An Essay On Englewood (03-19-2006)
A young Chicago Public Schools student, who was
a friend of each of the two victims of the
recent violence in Englewood, wrote a poem, published
in the Chicago Sunday Tribune,
decrying the existence of such violence. Many
precursors of profound and deep thought
may be found in the poem. However, it is somewhat
understandable but also ironic that her
inspiration, for writing this poem, should come
from the work of Tupac Shakur.
Shakur was undoubtedly a tremendously talented
poet. One is led to wonder if his work would
have been even greater (with an appeal to an even larger
audience) if he had not been so
greatly exposed to and influenced by the deprivations
associated with poverty, racism and
the thug life. Speaking of the thug life: is it not true
that an episode of this same thug life reality,
acted out in the streets of the Chicago neighborhood
of Englewood, was responsible for the
tragic deaths of the two friends of the young poet?
We must make sure that our youths have adequate
information to make wise choices in the
selection of their heroes. Tupac Shakur may be
a hero to some since he had to struggle to
overcome racism, an environment of poverty and crime
in his youth and conflicts with (jealous(?))
fellow rappers. Yet he is credited with having sold
more than 67 millions albums globally and
has been listed by the Guinness Book of World records
as the best selling hip-hop rap artist of
all time. (Source: Wikipedia)
But there are many other (let's just say much less
controversial) black heroes. Colin Powell,
Thurgood Marshall, Ralph Bunche, Maya Angelou, Arthur
Lewis (a Nobel Laureate in economics
which utilizes a lot of advanced math), Reginald F. Lewis
(corporate acquisitions), Marian Anderson,
Benjamin Banneker (the first black mathematician to
receive a measure of recognition), Mae
Jemison (first black female astronaut in space), just to
name a few in addition to Dr. M.L. King.
Each of these people achieved prominence in their respective
fields in spite of racism, sexism and/or
(in some cases a lack of support (or even outright hostility)
from their peers. Peer pressure
(as in it is not cool to go to the library to study) can be a
powerful negative force. It is often difficult
to shirk off negative taunting (as a reaction to one's positive
study habits) because by human nature
everyone wants to be accepted as part of the group.
So we have to take innovative steps to cultivate
a multitude of youth peer groups with positive
values. The following may be a step in the right direction.
Why not celebrate each one or more
of the heroes named above in a dynamic, motivational and
entertaining artistic movie. These
are good role models for our youth to emulate. So if a (black (?))
producer - director ever has enough
courage to produce a movie (with a suitable screenplay dramatization
as is the custom in Hollywood)
based on the life of someone such as Dr. Jemison (cinematic depictions
of the astronautical training,
simulation, blast-off, orbital flight and re-entry would certainly
provide exciting drama) then middle
class (and other) black Americans should fill the multiplexes
in droves. They should take their
adolescent and teenage children with them. After watching such
a motivational (as well as entertaining)
film, some of the youth may then decide to become theater owners
of tomorrow. Just as Magic Johnson is today.
So what else can we do to help ourselves achieve our
full potential? Before presenting some
ideas let us first address the great Silent Majority of the
Black Middle Class. If you want
a prominent part of your contemporary culture to
celebrate the violence, crime, drugs and the
sense of hopelessness that exists in certain parts of
urban centers, then you have already got it !
The rap group Three 6 Mafia has even won a Oscar for a
"song" that glamorizes (in the present
author's opinion) the life of a pimp along with the strutting
of his scantily clad street walkers,
the fancy cars, drugs and the crime that are associated with
that life style. Admittedly, the
principal character in the movie "Hustle and Flow"
is trying to change from being a pimp and
become a ...(?)... janitor, skilled tradesman, barber,
bus driver,...dare we say an accountant (?).
No! None of those but he wants to become a rapper
and presumably rap about how hard his
former pimp life was. The view from here is that such
movies actually (potentially) influence
more people to enter such undesirable lifestyles as it
encourages people to leave. It should be
pointed out that there is nothing wrong with fancy cars if you
have non-illicit funds to pay for them
and not have to purchase them with money obtained
from someone doing hard illegal labor
while laying on their backs.
So middle class Black America you already have gangsta
hip - hop conspicuously displayed in your
current day culture. If that is what you really want
then perhaps a self congratulatory memo is in
order. But suppose that you don't really want a major
part of your contemporary culture to be
characterized by the content of hard core gangsta rap.
How do we change that? Speaking of change,
lets switch to the first person. I do occasionally
write in the first person.
Now for my suggestions. Let provide our youth with an
alternative choice.Why not spearhead a
movement to develop a (new) dynamic audio/visual art form!
An art form that celebrates positive
heroes and "sheroes". It has already been written in the
greatest Book of all times that "there is
nothing new under the sun". You may have also heard that
"everything that comes around goes
around". So an essential element of the new art form
could be a re-visitation to something old such
as the elegant dancing in colorful clothing to the sounds
of sophisticated jazz that was featured during
the introductions to some of the later Cosby Shows.
To give it a modern touch might consist of the
addition of "jazz rap": positive rap sung (or spoken ) in rapid
staccato style mimicking a rapid paced
jazz solo. Or something similar to what George Benson did
in certain sections of "This Masquerade"
but with (positive) rap lyrics.
A certain amount of tension (from parents wanting too much
control and youngsters wanting to
spread their wings too soon) has existed in parent/adolescent
relationships (I imagine) since the
beginning of recorded history. Will Smith and the Fresh Prince
in their "Parents: They Just Don't
Understand" presented a piece of art that illustrated this in a vivid
and entertaining way. Kids could
relate to it without being drawn deeply into the vision-less self - defeating
world of hard-core
hip - hop and it was delivered in an articulate vocal style (with mello
cello's in the background).
And if I recall correctly it was a big hit.
One version of the new art form could be video
docu - dramatizations of the lives of notable persons
of color with the narrators being positive rappers. Hopefully
the noted persons selected, blacks initially,
will cooperate for the purpose of motivating the young. If the
selected hero, whose life and accomplish-
ments will be dramatized for motivational purposes,
is deceased then hopefully his estate
will cooperate in such a potentially (very) beneficial project.
The productions could be presented in multi-media
forms: audio versions (suitable for airplay),
videos (for MTV and other cable channels), cinematic
film (for the multiplexes during inter-
mission, and the times set aside for "coming attractions").
The presentations could feature
choreography, dance, music, rap, computer animation
and/or other hi - tech media methods.
So if the kids want something with a beat and exciting
visual effects they will have an alterna-
tive to what is currently available. Audio - visual art that
envisions a future of hope and productivity.
Let me give some detail on one possible scene: A group
of 3 students are on their way to the
library to study, book-packs and books in hand, after
they had played a short game of hoops.
A group of 5 or six school age "thugs in training" confront
them with basketballs and loud hip-
hop music players in hand. The thugs in training confront
the library bound students with " you
are trying to be white" taunts delivered in a hip - hop
(non - hard core) rap style with choreogra-
phy. The library bound students reply with positive rap similar
to "We're On Our Way" in rap
style also with choreography. Through a rap style dialogue
(with choreography) they reach a
deal as follows: [ the mathlete from the library bound students
explains to the would be NBA
stars that they will need math to help them negotiate
their contracts so that dishonest agents,
investment advisers and tax accountants wont be
able to rip them off. They strike a deal. The
library students will help the NBA wannabees with
their homework in exchange for tips on playing
better playground basketball]
These motivational /entertainment products could be distributed
to the public under the auspices of a for profit (that is the
American way) corporation. The solicitation
of the initial clientele and stockholders would be
primarily focused upon the black community.
A non - profit organizational structure might actually be
more suitable at the outset of such an
enterprise. That way Corporate America, who would
gain a lot in the long term from the eradication of
inner city decay, could be asked for donations to cover the
production expenses. Entertainment
figures, in front of and behind the cameras and/or microphones,
might also be motivated to volunteer
(at least occasionally) their services for such a worthy non- profit
enterprise. And we must not forget
the vast pool of talent, of every professional stripe, in the black
middle class. Surely an enormous number
of volunteers would be available from that group.
Let's hope that in ten years the socio - economic
dynamics of the inner city will have evolved
in such away that the Chicago Tribune can choose from
several poems written by student poets, from
Englewood and other inner city neighborhoods, that celebrate
the start of the freshman years (of
their former classmates) at Northwestern, University of
Chicago, and Howard University, etc. Perhaps
the young poets will cite as sources of inspirations literary
works written by Pulitzer or Nobel prize
winning black authors.
I am well aware of the fact that we can't chose
their heroes for them but we
can make them aware of the fact that there are many black
(and white for that matter) heroes
whose writings are interesting, heroic, profound and/or
envision hope for the future. Hope for the
future has an innate ability to generate energy that
will help one to work to improve the present.
For every Tupac Shakur [who (notwithstanding possible
mitigating factors) tended to work against
the system] there is a Barack Obama who chose to work
within the law: in fact becoming a lawyer
and U.S. senator.
Finally, lets hope that Shontanette Brinson, the young
lady whose poem was published in the Tribune,
will be fortunate enough to finish High School and go on to
College. If she chooses to major in the literary
arts and then focus upon her studies, she may very well
(in time) find herself in a position to influence
many through the power of her words. With the middle
class showing the way, what can the black
community do to help Shontanette and her young peers in
Englewood, Chicago, Illinois and in the
whole U.S.A., to be the best that they can be?
Many socio - economic scholars and governmental
professional have conducted studies, research,
wrote scholarly papers and proposed many
solutions. From the Black Church, which has always
been a seat of moral and family values, comes the
belief that God helps those who helps them-
selves. And since the faithful believe that God made
man in his own image, it is not surprising that
men (white and black) will help those who help themselves.
Slavery is over and through the efforts
of Rosa Parks (the heroic mother of the civil rights
movement) and others who braved the fury of
fire hoses and dog attacks directed by legally empowered
bigots (many losing their lives), the doors
of opportunity are open. I say lets walk through them
without hesitaing or waiting for reparations
which may or may not come. Even if other ethnic groups
don't rush in to help as you begin to
help yourself, what patriotic American would try to stop
another American patriot from trying to
be a self - sufficient and even better American?
"Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the
evidence of things not seen": Paul the
Apostle. Some of the most important things in
life are invisible or can only barely be seen.
The air we breathe is invisible but is indispensable
for life. Two of the constituents of air,
hydrogen and oxygen, in a proportion of two atoms
of hydrogen to one atom of oxygen, when
combined chemically result in water molecules.
Water, in it's purest form, is just barely visible
but man can survive for only a few days without it.
Faith in God and self in conjunction with
sincere, smart, hard, effort can bring the substance
of the things that are presently hoped for
into the full realm of visible reality in the not too distant future.
So starting from within the (Englewood) community
itself, let's resolve to help Shontanette, and
all of her young peers and classmates all over the
city, to be the best that they can be as future
lawyers, doctors, engineers, bus drivers, janitors,
accountants, pilots, etc. And maybe by some
stroke of good fortune an NBA or NFL star may come
form that group! Or perhaps a gifted film
scholar will emerge who will, just for the sake of history,
make a well researched documentary
about the causal dynamics, the rise and the FALL of
the drug - thug - pimp - whore -life
style that (although by no means was representative
but still) influenced the culture and
expectations for the future of so many young people for so long.
When the author was an adjunct lecturer in math,
at a branch of the City Colleges of Chicago,
he often gave students, who performed on a sub-par
basis on a test, a chance to do make - up
work. The make-up work consisted of writing an
essay (300 or more words) on how a noted
person, in a technical field, used math in their work.
A suggested list of notables was given.
The list, compiled from "the usual list of achievers"
included A. Einstein, Richard Feynman,
Sir Isaac Newton, Paul Dirac, Erwin Schrodinger,
Edwin Hubble, etc.
Later, after realizing that he had inadvertently omitted
listing gifted black achievers and
that the majority of his students were black, the names
of Benjamin Banneker (mathematician),
Richard Lewis (Harvard Business School graduate who
master minded the $billion take-over
of Beatrice Foods) and Mae Jemison (female astronaut)
were added. An Asian student (who
not surprisingly did not need make-up work) also
wanted to participate, so the name of C.N.
Yang (a Nobel Laureate who was a co-developer of
the Yang-Mills theory) was included.
When it came to the attention of the author that
no Hispanics were on the list and that many
Hispanics (some doing sub-par work) were in his
classes, he could not immediately think of
an Hispanic that was well known in a technical field.
Since one of his Hispanic students, during
an office hour conversation, had indicated that she
was thinking about the possibility of
becoming a molecular biologist, he did a web search
on "Hispanic molecular biologist". The
name of Lydia Villa-Komaroff, PhD., was one of the first
to come up. She is not only a
molecular biologist but is also Associate Vice President
for Research Adminis, at North-
western University. Her name was immediately entered on
the list. Subsequently to that
many hispanic students came up to the adjunct lecturer to
express how pleased they were
when they found out that a hispanic with such academic credentials existed.
Perhaps this is tangential to the original topic of
this essay but we should all feel fortunate
that a powerful medium of virtually free information,
that being the intenet, is in existence.
Just now, while writing this essay, I did a search
under "noted physicists" and the name of
Sylvester James Gates, Jr., a physicists with
a PhD in physics from M.I.T, was among the
first to be listed. I would be less than truthful if I
were to say that I was not pleasantly
surprised when I realized from viewing his picture that
he was a physicist who just happened
to be black. This is the essence of this essay. Blacks
can be mathletes as well as athletes and
the gentleman with the PhD from M.I.T. is recognized
as an expert on Supersymmetry, a topic
in theoretical physics that requires the mastery of no small
amount of advanced math. If he had
to face the kind of peer taunting referred to above then
he evidently did not let it deter him
from achieving academic excellence.
We started this essay talking about the ugliness of
the violence in Englewood. Shontanette
is from that community but she has a pretty name. So
are the names of her two friends
who were so senselessly killed: Siretha White and Starkesia
Marie Reed. Observing the
beauty of these names is no trivial matter. The names indicate
creativity and originality
which may be found in abundance in the black community. Let's
resolve to immediately
apply this creative energy as a valuable tool
in the accomplishment of two objectives
that will be of great utility in the long (and the short) run.
Objective A : The creation of a dynamic new art form
(that could utilize artistic concepts
from the present and the past) that will
provide our youth with fun, exciting, and
educationally audio/visual entertainment as an
alternative choice to hard core hip-hop.
And just maybe some of the self-destructive
behavior will start to stop to be replaced
by steps in the direction of self achievement,
self-sufficiency and well deserved selfpride.
How to discourage the thugs? Shun them!
Don't marvel at or act excited about
their ill-gotten material possessions or their macho
posturing because somewhere along
the line a mother probably has had to weep, in front
of the camera crews of of ten o'clock
news, for the loss of an innocent child who was
killed in the cross fire of gang wars, or
directly or indirectly, as a consequence of some
other illegal and/or illicit activity that
generated the wealth that the thugs or drug
dealers put on display.
The kind of shunning that I am talking about is
for a good cause. The first black cadet
to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West
Point was shunned, for no good reason,
for virtually four years. But Henry O. Flipper still
managed to excel in engineering and master
his course work. Now I have been told that I
am pretty good at writing verse. So
if a pimp - thug can go four years without changing
his non-productive (and mostly destructive)
ways while nobody is talking to him, other than his
sorry street-walking ladies [they can change
and find help to change if they really want to] and nobody
is acting excited about his fancy clothes,
jewelry and cars and it can be verified by an agency such
as the Guinness Book of World Records.
Then I will consider the possibility of writing
a verse of Pulitzer Prize caliber to note that feat
or should I say defeat.
Let's dare to envision something better through our art.
Then somehow, slowly at first, motivated
by something deep within our heart, we will find the pace
accelerating in the direction of full community
excellence in all the things that matter: family, material
wealth and neighborhood peace and health.
But we will also need the help that should come via:
Objective B : Encourage our youth to become
mathletes on the same high level of performance
with which they have distinguished themselves as athletes.
When a wide receiver, for example,
is running a pass route, the motion of hundreds
of tissues, muscles and bones are
coordinated from areas inside his cranium. His instantaneous
velocity and acceleration, along
the pass route which is often a complicated curve, his heart
beat, rate of blood flow and hand to eye
coordination are all controlled and orchestrated by one
of the greatest computational systems that has
ever been created. It is all primarily located in his head.
He can also use that same head to master
math and science. Many blacks (including athletes)
have done so on a high level of excellence including
several that are mentioned in this essay. Let me repeat
a motivational verse that I often presented
to my students.
A good knowledge of math will direct your path
toward a very successful career
whether you are studying music and/or dance,
the science of high finance
or to be an electrical engineer.
It is generally recognized that a good knowledge of math
is almost indispensable in virtually every
phase of today's age of Information and High Technology.
I always told my students that the
equal sign is one of the most important symbols in math
and a good comprehension of the
meaning of the equal sign will help to open the doors to equal opportunity.
I don't have scientific proof of this but it has been
my experience, through many years of
teaching and tutoring in different parts of the country,
that students (of all colors) who master math
tend to do better in all other academic fields.
Guns have been the weapons of choice for the violence
in Englewood and in most other urban areas
that have experienced high criminal activity and street-gang
unrest. Mayor Daley has led a gallant
fight against the manufacture and distribution of
(semi) automatic assault-type weapons. The gun
makers and the NRA have invoked the Constitutional
right to bear arms in their effort to resist any
Perhaps the NRA will at least offer a substantial donation
if a memorial scholarship fund is set up for
worthy Englewood students and in honor of Starkesia and Siretha.
Speaking of honors and honorary... street signs. It is my
view that very few, if indeed any, people
would object to an honorary street sign in honor of
Mae Jemison. Why not put it right there in
Englewood. Then Shontanette and all of her peers will
have the name of a real hero to look up to.
* I did not intend for this essay to be this long. But I have
learned a lot myself while writing it.
After the internet search on "noted physicists",
referred to above, returned the name of
Sylvester James Gates, Jr., who just happened to be black,
I decided to resume reading a
book that I had bought 20 years ago. The book is entitled
"SUPERSPACE or One Thousand and
One Lessons in Supersymmetry". Supersymmetry is a subject
in which Dr. Gates specializes. I
wanted to see if his name appeared in the index or references.
Again I was pleasantly surprised to see
his name on the front cover as the lead author (among 3 others)
of a book on a topic at the frontier
of modern physics!
It was also about 20 years ago (or so) when I wrote the
positive rap song "We're On
Our Way" ... to the head of the class. One of the verses starts
off as "We will read our books and
sharpen our minds and learn to calculate like real Einsteins...".
Well let's just say that Prof. Gates
is one of the recognized experts on Einstein's theory.
* It was also about 15 to 20 years ago that I first started
speaking to family and friends about the fact
that (to the faithful) God is real, essential but yet invisible,
is similar to the fact that the air is also real,
essential but yet invisible. I think that that is a good way to teach
young children to have faith in God.
At least one other person has a similar view. Trynae Lawson,
a 13 year old resident of Saginaw Mich.,
who has been called to the ministry, is quoted in the Chicago
Tribune article "A little child shall lead
them" of 3-5-2006, as saying in reference to God,
"I believe he's right here, but I can't see him. I can
breathe the air, but I can't see it." That's a good sentiment for
a church going young person to have:
in Saginaw, Englewood and everywhere else.
The author would highly appreciate:
your comments and constructive criticism