Peace? Everybody Seem to Want a Piece of Mines

People say they respect non-violence up to the point that someone got a pistol pointed at they loved one.

Reality is you don’t really respect peace cuz you never seen it. Its all imagination. Just cuz I aint swinging a bat at your car windshield dont mean I can’t strangle your money with procedures and suffocate your success with policies. What you seen as a person of color for the last 500 years is war, from overt to covert.

But thats the thing.

How can you be peaceful when somebody thugging you to live in a ghetto? How can you be kumbaya when somebody strong arm robbing you of your education system? What does peace even look like when your neighborhood is built on top of a landfill?

At some point you say, well I love myself more than I am willing to let you keep me in this predicament.

Change is disruptive. It is as alarming as a gunshot letting off in the silence of the status quo. Its flipping over tables because sometimes, the people on the other side of the table really do want to exploit you. Sometimes they dont want to be cool unless they can rape you. Sometimes they feel that you should get pleasure out of them sucking every last piece of your humanity away.

In the presence of that beast, you say we need to be peaceful? That we need to just hug it out? I am sorry. Corruption and greed besieges all man no deference to race color or creed. Those who seek to oppress have no qualms about it. They just want green. Or power. Or to feel superior. Or whatever, they just have no recognition of your life mattering.

So my question is; when do we stop trying to make peace with a system that is content with our extermination?

Thoughts on Being Vulnerable

Vulnerability, the ability to allow your weakness and flaw to be exposed without refrain of shame or casigation. We rarely let our guard down and allow out authentic selves to be revealed to others let alone the world.

Why not? Lack of trust, fear of reprisal, relinquishing power to someone, trepidation from possibility of being misconceived and looked at funny?

The interesting thing is when we look in the mirror who have we allowed to be vulnerable to us? Have we violated someones trust when they showed us their weakspot?

How high are the walls we have built between ourselves and others? Only when we can be truly ourselves without fear can we truly be free. It takes time. Trust is gained experience by experience. We learn that we can peel back layers and show others our true selves ocer bridges of empathy.

When we are surrounded by those who affirm our purpose and lift us up when we are down, those who we share our true selves with, then we operate in a space of unstoppable force, invulnerable from penetration. We steadily build the circle of trust with each experience, building community around authenticity and transparency.

Thoughts on Exclusion and Erasure

** In order to be politically correct the names have been removed from this status update.

It is highly problematic to work in the community without acknowledgment and affirmation of that community context and historical narrative. On three separate occasions on two opposite ends of the spectrum, I have seen organizations attempt to step into communities to do urban agriculture work by either erasing the macro history of that community or the microhistory. Both ends of the spectrum speak to a moral and/or ethical issue and I want to explain why by explaining what I saw and what problems it caused.

The first example: organization does work in the community. Works primarily in predominantly african american neighborhoods and purports ita work to be an intervention that will help that community. However, the organization does not hire African americans from the communities in which it works nor does it have in its programming any culturally relevant themes that speak specifically to race, class or the racism that was perpetuated that makes the interventions the org interjects into the community necessary. This is an example of erasing the macro history of a community. By removing race, an approaching the community with a color-blind approach – the community is treated as an ahistorical entity that just appeared with these problems out of thin air and that the intervention the org purports as a solution is one size fits all. Nothing could be further than the truth and nothing is more disrespectful. Communities are not ahistorical. How they come into existence and the stories are woven into are their heartbeat.

The second example: Organization doing work in a community evolves swiftly due to the passionate leadership of a small volunteer group. Circumstances change. The small passionate group has to move on to other opportunities. The organization doing work in a community has a leadership change. Instead of engaging the small passionate group that has built the community relationships and trust on the ground – the new leadership decides to start over – while still working in the communities that the small passionate group built trust in. When the small passionate group is brought up by the community – the new leadership dismisses the conversation and in some instances castigates the small passionate group. The new leadership pretends as though the work that came before them was done by them unto folks not familiar with the organizational history. The community then does not trust the new leadership of the organization. This is an erasing of the micro history of a community. The narrative of how the work got to that point is important. To dismiss the contributions of those who came before is dishonest and unethical.

Thoughts on Housing Discrimination

If one were desirous of explaining the difference yet the inextricable link between individual racism and institutional racism one would need to look no further than the topic of housing discrimination which in my opinion tells the second chapter of the African holocaust in this country with the first chapter being the enslavement of African people. It is through a conversation about housing we find the implementation of racist policies that built and then cordoned African people to ghettos throughout this country.

The politician was a white supremacist that created the laws that governed black people into the ghettos, the developer was racist and he wanted black people far from white people, the real estate agent was a racist who wanted to prevent miscegenation, the loan folks at the bank said no loans for black neighborhoods, the federal government wasn’t backing any mortgages for black folks, white dude if he got a loan for a home in a white neighborhood – if he subleased his home to a black person – he would get penalized, the black neighborhood was zoned so a toxic waste dump could be next to it or liquor store in it, white neighborhood was zoned so not even an apartment could be built in it.

Synergistic to this institutionalized racism we find individual racists who wrote the policies and implemented them. The individuals who were the politicians, the mayors, the city councilmen, the developers, the real estate agents, the loan officers, the insurance agents, the housing association members were either a) hated blacks and believed whites were superior or b) knew the policies were wrong yet did not actively rebel against those policies to create equity. Without those individual racists and racism tolerators, we would not have seen the creation and implementation of policies that created the systemic racism we are still festering in the aftereffects of today.

Internalized Racism: Another Elephant In the Room

The elephant in the room regarding racial healing and reconciliation is: internalized racism. It is concurrent, a precursor and an after effect of racial healing work. In a shoot – out; if you already shot – you cant really heal like for real – you trying to survive the shoot – out. Same as everybody else. Communities of color are working to address internalized racism while working to stop the ongoing oppression that they face. It is some of the hardest work – dealing with the demons that have been implanted into the consciousness as a result of the myth of white racial superiority. The layers of that onion get more and more potent as you peel them back.

Since it is fact that communities of color can and do internalize racism and this results in stressors, behaviors and conditioning that harm – one must concede that white folks have detoxing to do as well. So there is healing needed across the spectrum. Truth is healing is available for those who want it before those who need it. You might need it and not want it. That is across the spectrum. First thing to do is acknowledge you have a problem. The question of identity – who are you if racism disappeared today. Is your identity predicated upon the othering of another?

Beetlejuice: A Metaphor for Gentrification

Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice

The movie Beetlejuice can serve as a metaphor for gentrification. The Deetz are gentrifiers, moving into the former home of the Maitlands. In the opening scene, Mrs. Maitland is approached by her neighbor coaxing her to help her sell her home and that she saw someone willing to buy it for over 250k. Later the Maitlands die and their home gets sold to the Deetz who start the rehabilitation of the home.  Even though deceased, the Maitlands want to stay in their home. Seeing all the changes that the Deetz are making they try to scare the Deetz away but the Deetz dont even see them. The Maitlands invisibility is an allegory to the invisibility of communities of color pre-exisiting in neighborhoods that are under gentrification.

Oblivious to the Maitlands, the Deetz are representative of a class of developers. While the wife is an artist, the husband is scheming on other properties around the city and desires to pitch projects to investors. The daughter is despondent to all of this, and can actually see the Maitlands. Much like the younger progeny of those who gentrify are forced to engage with the indigenous communities in which they find themselves among. Her goth attire perhaps represents the anarchists, radical left ethos of many who accompany the gentrification, poor working class whites who are against the system as well but find themselves enmeshed and entrenched in it still.

The true hero of the movie Beetlejuice, is Beetlejuice himself. He represents the unfettered true to who he is, pathologies and all – the dead. While he is not native to the Maitlands neighborhood – he specializes in getting gentrifiers (the living) out of newly deceased folks homes. The Maitlands being oblivious as to what to do to retain their home and not be displaced. When they learn a few insights on how, and try their hand at scaring the Deetz out – the effort is seen as a performance and the Deetz then try to capitalize on their presence and attempt to market them as an element of their  new home.

Does any of that sound familiar? How about the nonprofit organization that pops up in the community of color to work with underprivileged youth but doesn’t have any staff from said community on its board/staff? You know how they take the picture of the little black kids during xmas time and send it to potential donors? Perhaps even the co-opting of token blacks into their organizations and using them to pretend they are inclusive and diverse? In both instances, their is no recognition that their presence is a form of colonization and an act of displacement in the communities in which the gentrifiers find themselves.

Upon realization that their efforts are not enough to get the Deetz out their house, (the popular Banana Boat Song and dance routine) the Maitlands call Beetlejuice. Remember they are warned by their caseworker in the afterlife department that Beetlejuice USED to work for the afterlife department but he was too dangerous. They also get shown that the dead who get exorcised just drift in the void – perhaps a metaphor for those who are displaced by gentrification. They dead dead. (As an aside Betelgeuse is one of the largest stars in our galaxy, noted to be on the verge of supernova as in it is about to die in a million years) Beetlejuice is crass, disheveled, impolite, total non status quo, kinda like the drunk uncle at your family reunion. When they realize he might hurt the Deetz instead of just scaring them off – the Maitlands back out and reign Beetlejuice back in.

The Maitlands decision to resign on having Beetlejuice do his work is a metaphor for what happens when the gentrifiers and the folks who are being gentrified find those key individuals who are indigenous but are ok with the gentrification happening. Maybe they dont mind the taxes going up, other indigenous residents being pushed out, they might not be thinking of the long term implications of displacement, or the stress it causes and how many indigenous community members are at risk to lose their homes. The indigenous activist community that is anti gentrification could be allegorical to Beetlejuice in that they have not sold out on the idea that gentrification is a good thing.

Shaken not stirred by the encounter with “ghost with the most”, the Deetz deepen their resolve of marketing their property as having ghosts (cough) blacks (cough). The absolutely loved the Banana Boat dance thing. One of their associates Otho; got his hands on a handbook of spells for the newly dead and decides to rise the Maitlands from the dead for amusement of the guests and to attract investors for their further development of the town. I think we have seen those parties where black/brown people are put on display to perform for the wealthy and white. The Maitlands dont want to kill the Deetz, and have grown fond of their daughter and decide they want to try to share their space with them.

The young goth anarchist daughter seeing the pain and demise of the Maitlands happening (Otho apparently was about to make them dead dead with his spell) calls upon Beetlejuice who says he kind of an illegal immigrant he can only stay if he gets married to her. She agrees. He comes. The idea of indigenous community activists forming collaboration with anarchist relatives of the gentrifiers has to be noted. What if that happened? Could indigenous activists be blocked from meetings? Would threats to have police called on them be successful? Beetlejuice knocks the developers thru the roof. Saves the Maitlands. Tries to marry the girl as agreed to but gets reigned back in by the Maitlands at the last minute. Beetlejuice gets sent back to the afterlife department. Movies goes off with Maitland and Deetz living in purported harmony. The entire ending is problematic because they dance to the Banana Boat Song with ghost football players or whatever.

The point is they (the Maitlands) only stayed the inevitable. The jewel in the movie is the marriage of interests with the Maitlands and the young goth anarchist girl who we infer that them – the co-opted ndigenous community and her – could find a bond and realize a way in which everyone could live together in peace. Mr. Deetz is even seen reading a book about cohabitation with the undead.

An entire arguement can be made about horror movies are metaphors for social issues in our community. The zombie movie represents the poor working class rising up and taking over. The haunted house as a metaphor for gentrification. The slasher film for the sins of sex without marriage. What are some other examples of movies you have seen that have correlations to issues in contemporary society?

Toxic Masculinity Incubated R.Kelly and We As Men Are Complicit

I was raised as a black male in Southside Richmond. As a teenager I was taught by my peers that if I was a virgin there was something wrong with me. Manhood was equated to being sexually active. The more sex you had the more of a man you were. As a result, many of my peers early interactions with girls were in pursuit of sex. My peer group treated girls as sex objects.

I am sure the idea of “having game” was equated with how well you could manipulate a girl to have sex with you. If you were still a virgin you were seen as being lame, wack and not having no game. This toxic perspective on male female relationships I am sure led to many women being emotionally coerced and “talked” into sexual relations with boys who did not care about them sincerely. Early in our teenage years we were taught to lie to girls, tell them how much we loved them, we would be together forever, all of these embellishments in order to get sexual gratification. Many of my peer group were latch key kids. After school and skipping school provided many opportunities to explore urges and do things that our parents knew nothing about.

The idea that the girls in the R.Kelly incidents were at fault in any way is so disgusting because you have a grown man – manipulating girls like we were taught to do as boys. What we were taught was and is toxic and had to be unlearned. We weren’t surrounded by healthy Male examples who demonstrated and explained that manhood was not equated to how sexually active you were. This is not an excuse for the manipulation and toxicity that was experienced by the girls who encountered us. I apologize for us because it was wrong and I know women who weren’t sexually assaulted but were emotionally damaged by boys who lied to them to get them to let their guard down so they could have a sexual experience. I know boys who still practice that as older males. I see elements of that behavior manifesting itself in people commenting and blaming the girls and it’s crazy because it speaks to the culture of rape, objectification and misogyny that girls have to grow up and navigate thru and then survive as women within.

As men, R.Kelly is all our fault. Yes. We live in a white supremacist society that locks us up first. We live under a government that pumped crack in our community. Both of those combined realities plus the myriad of other intersectionalities literally snatched generations of black men from our community in mass. Despite all that, we dance to R.Kelly music. Many of us played the songs and whispered sweet nothings in the ears of girls when we were teens and were straight running game trying to get some.

This pathologic behavior is part of what they call toxic masculinity. We all ain’t fall into the gradient and become predators of under age girls but if you ever lied or even embellished how you felt about a girl so you could get her to have sex no matter how old you were, you were/are wrong too. We gotta do better.



THE SEVEN SINS OF THE URBAN GUERRILLA

THE SEVEN SINS OF THE URBAN GUERRILLA

Even when the urban guerrilla applies proper tactics and abides by its security rules, he can still be vulnerable to errors. There is no perfect urban guerrilla. The most he can do is make every effort to diminish the margin of error, since he cannot be perfect. One of the means we should use to diminish the possibility of error is to know thoroughly the seven deadly sins of the urban guerrilla and try to avoid them.

The first sin of the guerrilla is inexperience. The urban guerrilla, blinded by this sin, thinks the enemy is stupid, underestimates the enemy’s intelligence, thinks everything is easy and, as a result, leaves evidence that can lead to disaster. Because of his inexperience, the urban guerrilla may also overestimate the forces of the enemy, believing them to be stronger than they really are. Allowing himself to be fooled by this presumption, the urban guerrilla becomes intimidated and remains insecure and indecisive, paralyzed and lacking in audacity.

The second sin of the urban guerrilla is to boast about the actions he has undertaken and to broadcast them to the four winds.

The third sin of the urban guerrilla is vanity. The guerrilla who suffers from this sin tries to solve the problems of the revolution by actions in the city, but without bothering about the beginnings and survival of other guerrillas in other areas. Blinded by success, he winds up organizing an action that he considers decisive and that puts into play the entire resources of the organization. Since we cannot afford to break the guerrilla struggle in the cities while rural guerrilla warfare has not yet erupted, we always run the risk of allowing the enemy to attack us with decisive blows.

The fourth sin of the urban guerrilla is to exaggerate his strength and to undertake actions for which he, as yet, lacks sufficient forces and the required infrastructure.

The fifth sin of the urban guerrilla is rash action. The guerrilla who commits this sin loses patience, suffers an attack of nerves, does not wait for anything, and impetuously throws himself into action, suffering untold defeats.

The sixth sin of the urban guerrilla is to attack the enemy when they are most angry.

The seventh sin of the urban guerrilla is to fail to plan things, and to act spontaneously.

Carlos Marighella

Thoughts on Adaptive Leadership

Over the past year; I have embraced the idea of adaptive leadership. Our traditional conditioning teaches us that leaders are the ones with the instructions, they tell us what to do and we follow them to the end goal. I believe that traditional leadership models are archaic and inept at solving the problems that our world faces. In the place of the traditional leader/follower leadership model; I concede that adaptive leadership is necessary. Where the role of follower and leader are interchangeable – adaptive to the scenario at hand.

Within each of us, there are human personality characteristics that serve different situations better than another person. For example; I may be extremely nimble in my ability to react to swiftly changing situations and prioritize the best course of action to achieve big-picture goals. You, on the other hand, may be extremely detailed oriented and need a plan for each and every 15-minute interval of the day’s activities. Neither of these modes of thought is exclusively better than the other. They both are necessarily dependent on their context.

Adaptive leadership allows for the ebb and flow of these ever-changing dynamics to regulate one’s role as a leader or a follower. It does not absolve one of accountability. However, it creates an atmosphere of shared accountability across teams, groups, and communities that is mandatory if we are to share the weight of our communities problems and the weight of solving those problems.

10 Challenges Faced by People of Color in Non Profit Spaces

10 Challenges faced by People of Color in Non Profit Spaces

1. Most grant resources tend to be directed through white led intermediaries before getting to the community.

2. Conversations amoung funders and other power networks tend to exclude potential grantees who are publically critical of the status quo and challenge white supremacy and systemic racism directly.

3. Potential grantees deal with multiple gatekeepers including consultants, staff and funding iniatives that are often interpreting community through lenses of white priviledge, implicit bias and classism.

4. Funders have unique application processes, limited collaborative funding, different funding cycles and shifting priorities. The public info on the opportunities are often hard to find and confusing.

5. Grant exclusions by funders with strict limits on capital expenses, advocacy and policy activity, personnel and overhead – require orgs to spend finite time and energy piecing together funding sources to make ends meet.

6. Funders tend to emphasize importing external solutions rather than community developed and driven goals. I.e. instead of building community capacity to respond to lack of food access folks try to attract a grocery store to come into a community.

7. Information about opportunities and access to decision makers is often shared during in person meetings, which require staff members or representatives from community organizations to be in the room. But community led organizations experience a disparity in funding compared to white led organizations and cannot spare thr hours and funding for travel and meetings.

8. We dont account for how racism affects people of color or for the power imbalances and priviledge dynamics between institutions and community partners.

9. Imposing top down solutions onto black and brown communities undermines community empowerment.

10. Partnerships between community and institutions are unequal if the “service” is not created out of humility but out of a sense of superiority.

The State of the Work Circa 2018

Richmond’s built environment bears the scars of racial inequality inherent in slavery, Jim Crow discrimination and economic marginalization. We see the ripple effects in who has access to healthy food. We see the ripple effects in who lives in urban heat islands, where summer heat is magnified by impervious surfaces and minimal tree canopy. We see the ripple effects in who has resources to beautify residential areas. We see the ripple effects in the disparity that exists for black and brown people because of industrial pollution. There is an opportunity to mitigate these harsh realities through collaboration, specifically through place-making and its emphasis on equitable processes that regenerate public greenspaces by working with the community instead of doing for them.

Place-making is a process-oriented approach to planning, design, and management of public spaces. Place-making capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness, and wellbeing. Regenerative place-making – the transformation of blighted city space into thriving, safe, multi-dimensional public greenspace – can address a multitude of health equity issues at once. Such transformation requires working with community residents as well as municipal, nonprofit partners and philanthropic investment in the planning, designing and implementation of community places.

Historically, community development decisions have been made in a top-down fashion in Richmond: local government and its partners have developed policies and programs and made land use decisions with limited insight from affected community members. Community members have seldom been offered opportunities to shape policies and implementation plans that influence transformation of the built environment within their own neighborhoods.

A contemporary movement toward social justice must advance health equity through regenerative place-making. Tangible changes in the built environment of marginalized communities will require collaboration and relationship-building across the lines of race and class. Place-making as a process; when implemented equitably, is inherently a working with process instead of a doing for that emphasizes community assets, visions and indigenous narratives as the foundational ingredients for success. Our communities need leaders that are effective in facilitating place-making projects that result in more equitable community outcomes: increased social cohesion and social capital; improved physical and psychological well-being; improved sense of place; increased community satisfaction and civic engagement; and increased access to healthy food and progress toward community revitalization.

For the past 16 years, I have stewarded Happily Natural Day, an African centered festival dedicated to cultural identity, holistic health and social change. Its inception was disruptive. Even before the explosion of the natural hair industry, Happily Natural Day was engaging audiences regarding inferiority complexes within the black community. By blending informative lectures and workshops with musicians and performers from across the country and globe, Happily Natural Day has become as staple event for the black cultural communities throughout the Mid-Atlantic Region. The festival ‘s focus on culinary arts has inspired health changes within communities of color by promoting culturally relevant plant-based food-ways while simultaneously providing small businesses with an opportunity to launch and test products in the festival’s African marketplace.

My grassroots, ground up involvement developing the festival inspired my work in urban agriculture. Working with black farmers who served as presenters and vendors in the festival market, we developed a pop-up market in communities of color geographically designated as food deserts. Those relationships evolved into the development of community gardens; school gardens, urban farms, orchards and indoor farms. One area that has eluded me is how to successfully access the levels of philanthropic investment necessary to cultivate sustainable collaborations for sustainable urban agriculture and green infrastructure. The goal is and has always been finding multi-dimensional uses for vacant lots within communities of color, to address the root causes of concentrated poverty. Community ownership and “working with” are embedded within the practice of community greening to achieve sustainable impact. However, those with wealth have either been elusive, outside of our circles of influence or intimidated by our intentional focus on race, cultural identity and social justice – up until recently.

As an activist I spent the first 10 years of my career developing programs targeting qualitative metrics such as raising awareness. My life changed when I decided to start working quantitatively as I focused on urban agriculture as a tool to building community’s capacity to solve their own problems specifically related to health and now more intentionally in the built landscape environment. Since building that first garden in 2012, my journey has evolved towards building deeper collaborations consistent with my prior work dedicated to affirming African Descendant cultural identity; urban greening and agriculture; and collaboration for collective impact that advances racial equity.

As a result of this work, two years ago I took on a new role as Community Engagement Coordinator for Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where I was charged with the development of programs to extend the garden “beyond its walls”. The Ginter Urban Gardener Program is informed and inspired by years of working in urban communities developing green infrastructure. The Ginter Urban Gardeners are a corps of community volunteers recruited and trained by Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden to lead urban greening initiatives in the marginalized neighborhoods where they live.

Through a philosophy of working with instead of doing for, the program is sowing seeds of change in Jackson Ward, Church Hill, the East End and Fulton by cultivating community engagement to create urban greenspace. The program teaches best practices in sustainable agriculture, urban landscape design, project management and volunteer coordination, empowering Richmond’s most vulnerable populations to affect positive and sustainable change in their own communities. It is an exercise in community building, communication, and collaboration across often insular and isolated public and private entities, and an effort to increase local capacity to accomplish urban greening projects that are often beyond the reach and resources of residents or local government.

The Ginter Urban Gardener Program empowers citizens to leverage their own resources to build better neighborhoods by working with local organizations and passionate people who share a common vision for vibrant urban ecology. Using a grassroots, asset-based approach to community development, and, working in collaboration with community stakeholders and volunteers for collective regional impact, Ginter Urban Gardeners focus on neighborhood-by-neighborhood results. The program develops stakeholder engagement by investing in residents who serve as community liaisons, project managers and volunteer coordinators. Dedicated to building trust and inspiring others, they help cultivate knowledge, pride, self-sufficiency, confidence, a spirit of engagement and a sense of belonging in Richmond’s most marginalized neighborhoods.

By integrating trust building principles with community development initiatives, Ginter Urban Gardeners also aim to engage residents in building the authentic relationships which will foster cultural change. As trainees learn to facilitate difficult conversations, understand the impact that community history has on contemporary issues, honor inclusivity and diversity and embrace personal development as keys to community change, they help cultivate the interpersonal values that are necessary for sustainable community empowerment.