Tag Archives: James Ewers

Navigating the Racial Highway in America

By James Ewers

jewers1If you want to have a good debate or scare people away, then start talking about race.  The ‘race’ word is a powerful one in America’s lexicon and seems to bring out passionate feelings in us. It is a catalyst for both change and status quo. It is my thinking that the word race has brought into context words such as diversity, multiculturalism and inclusion, just to name a few. Many in this country would say that we are simply hung up on race. However, I think our racial healing, or hemorrhaging, is generational. Finally, it seems, young people are not as race-conscious as previous generations, although some may disagree with this statement. What makes the color of a person’s skin the object of so much attention and speculation? Why do some of us base our perceptions about a person solely on their skin color? As we all know, a person’s ability is not based on their skin color but on their competence and cognition. Yet, unfortunately, there are those who will go to their grave thinking otherwise. The uneasiness about race is felt on both sides. Many of our positions and mores about race come from our own experiences. Some of these feelings about race cannot be altered or changed regardless of how many diversity training programs we attend.

Some of our differences as black and white people are quite striking, most notably our responses to race.  I have both black and white friends, and my life is better because of it. But there have been incidents in this country involving race that have elicited such divergent responses I sometimes wonder, “are we looking at the same thing?” So we see things through different lens. There is also an extreme view held by each side about race relations. Some blacks and whites see their own race as the good guys and the other race as the bad guys. I disagree with this view, yet you would be naïve to think that it doesn’t exist.

Race is a slippery slope. Racial attitudes and positions seem to always follow us. Race never takes a break and is like the famous convenience store; it is always open. If you recall just a month ago now a white woman in Pennsylvania alleged that a black man had kidnapped her. We later found out that she was at Disney World. More recently a group of black children were asked to leave a swimming pool for reasons shrouded in race. Both incidents involved race and bad behavior.

So now just a few weeks ago, there was the incident involving Henry Louis Gates, Jr. the Harvard professor. Reports said that Professor Gates, who is black, had trouble getting into his house. He did get into his house yet by this time the Cambridge, Mass., police had arrived because of a 911 call placed by a local citizen. The police tape of the call never mentioned race, however the police report did. Officer James Crowley, who is white, and Professor Gates had a heated exchange even after Gates showed he was the owner of the home. Professor Gates was taken to the police station in handcuffs. However, throughout all of this we cannot forget that the police are there to protect and to serve whether it is in Cambridge or any other part of the country. Yet I wonder why the police could not have left Gates’ home once proper identity had been established. Because race is so explosive an issue, President Obama having a news conference on health care and other important matters was asked about the incident. President Obama, in my opinion and later by his own admission, used inappropriate language in responding to the reporter’s question. The three men, President Obama, Officer Crowley and Professor Gates met recently at the White House to hash out their differences and hopefully bring some constructive focus to the issue of race.

A lot of Americans are waiting to see if there is a blue print on how to talk about race. Fortunately, many communities have already started the conversation. It is my opinion that the rules of engagement ought to center around honesty, forthrightness and recognition of the need to get it out in the open.

Race and all of its complexities will not go away. If we want our communities to become better then we must be proactive in talking about our differences. Communities that understand each other better will prosper. Those that don’t won’t.

 James B. Ewers, Jr. Ed.D is a higher education consultant and the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues.

 

Advertisements

The Perils of being young, African American and Male

The Perils of Being Young, African American and Male

By James Ewers

jewers1There is an unhealthy generational gap within the African American male community. It is acute and now more serious than ever. There are some stark differences to what was and what is. Black men my age grew up respecting social customs. For example, we loved our parents and honored our teachers. Our neighborhoods looked out for us. Courtesy and good manners were the rule and not the exception. Using appropriate language with our friends and adults was the common practice. We did not stray from these tenets. We respected girls and women. Sure, my generation had girl friends but we didn’t go around calling them nasty names. We answered the telephone by saying hello and not “yo”.

I and other black men of my generation respected our parents. Personally, I loved and feared my parents both at the same time. My mom provided me with exceptional spankings. She orchestrated my spankings. First, she told me to go in the backyard and get a switch. As she spanked me, she always provided me with wonderful commentary. She would usually tell me how much it was hurting her to do this to me. My thinking was if it was hurting her so much, why wouldn’t she stop? My dad, with his heavy Jamaican accent, chastised me even more. His technique was to make me feel so ashamed for committing the indiscretion. Now after all of this was done the embarrassment of it all set in for me. Whenever the kids in my neighborhood got a spanking, everyone knew about it. All of the adults looked at you with shame and we kids just tried to console each other. There was no number to call to say your parents were disciplining you. Quite frankly, that would not have prevented parents from fulfilling their role as parents.

Going to school was a time for learning and for making friends. Our generation of African American men respected teachers. We would never berate them or talk back to them. I simply can’t fathom talking back to a teacher. Our discipline problems never involved guns and knives. If anything, we may have gotten out of hand with another student but never a teacher. I and many others of my time can honestly say that school was a safe place to be. We just enjoyed school and couldn’t wait until the next day. Our neighborhoods were for the most part quiet and serene places. During the school year we were in the house at an appropriate time. When the street lights came on, we were in the house. Police cars in neighborhoods were a rarity. I am sure that I speak for many African American men during this time when I say we didn’t see our friends with handcuffs on getting into police cruisers. We didn’t have street gangs who tormented each other and neighborhoods. Experiences like I just described happened rarely whether you grew up in cities or towns. Did African American males who came of age in the 1950s and ’60s have perfect environments? No. However, there was a certain level of love, respect and civility that we gave to each other and our families and friends. Even those we didn’t know received the same treatment.

Hurt, harm and danger seem to be words that are used too frequently with today’s generation of African American males. When I look out at some African American males in their 20’s and 30’s, I wonder what has happened. Some seem destined and almost determined to go down the wrong track. In the words of the young, they simply love “drama.” I observe and listen to young black men and I wonder, what has happened? Conversations about dope and not hope go on too often. Going to visit a friend in jail and not in college seems to be happening too frequently. Am I being overly concerned? I don’t think so.

Dr. Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs and director of community partnerships at Miami University Middletown in Ohio. He is the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues

Stay The Course Or Change Directions Is The Question

By James Ewers

As Election Day approaches, we must decide whether characteristics will trump the issues of the day.  This conundrum makes for a slippery slope for some of us. Those of us that are voting age have participated in some local, state and national elections where we did not always vote for the “conventional” or for the “favored” candidate.  The same goes for some pieces of legislation.  In order for change to occur, our country’s lawmakers had to think outside of the box and in addition listen to their constituents. Title IX for women and the Voting Rights Act are just a few of the laws that were created simply because America believed that it could do better and be better.  The song does cry out, “my country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty.”  Our nation’s history is filled with stories of courageous people and periods where change happened.  But of course there were people who stepped in the path of progress only to see their efforts to “stay the course” swept away in the movement of change.  Imagine for a moment that there was no Title IX.  Michele Wie, the golfer, would not have had an opportunity to compete.  Where would tennis be without the Venus and Serena Williams?  Dara Torres, the swimmer, would not have been able to compete in 5 Olympics.  Obviously there are endless examples of what can happen when you change the landscape and give people hope.  So this is what happens when you take flight on the wings of change.  The irony of change is even those who are ardently against change benefit from it.

Now in just about six weeks Americans will exercise their time-honored privilege of voting for the next president and vice president of the United States of America.  Recently, I participated in some voter registration efforts and we are indeed fortunate to live in a country where our votes actually count.  Even for the registered naysayers, they must also cast their ballots.  For the first time that I can recall, you have gender, race and age all playing out in this election.  Both major political parties are waging fierce campaigns to capture the vote.  We have seen both political conventions and watched as each candidate received a “bump” in the polls.  I have always wondered about these polls.  One day Sen.Obama is leading, and the next day he is not.  Have you ever mused about who is making these calls and who are they calling?  Have you ever been called by any polling organization?  I know that I haven’t.  I continue to sit by the telephone but I can’t get a call.  This election is absolutely about “firsts.”  Obama has the chance to become the first African American president.  Sarah Palin has the chance to become the first female vice president and John McCain has the chance to become the nation’s oldest sitting president.  These are all dynamics that will weigh mightily on the American voters.  Some will argue that a percentage of Americans will vote for Obama because he is African American, the McCain-Palin ticket because Palin is a women and McCain is a decorated war veteran.  While to some degree this is true let’s hope that the issues outweigh the characteristics of the candidates.

We know what the issues are in this important election.  Pretending that the country is in good shape only makes your imagination run wild as it just isn’t so!  Just a few days ago our government had to bail out AIG, the insurance company.  Whether you read the newspapers or watch television, you can see that America is at a cross roads and at a defining moment in its history.  To a certain extent, we are all stubborn and have a bit of pride when it comes to change as it is far simpler to keep things just the way they are.  The telling question is will the realities of the day or the pride of yesterday take over when we are in the voting booth.  Change for some is just too difficult.  They would rather stay on the same road even as it is exploding in front of them.  However for many of us we see just over the horizon change that we can believe in!

 

Dr. Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs and director of community partnerships at Miami University Middletown in Ohio. He is the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues

Obama Is Being Lifted Up by the Elders

By James Ewers

Sen. Barack Obama made reference to a preacher who made America better in his acceptance speech on Aug. 28, 2008, at the Democratic National Convention. Obama is now officially his party’s nominee to be president of the United States of America. Let’s not forget the “preacher” that Obama referred to was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., arguably the single most important figure in the civil rights movement. Certainly there could be no Barack Obama without there being a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Men like Whitney Young, A. Phillip Randolph, Edward Brooke and, yes, Jessie Jackson all had a hand in the uplifting of Barack Obama. We can never forget Shirley Chisholm, Fannie Lou Hamer and Rosa Parks all contributed to where Obama is today. There are countless others who played significant roles in carving out a place for all Americans in this country.

The day of Obama’s acceptance speech marked the 45th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I have a dream speech.” Was it fate or coincidence? You make the call. I have said to all of my friends that never in my lifetime did I ever expect to see an African-American be this close to being president. I thought about the marches that I have participated in and the movie houses where I had to sit in the balcony simply because I was Black. All of that had to happen then so that we could get to now, seeing Obama be nominated for president. So watching Sen. Obama last week reaffirmed for me that anything is possible in America. While there are some who will tell you what you can’t do, there are others who will tell you to follow your dreams.

There have been reports circulating for months that Obama is an elitist. I find that assessment to be absolutely ludicrous. What exactly in the eyes of the naysayers makes Barack Obama an elitist? Let’s examine the facts. He was raised by a single parent who was economically challenged. His mom valued education so he graduated from college using scholarships and loans. Does graduating from college using scholarships and loans make him an elitist? He graduated from Harvard Law School and chose to work for social reform in Chicago instead of getting a high paying job with a major law firm. Does advocating for people who can’t advocate for themselves make Obama an elitist? He is articulate, persuasive and has command of the facts. Does being well spoken and giving people hope make Barack Obama an elitist? Many of us have grown tired and weary of hearing the nonfactual and puny arguments about Barack Obama being an elitist. Could it be the purveyors of such vile information suffer themselves from jealousy and envy. It can hardly be said that Obama was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He may have had a spoon but it certainly wasn’t silver. Obama knows when people are out to damage you that they will create a perception about you. The way to beat it is to simply treat everyone with dignity and respect and give 110 percent everyday in whatever your life’s work is.

Many who are against Sen. Obama have used race as the reason that they will not vote for him in November. The Internet is filled with comments from people saying that they will never, ever vote for an African-American to be president of this country. It both saddens and troubles me that in 2008 that there are those who would still use race as a wedge to divide us. I actually hurt for people who think like that, because there is no racial monopoly on intelligence. Like the board game Monopoly, if I do the right things, I, too, can have the boardwalk; I, too, can pass “go” and collect $200.00.

Being an educated African-American male today creates questions for a lot of people. Because Obama is confident, some perceive him to be arrogant. Because Obama is cool under fire, some see him as aloof or “elitist.” Said King: “I want to be judged by the content of my character and not the color of my skin.” Yet there are places in this country, the home of the brave and the land of the free, that still believe in the old way of thinking. So no matter how integral you are, no matter how articulate you are, the color of your skin still gets in the way. Will we ever become our brother’s and sister’s keeper? I still believe we can and, in fact, I know we can.

So, no matter your political affiliation, what you saw on last month was history. This story will be in textbooks and archives all over the world for generations still unborn. It will tell the story of Barack Obama, a Black man who believed that he could be president of the United States of America.

Dr. Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs and director of community partnerships at Miami University Middletown in Ohio. He is the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues.

Being Black, Male and Educated in Today’s World

By James Ewers

There are far too many black males being portrayed as useless citizens in our society.  We see pictures of us being sent to jail or being expelled from school.  Some of us still turn a blind eye to what is going on around us.  The CNN Special, “Black in America” pointed out that African Americans make up 13 percent of the population, yet we commit 49 percent of the homicides.  That statistic should send a sobering message to all of us, black and white, who see ourselves as difference-makers. 

 

 

Obviously, we as African Americans have come a long way since the days of segregation.  While our gains educationally have been significant, we still have a very long way to go.  The achievement gap, according to some, has increased between black children and white children.  Some of this achievement gap data is being played out every day.  Recently, I went to the public library to check out some books and made a casual observation about who was in the library.  While some may disagree, there is more value in some African American homes placed on an Xbox and a Nintendo Wii than getting a library card and using it.  It doesn’t matter how proficient your child is on either game as the more compelling question is, can they pass the third grade proficiency test?  I don’t have anything against these games. However they can’t be put ahead of education.

 

 

We can’t undo the past yet we can be better forecasters about the future of our young African American boys if we become more proactive.  Educating African American boys might arguably be the single greatest priority in our communities. The biggest piece in this educational equation is that education must be viewed as invaluable in our quest for success.  It can’t be seem as a maybe but should be seen as a must!  National statistics show that young black boys are more likely to be suspended or expelled before completing high school than any other group. 

 

 

There are some factors that have led to this statistic being what it is.  First, a dearth of successful African American role models has contributed to young male students not seeing enough of us and they therefore think dreaming big dreams is out of the question. Therefore invariably when you ask a young African American boy what he wants to do, he will give you the name of a sports star or a music star.  As a product of the legitimate old school, I knew as much about Dr. King, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and Whitney Young as I did Jim Brown, Willie Mays and Jessie Owens.  Maybe we need to invest in copies of Jet, Essence and Ebony so that our boys can see successful African American males in business, the military, education, law and medicine. 

 

 

Behavior has also contributed to this dilemma. Fighting and destroying school property only creates a negative opinion about young black males. Simply put, knowing how to comport yourself will put you in a favorable position with the education community. Another factor is the lack of diversity training in many of our school systems. There are teachers who are simply ill-equipped to interact successfully with young black males. It is my thinking that diversity training should be mandated for every school system.

 

 

Valuing education means talking about it in our homes, then our boys will have an increased chance to become an educated black male. Of course being black, male and educated brings on increased responsibility and opportunity. If you have these three characteristics, you have a chance to be a change agent each day. For those of us who are blessed to have a college degree it means that we must do more. Here are two ways of thinking about being black, male and educated. I believe the vast majority of people will give us the respect that we have earned. I would like to believe that our opinions about matters of the day are valued and valuable. On the other side are those who fear us because of our color, our maleness and our education. We become instant threats to some who are unwilling to accept us because we bring new ideas and inclusion to the process. Maybe in the end that is the dual role for those of us who are black, male and educated; that is, we are both respected and feared. 

 

Dr. Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs and director of community partnerships at Miami University Middletown in Ohio. He is the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CNN’s Black in America Sounds Clarion Call To Do More

By James Ewers

 

I am black in America so the recent two-part series produced by CNN entitled “Black in America” did appeal to me. This special program to my mind was not only for black people but for white people as well. For whatever judgment you rendered about the series let us give both CNN reporter Soledad O’Brien credit for undertaking this project. It was two years in the making and was well worth watching. It validated some of my thinking and gave me further insight into some other areas that were eye opening. I remember a few years ago when some said that Bill Cosby was exposing our “dirty laundry” in public when he talked about the issue of self-responsibility in the African American community. Some thought that he was too candid and much too skeptical. Well if Bill Cosby exposed our dirty laundry, then CNN wasn’t far behind. 

 

One of the more compelling topics broached on the series was HIV/AIDS. While watching the snippets was painful, the information needed to get out there so that people would know.  HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among young women in the black community. According to the report, one in 20 people in Washington, D.C., are infected with HIV/AIDS. Wherever you are and if you are black, you ought to pay serious attention to this statistic. The takeaway from these statistics is that we as African Americans must make better choices and decisions. HIV/AIDS education must begin, I believe, at the elementary school level. While some may think otherwise, I think to talk about this dreaded disease at the middle school level may be too late. There are a lot of conversations that we have with our children around the dinner table and this must be one of them. In order for our present generation to survive and future generations to thrive, we must become much more proactive about this issue. 

 

T.D. Jakes, a prominent African American minister, in essence said that black churches have a responsibility in this area. This responsibility just didn’t happen as it has been our responsibility all along; we have just ignored it, thinking that it might go away. Many in the black community think that sermons on Sunday and education programs during the week will help. As for our black community in Middletown what church will begin a ministry that will target HIV/AIDS?

 

“Black in America” started off on Wednesday showing related black families going to their family reunion in Atlanta, Georgia. The strength and resoluteness of the black family cannot be overlooked or minimized. I spoke with a good friend of mine recently who also had his family reunion in Georgia. I could see the pride on his face as he brought me a souvenir. The black family is steadfast and unmovable because it is our bedrock and the centerpiece of our entire experience. Black folks have long understood that, when all else fails, we still have our families. Dollar bills will come and go but our families will remain strong and consistent. I thought the segment on the family reunion was good, as you could see the connectivity between generations.

 

One aspect that could have been talked about more was the increase in the number of African Americans who are graduating from colleges across the country. Highlighted in the piece was the fact that more African American women are graduating from college than men. The ongoing challenge that has existed over a period of many years now is how to get more African American males in college and to graduate them. The road to college is filled with potholes called jail, drugs, and poor choices for many black males. I believe strongly that education must be valued in our black households. If it is valued, then in the end it doesn’t matter as much if your parents went to college. All that matters is that they see the importance of getting a college education. I found it a bit amusing on one level that a high school counselor on the special told the African American boy at the time that he should not consider college. Does that still happen today in 2008?

 

African Americans make up 13 percent of the population yet represent 49 percent of the homicides. This statistic is just horrific. There is no other way to say it. Presidential candidate, Barack Obama, in a recent talk at the NAACP Convention in Cincinnati spoke of personal responsibility and accountability in the black community. If we want to see change, then we must be the change and not wait for it. If we don’t begin it, then who; if not now, when? We, as African American parents and love providers, must provide our children at an early age with a set of instructions that will ward off poor choices and their consequences. Poor decision making results in no dreams of success and generally low expectations. We must teach our children that good things happen when you work hard and treat all people with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, big clothes don’t mean big dreams. We can, we must, and we will do better. We have no choice!

 

I would hope that mentoring groups and churches would invest in a copy of this series as it can be instructive. There is much to talk about as our future can be bright if we want it to be. The terms and conditions of our future are up to us. While the circumstances are dire in some cases, we have the brainpower to make a difference in the future. Despair must be replaced with hope, and protraction must be replaced with interaction. African Americans who have achieved have a moral obligation to help others who have not been as fortunate. We cannot think that, because we have a bigger house or a bigger car, we have arrived. It is only when we enrich the lives of others that our own lives will be enriched. 

 

While the CNN special pointed out some of our challenges, it also showed that we have much to be proud of in the black community. As one of my colleagues has said, we have gone from picking cotton to picking presidents. Maybe our dirty laundry was exposed, but we have a chance to clean it up!

 

Dr. Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs and director of community partnerships at Miami University Middletown in Ohio. He is the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues

Black Colleges Continue to Provide An Excellent Education

By Dr. James Ewers

Historically black colleges and universities have been educating students, the majority of them being African American, for centuries now.  I am a graduate of Johnson C. Smith University located in Charlotte, N.C.  There are hundreds of graduates of HBCUs who have achieved prominence at every level.  The employment landscape is full of men and women who are graduates of these fine institutions. 

In addition to fostering academic excellence, HBCU’s have many traditions that are on display each year.  For example, the homecoming festivities at Johnson C. Smith University and other black colleges and universities bring back graduates and friends each year and for three days we momentarily go back to the good old days.  Those were days when we would “hang on the block,” attend chapel and get to know our teachers. 

I can remember vividly when I would be able to talk with our president, Dr. Lionel H. Newsome.  Dr. Newsome had a great influence on me as he always emphasized high ideals and lofty goals.  Many graduates of black colleges and universities can say that they were mentored by their college president.  The mentoring and personal relationships are reasons that many students choose to attend an HBCU.  When you are 17 and 18 years old, you need someone with a guiding hand and words of wisdom.  Some will argue about the axiom of personal responsibility and to some extent, I agree.  However, there are large numbers of college students who lack the maturity to make good decisions and therefore need hands-on attention.  All you have to do is look at the issue of alcohol that is problematic for many colleges across the country.

One of the hallmarks of black colleges and universities is the dedicated faculty and staff.  These men and women, both black and white, are saying by their continued presence and pursuit of academic excellence for their students that these institutions are viable and valuable.  Back in the day there were many faculty and staff who lived on or near campus and thus made the educational bond between them and their students even stronger.  Faculty and staff, sometimes without the necessary resources, made sacrifices in order to see their students prosper and succeed. 

There are currently more than 100 HBCUs in the country and their primary goal continues to be helping students to be successful.  The vast majority of these schools are located in the South.  Schools like Johnson C. Smith University, Dillard University, Texas Southern University, Bennett College and Winston-Salem State University have students enrolled from literally all over the world.  It is safe to say that multiculturalism thrives on these campuses.  The reputations of these schools has generated this diverse mix of students, faculty and staff.  Over time more students, including white students, have chosen to enroll at HBCU’s.  Most recently the top graduate in the class of 2008 at Morehouse College was white.  White students are selecting these students because they feel that they can receive the individualized attention and instruction that they need in order to be more competitive in the ever changing workforce.

Alumni are also an important element to HBCUs as we serve as recruiters and ambassadors.  Many alumni attend college fairs and go into high schools on behalf of their alma maters.  It is not unusual for alumni to sponsor trips and scholarships for prospective students.  You can go into almost every state in the union and find a graduate chapter for your institution.  As resources become tighter it will become even more important for alumni to contribute to the well being of their college and university.

It is my strong contention that the continued support of historically black colleges and universities is critical and crucial to our country.  We need these schools; our students need these schools.

 

 Dr. Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs and director of community partnerships at Miami University Middletown in Ohio. He is the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues.