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BrooklynBornThis blog started in my head when I listened in the 90's to friends who feared Brooklyn and newcomers who blogged about BK as if it barely existed before they arrived. Brooklyn as Tabula Rasa. My blog satisfies my need to hear and air feelings of B'klyn from the people whose life experience was born here. Also I hope to provide balance to some of the revisionist historical musings I've seen how Brooklyn and her residents used to be, we're still here. If we can all live as best possible while appreciating the past and neighbors we've inherited that would be great too.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Black Male Town Hall, real talk.

As is often the case with substantive stories, they're no match for cute or silly stories, like giant rodents who own the night.

So after a delay I now report on the details of Kevin Powell's "Black and Male in America/Town Hall" event held Thursday night at the Lafayette Presbyterian church.

"Black and Male in America (A Town Hall Meeting)"
Left: Moderator Soledad O'Brien and Panelist Ryan Mack (speaking)

This quote comes from the website promoting the event:
The OSI Campaign for Black Male Achievement presented this town hall event, moderated by CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, celebrating the launch of The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life (Atria), edited by acclaimed author and community activist Kevin Powell. Powell and a panel featuring a number of the book’s contributors discussed the spiritual, mental, and physical components of being a black male in America. ...feature[ing] essays by influential black male educators, activists, and correspondents, including writer and award-winning documentary filmmaker Byron Hurt, actor and author Hill Harper, and author and educator Dr. William Jelani Cobb.
Basically the forum was an opportunity for the audience to participate in a meaningful discussion focused on personal and communal upliftment. The event was packed, with hundreds of people taking their seats before the 7pm start time. Unfortunately at least a hundred more showed from ten to seven through 7:30 looking for seating, pushing the start time back. I wasn't much better arriving at 6:45.

In his welcome Kevin Powell introduced the moderator, CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien. who many know from her CNN programs addressing American racial and cultural issues. The panelists and "Black Male Handbook" contributors introduced themselves, sometimes to the point of speechifying. Although in the case of Dr. Andrae L. Brown, the amazing story of his nearly indestructible father (heart attack, fire and gunshot survivor) as testament to Black male resilience, was as revealing as his earnest storytelling was entertaining.

Rounding out the opening was an acapella performance of Sam Cooke's "A Change Gonna Come" by the Samuel Austin Male Chorus. But the highlight of the open were two school aged young men (Akido Burnett and T'Cal Watson) who performed a not too long recital about identity ending with a proclamation to be visible (black) men in the world.

The man of the hour of course was thousands of miles away. President-Elect Obama was praised and lauded poignantly and at times used to trigger easy applause. Powell informed the audience that the event was planned months in advanced, and so there was no guarantee that holding a "Black Men's Town Hall" a week after the presidential election would be as significant as it was. The fact that the president-elect's name was invoked frequently throughout the night was to be expected what was not assured was how Obama's name would be used.

One by one the panelists sited our President to be with a cautionary note directed not at him but at all of us. They rightfully drummed home the idea that the change needs to come as much of and by the people. And to that end we as a community needed to make a special focus on Black males to be closer to our highest potential. That thought was underscored by Dr. William Jelani Cobb and several panelists. In Dr. Cobb's case that realization came while listening to Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention in Denver. At that moment Cobb said, he and a friend, both accomplished professionals and Democratic delegates thought, "we [all] have to step our game up". The discussion continued on that note raising issues of responsibility in every aspect of our lives, from relationships to the amount of water we're often not drinking.

"Black and Male in America (A Town Hall Meeting)"

I've been to many forums like this one and what I find is considering the topic and how much the discussion becomes about what's not being done, it's difficult for this type of event to not become preachy. Which from there runs the risk of devolving into more statement making than discussion. Perhaps with that as a consideration, Mrs O'Brien coyly offered in her opening remarks that in the Q&A to following the discussion, she would be looking to the audience for just that; Questions and or Answers. She added, (paraphrasing) that any other thoughts or comments (the audience) may have are appreciated, you can send directly to me, she said, but tonight we need questions and answers.

The panel in speaking about their views and perspectives was enlightening and somewhat provocative in a personal way, but I didn't feel they were always following Mrs. O'Brien's request for direct answers. At times I drifted to the those debate moments of the last two years when I wanted to yell at the TV "answer the question!"

For me while it's interesting to hear what people think I believe it's necessary to hear ideas challenged and debated so we the audience can see how well those methods and opinions standup. I presume that the spirit of brotherhood made it difficult to want to debate or challenge, and hopefully these events will become more commonplace so that the panelists whom the audience is looking toward for ideas will express as much intellectual provocation as parallel pleasantries.

Despite that, it can not be overstated that the most important part was the effort on the part of Mr.Powell for his organizing, Mrs. O'Brien for her dedication and time as well as the panelist several of whom flew in for the event and last but not least the audience for stepping up.

I left hopeful that as a group our "eyes were on the prize" to borrow the civil rights phrase, and that while the victory is Obama's, we're aware that the prize is us.

On two separate notes:

First despite being born and raised not far from the Lafayette Presbyterian Church, I had never been inside before. The building is warm and beautiful in its classical structure and I was most pleasantly surprised by the murals featuring scenes of diverse peoples, (see below) which adorn the upper walls. Powell mentioned in his opening remarks that the church was a site of abolitionists meetings drew connections between that movement and the progressive movement needed today in america.

"Black and Male in America (A Town Hall Meeting)"
"Black and Male in America (A Town Hall Meeting)"

And secondly, while this is a serious topic it's my blog and I would not be forthright if I didn't mention the obvious; Soledad O'Brien is hotter than the sun. Sorry voyeurs no cheesecake pics of Soledad, we were in church after all.