Monday, March 21, 2011
Observations From The Road
I am blogging from the road again. Being a guest speaker, I get to speak the truth in love while everyone smiles knowingly grins and nod sheepishly. I have gotten quite a few “preach it sister” and a very loud “shame the devil” the other day. I am sure if some of the things I have said to several organizations were told by a local member, mayhem would have ensued. What I am learning from my road trips; no matter where you go, there you are. Our stuff is the same from city to city. The clichés and the groups’ dynamics maybe different but folks are pretty predictable. Most of the audiences have been very diverse with education and economic empowerment questions dominating the Q & A time. But when I am in the front of my own people, the question that is asked at every single event is, “Why are black people becoming our own worst enemies?”
From New York to Houston, the question has been asked. In Houston, women wept openly about the savage rape of an 11 year girl by 15 or more Black men and high school boys in a trailer that was videotaped on cell phones and shown at her school. When I arrived, my driver was giving me the word on street version of the horrific event. He warned me not to be surprised because the topic was being discussed everywhere. The November incident has made national news but it was the talk of the Houston area before being picked up by mainstream media. The mug shots of the men and teen boys were all over Houston. Instead of my prepared words about Black Women Trailblazers, we had a town hall meeting of sorts to allow folks a chance to vent. I asked the group to use their anger as a wakeup call. I suggested cutting back on galas and fund counseling for the young girls that have seen the videos. (You know I am not going to leave a group of people with hearts bleeding without mentioning counseling). Anyway, I also suggested partnering with men organizations to teach men how to become protectors of women and girls and not ferocious predators. The well-heeled women were in obvious shock. The title sponsors agreed to put up money for counseling and mentoring activities for girls at the elementary school. This incredible act of generosity was met with a member giving an I-am-the president-elect speech along with the by-laws surrounding the pledged donation. Yep, she did. Pitiful.
My whirl wind month of March is becoming book material fast. The story above had a very obvious teachable moment; put the children first, your title and agenda could have waited. But how often have we seen the sugar taken out of a sweet act of kindness with sour words? I did not bother to hide my disappointment with the “president- elect” and neither did others. How do these folks get elected anyway?
Speaking of elections, Memphis was one of my stops. The state of Memphis City schools was all everyone was talking about at recent meeting. There was no shortage of stories pro and con about the aftermath of dissolving the city school charter. Criticisms were passed around like a collection plate in church. Folks were up in arms about what was going to happen. You would have thought the world was coming to an end because of the deep passion. My suggestion to that group was to put their passion into action by organizing rides to the polls to make sure folks voted. I told the group, “Getting Black folks to stop speculating about what’ they say’ and actually vote for decent leaders is the key to addressing many issues in our community. Black folks must get loud and proud again about voting!” Ninety percent of the dialogue in Memphis the day of my visit was peppered with “they say”. I suggested to several business owners to rent vans for the organization and I volunteered to contact the press to highlight their company and organization efforts. When I left, everyone was excited about getting the word out to vote.
Why was I surprised when I read only 17% of registered voters showed up to the polls? All the meetings, talk, distrust, and infighting about how the merger will help or hurt Black children, very few Black folks even bothered to vote. Memphis as a whole was heavy on emotion and sound bites but after a yearlong discussion about the school system did very little to show that education was valued by the very community that needs it the most. White kids are enrolled in excellent public schools in the suburbs or in private schools that keep their fees high and restrict admission. When you view what is happening with public school systems around the country, Black kids dominate the school rolls. Yet, we continue to complain and not vote. God help us.
After the elections, I called to check about rides to the polls. I was informed that they had an education committee meeting scheduled on Election Day and were unable to get the vans. I am still staring at my cell. Pray.
In Atlanta, I was asked about ideas to engage younger women to become more involved in historical Black organizations. The topic was a follow up to remarks about Rev. Bernice King declining the presidency of SCLC which was co-founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I pondered my response slowly. My grandmother (Mother) taught me that discussing Dr. King should be done respectfully, so I treaded with thoughtfulness. I leaned on an earlier conversation with Mother to explain my perspective. Mother felt strongly that Bernice King was chosen because of the history that came with her name. “She’s his daughter but she has her own mind. Folks think she is going to quote her father speeches all day”, Mother said in hushed tones. “When she gets to talking about babies having babies, babies killing babies, and babies can’t read or write, they are going to tune her out”. Hmm. Bringing older established groups current with the issues of the day while upholding the legacy of a group, is often met with blank looks or outright disdain. The Black community has used up much needed capital on protesting things that were reactionary, airing grievances in the white media that reflected badly on a group while not dealing with accountability with each other and sat on the sidelines snickering at other folks fall from grace while becoming clowns in a parade. Those actions have come back to haunt the Black community politically and economically.
“We have lost clout politically and economically because we are not using our social and professional positions to bring clarity, civility, and accountability to the table. Many of our organizations are viewed as outdated because of long winded meetings with no substance, leaders who have not always listened to their members, and very little training for younger leadership with outside the box thinking. The old teaching the young is biblical”, I said after sharing my grandmother’s words. Surprisingly, everyone clapped! This is happening in the Black communities around the country and in Nashville. Geez.
There is much to tell; with so little space. Hopefully, by sharing my encounters from the road, it will help us to be more insightful. Do our social groups actually serve the community with service above self mindset? Do we talk about the importance of public schools but are absent when it truly matters the most? Do our older brand groups teach history while embracing change? Are elders willing to teach the young folks leadership skills by more action and few words? Hmm. Our young folks are watching. And waiting!