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,