Monday, October 31, 2011

Shootings on Driver and Spruce St Force a Conversation About the Elephant in the Room

The problem showed up at the meeting. It almost always does. That’s why public meetings don’t solve anything.

It’s the way public officials respond to outrage. Apathy is the word given to express how people feel when dealing with their inner city blues. The police chief came with a gang of officers to show he cares. Elected officials showed up to prove they are willing to listen. Those liberal-minded do gooders show up in an effort to move past the assumptions of their life of privilege. They are all there. There’s more. Those who commit the crimes are also there to remind everyone they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

It happened at the recent community meeting to discuss the latest series of shootings on the 200 block of Driver Street. The indignation in the room was exasperated after two children, a 1-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy, were wounded by bullets fired from a car. A few days later, a man was shot in the buttocks close to where the siblings were playing.

Dominique Hagans, the mother of the children, was at the meeting. People lashed out at city officials for cutting spending. People harassed Police Chief Jose Lopez for failing to attend community meetings. He responded with a classless response. He informed the crowd that he doesn’t have time to show up at a community meeting if only two or three people attend. My response to Lopez, stop making excuses and show up.

This is an old song and dance that has limited progress toward minimizing crime in areas like the 200 block of Driver Street. Folks far removed from the problem read about it in the newspaper and weep for those having to deal with the madness. After a few tissues are thrown in the nearby trash can they go back to their daily ritual of being thankful for their life of leisure.

Then comes the blame game and finger pointing. It’s their fault for not caring enough. It’s part of a racist agenda. They marginalize the poor and pit them against one another to maintain what amounts to a form of modern day slavery. They don’t show up. They don’t care about us….

Watching it all with a smile is the enormous elephant in the middle of the room. No one stops long enough to take stabs at the real culprit behind keeping people locked behind closed doors. It’s the community’s fear of what is in the room that keeps them silent. It’s their silence that keeps them riding the same merry-go-round every time a person gets shot.

The people living within the inner city blues see the elephant in the room. They know who commits the crimes. They know their names. They know the stories behind why they do what they do. They are common fixtures in their community. Some reap profits by selling drugs to their neighbors. Others are gang bangers with grudges based on gang colors and childish beefs.

Those lurking from the outside are quick to criticize people for failing to snitch on these hoodlums. But, back up before throwing stones in a place far removed from your home of privilege. Who will protect them if they spill the beans? If they know, and many do, it is reasonable to conclude that the police are privy to the same information. What happens if they tell and the people guilty of these horrific crimes are set free to go back and get some of that payback that residents fear?

That fat elephant walked into the community meeting to remind everyone he’s still watching. The elephant is there taking notes. Who’s talking? What are they saying? He’s there to remind everyone that he knows where they live. He knows their mama, their daddy and their children, so….you get the picture.

Those community meetings are a waste of time. Change can’t happen until a community is empowered to take control of what belongs to them. They can’t trust the police to protect their interest, and as long as that trust is lacking there is no hope for authentic change.

By the way, there was another shooting on yesterday. It happened on Spruce Street, within a mile of Driver Street. Simeka Daughtridge, 29, died from a gunshot wound to the chest. Police say the shooting was not random.

I’m not saying the shooting of Daughtridge is connected to what is happening on Driver Street, but it certainly adds to the fear among those who are told not to snitch.

You have to get rid of that elephant in the room. Until then, everything else is a waste of time.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bull City Coworking: A Place to Work Where the Coffee is Free

I spent over a grand on coffee last year. What a bargain.

I can feel the eyes rolling with that last statement. How does one justify spending so much on the go go juice, and how can you claim that’s a good deal.

It’s the price people like me have to pay to operate a business. I use Durham’s coffee joints as office space. During the day I move from place to place in search of the perfect ambiance to create the master piece du jour. One day it’s a column for The Durham News. The next it’s a blog post on the Rev-elution. The next it’s a section in my next novel. Go ahead and say it. He’s a writing machine.

So, I pay for that space by purchasing coffee. It’s the least I can do to keep my friends in business. Given my love for all of them, I try to spread the love around. Dorian at the Beyu Caffe get’s jealous when I fail to show up for a cup of his medium roast. Which reminds me, I haven’t paid rent there in over two weeks.

My friend Heather Smith Linton would reprimand me for my caffeine consumption. Linton, a tax accountant, would remind me that it’s not a tax deduction. Good point. It’s hard to justify close to a grand for what amounts to a business expense without being able to itemize it at the end of the year. The IRS wouldn’t understand my attempt to justify the coffee house as my office space.

I’m not alone in this grapple with finding space to get the creative juices flowing. Those coffeehouses are packed with folks like me; clad with laptop and a cup of coffee waiting for inspiration. Many of us stay through the day, taking up valuable space because there is nowhere else to go. We lack the funds to afford our own office. We crave the comforts of a place void of the temptations at home. No television or bed begging me to jump in to take a much needed break.

The 1000 bucks spent for a place to work is a good deal. The problem, once again, is Uncle Sammy doesn’t consider it a deductable expense. Enter Bull City Coworking. Two of my coffeehouse pals have come up with an alternative to my nondeductible expense. They have found space for folks like me to write, drink coffee, access the internet with a tax deduction at the end of the year.

It’s notable that Robert Petrusz, one of the owners of Bull City Coworking, introduced the concept to me while I was sipping coffee and writing at the Bean Trader on Ninth Street. I was sitting on the couch engrossed in writing one of my columns, or was it a blog, or…”What would you think of a place where you could work at a small fee,” he asked. “People like us could share space. The coffee would be free.” Bingo. He had me at free coffee! I can deduct the cost for the space. That will offset the cost of coffee.

I quickly made my pitch to sign up. Where, how soon, how much? Please, please let me sign up. From there they shared the other perks-parking, Wi-Fi, close proximity to downtown, reasonable cost. How reasonable. It all sounded good, but was offsetting the cost of coffee worth the expense. It’s just me, my computer and a prayer for resources to keep me floating. I need a plan that made it sound like more than a pipe dream.

Petrusz and his partner Brian Rascoe aren’t the first to envision alternative space for a growing population of start-up, independent workers. Bull City Forward has space in downtown for small business owners, but the space isn’t laptop and one person show friendly. The American Underground has space for tech heads working to become the next Mark Zuckerberg, the co-creator of Facebook. It’s just me and my words. That’s lurking on the pipe dream.

At Bull City Coworking I can pay by the day, the week, the month or the year. I’m considering the monthly rate of $122. Again, I can deduct that on my taxes and I get free coffee.

I wish I could say more, but its lunch time at Parker & Otis. Someone needs this space. Besides, they don’t have Wi-Fi and I need to upload this blog. I supposed I could head over to the Beyu Caffe. It’s too cold to walk to the Bean Traders on Ninth Street. Where to work?

Soon I will be able to jump on the Bull City Connector and ride to Bull City Co-Working at 600 East Main Street. I hate parking at Beyu because I only get one hour to park before getting a $10 ticket.

The parking is free, they have Wi-Fi and the coffee is free. Sign me up Buddy!

For more information on Bull City Coworking, go to their website:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Siemans Competition Gives Durham Reason to Celebrate

The full page ad on page 6A of Thursday’s USA Today caught my attention. “Nerd, Know-it-all, Poindexter, Bookworm, Boss, Professor, Doctor, Nobel Laureate,” the ad began. “See, the name calling never stops.”

It was the list of the 2011 Siemens competition in Math, Science and Technology. For the past week I have pondered the conundrum of Durham, North Carolina’s public education system. It is the unquestionable example of what Dickens meant when he coined “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Durham is that tale of two cities. One city with rolls of trees that hide geniuses inside cobblestone buildings built to educate the nation’s brightest students. Another city obscured in a valley within the shadow of blood dried by the sun. It is the best of these, it is the least of these. The best of these-The North Carolina School of Math & Science-is there to remind us of the brilliance in our city. They stand pitted against the numbers that tell the sad truth about Durham’s school system-it lags far behind the rest of the state.

I wondered who made the list “2011 Siemens Competition Semifinalists,” the heading read. “North Carolina: Avi Aggarwal, North Carolina School of Math & Science, Durham; Jiawei Cui, Chapel Hill High, Chapel Hill; Edgar Ferrer-Lorenzo, East Chapel Hill High, Chapel Hill; Kevin Huag, North Carolina School of Math & Science, Durham; Ivan Kuznetsov, William G. Enlow High Magnet High School, Raleigh; Pranav Maddi, North Carolina School of Math & Science, Durham; Jeehae Nam, Hillside High School, Durham, Vipul Vachharajani, North Carolina School of Math & Science, Durham; Hun Wong, North Carolina School of Math & Science, Durham.”

The finalist for North Carolina read “Peter Fan, North Carolina School of Math & Science, Durham; Aakash Indurkhya, North Carolina School of Math & Science, Durham.” Wow,” I uttered in amazement at the representation from the North Carolina School of Math & Science. Although the school has representation from across the state, there is something to be said about the school being based in Durham. Five of the nine semifinalists are students at the school, and both finalists are enrolled there.

I also marveled at the dominance of the region. Every finalist is attending a school in Wake, Orange or Durham Counties. Way to go Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. We are known for more than just basketball. All of that caught my attention, but it was one name on the list that made me bust in pride. Jeehae Nam, Hillside High School. If you’re not standing, stop what you’re doing and give Jeehae a standing ovation.

Yes, all of the students listed deserve special attention for their accomplishment. What Jeehae Nam has done is to prove that great things are coming from what many regard as Durham’s worst of times. Hillside has been labeled a low performing school. Wake County Judge Howard Manning has the school under watch with a threat to close the school due to its struggle to provide a quality education for those enrolled. Maybe Judge Manning needs to take a look at the list!

You see, good things can come from what is considered the dark side. Many have only seen the weeds at Hillside High School. What hasn’t been told is the rest of the story. A flower has bloomed in the middle of the weeds. That made my day. That made me proud to be a citizen of Durham.

I will be at the Northern/Hillside football game on Friday. I will be rooting for Northern. Connie’s daughter is a cheerleader for Northern, and, you get the drift. I will be there to be entertained by that fabulous Hillside Band and to watch the reigning State Champs play. I will celebrate Jeehea. I don’t know Jeehae. Is Jeehae a girl or boy? I don’t know, but I know I’m proud.

Friday will be a celebration of education in Durham, North Carolina. Yes, we have the School of Math & Science over on the West end. We also have that school with a rich tradition on the Southeast side of the city.

Darn it, I want to celebrate Durham! Will you join me?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Catching Nayla's Tears

“Durham is known for being the place you go if you wanna kill a black man and get away with it,” Nayla Rudder told me after her boyfriend was murdered. He was the only boyfriend she ever knew. They fell in love when she was 15. I was preparing to perform their wedding ceremony before he was killed.

Their life of love came to a tragic end on June 18, 2011 when a car pulled up next to his and a person inside fired bullets at Michael Hunter. Hunter, 30, drove his car 200 yards until he lost control and crashed into a tree near the Fayetteville Street exit ramp on the Durham Freeway. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

It happened in the middle of the day. “Someone had to see something,” Rudder told me as she fought back the tears caused by the memory of the love she has lost. “The police know who did it.”

She gazed at the daughter left behind. “I have to do it by myself now,” her tears robbed me of the strength needed in that moment. “Another black man killed for no reason.” I nodded my head and counted the love ones lost over the years-Juan Coleman, 27, Jamel Holloway, 27, Lennis Harris Jr., 24, and Jonathan Skinner, 26. I pondered the pain of my friends Lennis Sr. and Donnamaria Harris after receiving word that their son was killed along with three others.

The quadruple homicide that rocked the city happened close to six years ago. Rudder still waits for her own justice. She waits knowing enough, but not enough to put an end to this madness. Like so many waiting for a conviction, the healing can’t begin in earnest until a face is placed on the reason behind their nightmares. The ongoing quest for justice obstructs the ability to release enough to live.

I remember first reading about Hunter’s murder. It was part of a sickening week were two black men were murdered on the Durham Freeway-one on Saturday and another on the following Monday. I read it with interest. I felt sorrow for the families, but then I ran into my friend Nayla. She helped me make the connection that the news article failed to make for me. I knew him. I know her. They are a part of me.

There is a lesson in Nayla’s pain. She shouldn’t have to carry all of that sorrow on her own. The loss of Michael is our loss. There is a teenager who will grow up without a father to show his love. She will grow up aching while doing her best to live according to the expectations of grown folks. How do you study when daddy is gone? How do you maneuver through puberty with the brokenness caused by the loss of your papa?

I watched as Nayla trembled to fight the eruption of tears. I contemplated the list of loses I’ve endured over the years-Tia Carraway, murdered on the 4th of July 2001 while taking a lunch break at Durham Regional Hospital. She was killed execution style on Barbee Road. I shed a tear for my friend. Delia Allen, killed at the I-Hop while waiting to eat breakfast, Keshaun Patterson, 17, killed at the Northgate Mall, two-year old Shaquana Atwater, gunned down while playing in Few Gardens in 1994. The list goes on. Too many tears to count. Too many memories to run away.

I sucked in the pain long enough to be present with my friend. From there I ran to my car to release the ache of two many funerals. “He was the same age of my own son,” I howled in frustration. “He is someone’s son, someone’s nephew, someone’s grandson, someone’s cousin. He is someone’s friend. He’s someone’s daddy, and he is the love of Nayla’s life.

I couldn’t catch the tears. I never can. I allowed them to remind me of my purpose. Even though it hurts we must be reminded that we are connected to one another. Nayla’s tears belong to me. They belong to all of us. Because, deep down, we are just one big family.

Here’s my shoulder Nayla. Cry if you need.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Occupy Movement Spreads to Durham

Did you know there is an Occupy Durham movement? Virtually every city in America is being occupied. It started on Wall Street with a call for change. Detractors of the Occupy movement point to the lack of a definite agenda that communicates the concerns of the group. Occupiers have been called a band of hippies, anarchist and social misfits. What those cynics fail to concede is the power in the lack of clarity. The Occupy movement has accomplished what no other precedent demonstration has been able to pull off. It transcends the angst of a specific population.

This movement has caught hold nationally because hurting people have been waiting for a chance to voice that pain. They are past being sick and tired of the hypocrisy of the American dream. They are fed up with witnessing the manipulation of corporate greed and a government controlled by big business. What appears as an assemblage of disgruntled brats is a union made possible by pain that transcends a select population. Those in power should pause long enough to hear the cries of those tired of hurting.

This is more than the movement of black folks hurt by discriminatory practices, a fight for immigration rights, the cry of those who love a person of the same gender or people minimized due to gender. This is bigger than race or class privilege. This movement is the coming together of all who are fed up with the madness. They have tried voting and believed that “Yes, We Can.” It didn’t work. In their minds, it’s time to make them change.

They have watched as the system they believed would change things implodes. They watch as those with the power to alter those conditions care more about maintaining their dominance. They are fed up with the political system. They no longer believe in the schemes established to maintain order. Why? Because those entrusted to manage those systems are incapable of listening to the cry for change.

This movement is bigger than a political agenda. It is more than an attack on the conservatism of the Republicans or the passivity of the Obama Administration. The driving force behind it all is a passion to rid our nation of the bureaucracy hindering the movement toward change. It is a cry to be heard by people who have been waiting to find one another.

More than a revolution around a specific issue, the Occupy Movement is a call to restructure the way we function regarding the management of the nation. That is government’s biggest nightmare. Corporate kingpins should take note of what is spreading across the nation. This is bigger than disdain for policies made on Wall Street. People are ready to capsize systems that fade the value of those in search of change.

The Occupy Movement is akin the Egyptian revolution where millions of protesters from a variety of socio-economic and religious backgrounds demanded the overthrow of the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. Americans assume a detachment from the concerns of those protesters, but we have more in common than we want to admit-uncontrollable corruption, economic issues including high unemployment, food price inflation and the lack of a livable wage

There are also stunning comparisons to the Libyan revolution that resulted in the death of Muammar Gaddafi. Close to 21% of Libyan citizens are unemployed, about one-third live below the national poverty line. More than 16% of families have no family member earning a stable income, while 44% have just one. It is true that Gaddafi created a systems allowing access to free education, free health care and financial assistance for housing; however, the medical system is seen as poor and has become a symbol of the mottled distribution of resources in the country. The lack of decent medical care forces Libyans to seek care in neighboring countries such as Tunisia and Egypt.

The civil war in Libya followed the ousting of long term presidents of adjacent Tunisia and Egypt. Could it be that the flame of discontent has spread to America where the average citizenry is fed up with the lack of a government that represents the people? If so, the paucity of clarity among participants of the Occupy Movement is a matter of immense concern. It’s bigger than one issue. It’s so massive it can’t be put in words.

The movement has spread to Durham, NC. Meetings are underway to build the coalition and to develop a strategy. The group is fighting the City manager to camp out near the Bull on Corporation Street. They’re being told they can protest but can’t camp out. Like the protesters on Wall Street, people in power want to control the way the protest is managed. The last time I checked a protest is supposed to rattle those in power. When you sit-in you get thrown out. When you march you get arrested. When you bring truth to power they turn on the water hose to shut the movement down.

For now, Occupy movements are viewed an inconvenience. Be careful with that categorization. This is more than a band of misfits. People are past being sick and tired of the way this country is managed. Change comes when enough people decide to not take it anymore. Or, as my shero Fannie Lou Hammer once said, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

A change is gonna come; one way or another. If the vote won’t fix it, a revolution will.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Boney James Concert to Raise Funds for YO: Durham

A brother has to do what it takes to get a good woman’s attention. It was the week before Christmas. It had been month’s since we first met during a night that can best be described as paranormal. It was a combination of outer body experience and chill bumps there to remind me I was still awake. It was better than any dream. It was like that city paved with gold.

“Do you mind if a preacher has a glass of wine,” I asked after approaching her table. Her eyes met mine. Something was happening in that moment unlike any encounter before. This was more than a chance to play boy games.

“Not if you mind if a minister has a glass of wine,” she answered. I’ll save the rest for another day. Months had passed as we both worked through the madness called life. She was near when I called. I drove the short distance to the Northgate Mall and found her window shopping. My heart pounded too fast for my mind to keep pace.

We ended up in a record store. She made her way to the section where smooth jazz was on display. It came to me. She walks like the groove of a saxophone. “I know what you need,” I whispered in a deep seductive voice. A man has to do what it takes when in the presence of a good woman.

I reached for one of my favorite smooth jazz artist-Boney James. I call him the skinny white dude. I grabbed my favorite among his numerous projects-the 1994 “Backbone”. “Think of me when you listen to this,” I continued in a voice that spoke my claim.

Fast forward three years later. On Saturday, November 5th, Connie and I will sit in the sixth row at the Carolina Theatre to hear that skinny white dude perform live. It’s the ideal way to celebrate her birthday. That night will be a salute of her life, our love and our work with youth.

You see, tickets are being sold to raise funds for YO:Durham. We will rock and dance to the music of Boney while drawing attention to a program that is elevating the lives of young people. Love for music, love for youth and unmitigated love will fill the room that night. We will be in the middle of it all acting like two teenagers who have discovered what it feels like when puppy love grows up to be one of the big dogs.

I’m hoping all my friends will join me by purchasing a ticket through YO:Durham. Tickets are $50, and can be purchased as many as you want by calling the Durham Congregations in Action office at (919) 688-2036. There will be a reception at 7:00 pm and the concert begins at 8:00 pm.

Did I mention that the skinny dude is a three-time Grammy Award nominee and a Soul Train Award winner? He has been honored with an NAACP Image Award nomination and has four Gold Records. “James swaggered across the stage like a blacktop hero draining treys on an overmatched opponent. He even weaved his way through the audience, never missing a beat and all but daring the crowd not to have a good time," the Boston Globe reported after a live performance.

After graduating from UCLA with a degree in History from UCLA, he took up playing the keyboard and joined The Time-the band led by Morris Day who starred with Prince in the movie Purple Rain. He toured with Day for seven years and toured and held studio sessions with the Isley Brothesr, Bobby Caldwell, Randy Crawford and Teena Marie. It was while on the road with Crawford in 1986 that he earned the moniker that has stuck. His per diem barley kept him fed, and Wayne Linsey, a member of the band who now plays keyboards on the Tonight Show, commented “We’ll have to start calling you Boney James!”

I have so many great memories in watching Boney make that saxophone scream. This time it will mean even more than before. This one is for the youth of Durham.

Take time to check out the YO:Durham website and give them a call. Purchase a ticket and come celebrate with me.

It’s all about the love.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Herman Cain: The Anti-Obama

Okay, enough is enough. It’s time for us to pull the hood off of Herman Cain inflated head. As Cain crosses the country to promote his recent book under the guise of running for President, it’s important that we pause long enough to evaluate the significance of his popularity.

The best way to describe Cain is the anti-Obama. He has become the poster child of black conservatism. He has been pushed to the top not because of his 9-9-9 plan, but because he serves as proof that people hate Obama not because he is black, but because of his policies. That is a trick that I refuse to embrace. As big mama used to say, don’t get stuck with the hokey doke.

Cain is allowed to ride in the front of the bus due to views that strike a chord with traditional conservatives. They would have us think that race isn’t behind his popularity while they hate Obama, but I’m not buying the hokey doke. They are convincing in pleading a case against Obama based on the government bailout of those Wall Street crooks and the auto industry. Those Tea Baggers point to Obama Care as the reason for their disdain. They talk about a deficit and the fear of increased taxes as reasons for needing a change in leadership. All while failing to acknowledge how this ditch was dug after years of Republican mismanagement.

They claim this is not about race. Have we forgotten the call for prayers for God to kill Obama? Have we forgotten the Tea Party rallies were people brought assault weapons as a way to express their disgust. Have we forgotten the comparisons to Hitler and the questions related to Obama’s citizenship? Have we forgotten Congressman Joe Wilson calling Obama a liar during a healthcare speech?

Obama has been called a tar baby, a dick, a boy and the antichrist. The blog sphere is laden with claims that Obama is a traitor. “From the beginning, we've been warning that Barack Obama is an anti-American president,” Robert Trancinki wrote in the Freedom Fighters Journal.

All of those attacks on the legitimacy of an Obama presidency based on, well, the claim that he is not an American, that he is a really a Muslim undercover working to destroy America, that he is a black revolutionary nurtured under the leadership of that fanatic Jeremiah Wright. In other words, this black dude is not really one of us!

Enter Herman Cain. My issue with Cain isn’t his conservatism, it’s how his politics is used to obscure the truth. The truth is Cain serves as that one good black friend brought to the party to demonstrate a lack of bigotry. Allowing Cain to ride on the bus doesn’t confirm a lack of racism among conservatives, but validates it even more. Put another way, white conservatives don’t have issues with black folks who come willing to entertain and validate their unwillingness to change.

Cain is that dude that stands outside of normative black thought. He does so in a way that looks legitimate. He is a graduate of Morehouse College, he as a Baptist minister, he is a gospel singer; he lives in Atlanta, GA. He’s a preacher/businessman who obtained his education from a historical black college. Certainly he can serve as an example of what it takes for black people to pull themselves up from their freaking bootstraps.

We should commend this pizza man for his success as a businessman. I’m certain he does a good job in the pulpit at the Antioch Baptist Church North. I laud him for the books he’s written, but, at the end of it all, Cain is the anti-Obama.

Gloria, his wife, is best known for her Southern Cooking. He brags not about her political insight but her “fork tender roast, collard greens, green beans, candied yams, hand-shucked corn homemade cornbread,” in one of his books. “I’ve also been asked, ‘What about the first lady? Will she be in the mold of Nancy Reagan or Hilary Clinton or Michelle Obama? My answer is ‘None of the above,” he writes.

Cain reflects both the politics and family values more in line with conservative thinkers. His woman stays home and cooks meals. He believes racism isn’t a barrier to success. He’s a good ole boy willing to come to the party organized by those who desire the voice of a black man who agrees with their views on race, politics and the economy.

He’s invited to help those conservatives feel better about their assumptions regarding race and power. If he’s there it proves they’re not racist. There’s one problem, and that is critical to this conversation, he’s there because he plays by their rules. Which proves another point; he has to dance and sing to stay at the party.

“I told you I’m not racist! I support for Herman Cain!” It reminds me of the line I used to get from my white friends. “Darn it Carl, you’re not like the other colored people I know. You’re kinda cool.” Let me interpret the BS in that statement. You’re educated, articulate and not a criminal. You don’t act like the other black people I’ve never met. Why don’t you come to my party?

Cain is that black guy who is invited because he makes conservatives feel better about their assumptions of privilege. He’s the anti-Obama.

Friday, October 14, 2011

I Am More Than My Skin

I love talking about race. I’m certain it has loads to do with a mother who has dedicated her life to helping people move past their drama. It takes a special woman to force an entire city to take note of the homeless population. My mama created a place to house the homeless after meeting a few people living on the streets. She hates it when people define others for any reason.

I take great pride in being the descendent of Africans, Native Americans and folks from Ireland. As much as I affirm and celebrate my African heritage, I have no problem with the other components of my identity. Some may call me a mutt. I’d rather think of myself as one complex dude.

It’s the convolution of my identity that gave me great pause while viewing the RACE exhibit at the Museum of Life & Science. It forced a pondering related to the absurdity of this thing we call race. Race is, by the way, nothing more than a social construct designed to divide the human family. It has been used to justify wars, enslave people, segregate them, and to rationalize the stereotypes designed to malign them even more.

That evil social construct has massive historical implications. America is what it is today, for better and for worse, due to the way race has been worn as a way of measuring worth.

My rage boiled even more as I stood in front of the exhibit that told the sad truth about the disbursing of the G.I Bill. Two men, one black/one white, end their tour of duty after World War II in search of a home. The one uses his G.I Bill to purchase a home in a growing community in New Jersey. The other sought to buy a home in the same neighborhood, but was denied due to race.

There is more to the story than the scandal of discrimination. The white man’s home is now valued at $420,000. It was purchased for $7,000. The black man sold his home years later for $9,000. What could have been for the black man’s family if he’d been given the same opportunity?

There was more to witness. I thought of my grandfather when I read the display “I am not a mascot.” My throat dropped as I reflected on my favorite football team-the Kansas City Chiefs.

I considered the massive assumptions connected to my race. I wondered what life would have meant for me if I’d been born with white skin. Even more maddening to me are the deductions of those living with the skin of privilege. They claim race doesn’t matter. That their success is the result of hard work alone and that they are endowed with gifts and intellect that grant them an advantage over the innumerable black people standing in the unemployment line. It’s disturbing that race, more than any other variable, is responsible for the mammoth gap between the majority race and those of the minority.

I walked away from the people I came with, my girlfriend Connie, Larry Crane and his wife Sharon. I stepped away to ponder how a social construct has impacted my own life. From high school when my guidance counselor told me I needed to take up a trade, to the many times I was denied promotion while a person with less experience and education got the gig, to the pile of rejection letters received-I had to ponder if it had anything to do with race.

“Do they believe they are better than me,” I whispered. “Could it be that I have been discounted because of race?” I reflected on the book written by Richard Hermstein in 1994. The Bell Curve argued that intelligence is influenced by inherited factors and is a better predictor of financial income, job performance, chance of unwanted pregnancy and involvement in crime than an person’s parental socioeconomic status or educational level. Bull Do Do!

Race as a social construct has shaped the theory behind public policy implementation. I left both inspired and frustrated by the exhibit. I’m enthused that a place has been created for a larger conversation involving the propositions correlated to assumption we make about race. I’m annoyed that, at the end of the day, people will opt to walk in places of privilege created by the persuasion of their skin.

The good news is discussion groups have been organized to allow people to dig deeper after viewing the exhibit. I suggest that people attend the one organized by the Pauli Murray Project to be held on October 23 at the Stafford L. Warren Library. People need to discuss the power of racial privilege. Minorities need to share thought about the burden of self hatred and inferiority. It starts at 2:30 p.m.

One last thing. I am more than a black man. I am more than my dark hued complexion and long nappy hard locked in memory of my ancestors from long ago. I am more than Claude McKay’s prose about having to die-“”If we must die, let it not be like hogs/Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot.” I am more than Billie’s Blues and Coltrane’s groove. More than Absalom Jone’s plea for the dance of revolution, and King’s dream deferred like that raisin in the sun.

I am the embodiment of Rumi’s love chant-“Only from the heart can I touch the sky”. I have walked in the footsteps of Kierkegaard’s dread and anxiety. Gibran’s words remind me of true meaning-“Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.” I am more than man; I am part feminist. I’ve emptied myself to stand with those suffering due to the throb of power clutching their throat.

The RACE exhibit is there to begin conversations. It is up to us not to limit others based on the assumptions we make due to their skin.

I’m more than a black man. My name is Carl. People back home know me as Doris Kenney’s baby boy.

If that's too much to remember-just call me a human being in search of truth.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Searching for the Rainbow

You can’t get to the rainbow until you endure the rain. I thought of rainbows as I walked in the rain. My pants soaked, my path hindered by the drops on my glasses, my feet hindered by the wall of precipitation-I marched with pride.

My tears mingled with those raindrops as I approached the end of the Gay Pride Parade. I noticed the crowd in front of me. They too kept walking. Few ran for shelter as we made our way to the end, one step at a time. I stepped for those hoping to overcome the mean spirited ways of groups fighting to deny them equal rights. The purpose of the march was enough to lift me beyond the annoyance of the rain.

I walked to fulfill a promise. A year had passed since I wrote about attending the Gay Pride Parade for the first time. I vowed to march the following year. It was time to march now. I had members of our Saturday Morning Breakfast Club support me. George Vaughn, Alfred Thorn and Naomi Quinn helped me hold the sign that bore the name of our informal club. Michael Woodard, another member of the club, waved at the crowd from a bike chauffer as we marched from behind.

I’ve been a member of the Saturday Morning Breakfast Club for close to a decade. We gather each Saturday morning at Parker & Otis to discuss politics, places to eat, local events and to check in with one another. We are a family. We have laughed and cried together. It is a diverse assemblage of people who have one thing in common-we all love Durham.

It’s the diversity we love the most. Our Saturday morning talks have elevated my consciousness around the need to take hold of topics beyond the common talks among people who look like me. I have learned to unwrap the protective cloak of my race to walk within the footsteps of people far removed from my own culture. I’ve learned that pain has no color, no gender, class or sexual orientation. My message has been impacted by the common tears at the breakfast table.

My Sunday morning ritual has been altered by those group hugs on Saturday morning. That’s why I asked them to walk with me. I didn’t ask the members of the church I lead because our bond is limited to a common thread that would minimize the meaning of the march I had to take. I wanted to be surrounded by people hurt by the assumptions others make. Naomi, who I call mom, is Jewish, atheist and a cultural anthropologist. Mom has raised two African American daughters. George and Al, a gay couple, have helped me see what love looks like among people of the same gender. Other members of the club bring their own unique perspective. They all wanted to be there to march that day.

Back to the meaning of the rain before the rainbow. I’ve often thought of rain as God’s tears. As I marched I felt a power beyond my own lifting me to a newfound truth. These tears were those that flow from joy. I felt a trimmer within me that rewarded my courage. “March for all the people,” I felt the power within me say. “Feel the command of this rainbow moment. This is what it means when all created by me march because of the love I give.”

In that moment, the chill of the rain against my flesh went away. I walked with pride. I walked with those who celebrated their identity. I walked for a different reason. I toiled the rain, I fought through the fear, I attacked the thoughts of the critics of the worth of the march to declare the meaning of the rainbow after the rain. We are one family Durham.

I walked home in the rain. I looked for the rainbow. I found it. It’s within me.

We are the rainbow.

Exhibit to Challenge Assumptions About RACE

It was the day I discovered the power of my skin. I learned to hate the dark hue that estranged me from the blue eyed boys with blond hair. Their rage told me something is wrong with me.

I rushed home before the street lights came on. The flickering of the lights symbolized the coming of the deadline to get home before mama brings out the switch. The sun was making a rapid exit toward the dip beneath the clouds. My heart paced as I approached Dean Street in Columbia, Missouri.

“Hey boy,” three blue eyed boys yelled as I made my way toward the gravel road. “Your King is dead. What ya’ll gonna do now?”

I was confused by the temper of their words. No time was given for a response. One hit me in the chest as another spit on me. They threw me into a nearby tree as they took turns beating me. “Your King is dead,” they laughed with each punch.

I made my way home after the street lights came on. I was broken by the beating yet feared the consequence that came with coming home too late. My nine-year old innocence had protected me from grown folk’s pain. Mama didn’t meet me at the door with a switch taken from the big tree in the back yard. She was weeping while perched on the couch in front of the black & white television.

“Martin Luther King has been shot in Memphis,” the words are blurred from my memory. I remember crying. The black man who used big words is dead, I recall thinking as I rushed to the bathroom to cry some more. The man I wanted to be like when I grew up was dead. The one who talked about loving people was killed because of his black skin. His skin looked like mine.

I looked in the mirror and cried out loud, “I hate the way I look,” my tears washed the blood from the beating away. In that moment, I learned to hate what they hated. I internalized the disgust of my skin. I entered the world where victims hide. The world of mama’s love and daddy’s strength took back seat to the clout of my black skin.

It has taken years for me to conquer the sway of that day. Age and education has helped me tackle the voices of the boys who beat me on the day King died. More than any of that, it has taken the blue eyed people with blond hair to help me see beyond the torture of that moment. My good friends Owen Flanagan, professor of philosophy and neurobiology at Duke, and Larry Crane, a retired physician have inspired me to think beyond the limits of race.

“There is no race,” Owen says. “There are different hues.” We have formed what we call the Bums Club. It’s a group we have created for ourselves to affirm our quest to move past all things restrictive.

I met Larry after writing a column about race. He invited me to his home. He reads my columns, tells me when he agrees and scolds me when he disagrees. He has taught me that you can’t judge a white man by his tax bracket. He volunteers to help at the Museum of Life and Science. He gave so much of his time that they put him on the board. Larry see’s science as a porthole to change. The light bulb goes off when a kid learns something new.

Last year, Larry told me about an exhibit coming to the museum. RACE is an award winning interactive exhibition that tells the stories of race from the biological, cultural, and historical points of view. “The exhibition brings together the everyday experience of living with race, its history as an idea, the role of science in that history, and the findings of contemporary science that are challenging its foundations,” the museum’s website states. “The exhibition’s components will probe not only how race affects nearly every social institution in our lives, but also how these social settings frame our personal experiences of race.”

Like what happened to me on April 4, 1968 while walking home. All I wanted was to get home before the street lights came on. A different light came on. It’s taken years to turn off that light.

Now it’s time to allow a new light to shine.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Why I Hate Country Music

I just remembered why I hate Country Music. I’ve tried to embrace the genre. I’ve listened to Keith Urban’s “Without You” and Toby Keith sing about his broke down shoes in “Somewhere Else.” It’s not the music I dislike. It’s the views of many of the people who listen to that hillbilly swing.

I know, one shouldn’t place all the pigeons in the same hole. The truth is I grew up listening to Country Music. My father introduced me to Charlie Pride back in 1969 by playing “Afraid of losing You Again” and “Is Anybody Going to San Antone” every Friday night with a bottle of Vodka by his side to wash the blues away.

My first gig in radio was with KTGR-AM, the Country station back home. I’ve done my share of releasing the massive stereotypes in my mind related to the people who love Country Music. I keep reminding myself that not everyone is bigoted, and that it’s just the music. Nothing more. Nothing less.

I’ve come close, real close, to making a trip up to Charlotte, NC to watch NASCAR racing. The way I look at it, Country Music and NASCAR are kin. You have to take the one to get to the other. That too may be a stereotype waiting to be exposed, but, hey, that’s the journey I have taken to get to where I am today.

My movement to that campfire meeting where folks wave Confederate flags as a symbol of Southern pride has taken a detour. Hank Williams, Jr. has reminded me of the bigotry that comes with that smugness for the days when colored folks knew their proper place, and white folk ruled down in good ole Dixie.

Williams sang about that pride in 1988 in a song titled “If the South Woulda Won.” The lyrics are enough to make those bumps on the back of my neck stand tall and yell “No he didn’t!”

“I’d prob’ly run for President of the Southern State,” he sings. “The day Elvis passed away would be our national holiday, if the South would a won we’d had it made.”

That makes sense. For the 2000 election he redid his song “We Are Young Country” to “This is Bush-Cheney Country”. He has made contributions to Michele Bachman’s 2012 presidential campaign, and has explored a run for the 2012 Republican nomination as a Senator from Tennessee.

“I’d make my Supreme Court down in Texas, and we wouldn’t have no killers getting’ off free,” he continue in his ballad in homage to the days when black folks were property. “If they were proven guilty, then they would swing quickly, instead of writin’ books and smilin’ in TV.”

When ESPN decided to fire Williams for comments he made on the Fox News Channel’s Fox and Friends, he responded like a politician ready to throw his name in the hat. “After reading hundreds of e-mails, I have made MY decision," he wrote. "By pulling my opening Oct 3rd, You (ESPN) stepped on the Toes of The First Amendment Freedom of Speech, so therefore Me, My Song, and All My Rowdy Friends are OUT OF HERE. It's been a great run."

Those rowdy friends are circling the wagons. Shucks darn, what done happened to America if a white man can’t say what’s on his mind? The tone of arrogance in his response denotes a deep sense of racial privilege that has to be checked at the door. Williams has benefited from singing that rowdy friend’s songs to begin games dominated by those colored boys he apparently despises so much.

The attacks and lack of sensitivity involving our nation’s first African American president have become shocking. It’s informative to consider that Williams made his comments on the heels of the controversy involving Rick Perry. Why would Williams talk about golf partners instead of the rock bearing the name of the hunt club on Perry’s property-Niggerhead?

For those who missed it, On Monday, October 3, 2011, in a morning interview with Fox News Channel's Fox and Friends, Williams in reference to a June golf game where President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner had teamed against Vice President Joe Biden and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, stated that match was "one of the biggest political mistakes ever."

"Come on. That'd be like Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu," He stated. He went on to say that the President and Vice President are "the enemy" and compared them to "the Three Stooges".

When anchor Gretchen Carlson later said to him, "You used the name of one of the most hated people in all of the world to describe, I think, the president." Williams responded, "Well, that is true. But I'm telling you like it is."

The comparison is not new. A number of videos have circulated on YouTube that likened Obama to the most hated man ever to live ( and By making the comparison, Williams toyed with a common theme with that good ole boy network that views Obama as the incarnation of evil.

In defending his comments, Williams evoked his Constitutional rights to free speech. In doing so he inserted the issue of race. "Always respected the office of the president," He began. "Every time the media brings up the tea party, it's painted as racist and extremists – but there's never a backlash, no outrage to those comparisons ... Working-class people are hurting – and it doesn't seem like anybody cares. When both sides are high-fiving it on the ninth hole when everybody else is without a job – it makes a whole lot of us angry. Something has to change. The policies have to change."

I agree with that statement. People are hurting. That’s why people across the country are rallying against Wall Street. The problem with Williams, the tea party and those who want to go back to the good ole days, is the assertion that it’s the black dudes fault. What he and others have done is to minimize the President of the United States to the lowest possible caricature possible-the re-embodiment of Adolf Hitler.

They do so by questioning his birth certificate, by calling him a socialist and by blaming this presidency for the upheaval caused by a dude named Bush.

That, my friends, is at the root racist. Williams and those who follow him want us to imagine what it would be like if the South had won. One thing is certain, there wouldn’t be a black man serving as President, and that is the reason for calling Obama the enemy.

So, I’m done with my quest to embrace Country Music. I’m done with NASCAR and Confederate flags. Like it or not, we are here to stay.

Pass me the Nina Simone CD!
School children sitting in jail
Black cat cross my path
I think every day's gonna be my last

Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time
I don't belong here
I don't belong there
I've even stopped believing in prayer

Don't tell me
I tell you
Me and my people just about due
I've been there so I know
They keep on saying "Go slow!"

Thursday, October 6, 2011

You say you want a revolution...

I just got word that Steve Jobs is dead. Jobs is best known for teaming up Steve Wokniak and Mark Markkula to design, develop and market Apple computer. The team was among the first to recognize the potential of Xerox PARCs mouse-driven graphical user interface and used that technology to create the Macintosh. Jobs played a major role in the Walt Disney Company, but the thing that stands out for me is his academic credentials. He enrolled at Reeds College in Portland, Oregon and dropped out after one semester.

As CEO of Apple, Jobs earned a salary of $1 a year. He made up for his low pay by holding 5.426 million Apple shares and 138 million shares in Disney. Forbes estimated his net worth at 8.3 billion in 2010, making him the 42nd wealthiest American. Not bad for a college drop out.

It’s people like Jobs that caused Occupy Wall Street. Since Sept. 17 protesters have been camping out to make a statement about America’s economic system. Low and middle class Americans are angry. They are angry because they have been fed a bag of lies. They were told that a good education would propel them into a life of leisure. They would obtain a good job, have enough money to purchase a home, get married, have children, pay their debts, travel the world, buy an automobile, make trips to the mall to add to their wardrobe and have plenty of money to send their children off to college to do the same thing. Sorry folks! It doesn’t work that way anymore.

What started on Wall Street is spreading across the country. They are camping out because they have student loans they can’t pay for and an education that fails to open the door of opportunity. They are protesting to draw attention to the massive consequences triggered by the greed of corporations. The rich get richer while the middle class and poor remain perched at the foot of the table waiting for the big guy at the table to throw a few crumbs their way.

They are angry because the promise has left them in worse shape. They can’t find work. They can’t pay their bills. All while the government talks about cuts that ultimately impact their ability to pull themselves out from under the load stacked on top of them. They have watched the corporate big wigs receive bonus checks while their companies downsize to assure a profit margin. They watch as Republicans and Democrats argue over raising the debt ceiling. They listen to talk about axing Medicare and Social Security. They wonder about the meaning of the American Dream. They are frustrated and angry because no one in power seems to care that they can’t find work despite the degrees they hold in their hands.

This is the flip side of the Tea Party movement. The baggers are driven by the notion that the country is suffering due to government interfering with business development. They are angry about Obama Care and raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans. They contend that the Obama Administration’s policies have tied the hands of business owners. The taxes make it, in their opinion, inconceivable for them to expand their business. Sadly, most of those who show up at the Tea Bag parties are the most impacted by a lack of revenue to offset the expenses needed to run government.

Occupy Wall Street is a response to the Tea Party movement. These revolutionaries recognize the evil inherent within the corporate culture. Business can’t be trusted to provide a livable wage for all employed. We can’t trust businesses to provide quality health care coverage for all employees. We can’t assume that higher profits will translate into more jobs and more pay. Those jobs may be shipped to another country. Those employed may be laid off and rehired through a temporary agency. Or they could be replaced by a robot or self serve system that makes a human being obsolete.

They are angry due to the changes within America’s work culture. Companies can’t be trusted to honor and respect those who give their time and faith to work until retirement. Retirement parties have been replaced with the annual downsizing day-normally held just before Christmas. How many will IBM layoff this year?

It’s a sad day when you hold a Ph.D. and can’t find a job due to cut backs in education. The market is flooded with highly educated people with no place to go. Our universities are filled with students who have a dream of one day obtaining tenure. There is no place to work. My degree in journalism from the University of Missouri isn’t worth the paper the degree is printed on. The market is filled with former employees of newspapers and magazines who can’t find work. My degrees from Duke and the Princeton Theological Seminary aren’t enough to raise eyebrows. This is the world in which we live. Education doesn’t mean what it once did. I should head to Wall Street to protest the high taxes I was forced to pay for taking money out of my retirement account! Whew, don’t get me started on that subject.

Steve Jobs dropped out of college to become a billionaire. Bill Gates did the same thing. I applaud each for having the genius to build their companies, but what happened to the dreams of those waiting for a piece of the American pie?

Occupy Wall Street may not pay the bills, but it’s time for a new revolution. Until then, take your promise and shove it up your backside!