For me, the Academy tried to hedge my human significance in elementary school. I recall in the third grade at my school’s open house, when a teacher informed my mom that I could not be a police officer. My mother did not take kindly to the white teacher’s comment. My mom, a militant in those days, organized against the police as part of the Black Panther Party, referencing them as pigs and murderers. But, it was the fact that the teacher said that I could not become a police officer, which meant in my mom’s mind, that I was not good enough to become anything at all. So, here I would use the No Humans Involved (N.H.I) term coined years after this story. The teacher did not believe that my mind, body and soul were good enough to become successful, just another N.H.I.
This grade school occurrence took place during the show and tell segment of my open house, where my pieces of art pictured cops and robbers. I added in Kato from the Green Hornet, a character performed by the famous Bruce Lee. Because I was very much into action figures and heroes, what else was I aspiring to be as a grown man, a hero. Back then, all my heroes were coming from a television screen, and were primarily white. Our Black heroes, or so I was led to believe were the characters on screen, such as Shaft and Cleopatra Jones, from all of the exploitation films and sitcoms of that era. Consciously distracted.
The article Black Study, Black Struggles by Robin D. G. Kelly allowed me to reflect on my undergrad collegiate experience. I attended four colleges over the course of umpteen years to complete my degree. Upon entering college, I had no real dreams and aspirations for being no more than a great athlete. I played tennis all through high school on our school’s team and, was aspiring to compete professionally. Pipe dreams. I was good for a Black person who came from no economic stature growing up in the Midwest with a single mother. That being said, I wish at that time in my life that I had the mental capacity to be like the grad students which Kelly speaks of, who (I paraphrase) “are in the university but not of the university.” There were no collective student thinkers of Black consciousness at Prairie View A & M University (PVAMU), just athletes and wanna-bees. That’s a heavy statement which may not be all that true…I did not know everybody on campus. And though PVAMU was a historically Black college, there was not a college book in my inventory that had authors names, such as Fanon, Engels, Firestone and Angela Davis. Despite my mom’s push for me to be a strong Black man, she was not the mom to push us to read books that served as an education of Black consciousness. Of course, she taught me about Huey P. Newton, Eldridge Cleaver and Angela Davis. However, during those times, it seemed to be her education.
At PVAMU, the only protest held was a protest that I organized with a few other freshman students. We, I guess were a collective student body, but our fight or activism against the colleges administration was because we had learned that there was a bowling alley in one of our campus buildings. Our campus had no amenities so having access to the bowling alley would have been great for students. Like today’s student activism, we organized and held speeches, even slept out on the front steps of the building where the bowling alley was said to be. Another protest by our student body was to get the administration to change their policies on how monies were allocated across various expenditures. Our argument was that the administration was filling their pockets with money, while students were given substandard means of residential halls and food selections. As with many protest encounters, our PVAMU Black administrators met with us and passed the blame to our affiliate school Texas A & M. And, as a nice gesture, they held a breakfast for us to hear our concerns. None of our protest requests were ever met, but we stood our ground for a moment. Knowing what I know now, I would have pushed for a healthier, breathier and lively education about what it means to be Black in America. Consciously distracted, again.
Survival. Reading The Shape of My Impact by Alexis Pauline Gumbs sent me into a sadness which I have not experienced until now. Reading about the plights of Audre Lorde and June Jordan grab at my heart. Then, I found a poem, nightsong, by May Ayim. I read the poem several times reflecting on its meaning. Afterwards, I searched for her other works online to find out that she committed suicide at 36 years old. For that moment, I was broken. I read the poem again, mixing in her life story, though I could only find a subtle sadness. My heart immediately went out to her, Audre and June.
How the Academy treated them in their dire moments, after years of tenure, and scholarly accomplishments is unforgiving. I recently experienced a situation where two of my favorite college professors were terminated or as the administration put it, given severance packages after many years of successfully graduating mostly Black students. The two professors, in most student’s opinion, gave their heart and soul to their job. From what I hear there is now a huge law suit coming from their dismissal. From a personal viewpoint, the two professors taught with the Black student at the top of their mind. Their classes were designed to teach us about Black consciousness, Black writers and Black everything. Weeks later after their departure, I had a discussion with their immediate supervisor. In that conversation, I was able to understand why those two particular professors were let go. It definitely had something to do with their style of getting through to the Black student. The two professors were forced out of an Academy to seek survival within another Academy. The glass ceiling continues.
Today’s activism within the Academy has taken on a new face. This new face is broad, fueled and driven. This face comes with a wealth of information to combat injustices. This face new face seems to fight for all. It is comprised of many individuals from many walks of life. The shape of their impact will in time carve new opportunities for future Academy providers and students.