Violence is Violence

Here I am talking about violence again. America's built on violence. It shows daily in what we read, our language, and in the violence we endure in our lives. Again this week another mass shooting. This time at a school. In Florida. 17 dead and 14 injured. People are outraged. They want laws changed. They want guns removed. They want better security in schools like metal detectors, more police. They want the government to react. All this is needed. I think about schools in my community that, even when I was a kid in the 90s, dealt with gun violence in and around our schools. From 8th grade to 12th grade I lost friends to gun violence. Guns in schools were my and my classmate's reality. We had security guards, coaches that protected us, metal detectors, limited access to entrances and exits, random locker searches and more. That was happening at my school in the 90s. What's happening now that has happened for decades in the urban communities is the streets are coming into those schools that never had the title of dangerous. The violence of the world is penetrating the scholarly walls of affluent areas. That scares more people. It scares mainstream America. Now, something must be done. Part of me hurts that the reaction to this shooting is somehow different to those that happened in urban schools and the violence we lived under was less valued. We were less valued. As much opportunity as my parents, church and schools provided me, as a teen, I wondered daily if I would live to see 17. The violence was real. Part of me hurts to think another generation is living through violence and nothing is changing. I write this to say that those things that people felt were the problems of the poor, the colored, the uneducated, never is confined to those urban blocks, those ghettos, those people for long. It will permeate and move into the whole society because we are all connected. So when people in the ghettos are dying from guns, drugs; when opportunity decreases in these communities, stop, care and do something. Demand change because your life will indeed depend on it. 

The World Can Be Cruel

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Today I saw such cruelty. I mean, I can't even believe that it was happening and yet it did.  For the past two days, it has snowed in Detroit leaving snowbanks everywhere, making cars slow down and pedestrians walk out in the streets because the sidewalks are snow-covered.

I was coming from a breakfast run, driving down Woodward, one of the main roads in the city. I see something moving on one of the islands separating the traffic going north and south. I thought it was a dog, trying to time when he should run across this busy street. As I got closer, it became clear that it was not a dog.  It was an elderly man, struggling to lift himself up from the snow. In one hand was his metal cane, that he was trying to keep hold of while desperately trying to pull himself up with his free hand. It wasn't working. He just continued to fall further in the snow. 

Now, this isn't happening on some isolated street where one car comes by every hour. This is happening on Woodward Avenue between Seven Mile and Six Mile at 8:30 in the morning. Hundreds of vehicles are on the street going back and forth. No one was stopping. Maybe they were driving too fast they didn't see him. That is the best scenario. Everything else I think of as to why this man was not getting help just makes me feel bad about humanity. Was he being mistaken for a homeless person or a drunkard? Was it because he was black? Was it that the fear of picking up a stranger was stronger than the desire to help another human being? Was it that getting to the job on time was more important than helping someone in need? My life is a little slower than most. I saw this man and parked my car and gave him a helping hand. He wasn't going far. Maybe another ten blocks. He was on his way to catch the bus to his doctor's appointment when he fell in that snowbank. I gave him a ride to the medical center. He called me an angel. I begged to differ. I don't think angels get mad, which is precisely what I was after seeing him in that position.  What is wrong with us? Have we become so detached and so automatic and frightened that we can not make simple decisions to help? It is no wonder that we have the leadership we have in this country and all of the chaotic nonsense in our lives. We have gone crazy. The world needs a big slap across our faces. Wake up, people. Wake the hell up. 

Sexual Abuse and the American Culture

Women_SpeakUPThe last month has been a world wind of news and accusations of sexual harassment and abuse by powerful men resulting in men like Louie CK, Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey, Russell Simmons, Senator Al Franken and Senator John Conyers losing jobs, opportunity and their titles.   On the other side of this coin, we have women who have been holding and re-living these atrocities for years, finally having their voices heard; finally getting validation for their pain and suffering. Each day, I wake up wondering who will be next to fall. 

It is heartbreaking to hear the stories and see the pain on the faces of the women as they talk about those they accuse. I do not think there is one woman in America that can say she has not at the least experienced inappropriate or undesired sexual advances. And some too many unfortunate women have experienced far worse and have been made to carry guilt, shame, and pain along with it.  Maybe, just maybe this is changing. Perhaps America is shifting.

There is this reality. How women and men engage with each other, how men of power at times treat women is culturally ingrained in the psyche of America. Our laws, our words, and actions have said for centuries that America sees women as unequal to men. It is as systemic and genetically infused in what America is as racism, and just like racism, we need to have some open and honest conversations and make extreme changes to fix these messes. 

In 1991/92 I recall seeing the trials of Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill.  I remember how Ms. Hill was made a villain, ridiculed and became the butt of jokes. Many people believed she encouraged Thomas' lude acts upon herself, that her feelings and experience was not valid or worthy of getting in the way of history as Clarence Thomas was under consideration for the supreme court.  I am sure that case scared many victims from speaking up about their own experiences with sexual abuse and harassment. 

Today, the punishments seem swift. There are men scared right now that they are next to lose the comfort of their lives because of actions that they didn't think twice about.  How do we, women and men of America, react and take action as we as we progress?


First of all, let's say this real clear. If a person says no, I am not interested, I do not want, or any other statement similar to no, move on. I know that can be an ego buster but better your ego than your lifestyle. No one is your object to do what you want with, sexually or otherwise. 

Secondly, we must openly declare how women have been treated unfairly and unequally in this country; define our equality and live it.  

Lastly, we must continue to treat all fairly in our day to day lives and by law, regardless of gender, race, culture, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. 

As a black woman, I would like America to consider expanding this conversation.  My truth is my ancestors, my grandparents, parents and myself are the result of racism and a rape-based society. Centuries and generations of pain and shame are part of my African American history and a considerable part of the original sin that is glossed over when we talk about racism, women inequality and redemption. These heinous acts need to be added to the conversation as we see more women speak up about their abuse. 

We are at a crossroads in America. We are lead by people who hold dear the things that are breaking us such as racism, inequality, religious freedoms, sexual freedoms and economic disparity.   The American conscious must choose what our next 200 years will be. We make that decision today by how we treat and relate to women moving forward. 

Violence on a Sunday

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It was Sunday. I got up and did my usual. Walking, meditation, calling my parents before they go to church, breakfast. I had a long night before and was ready for sitting on the couch watching a good movie. The TV was on mute like it is most of the time, but I could see that the news was on. I saw the word "Shooting" at the bottom of the screen. I assume it was more news about the shooting in Las Vegas. No, this was a different shooting. A new shooting that just happened in Texas. In a church during service. When it was all over we learn that 26 people were killed, 20 or more injured and the shooter had taken his life.

 

Throughout the day between my movies, I saw the talking heads on the news discussing the details of the shooting, asking why this is happening and what will be done about it. The same old discussions about changing laws and defending people's freedom to bear arms. I found myself continually shaking my head. Most of us are tired of this nonsense. 

 

As a kid, gun violence was a part of my everyday life. People in the neighborhood were getting shot and killed for the simplest of things. From age 12 until 18, I remember losing friends and classmates to the gun violence in the streets and their homes. I lost a cousin to it. At 15, I looked into the casket of a person that resembled me and was only a few years older; gone by someone else's hands. Every summer, coming home from college, my brother and I would hear about a neighbor, a child, gone when they didn't have to be. Not enough people heard our cries or saw our tears. We learn to live with the nonsense. The violence. 

 

In the past two years, we've seen lives taken in the street by police, by racist, by the scared and the entitled. Children getting gunned down, people praying and worshipping, losing their lives. Folks shopping and helping, ending up dead. We have to think twice about where we are going and if we are safe. We want to know, is this a mental issue, a gun issue. Is this an issue of violence? I think it is all of these and more. The violence is big and deeply rooted in the American fabric. This country was built on it so much so that it is in our constitution. From the beginning, we did not trust or love our fellow man enough. How different would America be if one of our amendments was "love each other daily." Out lack of love for our fellow human beings, our fellow American makes us not hear or try to understand the different sides and discussions on gun safety/control. Our greed as a capitalistic society supersedes and is more valued than the lives we lose from the excess of guns and violence. Our thoughts about mental diseases have made us mistreat the mentally ill in this country, and now we want to scapegoat them for violence that is way beyond that small portion of our society. Since I was 12 years old, guns have taken people that I have played with and laughed with. Taken them from this world and all I can say is things need to change. The laws need to change to minimize the violence, but our hearts need to change to irradicate it. 

 

 

Drugs: Crime and Addiction

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I was born in the mid to late 70s and went to school during the 80s and 90s.  There were campaigns all over the place to keep kids like me from taking drugs, selling drugs or getting addicted to them. Drugs were plenty and diverse, but the most prevalent were marijuana, heroin and crack. Heard about cocaine, but that wasn't in my neighborhood. There were those derogatory terms that no kid wanted to be called, like crack baby or crackhead.  American was "cracking" down on drug users and dealers. I saw friends losing their dads to prison and too many moms to the addictions. There wasn't a lot of help to get off drugs other than church. It wiped-out some neighborhoods. 

Now here we are in 2017. In some states, like mine, marijuana is damned near legal. People are still dying in my neighborhood over things like crack and heroin, and people are doing long sentences in jail for having these drugs on their person or in their system.  But there is a new twist; opioids. Opioids are drugs prescribed by doctors to help ease the pains from surgeries and similar health issues. In the course of becoming well, some become addicted and too many are dying from something they thought was there to help. In the last decade or so we have seen an increase in doctors prescribing opioids to more patients. Doctors blame pharmaceutical companies for falsely marketing opioids as non-addictive. Regardless of whose fault, the facts are nearly 100 deaths a day occur because of overdose on opioids. Opioids is a drug problem, like crack, cocaine, heroine, and marijuana before it. It is an epidemic and crisis that needs to be solved with health and behavioral strategies and with the support of our government. What the opioid crisis has not been is criminalized like the use and selling of drugs before it. Why? Because of who it is affecting.  According to this study, most opioid addictions and overdoses are occurring to white Americans between the ages of 24 – 45. 

When heroin, crack and marijuana was decimating neighborhoods of the poor inner city, communities of color, the solution was war and the results were kids losing parents to overdose, death and long sentences in prison.  Why are these problems treated differently?  It goes back to the same sin that America repeats over and over again. Seeing the poor and people of color, especially black people, as less; not important. Seeing us as the creator of problems that are only solvable through jail, punishments, and death. Because these drugs have gone across the borders of specific communities and into homes of the rich, white and important, it must be contained. We see the unfairness in this. What I hope is that America wakes up and see that anyone dealing with drug addiction needs help and deserve support if we as a country are giving it. America, if we are going to punish the drug dealer on the street for distributing drugs in the neighborhood, let's punish the doctors for distributing to their patients. Lastly, if we are going to make drugs legal, then we need to free those who sit in jails for decades for something that is no longer a crime. 

 

Thelonious Monk

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Do you remember the first time you heard music from Thelonius Monk? I was in high school. My music teacher was an avid fan. I recall sitting in the band room waiting for the class to start and he was arranging music for the jazz quartet. It was "Strait, No Chaser." I didn't know at the time. It sounds like a lot of broken notes to me, but as a musician, you keep your mind open. As an artist, you assume that he was trying something new. 

A different student came into the band room after me and had more courage to say out loud what I was thinking. "What are you playing? It sounds out of tune?" The piano stopped, and I cringed. "That's Monk Man. You don't know Monk?" This took us into a long lesson about Thelonious Monk. His music style, his career, his life. 

Even after the lesson, it took me a moment to grasp his music, but not his life. His life was poetic, dramatic, cool, the epitome of black life in America, genius. I love that he ran by passion, not by what was accepted. He changed Jazz and what a Jazz musician feels like, look like. I played his music to get a better understanding of the man. I am genuinely now a fan. 

The other day, I attended a concert celebrating 100th birthday. I know if my music teacher was alive he would have been in the room taking it in, swinging and swaying, maybe even shedding a tear or two.  The truth is that Monk was not appreciated right away. It took years for some of us to see his greatness and contribution. It made me think how important it is to love what you do and not do it for recognition.  I find myself struggling to be seen and heard sometimes and have to remind myself that is not the point. The product, the art, the sharing, those are the points of it all.  

Balloon

I had a dream about a balloon a few nights ago. I can't tell you the details of the dream. Frankly, I do not remember them. Just the balloon. Red, of course, like in the movie, IT.  I am not a fan of balloons nor clowns so a balloon in my dream was very disconcerting.  I thought about this damned balloon all day. What did it mean, why was it in my dream. Why is it in my head several hours after the dreams is completely over. No clue but it is distracting and to remove it from my psyche I did what all artists do, took it out of my head and brought it into my reality. An illustration and a poem. 

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Floating above
Connected to the world
Only by a string and your hand
You look down at your feet, wishing you could fly, then
You looked up and with a mischievousness grin you
Released it into the blue sky. 
It will travel in your place – but where will it go?
Well first, it will sail over the grit of your city into the suburbs where everything is the same boring;
Tracking its way to the more exciting locations of the world. 

Maybe to Ghana's Accra or Egypt's Alexandria. 
London? Everyone goes there
Paris? It must go there
Berlin? Maybe there
Havana? Yes Havana

You wish it adieu and pray that it sees it all before it burst. 

Colorful Women Series: Love, Hope and Grace

This is the third of six collections of writings in the Colorful Women Series. It is about love, hope and grace. Love hope and grace are probably three of the most beautiful words in the English language. They are filled with the things we want in life. To love one another, to be loved. To be gracious about the things we have and hopeful about what is to come.  This collection is about these experiences of love, grace and hope. Some profoundly moving, others painful as love and hope can sometimes be.  

Read and enjoy.

 

On the Davison Bridge

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I saw this man twice today on Woodward, walking on the Davison bridge. He is kind of a large man maybe in his late 20s or 30s. He caught my eye because he had on a jacket. It was 70 degrees, way too hot for the varsity jacket he adorned.  He was dragging a full suitcase behind him, looking down at the traffic on the freeway under him.  The first time I saw him, I wondered where he was going. Maybe he is waiting on the Woodward bus. The second time I saw him, 5 hours later, I realized he wasn't going anywhere because there is nowhere to go. The jacket on his back, the full suitcase is all his. All he got. This is where life has sat him, looking at the busy freeway on the Davison bridge. 

Something Missing at the Black History Month Program

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Artwork provided by http://unothegateway.com/

Multiple question marks on paper[/caption]It is Black History Month where America, and more specifically, those Americans of African descent celebrate culture and achievements.  My nieces asked me to attend their Black History Month event last night. It was held at a local church where they go for an after school program sometimes. They waited the day before the event to ask me to go, and they asked me several times.  I submitted and committed to going to the event.  You can tell from my writing that I was very much enthused…not. I love my nieces and nephews, but this part of being an auntie, is not my favorite and I avoid it as much as possible.  

Misery loves company, so I asked my mother if she wanted to go. She genuinely did. At 6:45 PM the next day, my mother and I were driving up to the parking lot of the church.  I dropped my mom at the door so that she would not have to walk in the newly fallen snow and the ice that it covered. After I had parked, I went to the church and was met with the chaos of children of all ages running around getting ready for their performance. I smiled remembering me being in their place. 

My mom already found a seat in the sanctuary. I sat next to her like I use to in church when I was a kid.  She asked me about the time. I told her it was 7 o'clock. She seemed surprised that the show had not started and began to look around, noticing she and I were the only ones in the audience. Around 7:15 others began to pour in; grandmothers, mothers, aunts and the people who financially supported the program. A few minutes later drums played on the sound system and dancing, speeches and singing began.  

In the back of the church sat several young boys. Another young man was standing at the door of the sanctuary making sure no one interrupted the program by coming in and out of the door.  Outside of that, there was no male presence. None of the boys performed in the program, and there were no fathers, uncles or grandfathers in the audience. That struck me. A few days before this, I was interviewing people in my neighborhood for a project, discussing the 1967 riot that occurred in Detroit. One subject that continued to come up in those discussions was the broken black family dynamic and how males are frequently missing in the households.  This program was a blaring outcome of that. Not only were there not males in the audience to enjoy the work of the children. There were not males to help in running the program, and the outcome is no activities in the program that were more male-friendly and supportive. 

The reason male presence is small or sometimes non-existent in the black community is very layered. Here are just a few that feed into this phenomena:

  1. Slavery: Many families were broken up in the buying and selling of slaves, creating a different dynamic in black households than in other American households
  2. War/Military: A vast proportion of men who were drafted and took part in wars and military are men of color. Again, removing them from homes and at times bringing them back in emotionally broken mindsets. 
  3. Drugs: Drugs began to pour into the neighborhoods and streets of lower and middle-class neighborhoods, causing havoc in families and communities 
  4. Sexual freedom: Sexual freedom hit its peak in the 60s with additional access to contraceptives, giving more freedom to have sex without the worries of pregnancy
  5. Women's Movement: The women's movement empowered women to take more control over their bodies and unplanned pregnancies. Women had more options than getting married and having kids, and more women were opting not to get married. Men felt less responsible for unplanned pregnancies and their outcomes, leaving more women taking on a larger parental responsibility
  6. Prison: More men, especially men of color were imprisoned because of drugs, removing them from their families and creating more economic hardships and more single-family homes.

This list can go on and on, but why no longer matters. What matters is finding a solution. Here are some. 

  1. Black men and women do not really talk to one another about these pains and challenges. Not as couples. We just expect better and too many times degrade when we do not do better.  More discussion, listening, and understanding needs to occur in our relationships and our communities.
  2. Therapy and counseling is a must. We are a traumatized people who are told every day to get over it. Talking helps get over it. Building helps get over it. We must make therapy and counseling a regular part of our relationships and community. 
  3. Partnerships, not dictatorships – I have seen relationships where black women tear down their male partners with their mouths and actions. I have also seen the same with men, fighting for dominance instead of working together and loving together. Let's build partnerships. Know your strengths and weaknesses in relationships and build and enjoy accordingly
  4. Plans – economically, educational, trips, families, everything. The world is hard and does not help when you are working to plan for your future, create budgets, create families, but we must.  If we want certain things in life with a partner, planning those things are a must
  5. Autonomy – We are individuals, and we all need space and time to be us.  I have seen relationship
  6. Commitment – What families look like today is different from the 1950s and 60s.  And that is what it is, but when you have children, you must take care of them, and that is more than money. That is time, that is knowledge and enjoyment. If your partnership as mates does not work, your partnership as parents must. 
  7. More community and together-ness. Integration and individualism have caused many of us to disconnect from community and our cultural foundation. It has caused us to invest less in our neighborhoods, our people and businesses and in our educational institutions; things that we need when it is difficult to access them in other communities.  Segregation demanded that we did this before. Now, let's do it out of the benefits and necessity. This doesn't mean isolate from the America culture. It just means build the black culture and foundation as you continue your American journey. Other groups do it. We should too.