The Confederate Flag Saga

Over the past week or so, media outlets have been buzzing with feedback on matters taking place in Charleston South Carolina, after what I consider the most recent publicly known extreme act of racism.  One of the subjects that has created a lot of steam is that of the confederate flag, and whether or not it should be removed from Capitol grounds. According to CNN, the house passed an amendment, on Tuesday (voted in favor by a count of 103-10), allowing for debate on the issue.   Further steps will be necessary to officially have this deed done; however, I felt it was necessary to offer my brief take on the matter in the mean time.

I, for one, do not believe that this flag should be taken down (yes, I am still black).  Let me take a step back; I don’t necessarily favor it, but I don’t feel strongly against it either.  For starters, I believe that a confederate flag of whatever kind, given the updates throughout history, is representative of South Carolina, and other Southern states.  Regardless of the implications of the flag (whether or not it represents racism, or it simply symbolizes the south), it still remains part of the identity of the south.  We can’t change history.  Even if we get rid of all memorabilia that may remind us of what took place in the past, we can’t eliminate the occurrences and the implications thereafter.  We can only aspire to learn from the past and hope to prevent history from repeating itself.

Secondly, even if the confederate flag represents an advocacy for racism, eliminating it will not get rid of the hate that racists have deep down in their hearts.  That, to me, is the issue.  That is the root cause of this social dilemma.  If 100% of the population was completely over racism and was able to co-exist with every race, any historically racist artifacts or memorabilia could be looked upon as history, and simply that.  Since this immense hate for a group of people simply based on their race persists however, things of this nature are looked upon with a microscopic eye, in search of any deeper meaning that may exist.

Lastly, if the confederate flag is so offensive to blacks and minorities in this country, why did it take so long for the state of South Carolina to realize this? Why did it take this recent episode of a racist act for the legislators to realize it’s “harm?”  Removing it from the Capitol grounds will not undo the death of those nine innocent victims, nor will it eliminate the racist beliefs of those who hate minorities so passionately.  To take it a step further, I do not believe that it will prevent more racist folk from committing further malicious acts.  Considering the fear of facing the death penalty, or even life in prison does not seem to deter some of these offenders, I doubt that any legislative or legal repercussions will serve as deterrence.

My entire view on this matter is as follows: government and legislature can take steps that they feel is necessary to ensure that people of all races, genders, sexuality, etc. are not violated; however, these steps will not change how people truly feel on the inside.  What’s legal, or even socially acceptable, may and will not always be a reflection of one’s views on a matter.  What will, in actuality, change the perception of such racist folks is education.  As a black man myself, I truly believe that if someone with a racist mind gets to meet and know us, they would change their perception of us.  I encourage all racist people to be open minded for a second. Get to meet five black people from five different crowds (five because the first one you meet may be a poor representation of us), get to know them, and see if that changes your perception at all.  If that doesn’t work, then you are by all means free to continue believing what you currently do; although I am almost certain that your views would change.  That, to me, is how we can cure the problem of racism; not through forced legislation.

Photo Credits:

www.9news.com

Silent Noise: Homelessness at GMU

Northern Virginia is one of the most privilege places to live in the United States of America.  Blessed with job opportunities, a great education system, and low crime rates, the only problem most residents tend to have is that of the enduring the traffic-filled commute to and from work.  At least that’s what most people think.  For some of the residents of Northern Virginia, the traffic is the least of their concerns, as they have other problems to deal with; such as being homeless.

Fairfax Campus, GMU

George Mason University is one of the finest colleges in the United States of America.  Located in the heart of Fairfax County, GMU is home to over 33,000 students.  Most of these students are commuters who live off of campus; either at home with their parents, or simply at another residence.  A smaller portion, mostly out of state students, live in the  housing facilities provided by the school.  Then there is the hidden population; the group of students who have absolutely no where to live: the homeless.

Homelessness is defined by merriam-webster.com as “having no home or permanent place of residence.”   These students typically live in their cars (if they have one), friends’ couches on an occasional basis, or school facilities until caught.

*The following story is based on narratives collected through an IRB approved research, which was conducted by George Mason University researchers.*

Ramon moved to Fairfax, Virginia in hopes of pursuing a Masters’ degree in Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. He applied for financial aid months in advance, however he was not eligible for the full amount he had requested. Ramon found out that the university would not cover his housing; he found out that he would have nowhere to live. Uncertain of where to go, Ramon stayed at a hotel in Manassas for several days. For the next couple of weeks, he lived out of his car. Ramon was also a diabetic and constantly worried about refrigerating his insulin. He befriended employees at local shops and restaurants that were able to help him out, but Ramon was still struggling to get by. “It’s very difficult to try to be a student when you’re sitting in the back seat of your car.” He used the gym facilities on campus to wash up, brush his teeth, shave and take care of other hygienic needs. He studied at Fenwick Library early in the mornings and late at night to avoid studying in his car.  For breakfast, lunch and dinner – he lived off of Lunchables. Yet, he said, “I didn’t want anybody to have pity, I didn’t want to be looked at like that because I come from a background of impoverished, drug plagued, gang plagued, severe poverty.”

For many of the students who experience this condition, a deprivation of food is also a common occurrence.  Many of these students go for days without eating a full course meal (imagine trying to study on an empty stomach….)  These students have a lot in common with the average homeless person that you may see at a street corner begging for money; the only difference is that these students ARE NOT begging, and they’re soon to obtain a degree that will ultimately open up many doors for them.  How do they get into this position to begin with? Well, there are a lot of factors that can contribute.  Some have been kicked out of their parent’s homes for a variety of reasons, some use their entire earnings to pay for an education, some don’t have enough financial aid to cover room and board after covering tuition.  Regardless of what the issue may be, this population exists.

Barbie, a Caribbean native, moved to the Washington D.C. area in search for better opportunities and an education. During her first few months in Virginia, she stayed at hotels and slept in her car at rest stops. This is just one example of a George Mason University student who is struggling to survive in one of the nation’s most affluent counties.  Due to her father’s income, Barbie was unable to obtain financial assistance and was consequently left without means to secure housing. Currently, Barbie lives off of fishing in order to maintain her health and to ease her hunger. Sometimes, she even has to hunt squirrels. “I find the most isolated road, like areas where no body is traveling, and I try to hide the car in in the bushes and just try to relax.”

Although this problem remains unbeknownst to many on the campus and in the area, one student in particular has taken on the matter and has worked tirelessly to help this population.  Yara Mowafy, a graduate student at GMU, became aware of this population in 2011 and faced the matter head on.

Ms. Mowafy

She fought to gain free meal vouchers for the hungry, and free on campus housing for some of the students who were brave enough to seek her help.  Today, she runs a Pop-Up Pantry, where students can go to find food, and basic essentials to get by.  She is open to help students and can be reached via email at yelmowaf@masonlive.gmu.edu.

In sum, it is quite surprising to learn that in such a “wealthy” area, students of  a privileged school of the stature of George Mason University endure such dire circumstances. Fortunately for these students, there is help out there for them.  The first step is for these students to accept that these circumstances don’t make them any less than the next individual.  Once these students get over this hurdle, they will be able to seek and GET help accordingly.  As the general public, we must spread the word and create awareness.  As we continue to shed the light on this matter, we will be able to hear the voice of the people; the cries of silent noise.

Photo Credits:

math.gmu.edu

http://ulife.gmu.edu/ 

Narrative by:

Yara Mowafy

http://ulife.gmu.edu/homeless-and-home-at-mason/

Legacy: What this Championship Really means for LeBron

The “Focused” One

LeBron James is arguably the most scrutinized and criticized player the NBA has ever seen.  Ever since he was drafted number one overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2003 NBA draft, all eyes have been on LeBron, and the expectations have not ceased.  Despite all the pressure, LeBron has had a hell of an NBA career, even if he were to call it quits today.  With career averages of 27.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game; in conjuction with 4 MVP trophies and 2 championship rings, LeBron has already cemented his place in the NBA history books as the greatest small forward of all time (Sorry Larry).  After making 5 straight NBA finals appearances, LeBron is faced with his biggest challenge yet: battling the Golden State Warriors without two of the Cleveland Big 3.  Although the odds are heavily placed against the Cavs, winning this series is imperative for LeBron; bigger than most can imagine.

Winning this series without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love (and Anderson Varejao) would be monumental for LeBron.  It’ll put him up there with some of the great individual championship performances ever, as he is responsible for 43% of the Cavs’ scoring output so far in the first 2 games of the finals.  This would be, by far, the most difficult task LeBron would’ve faced and overcome.  When we think of LeBron 20 years from now and look back on his greatness, this would be the post season run many will cling to.  (I mean, how glorifying? Leaving your hometown to go study the art of winning elsewhere, making a return after 4 years, and winning a championship the first year back; fairytale-like).  Although LeBron may never catch Jordan in terms of greatness (even if he winds up with 6 rings, simply because Jordan never lost in the finals), winning a series like this will certainly strengthen the argument for himself.  It’ll put him at an even .500 record in the finals; an impressive stat to go along with the other glorious figures attached to his name. Even at 3 rings, I think that would put him ahead of Kobe, given his entire body of work.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though.  Losing this series, despite the odds, will be extremely detrimental to LeBron’s winning resume.   Going 2 and 4 in the finals is not a good look, regardless of what obstacles might’ve been in the way.  No one will think of how lopsided of a match-up the 2007 finals were, or how uneven the rosters are for these finals.  The losses against Dallas, and the Spurs were fair, given the self-imposed demise against the Mavericks, and the defeat at the hand of the better San Antonio Spurs team.  Nevertheless, when people look back 20 years from now, they won’t focus on the justifications or excuses for the shortcomings; they will simply focus on the losses.  Critics will dwell on the fact that he would’ve had the opportunity  to win 6 rings, but only came up with 2. That would equate to a percentage of 33%; a losing percentage.  His two biggest competitors have posted way better winning percentages than that: Mike was 6-0 in the finals, Kobe is 5 – 2.    Even his good friend D-Wade is 3-2 in the finals; being 2 – 4 would leave a scar on his legacy, unless of course he is able to even out the ratio eventually.  Even then,  critics will never let go of the fact that 4 rings would’ve passed right by him.

In sum, the general perception of LeBron is bound to change immensely after these 2015 NBA finals wrap up.  We are either going to put LeBron up on a higher pedestal, or add on to the lashing that he receives on a regularly basis.  Regardless of what the outcome will be, one thing is for sure: we will look at him differently.  It truly is unfair for one man to have to face this much pressure on a frequent basis; however, it comes with the territory of being the best player in the NBA, and LeBron is fully aware of this.  One can tell from his demeanor and his body language that he is well aware of what is at stake.  I, for one, think that he is ready for the challenge, and is ready to re-write history.  Let’s witness.

Photo Credit:

www.washingtonpost.com

Warriors vs. Cavs: Previewing the NBA Finals

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The 2015 NBA Finals matchup is set and if you are like me, this is the best possible matchup any NBA fan could have hoped for. What’s on the line this year? LeBron is fighting for a chance for his third NBA title and Cleveland’s first championship. On the other hand, Steph Curry and the Warriors will be competing for the Warriors’ first title since 1975. Here is how I think the series will play out, starting with the player match ups:

PG: Steph Curry vs. Kyrie Irving

Both of these players will be thankful for the week’s rest before having to chase each other around in the Finals. This is a matchup that I think will be problematic for the Cavs. What many people do not realize is that the Warriors defense has improved largely due to the defense of Steph Curry. He is not the strongest but his quickness always seems to be a problem for opposing point guards defensively. If you have been watching Curry over the years, one thing that has impressed this year is his defensive footwork. He won’t block your shot or get the most steals; however, being able to stay in front of an opponent and pester them is definitely a strong suit for him. In attempt to defend Steph on the other end, the Cavs are likely to put a bigger defender (probably Shumpert of JR Smith on Curry); however, you cannot put Irving on Thompson, and I definitely would not advise putting him on a much stronger Harrison Barnes especially coming fresh off a knee problem. Irving will just have to deal with fighting through double screens and the elevator type screens the Warriors have been well known for. Kyrie can hurt you on the offensive end when he is fully healthy but this matchup with Curry will be one loss the Cavs have to live with due to Curry’s quickness, improved defense, and Kyrie’s knee problems.

SG: Klay Thompson vs. Iman Shumpert

In the Warriors-Rockets series, it was very easy to overlook Thompson’s defense because James Harden was making impossible shots look easy. In this series, I would not count too much on Shumpert’s shot but he can take advantage of moving around and cutting to the basket to get easy shots to avoid one-on-one defense with Thompson. Shumpert definitely has the ability to guard Thompson with ease but much of that may not be up to him as I anticipate Head Coach David Blatt will shift some of Shumpert’s defensive duties to guarding Curry, leaving Thompson with an advantage over a smaller Kyrie Irving. As long as Kyrie can channel his inner Steph Curry and bother Thompson that is a better match up the Cavs can live with. We all know that James will distribute the ball to the Cavs players so Shumpert has to be ready to make his shots when called on at home in front of the rocks crowd, but also on the road at Oracle. This is a tough one to call but because of LeBron’s ability to spread the ball and draw defenders like Thompson to him, this matchup goes to Shumpert.

SF: Harrison Barnes vs. LeBron James

Klay Thompson had arguably the toughest matchup in their most recent series but Barnes no doubt has the most work cut out for him in this one. Aside from team defensive tactics, guarding LeBron James has to be one of the most daunting tasks any player can be asked to do. In my years of watching basketball, I have never seen anyone do it as well as Kawhi Leonard did last season. Do you let him have his shot or do you double and live with the other 4 players’ scoring? Do you guard him up close or do you stay home under the basket and wait for him? There is no other player in the league that causes such a defensive headache on a nightly basis like LeBron does. There seems to be no definite, clear cut answer as to how to guard LeBron unless you have a Kawhi Leonard clone on your team. For the Warriors to win this matchup, it will take some extraordinary coaching on the part of Kerr and his staff. How to handle screens, who rotates and when are some of the questions that will confuse the Warriors whenever LeBron has the ball. Having a plan to guard LeBron is great but executing that plan is even harder. I expect the Warriors to have an excellent plan on paper but an ineffective execution on the court. I predict LeBron will score 40 or more points at least twice when these games are done. For Harrison, he should hope his nights will be easier with a double coming from Klay or Green.

PF: Draymond Green vs. Tristan Thompson

A set of players who have been playing extremely well for their respective teams are matched up here and I am sure they won’t disappoint. Green will have his work cut out on keeping Tristan off the boards, and Tristan will have a little trouble with Green’s quickness. With Green probably being forced to double and close out on LeBron, expect Tristan Thompson to get his fair share of easy dunks and putbacks. Green, however, has the uncanny ability to always be in the right place at the right time, collecting loose balls and scoring on potential three point plays. Both players have a phenomenal work rate; but I believe Tristan will do to Green as he did to Millsap in their previous series. Unless Green focuses solely on Thompson, it will be much of the same: offensive rebounds and second shot attempts for the Cavs.

C: Andrew Bogut vs. Timofey Mozgov

To me, this is the least exciting of all of the matchups. Mozgov is a painful (okay maybe not painful, but definitely not exciting either) to watch on the offensive end but his ability to guard the rim is decent. Bogut on the other hand does better offensively as his passing and capability to dribble can make Mozgov very uncomfortable. Both teams rely heavily on these anchors to protect their baskets; so these two will have a lot to say in the final box score. It will boil down to which player is able to give more time to his team by staying out of foul trouble. Expect Bogut to find his faster teammates on backdoor cuts to the basket, leaving Mozgov stranded out on the perimeter. Mozgov might as well be a statue on the other end of the court.

Benches: Iguodala vs. Smith, Dellavedova vs. Barbosa …

Keeping J.R Smith off the three point line will be difficult as he has been in a groove since his suspension. Iguodala will also have to do his time on LeBron when they’re both on the court so I expect Iguodala to be more of a defensive pin these games. I am not so sure that Dellavedova has the quickness to guard Barbosa, as Barbosa has always had a way of making defenders pay on hard close-outs. A very aggressive Dellavedova will pay if he reaches and/or closes hard on Barbosa with pretty much no one left to protect the rim.
The two rookie coaches will have a chess match of sorts in this series but thankfully they have some of the best players at their disposal. No matter who wins the Finals this year, I think both coaches have proven themselves in their own unique way and their successes should be applauded.

My Prediction: Warriors in 6 just so we can see a happy Riley Curry

Photo Credit: NBA.com