What are You Willing to Ride For?

I am an avid student of history. The love I have for learning about the human experience across generations was sparked by my 11th grade 20th Century History teacher. He used one notebook full of course notes and a few books to open our minds to another mode of learning history. A course on the “Civil Rights Movement” blew up my world as a college sophomore.  Since then, I’ve thought about what choices I would have made “back then.”  What would I have done as a young Jewish girl faced with the decision to go left or right? What would I have done as a Fisk University student after hearing about the Freedom Rides? Would I have been a leader, a follower or an agitator? Would I have had the nerve to resist?

Who knows? I can’t say what I would have done. I can attest to how far I think I am willing to go and what I’m willing to fight for NOW. The Freedom Riders of the 1960’s signed their last wills and testaments before they got on the bus. They knew what was at stake. Lives were on the line. When faced with terrorism and persistent barriers to exercising full humanity, they made the choice and step out to perform what seemed impossible. They rode for their lives and the lives of their communities.

When I think about what threatens my life and the lives of my community, the oppressor and the systems are somewhat different. In Chicago and Washington, DC; there is no visible hyper-bigot present like Bull Connor. The police chiefs don’t publicly call Black people “Niggers”  or easily condone mass public displays of violence against Black people. The terrorism against communities of color is more sophisticated and done with less honesty. We have Sean Bells, Ayana Jones and Oscar Grants. The Ku Klux Klan doesn’t burn crosses and go for night rides like they used to. We have the Tea party in Congress and capitalists demanding an American President of African descent to show his papers.

While the Freedom Riders rode for basic civil rights on Greyhound buses, today’s Freedom Fighters have to ride in a different way. Public accommodations such as the bus or the lunch counter aren’t today’s challenge. Access to a quality public education, protection against violence and mass incarceration are among the current challenges. Given these challenges, the reactions of activists advocates and organizers have to evolve. We must hold on to effective methods and tactics and let go of what does not work.

I’m willing to ride for my life and the right to exercise the freedoms my ancestors already fought for. I’m willing to fight for the freedoms we have yet to obtain. I’m willing to ride so my undocumented brothers and sisters don’t have to live in fear. I’m willing to ride so little girls don’t have to grow up in a world where their womanhood and value will constantly face attacks. I’m willing to ride to end the mass incarceration of Black, Brown and poor people in America. I have the privilege and opportunity to make that choice, who am to ignore that reality?

So my question is, what are you willing to ride for?

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No Jobs, No Justice: The Black Unemployment Crisis

American Gothic
(Photo Credit :  Gordon Parks)

Give a (wo)man a fish and s/he will eat for a day
Teach a (wo)man to fish and s/he will eat for days
Teach your community to support themselves and you all eat for life

I live in the DC/Maryland/VA (DMV) area, where we boast one of the most highly educated populations in the country. Everything happens here. Want to go into politics? There’s something here for you. Want to teach in one of the nations largest labs for educational experimentation? There’s something here for YOU too. Do you just want to save the world…well you can do that here too, IF you have the papers and the relationships.

The reality for most Americans is not the reality many “Washingtonians” face. In fact as many of you know, unemployment rates are devastating communities across the country. Today over lunch with a friend I got extremely animated while talking about the rates of Black youth unemployment. Today I read the latest unemployment rates. According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics Black Americans are experiencing a 16% unemployment rate. That’s 16% of the Black civilian labor force. Now bear with me here.  Our total civilian labor force represents over 17,660,000 people.  This means that 2, 757,000 Black folks are unemployed as of November 2010. This number is derived from those who can legally work, seeking work, are not in the military and are not incarcerated.  So tack on nearly 900, 000 more for the Black men and women currently incarcerated (according to the Sentencing Project).  Prospects for unemployment are even more grim upon re-entry for ex-offenders.

How many of you know someone who makes barely enough to get by?  Underemployment isn’t something we often see vetted in national dialog. People across this country go to work everyday and barely make ends meet. Many of these people work more than one job.

I believe that at the end of the day, MOST people want to work and earn their own money. Given the current reality of our economy, many people simply cannot find work. Where did the jobs go and how do we get them back?

We need a truly inclusive progressive jobs movement.

This poses another natural question; who is the face of the jobs movement? Look around at the narratives we hear from the nations largest grassroots organizations. It’s about the factory worker whose manufacturing job was lost to off shoring in Indonesia. It’s about the former Chrysler worker how lost his/her job to a lack of innovation and corporate greed. Oh and lest I forget, the face has also become the young White female/male who can’t find a job EVEN WITH a fancy degree.  It’s not my Mama or my Cousin. It’s not the Black women and men who have limited employment options beyond fast food restaurants and other service based industries.  Go on almost any corner on the South side of Chicago, in Southeast D.C. or North St. Louis and you will see idle people. These are the people you won’t find on a campaign poster or in a national ad.

Unfortunately it isn’t sexy (or completely legal) to fund jobs just for Black folks. So what do we need? We need targeted job and education programs in areas where Black folks live. Not just in urban areas, but also rural areas. We also need Black folks to be engaged in the decision-making process. The common rhetoric that yes, jobs is an issue for all Americans.  I understand that. We all have to eat. But why not call a spade a spade? The current unemployment rate amongst White Americans is 8.9% that’s almost half that of Black Americans. Almost HALF. Hispanics are not too far behind Black folks at 13.2%. Black and Brown are typically not too far apart.

When the Congressional Black Caucus made a big to do on the Hill about securing jobs for Black Americans, it was problematic. How dare they demand jobs for Black folks? How dare they assert that a Black President ought to express deep concern for the population he drew moral, financial and political support from?  How dare they? Right…Wrong!

I could go on and on about the institutional factors contributing to this reality for Black folks in this country. As they say, when America gets a cold…Black folks get the Plague.  Where is the justice in the national jobs movement for Black Americans? Where is the justice in the halls of Capitol Hill for Black Americans? Where is the justice in the local Ward where people have been unemployed for years? Black issues are simply NOT sexy anymore. Deferring to multiculturalism skims over the meat and bones of reality.

Before we reach the end of this post I will point out one more fact. Nearly 34% of Black youth (aged 16-24) are currently unemployed. We have so much at stake.

WHERE IS THE BATTLE CRY? WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE?

In the face of so much struggle in the country we cant forget the struggles of those who have long been struggling. We must build on past successes and chart new courses for the future for ourselves. We need to do so in solidarity with others. We all should be able to eat. I know that until we achieve economic justice, we will have no real justice and no real peace in our streets.

25 years an American, 7 months an Observer and 1 week in Haiti


Neg Marron (Iconic Symbol of Freedom for the Haitian People)

This post will reflect my 25 years as an American citizen, 7 months observing the situation from a far,  4 days in Cap-Haitien and 2 1/2 in Port-au-Prince. I was only in Haiti for a week, the 1.3 million people left homeless as a result of the January 12th earthquake will likely live there for life.

What I saw in one week taught me more than I learned in any one sitting as a undergraduate or graduate student. I spent the bulk of my time with an inspirational group of people from Sonje Ayiti working towards developing one city. They showed me the side of Haiti that most Americans never see on TV. I saw Haitians helping themselves and helping each other. I saw Haitians making great things out of meager resources. I ate with them, prayed with them and slept under same heat as them. I walked the streets of Limonade, visited the local hospital, saw what a typical Haitian classroom looks like, took showers using a bucket, swatted mosquitoes, rode over unpaved roads and smelled mounds of trash. I talked with them, learned more about their stories and of their dreams for the country. I walked through the tent city outside of the Haitian Presidential Palace. I saw statues of the  nations heroes surrounded by the very people they were fighting to secure a better future for since the 1700’s.  I saw the direct result of too many people, too little public administration and too many NGO’s in a small area.


Presidential Palace of Haiti

I saw a lot. To be honest, I’m having a hard time digesting it. I’ve visited townships in South Africa, poor communities in Guatemala and seen shantytowns in mainland China.  I’ve lived without hot water and heat in Chicago. But I have never seen the things I saw while in Haiti. The experience left a deep impression on me to not only grieve but to act.

Since my visit I’m more angry at; 1) People who are against taxes and 2) People who think Wyclef Jean was a viable option to be President of Haiti.

Taxation functions as a means to pay for public goods and services. They are meant to serve the common good. Imagine this…no trash pick-up, no one to call when the electricity goes out, no running water, no one to report landlord abuse to and no public schooling for your children. Taxes pay for all of those things in the U.S. American’s STILL mismanage and take them for granted. Live in Haiti for a week and your mind will change quickly. Today a friend pointed out how taxation and tax appropriation are two different things.  We could do better on both fronts in the States. I’m not arguing for big government, just arguing for the presence of a basic element. In Haiti, the basic infrastructure isn’t nearly non-existent. Be grateful and work for the future you want.

On Wycelf Jean. I have very simple remarks. Would you want him or another musician with the same history and experience as President of the United States? We have more infrastructure and resources. I’ll take this to a smaller scale. Who you want the same candidate to be Governor of YOUR State? Probably not. His nomination has been romanticized by Americans who have likely never lived in a tent city, never had to choose between paying for school uniforms or selling water on the streets. Do the Haitian people deserve any less than what we expect for ourselves? No. Low expectations are like a festering sore in Haiti, human beings deserve better.

United States Agency for International Development
(These Tarps were all over Port-au-Prince)

Whether you donated to a Haiti Relief Fund or not, your tax dollars are being spent abroad (or are supposed to be). We have got to do better. We know better and can do better. Yes, the Haitian people are resilient; but no one should have to be so resilient all of the time.

As an organizer I follow the concept of organizing around the injustice we hold the most anger towards. I hate to see people living without basic necessities, dignity and the opportunity to be happy. God willing, I’ll head back to Haiti in January. I have a lot of ideas for working with the women and youth of Limonade. They are pretty much organized and just need more technical and financial support. I’m interested in working with them, not over or just for them. The road to achieving those things is just as rocky as any side street in Port-au-Prince, but it is possible. Change is always possible.

Freedom Matters

free•dom [free-duhm] noun-

1.  the power to exercise choice and make decisions without constraint from within or without; autonomy; self-determination.

2. the power to exercise choice and make decisions without constraint from within or without.

3. civil liberty, as opposed to subjection to an arbitrary or despotic government.

I don’t feel free.

As an African-American woman living in the United States of America, I don’t feel free.

As an African-American woman who identifies as a traveler, intellectual and food enthusiast; I don’t feel free.

As an African-American woman who is socially radical, spiritually developing and financially burdened; I don’t feel free.

As a human being living in 2010 where low-income folks, people of color, women and queer folk are unfree; I don’t feel free.

But I want my freedom…and like some say, “Freedom isn’t Free.” Like the roots in the image above, I want to be able to grow without physical or mental barriers. I want to feel free to make choices, I want power and I want self-determination.

So how will I get my freedom? Good question…right? I’ve been thinking A LOT about my freedom and how to get more of it. Until recently I didn’t think about my freedom very much. Why would I? My thinking was: Black folks are no longer enslaved, women can vote and hey I have a couple of fancy degrees.

Makes sense at first glance. Upon further reflection I realized that I felt powerless, I was not exercising self-determination and was just plain miserable. I was finding very little joy in my paid gig and constantly finding other ways to stay engaged in “the movement.” I would go to every protest, rally, meeting that I could. I taught at a local University. Worked with local youth fighting for the DREAM ACT. I maintained relationships with my former colleagues at one of the largest non-profits focusing on grassroots organizing in the country. I found family amongst those fighting for the most basic human rights across the country. I had amazing opportunities to sit in meetings and soak up MAD knowledge with some of the most prolific leaders in the larger social justice movement. My mentors in D.C. were mentored by Dr. Dorothy Height. I’ve been blessed.

But I still didn’t feel free.

So I made a decision.

Don’t talk about BE about it.

Next month I am headed to Haiti to connect with local people and organizations engaged in the long-term re-building of Haiti. I’m a social worker/organizer educator, why not go where my skills can be used? Why not go somewhere where my ancestors were once left in bondage? Why not go somewhere where there is much resiliency but also vulnerability? WHY NOT? I will spend a week traveling to Cap-Haitien and Port-Au-Prince, Haiti meeting with local organizations working toward re-building a stronger and freer Haiti. After that, I’ll come back and plan for a 6-9 month stay. What good is freedom when others are not free?

Where did I get this idea?

Like many folks I watched the images of the January 12th earthquake in Haiti. I weeped at my desk looking at pictures of dead children. I was angry that such a thing could happen in a country already facing a number of political, economical and physical challenges. I texted YELE! I think I even texted the Red Cross. I tweeted, gchatted and facebooked until my fingers were tired and my heart was too heavy. In the process I forgot about the lack of coordination amongst NGO’s. (Non-Governmental Organizations). I forgot that the Red Cross left Hurricane Katrina survivors dry. I forgot that money can’t and has never solved all problems.

What does THIS have to do with freedom?

This journey is pretty much 50/50 for me. 50% of my decision to relocate to Haiti has to do with my own freedom. I need a work environment where I can use my skills, learn new things, develop as an organizer/educator and just do what I’m most passionate about. What am I most passionate about? Well that’s the other 50%, I am most passionate about helping others empower themselves through education and positive self-development. I can’t give the Haitian people their freedom, no one can. Only they can attain that for themselves. My journey to and through Haiti will not be glamorous, cute or easy. I will most likely set high expectations and not meet them all, but that’s OK.

I turned 25 years “old” today. I am a QUARTER of a CENTURY! This just feels right. It feels right on time. I prayed about it and received confirmation. MOST of my friends weren’t even surprised that I would cook up something crazy like this. I refuse to spend my 25th year not actually using what I’ve learned and also learning things I’ve never even fathomed. I refuse to find myself crying out of frustration because I know I can do more and should do more. Beliefs should be turned into actions. I believe in human dignity and I believe that I have a role in achieving it for us all.

I believe in Freedom…Love and Justice. In fact, I might die still seeking all three.

I’ve been avoiding the whole blog thing because of the commitment and self-exposure. I guess it was finally time. I started the Freedom Pages to express my thoughts about the world as it is and the world as it should be. The Freedom Pages will expose my views on politics, culture, food, activism, organizing and traveling. I am in the pursuit of freedom, love and justice, I welcome you to come with me as I evolve. I hope you enjoy what you read, and promise only to be as honest as possible. Hopefully I’ll even agitate you to find your own freedom.

At the end of the day…I just want to serve and be free.

Want to help me get to Haiti?

Please visit my donation page at http://nvrcomfortable.chipin.com/1st-trip-to-haiti. All donations will support flights, housing, food and supplies for this trip. No amount is too small!