Thursday, March 28, 2013

0 From Malcolm Little to Lil' Wayne

Note: This editorial was originally sent to the hip-hop website "" following the backlash of an editorial by social commentator and author, Dr. Boyce Watkins which was published on their site. In the editorial, Watkins examines the parallels of the lives of a young Malcolm X and Lil' Wayne, from a sociological perspective, discussing how they were both products of a similar social structure (Click here to read Dr. Watkins' editorial)

Yet, Watkins editorial was met with an overwhelmingly negative response from readers who found the thought of even comparing Lil' Wayne's life to Malcolm X's to be an insult.

Me, feeling as if most readers completely missed Watkins point, decided to write a response editorial to

Yet, the editors of never published the editorial nor did they respond to my email.

Here's what I had to say:

Apparently a lot of readers were up in arms after reading Dr. Boyce Watkins’ editorial “What Lil Wayne has in common with Malcolm X”. Many people responded with a sentiment of outrage, saying things like, “How dare he compare Lil Wayne to Malcolm X!” or “This article is a disgrace!” 

Some even went as far as to diss Dr. Watkins personally, one reader called him “a f*cking idiot”.

These comments revealed to me a big problem of today which is the fact that in the era of internet journalism, many people don’t a) actually READ ARTICLES FULLY, nor do they b) think critically and analyze what they read.

Of course Lil' Wayne is no Malcolm X, that’s obvious. Malcolm X was one of the biggest champions for African American people as well as one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, hands down. But that wasn’t the point that Dr. Watkins was trying to make.

Dr. Watkins wasn’t saying that we should look up to Lil' Wayne as we do Malcolm X.

He wasn’t saying that their messages are similar.

He wasn’t saying that their early lives are completely similar.

If people actually took the time to read and understand what Dr. Watkins was saying they’d realize he was making an even deeper point. Importantly, he was stating that Lil Wayne is a product of the same system that developed a young Malcolm X.

Some might say, “How in the world is Wayne a victim of the system? He’s rich.”

Well, contrary to common belief, being rich is not the same thing as being free. As Chris Rock once said “Rich is some sh*t you can lose with a crazy summer and a drug habit.”

Lil' Wayne is a victim of the mentality which living in the poor conditions of America’s inner city creates within many Black men. He grew in one of the most impoverished areas of New Orleans, embraced gang culture, had few positive male role models as a young man and he’s become a victim of America’s drug addiction culture.

So, it shouldn’t be any surprise that a lot of his music reflects negative images, this is what he knows and was raised on.

Dr. Watkins’ point is not to say that we should feel sorry for Wayne and not hold him accountable for his message. He’s saying that there is potential to push Wayne in a positive direction. 

But of course, naysayers will say “it’s not possible” or say “he’s a lost cause”, yet ironically, at one time people probably said the same thing about another young man.

This young man, like Wayne, lost his father at a young age, abused drugs, embraced the lifestyle of the streets and even did prison time. 

However, while he was in prison, this young man had people who saw his potential and stepped in to help him change for the better.

This young man would go on to become the man we know as Malcolm X.
Malcolm Little, circa 1944

Wayne is not a Malcolm X or a Martin Luther King, but he does have the potential to be a man who has a positive effect on the world. As Dr. Watkins stated “Malcolm X is what the caterpillar becomes when he’s grown into a butterfly.”

As corny as it might sound, what WE have to be is the cocoon that helps not only Wayne, but other young men and women transition from that “Caterpillar stage”.

Our young brothers and sisters have potential to be so much more and have a positive effect on the world if only they are educated and guided in the right direction.

Too often, we become so caught up in casting judgment on people we fail to recognize our own room for growth and the fact that their struggle are largely relating to our own.

We’ll think of a million reasons to say why someone is “hopeless” or a “lost cause”, but won’t provide one method of helping people.

Yet as Benjamin Franklin once said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain, and most fools do.”

Therefore, our job is to not only improve upon ourselves but to put effort into loving our misguided brothers and trying to help them… by any means necessary.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

0 I AM Philadelphia's Youth: Why the inner-city youth's problems are the city's problems

In January of 2012, I was at home in Philadelphia for winter break. As refreshing as it was to be around family and friends, I also had my memory refreshed as to the harsh realities of the city. By this time, I had already spent nearly five years in the quiet college town of Edinboro, PA, and I almost forgot about the deep rooted social ills which existed in "The City of Brotherly Love". 
Violent crime, unemployment and inadequate education were still major problems within the city. I thought to myself, "There are major institutional and structural problems with the city of Philadelphia." Yet, to my surprise, a great deal of the outrage and discontent of many Philadelphians was directed toward the youth of Philadelphia's inner city... or what rapper Tupac Shakur referred to as the "outer city" because of belief that inner city youth are being "left out" of the progression of American society as a whole.
I thought, how can we hate the ones who are merely the product of the life we gave them?  
This editorial which I sent to the Philadelphia Daily News, was my reaction to this atmosphere of disdain that I saw toward the youth of Philadelphia.
Published in The Philadelphia Daily News
January 11, 2012
Every day I hear more and more talk about the problems of Philadelphia's inner-city youth, from the summer's violent, rowdy "flash mobs" to more serious crimes. It seems as if, increasingly, the most common focus of negative media coverage and criticism when it comes to Philly's problems is our youth. Let it be known, I use the word "youth" loosely as a term to encompass anyone under the age of 30 who hasn't necessarily reached full maturity.

Now, don't get me wrong - some of this criticism is well-deserved because, quite frankly, many our youth exhibit horrendous behavior.

Yet, what baffles me is how people talk about the youth as if they were savages, as if their problems are not rooted in our own. What many people fail to understand are the many societal factors that play a major role in Philly's inner-city youth problems.
Many of these troubled youths come from dysfunctional homes, where there is minimal parental guidance in their households. This lack of family role models plays a tremendous part in a young person's development.
Then, in their communities there isn't exactly an abundance of role models, either, and many of the people who become role models are often products of these broken homes as well.
On top of that, one of the main problems in Philadelphia that affect the youth is that there is a lack of community. Many people don't have enough of a bond with the people who live in their neighborhoods, nor do they care to help these people; consequently, the youth suffers.
Too often people go on and on about how we need stricter laws and more police presence to "help" the youth.
 However, what they really need are people who care enough to understand them.
Too often, people will put so much energy into criticizing and looking down on the youth but put no energy into making steps to actually help them up.
But, as Philadelphia's own Benjamin Franklin once said, "Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain, and most fools do."

We don't need any more people sitting around talking about how "crazy" or how much of a "disgrace" the youth are - that's unproductive. What Philadelphia needs are people who care and are willing to put time and effort into helping our communities.
This means that we need our parents, our coaches, our teachers, our clergy, our college students to step up and help our communities. We have more power than we think, and together we could change this city for the better.
Most importantly, our youth need love. As the esteemed scholar Dr. Cornel West once stated, "You can't lead the people if you don't love the people. You can't save the people if you don't serve the people."

Our inner-city youth are talented and full of promise. The only problem is that many of them have yet to realize that. They just need people to help them to cultivate their potential and discover the greatness in themselves.
How do I know this?
Well, I am Philadelphia's youth.
I was born and raised in Philadelphia and I was a product of both the public- and parochial-school systems.
Today, I'm a 21-year-old graduate student at Edinboro University, in Pennsylvania, and my successes are largely due not only to the guidance of my parents, but the countless people in my community who helped to push me in the right direction.
I love Philadelphia and I love the people who live here, and I want to make this city better because it is inevitably a part of me. I hope that I'm not the only one who feels this way.
I mean, since we are the "City of Brotherly Love," let's try living up to the name.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

0 Is The History Channel making us stupid?

I used to give the History Channel the benefit of the doubt. Nowadays, I just doubt its benefit.

As a teen, my began to become increasingly interested in history. I loved to watch documentaries on various historical events and time periods on The History Channel. I was even willing to overlook some of The History Channel's faults because of my love of history.

Its Eurocentric bias in the interpretation of history?  I was able to look past that.

It's extensive, almost obsessive focus on WWII and the rise of Hitler? I could deal with that.

Its tendency to show historical events from a romanticized, myopic, "America's always the hero" point of view? I kind of expected it.

But lately The History Channel seems to be just getting more and more ridiculous with its programming, almost to the point of insulting to the intelligence of its viewers.

I have numerous problems with the History Channel, the first one being that there are far too many reality shows. Now don't get me wrong, I enjoy some of their reality shows. In fact, I was a big fan of the first few seasons of The History Channel's show Pawn Stars. 

Yet, when reality shows which have very little to do with history, such as Ice Road Truckers, dominate the channel that is supposed to teach people about History we have a problem.

Slowly but surely, it seems as if The History Channel is selling out for the sake of entertainment rather than education. This seemingly proved true in one of their more recent "historical" series called The Bible.

First off, the whole idea of having a predominately European cast for a 21st century TV series about biblical history is ridiculous in of itself. Now I already know what my "colorblind" readers are thinking: Who cares what ethnicity the actors are, does it really matter? Well, from a historical accuracy standpoint, it does.

Would it matter if someone made a movie with a Chinese actor playing George Washington? Would it matter if Steven Spielberg made a movie about Napoleon Bonaparte starring Jamie Foxx? Would it matter if someone cast Chris Rock as Christopher Columbus? Of course it would, mainly because it would look silly and historically inaccurate.

Another interesting aspect of this show is that Satan (who apparently just pops up and makes appearances every once in a while) is played by a Moroccan actor, who many believe to resemble President Obama. Yet, the History Channel wrote this off as simply being an unfortunate coincidence.

But one of the silliest shows on History is Ancient Aliens. The show uses the idea of ancient human-extraterrestrial contact to explain archaeological and historical "mysteries."

For example, the show claims that the Pyramids of Giza and other historic structures were created by aliens to be a  "world grid" of electromagnetic energy. First off, if people believe in stuff like this, they might as well believe in the tooth fairy, the boogeyman and the Easter bunny.

Not only is the whole premise of the show "Ancient Aliens" ridiculous, its offensive to the legacy of the work of indigenous cultures all over the world. It indirectly assumes that indigenous people of Asia, Africa, the Americas were weren't sophisticated or intelligent enough to create structures and artifacts which we, the all-knowing western world, can't fully understand.

Therefore the most intelligent theory that the folks at The History Channel come up with is:

Here's my theory: Maybe people were just intelligent enough to build structures that stood the test of time, maybe those indigenous people weren't as primitive and uncivilized as we'd like to think. Maybe people revolutionized science and architecture before America did. (Try Googling: History of science and technology in Africa).

Or maybe we just aren't able to understand EVERYTHING.

But what I do understand is why people are largely misinformed about the world and about each other. We've been taught wrong; from the myopic, whitewashed history textbooks of America's schools, to the ridiculous "historical" programming in the media.

But, in the timeless words of the rapper Nas, “It’s all poison.”

The solution all of this is to learn history independently, we have to pick up the books, do the research and find good historical documentaries on our own.

We must remember, history is a subject which we shouldn't take lightly. After all, a society without true knowledge of the past can never fully understand the present nor prepare for the future.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

3 Do we really value our education?

Published in The Edinboro Spectator: March 7, 2013

Dedicated to memory of LaQula Walker (1989-2013)

A few days ago I was on Facebook when I saw a status post from an old friend that caught my eye. This friend was a former Edinboro University student who came here around the same time that I did, lived in my residence hall, except he didn’t graduate. He spent most of his time here partying, hanging out and doing other “extracurricular activities.” He was intelligent but he wasn’t focused.

On his Facebook status, he spoke about how much he should have valued his time here in Edinboro instead of a viewing it as a place for partying and leisure. He explained how he’s now at a smaller university where the atmosphere is much different than that of Edinboro. His current school, he claims, is a “degree factory” where many of the classes are boring and don’t really engage students.

This thoughtful, reflective post made me think about some student here at Edinboro today. I thought to myself, “Do people really value their opportunities here?”

Sometimes, I even have to ask that question about myself.

Often, people view college as a vacation. They see it as free time to have fun and “live it up”.

Yet, in this quest for fun, excitement, a new “high” and attention, people forget the real purpose of college, which is to get an education.

Make no mistake about it, there is nothing wrong with having a little fun every now and then, yet we have to have balance and remember what our priorities are.

I’ve had my years where I partied more than I more than I studied, but then I grew up.

These days it is hard for me to live that lifestyle, mainly because I know that my college education is bigger than me. I’m not doing this just for myself.

I do it for my ancestors who would have died (literally) for some of the educational opportunities that I’ve been blessed to have.

I do it for my family members who grew up in the Jim Crow South and had to walk miles to go to school.

I do it for my great grandparents who grew up in the Great Depression and never got the opportunity to go to college.

Ultimately, I do it for the future, for my younger brother and sister, for the kids in the inner city, the suburbs and in the country, who want to be better than the world tells them that they are.

By me not honoring my opportunity to learn, I dishonor the dreams of all of these people.

Last year, I met a remarkable young woman who opened my eyes to the importance of making the most out of our opportunities.

She was a graduate student here at Edinboro University who was ambitious, driven, and had wisdom beyond her years; this young woman’s name was LaQula Walker.

She valued her education and knew that she had an opportunity to become something much greater. She would tell me about her dreams of attending law school and changing the world.

Sadly, a week ago, LaQula passed away at the young age of 23, just a few months shy of graduation, as she was close to reaching the prime of her life. Yet, as sad her passing was, it opened my eyes and caused me to ask a profound question.

I asked myself, “If we’re still here, and we’re blessed with the gift of life and have a chance to learn and to make something of ourselves, what is our excuse to take that for granted?”

Maybe that’s a question which we all need to ask.

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