Ice Ice Baby…Too Cold, Too Cold

Soundtrack: Duke Ellington “Take The A Train”

aphileader

November 7, 2013 marked the 15th anniversary of my initiation into the oldest and the coldest collegiate Greek-lettered organization for Black men in the United States, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. 15 years ago I crossed the burning sands into an oasis of brotherhood. And I have felt very pensive…contemplative, these past couple of days. What does it all mean? What is my brotherhood about? Why are we here? Where are we going? How do I fit?

Alpha Phi Alpha was founded in 1906 by seven young men at Cornell University who were fans of the philosopher and historian W.E.B. DuBois. The year before Alpha was founded, DuBois had co-founded the Niagara Movement, which was the precursor of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Later on DuBois would go on to become an honorary member of APhiA. In 1903, DuBois introduced the world to the concept of the Talented Tenth. In his own words:

“The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races. Now the training of men is a difficult and intricate task. Its technique is a matter for educational experts, but its object is for the vision of seers. If we make money the object of man-training, we shall develop money-makers but not necessarily men; if we make technical skill the object of education, we may possess artisans but not, in nature, men. Men we shall have only as we make manhood the object of the work of the schools–intelligence, broad sympathy, knowledge of the world that was and is, and of the relation of men to it–this is the curriculum of that Higher Education which must underlie true life. On this foundation we may build bread winning, skill of hand and quickness of brain, with never a fear lest the child and man mistake the means of living for the object of life.”

Our Seven Jewels (founders) determined to contribute toward the development of the Negro race’s Talented Tenth. One of our early General Presidents called APhiA a “laboratory of leadership” that would shape and mold men who could carry the weight of improving the condition of our people as a whole. Eugene Kinckle Jones, one of our Jewels, said that “Alpha Phi Alpha, the oldest of Negro Fraternities, with all of its members presumably far above the average American and having a good and practical understanding of the salient factors involved in the Negro’s problem…should be able to take into their hands the leadership in the Negro’s struggle for status.” The list of people fashioned in this laboratory includes:

Cornel West, professor of religion at Harvard and Princeton

John H. Johnson, founder and owner of Johnson Publishing Company (Jet and Ebony magazines)

Thurgood Marshall, civil rights attorney and U.S. Supreme Court justice

Martin Luther King, nuff said

Paul Robeson, Actor and Scholar and Athlete and Singer and unofficial Diplomat

Duke Ellington, Composer, Bandleader, Actor, Grammy Award Winner

Keenen Ivory Wayans, creator of In Living Color, head of the Wayans clan

Andrew Young, ambassador to the United Nations

Countee Cullen, poet of the Harlem Renaissance

The Talented Tenth has been synonymous with the leaders of the Civil Rights movement for the past 100 years. From the Niagara Movement to the NAACP and Urban League, to A. Philip Randolph’s starting the first Black labor union, to Dr. King and his crew setting it off in Alabama and throughout the South to the modern manifestation that has been completely absorbed by the Democratic Party and Fortune 500 corporations…all led by men (unfortunately, just males) who have identified themselves with this leadership group identified by W.E.B. DuBois and contributed to by my Seven Jewels and the founders of other Greek-lettered organizations.

Now, here’s why I asked “how do I fit?” at the beginning of this writing. I identify myself as a Pan African — revolutionary nationalist. I believe in more of a grassroots approach to advancing my people, instead of the top-down style of the Talented Tenth. I believe that the Talented Tenth has been fumbling the ball repeatedly in our attempt to drive down the field of progress as a people. I won’t take the time to fully dig into these blunders but I will say that they dropped the ball in…(this is where I went in on this rant critiquing the last 100 years of Black leadership in the style of Harold Cruse’s book “The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual”. I deleted all of that in favor of a more personal approach)

After the prophytes (older fraternity members) who made (initiated) me had graduated, I became the president of my chapter. That was the year 2000. In that same year I became Assistant Area Director, in charge of supervising the activities of all the undergraduate chapters in the eastern 1/3 of Missouri. I also became an Oratorical Contest champion within the Frat, making a name for myself as a thinker and a public speaker. I was also blessed to meet people like Andrew Young, Marc Morial, and Maynard Jackson at our national convention in Atlanta. I began to think of myself as a future civil rights leader. I was fully convinced beyond of a shadow of a doubt that I would one day go on to be the leader of a national civil rights organization and possibly General President of APhiA. I had been immersed in The Souls of Black Folk by DuBois and Where Do We Go From Here by Dr. King. I had fully bought into the Talented Tenth style of leadership and pushing for social change.

In 2001, personal tragedy abruptly altered my chosen life path. My vision of networking my way up and through the Fraternity came to an end. I was forced to re-evaluate my goals, which took years. I have dabbled in Cornel West style intellectual activism, Donna Brazile style political consulting, Kwame Ture style grassroots organizing, Mutulu Shakur style revolutionary uprising, and Amish style retreat from society as a whole. At this point in my journey I am a combination of all of those things.

As my Brotherhood gets ready to turn 107 years old, I anticipate that we are entering a time that will reflect where we were 100 years ago. Chapter 7 of our history book The History of Alpha Phi Alpha: A Development in College Life is called “The Leaven of Self-Examination”. It describes a period of time starting in roughly 1914 in which the members of our new organization reflected on what they had become in the past 7 or 8 years and where they wanted to go. They determined that they had been a bit too playful, frivolous, and not making a serious enough impact on the massive problems of our people as a whole. They determined to step up their efforts to improve our collective quality of life.

In 2013, it has started to become clear to many people that the “gains” of the Civil Rights movement weren’t very progressive at all, in fact we lost more than we gained. We took some hits to our economic strength and our cultural bonds when we integrated into mainstream society that the opportunity to share water fountains and hotel rooms with white people just don’t make up for. The task before us now is to figure out how to get the Black dollar to once again circulate within the Black community. To do something about the fact that white Americans have 22 times more wealth than Blacks — a gap that nearly doubled during the Great Recession. The median household net worth for whites was $110, 729 in 2010, versus for $4,995 for Blacks, according to Census Bureau figures. Black wealth fell by about 60% between 2005 and 2010, while the median net worth for white households slipped only 23%. When the Titanic sinks, the people in the bottom of the boat drown first. We have to build some lifeboats for ourselves before this ship takes on any more water. Shit is real out here.

I can’t honestly say that APhiA or the Talented Tenth as a whole is adequately addressing these issues at this time. But the optimist in me wishes/hopes/prays that we will. We shall see. Where do the souls of Black folks go from here?

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BIGGIE KILLED TUPAC

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Soundtrack: Makaveli “White Man’s World”

Notorious B.I.G. ft. Jay-Z “I Love The Dough”

“1996 was I guess you can say a crucial year for Hip Hop culture. Basically, that’s when I think the apartheid movement started inside the culture where suddenly there were haves and have-nots. And I was starting to see the results of it because on my block you know kids would be like ‘yo, why do you still take a cab? You were just on BET a second ago; why you still taking a taxicab? How come you never wear jewelry? You’re a rap star; aren’t you supposed to have these things?’

So I wanted to do a video that pretty much showed that being an emcee and being an artist isn’t about being a personality but more or less a human being. Unfortunately the commentary had cut a little deep with some in the Hip Hop community that felt that we were taking pot shots at them. What I didn’t know was that we had taken a swipe at an actual Biggie video. I wasn’t aware that we had done something scene for scene, and of course I can see how you think we’re mocking him because this is exactly his video scene. So he wasn’t too happy about that.

The thing was though, we were always in Europe. Nobody in Hip Hop wanted to ever tour Europe, especially when they were successful in the States. So we had heard talk of ‘yeah I’m gonna see them; it’s on when I see them.’ At the time the Source Magazine had asked me to respond to Biggie’s statement of how he was upset. And he had championed us in a lot of books so this really came as a swipe from his point of view, as in like ‘wait a minute, I said they were one of my favorite groups ever. Why would they do this to me?’

So my manager and I, we wrote a manifesto about how we see the dangers of the seeds that is the apartheid movement — the fact that Hip Hop used to be an all-inclusive thing. When RUN-DMC sang about ‘My Adidas’, you could actually get a pair of Adidas and feel like you belonged in it. Now, suddenly, rappers are like ‘this is my mansion and my boat…you ain’t shit. I have something and you don’t, so I’m better than you.’ Hip Hop used to be inclusive.”

–          Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson being interviewed on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman on August 14, 2013

When I heard Questlove say this it blew me away. It is no secret that I love Hip Hop music and culture. I view Hip Hop as a major tool in the eventual liberation of the people who created it, Blacks and Latinos. I consider Tupac Shakur to be the greatest representative of this Hip Hop spirit that our culture has ever produced.

I also love Biggie Smalls a/k/a/ The Notorious B.I.G. He is widely regarded as one of, if not the greatest, poet/lyricist of all Hip Hop time. It is almost blasphemous to be a Hip Hop head and not be a Biggie Smalls fan. However, many of us fans have not been able to see the forest for the trees, when it comes to understanding exactly what happened to our culture in the mid to late 90s.

Questlove is absolutely correct in saying that Hip Hop used to be inclusive. That is precisely what allowed Hip Hop to spread from the South Bronx to all of NYC to the whole United States and eventually the entire globe. There wasn’t a long list of membership requirements. If you were a deejay, an emcee, a graffiti artist, or a breakdancer, or you simply enjoyed watching these people, then you were Hip Hop. It was created by people who had to make something out of nothing. Turning regular turntables and vinyl records into a whole new instrument. Turning a 10 second drum solo in 70’s soul, funk, and rock and roll songs into 10 minute long dance grooves. Turning teenage wordsmiths and turntable technicians into local celebrities. Hip Hop was for the masses.

Tupac Shakur was the Anointed Son, born of this Holy Hip Hop Spirit, and chosen to live his life for us and ultimately give his life for us. He spoke for those who had no voice. He fought for those who had yet to find their courage. He identified the lowest members of society, the most Not of the have-nots, the Thugs, and he became their advocate.

With his Thug Life mantra (The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody) and his Thug Life Code, Pac had a plan to achieve freedom, justice, and equality for those who had been denied of these necessities. He sought to continue the revolutionary work of his predecessors (Mutulu Shakur, Assata Shakur, Geronimo Pratt, etc.) in a modern 90’s context. He made mistakes, as could be expected of any young man in his early twenties with a lot of money and too many yes-men around him. But he was clear about his ultimate goals. He died at 25 years old, far too soon to realize his full potential.

Biggie had a different take on things. He wasn’t instilled with the sense of responsibility for others that Tupac learned from his parents and caregivers. Biggie was the pioneer of a different direction for Hip Hop. As the spokesman for a young Sean “Puffy/Diddy” Combs, before Diddy discovered the joys of using ghost writers, Big taught us how to be aspirational. He described it as going “from ashy to classy.” When Big’s debut album Ready to Die was released in September 1994, he was still speaking of his desire to wear “black Timbs and black hoodies,” as he had growing up in Brooklyn. But by the time the song One More Chance was remixed and released as a single in May 1995, the video featured Biggie wearing a Coogi sweater and Versace shades, which became his image for the rest of his short life. Again, this change in direction was prompted by Big’s label boss and creative director, Diddy.

Diddy had a vision for where he wanted his Bad Boy Records company and his overall brand to go and Biggie was the ambassador that Diddy molded to represent his vision. The Versace shades, the speedboat in the Florida Keys, the Cristal champagne, all represented Diddy and Biggie’s declaration to “the mainstream” that they intended to be on the same playing field as those for whom these material trappings were nothing new. And the formula worked. Biggie and Bad Boy found immense commercial success and financial rewards, signaling “the next big thing” for music executives who do nothing but copy trends.

Biggie’s counterpart in ushering in the Hip Hop apartheid movement was Jay-Z. When Jay-Z’s debut album Reasonable Doubt was released in June 1996, it marked an official departure from the former inclusive days of Hip Hop. While E-40 sang the praises of Carlos Rossi and UGK assured us that Dom Perignon was supposed to bubble, Jay-Z proclaimed that if you “like Dom, maybe this Cristal will change your life”, and the gauntlet was thrown. Not to mention the fact that Jay-Z told his hypothetical detractors “What? Nigga you broke. What the fuck you gon’ tell me?” Mobb Deep said that no matter how much loot they got they were staying in the projects. But Jay-Z preferred the presidential suite as his residential for the weekend. As Biggie would say, things done changed.

To be fair, while Big and Jay were popularizing Versace and Cristal, Tupac had a real life friendship with the house of Versace and was the only rapper to ever model their clothes on the runway, in Milan, in 1996. But in that same year, Pac made statements in his songs like “Currency means nothing if you still ain’t free.” His desire to move on up never came at the expense of his desire to bring the whole ghetto along with him.

So how has this Hip Hop apartheid movement played out since Pac and Big were murdered and Diddy and Hov went on to reach more than halfway toward billionaire status? That’s a really big question that could take volumes of books to answer but this is where I choose to focus. In 1989, the people at the highest levels of power in the United States took notice of the huge potential of Hip Hop to foment change among the common people. They had spent decades and centuries perfecting their social engineering devices and herding the masses of the people like sheep. They recognized that Hip Hop had the power to change all of that.

With the 1988 emergence of Public Enemy, N.W.A., and others, there was suddenly a tool that could be used to speak directly to the masses and get them to move, and the Powers That Be had no control over it. That, of course, was an unacceptable situation. So those Powers made moves to buy up the independent vehicles that were driving the Hip Hop culture and industry, as well as making moves to silence those voices in Hip Hop that were most influential and critical of the power structure. I don’t have time here to prove that claim, but you can Google it if you want. The emergence of the Hip Hop apartheid movement was the knockout blow for what was the great potential for Hip Hop to cause Complete Constructive Change in the United States. There is now a clear separation between the icons of the culture and the common people. No matter how catchy Jay-Z’s “Picasso Baby” and “Tom Ford” are, the masses of the people just can’t relate to Jeff Koons and the Louvre. We have been priced out of what is considered cool in Hip Hop now. And the head can’t move without a body. So the movement that Hip Hop used to represent is now paralyzed and on life support. There is still a slight chance of survival/revival, but chances grow slimmer with each passing new release Tuesday. Nas declared that Hip Hop is dead in 2006. The culture needs a Messiah who can breathe in new Life After Death. What new projects are coming out this Tuesday?

S-L-M

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Soundtrack: Eric B. & Rakim – “Paid In Full”

In the Semitic languages (Arabic, Aramaic, Hebrew, etc.) the root words from which other words are formed don’t have vowels. There is a particular root word S-L-M (Shin Lamedh Mem) that is the basis of some of the most popular words in the Semitic languages. The word translates to mean “whole, safe, and intact”. Derived from this are meanings of “to be secure, at peace, pacified, submitted”. Some of the words that come from this root are salaam, Islam, shalom, Jerusalem, Solomon, and Muslim.

When I was 15 years old I joined the religion of Islam. Like most people I was told that the word Islam means “submission to the will of God.” Later on when my spiritual preference shifted from religious Islam to the Five Percenters (Nation of Gods and Earths) I was given an alternative way of looking at the word. It took a whole lot longer than it should have for me to finally learn what the word Islam actually means, from its root, in the language that it comes from. When I learned what the root word means it shifted things for me. I’m still experiencing that shift even as I type these words.

The vast majority of people are not their “whole” selves. We live fragmented lives, only allowing ourselves to experience or appreciate parts of who we are. Other parts of self we either ignore, seek to “conquer”, or demonize. Some of us don’t like our ego. Some of us don’t like our flesh. Some of us don’t like our sexuality. Most of us don’t know that we are actually the whole Universe. We limit ourselves by our denial. When you experience your WHOLE self then you realize that you are HOLY. When you separate from parts of yourself then you become the opposite of holy.

Speaking of Islam…In the Lessons that are revered and studied by members of the Nation of Islam and the Nation of Gods and Earths, The Honorable Elijah Muhammad recorded his answer to two particular questions in this way:

Q: To make devil, what must you do first?

A: To make devil, one must begin grafting from the original.

Q: What is devil?

A: A grafted man which is made weak and wicked. Or, any grafted, live germ from the original is devil.

There is so much meaning contained in these few words. I have to keep coming back to this “you are the Universe” thing. The Universe began as an infinitesimally small, infinitely hot, infinitely dense, dot of stuff. After its initial appearance, it apparently inflated (the “Big Bang”), expanded and cooled, going from very, very small and very, very hot, to the size and temperature of our current universe. It continues to expand and cool to this day and we are inside of it: incredible creatures living on a unique planet, circling a beautiful star clustered together with several hundred billion other stars in a galaxy soaring through the cosmos, all of which is inside of an expanding universe that began as an infinitesimal singularity which appeared out of nowhere. This huge place that we live in is still really the same as that Black dot that existed in the very beginning before the Big Bang. We’re all inside of the dot. Our real body is the dot. We are One with everything else inside the dot, which is everything. There is no real separation between you and the star that is 93 million miles away. The multitude of things that we see all around us every day is a beautiful illusion. There is only one Thing, the Universe.

When the Honorable Elijah Muhammad used the word “grafting”, he meant it in the sense of “separating”. At another point in the Lessons he explains this. It is beyond the scope of this writing to explain why he used the word “grafting” to describe this process. The relevant point here is that Elijah is stating that the root of becoming less than “God” or “Holy” is separating from “the original”. The ultimate “original” is the beginning of all things, the oneness of the Universe. Buying into the illusion of separation is what starts one down the path of being made weak and wicked.

Mystics from many different religious backgrounds describe a similar phenomenon that they aim for in their meditation. One of my favorite philosophers, John Hick, describes his mystical experience in this way:

“I have once, but so far only once, experienced what was to me a startling breakthrough into a new form or level of consciousness. I was in that second stage … and when eventually I opened my eyes the world was quite different in two ways. Whereas normally I am here, and the environment is there, separate from me, there was now no such distinction; and more importantly, the total universe of which I was part was friendly, benign, good, so that there could not possibly be anything to fear or worry about. It was a state of profound delight in being. This only lasted a short time, probably not more than two minutes.”

Christian Gnostics, Sufi Muslims, Jewish kabbalists, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. etc. all describe fleeting moments during meditation in which they experienced the Oneness of everything. They rose above the illusion of separation, and they were forever changed. We aren’t required to spend years in meditation and seclusion in order to accept the reality of Oneness. It’s a scientific fact that we can benefit from accepting as truth. However, there is also benefit in accepting the whole person that we see in the mirror.

We are blessed to have these wonderful human bodies with which to experience our universal self. Our five senses and our sixth sense are the perfect means with which to take in the beauty of life. Most of us do ourselves a great disservice by not fully using these senses and the sensuality that they allow us to feel. We literally don’t take the time to smell the roses. We don’t take the time to fully taste our food. We drive past the sunrise and the sunset and the trees and the mountains and the ocean as if they aren’t spectacularly amazing to behold. We avoid touching one another as if human touch isn’t the most wonderful feeling imaginable. And we’re not sensitive enough to be able to feel the things that we can’t see with our eyes but are definitely there waiting for us to acknowledge them. We don’t breathe fully. We don’t take the time to appreciate the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide that we can’t go more than two minutes without if we want to stay in this physical existence. And we don’t know that our thinking, personality, and life experience can be drastically altered by just changing the way we breathe.

We go through this metamorphosis when we get to be double digits in age that causes our bodies to change and our thoughts to focus on brand new topics. When we really get into the swing of puberty we are walking balls of horniness. Any little thing can set us off and have our minds completely focused on sex. We discover how good it feels to be sexually stimulated and we want to experience that feeling all of the time. Then at some point, for most of us, someone convinces us that it is “wrong” for us to feel this way, even though we didn’t choose to have those feelings. We didn’t voluntarily turn on the switch that starts puberty. But we are told that we have to find a way to put a dam on this tidal wave of sexual energy that has flooded our being. I am suggesting that pleasure and sexual excitement are the natural state of the human being. We experience this heightened sexual awareness partly because of the surge of testosterone or estrogen that our body starts to produce. When we convince ourselves to stop having all of these sexual feelings and thoughts, the hormones don’t go away. They’re still there; we just learn how to ignore them. Those feelings should never go away as long as we have these hormones in production. We have to actually traumatize ourselves on an energetic level in order to stop this force of nature. And that trauma negatively impacts us in ways that most of us never comprehend. We limit our creativity. We make ourselves susceptible to diseases and cancer of the reproductive system. We fracture our relationships with our lovers, friends, and family. Religion teaches us that sex is evil, but it is actually the denial of our sexual energy that restricts us from experiencing the Holy.

It would benefit us to remove the separation. What are some practical things that we can do about this?

1)      Get back to Nature. The English language has a problem in that it gives the impression that Nature is one thing and human beings are another. The truth is that we are a part of Nature and Nature is a part of us. It is important for us to actually feel the world around us. Most of us never actually feel the sun on our skin, besides are face and hands. The sun is the source of all life in our solar system and we have a very distant relationship with it. We need to bathe in the sun’s rays with our entire nude body every day, just like taking a shower.

We need to reconnect with the Earth by walking on her every day without the hindrance of shoes. Your feet should touch grass and dirt every day. The Earth is the source of our life, the Sun is our fuel. We need them.

We need to become reacquainted with where food comes from. The vast majority of people in today’s world have no idea how their dinner got from where it originally came from, to their dinner plate. Most people have never seen a seed and actually put it into the ground. We don’t know what food is.

And hug a tree. Touch a tree. Do something to show appreciation for the fact that the oxygen we breathe comes from plants. We can’t live without them. It is the height of stupidity to chop down forests and jungles to make paper and furniture. Having a table is of no use if you can’t breathe.

2)      Get back to human beings. We don’t touch each other enough. We have these silly cultural norms about “personal space” and we think that other people are bad so we have to protect ourselves by not allowing people to touch us without passing an initiation process first. From lowering blood pressure and heart rate to increasing immune function and relieving pain, getting touched or doing some touching makes you healthier – not to mention happier and less anxious.

Anyone who’s ever gotten a massage knows that it helps you unwind. And that relaxed state allows your body to regroup and recharge leading to a more robust immune system. Cortisol, the stress hormone, suppresses the immune response. Anything that increases the relaxation response triggers the restoration of your immune system. The act of hugging someone floods our bodies with oxytocin, a “bonding hormone” that makes people feel secure and trusting toward each other, lowering cortisol levels. Even a hug from someone who is just a casual acquaintance has a tremendous impact on your body. We should be hugging someone at least ten times a day.

Holding hands with someone (anyone) has been proven to reduce activity in the parts of the brain that govern stress and anxiety. It is much easier to stay calm when holding someone’s hand.

And making love, total body skin-to-skin stroking, plus orgasm, floods us with oxytocin and endorphins that do wondrous things for our emotional well-being. Regular sex can even prevent us from getting sick as often. People who had sex once or twice a week had 30 percent more infection-fighting immunoglobulin A (IgA) in their saliva than those who didn’t do the deed as often, according to a study done at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. And solo sex counts too. At least one study links masturbation with lower risk of depression. Even cuddling up with a pet can improve immune function and ease pain.

3)      Get back to Self. We all have different things about ourselves that we don’t like. We negatively judge ourselves for not living up to the standard that someone else gave us. We should stop that. Many of us don’t realize what it is about ourselves that we don’t like because we’re too busy in the daily rat-race to ever get silent enough to hear what we tell ourselves about ourselves. It is totally appropriate to strive for excellence and be trying to better yourself every day. But that quest is misguided if it doesn’t first start with loving who you are. There is a big difference between looking yourself in the mirror and saying “I am absolutely in love with myself and I want the best for myself because I deserve it” or “I don’t feel good enough and I would love myself if I was able to change A, B, and C”. It is difficult to speak about this topic in a general way because we all have very unique issues. One thing that we can all benefit from though is realizing that you are unique for a good reason. There is only supposed to be one person on earth who is just like you. So you don’t need to change to be more like someone else. Being the best possible version of you is the best gift you could give to yourself and to the rest of the world.

Being your whole, holy self is the goal of life.

WHAT DO YOU WANT?

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Soundtrack: Raekwon – “Heaven and Hell”

“[A]ll achievement, no matter what may be its nature, or its purpose, must begin with an intense, BURNING DESIRE for something definite.”

Napoleon Hill

In a previous edition of COMPLETE CONSTRUCTIVE CHANGE, I said “The Tree of Life is a diagram of the process through which God creates the world, humanity, and humanity’s sojourn in the world… as we go further down the spheres in the Tree of Life we discover that in fact, our minds attract our material experience. The energy broadcast coming from the Mind attracts things from the Matter side to us that match the frequency of the thoughts coming from the Mind. So we create everything that we experience”

I want to dig deeper into that using the Kemetic Tree of Life as a framework. Sphere 6 in the Tree is represented by the deity Heru (Horus). Heru refers to the part of human beings that we generally think of as our Will and our desires. Sphere 7 of the Tree represents the part of us that governs joy and the imagination. She is known as Het-Heru (House of Heru) in the Kemetic tradition. It is a congregative faculty, meaning that, among other things, it is concerned with putting things together for beautiful or pleasing artistic effect. Sphere 8 of the Tree of Life represents the part of us that governs logic and the intellect. The corresponding deity was known in Kemet as Sebek. Where Het-Heru at Sphere 7 is congregative, Sebek at Sphere 8 is segregative. Where Het-Heru puts things together in beautiful, harmonious arrangements, Sebek takes things apart and puts them in logical order or relationship. He takes thoughts and orders them into words, one syllable at a time. He governs syllogistic logic, and all manner of information. Sphere 9 on the Tree represents the part of us with which we most identify, it is our personality. The deity corresponding to Sphere 9 is Auset. Above personality, she is what I call our “energy broadcast”. Our energy broadcast is what people “feel” when they come around us; it is our personal vibration. It is a pattern of energy organization that is determined by our beliefs (Sebek), our imagination (Het-Heru), and our will (Heru). That energy attracts our material reality into existence. Sphere 10 is known as Geb and it refers to our flesh and blood body, and it extends to the “stuff” that we have in life (home, cars, etc.)

When Napoleon Hill wrote the above quote in his classic book Think and Grow Rich in the late 1930’s he followed those words with these:

 

“Through some strange and powerful principle of ‘mental chemistry’ which she has never divulged, Nature wraps up in the impulse of STRONG DESIRE ‘that something’ which recognizes no such word as impossible, and accepts no such reality as failure.”

           

            With the findings in quantum physics in recent years, that “mental chemistry” isn’t so strange anymore. It is indeed powerful though. Quantum physics is the study of how the very small world, one we cannot see with our eyes, operates. Newtonian physics, dealing with gravity and things like that, gives us the laws for how things work in the world that we can see. On the quantum level, dealing with things smaller than an atom, there are a completely different set of rules. We live in both of these worlds, the seen and the unseen, at the same time. But most of us don’t understand the world of the unseen and the laws that govern it.

In the seen world, no two things can occupy the same space at the same time. But in the unseen world, one thing can exist in an infinite number of places at the same time. In the unseen world, time and space do not exist. Both of these worlds are very real halves of the one Universe. The Universe is all one “thing”. There is only one thing in existence. Everything that we think we can see and give a name to is just configurations of energy within the one Universe, like ripples or waves of water in the ocean. We live in a big soup of Energy. Our brains are able to transmit and receive energy. In fact, we are transmitting and receiving every second of our lives, whether we realize it or not.

Our thoughts are like magnets. When we hold a thought in our minds, it creates a quantum wave function (qwiff, for short) that goes out into the Universe, penetrates and permeates all space and time, and brings to us everything that’s a vibrational match for the thought we’re holding. This is the science behind what is referred to as the Law of Attraction. I want to stress how very real this is.

Scientists used to think that our brains functioned like computers, the regular kind that we use like desktops or laptops. Very simply put, computers use algorithms to solve specific problems and perform specific functions. Although they function very quickly (hopefully), computers cannot solve more than one problem or perform more than one specific function at a time. Science has recently shown that the human brain is more like a quantum computer. We don’t process things in a sequential, or step-by-step, manner. As human beings, we function in both the seen world and the unseen world. We are part Mind and part Matter; our Minds function on the quantum side and our Matter (bodies) functions on the mechanical side. Using the Law of Attraction is about learning how to use our quantum brains to produce the material reality that we choose to experience. Again, our thoughts go out into the quantum universe as waves, or qwiffs, and they cohere (stick) to other waves of energy that match the quality of the thought. If a thought is held in the mind long enough then it will attract and stick to enough waves of energy on the quantum level to produce a new experience in our lives on the material level.  

             This is the primary reason why rich people generally stay rich and poor people generally stay poor. If you grow up thinking of yourself as the kind of person who has material wealth then that thought will attract material wealth to you. The opposite is also true. It is very difficult for a person who has never experienced material wealth to convince their subconscious mind to accept the belief that “I am the kind of person who is supposed to be wealthy”. More often than not, poor people have a constant chatter in their subconscious minds that reinforces how much money they don’t have and never will have. The Tree of Life illustrates the way to break that cycle and attract a new way of life.

            In order to affect any kind of change in your life, you first have to WANT it, you have to desire it. This is the function of our Heru faculty, developing our desires. For the sake of illustration we’ll use the example that a person desires to have a million dollars. After developing that desire, it must be placed into its resting place, Het-Heru (the imagination), where it can be gestated like a baby in the womb. The imagination feeds the desire and makes it powerful enough to go out into the Universe and bring back its matching reality. The thing that the imagination feeds the desire with is emotion. It is emotion that increases the attracting power of the thought. And it works whether the emotion is positive or negative.

            If you hold the desire for a million dollars in your imagination and you feed it with the feeling of “I don’t have a million dollars. I’ll never have a million dollars. I don’t deserve a million dollars. I’m not the kind of person who gets a million dollars. I still want it though…” then you will increase the magnetism of the desire but when it goes out into the Universe it will REPEL your million dollars. It will do everything possible to make sure that a million dollars does not come into your life. However, if you feed the desire for a million dollars with the feeling of “I love my million dollars. It feels sooo good to have a million dollars. It is already mine. It is already on its way to me. I am the kind of person who gets millions of dollars…” then that thought will go out into the Universe charged to attract a million dollars at dizzying speeds.

            Because the brain is a quantum computer, it is capable of doing more than one thing at a time. That is why most people who believe that they desire to become rich never actually get there. Because their desire for wealth is being fed sometimes by good feelings about wealth but then there are other/most times when the desire is being fed by feelings of self-doubt and pity. So they’re attracting and repelling the million dollars at the same time. We see this all the time. The person might attract a wonderful money making opportunity that goes great at first and then it fizzles out all of a sudden. They might actually win the lottery, and then blow all of the money before they even get a chance to enjoy it. They might get the job they’ve been dreaming about for years and then get laid off a few months later. This is how these confused desires manifest into our lives. One of the key components to successfully use the Law of Attraction is to diligently monitor our thoughts and be constantly, incessantly feeding our minds with messages that reinforce our desire. It also requires removing yourself from naysayers and negative people who seek to kill your dreams.

            After feeding your desire from Heru with your imagination/Het-Heru then you must use your Sebek faculty to come up with a plan of how to achieve the million dollars. However, this doesn’t have to be an MBA level business plan. All that is required is actually DOING whatever it is that brings you JOY, while holding and feeding the desire for a million dollars with positive feelings. Whether you find joy in painting, fixing cars, running track, practicing medicine, whatever it is, you have to find a way to do it and not just dream about doing it. If you properly feed your desire for a million dollars while following your passion then your heart will figure out the details of the plan for you. The things that continue to make you feel good will be exactly the things that you need to do to get the million dollars. The reason this is so is because there are other laws at work in manifesting success besides just the Law of Attraction. I don’t have space to delve into that right now but I will at a later time.

            The thing that separates Doers from Dreamers is belief in self. As stated earlier, beliefs are part of what Sebek deals with. There are plenty of people who dream of being professional singers. It seems like every other show on TV these days is a competition for people who want to sing and they go through thousands of aspirants every year in order to find the cast for their shows. The people who go beyond dreaming about singing and actually do it are those who truly believe in their heart of hearts that they are supposed to be singers. They don’t entertain any doubts about whether they’re good enough or if they should just pursue a “real job”. Their firm belief in who they are automatically translates into a plan of action. They see the flyer for the open mic and they don’t just notice it, they go and they do well. They don’t just listen to other singers for the beauty of the songs; they study successful singers as templates of how to achieve the dream. The belief produces a plan.

            The cumulative effect of desire fed by the imagination and strengthened by belief is a personality (energy broadcast) that matches the desire. When people encounter you following your passion, you stand out. There’s “something” about you. They recognize that you are the kind of person who is SUPPOSED to be making millions of dollars for doing this thing, whatever your thing is. That energy broadcast forces people to believe in you and start to support and feed your desire with their time and energy and money. They can’t just let you fix their car and then go on about their way. They feel compelled to introduce you to their rich associate who wants to start a business restoring classic cars. They can’t just pay you the standard $10 for painting their picture at the fair. They feel compelled to introduce you to their associate who chooses artists to exhibit at the art gallery. Your energy reaches out and touches them in a way that makes them want you to have a million dollars just like you want it.

            Walking through life with this energy broadcast produced by the desire and belief that you should receive a million dollars for pursuing your passion will soon manifest itself in the form of a million dollars. And the wonderful part about it is that you can do this even if you’ve never heard of the Law of Attraction. This is the process that every successful person who ever lived has used to attain their success, no matter how they stumbled upon the formula. And it is never too late to start using it. As long as you have a brain then you can use the power of thought to manifest your desires, no matter what it is. The Universe doesn’t recognize the impossible. The laws of quantum physics are laws that work all the time, every time, just like gravity and inertia. If you hold a thought in the imagination and feed it with the right emotions and beliefs then that thought absolutely must go out into the Universe and bring back to you the material reality that matches your thought. Try it, you’ll like it.

PEACE

                

 

 

THY WILL BE DONE

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Soundtrack: Jay-Z “Pray”

      This is difficult to explain to a lot of people. Most people raised in a culture influenced by one of the Abrahamic, monotheistic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) grew up thinking of God as a Divine Father. Their God is a very emotional Spirit who is jealous of you spending time with other Gods, gets very upset if you violate His rules, and has a special dislike for people having sex outside of the sanctioned system. This blog isn’t about that kind of a God. We advocate a worldview in which the All-Knowing, All-Powerful, and Ever-Present Infinite Intelligence has no preferences. In this worldview, “The All” simply wants to experience His/Her/Itself, and doesn’t have a preconceived agenda about what that experience will be. This means that “good” doesn’t always prevail; the end of the story hasn’t been written yet; and the destruction of humanity and a zombie apocalypse is just as real of a possibility as anything else.

      The Kemetic Tree of Life describes the basic nature of God by the deity called Amen. Amen is the essential state of God or of existence before creation, an undifferentiated Potential – the primordial mist.

In the beginning

There was neither existence nor non-existence,

All this world was unmanifest energy…

 

The One breathed, without breath, by Its own power

Nothing else was there…

–          Hymn of Creation, The Rig Veda

 

Quantum Physics gives us the same concept as the Kemetic and Indian Vedic systems of thought. Physicists have spent hundreds of years searching for the basic building block of life, the thing that everything else is made of. At one point they thought that the smallest thing in existence was the atom. Then they discovered that there were even smaller things inside the atom, which led to the realization that things seem to get infinitely smaller and smaller the more we increase our ability to observe subatomic particles. Instead of being able to pinpoint the building blocks of life as microscopic “things” that are easy to understand and predict; scientists have found that at the base of everything is “waves of possibilities”, also described as “vibrating energy packets.” These energy packets exist as an infinite set of possibilities until something acts upon it to make it coalesce into a single observable phenomenon. This means that there is no predetermined agenda as I said before. Literally, anything is possible.

So now, returning to the Tree of Life – sphere 0 in the Tree is Amen, the undifferentiated Potential of existence. But Sphere 2 of the Tree is Tehuti, the Divine Will of God. How does the God who has no preferences end up having a Will?  

We choose the life that we are born into. By that I mean that the eternal part of us, our Souls, make a determined decision about what life circumstance we want to be born into, before we are born, while we are in the ancestral realm. For some people, that is elementary common sense. For other people, that is revolutionary and/or blasphemous. It is a scientific fact that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, it only changes form. We, as human beings, are made up of energy. So there is some part of us that cannot be destroyed, it is eternal. That part of us decides what its purpose in life will be, what two parents should produce that life so that it has the best chance of fulfilling that purpose, what kind of body to be born into to facilitate that purpose, and what the perfect time and place is to be born that will make the baby the kind of person who can ultimately fulfill that purpose.

That purpose in life is encoded in our DNA along with the blueprint for our bodies. Just as that DNA attracts the needed material to produce our bodies in the womb of our mothers, the attractive power of our life intention/purpose attracts people, situations, and resources to us throughout life that give us the best chance possible of discovering our purpose and fulfilling that purpose. We are born on a particular path. We are born with a unique talent and a unique way of expressing it. There is something that you can do, in the unique way that you do it, better than anyone else in the whole world. When you’re doing that one thing, or more than one thing in many cases, you lose track of time. No matter how long you do it, it doesn’t feel like work. You would do that thing for the rest of your life, and do it quite well, whether you ever receive a dime for that thing or not. That is your purpose in life. That is what you came into this life to do. And when you do that thing in a way that responds to a unique need that exists in the world, then people will pay you for it and they will pay you abundantly. That is the way to achieve unlimited wealth, abundance, and happiness in life; doing what you were born to do in a way that performs a needed service in the world.     

 So anyway (lol), that intention/purpose that we are born into the world with has attractive power. It attracts people, situations, and resources to us that we will need throughout life. It organizes our personal universe in a way that is conducive to us fulfilling our purpose. It causes Life to respond to us according to a particular pattern. When we fall into the groove of that pattern then things seem to work out miraculously in our favor. We are said to have good luck; because we are approaching life in harmony with our purpose and in harmony with the way that we have caused the Universe to respond to us by our intention. This is the source of Divine Will. The Universe has no preferences other than the ones we create with our intention. Intention organizes its own fulfillment.

Divine Will is different for every person because every person is here to do something different. What is “right” and “wrong” for you might not necessarily be the same for another person. “Right” and “wrong” is relative to what your goals are, or what your purpose is. When those who are in touch with the Oracle do a reading for us and tell us about our life path, they are telling us about the intention that we set before we were born. And they are able to tell us the things we should and shouldn’t do in life because our intention sets up a pattern in the Universe that we can get in harmony with. This is what Tehuti, the deity who expresses the Will of God, is all about. Tehuti is a personification of the part of us that contains the answer to our life purpose.

There is no God up in the sky who decides for us what our fate in life is. We create our lives with the choices we make, before we are conceived and throughout our physical existence. The Universe responds to those choices by moving in a way that will create the fulfillment of our intentions. If we intend something but then we do things that are not compatible with that intention then we are going against the Divine Will and we will meet with frustration and disappointment. If we conduct our lives in a way that is consistent with our intention/purpose then we will meet with success and abundance.

PEACE

  

FIGHT THE POWER! …Or Not

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Soundtrack: Bob Marley “One Love”

   I recently had a wide-ranging discussion with a dear friend and confidant in which she disagreed with most of what I was saying. The crux of it was that she declared that I was focusing way too much on viewing and discussing Black people as recipients of abuse, discrimination, and oppression. As part of her argument she posited that by us talking so much about what has been done TO us, by the Law of Attraction, we attract more of those things into our reality. With me being the Pan-African revolutionary nationalist that I am, I resisted that idea. At one point in the discussion I made the point that Jewish people are very successful and they are not shy about telling each other and telling the world about their past suffering.  

  Fast forward a couple of days. That conversation kept playing on repeat in the back of my mind. I thought about it as I was falling asleep. I dreamed about it. It wasn’t sitting right with me. And soon I realized that it was because of the inconsistencies in my arguments. I am a believer in the Law of Attraction. I bear witness that what you resist, persists. That whatever you focus on in your mind with emotional intensity will manifest itself in your life…whatever it is…no matter what. However, I was unable to bring myself to apply these concepts to my beliefs about the quest of Black people for freedom, justice, and equality. Or rather I should say that I’ve been hesitant. It has been a gradual process. And this recent conversation was a foot in the rear end that pushed me to take the next step in this evolution.

There is almost universal agreement that the two most successful Black Nationalist organizations in United States history have been Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam (NOI). There are some similarities between these two men that are worth mentioning here. Both Garvey and Muhammad were staunch advocates of a “do for self” mentality and approach to advancement. They didn’t believe in petitioning the Establishment for anything.

 Marcus Garvey stood in contrast to W.E.B. Dubois and the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League, the beginners of what would come to be known as the Civil Rights movement. The civil rights leaders protested for government to stop the lynching of Black Americans and to stop discrimination in housing and employment. Garvey didn’t bother with those things. He taught that if Black people united their efforts and pooled their resources then they could build up their community without any outside help. Marcus Garvey believed that his people could benefit greatly from emulating the example of the Jewish community. His most popular statement was “Up you mighty nation! You can accomplish what you will!”

Elijah Muhammad stood in contrast to the civil rights leaders of his day as well. Rather than pursuing court victories or congressional actions to end segregation, Muhammad taught that Black people should separate themselves from the whites and focus on supplying the necessities of life for themselves. He led his followers in purchasing farmland, growing food, operating schools, restaurants, barber shops, clothing stores, grocery stores, and he was in the beginning stages of starting a bank and a hospital before his departure from among us in 1975. In his economic blueprint, he wrote these words: “Observe the operations of the White man. He is successful. He makes no excuses for his failures. He works hard in a collective manner. You do the same.”

Both Garvey and Muhammad faced major criticism from civil rights leaders for not participating in protesting the actions of racist white people. Neither of them participated in organized efforts to resist lynchings or police brutality or things of the sort. And although they are both highly revered by many Black people today, this aspect of their example largely goes ignored. Most people today who believe that they are carrying on the legacy of Garvey and Muhammad feel the need to protest against what they feel are injustices done against the Black community.

Now, I can return to my earlier statement about the Jewish community being “not shy about telling each other and telling the world about their past suffering.” After tossing and turning with that conversation for a few days I realized that I was deluding myself. The general stance of the Jewish community and the Black community regarding their histories of discrimination are not similar at all. The majority of Black people who consider themselves to be socially conscious find themselves making some kind of complaint about the way Black people are treated almost every day…literally. The Jewish community doesn’t function that way. They don’t have those cultural habits.

There is a Jewish gentleman by the name of Steven Silbiger who wrote an excellent book called The Jewish Phenomenon. Silbiger had previously sold 200,000 copies of a book called The Ten-Day MBA. But that success did not fully prepare him for the reaction he received for his follow-up effort wherein he broached the “taboo” subject of Jewish success and wealth, disproportionate in terms of the community’s relatively small population size – in America and throughout the world. The back cover of The Jewish Phenomenon gets right to the heart of the matter promising to answer why : 1) Jews make up only 2% of the total U.S. population, yet 45% of the top 40 of the Forbes 400 richest Americans are Jewish 2) One-third of all American multimillionaires are Jewish 3) The percentage of Jewish households with income greater than $50,000 is double that of non-Jews while on the other hand, the percentage of Jewish households with income less than $20,000 is half that of non-Jews 4) 20% of professors at leading universities are Jewish 5) 40% of partners in leading New York and Washington D.C. law firms are Jewish and 25% percent of all American Nobel Prize winners are Jewish.

The subject has been so “off-limits” that Mr. Silbiger was greeted with scheduled media appearances cancelled; and journalists and editors who knew him from his first effort (which has now sold 300,000 copies) informing him that they could not write about his book or publicize it in reviews because it was just too controversial. National Public Radio (NPR) even canceled a scheduled show featuring Mr. Silbiger and Black conservative intellectual John McWhorter out of fear that a discussion involving The Jewish Phenomenon would alienate NPR’s numerous Jewish benefactors. Only John McWhorter appeared on the radio that day.

Mr. Silbiger lists seven principles that form the base of the Jewish culture which has led to their inordinate success.  

  • Number 1: “Understand that real wealth is portable; it’s knowledge”. Jews have highly valued education all through the centuries and that education translates into higher incomes and Jews not only pursue education for income but also just for education’s sake. They like to be informed. They just venerate knowledge and if somebody is an artist, they become the best artist they can; if they become a social worker; or whatever their chosen pursuit; they go and get a great education and pursue it to the best of their ability.
  • Number 2: “Take care of your own and they will take care of you”. Jewish people give the largest percentage of their income, twice as much as other people, to charities. But when they do so they support causes that affect their community. When it comes to charities and taking care of their own community they have set up social welfare systems, in Europe as well as in America, so that when government is lacking or Jews are in need and have problems where they may be fleeing a bad situation like in Argentina recently or in Russia in the past; they can come here and get a good start and the community will support them.
  • Number 3: “Successful people are professionals and entrepreneurs”. The basic lesson here is that laborers and employees don’t get rich. And where possible, and in the face of discrimination, Jews have gone in areas that other people didn’t want to be. So, when they were barred from becoming a post office worker or working for General Motors they found their own ways for being creative. When the big law firms in the nation did not want Jews in their ranks, Jews went into parts of the law that were distasteful to other lawyers – tax law; labor law; securities law; while the other Protestant, Anglo-Saxon types, they pursued other places. So Jews created opportunities for themselves that others didn’t want but they were fulfilling a need. Also, Jews are given the leeway to pursue a dream and not be shot down by their families. It is ok to not work a 9-to-5; it is ok to pursue your dream to invent something to go the other way. And the book is replete with situations and stories of people who went the other way and that is why Jews have been so successful. They have been good at inventing things out of nothing.
  • Number 4: “Develop your verbal self-confidence”. If you are confronted with a situation and you don’t agree with it, you just don’t take it; you speak up and are forceful. If ever there is a defacing of a synagogue or a form of discrimination, you had better believe that Jews are going to be the first ones out there. They are not going to bite their tongue or be inarticulate. But where they differ from Black people in this regard is that they have financial capital to apply pressure to those who oppose them.  
  • Number 5: “Be selectively extravagant but prudently frugal”. That means, when you are making money, you need to spend your money where it is most important. You can’t spend it on everything but if education is really important, well, then you will spend a lot of your money on education. The idea of delayed gratification is one that Jews have done well with for a long time. If most of the Jews in a country were first or second generation they made sure that the third generation would not be in the same situation. Jews didn’t immigrate with a great deal of wealth themselves. They actually created it by saving it and investing it in their future.
  • Number 6: “Encourage individuality and celebrate creativity”. For Jewish people it is ok to stand out and it is ok to be different and it is ok to pursue different ideas and different careers. Some of the greatest successes come from people who have gone their own way.
  • Number 7: “Have something to prove: a drive to succeed”. Because they were outsiders, Jews have felt this pressure to prove themselves and a desire to belong to the United States’ general mainstream but to do that they’ve pursued different areas that have brought them great success. For instance, Ralph Lauren, which represents the epitome of what White Anglo Saxon Protestant country-club living is all about; Ralph Lauren’s real name is Ralph Lifshitz. He is a Brooklyn boy who viewed what it really is to be in a country club set from the perspective of an outsider. So he packaged it, marketed it and sold it. And that is all possible when coming from an outsider’s standpoint. If you look at Gap Jeans or Calvin Klein or Levi’s you are going to find Jews concentrated themselves in the fashion industry as designers. But when the Jewish immigrants were coming over to America and didn’t have jobs in the fashion industry, and designing was going on; they were also in the garment industry so that the wealth that they created in the industry by being fashion designers wasn’t given to somebody else, the money in the entire garment industry was kept within the Jewish community. So they weren’t creating wealth for other people – they were creating it for themselves.

Jewish people are too busy pursuing greatness to focus on what someone else is trying to do to them. “Ain’t nobody got time for that” as Sweet Brown would say. They have specific times of year, especially the holiday of Passover, where they tell the stories of their past suffering. They have a Holocaust Museum in every city where a significant number of them live where the history of their suffering in Europe can be seen. And other than that, they’re focused on prosperity. This is one of the biggest lessons that the Black community can learn from the Jewish community.

The victim mentality must be done away with. Whether it is true or not that people outside of the Black community desire to exploit us, we can’t focus on that because by doing so we feed into it. It is time for us to shift our focus so that we become so consumed with the pursuit of prosperity that we don’t have the time or the mental space to worry about what anyone is doing to us. There are six million Jewish people in the United States. There are 40 million Black people. If their unity can get them to be 45% of the richest Americans then what can our unity do for us? It’s beyond the scope of this blog entry to answer that question. I’ll let your imagine run free on that. Rather than complain about the lack of opportunity, we must search for those areas where we are uniquely positioned to create opportunities for ourselves. It would be better for us to act as if we are completely on our own and we must provide everything for ourselves than to concern ourselves with what someone is not providing for us.

In the next installment of COMPLETE CONSTRUCTIVE CHANGE we’ll dig further into how and why the Law of Attraction works. For now, I am suggesting that the successes of Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, and the Jewish community are because of their being alignment with this law and the other laws that govern success. What we have been doing, collectively, has not worked the way we would like. It’s time to try something different.   

   

 

  

Getcho Edumucation!

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(Pictured are members of the General Education Board)

Soundtrack: Dead Prez – “They Schools”

I’ve had several conversations with my friends lately about America’s schools; one a public school teacher, one a public school counselor, one a recent PhD recipient. These have been very enlightening discussions. I have three children in school and deciding what schools to send them to have been some of the toughest decisions that I’ve ever made (along with their mothers). Here are some relevant facts:

  • More than half the young black men who graduated high school in 2010 earned their diploma in four years, an improved graduation rate that still lagged behind that of their white counterparts
  • The Schott Foundation for Public Education, which has tracked graduation rates of black males from public schools since 2004, said 52 percent of black males who entered ninth grade in the 2006-07 school year graduated in four years. That compared with 78 percent of white, non-Latino males and 58 percent of Latino males.
  • In 2008, the black male graduation rate was 47 percent.
  • In a recent comparison of academic performance in 57 countries, students in Finland came out on top overall. Finnish 15-year-olds did the best in science and came in second in math. Other top-performing countries were: Hong Kong, Canada, Taiwan, Estonia, Japan and Korea.
  • Students in the United States performed near the middle of the pack. On average 16 other industrialized countries scored above the United States in science, and 23 scored above us in math. The reading scores for the United States had to be tossed due to a printing error.
  • The United States has one of the biggest gaps between high- and low-performing students in any industrialized nation

The United States public school system is not working extremely well for the majority of its students. It is especially not working well for Black students. However, “working well” depends on your perspective. Some historical perspective…The current American school system was shaped around the turn of the 20th century. In 1903, John D. Rockefeller founded the General Education Board, which provided major funding for schools across the country and was especially in promoting the public (state controlled) school movement. For most of America’s history up to that point, schools were privately owned and home schooling was very popular. Americans were well educated and literacy rates were high.

There is an influential tradition in democratic theory which assumes that there is an intrinsic relationship between democracy and education. Professor Walter Carlsnaes of Oxford University has said that democracy requires:

“an enlightened and critically reflective public, a corps of politicians sufficiently well-informed not to be the pawns of experts and professional bureaucrats, and a dynamic area of public debate not beholden to any particular — private or public — interest.”

In this view, democracy presupposes rational and informed citizens, whose influence on the political decision-making process is not restricted to elections, but who are rational participators in the public debate about political issues. Unless citizens are educated to be critical, they lack the prerequisites for taking part in critical discussion and therefore in the rational guidance of society, since the values fostered by education as well as those applied to social and political life have to be established in the context of critical discussion.

In 1913, Frederick T. Gates, Director of Charity for the Rockefeller Foundation wrote in The Country School of Tomorrow: Occasional Papers Volume 1: “In our dreams, we have limitless resources and the people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present education conventions fade from their minds, and unhampered by tradition, we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive rural folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning, or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, editors, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have an ample supply…The task we set before ourselves is very simple as well as a very beautiful one, to train these people as we find them to a perfectly ideal life just where they are. So we will organize our children and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way, in the homes, in the shops and on the farm.” 

That is the original goal of the United States public school system. Everything about America’s schools was set up toward that objective. This is why America’s educational output is so mediocre in comparison to other industrialized nations, even though this country has more resources with which to educate its children than any other nation. If America’s children are ever to be educated in a way that makes them good critical thinkers and makes them qualified to handle the civic demands of a democracy, a radical shift in values needs to take place in America’s education community.

Finland’s stellar performance has drawn the attention of education and government officials around the world. These experts have uncovered many attributes of the Finnish educational system that are distinctive and contribute to the success of Finnish students. Some of these features are:

  • The Finnish school system uses the same curriculum for all students (which may be one reason why Finnish scores varied so little from school to school).
  • Students have light homework loads.
  • Finnish schools do not have classes for gifted students.
  • Finland uses very little standardized testing.
  • Children do not start school until age 7.
  • Finland has a comprehensive preschool program that emphasizes “self-reflection” and socializing, not academics.
  • Grades are not given until high school, and even then, class rankings are not compiled.
  • Teachers must have master’s degrees.
  • Becoming a teacher in Finland is highly competitive. Just 10% of Finnish college graduates are accepted into the teacher training program; as a result, teaching is a high-status profession. (Teacher salaries are similar to teacher salaries in the U.S., however.)
  • Students are separated into academic and vocational tracks during the last three years of high school. About 50% go into each track.
  • Diagnostic testing of students is used early and frequently. If a student is in need of extra help, intensive intervention is provided.
  • Groups of teachers visit each other’s classes to observe their colleagues at work. Teachers also get one afternoon per week for professional development.
  • School funding is higher for the middle school years, the years when children are most in danger of dropping out.
  • College is free in Finland.

Says Professor Jouni Välijärvi of the Institute for Educational Research at the University of Jyväskylä, and Project Manager of PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) for Finland: “In light of the PISA data, Finnish schools manage to activate learning among the whole age cohort more effectively than any other country. Students are not sorted into different groups or schools but different types of learners are learning together. In this kind of setting high achieving students seem to serve as positive models for their less advanced classmates. The pedagogy differs from that applied in systems characterized by tracking and streaming. Efforts are made to provide instruction to cater to the needs of different learners in terms of their skills and interests.”

Finnish educational practices may provide clues to improvement for the United States, but taken together they do not constitute a magical pill that will cure our educational blues. For one thing, Finland has a vastly more homogeneous population than the United States. Very few students in Finland speak a language at home other than Finnish. In the U.S., on the other hand, 8% of children are English language learners, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

This information points to the fact that different learning styles work for different children, depending on the culture practiced within their homes. In the still untitled book that I’m currently writing, I will demonstrate the similarities between European and Asian cultures which explain why those students both perform well in similar systems of education. I will also show the similarities in culture between Africans and Native American, which explains why children descended from those societies do not perform so well in educational systems that work well for Europeans and Asians. If the educational gap in America between Caucasian and Asian students on one hand, and Black and Latino students on the other hand, is ever to be closed, then different styles of learning and teaching will have to be embraced.

There are other things that need to be considered also. Another area where Finland is homogeneous is in school funding. All of Finland’s schools receive the same per-pupil funding, in contrast to the United States where school funding is based upon a complex formula that uses a local-funding component and creates inequities between affluent and poor communities. It is not difficult to see how that might lead to different educational outcomes for students from different socio-economic backgrounds.

Many people point to the existence of standardized tests as a major flaw in America’s schools. Välijärvi believes that some educational choices can produce results regardless of the demographics of a country. “During the last 20 to 30 years most of the industrialized countries have invested huge amounts of money and intelligence on external evaluations and standardized tests. Finland has not. Finland has invested in teacher education,” he says. “I dare to say that the profit of the Finnish investments has been greater.”

I could go on and on and on about this subject, but I won’t. In conclusion, the stakes in this issue are very high for America in general, but extremely high for African Americans. We make up approximately 12% of America’s population but approximately 50% of the prison population. We’ll save a discussion about the prison industrial complex for another day but for now consider this…In a 2011 Education Week article; the magazine highlighted a report by sociology professor Donald Hernandez who compared reading scores and graduation rates of almost 4,000 students. “A student who can’t read on grade level by 3rd grade is four times less likely to graduate by age 19 than a child who does read proficiently by that time. Add poverty to the mix, and a student is 13 times less likely to graduate on time than his or her proficient, wealthier peer,” read the report.

Couple that article with a study comparing dropout rates and incarceration rates in The New York Times, and one could draw a strong connection. The study by researchers at Northeastern University used a range of census data to find that “about one in every 10 young male high school dropouts is in jail or juvenile detention, compared with one in 35 young male high school graduates.” If Black people are going to prison more than anyone else, then it behooves us to declare a state of emergency on the 50% graduation rate for Black males. It is time for us to take a long and hard look at who is educating our children, how they are being educated, how they’re being miseducated, and what role every member of our community can play in fixing this problem. It is difficult to think of anything that is more important at this time.