Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Youth Deserve Our Support of the Arts

I’m thankful for being the son of artistic parents. My pops introduced me to sketching at a young age. I can’t remember not drawing. It safe to say it’s in my bones. My mom’s flare for the artistic is reflected in her skill as a seamstress. She’s known for designing and making clergy robes.

It’s my contention that there is a deep correlation between the arts and stimulating the mind to learn. Be it playing an instrument, writing a poem, choreographing a dance or painting a landscape - the arts unlocks the imagination to a world hidden by a lack of clarity. Young people learn more when the arts are used to penetrate those places not tapped by science and math.

So, forgive me for being a bit unbalanced when I attend a high school football game to witness a band with fewer than 50 members. Forgive me for shouting out loud when the middle and high school doesn’t have a jazz band. Go ahead and yell back at me when I argue that we shouldn’t have a school of the arts in Durham. I simply have no patience for minimizing something as important as the arts to a few schools within the district. Every school should be a school of the arts.

Bringing further insult to my rapidly rising blood pressure is the lack of support for nonprofits dedicated to teaching the arts. Many Durham gems are grappling to survive due to a declining resources coming from corporations, foundations and citizens. One of those gems has faded into that place where organizations become the subject of discussions of what used to be in the good ole days.

SeeSaw Studio recently announced that it will end its independent status as a nonprofit organization at the end of this year. Founded by Steven Wainwright in 1998, the program teaches youth to become designers. They are taught print, craft, textile and industrial design skills with the assistance of an entrepreneurship coach who helps them turn their skills into a business.

Despite the great work at SeeSaw Studio, they have been forced to terminate their nonprofit status due to the cost to survive. The decision comes after Michelle Gonzales-Green, executive director, was named an Afterschool Ambassador by the Afterschool Alliance. The Washington D.C. based organization was established in 2000 by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, J.C. Penney Company, Inc., the Open Society Institute/The After-School Corporation, the Entertainment Industry Foundation and the Creative Artists Agency Foundation to ensure that all children have access to affordable, quality afterschool programs. Gonzales-Green is one of only 20 named an ambassador nationwide.

The distinction positions Gonzales-Green to facilitate afterschool efforts nationally. It also exposes a sad truth related to Durham’s inability to embrace and support those numerous gems in our own backyard. Rather than utilizing the gifts of those in Durham, we tend to look for models in other places-like Harlem. It just proves that old adage to be true-a prophet is of no honor at home.

The good news is that the work at SeeSaw will continue through the efforts of Spirit House, another local nonprofit dedicated to nurturing the gifts of youth. Nia Wilson, executive director at Spirit House, has a long track record of reaching those often forgotten by the grant writing pimps. That’s the moniker I use to describe those who stampede poor, black and brown communities with their new improved version of yesterday’s promise for change. They bring a few bucks, a staff with degrees and past accomplishments and a sales pitch about how things will be different after we take a bite. I’ve already eaten that sandwich.

All while people like Gonzales-Green and programs like SeeSaw are doing the work that transforms lives. They lack the proper connections that lead to the level of support necessary to continue the work. A difference is made, but its old news in an environment more prone to embrace an unproven entity. The community engages in deep dialogue regarding what needs to be done to motivate youth while the answer is there waving at those with the deep pockets.

People simply don’t get it! You inspire youth with the arts. They become motivated upon discovering their ability to create. That is the unspoken truth that the leadership at Durham Public Schools, those who support the East Durham Children’s Zone and those grant writing pimps are too blind to see. Stop reducing funding for the arts. Find ways to support efforts that inspire youth to create. While you’re at it, find a way to make the arts a priority in all our schools-not just a few designed to convince white parents not to send their children to the charter school du jour.

It’s a shame that SeeSaw, as we have known it in the past, is gone. If we’re not careful the Walltown Children’s Theater will be next. After that it may be the Collage Dance Company. Three amazing programs that are recognized nationally for the work they do.

Too bad folks in Durham seemly don’t care. It’s too close to home to be appreciated. Oh, it’s the arts.

Is it just me?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Compassion Ministries & Calvary United Methodist Church presents a Neighborhood Christmas

The work of being the Church has become amazingly difficult. I’m reminded of the comments made by J. Randall Nichols on my first day of studies at the Princeton Theological Seminary. A group of 20 students gathered to discuss our work since completing our Masters of Divinity degrees. “The work you will do to complete your doctorate my lead to your exit from the Church,” Nichols said.

Those words haunted me as I began to grapple with the vast contradictions exploding in my head. Nichols was right. My work at Princeton forced me to rethink and evaluate the way I had functioned in ministry for over 20 years. That work, combined with personal shifts, stirred a change in the way I functioned both within private and faith space. The journey has been complicated and at times confusing. Those changes have confronted the way I view God, the globe and everyone I encounter.

The Church I lead, Compassion Ministries of Durham, reminds me of the wandering Hebrews. We have pitched our tent numerous times-beginning our work at the Northgate Mall, moving to a warehouse Space in RTP before the city of Durham challenged our right to be there, took up space at a middle school before moving back to the Northgate Mall. We have lost both people and resources along the way. We keep pressing, like that faithful clan headed toward the Promised Land.

We currently worship in the home of the Calvary United Methodist Church. This too has been a humbling experience. Our ability to function is limited by the needs of the owners of the space. We gather at 8am, too early for most interested in coming, but I come prepared to share despite the small crowd.

Each week we gather in a sanctuary that reminds us of the historical bearings of this sacred space. The names of the matriarchs and patriarchs of the church are on the walls. They tell the story of people born shortly after slavery. The building represents a community’s grapple with the tension between our faith claims and race.

Since May, I have stood in that space intentional about recasting the way we envision the room dedicated to sharing the truths of our faith. I pray, each week, for the strength to prophesy to the bones within the shadow of the building. Each week, I pray that our presence will challenge the larger community to cuddle the message of our presence in a space once inhabited by those who, more than likely, regarded people like me as less than themselves.

My prayer has been for a movement beyond the sharing of space. I have prayed that our humbling journey will be used, by God, as a way to facilitate a deeper conversation regarding the nature and power of privilege and our need to move beyond the assumptions that come with operating in that place of power. I have prayed that we, those who attend Calvary United Methodist Church and Compassion Ministries of Durham, will lead the way in helping others embrace a movement that forces each of us to move past the assumptions that come with doing things in a way that endorse the vicious divides caused by that privilege.

What do I mean by all of that? My prayer is to lead a community of worship that operates beyond the particularity of the way we have been classified. This is the beauty of the relationship between Calvary, Compassion and Imani. Imani also rents space from Calvary. Imagine that-three congregations functioning every Sunday. Each of us brings a unique perspective to the work we do, but we have so much in common.

Calvary is a welcoming Church. They have paved the way among United Methodist Churches in North Carolina by fighting for the rights of gay and lesbian Christians. Imani is an African American congregation committed to providing ministry to gay and lesbian Christians. Compassion is a Church dedicated to the code of love and compassion. Hatred, of any form, has no place among those who worship at Compassion.

We have more in common. We are all small in number. Our numbers reflect, in part, the emphasis of our work. Calvary has the unique challenge of being positioned in a community of black and brown residents. Each congregation is praying to survive as the world of faith has shifted from a progressive agenda to a name it claim it prosperity bent that has captured the interest of those seeking a place to worship.

Our challenge is to live from the inside out. As we weep over struggling to make it another day, the faith that keeps us is the work we do. It’s what our being represents-love and compassion, spreading the Good News of hope to those left out and abandoned by systems of evil. Compassion, Imani and Calvary survive due to the message that guides the work we do. It is the reason we continue to move.

Being community takes work. Sometimes you have to sing together to feel the power of divine presence. That’s what we will do on Saturday and Sunday. Calvary and Compassion will come together to present a musical. Neighborhood Christmas is written by Billy Kluttz, minister of music at Calvary. It’s the story of Alex, a young female pastor who comes to the church prepared to get the people involved in social action.

I play the role of Rev. Berger, head of the NAACP. My character is based on William Barber of the state NAACP. Rev. Berger is fighting for the Racial Justice Act and Alex wants to get the church involved. Her brother, Bryan, who is her roommate, is an attorney representing the opponents of the Racial Justice Act.

We will perform the play twice-On Saturday, December 3rd at 6:30 pm and on Sunday, December 4th at 11:00 am. It will take place in that space where I preach every Sunday. Calvary is located at 304 East Trinity Avenue.

The real message involves our sharing space. We will sing and dance and act-together. More than a play, this is a movement. It is a movement toward change. These bones will live.

Just talk to the bones and be present. And, let the Spirit of change captivate your imagination.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Is Big Brother Keeping House at Bank of America?

The agency has a whopping budget of $41 Billion for fiscal year 2012 and employees 230,000 people across the country. The Department of Homeland Security combines the functions of 187 federal agencies and departments. Many consider it the realization of George Orwell’s novel 1984. Orwell describes a nation where everyone is under complete surveillance. They are constantly reminded that they are under constant examination by the phrase “Big Brother is watching you.”

Has Orwell’s fictitious vision for the future come to pass with the formation of Homeland Security, or is that just another conversation for those bent on following conspiracy theories?

I must admit that I was taken aback when I learned security officers at Bank of America are employed through Homeland Security. It’s yet another twist that adds fuel to the consuming flame called Occupy the city nearest you. Why would the bank whose very name is, in the minds of many, synonymous to corruption engage in hiring people to work for Bank of America?

The Homeland Security website links jobs available through Bank of America ( More significant to those living in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill community is the presence of Homeland Security employee’s currently working security at Bank of America local branches. They are stationed across the country and keeping an eye on people in our own backyard. Many are serving in a temporary capacity after being sent to our area from other states.

Homeland Security’s partnership with the nations largest bank has intensified since Bank of America appointed a Homeland Security executive to head the office of business continuity. Donna Bucella, who headed the U.S. Terrorist Screening Center for the FBI, joined the bank in October. Prior to her work with the FBI, she served in the Department of Homeland Security as Director of the Southeast region.

The hiring of Bucella follows a serious threat of exposure from Wiki Leaks. Julian Assange, director of Wiki Leaks, had said that he intended to take down a major American bank and uncover an “ecosystem of corruption” with data coming from an executive’s hard drive.

The New York Times reported on January 2, 2011 that a team of 15 to 20 officials were involved in an internal investigation. On August 29, 2011, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a break-away member of Wiki Leaks, informed Spiegel Online that he destroyed data he took from the organization, including 5 gigabytes of information from Bank of America-more than 200,000 pages of text.

The battle between Bank of America and Assange intensified in December of last year when the bank said it would join other companies like MasterCard and PayPal in halting payments intended for Wiki Leaks. The banks shares dropped 3 percent the day after Assange’s threat. He never named the bank he would expose; however, in an interview the year before the threat Assange claimed to have the hard drive.

The threat of another security breach may be enough to justify the connection between Bank of America and Homeland Security. The unholy union has led to even more speculation. Part urban legend, part conspiracy theory and part the kind of drama that has one shaking their head (SMH), what is behind this marriage between state and big business?

In April, three Homeland Security Black helicopters dropped soldiers on top of a Bank of America building in Miami. ( A police spokesperson says it was a training exercise by the Southeast region of Homeland Security, the same region formerly headed by Bucella, now with Bank of America. Interesting connection.

Then there’s the urban legend dating back to 2006. The rumor circulated that Bank of America and Compass Bank managers had received a memo informing them Homeland Security had access to safe deposit boxes with no need of a warrant. It’s a conspiracy theory that is hard to rebuff because people are highly suspicious that ‘big brother” is watching our every move.

So what is the reason behind this union? Maybe it’s to beef up security after the debacle of 2006. There is evidence that points to Brazilian money launderers moving $3 billion through a Bank of America office in New York. In February, I Watch News reported that there were problems with the banks efforts to develop a computer program that would red-flag questionable movements of money. Boris Galinsky, a former senior vice president, said he was being asked “to develop crap.”

In August 2006, the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee on Investigations reported that Bank of America had allowed Samuel and Charles Wyly to avoid IRS scrutiny by allowing the wealthy businessmen to funnel money into the bank through offshore entities. They were charged with a $550 million securities fraud. Maybe security has been placed at banks to monitor potential money laundered to support terrorist activities. I'm just saying.

Or maybe, just maybe, they are placed in our own backyard to keep an eye on illegal immigrants. The National Illegal Immigration Boycott Coalition (NIBC) targeted Bank of America for issuing credit cards, establishing bank accounts and offering loans to illegal immigrants. The boycott began in 2007 after Bank of America introduced the pilot program in Los Angeles as a way of offering service to a rapidly growing population.

Given Homeland Securities role in protecting the boarder, maybe the presence of security officers stationed at local banks is to detect and report those illegal immigrants with accounts. I give up! I can’t figure out the connection between Bank of America and Homeland Security. I do know that it feels like a precursor to Orwell’s community controlled by “big brother.”

Or maybe I’m too much of a pessimist. Maybe I shouldn’t be concerned. Certainly we can trust Bank of America to have our best interest at heart. Surely we have the government on our side.

Or maybe it’s something behind door number 2.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Call to Occupy the Church

My phone, inbox on Facebook and email has been buzzing about the concept I placed on my Facebook wall-Occupy the Church. It’s intriguing that most agree that the Church, for the most part, has morphed into a monster that we would rather refrain from being a part. The truth is, if not for my role as a pastor, it would be difficult for me to find a place that fits my spiritual needs.

My evangelical, conservative friends will tell me that the Church can’t be defined by those who claim faith, but rather is rooted in that big book we call the Bible. They also remind me that the Word, as they put it, is the same yesterday, today and forever. In other words, there is no place for the consideration of context or culture.

I find myself incredibly frustrated due to the absence of critically thinking, progressive minded folks who have made a decision to use their gifts of time, talent and money to press an agenda that connects each of us to the maladies of others. I have come to the Church due to a past filled with anguish and irritation caused by my own actions.

The Church became my healing station. I found comfort in the words of a compassionate Christ. I was inspired by words like “if you are without sin, throw the first stone.” I needed forgiveness in my life. I found in those words the solace needed to overcome being abused, using and dealing drugs and using women and sex to cover pain.

I was moved by the movement toward the liberation of those devalued by systems of evil. The words of Martin Luther King, Jr. stirred me to walk within my dream. I discovered the teachings of Howard Thurman, a great mystic, theologian and visionary, who taught me to be a disciple of Spirit. The Church helped shape the man I have become. With that being said, something left the Church as I made my way toward rediscovery.

I’m not alone. Others feel the same. They say they don’t want to go back. There’s too much entertainment there. All of that talk about the streets paved with gold keeps them disgusted due to a lack of gold to pay their bills. They’re asked to pay more, to bring a seed offering, a tithe and more and more, to assure their blessings on this earth. They are reminded that their lacks are correlated to their lack of faith and failures of participation in the work of the kingdom.

Love walked out the back door. Hate walked in to take its place. Judgment took the seat once occupied by love. Those in search of unconditional love and acceptance are left hungry and depressed by constant reminders about why they feel the void.

I stand before the people every Sunday. I’m mad because those who need the message of love are not there. Why? Because they are fed up with the Church and refuse to give it another chance. They desire a place to ponder the voice of their inner spirit, but can’t in the Church. They have been told that everything they need is relegated to words in the book. The canon is closed. God has spoken; thus, our responsibility, as advocates of truth, is to live the words as written. Is that all!

They say no to that claim. There is more to the tug at their spirit than the simplistic messages laced with cute phraseology and a loud shout at the end. They have questions. Pray harder, pay more, come every week and trust the Lord in all things, they are told. It’s a formula to emptiness and people want more.

I have committed myself to stand with those who walked out when love left. I have made the shift toward being present with those who want to form a relationship with themselves, their neighbors and the Spirit they seek to discover. They want to hear Spirit in nature. They want to listen to the journeys of others devoid of judgment.

My message to those committed to the Occupy the Church movement is to shut up long enough to listen. God is speaking. You can’t listen because you are trapped in the assumptions of your claims. If you are willing to go back, to OCCUPY what rightfully belongs to us, then let’s move in that direction. Find a place to explore the movement of Spirit. You can come to OCCUPY at Compassion. You may seek another Church or another spiritual tradition. It doesn’t matter where you go, just go.

Why is it important that we go? Because we have stories in common begging to be shared in a way that moves us past our divides. I am more than a Christian. I am more than a man. I am more than an African American. I have waded through the water of discovery and re-discovery. I seek places to share my own journey. I need - I must have a place to listen to how those same waters cleansed the agony in your life away.

Now, the ten guiding principles of the Occupy the Church movement. They are for those prepared to go back intentional about reclaiming our rightful place as people bond by Spirit. I will be at Compassion Ministries on Sunday. I will occupy at 8am the space shared with Calvary Ministries (304 E. Trinity Avenue). If not with me, find a Church, a mosque a synagogue or a temple.

I will be calling the disciples of the Occupy movement to join me in group discussions down the road. I will be asking each of you to share the stories of your spiritual voyage. Will you please join me?

My mama used to sing, “I will not, I will not be moved…”

1. We promote an authentic embrace of different spiritual views.
2. We are willing to hear the spiritual stories of those who have encountered faith from a cultural perspective different from our own.
3. We are open to encountering God by listening to and responding to voices uncommon to the presuppositions of our own.
4. We seek to find the humanity in those who respond to life and faith different from the common views of our faith traditions.
5. We denounce all efforts to deny the spiritual claims of those rejected due to the common claims of our faith traditions.
6. We seek to respond to and seek to defeat all systems that deny the humanity of those created in the image of God.
7. We will celebrate the face of God in all we meet.
8. We will not be defined by the strapping of our institutions. We will seek spirit beyond our buildings, our liturgy and the particularity of our congregational norms.
9. We will be molded and defined by a love greater than our differences
10. We will ponder the assumptions of our privilege and seeks ways to transcend how we define our value based on those assumptions

Monday, November 14, 2011

My Own Story of Abuse

“As Simon rubbed the ugly black thing, the family friend moaned,” harder boy, rub it harder. Faster, um, ah, um, yeh, that’s right. Simon did as he said. Soon it got easier. But then it got worse,” it’s a line from Preacha’ Man, my first novel.

“Put it in your mouth, Simon stopped rubbing. He couldn’t believe what he heard. No, Simon cried. Why would he ask me to do that? Simon whispered. He slapped Simon across the face.”

Those lines from my novel rekindle memories from my sore past. It’s a story like so many others - a 10-year-old boy stripped of innocence in the truck of a family friend. The pain of that moment couldn’t be explained. The hurt caused was too deep to share with mother and father. It remained locked within the dark chambers of my subconscious. That’s was until the flashbacks came to haunt me more.

I wrote Preacha’ Man as a way to free the countless others from the brutal condition of having to keep secrets like these. I was afraid to share my story. The power of decision was taken away from me when the memories became stronger than my resolve to keep my thoughts to myself. I was too broken by the past to remain silent. I had to be set free.

Breaking that silence came with a price. Being broken and sharing that in public space can rock the world of a minister trapped in the expectations of those who drop dollars in the collection plate. Sharing a past of dysfunction radically hinders the work of ministry. Telling my truth was the beginning of the end of the work that meant so much to me.

The comments that followed the release of my first book reminded me of why I fought the urge to place those words on paper. “He must have wanted it,” I heard people say. “It proves he is gay,” others said. The backlash that came with paving the way for my own liberation made me wonder if freedom is worth the cost.

I personally grieve whenever I hear a story about boys being abused. It took me weeks to recover from the Catholic Church scandal. I’m still aching due to the lack of justice in the Eddie Long case in Atlanta. The Church seems to miss the mark whenever boys cry foul play by one called to lead the way. The image of the institution seems to mean more than exposing and ending the cycle of pain felt by boys too young to understand what was happening when they were being touched.

Those cover ups and cash settlements may be rooted in a deeper issue. Could it be that our notions of masculinity, even among those not yet men, make it difficult for those engrossed in the merits of gender identity to conceptualize the torment of boys molested by men? Are cover ups and passing the buck a result of a failure to conceive of a way to think about the abuse of boys?

Blaming the victim is a systemic evil that obstructs the pursuit of justice in cases involving sexual abuse. Women tolerate the laundry list of labels attached with being violated: they asked for it or it’s because of their alluring attire. Women have been answerable to how their ways entice those who lack the ability to control the heat.

Added to the complexity of abuse of boys are notions of masculinity. What heartrending assertion comes from institutional decisions to pretend it never happened? What does it say concerning a moral obligation to protect the innocence of those too young to protect themselves? What is said when we close our eyes and make believe it’s not our responsibility to point a finger in the direction of cruelty?

Conversations related to institutional responsibility (be it Penn State, the Catholic Church or Greater New Birth Baptist Church) should not preclude critique of affirmations of identity that minimize the masculinity of boys caught in the web of sexual abuse. Just as a woman raped does not make her a whore; a boy abused does not strip him of legitimate masculinity.

Being raped doesn’t make a person gay. Supplementary in this discussion is the need to affirm the masculinity of those who are gay. Being gay doesn’t surrender legitimate masculine identity. It may define it by different constructs, but it is masculinity all the same.

Pain wrenching discourse is necessary to help both institutions and individuals contend with their feelings related to notions of masculinity after one voices a history of abuse. Needed are ways to affirm those hiding out of fear of being labeled a fraction of a man. Every time an institution covers it up or pays for it to go away, boys like me, still aching from past memories, suffer even more.

They can’t deal with our pain. Maybe I should have never told the truth.

But, it wasn’t my decision.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Beyond the Colors of Hate

It’s a story that tugs at that tender spot of most who hear about it. Something magical happened at Occupy Atlanta. Something bigger than the causes that moved people to camp out in tents-the movement inspired rival gang members to become friends.

Occupy Atlanta participant Tim Franzen wrote the story of two young men who found a common bound while attending one of the meetings in Atlanta. “I stayed for the common cause, speaking for the people. I feel strongly that we have the right to jobs, health care, and affordable higher education," says Sherrod Britton, a 29-year-old member of the Bloods.

Shabaka Addae Guillory, a 20-year-old member of the Crips, was also moved by the Occupy movement. "I knew this kind of movement was coming I just didn't know it would come so soon," Guillory stated in the story that appeared in the Huffington Post.

Franzen tells the story of two African American males who traveled similar paths. Guillory, who became a Crip when he was 14 years old, noticed folks doing freestyle rap. Britton was in the group. "I saw him in the park, saw his colors. There was no mean mug or rivalry because we realized that what's happening here is so much bigger then gang rivalry", says Guillory.

"Now we're the best of friends," Britton replies. There was something deeper than their rival colors.

"I let him sleep in my tent because he didn't have one. We are connected through music, faith, and Occupy Atlanta", stated Britton.

Could it be there is more to the Occupy Movement than we have heard about in the news? “It's important to acknowledge that one of the beautiful byproducts of this new movement is the transformative experiences that arisen as a result of so many different people from different walks of life occupying a space together for a common cause,” Franzen writes.

It’s not the first time that music has broken the barricade between blue and red. In 1993, Ronnie Phillips and rapper Tweedy Bird Loc, who is a Kelly Park Compton Crip, produced an album featuring actual Crips from Compton and Long Beach Bloods from Inglewood and Los Angeles.

Bangin' on Wax was the debut album of the Bloods & Crips. One year later, Bangin’ on Wax 2: The Saga Continues was released as their final studio album. After Bangin’ on Wax 2, the Bloods & Crips parted ways, with the Bloods becoming the Damu Ridas and the Crips recording as the Nationwide Rip Ridaz.

The concept behind the projects was to get gang members to bang on wax rather than in the streets. Each record consisted of a “B” side and a “C” side. You got it! The “B” side featured Bloods and the “C” side was for Crips. The single Bangin’ on Wax was the only song that combined the forces of the Bloods and Crips. Most of the songs were recorded during the same studio sessions.

Something is happening in Atlanta, but what? A connection was made that allowed rival gang members to put their colors away long enough to become friends. What is behind that change?

For answers I had to revisit an important movie. If you haven’t seen it, watch Crips & Bloods: Made in America (2008). Directed by Stacy Peraltz, the movie features Forest Whitaker. Jim Brown appears in the movie. Check out my blog from November 20, 2007 (Time to Handoff to Jim Brown). There I report on a conversation with the NFL great that changed my life forever.

The movie reflects on the change that came after the death of vocal black leaders. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X are killed. Others are thrown in jail. In a blink of an eye all the icons are gone. There is no hope left. That hope is replaced with two gangs divided by territories, red and blue bandanas and beefs.

Peraltz weaves a story of young African American men without fathers, mentors or leadership. Bravado takes center stage among those devoid of hope. Acting cool becomes a survival tool in a culture where police use their force to keep thugs in their place. They grow up questioning authority. The oppressed respond in the only way they know-with violence.

Then there’s a quote from Jim Brown in the movie. "If the police have not resolved the problem in 40 years, they never will resolve the problem," he says. “

They can’t solve it because it is bigger than the police. It’s not about improved police strategies. Something is missing. What? A lack of role models, a lack of alternatives, but, more than any of that, a lack of hope.

David Patterson, former Governor of New York said it best on Real Time with Bill Maher. He argued, on this week’s show, that the lack of organization within the Occupy Movement is because people haven’t protested in 30 years. We have forgotten how to fight for our rights.

So, hope was found for gang members in Atlanta. Maybe, just maybe, it’s what they have been waiting for. They know how to speak through their music. They know they are hurt, in part, due to the way they are perceived. What has been missing is a form to verbalize all of that pain in a way that frees them enough to see the humanity in one they have been taught to hate.

They have been waiting for a message. Someone, something to give them reason to change. Be it a rap album or a movement that tells ones truth.

It’s the small victories that make a difference.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Election is instructive on the state of Durham's political future

There were no surprises coming from yesterday’s election. As expected, Mayor Bill Bell pounded challenger Sylvester Williams with 81.9 percent of the vote. Incumbents Diane Catoti and Eugene Brown and former school board member Steve Schewel firmly outpaced the competition.

The lack of stun factor serves as the underpinning for a deeper conversation involving the state of Durham’s local political scene. The three challengers, all African American, showed poorly in this election. The support of Victoria Peterson with 11 percent, Donald Hughes with 8.6 and Solomon Burnette with 6.2 percent of the votes is highly instructive for a variety of reasons.

Most significant in critiquing the results is the state of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. This election speaks to the inability, on the part of the Durham Committee, to locate and groom candidates that the public can take seriously. This year’s slate of candidates came from the remnant of the once powerful organization. They were embraced by the few who continue to fight to reclaim the dignity and respect the Committee once held in Durham.

Each candidate suffered image flows that hindered success at the polls.

Victoria Peterson has been a polarizing force for years. A former Republican, she alienated African Americans with her staunch support of Jesse Helms. Her political views shifted after she discovered unwillingness on the part of her former party to support her previous bids for office. Others find it difficult to concede her conservative Christian views. Her pro-life and anti-gay agenda has pitted her against a city council seeking to support the rights of all its citizens-despite sexual orientation.

She has clashed with many voters due to her support of Michael Peterson during his murder case, Crystal Mangum in the Duke Lacrosse mess and Mike Nifong when he faced being disbarred as Durham’s District Attorney. Her antics at his hearing were enough to get her kicked out. Peterson has developed a reputation as a conspiracy theorist. She is one of the many serial office seekers in Durham. Despite all of that, she received the most votes among those who lost.

Donald Hughes endures the task of overcoming something beyond his control-his mother. Voters disqualify him because his mother is Jackie Wagstaff, former member of both the City Council and School Board. Wagstaff’s name conjures memories of heated discord on the school board. Meetings became the source of shame throughout the region and resulted in a commentary in the Greensboro News & Record that labeled Durham North Carolina’s black sheep.

Like Peterson, Hughes has run for office before. Unlike Peterson, Hughes is, in my opinion, one of the youth to watch in Durham. Sadly, his problem with voters has nothing to do with his strengths, but with his mother. If Hughes could discover a way to distance himself from his mother he could go far as a politician. How does a person break from the ways of mom, and is it reasonable for us to expect that distancing? It is distressing that Hughes has lost again, making it difficult for him to be regarded as a credible candidate in future elections.

Hughes is faced with a dilemma that is informative in dialogue involving the impact parental ways have on their progeny. The same could be said about Solomon Burnette who placed last in the election. He is the son of Brenda Burnette who served four years on the city council and ran against Bill Bell and former Mayor Nick Tennyson for mayor in 2001.

The younger Burnette’s problems were not connected to the issues with his mother, but had more to do with his overcoming the concerns from his past. When he was 17, Burnette was arrested for an armed robbery of two Duke University students. He was later accused of domestic violence and was later connected with a friend suspected of an East Duke Campus robbery in 1999.

Burnette became the center of controversy for an editorial he wrote in the Campus Echo, the student newspaper at North Carolina Central University. “White people still murder us with impunity. White people still beat us with impunity,” he wrote in response to the Duke Lacrosse fiasco. “White people still rape us and get away with it. The only deterrent to these legally, socially and economically validated supremacist actions is the fear of physical retribution. Black men, stand up. Black women, stand up. Black children, stand up. We have been at war here with these same white people for 500 years. The time to fight, whether intellectually, artistically or physically, has always been now.”

James Ammons, former Chancellor at NCCU, publicly distanced the university from Burnette’s comments. “We are aware of the fact that Mr. Burnette has a right to express his opinion, but we also know that the freedom of speech comes with the responsibility to be fair and accountable,” Ammons said in a statement.

Kristin Butler, a Duke University graduate, later wrote a guest column for the Duke Chronicle where she criticized NCCU for awarding Crystal Mangum and Solomon Burnette a diploma. "Because of the university's blatant refusal to enforce its own rules, I will never again take an NCCU degree seriously," she writes in the May 15, 2008 piece “Summa cum loony”. “Because it no longer guarantees good character, and it's just too hard to tell the thugs and liars apart from the high-performing majority."

The Chronicle, unlike Ammons at NCCU, stood by the decision to run the column. "At The Chronicle, we value the right to free speech, and I don't think that whether I agree with the views in a column is necessarily relevant to making editorial decisions," said Chelsea Allison, editor at the Chronicle. "'Summa cum loony' has sparked a very passionate dialogue, and we have published and plan to continue to publish responses from NCCU alums and others with interest in the issue."

To his credit, Burnette is an example of what it means to transcend the mistakes of youth. He has a Bachelor’s degree in European History from North Carolina Central University and has studied the Arabic language at Duke. In addition, he has worked with Latino immigrants, students, gang members, people incarcerated and the homeless. He is also a performing artist.

Peterson, Hughes and Burnette prove the burden of the past in pursuing political office. Sometimes that past belongs to someone else. Sometimes it’s the past that one has created for themselves. Durham is an unforgiving city. It is hard to rise above the blunders of the past when people hold in their hand the vote that determines your future.

Two questions emerge from a discussion regarding those who lost. Is this the best the Durham Committee could offer? Where are those devoid of the skeletons waiting to be exposed? And, what does it take for a person to overcome those missteps from the past? That’s three questions. Heck, I’m sure there are more.

Lesson learned.

Monday, November 7, 2011

OMG: He Called Me a House Nigger

“That’s because you’re a house Nigger,” a distraught poll worker yelled at me for refusing to vote for his candidate. I had declined to take the sheet of paper promoting the virtues of the man he supported. I knew who I was voting for and had no need to waste the paper. I’m a green friendly kind of dude.

“That’s okay,” I responded when asked. “I’m not voting for him.” I then made my way to vote for the man he opposed Bill Bell for Mayor.

“I really appreciated your saying that,” a woman passing out the slate for the People’s Alliance told me when I returned. We chatted a bit about the significance of the two tax measures on the ballot. She expressed concern that teachers and assistant teachers would be terminated if it didn’t pass. I talked about the need for a rail system connecting the three counties. That’s when the man yelled at me-“You a house Nigger.”

“And that’s why I’m not voting for Sylvester Williams,” I roared back. “It’s because of people like you that I will never support him.”

I left disgusted with myself for allowing the idiocy of that man to get under my typically thick skin. I’m accustomed to being called names. It comes with the territory of putting your neck out to be chopped by those incapable of reading between and around the lines of what I write and say.

What he called me speaks to the politics of race and pronouncements of legitimate blackness. The expression house Negro comes from Malcolm X’s speech “Grassroots.” He spoke about two ranks of enslaved Africans: the “house Negro” and the “field Negro”. The house Negro lived in the owner’s house, dressed well and ate well, Malcolm X argued.

“He loved his owner as much as the owner loved himself, and he identified with his owner,” Malcolm said. “If the owner got sick, the house Negro would ask, ‘are we sick?’ If somebody suggested to the house Negro that he escape he would refuse to go, asking where he could possibly have a better life than the one he had.”

“The field Negro lived in a shack, wore raggedy clothes, and ate chittlins,” Malcolm argued. “He hated his owner. If the owner's house caught fire, the field Negro prayed for wind. If the owner got sick, the field Negro prayed for him to die. If somebody suggested to the field Negro that he escape, he would leave in an instant.”

Malcolm X claimed there are still house Negroes and field Negroes. His comments were a direct criticism of the nonviolent resistance movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. It was a consistent theme of Malcolm X while he served as the primary voice of the Nation of Islam. His commentary continues to manipulate and influence the way blackness is affirmed or censured based on the judgment of a few.

What Malcolm X’s speech did within its historical context was to place the power of assimilation at the forefront of public discourse involving the rights of people of color. It revealed the thrust of the persuasion regarding the desire to live within the comforts of being accepted by those with power. Malcolm X unveiled the scandal involving a strategy, planned or not, to pit black folks against one another, and the benefits that come with compromising racial solidarity.

It’s a rhetoric that continues to resonate within sectors of the African American community. It’s the cousin to being called an Uncle Tom. It assumes that a person maintains a position of prominence due to succumbing to the interest of white people. It demands a level of hatred that denies the possibility for moving past the wounds caused by those long ago.

There are a number of assumptions correlated with the contemporary interpretation of Malcolm X’s analysis. To cling to his argument demands the embrace of the submission that all white people are blue eyed devils. One must conclude that white people are created with incapacity to transcend the hatred they have toward black people. One must adopt a logic that refuses to concede the possibility of any good within an entire race of people. To that end, anyone who embarks on developing any form of relationship with the blue eyed devil is, by nature, given into the psychosis of a house Negro.

This is a mindset that continues to fragment advancement toward the celebration of a diverse community. Progressive minded black people are constantly engaged in proving and protecting their status as a legitimate member of the black community. If you write for the white press, you are a house Negro. If you vote Republican, you are a house Negro. If you are highly educated, send your children off to college at a school that isn’t a historically black college or University, you are a house Negro.

The term is often used as a way to demoralize those living with the rewards of hard work. It elevates those on the bottom of the economic threshold by belittling those reaping the advantages normally reserved for white people. The field Negro disputation assumes that those in the house are there because of deep love for the white people in the house.

History suggests that Malcolm X’s analysis of the house Negro is laced with suppositions that we are forced to question. It denies the evidence that indicates many of the houses Negros were placed in the house to serve as the sex toy of the master. It refuses to acknowledge the evidence that points to boys lying at the foot of the bed to warm the master’s feet. It denies the myriad of cases that indicate that boys and girls were raped by the master. The house was a place of torture, not privilege.

What Malcolm attempted to do was bring meaning to the consequences of class division within the African American community. It assumed a position of privilege among those in the house that requires deep critical scrutiny. It also requires an examination of a view of history that fails to considers the particularity of humanity. In other words, not all white people are the same. Not all African Americans are the same. To suggest that everyone in the house felt the same gives far too much power to the influence of living in a given place.

I looked at my critic with rage filled eyes. How dare he make an assumption based on one vote. How dare he make that statement in the presence of white people. How dare he discredit me as a person due to my unwillingness to do things his way.

It only confirmed my vote. Birds of a feather flock together. That bird needs to be locked in a cage to sing alone. That bird sings because he refuses to fly after the doors of the cage have been open.

And for the record, I move between the house and the field. That’s what freedom brings

Friday, November 4, 2011

Occupy Duke Energy

“The mother of revolution and crime is poverty,” Aristotle wrote in 350 BCE. I recently revisited his reflections related to the causes of revolution in Book V of the Politics. They read like a line from the prophecies of Nostradamus.

Something has shifted the way people think about the American Dream. Some may claim all that hoopla about cooperate greed that fuels the rise of the Occupy movement has more to do with a few spoiled brats seeking attention. If you don’t know, you better ask somebody.

More have been made poor by a system that has morphed into a monster waiting to devour those who keep it fed. We have witnessed three cases of the escalating greed of corporate America within the past month. Duke Energy, Netflix and Bank of America embarked on plans to further strap those who struggle to find a way to keep their head above water.

The case of Bank of America is an example of the power of an old fashioned revolution. When Bank of America announced that it was imposing a $5 fee for making as little as one debit purchase per month, Molly Katchpole, a 22-year-old college student, responded with a resounding Hell to the No. She began an internet protest that landed 306.000 signatures. Her revolution killed the debit card fee.

Netflix, the video rental giant, lost over 800,000 subscribers when it increased its fee. The company’s shares plunged 35 percent. The consumer has the power to change corporate policy by taking their hard earned money to another place of business. Imagine what would happen if people got fed up enough to alter their spending habits? Watch out Wal-Mart. Treat your people right.

There are many places waiting for a revolution to emerge, but what happens when the company in question is a monopoly. It’s hard to press those creeps to change when they have our guts in their hands and are prepared to squeeze until we have nothing else to give.

Case in point-Duke Energy. The utility company is proposing an 18 percent rate increase for all customers in North Carolina. Officials in South Carolina have already approved a 17 percent increase. If approved, it would be the company’s largest rate increase for residential customers in more than 20 years.

Duke Power argues it needs the increase to recover part of the billions it has spent to upgrade its electricity-generating and transmission system in North and South Carolina since 2009. “Over the past two years, we have invested $4.8 billion in the system,” says Betsy Conway, spokeswoman for Duke Energy. “So, we are seeking to recover those cost.”

Determining the company’s financial state is tricky business. It all comes down to who is listening and the reason behind the pitch. In August, the company reported a $441 million profit in the second quarter of 2011 and a nearly $1 billion profit for the first six months of the year at $941 million, up from a second-quarter loss in 2010 of $217 million and a first-half 2010 profit of $228 million.

That report was given in conjunction with the proposed merger with Progress Energy. Duke highlighted its international and commercial operations in stressing gains on August 2. "Traditionally, our third quarter is the most significant," Duke CEO and chairman James Rogers said in announcing the company's results.

On Thursday, Duke reported profits declined about 30 percent in the third quarter as power sales fell and it incurred larger-than-estimated costs for a new power plant in Indiana. The company reported increases in operating revenues of 31.9 percent for its international business.

Consumers listen as Goliaths like Duke and oil companies cry over lost revenue. They peddle their sob stories about the cost to maintain business while the poor get poorer and the middle class get closer to becoming the poor. We witness increases at the gas pump. Now we’re asked to help Duke become more profitable as they expand and replace equipment.

They raise prices because we have no options other than to find an alternative to the consumption of what they feed us. As for me, I’m fed up with the lack of sensitivity coming from these corporate heads. We need a break. We can’t take anymore of your increases. We shouldn’t have to pay for your expansion. Companies should be forced to do what we do every day-to find a way to continue to function when less is coming in and more is required to move forward.

I want a revolution. The best bet is to Occupy across the country.

18 percent. Give me a break. OCCUPY DUKE ENERGY

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lopez: I was there to help the children

“I don’t have a gang, I have a team,” Jose Lopez, Durham’s Police Chief, corrected me during a recent phone conversation. He was correct to bring to my attention that I used the term gang to describe the police in my last column. I used it to express the angst among many who view the police as street thugs in uniform. Okay, I went a bit over the top with that one.

Lopez went on to set the record straight about a comment he made at a recent meeting held at the Shepherd’s House United Methodist Church on North Driver Street. The meeting was called after two toddlers were hit by stray bullets shot from a car. Residents near the shooting are outraged by the events leading up to and following the shots.

In my blog (“Shootings on Driver and Spruce St Force a Discussion about the Elephant in the Room”) I argued that meetings such as the one held that night at Shepherd’s House UMC is circumvented by the presence of known criminals in the room. Those thugs show up intentional about distracting the conversation away from what really matters. To that end Lopez brought insight to why he was present that night.

He informed me that his primary concern in being there was to offer parents resources for their children due to the trauma caused by the shooting. “It was turned into a time to blast the police,” he says. Lopez is rightfully concerned that children may be missing the help they need due to the way the purpose of the meeting was shifted.

Lopez also clarified a statement I made regarding a comment he made. I wrote “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.” Lopez stated that his concern is that residents do the ground work necessary prior to the meeting. Members of the Durham Police Department are encouraged to attend community meetings. To gain the most out of those meetings the residents need to partner in a way that assures the maximization of the police departments resources.

The Chief made it clear that he knew the elephant was in the room. “We know who they are,” he stated. “Residents need to find a way to slip word to a member of the police department when they see a person in the room.” In other words, a way needs to be found to keep those elephants from showing up at community meetings. Lopez suggested that they not be invited.

But, let’s go back to the most important point Lopez made. Like the Chief, I’m concerned that parents left void of the services their children need. The trauma created due to violence can have grave implications on the mental health of young people. It is troubling that a more concerted effort hasn’t gone into helping to communicate the services available to those who need it the most.

Lopez indicated that he was present to promote the work of the North Carolina Coalition Institute (NCCI). The police department has partnered with this state project to offer counseling to youth. I wonder how many parents have taken advantage of those services. I wonder how many consider what is happening as normative for a child growing up in their neighborhood?

It’s not normal. It’s traumatizing and needs to be dealt with swiftly. Parents should to be made aware of the $5.4 million grant awarded The Durham Center. The Center for Child and Family Policy (CCFP) at Duke University helped The Durham Center secure the six-year federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The project, called BECOMING (Building Every Chance Of Making It Now andGrown-up), focuses on services for 16- to- 21- year-old youth moving between juvenile and adult service systems.

What that grant fails to address is the growing population of youth suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Services are offered through The Center for Child and Family Policy (CCFP) at Duke, the Carolina Partners in Mental Healthcare and the Carolina Partners in Counseling, but have parents found a way to access these services? And, if so, are parents able to afford the price?

Solving and reducing crime is the job of the police department. Chief Lopez brought has brought to the forefront an issue that can’t be placed on the backburner. The youth who witness crimes need counseling.

Maybe it’s because the Chief knows what happens when young people fail to receive mental health services. He locks them up down the road. Maybe, just maybe, some crime could have been avoided if that person locked up had received some counseling years ago.

In the meantime, let’s try to stay focused the best we can.