Monthly Archives: February 2014

Thoughtful Thursday: Poems for Our Sons

In honor of the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative launched today by President Barack Obama and these being the final days of Black History Month, today’s Thoughtful Thursday offerings are inspirational poems for and about our boys. The first, a Langston Hughes classic, “I, Too Sing America”, reminds them that we all deserve a seat at the table. “Black Boys Play the Classics” paints a vivid picture of talented young men and their fans, and “The Man Who Thinks He Can” is a great bedtime read–good food for thought to give him as he drifts off to dreamland. Enjoy!

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I, Too, Sing America

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

Langston Hughes

Black Boys Play the Classics

The most popular “act” in
Penn Station
is the three black kids in ratty
sneakers & T-shirts playing
two violins and a cello—Brahms.
White men in business suits
have already dug into their pockets
as they pass and they toss in
a dollar or two without stopping.
Brown men in work-soiled khakis
stand with their mouths open,
arms crossed on their bellies
as if they themselves have always
wanted to attempt those bars.
One white boy, three, sits
cross-legged in front of his
idols—in ecstasy—
their slick, dark faces,
their thin, wiry arms,
who must begin to look
like angels!
Why does this trembling
pull us?
A: Beneath the surface we are one.
B: Amazing! I did not think that they could speak this tongue.

Toi Derricotte

The Man Who Thinks He Can

If you think you are beaten, you are;
If you think you dare not, you don’t;
If you’d like to win, but think you can’t,
It’s almost a cinch you won’t.
If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost,
For out in the world we find
Success begins with a fellow’s will,
It’s all in the state of mind.

If you think you’re outclassed, you are;
You’ve got to think high to rise.
You’ve got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.
Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man;
But soon or later the man who wins
Is the man who thinks he can.

Walter Wintle

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Obama Launches “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative Today

This afternoon President Obama will announce the launch of an initiative to provide greater opportunities to African-American and Hispanic young men of color. His “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative has already received a $150 million commitment from a group of foundations and businesses who have pledged an additional $200 million towards this effort. The White House initiative seeks to intervene in the lives of boys at key points: by providing pre-kindergarten education, lifting third-grade reading proficiency, leading schools away from “zero tolerance” disciplinary policies that kick misbehaving students out of school, and convincing businesses to train and hire young men of color.

The President will also announce the creation of a new inter-agency “My Brother’s Keeper Task Force” headed up by Broderick Johnson, the cabinet secretary and assistant to the president. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Attorney General Eric Holder, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and other senior officials will also work with this task force. You can read more about this initiative here and here.

Kudos to the President and his staff for using the power of his office to bring attention, funding and opportunity to our young men in need. GCP looks forward to receiving and sharing more information about “My Brother’s Keeper” and its progress.

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Filed under Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, Parents, Resources, Saving Our Sons

Thoughtful Thursday: Beastly Boys

Today’s Thoughtful Thursday offerings are inspired by “Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls”, a book of humorous poetry about naughty, ill-mannered, even cruel, boys and girls. (It is a great book; hard to find, but worth picking it up if you can locate one.) Most of the poems below are from Shel Silverstein (the author of “The Giving Tree”), who made many contributions to the “Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls” collection. Nothing like some delightfully naughty poetry to spark a young boy’s imagination and feed a wicked sense of humor. Enjoy!

beastlyboysandghastlygirls_cover

Nothing to Do?

Nothing to do?
Nothing to do?
Put some mustard in your shoe,
Fill your pockets full of soot,
Drive a nail into your foot,
Put some sugar in your hair,
Place your toys upon the stair,
Smear some jelly on the latch,
Eat some mud and strike a match,
Draw a picture on the wall,
Roll some marbles down the hall,
Pour some ink in daddy’s cap –
Now go upstairs and take a nap.

Shelley Silverstein

Early Bird

Oh, if you’re a bird, be an early bird
And catch the worm for your breakfast plate.
If you’re a bird, be an early early bird—
But if you’re a worm, sleep late.

Shel Silverstein

Little Willie

In the family drinking well
Willie pushed his sister Nell.
She’s there yet, because it kilt her –
Now we have to buy a filter.

Harry Graham

Jimmy Jet and His TV Set

I’ll tell you the story of Jimmy Jet—
And you know what I tell you is true.
He loved to watch his TV set
Almost as much as you.

He watched all day, he watched all night
Till he grew pale and lean,
From “The Early Show” to “The Late Late Show”
And all the shows between.

He watched till his eyes were frozen wide,
And his bottom grew into his chair.
And his chin turned into a tuning dial,
And antennae grew from his hair.

And his brains turned into TV tubes,
And his face to a TV screen.
And two knobs saying “VERT.” and “HORIZ.”
Grew where his ears had been.

And he grew a plug that looked like a tail
So we plugged in little Jim.
And now instead of him watching TV
We all sit around and watch him.

Shel Silverstein

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Summer Camp Info

Hard to imagine as frigid temperatures and snow continue to plague us on the East Coast and elsewhere around the nation, but now is the time to focus on Summer Camps. If you are interested in finding out about summer camp options, don’t wait any longer to start your research, as Summer Camp research and sign-up season is well underway. New to the world of camps, and wondering how to find the best one for your son or daughter? Here are some good places to start.

Tips on Trips and Camps (www.tipsontripsandcamps.com) is a free advisory service that provides advice on overnight camps, trips and summer programs for children from 8-18. They recommend “carefully screened, quality summer programs” in the USA and abroad. Once you register on the site you can choose to receive brochures and DVD’s directly from camps or work with an advisor to determine the camps in which your child might have an interest. Spend some time looking around the site to get a good idea of the many different types of camps available.

Time Out NY Kids offers “Summer camps for kids 2014: Day camps, sleepaway camps and more” found here. This is a comprehensive listing of all sorts of camps in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area.

Wondering if your son can handle sleepaway camp? Here are some articles that can help you figure this out.

Take Parent magazine’s “Quiz: Is Your Child Ready for Sleep-Away Camp?” found here for some guidelines to use to determine if your child is ready for this experience .

“Is Your Child Ready for Sleepaway Camp”, found here, offers parents thoughtful advice on this topic.

The Washington Post’s “When is a Child Ready for Overnight Camp”, found here, discusses how parents can make this determination and how they can prepare their children for their first overnight camp experience.

Good luck with finding the best summer experience possible for your son!

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Filed under Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, Parents, Resources, Summer Camps and Programs

Raising “Soft” Sons in a Hard World

Ted Wells’ report to the NFL on the Jonathan Martin/Miami Dolphins harassment case presents Martin as an NFL rookie who was tormented both by his teammates and his own inability to fight back. As New York Times columnist Bill Rhoden notes in his column about the report, found here, “The question that repeatedly came to my mind as I read the Wells report is, Why didn’t Martin retaliate? Martin wondered why as well. As Wells wrote, ‘Martin came to view his failure to stand up to his teammates as a personal shortcoming.’”

According to Wells’ report Martin believed his privileged background (his parents met at Harvard as undergraduates) and education hindered his ability to stand up for himself. He blamed “mostly the soft schools” he attended in middle and high school and the “white private school conditioning, turning the other cheek” for reinforcing his self-image as a pushover. Offering tacit support for Martin’s perspective, Martin’s father Gus acknowledged in a text message to his son that he had “punked out many times” when confronted by whites who used the “N” word.

Who among us with African-American sons in predominantly white schools isn’t chilled by Martin’s perspective? And how much are we parents promoting the conditioning he complains about? Many of us have worried about how our energetic and lively boys make their way in schools where their white classmates and teachers may be burdened with perceptions of young black men born of negative media stereotypes: the bad boy, the troublemaker.
We encourage our sons to keep their cool in their response to ignorance or insult; tell them not to give in to an impulse to retaliate with harsher words or fists. We want them to know that they may be perceived differently from their white classmates in and around school and that this is important to remember if trouble arises. We want to shield them from unexpected harm as best we can.

But Martin’s story suggests that these messages can have unintended and terrible consequences. According to the NFL report, Martin reveals to his mother in a text message in late 2013 “I used to get verbally bullied every day in middle school and high school, by kids that are half my size. I would never fight back, just get sad & feel like no one wanted to be my friend, when in fact I was just being socially awkward.”

One can’t know now how much of his memory of these bullying episodes is clouded by his recent troubles. But it is sad and disturbing that he waited all these years to reveal any bullying and its impact on him. And why didn’t his middle and high schools focus on this bullying and alert his parents? His mother flew to Miami as soon as she understood the depth of his mental anguish as a member of the Dolphins, and encouraged him to get professional help. Had she known about this pervasive bullying when he was young (or even his perception of it) you have to believe that she would have tried to get help for him earlier.

We have to do all we can to get our sons to talk to us about their school and social lives, especially when they are in the formative middle and high school years. We also have to spend as much time as we can in their schools, forming our own perspectives of their friends and their life there. And the schools need to see us there, to know that we are focused on all aspects of our sons’ school life. Stories like this make it clear how important it is to do all we can on our own and through the schools to understand what is going on with our boys.

And what if they do tell us they are being bullied? In his column Rhoden recalls that his mother gave him boxing lessons to help him deal with a local bully when he was young. The concept of teaching our sons to stand up for themselves seems instinctively right, but telling them to stand down in the face of trouble feels like a safer way to go these days.

No parent wants to raise a son who is perceived as “soft” because of the difficulties that this can bring him. But for many reasons we also don’t want our sons to start swinging at every slight. As Jonathan Martin’s mother reminded her son in one of their text exchanges, “It takes more strength actually to avoid confrontation.” But we don’t want to have our boys’ self esteem damaged by the feeling that they don’t know how to fight back.

Talk with your son about how he handles disagreements with his friends, classmates, and the mean guys at school. Observe him interacting with his friends, and talk with him about his relationships. Have a casual conversation with him about any interactions that seem troublesome to you. Listen carefully to his perspective. If you sense he is having trouble handling situations, continue to talk with him about them (in a non-judgmental manner) until you can assess whether you need to take further action. Remember that stepping in too soon can give your son (and his peers) the impression that he can’t handle things. But keeping the conversation going at home can give him the platform and the confidence to come to you if he needs help.

Raising confident sons with strong self-esteem is a complicated and continuing concern for all of us, which GCP wants to address. Stay vigilant, stay focused, and stay tuned.

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Thoughtful Thursday: Nikki Giovanni on Love

Today being the day before Valentine’s Day, we can’t help but devote this Thoughtful Thursday to thoughts of love. Here are two Nikki Giovanni poems which speak of love: one of a love to which we all can relate, and the other of “grown folks” love that we’d all be lucky to have. Enjoy, and have a Happy Valentine’s Day tomorrow.

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Love Is

Some people forget that love is
tucking you in and kissing you
“Good night”
no matter how young or old you are

Some people don’t remember that
love is
listening and laughing and asking
questions
no matter what your age

Few recognize that love is
commitment, responsibility
no fun at all
unless

Love is
You and me

Resignation

I love you
because the Earth turns around the sun
because the North wind blows north
sometimes
because the Pope is Catholic
and most Rabbis Jewish
because winters flow into springs
and the air clears after a storm
because only my love for you
despite the charms or gravity
keeps me from falling off this Earth
into another dimension

I love you
because it is the natural order of things

I love you
like the habit I picked up in college
of sleeping through lectures
or saying I’m sorry
when I get stopped for speeding
because I drink a glass of water
in the morning
and chain-smoke cigarettes
all through the day
because I take my coffee Black
and my milk with chocolate
because you keep my feet warm
though my life a mess
I love you
because I don’t want it
any other way

I am helpless
in my love for you

It makes me so happy
to hear you call my name
I am amazed you can resist
locking me in an echo chamber
where your voice reverberates
through the four walls
sending me into spasmatic ecstasy
I love you
because it’s been so good
for so long
that if I didn’t love you
I’d have to be born again
and that is not a theological statement
I am pitiful in my love for you

The Dells tell me Love
is so simple
the thought though of you
sends indescribably delicious multitudinous
thrills throughout and through-in my body
because no two snow flakes are alike
and it is possible
if you stand tippy-toe
to walk between the raindrops
I love you
because I am afraid of the dark
and can’t sleep in the light
because I rub my eyes
when I wake up in the morning
and find you there
because you with all your magic powers were
determined that
I should love you
because there was nothing for you but that
I would love you
I love you
because you made me
want to love you
more than I love my privacy
my freedom, my commitments
and responsibilities
I love you ’cause I changed my life
to love you
because you saw me one Friday
afternoon and decided that I would
love you
I love you I love you I love you

Nikki Giovanni

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Thoughtful Thursday: America

With Black History Month underway, and the Winter Olympics about to begin, today’s Thoughtful Thursday offerings speak to the spirit of America. Here are two poems, one from W.E.B. DuBois and the other from Elizabeth Alexander. DuBois suggests alternative lyrics to a familiar American anthem, and Alexander ushers in our first Black president with a hope-filled view of America’s future. Enjoy.

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My Country ’Tis of Thee

Of course you have faced the dilemma: it is announced, they all smirk and rise. If they are ultra, they remove their hats and look ecstatic; then they look at you. What shall you do? Noblesse oblige; you cannot be boorish, or ungracious; and too, after all it is your country and you do love its ideals if not all of its realities. Now, then, I have thought of a way out: Arise, gracefully remove your hat, and tilt your head. Then sing as follows, powerfully and with deep unction. They’ll hardly note the little changes and their feelings and your conscience will thus be saved:

My country tis of thee,
Late land of slavery,
Of thee I sing.
Land where my father’s pride
Slept where my mother died,
From every mountain side
Let freedom ring!

My native country thee
Land of the slave set free,
Thy fame I love.
I love thy rocks and rills
And o’er thy hate which chills,
My heart with purpose thrills,
To rise above.

Let laments swell the breeze
And wring from all the trees
Sweet freedom’s song.
Let laggard tongues awake,
Let all who hear partake,
Let Southern silence quake,
The sound prolong.

Our fathers’ God to thee
Author of Liberty,
To thee we sing
Soon may our land be bright,
With Freedom’s happy light
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God our King.

W.E.B. DuBois

Praise Song for the Day

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Elizabeth Alexander

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Films to See: “American Promise” and “The African Americans”

American Promise: The PBS premiere of “American Promise” happened last night–did you see it? This is the documentary in which an African-American husband and wife filmmaking team chronicled their son and his friend’s journey from kindergarten through high school at a predominantly white private school in New York City. If you missed it, you can catch it tonight at 7pm online on OVEE here: http://bit.ly/1aZ7IDi. And you can see when it will air again on your local PBS channel here: http://on.fb.me/MrFxBk.

The companion book, “Promises Kept: Raising Black Boys to Succeed in School and in Life” is now available in bookstores and on amazon.com. This book is filled with important and practical information on raising and supporting our boys. You can also check out the American Promise website here and Facebook page here for more information about the film and the book.

The African Americans: PBS recently aired ” The African Americans: Many Rivers To Cross”, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s six-hour series which explores the evolution of African-Americans from the origins of slavery in Africa to present day. The entire series is now available on DVD. A great addition to our libraries, especially as we look for ways to enrich our children’s knowledge of our history.

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