Thursday, April 17, 2008

Servitude...with a SMILE :)

BG loves the kids! I've always been connected to community service and particularly with young people. I really dug being a camp counselor during the summer of '90 at the Riverdale Neighborhood House. I was still having a good time after school volunteering throughout my high school years at Fieldston working with the kids and teens. When it came time for graduation, my gifted program, Albert G. Oliver Program (AGO) acknowledged my efforts during our recognition ceremony. I killed it with the hours, logging over 400 if I recall correctly.

Giving back transferred to college when I created programs on campus to fill a void for those of us interested in pursuing that entertainment path. I still maintained that servitude with Real Stories post-grad for about 3 years doing the panel discussion, organization thing with my girl Francois and our peeps Big O. Along the way though, people wanted to hear me speak, share my story or moderate a discussion. Here I am still growing and somebody asked me to drop gems to the young folk behind me...even my peers at times. Quite humbling to say the least, but as a result I have an ill speakers resume. Rocking the minds from 8 to 68, it's been a journey of humility to look out into a crowd of people and know that something you said has touched them, gave them a light bulb moment, or perhaps inspired them in some way.

Last week was a good week to serve. For the past 3 years my girl Sherise organized the Break Into The Music conference at her Alma-Mata North Carolina Central University. Sherise calls me her "mentor," which is a loaded term to me because for as much as she says I give to her, she equally gives to me...but I digress. She took care of all the accommodations last year when I moderated 2 panels on the biz, but this year was a completely different level. A lil deja vu' /T.R.O.Y. ("They Reminisce Over You" for all the Pete Rock/CL fans) when I stepped on campus. It was a different experience for many reasons this time around...(dot dot dot) Same accommodation deal but this time I was co-moderating a discussion on W.E.B. DuBois' Talented Tenth Theory. Resy paired me with writer, educator, activist Ed "Sweet Tea" Garnes from A-Town. The homie has his own social movement poppin off with his homeboy Sugar, Afros to Shelltoes about bridging the inter-generational gap. So needless to say, my orator skills had to pop off at a different level. I'm so used to using my creative right brain that shifting gears to academia was a lovely departure from the norm. On the dais that beautiful Wednesday afternoon in Durham:

  • Chuck Creekmur - CEO/Co-Founder,
  • Dr. Mark Anthony Neal - Prof. of Blk Popular Culture Dept AFAM Studies, Duke U.
  • Sakiya Sandifer - Author, CEO, We Think Movement
  • Christopher "Play" Martin - CEO, HP4 Digital Works; Artist in Residence, NCCU
  • Rev. Carl Kenny - Founding Pastor, Compassion Ministries
  • Kristal Moore - Black Feminist Activist Scholar; Doctoral Candidate/Instructor @ UNC Chapel Hill
  • Gayle Hurd - Event Planner, Ballen Media; Dir. Special Events, WNCU
  • Larisha Stone - NCCU Mass Communications Major
  • YahZarah - indy recording artist
  • Dr. Charmaine McKissick-Melton- Assoc. Prof English & Mass Communication, NCCU

  • Written in 1903, the theory basically explores the aesthetic that there will be an exceptional group of educated individuals (The Talented Tenth) who will propel the black race forward. Now I already said this was written at the turn of the 20th when Ed and I discussed how we were going to dissect our flow, clearly there were some topics to unearth - gender, leadership, education, politics/economics, community...Did I mention we only had an hour, hour and a half max, to reel in the game.

    As the discussion goes or rather went, we intro our talented panelists, dropped science on the theory itself and a lil knowledge on the good Dr. Dubois himself and then asked the question, "is the Talented Tenth theory relative in 2008?" Off to the races we went. Bobbing and weaving throughout our esteemed group, Ed and I created our own cultural aesthetic playing a cool game of pick up and post up down low on the proverbial college court. We rocked between dissecting applicable class dynamics (educated vs. trade skills) of the time and transcendence within the current socio-economic-politico structure of our world today. The B.N. Duke Auditorium connected with all of us. Heads nodded, applause escalated when gems were dropped, even a few reactionary "uh-huh," "amen," and "go head" were espoused for emphasis. I left feeling like I learned something...and I did!

    Beyond getting hip to the theory itself, I felt like we engaged in a healthy dialogue beyond the rhetoric of the music. Real talk, the systematic approach of how we uplift our community, any community for that matter, begins with an individual taking responsibility for themselves. The finger pointing, circle jerk is so passe. Ed and I wrapped a taste on that prior to the panel with regard to what some perceived as the elitist perspective that DuBois represented. While he did call for the formally educated to take the lead, what he ultimately acknowledged is that we're all not going to do the formal education thing, but play your position. Dubois wraps the theory by saying -

    "Education and work are the levers to uplift a people. Work alone will not do it
    unless inspired by the right ideals and guided by intelligence. Education must
    not simply teach work — it must teach Life. The Talented Tenth of the Negro race must be made leaders of thought and missionaries of culture among their people."

    It felt like we didn't have nearly enough time to address everything. And the solution part of our dialogue wasn't going to resolve itself simply by that afternoon, but the challenge is to remain critical thinkers. Yeah, I was hype off the trip and the overall dialogue. I had stepped onto my old stomping ground at NYU's campus about 2 weeks prior thinking I needed to challenge myself more...Get my critical dissection on. Thanks again for the opp Resy...looking forward to FAMU and UCLA in 2009 :)

    Saturday was fast approaching and so was my 4 hour commitment to Hip Hop 4 Life. Five years in existence, I sit on the Advisory Board and Host the radio show for the non-profit designed to empower youth to engage in a healthy lifestyle. I've given my time over the years participating in and moderating discussions for their signature, all female Shades of Beauty event. On Saturday morning I caught a ride down to the event with Sharon, one of my mentors, an industry veteran and my neighbor. :)

    HH4L partnered with GirlsQuest for this Shades of Beauty event and it was wonderful. For their efforts, GirlsQuest is a non-profit that empowers young women from disadvantaged backgrounds. All these girls, ages 13 - 17, had as much to share with us as we did with them. The theme of the day RESPECT. The interactive dialogue began with us picking a song that represented the book we want to write about our life. Ironically enough, I've been tossing around the book idea since last year. Researching here and there....and I shared my song - Mary J. Blige inspired - simply My Life. That album and song made my entire sophomore year of college an introspective experience. I would wake up to it every morning...peep it again when you get a chance.

    My GirlsQuest/HH4L highlight came with the simple gesture of a cut out - a heart and a star. The heart represented the co-sign. When a sista told a story or made a comment that we identified with or related to, you raise up the heart. When a sista sparked a new idea, uplift the star. Simple yet genius! The inspiration is in the details...the little ones at that.

    I spent the day listening mostly. It's amazing to hear where young women are in their life, with their emotions and with their spirit. It's good and positive, good and deep. They need the same love and support I needed at their age. Shoot, the same love and support I desire to have now. Different yet relatable. We (me, Sharon, Nikki, Abiola, Rowthania) really just dropped some life jewels on the ladies as we supported one another through our sharing.

    The HH4L executive team, Tanisha and Ianna, really moved us through the day with high energy and excitement. From conversations on hip hop to a demonstration from Chef Syncere about fun factoids on eating right and creating an atmosphere for a healthy lifestyle, I was so glad I got up early on this particular Saturday morning.

    By the time we moved to lunch and created the poster boards of what beauty looked like to my girls, as exhibited through the pages of Essence, Shape and Vibe magazines, I saw each of their personalities shine though. My 3 young ladies repped the spectrum - one shy, one confident and mature and one vocal.

    So we each group had an opp to present what their definition of beauty was. Amazing how these magazine images were transformed and articulated by these fierce young ladies. It took a second for a few to warm up, but most did. While we recognized the dynamic of a sacred space, by the end of our session at 3pm, even the most timid of young ladies represent beauty to the rest of us.

    I am so thankful I was able to participate. I had to shoot to work right after the session ended, but it was time well spent. I not only look forward to the next opportunity to speak, I look forward to my next opp to share. It's slightly cliche, but I do remember seeing myself in those students at NCCU and those young women at HH4L/GirlsQuest. Fearless, bold, shy, confident, inquisitive, hungry, eyes wide open...its an amazing time to explore...And I continue to give thanks that I have something to share...just as so many have made deposits into my life on the journey!

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