Month: July 2015

Briona Butler: The Unheard Voice Behind WISE Club

Briona

You probably aren’t familiar with the name Briona Butler yet and that is through no fault of your own. However, the Grinnell College graduate has a brilliant mind and is not only preparing to impact the lives of our children but the way that they learn as well.

Briona was instrumental in the creation of WISE Club back in 2012. She attended Benjamin Banneker High School in Washington D.C. in which Neil Irvin was the facilitator of the weekly MOST Club meetings. Although the club is targeted towards young men, it managed to garner her attention and eventually led her to ask Neil if some of the females could sit in on a couple of the meetings.

“I like how the onus wasn’t on women to secure their safety,” Briona says, “The club promoted prevention, healthy relationships and not just being an active bystander.”

Despite her infatuation with how well the club ran and its effectiveness, she didn’t want to emulate the exact model for the WISE Club. Young women encounter different problems so alternative methods should be employed in order to reach them.

When asked how WISE should differ from MOST and what she would like to focus on, media literacy was her first response.

“The media can be so insidious, by obtaining a strong mind and knowledge of self we can help improve our self-image.”

After graduating from Banneker, Briona attended Grinnell College in Iowa on a Posse scholarship. She graduated with a major in Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies due to a passion that’s inexplicable. During her senior year at Grinnell, Briona had an epiphany and realized her ultimate goal is to start her own school.

“It’s been building up for a minute,” she says, “I’ve always been interested in the youth and education but I didn’t know how to articulate it.”

“My school will be holistic!” she exclaims when asked to define her dream institution. “Black kids need to play music, understand nutrition, and learn actual history. More importantly, “they need to know how to think and express themselves and manifest!”

She’s now back with the program that she helped start but this time as a consultant. Her current tasks entail helping shape the curriculum for the current WISE Club members and she is also in charge of operating multiple social media platforms for MCSR as well.

So what does success look like to Briona when it’s all said and done? “Money to eat well, travel, be happy and the tools to create whenever I want.”

Kendl Gordy graduated from St. John’s University with a B.S. in journalism.  He has covered multiple Division I sporting events, the U.S. Open and the New York City Marathon.  The relationship between Kendl and MCSR manifested itself during his time at Benjamin Banneker High School in Washington D.C.  as a MOST Club member. He is now continuing his writing career with our organization as a contributing writer on current events and cultural issues.

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Cosby, Respectability, and the Black American Dream

Bill Cosby  On Monday, a 2005 deposition was made public in which Bill Cosby admits to using Quaaludes to drug a woman he intended to assault. This latest bit of news comes after months and months of women coming forward to say they’d been sexually assaulted by him. With the number of accusations being around 40 and this new admission from Cosby himself, you would think that would be the end of it for him, right? What possible defenses could still be made at this point? But that thinking underestimates the resiliency of Bill Cosby’s image.

For a long time Bill Cosby has been treated like black people’s loving but stern father, an impression that hasn’t matched the reality of Bill Cosby as a public figure for over a decade. In 2004, Cosby gave a speech at the NAACP Awards in which he chastised poor and working class black people, declaring that after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, black people could no longer blame poverty, wage gaps, and poor schooling on racial discrimination, but instead had to take personal responsibility for their position. His infamous 2004 “pound cake” comment, in which he audaciously asks why we spend more time outraged about police violence than the criminal activities of black youth take on an even greater significance today when our awareness of police brutality and overzealous prosecution of black suspects for non-violent crimes is at an all-time high.

In 2008 he did a series of “fireside chats” across the country where he doubled down on his previous comments, declaring that Black America’s woes were the result of single mothers, sagging pants and the promiscuity of young black women. If Glenn Beck said these things, we’d rightfully dismiss them, but from Cosby we took them as “tough love.” Bill Cosby has been doing nothing but talk about how irresponsible, lazy, and oversexed black people are for years. Yet, still so many black people defend him and remain unconvinced of his guilt, even when we have actual video evidence of him admitting to drugging women for the purposes of rape. Why?

Beyond the obvious answers of our society’s long-ingrained rape culture and culture of misogyny is another reason: what Bill Cosby offers and has always offered, in each of his poor-bashing, slut-shaming speeches is the promise that attaining the status of respectable middle-class black existence will save us from the violence that we are subjected to daily. Reducing the black struggle against centuries of systemic racial violence to the simple matter of needing to pull up ones pants and close ones legs is reminiscent of the kind of victim-blaming many of his victims are probably facing now. His insistence that we could prosper with the proper conservative attitude and hard-work is why black people loved him and his shifting of responsibility for discrimination back onto the black working class is why so many black middle class people loved to quote him. It’s why young black men and women who Cosby would despise are still defending him. Bill Cosby is too invaluable to the Black American Dream to be taken down without mountains of irrefutable evidence of his guilt and even then, people may still find a way to love him. That’s what has kept R. Kelly career alive, after all.

The Cosby Show’s Cliff Huxtable and his family showed the world that we too could be like the white American middle class. But one need only ask working class and poor whites how well they’re treated by their white middle class to see just how problematic an aspiration this is.

To thrive in that arena of class requires an abandoning of those most in need. It’s the basis of capitalism. We can’t all rise to the top, just like we weren’t all kings and queens. This isn’t due to a lack of talent or work ethic, but because the system we live in thrives on exclusion and exploitation. Some of us will get left behind to be scapegoated and preyed upon by venerated male figures of black prosperity.

Bill Cosby sat upon a foundation of trust and goodwill built from years of portraying aspirational middle-class black life and he used that trust to rape and abuse women for decades. He used the veneer of respectability and morality to get away with assault, publicly chastising young women for expressing their sexual agency while he preyed on them behind the scenes. We don’t owe him anything, so let’s stop enabling his abuse.

Greerlin Thomas is a veteran Men of Strength Club member who graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a B.A. in English Literature. He now works as a youth program coordinator and workshop facilitator for Men Can Stop Rape.