Monday, July 27, 2009

The complexities of moving to a post-racial society

I received a tweet from my friend, Shawn Williams at Dallas South.

This is an interesting addition to the story:

911 call about break-in at Professor Gates' home

Puts another twist on the story...and about our (society's) initial assumptions. Moving to a post-racial society is extremely complex and will be a difficult road.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Gates, Crowley, and President Obama's comment

I am not going to commit to a position on the Henry Louis Gates incident this week. My feelings on it are complicated and complex.

When I first heard about the incident, I knew it would be a big least in the [predominantly Black and Hispanic] communities and circles I'm in. As it started getting more press, I knew it would arouse irritations from the [predominantly White] communities and circles I connect with as well.

I nodded in agreement as I listened to Black friends talk about the issue. Though not to the extent they do, I have gained an understanding of the frustrations and skepticism of the police and White people who assert power.

Though I realize to many of my African-American friends (and possibly some of my White friends as well), it is absolutely ludicrous to say that a White person does not realize they are asserting their power and domineering over someone because of race. It seems ignorant that a White officer who has been commended for training people about racial profiling would then engage in a word battle and arrest someone who had obviously been racial profiled.

The issues are complex. Should the blame be placed on the neighbor who called? The police officer who arrested a man for being upset that he was being suspected of being a thief in his own home? The Black officers who stood by and watched? Should the blame be placed on Professor Gates for asserting his highly acclaimed socioeconomic status over the police officer?

But what about all of those episodes on Jay Leno where they take cameras around to show the absurdity of people standing by doing nothing while houses are robbed, people "kidnap" children, boyfriends are abusive, etc. So what is one to do?? Quite honestly, all of the lawn mowers that have been stolen from my house (about 3) have all been done in broad daylight while I was at work or on vacation. I wish someone would've seen them and done something!

So although it may not be a popular stance, I am in the middle on this.

However, I don't have a problem with what President Obama said. Nor do I have a problem with the frustrated conversations that are taking place...and here's why...

As I talked to a bi-racial friend of mine, she recounted an incident that impacts the way she sees this issue.

When she was 5 years old, a white police officer pulled her dad over. Her dad has very dark skin. She has very light skin and, as a child, had blonde, curly hair. After pulling her dad over, the officer immediately walked over to her side of the car and began talking to her (not her dad) and asking her, "Who is this man?" and challenging the assumption that it would be his daughter. She recalled the look of pain, shame, and hurt on her dad's face as he sat silent and she looked to him for answers. She recalled the anger and tension she felt from her dad as they drove off. She was five. She is forty now, yet she still remembers the incident very vividly.

My friend is usually much more conciliatory than I am. I can't imagine anyone ever saying she is an angry Black woman or a woman with a chip on her shoulder. However, the Gates/Crowley incident brought up very vivid memories for her. What she experienced as a five-year old child shaped her. I cannot expect that to go away. And when it happens, even though we (White people) may think it was an innocent mistake, it doesn't feel so innocent when on the receiving end.

I think the conversations need to continue. We need to talk about and listen to each other. I hope Profeesor Gates, Officer Crowley, and President Obama follow through and actually have that beer together in the White House. President Obama could potentially facilitate and encourage open race relations dialogue that would help us move forward.

Having those conversations...listening to each other...putting ourselves in someone else's shoes...thinking about perspectives from a several different viewpoints... I believe, could begin to change the way we view and make decisions about our nation and our world.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Follow @childfund

Check out this blog: Follow Childfund on Twitter

Not much time left to help out.

ChildFund International just rebranded from the Christian Children’s Fund last week as an effort to demonstrate a singular commitment to children’s welfare today and tomorrow (image: Faith Smiling by ChildFund, NZ). Along with the new brand are new Twitter (@childfund), Facebook, blogging and YouTube efforts.

To celebrate, ChildFund International is giving gifts of agricultural love and hope
from the organization’s gift catalog for every 200 Twitter followers @childfund receives. These efforts will directly benefit children in Gambia, Zambia, Kenya and Ethiopia. There is no cap on on followers, and the offer will continue through July 27.

Each country has different needs so the gifts vary:

Chickens for a school in the Gambia
A goat for a family farm in
Mango trees in Kenya
Vegetable seeds in Ethiopia

As part of the effort, ChildFund International is sending Flip cameras to program directorate offices in each of the four countries to report back. They will share the recipients’ stories and photos with the social web. ChildFund wants to show folks how their efforts and these items benefit children and their communities. It is also a commitment not to simply promote, but to continue an accountable dialog with the social web.

So tell your friends. By simply following @childfund we can all make a difference in a child’s life.

ChildFund enlisted our help with this effort. It’s an honor to work with them to help bring their new brand to life on the social web, and work to directly benefit children in these four countries. The organization has served children since 1938 and helps 15.2 million children and family members in 31 countries.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Perseverance to forge new paths

I love this picture!

Though this is not near all of the college students, these are a few of the young adults who have gone on to college...some who will be completing soon.

All of the people in this picture grew up in our Kids Kamp/University of Values program. Some were students, some volunteers, and some ultimately became the teachers of the program. (Two of them are not yet in college, but definitely plan to go).It's fun when they get together and reminisce.

As we cooked together and then played games, the students talked about lessons learned, talked about how they were passing their knowledge on to kids below them, and just had a good time laughing and getting reacquainted. Some exchanged numbers so they could help each other find jobs or provide other information.

Most of them lamented the fact that their friends from high school have taken different paths. Because of that, they no longer have much in common and much to connect on. As Lewanna explains, forged paths are easier to follow. The students above are persevering and forging the path to make things easier for those behind them.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

It's the little things in life

Each Valentine's Day our After-School Academy makes super-sized rice krispy hearts and sells them as a fundraiser. We put fruity pebbles in them to make them colorful and extra tasty. My high school used to do the same thing and I always remember being so excited when someone chose to send me one.

So, to carry on that tradition, each year, I make sure each of the kids I know in college receive one. I also try to think of people who have done good things for the After-School Academy without ever asking for a thing in return.

They're just rice krispy treats. Marshmallows, rice krispies, fruity pebbles, and butter. Mixed up, molded into a heart-shape, and wrapped with saran and a few ribbons if we have them.

Yet, after receiving them, a few people I know have refused to eat them. Ashley, a college student, kept hers in her refrigerator for an entire year. I know because she showed me when I was at her house a year later. She never ate it. For all I know, she still has it.

Rana, a resident in Roseland, watches out for me when I work late. When she sees my car there late, she calls to see when I'll be leaving, then comes over to make sure I get to my car safely. She, too, refused to eat hers until one of her children mistakenly took a bite out of her prized possession. She was devastated.

They cherish their gift. They cherish the thought.

As I watched the video (below) from Tony Campolo, I thought of them. I thought about people who don't take for granted the little things they receive in life. I wondered if Ashley and Rana knew that my gift to them was as much out of my gratefulness to them as their not eating it was to show their appreciation to me.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Exposing kids at a young age

Every time I interact with kids, I realize how much they absorb when we least expect it. Some of the kids who are now young adults will mention something to me that I said or we did together that I either don't recall or didn't think was significant. It is those times when I realize how important it is to expose kids to a variety of events, concepts, and activities. All kids deserve to have a repertoire to draw from.

I heard about the Harmon and Harriet Kelley exhibit at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth and thought it would be a great opportunity to take some kids. Tiffany, a current college student, has grown into a young adult who also appreciates these opportunities--for herself and the younger kids in her family, so I asked her to go. As expected, she brought along her two-year old niece and five-year old nephew. I took one of the kids in our summer program.

All three of the kids we took were younger than 2nd grade, but the one-on-one ratio provided the perfect opportunity to help the kids learn art museum etiquette while challenging the kids to think, observe, and critique the art.

Mr. and Mrs. Kelley chose paintings for their collection that demonstrated positive images of black people--contrary to many images that were in art during that time period. Although the kids never commented on the skin color of the people in the paintings, they recognized families, hard-working people, and other small details. I know those subtle messages Mr. and Mrs. Kelley aimed for were absorbed.

Before we went in, I asked the kids what they knew about art museums. They explained to me that it had birds, animals, and sand. I suppose they were confusing it with a zoo. When we came out, they still mentioned the birds and animals, but also understood that they were in the paintings.

When exposed, young kids can learn little lessons and make decisions about what they like and don't like...and can begin to develop the ability to hold educated conversations with people. After seeing the museum, Niemen decided, "I might work there."

The exhibit is open until August 23, 2009.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The nice White lady

Because I am White, I am sobered and always a little disturbed by videos like this one:

Though I chuckle in disdain at how we always elevate "the White lady" in heroic ways, I also feel the video is somewhat unfair. There *are* white ladies who do this. They love and inspire kids. They help students discover the power of their voices. They have a connection with the kids.

The problem is, it's not *just* white ladies who do this. I think of my friends Dave Herman, Jennifer Stimpson, Sylvia Baylor, Anna Hart, John Carter, Kevin Mondy, Anabeli Ibarra, Ramiro Luna, Liz Cedillo, and so many others who do so much to influence kids, families, community, and society.

I appreciate the comments of Eugene Cho on his post here.

Some of his comments:

  • In the big picture, it’s not about the nice white lady … it’s about those with power, privilege, and opportunities, and how we share them with others to empower. Many of us who are reading this likely fall under “the have’s” rather than the “have not’s”…

  • It’s not just about the nice white teacher. It’s about the students: young women and men that need opportunities, need to be lovingly challenged and encouraged, and need folks to believe and invest in them.

  • The frustration is when we exclusively elevate the nice white lady when we should be praising so many of the educators in our society.
It's not at all that "the White lady" doesn't have anything to offer. There are some great teachers and mentors who have helped provide opportunities and experiences and direction that haven't been available. The problem with raising up and lauding "the White lady" is that too often we leave out or don't take time to get to know the other people who have also made such a difference in the kids' lives.

...people who have always lived in the community

...people who do what they can to inspire the kids, despite their lack of resources.

...people of color who have gone off to college, gotten their degree, and still feel the importance of returning to their old neighborhood or a similar neighborhood, to "give back"

It doesn't matter what color you are. The people who make a difference are the people who invest in kids in a real and meaningful way. And we need more of these people.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Ripple Effect of Setting High Expectations

One day last week I received about 10 emails in my in box begging people to employ 14-15 year old teenagers. The teenagers are employed through Texas WorkSource so there is absolutely no cost to the organization. They only have to be supervised and given work. Yet, WorkSource is having a hard time finding placements.

Thinking about my dad and the blog post I wrote recently, I inquired about the teenagers. Katrina explained that 3000 teenagers had applied, but they had only been able to take 1400. She kept asking me to please take more than one, explaining that they were having a hard time placing the kids because no one wanted 14-15 year olds, even though the younger ones are often the best workers because they are so eager to have a job.

She did explain that these are "at-risk" teenagers so they do need coaching sometimes, but as the supervisor, she would step in at any time. If they didn't improve, they would replace them with one of the other 1600 on the waiting list.

Unfortunately, I could only agree to take one. Katrina told me he would report to me at 10:00 a.m. on Friday.

Shaquomm showed up precisely at 10:00 a.m. As he walked in, the first thing he told me was, "Fred said hi." Confused, I asked him if he was talking about the Fred that I knew...the Fred that I've known since he was 9. He explained that Fred was his step-brother. And then I had to laugh as Shaquomm reiterated the lecture Fred had given him before leaving the house. "Pull your pants up. Make sure and wear a belt. Do your job. Janet doesn't play."

I love it when the kids set the expectations for me. I'm sure Shaquomm is a great kid. In the right setting, my experience has been that the majority usually are. Shaquomm came in knowing the expectations put forth before him, without me saying a word.

Shaquomm's job is to scan in and label all of the photos I have taken of the kids over the last 14 years (about 40+ photo albums worth). I was afraid this would get extremely tedious and boring. But as I showed him the process, I saw him grin at one point. He mumbled half way to himself, "I can't wait to see my cousin." I asked him why. "I can't wait to tell him, 'I know more about computers than you do!'"

I smiled, knowing that that's exactly why I love interacting with and employing teenagers for the summer. Shaquomm's a quick learner and a quick worker. I left him in "his" office scanning away, listening to his mp3 player through his headphones and singing loudly (obviously not realizing others could hear).

Since I'm the only other person in the office, we'll work later on the professionalism and appropriateness of his singing-in-the-shower type performance. :)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Including ALL of our history

Some things are just hard to believe.

I received a tweet from EIFdotorg the other day saying, "TX Conservatives seek to remove a woman, a Hispanic, and a Black man from Social Studies curriculum," and then referenced this article: Conservatives seek to shift focus of state social studies lessons.

Surely, they were exaggerating.

But, sure enough, here are some quotes from the article:

"To have César Chávez listed next to Ben Franklin" – as in the current standards – "is ludicrous," wrote evangelical minister Peter Marshall, one of six experts advising the state as it develops new curriculum standards for social studies classes and textbooks.

Marshall also questioned whether Thurgood Marshall, who argued the landmark case that resulted in school desegregation and was the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice, should be presented to Texas students as an important historical figure. He wrote that the late justice is "not a strong enough example" of such a figure.

Both Barton and Marshall also singled out as overrated Anne Hutchinson, a New England pioneer and early advocate of women's rights and religious freedom, who was tried and banished from her Puritan colony in Massachusetts because of her nontraditional views. "Anne Hutchinson does not belong in the company of these eminent gentlemen," he said, referring to colonial leaders William Penn, Roger Williams and others.

How can we continue to say that Black people, Hispanic people, and women have made no real contribution to our society? How can we claim that someone like Ben Franklin deserves to be in a history book, but César Chávez does not?

The arguments I've heard is that including diversity in the curriculum requires that we take out all of the "important people" in order to have enough room to include others (i.e. women and people of other ethnicities). Who originally determined who those "important people" are? Where is the rating scale and what do we look for to determine that? How does someone like Peter Marshall get to be the authority figure on what is and isn't important?

I'm not suggesting that Ben Franklin is any less important than César Chávez. There have been a lot of contributions to our society over the years. We wouldn't be in the position we are without all of those contributions. The light bulb, electricity, and the first president of the United States were important contributions. But so was the filament that goes in the light bulb, the stop light, windshield wipers, COBOL (a common computer language), Kevlar (the material that makes bullet proof vests bullet proof) , color television, and so many more--contributions made by women and people of color.

Including women and people of color in the text books aren't about excluding white men. It's about including the contributions of every sector of our society.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Storytime Campout

As I came into the office today, I noticed that the After-School Academy window that is usually brightly lit up like this:

was very dark, as if no one was there. Though there were no lights, it seemed darker than usual.

Perplexed...and, I admit, a little concerned that the teachers weren't doing their job...I started to walk in.

As I opened the door, little voices started chattering, "Someone's coming in!" and one of the dark black curtains hanging from the ceiling, encircling the kids, slightly opened so the kids could see their intruder.

"It's Ms. Janet!" they exclaimed. And quickly started telling me, "We're having a campout!"

Indeed, it was very a campout. And I looked down to see their "camp fire" in the middle of the circle (baby carrots on a piece of white tissue paper with a flashlight underneath to make it glow).

The kids had read their morning story, Bear Snores On, and were role playing and learning about kindness.

Shines go out to Nazareth, their teacher for the day, who stepped in for their regular teachers. I'm glad I walked in when I did. Sometimes it's the little events that help me realize how much the kids are learning and how much the teachers (many of them high school students...and Nazareth, a former student herself) are teaching.

Thanks, everyone!