Tag Archives: Ella’s Song

Thanksgiving 2016: A Terrifying Time

23 Nov

diffiturkeyI usually post my annual iteration of A Collective Amnesia, for Thanksgiving, but this year seems particularly painful as I reflect on the profound sanctioning of racism, homophobia, and misogyny in the United States. I am nonplussed by the number of people in this country who are not mortified by how we are treating Native voices in North Dakota, as opposed to how we treated white tyrannical voices in Oregon.

I am more than disturbed and saddened that a white millionaire man who publicly makes fun of people with disabilities, says that it is okay to grab women by the genitals, makes horrific racist comments against the Latino and Muslim communities, and was endorsed by the KKK —  endorsed by the KKK, let that sink in — is our Presidnet-elect. How do we come back from this? If the United States ever had any moral high ground, we have categorically lost it.

I wish I could be hopeful for 2017, but Trump’s cabinet is full of nothing but white supremacists, homophobes, xenophobes, and misogynists. Where do you go when the President Elect selects White Supremacist, Steve Bannon? How is that supposed to make people feel safe in this country? As a gay man, how am I supposed to feel safe with Mike Pence as Vice-President? Pence who passed the Hate Bill (Religious Freedom Act) in Indiana that allows people to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Pence who believes in conversion therapy. Pence who has shut down Planned Parenthood Clinics. How am I and the people I love supposed to feel safe with the appointment of infamous racist and homophobe Jeff Sessions of Alabama? Sessions who was rejected for a judgeship in 1986 because of his racist comments is suddenly fit to lead law enforcement in the United States? Sessions who supported the KKK until he found out that some of them smoked pot–wow! Sessions who has supported DOMA, who has created barriers for the LGBTQ community at every turn, just as Pence has. The message is clear: only white heterosexual men are safe.

I can only hope that all targeted people and our many allies stand in solidarity and refuse to normalize what is currently happening in this nation. Finally, I am grateful for my loving husband and for all the people in my family and family of choice whom I treasure. We must support and love one another. I leave you with some Sweet Honey in the Rock, Ella’s SongIn solidarity, Michael.

A Good Time To Remember Ella Baker

4 Dec

ella-bakerIn the wake of the death of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of white police officers with no indictment, I am looking for hope  somewhere.  After learning of the verdict in New York yesterday morning, there is a very sad heaviness for the United States. We have yet another death of a black mother’s son. For me, I am trying to remember Ella Baker and reflect on how much work we still have do around issues of racial equity and equality.

Baker was one of the most influential players in the civil rights movement. Baker’s grandparents were slaves and she would hear stories from her grandmother about slave revolts. After finishing college and graduating valedictorian, she moved to New York and started her life’s path of social justice. Baker fought for civil rights alongside others such as, W.E.B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, and Dr. Martin Luther King. She was also a mentor to our Rosa Parks. Baker’s influence touched the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Baker and another hero of my mine, Howard Zinn, were two of the SNCC’s highly revered adult advisors. Baker remained an activist until her death in 1986.

I leave you with the lyrics to Ella’s Song, written by one of my personal heros, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon and performed by Sweet Honey in the Rock:

We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes

Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons
Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons

That which touches me most is that I had a chance to work with people
Passing on to others that which was passed on to me

To me young people come first, they have the courage where we fail
And if I can but shed some light as they carry us through the gale

The older I get the better I know that the secret of my going on
Is when the reins are in the hands of the young, who dare to run against the storm

Not needing to clutch for power, not needing the light just to shine on me
I need to be one in the number as we stand against tyranny

Struggling myself don’t mean a whole lot, I’ve come to realize
That teaching others to stand up and fight is the only way my struggle survives

I’m a woman who speaks in a voice and I must be heard
At times I can be quite difficult, I’ll bow to no man’s word

We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes

Thank you, Ella. Thank you Sweet Honey in the Rock!

Women’s History Month 2014: Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon

14 Mar

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to one of my personal heroes, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon.  In 1973, Reagon founded the  a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock. Johnson Reagon started her music/social work career before Sweet Honey in the Rock.  She was a type of community organizer and performed with The Freedom Singers in her hometown of Albany, Georgia. The Freedom Singers was, in part, formed by Johnson Reagon’s husband, Cordell Reagon. How amazing and lovely that Cordell and Bernice were friends with Pete Seeger, who helped to support the founding of The Freedom Singers.

I was first introduced to Sweet Honey in the Rock in 1991 at the Black Arts Festival at Piedmont Park, in Atlanta, Georgia. After hearing them perform Ella’s SongI went out and bought all of their albums and went to every concert when they came to Atlanta. Reagon earned her doctorate at Howard University and became a strong voice in the Civil Rights movement. Reagon has dedicated her life to issues of social justice and the intersections of oppression. Reagon, through her music, addresses issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, and the intersections of oppression.  She reached many of us dedicated to civil rights through song:

I learned that if you bring black people together, you bring them together with a song. To this day, I don’t understand how people think they can bring anybody together without a song…I came out of the Civil Rights Movement, and I had a different kind of focus than most people who have just the academic background as their primary training experience.

I am fortunate enough to stand on the shoulders of greatness, including Dr. Johnson Reagon.  Her work and the music of Sweet Honey in the Rock inform how I live my life and how I teach.

For me, Dr. Johnson Reagon is a musical social worker: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”

LGBT History Month 2013: Langston Hughes

19 Jun

LangstonHughesToday I would like to honor and pay tribute to Harlem Renaissance poet/writer, Langston Hughes. Although Hughes’ sexual orientation has traditionally been downplayed, like James Baldwin, he was black and openly gay. Hughes was attracted to the ideals of Communism, given the racism and homophobia  in the United States. Though Hughes never officially joined the Communist Party, he was called before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations led by Joseph McCarthy.

Sadly, even today (46 years after his death) men of color take enormous risk to be openly gay.  We, as the LGBT community, do not do enough to support of brothers and sisters of color.  We must stand in solidarity.

I fell in love with Hughes poetry the first time I read Dream Deferred.

Dream Deferred
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Another favorite of mine is Dream Boogie.  I will conclude this post with they lyrics of Ella’s Song by my favorite a cappella Social Justice group, Sweet Honey in the Rock:

We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes

Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons
Is as important as the killing of White men, White mothers’ sons (Refrain)

That which touches me most is that I had the chance to work with people
Passing on to others that which was passed on to me
To me young people come first, they have the courage where we fail
And if I can I’ll shed some light as they carry us through the gale (Refrain)

Struggling myself don’t mean a whole lot, I’ve come to realize
That teaching others to stand and fight is the only way the struggle survives
I’m a woman who speaks in a voice and I must be heard
At times I can be quite difficult, I’ll bow to no man’s word (Refrain)

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 28, Our Allies

28 Jun

Thank You Allies

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to all of the allies of the LGBTQ community.  Not just the vast number of allies I know, but organizations like PFLAG, the NAACP, neighbors, families, and all the heterosexuals that stand with us in solidarity.

In a time in our history when Presidential candidates have signed a pledge to discriminate against all LGBTQ people, it takes great courage and integrity to stand with us and demand we all be treated equally. It is time to say a huge Thank You to all of you that believe in civil rights and basic human rights.

Thank you all!

It it not easy to interrupt discrimination, but we must!  Because the LGBTQ community has so many overlapping identities, we must stand united when we work to stop the intersections oppression–when we work to stop homophobia, racism, transphobia,ageism, and misogyny.  Today I honor and thank you all.  “We Who Believe In Freedom Cannot Rest Until It Comes.”

Celebrating Black History Month: February 16

16 Feb

Civil Rights Hero, Ella Baker

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to Ella Baker. Baker was one of the most influential players in the civil rights movement. Baker’s grandparents were slaves and she would hear stories from her grandmother about slave revolts. After finishing college and graduating valedictorian, she moved to New York and started her life’s path of social justice. Baker fought for civil rights alongside others such as, W.E.B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, and Dr. Martin Luther King. She was also a mentor to our Rosa Parks. Baker’s influence touched the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Baker and another hero of my mine, Howard Zinn, were two of the SNCC’s highly revered adult advisors. Baker remained an activist until her death in 1986.  To learn more about one of my heroes, Ella Baker, click here. Of course, you knew I had to throw in some Sweet Honey in the Rock–their tribute  to our Ella.

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