Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Unfriend Me

By: Jessica Norwood

Sneaking off to the movie theater in the middle of the workday is one of my greatest treats. It is a place where I can close out the rest of the world and for a few hours escape my surroundings and more directly –escape the truth. Love stories and high-speed chases all seem to turn out okay in the movies.

Since The Social Network movie was released October 2010, I have been to see three movies – a love story, a goofy high school comedy about coming of age and a movie about a baby. This is beside the point. The point is that every time I approach the box office, I cannot make myself buy a ticket to see The Social Network and now I know why.

The Social Network is a movie based on the wild success (that is putting it lightly) of Facebook. Explaining Facebook seems moot at this point. As I am typing this I am pleased to see that my MacBook does not know the word “Facebook” because it keeps highlighting it in red but that is not saying much because apparently it doesn’t recognize “MacBook” as a word either. Jeez!

I digressed…

I have over 500 friends, 2 of which I speak to on a regular basis. 12 of them are life long friends and while we don’t talk often we love each other. 6 of them are family members and about 50 of them are related to work and another 70 are from high school and college – people who I haven’t seen in years. Everyone else – who knows where they came from. I seem to be racking up friends like socks with static cling. I see their posts with pictures of vacations and family but I have absolutely know idea who these people really are. Getting friends has become competitive and measure of how well you are liked. I suppose I am now in the business of making friends as fast as I can and I can’t help but wonder if fast is really better?

I live in an apartment building with only 4 units and I don’t know my most immediate neighbor. I see him a lot and we wave and I am certain we have introduced ourselves before. I know he likes Busch beer and he barbecues whether there is a special occasion, visitor or holiday. Other then that, I have no idea who he is either. How is that I have 500 friends on Facebook and I don’t know the person who shares a wall with me? How did Facebook realize that there was billions of dollars to be made on a person's disconnect.

Disconnect from the next-door neighbor seems, under the right circumstances, like something that just happens. But this kind of disconnect signals something larger and fundamentally wrong with the way we are living. We live in a world where we can be concerned about the BP oil spill while driving a SUV and we can go to the grocery store and buy organic but never care question how far the food had to travel to get to our table. We can call people “worker-owners” but never expect them to be at the table when major deals are being discussed and never give them compensation for their true value to a company. If I were to add the annual revenue of oil, food, social networking and multi-national corporations without democratic ownership I would say that being disconnected is a multi-trillion dollar industry.

At first, I thought that dating sites and the export and import of goods directly using the Internet was absolute progress. It had flattened the world and truly moved the local community into a global community. But this progress has come at the exploitation of our community’s sickness, a lack of connection to the people and things around us. Progress can only be truly realized if a balance between what is good and right about Facebook comes into alignment with what is good and right about knowing our most immediate relationships too.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that you should not fly on an airplane to visit your family but I do believe we have to use a value system that we all have some shared relationship to and responsibility toward promoting. One of the guiding values of the Emerging ChangeMakers Network ( is honoring the Spirit of Connectedness, which is meant to express the dependence and connection, no matter how insignificant it may feel, to one another and the world around us. This understanding was developed after I read “Why We Live in Community” which was written by Eberhard Arnold and talks about how our humanity is nurtured by our relationship to community. He says “Life in a community is no less than a necessity for us – it is an inescapable “must” that determines everything we do and think.” He then concludes that “We must live in community because all life created by God exists in a communal order and works toward community.”

Unfriend is a now a word.

I remember when being someone’s friend was a big deal. You didn’t give the title of “best friend” to just anyone and when you did, you had better mean it. When people fell out of friendship, the entire school knew and had feelings about it. We were all affected. Friendship was serious and for my money, it still is. Friendship means that you are connected and that you are committed to protecting and honoring that relationship. Now you can unfriend someone and poof, your relationship is over and the connection is severed.

The Social Network had an opening weekend of $15.5 million dollars. That was just one weekend in the U.S. I’d rather have taken that $15.5 million and invested it in local, community based – worker owned businesses and initiatives that had some real chance of truly helping each of us connect to the communities around us and maybe we might make a friend or two along the way.

Jessica Norwood is a social entrepreneur working with low-wealth communities in the Deep South. She is the founder and director of the Emerging ChangeMakers Network, a leadership organization that identifies, connects, and trains emerging leaders who believe in a core set of values that lead them to create actions of compassion, equality, and justice on behalf of disadvantaged communities in the southeastern region. Norwood is a member of the board of directors for the Highlander Research and Education Center. She is a former Emerging Leaders Fellow at a joint program between the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University and the College of Business at the Southern University. She is also the former Political Power Fellow with the Hip Hop Archive at the Du Bois Institute at Harvard University. Norwood is currently developing an Impact Investing program for the Emerging ChangeMakers Network with the Ford Foundation in the Alabama Black Belt.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The American Dream, Deferred

My Spin-

Sitting in the hotel lobby, I overheard two men musing over the countries passage of the new healthcare policies. “They have created a welfare nation, nobody is ever going to work again.” one of the men rattled. His attachment to this story is one that I have heard many times and not just from white conservatives but moderate blacks too.

The notion of “You’ve got to pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” has been transferred to educated and privileged blacks into what I like to call the Bill Cosby and Michael Eric Dyson debate. You may recall the comedian, during a 2004 meeting in Washington D.C., commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, made some remarks that were sharply critical of the African American poor.

Cosby charged, “The lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal. These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids—$500 for sneakers for what? And won’t spend $200 for ‘Hooked on Phonics.’” He ridiculed the poor English of the black ghetto: “They’re standing on the corner and they can’t speak English. I can’t even talk the way these people talk: ‘Why you ain’t,’ ‘Where you is.’ . . . And I blamed the kids until I heard the mother talk. And then I heard the father talk. . . . Everybody knows it’s important to speak English except these knuckleheads. . . . You can’t be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth!” He suggested that African American criminals were being incarcerated not because of racism but because of crimes: “These are not political criminals. These are people going around stealing Coca-Cola. People getting shot in the back of the head over a piece of pound cake and then we run out and we are outraged, [saying] ‘The cops shouldn’t have shot him.’ What the hell was he doing with the pound cake in his hand?” The controversy began as soon as the Washington Post published Cosby’s comments and gained momentum when Black America and Professor Michael Eric Dyson took sides.

Professor Michael Eric Dyson, author of “Is Bill Cosby Right?”, fired back that most Black Americans agree with the importance of personal responsibility, education, a strong work ethic and morals but Bill Cosby’s assertion makes it seem as if personal responsibility alone will change the lot of blacks in poverty. Dyson contends that by convincing poor blacks that their lot in life is purely of their own making, Cosby overlooks the big social factors that continue to reinforce poverty such as dramatic shifts in the economy, low wages, chronic underemployment, downsizing and outsourcing, failing inner-city schools, subpar housing, predatory lending and a very recent history of policies that were intended create wealth among whites not blacks.

Cosby’s message is one that would suggest that black poverty would only end when and if black people took responsibility for changing their lives. The idea that people are choosing to take from the system without standing on their own laurels and recognizing personal responsibility signals that folks on both the far right and center have some things in common. But this all just feels like a trap. The real debate should not be about whether or not personal responsibility should be more dominate but rather about the ideals espoused by the American Dream, the national ethos about prosperity being available to everyone so long as they work hard.

The idea that any person – so long as they have the determination and personal responsibility - can be a rich person with butlers, nannies, drivers and yard workers that make $10 an hour seems to gloss over the workforce of low wage workers this Dream is resourcing. This duality is the truth of the American Dream and the investment in this vision is so rigid that virtually any policy that could get close to leveling the playing field is admonished.

Spiritual faiths talk about this concept as good versus bad and righteous versus evil in an attempt to explain this great polarity. It is said that in order to know one’s self as good a person would have to set themselves against all that they are not or all that is bad. In the American Dream ethos, in order to have prosperity you have to have poverty. This, inescapable consequence of the human experience constantly pits us against our opposites which in turn makes us feel good about ourselves.

Back to the man at the hotel, his words know fading into the background of my own thoughts. Perhaps the American Dream should simply be to do no harm to one’s self or the people and places around us I thought. The idea that the American Dream could be redefined was shaken by the rise in the mans voice. He was angry. Perhaps he was not concerned with the passing of healthcare legislation or his perception that access to healthcare would create a group of people who have become more dependent on hand outs, rather he was afraid that if the people who are currently poor stopped being poor then it just might be his turn after all that is the American Dream.

Submitted by: Jessica Norwood

The ideas relayed in this opinion piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the Emerging ChangeMakers Network or its membership.

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Cartoon reprinted from

Images from the Selma Leadership Summit

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Wake Up Everybody



Wake up everybody no more sleepin in bed

No more backward thinkin time for thinkin ahead

The world has changed so very much

From what it used to be so

there is so much hatred war an’ poverty

Wake up all the teachers time to teach a new way

Maybe then they’ll listen to whatcha have to say

Cause they’re the ones who’s coming up and the world is in their hands

when you teach the children teach em the very best you can.

The world won’t get no better if we just let it be

The world won’t get no better we gotta change it yeah, just you and me.

Wake up all the doctors make the ol’ people well

They’re the ones who suffer an’ who catch all the hell

But they don’t have so very long before the Judgement Day

So won’tcha make them happy before they pass away.

Wake up all the builders time to build a new land

I know we can do it if we all lend a hand

The only thing we have to do is put it in our mind

Surely things will work out they do it every time.

Reprinted from

Originally posted by Biko Baker

Emerging and Surpassing: A Prodigy Excels at Morehouse

13-year-old student wows Morehouse

Stephen Stafford II in front of MLK statue on campus.

by Kalin Thomas

As a 13-year-old, Lithonia resident Stephen Stafford II can usually be found sitting in front of the television playing video games or playing his drum set. But Stafford is no typical 13-year old – he’s a college student. The triple-major child prodigy is becoming a sensation at Morehouse College.

“I’ve never taught a student as young as Stephen, and it’s been amazing,” said computer science professor Sonya Dennis. “He’s motivating other students to do better and makes them want to step up their game.”

“When I saw how much knowledge Stephen has at such a young age, I wondered what I had been doing with my life,” laughed third-year student, Eric Crawford. A psychology major and computer science minor, Crawford wanted to step up his game so much that he got Stephen to tutor him. “Even though I’m older, Stephen is like a mentor and my elder in computer science,” said Crawford.

“Eric’s a really fun person to be around, and we have a good time together,” said Stafford.

Crawford added, “Stephen has a lot of patience with me. I got a 95 in the class because of Stephen.”

Even at age 11 when Stafford started at Morehouse, he got the highest score in his pre-calculus class. “He breezes through whatever I throw at him. If it’s an hour lab, he can do it in 20 or 30 minutes,” said Dennis.

Stafford said he isn’t nervous about studying with students much older than himself. “I just do what I always did. I show up, I do the work, and I go home,” he said.

When talking to Stafford, it’s easy to forget his age. But his age shows when he’s playing video games or even at dinner, where he eats while also trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube. Still, Stafford finds it hard to relate to teens his age. “I relate better to Eric…most kids my age don’t know when to stop playing around and when to be serious,” he said.

Stafford’s mother, Michelle Brown-Stafford, home-schooled both her children (Stephen has an older sister also in college) and believes that parental involvement is essential for students to excel. But when she realized her son was starting to teach her instead of being taught, she knew he needed to be in a college environment.

“It was surreal because on one hand he’s talking about technical things I didn’t even understand, and on the other hand he was asking me to come watch Sponge Bob with him. So it was bittersweet to let him go.”

Brown-Stafford wondered if there were other parents who shared her experiences with a gifted child, so she helped found a support group:

And the Morehouse family has become a support group for Stafford, personifying the African proverb about it taking a village to raise a child. Stafford is too young to stay on campus, so his mother picks him up and drops him off each day. The students protect him and make a point not to curse or discuss certain mature issues around him, according to his mother and Stafford. Even the staff of Jazzman’s CafĂ©, where Stafford tutors Crawford, helps nurture Stephen into becoming a “Morehouse Renaissance Man”–well-spoken, well-dressed, well-read, well-traveled, and well-balanced. The cafe’s general Manager, Darren Page, added an unofficial principle: well-fed. “A Morehouse Man cannot study on an empty stomach,” said Page. So whenever Stafford comes to Jazzman’s, Page gives up his own employee meal for the 13-year-old.

It seems that everyone wants to be a part of helping Stafford graduate in 2012, and go on to Morehouse School of Medicine. And because of a Georgia law that requires a student to be 16 to graduate high school, he’ll be getting his high school diploma the same year he receives his college degrees in math, computer science and pre-med.

“Kids will live up to your expectations. But I ultimately want Stephen to be happy,” said Stephen Stafford Sr. Brown-Stafford added, “I want him to be well-rounded and still connect with kids his own age, so we put him in DeKalb County’s 4-H Club and other programs.” She added that she’s thankful to the Morehouse family for embracing her son.

“I want to see what Stephen becomes 10 years from now,” said Crawford. Page added, “I want to be at his graduation. And then I want to walk by and touch the [campus] statue of Dr. Martin Luther King and recognize I had a role in [Stephen] walking in Martin Luther King’s footsteps.” And how fitting, since Dr. King entered Morehouse at age 15.

So to put a spin on Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Stephen is being judged by the content of his character, not by his age.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Dear Members and Friends of ECN:

Over the past 42 hours we have watched the worst kind of devastation happen to the Haitian people. I can not help but feel an overwhelming sense of pain, fear, heartbreak and frustration as story after story talks about the present need for water, medical help, electricity, heavy equipment to move rubble and a coordinated effort to field questions and receive and distribute aid to everyone.

All day long, I have been getting emails and calls asking what we can do. Many of us on the Gulf Coast of America remember what it was like in those immediate hours and days following the vicious slams of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Life, at this moment, is critical and medical help is paramount.

Dr. Evan Lyon and Jill Petty, who have a long relationship to Haiti, have offered us an opportunity to send some direct help. Evan used to work fulltime for an international health services organization called Partners In Health (PIH), and spent most of his medical career going back and forth between managing a health clinic in a rural section of Haiti and teaching at a hospital affiliated with Harvard Medical School. The director of Partners in Health is Paul Farmer; I don’t know if Farmer has received a Nobel prize, but he has probably got just about all the other awards similar to that. I think he is an ambassador now; works closely with Bill Clinton.

Evan still works with PIH a lot, and still goes to Haiti on a frequent basis. His soul is rooted with the people there. While here in Alabama he is working part time with Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) and full time with the Montgomery Aids Outreach, setting up an HIV/AIDS clinic in Selma. Googling Evan Lyon, Partners in Health, and Paul Farmer will pull up all kinds of stuff about them.

Evan and his wife Jill have asked that we donate to Partners In Health (PIH). This organization has very low overhead, has a trusted history and will know where to get the resources. PIH has set up small hospitals and clinics in the rural parts of Haiti. Since the main hospital in the capital city there is now destroyed, people are being transported to the PIH health facilities now. The tricky part is, Haiti does not really have roads as we know them; the infrastructure there was already pretty barren. Add to that, all the rubble and we have a logistical catastrophe. But people are going to do what they can to get people to those PIH facilities. Those facilities will surely do what they can to get their resources to the people. Please visit this link below and give, today.

With all of our thanks and love,

Jessica Norwood
Evan Milligan
Demetrius L. Bass
Teumbay Barnes
Marquelon Sigler
June Weston
Rod Barge
Regina Moorer
Patrick Grayson
and the Emerging ChangeMakers Network