Friday, December 19, 2008

Your Black Education: Book Review of "Reggie Wakes Up"

Book Review of "Reggie Wakes Up"
By: Tolu Olorunda
Staff Writer -
Reprinted From Black Commentator

“Under the FUBU is a guru, that’s untapped...”

-Hip-Hop artist, Common, The 6th Sense.

With the recent victory of President-Elect Obama, many have speculated a change of attitude in young black men, vis-à-vis the thirst for educational prowess. Whilst this prediction does seem, by all measures, accurately reflective of the lingering emotion within Black circles, some have suggested the need for a handbook of sorts, as necessary in guiding Black students, male and female, toward a more promising future. Of such is Zekita Tucker, a St. Louis author and publisher, whose advocacy for Black students builds on the legacies established by W.E.B. Du Bois, Carter G. Woodson, Janice Hale, etc. Zekita Tucker, of fame “Don't Call Me Nigga,” has a new book out titled, “Reggie Wakes Up”

Reggie Wakes Up is a blueprint for teachers and students alike – with an emphasis on public schools. In a moment when numerous questions abound, concerning the fulfillment of a Black presidency, Ms. Tucker has provided some suitable and reliable answers, in dealing with Black students. Meant for ages 8 and up, Reggie Wakes Up takes a hard look into the public school system, and its effects on the psyche of Black students. Though written in simplified terms, and intended for a young readership, Zekita Tucker takes into strong consideration the impact teachers have on their students. With subtle advice for tutors confused about their role(s) in the education relationship, Ms. Tucker has written and published a great resource for combating the sleeping giant of black academic inferiority in the public and private school systems.

Reggie, the book’s main character, is presented as a representation of young black masculinity in society. With a clear overdose on commercial Hip-Hop and other forms of mindless entertainment, Reggie’s view of life is infinitely limited to the Black characters he sees repeatedly on TV, and hears on the radio. With a nickname of “Dolla,” Reggie’s outlook is blurred by the pursuit of temporary pleasure, and endless gains. As he strolls late into class, Reggie feels at home in a classroom filled by nonchalant and directionless students. Prompted by Ms. Roberts (his 6th grade teacher) to take off his hat, Reggie refuses as he furthermore declines the offer to pay close attention to her subsequent demands.

In public schools across the country, marred by unenthusiastic, frustrated, ill-equipped and financially-challenged instructors, most similar scenarios unveil an all-too-familiar ending: The protagonist gets suspended, the rest of the class revolts, teacher takes leave of absence, less-enthused substitute teacher is hired, and the vicious cycle repeats itself – until each student has been suspended, or placed in detention, at least once. In this case, however, Ms. Roberts lays out a manuscript for future, and present, inner-city school teachers.

“Going rogue,” as it’s colloquially known, she employs some creativity in engaging her increasingly lifeless classroom. “How many of you would like to be important in your community and make lots of money?” she asks. At this point, every hand goes up. Leading through a series of succeeding questions, she stumbles while inquiring how many of her students “want to study hard, focus and go to college or university.” Puzzled by the intense decline in enthusiasm, as expressed by her students, in pursuing some form of advanced education, Ms. Roberts curiously inquires what each student foresees as a successful future, devoid of any substantive engagement with education. In a highly predictable move, the words “model,” “go ‘pro’ (baller),” and “rapper,” swing high from the lips of her students.

Those who have struggled for many years with the hoop/mic-dreams of younger Black males/females understand the dire need for, as Dr. King might put it, a revolution of values in the younger generation. The psychological warfare waged by big-media companies against the mental-fiber of Black children is bearing poisoned fruits, as more, and more, Black kids see no future worthy of aspiration, beyond the entertainment realm. For a disturbing number of Black younger adults, a deliberate avoidance of critical interaction with intellectual stimulation is a viable route toward financial empowerment.

Aware of this trend, Ms. Roberts, a diligent, skilled and empathetic tutor, enlightens her students on the powerlessness of most Black entertainers: “...I’m sure that those things probably look really good and make life seem much easier than it really is,” she says, “but why not start a business or choose a career that will give you the money that you want and some form of power?” With a look of bewilderment overwhelming her students, leading one to ask if “money doesn’t,” ultimately, “give them [Black entertainers] power,” Ms. Roberts explains that the ones who “seek them out to do those jobs for entertainment” are the characters with “real power.” This foreign language, of empowerment beyond entertainment, is carried on as Ms. Roberts informs her students that “the people who control TV, politics, and big companies… decide on how things… work.” Ms. Roberts advises that to “break” this “cycle… of bad habits,” it’s “important” to begin the process of mastering education as a weapon for liberation.

What the fictional Ms. Roberts understands, which many inner-city tutors sadly struggle with, is the degree to which the educational system, as it stands today, works in harmony with enemies of Black advancement. Inner-city Educo has lost its inspiration “to draw out” passions for greatness in younger Black students. Ms. Roberts is aware of the necessity for a re-education, within the education paradigm, to take place – if a future of possibilities is to be unraveled in the next generation. As the Hip-Hop artist Nas, remarked earlier this year, in a song titled N.I.G.G.E.R. (The Slave and The Master), from his controversial album Untitled, “They say we N - I - Double G - E – R/ We - are - much more/ Still we choose to ignore/ The obvious/ Man, this history don't acknowledge us/ We was scholars long before colleges.”/ It goes without saying that the Eurocentric educational model is a misfit for most Black students.

With the attention span of her students at an unprecedented high, Ms. Roberts snags the opportunity to inspire her students toward becoming marathon runners in the seemingly endless race for educational excellence in the Black Community. Ms. Roberts confirms the potential for distinction in her once-nonchalant pupils: “Even though most African Americans have had many challenges and disadvantages in the past,” she says, “we have a chance now to catch up.” Raising the stakes, Ms. Roberts announces her students as “the key” to the Promised Land of equality.

Breaking conventionality seems to be the least of her worries at this point. As she sees it, the depth of concern for her students could not be, and should not be sugar-coated to fit into the presumed mold of an acceptable educator. To Ms. Roberts, conventionality – otherwise known as eurocentricity – in inner-city schools was/is the cause of the jaw-dropping statistics of Black students, and an end to the vicious cycle is optimum. Ms. Robert’s leadership is a blueprint for success for any aspiring educator, who holds dear the value of her/his students.

In a symbolic gesture to highlight the sacred relationship between a teacher’s words and a student’s consciousness, Reggie, who had remained visibly silent through the whole ordeal, asks how much of Ms. Robert’s comments affect “our community.” Before Ms. Roberts can chime in, a classmate mentions that “because we are all a small part of our communities… we can change things from bad to good.” With the intense level of emotion and excitement tethering on the brink of explosion, Reggie wakes up from his mental slumber and removes his hat of insouciance.

At a time when most administrators are scrambling to develop creative models that incorporate the victory of the President-Elect into school curriculum, Ms. Zekita Tucker has written a blueprint for what such a model must look like. Reggie Wakes Up is a must-read for students, teachers, parents, activists and other concerned citizens.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Black Scholar Boyce Watkins Relates To Football Great Jim Brown

by Dr. Boyce Watkins

I got a phone call today. I get a lot of calls from “observers” (translation: supporters and haterologists), and I appreciate every single one of them. However, being as busy as I am, I usually don’t have time to call anyone back. I call my mama back and if my daughter would call me, she would be at the top of my list. I also call my grandmother. That’s enough to fill the free time at airports or on the way to the office.

If I call you back, I am returning the call because I either love you or respect you. I don’t return calls just because I think the caller is a “big shot”. In this business, everyone is into networking and butt kissing so they can meet this important person or that one. I’ve always felt that life is too short for that crap. For example, my homeboy Marc Lamont Hill at Temple University (one of the top black scholars in America), Al “The Inspiration” Duncan (an amazing public speaker and youth advocate) in Atlanta and Bill Thomason (a top black money manager) are brothers I always call back immediately because I respect their integrity. It’s really that simple for me.

On this day, I had some free time. I was driving to the office and I had a message from a woman named Karen. Karen’s family is full of Syracuse alumni. Honestly, most calls and emails I get from Syracuse alumni are not all that favorable. While I get cheers from the black and latino alums, the reality is that Syracuse has not had a strong historical black and latino presence. This is doubly true on the faculty, where a tenured professor of color is incredibly rare.
But I respect everyone, and I decided to use my free time to call Karen back. I was a little nervous, since I really wanted to talk to my grandmother. The risk was that I would miss a great conversation with grandma just so another alum could yell at me for being an outspoken black man.

But Karen was worth the investment because she was super duper cool. It also turned out that Karen is the daughter of the greatest alumnus in Syracuse University history, the great Jim Brown.

Jim was not amazing for what he did on the field. Yes, he had super human strength and was such an outstanding athlete that they changed the rules to find ways to stop him. But that doesn’t impress me, for black men have always possessed amazing athletic ability. Jim’s intellect impressed me far more than his athletic ability, for he is every bit as intelligent as he was athletic. But truth be told, while his intellect impressed the heck out of me, it didn’t impress the HELL out of me. Don’t get me wrong, he was a smart brother, but there are a lot of smart black male athletes, in spite of what the media tells you.

What impressed the HELL out of me was Jim Brown’s COURAGE. That is what left his mark on the university, and that is what will leave his mark on the world. While he may not be perfect, his strength inspires me as a black man to focus and overcome all that lies around me.

I have a Trinity of strength when it come to my black male “adopted fathers”. In this trinity, there is Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown. I adopted these men many years ago when I saw my intelligent, highly educated, rich, famous African American predecessors selling out in droves. It seemed that the only black men rising to prominent positions in American society were the ones who most readily allowed themselves to be fully emasculated. Sure, these men might speak big behind closed doors, but out in public, there was a degree of weakness, cowardice and commitment to self-preservation that made me shudder. These were the men who would tell me that speaking out in favor of the poor would get me into trouble. They would tell me to leave behind the brothers in prison and the kids in the educational system because it might jeopardize my chance to drive a Jaguar one day. While I listen to such men respectfully, I found myself having a midlife crisis at the age of 25, wondering if there was a way to have a more meaningful existence.

I miss the days when athletes used their platforms for something other than another McDonald’s endorsement. It is most sad and ironic that the athletes with the most wealth and greatest power also happen to be the least educated and the least willing to become educated. Individuals such as Michael Jordan become about as politically-neutral as a can of spinach, all so he can turn his $200 million dollar fortune into a $300 million dollar fortune. I have always been of the opinion that black prosperity and social activism can go hand in hand. We can all continue Dr. King’s work, whether it is on the streets or in the board room. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

I connected with Malcolm just because he was Malcolm. Malcolm X was clearly the greatest leader in American history. I connected with Muhammad Ali because he is from Louisville, my hometown, and also my second cousin. He taught me that a black man does not have to hold his head down in shame and weakness when the cameras turn on. I connected with Jim Brown because his spirit lives on my campus, Syracuse University. Jim created the path for me to do what I do today, and it was his ability to endure the firestorms of Syracuse controversy that remind me to stay focused in my endeavors.

The great shame of our generation is that someone convinced us that our existence is about one person. It is important for all of us to remember that we are part of something greater, and the greatest gift you can give to future generations is to clear a path for someone else to run through. Malcolm gave his life, Muhammad gave the prime of his boxing career, and Jim risked his life so that my generation could walk through doors that had been previously closed. I plan to march through that door with dignity and open another door for those behind me.

That is what scholars and intellectual leaders are supposed to do.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and author of “What if George Bush were a Black Man?” For more information, please visit

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Black Scholar Boyce Watkins Views On Commercialized Hip Hop

Dr. Boyce Watkins

Brought to you by, the #1 African American Speakers Bureau in America.

Those who know me also know that I love hip hop. Yes, there are some negative elements in hip hop, but many people forget that it's ultimately the corporate monster that makes it difficult for positive hip hop music to reach the light of day. I think that healthy debates on the nature of hip hop are relevant, and I am not referring to Oprah's town hall meeting on the topic last year, which really wasn't fair to the genre. I told her so in a CNN appearance with Roland Martin and Wendy Williams.

To join our Black Money advice list, please click here. My thoughts on the Lil Wayne and hip hop issue are below. I don't hate Lil Wayne, I actually feel sorry for him. He reminds me of Tupac, with the same energy, creativity, brilliance, productivity and incredibly self-destructive behavior that led to his legendary status. The difference, however, is that there was an element of social conscience Tupac could bring to his music that Lil Wayne does not. I am not interested in bashing the brother, but I must call it for what it is. Hip hop does not have to be an empty genre, with every song about sex in the club, smoking weed or blinging out of control. There's more to life than that. We should be teaching our kids to pursue "intellectual bling", so that we can search for true meaning in our lives and to be intelligent enough to stop being pimped. Hip hop can be (and has been) a part of that journey. Again, I love hip hop, and I even love Lil Wayne.....sometimes.

Respect peeps, see you next time.

Dr. Boyce Watkins

Hip Hop Commercialized? Buffoonery or something more complicated?
By Dr. Boyce Watkins

I am not a huge fan of Lil Wayne. I don’t hate him, I just don’t love him. His music doesn’t make me move, but it doesn’t make me sick. The thing that challenges my ability to love Lil Wayne is the environment within which he is operating.

Lil Wayne can be considered, by some, to be a modern day minstrel show: gold chains, diamond grills, 10,000 tattoos on parts of his body that have no business being tattooed, you name it. He engages in the stereotypical rock’n roll/hip hop lifestyle: guns, drugs, alcohol and random women. I fear for Lil Wayne, because at this pace, he might be dead before he turns 35. Lil Wayne makes Tupac Shakur and Eazy E look like conservative school kids.

Lil Wayne impacts the world in which he lives, sells records by the boat load and impacts far more young men than he probably should. It’s not that he chooses to be a role model, he just is one. But when we see Lil Wayne and express justifiable disdain for his behavior and persona, there is certainly more to be said.

You see, Lil Wayne is a product. The corporate executives pulling the strings and making the decision to sign deals with Lil Wayne also see him as a product. A product has to sell to its target audience, or it will not reach the sole objective of any capitalist venture: to make a profit. Not just any profit, but the highest possible profit within legal constraints. The corporate model doesn’t care about the community; it doesn’t care about health, workers, the environment or anything else. Like the financial machine that led to the breakdown of our global economic system, cogs in the wheel that pursue any objective other than pure profit maximization are quickly punished and replaced.

The target audience of hip hop is not black teenagers in the hood…..they don’t have any money, relatively speaking. The target audience for hip hop consists of middle and upper class kids in the suburbs, and those on college campuses. Those are the kids who line up at the record store and cause server outages at I-tunes when new albums are released. That is who the executives are trying to impress, and that is who Lil Wayne must impress in order to get a record deal.

The problem with Lil Wayne is that the transfer of commodities taking place between the recording industry and white America is one that lies over the economic heads of many African Americans. It doesn’t mean that those in the hood play no role in public consumption, but we are certainly not the biggest players in this game. Like a big bridge in the sky, we don’t impact the transactions, but we closely observe them. We don’t always buy the albums, but we watch the videos, read the articles, and hear the news stories about whose album sold the most copies during its first week. Due to the fact that there is a lack of diversity of images of black men in media, we have children who see the image of Lil Wayne and transform him into an involuntary role model. White kids don’t have to use Lil Wayne as a role model, since they see 50 new white men on TV every single day. Black youth don’t see doctors, lawyers and professors on TV: they see criminals, thugs, athletes and entertainers.

Lil Wayne’s environmental impact on the black community is what we in economics would call “a negative externality”. The fact that he makes it cool to use drugs, carry guns and engage in anti-social behavior does, in my opinion, cause irreparable harm to the black community. The problem is that the black community has little leverage to control these externalities, since we are neither the dominant consumers of hip hop, the controllers of media or the owners of record labels. Like the bridge in the sky I mentioned above. The presence of networks like BET or magazines like Essence and Ebony is relatively minor when compared to the dominance of CNN, Universal Records or Time Magazine. It’s like bringing a knife to a fight between nuclear superpowers.

Those of us upset about negative images in hip hop can protest all night at the next Lil Wayne concert and perhaps even have an intervention with Wayne to get him to see the err of his ways. The problem with this logic is that even if Lil Wayne does change his behavior, there is a long list of starving kids in the projects that the record label executives can find to replace Lil Wayne after he has been dropped from the brand. Also, getting Lil Wayne to invoke a more positive image will not change the fact that the consumers and producers of his product (gangster rap) are more willing to purchase albums made by black men when they feel that the performer has indulged their need to enjoy a stereotypical "thug-nificent" fantasy. Wayne may have some degree of industry power, but it is not as much as we might think. The in-studio recording of Lil Wayne’s product is not what creates the magic. The magic of a product is created through the marketing, distribution, financing and purchase of that product. That is done by the labels, and none of the large label owners are African American.

So, does Lil Wayne represent a modern day minstrel show? My answer is yes. He and others like him are told to behave more “thug like” and in more ridiculous and extravagant ways in order to get the attention necessary to sell records. It is, unfortunately, not smart business for a rapper to brag about being intelligent. Also, it is a lack of diversity of black male images in media that give black youth few alternatives for self-perception that go beyond that of Lil Wayne, 50 Cent, Flavor Flav and Juan Williams (the Fox News analyst who, along with Jessie Lee Peterson, enjoys bashing the black community). If any of these men chose to be forthright, insightful and firm in their support of the African American community, they would be fired immediately. But when we protest and challenge the system that is negatively impacting our communities, my argument is that we should look past the puppets and deal with the puppet masters.

Some would argue that by attacking rappers for the negative impacts of their lyrics, we are simply killing the messengers and going after the weaker scapegoat. While I am not one to judge whether the messenger should be killed, I am also an advocate for finding a way to get to the root of the message. Someone is controlling the messages of hip hop, and it’s not that poor kid from the projects who finally made it big.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and author of “What if George Bush were a Black Man?” He makes regular appearances in national media, including CNN, ESPN, BET and CBS. For more information, please visit

Your Black World: Would Sojourner Truth Appreciate Lil' Wayne's Music?

Would Sojourner Truth Want To 'Lick The Rapper?'
By: Zekita Tucker
Reprinted From Black State

One morning while riding in my car I decided to venture away from my regular News programming on the radio and turned to one of our local Hip Hop and R&B stations. It wasn’t long before the commercial for some debt creating pay-day loan went off and my ears, mind, and soul was being violated by rapper lil’ Wayne’s song ‘Lollipop.’ As I listened in disgust to the monotony of his lyrics (similar to many I had heard in some contemporary rap songs today) about how some women wanted to ‘lick the rapper’ amongst other things, my eyes began to tear up from those degrading and humiliating lyrics. Keeping in mind that I am in no way picking on any one rapper, I began to think about all of the African American women who fall subject to those words and gobble them up as a ‘way to behave.’ Pardon the pun. And then I thought back to the glorious African American women like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Nzingha, Yaa Asante, and Mary McLeod Bethune. I turned my thoughts to these women and I wonder. I wonder if our fore-mentioned female ancestors are watching us from the other side in utter disgust and humiliation.

I wonder if they cry for us. I wonder if their spirits cringe and fall to their knees in agony as they watch their descendants fall into a deeper pit of sexual promiscuity, self imposed inferiority and hatred, and total mis-education. I wonder if Harriet Tubman feels like all 19 of her potentially deadly trips were traveled completely in vain. I wonder if Sojourner Truth still feels like a ‘woman’. I wonder if Mary McLeod Bethune still believes in the power of knowledge and education being put into action as a form of liberation and progress. I wonder if Nzingha and Yaa Asantewa would still feel like mighty warrior Queens who believe in the power of women’s leadership strong enough to defeat the deadliest of opponents. Maybe. Maybe not.

Are not African American women worthy of marriage, community, and family life no matter what their educational, social, or economic status may be? Are we not befitting of praise and uplifting, adoration and hope; rather than being the modern day sex toys degraded and mistreated in the very same manner that our ancestors were treated by white males? Are we not precious jewels blessed with the ability to bring forth life and love? As proven by time immemorial, the African American woman, then and now, has undeniably been the glue that binds. We are strong and beautiful. We are the hopeful and forgiving mothers, lovers, and friends to our communities. We have been the nurturers and the shelters of those in need. We have worked like horses to keep our families and our Men from falling through the cracks of hunger, helplessness, and even homelessness.

In spite of all the propagandizing of us being bitter, cold, disrespectful, and nowadays no more than some poorly upgraded bed winches- many of us still stand strong. We have been used up, beaten, raped, tortured, and mentally tormented while our babies are being trained to be nothing more than fools and jesters for the entertainment purposes of a society that does not consider their best interest. We have been subjected to mutilating ourselves and our God given beauty and resilience only to be told that we are never enough. We have to declare our freedom and our sanity. We must embrace our struggles and now our mental liberation. It’s time to take back your lives, your families, your respect, and Your Mind.

Zekita is author of Don’t Call Me N!gga (Revised- Purple Cover) and Reggie Wakes Up- two socially conscious books for African American Youth about the ‘n’ word and education and entrepreneurship. She can be reached at info(at) by email or visit

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

How Far Will Presidents Go To Hide Their Health

By Glenda Westerfield, Esq.

I found the Newsweek article, “Picture of Health” (referenced below), extremely interesting, and I also have empathy. I have never done anything as important as lead a nation, but I do fully understand the concept of having to hide illness and trying to function in a professional setting while on heavy doses of narcotic that it was necessary to have just to be able to stand up. Been there, still doing that. I think the question is, when does it become ones moral obligation to step aside when too sick? I gave a majority of my cases to other attorneys back in March when I came to the realization that I could not in good conscience call myself an advocate if I was taking pills and getting shots just to be able to function at a pedestrian level each day....much less having to do my best at fighting for someone's life and liberty. I was late for court, losing what little hair I had, looked like a walking skeleton, and had judges pulling me to the side asking if there was a problem.

These Presidents made the choices to hide their illness "in the name of the country" but I believe, because once again, been there done that, that there is also selfishness involved. I hid my sickle cell until I could no longer because I wanted to finish college and law school (a dean once asked me why I kept coming back to school if I was ill...not knowing that my alternative was to lay down and die), and then again because I wanted to keep my shiny new law firm job, and I did not want anyone to doubt that I could do it.

Hell, I hid my illness during my grade school to high school years (many of my friends never knew until I was about grown, but now say that it answers a lot of strange things that they were wondering about me...kinda the "OHHHH, so that's what that was about, makes sense to me now") because I did not want others to think less of me, or ask questions.

I hid my degenerative disks in my back and taught my law classes seated or wearing house slippers to avoid my classes being cut back or taken from me. Some days I was in so much pain, I had to go in the bathroom, cry, compose myself, and come back out to teach.

Even now, I am hiding my cancer from my neighbors to avoid the stares, the "pity parties", the questions, and the barrages of bad potato salad, pies, etc. brought to the house like I am dead (my daughter slipped and told one neighbor who told everyone else, I no longer go outside unless I have to). In the beginning stages of my treatment, I hid my cancer from my kids to keep them from worrying, but also selfishly to shield myself from their worry about me.

Sometimes, like the past few days, I even avoid going to the doctor when I am ill because I get tired of being poked and prodded, but also because unfortunately, due to what I believe can only be racism. If a sickle patient needs meds, they are given a speech about narcotics addiction and not given refills on the scrip (which in turn leads to me having to call the doctor for each refill, which makes me look like a fiend begging for drugs). Whereas, since I have been a cancer patient, I can ask for those same exact drugs with no questions asked, no speeches about addiction or questions about if I really need the meds, and there are refills on the bottle. Both are horribly painful diseases, with some of the same symptoms (which is why I believe my cancer was not caught earlier...the docs all thought it was the sickle cell), yet the one that affects minorities only is the one with the drug addict stigma attached to it. To have an illness is tough by itself, but to admit to it is even harder...

Newsweek Article: Picture of Health

Some U.S. presidents have gone to great lengths to hide their physical and mental illnesses. Is that kind of deception necessary—or even possible today?

By Anne Underwood

Newsweek Web Exclusive

Updated: 2:05 PM ET May 24, 2008

Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, released 1,173 pages of personal medical records this week. Such candor in politicians is a recent development. Dr. Jerrold Post—director of the political psychology program at George Washington University and author of "Leaders and Their Followers in a Dangerous World" (Cornell University Press, 2004)—has studied the history of presidents and their health problems. He spoke with NEWSWEEK's Anne Underwood.


NEWSWEEK: John McCain has been candid about his health. Does that represent a break with the past?

Jerrold Post: There has been increasing pressure for candidates to reveal information that was once considered a personal matter. Today, you have to give up that privacy to run for the highest office.

But even in recent years, not all candidates have been that honest. I'm thinking of Sen. Paul Tsongas, who competed against Bill Clinton to be the Democratic nominee in 1992. That was a cover-up. He indicated that he had had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He and his doctor attested that, because of his bone-marrow transplant, his prognosis was as good as anyone else's. But at the time the statement was made, he had already had a recurrence of the cancer that wasn't made public. That kind of information needs to be revealed.

The public is demanding more information today. But are people also more forgiving, now that better treatments exist?

Yes and no. Part of the distinction has to do with what kind of illness it is. Dwight D. Eisenhower had a heart attack in 1955, an abdominal operation in 1956 and a stroke in 1957. People were sympathetic after the heart attack, because it was clear that it was mild and he would survive it. But the stroke, which temporarily affected his speech, raised the specter of a president who was unable to communicate. People look to their leaders for wisdom, strength and clarity of speaking.

What about cancer?

In France, François Mitterrand was an interesting example. When Mitterrand came to office, he swore that his would be an open presidency. But on his first day in office in 1981, he called in the presidential physician, Dr. Claude Gubler, and told him that his prostate cancer had spread to his bones. Mitterrand solemnly declared, "We must reveal nothing. These are state secrets." He led for 14 years with the constant and painful companion of metastatic cancer. How could that not have affected his decision making?

What about depression? There used to be such a stigma attached.

Depression is interesting. In 1924, just after Calvin Coolidge's nomination to a second term, his favorite son, Calvin Jr., developed a blister after playing tennis on the White House grounds without socks. He developed septicemia and died three days later [at the age of 16]. This was before antibiotics. Coolidge was called a do-nothing president, but it was probably as a consequence of a severe grief reaction from which he never recovered. After that, he spent 11 hours a day sleeping. His work day shrank. He was irritable and disinterested in affairs of state.

Today much of the country seems to be on anti-depressants. Aren't we more tolerant now?

In 1972, George McGovern [the Democratic candidate] chose Sen. Thomas Eagleton as his running mate. But when it was revealed that Eagleton had had electroconvulsive therapy for depression years earlier, it created a huge uproar. There was such a fear of shock therapy and the possibility of a mentally ill president [if McGovern should die in office] that Eagleton had to step down. Interestingly, Eagleton returned to the Senate, where he had an excellent reputation. We can tolerate a history of depression in the Senate, but not in the highest office.

What are some of the more intriguing cases of presidents who have concealed information about their health?

Grover Cleveland [who served as president 1885-1889 and 1893-1897] was brushing his teeth one morning, when he noticed a lump in the roof of his mouth. He called in his dentist, who summoned a head-and-neck surgeon. The surgeon diagnosed the lump as a carcinoma of the roof of the mouth. Cleveland thought it would cause an economic crisis if the information was released that he had cancer, so during the night, he smuggled an anesthesiologist, nurses, his dentist and the head-and-neck surgeon onto the presidential yacht under the guise of a pleasure trip on the Hudson River. During the trip, they removed the roof of his mouth up to his left eye, and inserted a rubber prosthesis internally. People were suspicious, but it wasn't revealed until 15 years after his death what had happened.

In more recent years, after the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, how cheered we all were when he waved from his window at George Washington University Hospital. But what people didn't know was that Reagan was only alert for one hour a day. The nightly news regularly showed clips of a vigorous Reagan in good spirits. But in fact, these moments were carefully chosen. When he went back to the White House—Bob Woodward conveyed this vividly in his book "Veil"—he showed only brief intervals of lucidity and vigor. This was only the beginning of the Reagan presidency, but according to Woodward, his aides were afraid it would end up as a crippled presidency, like Wilson's caretaker presidency.

You're referring to Woodrow Wilson after his stroke. In the fall of 1919, Wilson had a disabling stroke while he was on a train trip across the country to mobilize support for his cherished League of Nations. The public knew he was ill, but they didn't know how ill. Only Edith Wilson, chief of staff Joseph Tumulty and his personal physician, Cary Grayson, were allowed to see him. Issues were brought in, and decisions would come out. We talk today about the possibility of having the first woman president, but we effectively already had one in Edith Wilson. After her husband partially recovered, Mrs. Wilson said, "I don't know what you men make such a fuss about. I had no trouble running the country when Woody was ill."

I guess Franklin Roosevelt would be the most famous example of a president who concealed information about his health. His polio was well known—and it humanized this aristocratic man—but the press was respectful. There were only two or three pictures of him in a wheelchair. What wasn't so well known was how ill he was when he went to the Teheran summit with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin in 1943. He came back quite ill. The White House doctor, [Vice] Admiral Ross McIntire, directed cardiologist Howard Bruenn, a Navy [lieutenant] commander, to examine Roosevelt. Bruenn was alarmed at the gravity of Roosevelt's illness. He diagnosed congestive heart failure, hypertension, acute bronchitis and longstanding pulmonary disease. McIntire told Bruenn, you must not tell the president and his family the extent of his illness, and you certainly cannot tell the American public. He issued a reassuring communiqué to the effect that, for a man of his age, Roosevelt was in remarkably good health. But Franklin's son, James Roosevelt, later said he'd never been reconciled to the fact that his father's physicians allowed him to run for a fourth term. It was his death warrant. At the Yalta summit in 1945, Churchill's physician said that Roosevelt looked old and drawn and sat staring ahead with his mouth open. He intervened little in the discussion. He died shortly after the summit of a massive cerebral hemorrhage.

President Kennedy had Addison's disease. Yes, but it was only in Robert Dallek's 2003 biography of John Kennedy that we learned the extent of Kennedy's illnesses, which he concealed and which his family continued to conceal after he was assassinated—colitis, duodenal ulcers, osteoporosis and Addison's disease, which is a life-threatening insufficiency of the adrenal glands, requiring twice daily steroids. By 1950, he had constant back pain from vertebral collapse. From the mid-1950s, he was taking powerful narcotics like Demerol and methadone. He took barbiturates for sleep and tranquilizers for anxiety—as many as eight medications a day. There's some indication that he may have abused amphetamines. Before press conferences, he often required injections in the back to control his pain. Throughout his career, he concealed his illnesses.

If elected, John McCain would be 72 when sworn in. Is age an issue?

The first generalization is that one shouldn't generalize. There are some highly creative individuals who function well into their 90s. Konrad Adenauer [who served as German chancellor until the age of 87] was one. Having said that, the danger is that one may attempt to force a new situation into a template from the past and draw false parallels. With the passage of years, there can also be an increased sense of urgency that makes you want to accelerate the pace of change and fit a political timetable to your own. In China, the Cultural Revolution was related to Mao's realization that his time was short and his desire to fully consolidate the revolution before he died.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Black Professor on Charles Barkley Comments About Aurburn University

By Dr. Boyce Watkins

I don’t like Charles Barkley very much, I have to be honest about that. On an appearance on ESPN, I was asked by Charles’ buddy, Stephen A. Smith, what I think about Barkley possibly running for Governor of Alabama. My comment was that “Charles Barkley is a man who always says what’s on his mind. But the problem is that there is never anything in his brain to begin with.”

So, if I don’t like you and I give you a compliment, then that really means I like what you just did.

Charles Barkley, the man I can’t bear to listen to on TNT, recently called out his alma mater, Auburn University for their decision to hire the woefully unqualified Gene Chizik over Turner Gill, a coach who actually deserved the job. Gene Chizik has amassed the stellar record of 5-19 over the past two seasons at Iowa State University. The “geniuses” at Auburn University also paid their last coach, Tommy Tubberville, $5.1 million dollars to hit the road after going 85-10 during the last 10 seasons. This is the same brilliant thinking which leads us to believe that sub-mediocre human beings like George Bush and Sarah Palin are qualified to run the free world. Now I remember why I left the south.

One would think that Turner Gill of The University of Buffalo might have been a good pick. He took Buffalo to their first bowl game in school history, and soundly defeated unbeaten Ball State, who was ranked #12 in the country. The problem was that Gill posed the great deal breaker of nearly every head football coaching contract in NCAA sports: He was Black.

Sure, if he were trying to be a wide receiver, he’d be a lock. If he were trying to be a janitor or cafeteria worker, I am sure that Auburn University would have recruited him heavily. But Gill doesn’t realize that for schools like Auburn (and Kentucky, Tennessee and many other schools in the NCAA, particularly the SEC), Black men are only supposed to sacrifice their bodies on the field for virtually no wages, with little hope of actually earning the millions of dollars the NCAA pays its head coaches. Over 50% of all college football players are black, yet less than 4% of their coaches are Black. The athletes earn over $2 Billion per year for the NCAA, yet many of their families live in poverty. In other words, the NCAA has become the ultimate plantation, lawn jockeys and all.

Terry Bowden, Richard Lapchick and the rest of the country are calling it for what it is: Good old fashioned racism. They are stating, as I’ve said all along, that there is a time when African Americans must demand fairness in college sports, for the NCAA has shown almost no commitment to fairness when it comes to matters of race. Like our broken financial system, the system of college sport has created a network of irresponsible, illogical and unintelligent cronyism leading to embarrassing and inefficient outcomes. Paying $5.1 Million dollars to get rid of a good coach so you can pay more money to get a bad one is flat out stupid. Even if you are a racist, you should at least be a smart one.

I applaud Charles Barkley for pointing out the obvious, that Auburn University and the NCAA need a wake-up call. This isn’t 1955 anymore.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and a faculty affiliate at the College Sport Research Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He does regular work in national media, including CNN, CBS Sports, BET and ESPN. For more information, please visit

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The 411 On Black Scholar Boyce Watkins

Brought to you by - The Top Black Speakers Bureau in the world.

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Hey peeps!

Some of you may wonder why I do the things I do and say what I say. So, I thought I would make myself an open book so you can understand a bit more about where I come from, and the nature of my world view. In spite of conspiracy theories stating that I get paid to say certain things or have some evil plot to create a new world order, the truth is that I am just a simple brother trying to do something meaningful before I die. Life is shorter than we think, and we should give everything to get as much as we possibly can out of each and every single day.

Be well!


Frequently Asked Questions about Dr. Boyce Watkins

Q: What do you stand for?

A: I stand for fairness and doing what is right. I am not a Finance Professor who happens to be black, I am a black man who happens to be a Finance Professor. There is a great deal of inequality in America that runs along racial lines. This is due to the fact that our country has built a 400 year social, financial and educational infrastructure that promotes the advancement of one group over the other. It is my job as a public scholar to challenge this imbalance and work to find solutions to these problems. My primary tools of choice are education and economic empowerment. I work hard to teach youth, especially African Americans, the value of being highly educated and the additional value that comes from becoming Financially independent and empowered. Those were the choices that changed my life and gave me the freedom and strength to express myself honestly, creatively and (some think) intelligently.

I also want to challenge the NCAA to rethink the way it treats college athletes. As a Finance Professor, I am not sure how we can justify earning millions for our coaches and administrators, while allowing the sources of labor (the athletes) and their families to live in poverty. This is wrong and unAmerican, for capitalism should give us the rights to freely negotiate our wages. When we engaged in our campaign on CNN, ESPN and CBS to challenge the actions of the NCAA, people thought I was trying to attack them. The truth is that I don't enjoy attacking anyone, I only want to fight for fairness. One thing that my students have always said about me (whether they love me or hate me) is that I am fair. I call it for what it is.

Q: Your work can be controversial, why do you do it?

A: I ask myself that question every single day! Personally, I believe that the role of the black scholar in America is to work hard to uplift our communities. Our intellect is needed, and in addition to engaging in scholarly research that lies in dusty academic journals, we should become active in our communities and throughout the world. I believe strongly in the concept of Scholarship in Action. The thing about Scholarship in Action is that it requires the combination of intellect, creativity, curiosity, commitment, passion and courage that stands at the root of all true genius. I do not consider myself a genius, but I wake up every day thinking "I am one day closer to my last day on this earth. How can I get the best return on my investment?" That is what keeps me going.

Some days are tougher than others, like when people confuse black love with white hatred. I learned from the lives of Martin Luther King and others that people will always confuse the two. For the past 20 years, most of my students and classmates have been white and I spent much of my childhood in a white neighborhood. So, to be honest, I know as much or more about white culture than I do about black culture. So, like Barack Obama, my mixed background helped me realize one thing: We are all human and we all make mistakes. The problem is that in America, the mistakes of black males are interpreted differently than the mistakes made by others. My work has, in part, been meant to point out this contradiction.

Q: Where are you from and what is your background?

A: I am originally from Louisville, KY. My father abandoned me when I was born, and my mother was 16 years old when she got pregnant with me. My mother met and married a man who became my "real father", when I was 3 years old. I struggled through school, getting far more Cs, Ds and Fs than As and Bs. I was not, according to my teachers, cut out for college and my teachers even recommended me for special education and medication for ADHD. What I didn't know at the time is that black boys are 5 times more likely to be placed in special education than kids of other ethnicities. At the age of 18, I discovered this amazing, secret invention called "sex", which led to me having my first child. We all make mistakes, and I have made my share. However, I truly believe that the mistakes you make, if studied properly, can become the tuition that you pay in the school of life. It is by paying this tuition that we gain wisdom and strength during the journey. The year I had my daughter was also the year that I changed my life. I found my way onto campus at The University of Kentucky, where I became a straight A student for the first time. I then continued going to school for another 12 years, earning a few masters degrees and bachelors degrees, along with my PhD. Falling on my face over and over again taught me that being perfect is not the requirement for being a victor. The key is learning how to keep getting back up. Also, my humble beginnings taught me not to look down on those who make mistakes. Instead, I seek to uplift those around me by saying "I am a great man when I do my best, and we can all be great if we try." I don't get much of a thrill from condemning, chastising, or pretending that I am better than anyone else.

Q: What inspires you?

A: Education changed my life. I never did well in school as a child because I did not know what education could do for me. I also did not believe that I could be very good at it. My experience, and what I discovered when I learned the power and freedom of education, is what inspired me to write my first book "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About College". The book was meant for those kids who don't think college is a reasonable choice for them. I am also inspired by the fact that life is short, and I don't want to waste all of that time trying to fit in, or just "get along". My goal is to do all I can to make the world a better place when I leave than it was when I arrived. That is my sole and primary objective, no political games and no B.S. included. Education, economic empowerment and having the chance to change the world keep me pumped up like the Energizer Bunny every single day.

Q: Who are your greatest heroes?

A: My father is #1 (the one who raised me). He is a strong man and although he thinks a lot like Bill Cosby (a man I don't always agree with), I learn from him. Even though he didn't spend a lot of time with me, I always respected the fact that a man who didn't give birth to me was willing to give me the best years of his life. By watching my dad (a police Major and Vietnam vet), I learned how to be strong and focused, and how to look right through the "haters" that we all must endure (sort of like Tiger Woods and his army dad). My father also makes me defensive whenever someone attempts to say that black men are collectively poor fathers and bad role models. Most people don't know what it's like to be a black male in America. Next, there's Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. These are my "adopted dads", who taught me how to manage the challenges of being a black man. When I run into a scenario where the rain is pouring a little harder than usual, I read about their lives and what they went through to find the strength to move on. My other respected colleagues are Michael Eric Dyson and Julianne Malveaux (the ones who inspired me to become a public scholar in the first place), Tiger Woods (for his awesome mental focus, not his politics), and even Kobe Bryant (I did not enjoy the negative allegations against him, for I think he made a lot of mistakes. But I respect any man who hits rock bottom and rises back to the top. Kobe saw his team drop to nothing, all of his endorsements go out the window, and he was hated by the public. However, through consistent play and focus, he rose back to become MVP, carrying his team to the championship again. This is a reminder to all of us that if you keep focused and remain consistent, you will obtain whatever rewards you seek).

Q: Do you ever want to go into politics?

A: No, because I enjoy being honest. Politicians have to lie to pander to a constituency. If you know me long enough, you will eventually disagree with something I say. I am not a liberal, and I am not a conservative. Some of the liberal ideas in America don't make much sense to me. I am also not a fan of many conservative ideals, which sometimes border on the same racist, sexist, classist foundations on which our country was founded. I would say that I enjoy being "the people's scholar" because I want to give a voice to those who don't have one.

Q: You're a Finance Professor - Do you Love Money?

A: As a Finance Professor, I understand money quite well. I also respect and appreciate the power of money. The truth is that we live in a capitalist democracy, and the capitalist part is sometimes stronger than the democratic part. I also understand money well enough to know that it can either be a tool for building or a weapon for destruction. I've seen people sell their souls, their happiness and their integrity for money. That is what led to my book "Financial Lovemaking 101". I've seen the impact of "capitalism gone wild", in which wealth gaps between the rich and the poor serve to destroy the security of a society. I personally feel that one way I can contribute to the advancement of Dr. King's vision is to find ways that Democracy, Capitalism and human compassion can work together to make our country better.

Q: Do you love America?

A: Yes, I do. I feel that America has the potential to be the greatest country in the world. In fact, when we put our best foot forward, we are the greatest country in the world. I also know that there are some things I can say in this country that I could not say anywhere else. Finally, I feel that it is my duty as an American to use my freedoms to speak out if necessary, to help our country heal, improve and overcome the crutches of the past. I've learned that many of the most significant figures in African American history, those who've endured opposition for their efforts, were also the most patriotic Americans. The role of the scholar, in my opinion, is to use academic freedom to engage in intellectual leadership. Leadership doesn't imply that you follow the crowd. Rather, it implies that you lead people where they might not want to go. You must truly love a country if you are willing to suffer to make it better. I want our country to be great.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and author of "What if George Bush were a Black Man?" For more information, please visit