Tag Archives: Sweet Honey in the Rock

Dear Donald: A Plea For Decency

19 Dec

trumpstampDear Donald:

How unfortunate that the only truth you managed in the past two years was that the “election was rigged.” Sadly it was rigged on your behalf. While I fear this plea will fall prey to your pathological narcissism and thus will not be heard, I make it nonetheless.

It looks as though you may be assuming the role of President of the United States. May I implore you to rise to the occasion — to comport yourself with the gravitas of the role of a world leader?  You are NOT representing yourself here, rather you are representing every person that lives in the United States. Sadly, you have “drained the swamp” (your words) directly into your cabinet and have caused great alarm for all targeted people and communities living in the US. This is not just about misogyny, but about how someone who demonstrates every day that his ego rules over all else and whose success is rooted in the oppression of women, people of color, the LGBT community, people with disabilities, and all of the intersections therein.

For you and your followers, we need something to prove you all are not racist, homophobes, misogynists, breeders of hate. Your appointment of white supremacist and homophobe Steve Bannon does not inspire hope. Your appointment of white supremacist and homophobe Jeff Sessions further deteriorates any modicum of trust in your judgement. Sessions who was declared “too racist” during the Reagan years is now fit to be in your cabinet? One can hardly take solace in your appointment of Rex Tillerson, the Director a US/Russian oil company, as the next Secretary of State–conflict of interest much?  In fact, every appointment you have made demonstrates great disdain for the office they will hold and nothing but contempt and disrespect for the American people.

According the the Southern Poverty Law Center, CNN, Time, The New York Times, and myriad other publications, hate crimes have increased exponentially since the election. Sadly, you have done nothing to disavow any of this horrific behavior. As such, your silence condones it. Your supporters have grown so emboldened that they are ushering in the New Fascism. Ohio has just passed some of the most restrictive laws that preclude women from governing their own bodies. Louisiana has now passed laws that declare LGBT protections illegal, thanks to eternal homophobe Jeff Landry.

Given the evidence of the intercession of the Russians to influence the election in your favor, I know many are now worried about war. Is this what you want to be your legacy? Your inability to understand diplomacy, the need for intelligence meetings, (I know you consider yourself “biggly smart”), your disdain for science and for education should alarm us all. This is where I hope I am categorically wrong. I hope we do not end up in another war because of you. I shall take no pleasure in telling your supporters that they have only themselves to thank for another war and the loss of human life for caprice.

Yes, while I suspect this plea will be wholly ignored, I also implore all people living in the United States to resist the New Fascism, for us all to stand in solidarity, to work together to ensure that your threat to democracy does not prevail. Mr. Trump, “Have you no decency sir?”

I shall end this letter asking everyone: who will you take action to stand with and harbor? Sweet Honey in the Rock: Would You Harbor Me?

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.

Inviting Joy…

21 Dec

JoyI have been working on this particular post for the past few months. 2015 has not been an easy year for me.  Since August 4th, I have lost four very dear friends. Our dear friend Jim passed away on August 4th from liver cancer, leaving a hole in our hearts. A week after Jim passed away my friend Ross, whom I was friends with for 20 years, died of pancreatic cancer. Naomi passed away yesterday and I will miss her terribly. Another significant loss was on December 3 when Beth died of liver cancer. Beth and I had been friends for over 30 years. She was my college girl friend. She would have been 52 yesterday. At times, it is all I can do just to get up in the morning. Throughout the day, it feels as though I have been punched in the stomach. Sadly, it also puts me back in touch with the loss of Bonnie, who was like my twin sister. This much loss is so unsettling that I am working exceedingly hard at staving off depression.

I have been watching and observing friends of mine and my husband and am in awe of their resiliency. These observations have led me to question how do I — how do we all —  invite and make space for joy. For me, this is a task that at times escapes me and seems to grow increasingly difficult.

Being aware of the embarrassing pustule on humanity known as the current Republican party (GOP) only adds to my sense of loss — the loss of common decency in our discourse.  It is exceedingly easy for me to give way to a misanthropic abyss when I think about how the discourse from EVERY Republican presidential candidate participates in and perpetuates racism, homophobia, misogyny, classism, and all of the intersections therein. Let us not forget, this is not just the nefarious Donald Trump, since every candidate believes as Trump does. They may not be quite as vociferous, but they share the same racist, homophobic and misogynistic beliefs. Sadly, even those Republicans who condemn the horrific rhetoric by these presidential hopefuls, still maintain that they will still support the Republican nominee. Yes, even while Paul Ryan slams Trump for  his racist, even Nazi like approach to this race, Ryan will still vote for him. This is more than just a little nonplussing.

So how do you, how do I invite hope, not just hope but how do I invite joy? Here I will share things that actually do bring me joy and I invite all of you readers, how do you invite joy? I want to learn from all of you!

Being in my classrooms teaching MSW students brings me great joy, such joy that I don’t have language to fully articulate how giddy I feel when I watch these students and how they reflect and leverage their privilege for equity. I am in awe of these people and they bring me joy and give me hope.

Spending time with my friends’ children next door brings me joy. Hank (who is only six years old) who grabs onto me and most insistently tells me stories brings me joy. Spending time with my amazing colleagues and friends as we are vulnerable with each other and support one another brings me great joy. Spending time with my husband as we talk, listen, drink wine, and support one another, and watch RuPaul’s Drag Race brings me joy!

My failing seems to be how do I hold on to all of this? How can I keep in contact with all of this joy and sustain my gratitude?

How do all of you do it?

Thanksgiving 2015: A Collective Amnesia

23 Nov

Turkey DayAs we swing into full gear around another Presidential election year, I have to say I have not only been sad but I have been mortified by the lies and ignorance being spewed forth by the right wing, who completely own the GOP. There is too much to unpack here to address all of the bigotry, racism, homophobia, and misogyny from ALL of the GOP candidates, but I do need to address their stand on immigration and how it pertains specifically to the Thanksgiving holiday. This past week has been particularly hard given the comments from presidential hopeful Ben Carson, who compared refugees from Syria to rabid dogs, and Donald Trump endorsing a national registry of all Muslims — Nazi much?

I often wonder, do we collectively, as Americans, conveniently choose to forget the genocide of the native peoples living in North America – the use of bio-warfare?  Yes, multi-generations of white folk have benefitted from the slaughtering of indigenous populations in North America and stealing land. It is ironic that the early survival of the Plymouth colony depended so heavily on the agricultural and fishing advice of the Wampanoag. To all the GOP governors who say “no” to Syrian refugees, I remind you that you wouldn’t have states to defend in bellicose, racist, and — yes — unconstitutional rants, if a certain set of religious refugees had been treated similarly 500 years ago.

The whole idea of a “first Thanksgiving” is historically murky at best, with both religious and civil harvest festivals easily traceable to the Spanish in St. Augustine and British colonies in Jamestown and Plymouth. The native populations also had histories of harvest festivals, thus rendering a colonizer’s claim of “first” another in a series of misappropriations. Regular Thanksgiving celebrations as fixed civil events became common much later, dating to the 1660s.

As with so much of early colonial American history, most of what we “remember” is filtered through centuries of creative reconstruction: bucolic paintings, myths of noble savages and honest oppressed British outcasts, grade school songs and pageants. It is understandable that we prefer not to dwell on our collective responsibility for the decimation of whole populations, but it is an important part of our nation’s history. The colonizers’ relationship with the native populations was complex (and occassionally grateful) but seldom benefitted the natives and almost certainly did not involve everybody sharing a lovely meal around a table in peace.

Let us not forget this was no mere land grab but a decimation of Holocaust proportions. Our mistreatment of the indigenous peoples in North America went on well into the 20th Century with the Termination Act, Allotment, and the creation of Boarding Schools where white people thought their job was to “kill the Indian to save the man.”

The root idea of Thanksgiving — shared by the Europeans and the indigenous peoples — as a celebration is a good one. Be thankful for what you have; celebrate the cherished loved ones in your life; take time to remember what is good and bountiful with no expectations of gain other than shared love and thanks. Let us move forward as a nation, correctly learning, remembering, and growing from our history. Let us work hard to return to this spirit of Thanksgiving. It need not be buried in any trivia: upcoming shopping orgies (conspicuous consumption), 437 sporting events, overindulgence for its own sake, or cute “historical” imagery that overlooks a complex history.

We all have people and events in our lives worthy of celebration; that is what we should use today to be truly thankful for. I hope everyone reading this blog will be able to spend time with cherished loved ones, be it families of origin or families and communities we create.  I leave you with Sweet Honey in the Rock’s Would You Harbor Me

A Wonderfully Sweet Moment: Redeeming My Faith in Humanity

26 Apr

ChildrenSometimes I have to just grab hold of very sweet moments and treasure them, for they prove to be a salve for my misanthropic woes at times. I suspect many of us have moments when we experience kindness and generosity of heart from someone — this is a great privilege and I hope people cling to these moments and embrace them.

Thursday I was leaving Portland to go to Bend where I teach a graduate class a course called Social Justice. While in the airport in Portland, I went to buy a bottle of water. In this simple process, I somehow cut my finger. How? I have no idea. Sadly, I was bleeding quite a bit — more bothersome than anything else. Being on a blood thinner (Coumadin) makes me bleed more easily and it is then difficult to stop the bleeding. While trying to pay for the water, the cashier looked at me bluntly and said sternly: “You make sure you don’t bleed on the counter.” How rude of me to be bleeding at all!!!  I grabbed the water and went to the gate.

I had a bunch of napkins and was trying desperately to stop the bleeding, for I was now very embarrassed and the napkins were completely red.

Then, a young girl, I would guess four or five, approached me with a cherubic face and voice to match and with a look of concern asked: “Would you like one of my band-aids?”  She pulled out a band aid from her box and handed it to me. I said: “Thank you. Thank you very much. You are very kind.”  The band-aid was rainbow colored and I wondered how she knew I was gay and how appropriate for her to have picked a lovely and sensitive band aid.  She smiled and waited for me to put the band aid on my bleeding finger, knowing she could walk away with her new skill of saving fingers.

I must confess, this touched me in such a way that I started to cry and felt like I was melting. This kindness from this little girl warmed my heart so tremendously, I knew I had to treasure it.

As I was getting off the plane in Bend, I went to grab my bag from the overhead compartment and saw the little girl just three seats behind me. She looked at my bandaged finger and then looked at me. I winked at her and said thank you.  What a lovely little gift. I am so glad I have now recorded it.

May all of you enjoy some happiness today and everyday, in whatever fashion that kindness reveals itself to you. I am thinking of that little girl that made this old man very happy and listening to Sweet Honey in the Rock’s song On Children. I would like to think that if I had had a child, that child would have been as equally generous and kind.

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)

%d bloggers like this: