TheBlackManCan is making it way back to the Steel City of Pittsburgh, PA. We bring you a Black Man who is serious about improving our global community. He is working to educate, uplift and empower people and the students he works with daily. It is our distinct honor and pleasure to introduce Educator, Writer and Activist Amil Cook. Amil sits down with TheBlackManCan to discuss Hip Hop and Education, the most pressing issues facing Black Boys of, amilcook.com and his Morehouse College experience.
TheBlackManCan: Amil, can you tell us about how you grew up and how it has influences who you are today?
AC: I was initially raised in the inner city Boston neighborhood of Mission Hill. It was an interesting neighborhood because it had an extremely strong tenants’ association called the Roxbury Tenants of Harvard. These community members organized in the late 1960’s when Harvard University and the expanding and now historic Medical Area were purchasing much of the neighborhood. The community was able to ensure affordable housing and humane social conditions remained. In the late 1970s, when Harvard was buying up all of the available land this tenants association ensured that new residential homes and towers would be constructed. This resulted in the construction of Mission Park, which was run by the non-profit, Roxbury Tenants of Harvard. I grew up in this community and in many ways it was an ideal inner city neighborhood. We were close to some of the country’s best hospitals, universities and our nation’s oldest public school, Boston Latin School, which was founded in 1635. Our neighborhood was mixed income and extremely diverse. My childhood friends were from diverse backgrounds, some were Puerto Rican, Dominican, Haitian, Nigerian, Vietnamese, Bajan, Jamaican, Cape Verdean, Greek, African American and Caucasian. This was important for me being the product of an interracial relationship, even though I was likely one of the very few in my area. My neighborhood felt like a big playground in a lot of ways, we had a community center, where I went everyday after school and I drove my counselors crazy. We had a community pool that we swam in everyday in the summer. We also had basketball courts and a baseball diamond. Every summer we would have a block party with pony rides and contests for us kids. It definitely felt like a community and helped me develop a sense of community.
I was really influenced by my counselors and older kids in my neighborhood. They would let us watch, what now seem tame, rap videos on Yo! MTV Raps and Rap City. I would always learn all of the coolest slang and latest fashion trends from them. They would also tow the line with me when I got out of pocket, which happened quite often.
Amazingly, I basically insulated from many of the troubles just blocks away. There were the Mission Main projects, Heath Street Projects and Orchard Park Projects all in the general area. I would occasionally hear gunshots from Huntington Avenue and recall my mother making me lay down or get in the bathtub. I definitely had to fight a lot growing up, especially as an only child. I was one of a few kids on my block that didn’t have a sibling to help out when things got hot. I appreciate these experiences and I believe they taught me that I could overcome my fears when I had to and also that having fears was okay and necessary. I learned to accept people as people, evaluate them based on their character and personality and not their nationality or race. As I have matured and grown I realize how much growing up in Mission Hill and Mission Park in particular had on me. I also think that adults who had a great concern for young people, community involvement, activism and justice led my community. These are all qualities, which have someway, or another manifested in what I try to be.
TheBlackManCan: You once served a Clinical Supervisor for adjudicated youth. What do you feel are three most pressing issues facing Black Boys today? What are the some of the solutions?
AC: The top three issues I see affecting Black Boys today are (1) absentee fathers, (2) the mis-education of what manhood really is and (3) the oftentimes overwhelming negative stereotypes from the larger society about what Blackness is, a disconnect from our great African history and heritage and the substituted psychological pseudo-sustenance we are fed.
I believe that the solutions lie with our collective Black community and the willingness of our elders to reinvest re-engage and rebuild our communities with our youth. The solution doesn’t lie in adults leading this process but with adults, supporting youth and putting them first. We have so many elders, who have written off entire communities of young Black Boys based on what they have seen on TV, the News, Talk Shows, and even from family and personal experiences. Our tolerance for discomfort, disagreement and ignorance must be increased if the fate of our Black Boys is going to change. The solution also lies in the family, our parents need to stop recognize the impact that their bad behaviors and poor decision making ultimately have on their children. Of course, we cannot completely shelter our children and that would be unhealthy but we must honor and respect their innocence and let them hold onto that for as long as possible, because that is where all dreams begin and where valuable seeds find fertile soil, eventually becoming fruit bearing oases.
TheBlackManCan: You attended Morehouse College. Can you tell us about your experience and how it assisted in your personal development?
AC: My Morehouse experience was very powerful and transformative. I met so many amazing and inspiring young minds and talked with so many caring, loving and enthusiastic elders, who truly believed in us. I was made to feel that success was not beyond my capabilities but that it was a birthright, inherent with the charge to serve others and spread the word. Many people think that attending a Historically Black College University preclude a person from having many experiences with diversity but I would argue the counter, especially at Morehouse. I was able to meet and make friends with people from every major metropolitan area in this country, including many from different parts of Africa and even Japan. I owe a great deal of my development to Morehouse. I was exposed to so many trains of thought and perspectives enhancing my own in the process. I don’t want to act like everything at Morehouse was peaches and cream either. I disliked dressing up to go to Crown Forum and I felt that the school did not support its African American Studies “program” enough. It was not an official department last time I checked. I also felt that the school did not embrace our rebellious Hip-Hop cultural attitudes. We were taught to conform to the larger White society in many ways. I also felt disheartened at times when in the shadow of the MLK Jr. Statue in front of King Chapel, the school’s janitors, landscapers and kitchen staff were overworked, underpaid and more tragically underappreciated. There was definitely an heir of elitism that ran counter to what I felt my Morehouse experience was about. The relationships I built with a number of amazing faculty and staff are something I cherish to this day and these relationships afforded my twice, the opportunity to travel abroad to both South Africa and Brazil, experiences that shaped me just as much as Morehouse did.
TheBlackManCan: You currently serve as Career Readiness Teacher at City Charter High School. Tell us more about what you do in that role and about the school?
AC: I assist 9th, 10th and 11th grade students in developing ideas, plans and strategies to achieve their long-term career goals. This includes inspiring and educating them about what is possible when they envision it. Ironically, it involves assisting them in developing professional etiquette and skills to help them get hired, retained and promoted. Students go through interview simulations; college admissions simulations and now they interact digitally with industry leaders from across a wide spectrum.
TheBlackManCan: Hip Hop has played a major role in your life. How do you define Hip Hop? What kind of content do you edit and contribute for thehiphopdiaries.com?
AC: I define Hip-Hop as the voice of those society would rather neglect or not have to respect as equals. Hip-Hop is the musical, cultural traditions of a formerly enslaved people that captures the exuberance of the human spirit, the evil mankind is capable of, and the ingenuity of youthfulness, refusing to accept things as they have been told they are. Hip-Hop is nothing new though; it is only the modern variant of the blues in that it is both deals with themes sacred and secular, oftentimes in the same song, verse, lyric or breathy Ugh!
TheBlackManCan: Why is intersecting Hip Hop and Education important?
AC: It is vitally important to support the intersection of Hip Hop and education because Hip Hop is definitely provides education within and of itself and this “traditional” education is supposed to be “educational” in its manifestation, however things get sloppy in our society, which continues to be divided on racial and class lines. Hip Hop is from this countries poor centers of Black and Brown culture and these same communities that embraced Hip Hop were shunned by the greater society both in terms of race and class. This has manifested in a deep cultural gulf or canyon that keeps those most in need of “education” from getting it. Hip Hop bridges that gap. It lets young people know that Hip Hop is at its best educational, individually and collectively transformational. Once young people are allowed to recognize and embrace the fundamental educational nature of Hip Hop then all other doors to the world of education no longer appear locked, because Hip Hop is the poor man’s bump key to open doors, he was not authorized to open. Also, Hip Hop allows for an intense dialogue about all types of issues that rarely ever get covered in our political correct classrooms and society. Issues of race, religion, history, sex, violence and survival unapologetically become subject matter.
TheBlackManCan: What ignited the spark to write and what kind of content can be found at Amilcook.com?
AC: I actually decided to create my own site while I was traveling in Brazil in 2011. I had visited a Quilombo fugitive slave community with my wife and son and I just felt an overwhelming urge to get involved in changing the common discourse or at least contributing to it. I recognized that the media’s monopoly only appears invincible but that people need options and more inclusive narratives and stories. I realized that people everywhere I have ever travelled to and that these people and their voices were never the centerpiece of what is presented in the media shared my passions and visions for our global community.
TheBlackManCan: You have received awards and spoken across the country. Where do you see yourself within the next five years?
AC: In the next five years I want to be blazing new territory. I want to be working with greater effectiveness and greater leverage to bring about justice, equality and empowerment to our nation and globe’s downtrodden. I would like to help carve out a greater footprint for African Americans in the Tech world. I want to still be inspired to go harder than ever. Hopefully in five years we will have more tools and resources at our disposal and more visionaries and people willing to make these visions manifest.
TheBlackManCan: Why is it important for Black Men and Boys to see positive images of themselves?
AC: You can’t be what you can’t see. That is pretty basic, but human being are essentially creators that learn by way imitation. Babies develop the physical capabilities that will eventually allow them to crawl and walk but the steps and speech of their elders inherently inspire them. I would not be doing what I am doing if it wasn’t for the great people I have had in my life from my father, uncles and other relatives to men like Mandela, X, King, Toure, Zumbi, Nyerere, Chuck D, Lumumba, Tupac, Jay-Z, West, Spike and many others
TheBlackManCan: What words of advice do you have for young Black boys of today?
AC: Whatever they teach you in school isn’t good enough. You have to learn more than they teach you. Use the technology around you to educate yourself, learn how to be bilingual but authentic to your true voice. Don’t just hit it! Learn how to make love, that’s what men do! Think of yourself as LeBron James in his Junior or Senior year of high school, success is right around the corner, millions of dollars are waiting there for him; you are your own LeBron, value your future, don’t blow it before you get a chance to be who you are supposed to be. Fighting and beefing may make you feel tough but true toughness is mental toughness. Do not be one of the guys who can beat everybody up but complains and fusses when he doesn’t get his way. Learn from the street lessons found in Hip Hop music, don’t become one. Be balanced, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, stand up for your community and those who are afraid to stand up, speak your mind, your righteous mind. Know that history is watching and recording what you do. Do you want to be that guy who just chased money but that didn’t help anyone, no one truly cared about or liked. Touch lives, spread happiness, love and justice. Be a peacemaker. Anyone can create and wage war but how many can end one. I BELIEVE in YOU, Be open minded to difficult ideas and things for nothing that comes easy comes cheap. Time is going to pass the question is what do you have to show for it. No thyself, truly respect as equals and learn from every religion, every ethnicity and every culture then you will know we are all one. Your history and story is greater than you know, you must uncover that which has been hidden from you and made controversial. Evil comes in all races, religions and nationalities, even your own, same goes for good. TRAVEL, TRAVEL, TRAVEL, travel nationally, travel internationally, then travel spiritually and intellectually through books and thoughts. SHARE, SHARE, SHARE, that is at the essence of teaching, giving back what you have received. BE OPTIMISTIC, BE OPTIMISTIC, BE OPTIMISTIC, never let anyone make you lose hope and belief that things will work out, for then you have already been defeated. BUILD, BUILD, BUILD, build with your ideas, words, build with each other, build with the sisters, build with the elders, the power of the word, of the thought, of the idea, is beyond comprehension. History is watching us All, the babies are watching us all; let them die as we die for they will surely live how we live. Define yourself and tell your own story!
Follow Amil on twitter-> @amilcook
Check out Amil’s website–> http://amilcook.com/
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