This past weekend I was out running around my neighborhood here in Chicago. While I was running in an alley behind an industrial building I came across shards of a broken glass bottle. Instantly, my mind reverted to all the broken glass bottles I broke as a youth along with my friends or by myself. In particular, growing up in Detroit, Faygo used to bottle their beverages in glass bottles. It was routine for my friends and I to hurl our Faygo bottles against walls where we safe from the glares of adults.
There is something magical about the sound of a glass bottle breaking. The best way I can describe the sound is that is like the defined boom of a bass drum coinciding with the crash of a cymbal. To this day, fewer sounds are more pleasing to my ear.
I recalled with pleasure how powerful I felt breaking bottles. This power was my and our small revolt against the growing awareness of a thing or things that somehow made us believe that our dreams were too big or too unrealistic. I wish I had these words back then. A friend of mine that mentors young people said that the most frustrating thing is having the need to express yourself but not having the words to get it out.
We didn’t have the words but we had bottles. It was the one thing we did that didn’t require competition or commentary. It just was. It was our therapy to express the feelings where our words failed. I have a certain reverence for broken bottles because I know there is a story behind that bottle that no one but the person that threw it can understand.
What is also interesting to me is where you find broken bottles. Mainly you only find them in alleys, behind liquor stores, or in otherwise invisible places. Which is odd because while recycling is becoming more common, people that litter do so without regard for their location. On the other hand, people that break bottles wait…holding on to that bottle for just the right location at just the right moment.
For me, this waiting is indicative of a level of patience that people need to cope with what feels like a very long life. Life is short when you are doing something productive but if you are ever in a stage of life where you have time to break glass bottles, the life you want seems to hide behind every corner. Waiting to grow up. Waiting on a decent job to come through. Dreading the end of summer. Waiting to know how they live. Waiting to have your hands guide the steering wheel for your life.
There is no bow that will turn this post into some profound lesson. In fact, what was profound to me is knowing that despite whatever level of success I have tasted, it means nothing if I can’t appreciate a broken glass bottle.
When I think about priority lists, I am astounded at how often others and myself reflexively place our relationship with God at the top of that list. A running thought to illustrate this idea is the idea of tithing, but from the perspective of time. In other words, what if instead of tithing with your income, you tithe 10% of your day to growing your relationship with God. This works out to 2.4 hours per day. To be sure, I haven’t read any evidence of this idea in the Bible but it is certainly humbling to consider how many of us find it hard to imagine carving out 2.4 hours of your day to growing your relationship with God.
For me, the larger issue is not how much we think we should work on our relationship with God but rather, what is it about the relationship that we already have with God that encourages us to grow the relationship. Short of a real relationship, God will just be on a list and not in your heart. To that end, one of the most convicting questions you can ask someone who calls themselves Christian is how do they personally know that God is real. One on hand, you might hear the accurate, yet surface answer that God woke me up this morning or that God created the whole world. On the other hand, you may hear that someone’s disease was cured when doctors said it wasn’t possible or that a person was saved from their drug addiction by the power of God. The problem though is that both types of answers are easy to dismiss. The “God woke me up” answers sound trite and rehearsed, despite their being true while the deep, moving stories do not seem real if you can’t relate to that predicament.
So again, how do you know that God lives in your heart? What have you experienced in life that makes you feel horrible for not nurturing your relationship with God? Just like in any relationships, the perceived benefits based off past performance will determine how much you are willing to put forth to make that relationship work. God’s past performance is easy to take for granted because generally speaking, when you go to sleep, you expect to wake up. It’s also easy to take for granted when you have not had a severe downturn (financial, health, family, etc.) that caused you to prioritize God if for no other reason that you didn’t have a choice.
Our relationship with God should always be number one on our priority list. However, I just think it’s more realistic to do the things that make God number one as opposed to putting God first on the list on paper before you do the same with your heart. I once heard this quote that said something like, “Why would you treat someone like a priority who treats you like an option?” Selah.
What’s up fam,
I have been fascinated recently with the notion of pain, new pain in particular. New pain often comes from changes in our lives in which we may or may not have control. This past year, 2012 was full of new change including moving to Chicago, studying for the bar, getting married, and seeking work.
What inspired today’s post was a conversation I had with one of my high school classmates who played on the football team. (Still wished my mom had let me play, by the way.) During class, this football player got hyped and said, “Man, that hurt so good!” He went on to explain that his exclamation came from the pain his muscles felt from lifting weights. I didn’t fully understand what he meant at the time but later on I understood what he meant but I did understand when I tried a new workout or went back to school, etc.
The reality of new pain is that it is often the barrier that we must surpass in order to reach our goals, be it spiritually, emotionally, or physically. I think what prevents us from growing is that we love old pain. Old pain hurts in ways that are familiar and even if new pain hurts less, it is still unfamiliar. As you think about your life, are you afraid of new pain or inspired by new pain? Most everyone has goals but its enduring new pain that separates goals that are met versus goals that are desired.
I believe that our pain is elongated unnecessarily due to how we ourselves frustrate the grace that God has already provided. Painful or difficult times often inspire prayers that God take away our pain. However, when Paul pleaded that God take away the thorn in his flesh, God replied in II Corinthians 12:8-9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. God did not take away Paul’s pain so it’s important to focus not on the pain but on the grace that God gives us to endure.
Life has a way of bringing new pain regardless of whether you ask for it but in 2013, let’s all endeavor to seek out new pain, the pain worthy of our goals.
What’s up fam,
2) If you have been to this blog before you know that I am from Detroit, Michigan. Right now, the Republican candidates for President are making their rounds across Michigan to strike up votes. Its hard often to not get caught up in the most recent flare up/verbal mishap/optic fumble but if I may, I want to revisit Mitt Romney’s comment about not caring about the poor because they have a safety net. This comment really struck me at my core because I thought that the recent and current economic catastrophe would expose the hoax of “everything will be alright if we just shore up the middle class.”
What we often fail to include in our national discussion is that of the working class and poor. The distance between being middle class and working class/poor is disastrously close. In this country, the middle class is akin to being on thin ice. Soaring health costs, college loans, downward housing values, retirement, caring for sick parents, helping or leaning on friends to make ends meet, you name it, there is little security in being middle class. Given this reality, can you imagine how precarious it must be to be poor NOW? The politically expedient response is to create the appearance that the government will create an impervious floor that will prevent the middle class from falling through the cracks. The problem however is that this will likely make it more difficult (both direct and indirect) for the working class and poor to make it up the economic ranks as it were.
When people are scared, they look to the government for answers and the answers we are getting from state and national governments are not sufficiently viable. The answer must come from us, the people. A great example of this ideal was encapsulated by Martin Luther King’s vision of the Poor People’s Campaign. Video below. What do you think the current Republican candidates for President would say about the Poor People’s Campaign?
2) Question for the day. Assume that there is a medical test applicable to both men and women that will allow you to determine whether or not you can have children.
Before you got married or plan to have children, would you want to take it or have your partner take it? Why or why not? Here is why I bring it up. The trend of people getting married and/or having children is getting older and older. Therefore the complications of having children become more complex whether you are talking about issues involving men or women.
Our society often associates children and marriage so closely that they become indistinguishable. Case in point, what is often the first question that people are asked when they get married? “When are ya’ll going to start having kids?” Given this association, the expectations about having children become complicated in a society where getting married past the age of 30 is normal. Let me stop here. This post is not about the dire straits of being single and/or childless after the so-called Big 3-0. What I am saying is that there are risks involved with having children later in life. And for those in my generation that do want children, the thought and planning process is a bit more sobering when one considers the risks.
Therefore, is there any reason to think that the availability of such a test would help this process? If not, why not? Let us know
Stay up fam,
On September 11, 2001, I was thinking about my future.
My plan for that Tuesday was unique.
It was the 2nd day of the 1st week of my sophomore year. I woke up that morning in my dorm room in Ann Arbor, MI at 6AM thinking about two things: my career and the Blueprint.. Before my classes started, I had an early meeting somewhere in Troy, MI. My mother had connected me with a man that was a former General Motors colleague of hers who had a few years prior left GM to create is own consulting practice. He was an electrical engineer whose consultancy had GM as his biggest client. He was quite successful.
I was a Computer Engineering major with aspirations of owning my own business. Meeting him was an exciting proposition to me, having just come off my 2nd internship at GM that summer. He was living the dream. I wanted to understand how he did it. I called my parents at home while I was in the car on my way to his office. I got there around 720AM for my 730AM meeting.
I won’t give his name, but suffice it to say that he and his business were awesome. He opened my eyes to entrepreneurship in a way that reading a blog post about Steve Jobs or a book by Jack Welch never could. He told me about how hard it was to run a business, and how much it was worth it. He told me he wasn’t swimming in money, but he and his family were quite comfortable. He told me how terrified he was the day he quit GM, despite the fact that he had a plan, but his faith and his family undergirded him. What I remember 2nd most about that meeting was the fact that this was a real person with a real business. He had pictures of his kids on his desk and a drawing of a tiger by his daughter on his wall.
What I remember most, however, was how I felt walking out of that office. We passed by a conference room and did a double-take. Why was CNN playing? Why where 10 people in there for an 845AM meeting on no one’s calendar? What was going on?
A woman in the office was crying. The screen showed one of the twin towers that defined the most famous skyline on the planet. It was surreal. We sat down and watched in horror. The coverage was scattered and frantic, mirroring the hearts and minds of everyone in New York and everyone connected to anyone in New York. I watched the 2nd plane hit the tower in that conference room. I watch the tower collapse in that conference room.
I got back in my car and drove back to Ann Arbor. I called my dad, a Department of Defense employee, to find out if he knew anything and if his office had been put on any type of alert. He basically knew what I knew. It was scary.
I got back to campus to find everyone stunned. I had class, but when I got to North Campus I found signs on the buildings saying classes were cancelled (I think that’s the only time that’s happened before). I was supposed to go to the mall with my then-girlfriend, but the mall was closed. In my dorm room, a combination of CNN and Jay-Z served as our soundtrack for the next several days. Our room, the biggest on our floor, was where everyone came to find out what was happening. Great hip hop mixed with catastrophic news. Our TV and our stereo remained on the same channel/CD for days and days.
What strikes me most about this day and the 10 year anniversary today is that I’m still thinking about my future. The “I had no idea I’d be here today” cliche applies to me. On September 11, 2001, I expected to be starting business school at MIT on September 11, 2011. Instead, thankfully and happily, I am siting in the basement of my beautiful home in DC with my beautiful wife of exactly 2 years and 2 months, watching New York on TV, just like I was 10 years ago. I’m working in politics for the public interest, not technology like I thought I would be. I woke up this morning thinking about my future, just like I did 10 years ago today.
On September 11, 2011, I’m still thinking about my future. We all are, and we all should be. But on this day, and every day, let’s remember how important our past is too.
One Love. One II.
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.