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We Wear the Mask, COVID Reprise

“We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Like Claude McKay said, we have always worn the mask. That part of our lives is not new. Only now, it seems that all of humanity wears an external, tangible mask-not just an eerily symbolic one. It’s true that the whole world is donning a mask right now. But your masks still ain’t like ours. We are not the same. When you take off your masks you can breathe deeply again. Fill your lungs with oxygen, expand your chests and breathe life unencumbered by suffering. While all the while . . .

We literally and figuratively: Can. Not. Breathe. We wear the mask 24-7. We wear the mask eternally. We wear the mask and yet, still – We are dying. We are not allowed to mourn or to bury our dead. We attend drive through, virtual or nonexistent funerals for the countless Black lives that have been lost to the pandemics of racism and Coronavirus and we suffer silently. We mourn inwardly, cause we have to work and don’t have the time or capacity to heal. We mourn inwardly because y’all can’t stand to see our pain. We cry intermittently and out of necessity we work, serve, teach, pray, move, sing, dance, pretend, play and all the while . . . we are grasping at breath and dying slow, miserable deaths in alarmingly disproportionate rates to everyone else. We. Wear. The. Mask.

Why should the world be over-wise,

in counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

We wear the mask.

To suddenly see people everywhere wearing a mask should be startling, an anomaly to our very spirits and souls. But somehow it makes sense that the truth of the guile of humanity should be partially hidden in plain sight. As for me… I don’t want to see your smiling faces when your wretched souls harbor such hatred for Black lives. To see Black people wearing masks so faithfully, while others fight to go without and declare their rebellious right, indignation to live freely without them; should be evidence that we are simply not the same. What means life or death to us, is truly a nuisance to others. Your privilege absolves you from the losses of life, agency and joy that this global health crisis has uniquely inflicted on our lives. You seem to only know the inconvenience of Black people and other people of color from faithfully and willingly serving you. While we know all too well the very real toll the violence of dual pandemics of racism and its sister global killer, COVID can and will continue to wreak on Black lives.

Empty streets. Economy at a standstill, sane school systems engaged in online instruction. And yet, the vast disconnect between those who want a swift return to business as usual and those who want a reimagined future (without your oppressive foot on our necks), is only widening. Assault-rifle armed Klansmen, women and children protest at state capitols to demand a return to business as usual. Their efforts encouraged by the demented, unfit madman at the helm of the country who increasingly ridicules, berates, poisons and kills at will in the name of a vast, white supremacist version of America’s greatness as their driving force. And sure enough, slowly but surely, states buckle under the pressure to begin to open (but slowly, in stages), so that they can once again be “served” as Black lives and those of others low on the priority rung, re-assume their essential (read expendable), lives and duties continue to engage in the performative preservation of the status quo.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream otherwise,

We wear the mask!”

Meanwhile as cities burn and mass protests ensue the pandemic lingers on to encompass a new normal and way of life. One in which there are no more illusions of power, democracy or social justice and order. The masks on our faces only reveal the long term stratifications and intersectionality of identities, layered beneath the surface. Teachers, nurses, doctors, certified nurses assistants, orderlies, maintenance staff, service employees and restaurant staff have now become the essential fabric and components to a society that cannot function without us. America seemingly can’t abide the round the clock, 24-7 realities of life with their own children and families in their own sprawling homes, communities and living freely on their own expansive plots of land. Indeed, from tortured souls arise the cries of a crumbling economy and the disintegration of an age-old facade of a global superpower, now uncovered to be the sordid, broken infrastructure of a vile, racist and rotten to the core cultural framework.

How ironic that as America hastens to its inevitable demise and irreconcilable doom . . . You too, wear the mask.

Divine Timing

“The secret of life is to have no fear” -Kwame Touré

All of my heroes are Revolutionaries. They are thinkers, writers, teachers and especially activists. Like them, I believe that the secret to life is to have no fear. The comprehensive list of people is too extensive to share in this blog context, but their lives were and are a testament to the power of transformation. It’s from this long list of women and men that I find the strength and inspiration to have made some of my most meaningful life decisions. My own Mother (appearing in the feature photo in yellow), tops this list of powerful influences and great, Revolutionary Black Power movement leaders. And selfless men, like Kwame Touré, whom I have cited above (and was blessed enough to meet within my lifetime while still a young and impressionable college undergrad), have an admitted place of prominence among my activist exemplars. In fact, if I had to choose a common thread connecting across each of my significant influences, it would be their innate sense of fearlessness and the divine light and intention from which they chose to live their lives that I would glean the most insightful lessons. I am grateful for their models of God anointed, Black power centered and purpose driven lives.

In the same sense that you innately know which choice to make when you’re faced with pivotal, life-altering decisions – I think we all know what moves and choices to make in other areas of our daily lives too. The choice to wake up with intention and carefully plot out our days’ agenda, is an (oftentimes futile) attempt to control the external outcome. Then there are other times when we’ve all had a strong sense that a person, situation or encounter seemed off or just didn’t feel right and we wisely heeded an inner knowing that somehow saved us from irreparable harm. This is divine timing effortlessly fueling our intuition and working on our behalf. What I now know to be true is that we just need the strength to first recognize and then speak and finally to act upon the inner urgings of our beings when we are intentionally aligned to spiritual and divine order, to consistently be on path of honoring our uniquely divine life’s purpose. One of the ways that I personally ensure that the innate desires of my heart is in sync with the spirit is to make sure that my actions mirror the innermost truths of who I Am and flow easily from a place of peace, justice, reciprocity and service to humanity.

To an outsider, other people’s lives might seem to unfold effortlessly as they progress through the days, weeks and decades which are the inevitable promise of longevity. But ultimately, you never really grasp the depths of other people’s personal struggles and would do well to reserve judgment of those who might appear to have it all together. Perception can mask a multitude of pain. Each of our lives are a direct reflection of a series of small decisions, everyday choices and major shifts of consciousness that we have each made along the way. The recent passing of Chadwick Boseman seemed to catch our collective consciousness off guard with its heartbreaking finality. Yet he, his family and close friends made an admirable and purposeful decision to honor, protect his confidentiality and to respect the dignity of his decision to opt for privately in the last season of his life. The free will to live in certain areas of the world (not necessarily where we were born), and to divinely select our parents, mates, close family and friends with whom most of us will spend a lifetime, are intentional actions with lasting implications. And no doubt, there’s no secret about how heavy and difficult it is when some decisions we have made with our whole hearts and the best of intentions, have sometimes had to have been abruptly changed because of actions outside our control or the painful reality that the situations no longer served us and aligned with us living our best lives. Certainly, divine timing is not always about joy, the fulfillment of our selfish desires or the ability to live long and pain-free lives devoid of hardships and heartbreak.

I can honestly relate to the concept that the key to life really is to have no fear. Whether life divinely unfolds in a way which could be subjectively interpreted as good or bad, I have the maturity to release the illusion of control and to remain steadfast in my faith, despite the circumstance. It’s my heartfelt desire to always be so in touch with the divine source of life, the power of discernment, the wealth of my many blessings and with all good things, that I simply flow with and in the same direction as the tides of life and not to struggle against it. In fact, if life has taught me anything over my 40+ years, it’s that any/all resistance to change is futile. In order for me to tap into my divinely inspired path and minor (or major) next steps, I have recently gotten quiet enough and intentionally plugged in to my God source to know that change is on the horizon. And I’m okay with that. I feel the shifting of cosmic energy deep within my consciousness on a cellular level, before it ever manifests externally. This is likely a blessing of foresight and wisdom that comes with age and experience. In my 20s and 30s, I used to be anxious and even fearful when I sensed that change was imminent and have even been foolish enough to attempt to hold onto people, positions and life situations that no longer served me. It may sound hokey, but I now acknowledge and hold to the adage that when one door closes, 2 or 3 doors of opportunity really do open and they often work more in my favor, than I could have even imagined. If my forties have taught me anything, its that a transparent series of especially tough life lessons were far from proving that my life was over or even that my blessings had shifted to misfortune. On the contrary, countless unavoidable obstacles did not block my blessings, but rather forced me to enhance my perspective and shifted my focus in life. I’m sure that my own life is not unlike yours in demonstrating that God has indeed blessed us immensely, but that we must also effortlessly accept and be seamlessly aligned with the divine timing and plan for each of our lives in a way that complements our new knowledge and experiences. When changes are pending and I am able to innately sense this deep down within, I need only to stay spiritually connected to my source to know which turns to take next on my divinely guided path.

I no longer worry or fear what the future holds, but I warmly and enthusiastically welcome the changes to come. In my best version of myself, I am like my beautiful and wise Queen Mother and the ever focused and committed revolutionary ancestor Kwame Touré in that I have a justice driven, purposeful calling which requires me to divinely plugged in for strength, direction. How blessed I am to be able to channel the powerful, infectious energy of yet another hero, Fred Hampton, as I unapologetically declare “I Am a Revolutionary” . . . and present myself as open and receptive to significant change. Asé

When Words Fail Me, Life Takes Over

Words have failed me for so long now. The first half of this year launched me headfirst into the depths of fear, loss, anger, despair, relentless work ethic and longing for the familiar escapes of faith, family, nature and self care that have sustained me through the years. Here I am photographed in my outdoor armor (even in summer), as I placed a neck covering shawl over my maxi dress, and tied an African wrap over my nose and mouth, with my mask firmly in place underneath. The few times I’ve ventured out to run essential errands my survival instinct has been kicked into high gear, because I’ve lost so many family and friends. I have wanted and even tried on many occasions to commit pen to page and just write. But so often, words failed me and life (in the time of Corona) simply took over. Writing for pleasure has been nearly an impossible task since the onset of this dreadful pandemic. The novelty of this coronavirus and my people not just feeling, but actually being, under attack since February, 2020 has taken its toll. So the things I have always done effortlessly (breathing, writing, introspection and deep thoughtful activism), have been limited to going through the motions and doing just what was needed to survive.

For six months (and counting now), I have kicked in high gear in a major way, in virtually every area of my life. To God be the Glory! And if I’m being completely honest, it has certainly taken its toll. I have done my level best to cultivate the joy and gratitude I have for each day to maintain a peaceful solace and stability in our admittedly peaceful household. I have felt immensely blessed by the presence and quiet, unassuming yet indomitable strength of my creative, brilliant and thoughtfully beautiful adult daughter. She brings me joy, hope and abundant blessings as she weathers this difficult period of life’s trajectory with the exploration and enjoyment of the arts, music and painting especially, and in crafting brag worthy culinary feasts. Meanwhile, I have somehow begun to rise to the occasion as a leader in my immediate and extended family -by enthusiastically convening weekly family connection calls since March, which have now (thankfully and admirably) morphed into bi-weekly business meetings which have united us in a collective desire to forge ahead undaunted by fears of gloom and doom. In addition, I have spearheaded the near all-encompassing immersion of my entire church family and membership into the 21st Century age of technology as we now surpass snail mail totals with our online PayPal business account for the submission of our tithes and offerings. Also, we have been blessed and spiritually nourished via our now routine weekly Zoom worship services – which are streamed live in the true spirit of unity. These joint family and community initiatives have been a labor of love to be sure, but no easy task to maintain as it has meant an increased commitment of time (over and above my already busy work schedule). Most importantly, I have also been intentionally prayerful and even more intimately connected with my own mother – my best friend, confidante and a revered elder in both our family and local Black Nationalist and activist community alike – to ensure that as she has been routinely pulled in countless different ways and called upon to minister, give unselfishly of herself in leadership as a tenured professor or a retired elected official and grassroots community activist leader, that she continues to thrive physically, emotionally and mentally and that ultimately she counter her physically active days and nights, with a more predictable “shelter in place” norm which ensures that she is healthy and whole. This has been an especially important priority for me through this time of crisis. As she has lost an inordinate amount of peers to this tragic virus and as the eldest daughter, I consider it both an honor and my absolute responsibility that all of my Mother’s needs are met (despite her continuing refrain that “she’s got it”) ❤️. As such, nothing has given me more satisfaction than to have my Mom and honestly every other member of my family within my immediate (or technology savvy reach) be as: healthy, centered, happy and most importantly the picture of wellness as they can possibly be; our people overall are under attack in experiencing the acute impact of pain and loss during this horrific time in human history.

On a professional level, I have experienced a perceptible shift in the scope of my primary work as an Instructional Coach working directly with select school districts across the country to ensure that equity is leveraged as an all-inclusive priority. Despite the in-person closure of districts, I have ramped up my work on a global, virtual platform to ensure that I am instrumental in the development of our collective capacity to lead as administrators, lead teachers and ELA subject area practitioners. This meaningful work has been largely fueled by my life’s work and overarching mission to dismantle oppression and mis-education in such a way that the needs of Black students, in particular, are met commensurate with the unique genius, culture and exemplary humanity we bring to the world is similarly acknowledged in educational spaces. Well, in this time of unprecedented chaos and given the potential for substantive change, one of the ways I have certainly stepped up the very real challenges of meeting the wide-ranging needs of our youth leadership (aka students), has been by using news articles to design rigorous, Common Core curricula aligned lessons that were inclusive of close readings, text and life experience-based analyses, oral/written critical reflections, and formative evaluations. After fashioning an intentionally engaging high school distance learning curriculum from scratch (with only a unit theme and the accessible Newsela site as a guide); I then commenced to connecting virtually with students via a digital platform and hosting daily videos in a pre-recorded series of lesson accompaniments designed to at least mimic the sort of seamless, caring, engaging instruction my teaching might otherwise offer in person. The resulting immersion in student facing, content creation and a coveted opportunity to counteract trauma and otherwise contribute to an integral part of their abrupt, post-school closure/early onset of the pandemic daily lives, became as much of a soul-enriching blessing to me, as I pray it was to each of them. Admittedly, this work was highly fulfilling and close to my heart over the course of the 10-12 weeks duration in which it was produced. Since then, I have been committed to consulting an increasingly extensive body of research to determine the ‘best practices’ of an equitable school restart plan which would empower us to essentially reimagine school on a solid foundation of Revolutionary promise which would capitalize upon the spirit of the day and prioritize the needs of students. However, over time the challenge has been to fulfill my own personal, self care centered goals with my trademark of excellence…as the death toll increased exponentially in my own personal life and as the world was literally falling apart all around me/us. I’m sure you can more clearly see how/why blog writing took a seat wayyy in the back of life’s priorities.

During the interim period in which words and my love of writing failed me, I did manage to write a very therapeutic, narrative poem as a sort of ode to Paul Laurence Dunbar’s classic We Wear the Mask. But it laid bare so much raw pain and revolutionary fervor that I opted not to publish it at the time it was written as a means to maintain the public facing integrity of this educational blog. In retrospect, if I have stepped up either personally or professionally, in ways that did disappoint, it truly was not my intention to do so. As I progress through my forties, showing up as my authentic self means that white supremacy norms and unattainable dispositions towards perfection are no longer feasible. I am unapologetically me. In fact as if the aforementioned jobs were not enough, because I have always been a multifaceted high achiever, the noted primary work obligations were uniquely complemented by my ongoing and very active vocations as: a college graduate professor (to a host of truly brilliant and selfless educators), and an online international ESL language teacher to a small cadre of brilliant and highly motivated Chinese students (but, only on the weekends, given my expanded schedule and professional obligations since November of last year). Lastly, as a small business owner I have suffered significant lapses in clientele and company growth/expansion with the overwhelming constraints of conducting business in a post-pandemic and failing American economy. Essentially, through all this admitted busyness, I have scarcely had time to breathe, sleep, eat, exercise, meditate and pray. So writing: my self avowed first love (only rivaled by my loves of reading, being immersed in loving relationships and enjoying and loving life overall), had been forcibly thrown to the wayside in the hierarchy of priorities. Having honestly admitted these heartfelt truths is therapeutic for me. I must say how grateful I am for the faithful blog supporters who stuck around and hung in there with me, through lengthy periods of absence and the literal deafening silence which had come to be the reality of this beloved blog in the time of Covid.

In conclusion, I wish I could say that things would be back to normal soon, whatever that means, in terms of post pandemic life and our collective new normal. Sigh…but sadly, the death toll here in Detroit had only falsely appeared to dissipate and it now seems to be back on the rise with no end in sight. Also, the pivotal work of dismantling oppression in education is especially needed right now and does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon. While I am due for a coveted and long awaited week long vacation – that I hope to soon schedule and enjoy – I can only commit to keeping myself, the health of my family and friends and my life’s work uppermost in my priorities for the foreseeable future. I would LOVE nothing more than to write like my life depended on it, (because really it does), and to once again think deeply, rest sufficiently and experience joy without limits. Alas, the reality of this dual pandemic of COVID and racism means that my survival (and that of those whom I love) is truly not guaranteed and thus, the world turns in such a way that duty calls. What I can promise is that when I do get an opportunity to pour out of myself on this very public platform, I will do so authentically and somewhere within the unique intersectionality (thanks Sis, Kimberlé Crenshaw, #CiteBlackWomen), of Black woman, Mother, Scholar-Educator, She-Her-Hers, my health and wellness, fighting on the front lines of liberation and education. Until then, please be well! Asé ❤️✊🏿

The Right to Literacy

Let’s just say this at the outset: despite what you heard about Black folks’ support of state government and the swell of popularity a certain elected official has unduly benefited from (at the hands of a non-voting, yet vocal minority of talented symbols of youth pop culture), in this COVID era pandemic; #BigGretch is not worthy of praise and is still NOT invited to the proverbial cookout. #Period. In fact Black women, educators and an overwhelming majority of Detroit parents in particular, call upon Governor Gretchen Whitmer to finesse and harness all of her useless task force creating energy to finding her voice and to finally taking a stand on behalf of the marginalized masses of students in this state, who undoubtedly have a right to literacy. Failure to utilize a prime opportunity to expediently settle the #RightToLiteracy case has been a pronounced area of grave inequity and political legacy crushing inactivity for Michigan’s governor. Please understand: inactivity is silence and silence is complicity. Justice delayed is and always will be, justice denied and on this pivotal platform it is clear that you’ve chosen to be on the wrong side of history.

For Michigan’s Gov., Gretchen Whitmer, to come under such presidential fire as of late and yet still make a conscious decision NOT to take a stand on behalf of the children of Michigan’s inalienable right to literacy is tantamount to a willful betrayal of countless Black lives in the state’s largest school district – DPSCD. The degree of selective tone deafness is maddening. So just so we’re clear…you’re tuned in enough to hear your praises being uttered in rap form and wise enough to rebuff the mindless, crowdfunded Buffs from said artist but don’t know enough to do what’s right on behalf of Black students right to literacy? Yeah – okay.

COVID-19 has the Black community on the ropes and in a literal fight for our lives, so I’m far too emotionally exhausted by oppression, despair and the actual deaths all around me to detail the lengthy, sordid history of the many ways in which years of legislative decisions have been synonymous with justice denied for several generations of Michigan’s Black students, who have suffered mis-education in every conceivable form since white supremacist oppression reared its predictable presence in the emergency mis-management, rape and pillage of our once glorious public school system. People are encouraged and welcome to exercise their own free will (and Google) to unearth the reprehensible, true story of educational malpractice of the highest order which has already happened in this state. In addition, I’ll not spend any time connecting this egregious history to the very existence of this historically relevant right to literacy case, to which I have referred throughout this blog. What I will share and have the energy to unabashedly announce is that we’ve seen this before. My people have sadly grown accustomed and are admittedly tired of the white men and women who brazenly leverage privilege and white fragility, when convenient, from empowered elected official seats and other positions of power, while willfully dishonoring and confirming your relative disdain for Black lives when it comes to our: water, schools (Benton Harbor High School) and now via this selective, deafening silence in the 6th Circuit Court case #RightToLiteracy ruling. This is common practice in the playbook of institutionalized oppression.

May I remind you that it was misguided Black folks who joined liberals across the country in coming to your defense when #45 sicked his legion of armed, right wing, white supremacist, hate spewing factions to your doorstep in the states capital – not once, but multiple times – and with undoubtedly more rabid dog, screaming protests yet to come. In spite of this, you still have yet to find your voice on behalf of Black children and their right to literacy. I’m confused. Wasn’t it you who made ill-advised, profanity laced pronouncements that you would “fix the damn roads” and promised to ensure funding and advocacy for education the whole time you deceptively campaigned across the state? Hell, why not fix the damn schools instead – now is your chance. Honestly, even if you were to decide to settle this landmark case, in this, the final hour of decision making relevance . . . It would still be too little, too late. We see you 👀.

We, as people of good conscience, long memories and even more powerful voting blocs and records of holding people accountable for doing what the hell they claim they’re gonna do, were merely admonishing this governor to keep a campaign promise SHE made. It’s cool though. Your trademark white supremacist adjacent silence and inaction has been duly noted. It’s now incumbent upon us to respond accordingly. Lastly to this point, Black ppl need to stop giving weak excuses, political cover and begging others of us to exercise patience and grace when it comes to inequity (especially when it comes to Black students’ education). It’s our collective responsibility to cease and desist in affording points or credit to this or ANY elected official when they have only earned our scorn (after having unjustly solicited our votes). From now on and forever more, just get accustomed to holding all people in positions of power accountable to doing their jobs and, perhaps more importantly, to keeping their word. Our children are watching. And they deserve better. 💯

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