Friday, August 31, 2007

Oh where, oh where has Obama been?

I have to make a confession. I’m pissed! I’m hurt, upset, disgusted and confused over the state of the American judicial system.

Part of my frustration is related to living in Durham, NC, home of Duke University and that infamous rape case. As a long time resident of the city, I have endured the hassle of having outside critics give their perspective on the state of things in my fine city. It irks me that most observers fail to place this case, and all that follows, within the context of the history and happenings of the city. I could talk about that all day, but there’s much more behind my fury.

I’m livid over the mixture of contradictions that remind me that America is a country that places privilege and race above justice. I crave to believe that we have become a nation that is purely color blind when it comes to the dispensing of judgment. That is not the case, and I’m annoyed that I have to waste time to convey the nature of this evil. As much as I want to move past presenting arguments that do more than expound the stance of another mad black man; I can’t let go of how deeply marred I am due to these incongruities.

A little background to my rage-I just finished reading the recent installment of the Duke Lacrosse case. Mike Nifong, former Durham District Attorney, is facing a $500 fine or up to 30 days in jail for criminal contempt. The question for this most recent segment of the soap opera is whether Nifong willfully and intentionally made false statements to Judge W. Osmond Smith III in May 2006.

The brunt of my frustration involves the level of attention given this case in comparison to the countless others that go unnoticed, and that are clear case of prosecutorial misconduct. The most recent example of a district attorneys misuse of power is the Jena 6 case.

A recent response to my blog got it right-why is it that black people are reduced to marching and shouting in front of courtrooms as a means of remonstration? Why do we continue to employ 50 year old stratagems to get the attention of those who manipulate the process?

I’m angry that people have to pack buses to do what we have always done, while high profile attorney’s and politicians jump on the bandwagon to support the causes of these boys in Durham, NC who became the target of an indomitable prosecutor.

Where are the congressmen and senators in that case? Where is Barak Obama? He found time to comment on the Duke Lacrosse rape case, but hasn’t made his way down to Jena to plead on behalf of those boys. Why hasn’t he made a stop on his journey across the country to raise money and prove to Americans he’s white enough to be their President?

I’m annoyed that none of the presidential candidates have made this an issue worthy of their attention. I wouldn’t be as pissed if Obama hadn’t taken time away from his duties as senator to write a memo regarding the Duke Lacrosse rape case. Maybe the assumption of innocence sways the way he and others functions when it comes to speaking up. If that is true, then I’m pissed even more.

Why? Because I utterly abominate the terminology of innocence when applied to those boys involved in the Duke Lacrosse rape case. They are not innocent. They are innocent of rape. They are innocent of kidnapping, but they are guilty, it can be assumed by the evidence in the case, of racial slurs, the communication of threats, underage drinking and lewd behavior. You may reason, why is that important? It’s important in addressing the grave disparity in the way power brokers involve themselves in cases demanding scrutiny.

The focus down in Jena, LA is on the wrong people. Instead of fighting against the local bums in power, we should be calling on those who demand our votes to get their butts down there and handle their business. All that talk about equality in American doesn’t mean a thing when all you do is talk, raise money and appear on television for another debate.

If you have the power to make a change, use it. So, let’s take all of that rage and send letters to Obama and ask him to prove to us he’s real. If not, let’s contact Hillary.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Put on your marching shoes and head down to Jena, LA

My feet hurt. I’m tired of marching. That’s the mindset of many African Americans after years of taking their hostility to the pavement and tramping countless miles to bring awareness to a myriad of issues impacting people of color. They have sauntered through years of hostility. They have sit-in, stood up, prayed through, hollered with tears, and sung “We Shall Overcome”, until the clout of the words fade.

Not since a million men crammed buses headed to the national capitol to atone for their sins, has there been a need for the vigor of black collective voices to merge in one place. It’s time to dig deep into the back of your closet to locate those marching shoes, and get on the bus headed down to the small Louisiana town of Jena to shout Hell no to the lunacy that is taking place.

Sadly, the national media has failed to seize hold to the amazing injustice unfolding down in Jena. In case you haven’t heard, Mychal Bell, 16, a former Jena High School football star, and five other black students had been facing up to 100 years in prison if convicted of attempted murder, conspiracy and other charges for the December beating of a white student who was knocked unconscious but not hospitalized. The episode capped months of swelling racial tension at the high school that began after several white youth hung nooses from a tree in the school courtyard in a deride aimed at blacks.

The case against the "Jena Six," as the defendants have come to be called by their supporters, received national notice after it was featured in a May 20 Chicago Tribune report that detailed how racial animus had divided the mostly white central Louisiana town of 3,000 and erupted into repeated incidents of violence between blacks and whites."The DA is trying to use my son as a scapegoat for these ridiculous charges," Marcus Jones, Bell’s father told the Chicago Tribune after the district attorney reduced the charges to aggravated assault. "He knows there's no proof showing that my son and those other kids were trying to kill that boy. It was a simple high school fight. How can you turn that into attempted murder?" Bell was found guilty and faces a potential 22 year sentence. He will be sentenced on September 20, 2007."I think the district attorney is still overreaching," Darrell Hickman, an attorney for one of the other youth charged in the case, said after charges were reduced. "The new charge is aggravated second-degree battery, which requires use of a weapon. There's no evidence that any weapon was involved."

It all started when black students broke the unwritten rule-never sit under the “white tree”. The white tree is where the white students, 80% of the student body, would always sit during school breaks.

In September 2006, a black student at Jena high school asked permission from school administrators to sit under the “white tree.” School officials advised them to sit wherever they wanted.

The next day, three nooses, in the school colors, were hanging from the “white tree.” “Those nooses meant the KKK, they meant ‘Niggers, we’re going to kill you, we’re going to hang you till you die,’” Casteptla Bailey, mom of one of the students, told the London Observer.

The Jena high school principal found that three white students were responsible and recommended expulsion. The white superintendent of schools over-ruled the principal and gave the students a three day suspension saying that the nooses were just a youthful stunt. “Adolescents play pranks,” the superintendent told the Chicago Tribune, “I don’t think it was a threat against anybody.”

“Hanging those nooses was a hate crime, plain and simple,” according to Tracy Bowens, mother of students at Jena High. It’s hard to press your point when you lack political power.
The ten person all-male government of the parish has one African-American member. The nine member all-male school board has one African American member. (A phone caller to the local school board trying to find out the racial makeup of the school board was told there was one “colored” member of the board). There is one black police officer in Jena and two black public school teachers.

Jena is the site of the infamous Juvenile Correctional Center for Youth that was forced to close its doors in 2000, only two years after opening, due to widespread brutality and racism including the choking of juveniles by guards after the youth met with a lawyer. The U.S. Department of Justice sued the private prison amid complaints that guards paid inmates to fight each other and laughed when teens tried to commit suicide.

Black students decided to resist and organized a sit-in under the “white tree” at the school to protest the light suspensions given to the noose-hanging white students.
The white District Attorney then came to Jena High with law enforcement officers to address a school assembly. According to testimony in a later motion in court, the DA reportedly threatened the black protesting students saying that if they didn't stop making a fuss about this "innocent prank… I can be your best friend or your worst enemy. I can take away your lives with a stroke of my pen." The school was put on lockdown for the rest of the week.
On the night of Thursday November 30, 2006, a still unsolved fire burned down the main academic building of Jena High School.

On Friday night, December 1, a black student who showed up at a white party was beaten by whites. On Saturday, December 2, a young white man pulled out a shotgun in a confrontation with young black men at the Gotta Go convenience store outside Jena before the men wrestled it away from him. The black men who took the shotgun away were later arrested; no charges were filed against the white man.

On Monday, December 4, at Jena High, a white student – who allegedly had been making racial taunts, including calling African American students “niggers” while supporting the students who hung the nooses and who beat up the black student at the off-campus party – was knocked down, punched and kicked by black students. The white victim was taken to the hospital treated and released. He attended a social function that evening.

Six black Jena students were arrested and charged with attempted second degree murder. All six were expelled from school.

The six charged were: 17-year-old Robert Bailey Junior whose bail was set at $138,000; 17-year-old Theo Shaw - bail $130,000; 18-year-old Carwin Jones – bail $100,000; 17-year-old Bryant Purvis – bail $70,000; 16 year old Mychal Bell, a sophomore in high school who was charged as an adult and for whom bail was set at $90,000; and a still unidentified minor.
Mychal Bell remained in jail from December 2006 until his trial because his family was unable to post the $90,000 bond. Theo Shaw has also remained in jail. Several of the other defendants remained in jail for months until their families could raise sufficient money to put up bonds.

The Chicago Tribune wrote in a story headlined “Racial Demons Rear Heads.” The London Observer wrote: “Jena is gaining national notoriety as an example of the new ‘stealth’ racism, showing how lightly sleep the demons of racial prejudice in America’s Deep South, even in the year that a black man, Barak Obama, is a serious candidate for the White House.” The British Broadcasting Company aired a TV special report “Race Hate in Louisiana 2007.”

The Jena 6 and their families were put under substantial pressure to plead guilty. Mychal Bell was reported to have been leaning towards pleading guilty right up until his trial when he decided he would not plead guilty to a felony.

When it finally came, the trial of Mychal Bell was swift. Bell was represented by an appointed public defender.

On the morning of the trial, the DA reduced the charges from attempted second degree murder to second degree aggravated battery and conspiracy. Aggravated battery in Louisiana law demands the attack be with a dangerous weapon. The dangerous weapon? The prosecutor was allowed to argue to the jury that the tennis shoes worn by Bell could be considered a dangerous weapon used by “the gang of black boys” who beat the white victim.

Most shocking of all, when the pool of potential jurors was summoned, fifty people appeared – every single one white.
The LaSalle Parish clerk defended the all white group to the Alexandria Louisiana Town Talk newspaper saying that the jury pool was selected by computer. “The venire [panel of prospective jurors] is color blind. The idea is for the list to truly reflect the racial makeup of the community, but the system does not take race into factor.” Officials said they had summoned 150 people, but these were the only people who showed up.

The all-white jury which was finally chosen included two people friendly with the District Attorney, a relative of one of the witnesses and several others who were friends of prosecution witnesses.

Bell’s parents, Melissa Bell and Marcus Jones, were not even allowed to attend the trial despite their objections, because they were listed as potential witnesses. The white victim, though a witness, was allowed to stay in the courtroom. The parents, who had been widely quoted in the media as critics of the process, were also told they could no longer speak to the media as long as the trial was in session. Marcus Jones had told the media “It’s all about those nooses” and declared the charges racially motivated.

Other supporters who planned a demonstration in support of Bell were ordered by the court not to do so near the courthouse or anywhere the judge would see them.
The prosecutor called 17 witnesses - eleven white students, three white teachers, and two white nurses. Some said they saw Bell kick the victim, others said they did not see him do anything. The white victim testified that he did not know if Bell hit him or not.

The Chicago Tribune reported the public defender did not challenge the all-white jury pool, put on no evidence and called no witnesses. The public defender told the Alexandria Town talk after resting his case without calling any witnesses that he knew he would be second-guessed by many but was confident that the jury would return a verdict of not guilty. “I don’t believe race is an issue in this trial…I think I have a fair and impartial jury…”

The jury deliberated for less than three hours and found Mychal Bell guilty on the maximum possible charges of aggravated second degree battery and conspiracy. The public defender told the press afterwards, “I feel I put on the best defense that I could.” Responding to criticism of not putting on any witnesses, the attorney said “why open the door for further accusations? I did the best I could for my client, Mychal Bell.”

At a rally in front of the courthouse the next day, Alan Bean, a Texas minister and leader of the Friends of Justice, said “I have seen a lot of trials in my time. And I have never seen a more distressing miscarriage of justice than what happened in LaSalle Parish yesterday.” Khadijah Rashad of Lafayette Louisiana described the trial as a “modern day lynching.”

Whites in the community were adamant that there is no racism. "We don't have a problem,” according to one. Other locals told the media "We all get along," and "most blacks are happy with the way things are." One person even said "We don't have many problems with our blacks."

Melvin Worthington, the lone African American school board member in LaSalle Parish said it all could have been avoided. “There’s no doubt about it,” he told the Chicago Tribune, “whites and blacks are treated differently here. The white kids should have gotten more punishment for hanging those nooses. If they had, all the stuff that followed could have been avoided.”
The white victim of the beating was later arrested for bringing a hunting rifle loaded with 13 bullets onto the high school campus and released on $5000 bond. The white man who beat up the black youth at the off-campus party was arrested and charged with simple battery. The white students who hung up the nooses in the “white tree” were never charged.

Like I said, my feet are tired and I’m tired of marching, but there’s still work to be done. Too bad these boys didn’t play lacrosse at Duke University.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Another chance for Vick?

I believe a person deserves a second chance. God knows all of us have made our share of mistakes. As I say during my sermons, but for the grace of God.

Second chances come after cheating on a spouse, a divorce, getting caught with drugs, theft and, yes, training dogs to attack one another and taking bets. With all the bad press related to Michael Vick, he too deserves a second chance.

The hardest part in forgiving Vick is the stupidity that went into his actions. With all that cash on the table (over 150 million in lost income) it’s hard for most of us to understand and forgive a man stupid enough to allow his homeboys and his obsession with animals at war to jeopardize all of that.

It’s difficult to forgive and to understand why a person who made his way out of the hood could risk all of the comforts that come with the biggest contact in NFL history. Vick was in the process of revolutionizing the way people viewed the quarterback position. He was more than the traditional drop back passer; he was a combo quarterback/running back. He was set to go down in history as the man who had General Managers searching for athletes who brought the same depth to their team.

Vick follows a long list of great athletes, with legendary already posted in the history books, who threw it away for reason hard for us to understand. Pete Rose sold his birthright to the Hall of Fame for a few bets. O.J. Simpson may have done it out of jealously. Mike Tyson did it because-that’s one I will never understand.

Vick did it because of street credibility. There was simply too much hood in him to overcome. A few years back the attention was on his little brother, Marcus, who kept getting in trouble at Virginia Tech. He was finally kicked off the team for kicking another player. The public looked at big brother Mike as the role model Marcus needed to help stir him in the right direction.

Shortly after Marcus kicked his way out of Virginia Tech, Michael made an obscene gesture toward Atlanta fans who heckled the team as it came off the field after a 31-13 loss to New Orleans. Vick apologized profusely, paid a $10,000 team fine and donated another $10,000 to charity.

Then in January, Vick reluctantly surrendered a water bottle to security at Miami International Airport that smelled like marijuana and contained a substance in a hidden compartment. He was not arrested and was allowed to board an AirTran flight that landed in Atlanta.

"We are an organization that prides itself on not having off-the-field issues," Rich McKay, general manager of the Falcons, said at the time of the incident. "I think we have done a pretty good job of bringing the right people in here so we don't have to face these types of issues. We don't like it. We don't accept it. It is not what we want."

The Falcons have every right to be upset. They invested $137 million on Vick. They believed he would be the man to lead them for the next 10 years. They expected him to lead the team on and off the field. Smoking weed, flipping off fans and participating in dog fighting is not what they anticipated.

Not to mention he lied to the owner and commissioner about his participation in the dog fighting ring. His arrogance in this matter makes it difficult for those with young children to forgive. We trusted him by embracing his bad boy image. He proved, we thought, that there’s a place in the NFL for a brother to hold onto his street ways while leading a team with credibility.

What is my message to Michael Vick? We’re mad at you. Mad because you have let us down. We believed in you, stood by you, embraced your hip-hop image and desire to keep it real. We fought for the legitimacy of that image. We saw it as a way to educate others on the good that can come out of embracing that culture.

Vick has legitimized what many already felt. Despite all of that money and status as a true role model, he threw it all away for his street ways. That is difficult to forgive. He broke laws. He carried weed on a plane, raised dogs to kill and watched them fight

I could argue that it’s no worse than deer hunting or bull fighting. I could stand in defense of Vick by correlating his actions to those perceived as valid sporting games. I could do that, but this issue goes much deeper than any of that. This is not about the race of the man or the duplicity of the system. This is about a man's willingness to throw it all away for his right to play by his own rules.

Yes, he deserves another chance, but I’m still angry. With all the people in the world who suffer due to lack, he tossed it all away for reason hard to understand. He took it all for granted and now must suffer the consequences of his actions. Be it because of his friends or be it because of his own weakness, it is hard to forgive walking away from all of that.

With that being said, he deserves a second-forgive me-a fourth chance.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Boy! Pull up those pants!

A close friend told me a sad story a few years back. A teenager ran across the street. He was wearing baggy pants and they fell to the ground as a car approached. The pants fell to his ankles causing him to fall and the car hit and killed him. Upon hearing this tale, I wondered if it was an urban legend, or if it was true.

I’m certain that parents and critics of the baggy pants fad have used this tale to convince young men to pull those pants up, and put on a belt. Nothing else seems to work. Making the connection to jail culture was not enough to convince this youthful generation to design a more suitable way to promote their independence.

Since young folk refuse to listen to grown ups, the old heads down in Atlanta have decided to take matters into their own hands. C.T. Martin, a college recruiting consultant and member of the Atlanta city council, is pushing an amendment to the city’s indecency laws that would make any peep of a bra strap or top of boxer shorts illegal.

Martin says the popular style of boys who wear oversize, baggy pants well below their waists, exposing their underwear, is an “epidemic” that has to stop. “I don’t want young people thinking that half-dressing is the way to go,” Martin told a reporter for the Atlanta Journal & Constitution. “I want them to think about their future.”

But do bans against trendy teen styles make kids more respectful or do they just give them a reason to be rebellious? Little children see it and want to adopt it, thinking it's the in thing," Martin said. "I don't want young people thinking that half-dressing is the way to go. I want them to think about their future."

The planned ordinance would also block women from showing the strap of a thong beneath their pants. They would also be prohibited from wearing jogging bras in public or show a bra strap, said Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.
The proposed ordinance states that "the indecent exposure of his or her undergarments" would be unlawful in a public place. It would go in the same portion of the city code that outlaws sex in public and the exposure or fondling of genitals. The penalty would be a fine in an amount to be determined.

Seagraves said any legislation that creates a dress code would not endure a court challenge. She said the law could not be enforced in a nondiscriminatory way because it targets something that came out of the black youth culture.

"This is a racial profiling bill that promotes and establishes a framework for an additional type of racial profiling," Seagraves told the Atlanta Journal & Constitution.

Atlanta would not be the first city to take on baggy pants. Earlier this year, the town council in Delcambre, La., passed an ordinance that carries a fine of up to $500 or six months in jail for exposing underwear in public. Several other municipalities in Louisiana have enacted similar laws in recent months.

Brace yourself for a national battle between those of divergent generations and cultures. This clash is about defining individual expression as reflected in hip-hop culture. As the nation grapples with the legitimacy of hip-hop, get ready for other battles to alter the impact hip-hop has in molding the minds of youth.

The N.A.A.C.P eulogized the N-word because of the ways it’s used in the music of hip-hop culture. The sisters down in Atlanta at Spellman College attacked Nelly for his music video that likened the female buttocks to an ATM machine. Hip-hop is under attack, and this measure is another example of how the African American community has made a correlation between hip-hop and all that is bad.

This mugging of hip-hip culture goes much deeper than the decisions one makes on what to wear. At the core of this tête-à-tête is defining what it means to be an African American. It is always precarious for those reared in the mores of an elder cohort to impose their values on youth. Martin is making the mistake of correlating fashion with behavior, and the two can’t be approached as Siamese twins.

The modification of conduct can’t be fulfilled through the legislation of fashion. Don’t get me wrong, I hate those baggy pants. With that being said, I would find it insufferable if the city council would get into the business of selecting what belongs in my closet. As much as I loathe catching a glimpse of at a kids “Fruit of the Looms”, I quiver thinking of the consequences that will come once municipalities gets the authority to decide on what is acceptable fashion.

Its best if this matter is left up to the parents. Let the city council deal with infrastructure issues rather than the management of the family. I’m certain that someone on the council will argue they have to step in because the parents aren’t doing their job. Since these kids aren’t being taught, leave it up to the council to lead the way. This analysis is filled with assumptions. Baggy pants don’t make a bad kid, just as a white shirt and silk tie don’t make a person an outstanding citizen.

It’s just clothes. It’s too bad we can’t see past what we wear.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Prayer for Juanita Bynum

When faith hides behind closed doors people get hurt. They’re hurt by the mendacity of their claims. They proudly stand before revering devotees in search of words of comfort. Masses of broken spirits assemble before them begging for something more. More beyond the humiliation. More beyond the damaged promises and bruised dreams. Something more than this life they’re forced to bear.

These contemporary faith seekers are inspired by the declarations of men and women once broken but now set free from the burden of their yesteryears. Juanita Bynum dares the incalculable women who trek the way to hear her preach and purchase her DVD’s and CD’s to remove the sheets in their lives. Her “No More Sheets” sermon on breaking free of sexual promiscuity made her the hottest African American female preacher within the prosperity theology movement.

Her gripping testimony inspired women because it resonated with their struggles to find meaning within the pain. Bynum’s toil for liberation continues. Police say she was assaulted by her preacher husband in the parking lot of an Atlanta hotel early Wednesday, August 22.

Bynum and her estranged husband, Thomas W. Weeks III, the founder of Global Destiny churches, met at Renaissance Concourse Hotel near Atlanta's airport to try to reconcile, police said. About 4 a.m., they fought in the parking lot until a hotel bellman pulled Weeks off. "She was bruised up and battered," Officer Ronald Campbell said. "She had purple bruising around her neck and upper torso."

No charges had been filed by Wednesday night against Weeks, who left the scene according to police. Bynum, a Pentecostal evangelist who lives in Hempstead, N.Y., has administrative offices in Waycross. The former homemaker, hairdresser and flight attendant got a break when Bishop T.D. Jakes invited her to speak at one of his conferences several years ago.

Her 2002 wedding to Weeks, who started the Global Destiny churches nationwide, was televised and, according to media reports, featured a gown with a bodice covered in crystals and a 7.76-carat diamond ring. Her dream wedding led to a nightmarish marriage. Only God knows how many black eyes and bruised ribs preceded this recent torment.

The high praise and power messages of the mega-Church movement often conceal what happens behind the closed doors of those placed on thrones to be praised by the people deprived of examples of righteous living. In the midst of their declarations of what used to be; the truth underlying it all is things aren’t what they appear to be.

The gloom that comes with this sad story of a prominent religious spokesperson and her estranged husband, who leads a church, are the days spent before the people smiling, promoting faith, advocating the message of joy, granting comfort to those who come to listen, who come to purchase a CD or DVD- while hurting inside.

While presenting the mood of good spirits, beneath it all is a hurting woman-a woman battered by a man who walks the faith, who knows the message of transformation. How many tears dropped from her fragile, tattered face before offering hope to the myriad of women waiting for those inspired words? How many times did she feel like going home?

I can only conjecture the level of brokenness she carries with her each day. After coming so far, after seeing God transform her life and build a great ministry through her, she finds herself back again. Back at the place that led her to preach that powerful message-“No More Sheets”. For her, the sheets remain in her marriage, and she’s fighting to break free from him and the condemning glare of those who seek the façade of perfection.

Bynum’s ministry is not negated by the abuse of her husband. No, it’s solidified by his sin. The promise to her is God’s presence within every throbbing moment. This is not her fault. This she doesn’t deserve. My prayer is for her comfort as she heals again.

That which stays locked in the closet hurts the most. Her pain is exposed for the world to examine. What matters now is the response we give.

Be free Juanita Bynum. Be free. People of faith are praying for you.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Mom pulled off the moutain and shipped back to Mexico

I’ve felt a myriad of emotions after leaving worship services. As a pastor, there are those mountain top occasions that left me reliving the words of the Apostle Peter, let us build three tabernacles and stay here a little longer, were his words during the transfiguration. Then there are those valley moments like the one I experienced on August 22, 2002. That’s when 97 people decided to kick me out as pastor of the Orange Grove Missionary Baptist Church.

The good thing about dwelling in the valley is it’s only for a moment. One can always get back up and climb the mountain again. That is if you have the strength, courage and faith to try again. My season in the valley pales in comparison to that of Elvira Arellano. She was stanched from the mountain top and forced into the valley in handcuffs.

Arellano was arrested on Sunday, August 19th outside Our Lady Queen of Angels church in Los Angeles. Hours later, she was deported. “She is free in Tijuana,” said the Rev. Walter Coleman, pastor of Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago, where Arellano had taken refuge. “She is in good spirits. She is ready to continue the struggle against the separation of families from the other side of the border.”

Arellano, 32, became a symbol of the struggles of illegal immigrant parents when she took refuge in the church to avoid being separated from her 8-year old son Saul, who was born in the U.S. making him a citizen.
She spoke the day before about the possibility of being deported. "From the time I took sanctuary the possibility has existed that they arrest me in the place and time they want," she said in Spanish. "I only have two choices. I either go to my country, Mexico, or stay and keep fighting. I decided to stay and fight." Arellano first came to the U.S. in 1997 where she lived illegally in Washington state. She was deported to Mexico shortly after, but returned and moved to Illinois in 2000, taking a job cleaning planes at O'Hare International Airport. She was arrested again in 2002 at O'Hare and convicted of working under a false Social Security number. She was to surrender to authorities last August but failed to turn herself in.She sought refuge at the storefront church on Chicago's West Side on Aug. 15, 2006. She had not left the church property until she decided to travel by car to Los Angeles. She had decided to come out of hiding to bring to light her struggle."She'll be organizing on the Mexican side of the border while we're organizing in the (United) States," Coleman said. "She'll be talking to organizations throughout Mexico and congressmen in Mexico City." Coleman said he and other activists will continue Arellano's original plan to go to Washington, D.C. and take part in a prayer meeting and rally for immigration reform at the Capitol on Sept. 12. "We are sad, but at the same time we are angry," said Javier Rodriguez, a Chicago immigration activist who worked with Arellano. "How dare they arrest this woman"

How dare they deny her the right to be with her son. Most Americans lack sensitivity when it comes to the fight for immigration rights. Let’s face it, people are scared of the implications of opening the borders to allow more to come into the good ole USA. The failure of adequate border control has resulted in America becoming less white, less black and more brown.

White people are no longer the majority and African Americans are no longer the largest minority. Just when white people were willing to embrace African American culture and African Americans were celebrating the impact of years of fighting for equal rights, those people south of the border enter into the picture.

They bring with them a different language and other burdens on public policy. Does this mean we need to learn to speak Spanish? Hmm. The thought of having to think outside the box in learning to adapt to our new neighbors is enough to cause the most liberal thinking person to alter their position.

I’m amused that many African Americans are fighting for stricter immigration laws. What would appear to be a natural collaboration has become one of the most vicious territorial battles. You can feel the jealousy getting in the way of formulating sound social policy. Instead of taking on the cause of their brown brothers and sisters, African Americans are struggling to make sense out of what it means to no longer be the majority minority in America.

My advice to anyone willing to claim that this land belongs to them is to take a trip to a place outside the U.S. It’s easy to fight for the protection of those American borders when your virgin eyes have never seen the pain of men, women and children living in conditions that would cause them to run to another place. It’s easy to forget that people have always found America to be a welcoming place for those hoping to find a better place to call home.

We are the descendents of people who ran away. The only people living in American that can authentically call this home are those who had the land taken out from under them-the Native Americans. African Americans were forced to come as forced labor. Sadly, many are still waiting to get paid the forty acres and a mule they needed to make the transition from enslavement to freedom.

142 years have passed since the end of slavery and African Americans are still waiting for the support from the government. The first African arrived in America as indentured servants via Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. 246 years of slavery can’t be undone in 142 years.

The bitterness can’t be denied. They come here-illegally-yet agencies are there to support them. They build businesses void of citizenship. They purchase homes and automobiles without legal status. African Americans are witnessing this mass influx that, in the minds of many, are reaping advantages denied them.

The increase among Latinos results in a reduction in political power among African Americans. No longer can African Americans give claim to being the most powerful minority in America. More for them means less for us-some may think. All of that can be changed if people would sit down and have a conversation beyond what they feel.

How dare they deny her right to be with her son. Mothers should be marching in the streets. An 8-year-old is without his mother because she fought for the rights of other mothers to be with their children. Motherhood has no political ideology. It looks past assumptions and regards the needs of the child more than the rules related to who has a right to call America their home.
Emma Lozano, Coleman's wife and head of immigration rights group Centro Sin Fronteras in Chicago, said she was Saul's legal guardian. At an afternoon press conference in Los Angeles, the boy hid behind Lozano and wiped away tears. "He's taking it better than we thought he would," Lozano said. While being arrested, Arellano spoke briefly with her son before submitting to authorities, Lozano said. "She calmed him down, hugged him and gave him a blessing," said Lozano

How dare they deny her the right to be with her son.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Intel's message to Black America: Who's Your Daddy

I came close to pulling the Intel Pentium chip out of my Dell Latitude D600 laptop. I was so dismayed by the company’s new advertising campaign that I decided to write a blog post a day early. This matter couldn’t wait another day.

Above is the ad depicting six African American athletes bowing to a white dude wearing khaki pants and an oxford shirt. To some it may appear that the bold headed colored boys are preparing to sprint to the finish line, but for those with a more critical eye, these bold headed Mandingos are submitting to their master in what appallingly resembles a slave ship. Adding insult to the ad is the fact that the white guy isn’t even wearing a suit and tie. The message I’m left with is simple-it’s a white man’s world. Bow sucker!

“Have you seen this!!!??? Damn!,” was the message I received with the e-mail from my friend Mariann Aalda that introduced me to the ad. Aalda is a socially conscious woman who has endured her share of discrimination as an actress. She made history as the first African American female to have a steady role on a soap opera. She played DiDi Bannister, a criminal attorney, on the ABC soap opera Edge of Night. She’s seen her share of insensitivity in the entertainment business, making her Damn! At the end of her message more meaningful.

Damn, are the executives at Intel that stupid? Damn, could it be that they are so comfortable in their market share that they could care less about how black folks feel? Damn, is it possible that they think African Americans don’t buy computers; therefore, why not concentrate on the good ole boys who think like overseers on a plantation.

This ad goes beyond a bad decision made by some corporate big wigs. There’s every reason to believe Intel is promoting a political message with this ad. The company is leading a signature drive for a California ballot measure that would eliminate class action lawsuits over civil rights issues. Intel’s board of directors has been sent 25,000 faxes asking the company to abandon that pending ballot measure.

If passed the measure would end class action lawsuits that claim discrimination. The case against Denny’s that punished the restaurant chain for a pattern of discrimination against African Americans would never have been if for this measure. Victims of discrimination would have no means of vindication. One has to wonder why Intel is so engrossed in this issue.
Intel apologized for its advertising campaign and is withdrawing it. It would help if they would drop their support for the pending ballot measure. You can send them a loud shout out by going to this link: Join others by reminding them of who pays for that plush compensation package. It’s the people with the Intel Pentium chip inside their computer. Damn!

For more information on the issue, go to Jamie Court’s blog

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Mike Nifong Strikes Back

You get the feeling that Mike Nifong has had enough of being the bad guy. He mailed in his license to practice law in the state of North Carolina with a note disparaging “the fundamental unfairness” of how the bar had treated him.
This seems in stark contrast to the humbled former Durham District Attorney who admitted his mistakes in June, when the bar’s Disciplinary Hearing Commission ended his career for intentionally lying and cheating during his prosecution of rape and kidnapping charges against three Duke Lacrosse players.
The thing that took Nifong over the edge was a change in the panel’s official written order. The initial order found Nifong guilty of 10 counts. Duke Law professor Robert Mosteller, in reviewing the document for two law review articles he’s writing on the case, sent an e-mail message to the State Bar to bring to their attention a missing count.
Lane Williamson, head of the panel, amended the order to include the 11th count-that Nifong ordered a DNA lab director to report only matches between rape kit evidence and specific people.
Nifong attacked the change “Mr. Williamson’s e-mail assertion that the addition of a new conclusion of law based on the request of a Duke University law professor is merely a ‘clerical correction’ is preposterous beyond belief, and is further evidence of the fundamental unfairness with which this entire procedure has been conducted,” he wrote in his letter to the bar.
This one isn’t over yet. Nifong is the first North Carolina prosecutor to be disbarred for cheating. He’s not the first to use his enormous power to manipulate the legal process. He is the first to get his hand caught in the cookie jar for reasons that leave many aching over the outcome. In June, Nifong claimed the process was just. That may have been no more than nice play for damage control.
After the hearing in June, lawyers and family members made mention of a statement Nifong made in his testimony in which he said he still contends something happened that night. That claim is what landed Nifong in trouble. It’s what led him to move forward with indictments against Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann. Nifong has been stripped of his right to practices law and serve as DA because he believes an exotic dancer
He stood in defiance before the world, assuring that those rich boys at Duke would not get away with raping a Black woman who was attempting to make a living. The nerve of him. How dare he take sides with a black woman who lacks the class, financial backing and connections of those young men.
In the end, Nifong still believes something happened. Something that makes someone guilty of crime. He’s not sure who did it. He lacks the evidence to move forward, but he still believes the exotic dancer. He stood on the wrong side of the tracks. He listened to her claims, and when her story changed, over and over again, he still believed she was the victim of something hideous.
He spoke with passion because he believed her. He was willing to go up against a star studded defense team because he believed she was telling the truth. And yes, he lost his job and his license because he continues to believe the testimony of a black exotic dancer over that of rich white boys who attended school and played lacrosse at Duke University.
That is a violation of the rules of social order that have been with us since Columbus tricked us into believing he discovered America. In this country, white race combined with male gender and economic standing is the substance of assumed privilege. Never, again I say never, should a person believe the witness of a poor, black woman over against a rich, white man.
Nifong understood the edgy ground he stood. He knew, given his own standing as a white male with privilege, that believing the exotic dancer placed his job at risk. He understood that he was coming against a boundless collective voice. He had to know that, in time, all that power would wear him down, and that, when it happened, he would be treated as a traitor for believing that woman.
The aftermath of this story has many believing mistakes were made. This, they will claim, never should have been reduced to a case involving race, class and gender. They will have you believing this is no more than an example of what happens when the laws that govern prosecutorial conduct are violated. Some contend that this is nothing more than an example of the dangers that come with power, and how a high publicized case can be used to get a person elected to office.
Those same people are quick to shift the focus away from what Nifong and people who have lived in Durham for a while were afraid of-that race and class would rule the way the case was handled. Durham has seen its share of hostility connected to high profile cases. The demographics of the city make it easier for those on opposite poles to duke it out in public space. Fighting is what Durham does best. That’s not a bad thing, in fact the opposite if true. Durham is not one of those places where black people are reduced to hiding in the shadows out of fear of retaliation.
Nifong did what people in Durham have come to expect from those who pledge to protect the rights of all citizens. He stood before the world and stated what people needed to hear- that he would not be swayed by the power players. He would do something that is rare among elected officials. He was willing to believe the word of a black woman against that of white, privileged males at Duke.
That position caused him to speak too soon. He made statements that shouldn’t have been made by a person in his position. He is, we are told, appointed to be impartial until all the evidence has been placed on the table. By all accounts, Nifong took a stance against the lacrosse players before he had a chance to evaluate all the findings. Despite the public uproar that followed, this isn’t unusual. In fact, I’m willing to bet, this is more of the norm. The deviation is related more to the status of the key players than the handling of the case.
Nifong was amazingly complicit for speaking his position. The molding of cases has more to do with assumptions involving the reputations of those involved. This case proves that notion. In his estimation those boys were guilty of something. He made a calculated decision. In this matter he was willing to believe her versus taking the popular stance in support of the rich guys.
Nifong manipulated the evidence. He held information from the defense team. He violated normal protocol by conducting a line up that only included members of the lacrosse team. Nifong broke the law and misused his power as district attorney. That will not be disputed. At issue is the reason behind these violations. Is it because he wanted to be re-elected, or could it be he believed her and, once the truth unfolded, he was so caught up in what he believed that he couldn’t, in his mind, turn back?
What followed were a series of decisions intended to enhance the case against the lacrosse players. In moving forward it was imperative that the character of the dancer not be tarnished more than it had. This was a complicated task given the attack coming from the defense team and the role of the press. Photos were released and within days the name of the accuser was posted on blogs across the nation. With those photos were claims that dug at the validity of the accusation.
She’s a liar. She’s a thief. She’s a prostitute. She cheated on her first husband, has a history of mental illness, was kicked out of the military, claimed she was raped before, and was so drunk that night that she wasn’t able to stay on her feet to dance.
Despite the ruining of her standing, Nifong continued to believe her story. He fought to protect her declining valor. He decided not to provide the defense team with evidence related to the other men she had slept with. Four of them. Count them-four had sperm deposited within in on her body. That’s a lot for any woman to overcome. It wasn’t just the sperm of her boyfriend. There were three others, and none belonged to the rich boys who played lacrosse at Duke.
After receiving the DNA lab report he didn’t waver. For some reason, reasons that most can’t understand, he refused to drop the case. He pressed forward despite shaky evidence. He dismissed the protective eye of the national press and a well paid defense team. He didn’t care that the line up violated normal procedure, and that many within the community wanted his head on a silver platter.
He made a series of mistakes that led to those teary days in June before the bar panel. Most are left believing this is nothing more than a case of a man consumed with power. He wanted to win that election. He loved the icon status that came with the case. He thrived on keeping things going in an attempt to keep the big trucks with satellite access parked out front of the court house. Sadly, most miss the point of the demise of Mike Nifong. This is not a bad dude who lost his mind to get some attention. He made one glaring mistake-he believed the testimony of a poor, black, female that made her living taking off her clothes. He failed to play by the rules, and, in the end, he paid the price for protecting her right to have a day in court.
Nifong fulfilled his promise to those who feared money and power would win this battle. He promised to stand for the victim. His decision was framed within a context of extreme racial tension. He made a promise to the poor and powerless. He believed her story.
He wasn’t alone. Others believed her as well. They waited for the opportunity to hear the story of an exotic dancer. They wanted to see her face, to tell her they supported her. To remind her that she was not alone. Many of them are survivors of rape. For some strange reason, one that is hard to explain, they believe something strange happened in that house. There’s no evidence to prove it. There will be no day in court to hear her pain, to look her in the eyes and ponder what led Mike Nifong to take a chance on a case with no proof, a victim with a dubious history, and too many loopholes to plug in.
Mike Nifong believed the story. Others jumped to the same conclusions. The only difference is they can go to work today. Nifong has no job or license to practice. That’s what happens when you believe the story of a poor, black woman over against rich, white men.
Mike Nifong mailed in his license. In the end, he said what many have felt-this process was not a fair one. Money and power ruled the day. I hope this doesn’t teach those in the law profession the wrong lesson.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Start Snitchin

Street credibility is killing us. After watching CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s report for 60 Minutes, I’m convinced, more than ever, that many of the well paid Hip-Hop artists need to be taken to Big Mama’s house for a spanking.

The report exposed how “Stop snitchin” is a catchy hip-hop slogan that encourages the attitude that makes those who go to the police the bad guy. The slogan can be found in music videos, on T-shirts, Web sites, album covers and murals. The rule in the streets is never talk to the police.

As a result, police say witnesses are not coming forward and crimes are going unsolved. African Americans have a long history of disdain for the police. Regarded as the enemy of those in the inner city, police departments are forced to contend with the sad reality of the past. The rise and change of focus of the Black Panther Party was stirred by out of control police brutality in Oakland, CA. The movement spread to other urban centers due to the prevalence of police corruption.

In recent years, African Americans have witnessed a series of highly publicized examples that make it difficult to trust the police. Most notable is the Rodney King case and the underlying racial issues during the O.J. Simpson trail. “Stop snitchin” is, for those who promote it, an affirmation that the police are adversaries rather than positioned to protect African Americans living in inner city communities.

“Stop snitchin” is about communities witnessing corruption and a disparity in how crimes involving African Americans are handled versus those involving whites. This law of the streets is designed to bring balance to the system. It brings poise to an arrangement that, in the minds of many, keeps African Americans poor, incarcerated and lacking resources needed to alter their condition.
How bad is it? "People are walking around with shirts. People are going out making, making music. People are saying things that if you're a snitch it's like being an Uncle Tom was when I was growing up," says Geoffrey Canada, an anti-violence advocate, on 60 Minutes. "It's like you can't be a black person if you have a set of values that say, 'I will not watch crime happen in my community without getting involved to stop it."
Canada decided to speak out after Israel Ramirez, a student he had mentored and loved like a son, was shot to death outside a soundstage in Brooklyn. Ramirez was working as a bodyguard for the rap star Busta Rhymes, who was making a music video. Witnesses have confirmed that Ramirez was shot in front of Busta Rhymes.
New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly says there were at least 25 people who may have witnessed the shooting. But he says nobody has come forward to testify. "The people that we've located, either were inside and didn't see anything. Or you'll get a version of, 'I have to work in this business. Ask Busta Rhymes what happened,"'Commissioner Kelly said during the 60 Minute report.
Geoffrey Canada said he believes Busta Rhymes refuses to talk because he doesn’t want to jeopardize his “street cred”. To talk to the police would violate the law of the streets-“stop snitching”. "One of the things that sells music is when the artist is looked at as someone who's come up from the streets. Not just any streets, but the toughest, meanest streets of the urban ghetto. And that's called 'street credibility,'" Canada said during the broadcast.
Rap star Cam’ron got shot in both arms in 2005. The shooting occurred in front of members of Cam'ron's entourage, but to this day, neither they, nor he, have cooperated with police. Cooper asked him why. "Because with the type of business I'm in, it would definitely hurt my business. And the way that I was raised, I just don't do that. I was raised differently, not to tell."
"If I was shot, I would want to know who did it. I would want the guy to get caught," Cooper responded.
"But then again, you're not going to be on the stage tonight in the middle of, let's say, Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, with people with gold and platinum teeth and dreadlocks jumping up and down singing your songs either," Cam'ron snapped back. "You know what I'm saying? We're in two different lines of business."
"So for you it's really about business?" Cooper asks.
"It's about business but it's still also a code of ethics," Cam'ron replies.
Asked if he thinks there is any situation when it's okay to talk to the police, Cam'ron tells Cooper, "Yeah, definitely. Say 'Hello, how you feel, everything alright?' Period."
"That's it?" Cooper asks.
"There's nothing really to talk about with the police, I mean, for what?" Cam'ron says.
"If there's a serial killer living next door to you, though, and you know that person is, you know, killing people, would you be a snitch if you called police and told them?" Cooper asks Cam'ron.
"If I knew the serial killer was living next door to me?" Cam'ron asks. "No, I wouldn't call and tell anybody on him. But I'd probably move… But I'm not gonna call and be like, you know, 'The serial killer's in 4E.'"
That’s a steep price to pay for “street cred”. There was a time when people didn’t snitch because the police were the enemy. Cam’ron is promoting a code of ethic to promote his music. Cam’ron has taken on 50 Cent in a recent video viewed more than a million times on YouTube. He attacks 50 Cents “street cred” for being a “snitch” for allegedly cooperating with a police investigation.

Cooper met Victoria, Alex, Derrick, Darnell, and Tess through a church-based organization called Uth Turn. They’re 14 through 19 years old, and they told 60 Minutes the "stop snitchin'" code doesn’t just apply to rappers.
"A snitch is a tattletale, a rat, somebody who goes around telling other people business instead of minding they own," Alex tells Cooper.
Asked if he believes that, Alex says, "Yes."
Anybody who comes forward and talks to the police about something they witnessed, a murder or a crime, are they a snitch?" Cooper asks.
"Yes… It's a crime, remember, in our community, to snitch," says Tess.
Most of these kids had witnessed at least one violent crime but had not helped the police identify the culprits. Victoria saw someone get shot a few years ago; she says she was scared to talk to the police then, and she wouldn’t identify the shooter if the same thing happened today.
Asked why, Victoria says, "Because that's the rules."

It’s the rule! Is that what you say to the mother who just lost her son? It’s the rule! That’s what you say to the woman who has been raped? You look her in the face and say, “I know who did it but I can’t tell you because that’s the rule.”

The rule promotes the continuation of crime and violence in inner city communities. Those who live by it deny themselves the right to live void of the fear of crime. The criminal is honored more than being safe. That’s not a law, that’s insanity.

Making things even worse is how the slogan is promoted to give “street cred”. I suppose it’s easy to do that when you no longer have to live in the hood.; when your talent has provided you the resources to move on up to the East side.

Cooper asked Cam’ron an important question. "If your record label said to you, 'Look, we're not going to promote you, we're not going to distribute you if you keep calling Curtis Jackson a snitch.' Or you keep, writing about guns and selling drugs, would you stop?"
"No record company in the world would say 'We're not promoting if you keep calling somebody a snitch. They know what makes money," Cam'ron says. "A record company would never be that stupid. Ever.”

Go back to the plantation. Mr. Charley said you still a slave. We ain’t free.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Democratic Candidate Debate: Gay Rights Takes Center Stage

Here we go again. The hot topic during the most recent Democratic Presidential debate was gay rights. It’s safe to say that the concerns that led to the election of George Dub during the last Presidential election were those that forced people to deal with their deep seeded religious convictions. Namely, John Kerry’s seemingly liberal views on abortion and gay rights were too much for many Americans to deal with.

The recent debate proves that these presidential wanna be’s are grappling to find a way to say what most intelligent people are willing to acknowledge-that the constitution protects a persons right to have a relationship with whomever they wish. Given the assumption that part of living in a nation that safeguards the “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” of every person residing in America; it’s effortless to conclude that part of what that means is related to ones relationship.

The gay rights issue becomes convoluted when thrust within the political arena. What makes it problematic isn’t so much about law, but more about what it takes to get elected to the highest office in the land. In other words, sad to say, most Americans aren’t ready to embrace a president willing to hang out at a gay rally. Despite the progress made, far too many Americans are homophobic and unwilling to consider the underlying issues that have gays and lesbians pressing for equal rights.

At the root of this political diatribe is the bearing evangelical Christianity plays in molding a divisive agenda. There are two issues related to the amalgamation of public policy and religion. The first begs us to regard the significance of the warning embedded within the Constitution-the marriage of Church and State will ultimately lead to the refutation of other faith claims. America is, and has always been, a union of varied theological voices. This is the strength of any democratic society, and to impose a theological construct above others at the expense of a segment of society forces a rethinking of our melting pot dreams.

The Democratic presidential candidates ranted on their justification for opposing same-sex marriage. Senator Barrack Obama, who supports only civil unions, cited the need to “disentangle” the issue of legal rights for gay couples from what “has historically been the issue of the word marriage, which has religious connotations to some people.”

John Edwards cited his Christian faith as a reason for his opposition to same-sex marriage. He stressed that his campaign is “about equality across the board,” while admitting that his position on civil unions “stops short of real equality. It makes perfect sense to me that people would feel that way.”

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton said it was a mistake that she failed to do more to condemn the recent comments of a top military officer who said that homosexuality is immoral. Clinton angered gay supporters when she appeared to dodge questions about the remark.

The three front runners are functioning in a way reminiscent of the good ole boys in ole Dixie during the heat of the Civil Rights era The maligned of society must be sacrificed for political gain. Given the detestation toward gays felt by evangelical Christians and an overwhelming majority of African Americans, it’s best to do what they did in the old South, discount the agenda of the minority in favor of being elected.

By affirming their individual faith above the rights of the discarded, these candidates have proven their inability to stand above the political fray to protect the rights of those with a position that defers from that in the mainstream. What America needs is leadership enamored with doing the right thing, even when it may lead to being abandoned by the masses.

Now for issue number two. Not only does this issue beg for a deep conversation on what it means to promote a clear separation of Church and State, it also is screaming for the Church to engage in a critical rethinking of its long held position related to homosexuality.

In 2002, I wrote a column for the Herald-Sun (Durham, NC) challenging churches to deliberate on new ways to confront homosexuality. The solution I proposed was for faith communities to hold conversations with gays and lesbians who share the same faith claims. I informed my readers that gays and lesbians are attending their churches. Rather than deny their presence, why not have a chat around the issues they have, and, in the process, give those on the other side space to discuss how they feel about having gays and lesbians as part of their congregation.

This simple solution led to my termination from the church. Yes, there were other issues that caused the members to turn their back on the pastor who helped transform the church into one of the largest and most vital ministries in the city. With that being said, it’s safe to conclude that the prevalent concern was my desire to embrace gays and lesbians. More than my divorces (yes there were two). More than my dating before the divorce from my second wife was final. More than the ordaining of a single female who was pregnant. More than any of that, the congregation was incensed that I was willing to love, embrace and support gays and lesbians void of a demand that they change before entering those pearly gates.

What is the lesson? Leadership requires sacrifice. I’m looking for a president willing to lose it all for the sake of the higher good. The secret to change are leaders who stand above the common voice. I’m still looking.

This bunch has a lot to learn.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

756: Who Cheated Who

It’s over. Let the celebration begin. On Tuesday, August 7, 2007, Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run, making him the home run king of Major League Baseball. Problem is most people aren’t celebrating. The record, they say, is tainted by accusations of steroid usages that transformed Barry from an incredible player into superhuman.
The reports on ESPN after the game were each laced with comments about the S-word. They reported the surge in Bonds home run totals after he hooked up with the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) and allegedly started taking the “Clear”-a steroid so sophisticated that testers couldn’t pick it up.

Bonds critics point to the massive changes in his body as further evidence that he doped up to increase his home run stats. The headline for one of our local newspapers, The News & Observer, read “Bonds hits 756th homer, blurring record’s meaning.” The article read, “He (Bonds) took a swing at everything the record represented."

Yes, its true, a segment of America hates Bonds. The disdain is for numerous reasons. They hate his arrogance and the way he implies racism whenever things aren’t going his way. He’s no media darling. His teammates, at least some of them, say he’s aloof. All of that may be true.

Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams helped mold the negative public perception surrounding Bonds. Their book “Games and Shadows” went into the details of how Bonds used the “Clear” to improve his game. They threw in that Bonds cheated on his taxes and had an affair. The conclusion coming from the book is Bonds is a bad man. Don’t cheer for him when he passes Hank Aaron.

There’s a twist to this story that won’t get told due to the way the national media controls what we read. There is a serious divide in America related to the way we should view Bonds. Most black people don’t care about the allegations of steroid usage. Most contend that the statistics used by Major League Baseball to define greatness are nothing other than a reminder of how race played a role in measuring worth. If Bonds cheated, and many African Americans don’t believe he did, it doesn’t matter because those who played the game cheated for years.

The numbers are a reflection of the scandal of the game before Jackie Robinson entered the league in 1947. Before then, and even after, many of the greatest players of the game were prevented from showing their skills on the same playing field as white players. Willie Mays spent three years playing in the Negro League before getting a chance to play in the Major League. He played briefly with the Chattanooga Choo-Choos in Tennessee and the Birmingham Black Barons. Mays signed with the New York Giants in 1950, playing with their Class-B affiliate in Trenton, New Jersey. He began the 1951 season at AAA Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. After he hit .477 in 35 games, he was called up to the major leagues in May 1951.

Race cheated Mays out of a chance to break Babe Ruth’s record of 714 home runs. Mays missed breaking the record by 55 home runs. If given two of the four years of his prime spent in the Negro League and the minors he would have certainly broken the record. The argument against this is the longevity of his career. When Mays retired he was the oldest player in the league. Then there’s Josh Gibson.

By many accounts, Gibson is the greatest power hitter of them all. His Baseball Hall of Fame plaque says he hit “almost 800” home runs in his 17-year career. Some estimates have him hitting over 900. He hit 75 home runs in 1931. He hit 69 home runs in 1934. He batted .467 with 55 home runs in 137 games in 1933, and swatted 84 home runs in 1936. His lifetime batting average is said to be higher than .350, with some sources putting it as high as .384. Gibson did well against white major league players. According to the baseball historian John Holway, Gibson went 21 for 56 against white major league pitchers in all star games between the Negro League and Major League. Included in the group was Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean. The Negro League won more than its share of those games.

The Sporting News of June 3, 1967 credits Gibson with a home run in a Negro League game at Yankee Stadium that struck two feet from the top of the wall circling the center field bleachers, about 580 feet from home plate.

Barry Bonds mentioned Gibson when he broke the single season record. “No, in my heart it belongs to Josh Gibson,” he said in July 2003 referring to Gibson’s 84 homers in 1936. “Why doesn’t that count? Why don’t any of those statistics count..If Josh Gibson is the home run king, recognize it.”

That’s part of the burden of history. What do we do with all those consequences? The statistics don’t mean the same among those who refuse to honor their worth because they fail to acknowledge the role of those denied access. It’s like Mark Twain said, “There are lies, there are damn lies, and then there are statistics.”

The record was blurred long before Bonds stepped into a batters box. It has been distorted since January 1947. That’s when Josh Gibson died from a brain tumor at the age of 35. Two weeks later Jackie Robinson broke the color line in major league baseball. For those who saw Gibson play, they can only speculate about how great he would have been if race wasn’t used to cheat black people from their day of fame.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Mis-Education of the Negro: 2007 Style

Don’t get me wrong. I love John Hope Franklin. In fact, it was his work along with the late C. Eric Lincoln that led me to come to Durham to attend graduate school at Duke University. I’ll never forget the class I took at the University of Missouri that exposed me to his work. Arvil Strickland used his book From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans in his African American history class. Franklin wrote that classic book in 1947. That’s a long time ago.

Franklin is old. He was born on January 2, 1915, making him 92. You wouldn’t know it to see him walking around the city of Durham. The man is still teaching wherever he goes. Yes, I’m a big John Hope Franklin fan. That‘s why it hurts to bring an error printed about him to the attention of those who may have read it.

On Saturday, August 2, 2007, The News & Observer reported that Franklin is one of three winners of the 2007 Freedom Award, given by the National Civil Right Museum. No one should be shocked by that. Franklin received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995, the national highest civilian honor. Franklin has been appointed to serve on national commissions including the National Council of the Humanities, the President's Advisory Commission on Ambassadorial Appointments, and One America: The President's Initiative on Race. He is one of America’s who’s who. There are few who match his scholarship and community service.

With all of that being said, The News & Observer made a glaring mistake. The line read, “Franklin, an emeritus professor of history at Duke University, was the first African American accepted to Harvard University”. Opps. Someone should have taken Dr. Stricklands class at Mizzou. Someone should have read Dr. Franklins book. It’s sad that a man who has dedicated himself to teaching people African American history would be linked improperly to a part of that history.

Franklin was not the first African American to be accepted to Harvard. The truth is most people don’t know this little known fact in Black history. Yes, Franklin is old, but he isn’t old enough to have been the first to come out of Harvard. He’s not even the first to obtain a Ph.D. The answer to the first question-who was the first to be accepted-is a hard one to answer. The answer to the second-who was the first to obtain a Ph.D.-is one that all of you should know.

Let me answer the easy one first. W.E.B. Du Bois received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1895. Franklin completed his work in 1941-46 years after Du Bois. That’s significant in that it brings attention to the amazing mind and contribution of Du Bois. Imagine what it must have taken for him to complete his work at Harvard in the midst of reconstruction. Du Bois received a bachelor’s degree from Harvard cum laude in 1890 after Harvard refused to acknowledge the bachelor’s degree he earned from Fisk University in 1888.

There’s an interesting connection between Franklin and Du Bois. The 1950’s were hard times for Du Bois. He was indicted in the United States under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. He was acquitted for lack of evidence. During that period, Franklin spoke out in defense of Du Bois, not for his reputed communism, but of the right of an intellectual to express ideas that were not popular.

The answer to the second question isn’t as easy. Richard Greener graduated from Harvard in 1870, making him the first African American to do so

Greener went on to earn a law degree and joined the faculty of Howard University Law School in 1877. Two years later he was appointed the school’s dean. He left Howard in 1881 to open a private practice and soon became known for defending victims of injustice and discrimination.

While in Washington, Greener became involved in national affairs. His friendship with Booker T. Washington pitted him against-guess who- W.E. B. Du Bois. Washington advocated training African American men for practical work in trades, while Du Bois embraced higher education, agitation and protest as a mean to obtaining racial equality. The African American leadership was split into factions over these views.

Greener became a spy for his friend Washington, attending meetings of the Niagara Movement, organized by Du Bois in 1905, and reporting back to Washington. When this was discovered, Greener found that both sides mistrusted and rejected him. Struggling to find a role in the movement, he retired to Chicago where he died alone in 1922.

Greener’s story is begging to be made into a motion picture. His wife left him in the 1890s and took their children to live in Princeton, NJ. Light-skinned and green-eyed, Mrs. Greener dropped the final “r” in the family name and her and the children began to pass as white.

Greener’s daughter, Belle da Costa Greene, was recognized as one of the most powerful women in the New York art and book world. In 1906, she was employed by J.P. Morgan to organize his collection of world famous rare books and manuscripts and later ran his museum and library.

J.P. Morgan left her $50,000 in his will, which at that time was a significant sum, reportedly $800,000 in modern money. Asked if she was Morgan's mistress, she is said to have replied, "We tried!"

That’s a lot of African American history that we fail to talk about. Sadly, many find it hard to believe there were African Americans smart enough to graduate from Harvard before the end of the 1800’s. Not true. The social scene is filled with wonderful connections- Franklin and Du Bos, Greener and Du Bois. It’s also interesting to note how African Americans struggled over the issue of race. For Greener it meant being rejected by his own people out of his desire to stand by his close friend. For his wife (they never divorced) and children it was about making a decision to pass for white.

So much African American history left to be told. It’s hard to get there when you don’t know the answer to the questions-who was the first to…..

Friday, August 3, 2007

When Women Think Like Men

I’m certain that the disgust I felt could be seen in my facial expressions. After years of attempting to find a way to enter into a meaningful, mutually beneficial and committed relationship, I had come to the conclusion that maybe it wasn’t out there for me. That isn’t anything new. One of the primary themes in my novels Preacha’ Man and the sequel Backslide are the struggles facing single men in ministry who are searching for love.
I’ve come to regard my grapples as a man in ministry as more universal in nature. Hate to say it, but finding love these days has been complicated by a new set of dynamics that have fractured the state of romance in a way that has me aching from head to toe. It was much easier for me to deal with it all when I assumed the problem was with my matching set of bags. It is tough admitting that your problems with women are related to your problems with yourself. As arduous as that may be to declare; it’s easier to tackle things when the only thing standing in the way of you and authentic love is you.
Getting my locs maintained at a salon typically filled with women exposes one to insight beyond what I gather during my trips to the barber shop to get my shave. In other words, the sisters have a different twist. That twist on the state of love had me gasping for a way to find hope beyond what has become, for me, a bitter battle to find the real deal.
What is it? Get this. Women have turned into men. They have found a way to justify their manly ways by using the adage, “since men do it, its okay for us to do the same.” What does a man say to that? You could affirm a woman’s right to function under the same rules as men. You could recognize that the liberating thing to do is to recognize that you agree with their notion that true liberation demands that they be allowed a space to act like men have for ages.
The womanist thinker in me wants to say amen to that. I’m tempted to stand on the side of women and applaud them for breaking free from the crutches of patriarchy. I want to stand by their side and advocate for their privilege to treat men in the way men have historically regarded women. Yes, I want to scream, this is proof that women have finally overcome! Go for it sisters! Treat us in the way we have treated you. Lie to us! Cheat on us! Play games with our heads! Manipulate us for your personal gratification! Go find a young man. Drop the one you’re with for a young, sexy, arm piece. Be the one that proves women can act like men. That makes everything right!
Gasp! Is that what we’ve become? Is the goal of liberation to create a culture were the rules of the oppressor can be exercised by those once oppressed? Is this the way women become free-by becoming more like men? I think not.
I’ve listened as women speak with pride about the show “I Love New York”. The show has taken a reject from Flavor Flav’s “Flavor of Love” and created a version for the sisters. Women are inspired that the games used to degrade women can be used to demote men. If it’s good enough for the brothers, it’s good enough for the sisters. This proves we’re like you, and, as a consequence, you get a chance to see how it feels to be treated like an object rather than a person.
What a sad indictment on the state of affairs between men and women. Wouldn’t it be better to get men to see how their ways have harmed women and men grow beyond the assumptions of patriarchy rather than molding women to use the rules of patriarchy to their own advantage?
Things get worse when the oppressed become the oppressor. When that happens there’s no movement in the direction of bona fide reconciliation. All that reading on womanist and feminist thought has led to this- bend over and take your spanking. Since you’re a man let us treat you like a bitch.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

No Keys for Hip-Hop Please

When a person prefaces their comments with a word of clarification, be very careful. That person may be attempting to sale you swamp land. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the books- before you say what you mean; tell them what you don’t mean by what you say.
So, let me preface by saying I’m on record as a critic of Hip-Hop and what it has created among today’s youth. I’m fed up with this bootylecious generation that’s more enamored with bling-bling than the pursuit of a quality education. I’m saddened at how the hard work and sacrifices of grandma and grandpa have been thrown out the window in favor of shaking that groove thang to a two quarter (a.k.a. 50 Cent) beat.
Now comes the tricky part. The political leaders in my fine city are out of touch with what’s happening in the world of Hip-Hop. There is some good in Hip-Hop just as there is some bad in R&B, Jazz, Country and Western and Classical music. There are bad apples in every batch of good just as there are some amazing examples of good character among the apples that have worms in them.
Bill Bell, the Mayor of Durham, North Carolina, has been offered the chance to present a key to the city to-drum roll please-Ludacris. It appears that he may jump on the Bill O’Reilly bandwagon by discrediting Luda’s worth as a contributor to making the world a better place. A few years back O’Reilly pushed Pepsi to remove the Atlanta based Hip-Hopster as a spokesperson. In this age of playa hating on everything that looks and acts like a thug, the beverage makers jumped.
Brother Luda has gone through an impressive metamorphous since his big hit anthem “Shake Your Money Maker”. It seems that playing the role of a self-absorbed rapper in the movie “Hustle & Flow” began a journey down the proverbial straight and narrow. One has to wonder if that scene where he has his clock rocked in the bathroom by Terrance Howard made him question his own rise to stardom. One can only speculate about what goes on inside a persons head. One thing is clear; Ludacris has become an example of the emerging face of Hip-Hop.
It started with his new clean cut look. Part of the point Ludacris is making is the need to be careful not to judge a man by his hairstyle. Remember his comments at the Grammy’s? “I guess I had to cut my hair to get one of these.” He went on to talk about his hit song “Runaway Love.” “This proves that not everything in Hip-Hop is bad.” So true. Critics like Durham’s City Council member Thomas Stith could care less. John McCann, columnist for the Durham Herald-Sun, got a feel for how the Republican candidate for Mayor feels about Ludacris. “As a father of three daughters, I’m really concerned about the lyrics, and in particular how women are portrayed.
Stith is referring to the proposal to present Ludacris with a key to the city. Bill Bell, the current Mayor, is engaged in a heated contest with Stith, a current member of the City Council. The two have already butted heads on a variety of issues ranging from incentives for business development to ways to tackle gangs and crime.
The request to give a key to Ludacris could fuel a controversy that would stir public opinion in the direction of Stith if Bell would decide to grant the wishes of the promoters of an event that will have Ludacris as a guest. These aren’t keys to a Chevy. These keys symbolize the community’s acknowledgment of the significance of ones contribution in promoting all that is good. It’s hard to imagine that you can do that while shaking your money maker.
That’s were things get tricky. Ludacris is not your average Hip-Hop artist. He has committed himself to improving young people. He is using his music to inspire youth to reach for the best. I went to the website of his foundations and was a bit shocked at what I learned.
His foundation funds a number of projects. Stand Up 101: “Stand Up Initiative” is “dedicated to lifting the spirits of youth with disabilities. Our goal is to assist individuals in achieving active and productive lives by working with hospitals and other non-profit organizations by providing music, gifts, outings and surprise visits.” That one brought a few tears to my eyes.
Then there’s Hip-Hop 101: "Hip-Hop Culture" The website reads "this course explores the culture of hip-hop from the beginning to the present, and its impact on the world. The program incorporates music, art and dance in an educational curriculum. Successful individuals in the hip-hop community speak to the class on various contributions they have made to the culture. Students, parents and educators are enthusiastic about the program. Our pilot program was located at Southside High School in Atlanta, Georgia. Surveys taken at the school showed that the program increased student attendance, and improved research and communication skills. In addition the program increase parental involvement in student course work and promoted dialogue between students and parents.” Sounds like the program based out of Duke University headed by my good friend J-Bully and the one at North Carolina Central University taught by my friend Christopher “Play” Martin and 9th Wonder. There are lessons to be learned from Hip-Hop. There’s more.
Goals 101: "Goal Setting Program" The website reads “This program represents one of the foundation's Principles of Success. This program contains a financial literacy component and is design to help youth understand needs vs. wants, budgeting and strategies to reach financial goals. The program partners with local community organizations to reward youth for setting and achieving their goals. Program materials include Financial Literacy and activities for youth to take home and engage their parents in the fun and learning.” Sounds like some of what the City Council funds in Durham, NC.
Luda 101: "Luda Cares" “During the holidays, The Ludacris Foundation focuses on underprivileged youth and families in housing communities around the country. Luda Cares supports community events, hospitals and other outreach programs. Toys, food and clothing are provided to children and their families. This program was launched in the Atlanta neighborhoods of the Bankhead Community, Herndon and Hollywood Homes.”
And then there’s Lifestyle 101: "Healthy Lifestyle" “The program provides youth, ages 8-14, with the opportunity to learn healthy eating habits in a fun environment. Kids receive simple instructions on how to prepare healthy meals at home. The Healthy Lifestyle program involves youth focusing on their own health and ultimately their own future. The program offers encouragement for improving eating habits and reducing obesity. Youth will participate in cooking a healthy meal while learning more about healthy eating habits and lifestyle changes. They will also learn about the importance of physical activity in their daily lives. Community centers and Boys and Girls Clubs in 10 cities have been selected to have the program hosted there. In line with The Ludacris Foundation's 7th Principle of Success: Physical Activity- we believe proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle should be a way of life. A celebrity chef provides youth with the opportunity to work one on one with professional chefs and create foods that are healthy and delicious while learning more about food preparation, ingredients and etiquette. Kids also participate in a rap session at the end of each event to discuss everyday issues they face. Program materials include healthy living guides and activities for youth to take home and engage their parents in the fun and learning.”
Sounds like Luda has a lot going on down in Atlanta. This leads to a difficult question. When does the good that a person does outweigh the bad we assume due to the methodology used by that person? It goes even deeper than that. At what point do we embrace those who seek to make a difference while we suffer with the assumptions we make due to our cultural differences.
These are tough questions when faced with raising three daughters. I suppose we need to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath water. Luda may be calling for us to shake our money makers, but didn’t James Brown tell us to “get on the scene like a sex machine?”