The Other DMX Lesson

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

Let me first extend my deepest sympathies to the family, friends, and fans of DMX (né Earl Simmons). Full disclosure: I am a Traditional Jazz, Bebop, CuBop, Afro-Latin Jazz, Tin Pan Alley, Soul/R&B, Johnny Mathis music fan. Aside from a couple of Rap tunes, I am not much of a Rap/Hip Hop fan. My former students keep me up-to-date on the genre. So, this blog is not going to be filled with memories about when I first heard this very talented man who died too soon. I do hope, however, that DMX’s passing does more than have us publicly bemoan the perils of substance abuse, but rather, we Black folks start thinking seriously about mental health. I have no way of knowing if DMX had any form of mental disease, but a lot of drug users do…

Way back in the day, a friend as close as a brother, had a pattern of woofing down about FOUR 16-ounce Schlitz Malt Liquor Beers, coupled with about a fifth of Vodka, in one sitting over a couple of hours. Yet, I never saw him drunk. He would sleep 8 hours, then get up fresh as a daisy and go to work the next day. This was his daily ritual. He never had a hangover, if you can believe that. I couldn’t understand how he did it. Later, he was diagnosed with “Mania,” often an early symptom of Bipolar Disorder. The excessive booze was his way of self-medicating, of literally slowing down his brain that was constantly racing on all cylinders. The excessive alcohol made it possible for him to function, even if it was an unhealthy way to get some relief.

Now, drug abuse can cause mania, but drug use can also be a response to the mania itself. When I learned that DMX—a long term, off-and-on-again substance abuser—had a massive heart attack that put him in a coma with little brain function, I wondered if the source of his inability to permanently kick his drug habit was rooted in an undiagnosed mental illness. I don’t know. We may never know, but it is certainly a possibility.

We, in the Black community, have a serious mental health crisis precisely because, en masse, we don’t take mental illness seriously enough. Mental illness is not prayed away; it has to be treated. We casually and often humorously say that people have “lost their minds,” but sometimes they have actually done just that—lost their minds. A failure to seek treatment or to encourage someone to seek treatment means the disease gets worse. Sometimes, as in the case with my old friend, using both legal and illegal substances are signs of a larger problem that, if identified, can be successfully treated.

As of this writing, it has not yet been confirmed whether DMX’s heart attack, subsequent coma and death were the results of an overdose on opioids or some other drug. Even though the majority of opioid addicts are white, we have too often dismissed opioid addiction as strictly a “white” phenomenon, forgetting that there were/are glaring racial disparities in opioid addiction diagnosis and in addiction treatment. We can’t even afford to recall, with nostalgia, those days back in the mid-20th century, when there were virtually no statistics on “Black Suicide” because back then, for the most part, Black folks rarely, if ever, committed suicide. That day is dead and gone too.

Today, the second leading cause of death for Black youngsters from the ages of 10 to 14 is suicide. Let me repeat that: Today, the second leading cause of death for Black youngsters from the ages of 10 to 14 is suicide. And now it is estimated that Black children are more likely to commit suicide than white kids. When you have time, just read the data: Addressing the Crisis of Black Youth Suicide.

No matter what mental or physical problems led to DMX’s erratic drug habits and premature death, it was fairly obvious that he was an immensely talented man. We will read one tribute after another in his honor. Inevitably, people will mention how he “battled his demons.” They will easily recall when they heard DMX say something profound, something that changed their lives. What too many of them will not say is when they noticed a change in his behavior or habits or health or moods, and then tried to do something about it. And that’s not just a problem, it’s a shame.

Let’s do something more palpable than wring our hands and hang our heads in prayer. Say something to friends and family members when you witness erratic behavior and/or substance abuse. Pay attention to your own mental and physical health. Pay attention to your children’s mental and physical health. Call a psychiatrist, a physician whenever you believe it necessary. Ignore people who tell you that you are over-reacting. Help stop the trend of us losing too many of our people much too soon. Àṣẹ.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

A Thought About Black Panther

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2018 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

“Royal Purple” by © Leslye Joy Allen

This is not a review of the film Black Panther.  This is a brief musing about what crossed my mind after I saw this film.  First, Black Panther is unapologetically “Black.” I use “Black” here to indicate that while the film is set in the fictional African nation of Wakanda, it also includes Africans of a variety of ethnicities, African Americans and a genuine nod to the entire African Diaspora most of whom are descendants of former slaves in the West.  I am a member of that African Diaspora. The film also gives a few cultural nods to the Ndebele, Yorùbá, Maasai, and Akan peoples on the African continent (thank you, actor-vocalist-friend Saycon Sengbloh for pointing this out first).  The film gets the multi-facted roles of African women so very right.  The film also has some serious messages unlike any messages you have ever heard in a Marvel Super Hero movie.  Don’t worry, if you have not seen it yet, I’m not going to ruin it for you.  All I can say is that it is an entertaining joy ride of a film that will make you think…really, really think.  With that said, here’s what I thought about immediately after I saw Black Panther.

Black Panther has stirred up a genuine sense of pride in Black Americans that we don’t get to feel with this much enthusiasm too often.  It has taken decades of hard work to undo some of the psychic and spiritual damage done to Africa’s descendants in the West who have endured brutal chattel slavery, Jim Crow, systematic racism and discrimination, police brutality, you-name-it.  It has taken decades of hard work and scholarship to undo some of the psychic and spiritual damage done to Africa’s descendants in the West who, for centuries, were told that Africa had no real history, no real contributions to civilization when all of what these descendants were told is/was/remains patently false.  However, it is dangerous to over-romanticize any history; to make any and every description of our African ancestors totally positive. Black Panther, in its own unique way through fiction, de-romanticizes history by showing us a multi-ethnic, multi-generational Wakanda with all the friction and righteous compromise and conflict such diversity can foster.  You leave the movie theater proud, but fully aware that Africans (and we African descendants) have tremendous gifts and flaws not because we are or ever have been inferior or superior, but rather because we are human.

I remember a lecture given by the late African scholar, Dr. Ali Mazrui back in 1996 where he stated that to deny Africans the ability to be wrong was also the same as denying them their humanity.  Dr. Mazrui was always controversial.  He said the only African-American activist that he had any real respect for was Randall Robinson, the founder of Trans-Africa. When asked why he only dug Robinson, Dr. Mazrui said, “Robinson not only raises his voice when Whites do something wrong to Africans, Robinson speaks out when Africans are doing something to wrong to other Africans.”  I’ve never forgotten that statement and what that statement truly means.

When you love your people, you praise them when they are right and you don’t make excuses for them when they are wrong.  You work to correct them.  You speak out against racism, colonialism, and the exploitation of your people no matter who the adversary is.  That lecture by Dr. Mazrui, and so many lectures given by visiting and former professors drove home that I could not afford to care as much about how Africans and African-descended peoples looked to the rest of the world more than I cared about how well or how poorly they/we all were doing.  If you love your people you don’t worry about what their image is and how it affects you as much as you worry about their well-being, period.  Black Panther shows just how difficult that can be, but it also shows that it can be gloriously done…

Now, if you don’t exactly understand this post, it is probably because you have not seen Black Panther yet.  It could also be because you know very little about the continent of Africa’s very complicated history.  However, my points will be clearer once you’ve opened a few books and taken the ride to Wakanda.  So, get to the movie theater.  You won’t be disappointed.  Wakanda Forever.

Copyright © 2018 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Why We Fail: Forgetting Malcolm and Martin’s Internationalism

Weary Self-Portrait 2

“Weary Self-Portrait 2” (Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.)

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

As bad as things are in the USA—in particular, the killing of a young Black man named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri—what we Black Americans are enduring is “a cakewalk” by comparison to some of the tragedies that are currently taking place in India, parts of Africa, Iraq, Israel, and so many other places around the world.  Yet, our current Black leadership has been conspicuously silent on so many of these international matters, including the excessive policies of Israel against an already displaced Palestinian people.  Yet, Arab, Jewish, African, and African American women found enough of a unified voice to write a statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people.  I wonder why they could do it, but not our elected officials.  These women understand an important component of previous human rights struggles—including the Civil Rights and Freedom struggles that took place during the 1950s well into the 1970s in the United States—the international component.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X always placed Black American freedom struggles in an international context.  If you do not believe me, then read or listen to Malcolm X’s “Message to the Grass Roots” and listen to him rattle off the names of those nations and peoples that too many of us frequently ignore.  Listen to King speak poetically and prophetically against the Vietnam War.  These are only a few examples, often scary examples.  Yet, there are many others.

What happened to Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri is going to resonate with other people in other parts of the world.  When we lost Trayvon Martin, you found people across the globe putting on “hoodies” in solidarity.  And, if it were not for the women of Nigeria taking full advantage of social media, most of us would never have known anything about the kidnapping of the Nigerian girls, who have still not been returned to their families.  Yet, when was the last time you saw a massive movement of Black Americans speaking out against and lending assistance to anyone outside of the USA.  Arguably, there has been no massive international activity on OUR part, at least not since the zenith of an internationally led movement that demanded that colleges and businesses divest from South Africa in protest of the country’s brutal and virulent social system known as apartheid, and that was in the late 1970s into the 1980s.

The question is when are we going to get our international legs back, and stop looking at what and who we are as if we are isolated in one country called the United States.  Does it not matter that two teenage Indian girls were gang-raped, and then lynched just a few months ago in Bengal, India?  Does it not matter that several hundred Nigerian girls were kidnapped and—sorry to say this—will probably never return to their families?  Does it not matter that former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has stayed on top of the problem in Nigeria and spoken out about this problem of female trafficking in Nigeria and elsewhere, and more often than many Black American politicians and self-appointed pundits?  You are damned right it matters.

I can count on one of my former English professors to regularly post articles and his own occasional eloquent outbursts on his page on Facebook about many of the atrocities that happen to women worldwide and, also what happens to Black Americans—He, however, was born in Pakistan.  The Executive Director of Greenpeace International was born and raised in South Africa, and spent his teenage years in the anti-Apartheid movement.  He regularly articulates how women’s oppression, the problems with the environment and human rights struggles are tied together.  I knew something had become completely out-of-whack when the only men I could count on—with any real regularity—to lend their voices and support against sexism were men of color who were also NON-American.  The difference is, they can and do connect the dots and see environmental problems, discrimination and the persecution of women, and battles to end racism and/or ethnic violence as connected problems in ways that so many Americans simply do not.  Yet, a few Black Americans do connect the dots, but they are not part of what is traditional Black leadership, which is a good thing.

Ron Davis, the father of Jordan Davis—the Black teenage boy that was killed in Florida when a man shot into his vehicle over a quarrel about loud music—took his complaint about the senseless murders and expendability of young Black men to Geneva, Switzerland at the 85th annual meeting of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  The talks in Geneva run from August 11 through August 29, 2014. This was a bold move by Mr. Davis, but proof positive that he was paying attention in the sixties and seventies when international opinion about the United States government’s slow response to discrimination and racial virulence damaged the USA’s image abroad.  Both Mr. Davis and the women of all colors and nations who signed that Solidarity Pledge fully understand what Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to teach.  We can hope that some citizens in Ferguson, Missouri are paying attention.

Now, thinking internationally or being concerned with tragedies or the well-being of people outside of the United States will not stop police officers from killing unarmed Black male teenagers.  My interest and sadness over the senseless gang rape and lynching of two teenage girls in India several months ago will not stop the rape and abuse of women anywhere, neither will my continued anguish over the kidnapping of girls in Nigeria.  Yet, to be a Black woman born and raised in the American South is to understand that racism and sexism come from all quarters of the country of my birth, and indeed all quarters of the world itself.

To fail to see the connections I have with peoples who may or may not speak my language or belong to the same racial and/or ethnic and/or gender group is to forget the real lessons of the Civil Rights Movement—that WE are not alone if WE will simply acknowledge that WE need allies, and international allies at that.  Yet, WE will be alone if WE operate from the position that people in other parts of the world do not have anything to teach us.  WE cannot afford to function from the position that because WE dwell in the United States that no one else’s problems or persecution matters as much as ours matter.  If WE do, WE will have missed Martin and Malcolm’s most important lesson, namely that if WE labor alone, WE, and everybody else, will lose.

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

CCThis Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen & is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Mama’s Garden

by Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

cherry-tomatoes-plant

Cherry Tomatoes Plant (available from: Public-Domain-Image.com)

 

“If you plant it in the earth, give it just enough sunlight, just enough water, and just enough nurturing, it will yield something.” – Syble Allen Williams (1921 -2013)

Now, when I think of teaching, I think about my Mama’s gardens and the first time I read the quote by author Gail Godwin who said that, “Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths pure theatre.”  A while back, I did not exactly understand the connection between teaching and theatre or any connection to my Mama’s conceptualization of gardening.  After all, was it not possible to be a gardener or agriculturalist without being an artist?  Even further, when I thought of theatre or any performance art, I thought and continue to think of people trained to act, sing, dance (or all of the above), and who are on stage for the sole purpose of entertaining and enlightening a receptive audience.  The idea that a teacher and students were engaged in any kind of performance art escaped me until I stood in front of a classroom and gave a lecture without reading from any notes.  My Mama, Syble Allen Williams, understood the performance element in teaching the first time she set foot in a classroom to teach.  Only after she died, however, did I begin to understand some other things about the “pure theatre” or the creativity of teaching that was not readily apparent to me when she was alive.

I remember how she would begin to count to ten in order to get her kindergarteners to take their seats.  “One…Two…Three…” she would say slowly and deliberately.  The objective was to have all of her students seated BEFORE she reached the number ten.  They would scramble to their chairs, each one determined not to be the last child to make it to his or her seat.  Then there were Mama’s famous gold stars that she posted next to the names of those kids who ate all of their lunch—they were the fabulous members of the “Clean Plate Club.” Many children decided to sample a vegetable that they really did not want to eat in order to earn that gold star.  Yet, she was at her most creative with her classroom gardens and her trips to the farm.

After Mama’s funeral service, our cousin James—who served as one of her pallbearers—told me that before her funeral began, four of her pallbearers were discussing their trips to farms and the gardens they helped to plant and tend when they were mere kindergarteners in her class.  Four of Mama’s pallbearers were her former students.  I remember when she made the switch from teaching third grade to kindergarten.  I also recall her comments about children who grew up in the city.  While she loved city life, she noted that children in cities rarely got much, if any, exposure to farm life.

Mama was born on a working farm in a tiny Georgia hamlet about forty minutes away by car from Atlanta.  She lived there until she was about nine years old.  Around her ninth birthday, her family migrated to Atlanta, as did so many Black rural families during and after the Great Depression.  The beauty is that Mama’s appreciation for her agricultural roots ultimately became a wonderful lesson for her students.

Back in the 1970s when she started teaching kindergarten, she told me one day that too many of her students really did not know anything about where their food came from or the teamwork required to run a farm.  Eventually she located a nice man—whose name escapes me now—who had a small working farm in McDonough, Georgia complete with crops, chickens, pigs, and cows.  I only remember him as a middle aged, brown-skinned man who seemed tickled to death that the work he did as a farmer had some intrinsic value to Mama and her young students.

Every year she taught kindergarten she included a trip to that farm in McDonough, Georgia so that “her children” could witness the interaction of farmer and crop and cows and chickens.  The cows’ manure fertilized the soil that yielded the crops.  It was all organic and interactive.  Every year, she would have her five-year-olds plant a garden in their classroom.  She would gleefully remark how they would become mesmerized when they would see something that they had planted in the soil begin to grow.  “Their eyes just light up at the first sight of the smallest bud,” she would say.  For me, the strongest memory was her garden at our house and her household plants.

Each year she grew tomatoes, cabbage, collards, and squash on a strip of land in our backyard.  I also recall one year she grew the hottest jalapeño peppers ever grown in the history of humankind—I remember it well; I ate one of those peppers and needed a couple of pitchers of ice water to cool the heat.  Then there was her endless sea of green plants that lined our porch and windowsills.  She often noted that the tomatoes might not grow as big as you wished, but if you nurtured those seeds, you would still get tomatoes.  This was her lesson to her kindergarteners and to me: you always get something back if you plant something and nurture it.

Mama’s gardens and farming adventures were lessons in sheer creativity.  In these activities were a science lesson, another lesson that taught respect for animals’ contributions to our welfare and an appreciation for our natural environment, a lesson in how any one of us who had patience could nurture a plant from a seed or seedling to full bloom.  Even further, when I think of how many people never want to revisit their childhoods, I am comforted.  Mama found beauty, resilience, and lifelong lessons in her own childhood, a childhood that she spent helping her parents and grandparents tend to plants and animals on the old family farm.  Her students got a chance to share in a part of her upbringing.

On a nearly cloudless, sunny day in February of 2013, Mama had six pallbearers: one was a dear cousin, another was a family friend, and four were her former kindergarteners.  These six dignified, hardworking, respectable, responsible, and well-educated Black men—all now over the age of forty—donned white gloves, and hoisted Mama’s coffin and took her to her final place of rest in the soil—soil she respected.   Proudly, I watched them, as I am sure she did.  And then I thought, “If you plant it in the earth, give it just enough sunlight, just enough water, and just enough nurturing, it will yield something.”

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.

“Syble’s Poem” by Charles Reese (guest blog)

My friend Charles Reese wrote this poem in honor of my late mother Syble Allen Williams (March 1, 1921 – February 9, 2013).  Thanks Charles for this rare gift; it makes her passing a little bit easier to bear.  — Leslye Joy Allen

Syble Allen Williams in 2007 at age 86.  (Copyright © 2007-2013 by Leslye Joy Allen)

Syble Allen Williams in 2007 at age 86.
(Copyright © 2007-2013 by Leslye Joy Allen)

Syble’s Poem

by Charles Reese

Today feels like a poem for Syble

Syble’s poem is moving

Syble’s poem is taking action

Syble’s poem is moving toward something unknown to man or woman

Syble’s poem is moving beyond the limits of state apparatuses, struggling to control freedom outside its natural formation

Where poems are her songs

Holding us up

Keeping us together

Walking in the Spirit

Shouting

Hallelujah

We are moved

We are changed

Because today feels like a poem for our newest Ancestor…

Queen Syble Allen Williams.

Welcome to the fold.

And so it is.

Ashé.  Amen.

(Charles Reese is an Audelco Award-nominated Actor, Writer, Curator & Founder of The James Baldwin Project; and original actor & editor of the late Howard B. Simon’s Stage Play James Baldwin: A Soul on Fire, published by Glover Lane Press.)

Charles Reese: James Baldwin

Copyright © 2013 by Charles Reese.  All Rights Reserved.  No portion of this poem may be reprinted without permission from the author.

Creative Commons License

This Guest Blog by Charles Reese featured by Leslye Joy Allen is protected under U. S. Copyright Law and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Charles Reese clearly stated as the author and Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the owner of this blog.

Leslye Joy Allen and http://leslyejoyallen.com is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!