To: Durham City Council & Office of the Mayor; City Manager Wanda Page; D.A. Satana DeBerry; Sheriff Clarence Birkhead and Chief Patrice Andrews
From: Carter B. Cue, Durham Resident
cc: Youth & Community Advocates: Paul Scott, Charles D. Johnson, Cimarron Bandele, Tim Smith, Eddie Davis, Henry McKoy
Project Title: Bull City Youth Violence Cultural Intervention Program
In his book Black Roots: A Beginner’s Guide to Tracing the African American Family Tree Tony Burroughs says: The desire to know one’s family is older than recorded history. The Egyptian pharaohs had a record of their genealogy carved in stone thousands of years before Christ and it still exists today.” Burroughs goes on to say, “genealogy enables African Americans to have a legacy of our ancestors’ struggles, successes, and failures so that we can learn from our ancestors’ lives — not to repeat their mistakes but to emulate their successes and use them as inspiration for the future.”
Considering the years long, yet unwon, struggle by Durham municipal, social and civic entities to combat juvenile delinquency and youth violence in the form of gun violence and gang participation — resulting in unnecessary homicides and community disruption — the words by Tony Burroughs have taken on a greater level of importance relative to the overall well-being of Durham, NC, and her citizenry.
Psychology, Human Resiliency and History
In a March 15, 2013, New York Times article entitled “The Family Stories the Bind Us” Bruce Feiler suggests based on a *study with 20 questions by Emory University psychology professors Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush, that “the more children knew about their family history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.” Feiler concludes that the knowledge of family history was the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.
“A PEOPLE WITHOUT THE KNOWLEDGE OF THEIR PAST HISTORY, ORIGIN AND CULTURE IS LIKE A TREE WITHOUT ROOTS” — Marcus Garvey
Emory University psychology professor Robyn Fivush says in the November 19, 2016, Psychology Today magazine that “children and adolescents who know more of their family stories show a higher well-being on multiple measures, including higher self-esteem, higher academic competence, higher social competence, and fewer behavior problems.”
Hillside High School, Prof Alston, and the Formation of Identity
Psychologists and educators have observed and postulated that adolescence is the period of human development when identity is formed and being locked in for adulthood — be it for success or failure, community upliftment or societal degradation. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, young people who have developed the ability to communicate their stories and understand their place in a positive family unit, community and greater human family tend to contribute positively to society.
The concept that well-being, self-esteem, academic competence, student behavior and community/family legacy intricately intertwined was best exemplified by the longtime Hillside High School principal Howard “Prof” Alston. Upon encountering student’s formal classroom settings or those lingering in hallways (having made up their minds to cut class) Prof Alston in his unmistakable gruff voice would ask: “What is your name?” Then he would ask “who is your mamma, who is your daddy?” Depending on the student’s response Mr. Alston (like the West African Jeli/griot would recite when the parent(s), grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings attended Hillside High School, the neighborhood the family originated from, the church the older relatives attended on Sunday mornings and their outcomes after matriculating through Hillside High School. Unbeknownst to the student encountering Prof Alston was the fact that he was reminding them of their humanity, valued place in the local community and family unit, and connecting them ancestrally to land, language, and culture.
While the stories of Prof Alston and a previous generation of Hillside High School students is anecdotal there is no doubt that knowing one’s cultural, family and community history builds resilience in the face of hardship and struggle, to enable a person to persevere and triumph despite disappointments.
Slavery, the Civil War and Freedom: A Personal Transformation Story
Like many young people growing up in the 1970s attending Durham Public Schools, I was exposed to Alex Haley’s seminal, television docu-drama Roots. Some of my fellow African American classmates were embarrassed and ashamed by the legacy of enslaved Africans and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, and as a result their light, black and brown skin hues. Others unable to process and understand this history or cruelty from a psychological perspective reacted negatively — with some physically attacking both White and Black classmates for a myriad of reasons. The name Kunta Kinte was usually reserved for the darker-hued of my classmates. Of course, if my classmates would have known that the Alex Haley created real/fictional Kunta Kinte character was born around 1750 in the Mandinka village of Jufureh in the Gambia and raised in a Muslim family they may not have experienced the angst and anger they did. How did a few of the kids in my neighborhood remember Kunta Kinte and the Roots docu-drama? At night we would go to a backyard, raise our arms to the full moon and say in unison: “Behold the only thing greater than yourself!”
While I could not at that time trace my origins to a distinct place on the African continent or the actual plantation in South Carolina that my ancestors toiled and suffered on, I did have the privilege of spending most summers with grandparents and great grandparents in South Carolina who told me family stories and why we possessed certain names, traits, and perspectives.
It was not uncommon during my boyhood that people in my own nuclear family and extended family routinely reminded me (before going out into the public, i.e., school, church, stores) with the adage: “Remember your name, where you come from…do not disgrace the family name.”
While I currently know (due to available wills, census records, death certificates, Freedmen Bureau records etc.) my great, great, great, great grandfather Jefferson (Fant) was born in 1824, enslaved on the Laurens County, South Carolina plantation of Confederate soldier and planter Oliver Hazard Perry Fant, and was the father of 12 children (some of whom died before puberty) and was later emancipated legally from bondage in 1865. I did not know this fact when Roots first aired on television, but it would have undoubtedly empowered my distressed, embarrassed and agitated young classmates. Fortunately, I did have great grandparents who told me how subsequent generations of old Jeff’s progeny left Laurens County and spread out across the United States and in the face of Jim Crow segregation, socio-economic inequality, redlining, violence etc. somehow succeeded in life with their humanity and sense of self-worth intact.
The Know Bookstore as a Tuition-Free University and Psychological Change Agent for the Community
When Durham native Dr. Bruce Bridges founded his bookstore in the early 1980s just beyond the Dillard Street railroad tracks, he was following in the tradition of a long line of African American book sellers such as: David Ruggles (New York), Drum and Spear (Washington, D.C.), Lewis Michaux’s National Memorial African Bookstore (Harlem, NY), Una Mulzak’s Liberation Bookstore (Harlem, NYC) and Uhuru Book Shop (Greensboro, NC).
The name Bridges chose for his fledgling book business/community center (which also hosted a weekly Wednesday night lecture, a Saturday morning radio program “The Cultural Awareness Seminar” and an overnight Saturday radio program “Talk Harambee”) was the KNOW Bookstore because like Prof Alston he wanted black Durhamites to know and remember their ancestral cultural legacy from Africa throughout the Diaspora — to know thyself. Bookstore proprietors like Bridges and those before him believed that a basic understanding of family history, African/African American and world history would enlighten and empower people to excel in business, school, and life — but to also attain a strong sense of self needed to combat the psychological inferiority and self-hatred that leads to anti-human, gun and gang violence.
An Educational and Systematic Program to Lessen Gun Violence and Gang Activity
Numerous federal programs, local governments, social services departments, and educational/recreational entities have committed large amounts of both taxpayer and grant funded dollars to stem the increasing tide of gang and youth violence in Durham and beyond. Many municipalities out of desperation have turned to “violence interruption” campaigns led by former gang members, non-governmental art-literature and athletic programs, and a plethora of similar social services type programs to shift the focus of young people from the negativity of the streets and the outcomes of incarceration to the possibilities and potential of being a positive asset to society. Each of these has great merit in the development and self-awareness of young people.
However, the one single important element that seems to be missing from the human intervention programs is the family, its repositories of family narratives and history, and the greater community that can pass on — not only tales of chaos, conflict, suffering and loss — but — chronologies of success, happiness, accomplishment, overcoming and determination. The family, in whatever iteration it exists, is the greatest purveyor of expectations, human action, normative behavior and the stories and history that serve as a backdrop for family and human evolution.
While it may be impossible to deter the whole of Durham Youth from acts of criminality or lack of basic human respect, we think it is beneficial to first test the program’s efficacy using a small control group chosen by local governmental entities or similar individuals engaged in youth work. Participation in the 6-month program would be in lieu of the longer, standard, criminal justice processes of sentencing or at the other extreme of outright incarceration. Research indicates that family influences during an individual’s life are important factors in identity development with this identity including a balance between the individual and the social world.
Project Principals and Team Leaders
As the emphasis of the Bull City Youth Violence Cultural Intervention Program is to first change the psychological and social perspective of youth by utilizing the praxis of historiography (i.e., documented history, genealogy, and oral history) in a non-threatening, non-traditional educational setting college students from North Carolina Central University’s department of history, City historian and former public school educator Eddie Davis would be the primary history guides and instructors. The rationale for using peer-to-peer instructor to student groups is predicated on the observation that proximity of age is a determinant factor in better communication and empathy between age groupings. The student history guides would work under the guidance and tutelage of Dr. Charles Johnson and current City Historian and former Durham Public School educator Mr. Eddie Davis, both of whom would also be responsible for formulating the curriculum, educational outcomes, and assessments for the Bull City Youth Violence Cultural Intervention Program
Council of Elders
As many traditional African societies have a rich social and spiritual heritage predicated upon mutual respect a chosen Council of Elders will incorporate the “Palaver” as a mechanism to foster the art of conversation, dialogue, and consensus-building in both decision-making and in decision-taking in the local community and greater. Author Stan Chu Llo says the African palaver offers a good model of how a non-Western civilization, long before the current conversation in judicial courts developed practices of listening, engaging, dialoguing, and discerning the truth about things, and the path for the future. Traditional African societies created a sacred space for creative dialogue in communal decision-making, where everyone’s voice, concerns and insights were welcomed. A variant of the African palaver is in the Igbo ethnic group of West Africa.
Funding: Budgets and funding, for the initial 6-month test phases of the program, to incentivize the both project participants, student history guides and Dr. Johnson in leadership capacity would come from the City of Durham, private philanthropy and North Carolina Central University. Ongoing continuance of the proposed Bull City Youth Violence Cultural Intervention Program beyond the initial 6- month test phase would be predicated on successful outcomes for participants.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — -
* 20 Questions About Family Stories
1. Do you know how your parents met?Y N
2. Do you know where your mother grew up?Y N
3. Do you know where your father grew up?Y N
4. Do you know where some of your grandparents grew up?Y N
5. Do you know where some of your grandparents met?Y N
6. Do you know where your parents were married?Y N
7. Do you know what went on when you were being born?Y N
8. Do you know the source of your name?Y N
9. Do you know some things about what happened when your brothers or sisters were being born?Y N
10. Do you know which person in your family you look most like?Y N
11. Do you know which person in the family you act most like?Y N
12. Do you know some of the illnesses and injuries that your parents experienced when they were younger?Y N
13. Do you know some of the lessons that your parents learned from good or bad experiences?Y N
14. Do you know some things that happened to your mom or dad when they were in school?Y N
15. Do you know the national background of your family (such as English, German, Russian, etc)?Y N
16. Do you know some of the jobs that your parents had when they were young?Y N
17. Do you know some awards that your parents received when they were young?Y N
18. Do you know the names of the schools that your mom went to?Y N
19. Do you know the names of the schools that your dad went to?Y N
20. Do you know about a relative whose face “froze” in a grumpy position because he or she did not smile enough?Y N