Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A black man in charge is not enough to get me to buy a Big Mac

I’m not a fan of the Big Mac.  I can’t stand the taste of those McNuggets and I run from the addictive powers of the McCafé Frappé.  Every time I pass those golden arches I’m reminded of Michael Moore’s documentary “Supersize Me.”  I wonder how much of my gut is because of too many late night runs to sneak some of those yummy French fries.

It’s not just McDonalds.  I deplore all things with the fast food label.  If it has a drive in window, and has a home office in a city not called Durham, I’m the first one out front holding a picket sign while shouting “hell no, we won’t go.”  I’m more of a Whole Foods kind of guy.  If there’s a local farmer peddling veggies and fruits on the side of the road, that’s the place for me.  Give me a farmer’s market and fish from a local body of water over frozen patties that came on a truck from Oak Brook, Illinois.

Promoting healthy choices is on my list of social justice issues.  It’s up there with civil rights, human rights, gay rights, immigration rights, fixing the criminal justice system and economic justice.  I’ve preached about obesity and how poor folks end up with massive health concerns due to the cost to eat.  They purchase what their budget can handle, and often that comes out of a can, or is on the dollar menu at one of the fast food chains.

I’m on that soap box preaching the good news of health.  Can I get an amen to that?  I’m still on the box, but I must admit I’m struggling to keep from falling off.  My pride as a black man is making it difficult for me not to detour over to the golden arches on my way to pick up local grown fruits and vegetables.  This is one of those moments in black history that young people will talk about during Black History Month.  I can hear it now – who was the first black CEO of McDonalds.

Don Thompson takes the reign of the world’s largest fast food chain on July 1. That’s big news.  It’s enough to make a brother pick up a Big Mac.  As important as it may seem, it’s good news that Thompson’s selection didn’t make the news.  The lack of buzz reflects a significant change regarding how black folks climbing to the top are observed as a victory for all black people.  When George and Weezy moved on up to an East side apartment in the sky it was a celebration of the hard work and determination of those fighting to make it to the top.

It came at a time when the images of blacks on television reflected all things hood.  Good Times told the story of a struggling family living in a housing project.  Sanford and Son was about a father and son who made a living by collecting and selling trash.  We celebrated the first to make it to the top.  The first black woman in space, the first black billionaire, the first owner of a pro team or the first black President of the United States were significant moments in the life of a community searching for reasons to believe.

But this isn’t that Big Mac moment.  There’s no line to purchase a happy meal to show support for Thompson.  I say that’s good news, and not because of my disgust for fast food.  It’s good news because there have been enough victories to make his promotion a normal business story rather than the news of the decade.

Magic Johnson becoming one of the owners of the LA Dodgers didn’t make it to the front page.  When Oprah decided to start her own television network no one placed the move in the same camp as Bob Johnson’s start of BET.  We’d been there and done that.  Old news.  It was to be expected.  No biggy.

And that is good news.  Some may regard the lack of coverage as evidence that the press fails to cover stories involving black people.  That may be true in some cases, but this is a different matter.   It’s simply not news anymore, and that’s the real story.  Enough has been accomplished to push the story to the second page in the business section.

That good news alleviates the pressure to head to McDonalds to show support for the brother in charge.  In the past I would have felt obligated to do just that.  Not this time.  I can place my health above the race of the CEO.

Besides, Herman Cain was the boss of Godfather’s Pizza.  Sometimes you can’t tell a dude by his color.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Let's crash the Klan party

I’m tempted to crash the party.  Residents down the street in Reidsville, North Carolina are receiving fliers inviting them to a May 26 Ku Klux Klan cross burning intended for “white people only.”  I would love to see the look on their faces when this big black dude with dreadlocks shows up to heckle the speakers.

Years ago it would have been insane to suggest such a thing.  Given the KKK’s long history of hanging black men for no more than looking at a white woman, the thought of a cross burning brought chills to anyone with at least one black parent.  Who can forget the movie “Mississippi Burning” or the countless stories connected to the KKK intruding on the march for Civil Rights?

That was then, this is now.

The absurd suggestion that I will attend the cross burning is my way of making a statement about how I feel about folks in hoods.  I’m willing to show up, yell at the speakers, pull off their hoods and stand toe to toe with them for one reason.  I’m not scared of the KKK. 

If white people want to show up to hold a hate rally about how they feel about me, then I’m willing to show up and tell them how I feel about them.  Those tactics worked back in the day when they were able to hide behind crooked law enforcement.  There may be a few corrupt cops sprinkled in the crowd, but that’s not enough to hide them from the truth.  I will expose them with my words.  I’m not afraid of the burning cross and mean words about people who look like me.

Bring it on sucker.

I may bring some hot dogs to put in the fire.  I’m sure there will be a keg of beer to add to the festive moment.  Yes, I would drink with the Klan.  I don’t eat hot dogs, but hey, I’m sure they do.  It’s the least I could do since I’m crashing the party.

It all sounds insane.  Right?  Who in their right mind would consider such a thing?  I would.

It’s about taking their power away.  It simply doesn’t work anymore.  No one cares that you hate black people.  We’re not alone.  You hate Jews and anyone else that doesn’t fit into the box of white power.  I’m sure it must hurt having to live in a country with a brother in charge.  I feel your pain.  Deal with it. 

So, why show up?  Because I can.  Because I don’t care about what they think.  Because I’m not afraid of that burning cross.  It has no power over me.  Because it’s a waste of time, and I would show up to remind them I’m not going anywhere.

Besides, there’s nothing like looking in the face of a person who hates you and taking the high road.  I’m reminded of an altercation I had with a Klansman back in 1981.  I was working at a local radio station.  It was a new job.  I had just left working for a television station in the same city.  I was a 22 year-old moving up in the world of media.  I was gaining attention. 

“I hate Niggers like you,” the tall Klansman informed me after introducing me with his hate credentials.  He patted me on the head like a person would a dog.  “My daughter asked me if we and Niggers are the same.  Hate she asked me that.  It’s cause of Niggers like you.”

We were at one of those fancy restaurants that catered to white people with fancy clothes.  I wondered why he was there.  The thought came to me that he had probably followed us into the restaurant.  I was the only black person there.  I felt alone.  I felt angry.  I felt exposed.

He was at least 6’5” and weighed at least 250.  I stood 6’1” and was a well-cut 210.  Earlier in the day I had worked out at the dojo in preparation for my black belt.  “I can take this asshole,” I thought to myself as I prepared to take a violent swing in the direction of his head.  Then it hit me.

That’s what he wants me to do.  I closed my eyes.  I took a deep breath. I opened them and stated calmly. 

“I hate Niggers too,” I paused to let it settle in. “But a Nigger my friend is not determined by skin, but by the way one acts, and you are acting quite niggardly.” I watched as his skin turned red.  I wasn’t done.

“But if your desire is that I show hate in the same way that you hate me, I refuse to give you that satisfaction.  I will not be ruled by your hate.  Don’t misinterpret that as fear.  I don’t fear you.  I don’t hate you, I feel sorry for you because you don’t know me, but more than anything, I feel sorry for your daughter.”

Something took hold of me.  Some may call it the Holy Spirit.  It was like the words came from a place beyond my own voice.  I was resurrected in that moment.  He walked away defeated.  He was unable to prove to those watching that I was just a Nigger in a nice suit.

That’s when it came to me.  Hate can’t work unless you give it power.  It only works when you share in the hate.  The fuel of hate is more hate.

Wouldn’t it be fun to transform that burning cross into a weenie roast?

Better still is the logo of the United Methodist Church.  It’s a burning cross.  That form of hate doesn’t work anymore. The Church has taken the symbol back.

Pass me a can of beer and holla at your boy.  Whoops.  Don’t call me boy.  I’m a grown man.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Parents of students at W. G. Pearson Magnet Middle School refuse to go away

Public schools aren’t what they used to be.  They were once the center of the neighborhood.  They were deeply rooted in tradition, and carried stories going back to our parent’s days.  Today they serve one purpose.  Teach em and move em out.

Those challenged with school administration are confronted with counting the beans and carrying eggs gently so they don’t drop.  That balance between counting beans and carrying eggs keeps Durham’s school board members in the middle of community outrage.  The most recent topic is the anticipated closure of W. G. Pearson Magnet Middle School.  Those proud of the history connected to the school, and the neighborhood surrounding it, are miffed that students will be sent far away.

What were they supposed to do?  “There is no space for an athletic field,” Natalie Beyer, member of the Board of Education, informed me after I posted a blog that shared the frustration of a parent. “Students feel disappointed when they travel to other places to attend sporting events.”

It’s one of those simple matters that many may not consider.  Beyer was one of the parents who pushed to transform W. G. Pearson into a magnet school.  The hope was to offer students a chance to explore their creative sides.  Two of her children completed middle school at W. G. Pearson.  With all the good at the school, the structure lacked the basics to substantiate keeping it open.

Sports matter to middle school students.  There was more to contend with.  The classrooms are too small.  The school system struggled with keeping the doors open beyond the two year window offered to give current students a chance to complete their middle school education at the school.

When the school opened as a magnet a waiver was granted for students living within the school’s zone.  The number of children within that zone declined when the Fayetteville Housing community was flattened to accommodate student housing for NCCU.  The Durham Housing Authority sold the land, but it has stood vacant with no indication of building on the site.  Many students who would have attended W. G. Pearson were forced to other parts of the city.

It’s part of a complicated history that reflects a series of decisions that obstructed the stability of the school and the community surrounding the school.  Part of it was the ruin of the old Hayti community.  Another part is the undermining of Rolling Hills and Southside.  There are efforts to fix all of that, but what happens to the school in the meantime is uncertain.

The promise of W. G. Pearson rapidly faded.  Those parents who came craving what the school pledge soon reneged on that commitment. “Many families at WG Middle Magnet School began to contact DPS about their dissatisfaction with their experience at the school,” say Heidi Carter, member of the Board of Education.  “Areas of concern included lack of facilities for middle school athletics, as well as numerous other complaints about the WG building being old and designed for elementary aged and sized students

As enrollment declined, the Board of Education and school administrators were forced to contend with the swift decline in white student enrollment.  Due to the under-enrollment of schools, discussions were vital regarding how to restructure attendance lines.  Chewning Middle School had to be redesigned to offset declining attendance.

These changes leave parents feeling defenseless in addressing how they envision their children’s education.  For those who are black, it feels like some old demons reemerging from the grave of hate.  It feels like some plot to destroy black communities and to impede the development of those young minds. 

Something much deeper is at the core of all of this. 

The culprit is white flight from public education.  The truth is black families are also opting out for other options.  They, like white parents, are sold on the message that public schools are failing.  Parents have chosen to remove their children from the public education system to protect them from the madness.  Schools are being built to target parents on the edge of leaving the system.  They’re being built to offset the lure of Voyager Academy and the Central Park School. 

W. G. Pearson gets the chop for multiple reasons.  Board reasons say it is partly due to a lack of space to expand and inadequate classroom space.  That may be true, but, if it is, opening the new W. G. Pearson Magnet Middle School in 2006 was a big mistake.  It reflects a lack of forethought among those who made the decision to open the school knowing it lacked space for athletic facilities, and had classrooms too small to meet the needs of a middle school.  If there is to be criticism, and there should, it’s geared toward those who decided to open the school in the first place.

Now we are left with a new truth.  Those parents who love W. G. Pearson aren’t going anywhere.  They refuse to back off.  They demand being heard, and they will take this to the grave. Why? Because there is too much worth preserving to remain silent. 

The board has taken a new position on the building.  “Earlier this year Dr. Becoats and the DPS administration recommended that the WG Middle School program be discontinued and the building re-purposed,” Carter says. “I don’t think the intention is to close the building forever, but rather to study the community needs and wishes, then make decisions about if and how to use the facility, being sensitive to the historical significance of the building.” 

That’s good news for those fighting parents. Zelda Lockhart (see: has called a meeting to enact an action plan to keep W. G. Pearson open,  The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 24th at 6:00 p.m.  It will be held at 819 Wilkerson Avenue. 

“It's time now to put our heads together on the facts, figures, logistics, legalities for keeping W.G. Pearson open in its neighborhood,” Lockhart says.  It's time for our proactive action plan.”

Something good should come out of the meeting.  If school board members are willing to listen, and people in the community are passionate about this school, a way can be found to keep everyone happy.

But, you know me.  I like to look at the glass as half-full.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Why Malcolm X matters

The plaza was submerged in black.  From the impromptu Soul Train lines to the reminders of black & white televisions with wire hangers dangling from the back, the Bimbe Festival highlighted what happens when old school ways hangs out with the new school.  Doug E Fresh pitched the point when toddlers stole the show when they hopped on stage to do the “Dougie”. They, along with the white dude who proved he can party like a rock star, brought smiles to thousands who came out to celebrate black culture.

Bimbe is unlike many of Durham’s cultural events.  The Blues Festival maintains its reign as the Queen of the outdoor events.  The Blues Festival is a gathering of all of Durham.  It highlights the rich diversity that makes the Bull City the most tolerant municipality in the nation.  Bimbe is different.  It brings out the folks not drawn to the blues or the offerings of other street festivals.  That’s what makes it special.

Bimbe is a pure display of black culture. You get the dress.  You get the dance moves.  You get the attitude and stories about what life was like back in the day when you had to get home before the street lights came on.  It makes you feel like you’re at a family reunion where the best and the worst in the family show up to party.  It’s a confirmation of the slogan “for better and for worse.”

Standing in the middle of it all reminded me of why I love my black family.  It’s important to say that because there is so much not to love.  Let’s be real about it.  How can you love low academic achievement, crime and economic disparity?  There is so much not to like, but that’s not about the people.  That’s about the struggle.  There is a special feeling that comes when surrounded by my people.  You can’t help but smile when the energy takes control.

Saturday was a special time.  It was about the music, the food and the vendors, but there was something else that roused my deep love for black people.  It was the date.  May 19.  I came to celebrate the day.  I do every year.  May 19th is the day Malcolm X was born.

El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz was born on May 19, 1925.  Out of respect, I use the name he was given after his journey to Mecca.  His life took on new meaning after he discovered the universality of Islam.  He could no longer minimize religion to a race.  His radical shift fractured his relationship with Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam.  Three members of the Nation of Islam killed El-Shabazz as he prepared to address the Organization of Afro-American Unity in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom.

The power of his words did not die.  His strength and determination gave a people reason to see beyond how they are defined.  We aren’t what they say we are.  There is beauty in our look.  We are not less than those with blue eyes and the façade of power.  We claimed pride in our African heritage and found the power of collaboration.

He told us not to depend on others for opportunity.  He challenged us to create businesses to support a community historically decimated by neglect.  He told us not to wait on them or depend on them to fix what is within our own power to mend.  We no longer need the slave master to take care of us.  We don’t need to sit at their table to find meaning - we have our own table to eat. 

They brought us here and stripped us of our names.  They robbed us of our heritage by handing us an identity that didn’t belong to us.  They taught us to hate our own skin and to seek the affirmation of a people we will never look like.  They pitted black people against one another based on their complexion –lighter skin tone is better than dark.  We learned to hate our nappy hair and dark skin.  We were taught that white is better, and success is measured by an ability to be more like them.

He was killed on February 21, 1965.  He was only 39 when he died.  If alive he would be 87 years-old. What would he tell us? 

He would tell us that we are more than this.  We are more than our obsessions.  Our cravings are destroying our genius.  Why do we crave our own destruction?  Why do we desire intoxication more than books?  He would challenge us to rise above our own madness. 

Then he would chastise us for our dependence on others.  Why do we keep waiting for crumbs from the table?  Why haven’t we created our own economic strategy to elevate those overlooked by people unable to understand?  He would tell us that we should not blame white people, but the problem is ours to fix.  His message was not about hating white people.  It was more about defining how we arrived at this place, and what it takes to transcend it all.  His challenge was for self-determination.

Finally, El-Shabazz would ask us to ponder our self hatred.  He would attack the massive division among black people.  He would lead dialogue regarding ways to reconcile the gaps based on ideologies.  What are you doing? Why so much energy circulating around differences while the real issue is in finding a solution?

I stayed at Bimbe all day.  I waited to hear his name.  Have we forgotten him?  Maybe it’s because we have been taught to hate him.  Wasn’t his message about hatred toward white people?  Can we endorse the message of a man who wasn’t a Christian?  Is that why we failed to sing the birthday song?

I walked away disappointed.  There would be no Bimbe if not for El-Shabazz.  He changed the way we think about what it means to be black in America. 

"Look at yourselves. Some of you teenagers, students. How do you think I feel and I belong to a generation ahead of you - how do you think I feel to have to tell you, 'We, my generation, sat around like a knot on a wall while the whole world was fighting for its human rights - and you've got to be born into a society where you still have that same fight.' What did we do, who preceded you ? I'll tell you what we did. Nothing. And don't you make the same mistake we made...."

I hear you great teacher. Happy Birthday.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The closing of the W. G. Pearson Magnet Middle School draws attention to Durham's battle with disparities

I keep praying that we will get past the growing pains of school merger.  After all that fighting, and Bill Bell putting his political career on the chopping block, the deal was made in 1992.  It wasn’t easy convincing the black community to surrender control of the predominantly black city school system.  White parents feared what would come of the county school district once little black kids began attending their schools.

It was a nightmare waiting to unfold.  It’s been 20-years now, and those fears have become our reality.  The merging of the former Durham Public School and Durham County School systems continues to strain Durham’s public education.  The hope was to create a new district that reaped benefits from the strengths of the former systems.  It’s a work in progress.

Many parents are angry with how money fuels decisions.  Zelda Lockhart, 2010 Piedmont Laureate for Literature in her region of North Carolina, is among the parents refusing to remain silent. “My daughter has the right to be educated in her community, at a school that has historical significance for all people of Durham, and in a space where she can walk less than a block and continue her education at the library that is also part of her historical neighborhood, where her love for art and science are nurtured.,” she says in response to the closing of W.G. Pearson Magnet Middle School.

W. G. Pearson was touted for drawing gifted students interested in the arts.  It’s located in an historical black neighborhood where many residents remember the glory days before decay settled in to rob so many of their dreams.  The school represents more than a place to teach their children.  The building along with the youth who walked to school reminds residents of what could be there again. 

W. G. Pearson became expendable when the Lucas Middle School was built. The North Highlands neighborhood requested a middle school closer to their children.  The new school with state of the art technology will open in August. Treyburn in North Durham, is a neighborhood where the average home price is over $270,000.

 “The scenario is all too familiar to my own as a teenager,” Lockhart says. “I slipped through cracks of development in the City of St. Louis when many of the inner city schools were slowly closed in favor of county development, and by the time I was ready to attend high school the schools that remained open were on the other side of town and there was no transportation save for my bus pass.”

 Lockhart contends there is a deeper political issue surrounding the closing of W. G. Pearson’s successful program.  That is the closing a thriving institution that serves an underserved population to accommodate for the building of a new facility that will serve a privileged population.

“Problem solve for our children the way you problem solved for the children of upper income parents,” Lockhart says.  She wants the school board to redraw the district lines. “And make sure that you keep your promise to provide all students with an outstanding education that motivates them to reach their full potential and enables them to discover their interests and talents, pursue their goals and dreams, and succeed in college, in the workforce and as engaged citizens.”

“What is key in keeping that promise is that the W.G. Pearson children never again walk out of the school at the end of their day feeling like second class citizens because one school far north of their neighborhood will open with new technology, while their facility is left to fall apart and thus be closed because it has been ignored,” Lockhart says.

Rather than improve the school within walking distance of students, a new one is built far away. The assumption felt by children is the best schools are over there.  Why can’t the best schools be over here?

There’s an interesting twist to all of this merger talk.  Jeanne H. Lucas was the first African American female to serve as a state senator.  Prior to that, she worked with the Durham City School System.  The new school named in her honor is far away from the students she once taught.  I wonder what she would think about the closing of W.G. Pearson?

All in the name of merger.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Anita Daniels deserves the nod to replace Joe Bowser on the Board of County Commissioners

It’s only six months. Right? Selecting someone to complete the term vacated by Joe Bowser is no big deal. Right?  Members of the Durham Board of County Commissioners can easily make that decision. Right?

Hold on, wait a minute.  This is Durham, NC, and there is no such thing as an easy decision.  The last time members of the Board of County Commissioner were stuck with the same task they ended up picking Pam Karriker, a supporter of Amendment One.  Her short stint on the board is a reminder that not everyone living in Durham has tolerance oozing from their bones.

 Karriker, along with her four comrades, have been stuck with the charge of replacing Joe Bowser after he was taken to the wood shed and given an old fashion beat down during the primary.  Old Joe’s feelings were so hurt that he decided to take his toys and go home.

Picking a person to serve a six month term is a thorny task when placed within the context of Durham’s old school political culture.  The most heartbreaking part of how things get done in Durham is how virtually everything is tied to an antiquated system that fails to serve the average Jane and Joe citizen.  Those squeaky wheels get all of the attention, and, at the end of the day, what is best is often compromised to satisfy the interest of someone holding the perception of power.

That’s why the best person to replace Bowser – for six months – may get overlooked.  That person is Anita Daniels.

This six month term of duty is tied to a system that demands being fed bits of morsels from the table of power.  On that table are old names that represent, in the minds of those holding power, the essence of credibility.  Only a few are allowed to sit at the table.  It’s a system that feeds on its own while frustrating the growth within footsteps of actualization.

The characters at the table are few.  Fred Foster, Jr., who placed near the top among those receiving votes in the primary election, is the favorite among Bill Bell and others who have chimed in on Bowser’s replacement.  Foster’s showing during the primary, combined with Wendy Jacob’s willingness to bow out of taking office early, is why it will be difficult for Commissioners to pass on his taking office.

Hold my mule.  That may be politically advantageous, but Daniels is the one for the job. Why?

I take serious issue with Foster taking office prior to relinquishing his role as President of the Durham NAACP.  There is nothing within the guidelines of the NAACP or with the Board of County Commissioners that negate his right to hold both offices; however, serving in both capacities reflect a lack of sensitivity to the potential of serious conflicts of interest.  The work of the NAACP will be compromised by having a President who can’t speak on behalf of the organization due to his role as a member of the Board of County Commissioners. 

There is also the matter of the November election.   It appears that Omar Beasley will be placed on the ballot along with the five Democrats who survived the primary.  Although Foster was on top of the heap among those who collected votes, the will of the people is still in question, and we can’t assume that Foster will survive in November.  By appointing Foster before the November election, Foster is granted footing over others who remain in the competition. 

Phil Cousins, chair of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, is a favorite among many.  Cousins is capable of entering the work with both feet on the ground due to having served as a County Commissioner.  He brings knowledge that will make for a smooth transition.  The problem with Cousins is his current role as Chair of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.  Although the Durham Committee’s Political Committee is not chaired by Cousins, serving the Board of County Commissioners would be a major conflict of interest due to the November election.  Not to mention that Cousins has a tough task in convincing people that Lavonia Allison isn’t pulling the strings of the organization. 

Another option would be to seek the service of another former commissioner.  The most likely choice would be Maryann Black, who currently serves on the staff at Duke Medicine.  Becky Heron, who resigned from the board last year, is another possibility, but don’t hold your breath.

The other option would be to select from the list of those who lost during the primary.  There are two who stand out: Anita Daniels and Elaine Hyman. Both have experience in county government as department heads.  Daniels, in addition to her experience as an executive with the United Way, has worked in city government. 

Daniels gets the nod over Hyman due to her strong showing during the primary.  Although it’s only six months, those at the table are passing on the one waving to get their attention.

In my opinion, it's the best move to make. But, who am I? I'm not at the freaking table.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Bowser's selfish decision could lead to another selfish decision

Joe Bowser’s abrupt resignation from the Board of County Commissioners has the remaining members scrambling to appoint his replacement.  The best word to describe Bowser’s decision to opt out of completing his term is selfish.  He leaves behind a board in flux, and loads of potential political maneuvering that could compromise the integrity of those left behind.

Many are asking why Bowser quit before the job was complete.  He says Commissioners have tough decision over the next few months, and it would be best for them to move without his input.  His argument fails to consent to the vow he took when taking office.  The deal was to fulfill his obligation through the end of the term, and it wasn’t conditioned on whether voters decided to give him the nod for another four years.

Left behind to muddle through the decision of replacing Bowser is Pam H. Karriker, who will step down at the end of her term, Ellen Reckhow, Brenda Howerton, and Michael Page. The task is complicated due to the ongoing battle to serve after the end of the current term.  Will Wilson, who placed fifth in the primary with 8.4 percent of the votes, could challenge Page in a runoff on June 26.  In addition, Omar Beasely has secured enough signatures to be placed on the ballot in November.

Beasley, a bails-bondsman and track coach with Carolina Elite, needed 7,000 signatures to be placed on the November ballot.  He plans to turn in 8,000 signatures to the Board of Elections at the end of June.    The runoff between Page and Wilson, combined with the election in the fall, makes the replacement of Bowser a matter soiled with political interest.

Wendy Jacobs and Fred Foster seem to be the frontrunners to replace Bowser.  Many have given the nod to Foster – a black man replacing a black man.  On the surface it appears as the logical move given the current state of racial politics in the city.  Jacobs and Foster were close behind Reckhow in the primary.  Commissioners have 60 days to replace Bowser, and Foster seems to have the necessary votes to begin his term six months early.

I’d recommend a pause before moving too fast on appointing Foster to replace Bowser.  There is one last matter of business that Foster needs to fix before stepping into office.  Will he resign as President of the Durham Chapter of the NAACP, or will he do as Bowser did before being strips of his office – hold both?

Foster indicated that he was stepping down from his duties as President of the NAACP when he announced his run for the Commission office.  He stated that he would do so until the end of the election.  It’s not quite clear what stepping down meant for Foster.  He continues to hold the title of President, and there is no clear indication that he has separated himself from the work of the NAACP. 

What is clear is Foster’s inability to consider the potential conflict of interest in maintaining both roles.  “I have not had time to consider my position with the NAACP, but when I make a decision, I will be happy to share that with the public,” he says.

“I would invite you to research the manual governing the NAACP. There are several county commissioners and state legislators serving in public office while holding office with the NAACP,” he says.  “I refer you to Skip Alston who is chair of the Guilford County Board of County Commissioner who served as NC State President of the NAACP just to give you an example.”

Foster is correct.  There are examples to support his claim to hold both offices.  Bowser made the same argument when he served on the Commission.  There is nothing the members of the Board of County Commissioners can do to minimize Foster’s role as President of the NAACP.  My challenge to Foster, and those who cling to all that power, is to consider the danger in serving two masters.  Why relegate the role of the NAACP by placing yourself in a position that compromises the voice of that office?

Who will serve as the spokesperson for the NAACP before the Board of County Commissioners?  Isn’t the power of social activism maintained by creating safe distance from the organizations that require scrutiny? What voice can you give to matters regarding county government when you are a member of the team impacting policy?  The conflict of interest leaves the NAACP vacant of leadership capable of bringing credible critique of the organization Foster has been elected to serve.

Upon mentioning the parallel with Bowser, Foster responded “I am not Joe Bowser.”  Foster may not be Bowser, but the lessons from Durham’s not so distant past should serve to enlighten us about the bad news that comes when there are conflicts of interest.

Bowser was stripped of his lifetime membership with the NAACP for passing out fliers on Election Day in 2004 that read: "Joe Bowser, DURHAM BRANCH NAACP PRESIDENT, Recommends for Your Vote the Following Candidates. NO STRAIGHT DEMOCRATIC TICKET VOTING."

Bowser represented Republican gubernatorial candidate Patrick Ballantine during the endorsement meeting of the Durham Committee. NAACP President and CEO Kweisi Mfume notified Bowser in writing that he was suspended as president and that his life membership was also suspended because he engaged in political campaigning using his position in the nonpartisan organization.

It was a selfish move that impacted Durham’s NAACP.  Resigning before the end of the term is selfish. 

Foster may not be Bowser, but if he holds on as President of the NAACP, that’s selfish.  If that happens, keep your eyes on the one who refuses to give up power for the state of a greater good.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Obama's position on same-gender marriage rekindles "Yes We Can"

I was grumpy the day after the primary election.  It felt like all hope in living in a country that truly protects the rights of all citizens vanished with one massive stroke.  Amendment One was a colossal blow to my communal vision.

The pain subsided the next day when President Obama said hell to the no to North Carolina’s conception of what it means to be America.  “It grew directly out of this difference in vision,” Obama explained.  “Are we a country that includes everybody and gives everybody a shot and treats everybody fairly?  Does that make us strong?”  Obama is correct to assert that support of same-gender marriage is an extension of what America is supposed to be.

Obama’s out of the closet political experience could not have come at a better time.  It was the much needed band-aid for those aching after the hillbillies in North Carolina defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.  The issue has been a hot potato for politicians desiring to keep their liberal base while not miffing the Biblical literalist who believe God speaks in King James English.

Obama had to face the harsh reality of black folk’s homophobic ways.  Among those most prone to ride the Obama bus, support for same-gender marriage was like selling a ticket to a Klan rally.  As liberal as black people are on social matters, they are hardliners when it comes to the way they approach the Bible.  It’s a mystery among progressive minded ministers who take seriously the need to break through all forms of exclusion.

It took courage for Obama to rise above the madness and give the nod for same-gender marriage.  His failure to do just that had left former supporters on the fence about the upcoming election.  To vote, or not to vote – that was the question.  The lack of a courageous stance made it difficult for people to embrace the message of hope when it came with grim limits. Justice only applied when devoid of political suicide.

Many may ask, what took Obama so long.  At the end of the day, what matters is that we are finally here.  The result has been an outpouring of Obama love unlike anything we have seen since that cold day at his inauguration.  Most of what we have witnessed has been on a slippery slope.  From the Obama surrender of the one payer option during the heath care talks, to those corporate bailouts, that oozy feeling that had us screaming “Yes we can,” became a collective “what you doing?”

As much as we understood Obama’s scraps with those mean spirited tea baggers and Republicans, we wanted a more vicious Obama.  We wanted to see a black dude from the hood take them out like Bruce Lee did Han in “Enter the Dragon”.  We wanted to see Obama slap them silly and put them in their proper place for all the abuse we’ve felt from their injudicious policies. 

Commentators measured him up as weak and over his head.  Others saw Obama as the reincarnation of the old political diversion we were hoping would go away.  Yes, we can!  A black man will fight.  He understands how it feels to be on the bottom with no ladder to climb out from the whole.  That’s what we thought, but, but, but.

As a black man, I simply couldn’t keep the brother hanging.  I was rooting for him despite my concerns.  No, it isn’t all because he’s black, but it has more to do with understanding what it feels like to be a black man in a world with old white dudes who refuse to listen to what you have to say.  It has more to do with the double standard of judgment used to define success and failure, and the covert messages coming from those who label Obama a misfit and failure.

It hurts witnessing conservative Christian flaunting love for Mitt Romney after a century of tagging his faith a cult.  It is conceivable that they will support an elder of a group they consider outside the faith they claim over a man within the purview of their faith.  It reveals the hypocrisy of those who hide their racism with scriptures.  I can’t let my brother go down like that.  I know a bigot when I see a bigot, and it’s time for a slap down long overdue.

Ring the bell.  Let’s do this thing right.  Take off your façade and let’s be real about what this is all about.  Stop playing games with what irks you the most.  I’m sick of all of this pretension.  Call a spade a spade.  This has long been about how we define what this country means.  Tell me the truth!  You’re mad because a black man is in control.  You’re mad because he’s running the show, and you get even more irritated when he refuses to play by your rules.

That’s what makes this a new day.  Obama’s position on same-gender marriage takes the power out of the hands of those who strangle him with assumptions.  He is a liberal in the pocket of the gay community.  That’s what they have wanted to say.  No, that is what they have stated.  Good for you Mr. President!  Say it loud! Take the power away from them and tell them yes I am.

And now that you have stated it clearly – YES WE CAN!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The day after Amendment One: Diary of the depressed

It’s the day after the passage of Amendment One.  It’s 12:25 pm, and I’m sitting in my normal chair at the Bean Traders on Ninth Street.  I’m surrounded by people I love and respect. Being here makes it easier for me to unleash all the emotions coming after the passage of an amendment rooted in bigotry and ignorance.

North Carolina’s state constitution will define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.  After expending so much personal energy into defeating the amendment, I’m left drained, confused and overcome with a sense of loneliness.  This was a battle regarding theological claims.  It pitted the Biblical literalist against people like me – those willing to consider the actions of Jesus against the message of an apostle named Paul.

The clash has left me with massive battle wounds.  As an African American pastor of a Baptist congregation, I have challenged people to be more compassionate and loving when in the company of people who love a person of the same gender.  The way I function as a spiritual leader forces me to ponder what it means to love people beyond conditions.  I’ve asked readers of my blog and column to see the humanity in everyone they meet.  I’ve begged members of the congregations under my leadership to see the face of God in every face they see.

The passage of the amendment leaves me broken due to the assumptions of its passage.  If most people living in the state refuse to accept the possibility that people of the same gender can love one another in ways common to their own relationship, I’m left outside the normal culture.  In the minds of many, I’m a heretic of the Church.  My teachings are not endorsed by the majority within the state.  Sadly, many who share my hue agree with the passage of Amendment One.

It leaves me struggling to locate a people willing to consider an alternative to the message of exclusion. Where do you go when surrounded by people unwilling to consider the implications of the laws we create to sanction hatred?  How do I continue to function as a heterosexual offered privilege denied those I love?  How can I get married in good conscious while people I care about can’t do the same?  How do I stand and listen to messages regarding how we are created while people I love grapple with suggestions of how they are sinners viewed as deplorable in the eyes of God?  How do you listen?  How do you continue to serve?

The vote in favor of the amendment serves as North Carolina’s collective shout against people like me.  We are few in number.  We are black, heterosexual, ordained, part of a mainline tradition and forceful in spreading a message of love while standing in the fire of hatred. We have no community to endure with us as masses walk away. We have no rainbow love to hold hands with us after we’re forced out of work and cry because our calling is under attack.  We’re left alone.

But, does any of that matter?  Isn’t this what it means to walk in integrity?  Doesn’t leadership demand walking in the darkness with those who can’t find the light?

My ache is because we didn’t need this drama.  North Carolina didn’t need to vote on placing an amendment in the constitution to validate the homophobic ways of those who refuse to take the time to listen to the voice of God beyond what they assume is found in the Biblical text.  The need to make a point transcended the message of love.  We didn’t need this fight.  None of us needed to experience this trap of division.

That’s why I can’t stop crying. 

I’m reminded that my tears don’t belong to me.  This was not about my right to love and get married.  Wait a minute.  Maybe it was about me.  Maybe that’s what so many have lost in this discussion.  It’s about all of our rights to love and be free.  It’s about our right to stand free from the control of others.  My tears are stirred by something deeper than a vote.  They are about freedom.

For me, I seek a place to be free to express my spirituality in a way that lifts me beyond my own thoughts regarding what it means to be me.  I need to be connected to Gaea, the great Mother Earth.  I need messages that reflect how I am connected to a world beyond my knowing.  I require the love of my friend, Rabbi John Friedman, a Jew.  I need to be cradled by the strength of Joy Mickle-Walker, a Buddhist, and Naomi Quinn, an atheist.  I seek a world that bounces in the pride of a collective tune made possible by a desire to be more than what divides us.

I few tears began to flow.  “My generation gets it Carl,” my friend Laura Lazarus told me just before I took my seat to write.  “In 20 years, people will look back at this and laugh at us.”

Surrounded in the comfort of diversity, I exhaled.  New breath after the sting of isolation.  I’m not alone.

Shana, a barista at Bean Traders, says we should celebrate Durham in all of this.  Maybe she’s right.  We should seek love among those willing to be love.  My hope has always been to find unconditional love in the Church.  I’ve sought to teach love by being love. 

If I’m a heretic, I’ll continue to love all I meet.  Even if those in the Church reject the message of love.  In standing with those rejected, I become the rejected.  Isn’t that the message of the faith so many say forced them to vote in favor of the amendment?

If I have to stand alone I will carry this cross.  It reminds me of that song we sing during worship – “no cross, no crown”.  My cross is my love for those seeking freedom, my crown is the sprinkles of love they give when those in the Church turn their backs.

The victory is in the love.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Kerry Sutton's methods feel like a bad movie

I’ve  heard great things about Kerry Sutton.  I’m told she’s a top notch attorney who fights for folks who fall through the cracks of the judicial system.  It’s hard not to like a woman like that.  Single mom, smart.  There's so much I like about her.

Please pause the video before getting drawn into this movie.  Something is wrong with the script.

My gut is telling me to avoid the Kerry Sutton trap.  On three occasions she has thrown a few curve balls that leave me wondering about what’s ticking inside the woman competing with Mike Woodard for N.C. Senate District 22.  My gut tells me that Sutton’s campaign has been an effort to convince voters to give her the nod due to the failures of others, versus what she brings to the table.

It’s one of those things that vex my spirit.  It’s up there with unloading a fart while at the dinner table and picking your noise before shaking my hand.   I get an eerie feeling when a person has to draw attention to another person to validate their own merits.  I’d rather hear the strengths a person brings to the proverbial table than to market their worth based on the bags the competition is carrying.  It leaves me thinking, “I’m better than what’s his name, so give me a chance.”

The first hit at I’m better than the rest came when Sutton informed us that she should be elected because of a lack of female presence in the Senate.  I’m not disputing her point, and the big girl upstairs knows I’m all in when it comes to undoing the disparity among those who rule the land.  I’m fed up with a bunch of old, white dudes making policy that impacts people they would rather see move to another state. 

My problem with it then, and now, is the assumption that her gender alone was enough to convince us to give her the vote.  It takes more than being a minority to validate the endorsement of those tired and confused.  If gender was all it takes, then give me a little space to share my frustration involving the lack of black presence everywhere I look.  Exhibit one – take a look at any news room in the city nearest you.

I can forgive that faux pas.  No biggie.  I placed it in the same file with Obama sharing with the nation Trayvon Martin could have been his son and his spiking the ball on the anniversary of Ben Laden’s death.  It’s one of those tell the truth moments that we need to hear to keep us on track.  

Rewind the tape a few months prior to the announcement of her bid.  Sutton started the balls rolling to oust Tracey Cline as Durham’s District Attorney.

She filed the motion.  She pushed the case.  Some may call that setting things right.  It could be argued that Sutton was the only one with the guts to take a punch at Cline.  The big bad bully needed to go down, and she did.  My problem with Sutton’s role in removing Cline as Durham’s DA is the timing of it all.  She took her hit at Cline just in time to position her as one of Durham’s outstanding leaders.  It made her vital.  I’m not implying that she used the dysfunction in the DA office to get attention, but it does leave me with a nasty smell in the room.  Did somebody fart?

Next was the fart that took me over the edge.  It was like little Johnny playing the tattle tale on Jane in my third grade class.  “Mike Woodard has failed to comply with the ethics rules that require all candidates for the General Assembly to provide important economic disclosure forms,” Sutton stated in a press release on May 1. “A candidate’s failure to comply with such requirements can lead to serious penalties.  The State can fine a candidate $250 as a civil penalty.  Criminal penalties also can be enforced if a candidate is found to have provided false information.”

This is the message coming from the Sutton camp the week prior to the election.  Woodard could be fined $250.  Stop the presses.  It’s the scandal of the election! Really?  As important as meeting deadlines are, Sutton’s rant says more about her than it does about Woodard.  I’m better than him because I got my homework in on time.

I’m not suggesting that we minimize the importance of submitting the paperwork.  Woodard, and all other candidates, should comply with the rules of the game.  What bugs me is the work Sutton put into uncovering the mistake.  With all that it takes to get elected, shouldn’t more time be spent in proving to us that she deserves to win, rather than exposing why Woodard shouldn’t be elected.  If all she has is evidence that she is keen on uncovering other people’s mistakes. Well, you fill in the blank….

I need a Senator, not a private eye.  That’s my answer on top of the dots that make a line.