Prep School Negro Rescheduled

Just a heads up, winter decided to rear it’s ugly head causing the Prep School Negro showing to be rescheduled. Gotta love the weather! Anyway this fabulous event has officially been rescheduled for April 2, 2012 6:00pm. Hope you can make it if you are local.

Several months ago one my twitter followers told me about an independent film by Andre Robert Lee called Prep School Negro. I immediately looked into this film and it definitely caught my eye, no I am not a prep school Negress but as someone who plays outside the racial and class box they were born into, this film definitely spoke to me in the clip I had a chance to view.

Of course being in Maine, I figured my chances of seeing this film in its entirety were pretty much a dream. Granted I decided to email the director and much to my amazement, he told me plans were underway to come to Maine in early 2012 and show this film. Well long story short, it seems that twitter follower and several others had been working behind the scenes to bring Lee to Maine. A few weeks ago, I received a message asking if I could help get the word out about Prep School Negro and here I am.

Friends School of Portland, in collaboration with UNE and area independent schools, is hosting André Robert Lee and showing the film The Prep School Negro, on Monday, April 2, 2012 6:00pm  at UNE’s Ludcke Auditorium. Lee’s film provides an important reflection on the challenges and opportunities that arise when a poor student of color leaves his community to attend an elite private school. Lee prompts us to consider the meanings that home and school, class and race, aspirations and education play in our current lives and the lives of our children. What does it mean to belong in a school community and what can schools do to become more truly inclusive? We hope you’ll come to this unique event and engage in this important conversation! See the film trailer here:

“André Robert Lee and his sister grew up in the ghettos of Philadelphia. Their mother struggled to support them by putting strings in the waistbands of track pants and swimsuits in a local factory. When Andre was 14 years old, he received what his family believed to be a golden ticket – a full scholarship to attend one of the most prestigious prep schools in the country. Elite education was Andre’s way up and out, but at what price? Yes, the exorbitant tuition was covered, but this new world cost him and his family much more than anyone could have anticipated.

In The Prep School Negro, André takes a journey back in time to revisit the events of his adolescence while also spending time with current day prep school students of color and their classmates to see how much has really changed inside the ivory tower. What he discovers along the way is the poignant and unapologetic truth about who really pays the consequences for yesterday’s accelerated desegregation and today’s racial naiveté.”

Cheverus High School
City of Portland
McAuley High School
Merriconeag Waldorf High School
NAACP Portland Branch
North Yarmouth Academy
UNE Multicultural Affairs
Waynflete School

Anyway I hope folks will come out and support this film and director, I sure as hell hope to be there!

Cultural differences and death…a homegoing

Today the world laid Whitney Houston to rest, and for some it was none to soon but as I accidentally found myself sucked into reading tweets about the service and later actually watching it on TV, I realized there was something larger at play. Despite the strides over the years for Black Americans to integrate into the overall American experience, there are some areas of our lives that are still very segregated, how we worship and how we deal with death. To be honest, I never really thought about these differences until my mother in law (who was white) passed away many years ago and obviously I attended the service. I was immediately struck by how very different the service was from what I had seen previously at memorials and funeral services. I will sum it simply as short and somber.

By comparison, the funerals I had attended for family members in my family at times could be seen as raucous affairs. They also were long, oh so very long. The shortest funeral I have ever attended for a family member oddly enough was my mother’s, which was shaped by my parents eclectic mix of beliefs starting with the fact my mom was cremated. Yet it still had enough traditionally Black aspects that it would in fact be recognized by many Black Americans as a Black service.

Yet in reading the tweets of people during Houston’s service, especially from white folks and Black folks who did not grow up in the traditional Black church, it’s clear we still don’t fully share parts of the Black experience even during Black history month. Truth is there are many in my generation and others who have left the traditional Black church, like many institutions that at one time had great value, today’s Black church is but a shadow of it’s former self. Yet at one point in time for Black Americans especially those of us who descend from slavery, it was all we had. The Black church was our home, it nourished us body and soul and gave us the strength to carry on. It’s no coincidence that many who were part of the Civil Rights movement hailed from the Black church.

I often used to wonder why the hell we used to get so damn happy in church, until hearing my father’s reminiscences about growing up in Arkansas as the child of sharecroppers. Let’s just say if I had been alive then, I’d probably get happy too in church. For those long denied their humanity, the ceremony of death was a joyous occasion, fairy tale or not it gave people comfort to believe that when someone died they were in a better place. A place free of the brutality that was meted out on a daily basis, so for those left behind a celebration was only fitting. To this day, you still see signs of that in many traditional Black funerals, songs, non-Black colored clothing, a way to celebrate Sister or Brother So and So’s homegoing. To quote one of my tweeps Clutch Magazine “ how fitting that her funeral–a FULL expression of Black culture–is happening during Black History Month?”

Indeed, it is fitting. Every year we trot out discussions of Martin, Rosa, Malcolm and others but to see the Black church on display is indeed fitting. If we are truly to move ahead as a society, understanding and knowledge is key. As for Sister Whitney, whatever her faults in this life, it is clear that she was loved and not just by people who did not know her and only adored her voice. I think we should all be so lucky if when we check off this rock, so many will come out to remember us. If nothing else that struck me in viewing this service was that she was loved but at the same time, no one glossed over the fact that she was a human who struggled. I can’t think of a better send off.

Hey Gene! What about the poor white kids?

At a certain point, it gets really tiring having people who have never experienced a moment of poverty pontificate about poverty and how they would deal with it. Of course as a Black woman, I get even more bugged by upper middle class white folks who appear to have the cure for what ails poor brown people. To that I say: Really? Then why haven’t you helped out poor white folks?
See, if you were a Martian who landed in the United States and turned on the news, you would assume that most of the poor in this country are Black. Never mind that Blacks are still a minority, nope the take away would be “wow those Black folks are sure as shit deficient.” It seems the women can’t find mates, the men are either locked up or having closeted gay encounters, and they don’t have jobs, and on and on it goes. There are bits of truth in that but let’s be clear it’s not the entire truth by a long stretch.
Yet it’s what creates buzz, as Gene Marks a writer for Forbes this week did with his piece “If I was a Poor Black Kid”, well the internet put the smack down on Mr. Marks and handed him his ass. None of what Marks said was particularly inspired and frankly much of it has been said before; problem is Marks is not a poor Black kid, nor was he a poor White kid and his so-called advice came from a douchebag paternalistic place where in the end anything good turned into that wawa voice from Charlie Brown…just static.
I don’t want to spend much time on Marks and that piece, what I do want to discuss is, how is it that Marks appears ignorant of the fact there are plenty of poor white kids in the U.S.? See, thanks to being a black girl in Maine who works in social services I see em daily. In fact due to my move here almost a decade ago, I often joke in many ways I have become an ally to poor whites. Not something you expect from someone with an undergraduate degree focused in African American studies whose professional aspirations were to get a Ph.D. in African American Studies and whose major area of interest was media representations of Black women. Not exactly the poster girl for championing poor white issues. Funny thing though the universe moved me to Maine and my eyes were opened wide.
Turns out many of the behaviors that pundits, sociologists and others ascribe to poor Blacks are identical in poor whites. Down to men who just leave, though one odd twist that I have seen more of in Maine (so not sure how prevalent it is elsewhere) is moms leaving. More than a handful of families have come across my path where it’s dad and kids, or dad and a new lady who is not bio-mom.
Now schools in rural states like Maine may not rival an inner city school in say my hometown Chicago, but in less moneyed communities the schools don’t have a lot to offer. To be honest the schools aside from say the metal detectors looks identical.
The thing is why is so much damn time spent on highlighting differences? Why can’t people like Marks look broader and think about poor kids in general? One of my growing pet peeves is how people section off the poor, yes there are some historical differences but in modern times, poor people and especially poor kids need help. They all need access to good schools, healthcare, they need parents who are in good shape and ready to parent. Drugs? Well drug use runs rampant in white communities too, very much like the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980’s and 90’s…drug of choice in communities that I serve trend towards prescription pills and meth and even the new bath salts. Here in Maine drug stores like CVS and Rite-Aid get robbed on a weekly basis. Yet aside from a few pieces here and there, the spotlight doesn’t shine much on this crisis. As I have said before on this blog the worse part of my job is because this is a predominantly white and rural state, funding for programs like the one I run are harder to come by. Never mind that with each passing year, the numbers of people we serve are on the rise.
To some degree I believe we are all still stuck in the days of yesterday where it’s easier to see race as a barrier rather than class. We need to start having an honest dialogue and talk about the fact that poverty and its ripple effects are bad for all kids, not just poor Black kids!