BET is doing a special on Barack Obama and the Presidential election. I’ll be one of the academics brought in to provide the scholarly perspective on this. In my last project with BET, “The 25 Events that Misshaped Black America”, Michael Eric Dyson was my partner in crime. Mike is my friend, and was one of my greatest inspirations when I chose to pursue a career of public scholarship.
As you’ve seen, I don’t hold back on my own point of view, even if it is not popular (I am not a politician or in a popularity contest – I believe the role of the public scholar is to engage in sincere intellectual leadership). However, as I move forward with this project on Obama, I feel an obligation to be cognizant of what the black community is thinking.
We tape the episodes in July, and I expect them to start airing in September. So, in order to get my finger on the pulse of the community, I would like to encourage you to submit your opinions. Tell me: How do you feel as you’re watching this election? Are your feelings changing as time goes by? Has anything surprised, disappointed or angered you? I would really like to know.
I want to quickly give a shout out to the Atlanta Black Achievers. I’ll be keynoting their teen leadership summit on September 6. I wanted to mention this particular engagement, since I owe a life debt to Black Achievers. Had it not been for the Louisville, KY chapter of this organization, I would never have gone to college. In fact, I dedicated my first book “Everything you ever wanted to know about college” to the Black Achievers organization. If there is a chapter in your city, I encourage you to join or make a donation. It was my mama’s willingness to yank me by my afro and force me to go to meetings on Saturday mornings that changed my life forever. I encourage other parents out there to not give up on their kids and do the same thing. EVERY BLACK CHILD IS COLLEGE MATERIAL. Don’t let teachers, counselors or anyone else tell you different.
In case anyone is interested, I wrote an article on the feud between rapper Ice-T and Soulja Boy. As someone who speaks regularly to high school kids (all of whom seem to live and die for Soulja Boy) I felt like this was a chance to discuss the divide between older generations and younger ones. I am not sure if we always give our youth the respect they need to make them feel empowered to carry the torch. Yes, we are better drivers, but we need to trust them with the wheel, since we can’t drive forever.
I even witness this divide myself when I appear on shows with individuals from the Civil Rights generation. While many of them are open to the idea of new leadership, there are some who don’t seem to feel that any generation after their own has anything of value to contribute to the world. But I applaud the NAACP in their decision to elect Ben Jealous as their new president. I am optimistic that Mr. Jealous can inject fresh, youthful blood into the organization, while maintaining a sincere respect for the contributions of the past. Properly passing the torch requires a delicate and respectful negotiation between generations. Berating young people only marginalizes them. I am a fan of encouraging youth and empowering their desire to bring fresh, energized and educated perspectives. In return, when we sit at the table to give advice, we will find them quite receptive. Whether you realize it or not, the feud between Ice-T and Soulja Boy is no different from the divide between Bill Cosby and black teens, or what I’ve gone through with some (not all) Civil Rights leaders. As we work with youth, it is critical to remember that the phrase “tough love” also includes the word “love”. Love and hate can be reflective devices: the more you give, the more you usually get back. Let’s love our kids to greatness.
At any rate, be well and God Bless.
Dr. Boyce Watkins