Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

Fostering Hope

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2011 at 9:58 am

“The kids have to know that you care before they care what you know”
—President Barack Obama quoting Memphis Booker T. Washington’s Principal Alisha Kiner

Booker T. Washington Warriors. A staple in Memphis. Most notably, I know BTW for producing Claudia Barr, Memphis journalist, who happily wears her school pride everywhere she goes. As the winner of the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge, BTW’s 2011 graduating class (and Memphis) welcomed President Obama as its commencement speaker. Commercial Appeal’s Wendi C. Thomas noted, “a small school with its struggles — principal Alisha Kiner said alumni outfitted some grads who couldn’t afford presentable attire — wins a national contest and the first black president speaks at the city’s first black high school to an all-black graduating class.”

In the heart of South Memphis, students at BTW are faced with significant societal challenges, and these obstacles are not checked at the doors of the school’s halls. On April 12, Cleaborn Homes were demolished and this was where many of BTW’s students called home. Crime and poverty also are familiar to the area, and it is not hard to see the challenges to learning. It is not about “these people in the neighborhoods don’t want to learn or care about school.” It is not about “leaving these people to fend for themselves.” It is about how do you survive and thrive at the same time. And President Obama’s speech focused on exactly that. The culture of care, as the President called it, in addition to grit and determination, has resulted in BTW’s graduation rate increasing from 55 percent to 82 percent. This culture of care is what has motivated students to look to the halls of BTW for guidance and a future that at one time may not have included college or trade school. This culture of care is what is needed to save a child, and a generation. The students of BTW have inspired me.

And the President was correct in acknowledging that the hard road does not stop here.

These students have succeeded in the classroom and in their lives outside of BTW. It was and will always be a team effort. These students and their families persevered because of cooperative efforts, largely from individuals they know and many they may not. Success is not about the one who was able to get out and do well for him/herself; success is about those who were able to get out, learn and grow, only to return to sow the seeds for the next generations. To the students of BTW and for those who face similar circumstances–challenges vary, obstacles rest along the course, but continue to hold on to faith, belief/confidence in self, and the wherewithal and willingness to ask for help along the way.


Both Predictable and Unpredictable: That is the Face of Change

In Uncategorized on May 12, 2011 at 6:05 am

The old adage—the only guarantees in life are death and taxes—let’s add change to that as well. Change is constant, consistent, and guaranteed or it can reflect instability, it can be both planned and unexpected. No matter what may happen, even when we try to prevent it or when we least expect it, change is inevitable. Change can be good, bad, or just plain old indifferent. And so how we react is based on our perception of how that change could affect us; and all the while, change speaks to the character of who we are, were, and going to be. So when I look to Memphis, the Mississippi Delta, Smithville, or even Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and Mississippi Gulf Coast, all I see is that those areas will never be the same; they’ve changed in character and in form. Records rainfall, snowfall, tornadoes, floods, and so we are left with what happens afterwards.

Rebuilding will not be simple; and we truly do not know the future effects. Analysts can predict, but they can only do what humans typically do not like most—realizing that change requires us to be patient, even if said change was rapid, we have to wait, measure, and gauge what the herein now looks like and what does this mean for the future. Did I ever expect seeing a great flood? Nope. Read about the Great Flood in 1927, even seen pictures. Did I ever think that record numbers of tornadoes would slam Mississippi to the degree that they did? Nope. Neither did I anticipate tornadoes affecting 52 of Mississippi’s 82 counties; leaving a clear path of destruction behind. And so, through this change–many have lost material possessions, loved ones, jobs, but I pray they, better yet we, have not lost sight that even through destruction, with each step, each hour, each day, and on and on—we can inspire the other to regroup, donate, assist the best we know how, do what we can to change the worst we have ever seen for the better.

Where were You?

In Uncategorized on May 2, 2011 at 10:27 am

Where were you when the Berlin Wall fell? I was a child nestled on the couch with my mother and grandmother. Trying to understand the significance of the event, my mother, in her infinite wisdom and noticing that she had an unusually inquisitive child (especially about politics), simply said that it was designed to keep people away from each other. “Why would that happened?” I asked. She explained that it all came down to a difference of opinions and ideals. I thank my mother for explaining something to me. Explaining that historical moment.

Where were you when Nelson Mandela was released from prison? Somewhat older, yet still not quite able to grasp the significance, but I do remember it being a Sunday morning, my grandmother cooking and in a word, rejoicing. I knew we were getting ready for church, (it may have been a Sunday that I found a way to skip out). But she explained to me in a very delicate way that a man, who stood for freedom and was for many years locked away for believing in justice and equality, was released from prison. She proceeded to explain freedom to me. And so, back on that couch, where I watched the Berlin Wall fall, my grandmother allowed me to watch history.

Where were you on September 11, 2001? I was a junior in college and all I can remember is watching Peter Jennings, who was the voice of choice in my household to retell history, watch in horror and explain what the heck we were witnessing. Where were you on May 1, 2011? Osama Bin Laden has not only been captured but assassinated?!?!!! After traveling to Amory, Mississippi to drop off supplies for those affected by an EF-5 tornado in Smithville, Mississippi, a few friends of mine came back to debrief. This debriefing led to an interesting debate on religion, and after a good fellowship with friends, a media advisory came to my phone. I looked up and said “Osama is now dead!” Now Peter is not with us, my grandmother either and I need them here to explain what happened last night. And I’m sure my grandmother would have had an interesting perspective, a perspective that I miss hearing.

And so, I await my opportunity to discuss this with my mother–a lot like that child nestled on the couch, I am still trying to wrap my head around this one.