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Topic For Friday, February 7th, 2014:

Freedom fighters like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi taught us some vitally important lessons about the path to freedom.  Have we learned them?

- What is freedom?

- What is terrorism?

- How does it work?

- Have we been terrorized?

- Have you been liberated by the Gay Liberation Movement? If not, why not?

- What, if any, are the lessons from gay liberation?

Recommended readings include:

 THE RECKONING: What Blacks Owe to Each Other
by Randall Robinson

DANGEROUS LIAISONS: Blacks, Gays and the Struggle for Equality
Edited by Eric Brandt

An SGL Black Sheroes & Heroes Monthly Series
April's Focus:
George Washing Carver (1864-1943)

The Legacy of George Washington Carver
by  Toby Fishbeinn

From inauspicious and dramatic beginnings, George Washington Carver became one of the nation's greatest educators and agricultural researchers. He was born in about 1864 (the exact year is unknown) on the Moses Carver plantation in Diamond Grove, Mo. His father died in an accident shortly before his birth, and when he was still an infant, Carver and his mother were kidnapped by slave raiders. The baby was returned to the plantation, but his mother was never heard from again.Carver grew to be a student of life and a scholar, despite the illness and frailty of his early childhood. Because he was not strong enough to work in the fields, he helped with household chores and gardening. Probably as a result of these duties and because of the hours he would spend exploring the woods around his home, he developed a keen interest in plants at an early age. He gathered and cared for a wide variety of flora from the land near his home and became known as the "plant doctor," helping neighbors and friends with ailing plants. He learned to read, write and spell at home because there were no schools for African Americans in Diamond Grove.

From age 10, his thirst for knowledge and desire for formal education led him to several communities in Missouri and Kansas and finally, in 1890, to Indianola, Iowa, were he enrolled at Simpson College to study piano and painting.He excelled in art and music, but art instructor Etta Budd, whose father was head of the Iowa State College Department of Horticulture, recognized Carver's horticultural talents. She convinced him to pursue a more pragmatic career in scientific agriculture and, in 1891, he became the first African American to enroll at Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, which today is Iowa State University.Through quiet determination and perseverance, Carver soon became involved in all facets of campus life. He was a leader in the YMCA and the debate club. He worked in the dining rooms and as a trainer for the athletic teams. He was captain, the highest student rank, of the campus military regiment. His poetry was published in the student newspaper and two of his paintings were exhibited at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago.Carver's interests in music and art remained strong, but it was his excellence in botany and horticulture that prompted professors Joseph Budd and Louis Pammel to encourage him to stay on as a graduate student after he completed his bachelor's degree in 1894.

Because of his proficiency in plant breeding, Carver was appointed to the faculty, becoming Iowa State's first African American faculty member. Over the next two years, as assistant botanist for the College Experiment Station, Carver quickly developed scientific skills in plant pathology and mycology, the branch of botany that deals with fungi. He published several articles on his work and gained national respect. In 1896, he completed his master's degree and was invited by Booker T. Washington to join the faculty of Alabama's Tuskegee Institute. At Tuskegee, he gained an international reputation in research, teaching and outreach. Carver taught his students that nature is the greatest teacher and that by understanding the forces in nature, one can understand the dynamics of agriculture. He instilled in them the attitude of gentleness and taught that education should be "made common" --used for betterment of the people in the community. Carver's work resulted in the creation of 325 products from peanuts, more than 100 products from sweet potatoes and hundreds more from a dozen other plants native to the South. These products contributed to rural economic improvement by offering alternative crops to cotton that were beneficial for the farmers and for the land. During this time, Carver also carried the Iowa State extension concept to the South and created "movable schools," bringing practical agricultural knowledge to farmers, thereby promoting health, sound nutrition and self-sufficiency.  Dennis Keeney, director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, writes in the Leopold Letter newsletter about Carver's contributions:

Carver worked on improving soils, growing crops with low inputs, and using species that fixed nitrogen (hence, the work on the cowpea and the peanut). Carver wrote in The Need of Scientific Agriculture in the South: "The virgin fertility of our soils and the vast amount of unskilled labor have been more of a curse than a blessing to agriculture. This exhaustive system for cultivation, the destruction of forest, the rapid and almost constant decomposition of organic matter, have made our agricultural problem one requiring more brains than of the North, East or West."

Carver died in 1943. He received many honors in his lifetime and after, including a 1938 feature film, Life of George Washington Carver; the George Washington Carver Museum, dedicated at Tuskegee Institute in 1941; the Roosevelt Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Southern Agriculture in 1939; a national monument in Diamond Grove, Mo.; commemorative postage stamps in 1947 and 1998; and a fifty-cent coin in 1951. He was elected to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in 1977 and inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1990. In 1994, Iowa State awarded him the degree, Doctor of Humane Letters.  In recent years, Dr. Carver has also been recognized by being named to the USDA Hall of Heroes (2000) and one of 100 nominees for the "The Greatest American," series on the Discovery Channel.

At the latest Gatekeeper’s Collective dialogue, in consideration of the belief that same gender loving Black men are unlikely to take political action on behalf of ourselves and the larger Black community until we are unafraid of being who we really are, Brothers looked at Moving Past Fear.

Kicking things off, a Brother shares an incident during a recent subway ride wherein a group of eight men entered the car in which he sat and, standing in four couples between the doors at one end of the car, began necking with each other.  He mentioned the ensuing levels of discomfort expressed by the other passengers, including himself, which culminated in one passenger’s hurling a bottle of water, hitting one of the neckers in the head as they exited the train at Penn Station.

Facilitator shares, {“If you think about where we are in relation to Gay Liberation, we’re probably about thirty years behind…While White gays are busy getting married across the country, most of us are still playing darting eye games with each other on trains and in other public spaces where we cower in the face of our attraction to each other…A few years ago BMXNY worked on an initiative called PDA As A Same Gender Loving Liberation Movement Strategy, around which we plotted a tactic wherein, working with non-violent direct action trainers in small groups, we would go into anti-homosexual bastions within the Black community and do just what those couples you mentioned did on the train as something of a contemporary SGL Movement lunch counter sit-in protest.  We conducted PDA As SGL Movement Strategy workshops.”} He asks, {“Why did you feel uncomfortable on the train?”} 

The man answers, “I don’t like that kind of behavior.  I’m what you call, ‘down low’.”  

In response to this admission, another participant proposes, “[That’s because] You learned to be afraid.”

Bristling at this suggestion, the man says, “When I was about thirteen an older guy introduced me to the life, [the world of same-sex attraction] and he asked me, ‘Do you like this?’ And, I said, ‘Yes, I do,’ and he told me, ‘Don’t say anything about this to anyone unless you are having sex with them.’”

Facilitator affirms, {There are challenges around this reflection, not the least of which include premature sexualizing…but, to the point of our focus this evening, where he told you, ‘Don’t say anything to anyone about this to anyone, unless you’re having sex with them,’ why do you think he told you that?”} 

 “Because it was dangerous…”

Facilitator says, {“We’re getting warm.  And, why was it dangerous?...And, is the danger still in play?”}

Another participant says, “On a train, part of me would fear the fact that someone else would do that [engage in public displays of affection,] but, I’m sorry, heterosexuals do it all the time…Every time you see them with a baby, you know they have done it...“ 

“I never had a conversation openly with a relative [about my sexuality]…I had to come to terms with who I am myself [before I could do that]…Now, my work speaks volumes about who I am…”

“My father was very anti-gay…It wasn’t until he passed away that I found out he was in the life…”

Facilitator asks, {“Do you know why you father was very anti-gay?”}

“Because we were considered weak…And, we were very antagonistic to each other…What do you all call that…Shade?...”

“All rules don’t apply to all people…There is still white privilege, and we have that [dynamic]…My cousin’s son feels like he can do everything his white friends can, and he can’t…We have to be mindful of our external fears that we pass on to protect them [the next generation]…”

“Fear serves an important role of survival…There is also heterosexual privilege…Our parents want us to survive [so, they teach us to] act in certain ways to protect us…I learned how to shut up…that’s why I was so stunted in my efforts at relationships because I was so [practiced at] not speaking [my truth]…So, here I am, at sixty-two, stripping off [all the shutting up] to be present in my relationship…”

“We are a series of cells…So many trillions…all influenced by perception…In the posture of fear we cannot grow…The fear that lingers is the fear that stops us…”

Facilitator says, {“A couple of important considerations have emerged here including that, there are different kinds of fear…Some fear is hot-wired [into us] by nature as survival mechanisms…in the part of the brain they call the reptilian part…So, not all fear is bad…If you’re standing on a precipice high above the ground, being afraid to go over the edge is not a bad thing, no?…But there are other fears which, if we give in to them, can stop us from growing, from becoming as powerful as we might be…And, another issue [someone] proposes for our consideration is that of heterosexual privilege which, in conjunction with white male privilege might tend to make us feel unworthy subconsciously…”

“One of the things, when it comes to expressing my sexuality…I’m from Ghana…I work with Senegalese people…I’ve pretty much been adopted into the community…A man has adopted me as his son…I don’t want to be alienated from them…One of the biggest fears I have…He asked me, ‘Are you a lesbian [homosexual]?’…Why are you out late at Marcus Garvey Park?...They’re Muslims also…So, the idea that I’m gay would never occur to them…”

Another African Brother says, “When there is interest engaged [with people who would seem to care about you, you must remember]…my purpose in life is not to make you feel comfortable…Am I a ‘lesbian?’...Why is it so important for you to pigeon hole me?...[And,] why does [the answer necessarily] have to be confrontational?...A fight?...”

Another Brother says, “The reason why he wouldn’t say, ‘Yes, I’m a ‘lesbian’ is the entire circumstances of his life…When there is all this bottled up energy around it…[When] my livelihood depends on it…[it’s far too scary a proposition for most]…”

Facilitator says, {“This is great, [Brother]…While it takes a tremendous lot of courage…should you choose to accept it, you have an important learning and teaching opportunity(ies) here…”}

“When you are not in the posture of living and learning in the world…When you are [continually] dishonest with the people who love you and have embraced you, the pressure [becomes] so [intense] that I would rather have them shoot me…[than to have to reveal the truth]…”

“I took a gamble [revealing my sexuality to my mother]…That’s my mother…She took on the whole project [where we lived]…She let them know, ‘That’s my son and you will treat him with respect’…”

Facilitator says, {From what people are saying, it sounds as if you may be robbing the people who have embraced you of an opportunity to grow by risking revealing your ‘lesbianism’ to them… If the man who has adopted you really respects and cares about you, then your ‘lesbianism’ may not [change that regard for you]…Also, if, as you indicate, the relationship [between you] is a lucrative one…that fact may facilitate him beyond such prejudices as he might otherwise be inclined to observe…”}

“It’s unlikely that it would have gone that way [turning into a fight.  And, even if it had]…There were other people I could have worked with…It might not have worked out that way [negatively]…”

“I was bullied from five to fifteen mercilessly and thought of committing suicide many times…When I went away to boarding school, I saw the difference between the way Jews treat their children and the way we treat ours…The fear of abandonment and rejection by your own is real…At twenty-five, I came to the point where I don’t give a f_ _k [about what you think of me]…At First Corinthians Church [in] a men’s group of about eighty guys where they were sharing all sorts of sordid details of their backgrounds [I said one day] ‘I don’t know if I’m welcome here’...The leader said, ‘Why not?’…‘I’m gay’…If I’m going to go back to church after twenty years, I’m going to be who I am…The Pastor, who was running for Congress said…’That was so courageous’…[And, I wondered] What’s so courageous…He did a bid…He threw his kid out of a window…”

“The test is when we may lose money…[to] choose the truth…When we finally find the vein where it’s not about making you feel comfortable, but about being who I am…When you truly believe that you are special and Divine…When you come into the presence of someone who does not know who you are, and you speak your truth…[that is when you are free]…”

“I was at Stonewall…I was a seventeen-year-old kid…I thought my mother was gonna’ throw me out for coming out…I thought the police were gonna’ knock on my door and take me away…But they didn’t…And my mother didn’t throw me out…Now, she’s living in my house…All because I took a risk…Squinting…Expecting the ax…But, the ax didn’t come…Pretty much [through my life] whenever I’ve taken a chance…Courage is not, not being afraid…It’s being afraid and doing it [whatever I’m afraid of] anyway…It’s always paid off…”

“We have to relearn not to avert our gaze [from each other as we find each other attractive]…Your fear reinforces their fear…”

“A lot of fear is attached to our masculinity, or what we perceive as masculinity…It’s very dangerous when we can separate an emotion from an action…My friend and I have been asking ourselves what value do we place on ourselves…How many of us have caught the eye of a woman who found us attractive?...Then, the man she was with [bristled]…That speaks to [the power of] our spirit…I’m trying to grow into that spirit…”

“I wrote about twelve letters to Brothers [who] never responded…I said, ’My love for you is unaltered’…[My] fear was internal…I was always the pink elephant in the room…I was forty-four years old with no children, and a dancer…”

“There was a statesman [who said] The glory in living is not in never falling, but, in rising each time you fall…We’re bound to fall…as much as you may be present [in your sexuality, if] you trip, you’re not gonna’ go all the way back down [to where you began]…You start from where you tripped and keep going…My mother took me to a drug dealer who flaunted their wealth, and to a woman of the night who flaunted who she was…[to teach me,] if they can flaunt their lifestyles…”

“A reason why so many of our relationships are destroyed [is] the fear of how our relationships will be perceived…How my family or my friends are going to react… ‘Gay marriage…Oh, that’s against God!’…I’ve taken the opportunity to let them get used to it…It might take her [my mother] longer to get used to it than it took me…But, if we truly believe we deserve better, we can’t just [bury our heads in the sand]…At least, if we recognize that we have a problem [the possibility that we can change exists]…”

Facilitator asks, {“how do we support each other’s moving past fear?”}

“There is a lack of support…In relationship to the fear that I have felt, there has been no support…There have been so many fractions [between us] and [so much] disjointedness…”

“I feel like Brothers really don’t care…They care about themselves…A lot of us have grown into our same gender lovingness in such a sexualized way that, by the time we attempt to relate to each other differently, we don’t have the tools…”

“I have a friend who’s fifty-five who’s learning to date for the first time…”

Facilitator says, {“Yes…For all the myths we learned about what manhood is…And about who we are, and for all the fear we learned in the face of anti-homosexual terrorism…as one person said, many of us are stunted in our capacity to speak our truths and in our attempts to reach out to each other…So, we’ve got work to do…What’s wonderful is, together, we can get it done and move past fear into the power of our true selves…”

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