Dec 21, 2012

Say It Loud: My POV on ...

 Below is the opening of the story, and the link to the rest of the piece follows. First, read the background by reporter Jamil Smith. Then, there's video of Harris-Perry's "teachable moment" on black women and hair. Now, I am sorry that her comment about Chris Rock's film "Good Hair" (on DVD) will discourage those who haven't seen it from wanting to see it, because I think in this age of Brazilian blow-outs that film needs to be seen by black women. But that's just a sidebar. In the video, Harris offers a needed lesson to non-whites on black hair. That needs to be done every generation or so. She also speaks with some other black women about the hair thing. 
Yes, it is we, ourselves, with whom we need to be having the conversation.

(I could write a more thoughtful and detailed piece about this. But I don't have time to do that. And I just needed to get it out of my head!)

  • BlogBanner_MelissaHarrisPerry_976x100

Meteorologist fired after defending her ‘ethnic’ hair

In this screenshort taken from CNN, meteorologist Rhonda Lee reacts after KTBS TV station fired her after she replied to viewer criticism of her natural hairstyle.
In this screenshort taken from CNN, meteorologist Rhonda Lee reacts after KTBS TV station fired her after she replied to viewer criticism of her natural hairstyle.
KTBS meteorologist Rhonda Lee was fired last month from her job at ABC’s Shreveport, Louisiana affiliate–a position she had held for almost a year. It was not for anything she said on-air, or in the newsroom. It was for responding to viewer comments online regarding her hair, comments such as these from a viewer identified as Emmitt Vascocu, written on the station’s Facebook page on Oct. 1:
“[T]he black lady that does the news is a very nice lady.the only thing is she needs to wear a wig or grow some more hair. im not sure if she is a cancer patient. but still its not something myself that i think looks good on tv. what about letting someone a male have waist long hair do the news.what about that (cq).”

Dec 15, 2012

A December Morning

it's a grey morning, wet. but beautiful in its own way. luminescent. and quiet. trees are bare. i love seeing  them this way. strength and majesty in the undressed branches. there are leaves on the ground, still bright ... and beautiful.

Nov 25, 2012

To Watch While My Father Danced

I can't hand-dance. It's the unofficial state dance of the District of Columbia. I can't do it. 

With that said, here's this story.

The first time someone told me that my parents used to dance in their party days was maybe about ten years ago. I couldn't believe it, and I sure as heck couldn't picture it! 

So the other night, at a party celebrating his 80 years and the milestone birthdays of other family members, when Daddy's cousin pulled him onto the dance floor my first reaction was sheer panic.

Ummm, wait a sec. He ... uhh, I don't think he ...

Everyone was standing around the dance floor in a big circle three or four rings deep, singing and laughing and celebrating. I was trying to push past people, trying to get to my father and his cousin to tell her not to pull him onto the dance floor. 

How presumptuous!

But why was I in such a fit? Even with his aches and pains, he's not feeble. 

The thing is, I didn't want him to make a fool of himself. As a loyal daughter, I felt obligated to stop this. Who wants to see an 80-year-old man embarrass himself trying to dance?

I was way back in the third ring of the big circle, and no one was paying attention to me. I watched helplessly. My father hesitated at first, and then graciously gave in to his cousin's tugging. He moved onto the floor. 

Ohhhhh, Lord.

I was holding my breath, kind of. It seemed to be happening in slow motion. Where was my mother, my brothers? Did anyone else feel me on this?

Ever watch a kid get on a bike, slip and fumble and try to find their balance? And just when you move forward thinking that you will help steady them, they take off without your help. Zoom! ... off they go, not looking back, riding free and easy, as if they've always known how. 

It was like that from where I stood. It took my father a couple of secs to get his groove back, and then -- just like riding a bike, there it was! THERE IT WAS! Cool, smooth, flexible, fluid -- no aching back, hips, neck, or knees. He'd always known how.

Hey ... wait a minute. He's ... he knows how ... God! He really can dance!

My mouth was wide open. I was frozen. My 80-year-old father could dance ... really, really dance! 

Ha-ha-haaaaaa! I bet all these people thought he couldn't!

Nov 23, 2012

Seeing Their Need

In this season of competing messages, giving vs. grabbing, here's a thought: "I see the kids in the street with not enough to eat. Who am I to be blind, pretending not to see their need?"  
(AM -- Thanksgiving Day, 2012)

Sep 23, 2012

In Church with Mitt on My Mind

Throughout this morning's church service, I kept thinking about Mitt.

Yes, that Mitt.

For instance, when we read, "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,"  I thought about Mitt. (Galations 6:2)

When this morning's preacher recounted the story of the Good Samaritan, she reminded us that Jesus -- in first responding to the cynical lawyer -- told him: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 

To illustrate his point, Jesus offered the parable of the Samaritan. He ended the story by telling the man, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10: 25-37)


When the congregation sang one of my mother's favorite hymns, these words made me think of Mitt:

Let none hear you idly saying,
"There is nothing I can do,"
While the souls of men are dying,
And the Master calls for you."


Jun 28, 2012

Heart Beat

"The human heart could never pass the drunk test. Take a human heart out of a human body, 
put legs on it and tell it to walk a straight line, 
and it couldn't."  
-- Tennessee Williams, "Period of Adjustment"

Lake Meditation

My quick pace slows
when the trees spread out
and you come into view,
a satin tarp of golden-brown.

An enamored breeze 
blows a kiss your way -- 
it glides across in ripples.

I stop now and meditate
on your always being here.
You resuscitate me.

I want to be you --
serene, sure. 

Jun 25, 2012

Anniversary: Michael. Died Today.

What song shall we
sing for you,
King of Pop,
gifted boy,
little-bitty pretty one,
lovely charmer,

Shall we sing
Precious Lord,
take my hand ...
I am tired,
I am weak,
I am worn?

Sensitive soul.
Dancing machine.

Through the storm,
through the night,
Lead me on to the light.

Seventh child.
Brightest star.

Take my hand,
Precious Lord,
Lead me home.
Lead me home.


Jun 23, 2012

Summer Haiku

Came the rain, cool plops
stalling the walk in the park.
Look, it won’t melt you.

Summer bare, cool, free,
in hot-pink flippity-flops.
Feet take center stage.

On the patio,
chilled glass of lime-flecked water,
No worries this morn.
6/2014, 6/2012

Jun 18, 2012

You Cross My Mind, Ray Charles

Been listening to Ray Charles a lot. Grew up listening to him. This is one of the albums my father, an unabashed fan, had in his collection. Both he and Ray were unassuming in the way they got everybody in our house to fall in love with this music, with this genius. I cannot think of a concrete moment at which I realized that I loved Ray Charles. I just don't remember not loving him. 

At a 65th birthday party/roast for my father some years ago, I tried to explain to everybody what it was like in our household. This is what it was like. 

I can recall feeling proud to "know" Ray Charles. My sister, brothers, and I didn't think that Brother Ray was actually a member of our family. Still, it was as if he were a beloved famous uncle whom we'd never met because he was too busy traveling the world being a legend. We -- and our mother, too -- viewed him with reverence, as much because my father did as because of Ray's inarguable artistic gift.

When Ray died on June 10, 2004, my mother called me in the middle of the day to ask if I'd heard. We hung on the phone for a few minutes not saying much, as if having a wake. I sat down that evening and wrote a letter to the editor at the Washington Post, linked here. 

That was a Thursday. On Sunday, I still was having teary breakdowns. Every programmer on WPFW was playing their favorite Ray Charles songs. My sorrow was about losing Ray, and more. It was the loss of a mood, another chip away at an evermore distant, sweet, relatively serene childhood.

Daddy said he didn't care to listen to Ray's "Genius Loves Company" CD, released after Ray died, because he could hear the sickness in his voice. I listened to it cautiously, wanting to avoid another swell of grief. I came to love that CD. Here is one of my favorite songs, the duet with Bonnie Raitt,  "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?"

Jun 17, 2012

Goodness, Courage

Received an e-mail Friday from a student asking for a letter of support as he pursues early graduation: "I am so happy to know that I have teachers like yourself there for me." 

I'm all verklempt! 

God bless my students. Lots of hurdles, many of them. Hurdles I can only imagine. Pray for them, will you please? Not for their success or prosperity --  too subjective, and often empty. Pray for goodness, courage, love, friendship, integrity, a sense of justice. Thank you.

Jun 14, 2012

Epilogue to a School Year

At the Bladensburg High School graduation a week ago, I cried. Really cried. In the tunnel at ShowPlace Arena, as the beaming and kind of dazed-looking 2012 graduates filed out of the arena into a suddenly different world, tears fell fast and freely from my eyes. I called out to students and they screamed my name, and we clutched each other like people who had gone through something together and made it out okay. What were they remembering? What was I?

The whole thing caught me off guard. After all, it was the class of 2011 that had been my beloved ones, from the time they came to my 9th-grade U.S. History class in August 2007. With them, I’d had my first year as a really good teacher. I had demanded a lot of that opinionated and cocky bunch, had pushed myself hard that year, and had tried new things. I knew their graduation last June would be a milestone for me -– a denouement, really -- and it was.

I didn’t think another class of students would impact me in such a personal way as that bunch had. Yet, here I was at graduation 2012 with all these tears.  

While the beloved class of 2011 had allowed me to stretch out intellectually and creatively, this year’s class had made a hard impression on my emotions. Many of them were as affable and unwitting as the previous class had been bold and righteous. I had kept my eye on quite a few of them after their freshman year. They would faithfully stop by my classroom to give and get a hug, and to update me on various things. One morning this past February, Nishant, a senior, paused at my classroom door, said a cheerful, “Good Morning, Ms. M-D!” and then added: “I’m so sorry I forgot your birthday … I hope it was good!”

My birthday! I knew that the birthday of his older sister, one of my true favs, was a few days after mine. She was in her freshman year of college, away from home. She’d sent me a “Happy Birthday” e-mail message and must have told her little brother to say something to me. I was so surprised that I just stared at him. My brain was searching: Could I really have made such an impression on this child that he would go out of his way -- I hardly ever saw him on our floor -- to wish me a happy birthday? 

In his sophomore year, this same little brother had blown me away when he stood alone on the auditorium stage, confident and all-of-a-sudden tall, and sang “The Impossible Dream” during the spring musical revue. I sat in the audience grinning and sobbing. Who knew?  

My good friend Jackie attended our graduation last week in an official capacity, representing the office of the county executive. She later e-mailed me. Sitting on the stage looking out at the graduates, Jackie said she had wondered which students I “might have taught, mentored, influenced, ‘favored.’"

Apparently, more of them than I had realized or remembered.

As a freshman, M.was quiet and unsure of herself. A sweet girl, she seemed always lost, as if she was looking for a group, a crowd, a clique that fit. Later that year, 911 had to be called after M., having found the wrong crowd, spent a few school hours getting drunk. As she was pushed out of the building in a wheelchair, she looked like a sick puppy. She recovered and matriculated quietly after that. We’d smiled at each other in the hallway, spoken, but we hadn’t gotten close. In her white cap and gown last week, M. came and stood close to me, still quiet and tentative. She hugged me and I hugged her back -- tight. We cried – again, to my surprise. She pulled back, looked me in the eye, and said in a shaky voice, “You were the best teacher."

And then there was J. Seeing him in cap and gown made my brain spin for a quick second. Was he a senior? I had seen him a lot this school year, joked with him, and harassed him about getting to class on time. A senior? How did I lose track? As a 9th-grader, J. could easily have been mistaken for a 7th-grader. Small and cute as a button. In a meeting one afternoon with his father, teachers, and guidance counselors, he resisted telling us why he had been so lethargic in all his classes lately. The adults around the table were talking about him, talking at him, and trying to get him to talk to us. He was uncomfortable. I went and sat next to him, smiled at him,  put my hand on his shoulder. He started to cry. What could this be about?  

“It’s the medicine,” he whispered, choking on his tears. “It makes me tired.” Then he broke down. Dad had known all along that the baby was being treated for seizures! He hadn’t said anything to us. Was he embarrassed? I was pissed that he had put the boy through that.

Hardest of all to say goodbye to last week was K., who, when she first came to my 9th-grade class, was about as friendly and guileless as a 14-year-old girl could be. I’ll never forget when she and her best friend R. asked if they could talk with me –- separately -- to discuss problems each was having with the other.
“She’s changing. I don’t like her new friends,” K. had said.

“She’s too immature,” was R.’s side of the story. “I can have other friends if I want to.”
Three years after all that drama, they walked up to me after graduation side by side, still best friends. Hugs all around. “Put my phone number in your phone now!” K. ordered me. 

There also was Keith, my ever-ready helper, the boy who over the course of four years never stopped telling people, "That's my favorite teacher!" I never met his mother, but his all-around niceness must make her proud.

And K.K. She didn’t like me when she was a freshman. Well, her mother didn't like me (so I feel safer using her initials). I don’t know if any student ever moved through high school with so much focus and grace as she did. An artistic soul, last year she shared with me her published collection of poetry and sketches.

On the way to graduation, I stopped at a traffic light, and waving at me from the driver's seat of the car in the next lane was the beautiful, smart, kind Zainab. The old, white Corolla reminded me that every kid doesn't get a new car "just for graduating from high school," as my father once said. Z's got college and other grander things to think about.

I am remembering the quietly confident Folasade, who waited patiently week after week for me to write her a letter of recommendation for college. I kept forgetting but finally got it done. She's off to Virginia Commonwealth.

Speaking of patient students. Before he graduated in 2009, Muhammad made a papier mache sculpture spelling out AFRICA. He gave it to me, and I kept it on display in the classroom. When Shanice -- a freshman with Senegalese roots -- saw Muhammad's sculpture, she begged me to give it to her. I promised her I'd give it to her when she graduated. She never let me forget. At the start of each school year, she reminded me. Two days after graduation, she came up to the school and picked up her long-awaited gift.

Last August, my 11th- and 12th-grade World History students might have wondered how I was going to go from teaching mostly 9th-graders to teaching their savvy selves. God knows I wondered. But who could have known that I would end up loving almost every day with almost every one of them?
No, I hadn’t wanted to teach upperclassmen, but not for anything would I give back this past year with my 11th-graders, whose willingness to learn and grow enabled class sessions that were consistently interesting, stimulating, instructive, and fun.  Nor would I trade a moment with the seniors, who gave me a new perspective on teaching. I am thankful for Jose T., Javier, Jennifer, Carmen, Marleni, Odaly, Jerome, Jose U., Alejandro, Jessica E., Chris, Shaq, Edgar, Daisy, Dilia, Hector, Victor, Juan, Ashley, Blanca, Ruby, Jessica L., Marlon, and Markino -- who got fussed at all the time for, that’s right, not working to his potential!

On her last day of high school, Jessica E. gave me a card. Was there a student more dedicated to her family than she? Occasionally, she had to take days off to accompany – and drive – her parents to the doctor. She also helped family members study for the U.S. citizenship test. I e-mailed her to say thank you for the card and to tell her how much I admired her. This is what she wrote back:
It was an honor having you as a teacher this year. I found no other way to show my appreciation than with a card written with words that came from the heart. I also have so much respect for you Ms. Matthews-Davis. No matter how childish the class can get you never give up, and set them straight. I admire the fact you don't let anyone disrespect you. Thank you for everything, and I will indeed see you at graduation.
This is to acknowledge all of these wonderful people -- not the insanity generated by the administration, the faculty, the staff, and the parents. This is about those who changed me, who taught me lessons, who made me laugh, who allowed me to teach them, who challenged me to get better at it, who needed me, who trusted me, who added a whole new dimension to this part of my life.

Jun 2, 2012

Things That Happen in School

Friday. 2nd period. 

I'd distributed the final exam, and my beautiful  students were ready to take it on! (I really do love this class.)

Then, Brittany got up from her desk and started walking toward me. Well, with the final exam distributed, I couldn't imagine why Brit would wait until now to ask to go to the bathroom. It must be one of those womanly things that came out of nowhere, I thought. Brit is responsible, conscientious, always ready to jump right into her work. What was up?

I was standing up organizing some papers as Brit approached me. She was smiling sweetly. I smiled back and was getting ready to tell her to go ahead to the ladies room. But she came right up to me and sort of leaned in, as if to tell me something confidential. I'm thinking: Ohhh, she's probably a little embarrassed.

She got closer and leaned in even more, compelling me to lean toward her. Then, in the most mature and subtle tone, without a hint of laughter, Brit whispered: "Ms. Matthews-Davis, you have toilet paper hanging from the back of your pants."

May 28, 2012

"Porgy and Bess" on Broadway

Returned very early this morning from seeing Porgy and Bess on Broadway. The ten Tony nominations are no mistake! This production is all-the-way theater, a revival that gives new dimensions to the characters, molding them with more depth and realism, but still within the context of 1930s Catfish Row. With the brilliant Suzan-Lori Parks authoring the story adaptation, and give-it-all-you’ve-got Audra McDonald playing Bess, I much prefer seeing “Porgy” on this musical stage than the opera stage. Parks’ dramatic edginess (see “Top Dog Under Dog”) made me feel as if I were seeing this masterpiece for the first time. The beloved musical score (riveting adaption) as performed by this orchestra and cast turned me inside out! Go ... see!! Here I am with Norm Lewis ("Porgy") and Phillip Boykin ("Crown").

Mar 18, 2012

Springtime in D.C.: One Version

What a knockout morning yesterday in D.C. was! 

Went to Arlington National Cemetery with my mother, a few of my aunts, an uncle, and two cousins (shut up ... we are not the Waltons!), where my Uncle Bo is laid to rest. So lovely and poignant, taking in the landscape of this national monument. 

Passed the marathon runners on the way over and back. Drove very, very slowly on Independence Ave. to gawk one more time at the King Memorial. 

Cherry blossoms circling the Tidal Basin. 

On M St. near the Navy Yard, two pre-teen boys in their Saturday clothes -- one black, one white -- running down the sidewalk like boys do. Running just to be running, all arms and legs.

On Penn. Ave. SE, signs of gentrification are no longer signs; that 'hood is now gentrified. But my aunt points at something across from the Yes! market: "The Morton's sign is still there." 

Chocolate City lives! So, please don't take down that sign!

Mar 15, 2012

There Is a Time for Teenagers

Consider this.

My angst-ridden, high-strung, unrefined, big-hearted students SAVED MY SANITY this week, as other realms of my life drifted into Bizarro World. It is not easy demanding a structured and disciplined learning environment when chaos seems to be the natural order of things. When the lines of authority and propriety are smeared almost to the extent of being invisible. When students and teachers are not friendly but are ... friends??? But how the efforts pay off when the students let you know:
Hey, we get it now, Ms. Matthews-Davis. We understand why. You teach! We appreciate it. We NEEDED this! You're getting us ready. 
I'm thinking, yeah, now I get it too, six long years after I started this teaching career. Six years that hit me hard, that had me pleading with the Almighty:
Look, God, what are you doing? When are you going to get me out of this? What was I thinking? What were you thinking?
Six years that I thought -- without exaggeration -- were killing me. But now I think I've got it. I can see why. I can see more clearly. My students have helped me see: there is a time, there is a season to every purpose under Heaven. They needed me to help move them to the next step. I needed them to do the same for me.

Jan 16, 2012

The Washington Post The Root DC Live
Posted at 09:44 AM ET, 01/13/2012
Jack Johnson, MLK, Barack Obama: owning our citizenship in 2012
As we settle in and start to get comfortable with 2012, I find myself trying to temper a still-simmering anxiety over several 2011 events that got under my skin, leaving this nagging question pounding inside my head: What is going on with my people?

Jack Johnson (C), former Prince George's County Executive, walks to the U.S. District Courthouse before sentencing in Greenbelt, MD on December 6, 2011. (Sarah L. Voisin - THE WASHINGTON POST)
First, there was the criminal conviction of Jack B. Johnson, the two-term executive in Prince George’s County. Putting aside Johnson’s thievery and his blow-off of the public’s trust, I submit the reaction of the many Prince Georgians who defended Johnson with sanctimonious clichés about forgiveness and redemption, even while Johnson continued to present a non-repentant and deceptive public posture.
Then there was the happy-hour sage who suggested to my brother that criminal corruption by elected leaders was a fair trade for the political power African Americans have enjoyed. Without full support, the sage advised, “we” could lose the county executive’s office, and “we can’t have them telling us what to do!”
It’s hard to know where to begin picking apart that warped thinking. At the very least, this individualistic rhetoric ignores the legacy of family and community that gave black Prince Georgians a strong sense of culture and connectedness long before Jack Johnson resided within our boundaries – and which could move us beyond the money-worshipping, status-seeking limbo we now symbolize. The legacy of the Jack Johnson administration is not to be treasured or honorably memorialized.
Which leads me to Martin Luther King Jr. and President Barack Obama. On October 16, the National Park Service dedicated the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. On two visits to the monument, I watched the proud and respectfully subdued reactions of visitors as they posed for pictures, reverently circled the stone image and read King’s words inscribed on the statue and surrounding wall.
“What is it grandmommy? came an inevitable question. I thought about how we as a people will answer that question in the years ahead, and of what this monument will become to African Americans. With King preaching to us from this hallowed plaza, I got excited at the thought that he might again spur us into action.
Only a few weeks earlier, Troy Anthony Davis had been unjustly executed in Georgia. Occupy Wall Street protests were blasting the nation’s shameful economic disparities, even while being dismissed by some blacks as irrelevant. A number of states were advancing legislation to undo hard-won voting rights.
Now, with King’s powerful presence on the National Mall, would we at last be shaken out of our civil rights movement reverie, out of our false sense of having arrived, and spurred into action to push further for peace and social justice? Or would King’s monument become just another stop on the black history tour?
During the dedication, as one of the speakers addressed the crowd from the podium, the jumbo screen showed a live shot of the Obamas taking a private tour of the monument, which was out of view of the crowd. Reacting to the image on the screen, a few in the crowd began to chant: “Four more years, four more years!”drowning out the speaker, who had been invited to the ceremony to honor King.
Granted, the Obama presidency has brought to fruition the hopes, dreams, and perseverance of King and probably every single person of African descent who ever called America home. Yet, as the chants waned, another question surfaced: Are we so enraptured with President Obama that we are making this presidency itself a monument? Among black folks, sensitivity to criticism of the president’s positions and policies is constant and increasing. A frequently expressed fear is that black criticism of the president will cost him re-election.
However, those of us who cried, hugged, and fell on our knees the night of the Obama election should not let this demonstration of our electoral power be the complete victory. This could be the era not only of the first African-American president but also of unprecedented engagement in democracy among African Americans, a time when we fully take hold of our democratic privileges to speak up, engage, and dissent. Electing a black president and placing the full weight of progress on his shoulders robs him of the benefit of an aware and engaged citizenry. Our history in America notwithstanding, it is time to own our citizenship, not just in symbolic ways but in the tangible, change-making things we do to keep humanity moving forward.
I am worried and hear myself lamenting, What is going on with my people? So, a few weeks ago when radio station WPFW asked its morning listeners to call and share their thoughts on the question, “What‘s on your social justice agenda for 2012?” I thought, You should say something. This is where I start.

Avis Matthews Davis is a high school history and government teacher in suburban Maryland. She has been a public relations director in local government and was an editor at the former Journal Newspapers.