Monday, August 29, 2011

"The Help": Slavery by Another Name

“My mama was a maid, my grandmother was a maid and my great grandmother was a slave,” is a paraphrased line from the beginning of the movie “The Help”. It’s a line among others that thrust viewers back to a time not too long ago. It reminds them of days when nannies were used to raise white folk’s children and take care of those household chores beneath white women bred in the ways of high echelon.

It’s a line that speaks to the colossal disconnect between white and black women. White women may have a hard time dealing with their mean ways from the past. Black women watch the movie fuming due to the conjuring of memories from not so long ago. “The Help” is not about how race was used as a weapon to disconnect people way back in the bad ole days. It is about the discord between black and white women in our own lifetime.

Yes, it is about the treatment of our parents and grandparents when we were old enough to remember the tension on their faces when they returned home from long days of feeding into the insecurities of white women who used words to discipline them into submission. The movie strikes a chord due to the work done by kinfolk to feed their children and send them off to the university to secure an education to end the cycle of abuse.

Yes, it stirs all of those memories, but there is a point that goes even deeper. I have listened to white folks talk about how Ms. Sally was like a member of the family. I’ve heard countless comments about how Aunt Becky meant more than mama did. The recollections from back in the day are glamorized in a way that leaves those who speak seduced by their own denial. Ms. Sally was not a member of the family. Ms. Sally and Aunt Becky, and the countless other black women who served white families, were no different than the slaves who preceded them.

Kathryn Stockett’s book “The Help” reminds me of another book written by a white woman. In 2003, Valerie Martin unveiled the drama on a sugar plantation near New Orleans during the 1830s. Her novel “Property” tells the story of Manon Gaudet, the wife of the plantation’s owner, and Sarah, the slave Manon was given as a wedding present and who she has brought with her from the city. The private furor is played out against the backdrop of civil unrest and slave rebellion.

Both authors are white women. Both deal with the tautness between white and black women. Both deal with movements to undo the injustice hindering the lives of black people. More than any of that, the two novels expose a deeper truth related to the role of nannies-they served in a way in common with slavery.

That line early in the movie reveals the way black people internalized the work they performed in 1960 America. In their minds, things had not changed. They were not members of those white families. They continued slavery under different terms. The men remained enslaved as sharecroppers and in performing other task considered beneath the white men who called them boys. Women worked in the big house for the women who used them to maintain the image of class privilege.

The movie exposes how black people remain enslaved, which lends credence to all the hostility felt by colored folks who have issue with the movie. The Oscar buzz frustrates those doing their best to break free from Mastah’s whip. The movie reminds us of how white capital can be built on the backs of black folk’s pain. The stories of black women need to be heard, but why can’t they be the recipient of the cash made after the story is told.

Both books are about the assumptions of class privilege. Beyond the telling of the stories that appear in theaters is the story of how the story gets financed. It’s about who decides what gets told, and how often stories aren’t told due to the lack of power among those who have a story to tell. You can call it what you want, but that, at the core, is another form of slavery.

Slavery is any institution that allows a group to advance on the backs of those who lack power. Slavery is about a lack of power and privilege. We see it when people are forced to take certain jobs due to a lack of power. It happens whenever a set population is found begging for the crumbs at the table of opportunity.

Stockett told the stories of black women and sold 5 million copies of her book. It wasn’t her story; it was their story to tell. Sounds like slavery to me.

“My mama was a maid, my grandmother was a maid and my great grandmother was a slave,” Hollywood is a slave master. The crack of the whip can be heard if you listen. I don’t blame Stockett. I blame a system that fails to acknowledge the voices of those who have a story to tell.

In 2011, white folks continue to make money on the backs of black folk’s pain. You can call that capitalism or opportunity in the making. When those on the plantation can’t break free of the system that keeps them enslaved, that is slavery.

It’s time for an uprising!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Durham Attempts to Model Harlem Children Zone: No Kool-Aid for Me

I’m not ready to drink the Kool-Aid. I simply don’t buy into the hype. From all accounts, replicating the model that has changed Harlem is the best thing since sliced bread met ham. It’s another example of how folks are quick to duplicate success and other places rather than create from the strengths they have at home.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big Geoffrey Canada fan. His Harlem Children’s Zone has revitalized a community left for dead after the emergence of crack cocaine. The hub of black artist expression was known more for drugs, crime and low academic performance than for being the home of the renaissance that changed the way people think about being young, gifted and black.

The Harlem Children’s Zone has garnered national exposure for Canada who is the subject of the documentary “Waiting for Superman”, and the model of transformation used by the Obama administration. People in Durham have taken a deep swig of the Kool-Aid. A few took the trip to Harlem, came back with talk of replication, and have garnered enough support to hire an Executive Director and receive money from notable foundations to recreate the magic of Harlem.

As much as I love what Canada has done with the Harlem Children’s Zone, it’s critical that folks from across the nation consider the dynamics that led to success in Harlem before jumping on the truck with hopes of seeing the same thing in their backyard. You can’t pack all of that charisma in a box. A changed community isn’t a prize wedged in the middle of the Lucky Charms.

Durham has a fascination with chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Back in 1999, a group of leaders took a trip to Minnesota and returned with the fix all formula for Durham. The public was told the Youth Coordinating Board would remedy the duplication of service delivery and lack of collaboration that resulted in youth falling through the cracks.

It didn’t take long for that vision to end on top of the pile with Durham’s other botched initiatives. The saddest part of the hunt to find that gold is the way the process exposes a much deeper issue related to the way things get done in Durham. What Durham needs isn’t a program from another place. What Durham needs is to face the truth regarding how the culture of this community makes it difficult to replicate what works in other places.

Durham leaders have functioned like the proverbial chicken without a head. Missing is serious dialogue regarding how past efforts failed to achieve promised outcomes. What happened with the Youth Coordinating Board? What went wrong with the North East Durham Reinvestment initiative? A close gaze at each will unfold a number of common elements that should be taken into account.

To begin, the Youth Coordinating Board, the North East Central Durham Reinvestment initiative and East Durham Children’s Zone all attempt to do the same thing. Ultimately, the purpose and design of each is the same. Each addresses the need to rethink human service delivery by connecting services from the beginning of life through adulthood. Each addresses the need for greater collaboration. Each has a massive price attached to fulfilling the vision.

Canada is what makes the East Children’s Zone stand out from among the rest. He has the endorsement of the President, a media campaign and a documentary to boast the credibility of his work. This despite reports that the Harlem Children’s Zone hasn’t proven, yet, that it is working. Many have questioned the validity of attempting to replicate a model that is so expensive to maintain.

The Brookings Institution has questioned the credibility of using the HCZ as a national model. The Brookings team writes:

Our issue is not with the HCZ as a philanthropically supported endeavor to improve the lives of children in Harlem, but with the use of the HCZ as evidence that investments in wraparound support services and neighborhood improvements are a cost effective approach to increasing academic achievement. In an era of stress on public budgets, we think there should be good evidence that an expensive new approach works before it is scaled up and widely implemented with taxpayer funds. Our findings and our view are that the HCZ does not provide that evidence. Our quarrel is not with the HCZ but with the evidence for the Obama administration’s request to Congress for $210 million to replicate the HCZ in 20 communities across the nation.

There are a number of points that need to be addressed in Durham. To begin, this is not Harlem. The dynamics of Harlem are different. Harlem is a borough with both a historical and cultural identity of its own. People have rallied in support of Canada due to Harlem’s position as the hub of African American life and culture. Harlem is more than a section of a city; it is the community that epitomizes the emergence of African Americans as intellectuals with creative gifts.

Beyond that, there is no Canada heading the charge of Durham’s children zone. The structure of Durham’s version is limited by the influence of local government and the barriers created when decisions are made void of a clear understanding of what the community needs and feels. Durham isn’t modeling the Harlem Children’s Zone. Durham is modeling business as usual. What that means is finding loads of money to throw at a problem while failing to engage in a real conversation regarding why that hasn’t worked in the past.

Harlem was prepared for change due to its role in ushering the mind of the new Black Man/Woman. You can’t model that by throwing dollars in the direction of a problem. Change begins when people get tired. When they get tired they move.

It’s the same ole, same ole in Durham. Will we ever learn our lesson?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dellinger Endorsed by Democratic Leaders: What Will County Commissioners Do?

Attorney Hampton Dellinger has received the endorsement from Durham Democratic Party leaders to fill the vacant seat of former Commissioner Becky Heron. Heron, 83, resigned earlier this month due to health issues. It seems like a done deal, but I wouldn’t open the champagne.

Dellinger beat out three other nominees: former planning commissioner Wendy Jacobs, social worker Anita Daniels and Duke University professor Will Wilson. The recommendation comes from members of the Democratic Party’s executive committee which includes officers, elected officials, and precinct leaders. Votes were weighed based on the size of the precinct. In the first round Dellinger earned 248.5 points compared to 139.5 for Jacobs.

It seems like a done deal, but, like I said, don’t open the bubbly. The final decision belongs to the remaining members of the Board of County Commissioners and they aren’t obligated to take the recommendation of the Democratic Party.

So, why, you may ask, would members of the Commission vote against the body they are affiliated with? It would be comparable to taking a few jabs at mama and papa after they remind you of who pays the bills. As mind-boggling as that may seem, don’t be shocked if this all ends with a 2 to 2 split.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the Durham County Commission resembles a dysfunctional family. It looks like a family with a father with a paranoid personality disorder and a passive aggressive mother. The children have taken on the personalities of their parents-one has a borderline personality disorder and the other has a narcissistic personality disorder. I’m just saying it’s hard to get things done when family members are stuck with contending with their own inner demons.

It all reminds me of the playground antics from my days in elementary school. “I don’t like her so I’m not gonna play with her,” comes very close to the way the narcissistic child operates. “I won’t vote for this person if he or she is behind the recommendation.” You must be kidding me. Somebody needs to call this group to the office for a tough talk about how the needs of the community outweigh personal bullshit.

Sorry for cursing, but do you feel me? What do you say when one of the Commissioners decides to run for Mayor due to personal beef with the current Mayor. “I’m gonna beat him up cause he didn’t play the way I told him!” I could spend months in dealing with the drama of the Commission member who has issue with the police department for failing to resolve a problem with a neighbor who, according to the Commissioner, has damaged both home and automobile, placed poison in shrubbery, cut wires to a security camera and placed chemicals in the air conditioner causing severe eye damage to a child.

The lack of credible evidence seemingly tied the hands of local law enforcement. Not saying nothing is going on. Maybe there is a legitimate conspiracy to undermine our local Commissioner, but bullies do what bullies do best. When no one listens beat them up!

Maybe it would help if we forced our leaders to get therapy. This Board of Commissioners could sure use some help with wading through the water of their personal problems with each other. The he say she say mess can seriously undermine the integrity of the work they do in making a community better than when they took office.

What a load to carry. An insecure member may feel overwhelmed with placing a person like Dellinger on the Commission. His vita is enough to scare the residue out of a person barely holding on to the last bit of self-esteem left. If the Yale Law degree doesn't scare you, his 2008 candidacy for the nomination for Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina will. If that doesn't do it, his holding a state government post under Mike Easley will.

To say he can beat anyone on the current Commission is an understatement. The truth is there are a number of people who emerged from this process with the juice to oust a couple of the current members. All of that insecurity may be too much for this family of dysfunction to deal with. They may be crazy enough to allow their personal need to be seen and heard to overturn the vote of their own party.

Stay tuned folks. Until then, maybe we should give them all a hug. People craving attention need lots of hugs and affirmation.

Give me a freaking break.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Lessons From The Bus

I took a ride on a bus the other day. I hiked the short distance from my loft at West Village to the parking lot less than a football field away. It was there that I jumped onboard the Bull City Connector and made my way to Whole Foods near Ninth Street. I picked up a few items in the produce section and ran to the corner of Broad Street and Main just in time to catch the bus headed back downtown. It didn’t cost me anything.

Yeah, I got a bit heated when the driver stopped at the Shell Station to pick up a few munchies. It’s hard to complain when the ride is free. I looked at the only other person riding the bus. It didn’t seem to trouble him that our chauffer took a break in the middle of our journey. His lack of concern forced me to back off from the emotions of the moment and deal with my own ego. The swanky side of my makeup was creeping to the top. I sat back and chilled as I reflected on the gift of the quick ride down the street.

Normally I take the 20 minute walk to pick up my items for the day. I considered walking, but dang it was too darn hot and my feet hurt. When I saw that big orange bus gliding in my direction I waited and jumped on board. Did I mention it didn’t cost me anything?

Walking and catching the free bus is part of a lifestyle change that I’m embracing with passion. If I could I would do away with the car thing altogether. The cost for petro combined with the impact on the environment has me rethinking the comforts of cars loaded down with all the creature comforts. My two feet serve me well, and the bus comes in handy every now and then.

The trip back from my Whole Food excursion was interesting. I took a phone call from my friend Mariann Aalda. Aalda is known for being the first full time African American female soap opera star. She portrayed DiDi Banister in The Edge of Night. She is also known for being the daughter of Redd Foxx and Della Reese in the sitcom “The Royal Family”. I’ll never forget the scene where she kissed O.J. Simpson on the HBO series First & 10. The fact that she played his wife makes it worse.

She shared with me her thoughts on the new movie “The Help”. I normally don’t use my phone in public spaces, but the discussion held me captive. It felt strange having the talk on a bus. It made me think of the women portrayed in the movie. They had to ride the bus to get to work. We talked about our mothers. Most people of color have stories of mothers, grandmothers, aunts, cousins or sisters who cleaned the home of white people.

Aalda loved the movie. Her review was a stark contrast to her views on Tyler Perry. Then it happened. I noticed the people on the bus. Most of them were students from Duke who made their way on the bus somewhere between Duke Hospital and Whole Foods. It felt strange having the conversation within earshot of those far removed from the context of the movie.

Aalda mentioned the dense air at the movie theater due to the older white women who filled the space. The story took place during their lifetime. It must be hard sitting in places that ignite some thought from those days when black and white folks remained distant both in space and way of life. I imagined that the distinction between me and others on the bus has been lessened since the time capsule exposed in the movie.

I said goodbye just before my stop. “Things have really changed,” I whispered upon taking further notice of the people on the bus. Mostly white, obviously not poor, holding backs filled with books, untainted by the labels connected with riding a bus. It was one of those moments within a moment that causes one to exhale. I did.

The bus is for poor people. It’s for those who lack the funds to afford a car, auto insurance and the cost for registration. It’s a haven for criminals and welfare recipients. The bus is for “those people”. Those being jargon used to refer to anyone other than us. This trip was different. In that space and time came the budding of a re-defined community. Small space can do that. It finds people joined together by a common need-to get from point A to point B.

Isn’t it funny how that happens? The image of black women working for white people was transformed into the celebration of new place and time. Those riding the bus were not limited by hue, caste or credentials. Some road because they had no option but to ride the bus. Others road because it’s our way of minimizing the burden on our globe and pocketbooks.

Did I mention it didn’t cost me anything?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Why Can't We Talk About Race

The UK has endured more than 30 years of race riots. Themost recent riots and the 1981 Brixton riots

Have you ever watched a rat trapped in a corner? That sucker will do whatever it takes to break free. Sort of like what’s happening in the UK. Curtis Blow said it best, “I’m gonna lose my mind, up in here, up in here.”

The global community is awestruck by imagines of youth taking their rage out in the streets. The media has depicted them as a lost generation fuming due to economic policies .What is missing in most reports from the BBC and the Associated Press is the race of the rioters.

“The argument that this doesn’t have anything to do with expenditure cuts or economics doesn’t stand up to the evidence,” Matthew Goodwin, politics professor at the University of Nottingham, told the Associated Press. “If that’s true, then what we have here are hundreds of young, crazed kids simply acting irrationally. I don’t think that’s the case.” Goodwin, and others, fails to mention what trigged the riots.

The BBC cut short an interview about the riots with Darcus Howe, a former member of the British Black Panther Party. “They have been stopping and searching young blacks for no reason at all,” Howe told a BBC reporter. “I have a grandson; he’s an angel.”

Howe, who was born in Trinidad, defied the reporter after his claim that the riots are about police racism. “I don’t call it rioting. I call it an insurrection of the masses of the people. It is happening in Syria, it is happening in Clapham, it has happening in Liverpool, it is happening in Port of Spain, Trinidad.”

The reporter contested Howe’s claim that the police actions justified the riots. “Where were you in 1981 in Brixton,” he lashed back in anger. “Have some respect for an old West Indian negro’ and to stop accusing him of being a rioter”

Howe’s mention of the 1981 riots in Brixton helped place these riots within a cultural context. The Brixton riot was a mêlée between the Metropolitan Police and protesters in Lambeth, South London on April 10-12, 1981. The worse of the riot took place on April 11th. Called “Bloody Saturday” by Time Magazine, close to 280 police were injured and 45 from the public were injured. More than 100 vehicles were burned, including 56 police cars. 150 buildings were damaged, with 30 burned. 82 people were arrested, and more than 5,000 people were involved.

Brixton was an area facing serious social and economic problems. As the UK endured a crippling recession, no one suffered more than the African-Caribbean community. High unemployment, poor housing and high crime fueled enormous tension.

In January 1981, there was a house fired that was believed to have been a racially motivated arson. A number of black youth were killed, and, after the police investigation was criticized for failing to uncover the murderers, a parade for “Black People’s Day of Action” ended in a confrontation with the police

The British National Party has been quick to use the riots to stir hatred. “Seeing the lawlessness which was mainly perpetuated by one race allowed by the police to spiral so far out of control that large parts of our country resembled a Third World nation riven by civil strife, allowed so that members of that ethnic community don’t feel discriminated against any more than they usually do, and then comparing that with the treatment of indigenous Britons who gathered solely to protect their communities from these rampaging lawless thugs, British people may be forgiven for thinking that there are one set of rules for us and another set for them,” the Neo-Nazi group posted on its website.

“As the indigenous people of Britain and the peaceful, law-abiding and hard-working members of immigrant communities have found out by the events of this week, the reality of law and order in a supposedly civil and peaceful country is just a Lib/Lab/Con illusion and lie. Their policies over decades have directly led to the lawlessness and anarchy on our streets and the impotence of our police forces, leaving good and upright citizens from all communities the job of physically defending their homes, businesses, families and communities. For them and us, there is no law and order unless we impose it ourselves,” the National British Party continues on their website.

Like it or not, this is a conversation about race. There is little reported related to the police brutality that led to the riots. Little is written and reported about the history of racial tension in the UK. Maybe it is easier to make disgruntled youth the primary story. Maybe we feel better when we make the story about young people mad because they can’t find work, or even more, maybe it’s the result of a decaying society. Then we can blame the press, music and parents for the actions of young folks.

But, when we open the can of racial hostility we have to face something deeper. We have to face a truth that glares at us from across the pond. The truth is things are the same wherever you go. There are angry black kids all over the world, and maybe, just maybe, we could see the same result over here in the good ole USA.

If you don’t know, you betta ask somebody.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I Heart Chocolate

It’s better than a scene from one of my favorite movies-“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”. I prefer Gene Wilder over Jonny Depp. Depp’s depiction of Charlie takes the fun out of chocolate.

I feel like one of the kids who unwrapped a Wonka bar to win a Golden Ticket. Off to the chocolate factory I go! “We have so much time, and so little to do. Wait! Stop! Reverse that,” remember that line from the movie.

Imagine this, fifteen chocolate vendors inside one building while people dance to music. The thought of two of my favorite things in one place at the same time seems as farfetched as the adventures in the movie. Brace yourself! It’s happening within walking distance from where I live.

Kokyu BBQ truck will offer Cocoa Braised Brisket. Dang Good Dogs will have a hot dog with chocolate chilly. Did I say fifteen vendors with trucks on the outside and tables on the inside and music thumping and people strutting. You better get there!

Cocoa Cinnamon, Kukia’s Cookies, Locopops, The Parlour, KoKyu, The Chocolate Door, Berenbaum’s, Pearl Gray Frozen Custard, Bike Coffee, and Parlez-Vous Crepe are a few of the venders who will be present at I (HEART) CHOCOLATE. It’s a chocolate lover’s dream with dancing. The dancing is optional.

I’m going to chomp on those Kukia cookies. The first time I devoured one of the organic, lavender, chocolate chip thangs my tongue went into a coma. Triangle organizers Jeff and King will team up with Casbah of Durham on Friday, August 19th to host this event to bring attention to my favorite aphrodisiac.

Food trucks will take over the parking lot next to Casbah at 1007 West Main Street. Inside those vendors will please us with their culinary artistry. Willy Wonka can’t touch this.

The ‘chocolate bazaar” will be accompanied by the sounds of disc jockey, are you ready for this, Chocolate Thunder. The Thunder will do his usual blending of sounds from around the world. There’s nothing like a sugar high to get your feet moving.

I have a week to prepare for the night. I’m working out twice a day to offset the poundage certain to come after I do my share of damage. It shouldn’t be too much of a problem since I can dance the chocolate away after each cookie eaten.

I’ve got my Golden Ticket. Hope you can join me. Those tickets will sell for five bucks. I’ll be there after hanging out at the Brightleaf Square to listen to live music with Swift Creek. It’s my Friday evening hang out. Free live music at the Square every Friday beginning at 7pm. The chocolate factory opens at 9 and won’t close until 2 am.

Willy Wonka says it best. “A little nonsense, now and then, is relished by the wisest men.”

Monday, August 8, 2011

Hunting For Negroes in Mississippi

Deryl Dedmon, Jr., right, could face two life sentences in connection with the killing. John Aaron Rice, left, has been charged with simple assault.

From all accounts, they went looking for a black man to kill. On our day of worship, Sunday, two carloads of white teenagers drove to Jackson, Mississippi to make a statement. It all ended with the brutal death of James Craig Anderson, a 49-year-old auto plant worker.

Anderson was standing in the parking lot at a hotel near his car when a gang of teens allegedly beat him repeatedly while yelling “Nigger” and “White Power!”, according to those who witnessed the act. Robert Shuler Smith, Hinds County district attorney, says the gang climbed into their Ford F250 green pickup truck, floored the gas, and drove over Anderson, killing him.

Smith says the murder was racially motivated. What the criminals didn’t know was that the hotel surveillance camera captured the murder on videotape. Officials say the gang was led by 18-year-old Deryl Dedmon, Jr., of Brandon, Mississippi.

"This was a crime of hate. Dedmon murdered this man because he was black," Smith told CNN. CNN released the footage of the surveillance tape. "The evidence will show that." CNN asked Smith if he thought the intent was to actually hurt and kill a black person, Smith responded: "No doubt about it. They were going out to look for a black victim to assault, and in this case, even kill."

As the teens were partying and drinking miles away from Jackson that night, Dedmon told friends they should leave, saying "let's go fuck with some niggers," according to police accounts. Then, the hoodlums climbed into Dedmon's green truck and a white SUV Cherokee, and drove 16 miles to the western edge of Jackson, a predominantly black area.

"This is the first business that you get to coming off the highway and so that was the first person that was out here and vulnerable," says Smith.

The videotape obtained by CNN shows the teens pulling into the parking lot, stopping where Anderson is standing and then going back and forth between their cars and Anderson. Police say this is when the beating took place. After the beating the teens piling in the white SUV left and some jumped into the green truck.

The videotape then shows Anderson staggering toward the truck. The truck rushes ahead, running over Anderson while continuing to speed away from the scene. After the incident, Dedmon was heard boasting and laughing about killing a nigger. “I ran that nigger over,” Dedmon allegedly said to the teens in the white SUV on his cell phone.

Dedmon is thin, weighing only 130 pounds, and short -- at 5 feet. He has been charged with murder and now faces a possible double life sentence. During a bond hearing his attorney told the court he saw nothing to back up the "racial allegations." A second teen, 18-year-old John Aaron Rice, has been charged with simple assault for participating in the beating. What about the thugs in the other vehicle? Why haven’t they been charged, and why is Rice only being charged with simple assault?

Locally, people are outraged. “That one person(s) can brutally, heinously, inhumanely take the life of another, with such unadulterated, hateful premeditation and then celebrate it is unspeakable,” says Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan, professor of Religion at Shaw University Divinity School. “I have no words. My soul, my being vacillates from nausea to deep wailing, ancient moaning rooted in the Maafa, the Middle passage. My soul simultaneously asks, "How long O Lord, How Long," and "Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani!" At this moment too numb to be enraged, my heart aches for James Craig Anderson, for his family and friends. What allows, what serves as a catalyst that gives teenagers permission to do something so horrific in 2011?”

Yes, this is a question for people of faith to ponder. After all we, those who believe in the worth of every life, have done to move past the words and ways of separation. After all that has been done to lift the youth of this generation past the idiotic decisions that frustrated the dream for a better world. After all of that, we have to face this-again.

“It becomes apparent that even in 2011 black life has no value in the “America melting pot,” because we can be murdered by white teens for sport,” says James Blackwell, a 21-year-old graduate student majoring in history. “We live in a nation as the hunted.”

So true James, so true. Time to sing an old song-“We shall overcome, someday.”

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The REV-elution to Discuss Sex at Black Theater Festival

On tomorrow, Friday, August 5, 2011, I will take the quick trip to Winston-Salem, NC for the Black Theater Festival. At noon, I will team up with Mariann Aalda and Iona Morris for a 90 minute talk back symposium entitled “Good Sex/ Bad Sex and Safe Sex”. Aalda and Morris are at the festival to present M.O.I.S.T., a play depicting the lives and struggles of women grappling with menopause, life after divorce and that thing called sex.

I first met Aalda and Morris at the Black Theater Festival when they were there to perform “3 Black Chics”. Since then, they have reworked the play that is a festival favorite. It now comes with a safe sex message. Aalda contacted me to participate in the 90 minute talk due to the lengthy conversations we have had related to greeting space for conversations about faith and sex. We get our chance to do just that tomorrow at noon.

We will talk about: When is the best time for the first time? Is there a difference between having sex and making love? What’s God got to do with it? A discussion of sex from a religious and spiritual context and safety first.

My two novels, “Preacha’ Man” and “Backslide” delve deep into the internal struggles facing men and women who lead the people of God. By stepping into that deep water that no one wants to come and swim, I have attempted to force a conversation that many are afraid to address. Sorry folks, we have to talk about sex.

A few years back I wrote an article that I submitted to ESSENCE Magazine. It followed an article written by a woman scorned due a relationship with her pastor. I felt it prudent to write from the perspective of a man who has travelled in those sacred shoes for over 30 years. Not the scorning of women part; the minister part. ESSENCE decided not to publish the work, so, I’m presenting it here for the first time.

Things have changed for me sense I wrote it. I’m still single, but in a great relationship. The lesson still has bearing for those who try to make sense of what to do when the flame burns! Enjoy

She stepped into my office with every intention of enticing me. I could see it in her eyes-that look just before the first kiss. Her wrap around skirt accented her firm body. Her voice was not the usual sanctified tone that came with those changed by the power of the Spirit. Her walk reminded me of the lure of a fashion model. She was on a mission, and the assignment was me.

She was new to the congregation. It was a Wednesday evening, and I had just completed Bible study. As always, I was met with a barrage of questions following the class. She waited patiently as I did the best I could to address each issue. She waited with a glare. I couldn’t help but notice her despite the large crowd. She asked to speak to me privately. I could sense trouble coming.

“My name is Mary,” she whispered in my ear. “I was driving when something drew me to this building. I don’t understand what it was, but I think I’ve been drawn to you.” Her words attracted me. There was something about her look that made it difficult for me to focus on things Holy.

I wanted her. I could tell that she sensed my weakness. I wanted to believe she was attracted to the church by the Spirit. I wanted to believe that God had created a way for her to find me, that our meeting was not by chance, but a plan orchestrated by God.

It was getting late. The door to my office was closed. I could hear the chatter of those who had attended the Bible study. They were departing the church, leaving me to fend with the seduction alone.

“So, why did you ask to speak with me,” I knew the answer, but grappled with keeping things on a professional playing field. “Was there something I said in the Bible study that triggered your request?”

“There’s this guy I used to date,” she began. “We were perfect for one another. He was everything I needed in a man if it weren’t for one thing.”

“What’s that?” I asked, believing the conversation was taking a turn in the right direction.

“He couldn’t satisfy me in bed,” she repositioned her legs, exposing her red underwear. “Pastor, is it wrong for me to leave a man because he can’t please me in bed? Is it wrong for me to seek another man to give me what he can’t?”

I paused long enough for her to know the question had startled me. “You can’t help what you feel,” I answered. “What matters is what you do with what you feel.”

“What do you do when you feel something?” she snapped back

“I pray for strength”

“What do you do when prayer isn’t enough?”

“I run from the situation”

“What happens if the situation runs after you?”

“You stop and deal with your weakness,” I answered. “You ask yourself, why is this a temptation? You ask yourself is it worth everything that you have to endure after the sun rises.” I was talking my way through the struggle.

It disturbed me that I was frazzled. We’re taught that ministers possess a level of strength that stands as a model for others. Ministers are challenged to lead the people by their example. No temptation is too strong for them to overcome. That’s what we’re taught. They stand before the people as representations as success. They are more than flesh and blood. They are illustrations of the benefits of living the walk of faith.

As strong as I wanted to be, my time behind closed doors reminded me of how vulnerable I was to the attraction of a beautiful woman. It was after my separation from my wife. The word had spread that I was free. With that word came something I wasn’t prepared to endure-singleness.

I was married at the age of 20. For close to 20 years, I stayed married to the same woman. I led churches in Missouri and North Carolina. I believed in the oracles of my faith. I regarded the institution of marriage as one of the strengths of the Church. Marriage was the goal. I regarded sex outside of marriage as the demon that undermined the stability of the community.

I believed in marriage, and I wanted mine to last. It didn’t. Over the years my wife and I grew further apart. It’s one of the consequences of being a young, Black professional couple. I worked hard to obtain the credentials needed to legitimize my work in ministry. She did the best she could to prepare herself for her own professional career. All of that while raising three children, and leading a mass of Black people.

The marriage was over, and now I had to endure the new challenge of life without a wife by my side. I didn’t know how to be single while engaged in ministry. I wasn’t prepared with the skills needed to manage my sexual urges void of a wife. Celibacy was the goal placed before me. The church demanded accountability, and, for them, that meant abstaining from encounters with women.

There was a problem with that expectation-I needed the embrace of a woman. My marriage was over, but I wasn’t dead. What was I to do with the urge to date? Was I to place the need of the people to have me live a life according to their expectations above my own need for intimacy? I was told to put my life on hold. The other option was to go underground, and to date women behind closed doors.

I struggled with that notion. Why should I be forced to hide? Isn’t it contrary to my faith claims to keep from the people things that are known by God? We’re taught that God grants the strength to overcome all temptations, and that those in leadership are given more of a share of strength to aid in their pursuit of all things spiritual.

I wasn’t supposed to feel the urge to reach across my desk. I shouldn’t desire kissing this strange woman, and taking her home with me to help soothe all the pain related to doing the work of the kingdom. I ached because of my urge. I did my best to keep the conversation focused, but the more I talked, the more I allowed my imagination to take control.

Where did this weakness come from? Was it some flaw of mine that created this heated moment? Had I failed to pray enough, or was it another lapse in my spiritual discipline that caused me to want to be intimate with this stranger in my office? Was I so weak that I could no longer control the part of me that I’d prayed to go away?

I could have blamed it on the recent separation from my wife. It is easier to contend with temptations when you have a woman at home waiting for you. The Apostle Paul’s words were beginning to take on new meaning, “It is better to marry than to burn with passion.” I was burning in my office and all I had learned and taught failed to protect me from the woman setting on the other side of my desk.

As I spoke and listened, I explored my mental files for some truth to lift me beyond the craving. I found no sermon, no teaching, no word of wisdom that helped me with that moment. In that instance, in my office, I was forced to deal with one of the failures of the church. We have botched in providing a real understanding around the correlation between human sexuality and spirituality. Our only answer is to assume that the urge is a demon that demands exorcism. In making the claim that sex is bad, void of an explanation as to why, we leave people limited in their ability to understand the meaning behind the yearning that takes one by surprise.

I couldn’t pray myself out of this situation. I couldn’t run away. I was forced to sit and endure it, to face it and to come up with a way of dealing with the real reason for the temptation. I had to do more than call it a trap of the enemy. I had to admit that what I was feeling was because I wanted to feel it. There was something within me that wanted to come out and play, and the woman on the other side of my desk was merely a rude awakening to what was deep within me.

This is what comes with being single. The label of minister isn’t enough to reduce my humanity. I’m created as a sexual person, and although the church is not willing to have a real conversation about the meaning of sexuality, I had to deal with it for my own survival. I had to wake up and face the reality of my being a single person. My desire for attention and intimacy was real, and this woman triggered that part of me that wanted to be touched. If not her, someone else would come along to stir up the same emotions. The problem wasn’t her; it was my desire for human touch.

Maybe that’s why so many ministers get caught up in sex scandals. We, the people who make up our churches, assume they should never feel the urge. We put them in positions of power, and, in doing so; strip them of all their humanity. It doesn’t go away. It remains in tact. Those who survive best possess the skill of keeping the desire to themselves. They find ways of fulfilling the urge without getting exposed for being human. They trick the people into believing they are different than the others-they are a rare breed of strength.

Some cheat on their wives. Others, who are single, find a way to play the game behind closed doors. A few remain true to the expectations of the people. Some do it out of fear. Others haven’t been given the chance to explore the possibility. One thing is certain, that burning desire doesn’t go away upon ordination. The collars and robes we wear aren’t enough to exterminate the desire for intimacy. It comes knocking, and, when it does, it’s essential that one examine the root of the desire.

“I can’t do this,” I whispered to myself in the middle of a meaningless sentence. “I can’t manipulate this situation for my own gratification.” I knew the answer for that moment. She was a stranger. I hadn’t formed a relationship with her. I couldn’t take her home, have sex, and feel good about myself the next day. I could not jeopardize my position in ministry to lure women to my bed.

“I would love to talk some more, but I have to get home,” it was time to put an end to this game.

“Can I come see you later? she asked.

“Here’s my card,” I handed it to her from across my desk. I knew I couldn’t give her my home number. “You can contact my administrative assistant to arrange an appointment.”

We stood to depart. She reached for a hug. I allowed it knowing trouble could follow. It felt just right. I pulled away just in time. Another second would have been too much. I pulled away as her hand stroked the middle of my back. “Thank you,” she said. “It was nice meeting you.”

Temptation has a way of finding those in ministry. When it comes sometimes you can pray, sometimes you can run, sometimes running and prayer aren’t enough to help you through. Sometimes you have to consider the reason for it all. Sometimes it’s because something is missing. Sometimes it’s because you’re hurting. Then there are those times that you feel the urge because of that thing called love.

We’re told not to feel desire. Desire isn’t the problem as much as it is the wrong type of desire. We all need human touch, even those in ministry. The touch should mean more than a moment. It should open the way for more meaningful moments between two people.

Check out the website for M.O.I.S.T

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Who You Calling Tar Baby!

Ole dude says he didn’t mean any harm when he said being associated with Obama’s policies is like “touching a tar baby”. I could respond by saying “Cracker please.”

After using a word identifiable as demeaning to Caucasians, I could come back with “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way. I was asking you to pass the saltines.”

So, there are dim-witted comments, and then there are statements that are double-talk. I can forgive a person who doesn’t know any better than to spit venom that conjures memories of times when I had to open a can of whip ass, it’s possible that Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo) didn’t know that “tar baby” is first cousin to the N-word.

He made the faux pas last week on a Denver radio show. The House Republican apologized to President Obama on Wednesday for saying that being associated with Obama’s policies is like “touching a tar baby.” Lamborn’s office later released a statement saying the congressman meant to say “quagmire” instead of “tar baby.” Yeah, they do sound alike.

The term “tar baby” has its origin in a doll made of tar and turpentine used to entrap Br’er Rabbit in the Uncle Remus stories. Lamborn argues that he used the term to speak to the sticky political consequences in being tied to the Obama policies. Should we allow him off the hook for not knowing the deep scars connected to the term? I think not.

In his book Coup, John Updike says of a white woman who prefers the company of black men, "some questing chromosome within holds her sexually fast to the tar baby." The Oxford English Dictionary says that tar baby is a derogatory term used for "a black or a Maori." In an age where political correctness is critical in undoing the nation’s legacy of oppression, politicians need to be scolded for not knowing how black folks hear the term.

He’s not the first politician to receive flak for using “tar baby” to describe a sticky situation. On July 29, 206, then Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney used it while addressing a group of Iowa Republicans in reference to Boston’s troubled Big Dig highway project. Bruce Gordon, head of the NAACP, told the Boston Herald the governor “made a bad choice.” A spokesperson for Romney apologized saying he meant to refer to “a sticky situation.”

In May of that same year, White House spokesperson Tony Snow when asked about the government secretly collecting phone records responded “I don’t want to hug the tar baby” of trying to comment on the program. In 2004, TIME used the term in reporting that John Kerry’s presidential advisors were telling him to get away from “the Iraq tar baby.”

Both Snow, Kerry and Romney get a pass for making a blunder that may have been the result of not knowing how “tar baby” has been used to demean African Americans. Lamborn’s use of the phrase strikes a different chord. Snow, Kerry and Romney were referring directly to policies. Lamborn’s comments connected policy with the black man associated with that policy. This should follow him all the way to the next election. He should have known better. Enough has been connected to the word to teach the lesson. He should have learned from Snow, Kerry and Romney.

Maybe politicians need diversity training before they take an oath to office. As for the of media coverage surrounding this issue, maybe it speaks to a lack of sensitivity related to terms used to demean African Americans that don’t start with N. There’s a long list: Ape, Aunt Jemina, Boogie, Colored, Coon, Jigaboo, Nigra, Porch Monkey, Sambo, Spade.

I understand and appreciate the difficulty of keeping up with all the forbidden terms. I will forgive you once Mr. Romney for using the term “tar baby.” I may listen to you once Mr. Kerry for doing the same. I hear how it all happened Mr. Snow. It get all of that, but enough is enough Mr. Lamborn. I have had enough of this “tar baby” crap.

I’ve got your “tar baby!” Take a step outside and let me slap yo cracker ass. I got your “tar baby” and I’m not your “Sambo”.

Inhale, exhale, release! All that history just got a hold of me. Can’t we all just get along?