Note: This post originally appeared as a column in the March 2012 edition of Detroit Native Sun.
One night in 2009 at Detroit’s Scarab Club, I read an excerpt from A Life on the RUN – Seeking and Safeguarding Social Justice, my tell-all memoir on our troubled city and schools. Local poet Laura Apel told the audience that it’s good to write autobiographical poetry, too — and she read her most personal and gripping poem, which inspired me to pen this one, titled "Shifting Sands":
In nascent 1950s nether lands,
I sported speed — stocked sheer
within my bones,
Consuming it and burning it with glee,
While beating the best
sprinters in the world.
Then blazing yet, I after-burned it still,
Down dwindling days, in dedicated thrall
To man- and womankind (the latter long,
And far too much indeed, I need to say).
The current leaders in suburban schools
Where years before I’d brought
Lent no strong hand enabling
To hear our young Black
My castle crumbled so, in shifting sands.
Yet my cause consumes me even now—
And on one sunless, late November day,
A slouching lout ingenuously scrawled
On borrowed loose-leaf in
his all-Black class,
"Doctor T., you cool—you be the man!"
His old re-treaded teacher duly basks
And glories in that priceless scrap of scrawl
I fasten to my overflowing heart—
With dreams untold, in ever-shifting sands.
In my poem, I was referring to a speech President Obama made to the nation that some school districts in white neighborhoods wouldn’t let their students hear. This poem actually manages to squeeze my memoirs’ 430 pages into just those eighteen lines of iambic pentameter—but you still need to get the book to view the whole picture! Anthony Neely, a press secretary to then-Mayor Dennis Archer, pronounced it the best book on Detroit he has ever read, and Archer himself called it "Spellbinding."
You also need to get What OLD MEN Know, my newest book, because in addition to making savage fun of the Republicans (Congressman Clarke ordered a copy for every Democrat in Congress), it contains "timeless wisdom," according to Dr. Wayne Dyer.
The sands may not be shifting yet in the suburbs, but they’re definitely shifting now in Detroit—for the worse. Our city teeters over the abyss of Legislature-mandated receivership, and Lansing continues its decade-long hijacking of the schools by assigning non-educators and non-Detroiters to run them and rename them to kill our sense of community. Under their "leadership," they have plunged our once-nationally predominant district to the lowest ebb in its 143-year history.
However, while education secretary Arne Duncan has pronounced us "educational ground zero," and a recent survey called our city the most violent in America, it is well to remember that we aren’t alone among urban centers. New York has many teachers on long-term layoff from shuttered schools, Los Angeles’ gangs are out of control, and Chicago’s teen violence problem proportionately approaches ours. Unquestionably, though, the ultimate key to our city’s rebirth lies in our public schools. We’ve got to take them back from the corporate crocodiles. Detroit’s future depends on it.