Archive | February, 2014

Closing Black History Month 2014

28 Feb

Black History Month_2014logo_0As with every year, I remain somewhat sad that we still  need to celebrate Black History Month in the United States; but we have overwhelming evidence that racism is sadly alive and well and living in every state. Hopefully, SJFA has celebrated many folks who have been relegated to corners of history and are rarely celebrated.  I have to confess what a pleasure it was to celebrate so many African Americans who have dedicated their lives to civil rights and social justice, including many who continue to do so today.

We have no further to look than the case of the killing of Jordan Davis, a black youth, and Michael Dunn, the white man who killed him. One of my favorite writers, Leonard Pitts, of the Miami Herald does a great job of unpacking this horrific case and how it reflects racism on a national scale.

Sadly, the Paula Deen debacle just gave further proof of the current climate of racism and misogyny and why we desperate need Black History Month. Now Deen has compared herself to Michael Sam — sadly, you read that correctly.

Some of my personal favorites this month were:

Michael Sam–what a lovely portrait of courage and good energy.

Rosetta Tharpe–was another favorite. Sadly, she remains somewhat unknown and yet her contribution to the world and to the world of music was nothing less than profound.

Alice Walker will always be a favorite of mine and I hope everyone will get to know her through her poetry and literature.

I hope you got the chance to learn about some new people and were able to rejoice in names you already recognized.  Chime in and let me know who were some of your favorites and tell me some people you would like me to add to the list.  I suppose one of the “take-aways” from this series is that until we see African Americans being represented in all history books and American culture values Black History, we will continue to have the need for Black History Month.

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Hero of the Week Award, February 28: Gov. Dan Malloy of Connecticut

28 Feb
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

Far too often these days well-meaning people avoid calling out hard truths (interrupting oppressions) in the name of comity or “bipartisanship.” This week’s Hero refused to allow shallow expectations to stop bold, necessary action.

Connecticut governor Dan Malloy (D) was one of the many governors attending the meeting of the National Governors Association in Washington, DC this week. One part of the meeting was a conversation with President Obama. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal (R), notorious for his spotty attendance at these meetings over the years, rushed from the room as soon as the President left to attack him in front of waiting reporters.

Saying that “the Obama economy is now the minimum wage economy,” Jindal accused President Obama of “waving the white flag” because he is increasingly relying on executive orders to push forward his agenda — an agenda the American people overwhelmingly voted for and support. He neatly ignored the years of Republican obstruction (which ironically block minimum wage increases at every turn) that force the President to take whatever actions he can to move good policy forward. (Please note, we are not even talking about a Living Wage, but only minimum wage)

Gov. Malloy refused to let Jindal’s bizarre claims stand. After the meeting, he held a brief press conference, calling Jindal’s comments “the most insane statement I’ve ever heard.” He elaborated,

Here’s a guy who didn’t come to any of the meetings except this one today, and has the nerve to pull that stuff on everyone—ten feet from the West Wing. He doesn’t … come to the meetings of the organization, and then he wants to swing for the fences for obviously political reasons. I didn’t mind pushing back.

Bravo, Gov. Malloy! Despite the longstanding tradition of courteous conversation and collaboration when the President addresses the NGA, Jindal tried to make political capital of the moment for his own political agenda. Clearly seeing an opportunity to raise his profile as 2016 GOP hopefuls like Chris Christie are crumbling, Jindal tried to put his personal agenda above actual progress for the people of his country and his state. A bit of judicious truth telling is the perfect comeback.  Thank you, Gov. Malloy for interrupting Jindal’s lies and interrupting his continued oppression of those already targeted.

Black History Month 2014: Edgar Nixon

25 Feb

Edgar NixonToday I would like to honor and pay tribute to Edgar Daniel Nixon. As a community based social worker, Nixon caught my attention and my heart, since he dedicated his life to community organizing, activism, and social justice. Nixon was a key figure in organizing the now famous Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. Nixon played a pivotal role in bailing another civil rights hero, Rosa Parks out of jail. The bus boycott lasted 380 days, presenting over a year-long struggle for African Americans.  As testament to this struggle, Nixon’s home was firebombed and he was indicted for violating a state anti-boycott statute. Fortunately, the bus boycott helped to put an end to bus segregation, an embarrassing mark in US history.

Prior to helping organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Nixon was organizing people for voting rights as a part of his dedication to the civil rights movement. In fact, Nixon rallied and led a march of more than 700 people in Montgomery protesting unfair barriers that blocked blacks from voting. Nixon also served as president of his local NAACP chapter. Dr. King referred to Nixon as:

one of the chief voices of the Negro community in the area of civil rights … a symbol of the hopes and aspirations of the long oppressed people of the State of Alabama.

Nixon worked as a Pullman Car Porter ( a porter for sleeping cars on trains).  In the 1940’s he worked to organize a USO Club for black serviceman.  He contacted Eleanor Roosevelt to garner her support. Roosevelt took action and helped to establish a USO Club for African-American servicemen.  By sheer coincidence, Nixon and Roosevelt got to meet on a train where he was working as a porter.

Thank you, ED Nixon! Your legacy of social justice lives on in the many of us you have inspired.

Black History Month 2014: Barbara Jordan

21 Feb

01t/25/arve/G2064/056Today we honor and celebrate a civil rights activist and pioneering politician. Today would have been Barbara Jordan’s 78th birthday; she was born on this date in 1936 in Houston, TX. She was an honors student, inspired by the model of Edith Sampson to pursue a career in law. Unable to attend UT Austin because of segregation, she majored in Political Science at Texas Southern. She received her law degree from Boston University in 1959.

After a year teaching at Tuskegee Institute, she returned to Texas and started her own law practice. After two failed runs at the Texas House, she was appointed to the state Senate, the first African-American woman to serve in that body. She ran for the seat and won it, leaving in 1972 after her election to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Jordan was the first woman elected to represent Texas in the House and the first Southern African American in the House. With the support of former President Lyndon B. Johnson (a great civil rights pioneer), she secured an important post on the House Judiciary Committee. She became a leader in Democratic politics, delivering the keynote at the 1976 Democratic National Convention — the first African-American woman to do so. While in office she helped pass the Community Reinvestment Act, requiring banks to make services available to minority and underserved communities.

Jordan retired from politics in 1979 (although she delivered another DNC keynote in 1992), teaching at UT Austin, the very school that had barred her attendance decades before. Throughout her life she suffered from multiple sclerosis, requiring a cane for most of her adult life and eventually needing a wheelchair. President Clinton intended to nominate her for the Supreme Court, but her health forced her to withdraw before the initial vetting process.

Barbara Jordan spent the last 30 years of her life with her partner, Nancy Earl. Although she never publicly described herself as a lesbian, she attended many public functions with Earl and made it clear that they were a couple. For a black, southern woman of her generation, this is fairly remarkable, especially given her very public career. The Jordan/Rustin coalition was created in her name and the name of Bayard Rustin to mobilize LGBT African Americans and encourage their active participation in the political process.

She was a frequent public speaker, known for her vibrant support of progressive causes. Jordan died of leukemia in 1996 at the age of 59, leaving behind a legacy of public service and activism.  Happy Birthday, Barbara Jordan.

Black History Month 2014: Audre Lorde

18 Feb

audre-lorde-500x250I would like to honor and pay tribute to Audre Lorde.  Today would have been her 80th birthday.  Lorde was a native New Yorker who grew up in Harlem. Her parents both immigrated to the United States from the Caribbean. Among her many career moves, Lorde was a librarian and a social worker. In fact, she received her Master’s in Library Science from Columbia University.

Although she was married to a man, Edwin Rollins and had two children, Lorde identified as a lesbian. The self-described “black-lesbian feminist mother lover warrior poet,” became a well recognized voice for women, lesbians, blacks, mothers, and poets; let us not forget her anti-war activism. Her fight for equality and peace was rather inclusive, as she was able to see the connections and ties amongst them all. Lorde was one of the first to acknowledge and point to how connected racism, sexism, and homophobia are — what I would call the intersections of oppression. Lorde addressed this intersectionality and how her work at that time dealt with oppression from the dominant discourse:

My sexuality is part and parcel of who I am, and my poetry comes from the intersection of me and my worlds. . . . [White, arch-conservative senator] Jesse Helms’s objection to my work is not about obscenity . . .or even about sex. It is about revolution and change. . . . Helms represents. . . . white patriarchal power. . . .[and he] knows that my writing is aimed at his destruction, and the destruction of every single thing he stands for.”

What is lovely about this quote is that Lorde was not only inspiring and was practicing good social work, but her legacy is on the right side of history, unlike Helms who left a legacy of hate and racism. It seems odd to me that anyone could not see how connected racism, misogyny, and homophobia are.  Our silence about any of these forms of bigotry will not protect or help us.  Happy Birthday, Audre Lorde!

Michael Sam: Black History Hero, Feb. 14, 2014

14 Feb

MSamBHMHeroThis week it is a real pleasure to honor a Hero of the Week who is also making strides in Black History. Michael Sam was born in 1990 in Texas. The seventh of eight children, he has faced significant family hardship. His parents separated when he was little. One brother died from a gunshot in front of him, another is missing, and two are incarcerated. Sam discovered a talent for football in high school, but met opposition from his mother, whose religion is opposed to organized sports. Often he had to stay with friends.

A promising player, Sam was accepted into the University of Missouri and joined their football team in 2009, the first member of his family to attend college. During his time on the team, he racked up an enviable record, including being named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-American. (Wow, I don’t think I have ever used this many sports terms in my life.) He is considered a top choice for the NFL draft.

Michael Sam put that promising career at risk with bold honesty. Last August, he told his team that he was gay. They were very supportive and agreed to let him come out publicly on his own time — Bravo! Last Sunday, he did just that. He is one of a handful of openly gay college athletes and, if drafted, would be come the first out gay player active in the NFL.

Coming out is still, sadly, a challenge and a risk. It is even more difficult and risky for those facing many intersections of  oppression, and African-American men have historically faced even greater threats and rejections. Professional sports are hardly embracing, and the NFL is at the bottom of the pack. Despite all this, Sam decided that honesty and integrity made it worth the risk. In his coming out interview with the New York Times, he said:

I just want to go to the team who drafts me, because that team knows about me, knows that I’m gay, and also knows that I work hard. That’s the team I want to go to.

That’s as it should be. Hard work and talent should be enough for any team. Nonetheless, a number of NFL executives and officials commented anonymously in Sports Illustrated that Sam had doomed his chances. Playing the gay panic card, they said things like

There are guys in locker rooms that maturity-wise cannot handle it or deal with the thought of that. There’s nothing more sensitive than the heartbeat of the locker room. If you knowingly bring someone in there with that sexual orientation, how are the other guys going to deal with it? It’s going to be a big distraction. That’s the reality.

How disgusting and how bizarre! Does it then naturally follow that all heterosexual men are unable to control themselves around all women that come near them? How ironic that Michael Sam made a strong public statement and those who want to tear him down will only speak off the record.

Fortunately, the official NFL stance is much more positive:

We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage. Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.

Let’s hope that this proves to be true, and that Michael Sam gets the chance he deserves to shatter an ugly, long-standing barrier.

How absolutely wonderful that First Lady Michelle Obama texted Sam:

You’re an inspiration to all of us, @MikeSamFootball. We couldn’t be prouder of your courage both on and off the field. -mo

Just when I did not think I could love her anymore than I already did. Brava, First Lady!

As a nice footnote to this story, Hero of the Week Honorable Mention goes to an unexpected representative of the dominant discourse. Dale Hansen, a white sportscaster on WFAA TV in Dallas, TX, celebrated Michael Sam and thrashed his critics during his segment Monday evening, ripping apart their hypocrisy:

You beat a woman and drag her down a flight of stairs, pulling her hair out by the roots? You’re the fourth guy taken in the NFL draft. You kill people while driving drunk? That guy’s welcome … You lie to police trying to cover up a murder? We’re comfortable with that. You love another man? Well, now you’ve gone too far!

Of course, I love that he quotes Audre Lorde! He rails against conservatives who want small government but also want the government to control who we can love and ends with a lovely celebration of the ways that our differences make us stronger. Thank you, Mr. Hansen!

Black History Month 2014: David Walker

11 Feb
David Walker's Appeal

David Walker’s Appeal

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to David Walker, abolitionist and voice for social justice. Walker is believed to have been born in 1796 and died in 1830.  During  his short life of 33 years, Walker left an indelible mark in history and left an amazing legacy of tireless efforts towards equity and equality for African Americans.

Walker’s mother was a free black, and thus Walker was also born a “free black.”  Although he grew up in North Carolina, after witnessing the atrocities black people were subjected to, he moved to Boston in 1825.  He worked as a sales agent and writer for Freedom’s Journal, published in New York, the first newspaper owned and operated by African Americans. This experience honed his writing voice and created an enthusiasm for activism in the black community.

Walker is probably best known for his pamphlet An Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World. Viewed as radical in its day, it called for direct action within the African American community to oppose slavery. He called on all African Americans to resist oppression and strive for personal responsibility. He argued that free blacks must work toward abolition as a political goal and pursue more comprehensive education. While appreciative of the early white abolitionist voices, he argued that relying on a return of liberty strictly from the people who had restricted it was unreasonable. Walker created organized resistance to the false and racist rhetoric that President Jefferson published regarding the “inferiority of blacks.”  Granted, Jefferson was a complex and contradictory human being, who did support the abolitionist movement.

Walker’s Appeal was so powerful and influential that another one of my heroes, William Lloyd Garrison extracted much of Walker’s message in his publication The Liberator.  Many of you may recognize Garrison’s name, for he was also a suffragist.  I take great solace in knowing that Walker’s work lived on and informed so many activist and abolitionists.

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