10 Days in America (Be the Change)

She woke up that morning with love in her heart
To see her husband in a nursing home to check on his heart
he went to grab snacks before the movie night start
he guarded that store to make sure that trouble was blocked
she moved to buffalo to take care of her bro
she fed people down on their luck who might’ve been po
beat aneurysms and cancer in her 65 years
he went to get a birthday cake for his son of 3 years
she fought to get guns off these violent streets
he drove taxis to help people leaving Tops Mart see
she was the life of the party brought the family together
she was the substitute who will be substituted never
he was a Taiwanese father of 4 in southern cali
Way too many others in this song to try to tally
This is everyday America, gets worse everyday
With nra, apathy, and politics in the way.

You gotta be the change you seek, you gotta speak
You gotta stand up for the future of our babies
If change is meant to be, it’s up to you and me
So what you gonna do to fight and save this country?

You gotta be the change you seek, you gotta speak
You gotta stand up for the future of our babies
If change is meant to be, it’s up to you and me
So what you gonna do to fight and save this country?

Their lives were robbed at Robb on a day of joy
A beautiful day at Uvalde for the girls and boys
A day of honor rolls for great kids on a roll
Looking forward to summertime, such beautiful souls
Stellar grades and good citizenship awards
They loved video games and burning up dance floors
He loved catching footballs thrown far and near
They were saving up so she could go to Disney next year
Her pictures said a thousand words but she’ll never speak again
They were cousins who were also probably best friends
She was so fast in races, friends couldn’t keep up
They taught for over 20 years teaching kids to look up

At a brighter future and to face it with grace
Taught those kids to always have a smile on their face
America weeps for those slain but it can’t be in vein
After our tears we gotta fight so there’s no future pain

You gotta be the change you seek, you gotta speak
You gotta stand up for the future of our babies
If change is meant to be, it’s up to you and me
So what you gonna do to fight and save this country?

You gotta be the change you seek, you gotta speak
You gotta stand up for the future of our babies
If change is meant to be, it’s up to you and me
So what you gonna do to fight and save this country?

A baby formula shortage, babies crying “feed us”
But some politicians only care about the fetus
They’d rather keep the guns but ban abortion
They’d rather ban books before they ban a gun
They found money for Ukraine as we wanted them too
But where’s the money for our roads, summer jobs and schools?
Gotta vote more into office who will fight for our babies
Gotta target sponsors who sponsor hate on tv
Gotta fight for the truth to be taught in our schools
Gotta stop blaming mental health and not provide the tools
Gotta challenge our neighbors when we hear ignorance
You might think that act is small but it’s significant
If you don’t stand up to hate, don’t stand up to violence
Then you’re almost just as guilty because of your silence
10 days in America’s any day of the week
But together we can change this if we’re strong never weak

You gotta be the change you seek, you gotta speak
You gotta stand up for the future of our babies
If change is meant to be, it’s up to you and me
So what you gonna do to fight and save this country?

You gotta be the change you seek, you gotta speak
You gotta stand up for the future of our babies
If change is meant to be, it’s up to you and me
So what you gonna do to fight and save this country?

Changing the Climate on Climate Change (a poem)

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!

 

Why this Bostonian didn’t root for The Patriots in the Super Bowl

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.

We Shall Not Be Moved! (a poem)

We ain’t goin’ back, said we ain’t goin’ back
We’ve come too far they tryin’ to set us back
Whether standin’ on the block or on Standing Rock
The world gonna know that we never gonna stop
Built their brand on phobias they think that they controllin’ us
Not to mention women hatin’ and the need for patrollin’ us
But we not gon’ allow misogyny to malign our progeny
The spirit of MLK be callin’ we
Whether you black, white, or burgundy
Urban or suburban we
Gotta come together with a better sense of urgency
To this emergency we gotta emerge-and-see
No time to be sleepin’ while they legislate our destiny
I write this in the spirit of a Birmingham jaila
Scrambling for a cure of what Roger Ailes us
From the Voting Rights Act they’re floating right back
Tryin’ to take us back to Defense of Marriage Acts
To McCarthy-style living and internment camps
To segregated schools maybe fountains too
But we gonna clamp down in the face of fascism
Hit ctrl+ALT-right+delete erase racism
Bannin’ Bannon-like thoughts from pollutin’ our nation
But we need YOU to join the fight without hesitation
Now ain’t the time to be silent pick UP the mic
Speak truth to power using all your might
We been through much worse but if we stick together
We’ll shake up the world again for the better!
 

Schools need same “Zero Tolerance” for hate acts that they have for students of color

              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.

 

Mandela…a poetic tribute

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?

            Mandela

Would your heart shine bright when deprived of sunlight?

            Mandela

Would your spirit sing a song of liberation when it’s denied instrumentation?

            Mandela

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

            Mandela

You walked for those without homes and even the land-dwellers

            Mandela

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

            Mandela

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

Mandela!

Ask “Where do I go?” not “Where do WE go?” from here

          Everyone is asking where we go from here. I think the real question to ask is “Where do go from here?” By “I” I mean YOU. At the end of the day, all you can control is yourself and your reaction to all of the tragedies we witnessed this week. Asking where “we” go almost allows us to point fingers at what everyone else is not doing. Doing so means that you are not focusing on what you can do. As cliche as it sounds, it is indeed true that when you point in the mirror, there are three fingers pointing back at you.
          As Oprah said, what you think about expands. If you think about how you can add to the climate of positivity and not negativity, to the climate of peace and not division, than you are doing your part to move us forward. Your actions will speak louder than your words so make sure you give yourself the time needed to reflect on a way forward and then move forward expeditiously so that we can make this country as great for everyone as its promise. Peace always. Take care!

Alton Sterling & Philando Castile killings: I will no longer watch videos of police shootings

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.

When Boston Latin School Students Wore White Sheets In Protest…Against Me

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.