Between 2 & 3

How appropriate it is

To be between 2 & 3

In the morning, I see

Between the second (Kujichagalia) and third (Ujima) principles…

To be self-determined and accept my role in collective works and responsibility…

Reading, to the end, the yellowed pages of this old book

Called Dark Ghetto

Understanding brand new and old references to dark ghettos

Wary of things that move in dark places, dark spaces…

“The poetic irony of American race relations…

…the rejected Negro…

…must somehow also find the strength to free the privileged…”

[Not just] white.

Words as true in 2020 as they were in ’65…

The last words on yellowed pages, in this old book…

How will you catch me…

…when I fall…when I fail…when everything

breaks…like cracks in the concrete…no foundation…thinking we grow without scars and wounds…from this system that sees itself as soil, pliable and rich with broken down stone structure giving life…but it is not


It is not solid like concrete because there is no structure to give when there is so little guidance or instruction on how to mix it…

…the methods all chosen by each experimentor…each cook in countless kitchens

interpreting it all like secret sauce whose flavor, color and fragrance elude us…

familiar and so unfamiliar at the same time…

I woke up with you on my mind

Dear student

The one




More than I can really see in my vision of this moment…

I could hear your heart beat


In this moment…how will you catch me

When I fail

Caring not about the fall

The opportunity to experience the accomplishment of the rough and tumble roll because you have been here before if not always…carving out your joy once denied and found and now taken…

You never really trusted this system and now…

You are losing hope

In this moment

Ringing in my ears

Echoing in my mind

Is your voice lost long behind blackened screens

No profile pic

No renamed identity

No hands to guide on a page

Or smile to confirm

Behind the mask and the veil…

“How will you catch me when I fall?” “How will you be there when you are not near?”

Black Love Matters

Black Love Matters: A 2020 MJB requiem for my mother (who is alive), her mother and their mothers, sisters, aunts and girlfriends…

Mary J Blige has supplied a generation, my generation, of Black women with a soundtrack for our love. I am grateful…somehow she found all of the emotion and the magic to put my heart issues in front of a beat and find the steps to dance it out and the pace to walk it out. Mary J is like that classmate in the school who leads the way and sets the direction of the crowd…thank you Ms. Blige.

Be Happy

#1 Self-love in our community is about peace and happiness. It is not necessarily drama free, actually, we expect it…drama that is. Living life can be addictive…people, places and things…but freedom is a choice. We accept it. In the same way that we fall in love outside of ourselves, we know when to walk away from destructive desires, understanding that we don’t have to self-deprecate in order to obtain love or happiness. We understand the cost of loving ourselves may be high but it is always worth it.

#2 Love(r)s that are “ride or dies” help build future…a higher life. Passing time and barriers like a cycle club, love like this is its own safety. The mountain that is love, is easily taken in and taken on…love like this is all we need to get by.

#3 Family love is a whole level of kinship: fictive or legally functional, Black families are complex yet simple. We choose to share and therefore love with and on purpose…to see each other…to judge it…sometimes harshly but always with an eye to see our own selves reflected in what is before us.

#4 Black Community love is not always about the party…it is usually and typically contemplative and reflective. It is the constant dissonance…wondering…how? Why? Where can we find peace, joy, love? We are struggle…Black community is a motley crew of sounds, flavors, colors. Look at our life. “It is hard, but WE will get far”…the peace of mind that comes from going beyond self…that is that Black Community Love that allows us to extend grace in the face of pain. Built on our faith practices, how we see the divine from high and low places, Black Community love unites among difference.

#5 The Black Love Matters vortex…the swirling…the spinning…the shifts in life that cause slow ebbs and flows with the same productive force as tumult and explosion, is real. Black Love matters. Black Lives matter.

Seeing the next Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris, a multicultural/multiethnic Black woman, stroll onto stage with #WorkThat as her soundtrack feels like an anthem that honors who we are and have been…forever.

Racial Literacy Development…

…is Bi-directional. The Kids Are Alright…in spite of us.

For the eldest among us, it–this destination we call literate–is a state of ascension from the abyss of past pain, past harm, past violence and past drama…at the hands of whiteness at a confusing time in the midst of a chaotic history in a nation whose need to classify stops abruptly at an A vs. B existence…thank you Ms. Morrison for the reminder that what we have today is better than before but there is so much more we must do.

For the youngest among us, it–this destination we call literate–is a baseline from which we make sense of the awkward interactions of past generations…as they tip-toe around the obvious pain, past harm, past violence and past drama…at the hands of their own whiteness…at a confusing time in the midst of a chaotic history in a nation whose need to classify stops abruptly at an A vs. B existence…thank you Ms. Maya for the reminder that we must do today what was done in our former days…employing that survival apparatus at every possible chance we get to love and save and celebrate our selves.

So I write this…this something, like a poem, outside of others’ gaze…for KSC, SJT and the women leaders who lead and give us courage…to pursue racial literacy in a box made for equity even though it doesn’t quite fit…moving beyond the table to places of kinship and joy. This is for you. This is for us.

The conversation I see Yolanda (Sealey-Ruiz) having with us…I do not want to be too familiar on this journey

How we start at the bottom of our selves…

Where we ask our selves to look at who we are in critical love, humility and reflection.

She calls this model, this thing that we can’t quite figure out, in spite of our own wonderings, our own wanderings, archaeology. Scientific and deeply personal.

The conversation I see Sonya (Douglass Horsford) having with us…I am more familiar with bound volumes than the person whose work inspires on this journey…

How we stand by and smell the stench of fire…

Where we sit in rooms among those in leadership asking our selves what social justice and inclusion look like as we imagine.

She calls this model, this thing that looks something like a staircase that we can’t quite figure out, in spite of our wonderings, our own wanderings, steps. Practical and deeply personal.

Then it hit me.

The eldest among us may start their journey with Yolanda as their guide. The youngest among is with Sonya. Hopefully we cross paths along the way and learn to walk together through the garden of my familiar…

Additional inspirations, readings & references:

Maya Angelou (1987) We Wear the Mask [spoken word]

Douglass Horsford, S. (2014). When race enters the room: Improving leadership and learning through racial literacy. Theory Into Practice, 53(2), 123-130.

Toni Morrison (1998) interview with Charlie Rose

Sealey-Ruiz, Y. (2020) Arch of Self

I slept in your room last night

Mourning the loss of an icon

Chadwick Boseman

An actor

A man

Who in memorializing Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall, reminded us of modern histories being erased from most textbooks, dying in the caskets of our elders, clouded by false progression and stifled by our hopes…did a great thing.

But it was not enough.

He took on another, more fantastic role in a universe of super heroes, fictional and not.

He brought to life a character in the Black Panther that was our collective character…

I needed to have you close, but you can’t be here prince…

My sun who moves cloudy skies…

It is raining.

I slept in your room last night so I could be comforted by the box of childhood toys hiding in your closet, peaking out if I looked…

Figurines of Black kings and superheroes mixed in among the cards and relics of childhood fantasy.

I needed to know that you are protected by my dreams for you…

I hoped as I drifted back to sleep that you would take care as you are out there fighting for your life, making good trouble in this moment.

I woke to a message from you…you heard the news too…

Don’t hate 2020 precious manchild, it is showing us who we are.


On Unions

Definition provided within a search on Google of the Oxford Language

What a powerful word–union. It makes us think we are united with others, in association and in alliance.

But what happens when the strength is not shared between members. When links in the chain are broken or worn down?

What happens when leadership within those guilds (I see the synonym and like it) choose to advance the causes of their fathers and mothers, their fathers and mothers and the generations before them, which I know is rooted in security for them and their family…not mine? When memberships is tied to that history dictates the stories that will be told and the hands that will guide the lenses…what do we do? It is not lost on me that this Hollywood tale is not unlike what we see in law enforcement or teaching…in 1906, Black teachers stood together, sixty years later they were subsumed, fifty years later, where are we now, fifty plus one year later–we are only at the committee stage of any resolution acknowledging a culture of white supremacy among our ranks?

It is now 2020…at the beginning of a new school year…and I am not sure how unionizing is working, for anyone. Do we ask for life insurance coverage for the certain loss ahead? Do we organize in smaller cells who have our family’s best interest at heart? Black and Brown families. Poor families. Working class families. My families. I am all of these and none.

When unions make us stronger, we feel like gold braided into a plait, only seen when the queen sporting woven crown turns her head in the sunlight…

Black Joy is…

On the horizon

In all its many forms

Within reach and she tastes like love.

She feels like justice.

She sounds like laughter and Black girls singing.

She smells like cooked food soul rich with care and tenderness.

She looks like sons growing stronger as they run, happy as they go because they are free.

Black Joy tastes like rest on the lake when morning dew falls fresh on the nostrils and releases its pure, cool.

She feels like soil on owned land between fingers and under nailbeds that drop seeds into fertility waiting to bloom in summer glow

She sounds like family gathering after a long hiatus between hugs.

She looks like her mothers’ daughters growing stronger as they run, happy, as they go because they are free.

Dear Hip Hop,

Did you know our sons and daughters, our children are dying out here in these streets?

Did you know our sons and daughters, our children are out here selling Niggah passes in these streets?

…like drugs and candy…trying to come up, they are dying in these streets, in these schools, on these blocks, at these parties…


They don’t know that not all words belong to them or us, we can’t reclaim what was never designed to honor us…ever. It was language designed, created, invented to keep us down…so, in 2020 the thought that we can “run the jewels” and kill our masters using his words…is just…


How will we ever be free?

How will we ever win?

How will we ever lead…wearing the emperor’s garments and carrying his weapons?

Wearing chains

To stay cool…like Isaac Hayes.

I get it.

I grew up with you. Vinyl records. Vinyl skirts. Bamboo earrings. Free concerts in the park…sitting at the bus stop sucking on a lollipop…who knew,

The innuendo

Of sexual pleasure,

Its ear hustle

Its audio flow

The optics of lips on gloss

Would stir so much pain?

Our sons and daughters spit…

Shit they know



Everything about

Because you

Do it

on the mic…

In the press

On the real

How are we supposed to feel

Where there’s…theirs…their heirs…ours

Threat to kill us in stead of protect.

I don’t get it.

I grew up with you.

We were young when they,

like Mama C and my own sorority

came at you

for expressing

what you knew.

It felt like betrayal

A portrayal

of olden days’


of Respectability

Not Respeck-ability

But I get it now, like then…

Continue the debate, da battle…later.

Cloaked literacies: Shifting perspectives on liberatory praxis

We wear the mask that grins and lies, it hides our cheeks and shades our eyes; this debt we pay to human guile; with torn and bleeding hearts we smile; and mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise, in counting all our tears and sighs? Nay, let them only see us, while we wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ our cries, to thee from tortured souls arise. We sing, but oh the clay is vile. Beneath our feet, and long the mile; but let the world dream otherwise, we wear the mask!

–Paul L. Dunbar, 1895/1896

Near to the sting of slavery’s institutional clutch, Paul Laurence Dunbar likely understood why his literacy–his ability to read and write using the conventions of standard English–were important. Born in 1872, he was less than one full generation away from emancipation. In 98 words, Dunbar reveals our resistance to the world’s gaze–the performative nature of our being…masked from view…as protection while we rise…moving Up from Slavery like that 1901 work…steadily improving…in the name of freedom.

Fast forward to 1922, monuments to the “lifting the veil” sentiment of the day celebrated reading as agency while also memorializing the shroud of secrecy that was still expected at that moment. With heavy pages resting on his lap, we get the sense that the younger man was being protected by the elder as he developed and learned. Anticipating that he could emerge strong in form and in fashion, the kneeling young body would rise stronger in stature through sharpened mind. Literacy was then and remains a threat to domination…which is perhaps why the elder statesmen took time to reveal the younger greatness of educated and liberated humanity. Revealing to the one standing before the cloaked body, the brilliance of the person beneath the veil. Revealing to the one crouching beneath the cloak, his own more enlightened self…allowing his own pupils to dilate gradually as this new status was being established.

Being cloaked…

is not erasure or a rendering of a man to be invisible,

it is not separation (segregation) for selfish purpose,

it is not the source of a supernatural strength or power,

it is its own protection from premature or over exposure

to the dangers of what lies beyond the veil…

though to the one beneath the curtain

it may feel like being cast into gripping blindness or suffocation…

by an out-of-touch generation.

Freedom’s Journal (1827 – 1829) tells this story…of cloaked literacy…the public and still closed societies that fought to be fully literate–telling stories beyond oral tradition but permanently making marks on paper that stand until this moment. Pre-legislated, freedom was about knowing what the master thought you didn’t know. Post-1865, literacy is the rhetoric of freedom made public in the 1863 presidential clauses that proclaim emancipation. There exists now, like then, a less obtuse reality that no one secures freedom if they cannot read and debate with reasonable acuity and political reference. Knowing reveals a landscape of change: the geology and geography of evolved spaces, the sociology of change and the culture of change provide a road (like a map) that leads to greater understanding of deeply embedded treasures that may be unlocked by literacy.

Literacy has always been its own activism, especially wherever freedom bells toll, like in Philadelphia (See Bacon & McClish, 2000). Many cite Frederick Douglass’ story of literary prowess and ingenue…I agree that his words and letters, speeches and narratives are inspired and inspirational. I however want to amplify Sojourner Truth whose 1851 “I am woman rights” speech at Akron was doctored, appropriated, published and rebranded as “Aint I a Woman” in a language not quite her own. Alas, “even when marginalized rhetors employ the forms of the dominant class, their rhetoric does not necessarily conform to prevailing societal norms. Acts of appropriation should not be seen merely as “borrowing” but as reinvention and transformation” (Bacon & McClish, 2000, p.21).

Dr. Gholdy Muhammed extends this explanation in her work Cultivating Genius by painting a picture of criticality that allows us to know a tertiary purpose in being literate: “to detect sophistry or falsehood or fallacies contained in the language of others…putting intellect into action” (p. 115).

Liberatory praxis–practices of freedom–embraces literacy. These literacies–language, racial, media, technical, scientific and numeric–require disciplinary criticality and reference as norms. Not like chains for compliance but models that shape paths. Whether you cite bell hooks or Bettina Love–the elder statesperson or the younger mentored mind–theory makes us free. In embracing theory, we acknowledge powerful histories, values, beliefs and practices that were designed to incubate greatness. Being free will always be better than becoming free.


Bacon, J., & McClish, G. (2000). Reinventing the master’s tools: Nineteenth‐century African‐American literary societies of Philadelphia and rhetorical education. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 30(4), 19-47.

Muhammad, G. (2020). Cultivating genius: An equity framework for culturally and historically responsive literacy. Scholastic Incorporated.

The Resistance of the Book Against the Gun: Reflections on Hamilton

Reading an English translation of an 1890s essay titled “Our America” by José Martí, one day after watching Hamilton for the first time

Is an interesting morning journey.

Many lines from the work have given me reasons to pause, today, perhaps more than they otherwise would have…because I just saw the play (on TV) during a quarantine during a time of unprecedented tyranny (or so I thought)…this is a time of evolution within revolution…

This line “the resistance of the book against the lance” speaks of the metaphors used to describe the normalcy of war and violence and cutting (away) and pain and liberation and conquest and conflict and colorism and classism and fighting (among other references) during the Spanish-American War.

All of the systems are there: the invention of race, politics, economics, aesthetics, education, crime and punishment, associations, intimate life…so normalized in their tie to domination that any illusion of progress is impossible to see.

From 1894 to 2020, the narrative is the same: the harrowing dysfunction of tyranny by incompetent leaders is resisted by the people. There is fire this time. No duel. No lance. Just shots…fired.