Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Wrong Answers and then The Right Actions

Last evening I had the pleasure of attending a Black History MOnth Keynote Address featuring Author and Activist, Pearl Cleage. She is widely known for her groundbreaking novel, What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, that brought the issue of black female HIV/AIDS to the forefront. She was at the cutting edge of talking about the silent shame when her book was published back in 1997. All these years later, the same still exists. The reason the black women are dying of HIV/AIDS at higher rates has a lot to do with the topic of her talk last night.

She wrote her most elegant performance prose and talked about the crime of domestic violence. The backdrop of her oral essay was the Rihanna and Chris Brown incident in four parts. She talked about the scene or what may have happened. The then gave some knowledge about other public figures who were involved in domestic violence including Miles Davis and Cecily Tyson, Tammy Terrill and David Ruffin, and Alan Iverson and his wife Tawanna. In each incident, the women were not the singers, actresses, or supportive wives, they were victims, fearing for their lives from the men who professed to love them.

After her almost hour-long, mesmerizing, sing-song one-woman-act, she opened up the floor for questions. One of the first ones was why the black community tended to hush up the reality of domestic abuse - of any form - for the sake of protecting the black man. This opened up the other attendees to talk and Pearl Cleage aptly pointed out that domestic violence knows no race, no color, no ethnicity, no educational level, no neighborhood, no economic level, no sexual orientation - it is indiscriminate in who it attacks.

The discussion also lead to the reality of the many judgments these women face. They are told or asked everything from "well, what did you do? you had to have don't something to deserve this." or "girl, I would just leave." "You need to get on your knees and just pray some more, hey have you read The Praying Wife?" All these admonishments all hold to excuse the abuser, whether he (or she for same-sex relationships) is a physical, verbal, financial, or sexual abuser, all the questions, comments, or statements aimed at the woman seeking answers is that somehow his mistreatment is her fault.

There are some very real realities these women face. Statistics show that pregnant women are at a higher incidence of being abused by the father of their child, women who have been killed (take the couple in California with him knocking off his wife, and child and a final act of controlling abuse was to blame his wife before he killed himself) have been victims. Even our prisons that have women murders are there because they finally put an end to the daily nightmare that was his fists. She gets a much harsher sentence than a male offender of domestic violence. And acknowledging that husband's rape wives is still taboo and hardly prosecuted.

The cozy group of college students listened intently, many of them offering up stories of their friends who were in abusive relationships, all of them seeking answers about how to help. Pearl Cleage reminded the audience there were words not to say and that listening is the greatest gift to an abused woman, listening without judgement, offering real help. The homeless shelters do not often take women with children, women with special needs or chronically ill children are even further cut out from a quick get-away. She reminded the audience that often these women do a dance to avoid his wrath - make sure the house is spotless, his meal is perfect, and she is receptive in bed - anything to keep the pummeling by words or fists from happening, anything to avoid the assault of her character, her virtue, her personhood all to make him feel better. All throughout, I kept thinking of the recurring themes in the Tyler Perry movie and how many women would love to re-enact the scene where the abused fiancee finally played "grit ball" with the abuser and subsequently gained her life back.

The churches, the families, the black community, the larger community all have a role to play in this epidemic against women that says because they are the weaker physical gender, they are the chattel, the housekeeper, the maid, the servant, the one to follow behind and only have identify through the man. This is whether he hits her with fists or with his words, scorn, or disdain.

The audience wanted to know what to do. It ultimately came down to how to turn the usual wrong answers into right answers and real help. There are as many reasons as to why abused women stay as to why they leave. There are many who leave or are in the process of leaving so they can have life. They are trying to survive the impossible and just need their family and friends to have the door open or hand extended if they come calling.

A few important tools though, especially since the fast majority of abused women have deep relationships with their spiritual base, especially black women, to know that God does not intend for any woman to be abused in any manner. He made her as a gift, a special someone, a precious jewel for man, not as someone for him to manipulate with his mind games, threaten with his wallet, or abuse with his men's parts (whether that is through raping her or withholding marital affection from her).

According to the website "The Black Church and Domestic Violence Institute," which teaches clergy to be more sensitive to this very real topic so that "battered women will not be forced to choose between their faith and their safety." As part of their training, they have yearly workshops and events to equip pastors and religious lay people with tools more than telling her to go home and pray or cook his meals or iron his shirts just so he won't get mad.

The website and Pearl Cleage pointed out this is an epidemic that affects women of every class, race, sexual orientation, and religions. 90-95% of battered victims are women and they are active in their local churches, churches that should be archs of safety but are often halls of scorn. The many shelters or homeless programs, as previously noted, are not equipped for women or not women with many children, or women with both gender children, or women with ill children.

A helpful definition can be used to stop asking the wrong answers. "Domestic violence is any coercive behavior that is used by one adult over another in an intimate relationship. Such abuse can be physical (beatings), verbal (threats), sexual (rape or withholding of affection), economic (taking or threatening to take her money), and psychological (mind games).

There are some places that can start to change the dialogue and outcome. These include the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the National Council of Churches, and Men Stopping Violence. The last one is really important as 90-95% of abusers are men, it will take men to stop this from continuing. There shouldn't be any more funerals for women killed at the hands of their mate, or any more crying in the shower because her husband brutally raped her, or no more of her wondering where her livelihood would be since he controlled the money or took her money, especially if the wife stays-at-home. Men are the ones that can have the supportive dialogue to bring these women back to worth and stand with them in holding the men in their lives accountable for how they treat their wives and significant others.

Girlfriends can listen,open the door and provide a bed when needed. Male and female friends can help the battered woman escape immediately if she is in mortal danger or can help her plan to be on her feet again. Ministers can counsel and train men to avoid controlling and abusing behaviors. Women can stop judging other women. Shelters can be set up for just women and children, jobs can be a part of this shelter so financial necessity won't drive her back into the home of the one violating her. There are many things that can be done to help.

Pearl Cleage noted that she is speaking out because it is necessary. While this is the ending of Black History Month, she was bringing the importance of this issue to the black community. She also clearly pointed out this is a nationwide issue, but cultural barriers, such as church and spirituality, customs, and norms, have all added to make women of color particularly vulnerable.

The petite, vanilla complexioned,close hair cropped women with the preacher's daughter cadence brought a message of purpose, hope, and opportunity to Saint Louis University. We must not be silent.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Say It Mr. PRESIDENT!!!!!!!"

So the screams of my seven-year-old daughter accompanied with her exuberant claps and jumping up and down when Mr. President, Barack Hussein Obama, spoke for the first time before the joint sessions of congress.

I felt goosebumps when the Sergent at Arms was standing there and then the announcement, "Madame Secretary, the President of the United States." Loud claps threatened to shatter the walls of my upstairs bedroom. It was amazing to see this intelligent, poised, strategic, and charismatic black man walk into that chamber with all the elected officials of the country standing to recognize.

My two daughters, aged five and seven, probably did not understand everything he said, but they could understand the thunderous applause that broke out on my television screen and in my bedroom. Even at times my daughter screamed out, "clap mama, clap!"

I listened intently and while the writer in me wanted to run downstairs to my laptop and tweet, facebook, or blog about what was happening, the citizen in me kept me glued to CNN while he spoke.

Mr. President hit on all the major topics that have been on my mind. He didn't sugar coat it that we are in deep do-do as the kids would say. We are in a mess in this country financially and he tactfully reminded his Republican colleagues that "we inherited this" talking about the banking crisis and subsequent recession/depression. he also reminded us of why we voted for him, he came there to do something, to take action, and that is what he is planning to do.

The top areas that stood out as importance to me were health care, education, and energy. When he focused in and said that these would be his priorities and this would also leading to revitalizing our economy, I jumped up and down! I have a daughter with a chronic illness that but for the grace of God, would've sent a lot of people into bankruptcy. Mr. President pointed out the realities of the high premiums and how in this country, every American does not have adequate care.

On the educational front, I felt like the light was shining for possibilities. My daughters have had the benefit of two highly educated parents and a mom who has been at home the past five-and-one-half-years. This has given them a firm foundation for success that includes my first-grader reading as a high third-grader. Mr. President pointed out the importance of early childhood education programs for those formative year and rightly exhorted parents to play their role - turn the TV off, read to the kids, help the kids with their homework.

His educational plan, including offering tuition assistance in turn for youths serving their community, also made me clap loudly. My freshman son will have the doors of higher education more accessible in 2012 when he graduates from high school. I also liked how our President told the American people that a high school diploma is not enough and dropping out in unacceptable - not just for oneself, but for the country. I expect to see a revival of vocational training and even one or two year diploma programs that provide a skilled trade to keep these trades in America.

I am not an energy expert but I do know that depending on oil is not good for this country. I recycle as one thing I can do to not add to the carbon footprint. I teach my kids to do the same and even take them to the recycle center so they can sort the items we bring. Even as I do my little part, I know there needs to be a national policy and focus on other ways to get energy, to make the cars more fuel efficient or even battery-operated. There has to be a focus on science and technology that would allow us to capture wind, solar, and water to power and heat our homes. I'm glad he mentioned this as one of his priorities in the first term.

When the speech ended, I felt satisfied, much the way I feel after drinking a really good vanilla latte. The stories he interspersed, especially the little girls from South Carolina who wrote him a letter using the public library. Her declaration that "we are not quitters" resonated with him. It also made me smile that Mr. President also reads our letters! I was equally happy to hear about the unsung banking executive who instead of buying another yacht or taking an European vacation, took his $69 million bonus and gave it to his employees, even going out to find 72 former employees to give it to them, this is what we need in America.

As we begin the Lenten season today, I felt electrified when I woke up this morning. I know the road ahead will not be easy for this family or for this country. As Mardi Gras came to an end with the last carnivale and last reveler going home, it also closed a chapter of excess in my mind. The beginning of Lent, marked by Ash Wednesday, reminds us that in this season of sacrifice, it is also a season of new beginnings. This theme rang out as President Obama spoke last night. We know we hold some responsibilities for the condition we are in, and we also hold the key to rebuild, renew, and re-energize America. Truly, yes we can!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

We are Cowards, But Even Cowards Can Get Courage

Last week was an amazing week in all things racial.

There was Chris Brown and Rihanna tearing off the painful scab of domestic violence in the black community.

There was the New York Post and their inflammatory and extremely racist cartoon followed by a citizen-led, very effective demonstration on this past Friday.

There were the pundits from MSNBC, CNN, and of course that dog, Fox News, all talking about was it racist or not? Ask the many dead black men at the hands of white cops and answer that question.

Then there was Attorney General Eric Holder in his speech. I loved that the nation's chief law enforcement official, and the first black man to hold this post, had the courage to say what other's wouldn't or couldn't. He came out and put all of America on blast, as the kids say.

All the coffees, meetings, and get togethers mean nothing if white America and black America and brown America is not honest and say that we truly have been cowards when it comes to this topic. Why? Because it is painful to talk about. It breaks open the pandora's box of perception. We are not the melting pot and everything is not everything (channeling Michael Basdain here) just because we elected President Barack Hussein Obama as our 44th President.

Read and digest Attorney General Holder's comments, chew on them, and then lets get to doing something concrete about it.

Attorney General Eric Holder:
Every year, in February, we attempt to recognize and to appreciate black history. It is a worthwhile endeavor for the contributions of African Americans to this great nation are numerous and significant. Even as we fight a war against terrorism, deal with the reality of electing an African American as our President for the first time and deal with the other significant issues of the day, the need to confront our racial past, and our racial present, and to understand the history of African people in this country, endures. One cannot truly understand America without understanding the historical experience of black people in this nation. put, to get to the heart of this country one must examine its racial soul.

Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race. It is an issue we have never been at ease with and given our nation’s history this is in some ways understandable. And yet, if we are to make progress in this area we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us. But we must do more- and we in this room bear a special responsibility. Through its work and through its example this Department of Justice, as long as I am here, must - and will - lead the nation to the "new birth of freedom" so long ago promised by our greatest President. This is our duty and our solemn obligation.

We commemorated five years ago, the 50th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. And though the world in which we now live is fundamentally different than that which existed then, this nation has still not come to grips with its racial past nor has it been willing to contemplate, in a truly meaningful way, the diverse future it is fated to have. To our detriment, this is typical of the way in which this nation deals with issues of race. And so I would suggest that we use February of every year to not only commemorate black history but also to foster a period of dialogue among the races. This is admittedly an artificial device to generate discussion that should come more naturally, but our history is such that we must find ways to force ourselves to confront that which we have become expert at avoiding.

As a nation we have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace. We work with one another, lunch together and, when the event is at the workplace during work hours or shortly thereafter, we socialize with one another fairly well, irrespective of race. And yet even this interaction operates within certain limitations. We know, by "American instinct" and by learned behavior, that certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks, at best embarrassment, and, at worst, the questioning of one’s character. And outside the workplace the situation is even more bleak in that there is almost no significant interaction between us. On Saturdays and Sundays America in the year 2009 does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some fifty years ago. This is truly sad. Given all that we as a nation went through during the civil rights struggle it is hard for me to accept that the result of those efforts was to create an America that is more prosperous, more positively race conscious and yet is voluntarily socially segregated.

As a nation we should use Black History month as a means to deal with this continuing problem. By creating what will admittedly be, at first, artificial opportunities to engage one another we can hasten the day when the dream of individual, character based, acceptance can actually be realized. To respect one another we must have a basic understanding of one another. And so we should use events such as this to not only learn more about the facts of black history but also to learn more about each other. This will be, at first, a process that is both awkward and painful but the rewards are potentially great. The alternative is to allow to continue the polite, restrained mixing that now passes as meaningful interaction but that accomplishes little. Imagine if you will situations where people- regardless of their skin color- could confront racial issues freely and without fear. The potential of this country, that is becoming increasingly diverse, would be greatly enhanced. I fear however, that we are taking steps that, rather than advancing us as a nation are actually dividing us even further. We still speak too much of "them" and not "us". There can, for instance, be very legitimate debate about the question of affirmative action. This debate can, and should, be nuanced, principled and spirited. But the conversation that we now engage in as a nation on this and other racial subjects is too often simplistic and left to those on the extremes who are not hesitant to use these issues to advance nothing more than their own, narrow self interest. Our history has demonstrated that the vast majority of Americans are uncomfortable with, and would like to not have to deal with, racial matters and that is why those, black or white, elected or self-appointed, who promise relief in easy, quick solutions, no matter how divisive, are embraced. We are then free to retreat to our race protected cocoons where much is comfortable and where progress is not really made. If we allow this attitude to persist in the face of the most significant demographic changes that this nation has ever confronted- and remember, there will be no majority race in America in about fifty years- the coming diversity that could be such a powerful, positive force will, instead, become a reason for stagnation and polarization. We cannot allow this to happen and one way to prevent such an unwelcome outcome is to engage one another more routinely- and to do so now.

As I indicated before, the artificial device that is Black History month is a perfect vehicle for the beginnings of such a dialogue. And so I urge all of you to use the opportunity of this month to talk with your friends and co-workers on the other side of the divide about racial matters. In this way we can hasten the day when we truly become one America.

It is also clear that if we are to better understand one another the study of black history is essential because the history of black America and the history of this nation are inextricably tied to each other. It is for this reason that the study of black history is important to everyone- black or white. For example, the history of the United States in the nineteenth century revolves around a resolution of the question of how America was going to deal with its black inhabitants. The great debates of that era and the war that was ultimately fought are all centered around the issue of, initially, slavery and then the reconstruction of the vanquished region. A dominant domestic issue throughout the twentieth century was, again, America's treatment of its black citizens. The civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's changed America in truly fundamental ways. Americans of all colors were forced to examine basic beliefs and long held views. Even so, most people, who are not conversant with history, still do not really comprehend the way in which that movement transformed America. In racial terms the country that existed before the civil rights struggle is almost unrecognizable to us today. Separate public facilities, separate entrances, poll taxes, legal discrimination, forced labor, in essence an American apartheid, all were part of an America that the movement destroyed. To attend her state’s taxpayer supported college in 1963 my late sister in law had to be escorted to class by United States Marshals and past the state’s governor, George Wallace. That frightening reality seems almost unthinkable to us now. The civil rights movement made America, if not perfect, better.

In addition, the other major social movements of the latter half of the twentieth century- feminism, the nation's treatment of other minority groups, even the anti-war effort- were all tied in some way to the spirit that was set free by the quest for African American equality. Those other movements may have occurred in the absence of the civil rights struggle but the fight for black equality came first and helped to shape the way in which other groups of people came to think of themselves and to raise their desire for equal treatment. Further, many of the tactics that were used by these other groups were developed in the civil rights movement.

And today the link between the black experience and this country is still evident. While the problems that continue to afflict the black community may be more severe, they are an indication of where the rest of the nation may be if corrective measures are not taken. Our inner cities are still too conversant with crime but the level of fear generated by that crime, now found in once quiet, and now electronically padlocked suburbs is alarming and further demonstrates that our past, present and future are linked. It is not safe for this nation to assume that the unaddressed social problems in the poorest parts of our country can be isolated and will not ultimately affect the larger society.

Black history is extremely important because it is American history. Given this, it is in some ways sad that there is a need for a black history month. Though we are all enlarged by our study and knowledge of the roles played by blacks in American history, and though there is a crying need for all of us to know and acknowledge the contributions of black America, a black history month is a testament to the problem that has afflicted blacks throughout our stay in this country. Black history is given a separate, and clearly not equal, treatment by our society in general and by our educational institutions in particular. As a former American history major I am struck by the fact that such a major part of our national story has been divorced from the whole. In law, culture, science, athletics, industry and other fields, knowledge of the roles played by blacks is critical to an understanding of the American experiment. For too long we have been too willing to segregate the study of black history. There is clearly a need at present for a device that focuses the attention of the country on the study of the history of its black citizens. But we must endeavor to integrate black history into our culture and into our curriculums in ways in which it has never occurred before so that the study of black history, and a recognition of the contributions of black Americans, become commonplace. Until that time, Black History Month must remain an important, vital concept. But we have to recognize that until black history is included in the standard curriculum in our schools and becomes a regular part of all our lives, it will be viewed as a novelty, relatively unimportant and not as weighty as so called "real" American history.

I, like many in my generation, have been fortunate in my life and have had a great number of wonderful opportunities. Some may consider me to be a part of black history. But we do a great disservice to the concept of black history recognition if we fail to understand that any success that I have had, cannot be viewed in isolation. I stood, and stand, on the shoulders of many other black Americans. Admittedly, the identities of some of these people, through the passage of time, have become lost to us- the men, and women, who labored long in fields, who were later legally and systemically discriminated against, who were lynched by the hundreds in the century just past and those others who have been too long denied the fruits of our great American culture. The names of too many of these people, these heroes and heroines, are lost to us. But the names of others of these people should strike a resonant chord in the historical ear of all in our nation: Frederick Douglas, W.E.B. DuBois, Walter White, Langston Hughes, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Charles Drew, Paul Robeson, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Vivian Malone, Rosa Parks, Marion Anderson, Emmit Till. These are just some of the people who should be generally recognized and are just some of the people to whom all of us, black and white, owe such a debt of gratitude. It is on their broad shoulders that I stand as I hope that others will some day stand on my more narrow ones.

Black history is a subject worthy of study by all our nation's people. Blacks have played a unique, productive role in the development of America. Perhaps the greatest strength of the United States is the diversity of its people and to truly understand this country one must have knowledge of its constituent parts. But an unstudied, not discussed and ultimately misunderstood diversity can become a divisive force. An appreciation of the unique black past, acquired through the study of black history, will help lead to understanding and true compassion in the present, where it is still so sorely needed, and to a future where all of our people are truly valued.

Thank you.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Something has been on my mind alot lately.


Those seven letters in the American alphabet can wage so much hurt, damage, and pain.

Why has this been on my mind? After Valentine's Day, the news about the stimulus package, the cable news pundits, the New York Post, Bobby Jindahl, and now Alan Keyes, I thought this one word is at play.

Husbands try to control wives with money, power, or sex. Wives try to control husbands with the same things at times. Parents try to control children with time outs, grounding, or gifts. The job market or lack thereof, the falling Dow, the skyrocketing foreclosures, the bank bailouts, the corporate CEOs, all of it has elements of controlling one part of the population or another.

Control is about bending the will of one entity to the other.

The rich want to control the poor so the rich can stay richer. The media wants to control the body politic so they can remain wealthy and keepers of the airwaves. Image, status, position are all byproducts of control. Dreams are killed because redlining, redistricting, and gerrymandering determine which schools have new books and computers and which schools have low test scores. The lack of available employment has everyone on edge and under the thumb of someone - employer controls remaining employees with threat of losing a job if they don't work 50 more hours, working spouses control at-home spouse with threats of cutting off financial support if they don't put their picture up, iron their shirt, cook their dinner or some other demand to show submission.

And after it all adds up, one wonders, why the need to control someone else? Is it because they are not in control of their own issues or because they want to feel like the king of the castle, the lord of the manner, the golf-cart bragging rights?

The issue made me wonder even more when I thought about Chris Brown and Rihanna. What part is the media trying to control. Public opinion runs rampant. People have been interviewed, even my son and I, all with the underlying thought to control an outcome. Why is it that people feel they need to be in control of someone else or something else? Is that part of the human existence?

Being the educated person that I am and perhaps channeling the memory of my dad, I sought out the dictionary for a definition. Thanks to technology and, I found the following:

1. 1control (verb)
2. 2control (noun)

Main Entry:
Inflected Form(s):
con·trolled; con·trol·ling
Middle English countrollen, from Anglo-French contrerouler, from contreroule copy of an account, audit, from Medieval Latin contrarotulus, from Latin contra- + Medieval Latin rotulus roll — more at roll
15th century

transitive verb1 aarchaic : to check, test, or verify by evidence or experiments b: to incorporate suitable controls in 2 a: to exercise restraining or directing influence over : regulate b: to have power over :

After reading and thinking about this, it became more clear. Controlling is about having power over someone or something. It is about exerting influence for an outcome that benefits the one doing the controlling. It is now about the greater good and in the end, can be selfish.

Do I know any more than when I thought of this? Perhaps that the one being controlled is constantly pushing against the forces that would want to keep them pinned in a box. I've also learned that control is an action word, it is purposeful, directed, done with intent.

Maybe the lesson is for the controller to be less selfish, think about someone other than themselves, and allow themselves to be free so they can free others. It has to be exhausting trying to use money, power, influence, sex, food, shelter, clothing, gifts to make puppets of others.

Let go, it will be okay, the world won't crumble if you can't dictate every single moment or time will shift on you, just look around.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On Rihanna and Chris Brown

A reporter from ABC-News in New York spoke to me today about the Chris Brown and Rihanna situation. She asked me my thoughts and feelings about everything.

In a nutshell, there is never, repeat, N -E - V - E - R anything a woman can do that would warrant the assault that Rihanna suffered at the hands of Chris Brown.

Yes, he is a clean cut young man, yes, he is the youth hearthrob with his 19 year-old innocent face, and yes, he committed a crime of domestic violence. He did the right thing by turning himself in.

I told the reporter that I hope the media moves beyond sensationalizing the situation because there are other Chris Brown's and Rihanna's out there dealing with the silent horror that accompanies abuse - physical, sexual, psychological, verbal, and spiritual - that is prevalent regardless of age, race, income, or spirituality. I told the reporter that it may get worse before it gets better because the media glamorizes gangsta rap music and over sexualities anything dealing with women, essentially reducing the female gender to the parts. This type of environment in country, rap, rock, and even R&B all leads to a callous thought pattern regarding male and female relationships. With a sinking economy, some men use their voices, sexual organs, and fists as ways to vent and none of this is acceptable.

There were only two people in that car - Chris Brown and Rihanna. At that moment, they were not young celebrities but two young people in a long-term, public relationship having a disagreement that resulted in him savagely beating her.

Now, I know the rumors that are rampant on the Internet and it is the first thing my son told me when the news broke. However, even that if it were true, does not warrant that type of retaliation. Why? Because unless both of them were pristine virgins when they became sexually intimate, both of them could very well have been carriers of any number of sexually transmitted diseases that surface when the body's immune system is down. Was either of them ill at any time? No one knows. Were they using condoms? No one knows, if this allegation of the reason for the beating is true, then no, they did not use a condom. Teaching moment, there is no safe sex and as the rising HIV and AIDS rate among heterosexual black women shows, even in committed relationships, there is a chance that something can happen.

What do we do now? The thing I told the reporter is that we need to stop elevating celebrities to an unrealistic pedestal. They are human beings and human beings have failings, weaknesses, and faults, they are no different. Their choice of profession does not automatically make them role models, but given that they have been put in this situation, I hope that after healing and counseling, they will use it as a teaching opportunity to their many younger fans.

There will never be an excuse for abuse, never, ever, regardless. I pray that Rihanna recovers and is given the opportunity to have counseling and healing in private. I pray that Chris Brown learns from this ugly situation. I pray the rest of us give grace and speak up if we suspect abuse. I hope men that are abusing their spouses, girlfriends, or children will seek help. Verbal leads to physical and physical can lead to death. The grave cries out with the souls of many women who have died from this national sickness.

Lets take away the cloak of shame that accompanies being abused and give these women, including Rihanna, the protection, support, and fresh start they need.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Oh No They Didn't!

Calling all the Kansas City people and national people, use those dollars and demand respect! It is enough that Dillards follows around all black people when in their stores or that overall retail disrespect happens to people of color on a daily basis. But what Journey's in Oak Park Mall out in Overland Park Kansas did is just beyond the pale, and in these economic times, oh, no they didn't!

See for yourself and then use those dollars, boycott this national chain! And they didn't even have the decency to apologize or act with shame or remorse.

I will not shop at a store that is disrespectful and have left an entire purchase in a cart because of poor treatment. My dollars are too hard to come by and I refuse to give some racist, disrespectful, retail employee their commission by my purchase. Not worth it.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Kirkwood...One Year Later

It was just before 7pm on a bright, Thursday, February night when my evening napping was interrupted simultaneously with a "breaking news report," helicopters swirling above, and phone calls from family and friends. The unthinkable had come to this quiet suburb that was slowly becoming my transplanted home.

My husband and I watched the news coverage in disbelief, part of me wanted to throw on my clothes and race the few blocks to City Hall, the other part of me was glued to the television all night. Inside, I wanted to go back to my home in Lee's Summit on the other side of the state, I didn't sign up for living in a community where the unthinkable could happen.

Yet it did happen, it tore open a wound that many in this town of 28,000 have worked hard to heal. There was the shock and disbelief. A crowd that rivaled the National Mall on Inauguration Day filled the square on Kirkwood Road for a candlelight vigil the next day. Everyone was crying and hugging, trying desperately to wrap their minds around something that was beyond reason.

A proud, loved, jovial citizen of the city had taken out, in cold blooded, calculated murder, what would eventually be six of the city servants. How could this happen? What made him do it? Why would he do this? Where do we go from here?

Amidst the funerals, memorials, flowers, teddy bears, wreaths, were the tears of a community, including the tears of the fallen city leaders families, children, spouses, and yes, the assailant's widow who lived over five states away, her job keeping her where the family had ancestral land. The tears flowed for an elderly mother who didn't understand how this happened any more than the rest of us.

Today is the one year anniversary and as I sit here reflecting back, preparing to go to a day of memorials, I wonder if we have healed.

There were dialogue sessions that brought two races together, the underlying conflict between the rich and poor, haves and have-nots, influencers and powerless. Many sought to reach across the railroad tracks to find a hand, invoking what our new administration says as if you unclench your fist, you will find an extended hand.

I think about all the good that has happened in this community over the last year. Students were tutored and mentored, families ate meals together, dialogue happened in large groups and small sessions, new city council members were elected and have taken steps to listen to all, people have coffee, walk together, children play together, fear and anger is replaced with hope and love.

Perhaps we can close the door to this now. The families directly involved will always have the empty chair at the dining table, the missed hugs, the memory of butterfly kisses in the air, but it is time. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. It is time for Kirkwood to reach for the morning.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Republicans Are Just Mean Spirited

I am remembering my dad telling me in the Reagan years how mean spirited the Republicans were. It went in one ear and kinda out the other, after all, I was a young teen when he was first elected.

All these years later, I understand what he meant. You mean to tell me, they want to derail this economy, middle class people, and add to the every-growing unemployment rate over a few dollars, a very small percentage of an overall stimulus bill because they want more money for the top cats that put us in this trouble in the first place?

To quote the gentle lady senator from my state, Senator Claire McCaskill, "I'm mad!" This is just craziness and partisanship, like the kids on the playground who want to take their ball and go home but want to tear down the basketball hoop so the rest of the kids can't play either.

I am taking names and will definitely vote them out, look out Senator Kit Bond in 2010, even if you were once an ok-governor back-in-the-day. Not supporting this stimulus tells me, a constituent of the Showme State, that you don't give a rip about the everyday people who live in St. Louis. Perhaps because you are cloistured up in your office in upscale Clayton that you and others that have millions to spare think it is ok to cut the things your party listed as irresponsible to the bill. So, tell me how eliminating or cutting food stamps is helpful? Because you can't get more tax cuts for the mansion-dwellers on Lindell or along Argonne Avenue? What about the people in the bungalows?

The following is the article from Huffington Post and note the highlighted portion at the bottom. This on the day that it was announced this morning that the January unemployment rate jumped to 7.6% or about 598,000 jobs cut, this brings the growing total to over 2.4 million people out-of-work. And for what, so the Republicans can have some more champagne aboard their private jet munching on cavier on their way to the South of France? Give me a break!

Total Reductions: $80 billion


Head Start, Education for the Disadvantaged, School improvement, Child Nutrition, Firefighters, Transportation Security Administration, Coast Guard, Prisons, COPS Hiring, Violence Against Women, NASA, NSF, Western Area Power Administration, CDC, Food Stamps



Public Transit $3.4 billion, School Construction $60 billion



Defense operations and procurement, STAG Grants, Brownfields, Additional transportation funding


Nelson spokesperson Clay Westrope confirms the authenticity of the memo, adding that the figures obviously could change. But this is currently the general direction.

As you can see the amount being cut appears to have fallen, to a total of $80 billion, though Westrope says the actual number is closer to $100 billion. Also, it appears some of those cuts are being maintained even as defense funds appear to be getting added.

Head Start? Food Stamps? School Nutrition? Violence Against Women? This just proves the GOP are some heartless, soulless sacks of skin. I’m calling and faxing as much as possible.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

This Is Why He Is My President

President Barack Obama sat down with Katie Couric (not my favorite journalist, by the way) and put to rest the entire Daschle thing. This is why he is my President.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Something About Keziah

My really talkative five-year-old is my constant companion.

We had some errands to run today, a load of catching up to do since it is my day with the car. We drove from bookstore to lunch to Post Office and she just chatted away about everything, anything, and nothing in particular. It was one of those moments when she had the majority of my attention and I could really get into her corny jokes or unending stories. I will miss this when she starts school in the fall.

On one of the trips out, she commented about my "need" for a pink monkey. I think it was her cherub-eyed request for a stop into Build-A-Bear Workshop. I diverted her attention with the always-too-busy-to-stop-playplace beckoning her name with its cushy renderings of little buildings and pieces of vegetables. She gleefully changed course and was out of her coat in a flash. Again, I had to smile at her innocence and playfulness. Friend-making was coming easy for this youngest of my children as she invoked her version of the baby-voice for the toddlers among her, after all, she was big-girl-on-the-mushroom.

The end of our little afternoon outing included negotiations around scrap booking scissors (not) and glue (yes) and a long session over which afternoon snack (Sun Chips and Pink Marshmallows) for her "home school." It was a lovely time with her without me doing laundry or face glued to this computer screen. The air was chilly but the heart was warm. Five-year-olds just have a way of bringing sunshine! Cool.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Black History Month and My Hair

Happy Black History Month!

I have always had mixed feelings about this month. On the one hand I am happy that it has been designated to give the rest of America a chance to learn what black people have always known. It is a time to remind little black boys and little black girls that our history extends beyond the days of slavery, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights. This year is even more special with the First Black President and his family squarely in the White House.

I was washing my hair, letting the Carol's Daughter Tui Shampoo infuse my mid-back dred locs, and thinking about the ritual of my hair. In my early days, my step-mother spared me the Saturday morning ritual of the hot comb. She kept saying I had "good hair" that just needed to be washed on Friday night, plaited into about six thick braids, and allowed to dry all night and into Saturday until it was ready for a few curls for Sunday morning. I never use that term for my own daughters, I think any hair on the head is good.

My hair washing and mixing of my olive-patchoulli-tea tree-rosewood oil took me back to the Bergamont and Afro-Sheen of my youth. I am glad my daughters are spared this identity crisis regarding their God-given crowns. One daughter has a finer texture of curls than me, I touch her hair and I touch my mother, the other daughter has a thicker texture of curls than me, I touch her hair and I touch my husband's ancestors. Each one looks great in the twists and locs that frame their chubby round faces. They have never had their hair "straightened" and have always known me to have two-strands twists or my now year-and-a-half old locs.

I thought of the images of beauty that have run rampant through my youth, through television, even through black history. We were always striving for that illusive bouncing and behaving hair like the Farrah Fawcett of my teen years. I remember watching my step-sisters succumb to the singhing of the hot comb, trapped in the kitchen for hours. I bore the wrath of their jealously as my braids bounced down my back as I gleefully and obviously ran around and played on Saturday. I never knew "hair envy" until I was a thirteen year old and got my first perm. My hair was really long and would've looked great in the straightened-beyond-recognition hairstyle, instead, the woman cut off about 8 inches of my hair and I ended up with a chin-length bob. My step-sisters were gleeful, my daddy was furious. I settled.

As I grew older, I vacillated between the perm and braids, settling on my natural hair when I was 16, wearing it in various corn-row styles with beads on the ends. I loved it! The older I grew, the more I loved my texture that carried the ancestors from the Caribbean, Africa, Cherokee Nation, France, Blackfoot Nation, and whatever other mixture made it into the gene pool. The hints of gold and brown bounce off the ends of my locs when I wash it or when it catches the sun. I think about my sister's dark gold brown or the many "reds" in my family.

My daughters hate getting their hair washed. The oldest one acts like I've declared World War III on her. She happily chose dred locs with the hopes of at least letting go of the parting and combing ritual that forced her to let out DADDY-COME-RUNNING-screams. She looks so cute with the tiny locs declaring her royal princess-ness. The other one has hair so curly it won't take tiny twists but sports a head full of bouncy two-strand twists. She jumps up and down with the curls cascading around her chubby face, completely in love with her natural self. And this year, they have images just-like-them in Malia and Sasha Obama. I love to see Malia's two-strand twists or cornrows or Sasha's pigtails announcing her joyful playfulness. To me, this is Black History Month celebration in strands of freedom.