Just My Thoughts

Yesterday, I read a blog published in the Huffpost some time ago, titled What Baby Elephants Can Teach Us About Human Freedom. It tells of the cruel ways in which elephants are trained in the circus, however, the takeaway from this story is of much importance as it relates to our thinking, and behaviors as human beings.  The author writes that “The baby elephants are taken when they are young, a strong rope is tied around their necks, and attached to a secure pole. The baby elephants naturally try to walk away and are stopped by the rope. They pull and push and twist and turn and eventually figure out that they just aren’t strong enough to break free of their shackles, so they stop resisting and just stay where they are. The same thing happens over and over until eventually, when the rope is put over their heads, they no longer pull and push and try to break free because they know it is futile. The elephant becomes so accustomed to being held back by the rope, that merely the rope itself keeps the animal in check. If only they knew how powerful they really are. If only they realized that by the time they have grown up, even a rope “secured” to a pole can no longer contain them. Then they would know what true freedom is. But they don’t.”

When I contemplate on this story, and the implications behind it, it also brings me to back to a book I read titled, The Mis-Education of the Negro written by Carter G. Woodson. In the book, Woodson asserts that “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.” Both stories resonate with me and my thoughts on the internalization of systematic oppression. These two excerpts align with Mullaly’s chapter on Internalized Oppression and Domination. In this chapter, Mullaly talks about self-harming behaviors that contribute to one’s own oppression. Sean Ruth writes that “the key to the maintenance of oppression, is what we call internalized oppression, or internalized control”. Mullaly goes on to say that this is where people come to believe in their own inferiority and their powerlessness to change things.

How often have we been in a situation where we could not recognize the power within ourselves?  As social workers, it will be our responsibility to empower those we are serve, as to help remove those chains that are holding us back. Oftentimes, we doubt ourselves and what we are capable of. I am guilty of this myself. However, when I begin to see myself for who I am, and no longer through the lens of the dominant majority, I am empowered, because the narratives that those create for us, are meant to be challenged. I am fully aware of the herculean tasks that lie ahead of me. Most of us walk into this profession knowing there will be many challenges ahead, but I like to believe that we all will rise to the occasion and challenge these oppressive systems will great fortitude. No longer will we allow ourselves to remain stagnant because of the imaginary rope. We will continue to push forward, keep fighting, as change is right on the horizon.

 

 

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Final Project – My Digital Story

I fully acknowledge that I would not be where I am, or who I am today, if it were not for those generous individuals who’ve helped me along the way. Those individuals who throughout my entire life, have dedicated their precious time, and resources, and have significantly contributed to my personal well-being. Their contributions, however small or large they came, pulled me closer to the shores of my true potential, and further away from the rocky banks of despair and hopelessness. I’ve vowed to pay it forward, and dedicate my life to helping others the same way those individuals helped me. Therefore, I accepted the calling to become a social worker.

For my final project, I decided to create a digital story, outlining some of the struggles that I’ve encountered over the years, as well as some of the protective factors that ultimately saved my life. The reason I chose this project is because I wanted to open up, and allow myself to be vulnerable, something I struggle with even to this day. But also, to highlight the importance of having protective factors readily available in low income communities. These events no doubt have shaped my life in ways that I could not have imagined at the time.  This project forced me to look back upon the adversities that I’ve face, reminding me of why I worked so incredibly hard to get to where I’m at today. I have for many years, grappled with the demons of my past, and somehow concluded that forgetting would bring me peace of mind. However, this was never the case. But what I’ve realized today, is that because of where I’ve come from, I’ve been able to reach others that many could not. I realize now, that I indeed have a story that is worth telling, as we all do. This is the story of how I went from a G.E.D, to a graduate student.

I have for quite some time, been keenly aware of the social forces at work that contribute to social injustices. I am also aware of my privilege that comes from having access to higher education. Rather than taking the knowledge I will acquire out of my community, I plan to take it back and help my community. With a concentration in community organizing, and a minor in social policy and evaluation, I fully intend to create change on the structural level to increase the life chances of those within our communities. As one who has witnessed many of my childhood friends fall victim to the prison industrial complex, and as the older brother of 4 young black males, I believe it is my societal duty to fight for an environment in which they will be able to thrive and live meaningful lives.

I attribute much of my success to three interventions. Protective factors are probably a more accurate characterization. Those are; The Center for Occupational and Personalized Education (COPE), The Michigan Youth Challenge Academy, and lastly but most importantly, my family, specifically my daughter. Without the resources, the guidance, and support of these protective factors, my life very well could’ve taken a much different and drastic turn. Much of what I remember begins in my early teenage years. I believe that my upbringing in the church contributed greatly to my comprehension of social issues. Christian values such as loving your neighbor as you love yourself, and, defending the rights of the poor and needy, have always been central to my way of thinking. In fact, I’m certain that it was my faith, that has pulled me through so many trials and tribulations throughout the years.

However, despite most of my childhood being spent in the church, it was not enough to shield me from the ills of my surroundings. My family moved around quite often, sometimes every other year. It seemed as though we could never really get settled. Poverty for us was a normal way of life, or so it seemed. Both of my parents were hardworking individuals, but like so many other families in America, we were constantly one financial dilemma away from homelessness. In fact, there have been multiple times that I remember, where we were. The uncertainty of not knowing whether or not we would have a roof over our heads weighed heavy on my younger siblings and me. Members of our church family took us in, allowing us to stay with them until we found another place to stay. I will forever be grateful to them for their selfless acts of kindness and benevolence.  And although our family was split up at times, we remained close. Two of my younger brothers went to live with a close friend who helped to provide them with a sense of stability. They went on to be star basketball players at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Moving from place to place added a constant strain to an already sensitive situation. We ended up moving to an area where the public schools were predominantly white. I noticed immediately the difference in treatment that I received at these school versus what I was given in the predominantly black neighborhoods. The students of color received much less guidance and support from the majority white staff. There was a lack of resources for community based programs that would give us young people an outlet to express our frustrations. My grades in school began to decline, and I started to get into trouble. As I grew older, I began to hang out with people who I felt at the time, could understand where I came from. This for me was a coping mechanism, or so I assumed. I stopped going to school on a regular basis, and was charged with truancy at the age of 15. Now on probation, I was removed from my public high school and forced into an alternative school.

This alternative institution was The Center for Occupational and Personalized Education (COPE) in Ypsilanti, Mi. Described as the “last option” for struggling youth in Washtenaw County, the Center for Occupational and Personalized Education (COPE) began as a residential facility for high-risk, court-involved females, But as the county’s needs changed, it quickly evolved into a comprehensive program for 13- to 17-year-old students who were expelled from the county’s traditional school districts, sometimes for bringing weapons to school. The emphasis was on remedial education and skills training. It was at this alternative institute that I met a Principal/teacher/counselor named Nate Reid, who would change my life forever. For once, I felt that I was under the supervision of a teacher who cared for their students. It was the compassion, yet firmness, of this instructor that compelled me to do better, and be better. This forced me to look at life much differently.

Despite having to watch some of the students from the juvenile detention center walking to class in chains and shackles, the environment was one that was centered on love and tolerance.  Nate at times would pull me aside, and have real candid discussions with me about life, the importance of education, and where I saw myself in the next 10 years. Back then, I never conceived that I would one day use education as a tool to fight the hopelessness and despair that was so prevalent in our community. But Nate helped me to see the value in myself, as a young black male with a place in society.

I noticed a drastic change in my attitude about life, and my education under the supervision of Principal Nate Reid. It was at this institute that I learned of the Michigan Youth Challenge (MYCA), a military school that offers young people between the ages of 16 through 18 the opportunity to change their lives, and make a future for themselves. The Academy is a 17.5 month, two phase program. The program incorporates eight core components that encourage physical, mental and moral development. Still on probation, with the encouragement and support of my parents, Mr. Reid, and with the blessings of my probation officer at the time, I decided to enroll into this program. Undoubtedly, one of the best things that could have happened to me, was for me to be taken out of my environment, and placed into a new one where I could thrive. This may have been the longest 6 months of my life, but through this institution I was taught self-determination, and discipline as a young rambunctious teen.

This allowed me the time and space to mature and develop away from my old friends. I was also able to obtain my GED while in this program. The physical requirements were demanding, but even more so, the emotional strain was exhausting. Immediately upon our arrival, many of us quickly realized that our lives would be turned upside down. The fierce drill sergeants and their expectations of perfection, left us no choice but to shape up. The goal was to break us down mentally and then build us back up. We were also taught how to work as a team. Everything had to be done in unison, and under prefect uniformity. When one of us slipped up, we all payed the price. Over time, we learned that the only way to achieve our goals was to work as a team. We all arrived as individuals, and we left as a team, as brothers. Many of them I still keep in contact with today. Our drill sergeants became our mentors, some like father figures who offered us guidance and support during our residential phase. We attended vocational classes in the evening, and took G.E.D prep courses in the afternoon, after our physical training. While obtaining a G.E.D may seem trivial to some, for us, it was a major milestone in our lives. We left the program with a new sense of pride and hope for the future.

Upon my return home, I came to the realization that many of my associates had either been incarcerated, or ended up losing their lives. I lost some of my closest friends to what Dr. Cornell West would describe as the Nihilism in Black America. Particularly, I am speaking of the profound sense of psychological depression, personal worthlessness, and social despair so widespread in Black America. This to me was a wakeup call. I decided that education was the best alternative to prepare for tomorrow. So, I began to self-educate myself. To better understand the world around me, I immersed myself in books, eventually building up a small library. Influenced by authors, scholars, and public figures such as W.E.B. Dubois, Malcom X, Frantz Fanon, Septima Clark, Ella Baker, Karl Marx, Joe Feagin, Freiedrich Engels, Franz Boaz, Noam Chomsky, and Dr. Cornell West to name a few, over time I noticed that my awareness began to develop. Malcolm X once said that “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” So that is exactly what I did. I began to prepare for my future, using education as a tool to achieve my goals.

Today, I can proudly say that I have overcome many obstacles and setbacks. As a single father, a student, an older brother of 5 siblings, a mentor, a self-proclaimed social activist, a volunteer worker at various non-profit organizations, I am a living testimony that people can change, and thrive in an environment where resources are readily available. I may have given up long ago had it not been for the love and support from my family. But the arrival of my daughter in 2007, may have been one of the greatest factors that attributed to my personal and spiritual growth. I still believe she came to me in part of divine intervention. She has taught me things about myself that I could not see through my own eyes. Understanding that it is my duty to try to leave this world a better place for her, she has been a big part of my motivation.

I have dedicated my life to furthering my education in order to develop the tools necessary to recognize, and address major social issues in our society. I’ve become a mentor to young high school students, a tutor for those in impoverished communities, and an advocate for non-violent offenders in the criminal justice system. However, it is still important to acknowledge that community based programs are severely underfunded in impoverished communities. Instead of receiving services through community based initiatives, young people are pushed through a vicious school to prison pipeline, forcing them further into a relentless cycle of interactions with the criminal justice system. The Center for Occupational and Personalized Education closed in 2012, due to a lack of state funding. The MYCA faces similar challenges as they struggle to obtain enough funds to house cadets. As one who has personally benefited from these programs, I remain firm in my stance that community based intervention programs in impoverished communities should be a societal priority.

The theoretical framework that comes to mind is the ecological systems perspective. This outlook allows us to analyze the reciprocal relations between persons and their environments. Using this perspective emphasize the strengths and weaknesses in the transactional processes between these systems, and the people who interact with these systems. Social workers can be more effective in addressing this issue by placing emphasis on the importance of a community based program that could potentially alter the life direction of those within the community. This to me is just as important as education. We must make sure that people have the resources necessary to make their dreams a reality. By giving them the tools necessary to succeed, we ultimately increase the life chances of those who reside in the most marginalized and vulnerable communities. Now that I have given a brief summary of the issue, and how it has affected me, please enjoy the digital story that I have put together. 😊

 

504 Final Presentation Video

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Analyzing the social return on investment in. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wilder Research: https://www.wilder.org/Wilder-Research/Publications/Studies/Analyzing%20the%20Social%20Return%20on%20Investment%20in%20Youth%20Intervention%20Programs/Analyzing%20the%20Social%20Return%20on%20Investment%20in%20Youth%20Intervention%20Programs%20-%20A%20Fra

Arndt, D. (2012, June 8). COPE’s final day: Teachers at alternative school reflect on program’s 41 years. Retrieved from Ann Arbor News: http://www.annarbor.com/news/cope-teachers-reflect-remember-take-away-as-they-pack-up-belongings/

Dudley, M. (n.d.). Community-Based Programs Work, But Not Without Funding. Retrieved from Youth Intervention Programs Association: http://yipa.org/community-based-programs-work/

 

 

Week 11 – Anti-oppressive Practice

I believe there will always be opportunities to engage in anti-oppressive practices, both on induvial and structural levels, as long as forms of oppression exist. In fact, the more we train our minds to identify inequalities and injustices, the more we will recognize the pervasiveness of these practices within our society. Anti-oppressive practices can begin with the individual, right in the comfort of their own home. Acknowledging and confronting our own personal biases is a start. But also asking one’s self, how did I develop this way of thinking? What were the modes of communication and interaction that may have contributed to my biases?  If we really want to understand and address, the disparities that exist within our society, we must first break the shackles that exist within our own minds.

Dealing with oppression oftentimes leads to an array of different emotions, many of them having a negative impact on our psyche. Being “woke,” or socially aware can often be mentally and emotionally draining. As one who is continuously striving to climb the latter of enlightenment, I have recognized that I personally went through many different emotional stages. I’ve felt anger, resentment, sadness, hopelessness, but on the other end of the spectrum, I have felt pride, hope, optimism, and joy. I am learning how to deal with these emotions as I experience them. Today, I try to harness my anger, or any other negative emotion, into something constructive. I often ask myself, what can I do to help? What type of difference can I make if or when I choose to take action? Some action is better than no action at all.

Each of us has the ability, and the moral obligation to challenge oppression on the structural level. However, I also feel that it Is important to wisely pick and choose your battles, as we cannot fight them all. But what would prevent one from taking action? Fear of consequences and repercussions is always at the back of my mind when I choose to stand up for social justice. I have chosen the right side of justice, and have come to grips with the fact that I may face adversities that could make me uncomfortable. I believe that privilege plays a major role in one’s decision to take action because those privileges could be revoked. It is much more difficult to stand for something when you have much to lose.  The question that I have reflected upon recently is; how can we empower ourselves, the individuals, and the communities we serve, enough to challenge oppressive tactics? I believe that social workers already have an advantage because they have been equipped with the intellectual foundation to address inequalities in our society.

 

 

Final Project

I am still debating on which method I would like to use to complete my final assignment. I like the idea of creating a personal digital storytelling project. As an African American with life experience as it relates to racism and oppression, I feel as though I could offer some insight as to how diversity and social justice has made an impact on my life. I’m also leaning towards writing a traditional academic paper inspired by this week’s readings. I’ve been exposed to countless works on inequalities and social injustice. I understand these systems both from a historical and contemporary worldview. However, less attention has been given to methods and modes of resistance.

With regards to the Aborigines and other indigenous groups surviving under oppression, I would like to explore the theoretical frameworks used as methods of resistance. A compare and contrast analysis on grass roots activism fighting for social justice among indigenous populations is my aim. For instance, I may explore how the Black Panther Party in the United States inspired a generation of grass roots activist in Australia, who later became the Australian Black Panther Party. What ideologies were present during this time of activism? How does this relate to Social Justice and Diversity? How did other indigenous groups fight for social justice and what was their methodology? What are the present day initiatives and who is currently leading the fight for social justice in Australia?  Just a few ideas for the final project.

My Reflection on Stolen Generations.

This week’s blog takes from the film Rabbit Proof Fence, and the readings Stolen Generations. The film, which is also based on the book Follow the Rabbit-Foot Fence, follows three young girls as they make their way back home after being stripped away from their families, and sent off to a concentration camp thousands of miles away. What I noticed initially about the film is how the oppressive tactics used on the Aborigines mirrored almost exactly, those that have been used on other oppressed peoples throughout the world. There were multiple forms of oppression that stood out to me during the film. There was the separation of the children not only from their parents, but from the opposite gender with the intent to sever ties from their culture, and their communities. Children were no longer allowed to speak in their native tongue, and were forced to speak the language of the oppressor. Also, those with lighter skin were favored over their darker counterparts and were considered to be more intelligent, thus more valuable. This film did an excellent job in conveying how colonialism completely destroys a culture.

Although I had been aware of some of the historical struggles that Aborigines faced, I had not seen this film. It is rather unsettling to know that there are Australians who deny this idea. This denial most likely stems from a long tradition of systematic indoctrination that has taken place on the continent. There is an old African proverb that says that “until the Story of the hunt is told by the Lion, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” This proverb articulates how much of our worldview has been shaped by the “hunter”, therefore our perceptions can at times, be skewed in a way that favors the oppressor’s beliefs.  This idea brings me back to why the process of decolonizing is so important. I also believe that there has been an attempt to protect the racist legacy of European occupation in Australia.

The social and cultural impact that this event has had on the indigenous population is immeasurable. The lingering effects of expansionism past and present, are detectable all over the world. Intractable economic problems breed conflict, which is found in many areas that were once colonized or controlled by Western European powers. The end result, unequal distribution of resources, human rights violations, health disparities, lack of public sector assistance, just to name a few.  One important thought that tends to get overlooked is how various groups resist oppression. In this case, the most apparent form of resistance occurred when the girls decided to run away from the concentration camp. It is that spirit of hope, that yearning for freedom, that allows oppressed peoples to formulate creative ways to resist oppression out of necessity.

Without any doubt, I believe that this subject MUST still be discussed today. As a student who has been exposed to Pan Africanist Ideologies, I believe that we must continue to fight to liberate oppressed peoples worldwide. This is a herculean task; however, we must continue right the wrongs of the past no matter how big the mission.

Structural Oppression continues to exist on multiple levels. It can be found in the school to prison pipeline and throughout the prison industry. It can be found in any organization where men make a considerable amount more than women who occupy the same roles. It can be found within the institutions which refuse to hire a candidate due to the spelling of their name which could be perceived as “ethnic”. These are just a few examples that come to mind when discussing structural oppression; although, if we were to take a closer look, I’m sure you would find that the list would continue to grow.

 

Mo’olele

Hello Family! My name is Joshua Strode and I’m from Ypsilanti, Michigan. I am a proud African American male trying to make a difference in the world that surrounds me. My method is Community Organizing, and my area of concentration is in Community & Social Systems, with a minor in Social Policy & Evaluation. I am also very proud to say that I am a part of the New Leaders in African Centered Social Work Scholars program. I occupy many roles in my plane of existence. I am a father to a beautiful young girl, an older brother of 5 siblings, 4 boys and 1 girl, a mentor, a self-proclaimed social activist, and a volunteer worker at various non-profit organizations.

My awareness of social injustice and inequality came at a very young age. I believe that my upbringing in the church contributed greatly to my comprehension of social issues. Christian values such as loving your neighbor as you love yourself, and, defending the rights of the poor and those in need, have always been central to my way of thinking. In fact, I’m certain that it was my faith that has pulled me through so many trials and tribulations throughout the years.

When I think of the word diversity, beauty comes to mind. I reflect on the diversity of outlooks, religions, beliefs systems, languages, cultures, the beauty in the variety of color that exists within the human family. I see diversity very much as a gift to the human family, and a strength, rather than a weakness. When I think of social justice, I think of being a catalyst for change, a change agent. I truly believe to the very core of my being, that each human has the divine obligation to leave this world in better shape than it was prior to our entrance. Social Justice is standing up for something, even when others may not have the courage to stand up for themselves. With regards to this course, however, I would say that diversity and social justice is the aligning of diverse thoughts, actions, and approaches to achieve justice for all.

I believe that diversity, social justice, and social work are inextricably linked, there can be no separation. In fact, when I think of a social worker, I think of a social justice worker. In my own mind, this is what a social worker “could” be. Social justice for all disenfranchised and marginalized people should be society’s highest priority. Someone must give a voice to the voiceless, even if that help is only to help one find their voice. This is where I believe a social worker comes in.

What I hope to gain from this course is a better understanding of how social workers can fight for social justice both on a micro and macro level. How social workers can impact the lives of individuals through interventions, but also, how social workers implement structural changes on a mass level that would positively impact marginalized communities.

 

 

Reflections on Theory and Decolonization.

This week’s discussion deals with a combination of edX videos centered upon culture and theory, accompanied by articles written on decolonization. The intent of this blog is to answer three questions: 1) Why is theory important in a course on diversity and social justice and how might these be applied in my social work practice? 2) what are some things that stand out to me in my social environments, e.g. family, work, school, communities, institutions that are unsettling now that I’ve thought about them. 3)  What was a major learning for me this week?

In order to fully comprehend why theory is important in a course on diversity, we must first have an understanding of what theory is and how it is defined. While the term “theory” can be defined in various ways, the context I have selected to complement the position of this blog is one reserved by the Merriam-Webster dictionary. It states that a theory is “a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained.” In relationship to theory, social work practice could be viewed as the praxis point that fuses the dynamics of theorization and practice together, establishing the groundwork for theory in action.

So why is theory important, especially as it relates to a course on diversity and social Justice? In module two of the edX video titled Theory in Action, Dr. Beth Glover Reed states that “If you don’t have skills in theorizing, you can’t do the justice work because you need to be able to be analytic about cases of injustice.” On page 2 of the book titled Challenging Oppression and Confronting Privilege, the author contends that theories are carried out by 4 basic functions: description, explanation, prediction, and control and management of events or changes. Theory is important because it builds a strong analytical foundation by which we understand the world and the phenomenon that occurs around us. Although social justice is broadly defined, a social worker must have a basic understanding, at minimal, of theories surrounding social justice whether antiquated or modern. That is because these theories have shaped our society and our worldview.

In practice, I would use theory to analyze and comprehend a certain problem so that I could not only work to treat the issue but hopefully, eliminate it. I say this because I feel that it is problematic to focus entirely on short term remedies for a symptom, rather than focusing on the issue that is causing the symptoms. A theory is most valuable when attempting to understand societal issues and can be applied both on a micro and macro level.

It would take far more than a single blog to articulate my thoughts on social and economic justice issues. Racial and social inequality, social stratification, gentrification, a cancerous prison industrial system, unemployment, homelessness, public health, police brutality, and education are all topics of interest. From a historical perspective, it is clear that colonialism has played a key role in how various groups recognize themselves within a sociocultural, economic, and political context. Frantz Fanon states in his book The Wretched of the Earth, that “Colonialism is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures, and destroys it”. This definition offers a transparent view of what colonialism is, and how it affects those under its dominion. It does not only seek to destroy the present, but uses power and influence to falsify the history and reduce the culture of the oppressed peoples.

How have these issues impacted me personally? I have seen firsthand the effects of these social and economic justice issues. It is part of my reality as I notice it where ever I go, whether in my neighborhood or with friends and family. I’ve lost some of my closest friends to what Dr. Cornell West would describe as the Nihilism in Black America. Particularly, I am speaking of the profound sense of psychological depression, personal worthlessness, and social despair so widespread in Black America.  Internalized oppression by way of cultural colonialism and the continuous propagation of negative stereotypes has a real and tangible impact.

The major learning for me this week was in the process of decolonization. I was rather intrigued by Poka Laenui’s five phases of decolonization. The 5 processes are: 1) Rediscovery and recovery, 2) Mourning, 3) Dreaming, 4) Commitment, and 5) Action. Decolonization of the mind is a process that I have already begun through education and self-reflection. I realize that this is not a quick process, as we have been socialized and conditioned for decades. Resistance to these forms of domination and control has taken on innumerable expressions and emerge through a multiplicity of inventive forms. However, worthy of acknowledgment is the fact that colonized peoples on a global scale, have continuously reinvented themselves, causing them to be one of the driving forces behind the changes that have taken place in their societies.