Friday, November 20, 2015

#PoetryCorner: My Natural Crown

I was browsing through my Instagram feed and came across this post by MyNaturalSistas:
A photo posted by My Natural Sistas (@mynaturalsistas) on

Well, the picture and caption inspired me to write a poem. See below.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

#PoetryCorner: "Don't Fall for Me"

I was on my personal Facebook and someone posted this quote by Toni Morrison form her book Jazz: "Don't ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn't fall in love, I rose in it. I saw you and made up my mind." I was very moved and inspired, so I wrote something of my own based on this inspiration. My poem is titled "Don't Fall for Me" and is here below:
 

 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Poetry Corner: Black Woman



At one point in time,
I was your source of life,
Your reason for breathing,
Literally…
Your everything.
 
I carried you in my body,
Protected you in my womb
Submitted to your needs
While you embraced me…
As your home
 
But many years have passed since then
And now you live within the world
A world which has taught you to hate me
A world which tells you…
I’m to be despised
 
And you forget that it was a Black Woman
Who endured pain to bring you here
Now you proclaim that I’m unworthy
To even…
Hold you near.
 
So I have one question for you
One inquiry to make…
 
If a black woman’s not good enough
to be your wife;
Can you explain why was she good enough
to bring you life?

Monday, June 8, 2015

Esther in the Bible: An Example Then, An Example Now

Picture of Liya Kebede edited to look like a mosaic. This is how I imagine Queen Esther

Like many Christian females, the Book of Esther is one of my favorites in the Bible. Often, the story of Esther is explained to us (females and males alike) as a romantic love story. But as I've read this book of the Bible more and more, I've come to realize that generalizing it as a romance actually trivializes the greater picture being shared. First of all, a detailed reading -- even a simple reading -- of the book of Esther doesn't offer much in regards to heartwarming romance. If one focuses simply on the "romantic" relationships covered, one would find a story of a king who had his wife banished for not showing off her beauty at his command, engaged in a replacement search by (likely) legalizing the kidnapping of beautiful virgins for him to sample for a year, and finally choosing one out of the bunch. In addition, a historical study of King Xerxes reveals that he was temperamental at the least and maniacal at the most.

So even if the Book of Esther is a story simply about a Jewish woman's relationship with a Persian king, it still isn't a romantic one. Therefore, it is my opinion that the Book of Esther is less about romantic love and more about character, protocal, and wisdom, particularly in the cases of Esther and her  uncle, Mordecia. The first indications of Esther's exemplarary character and wisdom occurs when all of the concubines-in-training have the opportunity to take anything from the harem they would like to keep for themselves (in the event they were not chosen as his bride). While most of the concubines-in-training presumably took items of great material value (i.e. jewelry, fine clothing, etc.), Esther instead consulted with the King's head eunuch on what to take, obviously wanting something that would be pleasing to the King instead of pleasing to herself. In following his advice, she gained the favor of everyone who saw her, and the king as well, for she was chosen as the new Queen of Persia.

After this, the story focuses (for a moment) on the integrity and bravery of her uncle Mordecai, who overhears a plot to assassinate the King and reports it, gaining kingly favor of his own (though it was forgotten for a moment). It is no wonder that this was the man who Esther chose as her confidant and advisor, for not only had he raised her as his own daughter, he was wise and intelligent as well.

But the peak of this Book of the Bible occurs when a Persian courtier makes it his mission to destroy the life of Mordecai in particular and the Jews as a whole. This courtier (named Haman) is able to use his influence on King Xerxes to pass an unrevokable law allowing all Persians to participate in a genocide of the Jews on a particular day. This edict is confusing news to the kingdom, but horrifying news for the Jews, inducing Mordecai himself to wear beggar's clothing and wail in front of the court. It is at this moment that Esther's faith and bravery are tested by the guardian who raised her.

Mordecai, upon being summoned by Queen Esther's eunuch for an explanation of his strange behavior, sends back a message demanding that she enter the king's presence and defend her people. Esther reminds Mordecai (through a return message) that the Persian law states that anyone who goes to the king unsummoned is at risk of being put to death unless the king raises his scepter to indicate that he wishes their lives to be spared. Mordecai then explains to her that if she allows her fear to keep her from doing the right thing, she will ultimately fall as well. Esther responds by secretly having the Jews fast and pray to God. Then, she goes to the king unsummoned, using his decision to spare her life as a prelude to her plans, by inviting him and Haman to a series of bountiful feasts .

Over the course of these meals, she weakens Haman's shrewdness, giving him the impression that he has favor in her eyes. But at the last feast, Esther finally confesses to Xerxes that she (his favored wife) is in fact a Jew, and is therefore fated for death because of a law that Haman had induced him to pass. Xerxes immediately decides that Haman is an enemy of the state (by indavertently plotting the death of the Queen of Persia). Haman is therefore sentenced to death, and the Jews are given permission to defend themselves against their attackers.

All of these events prove a multitude of wisdoms on the part of Esther, as listed below:
  1. Esther understood how to wait for the truly valuable things. While some of the women in Xerxes' harem focused on the silly value of material items they could keep for themselves, Esther focused on the big picture of figuring out which items would ensure she was chosen as Queen. It also allowed her to have more "power" than she would have in being arrogant and boisterous.
  2. Esther was a humble and reserved person. She could have easily used her position as Queen to gain a sense of importance and narcissim, but she did not. She allowed Xerxes (the true ruler of Persia) to be the face and leader of the country, while she acted simply as his wife. Her humility was probably a great contrast to that of Xerxes' previous wife Vashti.
  3. Because of her humility and reserved nature, Esther was able to take advise from the one person who had proved his loyalty to her, her Uncle Mordecai. This was a man who had presumably sacrificed his personal life to be her guardian, for there is no mention of a wife or any other children. So Esther was wise enough to know who was really for her, instead of simply being enamored those who flattered her vanity. This was also demonstrated in the fact that she used her time as a concubine-in-training to gain favor with the eunuchs of the court, who probably had access to all sorts of wisdom and court secrets.
  4. Esther was obviously a person who followed protocal to a tee. This is demonstrated by the fact that she hesitated to break protocal even when it could mean saving her own people. Still, Esther recognized eventually that courage and righteousness are to be placed above securing one's favor or position. So she risked her own life to save those of her people. Her integrity (in following protocal and being a humble person) were recognized by King Xerxes, for he spared her life when she broke the rules and approached his throne unsummoned. I imagine he was thinking to himself  "Something must truly be wrong if Esther is breaking protocal to approach me, for this is not like her at all." You see, when you are a person of high moral fiber, people know you are not the type to cry wolf or be melodramatic: when you finally speak out, they listen, because they know it must be a serious issue.
  5. In regards to how she handled Haman, Esther demonstrated why you should never let your enemies know that they are in fact your enemy (and you, therefore, are theirs). Haman was obviously a shrewd and subtile person, so Esther recognized if she had simply allowed her emotions to push her into an angry confrontation, he might have had time to thwart her attempts to save her family. He could have had her framed for a crime, or even accused her of being a traitor to the throne. Instead, she plied him with wine and food, and distracted him from his evil plotting by stroking his ego. By the time she sprung the truth on him and the King, he was completely caught unawares.
  6. Finally, Esther demonstrated that though she was not without fear or anxiety, she was the type of person who could overcome such blinding emotions in favor of morals, character, and justice.
In conclusion, I have to say that this particular book of the Bible has been frequently on my mind. It may sound odd, but I think the way that Esther navigated court life is a good example for anyone working in something like Corporate America or any type of business environment. Such people could benefit from using the qualities Esther demonstrated, as follows:
  1. Keep the big picture in mind. Don't let a shallow increase prevent you from getting a more substantial and lasting one.
  2. Be humble, but be wise.
  3. Pick your mentors with care. Pay attention to who is proving (through actions) their loyalty to you and avoid the ones who simply stroke your ego.
  4. Always follow protocal and policy, unless it means sacrificing your character and morals. In such cases, breaking protocal will be more beneficial either immediately or in the long run.
  5. Don't be quick to "claim" enemies. If someone hates you, or speaks ill of you, keep the fact that you know about it to yourself. Once you declare battle against someone, you will find yourself in a war you probably aren't able to win, especially if they have more practice at being sneaky, conniving, malicious, and vengeful.
  6. Don't let emotions hold you back. Always think with your head and your conscious congruently. The heart is too emotional/irrational to be on the same level as head and conscious. Don't eliminate your heart alltogether, for you don't want to be a cold or unfeeling person. Just avoid letting your heart rule your life.

Friday, May 29, 2015

A Tribute to William C. Brassfield


Photo Credit: Kenisha Washington, on the William Brassfield Tribute Facebook Page
 

In September of 1940, a baby African American boy was born in Meridian, Mississippi. Though such an event was not uncommon, and it's setting likely even less exemplary to some, it was a life changing event nevertheless, especially to thousands of students in the Tuskegee, Alabama area.


This baby boy was named William C. Brassfield. He was a musician, a mentor, a leader, and proponent of excellence and achievement, and in 1969, he accepted a job in a small town that, while struggling in a lot of ways, was already on the world map for being the location of the world-famous Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University).  


Tuskegee Institute was the epicenter of black education, famous for highlighting and housing leaders like writer and educator, Booker T. Washington; scientist and creator, George Washington Carver; lecturer and author Ralph Ellison; and musician and composer, William Dawson. Perhaps he knew it, perhaps he didn’t, but when William C. Brassfield accepted a teaching position in Tuskegee (as a high school band director), he was not only placing himself within that powerful legacy, he was beginning one of his own.  


Tuskegee was not an easy town to work in. It was a strange mixture of cultures: it housed an educational mecca for African Americans, but was also experiencing racial tensions and strife. The university was credited with a variety of successes, but it was also the home of the infamous Tuskegee Syphliss Study. The town was lauded for its cultural impact, such as being the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, through the tumultuous death of Sammy Younge, Jr. and the fact that it was the home or residential town of pioneers like Charles Gomillion, Rosa Parks, Frank Toland and Amelia Boynton Robinson. To many outsiders, it seemed like the perfect place for an upwardly mobile and educated black person, but to many within, it seemed that the opposite was true.  


Brassfield experienced the struggles rife in such tensions. He found himself having access to a plethora of eager and bright youth yearning for knowledge and enrichment. But he was also working for a school system that was struggling both financially and socially as well, because of the racial tensions it was experiencing. A lesser man would have given up and moved on, but William C. Brassfield knew better. He recognized that he if could metaphorically sculpt greatness from the hard red clay of Tuskege, then he would have achieved much more than the person who simply reaped from the fertile ground that someone else had sown.


And that’s what he did. He encountered the stubbornness of some, the resistance of others, and even the fear of certain individuals; and he took those things, treated them the way a good farmer treats hard clay, and beat through the resistance while consistently watering and enriching the soil as well, until it reaped the harvest so greatly needed.  
Click picture to read full news article featuring Mr. Brassfield's calling out
of the local community.

For example, in 1980, when the Tuskegee Institute High School Golden Virtuoso Marching Band was in need of new uniforms, Mr. Brassfield wasn’t content to just talk or complain. He pushed the community to get involved in helping meet that need, contacting churches for contributions and donations. And when only one local church responded to this cry for help (Shady Grove Missionary Baptist Church), he wasn’t hesitant in pointing out the sadness of a solitary response, telling the local newspaper this: “Many of our students attend the larger churches with greater resources who oft times call upon the ensembles of the band to perform for the various church functions. It was quite surprising to know that these larger bodies could not afford to support an effort of this nature, especially when their youth were involved.”  


Click picture to read full news article highlighting Mr. Brassfield's success
in getting the commuity involved.
Such a strong statement, one which roundly accused the local community of offenses against its own children, probably made Mr. Brassfield quite unpopular with a number of individuals. But the hard red clay that needed to be broken was shattered, and in a matter of weeks, both the local community and the city officials responded, watering the ground which held the seeds of Tuskegee’s children. A down payment was made with the money raised from locals and local churches, and the final $4000 payment was made by the City of Tuskegee, right when the band was in danger of having the uniforms repossessed.  

That was the type of man William Brassfield was, with both the community, and the students he taught as well. By the time I joined the Booker T. Washington Marching Aristocrat Band in 1996, he was already legendary for being a hard leader who pushed you to your limits, but brought out your very best. I found that to be very true in deed, for I – like many of my fellow band comrades – found myself being pushed to the edge on more than one occasion by Mr. Brassfield’s tough and demanding nature. There were a few times I wanted to cry, and a few times that I wanted to quit the band, but I didn’t. Because Mr. Brassfield was also loving and kindhearted and I knew that he was pushing me, pushing us all, because he had faith in our abilities to excel, and excel we did.  

I will never forget the joy I felt after every football game performance that yielded screams, applause, and awe from the audience. I will never forget what it was like to be one of a few (if not the only) predominantly black bands participating in All-State Competition, and walking away with all ones (the superior score rating). I will never forget the times that we (the Marching Aristocrats) would visit other Alabama schools and be greeted as soon as we got off the bus by crowds full of the strange but excited faces of people proclaiming that the game against Booker T. Washington High School was more attended than their own homecoming, because our band was so good.  

But I will also never forget the time I got kicked out the band on Monday, but let back in on Thursday, and told that I had better not mess up the routine on Friday, even though I had not been allowed to practice with the band that entire week. The crazy thing was, Mr. Brassfield had “allowed” me to watch the practice from the sidelines while I wondered if I would ever be let back in. So when he let me back in on that Friday, I went home and practiced my butt off simply from the memory of what I had observed from the sidelines, personally insistent that I wouldn’t fail. And the joy of not failing is one of the greatest joys I’ve ever experienced.  

A year after I joined the band, Mr. Brassfield retired and died soon after, on July 24, 1998. The Marching Aristocrat Band was never the same and neither was the City of Tuskegee, because no one decided to be the next Mr. Brassfield. And now, almost two decades later, I look back on the memories, and I get sad. Because the challenges Tuskegee faced when Mr. Brassfield first came, those challenges are still here. America is still suffering from racial tensions and unrest. Our local community is still economically challenged, and our school system is still short on the funding it needs. Our band program isn’t what it used to be and neither is our community, and this is a reflection, not of struggles (because we’ve always had them) but of the times and of the people, myself included.

Mr. Brassfield didn’t talk about problems in private and accept them. He called them out, demanded we make a change and contribution, and the problems were overcome. But now, none of us – none of us – are willing to push ourselves, our youth, and our world the way people like William Brassfield did. But I want that to change. I want to be the type of leader William Brassfield was. I want to demand the best of myself and others in such an insistent way, that it hurts at first, but enriches later. I want young people to experience the joy of knowing that someone believes in them so much that he or she refuses to let them simply fail, to simply not try. I want them to cry from the pressure of being told “You’re the best” and rejoice in finding out that it actually is true.

I want to be the William Brassfield of my generation and I want you to be the same. Let’s get together and beat this hard red clay of stubbornness, ignorance, laziness and complacency into submission, so that it can yield rich, fruitful, and bountiful results once again.
--Alison Caddell, Booker T. Washington High School Class of 2000

 

When the Comfort of Wrongness is Hard to Forsake - A Commentary on Innovative Leaders through a Biblical Lens


 
You can learn so much from reading the Bible. For me, my favorite parts of the Bible usually come from the Old Testament, especially the first five books. When you read about the Israelite people, and how they cried out to the Lord for freedom from the oppression of slavery in Egypt, you get a great sense of how people respond to actually being delivered from their circumstances.
 
The Children of Israel, though they cried out for deliverance for years, when God finally sent Moses to deliver them from bondage, the first thing they did was criticize Moses and question his right to lead them. The next thing they did was to frequently besmirch his character throughout the process of freedom and improvement, despite the evidence that he was actually leading them to the very things they had claimed to want.
 
After that, when they were finally freed, they allowed the hard work that comes with rebuilding themselves to allow them to actually claim they missed their days of bondage and preferred them to the hard work of freedom. It was only after Moses died that Israel finally recognized his greatness, to the point of trying to worship him.
 
So what have I learned from this, as far as how it applies to modern times? Usually, the very people who cry out for a positive change, end up being the ones to criticize and hinder the person who comes along to finally institute that change. Sometimes, people get so used to their low circumstances, that they are actually uncomfortable (even angry) with the work of pushing above and outside of those circumstances.
I originally posted this as a Facebook status, but decided to make it a blog as well.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Book Review: The Pharaoh's Daughter by Mesu Andrews

 
Months ago, when I read on the internet that Mesu Andrews would be releasing a biblical fiction account of Moses’ adoptive Egyptian mother, I was filled with excitement and anticipation. I am an avid reader of the Old Testament, especially the books of Genesis, Samuel I and Samuel II, and Kings I and Kings II. In addition, Moses is one of the most fascinating characters in the Bible to me: he was supremely influential to the Ancient Israeli culture and religion but had lived as an Egyptian prince during his youth and early adulthood. He was also a conflicted man, torn between the Egyptian court that had raised him and the Hebrew slaves who were his true relatives.

Moses, adopted son of Bithiah
(known as the Egyptian princess Annipe in Mesu Andrews' book)

With that in mind, I assumed any book about his adoptive mother Bithiah (her Hebrew name) would be a fascinating look into the conflict readily available in such a context, but from the maternal point of view of a woman who was just as conflicted and torn as he was. What I found out instead was this: The Pharaoh’s Daughter by Mesu Andrews is not a book about Bithiah, the Hebrew woman who had formerly been an Egyptian princess. Instead, this book is about Annipe, the Egyptian princess who fully embraced life in the Egyptian court and only converted to the Hebrew way of life after her deception of Pharaoh was revealed and resulted in her near fatal punishment and exile. Such a book can be fascinating on its own, if that is what one is truly interested in, and I myself found it to be an easy and enjoyable read. Still, my ultimate disappointment was inevitable, because it was not the book I wanted it to be.


In the genre of biblical fiction, what interests me specifically is the insight it can provide about God, His people, and life in ancient biblical times. The historical context is fascinating as well, but the most important part to me is how it helps me to see the stories of the Bible. My issue with The Pharaoh’s Daughteris that most of the book focused on Egyptian court life with all of its intrigues, gossip, politics, turmoil, and manipulations. By the time it finally converged into the context of the Hebrew slaves and their existence in Egypt, the book was coming to an end. Basically, just when it got to what I thought of as “the good part” it was over.

What was it like for Bithiah/Annipe to witness this?
 
Reading about Annipe’s personal struggles -- the result of her early childhood trauma and the confusion brought on by the complex and ever-changing structure of Egyptian religion -- was a moving experience. But it would have been even more so and epically compelling if it had been followed by the struggles she experienced as Bithiah, a woman grafted into the Hebrew nation of Israel.

The Egyptian princess vs. the Hebrew slave

Was her conversion to following the God of Israel by choice? Was it the result of having been exiled and banished by Pharaoh? Or a combination of both? Did the Hebrews readily accept her, or were they wary of her presence as they began the sojourn from slavery in Egypt towards the Promise Land? How did she feel when her beloved adopted son was convicted of murder and banished from the court she had snuck him into through her subterfuge and trickery? How did she feel when he returned, changed into a prophet and shepherd who demanded the freedom of the people he had once ignored? What was it like for her to witness the miracles he wrought through his obedience to God, such as the parting of the Red Sea? What was it like to see the plagues his God inflicted upon her birth nation, such as the death of each Egyptian first born, including her relative, the oldest son of Pharaoh?

None of these questions were answered, because Mesu Andrews’ book focused almost exclusively on her life as Annipe, the Egyptian princess. So ultimately, I was disappointed, because the fertile ground that could have been the source of so much enriching fruit was basically ignored. Even if the opportunity to do so had resulted in a book that was twice as long, it would have been worth it for me. I think of Francine Rivers’ Mark of the Lion series as such an example of an epic tale influenced by the events of the Bible. This is the type of book that Mesu Andrews could have written, but instead, I was left with a quick character study on a troubled and fearful woman living in a troubled and fearful time. Such as book is fine, but it’s not the book I had hoped to read.