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 writ large good or 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 nephews' 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.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Dr. Thug M.D.

“Homegrown drug dealers behind the veil of a doctor’s lab coat, a medical degree and prescription pad are every bit as bad as a drug dealer or heroin trafficker from Detroit or elsewhere.”    U.S. Attorney Michael Stuart 

This quote is from an article published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail. On Tuesday, February 20th, a 69-count indictment against 12 doctors was unsealed in a Beckley U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. When I finished reading the article I jotted down some questions about the Opioid epidemic I felt needed to be addressed: If wholesalers are shipping excessive amounts of drugs into rural areas shouldn’t there have been sales reps mentioned in the indictments? The wholesalers weren't shipping the drugs on a whim, so who else, besides the doctors and sales reps, should be investigated? 

The indictments we know about were part of a four-year investigation. There is a chance more shoes could drop, but this is a much needed first step towards punishing someone other than the victims of the medical and pharmaceutical malfeasance that has ravaged these communities. Charging doctors is a great start, but the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and distribute these drugs should be seen as equal participants or co-conspirators in this crisis. If law enforcement doesn't get serious about locking up executives and sales reps the citizens of Appalachia will continue dying from the drugs that are flooding their communities.

Local law enforcement agencies haven’t been able to deal with this problem. They arrest users on possession charges. Every once in a while, a street level dealer is busted, but nothing they have done has slowed down the flow of opiate based drugs. In many areas, Opioids are easier to get than Marijuana. Tuesday’s indictments were the first major action taken against the white-collar criminals profiting from this misery.

This is eerily similar to what happened during the Vietnam War. U.S. soldiers were the victims of a nefarious get rich quick scheme. They were isolated, depressed, and drowning in a pool of readily available heroin. How did heroin from Central America, South America, and the middle east find its way into a war zone? Answer: the CIA partnered with warlords, drug growers and manufacturers. (For those interested, research the Golden Triangle and Air America.)

Rural America, like Vietnam, is a drug dealer's heaven: highly stressed people with incomes plus depressed people with no regards for the future equals a great drug market. In 2016, an investigation by the Charleston Gazette-Mail found that drug wholesalers shipped over 780 million doses of Hydrocodone and Oxycodone to West Virginia. This fact sits at the root of this problem.

Now that the doctors have been put on notice, I’m eager to see how far up the corporate ladder these investigations will go. I can’t believe in this version of the war on drugs until I see raids on corporate offices, pharmacies, and country clubs. When executives are frog marched off golf courses and out of board rooms I'll know America is taking this seriously. Until then, I’ll watch what passes for justice.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Few Quick Thoughts

There are times I want to write, but can't focus on a single theme. When this happens I jot down some thoughts and try to figure out which ones would be the most enjoyable to research and write about. Here are some of today's topics.

1. Paul Manafort's crimes would have never been discovered if he didn't accept a job from Donald Trump. This is true for Rick Gates, General Flynn, George Papadopoulos, and the rest of the good folks who have already plead guilty to the crimes they were indicted on.

2. Many of the same people accusing kids from Parkland High School of being "crisis actors" also thought Obama was trying to spread Ebola. Coincidentally, they also thought he was going to usher in Sharia law, take their guns, and send them to FEMA camps. They have been wrong about everything.

3. Benjamin Netanyahu is probably guilty of the corruption and bribery charges levelled against him, but like former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell: he will walk. Power has and always will be treated differently by the law.

4. On the low, I'm glad the Feds have started investigating and indicting doctors for the part they have played in creating Opioid addiction. If America really wants to send a message they will start conducting raids on country clubs where the big drug deals happen.

5. I'm not impressed with the Black Panther critiques​ offered by a majority of the overly "woke" community. They have found fault in every aspect of this movie. I wish this film would have been released in print: that would have cut the social media noise traffic by 90%. Yes, Wakanda is fictional. We know Disney and Marvel are getting paid. If you can make a better movie do it. We will buy a ticket.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Writing As Therapy

We're all wounded, but some hide it better than others. 

I write everyday hoping to find the right words to articulate the roots of my pain. I do this because it's therapeutic. I don't drink or do drugs, so writing is the only outlet I have from the soul crushing weight I feel at times. I try to choose my words carefully, even when I'm being provocative, but draining the venom from them is hard. Every time I press publish or send I know I risk alienating people I care about. This sucks!

Getting over the vulnerability that comes with exposing your deepest feelings is what separates great writers from really good writers. People who understand your message or relate to the subjects you write about don't care about grammatical errors or switches between passive and active voices. Those are details. If you are telling your truth, the people who follow your work will show up for the fire. If you have heat flowing through your pen or keyboard they will support you.

I choose to write about issues others would rather pretend don't exist. People who are deeply committed to remaining silient about important issues chastise me for writing about politics, racism, police brutality and a host of "controversial" topics. When someone accuses me of spreading hate it reminds me how disconnected I am from what passes as normal.

What some see as hate under the guise of philosophical and theological critique is actually me attempting to love my way through the darkness. On any given day I'm somewhere between throwing a brick and forgiving my enemies: I envy those who have made their choice in either direction. I sing take my hand precious Lord, but struggle to relax the fist my hand reflexively finds itself balled into. If you take words from people committed to non violence what are they left with?

Friday, February 16, 2018

Laura Ingraham: Ann Coulter Wants Her Shtick Back

"shut up and dribble" -Laura Ingraham

Laura Ingraham is very displeased with Lebron James. She channeled her inner Ann Coulter to challenge the intellect of a man who has shown himself to be a better person than the president she can't find any fault in. She doesn't like multimillionaire athletes using their platform to critique the reality show host she helped get elected president. How dare these uneducated thugs express their opinions about anything other than basketball? They need to stick to entertaining us. 

This sentiment gets recycled every time athletes and entertainers offer opinions the conservative media dislikes. Conservatives hate celebrities unless they agree with them. These are the same people who were silent when Ted Nugent told President Obama to, "suck on my machine gun." 

Laura "Susan" Ingraham's comments typify the hypocrisy of Donald Trump's most ardent supporters. For years, Donald Trump was a regular guest Fox and Friends. He used his time to tell any unchecked lie about President Obama that popped in his head. This phenomena didn't end. The president lies and spews hateful venom every time he finds himself in close proximity of a microphone. His lies are consumed as easily as oxygen. His rancor is passed off as straight talk. The profanity he uses is understood as passion. Conservatives have defended every offensive thing that has come out of his mouth and attacked anyone who dares call him out on his bigotry and ignorance. This is no different. 

Just for the sake of reference, I want to point to some important numbers about Donald Trump and Lebron James. Maybe Laura is ignorant about their record.

Sexual assault allegations:          Donald Trump 19 Lebron James 0  
Domestic violence allegations:   Donald Trump 1 Lebron James 0          
Pu$$y grabbing" confessions:    Donald Trump 1 Lebron James 0
Payouts to Porn stars:                  Donald Trump 2? Lebron James 0

Laura Ingraham constantly defends one of these men.

Donald Trump is on a 23-0 run. I stopped keeping track to avoid an even bigger blowout. This is who Lebron James was talking about when he questioned our current president's level of concern for average Americans. If Donald Trump never said any of the offensive things he has publicly said about Blacks, Muslims, or Mexicans his track record with women would qualify him as a trash human being. Yet, the right circles the wagons to protect a man who has attacked every thing they claim to hold sacred.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Filth We Are Becoming

"We wait and think and doubt and hate. How does it make you feel? The overwhelming feeling is rage. We hate ourself for being unable to be other than what we are. Unable to be better."  Irvine Welsh

The divisions in our society couldn't be any clearer if someone physically surveyed them and chalked them out. Basic notions about right and wrong are debated as if there's some new, secretly agreed upon standard in place a majority of us weren't aware of. Morality isn't whimsical. Ethics change, societies change, but morality is divine. When good people allow the parameters of decency to be moved for their own interests we all lose. We are all currently losing.

There's a segment of our society comitted to willfully ignoring what's right in front of them. They don't engage; they are afraid of the consequences. Almost every day, seemingly good people choose to work overtime to diminish, excuse, and tolerate behavior they would never accept directed towards their loved ones. They have chosen to be complicit in this assault on decency. They are co-conspirators. Their silence screams as it scratches jagged fingernails down the chalkboards of their conscious. 

We can nod and wink as we play games with each other, but we can't fool the Universal force that sits high and looks low. In the words of Dick Gregory, "The moment we tolerate filth we become filthy." There is a poisonous brew of wickedness, greed, arrogance, and indifference filtering through our collective souls. We can pretend it's not there until we have to deal with its consequences.

I foolishly thought buying a bunch of books and diving into other worlds would drown the silent noise around me: I was wrong. It made me feel empty. There are far too many words worth writing, dissents worth registering, and causes worth fighting for. Having spent so much of my life physically separated from the people I love, the choice to live and die alone with a clear conscious is a lot easier than going along to get along. I would love to be the Danny that was the life of the party and loved, but if that means I have to be part of this mess it's a price I can't afford to pay.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Puppet Master?

Dr. Boyce Watkins deserves every bit of scrutiny he is receiving. The Charles Wu video is damaging, and no amount of vitriol the Dr. aims at those asking questions makes this go away. Boyce broke the trust he has built with some of his strongest supporters, but more damaging than that is the harm he will continue to do to those semi-conscious brothers and sisters who refuse to open their eyes. We need to view these secular saviors the same way we view pulpit pimps and other conmen praying on the Black community.

Every good con is built on trust. The most fruitful cons take a long time to develop. Charles Wu found someone (Dr. Boyce Watkins) who was running a similar hustle and used him to expand his brand. Charles Wu was on video bragging about his ability to sell dreams to "niche markets" (Black people). He admitted he was selling a "religion". The most damning part of the video is when Wu pulls up Dr. Boyce Watkins' image on his screen and parrots his whole pitch almost word for word. Boyce might not be at the end of Charles Wu's puppet strings, but one would have to try awful hard not to see this for what it is: Charles bragging about his "plug" into the Black community.

I've written about the "Conscious Pharisees" a lot the last few years. It is almost worthless. The war for the soul of the Black community isn't between those who are "woke" and those who are asleep. The real war is fought between honest intellectuals trying to build and those who use their gifts to exploit. The most ardent supporters of these hope peddlers spend more time attacking the people trying to wake them up than questioning the actions of the folks trying to separate them from their money. Some of the most ignorant people in the conscious Community are the "Stans" who choose ad hominem attacks over critical thinking. These folks can give you a hundred reasons why Creflo Dollar is a crook- he probably is, but can't recognize similar behavior when exhibited by Umar, Boyce, and their minions.  

The only math these folks care about is division and subtraction. They seek to divide vulnerable portions of the Black community from their friends and family and then subtract what little money they have from them. Boyce might not be Charles' puppet, but the people buying their overpriced products should check themselves for strings.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Seriously, We Can Pray Away The Flu?

"Listen, partners, we don't have a flu season. We've got a duck season, a deer season, but we don't have a flu season."     ~Gloria Copeland

If you belong to a church that promotes this kind of anti-intellectual, anti-science thinking you need to run. Anyone trying to convince you that praying the flu away is an effective medical strategy doesn't understand the reason God gave us a brain. 

Gloria Copeland didn't misspeak. The fact that this video is still on the Kenneth Copeland Ministries Facebook page proves the church stands behind her statement. The current flu strain has killed over 2,000 people nation wide: 53 of those who died were children. This isn't something to play with. If the church can't correct this kind of faulty theology what are we good for? This kind of hermeneutical malpractice can kill people. We need to do better.

Thoughts On Education

Last July, I got an email from a friend who was in the process of finishing a Master’s degree in Special Education. She asked if I would complete a survey related to her research. I didn’t hesitate. A few days later she sent me a list of questions about my past experiences and my current thoughts about public school education. Listed below are some of my experiences, observations, and suggestions educators might want to consider.

Looking Back
  1. I had a few teachers who were indifferent to the plight of poor kids and a few who were outright hostile towards us.
  2. Classroom hostility creates fear and anger, but indifference is much more damaging.
  3. Students can tell when they aren’t a priority: it does something to them.
  4. Looking back, some teachers were better than others when it came to hiding their lack of attentiveness.
  5. Students, not the faculty or parents, are the first to recognize when a teacher has given up.
  1. Public education is one of the highest achievements of mankind.
  2. Privatizing public education will cause more problems than it fixes.
  3. Market sensibilities force educators to ask how profitable something is instead of how much value it adds.
  4. The ability of a nation to advance rests squarely on the shoulders of its youth.
  5. Education is the process of self actualization.
Looking Forward
  1. The three R’s are essential, but critical thinking is just as important.
  2. There has to be more focus on the humanities.
  3. Teachers, regardless of the subjects they teach, should use as much technology as possible in their classes.
  4. Students should be required to write in every subject.
  5. All students should have an apprentice level skill set in one service industry trade.

“Thoughts On Education” @Thoughtwrestler

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Striving Over Surviving

Danny Cardwell

By Simba Sana
Agate Publishing, 260 pp.,

It would be easy to categorize “Never Stop” as a postmodern Horatio Alger novel set in an urban community. This memoir has all the ingredients of a rag to riches story. But such a reading has the potential to render all of the pain, failure, and life lessons chronicled throughout its 260 pages invisible. This isn’t fiction. Each shattered life and every violent death can be traced to an easily locatable time in place in our not too distant past.

Simba Sana’s childhood could be described as catastrophic. His father was a no show. He was raised by a single mother with mental health issues. He grew up in Washington, D.C., at a time when crack was replacing PCP as the drug of choice, and guns were replacing fistfights as the preferred method for settling disputes. He survived a gauntlet of racial and socioeconomic pitfalls that consumed many of his peers. Any of these obstacles could have derailed or ended his life before he attended Gonzaga College High School and then Mount Saint Mary’s University.

Simba’s escape from inner-city violence and poverty is inspiring. If the book had ended with him getting a college degree it would have been a story worth telling, but it didn’t. Simba shares the mistakes he made during his time in corporate America, his successes and failures as co-owner of Karibu Books: the largest independent Black owned chain of book stores in America, and his mostly negative experiences managing boxers.

The money and prestige that came with entrepreneurship couldn’t fill the gaping holes in his life. At no point during his socioeconomic ascension did Simba “have it all”. His professional endeavors were periodically hindered by his militant Pan-African ideology and inability to maintain meaningful relationships with the opposite sex. He was driven to succeed, but at times unable to enjoy his success.

Simba had to lose everything in order to rebuild his life around love. He made a conscious effort to critically think about and challenge his personal philosophy and spirituality. When he finally found his place in the world, he chose to, In the words of John Hope franklin, “Use his history and ingenuity, his resources and talents, to combat the forces that isolate[d] him and…contribute to the solution of the problems that all Americans face in common.”

“Never Stop” belongs on a shelf beside the Black existentialists works that helped foster its creation. Alex Haley’s “Autobiography of Malcolm X” guided a young Simba Sana through his undergraduate years at Mount Saint Mary’s University, but it was close readings of James Baldwin that forced him to cultivate a self instead of replicating one. Near the end of the book Sana writes:

Contemplating the life and work of Malcolm X helped me understand the risks of trying to emulate someone else, no matter how great that person may be. If discovering who I am is the way to fulfillment, then by continuing to follow Malcolm, I ran the risk of making my hero’s issues my own.

“Never Stop” is about self-actualization, love, and inner-peace. There are times when it meanders, but not enough to distract from its narrative thrust. Sana shares all of the pain and shame it took for him to recognize and ultimately address his personal shortcomings. If Nathan McCall’s “Makes Me Wanna Holler” resonated with you in your teens or twenties, then “Never Stop” will speak to you in your thirties and forties.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

How To Talk: Overcoming Polarization In 2018

Paying attention to how you say what you say doesn’t mean you have nothing to say.    -Michael Eric Dyson

Almost every aspect of our lives has become polarized. Large segments of our country have cocooned themselves inside ideological bubbles that never challenge their worldview. Civil conversations about important issues are vanishing. In the old days, politics and religion were the only subjects one had to avoid to be considered polite; now, friendships are lost over hashtags trending on social media. Society writ large is losing the ability to talk rationally about anything. We are becoming robots. Our inability to see shades of gray has reduced us to binary beings. The world is more than 1’s and 2’s We have to do better.

Biting your tongue to keep the peace is a trap of comfort. The illusion of civility is just that. Ask yourself who benefits from your silence? Who is hurt by it? We have to start talking about the issues that divide us. James Baldwin was right when he said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” If we can’t talk about important issues with people we have established relationships with then there’s no way we can bridge the divides between those on the periphery of our lives. There are a few things we can do to help facilitate these tough conversations.

1. Wrestle with (and accept) the fact that there will always be people you don’t understand; inversely, there will always be people who don’t understand you. We don’t have to agree 100% of the time to respect each other. No one will listen to you if they feel disrespected.

2. Understand that you are vulnerable to all of the cognitive and linguistic pit falls that make clear speaking and plain understanding almost impossible. The Rorschach test is a great example of this. Every time you see a butterfly someone else could be seeing a bat. We have to challenge ourselves to see issues from another point of view. This can be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary.

3. Leave as much room for the humanity of others as you expect. There are conversations that elicit visceral responses. Terms like triggered and gas lighting are thrown around so often that we diminish their meaning. People are heavily invested in their beliefs. We can’t expect someone to just surrender a tightly held belief without a fight.

4. Avoid insulting people who misunderstand you or your point of view. We can’t usher in civility with derogatory language. bell hooks relies on her Buddhist faith when it comes to dealing with confrontation. She reminds us not to get in the ring. We don’t have to create the conditions for a fight or escalate them.

5. Be real. Authenticity isn’t always appreciated, but it’s become so rare people notice it. Your consistency is a direct reflection of who you are. Avoiding tough subject matter becomes a way of life. People might not understand or respect your positions, but at least they will know where you stand. Having an identity is better than having one projected on you.

6. Be forgiving. Life is hard enough without adding revenge to your daily to-do list. We can leave a discussion in which no consensus was formed without creating an enemy. There are issues that affect us that can’t be resolved over lunch. The idea is to create the conditions for future dialog.

All of us are emotionally invested in our beliefs. There will be times when our opinions will be diametrically opposed by people who are close to us. When this happens, we have to talk about it. We have to respectfully counter implicit societal agreements that force us to be quiet about important issues. This won’t be easy, but it’s something we have to do.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Hugh "Bra" Masekela 1939-2018

I had a friend ask me about Hugh Masekela after seeing his name trending. I didn’t know where to begin, so I said, “If Bob Marley lived and continued his social activism he would be the Hugh Masekela of the Western Hemisphere.” This wasn’t an attempt to elevate “Bra” Masekela or diminish the legacy of Bob Marley. The two had great respect for each other; Masekela performed on some of Bob Marley and the Wailers early songs. But that’s how important Hugh was to South African Jazz and the spirit to fight apartheid in South Africa.

Bra Masekela joined the ancestors this morning (1/23/18) at the age of 78 after a decade long battle with prostate cancer. His family said that he, “passed away peacefully in his sleep.”

Masekela died a legend. He used his trumpet and love for South Africa to give a voice to a silenced people. His first break in music was as a member of the Jazz Epistles: South Africa’s first jazz band. At a time when artists of all stripes were having their work curtailed by the government, the Jazz Epistles risked their freedom to perform shows off the beaten path.

In 1960, the South African government banned large gatherings of Black Africans and instituted the segregation policy known as Pass Laws. The pass laws severely limited travel for Black Africans. Tensions were so high that a planned protest in the Sharpesville township against the law ended in what is now known as the Sharpesville Massacre. 69 unarmed people were killed and hundreds injured when the police opened fire on the crowd. Masekela left his home country and wouldn’t return for 30 years.

After pursuing his education in London and Manhattan, Masekela returned to the studio and started making music. He played across multiple genres. His discography includes over 50 albums, almost 300 guest appearances and records with the likes of Herb Alpert, Paul Simon, Joan Baez, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Vusi Mahlasela and many more. In 1986, he released “Bring Him Back Home” a song calling for the release of Nelson Mandela.

Hugh Masekela weaponized his gift. Even though much of his musical catalog was banned at the height of apartheid, his message found the people who inspired it. Music wasn’t just the vehicle that transported him across the globe, it was his way of fighting racism. If you listen to his music you can almost hear the love spilling out of his trumpet. During his life he partnered with anyone fighting racism and oppression. He learned from those who came before him and made sure to teach the generations that would follow. South African President Jacob Zuma said, “Masekela's death was an immeasurable loss to the music industry and to the country at large… His contribution to the struggle for liberation will never be forgotten."

The legacy of Jazz in South Africa isn’t much different than the legacy it has in America. The ruling classes in both countries thought the art form was crude and corrupting. There were musicians and scholars who couldn’t find the value in this new genre. At a time when elites in both countries were still fetishizing classical music created in Europe, people suffering the soul killing effects of racism sought another way to reflect their pain and inspire a sense of pride. Bra Masekela was more than a musician. He coupled his gifts with real world activism. He left the world more than he took. His life and music are worth studying and learning from.


Friday, January 12, 2018

One Exhausting Sh*thole!

“Why are we having all these people from sh*thole countries come here?”

Sh*thole has been uttered on cable news over a dozen times. My only regret is that George Carlin didn’t live long enough to see the barrage of politicians, news anchors and pundits repeat one of the FCC’s seven banned words.

Almost a year into this experiment, the polarization in our country is just as palpable as it was on election night. Our choices are no longer Democrat or Republican. The people who defend Donald Trump’s daily attacks on civility are at war with commonsense and decency. This is bigger than a “poor choice of words”. It’s about a defining principle of this nation. Are we still striving to be the shining city on a hill, or is it time to finally admit the American dream was never meant for everyone?

I’m not going to write 1,000 words about this statement; it doesn’t require critical analysis. Fox news and other conservative media outlets will spin the president’s words in an attempt to drain them of their ignorance and racism. Left leaning blogs and websites will use this latest controversy for clicks. This cycle has no end in sight. Instead of engaging the superficial I want to make some statements that contextualize this moment.

  1. America was created for wealthy white men.
  2. We inherited a country that wrote a Declaration of Independence and a Preamble to the Constitution that willfully excluded everyone who wasn’t a land owning white male.
  3. The past is a great whipping boy for anyone trying to deny structural racism today; The past allows nostalgic Americans to ditch their responsibilities to future generations by pointing out how bad the past was.
  4. Skin color has always been strong enough to unite people of different socioeconomic backgrounds.
  5. Whiteness is not a blessing or a curse.
  6. Donald Trump represented the hopes and wishes of millions of Americans who advocate for a return to authoritarian white hegemony.
  7. Donald Trump’s message of restoring whiteness was electoral gold.
  8. Donald Trump has done everything in his power to make sure his vision for America is crystal clear. He has repeatedly expressed his desire to take us back.
  9. There are scholars and political pundits still trying to convince us that overt racism is a byproduct of economic anxiety.
  10. As America undergoes more racial and cultural shifts we will see more "whites only" populist movements.
  11. I’m not trying to trigger white anger, guilt, or sympathy. I’m suggesting we be honest about what the legacy of Donald Trump will be.
  12. We have all wasted too much time psychoanalyzing this president and his defenders, but we have to keep going.  
Covering Donald Trump is exhausting. I have friends and acquaintances who make a decent living doing so, most are liberal, some are conservative, but almost all of them are worn out. This presidency is turning our beloved vocation into a dreaded occupation. I am tired of expending time and emotional energy cataloging and explaining our president’s racism and white supremacist ideology.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Cult of Consciousness

"I'd rather have a smart enemy than a stupid ally." 

By now, almost everyone knows Oprah Winfrey received the 2018, Golden Globes' Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement. Her acceptance speech was inspiring. It was one of those moments where the right person was on the right stage saying the right things at the right time. I knew the warm and fuzzy feeling she created would enrage those who hate seeing others enjoying nice things. White supremacists took to social media to do what they do, but they were not alone. Many of the “leaders” inside the Conscious Community also took this opportunity to attack her.

Apparently, Oprah is a “Negro Bed Wench”. I know this because the “leadership” inside the Conscious Community sent out social media decrees that were shared and commented on without any fact checking. From the posts I’ve read, “Oprah has a history of covert transgressions against the Black community”, and, on top of that, “her wealth and fame are rewards for her being a useful tool of white supremacists”. A claim so crazy Alex Jones also leveled it against her once rumors of a potential 2020 presidential run dominated the news cycle.

Oprah’s speech and the attention it garnered was the perfect opportunity for some to point out her latest act of racial treason. Did you know she gave Ron Clark money to build a fake Harry Potter school instead of investing in Dr. Umar Johnson’s school? No, this isn’t a typo. There are Conscious leaders who believe Oprah gave a white man money to build a school where kids can learn spells. This is what happens when people blindly trust the internet postings of people in leadership positions. A Google search could have solved this, but who has time for that?  

This controversy was reborn a few days ago, but it has been swirling beneath the surface for two months now. Here are the facts. On November 3, 2017, Oprah donated $5 million dollars to the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. This is a very real school that has educated very real children in grades 5-8 (90% of whom are black) for over a decade. Her donation didn't seem like a controversial gesture. Oprah helped put Ron Clark on the map in 2000 when he was named Disney’s American Teacher of the Year.  She donated her money to a school ran by a person she has known for seventeen years. This is what passes for selling her people out.

I’m not writing this to defend Oprah Winfrey. I’m certain there are very well compensated lawyers and P.R. experts who could do a better job than I can. This is a defense of commonsense. There are people who claim to love the community who are constantly pumping their followers’ heads with bad information. The same folks defending Dr. Umar Johnson from attacks they believe to be illegitimate are using illegitimate attacks against Oprah Winfrey.

Thankfully, some tried to add some truth to the conversation.

Social media might be the best and worst thing that happened to social activism. It's an almost perfect weapon for circumventing the media's ability to craft or distort narratives; it's also great for connecting with like-minded individuals, but it has succeeded in elevating too many people above their calling. Some of these movements are starting to resemble cults. There isn't enough critical thinking or questioning taking place. 

A leader is more than someone with followers, money and/or power. True leadership requires integrity and credibility. People need to know that the people they are following can be trusted. Quality leadership never leaves the people following them worse off. The comments sections of these posts are depressing. There are people spreading misinformation because someone they trust said it was true. This diminishes the movement and is indefensible. This has to be called out for what it is: Ignorance.