Leaders Of The New Revolution

Posted in The Journal with tags , on February 3, 2012 by Joe Lostrangio Jr

It’s easy to be cynical.  Watch television, go to the movies, hop on twitter, log on facebook, you quickly realize stupidity reigns. Yet, within its kingdom are pockets of genius.  The other day I found out just how deep those pockets are.  I was able to speak to a group of 12-14yr olds about Black History and how it relates to their everyday life. When it comes to young people you either come correct or don’t bother coming at all.  If you can’t cut it, you can rest assured they will let you know about it.  I try to come in with no preconceived notions, but we all know that’s impossible to do. I try to keep my expectations low as it relates to their prior knowledge of Black History.  Schools tend to treat black history as Slavery, Martin Luther King Jr and….and….and that’s about it, back to your regularly scheduled white power program.

As far as I could tell after speaking with these kids the school held up their end of the bargain.  However, their parents have done a remarkable job educating these children.  I’ve never had such a deep and detailed discussion about these issues with a group so young.  Their depth of knowledge on some of these issues would rival that of advanced college students. After we spoke I gave them my contact information as I always do.  You tend to get a lot of responses especially amongst kids that are older since there is less of an age gap and because they have the ability to read and discuss more challenging texts.

By the time I had returned home that night every single kid had already sent me an email.  Furthermore, most of them already put in requests for a reading list, more of my poetry, and they wanted to know if there were any projects that I could assign them and when we could meet again. I think it says a lot less about me and a lot more about their parents and the kids themselves.  That they have such a thirst (yes it can be positive) for knowledge is a testament to what their parents have taught them and what the children have done with this newfound information.

They are the leaders of the new revolution.

Joe Lostrangio Jr

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Posted in The Journal on January 27, 2012 by Joe Lostrangio Jr

Phillis Remastered

Usually, my blog posts deal with African American community or political issues, and I talk as one cultural insider to another cultural insider.

However, I’ve realized that sometimes, well-meaning, really nice White people (of which there are many, by the way) want Black folks to talk to them in non-angry, non-confrontational, and patient ways about Black cultural issues they don’t understand.

So I wondered if it might be useful for me to write blog posts that break racial things down for good White folks who mean no harm—and who either have Black friends or are in the midst of acquiring friendships with Black people– and are just trying to navigate these racial waters that ironically (and to me, bewilderingly) have become far more treacherous since the election of our first Black president.

Sidebar: I use “race” as a shorthand because that word usually means “Black” or “People of Color” to…

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Jealousy, Envy And Hate (Part 3: His Story)

Posted in The Journal with tags , , , , , on January 26, 2012 by Joe Lostrangio Jr

This will be the final post on jealousy, envy and hate. Since I included a story about when someone else felt those emotions, I thought it was only fair to include a story about when I felt those emotions. In college, myself and few other students started up this reading program for a local elementary school.  Basically it was a program where we helped teach english to children who had come to America from other countries. Once their english skills improved we would then introduce other subjects. The school that we started the program in was understaffed and so this gave us a little more leeway in regards to what we could teach.  That was important because it meant that we could experiment with some of our own ideas.

So I developed a program for the kids that was built around hip hop and black history. So what  I would do with the kids is we would play songs, go over the lyrics and then have a discussion. After that we would relate it to whatever elements of history we were studying at the time. Now the history that we would study was either an extension of topics they had previously heard of; ex. slavery, but a more in-depth look or it would be elements that they will likely never cover in school; ex. black power movement, prison industrial complex etc. Now despite these kids being primarily 10 or 11 yrs old it was amazing some of the insights they would come up with and they really seemed to enjoy the program a lot. I know that personally it gave me a lot of confidence knowing that a program like this could work and be very productive as long as the administrators or parents got the hell out-of-the-way. Fortunately they were preoccupied with other things and so rarely did we encounter any problems and so it ended up being a very positive experience for all involved.

One of my professors at the time heard about the program and for black history month he wanted me to go around to some of the other schools and conduct a lesson.  As much as I hate the concept of black history month, I thought it was a good opportunity to give the kids a lesson on some concepts they may never have heard of before.  So I remember coming up with the lesson I was going to go over that day: I was going to keep it pretty simple since it’s just one lesson and so I would play them a couple of songs and then we were going to have a discussion and then I was going to tie it back to some different things in history. So I get to the school that morning and I am joined by 2 other individuals from the community, one was a program director for a boys & girls club in the area and the other was a youth alcohol and drug counselor.

So the day started and the boys & girls club program director went first and he spoke about the importance of doing activities, being involved, he showed a video and had a discussion with the kids and they all loved it. Next up was the alcohol and drug counselor who spoke about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and told them a few different stories that seemed to keep the kids on the edge of their seats and when he was done they had a bunch of questions for him. I was up next and I started by playing a couple different tracks and I noticed that some of the kids were paying attention but some of them had their heads down, others were kind of just staring out into space. Then after the songs finished I opened up the floor for a discussion and one kid made a comment and after that nothing. As this was happening I am thinking to myself are these the same kids who I have just watched for 2 hours ask thoughtful questions and make excellent comments? Anyway, I continued by primarily having the discussion turn into a lecture (which I don’t like to do) and I would pause and ask for comments and questions and I would get one here and there, but nothing compared to either what I was used to from the kids in my program or what the previous 2 speakers had received. Mercifully it finally ended and I thought well that’s that. I don’t think they are going to want me to do anymore of these lessons after this performance.

So I go back home and I was trying to make sense of what exactly had gone wrong.  I couldn’t understand why their lessons were so effective and mine was not.  I also couldn’t understand why one group of kids would respond so positively to this type of program and another group would not. I thought about it, but I didn’t really come up with any good answers. To my surprise my professor asked me if I would do another one of these the following week. I told him about the first performance and he said I am sure you are exaggerating what happened, the teacher said you did fine. Maybe I did exaggerate it a little bit?  Perhaps my standards were too high?  Either way I agreed to do another one and so next week I went to a different school to speak. I decided to tweak the lesson and try something a little different with the kids to evoke a better response.

The day finally arrived and as I rolled up to the school who do I see but the same program director and drug counselor. I guess at this point we had become the 3 musketeers minus the delicious candy.  Anyway, we enter the school and the lessons begin, the program director goes first and just like last time the kids seem really into it and engaged. Next up is the drug counselor and the kids are asking him all types of questions and sustaining a good discussion on drugs & alcohol.  Finally, I get up there and I play this mix I had created of speeches and songs. Once again I noticed that some kids had their heads down and other kids looked to be in some sort of haze staring right past me.  I asked for questions and got a couple. I asked for comments and got a couple. Inside I was feeling pretty frustrated at this point because I can’t understand why the kids are so responsive to everyone but me. I am feeling very jealous and envious of all the positive attention the other 2 speakers have received from the kids and I am having a miserable time but I push through and eventually our time ends.

Since we finished up around lunch time we decided to all have lunch together, the 3 of us and the teacher whose class we spoke to. At this point, I would rather just leave, but for some reason I figure I’ll just stay for lunch and then go. So I am sitting at the table with the 3 of them and I am not saying a word.  All the jealousy and anger is building up inside and I am just very bitter and confused about what has transpired during these lessons.  In my head I want to take them all on a field trip to come visit my program.  Then I could show them, “I’m great at this stuff, just watch me, I don’t know if somebody paid these kids off or if the drug counselor slipped them some heroin, but all i know is these kids have been unresponsive and it makes no sense.”

So as lunch was finishing up the teacher thanked the 3 of us for coming and said we all did a good job. I was very quick to interject, “What classroom were you in?  I think you mean THEY did a good job because whatever I did was the pretty much the opposite.” She then said, “What are you talking about?” I am talking about how the kids were interested and participating in the other 2 lessons and then when it came time for my lesson somebody pulled out a remote and pressed the mute button. She said, “What do you expect?” I expect comments, questions, smiles, hugs, parades, statutes in my honor, you know whatever they got.  Then she said something that had never occurred to me and made me feel very stupid, “You do realize we are talking about young children who have been stuck in their desks for 3 straight hours with no breaks, no recess and so by the end they are very tired and hungry and so you could have the best lesson in the world and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference. Your lesson was excellent but we only have certain days when we can have speakers and so we change our schedule and pack them in and someone has to go last and unfortunately today that person was you.”

I just sat there feeling like an idiot.  That thought honestly never occurred to me. Here I was getting all jealous, envious and just hating the whole experience for no reason. I learned a lot of things that day that have since helped me be more effective whether I am working with children or adults. It showed me that there is always going to be circumstances that you are unaware of and so you need to try to not internalize all these feelings, because its going to have an adverse effect on your performance and impact.  I also needed those experiences early on to humble myself since the first thing I did prior to that was such a success and so you start thinking that everything is going to be a success from the jump and you need to learn that’s not going to be the case.

Myself and the other 2 speakers ended up doing a couple additional lessons and when we switched up the batting order the results changed just like the teacher had said. I think when you are new to any situation and you have immediate success it’s difficult to imagine that at some point you are going to fail.  I’m not saying you should always be thinking about when that failure is going to hit. You just want to make sure that you prepare your mind for the days when everything doesn’t go your way and do your best not to take it so personally. It’s challenging, especially if you are working with children and children who are in a very difficult position in life and you feel like you have knowledge to pass on to them that will assist them in becoming successful. So when you fail, they fail. I probably still take a lot of these issues too personally, but the difference is then I felt sorry for myself and now I feel sorry for them. Sorry that I haven’t found the way to help everyone I come into contact with.  It’s not as if the kids or adults that I interact with can’t succeed without me, its more about the idea that they shouldn’t have to. Their lives are challenging enough, they should be able to count on somebody on the outside who is there just for them.

Joe Lostrangio Jr

Email thoughts to joelostrangiojr@gmail.com

Jealousy, Envy and Hate (Part 2: Her Story)

Posted in The Journal with tags , , , , on January 24, 2012 by Joe Lostrangio Jr

Yesterday, I discussed how jealousy, envy and hate shows up in sports but today I wanted to speak about it on a more personal level. A few years back there was a girl who I’d met at a spoken word event. She had come up to me after a show, she happened to be in town visiting her sister for the weekend. Now her sister was someone I casually knew, we had crossed paths a couple of times but we weren’t really friends just basically aware of one another.  Anyway, we had a good conversation that night and ended up hanging out the next day . The day after that she was scheduled to leave but she postponed her departure an extra day because she wanted to spend some time with her sister whom she hadn’t seen for much of the weekend. While that may have been true, it turned out that she didn’t end up spending any additional time with her sister that weekend.

Now when she ended up leaving and going back home there really wasn’t any expectations on my end and I feel comfortable saying she felt the same way. We are talking about several hours by plane so it really wasn’t something that I think either of us considered. As time went on we spoke to each other fairly frequently via phone or text. We went along like this for probably about a month. Now what made it interesting was that despite all of these conversations neither one of us would really discuss the various individuals we were meeting in the interim. I would mention that I went to this party or that club and she would do the same but after that the conversation would move on to balloons or unicorns or nuclear physics…the usual stuff.

However, one day that all changed and at first I didn’t understand why. Now outside of names which I have a knack for remembering, my non-name memory (this is clearly a technical term) has a tendency to fade to black as time goes on. But at some point  I had went to a party with a friend of mine and while i don’t really remember all the details, I do remember meeting a girl at the party and I spent a good bit of time with her that night and I got home rather late and so it is what it is.

So the next day on the phone I mentioned that I had went to this party and I could tell by the tone in her voice that something was up. I didn’t know what was up but I could tell by the FBI interrogation tactics I was facing that something wasn’t quite right. So I asked her what was going on and she basically said nothing and pretended like this was just a routine conversation. It may have been a routine conversation if you are speaking to the police after a homicide but not so much when you are talking to a friend about a party. Anyway, she continued down this road and so I figured alright I’ll go into a little more detail about the night or at least the parts I remember and so I did.  She seemed satisfied, the tone of the conversation change and all was good…or so I thought.

A few days later  I received a phone call from her in the middle night. The first thing I noticed was that she was clearly under the influence of some wonderful substances and so whatever got said here I planned to consider “off the record”. Well she proceeded to tell me that she had hooked up with this guy at a club and that she wanted me to know that two can play this game. As you might expect I was quite perplexed. First, I was completely unaware that I was in the middle of or even playing some sort of game, as far as I was concerned I was in my batman pajamas sleeping oh so peacefully. Second, why exactly are you telling me this and why are you telling me this in the wee hours (yeah that’s right wee hours) of the morning? I believe she tried to form sentences but between club noise and her current impairment it sounded much more like the teacher from Charlie Brown. I hung up or she hung up or AT&T just decided I can’t listen to any more of this nonsense and ended the call for us.

In a better state of mind she called me the next day and basically apologized for the call but said that she was very hurt when she found out about the incident at the party.  She explained that the last couple weeks she had been feeling very jealous and this was the thing that kind of sent her over the edge. At that point I was trying to figure out how I was going to respond because over the years you learn that in these kind of situations that what might be logical is irrelevant and that applies to both men and women. Once anyone catches feelings the days of telling people how they “should” feel are over. So  I basically explained to her that it wasn’t my intention to hurt her but that we had no specific arrangement and so I was under the impression that you were doing things, I was doing things and that pretty summed up the status of the relationship. She then explained that’s how she felt originally but that her feelings had changed.  However, she  failed to send me the requisite memo declaring that change and so I really had no idea. It also turned out that her sister was at the same party that I was at and so her sister told her about the whole situation prior to her questioning me about it and so even though I told her about the situation, it didn’t seem to change how she felt.  She knew I didn’t do anything wrong and I knew I didn’t do anything wrong but that didn’t matter because she still was hurt so right or wrong it becomes immaterial.

It’s one of those moments where even though you are on the phone with the person you can see their face as if they were standing right in front of you. In moments like that you wish you could go back and change something, so that the other person wouldn’t feel that pain. You’ve been there before so you know how it feels and to know that you did that to someone whether you intended to or not, you don’t feel very good about yourself are at that point. We talked maybe a handful of times after that but we both knew as soon as we had “that conversation” things were essentially over. Looking back on it today it probably didn’t have to end up that way, but sometimes you choose not to deal with your emotions.

What makes emotions like jealousy, envy and hate so complex to deal with is that at times you feel as if instead of controlling them, they are controlling you. Even though your brain says I shouldn’t feel this way, your heart says that you do and unfortunately the heart has more power, because it threatens to shut down your entire body and the brain eventually caves in and you end up feeling awful even though you know that it doesn’t even make any sense.  Now I’ve been pretty fortunate because I haven’t felt this way too many times in my life but I know some people who live in what I would consider a perpetual state of jealousy, envy and hate.  It’s something that they have a hard time escaping from.  All the logic and reason in the world is often no match for these particular raw emotions.  I wish them the best and hope one day they find a way to enjoy life without being consumed by jealousy, envy and hate.

***This just happened to be the first story that popped into my head about this topic but before I move on I want to make sure to include in my next post a time where I was the person who got caught up in the midst of jealousy, envy and hate.***

Joe Lostrangio Jr

Email thoughts: joelostrangiojr@gmail.com

Jealousy, Envy And Hate

Posted in The Journal with tags , , , on January 23, 2012 by Joe Lostrangio Jr

Jealousy. Envy. Hate. Three words that too often describe the modern-day sports fans.  Whether we are discussing a lockout, performance on the field or just life in general those words permeate every epithet hurled at athletes these days. Why? Why are fans so eager to spew hatred everywhere they go whether it be on digital platforms like Facebook and Twitter or whether it be in actual arenas and stadiums?  All roads lead back to jealousy, envy and hate.  See at some point along the way fans lost all perspective.  They allowed their own individual identity to become intertwined with that of their favorite sports teams.  I hate to be the one to break it to you (who am i kidding i love it) but YOU didn’t win or lose any games yesterday.  You are a supporter of the team. You are not a member of the team.  So what you have done is take something that isn’t about you and you have made it all about you.

It’s natural to want to be a part of something whether it be a family, team, organization, club etc. However, you need to understand your role in every one of those entities or you are going to end up making a fool out of yourself and possibly something much worse. We all seek out camaraderie, a connection with our friends, family and our community and in order to achieve this we need to have something in common. Enter sports: which is great for building bonds and friendships on and off the field. However, while people were bonding over their support for various teams they also bonded over issues that go far deeper than touchdowns and jump shots.

Whats the first word most people think of when I say professional athlete? Money. What’s next? Selfish. Anymore? Greedy. Well isn’t that the same? Yes, I want to count it double, Ok then! Whether athletes truly do live the fabulous lives that most fans think they do is irrelevant. Fans look at athletes and they see cash money. They see cash money they don’t have. They see cash money that they wish they had.  They see cash money that they feel athletes don’t deserve. “Hell I would play this game for free and these guys are arguing over  millions and millions of dollars it makes me sick.”  First of all you wouldn’t play the game for free so let me absolve you of that notion right now. Second of all and this probably should have been first, something we need to change immediately about our society is everybody wants to count everybody elses money. Advice: Get your hand out of my pockets.

So now we have legions of fans who spend their time counting other people’s money or they choose to spend their time as punks cursing out athletes from Row X Seat 42 or they’d rather just send hateful and racist death threats. Now why do you think that is? Could it possibly be because you don’t like your own life?  Could it have something to do with the fact that you wish you were a professional athlete and so Bill the plumber so badly wants to be Bill the kicker and Kyle the mailman wishes everyday that he could  be Kyle the punt returner. So lets just call it what it is: jealousy, envy, hate. You’re bitter about your own life and you wish you were a professional athlete and you feel they don’t appreciate the money, the women, the parties etc.  In fact, that would be you except you weren’t born with the right genetics (you weren’t born black which you feel is necessary & if you were then you would all be Jordan I know).  That would be you except you had more important things to do then spend all day on a football field or basketball court (you know like homework, camping and ski trips).  That would be you except you grew up and got a real job (that pays a lot less and that you hate).  That would be you except it’s not.  Its time to get over it and move on.

I know that because athletes make a gazillion dollars and you buy a ticket or watch a game you feel like that gives you a right to say or write whatever you want to about them.  It’s sad. You’re miserable and you want to spread that misery and so you lash out at random dollar signs. You don’t want to change your own life you would rather try to ruin that of others. Folks not only write these thing about athletes but their wives and their children. All of this because someone didn’t kick a ball straight or dropped a ball on the ground. Do you realize how stupid you sound? Sports are great, exciting, fun and at times they can be agonizing and gut wrenching, but at the end of the day it’s exactly what it is; a sport. The players learned that lesson a long time ago as evidenced by how they greet each other before and after each game.  Fans still haven’t realized that yet.

They are caught up in their junior high highlights and dreams of walking out of that stadium tunnel.  It’s time to put the old vhs tape away and come join us in the real world. Appreciate sports for all the great moments and memories it provides for you, your friends and your family. Don’t begrudge athletes because they make a lot of money, most of them have come from impoverished backgrounds and so the fact that they made it out of those conditions should serve as an inspiration and something to be happy about. So enough with all the jealousy, envy and hate.  Its your life, if you don’t like it then change it, but don’t waste your time being jealous or envious of others.  Those are weak emotions and when you mix that with hate you’re just filling your body up with poison and killing your own spirit. Worst of all you pass that on to your kids, to your friends and to perfect strangers. So either get rid of all that jealousy, envy and hate or if you are going to keep it, then do just that and keep it to yourself because trust nobody wants to hear that shit except you.

Joe Lostrangio Jr

Email your thoughts to joelostrangiojr@gmail

It Ain’t About A Bitch

Posted in The Journal with tags , , on January 19, 2012 by Joe Lostrangio Jr

Lupe Fiasco – Hurt Me Soul

A few days ago an alleged poem surfaced from the pen or rather the mind of Jay-Z in which he allegedly wrote that he would be retiring the word “bitch” because of the birth of his daughter.  The story was proven to be false & did not seem very credible at the time but, whether it was true or not wasn’t really the point.  Moral grandstanding aside, the word “bitch” really isn’t the main problem.  The problem is the treatment of women in our society.  If we’re truly interested in changing how kids & thereby adults relate to one another, than eliminating the word bitch from our  vocabulary isn’t the first place to start.  Look at it this way, lets say we were to stop using the word bitch…ok well what about hoe? whore? slut? There is always going to be another word lying in wait to take its place.  What we need to do is change the behavior. We need to change the mindset & the mentality.

We need to show & teach young boys & girls how to respect one another.  Lets not get it twisted, this isn’t just about men speaking & acting disrespectfully toward women.  Girls disrespect one another & grow up to become women who disrespect one another & so we need to realize this isn’t just a problem between males & females.  There isn’t some overnight hocus pocus shit where we can say poof bitch be gone &  all of a sudden all the disrespect, sexism & misogyny vanishes.  This is a long process & it starts the day a child is born & while the words we use are important, they are meaningless without the actions to back them up.

So the issue we are faced with today is much deeper than the word bitch.  At the same time that doesn’t mean that the gratuitous use of the word should be tolerated let alone celebrated.  The same lyrical ammunition that we fire off at strangers ends up wounding our sisters & mothers.  Now to say this is just about hip hop would be completely illogical.  We live in a misogynistic & sexist society, which predictably birthed the same elements in hip hop (not the other way around). Though music is such a powerful teaching device that it can serve as a way to educate the masses while also possessing the ability to keep us entertained.  It’s not like bitch is adding to our entertainment value, its primary job is to add to our ignorance.  Now there are  definitely instances in art & in life when all words (bitch included) serve as valuable tools but, too often words like bitch & those in the “bitch family” serve only to demonize & devalue women.

Ultimately we need to treat each other with more respect.  We have to put more thought into how we act & what we say because it has a far greater impact on those around us than we would like to admit.  This isn’t about singing kumbaya around a campfire or some bullshit like that.  It’s about using some common sense & setting a better example for those on the come up. Lets be real…we all do a lot of fucked up things in our lives & we are going to continue doing a lot of fucked up things in our lives, but one of them should never be disrespecting women.

Joe Lostrangio Jr

Send love/hate & words in between to joelostrangiojr@gmail.com

Thanks

Posted in The Journal on January 18, 2012 by Joe Lostrangio Jr

Just wanted to quickly thank all of you who read the first post on MLK & thanks to all of you who took the time to email me, you had some really thoughtful comments & questions.  It was nice to see a mix of folks I’ve known for years, alongside others with whom it was our first time interacting.  So hopefully the trend continues…

Good Night

Joe Lostrangio Jr.