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JAY Z Is A Billionaire. What Will Black Boys In YOUR School TODAY Be Tomorrow?

I felt so inspired by what my teacher said,

Said I’d either be dead or be a reefer head

Not sure if that’s how adults should speak ta kids

Especially when the only thing I did was speak in class

JAY Z, So Ambitious (Blueprint 3, 2009)

There are many reasons why I decided to write my doctoral dissertation and forthcoming book on JAY Z (born Shawn Corey Carter). I could speak about him becoming hip-hop’s first billionaire or his marriage to megastar Beyoncé. I could speak about his rags-to-riches story or his incredible, yet silent activism such as bailing out fathers and financially supporting organizations like Black Lives Matter. All of these facts are relevant and worthy of their own chapters and articles but the aforementioned quotation from the song So Ambitious speaks to me as an educator who works with schools on elevating their black males like no other JAY Z line. The lines resonate because I realize that we spend so much time celebrating JAY Z while ignoring or outright ostracizing the JAY Zs in our classrooms today.

At eleven years old, JAY Z was a poor, self-described “half orphan” living in the crime and crack-infested Marcy Projects in Brooklyn. When I interviewed his sixth-grade teacher Renee Rosenblum-Lowden about his three biggest influences at that time, she stated without hesitation: “drugs, drugs, and drugs.” She talked about the pressures hard-working students faced from other children making money as drug dealers. She spoke about having to let some of her students sleep in class because they could not sleep at home with all the gun shots and violence. She spoke about her students walking out of school and seeing dead bodies. Though her classroom was a haven for JAY Z and other students, it is also worth noting that the school itself was so underfunded (like many inner-city schools across the country then and now) that it could only hire a male gym teacher who “supervised” both male and female locker rooms.

What were JAY Z’s life chances? In all reality, this was a boy who should have never reached adulthood but as this article is being written, there are still JAY Zs in classrooms across America who are just as bright and determined but are not being given a chance to reach their fullest potential. It should be noted here that despite JAY Z’s challenges in and outside of the home, he was a child prodigy, demonstrated by the fact that on citywide school exams, he received senior level scores though he was only in the 6thgrade. In other neighborhoods he would have been called a genius, but in 1980s Brooklyn JAY Z dropped out of high school to sell drugs. Did he fail school or did school fail him?

Judging by what is happening with our black boys in schools today across America, school failed JAY Z then just as schools are failing black boys now. Using JAY Z’s lyrics, I will highlight three immediate steps that schools can take to genuinely reach their black male students, and by default, all of their students.

I’m a hustler, accept that

No correctional facility can correct that

NYMP (1999)

These lines remind me of a quotation from Dr. Cornel West, who said that black male rage cannot be destroyed or caged. He said it can only be redirected. Unfortunately, in too many of our schools, the rage that many of our black male students enter schools with or develop while in schools (and of course many black girls too) is redirected towards detention, suspension, and expulsion. It is this redirection that is greatly responsible for what has been called the preschool to prison pipeline. Within schools, however, this is best manifested by black male students being separated from the “general population” by being placed unnecessarily in special education or in-school suspension though what many of them need is the critical thinking skills developed in honors and advanced placement classes. Unfortunately, in many schools, according to Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, about 20% of teachers make 80% of referrals as it relates to discipline and serve as the gatekeepers to who gets to experience advanced courses. Give black male students the same opportunities to excel as all students instead of setting low expectations and not being surprised when they meet them!

Teacher said I was a lost cause ’cause I used to roam the halls

Still I spit knowledge, dropped out of high school, skipped college

Who’d a thought I’d make it BIG like Ms. Wallace?

This Life Forever (1999)

A carryover from the last point, teachers and administrators must set high and honest expectations for black males and verbalize them. I say “honest” because students can always detect fake intentions. I once spoke at a high school where the principal saw a student and smiled in his face and encouraged him to not be late to class. As soon as he turned the corner, the principal said: “You know he is going to make a great prisoner one day.” I believe that student, like so many others, saw through her façade and knew exactly what that principal thought of him. As study after study and educators like Jane Elliott have shown with her brown and blue eye test, students of all backgrounds will rise or sink to the expectations set for them. If you enter your school with low expectations of any student, it may be time to either find the passion for every student that led you to become a teacher or leave the profession.

I went to school, got grades, could behave when I wanted

But I had demons inside that emerged when confronted

Now all my teachers couldn’t reach me and my momma couldn’t beat me

Hard enough to match the pain of my pops not seeing me so

With that disdain in my membrane

Got on my pimp game

F*** the world, my defense came

December 4th (2003)

Whenever I see a mass shooting conducted by a white boy or man, conversations quickly emerge about mental illness oftentimes before the name of the shooter is even known. If the shooter is Muslim, they are automatically labeled a terrorist. If they are black, they are usually labeled a thug. I do not, for example, hear discussions about mental illness in conversations about violence on the streets of Chicago. Do you? Non-white people deserve the same mental health prescription that is assigned to most white male offenders. In order to make sure black male students can reach their apex, schools should survey the services that these students need that could range from mental health services to basic dental care. As Jonathan Kozol talks about in his book Savage Inequalities, a student cannot excel during an exam if he is suffering from a simple toothache. In fact, some children have indeed died in America from a “simple” toothache due to a lack of access to health services. Many of our black male students have those “demons” inside that could be exorcised with the assistance of community and school health services.

There are so many lyrics by JAY Z and other rap artists that provide clues about why our schools are failing black males. Rather than ignoring those signs and praising these rappers as the ones that “made it out the ’hood”, we need to do a deeper dive to better understand their stories because theirs are the stories of our students in our classrooms today. The next JAY Z is in your classroom right now or at the very least in your school. He may have aspirations to be a rapper, teacher, sanitation worker, lawyer, or president. Whatever it is, we need to do the work needed to help him reach his greatness. Our black male students should not feel the need to leave school in order to reach their greatness. If we listen to JAY Z beyond the surface level, we will indeed see that he has provided us the Blueprint (pun intended) to do just that.

4:44 – The Album JAY-Z Always Wanted To Make…But We Wouldn’t Let Him

This article appears in The Huffington Post, where I am a contributor: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/444-the-album-jay-z-always-wanted-to-makebut_us_595e6066e4b08f5c97d067b3

Beyoncé the latest example of women held to a higher standard than men

It has been more than a week since Super Bowl 50 and the world is still taking about Beyoncé’s performance, which was captivating at best, or a slap in the face to the family friendly event at worst. From The Jacksons to former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the performance either made you proud, angry, or somewhere in between. As some prepare to boycott the NFL or Beyoncé in anger, it seems that there is one point that we are missing—Beyoncé was not the only performer on stage, but she was the only woman. The critique she is receiving is yet another double standard in the way women are treated harshly for their actions while men get a pass.

Starting with Beyoncé, I find it shameful that few people are mentioning the fact that Coldplay and Bruno Mars also performed. While many on social media jokingly thanked Coldplay for opening up for Beyoncé and Bruno Mars, the fact remains that it was Coldplay’s performance and they added Beyoncé. Since they clearly rehearsed for the performance, Chris Martin knew exactly what Beyoncé was going to do as it relates to her Black Panther attire. Should he not be protested as well? What about Bruno Mars? Was he not also dressed in the traditional black leather attire of the Black Panthers? I started to wonder how common situations like this occur and I instantly harkened back to Super Bowl 38. 

At the end of the halftime show of Super Bowl 38, superstar singer Justin Timberlake, ripped off part of Janet Jackson’s costume and exposed her right nipple. This event, commonly referred to as the “wardrobe malfunction” or “nipplegate” led to Janet Jackson’s music being blacklisted by Viacom, CBS, MTV, Infinity Broadcasting, and Clear Channel. Justin Timberlake received no such penalty. I then found myself asking—are the Beyoncé and Janet Jackson examples both sexist and racist? Miley Cyrus reminded us that it is not always about race.

In 2013, Miley Cyrus performed her hit song “We Can’t Stop” at the Video Music Awards. She invited R&B crooner Robin Thicke out to sing his new hit song “Blurred Lines.” During his song, Miley Cyrus bent over and “twerked” (grinding her behind against his groin region) while the crowd raucously applauded. Many on social media and in the press, however, did not applaud. Miley was roundly criticized for her raunchy performance and Robin Thicke got a pass, even though Cyrus claims that the move was Thicke’s idea, they did rehearse it, and he wanted her to look “as naked as possible” to reflect the women in his video. None of that mattered though. America sided with a then 36-year old married man who was somehow seduced by a teenage girl. America has a problem.

While the three events written about here represent mainstream pop culture, we can see every day how in 2016, men are still held to a lower standard than women. It is evidenced in Secretary Clinton being condemned for “yelling” though I’ve heard every male candidate in this election yell at some point with the exception of Dr. Ben Carson. It is evidenced in the continued praise heaped over the great American dance icon Fred Astaire while few struggle to remember the name of his partner Ginger Rogers, who did everything Astaire did but backwards and wearing heels, as President Obama noted. When will we wake up?

So as the protests against Beyoncé or the #beycott continue, Coldplay and Bruno Mars play on with no repercussions. We shame Beyoncé but do not shame an America for not knowing that the bay area where the NFL celebrated its 50th Super Bowl is the same place where the Black Panthers also started 50 years ago. We do not shame America for the sweeps of homeless populations living around the San Francisco 49ers stadium while those inside the Super Bowl ate hot dogs with gold flake toppings, celebrating American excess at its best. No. At the end of the day, we condemn the sole female performer who used her opportunity to shed light on a moment in American history that too many of us are either unwilling or incapable of studying and understanding and that is the real affront to American values.

I am LIVING, not marching for Trayvon Martin

 

             I have a great deal of respect for everyone across the country who is marching to demand justice for Trayvon Martin. Like many, I do believe that Zimmerman should have been found guilty of something. Deep in my heart, however, I knew that a “Not guilty” verdict was going to most likely be the decision. For days, I spent time thinking about my own mortality. I was reminded once again that, should something as tragic as this befall me, half the country will be in support of getting “justice” for me and half the country will seek to paint me as a criminal based on my past writings, emails, films, and songs. After a few days, however, I decided that I am not going to worry about this. I have decided that the best way to honor Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Emmett Till, Danroy Henry, Amadou Diallo, Jordan Davis, and countless others is to live and live to the best of my ability and be an example for others.

            At the end of the day, marching is not going to do much to challenge our justice system. Those who do not want to watch will just change the channel or stay in their air-conditioned homes on a hot summer day. How do I know this? I know this by the fact that there are no rallies for George Zimmerman taking place across the country. Those who support the verdict and even proclaim Zimmerman to be a hero will focus on legislative efforts to make sure that Stand Your Grand laws stay on the books. They will focus on midterm elections and the 2016 elections to make sure they are putting the politicians in place who will support them. At the end of the day, the rallies will end and America will go back to business as usual, but there is a way that this time can be different.

            Rather than march for Trayvon, let’s live for him. What does that mean? It means increasing our efforts to save our youth across the country who are victims and perpetrators of violence. As someone who has been a community activist all of my life, I know that there are Americans of all races and faiths working in inner city neighborhoods to halt the violence that persists in our communities. Unfortunately, our efforts will never make it to the mainstream media because mass black-on-black crime is expected. With all due respect, we have to step it up. We have to do more to show our youth that we care about them but will we?

            While many who will march for Trayvon are people dedicated to their families and communities, I know for a fact that there are some protesters who will go home and beat their own children like they don’t know them just for looking at them the wrong way. Some protesters will go home and call their own children the most vile names imaginable. Many more will go home and let their children continue to listen to music and watch movies that degrade people who look just like them. This is not living for Trayvon.

            If we want to live for Trayvon, we have to increase our efforts in showing the world, starting with our own community, that we care for our youth. In addition to boycotts, we need to organize BUYcotts to buy and fund artists, music and movies that showcase us in a more positive spotlight. Juror B37 was able to refer to Zimmerman as “George” and Trayvon and Rachel Jeantel as “they” because she has only been informed about black people by the images that have placed before her by mass media. If you did not live in a black community, what would your view of the black community be based on watching TV?

            Living for Trayvon means demanding more of us. While not perfect, I see the Jewish, Latino, and Asian communities demanding respect in this nation by building their own institutions and participating more in the political and business process of America. Many of us in the black community are still letting our votes be taken for granted by democrats, pimping ourselves out on YouTube for record deals and “exposure”, and showing by the way we let our young black boys walk outside of their homes half naked that we don’t care about them. I reiterate: living for Trayvon means demanding more from us. It means rappers realizing that their lyrics celebrating violence may be entertainment for some, but it’s the only form of education on black people for others. If we demand more from us, the country will be forced to change its impression of who we are.

And please notice that I am saying “We” and not “You” because I am as much a part of the problem as anyone else. Whenever I see young brothers and sisters repping themselves incorrectly on the streets or in the schools where I speak as a youth speaker, I am guilty as charged. My pledge to Trayvon and so many others we have lost is to do my best to not let them down. I will continue to promote peace in my lyrics, and be a role model wherever I go. I’ll work to smile more at the young brothers I see in the streets. When I slip up in this mission (as we all do at some point), hopefully my community will not let me fall but rather help pick me back up. Justice for Trayvon starts with me, not fighting to have the justice system pick the verdict I would I have preferred. Let’s join together and build ourselves up after the rallies on the shoulders of all who have died unjustly. That’s the least we can do.

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Jay-Z is more of an activist than you think

 

In Jay-Z’s 2001 song “Renegade,” He shares the following lyrics:

[People] say that I’m foolish I only talk about jewels

Do you [people] listen to music or do you just skim through it?

            I find these comments very poignant in light of Ms. Jenée Desmond-Harris’ article on the Root.com entitled What Young Activists Could Teach Jay Z. While Ms. Desmond-Harris bases her argument off of Jay-Z’s statement in response to Mr. Harry Belafonte calling on him to be more socially responsible, too many rap critics and fans alike base their opinion of rappers based on listening to one or two lyrics and use those lyrics to pass judgment on the entire life of a rapper. For his entire career, Jay-Z has been vilified as being only concerned about sex, guns, violence, and the glorification of his past days as a drug dealer. In reality, Jay-Z is more of a socially responsible activist than many of us know.

For my doctoral dissertation, I am writing an intellectual biography of Jay-Z from 1969-2012. In short, an intellectual biography situates an individual life in the context of ideas and perspectives as expressed and revealed in the life of an individual.  The goal of this type of biography is not just to chronicle Jay-Z’s life, but also to contextualize his life within a broader historical framework. As I am growing in my expertise on the life of Jay-Z, I have found at least three examples of how Jay-Z has demonstrated service beyond just using his presence as a form of charity.

The first is Jay-Z’s trip to several African countries as part of the United Nations & MTV’s “Water for Life” project. In the summer of 2006, as president of Def Jam Records, Jay-Z partnered with these two groups to use his global influence to get young people especially involved in the fight against the global water crisis. In his efforts to be more of a humanitarian and less of a hustler, Jay-Z partnered with the United Nations to build 1,000 “play pumps” across the African continent. These pumps use a simple merry-go-round that pumps water as children play with it. While Jay-Z, did not build every pump, he did participate in the building of some of these pumps and used his influence to get kids in America thinking about this crisis.

Second is Jay-Z’s charitable project with The Shawn Carter Foundation. This foundation has raised millions of dollars for prospective college students, and created a toy & meal drive for Hurricane Sandy victims. My mentor, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, once told me that he personally attended one of these fundraisers with Jay-Z and his mother where over $2,000,000 was raised in one night. This is not Jay-Z just showing up. He uses his foundation to call other people of influence to action.

Lastly, one can look at Jay-Z’s efforts over two elections to elect then re-elect President Barack Obama as can be seen in this video of Jay-Z with Beyoncé praising, Dr. King, Rosa Parks, and Obama. Jay-Z did not just contribute financially to Obama’s campaign and raise millions of dollars for him through fundraisers at his restaurant, he also campaigned vigorously across the country encouraging others to vote.  This is coming from someone who proudly claimed to never vote in his life.

By these three examples alone, one can clearly see that Jay-Z has gone way beyond using his presence as a present. While people criticized he and Kanye West for writing “luxury rap” during a recession with the video “Otis”, the Maybach that was smashed up was actually auctioned off to benefit victims of drought in East Africa. Jay-Z is using his platform to draw attention to issues that neither me nor our esteemed members of the Dream Defenders can do at an international level. It is not accurate for us to consider Jay-Z as someone who is not committed to creating change through his actions.  He has clearly demonstrated the opposite.

At the end of the day, we should accept individuals for where they are in the level of service they choose to provide. We need groups like the Dream Defenders that Desmond-Harris references in her article to create change on the local level and international superstars like Jay-Z to draw attention to national issues such as the Trayvon Martin case and international issues such as the earthquake in Haiti. While I did object to Jay-Z referring to Harry Belafonte as a “boy” in his song “Nickels and Dimes”, I have learned through my studies to go beyond Jay-Z’s individual lyrics or songs to look at the entire life of an individual who is actively learning how to be a better humanitarian through mentorship of individuals such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

We should, as Jay-Z suggests, go beyond the music and look at an artist in his or her totality, which is the same thing we would want in our own lives.  Love him or hate him, we cannot deny that Jay-Z is socially responsible and doing his own brand of activism. We need all hands on deck in our movement for social justice and I am glad that Jay-Z is on board.

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