The fireworks are being purchased in anticipation of seeing pretty colorful explosions. A momentary retreat for big people, and for children, memories in the making. I cannot begrudge anyone their moment of peace… to be lost in bright halos.
While our earth quakes with fever, then weeps and vomits fire, and while Mother Nature convulses in her sleep, the search continues for ‘unabtainium’ on floating astroids and Mars … The beginnings of Terrestrial colonization…
Are we numb? Paralyzed with fear? Doubt filled? Apathetic? Hopeful? Wanting to remain neutral/politically correct?
But Churches are burning! Though no one is talking about it much..people are being hunted, communities are being dismantled, the gaps between the haves and the have nots widens, bigots and narcissists jockey for the highest office in the land to rule over people and objects pillaged from near and far. And the most distinguishing feature of many of these new would-be leaders is their collective lack of integrity.
“They hasten forward to Hell Fire and mistake it for light” (Gleanings)
Enjoy the 4th … Carefully
In this video, Dr. Joy DeGruy Flawlessly Demolishes the Myth That Slavery Has No Impact on Today’s World.
While this feels painfully futile, my broken heart and weighty concerns move me to write I guess, in a feeble attempt to wake the sleeping to an imminent tragedy.
This problem of ‘racism’ a problem dangerously underestimated in its magnitude “allowed to drift” by the governed and governors alike” is building in its severity and now visibly threatens the lives of people of African descent specifically and eventually all of the people of this country.
‘Freedom’ the moral foundation upon which the county is built, has been co-opted by human barbarism, arrogance, vanity and excess.
The violence against African Americans is neither new nor isolated. The assaults which too many of us have witnessed or experienced directly are systematic and brutal involving the Federal Government, Law Enforcement, Long standing Vigilante Terrorists and powerful Political Groups and Organizations among others!
“Crimes against humanity are certain acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population. The first prosecution for crimes against humanity took place at the Nuremberg Trials. Crimes against humanity have since been prosecuted by other international courts.
They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities (tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority.)
Murder; massacres; dehumanization; extermination; human experimentation; extrajudicial punishments; death squads; military use of children; kidnappings; unjust imprisonment; slavery; cannibalism, torture; rape; political, racial, or religious persecution; and other inhumane acts may reach the threshold of crimes against humanity if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice.”
From capture, rape, beating, torture, mutilation, medical experimentation and lynching, to murder by police, mass incarceration, serial displacement, and vigilante terrorism.
There is a preponderance of evidence that there has been and continues to be widespread perpetual assault against African Americans.
Crimes which need to be tried in the ‘World Courts’
Are you awake?
It is 6:00 am and I’ve just finished packing. I’m headed home after having presented to over 300 students from Clark Atlanta University at The Robert W. Woodruff Library on my birthday
It was truly my dream audience…young, enthusiastic, gifted African American college students.
I admired them more than they could imagine. They came out to hear me and stayed long after to converse with me about numerous topics. I was thrilled to see so many eager and bright minds willing and quite capable of taking their places as leaders as some of the legendary civil rights heroes that were in the room had done decades earlier.
I wish that more of us could see these remarkable youth instead of the constant barrage of negative images that are paraded across mainstream media.
Black Roses all of them tenderly nurtured and growing. What greater gift could I have received than that of priceless hope and boundless potentialities surrounding me in the form of these precious ‘trusts’?
Thank you Imara and Hermione and Summer for your help and just the hang!
Going home to my man…I really love saying that lol!!!
If you can’t beat them, be them!
When I began my research on multigenerational trauma and African Americans I reached out to a mentor and colleague, Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Braveheart. I had read several of her articles about historical trauma about the impact of colonialism on Native people and the unresolved grief that they continue to suffer with. I had never seen or spoken with Maria so when she answered the phone from her office in Colorado I secretly wonder if she was well. . . REALLY. . Native. We shared our initial niceties’ and being the amazing person that she is she abruptly said: “You’re wondering if I’m a real Indian” she laughed and said: yes Joy I’m a real Indian and I even look Indian!”
Maria instantly knew what I was thinking and feeling because she like many of us had encountered the white person suddenly declaring their Indian blood.
I cannot count the numerous times that I’ve met a blond haired blue eyed person that suddenly discovered they possessed a smidgeon of Indian blood and promptly went out and purchased turquoise jewelry, braided their hair, and showed up at Tribal headquarters. I spoke with many of my Native friends about this “suddenly Indian” phenomenon and they acquainted me with literature that clarified things for me. I will share a little with you!
What about non-Indians who claim to be descended from Indian princesses?
In an excerpt from Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto, Native American, Vine Deloria Jr. explains the phenomenon:
During my three years as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians it was a rare day when some white didn’t visit my office and proudly proclaim that he or she was of Indian descent.
Cherokee was the most popular tribe of their choice and many people placed the Cherokees anywhere from Maine to Washington State. Mohawk, Sioux, and Chippewa were next in popularity. Occasionally, I would be told about some mythical tribe from lower Pennsylvania, Virginia, or Massachusetts which had spawned the white standing before me.
At times I became quite defensive about being a Sioux when these white people had a pedigree that was so much more respectable than mine. But eventually I came to understand their need to identify as partially Indian and did not resent them. I would confirm their wildest stories about their Indian ancestry and would add a few tales of my own hoping that they would be able to accept themselves someday and leave us alone.
Whites claiming Indian blood generally tend to reinforce mythical beliefs about Indians. All but one person I met who claimed Indian blood claimed it on their grandmother’s side. I once did a projection backward and discovered that evidently most tribes were entirely female for the first three hundred years of white occupation. No one, it seemed, wanted to claim a male Indian as a forebear.
It doesn’t take much insight into racial attitudes to understand the real meaning of the Indian grandmother complex that plagues certain whites. A male ancestor has too much of the aura of the savage warrior, the unknown primitive, the instinctive animal, to make him a respectable member of the family tree. But a young Indian princess? Ah, there was royalty for the taking. Somehow the white was linked with a noble house of gentility and culture if his grandmother was an Indian princess who ran away with an intrepid pioneer. And royalty has always been an unconscious but all-consuming goal of the European immigrant.
The early colonists, accustomed to life under benevolent despots, projected their understanding of the European political structure onto the Indian tribe in trying to explain its political and social structure. European royal houses were closed to ex-convicts and indentured servants, so the colonists made all Indian maidens princesses, then proceeded to climb a social ladder of their own creation. Within the next generation, if the trend continues, a large portion of the American population will eventually be related to Powhattan.
While a real Indian grandmother is probably the nicest thing that could happen to a child, why is a remote Indian princess grandmother so necessary for many whites? Is it because they are afraid of being classed as foreigners? Do they need some blood tie with the frontier and its dangers in order to experience what it means to be an American? Or is it an attempt to avoid facing the guilt they bear for the treatment of the Indian?
Vine Deloria Jr. Author, Theologian, Historian and Activist (1933 – 2005
Privilege at its Worse. . .
On October 25, 1994 Susan Smith, a full on psychopath was able to engage the nation in an emotional frenzy enlisting law enforcement to launch a national man hunt for a fictitious black man she claimed had abducted her 3 year old and 14 month old sons. She
Tearfully pleaded on national television for the black assailant to return her innocent children. Sketches of the abductor were quickly produced and two black suspects were eventually identified.
This woman was treacherous and barbaric enough to murder her own children by strapping them into their car seats and drowning them in a nearby lake. No human being does not anguish over the terror they must have experienced. But how did she, garner such power? The simple answer is “white privilege.”
We are truly living in strange and bizarre times and my guess is that we are going to see a whole lot more odd behaviors. Recently a white woman claimed to be black the irony of this story is . . .wait for it. . . wait for it . . . she would likely be able to use her white privilege to win her claim in a court of law today.
What I see is an increasing and dangerous obsession with the physical body some might offer the ‘fear of death’ as a causal factor proffering the ultimate human conflict of mortality as the main protagonist in this drama.
I feel like I’m living somewhere between the Wizard of Oz and the storybook village of the Emperors New Clothes. The cord has been pulled back and I can see the sad frightened man hiding behind the curtain and the naked man convinced he has on clothes.
I understand the Wizard and the Emperor but I am bound for another place, a place perhaps even more difficult to imagine or believe exists, the real Never, Never Land, a place called. . . Reality!
My trip to Morocco Africa and Barcelona Spain was truly inspiring where the old, new, and ancient combine to produce a picturesque map of history. Both places share legacies of conquests, colonization, disruption, rebuilding and renewal.
Once again, I was in Africa and once again I touched the soil of the mysterious continent that I so love and long for.
Moroccan culture is a blend of Indigenous Berber, Sub-Saharan African, Arab and European influences. Intensely proud, courageous and desperate.
Barcelona founded around the third century BC. said to be named after the father of Hannibal, (Hamilcar Barca) then taken by Rome in the Middle Ages.
Spain is populated by people of Catalonia from Pakistan, Italy, China, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Morocco. There is a tacit awareness of the cultural tug-of-war that exists but space is given to those “different” to move and live though cautiously.
Both countries richly diverse yet still struggling with issues of cultural identity and inclusion. But these tensions are hardly noticeable to the unfamiliar tourist on the ground.
My crew were well received wherever we went the few wary looks we received came only from fellow tourists.
Back home I am still glowing with the warmth of my trip but soon greeted with the all too familiar social ills of America, fresh new cases of violence, racism and your garden variety craziness. The tensions are palpable yet the denial still looming high.
I’m reminded of repeated warnings to America that if the racial issues between black and white people are
allowed to drift…
“…it will, cause the streets of American cities to run with blood…” ~Citadel of Faith~
Can any honest observer not see the evidence of our neglect? The decades of racial upheavals? The literal blood running through the streets as a direct result of real structural, institutional and unbridled racism?
Ask the families of Emmet Till, Martin Luther King Jr, Medgar Evers, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott and the countless other families of black men, women, and children whose blood has literally flowed in the street…they will tell you the truth that far too many have ignored or denied.
Perhaps we have grown so accustomed to seeing ‘black blood’ being spilled this tragedy has gone unnoticed. We stand on the precipice with change in reach, a paradigmatic shift in how we engage one another as unique beings on this planet is perceptible still “Travail and sorrow” awaits.
It is always darkest just before the dawn and in anticipation of tomorrow’s sunrise the birds have begun to sing.
It is time to arise!
See Joy interviewed in the documentary BOUND: Africans vs African Americans.
I was born in 1957 and in just a few days I’ll be 57 the age my mother was when she died. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been feeling so much and paying such close attention to things going on around me and in the world.
I’ve been thinking about my children and other people’s children, hearing about many of the national and global challenges facing us. I can see and even hear the groaning of the earth that is truly weary of us…
And I wonder if we have adequately prepared the ones coming after us…to take the helm. I am so exhilarated by their energy and visions of the future. Their knowledge and artistry their courage and tenacity!
What a world they have inherited so advanced and fantastic capable of such marvelous things and yet always in need of heroes and heroines to rescue it, a world seemingly always on the line between shadow and light teetering on the edge of the precipice…
I rode my bike 10 miles today and smiled as the wind cooled me from the California sun and drought, letting me forget about the fires raging nearby… All the while listening to Roberta Flack sing “The first time ever I saw your face”
So here is My birthday wish to those to whom I have clumsily handed the baton:
Stay vigilant. Commune, serve and teach daily, be Keepers of the music! Know that laughter is therapeutic, love and care for yourselves and others, and find someone to walk life’s path with.
Remember what so many of us have forgotten… That ‘Love’ is the boundless power that creates, and restores, that holds us and binds together the atoms in the universe, without composition and therefore indestructible.
Because of love you will never be alone.
Be Still and Know . . .
My plate is full and the tasks ahead are swirling about me. Some how something told me to stop! To be still and what appeared before me and inside of me was a memory of quiet peace and knowing. It came like a tender kiss on my cheek and a warm breeze reminding me of what’s most important . . . love made visible through our “efforts and endings”.
Bill Moyers interviews Khalil Muhammad on Facing our Racial Past.
The Truth is a Single Point
“Knowledge is but one point, but the ignorant have multiplied it.”
(The Seven Valleys p. 25,)
I was explaining to a friend the other day about Kuhn’s concept of the structure of scientific revolutions. I was most focused on the idea of how paradigm shifts occur. It seems that human beings are so resistant to change they will behave in most peculiar ways when faced with information that conflicts with their limited experience and understanding. For example Giordano Bruno was tortured and burned to death for his beliefs about an expansive universe. Others with great genius are demonized or deliberately removed from western literature like Imhotep, the African responsible for the world’s first known monumental stone building, the step pyramid, and the father of medicine.
Even when faced with clear and undeniable facts, human beings avoid truths that frighten them. When was the last time you were at a meeting where ash trays were on the table and individuals liberally lit up cigarettes? I can still remember being in such meetings. Today, there would be such a collective outrage that no one dares expose people to such blatant health dangers. But what does it take for a change in beliefs and actions to occur? It is clearly not enough to simply share a few facts and evidence alone. No, there needs to be a preponderance of evidence! In other words, so much evidence it is impossible to refute. This knowledge becomes so profound and pervasive it forces a paradigm shift in our thinking and eventually in our actions and behavior.
While sleepless in Minnesota, I decided to look at my emails. Two people had sent me messages addressing identical issues with links to several entirely different videos on the topic of structural inequalities historically imposed on African Americans in general, and black men specifically. The videos featured men and women, white and black people, scholars, journalists, actors, and even an astrophysicist. And they were all saying the same thing about race and racism in America.
Could it be that the non-colored masses in America have finally awakened to a truth so painfully obvious and conspicuously clear to people of color? Is it possible that a dimly perceptible shift is occurring in the thinking of white people in America about racism? While I am encouraged, I am well aware of how long it took humanity to except the fact that the earth was not the center of the universe and how many millions of deaths from smoking occurred before the tobacco industry admitted what they had always known about the dangers of smoking. And now there’s the whole global warming debate that is ratcheting up and all the while the planet is screaming ‘save me!’
I stand with so many that are exhausted with raising the truth about racism and the harm it engenders to every corner of this country from colleges and universities, to corporations and prisons, from the U.S. Senate to pulpits, from palaces to street corners. I digress…. Maybe it’s my lack of sleep or, the frustrating realization that some still have a choice as to whether they will acknowledge, deny, pervert, or simply ignore the truth . I will not, I cannot…
How about you?
A Sign of the Times
I was sitting in a play when I got the call from my son that the verdict was in and I could tell that he was not okay. I left my seat and went into the lobby to try to figure out what to say to him. This would be a moment that all of us would never forget. The tons of responses, the anguish and protests surged to a boiling point and the pot is still simmering. Many have described a feeling of being caught off guard but I think that we were all caught forgetting; forgetting ourselves and forgetting our history.”
Standing just south of the stars and stripes are a people that have been long suffering, tortured, and despised. We move and act as if we don’t believe that this is so. We go on with our daily lives trying to convince ourselves that the past doesn’t matter anymore, that we are safe now. Perhaps it is the middle class neighborhood or the level of education that provides this thin veneer of confidence to some. I will not muddy the waters by adding yet another assessment of the case or, the particulars surrounding it. I grieved as a mother and as a stranger too far away to know what the real grief felt like.
A family seeking and deserving justice became pawns in a chess game they never even knew that they were playing. To add my opinion to the discussion now would be fruitless, it is like participating in that dreaded taskforce meeting to discuss the reasons for the taskforce meeting in order to determine the actual task of the taskforce meeting, never to actually complete the task at all. Most of us have “been there” before in some form or fashion and it is a waste of time and, in this case, a waste of life.
Americans have been breast-fed on racism, it goes down with the milk and we react with surprise when we see the evidences of it in the world and in our own lives. We are riding on the great Titanic that is America and we refuse to believe we are going down. Shame on us! Our children need much more than what we are giving them. We have irresponsibly sent them into a battlefield of a raging war with no armor . Yet we prepare them for school; we prepare them for sports, and prepare them for work. In a word, we are responsible for preparing them for life!
However, if we are to be good stewards of the young, and the caring parents, and mature adults that our children so need in their village, we cannot simply prepare them for the ordinary tasks. We must also prepare them to withstand the onslaught of terrorism, lawlessness, hatred, and moral decay that has become very much a part of the world that they are inheriting. People are asking me what I am personally doing about the growing crisis; I see everyone putting their fingers and toes into America’s cracking dike all the while calling out to me saying, “Dr. Joy! Come put your fingers in the dike to help hold back the water coming through!”
I tell them that I cannot. I offer them support and encouragement in their task,but I refuse to place my fingers and toes in a dike that is beyond repair.
I am, together with others, attempting to build a whole new edifice to hold back the flood of racism that is, and has always been, upon us. The new structure needs all of our help to build and requires better materials; it is built of unwavering commitment, and it comes from knowledge and wisdom, skill, unquenchable enthusiasm, organization and fearlessness.
Every great civilization has its beginning, its peak, and inevitably, its fall. The question is… what time is it for America? What are the signs telling us? The answer to this question will determine the course we all must take. Still, amidst the recent turmoil, the outrage and alarm, the victims and their victimizers, the steady stream of uprisings and sorrow over all that was lost, a ray of light appeared for me in an unanticipated place and at the perfect moment in time.
I received a text from my 10-year-old grandson. He had sent me a picture of a lizard, because he really loves lizards. He was excited to have seen it with its colorful markings before it darted away to a place of safety. It had paused just long enough for him to snap the picture like a beacon, to remind people like me that it is not over! Beauty and horror coexist together and somehow we survive.
I found myself between two worlds- that of a national and global crisis on the brink of exploding, and the world of a ten year old boy that still sees the order and charm in the chaos. A boy whose hopes and dreams are ever present and growing, whose heart remains unsullied by the ugliness that is all around him, and in spite of the common history that binds the tyrant and the downtrodden.
This little struggling creature was a reminder and a cautionary message that we all must hold on like the many heroes and champions from long ago whose blood now courses through my sweet grandson’s very veins.
I wrote back to him and said, “Yes Nasir! Indeed it is a beautiful lizard.”
The following is an essay that Joy’s 10 year old great grand nephew wrote and wanted to share.
In my opinion a strong woman is someone who helps people, someone who fights for what is right in spite of obstacles, and someone who is full of courage. The dictionary definition of strong is having force or authority or having strength greater than average. I believe Dr. Joy DeGruy is a strong woman because she has displayed many of these qualities in her life and most of all through her research and work.
Dr. DeGruy is a nationally and internationally renowned researcher, author, and educator. She is a clinician by training and has a P.H.D in social work research. She is a pioneer in her field, and her research is on “multi generational trauma particularly as it relates to African American people.”
Based on her work and research, she published a book that spoke of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS). In my interview with her, Dr. DeGruy explains that PTSS is “about multi generational trauma that began with the enslavement of African people in the 1600 and the kinds of mental, emotional and physical traumas that they experienced, that they passed along some of those traumas, some of the behaviors or the symptoms of those traumas to their children…” Her work has helped African American people and people working with African Americans learn about these traumas and understand some of the behaviors without “dismissing or prejudging them.”
According to Dr. DeGruy “PTSS identifies how people (African Americans) have been deeply injured mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for over hundreds of years.” Dr. DeGruy explains that her research on PTSS helps African Americans understand their “intrinsic value, worth, and nobility as human beings” and “helps them move beyond those feelings of low self esteem.”
Dr. DeGruy helps people because she says it’s her strong spiritual belief that as a member of the Baha’i faith it is one of her responsibilities to help people. She also says that she is fulfilling her purpose in life through her work by helping others.
She inspires me because she has opened the way to a new way of thinking about trauma related to African Americans and she is trying to help heal the wounds of African Americans that have happened over many generations.
I am very proud of her.
She is courageous to speak of this subject even though it is very hard for many people to understand especially about what has been going on in the history of African American people. She hasn’t stopped and I don’t think she will stop for a very long time.
Dr. DeGruy is also family and she is one of my favorite great aunts.
“Right temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
It is after midnight and I have returned home from an exhausting but memorable journey. The day started with a road trip to South Carolina to speak at the Anderson County Ministers Organizations annual MLK celebration. I volunteered to speak on behalf of the United Negro College Fund. I listened to the Youth Choir sing and stood with the audience as we sang the Black National Anthem together. As I waited my turn to speak my thoughts drifted back to earlier in the day and the inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama. I listened to an older and liberated Commander and Chief who, from all appearances, was finally having his say.
I was struck by the hopefulness, the diversity, and united excitement as I watched a spellbound crowd look on in awe at what seemed a frozen moment in history. An African American man serving a second term as President of the United States was indeed historical. Yet here I was in South Carolina, the only State that 236 years ago refused to vote to end slavery at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, allowing the enslavement and suffering of millions of Africans to continue, while insisting that they be allowed to count the enslaved as residents in order to garner more political power to continue their barbaric practice.
I wondered how many of the people in this audience of over a thousand were aware of their State’s history. Somehow I sensed a disconnect; it was as if the several different generations in the room were unaware of what linked them together. I thought perhaps I could help to bridge the gap by showing a common thread, which bound the past with the present and the future. A tall order to fulfill in a twenty-minute keynote address and a far greater challenge for me than any talk I had ever delivered.
I felt heaviness in my heart as I looked at the film footage of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I wondered how he managed to carry on when he was tired and afraid. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledged the long fought battles for freedom, the ceaseless struggle and refusal to give up even in the face of death. Still I have never felt such dissonance; on the one hand I am grateful for those who stood in the rifle cites and on the other hand I am painfully aware of the tenuous tightrope of justice and freedom my children and grandchildren now walk.
Reminiscing, I remembered my grandmother, how her face lit up each time she looked at me as if I were the greatest gift she had ever received and I knew from the start that I was loved and that there was much expected of me. Now I was being introduced and what I thought was going to be a simple reading of the short bio in the printed program turned into an embarrassing recitation of my resume, the result of way too much information online. I begged the MC to intervene but I just had to grin and bear it. It felt pretentious and boastful and I shrank with every extraordinarily long minute.
I approached the podium looked out into the crowd and knew instantly that I was not going to show a single slide of my fully prepared power point presentation. This night I was going to simply share my story. It is no mystery how I became a story teller and it all began one hot summer day when we were playing baseball in our back yard. I was too small to hold the bat so daddy would bat for me and I would run the bases. We were taking a break, mama brought out lemonade and daddy was standing in the sun leaning on his bat when he suddenly began to recite the famous baseball poem “Casey at the Bat.” I lost all awareness of anything or anyone, I could only see Daddy, Casey, and all of the people in the stands. I was transported to another place and time and in that moment the trajectory of my life changed and the rest is history.
It has been a long and amazing day and I am empty. I look forward to a restful sleep that will replenish my strength and spirit so that tomorrow I will be fit to serve with distinction and courage, whatever the challenge.
Some say, and many believe, that with this presidential election America has been granted a brief reprieve, a second chance to get it right, and to heal; to keep at bay retribution for her unresolved sins. . . I suppose that remains to be seen.
Remembering. . .
No matter who you are, or what your beliefs, no one can deny the tender stirrings each of us feels every single time we hear Nat King Cole Sing “The Christmas Song: Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.” It’s not just the song, or even the words.It is the spirit embodied by that melodious and unmistakable voice which moves us all; regardless of our backgrounds, experience, class or race, music indeed ‘levels’ the playing field because it is a language that everyone can understand. Like prayer, whether performed by kneeling, bowing or standing, with hands clasped together, or palms facing upward, whether they are said in silence, whispered, spoken or sung they communicate the same sense of devotion and faith. Those that engage in worship may do so in different ways but they share a uniquely singular yet collective reverence for a beloved and cherished “Unseen.”
December 9th 2012 would be the first time I had ever attended the Oregon Symphony’s Gospel Christmas program. This was also the first year that African American families participating in a local Portland program focused on healing the black family, were invited to attend. Although most of the families we had invited to the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall had likely passed by the venue at one time or another, most of the families had never had the opportunity to attend an event there or witness the Oregon Symphony live. The black families most likely had seen the lines of mostly white people herding in from all directions, neatly attired in sparkly dresses and tuxedos purchased just for such occasions. They may have even been bumped into by more than a few of the symphony goers hurrying into the grand hall oblivious of the passers by.
Tonight however they were among the invited guests to the symphony. And they arrived beautifully dressed, excited, and with anticipation of a wonderful evening. Still one could detect uneasiness in them as they looked around at the blank gazes coming from people that seemed surprised to see them there. Some more regular Symphony attendees even appeared startled by the presence of these black families;looking confused as if they were seeing a picture out of place. The discomfort the families were feeling began to wane asmore familiar faces arrived. One by one the families began to warmly greet, laugh, and talk – hardly conscious of the droves of regular attendees among them, some with diamond necklaces and rings with stones so large, they could hardly go unobserved; much the point I imagine.
Once inside, the music started everyone drifted into quiet listening. The Conductor was the accomplished composer and performer Charles Floyd, an African American man originally from Chicago. He lifted his baton in the customary fashion and the repertoire of gospel classics that followed would take the audience on a magical journey.
Mr. Floyd had enlisted some of the local black talent of Portland many of whom were very accomplished vocalists, composers and musicians in their own right and their performance was nothing short of amazing and brilliant!
Now our black families felt very much at home; the music transported them to a familiar and safe place so they stood up from their seats, closed their eyes and held their hands high as they listened, unconcerned and scarcely aware of those around them. Soon I began to see more of them sprinkled throughout the hall standing like the only remaining trees that had survived a major storm, bending and swaying with the wind instead of being broken by it. They clapped and shouted in the customary black call and response tradition.
My family sat together in the balcony, where my 2 year old granddaughter and my 9 month old grandson delighted in joining in with everyone by clapping their tiny little hands at the conclusion of each song. more people continued to rise from their seats to rock back and forth to the music. When my family stood and clapped during, not after, the songs, people seated in the row ahead would often look back as if puzzled by our spontaneous applause and began nervously whispering back and forth to one another.
At first I thought they were becoming annoyed with the animation coming from our row, but I noticed that they were cautiously looking about the room and after a while they each slowly began to stand up and clap, some even began to sing along. It appeared their nervous looks and chatter was their search for “permission” to act outside of their norm. They were hoping for something that would sanction them to express outwardly, what they were feeling inwardly. No doubt for many, this was both a cultural and religious anomaly, a huge departure from their typical Sunday worship service where one’s demeanor is to reflect a quiet coolness of manner especially when the choir sings.
About midway through “Go Tell it on the Mountain” nearly everyone was on their feet clapping, singing, and swaying. The soloist knew how to bring us all home and that is precisely what she did! Even the unusually ‘composed’ Conductor could not conceal his emotions as he struggled to speak.
We in that room shared a truth that evening, a truth which challenged the rhetoric of inferiority and superiority, of belief and unbelief, of fear and of courage. Yet it will likely go undisclosed and remain a secret held by the seasoned ticket holders still wary of the disapproval of their kith and kin.
But not to worry, as MLK said:
“Truth temporarily defeated will always be stronger than evil triumphant”
Today I reflect on that wonderful shared experience of music and spirit in light of tragedies occurring at home and abroad and I am grateful for that evening, where the ravages of disease, the defilement of women and girls, the murder of little children, and all the harsh ugliness of the world, was kept at bay. . . if only for a short while.
Two very distinctly different yet moving things happened to me today, I was on my way back home and to avoid the freeway traffic, I took the streets. It was a wise decision. The streets were clear for the most part, the sun was going down, and I enjoyed the cool breeze flowing in from the windows as I drove.
There were about two cars in front of me so I slowed down slightly and suddenly to my right was a woman that looked to be middle aged with a weathered face as red as a beet glaring at me. She seemed enraged and extended her middle finger in my window followed by the profane word that defined her gesture. I was startled but un-moved by her behavior as it was quite clear even, in the brief moment of passing her, that she was not ‘all there.’ It was obvious that she was directing her anger toward me, but her eyes seemed fixed on something else as if she was looking through me at an adversary just beyond or behind me.
I would describe her glare as a look of madness as opposed to anger. After about a block or so I decided to turn around to observe if she continued to be agitated and indeed she was. Only now she was babbling to herself and walking rapidly. Just ahead I saw a group of children moving in her direction so I slowed and distracted her long enough for the children to pass escaping her attention.
I wasn’t sure what more I should do, after all, she could have been inebriated or simply peeved at someone. But maybe it was something more, something that might lead her to step in front of a car or the light rail track, or push someone else in front of one. I decided to call the police and share what I had witnessed and leave it to their discretion to act or not. I was not trying to “be a good citizen” and report any unusual activity or behavior.I was acting out of my gut, advice may father gave me long ago. “Trust your gut Joy,” he would say, “it might save your life one day.”
I was thinking about what had just occurred as I arrived home. I was deciding whether to write about it when I noticed a huge dragon fly on the sidewalk directly in front of me. This was not my first close encounter with a dragon fly; last summer one had flown into my car window and frantically zoomed around my head until I pulled the car over jumped out and spent the next ten minutes trying to shoo it out of any one of my four open doors.
This one was struggling and buzzing around on the ground but unable to fly. It wasn’t nearly as large as the one that graced my Camry, but is was far more beautiful with brightly colored yellow, green and black markings. I tried to startle it into flight so no one would step on it, but it tumbled over and over until once again landing on its tiny legs fluttering nervously. I leaned down to see if it had broken a wing but they seemed to be moving perfectly. Then it dawned on me, what possible difference would it make whether the wings were injured or the legs were broken? There was absolutely nothing I could or likely would do about it either way.
I saw two small boys just on the other side of the street and I considered calling them so they could come and see the beautiful and quite spectacular but wounded dragon fly. Then I remembered what the small boys in my neighborhood did to little defenseless creatures and I decided to pass on that idea. As I walked away I felt – albeit only slightly- ‘defeated.’
Pondering the two events now I am startled by my presumptuousness. Who am I to assume that the angry woman had no justifiable right to her own anger? And even if her anger toward me didn’t seem reasonable, it is still her right. As for the beautiful and delicate dragon fly, everything that lives ultimately dies. The dragon fly, unlike humans, cannot act outside of the bounds of nature, so things were as they should be in the world of my little winged friend and how arrogant of me to even imagine that I had any power or need to change the course of the life of even this tiny creature.
I have joined the ranks of what is considered “mature adults” and I am accorded the respect and privileges that is culturally due someone of my age due to a conferred accumulated learning. There is a familiar saying that youth is often wasted on the young; perhaps an equal truth is that wisdom is sometimes wasted on the old.
No worries though, there’s also room for those like me who fall somewhere between youth and wisdom, glad I had today… one more day… to learn and grow!
Honest and direct conversations about race are long overdue. For some the conversation is new and challenging and for others it is an everyday fact of life, both necessary and on-going. Our history is filled with men and women that have advanced the discussion about race, racism and structural inequalities. They have been ex-slaves and ex-slave owners, they have been poor and wealthy, educated and illiterate, all having advanced the conversation in their own way and suffered the consequences for broaching the topic.
Today those of us able to see through the sterile manufactured “diversity” misled populace, have begun to challenge the conventional thinking regarding institutional racism and its attendant destructiveness. Glenn Singleton has addressed the issue through the program he has developed called “Courageous Conversation” with a specific focus upon building effective approaches and skills to eliminate racial disparities in education.
We are a long way from achieving equity and social justice so let’s all join the conversation!
*In October 2012, Dr. Joy will be a keynote speaker at “The Summit for Courageous Conversation 2012” in San Antonio, Texas.
My Son recently showed me a video of Tupac Shakur as a hologram performing on stage with Snoop Dogg. The concert was happening at a place where Tupac had never performed and clearly at a time when he was no longer alive. It is amazing what technology can do. However, I will offer a cautionary note.
I remember when Bo Derek, the star of the movie “10”, was credited with creating “corn row” braiding. I remember another time when, in a documentary on the history and origins of Jazz Music, Wynton Marsalis, finding it difficult to maintain his composure, identified a white musician who claimed that he originated jazz.
We are living in a time when the distortions of truth abound and, perhaps more alarming, the distortions of our human reality. We have accepted violence as a natural and expected function of life. We continue to normalize cruelty and dishonesty to the extent that we have to create laws or movements to protect ourselves against bullies and those who insist that they have the right to “stand their ground.”
But what is to be said about “Virtues”? Where do kindness, trustworthiness, integrity and justice stand in these times? And what values do reverence, loyalty and courtesy hold today? What are we telling our children about these qualities? Not only have we bought whole heartedly into the notion that “the emperor has clothes on”, we have begun to build expertise around the quality of the fabric and how well the clothes fit! And if anyone dare question these distortions of reality, they are branded irrelevant, lost in the past, biased, and/or irrational.
This blind following is a much greater problem than you might suspect, and it is sapping our hearts and crippling our global village. This world is full of breath taking images of nature in all of its beauty, vast space, and yet undiscovered mysteries all made up of ‘matter’ and destined to eventually decompose and transform into something different, amazing, and incredible to see… like Tupac performing alive. Yet un-alive.
Just remember it’s only a hologram!