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“You did it my ni**a!”

The April 30th, 2016 White House Correspondent’s Dinner, also playfully known as #nerdprom, highlighted several key milestones for President Obama. Since 2009, he has been bringing the funny to this historic event, and last night he was his usual funny self. At this social gathering, often looked to as the “night off” for journalists and their guests, President Obama, in all of his basketball enthusiasm, took a line from Kobe Bryant when he closed his last White House Correspondent’s Dinner with “Obama out!” and dropped the mic.

Larry Wilmore, comedian and host of The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, had a really hard act to follow.. After President Obama, Wilmore found other targets rather than the usual suspect—Donald Trump—he turned a good portion of this jokes to Ted Cruz as the Zodiac Killer, he sprinkled in some Trump jokes and he lambasted MSNBC, which he said, “actually now stands for ‘missing a significant number of Black correspondents.’” for getting rid of too many of its Black journalists. He was honest and he was funny.

Wilmore ended his speech and the correspondent’s dinner praising President Obama in a serious and sobering moment that allowed all of us to reflect on what Obama’s presidency actually really means. Wilmore said, “All jokes aside, let me

(Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)  President Barack Obama speaks during the White House Correspondents' Association annual dinner on April 30, 2016 at the Washington Hilton hotel in Washington, DC.

(Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama speaks during the White House Correspondents’ Association annual dinner on April 30, 2016 at the Washington Hilton hotel in Washington, DC.

just say how much it means for me to be here tonight.” He added, “I’ve always joked that I voted for the president because he’s Black. But, behind that joke is the humble appreciation for the historical implications for what your presidency means.” Wilmore continued, “When I was a kid, I lived in a country where people couldn’t accept a Black quarterback. Now think about that. A Black man was thought by his mere color not good enough to lead a football team. And now to live in your time, Mr. President, when a Black man can lead the entire free world.” After the applause ended, he concluded by saying, “Words alone do me no justice. So, Mr. President, if I’m going to keep it 100,” the cliffhanging line he let dangle in the air of the moment as he did the pre-dap* chest pound, he ended with, “Yo, Barry, you did it, my nigga! You did it.”

Did he just say that? Turn the camera to President Obama, quick! I have to see his reaction!

President Obama showed all of his teeth and received Larry Wilmore’s sentiment by returning the chest pound and the dap*.

Nigga.

The one word that has polarized this nation since its race-infused beginning was delivered by Larry Wilmore to President Obama and received by the president in exactly the way in which it was understood between two Black men—two Black men who I know understand the ugly and vile manner that it has possibly been directed to them whereas, when delivered between the two of them, it is akin to love and acceptance.

The uncomfortableness of the moment, I felt. I knew that white privilege would have a hard time digesting what Wilmore said for many reasons: the fact that historically whenever Black men and people have been called “nigga” it has always been in the most disgusting, humiliating and dehumanizing ways, and because it was viewed as disrespectful to all of America to refer to the President in that manner especially for the world to hear. I understood the uncomfortableness.

But, I also understood what Larry Wilmore meant, especially when he prefaced his closing to President Obama by talking about the historical implications of an Obama presidency. I feel that Larry Wilmore was attempting to send a message to the masses, who in their anger and in the privacy of their minds and home may have defaulted to using that very same word to denigrate President Obama. But, not on this night. In the lexicon of Black vernacular, the most disgusting word in the world was the bond and the bridge of familiarity connecting Wilmore and Obama in the Black [American] experience that has been produced as a result of America’s unyielding system of white supremacy.

For some words, they will never really be “beautiful” or “positive,” and they will carry a double standard in which some groups will understand its “necessary” use. And, other groups will forever be linked to the uncomfortableness of it.

*a dap is the cool way in which Black men greet one another that involves the use of handshakes and embraces–now it is a universal greeting.

Congressman John Lewis Needs No Defense, But…

On Thursday February 11th, 2016, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) chose to endorse former Secretary of State and presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton over Senator and presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders. Congressman John Lewis, born of February 21st, 1940 in Troy Alabama, has chosen to support her as well.

That is his right.

No sooner than the endorsement of Hillary Clinton had come from the ranks of the CBC did the “innanet” start buzzing. When Congressman Lewis was asked about Senator Sanders’ involvement in the Civil Rights Movement from a reporter in the audience, Congressman Lewis had this to say:

“I never saw him, I never met him. I was chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three years — 1963 to 1966,” he said. “I was involved in the sit-ins, the freedom rides, the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery. I directed the board of education project for six years. I met Hillary Clinton. I met President Clinton.”

That was Congressman Lewis’ recollection of Senator Sanders’ involvement and not an indictment on Sanders’ character.  How can it be?  Congressman Lewis could not possibly have seen all of the foot soldiers at work in a movement as vast as the Civil Rights Movement.

Congressman Lewis should never be called an “Uncle Tom” or a “sellout” for choosing not

John Lewis and I!

Congressman John Lewis and I!

to endorse Senator Bernie Sanders.  At nearly seventy-five years old (75!), he has walked among the malignant and the uncouth, and the compassionate and the loving; and, he is still on the front lines trying to make America a better place.  Despite his platform and visibility, he is still only one self-determined voter using his one vote to cast his one ballot for his one chance to say who he believes should be the next president of these United States of America. The only basis he has for making his decision is what each of us has—the candidate’s record to help align logic and rationale to our selection, and a compelling gut-feeling or intuition we may have with the candidate. Congressman Lewis knows no more than any of the rest of us about how Secretary Clinton will perform as president than the Bernie Sanders supporters know about how he will perform. We all only have their promises. Clinton and Sanders are both politicians vying for a coveted seat, in a powerful position and a particular place in America’s history.

We can disagree strongly in the political arena, but how dare any of us resort to demeaning another person for his or her right to choose the candidate of his or her choice?

I believe vehemently in my right to participate in the democratic process and I vote. I don’t always chose the winning candidate, but I always elect my choice.  On all levels of government, none of the candidates I have selected or any of those who have run since I became a voter have ever made my issues as a Black person living in America, a priority; rather, my issues have always been masked as part and parcel of sub groups and their issues.  These subgroups and their issues continue to be met before pertinent and relevant Black agenda issue items are even discussed…none of us know how different either of these candidates, Sanders or Clinton, will be once they get into  office,  but our uncertainty at their job performance should not have to come at the expense of the Congressman Lewis’s reputation, integrity, recollection, and his humanity.

Update: Congressman Lewis has since issued the following statement regarding his remarks about Senator Bernie Sanders, on February 13th, 2016:

“I was responding to a reporter’s question who asked me to assess Sen. Sanders’ civil rights record. I said that when I was leading and was at the center of pivotal actions within the Civil Rights Movement, I did not meet Sen. Bernie Sanders at any time. The fact that I did not meet him in the movement does not mean I doubted that Sen. Sanders participated in the Civil Rights Movement, neither was I attempting to disparage his activism. Thousands sacrificed in the 1960s whose names we will never know, and I have always given honor to their contribution.”

President Obama Talks To Black Americans Like That

Today August 7th, 2014, NewsOne writer Donovan X. Ramsey posted an article on NewsOne.com with the title, “Why Can’t Obama Talk To Black Americans Like That?”  My Fraternity Brother and friend, Donald Anthony Wheeler tagged me in it on a Facebook post and asked for my thoughts.

This article questioned why all of the encouragement and praise President Obama recently offered the 500 African fellows in the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), which was a part of the greater U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit held in Washington, D.C. from August 4th – August 6th, 2014, is not extended from President Obama to Black Americans.

To the YALI fellows President Obama offers the following:

“I want to thank you for inspiring us with your talent and your motivation and your ambition,” he said, looking out to the fellows. “You’ve got great aspirations for your countries and your continent. And as you build that brighter future that you imagine, I want to make sure that the United States of America is going to be your friend and partner every step of the way.” Later in the speech, he added, “So the point of all of this is we believe in you. I believe in you. I believe in every one of you who are doing just extraordinary things.”

In this very frank article Mr. Ramsey supported that President Obama’s inspirational words to these African youth were “uncommon” to Black Americans, specifically when reviewing earlier messages and speeches President Obama has made to Black American audiences  And, Mr. Ramsey even goes a step further to say that this encouragement made him a little bit “jealous.”

I think we all get a little bit jealous whenever someone, other than ourselves, gets a little piece of President Obama’s highly warranted attention And, even deeper, I understand where Mr. Ramsey is coming from, too.  The idea that there are throngs of young, Black, youth living just outside of the White House, and all over America, but yet he creates a Young African Leaders Initiative is hard to swallow.

But, if we look at it another way, President Obama is doing what he has been fated to do, and I’m okay with his decision.

In 2013, I was a witness to President Obama’s visit to a Brooklyn, NY high school–Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), the school in which I currently teach.  Just in knowing President Obama would visit the school sent an understated hysteria that resonated more like the anticipation one has when he or she is about to meet his or her hero for the first time. Ultimately, when President Obama spoke to this predominately Black (Black American, Caribbean, African and Afro-Latin@) population, he shared a very similar message of doing well and believing in the future of this post-millenial generation with all of the students in attendance. I looked in their faces as President Obama spoke and they were hanging onto his every word.

As Mr. Ramsey’s article points out, there have been instances in which critics like the Reverend Jesse Jackson and others have felt that President Obama was “talking down to Black people.” For example, Mr. Ramsey highlights President Obama’s commencement message to the Morehouse College Class of 2013–he even suggests that the President compromised the graduates’ joy and happiness on that day in his message of accountability and ridding themselves of excuses.

“We’ve got no time for excuses — not because the bitter legacies of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they haven’t. Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; that’s still out there. It’s just that in today’s hyper-connected, hyper-competitive world, with a billion young people from China and India and Brazil entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything you haven’t earned,” he said.

I think most of us would simply be happy to know that President Obama was “in the building” at our graduation, let alone being able to say he offered our commencement address.  But, not to make light of Mr. Ramsey’s claims, President Obama did not tell this class that he believed in them. And, no–he did not offer these students a partner in America. But, he did something far greater–he showed up and mentored each of these students individually by providing them with a blueprint as to how he became the Commander-In-Chief. Of course that message would depend on the way in which the graduate was willing to receive the message.

And, President Obama’s messages and actions become even rosier for me.

I am not a fan of casting aspersions on the work that President Obama has done and is doing–I don’t suggest that Mr. Ramsey is, either.  But, I am wholeheartedly in favor of speaking my truth about what I glean from how I witness, hear, and understand these works.  Again, President Obama is doing what he has been fated to do–to reconnect the African Diaspora as only it can be done through America, and more specifically, through the efforts of its Black American president.

While chattel slavery affected all of the African Diaspora in severe ways, I will be brash and controversial enough to admit that Black Americans are a pretty special group to have “made it” to America even during the arduous  slave trade.  We are even more significant because we have survived the legacy of the other elements that have been diffused in America as a result of its involvement in chattel slavery–the peculiar institution.  By virtue having “made it” to America and also by being citizens, Black Americans have also gained access, albeit limited, to the all of the resources of this country.  These resources have continually been sought out by the Caribbean Black and the African. Through accessing Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) like Kwame Nkrumah, or by aligning with the daily struggles of being Black in America through the creation of the Black Power movement by Stokely Carmichael, or by helping to shape the voice of the Harlem Renaissance like Claude McKay, America has always provided great ideas of possibility to Blacks outside of America.

President Obama is doing his job by keeping the doors open to Caribbean and African Blacks to continue this work.  On the Continent of Africa, there is what is known as the “Door of No Return” but the very name of that infamous door, while it will never be obsolete, is now taking on a different meaning through what President Obama is doing and how he is encouraging Young African Leaders and also Africa’s Black American kin.

President Obama makes me proud every day because he took the chance to run for America’s presidency, and by successfully becoming America’s president, he has changed the way the world will forever view Black people and our access to the world–whether we are American or Disaporan Black.

From my vantage point, I don’t stand in competition with Blacks from around the world, but in solidarity. President Obama’s message to them is already a message I have heard and internalized long before this recent U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit–so, it is indeed a message to me, also.

HAPPY 53rd BIRTHDAY, President Obama!

President Obama Photo, biography.com

President Obama
Photo, biography.com

According to the Superman Poll, you have a 100% approval rating from this voter. While you cannot do it all, you have remained steadfast in advocating and ensuring that some of America’s most vulnerable are cared for—Obama Care has changed the lives of many, Student Loan Forgiveness has given college-loan debtors some hope, and  your most important leadership has been to inspire other members of the your team, like Attorney General Eric Holder, to openly speak against and investigate disparaging policy practices as they affect incarcerated people, especially Black males and other Men of Color.

According to the Perception Poll, you have a 100% approval rating from this voter for changing the way the world perceives which Americans are willing, able and capable of leading our nation, its people and its position as a leader among nations of the world.  The My Brother’s Keeper Initiative is such a smart initiative in sending a message about the perception about the importance of Black Males in our nation.  The latest economy results are in—there is growth and jobs have been added to our economy!

According to the Cool Factor Poll, you have a 100% approval rating because I dig your cool—you can sing (remember the Apollo?), you can really play basketball, and I dig how relatable I find you and your family—Mrs. Obama as your wife and First Lady is the real deal.  How cool!

According to the Intelligence Factor Poll, you have managed to show that it is okay to be a smart, study Political Science, be an expert on the Constitution, and be a well-written and well-published attorney. For that you have a 100% approval rating from me!

According to the Foreign Policy Poll, I have witnessed considerable growth in your leadership around the world, especially in this second term.  None of us like what is happening in Gaza between Israel and Palestine, but one of the first changes I supported you requesting that Israel return to the use of the pre-1967 boundary lines in 2011.  It was a start in establishing some semblance of equity in a turbulent region, but more importantly, I appreciate the fact that America, under your leadership found it important to condemn Israel’s actions in Sunday’s August 3rd, 2014 bombing of a Gaza UN school. We’re making some progress and that’s a good thing!  And, you still always work toward peace.  You have an 100% approval rating from this voter.

While I am having a lot of fun with these polls, I want it to be known that I find you to be way more than the average president and far greater than marginal–there is a lot of evidence to support my findings.  I want today to be memorable and what birthdays are made of, even for the President of the United States of America: CAKE, CANDLES, and FUN!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, President Obama!

John “B.B.” Boehner: Bad Boss

On Wednesday July 30th, 2014, with a vote of 225-201, the House of Representatives voted to give John Boehner, the United States Speaker of the House, the authority to sue the President of the United States.

Say what?

That’s right.  Our dysfunctional 113th Congress came together for a vote along party lines to sue our President–every Democrat voted against the resolution to sue and all but five (5) Republicans voted in favor of the suit!

At the helm of this dysfunction is the 64-year old, stiff, stoic, and seriously egotistical John “B.B” Boehner.  Sworn in as our nation’s 61st Speaker of the House, it is the job of “B.B.” to preside over the House of Representatives—one of two houses that comprises Congress.  The members of the House of Representatives are determined by each state’s population which means more populous states have greater voices and votes in the legislative (law-making) processes of the House of Representatives.

“B.B.” has 435 people under his watch. Based on the productivity of this current Congress, it appears as if they all have pretty much been watching each other because they have clearly not been working.

So why the law suit?

By constitutional decree, “B.B.” is second in line to the presidency, and that may have a lot to do with his treatment of President Obama since becoming the Speaker on January 3rd, 2011.  I have a feeling that somewhere deep in his orange-stained encapsulated mind he believes that he can do a better job.  But, the historical record shows the only thing “B.B.” is capable of doing well is saying, “No.”  This Congress has been the least effective Congress in the history of America—even more ineffective than the 80th ‘Do Nothing’ Congress that served with President Harry Truman!

According to the Christian Science Monitor, the real reason “B.B.” has moved forward with this expensive and frivolous law suit is because of the Republican’s accusation of President Obama’s “executive overreach—exceeding his constitutional powers and unlawfully going around Congress.” The Wall Street Journal contributed Boehner’s decision was reinforced by alterations that were made to the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obama Care.

Clearly the framers of the Constitution knew how to keep one another in check because they implicitly imbedded and explicitly granted really important duties, responsibilities, and privileges to the different branches of government.  Because the Republicans of this Congress have been so staunch in their resolve to see President Obama fail, and since the Republicans were not successful in preventing President Obama from reelection, they just flat-out became uncooperative, leaving President Obama without a choice but to use the Executive Order and executive privilege to run this country and to make decisions that Congress, that appeared to be defunct at times, refused to help him with.  But, President Obama still appealed to them and he still operated within the confines of the Constitution and under the oath he took to defend the Constitution when he was sworn in as president.

Under the partial congressional leadership of Boehner, our nation has suffered sequestration, been faced with issues with our nation’s credit standing, and most importantly Americans have suffered by the non-passage of legislation to provide jobs, support our veterans, and improve the overall quality of life in health, education, and wages.

Bad Boss Boehner and his followers have no respect for the position of the president, show no remorse for the further suffering they have inflicted on the American people, and don’t care about the international implications their actions dictate about how others around the world treat President Obama and respect our system of democracy.  In true bad fashion, they have strong-armed the political process like a bunch of sophisticated crooks.

The history that President Obama has made by breaking and removing the glass ceiling of political exclusion for Americans in this country can never be undone.  That’s good!

But, the fact that America really wants to become a better nation, but unfortunately-stagnated, small-minded people wish to prevent our progress, is disturbing and bad.

Of all of the putrid and disturbing things for the Speaker of the House to do, using his position to “speak” ideas of anarchy and dysfunction deeper into our government is really low and bad.

When this Congress’s history is recorded, it will not be for a record of all of the good and progressive ways in which it elevated America. Instead, it will be a record of them getting paid for bad, litigious, and intentionally unproductive ways to discredit the office of the president, maintain the status quo of political party chaos, and prevent the upward mobility of Americans and this nation.

America, we have roughly 95 days until mid-term elections are held on Election Day, November 4th, 2014.

YOU have the power to rid our government of Bad Bosses like John “B. B.” Boehner and bad-boss practices.  You must simply care about what is happeing in our government, read everyday to stay informed–ThePoliDay Report is a great place, and most importantly you must VOTE!

Celebrating Legislation: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 Turns 50 TODAY!

It is always the strangest thing in the world to me when we celebrate milestone events in this country that are nuanced with a particular group of Americans in mind–especially when that group is African Americans. It is especially peculiar to think of celebrating the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the premier pieces of legislation that defined the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. But, today we commemorate it–Happy 50th Anniversary!

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a long and hard battle fought by African Americans to get Congress to pass a strong meaningful piece of legislation that would secure our ability to be treated fairly according to the law, and especially in places of public accommodation. Congress was not super sold on passing this bill as America was ultra polarized and the racial tensions of America were about to reach their boiling points during the decade of the 60s.  Prior to Johnson’s passing of the bill, it had been introduced by former president John F. Kennedy. Congress had made attempts to kill this bill and the likes of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Georgia Congressman John Lewis, and organizer A. Phillip Randolph had organized and participated in the August 28th, 1963 March on Washington to underscore the need for African Americans’ fair and equal treatment under the law.

Although revised and arguably watered down by most analyses, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it so hotels that were once suddenly “vacant” when African Americans solicited them could no longer prevent our stays.  Those very same Woolworth counters that refused groups like the Greensboro Four (4) of 1960, only four years earlier, now had to open their counters for African American patronage and dine-in participation and not just take out. With the passage of this bill African Americans were not ever going to move the backs of any buses unless we wanted to. And, certainly after this bill was passed, discriminatory practices still prevailed because bad habits and even worse beliefs and practices were not abandoned overnight, but at least they were easier to fight and criminalize due to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on July 2nd.

Take a listen: 

On Friday, July 4th, 2014, we will celebrate 238 years of American independence from the control of the British crown and King James.  Long before American Independence was a conceivable idea in the mind of European immigrants looking for solace from their nations’ persecution, African Americans were here and even before Columbus–we were merchants, mariners, explorers, and of course, we were the labor that created this “land of the free” and “home of the brave.”

No matter how strange it is to have to even celebrate 50 years of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 victory, especially in a country nearly two and a half centuries old and one that would have never seen the light of victory without its “native sons”, we celebrate this legislation nonetheless.

Happy Birthday Civil Rights Act of 1964!

President Obama Makes History All the Time!

Tuesday night, June 10th, 2014 I hopped into a cab. As part of my cab riding ritual, I always make it a point to find out the country from which my driver comes.  On this particular ride, my driver was Sindhi and when I asked him where he was from, he responded, “Sindh.”  I was confused.

Initially, I believed he was from Pakistan so I asked him if he spoke Urdu.  He replied, “No. I speak Sindhi.”

He proceeded to explain the Sindhi’s journey to sovereignty to me and even handed me his iPhone 5 to show me a picture of his daughter wearing a traditional Sindhi cape.  My driver informed me that he was an anesthesiologist in his country, but what gave him a huge inflection in his voice was when he reflected that one day his country would be a sovereign nation again with its own leader.

“If America can elect Obama as its President, there is hope for Sindhi people, too.” NYC Sindhi cab driver

Beyond the fact that our 44th President, Barack Obama, will forever go down in history as America’s first African American president, he is still inspiring others with hope and making more history.

This Friday, June 13th, 2014,  President Obama became only the fourth sitting American President to visit a Native American Reservation–The Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation in North Dakota.  Former Presidents Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929, 30th

Official White House photo by Pete Souza

Official White House photo by Pete Souza

President), Franklin D. Roosevelt (1932-1945, 32nd President), and William “Bill” Jefferson Clinton (1992-2000, 42nd President) all made visits to Pine Ridge or the Cherokee Nation.

America’s relationship with Native Americans has been very little of beautiful and a whole lot of ugly: through the displacements and massacres and simply not acknowledging the existence of Native Americans through unequal treaties and the American Constitution, it is great that President Obama’s visit can represent a sign of the times to come.

There is so much prophecy in the fact that President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are visiting this reservation as the leaders of our nation considering Black America’s sordid past of being enslaved by Native Americans  in the United States of America.

In these changing times it is great to see President Obama serve as a bridge linking our past, present and future.  President Obama’s presence is the beginning of a long overdue conversation, a much-needed intervention of two marginalized groups that need a whole lot of healing, and a nation in need of reckoning.

It is always great to see good history being made–the kind that has the potential to heal old wounds.  Way to go President Obama!

Check out the MSNBC article below written by Trymaine Lee as he further explains President Obama’s Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation trip.

http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/obama-makes-historic-trip-indian-country

Rise On, Ms. Maya Angelou!

”I want to write so well that a person is 30 or 40 pages in a book of mine before she realizes she’s reading.” Dr. Maya Angelou

maya-angelouToday, Wednesday, May, 28th 2014, many people awoke to the news of the passing of the incomparable and impassioned author, poet, and educator, Dr. Maya Angelou at the age of 86.   

Her family’s statement read:

“Dr. Maya Angelou passed quietly in her home before 8:00 a.m. EST. Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension. She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace. The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love.”

While most of us woke up glad that we had made it to “hump day” and some of us even wondered if we could make it through “hump day”, Dr. Angelou made it through more than hump days over the course of her life–she traversed mountainous obstacles while ascending to the apex of life, triumphantly.  

From the ugliness of rape at 7 years old, to the peculiarity of being mute for 6 long years, and the social degradation of being a teen mother and madame in a brothel in later, barely adult years, Dr. Angelou managed to use words to evoke actions and ideas and feelings and places of beauty and strength and hope and courage and love.  

I don’t find that I will have words as carefully crafted to describe this colossal wordsmith, but I would like to honor her life and the body of work she cultivated out of her sheer love of humanity.  

Born on April 4th, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, Dr. Angelou walked among other giants in the human experience and the attainment of human rights: El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X), Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mrs. Rosa Parks, Mr. Harry Belafonte, and the recently departed, Madiba, Mr. Nelson Mandela. 

When President Obama was elected, Dr. Angelou predicted that 30 or 40 years down the road, his presidency would not be so significant because other marginalized groups would hold the post, stating that Americans were “about to grow up in this country.” Furthermore, President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton acknowledged her contributions to our world by awarding her the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2011), the Presidential Medal of Art (2000), and having her recite her poem, On the Pulse of Morningat the presidential inauguration in 1995, respectively.

Media mogul, Ms. Oprah Winfrey has referred to Dr. Angelou as her mentor, and from what the world witnesses from Ms. Winfrey, she has clearly been steered to greatness in her service to others due to Dr. Angleou’s grooming of her “heart full of grace’ and “a soul generated by love.” 

Today the world mourns the loss of such a towering, powerful, and compassionate woman. And, we offer hearty laughs and big smiles as we rejoice at a life well lived.  

Rise on, Dr. Angelou!

 

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like tear drops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Silence is Betrayal

“The human spirit does not move without great difficulty.”

Dr. King at RiversideDr. King was pure genius and completely insightful.  It is almost inconceivable to me that a person like Dr. King could walk this Earth, in his times, and believe, say and preach the truths that he rendered.  Exactly one year before his untimely assassination death, April 4th, 1968, Dr. King delivered the above quote in his speech, “Beyond Vietnam”  on April 4th, 1967 at the famed Riverside Church in Harlem, New York. Having been moved by a particular statement of the executive committee of the Riverside Church: “A time comes when silence is betrayal,” Dr. King persisted in betraying silence by speaking against the Vietnam War.

Since moving to New York City some 13 years ago, I have visited the Riverside

Billy Taylor--VSU Alumni

Billy Taylor–VSU Alumni

Church many times, mostly in honor of powerful, accomplished Black men who were once little Black boys living in times that would not acknowledge their humanity. I attended the funerals of Mr. Ossie Davis, Jazz musician and Virginia State University graduate Billy Taylor, Malcolm X’s attorney Percy Sutton, and radio owner, Hal Jackson.  I have attended plays written by Daniel Beaty, and a host of other events. To know that Dr. King used this very church to deliver one of the most scathing analyses of what the Vietnam War meant for young Black boys is haunting. Referring to the Vietnam War as an “adventure” he said:

“We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia or East Harlem…I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.”

king with his boysThis man, father, husband, brother…knew that he could not stand idly by and watch a world he had inherited become a will of useless gains. What about his sons, Dexter and Martin Luther King, III?  What kind of world would they inherit if he said nothing? What kind of world would we be if men like Dr. King were not moved to serve their nations by preaching and acting in a spirit of love and truth?

In a betrayal of silence and in protest of the Vietnam War, Dr. King demonstrated an exalted love for man and offered a profound definition of love when he said:

“When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I’m not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality.”

For a living, I teach.  For a life, I have learned that I must love better, harder, andfrederick Douglass more.  Each of us wears scars that reminds us of pain, but each of us has life that reminds us to try again, move on, and struggle some more. I believe it to be true, “The human spirit does not move without great difficulty,” which is why Frederick Douglass, a man’s shoulders on whom Dr. King stood, said:

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle.”

Time MagazineDr. King entered an unforgiving struggle when he gave the Vietnamese a voice, and like a tour guide in a living museum, provided nuanced captions to the inconvenient truths the Vietnam War meant not only for American soldiers, but for Vietnamese men, women, and children, as well. How could one not empathize with the thought of orphaned children running around in packs in the streets of Vietnam looking for food that was no more and water too poisonous to drink?  Or cringe at the very thought of women and girls being sold into prostitution as the spoils of war?  Dr. King narrated these realities too well.  And so he advised that America end this awful war even if it would cost him his life one year later.  

In a betrayal of silence, Dr. King imposed an indictment on America and the Western world’s role as leaders in sparking the revolutionary spirit but in the face of Vietnam, Guatemala, Peru, Mozambique and South Africa, King said that it was a “sad fact” that Western nations had “now become the arch antirevolutionaries.”

On this 28th, federally effected, King Holiday, I celebrate with myriad others, but I am Dr. King pointingalso forced to confess that I don’t think I am doing enough. But, I continue to learn so that I may reciprocate my learning into lessons for others.  Dr. King stated in “Beyond Vietnam” that “every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his muhammadconvictions, but we must all protest.” Approximately three weeks after the delivery of this speech, on April 28th, 1967, “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali was inspired by the conviction of Dr. King, and declared that he was a conscientious objector by refusing to fight in the Vietnam War. 

I sit in front of my computer, I read everything, and I teach others in protest of ignorance, but still I ponder, on which issue will I betray my silence?

Check out the full “Beyond Vietnam” Speech here:

Kwanzaa: Nia / Purpose

It’s Day 5 of Kwanzaa! Today’s principle is the Swahili word for purpose, Nia.

“Love you with a sense of purpose.”

When I was growing up, my momma (ma) and aunt (auntie) exposed my sisters / sister-cousins/ brother-cousin, and I to the best music. One group in heavy rotation in our household was the Jamaican reggae band, Third World. In 1990, they released an album called Sense of Purpose and featured a song by the same name. I thought this song was just perfect: the beat was nice, the vocals and harmonies were great, and the vibe of the song made me feel happy whenever I heard it. I could sing and dance along to the song, but then there were the lyrics.  I knew “Sense of Purpose” was a love song (he repeatedly told the object of his affection that he loved her), and I also could tell it was a kind of requited love that had grown from some kind of adversity (he talked about backstabbers and gossip-mongers, too!). But what reeled me in was the fact that he was declaring that his loving this woman came with some obligation. That song said to love someone with a “Sense of Purpose” was to love through our actions, too. I thought it was amazing!

About a year prior, one of my favorite songwriters of all times, Babyface, released a song from his Tender Lover album called, “Soon as I Get Home.”  This love song was also about action.  He promised to buy clothes, cook food, etc.  It was certainly unlike any song I had ever heard any man sing to any woman, ever!  And, after following Babyface’s career, listening to his catalog of music as well as the songs he had and has written for others, it is clear he has pursued the purpose of his life by bringing so much joy to others through song; his feelings have not been mere thoughts trapped within the confines of his mind. He has written the best songs and shared them with us all.

Purpose.  It requires deliberate action. It does not mean that one has to have the architect’s plan, but it does mean we must have the baby’s effort—each of us has the right to take the first step in fulfilling our purpose. Purpose is giving voice to silence or adding color to a blank canvas. It is providing moisture to an arid space or crowded pandemonium to a lonely calm.

The pioneers in our communities have loved us better than unconditionally—they have loved us with an insatiable sense of purpose, and created “love songs” in the process.

John Mercer Langston, born in 1829, was a very accomplished Black man from Louisa County, Virginia. Through education he defined his purpose and helped thousands of others find theirs as well. Throughout the course of his life he received a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree, in theology, from Oberlin College.  Eventually he wound up practicing law in Ohio after initiallyJohn Mercer Langston being denied admission to law schools in New York and Ohio.  John Mercer Langston’s purpose led him to become the first African American to serve in the Virginia State Assembly, and a closer look at his life shows that his purpose on this Earth was always to serve. He recruited African Americans to serve in the Union Army. He served as an inspector for the Freedman’s Bureau, participated in suffrage efforts, and served as the President of the National Equal Rights League.  In addition, he served as the founding dean of the Howard University Law School, drafted the Civil Rights Bill of 1875, served as a United States Minister to Haiti, a diplomat to the Dominican Republic, became a United States Congressman, and sat on the Board of Trustees at St. Paul’s University.  Most importantly to me is that he served as the very First President of Virginia Normal and Collegiate Virginia State UniversityInstitute, better known to the world as Virginia State University, my alma mater.  All throughout his adult life he worked to serve and elevate others; and, the rewards were and continue to be great.  Thousands of students have graduated from Virginia State University. Scores of students have clerked for and served as judges in our courts as a result of the law degrees they obtained from Howard University’s Law School.  Each of the current members of the Congressional Black Caucus owes his and her seats to John Mercer Langston and his colleagues.  His purpose-driven life was rooted in the service to others and is the kind of love song many of us will sing forever.

I am certain John Mercer Langston did not accomplish all of his goals; there were moments in which he lamented on one accomplishment a little too long or he may have felt that he had done everything he possibly could until he accomplished his next feat or produced something better. He did not always have a plan on how to navigate the racist and prejudicial world in which he navigated, but he journeyed through.  In every effort, Mr. Langston continued to grow and believe in his purpose, for he never stopped until he was able to leave the legacy that I have been able to share in this post. Indeed, John Mercer Langston loved us all with a “Sense of Purpose.”