Friday, May 31, 2013

Does Obama's lack of clarity regarding drones have bearing on Assata Shakur?

On Wednesday, a Pakistani source reported that a United States drone strike killed four people near the city of Mirim Shah.  Wali-ur-Rehman, second in command of the Pakistani Taliban, was reported to be dead.  The group later denied his death.

The drone strike in Pakistan raises questions regarding Obama’s promise.

“Beyond the Afghan theater, we only target al-Qaida and its associated forces,” Obama said in a speech at the National Defense University, “and even then, the use of drones is heavily constrained.”

Obama gave a list of restraints involving the use of drones.  He indicated he prefers detaining terrorist instead of killing them.  He also mentioned respect for state sovereignty and the inability of other governments to control terrorists.  Obama also stated that drones will only be used to target “terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people.”

Is Assata Shakur on that list?

The White House handed out a list of people they will not kill in the future. “The United States will use lethal force only against a target that poses a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons,” it stated. “It is simply not the case that all terrorists pose a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons; if a terrorist does not pose such a threat, the United States will not use lethal force.”

Why was Rehman a target given a lack of evidence to suggest he is a threat to the U.S.?  The Pakistani Taliban is a threat to Pakistan.  Rehman, according to Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times, is a threat to Britain.  Is the Obama administration using drones to take out the enemies of its allies? If so, does this go against the promise coming from the White House?

A more pressing question is how a lack of clarity regarding the use of drones impacts Americans on the Most Wanted Terrorist list.

The White House has not officially acknowledged the strike against Rehman.  It is not clear if Rehman is considered a “continuing imminent threat” to the U.S. The term “imminence has been used broadly by members of the Obama administration. The terms “associated force”, “co-belligerent” is used to mean “in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” Those hostilities are not limited by time or specific action.

Again, is Assata Shakur on that list?

The Obama administration has argued the placement of limits on the use of drones.  The attack on Rehman begs the question if any restrictions have been imposed on the use of the killer robots.  The New York Times has reported that administration official claim Obama’s restrictions fail to rule out the use of “signature strikes” which allows the CIA and the military to right to kill before knowing the identity of the person.

 The ambiguity regarding the use of drones raises serious questions regarding Assata Shakur being placed on the Most Wanted Terrorist list.  The list is reserved for those considered a “continuing imminent threat” to the U.S.  Has Shakur been placed on the list to pave the way for a drone attack?  If that is the case, should Americans be concerned over a policy that supports the assassination of a person like Shakur. Even more daunting is the possibility of Americans being killed devoid of due process to determine guilt.

Shakur being placed on the Most Wanted Terrorist list alters the conversation related to America’s fight against terrorism.  The USA Patriot Act became law in 2001 to unite and strengthen America by providing appropriate tools required to intercept and obstruct terrorism.  The act was the response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, and significantly reduced restrictions in law enforcement agencies. The act has been used to expand the definition of terrorism to include domestic terrorism. The placement of Shakur on the Most Wanted Terrorist list is proof that the war on terror now includes those outside the purview of al-Qaida.  Included on that list are members of black revolutionary movements.

Is the Obama administration planning to kill Shakur?  If not, why was she placed on the list?  It’s a question that deserves an answer.

Why is she on the list?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The decade after the deaths of Martin and Malcolm raises questions related to black radicalism, rage and black identity

The decade after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was bunched with massive conflict.  It was a period filled with deep angst after the shedding of a dream.  Inner cities were consumed with a lingering blues that made it hard to believe in freedom.

The time between the deaths of Martin and Malcolm left the black community dazed by what was left behind.  Some held firm to the promise of equality after integration.  Others fought hard to find space among those unwilling to share a bite of the American dream.

The benefactors of affirmative action were left enraged by their continued struggle after making their way to class privilege.  Ellis Cose wrote about it in his book Rage of the Privileged Class: Why Are Middle Class Blacks Angry? Why Should America Care?  Cose cites a large group of well educated, competent, and prosperous black people who are frustrated.  They feel the disdain of white people who see them as weak and unintelligent. They feel the resentment of unsuccessful blacks.  They endure the complexion-based discrimination of blacks against blacks, while fighting the assumption that all blacks are criminals.

The black community swayed between black pride and self-hatred.  The quest for revolution was met with condescension among those dedicated to promise of integration.  Afros and dashikis were exchanged for low-cut fades and three piece suits. The pursuit to claim a unique racial identity was viewed as a barrier in finding space to fit into the American melting pot.

The decade after the deaths of King and Malcolm witnessed the unfolding of Roots.  Alex Haley made It trendy to claim pride in being connected to the motherland.  Massive imagines of blacks dancing and singing to African beats was juxtaposed against the need to fit.  It was a period of striving blended with a need to claim African roots all while fighting the inner city blues.

It was the decade of black exploitation films.  The rage of the inner cities led to the rise of a counterculture unwilling to bow to the demands of white privilege.  It was the age of redefining black identity by celebrating ghetto culture.  Keeping it black meant more than the celebration of African pride.  It meant keeping it gangsta.

Richard Majors and Janet Billson talk about it in the book Cool Pose: The Dilemmas of Black Manhood in America. They related the mask of cool used by inner-city youth to defend themselves against the injuries of ghetto life.  The pose is yet another way to define authentic black identity.  Does anyone know what that means?

The decade after the death of King and Malcolm forged a deep wedge among a people seeking to define what it means to be black.  Some embrace the culture of the ghetto.  Others find solace in claiming African roots.  Others seek to melt into the larger culture through education, politics and by celebrating the privilege of middle-class social identity.

Lost in most dialogue related to study of race and class in America is a clear focus on the decade after the death of King and Malcolm.  It was an era of protest fueled by police brutality.  Most studies of the decade leave people bewildered by black protest.  Few stop to consider why they were fighting the police while demanding rights many felt had been achieved.

What motivated Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale to start the Black Panther Party?  Why was Angela Davis arrested?  Why did Assata Shakur escape prison and flee to Cuba?  What is the truth behind the arrest of Mumia Abu-Jamal?  What hasn’t been told, and why is the Fraternal Order of Police fighting so hard to keep people from hearing the rest of the story?

What is the politics behind the telling of the story?  What happened with the Wilmington 10?  What happened in Watts to start that riot?  What happened in Detroit in July 1967 that left 43 dead, 467 injured, over 7,200 arrested, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed? 

Why did black people burn down their own neighborhoods?  Why did it happen after major Civil Rights victories? Something was wrong in Newark, NJ where Assata Shakur was arrested. 

What led to the armed standoff between Philadelphia police and the group MOVE on May 13, 1985?  Another decade of indifference fueled even more discontent in America’s inner cities. A police helicopter dropped two one-pound bombs on the roof of the house occupied by members of the group. The fired destroyed 65 houses and killed 6 adults and five children.

It’s a period that deserves to be studied.  Underneath the assumptions of guilt are motives and fears that stirred a revolution.  What are those untold stories, and how do each help facilitate views of racial identity and pride?

These are some of the questions that led me to bring Mumia – Long Distance Revolutionary to the Carolina Theatre.  I hope you can join us for the beginning of a broader conversation related to the decade after the death of King and Malcolm.

There’s so much to learn.  Let the learning begin.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"Mumia - Long Distance Revolutionary" to examine the life behind the long run

Many consider Mumia Abu-Jamal a political prisoner.  They contend it isn’t the death of a police officer that keeps him in prison.  His voice hasn’t been silenced since the night he was arrested while moonlighting as a taxi driver to make money to add to what he made as a journalist.

He didn’t stop writing.  He continues to lead and inspire others to liberate the masses.  Abu-Jamal says he has been “punished for communicating.”

Mumia- Long Distance Revolutionary documents Abu-Jamal’s childhood, his work as a journalist with the Black Panther Party Newspaper, the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, and the reason behind him being forced to moonlight as a taxi cab driver the night he was arrested for killing Daniel Faulkner, an officer with the Philadelphia police department.

The film will be shown at the Carolina Theatre in Durham on June 3 & 4. There will be two showings on Monday (7:00 pm & 9:20pm), and one showing on Tuesday (7:00 pm). A panel discussion follows the June 4 show with a special introduction of the new short film Manufacturing Guilt, about Abu-Jamal’s innocence.

Jamal Hart, Abu-Jamal’s son, will participate on the panel. 

“I became a priority adverse target to further punish my father,” Hart says. Mumia – Long Distance Revolutionary has helped Hart deal with some of that hurt.

“It’s like being brought back in time – a glimpse of the past,” Hart says. “Seeing an active journalist doing what he loves. My beloved father being the voice of the voiceless.”

Keith Cook, Abu-Jamal’s brother, will also be on the panel.  Cook, who lives in Hillsborough, NC, says the film has made him much more knowledgeable of the details of his brother’s case.

“If you grew up in Philadelphia, very rarely did the press say anything positive about Mumia. They portrayed him and convinced a large portion of the city that he was guilty of a crime that he did not do,” Cooks says. “This film has been good for me and Mumia and all the people around the world who have been struggling hard to get positive pictures and words out about Mumia and his case.”

Rachel Wolkenstein will also be on the panel. She is an attorney, political activist and spokesperson in the fight to free Mumia Abu-Jamal since 1987.

“Long Distance Revolutionary, is a powerful explication of and testament to the character of this man--innocent of everything except being an uncompromising voice for justice against the forces of race and class oppression,” Wolkenstein says.

Noelle Hanrahan will also serve on the panel.  Hanrahan began recording Abu-Jamal’s voice in prison when she recorded him on death row at Huntingdon State Prison in July of 1992. These recording sessions lead to her recording the controversial censored series on National Public Radio as well as Abu-Jamal’s first bestseller “Live From Death Row.”

Stephen Vittoria directed and produced Mumia – Long Distance Revolutionary.  Vittoria says his first goal was to tell a good and strong story that is well-researched.

“Mumia Abu-Jamal's life is a remarkable story, one of courage, compassion, and love, oftentimes under harsh an inhuman conditions,” Vittoria says. “In fact, the so-called public narrative of Mumia's life told by the lap dogs in the mainstream media and their corrupt masters, the power-brokers pulling the strings, has been a combination of myths, innuendo, and outright lies.”

Vittoria says he has been surprised that Abu-Jamal’s lifelong struggle against racism and class oppression has not been fueled by the politics of rage but rather by love.

“I've told many people that this film, for me, is the film of a lifetime,” Vittoria says. “If I never make another film after this one, that's okay. This film captures the essence of its subject, Mumia, as well as my essence as a filmmaker - both creatively and politically.”

Vittoria says the response to the film has been one of the best parts.

“The audiences are passionate, inspired, and very vocal with their embrace of the film - and that's because Mumia's spirit is one that inspires people everywhere: his struggle, his steadfastness, and his uncompromising approach to telling the truth,” Vittoria says

Cook says he’s optimistic that his brother will be released.

“I go bed sometimes thinking about what I can do next or what are the next steps,” Cook says. “And I am concentrating on having him free in my lifetime.”

It’s a long run to freedom.  It’s even longer when you’re a revolutionary.

Mumia Abu-Jamal keeps running the long distance to freedom.

Friday, May 24, 2013

"Mumia - Long Distance Revoluntionary": Why you must show up

Full Frame didn’t select it as one of the documentaries shown at their film festival.  Shaq pulled the plug on it being shown in Newark, New Jersey.  The Fraternal Order of the Police is fighting to keep people from hearing the story. 

Mumia – Long Distance Revolutionary has to be seen.  It’s too important not to be seen.  That’s why I’m fighting for people in Durham to see the film.

I’m fighting because of a man I love and respect.  Keith Cook is a man I’ve followed since moving to Durham in 1989 to attend graduate school at Duke University.  I knew about him before I met and developed a friendship with his wife to be – Evonne Coleman-Cook.  Keith and Evonne are the type of people you’re willing to go to battle with just because you know it’s the right thing to do.

So, I was shocked when Evonne told me Mumia Abu-Jamal is Keith’s brother.  He had kept it to himself while serving as a member of the Orange County School Board.  It’s not that Keith wasn’t supportive of his brother.  He simply allowed others to take the lead on the fight to free the man known for being the voice of those on death row.

I wrote two columns last year about Keith’s connection with his famous brother.  He told me then that he’s taking a more active role in the fight for his brother’s freedom.  I could see it on his face.  Keith is carrying a tremendous amount of hurt.  He talked to me about the pain of children not being able to hug their father.  I’m a father.  I can’t imagine not being able to hug King, Lenise and Krista.

Last week, Evonne and Keith told me Mumia’s son, Jamal Hart, lives in the area.  He’s a chef in Chapel Hill.  They told me the story of Jamal being stopped for possession of a firearm.  When authorities up in Philadelphia learned that Jamal’s father is Mumia, his charges were booted up to federal offenses.  Jamal spent 14 years incarcerated for that.

I call that payback.

My feet started moving after talking to Keith and Evonne.  Strength often comes when guilt and pain combine to force a flooding of tears.  I had just written a blog about the censoring of the documentary in Newark, NJ.  Evonne called me in between footsteps.

“I mentioned to Keith that he should contact the Carolina Theatre,” Evonne said.  It was too late.  I was already there.

The rest seemed like a miracle.  Jim, the dude who manages the film portion at the Carolina Theatre, walks through the door in the middle of my conversation with Cora.  Cora is an old friend.  I was offering comfort due to her receiving news that her pastor, Phillip Cousin, has been reassigned to the Bethel AME Church in San Francisco. 

Jim moved fast.  Real fast.  Within minutes he returned after a phone call to offer us dates to show the film.  This is when the preacher in me comes out.  God is working, I thought.  Yes, I wanted to shout.

You see, you must come and support this film.  Why? Because this is a local story.  Two people I love are impacted by the incarceration of Mumia Abu-Jamal.  How many of us have been touched by the lives of Evonne and Keith?  For those who remember Evonne during her days at the Arts Council – show up.  For those who remember her days at Duke – show up.  For those who remember Keith’s service to the school board in Orange County – come to Durham. Show up.

Show up for hurting children.  Come support Jamal.  Listen to his story.  Show up for the countless black men serving prison terms with evidence tainted by race.  Come listen to the struggle to be heard.

The film is worth seeing.  There are interviews with Cornel West, Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Ruby Dee, Dick Gregory, James Cone and a list of others that reads like the roll call of the most influential people in America. 

You have to show up.  It’s far too important to miss.  Come see it twice. Why? To make a statement about what we desire seeing.  We need more films like this.  There are too many untold stories.  If we pack the place we give reason for more films like this being shown.

Be it the story of Angela Davis, or one of the great films created by Dante James, a local filmmaker, we must say yes with our decision to support this film.  Come see it on Monday. Come back on Tuesday for the panel discussion.

Members of the family will be there.  So will one of Mumia’s attorney’s.  Do it to learn.  Do it to support my friends.  Do it because justice is rolling like a river.

Tickets go on sale Tuesday, May 28.  For more information, go to:

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Phil Cousin departs St. Joseph AME to begin journey back to Durham

He left before the people had a chance to say goodbye. Members at the congregation, where he served as pastor since 1992, are still crying after the decision was made to reassign him to a historic church in San Francisco.  His departure was swift.

Sort of like a thief in the night.

Reverend Philip R. Cousin, Jr. ended his tenure as pastor of St. Joseph AME Church last week.  He immediately took the reign at Bethel AME Church, San Francisco’s oldest black church, founded in 1852.  His departure from Durham ends a long season of faithful service to the church and broader community.

Some will remember Cousin as the son a great bishop.  His father once served as the pastor of the same church.  Many remembered Phil Jr. before he grew up to become a minister.  He was a child of the church he served.  His faith was nurtured within a community raised under the powerful teachings of his father.

“They say a prophet is no honor in his own home,” Cousin says. “I’ve been able to receive honor in my own home.  I received honor as pastor in the church I grew up, and I was able to lead in the city where I grew up.”

Cousin was educated in the Durham Public School System before attending the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.  From there, Cousin attended divinity school at Duke – back to Durham.  It always felt like Durham was the place he belonged.

“I will continue to keep my house here,” Cousin says.  “I’m going, but I’m not leaving.”

Cousin wasn’t able to say goodbye to the members at St. Joseph AME before he left.  The church celebrated their annual pastor appreciation before heading to the conference on his first Sunday in San Francisco.  Pastors in the AME tradition never get a chance to say goodbye.  While they celebrated their pastor back in Durham, he was saying hello to his new congregation.

Maybe it helps that Cousin plans to return someday. 

“70 is looking more attractive,” Cousin said when asked when he would retire.  “My wife says I may make it to 75.”

Cousin said he felt like a visitor after preaching his first sermon at Bethel AME.  Time will change all of that.  It always does.  He preached from II Kings 4 about leaving one place to develop new relationships. 

Cousin says San Francisco is Durham on a larger scale.  The area surrounding the church has transformed from a community once populated by mostly blacks to a blend of blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Russians. 

“For the church to survive it must look like the community where it lives,” Cousin says.

Cousin has watched Durham grow and change. He served as a member of the Board of Education and as a member of the Board of County Commissioners.  His departure leaves vacant his position as chairman of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.  Cousin says the DCABP will be left in good hands.

“The real work of the DCABP is with the subcommittees,” Cousin says. “If the general body will not get in the way and bind down and micromanage the subcommittees, the change will be fine.”

“Durham is the best place to live in the entire world,” Cousin says.  “I’ve watched it grow with the DPAC coming in and the emergence of the Hayti Center.  Durham will continue to grow.”

Phil Cousin, Jr. came to St. Joseph AME as the son of a man who would become a bishop.  He learned to serve without the support of the family that helped him grow up. Along the way, he ran and won seats on both the Board of Education and Board of County Commissioners. 

“The people at St. Joseph allowed me to lead.  The people of Durham allowed me to lead in public office,” Cousin says.  Both are gifts he cherishes.  “I thank everyone for allowing me to lead.”

Cousin wasn’t allowed to say goodbye.  He never has.  Bethel AME is the seventh church he has been called to lead.  He has never said goodbye.  It seems different this time. 

It’s not goodbye. It’s more like we will see you later.  Durham is home.  It always will be.

Cousin has a house in Durham to prove his love for the place that will always be home sweet home.

We’ll see you later Rev.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Protesters claim Shauille "Shaq" O'Neal censored documentary on the life of Mumia Abu-Jamal

They call Shaquille O’Neal a “Blue Fly”.  It’s the label given those who support the police.  Shaq has a reputation for wanting to be a police officer. He has offered his services as a volunteer police officer, and once jammed a suspects head down a toilet. He’s also a honorary member of the Fraternal Order of the Police (FOP).

Supporters of the Oakland Teachers for Mumia, the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia, and the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee joined forces at the Oracle Arena, the home of the Golden State Warriors, during an NBA playoff game to protest the actions of “Shaq”.  The group claims “The Big Diesel” has taken his “Bly Fly” status too far.

The documentary Mumia – Long Distance Revolutionary, was set to show at a movie theater in Newark, New Jersey before being cancelled at the last minute.  Protesters claim the plug was pulled after “Shaq”, who co-owns the Newark Theater, flew into town to meet with staff.  Supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal are protesting “Shaq’s censorship of the important movie.

Mumia Abu-Jamal, born Wesley Cook, is serving a life sentence for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. His was sentenced to death after his 1982 trail.  That sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 2012.  Since his conviction, Abu-Jamal has become the most influential voice from death-row.

His conviction has polarized the nation.  Members of FOP have criticized efforts to promote Abu-Jamal as a model from his prison cell.  A street is named after Abu-Jamal in France.  Calls to release Abu-Jamal are heard around the world.  Supporters of Abu-Jamal cite Philadelphia’s historically racist police regime as the culprit behind Abu-Jamal’s conviction.

People believe he’s innocent.

The cry for justice has been heard since a trial spiked with dubious management. The legal case of Abu-Jamal is one thing.  The censorship of a movie about his life is another. Not only was the movie cancelled in Newark, the manager responsible for arranging the showing was fired.

Sorry “Shaq”, that type of censorship goes against the principles that make America a nation that celebrates freedom.  The practice of censorship is downright unconstitutional.  Yes, it’s problematic when business interests interfere with freedom of speech. 

The documentary has been received with sold out performances in New York, Los Angeles, Oakland, as well as showing in 23other cities. “Shaq” and the other owners of the theater may have felt pressured to cancel the documentary after the recent decision to place Assata Shakur on the Most Wanted Terrorist List.  Shakur was convicted of the murder of a Newark, New Jersey police officer before escaping to Cuba where she remains in political exile.

It’s meaningful that the protest took place in Oakland, CA, the home of the Black Panther Party.  The arrests and convictions of both Abu-Jamal and Assata Shakur, the fight to tell their stories, and the protests on Oakland, unveil a part of American history that many want censored.  It’s a history they would rather see go away.

History is complicated.  America’s grappling with race is difficult to hearken when juxtaposed against the unjust ways of the American criminal justice system.  Maybe it’s puzzling to face the cruelty of a system that functioned with separate rules to manage order – one for black people, and another for the rest.

Maybe that’s a truth that people aren’t prepared to face.

Censorship is a way to make it all go away.  Censorship binds all that hypocrisy and deep seeded racism that drove a generation of black people to fight the power in ways that questioned the authority of the police.  Yes, it’s a complex matter.  It’s deeper than black and white, and, yes, there’s enough wrong to expose everyone involved.  The wrong has to be exposed.  You must tell the untold story, even when it brings to the forefront problems with the police.

The censorship of Mumia – Long Distance Revolutionary in Newark, NJ transcends a former basketball player with enough money to purchase a theater.  At issue is the telling of America’s untold stories.  It is about how the telling of those stories is often compromised by business interests. It is also about how those business interest whitewash the intent of our constitution. 

When power, money and political interest come against the telling of a story, we no longer exist in a free nation.  The telling of truths can’t be limited to those who stand on the side of power and money.  If so, America becomes less of a free nation.

You may not like Abu-Jamal’s story, but, in America, we don’t censor the rights of those to tell their point of view.
Contact your local theater about showing Mumia – Long Distance Revolutionary 

Sign petition to free Mumia:


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Leo Lewis II transitions from the NFL while obtaining Ph.D

Every turn he took they said he was too small.  They said he was too small to play college football.  He excelled. He was much too small to make it in the NFL.  He played 13 seasons.

Leo Lewis III wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school after winning the state championship for Columbia Hickman High School in 1974.  He didn’t get drafted after playing football for the University of Missouri.  He’s only 5-foot-7.  When he played he only weighed 167 pounds.

It’s hard to measure the size of a person’s heart.

Maybe it’s something in the gene pool.  Leo Lewis, Jr., his father, is a legend of the Canadian Football League.  He was a running back with the Winnipeg Bombers and was named All-Pro six times and earned a spot in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1973.  The older Leo had an 11-year career and rushed for 8,861 yards, and averaged 29.1 as a kickoff returner.

Pops has another son, Marc Lewis, who played professionally for the USFL Denver Gold and the CFL’s Oakland Invaders.  All three were too small to play.  All three have big hearts and a determination not to be ruled by the narrow limits people use to measure possibilities.

Leo III was cut or released five times – three times by the Vikings and one each by the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cleveland Brown.  He returned each season to play for the Vikings.  When he retired in 1991, he had played in more games than any Viking wide receiver and was the team’s all-time leader in punt returns.  He outlasted three head coaches.

He kept coming back. He also kept going back to school.

 “I took classes every year after leaving Missouri,” the younger Leo told me.  In 1985, he obtained a Master of Science degree from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

He knew his stay in the NFL would be short.  Younger, faster athletes kept vying for his spot on the team.

“You have to prepare for life after the NFL,” Lewis says.  “It can end anytime.”

He now holds a Ph.D.

 In 1997, Lewis earned his Ph.D. in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota. His work focused on the social and psychological dimensions of sports. 

Lewis was appointed the Director of Player Development for the Vikings in 1992.  He managed the team’s personal and career development programs that included encouraging personal growth in the areas of continuing education, financial management, alternative career exploration, and family assistance.  In 2000, the program was awarded the most outstanding in the NFL.

In 2006, he was appointed associate director of athletics and student athlete development at the University of Minnesota. Lewis prepares student/athletes for the realities that face professional athletes.  He preaches the message that life must continue after the helmet, shoulder pads and cleats are placed in the locker the last time.

Lewis teaches his own story.

“Things are much harder for athletes today,” Lewis says.  “They have so much more expected of them than when I played.”

There’s more time spent preparing to play.  There’s more time spent in the classroom.  There’s more time spent on the road.  Today’s athletes are expected to do so much more.

“We have to stress the importance of academics,” Lewis says.  “It’s what keeps so many from being unable to play.”

Athletes come to college with a variety of needs.  Lewis is developing a program that tailors the student/athlete.  It’s a holistic approach that keeps many from falling through the cracks.  Some enter college prepared for the transition.  Others lack the tools needed to conform to the expectations of college life.

Then there’s the influence of parents. Lewis says his parents stressed the importance of academics.  It’s what kept him going back to take classes - one summer at a time, until he was ready to write his dissertation.

“I had people in my life that steered me in the right direction.  I had parents who reminded me of the importance of education.  It’s important to have people to guide you through making the right decisions,” Lewis says.

Lewis was the little Viking that refused to go away.  He was too small to play.  He had just enough to play.  Just enough to keep coming back.

Maybe it’s because Lewis understand life is more than a game.  Maybe it’s the balance between the field and the books that makes for the rearing of a man.  Maybe it’s there within the balance that true strength emerges above the rest.

Lewis said no to limitations.  He also said no to compromise.  He kept coming back, every off season, until he walked across the stage one last time.  He walked as a man defined by his own will to rise above the fame of football.

There are few better suited to teach young men what it takes to become a man.

Way to go Dr. Leo Lewis III.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Can young people afford the price of protest

Photograph form The Nation

“Say that we should protest just to get arrested.  That goes against all my hustling ethics,” those lines from Lupe Fiasco’s song Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free) keep ringing in my head.

The thought came to me as I watched young people march near North Carolina’s legislative building.  They demanded being arrested.  They refused to leave until police fastened plastic handcuffs behind their backs and placed them in the paddy wagon with the words division of prison inmates on the side.

Five young people were arrested on May Day to protest state cut backs in education.  It was two days after a group led by Rev. William Barber, state president of the NAACP, and Tim Tyson, history professor at Duke University, were sent to the can.

The group keeps coming back to be arrested.  It’s worn like a badge of honor.  It’s their way of protesting a list of injustices handed down by North Carolina legislators.  That list includes a voter identification law that will impact minorities, young people and senior citizens.  It also includes the passage of the unemployment insurance reform bill, which Gov. Pat McCrory signed in February.  The bill reduces the amount of weekly benefits those unemployed in North Carolina can receive, and the number of weeks benefits can be paid.

Those protestors keep coming back on Monday afternoons.  They’re willing to keep coming back until real change comes.  More willing to spend time in jail are showing up to exercise civil disobedience.  Jail time, in their minds, will somehow lead to change.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m willing to spend some time in jail for the old home team.  I’m also old enough to recognize the difference between being forced in the paddy wagon today versus the former days when being pushed in jail followed water hoses, beatings and getting chased by a German Shepard.

It’s not the same.  That’s not to minimize the importance of protest.  People need to show up singing old protest songs while holding signs demanding change.  Doing so comes with taking responsibility.  People my age understand the consequences related to a few hours behind bars.  Go for it.  Make your point.  Yes, fight the power.

With that being said, I worry about the young people signing up to go to jail.  I appreciate their passion for the cause.  I support their efforts to stand up and connect with a rich legacy of civil disobedience.  What disturbs me is the potential burden they will face after graduating from school in hope of making a possible impact on society.

Will their time behind bars make it more difficult to measure up in a society oversaturated with people looking to find a job?

That’s the point of Lupe’s rap lyrics. “Say that we should protest just to get arrested.  That goes against all my hustling ethics.” 

If the goal is to hustle oneself into a good job, what good can come in protesting in a way that prevents you from getting that job?

This brings to the surface the bully politics that keeps people from protesting.  Have we acculturated a generation of young people to fear speaking their minds? Has the power of activism been damaged by the consuming fear of repercussion connected to standing against those who compromise justice and peace?

What are the consequences of being perceived a radical?  Can young people take that risk? Is there space within the marketplace to offer young people room to speak their mind devoid of permanent bad marks on their record?

Haven’t all of us needed the freedom to speak our mind?  Sometimes that means coming against the wisdom of our parents.  Sometimes it means granting young people the permission to yell loud enough to be heard.

I was given my space to yell.  It felt good.  I continue to yell against systems that negatively impact my understanding of what it means to be a melting pot nation.

Are we willing to give this generation of young people that same right? Or, will that box on the application prevent them from getting a good job?

Have you ever been arrested?  Yes, but….

There’s no room for the but when judgment precedes the answer.

“Say that we should protest just to get arrested.  That goes against all my hustling ethics.” 

Fight the power young people.  Just be prepared for what comes with that fight.

Welcome to the other side of reality.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Charles Ramsey: America's ghetto hero

That man can’t be a hero.  It can’t be true.  Look at him.  Listen closely.  Nope.  It can’t be true.

That’s the underlying message that jumps at me when I begin pondering the aftermath of the discovery of America’s newest hero – Charles Ramsey.  He’s black.  He uses colorful language.  Some are quick to call Ramsey the epitome of all things ghetto.
I hate that term. 

Maybe it’s because the Nazis’ placed Jews in areas called ghettos to isolate them from the rest of society.  Once World War II progressed, the ghettos became a transition area before sending the Jews off to be slaughtered.
Ghetto is a place of isolation prepared by those in power to assure their existence devoid of those unruly misfits. It’s why I hate it when I hear a person of color glamorize being ghetto.  I squirmed when listening to Jaheim sing Still Ghetto. The R&B crooner stirred the black citizenry to take pride for being relegated to life in the ghetto.

Ghetto is more than a zip code, it’s a mindset.  The truth is ghetto thinking can transcend ones address.  Ghetto is often found in the suburbs and shows up in places that have me shaking my head and rolling both eyes.

Ghetto is living entrapped by the mindset of those who place you in isolation.  It’s an infrastructure and culture, established by white privilege and power, with the unspoken intent of keeping folks confined.  The ghetto is more than language and a combination of rituals that brew in the forming of a culture.  It’s a freaking waiting station.
Yes, it’s a place created to keep certain people restrained before they are shipped off to die.  It happens every day.  Every day, all 365 of them, people prepare to leave the ghetto to head to court before being shipped to those concentration camps.  We call them prisons.

The parallels between the ghettos of Nazi Germany and those of black and brown communities of today are startling.  Each is designed to control those in the camps.  Each is enforced by economic strangleholds rooted in a racist agenda.
Although both are deliberate, the ghettos of today appear as the construction of the actions of those living in those ghettos.  In other words, they deserve what they get.  It’s their fault. Those poor, pathetic heathens need to pull themselves up from their own bootstraps.

That’s what power and privilege thinks.
This is why the rhetoric surrounding the heroism of Charles Ramsey is so critical in probing and confronting the massive assumptions related to ghetto culture.

In the mind of those on the other side of the invisible fence dividing the ghetto, heroes can’t be nurtured over there.  It’s counterintuitive to the claims of those invested in espousing the lore of ghetto culture.
The traffic of dialogue embodies the fortification of the pigeonholes of black and brown folks.  Presentations of ghetto folks singing, dancing, eating fried chicken, pork chops, ribs and watermelon while smoking weed and waiting for a place to rob fits authentic ghetto life. 

Nope. They’re not heroes.
So, expose the clown for who he really is, because that fool can’t be a hero. Find the dent in his armor. Follow his black behind long enough to unearth his ghetto ways.  Shake the leaves and wait for a bunch of dead apples to fall off the tree.

Well surprise, surprise, surprise.  Your ghetto hero has a criminal record.  Yup! He belongs in the ghetto with the rest of those no count niggras who need to remain over there because they are a threat to fine outstanding citizens like you and me.
Listen to the guards pulling Ramsey back into his ghetto space. Ramsey has a criminal record.  He has a history of domestic abuse. They have exposed the ghetto hero as a repeat domestic abuser.  He was arrested again while awaiting sentencing. 

He served six months in jail and was placed on five years of probation. One of the gatekeepers pulled the file from 1997.
Listen to the elitist choir singing – ghetto, thug, no count, worthless, piece of black trash. You’re no hero.  You’re just like the rest of them!

Maybe I’m embellishing a bit much, but, well, are my comments really that far from the truth?
“When a young, pretty white woman runs into the arms of a Black man you know something wrong,” Ramsey said in his interview with the Cleveland press.

Let me translate for those not familiar with the ghetto.  “You don’t see white girls come to the hood.  When you do, they run from men who look like me.  Something ain’t right when they hug a black man.  That don’t happen in the ghetto.”
Got it?  A black man from the ghetto can’t be a hero. 

There’s one big problem with that assumption.  Charles Ramsey kicked the door of the ghetto down and set three women free.

I call that a hero.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

I ain't got no time for casting Charles Ramsey as a black stereotype

I’m putting my foot down.  This is not a Sweet Brown moment.  I don’t want to see viral videos of Charles Ramsey talking about his rescue of three women from a Cleveland house.

By now, most of the nation has seen the news interview of Ramsey and heard the 911 audio after he helped Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Mchelle Knight escape after missing between 2002 and 2004. 

In the words of Sweet Brown, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”  What’s that?  This is not a time for mimicking Ramsey for his appearance.  Nope.  This is not time to ridicule him for his hair, his dress, his lack of dental care and his language during the 911 call.

Ain’t nobody got time for casting Ramsey as a racial stereotype.  That’s what happened with Sweet Brown.  Her fame is the result of a nations thirst to expose black people as obtuse caricatures from the other side of the tracks.

I ain’t got time for anyone laughing at Ramsey for being ill-equipped to make an acceptable presentation before the press.  The truth is most people aren’t prepared to make a statement before a rolling camera.  Give him credit.  As much as Ramsey lacked in visual presence, he overcame with strong interviews.

He told the story with class.  He told the truth.  He shared what he knew.  Ramsey shared angst with having a neighbor he ate ribs with and listened to salsa music without knowing the rest of the story.  He told the nation he and his boys would have taken care of it long ago if they knew.  

“When a young, pretty white woman runs into the arms of a Black man you know something wrong,” yes, he said that.

That’s the point where the reporter decided to end the interview.  It’s the point where he kicks it back to the studio.  I’m guessing the producer ain’t got no time for that.

What is that? Ramsey told the truth.  It’s rare that a black man is met with hugs from a white woman.  When it happens it leaves a brother knowing something is wrong.  It’s not normal.  Most white women are quick to flee when they see a man like Ramsey.  Yes, Ramsey was correct to raise the issue, and the reporter was wrong to end the interview in the middle of a critical point in the story.

Maybe people ain’t got time for that.  Again, what is that? Hmm. Check this out.  If you want to hide three women abducted for over 10 years, place them in a black neighborhood.  Hide them among folks like Ramsey.  Why? Because the police may come and knock on the door, but it’s unlikely they will come back to check on things if no one answers the door.

That’s what happened at that house.  The police had come before.  A neighbor saw something suspicious.  They came.  They knocked. They left.  They never came back.

We ain’t got time for that. Oh, there’s more.

I ain’t got time for Anderson Coopers suggestion that Ramsey desired compensation for his heroics.  Cooper asked Ramsey if he would like a reward.

"I get a Paycheck. Give the reward to the girls they rescued," Ramsey responded while waving his check.

So, the black dude has to be framed as an opportunist.  Why did you go there Anderson?  Would you ask the same question to a white guy living on the other side of the tracks? Would you? Seriously.  Would you?

By now, I’m certain readers are screaming at how this story has been framed within the context of race.  Why would I do that? Why does it seem that everything is about race?

I’m not saying everything is about race. I’m simply warning you.  Don’t go there.  Don’t do it.  Don’t remix Ramsey’s interviews.  Don’t post them on YouTube with a series of rewinds with a line about eating ribs and listening to salsa.

I’m warning you.  Don’t post pictures with quotes about dental care.  Don’t make jokes about his hair.  I ain’t got time for any of that.

Yes, Ramsey represents a segment of black life in America.  He wasn’t wearing a suit and tie, but he rescued three women.  That makes him a hero.  Respect that!

Good job bruh.