Relax, God has NOT left the room!

From a child I have been a person of deep faith.  When my mother took me to church unlike most my peers I actually wanted to sit towards the front instead of hiding in the balcony.   I wanted to be up close so I could especially hear what the minister was saying.  If I sat too far back, I would get lost and eventually fall asleep.  Learning about God and the characters in the bible was a fascinating thing to me.  I took those opportunities seriously.

My spiritual journey has taken me through many places.  One principle that has reinforced and remains with me is that my faith is a very personal journey.  The journey itself and the fruits thereof may be shared with the public at large.  But the beauty of it being a personal journey is that no one can prevent my soul from connecting or communing with my creator.

I thought about this when I came across an email recently that suggested (not the first time I’ve heard) that a major downfall of this country happened when the Supreme Court took corporate prayer out of public schools.  Since that time lack of prayer has been blamed for dropout rates, teen pregnancy, school violence etc.  Years ago I was lukewarm on the subject at best.  I remember having corporate prayer in school and the benefits of it was debatable.

There was still mischief, bullying, drugs and pregnancy.  Nowadays I have strong opinions that taking public prayer out of public schools was not the tragedy people made it out to be.  Especially considering the world we live in today.  I’ll make my case:

Religion is Polarizing

We live in a society that is more diverse than ever before.  With that comes faith with all sorts of flavors.  Who gets to decide what brand of faith is emphasized for public schools?  The general consensus among those desiring prayer in public schools is Christianity.  But which kind of Christian; Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist?  Of course not only would either of these choices leave out another Christian persuasion, it would also exclude and isolate people of other faiths that do not include Christianity.

The natural strife would distract from the original emphasis of primary education which is to teach the basics of reading, writing (typing) arithmetic, and now technology.  Remember we are talking about publically tax payer public schools.  This brings me to my next point.

This is what private schools are for

In any given metropolitan area, there are hundreds of private schools which in addition to academics emphasize their faith.  There is nothing wrong with a family choosing a school based on their own faith.  Some schools have struggled to remain solvent as the economy has suffered making it more difficult for parents to afford tuition.  And some have been vibrant enough to offer scholarships to those less fortunate.  I have several close friends who put their children in private school for both religious as well as academic purposes.  All of them are not coming straight out of pocket either.

Some live in public school districts known to be inferior.  Some seek Catholic institutions for their young though the parent’s faith is far from Catholicism.  They simply believe the quality of the Jesuit education will prepare their children for college better than the local public school will.  It is a beautiful thing to have educational choices for American families.  Still, I have never heard one parent tell me that they chose a school because there is corporate in it.

God has never left the building

While I never attended private school of any sort, it never stopped me from praying neither in school nor out.  I prayed for good grades on test before and after I took them.  I prayed to make it off school grounds fast and slick enough to avoid bullies and being jumped on.  I prayed not to get thrown out of school for fighting.  I prayed my team would hit the jump shot or score the touchdown against the cross town rival to win the big game.  Since I believed that God and prayer were within my grasp as surely as my own personal belief, nothing could prevent me from making a connection.  No politician, no school administrator, no teacher.  I didn’t need my relationship with God legislated to make it any more legitimate.

To believe that I don’t support God or prayer within the scope of society or youth would be the furthest thing from the truth.   As I’ve stated I have a strong faith in God and a deep appreciation for prayer.  When I go to some private schools as a sports official, some of them conduct pre-game prayers.  I participate in these prayers with the kids and coaches.  Not because I have to, but because I want to.  When a school is private, they have a unified point of view that everyone agrees to following before enrolling.  No one is singled out or ostracized in the midst of any of those prayers.  Prayer should be a unifying tool, not a dividing one.

I’ve heard it said many times that Christianity is under attack.  I believe that in the United States of America that sentiment has been greatly exaggerated.  It’s easy and historic for most all religions to claim victimization.  Certainly there is conflict and strife among people of faith vs. those that claim none.  The same can be said about differing Christian organizations/denominations etc.  I explained all of this in a previous article titled, “Why I Refuse to Join A Church Part 2”

The reason I say that Christian ‘martyrism’ has been overblown is because there are thousands of churches in any given metropolitan area.  Startup churches are being formed daily.  Nothing is stopping them.  There has always been a running joke about the city I’m from that on every block, there is a Rice House, (Chinese take-out restaurant) a liquor store, and a church.  I don’t call that an attack.

Faith is as American as our desire for freedom.

Finally, I’m not some ACLU honk.  While they have served a good purpose at times, they are also often more zealous and ridiculous as any raving mad TV evangelist.  I look at some of the causes they take up and just wish they would go away.

What I am saying is that at the end of the day prayer is a private and personal thing first.  And if we do well others will be attracted to our faith through our displays of character that reflect the love of our creator.  One doesn’t need religion to have character.  But without character, religion is tyranny.  There is a scripture that says “they shall know me by the love you show one another,” That carries more weight than a nativity scene on school property.

Meanwhile I’d just assume teachers and administrators do what it takes to make our schools better and prepare our youth to create and compete in this ever increasingly competitive market.  I don’t need James Dobson trying to ‘take my local school for Jesus.’

I’ll pass the concept of faith to my children at home.  I’m just saying.

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Of Parenting, Fatherhood and Grace

It was June 5, 2010.  My son Christian had just graduated from East Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia.  The ceremony, held outdoors at the athletic field was hot, crowded and awesome.  It seemed like more than a thousand graduates.  Caps and gowns covered nearly the entire field.

 Soon after the festivities, I told my son Alex (one year younger than the older graduate), “Just think, this will be you next year.  And you will be wearing the white robe and sitting in the front where the honor students sit.”  Alex said, “Well dad I don’t know about that.”  I assured him that there would be no doubt. 

 Alex is my fourth of 5th biological children.  And it seemed as each one began to grow up, I became a better father and a better teacher.  I don’t know if I helped my two elder daughters at school much at all, other than to offer encouragement and help with a homework assignment or three.  Not that I wasn’t interested.  I went to parent teacher conferences, showed up at whatever activity they were doing, and followed up on all of their progress.  They were motivated young women in regards to their primary education. 

 Charelle

 Charelle, for instance, was always a “Five-Tool” type of player. (To borrow a sports analogy)  She was excellent in math, science, english, reading, art; you name it.  I recall checking on her progress with her teachers in high school.  One teacher in particular looked at me and said, “You’re Charelle’s father right?  Don’t bother wasting your time.  Nothing I can tell you about this girl.  She’s got it!”  In addition, she was tremendously popular too; something I never was in any level of schooling.

Chrystal, talented in her own right, I recall being especially great at art.  My biggest challenge with her was fighting over what items she created that I could keep for myself after the art exhibits.  I wanted them all.  She was also popular and was able to hang with literally any crowd and thrive.  Something I also could not do at her age.

Back to Christian, he was always a decent student.  But he seemed to thrive more on the creative.  He could get an A in any given class if he wanted to; if he was interested enough.  What was really impressive about the time of his graduation is that his journey was featured in a local newspaper detailing what it took for him to graduate overcoming many obstacles.  Oh and did I mention, he too was very popular among peers.

 Chrystal

By the time I had any clue of what I was doing to help with my kid’s education; since Charelle and Chrystal were already accomplished, my focus was on Alex and Christian during their latter school years.  While I wasn’t sharpest knife in the drawer and half of the work they did was way past my expertise, I focused on what I was good at.  Simplifying the process and helping them to see the big picture of life lessons and personal accountability.  These are what I would offer them: 

  • By the end of the first week of school, you should know exactly what it takes to get an A out of each class you take.  If you don’t know by the end of the first week, ask.

  • I honestly could give a damn about whether you make an A or a D.  The issue is to never ever cheat yourself.  Never be lazy or content.  If you got an A only because of your ability but did not maximize your efforts in the class, it doesn’t do anything for you in the long run.  But if you got a D and worked your ass off, you can be proud of it.  Only YOU know the difference.  And that’s the person who counts.  Just be excellent and let the results speak for themselves.  This is what being a leader and not a follower is all about.  Be a leader!

  • Some teachers are great, and some suck.  Those that suck still have the pen that you will be graded with.  That grade will follow you.  So you must learn to make the best of those classes as well, if for no other reason than to get your grade and get the hell out.  Teachers are like bosses and co-workers.  Even with the ones that suck, you still have to learn to work with them to be successful in life.

Christian

Thus were the abiding principals I would hammer home regardless of the situation or circumstance.  Every year we would have long conversations revolving around these somehow. I tried to capture their imaginations.  I wanted my sons to envision themselves as adult men in life, not just boys in school.  Most times I couldn’t tell what they thought of it.  And I didn’t spend too much time wondering.  I felt I did my job and gave them what I had.  Ultimately they had to decide for themselves.

Then it happened on May 30th 2011.  I’m back at East Paulding for Alex’s graduation.  The ceremony had just wrapped up. There were several hundred students, parents and family members walking on the field taking pictures and celebrating.  Alex seemed as pleased as I was to soak up this moment.  Then he pulled me to the side and offered this to old dad. 

“Hey!  Remember what you told me last year?  You said that I was going to wear the white robe, sit in the front and be an honors graduate.” 

“Yes I do remember,” I told him.

“You also said no matter what you do, always be excellent. I can’t believe I graduated with honors.  It was hard work man.  But I did.  I always listened to you, though I know most years I didn’t act like it.” 

We both laughed.

That moment for me was one of significance because it dawned on me not only how important it is for fathers to be in their children’s lives, but how important I was to my children.  That through all of the struggles, mistakes, and second guessing I’ve done as a man and a father, my presence and support in my children’s lives makes a difference.  Then I wondered what would have happened if I had not been there.  What if I never taught my sons to be leaders and not followers?  Wow, my job has been important.

I have four adult children from ages 18-24 and they are all in college.  I give them way more credit for making their own breaks and striving for their own goals than anything I’ve done for them.  I give credit to their mothers who were there day in and day out.  I’m very proud of them all.  With each of them as well as the ones still coming up, my focus is always to train them to be adults on their own making their own contributions.  I consider myself very blessed to be a part of their lives and being able to witness their transformations.

Alex

Presidential on Education

President Obama speaks to students Tuesday at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia.

Great motivational speech to the students of the nation by our president. It’s too bad that many racist parents, principals and teachers kept their students from hearing it.  Worst of all, too bad that they are teaching their children to think as they do.  Some of the comments I heard from racist folks were ridiculous.  They really think the president is their enemy.  Their ignorance tells me they should have heard the speech when they were kids.

I am also happy that President Obama took that speech nation wide as opposed to what had been done before, which was to speak about responsibility and accountability to black audiences only as if black folks are the only ones needing to hear that message. 

I look forward to what he says about healthcare tonight.

Education in America Part II

by Roland S. Martin from CNN

(CNN) — When President Obama signs the $410 billion omnibus spending bill, there will be shouts of joy from both sides as Republicans and Democrats get their cherished earmarks.

Yet tucked into that bill is an amendment pushed by the president’s former colleague in the Senate, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, who used his influence to essentially kill the District of Columbia school vouchers program.

Oh sure, it will be portrayed that the Democrats aren’t killing the program, but the initiative calls for no new students to be allowed entry, unless approved by Congress and the District of Columbia City Council. And considering that the teachers union has such a death grip on both Democratic-controlled institutions, you can forget about that happening.

Democrats say they believe in school choice, but they don’t fully accept the gamut of choices. They will happily tout charter schools, also opposed by the national teachers unions, but stop at vouchers. Why? Because Republicans have consistently advocated for vouchers, and Democrats have convinced themselves that vouchers will somehow destroy the public school infrastructure.

Now, some believe the Obama administration is sending mixed signals because Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said he doesn’t want to see kids thrown out of Washington schools who are already in the existing voucher program. Fine. But the reality is that after this year, no new kids will be allowed to enroll in the program, and that folks, is killing the program.

Obama and his party have never been fans of vouchers. Why? They contend that vouchers would hurt the public school system. Vouchers allow parents who can’t afford private school to remove their children from public schools in order to get a better education.

Well, isn’t that what the president and those in his party do themselves by sending their children to private school? Only they don’t need the government’s help. The standard fallback position of Democrats and the Obama administration is that the Washington program only helps 1,700 children a year, and those who don’t qualify are stuck in a sorry system, and they are largely poor and minority. They contend that since every student can’t be helped by vouchers, none should be helped. So parents and children are supposed to sit tight and wait on the promised reform to trickle down from Washington to the local school systems, and then all will be well?

To me, that’s sort of like saying that historically African-Americans are likely to have high rates of diabetes and hypertension, so instead of launching a program to save some from developing the disease, let’s wait for a comprehensive plan where all can be saved at one time. Sorry, folks. I believe you save as many as you can now, and continue to save the rest later. This shouldn’t be an either/or proposition, but an and/both situation.

The other fundamental problem here is that we have a bunch of politicians deciding what’s best for education over the objections of actual educators! For instance, Democrats have had high praise for the superintendent of schools in Washington, Michelle Rhee. Just one problem: she supports vouchers. “I don’t think vouchers are going to solve all the ills of public education, but parents who are zoned to schools that are failing kids should have options to do better by their kids,” she told The New York Times. So if Rhee backs them, why not give her the vote of confidence to continue the program while she tries to fix the ailing school system?

The education reform outlined by President Obama on Tuesday is necessary. But we are a long way from seeing the kind of systemic changes that will fix our public schools. His plan goes far on personal and parental responsibility, yet relies on states to enact their own measures of change, and with 50 different state school plans, we know that is a disaster waiting to happen.

I would have more confidence if President Obama and members of Congress truly walked the walk and sent their kids to public schools. If they have so much faith in them turning around with reform, entrust their own children to public education. That’s the kind of confidence our system needs. If it’s good enough for yours, then surely it’s good enough for mine.

 But preaching to the rest of us about the virtues of a public education, then sending your own children to private school and denying the use of vouchers so others can do the same, is frankly hypocritical. I know the value of a public education, and went to such institutions for elementary, middle, high school and college. Yet looking at the sorry state public schools are in now, maybe seeing kids leave in droves via vouchers will force school administrators and teachers to stop thinking they have all the answers and allow for innovation and full accountability, from the classroom to the boardroom.

Things I Hope Black Youth Learn from the Obama Presidency

Sen. Barack Obama will take a break from campaigning so he can visit his ailing grandmother.

Things I hope will inspire black youth regarding an Obama’s presidency: 

 

1. It’ts cool to be smart.  (I don’t want to ever again hear that to be smart is to “act white.” We come from a history of brilliant people!)

 

2. You can be both smart and cool at the same time.  (Look at the picture above!  Tell me who looks cooler than this cat?)  Plus he balls too like many of us.  The point is he balances his ball and his business!)

3. You can keep a calm demeanor when your haters come at you.  (Notice he didn’t say anything about Hillary, Palin, or McCain “disrespecting” him in the campaign. Even as some of his opponent’s supporters were calling for his life, < remember when Hillary went with the assisination comment earlier this year> he still kept his cool. )

4. Who you choose as a life partner is a vital decision, and he is all about home.  (For a man, women can either be king makers or dream killers.  Michelle is a real winner and she’s obviously his backbone.  Speaking of home, want to know what the Pres. Elect did the morning after the election?  He took his girls to school.  He understands his role as a father!  He even read books to his younger daughter consistently, even if he meant doing it from the campaign trail over the phone.)

5. You may or may not ever be president, but you can make something of yourself if you set goals and work towards them without quitting!  (There is a difference between reasons and excuses. Reasons may be stumbling blocks or circumstancs that cause delays.  But they can be oversome with the right game plan, hard work and perseverance. Excuses are just that.  They are the beginning of a lifetime of failure and demise.)