Black History Month

It's February and that means it's Black History Month! This event, celebrated annually in the U.S. and the U.K., was founded in 1926 by an African-American historian Carter G. Woodson.

It was originally Negro History Week and intended to honor Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln and several historical February events that impacted the lives of African-Americans; most notably, the addition of the Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, which gave blacks the right to vote.

Confession No. 1: The only reason I know all that is because of the magic of Google!

Confession No. 2: I haven't celebrated Black History Month (BHM) in over 10 years and I actually don't plan on doing so this year.

According to a February 2007 survey conducted by Zogby International, a major polling firm, there's no real consensus on the topic among Americans. Ten thousand people were polled and produced the following results:

  • 43 percent said that that setting aside one month of the year to focus on a racially-defined observance was a token gesture.
  • 39 percent said they viewed it as a good opportunity to raise awareness.
  • 18 percent were not sure.

I'm in that middle percentile. Even though I don't observe BHM, I definitely feel that it's a good opportunity to raise awareness of the contributions that countless African-Americans have made to our country. I have studied black American history and read many of the great black American writers and poets. Growing up, my parents were always talking about the "great things black folks did" and anytime I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, my dad would say, "You do know that George Washington Carver discovered over 300 uses for peanuts?" It seemed like every day was BHM at my house!

Now there are those who think BHM is about expecting white people to apologize for slavery. Some even question the relevance of a month-long celebration, stating that "black people simply need to get over (slavery) and move o…


Gearing up for "Decision '08"

This year, some people will talk about the importance of "leading by example" but will fail to heed their own advice. Others will mention the need to "get back to basics" but because "the basics" seem to change so often, it's difficult to know which "basics" they're referring to.

Citizens! Prepare for vague pledges of "a return to family values" and "universal heath care for all!" Prepare for platitudes, promises and double-speak, spoken fluently on both sides of the partisan fence. After all, it is an election year. And by the looks of the political blogs I've seen, the candidates aren't the only ones interested in maintaining status quo. The constituency, Dem and Reep alike, are ensuring that the presidential election of 2008 shapes up to be the same name calling, political party bashing online "debates" that didn't solve anything the last time.

Perhaps that's just the way of the world. Change is difficult and people crave some familiarity. Besides, for some, I'm told, being politically confrontational and argumentative is fun. But wouldn't it be fascinating if the staunches supporters of either party could admit their political candidate isn't perfect? You would think by now most would've learned that putting anyone on a pedestal is foolish anyway. Last year alone we watched as politicians, who threw stones from their glass houses, tried to dodge shards of glass as the stones boomeranged back, making a mess of everything.


As I brace for Decision '08, or whatever it's called this time, I'm looking for the candidate who is saying something different. My vote goes to the person who can do more than just draw lines in the sand and kick up dirt about others. My decision won't be based on the candidate's religion, sex, age or the color of their skin. Unfortunately, for some, those are only deciding factors. I won't swear solidarity to one political party, as I don't think of myself as strictly conservative or liberal. The damage of blindl…


Does it really take a village to raise our black children?

There was a time when the black community in Milwaukee was a much safer, family friendly place. I grew up just south of Capitol Drive, a few blocks from Rufus King High. I remember when we could leave our front door open at night; we weren't concerned with burglars.

I remember sitting in my friend's backyard listening to her uncle share stories about "how good we had it" compared to his life in Mississippi. Even though his generation saw deep oppression, he always had a smile on his face.

I also remember when your friend's mom could "yell at you" because the neighborhood moms had an unwritten pact: "If you ever see mine doing something he's not supposed to be, take care of him and then send him home to me."

Discipline wasn't considered a blow to self esteem; it was simply preparation for life. There was definitely a greater sense of "village" and "we're all in this together." Bad behavior wasn't tolerated, accountability was the norm, and most of us were taught that education and following the rules was the key to success.

Yes indeed, those were the days.

From time to time, I take a trip down memory lane and drive past the house I grew up in. It's fared pretty well, and for the most part, the neighborhood looks about the same. But I've talked to some of the old neighbors and they say gone are the days when you could tell someone else's child to straighten up and fly right. Most of the corner stores are closed because of robberies.

Children still play tag, jump rope and hide and seek but you hear a lot more swear words and the music is well, what it is. The sense of village is gone because the mentality has changed from "each one, teach one" to every man for himself.

What prompted me to write about "the village" is a commentary I read about the important role the extended family used to play in the black community. Specifically, if having positive familial input would have made a difference for the black athletes who, in many cas…


Like every medium, parents must monitor kids' iPods, too

I was out with some co-workers the other day, and we started talking about Christmas shopping and what gifts people planned to buy. Most of the conversations revolved around shopping for children.

I don't have any children of my own but I do have several nephews and nieces to buy for. At any rate, one of the mothers asked if we thought it was OK to buy an iPod for a 10-year-old. Several people chimed in their opinions and then I said, "Well, I think it's OK if you plan on screening the music or at least explaining to them what's off limits for downloading. Otherwise you don't know what kind of crap they might be listening to."

Each of them looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. They seemed dumbfounded by the very thought of invading their child's privacy.

"Well," she said, taking a sip of water. "I don't think he would download anything inappropriate. He knows my rules," she added with shaky confidence.

"OK." I said.

The National Institute on Media and the Family presented its 12th annual video game report card a few weeks ago. I bring this up only because institute officials cited "growing complacency" among game retailers, parents and the gaming industry on video game ratings. Complacency in the form of "just buying what the kid wants" instead of doing a little research.

At Christmas, it's easy to dismiss good judgment to keep your kid happy, but reality suggests that kids, no matter how well-behaved, still want to be like their peers. They want to play the same games, watch the same movies, wear the same clothes and listen to the same music. And unfortunately, more often, the music, movies and TV shows, aren't suitable for young eyes and ears.

A few days later, the same co-worker stopped by my desk. She asked her son what kind of music he would download if he had an iPod. He started naming artists like Soulja Boy, Mims and some other names I can't even remember. The first two are hip-hop artists who excel at usi…