Thursday, March 22, 2018

You Can Do This!

Attention Family and Friends: We need to stop running and hiding from our problems. We have to confront those issues that sit in the deepest and darkest recesses of our soul. Dealing with stress, trauma, depression, and self doubt is hard, but not dealing with those issues can kill you mentally, emotionally, and physically.

We can't outrun or hide from life. Drugs and alcohol can numb the pain, but they can't cure the illness. A lot of people have walked in similar shoes down a similar path and gotten to the other side. There are people committed to listening to and helping you. You don't have to be embarrassed.

No one has it all figured out. We all struggle at times. Don't put on a front for other people. You will gain more strength and confidence facing your problems than running from them.


Monday, March 19, 2018

Mary Gordon: Highland County's Forgotten Child

"On this day in 1857, Mary Gordon, a "free" black child of about 2 years old, was bound out as an apprentice to Stuart C. Slaven until age 18 to learn the business of housekeeping. Slaven was ordered to pay Mary $25 when she reached the age of 18; Mary died at age 16."

This was the account of Mary Gordon's life provided by the Highland County Historical Society. She was born free, but died in bondage. How?

I was at my desk typing when I heard the jingle that has become synonymous with the Highland County Historical Society's problematic way of dealing with slavery. For the better part of two years I've listened to "On This Day" segments that have ranged from very good to downright awful. The history of this area + a lack of diversity + the affinity many citizens have for the Civil War vis-a-vis the Confederate army = the perfect conditions for the continued degradation of bound and enslaved people. 

For several months I've wanted to reach out to the team that produces these tracks, but I know how these conversations tend to go. I have never figured out how to talk about race without triggering the need of some well intentioned person to add the usual qualifiers: "not all", "quit being so sensitive", "my people were oppressed", or my personal favorite: "I don't see color". 

I have to overcome the trap of moral authority. That is my biggest obstacle when writing and/or talking about race. At times, being "right" has negatively affected the way I have shared information. I have a natural air of certainty when it comes to the issues I research, write, and talk about. My "preaching" style can put people on the defensive. This has stopped them from listening. Instead of sharing information and perspectives, people start defending themselves from attacks that aren't part of the conscious dialogue.

With all of that said, the excerpt that started this blog was easily the most problematic 25 seconds of radio I've heard in a long time. Mary's life was treated like a footnote. We learned she was the "free" property of Stuart Slaven. Her interests and dreams didn't make the cut. The fact that a historical society chose to exclude or couldn't produce any more information about her time on Earth is a testament to how little her life still matters. She was born, washed dishes, did laundry, possibly suffered the fate of other young girls who were bound, and then she died.  

I don't ascribe malevolent motives to those who reported on Mary's life. A lot of the information used in these features come from court records and documents that never considered the humanity of the people they were chronicling. This dehumanizing was intentional during slavery. God fearing Christians had to justify their mistreatment of people "made in the image of God", but we can do better. This kind of talk too often gets classified as political correctness. It's easier to call something "PC" and avoid it than it is to investigate things that make us uncomfortable or we don't understand. 

I want the historical society to know It's possible to hurt people without meaning to. It's possible to engage in problematic behavior without knowing it. It's possible for a predominantly white community to unintentionally alienate the minorities among them. This doesn't make a person, institution or a community "bad"; It just means there is more work to do. All of us are susceptible to our own lack of understanding.

A lot of people don't know what it meant to be bound. If you don't know, then it's possible to think living in bondage is better than being a slave, but that isn't true. Being a bond servant was often worse than being a slave. Many of the "free" Blacks who found themselves in bondage never lived to see the freedom they were working for. There were more mixed race "free" Blacks than "free" Blacks with no outward signs of European blood. These mixed race "free" Blacks were often the children of rape. Was Mary Gordon a child of mixed race? Did Stuart Slaven father Mary? Child birth was the leading cause of death for women under 30 during the mid 19th century, was Mary pregnant at the time of her death? Who gives an apprenticeship to a two year old? Did Stuart pay any reparations to Mary's family after her death? These are a few of the questions I have about one of Highland County's forgotten children.


Friday, March 9, 2018

My #DayOnes

My real #DayOnes know I started this twelve years ago hustling computer time in prison.

My real #DayOnes know my early work was full of punctuation and grammatical errors.

My real #DayOnes know I have always written about subject matter most people would rather ignore.

My real #DayOnes know I wrote thousands of articles, editorials, and blog posts before I ever made a dime.

My real #DayOnes know I've gotten more support from people outside my circle than those in it.

My real #DayOnes know how many times people tried to get me to quit.

My real #DayOnes never let an article about race, class, religion, or politics affect our friendship.

My real #DayOnes know how much time and energy I've invested in my writing and public speaking engagements.

My real #DayOnes know I have been harassed and threatened over this. 

My real #DayOnes know I will never sellout the causes I advocate for. 

My real #DayOnes know where I started and how many obstacles I've faced to get here.

My real #DayOnes know this isn't a game.

My real #DayOnes know how much I've lost and gained because of this. 

My real #DayOnes didnt need my work to be endorsed or validated to support it.

My real #DayOnes know I'm going to do this until I close my eyes.

Writing is more than an interest, hobby, or part of my occupation. I write because the world is tragic. Yes, there is great beauty in life. Yes, there are people and ideas worth loving, protecting, and even dying for. But for some people, the fact that today will be followed by tomorrow is a great tragedy. This reality is depressing. Most people avoid dealing with this fact. They say, "why focus on things you can't change?" I say: why ignore them? 

If I didn't start writing when I did, I would be in prison or dead. This isn't hyperbole. I know what it means to hurt and be hurt. I know what it means to be on both sides of a loaded gun. My inward journey was/is a direct consequence of writing. I do this because my soul won't allow me to do otherwise. We are who we are. Some of us are just more honest and accepting of this fact.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Just Another Day In Washington

It's Tuesday and the Trump administration is doing what it does best: Proving they can dominate the daily news cycle with scandals and resignations. On the same day the White House was informed Kellyanne Conway twice violated the Hatch Act last year, top economic aide Gary Cohn resigned. Under normal circumstances this would be significant, but we've seen the office so damaged by the reality show star that that this is almost normal. 

"I think he may have done something during the election" 

Yesterday, Sam Nunberg made the media rounds defiantly claiming, "I'm not going to cooperate" . He was referring to a subpoena in the Mueller Investigation. You don't remember Sam Nunberg? He was the Trump aide fired in the early days of the campaign for repeatedly using the word NIGGER in his past social media posts. He was hired back only to be fired again. He used his time on television to say, "Carter Page was colluding with the Russians" and Robert Mueller probably had something on Donald Trump for his activities during the campaign. All of this was huge news, but it wasn't as scandalous as The Wall Street Journal article claiming Donald Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen was very upset he wasn't reimbursed for the $130,000 dollars he paid to porn star Stormy Daniels. Let me say that again. The conservative Wall Street Journal published an article claiming Donald Trump's lawyer was upset he hadn't been reimbursed the hush money he paid a porn star. 

This is not normal. This is not draining the swamp. This is not the "liberal media". This is an almost daily assault on institutions and decency. Donald Trump has pushed the 35% of Americans who support him (no matter what) into some untenable positions. America is on the cusp of a potential trade war that could cripple the economic gains he inherited, Mexico isn't paying for the wall, his administration's​ turnover rate is twice as high as any administration at this point into it's first term, Jared Kushner lost his security clearance, they have employed a number of domestic abusers, several campaign officials have already plead guilty to crimes they were indicted on, 19 women have credibly accused the president of sexual harassment or assault, and the president still faces the possibility of one or more of his closest friends snitching on him in order to avoid federal prison. I would say this is about as low as it gets, but I know better. I'm just going to pop some popcorn and watch the rest of the show.

* An hour after I published Stormy Daniels sued the president of the United States.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Now That You're Woke, What's Next?

Black communities across the county have been decimated by drugs, violence, and the socioeconomic hardships that accompany underground economies. We have studied and understood the how and why this happened, but what are we doing to reverse the genocide of our people? Have we given up on large scale projects that can really affect change in our communities?

It's easier to attack someone's beliefs, sexual identity, and/or ideas with ad hominem attacks than it is to see someone who is radically different from you as an equal. Too many Conscious people are invested in creating false social hierarchies. We don't have to build our thrones from the broken bodies of other Black people. Besides applauding each other for being woke and castigating others who are still "asleep", what are we doing to improve the lives of Black children who haven't been born yet?

Now that we are woke, what can we do tomorrow morning to make tangible changes to the society and culture we inherited?

Please don't say pool our money together. Y'all know damn well ain't nobody putting money in an account they can't control.

Life Goes On, So Should We

How many brothers fell victim to the streets?

In May of 2001 I had a nervous breakdown. I completely came apart at the seams. When I look back on that day- and the events that led up to it- I can't believe it didn't come sooner.

Our Virginia family was traveling to Delaware for my oldest nephew's high school graduation. Me and my father were leading the convoy. Being alone afforded us some time to catch up. We talked sports most of the morning: the Philadelphia 76ers were set to face the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. As the minutes turned into hours, our casual conversations turned into silence. Somewhere around Northern Virginia I started thinking; then I started overthinking. For the first time in several weeks I was in a situation where I couldn't avoid facing the hell my life had become. I physically started to feel sick. I was drowning in a sea of uncertainty. Without warning, I burst into to tears. I cried for 20 straight minutes without saying a word. When my dad stopped at a rest area I got out of the jeep and ran to my mom (who was traveling in another vehicle) I felt myself collapse. 

My breakdown was the result of a combination of factors: many were my own fault. I wasn't properly dealing with the death of a close friend, the woman I thought I loved was incarcerated in a Montgomery county jail, I was arrested a few weeks before the trip for possession of schedule 1 with intent to distribute, and I had been indicted in another jurisdiction on similar charges. I thought my life was over. 

That was 2001. I didn't see a path to the future. On Friday March 18, 2002, I was convicted of my crimes and wouldn't leave the Virginia Department of Corrections until November 16, 2011. 

Writing this is surreal. Life can seem impossible at times. I made a million mistakes- some of which I'm still paying for. I never wanted to go to prison. I missed a lot of time with my family and friends. I lost loved ones. I suffered a lot for my mistakes, but I wouldn't change one step along this journey. Life Goes On whether we are prepared for it or not. We make our mistakes worse by not learning from them. There is nothing we can't overcome once we dedicate ourselves to addressing our hidden weaknesses and insecurities. 

A few years ago, I sent my wife a text she still laughs at. It read: I love you isn't a radical enough notion for how I truly feel about you. You are the physical manifestation of my metaphysical conception of love. I meant every word of that message. Love is powerful. Love is beautiful and tender. I'm slowly growing into the man she knew I could be when we were kids. The pain in this life is real, but I promise you Life Goes On. Keep grinding. This was the most painful chapter in my life and feel better right now than I did when I started typing. We can survive and overcome any of our mistakes.