Over the summer, I attended a conference on Culturally Responsive Teaching. This was an intense emotional immersion experience, intentional intimacy with a small group of folks, unpacking our privilege, exchanging anecdotes, and further examining how we can prepare our students for the realities of real world challenges and judgment based on historical, societal, and cultural labels and identities. After that long sentence, I have to breathe. The experience was intense. I loved it and I learned so much. The training culminated with group presentations where participants facilitated a mock lecture for our colleagues. What did we have to share after the experience?
At the institute, I had the chance to engage and connect with some of the most passionate faculty and administration on our campus. My group did a presentation on social capital. We talked about the unique and privileged role that educators have for our students. We are in a position to be social agents for our students, exposing them to resources on the college campus and in our communities, people and organizations who can help them on their journey. The presentation was great. It began with a creative “dreambox” activity with Reading Faculty Simone Gibson. The “students” pondered their long term dreams and goals. The goal setting was followed by a Powerpoint presentation from Sociology Professor Amy Pucino, explaining social capital and various types of connections. It ended with a mini QueerCore (www.queenearth.com/queercore) concert, where I shared my challenges and connections though songs, two of which were written during the conference. By telling our stories, we are serving as leaders and providing examples to our students. In our honesty about our challenges, and how we overcome our obstacles, we are showing students the importance of perseverance and what my Dad would call, “stick-to-it-tiveness.” Without the help of friends, colleagues, family, neighbors, local business owners, professors, church members, the community, most people would not be able to navigate life so easily. More than just social media, I firmly believe there are real human connections to be made as we explore our world and our individual, and collective, purpose. Some would say, “it takes a village.” Our network can elevate us to higher heights.
So, how am I doing in California? I’ll get to that in a second . . . My head has been spinning with thoughts and I’ve been aching to write this blog and some new songs. Here I am, finally getting started. I can’t help but be reminded of social capital and one concrete example from our training. We talked about slavery and one of the reasons why it was so, unfortunately, successful. In our shared American history, most other ethnic groups came here by choice, with the intention of rebuilding or starting over in America, with their family in tow or not too far behind. Africans were brought here by force and for someone else’s financial gain, separated from their families and anyone who spoke their language or shared tribal ancestry. Social networks were intentionally deconstructed. Here we are, still “American” and fighting to define and redefine ourselves in a country that wanted us, and then didn’t want us . . . My original illustrated logo on my first EP, the globe with the earphones, portrays the middle passage so I never forget how I got here. Oppression is deep and there are many of us who are rebuilding and starting a new life, attempting to uplift our communities and add a new chapters to the poorly written history books. The truth is, there are many groups who have a difficult history in this country.
On a side note, I begin my English 102 class with a short reading from Ronald Takaki’s A Different Mirror. In addition, I had a choice of being an English OR History teacher. Those disciplines intersect in my classroom where I teach English, online, from my San Jose apartment. Takaki’s main point is that we ALL, black, white, brown, yellow, red, built this nation together. Takaki, thankfully, refrains from referring to the ethnic groups like they are crayons in a box.
Since I arrived in California, not too far from where Takaki lectured at UC Berkeley, I’ve been noticing something very obvious. I’m not finding too many black faces around here, and before I can sing or show people what I do, everyone is telling me that I should go up to Oakland. I’m learning that there is an African American arts community in that part of the Bay. That’s where the black people, soul, R&B, hip hop kids hang out. I heard about a Vegan soul food restaurant up there. I tried to think about my mom’s breakfast without butter and cheese . . . anywho . . . Do you know what they say about Oakland on the news? 3800 robberies in 2013. Most folks believe that Baltimore is just like The Wire. Not to me. I know a different city. I’ll travel to Oakland for a gig, and if there is not a scene here in San Jose, I’d love to be a catalyst for it’s creation. I met a man who said that “San Jose is so Indie. We don’t work together.” I think I can fix that. One cannot lose, grow, or be robbed of a connection without first having one in their possession.
In Baltimore, we have a great music and arts community. It’s diversity is rich and we are fortunate to see so many people coming together, culturally and musically. Without the DMV scene, I/we would not be able to to do what we do. In three short years, I was able to start a movement and become a leader. I was able to produce and begin several music projects, find several outlets that were receptive to my sound and genre (whatever it may be), create a reoccurring event, find guitar and creativity students, and support others artists, venues, and musicians on their path. I don’t think I took it for granted, but it became very easy to go outside and knock on a door, send an e-mail, make a phone call, be given a referral, hear a “yes” 😀 Now that I’m out here, no one knows me. They’ve never heard “Wallflower” or been to an open mic like Acoustic Thursdays.
So, how am I doing in California? Well, I’m not exactly starting over. I’m not a novice. I’ve got a few years of business, event planning, and performance hours under my belt. There may be some new rules, and maybe what I know is being thrown out the window in this new territory. I’m still figuring it out. I do know that every hand I shake is a potential connection. Every flyer I post has the potential to bring someone to a venue. I am blessed with the chance to find a new network and continue my work, building on the work of so many others before me, FREE to write my story. I’d like to think that we all have these opportunities. We must deconstruct our minds and start over, with our lessons and tools still in our heads. This knowledge must be tested in new environments if we are to discover our individual, and collective, strength.
I’m talking to folks back in Baltimore and they are telling me that I’m an icon (okay, LOL) and that folks are waiting for me to “blow up” and bring home a trophy. QueenEarth & Friends, the album and event, is nothing without the network, the social capital of the community that built the success. Because without the “& Friends” and their support, I am just one person with a goal. I/we would be naive to believe that I/we can make it out here alone.
This afternoon, I’m playing at my first West Coast, San Jose, Farmers Market. Tonight, I’m playing during a yoga Happy Hour. That’s a new venue for me! I’m a new black face in a land where folks like me are unfamiliar. I’ve had some emotional, intense days, just hoping someone will listen, read my e-mail, book me for a show. My classroom is online and in these streets. Everyone is a potential student, or teacher, and I’m looking for connections and intimacy, lessons and ways to assess how much I learned from the Baltimore scene. Soon, someone who will listen and understand why we are so passionate, and they will give me a chance to do what I do best. Build social capital. Network. Represent us well. Teach. Learn.
In my writings, I often reference The Hero’s Journey. Perhaps, I am ascending upon a Return of my own. Creativity teaches me to not be afraid of redefining my artist and trying new things. I’ve got a few new ideas up my sleeve. More than just a singer/songwriter, I am an artist. I must only create. When I stop, I am no longer building our empire, or upholding the legacy that I/we have worked so hard to build.