Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A letter to myself

Dear Akil,

My life is in a constant sate of flux. Moving in and out of situations, scenarios and circles seamlessly. Hoping to find that one place where he can settle down and be happy with life. There is always more out there. No? Stop and start. Stop and start. Divert. Take the road less traveled. Being "accomplished" or being content. Or both. Knowing that I can do anything I want, but realizing that I cant always do it when I want. Go back to school. Yes. Now? No. Upset? A little bit. Why? Becasue I feel a little behind. I look at my peers who are working on their PhDs and wondering ... when is my opportunity going to come. Do I WANT the degree? Yes. Do I NEED the degree. No, not really. I feel my experience as a teacher (public and charter), school founder (GSERT) and professional developer have given me a perspective that many of my colleagues do not have. I just hope that these experiences pay off in the end.

Akil E. Kennedy

Monday, June 09, 2008

A pothole that needs to be filled: The intersection of Race and Gender

After a hard fought Democratic primary, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) will be the nominee for President of the United States. This marks the first time in history that an African-American has claimed the Presidential nomination on a major party ticket. Although, this is a cause for joy to some, for others it is a time of dejection and disappointment, more specifically, the white women supporters of Hillary Clinton.

In the midst of public scrutiny regarding his relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and public comments regarding rural voters, Obama began to lose support among white women. (When Clinton was supposed to have wrapped up the nomination) Many of these Clinton supporters have said they will vote across party lines in November. They would rather vote for John McCain than Barack Obama. Why? They are essentially the same candidate except for the fact that one is a white woman and the other is a black man. What has Obama done differently since February? Has he made a comment? No. Has he proposed some policy that would be detrimental to women? No. Is it just the fact that he is not a WHITE woman? Possibly.

This year’s Democratic Primary did not merely highlight the racial division within the Democratic Party; rather it showed us that racial division still exists here in the United States. It showed us that not unlike the Kerner Commission report, there are still remnants of “two nations.”

Interestingly, the rights, hopes and dreams of African-Americans and women have always been somewhat tied together. Many members of the women’s suffrage movement were also abolitionists during slavery and the Civil War. But when it came time for passage of the 14th and 15th amendments the women’s rights movement did not approve. "As the celestial gate to civil rights is slowly moving on its hinges, it becomes a serious question whether we had better stand aside and see Sambo walk into the kingdom first,” said Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the key figures in the Woman’s Suffrage Movement.

Eighty-eight years ago suffragists had to make another decision: support African-American rights or gain passage of the 20th Amendment, which would give women the right to vote. The suffragists chose the latter and that decision has haunted the woman’s rights movement ever since.

The faces of the feminist movement became increasingly, if not wholly, white and middle-class women who fought for the rights of white women. While these were women out fighting for suffrage, there were other invisible women at home taking care of the suffragists’ homes and children. These women, mostly poor women and Black women, were left off the agenda and out of the fight. (Consequently, although the 14th and 15th amendments granted African-American males with the right to vote, because of Jim Crow and segregation it was not until 1965 that these rights were finally realized.) The feminist movement has been split ever since its leaders decided to support strictly their race and gender and forget the issues of African-Americans. While feminism fought for the rights of women only. “Womanism opposes all oppression based on race, sex, class, sexual preference or physical ability.” The split between feminism and womanism (black feminism) has lived on ever since. It has created a huge pothole in the intersection of Race and Gender that is more evident today, than at any other time since the 20th amendment.

The pothole at the intersection of race and gender needs to be filled by bringing together the historic struggles of women and African-Americans. If you want the right to be represented, then you have to fight for the representation of others. Clinton’s campaign is just as significant and as much of a milestone as Barack Obama’s. Her candidacy is as much a valid movement as his was/is and should be recognized. 17,717,698 is a lot of votes. Those women don’t need to be ignored, but brought into the fold. An Obama/Clinton ticket would be the first step towards bridging that gap and realizing that the strength of any movement for human rights lies in its ability to have a universal message and participants stretches across race, gender, class and religions. One reason the Civil Rights Movement was as successful as it was in no way was it exclusive to a particular race, gender, class or religion. It was about Civil Rights for ALL people.

The pundits and many Obama supporters have said that it would be a horrible idea for Obama to choose Clinton as Vice-President. They say she represents the old politics of Washington. They say that Clinton is too divisive a candidate and that choosing her as Vice-President would go against the “change” message. (Although I can not remember the last time a woman was the Vice-President of the United States.) While it is true that the primaries were hard-fought and sometimes a bit snippy, trying to win an election can be like that. They say her and Obama are not the best of friends. Real change and growth can only take place when people are put outside their comfort zones and forced to think long and hard about what they want and what is really important. Is it about identity or policy? What is more important? Personal relationships or working relationships?

Now, I am in no way saying that Barack Obama NEEDS to choose Hillary Clinton as his Vice-President. Obama can win the election on his own merits with someone who “balances” the ticket more like Joe Biden (D-Del.), Bill Richardson (D-N.M.) or Ed Rendell (D-Pa.). However, he cannot win without her full support. She is too significant a figure, not only in the Democratic Party, but in the feminist movement.

Two extremely intelligent, skilled and caring public servants can now bridge that rift, created eighty-eight years ago. Two senators, who have unique voices, yet share the same belief in human rights fort ALL. It is time for Obama to address all of the misogynists. It is time for Hillary Clinton to address all the racists. Together they can have a unified message that resonates with everyone. Men women, whites, minorities, rich, poor, immigrants, etc. That message can be stronger than any message about policy. If you can change the way people think, you can change the way they act. As Barack Obama said in Minnesota the night he clinched the nomination, “Millions of Americans cast ballots for the first time, voted in records and inspired a nation… let us work together and chart a new course for America.”

--Akil E. Kennedy

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Have We Turned The Corner?

Dear America,

“An election is a bet on the future, not a popularity test of the past.” – James Reston

I started this primary season with a reason to hope. For the first time in history an African-American and a woman both competing seriously to be the Democratic nominee for President of the U.S. I began as a Clinton supporter. I knew her and her politics. I knew her husband. All I could think was “who is this Obama character and why would he want to be President now?” I questioned his speeches about hope with calls for more substance and policy. “He’s a rookie!” I would tell my pro-Obama friends and colleagues. “He should try to be VP if anything.”

In traveling from school to school I saw young people around the city involved in the political process. For the first time (more then when George Bush stole an election) I have seen high school students engaged and passionate about the outcome of elections. And not just black students. White students as well. The young people. The next generation. All with a vision of the future that was so much brighter and optimistic than I had. Seeing them made me hopeful. And after doing some more research on Obama and his policies (particularly education) and watching his decisive wins in February and March I decided to switch candidates. I realized that the next President is not going to be able to fix all of America’s problems. No one can in 8 years. What they can do is change the trajectory of America with regards to its politics and foreign policy. And yet, that hope has been somewhat tempered over the past few months with the ongoing nomination fight and the comments of Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

“The President is the only person who can change the direction or attitude of our nation.” – Jimmy Carter

But, even with this nomination on the brink of becoming a reality, I am still afraid. I am afraid that my beloved country has not turned the corner. Although I’ve never lived through dogs and fire hoses being turned on peaceful marchers, I am scared because there are still people who yearn for those times. People who, in their minds, still live in the “Old South”. Dixie. Those people whose attitude about minorities and equality has not changed. They exist in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and every other state in this Union and to deny it would be to deny the history of the United States. Although this mindset exists in a minority of Americans, it still exists and it is still powerful. The “American mind” can be very weak. It has been and can be easily manipulated by those in power. There are those who do not want to see the attitude of America change. They are perfectly happy with fanning the flames of racism and sexism in this country because it works to their advantage. It keeps people ignorant and scared of any change.

They show pictures of Obama in traditional African garb or loop the same 3 minutes of an old angry pastor in church. They say Barack HUSSEIN Obama to scare people into thinking he has a connection to Saddam Hussein. They go on the news and scream that if Hillary Clinton isn’t the nominee, they are voting for John McCain!! “I just don’t trust him,” and “Isn’t he a Muslim?” they say.

“All our great Presidents were leaders of thought at times when certain historic ideas in the life of the nation had to be clarified.” – FDR

If Obama is the nominee it is something so much bigger than you or I. It is so much bigger than Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. It is bigger than black and white. Whether you are a “patriot” or a dissident, this election represents a paradigm shift. An understanding. A reaching across the aisle that is not just Democrat to Republican. It is reaching across gender, across races, across religions and across nations. Past to present to future. A revolution of thought. As I heard Armstrong Williams say, “a spiritual revolution in this country.” A revolution that speaks to the true greatness of America that no matter what your history is, you can achieve whatever you want. The idea that America IS the land of opportunity and the American Dream CAN become a reality.


Akil E. Kennedy

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Democratic nomination

We now have a nomination “fight” on our hands. Although it is hard to consider it a fight when one candidate is clearly going to lose and has no real chances of winning. (Unless something out of the ordinary occurs). Seating the delegations from Michigan and Florida has become the major issue of the democratic nomination. Not health care. Not the war in Iraq and not home foreclosures. The major issue is the apportionment of delegates.

We all remember that both states moved their primaries up against Democratic party rules and lost their delegates as a result. The Rules Committee decided yesterday to seat all of the Florida delegates but only give them half a vote. They also agreed to seat the Michigan delegates, which was a little more complicated because Clinton was the only person on the ballot in that state. She received more delegate votes from Michigan than Obama, but her campaign feels that this is a miscarriage of justice.

Hillary supporters claim that this is tantamount to what happened to Al Gore in 2000. Hello!! Are you kidding me? This is in no way like the 2000 election. First of all, people were not turned away at the polls. Voting machines were NOT tampered with. All the people that voted had their vote counted. The difference is that Michigan and Florida broke party rules. That is the reason their votes have come into question. NOT a national conspiracy by the Republican party. The rules were broken. Consequences follow when rules are broken. The only people who don’t seem to understand that are the Hillary Clinton supporters. What don’t they understand about rules and consequences?

It has nothing to do with the fact that she is a woman and everything to do with Hillary Clinton and how she ran her campaign. Is it Obama’s fault that Clinton did not take him seriously? No. Is it Obama’s fault that Clinton ran a shoddy campaign? No. Is it Obama’s fault that Clinton’s fundraising was not up to par? No. Is it Obama’s fault that Bill Clinton cannot keep his mouth shut? No. Is it Obama’s fault that Michigan and Florida moved up their primaries? No!! The only person who should be blamed is Hillary Clinton and her campaign staff. Yet, the reason for her failure to all her supporters seems to be sexism.

I am in no way saying that sexism does not exist. Nor am I saying that it has not been a factor in this year’s nomination race. What I do know is that it is NOT the reason that Hillary Clinton is losing. None of the men or women that I know used gender as a reason for their vote. People who are not voting for Hillary aren’t voting for her because they don’t trust her. Bottom line. Not that they don’t trust A HER. People who aren’t voting for Obama are doing it because they don’t feel he has the experience. Not because he is black.

Seeing middle-aged white women stand outside the Rules Committee screaming sexism and cheating reminded me briefly of PETA activists. The type of people who are so “committed” to a cause or candidate that they have no grip on reality. They can’t see the forest from the trees. It scares me. It scares me because I can see the America that I’ve known rearing its ugly head. Entitlement.

It has been reported that Obama has lost his support among white women specifically since February. (When Clinton was supposed to have wrapped up the nomination) It scares me because I know if Hillary Clinton does not win that supporters of hers have said they will vote across party lines in November. They would rather vote for John McCain than Barack Obama. Why? They are essentially the same candidate except for the fact that one is a white woman and the other is a black man. What has Obama done differently since February? Has he made a comment? No. Has he proposed some policy that would be detrimental to women? No. Is it just the fact that he IS NOT a white woman? Possibly.

Why should Hillary give it up? Well, aside from the fact that it is virtually impossible for her to win the delegate count it is also tearing the Democratic party apart. It is highlighting the divisions within the party that are otherwise masked when the enemy is a Republican. When the enemy is a white man.

But this is Hillary and she will do whatever it takes to win. She has every right to fight it out until the end. I wonder though ….. maybe Father Michael Pfleger had it right when he says that Hilary felt entitled to the Presidency. Not because Obama is a Black man, but because 2008 was supposed to be HER year. No matter who she was running against.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Got Damn America (50 Shots to The Dome)

Dear Rotten Apple,

Amadou Diallo. Patrick Dorismond. Ousmane Zongo. Timothy Stansbury. And now Sean Bell. It seems like New Yorkers go through this sort of thing every 3-4 years. An unarmed man of color is killed by the officers if the NYPD. There is an outrage over the shooting and excessive force. There are marches and demonstrations. There is a trial… and there is an acquittal. (Except in the case of Ousmane where the officer was sentenced to five years). I remember there was even a case of a black transit cop being shot while he chased a suspect because the police thought he was the perp.

It makes me angry. Sure, I could sit here and write about racism and discrimination all I want and much of it would be true and justified. I could sit and vent about the years of police brutality that have been inflicted on peoples of color in America and call it “American Terrorism”. Of course, then I might be called unpatriotic and a hate monger trying to stir up feelings of division in our “united” States of America. I could harp on corruption and the “pigs”, but what would it really accomplish? Nothing. Instead, I’d like to vent about something that is really simple and something that the people can actually do something about. How the officers are tried in court.

We have to understand that when a group of police officers are involved in a shooting they are usually tried as a group. Why is that? Because it is a lot harder to convict a group of officers of murder than it is to convict individuals. As a prosecutor, you have to prove that EVERYONE being charged is guilty to the same degree. Its all or nothing. Either everyone is innocent or everyone is guilty. There is no in-between.

In the case of Sean Bell, of the 50 shots fired one officer, Mike Oliver, squeezed off 31 shots. 31 shots!! He emptied a clip, reloaded, and damn near emptied another clip. The other two officers charged shot 15 times total. Officer Gescard Isnora fired 11 times and Officer Marc Cooper fired 4. When looking at these facts, it is reasonable to say that Officers Oliver (who is African-American) and Isnora (who was first to fire) were the ones who were grossly negligent and the others were just reacting to the other officers.

In order to come away with a guilty verdict, the best thing to do would be to try each as an individual. It would have been a lot easier to convict ONE officer who emptied a full clip, reloaded and kept firing. It is a lot harder to convict an officer who fired 4 shots as a reaction to all the shooting. And therein lies the problem. If you think one is innocent, then they ALL have to be innocent. If you think one is guilty, they ALL are guilty. As a juror, you can’t separate one officer from another. Its all or nothing…..

I am waiting for the day when an unarmed person not of color is killed by a police officer. I want to see the outrage. I want to see the protests. More than that, I want to see the trial and verdict. I hope that the cop gets off. Not because I want to see someone hurt or dead, but because I want to feel that justice was truly done. I want to believe that its not RACE, but just the way the law works… because I don’t even flinch anymore when this stuff happens. It’s all too regular to me. 41 shots or 50 shots, an innocent person is dead.


Akil E. Kennedy

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Beaten Down Democracy

Dear Afrika,

It has been a grip. Honestly, there has really been nothing interesting to write about. Let me rephrase that, nothing interesting that I wanted to write about. That feeling has not been stirred up in a minute. The fact that that the time between these last two primaries has been so long that I have become disinterested.

I mean really, can this be over already. The longer it goes on the more I lose interest. I’ve officially pledged my support for Obama (thought you’d like to know), so one decision has been made. However, I’m not feeling to good about his chances when it comes to the Democratic Convention. He has been getting beat up a lot recently and I feel like he could do more to defend himself, especially now that he has been branded as an elitist. Obama, the community organizer an elitist? It is laughable really. I mean, this whole process is elitist isn’t it? The mere fact that “super delegates” (called that b/c supposedly they know better than we do) can overturn the popular vote and delegate count and choose the nominee b/c they know “what is best for the party” is an elitist idea and I wish that he would address it as such. The very idea that a group of people can overturn an election (sound familiar) because they know what is best is not democracy at all.

And although I think that Obama gave a great speech about race in America, I think the situation could have been handled a bit differently and still could. “God Damn America!!” So what. I know plenty of “patriots” who have uttered that phrase one time or another. Heck, I’m sure a few of our founding fathers uttered the phrase during the time of the American Revolution, the drafting of the Constitution, the Civil War, etc. Is it really that big of a deal? Why not mention the fact that Rev. Wright served for years in the U.S. Navy. And he enlisted during the Vietnam War, he wasn’t drafted. The man actually left school to go serve his country. He served more time than George Bush, Dick Cheney… Hillary Clinton. Anyone who served their country at a time of war has the right to say whatever they want about America. It may not be accurate or something that you or I agree with, but the 1st amendment guarantees that right.

I thought dissent WAS American and very patriotic / the fact that we condemn opinions is very idiotic. And since when do you have to condemn everything you disagree with. I mean, isn’t saying that you disagree enough? I don’t agree that abortion should be illegal and that women who have them are murderers. I wouldn’t condemn the people saying it or their views. I just don’t agree. Hell, it’s all semantics really. They mean the same thing…

It’s just tiring. It is the reason I would never run for public office. I could not constantly defend/condemn statements that I did not make. And I would not want to justify other people’s opinions, just my own. Plus, I know I associate with what some people would term “shady” characters. But haven’t we all?

Anyway, I went off on a tangent. How has life been otherwise? Still hardcore grant season? We’ll see what happens today in PA.



Monday, January 07, 2008

A New Day for Hampton football

Dear Coach Taylor,

Wow. It is sad to see you go. My four years at Hampton were great. The best four years of my life. Not just because of the academics and the friends and the plethora of beautiful women walking the campus, but also because you could always count on the Pirates whooping somebody’s behind. Sitting or standing in the bleachers listening to THE FORCE or yelling “Shake Deez!” was all the more fun because the team was winning.

I was only there from 1997 to 2001, but the 1997 season saw us win our first MEAC title, also earning the Pirates their first bid to the I-AA playoffs with a 10-2 record. We were also crowned SBN National Champions for the second time in four years. In 1998, Hampton repeated as MEAC Champions and made our second consecutive appearance in the FCS playoffs.

The fact that you were so good at keeping us on top for so long makes me apprehensive about the future. In 16 years you went 136-49-1 and guided the Pirates to four Black College Championships, eight conference titles, a Heritage Bowl Championship and seven trips to the NCAA playoffs.

I understand the need for new challenges. The need to start over someplace else. It is one thing to build your legacy as the great Hampton University football coach. You are already the winningest coach in HU history. It is another to want to leave your legacy as one of the great all-time college coaches period. You can get bored doing the same thing at the same place for too long. Five years at the same place and I’m ready to leave. .

Then again, this year wasn’t the greatest. We really underachieved for the first time in 5 years. The team was a lot better than their 5-4 record in the MEAC would suggest. We also never made it past the first round of the playoffs and we were playing at home. The two games that I’m thinking about (against University of Richmond and University of New Hampshire) you played not to lose, and both times it came back and bit us in the ass. I hated that about you. I was so tired of being just the MEAC Champions. Why couldn’t we be Division I-AA National Champions? That year we lost to New Hampshire, we had them. WE HAD THEM!! And we let them slip by.

So maybe it is time for a new coach. What are we to make of this new coach (Jerry Holmes) that we have? It sounds like he is a good guy. He’s been at Hampton twice as an assistant. His last stint started in 2004. You promoted him to defensive coordinator in 2005, when we went 11-0 during the regular season and led Division I-AA in scoring defense. We are returning 14 offensive and defensive starters next season so there should be no drop off in play.

So I wish you all the best. I know the Florida A&M football program has come on some rough times and it is going to be awhile before they are good again. Honestly, you are the perfect coach to rebuild their program. I will be rooting for you (unless you are playing Hampton). One more thing….I realize that 16 years is a long time, and you need a new challenge, but why are you leaving to go to FAMU? Our conference rivals? You could at least have moved to a new conference. Oh well…. at least it ain’t Howard.