I, too, teach America.

I am the melanated educator.
They send me to teach in schools
With slaveholder’s names,
But I work,
Shape futures,
And strengthen communities.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be leading
When evaluations come.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“You can’t teach that,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how rich my history is
And be ashamed—

I, too, am History.

-Dr. David Woods

Black Like Me.

I had to have a conversation with one of my children about blackness. If you don’t know, black parents need to have many discussions about blackness because, as black children grow older, they start to realize that they are not quite like the others.
They take more pictures,
navigate differently than their peers,
and often, their skin color becomes more evident.
Just then, something is said about anon-black person that makes it clear that there is a difference between black and non-black. It is so commonly stated that people don’t realize what it actually means. However, it has become a common saying for both blacks and non-blacks alike. It is something that even I had said as a youth. The quote:
“…that kid thinks he is black.”
To understand the issue with this statement, we have to question what people think it means to be black. When someone says it:
Are they saying that the kid is articulate or inarticulate?
Are they saying that the kid is refined or “ghetto”?
Are they saying that the kid has swag or is a nerd?
Are they saying the kid is a model citizen or a low-level gangster?
Anytime I have heard this saying, it is being used with a negative connotation, which, for some odd reason, carries a coolness factor to it. So when I am explaining the intricacies of this statement with my child, I start by also explaining a different saying that I received from a friend.
Being black is not monolithic.
We have to be careful about how our children are speaking about blackness — all of us. We need children to know that words are powerful, and the origins of some of the words they use may continue a stereotype that is meant to oppress. When someone says, “That white kid thinks that he is black,” they are saying that the Caucasian kid is exhibiting some characteristics that may go against societal norms. They are not saying that the Caucasian kid is speaking articulately or dressed appropriately. For the user, blackness is viewed as inarticulation, under-education, aggressiveness, and loudness — which is another reason why representation is so important.
Look, I get it. Kids will be kids; they will say and do things based on their environment — and that is not saying that everything that comes out of kids’ mouths comes directly and only from the home. But it is saying that their underdeveloped brains interpret whatever they are exposed to, so all forms of media play a crucial part in their overall development.

I am not any of those stereotypes that people may see in movies or on social media. So it is shocking to people they really get to know me
(correction: I can fulfill some of those stereotypes when pushed, but I am a work in progress —- I enjoy being multi-faceted).
It is up to the collective, both black and non-black, to correct this. It is up to us to make sure that black culture is seen in a positive light.
I love being black. It comes with a style and a swagger that people want. Being black is cool.
Don’t deny it.
I bask in years the trials and tribulations of my ancestors. But I also bask in the successes as well.
I love our style, I love our music, I love our art, I love our versatility, and I love our ableness to adapt.
But most of all, I love our swag.
And you know what? Other people love it as well. So if other ethnicities want in, then so be it. But let’s do it in a way that does not box black culture into negative stereotypes. Let’s celebrate it instead.

And Therein Lies the Rub…

This blog post is in response to an opinion piece in the Fargo Forum: https://www.inforum.com/opinion/7139823-Nelson-They-myth-of-white-privilege?fbclid=IwAR1Iuv2jafAfvo40bUMZHgpqXEqjGpbZi6o4Z_M2v46j_r2xILmIehtdYXU

The ultimate mark of power may be its invisibility; the ultimate challenge, the exposition of its roots.

— Trouvillot

Have you ever been told that you are a credit to your race?

Have you ever been told that you are not like “them?”

Have you ever had to attain the highest degree of your profession to become an example of excellence in a homogeneous environment?

The words are meant as terms as endearment as compared to the norms. The action is intended as a way to assimilate to the norm.

The norm is essential; both what it is and what it means for each ethnic demographic both now and throughout history.

Minority groups did not set the norms until recently—it was either against the law or left them subject to bodily harm. What they did was find a way to navigate. The fortunate ones did this successfully, but most couldn’t or wouldn’t (and why should they have to)?

What was asked of them was to assimilate or die, which is still the case today.

If you’re are not a minority, you may never have to make that choice. And based on the part of the country from which you are raised, either option means the diminishing of one’s self to create anew.

So, if you haven’t had to make that choice, or you haven’t had those things said to you, then you cannot begin to understand what privilege is. White privilege does mean that you haven’t had issues in your life. It doesn’t diminish how hard you’ve worked for what you have. It does not mean that you actively participate in racism or bigotry. It does mean that when the norms were established, ethnic minorities did not have a seat at the table. I will give you a personal example:

I am probably the first generation in my family (on either side) that will have the opportunity to leave investments for my kids when I die. My wife is white, and I am black. The most interesting aspect of our relationship is how different our ancestor’s paths were.

When her ancestors traveled to America, mine were sharecroppers in Alabama — with no hope of acquiring land.

When her ancestors were settling in North Dakota, making them landowners — an investment that would pay dividends for centuries to come, mine were living life under Jim Crow.

While her ancestors were tilling the land with their blood, sweat, and tears, mine was part of the great migration, using their blood, sweat, and tears to escape poor economic conditions and persecution, just as her ancestors did 50 years previous.

The only way that my father was able to open doors for his family was to join the military in the ’60s, which gave us a fantastic future, but also brought its own set of racial challenges for him.

And there is me. I am a doctor, a politician, an educator, a proud father, and a devoted husband. On the surface, it is easy to say, “Look at you, you have pulled yourself up by the bootstraps and made something of yourself. But that would be missing the point entirely.

Every generation in my family had to start again. Learning norms, navigating to survive, facing oppression and marginalization, and overcoming to strive for uncertain success — things that some minorities have to do still today. For every one of me, there are thirty others that could not defy the odds.

With all of that said, I need to point out that my story and your story are only relative to ourselves and not the bigger picture, and therein lies the rub. You cannot base societal issues solely on individual stories. Both mine and your story are important because it provides some context. But your story does not prove that white privilege does not exist any more than mine proves that it does. We must start to criticize the status quo. Only then can we begin to improve our communities. If we continue to believe that each person is born with the same chance at success regardless of race or social-economic status, we are kidding ourselves.

2021: The Year of F*#% It.

If 2020 has taught me anything. It is to not take things for granted (hold on to your hats, this will be a bitch session). After the year that we have all had, we needed nothing more than to get on a plane and head to a destinition that we have dreamed of visiting — I am dead serious; I was about to snap!

The pandemic has brought with it social distancing; social distancing meant that we couldn not travel. We were unable to buy a plane ticket and catch the next flight out of the state with the same carelessness that we did before.

Maybe I miss the carelessness. I was a jet setter in my youth, dammit!

Before the pandemic, I would get an itch to travel, purchase a ticket, and take off — whether it was just my wife and I, or with our kids in tow — without even batting an eye.

Damn, I missed the carelessness. 

So now that group travel is an option, what have I done to fulfill my travel itch? Absolutely nothing. 

Jack. Shit.

Actually, I have been watching Travel Channel… and looking at travel pages at Barnes and Noble… and pinning places that I need to visit when able on Pinterest. But I have not make been able to make that jump; to buy that ticket; to spend that money.

That is, until now.

Motivation

Examining positive things in your life along with practicing gratefulness is extremely necessary right now. I often look at all that I have and consider myself extremely fortunate to be where I am in my life. But in the end, we have to be realistic. It is becoming harder and harder to live a quality life under our current constraints. So it is also essential to recognize when you are swamped, or stressed, or keeping barely above water. And I am telling you that, like many of you, I am all of those things. So if 2020 showed that life is too short. 2021 will be the year that I say, “Fuck it!”

Yup, I said it. I said it because I have not said it enough. I have been worried about a lot of other things other than myself and my happiness. I have been making excuses as to why I have to hold back. But not anymore. I deserve to have those experiences that I have been working for.

My family has not seen the ocean. I mean, seriously, what the hell am I waiting for? Retirement? Savings? College for the kids? I literally have no idea. 

My wife and I were doing everything the right way financially when the unthinkable happened. A damn pandemic. Who in the hell prepares for a global pandemic. Some people were more stocked up and ready for a zombie apocalypse than they were for a global pandemic. So now that movement is an option, what am I going to do? I sure as hell am not going to let opportunity pass again, that’s for damn sure!

I am taking some of that saved up money and spending it on experiences for my family and me. I will travel, travel, travel with my wife, travel with kids, and travel with friends. I will spend money on things that I have wanted to have, see, and/or do. This is going to be a total reassessment of my priorities.

Fuck it.

Disclaimer

I am not going to break the bank. If I do make it to retirement age, I will need something to live on. But again, we have learned in the past year that nothing is guaranteed.

More Than an Athlete

The impact of sport is heavily felt throughout our society. We look at sports as a way to get away from the pressures and stressors of the everyday grind. There is nothing better than sitting with a group of friends, whether in front of the television or live at a venue, and watching two teams (or individuals) compete for dominance – even if it is short-lived.
But to a lot of people, participation in sports is a ticket out of a negative situation. For these people, sports can bring them to places that they have never seen. It can help them meet people that they have never dreamed of. It can provide for a different status than what they are used to.

To a lot of people, sport is life, which means that to those same people, success in a particular sport means a better life.

I was raised in a neighborhood that knew this first-hand. We watched many people from our hood become very successful athletes. What does that mean? It means that they got a scholarship to play at an institution (whether the scholarship was for a significant sum or a little sum is irrelevant). We would watch these student-athletes come back from their institutions (some of which we had never heard of) for the summer and play or practice their summer – lightyears better than when they left, and marvel at their new-found physique, as well as their new-found fame. As youths, that is all we needed to know – sports were where you found your new life.

These were the people we looked up to. These were the people we wanted to emulate. Did these young college athletes know the influence they had over us? For the most part, no. But, nevertheless, they had us.

The point of this story is to provide context to what I am about say.

Sports figures still have that effect on people today. Our society still looks at those sports figures as leaders.

When Lebron James, a kid from Akron, Ohio, says something, people listen. He provides an avenue for people who do not have his platform; people who do not have his talent; people who do not have his influence. He understands that what he says matters to millions of people who look like him. It is disingenuous to tell a person who used his talents to get where he is at to “shut up and dribble.” It is asinine to tell a person who has his work ethic to tell him that he is “lucky to be where he is.” It is reckless to tell someone who demands his fair share of an industry that makes billions off of his name that he is “only playing a child’s game.”

Millions of people listen and watch what he says or does in sports, in business, in education, in politics, and strive to be just like him. Just as I listend and watched what local athletes said and did and strived to be just like them. I understand that you may not agree with the platforms that he stands for, but you should recognize his efforts for the greater good. What he is doing is not a new-found formula – especially in the black community.

Jim Brown does it.
Muhammad Ali did it.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar does it.
Venus and Serena Williams do it.
Arthur Ashe did it.
Jessie Owens did it.
Jackie Robinson did it.

The list could go on.

Sports provide a media for sports stars to speak for those who have no voice.

It is the same as it ever was. As long as you have a population feeling oppressed, you will find people that will look to its exceptional people to be their voice.

Basketball is a Spectator Sport — For Me

I debated writing this, but, in the end, I think it is more important to share. Don’t judge me!

I have come to a pivotal point in my life. I did not know that I would get to this moment, and it came on suddenly. In fact, it came on so sudden that it took me by surprise. What happened, you ask?

My oldest daughter told me that my help was no longer needed during her basketball games.

Back when I was a genius…

I was not surprised that I was told that my help was no longer needed; it was the manner in which it was done.

I will provide some context:

I have been my daughter’s coach since she was able to run. I have been her basketball coach since she could pick up a ball. Playing basketball and learning new skills has been a part of our relationship – a bonding point between us. Like other kids who have played on a team coached by a parent, we had our ups and downs. But, with my wife’s help, we had always hugged it out with some understanding. Now, she plays on the high school team, which puts me on the sidelines – and I am okay with that.
During her second game, she was defending a girl, who I believe was a weak ball-handler.

“Get up on her!” I yell.

And that is when she looked at me, while playing defense, and held her hand in a way that represented open lips, and she pressed her fingertips together – closing the “lips”.

Yup, that is correct; she motioned for me to shut up — all without getting out of defensive position.

Son. Of. A. Bitch! She shushed me.

I was so shocked by this! I went through a gamut of emotions:

What the…?!

How dare…?!

Ungrateful ass!

Just then, I turned and looked at my wife who was sitting next to me with a family friend – laughing. Not just any laugh; it was a full-out belly laugh. And then it hit me – I am no longer my daughter’s coach. It was time for my transformation from father/coach to father/mentor/fan.

I had once read the book, Changing the Game, which has a lot of useful information concerning the way parents can help and hurt their kids in youth sports. One thing I took away from the book is this question:

Do my actions reflect the values I want my child to embody.

Both on and off the court, I want my child to have the following:

  1. A love for the sport,
  2. A growth mindset,
  3. Confidence,
  4. The ability to make mistakes,
  5. The ability to learn from mistakes,
  6. The ability to correct mistakes,
  7. Independence.

By her gesture, she was claiming her independence. She was ultimately doing everything I asked of her since she was in third grade — I cannot be mad at that. It is effortless to yell out and coach from the sideline. But that is just it; I am no longer on the sideline – I am in the audience, which brings up another thing that this book has taught me—the importance of saying to her the words:

I Love Watching You Play.

She is such a fierce competitor.

As a youth athlete, I remember nothing that I disliked more than the post-game report — especially after a loss. I did not get it from my parents but from the parents of my peers. They all thought that they were being helpful, but mentally, it was not. My parents? I believe that they knew that there were more pressing issues in the world than how much I scored or how much playing time I received. They left the improvement up to me. If I was going to be good at anything, it would be intrinsically motivated (but don’t get that confused with not caring).

So, what did I gain from this experience?
I should count my blessings that I have a healthy daughter who loves to play basketball at a high level. Before each game, I should review my goals for her this year. Realistically, the goals I have for her have very little to do with a specific sport but life lessons that she can use for the future.

Let’s Go, Afro!

It’s 2021, It is Time to Start Controlling What You Can Control!

Today is Inauguration Day, which is a very joyous occasion for some people. But for others, there are feelings of fear and uncertainty running rampant in their minds. If you are worried about the future of this country, here are some immediate things you can do to help steer this country in a positive direction.

1. Read to a child every night.

2. Make sure that your local city council reflects the city’s demographic.

3. Make sure the local school board is representative of its’ students

4. Love your family.

5. Learn about and invest in generational wealth.

6. Work out.

7. Practice gratitude daily.

8. Be a mentor.

9. Build up your community. Know who your neighbors are.

10. Stop being a keyboard warrior.

Remember, this is a scary time for us all. We are all doing our best to deal with unprecedented historical events. Just remember, we are in this together.

The Decision

To be a black male is to live a life that is full of contradictions. Contradictions that cause us to make decisions that we may not understand. Decision that now our black boys are having to make.

It is a critical one that directly affects them future and the future of their children.

It is one that has been overlooked in our society for far too long, and it is time we discussed it.

It is a decision whether to assimilate or not.

Each path comes with favorable and less favorable outcomes. And, it is a decision that each black individual will need to make for himself.

The decision is whether to become an assimilationist or a non-conformist.

The definition of assimilation is to act accordingly with the intent of fitting in and or conforming. In this case, we are talking about societal norms and expectations.

A non-conformist is a person whose behavior or views do not conform to prevailing ideas or practices. Again, we are talking about societal norms and expectations.

For a black male, assimilation can be considered a good thing. A black person who chooses to assimilate is more likely to be accepted and given privileges that maybe not part of their original environment — an environment that could deviate from society’s expectations of “success.” On the other hand, choosing to assimilate could come at a great price. The acceptance of one set of norms could mean the a denial of another. The ability to attain and keep street credit within ones own community (not just geographical location) is an important part of the black society. To be able to walk down the street and get “the nod” from peers means acceptability and the ability to walk through certain neighborhoods with confidence and respect.

For a black person, to be a non-conformist is to keep and maintain street credit, which holds the ability to walk around a neighborhood as a leader or a a well-respected member of that community (again looking at more than geographical location). People who do not understand this may ask, “Why would anyone forgo the opportunity to improve themselves for street credit?” Those people would be missing the point.

Improving oneself is only relative to society’s definitions of success. If a house, a car, and a picket fence is society’s definition of successful, then the non-conformist may net ever meet the expectations for success, which is why it is important that society does not create perimeters for what it is to be successful. Success can come in many forms and is only contingent on each individual who must decide for oneself when enough is enough.

In order for black youth to be able to make a concious decision, they must first be presented with the question through conversation. This conversation between older and younger generations of blacks males needs to be had and must continue because it is critical. The conversation has not gotten any easier — especially for those of us who live in homogenous communities.

Look no further than the current state of events. It is getting harder and harder to avoid the elephant in the room. It is harder to look past the fact that if it were a group of African Americans that stormed The Capitol, we would be reading a different story. But, who bears the cross of uncomfortable silence? Is it me – who fears that the conversation could go too far and disrupt my livelihood or my life’s work? Or is it my community — who has to live with the fact that there are some truths that they must come to terms with? Especially since the community knows and interacts with me, my wife, and my children daily.


Once again, I, a forty-year-old man, am forced to decide between assimilation and non-conformity. I am once again forced to make a decision that can derail what I have worked for. I am forced to make the same type of decision that I had to as a youth.


Is it fair? No.


Is it real? Yes.


So, here I am, stuck between two worlds — forced to navigate this world without a playbook, instructional manual, or a tour guide. Trying to be successful, while trying not to become a traitor –

An Uncle Tom.

An Oreo.

A Coon.

While also not trying to be angry —

ungrateful

ghetto

intimidating.

It is a terrible thing to be black male to be labeled as one of these things. But, it is a reality.

This is why representation matters. This is why we need black people in positions that matter. Black males deserve to have people in positions that matter!

We shouldn’t have to make this decision. But we do — and, as a whole community, it is our job to guide our black youth and not judge their decision. There are no wrong answers, only consequences.

Reading is Fundamental

Literature tells society’s story. A non fiction book not only provides the reader with context, but entertainment value as well. It shows the sentiment of a faction of society from a particular time period — a snapshot in time.

…which is why I cannot figure out why people show disgust for books based solely on their disdain for the author and not on the contents of the book.

Literally judging a book by its cover.

Since graduating with my Ph.D., I have found a ton of time to read for enjoyment (thank God). I have been consuming nonfiction at a stupid rate, and I like to share books that I am currently reading on social media.

And that is when the opinions on the books start.

Check that — critiques on the books.

Check that — critiques on the authors of the books from people who have never read said books.

Book by Candace Owens – people are pissed and voice their opinion.

Book by Michelle Obama – people are pissed and voice their opinion.

Book by George W. Bush – people are pissed and voice their opinion.

Book by Barack Obama – people are pissed and voice their opinion.

Book by Ibrahim X. Kendi – people are pissed and voice their opinion.

Book by W.E.B. Dubois – yup, you guessed it – pissed and voice their opinion.

And the mad ones never bothered to read the book…

And they are big mad…

I am not surprised that people post their critiques (opinions like assholes, right); I am surprised that people post their opinions without knowing what is inside the book. I am surprised that people judge a book by its author and not the content. I am surprised that people are so comfortable with their sheer ignorance.

Or conscientious stupidity.

I read nonfiction from a wide variety of authors. I feel that it is important to read from a variety of perspectives and experiences. I get it, that is not something every person cares to do. But, if you find yourself if a book store looking at the cover of a book, and the author’s picture conjures a reaction of disgust, it might say more about you as a person than it does the author or the reader.

Just remember, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

There is Still Time for Good Trouble…

The issue with choosing leadership is that, when it goes our way (either side), we (the constituents) take a breath as if our job/our civic duty/our mission is complete, which, in the end, only leads to disappointment. Let me be clear, the easiest part of democracy is getting your leader in office.

No matter who we choose as a leader:

Rights will be challenged,

personal values will be questioned,

you will be taxed,

people need representation,

children need to be educated, and,

evil will come in some form.

No matter the leader, become educated and active in politics.

If your candidate won, congratulations! Now get to work.

If your candidate lost, sorry. Now get to work.

It is the same as it ever was.

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