The Teachers We Remember.

(Feature image by Matt Eich for New York Times)

Students at Charlottesville High School tell their truths about the school system, their teachers, their administration. Black students. Not only their truth, but the truth of Black students in Charlottesville on all levels, from decades ago to now.

They’re called liars by their teachers, specifically Rhonda Baker. The journalists are accused of writing an exaggerated article. That’s the lie. However, the proof is there and it’s HERE at this link: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/16/us/charlottesville-riots-black-students-schools.html

To say this is an exaggeration strictly for sensationalism, Ms. Baker, and that there is little truth here, is to call the THOUSANDS of Black folks who were educated by the Charlottesville Public School System and read this article and agreed with every word because we’ve lived it “liars.” We aren’t liars.

Perhaps, you should stay on social media and listen to what we have to say, so you can actually be an effective teacher to ALL your students. As an HONORS SCIENCE TEACHER, you’ve become part of the problem. Students like the students in the article feel less undervalued and unsafe in your class and in other Honors classes. But they fight through. They shouldn’t have to fight through. The OTHER students aren’t fighting. That’s the problem.

I’m a product of Charlottesville City School. These are the SAME issues me and my classmates faced at every level. Nothing’s changed in over 3 decades but the faces. I’ve gone on to grab a few degrees, accolades, and such, and I hate that I still remember those teachers who looked for ways to bring me down, and it was no natural to them that I’m sure they’ve long forgotten. Like when Mrs. Thompson called me a liar, or when Mr. Pierce asked if I was sure I was in the proper class when I walked into his Honors course. Like you’re saying these students are exaggerating their pain. They aren’t. You will be remembered for this.


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You Can’t Make A White Woman Mamie Till. Period.

In the words of Lisa Borden in her 2011 book, The Alphabet of Avoidance: Simple Solutions to Immediately Replace ‘Bad’ Habits with Something Better…or Even, Nothing at All, “If you aren’t outraged, then you’re just not paying attention.”

Charlottesville, Spike Lee, the quilt-making lady I met in Glendale, California a few months ago, and a few thousand others got it wrong. They keep getting it wrong. Because of the respect that comes to a fighter when they are killed in the fight, many Black fighters have been reluctant to say anything, not wanting to besmirch Heather Heyer’s name, especially while it now sits high on 4th street. This is not to say we’ve had no interest in righting the wrong because we do, as the stakes are high if we completely ignore it. Heather’s participation in the fight that’s been happening in Charlottesville since equality became an option for its Black residents is greatly appreciated, like the participation of the other allies who fought alongside us from the beginning, but she is no martyr. This is what they got wrong.

Legendary radio talk show host, Joe Madison, a Black man, known to his public as The Black Eagle, spoke at an NAACP banquet in Charlottesville, Virginia on Friday September 28 and called Susan Bro, Heather Heyer’s mother, “the Mamie Till of the 21st century” and smiled during the standing ovation brought about by his malarkey. Though I wasn’t present, I imagine those clapping, and especially those standing, either (1) had no idea who Mamie Till was or the son she lost, which would be insanely disappointing since anyone attending a NAACP banquet should be fully aware of this Mother (in every sense of the word) of the civil rights movement, and (2) were white self-professed allies who feel they’ve been validated by a Black man so respected, he was made a keynote speaker. Joe was 6-years-old when Emmett was murdered, therefore old enough to remember Mamie, her fight, and surely, if he thinks hard enough, the sounds her words made climbing over the lump in her throat. At the funeral of Mike Brown, I listened to Lezley McSpadden’s words fight equally hard to escape her mouth while standing over the body of the son she lost to a man no different than Emmett’s murderers. I can’t fathom fixing my lips to make such a comparison. I was in Canada when I got the call from a friend who’d been in the room, outraged, and I wanted to reach for Joe and ask if and why he’s not yet tired of sacrificing the value of Black folks for white approval.

“Lord, take my soul,” Mamie cried out when she reached the Chicago train station where Emmett’s 14-year-old body had been shipped. Carolyn Bryant lied, saying she feared for her life when Emmett walked into the store to buy gum and whistled at her. Her husband, Roy Bryant and his brother, JW Milam, picked up Emmett then tortured him, shot him in the head, wrapped him in barbed wire, and attached his body to a 75-pound fan, and threw him into the Tallahatchie River. This is the body Mamie greeted, horrified. This is the body Mamie demanded others examine at the open casket funerals. Those who could not make it to the Southside of Chicago would see her boy’s body in magazines and newspapers. She made them look. She began a movement.

What we need to get right here is that Mamie’s boy was not an ally. Emmett’s participation in the fight was not optional. Emmett’s activism and protest against the inequitable system built long before he walked the streets of Chicago and Money, Mississippi wasn’t an act of survival, whether he knew it or not. Whether Emmett knew his happiness was revolutionary or not. Emmett’s death was not caused by a scared white man who’d later beg forgiveness, but by a mob that later admitted the murder was to warn other Blacks.

And like her son, Mamie could not escape the protest and the fight. When I think of her, I think of those folks running through the streets of Spain being chased by the bulls and those folks who stand along the fences, safe, pushing the runners back into the race each time they attempt to leave, even if it means they may die. Of course, all those in the safe zones aren’t pushing. Some are enjoying the show, some are figuring out how to help, and some may reach in when it’s easy in an attempt to pull out the endangered runners. Mamie, of course is the runner, the bulls and the pushers represent every oppressive force Black folks have faced in America since 1619. Heather, her mother Susan, and all white allies are on the fence. I have to say this isn’t a perfect analogy because runners, the real runners in Spain, volunteer. The Black fighters do not. When a fence sitter reaches in to help a runner but accidentally falls into the race and dies after being trampled by a bull, we should pay our respects, but we must not make martyrs of them.

They’ve managed to put a white face on a very Black struggle. They always manage to do this. That infamous “they.” Black folks in Charlottesville were tired of racism; been tired of racism. Black folks like Zyahna Bryant, the sole author of the petition to remove the extremely racist statues, decided to fight against it. A Black man, DeAndre Harris, a fighter, gets his head bashed in during this fight, and he gets a warrant for his arrest. A white girl is killed by the same men who bashed in that Black man’s head and she’s a hero whose name will sit high. They’ve done this.

Mamie Till’s legacy, like the legacy of my Black grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins, parents, and friends who fight everyday to survive and just be, will not be fouled by the words of Joe Madison. I’m sure Heather Heyer was an amazing woman. I’m sure Susan is amazing as well, but if she wants to be a beneficial part of this movement, she needs to reach her hand in when necessary and not take credit for being a runner.

Her Dad Is Sick. She Was Crying. I Left A Note.

I wrote “let this be the positive energy you need” on a small piece of paper when she got up to go to the restroom on the train and put it on her computer’s keyboard when no one was looking. She was just across from me in the full dining cart and got a call from who I assumed was her nephew or little brother by the way she talked to him like teachers talk to their favorites students, never crossing the line into a friendship. It was a call about her father. He’s in a hospital. He’s no longer speaking. “How do the doctors he’s in pain if he can’t talk,” she asks. She doesn’t want to speak to him. Her hands are trembling and she’s trying not to be so loud, but the man on the other end can’t hear her well because of the rumbling of the train wheels and the loud laughter of the woman waiting on a Panini from the Café Car woman.

“Hey dad. I love you and I’m praying for you. I’m going to Charlottesville for a few days.” She speaks anyway, probably wondering if this will be the last time. She said bye and the way it came out sounded like her last possible word before the tears. She ran to the restroom to let it out.

 

They Were My Dreams. I Had To Go After Them.

It’s been a long time since I last attempted to convince myself that my dreams:

1. Aren’t realistic.
2. Aren’t what I really want.
3. Would be fine without me.

It took too much energy to lie to myself. I had to involve too many others in the scheme to fool myself into believing I’d be fine with the new, not-so-dope goals I’d thought up. Truth is, I’d give everything I have to achieve every goal, dream, idea, and wish. They’re mine and I want them.

For a few months a few years back, I no longer wanted to create content for television, I convinced myself. I stopped and focused on things I liked, but not loved, and excelled at them all. It was a fuc*ed up feeling, knowing I was amazing at it and knowing I was making others’ dreams come to life, but knowing it wasn’t close to what I wanted to actually be doing and my dreams were hanging from a rope. All this came after quite a few rejection letters and several meetings that went no further than the handshake that ended them.

Note: Thank god for the real friendships I made with the folks who allowed me to watch them struggle. Thank god for the fake ones too. I was reminded how hard it is continue to go after the things you want, and how easy, but tragic, it is to let it all go with the excuse, “it’s just not for me anymore.” Those friends who applied four times and didn’t know if they had a 5th in them, but pushed a 5th somehow. I saw you all. You were my silent competition, and I hope I was yours.

I kept going.

This year, I’ve grown my hobby-turned-company and listened as the consumers told me how much we’ve positively changed their lives. I’ve directly connected thousands to proper care, indirectly affecting the lives of millions. In the last few weeks, I’ve met with amazing folks and taken meetings with first ladies to begin initiatives that will undoubtedly change the world. I’ve taken my son on one of the most amazing trips either of us has been on, and my hard work as an aspiring television writer has been recognized and I’m about to begin a fellowship in the Sesame Street writing room, creating content for children. Do you know me? Yeah, then you know how I feel right now. SESAME STREET! Can you believe it? A full circle moment, isn’t it?

All that to say: they’re your dreams and they deserve to be salvaged from that trash bin, closet, and void you hoped would swallow them whole.

The Fraternity v. The Bond

The Fraternity is made up men with a common interest, creed, and spirit. They laugh together and remember the bright, sunny days. It ends here.

The Bond is made of brothers – Fraternity Brothers – who wept and bled together in dark places because the sun offered them nothing. They – the men who set their lives by the seconds on a watch and watched those lives tick away slowly – learned to navigate and fight in that darkness. The Bond is made of men who look for nothing in return for the fortunes they sacrificed except what was promised them by the many who came before who vowed to keep all histories and traditions alive. The Bond knows histories and traditions don’t die; they don’t get cheapened or thrown to the wind. It is everything or nothing at all and it manifests itself over and over and over, proving there is always something left to give. It doesn’t welcome lightly and each loss is hard. Men who shared a common interest, creed, and spirit walked into a room where other men – men who’d survived the severest strains, but did not break – made them unbreakable. That tradition moved forward like those seconds on that watch. The Bond does not celebrate infirmity or demerit, only true achievements.

This is in case you were wondering why I have not welcomed you into The Bond.

My Old Friend, a Rapist, Didn’t Speak at the Urinal

I stood at the urinal wondering why the man two stalls over was staring. I’m fully aware of rest area bathrooms and their raunchy reputations, but this was something different and I silently revolted against turning my entire face to him, but worked hard to sharpen everything on the edge of my everything I could see. His lower face was scruffy but not overgrown, the frames on his face weren’t level to his thinning brows he was probably once proud of and the slight fog on the glass from coming inside from the cold hid his eyes. He’d not become the man he hoped to be, his sweater said. I revolted against giving him my entire face and I’ll regret that for a while because I would have seen him sooner and I could have attacked him for what he did to my friend almost two decades ago. He saw me and he knew me and he said nothing. The water never turned warm on my hands and the soap was weak, but the dryer was everything I needed before exiting the restroom into below freezing temperatures. I ran to the car and watched the man from the restroom’s shell walk toward his, his father and a little girl in the back, strapped into her car seat.

In the restroom he looked at me because he knew me. Why didn’t he speak? In high school, I used his name at a track meet and jumped high enough to qualify him for the State Championship because he couldn’t make it to the meet and we were friends. Why didn’t he speak? Half a face is surely enough to make a positive identification. His full face was only 10 feet away and I let him keep it. I let him keep up what was left of his appearance to somehow look as if he’s complete for his father and the little girl in back, strapped into her car seat. He doesn’t know I know he’s a rapist. For old times sake, he should have at least said “hello,” and smiled one of those big smiles / he used to smile. He probably doesn’t smile much anymore. He probably reserves those for the little girl in the back when she’s doing something amazing like growing while she sleeps and he’s trying to keep from crying because she’ll one day be the age the girl was when he raped her. She’ll bring boys home and she’ll like them like he was liked once. He has a few smiles left and they must be used for special occasions and seeing an old friend in rest area restroom 75 miles from where you two laughed together is not special. What is it?

I hate him. He’s disgusting and should never be allowed children, women, weak minds, vulnerable bodies, or humans. We haven’t spoken in a decade and he doesn’t know any of this. He probably does good things in the world to atone, or perhaps he thinks having a small girl in the family gives him a second chance at something. Nate Parker probably believes this, too.

We pulled onto the highway, me then him, and he disappeared. I wished I’d jumped into the cold and called him a rapist in front of the little girl in the back. Not old enough to understand the world, she wouldn’t understand the word, but she’d carry this moment with her for a long time like I carry the moment my father violently called two men “faggots” outside of the store, and one day, probably in high school, someone will mention sex or being touched inappropriately by an aunt or a Casey Affleck film, and that moment some strange man called her daddy or uncle or brother a rapist will force itself onto her thoughts. I lost him among the cars and I wrote my friend to apologize for not acting out against the man who raped her. She hates him, too, and she writes him letters I hope she one day sends, and I needed to tell her about his appearance. I needed her to find some amount of pleasure in his disintegration, and she did and we laughed and hated him harder together then changed the subject.

That night, watching Sabrina, I put my heavy head on the hip curve of a woman I’ve loved for a long time and asked permission before resting my hands and lips anywhere else.

The Painting of a Pointing Finger: For Lucretia Mott, Heather Heyer, and ‘Nem

Black men and women have been massacred or have put down their lives fighting for parity that never came in the cages built for them by the City of Charlottesville and their names were forgotten before the coroner eventually showed. Not a bench, a park, or corner stone was to be named after any of them to remind their family of their humanity.

I walked through something museum-like in Massachusetts, just outside of Medford, attempting to convince myself the photos and busts and writings all made sense. My fists were clenched the entire 23 minutes I could stand being there, wondering how many nods were needed to create an exhibit highlighting slavery to Reconstruction, showing almost only the white folks who honorably fought for the freedom and for the equality of Black folks. There was a painting of Crispus Attucks hanging high, reminding me of Kanye’s, “bet they show off their token Blackie.”

William Lloyd Garrison was written about in great detail on the walls adjacent to John Brown. I appreciate good, white freedom fighters and I work hard to convert white allies into such, but when the white men highlighted in the exhibit pointed to the stars, the artist of the exhibit looked only at the finger and put that finger on display, changing the narrative, erasing the stars.

Charlottesville City Council, after laughing in the face of those who were adamantly against renaming the street for good reason, unanimously decided to forge the painting of that finger. Heather Heyer, a white woman, died while fighting for the equality her Black neighbors have been shouting for, begging for, and dying for since the beginning of their story in this former and seemingly present slave cage. Heather, along with hundreds others, including Deandre Harris, pointed to the people and demanded protection for them by the city. The city looked at Heather and no further and said, “we will honor you.” The unprotected will, again, sit invisible and simultaneously vulnerable and wonder why cotton and corn is worth more than Black lives.

My fist clenched, I felt it best to watch the decision from just outside the meeting room, having absolutely no faith in the council members to see beyond the finger. 5 of 5 council members voted to rename 4th street after the white woman killed by a white supremacist while fighting for equality. Only 3 nods were necessary, however. Elizabeth Margaret Chandler and Lydia Maria Child would be so proud.