There is a collecting feeling of blah, anger, depression, and exhaustion in the air. The people I interact with on a daily basis are beyond survival mode. Each day seems to bring a new array of feelings and emotions. My children can feel the thickness in the air and we have talked to them about the climate of this place they call home, America. We have been talking about the upcoming election, the intense times upon us before the morning of July 6th, when a video out of Baton Rouge, LA showing a man named Alton Sterling under the hail of bullets from a police officer’s gun. My husband and I woke up and like most people in our demographic – you check for texts, work emails, Twitter before we pop up and get with our day. There is was. There it was again. Damn. Again. What cuts the deepest is that within my children’s short lifetimes, two things will seem quite normal – having a Black President and knowing that each summer brings death and protests and videos they cannot watch and summer is in full swing.
Every summer, this keeps happening. This keeps repeating. And yet, I am still not numb, I am not used to it. I continue to feel the impact of each blow, each bullet, each one taken from us, and each time justice becomes a fleeting fantasy. We go back to the norm, we all have to go to work and school and in this area, there are usually only a few folks that even know I might be having some emotionally trying times. The fact that it is summer and life is a step behind, means that I can avoid the intense interactions with folks that cannot see what is happening and the ones that don’t know what to say to me, but it also adds to the sedentary nature of how I am processing this pain.
In another part of my life, I just received a hefty grant to do the work that I have been dreaming to do at the W. E. B. Du Bois Center. And I am finding it difficult to celebrate. I appreciate the exciting news and realize that we all needed some light in this moment of darkness. Yet, I am finding it hard to wrap my head around the next step, the meetings I have tomorrow. As Dr. Du Bois said so long ago, it’s that two-ness that has to kick into full gear and soon.
I have a deadline coming up very soon and a lot of work to get this next article to the point of publication. And I am finding it difficult to write. I thought that maybe it is because I write about race and slavery or the larger implications of Caribbean tourism on local communities or race and gender and class and all those junctures of intersecting and overlapping, but no, its just that writing is hard. And when I frequent my regular writing spots, it is blaringly obvious that I am living in a mostly white place. No one around me seems to be phased, I don’t feel the thickness in the air of my coffeeshop, I can’t see the pain across the brows of strangers I come into contact with in the market or store. When I see other global majority folks around town, I can feel it, I can see it, because we all know its summer again and this is what happens between those summer vacations and the pressing home improvement projects.
Bullets on a summer’s night used to mean something different when I was growing up. The heat, the city, the inevitable (and occasional) clash of one kind or another could sometimes lead to moments of extreme exchanges where things got out of control, but it was different. This is different. I had to include a pic of protesters in Atlanta, the power of people is what we need.
Another summer of this means it’s time to put our pens a laptops aside for a moment and get out of our houses and our comfort zones and take a stand, lift a voice, teach each person you come into contact with that the time has come to call out bad people – in and out of uniform. Tomorrow is a new day, let’s see what the dawn brings.
“It is a remarkable picture. A single woman stands in the roadway, feet firmly planted. She poses no obvious threat. She is there to protest the excessive force which Baton Rouge police allegedly deploy against the city’s black citizens. She stands in front of police headquarters, on Saturday. And she is being hauled away by officers who look better prepared for a war than a peaceful protest…”
After Lemonade launched, Benbow issued a call for black women of all ages and disciplines to share the works of art, history, and literature that came to mind or informed their reading of the visual album. Out of the loving cipher, she compiled the #LemonadeSyllabus…
Congo Square in Philadelphia. Dancing on the grave.
Bree Newsome (with support from local activists) scales the flag pole in front of South Carolina’s courthouse in Charleston, and takes down the Confederate flag at dawn on June 27, 2015. She is immediately arrested. For updates follow ColorOfChange.org and @fergusonaction on Twitter. (Photo also needs a photographer credit: Please tag in comments)
Bree Newsome (with support from local activists) scaled the flag pole in front of South Carolina’s courthouse in Charleston, and takes down the Confederate flag at dawn on June 27, 2015. She was immediately arrested.
[Edit: Added video created of the action, via Patrisse Cullors-Brignac]
For updates follow ColorOfChange.org and @fergusonaction on Twitter. (Photo also needs a photographer credit: Please tag in comments)
Try and tell me Black women don’t show up. Y’all all talked about it. She (with local support) did it. GLORY.
Bree Newsome also makes award-winning films:
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By the title of this, you may think that I am going to post something about how fly I am on the constant. How I wake up with nothing but scholarly swag. I produce books in my sleep, my ideas flow with the ease of a mighty river, so much so that I have time each morning to put on my face, gather together “that” outfit and deliver the children to bus and school in at least a fabulous 3 inch heel. Because, well, I am amazing.
I am amazing, but that is not my reality. Although there is an occasion or two where some of these elements come together, it is rare. And it hasn’t happened lately, because some things have changed.
I have a reputation, even as an academic writer, on real talk. Although, you could argue that my reality is still clouded with a slight academic haze, its still real-ish. So, the subject for this edition of “sharing my world” is about coming to grips with why I do not just wake up and look like I stepped out of an episode of “Scandal” or “Being Mary Jane”. For one, I know I do not have a stylist or even a wardrobe budget. But, there is more. I carry many things on many plates. I mean, I have to use the plural, because my identity & position warrant it. I can no longer say that I have a lot on my plate. I don’t get that privilege. Most of the new roles I have taken on are by my own doing, yet, they have added a level of grind that I was not accustomed to. For, I am a Black female academic with husband and relatively small children in the early to mid throws of my career. That translates to…exhaustion on FLEEK. For those of you who do not understand this very contemporary vernacular, this means that I am tired as hell, beyond exhaustion, meaning my exhaustion is kicked up a notch. This new grind brings other work with it. It has become more than writing and research and teaching, there is an added level of getting out there, getting to places where my voice is a part of a larger conversation, with real people.
When I hear the Queen Bee (Beyonce’) talking about “I woke up like this”, I translate this to mean, that I rise in the morning wanting to sleep more. I rise in the morning trying to figure out how to keep those fires from getting bigger, keep up to date with that research, keep your courses fresh and exciting, running an entity like the Du Bois Center @ UMass from the ground floor, fulfilling my service duties across campus and still arranging schedules with an equally busy husband to get children to soccer, ballet and Kung Fu. I know I go to bed way too late and wake up way too early. I am productive, but realize I could possibly spend my time with more focus and purpose. I am happy with my life, but there is always that urge to just want a tiny bit more.
By more, I mean time broken up into neat little compartments, to be opened at the appointed time and dealt with regularly. If I had my way, I would have a dictaphone, sit back at my office with a great view sipping a glass of spiced rum on ice and my legs on the desk and just talk out my thoughts for my secretary to type out in the morning (shout out to the end of Mad Men, one of my many escapes in the world of Netflix binge culture). But its just me and my thoughts, with no dictaphone and so many of them floating around in my heat that I often loose them in the midst of living life and keeping a marriage and household going.
Yet, as I stated earlier, I am happy. For, I have faith in myself and my scholarly dreams. I know that many of these thoughts will come together to form coherent sentences that will equal a huge grant and provide for me an incredible research assistant to help gather the details with me as I work that meaningful project into the book of a lifetime. Thoughts like this make me smile, because part of my reality is the power of believing in the work I do and the love I still have for the direction of my career.
So, real talk, I did wake up like this. And my style game may at times be off. But, ah the thoughts and plans in my head, in all of those note pads in my office and those vast numbers of Word documents just waiting to come together on my computer, means that my beauty, at least academically, is like a bright shining light. As I smile and walk down the street until that next break when I pull it all together and put that pretty back on FLEEK.
Grind on & Blog out…
Sending much love and light! #BlackLivesMatter
We are Black professors.
We are daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, godchildren, grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers, and mothers.
We’re writing to tell you we see you and hear you.
We know the stories of dolls hanging by nooses, nigger written on dry erase boards and walls, stories of nigger said casually at parties by White students too drunk to know their own names but who know their place well enough to know nothing will happen if they call you out your name, stories of nigger said stone sober, stories of them calling you nigger using every other word except what they really mean to call you, stories of you having to explain your experience in classrooms—your language, your dress, your hair, your music, your skin—yourself, of you having to fight for all…
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The other day as I muddled through the daily morning routine of getting children ready for school, making lunches and snacks, watching the clock and listening (when I remember) to the usually interesting topics blaring from the radio tuned into my local National Public Radio (NPR) station, a story came on and I had to stop. The new regulations and changes put on the federal student aid applications were having (HBCUs). This really hit home today because, I had just returned from a wonderful Homecoming weekend in Petersburg, Virginia at my alma mater, Virginia State University. I graduated from there 20 years ago. And I understand how much that place shaped my life, my thoughts and help to begin my path to being the scholar that I am today.
VSU was the place where it all got started for me. VSU helped me figure out who I was and maybe even who I wanted to be. The reason why this is so important is because when I was in High School in the late 1980s, a guidance counselor that told me that I was probably not college material. I should try to go to a community college and then try a 4 year institution. I was shocked, speechless, because my mother never said to me “if you go to college,” she always said, “when you go to college.” So, instead of listening to this clueless woman put in a position of power and influence, I listened to my family and my community and I looked to the South, toward my ancestral home. I only applied to HBCUs because I felt I had no choice, if I was going to make it in college (as I always knew I would), it was going to be at a place where I knew I would be valued and have a voice. I had to leave the Northeast, I had to leave New York City and I still believe it was the best thing I could have ever done. HBCUs have a large number of students that need financial aid, that benefit from federal programs, these regulations are decreasing the numbers who are eligable to stay in school and earn a degree. Lets face it, I work at a large public, state university where I see the costs of higher education making the prospect of getting a Bachelor’s degree somewhat of a luxury for larger numbers of undergraduates. I have taken my alma mater for granted, in the pursuit of my own career and my own upward mobility, I have forgotten my foundation and I am sad about this.
I read in a recent article in Black Voices an open letter to graduates of HBCUs by Dr. Charlie Nelms, I quote:
“Dear HBCU graduates,
Although most of us have never met, we share a special bond as graduates of one of America’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). With few exceptions, these are the places that sprouted from sweat-soaked seeds planted by the sons and daughters of former slaves, sharecroppers and subsistence farmers whose belief in the power of education confounded the plans of plantation owners, straw bosses and Southern white politicians. HBCUs were the places that accepted us because they wanted to serve us, not because they were forced to do so or wanted to “diversify” their enrollment. They welcomed us with open arms and did not need to establish black culture centers or persuade faculty and staff to accept or embrace us. HBCUs never characterized us as high-risk or academically or culturally disadvantaged; they chose instead to focus on our assets. Thankfully, we were the reason that HBCUs existed and not a special project on diversity and inclusion. Most of us would agree that our alma mater enveloped us in a culture of caring from which it was nearly impossible to escape. As a consequence, we developed the intellectual, social and leadership skills that allowed us to compete with anyone in the world. All of this HBCUs did with only a fraction of the fiscal resources available to predominately white universities (PWIs).
I am sure you must have read by now that HBCUs are at a major crossroads. Enrollment is declining, in part because of increased competition from PWIs, online universities, proprietary schools and community colleges. In fact, according to the Oct. 9, 2014, edition of Diverse Issues in Higher Education, the University of Phoenix Online Campus is the largest producer of African-American recipients of bachelor’s degrees in all disciplines. In addition, leadership and fiscal instability, problems with accreditation and growing discord between presidents and boards of trustees are affecting even the strongest HBCUs. In all fairness, I must note that many of these same challenges afflict PWIs as well. The difference, in my view, is the fact that failure at HBCUs has disproportionate implications for African-American students, families and the communities in which they are located. The failure of HBCUs is not an option; we have too much riding on them to let that happen.”
I had to quote this because I could not say in any better. Dr. Nelms is correct, our HBCUs are in crises and I for one, do not want to see them disappear! VSU is deeply entrenched into my fabric, my soul. I learned so much there. I learned about the politics of Blackness, the complexities of race and racism in the south and in the north, I learned about how to be successful in the academy and I learned a lot about myself and where I could best apply my interests and talents. When I had a very rough semester my freshman year, I was met with a healthy combination of tough love and support that helped me through to be a really good student. Because I knew inside, that I could not let my community at VSU or back home down, I was in it for the long haul. I was going to be successful.
At the moment, I sit as a tenured professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst (a PWI). Yet, I remember that I was trained to understand that mentorship is just as important as scholarship, which is not something that is necessarily standard at my current institution. I was also trained to recognize someone struggling and reach out my hand to help without a need for acknowledgement or praise. It is not about service, it is about responsibility. So, although it took me a long time to go back home to Petersburg, I now understand that VSU is a part of my soul, my identity, and the foundation of who I am. My husband a graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta sees things the same way, it is how we view the world, it is how we teach our children. And now it is time to step back in and bring our children, so they may see and understand the beauty of belonging and the beauty of family. There are no more excuses.
It is time to pay back, join my Alumni organization, and continue to support the place that will forever be a part of my identity.
VSU, I love it, I love it, I love it!