Thursday, December 4, 2014

Police and Blacks: What's Wrong and How We Can Go Forward

I love this piece from Democracy Now.  

Watch it today!  It says it's 55 minutes, but it's really much shorter.  What I LOVE about this piece is that it addresses what's wrong between police and people of color and specifically it deals with HOW IT FEELS to be a person of color in the current climate.

I should say that I hate the title because I've worked with police officers who are trying to figure out how to connect with their communities.  The people from the department I've worked with and trained are some of the kindest, most open-minded people I've encountered.  So, the idea that police are out there trying to figure out how to get away with murder is irresponsible.

However, what I appreciate about this piece is that it's thorough, but even more so I am grateful because it suggests solutions.

So, once again....WATCH IT!

Saturday, November 29, 2014


Listening right now to Debbie Elliott's story about REPAST (the oratorio about my grandfather)!  I have been working on this story since I first learning about it in the summer of 2007 and it never ceasing to amaze me how moved people are by my grandfather's words.

It breaks my heart to think of what he went through and that so many people who knew him (white and black) didn't really KNOW him, because they didn't perceive how painful it was for him to be humiliated every single day simply because he was black...

Even worse?  While being humiliated he had to smile.

I have loved learning about his life, sharing it in the documentary Booker's Place: A Mississippi Story, writing about it in my upcoming book, Searching for Booker Wright, but more than anything I love speaking about it.

I've been able to take his story and the ideas that still resonate today to colleges, corporations, and community groups around the nation.

Though he died the year before I was born, my love for Booker Wright continues to nourish me.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Rules for Writers

  1. When you're writing at Starbucks and someone says, "You're still working on your book."  Remind them that crafting a provocative, powerful, yet delicately beautiful narrative, that also sticks to the absolute truth of humanity is not as simple as drafting an email.
  2. When you meet someone who says, "I'm a doctor now, but I'm going to write books when I retire."  Cock your head to the side and say, "I'm a writer now, but I'm going to perform a few cardiothoracic surgeries when I retire."  
  3. When people say, "These days you can write almost anything, it's the editors who put it all together and do all the work."  Hit them on the noggin, turn, and run really fast in the other direction.
  4. When someone says, "Yeah, I'm going to write a book one of these days," but then can't name a single book they've ever finished reading, you should do the following.  Tilt your head back and laugh out loud for at least a full minute.  
  5. When some random person takes the time to not only read your work, but to tell you how it moved them, remember that moment for the rest of your life. A writer creates a structure made out of words that are reluctantly pulled together, slowly, one at a time.  If you manage to complete your word structure and then find that it has inspired the soul of a complete stranger, then something miraculous has just occurred. The ability to do that is a gift, one that only God can grant.
  6. Every day work as if you have the aforementioned gift.  Hope against hope that you are one of the precious few who can bring life to death, set hope alight, and remove the blinders that keep us from seeing our true selves. That's what it is to be a writer.  The only two requirements are that you nurture your own capacity to dream and that you never, ever give up.  Even when it feels as if people have run out of their ability to believe in you, you must never give up.  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Ray Rice: Are Some People Beyond Hope?

Never in a million years did I ever think I'd link to something on TMZ.  For the record, they've lead the way in robbing celebrities (who are people, too) of their privacy by paying kids with cameras (okay 20 somethings, but still) to stalk famous people and take pictures of them picking their noses, eating fast food, or simply walking.

But, never say never.

Years ago there was an Oprah Winfrey show that left me with a question.  It was a show about domestic violence.  If I remember correctly, most of the guests were survivors or family members of women who'd been killed by their partners.  One guest was a woman who appeared with her husband. (I think it was her husband) He had tried to kill her.  They were reconciled.  He was working on his anger.

Before this woman and her husband appeared, the message was clear that a woman in a relationship with a physically abusive man needs to get the hell out. (Yes, there are lots of other forms of abuse, but that's for another day).  Then, the woman who'd chosen to stay came on as one of the last guests.  She sat there and explained how her husband, who was sitting right next to her, had strangled her and screamed at her.  She believed in that moment that he would kill her.

I sensed an awkwardness just hanging in the air as this woman explained how she feared him, but loved him, and understood his demons.  She was willing to stand by him.

A the time I was struck with a question.  Is it realistic to say that all men who beat women should be left behind, ran from, and denied the hope of sexual intimacy?  In this scenario, a man who hits a woman would have to remain celibate for life.  If we as a society have a no return policy on perpetrators of domestic violence, then we're encouraging men to lie and to deny that they've struggled with this.

Imagine that a man tells a woman that he hit his former partner, sought counseling, and has worked through those demons.  But she is an "emotionally healthy," self-possessed woman who will not allow herself to ever be with a man who would hit a woman.  Where does this man go?  Does he lie to her and pretend his past never happened?  Does he seek out desperate, "emotionally unhealthy" women, who are willing to date a reformed abuser?

We live in strange times.  Part of me thinks that we have to make room for people to change and to reinvent themselves.  How can we breathe if there's no hope for change?

Then I saw this and was horrified.  I was horrified.  After he punched her, after he lifted her limp body and dropped her face down on the ground, he kicked her calves as if irritated that she was in the way of the elevator doors.  At first when I watched it I thought that maybe Ray Rice believed his then fiancee was overreacting or pretending.

But even when it became clear that she'd passed out, he didn't help her.  She slowly came to and it appears she was crying.  He stood a part from her, several feet away watching.  Maybe they told him to stay away from her.  I don't know.

What I do know is that Janay went on to marry him.

Recently, she expressed her views on social media.  She's mad at us for sticking our nose into other people's business.  She's mad at us for caring.  For being appalled.  Mad that he lost his dream job.  Sure, some of this is about politics.  But what is it that can make a man treat any human being with such utter disregard.  And what is it in her that keeps her from being able to hold him accountable?

And what is it in me that wants to believe in everyone even the abusers?  It's one thing to watch a talk show and tell myself that there's hope for everyone.

But watching Ray Rice beat up and toss around the love his life made a little bit of my hope for humanity slip away.