Thinking of the Cultural Arts and Entertainment Scene…

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Ok. Look. Every city should have a cultural arts and entertainment planner serving a position commissioned like a laureate and supported through allocated funds to consistently help curators, promoters, artists, and culturalists move in a way that fosters an ever blossoming scene. 
 
Warning…Warning…Warning…What’s next is a mini rant….
I was thinking about things and trying to figure out how to convey it. Then I started digging. Finally I figured out what it was I was trying to articulate. I immediately thought of my friend, poet/artist/organizer Shelly Bell, who says I have a knack for these things. LOL. I hope this makes sense.
 
Let’s take a moment and look at this information from the Harvard Business School. It’s only a coincidence that I am at Harvard for a fellowship and pulled this quote. It just happened to be the one that had what I was looking for the way I was looking for. 
 
“Total quality management. Benchmarking. Time-based competition. Reengineering. Change management. The quest for productivity, quality, and speed has spawned a remarkable number of management tools and techniques….
 
Simply improving operational effectiveness does not provide a robust competitive advantage because rarely are “best practice” advantages sustainable. Once a company establishes a new best practice, its rivals tend to copy it quickly.
 
Strategy is about doing things differently, not simply doing them better than everyone else. And it’s the key to competitive advantage.”
 
What’s that mean to the arts? It means that having the best event ever is great and having a seamless process for how you run that event is even better, but what you do with the event is even more key.
 
The “differently” is the part that I want to focus on. It’s the part that often gets overlooked. Mainly because too many facilitators confuse “better” and “different” and the venues rarely think about it or care. They have their own competitive interests in mind. It’s not their responsibility unless they are an arts organization. It’s the producers and presenters who have to think strategically about how they are programming. They need to remember that expanding the marketplace is always better for the scene than competing for market share.
 
“There is a fundamental distinction between strategy and operational effectiveness.” – economist, researcher, author, advisor, speaker and teacher, Michael Porter.
Yes, also from Harvard’s Business School. I promise it’s a coinci…never mind. Let’s continue.
 
The broader and more active and robust the market seems the more leverage the producers have. What will also happen is the pool of consumers continues to grow as new people experience what’s being offered across the marketplace. People are engaging with the market more often and having great experiences (because your still focusing on and maintaining operational effectiveness). Word of mouth travels fast. Buzz is built and anticipation for the next offering bubbles. A rising consumer base is hungry for more!
 
As this happens, the best run and operated offerings will solidify themselves as mainstays. The producers and presenters put themselves in position to drive the market moving forward. You win and have helped built a foundation to keep winning. 
 
Somebody ask Cicely Mitchell, who runs The Art of Cool Project (www.theartofcoolproject.com) in Durham, NC about this.
 
So think…how do I expand the marketplace rather than be pushed to fight for market share? What do I really lose by doing so? What are the factors in “different” (time, location, date, space, look, etc.).
 
Habit is what we are trying to break not conform to. If we don’t want our consumer base to be static then why would we be in how we offer our art to them?
Until that position is created and these conversations are being facilitated, we have to think strategically.
 
I’m done.

Superheroes

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“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” – Christopher Reeve

My mother always told me I’d be a teacher

I ignored her as many young people do their parents

Set my sights on grander and more lucrative endeavors

So I proceeded to chase an illusion

Someone told me I should have

Spent time lending my talents

To a Tin Man of a system

Only to find myself the victim of heartless disloyalty

But along the way

Me and my pen

Came to terms with the marriage of purpose and blessing

Took a title, then accepted responsibility

And found ourselves in front of a classroom

 

When I called her and told her

I was promoted from artist-in-residence to a professor

My expectation

Was that I’d receive an “I told you so”

She didn’t let me down

Then lifted me up

In prayer

To the God that kept her son from harm’s way

Helped him find his way

Gave him gifts

Taught him how to use them

Then allowed him to teach others

 

I remember the smile I heard through the phone

I carry it with me to campus

Show it off to the students who enter my class

I am shepherd to the extraordinary

Who haven’t been helped to understand

The power they possess

My job is to teach them how to use their talents

Harness their uncanny abilities

And oh my do they have superpowers

 

A young man from southern California

Who had his heart ripped out by betrayal

So he replaced it with burning desire to succeed

Covered in resentment like a suit of armor

And I have to show him that what’s possible

Is in stark contrast to what he’s been told

 

A beautiful young woman in tight ripped jeans

Who only sees the world in shades of grey

Telekenetic, willing objectivity into well crafted essays

With elder siblings who try to murder her self esteem

I tell her that like a phoenix

She will be reborn even stronger

 

I have learned that invisibility

Is the ability to be in a room and be ignored

There is a girl in the back of my classroom

Not unseen

I know that she is there

I let her know

The force field of apathy she puts up

Will not keep me from showing her

That she is fantastic

 

I teach composition and rhetoric

Creative writing

Alchemy

If you believe that learning to work the elements of craft

Can alter what matters

Think and you can write

Listen and you can learn

Read and you can react

Aptitude is a desire

Let me show you how to harness hard work

 

Javonte was trying to claw his way out of the streets

Adamantium mentality said don’t ever be broke

So he stuck to his ways instead of the books

Until he was struck

I keep expecting him to wake up

Because I believe in quick healing factors

 

The freshman cheerleader

Whose desire to fit in

Has her adopting the bad habits

Of the people she comes in contact with

Keeps going rogue from my class

I want to convince her it is her potential

That is untouchable

 

The kid they all call strange that wants to be a doctor

I help hone his eloquence so he can cast spells

On those who might doubt his promise

The football player ashamed of his brilliant analytical mind

Because he is more celebrated for his hulking presence on the field

The NY native who is so absent he’s a ghost

Who randomly straddles desk chair like a motorcycle

Trying to navigate the parallel dimensions

Of the hell at home and the responsibility of school

 

I know people with superpowers

I marvel at the possibilities

Some change into costume before leaving their room

Some can’t mask who they were born to be

Mutants don’t get to have an alter ego

The nerds, cool kids, and jocks

They come to me for answers

I try to help them uncover the secrets

To finding them on their own

I never expected to be here

But I couldn’t imagine not being here

Using my ability to read and influence minds

To school these gifted youngsters

 

I called my mother to tell her I was a professor

My expectation

Was that she would give me an “I Told you so”

She didn’t let me down

Then lifted up my purpose
When she asked “Do you enjoy what you do?”

I replied

Mom, I get to train superheroes

 

The Art of Mis-Interaction

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“Rhythm is the basis of life, not steady forward progress. The forces of creation, destruction, and preservation have a whirling, dynamic interaction.” – Kabbalah

I don’t interact the easiest. Whew! There, I said it. Ahhhhh. That really is a weight off my shoulders. Not like Atlas weight, but still larger than a whiffle ball.

Look, I really don’t. I do help, support, foster, nurture, mentor, teach, listen to, pep up, stand behind, but I don’t interact the easiest (now this is the point where I have repeated myself, realized it is a refrain and that there will be a poem from this also). It’s like my heart, mind, and spirit are mob bosses arguing over turf as they rally their “families.” I will save you from the extended metaphor of detailing the families based on the boss and the various things associated. Just know I could do it if I wanna. I don’t. Point is that they tend to not make things smooth. I don’t do things smooth. Except how I pulled you in with that cool quote. That was smooth. Admit it. The picture was just icing on the cake. No there is not cake.

I hate making mistakes. My greatest fear is coming up short (anybody even thinking of tall person jokes I will telepathically kick you in the shins. Felt it twinge? That was a warning). I’ve always despised that feeling. Fail has a way of making you ok with trying again. Screwing up makes you want to run arms flailing into the shadows, go home and pack your underwear, then try jump through your moms full length mirror hoping to get to Narnia. It never works by the way. It takes a lot of regrouping to recover from mistakes. But nobody is perfect right? And avoiding mistakes is more tiring than recovering from making one.

See, the thing is, I believe in people. I just don’t always trust everyone. Yes, that means I am watching many of you very very closely. It also means that a conversation with me is like a tennis match. You keep volleying hopping to gain an advantage but that return is mean. So is the serve.

Another important aspect is that if you give me an impression, I operate off that impression. You might not recognize it because I still operate with respect, compassion and appreciation. I just don’t see you the same. There are stringent limitations that come with that. The energy I expend changes dramatically. Doesn’t matter if you don’t see what you did. Your the one blind to the fact, not me. Your vision is blurry not Flava’s. If you don’t understand the significance of the last two sentences, then I might need to rethink our relationship anyway.

I don’t buy wolf tickets. Talk all you want. I’ve been the “good listener” since 6th grade. Doesn’t mean I’m convinced. Probe all you want. It’s G14 classified over here. You aint got clearance then there is a nice brochure we have prepared that will give you all the pertinent information. Throw out a hook and a line…*I’m laughing* (nice fisherman hat and vest). Unless you lowering yourself in these waters in a cage like them hunting for the biggest shark people, then I ain’t got much for you. Take a risk babee!

If you have G14 classification and If I trust you, then I believe it’s ok to make mistakes around you. Because I trust you’ll talk to me about (or slap me in the back of the head, cuss me out, slap my hand). I hold you close enough to be off, to do too much, to say too much, to be way off, to be dumb. Only thing is…it also hurts way way more when you walk away, back away, don’t respond, won’t communicate, attack, or dismiss. It all looks like falling short to me.

I am a hapless romantic southern gentleman. Maaaan, I aint got time to unpack all the things that brings me. But the book is coming. I promise! No, seriously…I PROMISE!

I’m also very flirtatious. Probably way too flirtatious to not follow up on the flirtation or recognize when the interaction has shifted. Ha! But I’m good at it tho. At least I think so. I did have someone who kept going, “That was what you were doing?” That was traumatizing. I had to spend weeks at flirt camp regaining my mojo. Thank goodness for smores.

I don’t have time to entertain foolishness (I got it from my momma).

I retreat. Sometimes I disappear. It goes with the very private nature. If you don’t have security clearance, then I probably won’t be able to break down why I feel the need to retreat or disappear. So I apologize for not warning you or explaining it. It’s a sucky quandary. I’m complicated.

This post is long as hell. You’ve been subjected to my need to get this out of my head. The poem will be better I promise.

I don’t interact the easiest. For lots of reasons. But I love the interactions I have had. I try to learn from my mistakes. I’m grateful for the people who put up with me. I am sorry for the ones I have shut out. I will change and trust more. Then I won’t. Then I will again. Then I will write more posts and blogs. At least until I become ridiculously stupendously happy. Then I’ll draw daffodils and sing folks songs.

One other thing…

To those that don’t know if they have abused their privileges. I bet I got you thinking now don’t I? Is it me? He did sorta look at me funny 3 weeks ago. His last text message was missing a comma, was it a sign. Hmmm, I wonder. Well, here is some advice. Don’t inbox me, email me or text me. Cuz, you know…limited clearance. I’ll cleverly distract you. Look a new reality show staring Monique and Boris Kudjo. See?

Orangoutang. Cool word… Orangoutang.

Ok, I think that is all. I have made a new post for my blog. Next I’ll publish it. It will go out to my social media pages. Most of friends won’t read it. They all kick babies and pluck the wings off of butterflies in their spare time.

Orangoutang

Say it with me…

Orangoutang

The Tipping Point…

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I was sitting around a table with scholars, thinkers, and culturalists from all over (the country and the world) as we got introduced to the administrative logistics of our fellowships with the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University. I have the honor of being a 2015-2016 Nasir Jones Fellow with the Hip Hop Archive & Research Institute at the Hutchins Center. As we introduced ourselves and our work, I was struck with a feeling. I listened to everyone mention the institutions they taught at. One scholar had just gotten tenure and was very excited (rightfully so). Each of them on sabbatical or leave from their home institution to participate in scholarly activity. I felt a little awkward.

I’m sure they are evaluated on their scholarly activity much like we are at Saint Augustine’s University. There is actually a category on our evaluations that is “Professional Activity.” The definition is below.

Professional Activities – Participating in discipline related conferences, workshops, and artistic presentations, evidence of publication, professional presentations, discipline related research, submission of grant proposals, and obtaining grant funding.

Now this category is new, but the premise isn’t. Before this it was listed as “Research and Scholarly Activity.” I of course would think that being a research fellow at Harvard would qualify. Wouldn’t you?

I was so excited when I got word that I had received the fellowship. I made sure to let my department chair know about the appointment. I slowly started to tell my colleagues. I was encouraged to share with our Office of Marketing and Communications. I did. The piece they put out on it was picked up by HBCU Digest. Our new president was aware and offered congratulations in passing. As the spring semester ended I prepared for what I knew was going to be a great journey and a wonderful opportunity to glean some insight that I could use myself and pass on to my students.

I saw if as a continuation of work I had been doing with colleagues on campus. I had been a part of a grant funded project that allowed myself and other colleagues to develop a writing course based on popular culture. This was in addition to other programming that fostered critical think and writing skills while pushing the exposure of the students to various modes of analysis. As an artist, I enjoyed being able to take this approach. I had already worked with secondary school teachers on the same thing through a relationship with Communities in Schools NC and the NC Center for the Advancement of Teaching. This included helping educators integrate pop culture into their classrooms, especially Hip Hop. Through this grant funded project I was able to bring that experience to my institution. I saw this fellowship as a chance to have even more to offer and to expand the impact of the things our project had been able to accomplish.

Before the semester reached its end I notified HR that I wouldn’t be teaching upcoming year (because of the fellowship). This was presented to me as a necessary step to get my class load covered, especially if an adjunct would need to be hired. Makes sense. That hole in coverage would need to be addressed. Justification would be required for additional hiring. Can’t get more justification than the loss of a instructor for a full academic year.

That was it. Our contracts are annual and I am not tenured so a sabbatical wouldn’t apply to me.

I finished my end of semester tasks and prepared for graduation. When graduation ended, I said my goodbyes and gave out a lot of hugs.

In June I got a call from HR. I was told I needed to come to campus to pick up checks. It was explained that I had checks that included my remaining salary (my pay was spread out over 12 months) and a benefits refund. My benefits had been stopped at the end of May. They decided to cash out the remaining salary rather. With the checks was a letter from the president saying that he accepted my resignation. Just like that I was no longer an employee at Saint Augustine’s University. My 9 years of service to the institution were completed.

For me, what hit me when I sat around that table listening to the other scholars was that I didn’t have a “home” institution to return to. I wasn’t on loan to Harvard for the year. I was in a unique space that I don’t quite know how to explain. So many people in congratulating me on this opportunity have asked about me returning to Saint Augustine’s University. Initially I danced around the subject. I didn’t want to get into the details. I didn’t want it to sound bad or malicious and I wasn’t sure it was. I just knew how it felt opening that letter from the president.

Now that I have had a few months to think about. Now that I am here at Harvard amongst this cohort of scholars. Now that I have talked more about what happened with some of my close friend and mentors. I can say that for a moment, I felt that this wonderful thing I was about to accomplish didn’t mean that much to the place I had called “home” for 9 years. A place that was my alma mater. I felt cast away. That it wasn’t important for me to be going to do this on behalf of myself, the arts and Hip Hop community, and my “home” institution. That I will get over.

The reality is that my alma mater is going through changes. We have a new president who is dedicated to restoring the prestige and pride of the institution. That includes restructuring, cuts, shifts, etc. Maybe the challenges of the present outweighed the promise of the future. I don’t know.

For now, I am dedicated to getting the most from this opportunity and I will prepare to think about where to share my experiences and work next later. I will never be too far from my alma mater. I will always keep my ears open for ways to share with my alma mater. I just won’t be returning “home.”

We will see how it all turns out. I hope that tomorrow brings the best for both of us.

Damn this sounds like a post breakup reflection.

It definitely is a tipping point.