You are fourteen, and despite the childish laughter— the one smoother than the fresh coat of love on a baby’s skin— your mothers must warn you that certain skin tones won’t allow you to flash open innocence.
You are not allowed to purchase candy, tell jokes, or ring the wrong doorbell.
Certain histories won’t let you forget the present or permit childhood to take advantage of your fingertips.
Responsibilities follow you home in warm booties, blankets, and prophecies. If you had known that your existence would give birth to a movement, long before your feet hit the ground. Before your mother’s pelvis danced against your father’s, and his kiss brushed upon her skin…
Did they tell you that you were born for this?
Did they tell you about the cries of Israel when they reached into the heavens like hands just as heavy as your parent’s hearts, knocking against the doors of heaven because too many of their prayers ended in question marks?
Did they tell you that you were destined for this?
That you had the freedom movement stamped to your backside like a receipt back to the soil.
Like your fathers had to spit their seed into a melody, an Amazing Grace and Birmingham Sunday, carving its lyrics and your names into the history books of our yet unborn.
And while you rest they march scripture on the bed of your misunderstood self.
Title: Born this Way Author: Tammy Ferebee Publisher: Tammy Ferebee Published: January 11, 2018 Page: 135
Young, Black, and gay, Joseph feels rejected by his father, the local pastor of the small, southern town in Tammy Ferebee’s novel Born This Way. Joseph struggles with his self-esteem and worth as he faces judgment from his community after being manipulated into a scandalous relationship with an older white man, Bruce.
Joseph’s father wants nothing to do with him, and his mother is silent, choosing to support her husband. While residing with his aunt, the boy feels alone and battles despair, and abandonment. In light of this, he explores Craigslist and comes across Bruce, a man who serves as both a lover and a father figure.
Bruce uses his cleverness to slither into Joseph’s mind by telling him how wonderful he is and how much he is cherished and adored. Above Joseph’s head, the recognizable red flags flitted about like kites. The boy’s naivete is evident as this superb manipulator and pervert woo him. Bruce is a 56-year-old white man with no business flirting with young Joseph, but the boy’s sense of abandonment from his own family is blinding. For Joseph, Bruce is his first boyfriend.
This is a sad story with heavy topics. For this, I appreciated the light Nikki, Joseph’s best friend, brought to the table. She gave him positive words he could use to boost his self-esteem, told him the truth without sugarcoating, and gave him a safe space to vent. Nikki also makes an appearance in Still Blackand befriends Malachi.
Interested readers should read Born this Way before Still Black since it has a twist that is disclosed in this book’s ending.
Plot Movement / Strength: 4/5
Entertainment Factor: 4/5
Authenticity / Believable: 5/5
Thought Provoking: 4/5
Overall Rating: 4/ 5 stars
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“Today, students of color in the United States are nearly three times more likely than white children to be labelled cognitively impaired. When Latoya walked into Seth’s first special-education classroom, she said, “I did not see one white child. All I saw was black boys.”
“School,” one student said, “is like prison where I am in the weird class.”
This isn’t really a black history fact. It‘s more like a modern-day fact with roots that go back to the Jim Crow era.
GNETS is short for Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support but support is not a word that I find fitting for this program. Earlier this week, I came across an article, “Georgia’s Separate and Unequal Special Education System,” which detailed how the GNETS program separates children by disability and race. As I read on, it became apparent to me that GNETS is an entirely separate school system in itself, that turns the classroom into a prison for black youth, disproportionately, black boys.
According to Bestcounciling degrees.net, “Psycho-education is a form of education that is specifically offered to individuals who are suffering from any one of several distinct mental health conditions impairing their ability to lead their lives. The ideal aim of the psychoeducational approach is to give both the individuals who suffer from psychological conditions and their families a stronger base of knowledge for knowing on ways to cope and thrive in spite of the condition.” These programs exist by way of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA.
IDEA was introduced in 1975 and first came into being on October 30, 1990, when the “Education of All Handicapped Children Act” was renamed “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. According to Beth Ferri, a disability scholar at Syracuse University, IDEA provided a kind of loophole to the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed racial segregation in schools. “Before the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was enacted in 1975, U.S. public schools accommodated only 1 out of 5 children with disabilities. Until that time, many states had laws that explicitly excluded children with certain types of disabilities from attending public school, including children who were blind, deaf, and children labeled “emotionally disturbed” or “mentally retarded.” (Wikipedia)
IDEA sounds nice, but it became a double-edged sword. While it may have tackled the issue of allowing children with disabilities to be integrated into the public school system, it was also a subtle response to Brown vs. Board of Education. Schools that did not want to integrate could do so by re-labeling blacks disabled and pushing them out. Now racial segregation continued “under the guise of ‘disability.” Disabled, poverty-stricken, and feeble-minded are just a few code words used throughout history in the America‘s that were often references to African Americans. Instead of blatant racism or racial epithets, people could just say things like “ghetto,” or “inner-city,” when referring to black people.
“Data obtained through records requests reveal that the percentage of students in the GNETS program who are black boys is double that of the public schools in the state. Most of the students in GNETS are classified as having an “emotional and behavioral disorder,” a vague label that does not correspond to any particular medical diagnosis. A teacher who worked for five years at a GNETS program called Coastal Academy, in Brunswick, told me, “We always had a sprinkling of middle-class white kids, maybe two or three, but they didn’t stay long. Everyone made sure they got out. It was the black students who were trapped there. They came in first grade and never left.”
An investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that Georgia’s public schools assign a vastly disproportionate number of African American students to psychoeducational programs, segregating them not just by disability but also by race. In such instances, disability has become synonymous with race. Black children in these programs are restrained using dog leashes, experimented on, and locked in rooms like prisons, with bars over the windows. In one such room, a 14-year-old boy hanged himself.
“At a school in Cordele, students with behavioral disorders must use segregated restrooms. They have separate lunch periods. They have to enter through a special door and, unlike their peers without disabilities, pass through a metal detector.” In Rome, students in the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support program aren’t allowed to engage with other students – or even leave the basement.”
“As a black kid, you keep getting in trouble,” said Craig Goodmark, a lawyer with Atlanta Legal Aid who represents families of disabled children. “You get in trouble, there are no mental health services. The only mental health services are in the GNETS. That sort of combines to create a reality.”
Seven-year-old David got into trouble as soon as his mother enrolled him in school after moving to Cobb County last spring. He received out-of-school suspensions for 10 of his first 17 days, then was suspended another nine days in the first two weeks of the fall semester. His offenses, according to school documents, included “physical violence without harm,” “class disruption” and “insubordination.”
“Basically,” his mother said, “he was set up for failure.”
“The longest restraint lasted 15 minutes, after David screamed, threw items at other students, toppled desks and slapped at teachers. To keep David from biting him, a school report said, a teacher pushed his fist into the child’s mouth and held it there for several minutes. David told Tonyi he gagged and almost vomited. The school district later said the teacher appropriately controlled David’s “disruptive and assaultive behavior.”
Through such programs as GNETS, Georgia illegally segregates thousands of students with behavioral or psychiatric disorders, often in schools that are dirty, in poor repair and, in some cases, served as blacks-only facilities before court-ordered integration, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
Fifty-four percent of students in Georgia’s psycho-educational programs are African American, compared to 37 percent in all public schools statewide, the Journal-Constitution found. In half of the 24 programs, black enrollment exceeds 60 percent. In one, nine of every 10 students are African American.