Leave your comfort zone to learn, teach, do good

ErinPerry ThePerrys

By Erin Perry

GUEST BLOGGER When my engineer-husband said: “We may have to move to Brazil for my next assignment,” the journalist in me bombarded him with questions. “Who? What? When? Where? Can the dog go?”

The dog’s flights were covered, so I told my husband I needed a new bikini. A life abroad on a global company’s dime often comes with perks to offset the hardships that may include terrible roads, blazing heat, and to be frank, roaches. My favorite bonus was the maid. I adored her – not just because she cooked and cleaned, though I won’t pretend I didn’t enjoy that. Having a maid was a blessing in another, more significant way. She taught me more in my 18 months in Brazil (near Salvador) than I envisioned I would learn.

In Brazil, maid is not a disparaging title. It is a noble career. The moral people in this line of work take great pride in establishing and preserving everyday order for families. Lecia was a single mother in her early 30s (a few years older than me), and she had been a maid since age 11. She took classes at night until she earned her diploma at age 20. College never was an option; for the daughter of a farmer and a homemaker, it was just too expensive. She considers herself as mixed race, as does about 43% of Brazil’s population. Lecia is among the 90% of literate people in Brazil. We often exchanged stories in the kitchen about our lives  I learned just how unaware she was of the disparities in opportunities that continue to plague Northeast Brazil as well as women, and black, mixed race and indigenous populations throughout that country. She was oblivious to the unfairness that allowed my husband and I to sit in a restaurant in our neighborhood and be the only non-white people in the establishment who were not on the clock. (For context, Brazil has more than 202 million people, and non-whit

Continue reading

Bobby Smith Jr. is dead. Where is the outrage?

bobby smith

Bobby J. Smith Jr. is dead from a gunshot wound to the back. B.J., as he was known to friends, was a 21-year-old college senior at Tuskegee University. In the month before he died, he became the father of a son. Why aren’t people taking to the streets to protest his killing? Where are the shirts proclaiming “No justice; no peace?”

Bobby’s death hit close to home. My great-uncle graduated from Tuskegee in the 1930s. He learned a brick mason trade. My oldest daughter graduated from Tuskegee in 2006 with a degree in English. Its founder, Booker T. Washington rose from being a child born into to slavery to graduate from Hampton University in Virginia. He established Tuskegee Institute as an industrial college. His autobiography, “Up from Slavery,” is a classic work of literature. It details how one can rise from any situation and achieve greatness; with resolve and a willingness to make sacrifices. The Tuskegee Airmen learned to fly in this small rural Alabama town. They went on to make their mark as fighter pilot escorts during World War II. George Washington Carver, a brilliant scientist and scholar, studied at Tuskegee. Carver found hundreds of uses for agricultural crops like the peanut and sweet potato. He was also an artist whose work is displayed in a campus museum.

Tuskegee is steeped in history and tradition. It is the crown jewel of a city that offers little opportunity for growth and development beyond the campus walls. There are wonderful people who live in the city and work hard to make it a better place. But like most small southern towns, there is little industry and opportunity for those who decide not to get an education. Such conditions are a breeding ground for crime.

Bobby Smith Jr. represented the pride and purpose of Tuskegee University. By all accounts the 2010 South Cobb High School graduate was a wonderful young man. He attended Tuskegee on a tennis scholarship. While hanging out with friends at an off campus block party Sept. 27, gunshots pierced the air and everyone began running. Bobby Smith Jr. was hit in the back and died from his injuries.

Police arrested 22-year-old Kentavious Holland in connection with Smith’s death, according to a report by WSFA-12 News. More arrests may be made, police say. Since the party wasn’t authorized, city officials say they will crack down on such events and require permits and close off streets for future block parties, according to the TV station.

Smith’s death was random and senseless. It’s doubtful that he had ever crossed paths with his accused murderer. Theirs is a story that has become so common, it’s barely a blip on the public’s radar.

Until we as a community express outrage at these killings, they will continue to be marginalized. Until we put for the effort to mentor young people, urge them to stay in school and show them a better way of life, the Bobby Smiths of the world will continue go to their graves over complete and utter nonsense.

Think of it this way: is this what Booker T. Washington had in mind when he spoke about “lifting the veil of ignorance?” Is this what George Washington Carver was thinking when he invested countless hours testing products that would one day be indispensable in most households. And what about the Tuskegee Airmen and the men who died as a result of the Tuskegee Experiment, a medical experiment that treated them as lab rats? These men gave their lives in hopes that life would be better for future generations; and in many cases it is better.

These men would be outraged to learn about the fates Bobby Smith Jr. and Kentavious Holland.

To read about the memorial service for Bobby J. Smith Jr. go to:

http://www.tuskegee.edu/Articles/university_community_honors_life_of_bobby_j_smith_jr.aspx