Revisiting Our Search for Justice in Trayvon’s murder

27 Nov

This week I learned that my friend of and fellow NOI Black Roots fellow Dante Berry has become Vice President of Membership & Engagement at Million Hoodies Movement for Justice.  This caused to me to return to some of my previously unpublished writings created after the trial of George Zimmerman (and Trayvon Martin).  Dante’s work is inspiring.  Hopefully this post will also spark conversation.  This post was originally titled, “When was rioting even an option?”

By David Shankbone (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Its been a few days now since the verdict in the Zimmerman trial and for the first time I’m able to write about this.  Various contributors and supporters of TOK have been having conversations about what this verdict means.  We’ve gone through a legal analysis of the trial and the laws.  We’ve talked about anger and apathy.  We shared fears about the safety of our sons and lamented the lack of conversations against similar threats to our daughters. I’ve been able to reflect on a few things but truthfully, I’m still processing this all.

I’m proud to see that people were outraged.  Even if this trial wasn’t about race (which is heavily debatable), making this trial about race should make America realize the difficulties we have when starting, let alone to holding a coherent conversation around race.  Our language is flawed, our analysis is weak and our feelings are hurt. When I refer to our, please note, I am not referring to Black people.  I’m referring to Americans. White people hurt about the implications of race too.  If you’ve grown up to believe that all you have to do is work hard and the world is open to you, then it hurts to hear that  your race gives you an edge. It feels like it undercuts all the work that you’ve done.

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On Open Letter to Foundations from a Millennial Leader

22 Nov

This post originally appeared on Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy’s blog.

This post is a collaboration between EPIP member Lora Smith, Communications Officer at Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation in Winston-Salem, NC, and one of MRBF’s grantees, Charmel Gauden, an attorney and the former Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center (GCFHC).  We asked them to share their thoughts on leadership in the 21st century.

IMG_0740In 2011 the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation hosted a trans-generational convening on the topic of Equity and Opportunity in the American South. We wanted to understand the needs of emerging nonprofit leaders in the South and what they saw on the horizon of their work. The conversation also included respected elders in the sector who helped ground the conversation in historical context and offered mentorship. We listened to the rich conversation and came away with beginning strategies to better support nextGen Southern leadership that we believe will help strengthen nonprofit infrastructure in the region as a whole. Hearing directly from young leaders within our grantee partner organizations was integrally important for our institutional learning and practice. Charmel Gauden was one of the participants. She shares what she hopes foundations learn about the needs of millennial leaders here.

– Lora Smith, Communications Officer, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation

An Open Letter to Foundations from a Millennial Leader

Dear Foundations,

Every generation is tagged with labels and these days my millennial peers and I are suffering from a media-induced identity crisis. According to one report we’re selfie-taking underachievers, while another paints us as selfless philanthropists motivated by the common good. More importantly, leaders in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector are trying to figure out how best to understand, engage and support my generation as we take on the next decades of work and move into executive leadership roles.

As a millennial and an emerging nonprofit leader working in the South, I am witnessing my generation define itself through new ways of working and new leadership styles that challenge traditional definitions of organizing, community and success.

We are living in a moment of opportunity for philanthropic leaders, donors and nonprofit executives to step forward and support a generation of leaders during a crucial stage in our development. An opportunity to influence and strengthen the leadership skills of millennials early in their careers like this won’t exist again.

Here are a few things I want to share about emerging nonprofit leaders and what we need:

Hand writing leadership tips

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Cosmo Lied! Playing Dumb Doesn’t Get You Anywhere With a Man

18 Jun

Break Time 202/365

I’ll admit it.  I’ve done it.  I’ve pretended to be a damsel in distress in order to get a mechanic to help me more.  I’m not a grease monkey (Can I say that being an African American female?), but I know a little about cars. And you ain’t gonna illegally fix my shi–Sorry. Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  I’ve been known to walk away from a mechanic when I know that the price is too high (just google the part and subtract the labor to figure out how much they’re marking your price up).

Apparently doing your research when getting your car repaired pays off.   Women who tell the mechanic they don’t know how much a repair will cost get charged a higher rate. according to research summarized in the article, “The Importance of Appearing Savvy”.  Compared to whom, you might ask?  Compared to men who tell the mechanic the same thing!  The researchers speculated that the mechanics (who tend to be male) might think a man that doesn’t know the price was being strategic, while the woman didn’t really know.

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The Easy Death of Human Beings

16 May

The shooting that maimed twenty people on Mother’s Day in New Orleans has been classified as “strictly an act of street violence” by the FBI. This hurts my heart. Calling the violence inflicted upon our lives “street violence” disregards the precious value we hold as human beings. When violence takes place in a working-class neighborhood or community of color, by a member of that community, it is called street violence. The treatment the community receives is vastly different than when it is classified as a mass shooting or act of terrorism.

Who am I and where am I coming from? I am a sister of a homicide victim, who’s stolen life was classified as street violence. I’ve helped to bury young bodies, raise money for surviving families, stayed up many long nights, lighting candles, cooking, rubbing backs and holding space for grief to come out in gut-wrenching wails from the deepest hollows of lungs. I’ve supported a few through the trenches of court proceedings and felt the agony of having to just sit in the devastation and pray to come out the other end alive.

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How to Raise a Progressive Kid in the South: The Remix

2 Mar

First off, let me get this off my chest: Fuck this article.  And all others like it.

Here’s why:

I grew up spending weekends with my dad’s family in what was then rural North Georgia.  My dad and grandparents would often wish aloud that “those Yankees would just go back home”.  This sentiment embarrassed me when I was little, as I perceived it to arise out of a 150-year old frustration over the loss of the Civil War.  However, I was also always puzzled that my family used the term “Yankee” to refer to someone from anywhere other than the South (ie Californians were certainly included).  I was also confused because my mom and my stepmother were both “Yankees”- sometimes when my siblings and I did something that he did not approve of, my dad would disdainfully call us “half breed Yankees”.  Today, I recognize these sentiments as representing my family’s frustration with the condescending approach that people who are not from the South (Deep South in particular) tend to take towards those of us who are.

So often, those that have not had the pleasure of growing up here and having the nuanced realities of our lives and history imprinted on their bones, their consciousness, their beings, decide that they need to go on an expedition to “discover” what those realities are.  Often, there are uninformed and arrogant prescriptions made about how to make us better.  Sound familiar?  And then they write (or paint or photograph etc) about those “discoveries,” which occasionally gains them a great deal of notoriety- often at our expense. These reflections frequently miss the mark, as Ms. Aronowtiz’s piece has.

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This is Not Theoretical: Reflecting on a Recent Visit to Louisiana State Penitentiary

10 Jan

This piece was written after guest contributor Nicky Gillies participated in the NOLA to Angola bike ride, a fundraiser for the Cornerstone Builders’ Bus Project, which helps people in Louisiana travel to visit their incarcerated loved ones. 

This October I spent three days pushing through the 160 winding bike miles from my home in New Orleans to Louisiana State Penitentiary, known as Angola.  It is still a functioning plantation, much as it has been since the time of slavery.  Angola spreads across 18,000 acres of lauded farmland tucked into a bend in the Mississippi River.  Roughly 5,000 people live and work and eat and sleep and write and shit and dream and shower there, not counting the employees.  Most of those 5,000 people are Black men, young and old, and the vast majority of them—almost 90%—will die inside barbed wire.

Intellectual discussions of the 13th amendment and years of participating in prison-related organizing did not prepare me for the heartbreak and outrage of seeing farmland that is still tilled by a captive and almost 80% Black population.  This is not an antiquated system.  Slavery is contemporary, although it has been refashioned several times, and prison labor is integral to the US economy.  Activist lawyer and former prisoner Paul Wright wrote that simultaneously removing over 2 million incarcerated people from the work force and employing another million as guards “is the most thoroughly implemented government work program in American history since the New Deal.”  Knowing this, seeing Angola—endless barbed wire and guard towers and prison uniforms and eerily beautiful fields stretching in all directions—is devastating.  It is an atrocity.  It is also mundane.
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That House is Not My Home: Family and Homophobia

2 Jan

Photo credit:

About a month ago, my family received news that my father (who was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer in mid-2009) had just a couple weeks to live.  His medical team had run out of treatment options. I immediately became a full-time caretaker to my father as he moved into home hospice care and a caretaker to my mother as she faced the immediacy of losing her life partner of more than 30 years. Together, we helped my father to die-surrounded by love. On December 4, my father died-as my mother and I held his hand and each other’s.  Helping my father to die is the largest, hardest energy exchange I have ever experienced.  I never thought at 27 I would be grieving my father’s death.

Grieving is extremely hard. You experience so many emotions: you move in and out of presence and emotions so quickly, all while planning a homegoing service for your loved one. Like so many other processes, it is impossible to grieve outside of the socio-political framework we live in. Social constructs and internalized forms of oppression don’t just stop because we are grieving a loved one. Oftentimes, these factors affect the validity, form, and space within which you are able to grieve. Read More

the third eye: secondline season

17 Nov


Why you’re still jobless & other musings on the economy

15 Nov

Permission to reprint given by Steven Depelo. (c)1.19.08Charmel and Kate both have lots of experience with the hiring process in the non-profit world.  Here is a recent gchat conversation we had in regards to the peculiar and maddening things some folks choose to do when they apply to work with us:

kate: if a job posting says “no emails”, why in the fuck would you email?  what is WRONG with people?!

charmel: wait.  your posting said no emails you don’t have an autoresponder that says, since you emailed about this position and I asked you not to  you will not be able to apply to any future positions EVER
charmel: You should write an article: 7 things not to do, even if you’re applying for a job at a nonprofit (since most of you don’t think that’s a real job–apparently)
kate: that’s a good call.  you and i could come up with way more than 7 i’d imagine: “don’t use any email address containing the name ‘hotgirl’ “

So we won…now what?

9 Nov

Number 1, 2, 3, 4

November 6, 2012.  Historic occasion.  1st reelection of a Black president.  We won.  Again!

So outside of that little riot at Ole Miss, there didn’t seem to be a lot of excitment.  No wild parties.  No naming babies Husein.   No declarations of post racialism in America.

Instead, the streets were empty.  Our president looked tired and we still aren’t clear about what type of work he’s going to we’re going to help him get done.

So over the next four years, what will be our President’s top 4 agenda items?

Here’s what I’d like to see:

Number 1, 2, 3, 4

1. Appoint a legal scholar to the Supreme Court.  I vote for retired Georgia Supreme Court Justice Leah Sears, but I’d be happy with California Attorney General Kamala Harris, or Judge  Jacqueline Hong-Ngoc Nguyen.

2. Mobilize the Obama For America machine to shift power in the House in the 2014 elections.  People may not have been partying in the streets after this election, but the Obama camp may have created a generation of progressives (who might be Democrats).    The connectedness shared by this group of progressives exist to shifting our existing stale conversations around class, race, gender and economic equality.  If our President can maintain the structure for the 2012 campaign’s historic GOTV effort the House could be under Democrat control in 2014.

3. Stop kicking people out of the country.  We all know immigration laws have to be reformed.  It’s the only thing besides not raising taxes that Dems and Repubs agree on. I’m not sure if our President’s idea matches the ideas of all those brown folks who voted for him.  Let’s do something really radical and keep all kinds of reforms on the table (unlike what happened in the health care debate).  I’d love to see an examination- BY THE ADMINISTRATION INSTEAD OF HARD WORKING NOT FOR PROFITS- of the biases built into the immigration system.  The economic argument underlying the policy that allows more people from Western European nations into the country has disappeared.  This policy should be reformed first.

4. Give us our civil liberties back.  Sure, we’re excited that we’re mostly out of a set of wars in the Middle East, but the war against our own civil liberties has left Americans as losers.  Our President extended the Patriot Act, wire tapping has increased under DOJ’s leadership and whistle blowers keep getting locked up.   Bill Quigley’s 2011 piece, “Twenty Examples of the Obama Administration’s Assault on Domestic Civil Liberties” makes the case that we are losing our rights and not even noticing.   I, like most social justice lawyers on Gulf Coast, listen when  Bill Quigley talks (or writes in this case).

So why did you decide to vote President Obama in for the next four years?  What are the four (or maybe just one) thing you’d like to see accomplished?