Monthly Archives: May 2011

Education in America: Don’t Fail Me

Education is the only way towards success, formal or informal.  Over the last few weeks I’ve been paying special attention to education issues in the news. Last week I watched a program on CNN entitled Don’t Fail Me hosted by Soledad O’Brien. The program followed the lives of three high school students, Maria, Shawn and Brian. All from 3 different school systems and social economic classes participating on separate teams from around the nation to build winning robots in the FIRST Robotics Competition.  Each student was stellar and worked very hard to maintain superb grades in higher level courses but that is the only thing they had in common.  The program also touched on the school systems and their failure to prepare students for higher learning.

Maria lives in Arizona and attends a school were the current drop out rate is 40-50%. Her story really touched me because she worked so hard to be self sufficient. As a sophomore she lobbied for advanced classes at her school and was successful in finding a teacher and 31 students to start the math class. After 5 months only 5 students remained in the class.  At her school chemistry and physics are not an option for the majority of the population as most students prefer not to take difficult math and science classes.  (As highlighted in a previous Rebel Artistry post the United States is rated 17th in Science and 25th in Math.) Maria’s dream is to study solar engineering at Standford University. Only 7% of the applicants are usually accepted. Her family is proud but due to their own lack of education can only offer Maria so much.  Maria’s parents are Mexican immigrants.  Her father completed school up to the 6th grade and her mother up to the 5th grade.  In her neighborhood the average family income in $30,000/year. Maria is doing her best to prepare herself for her dreams of attending Standford with limited resources.

Brian is a bit more fortunate because he lives in a working middle class neighborhood in Tennessee and his school system is supposedly better than Maria’s.  At 7 years old Brian knew that attending college was a requirement. 70% of the students  in his graduating class will attend college.  He too is taking advanced classes with a concentration in math and science.  Brian scored in the top 1% of the nation on his ACT test and since has been getting lots of offers from ivy league universities that weren’t even on his radar. Unfortunately, Brian needs to be challenged and is suffering because most of the parents in the community are more concerned with extra curricular achievement and not academic success.  Soledad O’Brien spoke with some officials in Brian’s area to get some background on what is really happening with education there.  Phil Bredesen, Governor of Tennessee shared some shocking news.  The county notified parents that 84% of the students in the 8th grade were proficient in math when in fact the accurate number was 22%.  I was very surprised.  I know it is standard for false information to get to the masses regarding student success. But with the lack of parent interest this is a disaster. Who thought it was a good idea to make the parents think students were successful at that point.  Since that announcement the state has included more math and science in the curriculum and increased graduation requirements.

Shawn lives in a predominantly Asian neighborhood in New Jersey where the average household income is $200,000/year.  His family is adamant about preparing him for success and promoting financial stability.  So Shawn is taking a combination of advanced placement and higher level courses to start getting college credits while in high school.  He is usually in bed around 12:30 am after completing all studies and doesn’t mind the hectic schedule.  Shawn feels fortunate and obligated to push himself as compared to his autistic brother who does not have the same opportunity.  Shawn manages to hang out with friends and live a normal teenage life.  With the support of his parents he will only continue on to more advanced math and science courses.  His parents stated that they moved into the neighborhood because they new that particular school system was better for Shawn.  A majority of the children in the community are steered towards academic tracks that will prepare them for job opportunities where they can compete globally in the areas of math and  science.  In the United States Asians make up 5% of the population but 25% of the graduates from MIT and Caltech are from the Asian community.

While the program focused on the FIRST robotics competition and application of higher level math and science I was drawn towards the diversity in each situation, the desire of success and the support system each student had.  Maria’s team went the furthest in the competition.  Though the competition was intense Maria never lost sight of her studies and missed meetings twice each week for study sessions in preparation for her advanced math class.  Brian had a great team as well but they didn’t make it very far.  His family situation and support system is much stronger than Maria’s.  Brian’s mother holds him accountable because she understands the importance of high academic achievement.  Shawn’s robotics team was going strong until they took a hit by another robot.  Shawn is set up to go the furthest of the three with his family, a strong school that will continue to challenge him and his personal goals.  When I think about these students I wonder which of them will make it as a leader in their careers.  I wonder about the parents at Brian’s school who will call the staff about their child’s success in sports before they even think about academics.  I wonder why principals and other school officials continue to push teachers to teach tests instead of application of concepts.  

I enjoyed watching the program because it highlighted three young people from different parts of the country who were working very hard to achieve their academic goals with or without guidance.  Their high expectations for themselves will take them very far but will the school system fail them due to lack of preparation? Are these children’s needs being met and talents fostered?  We need to pay attention to these issues when voting or taking our own children to school.  More children need to take part in programs like FIRST so they can apply things they are learning in the classroom to everyday life.   I believe application gives children a better perception of how valuable their education can be.

Check out this video sneak peek from CNN.


Rebel Malcolm X

Today is Malcolm X’s birthday.  He was a  teacher, leader, and inspirer. We are celebrating his life and the important social and political lessons that he left with us. He went through many personal stages of growth; of realization and understanding of truth.

Malcolm reminds us that the movement is more important than the man. We should invest our energies and efforts in the movement itself rather than invest in blind loyalty to any single person. Malcolm reminds us that we must always lead, even as we follow. He displayed the capacity to learn, to grow, and to change direction. Once a young white woman approached Malcolm and asked him what role sincere white people could play in the struggle for racial equality. He told her that there was no role for whites at all. Years later, he commented that he regretted his response and spoke of the difficulty in building workable interracial partnerships. We can take that lesson and learn from his humility. He taught us that we must acknowledge human interdependence if we hope to build enduring movements out of the fragile and complicated interests that we share.

There are so many more lessons that we could take from Malcolm’s life. He taught us the importance of naming ourselves; telling our stories honestly so that we create a historical record of our work; questioning our leaders; and the importance of knowing that the people we think are our allies may ultimately destroy us.

Malcolm X even admittedly changed his views on women. In his last years he rejected the sexism of conservative tradition and moved toward a revolutionary position that insisted on the principle of absolute equality between men and women. He felt that special effort should be made to develop women as leaders. Women should master the skills of public speaking and political analysis.

In The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Alex Haley recounts a reflection Malcolm X shared: “I believe that it would be impossible to find anywhere in America a black man who has lived further down in the mud of human society than I have; or a black man who has been any more ignorant that I have been; or a black man who has suffered more anguish during his life than I have. But it is only after this deepest darkness that the greatest joy can come; it is only after slavery and prison that the sweetest appreciation of freedom can come. I do believe that I have fought the best that I could, with the shortcomings that I have had. I know that my shortcomings are many.”

Malcolm X is controversial to some maybe even called a rebel. He did not cower and hide. He spoke truthfully and was able to admit when he was wrong. Everyone may not agree on all of his principles but it should be agreed that he was a man of strength and bravery that stood tall in the face of adversity. His words will continue now to be lessons to us as individuals and as a community to uplift and fight for what you believe in.

 “The social philosophy of Black nationalism only means that we have to get together and remove the evils, the vices, alcoholism, drug addiction, and other evils that are destroying the moral fiber of our community. We ourselves have to lift the level of our community, the standard of our community to a higher level, make our own society beautiful so that we will be satisfied…. We’ve got to change our own minds about each other. We have to see each other with new eyes. We have to see each other as brothers and sisters. We have to come together with warmth so we can develop unity and harmony that’s necessary to get this problem solved ourselves..  (Malcolm X Speaks; April, 1964)

Black in Latin America in Review

 Black in Latin America is a four-part series on the influence of African descent on Latin America produced by Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. He featured six Latin-American countries in the series: Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru. Many people don’t know that only 450,000 Africans arrived in the United States. More than 10.5 million were taken to the Caribbean and Latin America. Brazil has the 2nd largest black population in the world.
After watching all four parts of the documentary I am proud of being black and it hurts me to see others have such disdain for their African heritage. But I understand it is the effects of slavery. The documentaries show how the world does not acknowledge certain parts of black history. France, Britain and the Americas refused to recognize Haiti as a free country. Thomas Jefferson referred to Haiti as “cannibals of the terrible republic”. Haitians have a rich history in being the 1stfree black republic. They were originally brought to the DR to work the jobs that Dominicans refused. As a result Dominicans saw themselves as better than Haitians. Growing up in Miami being called a Haitian was an insult.  I believe it is still the slavery mentality that people carry towards Haitians because they are simply Africans, undiluted, with the same blood and same features.
Many Latin Americans sense of self was Spanish, not black or white. They saw Spain as their motherland. The common theme among all the countries was the darkest people; the African-looking people were the poorest. Black Hispanics have encountered a noticeable degree of racial discrimination and prejudice, due to the sociocultural leftovers from colonial times. The black element had been repressed. Elitist set out to whiten their heroes if they were too black and outlaw black practices. President Rafael Trujillo of Dominican Republic, who led an Anti-Haitian regime, was said to have used make-up to whiten his face. He also ordered the killings of over 20,000 Haitians in 1937.  Despite the fact that more slaves went to Mexico and Peru than in the U.S it is very common for Mexicans to “hide their black grandmas in the closet” still to this day. Gates says “you can’t be great if you try to suppress a huge part of your history, your identity.”  There are still many black Latin Americans fighting for equality within government, media, education and public policy.
Ever heard someone say they want to date someone light skin with “good hair” just for the sake of having kids with them? Too many black Americans and Caribbean’s favor light skin, straight hair and light eyes. It seems straightening your hair makes one feel prettier. No one wants to be just black.  Your great-great-great grandmother was a Navajo Indian so you claim “I got some Indian in me” as if being black is negative.  Its almost expected that people are of mixed races. I appreciate all the inter-racial couples that lead to my existence but am I supposed to go around claiming every ethnic ancestor I have? I would be Scottish, French, Syrian Jew, Cuban, Indian, and Chinese Jamaican.  In Latin America the denial of being black is quiet, unspoken but in some places it is very loud and outright. People say “she’s pretty for a dark skin girl” as if being light skin makes one beautiful. But sadly that is how some people feel. Bleaching of the skin is becoming this huge epidemic among Caribbeans and even some Africans. I believe bleaching is a clear sign of self-hatred, the desire to erase how God made you in order to be something else. But can I really blame them? It has been shown that if your light skin or exotic looking you get more attention, respect. Social climbing is based on embracing a white identity. Most, if not all, high-ranking government officials in the Caribbean and Latin Americas have been light skin. Slavery was a powerful thing that worked, it stripped people of their roots, the thing that connects us all. It made us segregate each other instead of building with each other.
I recommend watching the Black in Latin America series and see for yourself. I believe the purposes of these documentaries are to expose the denial of African ancestry as well as showcase how integrated Africa is in Latin America. You will see the many Hispanics still holding on to African roots through food, music, and religion. You will learn of an ignored history. Watch and ask yourself if you still carry the traces of a slave mentality and how your life is influence by Africa?

Black in Latin America, PBS Video– All four parts

The Honor Rebel Spotlight – Revolutionary Musician Bob Marley

Mortimer Planno, Rastafarian elder and spiritual mentor to Bob Marley among others, gave a speech at the University of West Indies in 2002.  During which he spoke about the concept of the term honorable and how we should honor our rebels.

So in this weeks Rebel Spotlight we would like to highlight the Honor Rebel Berhane Selassie more popularly known as Bob or Robert Nesta Marley.  On May 11, 1981 this world class musician transcended due to cancer.

Bob was amazingly talented and influenced a politically conscious movement through his music.  This soulful singer and crowd rocker was also very famous for the example and courage he displayed at the One Love Peace Concert in 1978 when he asked two men to join him on stage as a sign to the people that unity would come.  The opposing men were Michael Manley, member of the People’s National Party and Prime Minister since 1972 and Edward Seaga, member of the Jamaican Labour Party.  Both had involved heavy gangsters and corrupt police officers to gain power in Jamaica.  Lots of blood was shed and lives lost during this era.   Some of the issues a majority of Jamaicans were concerned about were financial instability and the need for development all over the country.  Bob simply wanted unity and equality for his beloved people.  After some local acts, Jacob “Killer” Miller and Peter Tosh blessed the stage Bob was ready.  While performing the song “Jammin” Manley and Seaga joined Bob on stage.

Bob had well established himself as a revolutionary.  His entire career prepared him for this moment. He was no stranger to injustice or speaking for those who couldn’t. A true striva for the people.  Music was his gun and he used it well to spread the truth about the peoples struggles. Bob spoke out against those who subscribed to oppression.  No matter how much sorrow he expressed, Bob always had a lyric to pull us back up.  The ammunition he has is endless because his music lives on generation after generation through memorable melodies that soothe the soul and motivate us to “push on through.”

Rebel Artistry’s Top Ten list of Bob Marley’s most politically charged and influential songs.

1. War
2. Get Up, Stand Up
3. Wake Up and Live
4. Buffalo Soldier
5. Ambush in the Night

6. Slave Driver
7. Africa Unite
8. Zimbabwe
9. Stiff Necked Fools
10. Concrete Jungle
The Honor Rebel Robert Nesta Marley was a great man and had so many uplifting songs so we thought we’d share the rest of our long list. Enjoy!

Rat Race
Who the Cap Fit
400 Years
Burnin’ and Lootin’
Coming in from the Cold
I Shot the Sheriff
Duppy Conqueror
The Heathen
So Much Trouble in the World
One Love/People Get Ready
No More Trouble
Them Belly Full, But We Hungry
Zion Train

Afro Punk Rocks!!!

Afro Punk in the simplest terms is a merge between people of African descent and punk, rock, or other alternative forms of music.  On the global scene, “black music” consists of soulful melodies, wicked bass rifts, and is modular or minor based in structure.  As people of color we are expected to listen to music from Gil Gelberto, Alicia Keys, Aretha Franklin, and James Brown, to Mos Def and Mary J Blige.  Now they are all amazing in their own right but AfroPunk is a true work of art as well.  The fusion of so many genres and sounds is a challenging yet exciting task for the talented musicians who choose to delve into the culture.  Many people don’t realize how many similarities there are between these styles of music.  In 1977, Bad Brains, one of the most popular bands in the Afro-meets-punk-meets-Rock genre, was formed in Washington, D.C.  They also had a heavy reggae influence in their music.

Today my favorite AfroPunk band has to be Game Rebellion. Check out their latest video  “Blood on the Dancefloor”, produced by Royal Ras Productions and Artful Dodger. They are all such incredible people.  I saw them live for the first time at AFROPUNK ’10 NYC at the  Comodore Barry Park in Brooklyn, NY.  The band was too live for the stage. Netic climbed on top of vans. Emi killed the keys, and as a pianist myself I couldn’t help but appreciate his raw talent. Yohimbe hypnotized members of the audience with his outrageous guitar sounds. I mean the entire band was just WICKED.  This of course was my first experience in a mosh pit.  Which lasted only a few seconds because I just don’t like the concept of someone knocking their body into mine in the middle of a concert. Then I saw The Bots.  The most adorable duo you’ll ever hear. 14 and 17 year old brothers who know how to rock the stage and maintain an audience. Bad Brains was there too and dominated the end of the show.  I seriously had never seen anything like it before and hope to attend another AfroPunk or similar festival in the future.

From my experience the shows are very energetic, loud, aggressive, and if you know what to listen for, you can hear the heavy percussion that is fused with an African sound… So it’s summer time again and I hope to catch Game Rebellion, Black Vampires or The Bots sometime soon.

I’m not crazy… I think!

I suffer from anxiety attacks. It got so bad that at one point I was on medication. Medication only masked the anxiety and made me feel better in that moment. I am not an advocate for medication as the first and only option to mental health. I am an advocate of acknowledging and treating the root of mental health issues.

I remember one time having an anxiety attack on the floor in my room when I was a teenager.  I was told to“just stop it”. I realize that was a common way to deal with things, to dismiss it but I don’t think anyone knew what I was dealing with. Mental health is not something openly discussed in families and my issue was never addressed as being a mental problem. Even though they probably thought I was crazy I’m really not…I think. I was just labeled as sensitive or emotional as if every little thing that hurt my feelings would set me off crying and hyperventilating, while in reality most of the times there was nothing to provoke my anxiety. I would get this tingly feeling coursing thru my body; my chest would get tight, couldn’t breathe and start to hyperventilate.  My anxiety actually got worse when I went to college. I had a lot to be worried about.  After many visits to the ER I was diagnosed with Generalized AnxietyDisorder and given medication to take whenever I felt myself getting anxious or feeling out of breath. At first it felt good to have this light airy feeling of euphoria over me and then I realized it was just a band aid. Like most prescription meds it didn’t cure my anxiety it made me dependent on it, so eventually I stopped taking them.(Do miss that euphoria feeling sometimes though) I started to go to the counseling center on my schools campus because for me I felt that I needed to talk to someone. I am the person that holds things in and then explodes later on, so it was very weird sitting there telling some stranger how I felt and her just staring back at me. I needed to be comfortable with her and it was a process that I found was helpful in me managing my anxiety. Many days I’m great and some nights I can’t sleep. I have headaches, irritability, lightheadedness, and feel out of breath. My acceptance of my anxiety allows me to seek ways to treat and cope with it. Writing is therapy for me, music is my drug and freedom of expression heals me.

Mental health is a how we think, feel and behave as we deal with life. It’s in direct relation with how we deal with stress, deal with others and make choices.  Even unhealthy relationships can affect our mental health. Don’t let anyone stress you out so much that you get depressed, have feelings of emptiness or low-self esteem, or put up with emotional abuse by a partner. Relationships should uplift and add quality to your life, not make you feel bad. Many people who have mental health conditions consider their signs and symptoms a normal part of life or avoid treatment out of shame or fear. There is a stigma with admitting that something may be wrong or seeing a therapist. Family and friends should be supportive in dealing with mental health conditions but not help perpetuate or trivialize their loved one’s symptoms.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month so regardless of having a mental health condition EVERYONE needs to maintain healthy mental health practices. Every bad emotion is not a mental health condition but we as humans need to take care of our minds just as much as ours bodies. Our health is more than just our physical health it is our spiritual and mental health combined. Mental health conditions can lead to serious complications such as ulcers, migraines, high blood pressure, chronic pain and even heart attacks.  

We need to lean on others who are sensitive to what we are going through and have open communication in discussing our feelings, needs and wants. IT IS OKAY TO SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP. You are not weak! It takes a lot of strength to ask for help. Listen to your body. Acknowledge your feelings and emotions. Take time to breathe. Listen to music. Read. Dance. Be active. Be still. Meditate.Write. Laugh. Paint. Sing. Love. HEAL.