Yesterday I was in Memphis presenting Gentrify Your Own Self! on a panel with other Education Philosophers. I guess by now two questions are forming: 1. Did I really entitle an academic paper Gentr…
Source: In Presenting Gentrify Your Own Self
Anyone who knows me, knows that I am an old school music kind of girl. I love Mariah Carey (I’m kind of scared to watch her judge American Idol this season because I might end up cussin’ out Niki Manaj). There are very few people that I sing in front of, so when I’m alone, I like to pretend that I can hit those high notes. Other “High Note Queens” that I enjoy are Mimi Ripperton and Rachelle Farrell (My husband and I actually fell in love over Rachelle Farrell). I love, LOVE Earth, Wind, and Fire. I have always heard their music growing up, especially on those long trips to Hilton Head, but when my band director at Hampton, Mr. Barney E. Smart (rest his soul) wrote a score for Reasons for us to play during our Homecoming game that, year I was sold on their music. My mom and dad got me the EWF Box Set for Christmas, which trumped even the VCR they had also gotten for me. I was a proud mama when my son, was singing along with Philip Bailey in falsetto. And of course if I love EWF, I have to love Mint Condition as well.
Okay, I could go on all day about great music but there is a purpose to this post. Someone might try to argue me down on this but I am and will always be the biggest New Edition fan ever. Ever. A story that comes to mind is back in high school when they came to Savannah on tour. I was so excited because my parents said that I could go with my cousins, who were of the same age. I had visions of looking “fly”(that is what we used to say back in the day). I imagined the group pulling me up on the stage with them to do the dance moves with them. It was going to be a wonderful night. Then my dad broke the news. When he had gone to purchase the tickets, there were only three left. Three tickets, four cousins. My parents decided that rather than to choose which cousin would not go, their daughter would be the one not to go. I never appreciated the magnitude of that decision until having children of my own. Doing the right thing, verses breaking the heart of your own children. I know that it broke their heart to break my heart. Faced with that decision, I also would have most likely sacrificed my child’s happiness to do what was right. And my heart was broken. The next day my cousin came to see me. She didn’t brag about her being able to go while I stayed home. Instead, she gave me a poster of New Edition as a gift. It wasn’t the concert, but it was treasured all of the same. Go into my childhood room now and the Janet Jackson poster is gone. The Bobby Brown poster is gone. The Michael Jacksons…gone. And so is anyone else that I had hung on my walls over the years. That same New Edition poster, the one that my cousin gave me however, is still hanging in my room. My mom even framed it for me.
I finally got to see New Edition, by the way. My husband is the one who made that dream come true. A couple of months after my son was born, we saw them in Charlotte. It was awesome and probably better than the one I missed. First, I got to experience it with someone I loved and Secondly, there were more songs to choose from. A dream deferred sometimes turns out better than you can ever imagine.
It could be easy to say that I am angry. Compared to the actual storm inside of me, it is such a tiny emotion compared to what I am actually feeling. There was a point when the death of Black people on the news was so frequent it was mind-numbing. This church shooting right chere, though (Gotta channel my inner Gullah/Geechee) got me stirred up to where I am boiling over. It’s close to home. It occurred at the epicenter of my denomination. It was church. This person strolled into Bible Study at Emmanuel AME, sat down for an hour, proceeded to shoot preachers, teachers, and future leaders, and strolled out again leaving heartbreak, confusion, and anger in his wake. We can’t even attend Bible Study anymore without having to doing a pat down of the participants. Forget about Meet & Greet. And once again it’s a question from the masses of whether the shooter was ill or a racist. Why can’t people admit this was a racist act in an attempt to wipe out our best, our storytellers, and our future that the victims represented? You cannot rationalize what is not rational. So once again, we are on our knees in prayer for families, for the community, and for Black Lives, which matter.
Yesterday I was in Memphis presenting Gentrify Your Own Self! on a panel with other Education Philosophers. I guess by now two questions are forming: 1. Did I really entitle an academic paper Gentrify Your Own Self? The short answer is no I didn’t. The proper title of my paper is *ahem* Educational Success in Under Resourced Neighborhoods through Self-Gentrification. 2. How is this about education philosophy? Well the answer to this question is a little more lengthy: So in every class I have taken, in every faculty meeting, in every educational video, in every ghetto, every city , and suburban place I’ve been (see what I did there?) there is always a conversation about the achievement gap between Black and White students. The brilliant solutions are to let go of teachers and administrators who actually care about students, make educational standards really difficult, and let’s test them to death so that Black students really don’t want to attend and do well in school. Effective huh? The problem is that the issues in schools are societal. Simply put, when Black people headed for the suburbs and the stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops, humongous master bed and bath, and two-story foyer (sorry, still smarting over that last over-the-top House Hunters episode), they left behind some rich historical areas. The city and Low Country alike are all up for grabs. And we Black folks aren’t grabbing. We’re selling. We’re fleeing. We’re forgetting. And the culture established in these communities left with the people, and now you can’t play your acoustic guitar as loud as you want to because there’s a noise ordinance. I also include the culture of school success in the list of disappearances from the Black Community. I believe if Black communities are fixed, it’s a solution to solving our achievement gap problem. And the way to fix our communities is to Gentrify Your Own Self!
So I presented this theory at this conference. I figured that either my ideas would be met with applause or they’ll chase me out of the city. I got the polite applause. But I rubbed someone the wrong way. And that’s ok. When presenting a philosophical paper, it is expected that it will be met with some criticism. The key is being able to stand by the work. My critic said that she had a problem with my calling for the Black community to gentrify themselves puts onus on the Black Community to solve problems that they didn’t cause in the first place. My answer: Yes it does. And it should. Now the question that I have is what is wrong with being proactive and making a situation that will never change work for us? Gentrification will never go away, not as long as people see value and opportunities in places where we do not. So instead of being caught up in righteous anger, we need to see the value and start making moves to control our own destiny. What do you think?
During the holiday break, I had the pleasure of spending time with my cousins at a wine and cheese party. It reminded me of days gone by at the Palmetto House when our laughter had gotten a bit too loud and the cracking on each other just a bit too much on point. And as a result of my aunts’ nerves snapping, we were sent to “the couch.” Usually during Christmas dinner I barely have time to utter a hello before I am chasing, wrestling, reasoning, and fussing with my toddler who is not yet old enough to converse with the other cousins over whether “Santa Clause had been good to him.” When I see my cousins for dinner, they are adults carrying on adult conversations, punctuated with the adult laughter, teaming with their spouses, and giving children instructions before returning to their individual conversations. Every once in a while, the childhood teasing and laughter would break through and I would find myself looking at them wondering when was the exact point we all grew up. And I realize that I don’t really know them anymore. I may know their chosen profession, how many children they have, who their spouses are, but I no longer know the day-to-day of them. What are the little things that makes them laugh? What have been some challenges they have had to face? What do they do in their spare time? And they don’t know the day-to-day of me. It’s something that can be found out in a brief conversation I suppose, but it is difficult to have one of those as I am searching for the right food for my toddler that won’t be politely (and sometimes not so politely) be handed back to me. While I try to treasure the moments when my younger son can fit snug in my lap, I am counting down the days when I can send him off with the other children with a plate and a toy in spite of his difference. Maybe then, I can have those conversations.
For my cousins’ wine and cheese party though, the children were thankfully left in the care of their grandparents (a very rare treat), and I was able to focus on the event itself. I even had a good time. Our family has changed somewhat, with those who are with us in spirit and the addition of spouses, but not really. As we ate, drank, played games, and cracked on each other (the shade throwing has been somewhat super-sized over the years…), I didn’t see the adults we had become, but I could reflect on the memory of us as children. And as my husband sat in the room with me and the arguments began to crescendo in terms of the advantage gained over the latest parlor game, I wondered if he could even take a glimpse of what my life was like before I knew him. The party took me back to the times of the Palmetto House. Only we could no longer be sent to the couch (though a couple of us should have been.) And though the conversations were never had, I felt like I got to know my cousins a bit better. Like who has watched Frozen over and over and over and over again. Which one of us enjoys sports (and not the usual suspects). Who has scientific knowledge. Which one of us is smarter than credited. Who likes romantic comedy. Which one of us likes girl groups. Who is really competitive. Sense of humor in the most unlikely places). And maybe my cousins could catch a glimpse of me…
Although we were not in the physical Palmetto House, my grandmother’s house, the spirit of that house was inside of all of us. In the laughter and the loud talking. In the joking and the shade-throwing. And most importantly, in the seats on the couch that should have been taken by all 😉 .