June 10, 2013

Be a Man Son

Those in the fraternity know the commercials don’t help. With my fifth official Father’s Day on the horizon I realize I have matured. I smile when people wish me a “Happy Father’s Day” and resist the urge to respond “Thanks, but it would really be a happy day for me if…” Admittedly it takes time, but after a loved one dies you realize though they are physically gone they are ever-present. They visit us in the passing scent or a comment from an honest child. I like to believe our angels send us thoughts and unexpected blessings to let us know they are there, watching. I also believe they visit us in the remembrances of the time we spent with them and in the lessons they left. Thank God for the lessons.

I patronize a local mall whenever possible. It is in an area some may consider “urban” in the new negative sense but I try to spend money there when I can. I have however decided that as a family we visit this particular place as early as possible. Like Whodini proffers, “The freaks come out at night.” As late day became early evening I remembered I wanted a few things and decided to hit the mall. Time of day and my son’s heavy Sunday cartoon rotation dictated I would be traveling alone.  When you go places alone you only have to worry about yourself. As I’m sure it is for most men the shopping was uneventful. I knew what I wanted so I went in, found my size, and paid for it.  As I reached the parking lot I heard a woman’s voice in an emergent tone. She demanded the receiver of her command “Get the f*ck away from me!” I focused on the source of the commotion as I made my way to my car. Never break stride. A woman was arguing with her male companion in front of the pre-teen girl that accompanied them.  As they cursed and shoved each other I wondered how many times this poor child had watched this scene play out. As I feared he would the cowardly shell drew back his hand and struck the woman in her face.  Without pause she hit him back and the shoving continued. Men don’t hit women. Period.

I pulled my car around on his blind side and got out before the bully could see me.  Opening the car door caught his attention and gave him a new target for a moment. The young lady took a few steps forward and almost stood directly next to me. Imagine being so scared and frustrated you would stand next to a perfect stranger without even knowing his intention. I stepped away from the girl and toward this “man.” Always give yourself space. Watch his hands. I told him how cowardly his actions were (in more colloquial language) and reminded him he had his child watching. His defense was, “She’s not my daughter. She is a niece.” I let a couple seconds of silence pass for the ridiculousness of that statement to settle in. The woman (who I might add never stopped talking smack???) took the opportunity to take the young one by the hand and walk to the neighboring bus stop. That left me and the woman beater alone to do whatever it is that two men decided to do.  And we did just that- we talked. He told me their whole story, or at least his side of it. He complained that her family was taking advantage of him.  He griped that the child was left in their care. He grumbled about his woman this, and his woman that. I never missed an opportunity to chime in. “Men don’t hit women.” I heard my father’s voice and was suddenly standing in our old living room. Actually he was standing and I was fixed on the plastic covered yellow/goldish couch. I have never seen anything since that matched that couch exactly.

My father was clear. “Unless you are trying to save your life or someone else’s life you should never hit a woman. If I ever hear tell of you hitting a woman I will kill you.” Those that knew my father know that was how he shared important information. It was short and succinct and usually followed by some sort of threat. A threat I never doubted he would carry out if my mother wasn’t home.  I asked this man how he would feel if his mother or sister or daughter called to tell him their mate just beat them in the mall parking lot. His silence meant that he saw the point, he was tired of the conversation, or both. I urged him to do better and back up the few steps to my open car door. Don’t turn your back on anyone. I am wise enough to know that he probably caught the next bus home to finish the fight, but I am foolish and faithful enough to believe that just maybe…

I hear you Pops. I always do. Thank you for it all. The lessons I learned and the few that escaped me. Thank you for watching over the loved ones you left. You would have gotten a kick out of your youngest grandson. He is a thinker like you.

Before I got up from the warm plastic on the couch my father put his hand on my shoulder and caught my eye to make sure he had my full attention. Always be a man son. Be a damn man. I am trying Pops.









February 2, 2013

Get Up, Get Out, and DO SOMETHING!

   Happy Belafonte delivers a rousing and timely call to action during his Spingarn Medal acceptance speech at the NAACP Awards. At the same time that speech airs some yet unidentified (although authorities "have a good idea who the suspect is") misguided young man does the devil's work and uses a gun to shoot a student at Morehouse College after a pick-up basketball game. Dear Old Morehouse- the nation's only all-male, predominately African-American liberal arts institution. How timely was Mr. Belafonte?
    It is time to take an honest look at the culture (yes, the music, dress, motivation, drive...) and act. There is no time to waste arguing about individual freedoms and the right to express oneself. We should return to the values our forefathers held dear. Ill-prepared parents are raising ill-prepared children the culture turns into well prepared miscreants. Conflict resolution is an art we should embrace immediately. It should be taught at the most elementary level. Men should return to the community immediately and strive to protect and educate the women and children we find there.     
   There are too many pictures of buffoonery on social media and not enough pictures of mentorship and fellowship. The music is base and empty. We glorify the liar and braggart. I know men who don't make time to spend with the children they gave seed to but will stand in line to pay money they don't have to spend that same time with entertainers who despise them. I know women who find those men attractive.
    I love to laugh and I'm good for a quip,but like my dear friends father says, "Joke is joke, but damn joke ain't no joke." Whatever you do, do something.
In my humble opinion.

July 20, 2012

What Kind of World...

Prayers go out to all of the victims of this (recent)senseless tragedy in Colorado. As my wife instructed me to "turn on the news" I knew something had gone wrong in the world as I slept. As always I will be honest with you. Though my first words to her centered on the need for prayer at this time my first thought was selfish. I was glad we were not there. Though it wouldn’t be logical for 40 year old parents of a little one to be in a movie theatre clear across the country at midnight, everything and nothing makes sense at dawn.

The second thing I thought of is Cornel Campbell’s version of The Cables classic “What Kind of World.” His accented falsetto begs the question, “What kind of world am I living in? Is it a world without love?” This song sometimes plays in my head whenever I see or hear something ridiculous or tragic. The news of moviegoers being gassed and gunned down is both. Next, images of last week’s family vacation played through. As I ushered my son through security at the Empire State Building I remember thinking “We got through too quick.” I looked around at all of the people I didn’t know-people of different hues, religions and cultures, and I wanted to grab my family and run. Hey, I said I would be honest.

I grew up in a place where no two people were from the same place but generally it was cool. The rules to get along weren’t very complicated. Sweep your steps off and keep the noise down. If I have a driveway don’t block it. There were no “anti- bullying” campaigns. If you talked about my mother I talked about your father worse. If you didn’t have one in the house it made it better for me. We dusted off our bruised feelings and went back to the park- a five on five full usually squashed all beefs. I admit I take license and romanticize about the past. Don’t we all? Most of my friend’s sentences start with “Back in the day…” Whenever the “reason” for this heinous act of cowardice is uncovered it will of course pale in comparison to the damage done. The punishment would not have fit the supposed crime.

I will continue to fight the daily urge to buy more guns and run for the hills but I will stop making fun of those that have.  I wonder if Cornel Campbell ever hums to himself?

Pray people. There is power in it.

In my humble opinion…

March 25, 2012

Hooded, Not Blinded

“The problem with people…people who have only partly comprehended that race is no longer the primary defining factor of American life, is that they…unknowingly keep watch over the masters’ wealth; and that the power of that wealth maintains all the ignorance of centuries of classism, racism, and the hierarchy that ignorance demands.”
Leonid McGill, from Walter Mosley’s All I Did Was Shoot My Man

         “I should be able to wear what I want!” That is what I used to mutter at my mother while I was holding the detached (and forcibly so) hood from my most recent purchase. Sometimes she would respond, but most of the time my words would bounce off her back as she walked down the hall outside my bedroom.

         That is the second thing I thought of when I heard the initial account of the murder of Florida teen Trayvon Martin. And let us not mince words or shrink away from what reason provides. This child was murdered. The first thing I thought of was my son. After the initial joy I remember the dread that crept up through my belly like so many punches to the gut when the nurse performing the sonogram on my wife proclaimed “It’s a boy!” You see, my eyes were open well before the murder of Trayvon. I know there is something else at work here. The African American male is all but guaranteed a contrastive experience in these United States. One that will at some point take a hard left from the path his peers of various races are on. Not debatable. It is guaranteed.Though the range and scope of the experience may vary, ask any black man you know to tell you his “aha moment” and he will recount it as easily as you could tick off what you had for breakfast this morning. I had many.

         After my mixed race elementary school turned us out into the sun one afternoon a friend decided to walk home with me. When we reached the avenue that bordered my neighborhood he stopped. With a blank yet somehow telling look on his face he sheepishly revealed, “My parents said I can’t go down there.” My first thought was “Down where?” As I watched him shuffle off the other way I almost didn’t want to go “down there” either. Hell, maybe he knew something I didn’t. Fast forward some years and Michael Griffith is streaking across the Belt Parkway in a fight for his life after being chased out of Howard Beach by a pack of cowardly teens. He lost that fight. When my mother found out I was driving my high school buddy John home to Howard Beach she forbid it. I couldn’t go down there. Tight shoes hurt no matter what foot they’re on.

         But back to the matter of the hooded sweatshirt. A Champion hoodie, black to be exact, was the only sweatshirt any self respecting member of my urban peer group would be caught wearing. Allowances were made for crew neck or colored variations, but you had to have the sneakers to match. This was high level stuff, no half-stepping allowed. I worked before I had the state issued “working papers” coveted by city teens, and had several jobs in the neighborhood over time. Whether delivering the newspaper, groceries, or at my job at a local mom and pop cutlery shop, I made my own money and thought I should decide how it was spent. Enter the dragon (or dragon-lady as it were). My mother despised hooded sweatshirts of any color or style. She associated them with negativity and crime because most of the negativity and crime she saw in our neighborhood was perpetrated by a young black male in a black hooded sweatshirt. I made a special effort to hide my hoodies until I could do my own laundry. Whenever that effort failed I was greeted with the body of what once was a hooded sweatshirt (sans hood) sprawled across my bed. She took no pity. Jagged scissor marks and holes adorned the collar. All that was missing was the yellow crime scene tape. I would of course do what any rebellious man child would. On payday I would march back to the avenue my boyhood friend feared (apparently he and his parents had no idea what they were missing) and lay down another “forty dollars no tax.” Days later I would enter my room to find the mutilated corpse. Another victim of a shear wielding vandal.

         This went on until I left mom and pop’s roof for a college arch. As I matured the many lessons my parents attempted to teach me would bare and I often thought about this epic battle of wills with my mother. At some point in adult life you focus on not what a person did, but why they did it. I took stock of my mother and what tempered her worldview. Born in the 1930’s South, my mother grew up in an era where at times anything outside of “yas sir” or “naw sir” could literally cost you your life. This was especially true for black men. Granted, slavery was officially over but the stain remained. When something stirs the memory my mother recounts sneaking away from the family house one morning to go into the neighboring woods with her siblings. The mission was to spy a peek at the corpse of a recently lynched black man. To be clear that’s mutilated- and- hung- from- the- neck -until -he -died man. I know what seasoned her broth, It’s just that the “Fight the Power” generation I grew up in wasn’t drinking it. I mean, after all, this is the land that promises “liberty and justice for all” right? I stood with my classmates and swore allegiance to the flag that sealed that deal every morning. Certainly I was free to wear what I wanted,no?

         A demure and graceful priest once taught me that the definition of freedom is “Your right to do what you want, as long as it does not impede the rights of others.” That should certainly include my right to don a sweatshirt for a walk to the store for candy and tea, no matter the opinion of a wannabe cop or has been shock journalist. So I will reach for my hoodie and join with those that mourn the loss of Trayvon Martin. There is something to be said about solidarity. I will also note the moment but join the movement for faith without works is dead. We should never pass on an opportunity to actively speak out against the attitudes, laws, and practices that seek to justify senseless acts of ignorance and violence like the murder of an innocent, no matter their race, creed, or orientation. As a human being I pray for the peaceful repose of young Trayvon’s soul. As a father of a boy I pray a special intention for Trayvon’s father. A man’s instinct is to protect. I cannot imagine the sound of my son’s first cry in life being drowned out by a recording of his last.

         I will act while waiting for the justice for all this country boasts, but I won’t wait long. Though my hood is on I can still see.

January 10, 2012

Red Tails: Please Do The Right Thing, For Better or Worse

If an accomplished director like George Lucas has to finance a movie like this on his own, hasn’t Hollywood once again (and hopefully finally) proven to us that they are only interested in very specific and limited portrayals of us? Lucas said, “I wanted to make it inspirational for teenage boys.” Looking at the condition of a large number of our boys I appreciate his effort. When he started he had a consulting group of 40 Tuskegee Airmen. There were approximately 7 left when the movie was complete. There is so much of our AMERICAN history in this movie I feel we would all fail terribly if we cannot contribute to this film having a blockbuster opening weekend, the only weekend that matters in Hollywood.  

If this was a big screen offering from the Housewives franchise (or Scarface 2012, or Ballerina Meets Hood Dude That Can Really Dance But Just Needed An Opportunity To See Life Outside The Hood...2) there wouldn’t be a question of international marketing and box office receipts. I don’t think you can have an opinion in the “Tyler vs. Spike,et al.” debate (however ridiculous that is) and not support this movie on opening weekend January 20, 2012.  I’ll kick the soapbox over now, but I reserve the right…

Vew official Red Tails trailer here:

July 16, 2011

I Came for My Tux...

  January 16, 2010

After sneaking a few spoons of Irish oats from my son's bowl, I started my Saturday with a trip to the drycleaner. I always enjoy these brief visits with Park, the owner, because he is on my list. You see I keep a mental list of people that I enjoy talking to because they always impart some wisdom, some jewel that I tuck away and unfurl when the time is right. So you don't walk away from this questioning yourself-yes, you are on the list. It is actually a working document made up of all of the people that I have met, will, and hope to meet before it is said and done, but that's not what this is about.

When the normal pleasantries were dispensed with we got down to business. I normally leave with a bit of small business advice, a parenting note or piece of information for the file, but there was no time for that. "Can you believe what happened in Haiti?" he asked. "No", I responded. "It's really incredibly sad and hard to fathom. I mean, how much can one people stand?" He went on to tell me that while he lived and operated a business in Florida he gained immense respect for the Haitian community there. "Really hard working people. They keep to themselves and work hard," Park said, qualities any hard-working and honest immigrant would appreciate. He went on, and the shoe dropped. "I like the Haitians, but I have no respect for the Jamaicans. They are all into the drug selling, and they steal." He might as well have added "They smell and talk funny," all things I heard about any group of people that migrated to the New York borough of Queens I grew up in. When my family moved from Brooklyn to Jamaica Queens in the early 1970's, my new neighbor Ms.Iboni still rushed through the vacant lot next door after a rain to collect the snails that appeared and made wine in her basement. I mean she "made" wine. There was a small wooden pit down there that she actually used to crush grapes with her feet. I bet we smelled funny to her, because she smelled like grapes and the corner market to me, but again, I digress.

In 38 years I have learned to welcome moments like this instead of run from them. I let Park finish, pondered a moment, and responded. "You know not all Jamaicans steal and sell drugs. As a matter of fact, I'm Jamaican." Before he could respond or apologize, something the look on his face told me he wanted to do, I continued. "Well, I'm not from Jamaica, but my grandmother was." I went on to tell him about Ruby Hyacinth Duncombe, born in Kingston in 1897, and migrated to America around 1917. I told him how proud I was when I found her name in the Ellis Island online logs, and how she cooked and baked the best black cake and royal white icing you could buy, all to support herself in a Harlem that doesn't look much like the one that stands now. The bell rang and the door opened for another patron on a Saturday morning pick-up mission, but I was on a roll. I told him about my immigrant Guyanese grandfather, Edward Adolphus Rufus Lord, a member of the freshman class of 1918 at Howard University. He was the first black doctor in Bainbridge Georgia circa 1935, and both brave and fool enough to believe the town needed an NAACP chapter. His death went down on the books as an accident. I also invited him to visit Lord Avenue in Bainbridge if he got the chance, and let him know that if there are any drug dealers on the block, I don't know them.

I paid for my clothes in silence, but we smiled, shook hands, and parted with the relationship in tact. The conversation left me with much to think about, as I pray it did him. On the eve of a national holiday that was fought for to commemorate the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and in the midst of a tragedy of mind and body but triumph for the soul in Haiti (yea, though Haiti and her citizens are bowed, they are not broken, and the world's response nourishes the soul) when will we ever get to "the content of one's character" and deal with the individual versus some misplaced stereotype? Can we ever? Can we as Black people acknowledge that we too suffer with color and class consciousness issues and move forward? Why can't we respect and enjoy each cultures individual contribution to the word, without infusing our individual assumptions and opinions? Why are people so damned scared to discuss race in this country?
Dr. E.A.R. Lord

June 19, 2011

Get in the Game!

During a recent phone conversation with my friend and mentor Chris, I began to outline the frame of a business idea I have been mulling over for a few months. In true Chris fashion he cut me off in the middle of my elevator pitch, laughed, and said,” Let’s do it.”  Before traces of the old me could surface and I rambled on with a Letterman’s Top Ten List of why I wasn’t ready for the opportunity, he went on. “Not only do I think that’s a good idea, but at the end of this month I’m speaking in front of a group with 800 members that work with what you just outlined. Make sure you’re there and I’ll introduce you to some people. You’re a pretty smart guy, don’t worry. Just get in the game and you’ll figure the rest out. ”

     Today on our leisurely Sunday excursion (where I kidnap the family after church and drive around Georgia while my son gives in and falls asleep in the back and the wife just hums and waits for the car to give out of gas) the Mrs. was reading the paper.  After a chuckle she said, “Henry Winkler showed someone a picture he took and they gave him a book deal.” What?! What do you mean? I know self-published authors that hawk their books whenever and wherever they can not only to move units, but in the hope that someone will get them in at a large publishing house or if all the stars are aligned get their work to “Oprah” (insert heavenly harp music here). Not taking anything away from Winkler’s talent, but that had to be one hell of a photo.  She went on to read the passage. Said Winkler, “I was at my oldest son’s wedding in the Bahamas, and I took a picture of the beautiful sky. I showed it to everyone at the table, and fashion designer Cristina Ferrare suggested I meet an agent she knew to discuss a book of my photographs.” In his description of the work Winkler said, “It’s a book of photos I took on the river, in the river, and getting to the river, along with life lessons I learned from the river.” Wow. Deep, right?  C’mon son! 

     Again, no disrespect to Winkler, but what separates “The Fonz” from the guy hawking hand painted scenes of the Caribbean island you visited last, or the vendor at a fair whose booth is chock full of his life’s work? How about the guy at the park that takes black chalk and weathered paper and captures nuances in your face that are so subtle you never noticed them?  I’ll tell you what. Henry Winkler was in the room, at the game, and they weren’t. Here is my humble advice for the day. Take stock of the people you spend most of your productive time with and creative energy on. Are they poised to get you in the room and a ticket to the game? If not, something needs to change, and chances are they won’t.

     Go get in the game. You’re all pretty smart, I’m sure you’ll figure the rest out.