Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Great Debaters: Melvin B. Tolson

Melvin B. Tolson

(Full name Melvin Beaunorus Tolson) American poet, journalist, and dramatist.
The following entry presents an overview of Tolson's career. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volume 36.


Tolson's highly allusive poetry celebrates the African-American spirit. Although his work eventually received scholarly study and praise, Tolson spent much of his career in a no-man's-land between the world of the white literati and that of African-American audiences. Much of his work is devoted to the unusual position of the African-American artist and his attempt to make his work relevant to a diverse audience.

Biographical Information

Tolson was born in Moberly, Missouri, in 1898. His father was a Methodist minister; the influence of the oral history of preaching is evident in Tolson's later poetry. Tolson's family moved from parish to parish in Missouri and Iowa during his childhood. Tolson demonstrated an early interest in poetry, publishing his first poem, "The Wreck of the Titanic," in an Iowa newspaper in 1912, and continued to write poetry throughout high school. He attended Lincoln University and graduated in 1923, then moved to Marshall, Texas, where he taught English at Wiley College. While at Wiley, Tolson directed a number of dramatic productions, coached the school's debate team to an impressive success record, and became known as a gifted raconteur and orator. Tolson received a Rockefeller fellowship which allowed him to pursue a master's degree in comparative literature at Columbia University in the early 1930s. During this time he lived in Harlem and mixed closely with the writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Tolson composed A Gallery of Harlem Portraits based on his time in Harlem, but was unable to find a publisher for the work; it was published post-humously in 1979, almost forty years later. After returning to Wiley, Tolson began writing a column for the Washington Tribune in addition to his teaching and extracurricular activities. The column was called Caviar and Cabbage, and in it he discussed a variety of social issues. The columns, which ran from 1937 to 1944, were collected and published as a book of the same title in 1982. In 1940 Tolson wrote "Dark Symphony" for a poetry contest sponsored by the American Negro Exposition in Chicago. He won first prize,
Melvin B. Tolson 1898–1966
Melvin B. Tolson 1898–1966
and after the poem appeared in Atlantic Monthly, a publisher approached Tolson about putting together a collection which he titled Rendezvous with America (1944). In 1947 Tolson left Wiley for Langston University, where he worked as professor of creative literature. Tolson was named Poet Laureate of the Republic of Liberia, for which he wrote Libretto for the Republic of Liberia (1953). At this time he also served four terms as mayor of Langston, Oklahoma. In the 1960s, Tolson retired from Langston University and occupied a chair in humanities at Tuskegee Institute, teaching only one class. Tolson won the National Institute of Arts and Letters Award in 1966. He was working on the second volume of his projected five-volume work, Harlem Gallery (1965), when he died in 1966.

Major Works

Tolson's A Gallery of Harlem Portraits represents a cross-section of Harlem life in all of its diversity. The poems in Gallery also address the class divisions created by economic disparity. Tolson believed that class was more of an issue than race in the problem of inequality, but his work retains the hope that racial equality is a possibility when economic equality is addressed. He often uses the rhythm and language of blues music in his poetry. In Gallery, Tolson uses blues lyrics to introduce his poetic portraits. In Rendezvous with America, Tolson continues to celebrate diversity, but expands his setting from Harlem to include the entire country. In it he uses a variety of poetic forms, including sonnets and free verse. Tolson wrote Libretto for the Republic of Liberia to commemorate that nation's centennial, taking as his topic the whole of African history. Harlem Gallery: Book I, The Curator studies the dichotomies that exist in man's social roles. The central character, the Curator, has trouble fitting into any accepted notion of identity. He is neither black nor white, poor nor rich. He inhabits two different worlds, trying to bring the art of "high" culture to the poverty-stricken streets of Harlem. Although the action is filtered through the consciousness of the Curator, it revolves around three artists: the painter, John Laugart; the composer, Mister Starks; and the poet, Hideho Heights. Each of these artists struggles with his inner self as expressed through his art and public reaction to it. Two of the artists die and the third's death seems imminent. The Curator is left shaken about the way art affects the African-American artist, but the work ends with a recognition that dichotomies are a part of life.

Critical Reception

Tolson's work, especially his early work, has not received much critical attention. Tolson himself insisted that he began as a mediocre poet and that he learned and developed a better technique through the years. Dolphin G. Thompson asserts that "in addition to mastering poetical techniques, he has initiated a style of dramatically lifting the Negro experience to classical grace." Tolson's poetry is highly allusive, and can be difficult to comprehend for the average reader. Many critics point to the difficulty of Tolson's poetry as the reason his work has been critically neglected. Reviewers often cite Walt Whitman as one of Tolson's influences. The most striking example is Tolson's own "Song of Myself," from his Rendezvous with America, but reviewers also point to Whitmanesque qualities in Libretto for the Republic of Liberia. Dan McCall notes, "In the Libretto Whitman continues to be abundantly influential … in the enormous catalogues, the wry asides, the self-conscious displays of learning, and the prose-paragraphs of the final section." Reviewers also mention the influence of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, some complaining that Tolson's work was overly imitative. Some reviewers faulted Libretto for its traditional structure, asserting that it should have been written in Negro dialect. Tolson addressed this issue in Harlem Gallery: Book I, The Curator, adding African-American dialect to the traditional style of his earlier poetry. Tolson's intentions as a writer reached beyond his life's experiences: As Robert M. Farnsworth remarked, "Tolson developed a poetic style which he hoped would enable him to project the needs and interests of black people into the imaginations of a still developing audience of the future."

The Top Ten Black Myths

1. There are more Black men in prison than in college.
False. The numbers that people quote are ALL of the Black men in prison, versus ONLY the free young Black men of college age, which spans the late teens to the early twenties.

The misleading “evidence” comes from studies such as the one conducted in 2000 by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI), a Washington-based research group. JPI found that there were 791,600 Black men in jail or prison and “only” 603,032 of them in colleges or universities. They presented the findings as “evidence” of more Black men in prison than in college.

Any of us can do the math: Out of the 33.7 million African Americans that the 2000 census found, less than one million are in jail or prison (.792 million).
The reality is that while there are too many of us in prison and more of us in there than others, there are NOT more of us on the inside than on the outside.

2. Black people, particularly Black men are lazy.

False. How can a people who built this nation and did it for free suddenly become the laziest people in the nation?
According to the US Census Bureau, 68.1% of all Black men and 62.3% of Black women over the age of 16 are in the civilian labor force, compared to 73% of white men. And 59.9% of white women. With racial discrimination and other challenges, more of us are still working than sitting at home.

While the majority of poor people in America are Black, the majority of Black people are NOT poor. Of the 33.7 million Blacks in this nation, 8.1 million have incomes below the poverty line.
Now, what we do with our money is another story…

3. Black people abuse the Welfare system and are swelling it beyond capacity.

False. First, the actual number of Black families on Welfare has been decreasing since the early 1970’s, when 46% of the recipients were Black. By the end of the 20th century, that number was down to 39%, as compared to 38% whites who were non-Hispanic. If the comparison were strictly based on race without ethnic identification, whites clearly outnumber Blacks on the Welfare rolls.
In addition, 40% of the families on Welfare have only one child, while the number having five or more is only 4%. And, by the last decade of the 20th century, Welfare accounted for just over 2% of the Federal Budget, while defense accounted for 24%.

Benefit programs for farmers and big businesses far outweigh the Welfare program. For example, US Airways was recently given permission to tap into a $718 million federally guaranteed loan package to fund daily operations while in bankruptcy proceedings. Who is abusing welfare?

4. Most Black men are married to white women.

False. As of 1998, interracial marriages composed of a white person and a Black person accounted for only .6% of all marriages in the nation. Of all interracial marriages, only 16% are Black male to white female.

5. Affirmative Action unfairly provides opportunities for Blacks.

False. First, Affirmative Action is inappropriately used to define Black preferential treatment and “quotas” but it was actually designed to benefit a number of groups who have been discriminated against, creating parity in the workplace. Since the 1970’s, Affirmative Action has benefited white women more than any other group. Secondly, no one who perpetuates this myth ever talks about other types of Affirmative Action, which benefit other races. For example, the Japanese descendants in America, who were each rewarded $20,000 in 1988 as reparations for internment during WWII, or the legacy programs which benefit people such as the current dimwit in the white house.

6. Let’s kill two ignorant rumors with the pursuit of truth: Poor Blacks would be better off if they stopped using drugs and took better care of their communities; and, Blacks need to stop pushing drugs to their own people.

False. This one always confuses me, because Blacks can’t even distribute their own movies or music, yet still get blamed for importing and distributing ILLEGAL drugs.

If a Black man can’t drive down the street without being racially profiled and stopped, what makes anyone think that he could fly a planeload of drugs into the nation and distribute them from state to state and city to city? The drug dealers in the ‘hood make a lot of money, but nowhere near the cash generated by the true drug lords who import it and distribute it to inner cities across the nation.

7. Blacks suffer from Black on Black crime.

True, but misleading. Whites also suffer from white on white crime. Many crimes, including murder, rape and robbery, are crimes of location, not color. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 85% of African Americans report another Black person as the perpetrator of the crime and 80% of white murders were committed by other whites. However, when race does play a role in crime, the victims of violent crimes are more likely to be Black, while the perpetrators, are more likely to be white.

8. Blacks commit more crimes than whites.

False. Neo-Conservative Whites and self-hating Blacks notwithstanding, the reality of racism in the justice system has to be understood in order to get into the reasons for the high number of Blacks in prison.
In an assessment of the impact of crime on minority communities, the National Minority Advisory Council on Criminal Justice concluded that “America is a classic example of heavy-handed use of state and private power to control minorities and suppress their continuing opposition to the hegemony of white racist ideology.”

Further, according to “The Real War on Crime,” a report by the National Criminal Justice Commission, “African-American arrest rates for drugs during the height of the ‘drug war’ in 1989 were five times higher than arrest rates for whites even though whites and African-Americans were using drugs at the same rate.”

Finally, by 1990, according to the Federal Judicial Center, the average sentences for African Americans for weapons and drug charges were 49% longer than for whites who had been convicted of the same crimes.
The simple truth is, more of “us” may be in court, but more of “them” are actually committing crimes.

9. Women outnumbering men in college is a Black phenomenon.

False. According to the US Department of Education, male undergraduates account for 44 percent of student population, while female undergraduates account for 56 percent. This is not race specific. There are some real reasons for it and I will deal with it in an upcoming column.

10. Black people are incapable of sustaining businesses in their own communities.

False. We had great success before integration. In fact, by 1900, the number of African-American businesses nationally, totaled 40,000, including the Greenfield Bus Body Company, which manufactured automobiles, and a hotel in New York City valued at $75,000. By 1908, we had 55 privately owned banks. By 1912, there were two millionaires, Madam C.J. Walker (hair care) and R. R. Church (real estate).

By 1923, Tulsa, Oklahoma was home to The Black Wall Street, an African American community of 11,000. Which featured nine hotels, nineteen restaurants and thirty-one grocery stores and meat markets, ten medical doctors, six lawyers, and five real estate and loan insurance agencies, complete with five private planes.

Okay, now there are the myths and the real stats to dispel them. Use them to stop the spread of ignorance, even if it has been spewing out of your very own mouth.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Deborah Gregory :The Cheetah Girls

Writer, performer and designer Deborah Gregory is the award-winning author of "The Cheetah Girls" novel series (Disney Publishing Worldwide). The 22-book series (16 books written by Deborah Gregory plus 6 movie tie-in books including "The Cheetah Girls Supa Star Scrapbook,'' "Cheetah Girls 2 X0X0 Postcard Book'' and "Cheetah Girls Cheetah Chatter: A Dictionary of Growl-licious Lingo") is about five talented teens who form a singing group and make their dreams come true in the jiggy jungle. The Disney Channel original movie produced in conjunction with Whitney Houston, "The Cheetah Girls" --based on the book series--airs this summer and stars Raven Symone, Adrienne and Kiely from 3LW as well as Lynn Whitfield. Deborah Gregory serves as a co-producer on the film project. The soundtrack album will be available on Disney's Hollywood Records. In 2001, the series was chosen at the Blackboard Children's Book of the Year.

Gregory is also an NABJ award-winning contributing writer for ESSENCE magazine since 1992. Her work has also appeared in VIBE, MORE, Heart & Soul, Entertainment Weekly, US magazines. Her pop culture column, THE DIVA DIARIES, appears in GRACE magazine, the national fashion and lifestyle "reality" publication targeted at multi-cultural women. She is currently writing an adult novel as well as developing a one-woman show "LEOPARD LIVES" --a coming of age story about a foster child growing up in the New York City foster care system of which Gregory is also a survivor. She has performed segments of her work-in-progress one-woman show at the Women of Color Festival, winning the festival's Best Comedy Award for 2001; Dixon Place, Caroline's Comedy Club and Solo Arts Festival.

Ms. Gregory has also contributed to several books including, "Men of Color: Fashion, Mission, Fundamentals," (Artisan Publishing); "Body and Soul, SoulStyle: Black Women Redefining the Color Fashion," "Essence Total Makeover Book," "50 Most Influential People." She also contributed to photographer Marc Baptiste's book of nudes, "Beautiful" (Rizzoli/Universe Publishing) as well as posed for the famed fashion photographer. The pictures are provocative and include a host of celebrities who also posed nude including Stacey Dash, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Williams, Beverly Johnson, LisaRaye. 25 percent of the proceeds will go to photographer Mfon Essien’s breast cancer organization set up upon her untimely death.

This year, Deborah Gregory also launched her company, CHEETAHRAMA, offering her original designs including hand-crafted decoupage art cases and hair accessories. CHEETAHRAMA mirror compacts, pillboxes, business card holders, cigarette cases and vanity cases which are sold at stores nationwide including the Studio Museum of Harlem gift shop.

Ms. Gregory received her A.A.S. from Fashion Institute of TEchnology, then received a Bachelor of Science from Empire State University in 1986. She currently lives in New York City with her pooch Cappuccino who poses as the Cheetah Girls mascot Toto.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Blazers take time to learn from the King

Blazers take time to learn from the King
By J.A.

ATLANTA -- Greg Oden ducked his head and stepped through a doorway, back through time.
His Portland Trail Blazers teammates followed and gazed around the old gymnasium with its darkened floor. This was what they came to see, the basketball court at the Butler Street YMCA. There isn't much to it. About 75 feet long, 20 feet shorter than NBA size, with the half-court line about where the 3-point line would be in the league. It is one of those old Eastern gyms, the kind with a track ringing the upper level, similar to the Y in Springfield, Mass., where James Naismith hung peach baskets in 1891.

This YMCA was founded three years later and moved to this site in 1918. Around the middle of the 20th century, this court was where Martin Luther King Jr. played basketball for the Butler Street YMCA's team, the Rebels.

"I thought it was going to be remodeled and everything, but it was the actual wood," Brandon Roy said. "I'm trying to almost go back to that time and picture him running around."

Channing Frye took it one step further. He added the audio, conjuring a modern-day soundtrack to the visions of the future civil rights leader playing in his canvas sneakers.

Jarrett Jack and Brandon Roy share a moment with the children of the Butler Street YMCA."I was imagining Martin Luther King talking smack to everybody," Frye said.

Then he turned serious.

"I think it's good to see how basketball brings people together," he said. "It probably taught him a lot of things about being unselfish, about being competitive, and even though there are some things in your way, the main goal is to not only put the ball in the hoop but to achieve what you need to achieve. Sometimes you've got to go around, but you'll make your way there."

History can work two ways if you let it. I'd like to think what Frye said was true, that he and the Blazers could take everything they have learned from the game that has become their lucrative livelihood, go back and apply it to King's formative years. Because history sure flowed the other way Sunday, when the Trail Blazers visited notable sites in King's hometown on the eve of playing the Atlanta Hawks on the national Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

The NBA schedule just happened to put the Blazers here at this time. Without knowing it, the league picked the right team. Chris Bowles, Portland's director of player programs, tries to schedule educational field trips when the team is on the road, adding a dose of black history to the usual NBA itinerary of arena-airport-hotel-mall-club. On this road trip, in Boston, they stopped by the Massachusetts Archives and Commonwealth Museum, which featured an exhibit on Massachusetts blacks in the Civil War. On their next stop, in New Orleans, they are scheduled to meet with Mayor Ray Nagin. Past visits have included the civil rights museum at the site of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis where King was assassinated.

"You've got to feed 'em," Bowles said.

Mental nourishment. These days, you don't have to leave your laptop to read the "Letter From Birmingham Jail" or watch the "I Have a Dream" speech. But there's a powerful connection that comes from visiting the locations, seeing the places that shaped a man who changed the course of our country. Sometimes, it takes a little prodding. Jarrett Jack went to Georgia Tech for three years but never made it to the historic venues he visited Sunday, when his appreciation for King grew even more.

"It's an amazing thing that one man helped change so much," Jack said. "Of course, he didn't do it alone, but it was mainly his vision. Giving up his life, which he did, just for us to even have these possibilities is an amazing sacrifice.

"Most of us probably would have been like, 'Let's just keep it the way it is and ride it on out.' But he was a dude that stood for change, went about it the right way in a peaceful manner, and it's great that they keep him in remembrance."

Bowles, a black history buff, also played the role of tour guide along the way. He pointed out the first African American-owned bank. When the bus made a left onto Auburn Avenue, he said it was "The Rodeo Drive of Black America" for much of the 20th century. He noted the Royal Peacock, where James Brown played one of his earliest gigs.

The bus pulled up to the YMCA, where president Stewart Williams greeted them and showed them the way to the gym. Steve Blake grabbed a basketball and shot a couple of layups. Then Oden, showing the rust from the knee surgery that wiped out his season, fired up a couple of jumpers that knocked the dust off the backboard (he blamed the poor lighting).

The players -- James Jones, Taurean Green, Blake, Roy, Jack, Frye and Oden -- were introduced to staffers, members and kids in the gym.

The young Blazers can now say they have stood on the same court as Martin Luther King Jr."Are you the No. 1 draft pick?" chairman Sonny Walker asked Oden.

"Something like that," Oden sheepishly replied.

They listened to speeches from Williams and other board members, heard the history of the building. It's where King played ball and learned to swim -- the YMCA has a pair of his swimming trunks in its possession. It's where Walt Frazier first bounced a basketball.

It also played an important role in the community. When Atlanta's first black police officers joined the force in 1948, they changed into their uniforms at the Butler Street YMCA, because "coloreds" weren't allowed to use the police station. And in the early days of the civil rights movement, the YMCA provided meeting space.
Asher Benator, a YMCA director emeritus who has been around the neighborhood since he worked at a local deli as a 10-year-old in 1941, told the players, "Many of the men and women who were responsible for getting rid of segregation [in Georgia] came through the Butler YMCA. Down the road, I'm sure some of you are going to have the same responsibility to do things that are right for the community."

On this day, the players made the locals happy just by playing and taking pictures with the youngsters. One, 11-year-old Anthony Hendricks, measured himself against the 7-foot Oden. Hendricks came up to his elbow. But Hendricks showed he could dunk the ball -- thanks to a lift from Oden.

Before the players left, Jack, who lives in Atlanta in the offseason, told Williams he would be back this summer. Community involvement works both ways, too.

"That's the most precious thing when you look at a little kid: The possibilities are endless," Jack said. "He could be the president, Martin Luther King, Michael Jordan … you know what I'm saying? I think it's all in how you raise them."

And if the players learned anything new this day, it was how King was raised. The next stop was his home, right in the black middle class, at pretty much the dividing line between the larger and smaller houses in the black neighborhood. The King household mandated responsibility, with the children required to recite long Bible verses at the dinner table. But the kids also were encouraged to speak up, at a time most children were expected to be quiet.

What struck the players the most were the success of the family and its accomplishments, the middle-class background, the emphasis on education. One picture hanging on the wall shows King, his brother and sister, their parents and their grandmother. Everyone in the photograph graduated from college. The grandmother stood out the most -- a black woman, born in the 1900s, with a degree.

MLK Jr's birth house was one stop along the Blazer's history tour.That hit home with Roy, the first member of his family to go to college. He had seen the adult phases of King's life, the ministry and the speeches and the protests. Now, he gained a greater appreciation for the early years. He thought of the way he wants to raise his 9-month-old son. He envisioned bringing his family here so they can experience the historic sites themselves.

"Coming from the Northwest, I don't get to experience that heritage," the Seattle native said. "To be able to be a part of it, it was incredible to me."

Upstairs is King's birth room. So ordinary -- a medium-sized bed, a large crib, a dresser, a bureau -- and yet, so powerful. It's where one of the most important people in our country's history entered the world on Jan. 15, 1929. A clock on the mantel above the fireplace has its hands frozen on the time of his birth: 12:01 p.m.
The players absorbed the words of the tour guide. For me, it was a number that stuck in my head. Twenty-five cents. That was King's weekly allowance. To think, a boy who made a quarter a week could go on to create the opportunities that include a National Basketball Association made up mostly of blacks, in which the average salary is more than $5.3 million.

"Not only that," Roy said, "just being able to go to school and drink from water fountains. Those are luxuries we overlook, but at one point, we didn't have. Just because he fought for those things.

"I've got good friends that are all different races, and it's all because he fought for those things. He didn't fight for one race to be more than another. He fought for everybody to be equal. That's the thing that I really respect."

They left through the rear of the house, gazing at the big backyard as they returned to the bus. Frye reached for Bowles' hand.

"Good looking out today," Frye told him. "Much appreciated."

Come Monday, Frye would have to work. The Blazers would play the Hawks. His focus would be on the game. But he knew, at some point in the day, he would think about what he learned. There's a family connection to the King story, he found out Saturday. His father told him about his grandfather's trip from New York for the March on Washington. Now, 45 years later, Frye has had a bit of the King experience as well.
"It's a time to be appreciative," Frye said Sunday. "It's a time to sit down for five minutes and thank God for our blessings."

"Even though we're not in school anymore, it's still OK to learn."

J.A. Adande is the author of "The Best Los Angeles Sports Arguments." He joined as an NBA columnist in August 2007 after 10 years with the Los Angeles Times. Click here to e-mail J.A.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

12 Ways to Help Make MLK’s Dream a Reality

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the United States, a federal holiday. We remember Dr. King as a civil rights leader, a rousing speaker,and an advocate of non-violent resistance. Best remembered of all his works, though, is his "I have a dream" speech. King dreamed that one day, race would be irrelevant to an individual’s opportunities in life.

That hasn’t happened, not in the United States, and not anywhere else. Although the blatant racism of the past — the lynchings, the Klan rallies,the pogroms, the concentration camps — are no longer acceptable in most societies (though they keep rearing up with troubling regularity — consider Bosnia, Rwanda, Sudan, and Guantanamo Bay), race and racism are still factors in most people’s lives, and still create barriers to many people’s ability to succeed.

This affects us all. When a child is denied access to a top-notch education because she belongs to a despised minority, or because it’s assumed that his group just isn’t smart enough, or even that it’s pointless to waste resources on children who will not be able to make use of it because of racism, we as a society lose out on the particular talents and strengths that child might have had to offer if given a chance to develop them. When leadership is associated with the qualities of one group, we as a society limit the possibilities for innovation and new direction. (Take a look at the US Senate if you want to see how Americans think of leadership. Ask yourself what innovation you expect of these 88 white men, 11 white women, and 1 black man.)

Race and racism affect our personal lives, as well, even if we’re not in the minority. Take a look around you next time you go to a place where people socialize. Chances are you’ll see little clumps of similarly-colored people — whites with whites, blacks with blacks, Asians with Asians, and so on. Even today, it’s rare for a person to have more than one or two people of differing race (if any) in their circle of friends.

When I ask my students why this is, they tend to say something like, "It’s natural for people to want to be with people who are like them." They’re probably right — but why do we think people of our race are the most like us, instead of, say, people who share our values, or people who share our profession, or people who share our taste in books? And why are certain kinds of music, movies, literature, clothes, and so on still associated with people of specific races?

Was this Dr. King’s dream?
I say, we still have a long way to go to make the dream a reality. While some change will have to be legislated, there are lots of things each of us as individuals can do to minimize the amount and effect of racism in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

1. Stop lying to yourself: People like to say they’re "colorblind" when it comes to race. This is not only dishonest, but it wouldn’t solve anything even if it were true. There are real differences between people; denying those differences means dismissing a person’s culture, heritage, and experience — the very things that make them a unique person instead of a representative of their race. Pretending to deny it is even worse, because not only are you refusing to see someone as a whole person, but you’re also refusing to claim responsibility for addressing the real injustices that still cause people harm.

2. Engage people directly: Approach each person as an individual, not as an instance of their race. Even well-intentioned people seem to find it easier to read books, watch movies, and attend classes about minority people than to actually get to know them in person. It makes us vulnerable to interact with someone in a real, genuine way and to really get to know them; instead, we retreat into stereotypes that act as a shield between us.

3. Don’t wait for others to educate you: Take responsibility for understanding the world around you and the forces that shape less privileged peoples’ lives — and your own role in it. If you’re a member of a privileged group, few people are going to tell you that your words or actions are hurtful to them; take the initiative and think about the possible effect of your actions before you carry them out.

4. Forget about categories: Knowing what race, ethnicity, gender, age, class, or any other category a person fits into tells you nothing about that person’s life — and may lead you badly astray. Recognize that "race" is a part of someone’s identity, but not the whole of it.

5. Learn and respect history: Americans, especially, like to "let go" of the past and pretend that historical forces can be easily overcome. But the events of 30, 75, even 200 years ago still shape people’s lives today. Consider: the most common source of wealth in the United States is home ownership. Practices such as restrictive covenants (which forbid the sale of homes to blacks, and sometimes to Jews and other minorities), mortgage redlining (where mortgages are denied to people who live in neighborhoods regarded as risky, regardless of the borrower’s ability to repay the loan), and steering (the practice of showing minority house buyers homes only in minority neighborhoods) have severely limited home ownership — and thus wealth — among minorities. These practices were still legal in my lifetime (and some, like steering, are still widely practiced even though illegal). As a consequence, home ownership is still greatly imbalanced among the various ethnicities that make up American society. Denying that this history has an effect might feel more comfortable, but that doesn’t make it true, and it certainly doesn’t help those whose lives have been affected by it.

6. Don’t be a bystander: Stand up for minorities when you hear others making disparaging remarks, when you see people discriminating against them, or when you see someone targeted for their color. It can be scary to risk offending people by standing up against them, but it’s the only way real change is going to come about — even if that change is only that people are less willing to be openly racist when you’re around. (If you still aren’t convinced that racism is alive and well, ask why people feel so uncomfortable confronting racist behavior when they come across it.)

7. Re-examine what you "know": It turns out our minds are full of racist stereotypes, even among the most saintly people. We act every day on things we "know" are true, without realizing that those "facts" are grounded only in stereotypes, not reality. Consider:
o The lowest violent crime rates in the US are found in Hispanic neighborhoods.
o White teens are more likely to use and sell drugs than any other teenagers — even drugs like crack that we associate with minorities.
o Almost all school shootings have been carried out by white students.
None of these facts conforms to our expectations, which are shaped more by the stereotypes we’ve internalized and the sensationalist media than by actual experience.

8. Think community: Kant’s Categorical Imperative states: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law". What he meant in a nutshell was that you should act the way you wish everyone would act. Don’t just ask yourself if your behavior is in your own best interest, but if it also makes your community better (which, if you think about it, is also in your best interest).

9. Question racist jokes: Confront people with the assumptions behind their racist jokes. One strategy is to simply ask them to explain why it’s funny: "I don’t understand, are you saying black people are stupid?" or "Is that funny because Jews are supposed to be stingy?" We tend to think that jokes don’t mean much, but ask yourself how comfortable you’d feel in, say, a workplace where, every day or so, you heard someone make a joke at your group’s expense.
And by the way: just because it’s funny when Chris Rock (or Carlos Mencia, or some other comedian) says it, doesn’t mean it’s harmless when you say it. For one thing, Chris Rock doesn’t represent all black people any more than anyone else does; for another, Chris Rock is a professional satirist of people’s racist assumptions. Comedians force us to confront uncomfortable truths about ourselves, and one uncomfortable truth is that racial divides are still quite wide in our society. That kind of skill and talent isn’t as common as your racist office joker thinks it is.

10. Watch your language: For some reason people feel put upon when someone suggests that phrases like "Indian giver" might be offensive and hurtful. Standing up for your right to be offensive and hurtful isn’t really very heroic; why not just try to avoid saying things that offend. Humans are born with an amazing capacity for creative language use — I’m sure you can figure out a way to say what you mean without perpetuating stereotypes.

11. Forget local news: Local news coverage thrives on the use of simple-minded racial stereotypes and sensationalist violence. We deserve better — but we’re not going to get it so long as we keep watching.

12. Avoid positive stereotypes, too: Stereotypes like "Asians are good at science", "black people are great athletes", and "Jews are super smart" might not seem harmful, but they do the same thing negative stereotypes do: they reduce living, breathing individuals to images imposed by others, preventing us from seeing and interacting with them as individuals. Most of them have roots in racism, too: black athleticism is tied to the idea that black people were strong, violent brutes; Jewish cleverness was seen as destructive and dangerous to civilized communities. The idea that Asians are good at math and science is not rooted in racism, but is tied to a specific wave of highly educated, affluent immigrants that came to the US in the ’60s and ’70s — and prevents later waves of immigrants such as Southeast Asian refugees, some of whom make up the poorest groups in the US population, from being seen for who they really are.

The problem of racism is a big one, but it’s not an impossible one. Here are 12 things you can do — not always easy things, but ultimately doable things — to start making a difference in your the world around you. In the end, they boil down to "respect others" and "know thyself", good advice for most situations. It doesn’t take a huge number of people to start making a difference — after all, Martin Luther King made a difference and he was just one person. Just like you are.


Monday, January 21, 2008

MLK Poster: I Have A Dream

Purchase Poster here:

MLK: I Have A Dream

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Martin Luther King, Jr., delivering his 'I Have a Dream' speech from the steps of Lincoln Memorial. (photo: National Park Service)
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only". We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Girl Genius: Completing 24 to 100-piece jigsaw puzzles at 15 months old

Girl genius, 15, makes history as youngest Black female accepted into Ivy League School

She was sitting up at 4 1/2 months old, making pyramid designs with blocks at 6 months old, walking at 8 months old and completing 24- to 100-piece jigsaw puzzles at 15 months old.

So it should come as no surprise that Brittney Exline, 15, of Colorado Springs, CO, recently graduated from high school and then made history by becoming the youngest Black female ever accepted to an Ivy League school, the University of Pennsylvania.

"I'm not easily excitable, but I think it's cool and I'm proud of myself for holding that record," said Brittney, a graduate of Palmer High School's International Baccalaureate program in Colorado.

Her dad, Christopher Exline, who works in copier sales, said, "I feel really proud of her. I think it's wonderful."

A spokesperson for the University of Pennsylvania would not comment, telling JET, "We do not give out information about our students."

Brittney, who studied anthropology last year during summer school at Harvard University, received a full scholarship to cover the $50,000 tuition at the University of Pennsylvania.

"She's pretty much got a full ride," said Chyrese Exline, Brittney's mother.

A former geriatric administrator and part-time pageant coach, Chyrese said that she and her husband of 14 years didn't do anything special for Brittney to become "gifted."

"She kind of came out that way," laughed Chyrese. "Her IQ, the last time it was done professionally, was 185. That was when she was almost 6 years old." On the IQ scale, over 140 is considered genius or almost genius.

Her mother said that Brittney was a quiet baby, born two weeks late on Valentine's Day. So quiet, said Chyrese, that she didn't speak her first words until 22 months old!

"We thought something was wrong. She didn't baby talk," said Chyrese. "When she did talk, it was perfect speech. She already knew her colors, letters and was reading. We just read regular bedtime stories to her. We didn't know she was learning all of this."

Standing out in college won't bother her; Brittney has always been the youngest person in her class. At 6 she was in the fourth grade, at 8 she started an International Baccalaureate program and at 10 she took her first high school class in math.

"I'm pretty oblivious to what others think of me," Brittney said.

She has studied several languages, including Spanish, French, Japanese, Russian and Arabic. She learned German for five years.

When it comes to studying, Brittney said, "Usually I don't plan. I'm pretty scatterbrained. I procrastinate a lot. That's the motivation that gets me to really do something."

In her spare time, Brittney, who has a 10-year-old brother, Cameron, plays video games, browses the Internet, reads and hangs out with her friends, who are 17 and 18.

"She has a good head on her shoulders. I trust her judgment," said Christopher. "She's level-headed, responsible, meticulous and takes things very seriously. She's been self-motivated since a baby."

Also a gifted dancer, Brittney has studied jazz, tap and ballet. She's also held several pageant titles, including 2004 Miss Colorado Pre-Teen and 2006 Miss Colorado Jr. National Teenager.

Her mother said that Brittney's dance training and pageant competitions help her strike a balance as a regular teen.

"My approach is that she needed to be in a situation where she had to fail in order to learn. Dance didn't come easy, but it made her a better learner," said Chyrese. "If I kept her in a world where she's always successful, in math and science, she will never learn anything else. You learn more from your failures than your successes. She also had to learn how to deal with other people."

Brittney, who plans to study political science in college, hopes to go into politics when she gets older.

By Margena A. Christian


COPYRIGHT 2007 Johnson Publishing Co.
COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group


100 Things That You Did Not Know About Africa

1. The human race is of African origin. The oldest known skeletal remains of anatomically modern humans (or homo sapiens) were excavated at sites in East Africa. Human remains were discovered at Omo in Ethiopia that were dated at 195,000 years old, the oldest known in the world.

2. Skeletons of pre-humans have been found in Africa that date back between 4 and 5 million years. The oldest known ancestral type of humanity is thought to have been the australopithecus ramidus, who lived at least 4.4 million years ago.

3. Africans were the first to organise fishing expeditions 90,000 years ago. At Katanda, a region in northeastern Zaïre (now Congo), was recovered a finely wrought series of harpoon points, all elaborately polished and barbed. Also uncovered was a tool, equally well crafted, believed to be a dagger. The discoveries suggested the existence of an early aquatic or fishing based culture.

4. Africans were the first to engage in mining 43,000 years ago. In 1964 a hematite mine was found in Swaziland at Bomvu Ridge in the Ngwenya mountain range. Ultimately 300,000 artefacts were recovered including thousands of stone-made mining tools. Adrian Boshier, one of the archaeologists on the site, dated the mine to a staggering 43,200 years old.

5. Africans pioneered basic arithmetic 25,000 years ago. The Ishango bone is a tool handle with notches carved into it found in the Ishango region of Zaïre (now called Congo) near Lake Edward. The bone tool was originally thought to have been over 8,000 years old, but a more sensitive recent dating has given dates of 25,000 years old. On the tool are 3 rows of notches. Row 1 shows three notches carved next to six, four carved next to eight, ten carved next to two fives and finally a seven. The 3 and 6, 4 and 8, and 10 and 5, represent the process of doubling. Row 2 shows eleven notches carved next to twenty-one notches, and nineteen notches carved next to nine notches. This represents 10 + 1, 20 + 1, 20 - 1 and 10 - 1. Finally, Row 3 shows eleven notches, thirteen notches, seventeen notches and nineteen notches. 11, 13, 17 and 19 are the prime numbers between 10 and 20.

6. Africans cultivated crops 12,000 years ago, the first known advances in agriculture. Professor Fred Wendorf discovered that people in Egypt’s Western Desert cultivated crops of barley, capers, chick-peas, dates, legumes, lentils and wheat. Their ancient tools were also recovered. There were grindstones, milling stones, cutting blades, hide scrapers, engraving burins, and mortars and pestles.

7. Africans mummified their dead 9,000 years ago. A mummified infant was found under the Uan Muhuggiag rock shelter in south western Libya. The infant was buried in the foetal position and was mummified using a very sophisticated technique that must have taken hundreds of years to evolve. The technique predates the earliest mummies known in Ancient Egypt by at least 1,000 years. Carbon dating is controversial but the mummy may date from 7438 (±220) BC.

8. Africans carved the world’s first colossal sculpture 7,000 or more years ago. The Great Sphinx of Giza was fashioned with the head of a man combined with the body of a lion. A key and important question raised by this monument was: How old is it? In October 1991 Professor Robert Schoch, a geologist from Boston University, demonstrated that the Sphinx was sculpted between 5000 BC and 7000 BC, dates that he considered conservative.

9. On the 1 March 1979, the New York Times carried an article on its front page also page sixteen that was entitled Nubian Monarchy called Oldest. In this article we were assured that: “Evidence of the oldest recognizable monarchy in human history, preceding the rise of the earliest Egyptian kings by several generations, has been discovered in artifacts from ancient Nubia” (i.e. the territory of the northern Sudan and the southern portion of modern Egypt.)

10. The ancient Egyptians had the same type of tropically adapted skeletal proportions as modern Black Africans. A 2003 paper appeared in American Journal of Physical Anthropology by Dr Sonia Zakrzewski entitled Variation in Ancient Egyptian Stature and Body Proportions where she states that: “The raw values in Table 6 suggest that Egyptians had the ‘super-Negroid’ body plan described by Robins (1983). The values for the brachial and crural indices show that the distal segments of each limb are longer relative to the proximal segments than in many ‘African’ populations.”

11. The ancient Egyptians had Afro combs. One writer tells us that the Egyptians “manufactured a very striking range of combs in ivory: the shape of these is distinctly African and is like the combs used even today by Africans and those of African descent.”

12. The Funerary Complex in the ancient Egyptian city of Saqqara is the oldest building that tourists regularly visit today. An outer wall, now mostly in ruins, surrounded the whole structure. Through the entrance are a series of columns, the first stone-built columns known to historians. The North House also has ornamental columns built into the walls that have papyrus-like capitals. Also inside the complex is the Ceremonial Court, made of limestone blocks that have been quarried and then shaped. In the centre of the complex is the Step Pyramid, the first of 90
Egyptian pyramids.

13. The first Great Pyramid of Giza, the most extraordinary building in history, was a staggering 481 feet tall - the equivalent of a 40-storey building. It was made of 2.3 million blocks of limestone and granite, some weighing 100 tons.

14. The ancient Egyptian city of Kahun was the world’s first planned city. Rectangular and walled, the city was divided into two parts. One part housed the wealthier inhabitants – the scribes, officials and foremen. The other part housed the ordinary people. The streets of the western section in particular, were straight, laid out on a grid, and crossed each other at right angles. A stone gutter, over half a metre wide, ran down the centre of every street.

15. Egyptian mansions were discovered in Kahun - each boasting 70 rooms, divided into four sections or quarters. There was a master’s quarter, quarters for women and servants, quarters for offices and finally, quarters for granaries, each facing a central courtyard. The master’s quarters had an open court with a stone water tank for bathing. Surrounding this was a colonnade.

16 The Labyrinth in the Egyptian city of Hawara with its massive layout, multiple courtyards, chambers and halls, was the very largest building in antiquity. Boasting three thousand rooms, 1,500 of them were above ground and the other 1,500 were underground.

17. Toilets and sewerage systems existed in ancient Egypt. One of the pharaohs built a city now known as Amarna. An American urban planner noted that: “Great importance was attached to cleanliness in Amarna as in other Egyptian cities. Toilets and sewers were in use to dispose waste. Soap was made for washing the body. Perfumes and essences were popular against body odour. A solution of natron was used to keep insects from houses . . . Amarna may have been the first planned ‘garden city’.”

18. Sudan has more pyramids than any other country on earth - even more than Egypt. There are at least 223 pyramids in the Sudanese cities of Al Kurru, Nuri, Gebel Barkal and Meroë. They are generally 20 to 30 metres high and steep sided.

19. The Sudanese city of Meroë is rich in surviving monuments. Becoming the capital of the Kushite Empire between 590 BC until AD 350, there are 84 pyramids in this city alone, many built with their own miniature temple. In addition, there are ruins of a bath house sharing affinities with those of the Romans. Its central feature is a large pool approached by a flight of steps with waterspouts decorated with lion heads.

20. Bling culture has a long and interesting history. Gold was used to decorate ancient Sudanese temples. One writer reported that: “Recent excavations at Meroe and Mussawwarat es-Sufra revealed temples with walls and statues covered with gold leaf”.

21. In around 300 BC, the Sudanese invented a writing script that had twenty-three letters of which four were vowels and there was also a word divider. Hundreds of ancient texts have survived that were in this script. Some are on display in the British Museum.

22. In central Nigeria, West Africa’s oldest civilisation flourished between 1000 BC and 300 BC. Discovered in 1928, the ancient culture was called the Nok Civilisation, named after the village in which the early artefacts were discovered. Two modern scholars, declare that “[a]fter calibration, the period of Nok art spans from 1000 BC until 300 BC”. The site itself is much older going back as early as 4580 or 4290 BC.

23. West Africans built in stone by 1100 BC. In the Tichitt-Walata region of Mauritania, archaeologists have found “large stone masonry villages” that date back to 1100 BC. The villages consisted of roughly circular compounds connected by “well-defined streets”.

24. By 250 BC, the foundations of West Africa’s oldest cities were established such as Old Djenné in Mali.

25. Kumbi Saleh, the capital of Ancient Ghana, flourished from 300 to 1240 AD. Located in modern day Mauritania, archaeological excavations have revealed houses, almost habitable today, for want of renovation and several storeys high. They had underground rooms, staircases and connecting halls. Some had nine rooms. One part of the city alone is estimated to have housed 30,000 people.

26. West Africa had walled towns and cities in the pre-colonial period. Winwood Reade, an English historian visited West Africa in the nineteenth century and commented that: “There are . . . thousands of large walled cities resembling those of Europe in the Middle Ages, or of ancient Greece.”

27. Lord Lugard, an English official, estimated in 1904 that there were 170 walled towns still in existence in the whole of just the Kano province of northern Nigeria.

28. Cheques are not quite as new an invention as we were led to believe. In the tenth century, an Arab geographer, Ibn Haukal, visited a fringe region of Ancient Ghana. Writing in 951 AD, he told of a cheque for 42,000 golden dinars written to a merchant in the city of Audoghast by his partner in Sidjilmessa.

29. Ibn Haukal, writing in 951 AD, informs us that the King of Ghana was “the richest king on the face of the earth” whose pre-eminence was due to the quantity of gold nuggets that had been amassed by the himself and by his predecessors.

30. The Nigerian city of Ile-Ife was paved in 1000 AD on the orders of a female ruler with decorations that originated in Ancient America. Naturally, no-one wants to explain how this took place approximately 500 years before the time of Christopher Columbus!

31. West Africa had bling culture in 1067 AD. One source mentions that when the Emperor of Ghana gives audience to his people: “he sits in a pavilion around which stand his horses caparisoned in cloth of gold: behind him stand ten pages holding shields and gold-mounted swords: and on his right hand are the sons of the princes of his empire, splendidly clad and with gold plaited into their hair . . . The gate of the chamber is guarded by dogs of an excellent breed . . . they wear collars of gold and silver.”

32. Glass windows existed at that time. The residence of the Ghanaian Emperor in 1116 AD was: “A well-built castle, thoroughly fortified, decorated inside with sculptures and pictures, and having glass windows.”

33. The Grand Mosque in the Malian city of Djenné, described as “the largest adobe [clay] building in the world”, was first raised in 1204 AD. It was built on a square plan where each side is 56 metres in length. It has three large towers on one side, each with projecting wooden buttresses.

34. One of the great achievements of the Yoruba was their urban culture. “By the year A.D. 1300,” says a modern scholar, “the Yoruba people built numerous walled cities surrounded by farms”. The cities were Owu, Oyo, Ijebu, Ijesa, Ketu, Popo, Egba, Sabe, Dassa, Egbado, Igbomina, the sixteen Ekiti principalities, Owo and Ondo.

35. Yoruba metal art of the mediaeval period was of world class. One scholar wrote that Yoruba art “would stand comparison with anything which Ancient Egypt, Classical Greece and Rome, or Renaissance Europe had to offer.”

36. In the Malian city of Gao stands the Mausoleum of Askia the Great, a weird sixteenth century edifice that resembles a step pyramid.

37. Thousands of mediaeval tumuli have been found across West Africa. Nearly 7,000 were discovered in north-west Senegal alone spread over nearly 1,500 sites. They were probably built between 1000 and 1300 AD.

38. Excavations at the Malian city of Gao carried out by Cambridge University revealed glass windows. One of the finds was entitled: “Fragments of alabaster window surrounds and a piece of pink window glass, Gao 10th – 14th century.”

39. In 1999 the BBC produced a television series entitled Millennium. The programme devoted to the fourteenth century opens with the following disclosure: “In the fourteenth century, the century of the scythe, natural disasters threatened civilisations with extinction. The Black Death kills more people in Europe, Asia and North Africa than any catastrophe has before. Civilisations which avoid the plague thrive. In West Africa the Empire of Mali becomes the richest in the world.”

40. Malian sailors got to America in 1311 AD, 181 years before Columbus. An Egyptian scholar, Ibn Fadl Al-Umari, published on this sometime around 1342. In the tenth chapter of his book, there is an account of two large maritime voyages ordered by the predecessor of Mansa Musa, a king who inherited the Malian throne in 1312. This mariner king is not named by Al-Umari, but modern writers identify him as Mansa Abubakari II.

41. On a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324 AD, a Malian ruler, Mansa Musa, brought so much money with him that his visit resulted in the collapse of gold prices in Egypt and Arabia. It took twelve years for the economies of the region to normalise.

42. West African gold mining took place on a vast scale. One modern writer said that: “It is estimated that the total amount of gold mined in West Africa up to 1500 was 3,500 tons, worth more than $****30 billion in today’s market.”

43. The old Malian capital of Niani had a 14th century building called the Hall of Audience. It was an surmounted by a dome, adorned with arabesques of striking colours. The windows of an upper floor were plated with wood and framed in silver;
those of a lower floor were plated with wood, framed in gold.

44. Mali in the 14th century was highly urbanised. Sergio Domian, an Italian art and architecture scholar, wrote the following about this period: “Thus was laid the foundation of an urban civilisation. At the height of its power, Mali had at least 400 cities, and the interior of the Niger Delta was very densely populated”.

45. The Malian city of Timbuktu had a 14th century population of 115,000 - 5 times larger than mediaeval London. Mansa Musa, built the Djinguerebere Mosque in the fourteenth century. There was the University Mosque in which 25,000 students studied and the Oratory of Sidi Yayia. There were over 150 Koran schools in which 20,000 children were instructed. London, by contrast, had a total 14th century population of 20,000 people.

46. National Geographic recently described Timbuktu as the Paris of the mediaeval world, on account of its intellectual culture. According to Professor Henry Louis Gates, 25,000 university students studied there.

47. Many old West African families have private library collections that go back hundreds of years. The Mauritanian cities of Chinguetti and Oudane have a total of 3,450 hand written mediaeval books. There may be another 6,000 books still surviving in the other city of Walata. Some date back to the 8th century AD. There are 11,000 books in private collections in Niger. Finally, in Timbuktu, Mali, there are about 700,000 surviving books.

48. A collection of one thousand six hundred books was considered a small library for a West African scholar of the 16th century. Professor Ahmed Baba of Timbuktu is recorded as saying that he had the smallest library of any of his friends - he had only 1600 volumes.

49. Concerning these old manuscripts, Michael Palin, in his TV series Sahara, said the imam of Timbuktu “has a collection of scientific texts that clearly show the planets circling the sun. They date back hundreds of years . . . Its convincing evidence that the scholars of Timbuktu knew a lot more than their counterparts in Europe. In the fifteenth century in Timbuktu the mathematicians knew about the rotation of the planets, knew about the details of the eclipse, they knew things which we had to wait for 150 almost 200 years to know in Europe when Galileo and Copernicus came up with these same calculations and were given a very hard time for it.”

50. The Songhai Empire of 16th century West Africa had a government position called Minister for Etiquette and Protocol.

51. The mediaeval Nigerian city of Benin was built to “a scale comparable with the Great Wall of China”. There was a vast system of defensive walling totalling 10,000 miles in all. Even before the full extent of the city walling had become apparent the Guinness Book of Records carried an entry in the 1974 edition that described the city as: “The largest earthworks in the world carried out prior to the mechanical era.”

52. Benin art of the Middle Ages was of the highest quality. An official of the Berlin Museum für Völkerkunde once stated that: “These works from Benin are equal to the very finest examples of European casting technique. Benvenuto Cellini could not have cast them better, nor could anyone else before or after him . . . Technically, these bronzes represent the very highest possible achievement.”

53. Winwood Reade described his visit to the Ashanti Royal Palace of Kumasi in 1874: “We went to the king’s palace, which consists of many courtyards, each surrounded with alcoves and verandahs, and having two gates or doors, so that each yard was a thoroughfare . . . But the part of the palace fronting the street was a stone house, Moorish in its style . . . with a flat roof and a parapet, and suites of apartments on the first floor. It was built by Fanti masons many years ago. The rooms upstairs remind me of Wardour Street. Each was a perfect Old Curiosity Shop. Books in many languages, Bohemian glass, clocks, silver plate, old furniture, Persian rugs, Kidderminster carpets, pictures and engravings, numberless chests and coffers. A sword bearing the inscription From Queen Victoria to the King of Ashantee. A copy of the Times, 17 October 1843. With these were many specimens of Moorish and Ashanti handicraft.”

54. In the mid-nineteenth century, William Clarke, an English visitor to Nigeria, remarked that: “As good an article of cloth can be woven by the Yoruba weavers as by any people . . . in durability, their cloths far excel the prints and home-spuns of Manchester.”

55. The recently discovered 9th century Nigerian city of Eredo was found to be surrounded by a wall that was 100 miles long and seventy feet high in places. The internal area was a staggering 400 square miles.

56. On the subject of cloth, Kongolese textiles were also distinguished. Various European writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries wrote of the delicate crafts of the peoples living in eastern Kongo and adjacent regions who manufactured damasks, sarcenets, satins, taffeta, cloth of tissue and velvet. Professor DeGraft-Johnson made the curious observation that: “Their brocades, both high and low, were far more valuable than the Italian.”

57. On Kongolese metallurgy of the Middle Ages, one modern scholar wrote that: “There is no doubting . . . the existence of an expert metallurgical art in the ancient Kongo . . . The Bakongo were aware of the toxicity of lead vapours. They devised preventative and curative methods, both pharmacological (massive doses of pawpaw and palm oil) and mechanical (exerting of pressure to free the digestive tract), for combating lead poisoning.”

58. In Nigeria, the royal palace in the city of Kano dates back to the fifteenth century. Begun by Muhammad Rumfa (ruled 1463-99) it has gradually evolved over generations into a very imposing complex. A colonial report of the city from 1902, described it as “a network of buildings covering an area of 33 acres and surrounded by a wall 20 to 30 feet high outside and 15 feet inside . . . in itself no mean citadel”.

59. A sixteenth century traveller visited the central African civilisation of Kanem-Borno and commented that the emperor’s cavalry had golden “stirrups, spurs, bits and buckles.” Even the ruler’s dogs had “chains of the finest gold”.

60. One of the government positions in mediaeval Kanem-Borno was Astronomer Royal.

61. Ngazargamu, the capital city of Kanem-Borno, became one of the largest cities in the seventeenth century world. By 1658 AD, the metropolis, according to an architectural scholar housed “about quarter of a million people”. It had 660 streets. Many were wide and unbending, reflective of town planning.

62. The Nigerian city of Surame flourished in the sixteenth century. Even in ruin it was an impressive sight, built on a horizontal vertical grid. A modern scholar describes it thus: “The walls of Surame are about 10 miles in circumference and include many large bastions or walled suburbs running out at right angles to the main wall. The large compound at Kanta is still visible in the centre, with ruins of many buildings, one of which is said to have been two-storied. The striking feature of the walls and whole ruins is the extensive use of stone and tsokuwa (laterite gravel) or very hard red building mud, evidently brought from a distance. There is a big mound of this near the north gate about 8 feet in height. The walls show regular courses of masonry to a height of 20 feet and more in several places. The best preserved portion is that known as sirati (the bridge) a little north of the eastern gate . . . The main city walls here appear to have provided a very strongly guarded entrance about 30 feet wide.”

63. The Nigerian city of Kano in 1851 produced an estimated 10 million pairs of sandals and 5 million hides each year for export.

64. In 1246 AD Dunama II of Kanem-Borno exchanged embassies with Al-Mustansir, the king of Tunis. He sent the North African court a costly present, which apparently included a giraffe. An old chronicle noted that the rare animal “created a sensation in Tunis”.

65. By the third century BC the city of Carthage on the coast of Tunisia was opulent and impressive. It had a population of 700,000 and may even have approached a million. Lining both sides of three streets were rows of tall houses six storeys high.

66. The Ethiopian city of Axum has a series of 7 giant obelisks that date from perhaps 300 BC to 300 AD. They have details carved into them that represent windows and doorways of several storeys. The largest obelisk, now fallen, is in fact “the largest monolith ever made anywhere in the world”. It is 108 feet long, weighs a staggering 500 tons, and represents a thirteen-storey building.

67. Ethiopia minted its own coins over 1,500 years ago. One scholar wrote that: “Almost no other contemporary state anywhere in the world could issue in gold, a statement of sovereignty achieved only by Rome, Persia, and the Kushan kingdom in northern India at the time.”

68. The Ethiopian script of the 4th century AD influenced the writing script of Armenia. A Russian historian noted that: “Soon after its creation, the Ethiopic vocalised script began to influence the scripts of Armenia and Georgia. D. A. Olderogge suggested that Mesrop Mashtotz used the vocalised Ethiopic script when he invented the Armenian alphabet.”

69. “In the first half of the first millennium CE,” says a modern scholar, Ethiopia “was ranked as one of the world’s greatest empires”. A Persian cleric of the third century AD identified it as the third most important state in the world after Persia and Rome.

70. Ethiopia has 11 underground mediaeval churches built by being carved out of the ground. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries AD, Roha became the new capital of the Ethiopians. Conceived as a New Jerusalem by its founder, Emperor Lalibela (c.1150-1230), it contains 11 churches, all carved out of the rock of the mountains by hammer and chisel. All of the temples were carved to a depth of 11 metres or so below ground level. The largest is the House of the Redeemer, a staggering 33.7 metres long, 23.7 metres wide and 11.5 metres deep.

71. Lalibela is not the only place in Ethiopia to have such wonders. A cotemporary archaeologist reports research that was conducted in the region in the early 1970’s when: “startling numbers of churches built in caves or partially or completely cut from the living rock were revealed not only in Tigre and Lalibela but as far south as Addis Ababa. Soon at least 1,500 were known. At least as many more probably await revelation.”

72. In 1209 AD Emperor Lalibela of Ethiopia sent an embassy to Cairo bringing the sultan unusual gifts including an elephant, a hyena, a zebra, and a giraffe.

73. In Southern Africa, there are at least 600 stone built ruins in the regions of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa. These ruins are called Mazimbabwe in Shona, the Bantu language of the builders, and means great revered house and “signifies court”.

74. The Great Zimbabwe was the largest of these ruins. It consists of 12 clusters of buildings, spread over 3 square miles. Its outer walls were made from 100,000 tons of granite bricks. In the fourteenth century, the city housed 18,000 people, comparable in size to that of London of the same period.

75. Bling culture existed in this region. At the time of our last visit, the Horniman Museum in London had exhibits of headrests with the caption: “Headrests have been used in Africa since the time of the Egyptian pharaohs. Remains of some headrests, once covered in gold foil, have been found in the ruins of Great Zimbabwe and burial sites like Mapungubwe dating to the twelfth century after Christ.”

76. Dr Albert Churchward, author of Signs and Symbols of Primordial Man, pointed out that writing was found in one of the stone built ruins: “Lt.-Col. E. L. de Cordes . . . who was in South Africa for three years, informed the writer that in one of the ‘Ruins’ there is a ‘stone-chamber,’ with a vast quantity of Papyri, covered with old Egyptian hieroglyphics. A Boer hunter discovered this, and a large quantity was used to light a fire with, and yet still a larger quantity remained there now.”

77. On bling culture, one seventeenth century visitor to southern African empire of Monomotapa, that ruled over this vast region, wrote that: “The people dress in various ways: at court of the Kings their grandees wear cloths of rich silk, damask, satin, gold and silk cloth; these are three widths of satin, each width four covados [2.64m], each sewn to the next, sometimes with gold lace in between, trimmed on two sides, like a carpet, with a gold and silk fringe, sewn in place with a two fingers’ wide ribbon, woven with gold roses on silk.”

78. Southern Africans mined gold on an epic scale. One modern writer tells us that: “The estimated amount of gold ore mined from the entire region by the ancients was staggering, exceeding 43 million tons. The ore yielded nearly 700 tons of pure
gold which today would be valued at over $******7.5 billion.”

79. Apparently the Monomotapan royal palace at Mount Fura had chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. An eighteenth century geography book provided the following data: “The inside consists of a great variety of sumptuous apartments, spacious and lofty halls, all adorned with a magnificent cotton tapestry, the manufacture of the country. The floors, cielings [sic], beams and rafters are all either gilt or plated with gold curiously wrought, as are also the chairs of state, tables, benches &c. The candle-sticks and branches are made of ivory inlaid with gold, and hang from the cieling by chains of the same metal, or of silver gilt.”

80. Monomotapa had a social welfare system. Antonio Bocarro, a Portuguese contemporary, informs us that the Emperor: “shows great charity to the blind and maimed, for these are called the king’s poor, and have land and revenues for their subsistence, and when they wish to pass through the kingdoms, wherever they come food and drinks are given to them at the public cost as long as they remain there, and when they leave that place to go to another they are provided with what is necessary for their journey, and a guide, and some one to carry their wallet to the next village. In every place where they come there is the same obligation.”

81. Many southern Africans have indigenous and pre-colonial words for ‘gun’. Scholars have generally been reluctant to investigate or explain this fact.

82. Evidence discovered in 1978 showed that East Africans were making steel for more than 1,500 years: “Assistant Professor of Anthropology Peter Schmidt and Professor of Engineering Donald H. Avery have found as long as 2,000 years ago Africans living on the western shores of Lake Victoria had produced carbon steel in preheated forced draft furnaces, a method that was technologically more sophisticated than any developed in Europe until the mid-nineteenth century.”

83. Ruins of a 300 BC astronomical observatory was found at Namoratunga in Kenya. Africans were mapping the movements of stars such as Triangulum, Aldebaran, Bellatrix, Central Orion, etcetera, as well as the moon, in order to create a lunar calendar of 354 days.

84. Autopsies and caesarean operations were routinely and effectively carried out by surgeons in pre-colonial Uganda. The surgeons routinely used antiseptics, anaesthetics and cautery iron. Commenting on a Ugandan caesarean operation that appeared in the Edinburgh Medical Journal in 1884, one author wrote: “The whole conduct of the operation . . . suggests a skilled long-practiced surgical team at work conducting a well-tried and familiar operation with smooth efficiency.”

85. Sudan in the mediaeval period had churches, cathedrals, monasteries and castles. Their ruins still exist today.

86. The mediaeval Nubian Kingdoms kept archives. From the site of Qasr Ibrim legal texts, documents and correspondence were discovered. An archaeologist informs us that: “On the site are preserved thousands of documents in Meroitic, Latin, Greek, Coptic, Old Nubian, Arabic and Turkish.”

87. Glass windows existed in mediaeval Sudan. Archaeologists found evidence of window glass at the Sudanese cities of Old Dongola and Hambukol.

88. Bling culture existed in the mediaeval Sudan. Archaeologists found an individual buried at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity in the city of Old Dongola. He was clad in an extremely elaborate garb consisting of costly textiles of various fabrics including gold thread. At the city of Soba East, there were individuals buried in fine clothing, including items with golden thread.

89. Style and fashion existed in mediaeval Sudan. A dignitary at Jebel Adda in the late thirteenth century AD was interned with a long coat of red and yellow patterned damask folded over his body. Underneath, he wore plain cotton trousers of long and baggy cut. A pair of red leather slippers with turned up toes lay at the foot of the coffin. The body was wrapped in enormous pieces of gold brocaded striped silk.

90. Sudan in the ninth century AD had housing complexes with bath rooms and piped water. An archaeologist wrote that Old Dongola, the capital of Makuria, had: “a[n] . . . eighth to . . . ninth century housing complex. The houses discovered here differ in their hitherto unencountered spatial layout as well as their functional programme (water supply installation, bathroom with heating system) and interiors decorated with murals.”

91. In 619 AD, the Nubians sent a gift of a giraffe to the Persians.

92. The East Coast, from Somalia to Mozambique, has ruins of well over 50 towns and cities. They flourished from the ninth to the sixteenth centuries AD.

93. Chinese records of the fifteenth century AD note that Mogadishu had houses of “four or five storeys high”.

94. Gedi, near the coast of Kenya, is one of the East African ghost towns. Its ruins, dating from the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries, include the city walls, the palace, private houses, the Great Mosque, seven smaller mosques, and three pillar tombs.

95. The ruined mosque in the Kenyan city of Gedi had a water purifier made of limestone for recycling water.

96. The palace in the Kenyan city of Gedi contains evidence of piped water controlled by taps. In addition it had bathrooms and indoor toilets.

97. A visitor in 1331 AD considered the Tanzanian city of Kilwa to be of world class. He wrote that it was the “principal city on the coast the greater part of whose inhabitants are Zanj of very black complexion.” Later on he says that: “Kilwa is one of the most beautiful and well-constructed cities in the world. The whole of it is elegantly built.”

98. Bling culture existed in early Tanzania. A Portuguese chronicler of the sixteenth century wrote that: “[T]hey are finely clad in many rich garments of gold and silk and cotton, and the women as well; also with much gold and silver chains and bracelets, which they wear on their legs and arms, and many jewelled earrings in their ears”.

99. In 1961 a British archaeologist, found the ruins of Husuni Kubwa, the royal palace of the Tanzanian city of Kilwa. It had over a hundred rooms, including a reception hall, galleries, courtyards, terraces and an octagonal swimming pool.

100. In 1414 the Kenyan city of Malindi sent ambassadors to China carrying a gift that created a sensation at the Imperial Court. It was, of course, a giraffe.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008



October 31, 2006- Washington DC. As an in demand entrepreneurship speaker, the world needs to get ready for the new voice of the youth generation. Meet Quinn Conyers, a current graduate student at Howard University and recent founder of Speak2Society , a professional speaking firm specializing in entrepreneurship motivational speaking.

Quinn is currently touring the United States attending conferences, colleges, and youth organizations motivating, inspiring, and empowering students and young adults to choose entrepreneurship as the ultimate career choice

"If you do what you love you'll never have to work another day in your life!" says Quinn, who believes that the only way to financial freedom, wealth, and independence is through entrepreneurship.

Quinn shares her business expertise through her interactive presentations and as the entrepreneurship editor of two popular businesses magazines. AFRO-Lutions Magazine Inc., and the Baltimore Times Small and Minority Business Magazine, are two publications Quinn highlights emerging and aspiring entrepreneurs that are among today's top business savvy youth.

Quinn's accomplishments do not stop there. The National Institute for Urban Entrepreneurship (NIUE) highlighted Quinn as the March 2006 Entrepreneur of the Month. Quinn has even caught the attention of the federal government by being named an Emerging Business Leader by the Minority Business Development Agency. In addition to that Quinn was chosen as an Emerging Minority Business Leader by the West Virginia High Technology Foundation where she earned a $1500 scholarship in a business boot camp for two weeks in Wheeling West Virginia this past summer. In both programs she placed second in a competitive business plan competition among students from all across the United States and Puerto Rico.

Believe it or not Quinn finds time to study and finish up her second degree while making history at Howard. Studying Mass Communications Media Studies with a specialization in Entrepreneurship, Quinn is currently writing a book on minority youth entrepreneurship in addition to writing her thesis on a similar topic. She has uniquely coupled her passion with an academic and entrepreneurial twist that is proving to be beneficial. The Capitol Speakers Club of Washington DC has also recognized Quinn's exceptional leadership and entrepreneurship abilities and has awarded her the 2006-2007 Capital Speakers Club of Washington DC scholarship award in the amount of $4,000.

Originally from Lancaster Pennsylvania, Quinn has earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies with a minor in Spanish from West Chester University of PA. Her entrepreneurial journey will take her to several monumental conferences in the upcoming months. Quinn will be speaking at the Black College Expo, Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization Conference in Chicago Illinois, and the 8th annual Youth College and Leadership Conference in Baltimore Maryland. Quinn welcomes the idea of helping students and young adults to turn their passion into a profit. She can be contacted directly for interviews and speaking engagements at

Quinn M. Conyers
President & Founder


Sunday, January 13, 2008



Houston, TX ( -, and, the three largest and most established web sites focusing on African-American literature, announced today that they have joined forces to offer comprehensive online book promotion options to self-published authors and small publishing firms.
Together, the three web sites have over 30 years of combined online presence and over 4 million page views per month. Each site brings different strengths to the venture., founded by Troy Johnson of Harlem, N.Y. in 1998, is now the largest website dedicated to promoting books by and about African Americans., co-founded by Willie and Gwen Richardson of Houston, Tex. in 1998, is the world's largest African-American Internet retailer with over 20,000 products online, including books, DVDs, Greek products, calendars and art., founded by Ron Kavanaugh of the Bronx, NY, in 1996, was the first site created to showcase African-American literature. It recently celebrated its 10th anniversary online.
"This effort brings unprecedented exposure to millions of African-American book readers worldwide," says Johnson. "I am pleased to work with Cushcity and MosaicBooks to bring African-American authors and consumers together."
The three sites will initially offer self-published authors and small presses simultaneous, prominent placement on each of the three sites' home pages. There are also plans to expand these coordinated services in the future to include e-blasts and other marketing opportunities for authors.
The announcement comes on the heels of recent news reports highlighting the growth in the number of African-American titles published annually and the resultant increase in book sales revenue. Based upon book sales figures for 2006 released by the American Association of Publishers, African Americans spend about $1 billion of the estimated $24 billion spent in the U.S. annually on books.

Publishers, for more information regarding the joint online marketing effort, contact Ron Kavanaugh,, (718) 530-9132.


Friday, January 11, 2008

I Can't Accept Not Trying: Michael Jordan on the Pursuit of Excellence (Hardcover)

The most extraordinary athlete of our time shares the rules he lives--and succeeds--by in an inspirational classic sure to be treasured by everyone who loved his #1 New York Times bestseller Rare Air. Jordan shows how to set goals and overcome obstacles, confront fear and self-doubt, be a leader and a team player, stay focused and fight distraction.