Creative Writing: Smoke, Fog & Haze

By Mr. Westbrooks

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A 12-minute, cursive free-write for a “Write Club” activity that we did during an English Department professional learning community (PLC) meeting. This is what was birthed in my mind and transcribed from my all-purpose composition notebook onto a blank WordPress post. To maintain the organic essence and integrity of my uninterrupted and free-flowing thoughts, no edits or additions have been made.

But first, the prompt: 

Smoke, Fog & Haze: Write about not being able to see ahead of you. 

I’m moving. Where am I going? I’m not sure. If I’m walking, I see my feet and the immediate ground in front of them, but if I pick my head all the way up and look forward, I can’t see a damn thing ahead of me. I’m squinting my eyes like the woman on the meme that’s been virally circulating Twitter and Instagram. You know the one where the caption goes…”Me trying to see which season it’s gonna be outside today.”

Even though my visibility is low, almost non-existent, I keep moving. Straightforward? Diagonally? I’m not sure, but I’m moving. I’m moving slowly, because I can’t afford to misstep. Like Ferris Bueller, I can take a nasty spill down some stairs and subject myself to further school absences…Have a nice day.

The sad thing about it is that I have a feeling…deep inside of me that the path I’m pacing…is a path I’ve walked before. It should all be familiar, but it remains to be a mystery. Is it brand new? Or, am I simply not trusting the process, following my inherent intuition? I think it’s the latter.

I look down, see my feet and the ground…look up, can’t see a damn thing. This is the consequence of having sight but no vision.

Sight No Vision

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Fight For Your Right To Speak!

Asiatic Kween Mind

Peace family, friends, and fellow Kings and Queens!

Earlier today I was watching a video in regards to a new Senate Bill that has been passed by the California Legislature, and Senator Richard Pan, regarding to our 1st Amendment Rights of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Press. And what I was hearing really made me feel some kind of way! It is referring to Senate Bill 1424. Allegedly we will be limited to what we say on our social media pages, and other public AND private forums including texts and personal emails in regards to the government and other officials! I went onto the California Legislative Information website myself to see if the video was just going above and beyond what was really being said. And here’s what I found;

[SenBill1424]: It was introduced February 16th, 2018 and amended March 22, 2018 (9) By Senator Richard Pan, of California…

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For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood: A Reflection

By Mr. Westbrooks

Emdin-ForWhiteFolksWhoTeachintheHood-663x1024Around this time last year, Dr. Chris Emdin delivered the keynote message on the topic of culturally relevant pedagogy for the Drop the Mic conference held at the Newark Museum. He had copies of his book For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood and the Rest of Y’all Too available for purchase, and it was a title that was already on my reading wish list, but unfortunately, he ran out of copies before I could get mine. I knew I could purchase it anytime, but owning an autographed copy was a rare opportunity.

Fast forward to August of this year during our training/PD week. One of my administrators got copies of For White Folks for all of the teachers in our sub-department. Upon completing it last weekend, I tweeted a picture of the cover and mentioned Chris. He promptly replied (which I wasn’t expecting) and suggested that we discuss what I read. To prepare for our conversation, I decided to organize my thoughts on paper/screen before we engaged in our build. Here are the key takeaways that I plan to bring up in my talk with Chris and implement in my own practice. The following topics don’t reflect everything discussed in the book. In an effort to not overwhelm myself or spread myself too thin, I narrowed down the book’s topics to the five themes or practices that resonated with me the most and that I was willing to immediately put into action.

  1. Cogenerative Dialogues

The cogenerative dialogue is the idea that teachers collaborate with students to implement positive changes in the classroom. The structure Chris describes involves selecting a small group of four students from a variety of skill levels and behavior types to meet with the teacher for a brief time either during lunch or after school. During these meetings, the students would voice their opinions on what issues their class was facing and what needs to be done in order to make it better. I’ve always asked my students for feedback, but maybe I’ll switch up the style a bit and obtain my feedback in this small group, invitation-only structure. That’s a question I need to ask Chris: If I’m carrying out the cogens, am I only receiving feedback from the participants in the cogen?

As teachers, most of our direct feedback is coming from administrators and other teachers, but the students are the ones affected most by our classroom experience. We can gain valuable insights and take our classes to the next level by listening to what they have to say. Kids hold nothing back too. They will tell you the truth!

  1. The Black Church, Pastor and Rapper Aesthetics

For Black church Sunday services, there’s always a program with an order of events or agenda that the attendees follow. However, the service often goes off schedule when someone catches the Holy Spirit, or when the pastor “gets excited” durin

g his sermon and start to freestyle. To an extent, it’s acceptable for our classrooms to be similar. Some of the best learning moments happen when you allow students to break away from the lesson plan (script) to ask questions or make comments that are not directly related to the topic at hand.

If a teacher is moved, he or she can exhibit the speaking styles of the Black pastor, namely the call and response technique as a method of engaging “neoindigenous” (urban) youth. Rappers do the same thing, and Jelani Cobb’s comparison of Black pastors and rappers in his book To The Break of Dawn is reminiscent of this notion.

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  1. Aesthetically Appealing, Relevant and Welcoming Spaces

How can you expect students to feel welcomed, to learn, and to express themselves fullyand openly if the appearance of the classroom isn’t appealing? I’m aware of the importance of this, but I admit this has been a challenge for me with acquiring the resources to make my classroom look poppin,’ and that includes both the a

ctual materials to decorate and the time.

My arrangement of the desks into a semi-circle and the posting of my drawings that I did for my college art class and a picture from my last Reisling-influenced Paint and Sip class helped to somewhat make the room feel less like jail and traditional school. I’ve also set up my graffiti wall, which was an idea I got from the book. I couple of students have signed it already, and I have a poster of Nas and album cover stickers from my homie Tenn Stacks. It’s a start until I can get some more items.

  1. Context and Content: Community Involvement and Participation

Chris has a vignette in the “Context and Content” chapter about how a basketball game with his students led to further invitations to his students’ cultural contexts outside of the classroom, and how participation in those contexts resulted in a transformed classroom. The students are surprised and appreciative whenever I show up to their games and events. Within the last two school years, I’ve attended football and basketball games, track meets, a few art shows, and a law debate. In a less formal setting, my students have seen me shopping or walking around downtown. I want to take it to the next level, so I can start receiving invitations to events that are outside the school-sponsored extra-curricular activities.

Educators and education leaders often discuss the importance of building relationships and how that affects the students’ academic performance and social-emotional well-being. You can’t talk about building relationships and not talk about stepping out of the school building into your students’ cultural contexts.

  1. Teacher Perceptions

Perception is everything. It should be the first thing that teachers check, but why is it number 5 on my list? Our assumptions, preconceived notions, and attitudes about our neoindigenous youth will reflect in how they see themselves and what they can achieve. My perceptions and expectations of my students are high, but I must question if my students are aware of that, or if I need to be more explicit with my students about my perceptions of them. Or, can they tell just from my vibes?

Final note: You can know all of the pedagogy and everything about lesson plan designing, but Chris points out that it is the non-instructional pieces that are the game-changers, which I appreciate that the most about his book. If only school districts and administrators placed more value on these factors.

Nick & Chris

 

IRMA: The Unnatural Disaster

Asiatic Kween Mind

Early this a.m., I was watching the news and saw the newscaster explaining yet another hurricane. Tis the season! They were explaining how it could hit the East coast at a category 5 level. Yes, we’re talking worse than Hurricane Harvey! And it got me thinking. So I decided to do some research.

A few weeks ago, maybe a little over a month actually, I was in YouTube and the they were coming up with a conspiracy that something big will happen after a tropical storm around Sept. (23)rd, 2017. And immediately I started thinking of Numerology. 23/5, coincidence? Allow me to explain.

In numerology, five is a number of life and nature. In Hebrew number five means seizure and contraction. (Amongst other things) Due to the attributes of two and three, twenty three is a number of duality, charisma, communication and society. Twenty three has the ability to use…

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The Fall Of The Black Household

Asiatic Kween Mind

One day, someone posted a question asking what happened to black love. It didn’t take me more than 5 seconds to give my answer… “It died when Women’s Liberation & Black Feminism started.” Yes, I’m sure you’re thinking what do i mean by this. Maybe you’re telling yourself that it was for the greater good of black women. But, at what cost? Let me break it down the best way I can.

Women’s Liberation, aka The Feminist Movement, has taken a toll on not only black women (who followed suit) but the black family. That wasn’t for us, but they made it about us and turned us away from our own men. They created a sense of extreme dependency.. They had us say things like, “I don’t need a man for anything.” Really think about how that sounds!

Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being single. Or having…

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Stay in Your Lane or Nah? A$AP Rocky, #blacklivesmatter & The ‘Raptivist’ Phenomenon

By Mr. Westbrooks

In an opinion piece for The RootMichael Arceneaux expressed his thoughts on A$AP Rocky‘s 2015 interview with TimeOut Magazine and his follow-up interview with The Breakfast Club last week. He ultimately came to the conclusion that the public shouldn’t expect all celebrities to use their platforms to speak out about the current issues if they lack the knowledge to do so. The following week, I watched an interview between Red Pill of Know The Ledge Radio and Brother Rich of Underground Railroad Productions in which Red spoke on Rocky’s comments as well. He expressed a similar sentiment and took it a step further by stressing the seriousness of activism and the need for statements and actions to only come from individuals who are sincere about the work. He also stated that rather than making the offensive comments that he made, he could’ve deferred his thoughts to someone more knowledgeable.

Recent events surrounding the backlash that A$AP Rocky received from the public/media along with NBA and WNBA players using their platforms to speak out against police brutality opens up for discussion the topic of whether professional athletes and celebrities should use their platforms for social commentary or simply stay in their lanes.  While I agree that staying in your lane prevents celebrities from making ignorant, outlandish, or disingenuous statements, a question that comes to mind is, “Should that philosophy apply to injustice?” Whether you’re living in a privileged position or in poverty, many of us probably know that at any given moment we can go from one extreme to the next. Furthermore, as Black people, most of us are aware that injustice can be inflicted upon us in some manner no matter what our socioeconomic status is.

With that being said, what doesn’t affect us directly could affect us if our circumstances happen to change. Moreover, a collective mindset teaches us that since we’re all connected by race or humanity (whatever you prioritize first), issues that don’t affect you directly, do make an impact indirectly. To use an oft-stated and on the verge of becoming cliche Dr. King quote, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It’s true that some threats just remain that, threats; however, the atrocities of anti-Black police brutality and vigilante violence in our history to accompany the recent string of events show and prove that the oppressor isn’t bluffing.

It’s hard to believe that Rocky is merely speaking on what he knows considering that he’s surrounded by media, and he maneuvered through uptown NYC during his adolescent years. Although he doesn’t live in Ferguson, the population and social ills of Ferguson probably mirrors those of Harlem in many ways. There’s a good possibility that he’s either witnessed police brutality or knows someone or heard a story about someone who was a victim of it. He doesn’t have to know about politics to recognize that shooting down unarmed Black people is a bad thing. Thinking about the root of Rocky’s comments, it makes me wonder whether he truly doesn’t know what’s going on, if he’s just choosing to not care, or like Megan Saad said about artists in general who shy away from becoming “raptivists,” he wants to protect his “financial interests and brands.”

If Rocky doesn’t care or if he’s afraid to lose his financial backing, he can refer back to the two paragraphs before the last. If he’s honestly lacking knowledge of what’s happening racially, socially, and politically in America, he can either do his duty as a so-called “American citizen,” and educate himself, he can do as Red Pill suggested and defer to someone more knowledgeable, or he can go with the Mr. Westbrooks theory and create his own lane by continuing to speak on what he knows, but in a manner that contributes to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Before anyone gets what I’m saying twisted, mixed up, and confused, let me first be clear that I’m not  one of those Black people that deflects the issue of police shootings by bringing up Black-on-Black violence. You also won’t hear me exclaim, “All Lives Matter!” I’m very aware that BLM is a movement to restructure or rebuild the Black Liberation Movement to include a broader population of Black people in terms of gender, sexual orientation, and ability with the goal of challenging systematic and blatant injustice while reaffirming our contributions to society.  And, I won’t pull the respectability card by suggesting that rappers need to change their content in order for the police and other racial groups to respect us. Now that that’s out of the way, I can get to the point of how A$AP Rocky can continue to rap and talk about what he knows while still contributing to the movement.

While groups outside of the Black social construct have and will continue to be apparent allies to BLM, it’s essentially all on us to achieve the solutions we need to reach, whatever they may be. It’s going to take buy-in and a unified effort from Black people. While rap songs about violence, drugs, money, hoes, and clothes aren’t the reasons why police are shooting down Black people, these factors can hinder our ability to unite in greater numbers and battle against the beast of racism and White supremacy.

If Rocky wants to talk about his friend being killed, he can do that and frame it in the context of the human impact of violence on friends and families. With his “new inspiration in drugs,” he can speak on how to use drugs responsibly in ways that allow you to tap into your spirituality. (Shout out to the Black Dot.) He can also discuss horror stories of the dangers of irresponsible drug use. If he wants to talk about being “in these bitches drawers,” he can either do the knowledge on the powers of sex magic or describe the emotional and health-related risks of having sex with multiple partners. “Jiggy fashion” is cool. Promote economic empowerment by showing love to fly, Black fashion designers.

Celebrities don’t have to talk about politics per se in order to contribute to the cause of BLM. They don’t necessarily have to assume the responsibility of being “raptivists” if that’s not what they know or are passionate about, but they do have a responsibility to avoid making destructive music that indirectly relates to the BLM movement. Meek Mill probably won’t quote the Constitution on his next album, but he did promise to not rap about “extreme violence” anymore after Dream Chasers 4.

Rocky mentioned that he wants to promote peace and inspiration through his music, and that’s what Black Lives Matter needs more of. He may not have the answers to our police brutality, Donald Trump, and Billary Clinton problems, and I understand his frustration with social justice issues. But, that peace and inspiration may be what people need to decompress from all of the craziness that’s going on. A$AP Rocky should challenge himself to be true to that objective and push himself to take it to the next level during these trying times, no matter if it’s in the studio, on social media, or in an interview.

 

 

#SummerReadingChallenge Book 2: Hip Hop Decoded

By Mr. Westbrooks

Hip Hop DecodedUnlike The Immortal Birth, The Black Dot’s Hip Hop Decoded was a recommended read that just sat on my Amazon Wish List for long as hell until the author made an appearance in my city at a local Black-owned bookstore. I’ve watched several Black Dot and Professor Griff lectures on YouTube, and I mention Griff because he has lived similar experiences maneuvering in the music industry, and he has written and spoken about the metaphysical, esoteric, and occultist aspects of the entertainment industry, primarily Hip Hop. The masses of media consumers skeptical that a secret society of families connected by bloodline called the Illuminati controls the music industry, would probably dismiss Dot and Griff’s information as conspiracy theories, but that’s neither here nor there.

As you can see, I was already aware of the caliber of knowledge Black Dot was bringing to the table before I even opened his first book. (He also has another book called Urban Culture Decoded which I will read and write about at some point this summer.) According to his brief autobiography, Dot grew up in the South Bronx and led his own Hip Hop career as a young emcee named Cheba La Rock in the 80s and 90s. He was to signed to B-Boy Records, toured around the world with Tim Dog, established an independent label, B.I.B Records, and started a group called The Lethahedz that released an EP called A&R Killer.

During these years, he would learn the ins and outs of the music business, so needless to say, Dot is more than qualified to write about Hip Hop. His support and backing from Hip Hop’s pioneers such as Kool Moe Dee, Professor Griff, and Grandmaster Caz – who also wrote the foreword – further legitimizes Dot’s qualifications. Even after all of the YouTube presentations along with the in-person lecture he gave at the Source of Knowledge bookstore in Newark, NJ, I was still amazed after reading HHD as it widened my third eye even more to the mystery of Hip Hop.

Looking at the title, it may be easy to mistake HHD for your typical book on Hip Hop that  gives you a chronological history of the culture as it relates to the social and political events occurring during each era. It’s not that. It’s also not a purist tirade of how Hip Hop music has become shit hop in its contemporary age. And, it’s not a top 25, 50, or 100 countdown of the greatest emcees of all time. It’s none of those things. It goes way deeper than that, and Dot makes that clear from the beginning.

Like he mentions in the foreword, HHD is about the “mystery of Hip Hop.” He does provide some history, but he doesn’t dwell on the early beginnings. The history is used as a reference point to contextualize how Hip Hop got to where it was when the book was published in 2005 and where it could potentially go beyond that time. At some points, Dot praises Hip Hop and criticizes rap music, but the basis of his analysis is an alternative perspective that most people are probably unaware of. He dives deeply into the spiritual, metaphysical, numerological, and occultist implications of Hip Hop. He goes further back than the South Bronx in the late 70s and early 80s by drawing parallels between the four elements of Hip Hop (DJing, break dancing, graffiti, emceeing) and the four elements of our African past with drums, dance, hieroglyphs, and the oracle.

Throughout the book, Dot transforms and characterizes the culture as a Hip Hop metaphor of the movie The Matrix. He identifies the key figures of the music industry from the corporations at the upper echelons to the masses of consumers at the lowest level. He reveals what the red and blue pills represent, and he discusses the roles that all of us play in the Hip Hop Matrix. To appeal to a variety of learners and to reach a broader audience, the author conveys his scrutiny through an array of methods – fictional stories, visual illustrations/diagrams, historical facts/current events, and critical analysis.

Allow me to reiterate that HHD was published in ’05, so the events surrounding the Nas and Jay-Z beef, the fall of Roc-A-Fella Records, the rise of G-Unit and it’s on-wax and possibly off-of-wax conflict with Murder Inc. may all be dated; however, the overarching themes and messages are relevant today and for years to come. HHD is written for the masses of people who’ve noticed that something is terribly wrong with Hip Hop as it exists contemporarily, or for those who question the judgment of the XXL Magazine staff members who selected this year’s freshman class. Appropriation and commodification has caused the culture to devolve from it’s highest vibrational frequencies from a time when it was in its purest form. In order to unplug yourself from the Hip Hop Matrix and to take the first steps towards destroying the Matrix machine, this book is a must-read.

Black Dot