Beyond Kaepernick and Kneeling: Why JAY Z’s NFL Deal Could be Good for the Black Community

I was moved by the powerful article written by The Atlantic’s Jemele Hill entitled “Jay-Z Helped the NFL Banish Colin Kaepernick.” I felt that she captured multiple sides of the debate while firmly stating why she believes this deal with the NFL will be a bad look for JAY Z and many within the black community overall. While she made several points with which I agree, there are two main points that I would like to add to the conversation. The first is that Colin Kaepernick was banished from the league the first day he took that knee three years ago and not with JAY Z’s assistance. We just did not realize it yet. Secondly, JAY Z is right to ask the question about what the next actionable steps are beyond the kneeling and this could be a good way to get that conversation started.

Let me be clear about two points before I write any further. The first point is that I stopped watching the NFL years ago and I doubt it will ever gain me back as a fan. As a Boston native, I will never forget the night the New England Patriots won their first championship and I was driving through the streets of Kenmore Square with my brother Simba (pre-Lion King, thank you) hanging out of the moonroof high-fiving everyone in sight. I will never forget it because it was the most unified I ever saw Boston from a racial perspective. Despite my love for the game, I stopped watching before the kneeling occurred because before I realized how racist the league is, I realized how misogynistic it was after Ray Rice and so many others who received little to no penalties for domestic violence. Going home to my children every night, I could no longer justify how I could support a league that penalizes players more for abuse of drugs than abuse of their girlfriends, fiancées, and wives. The NFL could end its racism today and hire Kaepernick now and I would still not watch. It is also shameful how conversations about the NFL and its misogyny have disappeared from the headlines, but many victims are too used to that storyline.

The second point I must state is that I still support Colin Kaepernick’s activism 100%. What he did was bigger than the game and we can never forget the real issues he was fighting for, specifically the end of police misconduct. He was and still is fighting for my children and I will always hold a special place for him in my heart for that. Radio Hall of Fame personality Joe Madison often says that the difference between a moment and a movement is sacrifice. Kaepernick knew what he could be sacrificing by igniting this movement and that is why he will continue to have my respect. I have been critical of the fact that none of us who followed him know the content of his settlement with the NFL, but that is a personal decision that he made with his family and I respect that as well. The question that I would like to pose is: how long should Colin Kaepernick be the litmus test for determining progress between the NFL and the black community, particularly after he agreed to a settlement? Enter JAY Z.

Let us be clear about something. JAY Z is a businessman with an extremely keen sense of where the next trends are. He knows how to take advantage of opportunities. Former business partner and Roc-A-Fella Records co-founder said recently that JAY Z is the most opportunistic person he knows. Is that wrong, especially for a businessman? In his book Decoded, which I assign every semester for my American University class on JAY Z, he also made it clear that he left the drug world and entered the rap world because he wanted to make money. It was not about the art or the movement at the time. As he said in his song The Prelude:

I’m just a hustler described as a rapper

In fact, you can’t fit this hustle inside of a wrapper

While many were critical of JAY Z for rhymes like these and his original intentions with rap music, many of us have realized that we need to be more money and business focused if we want to really make strides in serious areas like closing the wealth gap, where it has been predicted that it would take 228 years for black people to close the wealth gap with white people. One of my favorite rappers is Talib Kweli, who is considered by some to be a “conscious” or “backpack” rapper. In an interview on the Karen Hunter Show, he stated that when he first started rapping, he just cared about the art but now that he has children going to college, he wished he paid more attention to the business side of things. This is what JAY Z has been encouraging us to do for years and this move with the NFL is a logical step in that direction…if it works out.

Similar to JAY Z ceasing his free promotion of the beverage Cristal, which he and the late Notorious B.I.G. made popular in their songs, I believe that JAY Z will sever ties with the NFL if he does not feel it is helping the black community. In an ideal world, I wish he did indeed have the blessing of Colin Kaepernick but Kaepernick has already received his money from the NFL with his settlement. Had he not received a settlement and was still fighting the NFL on that level; I would be more inclined to not support this deal between JAY Z and the NFL. As JAY Z said though, what are the actionable steps beyond the kneeling? The movement is supposed to be about social justice initiatives, right? My fear is that many of us who support Kaepernick would drop our issues with the NFL if he were allowed to lace up and play and ignore so many bigger issues. I am not speaking about serious activists like Jemele Hill or the three incredible women who founded Black Lives Matter (an organization that JAY Z has supported financially). I am referring to people who are social media act-as-ifs rather than activists.

At the end of the day, we in the black community have often supported institutions that once banished us. Once they made some effort towards equality, even in the smallest ways, we began to give them a chance, often at the expense of our own businesses and institutions . We still support some companies that still do not give a damn about us. Many of us received degrees from prestigious universities that were literally built by enslaved Africans and shunned Historically Black Colleges and Universities. We work and even become CEOs of companies that would never hire us before or sold us second-hand products. And many of us actively still listen to music and watch television and movies that depict us in the most negative ways (and yes, JAY Z admitted he has been part of that problem). When will the NFL get its chance at redemption? I may not be the best person to answer that question for reasons I have already stated but I do not believe that the answer to the question should be “When Kaepernick plays again.”

As someone who wrote a doctoral dissertation on JAY Z and who is writing a current book on him, I see JAY Z today as a Robinhood of sorts for the black community. He regrets his role in the deterioration of the black community through his drug dealing and some of the music and has been actively looking for ways to give back. He bails out fathers so they can be engaged in the lives of their children. He helpsbuild wells in African countries. He funds film projects to bring the stories of great leaders like Angela Davisand musicians like Fela Kutito a new generation of people. He funds scholarships for students from impoverished communities with “C” grade averages who otherwise would never have a chance to sit in classrooms like mine at American University, fights for prison reform, and so much more. And based off his lyrics from Izzo, “I’m overcharging n****s for what they did to the Cold Crush”, I believe he sees his partnerships with white run businesses like the NFL as a form of restitution. The aforementioned lyric in short is speaking about how black musicians have been underpaid and manipulated for centuries. He has worked to change that and has no problem getting rich in the process. Is he wrong for that? As he stated in Moment of Clarity:

I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them

So I got rich and gave back, to me that’s the win-win

Am I sharing these thoughts to absolve JAY Z? Of course not. I have been critical of some of his moves in my writings. What I am saying is that JAY Z deserves the benefit of the doubt for giving the opportunity for the NFL to put up or shut up with the world watching. Kaepernick did sacrifice his career to raise awareness about social justice. He, unfortunately, is not the first leader to not benefit from the movement he or she started, although he probably has benefitted more financially than other activists, given his contract with Nike and his settlement from the NFL. It is time to move forward and demand real action for those, unlike me, who have a desire to one day support the NFL again.

 

Workplace Issues Under Trump? Here are 3 ways To Handle It!

I have worked with both the Trump and Obama administrations during my career as a diversity & inclusion practitioner, so I have inside experience on how both administrations work. I have been critical of both administrations for different reasons. From corporations to schools, I have also worked with organizations dealing with the challenges the election of the first African American President brought them, which is a discussion for another day. The goal of this article is to provide some steps companies can take during the presidency of Donald Trump to deal with challenges related to diversity.

Whether you love or hate President Trump, we all know that he has been called by some the most divisive president in recent United States history. Whether you agree with that statement or not, one thing that we cannot disagree on is that since 2016, tensions have risen tremendously in the country in the form of an increase in hate crimes, an increase in tensions between non-white communities and law enforcement, and increased tensions in the workplace. More employees are experiencing tension because of what they are experiencing outside of work as well as on the job. Here are three steps companies can take to start to create a more productive work environment in a country that is only going to become more tense as we approach the 2020 election.

Create Free Spaces

There has been much written about the importance of organizations creating safe spaces, but there also needs to be free spaces where your employees can express themselves without being judged or develop a fear of reprisals. There should be a department or at the very least a representative of your company, not affiliated with HR, where employees can express themselves and their concerns about how the climate of the country (or your company) may be affecting their work performance. You can have employees who feel they are being targeted because of their race, religion, gender, or any other identifier that they feel singled out for. From the rich white male in your company to the Muslim middle-class female in your organization, anyone can feel marginalized at any time. They need spaces to speak their mind!

Create A Diversity Statement AND Diversity Trainings NOW Before…

…the crisis hits and a crisis will hit! I have encountered so many employees who have told me that they feel tolerated and not celebrated in their organizations because their jobs do not have a stated commitment to diversity. The idea of the diversity statement can indeed be controversial, but I believe that it is better to have and not need a statement than need and not have a statement. A diversity statement is a promise to everyone who walks through your door that your company is committed to hiring the best talent regardless of their background. In order to honor that promise, companies must engage in regular events and trainings focused on building a culturally competent work force in order to demonstrate that actions do indeed speak louder than words.

Remember That Silence Is Compliance

As I am writing this, the term #silenceiscompliance is trending in regards to frustrations with politicians not speaking up on some of the issues facing America today. Whether it is the situation with the flag and Colin Kaepernick or environmental issues such as the effects of straws in the environment, we now live in a society where consumers want their companies to take a stand, one way or the other. Even the candy company Skittles, had to issue a statement after the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. In this day and age, you do not want your company to be caught off guard by an issue that is quickly going viral. In the last year, Starbucks, Gucci, Macy’s, Home Depot, H&M, Sephora, Burberry, and so many other companies have found themselves the subject of backlash from issues such as racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination. You want to make sure that your company is proactive in the face of controversy because the companies that are reactive tend to suffer the most criticism from the public (and stockholders by the way).

At the end of the day, we live in a society that is on the brink of something beautiful or on the brink of something disastrous. Your company should not wait to respond to issues regarding diversity and inclusion. I have not yet read a study saying that companies that are more diverse and celebrate its diversity are less profitable. Forbes, for example, reports that companies increase their revenue by as much as 19% when they embrace diversity. As the country becomes more diverse and the world becomes smaller, you owe it to your employees and your consumers to continually be ahead of the curve. As Dr. King stated, the time is always right to do right. If your company is strong in one or two of these areas, strengthen yourself in the third area. If your company is shaky in all three, there is no time like the present to fine tune your programs by working with experts in this area. If your company is proficient in all three, do not get comfortable, for as Zig Ziglar said, you can always better your best! Let’s GO!

The Case For Impeachment (Lyrics)

We got a president that wants to be king

A media that obsesses on the pettiest things

A republican party that will do anything

That the President says man, he’s pulling their strings

Well he ain’t pullin mine I’ll say what’s on my mind

While Pelosi seems scared to charge Trump with high crimes

And misdemeanors, while his team ignores subpoenas

Fell in love with North Korea while our country’s getting meaner

A puppet of Putin, on that ain’t no disputin’

Helsinki press conference showed which flag Trump’s salutin’

His treasonous acts give us reason to act

Like the Oval Office meeting with Sergey Kislyak

Or not firing Conway for axing the Hatch Act

Or his support for Neo-Nazis and continued press attacks

And I beg your pardon, gotta talk about pardons

And how sells us all out on the White House Gardens

With his hourly lies more 10,000 times

Or how he sits with then hates on the New York Times

Or how he oversteps the law with legalese

And offers to pay violent supporter’s legal fees

If they attack a demonstrator, but he’s the real hater

And if you work for him and disagree? See ya later

Come on homey, Look at how he did Jim Comey

If that ain’t obstruction congress what’s your function?

And I think Bob Mueller made it pretty clear

About obstruction actions I don’t know what you fear

C’mon man, look at how he did Don McGhan

Or how to get noble prize nod, he calls on japan

If y’all would just give a damn it’s easy to understand

Need to reach Heather’s Heyer ground and save this land

And he’s guilty by association, check the cohort

Flynn, Cohen, Gates, Stone, and Paul Manafort

Stormy days on the horizon, or should I say Stormy Daniels

Americans lookin’ sad dog ears like cocker spaniels

Wasting our tax dollars, the man ain’t frugal

50 trips to Mar-a-Lago, payoffs to McDougal

He supports neo-nazis while so many will not see

His racist tendencies favor white supremacy

Says he’s the President who will bring law & order

But acts lawlessly just look at kids on the border

Trapped in cages, babies to teens of all ages

More dying by the month as this created crisis rages

And in DC can’t forget emolument’s clause

And how he profits from that office man, it’s time to pause

America if you’re listening hope you can find

The 30,000 reasons to impeach this guy

And if we really don’t impeach yo I gotta ask why

We didn’t vote y’all in office to watch the country die

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.

G.R.O.W. Towards Your Greatness!

They say greatness is a choice but what have you chosen?

You’ve been frozen in time and broken in mind

For too long the same song playing in your head

Living in breath but better off dead

But who said you didn’t have the power?

Who said this is not your hour?

You’ve been showered with a steady stream of words that kill your dreams

But since you’re still breathing then someone done lied to you

Tried to deny you of your own potential inside you

If you’d just decide to let no one deride you

Don’t even let them get beside you as you unearth the new you

Stop listening to naysayers and decide to do you

No more pity parties, sobbing and boohoos

If no one told you you’re great then let me be the first to

If you have the thirst to drink from faith’s fountain

You’ll develop the might to move mountains

We move tons of dirt to find an ounce of gold

So I ask you to move tons of hurt and find just one ounce of your soul

You’ll be on the path to control your own destiny

Getting out of your own passenger seat and driving your own car

Reaching for the moon but maybe landing among the stars

You have greatness inside you but you must choose to be great

Blaze a path of excellence, leave fear in your wake

All you need is already inside you just believe in yourself

G.R.O.W. towards your greatness and discover your true wealth!

Educators Weaponizing Authority: Jabari Talbot Arrest and the School to Prison Pipeline

Across the country, people have been engaging in intense debates about the 11 year old student Jabari Talbot in Florida who was arrested for not saluting the standing up during the Pledge of Allegiance. Of course, there are lots of debates going on about what actually led to the arrest. People are saying he wasn’t actually arrested for not saluting the flag but arrested for refusing to leave the room and disobeying orders of the resource officer, At the end of the day, the semantics are irrelevant. The challenge we have today, particularly for those who are in the education field, is seeing how educators are weaponizing their position, whether they are regular assigned teachers or substitute teachers. We saw other similar cases like this in terms of substitute teachers challenging students. For example, the teacher in North Carolina who told children that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. killed himself, that they would be going to jail because they’re dressed like gangsters, and that they’re not real Christians if they don’t really support President Donald Trump. The list goes on.

What we see here with the Talbot situation is that it’s the latest example of what people call the preschool to prison pipeline or the cradle to prison pipeline, championed by the Children’s Defense Fund and Marian Wright Edelman. The idea is that situations happening in our schools are preparing our students for a life of incarceration, particularly our African American students and particularly our African American male students. Numerous studies have shown that in many of our schools there’s a correlation between special education and incarceration or at least involvement with the judicial system. They have also shown that some of the conditions in which we put our students in school are actually doing nothing but preparing them for doing a prison bid where they’re sitting around all day, not really being challenged intellectually and being punished for basically trying to engage themselves in in classrooms.

It was JAY Z who said:

I felt so inspired about what my teacher said
Said I’d either be dead or be a reefer head
I don’t know if that’s how you’re supposed to talk to kids
When all I tried to do was speak in class.

JAY Z, who has a sixth grader, was scoring as a senior in high school on citywide exams, dropped out of high school to sell drugs because the school system failed him. He left the supposedly safe environment of school and went down a trajectory that would put him in confrontation with law enforcement. For example, Laquan McDonald was a 17-year old male who was slain in Chicago by the Chicago Police Department. The killer put himself in between himself and Laquan and then said his life was in danger ad then shot him 16 times, including while he was still on the ground and the smoke form the bullets coming out of his body (other officers called for a taser). Laquan McDonald was such a troubled child that a former teacher of his said she feared what would happen in a world that abandoned him.

Going back to Talbot, there is again a correlation, particularly as it relates to zero tolerance policies. We have a student who says he refuses to salute the flag because he calls it racist. The teacher tells him if he doesn’t like America, he can go back to Africa and then he’s asked to leave the room, even though it’s not illegal to not stand for the flag. If it’s not illegal to not stand for the pledge of allegiance, then he should have never been asked to leave the room in the first place. So from that point on, the teacher weaponized her authority, leading to the boy’s arrest and a potential criminal record, whereas the teacher who instigated this gets no penalty other than not being able to teach in that school system.

Some argue that the teacher should have been arrested for trying to force the student to do something that he legally didn’t have to do. But this teacher gets to go on with her life while the student now has the potential of a police record at the age of 11 for defending his rights for standing up for himself. Luckily JAY Z and TEAM ROC intervened and got the charges dropped. This is a problem and we see this in many situations and even if you look at some of your schools, you will see sometimes that some of the language that is used to most described African Americans who don’t do what they’re told is they’re being insubordinate, they don’t follow the rules, they are not listening, and they don’t comply. These types of behaviors and this terminology corresponds with language that is also used in our criminal justice system.

So whether you feel Talbot should have stood for the Pledge of Allegiance or not is really irrelevant. What you should be frustrated with is that through this incident, through the arrogance of this teacher and through her ignorance of the law, she almost added another child to the preschool to prison pipeline and that should disturb us all. There are many teachable moments from this. Maybe in your schools you’re not having kids arrested, but I have seen students taken out of class and disciplined maybe just from writing on a desk and some are getting expelled. We’ve seen people like Glenn Singleton who wrote Courageous Conversations About Race, who talks about over at one point over 5,000 black boys getting expelled every year from preschool.

Under President Obama’s administration, efforts were made to challenge discipline issues in schools but the Trump administration ended it. The main issue relates to disparities and discipline. This is real. We’re sacrificing our children, we’re making them feel like they don’t really belong. I talked about JAY Z and Talbot is the same age as JAY Z was when he was testing as a senior in high school. We are wasting talent in America. We are not valuing children as they should be valued and this is just the latest example. We need to support the work of so many working actively to keep our students in the classroom as well as engaged in the classroom through culturally relevant instruction. We can, and we must do better for the sake of our children.