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 Clich├ęs (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.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Building & Destroying (aka Analysis vs 'Hatin')


The impetus to write this particular post came from 2 sources: 1) A article written on by an old friend of mine (Daina Richie) on 'hatin' in HH (Check it out if/when you get a chance) & 2) An article by a God whose views I respect b.u.t. dont always agree with.

The title of this post is 'Hatin vs. Analysis' and it's based on the following questions: How do you know when your analysis becomes "Hatin"? Is there a difference? How much of this is real vs. imaginary?

Now anyone who's turned on a radio or opened a HH magazine in the last 10 years is familar with the term "Hatin". The now ubiquitous term originated in the bay (The slang capital of Black America) as a response to anyone (usu. "squares") who spoke ill of a brother who made moves in the street. As it gained momentum outside of the bay through HH, it became more of a general term referring to anyone who leveled criticism (justified or not) at someone's actions.

At the date of this writing, the term is primarily used as a defense mechanism for weaknesses & defiencies. If you don't like a song, you're hatin; If you don't like to wear skulls & tight t-shirts, you're hatin; Disagree with someone's strategies, you're hatin. While at first glance, it seems pretty low on the list of things to worry about, it's actually a little deeper. If you have a community of people who are consistently resistant to critique, criticism, or analysis, they become insulated, slow-moving & growth-resistant. One look at contemporary HH tells the whole story. Now, some of this I can charge to youth, b.u.t. the fact remains that as long as youth adopt that mentality, we'll see the slowest-moving generation in 100 years.

Now on the other side, there are those who utilize analysis & critique as a cover for their hate. The integral ingredient that creates a difference: bias. Critique & analysis have a certain level of neutrality at their base, while bias (& by extension, hating) do not. Scathing & personal remarks lend themselves to what we commonly call hate, & indicate insecurity on behalf of the writer. Vulgar diatribes only interest those who watch Maury for fun & Fox for news.

While the line between analysis & "Hatin" seem blurry, in actuality, intention clearly seperates the two. Knowing the difference will allow us all to grow faster & escape the bottom of the 8 (destroying).

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Life's like a ....


People say life's like alot of things, b.u.t. for the purpose of this post on this beautiful day of Equality, I'll use the adage "Life's like a Chess Game". Now if we actually go in and break that statement down, we hit some deep & real subjects.

As a youth, the only exposure I had to chess was when I went over my friends' house & saw the chess board sitting on the living room table (R.I.P. Coach K). At that point, it appeared to be the grown-up version of chess, so I left it at that. In middle school, my school had one of the better chess teams in the city, so we would always have programs in the auditorium celebrating their accomplishments (although due to the collective ignorance of the student body, it was never put on par with basketball or the "real" sports). I didnt personally embrace chess until my sophmore year in college, & even then it was begrudgingly, due to my perspective that chess wasn't a indicator of intelligence any more than spades or 21 blackjack being that it could be played out of a book. If I won, I would play it down; If I lost, I would play it down.

Then came Howard's Homecoming of 1997. I gained insight on a number of new issues that night (The NY-DC beef, Club Politics, How not to wear a trench coat, etc..)b.u.t. the true jewel that I earned that chilly October night was the science of chess. Here it goes:

It's 1 am, & the Gods & I are walking on U street towards Ben's Chili Bowl. A brother dressed in a fatigue jacket & a turban looks at us & says "Peace! Who over here plays chess?" One of the better chess players among us replies in the affirmative. My man (in the turban) pulls a plastic board out of his pocket & challenges the God to a match on top of a trash can (using makeshift pieces, no less). They go on to play for a 1/2 hour, back & forth. Keeping in line with his opening admonition, old head in the turban plays very agressive, bordering on reckless; always focusing on his own strengths. Conversely, The God's style was more understated; responding to the moves that were made vs. playing his own hand. In the interest of space, I'll fast forward you to the end; The brother in the FT saying "I'll get you next time".

Besides that story being off the hook, See where I'm going? Both of their chess styles reflected their personalities, & over the 10 years since, I've seen that play out over & over again. People who are aggresive on the board tend to be aggressive in the real world; the same with people who are passive. Here is a small list of the the things that chess has taught me:

- Strategically, no one thing is the end all be all; some chess playes are so scared to lose their queen, it's ridiculous!

- Even the smallest person has potential for growth; A pawn can become a queen if it makes enough forward movement

- Everything isn't what it seems to be; Just because a move looks good, doesn't mean it is

- Plan in advance; The best chess players plan moves in advance. Too often, people plan based upon their present conditions vs. how conditions will be in the future.

- Life is time-sensitive; Windows of opportunity are vital to success & one can't assume that the window will be open forever.

There's a great article about Black chess players that can be found at the websites listed below. In closing, please give youth around you the gift of rational thinking & disclipline, for it's the gift that recreates itself!

Sites to check out:

Friday, March 02, 2007

Let's Go Crazy

I build that this finds everybody in the best of conditions; mentally, physically, & financially. I know that I've been lunchin' a bit on the blogging, b.u.t. I'm back & ready to build! About 2 weeks ago, I traveled to Philly for business & personal reasons, & I was able to reflect on the similarities and differences between the city that I grew up in & the city that I see now. Philly's always been wild b.u.t. it's like the planet of the apes as far as in the streets, & that's even comparing it to the JBM/Jamaican warfare in 88 & 89. How did the streets get so crazy, you ask? Well before I answer, here's a quote that can provide some context:

"You just looking at the frame; there's a big picture you're missing!"*

What do I mean? when we look at the increasing violence in Philly & cities all over the country, there's a tendency to look at the obvious; the ever-growing culture of sex & violence on television, the breakdown of the black family, etc.. Rarely do we discuss the overarching socio-economic factors that has created what you see out here.

My answer is this: Turbo - Capitalism, Classism, & Racism have combined to create a generation of virtually unemployable Black Men (If worst comes to worst, Black Women can always become a nurse or work at the bank). It starts early, when Black boys suddenly lose interest in anything related to academics. It continues on when Black boys who "act out" are sent to juvenile discliplinary schools that are essentially junior lockups. It happens when Black males are allowed to sit in the back of the class & fail as long as they don't make too much noise or disturb the class. It becomes worse when a 18 year-old who reads at a 3rd grade level decides that selling dope or stealing wheels is a valid career choice, & so on.

All who read my blog know that I dig Good Times; WWJD (what would james evans do?) if he couldn't work at the factory? In the doc Bastards of the party, The narrator directly tied the rise of the B's & C's to post-industrial LA economics; there's not really a mystery about how all of this came together.

Thankfully, this discussion is starting to produce fruitful dialogue. please check the article below from thePhiladelphia Daily Newsthat discusses some of these issues. Next blog, I'll speak on some things that we can do!

WHEN HIS daughter was born two years ago, Lamar Stalworth, 19, wanted a new life. He gave up hustling - selling drugs - and got a job in his North Philadelphia neighborhood cleaning up vacant lots and cutting grass.

Then he lost that job and went for months without an income. Flat broke, Stalworth went back to hustling for a short time.

"But I saw myself being caught up in the game," he says. "And with my daughter, I had more responsibility. I thought, 'Do I really want to do this or not?' "

He decided not, and reached out for help to IDAAY, the Institute for the Development of African-American Youth.

But the appeal of the streets was undeniable.

"Fast money" is what the young men call it. In five minutes, they say, they can make $200 hustling on the corner. It's quick and easy, compared to finding a "legit job" - which they consider a mysterious and frustrating process for which they have few knowledgeable guides.

Stalworth was one of 10 young men meeting in classrooms at Temple University last month, some sent by courts to the IDAAY program for first offenders for possessing guns.

Young men like them - in trouble and with guns - made up the majority of victims and perpetrators of the 2,004 shootings and 406 homicides in the city in 2006. Most perpetrators and victims had criminal records; a large majority had dropped out of school.

Another thing they had in common: Almost all were jobless.

Rising gun violence has alarmed Philadelphians and sent leaders and citizens in search of solutions: more police protection, gun control, curfew and truancy laws, conflict resolution and mental-health treatment.

Now, the city has begun to talk about another potential solution: Getting some of these kids off the streets and into jobs.

Overall, fewer than half of Philadelphians age 20 to 24 have a job, according to 2005 figures. The city neighborhoods with the lowest levels of employment are also among the neighborhoods with the highest levels of crime.

When Bilal Qayyum, an economic-development coordinator in the city Commerce Department and co-founder of Men United for a Better Philadelphia, walked with two other men to Harrisburg last September to protest gun violence, they made the connection explicit: The T-shirts they wore read, "Jobs not Guns."

Their analysis is echoed by experts. "There are many other reasons for crime," says Bernard Anderson, a labor economist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and deputy secretary of labor in the Clinton administration. "But there's simply no question that the extraordinary rate of joblessness among young black males in urban areas fuels the crime problem."
None of that should be particularly surprising.

But what is surprising is that there may be something businesses and government leaders can do about it.

Barriers to 'legit jobs'

The young men in the IDAAY program - and others like them in Philadelphia's neighborhoods - say they want to work at "legit jobs." They want the stability of a regular paycheck, the credit they need to buy cars or rent apartments, and the self-respect that comes from taking care of themselves and their families.
But motivation, however fierce, is not enough.

The city's young people face big barriers to work. The biggest: More than 40 percent of Philadelphia public-school students end up leaving school without a degree, according to a recent report sponsored by the anti-dropout effort Project U-Turn.

For people with college educations or other post-secondary-school training, area job prospects are pretty good, says Paul Harrington, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston, who has studied Philadelphia's job market.

But for those who have only a high-school diploma or who have dropped out, "there is no room at the inn," he says.

It's a truth being lived out around the nation. In earlier generations, when manufacturing jobs were plentiful, school had little practical connection to work. That has changed profoundly. Two-thirds of the new jobs created in the United States between 1984 and 2000 required a college education, a trend expected to continue.

"There are forces in the job market that create a new set of challenges that we haven't had in previous generations," says Sallie A. Glickman, founding executive director of the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board. "For adults looking to get into the job market, the pipeline increasingly is through educational credentials."

So nearly half of Philadelphia public-high-school students, those who don't graduate, are forced into desperate contention for low-skilled jobs - competing not only with each other, but also with adult immigrants and women coming off the welfare rolls.

In that competition, they face more barriers to work.

Despite the return of some retail jobs to neighborhoods including South Philadelphia (now home to Ikea and Wal-Mart) and West Philadelphia (where a Lowe's is planned) most jobs remain clustered in the suburbs or Center City, so transportation is a problem. One young man in the IDAAY program says he traveled to Plymouth Meeting, 90 minutes each way from West Philly, for a job at the concession stand in a movie theater.

Many of the young men say they have applied for jobs but never got called in for interviews. One says he saw a McDonald's manager toss his application into a wastebasket.

Maybe he's lucky to have seen the manager's face: Most retail stores and health-care concerns require job applications to be filed online (for more, see Page 5).
Also, at least a third of African-American men in Philadelphia have criminal records. Background checks effectively eliminate many of them from contention for jobs (see Page 5).

And so the cycle continues - so rapidly, in fact, that Philadelphia may not understand the severity of its unemployment problem.

Anderson, the Wharton economist, makes a distinction between the terms "unemployed" and "jobless."

People who have never had jobs, and people who have stopped looking for work, are not counted in the official unemployment rate. That masks the true state of desperation in many Philadelphia neighborhoods, where more than half of African-American men are not working.

Census data recently showed that 40 percent of city residents age 15 and older reported they were out of work - and not collecting unemployment.
Among young men in Philadelphia age 16 to 24, joblessness continues to worsen. In 2000, about 25 percent of men in the city between 16 and 19 had jobs, well below the national average of 36 percent, says economist Harrington.
In 2005, the employment rate had sunk to 19.7 percent. Things weren't any better for 20- to 24-year-old men: In 2000, 57 percent had jobs. In 2005, the rate had fallen below half, to 49 percent. "These are big losses," Harrington says.
Joblessness and violence

It was a poignant and troubling scene on Feb. 8 outside Community College of Philadelphia, at 17th Street near Spring Garden: Hundreds of people, dressed for success, holding folders with resumes, waiting for hours in bitter cold to enter a career fair.

In a recognition of the role that jobs play in fighting violence, the fair was sponsored by the city as part of its Safer Streets campaign.

In the auditorium, 92 employers were taking applications. The city says more than 2,000 people showed up.

"It shows that people need jobs and that they want to work," says Leon Simmons, director of the Work Wise job-search program in the Mayor's Office of Community Services.

"This is a capitalist country," says Bilal Qayyum. "You've got to work. You've got to pay rent. It's very simple. Everybody has to have an income."

The benefits of work, however, run far deeper than merely paying the rent.

Youth employment is an unrecognized aspect of economic class: The "haves" have the option to work; the "have-nots" don't, and may not understand why it is important.

Research shows that students who work part-time in high school are less likely to drop out and more likely to go on to post-secondary schooling. Over the years they tend to earn more than those who didn't work when they were students.
"If there's one thing that kids with an advantage do, it's that they work," says Glickman, of the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board. "That's the difference between middle-class families and the kids that are on the other end of the spectrum."

One of the men in the IDAAY program put it this way: Working is "starting on your manhood."

Not working, on the other hand, can prompt young men to prove their manhood in different, destructive ways.

Like most American cities, Philadelphia is home to a growing number of young people who are both out of school and out of work - in 2004, that group made up 24.1 percent of all city residents age 16 to 24. Urban-poverty experts call them "disconnected," with serious consequences both for them and for their cities.
Elijah Anderson, professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the 1999 book "Code of the Street," has made one of the most persuasive connections between the city's joblessness and violence.

He says that the scarcity of even low- wage jobs and the reduction of welfare benefits feed an underground economy of barter and informal arrangements - some legal, some not.

"Respect" - the power to exact vengeance against others - is the coin of the realm for these arrangements, says Anderson. The demand for respect often is the source of disputes that escalate into gunshots.
And that's one reason that, as in most cities, violence in Philadelphia is limited by geography and social class, only rarely breaking out of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

Yet, although Philadelphia taxpayers are not all in equal danger of being shot, all do bear the financial burden of the shootings.
The price is stunning: According to former City Councilman Ed Schwartz, who chaired the Philadelphia Tax Commission in 2004, more than 40 percent of the city budget - $1.3 billion - is spent responding to crime.

Looked at this way, the joblessness that leads to violence is more insidious than mere lack of money, and jobs are more valuable than the income they produce.
What could turn it around

Getting more Philadelphians to work will require big, systemic fixes as well as targeted programs. Some of the big fixes - tax policy that supports job creation, economic-development efforts that work with local governments, school reform - are under discussion, even if the methods or the results are up for debate.
What does work, in the interim?

Smaller programs - the kind of help that various workforce development organizations in the city can, and do, provide to potential workers.
One such organization, the Philadelphia Youth Network, provides overall management around jobs for youth in Philadelphia: apprenticeships and internships through public schools; 7,800 jobs for young teenagers with a summer component; and the WorkReady program, which links students to internships in local companies.

To support the work, PYN blends resources from numerous funding streams - government and private foundations and employers themselves.
In the process, PYN makes it easier for employers to take a chance on someone whose resume doesn't jump out, or whose background might engender doubt, says PYN President Laura Shubilla. PYN also runs the payroll for the kids who work.
Through the WorkReady program, employers can tell PYN what kinds of jobs are available and how many kids they can employ. Working with the School District of Philadelphia and 90 community organizations, PYN has the capacity to match kids' interests with work they will enjoy. The kids are pre-screened and given employment supports, and PYN advises companies on how to mentor them.
"We're the eHarmony of youth employment," Shubilla says, referring to a popular online matchmaking service.

Matching kids to the right jobs pays profitable dividends: "Some of the companies hire the kids year-round," says Shubilla. "Many of the employers will ask for the kids back year after year. Some kids have gone to college, and often they come back to those employers when they're on their breaks."

Fast money or fast grave

Employment makes a significant difference in the lives of young people. With support, jobs can transform lives and futures - but Philadelphia is tens of thousands of jobs away from providing opportunity for work to everyone who wants it.
So the responsibility falls to local organizations and businesses to provide pathways out of joblessness and poverty.

Meanwhile, Lamar Stalworth is still looking for a job.

He, and the other young men in the IDAAY program, understand that finding that elusive opportunity holds the potential to save their future - and even their lives.
One young man gave voice to it as the group met at Temple last month:
"Fast money" often leads, he said, to a "fast grave"