Spike Lee’s film School Daze provided a snapshot of some of the elements of the higher education experience on a fictional predominantly black (or Historically Black College and University) campus. His concluding 3 minute scene may have stricken people as odd as Dap (the character played by Lawrence Fishburne) is ringing the old bell, breaking people from their slumber.
Slumber, in this case, is used as a metaphor of the conscious slumber that the intellectually prosperous are taking in regards to using their talents and time for the greater community and societal good. Instead of honing such skills and making a difference for the greater good in the form of providing improved access to resources ranging from education, community development, economic and employment access, and providing a voice to the community’s voiceless, such talents are being squandered, and their efforts of being agents of social change are merely superficial at best.
Perhaps Mr. Lee is onto something.
There are a number of individuals and collectives that have their heads and hearts in places grounded in improving the well-being of others. There are multiple individuals and collectives in education, non-profits, the religious community, corporate, and other areas whose dedication and focus in making communities and the people who reside there better places and people. But in light of their efforts, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently quotes, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people”.
Be it the daily reports of nearly 1.5 people a day being victims of homicide in Chicago, to the political gerrymandering taking place in regards to the voting rights act, the beyond ill-advised reference of someone comparing their prowess to that of Emmett Till (I have no idea what prowess this individual is “rapping” about, considering Mr. Till, for essentially flirting with a woman of a different hue, was found in the bottom of a river with an industrial fan nestled around his neck, a bullet hole in his head, and his face so disfigured that to this day would disturb even the most steely-minded and reserved individual), are good people hearing the call to serve? Or, just as people are conditioned to create a response as quick and intense as the sizzling of bacon in the skillet, only to see it dwindle out in less than 3 minutes, it can be argued that so too, when you consider the outcry of cases such as the Diallo case, Troy Davis, and just barely over a year ago in the case of Trayvon Martin, that such actions are sometimes fragmented at best.
A “flavor of the month”, “tea and cookies”, or one and done approach is not going to get it done. As with any efforts of significance, there is a definitive endgame. Consider the gains of the Civil Rights Era; while not perfect, the focus is on doing better, and in a number of instances related to socioeconomic access, improvements are made from the lunch counter to the ballot. However, even these steps in the right direction are under attack, and the end result could be far more damaging given the conditions of the day.
Next time that school makes a request for speakers or volunteers, just don’t read and listen about it, but actually follow through in the best way that you are able to. When that after-school or community program notes a need for help, do so, as your presence can be a present for the young and not so young people in that given community. Consider attending that city hall or school board meeting; it’s easy to “pop off at the mouth” when things go wrong, but ask yourself when’s the last time you attended a parent-teacher conference, PTSA meeting, or things of the sort.
Consider giving that talented but raw young person the platform to gain improved business and professional acumen, or instead of going to the club, funnel said funds to help a young person realize the promise and power of higher education, ranging from a scholarship or event a college tour. And in addition to holding those of the highest intellectual, economic, political, and spiritual talents accountable, take a look in the mirror and challenge yourself to do something slightly better than flood the airwaves or media with some “catch and fetch it” approaches that do more to lampoon the needs of the community and those in them.
As the shortest month of the year, which coincides with the conclusion of Black History Month, are you honestly and consistently (as Dr. King asked) making an effort to answer the question, “What are you doing for others”? Or, are you simple going about your business as disconnected and discombobulated, which essentially makes little to no impact in addressing and helping problem-solve the matters of importance in our immediate and surrounding communities.
Are you awake now?