Monday, January 7, 2008

New Blog Address

We've moved! We've moved! We've really moved!!

Here is the new address:

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Monday, January 7th is the Big Day!!

I've gotten letters, phone calls, and emails. It seems that many of you are experiencing withdrawals, demanding that I fire the designer who's working on my new blog or return to blogging here at Blogger.

Heck, after speaking the other night at the 2008 Black Student Leadership Conference there in Washington, DC, I was accosted by a disgruntled fan demanding to know when the blog will be back up.

My wonderful new designer, Seven, assures me that he expects to be finished loading everything from Blogger onto my beautifully new designed Wordpress blog this weekend and that the new address for Something Within will be up and running by Monday morning when all of you wake up and sign on.

Check back here on Monday where you will be directed to the new location.

And now for the person who knowing my love for old school R & B sounds-- despite my strict Pentecostal upbringing-- sent me the "Martha Reeves & The Vandellas" YouTube link below in the hope of luring me out of my hiatus and back onto the blog, I say: Naughty, Naughty. Though shall not tempt the preacher woman with worldly music.

But, hey, don't you just love the hairstyles, the yellow gowns, and those carefully calibrated moves?? Berry Gordy of Motown was determined that his "girl singers" maintain an air of glamour and respectability when they appeared before audiences and not play into the stereotype of black women as sexual provocateurs.

Mr. Berry Gordy, come back, come back!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Donda West

Speaking of Dr. Donda West I was happy to see that as of yesterday most African American bloggers had decided against following the stampede. Posting the morbid audio recording of the 911 call made by Dr. Donda West’s friends just before her death is just too darn tacky a thing to do. Some bloggers passed on posting it probably out of respect for Kanye. Others, like myself, refuse to post it believing that some things ought to remain private. The confusion and bedlam surrounding the final seconds of a love one's life is one of them. I haven’t listened to the recording. Leave it to friends, however, to phone and summarize what they heard. Makes me wanna holler and throw up both my hands…

It now makes sense to me why Jesus ordered wailers and gawking spectators out the room so he could heal a little girl (Mark 5). Some things are private.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Remembering Ruby Doris

Sociologist Charles Payne talks about the slow respectful, behind the scenes, work that makes the dramatic moments possible. Making the phone calls. Running off flyers. Sending out reminders. Booking the flights. Training new volunteers. Smoothing out differences and navigating turf wars. Passing reminders to speakers about important announcements. Raising bail money. Striking up the right song while sitting in jail to keep everyone’s hopes alive.

These were just a few of the duties of Ruby Doris Smith as a formidable force in the student sit-in movement and eventual leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

As part of my ongoing fixation with women’s biographies, especially those of little known women, I finally managed to track down a copy of Cynthia Griggs Fleming's, Soon We Will Not Cry: The Liberation of Ruby Doris Smith Robinson. I’ve been trying for months to find a copy. It was worth the wait. Once again there’s much to learn about women’s ongoing struggle to juggle love and work, the private and the public, conventional notions of power with conventional thinking about femininity. Unlike many other black women from that period whose stories we probably know better, Ruby Doris Smith was young, and, until her illness and death from cancer in 1967, she struggled to combined her passion for the movement, with her marriage and eventually motherhood.

Was it the writer of Ecclesiastes who wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun” (1:9)?

Atlanta born Ruby Doris Smith was only 18 years old when she, along with seventy-seven students from throughout the Atlanta University Center, fourteen of them from Spelman College, was arrested for attempting to integrate white cafeteria counters throughout Atlanta. Ruby Doris had arrived on Spelman's campus two years earlier at 16 as something of a child prodigy. But from the time of her arrest on March 15, 1960 on she stood out for her courage and commitment to the cause.

In the months and years following March 1960 Ruby Doris Smith took part in dozens of pickets of supermarkets, restaurants, bus terminals, white churches, and state and capital buildings. From time to time, some girls would pull out of marches at the last minute, complaining that their periods had started and that they didn’t want to be in jail on their period. Others like Ruby Doris Smith stuffed sanitary napkins in their socks and went on to the marches. Her remarkable organizational skills, her attention to details, along with her courage and energy would eventually make her an indispensable presence in both the local and the larger national student sit-in movement.

One thing that strikes me as I read Ruby Doris' biography is the role women sometimes play in their own erasure. While she was powerful and had no problem using that power, Smith seems never to have wanted to call attention to her power or to herself. Sexism within the male dominated SNCC was a given, and she often bristled at men like Stokely Carmichael who seemed to relish the spotlight. But Ruby Doris shied away from any personal spotlight for herself. The personal must give way to the political, she argued. I can’t help wondering how much women like Ruby Doris Smith and Ms. Ella Baker (who argued similarly) contributed to their anonymity by repeatedly shunning personal attention and by refusing to see how intertwined the personal and the political often are.

Even though her involvement in early sit-ins, marches and pickets, her willingness to go to jail for her convictions, and her growing administrative responsibilities within SNCC would force her to drop out of college several times, Ruby Doris Smith did eventually graduate from Spelman in 1965. The struggle to juggle commitments would continue when two months after graduation Ruby Doris Smith (now Robinson) gave birth to a son. For the next year she would divide herself between a husband, a child, and her new full time job with SNCC as Executive Secretary. That struggle ended sadly, on October 7, 1967, when at 25 years old, Ruby Doris Smith Robinson died from cancer -- and sheer exhaustion, says some.

It would be easy, though not quite true, to say that with the death of Ruby Doris came the death of SNCC. Other forces were ripping at the organization’s seams in 1968 and contributed to its eventual demise within that year: turf wars, an ideological shift away from nonviolence toward more militaristic methods, the death of comarades, the increasing number of whites in the movement, sexual tensions, King's assasination in ’68, harsh government reprisals, economic hardships. It does seem true, however, that with the loss of Ruby Doris' daily presence there in the SNCC office for those nine months she lay dying in the hospital, the organization's demise was hastened. That's how important Ruby Doris Smith was to SNCC and how much we miss out by not having her around today to pose questions to. Especially since her decison to marry and have a child so early, say Flemings, was in large part the result of her belief that a woman’s identity ultimately grows out of motherood. Some of us may disagree with such a notion today, but it's not one we haven't bumped up against forty years later.

Reading the biography of Ruby Doris Smith is to be reminded that we are not the first generation of women who've struggled to find a balance between the personal and the political, love and work, ministry and motherhood. Her biography is also a reminder how important it is to know your worth and not be shy about tooting your own horn when necessary, if only for history's sake.

I wake up the next morning with Ruby Doris on my mind. "She was only a girl, a teenager, a young woman in her twenties, when she was doing what she was doing" a voice inside whispers. I sign back on this morning to salute young, brave lionesses like Ruby Doris who find their passion at an early age and spend themselves exploring where it leads.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Do What You Have The Power To Do

You don’t even have to be a starry-eyed Oprah follower to know how much medial mogul Oprah Winfrey respects Maya Angelou, writer, activist and poet. She quotes from Maya Angelou on her show and has had the Poet Laureate on many times over the years. Maya Angelou was one of the 25 honorees at Winfrey’s Legends Ball earlier this year, and Oprah has even given her mentor a weekly radio show on her “Oprah & Friends” satellite radio channel.

But when it comes to politics, evidently friendship has its limits. And that’s a good thing, I believe.

Close friends Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey – mentor and protégée, godmother and adoring daughter-like figure —have decided to use their star power to lend their support to their favorite presidential candidate. The problem, for some, is that the two friends disagree on which candidate should become president. Oprah Winfrey has decided to go all out for Barack Obama's campaign by throwing a Hollywood studded fundraiser for him back in the fall and this weekend joining him in Iowa and South Carolina at his stomp speeches. Maya Angelou, 79, who was the poet at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration in January 1993, makes it clear that she's ready to pen another poem for a Clinton presidency

Speaking to the throngs in Iowa and South Carolina who, like myself, have doubts about Obama’s experience, Winfrey said: “Experience in the hallways of government isn’t as important to me as experience on the pathway of life...The amount of time you spent in Washington means nothing unless you are accountable for the judgments you made with the time you had.”

Frail, but undaunted, poet Maya Angelou has taken her support of long time friend from Arkansas, Hillary Clinton, to the airwaves in a 60-second radio spot running throughout South Carolina entitled “My Girl.”

"Each generation of African Americans stands on the shoulders of those who came before," says Maya Angelou." Today, the challenges facing us threaten the dreams we have had for our children. We need a president with the experience and strength to meet those challenges. I am inspired by Hillary Clinton’s commitment and courage … a daughter, a wife, a mother... my girl."

It's a lesson in the use of power. We are witnessing two African American women using their power as cultural icons to make the changes they want to see in the world.

You remember the story in Mark 14 of Jesus’s anointing at Bethany by the woman with an alabaster jar filled with costly ointment. When some of the guests treated her rudely, Jesus replied, “Leave her alone." (I like that part.) Then Jesus told them, "She has done what was in her power to do.”

Do what you have the power to do.

Power. Influence. Charisma. Seniority. Wisdom. Capital-- financial and moral.

Certainly, power is difficult to define and takes many forms. In the past power has been defined in the male sphere as having control. But as more and more women stretch out and begin to use their moral, economic, political, and intellectual influence to change the way things are done, perhaps it's time to redefine power itself as having the energy, influence, vision, and the courage to risk becoming a change agent.

I admire Oprah Winfrey. I like what she has to say about Obama's candadacy in her stomp speeches. (Too bad Obama has to take the mic after Winfrey.) I agree with her that values and vision matter. I just disagree with her on how very much experience matters when it comes to the highest office in the land. Too bad she’s not running for president. I trust her experience in effecting change more than I do Obama’s.

But that’s a point for another day.

For now, I am just enjoying watching two powerful black women go out on a limb for who they believe in. Angelou and Winfrey, two women at the height of their careers, one in media and the other in art, each using her seniority, making use of her influence and visibility, and tapping the moral and political capital she's amassed over the years in her career, to get her favorite candidate elected. I’m delighted to have lived long enough to see black women making it clear where they stand by playing an important role in reimagining and redefining power in all of its contexts—not only for the sake of women, or for blacks, but also for the well-being of all people, all cultures, and the earth itself.

Do what's in your power to do.

What's the point in having seniority if you're going to play if safe, like you did when you were an upstart and were afraid to make waves? What's the point in climbing to the top of your profession, if all you're going to do when you get there is to continue with business as usual? What's the point in having power if you're not going to use it?

Do what's in your power.

Leave the rest to God.