The Microcosm of Birthing New Ideas for a Grieving Community

Last week I attended a piloted event co-sponsored by the United Way of Metro Atlanta and the Atlanta Promise Neighborhood Initiative.  The gathering was exclusive to adult men from the community and its purpose was to discuss ways on improving our neighborhoods.  The initiative is funded by the U.S. Department of Education which seeks to improve the educational achievement and healthy development of underserved children and families in northwest Atlanta.

Close to twenty men from all backgrounds, careers, and various generations came together with a feeling to take action that night.  As we assembled together at a day care center for an evening of food, fellowship and fatherhood, we kept the focus on Child Education.

The moderator of the evening distributed a United Way’s Fatherhood Café Newsletter; the main article opened up like this…

“Fathers and other male role models who are consistently involved in their children’s lives help them grow up with a strong sense of self, a feeling of security and other positive characteristics.  Research by the National Center for Education Statistics shows that children benefit from their father’s involvement in their schools.  Male involvement has a distinct and independent influence on a child’s success.  When a father (or other male figure) is actively involved in school, their children:

  • Learn more
  • Have fewer discipline problems
  • Perform better in school
  • Exhibit healthier behaviors
  • Take part in extracurricular activities
  • Enjoy school more
  • Model positive adult male behavior
  • Show an increase in problem solving skills”

For me, it was helpful to hear what was on the hearts of each brother.  The pressures of work, family expectations, finances, spiritual direction, and other challenges were all earnestly expressed.  It’s interesting that we all felt something common among ourselves – it was the future and outlook of our kids.  The court verdict of the George Zimmerman trial and the recent murderous crimes made by African-American teenagers highlighted in the front pages of national news are heart-wrenching and troublesome.  It became more obvious that these situations stem from the breakdown of the family.

Through the course two hours, we supported the idea of doing more in a child’s education.  And since we were meeting in a day care center, it was a good start to volunteer our time by reading books to the toddlers, helping them with their work curriculum and interacting with them through songs.

One of the men in the room recited a statement that appealed to us.  He said “We need to prevent the transfer of our kids from the school yard to the prison yard!”  I extend my own thoughts by stating that our kids shouldn’t meet the graveyard too!  Also, my hope is that we prevent our kids from being locked-out from educational and job advances; and also prevent our kids from being locked-up by unequal sentencing laws throughout the country!

On a positive front, we have come a long way…

1)      This country has seen its first African-American U.S. President

2)      This country has seen its first African-American U.S. Attorney General

3)      This country has seen its first Hispanic woman Supreme Court Justice

But we still have a way to go…

1)      The highest levels of prison inmate of men of color in a century*

2)      The highest unemployment rate for men of color

3)      Lowest college entries for men of color in twenty years

The exchange of thoughts and ideas continued in the small meeting room.  We believe that most of our “next step” ideas will come into fruition, but baby steps are needed as we gel together as a team.  It is amazing how just a handful of men from all walks of life and soon coming together to meet a common goal!  When a community is in dire need of help, the core of individuals from that same community should find time to resolve matters.

Initiatives like this create a movement to build purpose and empower a community.  And as we celebrate the March on Washington fifty years ago this week, I DREAM for equality shared by all, freedom for all, justice approved by all, and peace to all.

Let go people and do some good!

*U.S. Bureau Department of Justice – Prison Inmates 2009/Statistic Table

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Finding Your Way through the Cultural Divide

Several weeks ago, I decided to rest my fingers for a while because I wanted to spend time figuring out an uneasy issue we encounter multiple times in our lives.  Last month, our nation witnessed the judicial verdict of another unwarranted death of a minority teen.  While the George Zimmerman trial story still simmers in the minds of people across the country, I wondered if we’ll ever get to a ‘good’ place where we could live in dignity and respect?

I went to the cinema last week to view a movie entitled Fruitvale Station.  A real-life story, directed by Ryan Coogler, was a snapshot of an often troubled twenty-two year old African-American man named Oscar Grant.  The movie depicts the last 24-hours of Oscar’s life leading up to a string of documented cell phone videos capturing his instant death by the hands of a San Francisco BART police officer on January 1, 2009. 

For more details of the file, visit: www.fruitvalefilm.com

Though it took three years to finally showcase Oscar’s story, his tragic situation never received the same attention as Travon Martin’s untimely in 2012.  And as I write this, there will be another sad situation happening right now – that unnamed person won’t get the level of national attention either.

After the ending of the Fruitvale Station movie, I left the cinema very disturbed and emotionally drained.  Just when this young man was trying to change his life and attempt to become a good son, boyfriend, and young father, his chance of growing old was snuffed out by one bullet – the same as Travon Martin.  Both unarmed and too young to leave us.

Last weekend I visited my hometown of Detroit to surprise my niece at her high-school graduation party.  Half of the party attendees were her friends – young girls and boys all grouped together and having a good time.  As an uncle I wanted to reach out to the young guys and speak to them, but I didn’t want to ‘embarrass’ Kenya so I stayed in my cool swagger spirit (smile).  What I saw from a distance was a group of kids with great potential but cautiously felt the un-welcomed scrutiny that would meet them in the future.

I can never know what is in the mind of today’s young men like Travon and Oscar, but I can relate to the pigmentation of their skin color.  Once upon a time in my youth, I shared the same feelings when going to certain places, communities, or events.  Today in my near middle age life, there are times I think I’m being watched or sense a level of intimidation in unfamiliar places.

What’s more troubling is that United States still remains widely segregated – not by law, but by who people call friends.  A new poll from Reuters shows that around 40 percent of white Americans and 25 percent of non-white Americans have friends exclusively of their own race.

Source of the Polling: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/08/us-usa-poll-race-idUSBRE97704320130808

How do we come together and begin easing our frustration to understand brothers and sisters from different cultures?

I believe we should:

  • Spend more time with workplace individuals after work hours
  • Get to know the parents of our children’s friend / get to know parents through your children’s sporting leagues
  • Attend social events in your neighborhood – take a French speaking class, become a team player of an adult basketball team, join Toastmasters, etc.
  • Attend cultural events in your neighborhood – learn how to Salsa dance, go to a German October Beer Festival, take-up an African-cuisine cooking class, etc.
  • Travel abroad – take a trip to Mexico, Europe or Africa…
  • Learn world histories of other cultures or countries
  • Get involved with our youth – attempt to understand their language
  • Volunteer at a Senior Citizen Residential facility
  • Plan to travel on a mission trip – could be local, regional, or international
  • Work at a soup kitchen station or volunteer at a homeless shelter
  • Join a social cause organization that you’re passionate about – health non-profit organization, run group, biker club, etc.

Poet, essayist and novelist, the late Audre Lorde said “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.

The more we learn and appreciate each other’s cultures and backgrounds, I believe we can start the healing process of the existing racial divide.