Tag Archives: lessons

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

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.

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.

Signs – A new poem

WarningSigns

Signs

She said she enjoyed suspense
Looked me in my eye
Smiled
It took every thing in me not to run
Because hesitation
Is often a respectful and compassionate billboard
Letting you know that what you need
Might be waiting at the next exit
But I don’t heed warnings well
I’m not too good with signs

Like the one
Neon lit between her lips
Juke joint juxtaposed
With the temptation on the tip of his tongue
He made her want to discover the poet inside her
But the time between inspiration and insatiable
Can come and go so quick

That by the time she realized
The truth of the poet inside her
They’d both lied
Her still laying
With tears in her eyes
Him with new conquests in his eyes
I wished I had known before I booked him
For the show

I understand though
Optimism can become desert deceit
When you’ve become parched
Since the last wet taste
Dehydrated
Facing decisions like segregated designations
Marriage like bright light over horizon
Indulgence like dark degradation
Seems like white only and colored only
Water fountains

Hallucinations can happen
When Road Closed
Look like Rest Stop Ahead
Have you crash test dummy desperately
Diving into accidental embraces

I’m no better
Show me a danger zone

And I see an area under construction
An optimistic land developer
Who’s been an indecisive bulldozer for too long
Never knowing whether to dig or bury
I’ve got a hard hat and a lunch box
Because it’s a long days work being this beautifully broken
Fenced into construction sites
With lovers wearing orange vests and steel toe boots
Then wondering why all I have are stories
of things falling apart

Ask me if I can memory a blueprint of love working
I’ll answer
What examples do I have of building to completion,
Joyous occupancy, effective and efficient maintenance
Death and divorce has robbed me of a semblance
Of certainty that it’s possible
So I’m making it up as I go along
Plans are just pages of passionate principles
But no context
It’s all imagination
Ingenuity
Dammit I’m drawing this shit in crayon

Life is just a School Zone
Full of lessons
A roadway full of decisions
and speed limits
A lot with instructions
to Park in Designated Spaces Only
I’ve paid a lot of fines
Learned a lot from my experiences

But I’m gone be ok
God granted the peace
that likes to dress up as patience
and play trick or treat with elitists and enigmas
It’s just a matter of reading the signs
Closed
Out for lunch
Private
They’re just all defense mechanisms
Just steps along the path to being comfortable
Open 24hrs A Day

That’s why I’m good at doing this work
Service entrance above my apartment door
Where the exit sign should be
Means I signed up when I step out
To face the day
Even though my choice got me asking questions
Like why me
When them others got diamond encrusted
Out of Order pieces
Wood carved Out for Repairs medallions
We Reserve the Right to Refuse tshirts
And Try Back Later four finger rings

But I tried to turn my back on my calling
God taped a kick me sense of responsibility
to my back
Now I bear the weight of the world
Between my shoulder blades
And spend my days
With life’s foot in my ass
Trust me, I got the message

See there’s no turning back
Once the door has closed behind you
Your vision, beliefs, and sense of purpose
Waiting on the other side
Every day in the world is a meeting
With the primary stockholders of all that you are
They knew the best course of action was going public
Too late to say you aint ready
When it plainly said
Authorized personnel only

I just answer the call
I’ve tried to manipulate my destiny
Ignorant
That a gated community
Can quickly become a prison yard
That when the hands of the clock
Begin to believe they dictate the time
It will be too late
When they realize they are outnumbered

She said she enjoyed suspense
I’m looking for what’s suspended in her eyes
Then let the moment pass by
With no reply
Because hesitation
Is often a respectful and compassionate billboard
Letting you know that what you need
Might be waiting at the next exit
But I don’t heed warnings well
And I’m not too good with signs

Elder Wisdom (from the unlikeliest places)

15705_zoom1

40to40: 40 posts for 40 days until turning 40

Below is an excerpt of a piece I wrote for Tribes Magazine. It was sparked by the debate over some comments that Bill Cosby made at an event. This stuck out to me to share because I still eat at that Bojangles by Saint Augustine’s University Campus. There are still community elders there. On any given day you can be given or overhear some of the most interesting insights you will ever be exposed to. I’ve learned that you may not always understand it initially, but there is value there. I still believe it is in those spaces and at those moments that I find the real gems. Leaders, pundits, and trailblazers have earned the platform they have. But you have to also consider that there are also folks who have lived, worked, and fought each day for a better way that can provide you with just as much wisdom.

Now I am not here to spend more unnecessary time dissecting his speeches. We’ve heard the same comments from our parents, grandparents, and any other important elder in our lives. They all lament the state of young people today considering them a generation lost. I know Mr. Cosby is not alone. There are other “Cosbyists” (as I call them) who share some of the same views. They see our state as a direct result of a lack of parenting, mentoring, community, goals, sense of achievement, motivation, and vision. Many are our privileged black middle and upper class that look at the lower middle and lower class and say “carry your weight.”

Now, I am not writing this to agree or disagree. I’m here to ask what is the big deal? Is it that Bill is one of our favorite icons that we spend so much attention on speeches no different than Sunday dinner conversation at Big Mama’s? Is it because there is a fascination with black culture and our experiences, including our dirty laundry? I am here to say I gain so much more from the people who actually live this reality and have a more practical understanding of our everyday struggles than the results of research or products of philanthropy. The people we meet in grocery stores, at restaurants, at community meetings, demonstrations, college campuses, and at holiday dinners.

Let me give an example. I was sitting in Bojangles having just finished my lunch and was working through some concepts for a new piece. A man sitting at the next table saw me with my journals on the table and asked if I was a student. He began to talk about the value of education and his 4 kids that finished or were in college. He had one chemist, one potential chemist, a med school student, and an aspiring lawyer. He seemed to be a hardworking blue-collar father wearing a “super dad” tee shirt. He proceeded to offer me tidbits of knowledge that he had passed on to his children while pushing them to exceed. These were tidbits that inspired them to get the best grades possible and benefit from the doors that opened for them. This is someone who didn’t have money or academic intellectualism to give his children, just love, advice, and support within the framework of a system he saw for what it was. Below are some of the gems he gave to me.

There are eaters and there are readers. In this world there are too many readers. When faced with knowledge you have to decide to eat. You can’t be a spectator. Try going to a restaurant and just reading the menu. It doesn’t fill you up. By the same token, our leaders have to feed us. We need something substantial and practical.

Your faith is yours. You define what it is and how it manifests in your life. You don’t need anyone to tell you how to be a faithful person. You don’t need anyone to tell you about your relationship with your higher power. If we answer to the same father why does he have to keep telling you what to say to me? I can talk to him myself.

You send your child off to school to get an education but you make them smart at home. This system wasn’t made for us so you have to prepare your kids to overcome the obstacles set in their path. You need to value education, but also understand the system we live in and the challenges it presents to youth of color.

 

Leaders make flunkies out of followers. Look at a pack of birds flying south. They form a V and it seems the bird at the peak of the V is the leader. Not if you look closer. You will notice that when that bird gets tired he falls back and another takes his place (He then added an exclamation point with an “Oh my goodness”).

We are the beacons of light. Your heart is the switch that turns that light on. We have to remember that light and shine it whenever we can. It is a gift from heaven, the key to our happiness and the answer to relating to others. If you meet someone and there is no connection, if the switch isn’t working…leave it alone.

At the end, I left that Bojangles feeling like I learned something. Not just from the words he gave me, but the sincerity in which he spoke. I valued the conversation, not knowing the reason he offered the advice. I do know that he said that we meet people for a reason and to be open to the lesson. That day I learned more from him than I could ever learn from “Mr Huxtable” or any popular conservative. These are the lessons that make us the successes we are while Mr. Cosby just gives out a scholarship or passes accolades to those who listened to the voices closest to them.

God bless each one.

Uncovering the Subtle Narratives (a video clip)

40to40: 40 posts for 40 days until turning 40

I enjoy facilitating workshops. I enjoy guiding folks through discovery and pushing them to make connections they might not have thought about before. I learn a lot from hearing their perspectives and I hope they learn a lot also. I work hard to pull together sessions that are engaging, insightful, and relatable. This is an excerpt from a session I conducted as part of a colloquium I co-organized at SAU.

The goal was to think about the subtle narratives that exist in many of the cultural artifacts we engage with. There are so many things that can be pulled from them. It is also enlightening to hear what different people see and why. We are each informed by our own understandings, experiences, and beliefs. So when analyzing an artifact with other people you get introduced to so many angles and interpretations.

I Am Inspired By Warriors (valuable lessons pt 2)

The logo for Men Against Rape Culture (MARC) founded at NCSU.
The logo for Men Against Rape Culture (MARC) founded at NCSU.

40to40: 40 posts for 40 days until turning 40

Men Against Rape Culture (MARC) was one of the most transformative things I have ever been a part of. Bryan Profitt is the person who got me involved. He was a young activist that I kept running into throughout the community. I was being mentored by elder organizers who were also mentoring him. We had been involved in organizing at NCSU in Raleigh and in organizing young folks to participate in other actions happening in the city. We had worked to start Hip Hop Against Racist War (HHARW) and joined with other young activists to lend our hand to the organizing around a number of issues.

After returning to NCSU for graduate school, Bryan got a job taking over a program at the Health Center that worked in conjunction with the Health Center and the Women’s Center. He came up with an idea of how to restructure the program. He looked at Men Can Stop Rape out of DC and other initiatives across the country. He asked me to help. I started working part time at the center and soon we recruited students on campus to help us build what would become MARC. Not too long after he finished grad school we started working with the statewide coalitions against sexual assault and domestic violence. We got to work with institutions across the state. We got to work with organizations in various communities. We got to work with men around this issue. We also learned how to support survivors and how to communicate and heal as secondary survivors. I learned feminist politics. I grew as a person. I was shaped forever.

There are truths that I hold to because of the experiences I had with MARC. I tell the women that helped me grow so much that I think of them as I do work in the community. I say the same to the men who helped mentor me. The warriors who have struggled, fought, taught, and advocated for change. I can call them friends and allies. I can call on the lessons they gave me when I need them.

Because of them…

I will believe the survivor. I will not defend a perpetrator.

I will not blindly accuse. I will not demonize. My commitment is to the safety, preservation, nurturing, and growth of my community and not the destruction of a person.

I will challenge patriarchy and heterosexism. I will listen to learn.

I will follow. I will work.

I can not enter or remain in a space that is reckless. Reckless is destroying to vindicate. Reckless is ignoring that the numbers say that we rarely know who is a survivor around us. How we hold a space includes having a plan for those who haven’t spoken up. We do not take them along for the ride. Reckless is saying “Oh well” about those caught in the crossfire. Reckless is not having the proper resources in a space.

I can not be part of a process that doesn’t recognize the influence of privilege, class, and race in decision making. Even within feminism there are debates about ideology and focus. Many voices that have expanded the understanding of feminism have been voices of color (especially queer women of color). They have expressed that there are complexities that exist.

I can not be a part of a space that doesn’t establish a way for men to work with men. Or understand the value of proper facilitation of certain conversations. How we hold a space is very important. Allied men don’t always know how to be effective allies. Problematic men don’t always know how not to be problematic. We don’t wait for them to be checked because then responsibility is placed on the wrong person. The men in the community should actively work to grow the capacity of those men.

I can not be a part of a space that does not include love and healing. For sustainability. For preservation. For growth. For so many damn good reasons.

I can not and will not stop working.