Blacks, Jews, Civil Rights, & A Banana in the Tailpipe

Sacred Cow: (an idea, custom, or institution held, especially unreasonably, to be above criticism (with reference to the Hindus’ respect for the cow as a sacred animal).

Sometimes I get a lot of flack for not worshiping sacred cows. I’m a 52 year old Black man from East St. Louis, Illinois. I have my sensibilities for sure. But I’ve made it a practice to check them before drawing harsh conclusions. In other words, I value substance over style when it comes to the real issues facing Black folk or Americans for that matter. One of my favorite words is ‘nuance,.’ defined as (sensibility to, awareness of, or ability to express delicate shadings (as of meaning, feeling, or value)

Nuance isn’t a refusal to point out black and white facts. It is understanding time, place, circumstance and relevance when it comes to discussing a particular matter. A rule of engagement. Nuance requires work and intellectual honesty. Not an easy thing in society. In my community we experienced this with our discussions on Bill Cosby. Many of my people could not wrap their heads around accepting that a man who provided so much entertainment along with his America’s Dad image could do the things he’s been convicted of doing. Others just didn’t care. Because he was a Black icon of sorts, they considered him to be the victim. Now we are having this same debate with R. Kelly. Some of us are appalled and disgusted with what we’ve heard in the streets over the years. The Lifetime series brought a scathing in-depth look that I found hard to stomach. Yet I’m pushing back on Black people who feel Kelly is the victim. Some are once again bringing up White men who are accused sex abusers or pedophiles as a reason to let the ‘Pied Piper’ escape our judgment. I call bullshit on it all! Nuance say’s we can recognize talent without lying about the dastardly deeds of the talented. I’ve had conversations with friends over the years and we agreed on this premise: R. Kelly knows how to make a hit. The numbers back that up. With this additional information, it is also evident that this talented individual is a narcissistic, manipulative, and predatory human being. How one chooses to compartmentalize this dynamic is up to them. Long ago I refused to listen to his music. If someone else chooses to, it’s their right. But I don’t want to hear shit about what White people do as a reason.

This article isn’t about R. Kelly, however. It’s about people and their sacred cows. Each group whether by race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation all have them. There are none that are irredeemably flawed, nor pristinely perfect. I’ve criticized Black and White folk, the LBGTQ community, PETA, Christians, Muslims, Atheist, Democrats and Republicans. Why? Because sometimes folk just be doing too damn much! It’s the nature of having humans in your group. Show me a group that doesn’t need to be ‘checked’ sometimes, and I’ll show you a big fat Moo Moo that needs a ceremonial machete.

One group that seems to escape the blade in these United States are my Jewish brethren. I’m not talking about from Right wing extremist who hate Jews for the sake of hating them. I’m not talking about The Nation of Islam or Louis Farrakhan. I’m referring to the mainstream activist groups who seem to be the gatekeepers in suppressing voices and opinions which they do not agree with. In the latest example I site The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama. In September of 2018 the Board of Directors elected to give it’s annual Fred L. Shuttlesworth award to political activist, academic and author Angela Davis. In December, The Southern Jewish Life Magazine criticized the museum citing among other things Davis’ critique of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Soon afterwards, the Civil Rights Institute not only rescinded the award, it cancelled the gala altogether. 

I call bullshit on these actions on so many levels. First on the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute for allowing someone outside of it’s community to tell them who to honor, but I’ll get back to that.

Before I go on let me start prefacing lest I be labeled an anti-Semite. If I have a friend from Palestine I don’t know it. I do, however, have several Jewish friends, one with whom I am very close. I’ve worked at Jewish Community Centers in two different states for over 10 years. My experiences and interactions with Jews have been on par with any other group of people. Politically speaking, I didn’t have anything to do with Israel becoming a state, and I certainly do not begrudge it either. For the sake of peace and human decency I am both pro Israel and pro Palestine. As the region goes, there has been dirt done on both sides. The history is centuries old and extremely complicated. Often, the players making the decisions are evil power hungry people. If an Israeli or Palestinian leader is not a radical, his own party is subject to oust him. Logic tells me because Israel has the most funding, assets, weapons, and technology – (especially from the United States) they tend to get better press and empathy. The White Evangelical movement is also an ally. On the other hand, Israel is surrounded by countries that hate them. Some for perhaps ‘legitimate’ reasons and some over religious bullshit. But I digress. Hopefully you get my point. I don’t proclaim to be a scholar in these matters. But I understand a little history and the human condition.

Recently, LeBron James used Instagram to make a statement about his competitive drive for success. He used a rap lyric from 21 Savage, “We been getting that Jewish money, Everything is Kosher.”

In the art of Hip Hop, lyrical gymnastics and word play are clever ways to describe narratives and make points. In the eyes of James and Savage, everything about that lyric was complimentary to Jews – something to aspire to. It was not to imply a hyperbolic narrative that every Jew has generational wealth. Understanding nuance, I posted to my Facebook page that LeBron was right to apologize – simply because as a Non Jew he can’t tell them what to be offended by. I realize that all Jews were not offended. I know of many who were not. But for those who were there is nothing wrong with owning the offense and correcting it.

The reason some Jews were offended is because they feel the words ‘Jews and money’ reinforce stereotypes of Jews controlling the media and or the world. It’s part of the narrative that fuels anti Semitic hate among people who wish them harm. I get that. And my message to Jews is this: Do you want to know how to dispel the myth that Jews run the media and control the world? Stop pressuring groups like the Civil Rights Museum on who they should honor!  Otherwise, you are in effect doing exactly what you hate being accused of; manipulating an organization, people and process that has nothing to do with you.

Listen, when people like me say they are pro Palestine having a peaceful homeland, they are not saying to hell with Israel! Protecting yourselves is expected. But don’t act like everything Israel has done in the region is right! Israel has as many hard asses and goons as any other group of people.  Don’t even get me started on Benjamin Netanyahu. Bibi has plenty of shit in his own game. But speaking against his criminal actions should get me fired or disqualify me from an award or a speaking engagement? (Like CNN did Mark Lamont Hill) GTFOH! Since I’ve worked at the Jewish Centers in St. Louis and Columbus, I’ve witnessed all kinds of programs for writers, performers, intellectuals, scholars, and so on. I have never heard of a Black organization trying to get them to shitcan one of your guest. What gives you the right to propose shitcanning one of ours?  If you don’t like Angela Davis, don’t invite her to your programs! If you care to see where she’s coming from, engage her, or set up a meet! I believe you as proponents know where she’s coming from. And if she doesn’t say Israel can do whatever the fuck it wants and damn the Palestinians, then you got beef with her. You overstepped your bounds! This isn’t the way to make friends out of the Black community.

And to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; you guys are cowards! I don’t know if it’s about the funding or something else. But at some point you have to learn to stand on the legacy for which you claim. You wrote in your statement that “..we believe this decision is consistent with the ideals of the award’s namesake, Rev. Shuttlesworth.” But that’s bullshit! Fred Shuttlesworth was a personal friend of mine.  I’ve had days and days of conversations with him about the movement. He personally told me all the details of when his home was bombed by the Klan. I’ll tell you one thing about Fred. He was politically savvy but not politically expedient! He didn’t compromise with any sort of foolishness! So don’t put your decision to diss Angela Davis on him! You own that shit yourself! Angela Davis is an ICON in our community! For decades she has given her life to the righteous cause of black people. Fred would absolutely honor her! You missed out on a great opportunity! And your lack of integrity is disgusting! Shame on you!

Ice Cube said almost 30 years ago, “Cause you can’t be the Nigga 4 Life crew – With a white Jew tellin’ you what to do!”

 

***Update: See Angela Davis’ response on an interview with Democracy Now

Shoutout to Jewish Voice for Peace and other Jewish people and organizations for supporting Angela Davis!  We know you are out there!

 

 

 

 

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Caping Up for Corruption: How Harvey Exposed Joel and His Osteens

Social media is a funny thing. It’s like the weather. It can be massive, beautiful, serene, rough, deceitful, unpredictable and most of all persistently undefeated. If you live long enough surely you will witness or experience all of it’s glory and terror.

Such is the case as Hurricane Harvey laboriously rained down on Southeast Texas causing gargantuan flooding previously unseen in the history of American soil. As the death toll increases and the displaced are multiplied by tens of thousands, copious amounts of citizens in the affected areas have transformed themselves into super heroes. Untrained in the skills of rescue they have pulled people from the dredge of the water’s unmerciful all-consuming invasion. People have been snatched out of vehicles, homes, rooftops, taking nothing but the clothes on their backs. A furniture store owner converted his warehouse into a shelter. He reassigned mattresses slated to be sold for profit into beds to comfort the displaced and afflicted. A multitude of citizens from around the country have converged to the flooded areas, donated monies and or supplies providing for basic human needs. As calamitous as Harvey’s wrath has been, like other grievous events in American and human history, ordinary citizens have shown extraordinary amounts of resolution to help mostly total strangers simply out of conscious.

And then there was Joel Osteen and his Lakewood Church. As the floods increased and dry spaces decreased, Lakewood’s building (formerly the Compaq Center, home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets) was reticent to open it’s doors to the displaced. Twitter got ahold of that story and tore into the mega church pastor shaming him before the world. Subsequently, Lakewood’s PR team reacted quickly in claiming on its own social media spaces that the church was flooded. They even went as far as posting photos of a flooded building to news stations to illustrate they’re inability to open its doors. Where the PR team failed is in not recognizing the aforementioned point. The internet is undefeated. I could have told them that lie would be quickly dispelled. It took only hours to confirm that the building was not flooded on the days in question and the church had to backtrack. Lakewood was pressured into opening its doors. Mr. Osteen made the rounds on network and cable news programs claiming that the church was open and willing to serve their suffering neighbors all along.

The intent of this article is not to criticize Mr. Osteen. I’ve already done that within my social media spaces. I’ve expressed that it’s all fun and games when you get to play ministry and collect the spoils thereof. But when it comes to receiving dirty smelly and desperate strangers into your well maintained and polished made for TV acropolis, that’s a reality of alternative dimensions. Regardless of how I feel about his initial decision, its his building to do with it as he pleases.

Or is it?

What struck me as much as the contempt I feel about Osteen’s initial inaction, was the comments I read from his Christian followers to the righteous criticisms he received. Their response was not to encourage their beloved minister to action. Instead, they yielding a shield to protect Osteen from his Twitter beating and made excuses for why America’s pastor didn’t step up. First it was the flood that was initially claimed by the ministry spokespeople. After that was debunked it was how Lakewood was not staffed to handle such a magnitude of people. “Remember the Superdome,” one exclaimed, referencing the debacle during Hurricane Katrina. I even read where Christians challenged the Muslim community by asking, “How many mosques were opened to house the displaced and why aren’t they being taken to the woodshed?” That statement received many affirmative responses. “Good question,” many chimed in. One person even Google searched how many Mosques are in the Houston metropolitan area.

I couldn’t resist the urge to respond. *Paraphrasing: “Yes that is a great question. Now follow that up with how many mosque can seat 16,800 like Lakewood can? Hell how many can seat 1000? You act as if people are picking on poor ole Joel. But there are substantially more churches in any major American metropolitan city than there are mosques. Yet they don’t have the capacity to house as many as Lakewood even if they have managed to avoid being flooded. Therefore they are not being criticized. The issue is not Joel it’s the space he has access to and previously denied to the incredibly needy. What I find troubling is that instead of standing up for your fellow American citizens who are struggling in harm’s way, most who have lost all of their worldly possessions, with no place to go after the waters recede, souls who Jesus cares about according to your faith, you would rather defend a man who initially lied about providing a temporary safe space to them, than to encourage if not demand he live up to the true calling of the ministry. Why is that?” 

So far, crickets.

But this is a consistent theme in religious circles. Parishioners and people of faith are often so protective of their leaders that they often allow them to get away with heinous acts. They refuse to hold them accountable thereby making them untouchable. Accountability is a two way street. But often the faithful fork over the integrity they are charged to have as they occupy the pews on Sunday morning. When those outside their faith in turn point out malfeasance, instead of reflection they offer deflection.  This is how an Eddie Long could maintain a ministry despite his predatory sexual relations with young men he was supposed to be mentoring.  It’s how a Creflo Dollar can ask his church members (most of whom are of lower to middle class) to pay for a private jet. It’s how a Mark Burns, Steve Parson and Harry Jackson, just to name a few, can sell their ministerial souls to capitalism and Donald Trump, no matter what #45 he says or does, and maintain a thriving African-American membership. They exchange the charge of being fully functioning parishioners to become cult-like sycophants. This isn’t just a national issue. It’s a local one as well.

I argue that if you love Joel and respect his ministry, challenge him when he’s wrong and help him to be a better minister. This could have been a lesson for him. But Christians dropped the ball in their defense of him and allowed Twitter to become the taskmaster instead. Many won’t even admit that he lied about the flooding. How crazy is that? The church missed an opportunity towards spiritual growth. The “World” did their job for them. Mr. Osteen doesn’t get better as a minister or a leader because he can hide under the blanket of being bullied by the world.

A great friend of mine often says, “You get the leadership you deserve!” This isn’t just for ministry. It’s for politics as well. Far too many of us stand by and offer nothing of substance to shape a leadership that will work in our interest, and then complain about the results.

It’s OK to hold leaders up and esteem them; including those in ministry. However, we must be careful to kill our sacred cows. If not, we become willing sheep ready for the slaughter.

Of Symbolism, Ritualism, Cowardice and Hard Truths

Now I know the birthday of a nation
Is a time when a country celebrates
But as your hand touches your heart
Remember we all played a part 
In America to help that banner wave

  • Stevie Wonder, Black Man 1976

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What thoughts do you have as you view these symbols?  For some these symbols either represent or remind them of their faith in god and country.  For others these represent institutions of hatred and oppression.  For me, they represent all of these; faith, god, country, hatred and oppression.  They also represent neither.  The meanings of symbols and the meanings thereof are strictly up to the person interpreting them.  As people, we interpret symbols through the lenses of how we are raised, our learned experiences or how we have evolved.  By nature I am sentimental but I hardly hold on to what I deem are empty traditions.  I am an American.  But I didn’t have the choice of being an American.  I was born here.  I see from a distance some of the advantages I have from people in some other countries.  But my experiences and knowledge are limited, unlike, for example a first generation immigrant.  I can’t say America is the best country in the world.  Because ‘best’ is subjective depending on a person’s needs.  ‘Home’ is home for most people in the world.  Most people have conflicted feelings about their homes.

I served in the military, but I didn’t have a particular affection for the flag.  I grew close to a few of the people I served with.  I was a Christian, but I didn’t love the cross or the bible as a symbol.  I loved what I believed they stood for according to my faith.  I admit that I’ve had my superstitions.  Back in the day I would never put a glass or anything else on top of my bible.  There was something in me that felt it wasn’t right.  I’ve learned in time this was my hangup.  Experience has taught me a few things about symbols.

The flag, whether decorated with stars and stripes or crossbones and skull in an inanimate object.  The bible is a book.  It’s people who bring value and significance to things.  Not the other way around.  What the American flag and the Holy Bible represent to each person they encounter will be determined by the representatives who carry and present them.

I cannot speak for other nations, but Americans are really into symbols and rituals. However, far too many have little interest in an authentic manifestation of what they say the symbols stand for.  Take Colin Kaepernick and his decision to sit for the Star Spangled Banner. He expressed a grievance that has long been expressed by African-Americans as well as many other minorities in this country.  He desires that America as a whole live up to the ideas that she claim for all of it’s citizens. But Americans, are using the flag (the symbol) as a shield to cover over the subject matter Kaepernick described when asked why he sat.  Clearly, his critics don’t want to recognize Kaepernick’s grievances or even entertain a serious discussion about them.

I think ESPN’s Stan Verrett spoke for most Americans who happen to be woke, Black Americans in particular.

“I’ve always stood for the anthem because I believe in the promise of America, what the flag is supposed to symbolize even though America often falls short of what it’s supposed to symbolize. I mean, my dad served in the Army, dealt with discrimination in the Army, came back from his service in World War II and was not afforded the same rights as a U.S. citizen after his service, so don’t talk to me about sacrifice and the military. My mom was the valedictorian of her high school, couldn’t go to college in Louisiana and other mainstream universities because they were segregated. They didn’t want to hear about her grades. You can’t go because you’re black. “There’s still (discriminatory) problems in housing, hiring, the justice system. These are real problems. People aren’t making this up and they’re trying to find ways to speak out about it. You’re not always going to agree with the method. But let’s pay as much attention to the substance as we do to the symbol.”

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*Is burning this jersey (a recent ritual against scorned black athletes) any different that burning this cross?

Unfortunately, many of the loudest detractors of critical thought, nuance and self examination are fixated on the symbolism.  In the case of ‘patriotism’ they love the worship of the flag and the ritual of standing for the anthem.  They love the idea of what the veteran does to protect their rights to be self absorbed while enjoying a false sense of exceptionalism.  They aren’t willing to give two damns or one f#@! for veteran returning to the United States traumatized with PTSD.  They don’t invest in the welfare of military spouses and families left here when soldiers are deployed, wounded or killed in action.  They aren’t even the least bit put off about how the NFL charged the United States Military millions of dollars putting on tributes in stadiums during football games.

But they sure are mad as hell at a man who peacefully sits down for 90 seconds of the anthem.  They burn his jersey in effigy.  They tell him to leave the country.  They use his income as an excuse to condemn him to silence; as if money is an elixir to racism.  The ignore poor and middle class people who share the same griefs that Kaepernick is talking about.  So the question has to be asked: Is patriotism really the issue here? Or is there something else more sinister at play?

Images and rituals are useful when they serve as a reminder or an inspiration; when they celebrate ideas of hope, service, strength, and compassion, or a solemn recognition of memorial.  However, whats most important is that these images, symbols and rituals remain what they are, reminders. And that we the people with the power to make the meaning of our symbols a reality do so.  Without substance, we (and by ‘we’ I mean they or you if it applies) are liars, rattlesnakes pretending to be eagles!  This fact is easily verifiable when one acts as if not standing for the anthem is treason while ignoring the reasons a man chooses not to stand.

Finally I will echo the words of San Francisco Chronicle Columnist, Ann Killion,  …the truth is, standing for the national anthem before a sporting event is an equally empty gesture for many people. Though many are reverent during the anthem and think of their freedom and those who have died for our rights, just as many are buying a beer, daydreaming or looking at their phones. Raising their butts off the seat doesn’t make them better Americans than Kaepernick.

She continued,  …To those who say he “should” be grateful, and that he has a good life, take a look at the racist comments posted on his Instagram account. They’ve been there for years, long before this controversy. He has plenty of reason to be concerned about what’s happening in our country.

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I say, the fact that many are still holding on to their patriotic bumper sticker phrases, despite the many veterans who have come to Kaepernick’s defense, (#VeteransForKaepernick) your stance merely reveals your nationalistic narcissism!  You can’t hide in plain sight.  We see you naked and inept.  When former Attorney General Eric Holder said, “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial, we have always been and we — I believe continue to be in too many ways essentially a nation of cowards, he was talking about you, oh “patriotic” one.

G’s Up to an Original OG…Kambui

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My relationship with the Jennings family goes way back.  I was in the 5th grade when some guys wanted to jump me for no other reason than because they could.  I was an outsider to them recently moving from East St. Louis, Illinois.  They said I talked ‘country’.  I thought they talked country.   I couldn’t wrap my brain around the way they called a soda a pop.  That being said, these group of six youngsters wanted to satisfy their mannish desires by pounding me into the playground after school.  To my surprise there stood a classmate who decided to defend me.  I didn’t understand why this particular guy, because he had never said two words to me.  But there he was.  As they gathered to feast on my bones, he stood in front of me and said, “If ya’ll want to fight him, you’ll have to fight me.”  Strangely enough, none of those 6 wanted to tangle with this chocolate-skinned, Afro-wearing tussle enthusiast named Ivel Jennings.  I asked Ivel why he stood up for me.  He said, “I don’t like you, but 6 on 1 ain’t fair.  Based on this episode Ivel and I became fast friends.

We were total opposites.  I was always a nice and peaceful soul.  I liked people and tried to get along with most everyone.   Ivel really was what I call, “Likes to fight guy.”  But like in my situation, he had this sense of justice about him.   He literally fought for causes as a way to solve problems.  He beat up a kid two years ahead of us right in front of the principal’s office because he sold weed.  He actually laughed as he was pummeling the kid saying, “That’s what you get for selling dope in school.” (Imagine the times)

Ivel and I hung out or talked on the phone constantly much to the chagrin of my mother’s husband.  My step father at the time, was South Bend Police.   He hated all the Jennings and often talked often about who they beat up or shot.

One day Ivel asked me to come over to meet his cousin who lived out of town. His cousin had a funny sounding Afrocentric kind of name.  This big and burly man pulled up in a candy apple read king sized diesel pick up truck.  It had four wheels in the back.  He looked so cool and in control.  He half smiled, shook my hand and went on his way.

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Fast forward several years later; I’m an adult living and attending church in a St. Louis County suburb.  One Sunday we have a guest minister by the name of Joseph Jennings.  His story/testimony was something I had never witnessed before.   Standing in the pulpit with blue jeans, and a black t-shirt that accentuated his incredibly intimidating muscular frame, Joseph talked about his life first in South Bend and later in California as a former drug dealer, pimp, gang leader etc. who had been shot 13 times.  He lived with 3 bullets in his body that were not able to be removed.  The last time he was shot, he thought he was going to die.  He lay in the gutter bleeding out and though he seldom prayed, he asked God to save his life.  “I said God, it’s not the dying that I care about. From all of the things I’ve done I deserve to die.  But please, just don’t let me die in the gutter.”  He survived and stayed true to his word to turn his life around.

Prisnor of the American Dream

What was so impressive about the way he spoke however, was the depth at which he kept it real.  “I didn’t change overnight.  I liked to smoke weed.   But I promised God I would give my life to Him if he saved me from dying in that gutter!   So everyday I would read my bible, while smoking weed!”  His speech and his presence was so powerful.  He would cut right to the bone describing what we call ‘haters’ today.

“Don’t want nothing, don’t want to be nothing.  Don’t want nobody else to be nothing!  You know what I call that?  The spirit of the nigga!”

Needless to say he turned Abundant Life Fellowship out!   I’ve heard many preachers claim that they don’t preach in a way to be invited back.  Joseph Jennings meant that.  He took a lot of religious theory and dogma to task and brought human frailties and God’s love together in a way that is rare.

Hard preaching aside, two things struck me about Jennings.

1) He was a total package of hard core manhood and yet he was tremendously warm and loving, especially towards the youth.  He often said he’d much rather hang with young people than adults; and thugs as opposed to fake church folk.

2) He looked a helluva lot to me like Ivel’s cousin from back in the day.  Once he told us what his street name was, Kambui, I knew it was him.

After service I asked him about that South Bend connection.  Sure enough, I had met the minister almost two decades earlier when he was in his heyday as a hard core menace to society.  He and I talked about Ivel, who was shot and killed himself when we were in 10th grade.   Joseph came back to St. Louis several times to speak.   I wouldn’t miss it.  I was tremendously attracted to him as a man;  His rough exterior yet tender heart;  His love for people and the excitement he exuded from living this new life.   Everything one needed to know about Joseph, was recognized through the sparkle in his eyes and the magic of his smile.  He was like a pied piper.  Many of us guys just flocked around him.  He was a blessing to everyone he touched.  But as a man especially, if you wanted to be about anything in life, you wanted to be around Joseph Jennings.

I learned recently that this soldier of love had completed his journey on earth.  And though I hadn’t seen or heard from him in many years, I find myself feeling stunned and empty.  I feel as if I lost a distant friend, a connection to my memories of Ivel and South Bend.  A man who encouraged and gave me strength to carry on many a day.   What can I say?  I loved the man.  I appreciate his service and all that he gave.  Joseph Kambui Jennings was indeed a great man.  He will be missed.  Most of all, I am thankful that I met him, on both sides of his journey.

Grace, Peace, and Many Blessings to the Jennings Family~

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Photos Courtesy of the Jennings Family, Above Joseph with Daughter Ayana Tamu Jennings

Sports and Politics Intersect Retro Style

I was only an infant when Tommy Smith and John Carlos threw up the black fist in Mexico City; a young pup when Muhammad Ali refused to participate in the Vietnam War.  There was a time when many African-American sports figures and icons took to the streets and spoke out for social justice.  They were not afraid to lend their voices and their fame to give attention to important issues they cared about.  They were courageous enough to risk their careers if necessary to stand up for what they believed was right.

Unfortunately that was a long time ago.  Rarely do we see black superstar athletes stand up for anything having to do with more than their latest contract negotiations.  The money guys like Ali, Smith and Carlos made pales in comparison to the astronomical millions today’s athletes bank above their predecessors.

Our most successful and marketable black athletes too often stray as far away from civic issues as they can.  I will always remember Michael Jordan’s refusal to support a progressive African-American candidate Harvey Gantt for state senate in his native North Carolina.  Not because he agreed more with the politics of the infamously racist Helms, but because, “Republicans by sneakers too.”  Jordan was the symbol and poster child of the New Crossover Negro who believed it far more important to hawk product and filling his own coffers rather than possibly alienating potential buyers with moral controversy.   Tiger Woods has picked up the baton running that race with ease by denying all things black whether it be per his own heritage and identity as well as the women he chooses to marry and fool around with.  Woods is as vanilla as the ice cream in my freezer and as close to anti-black as one could be with deference to Justice Thomas.

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Whether it was the Rodney King beating, presidential races, supreme court decisions or 17 year old children with candy and a drink, sadly Jim Brown, Bill Russell and Arthur Ashe are not walking through these doors.

This is what makes the tweeted photo by LeBron James and his Miami Heat teammates in support of justice for Trayvon Martin an eye opener for me.  The Heat players live in South Florida.  Perhaps they feel the intensity of emotions even deeper than the rest of the country.  Perhaps some of the players have had their own issues with being pulled over for DWB (Driving While Black) with even more emphasis because they drive the finest cars money can buy.  I don’t know.  But I respect James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh for being a part of a symbolic show of solidarity to Trayvon’s family as well as every other young black male in the United States.  I respect them especially because they are the faces of their franchise and the league that so many Americas pays attention to.

Former NBA players Etan Thomas and Craig Hodges were no strangers to standing up for unpopular beliefs.  Hodges so much so that he was literally blackballed from the NBA after presenting former President Bush a list of social issues he thought The President should address when the Chicago Bulls visited The White House.  If Jordan makes that move, it carries more weight and no way is the biggest revenue generating player the league had ever seen pushed out the door.

So big ups to LeBron, Wade, Bosh and the rest of the Heat players.  You didn’t have to march like the old school.  But you did use the most powerful and significant tool given your generation which is social media.  And for me, that speaks volumes!

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10 Things I Hate to See ~ Especially In Black Folks

Mothers who cuss at their babies…. in public especially

Fathers who are absent from their children’s lives

Fathers who are present but may as well not be

Young people who are disrespectful to adults and older people. 

Adults and older people who don’t understand or respect the value and potential of the younger generation.  We have to learn to bridge the gap between the generations.  We can only do that together.  Each group has it’s reasons to exist.  One cannot function at it’s best without the other.

Saggin pants is one thing – I don’t have to like it.  But when the jenk is right above the knees and they literally walk with one hand holding the front of the pants up from completely falling to the ground….  What is up with that??

Tatoos on the hands, neck, face etc. when you’re young and don’t have any money and are looking for a job.

Folks who throw trash out the car window… That is some truly trifling shit. 

Folks who know their candidate of choice is whack, but refuse to speak the truth about it.

Folks who don’t vote because, “It doesn’t matter,” or “they are going to do what they do anyway.”  No the issue is that far too many of us (Americans) are apathetic and take far too much for granted, not understanding that the most astute constituents keep political leads in check.  When the public is uneducated or aloof, meandering about their miserable lives, then the few are able to control the fate of the many via the purse strings of lobbyist.  In other words, if there are 100 people voting in an election, and 80 of them are poor/middle class but astute, their votes will outweigh the value of any amount of money the remaining 20% could pay.  So do the math , get involved, educated. and participate.   

The Best & Worst of Systems

 

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I was reading a column from one of my favorite columnist Sylvester Brown.  He talked about prejudice and a case he served on as a juror for.  This reminded me of an eye opening experience I had as a juror. 

When I got my first jury summons some years ago I remember talking to myself about this great opportunity to serve my community.  I checked in downtown and got my booklet which instructed me on the role of a juror and why I was there.  While waiting I read the book cover to cover.  Going in I knew that I needed to be impartial and to be ready to not allow my personal prejudices to dictate how I would rule on a case.  I was excited to say the least to participate in this most important of judicial processes.

Ahhh the case:

I make it past the first cut where we get to take questions from the attorneys.  The case consisted of a young male accused of selling drugs to an undercover police officer.  The young man was present with his attorney as was the prosecutor.  The laywers polled us by asking questions such as:

a) Do you know the defendant?

b) Have you had negative experience with police officers?

c) Would you need video or audio evidence to convict?

d) Are you more apt to believe a police officer over an accused individual?

Easy enough right?  Just tell the truth.  My answers to these critical questions:  I didn’t know the defendant.  I’ve had negative and positive experience with police officers.  If there was no video or audio I would only evaluate the that was presented.  I am neither apt to believe the police or the accused in any given situation.  Especially as it relates the case at hand.  My evaluation would be strickly based on the evidence presented.  See I had paid attention to my book – AND I meant every one of these words quite sincerely. 

Long story short I didn’t get picked.  Some of those who did however included a gentleman who said he would more than likely NOT believe the police under any circumstances.  And another who said he came from a family of police officers and was likely to believe anything the police would say.  These guys decided the case.  Eventually my time was up.  Three days of pay for reading a couple books, and hours of hurry up and wait. 

I learned a couple of sobering things about jury duty and the judicial system.  First of all the attorneys are not concerned about justice in the strictest terms.  The prosecutor wants a conviction.  Period.  He may have aspirations of being circuit attorney, attorney general, a senator or governor.  If he does not rack up a large number of guilty verdicts his chances for promotion are reduced.  At the same time the defense wants an acquittal.  Doesn’t matter really whether the person did it or not, but rather whether the prosecutor can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.  The attorneys with the most aquittals command the lions share of retainer fees.  Its all a game and the jury are merely a part of the players.

Second, though a jury are supposed to be made up of peers.  I found that to be a mixed bag as well.  Listening to some of those people talk I knew damn well I would never want them sitting on any jury I was counting on if I was faced with doing time.  Lets just say many were without much depth.  Some only complained about not wanting to be there.   And that they would rather be home watching Judge Judy or something.  This was especially disheartening when I heard African-American women complain this way.  After all black folk get the brunt of the short end of the justice stick.  And while they don’t want to serve – let alone serve with honor they are the first to complain about the all white jurors who hung ‘Lil Ray Ray’ out to dry.  I gave them sisters a piece of my mind and explained to them that serving was an opportunity to have a say within their community and being an active participant in the justice system.  I asked if it were them on trial, or their sons or brother or cousin, would they want a juror with their attitude to determine their loved ones fate?  (Let alone if any of them were being tried themselves…)  Some shot me a look of death.  And others thought I had a good point. 

The conclusion is that we in America do indeed have the best system in terms of the idea and the model.  But there is no way to legislate righteousness and once the details are executed with people who have motives that may or may not have to do with truth or justice, the system can get out of whack.  Its a serious thing being caught up in the system.  If you have loot there is a better chance of having decent representation.  One can get investigators, doctors, psychologist, forensic experts ect. to speak on behalf of ones case.  But if your broke, the case can be as flimsy as a wet t-shirt at the Hooters beach party against you and you could still be a goner. 

Nevertheless, I advocate that those of us who are of sound mind, logical, reasonable, and compassionate should do all we can to serve on a jury when called upon.  We may not have the education that the lawyers have, but we still have the last say in most cases for common sense to rule in these complicated issues that effect people’s lives.  Be the juror you would want to have. 

Peace