Friday, December 18, 2009

They Cared About Me

“I really like my new principal,” one of the students at Hillside said. “He really cares about us.” He sat and recounted the story told during a meeting with the students. The student talked about not being able to keep the tears away.

Hans Lassiter shared the story of a student caught stealing food from the cafeteria. “She was taking food to feed her mother and brothers and sisters,” the student continued. “He told us it was okay. They made sure the family had food.” Now I had to fight back my own tears. The story reminded me of the days when schools did more than prepare students for the big test at the end of the year. It’s hard to focus on academics when a person has no food at home.

Then my mentee got to the root of the matter. “He told us we shouldn’t have to pay for lunch,” I considered the students plight. His mother struggles to pay the $5 per day per child to eat at school. That’s $50 per week. That’s $200 per month. “He told us he wants to change the rules so we can eat for free.” What matters isn’t that Lassiter can move to make that change. What matters is that he cares enough to try.

The words of the student echoed after I heard them-he cares about us. Isn’t that all anyone really needs? Doesn’t it make a difference when students know they’re cared about? I had to pause to reflect after that story. It took me back to High School in Columbia, Missouri. There was a moment there that changed my life. I knew I was cared about.

It came after the death of my sister. Her death crippled me. I could not study. It was hard for me to find the strength to go to school. My grades dropped. My parents were unable to help me due to their own pain. Drugs entered the picture. First it was marijuana, then pills, then cocaine and then shots of heron. I became addicted. I entered a world removed from the pain of my baby sister’s death.

Mr. Battle, the counselor at the school, showed up at my house after I missed a week in school. He knocked on the door when I was high after taking a hit of weed. He told me to get dressed. He cared about me. A few days later, I sat to take a test. My body trembled. There was too much pain left. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t write. I signed my name, ran to the nearest bathroom and cried. I cried until the end of the class period. I ran from the bathroom and existed the building. I sat on the bleachers where fans cheered while I ran around the track. I wept until the end of the day. I couldn’t move.

The next day the teacher asked me to stay after class. She waited for everyone to leave. She looked down the hallway as the students departed. Then, she locked the door. She took a chair and placed it in front of mine. She looked at me-silent. I began to tremble. There was something about the look in her eyes. I looked for my rebuke. I did not see it there. I felt compassion.

“My husband died from cancer earlier this year,” she told me. “When it happened I could not function. I know about your sister’s death. I will not let you fail.”

She took the test from the day before and placed it before me. I had prepared myself for my F. Instead, there was an A marked in bold red that covered the page. She said it again, “I will not let you fail.” Those words rung inside my head. She cared about me. I could only cry as she held me. She cared about me.

There are countless others that cared about me-Coach Fred gave me a place to stay when I had no place to go. My American History teachers loved me through the pain. I was surrounded by teachers and administrators who refused to let me fail. They loved me too much for that to happen. They cared about me.

So, Mr. Lassiter and the good folks over at Hillside, thanks for holding the torch long forgotten. Thanks for reminding us of the pain that comes to school each day. Sometimes they lack the strength to learn. They are more than numbers measured at the end of the year. They are people working through the madness.

If it hadn’t been for people like you, I would not be here today. Thanks for the memory.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Time to Make That Change?: Durham Committee Election Tonight

Tonight’s the big night. Black residents of Durham will gather at the White Rock Baptist Church to vote on the next chair of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. It’s the most anticipated election since Ken Spaulding defeated Pete Allison. Spaulding promised change and a more youthful Durham Committee. Allison’s wife, Lavonia, has led the organization for the past 12 years.

Those on the outside regard the Durham Committee as a mere shadow of its former self. Melvin Whitley has promised to move the Durham Committee past its divisive ways. The group is plagued with internal battles that have become the subject of a public conversation related to impact the group has in making a difference. The internal mess is marred even more by a public perception that has many ashamed to call themselves members.

Most outsiders agree there is a need for change. The Durham Committee maintains a system of exclusion that spits in the face of the advances made due to the work of the group. The time has long passed for the Durham Committee to consider a broader agenda-one not limited to the color of one’s skin, and one that isn’t rooted in a culture of classism.

Under Allison’s leadership, the Durham Committee has remained stuck in a time long gone. Allison and her supporters continue to function under the presupposition that “The Man” is out to get us and that the best way to make change is to embark on an agenda that pits us versus them. Sadly, the Durham Committee failed to embrace the Barack Obama magic of the past election. They failed to mobilize people to support the platform of America’s first black President. How sad it is that the Durham Committee continues to function as if the nation hasn’t taken a major shift!

Allison is out of touch with the world in which most of us live. She refuses to talk to the press. Help me understand how one can be effective as a leader of a major organization while refusing to utilize the most powerful tool at your disposal. She has minimized the influence of the Durham Committee to the few who continue to attend meetings. Those on the outside who care aren’t privy to what happens at those meetings. They only need the rest of the black folks when an election comes around.

It’s offensive to be approached with a slate of candidates endorsed by a group that has failed to reach out to voters. The organization has no website, no communicated agenda, policies that are changed to fit the purposes of those in charge and a reputation that screams for change. Is Allison to blame for all of this? That may be overstating the truth. Allison represents an age of black leadership that has faded with time. She has served Durham well, and she did so within an historical context that demanded her style of leadership.

Time has changed. Most of us no longer desire an approach that limits based on race. Youth aren’t beholden to the barriers of race. As much as I love the color of my skin and the history of my people, I refuse to continue to exist within a world that forces people to stay locked in the bounds of race. Most of us are sick of having to answer that question that continues to divide-it’s not enough to be black in Durham, at issue is whether you are black enough.

Does being black mean you have to fight every white politician just because they’re white? Does being black mean you can’t write about black people because it divides the race? Does being black mean you support projects proposed by black people when there is enough evidence to prove they lack the ability to follow through? Who qualifies blackness?

Allison has stood on wobbly terrain for a long time. The slippery slope is all those assumptions made-that her way of functioning is the only way, that she has the right to determine authentic blackness, that the work of the Durham Committee is the work Durham’s black community. Sorry folks. The power of one’s voice should never be circumvented by the mandates of a few. We have fought too hard to step back into the world of fear.

Tonight is the big election. Some think its Allison versus Whitley. It’s more important than that. This is about views surrounding the state of Durham’s black community. Is it time to move forward, or will the masses decide to stay locked in the days of Bull Conner and hooded white dudes holding confederate flags.

It’s time to stop whistling Dixie.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Letter from Melvin Whitley




Note: This is a letter I just received from Melvin Whitley regarding the elction for the Chair of the Durham Committtee on the Affairs on Black People.

I am Reverend Melvin Whitley, Candidate for Chairman of the Durham Committee for the Affairs of Black People. I ask that you cast your vote for me at The Durham Committee meeting on December 10th.

A vote for Melvin Whitley is a vote that will move The Durham Committee forward into a new day—to operate in a new way. Let’s put the past behind us.

I am ready to serve and lead The Durham Committee forward to be the organization that addresses the needs of the people it represents. I am ready to welcome everyone that love Durham and is willing to use their skills to empower the African American community. The African American community has a wealth of untapped Black talent. I am ready to ask our brightest to serve on a committee of interest. I am ready to lead an organization that seeks solutions and avoids alienation. I am ready to lead an organization that encourages community participation and utilizes the skills and interests of it members.

“I am here, and I am ready to serve.”If I am elected Chairman of The Durham Committee, it will not continue its “business as usual”:
ü I will work with the membership to set attainable goals for the organization and evaluate our progress every six months. You will tell us how well we’re doing.
ü I will work with the membership to implement standard operating procedures that are consistent with the constitution and bylaws of organization.
o I will ensure that agendas are available for review prior to Committee meetings.
o I will ensure that minutes of meeting are available to our membership.
o I will ensure that treasury reports are presented at Committee meetings.
ü I will work with the membership to create a public presence of The Durham Committee that is open and responsive to issues affecting our community.
ü I will work with the membership to utilize communication tools like websites and social marketing sites to engage the public.

Under my administration as Chairman the organization will set out to accomplish three goals.
It is important that the Committee generate annual revenue to supports a base budget for planning and operations. I support membership dues.
Consistent with utilizing communication tools we must build a database that extends our communication reach in communities we serve with efficiency and effectiveness.
The Durham Committee will reinvest in its future by training the people we serve. We will invest in the future of our organization by sponsoring training programs that implement our mission and service. For example sponsoring training sessions in community organizing, fundraising, and campaign training.
“I am here, and I am ready to serve.” I have worked in 42 political campaigns over 44 years, winning 36 of them. I know how to win. When my Country called for me in the 60’s to serve in Vietnam “I said here I am”.

When the people of Virginia in the 70”s asked me for help in building coalition to successfully reduced utility increases and eliminated of taxes on food and prescription drugs, “I said here I am” and we won.

When Governor Hunt decided in the 80”s to close Dorothea Dix Hospital the employee began to organize. This decision would have put 1,300 state employees out of work. They asked me to serve as chairperson for the Save Dix Committee, “I said here I am” and we won.

When people in the 90”s asked me to implement Neighborhood Safety Initiatives in Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte, “I said here I am”.

In just one year I organized a state- wide campaign for the passage of the Safe Storage of Hand Guns Bill, which was made law in 1993. “We won”

When people in East Durham wanted organize a coalition to help politicians understand that the appearance of our neighborhoods impact crime, “I said here I am” and we won.

When Joe Bower, Chair of the NAACP, wanted me to build a coalition to work on reducing plea-bargains in violent gun –related crimes, “I said here I am” and we won.

When Joe Bower, Chair of the NAACP, ask me to help get an in-parent drug treatment faculty “I said here I am” and we won. It took years and now we have it.

When East Durham wanted the City to closed down all of the Strip Clubs in East Durham, “I said here I am” and we won.

When asked to help pass an enactment of a Housing Impact Policy that would restrict developers from building more subsidized rental housing in poor neighborhoods, “I said here I am” and we won.
When asked to help pass enactment of a housing impact policy that would restrict developers from building more subsidized rental housing in poor neighborhoods, “I said here I am” and we won.

When my neighborhood had a boarded up school, but needed a Recreation Center they asked me to engage local Government to develop The Holton School. Upon its completion the 17.9 million dollar school project was renamed Holton Career and Resource Center. “I said here I am” and we won.

The Question is will you vote to maintain the status quo and keep the Durham Committee the same, or will you vote for a new way to operate.

At no time did I ask what’s in it for me. This work has nothing to do with my employment. I’m un-owned, and un-bossed. No one asked me what I did when I was young. They did not ask me who my white Democratic friends are. They asked me for help, and “I said here I am”.



ü Vote Yes for Rev. Melvin Whitley on Thursday night, December 10th, 2009, at 7:00 PM, White Rock Baptist Church

* Eligible voters must of African American decent, must live in Durham County, and be present to vote.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Melvin Whitley: Flash Forward

Note: This post was first published in the Durham News section of the News & Observer

Melvin Whitley was a minister at the church I pastor. I remember the first time I heard him preach. He stood broken. He shared being out of control. The flashbacks kept coming. The memories of Vietnam stayed locked in his head.

From the pile of ashes that once stood as a souvenir of days gone bad, Whitley is positioned to lead the influential Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. Thursday's election at White Rock Baptist Church could bring an end to the 12-year tenure of Lavonia Allison.

This election is the classic battle between old money, pedigree and education, and dirt poor, homeless and addicted. Whitley has been called quick-tempered. Some question his motives. Others point to his criminal record. "I can't work with him because he refuses to listen," a member of the political arm of the Durham Committee told me. That person recounted a frenzied altercation between Whitley and Allison at a Durham Committee meeting.

Conversations surrounding Whitley have more to do with his past than his achievements as a grassroots organizer. People want to know more about that indecent exposure charge back in 2005 and the 18 assault charges filed against him.

"I was the first man in America to get arrested for using the bathroom," he told me. It happened during an NAACP executive board meeting at the North Carolina Mutual Building. A female custodian was mopping the floor. According to Whitley, she asked him not to use the bathroom. She went to the supervisor, who fired her for making the complaint against Whitley.
"After she was fired, she called and asked me for money. I wouldn't do it," Whitley said. The woman filed charges against Whitley. The case was thrown out of court before he faced a judge.

It reminded Whitley of days before the change. "Sixteen years ago I went from having dinner with the governor to being on the soup line," Whitley said. One day he sold his shoes for a hit. It started to snow.

"I lived in boarded-up houses. One day I saw this house people had moved out of that day thinking I could find something to sell not to get shoes but to get another hit. In there was a hymn book. I got out the hymn book and started singing 'Jesus keep me near the cross'."

The next day, Whitley began his journey to recovery. "I went in the prayer room at the rescue mission in Raleigh to cuss God out about my wife dying, Vietnam, being homeless and attempting suicide," Whitley said. "Right then I said to God if you don't let me die, then you would have to fix it."

Whitley says he was arrested 18 times on assault charges dating back 30 years. He called himself a moral thug. He would attack drug dealers who failed to show up in court. He says his rage was connected to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. "I hated white people to the point I wouldn't wear a white T-shirt or underwear," he said.

I asked him the biggest difference between him and Allison. "I'm capable of saying I made a mistake, and I'm willing to forgive people," he said. He talked about his shortcomings and how he listens to his critics. If it fits, he puts it on; if it doesn't, he takes it off.

His goals for the Durham Committee are simple: bring back trust into the Durham Committee, bring people back to the table, to create goals that are measurable, to evaluate leadership every six months, identify future leaders and to establish a membership fee.

From that day at Compassion Ministries Whitley stands on the brink of leading the Durham Committee. It's funny how a story of change can be celebrated in some places and used to hinder in others. Those of us who have been addicted understand what it means to endure change. It's hard to talk about the passion that inspires one to make a difference. "I left people on the streets who are still there," Whitley said. "We need to go back and help them."

Count me in, Melvin. Let's go get them.

Letters From Murphy and Watts Regarding the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People

Note: Posted below are two letters. The first is written by Lois Murphy, a supporter of Lavonia Allison in the upcoming election for chair of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. The second letter comes from Chuck Watts. Parts of both letters were recently quoted in my blog. Many have requested to view the letters in their entirety. Enjoy


Lois Murphy's Letter to members of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People
Dear Members,

Melvin Whitley has announced he is running against Dr. Allison for the chair position of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People (Committee) this year. Allow me to emphatically inform you that for years Melvin has been working with Katie Munger, who wrote an e-mail several years ago vowing to dismantle the Committee. Melvin has no interest in the mission of our Committee and only wants to chair it so he can usher in the demise of our organization, which has been in the works since its inception in 1935.

Certainly, I do not deny change is needed; however, change fueled by lust for power, vengeance, and with the intent of dismantling the Committee is not the answer. There is not a one of us who has not at one time or another been disenfranchised with the Committee’s leadership. However, one thing that we must not ignore is that Dr. Allison has a long standing record of protecting the mission of the Committee. She regularly attends meetings to voice concerns about the conditions of our people, and she is black and bold enough to publicly divulge racist discriminatory practices, which stifles the advancement of blacks in Durham.

Melvin along with others (Bill Bell, Cora Cole McFadden, Howard Clement – just to name a few) within the organization were instrumental in unseating Joe Bowser several years ago. Therefore, Bowser supporters, a vote for Melvin is a vote against Joe. Thelma White is unseating Dr. Allison really worth it since for sure if Melvin became chair, Joe and those of like mind would never be endorsed by the Committee.

Therefore, we must not allow the Committee to fall into the hands of those who want to dismantle our organization, not willing to equally share power and resources, as well as continue the Jim Crow mentality. Katie Munger, the People Alliance, and Melvin Whitley desire to see the only independent organization for blacks destroyed because they cannot control it or our leaders. We must lay aside our personal difference to protect this organization from them, as well as those among us who seek to destroy this Committee for their own self serving interest.

Dr. Allison needs our support in this battle to protect the mission of the Committee. Thus, NOW is definitely not the time for infighting. Do not destroy our organization and allow it to be controlled by Katie Munger and the People Alliance through self-proclaimed minister, Melvin. Give Dr. Allison your VOTE at the 7 pm, December 10 meeting instead of Katie Munger, the People Alliance, and their agent of destruction Melvin Whitley. The meeting will be held at White Rock.

By the way self proclaimed minister Melvin, is it true you served time for assaulting a women and been arrested for indecent exposure? If so, your manhood and commitment to God is questionable, as well as your mental capacity. Whatever happened to the Durham Voter Coalition? Why are you not chair of that organization or seeking to be chair of the People’s Alliance?

In addition, the great Reverend Wannabe Chair of the Committee Melvin Whitley is no more than an agent for those who want to dismantle our community. His appearance of representing our community is for self serving purposes ONLY!

Sincerely,

Lois Murphy

Chuck Watt's Letter to Members of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People

Lois,

I am, frankly, not sure how I got on a mailing list to receive this broad side attack on Rev. Whitley, but since you included me, let me respond with my thoughts about the issues that you raise.

First, let me say that Dr. Allison's history of commitment to the Committee is unquestioned and really cannot be challenged by any knowledgeable person.

Second, I think it needs to be acknowledged that Dr. Allison's truly historic commitment is just not relevant to any question regarding future leadership of the Committee. The past is the past and any functioning organization needs to be focused exclusively on its future when selecting a leader. Black folks in Durham owe her a lot but they do not owe her the Chair of the Committee.

Third, you make a lot of charges against Rev Whitley that, in my view, are also irrelevant, of course everyone will have to make their own judgement about that. However, political in fighting can result in strange bedfellows from time to time but in politics there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. I would caution you against reaching the conclusions that you have about Rev. Whitley and would advise that you raise your attacks as questions for him and ask him to provide a response. You can then more fairly reach a conclusion about his intentions and alliances.

Finally, I feel that I have to say something about one of your charges. You claim that Melvin's purpose in running for Chair of the Committee is to destroy it. I feel compelled to say that it has been under Dr. Allison's leadership that the Committee has reached its current level of low regard and low participation. In my lifetime, I cannot recall a time when the Committee has been at such a low level and has become all but irrelevant to matters of significance to black folks in Durham. You essentially acknowledge that fact in your comments, as has every person with whom I have had private conversation about the state of the Committee over the last few years. I will say it maybe more clearly than you have, IT IS TIME FOR A CHANGE IN LEADERSHIP AT THE DURHAM COMMITTEE. The destruction of the Committee is more likely to occur from a continuation of the current leadership than it is from almost any change in leadership.

I applaud Rev. Whitley for putting his name out there. The sort of personal attack that you have provided is what, I am sure, he expected and yet he was willing to stand up to these sorts of assaults.

Due to the bizzare rules that have been put in place to give the Chair control over voting, I am sure that I will not be allowed to vote in the selection of a new Chair. However, I do recall when Dr. Allison ran against Judge Johnson for her first term as chair there were huge numbers of Committee members energized and voting. That will not be the case this time. This change is but one piece of evidence of the declining state of the Committee & it's relevance to the lives of Black folks in Durham.

Peace,

Chuck Watts.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Durham Committee Election:Allison Vs. Whitley


It’s time for the biggest election of the year. On December 10th, there will be a vote to determine the next leader of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. It will pit long time Chairwoman Lavonia Allison against grassroots organizer Melvin Whitley. Make no mistakes about it. This has become personal.

Responses to my previous blogs have made two things clear. To begin, even those within the historically powerful organization weren’t clear regarding who could and couldn’t vote. “Although I can appreciate your opinion as an outsider looking in; I think that if you would like to post the voting procedure that you should get it correct. You have to attend more than 2 meetings per year,” wrote Joy Morgan, a member the Durham Committee’s political committee. “The prerequisite is that you attend 2 meetings per quarter and 1 political committee meeting per quarter.”

It was Morgan’s way of taking a stab at those who haven’t attended meeting. Her contention is that folks need to be a part of the process, and, if you’re not, keep your mouth shut. Excuse me for speaking out of turn. Later it was determined Morgan’s inside information was wrong. According to the groups constitution all that is needed is that a person be black and live in Durham to vote.

The truth was exposed after former city council candidate Darius Little went hunting for the truth. It turns out the Durham Committee had agreed to alter the rules related to eligibility to vote in the 2007 Durham Committee officers election.

It took loads of investigation to uncover the truth, and when I spoke with one of those insiders regarding eligibility requirements, I got a rude awakening. “I knew the truth but didn’t want to tell you because I was scared you would show up and vote for Melvin Whitley.” Now that’s taking things too far. Is it possible that members within the Durham Committee are keeping those rules to themselves in order to dissuade people from voting? That’s deep. I felt like a Negro in the late fifties unable to vote after failing the poll test.

The comments on my blog speak to a deeper issue-the lack of unity within the Durham Committee. “How can change be created, when people who express wanting change, sit on the sidelines screaming at the participants; yet without joining-in and adding fresh perspective,” Darius Little wrote. “I've heard Dr. Allison talk hot trash about Joy (Morgan), but Joy comes and makes her presence felt, no matter what others may think.”

The remarks kept coming. “Darius if you have a shortcoming as a young man, it is always wanting to be nice to everyone,” Idontcare wrote. “People like Joy (Morgan) and Jackie (Wagstaff) aren’t your friends. That is why I voted for Howard over you in the committee.”
From there the writer took stabs at Morgan. “Joy has only come to the committee the past 2 months, after being gone for years and she is more obnoxious now than she was before. Joy can’t vote herself, but is here giving advice. Joy needs to shut the hell up, sit down and not worry about everyone else. Joy should use her energy looking for a damn job, instead of talking about and then asking those same elected officials for help getting a job.”

I marveled at the low blows. I wondered about the sanity of the person attacking Morgan. I was prepared to jump to her defense when she came out swinging. “Thank you for your concern idontcare; it seems as if you do care, but please know that I am fine,” Morgan wrote. “Also, if trying to help make a difference is obnoxious, then I'll be obnoxious all day everyday. You should try it sometimes, maybe it will help you ease your negativity and childlike behavior.” Dang girl.

The torrent of blog post is frail in contrast to the myriad of emails circulating. Lois Murphy, a passionate backer of Joe Bowser and active Durham Committee member, submitted a letter championing the candidacy of Allison. She argued a vote for Whitley is a vote against Bowser and will lead to the dismantling of the Durham Committee.

Then it gets personal. “By the way self proclaimed minister Melvin, is it true you served time for assaulting a women and been arrested for indecent exposure? If so, your manhood and commitment to God is questionable, as well as your mental capacity,” Murphy wrote.

Chuck Watts came to Whitley’s defense. “I feel compelled to say that it has been under Dr. Allison's leadership that the Committee has reached its current level of low regard and low participation,” Watts wrote. “In my lifetime, I cannot recall a time when the Committee has been at such a low level and has become all but irrelevant to matters of significance to black folks in Durham.” Get the point? Things are out of control.

The big election is on next week. Sadly, many are still under the impression they can’t vote due to some rule prohibiting their participation. So, this is the deal. If you are black and live in Durham, show up at the White Rock Baptist Church on December 10th to vote.

In my next blog I will share a conversation with Melvin Whitley. I asked him about his past and reputation for being hot tempered. We talked about the confrontation with Jackie Wagstaff at a recent Durham Committee meeting and why he decided to run for the chair of the Durham Committee. He talked about having Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and how he has grown over the years. We also talked about his plans to lead the Durham Committee.

Fasten your seat belts folks. This could get interesting.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People: Heal Thyself

My phone was overloaded with messages and I had over 50 emails waiting to be read. My last blog concerning the chaos in the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People sparked a public dialogue that confirmed my premise that the organization is out of touch and viewed as a contentious group with no message, purpose or plan to shift the tide.

Those on the inside have challenged me to join the group and help change things from the inside rather than throw stones at the organization from the outside. The basis for that agenda is rooted in the notion that black folks should keep their business to themselves and hide the dirty laundry from “The Man”. There was a time when the plans of those on the other side hindered the goals of the black community. The mean and calculating spirits of those in white hoods made it difficult for the black community to improve their position. That was then, this is now.

The Durham Committee is so outdated in the way it functions that catching up will take more than a few fresh bodies to fix what aisles them. The biggest obstacle facing the Committee is a major change that alienates people who want to make a difference. Even if I wanted to come back and participate, I can’t vote for the next leader due to my lack of participation.

In the past, anyone could vote for the leadership of the Durham Committee. The only requirements were that you be black and a resident of Durham. The change requires that voters attend two general body meetings each year. This leaves the organization under the control of the few who continue to support the work of the Committee. A person like me would have to attend two meetings while waiting for the next election. You would have to bite your tongue and embrace the agenda of the current leadership. Frankly, that is something I can’t do.

I refuse to participate in a work that goes against much of what I believe. I will not support the divisiveness of the Durham Committee. I will not follow the leadership of a woman who clings to a process that distances the group from those who want to make a difference. I hate the “us” versus “them” philosophy of the Committee. I deplore making assumptions about race and the way people are disqualified from leadership due to the opinions of a few. I regret a practice that fails to connect to the myriad of voices in the community and the failure of the Committee to consider the variety of gifts and positions waiting to be considered.

I loathe being told what is best for me and the people I care about. As much as I want to participate, I’m reminded that I can’t take responsibility for what I didn’t create. The Durham Committee is not the organization I loved when I served as a committee chair under the leadership of Ken Spaulding. Spaulding had a vision that was easy to follow. He wanted to improve housing conditions. He wanted to bridge the racial divide. Spaulding had the organization moving in a different direction.

I’m reminded that my appointment to the Religious and Human Rights Committee was met with controversy. Lavonia Allison led the charge to protest Spaulding’s decision to assign me and William Height, pastor of the Greater St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, as co-chairs. Spaulding went against protocol. The recommendation had come from the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance to the Durham Committee. We began serving under protest.

The battles surrounding that appointment opened my eyes to the agenda’s that hamper solidarity. Spaulding recognized the emergence of new leadership in the city. He mobilized the genius of those waiting to make a difference. Tara Nichols, Glennis and Grace Jones worked tirelessly with the city of Durham to improve housing standards. Then it all stopped. Conflicts of interest led Spaulding to resign and the rest is history. The Committee has not been the same since.

Those within the Committee bear responsibility for what has happened to this once powerful organization. Those on the outside looking in can’t take blame for the sad state of the Committee. They voted on changes that kept us on the outside. They embraced leadership not respected by the majority of black people in the city. They have refused to move to correct the systemic problems that prevent those on the outside from feeling at home.

The Committee should heal itself from within. The fewer than 50 people who keep things moving within the Committee should consider the implications of its decline. Countless men and women are watching from the outside. Chuck Watts, Carl Webb, Ken Lewis, Lois Deloatch, Nnenna Freelon, Phil Freelon, Dante James, Karla Holloway, Dionne Greelee, Aidil Collins, Eric Pristel, Dewayne Marks, Sherrod Banks, Anita Brown-Graham, Sterling Freeman and countless others aren’t a part of the Committee. There are gifted young men and women like my son, King Kenney, who feel alienated from the Committee. Ask them what they think. Listen to what they have to say about a group that has disregarded them for the past 15 years.

Those on the inside say they need for us to participate. I say fix what you messed up and check back with me on the other side. Until then, an election is coming up in December. Who you elect will go a long way in improving that screwed up image you helped create. The bad news is the best in black leadership isn’t present to help lead the way. What a web you have created.

It’s sad what happens when people become obsessed with power.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Endorsement Wars

“I don’t understand why the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People didn’t support good people,” my friend Naomi Quinn asked after the recent election.

Her befuddled glare reflected a disappointment shared by many. The low voter turn-out and wide margin of victory by the incumbents hid the story lurking in the background of the most recent election. The real scoop is the rift between the black incumbents on the City Council and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People’s power base.

Conversations with Committee insiders unveils a contentious process that included a fiery exchange between Melvin Whitley and Lavonia Allison, Bill Bell barely receiving the endorsement of the powerful Political Committee and the allegation that Howard Clement was told to axe Whitley as his campaign manager or lose the Committee’s endorsement.

“They told Howard to get rid of me or else,” Whitley said. “The Committee has been taken over by Jackie Wagstaff. How did this organization that has been around for 74 years get to the point where they will endorse a candidate that can’t win?”

Those inside the Committee blame Whitley for rousing trouble at Committee meetings. “He calls himself a minister, but the way he acted at those meetings was not of God,” a member who asked to not be identified said. “We were talking about something totally unrelated to what he raised.” Whitley claims it was the lack of a credible process that got under his skin.

The battles between Clement and the Committee began during the primary when Clement made it clear that he didn’t care about the Committee’s endorsement. Members of the Committee had an issue with Clements refusal to pass out the endorsement flyer from the Committee. “We weren’t going to pass it out because Cora wasn’t endorsed,” Whitley said.

What followed was the big story of the election. The four incumbents-Bill Bell, Cora Cole-McFadden, Howard Clement III and Mike Woodard-formed their own PAC and created an endorsement flyer with their names. “Nothing like this has ever happened in Durham,” Whitley said.

Whitley went on to talk about how the Committee has allowed personal agendas to get in the way of sound judgment. Some on the Committee spoke of their desire to replace the current City Council. Four of the newcomers to the political scene-Steven Williams, Sylvester Williams, Darius Little and Donald Hughes-teamed up to fight against the Council. Each campaigned for change, but neither was able to communicate to the public why a takeover was necessary.

The bond between the challengers was exposed in an email Darius Little sent to Sylvester Williams. Williams attacked Little for supporting Howard Clement instead of his write-in-candidacy. The email provides an inside view of the behind the scene working of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. Take a look at part of what Little wrote.

I don't dislike you at all, so it wasn't personal Sylvester. However, when I've busted my chops in the Durham Committee, only to have a person that's never been in there, come in and get more votes than me....it tells me all I need to know: I need to make new friends. I can't imagine how Bill feels after barely getting the endorsement. And that began, by supporting Howard Clement, over a write-in candidate. These people are not villains. And even as my political enemies, when I was running against them, they were nicer to me than those who were supposed to be my allies (alays gossipping and being two-faced). I can do bad by myself and with friends like some of these people, who needs enemies. Luckily for me, I owe nobody a thing but Fred and Thelma White. And my conscience is clear with the Lord bc I operated in the right way. And by not being divisive, as others have been, I've not severed a lot of relationships in the long-term, for temporary gain…

I will go to my grave with the mindframe that people vote based on relationships, not endorsements. You've lived in Durham all your life, never been in legal trouble, are a preacher and I got as many votes as you did. And I've not been in Durham 1/10th the time you have. I had no endorsements, you had 2. People vote on relationships. So I'm building relationships and frankly, establishing a relationship with Howard Clement, his donors and supporters (as he and his family introduced me to all of them last night at his celebration party), helps me more than going against the current council, by supporting a "write-in" that in no way was going to even make a sniff at winning.


Example: at the DCABP endorsement, it was a tie with the Mayor and his challenger. So the old-guard wanted the Mayor out. But in general body, Bill won. How? People vote on relationships and Bill had a couple more established than his challenger. He won, even at his worst. As did Howard. After all that smack talk about Howard working against the committee, not ONE of the Committee's officers got up and made a motion to do a no vote. So, since they were cowards, I joined his campaign. Obviously, they had no problem with what he was doing. Don't be fooled by these people, they talk a good game, but come gametime, will leave you standing there looking silly.


Little’s email raises serious questions related to the role of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. Most troubling is the move among some to oust Bill Bell. Change isn’t always a bad thing, but why would the Committee vote to place the leadership of Durham in the hands of a person with no political experience? The change that was hoped for wasn’t as much about making Durham a better place, but more about making a statement about the power of the endorsement process. Sadly, it all leaves the Durham Committee further disconnected from the Community they seek to serve.

Most black people in Durham are disengaged from the Durham Committee. The only question left to be answered is what will happen now that they are viewed as a joke by those who depend on them for leadership.

It’s hard to understand why the black people on the Committee fought so hard to replace those good black people on the council. I’ve heard a change is gonna come, but what type of change is this?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Legalize the Stuff



Some things are just wrong. You can’t steal candy from a baby. You can’t intentionally run over a stray dog, and you can’t put grandma in jail.

I know there are some exceptions to the rule. You can lock granny up if she walks into a public place and opens fire on everyone in the room. Lock her up if she gets stopped for drinking while drunk after running over kids crossing the street after school. There are some crimes that are so despicable that age is thrown out the door. Sometimes you have to shake your head and tell the judge to lock grandma up and throw away the key, but boy it’s hard to find a reason to justify locking granny up for the rest of her days.

That’s why it was hard for me to read the story of a couple in their 60s getting busted after sheriff detectives discovered marijuana plants worth a quarter of a million dollars growing in their southwestern Durham home. Benjamin Franklin Harrington, 61, and Annie Harris Harrington, 60 were arrested after detectives found 42 marijuana plants with an estimated street values of $244,440 growing in their home. It’s safe to say the weed wasn’t for personal consumption.

In addition to the weed, detectives confiscated one gram of powder cocaine, two 30-caliber rifles and $760 bucks. No biggie on the rifles and cash. Yeah, I have problems with the cocaine, but the real issue is the cannabis. Grandma and Grandpa may go down for the manufacture and distribution of weed. There is something wrong with this picture.

It reminds me of the arrest of a 65-year old rural Wake County woman on charges of growing five marijuana plants back in 1993. The arrest of Alta Belle Mills sparked a debate that led the News & Observer to write an editorial supporting the legalization of marijuana. Mills was arrested after helicopter surveillance revealed the plants. She received only a suspended sentence, but federal officials sought to seize her mobile home and her eight acres of land under federal forfeiture laws.

The thought of sending a person to the penitentiary for peddling pot is hard for me to swallow. I stopped smoking the stuff back in the early 80s, so I don’t a horse in this race. I had to give it up due to my addiction to more potent drugs. My own issues with recovery aren’t enough to offset the argument in favor of legalizing marijuana.

With that being said, the legalization of marijuana hits me at home due to the number of my personal friends who get high. Many of them function in high places, and would shock the world if word got out about their love of the whacky weed. My opinion has shifted over the years. There was a time when I felt the need to preach abstinence. I taunted the consequences of getting high-jail time, brain damage, poor role modeling, you know the list.

My opinion changed because of all of those friends who use the stuff. That combined with the young black men I know who are either serving time or facing a court date because of weed. It is certain that crimes need to be punished, but, given all of the evidence out there about marijuana, I would rather see law enforcement spend more time dealing with more pressing concerns like unsolved murders.

Given all of those fine outstanding citizens who smoke pot, why not legalize and tax marijuana instead of putting them in jail? There has to be an economic advantage. I’m told that since weed was legalized in California for medical purposes, there are more smoking houses than Starbucks coffee houses. That’s a business success story if I ever heard of one.

I can hear my moralist friends shouting about the need to uphold family values. The problem with that argument is all of us don’t share the same values, and the last time I checked that constitution protects freedom of expression. Our desire to make American a fine Christian nation often gets in the way of making decisions that make good sense.

I have a problem with locking grandma up. Call me insane. Call me too liberal. Call me whatever you want, but putting grandma in jail isn’t a good family value.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Don't Get Sick

There’s nothing worse than being sick when you have work to do. The pile of papers set stacked on my desk begging for attention. The phone kept ringing as people in need begged for me to come out and fix their problems. I was reminded of the scripture, my freaking spirit was willing but my body said no!

It felt like a conspiracy to keep me annoyed and inefficient. The remote control needed batteries and I was too weak to get up and change the channel. Woe is little ole me. Do you feel my pain? I couldn’t write. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t…well, I just couldn’t.

My friends kept calling with their own remedy for the flu. “Get you some Ginger and Coconut Milk soup from Whole Foods and some..,” my friend Dionne demanded. “Get you some vitamin C and chew them,” Tamara, another good friend and member of the church suggested with a passion that made me afraid to say no.

The get you this and get you that exercise was always followed with the same question. “Have you been to see the doctor?” That’s when things got tricky. Given the throb of my head and those dreadful body pains, this was the point I had to consider breaking one of those lofty Commandments. To lie or not to lie, that was the question.

No, I didn’t go to the doctor. I wanted to, but I couldn’t, or, should I say, I wouldn’t because this dude doesn’t have medical insurance. My plight forced me to rethink the national debate on Healthcare reform. Those Tea Baggers and theorist of a socialist takeover have made an assumption that demands a voice stuck on a couch with no remote control. I’m educated, part of that middle class crowd, a respected member of the community (depending on who you ask) and at the age were things like health benefits should be in place.

Like so many others forced to make the decision not to go to the doctor, my situation is the result of a major shift in my life. Gone is the benefit package that protected me from the fear of the bug. It all left me when those good folks decided to get me out of my former life, forcing me to do my own thing. There are countless men and women desirous of the security of healthcare lacking it because of circumstances that make it hard to find a way.

Given my good health, good eating habits and exercise regiment, I get by. President Obama and Michelle talk a lot about prevention. My obsession with locally grown, organic food, my disgust at fast food and my love for food that taste good and that is good for you, keeps me healthier than most my age. With that being said, there is no way to keep that bug away and none of us knows what could come our way.

Alan Grayson got it right when he said the Republican healthcare plan is for you not to get sick. I tried my best to abide within the margins of their agenda-eat right, exercise, don’t smoke, no drugs-but dang it, I still got sick. I got sick and couldn’t go to the doctor because I don’t have health insurance.

Is there a doctor in the house?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Not My Team!





I can take a deep breath and relax now. The past few weeks have been incredibly stressful. No, it wasn’t the ghastly flu that had me trapped on my couch with fever, body aches and a headache that refused to go away. Battling the bug was nothing compared to the outlandish prospect of Rush Limbaugh becoming a minority owner of my St. Louis Rams.

Don’t laugh at me for being a Rams fan. I know the teams play looks more like a scrimmage squad than a NFL team. The only question related to my home team is if they’re worse than the pathetic Oakland Raiders. I take great joy in the demise of the Raiders due to the nasty rivalry they have with my team from the West side of my home state-the Kansas City Chiefs. I hate those Raiders as much as I hate meatloaf. Yuck! Can’t stand the stuff.

My love for the Rams has nothing to do with the Rams. The team of my youth, the St. Louis Cardinals, betrayed me by moving West to Arizona. They packed their bags and left me void of a team on the East side to root for on Sunday’s. That’s a serious heartbreak for a kid groomed in the magic of the Cardiac Kids. My love for Mel Gray began after old dude came to my school and autographed my notebook. Gray was a star for the University of Missouri. He went on to become an all pro with my Cardinals. When he played I remembered that day in class when he took the time to talk to me about the importance of education and having a dream.

After my Cardinals left the Louie, there was talk of the Sweetness becoming a partner in bringing a new team. I lost it when I read the story in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. As much as I loved my Cardinals, the thought of Walter Peyton owning MY team was enough to remove the pain of the exodus to the desert.

So, imagine what it must have felt like when I read the story of Limbaugh’s move to purchase MY team. No he didn’t. No he won’t. I will boycott. I will pick another team. I will fight this one all the way to the…Get my point. I was ready to go to my closet and pull out those fighting gloves. I simply can’t support a team that has that man as a partner.

I’m sure my conservative friends will argue against my passionate refusal. Good ole boys and girls from across the country have come to the Baugh’s defense. To all of the supporters of Black Man Public Enemy Number One, let me make myself perfectly clear. Let me make it so clear that you can feel the angst of a colored man working through some serious issues. That dude disgust me. I’m ashamed he’s from my home state. I understand the genesis of his philosophy. Like I said folks, I’m from Missouri and I have witnessed firsthand the disregard folks like Limbaugh have for people who look like me.

I didn’t call him a racist. I will call him confused. I will challenge anyone to convince me he cares about the state of race relations in this country. Help me get past his attack on Donovan McNabb. Help me move past the anger stirred when he said, on ESPN, that McNabb was over-praised as a quarter-back because he was black. Why would a black football player want to play for him? Why would black fans want to continue to support that team? How could the city of St. Louis get behind a team that has such a divisive voice as one of its owners?

This is different than Jay-Z owning the Nets or Jennifer Lopez and Mark Anthony owning the Miami Dolphins. It’s not the same as Venus and Serena taking their seat as part owners of the Dolphins. I get a thrill out of celebrities participating in the games of life. I’d purchase season tickets to watch the Bobcats get spanked on the court if Janet Jackson was a part owner and showed up at most of the home games. I’m just saying…

I can’t support a man I want to fight because of what he says about me. I can appreciate his right to say what is on his mind. I admire him for making stacks of cash by saying what all those Hillbillies and closet hate addicts want to say in public. It doesn’t take a Harvard PhD to see his popularity is fueled by folks who want to keep folks like me in their rightful place. Do your thang Mr. Baugh. I just don’t want him owning MY team.

With that being said, I would be more than happy if he talked to Al Davis about buying those Oakland Raiders. On second thought, give him a six pack of Bud Light, a plasma TV and a remote control and tell him to watch Monday Night Football. I’d rather not see him in the stands.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Joke on Main Street

There must be something in the water. I’m not sure what has stirred the pot of frustration that has people wearing their feelings on their sleeve, but it has been interesting witnessing the unveiling of those monsters within.


I’m not talking about Serena Williams threatening to stuff a tennis ball down the throat of a line judge or Kanye West proving once again that he is the jerk of the century for his antics at the VMA Awards. No, I’m not referring to Michael Jordan’s arrogance exposed during his acceptance speech at the Hall of Fame. There’s enough in Durham to entertain those consumed with insanity.


This year’s election should be entitled the Joke on Main Street. It’s not enough for those craving a seat on the glorious city council to talk about critical issues facing this community. I would love to hear more about each candidate’s economic development theory or their views on Durham improving image. Sadly, the public suffers due to the Mickey Mouse game played by Durham’s endorsement process and the need of a few to find cause to attack incumbents below the belt.


Darius Little began the chase for the big seat with a letter sent to incumbent Howard Clement requesting old dude give up the battle. “I have observed you and you have reached an age where it is rather difficult for you to even stand. Also, you don't drive, so you have to rely on others, in order to get where you're going, each and every day,” Little wrote. “You are a good man - I know it and believe it. By the same token, you deserve to now move to another level of benevolence in our community. The rigors of City Council should no longer be your battle -- after 26 years, it is time that you move to another plateau, to help citizens, not to mention your new wife, who deserves more attention than she can receive while you're still engaged in City Business each day. To an extent, being on the Council restricts the many talents that you have.”


Little’s words reflected the sentiments of some critical of Clements work as a councilman, but is it the responsibility of an opponent to get in the middle of a deeply personal decision? I would rather allow the voters force Clement into retirement, when the time is right, versus having some young sucker throwing low blows at a man who has given great service to the community.


Following that fiasco was email gate. Deborah Giles, a city department director, got her hand caught in the cookie jar for using a work computer to send out an invite to City Councilwoman Cora Cole-McFadden’s re-election campaign kickoff. The email reached Donald Hughes, her challenger, who complained to City Manager Tom Bonfield.


It all felt like children going to daddy to complain. Giles made a major mistake in violating city policy, but going to pops showed a lack discipline around focusing on the issues versus getting stuck on the small stuff.


Next up, the good Reverend, Sylvester Williams, who is also running against Howard Clement, lashed out at the People’s Alliance for failing to endorse him. He chided the PAC for citing his lack of community involvement. “The PA, enhanced the perception that they are out of touch or either ignores the facts. On my website,www.newfacenewdurham.org, it is listed that I am a member of the East End Connector Ad-Hoc Committee and I served on the Youth Services Advisory Board for Durham County. Both positions were appointed by our local officials.” He wrote in his Sept. 13th email.


After stating his credentials as a pastor of a church, Williams shifts the discussion. “Christ Jesus, the Son of the Living God, commands us to love our neighbors and our enemies,” Do you hear a sermon coming? “It is an insult to me as a Pastor to say that I have not reached out to others through civic duties, regardless of race.”


Then comes the good stuff. “Would you consider the PA inclusive? I think elitist would be a better fit.” The preacher attacked them in the name of Jesus. The failure is not just Williams; it belongs to PA for tip toeing around the real issue.


The problem with Williams is his faith. The PA should not endorse a candidate so adamant against the rights of gays and lesbians in our city. His antiquated bent on religion is the last thing Durham’s City Council needs. The PA should tell him he’s too homophobic to represent the citizens of Durham.


I suppose that’s my problem with the lack of honesty around this election. So, let me make it simple. People have problems with Clement because he is getting old. They have problems with Little because he has a few legal issues in his past. Many like Hughes but have problems with his mother-Jackie Wagstaff- and remember his antics before the school board when he was a student at Hillside High School. The issue with Williams is he’s too much a conservative Christian in a city that is too progressive for his old time religion.


Now that we have all of that in the open, maybe we can talk about real issues. Don’t hold your breath. We shouldn’t assume they know the issues.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hillside High Steps it Up

I sat in anguish as Hans Lassiter made his pitch for more discipline at Hillside High School. The deep despair of the mother sitting next to me left me reflecting on the words I wrote late last year. I wrote about a culture at Hillside that made it difficult for the school to break free from the quicksand like spirit that kept some students stuck in a cycle of defeat.

The mother next to me begged for answers after getting word her son would not graduate this school year. Why didn’t she know, before now, that he lacked the credits to matriculate past his sophomore year? How did she not know that there were problems that required intervention? The shake of her leg and the tone of her voice exposed the angst of a mother who had trusted the school to do its part. She recognized her own failures. All of us did. I sat startled by the revelation and questioned my role in the process.

We needed solutions. Anger stirred within me as the truth of the past few years became even more apparent. I marveled at the serious lack of communication between guidance counselors and students. I was shocked to learn that no system was in place to prevent youth from falling between the cracks. I fought back tears as I listened to the uncovering of how it got to this point. Anger came close to exploding as I considered the potential of the student who had been left to fend for himself.

My ripening temper was calmed by the presence of the man sitting across from us. He talked of change at Hillside. He mentioned the stack of issues facing the school and vowed to make a difference. I had heard it all before. This felt like poles apart from the neat PR message coming from former leaders. Lassiter spoke of the need for discipline. He talked about ways of supporting students and parents. The despondency that walked into his office slowly faded as I began to see change coming. Not over night. Maybe it would take a few years, but I felt it-something was different.

It’s time to change the culture-he said. I’m trying to teach them not to accept low performance-he told us. It’s time for the school to rise past being on the bottom. I didn’t hear excuses. I didn’t hear a speech about how people on the outside have tainted the image of the school. Lassiter told the truth. The school is a mess. It needs to be fixed. The problem isn’t public perception, its academic performance rooted in a culture that has embraced mediocrity.

He had a plan. We both listened. Then something magical happened. Faith returned. Faith not only in the school, but faith in the student who had, for a season, gotten off track. This was not the end of the world. This too would pass, and, with the help of a large village, success was glaring us in the face. I shifted the focus away from the things that hurt. I was able to do that because of the strength of Lassiter. He brought a new focus, a new message and a determination to make a difference.

“What can I do,” I asked. I wanted to share the load. The difference was in what each of us would bring. It would take all of us admitting that part of the problem, when it comes to low performance, is related to our failure to connect to change. So, I vowed to be difference in the life of that student. One day at a time, every day. I vowed to connect like a member of the family, watching and supporting in a way that will prevent that fall through the cracks.

Change demands accountability. All of us must take a look at ourselves. The student, the parent, the school administration, the teachers involved and people like you and me. One student at a time, one day at a time, Lord please change this mess.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Change Done Come

“Eight kids broke into this place back in 2004,” Melvin Whitley said with a look of pride on his face. “They didn’t break in to steal anything. They broke in to play basketball. They were here before us.”

We stood in the middle of a packed auditorium. More than 300 people gathered for the open house and ribbon cutting ceremony at the Holton Career & Resource Center. After years of waiting and $16.7 million spent, the former middle school has been transformed into a center that brings new life into the troubled North East Central Durham community.

Durham Parks and Recreation will offer programs at the center. Duke University Health Systems has partnered with Lincoln Community Health Center to operate a wellness center, and Durham Public Schools is offering vocational courses.

It’s the biggest thing to hit North East Central Durham since the formation of the Partnership Against Crime project back in the early 90’s. The building is 104,000 square feet of change making. After years of talk about North East Central Durham, public officials went to the voters in 2005 with a bond referendum. Whitley’s statement punctuated the impact of the moment. As much as we have to celebrate, the question must be raised-what took us so long?

Transforming the historic 1939 building wasn’t the first effort to create a one stop shop for human service delivery. The first stab came in 1995 when the residents of NECD convinced city and county officials to convert the Holloway Street Elementary School into a one-stop shop. The dilapidated building was offered as a gift to the community. A few nonprofits set up camp. The Durham Police set up a substation. Community meetings were held in the building, but it wasn’t enough to draw residents.

In time, the project buckled due to mismanagement, lack of resources and support. The community was left with no more than the memory of their dream. The building stands as a relic of what could have been. More than 10 years later, The Holton Career & Resource Center completes that vision.

One has to wonder why it took so long. Was it a lack of leadership that obstructed the progress of the Holloway Street plan? Was it simply bad timing? Maybe our public officials needed to witness more pain before they got the guts to take a bond referendum to the voters. Or, maybe Durham needed to observe the resurgence of Downtown Durham first.

West Village, Golden Belt, American Tobacco and Downtown development has proven the worth of making something new from something old. Those old tobacco warehouses have brought new life to an area that was waiting for the reading of its last will and testament. If downtown can do it, why not NECD?

Melvin Whitley and the gang over and NECD determined what is good over there is good for those over here. It was time for the city to make a real investment in a community tagged the most needy in the city. If an old tobacco warehouse can be converted into high cotton condos, why not invest in a center that will be the hub for change over on the other side of the tracks?
“They broke in to play basketball,” Whitley said. “They were here before us.” I’m so glad we finally showed up.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Living With the Years


On July 20th I turned fifty. Observing a half century stirred deep emotions that have taken me two weeks to process. At first I found myself lingering in what felt like I was about to fall off a cliff. I went back and forth between being happy to have lived so long, to wondering about what I’d lost along the way. It became increasingly harder for me not to ask those universal questions: what if, why and how?

Getting older is a gift. I’m acutely aware that my age is camouflaged by the appearance of a more youthful exterior. Looking and feeling younger brings its own set of consequences. The most tragic obstacle is in finding and keeping love. My desire for young women who live on the edge leaves me empty due their lack of maturity. My quest for life with a woman beholden to the gift of prudence leaves me bored at times. I stand in the middle-wanting the pleasures of youth while aching for the knowledge that only growth can bring.

The recent years have left me pondering what life means beyond the expectations I carried prior to witnessing the massive change that came with standing on the outside of what people wanted of me. Gone are the years of security that came with leading a thriving congregation. Gone are the accolades that reflected years of commitment to rising to the top of my profession.

The last seven years have been wrapped in finding meaning after contending with people walking away due to my failure to be the man of God they desired. These years have been bond in a profound mood of isolation. Those labeled friend walked away for a variety of reasons. The adaptation of my theological views caused a deep angst among those in search of a more traditional approach to the work of the kingdom. Little my little, day by day, the work I engaged in was minimized due to a more inclusive outlook. People weren’t ready for the change in me.

It’s easy to critique the change as some form of midlife crisis. How else is one to explain two divorces and the other modifications that led to the swift departure from the work of seven years ago? What is lost in the reflection related to all that happened along the way is the impact fatigue has in fostering change. The change happened because I was tired of playing games with my life. I was tired of not being myself.

There are a number of lessons that help me redirect my work and life. Sadly, it is unlikely that the old Carl will ever resurface. That man and life has taken leave. He wasn’t a real person, but rather was a reflection of the desires and dreams of those who sought his words and works for comfort. He was molded by the institution he was called to serve. His service left him broken, and once the old Carl broke free from the burden of his calling, those who demanded his service did their best to destroy him more.

This examination sounds like a song grounded in the blues. It’s not. Breaking free to find ones true self comes with a price. The end result is a person grounded in spirit. My list of lessons is a work in progress. Part of growing is accepting the power of change. “It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new,” Alan Cohen wrote. “But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.”

The old Carl was enamored with the stuff we see. His obsession with the material goods left him empty and needful of more to feed the absence of something more gratifying. His lacks led to deeper frustration. With the coming of each loss he found himself moving further and further away from what matters the most-the people in his life. His drive to prove worth isolated him from those placed before him as a gift. I’ve learned that it’s the people in your life that matter the most.

True love and friendship is unmoved by changes that come with the loss of money and power. The old Carl pushed many of his friends away after grieving the arrival of the new Carl. As much as the evolving Carl loved the freedom that came with releasing himself from the burden of being what others drove him to become, he missed the benefits of the former life.

One is rewarded for remaining content with being defined. This is a hard place to stand when one’s theology is at the core of that change. One can’t be free when the institution you represent stands in grave contrast to the claims you make about God. You can’t be free when you are called to proclaim a message of liberation while reaping the benefits of a system that oppresses those you are called to set free.

Sadly, many are unable to hear that message. The passion of my words and deeds are for me to proclaim. I needed the space to live within the power of my new identity. I love and support those who find solace in that place. Mine is not a judgment of that perspective, but more of an affirmation of my own work and calling. The pain that comes with standing in this place is the notions held by those who hold truth as a weapon rather than as a plow for growth and change.

I’ve learned that life is too short to fight over differences. The reward that comes with my transformation is the gift of peace. I’ve learned that my change is my change; that my life is mine to live, and that each man and woman must travel that road alone. I have, over these past seven years, found God within me, living and planting seeds for change. The change in me has enabled me to see God in others. There is no fight left in me. I live for the love God has given, and the root of that love is freedom.

Soon, my second novel, Backslide will be released. It is a book dedicated to the change in me. It took me fifty years to get here. Thank God for the change. I'm even more thankful for Compassion Ministries of Durham. They have loved me through the change, and given me the freedom to embrace the evolving me.

I love me some me!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Big Ben's Pass



Innocent until proven guilty. It’s one of the many things that makes me proud to be an American. Our Constitution protects the rights of those accused of wrongdoing. Our judicial system is designed to protect the reputation of those charged until they have their day in court. Sadly, the evolving role of the media has severely hindered a person’s right to maintain innocence until a judge or jury says otherwise.

The role of the press has grave implications in stirring public perception. Decisions are made before that important day in court. Evidence is filtered through the sieve of public opinion until all is known before attorneys make opening statements. This is most critical when it comes to cases involving celebrities. The media catches hold and keeps the story before us until we’re tired and in need of a new fix.

The media’s fascination with sensationalism, combined with the public’s need to know as much as possible about the lives of the rich and famous, has me confused as to why more hasn’t been reported on the Ben Roethlisberger sexual assault case. Big Ben has gone about business as if nothing has happened to disrupt his life.

On July 17, 2009, a lawsuit was filed in Washoe County, Nevada District Court accusing the All Pro NFL Quarterback of sexually assaulting Andrea McNutty, 31, in 2008. The lawsuit claims the incident happened in Roethlisberger’s hotel room while he was in Lake Tahoe for a celebrity golf tournament. The suit seeks at least $400,000 in damages from Roethlisberger and also alleges hotel officials went to great lengths to cover up the incident.

According to McNutty, she was working as an executive casino host in July 2008, when Roethlisberger struck up a friendly conversation at the front desk. The following night she claims Roethlisberger called her to complain about the television sound system not working properly. He asked her to look at it. After determining it was functioning properly she turned to leave, but he stood in front of the door and blocked her, then grabbed her and started to kiss her. The lawsuit claims she required hospitalization for treatment for depression after the alleged attack.

Critics of the suit point to the failure of the alleged victim to file charges at the time. Proving guilt void of a criminal conviction raises questions related to the validity of the lawsuit. The absence of a police report raises concerns about the motives of the alleged victim. She is portrayed as a lunatic in search of a big payday. Roethlisberger gets a pass from the press, and none of his sponsors see the need to pull his ads as we wait for that important court date.

Why has Roethlisberger been given a pass? I saw one of his ads run on Sports Center within an hour of the press conference where he stated emphatically that he did not sexually assault that woman. I’m not surprised by his declaration of innocence. What shocks me is the ease in which he has wiggled his way through the media maze with little damage to his reputation. There’s hardly any mention of it on the multitude of junk food news broadcast. Those sponsors keep running those ads as if nothing has happened, and the public has failed to respond in a way consistent with when other ball players found themselves in trouble.

There’s a long list of athletes gone wild-O.J. Simpson, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Adam “Pacman” Jones, Jason Williams, Isaiah Thomas, Barry Bonds, Cedric Benson, Donte’ Stalworth, Plaxico Burress, Michael Phelps and Michael Vick. Some faced major hits to their public image. Others had their day in court. The sad truth is most of them are black. Michael Phelps got caught smoking weed, and had to forfeit, for a little while, some of his endorsement contracts. The others on this list are black.

So, is there a double standard in the way the media and the public approaches the news of a person charged of a crime? Does the race of the person charged impact the assumptions made regarding the guilt or innocence of the person charged, or has Roethlisberger been given a pass merely because of the specifics of the case. With that being said, does the public have enough information to come to that conclusion, or is it possible that the white boy is assumed innocent until proven guilty, while the black boys are assumed guilty until proven innocent.

I don’t have the answer. I’m just shocked that Big Ben is treated so kindly in this case.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Black Man Walking




I’m looking forward to the boys having that glass of beer at the White House. I would love to be present to listen as Henry Louis Gates, Jr., affectionately known as “Skip”, Sgt. James Crowley, the dude who arrested “Skip”, and President Barack Obama, the dude who stuck his foot in his mouth, come together to share thoughts on how Gates getting arrested has become the biggest story since MJ died.

From the beginning the arrest of the celebrated Harvard scholar was placed in the racial profiling box. People from around the country are incensed that a black man can get arrested in his own house. Making matters worse is this black man isn’t your typical case study of black folks pulling the race card. Something went wrong up in Cambridge. I could hear the doves crying. If a Ph. D can’t keep you out of jail, what’s a brother with a GED supposed to do?

Obama decided to throw in his commentary during a national news conference. “They acted stupidly,” he said, obviously enraged at how his good friend had been treated. How does a man get thrown in jail while making comments from his own house? It’s hard to keep that card in your pocket when faced with the facts.

Fact one-black man. Fact two-white police. Fact three-go to jail. For those not mired by memories of skirmishes with the law, it all seems so simple. A man should never, ever, under any circumstances, question the man with the badge. The assumption is the police are present to protect and uphold the law. As much as we all want to honor and respect the role of the police, there is too much personal and communal evidence to contradict that claim.

The stories of these many clouds of witnesses are hushed before they have a chance to become a part of a larger body of dialogue related to the grip of stereotypes about black men. Black men get stopped by the police for no reason. Black men become the target of security guards at the mall. Black men are watched and followed for no other reason than being tied to the most feared cluster in America-black men.

Time builds rage. It comes after each occasion one gets stopped for no reason, watched for no reason, devalued for being a black man. Many can’t understand the rage that comes after being watched or stopped. It has happened to me on a number of occasions. I’ve been stopped for driving while black. I have been followed for shopping while black. I have even been stopped for walking while black.

It hurts being stopped for walking in your own neighborhood. It happened close to a decade ago, but the memory still haunts me. Like so many of my neighbors I took advantage of the walking trail in the Woodcroft subdivision of Durham, NC. An officer stopped me one day and asked where I was going. “Home,” I responded.

I was walking home. I was taking a stroll to reduce the stress caused from dealing with outlandish circumstances in both my life and in the lives of people I worked with. I didn’t deserve to be stopped for walking. What I needed was time alone to meditate. I needed time to reflect on my work. I needed space, alone, to unload the pain caused after witnessing countless people caught up in cycles of frustration-addiction, abuse, poverty, incarceration, death and fear. I walked and prayed searching for answers after enduring the despondency of one day of disappointment stacked on top of the previous day of the same.

I needed a reminder of God’s presence in the hub of my pain. Each step, each breath, and each teardrop sought sanctuary from the sadness that comes with the work I do. There, walking down the manicured landscape of Woodcroft Parkway, I tried my best to forget, for a moment, the stack of ills was too heavy for me to carry. I walked in search of some comfort from the sorrows of those residing in the North East Central Durham community. “God, grant me the courage and strength to keep pressing forward,” I prayed. “Give me reason to believe that those over there, on the other side of this place where I live, will break free from the misery caused by living with their lacks.”

Then it happened. A reminder. A reminder that my living in isolation from those who fill victimized by their human condition did not protect me from the perceptions my skin stirred. In that moment I was no different from those living with less. The police stopped me because of an assumption linked to my race. The rage stirred in me. I stood in shock as the officer calculated my worth. I fought back anger and tears. This was not supposed to happen out here.

I calmly kept the rage inside. Soon it was over. The walk home left me pondering the work of Elis Cose. I had recently read his book The Rage of the Privileged Class. I felt that rage brewing. None of it mattered, it seemed. The work done to make a difference, the neighborhood where I lived, the degrees earned, being named “Tar Heel of the Week”, all of the community accolades and boards I served on-none of it mattered. In that moment, I was measured by the externals-black man walking.

It’s difficult to put in words how it feels when none of what you have done matters. That rage brews deep in the belly of those who have fought through all the stereotypes coming from those incapable of understanding the burden black men carry. It’s hard to explain how painful it feels when you catch Hell in your own house. It’s one thing to endure it over there, but leave me alone when I’m at home. This is my rekindling place. This is the one place that should be an oasis after dealing with the feedback of those who think they have license to attack the work I do.

Maybe a glass of beer will help explain all of this. What Sgt. Crowley did may not have been about race, but it hurts just the same.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Not a Word


Yesterday was my birthday, so I didn’t make Chester Jenkins’ funeral. I picked up today’s Herald-Sun to read about the service. I assumed it would be on page one, section A. It wasn’t there. I moved on to page 2, 3, 4-all the way to the end of section A. Must be on the front page of the metro section. Not there. Not on page 2, 3, 4-not anywhere in section B. I even checked the sports section. Of course it wasn’t there. Must have missed it, I thought, so I went through the paper a second and third time hoping to find something.

I didn’t know how to feel after taking a few sips of coffee to ease the sting of this major gaffe. How could the paper that claims to be the place to get local news miss one of the biggest local stories of the summer-the death of Durham’s first black mayor? As I journalist, I wanted to find a reason to explain the oversight. Maybe, just maybe, it was one of those rare days when there was too much news and not enough space.

I read the headlines above the fold (the most important news stories of the day). Afghanistan’s deadliest month claims 4 U.S. Troops. I threw the paper on the table in front of me at Parker & Otis. That story was pulled from the AP wire and fit best in the section with national and world news. County hires new director of DSS. That’s an important story, but it belonged on the cover of the metro section. There was another story about school construction and folks taking advantage of the early retirement package offered at Duke.

The cover of the metro section was worse. I was left speechless regarding the mindset that led the paper to fail to report on the Jenkins funeral. Maybe, just maybe, the failures of the editorial staff over there had something to do with a lack of understanding related to the historical significance of Jenkins becoming the first black mayor of Durham in 1989. I had just moved to Durham when it all happened. It came during a time when racial tension was frenzied and some feared the city would explode in ways common to the Watts riots of 1965.

Durham was more discordant then. Race mattered in a way different than today. Things changed due, in large part, to the leadership of men and women like Chester Jenkins. He came on board as mayor before Ken Spaulding called for a memorandum of understanding between members of the Friends of Durham and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. He took office before the heated battles over school merger and the highly charged debates that came after the board of education hired Ann Denlinger over a black man who was chosen as the National Superintendent of the year. It happened before loangate, troubles within the police department, controversial black city managers and a myriad of issues that had citizens venting on the editorial page of the Herald-Sun.

I wrote columns during those years. William Hawkins and Bob Wilson were dedicated to creating a space for the citizens of Durham to reflect on matters important to them. They were committed to quality journalism. They weren’t afraid to follow the money to investigate corruption in local government. It is true that the paper was criticized for being overly aggressive. Some contended the paper was run by a gang of closet racist who used the pen to destroy blacks in leadership. The truth is Hawkins and Wilson were visionaries who managed a paper that became as central to the political process as the offices of local government. They created a place where the news became a part of community discussions.

The paper was a vital part of the community. You could depend of the paper to be present, for better or for worse, to delve into the affairs impacting our community. It was a true community paper that understood the validity of consistent local voices writing commentary, and how those writers would inspire others to write in response. They did more than look at the bottom line, they competed with the other local paper because they offered a brand that no one else could match-they knew Durham, and they knew what the citizens wanted to read.

I was proud to write columns for the Herald-Sun. They allowed me the freedom to share a vantage point committed to making Durham a better place for all its citizens. All of that has changed. The paper has come to this-a rag too foolish to understand the significance Chester Jenkins made as the first black mayor of Durham. I’m sure the paper will rebuttal with a reminder of what was written before the funeral. Thanks for sharing, but the reader deserves for the story to be followed to the end.

We want to know what was said at the funeral. We want to know who was there and how people felt when they walked away. We want to know because history was made when Jenkins became mayor. It’s a sad day when history doesn’t get a line on the first page. It’s even worse when it’s not mentioned at all.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Cortez Sings the Blues


“Carl, I didn’t get the job,” Cortez, my girlfriend’s son, moaned the disappointment of his rejection. “I just got the letter in the mail.

Cortez faithfully went through the process of applying for the City of Durham’s summer youth jobs program. He filled out the application, dressed up to turn in the application, contacted his school’s guidance office to obtain a copy of his transcript-he did everything he needed to do only to be denied summer work.

His 15-year-old spirit was crushed by the rejection. Beneath the hard external he attempts to construct to replicate the persona of hip-hop icons, is a sensitive teenager doing his best to find his way. Beyond his fondness of Lil Wayne is a young man determined to make his mother proud by completing his high school education with grades that will pave the way for an academic scholarship.

Cortez is like scores of other young men in Durham, NC. He’s looking for that break- just some way to endorse his assessment that his dreams can be fulfilled. Some proof that what he feels is real has been witnessed by others. The letter in his hand gave him reason to believe his stab at proving the worth of his gifts was futile. Why try when they will deny me a chance? I could hear it in his voice.

“Cortez, let me get back with you,” I said holding back the rage brewing within. I called one of my friends on the city council to get a feel for what went wrong.

“Cora, this is Carl Kenney,” I began. “I need your help in understanding what went wrong.” I called Cora Cole McFadden because she always tells the truth. I called her because of her love for youth and her passion to make a difference. I called Cora because I knew she shared my concern for the youth of the city.

“Carl, we didn’t have enough jobs,” she informed me. “The businesses didn’t come through. “ I listened as she scolded local businesses for reaping the benefits of city services yet failing to support this worthy cause. The challenge to locate jobs to match each applicant was an arduous enterprise. The state of the economy forced many companies to cut back, and it’s difficult to justify hiring youth while failing to employ a parent.

It’s certain that the demands facing small businesses are overwhelming. Many grapple with keeping the doors open long enough to give the stimulus plan time to kick in. Many wonder if the plan will be enough. Employing one more person-just one more- may be the thing to forces them out of business.

I ended the conversation with Cora and ruminated on the consequences of not having enough to take care of our youth. Each major decision made-be it on the state or local level-seemingly has major implications on the delivery of services for youth. Be it the reductions of programs in our schools, cutbacks in funding to nonprofits who provide support for youth, or summer jobs for youth-young people are getting the bad end of the bargain.

It all comes at the worst possible time. Our youth are engaged in a battle comparable to the epic clashes between the forces of good and evil. They have been forced into a battle to preserve the credibility of their very existence. Their challenge is to transcend the judgments of older generations. This war is reflected best in the sullenness of African American boys who stand between years of promise and a culture of subjugation.

Needed is proof that hard work and abiding by all the rules will produce the rewards promised. What difference does it make when a letter appears to give credence to the claim that you can’t make it in a world that holds you in contempt? None of that may be true, but in the mind of person doing their best to find a way it all seems like a waste of time.

How could I tell Cortex the community let him down? How could I challenge him to keep pressing forward in faith when he played by all the rules and believed he would get a job because of the promise offered? “Why would they have me go through all of that if they didn’t have a job for me,” he asked. “They wasted my time.”

So true Cortex. So true. Once again we let our youth down. And we wonder why we have so many problems with helping them find their way.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Remembering the King


The death of Michael Jackson stirred a variety of emotions. I will never forget that night. I sat at the West End Wine Bar sipping a glass of wine. My close friend Monica Daye and I were celebrating the King’s life. “Do you have any of his music,” Monica asked the bartender. “We need to celebrate.” It was hard to hold back the tears.

“What’s going on,” a customer asked. We informed her MJ was dead. “Noooo.”

I bond was created that night. “Your name is Wenny Wiggley,” I joked. You have to change your name when you get married.” Her fiancé shook his head no. His last name is Magill. It seemed to fit better than Wiggley.

It was a fitting way to remember the King. That night he brought us together. An African American male, an African American female, a white female and a white male. We told stories about back in the day when Michael glided across the stage. We talked like he was our best friend. “Damn, I’m gonna miss him,” I thought doing my best not to cry.

Less than an hour later, Monica and I danced to “Thriller” in a parking lot near Brightleaf Square. We danced and laughed while waiting for her boyfriend to join the celebration. We remembered the moves from that amazing video. The lyrics came easy. Again, I fought back the tears.

The emotions overwhelmed me. A few days later I marveled as people in the teens, twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties and seventies danced to his music. I watched as young and older sang and danced. Everyone knew all the lyrics. It was a wedding like none I have ever seen. The bride, Nicole Owens, and the Groom Kahlil Thompson, joined the crowd during the tribute. Everyone sang. Again, I fought the tears. What is it about Michael Jackson that appeals to so many people?

Maybe it’s the way he broke through the barriers that stood prior to the launching of his career. I remember a time when black music remained on the other side of the tracks. It wasn’t played on the top 40 formatted stations. Jackson forced MTV to place his videos in heavy rotation. He refused to acknowledge categories of division. In his life, and in his music, he rejected the notion of classification. He was more than R&B, Rock or Pop music.

More than that, he rejected constructs that measured racial identification. He was more than a black man-he was a man with a social consciousness articulated in his music. “We are the world”, “Man in the Mirror”, “Too Soon” and other songs challenged the world to consider love and peace. The world is mourning his death because of the void created once his music vanished from heavy rotation. We’re left with Drake’s song about a woman being the best sex he ever had, or Lil Wayne’s new song featuring Young Money. Check out the lyrics:

Uh I like a long haired thick red bone Open up her legs then filet Mignon that pussy Ima get in and on that pussy If she let me in Ima own that pussy Gon' throw it back and bust it open like you posed' to Girl I got that dope dick Now come here let me dope you You gon' be a dope fiend Your friends should call you dopey Tell em' keep my name out they mouth cuz they don't know me Huh But you can call me tune chick I'll fuck the whole group Baby I'm a groupie My sex game is stupid My head is the dumbest I promise I should be hooked on phonics haha But anyway I think you're bionic And I don't think you're beautiful I think you're beyond it And I just wanna get behind it and watch you (back it up and dump it back- back it up and dump it back) [CHORUS:] Cause' we like her And we like her too And we like her And we like her too And we like her And we like her too And we like her And she like us too I wish I could fuck every girl in the world I wish I could fuck every girl in the world I wish I could fuck every girl in the world

Some call it club music. Others claim lyrics like these aren’t problematic. Some even claim they’re suitable for youth to listen. With all of that being said, the world was a much better place when we had Michael Jackson instead of Lil Wayne and the other promoters of social degradation. Many claim music has always been laced with lyrics about sexual pleasure. That is true. I remember Marvin Gaye’s anthem about the force of sexual healing. Sex has always been there, but there is a serious difference.

There are no boundaries. Women are presented as objects to fulfill a man’s urge for gratification. She is a toy to be used by a man with no sense of commitment. Once done with her, his boys can use her. In the meantime, it is made clear that the goal is to have as many as he can. His wish is to fuck every girl in the world. How pathetic.

Michael will be missed.