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


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.”


*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.


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


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.


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~

viewing0054JenningsJennings Daughter

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

The BackStoppers! A Commitment Worthy of Investing!

Important Update:

On Sunday we had our meet, greet, and practice session for the World Record Baseball for BackStoppers at T.R. Hughes Ball Park. (July, 3 – 5) I got to meet the guys and we discussed what our 60 hour baseball game will look like logistically and otherwise. It’s going to be a great event in of itself. Not to mention the Heritage Festival and 5K run event that will be going on just outside the ballpark during the 4th of July week.

What was most significant however, is that we got to meet some of the people whom BackStoppers assist.

Officer Officer Matt Crosby with Chief Ron Battelle

First there was Matt Crosby. Matt was a police officer in Rock Hill who was shot while investigating a domestic disturbance in 2010. That shooting has left him paralyzed and wheel chair bound. Matt told us about how Chief Ron Battellle (Exec. Dir. of BackStoppers) came to the hospital to present him with a $50,000 check shortly after he was injured. Since the incident BackStoppers has been in lock step with Matt and his family so that he has not had to worry about medical and living expenses..

Second there was Julie Weinhold and her four children. Julie’s husband Officer Eric Weinhold was killed in the line of duty in 2000. The BackStoppers allowed Julie to raise her children at home. This has been such a blessed investment as the two older boys are now in college and the girls thriving in high school.  BackStoppers has been so committed to this family, that even after Julie got remarried and her husband was laid off, they continued to assist assuring that their family continues to move forward.  This is what I call COMMITMENT to the sacrificed.

As excited as I was to play this game and support this cause, meeting these great people just fired me up all the more.  Chief Battelle (a retired 40 year police officer) couldn’t even introduce Matt and Julie without breaking down in tears.  Helping these officers and their families is a serious mission for this man.  His compassion is contagious and his spirit strong.  He told us that there are 56 other cases right now just like Matt and Julie’s that are being supported.

I share this because I want to let you know how much BackStoppers has done for our community.  Police, firefighters and EMT workers are vital to our safety and security.  To know that there is a community organization that supports those who have made the ultimate sacrifice is heartening. 

I noticed something else too by the way.  Of all of the players and organizers that I saw on Sunday, I was the only person of color.  This is especially significant because BackStoppers does not discriminate against those in need.  All who are served within our community should give back and support those who serve us.  I have no problem representing my community.  I would like to ask those who look like me especially to help contribute to this case by donating something to The BackStoppers for this event.  It doesn’t have to be a large amount.  (Contact me via email c_mac220@yahoo.com or inbox me if on Facebook)

This is not just about the money either.  Personally, I won’t have health insurance until September.  Though there will be a medical staff on site, I have already signed the forms to be responsible for my own health risk.  My family fully supports this decision as we believe in what we are doing.

After the game, I plan to find out how I can help The BackStoppers in the future.

This is a great organization!  Let’s come together and support it!

Family Julie Weinhold and her children