Steppin’ and the Talented Tenth

Do you know what this is a painting of?

Step Show, acrylic on canvas

To anyone who knows, it is instantly obvious.  To others, not so much.  I have shown this work in numerous places and it is often quite popular.  More interesting to me than the idea that some would like my art is the idea that so many who show an interest, have no idea what it is.

Sadly, the same can be said if I were to ask most what the “Talented Tenth” are, or use the acronym “HBCU.”  I have no doubt all would know what a Cryp is.

CJ, acting like his uncle's painting.

I used to know him as “Little Charlie”, now he is “CJ”.  He’s currently a senior at Sam Houston State and he hasn’t been little for quite some time.  His Mom does hair, his Dad is enlisted, and soon he will have a degree.  He plans to get two.

W.E.B Dubois wrote an essay in 1903 in which he argued that African- American men with an education and opportunity, would lift and lead their people, to not only gain, but prove they deserved, equality.  He called these initial young leaders the talented tenth.

Around this same time young black men began to be granted admission to some colleges but never gained acceptance.  In 1905 six African-american men were admitted to Cornell, none returned the following year.  In 1906 the incoming class of seven banded together to provide for themselves the support no one else would give.  They founded Alpha Phi Alpha that year and one hundred and four years later CJ joined them.

CJ is part of the talented tenth Dubois spoke of.  Other Alpha men have included MLK, Thurgood Marshall, Duke Ellington, and Jesse Owens.

To most of America “frat boy” conjures images of Animal House or keg stands and in most respects they are right.  No matter white or black, Greek does have some overlap.  But what most of “us” miss, is truly our loss.

Since the 70’s traditionally black Fraternities and sororities have incorporated rhythmic stomping and chanting in semi-militaristic fashion as part of their organizations.  Some trace it to African dancing, others to military drills, but no matter the roots, the results are pure cool.

The noise, rhythm, and explosion of movement that is a step show should be experienced by all.  Find one near you.  I don’t care if you don’t know anyone there, or feel like a lost grain of salt in the pepper shaker; just go.  You may be more inclined to watch ballet, or not be used to noisy crowds, but once they start you cannot help but become enthralled.  It is art.

I find it depressing that the masses all know how to throw up gang signs, yet so few know why athletes on TV raise their wrists to their head, elbows out,  with the palms facing down.

In our society where the sight of a group of young black men cause most to cross the street, or call police, I ask, does this look like a flash mob to you?

Make us proud CJ.



Filed under history, people

5 responses to “Steppin’ and the Talented Tenth

  1. Kay

    Make us proud? uh, done!

  2. Amanda Hucklebuck


  3. LaChez McKenzie

    Very well spoken uncle Dalyn!!

  4. CJ McKenzie


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