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Archive for March, 2012|Monthly archive page

I choose…

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Peyton to the Broncos. Tebow to the Jets. Saints, for their role in “Bounty Gate”– banned coaches, fines, and loss of draft picks; and St. Louis Rams Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams, who held the same position with the Saints during their Super Bowl win, has been indefinitely suspended (or as one of my dear friends calls it, Williams has been “Pete Rosed!”). Whew, I am tired. Too much for this woman to take. Aside from the late-great Reggie White, Peyton Manning is my favorite football player (tied of course with Ray Lewis) and all this change has me uncomfortable and scrambling for some stability, but I am nonetheless excited about the upcoming NFL season for multiple reasons, chiefly because of the reasons I just discussed.

Change is probably the one thing I have come to accept is constant. Change. What a novel concept that packs a mighty punch. Change can be good and not so good, simultaneously. Change can be ignored; change can occur overnight; change can lead to a crisis. Change can bring peace, tear down walls that once separated a people; change can bring about new ideas and concepts; change can carry a new and welcoming tune.

In the past two weeks, I have witnessed change in varying aspects, some good, others not so much. But personal and professional, change has challenged me to inquire, dig deeper, to find a more substantive meaning to IT all. I was very fortunate to experience a revival of change in the Mississippi Delta last week. The Office of Student Leadership and Community Engagement, the Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development (my employer), and the History department at Mississippi State University co-sponsored an alternative spring break experiential learning opportunity for students to work in and learn about the Mississippi Delta. I was asked to conduct a facilitative dialogue on expectations, race, and the history of the Delta in comparison to the film The Help. I think I was prepared for every possible question one could imagine–what I was not prepared for: the students challenged me beyond my wildest expectations. After I returned from my time with them, I immediately updated my facebook status, as such: “‘I will lift my head in spite of adversity.’–Byron Cage. Sometimes we miss opportunities to celebrate the successes of Mississippi…sometimes it becomes too difficult to see beyond the adversities and challenges. But tonight I saw our present and our future, and it is very bright. Big ups to the Alternative Spring team for making a positive, sustained impact across this state.”

These missed opportunities can be missed because we are resistant or hesitant to change and the challenges they inevitably bring. The Mississippi that I know we are–the Mississippi that chooses an empowering, healing four letter word (LOVE) over hate–I believe in a Mississippi that refuses to succumb to the seed of Jim Crow, I believe in a better now and future. Today is a struggle, as I type these words, knowing that Mississippi’s first hate crime conviction (since the passing of that law) occurred today–I refuse to submit to the hate and I hope you do too. I see the bright and prosperous future as demonstrated during that spring break experience–students from Mumbai, Brazil, South Korea, China, white, Asian, black Americans all agreeing, disagreeing, agreeing to disagree, yet doing so peacefully, respectfully; but most importantly, doing so knowing that change spurred such a moment.

Then, today, and tomorrow

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2012 at 10:18 am

Jada Williams. 13 year-old. Rochester, NY. Eighth grader. Just another teen, aye? Well, Jada’s essay which was entered into a competition, an essay on the The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, has stirred the winds of controversy. While I haven’t read Jada’s essay, by all accounts it appears that the passage in the book that resonated most is the exchange Douglass heard regarding the instruction or teaching to Blacks: Williams when “reflect[ing] on what Douglass heard his slave master, Mr. Auld, telling his wife after catching her teaching Douglass how to read. ‘If you teach that nigger how to read, there will be no keeping him,’ Auld says. ‘It will forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master.’ Williams wrote that overcrowded, poorly managed classrooms prevent real learning from happening and thus produces the same results as Mr. Auld’s outright ban. She wrote that her white teachers—the vast majority of Rochester students are black and Hispanic, but very few teachers are people of color—are in a ‘position of power to dictate what I can, cannot, and will learn, only desiring that I may get bored because of the inconsistency and the mismanagement of the classroom.'”

Further, Williams asks “What merit is there not willing to share [suggesting that white teachers intentionally withhold knowledge sharing and information] because of the color of my skin?” In the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, guest columnist, Beth Vercolan, claims that “Jada made an error in critical thinking in her essay. She did not draw any distinction between the times in which Douglass was writing and today. Any piece of written work must be judged within the context of its author’s personal experiences and beliefs, and the time in which it was written. Jada and her contemporaries live in a much different time than Douglass did. To blame ‘white men’ for the low performance of students in her school is harmful and dangerous to race relations. Whenever a sweeping statement is made about all members of a race — whatever race — it is a racist statement.”

Just a couple days prior to Vercolan’s column, staff writer for the Rochester newspaper quoted Williams’ as taking account for context and different times, and Williams’ appears to suggest that while overt racism and other means to not educate minorities are not what they were during Douglass’ life, it is occurring but in a more subtle manner. “’When I find myself sitting in a crowded classroom where no real instruction is taking place I can say history does repeat itself,’ Jada recently read from her essay. ‘The reality of this is that most of my peers can not read, and therefore comprehend the materials that have been provided. So I feel like not much has changed. Just different people. Different era. The same old discrimination still resides in the hearts of the white man.’”

A provocative essay indeed. And yes, there was a teachable moment, but no one, on either side of the racial/ethnic aisles took the lead to dig deeper into the reflections, the accounts of one Jada Williams. It is alleged that Williams was run out of school by her teachers for writing the essay. Williams’ mother responded, only leaving questions in the midst: “’What message are you sending my daughter when you tell her you are offended by an essay she wrote about a book the district gave her to read?’ Williams said. ‘She feels like she’s supposed to go to school and learn, but now that she’s learning it’s a problem. All she did was compare her experiences now with the material that was provided to her. Did they realize the content of the book before they distributed it?’”