Saturday, November 13, 2010

For Colored Girls:Revisted

Now that the dust has settled, and the pundits have had their say. I'd like to revisit the recent Tyler Perry "remake" of For Colored Girls. I hesitate to use that term, because Mr. Perry chose to add two characters to the cast that Nztonge Shange created in her award winning play. I think it is worth mentioning that Ms. Shange suffers from Bipolar disorder (further explored in Liliane), and has battled back from a stroke a few years ago. Even so she looms large as a literary figure still-I just read her Some Sing, Some Cry written with her sister. Revisiting this play allowed me to go back and re-read some other Shange favorites, as well as discover new ones like her poem-pictorial with Romare Bearden.

Much of the criticism of the movie was related to the harsh portrayal of African-American men that Shange tells through her 7 characters.African-American columnists had clever titles for their opinion pieces-perhaps most notable For colored men who have considered suicide who have to sit through another Tyler Perry movie. In his defense Mr. Perry notes that he couldn't make a movie in which there was no positive black male. I guess he's not including many of his other characters from Meet the Browns, House of Payne, and of course the Madea movies. The centerpiece of the Shange production is the A nite with beau willie brown-which in the movie also takes center stage, but ties the other characters stories together midway.
Understandable, but a definite departure from the play. While appreciated Mr. Perry's admittance that this was based on the play, (and hence the shortened title), for me the movie was less about those changes than it was to hear that searing choreopoem once again-which is why I posted a readily available version of the play above. For colored girls, who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf was the very first play I had seen-at the McCree Theater in Flint, Michigan-I was 19. And thus began my love affair with live performance. From that moment on, I went to every play that came to town-even though I was a psychology major, I took a theater class. Extra credit was offered for seeing more than the required performances. Elizabeth the 1st, Waiting for Godot-nothing was off limits for me. A few years later, while in graduate school, my grandmother sent me some money, which I used to go to New York City to see Dream Girls (nothing like the movie by the way). These experiences broadened to other genres-live classical and jazz, art exhibits by Georgia O'Keefe, Monet, Romare Bearden, ManRay at the Art Institute MOMA, LACMA, dance by Alvin Ailey, American Ballet Theater, Opera at the Met, it was an insatiable desire. I've even traveled to different countries to see performances- jazz vocalist DeeDee Bridgewater (actually from Flint) is a regular in Europe. As I've gotten older, my artistic interests have become more experimental, and I am more interested in the story behind the work. It is not unusual for me and my husband to fly to a city just for some opening.

So for me the re-telling of For Colored Girls is long overdue. I missed seeing Somebody almost walked off wid alla of my stuff, I'm Sorry, No Assistance, I used to live in a world, My love is, and of course, A layin on of hands. I'm not sure if a younger generation would have seen it-especially as a play-though powerful-it is not performed often. Had I not been exposed to this art form, I might not have bothered with August Wilson-many African-Americans have never heard of him. I'm no fan of Madea, but as a businesswoman even I can see one of the things that make Mr. Perry a marketing genius-is that he tapped an ignored market, gave them the same product again, again and again. This is why he is the 2nd highest earning man in Hollywood by Forbes magazine. Perhaps Mr. Perry will continue to bring serious drama to the stage and screen-he and Oprah did produce Push by Sapphire into Precious. (Oscar winner, Monique is slated to announce the Academy Awards January 25th, with the awards being broadcast February 27th-during black history month). He now has the financial and artistic freedom to bring his largely female audience along to experience the arts in a broader sense. To whom much is given much is expected. African-Americans often are the creators of these art forms, and it is a shame that more of us don't support the arts as a whole. Halle Berry has won, and may be nominated again this year. We now have the chance to support her by going to see Frankie & Alice, a true story of a woman with multiple personality disorder. This is usually the type of movie we as a group avoid, even though undiagnosed mental illness is rampant in our community. Like Tyler Perry, how about expanding your horizons?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Who is Superman ?

Waiting for Superman is the title of a popular (and by the way great) movie. The premise is that we are all waiting on superman to change our educational system. Taken more broadly, it could be said that we are also "Waiting on Superman" for a variety of social ills besides education. As in my last blog, Milwaukee continues to dominate the news with negative statistics. Our city is now fourth in poverty in the nation. Was there an outcry from the most affected-African-Americans Latino, and other people of color? Of course not. This statistic primarily reflects how families with children are suffering-in this especially post election season. The politician rhetoric from the right and the left is jobs, jobs, jobs. President Obama believes the democratic party took a "shellacking" in the midterms because he lost his connection with the electorate. I'd say that the electorate is not ready for living in the 21st century. I want to examine this from a different perspective-I wonder if as a community we became less dependent on government, in this scenario "Superman", if we would find ourselves in this same predicament.

Let me explain. There was a time in the not to distant past-African-Americans could not depend on the government-even for the most basic protections. All of the strides that the Civil Rights Movement have given us of late are not being fully utilized. Voting, and education are far less important, so consequently whether our elected officials even bother to provide us with the tools to become a functioning taxpayer is debatable. Our education system is a perfect example-does it develop marketable skills, or encourage higher education, which ultimately leads to a satisfying career? For the most part no-graduation rates in Milwaukee still hover between 60 and 70%. Yes, there are high profile success stories, but why are they high profile? They should be the norm. It should still be expected that our children further their education, settle in a career, marry and have children-in that order. Nearly 20 years after the publication of my first book, I am still preaching largely the same message-education, education, education. Better still become a lifelong learner in whatever your field. Continue to respond to innovations, and there will always be a market for your skill. I continue to improve on my credentials, so that I can compete in the health care system. Next on my horizon is increasing my EAP practice through telemedicine, and on-line training for those in the health care field.

We need to revisit the mindset of the days when no one owed us anything, and we had to get it for ourselves. A plethora of $25.00 an hour manufacturing jobs are never coming back, nor is the certainty of 'working for the government and retiring". We need to plan our futures accordingly-that means putting education first once again. As President Obama noted the best job plan is an education plan. While "Waiting for Superman" rightfully points out some of the inadequacies of many school systems-they are not totally to blame-much of the blame falls on the parents. I am still appalled at the lack of parenting skills I see on a daily basis. Because the village has largely disappeared, today's' parents have no one to emulate, model, or learn from-many of us that have "made it", are hesitant because of the responses of parents that don't know any better. No one likes to be cussed out.

I went to a "mediocre at best" Flint Public School System for all 12 years of primary education, my mother was an involved parent as any other-nothing special. If she suspected something was a miss at school, she went up there-she didn't need a PTA meeting, and in most cases the teacher was usually right. The difference was that my mother made sure I went and graduated because it was expected-nothing else was acceptable. Barbara had extraordinary expectations from my ordinary performance. No one rises to mediocricty. Was I challenged in college because of this so-so primary learning environment?Absolutely! Did I quit? Not a chance, because I had been taught that a higher education was the key to financial freedom. I just had to work a little harder. I got my PhD in Clinical Psychology, and I have never been sorry.

And you know what? It has been the best choice I could have made. I don't worry at night about whether social security will be around, because I am not dependent on the government for my living-or to take care of me. I have not suffered in this economic downturn, because I own my own business-not just seeing clients, but consulting, as well as educating the disenfranchised (who heavily depend on government) to become Substance Abuse Counselors (whom we will never have enough) to own their own practices. My goal is not to retire, and certainly hope if I plan well enough, that if illness should befall, hopefully I'll be prepared. (That topic is for the next blog-our desire to live beyond our means). That is the mindset that we need to return-less dependent on government, and more dependent on our own abilities. We can rely on ourselves more, and the government less. WE CAN provide more for the least amongst us. Perhaps we are who we have been waiting for-just maybe WE ARE SUPERMAN?!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

It STILL Takes a Village

I am strong and brave.
I wonder who and what.
I hear the heartbeat of nature.
I see the rough waves of life.
I want war to stop.
I am a leader.
I feel my family beside me.
I touch my life and feel alive.
I worry too much.
I cry tears of joy.
I understand school.
I say what I feel.
I dream the world is a good place.
I try to go beyond what I can do.
I hope a better world.
I am me.
Ryan T. Wynn 3/17/10

I am obviously quite proud of my nieces. They have high aspirations for themselves, but none higher than the village that supports them. Their parents-my sister Jill and my brother-in-law Roderick, have done an excellent job of putting them on the right track by emphasizing the necessity of education. I recently informed Ryan that she was to become an attorney-because of her strong sense of self and argumentative nature. Her sister Sydney was told that she was to become a doctor because of her love of helping and thinking of others, but more so her love of math and reading. Now they have some say in their final destination, but not much. Why? because they have always had high expectations from their village of family, friends and loved ones.

A recent statistic reported that in Milwaukee, African-American students in the 4th grade read at a lower rate than every other state of the union and the District of Columbia. While everyone is rightfully horrified, we can not point at any one reason for this problem: other states spend less money on education, have a higher rate of unemployment, and more single parent homes than we do. Further, Wisconsin seems to be the first on many lists: highest rate of African-American males incarcerated, near the top in teen age pregnancies, and now this. While it is true that African-American boys have a different and more active learning style, this is no excuse not to read at all. Our children exercise their minds and bodies less and less. I remember very well when Sydney Alexandria, a serious student already, learned to read-her mother called me on the phone, and let me here her read out loud. Needless to say I was thrilled, and she has been reading voraciously ever since-I can't keep up with her! Ryan Taylor, artistic, setting her own style, choosing what she reads, has a definite love of all things green-will soon make the connection between education, hard work, and success (or as she says fame, fortune, and the red carpet). There was a time when education was more valued in our community-we owned our own businesses, homes, and expected our children to do better than we did, moving away from the village-and yes this has been said umpteen times before, but we apparently need reminding again.

I can remember growing up in a nearly all black community-910 S. Avon Street-the family next door was on welfare, our family physician lived down the street, and my father worked in the shop. All role models from which to choose-and become somebody. And yes, my neighborhood wasn't that unusual. My parents were like many others-when we got in trouble, those parents called my parents, and they had permission to chastise me as well. The message to me was I had a number of parents, all who had my well being in mind (no, it didn't feel that way at the time). Most important was the instillation of my own self-worth. I'm not sure if my mother knew it at the time, but I can never thank her enough, for teaching me my importance and giving me the desire to KNOW. Moreover, DO your best, BE the best. I had expectations.

Ryan seems to be facing similar challenges in school theses days, and her village is speaking to her loud and clear. Sydney loves school, (and the color orange) and is harder on herself than any of her village ever could be-her expectations are of her own making. As Mother's Day, Father's Day and summer vacation rapidly approaches, we need to continue the educational lessons of the school year. Learning does not stop because the classrooms are closed. Read to a child-have them read to you. Read TOGETHER (I am reading The 39 Clues with Ryan). Be a parent, whether you have children or not. We have a responsibility, and they are counting on us-more now than ever.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Living A Passionate Life!

SPRING has sprung-the old adage says! It's the beginning of the gardening season, for me the best time of the year-so full of promise and possibility. I get by in the winter by birdwatching and feeding-a "cooler"passion, fueled by my year round love of reading and writing. Our connection to the earth needs to be seasonless. Irregardless of time and place, many women don't have things they are passionate about-spring is the time of renewal, and beginning again. Women often think that having hobbies, or making time to do nothing, is somehow a waste of time. However, just as the winter season allows the garden time to rest, you too need that time-to recharge. Besides the 2 minutes of gratitude I suggest in the morning before you get out of bed, and and the 2 minutes of reflection before you drop off to sleep (and maybe a minute mid-day for a delicious seed of a thought of your own choosing), I suggest you set aside more than that on a daily basis. In past blogs I have encouraged everyone to carve out at least 30 minutes of time to yourself for "me" time. I'd now add to that at least one fun activity or hobby per week, which has no time limit. If you are lucky enough to have that kind of business or job, I see nothing wrong with devoting a full day to feeding and watering your passion.While I am all for doing nothing sometimes, I also think that personal exploration, is also an excellent time to decompress, learn something new, and reinforce your sense of importance. Women spend an inordinate time taking care of other people-we are usually in charge of not only our work and home schedule, but kids, often husbands/significant others, maybe your parents, and who knows what else! Remember you can't give to other people, unless you take time for you. Make this a season for true GROWTH!!!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Still Looking for Love on Valentine's Day?

I am married, I say that with conviction because I was one who never thought I could be bothered with the daily grind of maintaining a relationship. Instead, I have found that after nearly 16 years, I could not imagine being single. With the right partner, (and I mean that literally) you enjoy having one to share life's joys and pains to paraphrase a Frankie Beverly song. I married late-as some would say-35. This was key, because by then I had had completed my education (I went to school for my Ph.D, not my MRS.), owned a couple of cars and apartments, developed a credit history, been successful in a profession for a few years, travelled the world-and most important remained childless. I was a very happy and fufilled single woman. Often as African-American women, we get that order of those life events all wrong. Because we still lack self-love-we procreate with the first person that expresses even the smallest interest. We then begin setting up housekeeping-long after he (or she) has moved on. We are left to clean up for the next 18 years.

This topic has been covered by so many, it almost seems cliche to talking about this in a blog, but part of our problem is that women (especially those of color) still put little effort in putting our needs first. That means, we spend up teem hours worrying about others, rather than putting ourselves first. By doing that, we become hyper vigilant in recognizing those who can supply some of our needs, rather than our every need. No one can be responsible for making and keeping us happy. Our happiness is dependent on how much time and care we give to ourselves.

In this season of love, remember loving ourselves is the first step towards walking down that aisle!