Miles Davis: A Movie of a Boy from the Black Church



Above: Don Cheadle as Miles Davis

Miles Davis, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 2006, is also seeing more demand via an upcoming movie about his famed but troubled life, played by actor Don Cheadle. I am a Davis fan. My Pandora has two stations dedicated to my listening of his work. His love for music grew out of the historic black church, where he sat and become mesmerized by the use of instruments and the congregating sound of the assembly. However, it was his father who pushed him toward the trumpet as a tool to display his growth at the age of 13. That growth was met by a life of Jim Crow laws, alcohol, and drugs.

I am most curious to see how the film will portray his greatness, as well as his darkness. It will have to start, in my opinion, at the East St. Louis black church, a place that gave birth to a musical genius. But it will have to end with his self-destruction. I suspect the director will model this film off Ray, which was successful in capturing both elements of Ray Charles Jr.


The Passing of a Legend

I first skimmed through James McLachlan’s book, American Boarding Schools, some 10 years ago. He was a product of such schools (Choate). A number of my students used his work in their research paper, which some addressed those boarding schools as a process of assimilating American Indians. Others discussed schools as elite enclaves as a means of exclusion and power. Regardless, I learned of his passing back in August. Here is what the AHA had to say about one of the most noted historians of American boarding schools. See what the AHA had to say about him here.

Let Us Reason Together: Du Bois on Riots and the Color Line


W.E.B. Du Bois articulated how very little has changed in America. Being black and American is a measure in conflict with the ideals espoused by white America. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in America 1860 -1880, pointed to three common themes presented to whites about blacks:

All Negros were ignorant;

All Negros were lazy, dishonest, and extravagant;

Negroes are responsible for bad government during Reconstruction

Moreover, this reflection remained in tact by 1934 when he would resign from the NAACP – an organization he helped find. He became more radical in his thinking as his socialist pronouncements become clearer. Democracy was a farce; it was a mythical construct of capitalism that excerbated racism. His eulogy to Josef Stalin in 1953 demonstrated the greatness of another system: a system that held a place for the American Negro, unlike the forced riots and lynchings in North America.

In the years immediately following World War I, tens of thousands of southern blacks and returning black soldiers flocked to the nation’s northern cities looking for good jobs and a measure of respect and security. Many white Americans, fearful of competition for scarce jobs and housing, responded by attacking black citizens in a spate of urban race riots and police brutality. In urban African-American enclaves, a flowering of cultural expressions and a proliferation of black self-help organizations that accompanied the era of the “New Negro” marked the 1920s. Debates raged over the best political and organizational path for black Americans, and the Crisis, the national magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), offered one of the earliest and most powerful endorsements of the “New Negro.” In an editorial immediately following the Chicago race riot of 1919, Crisis editor W. E. B. Du Bois argued in favor of acts of self-defense and armed resistance, despite the editorial’s conciliatory titled:

“Let Us Reason Together”

Brothers we are on the Great Deep. We have cast off on the vast voyage which will lead to Freedom or Death.

For three centuries we have suffered and cowered. No race ever gave Passive Resistance and Submission to Evil longer, more piteous trial. Today we raise the terrible weapon of Self-Defense. When the murderer comes, he shall not longer strike us in the back. When the armed lynchers gather, we too must gather armed. When the mob moves, we propose to meet it with bricks and clubs and guns.

But we must tread here with solemn caution. We must never let justifiable self-defense against individuals become blind and lawless offense against all white folk. We must not seek reform by violence. We must not seek Vengeance. Vengeance is Mine,” saith the Lord; or to put it otherwise, only Infinite Justice and Knowledge can assign blame in this poor world, and we ourselves are sinful men, struggling desperately with our own crime and ignorance. We must defend ourselves, our homes, our wives and children against the lawless without stint or hesitation: but we must carefully and scrupulously avoid on our own part bitter and unjustifiable aggression against anybody.

This line is difficult to draw. In the South the Police and Public Opinion back the mob and the least resistance on the part of the innocent black victim is nearly always construed as a lawless attack on society and government. In the North the Police and the Public will dodge and falter, but in the end they will back the Right when the Truth is made clear to them.

But whether the line between just resistance and angry retaliation is hard or easy, we must draw it carefully, not in wild resentment, but in grim and sober consideration: and then back of the impregnable fortress of the Divine Right of Self-Defense, which is sanctioned by every law of God and man, in every land, civilized and uncivilized, we must take our unfaltering stand.

Honor, endless and undying Honor, to every man, black or white, who in Houston, East St. Louis, Washington and Chicago gave his life for Civilization and Order.

If the United States is to be a Land of Law, we would live humbly and peaceably in it—working, singing, learning and dreaming to make it and ourselves nobler and better: if it is to be a Land of Mobs and Lynchers, we might as well die today as tomorrow.

“And how can man die better

“Than facing fearful odds

“For the ashes of his fathers

“And the temples of his gods?”

Diversity and Communities

Schools and communities that lack diversity or lack the leadership to address race and diversity, often see the world and education through a lens of colorblindness; it is not important so why make it an issue. Years ago while visiting the St. John’s School of Houston, a premiere day school, an African-American leader in the independent school world who was there, told me that diversity is only as important as an institution’s leadership make it. I have found this to be true. If it is only important to people of color, we will and do grow frustrated and leave those schools. The chapel talk here by Brooks head of school is worth a watch, as he discusses race, racism, diversity, and community.

Life of a Dog at a Boarding School



abby_small copy

Boarding schools are like heaven for dogs. So much space to play and to be part of the community. My students house sit and dog walk for us. They hang with Sam. One of our campus security officers is notorious for driving by and handing out milk bones. When Abbey sees him or hears the vehicle, she starts to whine. She is known to run the vehicle down begging for treats. The awesome folks in student services keep a bag full of treats in the mail room. So when we are in the student center, Abbey begs for a bone. Campus life for a dog is the best. It is the real reason we moved to a boarding school. Here is a great picture taken by Rebecca Binder of communications. She captured Abbey playing on a field with some youth students being mentored by Brooks students.

Race and Power


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I think professor Claire Potter knows how much I and the rest of the academic community thinks of her. Right, Claire? What a profound and ubiquitous point by her: “For those of you who seem gobsmacked about what students of color at Yale are complaining about, drawing on my years at Wesleyan, I would say this. Imagine: getting into a great college or university, the college of your dreams, being really excited, being wooed at events where there faculty and students of color have been recruited to woo you. Then you get there and find out, if you are a Black man, that there are fewer than two dozen other black men in your class. Or that the faculty of color are all leaving, or have already left, because they are so frustrated by the lack of support for their work. Or that white students tell you that you got to college by a “special” route, and that the college of your dreams isn’t where you belong. Or that white students and faculty say breathtakingly racist things in class is if you were not even there — except that you are and they know it. Or that you are the first Black/Latino/Asian American person your white roommate has ever met. Or that you go to a party and someone white is dressed as “black.” Because this is the daily condition of being a student of color on an elite campus. It really is. Take my word for it, and then try believing them.”


The situation at the University of Missouri further denotes students as social activist when it comes to race. Hence, forcing out the university president. The football team sit out threat was brilliant. The student athletes had the power of the mighty dollar and used it with appropriate force. They got the support of their head football coach too. There is a circa 1960s feel to this.

New Course: Race and Urban Inequality in 21st Century America




Below is the description for a course I will teach this winter: Race and Urban Inequality in 21st Century America.

As a historian who studies the past, I use its injustices to challenge the present. I hope this course will teach an array of skills, while providing a base of knowledge 21st century students need to be change agents.

Course Description

19th century Frenchmen Alexis de Tocqueville wrote on the greatness of American democracy; he referenced the egalitarian nature of the early republic and why democracy was so successful. However, 70 years later W.E.B. Du Bois noted, “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” Du Bois, an African-American scholar and civil rights activist enshrined this iconic observation in July 1900, while speaking in London at the Pan-African Congress. Du Bois repeated this phrase in his 1903 work, Souls of Black Folk. Unlike de Tocqueville, Du Bois addressed inequality in America, which has shaped the urban settings of under funded schools, police brutality, crime, and high unemployment rates in minority communities. In Du Bois’s Let Us Reason Together, he noted the resistance Northerners had toward Negroes migrating to the North. He wrote about endemic issues of racism that furthered 20th and 21st century mass urban unrest.

This course begins with an academic study of race and urban inequality in 20th century America. Students will look at Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow as it purports a prison pipeline system for people of color. Students will engage with scholars, community organizers and activists, public defenders, civic and religious leaders, as well as former gang members and law enforcement officers to expand on why “the problem” of the 20th century is a persistent problem in the 21st century. In the concluding week, students will take on local case studies exploring policies that might resolve endemic matters, which have allowed gang violence and urban riots across the United States.

From the Book Shelf


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dubois copy 2

Here is an image for you from one of my book cases: I see something close to Warner Sallman’s Jesus watching over the communist (workers of the world — Karl Marx mug), W.E.B. Du Bois (see mug), and those Muslims in the White House. That must be one of my favorite New Yorker covers, as it makes fun of the many silly closed-minded Americans. The Marx and Du Bois mugs were gifts from a former student.

I Am Okay With Ben Carson


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During the spring of 1997, I first became aware of Ben Carson. It was also that spring in which I elected to interview and accept a youth ministry position at one of the largest churches of Christ congregations in the nation. While holding office hours on one June day of 1997, I took a trip to the congregation’s library. I checked out Carson’s book, Gifted Hands, and was amazed by him as a black man with such a prolific story. I looked up to Ben; he represented a different narrative to the one I was used to. After listening to an NPR piece on Ben Carson today, I sat back and thought about my initial thoughts of him.

Sure enough, the NPR piece fit my impressions. Here is a man that dealt with some of the things I dealt with at an early age. I got into a number of fights before being allotted an opportunity to attend ACA – a Montgomery independent school. What many do not know about me is that I was admitted on probation. My grades were not great until I  got to ACA. It is a good thing I tested well. Before attending ACA, I had been suspended a number of times for fighting. I had serious anger issues and a distrust of others. I watched drug deals and community gun violence toward others. Once at ACA, I divorced myself from a few folks I tended to run the streets with. I had a great girlfriend, teachers, and a head football coach who held me accountable. I took demanding courses and became a great student. My football coach is still one of my heroes. Better yet, without an ACA education I would not be the academic, teacher, nor husband that I am today.

Ben Carson also had poor grades; he got in fights and was suspended from school too. However, according to his story, he did try to kill a person out of anger. I never did that; however, I was in some serious fights. I will admit to always having a bit of fanfare toward Carson. Here is a man that defied the inner city of Detroit. Regardless of his accomplishments, he is still a black man that dealt with all of the realities black men face. He built centers for black kids in hopes of helping them improve in school; he gave money to help inner city black kids afford college. I was in love with this man. Black people in general loved him.

Hence, it is at this point that I am perplexed. Carson has allied himself with a very conservative ideological position that spells anti-black. His voice has become more radical as his disposition toward the black community is a bit distant. I am not sure why this is the case. I know he had no help in his emergence to being a better student. Well, his faith and belief in God offered him salvation. And yes, he has reached a point of being a savior to many. However, I am not sure his approach to being a savior extends fully to black people. I want Carson to know that not all people can emulate his direct path. It is here that I believe his voice needs to be more vocal toward the lack of redistribution of wealth to certain communities. Carson needs to make amend with black folks. Beating up Obama and attacking institutions that empowers black people is not the answer.

As a leftist, I still admire and believe in Ben Carson. Black people spend too much time putting other black people down. I would like to see Carson model this by traveling back to the Ben I first discovered. Black men cannot afford to throw other black men under the bus. I admire his faith and what he has managed to do. So, I will no longer take aim at Ben. However, I will be his champion in hopes that he will grasp the complexities of race and class in the 21st century.

The Problem of the 21st Century is the Color Line



At my age, I am not fully out of the woods yet; but as I noted to a colleague, I now face better odds than other young men of color. Back in 1903, W.E.B Du Bois wrote that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line”. For young black males today, the 21st century has not been too kind. As of late, it is a rare night when I can go to bed free of feeling stressed for black males these days. There have been nights in which I was so troubled and mad, that I could not sleep. I just do not know what to do. That is my fear. I write this with a heavy heart for young black men here at the dawn of the 21st century.

Brooks GSA




As faculty advisors, our Gay-Straight Alliance officers are working with us in hosting the faculty advisors and GSA leaders from the St. Mark’s School at our home for dinner Friday. It should be great as we aim to develop a closer relationship between the two boarding schools. Further, our officers prepared a new bulletin board in the main academic hall for parents weekend. Checkout the article posted on our webpage.

The Lecture



As a Harkness teacher, I do believe that students must be asked to struggle with their thoughts, readings, and ideas. They need to engage in thoughtful conversations with peers and teachers in order to hone various ideas. I am not anti-lecture, but I do not think students can acquire historical thinking skills via that map. At times I think it is easy to read a set of notes from the front of the room. We all have been in classes in which the instructor said the same thing that was in the reading. Like a great speech, a good lecture is hard to draft. I found this post interesting.

An Excellent Book on the Rise


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I am excited to be writing a review of John Wilsey’s book to publish. I will share my thoughts on this fantastic work later. I believe it will be released on November 1st. I just got off the phone with John and noted to him the value I found in his book as a black American with a leftist point of view on race and religion. I envision teaching a course with this book in mind.

Nas and Du Bois




Rap star Nas winning a W.E.B. Du Bois’s award medal at Harvard. Du Bois would approve of this; he once stated that Negroes must showcase their talents to white society as a means of integration. Hence, a reason he favored the Harlem Renaissance. This view would change some as he shifted further to the left and then became a member of the Communist Party USA.

Pulitzer Prize Journalist Sonia Nazario at Brooks


Nazario copy

A section of my AP World History class welcomed Pulitzer Prize journalist and national bestseller Sonia Nazario to class. She is the author of “Enrique’s Journey.” Our class discussion centered on politics, immigration, economics, race and culture, etc. These 16 year olds were impressive. I was honored to join my department chair and a few other students in welcoming Ms. Nazario when she first arrived to campus; she joined us for a special seated dinner in her honor, just before she delivered an all-school speech.

Thomas H. Olbricht Christian Scholars’ Conference



I am excited to announce that I have been offered a position on the Civil Rights committee of the Christian Scholars’ Conference; it currently consists of Professors Jerry Taylor, Phyllis Hildreth and Tanya Brice who chairs this auspicious group of academics. I am excited to bring my “A” game and commitment to thinking about scholarship, faith, religion, race, and inclusivity.

The Small Skills

There are a lot of skills taught in schools. Sure, a residential school like Brooks requires students to own their day-to-day schedule and to balance their time. Think about the skills schools teach that we often take for granted. Often it is the small things that determine if a student can leave home and cope in a university environment or work place. Case in point:
there is something to be said about a student who looks at your syllabus in order to visit you during office hours. I had a young female student who took a VERY mature position in expressing her concerns about the volume of work I assign and the demands of my course. We met and I promised her that she could do it; we looked at the objectives and she discussed them fully. I stated to her that she will crush my impending essay. She left happy and full of confidence — as she should be. She thanked me for my time and stated that she was excited about the rigor and expectations. I loved her comfort in visiting me and having a very focused conversation about her and academic work. This is one of the many small things taught in schools that we take for granted. I think she was elated to see on the syllabus that things are about to get much easier.


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