20,000 Miles Above & Men Below

For the brother headed to Indianapolis, Indiana for the Kappa Conclave and the one who isn’t…

I love the men of Kappa Alpha Psi; I was bred to, predestined to. My father is a member of the crimson and cream so is my friend boy, and a host of pretend uncles, play-play cousins and friends. While other daddy’s girls were being lulled to sleep with songs of looking-glass and diamond rings, my father was serenading me with Kappa Alpha Psi Sweetheart.

The institution of black Greek organizations embodies a spirit that cannot be described, only experienced and as an outsider, I cannot adequately depict what it means to bear those letters. I considered “pledging” once but if you’ve ever read my blog and you know anything about the process, you know that wouldn’t have gone over too well. I actually went to an interest meeting, in which a prime candidate said

If I were an instrument, I would be a harp so I could play melodious music for all the angels.

It wasn’t so much what she said but how she said it. She spoke in soprano and made movements with her hands as if she were actually young David playing for King Saul. She floated or at least gave the illusion of such. She curtseyed at the end of her answer and the crowd erupted in cheers of jubilation while shouting “Good Answer!” Nothing against her or her answer, she was a lovely girl and I was quite fond of her but this just wasn’t for me; a suspicion that was later confirmed when during a poem recital women with tattoos, dependents and excess weight were politely invited to turn their attention elsewhere.

I’m not big on exclusion.

Kappa Alpha Psi member, Wilt Chamberlain

The men of Kappa Alpha Psi are celebrating 100 years of unity which brought this particular kappa to RDU this morning. I saw him in security in his paraphernalia and knew exactly where he was headed, but flights are funny and where you’re going has nothing to do with how you get there. So there we sat, side by side in Row 13 on a Delta flight.

Let me interject and say that as much as I appreciate the Kappa man, in no way was I headed to partake in a weekend of debauchery where women are sure to be outnumbered by an astronomical amount because 20,000 Nupes have taken over the city.

From the moment I inhaled his overindulgence in cheap cologne and saw his lack of chivalry in neglecting to lift my carry on into the overhead compartment, I knew he was cut from a different Kappa cloth than my father.

When dude finally stopped talking about his membership in the “red and white” and how much fun he was about to have in Indianapolis, he asked what I did. Our conversation led to this blog. He too was a blogger.

You should check out my site mulattotude dot com (insert seven second presentation here where I describe my rants on all things related to mixed race and life).

Now maybe the mulattotude confused him, but surely he heard the mulatto in there somewhere. And we weren’t on the phone so, he could see me and one would think that an educated brother such as he would conclude by the kinky, curly hair and light skin…maybe she’s mulatto. Or maybe he didn’t know what the word meant, at which point he should have either asked or just shut it up. Although that shouldn’t even be an option because I gave him the pitch, deductive reasoning could have concluded of what I spoke. Low and behold, the next thing to fall out of his mouth was…

Why brothers always gotta be running to white women anyway?

Lawdhamercyonhisoul. He began in a soliloquy about the perils of interracial dating and how sisters were abundant and blessed and how he was about to abundantly bless as many as he could this weekend. I started reaching for my iPod (airplane code for I am not available for conversation). I was content to not speak to him anymore but he paused, looked me in the eye for the first time and asked me again.

What do you think? Why do black men date white women?

So they can have mulatto babies.

And on that note, I put Adele in my ear and tuned him out for the rest of the flight.

Wanna hear my answer to the instrument question…email me at palmerbennett@mulattotude.com.

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A Not-So Different World From Mine

I’m Alex and I’m eight, I like to fish, swim and skate.

This poem invaded my slumber around 6:18am and prevented further commitment to the captivity of my bed. My entire body ached through stretches and I baffled through thoughts of how I managed to sleep in the fetal position. I wonder now if my posture was somehow related to the dream.

If ever I had to characterize my life by a sit-com, without intellectual effort, it would be A Different World. I won’t dare insult your literacy ability by describing the show but in case you haven’t read my blog enough to know how it relates to my life (I can imagine my close friends laughing right now, let me fill you in).

The show is a spin-off from The Cosby Show, when the Huxtables’ daughter, Denise goes off to Hillman College. HC was a fictional HBCU. I like most black teens, sitting in front of the television on Thursday nights, couldn’t wait to make my own memories at a historically black college or university. From my own educational experience, I can attest to the fact that college is a new world, but a HBCU is a totally different one.

In season 1, Denise, played by Lisa Bonet, serves as the lead character. In following seasons, this honor is given to Whitley, played by Jasmine Guy. Both ladies are of mixed ancestry, although their fictional characters are not. In season 2, Freddie, played by Cree Summer, enrolls as the shows only mulatto character.

Stevie, played by Loretta Divine and Lettie, played by Mary Alice worked at Hillman College as dorm directors in Gilbert Hall. Having served as a residential manager myself, I am currently the Director of Residence Life at Shaw University. Like Stevie, I am also a single mother. I do not however, live in the residence halls (at least, I don’t receive personal mail there).

Then there’s Professor Randolph played by Roger Guenveur Smith, (who was the keynote address at my college graduation) and the poem that shook me out of my slumber. Actually, it was a dream; I dreamt about an episode of the sitcom that was prewritten as a biography of my life.  Blues For Nobody’s Child (season 4, episode 72) is about Alex, a foster child and his hope to be adopted at the adoption fair. Freddie’s passion for Alex touches Professor Randolph and he and his wife adopt the little boy. I too was a chosen child. Although my story doesn’t include orphanages, foster care or fairs, I was adopted.

What show or movie best describes your life? Survivor? The Princess and the Frog? Shameless? The Real Housewives of (Insert Current City Here)? In the series finale of A Different World, everyone turned out successful, happy and in love.

I don’t mind that in my bio at all.

To The Class of 2021

This is what I would want to share with the matriculating bears when the current students of Shaw University have graduated and/or moved on to other experiences and the events of what happened the week before Easter weekend in 2011 are nearly forgotten.

To The Class of 2021,

Just around the time you were enjoying the spoils of sixth grade spring break, former students were counting on two more weeks and a final exam to give them that extra umph. While you were lying your way through social networking activation sites, students before you were trying to find the truth through the chaos of half-truths and retweeted rumors. As you were wishing your parents would just leave you alone, students who carried the keys in your pockets were just wishing for a way home.

I can’t begin to describe what Shaw University was like before the storm.  Before the tornado came and ripped trees from roots, the tree that stood as guard over Henry Martin and Sarah Tupper. I don’t know how to articulate the spirit of Shaw, like many HBCU’s on ‘fried chicken Wednesday’ or ‘fried fish Friday’ when the lunch line spills out into the yard. The yard that is glass and debris ridden, outside of the café that served boxed lunches today. ‘Cold cut Wednesday’ just doesn’t have the same ring.

The rhythm of this institutional body moves to a beat that courses through the anatomy of other HBCU’s and like veins from one heart we dance to music that is felt and not heard. We sing to beats that are innate not synthetic and when it is time to sing together, our harmonies ring as one.

Yet, we are not just a historically black university; we are a world of academia. Often, that label diminishes ones capacity next to our predominately white institutional counterparts. Shaw is an association of scholarship. The essence of this first-rate, first built, first choice institution of higher education is inhaled in the air between its buildings on a crisp fall morning, its spoken in the language between student and advisor over plans after graduation, its understood in the movement of a young man who removes his hat and pulls up his pants in one motion as if rehearsed for eighteen years before.

This is not the most devastating event to happen on the campus of Shaw University; thankfully, all lives were spared but this was the most devastating to happen to the campus.

I am looking for the lessons to be learned from what took place on Saturday, April 16th, 2011, the tenth birthday of my oldest son. The tornado changed Shaw University. Students began to respect the opportunity of life more. One young man said to me on that Sunday morning “I would give anything to just have no AC again.” Staff began to show genuine compassion for one another. A staff member said a few days after the storm “I never even thought to ask if one of our own had losses.” Faculty began to understand that student affairs and academic affairs were a successful marriage not a dysfunctional family. A professor stated during a walk across the bridge after discussing a particular student “I can’t believe I never knew she was dealing with all of that and I’ve been her advisor for three years.”

To be honest, I was questioning my place at Shaw University. I was starting to wonder if my talents would be better fitted elsewhere. I was asking for answers and I believe now more than ever that they were answered that day. Somewhere in the tears of scared students with no way home and frightened parents thousands of miles away, I found may way home…right where I was.

So take a deep breath and inhale the past. Learn from it. This is not the new Shaw University. This is the same Shaw there always was. This is the same Shaw there always will be. The spirit has always been here, it just needed to remind the students of 2011 who they were and who they were meant to be.

Don’t you forget it, or else…