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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Matthew's Ruminations is Moving!

In order to save time and effort, Matthew's Ruminations will be moving to my personal website effective May 13, 2012. Thank you for your continued readership!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Call to Consciousness

Though the state black entrepreneurship has progressed significantly in the past decade, successful entrepreneurs with businesses in urban environments lock their doors at the end of the day and proudly drive to their suburban homes located miles away. Thus, revitalization fails as monies are rarely ever filtered back into inner city residential districts. There have been some instances where initiatives were set into place to make inner cities more conducive for inciting black businesses - creating jobs in real estate, health, finance, and education – simultaneously building wealth and affluence.
Unfortunately, jealousy, envy and fear are caveats that perpetuate the exhibition of intraracial separation amongst the black population; amongst the poor and the affluent; amongst the scholarly and the unintelligent, the law-abiding and the delinquents. Unlike immigrants from Hispanic, Dominican, Jamaican and Asian backgrounds, we fail to take advantage of the opportunities presented to us and instead linger diligently with outstretched hands, anxiously waiting on the divine showering of reparation checks accompanied by our just due of 40 acres and a mule.
Even prior to the Civil Rights Movement, highly esteemed educators like Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) and W.E.B. Du Bois pointed out the lack of support and ambition among the African American collective - the same variables that contribute to the deficiency of success in our community today. Booker T. Washington was an advocate for philosophies fundamentally centered on racial solidarity – developing and depending on our own skills and resources to build communities, housing developments and businesses. He believed that becoming educated in the industrial arts and farming while cultivating virtues of patience, enterprise and thrift would prove to be more fruitful than resistance. The ultimate objective in this notion was to win the respect of whites, which would eventually lead to African Americans acceptance and integration into a higher realm of society.
W.E.B. Du Bois on the other hand, argued that Washington's strategy would serve only to perpetuate white oppression and resistance. He advocated for political action and a civil rights agenda. In addition, he argued that social change could be accomplished by developing a cadre of college-educated blacks he called “the Talented Tenth.” Considering their debate in today’s circumstances, Du Bois’ position would mean that professional athletes, doctors, lawyers, entertainers and politicians who make millions of dollars are responsible for reaching back and helping others (blue collar workers, the poverty stricken and homeless) reach a certain level of achievement.
While Washington’s argument proposes that living and depending on the affluence of those who attained success indeed cripples low-income blacks, rather than encouraging them to prosper through their own labor. However, would placing the responsibility of overcoming as a people onto those who have “arrived” add unnecessary pressure? Most of us stand somewhere in the middle of the aforementioned points, praying for solutions, and pondering ideas that can lead us toward prosperity.
In respect to black intellectualism, we have battled issues with elitism since the nineteenth century. However, today’s “talented tenth” (initially intended to serve as mitigation between underprivileged blacks and white society) seem more socially estranged from disadvantaged blacks than their predecessors were. Practicing Du Bois’s theories; building aristocracy, intellectualism and affluence within our own race may have potentially hurt us and prevented our people from learning and adapting to the ways of a mainstream society.
Even today, elitist attitudes and supreme ideologies are held by affluent blacks who have graduated from Ivy League schools; looking down upon graduates of “ordinary” state colleges and universities. Instead of encouraging and assisting in enlightening our underprivileged brothers and sisters, the upper echelons tend to neglect the masses. While other ethnicities carry out the practice of uplifting their communities as a whole; educating, supporting and funding their deprived, blacks are getting further and further behind in the race to prosperity.
Trudging beyond the stereotypes, obstacles and conspiracies that bind us is the key to triumphing, even in regards to intraracial and intellectual discrimination. The Hip Hop movement is potentially one of the greatest tools we have as a tool to reach urban populations and demographics. Potentially, messages of returning to consciousness, supporting education, promoting legal entrepreneurism, and combating health care disparities, could all be dispersed through this platform.
Contrarily, lackluster content glamorizing spending money on cars, jewelry, clothes and alcohol that the average person cannot afford, perpetuating sexual deviance and anti-intellectualism with poor grammar usage, remains popular among our youth. Why have Hip Hop artists failed to use their mainstream media platforms to deliver strong messages of self-determination, rather than perpetuating gang life, drug dealing, profanity and incarceration? Though part of the “talented tenth” in our community, the lack of initiative and efforts made by many successful music moguls and producers who have made it through the trenches remains disappointing.
If we are to win this race, a new generation of leaders must emerge to create solutions that will eradicate social and economic disparities. Hip Hop artists need to stand up and take advantage of their platform and become the activists that God called them to be. Somehow, the passing of the collective unconscious baton failed to be exchanged in a fashion that would position us to cross the finish line as victors. Elders of the Civil Rights era blame the youth for the extinguishing of our torch; while elongated fingers of today’s youth point back to those who appear to have failed to properly educate, inform and equip them with the ceremonious ignition to carry out the fight. Nonetheless, it is time we learn that America owes us nothing, not even a pair of track shoes to run the course. However, we owe it to ourselves to run harder, faster – by any means necessary. Remember, that which I resist, persists; that which I release, releases me.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Remembering the $17 Million Dollar Witch Hunt of Mike Espy

While contemplating writing an article about Johnny Dupree, African American Gubernatorial candidate for the state of Mississippi, I was reminded of the redoubtable Mike Espy. From 1987 to 1993, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives.

He also served as the U. S. Secretary of Agriculture from 1993 to 1994 and was the first African American to hold the post. He was and still is an idol of mine and at that point in time, he was the highest ranking African American politician in the United States.

In 1994 he was pressured to resign his position as U. S. Secretary of Agriculture amid allegations that he inappropriately received gifts from businesses and lobbyists. After months of media inquiry, Espy announced his resignation. The move was made a couple of weeks after Donald Smaltz was chosen to investigate Espy’s acceptance of gifts from companies and lobbyists that were under the jurisdiction of the USDA.

As many of you may remember, back on August 27, 1997, Mike Espy was indicted on charges of receiving inappropriate gifts, specifically from Tyson and Sun Diamond. Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz presented more than 70 witnesses in the trial; spent $17 million dollars on various phases of the case and Espy’s defense rested without calling witnesses, asserting that the prosecution had not established Espy’s guilt. It is also important to note that Espy wholeheartedly snubbed a plea bargain.

Although Smaltz proved that Espy received the gifts, he failed to demonstrate that Espy did something in return for them. The law allows officials to accept gifts out of friendship or a yearning to establish friendship, so long as the gifts are not for acts of quid pro quo.

Defense lawyers said many of the gifts came from lifelong friends and others were given as harmless acts of generosity. Day after day, Smaltz's own witnesses described Espy as a superior leader who made all decisions on their merits.

During testimony before the jury, the prosecution's chief witness told Smaltz in front of the jury: "God knows, if I had $30 million, I could find dirt on you, sir." Throughout the trial, Smaltz griped that the defense was infusing race into the trial in what he saw as a plea to the mainly African American jury.

On December 2, 1998, Espy was acquitted of all 30 criminal charges and the jury deliberated for only 9 hours. It was reported that one of the jurors stated "This was the weakest, most bogus thing I ever saw. I can't believe Mr. Smaltz ever brought this to trial." This sentiment was also expressed by several other jurors.

Espy celebrated as the jury forewoman broadcasted the verdicts in U.S. District Court. Thirty times she looked at the verdict form and declared "not guilty" as independent counsel Donald Smaltz and his team of lawyers sat calmly at the prosecution table. Barbara Bisoni, the only Caucasian juror, said Smaltz's case "had holes" and that race by no means entered into the two days of deliberations.

"He's not unlike any other schoolyard bully," Espy said of Smaltz. "You have to stand up to him. You have to let him know you're not going to back down, and sooner or later it's going to be okay."
The moral of the story is; when God is on your side, not even a prosecutor with a $17 million dollar budget can convict you. Espy faced immeasurable odds but at the end of his ordeal, he was still standing. He never compromised his character and refused to negotiate a plea bargain. Mike Espy was and still is the epitome of a transformational leader.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Are African Americans Losing the Race? Part I

Every race, culture and ethnicity has encountered significant struggles in the progression of their people. Where most ethnicities have managed to flourish despite the disadvantages common to minority groups; collectively African Americans have not been able to accomplish the same. I am inclined to believe that somewhere along the way, our voices were silenced and our vitality was diffused in the process of attempting to obtain our piece of the American apple pie. In retrospect, we can follow the trail of African American undertakings and observe how our mission for transcendence became muted and less urgent as each hardship and hindrance to success was surmounted.

Seldom is it ever disputed that our momentum as a race has subsided since the days of the Civil Rights Movement. A select few may debate whether or not we are still contenders in this cultural campaign we set out to win almost a half century ago. The general consensus is that the days of transformational African American leadership have been left behind to smolder in the ashes of the revolution. Silence has replaced the utter cries of “Black Power” heard amongst those gathered at Black Panther rallies or “We Shall Overcome” Civil Rights marches in Alabama and or my home state of Mississippi.

The selfless “by any means necessary” valor that once ignited our passion to unite and conquer – or at least “take back what the devil stole” – of the 60’s and 70’s has seemingly been eradicated by egotistic attempts to acquire a portion of the American “dream.” Thus, by abandoning and sometimes disowning our fellow brothers or sisters while undertaking selfish ambitions, we’ve failed to recognize that the formula for prosperity also includes the gallant deed of “paying it forward.”

These days, I refrain from watching the news as often as possible in an attempt to shun the anti-intellectualism and misrepresented barbarism of our people displayed on CNN and Fox News every morning. Why? Because it angers me that as time progresses, we seem to regress – at least according to the media.  Nevertheless, I can no longer stand up and speak against the media portrayal of our people, being that I can potentially walk the streets of the inner city and encounter those same thugs, and welfare recipients who remain content in living off the system, while Outkast’s “Get up, Get out,” plays in my head.

I find myself asking questions like: At what point will we break free from the clutches of stereotypical perceptions and realize that we keep ourselves imprisoned by remaining targets of ridicule? When will we conduct some deep soul searching and emerge as beings that look nothing like the images portrayed on television screens? When we will make liars out of mainstream media? Where are the positive African American figures that can inspire young sons and daughters to be educated, powerful and influential iconoclasts like Colin Powell and Oprah Winfrey?

The courage that once drove Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, Angela Davis, Andrew Young, Jessie Jackson, and Nikki Giovanni can lead us to the “Promised Land.” True, history proves that many of our Civil Rights leaders were either killed or thrown behind bars for standing up for a divine cause, but they still marched on. We must step up out of the inferno created by our traumatic past in order to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. 

I still marvel at the words of Professor Cornel West when he spoke at Tavis Smiley’s State of Black America panel in 2006. He stated, “If you can control the minds of men, you can control their actions…our mind is the most powerful weapon we have…” Statistically speaking, how many of us are actually using our artillery to our advantage? Most of us will not pick up a book to even begin the process of equipping ourselves with the knowledge and wisdom that it takes to become successful.

Instead of using the agony of our past to obtain the vigor necessary to become something other than what the world expects, African Americans remain oppressed and controlled by our own misrepresented realities. Still today, we organize marches against police brutality and embark upon a revolution for social change. This amazes me, being that we have yet to stop and change our own actions. In fact, statistics of divorce, single parent homes, incarceration, teenage pregnancy, black on black crime, the spreading of AIDS/HIV epidemic, and high school dropouts, rank high among African American communities. As long as we remain angry about the deeds of others – which by the way we cannot control – we can never move on. Anger and force are conduits to frustration and resistance, which ultimately creates disease.

The moment a prominent figure is in legal trouble or an innocent black man is gunned down for no apparent reason, an opportunist emerges to “save the day.” Doesn’t this contribute to the notion that we as a people need to be emancipated instead of being encouraged to become leaders and activists? It is through the empowerment of self that the resilience to avoid crippling mentalities is learned and practiced. Once we begin to change our paradigms and understand that freedom is the state of mind into which we were born, we can then begin to alter our behavior to that of affirmation and rehabilitation. 

We should turn our cheeks to the provocations imparted by a society that expects us to act antagonistically. We should look within for the peace we seek to obtain from others who don’t have the power to give it in the first place. We should focus on finding answers and solutions to becoming a greater, mightier people. We should focus on gaining respect for ourselves rather than forcing outcomes from people who are less enthused about us rising out of poverty, lowering the percentages of incarceration and black on black crime and combating the AIDS/HIV epidemic. How can we expect others to respect us when we have very little respect for ourselves? Our focus should be education, entrepreneurship and the value of family and life, instead of trying to force America to give us something they obviously have no interest in parting with. In the words of the late great Gil Scott-Heron, “The revolution will not be televised!”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Educating and Nurturing Homeless Students

Homelessness is another step down on the ladder of poverty and it is a very real problem faced by 1.5 million children in the United States.  Many homeless families live in shelters in rural or urban areas.  With one income, high rent and living expenses, many families are just one emergency away from disaster. As a result, even children who still have a home to go to could lose it in a heartbeat.
For instance, a single mother trying to make ends meet cannot go to work because her child gets sick.  She must be with her child, as she has no one to help.  On top of this, she has medical bills piling up.  Even if she has a job to return to, she may not be able to afford her rent.
Homeless children still need to receive an education.  Yet, when they get to school each morning, they are often hungry and tired.  Like many children living in poverty, homeless children move frequently, and are exposed to drugs, violence, crime and more.  Also, transportation might be an issue for some homeless children and they miss a great deal of school.
When they are able to attend school, they may be teased for the clothes they wear and the fact they fall asleep in class. They may have difficulty making friends or a fear of participating in an activity in front of the class. Although many homeless children are with their families, older homeless children may be runaways or may have been kicked out of their homes. Many have been abused sexually and/or physically.
To help homeless families living in homeless shelters or doubling up with another family in an apartment (also considered to be homeless), Congress passed the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act in 1987.  This act was put into place to ensure homeless families will receive food, shelter, adult education, job training and more.  Barriers once keeping children out of school, such as not having a birth certificate, proof of immunization or residency, have been removed by this act. Unfortunately, budget cuts in recent years have caused this program to backslide.
Teachers who have homeless children in their classroom need to know how to help and support children without a permanent home.  Homeless children may be needy emotionally and due to lack of access to bathtubs or showers and little food, they may be unclean and unfed.  Teachers can be an anchor for homeless children by showing them compassion and understanding. 
It may also be a challenge to communicate with parents who don’t have regular access to a phone.  Of course, the most important thing for homeless children is that their families find a home.  Teachers might be able to help by working with local agencies, children, and their families to find a solution to their problem. Homeless children deserve a quality education just like all students. Teachers are the first line of defense but we all have to pitch in and do what we can to ensure that all of our country’s children have the chance to lead happy, healthy lives.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Forget Polls; Here is Why Obama Will Win in 2

A recent poll from McClatchy/Marist shows a loss of confidence in President Barack Obama among the general electorate. According to the September 20, 2011 poll, Obama’s approval rating is at 39% among registered voters nationally, an all-time low for him. For the first time in his presidency, a majority — 52% — disapproves of his job performance, and 9% are undecided.

Polls are snapshot representations of a small group of people. With some proper rules and solid theoretical reasoning, they can yield crude, yet occasionally effective attempts at understanding the general population. Polls are fickle – that is, indecisive. Similar to the people they represent, most polls cannot tell us the whole truth, and the reality they seek to model may change quickly and dramatically.

Some might find that a variety of recent polls show that President Obama’s chances in the coming 2012 Presidential election are in serious jeopardy. However, polls and press like this don’t faze me much at all. I find that when we stop to consider the facts, whether you like it or not, President Obama will almost certainly win the 2012 election.

Unlike liberal pundits, who claim that Obama is sure to win based on a largely subjective election formula, I reached the same conclusion using more conventional, hopefully objective material. Here are some of the major reasons why.

First is the fact that Obama’s financial base remains strong. Obama’s electoral coffers are almost certainly going to be much larger than those of the Republican candidate.

Secondly, the Republican Party has internal divisions. This has proven to be a partial deal-breaker for the Republican Party in the past (George H. W. Bush, among others). Obviously this isn’t the only challenge for Republicans, but the fact remains that party divisions can lead to political disaster.

Third, it will be particularly important that the Republican presidential candidate is sufficiently skilled at unifying, rallying, and leading party supporters, while being charismatic and persuasive enough to keep expanding the Republican base. They must do this while going toe-to-toe with a fully-activated, campaign-charged Obama: a tall order for the current candidate lineup.

Fourth, among blacks, latinos and other ethnic minorities, Obama is still the candidate of choice by far. The voting strength of these groups remains significant, and Republican candidates still have difficulty appealing to them without alienating their base.

Fifth, for the past few years, Republicans have lost some of their political clout and public image by being staunchly ideological and politically unresponsive in the face of important national debates and crises. I’m thinking of the healthcare and debt ceiling debates in particular. These issues revealed a startling sort of stubbornness among the Republican caucus, as well as growing ideological polarization among the American electorate.

As we know, the general population tends to be fairly evenly split between Democratic and Republican supporters at election time. Some see this phenomenon as an American political trademark: we prefer divided government because it facilitates compromise.

While President Obama has been fairly bipartisan – seeking to compromise and broker deals between the Republicans and Democrats – the Republican caucus has shown a major lack of this characteristic “American” political flair.

Finally, as political scientists will tell you, barring political incompetence, incumbents tend to win. Those who hold an office are more likely to keep it, for a variety of good (and bad) reasons.

Obama’s opponents regularly compare his approval ratings (Oh, here come the polls again) to that of previous presidents, and state that they’re dangerously close to a number of one-term presidents like Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush. The problem here is that present approval ratings have very little bearing on future voting percentages. You don’t have to approve of a medicine to know you’d be better off taking it.

The biggest challenges to Obama’s 2012 bid will be shaping a positive image of his handling of the economy, motivating a disparate and disillusioned Democratic Party base, and building another top-notch political campaign that will motivate the American public and win over independent voters. The presidential election is around 13 months away: more than enough time to energize the Democratic base and launch a strong campaign.

Obama’s task will not be an easy one. He has a lot of work ahead of him, and some stiff opposition; but as I see it, his success in the 2012 election is largely secure.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Avoiding School Reform Roadblocks

When initiating reform, an action plan must be developed before the school can determine how the reform will be carried out and how it will be measured. Too often, administrators become anxious and feel the need to change the reform before any data has been collected. More patience is warranted because if a plan is not working, it can be amended. The school team, which consists of educators, administrators, and other stakeholders, must make the necessary amendments without hindering reform efforts. Creating too many changes within one reform plan would be counterproductive and frustrating for all parties involved.

Many new administrators enter the field hell-bent on making a name for themselves and refusing to live in the shadows of their predecessor. Often, they feel as though their only choice is to go in a totally different direction, making the previous reform null and void. This situation creates frustration among the surviving faculty and staff. New administrators often make changes before they fully think about the consequences or repercussions of their actions. Perfectly competent adults massage their egos instead of thinking about what is in the best interests of the school and the children.

It is counterproductive to start one reform and then decide to start another several months later. Once a reform has been implemented, all parties involved must show fidelity to it until there is concrete data or evidence that indicates that it is ineffective. Reform is about creating an environment in which students are the priority and we as their teachers assist them in starting and finishing their journey to becoming educated citizens.

It is hard for many administrators and educators to grasp the fact that frustrations may worsen as the reform is being implemented. Often, issues arise because people do not welcome change. Some educators need to see that change is for the better before they completely support the reform. Once the rebellion to change has subsided and the reform has been implemented correctly, the waiting game begins. During this time, educators and administrators must go about the business of collecting data for analysis. The findings will give them a clear indication of whether or not the reform has served its intended purpose. If students are not progressing under the implemented reform, then it may not be fulfilling the needs of the students or faculty.

Strategic planning and the implementation of school reform sometimes require schools to absorb temporary setbacks in order to reap the benefits of long-term gains. Student progress might dip for a month or two before teachers and administrators see a significant gain in student learning and performance. Teachers and administrators need to allow change to take place and not panic when instant changes are not apparent. In many school reform efforts, educators and administrators must understand that policies and practices that met the needs of the past, do not necessarily address current needs or the needs of the future. They must realize that in order to obtain a great future you must let go of a great past.

Some administrators fall into the trap of emulating model schools. Model schools can be found in every major city, but when trying to recreate their success, many schools fail to achieve the same results. Trying to recreate another school’s success is potentially dangerous, even when schools share similar characteristics. This is because, regardless of the similarities, every district is unique. Often, after a large amount of time, energy, and money has been spent, the school declares the plan a failure and has nothing to show for the efforts.

Strategic planning, which is widely used in the educational arena, can assist districts in setting goals and implementing school reform. You would be hard pressed to find a school district that does not have one or more strategic plans awaiting execution. Strategic plans are a district’s consistent road map, even in the face of adversity. In the end, a strategic plan that reflects the culture and needs of each individual school is a better route than attempts to replicate the success another school.