Tag Archives: Durham

Glass Cases

usher box

We are the children of glass blowers.
Hands clasped together.
Knees touching the earth
That taught them how
To birth things that grow,
beat fruit, and give to others,
until they die.
Glass blowers whose wishes
to the Carpenter
that sits on high
become part and parcel promises,
pieces to glass cases
covering us in grace.

We pieces of wonder,
memories of times past
longing for tomorrow to come.
We be knick knack,
trophy,
admirable qualities draped
on mannequins.
We be fine china,
snapshots of happy and unsure,
things none has had
or that others have had but
no longer want.

We sit on thrones,
in tombs,
on cross wood,
in prisons.
The plate at the bottom
holds the names we are given
bur may or may not have earned.
It sits there until replaced
by numbers, a dash, and
remembrances rewritten
by guilt and could have beens.

When you see me
those are not bruises.
They are smudges
I pray the next caretaker
will Windex clean.
What’s here is priceless
but closed off.
They key is in my eyes.
Too many have fiddled
with my lock of a tongue
to never get close enough
to know the inner me.
Some have tried the smash
and grab,
but my mother has
unwavering faith.
She has prayed and cried
until the vision of me is
shatterproof,
bulletproof,
but doesn’t protect
from the trauma of seeing
the attempts come and go.

When your purpose and destiny,
worth and wisdom,
aptitude and ability,
Is on display.
You learn what gaze
Feels like.
You learn that gawkin
is a seductive
dance.
That sometimes presence
isn’t possibility,
it’s momentary possession.
Without the key
it’s just an exhibition.

You and me,
we know these glass cases.
These cursed gifts
of safe distance and deniability.
We know too many living rooms
we never considered home,
too many bedrooms
we never felt completely comfortable in.
We have felt trapped in hallways
where people seem to eager
to pass our pain by.
Know too well that shrines
can be adored or despised
but still left to dust or decay.

We be held on to
for others to enjoy.
We be window shopping fantasy.
We be one day I’ll be able
to get that.
We be look what I captured.
We be look.
Look at that.
Come here look at this.
Look now.
Look later.
Walk past and never look at all.

We be here.
Help up by divinity,
shielded by hope
for all the world
to see

Speaking for a Cure

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A dawn without the sun
A night without the moon
Is a day without the light
A life gone too soon
So I’m gone speak about it
So I’m gone spit about it
With hope in the wind
Tomorrow in the skies
Til the cure is in our grasp
we keep our eyes on the prize
So I’m gone speak about it
So I’m gone spit about it

Leaves turn and fall in autumn
We rake the ground clear
and wait for Mother Nature
to begin the process again
To restore the forest in what was there
But what happens when the trees stay bare
When a winter’s cold
Springs into a summer’s heat
When deficiency in your immune system
keeps the cycle from being complete
Each infection or complication
Takes it’s toll
T cell count lowered
until trees weaken
Decaying at the root
When they touch ground
With no one but their loved ones around
How does the pain sound
Is it jarring enough to face the truth
We need a cure
Support for those dedicated to an answer
Awareness raised
Initiatives backed
Stories heard
Until lives can be saved

A dawn without the sun
A night without the moon
Is a day without the light
A life gone too soon
So I’m gone speak about it
So I’m gone spit about it
With hope in the wind
Tomorrow in the skies
Til the cure is in our grasp
we keep our eyes on the prize
So I’m gone speak about it
So I’m gone spit about it

More than 1 million in the US affected
So many more around the world
Developing nations struggling
for necessary medications
Minority communities here juggling
the rise of new cases
I just see the faces
Heaven made amazing
that will be lost too soon
They are the reason we seek
Optimism held
Berlin, France, Mississipi
It’s the reason to be in these streets
Passion ignited
Courage to persevere and endure
Inspires our search for a cure
Antiretrovirals maintain
Vaccines and topical treatments
being sought to prevent
But those faces
They shed tears for a cure
So we push
we learn
we test
we examine
until we win
restoring the fading light
that make the smiles
on those faces shine bright

A dawn without the sun
A night without the moon
Is a day without the light
A life gone too soon
So I’m gone speak about it
So I’m gone spit about it
With hope in the wind
Tomorrow in the skies
Til the cure is in our grasp
we keep our eyes on the prize
So I’m gone speak about it
So I’m gone spit about it

Piece submitted for the 2BeatHIV’s Innovation Challenge http://www.2beathiv.org

Video submission

Gentrification of Identity

displacement

You don’t tear a person down and rebuild them with intent on something better. That’s what they do to black and brown neighborhoods. Why would you do it to a person?

Talk this way, walk this way, wear these clothes…

Why is there never recognition of the special in each person?

Why do we toss away self determination for impression?

Sanitization has been a thorn in our side for too long. Do we not recognize it’s effects?

Why not add to what is there. Teach value in authentic self and the importance of widening scope. Foster adaptability not assimilation.

Requiem for Change

Rape-Culture-e1392242243997

The words don’t always
seem adequate enough
of my tongue

I’m still choking back tears
after all this time
I guess it’s learning
you can never be good guy oblivious
for too long
You can’t be enough royalty
to not need to keep challenging
yourself
Ain’t no ribbons for books read
and chivalry
This here is a long road traveled

The first shared tears came in high school
She was trying to reconcile what happened
I was trying to use balled fists in revenge
She was telling me she didn’t want that
I never realized I was making her
manage him and me
It took too long to recognize her strength
Good guy said you should have stayed with me
Good guy said let me fix it
Good guy still made it about good guy
I guess I felt
I couldn’t make it about her because
I wasn’t good at tears falling

Daddy liked liquor and women
Liked to swing heavy hands
I never asked to know about
anything else
But I know the dangers of that recipe
Good guy wanted to redeem
him by being the first
good decision he ever made
Wasn’t I the one who had to go
pick up his pride
from houses he was no longer
wanted in?
Good guys learn to fix things early

Good guys ask stranger if he
can walk her to her car
Never wonders why she might refuse
Might get mad at the answer
He be good guy
Good guy ask questions for understanding
Never bother to ask if it is ok
to ask questions first
Might take too much time trying to grasp
the reason for the answer
Good guy wears badges like boy scout
earned by completing deeds and tasks
Good guy don’t ask why the shirt
makes some run
Never realized that he didn’t get
the only badges made
That boy scouts also learned to hunt

The best goodbye
I’ve ever been a part of
was packing good guy’s baggage
and sending him on his way
The search for a new tenant
in this man’s understanding of self
was intensive
Thank God for the caretakers
who saw fit to share
with this fractured dreamer
The only lesson that never
settled home
is the freedom in letting
cheeks wet
I’ve never been good
at tears falling

What I did learn is priceless
I was inspired by the number of
times I was betrayed
by good guy instincts
Confided in by partners who
survived
Didn’t need to be saved
Found comfort in the midst of my eyes
I was challenged by fighters who
gave me books and lessons on
accountability
Pushed by men who were willing
to sit with each other in examination
of our own masculinity
Checked by soothsayers who had
seen where ignorance would lead me
Supported by a defiant band of clumsy
who were finding out how to stumble
but not fall
We had been learning to walk a certain
way for so long
The steps were unfamiliar but liberating

Each experience makes my heart full
Sobbing seems like thank you sometimes
I guess I know the reason I feel I’ve never
shown enough gratitude
I’ve just never been good at tears falling

Good guy sends me postcards
and texts saying he wants to come home
I tell him no
I’ve seen too much
I ain’t the same man no more

I remember leaving a workshop
after talking to a group of young men
feeling heavy
I remember telling the community
organizers that brought us
that there was so much work to do
What a crippling feeling it is
to do all that you know how to do
but still worrying
To fear that an angel’s fall at night
could lead to a devilish dawn
I remember stopping on the side
of the road on the way home
because what wasn’t being said
was deafening
I couldn’t get out the car
fast enough
I remember
the comrade
who held me up
The brother who loved me
band-aid enough to make it home
I remember the tears

The years doing workshops with men
The programs developed
The organizations worked with
The activists I have been trained by
The survivors I have stood by
The conversations
The broken
The determined
The death threats
The resilience
The everyday reflection
The camaraderie
The betrayals
The challenges
The dismissals
The reiterations
The struggle

The beauty of healing
The burden of sustainability
The necessity of the work

The realization that silence
means that nobody ever
considers that you can
hear them
see them

I promise
The tears are never too far away

I read a comment online today
I wanted to go numb
I couldn’t
I wanted to break things
but demolition is too familiar of a fancy
I wanted to cry
But I’ve never been good at falling tears

The water has welled in my chest
One day I will see monsoon
Or one day
I will vomit tidal waves

Theatre of the Mind

templeton-intellectual_humility_01

“There’s a war going on outside, no man is safe from…” Prodigy of Mobb Deep

There is so much being done at various fronts in terms of Higher Ed and I think this quote summarizes why it’s such an intense playing field for multiple entities. It’s also why movements to “transform the academy” have been met with so much backlash. Folks in the Humanities and any minority studies scholars can tell you how hard they fight on their campuses. We have to really think about how we move and what we do going forward. There is this push to frame certain academic and intellectual offerings and flights of fancy. Mainly because they enhance critical inquiry, critical analysis, and critical thinking overall. They foster a greater sense of understanding, nurture social and political awareness, and reinforce and affirm a sense of self.

Take a look at this article in The New Yorker on politics and the UNC system in North Carolin by Jedediah Purdy,  “Ayn Rand comes to UNC”.

See, there is this rhetoric about focusing on skills and subjects that employers need. It falls in line with thoughts around having employable graduates. It increases attention to pre-professional majors. What it doesn’t do is fall in line with what is being discussed (see Daniel Pink and others) in the professional world about marketability. Marketability isn’t about what job related skills you learned or what subjects related to the work environment and industry you took. It’s about your ability to think in ways that grows profit margins and market share. It’s about your ability to navigate relationships. It’s about your ability to manage stress and to make necessary decisions. Much of that involves crafting a well rounded student in an interdisciplinary fashion. That involves the humanities beyond narrowing modes of traditional discourse. That is, if you want to graduate a student that isn’t intended to just be a cog in wheel that tends to underpay and overwork and doesn’t like organized labor.

We are not talking eternal truths and morality of capitalism here.

What’s funny is that the very people who are making these decisions will sit with a glass of wine and talk high culture. They will go on about the works of literature that have impacted them. They will credit music, the places they’ve visited, etc. They will speak the value of philosophy. They also endow programs at private institutions that offer classes that they don’t feel are right for public state supported campuses.

Do not believe that the trying to level the playing field of public and private is well intended. It is a filtration process that puts prospective into manageable pools of thought. Public is the control, private is the experimental. This is a white lab coat power struggle mixed with political gerrymandering and right wing ego.

Think about the C Bradley Thompson quote in the article, “If they really want to change the culture long-term in this country, it’s not going to happen through politics. If you think the political system is corrupt, what you’re really saying is the American people are corrupt. And if you’re saying the American people are corrupt, then what you have to do of course is change American culture. And the way you change culture is through ideas…. If we’re giving tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars to political campaigns and we’re giving one-tenth of one per cent to trying to change the intellectual culture of this nation, you are by definition going to lose.”

What is happening in North Carolina is a sign of what is at stake during this political climate. It includes a fight to shape the nature of intellectualism and learning today. Those of us dedicated to widening the scope of thought have to prepare for one wild ride. They ain’t too privy to our kind unless we are teaching where they want us to teach to who they want us to teach.

Now about that increased funding to community colleges….

The problem with Spike: A Modern Greek Tragedy

spike lee
Spike Lee on set

I went to Chiraq with the other fellows from the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University. We were invited to see the movie by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. (also known as “Skip”). I had been following some of the responses to the idea of the project when it was first announced. I knew that there was backlash over him titling the film using a slang term unfavorably referencing the violence in Chicago. I also read some of the pieces that offered their reaction to the trailer once it was released. None of the responses or reactions were good.

Spike decided to address the criticisms over the trailer. He identified the movie as a satire. Then came the music video by Kevon Carter that didn’t make anything any better. It’s one thing to dig through the #wakeup comments across social media and the ongoing condemnation that results from people believing black people can’t focus on more than one highly discussed thing at one time. You know, #dontbedistracted. It’s another to have someone sing how misguided we are and how we should clean our own doorsteps is a bit much, no matter how beautiful the sound is. He actually sang about Meek Mill and Drake. Sorry dude, I learned way more from that beef about the societal perceptions, the influence of social media, and pop culture relevance than I did from your music video and the movie Chiraq. R&B is not respectability and bullshit.

After seeing some responses that seemed to be favorable from my friends on social media, I was excited to see the movie for myself. To watch it with a group of American and International scholars heightened my excitement. I knew the conversation would be exhilarating. I held hope that this was all just crafty media hype created for a movie that would be so much more than people thought. I wanted to trust Spike. After it was over, we all shared the same look of confusion and dumbfoundedness. I knew how I felt. Many of them didn’t even have some of the cultural contexts to use in evaluation of the film. My heart was heavy for them.

The movie is bad y’all. I mean it is bad. I don’t know if Jennifer Hudson can actually explain what range of emotion she was acting at any point in that movie. They all looked the same. Like she was excruciatingly constipated. Nick Cannon cannot play anybody’s gang leader. He barely passes as a rapper. Hearing him talk in rhyme was gut wrenching. He should have said his lines to J-Hud before she had to do her scenes. It might have inspired her. I didn’t understand the pop up video animations on screen. Sam Jackson probably had some of the best lines even though I have no idea why his Dolemite inspired narrator character was there. This was not an adequate replacement for the Greek chorus.

The writing was not good. The acting was not that good. Some scenes were so heavy handed it was as if the scene had those hand grips that on one ever really understood the purpose for. But every person who did push ups in their room to get cut in High School had them. The pastor who drops Justice Department and Talk Poverty stats during his sermon? Come on Spike. The folks from the church had the hottest gear though. It’ll be bootlegged at some point.

Angela Bassett has the steeliest glare I’ve ever seen outside of Liam Neesom. If Spike had of gotten Martin Lawrence and Bobby Brown to be part of the old men group, then maybe I would have a better feeling about the movie. I think don’t think Angela was acting. I think she throws that glare at breakfast. Whips it out at the mall. I won’t mention Wesley Snipes. Bills gotta get paid. The awkward way they looked at Snoop from The Wire (Felicia Pearson) when they said “lovers” was ridiculous. How she had to represent the whole of the LGTBQ community was just wrong.

I do have to give Spike credit though. He is still gifted, just a little self indulgent at times. I truly think that he believes he can pull anything off. Not this film though. He does draw out some interesting things in the film. There are issues of elder patriarchy, misguided masculinity, and black exoticism brought out. There is attention to the collateral damage of violence in terms of the lives affected. The space made in the movie for the mothers of the victim in Chicago was beautiful (this is Spike’s rebuttal to claims he has treated the violence in Chicago with lack of care or true concern). The whole interaction with the general is funny. Though the setup is ductaped together. Oh yeah, the Opedipus reference was cute. Unnecessary, but cute.

But his goal was to make a movie, not a series of bad improv night sketches. That he did a marginal job of. He won’t hear that though. He is too caught up in trying to defend his decision to make the movie and make it the way he did. But he did not do a good job of translating Lysistrata to modern times. He did not do a good job of replacing the old women and old men choruses that helped frame the original play. He did not do a consistently good job with the dialogue in the film. The acting was passable. The female lead exuded charisma and presence on screen. She was the shining light. Everyone else seemed as confused as I was about what they were doing.

It still carried a message that was internal. It made no real efforts other than pretentious speeches to address the outside influences and factors in the condition that community members in Chicago face. It highlighted how often change in communities falls into the hands of women in the community, but not in a way that reflects the modern history of social movements. The original play was not written with feminist intentions, but it has been used in that way since. Nah, not Spike though.

Sorry bro. That joint was bad.

The preacher was wearing them wristbands Wesley wore in Disappearing Acts. No, I’m serious.

It won’t good.

I Sang Her Away…

singing-on-the-brain

So I was dating this woman that I met while doing work for this non-profit theatre company in Raleigh. It was the time when I learned that not knowing what working in development for a non-profit meant makes it hard to be in charge of development for a non-profit. As I toiled away trying to figure out how to write grants, in walked a vision of loveliness. There was chemistry there from the start. We exchanged flirtatious conversations first, then exchanged phone numbers. We had great conversations. That led to scheduling some dates and we had a good time on each of the dates we had gone on. I was doing much better with this situation than I was with my job. That made me feel good. This woman was a beautifully chocolate with long hair (that she paid for) and a slim frame (this detail is for my friends who seem to think I have a contrary “type”). What was even better was that she was into theater, music, poetry, and fashion.

I was raised to be a gentleman. My mother, grandmother, and aunts taught me this so that I would carry myself as a respectable man. What I heard was that it would make me more attractive to women. Hey, I was young. We had mainly met for our dates (for her comfort) or once she was comfortable, I picked her up. When I am dating someone, I always try to be mindful of the radio in my car and try to appease what I know the rider listens to. I mean, you are still in the “got lots to find out” phase so you talk more than listen. The music is just a backdrop.

I guess that I made a good impression. One particular night she informed me she was taking me out. She had planned the night. I was like cool. I felt like VIP. She picked me up. We were both looking real fly and sexy (especially me).

Now, this is the part where I should state that I don’t mind crazy. I actually am attracted to it. Normal is wack. But see, insane I don’t do. So yes, I knew she was special already. I also knew she was very particular. I’ve dated Type A. Even still, I didn’t expect what came next.

By now, we had gotten to know each other a bit so I’m relaxing. It’s her car so she’s in control of the radio. It’s an R&B marathon. I’m with that so it had the mood just right. We are rolling along and talking. I’m being charming and playful, starting to introduce the smartass that I am. Then a Mary J song comes on. It’s my jam! You know what happens when at Mary J song comes on.

So I’m singing. I’m getting it. Passing her the imaginary mic… No response. I’m thinking we can hit the chorus (she go high and I go low)… No response. I’m killing the second verse (figuratively and literally cuz I can’t sing)… Nothing (not even a smile and dammit I’m cute!). Then she stops me. She says men shouldn’t sing women’s songs. It was inappropriate. Time stopped. My inner voice started talkin like Bernie Mac, “Uh uh no she didn’t…” I’m so confused. She was serious. She said she didn’t date men like that.

So I’m buggin. First I got investigative reporter. There is no way she really means that. She stands pat. Then it becomes that debate scene in Different World with Whitley and Kinu on opposite teams. I come to discover she truly believes this (and some other social foolishness). I responded with some very witty but respectful responses. I questioned some of her theories in a didactic manner. She didn’t like my sarcasm. I didn’t like the rules. The hottest songs out that year were by women and I wanted to sing them!

The relationship ended that night. I just couldn’t take having my singing shackled like that. Lord knows I thought long and hard about it. I weighed her intelligence, cultural sensibilities, and how spectacular she looked in a dress with the list of songs I would have to listen to in silence. Even humming them was off limits. I just couldn’t do it.

Thank God we hadn’t been shopping together yet. I dance to the Musak.