Our house is on fire
From this climate quagmire
Yes our house is on fire but more and more of us are inspired
And we’ll keep reaching higher until some of these bank CEOs are fired
We have less than 11 years but we will have no fear
Because we understand that the science couldn’t be more clear
And these banks are not as innocent as they seem to appear
As they defund climate change
We won’t shun moral outrage
You see we’ve done the work, we’ve followed the money
Financial companies putting Mother Earth on one knee
From Bank of America to Chase JP Morgan
These toxic investments are killing her organs
From the lowest to the highest funder of fossil fuel expansion
We will Chase through all types of distraction from taking real action
To understand this climate emergency
They must emerge and see that whether we’re talking tar sands in far lands
Or oil pipelines on indigenous sands
We can’t have a Dakota pipeline if it cuts off our lifelines
And for those who say it’s wrong to protest we say it’s the right time!
Because too many are silent which is being compliant
To continue to put people over profit?
It’s high time to stop it
We will stay on mission to cut these emissions
For every billion for fossil fuel expansion moving us closer to defeat
We’ll hit the streets with a billion voices and a billion feet
Until these companies confess that it’s best to divest
Every day we must put their commitments to the test
And we don’t care if we risk our careers or risk an arrest
Because if we don’t act now they’ll be nothing left
Because it’s not a loss to stop profiting from climate chaos
Put people and planet over profit and you’ll never have a financial loss
Because financial fossil fuel profits simply do not fit
A clean earth CEOs, don’t you want your grandkids to enjoy it?
Instead of having more and more fear let’s get more and more clear
Because we can take control and force companies to stop investing in coal
For our world’s peace of mind
We the undersigned are telling you that clean energy transformation leaves no one behind.
We’ve cried hundreds of tears
And our indigenous sisters and brothers have been saying this for hundreds of years
But today we stand arms locked with Standing Rock
And all these megabanks we’re demanding you stop
These banks that we’ve trusted with our life savings are destroying our lives
But we will make them ALL switch sides
Because a cleaner planet is the prize!
I am a proud Bostonian who will never forget the first time The New England Patriots won The Super Bowl in 2002. I remember the intense debates over whether then second string quarterback Tom Brady, who took over for the injured Drew Bledsoe, should start in the Super Bowl after Bledsoe returned from injury. #teambledsoe lost but I remember thinking “At least he got a ring out of the deal!” I remember my older brother Pata dropping to his knees yelling out “The Patriots won the SUPERBOWL!!!!!” in complete disbelief. I remember seeing one of The Patriots making snow angels on the field. I remember driving with my younger brother Simba in my first car, a forest green Mazda Protégé, all the way up Massachusetts Avenue and around Fenway Park as he hung out the sunroof high fiving everyone in sight. Being in Boston for that win was one of the best memories of the first quarter of my life.
Over the years, The Patriots would continue to assert their dominance at the same time the Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins were starting to flex their muscle. As sports fans, we were on top of the world and the Pats ushered in the greatness of the new millennium. There was a bit less excitement after subsequent championships because I moved from Boston in 2003 and never fully engaged in many sports activities because I could just never recreate that buzz from the first win, though I always rooted for The Patriots. This year that all changed. Though I couldn’t bring myself to root against The Patriots, I just couldn’t root for them.
There were many reasons for me to not support The Patriots this year. I never cared about Deflategate because I just felt it was really impossible to prove so I don’t know if Tom Brady’s suspension was justified but between that and Spygate, I was a bit disappointed with the overall shadiness that was emanating from my beloved team. I was annoyed that Tom Brady decided to not attend the White House Super Bowl ceremony when President Obama was in office but I still couldn’t root against The Pats. Lastly, I did not lose support for The Patriots when I learned that Patriots owner Bob Kraft, Coach Bill Belichick, and Tom Brady were all supporters of an admitted racist in Donald Trump and that Bob Kraft is friends with Russian dictator Vladmir Putin, who holds one of Kraft’s championship rings. I still put my love of my home team before these other issues. But there is one issue that led me to lose my complete loyalty to The Patriots—Tom Brady’s inability to speak out on issues of violence against women.
Over the past three years, Tom Brady has had at least four opportunities to speak up on issue of violence against women and he demonstrated a level of cowardice that we would never see from him on the football field. First there was the 2014 Ray Rice incident, where then Baltimore Raven brutally assaulted his then fiancée (now wife) Janay Palmer. When asked about it, he said that commenting about this was above his paygrade. Then there is continued association with boxing champion Floyd “Money” Mayweather, whose history of domestic violence is legendary, yet Tom Brady still chose to attend the fight as Mayweather’s guest. He also replied “no comment” when asked about then Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy and his history of domestic violence. Lastly, there was Tom Brady’s decision to leave a press conference when asked about then candidate Trump’s “Grab ‘em in the pussy” remarks, which Trump referred to as “locker room banter.” The fact that one of the most recognized athletes in America who has a wife as well as sons and a daughter could be silent on these issues is just unacceptable.
I respect an entertainer’s decision to remain apolitical but when you are pressed with questions regarding something as serious as domestic violence and sexual assault, you have to speak up. Lebron James, who has more global recognition than Brady, had no problems condemning Trump’s comments about women and I am certain that he would have expressed the same sentiment if President Obama made those comments. I keep find myself thinking that somewhere there is a man beating his wife up wearing a Tom Brady jersey, and though Brady wouldn’t be able to blame for it, he probably wouldn’t say anything about it. He has completely lost sight of his influence on others, highlighted by the comment made by one of my American University students who said that Tom Brady is so talented that he doesn’t have to speak up on issues of violence against women. This is the message that Tom Brady has communicated to his millions of followers directly and indirectly.
While it’s true that my distance from Boston has complicated my ability to fully support my teams like I used to, many more things have happened since that 2002 Super Bowl victory. I am married now and have 2 daughters and a son. Every single day my wife and I do our best to make sure they are learning about respect for themselves and respect for how the opposite sex should be treated. It’d be great to at the very least find a PSA from Brady stating that domestic violence is wrong, even if he doesn’t condemn his friends acts (though he should) but it seems that it would be an effort in futility. My kids range between the ages of 10 & 2 so they are not yet at the age where they will start looking for entertainer role models outside of the home whose values they will seek to emulate. They are more interested in people like Kathryn Johnson of Nasa fame and Rosa Parks for now, but as they get more interested in sports and entertainers, Tom Brady will not be on my list of potential role models beyond his commitment to his craft. I just need more from the modern day athlete.
At the end of the day, we can support our political candidates and have our liberal to conservative views on issues and we can support our friends on their endeavors, but we all must condemn violence against each other and condemn comments and actions that either endorse it or don’t condemn it. My hope is that Tom Brady will one day realize that taking a stance on violence against women would elevate him to a level of greatness that 5 more Super Bowl rings could never do. We don’t remember Muhammad Ali for his titles but because he was an upstander, not a bystander. While no modern-day athlete could ever fill his shoes because the challenges are not as severe as during his heyday, it shouldn’t be too much to expect all athletes, but especially the great ones, to speak up against violence against women, especially when he is part of a league with a deplorable track record on domestic violence. Until that happens, I just cannot support Tom Brady and The Patriots like I used to, though I still want to.
Across the country, Trump supporters have been targeting people who look foreign, threatening their lives and attempting to bar them from entering schools and their jobs. Trump’s half-hearted request for his supporters to “stop it” while at the same time blaming the press for overblowing these racist and islamophobic incidents does little to help solve the problem. It is also true that there have been incidents of Trump supporters being attacked. Everyone who is found to be guilty of any crimes need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, but what about our nation’s students who are harassing other students? What should happen to them?
From schools like Westland Middle School in Maryland to the Royal Oaks Middle School in Michigan, racist, islamaphobic graffiti has been painted on walls, students have barred Latino students from getting to their lockers and other students have chanted “Build a wall” in their cafeterias. Statements from school leadership basically state that investigations will occur and are fairly vague beyond that. If schools do not implement the same “zero tolerance” and “tough love” policies that they use to discipline students of color, the hypocrisy will speak volumes.
It has been well documented that across the country, students of color are suspended, expelled, or disciplined in other ways often at 3-4 times the rate of their white counterparts and are disciplined more harshly for the same offenses, even in preschool. Everything from “talking back” to dress code violations have led students of color missing excessive time from school or being excluded from school altogether. Furthermore, Special Education has been seen in many schools than nothing more than a system that prepares students to do a bid in prison because they spend most of their days isolated from the general school population participating in non-intellectual activities. The Justice Department has indeed investigated several of these schools across the country and brought charges to some districts.
If our nation’s (pre) K-12 institutions that have such a slanted record on school discipline, they must be even more vigilant in the face of intolerance we are seeing now at schools across the country. How can a student be suspended for a “menacing tone” to a teacher but not be suspended for threatening to deport their classmate? How can a student be given in-school suspension for violating a dress code but not for blocking a path for students to enter their school in hate-filled imitation of a wall? How can students be taken out of school in handcuffs for writing on a desk but not severely disciplined when they are found to be the ones who wrote hate-filled language on school grounds?
President-elect Donald Trump is still receiving kid-glove treatment from the media. He is still has paid surrogates on our news networks spinning every question posed to them. We cannot treat students in our schools who are committing hate crimes or other violent and threatening acts to also be treated with kid gloves just because of the color of their skin or the socio-economic status of their parents. If this country is serious about healing, it starts at home but must spill over into our schools. Our youth need to know that we will move forward as a country with dignity and respect for our fellow man, woman, and especially the child. Too many black and brown students already feel ostracized from their educational enclaves because of the lack of culturally competent educators. They should not now be made to feel ostracized from their country simply by entering their school door. We can and need to do better.
They say never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes
But what happens when the man has neither shoes nor socks to walk in?
Would you willfully walk that mile?
Would you accept all adversity with a frown and a smile?
Would you still run the race against racism with grace and style?
Would you work wearily to weave a tapestry of diversity and shared fate
Against those who continue to practice apart-hate?
Would your heart shine bright when deprived of sunlight?
Would your spirit sing a song of liberation when it’s denied instrumentation?
As they tried at Robben Island to rob you of your soul
You literally rolled Rholihlahla with each punch as you crunched in your hole
We stand here because of you
We breathe freely because of you
And you walked the long walk to freedom with no shoes and socks
So that we will not have to
You walked for those without homes and even the land-dwellers
You, the son of Mother Earth
Father to a nation
Grandfather to our future
Brother to African liberation
From Cape Town to Kinshasa you led like no other
To remind us to put our arms down and hands forward to embrace one another
Because of you the world is encouraged to up rise like Soweto
So-we-too rise above the mentality of the ghetto
To claim the universe as our humble home
Overseas maligned media would disgrace the Madiba
But we saw through their lies as we looked at tattered posters into your eyes
Your hope in humanity helps us fly Tran-skeis
And when peace did not work on the path for a free way
You chauffeured us on the highway of Umkhonto we sizwe
And when so many believed that there was still no way
Your perseverance and piety led all of us nobly to the Nobel in Norway
And so we will make peace our prize
And we will walk on this path of freedom with our shoes on and heads held high
In a world where courage and pride can be hard to find like a Black Pimpernel
Because YOU have walked this earth Madiba, the future for all humanity bodes well
I will never forget the day the video of the killing of Laquan McDonald, the unarmed teen who was shot 16 times by one police officer while he lay on the ground, was released. The image of smoke discharge from the bullets that riddled his lifeless body as he lay on the concrete is as seared into my head as is the face of Emmett Till, the 14-year old boy who was lynched in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman. His heavily disfigured face juxtaposed against his pre-lynching photos are still too much to bear, even though his murder occurred before I was even born. Despite the horrific nature of McDonald’s killing and the cover-up that was revealed in how he actually was murdered (read – executed), there was one other aspect of the killing that was almost as bad as the killing itself—the way in which the video of his murder became must-see-TV.
Throughout the day, every news outlet I watched almost boasted on how they would have the video primed and ready for the evening news. It was being billed as if it was a major sporting event, a speech by The President, or an impending visit by The Pope. For the life of me, I just could not figure out why a boy’s murder was turning into such a spectacle until I remembered the words of Jason Silverstein who wrote in his article “I don’t feel your pain” that there exists a “racial empathy gap” in America. In short, he says that when we (people of all races) see black people experiencing pain, we do not feel as much empathy as when we see white people experiencing pain. In fact, Silverstein goes as far as to say that we feel no pain when we see a black person harmed. His argument makes perfect sense.
Do you remember WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward? They were tragically shot to death while reporting live by a gunman whose name I will not share and add to his notoriety. The video of McDonald’s murder was released a month before Parker and Ward. While the world waited to watch McDonald get murdered, all media outlets found Parker and Ward’s murders “too graphic” to show or chose to not show the video out of respect to Parker and Ward’s family. Even on YouTube, you must be signed in and prove you are an adult to possibly see the full video. I completely agree and supported the decision to not show Parker and Ward get murdered but the question has to be asked: what makes the killing of a black man “must-see-TV” but the killing of anyone else too graphic?
From Latasha Harlins (25 years ago), Scott Walker and John Crawford to Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and now Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and everyone in between, we keep killings of black people on loop, almost as if they were public lynchings from earlier times. It is as if we cannot believe a black person can be killed unjustly. Furthermore, even after seeing these videos, many of us either stay in denial or come up with justifications as to why these Americans (yes, Americans) deserved to die. Meanwhile, many of us who know that we or our loved ones can easily be next repost the videos for everyone to see and then take to the streets in tear-filled anger and protest. I for one will no longer participate in this incessant song and dance routine.
I will not be watching the videos of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile being killed by the police. I have seen enough. Watching these videos do not move me to do anything productive. When I have watched these videos in the past, my emotions run from blood boiling to crying. I see myself in John Crawford’s face as his family hears him say over the phone “[the gun] is not real” as he bled to death. I see too many faces of people I know in the faces of Rice, Amadou Diallo, and others. Lastly, watching these videos impede my ability to be a fully participating husband and father because I become consumed with thinking when my turn is coming, even when I should be enjoying precious moments like birthday parties. Rather than participate in this endless cycle, I choose to remember the beautiful faces of these people smiling from the pictures showed by their families. I will look at Alton Sterling’s image and become more inspired to fight for justice without living under a cloud of rage and without harboring any thoughts of exacting revenge on the shooters or hoping someone else does. None of those thoughts help me work as an upstander to advance peace in our society.
So what will you do? Will you participate in the media-murder circus? Will you watch another murder and justify it somehow in your head? Will you change the channel for something more interesting after your bloodlust has been satisfied? Or will you be moved to do something different? Something better? Something more productive? My hope is that we will be just as proactive in fighting for justice without having to indulge ourselves in a human being’s final moments. If for some reason you must watch the video, ask yourself what it does for you and be honest in your emotions and choose to be proactive and not reactive. That is the best way to honor those unjustly slain and actually show that we feel their pain. It is what these victims need. It is what they deserve.
I entered my senior year at Boston Latin School (BLS) with a spirit of triumph. I felt like I finally made it. In earnest, I was on the extended plan, having repeated my seventh grade year. BLS was every bit the challenge I was told it would be by then Headmaster Michael Contompasis who said on our first day of school: “Look to your left, look to your right. By graduation time, many of you won’t be here.” I spent most of my years at BLS barely passing most classes. In fact, the end of my sophomore year was the first summer that I did not have to attend summer school. I came back my junior and senior year focused and ready to be a leader at BLS…and that’s when my real education started.
Junior year was when I really began to question my role and experiences being black at BLS. I realized how the complexion of my classes got lighter the more advanced courses I enrolled in such as English Honors. I recalled times where I was disciplined more harshly than white students for the same offenses—an issue plaguing many school districts today. I started to realize that in my entire 7-year experience at BLS, I read one book by a black author—ironically Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. I remembered how I would only see pictures of black leaders on the wall during Black History Month. The more frustrated I became with my experiences, the more opportunities I sought to be a leader. By my senior year, I was president of the Afrikan Kulture Society, and I ran for senior class president and student council president. My experience running for senior class president was my final wake up call.
On election day, I entered school and found a great deal of frustration on the part of many black students. I was told that several white students wore white sheets on their heads to protest my candidacy. Many students skipped class that morning to go to the office in protest. I, maybe out of fearlessness or stupidity, went about my day. I had not experienced physical bullying at BLS since the 7th grade and by my senior year, I felt very comfortable defending myself if I needed to. What I remember more about that day than seeing students crying was the inaction on the part of my teachers and administration. As Dr. King said, at the end of the day, we’ll remember the silences of our friends than the words of our enemies. In fact, it was not until maybe second period where one of our European teachers, Mr. Berger, told students to take their hoods off when we they showed up for our French class. I remember asking myself how these students made it through part of the day with those sheets on and today, I ask myself why they were never disciplined and this is at the heart of what I see with the #blackatbls controversy today.
My experiences at BLS are why I have become a diversity educator today, working with schools nationwide including Boston Public Schools on how to create more culturally competent schools. While I am not directly involved in the current issue at BLS, I know what it feels like to be marginalized there. But even with my challenges at BLS, my time there was not all doom and gloom. I lost the senior class president race but won the student council presidency. The senior class presidential team was multiracial, and I definitely graduated BLS college-ready so I can speak to BLS’ great potential to create strong students. I also had some great teachers who were instrumental to my development. I just can’t help but think, however, of all of the other students like me who never felt truly welcomed at BLS and either left the school or just became less engaged.
In full disclosure, I have not stepped foot in BLS in several years and I do not know the current headmaster Dr. Lynne Mooney Teta so I cannot comment on what the school has or has not done recently to promote respect for diversity. What I do know is that I represent many black alumni who, rightly or wrongly, have not fully engaged BLS at the level we should have beyond graduation because we felt as though the school did not care much for us, so like many graduates of color from many majority white high schools, colleges and universities, we left and never looked back. My hope is that the #blackatbls moment can serve as an opportunity for all of us in the BLS community past and present to deepen our commitment to respecting diverse cultures and having courageous conversations so that there will never be a need for a #blackatbls moment in the first place.
Weekend mornings in my house are family time. Our 2 daughters, ages 9 & 7, run around making breakfast themselves or helping my wife and I with meal preparation, while my 1-year old son looks for new ways to climb up on (or eat) anything in sight. Though our morning engagements can sometimes be brief, I always look forward to talking about our week or what’s coming up for all of us. The comfort of one Sunday morning was shaken, however, when my 7-year old walked up to me and said “Daddy, why did you record the police?” Everyone else continued like it was business as usual but my heart sank as I tried not to look like my brief moment of bliss had not just been shattered by my daughter who just happened to see video on our iPhone Photo Stream that I forgot to delete.
Rewind. It was a hot Monday afternoon. I went down to Virginia Beach to meet with a Grammy Award-winning music producer about possible collaborations. In addition to my work as an educator, I am also a musician with seven albums to go along with my seven books. I love making music and so I was looking forward to this meeting. The session was fabulous and since I live in Washington, DC, I wanted to leave as soon as our meeting finished so I could avoid as much traffic as possible on this three hour drive to get home in time to tuck my kids in to bed and tell them one of my legendary freestyle bedtime stories. I filled up on gas and hit the road and though my tank was full, the air in my lungs was punctured when a police officer appeared on the right rear side of my vehicle. I told myself what I always tell myself as a coping mechanism when police are near me: “It’s all good O. They’re not gonna pull you over. Just relax man and stop being so paranoid. You’ve done nothing wrong and you have nothing to worry about.” I repeated it a second time as he pulled behind me. I said it a third time as his sirens illuminated, and a fourth time when I was pulled over.
As the officer went into his routine before he emerged from his vehicle, I went through my black routine. This could be a routine for all races, I don’t know. I just know that in “the hood”, learning what to do when we encounter the police is probably a more comfortable conversation for parents to have with their children than the birds & the bees. Sing along if you know the song:
1. Windows down
2. Pull out license and registration
3. Place all items on the dashboard
4. Hands on the steering wheel
Recent events of encounters gone tragically wrong with the police have led many in my community to add another verse to the song:
6. Pull out your phone (always keep it charging in the car for situations like this)
7. Send a message to someone to let him or her know that you are recording so that if your phone is retrieved after you’re killed and there is no video there, something shady happened to it
8. Repeat step #5
Why was it necessary for me to record my interaction with the police? The answer is simple: I can’t trust American society to paint a balanced picture of who I was in case the officer kills me. If I was a violent individual who shot and killed the officer, the media would be ripe with stories of the heroics of the officer…and that’s how it should be. I look at anyone who goes into law enforcement as a hero first and foremost. If however, I was the one killed and the story happened to make the news, I have learned that some in the media would attempt to cover what objectively happened while most will pontificate over why I deserved to be killed. Someone will tell viewers to just look at my size and how the officer should have been afraid. I’m 5’10” and weigh less than 190 pounds. Someone else will find out that I took some martial arts classes at some point and remind them that the officer had to defend himself (as if the officer would have known that). Someone else would find out that I’m also a rapper and blame hip-hop without actually listening to my own curse-free motivational lyrics such as “Only you have your dreams they were given to you/to bring it out to the world don’t let them die with you.” Someone else will post a picture of me with my locks and turn me into some weed-smoking addict who was aggressive though I’ve never smoked a day in my life. Someone else will blame the absence of black fathers for my death, without researching the fact that I was raised by both my parents who have 9 academic degrees including 2 PhDs from Harvard. It must be my dad’s fault I was shot because (say it with me now) “72% of black families don’t have a father in the home” (though the CDC reports that black men actually spend more time with their children than other groups).
Am I being paranoid here? I don’t know. What I do know is that Trayvon Martin was criminalized and murdered while walking in his own neighborhood and some in the media posted photos of someone twice his age and tattooed (rapper, The Game) to help justify why he posed a threat to the man who chased him down and shot him. What if he turned on his video camera instead of talking on the phone before he encountered George Zimmerman? What if Danroy Henry had his own dashcam when a police officer jumped on to his car and fired incessantly into his vehicle? What if Sean Bell or his friends had hit record the night they left his bachelor party? What if? Well, the fact is that in the eyes of mainstream America, it would not have made much of a difference. We have video of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Ezekiel Ford, Walter Scott, and others being killed unnecessarily by police and they are still blamed for their own murders. If Eric Garner was not overweight he would have survived right? If 12-year old Tamir Rice never had a toy gun he would not have been shot less than three seconds upon arrival of the police right? If John Crawford didn’t pick up a gun that was not real in a Walmart he would still be here right? If Walter Scott did not run from the police (or owe child support) he would not have been shot at 8 times in the back right? And even though Sandra Bland was not killed in the dashcam video in Texas, if she would have just kept her mouth shut she would still be alive right? I have learned my lesson. Read more