Tag Archives: Tuskegee

This One is For the Home Team: Tuskegee

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“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”

Graham Greene, Ways of Escape

 I write often about what’s going in the larger society in our communities, whether it’s politics, feminism, the economy, race or a critique about the other million other things going wrong in our world.  But one thing I don’t write enough about is the black experience. Walking the halls of Tuskegee University, a historically black university, it was something that we talked about in several classes, and it was never taboo or inappropriate, it was just as important as every other subject, because after we graduated, and left the comforts of “home”, Tuskegee University, we would have to face the challenges of a world that was very different than the one we thrived in for 4 (or 5) years.

 The founder of Tuskegee University (formerly Tuskegee Institute), the great Booker T. Washington, would be proud, not only for the famous or successful alumnus that made it through, but for the magnetic sense of family his institution and legacy has created. What I talk about goes so deep that few people on the outside can truly understand, it’s richness, but I will share a little piece of our soul.

The black experience at Tuskegee University created a family in all of us, because you have to learn several lessons at Tuskegee.  Some of those lessons and experiences were good and others bad, but they continue to shape my life and grow the bond with the people who will forever be called my family.  About two weeks ago, our Tuskegee family, suffered a big loss.  We lost what some would call “The People’s Champ”, and I personally lost an old friend, Andrew Brown. Every loss is hard, but the hardest part of losing Drew is that he embodied the Tuskegee spirit, one of those people you were always going to look for at homecoming, and have a funny, sad or crazy story to talk about. And not just for his very close friends, but for many people who walked the halls during his time.

 And as much as I wish I could say this was the first time Tuskegee had taught me this lesson of loss, it wouldn’t be true. But the deeper lesson I learned besides loss, was learning how to  to fight even when you’re grieving with a loss, and I remember a time when I, Andrew, and large part of the Tuskegee family had to learn this lesson. There are so many memories written about Andrew over the last week or so, I figured I’d write another one. Because today, I write for a little therapy for my family, my Tuskegee Family, and for me, because sometimes, memories are all that you have.

During my four years at Tuskegee University, we lost a number of students, for a number of reasons, but there was one loss in particular that reminded me so much about our family and how tragic it was.  During the spring time, before I became the student-body President, I was the “President-Elect”, a Freshman member of the University Choir was tragically murdered off campus. The choir wanted to gather a few days after on campus to sing and pray in his remembrance. Due to an unsatisfactory school policy at the time, students weren’t allowed to gather unless paperwork was filled out 7 days in advance even if a tragedy occurred. (7 DAYS ya’ll, it was one of those very stupid “Tuskegee” rules I had come to love).  While I’m sure it had it’s place, we really did not need it at the time. And Tuskegee definitely taught us that tradition has it’s place, but sometimes you need to break the mold.

We had already been warned what would happen if the choir came together, they were to be broken up by the campus police. Some of the members of choir had already tried to get the paperwork rushed through and a few of my friends (Drew being one of them) had approached me about their options, but unfortunately our hands were tied.  But as true Tuskegeans would do, the choir members decided to congregate anyways. These next few moments run in my mind kind of like a movie, so long ago, you think, did we really have the guts to do that?

 So when the choir gathered, and the Police began to walk towards the crowd, I, Drew, and a couple other choir members jumped in to diffuse the situation. Drew had also been elected to be Mr. Tuskegee for the next year with me, and his passion for the university and the choir was self-evident. I can’t remember our exact words, but I know they were hurting, and we were having to deal with this bureaucracy crap. The choir did not get to do all they wanted that day, but we didn’t stop there.  After this incident was over the students were still upset and the policy was still in place. Instead of letting the policy stay the same, we acted.  I wrote the President of our University to fix the policy urgently and with my persistence, changes were made. What we didn’t know then, that our actions would make a difference. The following semester as student body President, another student died, if we had not acted when no one else had told us, the same thing would have ensued or something worse could have happened.

I tell this story now, because this experience had a lasting impression on me as I pursued my legal career. That was the first time I really got to FIGHT for what was right, for the stupid rules that we let run our lives. I write it, because I  don’t think anyone from the Tuskegee choir, Drew, and my other choir friends involved,  know how in awe I was in that moment for their spirit in that moment. (I forgot to mention that I’m pretty sure I told them NOT to congregate and follow the rules).

And that’s the lesson, Tuskegee has taught me with this loss of Drew.  We must take the time to talk about our stories, remember the good times and bad times, because you never know when they will end. Back in 2006, Andrew had lost an old friend, that he that he had fell out of touch with, and thought he was a bad friend; reading the messages where I told him he was good friend, and that he just had to make sure he was more diligent in the future with his friends, was hard to read. I gave advice to him, that I needed at the moment I heard of his loss. I had lost touch, and I felt like a bad friend. But hearing all the wonderful stories of Drew made me realize he was so diligent with his time with the people he cared about, that he did take the time with so many people, and I will take this lesson with me, and I hope you do too.

I want to end with a saying we coined in my final year at Tuskegee,  as a young 21 year old not knowing exactly what it would mean, but almost nine years later, it has been engrained into my individual experience at every step. I love my Tuskegee family:

“Your Story is My Story, We are Tuskegee, the strengths, the struggles, the successes, Make us who we are”.

Denying That We Have a Race Problem is Un-American (The Monday Fits)

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The events of Ferguson have a lot of people doing, saying, spewing all kinds of love, hate, and fear to each other in their homes, at work, and all over social media. These actions are fueled by life experiences that shape their perspective in one way or another. However, after seeing what some people choose to share, I’m realizing sometimes the quote, “Your perception is your reality” is hogwash, in terms of this country and race relations. My experience is not completely unique, but as I grow older, I wonder if it is less than the norm.

I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky in a very particular situation, where I had one of the best upbringings in a truly diverse and creative environment. I attended a performing arts school that entrenched in me a confidence like no other and conviction of equality quite different for the average young black girl. In my life, I have some amazing friends who are white. Not where I am a token type of white friends, or the friends who make you feel a little awkward and don’t really know where you are coming from and every now and then they say the wrong thing.  I have the kind of white friends who talk about race, my hair, our differences in a real way, among a million other topics, do you know why? Because that is what it means to be a real friend with a person of color. It is who I am every day, and sometimes I have to talk about it, even when they might not exactly understand why.

However, I learned from my early days at Tuskegee University, a historically black college, that these type of relationships are rare, and my American experience has been different.  When you ask a black person, do you see yourself “Black” first or “American”, most will say Black, and a black person who thrives as a token will say American first. I will say that I am Black American, and there is no separation. I am as proud to be an American, as I am to be Black, because I truly see America as land of opportunity, even for me as person of color.

So before Obama was elected, I viewed America as many Americans did, that we really did not have a race problem, I mean we may have a few issues, but it’s not a problem. I was at a point that I truly believed it. America was not full of people who had biases at a disproportionate amount and that people had such negative impressions of Black Americans. This did not mean I had not experienced racism, or knew family members who had faced it as well. However, my experiences in my upbringing, really made me believe that these were just the after effects of a racist culture that couldn’t help but linger, because in the millennium, America was a welcoming place for all. Obama’s election changed everything, and the problem that existed has been surfacing since.

In the month of Obama’s inauguration (January 2009), 79 percent of whites and 63 percent of blacks held a favorable view of race relations. The data show a decline of 27 points for whites and 25 points for blacks by 2013. (source).  . According to the most recent survey, conducted by CBS News/New York Times, 47% said good, with whites polling at 49  percent of whites and 44 percent of blacks now have a favorable opinion of race relations in the U.S. (source). Slight difference, huh?

I’ll never forget his first election night, I was in a room full of Black Americans excited about the election of the first black president , who I didn’t even vote for. I am Republican, and I believe that my ancestors did not fight and die for me to simply vote based on my race. I was happy to have a black president, yes, but I voted on the principles for the candidate that best supported all of my interests and my party. And since that day, I have debated so many people on whether black americans should vote on race. They argue that because our interests are always underrepresented and disregarded, it’s our responsibility to vote as such.

I would not even consider that thinking at the time, but since Obama’s presidency, my blinders have been taken off, or shall I say ripped off.  The number of hate groups has increased exponentially, and the vitriol spewed at him, is unprecedented. “The number of Patriot groups, including armed militias, skyrocketed following the election of President Obama in 2008 – rising 813 percent, from 149 groups in 2008 to an all-time high of 1,360 in 2012. The number fell to 1,096 in 2013.” (source) . It really is though, and he’s never been my guy, but it is hard not to notice, unless you have on blinders. Now speed up to the past couple of years, as the string of deaths of young black men and women have been heavily publicized. Check the twitter and Facebook feeds,  I find myself looking at an America that I did not even know existed. Everyone wants to call it race baiting or pulling the race card, but the reality is that there are a lot people who say whatever they want and say it is not racism. Then the rest of America doesn’t want to wake up to the America that we live in.

I am black, so it was a little easier for my binders to eventually come off. But can you imagine if you were born and you have never been followed, ignored, called a derogatory term, seen family members racially profiled, beat up, and wrongfully arrested. Would you think that there is a problem?  Not to mention, Beyonce, Jay -Z, Oprah and Obama run the world, right?

Here’s the thing: You cannot tell Black Americans that racism doesn’t exist, and that some actions are not racist. I am not asking people to go out of your comfort zone, or to even get your hands dirty, but what I want for people to do is for people to stop talking about something that they don’t know anything about; an experience that you cannot imagine.  And then to have the  audacity to talk about how you love America; this IS America. It is not always rainbows and butterflies, and until we ALL realize it, the country will stay divided and not improve.

But at the same time, I would say there are Black people who need to engage people of other races about our differences, and not when it’s a fight or calling out racism. I find that being able to talk about race freely is important for progress, and we have to stop reserving certain  topics for black people only, even if it feels a little awkward. Even I have had stereotypes about other minorities, but do you know how I learned that my thinking was wrong. I spoke up. I asked. It was a little uncomfortable, but I am a little better for it.

Now the day after the indictment was released about the Mike Brown shooting, I was perusing my twitter feed, and looking at comments ranging from anger, hurt to hate. I ended up having a small twitter fight, back and forth, with a woman who was saying that ALL blacks, not some, but ALL  BLACKS were animals. She was educated. She was a former marine. Yet, she was ignorant. It was one thing to support Officer Wilson and his version of the events, but there were many more people who took their opportunity to discuss the problem with black people, problem with black on black crime, and the way we “act”. I want to believe people are better than this, but we need to speak up, because we have race problem. It’s not racist to think race problems don’t exist in America, it’s simply un-American. Just as un-american as thinking we don’t have a poverty problem, a health care problem, an unemployment problem, a “creating jobs” problem, an immigration problem, or “our children are dying in our schools” problem. I’m not saying race is our ONLY problem, but it sure is a hell of a problem.

The Economist magazine recently published an article saying “ Race is America’s deepest problem, but multiple small changes can mitigate it”. and that “Solving the problems of places like Ferguson is less about passing more anti-discrimination laws than about rekindling economic growth and spreading the proceeds. But there are also ways of making politics and policing work better that would contribute greatly to racial harmony in America. (source)And so this is all I am asking, that we wake up to the reality that we have a problem, and push our lawmakers, and communities to do something about it, because it is un-American to continue living this way.