On July 5th, 2014 a group of 14 African American men departed the East Oakland Youth Development Center (EOYDC) , en route to a 14 day stay in China. These young men went from Deep East Oakland to the Far East with one goal:
To change the world… and the world’s perspective of them.
The young men, five undergraduate students and nine high school students, were accompanied by three chaperones (I was one of them). This method of mentorship was designed by Ms. Regina Jackson, CEO of EOYDC (and a chaperone on the trip as well), as a part of her organization’s Brotherhood Across America- youth led college mentoring model.
The college students, all STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors, were selected in order to provide linked learning opportunities, which would give exposure to career possibilities to the younger men. In addition, the brotherhood mentoring circles were aimed at building strong individual character, as well as the collective group identity– which is EOYDC’s tagline: “building character to build communities”.
Fittingly, the community’s character was a driving force in getting the young men to China.
Sponsored by local businesses, churches and organizations, the group– known as the Think China 2014 delegation, arrived in China with a world of support under their wings.
The voyage was a part of the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, which was signed by President Barack Obama earlier this year, as a part of the White House’s focus on education. At its heart, the trip was a great opportunity for a cross-cultural exchange, as well as a chance for the young men to develop core values for the White House Education Initiative.
Because of the weight of their responsibilities, the gentlemen were lead through a rigorous schedule of classes and site visits; interspersed with character/ team building activities and fine dinning in China.
The young men saw Buddhist Temples in Hangzhou and department stores in Shanghai. They visited the Great Wall of China and the Xixi Wetland nature reserve. They went to automotive plants, made dumplings, learned Mandarin, studied the Chin Dynasty, talked modern politics, and even found time to eat KFC AND Peeking Duck (not at the same time) … And of course, they drank lots of tea and ate plenty of rice.
All of the young men journaled throughout the course of the trip, as was a requirement. Everyday, a different young man who be held responsible for submitting a journal for publication through EOYDC’s website.
While the young men enjoyed the trip and blogged about it, I stood back and took it all in– through my camera lens… Here are just a few of the many moments I captured while we were in China.
One glimpse of the police motorcade, and I flashed back to my DC days …
As a student at Howard University, I spent five years in the Nation’s capital. A Presidential parade was nothing new to me. Although the eyes of the Nation were focused on my hometown, I was more concerned with simply going home.
I closed my books and came out of Oakland’s main library: Hungry. Frustrated. Feeling pissed. Plus I had to piss…
“If all these badge rockin’ overseers (officers) weren’t around- I’d water this shrub.” I remember thinking to myself as I copped a squat next to a bush. The police wouldn’t let me cross the street; they told me that the President would be passing in ten minutes… My thoughts began to race, so I held my bladder, and blasted off a couple of tweets:
“If i pass this class, I can save myself. If I save myself, I can save my people”
“… No matter what the President does… “
“(I’m sitting next to a bush, tweeting… surrounded by policemen.)”
If I pass this test I can graduate undergrad. If I graduate undergrad, I can start grad school. When I finish grad school, as a professional journalist with a teacher’s degree, I will be able to access and allocate resources that we all can use to better our community.
In the grand scheme of things the, Presidential election does matter. I know it does.
Do I have any voice in that matter- honestly, I don’t know. I know- 1 vote, 1 person. I know the electoral college. I know that large “Political Action Committees” are BIG sponsors of campaigns. I also understand that there is a lot that I don’t know.
I understand that there is a Black man in the most powerful office of all of the land… I understand that very clearly…
But I’ve only seen that via media. And I don’t always believe the media… especially media about the government.
In person, I’ve seen some things:
In September of 2008, I was in Denver for the Democratic National Convention.
In November of 2008 when the news was announced that Senator Obama had been elected as President of the United States of America, I was on Howard University’s campus in Washington DC.
I was even in Nation’s Capital on the frosty morning of January 20, 2009 during the inaugural celebration of America’s first African-American President.
I saw it. I didn’t understand it. But I saw it.
I didn’t vote in the 2008 election… I know, I know…
I support the image of a Black man in the Oval Office, it speaks volumes as to how far this country has come. But the politics behind it- I still question. I figure I fall into the fray, full of Black folks who feel the same way; untrusting of our government. Untrusting is an understatement…
Look man, I’m coming from Oakland, Ca. A place where people have seen the underhandedness of local governing bodies time and time again. In the past four years- we’ve seen blatant dirt on the hands of the State (CA budget) , the City (Police), and even the Transit cops (Oscar Grant). To think that the Federal Government- will do something to better the situation in our Oakland neighborhood is behooving, farfetched, and unrealistic to many of us out here.
Well, recently… the Federal Government has done SOMETHING to aid the city The NY Times ranked as “the World’s 5th best tourist attraction of 2012”…
On the same morning that the Federal forces made a move to close Oakland’s famed medical marijuana college… a mass shooting occurred at Oikos University, a small Christian school located in East Oakland. Unfortunately fittingly.
There are people in this city struggling to make ends meet, losing lives to gun violence (with both policemen and black/brown men behind the trigger), and people who have been scarred by the woes of the world. These are the people who don’t trust in the government. On any level.
The 99%er movement, which swept the Nation in October/ November of 2011, took to a different feel here in Oakland. Protesters of all backgrounds combined forces and claimed residency right under Oakland’s main tree- in the center of the city. The local governing officials didn’t take too kind it’s new neighbors, and eventually gave them an eviction notice… in the form of a sunrise police raid. The raid set off a domino effect of rebellious actions on the part of the people- and eventually ended with many reports condemning the City of Oakland’s approach to the Occupy situation.
President Obama’s late July appearance in Oakland was greeted by protesters… per usual. Many of the protesters were fighting global injustices, federal wrong-doings, and for the legalization of medical marijuana… And some protesters were just out there to protest, as many do in this city.
While protesters, fans, and police motorcades focused on President Obama being in town, three notable events occurred in Oakland:
3. The family of Alan Blueford, a teenager who was shot by OPD, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Oakland. Blueford was killed on May 6th. The officer who shot, also shot himself in the foot. The officer’s name has not been released, neither has Blueford’s autopsy records. Therefore, the family cannot move forward with this case.
These are the problems that haunt this town. Local issues. These are the issues I find myself concerned with. Local issues … not National issues.
The people of my city are children who have been hurt by miscellaneous happenings, sisters who have been scarred by society, and people… hurt people.
Just imagine: If cured, what wonders could these people do to change society?
How can we open our doors to the world, if our house isn’t clean?
What is the significance of President Obama leaving the white house, to come to a town where Black and Brown people die in the street- before and after he leaves?
I’ve done a little research; now, I’m sure I could stand to do some more, but this is what I’ve concluded:
I- a young man who watched the 2008 Presidential election process with a lazy eye, a young man who has watched the little (if any) “change” in my local neighborhood with a hawk’s eye, and a young man who is going to the University of California’s graduate school of journalism this fall… I have a responsibility.
(After that minor photo snafu… here is my article)
One pilot class-first time experiment and one fresh Howard graduate take on a shaky school system in the midst of a Black male genocide happening in Oakland, Ca. This past school year the Oakland Unified School District introduced the Nation’s first African American Male Achievement Initiative, which is spearheaded by Chris Chatmon. Three of Oakland’s six public high schools were selected to be a part of this pilot program. The outline to this African American Male Achievement Initiative consisted of seven primary goals: Increasing attendance rates, increasing graduation rates, intensifying middle school holding power, a 4th grade literacy rate goal, to cut incarceration rates in half, to cut suspension rates in half and to decrease the achievement gap. I had 15 weeks to change 15 years of deterioration of the spirit. Before the academia could begin we had to first address the issues that would have inhibited their learning process such as discipline issues, confidence issues, and emotional issues. I brought in a copy of the Oakland Post to the first class I taught. I showed the front-page article that I wrote about Bill Russell meeting President Obama. Accompanying the article was a picture of two of the most well respected Black men on Earth, a powerful image to show a group of disgruntled Black Youth. That same day I asked them: who are you and where do you want to go? These were the questions we as a class searched to answer from there on out. Sure we touched on college, academics, and how to use school as a tool to get out of your current predicament. But nothing got them going like open-ended critical thinking questions. I once asked them, “If you could step out of the door and go anywhere, where would it be and why?” The answers where to heaven, to a videogame, to Canada, to go shopping, to a girl’s house, to Africa to see where my people are from, to sleep, and a young man merely wrote “to a safe place”. The majority of them simply wanted a safe place; and that’s what the “Lion’s lair” classroom was. I am now a proud big brother to 21 young men. Just because classes ended doesn’t mean that the lessons in the classroom stopped. The class is a part of an ongoing process of developing a generation of young men in Oakland, young men with knowledge of self, composure of emotion, and the ability to critically think for themselves. At the end of the day, this was simply about taking young men who are constantly surrounded by death and giving them skills and the inspiration to thrive.
(*Backstory: Joel is my homie from Howard. He was in downtown Oakland the day I went to get the story published. When the people at the Oakland Post found out the Joel was a Howard Grad looking to get into education- they figured they’d do a story on him at a later date, and took a photo of him for good measure…. and they accidentally put his photo with my story. nice. Glad they fixed it tho. Thanks Oakland Post!)
Before this blog, my writings would go into these composition books. I have accumulated exactly 30 note books (rap books) and I have never lost 1..I believe that the basis of all good writing is poetry, and now that I’m writing in many other forms- I’d be a fool to forget where it originated. Every so often, I’ll post a poem or two. some old, some new. …and that line sounded like Dr. Sues. hahahah anyway
No need to go in order, I’ll just post it as I see fit…
Today’s entry is from November 11th 2008.
(posted tonight because of a chain of events in my life and tonights State of the Union speech. enjoy.)
Leaders and Followers.
Angel’s halos hang around aimless gangstas
and God watches over single mothers as they strip naked
however 12 demonic spirits make decisions that put Black men in prison
and the preacher teaches that there is 1 God who looks over this world we live in
so why do we have to go to your church to bare witness
players prayers answered on faulty cell phones
dropped calls- resorts in dial tones
while kids at home all alone roll up bible paper with cush
forever disabled stuck on the sofa cushion
the pope and Bush, the Dhali lama, Muslims Jihad-ing, and genocided from Darfur to Rawanda- mo problems than just Obama can conquer
we need benevolent mobbsters
need single moma’s to pop-lock-and drop it- straight to parent teacher’s conferences..
the game is follow the leader, the question is: who do the leaders follow?
President Barack Obama’s image is slandered by a government official who holds a high raking seat in the US Senate …NBA star Gilbert Arenas’ image is torn off the side of Washington DC’s Verizon Center…while I’m right down the street, in my dorm room, looking at Ralph Ellison’s book, Invisible Man. The book is a depiction of the life and times of the “Negroes” of the mid 1900’s. He describes the world-view of a group of people society seemingly deemed invisible…no question, “Negroes” in the year 2010 are visible now.
In the first ten days of 2010:
I’ve seen Gilbert Arena’s face all over the place: the TV, the news, the blogs- it is everywhere, except for the side of the Verizon Center- where his image was literally torn down!
I’ve seen stories of President Barack Obama’s image slandered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid…and I wonder if this is the common thought with the majority of other leaders?
There are a few hi-lights: Heisman trophy award winner and Alabama star running back Mark Ingram stood in-front of the unblinking red light on a live camera, as it fed a National audience: he respectfully honored his incarcerated father, and he didn’t flinch. I praised this in an open letter to the gentleman.
Sunday afternoon, Ray Lewis, a man with his own history of run-ins with the law, stood in-front of cameras after a remarkable performance on the gridiron. It was eerily similar to the Mark Ingram situation, except Ray spoke directly about his on-field performance. And instead of it being about his words or the way he appeared- it was the words on what he appeared in; a shirt he had been wearing under his jersey all game which read: “best dad”.
And right after that… I got into a conversation about Marshawn Lynch. A top ranked NFL running back, who is also from my home city of Oakland, Ca. Its seems Lynch has made recent headlines for allegedly stealing 20 bucks off of a restaurant table….
…Marshawn? A Black man? Oakland?…that hit home. Just think, this time last year, Oakland was rioting over the video phone images of a Black man, Oscar Grant, being murdered at the hands of a transit cop. And even that is still making headlines as the court case is now turning into another reason to riot, as they continuously postpone the hearing.
For Marshaun Lynch, Gilbert Arenas, and every story in-between, the stories are shady and the news is skewed. But there is one universal truth: we are watching you.
It seems as though, the tiny lens at the end of the microscope that Black men fall under, is directly connected to the larger than life images in mass media. I’m not amazed that the same “Negroes” Ralph Ellison wrote candidly about, have now become “visible”. But I do wonder if Ellison saw the potential for negroes to become visible in American society to this magnitude? And did he imagine we’d be seen in such a light?
And above all the other headlines thus far this year, I’m interested in the United States Census‘ results; just to see how many actual “Negroes” are seen in society.