Inside the groundbreaking of the future National Museum of African American History and Culture

February 29, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Perhaps the most dangerous black gay man

February 28, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Guest Editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

Cleo Manago is despised by some in the LGBTQ community. Descriptors like “homo demagogue,” contrarian, separatist, and anti-white are just a few that can be expressed in polite company.

But to a nationwide community of same-gender loving (SGL), bisexual, transgender and progressive heterosexual African American men, Manago is the MAN!, seen as a visionary, game changer and “social architect” focusing on advocating for and healing a group of men that continues to be maligned and marginalized—brothers.

“Without an understanding of the deep hurt that Black men have around issues of masculinity and their role as a man, you can’t hope to eliminate anti-homosexual sentiment in Black men. There has been no national project to address the psychic damage that White supremacy has done to Black men. But there is always some predominantly White institution waiting, ready to pounce on a Black man for behaving badly,” Manago wrote in his recent article “Getting at the Root of Black “Homophobic” Speech” in which he castigates GLAAD for demanding that CNN fire Roland Martin for misconstrued homophobic tweets.

Unapologetically Afrocentric in his approach in addressing social, mental, and health issues plaguing communities of black men, Manago has created a national study on black men and has built two organizations that for more than two decades have had national recognition and have successfully secured millions of dollars in funding—Critical Thinking and Cultural Affirmation Study, AmASSI Centers for Wellness and Culture, and Black Men’s Xchange.

Manago’s study, called “Critical Thinking and Cultural Affirmation” (CTCA), is a culturally informed preventive health strategy that addresses positive mental, sexual, and community health, encouraging self-actualization, cultural empowerment, and responsibility. CTCA has been in practice since 2002.

As the founder and CEO of AmASSI Health and Cultural Center, Manago was one of the first innovators in the AIDS movement to provide HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention services utilizing a psychosocial, mental health model that was culturally specific to the African American identity. AmASSI has been in practice since 1989.

Manago is the national organizer and founder of Black Men’s Xchange (BMX), the oldest and largest community-based movement devoted to promoting healthy self-concept and behavior, cultural affirmation, and critical consciousness among SGL, bisexual, transgender males, and allies, with chapters in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Orange County, Detroit, Denver, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Black Men’s Xchange has been funded by the Center for Disease Control’s Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative program. And the CDC positions BMX alongside other legacy community black organization such as the NAACP, the Urban League, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and American Urban Radio Networks. BMX has been in practice since 1989.

A native of South Central Los Angeles, Manago began a vocation in social services at the age of 16. While many would call him a social activist, he does not like the term “activist” applied to him because he considers black LGBTQ activism tethered to mainstream white privilege, ideology, and single-focused gay organizations that is culturally dissonant and limited in scope to be meaningful and beneficial to not only African American LGBTQ communities but also to the larger black community.

To many in Manago’s community and beyond, he’s an unsung hero greatly misunderstood and intentionally marginalized by LGBTQ powerbrokers.

One factor, Manago would contest, contributing to his marginalization was the debacle between him and Keith Boykin during the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March.

In commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March, the Nation of Islam decidedly chose one LGBTQ organization over another. And that decision highlights much of the political, class, and ideological differences in the African-American LGBTQ community at large.

Keith Boykin—the founder and then president of the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), an African-American LGBTQ civil rights organization of which I was then a board member—was dropped from the event. But Cleo Manago was not.

Both men had much to bring to the 2005 Millions More March, but Manago mirrored the fundamental sentiment of Farrakhan’s theology—a conscious separation from the dominant white heterosexual and queer cultures—and he spoke at the historic 1995 Million Man March.

In his open letter, Manago wrote in 2005: “BMX knows the Nation of Islam (NOI). It’s an independent black organization not funded by the HRC or any white folks. The NOI does not, nor does it have to succumb to White gay press laden, black homosexual coercives who want to ram a white constructed gay-identity political agenda—that even most Black homosexuals reject—down their throats. Over the years, several members of the Nation of Islam have been to BMX. As some of you may know, almost 10 years ago BMX co-sponsored a very successful transformative debate on Homosexuality in the Black community with the Nation in L.A.”

As a queer separatist organization, many LGBTQ African-Americans applaud BMX for being unabashedly queer and unapologetically black. But the terms “queer” and “gay” are not descriptors Manago and his organization would use to depict themselves. That would be “same-gender-loving” because terms like “gay” and “queer” uphold a white queer hegemony that Manago and many in the African-American LGBTQ community denounce. As a matter-of-fact, he is credited with coining the terms “men who have sex with men” (MSM) and “same-gender-loving” (SGL).

To some in the LGBTQ community Manago is a dangerous demagogue. But to tens of thousands African American brothers and generous funders he’s seen as a brother driven with a dream. And he’s perhaps dangerous because he’s effecting change.

Rev. Irene Monroe is a nationally-known writer, speaker, and theologian.  She  has been profiled in O, Oprah Magazine, and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.  (The views expressed in this essay are solely those of the author.)

Election Laws Need Overhaul

February 16, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest Editorial by Kevin C. Peterson

EXCERPT:  The Massachusetts Legislature recently accomplished what few believed was possible.  With a singular commitment to broadening democracy in the state, it adopted a fair and comprehensive redistricting plan.  For this achievement, members of the Legislature should be lauded.  After all, the body’s history regarding redistricting has been a troubled one — pockmarked with acts of duplicity, prevarication, and federal lawsuits.

To our good fortune, more positive developments for electoral reform now loom.  As the Legislature moves into the second half of the lawmaking session, it should consider complementing its redistricting victory with an omnibus election law providing citizens increased electoral autonomy and flexibility.

To achieve this, pieces of proposed legislation now under review with the following provisions should be merged into a comprehensive election law reform bill.

Read the entire post at Commonwealth Magazine.

Kevin C. Peterson is founder and director of the New Democracy Coalition, an organization focused on civic literacy and electoral justice, based at the College for Public and Community Service at the University of Massachusetts Boston.  The views expressed are those of the author.

Is Black History Month Still Necessary?

February 3, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Guest Editorial by Kevin C. Peterson

In a country that has elected the first African-American president, is there really still a need for Black History Month?

For some within the black community the question is rhetorical: the foregone conclusion being that dedicating a month solely to Afro-American history is essential to preserving a collected knowledge of the country’s racial past.

While for others, the salience of black history month is simply anachronistic.  They wonder why it is still necessary to spend so much time rummaging in the cloistered precincts of ethnic history–especially when so much of that history is about the unpleasant accounts of subjugation.

Created in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-trained historian, the month-long dedication, began as Negro History Week and was expanded into Black History Month in the 1970s after decades of obscurity.  It’s creation represented an ardent and earnest attempt by Woodson to insert the achievements made by African-Americans into the nation’s consciousness.  In a country which still held its relationship with the Negro at a distance and with much disdain, Woodson’s goal was to integrate the black presence into mainstream American life and in doing so give African-Americans a sense of belonging in every chapter of the American story.

And it all made sense back then.  At that time in American history, blacks were only two generations removed from slavery and many African-Americans were still living in the vice grip of the Jim Crow South, lacking voting rights, public accommodations and fair housing laws.  The NAACP was less than twenty years old and the Jazz idiom was nascent, with Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington eagerly waiting in the cultural wings.

More than that, Black colleges were only slowly emerging into prominence, most of them state land grant institutions created after the Civil War, located in the rural and undeveloped South, lacking federal funding and attention. Garrett Morgan, the great African-American inventor, had just years earlier received the first patent for the traffic light he created. And Jackie Robinson, who would go on to integrate Major League Baseball–and give American sports new and complex meaning–was still in elementary school.

In other words, much of black history was undocumented. Black life–its culture and social accomplishments–were essentially ignored by the larger white society, giving formal no formal ways to study and celebrate its strivings and comprehend the cultural, political and moral nuances related to their emergence from chattel servitude.

But for decades now haven’t blacks have lived in a country where their talent and capacity have been obvious?  Oprah, for example, ubiquitously reigns as the predominate media persona of the age. The majority of athletes in major professional sports are minorities and the trends of popular music and dance are often decidedly swayed by the prerogatives of black youth culture.

So why continue to pay special attention to Black History Month given that African-Americans are now so prominent in the broader American cultural narrative: shaping its laws, influencing public policy at the highest levels, dictating aspects of American vernacular and style? Put another way: Why the focus upon the niceties and complexities of black history when the present is certainly enough to sustain a sense of cultural-identity and existential relevance for African-Americans?  And we are a nation inclined toward pluralism aren’t we?

Perhaps there are strong reasons for forgetting the past, especially if major aspects of that history are painful–discomfiting reminders of degradation, terror and lasting trauma.  For those who wish to jettison the idea of Black History Month, forgetting the past may be an attempt to escape from racial parochialism.  And in such circumstances, historical distancing would seem natural and maybe even necessity.

But reasons for retaining Black History Month may well lay in the fact that without a clear sense of the past, cultural groups– namely blacks in America–are decidedly diminished.   Bereft of historical reference points, groups invariably lose their identity and the very foundations upon which they project themselves into the future.  Without their history, in other words, blacks would lose their orientation and direction.

One thing is clear, however: As African-Americans become more integrated into the American fabric, the need to cling to a racialized history will certainly diminish.  So will the desire fade for future generations of blacks to point a finger to slavery and segregation as reference points that depict their American otherness.

But such a period is far in the future.  Black History Month will remain a focal point for decades to come because blacks will continue to glean richly from its particulars, using its many failures and successes as a recipe for future achievement.  And in the meantime, whites and other Americans will find in Black History Month an opportunity to access a people’s history that is so vital to the American democratic narrative.

Kevin C. Peterson, is founder and director of the New Democracy Coalition, which is in Residence at the College for Public and Community Service at UMass Boston.

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