I started feeling sick the second-to-last day of my trip home to Detroit for Christmas. It’s not the best way to finish up such a trip. What started as a dry throat became a sore one. A few sniffles evolved from a cold to [what I think is] the flu.
I’m still not 100%. I’ve pummeled four boxes of Puffs since returning to DC plus a full box of Kleenex from my parents and 3 travel-packs of tissue. I’m almost through Costco-sized boxes of DayQuil and NyQuil, and I should buy stock in domestic vapor rub manufacturers.
You get the idea: this infirmity has been tough to get over. While going through this, I can’t help but thinking about the bigger problems we’re dealing with that seem to persist no matter how hard we fight. US politics has regressed from broken to vitriolic to violent. Poverty and economic inequality have skyrocketed with no end in sight. And racism finds another hole to poke its head out of every day. This stuff makes curing the common cold look as easy as walking in a straight line while sober.
There is no agreed-upon cure for the common cold, but the approach we take to treating it could be instructive for us as address our nation’s challenges. Consider what we normally do:
- Rest up
Being sick usually wears us out because our body is literally fighting off infection. Unsurprisingly, fighting is tiring. We need to rest so we can fight again next time.
The same is true with the societal and structural challenges we’re tackling, but replace rest with reflect. Taking at least a second to think before reacting to all the day-to-day idiocy in the news would probably lead to less idiocy in the news every day. My father has a saying: “I don’t have to do anything right now.” By this he means that he operates on his own timetable, not someone else’s, and that he won’t be cajoled into doing something until he’s thought about it and is ready. We should all heed that call to reflection.
- Drink lots of water
Drinking fluids flushes our system and replenishes us. When facing big problems, we need to do the same. Read and watch responsible, nuanced and smart media instead of sound byte silly news. Engage people that make you think about why you think and feel the way you do about issues, not just people you implicitly and explicitly agree with on virtually everything. Consume good, healthy stuff and watch good, healthy come out.
- Wash your hands
Hand washing is one way to prevent colds and the flu. It’s a preventative solution based on the principle of helping everyone while at the same time helping yourself. That’s called community values, which means acting in a way that responsible to humanity in general and to yourself individually.
These things are what come to mind when we get sick, and they can inform us on how to go about healing our nation. There’s no magic cure, not matter what any person or interest group says, but there are things that we know won’t work. Let’s commit to doing things we know will move us closer to a healthier future.
One Love. One II.
The following is a brief essay I wrote in late 2010 for the Skillman Foundation Annual Report in which I was featured. After the essay, there is a short video message I recorded for young men in Detroit as well.
One Love. One II.
I wear my Detroit heritage proudly every day. I was born at Hutzel Hospital. I played basketball at Herman Gardens. I spent sunny afternoons at Hart Plaza. I love Detroit, its people and its history. Most importantly, I love the future of this great city.
The city’s visionary leaders and institutions invested in me and thousands of other children like me. Programs like the Skillman-funded Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program (DAPCEP) exposed us to a future beyond the negative circumstances too many young people face. Foundations like Skillman joined hands with Detroit Public Schools, businesses like General Motors and universities like my alma mater, the University of Michigan, to work toward a common purpose: to expose the children of today to the skills of tomorrow, regardless of their zip code. The writing opportunities. The friendships. The science projects. The math challenges. DAPCEP transformed these subjects from intimidating and mysterious to accessible and fun. They gave me educational experiences that empowered me to choose my destiny with confidence.
The future of Detroit will be built upon initiatives like DAPCEP. They will combine the best thinking from the city’s people, government, educational, cultural, business and philanthropic communities to overcome our shared challenges. The entire Detroit community will come together to mold the Detroit we dream of.
This city produces hard-working people with brilliant minds. Many of us went to other places in search of careers and opportunities. We may have left Detroit, but Detroit certainly has not left us. Detroit’s diaspora is full of sons and daughters who are hungry to participate in the city’s renaissance. We’re ready to contribute our talents to the home that made us who we are.
DAPCEP and similar programs built human capital in Detroit. We have an opportunity to supplement the human capital investments that are being made today by reclaiming people who benefited from past investments. So let’s invest in the entire Detroit community. Let’s invest in the relationships upon which our future will be built.
I will return home to be part of Detroit’s bright future and give to the city that has given me so much. There are thousands of others who are ready to do the same.
Here I am. Send me.
I’m thankful that you’re here. I pray you are a happy and healthy year for every person and every family.
I enjoyed your younger brother 2010, which brought me many blessings including my fist anniversary, a new house and 28th birthday. He also gave me many new friends, acquaintances and contacts to whom I hope to prove valuable.
That same year, however, there were challenges of all scales imaginable. Devastating earthquakes carrying famine and disease in their wake. Selfish, reckless politics that saw ugliness, derision and greed show their faces at all levels of government.
I can only imagine what you hold in store for us this year.
I’m thinking big as I look into your eyes this first Monday. Instead of big, scary, hairy problems I see huge, wide open opportunities to grow personally, professionally and communally. To put it succinctly, I’m still here. I’m here for you 2011.
I’m not alone. We’re all still here. Working hard. Fighting for what we believe in. Marching into our future.
Detroit is still here. Despite hopeless headlines, political division and census data, the resilient spirit that built my great city still breathes breaths of hope throughout its streets. The flip-side of blight is bright.
The social justice movement is still here. Despite electoral setbacks, there is more hunger than ever for a clearly stated vision of public institutions that are clean, functional and responsive to people’s needs. Progressive activists, organizers and politicians must realize this opportunity and seize it.
The opportunities for personal growth and fulfillment are still here. The best investments are the ones made in people. I’m thankful for all those that invested in me in 2010. My debt to them is not only to exceed their expectations and those of my own, but to pay them back by investing my own time, talent and treasure in others this coming year.
Yes, the people who hate, detract and obstruct are still here too. All I have to say to them is that to say only negative things, to only point out what’s wrong with an idea rather than find out what’s right, to criticize with the intent to paralyze is the highest form of intellectual bankruptcy. Do so at your own peril.
Here I am 2011. Let’s go.
One Love. One II.
What’s up fam and Happy New Year 2011!
For as much as we wax poetic regarding the lack of ‘movements’ in America and elsewhere, I think a key factor is the lack of dreaming. To be more precise the idea I am thinking of is what I call “humanity dreaming.” I don’t have a definition per se but for me, humanity dreaming is the force that drives individuals and groups to work on causes of essential human rights whose benefits may never be realized in their own lifetime. Examples include but are not limited to the American fight to get women the right to vote, the ending of slavery (and legal discrimination) in America, the ending of apartheid in South Africa, India’s independence movement, etc. The problem with history is that the aforementioned victories appear so preordained. These and similar moments in history rarely tell the story of non-public figures that looked at their families and decided they would not leave it to their children to fight the good fight.
I do not mean to imply that we have moved passed the ‘movements’ era. Instead, I think movements tend to be viewed in far more personal terms that inadvertently dilute the force and/or possibility of humanity dreaming.
Simply put, I hear more and more people discuss movements in terms of acquiring more resources in order to help more people. For example, a person from a bad neighborhood that is grateful to have a good education and a better job may claim that one day they will have enough resources to start a non-profit to help transform the community they grew up in. The problem with this mindset is not values, but scope.
To be sure, I have no problem with non-profits in and of themselves but generally speaking, the vast majority of people needed to help a young person “make it out” are not people of vast means or founders of non-profits. In other words, it’s like we put so too much faith in the power of institutions rather than our ability to transform our institutions to do right by the least of these. What is biggest project/event you were a part of (minus family) that had the biggest positive impact beyond you? Chances are, whatever that project/event was has had a lasting impact on how you view the futility of social change. More importantly, we need the lessons you learned from that experience to inform an even larger fight much like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made the transition between and across racial injustice, economic injustice, political injustice, and so on. When all is said and done, we are all waiting for YOU to help us see beyond ourselves and do the work that will transform the world for the better.
Just my thoughts,
Stay up fam,
“Racism still alive/They just be concealin’ it” -Kanye West, Never Let Me Down
Ten years into to the 21st century, the United States is still arguing over the same central problem it faced 10 years into the 20th, 19th and 18th centuries: racism. From the “peculiar institution” to Jim Crow to redlining to anti-immigrant profiling, overt and covert racism has been a consistent foundation for discrimination, displacement and disenfranchisement.
Racism’s tragic legacy is tearing apart families and communities everywhere across the country. Hate crimes are up in Baltimore. Why? Because anti-immigrant vitriol is being dispersed by politicians and media personalities. Because people are translating their economic insecurity into fear of people who don’t look or speak like them. This thinking turns neighbors against neighbors and needlessly forces communities into hiding because they fear for their safety. Worse still, according to the article, people are afraid to come forward and cooperate with law enforcement because of the hate-filled environment. Simply put: they don’t trust the people who are paid to protect them, which makes these already-vulnerable communities even more susceptible to criminals who know their victims are less likely to contact the authorities because they’re afraid of being profiled.
Many Black communities have a long history of being weary of police forces that disproportinately use excessive force and harass them, so they too are often unwilling to cooperate, leery of not being taken seriously or being victimized again. It’s the vile cycle of victimization.
Out of the many implications of the far-reaching impacts of racism, three stand out for me in this current socio-political moment.
1. Demonization of difference
Though this country’s founding was fueled by an imperialist premise, it was based on certain principles that protected the freedom to be different. Diverse religions, diverse sources of wealth, diverse methods of communication, etc. The freedom to be different, however, has been systemically walked back in several respects, as protectors of tradition have cloaked their radical views with nice-sounding thoughts like returning to the “good old days.” What they really mean is the “good old days when non-white people and women were largely subservient and the transfer of wealth and power existed within a homogeneous, incestuous, repetitious vortex.” What they want is a return to the days when it was cool to say “freedom of religion,” but people only used that freedom to choose what flavor of Christian they wanted to be. Kind of like Henry Ford saying that people could have any color Model T they wanted, so long as it was black.
This is the clear rationale behind the clamoring from conservative radicals to repeal the 14th amendment’s clause that grants citizenship to all children born in the United States. That clause was included because, previously, the children of slaves (read: Black people) were not citizens of the United States and could not enjoy the privileges and immunities of citizenship, thanks to the Dred Scott decision. The precedent that the 14th amendment rejected and dismantled was abhorrently racist, and it’s sad that today’s racists want to set us back 150+ years because they are scared of non-white babies.
2. Anti-government sentiment
There is tremendous overlap between the people who are clamoring about how they want to altogether eliminate government and people who are publicly racist. The most dishonest members of this cabal advance the level of government influence on private life in order to achieve this objective. They push for policies that make people more prone to question the motives of their government, such as racial profiling laws, laws that diminish women’s autonomy over their own bodies, cuts to programs that benefit the working class (e.g. unemployment benefits, food stamps), etc. This increases the pool of people potentially open to an anti-government message, which is the point of the strategy: the more people mad at the government, the better.
One of the primary functions of our government is to be the referee that protects factions of the population from injuring each other (see Federalist Paper No. 10 by James Madison). Just because a majority or plurality of individuals want something doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do. A prime example is the Department of Justice suing and winning a preliminary injunction against Arizona’s SB1070 immigration law. Though many polls find most Americans support the Arizona law, it is the federal government’s responsibility to ensure that the community impacted by that law (in this case, immigrants in Arizona) is treated fairly. Racial profiling, which was what the law sought to institutionalize, clearly is unfair, illegal and morally wrong. It had to be stopped. It’s the same reason that Jim Crow laws were eradicated in the 20th century.
3. Powerful Victim Paradox
An interesting paradox present in racism’s long shadow is that the fear inherent in racist thinking leads those with those views to see themselves as helpless victims, which then motivates them to grind their heels further into the necks of those they seek to oppress. Let’s call this the Powerful Victim Paradox. This is what motivates people afraid of people of color moving into their previously-homogeneous neighborhoods to protect their ‘hood by making sure that the people they are afraid of, even if they move in, are jeered and treated disrespectfully to the point where they’re intimidated into relocating. (Think this doesn’t still happen today? Ask this woman & son in Clearfield, PA who were greeted at home last Saturday by two burning crosses on their lawn.) They think that if new people move in, they’ll steal the power and influence, so they must press their levers of influence even harder. Same is true for the argument that we should continue to destroy the lives of immigrants because they’ll take jobs (for an alternative vision, try this). It’s a great American tragicomedy.
Race has divided people nationally and locally. Nationally, one needs to look no further than the Park51 Community Center flap to see hatred and prejudice, in this case racial, ethnic and religious, on full display. The idea that a community center, run by Muslims can’t be constructed in any NYC neighborhood, near Ground Zero or anyplace else, is preposterous. It’s the equivalent to saying that you can’t build YMCAs in neighborhoods where Jewish people live. The status quo is unsustainable.
How to move forward
We can put an end to racism’s reign of terror, entrenched though it may be. We can and we must because our communities depend on it. Here’s how we can begin:
- Call racism what it is when you see it
Racism persists in part because of silent acceptance. It is amazing, however, how things can be changed when proper attention is paid to them. It is not politically incorrect to call something or someone racists if it is clear that they are behaving in such a manner. Don’t be afraid to do so.
- Remember that community literally means “with unity”
Unity is not the destruction of difference. Instead, it is the embrace of diversity. It’s about alignment, not assimilation. As organizers, activists, policy makers, etc., we may have different paths. That is fine so long as we are clear about our destination. Movements predicated upon assimilation are no match for movements that respect and encourage creative thinking toward a common purpose.
For us, that common purpose is an America and a world where we recognize the dignity and decency of every person. Where we see strength in people speaking for themselves and taking care of one another. Where communities create institutions and craft policy that treat everyone as equally important and powerful. There are no special interests, only human interests.
In order for this to be realized, the long shadow of racism must subside. Turn up the lights. Let’s recommit to this today.
One Love. One II.
Originally posted on the Center for Community Change blog.
If there was ever a clearer representation of the ills in the American justice system, here it is. Down in Mississippi, two Black women, Jaime and Gladys Scott are in prison for life for…wait for it…an $11 robbery. Seriously?!?!?!? Moreover, from what I have read from about this case, no one was hurt, the prosecutor has no direct evidence linking the sisters and three other people confessed to the crime. However, even if the sisters did commit the crime, is a life sentence really necessary. Can someone say cruel and unusual punishment?
Now instead of harping on what civil rights organizations are doing or not doing, YOU DO IT by contacting the Mississippi Attorney General at
Telephone: 601-359-3680 MS Attorney General’s Office
Walter Sillers Building
550 High Street, Suite 1200
Jackson, MS 39201
When you call or write, ask the office to investigate the Scott sister’s case and to look into the health of Jaime Scott.
The press release with more details is below.
Stay up fam,
PRESS RELEASETHE COMMITTEE TO FREE THE SCOTT SISTERS
CONTACT: Mrs. Evelyn Rasco P.O. Box 7100Pensacola, Florida 32534
E-mail:rqueenbee2222 @ yahoo.com
Case Summary: http://freethescottsisters.blogspot.com/search/label/Case%20Summary
Legal Transcripts: http://www.scribd.com/Scott%20Sisters4/2010MISSISSIPPI INJUSTICE: A DOUBLE-LIFE SENTENCE FOR $11.00!
Scott County, MS– — In a trial fraught with legal malpractice, lack of evidence and witness
coercion, Mississippi Judge Marcus Gordon sentenced sisters Gladys and Jamie Scott to
double-life each in an armed robbery. No matter the veracity of testimony; the lack of
physical evidence and the absence of any previous criminal activity of the accused; in a
questionable crime, where no one was murdered or harmed and the amount alleged to have
been taken as a whopping $11.00, one has to ask if this is Mississippi, the state in the
United States of America ? And, how does a court abdicate the national principles of justice
and fair judicial process ?
On December 24, 1993, the Scott County Sheriff’s Department arrested the Scott sisters for
armed robbery even though three persons confessed to committing the crime. The
Mississippi sheriff used coercion, threats, and harassment to compel these individuals to
become state’s evidence against the Scott sisters. His motive ? A long-standing vendetta
against the Father of the sisters. Later a local teen, without benefit of counsel would testify
that he was pressured to sign a written statement that he did not read and was prepared by
the sheriff. No weapon was ever recovered in this case.
During the course of the short trial only one witness was called and the sisters at the
direction of questionable legal advice, never testified or spoke for themselves during the
course of their trial.
Jamie, now 38 and Gladys, 34 are now entering their 16th year of incarceration. Jamie has
lost function of both kidneys and is gravely ill, being provided inadequate medical
treatment may very well see her sentence as a death sentence unless the Mississippi Prison
Commission relents in its rigid negligent medical care decisions for her. Recently, Jamie
Scott was diagnosed by an outside physician as being at Stage 5 (end stage) of this illness,
the next stage being death. Should Jamie Scott die in prison for an alleged robbery of
$11.00 almost 16 years ago?
A national campaign has been undertaken by their elderly Mother, Mrs. Evelyn Rasco, to
gain justice for her daughters and their family. Nationwide support for Jamie and Gladys is
building increasingly louder and active.
Nancy Lockhart, the young woman who has acted as the spokesperson of the Free the Scott
Sisters Campaign, and the Mother of Jamie and Gladys Scott are available for live and
telephone interviews. They have been featured guests on the Warren Ballentine Show ( XM
Radio The Power); Our Common Ground with Janice Graham ( USTalkNetwork); The
Mark Thompson Show ( Sirius Radio The Left Side); The Rip Daniels Show, WJZD
Mississippi; and their comments are featured in many newspapers across the country and
throughout the blogosphere.In June, 2009, Dr. Lenore J. Daniels, PhD of the Editorial
Board of BlackCommentator.com wrote about the wrongfully conviction of Jamie and Gladys Scott in a featured editorial, titled, “Represent Our Resistance” (http://freethescottsisters.blogspot.com/2009/08/dr-lenore-daniels-says-to-represent-our_19.html) and Mother Jones magazine’s investigative reporter, James Ridgeway, did an exhaustive piece entitled, “Cruel and Unusual Health Care — How Mississippi Prisoner
Jamie Scott’s Life Sentence Could Turn Into a Death Sentence” (http://motherjones.com/politics/2010/03/jamie-scott-gladys-scott-haley-barbour-wexford-health)#####