Monday, February 29, 2016

St. Louis Kills Black Babies

by Tayé Foster Bradshaw, Maplewood MO

The sunny morning started with tear drops of sad news.

The St. Louis Missouri Police Department pulled over a young woman because the passenger looked at them as the car drove by.

There wasn't a traffic violation.

There was nothing but someone looking out of the window, something I do when my husband is driving, something my daughters do all the time. We are writers, observers of the world, the car window is our observation deck and reflection of daydreams, we just lay our head and stare.

This is how I imagine the scene.

This time, however, was different.

On the south side of St. Louis, one can not be young, black, female, and driving with her children in the car without the expectation of terror or death.

Two white police officers pulled them over, with guns drawn, approached the vehicle. They terrorized the family.  The babies started crying, the police aimed guns at them and told them to shut up.

How is a two year old and a four month old not going to respond in fear with scary white men in gear and guns aimed at them in their car seats?

St.  Louis kills black babies.

Just as surely as this nightmare will not end as long as white mothers in Chesterfield claim they are afraid and white hipsters move into Soulard to have the city experience, this nightmare will not end until those same mothers stand up with black mothers and say no more.

I posted on my facebook page "you are not that afraid."

It is a rouse, this so-called fear they tout. The police are there to carry out the wishes of the white majority. I told them that also. If they were not so "scared" the police would not be carrying out the acts of state murder on little ones.

The babies did not lose their natural lives last night.

But they did lose their innocence.

And a bit of their spirit was dashed.

My twenty-nine-year-old son told me, "Mama, you will be surprised what children remember."

Those babies will not remember the details of February 28, 2016, but they will forever associate the feeling of sheer terror with those white men in blue uniforms. And that is just what they want. That is what is fueling the Donald Trump GOP success, the so-called fear and the cesspool of racism.

White women, you are responsible for this.

Just as surely as if the women in Kirkwood and Ladue and Chesterfield and Clayton and on Lindell Blvd had pulled the gun out of their MK bag themselves, they are responsible for murdering the spirit of black children.

When will it stop?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Black Woman Thing

by Tayé Foster Bradshaw, a proud black woman of AfroLatina, African, and Creole ethnic heritage, proudly wearing her crown high and living that "black woman thing."

There was an interview on NPR with a young African-American woman talking about being black in the tech industry.

She talked about the opportunities that women of color are waiting to capture with their ingenuity and innovative ideas.

Her interview mentioned some collaborative efforts taking place in Atlanta and Portland to help these emerging entrepreneurs discover what they can do with their creative genius.

Then she talked about the well-known whitening of Silicon Valley and perhaps why that exists.

A venture capitalist said he didn't want to do "the black woman thing."

I was driving when I was listening to the radio and had to stop a bit longer at the stop sign and ponder what in the world that meant.

Thirty years on the other side of my professional work life and we are still experiencing backlash for being black and female.

When I lived and worked professionally in Chicago, I once cut off my past-the-shoulders hair and wore it in a curly afro. No one seemed to have an issue with it except for another black woman who was getting her hair fried and laid every two weeks. She essentially told me I was being an embarrasment.

My manager at the time was a black female, a bit older. I asked her what was wrong with my curly perfectly coiffed afro. She told me nothing.

Fast forward a decade and I again cut my past-the-shoulders staight hair and wore it in a curly afro, then in two-strand twists, and after I left that corporate entity, I let it loc.

The black woman thing with the natural hair during a time when there were very few of us was one of the things that made the white male Vice President deem me to be on the chopping block for those being laid off. There really wasn't an issue with my performance, all my reviews had been quite stellar, I had been a rising star prior to moving to that department. It wasn't my perfectly fitting suits from Halls or Casual Corner. It wasn't my matching scarves and designer purse. It was my hair.

Thirteen years as an independent consultant, fifteen consistent years with my hair natural, and it comes down to the fear of the black woman's embrace of self.

Béyoncé scared them. The BLM millennial women scare them. The formation scares them. The culture scares them. The assurance scares them. The confidence scares them. The presence scares them.

So they do what they sometimes do.

They try to cut us off.

Either by silencing us and the passive aggressive bullying of privileged PTO moms or the choking out of needed capital for expansion by their wealthy husbands, they try to eliminate our presence because we truly are the ones who carry the world on our shoulders.

Raising black girls to be independent and assured black women has taught me the power of their presence and their voice. I seek to keep impacting them so they can impact the world, regardless of what white man is afraid to see them one-on-one.

The black woman thing is beautiful, actually. We survived the unthinkable, from being raped by their men to raising their children to having to catch the tears of their women, we hold the secrets, the reality, the truth.  We nurtured our own children and supported our own men, even when they briefly were swayed like Kanye for the anyone-but-black woman with features that match our own.

It takes a lot to stand up and speak when they want our silence.

We create trends that they steal and call something other than what it is.

Our entire existence is copied and studied and they want to eliminate us from profit.

But the thing about that "black woman thing" is that we will not go away.

We survived.

We thrived.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Pondering Life Changes

The only thing we ever get is that dash.

That space between birth and death.

It is hopeful, promising, wonderful.

If we use it.

Time does not wait. Every last one of us is given a certain gift, thing, that only we can do. In a biblical sense, there is a scripture that celebrates our uniqueness, declaring that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" like clay in a potter's hands, sculpted as a wholly and completely one. Isn't that to ponder?

In the west, in America, we tend to celebrate those early unformed days of the dash. We celebrate youth, especially that ratings-and-trend-setting coveted 18-25 age range. That young adult who is still deciding who they will be apart from parental guidance and teenange angst, they get to put on "adulting" and decide who they will be.

The Millennial activists have turned the nation on it's axes and boldy declares existence and acceptance for who they are as individuals. They do not want to be swamped in like the Baby Boomer Is who were that first generation with all the stuff and opportunity. This new generation doesn't want to be a group, they want to be celebrated as that one different cherry on the coffee bean tree.

They got me to thinking about this dash.

I'm looking at thirty years behind me, when I was young and idealistic, when I finally became "legal" and thought of all the things I wanted to do.  I'm looking at thirty years in front of me, when I will be older and hopefully still idealistic, and wondering what do I want to do.

In the next few years of my life, I'm looking at my only daughters and last children prepare to leave the nest. The womanist in me wonders if I have equipped them with enough to make choices in a world where they are walking out with the expectation of being equal.

I'm looking at my sons make their way in their chosen careers and that only two of them will likely change my status from mother to grandmother. I wonder about the legacy that will be part of my long family history, where will this branch grow?

Life is about changes. If it wasn't it would be boring.

Time continues to evolve.

And time remains the same.

There truly is nothing new  under the sun.

We reinvent and renew.

And we change.

And it is good.

So let the change propel us to living that dash fully and leaving our gift for another to pick up and carry. That is the thing.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Connected Issues in Blackness

Tayé Foster Bradshaw, Kirkwood, Friday,February 19, 2016

Two days ago parents and supporters in the Hazelwood School District stood outside schools with signs of support for the students.

They set up a facebook page and urged everyone to come to the Tuesday, February 16, 2016 school board meeting to protest the proposed budget cuts that would affect PE and music, among other cuts, including cutting maintenance staff.

Parents were understandably upset that this suprise cut was announced without working information presented to the public.

Questions were asked all around from the high salaries of the superintendent and assistant superintendents to the catered meals at the board meeting. What about the students remained a constant underpining of what the parents were asking.

On Friday, they wanted the media to be present at an all-district orchestra concert to highlight the importants of the arts in education and urge the district to not cut the program. They have been quite vocal about their demands, reaching even to wanting the board members ousted. Three of the board members are African-American. Some residents have discussed the reactionary measures of parents who did not attend budgetary board meetings and now that the cuts for the next school year have been made public, are trying the issue in the court of public opinion.

Beneath it and how connections were made to a sister district twenty miles south was the fact that black students will once again be left behind.

This district, Kirkwood, has both had task force meetings to discuss the "achievement gap" at the same time there have been board meetings to eck out life without increased taxes. The music programs have not been touched, 25 teachers and 16 support staff are all without jobs. The proposal includes larger class sizes, increased distances for bus transportation, and student fees for extracurricular activities.

Another district, Jennings, has appointed an African-American male as the superintendent who once led Ferg-Flor until the all-white board ousted him, a district where Mike Brown was killed and that is predominately black. The new superintendent replaces the African-American female superintendent who quietly moved the district from underperforming to high performing. She thought revolutionary, in a primarily lower income community, and opened up a home for homeless students, allowes families to take care of essential needs like feeding their children and doing their laundry, creating an inclusive community. She showed what is possible.

Mention was made that it is all connected from "affluent" districts with "high property values" to those who are seeing plummeting property values in northern counties. It all has the appearance of an orchestrated attempt to either dismantle public education, devalue a predominately black school district (70% of the students identify as African-American), or completely destroy the region that brought disparities in health, income, education, and property to the national forefront through the Black Lives Matter protests that propelled after Mike Brown, Jr. was murdered.

This was just a couple weeks after Beyoncé put the world on notice, encouraged black women to get "in formation" and left white America scrambling to put a narrative around the images they did not understand. Right on the heals of retired white NFL players calling Cam Newton "boy" because of his refusal to entertain the press that wanted to rake him over the coals because the Panthers "lost" to Peyton Manning's white America glory.

The protest at Hazelwood mirrored one about a couple months ago. A similar group of parents and teachers met at the school board meeting in Kirkwood to voice their displeasure in the district cutting teachers, support staff, and department budgets after a tax increase did not pass the November ballot. The conversations are still happening, including demands for the superintendent's salary to be cut, certain board members to be recalled, and a reminder to not hurt the children in the process of adult decisions.

Monday night, during the Grammy's, artist Kendrick Lamar, left the audience speechless when he did a performance that highlighted the continued enslavement of black men in America. It was a bold move, an uncomfortable move by all the white faces in the crowd, that unapologetically used the medium of art to tell the story of those in chains in private prisons.

This is all connected.

Connect the dots from the election and the racialized rhetoric of Donald Trump and Rafeal Cruz to the continued over-policing of black bodies and 10:1 suspension rate of black children in St. Louis area schools. It is all part of the larger narrative.

February is Black History Month.

All across the country, there have been dings against black expression and existence.

Black girls in school were told they could not wear a Gélé during Black History Month, it was deemed unprofessional, so parents protested.

In Kirkwood, there was an African-American Achievement Award ceremony where middle and high school students with a 3.0 or above were recognized. It was met with some continued complaints from white parents who said the black kids should not be recognized for "just a 3.0" and from some black parents who said the white teachers and peers needed to be there who keep saying the "achievement gap" to cast dispersion on the intelligence of black students in the majority white district.

St. Louis city razed Kiener Plaza, displacing a lot of already displaced homeless people, to make way for a greenspace that is sure to just benefit the wealthy neighbors along Lindell Blvd.

It is all connected, this orchestrated dismantling of any cultural gain over the past 50 years.

PBS aired a documentary on the Black Panther Party. The same party that fed children and left the country with lasting legacies like Women-Infants-Children and school lunch. This is the same party that has been compared to the Ku Klux Klan as a "hate group." Of course non of this is true and even those making the loose comparisons know it is true, they are just trying to derail any conversations of racism and classism that continue to cripple most of the black community.

All this is wrapped  up in the continued discussions of President Obama's intended Supreme Court pick after Justice Antonin Scalia passed away on Sunday. The week in racial rhetoric escalated to the point of Mitch McConnell demanding that this two-term, overwhelmingly-elected president just serve three  years of his second term, that he not be allowed to choose the justice. The republicans suddently realized that this election matters even more than they thought while their clown circus continues between Trump, Cruz, Rubio and the rest. Hillary and Bernie are both battling it out. It is all undercoated in race, Clinton and Sanders are both pandering in South Carolina, memes all over facebook, wondering if black folks are going to listen to Cornel West or Jesse Jackson.

Blackness is the connected tissue.

Popular women's magazines are appropriating black style and calling it something other than millennia-old corn rows. This is after they tried with the white girls in afro tutorials or the criminalizing of black women in Iowa and Texas who have been doing natural hair to the school in Barbados, an AfroCaribbean nation, exhibiting its colonialism by telling black school girls that they must straighten their hair to attend class.

What is the fear of the black woman?

What is the fear of the black man?

What is the fear of the black child?

When examining the sociopoliticalcultural issues of this past week, it is clear that there is nothing new under the sun and connect-the-dots will continue until black lives really matter and people can just exist without the perpetual game playing with people's lives.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Unapologetically Black, Human, and Speaking Out

The past few days were a swirl of events that all lined up to somewhat say what I have been trying to say for a while.

First, the community where I live has an inflated view of itself as a wanna-be-country-club estate inner suburb of nine square miles. We have the superintendent who has the gold platted package, the school board that doesn't seem to be listening, the massive budget cuts that have riled up the students and have seen a twitter war between a board member and a beloved journalism teacher. That was all against the backdrop of strongly worded emails from the administration to editorials in the newspaper that chastised the voters for their "willfullness" in not passing their tax increase.

Second, this same community has a huge race problem that gets hush-hushed. There may be rumblings of it during the task force meeting to discuss "the African American Achievement Gap" or other things that cause the all white teachers to wring their hands. Meanwhile, all is not right behind the trees of their estates.

Third, our same community has a massive, like huge Super Bowl Commercial worthy herion problem that is wrecking havoc in the storied wanna-be-mansions along Argonne, Taylor, and Woodbine, among others. Three students died in a year at the high school. It went from community gossip and hushed converstions at the local coffee shop to front page news on Saturday, February 6, 2016, the same day as the Mardi Gras Parade and a bunch of known drinking parties and night clubing on Woodbine. The image is just getting cloudier and cloudier.

Fourth, the school board announced more and more cuts. They want to charge for extra curricular activities and busing, increase class sizes by 10-20%, in some cases, and effectively punish the just-under-6000 students who attend this small district. They want to make it so painful, intentionally, that the parents will go back and pass, without question, whatever tax proposal they are scheming  up for next school year. Just watch.

Fifth, the drop of Beyoncé's Formation Video on Saturday was all kinds of life and happiness because she took her bold confidence and addressed everything from slavery to free people of color to Katrina to black lives matter. It was simply wonderful. It was validation, it was a free lesson for all the white folks (some are well meaning) who simply don't know where to start on teaching about the sociocultural issues that are wrapped abound the systemic racism in this country. Show the video and them read the many analyses about it, including some lessons on New Orleans Creole culture, black southern culture, how Dr. King was not just their dreamer, and definitely about the Black Panther Party.

Sixth, Cam Newton and the Panthers were much talked about and celebrated before the Super Bowl. His faith was examined in some churches on Sunday (to be fair, along with Peyton Mannings) and his style was on some fashion radars. His winning smile, confidence, and of course, that dab. He is a black quarterback, a feat in itself considering the very white-owned NFL tends to act like black men do not have the strategic thinking and leadership to be the center of the team. We, even us non-football lovers, all were rooting for Cam. He is young, younger than my two older sons, and had so much on his shoulders. The press was examining everything, the haters were on it and then, then came Sunday.

Seventh, The pressure was too much. He was young, I'm not a football analyst, so the fumbles, the missed catches, the excitement, the injury, the better executed defense all lead to the Denver Broncos beating the Carolina Panthers for the win for Super Bowl 50. Peyton Manning, a very white man who did not do much to win the game, was going to get his ring, the trophy was going with Denver, and he would be able to retire in glory as a more senior player. Meanwhile, young Cam Newton was visibly disappointed, who wouldn't be. The game was huge, nevermind all he did to lead his team to this place, he just didn't do it and during the media bully session, he refused to fully engage them, simply saying, "I'm sorry." They wanted to rake him over the coals, falsely accuse him of poor sportsmanship, untrue, he smiled and congratulated Peyton Manning, and were mad he was not stepping and fetching for the blood thirsty press. He is human and in that very real black man moment, he showed that human side. He is still Cam, still wonderful, and still has a lot of years to get that ring.

Eighth, Mrs. Carter, Beyoncé. She nailed it with her Super Bowl Show. She and her all female dance squad marched out in Formation dressed in all black. Every bit of love and acceptance exuded in her mesh of history from honoring Michael Jackson to the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Black Panther Party to the love of black women (see all those fros!), and the reminder that black lives matter, justice was still being fought for, and we weren't going anywhere. It was such a moment, followed by the commercial for her Formation Tour, that my middle school daughters, were jumping up and down with all kinds of confidence. Representation matters. And it angered the white folks. And Bey didn't care, she made magic.

Ninth, bringing all of this back home the African American Achievement Awards on Thursday, and a community forum on the achievement gap. The first morning assembly is to recognize and applaud those black students in this district  who have a 3.0 or above. Last I checked, a 3.0 was honor roll. So, there are some, a little mixed girl among them, that are running around crying racism that this event is happening. Nevermind that it is during Black History Month and may be a bit of a token, after all, it is not in the Keating in the evening, the rest of the students' friends, teachers, and community will not be there, and it may feel like a bit of an appeasement, but it is not racist. It is a bandaid of a much larger issue. In some ways it is a bit of Black Students Matter and a bit of celebration. We will see.

This week was a big pot of gumbo that was all black smiles, black hair, black culture, and black love.  Time to "get in formation" because my sistas and I are going to keep writing, keep speaking, and keep teaching, regardless of who is mad. We got our paper.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Other Day When There was Sunshine

I live in a city that can go from the tropics to the frozen tundra inside of one week.

It happens almost within one day. Sometimes, it catches one off guard, they leave home thinking of the warm and fuzzy morning, only to return home in a frigid atmosophere.

The political climate in my little suburb is alot like that.

We  moved here, my husband chose it here because of the community support of the visual and performing arts from illustrators and sculptors to instrumentalists in band and orchestra and dancers. The high academics helped create an atmosphere that fostered learning. Our youngest son graduated from the local high school and is a senior in college. Our daughters are on their way to Carnegie Hall, in middle school, and each is on the honor roll.

So, what was the wind of frosty change in my little piece of America?

It was a combination of the curtain being pulled back from the land of Oz to expose the little man behind the microphone. It was a ruse, a lie, an imagination.

The powers-that-be are scrambling around trying to answer to the public who soundly refuted a tax increase before the concrete is fully set on the swanky new Olympic-sized pool. The press box has barely broken in award winning high school journalism, and the coveted spot as a "destination district" is in danger of ruining many real estate careers.

What happened?

Many folks I've talked with are in small coffee shop hush-hush booths trying to figure out if their high six-figure or seven figure house will sell when the school district starts to implode after already giving teachers a pink slip and sending a sense of dread through the hallways.

There were some who questioned how we got there, who endured reading the emails from the "highest paid superintendent in the region" trying to chastise the parents of the almost 5900 students who walk the halls of the one preschool, five elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school. Was it the parents' fault that sixty percent, mostly seniors, gave  resounding no to the big ask back in November?

The gray cloud of the sudden temperature change from yesterday to today continues in the halls of academia. Beloved teachers and administrators are retiring so younger (and the few black ones hired) won't lose their jobs. Alumni are sending out facebook messages asking their fellow graduates to send in checks for copies, and the handwringing continues.

Something many are still waiting to hear is if the superintendent, with a package of close to $300,000, will be taking a salary cut. What about the dual income (husband and wife, mother and son, nephew and aunt, etc) in the district will have a cut. Talk circled around the square of the teachers who don't live here but get to send their children here for free, while the desegregation students pay upwards of $7000 to come to the unwelcoming suburbs in search of academic excellence.

Clouds of suspension are all around this Peyton Place.

Why didn't they fully plan for the school year when they made the budget in the spring and summer when they gave the 2.5% increases to teachers? Did they anticipate a November ballot with this being the only issue would ensure victory with lower turnout? Did they understimate the over 65-crowd who hoped to age into their homes and had educated their children here without iPad Minis and swanky swimming pools? Were they so tied up with marketing to the out-of-towners and tearing down affordable homes for McMansions on a crowded street? What was the misguided thing that had them coming for this hat-in-hand while living like they were eating filet mignon?

More questions than answers have filtered all throughout the community, even to the often ignored black population who are tired of the accusatory emails and letters in the newspaper from the board president.  The conclusion is that this certainly means the zero black teachers at the high school won't change any time soon and the 40% of lower income black students performing below a 3.0 will not have any attention this school year or even next.

Has this made them have a come-to-Jesus moment to look at the man-in-the-mirror?

What will it take for them to change their ways?

Will there have to be a tsunami of angry teachers, parents, and alumni?  Will the skewed message of the district being #3 in the state be refuted by the recent declaration that a public magnet school on the other side of the state is #1 in the country? Will the made-up-measurements by a second-rate magazine continue to rule the day? The rankings that were a gimmick on colleges that translated down to public and then private schools have made and destroyed many communities.  Will the funding of education finally be level, fair, and follow the students so that all of them can have a twenty-first education. Or will the shell game continue.

It is frigid outside, a major 40-degree temperature drop in one day.

Just like the chill that is in the air since November and definitely since the students returend from winter break in January.

It has only been one month and it is feeling a lot like the community is frozen.

There isn't a school board election this year, the two that were elected in 2013 filed and essentially walked back on because no one wanted to run in this period of discontent.

Perhaps this would have been the year for someone to actually run and bring the discussion to the community.

Last year was an election and there was a lot of talk about the achievement gap and little about the budget crisis. The powers-that-be seemed to keep that from the public, painting a rosy picture and creating wonderful images of the "destination district" with the ready-family homes for people from other suburbs to relocate to this nine-square-mile town.  More smoke and mirrors, perhaps?

Small town politics have an immediate impact on lives, more important, at times, than the circus that is the current Presidential election. Decided on more than a coin toss or a bunch of people crowded into a midwestern state, what happens here is instant.

So, it makes some of us wonder why there isn't discussion of recalling the board members who were around in 2009 and got us in this mess.  Sure, some of them are not sitting in those seats, one is running for mayor, but there are others.  What about in 2010 or 2011? 2012? 2013 during that contentious election, 2014 when those ladies walked on unchallenged, 2015 when their was an election. Why didn't they put the Proposition on the ballot then? Were they trying to pull the wool over the community's eyes?

Maybe none of it matters, maybe the chill will wear off, someone will dig deep in their pockets and rescue the superintendent, like someone dug deep for the pool, maybe there is another wealthy family waiting in the wings ready to put their name in stone. Or perhaps they are sending their children to one of the toney private schools that dot the sister suburbs.

The other day there was sunshine and a fairly close community that valued the visual and performing arts, that showed up for orchestra concerts and the Turkey Day Game, and that were ok with little Johnny being in a classroom with 24 of his peers, that didn't really want or need five more classrooms so the local teacher,a graduate of the district, would only have to grade 15 papers a night. Maybe just maybe the change will be good for everyone and the superintendent will actually earn all that money in one of the smallest districts in the region.

Until then, put on the heavy coats, it will be freezing for a while.