Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Man Up! - Beax Affair Rites of Passage Keynote

I earned my Master of Arts in Teaching on May 9th.

Attending my commencement reminded me to honor requests to post the commencement speech I delivered at the Beaux Affair Rites of Passage Ceremony (http://thebeauxaffair.org/) a couple of months ago.
Good Afternoon.

Giving thanks, first and foremost, to God, I’d also like to thank the selection committee for the honor of addressing you at this most auspicious and sacred 25th Silver Anniversary occasion.

Mrs. Blair, Dr. Floyd and Dr. Woods, as founders of this rites of passage program, I am grateful for your vision.

Kryston Miller, Roy Galliard, Cal Morrison, Michael Miller and the rest of the Charleston Youth Leadership Council Beax Affair Executive Committee and Council of Elders, I am appreciative of your dedication to the development of so many young African American men. The Beaux Affair has made a huge difference in my life, as well as in the lives of countless others, more importantly, thanks to your commitments and sacrifices, The Beaux Affair continues to uplift our communities and, by extension, the world, through facilitating the transition from male-hood to manhood.

To this distinguished group of young men, The Beaux Affair Class of 2014, congratulations! I know I speak for many in this room, and beyond, when I say, I’m proud of you.

I’d also like to pay respects to my parents, and family, as well as the families of the current beaus, for I know neither the current beaus nor I would be here without your encouragement and support. Beaus, take this opportunity to applaud your loved ones right now, for we know it takes a village to raise a child, and you did not get here on your own.

Now, I was a beau in the very first class,
and having acknowledged Osei and Saadeka Chandler (may she rest in peace), I must admit, I can’t say I appreciated my parents or the leadership very much as I spun around on stage with my fellow beaus to Kool and the Gang’s Celebration in an all white tuxedo…with tails...and white shoes to match...and a white cane...and white top hat too small to accommodate my dreadlocks! But I recognized then, as I do now, how fortunate I was to benefit from training designed not only for individual success, but for leadership that can change the world. I know much has changed in these past 25 years, but I also know you were taught this year, as we were in 1989, about: effective leadership, nonviolent conflict resolution, how to be impeccable with your word, career education, and the Nguzo Saba.

You have been endowed with gifts that will help you live up to Gandhi’s admonishment that we “be the change we wish to see in the world.” You are disciplined. You strive for excellence. You are powerful. And according to this Silver Anniversary theme, you are expected to Man Up! But what does that mean?

Let’s explore this phrase, Man Up, for a minute. Man up is a colloquialism defined in online dictionaries a number of ways:
  1. To be brave or tough enough to deal with unpleasant situations.
  2. To take responsibility for the consequences of one's actions; display bravery or toughness in the face of adversity; provide for one's family.
  3. To be daring.
  4. To work through impediments and obstacles without whining.
  5. To be (not "act") mature, to grow up, quit being childish.
  6. To stop being self-centered.
  7. To be a leader, to step up to the plate when no one else will, to give it your best shot, to TRY!

As a soccer player, “to vigorously guard the opponent to which one is assigned,” also comes to mind, and a few of these definitions definitely ring true to me, but I’d like to break it down even further.

The first word, man, evokes manhood, i.e. the qualities traditionally associated with men, such as courage and strength.

As an adjective, up means, “directed or moving toward a higher place or position.”

So another definition for manning up might be, having the courage and strength to become our higher (i.e. spiritual) selves.

As the holy spiritual texts of each religion echo what is written in John 4:12, “if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us,” we come to understand that Manning Up implores us to use our power for something greater than ourselves: To love one another.

To me, this love for one another in action sounds a lot like the 6th principle of the Nguzo Saba, Kuumba: "To always do as much as we can in the way that we can in order to leave our communities more beautiful and beneficial than when we inherited them."

Too few Black boys have been blessed with the wise guidance and counsel that we’ve received. As beaus given the charge to man up, we must wield the power of our example with grace and dignity. We must role model and mentor as we have been mentored. We must inspire those who look up to us to strive to reach their highest potential. We must be sensitive to the wrongs, sufferings, and injustices of our society, and be willing to accept our responsibility to correct these ills.

Does this mean you can’t chase your dreams? No. I agree with Howard Thurman’s sentiment, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” So I’m not saying we must consign ourselves to volunteerism. Rather, I’m saying that if business or music is your calling, ask yourself, “How will the business or music I create leave my community more beautiful and beneficial than when I inherited it?”

This may seem like a daunting task. In fact, Popular culture would have you believe that manning up is about disrespect, misogyny, machismo, promiscuity, impulsivity and other maladaptive behaviors that lead to imprisonment and death.

But we celebrate Kwanzaa, and understand the life guiding principles of the Nguzo Saba, including Kujichagulia, “To name ourselves, define ourselves, speak for ourselves, and create for ourselves, instead of letting others name us, define us, speak for us and create for us.”

Therefore, we remember that we come from a long line of achievers who have manned up in the past so that we may man up in the present and future. And we call upon the strength of these exemplary ancestors. Men like:

  • Piye, the Nubian king who united Egypt, ruling Kemet from 753 BC to 722 BC, and laying the foundation for a peaceful Twenty-fifth dynasty

  • The man Daniel (7:9) describes as having “hair like pure wool, and feet like unto fine brass burned in a furnace” (Revelations 1:15), Jesus, the Black man who was Love incarnate on earth and in action, teaching us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Leviticus 19:18).
  • King Affonso I, the visionary, who made it possible for his people to practice new skills in masonry, carpentry, and agriculture in the 1500s. He also streamlined Kongo politics, established one of the most modern school systems in the world, and later became the first ruler to resist the slave trade.
  • The revolutionary Toussaint L'Ouverture, the leader whose military genius and political acumen transformed an entire society of enslaved Africans into the independent state of Haiti in 1794.
  • Freedom fighter Denmark Vesey, who, after buying his freedom, planned an insurrection designed to secure the freedom of all enslaved South Carolinians in 1822.
  • Frederick Douglass, the social reformer, orator, writer and statesman who in 1838 escaped from slavery, and became a leader of the abolitionist movement.
  • Captain Robert Smalls, who escaped slavery in Beaufort, SC by commandeering a Confederate steamship and sailing to Union safety in 1862. He later became a captain in US Navy and a representative in the US Congress.

Yes, we will face seemingly impossible odds, but on this 25th anniversary, we are reminded to seek silver linings. We are reminded not only of the silver linings outlining dark ominous looking clouds, but also of how the sun makes water shine like silver. These bold forefathers remind us to be like water, flowing around the many obstacles we will encounter. Resistance in certain situations may mean destruction, but water can’t be broken by a hammer, or wounded by a knife. The water of a river adapts to the path of least resistance, without forgetting that its objective is the ocean. It may be fragile at its spring, but it gradually acquires strength as it joins forces with other rivers…until its power is absolute.

Marcus Garvey, the Black nationalist/Pan-Africanist leader, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, and orator who founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL), united rivers that became a global mass movement of economic empowerment which, in 1921, attracted more than 50,000 Black Nationalists, including the Universal Black Cross Nurses, the Black Eagle Flying Corps, and the Universal African Legion, who, together, created a most beautiful spectacle as they paraded through the streets of Harlem en route to the UNIA’s international convention.

This absolute power epitomized the principles of the Nguzo Saba – Unity, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith - and inspired other leaders and human rights activists, like El Hajj Malik EL Shabazz (also known as Malcolm X) and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to man up and galvanize millions more, world-wide, to join them in an international struggle for human rights. These men made the ultimate sacrifice for their convictions, but their movements lived on, ultimately paving the way for us to celebrate President Barack Obama.

We may encounter defeat, but manning up means we will not be defeated. For we are brilliant, resourceful, and innovative like:
  • Benjamin Banneker, almanac author, scientist, mathematician, farmer, astronomer, publisher and urban planner who, in 1753, built the first clock ever made in the United States, and oversaw the design of our nation’s capitol.
  • Elijah McCoy, who had a total of 57 patents between 1844 and 1929, including the self-lubricating steam engine.
We flow like water around obstacles and join with other rivers, like:

  • Dr. Daniel Hale Williams who founded the first black-owned hospital in America, and performed the world's first successful open heart surgery, in 1893.
  • Dr. Charles Drew, who, around 1940, discovered a way to separate plasma from whole blood and invented the world’s first blood bank. His research revealed that people could handle a plasma transfusion even if the specific blood was not available, and he invented the blood bags that are still in use today.
These are great men whose discipline, excellence and drive continue to inspire me to man up, but none more so than my father, for if not for him, I would not have known of this rich heritage that is a part of our legacy. So we are reminded to draw inspiration from men who may not have received national or international acclaim and recognition, but who nonetheless epitomize the principle of Kuumba, committing their lives to doing as much as they can in the way that they can to make their communities more beautiful and beneficial than when they inherited them. Upstanding role models like:
  • Osei Chandler, who, instead of complaining about the paucity of positive music on the radio in 1979, started Roots Music Karamu a program enriching Charleston’s airwaves with positive message music for over 34 years. And in response to parents in search of constructive activities for their kids, he combined with other rivers abd founded the Ebony City Soccer Club, which helped countless kids transition from at-risk boys to responsible men.
  • Judge McFarland, who has served as Charleston’s Chief Municipal Judge since 1978, but more importantly, man up by consistently volunteering his time to countless community building endeavors.
Let’s not forget your own Council of Elders, including  

Michael Miller, Entrepreneur and Charleston County School Board Member, fighting for the rights of our children. And former Beaus, like:

  • Terry McCray, proprietor of my favorite carry out spot.
  • Charlton Singleton, Artistic Director and Conductor at Charleston Jazz Orchestra and self-employed musician.
  • Robert Ellington, Student Support Specialist at Communities In Schools Charleston, and Owner at Papa Robbie Music, always representing with positive lyrics.
These are brothers I am proud to count among true friends. Brothers who man up as husbands and fathers, striving for excellence in both their personal and professional lives as they do as much as they can, in the way that they can, to make their communities more beautiful and beneficial than when they inherited them.

I’ve highlighted great men because this is a rites of passage program for young men, but as my father is quick to say, and I’m sure all these brothers will attest, there can be no great men without the love and support of great women.

  • There could be no Barack without Michelle

  •  Pop could not have accomplished all he did without Mom, who taught me to seek silver linings with the mantra, “We never have enough information to be pessimistic.” Her infectious style of optimism taught me to never take myself so seriously that I can’t laugh at myself…or, and this is just as important, to be amused by, rather than angered by, those who seek to define me in terms that I know to be untrue.
  • And it is the example of Septima P. Clark - whose commitment to education through her Citizenship Education Schools so empowered African Americans all across the South that Dr. King dubbed her the Godmother of the Civil Rights Movement - that inspired me to come home and work toward starting a school to end the dropout to prison pipeline which claims too many of our African American boys.
Cherish the love and support of a great woman who encourages your greatness, but be sure to take care of yourself. Understand what makes your soul smile. Never lose sight of your dreams, for if you work in earnest to make them reality, the universe will conspire to bring them to fruition.

I’m here to testify of such blessings in my own life.
    The young Chandler family in 1980s Charleston was a family short on money, but long on love and discipline. My siblings and I were only allowed to ingest healthy nourishment: fruits, vegetables, natural foods, educational TV, National Geographic, Leggos, Scrabble, chess, dominoes, and books. Lots and lots of books.

    Nature shows and nature books became my favorites. I dreamed of going on safari in the Serengeti. And when asked, years later, “If you could morph into any animal in the universe, real or imaginary, what animal would you be and why?” I responded, I’d be a winged lion, because lions represent Africa, and wings would give me the ability to traverse large bodies of water and see the world from new perspectives. Take in the big picture, if you will, a vital skill of effective leadership. And I saw myself as a leader.

    Lions are the only social cats. They spend most of their time lounging and enjoying each other, but when it’s time to work, they are unified, working as a team to secure a meal in which the entire pride can partake. Once their bellies are full, they go back to lounging and loving each other. It may seem like a chauvinistic society because the male lion rarely participates in the hunt, but often eats first. However, as I learned while on safari in Tanzania, the pride allows the male to eat first because they know that it is through his patrolling that the hunting grounds are secured. In other words, the hunt could not take place, if he wasn’t doing his job, and for that he is rewarded with first dibs.

    Interesting fact: Young male lions are nomadic until they gain the wisdom and strength to lead a pride.

    Growing up with such strict…and loving...parents led to dreams of wanting to travel the world in a meaningful way, as both an educator and a student of foreign cultures. I wanted to learn Spanish, jump with Maasai warriors, walk the Great Wall of China, scuba dive in Thailand, and commune with nature, learning from insects in the Amazon Rain Forest.

    I was told, “You don’t know anyone who speaks a foreign language or owns a passport, and your parents don’t have the money to send you backpacking across Europe. So what makes you think you’ll ever visit foreign lands?” I had no response, so I stopped talking about traveling abroad, but I never gave up on the dream of uniting the 3 passions that made my soul smile: travel, youth development and Kuumba (white folks call it community service).
      41 countries, two foreign languages, and countless service projects later, I’m here to tell you that you will encounter obstacles to fulfilling your dreams and responsibilities – there will be those who don’t recognize the god within you, who disrespect you, try to define you in their terms, and will tell you what you cannot do - but if you follow your heart, flow like water, maintain discipline, strive for excellence, and man up, you will achieve your goals.

      Beaus, we are challenging you to man up and transform the way the world thinks about African American manhood, to set higher standards for yourselves and for others.

      Be successful in whatever endeavor you choose, but recognize we each have responsibilities to ourselves, one another, and to future generations. Remember that you come from a long legacy of men who refused to be denied - men who conquered their fears and overcame obstacles to make the world more beautiful and beneficial than when they inherited it.

      Beax Affair Class of 2014, you are heirs to a great legacy. You have that same courage and strength within you. The same resolve of all these great men.

      Success may not come easily or quickly - roam like the nomadic lion if you must, in order to gain your strength and wisdom - but if you remain disciplined, strive
      • For excellence,
      • To do what’s right,
      • To do your best…
      If you work harder and dream bigger, if you set an example in your own lives, do right by everyone you encounter, and strive to meet the challenges of our times. If you flow like water and seek the silver linings, I’m confident that together we will continue the never-ending task of making our communities more beautiful and beneficial than when we inherited them, of creating a better world…of manning up!

      I’m looking forward to learning about how you continue to man up. Congratulations, Beaux Affairs Class of 2014! Vaya con dios!


      Blogger Unknown said...

      Harambe! Bravo! Mr. Channdler,
      I was overjoyed to read your blog and this particular keynote address. Timely. Timeless. My grandson Jeremiah is one of your students this year .His 13th birthday was Sunday . I kept pondering , while I weeded my garden beds , in some other place or time he'd be considered a man . It was coincidental that his Mom (my daughter) texted me your blog as Jeremiah called to thank his Opa and me for his gift .
      I just sent a link to my son who is living and working in Accra for a year . I know that he ,my daughter and son in law are delighted you chose to teach. It is again a time of great need in the African diaspora. Thank you and God Bless.

      12:48 PM  

      Post a Comment

      << Home