Monday, December 31, 2012

The lost meaning of Watch Night Services rooted in a history too painful to remember

2012 is coming to an end.  Thank God for that. It’s been a brutal one.  I can’t wait for my Happy New Year.

That’s the mindset of many who will flood churches across America tonight in wait of the beginning of a new year.  It’s an old tradition called Watch Night among those who attend historically black congregations. Folks show up to get rid of the baggage from the year ending while celebrating the gift of new beginnings.

People enter sanctuaries grieving lost opportunities and to shed themselves of the misery that followed them for 12 months. It’s a powerful tradition that evokes hope among those who believe in a God of another chance. 

Lost in the ritual is the mention of an important historical connection.  The first Watch Night Services were celebrated in black communities in 1862.  Then they were known as “Freedom Eve.” Black slaves and free blacks came together in churches and homes all across the nation awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation had become law.  It was at midnight on January 1, 1863 that all slaves in the Confederate States were declared legally free.

The news was received with prayers, shouts, songs of praise and the type of worship familiar among those who believed Moses would come to set the captives free. Tonight marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.  Most ministers will fail to mention the connection as they give God praise for the beginning of another year.  Pastors will mention the importance of beginning the year in church rather than a club.  Congregants will testify about God’s multitude of blessing through the year, but few will mention the law that put an end to slavery.

Who will mention slavery tonight?

It’s a difficult subject to discuss.  How do you talk about slavery without opening wounds too deep for people to endure?  Does the black church’s hesitance to connect the Watch Night Service with that night in 1863 reflect a movement away from the history of black faith? Why has it become so difficult to talk about slavery?

How can you discuss historical pain without being enchained by the memory?

How do you talk about slavery? Quentin Tarantino took a stab at it in his movie Django Unchained.  In taking a stab, people are taking stabs at him.

“Why did hundreds of white audience members in Brooklyn feel at ease snickering at the banter of Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), the “nigger”-hating house slave in blackface who loved his owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), and protected the plantation where he was enslaved, the perversely-named Candie Land?,” Darnell L. Moore wrote in his special on Mark Anthony Neal’s blog  NewBlackMan (

Why were white people laughing?  Does the movie require the use of that dreaded word – nigger? What is implied when a white director tells the story of black pain?  Is something lost due to who tells the story? Why does it matter?

Could it be that the tension involving Django Unchained unveils a deeper angst with our telling and hearing the story about slavery? Maybe that’s why the history of the Watch Night Service is omitted from the annual wait for the coming of a new year.  It’s too painful to remember, or maybe we simply no longer want to dig up the mess from 150 years ago.

Talking about race is complicated business.  Recent commentary regarding race exposes white America’s unease with race.  In the minds of many, racism no longer matters, and black people should stop pulling that race card when the stuff on the table isn’t about the color of our skin.  They claim black people are overly sensitive. 

White people aren’t alone in their anxiety with discussing race.  What are the implications associated with failing to mention that night in 1863?  The Watch Night Service has morphed into a sanctified ritual that abates the memory of former slaves.  Our children aren’t taught about the excitement when slaves heard a law was passed to set them free.  After years of praying and waiting, God had answered their prayers.

The night is minimized to a reflection of the happenings over the past 365 days, rather than God’s presence since 1863.  We don’t talk about slavery.  We don’t share the story because, in the minds of many, that’s old news.  Having that discussion takes us back to a time too painful to endure.  That’s old news.

So, what does it mean when we forget the stories and rituals of those who came before us?  The Book of Judges records a message.  “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel” (Judges 1:10).

Bad things happen when we forget to acknowledge those who paved the way.  History has many lessons.  By remembering, we learn from mistakes made.  We learn that faith carries us when nothing else is left to show the way.  We learn that prayer changes things, even when you’re confronted by an army and the mean ways of people determined to keep you in chains.

The clock is ticking.  The year is coming to an end.  We wait for new beginnings – just like those slaves we anticipated word of a law that would set them free.  Waiting is about hope in a better day.  We can’t forget that hope.

Sometimes it’s hard to talk about the past, but talking is better than forgetting. 

Tarantino has unchained Django.  Some may not like the message, but at least he’s talking.

As for me, I’m still waiting for word regarding freedom.  Tonight, I’ll watch until midnight.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Durham police department has a public relation problem: Police brutality

Jose Lopez, Durham’s chief of police, needs to take a class on public relations.  It would help if a few members of his team would join him before people resort to calling the police “pigs”.

One of the principles of public relations is perception can be more troubling than reality.  Durham’s Police Department has a major problem due to claims of police brutality.  The troubling accusation is trumped by the silence of Lopez.

The first incident involves the case of Stephanie Nickerson, a Chapel Hill resident who claims she was beaten by Cpl. Brian Schnee when police responded to a noise complaint on Oct. 28.

Pictures of Nickerson’s battered face rapidly spread on the internet along with a petition asking Lopez to fire Schnee.  Protesters have showed up at police headquarters on Tuesday’s to protest a lack of attention to the incident.

Lopez claims an investigation is underway, and the group is interfering with progress.  Meanwhile, Nickerson faces charges of resisting an officer and assaulting a government official. She’s set to appear in court on Jan. 24.

The confrontation began after police arrived at Nickerson’s friend’s house after a call about a disturbance.  When police asked to search the house, Nickerson told her friend she didn’t have to let the police in because they didn’t have a warrant.  That’s when police are alleged to have become aggressive.

The police officer was caught on a cell phone video. Although dark and blurry, a voice can be heard demanding, “Don’t hit her man, don’t hit her. Come on bro, that’s a female.”

The second incident caught the attention of Boots Riley, the leader of The Coup, a West Coast hip-hop group.  Riley is the cousin of Carlos Antonio Riley, Jr., who is accused of shooting of a Durham police officer.

“Need help from any folks doing social-justice work in the Durham area to help us expose this case of a victim of police brutality defending,” Boots Riley posted on his Facebook page on Monday.

The LA Times recently listed The Coup’s “Sorry to Bother You” in their Top Ten Albums of 2012. Boots Riley has Durham’s roots.  He is the son of Walter P. Riley, a Durham native who joined the NAACP statewide campaigns for jobs, voting rights and desegregation, including lunch counters before moving to California in 1965.

Walter became a lawyer and established a practice in downtown Oakland, handling criminal defense, employment discrimination and police misconduct cases. On April 27, 2013, The National Lawyer Guild of the San Francisco Bay will honor Walter for fighting for justice for more than 50 years. Lopez and the police department are entangled in a fight with a family trained in confronting police corruption.  It would be wise for them to speak.

The police claim Officer Kelly A. Stewart was shot Dec. 18 while wrestling with Riley Jr. in the Forest Pointe Apartments off Broad Street.  Stewart suffered a leg wound.

Riley Jr. has been charged with assault on a law-enforcement officer, possession of a firearm by a felon and robbery with a dangerous weapon. Riley Jr. is serving 24 months’ probation for a 2011 conviction of possession and selling cocaine.

Boots Riley posted on Facebook that Stewart began firing as he pulled his gun. He stated that Stewart “shouted expletives, physically attacked Carlos, verbally threatened to kill him and attempted to draw his weapon to shoot at my cousin.”

Boots Riley has been reared in a culture where police brutality is common course.  Oakland is the home of the Black Panther Party.  Oakland knows police brutality and corruption like Durham knows warehouse blues.  They are tied together.

Boots Riley’s comments may be over the top.  The truth involving Stephanie Nickerson will unfold over the coming weeks.  In the meantime, the police department is building a reputation that needs to be corrected through a solid public relations campaign.

Expect a hip-hop song performed by The Coup. Imagine the negative press after the release of a hip-hop song about Durham combined with national attention after pictures of Nickerson’s battered face explodes on the internet. 

The truth doesn’t matter when the people think something stinks.

The only way to stop it is to listen and speak.  You have to do the hard work before it’s too late.

The clock is ticking.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Race relations in Durham hindered by an unwillingness to listen

What happens when people can’t listen?

It’s the first step on a journey into dangerous territory.  Race relations in Durham are taking a radical swing in the wrong direction.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  The trend could shift if people would think before jumping to conclusions.

That applies to everyone.

In my recent blog (The People’s Alliance racist ways not viewed as racist), I suggested the actions of the People’s Alliance, a prominent political group in Durham, are perceived as racist by many within Durham’s black community.  I was careful to state that those actions are not intended to be racist.

Defenders of the People’s Alliance quickly blamed me for pulling the race card.

“Everything appears to be based on race to you,” an anonymous reader responded. “Until we can move past that, there will be no harmony in Durham.”

“It seems you are making very unfair and even dangerous assumptions fanning flames that aren’t there,” the reader continues.  Is it unfair to expose perceptions, and to note how those perceptions are hindering race relations in Durham?  Would it be best not to talk about race because of how it makes people feel uncomfortable, or are we better served by exposing the budding of problems that can be checked if people would simply listen?

The hope of my posts related to race issues in Durham is to build a bridge broken by assumption on both sides of the river.  Critics of my recent post fail to understand the deep implications attached to the conclusion of their attack – you shouldn’t talk about race.  You should refrain from discussing race matters even when a community is being fractured due to a lack of understanding.

People should take a pause in defending what they can’t change.  I’ve indicated the issue at hand is due to a perception.  Never has it been implied that the People’s Alliance is a racist organization.  What is clear, given comments I’ve received from black leaders in Durham, is a deep perception that the People’s Alliance functions with little regard to how their actions impact blacks in Durham.

That perception can’t be fixed if leaders of the People’s Alliance continue to defend what is rooted in perception.  The point is not to prove a point, but to listen to those who feel alienated by their actions.  The People’s Alliance should be asking, “What can we do to hear what you feel? How can we improve upon creating an environment that isn’t perceived as racist?”

Rather than asking those questions, the response has been a counter-attack.  I’ve heard the defense, “members of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People do the same thing”.  I’ve heard, “It’s not us, it’s you.”  There is validity to both assertions; however, the response of members of the black community is rooted in a history of oppression, not privilege.

Members of the People’s Alliance have stood by the position that they have an open membership, and that the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People is racist due to not allowing white participation. That response negates the historical significance of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, and the fact that the organization continues to function to honor and protect the cause of blacks in Durham.  Negating the significance of that role is perceived as racist.

It is perceived as racist, again I say perceived, when a person attacks a black person for raising the issue of racism.  This is most notable when the purpose behind raising the issues is to foster dialogue, understanding and reconciliation.  In attacking a blog that attempted to communicate from a place in the middle, defenders of the People’s Alliance have communicated a troubling trend. That trend gets at the heart of race matters in Durham – that there is no place to truly talk about race in a way that moves the community past the tension created by undo perception.

The People’s Alliance claims to be group that represents all the citizens of Durham.  It’s clear they seek to be that place, but their response to matters involving race make it clear they are not prepared to do the hard work to fulfill that mission.  Community can’t be built when people refuse to listen.  That “we don’t care what you think” attitude feeds into the perception that many have about white liberals.

It would help if white liberals had the benefit of conversations black people have when they are not around to listen.  The problem isn’t limited to the ways of white liberals.  It’s the lack of a real conversation that limits progress.  It would help if white liberals would think before they speak.

The defenders of the People’s Alliance’s agenda show up on my Facebook page.  Sometimes it’s hard to read what they say.  Their comments expose conversations people have behind closed doors, and how so much of what they think is based on perceptions.

“There are many reasons to distrust the 751 Developers, including the formation of Durham’s first “Super PAC” and their gifting of a Toyota Prius to all the 2012 candidates for the Durham County Commissioners who were flexible on the 751 South Development,” Dov Rosenberg wrote.” Naturally, the Durham People’s Alliance didn’t endorse any candidate who received free cars from the 751 South Developers.”

Rosenberg’s outlandish reaction fuels the perception black people have of the People’s Alliance.  Is it racist? No. Does it have racial implications? Yes. Why? Because those who are accused of receiving cars for support are all black, and the People’s Alliance and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People are at war due to perceptions involving race.

Many of my readers may not like the truth, but it’s something that must be heard.  If not, expect a city divided even more due to race.

As I said in my previous blog, Durham can’t afford to move backwards. Too much hard work has gone into becoming a tolerant city.  You can’t move forward if you refuse to listen.

Don’t blame me. I’m simply the messenger of the truth.

Deal with it!

Monday, December 17, 2012

People's Alliance racist ways not viewed as racist

Here we go again.  The appointment to City Councilman Mike Woodard’s Ward 3 seat may come down to the candidate’s views on south Durham development. 
In a recent article that appeared in the Durham Herald-Sun (Daniels, Moffitt differ on south Durham, December 15), Ray Gronberg, reporter for the Herald-Sun, stressed the differences between the top contenders for the seat.
Don Moffitt is commended for being transparent on his approach to south Durham development, while Anita Daniels is presented as being “non-committal on 751 and “open to compromise” on Southpoint trails.
Daniels notes that the city “has other critical issues” that merit the attention of the city council. Responses were lifted from the questionnaire of People’s Alliance, a political group willing to do all they can to assure candidates agree with their anti-growth agenda.
Gronberg fails to mention he pulled quotes from the PA questionnaire.  He simply mentions they came from one of the big-three political groups.  Failure to mention PA is relevant to the discussion due to the passion of the group.  Put another way, the PA is part of the story.
“Her ‘other critical issues’ comment to the People’s Alliance echoed the tack adopted in the fall general-election campaign by unaffiliated petition candidate Omar Beasley, who professed neutrality on 751 South,” Gronberg writes. 
The article feeds fuel to the game that is being played by members of PA.  It is a dangerous game that needs to be checked.  Gronberg’s comments seemingly align Daniels and her intentions with Beasley.
Critics doubted his (Beasley) neutrality and just after the election he reported having received $2,000 in campaign contributions from the businessman who launched the 751 South efforts, Neal Hunter,” Gronberg writes. 
The mention of Beasley has nothing to do with the story other than in swaying readers into believing Daniels and Beasley are hiding their pro-growth position. Gronberg, and PA, assert that Daniels can’t be trusted because she is unwilling to tell them what they want to hear. If Beasley did it, Daniels will do the same.  Sounds like that’s what black people do.
That is a shameful suggestion that is rooted; forgive me for saying it, under the guise of racial politics.  Growth in southern Durham has become a war that pits the anti-growth PA against black contenders seeking to make a decision after enduring a credible process. PA has been unwilling to concede the merits that come with making a decision after reading, studying and listening to all sides. Those unwilling to sign their name in blood need not apply for a PA endorsement.
Daniels makes a point that members of PA can’t hear.  The issue before Durham is not limited to growth in southern Durham.  Massive growth in the inner city core impacts the quality of life in ways that is often overlooked.  There are issues in Durham beyond southern Durham development.
“Some Durham residents who reside in rural areas want more development, while persons who reside in the inner city are concerned about overcrowding and crime, both of which negatively affect the quality of life,” Gronberg quotes Daniels from the PA questionnaire.
Aggressive inner city development doesn’t impact our ecosystem, but it does have implications among those who are troubled by the increase in population within the city.  As PA, and other critics of southern development, maximizes efforts to defeat those unwilling to take a position on southern development, we should be careful not to forget decisions that impact the rest of the city.
The problem with PA is n how they have demonized candidates for both the city council and Board of County Commissioners.  I’m certain it’s not intentional, but deep wounds have been created by a lack of sensitivity related to how comments and positions are viewed.  By suggesting that Daniels is doing the same as Beasley, what is heard is black people can’t be trusted. 
It’s one of those things hindering relationships between blacks and whites.  The problem is a failure to communicate.  Members of PA are doing hard work in protecting their political interest. In doing so, they take the risk of alienating a community that is overly sensitive due to a series of assumptions and allegations about the motives of black candidates.
The PA’s position of “we won’t support you unless you tell us how you will vote” is a credible approach.  All political action groups have the right to stand by their positions.  The failure of PA is in how they have categorized those unwilling to dance to their drum beat.  To suggest they can’t be trusted digs at the integrity of those who serve.
That is a tough pill to swallow when those candidates are black.  In calling them liars and deceivers, they feed into a racist history that demonizes black people.  It’s a truth they can’t hear due to the passion they bring to the issue.
Yes, it’s racist. No, they don’t intend for it to be racist.
Like I said, someone needs to stop the madness.  If not, the politics of Durham will never see the light of day beyond the color of those who vote.

Mental illness in the belly of morality

I went to church twice yesterday. It was one of those days I needed to hear something to help soothe the pain caused by the death of little children.

At the end of it all I had to accept the truth regarding the limits of my faith. There are no words to address the aftermath of what happened on Friday. I heard a great sermon on what the Bible says about evil and a challenge for people to come together to pray.

Both offered what the congregations needed. Both tackled the question of the providence of God. It’s an old battle that the Church continues to grapple to explain - if God is all knowing and loving, how could this happen? Why didn’t God stop it all?

I left burdened by the realization that most theological claims assume normality. This is most prevalent when the Church addresses the matter of anthropology – what it means to be human. The teachings of the Church fail to encompass the matter of mental illness. The death of children is viewed as a construct of an advancing immoral society. On yesterday, I heard a minister address the lack of prayer in our schools. I listened to another minister talk about the importance of applying the teachings of the Bible to overcome temptation.

Again, both responses assume normality. I left worship with more questions than answers. What is the Christian response to mental illness?

A few theological constructs came to mind. After contemplating each of them, it became clear that the assumptions of Christian faith make it difficult to address mental illness. I scribbled a few notes while taking nibbles of my roasted chicken. This is what I came up with.

Free will versus Predestination

This debate is as old of the Church itself. It has bearing on the way we view baptism, ordained ministry, the role of the Church and who receives the Lord’s Supper. Do we come to Christ as an act of free will, or are the elect chosen by God? The issue of free will versus predestination forces a discussion on what God controls versus our participation beyond God’s control.

Did God predestine that children die? If so, why? Some will contend that it’s not up to us to question God.

Beyond the act itself, what is God's role in the prevalence of mental illness? Are the mentally ill created that way, or is it the result of sin. If so, is it the sin of the person or their parents? What role doe society play in the rise in mental illness? Is it the result of corporate sin?

Hope versus madness

Central in the teachings of the Church is hope in the “kingdom of God”. The kingdom is understood as both imminent and eschatological, which is to say it has not yet been fulfilled. We experience the kingdom of God through the activity of the Holy Spirit found within the work of the Church universal. We experience that work as an ongoing experience of transformation.

What is the Christian response when faced with those who continue to function in madness despite the presence of the Church? What do we say when prayer fails to change things? Where is the hope when death prevails?

Incarnation versus instability

Incarnation is the message of the Christmas season. It is the Christian message of hope – God, as God has always been, enters human history to bring peace to the earth. Christmas is the celebration of peace and joy in the midst of dismay and confusion.

Jurgen Moltman calls it the “vicious cycles of death” - the ongoing experience of madness and confrontation. Christmas, followed by the cross, is the Christian message of transformation. How can things be changed when nothing stays the same? Where do we begin in our quest for renewal? How do you face what you don’t understand?

More pointedly, how do you work with a person when things in their mind are beyond their control?

Peace versus weapons of destruction

The Christian message is about letting go of power. It’s about turning cheeks and forgiving over and over again. Christians claim the Prince of Peace as the model for communal transformation. We cry, “not gonna study war no more.”

What happens when the message of peace is confronted by mental illness? What do we say when the enemy takes residence in the mind, and innocent people become the enemy?

Accountability versus dehumanization

Christianity teaches a morality designed to maintain social order. Christians are challenged to assert personal accountability. Those who fail are summoned to receive God’s grace upon repenting for their sins. This is a position rooted in normality. What is the message for those incapable, due to mental illness, of seeing themselves and those around them in ways most of us take for granted? What happens when they are unable to see the worth of life? What happens when they are incapable of recognizing the consequences of their actions?

Finally, what do we call them once they walk in those spaces that we can’t understand due to our sanity? How do we reach them? What prayers do we offer? How do we use our teachings when their minds fail to work like our own?

I have no answers today. I only have questions. With each question I bring my tears. I weep for the 27 taken. I pray for the 26 who were killed. I also pray for the one who took their lives before taking his own. I know not what was going on in his mind when he took lives. I do know it’s deeper than I can understand. I pray for answers. I pray for healing.

All I have left is my faith. Yes, it’s in transition. That’s when growth begins.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Wagstaff's selection is black folk's business

On last night, Jackie Wagstaff was named chair of the Political Committee of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.  She defeated Andre Vann in a vote that wasn’t close.

The selection of Wagstaff triggered an avalanche of responses regarding the merits of Wagstaff holding the powerful position. “With Jackie Wagstaff as the new chair of the DCABP, do we really expect that this PAC is interested in coming to the table and truly working together with the likes of the PA?,” an anonymous reader posted on this blog.

Critics of the DCABP have been quick to point to Wagstaff’s past as a member of the City Council and School Board.  They are slow in forgetting her attack of white school board members for failing to take the needs of black students into account at board meetings.  Wagstaff’s name has become synonymous with in your face.

So, why would the DCABP select her to chair the political committee?

The conclusion is simple.  She was the best among those being considered to serve.  Wagstaff understands politics.  She knows Durham.  She’s present and involved in the process, and, more than most in the room, she has a heart for the underserved in Durham.

I’ll pause to give readers a chance to regroup after reading that statement.  It’s true that I have been a critic of Wagstaff over the years.  I’ve blasted her for building a wedge between the white and black community.  I was disappointed in Wagstaff after working with her to form the North East Central Durham Reinvestment Board.  I had great faith in Wagstaff, and I lost it for a season.

My criticism of Wagstaff never, and I do mean never, diminished my respect for her and the work she continues to do.  We disagreed over strategy, but her heart has always been in the right place.   That’s why I see great promise in her taking on the role of political chair for the DCABP.

That’s a statement that will be met with great pause among those seeking love and harmony between the DCABP and the People’s Alliance.  I, more than most, would love to see the groups form a coalition that solidifies a progressive agenda for Durham.  Sadly, that opportunity has been hindered by a series of actions among members of PA.

What does all of this mean?  The DCABP refuses to be minimized and defined by the PA’s political agenda.  It’s become clear that members of the PA feel a sense of entitlement that frankly pisses black folks off.  The DCABP will not be defined, informed or measured by the political agenda and opinion of white people who are upset because they were incapable of getting their way.

That statement is not intended to alienate those who desire diversity in leadership.  However, it is critical in this conversation that members of the PA refrain from throwing stones in rooms where they can’t walk in due to a long legacy of insensitivity rooted in race.

Wagstaff has been chosen because the black people in the room embrace what she brings to the table.  That’s a conclusion that has more to do with the strengths she brings than the hotheaded reputation that has plagued her over the years.  Put another way, there is much more to Wagstaff than what appears in the newspaper.  She deserves to lead.

It’s interesting how many criticize the DCABP for not allowing them in the room.  A more important question should be why should they be allowed in when they lack the ability to see beyond their assumptions?  How dare they assume they have all the answers while the stupid, uninformed black folks lack the organizational structure necessary to make a credible decision?

The bottom line related to the conversation of Wagstaff being chosen is simple.  The DCABP doesn’t care what others think.  It’s an organization involved in the affairs of black people.  It’s called that for a reason.  Yes, we need to coexist, but that will never happen within a context that demands forfeiting everything to satisfy the desire of that other PAC.

The DCABP remains faithful to the vision of its founders.  Yes, it has been rocky over the years.  Yes, too much energy has been dominated by the ways of the former chair.  Yes, mistakes have been made, but the DCABP is the only organization accountable to those decisions.  Not the PA. Not the newspaper and not even me!

Wagstaff has been chosen to lead the political committee of the DCABP.  She was not chosen by a band of lunatics.  She was chosen by people committed to the mandates of the organization.  Those on the outside may not like it, but that’s none of their business.

I suggest a deeper conversation involving how we got to this place.  That can’t happen if those who talk about unity keep digging ditches and calling it love.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Don Moffitt's comments cause for concerns among black voters

Within the next few weeks members of the Durham City Council will appoint a person to replace Michael Woodard. Woodard leaves to take his seat in the North Carolina State Senate.  The race is between Don Moffitt and Anita Daniels.
Who wins will depend on the leverage of two of Durham’s Political Action Committees- the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and the People’s Alliance.
To no one’s surprise, The Durham Committee has endorsed Daniels, who lost in a bid to become a member of the Board of County Commissioners.  Moffitt, who has been running for public office since 2008, has been endorsed by the People’s Alliance.   The council’s vote has bearing beyond selecting a black woman or a white man. 
It’s true the city council will face tough challenges related to the race of its members after Howard Clement steps down.  For now, the battle is a continuation of the rhetoric that consumed the race for County Commission.
Who holds the biggest stick in Durham?
It’s a question that Moffitt placed on the table on December 11, 2009.  After the vote for leadership of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, Moffitt expressed his thoughts on the blog Bull City Rising.
“I got involved with PA because I wanted to help elect great people to local office,” Moffitt wrote. “PA is the only PAC in Durham that welcomes anyone's and everyone's participation. The People's Alliance is THE big tent in Durham.”
Moffitt’s comments regarding the affairs of the DCABP exposed his thoughts on the leadership of the most powerful black political action committee in the state of North Carolina.  His criticism dug like a knife in the gut of the organization that has fought for the rights of black people since 1935.
“If you're fed up with other PACs in Durham, you can join PA at You WILL be able to vote!,” Moffitt concluded in his post.
Moffitt made a valid point about the limits of the DCABP.  It is true that only a few were allowed to vote the night Lavonia Allison was able to continue as the chair of the DCABP due to a controversial reading of the organizations constitution. I was among the many that attacked Allison and the DCABP for failing to rid itself of Allison’s ways.  The difference between my comments and Moffitt’s is I’m not running for public office.
Moffitt’s pitted the PA against the DCABP, and, as a person hoping to lead all of Durham’s citizens, made it clear that he views the PA as a more advanced organization.
It’s that perspective that has Durham in a mess today.  The battle between the two PAC’s has taken center stage over the selection of quality candidates.  You’re left wondering if members of the Durham City Council will be able to make a decision based on the credentials of the candidates, versus the power of the organizations that help elect them to office.
Moffitt’s relationship with PA raises serious concerns in appointing him to the council.  The best option is for the council to appoint Daniels, and allow Moffitt to prove his worth among voters by running for the office.  Placing him on the council will cause tension that Durham can’t afford during a season of tremendous growth.  His negative comments about the DCABP make it difficult to embrace an appointment to the council.
Moffitt’s 2009 statements regarding the DCABP are more than insensitive.  They reflect the thoughts of a man who had already run for political office.  He lacked the diplomacy to keep his thoughts about the DCABP to himself.  You can make that statement among friends, but when you place it before the entire community you must face the consequences.
So, Mr. Moffitt, how do you feel about the DCABP?  While you consider you answer, do members of the city council care?
If not, we have a serious problem in Durham.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Montreal Massacre remembered: The fight for women's rights

It happened on December 6, 1989.  That’s the day twenty-five-year-old Marc Lépine walked into the École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec, armed with a legally obtained Mini-14 rifle and hunting knife, separated the male and female students, and shot twenty-eight people before killing himself.

Lépine claimed he was fighting feminism.  He shot all nine women in the room, killing six, and then moved through corridors, the cafeteria and another classroom in search of more women to kill.  He killed fourteen women and injured ten others.

The suicide note Lépine left behind claimed his life was ruined by feminist.  The note listed nineteen Quebec women he considered feminists and wished to kill. It’s been 23-years since the Montreal Massacre, and the anniversary has since been commemorated as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

It’s assumed that Lépine’s attack against women was fueled by his being rejected for admission at the École Polytechnique. Add him to the long list of white men who contend they have failed after being passed over by a minority.  The rage among men is clear.  Many are fed up with women taking what belongs to them.  They’re convinced it’s a man’s world, and women need to get back in the kitchen.

It’s hard enough that women have to contend with angry men convinced life was better when they hunted for food and the wife stayed home in the cave to cook dinner for Pebbles and Bam Bam. A man fighting against equal pay for women is as old as father time, but now women are joining men to fight against feminism.

Conservative commentator Suzanne Venker claims feminism is to blame for the shrinking number of marriageable men.  The controversial article “The War on Men”, posted on Fox News, claims it’s in the DNA for men to love women, not compete with them.

“They want to provide for and protect their families – it’s in their DNA. But modern women won’t let them,” Venker writes.

Venker asserts women should refrain from the temptation of creating an environment that hinders their ability to snatch a husband.  All that talk about equal pay and opportunity could keep a woman from getting back home to change those diapers and cook dinner before the real bread winner shows up to shout, “Lucy, I’m home!”

“I didn’t mean that women can’t compete with men in the workforce. I meant that men don’t want to compete with their wives in marriage,” Venker responded to her critics in an interview with the “Daily Beast”.

Venker isn’t the only conservative woman fighting against feminism. 

“I don’t write about feminism. It seems to manifestly obvious it doesn’t need my stunning skills or analysis,” Ann Coulter remarked at a political conference earlier this year.  “But, I mean, the reason unattractive — I suppose — the reason liberal women are liberal is because they have to date liberal men and as we’ve seen from Bill Clinton and Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Anthony Weiner, we’ve seen how liberal men treat women. I’d be angry too.”

“I’ll take 69 cents on the dollar,” she continued, referring to the wage gap between men and women, “or whatever current feminist myth is about how much we make just to have to never have to pay for dinner. That seems like a fair deal to me.”

Venker and Coulter have taken a page from Clarence Thomas – talking about the good ole days with folks understood who ran things while taking advantage of the system to get ahead. Do they really believe life was better when white men ruled, and their only obligation was to prepare themselves for a good husband?

Someone needs to knock down their white picket fence. Maybe Coulter should ask her boyfriend, Jimmy “J.J.” Walker a few questions about his life before he became a conservative and began dating a white woman.  I’m not blaming him for dating the white woman, but how did he become conservative.

Give me the “dy-no-mite!” to blow Walker back into reality before he forgets all his home training.  Their union leaves me pondering who is using the other the most.  Does the black boyfriend prove she’s not a racist, or does the conservative girlfriend prove he’s not like other black men? Okay, scrap the second question.

The battle against feminism is a ploy to restore America back to the days before people fought to be treated fairly.  Conservatives are convinced things would be better without all those laws aimed at preventing discrimination.  A woman doesn’t need a job.  She needs a husband. That’s what they think.

The Montreal Massacre should have taught us about the assumptions of white male privilege.  All this talk about women refraining from actions that will limit their ability to land a good husband is enough to make me upchuck in my coffee.  It’s sickening.  It’s archaic. It’s insulting to the intellect of those women who deserve to be perceived as more than baby makers and cooks.

WOMAN POWER. Keep fighting sisters.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Were is the outrage over what's written on Stephanie Nickerson's face?

Nia Wilson has been fighting for justice for a long time.  Wilson is the Executive Director of SpiritHouse, a nonprofit organization that uses art and media to transform communities broken by poverty, racism, gender description and the school-to-prison pipeline.

The organization received attention for Collective Sun-reshape the mo(u)rning, a stage production that explores the impact prison and policing has on the bodies, the families and communities constantly attacked by the presence of police.

Wilson and the members of SpiritHouse know the pain of police brutality, racial profiling and the prison industrial complex.  It’s why they have been fighting to bring attention to the case of Stephanie Nickerson, a Chapel Hill resident who claims she was beaten by Cpl. Brian Schnee when police responded to a noise complaint on Oct. 28.

Pictures of Nickerson’s battered face have been spread on the internet along with a petition asking Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez to fire Schnee.  SpiritHouse has showed up at police headquarters on the past two Tuesday’s to protest the lack of attention to the incident.

Lopez claims an investigation is underway, and the group is interfering with progress.  Meanwhile, Nickerson faces charges of resisting an officer and assaulting a government official. She’s set to appear in court on Jan. 24.

The confrontation began after police arrived at Nickerson’s friend’s house after a call about a disturbance.  When police asked to search the house, Nickerson told her friend she didn’t have to let the police in because they didn’t have a warrant.  That’s when police are alleged to have become aggressive.

The police officer was caught on a cell phone video. Although dark and blurry, a voice can be heard demanding, “Don’t hit her man, don’t hit her. Come on bro, that’s a female.”

Schnee is on paid leave pending an internal investigation. People continue to sign the online petition calling for the immediate termination of Schnee and his being charged with assault and battery.  Wilson and the members of SpiritHouse continue to wait for a response from Chief Lopez. 

Lost in Nickerson’s fight for justice is the work of SpiritHouse.  The local press has noted the presence of Victoria Peterson at the protest.  Yes, Peterson has been there, but its Wilson and the members of SpiritHouse who are pressing the protest.

It doesn’t matter who shows up.  What matters is that someone shows up.  More people should show up.

An interesting dynamic in battles to seek justice is how public perception is impacted by those who show up. Has Nickerson’s fight been impeded by the presence of people like Peterson?

One has to wonder if Peterson’s name is used to discredit Nickerson’s claim.  People are less prone to listen when those connected to the protest are considered habitual trouble makers with no credibility. Those reading the paper should refrain from dismissing Nickerson’s complaint because of Peterson. Yes, Peterson backed Michael Peterson and Crystal Mangum, but this is a different case altogether.

The local press has failed to mention the work of Wilson and the other members of SpiritHouse.  Doing just that will help others understand the relationship between what has happened to Nickerson, and the line with others with stories that have much in common.

Does the community have reason to believe police brutality happens a lot in Durham, NC?  I’m not sure.  The members of SpiritHouse believe it happens far too often.  They have a stage production based on the stories of those who claim it happens.  Maybe we should stop and listen. After listening, more should show up.

Chief Lopez has a bunch of questions to answer.  It’s written all over Nickerson’s face.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Home is my daddy

The backyard seemed so much larger when I was a kid.  I miss the big peach tree that was cut down when my father decided to expand the house to make room for me and my two sisters.  The garden was the highlight of the neighborhood.  Those flowers were my father’s passion.

So much has changed since then.  Gone is the creek that surrounded the yard and the white picket fence in the front yard with red roses to accent the only home I ever knew growing up.  It seemed like a mansion back then.  It was more than enough to satisfy the needs of a boy who absorbed lessons about life and family from a man who worked hard to make sure nothing was missing.

So much has changed.

Since Saturday, I’ve stayed in the house that my father brought for his wife and three children.  I’ve been sleeping in the bedroom in the back – the one built for my two sisters.  My oldest sister, Sandra, is in Kansas City now.  My baby sister, Crystal, died in 1977 at the age of 13. Yesterday was her birthday.

So much has changed.

My mother lives two hours away, and my dad is enduring rehabilitation at The Neighborhoods at Tigers Place.  Yesterday, he began walking on his own again.  His steps toward recovery are an inspiration.  His fight to overcome all odds has always been my source of strength.

So much has changed. 

I see the sadness in his eyes.  I also hear a voice determined to keep moving – one step at a time –to make his way back to his home on Dean Street.  The red roses and garden in the back are gone.  The basketball goal he placed on top of the garage for me to play with my friends is no longer there.

The silence is consuming.  I watched as a squirrel jumped from one branch to the next from the  tree my dad planted in the backyard when the big one was chopped down.  Thoughts of Ranger, my German Shepard, came to mind as I watched the fat squirrel leap. I remembered the day Ranger died.  His howl from the creek told me he was trapped somewhere among the foliage on the other side of the fence.

I sat in the big chair in front of the television and imagined my dad listening to the blues.  I always wondered what was on his mind when he listened with his eyes closed tight.  Maybe it was a memory from work, or thoughts of a better day.  I would watch him from a safe distance - close enough, but not close enough.

So much has changed.

 The wood floors have been replaced by carpet.  The pictures on the walls are the same, but the absence of children playing outside is clear evidence that things have changed for the worse.

The neighborhood where it was once safe to keep doors unlocked is now a haven for drugs and violence.  Dean Street is like so many communities across America – a dumping ground for bad habits and unfulfilled dreams.  The sign of death is everywhere.  The worst part is the people there lack the strength to dig out from the dung. 

It’s my father’s home.  Moving him is not an option.  Home was built with hard work at the insurance company not far away from Dean Street.  He paid the bills by sweeping floors and saving money by hunting and fishing.  Home is more than a place to sleep at night.  Home is what you make on your own.

So, how do you go back to a place transformed by the madness of those on the outside?  How do you go back when all the memories have been taken away?

Home is not the neighborhood.  Home is not the tree in the backyard or the roses in the front.  Home is daddy at the rehabilitation center working hard to go back to the home built with his own sweat.

So much has changed, but the most important thing is the same.

Home is my daddy.