Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The love of Hell...


My intent today was to write a blog on the science of relationships between Man & Woman (Knowledge & Wisdom) and build about issues that we could use to better conditions in the Black family. However, a funny thing happened on the way to the parliment....

I started thinking about the hate crime incident this week in West Virginia & the Jena 6 (they seem unrelated however they couldn't be more connected) & came to this conclusion:

Black Folks Love Hell.

I know that's a pretty strong comment there, b.u.t. follow me; By loving hell, we also love to pounce on the hell that has been created & create more hell in the name of trying to get it "right", while not loving right enough to raise hell when things are wrong...

When the covers came off of the Vick debacle, we debated for days the impact of his lack of kindness to animals, his representation of young black men, the dysfunctional nature of 'Ghetto' culture, etc.. Nevermind that this was an isolated incident involving the gold medalist of the SNP; this was painted as a pivotal point in the sociology of Black men. Due to the silent class war in our community, many black people roiled against the prevalence of 'Nigga Culture' that would cause Vick to do such a thing (Meanwhile, no one complains when the 2 million Indians (so-called Latinos) have cockfights like they're going out of style).

Fast Forward...

News of the W. Va. Hate crime comes out & you barely hear a peep from the "Good & Respectable" Black folks. The woman was raped repeatedly, forced to eat dog & rat feces as well as drink from a toilet, all the while being told that this was happening to her because she was a Nigger. Where is Al Sharpton? Jesse? John Mcwhorter? Cosby? Waldo?

We have the case of the Jena 6, which clearly indicates that racism & discrimination is alive & well in America & it gets less than 1/10th of the attention of Imus (Remember him?). Where's the uproar? The radio & television shows? The righteous indignation?

My point is that racism & white domination have become to prevalent & normal that we are now the gatekeepers of the gates of hell for our people. Don't confuse the class war with Martin Luther Kings' fight for moral uprightness; this is negroes fighting to show their sponsors that they're not afraid to crack the whip on the 'bad' niggas when needed. When it comes to the current climate in the society, everything's tilting slightly to the right & it's going to spell hell for poor black folks without community love. Don't allow the talk about personal responsibility to obscure the reality of structural racism & discrimination in America.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

How Much Money Buys Change?


1987. KRS-1. Crack. Triple Fat Goose Jackets. Mickey Mouse Shirts. The Black community was in the throes of a battle which would have drastic unforeseen consequences as far as quality of life issues; To me it was the best time ever...

In Philadelphia, there was a stigma attached to you based upon what school you went to (It would be years later that I found out why the stigma was oh so real). Certain schools had well-deserved reputation for being dens of "hell" as far as dysfunctional behavior was concerned; the type of school where girls having sex at the age of 10 was fairly common. One of the schools with this reputation was Belmont, a school in the "Black Bottom" section of West Philadelphia, so named because the neighborhood was the only place where Black people could live in West Philly during the early 1900's. On June 19, 1987, Philanthropist George Weiss & his wife offered the 6th grade graduating class of 112 free college educations along with a full-time staff to tutor & set up summer programs that would assist the youth in getting through High School. Now, in many circles, this kind of offer would show that if poor black children were given the same opportunities that others were afforded in this country, a sea change would emerge.

What were the results you ask...

of the 112:

- 65 earned high school diplomas

- 34 dropped out

- 8 died (7 violently)

Now of the 65 that graduated:

- 26 didn't go any further

- 20 earned bachelor degrees

- 10 earned associate degrees

- 14 earned a vocational certificate

In addition, 30 of the 112 became teen mothers...

Why am I taking up your time to add-on about this? To ask the simple question:

What are we going to do once we realize that all of the money in the world won't change our situation?

The tab for the program was approx. $5 million dollars... 5 mil to produce 20 bachelor degrees? Now to be fair, some of those who succeeded may not have if not for the program & many were victims of poor education before they were adopted into this program. My larger point is that we have to change the mental conditions that our youth live in before they'll be interested to change their physical conditions. Many mistakenly spout that "Knowledge is Power" when in reality, Culture sets the stage for powerful change. Without Culture, you're just pissing in the wind & throwing money away (On a side note, much of what we think is knowledge is actually data or information that cannot truly serve as a base for activity). Those that created these environments are fully aware that money in & of itself can do very little to remedy these worlds; that's why they keep giving money to programs so that they can absolve themselves of any blame for our conditions; call it reparations 140 years late...

We have to be strategic and focused with the blueprint for ressurecting our families & neighborhoods, and it won't be with money only; it will be based on a thorough analysis & best practices that can produce a sea change from Washington to Watts. If not, don't be mad at me when you go for a grant, get the grant & find out that a fool & his/her money are soon parted...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

You define your Universe...


I acknowledge that I've been on extreme lunch mode as far as blogging, b.u.t. it's better to be unseen & productive than all over the internet & broke/unproductive. Progress talks & bull$h!t runs the marathon...

Today's degree in the Supreme Alphabet is You/Universe. One understanding of the relationship between You & Universe is the ideas & values that you project have a direct correlation on the environment around you. Simply put, if your Universe is filled w/ confusion & unproductivity, it would stand to reason that you have to evaluate what you're holding onto & in. The lack of understanding of these value often leads to solely blaming external elements for your lack of happiness vs. first evaluating how all things relate to self (This is not to say that there aren't situations where external agents are the sole cause of destruction; only to check your intentions & determined ideas first)

Now, to some things going on around the Universe...

- Gold Medalist in the Stupid Nigga Playoffs: Mike Vick! What the hell was he thinking? First of all, I am here to stop all crime... That being said, How do you go into criminal activity with a number of gentlemen & everybody fold? He should've took a page from the Barry Bonds book & got with some stand-up men who could handle the time! Pick stronger dudes next time, homeboy!*

Second of all, why would he be involved personally in the activity? Common sense would tell you that you have alot more to lose than everybody else... When keeping it real goes extremely wrong...

- All this talk about the quality of "character" in the NFL is garbage... It's football, not teaching... The quality of character has gone down in every sector of society (See Abu Ghraib). The bottom line is sports is entertainment, not something that really matters

- The basis of Culture is awareness & consistency and many of us are in need of both... When you make the conscious decision to compromise your value system for comfort or acceptance, just realize that it's you who falls short...

- Religious behavior& Zeal two different things; it's paramount that you be able to distinguish between them

- Karl Rove is the most interesting political story in the last 50 years. He single-handedly transformed the landscape of electoral politics... Too bad he left Bush to play while Rome burns...

- The best democratic candidates have no chance of winning...

- The Simpsons Movie was a scathing critique of government & big business wrapped in a foolish cartoon. If you knew what you were looking for, you saw what you needed to see

- Since August 1, I've been on a Vegan + diet (Meaning Vegan + certain fish; I like fish) I'm feeling great & it shows that all healthy eaters are not weird. In many ways, food is the final frontier when it comes to self & community transformation; You'll have people who are incedibly progressive in all other ways, b.u.t. are still feeding the major corporations by being hooked on Flamin' Hot Cheetos & Big Macs

- I acknowledge that I need to use technology better than I currently do (Beyond Myspace, Facebook & Email); And I don't mean chirping on a Nextel either; those are just toys for the old generation

- Progressives & Community Activists need money

Monday, July 02, 2007

(Not So) Quick Notes


As most of you who read my blog know, I've been on extreme lunch mode regarding posting regularly. The delay wasn't due to a lack of things to build about; rather a lack of time & a renewed appreciation for the fact that beautiful actions are far more effective than beautiful words. It's all Wisdom (which is today's Supreme Mathematics), b.u.t. certain things are needed at certain times & the realization of that is an aspect of Wisdom as well. Here are some reflections from the past couple of weeks:

- Black people love to hear other black people talk; They even love it more than watching black people build tangible things

- The Black man is the maker & owner of his destiny, b.u.t. that doesn't mean that you can change the fundamental nature of a thing; If it looks weak, smells weak & sounds weak, then it isn't strong. The failure to understand this fact will keep you out of step with the cycle of life

- Charm School is Dumb... There, I said it. The show makes Flavor of Love look like Tony Brown's Journal

- For most rappers these days, Myspace is their replacement for actual marketing & promotion. In a sense, that's cool so I don't have to see their flyers all over walls in the hood

- Ay Bay Bay

- Progressive & "Conscious" black folks would do a lot better if they didn't dress so damn weird. Just because your colors match doesn't mean that you don't look like a hippie

- Evidence that the West Coast is years ahead of the rest of country as far as certain aspects re: quality of life issues - Last week, the New York Times reported that Oakland schools are having youth practice 'mindfulness' in class as a relaxation technique for increased learning. Now if they could only move the brother & sisters in Hunter's Point away from a toxic shipyard

- Two weeks ago, the AP reported that health officials are seeing 'Superbugs' emerge amongst the urban poor that threaten to infect tens of thousands; Next time you feel flu-like symptoms, don't charge it to the game

- Why are people so addicted to ringtones? Please turn that down!

- Supreme Mathematics is results-based, meaning if you're not producing anything, it doesn't work... You know who you are

- When's the last time you heard about Mullah Omar? They haven't found him yet, meaning he's probably siiting in one of those cities underground (& not in Afghanistan either)

- Sicko is the best movie of the year, hands down

- Next post: Knowledge or Culture (and no it's not Culture/Freedom)

- Post after that: Long Hair, Don' Care

Monday, May 14, 2007



Say what you will about American Turbo-Capitalism; it sure creates jobs for people in certain arenas. Let's look at solving the colossal problem of the Black underclass; there are no shortage of "experts" who spend an inordinate amount of money & time discussing and writing papers on ways to stem the tide of poverty in urban & rural Black areas. The problem is that the poverty rate has increased in many areas, even as the economy has improved in other areas. After taking some time to ponder the issue, one word stands out:




Most people who read my blog are aware of the breakdown in many Black communities in the post-industrial & technological age, so I don't have to go too far back to bring anyone back up to speed... But ask yourself this: Was your grandfather white-collar or blue collar? What about his peers? Due to the economic & political climate of the times, Black men were able to provide for their families with a limited level of(organized)education. Even in time of explicit societal racism & discrimination, Black men were able to be the foundation for their communities.

Fast forward to 2007: There's a 17 year-old black male raised in a single parent home in Anyhoodville, USA. Due to institutional racism, he's attended sub par schools & never got the academic assistance that he needed in order to excel. He's not a good athlete & can't rap; Because of budget cutbacks, there are no vocational programs in his school. Last b.u.t. not least he's starry-eyed & money hungry due to Nigga Imperialism (most of contemporary hip-hop). Here are his choices:

A) ITT Tech
B) Work as a security guard
C) Clean up offices at night
D) A package

Unfortunately, in this scenario, too many of our youth pick a package over the other options. While the choice is a foolish one, the larger issue is the dearth of choices available to him. A young White male in a similar situation? Hell, he can always go to community college for two years & become a cop; better yet, he can start working for a landscaping company or go into the building trades through a family friend. Option 1 isn't culturally attractive to the Black kid due to police brutality and the erroneous perception that only White people should be cops, which continues the vicious cycle of brutality due to the police in your community acting as occupiers versus stakeholders. Option 2 is largely unavailable to the Black kid due to the lock-out of Blacks in the construction industry. Even a black female can change the economic fortune of her family in one generation by going to nursing school due to the lack of nurses in this country.

My point is that we must do a better job of creating more viable pathways for young Black men before they become involved in "the life". Now this is the part where most people insert "We need JOBS JOBS JOBS!", but that's not necessarily going to solve the problem (See our last period of full employment). What we need to develop are jobs/industries that create other jobs by virtue of what they do. Microloans have done wonders for the Indian subcontinent & Indonesia (See Muhammad Yunus & the Grameen Bank), b.u.t. we do nothing with it in this country for those who need it most. While I acknowledge that repayment could be an issue, the impetus to pay back your loans is a learned behavior, not an innate one. (Besides, if that was the case, nobody would get a student loan). If we were to help young Black men open convienence stores (an obvious need due to the lack of supermarkets, b.u.t. that's another story), it would help create jobs as well as increase community investment form the youth.

Another option is to get Black youth more access to the inner workings of industries that they support, like sports & entertainment. There needs to be a track for youth who want to be booking agents, tour support, lighting directors, etc.. so that they can tap into the billions of dollars that are spent through the music that they support. Through mentor ship & apprenticeship programs, they could get on the job training & real-life work experience. Sound crazy? Well, our current condition looks alot crazier...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Situation-sensitive or Simply Sorry?


A couple of years back, I was building with a brother of mine named Born Understanding who was living in Power Born (Pittsburgh) at that time regarding the best way to communicate to the youth, & the God made a statement that sticks with me to this day: "If a kid's in the middle of the street & a car is coming, I don't say (In a soft voice)'Please get out of the street', I'm going to yell 'Get the f#ck out of the street!'"

I was reminded of this statement while reading an article on Ben Chavis (no, not that one). Chavis is Principal of American Indian High School in Oakland, & is credited with overseeing one of the most amazing school transformations in California history. His schools, which before his arrival were among the worst in Oakland, now consistently produce high scoring & highly competent students, often from the most poverty stricken area in Oakland. He is hailed as a leader in educating disenfranchised youth. The stuff after-school specials are made of, you say; What's the big deal, You ask?

Well, do the knowledge to the following:

- He curses like a drunken sailor at the students

- He's an avid opponent of bilingualism

- His school have no computers or art classes

- He loves No Child Left Behind

- Children who disobey school rules receive public humiliation

- Children who do well recieve money for grades

In short, 180 degrees from the accepted positions of many educators. Chavis & his mentee Jorge Lopez who runs Oakland Charter Academy have many teachers & school officials up in arms over their methods. Now to be sure they run charter schools, which gives them much more latitude than your average principal, b.u.t. their success begs the question: Are schools trying to do so much half-ass that they're not doing anything particulary well? I acknowledge that there's a tradeoff in everything, b.u.t. do we want bilingual, socially aware Black & Brown babies who pass with C averages, esp. ones that are running 5 laps behind from the jump? Computer skills are of utmost importance, b.u.t if the kids are working on powerpoint presentations & typing games all day, is that the best use of the time their in school? It echoes the debate of politically correct vs. mathematically direct; that is the choice between doing things as they "should" be done vs. doing things that may be able to stem the tide of rising poverty & disenfranchisement in our communities. Additionally, I not saying that other methods don't work; only that we may have to use more than one method to create a situation that has all of our children being healthy & productive members of society.

The other point it brings up is the utility of school in developing self-knowledge & self-image without outside assistance... There's a 98% black school in this area that has African American History classes & most of the youth don't pick up a damn thing... While a good portion of that is due to the ability of the teacher to imapart concepts, it's also important to realize that without learning orientation (which allows you to receive Knowledge), data & information can go in one ear & out the other. As a community, we have to do a better job of assisting the schools so that they can properly prepare students to exist in a rapidly changing, complex society. I don't want a kid to know who Imhotep is, b.u.t. can't fill out a resume. Below is a article from the East Bay Express about Lopez's school. Check it out & let me know what you think!

Early one Wednesday in mid-October, a hulking man roamed the halls of Oakland Charter Academy, his many and varied tattoos hidden under a dark suit and tie. Jorge Lopez, the school's 35-year-old principal, was looking for trouble. He stepped into a classroom of 24 eighth graders, all wearing the standard white tops with khaki pants, all sitting silently at their desks in neat rows, all apparently under the spell of the prim Chinese-born woman standing before them, explaining an algebraic equation. No one looked up when Lopez entered, nor a few moments later when he left.

Just outside the classroom, Lopez removed from the wall a piece of paper with a large "6" painted on it. He replaced it with another, this one bearing a "5," to update the following reminder: "Days Left Until The State Test: 195."

Lopez, who took over the school three summers ago, ruthlessly eliminating its entire staff and remaking the place in his own image, looked almost embarrassed as he and a visitor stood beneath the sign in silence. "I'll be honest," he admitted, "there's nothing to do sometimes." He gestured down the empty hallway. "I mean, look at us."

It was not always this way. OCA, the city's first charter school when it opened in the fall of 1993, was created largely out of a desire by neighborhood parents — overwhelmingly poor immigrants from Mexico — for a safe and welcoming middle school for their kids. Embracing Latino heritage and bilingualism, and relying heavily on parent volunteers, the school quickly became a pillar of the neighborhood. Still, its test scores consistently ranked among the worst in the state. Although scores had risen substantially in the three years before Lopez took over, only one in ten students tested proficient in either English or math in March 2004. By many accounts, the school lacked effective discipline and order, and many teachers opted not to use textbooks in their classrooms. To Nena Pulido, an OCA eighth grader when the new principal arrived, life there before Lopez "was just like a party."

The young administrator came to OCA with a simple mission: to make it a great school. His formula was similarly straightforward. Lopez believed he could produce high test scores and ambitious, college-bound students by emphasizing mandatory attendance with more classroom hours; zero tolerance for bad behavior; a homework-laden curriculum stripped of cultural, linguistic, or artistic coursework; and inspirational or menacing speeches as necessary. "I run this school with a hard hand," he explained recently. "I don't take a lot of shit from parents. I don't take shit from kids. I don't take shit from teachers. My focus is the kids. I want them to leave. I do not want them in Oakland. If they do come back to Oakland, I want them not to live where they're living."

In a city whose thirty charter schools fare on average little better than the severely underperforming district schools they are meant to complement and compete against, OCA is an anomaly. Under Lopez, its test scores have improved more than those at any other school in the city. It is now Oakland's number two middle school by the Academic Performance Index, California's way of rating schools based on student test scores. This past March, nearly two-thirds of the school's kids tested proficient in both English and math. That is roughly twice the district average, and an increase of more than 600 percent in two years. "Where have multiculturalism, bilingualism, and parent involvement taken us in the ghetto?" Lopez queried, referring to the previous administration's core values, ideals widely held in the education establishment. "What I do produces results."

Back in the hallways, where it seemed nothing could break the spell of silence, Lopez spotted a mark: a young, slight boy walking toward him, his straight-ahead stare betraying a deep desire to get past this scary, powerful man without drawing his attention.

No dice.

"Are you being loud in class?" asked Lopez, acting on a day-old tip from the boy's sixth-grade teacher. He had managed in an instant to move to the middle of the hallway, blocking young Jose's way. It was unnecessary. Jose was clearly too terrified to do anything but try his best to weather the storm.

"No," Jose stammered, looking fixedly at the middle of Lopez' tie.

"Are you talking out of turn?" Lopez persisted in an even, menacing tone.

"No," Jose said nervously, still staring straight ahead.

"Look up," Lopez ordered. "Tell me you're not talking out of turn."

Jose looked into the narrowed brown eyes of the man towering over him.

"Sometimes," he managed.

"So when you look at me, all the sudden that's the trigger to tell the truth?" the principal asked. "What do you think I'm going to tell you? How should you act in class?"

"Raise my hand?" Jose offered hopefully.

"Keeping that mouth shut," Lopez agreed. He bent down and leaned toward the pupil's ear. "Where'd you go to school at before?" he whispered to the sixth grader.

"Jefferson," Jose said, confused by the sudden turn in the conversation.

"This ain't Jefferson," Lopez replied. "Don't do that shit here. Do you understand me?"

Having made himself clear, Lopez let Jose pass. The boy walked to his classroom, looking as if it were all he could do to keep from running.

"A brilliant kid," Lopez said after Jose was out of view, whispering so as not to disturb the quiet that once again surrounded him. "He just gets bored sometimes."

Jorge Lopez' desire to get his students out of Oakland is rooted in personal experience. Born in 1971, the second of three children to Mexican parents who'd had enough of picking lettuce in the Imperial Valley, he attended public schools in his hometown of Richmond, where he struggled from the start.

"They'd sit me in a circle and say, 'What is your problem today, Jorge? Let's talk about those feelings,'" he recalls bitterly of his days at Belding Elementary and Downer Junior High. "I sat in more circles than any Native American in the history of Indians."

Without a firm hand to guide him, Lopez says, he developed into "a straight-F student" who repeated seventh grade before being sent straight to Richmond High in order to remain with his peers. "Richmond schools are — it's like Oakland — they're not meant to educate. They're meant to just house you," he says.

Although he struggled in school, Lopez excelled as a street entrepreneur. By twelve, he was a veteran brawler and an emerging drug dealer. "It all started everybody hustling joints here and there and it developed into something big," he says. Soon, he was selling powder cocaine, speed, and whatever else interested people in early-'80s, pre-crack Richmond.

There was one line Lopez never crossed: "I was never a gang member," he says. "I was always a hustler. I always sold anything anybody needed. I figured if I joined a gang it cut off half my supply." This did not mean he was unaffiliated. When he flunked out of Richmond High in tenth grade, he was transferred to a continuation school. On his first day, a student welcomed him by pulling out a gun and pistol-whipping him. "It was a neighborhood thing," says Lopez, who lived in a Norteño part of town. He did not return to the school.

Instead, at sixteen, he began helping his mother with her job cleaning houses. After three months of this, an elderly client in the Berkeley Hills, disgusted to learn that he had dropped out, enrolled him at Berkeley High using her address.

With the new surroundings came new opportunities, and not just of the educational variety. "There is nothing like some rich white people," Lopez says. "They will buy all the drugs. And I came from Richmond with all the connections." He quickly mastered the first rule of commerce: Buy low, sell high. "I made tons of money at Berkeley," he recalls. "I had the biggest weed sacks all over Berkeley High School. I was known for it."

Nevertheless, he managed to graduate, he says, by staying at the back of the class and keeping quiet. "This was in the days before No Child Left Behind," he explains.

Shortly after he finished high school, Lopez got involved in a fight in San Francisco, in which he severely beat a man with a tire iron. It was the latest in a string of violent run-ins. Because he was seventeen, he got probation instead of prison.

His brother, Eddie, had seen enough. A star football player who had just been admitted to Chico State on a scholarship, Eddie asked Jorge to join him for a ride one August afternoon. Not until they passed Vallejo did Jorge realize he'd been had. There was a duffel bag of his clothing in the trunk, and like it or not, he was moving to Chico with his brother.

"For the first week I was in withdrawal," he says, recalling the expanse of orchards and open space. "I hated it." Soon, though, "Something clicked. Something told me, 'Use this.'" Lopez stopped drinking and smoking and began running several miles a day. He also signed up for classes at Butte College. "I was a young kid pulled out of Richmond and it did wonders for me," he says. "It was like a cleansing. And it just showed me that your environment is what really fucks you."

Out on Oakland Charter Academy's sun-drenched concrete schoolyard one recent afternoon, a group of boys made the most of their twenty-minute lunch with an energetic, raucous game of six-on-seven basketball. Nearby, most of the 150-strong student body sat at rows of tables beneath plastic tarps, eating homemade sandwiches of ham and cheese or peanut butter and jelly. Even if the school had a cafeteria, Lopez says, he would not offer the free or reduced-price lunches for which 87 percent of his students qualify based on family income. "There's a misperception that there isn't enough food," he says. "That's bullshit. The biggest problem is obesity."

Over by the basketball game was Alvaro, a big-boned eighth grader with short brown hair, wearing an oversize white polo shirt over his khakis. Lopez, who had stepped into the yard to survey the scene, approached Alvaro and introduced him to a visitor. "Tell about how you had to write the letter," Lopez asked. Alvaro hung his head in silence. "C'mon, tell the story," the principal persisted. Head still bowed, Alvaro gave a subdued account of one of the most humiliating moments of his young life.

One morning in late September, the boy explained, he got it in his head to steal a computer from his teacher. It was an old Apple laptop that sat in the back of the classroom, largely unused. Alvaro's friend Antonio was there when he took it, and Alvaro swore him to secrecy. Antonio, in an impressive display of disloyalty, went straight to Lopez to rat out his friend.

The next day, Lopez came into Alvaro's class to deliver a speech about how stealing from family is the worst thing you can do in this world. Here Lopez filled in the details where the boy's account grew vague. "All the kids were looking up at me, confused," he recalled. "Except Alvaro. He was hanging his head. That's how I knew he did it." Lopez made Alvaro stand up. "Tell the class you're a thief," he instructed him. He then sent Alvaro to every other class in the school to repeat his announcement.

Then came the really embarrassing part. "I was just thinking of different ways I could humiliate him," Lopez recalls. He wrote Alvaro a letter calling him "an idiot and a thief." In a rare nod to bilingual education, Lopez had Alvaro present the letter in Spanish to his family and friends, and collect signatures of those who had read it, including his grandmother, whom he visited that weekend in Los Angeles. "I told him to get twenty signatures," Lopez boasted. "He came back with 32."

When Alvaro's teacher stuck the returned computer out of sight in a storage locker, Lopez ordered that it be returned to its old highly visible spot at the back of the classroom. "It's like, I fucking dare you," he explained.

The principal's office at Oakland Charter Academy, which doubles as the teachers' lounge, sits just off the school's main entrance. It is clean and spare. One of the few decorative touches is a framed photograph Lopez keeps of himself with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a self-professed admirer of the school. Most of the room is filled by a long, rectangular table with a chipped wood veneer, where Lopez, his hair slicked back and his goatee neatly trimmed, sat recently to recount the unlikely story of how he came to run this school.

It began in 2000, he explained, with his fall from grace at the Dolores Huerta Learning Academy, a charter school just a few blocks away. Lopez had been promoted from teacher to principal of the newly established and highly dysfunctional school when he was only 28, partway into its second year of existence. As he sees it, a grandstanding parent advocate on the school's board, eager to further her own political ambitions and fearful of his potential, preyed on his inexperience and forced him out before he could turn the school around. Lillian Lopez, the agitator in question, and no relation to Jorge, recalls it differently. She says she simply felt the school needed a more experienced leader. In any case, he left Huerta after just a few months as principal, with a bruised ego and an abiding distrust of school boards and meddlesome parents. He moved his family to Sacramento, where he earned a master's degree in education administration and worked for an education nonprofit.

One day in the spring of 2004, his phone rang. The caller was Ben Chavis, the controversial, tough-love principal of American Indian Public Charter School. Chavis took over American Indian when it was on the brink of closure due to poor test scores and promptly turned it into Oakland's highest-performing middle school. He had mentored Lopez while the younger man was at Huerta and later took him on as an intern while Lopez worked toward his master's degree. "I hear that OCA is looking for a principal," Chavis told his acolyte, wasting little time. "You should follow up with that."

"I'm all right," Lopez replied. He and his wife, herself a schoolteacher, were settled happily in Sacramento. Their young son, Maceo, had made friends, and they were looking to buy a house.

"Motherfucker, you're scared of Oakland," Chavis goaded.

"Fuck you," Lopez snapped back. "I ain't scared of nobody."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Who do I call?" Lopez asked.

A week before his job interview, Lopez drove from Sacramento to Oakland for some unannounced reconnaissance. He arrived during the school's lunch period, then 45 minutes, and passed unnoticed through the open front gate and into the schoolyard. Kids there were "running around like fools," he says, and he saw two leave unsupervised through the back gate. Upon further inspection, he saw that the school's computer lab, which he later converted into his office, was full of trash. There were about a dozen TVs with no cords, five broken copy machines, and several gallons of hot pink paint, some or all of which had been donated by parents. Assessing OCA, he grew excited. "It was the biggest crock of shit I had ever seen in my life," he says. Taking it over, he figured, would be his chance to transform it into the sort of school he should have gone to as a kid.

A week later, before a panel of OCA board members, Lopez laid on the charm. "You have a great school here," he recalls telling them. "And I want to continue the growth." Among those interviewing Lopez was Fernanda Gonzalez, a Cal graduate student in education and a backer of the school's Spanish-language and Latino-culture-infused curriculum. Lopez came across as passionate about his work, Gonzalez recalls, and as someone who knew from his own life experiences what the kids at OCA were up against. "It seemed like more than a job to him," she says.

Lopez saw the interview differently. "One thing I know about boards is they're dumber than shit," he says. "I went in and told them everything they wanted to hear."

It is hard to imagine anyone more different in temperament and leadership style from Lopez than the man he was hired to succeed at Oakland Charter Academy. Soft-spoken and unassuming, the bespectacled, salt-and-pepper-haired Francisco Gutierrez was easygoing and comfortable delegating authority. Four of his nine teachers comprised a "leadership team," tasked with overseeing the school's curriculum as well as its discipline. He also gave teachers considerable autonomy in the classroom. Former OCA math and science teacher Mirella Rangel recalls the arrangement fondly. "We were proud to teach kids to be bilingual and to have them appreciate their culture," she says. Gutierrez, she adds, "was really supportive of us."

After agreeing to work alongside Gutierrez for his first few weeks to ease the transition, Lopez formed a different view. "The teachers taught what they wanted to teach," he says. "And Mr. Francisco Gutierrez sat in his office and let it all happen. Like the sorry leader that he was." (Responds Gutierrez: "He is someone who feels entitled to say negative things about a person. I'm not interested in playing that game.")

Once aboard, Lopez quickly set about making Gutierrez's life miserable, insulting and demeaning him repeatedly and making a mockery of his staff meetings. Within a couple of weeks, Gutierrez was gone, vowing, he says, to "never, ever, ever again" agree to such a power-sharing arrangement. Next to go was the school's secretary, whom Lopez caught sympathizing with parents upset over the last-minute addition of a mandatory summer school for incoming sixth graders. Then, at the school board meeting in late June, Lopez employed a tactic he had learned from a book recommended by Chavis. The book: Sun Tzu's The Art of War, a copy of which Lopez still keeps in his office. The tactic: to obscure his primary objectives.

At the meeting, Lopez cited a looming fiscal crisis due to sloppy bookkeeping, and called for a 15 percent reduction in the school's budget. To cut costs, he proposed reducing teaching staff by switching to "self-contained" classrooms, where students stay in the same room with one teacher throughout the day. The board went along, unwittingly paving the way for Lopez to end the school's long tradition of teaching Spanish. In addition, since only one teacher had the necessary credentials to teach a self-contained class, Lopez was able to force the others out. Within weeks, the new principal had curtailed parent involvement and gotten rid of volunteering and planning committees, which were school fixtures. It was no less than a coup d'état. "It became no longer a community-oriented school," says Estella Navarro, an OCA cofounder, parent, and board member bitterly opposed to Lopez' changes. "It became his school."

The counterinsurgency was launched at the following month's board meeting, which Lopez had been told would be a "getting to know you" family affair. His baby daughter bobbing on his knee, Lopez watched as a group of students delivered a letter accusing him of firing their teachers unjustly, listened while parents railed against him for menacing their kids and taking away their soccer-playing privileges during the summer school then in session, and seethed as parents and teachers called for his ouster. "It was a three-ring circus," Lopez recalls. He accuses a former teacher of fomenting parent anger toward a last-ditch effort to get rid of him, but the teacher, David Barker, denies this. "The parents did that on their own," he says. "After the parents stood up [at that meeting] and told him they didn't want him there, he changed his behavior very quickly."

After a subsequent board investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing, Lopez determined to quell any lingering doubts. "Give me a year to show academic progress," he said at the final board meeting before the new school year. "If I don't," he promised, "I will resign and pay back my salary in full."

Barely a week into that fall's classes, Sarah Tin, one of Lopez' two new eighth-grade teachers, came into his office with some bad news. "None of them did their homework," she reported. Tin was in her early twenties and fresh out of college. In defiance of the outgoing board president, who wanted a Latino staff, Lopez had hired his new teachers off Craigslist, with no requirement for previous teaching experience, and with salaries starting at $40,000 — about $3,000 more than the district's starting pay.

As the principal feared, the eighth graders, ingrained with the old administration's ways, were proving the most difficult to change. Tin was having trouble with kids skipping class, not paying attention, and now, in an act of open mutiny, colluding to ignore a homework assignment. "It was the last straw," Lopez recalls.

He walked the short distance to Tin's classroom, where students sat at the individual desks Lopez had brought in over the summer after discarding the large round tables previously used in all OCA classrooms. "You guys are no longer students!" Lopez thundered as he walked in, shoving the books on one boy's desk to the floor. Three girls sitting to one side of the room raised their hands, hoping to get in a word. Lopez preempted them. "I said shut the fuck up," he hollered. "I do not want to hear shit from any of you."

He sent the three girls outside with rags to wash the school's walls. "Put your books on the floor," he told the rest of the class. After ordering Tin to collect their newly purchased textbooks, he took some of the boys out into the hallway and gave them brooms to sweep the floor in full view of other classrooms. Such hard-nosed tactics, Lopez acknowledges, would not work in an affluent school. "In the hills, they'd fire my ass in a second," he concedes. But the day after his tirade, Lopez was pleased to learn that almost all of Tin's students had done their homework.

Fast-forward two years. At the end of a recent school day, Lopez slipped into teacher Rebecca Anderson's sixth-grade class and stood to the side as she explained the homework assignment, an essay on a story they had read in class. Anderson, a young white woman with soft features and glasses, pointed to the whiteboard behind her with the words plot, setting, and character written in descending order.

"All of these things go back to what?" she asked. A half-dozen hands shot up.

"The story?" one dark-haired girl said enthusiastically.

"Okay," Anderson said. "Or the what? Jose?" It was the young student from the hallway.

"The thesis?" he offered timidly.

"Right," Anderson said. "If you don't have supporting details, it's a bad choice for a thesis. And if you don't remember how, your language arts book shows you exactly how to do it."

Her students nodded and took notes. Every last one of them was either paying close attention or doing an extremely good job of faking it. Lopez looked on in near awe. "If I had had this kind of school as a kid, I'd be a whole different person," he whispered. "I didn't learn that until I got to Berkeley High."

A few moments later, when Anderson had finished with her lesson, Lopez addressed the class. "You guys, I am very proud of you," he began. "You are alert, raising your hands. When I came in here, you didn't even look up." He produced a fat wad of dollar bills. "How many of you guys did your homework this weekend?" Arms shot up in a frenzy. Lopez went from student to student, pressing four dollars into the hands of all but the few who had not finished their weekend assignments. "This is an investment," he said as he made his way slowly around the room. "I expect hard work."

Jorge Lopez' mission has been accomplished. The teachers follow his lead, the students spend an average of two hours each night on homework, and neither the parents nor the school's board, which has turned over completely since he took the job, tries to tell him what to do. In the meantime, Oakland Charter Academy has joined American Indian Public Charter School as Oakland's second middle school to meet state standards for overall student performance. Under Lopez, OCA now ranks in the top 10 percent of schools with a similar socioeconomic makeup statewide, and in the top 30 percent overall. Last summer, Lopez sent 31 students to gifted-and-talented programs at Johns Hopkins, Stanford, and Cal, something unheard of at OCA before his arrival.

To all appearances, these achievements are real. Anticipating his critics, Lopez insists that he has never forced out students who lag behind or act up. Of the 57 students who entered sixth grade at OCA in the fall of 2004 — all of whom were admitted before Lopez arrived — 47 remain. According to data that Lopez provided, nine of the ten who left moved out of the area and one left without explanation. Five were held back a grade. None have been kicked out, Lopez says. In March 2005, after less than one school year under Lopez, 33 percent of those students tested proficient in math, and 35 percent tested proficient in English, according to state figures. By the following spring, 66 percent of the school's seventh graders were proficient in math, 68 percent in English.

Liane Zimny, who monitors charter schools for the district, sees no indication that Lopez has tried to manipulate test scores by pursuing promising students while discouraging struggling ones to apply. "It takes a person of high ethics not to be tempted into playing a numbers game," she says.

Perhaps most compelling is the praise heaped on Lopez by his former students. With the textbooks Lopez introduced in her eighth-grade year, says Karely Ordaz, a self-professed history buff, "It made sense how stuff happened. Like the American Revolution. I mean, I already knew they won, but now I know that they came first, and they set up colonies, and they got bigger. And they didn't like being with Britain, so they overthrew it."

Ordaz, neither of whose parents speak English, had no educational goals to speak of before she met Lopez. "I didn't even think I was going to finish high school, to tell you the truth," she says. "I was tired of school already. And I was in seventh grade." Lopez's demands, and her ability to respond to them, Ordaz says, "made me want to go to college and move on and be somebody and make money."

Ordaz is now a tenth grader at the newly established American Indian Public Charter High School, to which Lopez encourages his graduating eighth graders to apply. Her appreciation for Lopez is echoed by several fellow OCA alums now at American Indian High. Among them is Christhian Cortez, who was a problem student when Lopez took over at OCA. The wispy fifteen-year-old, who entertains dreams of hip-hop stardom, shudders to think what would have happened had the new principal not arrived when he was an eighth grader. "Probably right now I'd be in a screw-up school that wouldn't teach me nothing," he says. "And I'd be all screwed up." Like Ordaz, Cortez plans to attend college, and he has Lopez' promise for help with tuition should he need it.

What these students didn't get from Lopez was a curriculum that included Spanish classes and an emphasis on Latino culture. Although the school has admitted more blacks and Asians since Lopez took over — in accordance with plans to diversify its student body drawn up shortly before Lopez' arrival — OCA's students are still overwhelmingly children of non-English-speaking immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala. And while Lopez acknowledges that teaching kids to be proficient in Spanish is a worthy goal, it is not, he says, a primary responsibility of his school.

Fernanda Gonzalez, a former board member and supporter of cultural and Spanish education, laments this omission. "I think you can do both," she says of combining a rigorous back-to-basics curriculum and a focus on Spanish and Latino culture. Gonzalez also questions Lopez's bullying leadership style, which she likens to that of "a king." She quit the board in late 2004 amid frustrations that Lopez did not consult it before firing a struggling teacher he had recently hired.

Yet despite Gonzalez' pedagogical and managerial disagreements with Lopez, she is, ultimately, a fan. "It was the most remarkable year-to-year shift that I have ever seen at a school," she says of Lopez' first year. "He is the best thing that could've happened there."

Estella Navarro, a cofounder of OCA who was recently kicked off the board in what she saw as an attempt to stifle dissent, is unforgiving of Lopez for misleading her about keeping parents involved at the school. Yet she is glad he became principal. Her youngest daughter stayed at OCA after Lopez arrived, and Navarro says the girl learned more under him than before he got there. "If I saw that he came in and they weren't learning anything, then I would go crazy," she says. "But I can't do that. The school improved. The kids know their stuff. It doesn't matter how I swallowed the pill, I swallowed it."

While still unhappy with Lopez' tactics, David Barker, the former OCA teacher who wanted him ousted back in the summer of 2004, is also solicitous. "I don't know of any principals in the Bay Area other than Jorge Lopez and Ben Chavis who send their kids to Johns Hopkins in the summer," he says, referring to the gifted-and-talented program. "It's incredible."

OCA is not for everybody, of course. As a charter school, it must admit students without regard to academic ability, and fill its rolls through a lottery. However, since prospective students have to apply, those whose parents are unable or unwilling — and thus are more likely to be from disadvantaged backgrounds — are not in the applicant pool. That pool, furthermore, is likely to become increasingly self-selecting as the school's tough-love reputation grows, and families begin seeking out OCA for its rigor. Already Lopez has noticed that this year's incoming sixth graders are better prepared than their predecessors for the discipline and hard work. Still, as district spokesman Alex Katz notes, it is not the principal's job to meet the needs of all the neighborhood kids. "Charter schools are supposed to offer different models," he says. "These schools are not going to work for everyone."

Oakland Charter Academy also is a small school by design, with an enrollment hovering around 150, and simply cannot accommodate all who wish to attend. Fernanda Gonzalez justifies her support of OCA with a simple, if somewhat harsh, analysis. "Ideally, we'd do it for all kids," she says. "Would I rather we do it for none? No."

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to replicating the principal's success is that beating a school into shape this dramatically requires a particular kind of leader, and people like Jorge Lopez come around only so often. And if he has his way, Lopez will be spread thinner in the not-so-distant future. As Chavis did with American Indian, Lopez intends to open his own high school as early as next fall. He's looking for a space near the middle school, which would allow him to run both schools directly. Barring that, he would oversee both, but hire a site administrator for the new location.

Meanwhile, Lopez has his hands full at home. As he would have his students do, he has managed to escape his old street life, and now lives on three-quarters of an acre just above Highway 13, with his wife and three young children. The house, a daycare center before the couple bought it last year, sits at the foot of a steep, heavily wooded expanse of eucalyptus and pine trees. On a recent Sunday afternoon, Lopez sat on his patio, his normally slicked-back hair a bit disheveled from a day spent working in the yard. He fretted about a tree on the far side of the lawn that was damaged in a storm last year and all but certain to fall. And his wife's fenced-in garden, he pointed out, showed clear signs of a recent visit by a deer. Catching himself, Lopez shook his head and laughed his riotous cackle. "That's when you know you're a middle-class Mexican," he said, still chuckling. "When you're worried about deer and trees instead of guns and bullets."

Five-year-old Maceo, his eldest child, wandered out to the porch wearing a T-shirt from Alameda's Rising Star Montessori School, where he is enrolled in kindergarten at an annual cost of $8,000. According to the Rising Star literature, the school promotes "academic excellence in a warm, nurturing environment that celebrates diversity."

"They're soft whiteys," Lopez acknowledged, sipping a glass of water as he admired his son. "But he doesn't need the same shit I needed. Look at what he comes home to." He watched as Maceo climbed onto a massive swing set left behind by the daycare. "I want my kids to do whatever they want," Lopez said. "I always say business or banking, but I really have no idea. But going into education? That's dead. Anyway, they'd never be good inner-city school principals. They didn't grow up in it."

And his students?

"Some of them," the principal said emphatically, "are going to make damned good administrators."

Tuesday, May 08, 2007



Let's say someone was to offer you a million dollars; you being a rational person & all, what would you do with it? Would you invest in underserved communities? Or maybe you'd feed the hungry? Take care of your immediate family?

Now let's just say that instead of the noble aims named above, you decided to spend it on strippers, booze, & video games...

Insane right?

Well that's what's happening when it comes to the currency of networking in many situations. The theme of this month's Forbes magazine is the power of networks, ranging from economics to religion to the social networking phenomenas known as Myspace & Facebook. Inside the pages are a true testament to the importance of networks to human behavior, development, & survival. Not to go too far out b.u.t. ponder this for a sec: Your very existence is due to the cooperations of various networks inside of the body. It was in this vein that I started to look at how young Black & Brown people utilize networks & to what end. After thinking about it for a sec, I saw that by underutilizing networks, we actually set ourselves back in the process to community change.

While that may all sound very "deep", let's bring it back down to lowest form & ask the following questions:

- How many people do you know that has been able to access their primary source of income off of Myspace?

- How many people do you know that have found a "relationship" off of Myspace?

- How many people have a friendlist full of obvious business contacts?

- How many people have a list full of naked women and/or gang members?

- How many people do you know that have been able to build a strong grassroots network off of social networking sites?

- How many people have someone with a name like 'Long John Silver' or 'Tasty Sweetness" in their top 8?

Now this is not to say that many ou haven't made viable cultural & economic connections through social networking sites; It's to say that by allowing a potential goldmine like Myspace or Facebook to be used for foolish things, we blow a chance to truly be change agents in the 21st century by using all of the tools at our disposal. One of the few benefits of globalization is the ability to be able to communicate & do business across the globe, which shrinks the space that we have to traverse in order to bring about Freedom, Justice & Equality. Her's a few ideas to think about when you're using social networking sites:

- Can I add any value to the lives of the people who are my friends?

- Can they add any value to my life?

- Would I broadcast the fact that the people in my network are my friends if we were in the same space?

- Do I actually have anything in common with these people?

Let me know what you think!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Change Agent


One of the myriad of issues that black people face all over the world is economics servitude & disenfranchisement. There are a number of proposed solutions to this problem (Job Training, Integration, Socialism, etc.) many of which work in isolated situations but don't seem to be able to taken to scale. Below is an article from the Philadelphia Daily News about Progress Plaza in Philadelphia, the first Black shopping center in the country. The methodology used to develop the project is one that can be applied to any situation for the economic sustanance of the community. Check it out & tell me what you think!

THOSE THUGS who disrupted the opening gala at the Pearl Theater in December were firing live ammunition.
But it turns out it was all just a test.

The incident, which marred the $1 movie night at the Avenue North Complex at Broad and Oxford streets and which left one gunshot victim seriously injured, looked like a major setback for the $100 million development that community leaders had been working on for years.

Bart Blatstein's Tower Investments built the Pearl as the centerpiece of a block-square complex that houses retail outlets, restaurants and social-services facilities under one roof. It's the key project in a revitalization plan for a re-emerging swath of North Philadelphia where a number of commercial developments and 6,000 housing units have sprung up in the last 10 years.

Everyone said the right things after the shooting. Blatstein said he would not be deterred. Community and political leaders sounded determined. Indeed, the Pearl has been packing them in at its seven-screen multiplex.

But I really wasn't sure that their optimism would stand the test until last week, when Progress Investment Associates broke ground at Broad and Jefferson streets for the brand-new and much-improved Progress Plaza.

The shooting incident wasn't even an afterthought when I talked yesterday with Wendell R. Whitlock, who heads Progress Investment Associates.

"That was just a couple of knuckleheads" Whitlock said. "We weren't discouraged at all by that.

The $16 million renovation they are undertaking will only increase security on North Broad Street.

"There will be a lot more light and a lot more motion and activity," Whitlock said. "What we're doing just complements what's happening across the street."

What they are doing is updating and upgrading a dream that began 40 years ago at Zion Baptist Church at Broad and Venango. The concept came from the heart and head of the late Rev. Leon Sullivan. He sold his congregation and the rest of the city on the idea of building their own economic-development engine.

He called it the "360 plan."Investors bought shares at $1 a month for three years, creating a fund that financed the original Progress Plaza in 1968.

"They put $200 per share into a for-profit and $160 in a nonprofit fund," Whitlock said. "Reverend Sullivan warned them they weren't going to make much money."

They received one cash dividend in 40 years. But the success of the first shopping plaza ever built by a working-class community was a model that was replicated around the country. That was an added dividend.

In time, the plaza became a casualty of economic downturns and a sharp population decline as people moved out of North-Central Philadelphia for greener pastures. Progress Plaza barely remained afloat.

But a building boom, leveraged with public money, and Temple University's rapid expansion are repopulating and re-energizing the neighborhood. Progress Investments retooled its board and started raising funds.

"State Senator Shirley Kitchen was first," Whitlock said. "She found us $1 million for soft costs; Dwight Evans came up with $1 million and Curtis Thomas.

"Governor Rendell came up with $3 million. We got a half-million from the city Commerce Department."

All of which led to a favorable financing deal with the Reinvestment Fund that provided $10 million.

"We have begun work to extend the old Eckerd drugstore at Broad and Jefferson by 3,000 feet to include a Citizens Bank with drive-in windows, a Payless shoe store and a retailer to be named," Whitlock said.

Phase two will add 6,000 square feet to the office and retail complex at the back of plaza facing Broad Street. Patterson-Bittenbender, a joint venture between minority-owned and woman-owned construction companies, is scheduled to complete the first two phases by late fall. A 42,000-square-foot Fresh Grocer supermarket is slated for opening a year later.

"You better believe I was waving Reverend Sullivan's flag all the way," Whitlock said. "I couldn't have done this without his legacy."

A legacy that has been shown to be bulletproof

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

2 Sides of the coin


A quick review of the last 10 days or so:

When keeping it real goes wrong AKA Cam on 60 Minutes - Killa on TV was the embodiement of the Dave Chapelle skit. Now, if you've read my writings before, you know that I'm anti-snitching in the context of the so-called 'war on drugs'or freedom fighters across the globe b.u.t. the examples that Cam gave were ridiculous... There's a big difference between 1)Person A who sells drugs & kills telling on person B who sells drugs & kills in order to get a reduced sentence & 2) Calling the cops about a person that abuses kids, rapes kids & kills without regard to consequences. The first is a rat of the lowest kind; the second, a person with common sense.

As I watched it, it reminded me of the unmentioned part of the "no snitchin ethic"; Street justice... There was a time where we didn't go to the cops when people trangressed against the community & the men handled it themselves. As our community has broken down, we stopped policing ourselves which made it easier for the police state to come in and oppress the community. Youth of today only know the most obvious aspect of the code, so they take it out of context & go bonkers with it. I know a kid (A&B student, by the way) who got kicked out of school for AA because him & his homies jumped a kid for 'snitchin'. It's up to those of us who know better to give the youth more context & culture in their lives so that they pass on healthy ideas in the future.

Violence is as American as Cherry Pie - The Virginia Tech massacre was truly tragic & my condolences go out to the families of those slain. The biggest thing that should come out of this horrible event is that violence is an american problem, not a Black/Brown problem. As I checked out the coverage of the tragedy & built on it with various people, the following questions came to mind:

1) How did he get more that 100 rounds off without the campus police catching him first?
2) How come there weren't any undercover police in the classes? It's a known fact that they have them at most major colleges
3) Why is our MH system in this country a total failure? All of the money spent to lock up non-violent first time drug offenders & no money for those who are potential threats to themselves & their communities if not treated
4) How come it's easier to get a gun than a passport?

Crew Love - Bush & his minions are as loyal a bunch as I've ever seen... Even in the face of obvious failure, they stick together! Attorney General Gonzales was clearly flustered & reaching for answers during his testimony for congress & still Bush has his back. A fair amount of idealism is good because it allows you to see beyond today's limitations; Idealism like GW will lead you into a gun fight with a pocket night. One has to respect their heart though; they've been able to defend the indefensible with the war bill veto. The Demos still haven't been able to find the right PR spin to really make the Republicans' insanity obvious.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Life's Like A... Pt.2


After doing my initial post on chess, I began to pay more attention to any articles about in the media. This morning (April 13th/Knowledge Understanding), I saw an article about a Puerto Rican youth & chess that is eye-opening to see the least. There's something seriously wrong when a expert chess player hates school, & I don't mean with him either. It's a sad commentary on today's educational landscape, & an indicator of the lack of community safety nets needed to grab youth with obvious skills & intelligence. Check the article, & tell me what you think!!

Teenage Riddle: Skipping Class, Mastering Chess
It is early afternoon, 20 minutes into G band — or sixth period — at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn. But today, Shawn Martinez, a third-year student, and one of the stars of its national championship chess team, is nowhere near school.

Instead, while his classmates memorize the periodic table of the elements, perform Shakespeare or solve for x, Shawn, wearing a black do-rag under a brown Yankees cap, distractedly watches a pickup chess match inside the atrium of a building on Wall Street. The place is a hangout for chess hustlers.

Shawn, 16, skips a lot of school — “It wasn’t weeks that I missed, it was months,” he says — but he is no ordinary truant. He is so gifted a chess player that he has claimed a place among the top young players in the nation after learning the game only four years ago. He is also important to Murrow’s chances of capturing its fourth consecutive national high school title; the tournament begins today in Kansas City, Mo.

Shawn comes to Wall Street to play a type of chess called blitz, a game in which the ticking of a three-minute clock eliminates the ponderous pauses of traditional chess and transforms the game into a fevered, trash-talking street sport in which money, not prestige, is the prime motivator. For Shawn, a large bet might be $10 a game.

“It helped my game to play for money,” said Shawn, dismissing as “average” the players he had been watching. “I love chess with a passion. It’s all the situations you get put in — it’s like life to me. It’s like anger to me. Sometimes, if I don’t like something that’s happening, I can take my anger out on the chessboard.”

Murrow has no varsity sports; its nationally known chess team is a source of deep pride at the school. And while Shawn’s story has echoes of the classic tale of the star high school athlete who struggles academically but remains on the team, it is also very different. Instead of marveling about quarterback options and touchdown passes, his supporters speak about castling and checkmates. And no one questions his intelligence.

Charming and funny, Shawn has a remarkable long-term memory, and parries easily with older members of the Wall Street crowd as he takes their money. He is by turns quiet and boisterous, open and defensive, and seems easily bored. He says he does poorly in English class, but he is well spoken. During nearly three years at Murrow, Shawn has missed so many classes that he is credited with passing only three courses.

Administrators and the teacher who runs the club say they have struggled with Shawn, and are seeking a balance of how to engage him in his studies without barring him from the one thing about which he is passionate. Beth Siegel-Graf, Murrow’s assistant vice principal for student guidance, said allowing Shawn to compete on the team is part of a strategy intended to keep him from dropping out altogether.

“What we try to make students and parents understand is that students doing poorly in school are hooked to the building because of their extracurricular activity,” she said. “We try to use that activity as a hinge.”

A math teacher named Eliot Weiss started the school on its road to becoming the powerhouse it is today when he formed a chess club; Murrow is now able to attract some of the city’s best young players. The team was the subject of a recent book, “The Kings of New York,” by Michael Weinreb, an occasional contributor to The New York Times. Two years ago, the team met President Bush in the White House.

Shawn, like many great players, has been blessed with the combination of an amazing visual memory and the ability to essentially see into the future by predicting various outcomes within a few seconds. During the past two years, Shawn has raised his United States Chess Federation rating more than 100 points to 2,028, giving him the rank of expert, a level just below master, and ranking him No. 19 among 16-year-olds. During that same two-year period, however, he has flunked every class.

His relationship with chess sums up his contradictions: he loves it, yet in one candid moment he said it had ruined his life. He had strong grades in sixth grade, he said, but was failing in seventh — the year he started playing. And he rejected the opinions of adults that he benefits from his relationship with the game.

“I became addicted to chess,” he said. “They think they did something for me, but they didn’t. Chess didn’t save my life. They want to make it like I’m a kid from the ghetto and I can play chess and that’s special. Why does it have to be like that? It’s embarrassing. They compare me to my environment — the way I dress to chess. You don’t have to be the brightest person in the world to play chess.”

Perhaps the most significant of those adults, Mr. Weiss has evolved into something of a father figure for Shawn, whose own father died when he was young. The teacher said he was taken aback by Shawn’s chronic underperformance.

“I have never had a student this talented in a particular skill — not just talented, but one of the best in the country — and so disinterested in schoolwork, not understanding what it means to fail high school,” Mr. Weiss said.

On some days, Shawn does attend classes with about 10 other students who are also behind. On many other days, he simply does not bother. He likes math, but the algebra course he has been forced to take repeatedly is too easy, he said, so he does not make an effort. “The sad thing is, some of the kids can’t even do it,” he said.

Murrow, a 4,000-student school in the Midwood neighborhood with a far-reaching variety of course offerings that are reminiscent of a small liberal arts college, was founded in 1974, and it gives its students considerable freedom. Periods are called bands. There are no bells, and no one is herded from class to class. Free time is scheduled into every school day, and students can choose to eat, to sleep, to do homework, to do nothing or, as Shawn has often done, to play cards in the cafeteria.

“It is a school where if you don’t have your personal responsibility together, you could drop out,” Shawn said.

Ms. Siegel-Graf, the assistant vice principal, said Shawn was allowed to accompany his teammates on the plane to Missouri on Wednesday afternoon after a conference at which he promised that, this time, he would begin going to school regularly. Shawn turns 17 on April 24 — 11 days after the nationals start — and Ms. Siegel-Graf said Shawn and the school had worked out an arrangement in which although he would still be technically enrolled at Murrow, he would begin taking courses to prepare for the G.E.D diploma.

The rules for the national tournament require students to be enrolled full time in school in the United States or its territories for the entire semester. They also state, “The coach is responsible for assuring that all of his players are properly registered and eligible to participate as members of his team.”

On a recent Thursday, a few weeks before the nationals, Shawn said he had not gone to school because he had a sore throat. Later, he said he had run out of minutes on his mobile phone and needed to win some money playing chess to pay the bill.

Here, among the businesspeople and tourists on Wall Street, Shawn sticks out with his Yankees cap, baggy jeans and well-worn red and black Nike high tops, but he also mixes easily with the stockbrokers and others who come to play.

They challenge Shawn and lose their money, even after he warns them he is an expert.

“What I do is allow them to think they can beat me,” he said, though he denies adamantly that he is a hustler. “It’s gambling, and gambling you do at your own risk.”

Playing chess for money is a gray area in the law. The state statute generally prohibits wagering on “games of chance,” but it is unclear whether chess falls into that category. A Police Department spokesman did not respond to a request to clarify the matter.

Shawn was taken away from his birth mother when he was one week old because of her crack cocaine habit. Lidia Martinez, a widow who is Shawn’s adoptive mother, said she knew immediately upon seeing the week-old Shawn that she wanted to adopt him. Ms. Martinez acknowledged however, that she, like everyone else, had failed to get her son to go to class. “He believes he’s too smart for school,” she said.

Shawn says he is able to remember his biological father, who died when he was 2. He says he can even recall his own first birthday.

At Murrow, Shawn is the third best chess player, behind the seniors Alex Lenderman and Sal Bercys, who are each among the top 2,000 players in the world. They were both featured prominently in Mr. Weinreb’s book, while Shawn appeared in fewer passages. In one he is described as being “monosyllabic” and unable to let his guard down.

“The kid’s been an enigma since junior high school,” Mr. Weinreb wrote. “He has a gift, that much is clear, and he’s managed to discover it amid a life that has been fraught, like so many in the city, with disappointment.”

While Alex and Sal have played since around the time they started kindergarten, have had private coaches, and have extensive experience at tournaments, Shawn claims to have never even cracked a chess book. “I never studied a book in my life,” he said. “I’m too bored.” Shawn said he learns by playing, often against opponents online. He favors an aggressive style that employs his pawns as attackers.

“When you put pawns together, there’s no stopping them,” he said. “You put two or three together and they practically control the whole game. People know me for my pawns.”

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Black & Brown: A tale of 2 Banks


Whenever the discussion comes up regarding immigrants & the effect they have on the economy, one of the main reasons that people say that brothers & sisters from Africa, Asia and Latin America come here & do better than indigenous original people is "They work harder". Maybe it's me, but in my estimation, nobody has collectively worked harder under adverse conditions than Black folks; There are plenty of people who are working smarter than Black folks, & that's the large reason for the swift upward mobility of many original people who get to this country. Here's an allegory that may add on: There are 2 families who want to go to Bob's Big Boy (I went back on ya); One family who has never been there, but decides to take a friend who goes all of the time; & another family who was given vague directions by a tv commercial plus a friend who went 4 years ago. Who's more likely to get there faster? The 1st family are immigrants & the 2nd are indigenous-born Black people.

Immigrants tend to utilize well established tactics to move up in society (Thrift, Industry Domination, Small Business Ownership, Communal Living, etc..), while we move with the flavor of the day to "make it". One day it's technical school; the next it's something else. Nothing exemplifies this like the article from the Washington Post that you see below. The Black bank focuses on opening branches in every city to appeal to the "Black Lifestyle" , while the Latino one focuses on a variation of micro-lending & community development. While both approaches are needed, one comes across as meat & potatoes, while the other looks like more glitz & glamour.

Two new Washington banks, one seven months old, the other about to open, are taking two different approaches to serving minority communities.

Urban Trust Bank, which opened its headquarters branch at 14th and I streets NW in September, has nationwide plans focused on African American customers. The federally chartered bank is owned by RLJ, the Bethesda-based company headed by Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television.

NuAmerica Bank won approval from the D.C. Council last week to open a branch in Columbia Heights, from which it will target small businesses in the region's Hispanic sector, according to Julio Lopez-Brito, who will be its chairman.

But the banks' founders share the belief that their target markets are ripe for expansion that would benefit not only minority neighborhoods but also the banks' investors.

"A significant portion of urban consumers continue to be unbanked and under-banked," said Urban Trust's president, Dwight L. Bush. "We actually see these communities as viable, and our mission is . . . to bring these consumers into the financial mainstream, help them to become homeowners, to become entrepreneurs, and help them to create and maintain wealth in their neighborhoods."

Lopez-Brito, who got the idea for a niche bank serving the Hispanic community while working with a public television station aimed at Puerto Ricans, said his bank's goal was to create special relationships with Hispanic-owned businesses that need loans of $25,000 and more.

"It's marrying the idea of community banking, which has been such a proven concept in the U.S., and introducing the immigrant community and small businesses to take advantage of the community bank," Lopez-Brito said. "We will still do individual accounts. If you have a sole proprietorship, we are definitely interested is doing a mortgage for you and your employees. But the relationship will start with the business."

Low-income and minority communities are relatively untapped markets for banks, according to a study released last month by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. Nearly 21 percent of all U.S. households do not have any relationship with banks, said John Taylor, president and chief executive of NCRC, a nonprofit group founded in 1990 that tries to attract investment to poor communities and neighborhoods. And "countless other consumers," he said, have personal savings accounts but often resort to expensive payday loans, pawnshops and check-cashing services to get cash.

The NCRC study documented the shortage of mainstream, regulated bank branches in working-class or minority neighborhoods, compared with white and upper-income neighborhoods around the country. The Washington area ranked eighth among the 25 cities studied for overall banking services available in lower-income neighborhoods. In recent years, a number of existing Washington area banks have opened branches in minority or low-income neighborhoods.

"Having full-service bank branches in under-served areas is critically important," Taylor said. "Much of the problem we have today in terms of mortgage foreclosures is the absence of full-service branches in low- and moderate-income and minority neighborhoods. "

Lopez-Brito is launching NuAmerica with $3 million from 15 investors, including $400,000 of his own money. The bank is trying to raise the equity to $20 million with an initial public offering, which will close April 30.

"Being owned and locally managed will make a big difference," said Lopez-Brito, a Venezuela native and a graduate of New York University's Stern School of Business. "From the landscaper to restaurant owner to a doctor who needs to outfit his office, we want businesses to be the nucleus of our bank. Second, any customer who wants to walk through the door and talk to the chairman, he can. I will be there. If he or she wants to talk to the chairman of Bank of America, good luck."

Urban Trust is operating on a different scale. It has $30 million in assets, offices in Washington and Orlando, and a federal charter under which it could expand to all 50 states. Johnson, who bought the bank a year ago, is talking with Wal-Mart about putting branches in stores around the country.

That prospect concerns Taylor, who said an Urban Trust-Wal-Mart partnership could undercut existing community banks that have strong relationships with their customers, just as Wal-Mart has been blamed for putting some small-town retailers out of business.

Johnson said a lot of Wal-Mart customers and employees are exactly the people who could use his bank. "We think this in fact gives us more access to people who need our services," he said. "The people who shop at Wal-Mart are a certain income level. They need financial services. They need financial information. They need credit. The people who shop there as well as the people who work there."

Urban Trust is targeting the African American market for mortgages, credit cards, student loans and small-business loans, Johnson said.

"We want to have a national footprint," he said. "There are no national brick-and-mortar African American businesses. You can go from cable companies or store to store and buy Ebony and Black Enterprise magazines, but I don't know where you can walk into an African American bank in Washington, New York, Boston, Charlotte and Richmond."

Johnson said African Americans are overcharged and underrepresented in the credit card market, and that basic credit-background checks overlook a number of African Americans who may be creditworthy.

"There's definitely a need for banks to focus on urban customers with different lifestyles and different financial needs," Johnson said. "Half of African American households are headed by females. They have unique financial needs that come about by being the only breadwinner and having to deal with the economics of meeting financial obligations without a second paycheck in the house, and having to deal with credit discrimination by not having been in the workforce that long. These are all kinds of things that our bank is designed to address."

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Mountains & Molehills


I'll tell you in advance that I didn't want to write about what I'm writing about... I wanted to write about something that was a much more important topic to me IME (In my estimation). I wanted to avoid the obvious & overcooked topics that are built about everywhere. Nonetheless, I find myself writing about the very thing that I was trying to avoid...



You know why I didn't want to write about Imus? There are a couple of reasons, but the most relevant is that the furor over the Imus issue is classic BLD (Black Leader Displacement). Black Leader Displacement is the focus on individual acts of racism & bigotry over systemic dysfunctions in American society that reinforce structural racism & discrimination. After BLD, what usually happens is PGBTS (People going back to sleep) because they feel that the strike against an individual represents a strike against the system that creates the condidtions that many of us live in.

Classic example: "Kramer" & his rant against "Niggers". There was a huge uproar, Al & Jesse came out against it, "Kramer" apologized profusely & went into rehab, Jerry Seinfeld gave him a polite spanking, & everyone went back to watching
Flavor Of Love. What actually changed? Not a thing. There's still a disparity in health related issues, We still earn less on the dollar, A large segment of men in our community are still unemployable, etc..

So when this came up, I was meditating that people would see it as it is; A redneck shock jock spewing the garbage that resonates with his listeners. You see lost in the hoopla is the fact that Imus is a mouthpiece for the demographic that he represents: working- to middle class white men who want America back. Talk show hosts don't say things that don't resonate with their listeners.

Early last week, I watched the Imus show on MSNBC to get a feel for the show. It was basically a hour of hyper-masculine white humor. They told a couple of bad jokes about Hilary Clinton, talked about politics with a conservative slant, had some musicians on, & shared a couple of bad gay jokes. At that time, I thought to myself "So this is how politics are transferred". I was actually going to write a blog comparing Imus & Steve Harvey before all of this jumped off. Now with the suspension, MSNBC can show that they are 'Politically Correct', Imus can say that he's served his penalty, Jesse can extort some fortune 500 company for 'sensitivity training', & we can all go back to sleep while 15 year-olds (who read at a 4th grade level) with AK-47s go to war in the streets for a dwindling drug trade. All this is not to say that those sisters don't deserve a apology; they do & are to be commended for their intelligent, well-spoken responses at the press conference. What I'm saying is that as long as we settle for the short win over the long victory, we'll find ourselves back here again.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Babies are the greatest


Alot of of the dialogue in Black America (as well as a good number of my posts)center around the issues & problems of Black youth in our community. While there are enough issues to go around, I wanted to take a different approach today and celebrate the positive acheivements of our youth who are braving the negative elements and being successful. Below is a article from the Philadelphia Daily News chronicling the success of Black & Brown babies in a national Mock Trial contest.

I never participated in mock trial; I joined the debate team in High School, b.u.t. I just went for the girls. Even with that, I learned a valuable lesson in the science of organization & preparation in communication. Check it out, & let me know what you think!

JASON PARKER doesn't get nervous.

Not when he's playing a lawyer in front of four real federal judges - and an audience - with nothing but his wits, his research and what he learned in Philly public schools helping him argue his case.

Not when he's opposed by smart students from throughout the nation, some of whom attend the nation's most privileged schools.

Parker was so cool, he earned a nickname at the National High School Moot Court Tournament Sunday:

Mr. Suave.

"Scared money don't win," Parker said with a grin, in an interview yesterday.

Parker, 17, a junior at the Carver High School of Engineering and Science(!), and fellow Carver student, senior Laeeqa Collins-Pressley, 18, made it to the finals at the moot court competition, held at the Washington College of Law at American University in Washington, D.C., on Sunday.

Two other Philadelphia School District students also did well in the competition: Marcelo Morales, a 13-year-old ninth-grader at the Academy at Palumbo, who made it to the semifinals; and Andrew Howard, 15, a ninth-grader at Constitution High School, who reached the quarter-finals.

It was a huge accomplishment for the students, who faced the top moot-court competitors from throughout the country and proved that Philly's young people are not to be out-argued.

"Our students competed against suburban kids from around the country," said Gwen Stern, director of the University of Pennsylvania Law School's Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project.

The project sends about 30 law-school students into city schools to teach students about constitutional law issues that affect teenagers - cases such as police searches, student press rights and high school locker searches. It's in its second year at Penn.

The literacy project culminates in local moot court competitions. The four students who went to Washington for the national competition first won a competition among about 50 other Philadelphia students. In Washington, they competed with about 70 students from around the country, Stern said.

Parker eventually lost to the student who won the moot court competition - and who happens to be going to Stanford University next year, said Stern.

She added that the competition shows what Philadelphia students can accomplish:

"They are extremely bright kids when they are engaged in a subject they're interested in. They become excited and motivated to learn."

The students argued a faked Fourth Amendment case about two teenage brothers who allege that a police officer conducted an illegal search of their vehicle. In the case, the police officer took their photos without permission, searched their car without consent - and found drugs in it.

Students running the tournament at the Washington College of Law came up with the case, which mimicked the kind of illegal-search case that could be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Parker argued for the teens' side; Collins-Pressley argued the government's position.

"This was a very difficult problem," said Penn law professor David Rudovsky, the literacy project's faculty adviser. "Some of my law students would have had a hard time with it on a final exam. But [the high school students] were able to work through it and understand it."

Parker said that when he first started high school at Carver, he was thinking of becoming an engineer.

"Now, after this, I think I'm going to be a lawyer," said Parker, who lives in Nicetown - and who celebrated his 17th birthday on Sunday, the day of the competition.

Collins-Pressley, from the Northeast, said she hasn't ruled the law out completely, but she's still planning on becoming a physics teacher. "I love math, and I just want to expand that into physics," she said.

Andrew Howard, from West Oak Lane, said the experience confirmed for him that law is in his future. Marcelo Morales used to think about becoming a doctor or dentist, but now he also wants to be a lawyer.

Morales' story is especially powerful. He came to the United States from Argentina at age 7, knowing only a small bit of English.

He started in second grade here but skipped third grade and went into fourth grade. He lives in South Philadelphia.

Morales is tall for his age and when Howard heard that he was only 13, Howard did a double-take.

Asked if he felt uncomfortable going up against much older high school students, Morales said he was nervous at first. But a practice round helped.

"After the practice round, that boosted my confidence. I wasn't nervous anymore.

"I was just trying my best." *

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Dunce Cappin' & Kazooin'


A couple of weeks ago during Civilization Class, a discussion arose regarding the mentality of Black children in contemporary society & the increasing lack of regard for intellect in our community. My brother Shaking ( suggested a movie entitled Idiocracy that spoke to some of these issues within society in general. I grabbed the movie & did the 1 to see if it had any relevance to where I saw Black children heading as far as respect for intelligence. While I must say that the movie was pretty funny, the comedy was overshadowed by the cogent & relevant points expressed in the movie. Here are some of the good points that I got out of the flick regarding the general society:

- You know society's in trouble when we accept "scientific evidence" that's paid for by the company over common sense. you want a example, you say? Enter exhibit A: Pork. People know fully well that the pig ain't no good for 'em, b.u.t. in order to fill their desires, they cite reports done by pork lobbying firms.

- When people take tried & tired Clichés (Bush & The Republican War Machine) over actual analysis & evaluation (The Iraq Study Group) as international policy. (For further proof, see conservative talk radio)

- In a world where everywhere changes 180 degrees from how it was, right becomes wrong & vice versa ( See ideas about child rearing & the importance of motherhood in contemporary society)

- As people become conditioned to entertainment, glitz & glamour becomes the order of the day & actually replaces information

How does relate to Black Children? Well, if the larger society is going to hell in a breadbasket, we're going in a gasoline- drenched go kart, as anything that has a negative effect on society usually has a larger effect on us (Joblessness, Poverty, Health Issues, etc..) Due to the structural & behavioral issues that plague our families, Black babies are less intellectually inclined than any time since slavery. Now, I'm not going to go John Mcwhorter on the situation & blame it all on us, b.u.t. the first step to affecting change in any situation is to acknowledge that it exists.

Even during the Crack era, you had young boys & girls who were inclined to learn of their history & culture (courtesy of the NGE & other progressive cultural movements). Remember the Malcolm, Martin, Mandela & Me T-Shirts? Imagine that happening today...

Due to the fact that intelligence doesn't seem to pay off for our children in society, they gravitate towards that which will seem to reward them (Athletics, Music, etc..) Let me give an example: My daughter attends a majority-white school with a fairly rigorous academic cirriculum. In that environment, a voracious appetite for reading is the rule, not the exception. At the all-black after school program she attends, none of the children bring books to read after school, but quite a few of them fancy themselves as future athletes or performers. The diiference in orientation leads to the difference in worldview & activity.

Ironically, the title of the post is from a Clipse song ('Mr. Me Too') that advocates many of the ideas that I've mentioned above. While I am a fan of the Thorton Brothers, I can properly process the song, not have it negatively impact my behavior & activities. There's nothing wrong with dancing, having fun & doing your own thing, b.u.t. the key is to understand the difference between someone laughing with you & someone laughing at you.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Urban Anthropology: The Niggas Of Niggas

In any society, you have a group of people who seem to be the source of a never-ending creativity. In american society, Black people are that group. From music to language, from style to fashion, black people set trends & blaze trails regarding creativity. As far as american society is concerned, Niggas start styles, and everyone else gets rich off of it (which is a whole 'nother post)

Go a little deeper though, & you 'll find a group of folks who set the trends within our community. These brothers & sisters seem to emanate style & creativity with little obvious effort. They are often the trendsetters & style mavens of the community. From language to fashion to music, they are always on the edge of urban culture. While it's true that the aforementioned persons live and do their thing in every city, through my travels & experience, I've identified one city that always seems to be on the cusp of the proverbial "Next $h!t" . New York? Nah. Atlanta? Only recently. Philly? Close but no cigar. Where I am talking about?

Washington D.C.

Yes, Chocolate City. The District. Divine Cee (for those mathematically inclined). After some years of walking & talking with Black people from all over the country from all walks of life, I've come to the conclusion that D.C. starts a lotta trends or styles with the Black community that other cities (Namely New York) steal & give them no credit for being the originators. Now to be true, D.C. has certain cultural elements that don't really transfer (see go-go), b.u.t. even that can be co-opted in some form(As I will build on). Just to give you an idea, I'll share an example:

One of my favorite albums of all time is All For One by Brand Nubian. As a youth, I listened to the album incessantly, and was awed by their creativity in the way of choruses. One song in particular "Drop The Bomb" had a chorus that started like "We gonna drop the bomb on the Yacub crew..." Now me being a young buck & all, I naively assumed that they came up with themselves.

Fast forward to 2006: I'm traveling back to Power Born from D.C. listening to the Go-Go show on WKYS, and what do I hear? A song from the mid-to-late 80's with the chorus "We gonna drop the bomb on the Northeast Crew...." (Northeast being a section of D.C.). To top it off, Brand Nubian's 'Drop The Bomb' had a Go-Go beat as well!

Now, most folks from D.C. are somewhat aware of this, & won't hesitate to let you know about it, b.u.t. for years, I charged it to immense CC pride, born from the uniqueness of the D.C. experience (Living separated from & in the shadows of the nation's capital, Taxation without representation, A combination of the north & the south, High murder rate). It was only recently that I put everything together to arrive at my conclusion. More evidence, you ask? Do the knowledge to these supporting details (Shouts to my righteous brother Divine Culture!):

- New Balances:Until the Mid-90's, Besides the D.C. Area, no Black youth anywhere would touch NB's with a 10-foot pole. Only after Foot Locker decided to exploit the popularity (& price) of the 574 did NB's become a staple in cities across the country.

- Designed T-Shirts/Independent Apparel Companies : Unbeknownst to many, Miskeen Originals had their creative genesis in the D.C. area, having designed for companies like Enduro (A D.C. Based clothing company) & doing freelance designing for companies in the District & B-More. After coming back to Philly & putting them in Dr. Denim (A store in Philly) Miskeen as we know it was born. Anyone who has came through D.C. knows that they were rockin the paint on their shirts for some time. Nowadays, you can see the independent ethic through homegrown lines like Alldaz (one of my favorites), Shooters, Planet Chocolate, Sobiato, & more.

- Nike Boots: This is the contemporary example, & most indicative of my original premise: Those who travel around know that D.C. dudes have been wearing the Nike Boots for years (even when they didn't look too sporty). Somehow within the last year, the style got hijacked by Harlem cats (via Jones & Cam). A couple months ago, Jones appeared on 106 & Park with a fresh pair of ACG's on & declared that they were 'Harlem Kicks'. While in Mecca (on 125th) a few weeks after that, I noticed every other person had a pair on, effectively claiming them as their own.

Now, in the interest of not belaboring the point, I won't go too far into the musical influence (Jay's use of a Go-Go chant for the song "Put your hands up", The Go-Go influenced production of Rich Harrison & Chucky Thompson, Herby Luv Bug from Salt-N-Pepa fame, etc.) but it can clearly be seen in that world as well.

How did this 'borrowing' begin to take place? Well, from my vantage point, there are a few points, b.u.t. the major one is a known trading post for our people: HBCU's. People from all over come to these school & cross-pollination often takes place. Case in point: About 10 or so years ago, I attended a homecoming at a HBCU that featured a HH group (from NY, no less) & A Go-Go group (from DC obviously). Students acknowledge styles, concepts, ideas, culture, etc. from other areas and often add them to their world view. At it's best, it is a space for growth & development through learning about the diversity of the Black experience: at worst, a surface- level appropriation of concepts with no appreciation of their origin.

The irony in this is that the appropriation of culture mimics what is done to us on a consistent basis. This is not to say that you shouldn't pick up things that are attractive & applicable to you: only that it's important to always take a contextual look at what you pick up to insure that you're not a 'culture vulture'. Hey DC will keep doing what is does, just as Black people keep doing what we do. It's just important to know why you do what you do & where it came from so you understand it's relationship to you.