Monday, August 27, 2007

Do They Realize How Important They Are?

Last night I held an on campus event for Target. It went fairly well and you'll catch it on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show. I'll post the airdate once I find out - but back to this blog.

At our event I saw quite a few of our black students and it made me think of a blog I wrote back in May 2007. The blog was in reference to the show, Iconoclasts on the Sundance channel. This particular episode featured Dave Chappelle and Maya Angelou and there was a point where Maya really hit home with me. She was speaking about black men and how sometimes they forget their importance in society with regard to what most of our ancestors had survived. It was pretty deep.

At the event I got to thinkin' how students really have no concept of it. How they are here because of the pain and struggles of those who came before us. That they have this GRAND opportunity to attend pretty much ANY university they choose to apply themselves to the work it takes to get accepted. It also made me think of the type of student I was in high school and how I just barely got by. I guess it's still fresh in my mind because I watched Roots: The Next Generations last month. After having seen people go through so much, why would any black student want to NOT succeed or be successful? I don't think they don't want to be successful, but I do think that the perception of what successful is is vastly different than the traditional views of what a successful adult is. Is it money, power, material things?

Since school has now begun for most campuses, I thought I'd share the blog that keeps Dr. Maya Angelou's question, "Do you know how important you are?" fresh in my mind. Maybe it will inspire you in the same way it has me and enable you to inspire others.

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May 22, 2007


If you've kept up with my postings, you'd know that I'm in a "writing mood" lately. It's a creative outlet for me and when i take the time to write something, I REALLY put in some effort.

Today I was watching a show I had Tivo'ed called "Iconoclasts". It's a show that comes on the Sundance Channel. I had heard about this show from a friend and it just so happens that I came across the show one day. I didn't have time to sit and enjoy it so I set up the Tivo to capture the episode. This particular episode featured Dave Chapelle and Dr. Maya Angelou. These are two people that I admire in different ways and i was deeply interested in how this meeting of two well known, black celebrities would work out.

As I was watching the episode, it just began to move me. Dave Chapelle is my age and he's talking to Maya Angelou who reminded me of my maternal grandmother - extremely wise and full of love. I was thinking of how much love Dave Chapelle must be feeling because I was feeling it just from watching the screen.

Maya Angelou talked about her life and the people she knew and had met. Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., James Baldwin, among others. It's just amazing to hear of the life she was made to live.

In the episode she talked about how she could tell when a young adult was raised properly - by how they respect their elders. She also commented that while you should respect your elders, you don't necessarily need to agree with them. That reminded me of my own upbringing. It also reminded me of a story i was told the other day in which as a teen ager, this person would have fist fights with her mother. Something is clearly wrong with that picture. I also thought about how I treat senior citizens and how I give them respect. My parents made sure to instill this in me.

Maya Angelou was speaking with Dave and told him a story. In this story she said two things that resonated with me. 1 - "Don't pick it up and don't lay it down." and 2 - "Do you know how important you are?".

I'll tackle the easiest to explain first. I was confused when she said the statement, "Don't pick it up and don't lay it down." What in the world is that supposed to mean? I was confused. Then she explained. If someone says, "You're great!", "Your work is fabulous!", "You do everything fantastically!" you should consider accepting the compliment because if you "pick it up" you're also going to have to "pick up" the criticisms. If you choose to "pick up" the accolades you can't just "lay down" the criticisms. That struck a chord with me and my career and my art. If I accept all of the positive discussion about what I do I need to also accept the negative. If I'm not ready to accept criticism I should just graciously and humbly accept the compliment and move on without relishing in the thought that someone thought I was "great", "good", "awesome", etc.

The second thing Maya Angelou said is, "Do you know how important you are?" As a black American... this is EXTREMELY important.

Maya Angelou was telling Dave Chapelle how she had to have a conversation with a young black man who was angry at another black man and using foul language (she does a MUCH better explanation of this than i do). She asked him "Has anyone told you how important you are?" Again, my ears perked up and i listened intently and rewound it to hear it again. "Has anyone told you how important you are?" Wow - that is SO profound. So profound that I had to pause Tivo and grab my sketch book. I wrote down what she said word for word. Maya said, "Do you know our people slept - laid spoon fashioned, in the filthy ashes of slave ships in their own and each others excrement and urine and menstrual flow so that you could live 200 years later? Do you know that our people stood on auction blocks so that you could live? When is the last time someone told you how important you are?"

Think about that. Think about HOW profound that paragraph is. The very thought of understanding where most black Americans originated from. How they arrived to America. Think about the pain and agony our ancestors must have gone through. Think about the journey on those slave ships - the trauma of being captured and shackled. The pain of being whipped and abused. Raped and robbed. To have survived all of that so that WE can be here. This is what makes being a black American important. We carry on the struggle for what our ancestors lived through. We are the result of their successes in staying alive. We are a result of their fighting for freedom; for civil rights; for equal rights.

To be a black American and not "get that" is not understanding our history in this country. It makes me realize how thankful I am. How grateful I am to have been given the life I have and a sense of urgency in making my life have meaning and importance because I know how "important I am".

After the episode, I also got to thinkin' about why certain words and actions are unacceptable in black American society. For instance - dressing in black face - totally unacceptable just because of the history behind it all. Shirley Q. Liquor is a white man dressing in brown makeup and over-the-top clothing, representing himself as a poor, uneducated, single parent of MANY kids. It's like we stepped back into time. This is NOT the days of the menstel show! Then to have another person argue that it's no different than Eddie Murphy dressing up as a Jewish man in Coming to America - they MUST be smokin' somethin'. I don't recall a black man dressin' in white face makin' fun of June Cleaver.

Then there's the whole use of the word Nigger and any other version of the word (nigga, nicca, et al). Let me clarify something. I don't use the word UNLESS I'm trying to educate - so at this moment it will be used freely. I've heard people say, "Well how come blacks can say it and I can't?" Well, think about it... if you still don't get it, you probably shouldn't even consider using it. I don't even like to hear black people say it. It's a term used to hurt us and our using it doesn't give us the power it ONLY gives the power to the people who are CURRENTLY in power. As long as you continue to say the word, the more they'll continue to believe that's all you are. You might say "Nicca" or "Nigga" but the rest of the world is hearing NIGGER. If you want to be treated with honor and respect you have to begin with treating yourself like you deserve it.

It's so amazing how something like this can flip a switch in your brain. i feel so compelled to do something; to be expressive - much more than just writing this blog. This week I will create something artistic to show the importance of black Americans in the 21st Century.

2 comments:

Rodney said...

Interesting comments on Maya;, I to have listened to her many a time and have come to realize that what she say is from the heart with an intellectual flavor!

Rodney said...

Also, Dennis, don't be too naive(I hope I spelt that right), we(yes, I'm black folk) my have the GRAND opportunity but most black students are NOT taught to answer that "DOOR" of opportunity.