What Are We Really Teaching Our Future Leaders(less)???

The holiday season just passed and I am reminded of all the wonderful presents we give to our young people. I think about the sacrifices people make all year-long just to put a smile on the faces of their children during the month of December. I have even heard people say that their children got everything they possibly wanted.

Recently, I walked in on a birthday party of a child who was maybe four or five years old and could not believe how extravagant it was. Don’t get me wrong; I have no issue with such acts of kindness towards young people. I think the celebration of young folk has its place. But I can’t help but to think about those young people who are not as “fortunate” to receive such lavishing gifts or to get the celebration that they too deserve.

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What about that child who has three or four other siblings and their single mother just can’t afford to make the holiday season as enjoyable as others? Does that mean the child who was “fortunate” to have a more gifts should feel bad? Does that mean the child who was “less fortunate” should envy? Do we place too much value in things seen and not enough in those which are NOT? These are just thoughts of “anolcountryboy” – I am certainly not sure of the answer to any of those questions.

What are we really teaching young folk to value?

Regardless of whether they were on the “fortunate” end of the stick and received their heart’s desire or if they were on the “unfortunate” end; what lesson are we teaching by placing so much emphasis on the material things in life? I am sure there are many people who believe that if you work hard for something and you have the means to pay for it then you should have the right to indulge in it. Again, I do not disagree with that notion. I am all for having the “right” to do anything. The beauty and the ugly truth about America is that we have the “right” to do anything (that’s legal).

The question on the table is not whether we have the “right” to give our children their heart’s desire… but “Should We”? I will leave every person unto him or herself to work that out. Again, the question I am searching the answer for is “What is/are the lessons we’re teaching when we invest in the seen more so than the unseen?” It is clear to me that when we give young folk their heart’s desire, there is a message that is being sent. I cannot help but to ponder about the values we teach by what we do to and for our children.

We miss the boat of rearing young people by insisting that they do as we say and not as we do. The common thought is that young people learn best by watching your actions rather than listening to your words. Of the two, actions are more powerful than words. I would contend that what a person teaches is the most powerful means of instilling value in a young person.

Teaching is when what we say and what we do are in alignment.

When we say we value education and there are 25 science books, 30 math books, 50 novels all floating around the house in circulation then WE are Teaching the value of education. When we say we love our kids and we give our children everything they want but as soon as they make a mistake or do something we don’t like, our actions may suggest otherwise; what are we really teaching them to value?

We have to be very careful about the messages that are being sent to young people. I do not know any person who does not want the best for their children. I have yet to meet the person who does not desire for their child to be happy. It behooves me to think that there are some folks out there who wouldn’t do anything for the young people they love. Thus, the issue is not whether parents, teachers, or any adult love their children or not. The issue is what and how we teach young people to value.

How do we teach young people “to value”?

The standard of character a Woman or Man has with their words Must be the same standard of character they have with their actions. Whenever what is said matches what is done, then teaching has taken place. Teaching young people to value anything is the ability to marry one’s speech and one’s actions in a cohesive unit that leaves the spirit no room but to receive the lesson. The objective in teaching young people “how to value” is to teach to the spirit first. It does not matter what is being taught; if and when it reverberates in a person’s spirit they won’t ever forget it.

It is relatively easy to value something. Usually there is very little work put into placing value. When I think about how I learned ideals and what was applicable to my life, there is not a blueprint for how that learning took place. I can readily recount the lessons I learned as a child that mean the most to me as an adult. “Get up and go to work.” “Provide for your family.” “Get your heart right with God.” “Give twice as much as you receive.” Those were the phrases my dad would say to me all the time. I am convinced that the reason I can recall them and live by them today is because I witnessed him go to work everyday. I saw and felt the effects of him providing for his family. I still have the images of him sitting in the deacon pew every 2nd Sunday. My most vivid memories are of him sharing his time, money, and wisdom with me, my brothers and my friends. He said many things to me that maybe did not stick with me as much, mainly because he was trying the get me to see beyond the obvious. The lessons that I learned were the ones that he spoke and lived as one. The lessons I discovered were the ones that he either spoke or lived but rarely did both so acutely.

Ahh, there’s the difference in the transformation of our teaching young people how to value a thing versus allowing them to discover how to value something. The risk with discovery of values is that they oftentimes the time it takes to discover “values” costs us way too much. The universe has all the time you want to discover and rediscover your spirit. What there is not time for is trying to figure what you value along the way. Our character make up gotta be in a place where we send young folk on their journey with the tools they need to complete. The journey being self discovery; The tools being how we learn to value.

So are we really teaching our future leaders or are we teaching the leaderless? As long as we teach contradictions we will continue to produce followers and not leaders.

Just a few thoughts…

DeMarco Mitchell

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The MisEducation of Lift Every Voice and Sing

Some odd years ago, James Weldon Johnson put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, to construct one of the most lyrically relevant songs of this country’s history.  “Lift Every Voice and Sing” has been the cornerstone of the African-American experience in America.  The song recants the story of African-American’s journey from the time  of getting off the slave ships to… well, to today when an African American sits in the oval office on a daily basis.  

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In fact, the lyrics stand the test of time; but it is in the greatness of this song that leaves my heart hurting and bruised – wounded because of the way we have either taken the lyrics for granted or dismissed them.  My heart stands in need of attention because I am convinced that this song (or any literary piece that speaks to the experience and existence of a people) is a vital piece to the liberation of a people.  But so far as I can ascertain, the song has been muted into one stanza of mindless ritual.  It is very difficult to find a group of people who know and understand all three stanzas of this artistic creation.  This mere fact leads me to my premise that most children of African descent, even those with college degrees, have been undereducated or not educated at all. 

Walk with me for a minute…

How can a person be truly educated if they have no place or frame of reference?

How can a person really learn something new if they don’t start from a place of divinity?

How can education take place in the mind of a person who has no or very little value for who they are?

These are the questions that keep coming to mind as I think about young people not knowing the lyrics to “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”  Again, the song is symbolic of a larger issue.  The issue is that we have not taken the time to learn and understand who we are as people.  “How-sa-neva” we understand ourselves to be, we cannot and will not ever exist in our mission and purpose without understanding and knowing that we are of divinity.  Regardless of situation and circumstance, we must realize that there is nothing that we can do before we know who we are. 

“Stony the road we trod, bitter the chas’ning rod, felt in the days hope unborn had died; Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet, come to the place where our Fathers sighed?  We have come over a way that with tears has been watered.  We have come treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered…”

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The beginning of the second stanza lets us know that our beauty and strength is rooted in the fact that someone sacrificed for us to be here right now.  People cried and died for our existence to mean something.  As the ol’ folk say “Somebody prayed for me.”  Which really means that because of me, somebody kept their contract with God.  In fact, I exist as the manifestation of that contract.  Thus, if I am the manifestation of a contract that God and my ancestors signed, then how can I NOT be of divinity?  How can I NOT fulfill my destiny?  How can I NOT be educated?  How can I NOT be successful?

The catch, people, is in the KNOWING and UNDERSTANDING of your legacy.  You’ve got to know that the Spirit of this legacy produced and continues to produce who you are.  Once a person internalizes that spirit, then we can start with this process of education.  Up until now, we have done a masterful job of “playing school.”  Those young people who learned to “code switch” found themselves in advantageous situations that resulted in A’s, a high school diploma, and college degrees.  The ones who did not, found themselves on the outskirts of success.  It is my (and many other like-minded people) aim to stop the train for a moment and teach all aboard the value and process of knowing, understanding, and LOVING oneself. 

Once this happens, students will stop memorizing and start learning.  Again, how can you truly learn if you have no reference.  For the vast majority of people who are of African descent, we have memorized with the best of them.  It is past the time to start learning.  Learning can only happen if you have a frame of reference.  That frame of reference must come from you and your place in this world.  Thus, the first and only real question that education asks of us is “Who Are You?” 

The answer?

I am one who knows and understands that,

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who hast brought ME thus far on the way; Thou who hast by thy might, led ME into the light; She who has kept ME forever in the path I pray.  Lest MY feet stray from the places, OUR God where WE met thee.  Lest MY heart drunk with the wine of the world I forget thee.  Shadowed beneath HIS hand may WE forever stand, True to our God, True to our Native Land.

Now, let the process of education begin….

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Why wasn’t David intimidated by Goliath?!

As a former athlete and current Christian, I would like to think of myself as being well-versed in the story of David vs. Goliath. The story is most referenced in the realm of sport, especially college basketball. Every March, we can listen to any announcer at any given time say,

“We just witnessed David defeat Goliath here tonight, as (any small school) just pulled off the upset of the year in defeating (any major college program)!”

And without much thought, we go on about our business because we have been ingrained with the notion that David was “not supposed” to beat Goliath. Because David was the underdog, he had no shot of winning the fight against Goliath – save for his undying faith in God. No doubt, this story has been preached in churches all over the world; but I would surmise that this story has been taught in a way that has left us powerless and without much autonomy.

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I posit that from the start David was in fact the favorite to win the battle in the valley of Elah. As the story goes, Goliath comes out twice a day to challenge anyone from the Israelites army to battle him in combat. This goes on for 40 days, twice a day. King Saul and his army have no takers, as they were terrified of Goliath. Then one day as David is delivering food to his three older brothers, he hears that King Saul has promised to reward anyone who is able to slay the giant of the Philistines. David, being a young teenager, immediately takes the challenge. The Isrealites suit David up with their armor for him to go into battle. He tries it on and then tells them to remove it because he has not been proven with their protective devices. He goes into battle with what he knows best. History tells us that David subsequently went on to slay the giant using smooth stones and a sling shot. On the surface, the story seems like a fairytale with characters as fantastical as Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, and Luke Skywalker. But let’s look deeper than that (in the words of Big Rube from the Dungeon Family).

Why did David think he would win the battle versus the mighty Goliath?

Why did David remove the armor of the Isreal Army?

How come David was not intimidated by Goliath?

The traditional answers to these questions have been that David’s faith in God would deliver him from the battle. My question is then, If any one of the soliders in the Isreal army had David’s faith, would they have slayed Goliath as well? Is faith all we need to defeat the Goliaths in our lives? If we just believe, does that mean we will overcome any obstacle?

One of my concerns with Christianity as a religion, is that it is Christian values are often taught in a manner that oppress the thinking of a people. Too often, religion is used to scare people into submission, rather than empowering a people into seeing God for and in themselves. So many Bible stories are taught in a way that leave the reader thinking the main character in the story is inherently greater than the reader. Meaning, the characters display some divine act of power in their lives that is almost impossible to replicate. Take for example, Enoch ascending into heaven; Elijah taken up by a whirlwind; the Hebrew boys in the fiery furnace; Daniel in the lion’s den… and of course David’s defeat of Goliath. The issue with these accounts (and the others alike) is that the backstory is never the focus.

But, it is in the backstory that we meet God for ourselves.

If one was to read David’s backstory carefully, they will quickly realize that David had been prepared to slay Goliath long before he met him in the valley. As a shepherd boy, it was David’s responsibility to tend to his father’s flock, and in doing so, he protected them from both lions and bears. David even went so far as rescuing one of the sheep from the mouth of a beast simply because he was hellbent on protecting his father’s flock.

But the catch is, this work was done in isolation. These challenges arose during his time of discipline and submission. This was done when it was just him, the beast, and God. It is during this time where David met God and began to understand his own power through God. So when it came time to fight Goliath, David realized he had already been in the belly of the real beast. In fact, Goliath as the big bad beast was just a figment of imagination – David had stared the real beast in the eye and rescued the lamb from the jaws of death.

The key is, once we voluntarily place ourselves in a position of submission and discipline, we are inviting God to intervene in our lives.

The catch is we must be willing to go there voluntarily, and in doing so we meet God and begin to see ourselves for the greatness that we are. We must be able to put pride and ego to the side and just submit. It was David’s ability and willingness to submit to his father that enabled him to defeat Goliath and thereby inherit riches. Whenever we submit to our elders, parents, and to God, we are inviting destiny and greatness into our lives.

It is true that David had faith and that is what propelled him to defeat the Giant (we will discuss this notion of Giant another time). But it was his faith in himself that enabled him to win the battle. It is very difficult for me to imagine that God wants us to have faith in Her. Rather, it seems to me that God gives us opportunities to realize our own piece of God within, so that one day we can look in the mirror and have faith in the reflection – because we have volunteered to submit to the process of discipline. Faith without works is dead. Thus, David’s faith alone would not have delivered him. It was the work he did early in the mornings and in those late nights when no one was watching but God. It was his work that produced the faith that ultimately produced one of the greatest victories of all time.

Just a few thoughts from an ol’ country boy…

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