<img src=”http://www.wovenweb.org/images/post.jpg” title=”Asha’s Baba playing the Kora” alt=”Asha’s Baba playing the Kora” align=”right” height=”200″ width=”200″ /><o:p></o:p>Yesterday, February 6, 2007 I performed in a small school in a suburb on the outskirts of <st1:city w:st=”on”><st1:place w:st=”on”>Los? ? Angeles</st1:place></st1:city>. It was a beautiful area with brand new homes still under construction and state-of-the-art shopping centers littering the main thoroughfare. For being so far outside of <st1:city w:st=”on”><st1:place w:st=”on”>Los Angeles</st1:place></st1:city>, the student population of this school was very diverse, ethnically. Bear with me; I’m pointing this out for a reason.
<p class=”MsoNormal”><o:p></o:p>As I was performing during the assembly I kept noticing one young man in particular. He was a young African-American child. Early on I had expressed my pride in culture and heritage, it’s a part of my assembly program in schools. I could see that, with many of the African-American children this statement held resonance. But this one young man seemed to be on a mission of his own. As I was performing he continually muttered, albeit in whispers, expletives and snide comments.</p>
<p class=”MsoNormal”>If you are a reader of the advice columns of this site you are probably well aware of my suggestions for handling these types of situations. It is often best to ignore the exception to the rule and focus your energies on the children most amenable to you during assembly programs because, for one, you are dealing with literally hundreds of children and, two, you detract from the quality of your performance when you give in and “oil<span>? </span>the squeaky wheel.”</p>
<p class=”MsoNormal”>Think what you want about me but, above all, I have to be honest. When this young man was “actin’ a fool” (a term I believe my grandmother must have coined) I could not simply ignore it. There was a part of me that basically said, to hell with all else, I have to address this. Maybe they will never permit me to visit this campus again or, it is possible that I could be banned from the entire district for what I was thinking about doing. I felt a strong sense of wanting him to see himself through my eyes and not the tainted, distorted lenses he was obviously wearing at this time.</p>
<p class=”MsoNormal”>I completed the telling of the tale and, right at the end of the story, the young man whispered some sexually suggestive comments that I wish had escaped my ears, but they didn’t.</p>
<p class=”MsoNormal”>After the telling of the tale, I apologized in advance to anyone who might be offended by what I was about to say. I let them know that before I am anything else, be it artist or performer, I am a man and a father and I could not let pass what I had just witnessed. Following my apology I made eye contact with the young man. He and I communicated in that moment in ways that are unexplainable. I didn’t want to stand him up in front of the entire school and chastise him, nor was my goal to humiliate him, so I addressed my comments to the general assembly, specifically addressing all of the young African-American men present.</p>
<p class=”MsoNormal”>The young man straightened up, sat upright and did not allow his eyes to stray from mine. I won’t go into detail about what it was that I said but I will tell you that its’ content related to our (African-American’s) place in history; the life sacrifices of our ancestors; my personal shame in witnessing this behavior and knowing we share a common heritage and the level of disrespect demonstrated through acting ignorant when you are anything but.</p>
<p class=”MsoNormal”>I made a lot of other statements. I think I veered from the performance path for about 3-5 minutes. Like I said, I was not about to berate this child in front of the entire student body, but he and I knew exactly who and what I was talking about.</p>
<p class=”MsoNormal”>I went back into performance mode with a story I felt more appropriate for the moment. From that point on you would not have noticed that he was the same child. His appearance and mannerisms were completely altered. His focus was intense and caring. His posture would have made even my grandmother proud and his countenance radiated. He didn’t cower at having been chastised, he appeared to have flowered.</p>
<p class=”MsoNormal”>It had to have been the greatest miracle to take this audience from a heavy, serious laden moment into a period of smiles and laughter.</p>
<p class=”MsoNormal”>After I completed the assembly, a number of teachers thanked me for not ignoring a situation. None of them asked who the child was and, for this, I was thankful. There was one woman, a teacher, who had been displaced by Hurricane Katrina. She approached me with open arms, ecstatic that someone, other than her, saw the need to challenge our children to move above and beyond the lower nature principles offered them by our current media driven society.</p>
<p class=”MsoNormal”>We talked for a long while. She shared her stories with me and I a few with her.</p>
<p class=”MsoNormal”>We all know the statistics, we can’t ignore them: more young African-American males in prisons than Universities, homicide rates, etc.</p>
<p class=”MsoNormal”>I don’t know what will happen with this incident but I could not, as a man, have done anything different. I am hoping that the young man takes something out of this incident with him, something positive. It pains my heart in ways you can not imagine to see what is happening to many of our youth. Over the years I think I’ve volunteered in more programs targeting “troubled teens” and “at-risk” youth than I can even remember. It pains me to think that, in less than 400 years our children have the potential to go from being kings to clowns. I know this is but one day and one child, but it still hurts just the same.</p>
<p class=”MsoNormal”><o:p> </o:p>This is why I do what I do.</p>
<p class=”MsoNormal” align=”center”><o:p></o:p>“Dooni dooni kononi bè nyaga da.”</p>

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