I was riveted first to my computer screen and then to the tv following the news of the Boston Marathon bombing. I was amazed at how quickly things had progressed from the tragedy of Monday to the capture. I had tuned out the conspiracy theorists and tried to focus on hoping that law enforcement and technology would win out. And my good wishes were answered. The importance of technology cannot be underestimated. I had no idea how widespread phone cameras were until a college graduation a few years ago. My classmates took out their cameras and began taking pictures of one another.
It’s hard to stay focused in the moment in America. We have such limited attention spans. I want to enjoy the feeling of having the city of Boston feeling safe again. I wanted to enjoy the cooperation of the people who stayed at home as the governor had asked so that law enforcement could do their job. I liked hearing the tip that came in from the boat owner who ventured out and noticed something was different. That tip was the the final clue.
So, none of the things I that I have said in this blog about the problems of law enforcement are negated by this one entry. When they act like lawless, brutal thugs, they need to be fired and even put on trial. When they sever and protect we should applaud them as the people of Watertown did.
We are all grieving in many ways with the pictures from the Boston Marathon firmly planted in our brains. I am listening to a story about the story about the victims on Democracy Now. I have learned about individual heroism by first responders. Their work combined with the hospitals helped make us proud. They helped save lives and limbs. Things could have been worse if not for people like Carlos Orlando who had lost one son in the Iraq War and another to suicide. Some runners went directly to hospitals to donate blood. It was America coming together.
Please come to Boston. Please remember these people. Do your mourning in the way that feels best for you. Hold your loved ones close. And by all means avoid the impulse to strike out seeking revenge. There is a history of violence in America but there is a system of criminal justice and I hope those who committed this act will be subject to that system.
Van Jones, Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, takes questions from Facebook and the White House website about the Presidents unfolding vision for a clean energy economy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I had joined a page on Facebook that was largely devoted to black pride and included a lot of pictures of proud dark skinned men and women together. Sometimes the women were pregnant symbolizing the need to be fruitful and multiply. I enjoyed some of these images but not all of them. As I mentioned, most of the pictures were of dark skinned African-Americans. But if you go to almost any African-American event, you will find that we are a broad range of colors. This reflects our heritage, especially since inter-racial marriages have increased over the years. I have a wonderful dark-skinned co-worker who is married to a white man. She’s also the person who recruited me for my job.
The director of our agency is a very light-skinned African-American in an inter-racial marriage. My nephew has been married to a wonderful woman who happens to be white and has a white stepson and an interracial daughter. I was married to a white woman and I have had relationships with women of all colors. And don’t forget that President Obama was raised by his white mother and her parents. After so many years in this country, we are a rainbow involved in many different types of relationships. None of this diversity was reflected by the Facebook page.
The two things that made me leave the page yesterday involved a picture of white women kissing dogs and a very stereotyped picture of black gay men. The comments about the women included one saying that white people smelled like dogs. I pointed out that smell is not based upon skin complexion and that as a mental health worker I would be fired if I treated people based upon the color of their skin. The picture of the black gay men almost made me vomit, it was so disgusting. We need to understand that there are many different types of African-Americans and we don’t have to agree on everything but we must agree on one thing: we are all equal. African-Americans are mixed, dark, light and something in between. They may have have many different beliefs. We may be gay, straight, transsexual or none of your business. I don’t support African-American prejudice any more than I support whites prejudging us.
Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have stayed away from my blog for a couple of weeks which usually helps to re-energize me. I joined an interesting community project the Milwaukee Time Exchange recently. I was curious about it because a woman I know Debby Davis is involved with it. Also David Johnson who is part of the Milwaukee Mental Health Redesign is fully engaged. Some people spoke about the project at a meeting last week to discuss removing barriers to work for people living with a mental illness. One woman spoke about the experience of her brother for whom places like the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation seemed ineffective.
Her brother was a lifelong worker in spite of his disability and she was able to assist him in exchanging time in one of the organizational members of the exchange. I told some of the people I am assisting about the Time Exchange but I decided I needed to find out for myself whether the project would work for them so I became a member. I wrote a brief biography and included a mention of my blog. I noticed when I signed out to my blog that I had a few visitors despite my absence. So it’s possible that some time exchangers decided to read me.
It is funny how perceptions can be very misleading. I had thought that the Time Exchange was some kind of a hippie project but then I heard the presentation at the meeting talking about building community and I realized it was something different. Honestly I have trouble building or remaining in community. I have remained in community with my new co-workers and I even made an unexpected connection. A drug rep came to visit us today so I came to find out about the food. The speaker mentioned how few people continue taking their anti-depressants once they are prescribed for them.
I mentioned that I had a similar resistance to them and that the strongest force in my taking the meds was my family. Once I said that, the drug rep disclosed that that he had similar issues. And yes his family told him he was better off with the meds. So I sit her surrounded by various medications despite the fact one of my favorite blogs is called Beyond Meds. It’s not always easy to accept what others see about me but we keep struggling together.
Last night after work I went to the meeting of Drinking Liberally, a group of ne’er do wells who meet at the Transfer Pizza to socialize. and kick back a few drinks in a comfortable atmosphere.Getting there represented a logistical challenge since I worked at 27th and Loomis and needed two buses to reach 1st and Mitchell St. I walked several blocks down Mitchell because I expected the bus to arrive at 8:45.
I wanted to meet the featured speaker Mahlon Mitchell, a confident young African-American man who is running for Lieutenant Governor. He was sought out as a candidate three months ago, far before the recall election was certified by the Government Accountability Board. Mitchell is president of the Wisconsin Firefighters Association and lives with his wife, April and their two children in Fitchburg which is just outside of Madison. He was born in 1977 around the time I was graduating from the University of Buffalo as a non-traditional student. He’s even younger than all of my nephews.
To say that Mahlon faces an uphill battle would be understating the case. This is a very white state and only one African-American Vel Phillips has ever been elected to state wide office. In the state’s largest city, Milwaukee, fewer than half of the black men are in the labor force, according to a report published by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The state is still reeling from the unjust killing of Bo Morrison a bi-racial young man who was shot while standing on a porch by a man who claimed he was defending his castle.
Moreover, we are more likely to find African-Americans behind bars or in bars than working at the construction sites around town. In some ways, as bleak as things may be, this is the right time for new leadership to emerge from the community. Recently Eyon Biddle a first term county supervisor with a union background, ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Willie Hines. At the same time G. Spencer Coggs became the first African-American elected to city-wide office in his victory to become Milwaukee City Treasurer. His niece Milele Coggs continues to impress as a young leader on the Common Council.
Things are changing, though far too slowly. I encouraged Mahlon to press for change in the way Wisconsin uses its federal mental health block grant. In the weeks ahead I will be contacting him about my concerns. It seemed fitting that I met him the day that the Walker administration trashed the state’s contract with Talgo, the Spanish train manufacturer. Despite the fact Wisconsin had invested millions of dollars under previous governor Jim Doyle on upgrading our rail infrastructure, soon to be recalled Scott Walker made killing this deal a priority once he took office.
If all goes well, we will have an opportunity to reverse those job killing policies in Madison and set an example for the rest of the country to follow.
It Gets Better Project: 2011 NYC Pride (Photo credit: Jason Pier in DC)
J. Reuben Clark Law School (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
bullying (Photo credit: annavanna)
I just wrote about and shared the video that Brigham Young University students did for the series It Gets Better. And I realized that an important part of the struggle young people face is bullying and I’m here to say you can overcome bullies because I did. I was bullied in my old mostly African-American neighborhood and in the white community where my family moved. I was a small, skinny dark boy with glasses and acne and I was definitely a target. I didn’t sound or act like anyone else.
Some guys boasted about girls, smoked and wore the right clothes. I preferred going to the library, finding a book and reading. I identified with the character in the book Loneliness of a long distance runner.
So what did I do to survive and how can my experience help anyone else?
- I had an involved mother. She recognized that I was having trouble with the kids in my neighborhood and even took them to court to force them to leave me alone. Eventually she moved us to protect me from them.
- I had a younger brother to whom I was a role model. I helped him fight his battles and that meant I had to stay strong.
- I recognized that I had talent. Despite the discouraging comments of teachers and other students I discovered that I was smart, a good writer and athletic. Later on I became a listener. Listening became especially important when it came time t develop a career.
- I learned as Gordon Parks said that I had a choice of weapons. I could stand my ground and fight, run away get help from the American Civil Liberties Union or seek out people whose ideas were similar to mine.
- I was not always available. We had just one house phone when I was growing up and I didn’t give out my number to a lot of kids. It’s hard to imagine the days before facebook, twitter and cell phones which keep us connected to friends and may make us vulnerable to enemies. Today I ask people who seem vulnerable why they gave out their phone numbers to so many who mean to harm them.
- We had fights where we made our points but we didn’t go out to kill one another. The one time that I was pounding a kid’s head into the ground surprised and frightened me.
- I developed allies. I have written a few times about the importance of my first white friend in school. When you are lonely and small you are more likely to be cornered and beat up. So even if you are “a nerd,” someone who likes to study, read books, write poetry and go for walks, there’s probably someone else in your school who likes doing those same things. It’s a matter of picking up on the subtle things they may say or do. In my case, I discovered that my friend’s sense of humor resulted from memorizing several Bill Cosby albums.
- Start dating. I think that there are some many positives from dating they outweigh almost any negatives. For me, it meant that a girl had found me attractive. Even though I was not good looking to the kids who disliked me, I met a wonderful Irish catholic school student at a political campaign headquarters not far from where I lived. She played guitar, sang and was a wonderful girl. She liked the features tat my detractors found so repulsive. While some people prefer the small thin lips that a lot of white people have, she enjoyed kissing my dark, full African-American lips. Trust me on this, because it’s part of self acceptance. As you learn to develop who you are and what you believe, you will find romantic opportunities available.
Today it was announced that the killer of Bo Morrison, a young man who stood on the wrong porch at the wrong time became a victim of the right to defend one’s castle. In a news report, it was discovered that the 20 year-old had been drinking. Since he had been at an underage drinking party that was hardly surprising. But as I suggested in my earlier blog entry Judge, Jury and Executioner, there was no evidence that Bo had done anything except try to avoid being found. It was a matter of his bad judgment.
Before I was old enough to drink, I bought some gin and cola with a couple of friends and drank until I threw up. That pretty much cured me of alcoholism. there’s noting worse than shame, guilt and a lousy stomach to make you realize this is not where you want to be. We were in our neighborhood, we were young black boys and the judgment was faced was that of our parents.
I think that’s the way it should be. I would have loved to hear Bo’s parents discuss with him their hopes and dreams for him and why he needed to remain alcohol-free. But, unfortunately thy never got the chance.
I have read stories of teen underage drinking parties where no one was killed. In fact, in white communities, the police are not always guaranteed entry to check identifications and determine who who should be ticketed.
I never met Bo Morrison and his family. I probably would never have heard about them if Bo had not been killed in a rush to judgment. There is a vast difference between a young unarmed male on a porch and one who poses an imminent danger requiring an armed response. What the reckless legislators and governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker have done is to leave it up to any Mary, Jane, Harry and Doe to decide on a split second whether that difference matters.
Bo Morrison should have been alive and well and studying today and the man who killed him should have had reason to pause and wonder, is this the right thing to do?
Image via Wikipedia
- Image via Wikipedia
I met a strong black man on the bus Friday morning who I need to tell you about. Months ago I told a story about something ordinary. A poor black man with his daughter waiting at the bust stop. But Friday I was at the bus stop, got on and a black woman driver asked me, “where is your smile?” Mind you the black repugnant sheriff of Milwaukee keeps talking like the sky is falling and you are absolutely risking your life by riding the Milwaukee County bus system.
Despite a series of fare increases and service cutbacks, our buses still get people where they need to go. I have noticed there are many more African-American bus drivers than there were 20 or 30 years ago. Including the young woman driving the bus Friday who asked me where was my smile. My smile went from her to the tall, distinguished man sitting in the first seat. He was wearing alligator shoes and his bag indicated he was a veterans counselor at the state job service office. He was on the way to work.
As I spoke with him I learned that he had served in Vietnam a few years after I had left the military. His job had been assisting diplomats evacuate the war ravaged country. He was wounded and was compensated by the government. War was very much on our minds. In this era of the all-volunteer army people have a choice whether to go to war. I thought about the young man who died in Afghanistan at the end of last year a few days after re-enlisting. I thought about the family he left behind, his wife and children mourning his loss.
I also thought about the Obama administration updating the American military posture and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reassuring war hawks that we will maintain our ability to fight two simultaneous wars. Only a few days after we closed out (but not really) our disastrous involvement in Iraq, we’re reminded that we may still blunder around in search of enemies somewhere else in the world. I shared my concerns with my fellow rider, Mr. Jones. He told me that he had his wife had raised several adult children to be strong educated civilians. They had engineers, therapists and other accomplished children of whom they were very proud. And none of them are going into the military.
We talked about the military as an unofficial jobs program, especially in our present climate of high unemployment. And Uncle Sam will come calling offering young people an opportunity to come in a box. As Mr. Jones left the bus I thought about the lessons fathers teach their children regarding service to their country. He had done his job well, in instilling values that led them to succeed. You don’t need to join the military to serve your country. You can do just as well helping to build bridges, healing the sick and raising your children. Thank you for your service, Mr. Jones.
Image via Wikipedia