Thank You, You Amazing Teachers!

Y’all. I’ve been searching for my 8th Grade Math Teacher, Miss Greenwood for 20+ years! I mean actively searching. We were her first class out of college, and I always wondered what became of her. I wanted to show her how I turned out and some of my classmates who also still talk about how dope she was.
 
One night, about two weeks ago, after an hour of searching the deep web, I found her and an email I wasn’t sure worked. I wrote her anyway:

Dr. Maisha (Greenwood) Gillins –
 
A few years ago, someone told me, “you never forget those who teach you.” Surely they meant those who teach and care to see you retain the information. 24 years ago in Charlottesville, you were my math teacher, and although I absolutely hated math by this time, I loved your class because you were one of those teachers who seemed invested in what we became when we were out of those doors.
 
Surely you’ve taught a million children by now, but if you’re stretching your brain to remember who I am, I should let you know i was talkative, funny, loud, but respectful. I was a decent math student, but better storyteller. So much so, I’m now a documentary filmmaker and writer out in the world, living between South Africa and Los Angeles, currently creating original content. I graduated with a few degrees from a couple of HBCU’s and honestly, before sitting in your room and listening to your Virginia State University stories, the only mentions of HBCU’s were on A Different World. Thank you for that.
 
I never forgot you. Neither has some of my classmates and still-friends, like Shawn Wright and Tiffany Barbour. If you remember them, Shawn Wright is a minister now in Charlottesville and Tiffany Barbour is a teacher in PG County. Funny enough, each time we’re together and remembering old times, we talk about Buford days and you always come up. We talk about how we didn’t know how important it was for Black students in Charlottesville to have a Black teacher who cared until we had just that. And we look around the internet for you to say thank you although “thank you” isn’t enough, but we were never able to find you because all we had was your maiden name. Somehow, I typed it into google tonight as we have in the past, and BAM! you’re everywhere.
 
I spent the last hour going through the many articles and write ups about you, partly making sure this message is going to the right person, and partly because I’m just so happy others know how important you are in this field.
 
I know you were doing your job, but if there’s ever a way to pay you back, certainly let me know.
 
With Enormous Appreciation,
 
Darnell Lamont Walker

 
A few days passed and I didn’t hear from her, but I got a call from Tiffany: “Darnell, a teacher colleague of mine is at a conference and just called me to tell me that a letter you wrote with my name in it to our old teacher was read aloud on stage in front of a thousand or so teachers.”
 
A few minutes later, an email came in.
 
Long story short:
 
YOU AMAZING TEACHERS OUT THERE – KEEP DOING YOUR THING! THE KIDS SEE YOU!

Moths, Parasites, Replenishment, and Peace: How I’ll Remain Full.

“But sometimes your light attracts moths and your warmth attracts parasites. Protect your space and energy.” – Warsan Shire.

To remain as full as possible through 2019, I’ve created this list. It’s a growing list. I will add to it as I see fit. It applies to all –ships. Respect it.

  1. Ask if I am open to dealing with negativity before putting negativity into my space. Get consent.
  2. If you are not going to replenish what you take, don’t take it. If you ask me to walk 1,000,000 miles to you, I will, but you must rub my feet when I arrive.
  3. If I tell you I don’t have time to hang out, don’t attempt to guilt me into doing it.
  4. Do not ask me to offer you any words of affirmation. If they don’t come organically, they’re not going to come.
  5. Don’t assume you’re an exception (i.e. “why didn’t you respond,” you’ll ask. “I didn’t respond to anyone,” I’ll say. “Well, I’m not everybody. I’m me. Don’t lump me in with everybody,” you’ll say).
  6. Don’t attempt to pressure me into making a plan.
  7. What I do with anything that belongs to me is what I wanted to do.
  8. Don’t ask me to neglect something that’s important to me for something that’s not important at all.
  9. I will only have a conversation once.
  10. I get exhausted and worn out, too.
  11. Nothing of mine, my time, my food, my secrets, requires that I share it with you.
  12. Nothing I say will be passive-aggressive or carry some hidden meaning.
  13. No, I won’t write something about you.
  14. If I spend time giving up solicited and great advice and you don’t take it, please do not ask for more advice.
  15. Do not bring your negativity into my positive space then play the victim when I dismiss you.
  16. I love you, but I cannot sacrifice my inner freedoms for you. I am the most important thing as I have already told you.
  17. Hood proverbs don’t apply to me (i.e. “There’s always time for the things that really matter,” and “don’t make someone an priority if they make you an option.”)
  18. “My alone feels so good, I’ll only have you if you’re sweeter than my solitude.” – W.S.
  19. Kill me if I disrupt your peace before asking permission.

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.


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.