The SuperSpade has dealt semi-tangentially with education at different points in time. I thought [after having it suggested to me] that it’s be appropriate at this time, the beginning of the school year for most people, to give me perspectives on education going forward and it’s relevance and importance to our people, our community, and our future.
Many of my thoughts on this subject are included in this post. My foundation for these thoughts/feelings is worth re-iterating: we have two-fold challenge that faces us on this issue. We have mental & cultural issues in society at large and in minority communities that only value education as long as it has a payoff in dollars. We also have institutional issues that not only create but perpetuate resource disparities between schools, creating challenges for students because not all schools are created equal.
Though I do not believe that one of these is necessarily more important do the other, nor do I believe that we need to serialize the solving of these problems, I will address the mental & cultural challenges first.
We [unfortunately] can many times only see value in things when their value is most easily measured in dollars and cents. To put it bluntly, this is short-sighted and f*d up. My closest mentor says it like this: “We need to flip ‘if it doesn’t make dollars then it doesn’t make sense’ to ‘if it only makes dollars then it doesn’t make sense.'” What does that mean here? That means that we must expand our actions and thoughts so that they are open to the notion that money is not the be all, end all. One of the reasons that many people do not pursue education seriously or at all is because they are sure that they won’t make enough money from it. Think about it. Why do so many kids want to be doctors and lawyers (or more interestingly, why do some many parents want their kids to be doctors or lawyers)? It ain’t because people admire and respect these profession so much (though they should). It ain’t because every half-way articulate kid will make a good lawyer or detail-oriented kid a good doctor. It is because both physicians and attorneys make lots of money, plain and simple. What was the underlying theme behind every skit on Kanye West’s College Dropout album? It was stupid to pursue [higher] education because you would be destined to be broke. Now I am not naive enough to think that money does not exist, or wealthy enough to think that money is no object. However, I am naive enough to believe that there is more to life than getting paid. Why does this matter in this education discussion? Ask somebody who hates their job, and they’ll tell you how happy their money does not make them.
We need to shift our perspective to things more personally and communally fulfilling than money. This requires a change in how we look at ourselves and our own personal worth, as well as how we view our collective selves and collective worth. I do not believe that individuals like Frederick Douglass and other slaves taught themselves how to read because they were trying to get paid. Do you think slaveholders outlawed reading being taught to slaves because they were scared slaves would get rich off of it? NO!!! They did so because they knew, rather, they mentally and culturally embraced the value and power of being able to read. I use reading here as a proxy for education in general; the notion is still the same.
How did we allow this anti-educational, anti-intellectual demon to pervade our hearts, minds, and spirits? We got focused on the wrong stuff. This is partly our doing, and it was partly done to us. One cannot responsibly ignore the fact that when something is withheld from a person (e.g. freedom of expression, access to money), there is a tendency to over-indulge in that which was withheld upon receiving it. That is part of the reason why when we ‘come up’ from being broke, we buy cars with big rims (whole ‘nother discussion). My question is, why didn’t that sustainably occur when educational access was open to us? We saw it happen in spurts in american history (post-Emancipation, post-Reconstruction, post-Civil Rights Movement, post-Affirmative Action), but the trends slowed to a crawl after these upticks. Why is it that our thirst for material “wealth” outlasts our thirst for mental, or any other form of wealth? Did we make that number one, or did someone else lie to us and tell us that was what was most important? The answer is both.
What should we focus on instead? We need to redefine what success means, what happiness means, what fulfillment means. I challenge all ‘educated’ folks as well as those currently pursuing/seeking education to examine ourselves to find what our motivation(s) for education really were. You may find that there was more to it than getting paid. If that is not the case, are you happy with your decision? If that is the case, I challenge you to share these motivations with students, telling them what fulfilled you. Get a mentee and tell them why education was important to you outside of the financial payoff. The message here is that we need to do a better job of communicating the non-financial benefits to education in order to make it more holistically attractive.
We also as a collective need to understand delayed gratification as opposed to the hedonistic, instant gratification that society embraces so readily. Understanding that there is more to life than today, and that what you do today can have positive implications not only tomorrow but in the following decades as well. The challenge is that some of the alternatives to education have instant gratification characteristics, especially when it comes to money. What need’s to be communicated is that education’s financial benefits, although somewhat delayed, are real and sustainable, much more so than it’s alternatives. We need to expand our perspectives. This is challenging, but it can be done. Try this: the next time you converse with a young person considering leaving school, ask them why they are leaving. Then, ask them why they think it might benefit them if they stay. As many times as I’ve done this, I’ve never had a conversation where the answer to these two questions did not overlap. Why does that matter? It matters because it says that many people on some level do at least know education is ‘good.’ Our goal then should be to remove all of the crap that makes it un attractive and that distracts students from it. That means addressing institutional challenges to education…
This post is getting longer than I anticipated, so I will break here and deal with institutional challenges later.
One Love. One II.
This morning marks the 5th year since the infamous 11 September 2001. Less than two weeks ago, we marked the 1st year since the Hurricanes that ravaged the Gulf Coast of the United States. These twin tragedies will live in our hearts and mines for generations to come because of the before-then-unfathomable loss of life, before-then-unfathomable governmental reactions, the unrelenting support, sympathy, and empathy of the citizenry, and the uncanny resiliency of the individuals who experienced these events first hand.
While reverencing and respecting these happenings, I ask the following questions: is this all that I need to remember? Aren’t there other tragic things that have occurred in this world that should have altered my thinking and world-view for the rest of my life? My answer here is an emphatic YES.
Minorities and the once Native Majority in this hemisphere have dealt with devastation, terror, and genocide since its invasion. During these times, people have shown the same resiliency as my fellow american citizens showed 5 years ago today. Why do we not take the time to look back upon these people and the events of their lives? Why do they not get the phrase “Day of Infamy” attached to their tragedies? Wasn’t the day the Caribbean Islands were invaded a “Day of Infamy,” marking the beginning of a genocide over 600 years and still continuing to this day? Wasn’t the day the areas surrounding Plymouth Rock were invaded a “Day of Infamy,” marking the beginning of a genocide that has lasted nearly 400 years and still continuing to this day? Wasn’t every single instance of a Black person in this country being lynched a “Day of Infamy,” a chilling symbol of the hatred that has burned in closet of this country that still rears its ugly head from time-to-time today?
Let’s go international. Isn’t everyday genocide continues in Darfur another “Day of Infamy,” a current demonstration of this world’s inability to act when the victims of atrocities are brown or Black? Wasn’t it a “Day of Infamy” when hopeless individuals took out their frustration and aggression on school children in Russia? Wasn’t it a “Day of Infamy,” in 2005 when two French boys were murdered by the police, inciting the riots in that country.
Obviously, there are countless other examples, making it impossible to list them here. My call is for us to do two four things today:
1. Pay homage & respect to the victims of the 9/11 tragedy, their families, and the people who risked & gave their lives on that day and the years that have followed. Remember where you were. Remember what you were doing. Remember what you did to help out. Share these things here with us.
2. Pay homage & respect to the victims of Hurricanes Katrina & Rita, their families, and the people who risked & gave their lives during those days in 2004 and the time since then. Remember where you were. Remember what you were doing. Remember what you did to help out. Share these things here with us.
3. Do some homework. Investigate other things that have happened in this world during your lifetime? After studying, you may find more things than these twin tragedies that will alter your perspective. Share these things here with us.
4. Pay attention to this world we live in. Look at more than what’s in front of your own two eyes. There are more people in this world, more placed in this world, and more things in this world that we are connected to, that effect us, and that we need to have in mind when approaching this world every time we awake from our slumbers. We owe it to ourselves and to the victims of all tragedies to remember what happened to them, and act in ways that prevent tragedy in the future.
One Love. One II.
What’s up fam, as most of you may know, I was born and raised in Detroit and I am very proud to let this be known. But this weekend, I experienced my city in a way that was truly breathtaking. As a result, I was inspired to write a poem that speaks to my feelings towards “The D,” but it can be applied to people every where struggling for hope where there is so much despair. Enjoy.
So I dillied, dallied, I ran through the alley
Throughout my hometown
Some call it Motown
Known for crime, soul music, and bad boys
Diddy don’t run the city
We create visions because we can’t afford toys
Looking at the stats, most folks will say,
“Detroit throw in the rag,”
But when our time comes
They will say, “Is that the city formerly known as…?”
And we will say, “We always knew, where were you?”
Our time is now and you might now even know it
This job is for grown folk
Not defined by age but tested by the heart
Our Katrina was long and drawn out
Lost jobs, poor schools,
It’s almost like a perpetual hope drought
Drowning in our wallows
We adapted and grew gills
Like deep sea fish, we don’t need the sun
We need the Son
Because when it all goes down, we look to the hills
When the system lets us down we go underground for support
But with no subways, we ride each other’s dreams
Knowing that in the end if we are to succeed,
We have to rise above the pettiness
And below the surfaces
Asking God for His help to change our present and future circumstances
Stay up Detroit,
“And everyone that was in distress, and everyone that was in debt, and everyone that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men.”
-1 Samuel 22:2
“Let us remark, meanwhile, how indispensable everywhere a king is, in all movements of men. It is strikingly shown, in this very War, what becomes of men when they cannot find a chief man, and their enemies can.”
What is leadership? More importantly, why would anyone want to become a leader? How do you become a leader? Can you be a leader with no followers? Today, leadership is spoken of in ethereal and lofty terms, like a Holy Grail of sorts. But, like many things, it is not often defined, which illustrates the elusiveness of the ideal. Furthermore, leadership profoundly is an extension of personality (leadership styles) on a collision course with various situations and scenarios. Yet, in these perilous times and in our communities, we need effective leadership more than ever.
A Closer Look
Leadership, simply defined, is a relationship of power, in which one has the ability to influence, motivate and guide others. This can occur formally or informally, depending upon the structure we operate in. Leadership can also vary in scope. At the extremes, one can either govern himself (self-control) or govern the entire world (God). So normally, we will find ourselves somewhere in the middle. We all have a certain style that we exhibit and also gravitate to. Leadership is essential to any group because we need someone to organize people and resources around a common vision and ensure accountability. Leadership archetypes abound throughout history and society.
For me, one of the greatest leaders in history was King David. The context for the verse at the beginning of this post shows David running for his life, trying to escape the current king, Saul. As he fled, the dregs of society attached themselves to him. Why? These were men who seemed to have problems with authority and the natural order of things. What was so special about David that he became a captain over them? David started out by himself, in a mountainside, watching sheep. However, something about his spirit or makeup made him willing to step up at the right time. Whether it was protecting the sheep or slaying Goliath. However, he also recognized and respected the structure he operated in, refusing to kill King Saul, when he had ample opportunity. David had vision, confidence and self-control. As a result of his leadership, Israel enjoyed a golden age of military dominance and prosperity.
Crisis in Leadership: Who are you following?
Who are the leaders in your life and why? Whether we know it or not, we are “following” someone. It is a fiction to believe that we are completely autonomous. With that said, what happens when leadership breaks down or the leader in no longer fit for the position? When this occurs, the group and culture is one in crisis and chaos ensues until someone else fills the void. However, every misstep of leadership inevitably weakens the prestige and power of the office (read Bush). There is an issue of credibility.
Often, this is the problem in our communities. The absence of males in the home and in our community institutions (e.g. church) leads to a crisis in discipline and authority. For example, fathers teach children how to operate and function under authority and within a chain of command. However, what happens when there is no father in the home or an effective male model? The result is a generation of undisciplined individuals who do not know how to lead nor respond to authority. As a result, the prisons are teeming with our brothers.
As a man, I struggle with this issue myself. Spending most of my life leading, I have yet to learn to effectively follow or to find that formal mentorship that often makes the difference. Perhaps, this is rooted in issues of trust and skepticism as to the motives of others? John Maxwell stated that individuals will only follow people whose leadership ability exceeds their own. Otherwise, there is no true incentive for them to put their own agenda to the side. In light of this, I pose the question, Why should anyone follow you? How should we respond in a crisis of leadership?
What is My Motivation?
Personally, I do not believe in born leaders. As the Bible states, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” How do you become chosen? By answering the call to leadership. We must first embrace the idea of ourselves as leaders, because someone is always watching your actions. Once you begin to do that, you begin to undergo the process of leadership development. Leadership development is all about attaining the habits, disposition and self-control to lead. Implicitly, that is what last week’s post was about: Stepping your game up. Whether you are leading from the back or the front, leaders set the standard for excellence. Next, we need vision. An effective vision:
Is clear and vibrant in the mind of the leader
Articulates a better future
Is a bridge between the less preferable now and the more desirable future
Compelling and energizing
Connects with people on an emotional and spiritual level
After vision, we must be able to articulate and execute the vision. This demands that we bring to bear all of the training and experience we have culminated in our development. A leadership theorist stated that leadership is not a set of traits, but a pattern of motivation. Leaders exhibit a high need for power, low need for affiliation, and a high level of activity inhibition (self control). I would alter these qualities to say that true leaders have a high need for positive change and empowerment, do not need a lot of external validation, and they must exhibit the mental and spiritual discipline of self-control.
How do we make leadership last?
There are two schools of effective leadership: transactional and transformational. Transactional evaluates the leader’s effectiveness in attaining a goal or an objective. Transformational leadership seeks to better the people, organization and society at large. Both have their place. But I am of the belief that first, we must transform the hearts and minds of those around us, and then the transactional side will take care of itself. How do we transform the hearts and minds of those around us? By living lives of integrity, conviction, sacrifice, passion and love. If we do not love those whom we seek to influence, we are not “Good Shepherds,” but robbers and thieves. By letting our light shine upon others, people will be drawn to us and our mission.
The world and the people are waiting for you to take your rightful place.
You cannot lead the people, if you do not love the people.
Truth and Peace,
Steven M DeVougas
Question of the Week: What is your idea of a leader and why?
This is the third and final installment of our Katrina Commemoration Series.
3. Proceed to Act
Now that we’ve critically observed our situations and surroundings and have decided on our purposes and plans for action, the final step is to ACT. Let’s use this as an opportunity to talk about the barriers to action that many people must overcome, with the idea being that if we figure out how to get past those, then we can act toward achieving our dreams and goals.
Here at The SuperSpade, we seek to provide tools for effective action. These tools include, data, information, knowledge, wisdom, opinions, connections, and perspectives. All of these things and more are part of what drives us to do anything. What is it that keeps us from doing something when we have everything we need to have and know everything we need to know? This has definitely happened to me more times than I’d like to admit. I’d be surprised if no one else has experienced this.
I argue that three major things stop us:
1. We can’t make a difference
A lack of confidence in ourselves or our cause often stifles our response to anything. For example, people may not have donations of food/water/clothes/money to Gulf Coast Hurricane survivors because you wondered, “what is my small contribution really gonna do?” Another example is people not voting because to them, their one vote will not make a difference. The problem with this thinking is that it makes the often improper assumption that you exist in a bubble, that you are the only person that does or thinks anything, that you are the single force for change in the situation. In short, it’s a selfish perspective.
It is true that lots of things, lots of movements, are dreamed up by a single person. Or are they? Looking a bit more critically, that is actually untrue pretty much all the time. Let’s look at some examples:
– Was Steve Biko the only person that felt strongly about Black consciousness? NO.
– Was the young Coleman Young the only person that felt that racial discrimination in the UAW as wrong? NO.
– Were you the only person that thought the disastrous response to the Gulf Coast Hurricanes was appalling, nearing criminal negligence? No.
In all of these cases, I’ve called out individual people that had their own personal opinion(s). What these people realized, and what we all must realize, is that yes, an individual acting as an individual will in many cases have only limited effect. But when individuals come together they can effect significant changes. How do they come together? By acknowledging that there are other people in this world, and opening themselves to the possibility that others can help them achieve their goals. To extend an idea [my new favorite movie] V for Vendetta, with enough people behind a symbol or an idea, that idea can transform into powerful action(s). Coming back home, it takes a certain level of humility and unselfishness to understand that we need to use each other as resources to achieve our common objectives. The way that our common objectives become collective objectives is through open communication. We need think critically for ourselves and to pay attention to one another.
2. If we fail then it’s all over
We tend to place more finality in perceived failure than we do in perceived success. Why is that? I don’t know, but I do know the following:
– Both, in reality, are building blocks for the future.
– Both, in reality, require critical re-evaluation of what was done/not done.
– Both, in reality, are equally important to success in the future.
Even though I know the above, I still struggle with them. How can I/you get past these struggles? By interacting with one another and supporting and encouraging each other when we feel discouraged.
The truth is we need to reform our default pessimistic attitude that says that a) we’re going to fail inevitably, and b) when we fail then we must cease. Even if a) is true, b) never, ever is. You can always change. You can always adapt. You can always succeed. [This sounds like a Weekly Dream, but] The only reason we ultimately fail at these sorts of actions is because we make a decision to. Instead, let’s reform our attitude to say that if we experience a setback, we instead use it as an opportunity to put together our collective hearts and minds to achieve success, however we define it.
3. We’re scared
I know I’ve been beating the hell out of this lately, but that is because I feel so strongly about it. I’ll be brief here and simply stay that if we work with each other to increase our personal and collective confidence in ourselves, the collective, and the things we are committed to, we can overcome this crippling fear.
Please add to this list. Let us know what has kept you from doing things, and how you overcome these obstacles. In the near future, I’ll write on the different types of actions, but I first wanted to deal with what’s blocking us from moving forward.
Thank you for reading and supporting this series. I pray that this series does justice to the tragedies by allowing us to think about the hurricanes, think about ourselves, and think about our future.
One Love. One II.
If you think back to your father or other male figures in your life growing up, do you remember at some point, one or more of them trying to school you on how to engage the opposite sex? Now hold that thought and compare that to how many times a Black man has taught you how to be a good friend to other brothers? My point exactly…
The fact is many of us did not grow up with positive examples of Black male friendships. For example, think about those of us fortunate enough to know and have relationships with our fathers. Can you name two of your Dad’s closest friends? Have you ever been with or seen your Dad hang out with other men? What about over-hearing your Dad talk to his friends on the phone? If my hunch is correct, many of us can not answer the aforementioned questions in the affirmative. And if you don’t know your father, then I can imagine how much harder it would be to get these examples from say, uncles, boyfriends, etc.
But what do we remember? Things like learning how to play a sport, working on the car, doing lawn maintenance, etc. And not that any of these things are wrong, I think they are important experiences that should be cherished. However, I wonder why male to male friendships are assumed to be something that just happens naturally.
I assume part of this thinking comes from the fact that growing up, we made friends with whoever was on the block and everything seems cool. To make it easier, most of our childhood friendships consisted of three components; playing games, telling jokes, and eating like cows. And for most of us, this formula hasn’t changed that much as we transitioned to manhood. The problem with this trajectory is that as life becomes increasingly complex and difficult; the qualities of our friendships don’t reflect the same nuance.
Therefore, my concern is the lack of examples of positive Black male friendships that would encourage us to take better care of our male friendships (our brothers by extension). Because unfortunately, after the games of our youth get old, the examples we have of pure, healthy, male friendships fade quickly, if they ever existed at all. And when I say take better care of our male friendships, I am primarily interested in whether or not you make each other better people. And if all you do is debate sports when you really need to be venting about how you are desperately trying to save your marriage, then there is a structural problem we have to deal with.
Are there any examples outside of family, church, etc. where we see examples of positive Black male friendships? I submit to you that to our detriment, the media has saturated us with unreal or perverted examples of positive Black male friendship. To be sure, I’ll ask my music connoisseurs when they have heard of a song by a Black man talking about positive male friendship (and tribute songs to the deceased do not count). That was easy, but what about movies/television shows? I honestly can’t think of one, but I reserve the right to be wrong and encourage you to correct me by posting comments and telling me how this example has helped you.
So coming back full circle, how is it that Black men learn what it means to have positive Black male friendships? Are there any people in your life that either taught you the art of friendship or do you remember any examples that were particularly helpful? If not, how did you learn friendship? Do you think friendship comes naturally? What examples do you wish you had growing up?
Stay up fam,
This is the second installment of our Katrina Commemoration Series.
Now that everyone has read & began to put into practice the Pay Attention Program, let’s move forward towards how to position one’s self to most effectively assume the vital and critical position they hold in the success of the collective. Key to understanding your position and your purpose in our future is paying attention to yourself and your surroundings. Once you are doing/have done that, what’s next? The next piece is using the data, information, knowledge and wisdom gained from this observation to decide how and where you fit into the larger picture.
Perhaps the first responsible thing to do here is to define what the ‘larger picture’ is. Without knowing this, how will you know where you fit? This series is written in honor of the Gulf Coast hurricane survivors, but the ‘larger picture’ encompasses more than natural disaster response. In my view, which I know is not the only one, the ‘larger picture’ actually a fairly simple one. It’s an image whose defining characteristic is the absence of fear. It’s an image where we all understand what is promised to us in II Timothy 1:6-7: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” The overcoming of fear is a fundamental aspect of freedom, of liberation, of equality. Once we are no longer afraid of ourselves and our own potential, our neighbors and our inherent differences, our leadership and their intentions, we can truly work together. A message I got from people in New Orleans that didn’t leave before/during the storm was that they were afraid. There is nuance here though because they were not talking about the [relatively obvious] fear of the storm, but they were more afraid not knowing what to do or being able to live somewhere else. To me, that is a fear of the future, a fear of one’s own wherewithal and ability to thrive anywhere, a fear of the unknown. Freedom from these fears, and fear however it presents itself is what true freedom is.
Now that we know what my picture looks like, let’s deal with how I/you/we can contribute to making that vision a reality. There are two parts, as the title suggests: determining your purpose and planning your position.
Your purpose can only be determined after you start paying attention and analyzing what you observe. This analysis can be completely personal (you thinking about things on your own), or it can be analyzed by talking with people you know/love/trust about such things. I’d argue that the latter is preferred because it errs on the side of using a community approach as opposed to an individual one. We often find that we gain deeper understanding of the things we see around us and in ourselves when we share them with others. Since we [should] want to understand our purpose as deeply as possible, I encourage us to have these conversations.
What do these conversation sound like? How are they structured? Try this. The next time you see/hear/read/experience something that upsets you, instead of internalizing it, call a friend or family member and talk about. Many of you probably already do this, but I’d like you to take a different approach. Instead of doing this simply to get the “stress off your chest,” make the goal of that conversation understanding what specifically about this thing or event bothers you? What about it is contradictory to who you are? What you want? The direction you want things to go? Answering these questions can help paint a more clear picture as to not only what you care about, but, more importantly, why you care about those things. Sometimes it’s easier to define things in terms of their opposites, so why not attempt to do this with finding our purpose? After a few of these conversation, you can begin to get a general idea about what your passion(s) and purpose(s) may be.
Now that we are beginning to formulate our purpose, we need to begin to hold ourselves accountable to our purpose. We need to look at what we think and do and don’t do and measure it against our purpose. Are we in line with it? Are our priorities in the proper order for us to do what we want to do? We can do this by remembering our purposes and burning them into our memories. However, the easiest way to hold one’s self accountable to something is to write it down. For whatever reason, many people (including me at one point) are hesitant to do this, another fear we should seek to eliminate. The question is why? Why are we scared to hold ourselves to a standard that we set and control? It’s not something imposed on you by someone else. We especially have little to fear in because if we don’t get it right the first, second, fifth, or hundredth time, we can alter it! This does not mean that you should change purposes like socks; give what you think your purpose is a fair shot.
Now, since we understand what the end goal is, and we understand what our purpose is, we can now address how we position ourselves in order to be successful in fulfilling our purpose and contributing to the ultimate goal. The idea is simple: if I understand where I want to go and why I want to go there, I can more easily see how I can get there. Your position is just as important as your purpose. We need to ensure we’re not putting round pegs in square holes. A good idea at the wrong time yields the same outcome as a bad idea. Similarly, an improperly timed action can yield the same or worse results than inaction. Likewise, a purpose without position is ineffective. We can make sure we do this by realizing that we do not exist in vacuums, that there are many interested people and parties in the things we think, say, and do. We can make sure we do this by talking with people we love/trust/understand about how we can position ourselves to be most effective, the community approach. Questions to ask here can be along the lines of:
How can my talents allow me to best apply my purpose?
How can my gifts help the march towards the goal(s) move forward?
How can my skills be best utilized by myself and/or others to most benefit the myself and the collective?
Using myself as an example: if I’m a nerd, which I am, and one of my purposes is to be a communicator of ideas and a facilitator of discussions, start a website that attempts to do those things and more. That was my attempt at positioning myself to fulfill my purpose and contribute to the goal eliminating ignorance and fear.
Give it a try. The best way to remember and commemorate hurricane survivors is to commit ourselves to taking care of one another. Pay attention. Decide what’s important. Position yourself to contribute.
One Love. One II.