Monday, February 22, 2021
Tuesday, December 29, 2020
So it is the end of 2020, and each year, this is a time for reflection and introspection. And I do not want to make jokes about death or dying with over 300,000 American deaths as a result of COVID-19. And the numbers are climbing. We have also lost loved ones due to cancer, murder, accidents, and natural causes. This makes death real. It makes near death experiences of 2020 even more poignant. It makes me not want to waste time doing anything that does not bring me joy, edification, or creative experiences. I no longer want to spend time with people who make me exhausted, sad, or even worse uninspired. So this is my reflection on if I were to die tomorrow what am I grateful for.
So here it is, if I die tomorrow, I will always be grateful for my mom, my aunt, my cousin, and for being a mother to my amazing Maya. I am grateful that Maya is learning some hard lessons while managing her mental health and grief, and that she can find moments to smile while knowing that it is okay to not be okay. Maya has also taught me that we cannot run from obstacles, "Where am I not going to be Black and a Woman?" Facts! I am grateful, that some people have stopped speaking to me, and I am even more grateful for taking better care of me. I have a tendency to always think of others first, and often to the detriment of self. I am learning (thank you Debra Wright) that "No is a complete sentence." I also don't rush to pick up the phone nor respond to an email. I am also no longer rushing to accept apologies because lets face it, someone did something that pissed me off and the goal should be for that to not happen again, fuck a sorry. LOL! Just writing that gave me great joy and peace. I am grateful for all the lessons of 2020.
This year, many artists lost contracts and saw work vanish in the blink of an eye. I am grateful that auditions continued to come. I developed some amazing virtual audition techniques in the process. I also finished my solo show, which includes 8 original songs (written by me). In the midst of the crazy, I found inspiration to build Gumbo Lab. A virtual platform dedicated to BIPOC artists. And The Solo Project, which is the first Gumbo Lab production, is being sponsored by the Leeway Foundation and Black Lives Matter Philly, along with numerous individual donors. This is a major win during a time when many are struggling financially. Each weekly check-in that we have with the directors, cinematographers, and the artists has been inspirational and confirms that the community that I wanted to build and nurture is becoming a reality each week. Watching the gumbo cook is amazing! Ultimately, the Soul Full Celebration was a labor of love that featured some of my most talented friends performing and speaking about the wonderful work they continue to do in the community. Another positive for 2020.
I have been a part of some great virtual projects this year as a behind the scenes producer and in front of the screen as an actress reading new shows for new playwrights. Helping organizations to get the youth vote out with the Philly House Party. Organizing an impromptu concert which featured artists from LA, NYC, Philly, Brazil, and social justice and local organizations. Finding joy in the midst of the storm is a theme for 2020. And as I look back, I am reminded that I tried to make a way out of no way. And that I am surrounded by some amazing friends and family.
In the world of publications, I started with one chapter in a compilation about Black Lives Matter at School, and will go into 2021 with several more about race, black feminism, and what it means to do the work that many of us avoid. Confirmation that learning does not start or end with the number of degrees earned.
Continued lessons that everyone is not who they appear to be on social media, and we all need to practice more honesty and integrity when it comes to our work and our intentions. I have gotten closer to some friends who I had lost contact with. I have been able to share holiday traditions and more with family in Chicago thanks to Zoom. And I am also reminded that when people are fearful they can exhibit some behaviors that can make you crazy if you allow it. And I am no longer allowing it nor am I giving anything that does not feel right in the light of day. Because I have lost friends and family to natural causes and murder in 2020 so my perspective on what I want life to be is becoming very very clear.
Of course, I pray for life and to spend more time with my family and friends. But, I am grateful that I continue to live my life as if each day is my last. Not taking any moment for granted. Not taking any moment of inspiration or creativity for granted, It is why I keep a notebook near my bed. Some of the best things I have written came from that notebook. Listening to my spiritual guides to avoid difficult lessons. Reconnecting to my center so that I can be more balanced and "see". And let's face it. Many of us cannot say the same. It is the reason we spend so much time on social media trying to convince others and ourselves that everything is amazing or that we are such experts in "everything." When the truth is, many of us live in constant fear, and many of us do not know how to exist with fear so we fight it by lying to ourselves or even worse making others peoples lives miserable. We also love to hide behind our deep flaws and self-harming habits while critiquing others for having similar demons. This is why the 4 Agreements are so important (Thank you Don Miguel Ruiz)
- Be impeccable with your word
- Don't take anything personally
- Don't make assumptions
- Always do your best
Monday, November 2, 2020
It had been 151 years since a last-minute nomination to the Supreme Court was approved during an election, and now with 52 votes, we have Amy Coney Barrett. There was a time she would not have been nominated because the vote used to be 60. And now it is not. Changes, changes, changes! She considers herself an "originalist" and believes that Supreme Court judges do not make policy. Her entire confirmation hearing was filled with non-answers and pre-recorded rhetoric of previous judges. And now the court is firmly right of the right. and it appears as if the citizens are in a quandary.
On top of that "He who shall not be named" has appointed more federal judges across the country than any other sitting President. Another quandary. Especially because many are upholding some rules that will hinder and affect the upcoming election.
A week after the election, the Supreme Court will begin to hear California v. Texas, which will directly and purposely question the Affordable Health Care Act. An imperfect bill that has provided healthcare for millions with pre-existing conditions. Next week the crux of the case is should insurance be mandatory. If the case results in that section of the bill being gutted it will forever change access to insurance and healthcare. This, in the midst of a pandemic when healthcare is necessary for all of us. It will also result in additional tax breaks for the rich. Why? Because a large percentage of the AHCA and Medicare are covered by a percentage of taxes from investments (this includes capital gains). And the piles of quandaries continues to grow.
Pennsylvania and North Carolina have barely maintained that votes will still be counted even if the mail-in ballots arrive late. According to Twitter, the White House firmly believes that an election should end on election day. Despite the fact, that national elections always count votes this way. Always. For a long while. Yet, there were sessions in the PA Republican majority House occurring about changing the electoral vote and changing the rule, days before the election. Wisconson successfully passed a bill stating that no late votes will be counted, so if you live in that great state get those votes in. And Alabama ruled against curbside mail-in ballot drop-offs just because. Despite it being a great incentive for the elderly or individuals with disabilities.
WHAT DO WE DO NOW!1
We do what we have always done when the government is having internal turmoil and has lost its moral compass. We vote. We participate in local elections by encouraging new and better people to replace those who have done nothing for years. Here are the states that are having those elections tomorrow and the schedule for the rest of us. We also call on our US Congress to immediately recommend that the Supreme Court be expanded. Remind them that historically it has already happened before (Lincoln and Roosevelt). And it needs to happen NOW! Get prepared for the upcoming US Congressional elections that are not tomorrow. Ask yourself, if you feel fully represented and safe? If the answer is a resounding no, then take the opportunity to make some changes.
Additionally, we need to really look at the current two party system, with the winner takes all philosophy. Does it work? What needs to be changed or improved? What about that old electoral college? How can we guarantee the Voting Rights Act and make it permanent instead of one that has to be renewed every 7 years? That's right, if you are Black and a resident of the US your right to vote is not permanent or safe. (The only members of the US that needed not one but two voting laws).
Each state and city that had police running amok with no consequences, look to the DA election. Make sure that your select a governor that will appoint an AG that represents you. Even better, look to change the charter of your state that says an AG needs to be appointed and not elected. Yep, that is also a possibility. Consider rank voting (look to Maine).
We all need to get our heads out of our asses and come up with an actual plan. And stop realizing we need a plan the day before the election (this article does not count because I have been saying this for years). I have voted in every election since I turned 18. Even when I moved to a new state I would quickly get registered and participate. My advice is to keep a watch on SCOTUS next week. Keep watch on those states that have governor races tomorrow. Keep watch on those ballots. And more importantly, if you have not already voted make sure that you are heard tomorrow.
I realize, that some believe that it doesn't matter. "My vote will never change anything." If that were true, then why does the "machine" work so hard to make sure you don't know anything about how government works? Why do they work so hard to make sure that certain votes are purged and gerrymandering happens? Why do they silence felons from voting? Why did they replace killing people for wanting to vote, by simply making sure we know nothing at all and making us apathetic? Because VOTING DOES matter. It is very dangerous and it threatens the status quo. So keep making them nervous by going to vote no matter what!
Saturday, October 31, 2020
On June 30, 2018, the School Reform Commission voted to dissolve. Many educators, parents, and organizers were joyful at this monumental win. It signaled the end of state control for the School District of Philadelphia. And then the creation of a locally controlled school board started. It eventually included students but gave them no vote. At first, it appeared as if a variety of applications were being seen, it almost appeared as if something different would occur.
It resulted in some new faces and some who had been on the SRC. You can read here the very first school board meeting details. The format of the meetings, the speakers attempting to be on the record, a litany of Sunshine Act violations (thank you Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools - APPS), and Superintendent Hite always having the final word, the growing list of working with outside vendors for basic and unnecessary needs, and the simple presence of democracy rendered invisible. I soon realized that this looked very much like the SRC of old, and the people were still barely being heard.
Each time a problem arises, the parents, educators, and community organizers make sure that their voices are heard. Even during the uncertainty of COVID-19, the people continue to push back and continue to go on record. Of course, as the meetings have been virtual, access to technology has limited the voices of many parents. Even time limits on speakers have been more draconian than usual. And some of the board members fall asleep (Wilkerson) and others just have questionable ties (McColgan). And one recently just stepped down (Akbar). And the meetings last for hours (Exhausting!).
Even the wins of getting the Board's support for Black Lives Matter Week of Action, a more robust Social Studies curriculum, and the ask for more Black educators to be hired seems like symbolic gestures when you continue to see how many problems persist. Despite all of the work that went into it from the organizers. The problems persist.
The problems include racism in schools (#BlackatMasterman, #BlackatCentral), a lack of actual consequences for policies #248 (harassment), #249 (bullying and cyberbullying), and #252 (Trans and non-binary students), policing in schools (now they have new uniforms and new titles), asbestos, HVAC and ventilation systems, equitable access to the internet for all families, a pending teacher contract, new online platforms (Canvas is coming when folks are still trying to figure out Google classroom), and reopening of school buildings. All of this combined with questions regarding funding and spending continue to maintain the district's chronic dysfunction.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work is being rolled out with Equity groups. Schools were all provided some guidance, language, and "encouragement". You know what was missing? The actual mention of systemic racism, white supremacy, patriarchy, sexism, transphobia, and more. You know. all of the things that result in diversity, equity, and inclusion never being achieved.
We need an elected school board. Immediately! Yes, the city charter needs to be changed. It should be the next ballot box issue. We also need a new superintendent (one from Philadelphia - Byeee Hite!).
But, of course, there are concerns since the history of Philadelphia's political institutions are mired in corruption and backroom deals. Remember 2011, when Rep Evans and SRC chair Archie were tasked to find a company to take over King High School? Remember the great layoffs and school closures of 2013? Remember the agreement between Mayor Street and Governor Schweiker that resulted in the state takeover of 2001? Remember the promise to reform bail? Remember teachers not having a full voice about their contract or even worse having no contract for 4 years? And what about the members of the City Council who somehow can never be voted off the island (President Clarke)? Gerrymandering? Redistricting? Monies to run an election? These are just some of the worries and issues that could plague an elected school board without purposeful planning, strategy, and will.
There is hope in the new progressive candidates that have been recently elected to the council (Brooks and Gauthier). There is hope in the political environment (Working Families and Neighborhood Networks). There is hope in the student voices (Philadelphia Student Union & Philly PBSA). There is hope in the parents and the educators organizing each day. But is that enough? Is hope enough to counter decades of systemic racism, backroom deals, internalized oppression, selfishness, and greed? I am not sure. The better question is, Philly are you ready for something different?
Friday, August 14, 2020
So after Biden announced his VP pick, a divide happened. Everyone started to critique the political record of Harris and the reason she may have been selected. Some African-Americans were joyous about her being the first African American VP pick. Some were not because they had questions about her record as a DA, AG, and Senator. And the questions and concerns are valid because there is lots there to mine and consider. Many questioned and wished for Abrams. And could not help but notice the presence of Colorism in the conversation. And African-Americans have the right to question and disagree. You know why? Because contrary to what everyone believes, Black people are NOT A MONOLITH! We do not think and breathe the same on every issue, problem, politician, or situation.
But something that Black women do is VOTE...in...every...election...in...high...numbers. So if you are reading a critique or a compliment written by a Black woman about Harris or former President Obama or any Black or white politician, WE have earned the right to be critical and complimentary because we always show up, show out, and sometimes even save America from itself.
And white people, are also asking questions but they try and keep it among themselves on social media or even worse get brave enough to tell a Black person that they should not critique another Black person. Yeah, that happened to me and I quickly said Fuck it, in the only way I know how. Byeee and block!
Once again, let me elucidate on why being critical is not a terrible practice. And why folks need to stop silencing people with, "Well the most important thing is to get rid of the evil that is in the White House and then we can blah blah blah." The problem with that either/or thinking is that it makes the flawed observation, that "evil" was ushered in with Trump and it will be eradicated if he loses. We were already living in the constant hail shower of racism and white supremacy since....wait for it...EVER! It did not start with Trump, it simply became more overt and forced many out of a false post-racial slumber. Even some famous Black people listed a list of items that Harris never did, but Trump is infamous for. Things like rip families apart at the border and doing other racist shit.. It is a wonderful meme if the people reading it are already aware that EVERY President we have ever had in the United States has done horrible and racist shit. And many of the same who did those horrible things to Black and Brown people also did wonderful and helpful things too. The Affordable Health Care Act...good. No Child Left Behind...bad. Race to the Top...bad. War in Iraq...questionable. The nuclear arms race...bad. Eliminating checks and balances for Wall Street,,,bad. The Marriage Equality Act...good. Because that is the textbook definition of being a politician. The reason is because most Americans cannot hear a person when they speak of radical change. Shit, they can barely hear you when you speak of gradual change. And remember the election of 2016 was a close one, which means that Trump's ideals and practices and opinions have lots of supporters...still.
So what do we do? So what can we do? We can start by being open to the criticism and debate. We can practice listening to other sides. We can also remember and listen to the words of James Baldwin, "I love America more than any other country in the world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually."
Local Elections are coming up. Who do you want to represent your city and state? Who do you want as a DA? And do you finally realize that the "top cop" position actually should serve as THE accountability partner to the FOP and not be sponsored by the police? Who are the judges in your city and state? What is their history and practice? Examine how your state has handled COVID, the state of poverty, wage inequality, immigration, LGTBQ+ rights, gun violence, internet access, and public education. These are all items that can be legislated and argued at the local level. One does not have to wait for "better" leadership in the White House. We can also propose to our local government that we want to put rank voting on the ballot. In other words, how are YOU preparing for this? Besides gearing up for a debate on social media, how can you work towards creating ripples of change. Because let's face facts, no one is coming to save us.
Critical Lens Development: Continue to read and listen to articles and interviews that came out before the primaries and after. Continue to read and listen to books and interviews about America's past. So that we can stop believing in a golden era that only every existed for the chosen few. Read about past movements and briefs and dissents written by Supreme Court judges on the last few laws and every one that has been passed. They reveal lots about the state of our courts. Read and actually speak with those you disagree with, sometimes the echo chamber is real but I do understand it is difficult to have sensitive talks with individuals you do not even trust. So do not reach out to strangers or people you only see on social media, talk with friends and colleagues. Or even better join a group that is actually doing the work so you can see who is being silenced and why. Develop critical networks.
And remember the most important practice as a person who strives for critical thinking and development, being critical is a wonderful practice to develop those muscles.
Final thoughts: America is a country that has and may never face up to her own demons, which is why I believe they continue to stir and leap out every chance they get. It is the equivalent of trying to chain a rabid dog, eventually they break free and must be put down. Is there a reason to be hopeful? Sure, but not in the way we often think. There are progressive candidates ignoring the money of lobbyist and running and winning in city and state elections. That is hope. There are organizations doing some amazing work to make sure that Black Lives Matter so that every life finally can. That is hope. There are teens speaking out and organizing against injustice and racism. That is hope. There are young people getting out to vote. That is hope. There are independent news outlets and book publishers that are getting the truth out. That is hope.
And that is why like Zora, I write and speak aloud the critiques I have. I have also had my mind changed when I watch people change because I have seen it happen. We all have the ability and capacity to evolve and change. It is what makes us higher complex mammals. We also have the ability to listen, hope, critique, disagree, and in November still VOTE.
Sunday, August 2, 2020
Each summer, the summer book series. brings an opportunity to discuss something new and interesting, but even more, it is an opportunity to connect the world of education to other parts of life. Housing issues. Art. Activism. History. Black feminism. Having conversations with fellow educators and parents. This summer I selected Looking for Lorraine because I am fascinated by Lorraine Hansberry and her life is now on full display thanks to the expertise and pristine research of Imani Perry. I recommend it for anyone who is interested in seeing how Blackness, socialism, communism, theater, writing, music, Chicago, New York City, housing laws, racism, womanhood, friendship, James Baldwin, Nina Simone, gender, and sexuality intersect and combine. Then this is the book for you. Before I share the words from some of the participants, I want to speak about Ms. Rosita.
Ms. Rosita joined us on Day 2 and she brought such an amazing breadth of history with her. She is a retired Philadelphia Public School teacher who was born and raised in Chicago. She attended the same high school with Lorraine but did not know her. We swapped stories about the city because, like her, my mother, grandmother, and aunt also attended nearby elementary schools. I saw my family in her stories. I saw myself. Chicago continues to live with me. Always a transplant.
We also had participants who remember seeing Raisin in the Sun at the movies when it first came out. The space was very inter-generational and it included fellow artists, educators, social workers, and retired educators. And this is why I am most grateful for the conversations and fast camaraderie. It was beautiful and necessary at a time when many of us are speaking in echo chambers with people who have similar backgrounds and beliefs.
Many of us only know Raisin in the Sun and truthfully, many of us only know the surface of it. When it opened on Broadway, the audience was filled with Black people. Black people! James Baldwin even quipped how many Black people came to see it. The construct of the play had no starring role, it was an ensemble piece. Each character and their moments were intricately connected and dependent on each other. She was the first Black female playwright to be on Broadway. Only because her mentor and friend Alice Childress another Black female playwright declined an earlier offer because she did not like the way the producers attempted to whiten her work. Her marriage and friendship with her husband was not traditional but he fiercely protected her memories and writings long after her death. And her friendships with James Baldwin and Nina Simone was a "Trinity" like no other. I truly believe they were both affected on a cellular level by her passing too soon. The book challenges and stretches our ideas of blackness and political action. It challenges our idea of blackness and class. But for me, it was a confirmation that art, writing, and political action are not separate entities. Like Raisin, they are also an ensemble predicated on the internal workings of an individual that provides illumination to how one truly sees themselves. One without the other, I dare say results in a fractured soul and spirit. And Lorraine's life was a testimony to that as she rode the ebbs and flows of joy, insecurity, confidence, passion, anger, and love.
Final comments and reflections:
(Kevin) After our discussions, there were two passages from Looking for Lorraine that stood out to me:
"Hence, there was no necessary tension between art and politics, according to Lorraine. She believed, instead, that great art required one to say something about society" (108).
"Though she was an internationalist, and something of a Black nationalist, a Marxist, and a socialist, she was also deeply American. She understood that to be a thing of beauty and horror at once" (183).
I chose these two because I think they speak to the tension at the heart of Lorraine's art. When she expressed her disappointment or rage at the country, whether it was through her art or speaking out about political issues, it was coming from a place of profound disappointment rather than scorn: this was her country, and it owed her so much better.
Thanks for all of your work leading this group. I found myself learning so much from reading Perry's book, but even more from the way you lead discussions. My copy of the book is annotated to death with ideas for how to teach Raisin. So, thank you.
(Jody) Tamara, thanks for much for a great book group! Every summer I've thought about joining one of these groups, but this is actually the first time I did, and it was a wonderful experience. I loved the book, and found it readable and enjoyable, and also deep and complex, so there was plenty to talk about. I really appreciated the facilitation, which helped us get to key topics and also allowed for relevant diversions. What a treat to hear of the connections you, Rosita, and others had with the place and other aspects of the material we were reading about. I also loved the way people put additional materials into the chatbox, and the related materials you sent us. And I was amazed at how in just three sessions we developed such a great group dynamic and rich bodies of knowledge.
(Danina) I actually highlighted quite a bit in this book, but a statement that really stood out to me is on page 162.
It reads, "...Lorraine emphasized self-determination for Black people. She was neither interested in status nor seeing Black folks manipulated by elites, whether said elites be Black or white. She wanted to be led by the people."
This particular quote drew my attention because it sums up Lorraine's overall philosophy about activism. She also shows that leadership is built from the ground up and that even as leaders ascend, they should do so in a manner that is uncompromising of their integrity and humility.....good leaders always center the people. Here Lorraine also shows her commitment to activism and the spirit of selfless revolution for and by the people.
This Summer Reading Series allowed me to take away some great insights with regards to what leadership looks like, and how we can apply lessons learned during earlier civil rights struggles to today's mission. I appreciate the various perspectives that were brought to the table and the opportunity to reflect on the past, for guidance as we move into the future. Special thanks to Tamara and Angela for creating an environment that fostered engagement, critical analysis, and a respect for various points of view! I am already looking forward to Summer Reading next year!
(Valerie) Thank you again for another awesome facilitation of the book, Looking for Lorraine. I have been in several book clubs in my life and have yet to experience one like this. Your facilitation is on point and lends itself to a variety of perspectives from art, theatre/film, literature, history, culture, and the politics of our time. The recommended readings and articles shared related to the topic and themes covered in the book and made for a lively discussion.
I did not get a chance to read the book but the rich discussion among the participants made me feel like I had. This was a well-read group and tonight to have Ms. Rosita share her personal experience and connections with Lorraine topped things off for me. The group was also inclusive and respectful of one another's opinions. I felt as a black woman comfortable and unapologetic in the comments I made. Thanks to you and the group for this wonderful experience.
Saturday, July 25, 2020
This is not a rehash of the history that we all know. So if you are seeking that just research the actual case and the briefs written famously by Justice Warren to defend its passing (which were very anti-black). This is an observation of a reality that very few of us speak about in public spaces.
The case itself was considered a "win" for the NAACP. But for Black educators in the south, it meant the loss of work and forced migration to northern cities that quickly placed them on the Colored teaching list. And resulted in long stints of unemployment. There was also no real practice of reciprocal integration. White students attending black schools and White patrons shopping at black-owned shops and businesses. In fact, integration led to a slow but steady decline in thriving black businesses with the exception of already thriving black towns or black communities. The only exception to this rule in regard to schooling was HBCUs. Even today non-black students are welcomed and nurtured in their spaces. Cannot say the same for PWIs.
This is because the idea of whiteness holds value over blackness. And one-way integration encouraged and solidified that idea. SO much so that even today predominately white spaces have higher housing values, more funds for public education, and are seen as having less crime. Poverty is seen as black, and with that comes lower housing values, fewer funds for public education, and increased incidents of crime. Despite the fact that white Americans account for more welfare recipients then Black people. And that white on white crime is just as prevalent as black on black incidents. And that we have several laws to protect against such discrimination. But even the Equal Opportunity Act benefits white women at a rate of 70% of court cases over BIPOC individuals.
This is why mentioning segregation as being a problem without context or historical nuance is dangerous and can result in anti-black sentiment. Poverty and a lack of access are symptoms of white supremacy, not Blackness. Seldom are the conversations about how vehemently white Americans protect their white spaces, white schools, and whiteness from everyone else. No one speaks on how all-white spaces are actually more toxic then any other affinity or single race space, mostly because even in Black spaces, whiteness makes an appearance. Especially when it comes to law enforcement and capitalist systems like banking. Even today despite the Housing Act of 1968, Black families are still turned down for mortgages at a higher rate than whites.
And when we use terms like grit or saving money and raising credit scores, we forget that racist financial institutions still offer higher interest rates to Black borrowers with high scores and low debt. Because Blackness is equated with debt and irresponsibility, despite the fact that much of this is caused by the lack of generational wealth that exists for Black families due to enslavement or if they are Black immigrants from other countries, the reparations that their countries paid to their colonizers renders many with little to no financial start.
I hope that this encourages you to research the inherent problems in one-way integration. So that we can actually create reciprocal integration, and stop blaming segregation for what is wrong. Or even better create an actual anti-racist system.
As Zora Neale Hurston wrote on her 60th birthday in a letter to the Orlando Sentinel about Brown v. Board of Education, "I regard the ruling of the US Supreme Court as insulting rather than honoring my race." As I age and study it closer, I concur.