Saturday, May 30, 2009

Say Thank You to Your Unsung Heroes and Sheroes

I recently read the book,"Living in the Shadows of a Legend: Unsung Heroes and ‘Sheroes’ who Marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,” by Deric A. Gilliard. The book is a written documentary featuring interviews and personal insights from 20 unsung heroes – black, white, Jewish, male and female – of the civil rights movements directed by Dr. King in the 1950s and 1960s. These individuals played critical roles in bringing about the passage of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The book is inspiring in so many ways. It inspires me to be dedicated, fearless and sacrificial for those issues in which I choose to support. It inspires me to learn more about the civil rights movement of the past and of today. It inspires me to apply the lessons learned from those that were in the trenches such as: united we have power, work with a passion and apply well thought-out strategy to your endeavors.

Most importantly, something that I have tried to apply in my own life was affirmed in the book and that is we can do great and sometimes life-changing work without being in the limelight.

I applaud and say thank you to each person highlighted in the book: John Thomas, Robert Nesbitt, Anne Braden, Henry Twine, Clay Evans, Kat Twine, Hosea Williams, Alice Tregay, Robert Hayling, Nimrod Reynolds, R.B. Cottonreader, Albert Turner, J.T. Johnson, Albert Sampson, Willie Bolden, JoElla Stevenson, Betty Magness, Lula williams, Willy Leventhal and Tom Houck.

I also say thank you to all of the other unsung heroes and sheroes that are part of the Civil Rights community that were not highlighted in the book. Futhermore, I am going to make a point of saying thank you to the unsung heroes and sheroes in my personal life. I am blessed to know so many individuals that have and are currently making a difference in this world by being heroic-like mothers, fathers, friends, ministry leaders, young people, employees, mentors, community leaders and more.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

To Everything There is a Season

I enjoyed reading an article in the March 9, 2009, issue of People magazine highlighting Michelle Obama's initial views on acclimating to the role of First Lady of the United States. I was particularly impressed with her ability to establish a very clear vision and comfort level with her new role, which includes serving as mom-in-chief and helpmate to her husband in these initial months of the new administration.

I must admit that during the early months of the campaign my first impressions of her, which were wrong, had me a little concerned. I was afraid that her desire to be seen as an intelligent African American woman that was equal to her husband meant she would feel the need to say and do things that would come across as perhaps disrespectful or condescending.

I now believe that Mrs. Obama is a role model for so many of us, not only African Americans, that are trying to balance our roles of motherhood, career and wife. She is showing us that "to everything there is a season," and sometimes the "season" requires that we focus less on our own career and place more focus on serving in that critical role of helpmate to our spouse. And to do so does not diminish who we are as a person. In some ways, it may even magnify for others to see the many wonderful characteristics such as intelligence, compassion, love, wisdom, wit and humor that were always there.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Boarding Schools. A Viable Solution?

On my way to church this morning, I listened to Former Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr. and Pat Washington's talk radio show where the topic of conversation was about the proposed closing of 30 schools in the St. Louis Public School District. (The St. Louis American newspaper wrote about the proposed school closings -- click here to read article.)

The interesting discussion included Washington suggesting that some of the closed schools could be used as boarding schools. She explained that boarding schools will enable children to be placed in a better living environment, which could lead to improved educational outcomes.

To support her beliefs and perhaps dispel any negative connotations associated with the concept of boarding schools, she also noted that boarding schools are commonly used by more affluent families with positive outcomes.

The added bonus is that the school buildings will not stand vacant and will once again serve the educational needs of the surrounding community.

I strongly believe any successful educational reform must address what goes on after the dismissal bell rings and our children go home. Too many of our children go home to environments where the adults in their life are unable (perhaps they just don't know what to do or how to do it) or unwilling (perhaps their focus is elsewhere) to do what's necessary to foster academic achievement at home.

Examples would be such basics as reading to a child at bedtime, beginning with toddlers to encourage the love of books; checking homework assignments every school night (and providing supplemental educational materials to assist a child struggling in a specific subject); making sure a child goes to bed early enough that a good night's rest leads to an attentive child in the classroom; serving healthy breakfasts and dinners (there are children living in households where the school is their main source of food); setting high expectations for a child; providing a safe and nurturing home life; and serving as a child's educational advocate when needed.

Those parents able to do the basics tend to see their children succeeding in spite of schools facing limited resources and other challenges.

If the solution to improved academic achievement was just about fixing the schools, then children moved from poor performing schools to better performing schools would do better. The data does not support this premise. This is proven by previous reports and data showing that, generally speaking, children from the city bused to suburban schools (with more resources) do not do any better on standardized tests than their counterparts in the city schools.

A combined residential and educational facility that fosters academic achievement by nurturing the child's mind, body and spirit may be a viable solution.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Can I Get a New Stove in 2009?

The good news is that I have a Jenn Air stove that has lasted almost 20 years. The bad news is that I have a Jenn Air stove that has lasted almost 20 years.

I want a new stove, but my practical husband says that we should not buy a new stove until the old one no longer works. I don't think my current stove is going down anytime soon. My husband also pointed out that the number of times that I cook in any given week has dramatically dropped over the last few years; so a new stove should not be a priority on our long wish list of purchases for our home. While I cannot deny that I don't cook very often now, I bet I would with the stove of my dreams.

I want a new stove with a double oven and gas burners. Every Sunday I look at the pull-out ads included with the newspaper to monitor the cost of my coveted stove. The price has steadily been increasing since I started my price monitoring project. I am afraid if we wait too long, we won't be able to afford the type of stove I want.

I think I can change my husband's mind by bribing his stomach. He loves to eat and is always telling someone that I am a great cook. He doesn't have a very discerning tummy, so he may not be the best judge of my cooking skills; but I do love to cook, find it relaxing and love to try new recipes.

Here's my strategy: I have committed to cooking more. I figure when my husband's stomach is happy on a regular basis, he will not be able to be practical, at least on this topic, and will one day say, "Yes honey, I agree. We should buy you the stove of your dreams and let's do it today."

Keep your fingers crossed!

Monday, January 19, 2009

When Can We Speak Honestly About Racial Issues?

I attended a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration twelve months ago that I continue to think about, especially today as we acknowledge his birthday once again.

I continue to think about that particular event because of how others in attendance responded to the speaker after the event. The audience was racially mixed. This is relevant because it is the foundation for the responses I saw, heard, and read via e-mail.

The event I attended last year had, in my opinion, a great speaker offering truths and insights that were very relevant to the occasion. He said things that made me and others clap in agreement and even stand on our feet a time or two. His speech was just the right length, contained humor, passion, and wisdom.

During the speaker's presentation, Blacks were admonished for believing that we have arrived because some can now live in nice neighborhoods, drive fancy cars, and earn fat paychecks. He reminded us of the struggle that began so many years ago and that still continues and that we have to help our own selves out of these troubles.

He reminded us that we cannot be satisfied with the current conditions in our urban neighborhoods and schools. He chided Blacks for spending and not saving and for not creating significant wealth. He made it clear that he believes Whites are not without fault for the current conditions in Black America and that they therefore should be doing more to help.

After the event was over, hardly anyone came up to speak to the speaker and his family, I know because I did. Immediately after the program, I heard a version of this statement multiple times "Right message, wrong audience, wrong event."

For days after the event, attendees were circulating e-mails, about how embarrassed they were and that the speaker should have been vetted better, and someone even suggested that the speech text of future speakers should be reviewed before they can speak at the event.

To this day, I do not understand those responses to the speech. I kept being told that the message was inappropriate for a racially mixed audience. Whites don't want to come to an event and "hear that kind of speech."

I have several White friends that I consider our relationships to be fairly close. I would like to think that while they may have been uncomfortable with a comment or two from the speaker, they would have been inspired to do better, just as I, an African-American, was inspired to do better.

Is it OK for an African American to admonish his own, but not Whites? If so, how can we truly achieve racial unity and reconciliation? Shouldn't we be able to speak honestly, during events such as one designed to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Should Bill Gates be on the Bus?

I am wondering if the right "experts" are going to work on fixing our educational system in 2009. I just read a Newsweek article by Jonathan Alter titled "Bill Gates Goes to School." A take away for most readers will be that Bill Gates is an expert on what it will take for successful education reform. I am not yet convinced of his expertise or skills as they relate to education. Alter writes: "Word is, Obama may even ask Gates to serve on a new high-level educational-advisory panel he's noodling . . ."

I admit that I tend to be a bit cynical of those who heap blame on teachers and teachers' unions for the problems facing our educational system and who suggest that mayoral control of school systems is a good thing. I have seen what happens when a mayor sticks his nose in the business of educating our boys and girls and I believe that was a dismal failure by any measuring stick. Furthermore, while I would never argue that every teacher is a good one, I am very confident that teachers' unions are not the reason that our school systems are currently struggling.

I appreciate the funding that Mr. and Mrs. Gates have directed toward improving education. I just wonder if he holds the right qualifications to be on the bus that will take us to a better educational system.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Dropout Crisis in Missouri

"We have on our hands a dropout crisis nationwide and it is most profound for low-income communities and communities of color." The comment by Daria Hall, a policy analyst for The Education Trust, is part of an article in the Dec. 9, 2008, issue of the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

The Post was highlighting the "skyrocketing" dropout rates in the St. Louis City School District. The reporter doesn't explicitly say that the drop out rates are higher now than they were before all of the turmoil in the District that was caused by the turnaround fiasco authored by City politicians, but the chart from the Post article seems to support that thought.

I do recall that there were some really good student retention programs and efforts to reduce the dropout rate when I was employed in the communications department of the District. But, alas, those were pretty much decimated in the name of "turn around" efforts.

The high school dropout issue in St. Louis, Missouri and across the country is serious and is certainly in need of leadership with a commitment to funding programs proven to keep our children in school. We know that at-risk students (those living in poverty or other undesirable home environments, those with disciplinary problems and those that move multiple times within a school year) need the special attention of caring adults and peers to make it across the graduation stage.

When we have thousands of high school dropouts in Missouri and more than a million nation-wide, we have to hang our head in shame.

I volunteer with College Bound a wonderful non-profit that is doing great work with high school students in the St. Louis area. And I know of a few more, but more must be done to move us out of this "dropout crisis."