, August 31, 2015

Books In the Bookroom!

If you read this blog often, you know that I believe in the value of teaching novels, short stories, and poems by and about people of color. We’ve got to get away from ‘The Single Story.'

One of my colleagues and friend proposed that we start a voluntary bookclub with the English department where we will read a diverse novel each month in order to share ideas and to have books in mind when it is time to order new books at the end of the year. We even thought about the idea of going through our own bookroom and perhaps reading diverse novels from our bookroom that may or may not have been read in our classes.

So, I went to do a careful look at the books in our bookroom, and my heart started racing as if I had just been told that I had won the lottery; our bookroom is completely awesome.....

Yes, we have lots of the classics, but we also have many contemporary titles like Funny in Farsi, Under the Feet of Jesus, The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, The Mountain Echoed, The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, Black Boy, The Color of Water, Cooper SunThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Cuba 15Dreaming in Cuba, Sold, and we also have class sets of books by Gabriel Garcia, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and on and on and on..... You see why my heart was uncontrollably beating as I perused the book room??? (Click on the highlighted books to read the reviews by me.)

I wanted to faint when I saw a few class sets of one of my favorite reads from my summer reading list: Losing My Cool! And, we selected it to be the first book that we will read and discuss at our first departmental bookclub meeting. (Winning!)

I can't wait to have discussions about Losing My Cool and other books that we already own. My People, a change is coming.....

Team Work Makes The Dream Work.

My People, I am grateful to work with people who are willing to try new things!

Check back to read about our departmental bookclub meetings.

Grateful is my Attitude Today.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Just a Few Things....

80 years old!

So, My mom turned 80 on last Monday, and it was a big deal to me and my family, because all eight of my sisters, and most of their children, and I traveled to Atlanta to spend the weekend with our mom for her birthday. This was the first time that we have all been together in such a long time...

Blowing out candles!
Yep, we were packed in that house!
Everybody together!


I went back to work last week, and I am so grateful to be in a school that eases us back into the swing of things. We had a few quick meetings, breakfast and lunch, and we were sent on our way to do whatever we needed to do....

However, for the first time ever, I looked at my class roster and all of my classes have twenty-eight to twenty-nine students, and there are other things that I am concerned about, and I instantly felted stressed. I had to remind myself that classes are still being leveled and this number will go down, AND God always has my back... I said a quick prayer, I am going to check on this number issue, and let God do the rest.

What I know for sure is that sometimes we must speak up... Faith without words is DEAD!

Looking forward to seeing what this school year brings, and know that I always advocate for myself....

No Television!

A few months back, I decided to cut off the cable in my house, which means there is only fuzz on my TV whenever I turn it on. And, no, I don’t do Netflix or any of that other stuff.

Well, My People, I must have been wasting more time that I thought watching TV, because now I seem to have much more productive time at home: I read more, relax more, take care of things that need to be taken care of in my house more often AND,

my stress level is down; I had no idea that seeing those images of someone being shot by a cop, or a natural disaster, or all of the other crazy things on TV were causing me a little bit of stress. Now, I control what I see, read the news, and is able to critically think about whatever I read. It’s amazing how we are manipulated by the images that are shown on TV.

The other day a friend mentioned to me something about a cheating site that had been hacked, and I knew nothing about it at all. She told me all about it. I went online to ABC news to check it out, and literally wiped that out of my mind; that ain’t my business, and I don’t care to know more about that craziness...This was the moment when I realized that having no cable in my house is a good thing.

My people, see if you can go without watching TV for just five days, and let me know how it goes!


Normally, I am the kind of person who knows when it is time to go.... However, I have been in a situation that was not a good fit for me, but I was going to endure it, because it was convenient. Yep, I was only staying because it was convenient.

However, because I would not leave, and I needed to, God shut that door completely.....

At first my pride was hurt, but then I accepted the fact that God had to force me to move. I would have stayed, where I was not growing, because it was convenient.

I know that I am not the only person who is or was in a situation only because it is or was convenient,  and know that convenience is not always the best option especially if we are not growing.

Sometimes, we must be uncomfortable in order to grow, and that’s ok.


So, I have been thinking a lot about race and racism, and the more I think about it, I agree with James Baldwin and Coates when they say that race is a social construct...Why label people by race, and why can’t we all just be Americans since no one is really from this country.

However, I believe that this probably started the minute that the Civil War ended and definitely with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which abolished slavery. Now, this social construct is on autopilot, and we just can’t stop the labeling.

If everyone is viewed as American, then we could possibly work harder for the good of Americans as a whole. However, as long as we are put into groups, then there will be a group with most of the power, and the rest of the people are left trying to figure out how to get some of that power, and that will be impossible as long as we are confined to our group by race.

Robert Peace and Thomas Williams

So, a friend proposed to me that The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is a juxtaposition of Losing My Cool, and I just could not see that; however, I have turned this idea over and over and over in my mind, and I finally see it.

According to Jeff Hobbs, Robert Peace seem to not be able to find away to go between his world at Yale and the culture in which his grew up, which was not a Black culture, but an inner city culture. And, not being able to find that happy median, may have caused him his life?????  He just did not know how to “wear the many mask.”

On the other hand, Thomas William in Losing My Cool seems to have gotten to Georgetown University and completely turned his back on the culture in which he grew up. He seemed to have distanced himself from other minority students at Georgetown, students at the nearby historically Black University, Howard University, and all the people who he grew up with. Also, by the end of the book, he refers to James Baldwin’s idea of separating himself from the group in order to find self-identity.

This juxtaposition has been driving me crazy, and I have no idea what all of this this means, but it does show the complexity of being labeled Black in American...

This is all I got..... In the meantime, I will be studying James Balwin and preparing for the upcoming school year.

Happy Sunday, My People!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

James Baldwin: The Last Interview and Other Conversations

I must sadly admit that I have not been a student of James Baldwin... I know, I know, I Know, but I think that I tried to read Go Tell It On the Mountain, and did not like it, and sort of put James on the back burner.... Very bad decision!

My readers, never, never read one or two books that you do not like by a writer and throw the author in the trash can.... Very Bad Decision.... I was not fond of Jesmyn Ward’s first two books, but I fell madly in love with Men We Reaped! So, happy that I did not give up on Jesmyn.

Many of the books that I have been reading lately from Between the World and Me, to How to Kill Yourself and Others in American, and Losing My Cool, the writers have mentioned James Baldwin, and I thought to my myself that I must give Baldwin some more of my time!

A friend mentioned that I read The Last Interview, and of course I did....

This book is four interviews with Baldwin with one done in 1961, two in 1984, and one while he was dying in France in 1987.

Let me leave you with a few quotes:

1961 Interview
“You have to decide who you are, and force the world to deal with you, not its idea of you."
“Time is aways now.  Everybody who has ever thought about his own life knows this. You don’t make resolutions about something you are going to do next year. NO! You decide to write a book: the book may be finished in twenty years from now, but you’ve got to start it now."
“I began to see this country for the first time. If I hadn’t gone away, I would never have been able to see it; and if I was unable to see it, I would never have been able to forgive it."
“The only thing that really unites all Black men everywhere is, as far as I can tell, the fact that White men are on their necks."
“Assuming that sanity..... assuming that humanity itself, the humanity in all of us, will triumph, there will be, as you say, no White nation and no Black nation but nations of people."

May 1984 Interview 
“There are two things we have to do -love each other and raise our children. We have to do that! The alternative, for me, would be suicide."
“But, I do know that, too that some of the evils that we live with are really produced by the society we live in, by the choices that society offers. I’m not trying to get anybody off the hook when I say that."
June 1984 Interview
Go Tell It on the Mountain, for example, is not about church, and Giovanni is not really about homosexuality. It’s about what happens to you if you’re afraid to love anybody. Which is much more interesting than the question of homosexuality.” 
“I loved a few people and they loved me. It had nothing to do with these labels. Of course, the world has all kinds of words for us (homosexuals). But that’s the world’s problem."
November 1987: The Last Interview
“It’s a great shock to realize that you’ve been so divorced. So, divorced from who you think you are - from who you really are. Who you think you are, you’re not at all."
“ I was not born to be what someone said I was. I was not born to be defined by someone else, but by myself, and myself only."
These are just a few of the wonderful thoughts of James Baldwin, and if you want to know his thoughts about, homosexuality, Toni Morrison, Miles Davis, Richard Wright, Fannie Lou Hamer, Dr. King, Malcolm X, Ralph Ellison and several other people, than you must read this very short collection of interviews that spoke to my heart, and I know that they will speak to yours.

I just can’t let Baldwin go, so I will be reading a collection of his essays called Nobody Knows My Name.

My place in this world is becoming clearer.... Thanks for taking this journey with me!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man's Escape from the Crowd by Thomas Chatterton Williams

So, I was ranting to a friend about Robert Peace, the guy from Newark who graduated from Yale and eventually was killed. I was proposing things such as what is the American Dream, systematic marginalization, reparations, and on and on and on, and my friend mildly suggested that I read Losing My Cool as a juxtaposition to Robert Peace.

However, when I first started reading this book about Thomas who has a Black dad and White mom, his dad has a PhD, both of his parents raised him in the suburbs in New Jersey, I thought “This guy has all of the advantages, and he better make it.” I just knew that he knew nothing about “the struggle.” However, my friend encouraged me to keep reading, and I did.

Thomas was told by his father early on that he was Black, and he let him know that in this country he could not be both Black and White, and he was Black. He read and discussed The Autobiography of Malcolm X at the age of seven with his father, and at this point, Charles decided that he did not want to be White, because he did not want to be like the people who killed Malcolm X’s father.

Charles and his brother went to predominately White schools, and they both realized that if they put on the ‘hood persona’, they could get gain the ‘respect' of the the White kids. So he watched BET, listened to rap music, and closely watched the people whom he played Basketball with in the street in order to imitate what he thought was “Blackness." Charles played basketball in order to be ‘more Black’ but his father let him know that “he didn’t care to see another Black athlete or entertainer.” His father pushed him academically, and Charles went off to Georgetown University, and that is when he slowly started to have his awakening.

He barely went to class his first year at Georgetown, and he only hung out with the Black students. Eventually, he started a friendship with a White student who was from a completely different world than he. And, from this interaction, he realized, that he wanted more.

The summer after his freshmen year he started to scrutinized his relationships from high school and to read the many books that were in his house, and he returned to Georgetown his second year a changed man. He submerged himself in the culture of the school, studied and earned good grades, declared philosophy as a major, graduated, and left for France to teach.

As I was reading this book, I kept trying to see the juxtaposition between Charles and Robert Peace, and I see it, but I don’t....

Charles made the decision to submerge himself in the culture at Georgetown, and get all that the school offered, and Robert Peace made a different decision. Peace decided to isolate himself, not submerge himself in the culture at Yale, and maybe even protected himself with his ‘hood persona’, and this decision may have caused him his life.

However, I think that we must look at the fact that Charles grew up in a mixed world, and he went home to a Father who was present to guide him. On the other hand, Peace did not grow up in a mixed neighborhood, and his Dad was in jail and may not have been able to give him the advice that he seem to have needed.

However, Charles and Peace made different decisions that deeply impacted their lives, and I am still wondering if Peace had the tools that were needed to make a different decision.

Not sure if Charles is a juxtaposition of Peace, but I am sure that I will be pondering this idea for quite awhile .....

You know, My People, I thought that I knew Blackness, but after reading Men We Reaped, Between the World and Me, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, and Losing my Cool, I realized that Blackness is complex and unique for every single Black person, and you just can’t sum us up and put all of us into a neat little box; we just don’t fit.

Read this book and learn another one of our stories!

By the way, James Baldwin has been coming up a lot in my readings, and I need to understand him and his place in all of this. So, I will be reading another recommendation from the same friend: James Baldwin: The Last Interview: and other Conversations (The Last Interview Series) by James Baldwin and Quincy Troupe!

According to the books that I have been reading lately, Readers are Leaders!

Get to Reading, My People, and lead....

Saturday, August 15, 2015

How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon

This book was recommended to me while I was studying at Colgate this summer, and yes it is another book about race.....

This book, a collection of essays, is by and about Kiese Laymon who was raised in Jackson, Mississippi!

This book is serious, but is written in quite a light tone, and I grew fond of Kiese with these words:
“But when I did find brilliant soulful courageous black American literature, it imagined us as its readers, and those literary echoes saved my life. As much as hip-hop and the blues inspired me; my most meaningful discoveries about the act of being human have come through the solitary act of listening to turning pages, and marking up the sides of shifty text. It wasn’t the text alone that did the work; it was the reading, and rereading, and rereading, of the text that necessitated the work.
In How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in American Kiese deals with his feelings about his uncle and his inability to be authentic with him, getting kicked out of college for taking and returning a library book and later being accepted into another college, his dealings with guns, the reality that many of the boys from his seventh grade class were dead before thirty-five, the idea that his grandmother, and people like her, would work their entire life and never really get the opportunity to advance themselves, his family's way of telling him how to survive as a Black man in America, poor White people, Southern rappers, becoming a man, the death of three Black celebrities, trying to get his book published etc.

As stated earlier, this book is serious and should be added to our dialogue on race, but it is upbeat, and definitely not a “I had it hard, but I made it" type of book.

Reading this book, I thought a lot about the idea of coming to turns with what makes us who we are....

This book is short and easy to read.... So, if you have some time, but not a lot of time, and you want to think, then this is the book for you.

Currently, I am reading Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man's Escape from the Crowd by Thomas Chatterton Williams.

Happy Saturday, My People!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs

I think that it is important that we tell our own stories, but if we are not around to tell them, then I guess that is where people like Jeff Hobbs come into play...

Jeff Hobbs did a great job of telling Robert Peace’s story.

So, according to Hobbs, Peace had the type of discipline that helps people to flourish; attending a prestigious private high school he would get to school around 4:45am to work at the pool to help his family out financially, he studied his father’s criminal case and made it possible for his father to get out of jail for awhile, he learned how to swim in the 9th grade and became a pretty good water polo player and went on to play for Yale, he studied and earned good grades which compelled a millionaire to give him a free ride to Yale, all while maintaining a healthy social life.

At Yale, he played on the water polo team, had great grades, took his job working in the cafeteria and cleaning the university during the school’s academic breaks seriously, worked in a lab on cancer cells, graduated with a degree in molecular biochemistry, all while maintaining a healthy social life.

After graduating from Yale, he went back to teach at the high school where he attended, worked as a luggage person for the Newark airport and traveled the world, and helped his mother to care for his aging grandparents all while maintaining a healthy social life.

All seems well with Peace right...

However, he sold drugs all through college and after college, and the drug involvement eventually ended his life at 30 years old, and I am not so sure if the healthy social life was healthy at all. Read an article about his death here.

I can not stop thinking about Peace and what went wrong??? Why would a Yale student and graduate sell drugs?

At first, I thought maybe it was about needing money?

However, he worked while in college and did not need to worry about tuition or books, that was taken care of. After college, I am wondering if he applied for jobs and just did not get one, or was he tired of academic pressures and just needed a break, or was he trying to secure financial freedom for his mom and himself after he graduated.

I guess these are questions that we will never know.

I have thought about Coates thoughts on The American Dream and if it is attainable and exactly what it is?

When a person gets a degree or two, a job, a house, 2.5 children, does that mean that the person has acquired The American Dream, and I wonder if Peace thought that these things were impossible for him or if he even wanted these things...

This book made me think a lot about Peace’s mother, and other people like her, who worked faithfully in a cafeteria all of her life and never made enough money to achieve The America Dream: house, car, or to change her social standing. I wonder if Peace rejected the idea of being a slave to a job like his mother and never being able to change his social status in The United States of America?

Aren’t we suppose to follow all of the rules, work hard, and achieve The American Dream?

At Yale he could not just drop the fact that sometimes there was no food in house, his mom spent almost all of her earnings to send him to private schools, his father was in jail for murder, and many of his friends who went to the same private high school as he did were still in Newark trying to make ends meet. I wonder if focusing on his reality made The American Dream seem like a silly idea that only a few White people achieved so he resorted to what he knew?

Hobbs mentions that Peace attended his classes in both high school and college, but knew how to be “invisible”. I wonder if this had to do with the feeling of “Do I belong here or being a fraud." Which leads me to the idea of systematic marginalization....The idea of the system being set up to keep some people at the bottom and some people on the top. And the people at the bottom have no business at a prestigious high school or Yale. I know that when I ventured off to Michigan State for graduate school, I could never find my place and had many miserable days. I also thought that having a degree from one of the top school’s of education in the country would guarantee me a job, but that was not the case. Michigan State graduated me and sent me on my way just like Yale did Peace.

Then, I started to think about race as a social construct as Coates talks about in his book Between the World and Me. If we put people into groups, then it allows some people to be at the top and some to be on the bottom, and the people at the bottom can never change their social standing EVER. There is no them without us type of thing. And, I wonder if Peace always felt that he did not belong in either his prestigious high school and college, but he felt that he belonged at the bottom where he could make his own rules and the government would only interfere, by policing, to keep him in his place, at the bottom.

Now, these are all ideas that I am throwing around in my mind in order to try and understand why a Yale graduate ended up being tragically killed over drugs?

My People, I can’t shut my brain off, and I don’t want too....

Hobbs does a beautiful job of telling Peace’s story carefully and with dignity, and I think that this is a story that needs to be added to this conversation on race that we are having today!

This book reminded me a lot of Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward and systematic marginalization and belonging. Jesmyn’s story is almost the same as Peace's with a different location.

My next read is How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon.

It’s still summer!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Summer 2015 was NOT all studying!

Colgate University

Now, I did spend three weeks studying Abolitionism and The Underground Railroad, but do not think that I did not make time for pleasure.....

Our daily sessions ended at noon, and when we weren’t traveling to historical sites, I would eat lunch, go to the gym and ride my bike.. The cycling in Hamilton was what I would call a cyclist heaven: lots of rolling hills and very few cars.

Our weekends were free, and the first weekend in New York, a few of us traveled about 3 hours away to Niagara Falls. Niagara Falls was on my bucket list of things to do, and now I can check that off....

On our next free weekend, a few of us traveled to Harlem, NY to partake in the Harlem Book Festival...We got there a little late, but we were able to peruse a few books, hear a panel discussion, and meet the director of the Schromburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Director of the Schromburg
Panelist Professor Imani Perry
Lemar, fellow NEH participant!

Yea, I take my study time seriously, but I also take my downtime seriously as well....

Educators, go to the National Endowment's Website and look into these opportunities

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