Harlem Nights Fundraiser Pt. 2

On Saturday, April 22, 2017 Making It to The Finish Line will be hosting the annual fundraiser for the charity.  It would be a great service to the community if you could either attend the dinner dance or make a contribution of any size at http://www.mittfl.org that would be great.  Also if you could get a friend to make a donation of any size that would be a fantastic way of showing support for a nonprofit that has helped out the community for years.  The following list are the top ten reasons that you should support our efforts. 

1.      It is a way of showing support for kids who live in the Metro Detroit area.

2.      The money goes toward beneficial activities that kids can learn from. 

3.      Goes to support efforts to get kids to do things that does not involve social media, video games, etc. 

4.      Helps us expand our efforts to support the community with other activities beyond the annual cotillion ball.

5.      The donation of $25 is tax deductible.  

6.      Not only is this another chance to play dress up, but it honors an unsung time and place important in history.

7.      Harlem symbolizes a time and place that is the epitome sophistication and dynamism. 

8.      There will be a live disc jockey instead of music coming from a lifeless machine.

9.      A prize will be given to the best dressed male and female. 

10.  There will be raffle prizes. 

Fear of the Unknown

Merriam Webster online dictionary defines fear as; to be afraid of (something or someone); to expect or worry about (something bad or unpleasant); to be afraid and worried.  These definitions of fear fall under the category of a verb that is transitive while using the word fear as a noun conveys the same core meaning.  Fear as a noun is defined as an unpleasant emotion caused by being aware of danger; a feeling of being afraid; and a feeling of respect and wonder for something very powerful.  No matter how it is defined, the emotions associated with fear leads to an avoidance of some kind.  Fears may be rational, but in many cases fear can be irrational because people tend to fear things and events that they feel are beyond their control. 

One category of people that always elicits a sense of dread and foreboding are strangers; especially from another culture.  Very few subjects other than strangers would justify irrational fears and sometimes for a logical reason.  People would be hard pressed to watch the local news and see stories that portray society in the most negative light because the news is overrun with stories of how crime is ravaging our neighborhoods.  If this is the only point of view that a person sees about a different culture, neighborhood, or society, that will likely shape any possible interaction a person has in the event they come into contact with a stranger; whom they are only familiar with based on media reports of persons from that background, area, etc. The problem with interactions based on media reports is that it reduces people to one dimensional abstractions when in reality people are more complex than what is presented at face value. 

Overcoming the fear of the unknown requires the opposite of fear: bravery and confidence that strangers are not something to be feared.  One way to get over this fear is to have knowledge of another person’s cultural background beyond media narratives.  Reading a book or magazine article about other cultures written by people from that specific culture is a good start to breaking down cultural barriers.  Another, more potent way of overcoming the fear of strangers would be to talk to a stranger.  A simple greeting communicated with respect would be a great start to breaking down cultural barriers.  The logical next step is to avoid making generalizations based on preconceived notions that have been implanted based on media narratives.  After that point, the interlocutors may find out that they have some common interest and a possible budding friendship could emerge. 

One proactive way overcome the fear of strangers is to join an organization, or find some way to offer support.  This nonprofit organization, Making It to The Finish Line, helps out the youth in the Detroit area overcome some of the challenges that are present in the area.  The theme of unity is the best way of overcoming the fear of the unknown, which starts at the individual level.  Overcoming such fears will create the building blocks to create a better society so that children will have a better life than their parents.  At Making It to The Finish Line, we intend to do our part to help make the world a better place. 

Annual Fund Raiser

Once again the annual fund raiser for Making It to The Finish Line is upon us.  On Saturday, April 22, 2017 at the Ears Showplace in Hamtramck, Michigan we will hold a specially themed Harlem Nights Dinner Dance to raise money for this organization.  As an organization that cherishes this community and what it represents to the world, we would like to thank everyone who has participated in helping make this organization continue to thrive during the past 15 years we have been in operation.  Our program serves kids between ages 7-17 who seek activities outside of a school setting.  However, despite the fact this is a nonprofit organization, we need money to continue to provide services that help the community. 

Making It to The Finish Line is dedicated to helping youth in the Detroit area find their place in life.  This area has many problems which are caused by forces beyond the control of the people, which is why organizations such as this is needed.  We provide an environment for kids to learn and be entertained in an environment away from the densely populated school setting where there are numerous distractions that prevent learning.  Currently, our main project is our Cotillion Boot Camp which last from September to May every year which the parents and students enjoy.  We have other projects in the works to help the community, but budgetary constraints prevent us from implementing them. 

Now for some specific information about the annual fund raiser.  The theme is “Harlem Nights,” which is in honor of the Harlem Renaissance cultural movement of the late 1920’s.  Prizes will be given to the best dressed male and female of the event.  Tickets are on sale now at the EARS Showplace: Mon., 3 pm to 9 pm; Thurs., 3 pm to 9 pm; and Fri., 6 pm to 10 pm.  Dinner will be served at 8:30 pm and we will have music by a D.J.  The minimum donation amount is $25.00 which is tax deductible. 

This is where you, the reader, can assist us in our goal to help kids living in the Detroit community.  As with any organization, having people be aware of the existence and purpose of how the organization helps the community helps out a great deal.  Besides the usual word of mouth, sharing our articles on social media and reacting to our post will bring much needed attention to our efforts.  We currently use the social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress blog which helps get our message out to strangers.  We also have a website mittfl.org which gives visitors a look at what we do and if you are feeling generous we have a donate button/Paypal so anyone can give a tax deductible donation.   If anyone in the area wishes to get involved personally you can give Gladys a call at (313) 460-0596. 

The Endurance of George Orwell

It is quite surprising when the number one book on Amazon is a book that was originally printed during the 1940’s.  However, considering the fact that the number one book is 1984 this is a testament not only to the allegory of life under an authoritarian government, but to the somewhat clichéd phrases the book introduces into American culture.  The adjective Orwellian, has been used profusely over the past decade to describe everything from a camera on every street corner to government reading the emails of its citizens.  The future presented in 1984 is dystopian, where the difference between up and down are not clear and no one can clearly tell the difference from fact or fiction. 

This is a story that resonates very well with the way many people are feeling in America today.  1984 is the kind of story that should be taught in schools across the country, not just because it is a good story, but it is a clever way of commenting on the way one sees the world.  This book is a prime example of why students spend time reading stories in their English class, but that message is not often communicated to students.  The importance of looking for the deeper meaning of a story and not just completing an assignment is not stressed enough for many reasons.  Sometimes there is a communication breakdown between teacher and student, and other times the student(s) have a lack of interest in the subject matter.  Not every story fits this criteria, but for those that do it is worth taking heed of the message(s) the author conveys. 

One important factor in determining the intent of the author is to know a bit about the author’s background or notice recurring themes in their work.  Take for example Orwell’s other famous work Animal Farm.  This story is more of a true parable of an authoritarian regime that uses animals as a substitute for human beings, yet has the same central theme as 1984.  The use of animals is well suited to subtly get kids interested in the story while delivering a moral message that may be beyond their comprehension.  Some parents may believe that kids are too young to be exposed to such themes, but shielding them from the complexity of life does not make problems go away, but it can prepare them to understand how the world works. 

Dystopian novels are all the rage in society today which does reflect the mood of a certain segment of the populace.  Exposing kids to Orwell’s themes is not meant to depress them, but provides context to understanding the world around them.  Ideally, by understanding the themes of a story will spark their critical thinking skills in order for them to make thoughtful decisions when interpreting the world as it exist.  Another dystopian novel that recently entered the best sellers list is It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis, which has been referenced a lot in the past year.  These works of fiction may present a sense that the rapture is coming, but they comment on a possible future that can be prevented if the right steps are taken. 

Making It to The Finish Line is the kind of organization that helps to educate kids in the Detroit area.  By being a community organization we give kids the message that life does not have to be as dystopian as the novels of George Orwell if people proactively work to make sure that future does not happen.  If you are interested in helping you can visit the website mittfl.org or call (313) 460-0596.      

New Normalcy

Throughout the last year the term normal has been used quite a bit to describe the fearful direction many feel this country is heading.  This is somewhat fitting because the term normalcy entered the American lexicon during the inauguration address of Warren G. Harding in 1921.  Harding succeeded a president who was a progressive and earned a PhD and is consider to be a great president by historians.  In direct contrast Harding was a known to bloviate when giving stump speeches, had a large libido, and his presidency was tarnished by the Teapot Dome scandal due to corrupt cabinet officials.  Despite all of these parallels to the past, as a country we have to figure out what is going to be the new normal. 

Traditionally, the office of the president has been viewed as the epitome of dignity and grace.  Over the past few years a segment of the American population lost respect for the institution and the norms of democracy.  With nihilistic fervor, an enraged minority of the electorate wanted someone to represent the country who has a total disregard for civility and any standard of decency.  The American people are represented by someone who often displays characteristics that were once considered deviant and unacceptable for the public.  This would not be too harmful to society if kids did not exist, but they not only exist, but they mimic behaviors they witness from authority figures.  The most disturbing aspect of the current cultural decline is that it signals what direction the youth are being steered toward. 

Over the past year the world has witnessed a leader who has a tenuous relationship with the facts, considers marginalized people as nothing more than scapegoats, and brags about violating the rights of women.  The fact that such a person can be elected to the highest office in the land says something about the deep seated values the country finds at the very least tacitly acceptable.  Besides the clear-cultural sickness, the country appears to be splitting apart in factions thus creating divided states.  One of the problems with this trend is that when situations force people to interact with a person from another background; communication can go awry and divisions deepen.  This view is not necessarily an indictment of any group in particular, but a possibility of things to come. 

As disturbing as this view may seem, it is not too late to turn the culture around in a better direction.  This can and should be accomplished on the individual level.  The message that should be conveyed to kids is that this is not acceptable behavior.  Just because someone comes from a higher class does not mean that person should be able to get away with saying obscene things and violating the rights of other people.  It is extremely hypocritical for a parent who voted for that candidate and tell their kids this is unacceptable behavior but it is necessary that kids hear that message.  It is up to you and community organizations like Making It to The Finish Line to help steer the culture away from a canyon they can never climb out of. 

Abstractions

In this country, people tend to speak of other people and experiences in the abstract.  This is understandable because it is not possible to know or understand the lived experiences of another person despite how empathetic a person may be.  The problem with this reality is that it fails to connect how people have a solipsistic view of the world, which oftentimes denies the existence and validity of people who are outside of one’s knowledge of existence.  Unless one is willing to take a big step outside of their comfort zone, and get to concretely understand where another person is coming from, everyone who is different will be seen as an abstraction and their humanity will seem nonexistent. 

One example of this is when a mass tragedy or a contagion strikes and many people will suffer as a result.  This concept makes the saying attributed to Josef Stalin ring true: One death is a tragedy, but a million is a statistic.  At this point, people have been reduced to numbers and the only way they will speak in death is if their stories are heard.  In many instances mass suffering is unavoidable, but in some cases suffering is preventable and it is unconscionable that society does nothing to preempt a mass tragedy.  For example, if many people will die as a result of losing their health care, it is morally objectionable that a society would let that happen.  The fact that this takes place is attributable to people being seen as abstractions, and not as real people deserving of having their humanity recognized. 

Another sterling example of abstracting life experiences is the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.  Looking at this from the perspective of pop culture: he made one famous speech, had a few sound bites, was assassinated and then was recognized as a beloved hero who bought racial harmony to America.  The truth is that he was incredibly unpopular until he became a martyr and the history of his work was bowdlerized for mass consumption.  In reality he incurred the wrath of the Johnson administration by speaking out against the Vietnam war, he was chastised by a segment of the black population for stirring up the pot, and he was an advocate against classism.  People would be shocked to find out he said this the following words in 1966: “You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about the billions of dollars.  You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of the slums.  You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then.  You are messing with captains of industry . . . Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong. . . with capitalism . . . There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.” (See the “S” word by John Nichols for the context of the quote). 

The task of those who wish to solve the problem of abstractions in society is to find a way to make abstractions concrete.  Education is a big part of it but an open mind will be more effective in creating concrete experiences that will foster understanding of other groups of people.  Joining a community group and having lively discussions is a great place to start.  Organizations such as Making It to The Finish Line is a great place to start and we hope to expand making the experience of marginalized people more concrete.    

Fictional Role Models

Pop culture is currently besotted with fictional role models as demonstrated by box office ticket sales, shirts people wear, and social media post.  One genre of fiction that has taken over the public imagination is comic books.  As a form of entertainment, the industry has often appealed to a mass audience by embracing the spirit of the times and furtively held up a mirror to the public consciousness.  Considering the fact that comic books gained steam back in the 1940’s, many of the views expressed from that time period are no longer socially acceptable to express in public.  From reasons ranging from inclusion to the very noticeable financial concerns, the industry has changed quite a bit since those early days.

One noticeable change that has occurred in recent years is the inclusion of characters who no not straight white men.  Noble efforts at inclusion aside, the industry is attempting to respond to the changing demographic changes is motivated by money.  However, these efforts should be applauded not for pandering to an audience or to balance out an exclusionary past, but because what the representation means to those who are often marginalized.  People, especially children, are affected by their environment and having characters who look like them reminds them that they are not invisible and ignored by society.  One of, if not the most marginalized group of people in this country, are black women.  Fortunately, they now being represented by characters headlining their own title.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is a great book that is suitable for all ages starring a young black girl, Lunella Lafayette, and her pet dinosaur.  The title is an updated version of the classic Jack Kirby creation Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur, which took place in prehistoric times.  This updated version of the book stars a young girl who is part alien and has a psychic link with a dinosaur and they end up having wild adventures.  In addition to the psychic link, Lunella is the smartest person in the Marvel Universe thanks to her alien DNA.  The character is precocious which makes her endearing to an audience which is willing to accept characters who are not usually represented in comics.

Another recent entrant to the comic book world is the media sensation Riri Williams, otherwise known as Ironheart.  Headlining the title, Invincible Iron Man, the character made national headlines when it was revealed that she would replace Tony Stark as the title character.  She is a 15-year-old student at M.I.T. who created a crude, but effective, version of the Iron Man armor.  This attracted the attention of the original Iron Man who has taken it upon himself to train her as a replacement.

The World of Wakanda is a mini-series that takes place in a fictionalized African country that is on the verge of war.  This series follows two female member of the royal guard and their journey of how they joined the royal guard.  The quest of the protagonist is to keep the country from descending into chaos due to the actions of foreign invaders.  The great news is that the series listed above are currently in production and can use all of the support that can be mustered.  You can call a local comic shop or order the trade paperback when they come out.  These books align quite nicely with Making It to The Finish Lines original mission of female empowerment which is crucial to making a stronger, sustainable community.

Ghost of Christmas

Christmas is the time of year that is based on traditions more than any other time of year.  They may change slightly from generation to generation, and adjust as the kids get older, but for the most part remain the same.  One thing that has become a staple of Christmas tradition in the media is that certain movies air around the holiday to the point that they are becoming a cliché.  It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart posits the message that as an individual one person can make a difference in the lives of others, and they are not totally worthless.  Beyond that movie, A Christmas Carol, a movie based on a novel, is mostly thought about on a superficial level. 

Although the book was written during the Victorian Era in England, the message is timeless and has moral implications throughout the year.  Putting this in a modern day context, Bob Cratchit is the true protagonist of the story despite the name recognition of his boss, Ebenezer Scrooge.  This statement rings true because Scrooge is portrayed as being villainous, cruel, and does not have an interest in using his power to improve the life of his employee.  However, everyone is the hero in their mind which explains why Scrooge is shocked when the ghosts force him to step outside of himself and view events.  This is an interesting point of view for a person to have because that is the best way one can analyze a situation. 

What makes this story powerful is that Bob worked closely with Scrooge and was not treated as some amorphous entity who controlled Bob’s life from a distance.  Having a personal relationship, no matter the nature, highlights the fact that people exert their influence over others, and suffering is not always cause by some divine act that is beyond rational understanding.  In modern society this is becoming less and less the case because companies have increased in size and people become unnoticeable to the top brass.  Employees and their concerns have become invisible to the managerial class which creates so much discontent throughout society.  The nice thing about this being a fictionalized story is that it allows for a happy ending which is not always the case in real life. 

More people are in Bob Cratchit’s situation than they realize, which is a blind spot that hinders not only progress of the working person, but much needed empathy that would improve society overall.  Much of this has to do with a lack of interaction with others, thus making us unaware of their plight.  Because people do not think through complicated issues too deeply, those who tend to be well off fill in their stories with generalizations and stereotypes that are specious at best.  Due to the lack of interaction and concern from the managerial class, it becomes imperative that we remember that our neighbors are in this position and we should at least be understanding if not helpful.  It falls to organizations like Making It to The Finish Line to assist our brothers and sisters who are in dire straits because we are familiar with the plight of the working class.  Christmas is the best time of year to think about how we can help others, even in small ways.  Small things do add up to big things down the line. 

Environment

The word environment is quite broad in its meaning and interpretation.  This is because what encompass the term environment can be micro (immediate surroundings), or macro (governmental climate or global considerations), which shapes people in profound ways.  Viewing each person as a unit, a collection of tiny units makes up a community, which is a subset of a much larger picture of what makes a society.  There is a strange chicken and the egg situation with the environment in this context; does the environment of society influence the individual, or does the collection of individuals influence society.  It is hard to determine which one is more important because of the point at which one begins and the other ends is difficult to determine.

In order to make sense of the how the environment shapes a person it makes a lot of sense to start small and work upwards.  The shaping of a person starts at home and a lot of the end result is guided by parents.  Parents tend to raise their kids based largely on the way they were raised and sometimes adapt to the immediate circumstances when necessary.  Kids cannot be raised in the exact same way that their parents were raised because times change and the parents were raised under a different set of circumstances.  Despite the changes made over time one thing that is consistent over the course of generations are the values that are transferred from generation to generation.    

One major factor that shapes the values that are transferred from generation to generation is the social standing in which a person was raised.  For example, if someone comes from an impoverished family, their value system would be much different than someone who came from an affluent background.  If someone was poor their view of material possessions would more likely hold some sentimental value because they would have become intimately familiar with scarcity throughout their lives.  In contrast, someone from a more affluent background might take material possessions and many other things for granted because they have easier access to resources to accommodate the lifestyle that they have become used to. 

The educational and school system that someone finds themselves in has probably the biggest impact on how a person is shaped to become the person they end up becoming.  Again, social standing plays a role in what resources a person has to work with in order to advance their education.  If a school has armed guards, metal detectors, mold throughout the building, and an overwhelming sense of despair because the neighborhood surrounding the school is blighted, that situation will create barriers for productive education to take place.  Conversely, if someone lives in an affluent area where they have small class sizes that allows more attention to be paid to individual students, gourmet meals served at lunch, and the parents biggest problem is which extracurricular activity to enroll their kid in, that affluent kid is going to have a much easier road to success.   

One of the reasons Making It to The Finish Line exist is to help the less affluent out because of the many obstacles that the affluent do not have to worry about.  Being successful at this task requires a community effort which is on the micro level.  The macro level and how it shapes an individual is something that will be discussed in a future post.  If you or anyone you know can help in anyway do not hesitate to call Gladys at 313-460-0569. 

Giving Thanks

The holiday season is once again upon us, and we begin gathering with family members celebrating old traditions.  Although the holiday season has since become associated with mass commercialism, this post is not about that because that sentiment is hackneyed at this point.  In fact, this post is not about being grateful for family and how the holidays are a time of year where people put aside their differences and get along for as long as tolerable.  This post is about the one thing anyone in a civilized society should be thankful for and never take for granted: the right to voice well-reasoned dissent. 

The way a democracy is supposed to work is that when people have differing opinions they can debate issues publicly and privately in the hopes of gaining a new understanding and hopefully persuade people to consider another point of view.  This concept was given life in the first amendment with the freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of petition, freedom of assembly, and the freedom of religion.  Oftentimes, rights have restrictions placed on them if they are deemed to fit the public good, but what these rights mean and how best to exercise them is a battle that has been waged since the founding of this republic. 

It is important to remember that these fundamental rights were not guaranteed to every citizen, and many had to fight to obtain these rights without reprisal from authoritarian forces; a battle which is still being waged to this day.  The desire to be seen as an equal and enjoy the same standard of living that the majority of people take for granted is what animates marginalized groups to protest and make their voices heard.  This battle starts with burning passions and rage that cannot be quelled by anything short of equal rights and dignity.  Advocates for positions that dissent from the mainstream view experience pushback from those who do not like change, but that is to be expected when a comfortable situation is disrupted. 

In order to achieve a desired goal – especially in this type of situation – it is important that a well-reasoned argument be put forth for why a proposed change needs to be made.  What the beautifully constructed argument will do is convince people why changes made to society will benefit the majority of people.  Appeals to reason may not penetrate the thickest of skulls, but it can get the ball rolling toward progress that will make life more rewarding for everyone.  Like the Battle of the Bulge, there will be a lot of back and forth in terms of victories, but it is a fight that needs to be fought. 

This post is about giving thanks to those who waged a tireless battle for the rights of marginalized groups who wanted nothing more than social and legal equality.  There are too many names to mention, whether they have been lost to the pages of history or just never had their story told, their anonymity is an historical crime.  For the notions of equality that was invoked at the founding of this country, but was limited to those who already had power, the warriors for the marginalized should be thanked and honored for their contributions to help make this country great.