Education

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Breaking With Tradition: Jesus Isn’t White & Student Activism Should Be Encouraged

Much like political affiliations and whether you prefer Target to Wal-Mart, religious beliefs are very much learned and passed down from generation to generation—a precious heirlooms, though treasured, may not be real.

As the mother of an inquisitive 5-year-old, it is now my time to continue the tradition of gifting my daughter with the same religious foundation that was given to me by a mother who held firm in the belief of training “a child in the way he should go.” Only I’ll upgrade my family’s heirloom with a shiny new gem: Jesus, like Santa Claus, is not a white man. Nor is He a convenient chameleon that morphs into whatever ethnicity, race or gender of the person who seeks Him. My understanding and belief is that He is a feeling that cannot be accurately illustrated despite the centuries-long depictions perpetuated on paraphernalia and stained glass windows in places of worship.

CHURCH OF THE REDEEMER, TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA - 2015/03/15: Jesus on the Road to Emmaus: Beautiful stained glass windows at the Church of the Redeemer in downtown Toronto. (Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)

via Getty Images

My mother, who received the same ideals from her parents, gave my religious beliefs to me, only she didn’t explain to me that the porcelain-skinned brunette on every other page of my Sunday School book was merely an illustration—a single perspective, an image cultivated from the imagination of someone with something to gain from the image, be it money, power, or both.  Overlooking the discrepancy between the imaginative physical concept of Jesus and the interpreted directive of the biblical scripture in Deuteronomy 4:16 (NIV):  “…so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman…”– caused me a great deal of confusion and severed my prayer life and spiritual connection for many years.  My experience with being “churched” in such a way that resulted in my spiritual inadequacy has served as the catalyst for laying all the cards–the ones I hold, at least–on the table and visible for my daughter to see. 

At age five, many children still view parents as the apples of their eye.  The raggedy robe that I don the moment the day’s work ends and my bra hits the floor, is nothing less than queen’s garb to my daughter. That said, wielding the words and recycled beliefs of her father and I as her shield and armor, my little one will go to battle with anyone.  As she is currently enjoying her first fall as a kindergarten student at an Episcopalian school, I keep my phone nearby in anticipation of the day I will receive a call from an insoluble school chaplain telling me that my daughter has started a riot (with Jesus’ birth approaching, I’m expecting that phone call in the upcoming weeks).  I imagine my little one waging war on decades of inaccuracies, misinterpretations and traditions.  She’s been known to upset an entire pre-school class by telling classmates  that McDonald’s fries are poison. Good. Dang, good. But poisonous. Her father–the health and wellness coach–taught her about pesticides and agriculture and that was all she wrote…

So yeah, I’ve practiced my speech, polished up my inflections and rehearsed my facial expressions in preparation of the day that the roles will reverse and I will have to back my daughter’s words up and treat what have become her beliefs as the truth, the gospel and the way. 

There are so many horrid examples of what it looks, feels and sounds like to be accused of hating another individual, group of people or sets of beliefs for simply exercising your right to believe, to love, to think, to have a perspective, to just be. If you tout that #blacklivesmatterthat somehow means you hate law enforcement and any person who does not identify as black. If you support, or better yet, if you do not loudly condemn gay marriage you are unequivocally rejecting Christianity and making reservations for a seat in hell. Similarly, if you teach your child that Jesus is not an image meant to be drawn, duplicated and idolized and can instead be felt in your heart, in music, in a flower growing through a crack in the cement, you may be accused of intentionally teaching your child to hate, to cause disruption and confusion.  

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But alas, the beauty of perception, individuality, freedom of speech and thought, and prayer–much, much prayer–has allowed me to feel at peace with teaching my daughter to question what she is being taught. Question third-hand knowledge and when able, seek the answer for herself. Accepting others’ truth, including the heirloom of truth passed down from generation to generation, is not a pressure she has to suffocate from.

In honor of activism and student activism and not accepting behaviors and traditions because “it’s how it’s been done for years,” I salute the students at the University of Missouri who aren’t afraid to demand change, to confront history and to spark a movement. I salute my daughter, the 5-year-old activist who fearlessly questions “truths” until she finds comfortable resolve. 

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For now, I await that phone call…

 

 

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5 Life Lessons From Hollywood’s Fictional Colleges and Universities

Over the next several weeks college and university students across America will be celebrating homecoming: home to football games, tailgating parties, steps shows, Greek letter organizations, drunken nights followed by drunken days followed by more drunken nights and all of the irresponsible subsidiaries of alcohol and underage drinking, camaraderie, alumni mixing and mingling, and for many, a healthy dose of nostalgia.

In celebration of my 10-year anniversary as a Hampton University graduate, Class of 2005, I am beginning to feel uncharacteristically nostalgic–longing for my foregone waistline of early millennium years and questionable morals that could be blamed on and overlooked due to young age and presumably not knowing “any better” (Way to catfish young ‘Drea!).

Before attending college we all have preconceived notions of college life that have been shaped by parents, siblings, guidance counselors and teachers, and for a lucky few, college tours. But for high school students like me, who thought themselves invincible and only half listened to the advice of the ill-advised advisors, none of whom attended college, nothing molded the ideas of college more than that of fictitious colleges and universities seen on television and movies! I all but graduated summa cum laude from Hillman College.

In honor of college students past, present and future, here are lessons learned from our favorite fictitious  educational institutions from A Different World’s Hillman College to Dear White People’s Winchester University.

#truthnobackspace

A Different World, 1987-1993 – Hillman College introduced us to student prototypes we hadn’t yet seen on television. In the primarily black cast we saw ourselves, or who and what we hoped to be, in the bougie southern belle, the future doctor, the musician, the bohemian future attorney, the poetess, the mathematician and a host of other students and staff who made up our hopeful college experience. We learned that college wasn’t merely a four-year vacation where all we’d accomplish was a trial of independence and freedom and meeting friends of diverse socio-economic status. It was a place to learn and explore. The students of Hillman College were thinkers who were shown participating in cram study sessions, eating crappy food and begging for an assignment extension—you know, the real stuff that college is made of.

School Daze*, 1988

We learned that although Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) nurture a sense of camaraderie, belonging and greatness, the traces of America’s dysfunctional racial history and divisiveness shows its face even among a sea of brown faces. Spike Lee’s School Daze put a lens on the fact that while at some point there may have once been a single black America with one shared agenda, that ship had sailed.   We learned that the black experience, the college experience, is not heterogeneous.  Mission University is where we stared our issues of colorism in its face—who could forget the “Jiggaboos” versus “Wannabes” scene?  

*Talk of a School Daze sequel, School Daze Too, is said to explore “the same issues that students faced in the late ‘80s, while taking on new subjects such as the pledging process and homophobia at historically black colleges.”

Higher Learning, 1995 – Here, at Columbus University, we learned about diversity and multiculturalism in ways that previous films and television shows based on college life hadn’t explored. We were warned about date rape. We witnessed extreme racism and how the need to fit in could kill or drive you insane, or both. However, a less obvious, but very significant lesson we learned from some of the students at Columbus, was that in order for a black person to be seen, he has to work harder than his non-black counterpart. By the time we entered college we’ve probably heard from loved ones that black people had to be “ten times smarter and work ten times harder” than anyone else to receive our “just due.” It’s been 20 years since Higher Learning was released, but only recently did I learn from Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of the best-selling nonfiction book “Between the World and Me,” journalist and one of this year’s recipients of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation genius grant and a once Howard University student,  that working “harder” to receive a reward or payment that amounts to the same as the person who knew less and did less isn’t considered “just due.”  It’s a travesty and theft. Consider that gem as a continuing education credit.

The Great Debaters, 2007

 

Wiley College is not a fictional institution, but a longstanding HBCU in Marshall, Texas. Though the movie about Wiley’s debate team was inspired by true events, like most other nouns in Hollywood, it is embellished and dramatized. The Hollywood-effect of the movie does not distract or take away from the incredible heights the Wiley debate team achieved, including the defeat of the USC debate team at the national championship depicted in the movie as the defeat of Harvard University.   At Wiley, we mentally and emotionally immersed ourselves in the Jim Crow era. But like a diamond is formed under extreme pressure, we surfaced from Wiley bright and shiny, flawed, but unbreakable. We learned that we—black students, black people—are a people whose minds are so incredibly valuable that they were stolen, suffocated and drowned.  And for that reason we must always be on a deliberate quest to “…find, take back and keep [our] righteous minds.”  We learned that despite the many adversities that we as a people have faced and continue to face, our voices and minds will not be silenced.  Much like the #blacklivesmatter movement and its leaders, the act of Deebo-ing politicians’ platforms who ignore our reality with attempts to criticize and attack the legitimacy of the movement, and our call for ownership of our righteous minds and bodies, we cannot be silenced.  Lesson learned.

Dear White People, 2014

When we were granted admission to Winchester University, a fictional Ivy League school where white students entertain themselves by painting themselves hues of brown and black while sipping “purple drank” from Katt Williams-esque pimp cups and black students turn a blind eye to the overt racism and white privilege and accept their place as second class. Go along to get along.   The film was in direct parallel to real life current events. Like our matriculation at Mission University, Winchester University shatters the once held idea of a singular black America. Here we received our master’s in self-identity.

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