Thursday, March 3, 2016

I Can’t Watch It...

I can’t watch it...

“Knowing of our ancestor’s pain allows us to better know and animate their healing and restorative powers. It is also the path to their power animating us.”
- Wekesa Madzimoyo

This journey started for our students last semester. The vehicle is the course - The Economic Conundrum. 

Last semester, you will recall, there were several revelations as we sought to learn about Black Economic prowess and Black Economic Nationalism in the early 20th Century.

This prowess produced:

  • Black Wall Street (the Greenwood District in Tulsa, OK), 
  • Another Black Wall Street (the Hayti District in Durham, NC), 
  • Another center of Black commerce in Atlanta (Sweet Auburn), 
  • And yet another in rural North Florida (Rosewood) 
  • And more, many more. We created 50 Black towns in OK alone

  •   The Black community and our students have come to see that historical period as mostly as a series of White massacres of Black power
  •   We actually know little about that the Black power of that period, or how we built it, used, or sustained it.
  •   Sadly, we often use our references to that power to launch attacks on each other for not having or not exercising that power for our good today.
  •   The dominant narratives and white oppression hinder our telling two stories which are critical to that period and to Black economic and social power today:
    •   How just 50 years out of chattel bondage, Africans built those (and other) economic and social power centers
    •   How we battled the white invasions of our communities in ways that inspire us to continue to fight and to continue to build or rebuild

Charting a new course, as you remember, these revelations turned the language arts course - Soul Power: Writing From the Inside-Out, and The Economic Conundrum courses in slightly different directions.

The most challenging writing assignment was for the students to write about the white invasions of our economic and social centers, and our battling them. They were to create fictional stories based on the historical truths based on research study. 

The assignment was made difficult by the requirement that their story about our
defeats at Tulsa and Rosewood had to inspire Black readers to continue to fight and to build. I remember one student asking: "How can a story of defeat be inspiring?"

The goals were for them to uncover the learned obstacles to telling OurStory and to overcome them by practicing and writing an “Inside-Out” version of the invasions and battle. This challenge went beyond an adept placement of character, setting, plot, to disturb and heal their psychological conditioning. Some students worried about losing their white friends. Others worried that we might sink down to the level of the invaders. 

Through it all these high school students became tremendously creative and discovered much about themselves and their writing. Key discoveries were about their own “injected oppression,” and how Hollywood and the storytelling by whites had influenced their writing without their knowing or permission.

That journey has spawned the first AYA Stor-riculum - 

Our Economic Prowess From The Inside-Out:
 Healing Alienation and Trauma
(Publication Available April 4th, 2016)

Now for the sequel -

Last semester, we noted, studied a bit, and ultimately put off until this semester the more challenging assignment - Telling OurStory of economic and social power in the early 20th century before their invasions and our heroic battles, the story of why and how we successfully exercised such economic nationalism and economic power a mere 50 years out of captivity. Not only were we prolific business starters, we were cooperative builders. We knitted a Black community social fabric which sustained those businesses, and sustained us. Whatever mojo they had working, we could use a little of that today.

This story is really a pre-quel - it came first. We had to have had created something worth having and worth defending long before the invasion. This fantastic story of grit, creativity, faith, and intelligence and power was pushed to this semester because of another revelation:

  • While we may know lists of African historical creations and over-comings, we lack knowledge characters, or characters with depth from whose lives and choices we can extract possibilities and power for our own lives today; we lack setting, details, and visions of our ancestors’ ordinary and extra-ordinary actions; we lack plots that give powerful meaning to their actions - then, and to our lives today.

For example, one student admired the architectural design and building of the Odd Fellows building on Auburn Ave, that was a part of Sweet Auburn. While admiring, it hadn’t occurred to her that African minds designed it, and African hands erected it. How could she make the readers see and appreciate Afrikan men building it, when she didn't see them in her own mind?

Another student who read that we were carpenters had no idea, nor any real picture of what carpenters did, much less what challenges they faced, nor how to access or assess their skill or accomplishments. 

It became clear that a mere listing of accomplishments and the names of Black greats was insufficient to reveal the secrets of our amazing economic prowess 50 years out of bondage.

We had to go back home - in more ways that one. Here is the plan this semester:

To "story" the secrets we have to start on The Continent - Afrika prior to European colonization. We’ll have to find stories showing our productivity and our considerable skills in action. After Pre-Colonial Afrika, we’ll follow and find the productivity and skills-in-action stories warped and hidden under duress - captivity and white racial oppression in the Americas. Finally, fighting our way out of chattel bondage, we’ll be prepared to reveal how we achieved so much in such a short time from 1865-1920s  

We’re looking for warrior-healer-builder stories, because this is AYA, and that’s what we do. However, we needed more specificity, so we turned to one of our scholar-guides - Baba John Henrik Clarke. Upon reflecting on leadership  to help "our people will stay on this earth," Baba Clarke generated five questions that provided a framework for our search for warrior-healer-builder stories:

How will we be housed?
How will we be fed?
How will we be clothed?
How will we be educated?
How will we be defended?

To those AYA has added:

How will we be governed?
How will we be healed?

Students are on the journey searching for stories of us housing, feeding, clothing, educating, defending, governing, and healing ourselves. 

It is the “how we healed” search that has stimulated this installment. 

“I can’t watch it,” she said. “I’ve seen it before and can’t watch it again.” 
Two other sisters followed her lead. "It’s your choice," I said. Others continued to watch.

"It" was the iconic scene from Haile Gerima’s classic Sankofa where Mona becomes Shola. The ancestors snatch her through a time portal, and she finds herself in the bowels of a dungeon filed with captured Africans on the West Coast of our homeland. 

She’s screams "I'm not Afrikan, I'm American." It is to no avail. The white gun-welding captors overpower her, snatch off her blouse and with a red hot iron sear their brand in to her back. Layered onto the sounds of her screams and sizzling skin is Aretha’s Franklin’s rendition of Precious Lord. The song provides a bridge to her resolving herself to her captured status, and at the same time offers hope of relief and redemption. When the captors leave her searing in emotional and physical pain, she’s aided by other solemn Afrikan men in chains.

Once done, I asked the sisters who declined to watch what were they feeling that prompted their opting out. One said: “I feel afraid.” “Of what,” I said. “What’s the danger?” I asked in a respectful tone, for emotions hold honored places here at AYA. 

“That some of those people are still around,” she said. Others chimed in - agreeing. I told her that her fears are well founded for the same kind of people that branded Mona/Shola, were around - White police, business executives, educators. Another student added her fear that “it might happen again.” Again, I affirmed that her fears we’re well founded, and that indeed , “it could,” and “we are the only ones who will prevent it.”

The students know the AYA Feelings as Messengers model, so I asked the entire class what’s needed when we feel afraid. They responded: “protection, support, and reassurance.”  "Great," I said, "now the question is how do we protect ourselves from Europeans holding us in bondage and brutalizing us again?" 

The discussion was enlightening. And they all agreed that what we are doing in this class was a small, though significant part of the protection that they sought. Another student amended her first statement to say: “Instead of scared, I really feel sad and mad.” We affirmed that we all felt those feelings too.

I added that to write the story of our past and continued recovery, we need to know of the pain of our ancestors. I reasoned, if they saw me put a band-aid on a small cut on my hand, they wouldn’t notice or think my effort significant. If, on the other hand, they saw my finger hanging half-off, then saw me heal it, they’d have a greater appreciation of my healing power and skill. 

Accentuating our healing power and skill,  I assured them, is the purpose of our letting ourselves see and re-experience - in some small way - the pain our ancestors endured. “Your work,” I said “is to create and tell stories to touch our people so they can see and feel our ancestors’ healing power. These stories will not only be inspirational, they will also be restorative and instructional for us today”

For those who watched or remembered the Mona-to-Shola scene in Sankofa, I asked them to imagine what healing would be needed for Mona/Shola to get from this point of searing pain, extraction from homeland, etc. to where she’s actively cooperating with our people to build and maintain Rosewood, Sweet Auburn, The Hayti District, and Greenwood in Tulsa?

The list was powerful, and will help guide our search.

I reminded them that European brutality was designed to turn us into brutes to reduce white guilt with the rationale that if we acted like “animals, we deserved their treatment.” Reduced to animals, they believed we would come to distrust, disown, and devour each other. 

That didn’t happen. “Our ancestors were powerful healers!” 

They agreed, and now our search for our pain, our recovery strategies and our success begins in earnest. 

It will not be an easy journey. 

16 Bullets!

“16 Bullets,” “I Can’t Breath,” “Hands-Up, Don’t Shoot,”
and a bag of Skittles makes it an arduous journey. 

You see, the resurgent racism that we face today is what stimulates the fear response more quickly in these students that than at times in the past. 

Their seeking to avoid that fear will push our people and our youth to seek and live marginal and escapist stories or delusional ones that either 1. deny there is a problem, 2. promote "shaming" or "educating white folk as the solutions," or worst,  3. promoting stores that blame us for the old and resurgent racism we’re experiencing. 

Here, at AYA and in this class the students have accepted a mission to become restorative learners, researchers, and tellers. They’re learning to tell our stories in ways that will restore themselves and our people as warriors, healers, and builders. 

This mission, in concert with their being with others on the same journey, gives them a sense of safety, direction and power to resolve their fears and sadness. It gives direction to their anger. It gives purpose and hope during these perilous times.

My guess is that studying the warrior-healer-builder strategies of our ancestors will provide them even more powerful possibilities as well.

I’ll keep you posted... 

Interested in the class for *high school students and up, your study group, or interested in learning how to teach it? AYA is offering it during spring break as a morning class 9 am-11:30am, April 4th-8th. This will be a live audio and video web-conferenced based class with Wekesa Madzimoyo as the primary instructor. Your children can access from home, church or community centers. Complete interest form HERE

*Younger students can participate with parental support or special permission. Use the interest form to ask for any exception.