Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Leaving Mississippi

By October 15, 2017, after 34 years of residency, I will be leaving the State of Mississippi. I have found love and I will be getting married. My soul mate lives in the Atlanta, Georgia area, so I will make the journey to be with her and enjoy my final days, however long that is, there.

It has been an incredible journey since I first set foot on the campus of Jackson State University in August of 1983. My matriculation at Jackson State laid the foundation for me to find myself, because self-identity is crucial, and understand comprehensively my calling to public service. My years on "The Yard" exposed me to so much of Mississippi, the Black Diaspora, and the rest of the world. It is one thing to grow up in the "The City of Big Shoulders"; it is another to become an adult in Mississippi.

The citizens of Mississippi have made me feel welcome. For nine years, I had the privilege of serving in the Mississippi House of Representatives, trying my best to do their will. I was given the opportunity twice to represent the Mississippi Democratic Party as their nominee for the United States Senate. I have enjoyed many family reunions, church services, picnics, parties, football games and mint tea/lemonade/beer/bourbon drinks. I've had the unique privilege of traveling through all 82 counties and speaking (and partying) at nearly all of the institutions of higher learning.

Most importantly, I became a father to a native Mississippian and he is developing into the most special young man any father could ever be proud of. That will be the toughest transition of all, being away from him, but being the hero he has always been to me, he has worked out a strategy that I will strictly adhere to, to ease that angst and stay involved in his life.

I have friends that I am leaving behind. People who have been a constant reminder of how good human beings can be. I will miss you greatly. However, as long as I have my right mind, I will always have the memories that will make me smile and remind me that Mississippi is a exceptional place.

There will be those that will probably be glad to see me go, for whatever reason. I have to accept that, because we have all come up short and not been our best with everyone. I have asked for forgiveness from them and from God for those times. Maybe the distance will make that happen eventually.

Nevertheless, when you have been blessed to live 52 years on this earth, the good outweighs the bad. I would not trade in my experience in Mississippi for anything in the world. My only hope is that, as history will judge, that my time was significant enough to help move this state forward in some small way. I wish I could have done more and learned more. I did learn how to survive here though, and that will be a quality that I can take with me to Atlanta, or anywhere else God leads me to be in the future.

I'm gonna miss going up Highway 49 seeing the cotton growing and being harvested. I'm gonna miss Walnut Hills and Mary Mahoney's, Doe's and Char, Smith's Downtown and Widemann's. I'm gonna miss hanging out at the casinos and playing Mississippi golf. But at least I know I'm only six hours away if get homesick.

Anyway, before I get too sentimental, I just wanted to thank the people of Mississippi for letting me be a part of the experience in the most hospitable of ways. Y'all have made me a better person and a more conscious human being. Take care for now and may God continue to bless y'all, strengthen y'all, and keep y'all in His favor always.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Still Altruistic

The narrowest of minds predicate political thought today. We have blind allegiance to political figures, cults of personalities if you will, rather than a true subscription to the ideals that define what America is. We degrade ourselves to make political points (Deplorables, 99percenters). Really?
Here is what I know. Most of the central figures in American politics are not Jimmy Stewart’s character in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Far from it. The obvious detachment of the Federal District from the other 50 states is painfully measurable. Therefore, it is more productive to have permanent interests than permanent friends.
The integrity of the United States Constitution must be upheld. That is not up for discussion or debate. We cannot advocate for fascist shortcuts to justice and fairness regardless of who is in power. This is why the role and presence of truly engaged citizens is important. It is not about grandstanding or creating controversy when there is none.
When the US Constitution is violated, people should fight against the violation. When the Constitution needs defending, people need to stand up for it, more so than the Flag or the National Anthem, because those symbols are hollow without the US Constitution.
If you think people are poison because they disagree with you politically, you don’t get it. If you think people that people are automatically racist because they don’t agree with you, you don’t get it. The ideal of America is that within the confines defined in the Preamble of the US Constitution, the preservation of liberty and promoting the general welfare. Everyday political leaders must make decisions based on that criteria alone, balancing those principles out. Any major imbalance between those principles leads to a stagnation of ideas in public policy.
Ignorance is a harsh word to use on people. Misinformed and stubborn may be less harsh. But either way it goes, name calling and insults, no matter who throws them, or how many social media likes you get for them, does not reach consensus. Our country grows with positive debate and positive discourse. If you think otherwise, then look at the decline of our national politics. Why haven’t we found a solution to limit unemployment? Why haven’t we adapted to be more competitive globally? Why are we struggling in education? Why do we incarcerate more of our citizens than any other country in the world?
If your knee jerk reaction is to say liberals or conservatives, you’re both right and you’re both wrong. Nobody has a monopoly of good ideas, therefore nobody should have a monopoly of which voice should be heard. Good public policy is worked out, not force fed.
Another thought, everyone in the country feels disenfranchised. EVERYONE! Why is that? A deft lack of leadership. America is supposed to symbolize opportunity for everyone, period. When we have gotten to the place where everyone feels disenfranchised and they are blaming other disenfranchised people for their disenfranchisement, then you will have a long period of civil unrest. We cannot move forward that way. When an unarmed human being is gunned down by someone given the privilege to serve and protect us, we all should be bothered. A civil society is everyone’s responsibility. A safe society is everyone’s responsibility.
When a child is senselessly gunned down, everyone should be supportive of law enforcement to find the perpetrators.  Again, a civil society is everyone’s responsibility. A safe society is everyone’s responsibility.
Maybe one day, in the not-to-distant future, we may reach that mindset. Until then, we, the majority, have to navigate and move forward. I don’t have to agree with the President to be a patriot. But also as a patriot, I truly do not want to see the President fail.

I agree, I’m still altruistic. The America we live in is a long way from that society I envision. However, with hope still the high mark for which we press, maybe that which seems quixotic will become common logic, in due time.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

I remember

As an elected official during the period when MIssissippi voted on their state flag, I remember the arguments and the apathy very vividly.

I remember Rip Daniels and Jim Giles traveling to every public hearing...

I remember the Sons of Confederate Veterans reminding faculty and students at Jackson State that the people supporting the new flag lived in gated communities...

I remember the chairman of the Appropriations Committee being offended by the original design submitted by the State Flag Commission and the chair of said commission offended by the Magnolia Flag...

I remember the meetings, the rallies and the commentary of the masses broadcast on local and international media...

And then, most importantly, I remember when it was all said and done, the flag vote was the worst statewide turnout in this century and in recent decades...

The tragedy in Charleston has brought this issue back to the forefront again, along with a myriad of other issues. I have never been a proponent of keeping the Beauregard Flag in the canton corner of the Mississippi State Flag, which officially became our flag again in 2001...

However, I do remember two prevailing sentiments that I believe still rings true in the minds of Mississippians: "That flag doesn't determine how or where I work and live" & "Changing a piece of cloth doesn't change the hearts and minds of men."

Those two arguments alone will prevent any change to occur, and unfortunately the death of nine African American Christians by the hand of a delusional young man who thought his act of terrorism would spur a race war in America, will not move the needle in a different direction.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

60620


The title of this blog is the zip code I grew up in. My family has resided in that zip code for over 50 years. During the time I was there, 60620, primarily the Auburn-Gresham community, was a working class African-American neighborhood with a myriad of thriving businesses. 

It was the initial home of Operation Breadbasket (now Operation P. U. S. H. ) and The Final Call newspaper. Off and on, the Capitol Theater entertained us, whether it was the Ali-Foreman fight or "Enter the Dragon". We would shop at Franks or Walgreens, get our field trip hoagie sandwiches from Taurus Flavors and have our Little League parade down 79th Street.

The grown folks had places like the Sandpiper Lounge to entertain themselves, when they weren't taking care of us or working and we had choices for haircuts, check cashing, church and even funeral services.

We always believed in our little part of Chicago that we were relatively safe, unlike the West Side or further south. Obviously that is no longer the case. I recently read an article that stated the zip code I grew up, thrived in, developed friendships in, is now the most dangerous zip code in America. In the 32 years I have been away from my former home, something dramatically has gone wrong.

St. Sabina Catholic Church was an institution in that community and continues to be under the stewardship of the dynamic and controversial Father Michael Pfleger. The church, under his leadership, has become a symbol of defiance toward the violence that has permeated this beloved community, and those in leadership, who have not done enough to curb it, including the previous Cardinals of the diocese. Because of this defiant spirit, St. Sabina has also become a beacon of hope for many of the constituents of 60620 during these perilous times.

The alderman that currently represents that area is David Moore, who I only know through Facebook and news clippings. He grew up in the Englewood community and attended Simeon Academy, just like one of the city's current sports heroes. Based on what I have read, and the fact he was re-elected recently, I'm prone to believe Alderman Moore is in tune with the pulse of the community and he is eager to do his part to stem the tide. I'm too personally disengaged to determine whether he has the capacity to do it, but as someone with working knowledge as to the level of   responsibility public service demands, I will give him the positive benefit and not doubt it. 

These two individuals have now developed a conflict over the church holding a block party. Sounds trivial but the backstory is fascinating.

Spike Lee has come to my home zip code to do a documentary about the escalated violence there. The working title is "Chiraq", a moniker created by the local media to sensationalize the crisis that has unfolded.

As expected, Father Pfleger has become a central figure in this documentary. Therefore the aforementioned block party was going to be a part of the film. Alderman Moore refused to issue the permit for the block party because he, and several other constituents, objected to the working title of the documentary.

Pfleger supporters are calling Moore a sellout and Moore supporters are calling Pfleger a shameless opportunist. What I see are two men who are proud of this community. One wants to bring attention to the crisis and instill hope. One wants to regain the positive tradition of the community and protect it from being further besmirched.

Meanwhile, people are still dying and suffering. A once thriving community is in a full fledged crisis. And the people are craving leadership that leads to solutions.

Whether the block party is held or not won't solve the problem. The documentary itself won't solve the problem. Most importantly, a feud between leaders in that community won't solve the problem.

It will take a strategy that will involve many partners, religious and secular, private and public, to eradicate the genocide, improve educational and economic opportunities and uplift a once proud community back to its rightful place. Neither Pfleger or Moore can bring those partnerships to bear single handedly. They must work together. 

Then maybe 60620 will return to the days I remember, where children were safe, hopeful, and eager to make a world even better than that they had experienced. Now that would be worth having a party about.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Caitlyn not courageous

I thought the big story of the day concerning Caitlyn Jenner was going to be the Vanity Fair cover shoot. But later I saw a tweet from Star Jones that read:


So on July 15, 2015, Caitlyn Jenner will receive the Courage Award named after one of the most courageous men ever to play professional sports.

It doesn't seem fitting to me. Star is probably right about Arthur smiling because he was a contemporary of Caitlyn when she was known as Bruce Jenner, one the greatest athletes of our generation. But as for the criterion for the award, I believe Caitlyn falls short of the mark.

Had Caitlyn made the change just a mere decade ago, I would applaud ESPN for their courage in bestowing such an honor to someone who made such a decision before acceptance was an option. Caitlyn was a contemporary of Renee Richards, a fierce tennis competitor as a male and and as a female, but Bruce, while battling what would be his ultimate decision to follow Richards example, never came forward with visible support of Richards as his star was shining the brightest.

Instead, Caitlyn waited until the children Bruce fathered were grown, his star had arisen again due to the reality show craze, and the temperature of the culture had cooled considerably concerning LGBT issues, before going public with his struggle.

The award is named after a man/athlete that battled racism face to face on and off the tennis court. It is named after a man who refused monetary incentives to play in a country that practiced apartheid. It is named after a man who publicly and gracefully battled HIV/AIDS which he hoped his personal struggle would bring the awareness needed for research in combating the disease.

Caitlyn should be applauded for making the decision best for her, to be comfortable in her own skin. Caitlyn should not be ostracized, nor should her accomplishments as Bruce Jenner be diminished. However, I don't think Caitlyn is Arthur Ashe, nor should she be the recipient of a courage award. The times are different and maybe that really is a positive statement for the society as a whole.

Maybe America should be awarded instead for taking yet another step toward tolerance. Nonetheless, congratulations Caitlyn.