Monday, February 17, 2014

Becoming Too Big for Your Own Britches

By the time my junior year rolled around, I decided not to play football that season. Instead, I chose to concentrate on being Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Bagpipe along with my good friend Thurston Jeff Waller who upon graduation from Clifford J. Scott High School went on to attend Yale University, where he succeeded in becoming an honor student, an outstanding middle linebacker, and became the Captain of the Yale football team in his senior year.

Jeff was sincerely committed to furthering student knowledge about the dangers of drugs and I was equally as interested in keeping the paper culturally relevant given the increasing number of African American students enrolling at the school. The contrast in ideas between Jeff and I produced an interesting and current paper.

Take a look at the first article written by Jeff that appeared in the April 1971 issue;

TJW Speaks

Many weeks of training in how to put a newspaper together will result in an editorial board take-over by next year’s juniors come the June issue of the school newspaper. As one of the two Editors-in-Chief of the new BAGPIPE, I will stand for two things: exposing the evils of drugs on young people and uniting the races for the common good of all students at Scott High School. Drugs ARE evil. Beautiful people ruin their lives because of them. They only keep the taker-whether black, white, or yellow-down. Certainly no aware person would ever deny life to himself or to the others he pushes drugs on. A new editorial policy will stress a positive action against any force which seeks to destroy us by drugs or any other means.

The article which I wrote for that same issue of the paper is included below;

To Deal Truth Habari Gani (How are you in Swahili)?

Next year I’ll speak in each issue-pushing the program, dealing with facts: relevance, truth, values.

People: to make society better, let’s learn to live together, sweat together, love together.

Understand, that I’m out to help you appreciate culture-not to force it upon you, not to say one heritage is more important than another heritage but to help you discover the uniqueness of each cultural inheritance. I’m out to do my job.

Tanajaribu Kuw Wensi Tu!

Because I am black and proud, I want to share my black consciousness, my self-identity, my self-determination with you. A United Nations International World Youth Conference membership qualifies me to tell you what’s happening before it happens. UNIWYC presented “Les Ballet African,” and some were able to attend. Stokely Carmichael spoke at Symphony Hall, and many heard him. And from this time on, this paper will make you aware of many more stimulating affairs. Now, let’s hold onto this feeling. Being quiet-not-involved-keeps us subdued. In the spirit of Brotherhood, I pledge to you a most soulful stand. In friendship we ride our freedom train together. As I awake with spiritual vibrations, so shall I rouse all of you to join in a new and important awakening at Clifford J. Scott.

Now it would be remiss of me not to also mention another person who worked on the paper as a reporter that year, James Johnson.  James went on to attend Columbia University where he majored in journalism and upon graduation went to work as a news correspondent for the New York Times. I think that out of everyone that became involved with the Bagpipe, James was the individual who most stayed true to his original calling; a love for writing and the press. James is a fine person and has always been highly regarded by all for his great character.

East Orange Parly Airs Student Gripes

Later that same year, I led a student strike committee at Clifford J Scott High School and participated in negotiations with School Superintendent Russell Jackson, following a two-day student boycott of classes. There was no violence or vandalism during the strike which included close to 400 of the school’s 1,000 students. Although the school was fast becoming a predominantly black our demands “had no direct racial overtones.” In fact, one school administrator stated, “The demands were so routine that at first we thought they were a smoke-screen for something else.” The demands involved dances open to non-students, less police supervision and an open gymnasium school, creation of a student study hall from which students could sign out and the official establishment of a student faculty grievance board.

Racial tensions however had surfaced during the previous school year, when a boycott took place by white students over an assembly-honoring Martin Luther King, Jr with no major problems having erupted. Students also complained of finding hair and insects in cafeteria food, unsanitary shower facilities and often finding rest rooms locked. "In addition, they complained of “teacher apathy” and asked that teachers replace police in supervising social activities. Then the Honorable Mayor William S. Hart and Board of Eduction members Richard Davis and Mrs. Reuter met with us in an effort to assist us in resolving our grievances.

Here is one other article that I wrote for the Bagpipe a few months after the student boycott was ended:

Harambee Kwa UMOGA (Celebration of Unity) Habari Gani (Greetings), Njema Sante (Good morning),

As we begin a new year, we hope to develop a totally new commitment to the understanding of the Afro-American personality. We must develop a self-awareness and self-discipline to work beyond the 6 1/2 hour day in every aspect of our (students or teachers) dedication. This means appreciation for an understanding of Afro-American roles: parents, students, family, neighbor, teacher, nation, and race.

The question today is whether or not we can still develop healthy attitudes towards the sharing of knowledge, love, and possession. We need to be committed to those purposes which advance the cause of all people of color. Blacks today find it difficult to keep needed values. A value system gives us three things: a predictability of behavior pattern, and ultimate authority to which we submit, a means of securing us from our old ways. All people must accept values for the creation of natural life styles and development of belief in, need for, and will to become black and educated, each relating himself to those things both relevant and beneficial to self. We must develop ourselves on four levels: self-determination, self-respect, self-awareness, and self-discipline. Our historical past can give us inspiration and information; it can inspire us to move, provide us with the necessary life drive to want to find out more about ourselves, and inform us in those areas that are new.

All of our knowledge is based upon tradition and reason. There are plenty of false interpretations of past human events; but no knowledge is new, only its arrangements and application are different. Therefore, we must know our culture. Without it we shall cease to exist. Together we must create a new way of life for our children and rise up and look at the world as a strong Black people.

After several months of working very closely together and growing our friendship, I would like for you to kindly take an added look at what my Co-Editor-in Chief wrote at that point in time;

Prepare For Future Now!

Clifford J. Scott High School is a school long forgotten, a school which hasn’t always had the financial means needed to grow and recently has had to go through more monetary agonies than ever. The time to prepare for the future is now! We have no time for B.S.A.‘s. We must go directly to the source of power and get it working for the powerful people who aren’t afraid to say their name in Swahili or to say I’m black and proud or to say I’m white and willing. The students of Scott are seeing their problems and dealing with them directly. The brothers and sisters of tomorrow aren’t willing to wait for the opportunity to crack the system of “bow down black man” or to ignore the wrongs of the system. The change must come now, so the brothers and sisters, black or white, won’t have to suffer injustices. If so changed the black brother will put down his twenty ton black handled ax. He will then understand himself. He will then be able to compete with anyone. He will then have an equal chance, no more, no less. The depressed people of the world are watching the U.S.A., and the eyes of the community are constantly surveying Scott.

The message above was pretty brave, bold and highly progressive talk from my more conservative friend at the time and merit scholar. His words made me feel truly honored to be his friend.

Although it was quietly kept, I had to relinquish my title as Co-Editor-in Chief in my junior year because my grades were not up to par.  Jeff took over as the sole Editor-in-Chief the following January and I went back to just being a reporter. But instead, of spending more time on my studies I became coerced by my legal guardian to start a new club: the B.C.D. which stood for Black Community Development an existing community organization, which had received international status within the United Nations. The chairman, Balozi Zayd Muhammad, and also my foster parent was a representative of the N.G.O., O.P.I and the Executive Committee. He was the first Black to ever hold this position at the UN. The high school already had a B.S.U. which stood for Black Student Union and many questions were now being asked about the distinction between the B.S.U. and the B.C.D. Essentially, the new B.C.D. club was launched to promote and instill in the Black students at Clifford J. Scott and the Black community at large a dedication to self-discipline through self-determination, self-respect, and self-awareness. One that emphasized African American culture, customs, and history.

The activities of the club were never anti-white but were definitely pro-black. This included the wearing of African traditional dress; dashikies and bubbas, the use of African names and languages, wearing the Natural (Afro), amongst other external characteristics, all this being aimed at enabling the young Black to have a feeling of pride for self and for one’s race. This initiative did not endear me with a number of the other Black students. In fact, some thought that what I had done was actually disunifying. I began to feel as though I did not need to draw any more attention to myself. But that is exactly what transpired when I authored a poem that appeared in the Bagpipe titled, “TELL EM BOUT IT!”

‘Tell’ em ‘bout it’ Black is something that’s out of sight: it was, is and always will be beautiful. Some people can only dig it on an emotional level. While we are the ones who, you see, are Black, proud, and determined one day to be free. We feel Black is best ‘cause it’s different from the rest. Why, Black was so hip that it made whitey flip. So he brought us here in chains and chose Negro for our name. (The Spanish word meaning black.) He deculturalized and colonized us. We unlike any other ethnic group had no land and no language, how can we identify ourselves with the word Negro? There is no land called Negro, nor language called Negro language nor Negros-if you can dig it.

Well, now we know your game and have agreed that you ain’t just crazy but definitely insane. You see, Black has gotten to be so cool now that it makes whitey look like the fool. Although he helps himself. So don’t mess with us if you can’t handle the stuff. ‘Cause today we’re together in any type of weather. If you try it again it might be your end. Whitey, it’s about time you opened up your eyes; It’s time for you to realize That our day is almost here and Nation Time is very near. So get all your weapons and make sure you have enough ‘Cause from you, sucker, we ain’t goin’ take no stuff. We’ve got it now-the power of the head. So look out, whitey, in an hour you may be dead. With leaders as strong as Muhammed Ali, we know our people shall one day be free. Well, dig here: what can you say, what can you do? We learned all this coming from you. And now it’s backfiring and coming back at you. Hey, white sucker, ain’t that hip?

Reading this now, causes me to say oh my gosh. That was one riled up young black fella back then. My goodness....

"Student’s poem causes stir"

That is the title that ran in the local town newspaper following the City of East Orange Council Meeting where this issue was taken up with the Clifford Scott principal Andrew Bobby, Bagpipe adviser Leonard Hooper, and a group of parents. City Councilman Francis Craig called the poem “racist and inflammatory,” and City Councilman William Thomas claimed he was “appalled” by the piece of poetry. East Orange Mayor William S. Hart said he had not read the entire poem, but stated, “Children shouldn’t be allowed to print whatever they want.” “I think racial harmony is vital and I hate to see any slurs. I don’t want anyone degraded at all. I also don’t think a principal should allow school papers to get out of hand to the point where racial slurs might be printed," Mr. Hart added. Today, as an adult and having been a parent of two boys, I do not think that this poem should have been permitted to be published in a public school newspaper. There’s nothing wrong with writing to explore one’s feelings, frustrations and questions about the challenges of life or injustices in any manner you like. But it does not mean that it should be granted an audience in all forums.

As it turned out, the parents of a number of my closest friends at school were disappointed over the words used in the poem and its tone and they let me know about it directly. I am certainly grateful for that as it helped me to better understand my important responsibility to others. I truly regret the ill feelings that the poem produced and I apologize to all for the poor judgement that it demonstrated on my part. Most significant of all I would like for people to know that I eventually out grew the kind of thinking demonstrated in that poem. At the time, I had fallen subject to the strong influences of others that can often lead to wrong, negative, unforgiving and an unloving sort of mindset.

In my opinion, I had become a little too big for my britches and I am thankful that this was pointed out to me by others, for the manner in which it was pointed out to me for the most part, and for the people who cared enough about me and everyone else to challenge what was being so loudly communicated by me at that time.

My personal and public inquiry into the nature of what it meant to be a young Black American was still an important component of my rite of passage as an adolescent attempting to transition into young adulthood. Fortunately, the emphasis on Black consciousness did not end up becoming an all encompassing or permanent worldview subscribed to by me. Because it was clearly short on humility, inclusion, love, peace and understanding.