Somebody Has To Say It…

October 8, 2008

I Hate You So Much Right Now

Let me begin by thanking Kelis for that rather catchy anthem. You didn’t have to whoop bro’ like that in the video, but I ain’t made atcha.

Last night, somewhere between “That one” and the handshake that wasn’t, I realized that John McCain is one hostile dude. Actually, I already knew it, but he had done a fair to middlin’ job of hiding it, so when that hate percolated its way to the top, it was actually a bit of a surprise.

But the Junior Senator from Illinois didn’t even let a frown touch his face. I mean, the Old Guy just demeaned you on national television, and you just sit there looking content. Shaft was not even that cool.

I’ve been talked about a few times in my life, sometimes even to my face. There is no overstating the impulse to slap the taste out of somebody’s mouth, and in general, the only thing that held me back was the fact that my employment would probably end shortly after the backhand. So after months of some of the most demeaning and vitriolic comments ever directed at a human being, especially one who’s running for President of these supposedly United States of America, how can The Black Man Who Would Be President stand there, poised beyond measure, and listen to something so blatantly condescending?

It’s because he knows. He knows what Muhammed Ali knew in the seventh round against George Foremen. He knows what Michael Jordan knew when he stole the ball from Karl Malone. He knows what Tiger Woods knows when he sees his name at the top of a Major’s leaderboard at the end of the third round. And he knows what Usain Bolt knew as soon as the starter pulled the trigger.

“I got you.”

 I like the way Big Man  puts it:

Slowly, but surely he is cutting off John McCain’s wind. He doesn’t rush, he doesn’t falter. No matter which way McCain ducks and dodges, Obama pursues him, his mouth filled with a confident smirk. It’s similar to the hungry grin wolves give their prey before they go down the gullet.

You see, Ali already knew Foreman wouldn’t make it to the next bell; Jordan’s game-winning jumper was just an afterthought– all you had to do was look at Malone’s face when that ball got swiped; Tiger knows that no other golfer is capable of withstanding the relentless pressure that comes with having to tee off next to him; and Usain has no opponents, period.

But just winning is not enough. In Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” our protagonist makes it clear that true revenge requires that the victim not only knows exactly who is getting revenge, but neither the victim nor anyone else can do anything about it. Let’s face it– most Black men just don’t get to visit that place. And for John McCain (and Hillary Clinton before him), that reality has sucked out his very soul.

McCain can’t even look at him, but Obama can stare him down all across the stage. McCain won’t even shake his hand, but that’s okay, because by the time Brokaw told him to move out of his camera shot, it was all over but the cryin’. 

Unfortunately for McCain, I doubt Kelis’s little ditty is available on 8-track, so he may not be able to hear it for himself. But oh, how appropriate it would be as he sits on one of his porches with his space cadet of a wife, stuck in “I could have been,” to have that little ode to acrimony blasting incessantly in his good ear.

September 28, 2008

A Dream Destroyed (A moment of self-evaluation)

This post is not about politics, although it involves an issue of which our politicians are certainly aware, and with which they should be concerned.

This post is not about race, although the young man of whom I am writing is in a situation that is tragically and disproportionately prevalent among young Black men in these United States of America.

This post is not about strange haircuts, clueless governors, idealistic constituents, or any other sometimes interesting things I like to write about.

This post is about life, decisions, and the question each of us should ask at some point in our lives– “Could I have done more?”

Three years and two months ago, a young man walked into my classroom. What became clear to me over the next few days was that very little had ever been expected of him academically, and as would be expected, he had come to accept that sentiment. He was in the 12th grade, not quite 18 years of age, and quite frankly, not really expecting to graduate. He lived with his mother and stepfather, and his biological father (and namesake) was also close by, yet this young Black man had never been able to connect with a male role model in any substantial way until he met me. I don’t profess to having done anything extraordinary except what I’ve always done, which is to not prejudge anyone, especially if they fall under my authority. I also wouldn’t accept lack of effort, especially from young Black men who already faced a shaky future, and this young man was not going to be an exception.

As the year went on, he confided in me more and more. I learned about his family life, the personal struggles he had with other students, his belief that his temper “could not be controlled,” and his rationale for “not dating my own kind.” He often told me that he couldn’t date a Black girl because they didn’t know how to shut up, and given his aforementioned temper, such relationships would never work. I must note that he also admitted that he’d never dated a Black girl, nor had he even asked one out, but he was adamant that his reasoning was sound.

One of our graduation requirements was an extended research and career-interest project, and a major reason that this young man had gravitated to me was that he found out that I was a musician, and he loved to sing. In fact, I heard him one day and realized he was truly talented– no formal training of any kind, but a remarkable ear and passionate style. He had asked the Minister of Music at his church to be his mentor for the project (a requirement), but even after saying “yes,” that Black man refused to make himself available, and ultimately, had my student in danger of not completing the project. So he turned to me, literally in tears (it was not the first time this young Black man had cried on campus, and would not be the last) for help, and although as a teacher I normally would not be a student’s mentor, the proximity to the deadline justified my decision to assist. For the next two weeks we worked diligently, and for what he said was the first time in his academic career, he received an “A” on his final presentation.

We have a baccalaureate service at our school, and the Senior Class President (the first and only Black student to hold that position at our school) asked me to help with the program, as he really wanted it to be more diverse than previous ones. I had two other Black students (both female) whom I knew had beautiful singing voices. Like the young man, they had never sang publicly for the school, and I saw this as an opportunity to show the school that there was other talent around, not just the students in chorus and drama. So I wrote a song, possibly the most beautiful lyrics I’ve ever written, entitled “Because God Said I Can.” I brought the three of them together, and when they performed that song during the baccalaureate service, it was as emotional as I’d imagined it would be. The young man sang the bridge, including a powerful modulation, and I could see the amazement in his classmates’ eyes as they watched him, his eyes closed as he sang in the utmost sincerity.

The next night was graduation, and I was so proud to see him cross the stage. Afterwards, his mother and grandmother came up to me (I’ve never met his stepfather or father) and thanked me again (they had hugged me the night before) for believing in him, working with him, and being there when he needed someone.

And then the school year was over.

I’ve seen him twice since then, both times a chance meeting in a store. He’d had some ups and some downs, but seemed to be finding his way like so many young Black men do. Each time I told him that I would keep up with him, and to call if he ever needed me, but as we tend to do, I moved on to the next group of students, and the next.

Last week, another student told me that the young man had been sentenced. I didn’t even know that he’d been in trouble. He received an 8-year prison sentence (with credit for about 10 months served). I won’t detail what he did, but it was a shock to my system. Yesterday, I decided to do some research, and I quickly found his picture, sentencing information, and crime on the Department of Corrections website. I was devastated to learn that the date of his crime was early May of 2005– when he was still my student. I sat for nearly an hour with his image on my computer screen. I thought about the conversations we’d had, the advice I’d given, my constant admonitions to never give up and to never sell himself short, and how wonderfully proud he, his mother, and grandmother looked on those two nights, as he sang his heart out, and when he stood proudly clutching his diploma. I thought about the two times I had seen him since, and how I’d seen in his eyes the almost desperate look so many young Black men have as they fight that uphill battle to make it in these United States of America.

He lost the battle, maybe and prayerfully not permanently, but for now, he lost the battle. I taught him about literature, I taught him about life. As all teachers know, eventually it was time to move to the next year’s class, and the next young Black man looking desperately for answers. I feel good, I believe justifiably, about the work I do, and the influence I have with my students, and I realize that I could not and realistically would not be expected to hold a grown man’s hand. We teach, we nurture, we console, we listen, and we empathize and sympathize in ways that most people will never know.  But eventually, I and the students must move on. I realize that, I understand that, and as much as I care, I must accept that.

But as I sit here typing, I keep asking myself “Could I have done more?”

August 31, 2008

Memories

The camera cut back to her at least half a dozen times. Although there were certainly thousands of people in the Pepsi Center, she seemed to be all alone, standing above the fray, peering down upon it in wonder. What had once seemed unimaginable was now a done deal– Barack Obama, the junior Senator from Illinois, had been formally nominated as the Democratic candidate for President of the United States of America. For those who had been wary of some misguided coup attempt by Hillary Clinton (and I was certainly in that group), breathing was easier once again as we realized she’d just wanted to have at least some symbolic share of this historic moment.

But even as thousands celebrated, the camera could not stay away from the lady in the stands. I do not know her age, although I would guess around sixty or so, but the look in her eyes spoke of many years past. She did not clap or wave, but held her hands clasped tightly together in front of her.  I never saw her yell or scream; in fact, her lips did not move, save a slight quivering that, given the mistiness of her eyes, was an indication of her determination to hold her emotions in check.

I wonder what she was thinking? I imagined that it was my mother standing there; would she remember that day in 1969 when she came home from school, told me to put on shoes, then took me back to Aliceville Elementary School so I could see the tank parked in front of it? Would she remember the National Guardsmen who stood in the hallways, rifles at their sides, ordered to that institution of learning to ensure integration happened without violence?

I imagined my father in the lady’s place. Would he remember walking five miles to little Eatman school, having to literally cross the Sipsey River on his journey? Would he remember hauling pulpwood for two dollars a day, which was a huge step up from what he would make picking cotton? Would he remember his oldest sister, Aunt Catherine, giving up on her own college education, choosing instead to leave Stillman College, coming home and running the household so that the rest of her siblings could follow their educational dreams?

I imagined my Aunt Bess standing there. If she were still alive, would she think about Uncle Walter, who spent decades planting, tending, and picking cotton in those vast fields that did not belong to him?  And would she recall that after Uncle Walter’s death, how the owner refused to let the family back onto the land, even though our family reunions had been held there around that boat well for twenty years, and the two ramshackle houses that had sheltered at least four generations were still standing? We wanted nothing but our memories; we had no claim to the millions of dollars that those fields had yielded, but since the owner had no obligation to allow us on the land, she saw no reason to.

And I imagined my late mother-in-law, Mattie Wilder Gay, standing there. If she were alive, she would be about the age of that lady. Would she have remembered the nights driving home from civil rights rallies and SCLC meetings? Would she have thought about the time someone followed her, and she feared that she might soon share the fate of Medgar Evers or Emmitt Till? Would she have remembered tirelessly registering Black people in the Alabama Black Belt to vote, an effort she surely would have doubled or tripled in support of Barack Obama’s unprecedented candidacy?

I do not know what the lady was thinking, but as the camera insisted, again and again, upon sharing such a personal moment, her eyes unmasked what was at once joy, wonder, and thanksgiving. I was born in 1964, less than a year after the assassination of President Kennedy. I did not see the dogs or firehoses, but maybe she did. I cannot recall the abject despair that must have engulfed the Black community when Martin Luther King, Jr., was gunned down, but maybe she can. I was not attacked on the Edmund Pettis Bridge, but maybe she was. And I have never been denied the right to vote, eat at a restaurant, or sit in the seat of my choice on a bus, but maybe, just maybe, she has.

In that moment, as the camera kept returning to her poignant visage, that Black lady, whomever she was, became Every(Black)man. There are so many who literally gave their lives for oppotunities much less grand than this one. They merely wanted to vote in peace, eat at the same counter, and have some semblance of a fair chance in this American Dream. If only they could have been there on August 27, 2008, as the deafening, soaring symphony of “Aye” acclaimed that Barack Obama, a Black man in these United States of America, had ascended to the very doorstep of a house built largely by African slaves, and which has symbolized, for over 200 years, a level of power and prestige only attainable –no, only imaginable, by White men.

As the lady stood silently, watching the unabashed joy unfolding below, I wonder what she was thinking?

August 17, 2008

Beware the Okey-Doke, or Something’s Rotten in Den(ver)

It’s a feeling that never really goes away, no matter how successful you seem to be. It’s especially nagging when you’re pushing against that ceiling, knowing full well that your competitors aren’t nearly as talented or committed as you, but because of “intangibles,” can seemingly vault past you at a moment’s notice.

Several years ago, I accepted a manufacturing management position with a medium-sized company in Atlanta. I noticed right away that I was the only Black manager there (out of seven at my level), but contrary to what the mainstream likes to believe, there was nothing odd about that fact. It did seem peculiar that my arrival seemed to be completely unexpected by such people as secretaries, payroll, and the like, or that the Black floor employees kept giving me that “Is he for real?” once over. But I was too wrapped up in the new job to pay much attention. I threw myself into it, won the trust of my department, and proceeded to outperform every other manager. Now that wasn’t my assessment (although I thought I was doing fairly well), but came from experienced people outside my department. Even when I was given what was expected to be a guaranteed “he’s going to fall flat” task, I pulled it off in thirty days; the original timeline I was given was three months.

Now let’s cut to the okey-doke: After reducing overtime by 85 percent, reducing the backlog to zero, and missing no deadlines for the nine months I’d been employed, evaluation time came around. Imagine my surprise when the plant manager said “Well, you seem to be managing your department okay, but the other managers are concerned that you aren’t a team player.”

What? Exactly. That’s called the okey-doke, and as would be expected, three months later I was called in and offered a few months severance pay (as long as I signed that little waiver). Of course I took it and moved on, committing the whole ordeal to the “experience” category. You see, it didn’t matter if I was more competent and better equipped to do the job. I wasn’t in the club, and after a while, the club decided I needed to go.

Now why am I telling you this? Well, actually I’m hoping the word gets to Senator Barack Obama, otherwise known as The Man Who Would Be President (TMWWBP). You see, several months ago, this whole Democratic nomination thing was supposedly wrapped up. Yes, we all watched in absolute astonishment as Hillary Clinton gave an Oscar-worthy performance in “I Won’t Lose Gracefully,” and we kept a wary eye on her apparently insanely rancorous supporters, several of them vowing publicly to support McCain in protest. But even as TMWWBP has chugged right along, mostly staying the high course even as the Repugnant Right becomes ever more despicable and deplorable, Black America keeps looking around for the “gotcha.” As August 25th approaches, well, something is up.

In the last few days, Hillary has taken the unprecedented step of forcing her name into nomination on the DNC floor. Yes, many previous candidates have done that, but no one else has ever done it after endorsing another candidate. Then we find that Michigan’s and Florida’s delegates may very well be seated at full strength. Under the umbrella of “party unity,” TMWWBP sent in a letter endorsing such a move, presumably because he and his team have already counted the numbers fifty-leven times, and barring something completely outrageous, have nothing to worry about.

“Paging Mr. Obama, paging Mr. Obama.” My brother, we always have something to worry about, and what’s outrageous for us is just another day’s work for them. You may be committed to dignity, honor, and valor, but Clinton and her minions (especially the bitter feminists still holding out for the ERA– I’ll talk about them another time) don’t care if they burn every bridge from Denver to D.C. They hate you, and it would behoove you to start understanding that. Something rotten is definitely going on, and we all smell it. Do you?

August 8, 2008

Change We’d Better Believe In

Mayor Corey Booker (Newark), Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL), Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (Detroit), Senator Barack Obama (The Man Who Would Be POTUS)

From top left (clockwise): Mayor Corey Booker (Newark), Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL), Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (Detroit), Senator Barack Obama (The Man Who Would Be POTUS)

 

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others,
By the time I finish my song?

Ah, the sweet, innocent days of childhood, when we would run and play and not be concerned with grown folks’ problems. Every now and then – and I know I’m not the only one– I long to return to the time when my mistakes resulted in a loving butt whoopin’, and not the lead story on CNN. Of course, I know I can’t go back to those days, and even though I’m not really, really high profile, like, say, mayor of the 11th largest city in the United States of America, I realized long ago that to whom much is given, much is required. Wait– let’s put that a different way: “If you don’t want me to go there, don’t take me there.”

Kwame, Kwame, Kwame…what in the deepest corner of Hades is wrong with you? Eight  Nine Jeez, 10 felony counts! Your Wiki entry reads like something from a Death Row Records wannabe, but then, maybe that’s part of the problem. You come from distinguished political genes, and from all I’ve seen and read, have had the potential for an extraordinary career in public service. Given your pedigree and parents’ connections, “Senator Kwame Kilpatrick (D-MI)” was well within the realm of possibility. But, and maybe I’m being superficial here, when I look at your pictures, something is amiss. I know, clothes don’t make the man, but let’s deal with reality here– in this American game, especially the variation they call politics, image is everything. If you want to be the next CEO of DefJam, then slap on the cream-colored double-breasted zoot suit with the white Fedora and have at it. But if you want to be the next force within American politics, you should look like you’re about business, and not like a four letter word that rhymes with limp. 

When you know better, you do better, and I refuse to believe that you don’t know better. Now at least one person is going to say “Why should he have to change his ways just to play their game?” Well, there’s your answer– it’s not our game, and if we want to have any chance at winning, we’d better learn how to play it better than them, but with a whole lot less margin for error.  Your substance may be there, but perspective is at least 110% of reality– You may love your twists, you may not want to cut your twists, but trust me on this– when you don’t get that job you know you’re qualified for, bro’, it’s because of the twists. I wrote a line in a song a couple of weeks ago that said “I know you think this life ain’t fair, but cryin’ never made nobody care.” Catch my drift? Good…Now go cut your hair and start acting like a grown man.

Kwame, when all is said and done, I sincerely hope you can prove your innocence. But no matter what, it would behoove the rest of us to pay close attention to this lesson, and remember: The most powerful revolutions happen from inside the organization.

April 29, 2008

Whew! Never thought I’d be gone this long….

Let me begin by apologizing for seemingly abandoning my own blog. When I started it, I figured I would have no problem pontificating daily on the issues we face. What I didn’t take into account was that I was also beginning a 21-hour education certification program. Now, over the last year I’ve written no less than 40 essays, but every one has been for one of those classes. Some of them, particularly in an Educational Diversity class I just finished, should make it onto this page pretty soon. However, now that I’m finally done with that program, I look forward to saying those things that somebody needs to say– and wow, where do I start?  Here’s a hint– only one group of people on this planet is truly capable of derailing Barack Obama’s bid for the Presidency, and they look just like him.

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