Sunday, April 19, 2020

After COVID

Today we are in the midst of a national and global pandemic that we have never seen at this scale. It has highlighted constitutional law, which provides states local control with federal oversight. Checks and balances. We have also received lots of myths and dangerous information that can lead to more harm or simply embolden us to not pay attention to the CDC and WHO. For the last month, most of America has been on a home quarantine, practicing  social distancing, and safety precautions that include hand washing, protective masks, and limited public interaction.

So I ask today, who will we be after COVID? What will be? And how will history remember this pandemic?

In the midst of talks regarding states reopening by May 1. The pros and the cons of that. There is an opportunity for us to do what’s right for all of us or just some of us. There is an opportunity to put people before profits and creature comforts. There is an opportunity to create a new normal that doesn’t ignore our most vulnerable citizens. An opportunity to actually develop a public health policy that is prepared for future pandemics because let’s face it, there will be another.

Unfortunately, many of our states including the President, want to quickly reopen. They say that they are preparing for a new normal but in reality they are running to the same normal disguised as “doing something different.” I understand that small businesses are losing money and some may never see the other side of this. The bailouts are not effective nor sustainable. Unemployment is crashing due to antiquated technology and lack of preparedness. And humans need and desire human contact. But you know what, none of this matters if we get this wrong and more of us get sick or even worse, die.

740,746 confirmed cases, 39,158 deaths, and 66,676 recovered just in the US.  The virus makes the schedule according to Dr. Fauci. According to virology, this is how viruses function.

Not one state that has started the process of reopening has created a plan. A universal health and safety plan that includes access to testing, access to antibody testing (which is still being perfected in a lab), and a universal cleaning plan for all businesses from stores, to schools, rec centers,  to movie theaters, to production sets, to office spaces, and everything in between,  Nothing. No public health plan to avoid or face future pandemics. Nothing. No perfected test that the CDC and FDA approve with high marks. Nope. No vaccine. No cure. Some jobs have already created paperwork stating that if you come to work in a hotspot, you are coming at your own risk and there will be no company liability for your health. But please come and work anyway. Undocumented people have not received ANYTHING close to a plan or a solution. And there are no procedures in place to protect them at “work.” Prison safety has been mentioned but nothing more.  Positive tests are already being seen in some food production plants like, Smithfield sausage, and in some markets, like Whole Foods.

And let’s not forget that we still are not sure how accurate the numbers are because we do not have enough tests, nor do we have unlimited access to the chemicals to make more. Most countries had triple the testing by this timeline when the pandemic hit them. That requires a better international relationship with China. Add that to the list of things that need to be done before we reopen.

We are not ready. We need a universal solution, a multi-pronged strategy that takes into account all of us not just those who are losing money. This is not fear, this is common sense. When you are faced with a problem, you first assess it, and then you start brainstorming possible strategies, then you troubleshoot, and finally either select a solution or you succumb to the problem.

Do we want to succumb or do we want to survive and make sure that our future selves do better than we are actually doing?

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Power of "The Photograph"

I am convinced that movie critics who are often white, do not get The Photograph and they may never get it so please do not let it keep you from seeing it. This movie is unapologetic Black Love, Black Joy, and Blackness. From the soundtrack that features Al Green to Luther Vandross, you know the songs that many of us used to have on a mixtape. Or if you are younger, the songs that you were probably conceived to during senior prom or college. Why does Kendrick make us feel guilty? Drake makes us feel like he is our cousin? And we just worry about Kanye...since his mom died.

These memorable moments are just the surface. This is a story that I have been waiting to see my entire life. I have seen it in my actual life and in the lives of my melanated friends, but never onscreen or onstage. I have never seen a mother show her love for her daughter by being, "An arc of a woman." I have never seen a Black woman be complex in her need, her wants, her desires, and her art while raising a child. THIS is why we should all be clamoring to see this film. And we should take everyone with us to share in this journey.

The critics say the story is "disconnected" or that the leads "have no chemistry." All untrue. The story is simply not a linear one. It is one connected by photographs, laughter, music, and silent moments. Some of the details are simply presented through the mouths of children and the physical beauty of Louisiana and New York City. And it's a Black story told through the lens of Blackness and Black feminine nuances. 

During the movie, I cried. Not because it made me sad or melancholy, but because it made me remember when a love like that was in my own life. It reminded me that we are not all "broken" or "waiting to be seen." It reminded me of me and Maya. In fact, there is a photo in the film that is a replica of one I took with Maya right before I left Chicago to move to NYC, uncanny. This story is not only about intimate love but it is also about the first love many of us ever experienced, which is the love from our mothers. Some of that love is incomplete due to us, as daughters and sons, not always seeing our mothers as full human beings outside of motherhood. Or the flaws that make us who we are. And how a mother's flaws or mistakes can make their children shine like diamonds or fall into the abyss until they reach adulthood and are able to reflect back. Imagine what that means. Imagine how that informs love for each of us. Especially in a world that is constantly telling us that love is out of reach or impossible. 

As Luther sings:

If this world were mine, I'd place at your feet
All that I own; you've been so good to me
If this world were mine
I'd give you the flowers, the birds and the bees
For with your love inside me, that would be all I need
If this world were mine
I'd give you anything


More films like these need to be made and produced for us and by us. Written with our full Black lives, bodies, minds, passions, and soul in mind. So go grab you a little love

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Why be Antiracist

Why be an Antiracist in the classroom? Because it matters to ALL children that we actively work on our biases and our conscious of them and especially how they materialize in our work with children. But it’s hard work and it’s often masked in a watered down diversity training or something less effective. There are some excellent trainings and trainers but they are not consistently available to all schools and regions. And while we are trying to figure it out,  Black and Brown children are screaming for help.

In the words of Jamilah Pitts, “We may be uncomfortable talking about race, but we can no longer afford to be silent. We have chosen a profession that—like parenting—requires us to put our comforts second to those of children.”

We also can no longer sidestep or carefully confront it. For many of us that are actually old enough we have seen history repeat itself time and time again. For those that have been fighting for many years, the exhaustion of the status quo and the few spikes of change are not enough. Not to mention the loopholes that exist in all the Civil Rights Laws, that are constantly taken advantage of to keep us at the status quo. In order for us to make change, we must uplift those at the very bottom and recognize that the laws and policies that keep them there are inherently racist. And every oppressive act is a symptom of white supremacy. In fact,  say it three times in a row just in case you still think it’s just classism.

None of us can no longer afford to be a neutral non-racist. We must be anti-racist, which implies action. Action to dismantle race as a social construct and all of the protections it provides for those in power. Yep! Newsflash! You have to be uncomfortable in order to transform a society. Very uncomfortable.

Right now in cities like Philadelphia, Chicago and New York City there are less than 30% of Black Educators working with majority Black and Latinx students in highly segregated and zero equity school environments that are further divided by school choice and magnets. Despite the thousands of studies that confirm that students being taught by teachers who look like them increase their academic achievement, and that the presence of Black teachers increases academic achievement for all students regardless of race and ethnicity. 

Anti racism policies also include indigenous populations and immigration protections, versus jailing policies. 

Now imagine what could happen if all teachers undertook a complete Antiracist Training and continue to build knowledge and understanding of race and gender studies. There may be a shift and we may stop hearing teachers call students the N word or continue to have a lack of understanding for our LGTBQ + students. Imagine if we didn’t find Black Women threatening or even worse as disciplinarians. And we stopped feeling threatened by Black boys and girls. We all had a deep understanding of Ethnic, Black, and Latinx Studies. This all happens when you are dedicated to an Antiracist approach. Or more importantly,  being an actual educator committed to checking their implicit biases. 

As if your life depended on it. 

And as educators, we should immerse ourselves in the study of developing an Antiracist lens so that our students can actually “thrive and not simply survive” (Bettina L. Love). 

“I have learned that we (POC) need a community of support...We need to speak up against racism and other forms of oppression,  but we do not have to speak alone” Beverly Daniel Tatum

But please know that many of us are exhausted of always pointing out the obvious so start doing the damn work!

Happy 2020...Food for thought

This is not my typical end of the year reflection, nor is it my typical “my goals and aspirations list” either. It is simply a statement that I believe needs to be read by somebody. Especially because I know someone needs to hear this. 

Lately, it has become difficult to breathe. Difficult to process clarity. And I have started to realize that it is because I let too many people in to my emotional and spiritual vibrations due to my work and kindness, but lately I have not downloaded or dumped all of the trash. And my lesson for 2020 is to be better about cleaning my soul and spirit. This also includes being honest in the moment and not holding onto things to fester. Or even better not worrying or giving time to problems that are actually not even mine.

Second, I need to make sure that I maintain my positive energy with consistent self-care. This includes me taking care of me, which I also forgot about in 2019. So make sure that you take care of your body, mind, and soul. 

Next, the world is chock full of selfish destructive assholes who are often filled with jealous and self hate. So they disguise themselves as co-conspirators and allies, and wreck havoc on your life and more importantly your work. So I am saying here that I know who you are and I am ignoring you on purpose. Thanks.

I am also thankful for being heard when I asked for help. This is a reminder that we should never silence our pain nor should we pretend that it will simply go away. It is okay to ask your village for help. And for you to pay it forward and be a help to others. It is also a reminder that I never need to hold onto assholes when I have so many beautiful authentic friends that I love and adore. Thank you for the constant love and hugs. 

My daughter continues to remind me that each lesson that I just mentioned above are the same ones I taught her. And only these steps towards my sanity will help me breathe again. 

So let me repeat the list for me and for you:

  • Don’t honor or practice dishonesty 
  • Self care
  • All 4 agreements all the time (read the book and then repeat)
  • Stop protecting assholes with your undeserved kindness
  • Love yourself as you rediscover clarity 

Happy 2020! Kick ass! And don’t drag anyone with you who doesn’t deserve to be there with you or else….

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Join or Not (AEA vs SAG-AFTRA)

There are many benefits to being a member of Actors Equity or Screen Actors Guild. But, if you join to soon, you may quickly find yourself not working. What are the signs that you are ready to join either one? What are the differences between the two? How will it be different from being non-union?

Actors Equity Association (AEA)
The union for professional actors and stage managers that work in live theatre. They negotiate minimum wages and the ability to negotiate, along with health and pension plans. More information about becoming a member can be found here.

SAG-AFTRA
This union now brings together two great American labor unions: Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. It is a union that represents actors, announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voice-over artists, and other media professionals. More information about becoming a member can be found here.

Signs that you are ready to join AEA
  • More credits at union theatres vs. non-union ones (great roles!)
  • More major roles than ensemble (unless you are a dancer or a specialty dancer)
  • Positive relationshipa (they hire you back) with a variety (more than 3) of professional regional theatres (LORT - League of Regional Theatres) 
  • Have earned a variety of credits beyond the theatre (excluding understudy) that gave you your EMC card
Signs that you are ready to join SAG-AFTRA 
  • Definitely know without a doubt your type and what YOU would play in media
  • Have a reel that includes showcase or unique roles from student films, indies, or web series
  • If you have the above in place, then you can take advantage of background work as a pathway to join
  • Starting to get auditions for union feature films, TV, voice-overs, and commercials on your own
  • Agent or manager are starting to submit you for union projects and you are getting callbacks
  • Are SAG-AFTRA eligible 
  • Selected to be a stand-in for a major character in an episodic or for a major actor
Benefits of being in the either union
  • More pay per project
  • Residual payments for most SAG-AFTRA projects
  • Eligibility for pension and health benefits 
  • In general, you earn one year of vesting service for each calendar year in which you worked at least two weeks in covered employment.You can become vested with 5 or 10 years of vesting service, depending on when that vested service occurred. If you are vested and become totally and permanently disabled, you may qualify for a Disability Pension (AEA).
  • Protections from unsafe working conditions
  • Eligibility for unemployment benefits
  • Legal services
  • Guaranteed minimum pay (option to negotiate most contracts unless All Favored Nations) (AEA)
  • Housing and travel for most contracts
  • Will more likely be considered for TV, film , commercials, and voice-overs by being a member of SAG-AFTRA then if you are non-union
  • Membership dues are tax-deductible
There are many working actors who perform and never join either union, but I do believe if your goal is to be a professional working actor who can live off your earnings, you must consider the pros and cons. It is also important to not join to soon to avoid the pitfalls that often come with the transition. And many of those come with not having enough credits, or enough roles, or poor relationships with union theaters, or even worst not ready to compete with other veteran union members. This information was shared with me when I was making my decision and I didn't have to take a special class. I just needed the correct information and guidance before taking the leap.  



Saturday, February 16, 2019

What does it mean to organize?

Each year that I organize and work towards good in the greater world, I realize some new things and some old. The old information is that individuals who are truly inspirational organizers are simply about the work being done and the purpose being met. They gather people around them who are also about the work and the same purpose being met because they know that everyone is important and that every job no matter how small should be recognized and appreciated.  True organizers also trust everyone who works with them without the need to micro manage or to question their purpose or plan. They also do not seek the limelight or to be noticed because at their core the work and purpose is what drives them.The new things that I learn each year are not so positive. These not so nice lessons are usually:
  • Everyone does not truly care about the purpose
  • Some mistake activism for organizing
  • Gaining momentum is always a game of chess and not checkers
  • Being an organizer is more than throwing ideas and suggestions into the ether
I am writing this in the late hours because once again it has come to my attention after a very successful week of inspiration centered on Black Lives and Black Students and Solutions for Black Families and Communities, that there is always a person or a group of people who will try and destroy that light. And I am here to say No to all of that, and miss me with your questions and conjecture. I work and live and breathe beyond the hashtag. Each day that I breathe, I move closer to doing what needs to be done and never opting for what is simply convenient. 

I have been organizing for Black Lives since I was in high school. I remember going toe to toe with the establishment who constantly told me that I was not important or of value. And you know what, they soon learned a valuable lesson. I can gather a small army and fight the good fight where we are all victors at the end. And you will NEVER not SEE me. 

That same energy to organize and bring the dark to the light followed me to college and into my adult life. I have always known that my voice and my energy had the power to move mountains and to make a way out of no way. But, I believe that because I have never sought out the limelight that often my purpose and work is doubted. Or even worse, the greater work from the other organizers that gather around me and give me strength is questioned and doubted. Today is the day that I am telling you, No More. 

I stand on the strength of Assata, the voice of Nina, the work ethic of Ella, the perseverance of Rosa, the truth of Fannie and the radical energy of James. These folks were often silenced and questioned and cornered. And yet, their work and purpose continued and benefit EVERYONE. Including those who questioned the loudest. If you don't believe that I am the baddest blackest and most prolific organizer in this life and the next, you better ask somebody. Even better, look at the breath of the work, who supports the work, and why you should simply look on and simply say THANK YOU. Instead of trying to shower darkness on my joy. 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Why Black Lives STILL Matter

In 2013 after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin a hashtag erupted into a movement. Alica Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tomati created #BlackLivesMatter. A way for local organizers to pull together and continue the fight for Black lives. Because let's face it, we our under attack. And this attack has not ceased since we were kidnapped and brought by force to this country. In fact, the attack on brown and black bodies has been a global issue since ever. It is for this reason that we must continue to unearth the truth and share it without making it clean or easier to digest.

Philadelphia and many cities around the country are planning the National Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools. And I sit here and wonder if it is enough. Have we fully actualized the 13 guiding principles of this movement? Principles like Diversity, Loving Engagement, Collective Value, Queer and Trans Affirming, Black Families, Black Women and more? Have we? The answer is a resounding NO.

Just in 2014, Governor Snyder of Michigan gave the okay to switch Flint's water source from Lake Huron, a natural glacial fresh water source, to the Flint River, a chemical dumpsite. Since then over 10,000 children have been exposed to levels of lead far above 3.5 (the safe level) and many adults have died from Legionnaire disease. Lead is irreversible and never leaves the system. It alters a person's DNA. Mothers that have been exposed to high levels of lead will see it in their grandchildren. America did that. But, General Motors (GM) complained that the Flint River ruined their parts and they got switched back to Lake Huron. The residents did not. So no Black Lives still don't matter.

Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times by a Chicago Police Officer, became part of one of the most recent cover ups that reached all the way to the Mayor, Rahm Emanuel. Laquan's mother who had not seen her child since he was 3 received a large sum of money from the City of Chicago for her child's death. America did that. Hush money. The election came and went and Rahm was re-elected and then the video was released. Showing the murder and Laquan's dead body on the ground. One of many Black males who are unarmed and murdered by police each and every day in urban centers across the country. No one is ever arrested. No one is ever held accountable. It happens so often it is starting to not make the news. Vigils and protests are held by mothers, friends, and the community and Black Lives still don't matter.

In 1999, the Transgender Day of Remembrance was founded by Gwendolyn Ann Smith and in 2010 became a national cause. In 2017, twenty-nine trans-gendered individuals were murdered and in 2018 the number was twenty-two. 82% of these murdered are Trans-women of Color. Their murders are poorly investigated and incorrectly documented because they do not matter. They are silenced forever and no one is brought to justice. Why? Because Black Lives still don't matter.

#metoo movement started by Tarana Burke, a black woman, was a necessary light to shine on sexual assault and the victimization of women. In Hollywood, it has been a tipping point, Yet, if the women are poor, marginalized, Black or Brown then the #metoo movement is not for them. That could not be further from the truth. In fact, the rape of Black women goes back further than most history books even mention. The rape and murder of Black women has been #forever. The lack of safety for Black girls and women has been #forever and it continues #today. The reason that Oprah Winfrey mentioned Recy Taylor in her acceptance speech last year is because that truth continues to be hidden in plain sight. Rosa Parks being a sexual assault investigator for the NAACP is THE work that she should be known for. In fact the bus boycott was won on the backs and bodies of Black women (over 80% of bus riders at the time were Black women). Billy clubs hit Black women on their backs and stomachs leaving many of them unable to have children or simply damaged.  And today untested rape kits are at an increased rate for poor, indigenous, Black, Brown or marginalized women. Why? Because Black Lives still don't matter.

So as we prepare our cities to remember and commemorate the Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools remember the words of Audre Lorde, "Revolution is not a one-time event and The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." This work is an every day, every hour kind of work. It must be a part of your pores and envelop your spirit in order for a small change to manifest. Especially because the powers that are not even in the majority have a powerful machine and a dedicated intention to the very destruction of Black lives. Once that becomes clear, then we can stop with the business of simply rallying around a cause for 7 days a year, or on the King Holiday. We can educate our youth and our community by any means necessary and make sure that their eyes are wide open for the battle that has been waging in plain site for #forever. And maybe just maybe, we can stop asking for Black Lives to Matter. And finally live out a destiny that is not mired in BS, denial or petty liberal diatribes. Remember if you are not a part of the work then you are a part of the problem.