Monday, October 28, 2013

Looking for justice in Columbia Missouri

Photograph by Megan Donohue of the Columbia Missourian
“It’s like the people here are sleepwalking,” Harold Warren, Sr. said as he clutched the stirring wheel of his car as if to keep from shaking.  “We have to fight for our civil rights.
Warren was the first black person elected to serve on Columbia, Missouri’s City Council.  It took more than 30 years for residents to elect another black person.  Almeta Crayton was the first black woman to serve on the city council
Crayton died last week at 53.
“I tell people it’s sad that I was the first black person elected to the council,” Warren says. “Not much has changed since then.”
He parked in front of the Wendy’s near the Columbia Mall. Memories of when it first opened came to mind as I reflected on the massive growth since I left 25 years ago. So much has changed. Some things are the same.
Warren then told me the story of Brandon Coleman’s death.  Coleman, a 25-year-old groundskeeper at the University of Missouri, was killed on May 19 following a confrontation over an interracial relationship.  No arrest was ever made and, last week, Boone County prosecutor Dan Knight declared the shooting “legally justified” and that no charges would be filed.
Warren says an argument began when Broadus arrived at the house to see his girlfriend.  The girl’s father came to the door holding a machete and threatened to use it if Broadus refused to leave.
“He (Broadus) had a gun but he didn’t pull it out,” Warren claims.
Warren says the son of the man arguing with Broadus opened fire on Broadus with a 12-gauge shotgun. Josiah Williams, a witness at the scene, told a reporter with the Columbia Daily Tribune he heard three quick gunshots, a pause and then a fourth gunshot.  Williams said he went outside and overheard a man telling neighbors he looked out the window to see his father being held at gunpoint and started shooting.
Williams told the Tribune he could see Coleman rolling on the ground in pain. He said he called 911 four times but never spoke to a dispatcher because the phone continued to ring or he was placed on hold. He estimated it took 25 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.
Winona Coleman-Broadus, Brandon’s mother, claims racial prejudice played a role in the decision not to file charges. Coleman-Broadus has reached out to the U.S. Justice Department for help.
Coleman-Broadus said witnesses claim her son did not fire a weapon at the person who shot. Coleman-Broadus believes authorities did not act fast enough to save her son’s life.
“I don’t understand why trained, professional people could not have tried to stop bleeding, start CPR and reassured and comforted him.  They could have at least allowed my son to die in a humane fashion rather than like a damn animal because he is not an animal.  He was a good kid who made some bad choices,” Coleman-Broadus told reporters with KRCG-TV.
Witnesses told Coleman-Broadus that police did nothing to save her son’s life while they waited 30 minutes for an ambulance to make the five minutes trip to the crime scene. Columbia police refused to respond to what witnesses told family members.
The protest of black residents has fallen on deaf ears.  Coleman-Broadus and fewer than 50 gathered on the corner of Providence and Broadway to plead for justice. Their signs and tears reflect the lack of change in community long divided along the broad line that keeps blacks on the other side. For those begging for a day in court, there is no daylight – just darkness.
Such is life in a city that has only elected two blacks to the city council.
“It’s been this way for so long they don’t know how to act another way,” Warren said.
No justice, no peace.  Welcome home.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The football team at Grambling St. University refuses to play because of poor conditions

It’s about time it happened.  I’m not shocked.  Football players from Gambling State University refused to suit up and play this weekend.

Enough is enough.  Players are fed up with long trips on a bus, poor facility conditions and a tumultuous coaching situation.  They decided not to make the trip to play Jackson State University.

Way to go team.

It hurts that I happened at Grambling – the school Eddie Robinson coached 57 years on his way to becoming the second winningest coach in Division I (NCAA) history.  Robinson exposed the world to the gifted athletes playing on the campuses of historically black universities.  Robinson began coaching in 1941, long before black players were allowed to play for major college programs.  He retired in 1997 with a record of 408 wins, 15 losses, and 15 ties.

Robinson coached hundreds who played in the NFL.  Three –Willie Brown, Buck Buchanan and Willie Davis – are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Doug Williams is the first and only black quarterback to lead a team to a Super Bowl win.  Williams led the Washington Redskins in a 42-10 rout over John Elway and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII.

Williams returned home to succeed Robinson in 1998.  He resigned in 2002, after three Southwestern Conference titles from 2000-2002, to become a personal executive with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team that drafted him in the first round in 1978.  Williams returned to Grambling in 2011 after serving as the General Manager of the Virginia Destroyers of the United Football League. 

Williams was fired in September after a battle with administrator over mats in the weight room.

The program Robinson built deserves better than this. Williams deserves better than this, but, more than any of that, players deserve better than this.

On Thursday, the school relieved George Ragsdale of his duties as interim coach and replaced him with defensive coordinator Dennis "Dirt" Winston.  Winston was on the list of coaches the team is willing to accept as their coach.

Removing Ragsdale wasn’t enough to convince the team to get on the bus headed to play Jackson State.  They want to know why Williams was fired.

Before his termination, Williams had raised funds through an alumni group and purchased new mats for the weight room.  According to Sport’s Illustrated, the old mats presented safety hazards, but since the raised money had not gone through the school's foundation, the school president and athletic director ordered the new mats to be stored in another building.

Williams was fired a week later.

The letter from the players said they had to pay for their own Gatorade and poorly cleaned uniforms have contributed to several players suffering multiple cases of staph infection.

In the letter, players said the athletic complex "is in horrible condition, and has many hazards that may contribute to our overall health. First, the complex is filled with mildew and mold. Mildew and mold can be seen on the ceiling, walls and floor, and are contributing to water leaks because of faltering walls and ceilings."

Players rode on bus 750-miles to a neutral-site game in Indianapolis, reported that the team left campus at 6 p.m. on a Thursday and arrived in Indianapolis at 9 a.m. Friday. Grambling lost 48-0 to Alcorn State the next day. Alcorn State, based in Mississippi, flew to the game.  The game at Jackson State is a 160 mile trip from Grambling, La.

This is not what they agreed to when they signed a national letter of intent.  They enrolled at Grambling because it’s an HBCU with a rich legacy.  They came because of Robinson, Williams and the hundreds who played at Grambling. 

It’s a sickening story that is hard to report. Who should we blame - school administrators, the coaches, the players or the alumni.

I point the finger at all of us for failing our nation’s HBCU’s.  The problems with Grambling’s football team reflect a broader issue related to the financial stability of HBCU’s.

On June 2, Saint Paul’s College officials announced that it planned to close its doors.  After 125 years, the school in Lawrenceville, VA was forced to terminate 75 employees and tell students to seek an education at another school. Atlanta’s Morris Brown College is $35 million in debt and has been struggling to stay open for years. Morris Brown has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

A board member from Howard University wrote a letter presenting financial problems, and John Silvanus Wilson Jr., president of Morehouse College, shared his concerns with National Public Radio’s Michel Martin.

The problems at Grambling transcend football. HBCU’s aren’t making the revenue to stay afloat. The University of Texas football program made a profit of $68,830,484 last year. Louisiana State University, a school in the same state as Grambling, profited $43,253,286.

With all that money being made on college football, shouldn’t we be upset that players at Grambling have to buy their own Gatorade and ride a bus 750 miles a play?

It’s shameful.  It’s disgusting.  All of us should be appalled.

There’s an answer.

Where do I send the check?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

I left Durham with unresolved business

Moving from a community you love feels like the end of a long relationship.  Packing bags and moving on is tough to do when you have unfinished business.

That’s how I’m feeling today – like there’s too much in Durham, NC left unresolved. You see, I still love her.  She’s a city like no other, and I did marry her a few years back.

Don’t get me wrong, Columbia, MO has a lot to offer. It’s just not the same.   I keep comparing her to Durham. It’s not fair to limit my affection based on what used to be, but I still have feelings that make it hard to let go.

The coffee isn’t the same, there isn’t much diversity, I can’t find a Whole Foods, and, and.  My list is making me cry.  I have to let her go.  It’s difficult to see the good in the new when you’re trapped in loving the old.

Moving on is harder when you walk away with a bag of unresolved business.  There’s so much I wanted to say before leaving.  I didn’t get a chance to address a few matters that have haunted me since leaving. So, let me share what’s on my mind.

I left with concerns related to the mentally ill. The death of Derek Walker left a foul taste in my spirit. I never got a chance to share my disdain for the way he was gunned down by police after pleading to be killed with a gun to his head.  It troubles me that so many watched him die with tears flowing because he couldn’t find the courage to live.

I’m tormented that police officers had to pull the trigger. They didn’t want to see Walker die.  I worry about the mental health of the officers involved in the incident, and how people are quick to throw stones at those who did their very best not to kill Walker.  I’m hurting for everyone involved – his 5-year-old son, his mother, his family and a village grappling to understand why it had to end this way?

With that being said, what is going on with Durham’s Police Department. After a series of questionable actions by the police, one has to wonder if there is the emergence of a culture within the police department that assumes brute force and racial profiling as normative strategies in enforcing the law.

The death of Jose Adan Cruz, the uncalled for beating and arrest of Stephanie Nickerson, and the dubious arrest of Carlos Riley, Jr. hint that it may be time for new leadership at the police department.  It doesn’t help that Police Chief Jose Lopez is accused of saying Attorney David Hall deserved to be shot because he works as a public defender.

I have lots to say about Durham’s City Council election. The analysis on this election is loaded with potential lasting implications. Let me share a few.

What is the significance to Durham having political leaders that don’t reflect the age of the population they serve?  As the average age Durham decreases, and the hipster crowd reshapes the culture of the city, what does it say about the political machinery of Durham that youth are locked out due to the influence of Durham’s PAC’s?

Omar Beasley is positioned to add youth to the City Council, but faces stiff opposition from Eddie Davis who received 59% of the votes in the primary compared to Beasley’s 21%.  That gap advances speculation that black voters are opting to reject the endorsement of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People due to issues with the organizations leadership.

The contest between Davis and Beasley continues the battle of supremacy between Durham’s PAC’s. If Davis wins, serious issues will follow the Durham Committee after a battle between two highly capable, black candidates.  Watch the black vote in Durham to quantify the hold the Durham Committee has on black voters.

Finally, what impact will the Rolling Hills development have on extending economic development beyond the downtown core? Even more pressing is the role North Carolina Central University will serve in revitalizing the area decimated by urban renewal.  The area known as Hayti reaped a death when the Durham Freeway was built to connect Durham to the Research Triangle Park.  Hundreds of black owned businesses were displaced.

What will happen next?

If downtown development can be used as a clue, Durham will witness massive gentrification that will shift the demographics of the inner city core.  The change will be celebrated as growth, but what are the consequences of all that change?

I have so much to talk about.  Maybe I can move on and love my new home the way she deserves.  Maybe I should start writing her love letters.  Not a bad thought.  That’s what commentary is for me – a love letter to the world about things that matter to me.

Love endures.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Note to Ben Carson: Don't talk about slavery

Ben Carson must be practicing surgery on his own brain.  It’s the only thing to excuse his recent remarks about Obamacare.

"It’s the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery," Carson, who retired from the John Hopkins University School of Medicine, said at the Values Voter Summit in Washington. "It is slavery, in a way, because it is making all of us subservient to the government. It was never about healthcare. It was about control.”

Did I hear a reference to Master beating slaves in Carson’s tone? Did he compare Obama to Lincoln for having the audacity to let God’s people go?

It’s almost always wounding when a person uses slavery to illustrate a contemporary affliction. It’s even worse when a black man pulls that trick from his conservative bag of foolishness. I won’t blame Carson for spending most of his time reading books on the human anatomy.  God knows he’s earned respect for his work as a neurosurgeon. All props to the dude for separating conjoined twins joined at the head.

Everyone has their weakness. It’s best to stay in your lane. In other words, Carson gets F’s in American History and street credibility. 

He’s no black role model. I say that not because of his abhorrence of Obamacare. Carson isn’t the only black person grappling to find the merit of the plan pushed by the nation’s first black President. He has every right to align with conservatives to defend an agenda that best serves his personal goals.  Do you Bo, but, for God’s sake, and out of respect of OUR ancestors, please don’t minimize the impact of slavery by comparing it to Obamacare.

You get no stupidity pass when it comes to this. One has to ask, is becoming the darling of the conservative wing of the Republican Party worth the forfeiture of the black boys and girls who viewed you as a role model?  Are the standing ovations worth losing the tag of great blacks in American history? Welcome to the bench with Clarence Thomas and others who sold their soul for white affirmation.

Even more disconcerting are the underlying implications related to what Carson said.

"It is slavery, in a way, because it is making all of us subservient to the government. It was never about healthcare. It was about control.”

So, Obama has forced Americans to become subservient to the government.  Obama is the anti-Lincoln who implemented a policy that has subjugated not only blacks, but every citizen of this country.  A black man did that.  Obama is our Master, and all of us are his slaves.

Carson’s argument serves as the most forceful claim that we are living in a post-race society.  Carson has pushed a button held by those fearing the aftermath of a black President – slavery has been reversed.  It took a black man to say it. The fight against Obamacare is about control, but not the type of domination alleged on the surface of Carson’s statement.

The teabaggers fear being controlled by a black man.

Master Obama is coercing them to make bricks out of straw. Run to the North Star where freedom lives.  Run fast now. Massah Bama got a big whip.  We gonna be free. We gotta fight, but they working on our liberation.

Sorry Uncle Ben, you can’t play with those emotions.  This is not a post-race society.  The flame of hate still burns Uncle Ben.

So, get on the bench with Clarence Thomas and Herman Cain.  It’s going to be a long time before you get to play with black folks.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Home not home, but it's good to be home

It’s my sixth day in Columbia, MO – almost a week.  It all seems so surreal

Home isn’t home yet. The house is the same as when I left Columbia 30 years ago.  The furniture is the same. The first television my pops purchased is parked in the living room. It doesn’t work.  It serves as a reminder of when color television came to replace black & white.  My old Bose 501 speakers are surrounded by old cassettes.  Many are recordings of my former radio show on KOPN FM.

Maybe I’ll make a return to radio.

Maybe I’ll…

There’s something special about cleansing.  It comes with both good and bad – like cleansing your colon.  You have to drink the bad and wait for the movement before you feel the benefits of flushing out all that junk.  I know, I know – too much information. That’s the way this feels.

The good news is the news that it’s good for you.  Good health requires that we suck it in, take our medicine and wait for the results.  Did I mention I’ve already lost 5 pounds?  A lot has been lost since leaving Durham, North Carolina to move back home.  I’m still waiting for the things I’ll gain.

Most of my clothes are stacked on the floor in the bedroom.  I haven’t found time to move the clothes in the closet to the garage.  I have six boxes of clothes waiting to be shipped here from Durham.  There’s no room for them.  That describes my life here – there’s no space for my life.  I simply have to find a way to make it all fit.

I still read the Durham Herald-Sun, the News & Observer, the Durham News and the Independent Weekly.  I rise every morning at 4:30 am to begin my day.  After reading newspapers and writing in my journal, I prepare my pops breakfast.  After feeding him, giving him his meds and confirming his schedule for the day, I do my best to find time for me. 

Just a little. 

Soon, it’s time to cook lunch.  There are doctor appointments almost every day.  The nurse comes to the house three days a week.  The phone calls come in daily from my sister and mother.  They’re concerned about my pops big toe.  His doctor is considering amputation.  Pops says he’s prepared for the worse.  He keeps smiling like it’s no big deal.  I know the truth.

He’s tired. After two open heart surgeries, a bout with cancer, an aneurism, enduring a diabetic coma, bacterial meningitis and numerous strokes, he has every right to be tired. After countless visits to the hospital and rehabilitation centers, his journey makes me tired.

He keeps smiling.

Over 1000 insulin syringes are stuffed in a closet.  They are packed in with the other medical supplies shipped monthly.  They keep coming despite the fact pops has more than he will ever use.  The company that sends them knows Medicare will pay the bill.  A short look in the closet solves the riddle of why Medicare is losing money.

A company called Signature Foods delivers meals for the week every Thursday.  The frozen meals are packed in the freezer.  They can’t be good for you.  I refuse to accept they’re the best option.  I’ve been searching for a Whole Foods and local gardens.  My pops loves the frozen meals.  I’m begging him to stop drinking milk, but his doctor tells him to drink three glasses a day.  I talk to him about eating less meat and eating fresh vegetables.  I feel the coming of a civil war.

I haven’t had coffee since my arrival.  I broke away for two hours on Tuesday to visit the editor of Inside Columbia Magazine.  She offered to contract with me to write for the magazine.  The managing editor at a local newspaper meets with me next week.

I did go to church on Sunday.  I felt out of place.  The church is 50 yards from my pops house.  I preached my first sermon there in 1979.  I counted 5 people I knew.  I walked home after the service and asked God what it all means.  God didn’t answer my question. 

It’s time to cook pops lunch.  I have to call his doctor and ask about the IV that wasn’t removed from his arm when he left the hospital on Saturday.  The nurse at the doctor’s office told me the people at the wound clinic were supposed to remove it on yesterday.  The people at the wound clinic told me it wasn’t there responsibility.  They said they were only advised to take care of my pops foot.  It’s been an hour since the nurse said she would call me back.

Maybe I’ll get out later today to get a cup of coffee.  Maybe I will meet new friends at the coffeehouse.  Maybe I’ll…

I’m praying pops blood sugar drops before he eats his lunch.  It was 238 at breakfast.  It’s been as high as 382 this week.

Did I mention that Uncle Cecil died on yesterday?
Welcome home.