Friday, June 30, 2017

HHCF Juvenile Hall Diary Day 4!!



As I came in on Thursday, I had a lot swimming in my mind. I was thinking about the kid I kicked out. As per my personal rules, if I kick a kid out, he is out the day after. I was contemplating keeping him out for the week.

About 20 years ago, I was studying Confucianism thanks to an old Native American friend (he also introduced me to the beauty of sushi). A scholar from the Ming Dynasty wrote at the time “To go too far, is just as bad is not going far enough.” Was it unjust to keep him out? Was it being weak to let him in given the chances of him coming back with disruption on his mind. He was charismatic. The kids in the hall could follow him.

I checked into the building in a slight haze. As I got in they informed me that today was the last day. I had mistakenly thought it went all week like last years camp. It was not like last year. It rattled me more than I thought. I had plans for them on Friday and now, it was NOT to be.

One of the weirder things about jails and juvenile halls is the sterile nature of the place. The fluorescent lights, peanut butter walls, white walls- they numb you out. Kinda depressing, I can't lie.

So, I came in and I just wrote something on the board:

KING= Your goal.

Strategy= What tools (pieces) will you need to make it happen?

Checkmate= You win/ Victory!

They read it as they came in ready to go. I shook their hand as they entered. The energy was upbeat.

“This is my last day y’all. I did not plan for it to be like this. I thought I would be here till Friday- but I’m out. So, rather than get caught up with a lot of philosophy, let me just say that I loved being with you guys. I don’t know if any of this will stick but I hope you liked learning from me and I hope you liked the games you played.”

They were all sad. “ Aww man that’s weak.” one of them said.

“ I know, but look. Let me just run through some for attack strategies and lets jump on the boards. The main thing I want you to know is you are all brilliant. Your wisdom is not the issue. You are all brilliant. I just want you to get out, stay out and live well.”

We went over knight for puzzles. I was a stickler for ensuring they answered everything algebraic notation. They did it. Then we jumped into some games. It was fantastic.

One Latino student who I taught some moves to, who beat me after I gave him some pointers had blood in his eyes when he sat at the board. We went hard. I got him 3 games straight. He smiled at the end of class and was like. I’m gonna get you tomorrow” smiling wide as we shook hands.

A kid standing behind me said “He’s not coming back it's over.”

His smile went away and he shook his head. You could tell he was running some internal dialogue.

“These were great games man. Great games” I said.

After my break I went into the next class. I wallked in a little early. My classroom was not open. I stood in the pod looking around. One of the kids rooms was dark (they choose if they want their light on or not). In the blackness of the room and glare of the window I could see two eyes lasered in on my face. It was one of my students. He saw me see him inside the darkness. I smiled and nodded. Gave him two thumbs up. He smiled and nodded back. It started to bother me that he was in a cage. That he was in a cage and could still smile, gave me an odd sense of hope though. I’m still not sure what it was all meaning to me.

As I greeted them, the boy who I had issues with walked in. Head up, super proud. I greeted him and shook his hand. He shook my hand but his eyes were emotionally cold. I could tell though that the sincerity of my smile and energy of my greeting caught him off guard.

I quickly told them this was the last day. I was giving some final motivational words. The SAME kid who I just let back in was talking. I politely asked him to stop once, then twice. The third time I turned to him and approached his desk.  

“Come on man” I asked in a pain inflicted tone. “You just got back. I’m chillin’. You know it’s my last day. Are you really going to do this right now. You’re just gonna come in knowing it’s my last day and cool out in the back of the room talking with you boy? Why would you do that?

Before he could respond the kid who I smiled at through the blackness cut in.

“You gotta forgive him. He does not understand plain words. You gotta look at him in his eyes and be like ‘N*** SHUT THE F*** UP!’ a he will chill out.”

The room chuckled, and the kid continued. “Nah seriously, you know how when kids are born their heads are shaped bad. He’s one of those. You gotta massage his head and form it so he can hear you.” More snickers came out across the room.

I looked at Tats and I said “Is that what I gotta do? Help me understand. Because I feel like you are totally disrespecting me right now- and I don’t get it.”

Tats smiled a sincere smile. He said “Look I don’t mean any disrespect to any teacher. Especially to any OG. I respect you OG. I do. I respect all the teachers here.”

Then in a millisecond his face changed. He looked up at the lights and it seemed like he was no longer talking to me. It was like he was standing in the room looking back at himself “At the same time, I’m a man too OG. I’m a man!” he cried out in passion- not anger. “I do my push-ups in the room. I do my crunches. I do my jumping backs. I’m kinda small but I’m gettin bigger. I’m a man.” The guys in the room fell out laughing. Their laughter took him out of his trance. He smiled and laughed a little too. “I know I sound crazy. But I’m serious though.”

I realized in that moment that his issues were not really with me. His issue was he was torn between the boy who was evaporating and the man who was emerging. He was unsure if I told him to be quiet and he did it- was he being weak in a space where being weak made you a target?

“OK. I respect you as a man” said without hesitation. “But I don’t feel like we need to get all into it just to get through a class. These guys are trying to learn too. When you interrrupt, you are taking away from their time, and your time. That’s all I’m saying” I stated with a slight shrug of the shoulders and my palms turned up to the ceiling.

“I got you OG. I’m chillin’” he said sitting back and nodding.



The class went onto to be the best of the week. He played in the best game of the week. It see sawed back and forth between he and another kid. In the end he lost but the game was so epic the whole room was laughing and joking and yelling.

Turns out, Tats was a incredible rapper and dropped some heavy verses before class was out. He shook my hand before he went back to his cell. The kids were all wishing I could come back. I feel the sting of it too. But that class was amazing.

As one kid was goig out the door he said “Can I make money playing chess?”

“No lil bro. No. You want to use the game to build your plan for your LIFE and push hard that way. Then you will get paid. But you have to stay on the boards to really see the levels. You understand?” He nodded and smiled.

The highlight of the last class was with a kid who I knew trained in jiu-jitsu and meditation with a good friend of mine. Apparently a kid from my first class had a problem with him. I heard talk about them possibly getting physical. This kid and I played several games all week. This day we did not. As class was letting out and I was saying goodbye I pulled him aside.

I pointed to the thing on the board about the king, the pieces and the victory. I said “Look, you know I don’t know you that well. But I know your instructor and he would not want you figthing right now. He would want you going back to your room and meditating. He would want you in your room exercising. He would want you to think through this. For me, when I look at you. Your king is FREEDOM. I don’t know what that kid did. But nothing he said, is more important than getting out. Unless he is actively on you trying to harm you- keep it peaceful. Because anything you do is going to get you more time. Don’t give the courts one more second than you have to. Get free and then me, you and your instructor can go train and get some sandwiches and chill. Wouldn’t that be better than being in here?”

He nodded. “OK….OK.” in a tone that told me for the moment he was convinced nonviolence was the best way out. I called his instructor and told him what happened as I left.

Oh! I gotta say there were 4 different rap sessions I saw in the hall. One was from a kid who did not know chess. By the end of the week he did an amazing freestyle about chess and life. He said that he was so confused by the game and he never thought he could learn. I promised him he would know the game and he thanked me for keeping my word.

There was the rap session with the Tats who I just mentioned. It was truly amazing.

Another dope moment was a kid handed me a copy of a song he wrote. It is super deep and covered a lot of painful issues around his incarceration, broken family trauma and loniness he faces. I hope to share it with you in the future. But I have to get some clearances before I can.

Also, the first day  when I asked who could rap they all pointed to this White kid. He was the only White kid in the hall that day ( a few more came in the day I left- it was all Black and Brown). He had bright green eyes and slicked back hair. The verse he did blew my mind. He was getting out that day. This afternoon he reached out to me on Instagram. I’m gonna try to get him to record a song.

I want to thank you all for taking the time to read this and I want to thank all the good people at the Alameda County Juvenile Center for their kindness and support. I want to thank all the JIO’s for their support when I’m in all the units. It is always and honor for me to spend time with incarcerated kids. Much love y’all.

Defend The Crown,

Adisa

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

HHCF Juvenile Hall Diary Day 2 and 3!!!

HHCF Juvenile Hall Diary Day 2 & 3



OK, so my second day I go in and things get real intense, real fast. The kid with the tats who I played and tried to connect with came in tripping. One of the things about the hall is that things happen there that you don’t know about and cannot control. So even if you come in super positive the internal power struggles between the kids, staff and the kids within themselves can make things volotile.

He came in with another kid and though they were in my room there doing what I call “The ostrich thing.” That is when they pull their sweater over their head and put their head on their desk. I don’t tolerate that kinda activity.

I asked them to chill and show respect to the lesson and the time I’m sharing with them. Both sat back up. Later, he starts talking to his boy about street drama and his case. I remind him he needs to quiet up. He starts poppin’ off dropping n-bombs and stuff. I just calmly walked over to the door and had the JIO ‘s (like a CO for juve) come take him out. He was pretty negative on the way out, but the rest of the class was chill.

The rest of the DAY was chill to be honest. I must say though that the peanut butter colored walls and fluorescent lighting really messes with your sense of internal peace. We worked on how to use your rooks together and I showed them the famous Opera House Massacre game by Morphy and talked about the importance of consistence. “What is the queen sacrifice of your life? How seriously are you taking yourself, and your actions irrespective of who you think is ‘hating’ on you?”

They got it. The gaming that day was super positive and fun.

I had some great games with the kids who I played soft the day before. It was a nail biter from front to back.

Day 3



When came in the hall I had my first thoughts ready to go. The kids came in super positive. I told the JIO’s that I would not be taking the kid who was disrespectful from the day before. I opened by giving them some hard, straight talk to realign their collective purpose.

I wrote in huge letters on the whiteboard: INTELLIGENCE WITHOUT DISCIPLINE IS A CURSE!!!

I reminded them that I chose to be there. “ I struggled with drinking and I did a lot of stupid things in high school, but I never got caught” I told them. “ I dropped out, I had to teach myself the bulk of everything I’m doing today. But I need you to respect my time. If you are not interested in living better than you are, go back to your room.” I let the last sentence hang in the air to emphasize my seriousness.

“You know, between the games I hear you all talking about how the streets love you. How the block has your back. But when I come in the morning, I don’t see any of them in line to see you. Nobody is checking to kick it with you. Where all that hood love at?! I don’t see it” I spat defiantly. You should have seen their eyes. They were staring me down with a lot of raw emotion.

“We can’t have friends here. Only family!” one of the boys snapped back.

Before I could respond a JIO in the room with a voice like Barry White yelled out “So what?! Where y’all letters at? Ain’t nobody writing y’all. Keep it real! Nobody checkin’ for you.” Then he looked at me and nodded.

“The hood ain’t missing you. The block don’t miss you. The block don’t miss me. None of us are special and when we are gone, it keeps going on. My point of saying this is not to hurt your feelings. My point is to ask if that is a fact, why do some of you come into my class and waste my time and my knowledge and wisdom that I am trying to bring to you.?!” I was not yelling, but there was what Bruce Lee would call “emotional content”.

“For the rest of your life, it is unlikely that you gonna meet someone that knew Pac, knew The Jacka, knew Eazy and saw some of the greatest to ever do it- do their thing.” I was wearing a college sweatshirt. I pulled on the shirt at the shoulders and said “These colleges I speak at, I taught myself everything I speak on. I guest lecture there because of all the reading I did. All the hours I put in to get that knowledge. I bring it to you from a place of love because I know you don’t understand everything waiting for you outside.”

I paused to let that sink in.

“Most of you don’t even understand how you got here. I can tell you a little bit of how it happened. In 1967 the FBI rolled out to programs. One was called BLACKPRO and the other was called COINTELPRO. Both were aimed at undermiing Black leadership coast to coast. They had an army of 3,000 informants.”

Now before this keep in mind that J. Edgar Hoover, one of the early heads of the FBI was trying to get Black people to take heroin. But Blacks at the time did not like needles. This was back when most of your grandparents were young. In the 80’s White middle class and rich kids did cocaine powder- but Blacks did crack. Whites got short sentences for powder. Many Blacks and Latinos did life for crack.”

“Today, you kids are all taking syrup. Codeine, promethazine, percocet, etc. All of them are opiates- liquid heroin. You are living the dream that Hoover wanted for your grandparents.”

One of the kids interrupted me. “Stop talking about syrup so much. I want some right now.” a boy confessed without reservation. Despite being under 16 his favorite drink is percocets dissolved in Patron. So scary.

“Look” I continued “The closer you are to those drugs, the closer you are to making a mistake that will get you locked up. It is not an accident. Y’all are kids. Alcohol is illegal right? So how is it that billion dollar pharmaceutical companies are able to lose all this top grade syrup and it just happens to be available for cheap in your hood? How is it for sale by your homies at school. Because it is not an accident.”

I pointed to the a digital display of a chessboard. Right now, in the game of life, you are all in check. It is almost over for you. I hope you realize the seriousness of the times you are living in.” By now the room was pretty silent.

“What is the good thing about being in check though?” I asked the strongest Latino chess player.

“He nodded as he spoke to the class “There is still a way out.”

“EXACTLY!.I cried out. “ Exactly. There is still a way out. That is the blessing. I’m telling you now. Stay sober, study, play this game and find your way out. Let me do that for you. The game ain’t over. You can win this, but let me help you.”

From there we went into studying knights. The games were amazing. The one who admitted his addiction played the hardest and came a long way. Monday he did not know the how the pieces moved. Today he was losing, but he was checking people and growing with the game.

I lost a game to a kid after a foolish exchange. Tomorrow, I'm gonna go super hard. These kids are brilliant.

I took some photos of some of the games that got played. I cannot take pics of their faces. But you see the high cognitive function of the kids. A lot of these teens are considered ADD or ADHD. But look at the high level cognitive function happening. Kids this smart should be recruited by Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter and Oracle. They don’t need to hire folks from Asia, India, Africa and China. They can go to NY, LA, Chicago and St. Louis and raise American minds to do this work. Fantastic American genius is being abandoned everyday simply because they were born Black, Brown or poor. Our technology companies need to take big steps to fix this.

I love these moments. I love these opportunities and I thank you for taking the time to read this blog.



PARENTS: Below is a huge song called “Mask Off” by Future that openly promotes the use of “molly” percocets and other opiates to our kids. This style is called Trap Music. The trap is, that if the kids soak in songs like these it leads them to the trap of addiction. I love Hip-Hop. But old school music always had a balanced dialogue. All the popular music on the radio and TV these days is sadly in this vein. Peep the beauty of the melody. IT is an amazingly well produced track. If I didn’t know better, I’d think Future was hired by Hoover.

Monday, June 26, 2017

HHCF Starts Summer Sessions in Juvenile Hall: Day 1



Today the HHCF was happy to be back for another summer session at juvenile hall. As you may recall, last summer we were at Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center teaching chess and life strategies. We returned today and it was amazing.

This morning I went in and met some amazing young souls. Each day we go to three units. They are held in regular classrooms. Each visit to the hall is always emotionally trying. If you have never been to a juvenile hall, it can be depressing at times. It takes some real psychological and philosophical preparation. Because I have done a work in St. Louis with Incarcerated youth, and did prison volunteer work before, a lot of this is not new to me. Nevertheless, it is not easier.

I think because my kids are older now, many of the teen boys and girls there resemble my own kids and others in my family. I reminded myself as I approached to treat these kids like family.

The first kids were in Unit 4. A cool group of about 12 boys entered my classroom.

“We finna just sit here and play chess all morning?” one boy said defiantly with a scowl on his face as he sat down reluctantly.

“No” I said calmly, “We’re going to talk about a lot more.”

I started by just introducing myself. I talked about my history. I explained to them all the mistakes I made as a kid. I talked to them about how my school counselor at Oceana High School (Mr. King) saw me as a journalist before I saw it in myself. I went onto tell them about how I met Eazy E and how my interview with him led me to write for the rest of my life.

I explained the point of it all was that when I couldn’t find any value in myself, Mr. King saw a writer. His ability to see me as a writer changed me forever. I reminded them that no matter the mistakes they may have made that they are still young and brilliant. I reminded them that I do not judge them in any way and that I am not here to save them. “I cannot save you: I said. " I am not here to be a savior. I am only asking you to allow me to give you some tools to help you make better decisions. If you let me do that, you will save yourself. You won’t need me.”

Then I shared my book Bobby, Bruce & the Bronx: The Secrets of Hip-Hop Chess with them. They looked at the photos of me and Eazy and Pac. After laughing at me, they asked me about what Hip-Hop was like way back and about the fashion of the time. It was really cool.

From there we just jumped into the game of kings. When I asked how many of them knew the game, 80% of the kids raised their hands. I then chose two teens to teach the others how the pieces moved. HHCF is always using peer to peer training to help young people engage and inspire one another.

Between the gaming I shared the life lessons from the book. The class was amazing and the kids were supremely inspired to come back Tuesday.

After a short break I went back to Unit 4 to meet a second group of kids. Another group of 12. They were a little harder on sight than the first group. A short heavily tattooed teen walked in flexing his muscles. Despite wearing a long sleeved sweater you could see he had size. He came in yelling that he was the best in the game and he didn’t care who thought they were better- including me. I looked at him and blinked- unmoved.

Another boy with the same skin as Wesley Snipes sat down casually and pointed to the kid who had been flexing. Half slouching in his chair he stated “You gotta beat him in chess first. If you can beat him, we’ll listen to whatever you have to say. If you lose, we out.”

The kid flexing smiled and nodded “Straight up.”

I smiled back.

“Before we do that, I have to say something. Without asking permission” I went into the same talk as I did with the previous group. I shared the book again.

The young man with the tattoos looked up on the board at my outline of piece values ( Q = 9 pts. R = 5 pts, B = 3 pts, N = 3 pts, P = 1 pt.).

Interrupting my introduction he said “What is all that?” in a wrinkled tone with a wrinkled forehead.

“Oh this?” I said in a relaxed tone. “You’re looking at the value of all the chess pieces. I thought you was ‘the man’?” I said in a mocking manner.

He smiled. “Ok, ok.”

From there I went onto the conclusion of my talk. In this group all but two kids knew how to play. They caught on quick and we all played a few games. The tattooed kid was good, but I won my game. Anticipating a lot of trash talk, I caught him off guard by shaking his hand and talking about all the things he did well.

By the end of the class all the kids were locked into the 64 squares of infinite combat. When class ended each kid was promising  big losses to their opponent the next day.

After lunch I went into the Unit 1. I used the same pitch as the first two. 60% of the kids knew the game here. I taught the ones who didn’t as those who did just jumped into battle tactics.

Later I played a game with a strong Latino player. He was long and lean, with a close haircut and a youthful smile. Even the rugged realities of juvenile hall had not robbed him of his smile. I was inspired by his inner peace and the preservation of his joy.

We went into our game and I played him very soft. He was the wrong one to do that with. My laziness was met with a wave of aggressive tactics. Before I knew it, he had my king running for the corner. In the panic, I broke my queen out to save the situation. She defended me well until I slipped and she was sniped by his bishop.

As he was closing in to finish me off class ended. He gave a sinister giggle and postured up.

“Saved by the bell!” I shouted like a man in the ring with Tyson in his prime.

“Just kidding. You were gonna get me. I’mma give you this one. See you tomorrow.”

“Ok, ok!!” he said laughing hard. I will see you tomorrow.”

Pt. 2 will get posted about 10 PM PST. I really love our time with these kids. You guys be well.

Defend The Crown,



Adisa

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Bushido Beats: The Art of War in Hip-Hop Production

By: Adisa, The Bishop





There is a powerful trend in Hip-Hop production growing outside of the rap industry. It is happening organically in the free landscape of the internet. I call it Bushido Beats.

Back in the early 1990’s, I was in a rap group called Freedom T.R.O.O.P. 187. I used to be obsessed by studying Taoism, Buddhism and Confucian scholarship. I used to go with my friend MC Hi-Low to Shambala Books on Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley, CA. We would buy whatever we could find. Once I bought a tape of some Japanese flutes and another of a Japanese harpist (sadly both their names escape me now). Back then Hi-Low and I always said we were gonna put the melodies to a beat. We never did. Luckily a lot of other rap artists emerged with Eastern-themed music. DJ Premier did a lot with Jeru and Afu Ra, and of course the Wu Tang Clan.

Many years ago I interviewed Shaolin Monk Shi Yan Ming (Kung Fu teacher and mentor of RZA)  for the Yoga Journal for a story about rap artists who practice meditation and do yoga. He said “When people listen to Hip-Hop, they dance and are happy. This is also meditation. RZA, when he writes songs, uses philosophy to help people. He is giving people meditation.”

When he said it at the time, I was much more of a yoga practitioner than a meditator. I respected it, because how can you not respect the wisdom a Shaolin Monk speaks. At the same time, I felt it was a little over the top. Now that I do practice many forms of meditation, I am still shocked at how strikingly accurate his words were.

About a year or so back, I got online looking for Wu Tang instrumentals. I had just finished listening to El Michels Affair Album Enter the 37th Chamber. It is a collection of Wu Tang classics replayed. He just released a new one, Return to the 37th Chamber with some fantastic tracks on there as well.





In any case what happened next was fantastic. It suggested I play a song called King by an artist named Ronin. It opens with a mellow meditative stringed instrument. Shortly after a bold bassline and military drums and flutes masterfully emerge. The end result is quite spectacular. From there I learned Ronin had another song called Mesa and that this was indeed a full music genre with the participation of artists from all over the planet. I feel like if Bruce Lee were alive today, he was bump this hard. One can dream.

Keep in mind these are created to be instrumentals. Rappers are not needed for this music to enjoy a lane of its own in cyberspace. A great deal of it is very aggressive. You can imagine Sun Tzu commanding 10,000 troops into battle to some of them. Others are laid back and quite relaxing. A great example of this beat is simply called Asian Rap Beat  posted by Thai Rex. I cannot tell if Thai Rex made the beat or just posted it. It currently has more than 2 million views on youtube. Other artists who deserve an honorable mention in the space include (but not limited to) Raven, Justin Kase, and VintageMan Beats and  Ratz Beats who now has more than 5 million views with Shaolin Style Type . Two of my other favorites is a Grillabeats Kontaru and Trapanese by Sez. It has massive bass and will surely blow your parents speakers if given the chance.

At the HHCF Chess and Jiu-Jitsu classes these beats are often banging as students enter the academy. There is something magical to me about the music helping to set the tone. Now, there are other days when we train in complete silence. Both have their benefits.

It is important to note that these are not new tracks. Some of them have been around between 5 to 7 years or more. The consistency the Bushido Beats emerge with is proof of its staying power. Keep in mind that this is an internet phenomenon that has no place on commercial radio or TV. And it appears to be growing.

I keep seeing people post tracks as “Asian type this” or “Oriental Hip-Hop beat”. I am choosing to name this style of production Bushido Beats. At the end of the day, it is still Hip-Hop. Real Hip-Hop. True Hip-Hop made for the love of the path, not pop music galore.

This is music that I workout to. This is music I write to and sometimes meditate to. I find it inspiring. It motivates me through my yoga poses and drives me to knock out another set when I want to quit.

When trying to understand and accurately measure the impact of the Wu Tang Clan on the planet, this emerging genre is yet another manifestation of their seemingly infinite legacy. At the same time it is important to note the roll that local traditions have in the global expansion of Hip-Hop. It makes total sense that Wu Tang or not, a DJ in Japan or China, India, or Tibet might want to add some local music from their tradition to give an original stamp on what they make.

If you know artists who make beats like these, please tweet me the link with the hashtag #BushidoBeats @hiphopchess on Twitter.

As a bonus I'm gonna add this Mike Relm produced jam called The Iron Hook Scroll. Enjoy!


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