Archive | November 2016

The “Michigan Man” in Me

On the eve of the greatest rivalry in all the land, I read Jake Butt’s, senior tight end at Michigan, story of how he went from being a lifelong Buckeye into becoming a Michigan man, as did his entire family. There are numerous stories like this from many Michigan players over the years. While I never played a down in the Big House, I too consider myself a Michigan man, and on the eve of the greatest rivalry in all of sports, I wanted to share my tale and interpretation of what it means to be a Michigan Man.

People don’t like the elitism of the Michigan Man moniker, not to mention it is a bit sexist, but I still can’t help but love it. I grew up down the road in the projects of Ypsilanti, MI, home of Eastern Michigan University, and watched Michigan every Saturday afternoon growing up. No matter how poor we were or what are social condition was at the time, which was often on the verge of having the lights cut off or being evicted, my mom and I would always gather in front of the TV on Saturday to watch the likes of Rick Leach, Mike Jolly, Anthony Carter, Jim Harbaugh, Jamie Morris, Mark Messner, Desmond Howard, Chris Hutchinson, Derrick Alexander, Tyrone Wheatley, Ty Law, Amani Toomer, and Tshimanga Biakabutuka. Years later, I would fall in love with the likes of Charles Woodson, Ian Gold (One of good friends in high school), Brian Griese, Jon Jansen, Sam Sword, Tai Streets, Tom Brady, Anthony Thomas, Larry Foote, Braylon Edwards, Jake Long, and Denard Robinson. For 3 hours every week, my mom and I got to forget about our struggles, and enjoy a football game. I have pictures going all the way back in my life, and I never wore any other colors than maize and blue. Now, my mom and I also loved some Tiger’s baseball and always watched the Lions on Thanksgiving, but there was just something special about Michigan football.  I always dreamed of one day going to Michigan, and when I got accepted to UofM-Dearborn in 1996, I felt like my dream was almost there, even if I wasn’t exactly playing quarterback at the Big House or even taking classes in Ann Arbor; however, at least I was going to receive a diploma from the University of Michigan..or at least that’s what I thought at the time.

For a variety of reasons that I won’t dive into in this post, I essentially flunked out of the University of Dearborn in 1996, after completing only one semester. I had a lot of challenges back then, which many of my students can relate to now, because they are challenges associated with being poor. On top of socio-economic challenges, I was also ill prepared to succeed at a university level, which is what my academic advisor told me in her office after she told me that I would be given no withdrawals for the semester, and would essentially have 5 Fs’ on my transcript. I left that meeting angry, hurt, and mad at the world. I hated Michigan in the subsequent weeks, but nonetheless, when the fall rolled around again, there I was glued to my TV rooting on the maize and blue as I always had my entire life; after all, I knew no other team and no other way. When you grow up poor or working class in the Rust Belt, you don’t have a whole lot of beautiful distractions in your life. At that point in my life, I was working in a factory or steel foundry, or one of the many other brutal jobs that I took back then to make it. No matter how hard the weeks and hours, I always looked forward to football Saturdays, we all did, for many of us, it got us through the week.

By the time that the summer of 2003 came around, I was seven years removed from being in college. My dreams of ever graduating from college, let alone Michigan, were fading as quickly as the long summer days. Despite not thinking much about college, I was fairly content at the time. I was working as a maintenance technician and had a steady girlfriend, whom ironically was a student at Michigan. Life was pretty good, until one day out of the blue, she told me that she couldn’t see me anymore. She said that she was struggling to see a long-term future with a maintenance man. She was from a well to do Catholic family and it probably didn’t help that I wasn’t Catholic or from a well off family. In retrospect though, she made the best decision for her life, and my heartbreak was the beginning of my transformation. Within a week or two of the break-up, I left my maintenance job and enrolled in a nearby community college for human services, a long cry from my dreams of graduating a Michigan man, but at least I was back in a classroom.

For whatever reason, I began to excel at school again, I found mentors, and hit my stride. Sometimes anger is destructive, and sometimes it is exactly what is needed to propel yourself forward in life. I went from being sorry for myself and giving up to creating a new metaphor of “me against the world”, and that metaphor still drives me today. I graduated from the community college in 2006 and from Eastern Michigan University with my BS in social work in 2007 Summa Cum Laude. I received scholarship offers from some of the most prestigious schools in the country, yet there was only one school that I wanted to hear back from, only one school that would quench more than ten years of bitterness from my tastebuds, and only one school that would help me come full circle and redeem myself. I finally got tired of waiting to hear back from Michigan and e-mailed the associate dean to plead my case one last time. Within a day, I received word back from him; Congratulations, you have been accepted to the University of Michigan Graduate Social Work Program and awarded the equivalent of a full ride scholarship. No matter how many times I read the letter, I couldn’t believe it. I would be given the privilege of a second chance, a second chance to fulfill a childhood dream of becoming a Michigan man.

I started back to Michigan in 20o7, the last year Lloyd Carr Coached the team. Michigan went 9-4 that year, a good year for most teams, but not for the winningest program in the country. Little did I know at the time, just as I was beginning to realize my full potential and redemption as a man, my beloved football team would begin one of the toughest stretches in school history, which included a loss to division II Appalachian State, three different coaches, and losing records. Throughout this tough stretch, I never stopped watching, I never stopped rooting every Saturday, and I dug even deeper to understand the meaning behind being a Michigan Man. I did eventually graduate from Michigan, Summa Cum Laude, and was selected to give a speech at commencements. It was the first time my mom ever saw me graduate anything, and it was one of the last steps in my redemption. I even gave a shout out to my old counselor at UofM-Dearborn, and somewhere inside me, I heard the words of my ex finally being silenced. After graduating from Michigan, I pursued and attained my doctoral degree at Virginia Commonwealth University, a school that loved basketball, and didn’t even have a football team; the irony of it all. During my time in Richmond, I connected with the Michigan Alumni Club and watched the games with them every Saturday at a sports pub in town. These were tough times to be a Michigan fan, but it was during these times that I realized that being a Michigan man wasn’t about football or sports, and it wasn’t just about winning and losing. Just as I finally rewrote my own narrative, I realized what Yost and Schembechler meant by the term Michigan Man, or at least it is what I like to believe it means. Being a Michigan man or woman means that you are loyal to your school. It means that you don’t move away and root for other college football teams. It means that in the good years and lean years, you stand by and support your team. It also means that you have integrity in how you carry yourself. Michigan football players graduate at some of the highest rates in all of college football. Michigan players major in communications, but they also major in chemistry, engineering, political science, and even social work. Michigan players spend their off days at Mott Children’s Hospital giving something back to the community. Michigan players hold each other accountable from the number one player to number 110. Michigan players always come back again and again. Michigan coaches know that they have the best job in the entire country.  In my own journey to become a Michigan man, I had to overcome adversity. I had to get knocked down and get back up again. Along the way, I had to experience some of the biggest lows in my life, but when I stood in front of the faculty and student body in 2008 to deliver my speech and later when I attained my PhD, largely because Michigan had prepared me for it, I felt on top of the world. For a poor kid who grew up 15 minutes down the road from the Big House, but thousands of miles away from the privilege of the University of Michigan, graduating from UofM was my national championship and Heisman trophy all rolled up in one. When I was asked to come back and teach after completing coursework for my doctorate, I didn’t feel like an adjunct professor, I felt like a Michigan man. During my time teaching at Michigan, I was privileged to mentor many student athletes, some of them football players. I also mentored even more first generation college students, who are now finishing their own doctoral programs and writing their own narratives of redemption.

So where is this Michigan Man now? I am a college professor at the University of Oklahoma, another big football school. Who do I root for you ask? Who do I love? Well, on football Fridays when the entire university is decked out in Sooner red, I can be found in my maize and blue. Despite people requesting that I refrain from wearing another school’s colors to faculty meetings and university events (this is a true story), I still adorn the maize and blue. You see, being a Michigan man isn’t about football or sports, nor does it have to be about some sort of brash arrogance. Being a Michigan man is about loyalty, about community, about integrity, and about getting back up again when you get knocked down. On the eve of the biggest game in 20 years for the University of Michigan, against Ohio, I am filled with anticipation. We are underdogs in the game, but for some reason, I think this makes it all the better. Michigan men aren’t defined by one game, win or lose, because if this was the case, I wouldn’t be here today nor would the Wolverines be on the brink of a national championship. Michigan men and women are made in the trenches, they are built from enduring challenges, and through it all, they never waver in their commitment and loyalty to the Michigan family or to the greatest football team in all the land. In the words of 575,000 current Michigan men and women, along with the ghosts of Yost, Fritz, Bump, and Bo, along with many more:

Hail! to the victors valiant

Hail! to the conqu’ring heroes

Hail! Hail! to Michigan

the leaders and best.

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The Election of Donald Trump: What does it Mean for America, the Political System, and the Democratic Party?

The results are in, the polls and projections were way off, and the democratic party wakes up today in its worst political state in more than two decades. The democrats not only lost the presidency, which they thought was a foregone conclusion victory, but also did not take over the Senate, so now the government is republican controlled, which will consequently impact the make-up of the highest court. Overall it could not have gone any worse for the democratic party, but as with anything, proponents of the party can choose to levy blame and sulk in the loss felt today, or use this day to begin reinventing the party, organizing, and working towards 2020, but it must start today. This election did not end in the same way that President Obama’s 2008 election did, with a joyous celebratory quality in the air among us, but instead, the air is filled with tension, fear, and discontent, which are all the reasons that led to Trump winning this election.

Donald Trump won the election for president of the United States, and many are wondering how this could have happened. If the democratic party is going to rise again, which it surely will, it must begin doing some hard inward analysis of what went wrong in 2016. Here are some hard and fast reasons that Trump won the election:

Who helped elect Trump?

Trump focused much of his campaign on working class white voters, many of them in rust belt states and middle America. These voters largely felt ignored and disrespected by Clinton and others within the democratic party. This voting block displaced educated independents who have predicted the past two decades of presidential elections. These are the folks who have not benefited from Obama Care, who blame international trade policies for the decline in American manufacturing, and whom regardless of what numbers say in terms of economic growth and prosperity in the U.S., feel as though they are still struggling to meet basic needs.

Angry unsatisfied Americans, many of them among working class whites, but college educated white voters came out to vote for Trump in higher numbers than was expected. Additionally, more than any voting group, those 6 million plus who once came out to support President Obama, but did not come out to support Clinton, helped Trump win the election. Now, the worst thing the democratic party can do is point the finger at any of these groups for why the party lost the election, because this is exactly why these blocks did not support Clinton. People are pissed off for a variety of reasons, which led many of them to originally vote for Bernie Sanders in the primaries, but at the end of the day, even if their reasons for being pissed off and ideologies differ, these groups of voters each played a role in electing Donald Trump to office, and while we can be upset, in fact we should be, we must figure out a way to reconnect with these groups that the democratic party isolated during this election.

Who did not help elect Clinton?

The division in America was well documented throughout the election cycle, but instead of running a progressive and proactive political campaign, Clinton’s camp banked on voters of color, primarily African-Americans and Latinx voters, coming out in mass waves to the polls out of fear that Trump could be elected, rather than because she championed their needs and causes. While Clinton definitely won the vote from these two voter groups, neither African-Americans or Latinx voters came out in the numbers that Clinton needed and depended on for a victory, which is likely due to the impact of social unrest in the country, and overall disenfranchisement many persons of color felt for the U.S. political system. The numbers just didn’t come close to equalizing the working class white vote, or the 6 million missing votes. The democratic party must acknowledge that while persons of color may not have supported Donald Trump, many of them also did not support Hillary Clinton, in fact, many have lost total faith in the political system and process.

Additionally, many people felt as though Hillary Clinton’s relationship to former president Bill Clinton would translate to people equating her prospective presidency to having the former President Clinton back in office. Firstly, few people saw Hillary Clinton as being synonymous with the policies and politics of Bill Clinton, and secondly, Bill Clinton’s shine as one of the most popular presidents of all time has waned in recent years for a variety of reasons, but mainly because many people view his neoliberal policies as looking good at the time short-term, but not nearly as good 15 or twenty years removed.

Why would anyone vote for Donald Trump?

While many democrats, conservatives, and independent voters view Trump’s comments and actions throughout the campaign as offensive, misogynistic, racist, and generally inappropriate, democrats refused to look beyond Trump’s frame of Americans’ concerns at the deeper meaning behind them. Americans overwhelmingly support foreign policy that is pragmatic and isolationist in nature. Very few people believe the U.S. should be involved in conflicts in other parts of the world, or that the U.S. should be the military for other countries who lack military capacity or the will to create it. Trump’s foreign policy was always rated as one of his greatest assets, even by nonpartisan experts.

Trump’s use of racist and xenophobic terminology to describe Mexican Americans, African-Americans, and Arab Americans was off color, off base, and offensive to many, but what the democrats failed to understand is that many Americans feel like our immigration policy is to lapse compared to other nations. In fact, the current U.S. policy on immigration is considerably more lapse than Canada, Mexico, and many other nations around the world. Trump appealed to Americans who do not want everyone to be welcome into the country, and while we can argue for or against that ideology, the democratic party lost votes in this area that it must consider this moving forward.

Trump is a business man and will likely bring a fiscally conservative, but pragmatic economic policy to Washington. Trump’s policies will likely not be more successful than President Obama or former President Clinton, but working class people who are struggling, along with small businesses, perceive Trump as someone who will help build up the domestic economy and restrict international trade. Again, this is the perception and likely not the reality, but democrats, in part, ran a platform based heavily on the need to emphasize international trade, which strategically was not an effective platform. While the U.S. has seen some major turn arounds under President Obama, we also must be careful with reading too much into these statistics. Many working class people may be employed as a result of the President’s policies, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t under employed, working longer hours, or are still struggling mightily, especially in rural America and rustbelt states. Additionally, people who do have wealth and even people in my income bracket as a college professor will see somewhat significant tax breaks from Trump’s plan, and while many may not feel comfortable voicing out loud that they wouldn’t mind having more disposable income, even if it comes at the expense of social welfare programs, education, and other needed resources, they are the traditional backbone of the republican party, and likely went out and voted for Trump.

What does Trump’s election mean for the future of the United States?

As the election results were coming in last night, I saw a flood of social media posts claiming the election of Trump was akin to the second coming of Hitler. I think people are overreacting some in their analysis of the election. While things will undoubtedly change over the next four years under Trump, it is doubtful that we will end up in a nuclear war or see a total implosion in the U.S. system of governance. Our system for all of his hinderance to achieving radical social change was designed for just such an occasion. Our system of checks and balances was created to ensure that one person could not have ultimate control over the country. Now, the worst loss of the night was the missed opportunity for the democrats to gain control of the senate, and the republican majority will likely mean that the supreme court will shift further to the right, but despite all of this, America will survive as will the democratic party; the question remains, will we learn from it? Have we learned something beyond the hurt and fear that many are experiencing today? Did we learn what we need to do in order to be successful in the future? What we must do to be successful in the future?

What do I do now with Trump as my new President?

While most of us did not foresee a Trump presidency nor did we want one, it is a reality that we all must live with for at least the next four years. While Trump is not whom we wanted, he is not the worst person who could be in office, many people believed that Cruz was a much scarier prospect for president than Trump. Trump is a business man who also understands his limited political knowledge, so he will surround himself with people, albite highly conservative people, that he trusts to make key decisions. He will run the country similar to a corporation in terms of efficiency, and while that may not be the preferred way for many of us, I don’t think it will be as horrific as some believe it will be. Secondly, for all those packing their bags to move to another country, good luck doing so, immigrating to other countries is much more difficult than most people realize, and is generally an action reserved for the most privileged and educated persons, not the average American. So what can you do? Take the next day or two to mourn, meditate, pray, or whatever else you do for self care, but then let’s begin the critical analysis of what went wrong. Before we can start organizing in our communities, and begin considering who to promote as a viable progressive democratic candidate for the next presidential election, as well as whom we want to support for congressional elections, state level elections, and local elections, we must plan a new strategy. I am seeing all of these posts of protests and calls for organizing and action, but here’s the thing; who are we protesting? What are we organizing? What is the aim of our actions? Nothing we do changes whom the president is, so if we are thinking ahead, great, but we need a better plan of action. There is a great deal of work to do in the days ahead of us.

Where does the democratic party go from here?

This is the most important question that all progressives, democrats, and leftists should embrace today, well maybe tomorrow, since everyone deserves at least one day to mourn a loss. The reality is that many democrats, after mourning, will begin to levy blame to any and everyone. Many democrats will likely blame millennials, Berniecrats, third party voters, racism, sexism, non-voters, etc. for what happened during this election, but what I hope happens at some point within the democratic party and other progressive spaces, is that people will analyze missed opportunities, disconnects from major portions of the population, and new ways to innovate, build bridges, brand, and organize better in order to create a better more progressive democratic party. Some decisions that the democratic party must consider moving forward includes:

  1. Has the party moved to far away from the leftist liberal ideologies that once were the brand of the party?
  2. How does the party reconnect with persons of color and working class whites, two major historical groups the party has depended on for victories, or maybe better yet, how does the party bridge the difference between these two groups in order to promote solidarity within the party?
  3. The where and how of community organizing strategy and tactics must be deeply assessed before the next election. Clinton may have once been a follower of Alinsky, but she failed miserably as a community organizer in this campaign. While many supporters used social media to levy put downs, name call, and preach, this was not the effective use of social media that President Obama implemented in 2008. Obama maximized social media to be more personable to voters, as a means to mobilize communities, create progressive spaces, raise money, and get the word out. Supporters were encouraged to promote issues and focus on the positives that Obama would bring to the office of president as opposed to implementing a strategy of negativity. Clinton also did not levy anywhere near the boots on the ground grassroots campaign that President Obama did when he was first elected, and instead relied on elite events, gatherings, and the organizing skills of supporters in key states, as opposed to local level organizing. In fact, Trump was a better grassroots organizer than Clinton in this election. Finally, while Obama partnered with democratic nominees for congress in key states to help promote their campaigns as well as his own, Clinton did not use this tactic nearly as much, and it showed in key senate and house races.
  4. For those who were Bernie Sanders supporters or whom feel left of the democratic party, do you use this election as motivation to organize and mobilize around making it more viable for a third party candidate to get elected? Or do you accept that this is highly unlikely under the current system, the system is unlikely to change in favor of this over the next four years, and thus become more closely aligned with the mainstream party in order to ensure a democratic president is elected next time around?
  5. Consider the legitimacy of Bernie Sanders or a similar candidate. In retrospect, Sanders looks like a much better candidate, and for good reason, given that he would have likely cut way into Trump’s working class white vote, and would have probably won the election or at least came closer than Clinton.

While it may be true that many of us are simply going through the motions today, feeling like we awoke to a nightmare this morning with the election of Donald Trump as President and a republican stranglehold on government, we must persist onward with our lives, as this is ultimately where most of us will affect the most change. We must not willingly accept a society or political system that promotes racism, sexism, xenophobia, and injustice, but we must acknowledge that what we have been doing with intellectual persuasion, social media shaming, preaching to the choir, and distancing ourselves from the other has not been effective for bridging difference in America. Social movements are great, but they often operate outside the status quo and political process, and do not always heavily influence politics as much as what we would like to believe. Finally, we must not crawl into our perpetual holes, because four years will come sooner than you think, and we also must not forget that almost yearly, we can affect change at the organizational, local, and state levels through exercising our collective voice and taking action. Yes we need social movements and social action more now than ever before in our history, but we also need political advocacy across every level and system, and it must begin today by learning from mistakes made this time around, ok, maybe tomorrow.