Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families


From South Africa’s Black Consciousness Movement to Ferguson-Everywhere’s ‘Hands Up Don’t Shoot’: A Monday Evening Meditation

MMM - Logo 6

Tomorrow, June 16, marks the 39th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising, a day when many thousands of students walked out of their classrooms to protest the unjust racist policies and practices that comprised the apartheid system in  South Africa. The protests, beginning in Soweto, and spreading throughout South Africa, marked a turning point in the level and spirit of youth activism. Youth were unwilling to accept the status quo, and were willing to fight and sacrifice so that they, and future generations, could live in a country free of white racism and oppression.

This anniversary provides a great reminder for all of us that young people have often experienced the most brutal forms of racism, certainly in South Africa and also in the United States.  Similarly, youth have always been in the forefront of all of our significant movements toward justice.


The excerpt below is pulled from a book describing the presence and role of children during the anti-apartheid struggle.  You can easily substitute the location and context of this excerpt, and it will be just as applicable to the experiences and conditions now shaping the rapidly evolving and intensifying youth protest movements in this country, today, especially the increasing numbers of state-sanctioned extra-judicial killings of African American women, girls, men and boys at the hands of law enforcement. Not to mention the disproportionate targeting of Black youth in schools and communities by people in positions of authority, and who frequently interpret the very presence of Black young people as a form of disruption and/or as a more general threat.

My simple message today is that we have to see and understand what's happening today in the United States within the broader and long historical, social and political context of Black resistance to white racism and oppression. Our youth are well grounded within a tradition of organizing and demonstration, in response to their immediate lived experience of racial targeting and harassment, and also because of their witness and recognition of the broader forces that shape the brutal and violent life conditions of way too many other Black folks all around.

Let's not be so dismissive of our young people. They, and all of us, stand on solid ground. And our struggle remains one struggle.

From Children of Resistance: Statements from the Harare Conference on Children, Repression and the Law in Apartheid South Africa, p. 31-32...

What emerges clearly from these reports, though, is that the main target of this terror has been the youth and the children. This is not surprising because since 16 June, 1976, the most militant, energetic and courageous fighters against apartheid have been the youth and children. Many are driven by sheer hatred of apartheid to engage daily in a battle with the security forces and all those they regard as enforcing apartheid.

The state therefore concluded that to break the spirit of the community they had to break the spirit of the youth. Not only those formally involved in the organizations of the democratic movement, but all the youth.

Hundreds of reports reached us of apparently random assault, harassment and the shooting of youths in the streets, at school, on the way to shops, at funerals and vigils and so on. A pattern emerged which repeated itself in every part of the country. The attacks weren't simply the actions of overzealous security forces, but were actually part of a deliberate policy of terrorising the youth. Anyone who thinks that it is an exaggeration to talk of a policy of terror, should consider the testimony of young people.

To intimidate and demoralise the youth, particularly school kids, they introduced curfews, door-to-door raids, shows of force at funerals and meetings. Our children came under heavy attack in schools. At one stage in the emergency schools were occupied by the security forces. Soldiers and police interfered in the classes, attacked and shot children in the school grounds, whipped them into classes, etc.

While the year and the detail in the above excerpt might be different, the overarching theme is way too familiar.

If there is a bright side, it's that people throughout the country are more frequently able to see the abuse of way too many Black communities and young people, and people of many backgrounds are at least somewhat less willing to stand by and watch this sort of overt racism and race-influenced violence.

The story is unfolding before our eyes, and is being written every single day in cities across this country.

A very brief clip from: The World Witnesses the Soweto Uprising:

On June 16, 1976, what began as a non-violent demonstration by students in Soweto quickly escalated into a violent uprising once the authorities fired on the unarmed protestors, killing 12-year-old Hector Pieterson.


Roots and Branches: We Are the Bridge Between the Elders and the Children

MMM - Logo 6

I was very fortunate to have spent many of my childhood years growing up around, and to some extent getting to know, my grandparents.  There were many lessons they tried to teach us, rules for living really, that I've always remembered and still reflect on in my adult years.  The most consistent messages were to always listen to my parents, and to always seek out as much education as we could possibly get.

As for listening to our parents, our grandparents were absolutely clear that our parents had a responsibility to be hard on us, but that they knew far better than we did what it would take for us to grow up and be successful in this country and in this world.  They also made it clear to us that our parents knew what was at stake if we didn't listen, and if we didn't grow up to be responsible and hard-working.  They helped to translate the rhyme and reason for the strict childhood we were experiencing.  The stakes have always been high for our children growing up in such a racist society.  And as much as our grandparents may have spoiled us, they also didn't play games.  We did chores around their house, we ran errands for them and we did anything and everything they asked of us.  And when necessary, they disciplined us just as 'intensely' as our parents did.  Our grandparents didn't play.

In terms of education, they made sure we knew that formal schooling (as in going to school to learn and get diplomas, degrees, etc.) wasn't always allowed for our people, and that anything we wanted to be and do in life would require a strong educational foundation.  They also made it clear that there were some things we needed to learn that wouldn't be taught in textbooks... like respect for elders, how to conduct ourselves in public (we represent our parents and extended family at all times), how to treat other people and our lifelong responsibility to our family and community.  It was clear that getting an education wasn't just about our own individual success, but those were all tools and processes we needed to exploit in order to make our mark - in support of our community - in this world.

While there was so much that I did get, the one thing that I wish I got more of directly from my grandparents was greater insight about what their childhoods were like - what it was like to have grown up so close to the years during which our people were enslaved.  I appreciate now how hard and traumatic some of those memories were, and also how their insistence on being forward-looking accounted for a lot of that.  The good thing is that my parents, as well as my aunts and uncles, have over the years helped me and some cousins understand what those earlier years were like.

Now, in my adult years and as a parent of two growing children, I watch with great appreciation as my children interact with their grandparents, as well as with their great aunts and uncles.  It's such a blessing that they get to soak up some of the same stories that I'm hearing for the first time, as young children.  It's also powerful to watch them listen to some of the reflections from our elders about the long history of racism that we continue to fight.  One of the most pronounced messages they're hearing is that this isn't new, and that there are a lot of lessons to be learned from the experiences - successes and no so successful strategies - of our long fight for freedom and justice so that they can be better prepared as the face and tactics of racism and white supremacy continue to evolve during their lifetime.

I share some of these reflections as a reminder that we have so much to learn from our elders about life and about our history in this world.  We can't blow them off, and we also can't afford to let their stories, experiences and wisdom leave us when they transition from this physical life.

For years now, I have kept a small statue of an elder on my desk, and it reminds me of the many years of life that have been lived by others before me, and that have made it possible for me to be here.  I, and we all, have to tap into that wisdom if we really want to turn this pathology of racism and white supremacy on its head.

There's little new under the sun.  And that's certainly true when it comes to our effort to heal and develop our families in the face of white supremacy.  If more of us better understood the look, feel and ever-changing landscape of this racist pathology, we would be able to focus our energies and strategies so much more effectively.  Studying our history is our best starting point, including both our ancient ways of living in the world and our collective response to racism and white supremacy during the lifetimes of our elders and ancestors.

We have many elders in our midst right now.  We should start today by asking questions, making sense of that experience and gaining any insight about how to apply it to today's circumstances.

The only generational gap that can ever exist is the one that we deliberately refuse to bridge.



In Relationships, Today Matters Most – A Monday Morning Meditation

MMM - Logo 6

Seasonal Lesson: Place family and close relationships first.

When I was in graduate school I worked as a graduate assistant at a research and school reform institution based on the campus of Howard University. I loved the work, and especially the opportunity to engage with some of the young children at that particular school. Despite the school's designation as one of the most under-performing, our kids were, like all of the kids I've ever engaged in DC, among the brightest and talented you'd ever come across. Labels mean little, especially when applied by folks who know little to nothing about what happens in the school, or better yet in the classroom.

One of the other treats from this experience, however, was the chance I had to work with - and learn from - the school's designated teacher representative for the program. Her name was Mrs. Hill. The way the program worked, we (the team based at Howard University) organized Howard University students to be trained and to serve as the after school program instructors. We worked directly with Mrs. Hill to prepare the program instructors, and to plan out the lessons for each week. The program went strong for several years, after which time Mrs. Hill retired from the school system to spend more time with her family, a well deserved reprieve after decades of service to the profession. Within months of her retirement, something she'd excitedly planned for because of the new season of family life it was ushering in, Mrs. Hill passed away. It was a devastating moment for all who knew Mrs. Hill and the many plans she'd been developing for and with her grandchildren.

I've never forgotten Mrs. Hill. Her experience is like so many of our collective family members' experiences. We 'work' so hard and for so long during our lifetimes, frequently as employees with demanding schedules, and frequently within anti-family working environments, that we sacrifice the relationships and life moments that bring the kind of fulfillment and the kinds of positive memories that carry on for future generations.

My simple message for anyone within reach of these words is to (re-)consider the many commitments you make on a daily basis. Where does family fall into that mix? How would your children respond if I asked their assessment? What about other close family members and friends?

It's tough to lose family members and close friends to what is frequently an early death. It's even worse when you know you haven't spent the kind of quality time you wanted with them, and didn't share or hear the range of stories you always wanted to hear and share.

If we think about our lives as isolated years that begin with our birth, and end with our departure from this physical form of life, we think we have to do everything and accomplish everything ourselves. But when we think of our lives as but one leg of a relay race that began with generations that have gone before us, and that will continue with generations that are still to come, then it helps us to rethink the meaning and purpose of our lives.

We don't have to do it all and accomplish it all within our lifetimes. Our responsibility is to build on the traditions and ways of living we inherit, and make the space healthier for the generations that will come after us. That's our task.

As for me, my children are my reminder. They are far wiser in their young years than I would have imagined. In so many ways, they remind me of the ways and personalities of family members that have transitioned into the great community of ancestors.

And while they remind me of the family members that I miss so much, they also remind me every morning and every night how much I appreciate and value the living family members whose company, experiences and stories I still get to cherish.


Understanding and Nurturing Creativity and Self-Determination – A Monday Morning Meditation

MMM - Logo 6

If only the world was as conversant in the historical context of Black self-determination as they appear to be in the extent and historical context of racial disparities. Unfortunately, this nation, and its host of media institutions, continues to perfect the art of telling stories of Black misery and hardship. It takes the form of new reports on old patterns of racial disparity.

We must be clear, however, that our community's challenges will not be resolved because we understand the extent of persistent racial disparities... as important as it is to always understand the nature and context of our current condition.

Our challenges will be resolved by our insistence that others take us seriously. More importantly, our challenges will be resolved as a result of our insistence on taking ourselves seriously.

This begins by investing just as much time in understanding how we survived the many centuries of white supremacy, racism and outside interference with our community's survival and institution-building, as we invest in understanding our current ranking on one scale or another that others use to measure community well-being. In this regard, Malcolm X's old admonition is worth the reminder... "Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research."

After years of being involved in efforts to eliminate racial disparities in child welfare and related child and family serving systems, I'm convinced that equal or more of our time must be invested in understanding and nurturing the courageous and creative problem-solving capacity within our community. This includes understanding our capacity and efforts today and in years past.

There are plenty of very smart and skilled people within our community - perhaps more today than at any time in our recent history. We have within our community - at this very moment - all of the know how we need to bring about the kinds of conditions we want to see and experience for our children, our families and for the collective African / African American community. We have to be far more thoughtful and deliberate in understanding and pulling these skills, talents and resources together in support of our vision of a healthy and whole community.

I'm certain that some will feel threatened by this. But be reminded that this is only controversial to those who benefit from Black misery and death. All people deserve, and have an inherent responsibility, to promote the health and well-being of the community to which they belong.

On this day, and every day moving forward, I will recommit myself to doing more to promote the health and well-being of our community... to restore the way of health and well-being our ancestors have taught us. My only great desire is to be able to join you in doing the same.


Do Not Be Arrogant, for All Possess Wisdom – The Teachings of Ptahhotep: The Oldest Book in the World

MMM - Logo 6

From: The Teachings of Ptahhotep: The Oldest Book in the World.  Edited by Asa G. Hilliard III, Larry Williams and Nia Damali

Do not be proud and arrogant with your knowledge. Consult and converse with the ignorant and the wise, for the limits of art are not reached. No artist ever possesses that perfection to which he should aspire. Good Speech is more hidden than greenstone (emeralds), yet it may be found among maids at the grindstones.


Just One Day to Make the Difference We’re Supposed To in This World – A Monday Morning Meditation

MMM - Logo 6

There's so much going on this world, and so many things to keep us preoccupied and mentally stimulated. I call it life's distractions; others call it the daily routine.

I wonder how many people reading this message ever stop to think that the daily routine we live is a human creation. The work, the television, the evening news we watch, the movies, the sports, the radio, and increasingly the never-ending flood of information via social media. This routine, all of these activities, were created to meet someone's or some institution's purpose. Even this blog post, to some, would be considered a part of that endless flow of things to pay attention to.

We were not created by the Creator to go to work, to watch any given television show, to watch the evening news, to watch our favorite movie, to play and watch sports, to listen to the radio, or any of the other things we occupy our time with. I'd like to believe our purpose as human beings in the world is far more sacred. I'd like to believe our purpose is simply to create in this physical space the highest of the ideals we understand to be true about the divine order of the universe. We can find that described in different ways in various religions and spiritual texts, but my understanding is that the core values and messages about living and being in the world are more common than not across those texts.

Oh, the distractions and the daily routines that have gotten in the way!

The single point I want to make in this brief piece is that each day we are alive, each moment we are alive, is the most important moment we have to spend with people we care about, and to represent the values we hold to be most sacred. It's the one moment we have to speak our truth, and to advocate for the kind of world we want to live in - more importantly the world our ancestors envisioned for us and for generations yet unborn. It's the most important moment we have to affirm our appreciation for the space we currently occupy in the flow of life that began long before we were born, and that will continue long after we transition from this physical state. It's the one moment we have to teach that one skill or sport our children want to learn from us, to tell that one story from our childhood that our children keep asking us about, to read that one extra story our children want to hear from us before going to bed.

Please know that for many people on any given day, they will wish they had that one extra moment to tell the story they never told... to teach that one last skill they never got to teach... to heal that one relationship they always intended to heal and to say that one last goodbye they never got to say.

Don't wait for 'that day' to come in your life. Speak your truth today. Fight for what you believe in today. Share that memory with your child today. Make that phone call to the person you've been reluctant to today. Read that story before your child goes to sleep tonight. Heal that relationship today. Let the tears flow today, that you've been holding in for so many years. Give thanks today for the life you still have. And do it again tomorrow, and for as many tomorrows as your life provides.

Don't let work and everything else bombarding you/us each day become an inconvenience to the life you want to live, to the relationships you want to breathe life and energy into.

Today is your day to think justice, to speak justice and to live justice.

Today is your day to heal those old relationships... with family and with friends.

Say something nice to the person having a bad day. Smile at the clerk or anyone else that is being rude or short with you.

Be a light. Be a truth-teller. Be a healer. Be a freedom fighter. Fight for the underdog.

Fight for your people. Fight for the harmony and balance we need in this world.

Don't be distracted. Don't wait another day.

We need you at your best.

And we need you at your best... Today!


Monday Morning Meditation
April 20, 2015