My son could be Trayvon Martin.

My son could be Trayvon Martin.

It’s 2:15 AM and I’m still up just thinking about all the implications of the Zimmerman verdict. I watched the trial waiting for some major points to be made: Trayvon Martin had the right to be in a public place without being stalked, he had the right to stand his ground and fight back, and he had the right to get home safely.

Of course, all I can think about is how scary it is to have brought my precious son into a world where the Voting Rights Act can be gutted in the 21st century with the logic that it’s no longer needed because it has worked (never mind that it has worked THIS very year). I’ve brought him into a world where when a man shoots an unarmed teen, the murdered teen has to stand trial, not the shooter. I’ve brought him into a world where the family dynamics of the murdered teen is a key part of the story (just imagine if he was raised by a single mother like me). I’ve brought him into a world where although I don’t immediately leave a movie theater when a weird looking white person comes in for fear that he will shoot the place up, it is considered acceptable testimony to listen to a woman talk about how she was robbed by a black boy, even though that particularly black boy had nothing to do with the case. I’ve brought him into a world where wearing a hoodie in the rain is suspicious. I’ve brought him into a world where even as the unemployment rate continues to decrease, the unemployment rate of blacks continues to increase. I’ve brought him into a world where you can go to jail for firing a warning shot when someone who admits to abusing you is approaching you and threatening you, but not for murdering an unarmed boy who wanted some Skittles and tea.

I pray that I can instill in my son a strong sense of self worth. And I pray that others will respect his worth. I pray that my child will not be seen as a stereotype, but as the bearer of light he is. I don’t even know how to approach preparing him for a life in this world. Do I make sure he wear galoshes and a plastic poncho any time it’s raining? Do I drive him around the corner no matter what? Do I stock my pantry with snacks for a lifetime? Do I tell him to defend himself or to run or to just take whatever is thrown at him JUST in case he’s murdered and he needs to be clearly the victim? Of course, there is NO way for me to adequately prepare him in a place where people are justified in jumping to irrational conclusions.

So, Friday, as I was thinking about the possibilities the verdict could bring, I tweeted this:

So what are we going to do after today? Regardless of the verdict? My issue with marching is that I don’t always see forward movement after the fact.

Can we commit to joining a mentor group and giving back to our kids?

Can we agree to start writing and calling our legislators and staying vigilant about new laws that adversely affect our communities?

And I added these tonight:

Can we agree to start/continue educating ourselves about local and state politics and voting accordingly?

Can we agree to start focusing on building up our communities and knowing our neighbors so we can look out for each other? We are obviously all we got.

Can we stop making excuses for grown people who choose to not contribute to our children and start holding each other to higher standards?

Can we begin to invest in our own businesses and communities and watch where we circulate our dollars?

We can’t afford to be two day/two week warriors. We have to protect our kids through civic involvement and community engagement.

Now is the time to rediscover our own worth and wield the economic power we all know we have but don’t use.

I guess I’ll try to sleep now. But I’m sure it won’t be as restful as I need it to be. Another sad day in America. It’s becoming a norm. What’s next, people?

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Feature Friday: Gut Bucket Blues

Feature Friday: Gut Bucket Blues

My neighbor graciously invited to attend Kenny Leon and True Colors’ Gut Bucket Blues.  Feeling slightly important on the front row, I was captured by the story line, cursing, and phenomenal music (although pretty upbeat to be the blues, but really great nonetheless).  If you haven’t seen it, you simply must, and you only have this weekend to catch it before it’s gone.

I have no idea who this person is. The actress playing Bessie doesn't look like this, and the real Bessie doesn't look like this. This is the only thing that threw me off about the play. (But still go see it.)

I had heard of Bessie Smith, but I had never really known anything about her story.  I just knew she was considered a great blues singer.  Well, this lady had a loud, crazy, interesting life, and it made me wonder if some people have soap opera lives just so that someone in a future generation can become inspired and create a production like David Bell did.  Being the inquisitive person that I am, when I got home, I googled her to see how much of the play was true to her life, and it seems that all of it was based on what really happened except the way she ended up in Atlanta to start her career.

Bessie Smith started out as a orphan being cared for by her abusive sister Viola who would lock her in the “shit house” (outhouse) as punishment.  She and her brother Clarence made money by singing in front of businesses.  Bessie eventually got “discovered” by the infamous Ma Rainey and learned stage presence from her. Once she launched her solo career, Bessie sold her songs like hot cakes.  She was the highest paid black entertainer in her time.  BUT history is still repeating itself.  She wasted her money on stuff, a bunch of meaningless-in-the-grand-scheme stuff, on illegal booze, and on her wack, abusive husband.  Seriously, by the time she passed away, she left nothing–didn’t even have enough to buy herself her tombstone.  And according to Wikipedia, the money was raised twice to buy her one (she had thousands at her funeral–people LOVED this foul mouth, hoochie coochie woman who I started to love during the play), but her crazy, awful husband (that seems much worse than Ike was) pocketed it.  She passed in 1937 but didn’t get a tombstone until 1970.  The highest paid black entertainer of her day.  The Empress of the Blues.  No tombstone for all those years.  And the cycle continues.

I really do encourage you to go see Gut Bucket Blues. It’s full of drama, a great story, and AWESOME singers.  And if you’re anything like me, you will want to know more when you leave!  You won’t be disappointed.  I’ll leave you with some videos of the legends this play is about.

Listen to those lyrics.  Such a sad reality.  I guess that’s why they call it the blues though. :-/

I feel her, but maybe it shoulda been someone else’s business. 😦

Happy Friday!

Almighty Debt

Almighty Debt

So last week, Reads and Reels along with TEO hosted an advance screening of CNN’s Black in America: Almighty Debt, which is airing in full tomorrow night. The event was well-attended, and people definitely had lots to say about the segment.  Here are some highlights.

  • Many people in the group, while they appreciated the topics touched on in Almighty Debt, felt that there should have been an added focus on those who have triumphed over debt.  They expressed that instead of showing all our problems, showing people who have overcome debt issues would have provided some hope to the watchers.  Some people thought the segment was realistic, and some thought it didn’t represent enough of the black diaspora.
  • In the piece, Pastor Soaries said that debt is a bigger problem than racism.  Some agreed, but others did not.  One attendee said that this debt problem is a byproduct of racism, and that there are still systems that encourage a disproportionate affect on our community in comparison to others.  She even made reference to a quote from the first Black in America: “When America has a cold, Black America has the flu.”  In essence, financial issues affect us greater–as Julianne Malveaux said during her interview, many of us are middle class by income, not by wealth.  So when stuff happens, we don’t have as much cushion, and we’re more easily knocked out of middle class.  It’s troubling that the wealth gap between whites and blacks is $75,000.
  • One point that was made over and over again in the segment as well as in our discussion is that we get emotionally attached to our stuff.  Due to a long history of not having much, it was said that we spend a lot of our money trying to catch up and show that we’re worthy of having stuff — stuff, as in houses, cars, clothes, designer purses, etc., that we can’t or won’t let go of when times get tough.  I shared with the group that in 2007, black buying power was $845 billion and was expected to top $1.1 trillion by 2012.  What are we doing with this money?  Why aren’t we leveraging it? Why are we buying tons of stuff instead of investing in our communities, in black businesses, in our education systems, in programs that will help us?
  • One very important topic of this new segment of Black in America is the church’s role.  Should the church be focused on salvation–getting people to heaven–or should it also be teaching and advocating for our communities–helping people on earth?  (Y’all know I think it should be doing both.)  The church, which used to be the single most important institution in our communities, should be investing in building up our communities.  I am in support of those churches, including the one in the documentary, who have community foundations that buy property and help people find jobs and teach financial literacy and help people get out of debt and hold entrepreneurship workshops and the like.  We need to think beyond our individual selves and get back to thinking long-term for our community.  We know what many of our problems are–so let’s get to fixing them.

There was so much more that was said, and there is so much to be said–and to be done.  Overall, I think the screening, and I’m sure the complete show tomorrow, fulfilled an imperative purpose: to get us talking about what we need to do become better financially.  It’s a personal and community problem–we each have a responsibility to get our own lives in order and make better decisions; and we all need to chip in and do something to position future generations to be better stewards of money and to understand how to build wealth, not just increase income, or as one participant said: “make money while we sleep.”

One thing that I’d like to see expanded and implemented to a wider audience is our ESP Kids Club, where members of TEO along with some brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha teach middle school kids on Saturdays about financial literacy.  The program is so enriching that some parents have asked to sit in because their kids were going home sharing information that the parents didn’t know!

There’s an information gap from which our community suffers gravely.  We need to fill it in order to empower the black community economically.  We have to have the foresight to ensure that our $1.1 trillion will be spent creating products, innovating, and growing assets, not just being consumers.

Feature Friday: Small Businesses

Feature Friday: Small Businesses

I’m no stranger to the pros and cons, benefits and trials of owning a small business.  In addition to my own small endeavors over the years, I was exposed to entrepreneurship as a child.  My granddaddy opened Robinson Shoe Shop in 1957, and it is now operated by my daddy and one of my uncles.  I’m sure this is one of the major reasons that the passage of the Small Business Jobs Act this week was important news to me, besides the fact that statistics show that small businesses are the source of a large chunk of the jobs in this country and are important to economic development.  They are also necessary in the community development of black communities.  Part of economic empowerment is generating and producing, not just consuming.

So today, my feature is two-fold: The Small Business Jobs Act and the film Harlem’s Mart 125: The American Dream.

I saw the film in late August on a Sunday afternoon at Central Library.  Not knowing that I had just said excuse me and stepped over the film’s creator, I sat in my seat and through the grainy cinematography (which I understood is an byproduct of a one-woman budget!! How passionate and awesome is that?), learned about an establishment that was not only the lifeline of several hard-working black business owners but also to the entire community in which it was located.  The film chronicles how the Harlem’s Mart 125 in New York became to be such a force and how the business owners were let down by the society and government that tells us that we have to get up and get our own.  It saddened me to see the disinvestment of the building, despite the fact that the businesses had been there for years, attracting and maintaining customers and staying relevant to a degree through the times.  Then came the gentrification of the area, which led to the government supporting new chain businesses while not providing support for the anchors that had been holding the community up the whole while.  The creator, Rachelle Salnave-Gardner, showed us that sometimes we really just get the short end of the stick–and that short end begets so many other implications for the business owners, their families, their customers, and the culture of the community.  If you get a chance to see or host this film, I encourage you to take it.

So what does the new bill that President Obama signed this week mean?  Additional loan availability, increases in the loan amounts, a higher tax deductible  for start-up businesses, tax deduction on health insurance expenses, and lots of other stuff.  Here’s another link with some info.  I hope that people, especially black business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs, will take advantage of some of these newly passed opportunities.  We can’t control all the circumstances, but creating strong businesses and supporting those businesses hold much promise for the future of us all.

Happy Friday, folks!