“Successful or Significant: CT, Joseph, & John”

 

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A few years ago, a survey of young people learned that many of them were more interested in being famous than being of service. When asked if they’d rather be the President of the United States, a U.S. Senator, or “famous,” youth overwhelmingly chose “famous.” The cult of celebrity is so strong in the US that we actually have people who are famous for being famous. They are not artists, writers, inventors, scientists, philanthropists, doctors, entrepreneurs, or businesspeople. Their “contribution” to society is that they exist on an Instagram or Twitter page. They have more “likes” or “follows” than everyone else. But what they do is of no real significance.

In 1968, singer Dion recorded a song written by Dick Holler titled, “Abraham, Martin, & John.” The song was a tribute to 4 leaders who were assassinated—Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles recorded a version of the song in 1969. I thought of the song upon hearing of the deaths of Rev. CT Vivian and Congressman John Lewis who both passed away within 24 hours of each other. Also, I recalled that Rev. Joseph Lowery died this year in March. These 3 giants represent the best of what America (not only Black America) has to offer. All 3 lived lives of significance. They did not concern themselves with success. Their life work is significant. It has helped change the world and made it a better place for everyone. Black people are rightly proud of each of them.

Rev. Lowery was 98 years old when he died. He, along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He was the organization’s vice president, chairman of the board, and president. Today, many will remember him for giving the benediction at President Obama’s first inauguration. With his many accolades one might expect Dr. Lowery to be prideful, but he was not. After arriving home in Atlanta from receiving an international honor he realized that he had lost his parking ticket. He approached the parking attendant’s kiosk begging for some grace to be allowed to pay what he thought he owed, but before he could get his request out, the parking attendant said, “Oh go ahead man, you don’t have to pay.” Rev. Lowery asked of the attendant, “You know me?” The attendant responded, “Sure, you work third shift don’t you!” The parking attendant did not recognize him as someone famous. He looked at him like any other brother who worked at the airport.

Rev. CT Vivian died a couple of weeks shy of his 96th birthday. I remember him vividly from the Civil Rights documentary series, “Eyes on the Prize.” Rev. Vivian is seen being assaulted on the steps of the Alabama Courthouse as he attempted to escort a group of African Americans inside to register to vote. He declared, “There is nothing we haven’t done for this nation. But we kept knowing the scriptures. We kept living by faith, We kept understanding that it’s something deeper than politics that makes life worth living.” For his bold stance, Rev. Vivian was punched in the face by Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark. Clark punched him so hard that he broke his own hand. Rev. Vivian was a Freedom Rider who founded the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference (an affiliate of SCLC). He worked alongside of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who declared the CT Vivian was the best preacher he’d ever heard. Rev. Vivian didn’t strive for success; he worked toward significance.

Congressman John Robert Lewis died on Friday night at the age of 80. He began a career in civil rights in his early 20s and was the youngest speaker at the historic 1963 March on Washington. He was severely beaten as he led a march for Black voting rights. He was also beaten in a bus station where he participated as a Freedom Rider. That beating left him unconscious. But Lewis never gave up on democracy. He never gave up on non-violence. And, he never gave up on fighting for justice. He served as a US Congressman from Atlanta for over 30 years. Unlike many civil rights leaders, Congressman Lewis was not known for his eloquence. Instead, he was known for his passion and moral commitment. His kindness was immeasurable. I ran into Congressman Lewis in the Atlanta airport in 2016. I must confess I was so giddy seeing him that I could hardly form a sentence. I just wanted to tell him how important his work has been to my thinking and understanding of democracy and justice. He looked at me and said, “Well, don’t you want to take a picture?” Of course I did but I did not want to presume. He insisted that his assistant take the picture and wished me well. He wasn’t trying to be successful. He was continuing to be significant.

If I were to sing Dick Holler’s song, I’d update it to say, “Has anybody here seen my old friends CT, Joseph or John? Can you tell me where they’ve gone? Didn’t you love the things they stood for? Didn’t they try to find some good for you and me? And we’ll be free. Someday soon it’s gonna be one day. I thought I saw them walking up over the hill with Malcolm, Martin, and Medgar!”

I am glad that all three men—Rev. Joseph Lowery, Rev. CT Vivian, and Congressman John Lewis had a chance to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. They didn’t receive the medal for their success. They received it because they were significant

“In the Room(s) Where it Happens”

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If you are a devotee of the Broadway musical, “Hamilton” or have paid attention to the recent release of former National Security Advisor, John Bolton, you have heard the phrase, “in the room where it happened.” It refers to the rooms where the most powerful decisions are made. These are the seats of power and what happens in these rooms ultimately impacts us all. Black people are rarely in the rooms where it happens.

In the days before emancipation and then, before state sanctioned apartheid (i.e. legal segregation) ended, we sometimes were in those rooms as part of the servant class. As cooks, maids, butlers, and valets we were sometimes in rooms where it happens because the privileged and powerful needed someone to serve them. God forbid they should be required to pour themselves a glass of water or clear their own plates! And, in their arrogance they refused to acknowledge our humanity, our intellect, and our interests as citizens. Thus, although we were sometimes there they acted as if we weren’t. But, those folks in the room where it happened helped Black folks to plan and execute slave revolts. They helped Black folks plan their Civil Rights strategies. When we are in the rooms where it happens, we can respond in ways that serve our own best interests.

Today, under the guise of representative democracy we are regularly excluded from the rooms where it happens. We are not in corporate board rooms. We are not in legislative caucus rooms. We are not in executive offices of mayors, governors, or presidents. And when we are not in the room, or at the table, we are often “on the menu!” Decision makers are determining how to slice up our schools, our neighborhoods, our communities, and our rights and serve them up to the rich and powerful.

The civil uprisings happening today are a demand to be in the room where it happens. We want to be in the room where police contracts are negotiated. We want to be in the room where school superintendents are selected. We want to be in the room where housing development is discussed. We want to be in the room where tenure and promotion decisions are made. Indeed, instead of just being in the room we want the room to be open and available to stakeholders regardless of their social stature.

The rooms where it happens are rooms where people may refer to us using the N-word, like the police in Wilmington, NC who declared they want to slaughter us. The rooms where it happens are grand juries that fail to indict police for shooting unarmed Black and Brown people. The rooms where it happens issue no-knock orders that result in the death of innocent people like Breonna Taylor.

On May 25, 2020 17-year-old Darnella Frazier put us all in the room where it happened when she filmed Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. I cannot imagine how that murder would have been spun if we had not been able to be “in the room where it happened!”

The Black community is tired of being kept out of the conversations where people make life and death decisions about us. We, like “Hamilton’s” Aaron Burr want to be “in the room where it happens… the room where it happens… the room where it happens!”

Stay Black & Smart!

Time for a Hard Reset

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For those of us accustomed to working with computers—laptops, desktops, tablets, and/or smart phones—we have heard the dreaded words, “You need to do a hard reset!” This phrase speaks to the fact that everything you have tried to repair a challenging problem on your device has failed to work. Many of us have seen a frozen screen or the “icon of death” that suggests the device has failed.

For lesser problems you may be able to do a “soft reset.” Indeed, just the other evening I was having a problem with my iPad. Although most of my applications were working correctly, I was not able to hear any sound via my headset. After trying various headsets I determined the problem was in the tablet itself, not the headphones. I sought out some online support and was advised to do a soft reset. The soft reset would return a number of my applications to their original settings without losing my data—photos, contacts, saved emails, etc. I followed the directions and was able to get the sound to work. However, if I had to do a hard reset I would turn my tablet into a device that was like it was when it first left the factory. My previous data would be gone. I would need to start from the beginning.

The situation we are in the midst of COVID-19 (the novel corona virus) pandemic calls for a hard reset. Far too many people keep talking about how to “get back” or “return to normal” without understanding there can be no return to normal with the level of devastation this virus has wreaked upon the world and particularly Black people. As a people with less resources and the least able to work remotely we find ourselves deemed “essential” in jobs like public transportation, sanitation, grocery and pharmacy store clerks, and health care workers. We are also a group of people with less access to quality health care and are likely to be treated unfairly by the health care system. Because of this limited access to health care and other financial resources Black people have accumulated a number of underlying health challenges—hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer—that place them at greater risk for contracting COVID-19 and dying from it.

The pandemic has forced a drastic change in our lifestyles. Those who can, work from home. Our children are unable to attend school. Many of our churches are closed. Yet, there are calls for returning to what we had before this disaster. This is not possible. Millions of people have lost their jobs. Students without computing capacity and access to wi-fi have been unable to keep up with school work. Schools have been unable to offer full service instruction and lurking just beneath the surface of all of this trauma is a giant, ticking, mental health bomb. Just “opening the economy” will not restore businesses that have gone bankrupt. It will not replace bank accounts that have dried up. It will not fix homelessness. It will not fix food insecurity. The stimulus checks reflect emergency money but do not put people on secure footing. Our children have seen death without proper closing rituals. They have seen sickness without comfort. They have suffered abuse without help from caring adults. We need a hard reset.

A hard reset for this society means we have to first and foremost forgive all debt that has accumulated during the pandemic. Debt that continued during the pandemic (e.g. inability to pay student loans, car loans, mortgage debt, credit card debt, etc.) must be forgiven. Next, in the world of education a hard reset means we do not penalize students for conditions beyond their control. We must ignore the test scores and grades coming out of the pandemic. We ALL need a clean slate and a fresh start.

There is no “going back.” There is only “going forward” and we need to go forward with as much equity and justice as we can muster. We do not need to try to test our way to equity or penalize people for devastation that was visited upon them. We can learn lessons from school recovery in post- World War II Japan or Europe. How did these education systems start again? I am sure they did not worry about what page their students left off on before bombs were dropped that totally destroyed their lives. The first order of business was to help children and their families heal.

A hard reset means we have to re-think what we ought to teach as well as how to teach. A hard reset means we cannot see teachers as essential workers only in the midst of a pandemic. We now realize their work is essential to the everyday well-being of our children. We know that without a viable public health system we will be vulnerable to the next global pandemic (and there will be a next one). We know that people need to earn a living wage to avoid catastrophic loss.

We cannot patchwork our way to post-pandemic life. We have to have a hard reset.

Stay Black & Smart!

“Requiem for a Blues People”

(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

By now you or someone you know has been touched by COVID-19, the novel corona virus. This cruel disease is burning a path through Black communities in New York, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, and New Orleans to name a few. And, not only are Black people coming down with COVID-19 they are dying from it at a disproportionate rate—far outstripping their proportion in their cities. We are told Black people are succumbing to COVID-19 because they are more likely to have more underlying health risks—diabetes, hypertension, cancer, asthma, and COPD for example. At some point officials at local, state, and national levels finally admitted that Black people’s high morbidity is a direct result of longstanding and persistent social disparities—lack of access to health care, poor housing, low level employment, and limited access to quality food, etc. That’s the subtle way of saying racism is killing us!

Despite the acknowledgement that an unfair system is leading us to early graves, somewhere the discussion came back to our dying being our own fault. The Surgeon General, a Black man named Jerome Adams, defaulted to that old bromide… Black people are dying because they are not taking personal responsibility for their own health. He stood in front of a national audience at the daily COVID-19 press briefing and said, “Black people need to stop drinking alcohol and stop smoking.” He said that as if White people do not drink (remember the 3-martini lunch?) or smoke. He did not tell White people to stop using meth or opioids. No, his admonition was directed solely at Black people. So, in the midst of our dying we are being shamed!

On top of all of this death and suffering, I am even more concerned about the way this moment is keeping us from one of the most sacred rituals of Black life—the homegoing—or what the rest of America calls a funeral. Black homegoings are an important culmination of our journey here on earth. They allow family and loved ones to say a formal and public goodbye to the deceased. It allows us to speak well about the departed. It allows community and friends to surround us with condolences, prayers, and love. It allows us to send our loved ones into eternity with proper reverence and ceremony.

In addition to the formal ceremony, there is the repast, and no one does a repast like Black folks. As someone who has worked most of her adult life with White colleagues I have been to my share of “White” funerals. Some are somber. Some have a sense of humor or even whimsy, but none has had a repast like a Black repast. My White colleagues often have what might be termed a “reception.” There will be fruit and vegetable trays, perhaps a finger sandwich platter, some cookies, punch and/or coffee. However, a Black repast is a banquet. It has chicken (sometimes 3 types—baked, barbequed, and friend), ham, turkey, baked macaroni and cheese, yams, greens, green beans, potato salad, spaghetti, cornbread dressing, rolls, a wall of pies, cakes, cobblers, banana puddings, and ice tea, Kool Aid, and coffee. This food is a result of friends, family, church and community members bringing special dishes to be shared among the grieving family.

This Black grieving ritual is being totally lost in a time of COVID-19. The requirement to stay in our homes in order to stay safe along with not having any gatherings of more than 10 people means we cannot have what we think of as a “Black” homegoing. Thus, COVID-19 is not only stealing the lives of our loved ones, it is stealing our traditions. It is forcing us to grieve alone. When the patriarch of the famed Marsalis family, Ellis Marsalis, died last week all I could think of is that he would be laid to rest without the benefit of that New Orleans’ staple—a second line. People would be unable to dance behind his casket to the rhythmic beat of horns and drums playing, “When the saints go marching in.” Instead, less than a dozen of his family and/or friends will assemble in a quiet service to say their goodbyes. Perhaps after we come through this period, they will memorialize Mr. Marsalis but the memorial will lack the immediacy and feeling of a traditional homegoing.

Poet Amiri Baraka referred to Black people as “Blues People.” The music we created to make the nation’s most original art form contains within it a lament of our sadness and sojourn from the shores of West Africa to the cane brake and cotton fields of the Carolinas, Alabama, Mississippi and most of the South to the share cropping farms and the institution of Jim Crow to the battle for Civil Rights. We have died for the right to be Americans. And we need the ability to mourn in our very own way.

So, in this blog post I say and prayer and pour a libation for those Black people who have departed in the wake of COVID-19—whether as a result of the disease or the serendipity of a death during this time. I imagine glorious choirs, a rousing eulogy, smartly dressed ushers, funny anecdotes, and yes, a magnificent repast. I declare a requiem for those Blues People!

Stay Black & Smart.

“Why COVID-19 Should Scare Black People”



By now you and everyone you know has had some experience with COVID-19, also known as the Coronavirus. The outbreak was first documented in Wu-Han China and because of its totalitarian government China could take draconian measures such as forced quarantines, building a hospital in less than a month, and requiring health care workers to work around the clock. However, in a democratic society, individuals retain certain rights that governments are not supposed to violate.

Today, people are pointing fingers at various people and government officials concerning slow or limited actions. Most of the nation is asked to practice what we now know as social distancing. Unless we are first responders—police officers, fire fighters, and health care practitioners—we have been asked to self-isolate and stay home. Our schools are closed, our jobs ask us to work from home, if possible, and sadly some of us have lost our jobs. We are washing our hands multiple times a day, wiping down hard services with disinfectant wipes, and shopping for hard to find staples like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, bleach, and disinfectant wipes and sprays.

Lots of myths are spreading because of this deadly virus. One such myth is that young people can’t catch it. That’s not true. Indeed, 58% of those identified with the virus are in the 18 to 49 year old age range. A variety of “cures” for the virus are circulating on the Internet. However, as of this moment there are no cures for the virus. Our best course of action is to practice social distancing to help flatten the curve of the outbreak.

I wanted to write this blog because I am concerned about what COVID-19 may mean for Black people. One of the myths we must confront is that Black people can’t catch the virus. We know that’s not true. Idris Elba tested positive and several NBA players—Rudy Gobert and Kevin Durant—have tested positive. We are all at risk for contracting the virus. But, as Black people we have a special risk.

Our risk is tied to our limited access to quality health care. We are less likely to receive a COVID-19 test even if we present with symptoms. Over the last few days 3 Black people have come across my news feed as victims who died from COVID-19. We are more economically vulnerable so we are likely to risk going to work or taking on side hustles like shared ride gigs (Uber, Lyft) and food delivery to make ends meet.

Historically, we say, “When White America catches a cold, Black America catches pneumonia!” Thus, White Americans may be getting the flu, but we are getting the coronavirus! We are less likely to be able to homeschool our children and our children cannot afford to lose precious classroom time. We have fewer childcare options and because our seniors are considered a vulnerable population we cannot rely on grandma and grand dad as childcare providers. Thus, we may be tempted to leave children home alone so we can earn a living. This can be very dangerous.

COVID-19 is scary by any measure but it is especially scary for Black folks. We have to pay attention to the best science and hygiene practices to stay safe and healthy. We will get through this but we can speed up the resolution by being smart in how we respond. Let’s stay safe… let’s stay healthy… let’s stay alive.

Stay Black & Smart!

“They Like Us As Slaves… Not Fully Formed Human Beings!”

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announced its nominations for the 2020 Oscars Presentation. Once again, there were hardly any Black people nominated for awards. Actually, only one Black actor was nominated for an award—Cynthia Erivo, for the film “Harriet.”

The thing that strikes me about Erivo’s nomination is that the role for which she is nominated is for abolitionist, freedom fighter, and formerly enslaved person Harriet Tubman. Apparently, the Academy likes Black folks in slave roles. They liked, “12 Years a Slave” enough to award it “Best Picture” and Lupita Nyong’o “Best Supporting Actress” and writer John Ridley won for his writing in a screenplay for the film. Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor was nominated but did not win for “Best Actor.”

One of Denzel Washington’s Oscars was for his role as a formerly enslaved soldier in the Union Army in the film, “Glory.” The first Black winner, Hattie McDaniel won “Best Supporting Actress” for her role in “Gone with the Wind.” If not a slave we seem to catch the Academy’s attention as servants. Octavia Spencer won a “Best Supporting Actress” award for her role as Minnie Jackson in “The Help.”

I am not suggesting that these artists are not worthy of winning their awards. However, I do wonder why Black actors who take on more complex versions of humanity are regularly overlooked in the Oscar balloting. This year, “Just Mercy” the film about Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative’s battle to exonerate Alabama death row inmate, Walter McMillan was completely overlooked. In addition to telling a compelling story, Jamie Foxx’s portrayal of McMillan was riveting! Without the use of high-speed car chases, sex, gratuitous violence, or CGI (Computer Generated Images) the dramatic film takes you on an emotional rollercoaster and tugs at your heart and sense of injustice throughout.

Walter McMillan is not offered as a perfect man but he is depicted as a real man—fully human with faults, fears, concerns, and emotions. He is a husband and father. He is loved by his community. He is also a realist. He knows the system is inherently unfair and his chances of release from death row are slim. Even with a Harvard educated lawyer (played by Michael B. Jordan) who is passionate and willing to take his case pro bono, he is not hopeful.

“Just Mercy” is a story White American really does not want to hear. When you are deeply invested in a system you don’t want to think of it as wholly corrupt. The average White American believes that those in jail or prison belong there. It does not understand that the current (in)justice system operates as a way to profit off of inmates. States generate goods and services by putting inmates to work to manufacture goods, clear fields, and clean highways. They also use the prison system as a vehicle for employing Whites with low skills and limited education. It is no secret why most newly built prisons are in rural areas despite most of the inmates being from urban areas.
When you watch “Just Mercy” you have to ask yourself one of two questions—“Am I that ignorant about what’s going on in the society?” or “Am I that indifferent to institutional racism and systemic injustice?”

Walter McMillan is not someone we can push into the recesses of history with a “That was a long time ago” excuse. He makes you realize just how vulnerable certain portions of our citizenry are. The film makes you realize that the notion of “White privilege” is not merely about who has money and status. It is about who pays an inordinate price in a police state.

Foxx’s acting in this film is superb. It is nuanced and poignant. You want to root for him at the same moment you understand his hopelessness. His performance has you crying one moment and laughing the next… just like with any real human being. Unfortunately, Hollywood does not want to imbue Black folks with humanity. They like us better when we’re slaves!

Stay Black & Smart!

The NFL? …. Uh, That Would Be a No!

I am what might be considered an “uber” sports fan. I enjoy NBA and NCAA Men’s and Women’s basketball. I love the build up to the World Series. I get excited as we experience the Olympics. I love World Competition in figure skating and track and field. I can sit glued to the TV during Wimbledon and the US Open. And as the Bowl Championship Series comes to a conclusion on Monday I am anxious to see whether LSU or Clemson will be crowned the College Football Champion. However, since 2017 I have not purposely watched one down of the National Football League (NFL). Clearly there have been times when I have walked through an establishment and a game was being broadcast but I do not tune in on my own. I did not even watch the Super Bowl when my beloved Philadelphia Eagles won! I got calls from friends and family in Philly and when I went to Philly on business the following week I could see the joy and exuberance that flowed through the city. I was just not a part of it.

I stopped watching the NFL when Colin Kaepernick was effectively banned from the league for taking a knee in silent protest to the ongoing police brutality that plagues the Black community. For that one citizen act the league and its owners colluded to ensure he would never play in the NFL again. Proof positive that this happened is the fact that the NFL settled with Kaepernick for a reported $10million rather than have their unscrupulous behavior see the light of day.

Lots of my friends and family insist that my “boycott” of the NFL is meaningless. Indeed, data suggest that NFL viewership is at an all time high. But, I don’t boycott with the idea of hurting a multi-billion dollar industry. I boycott because my conscience will not let me enjoy a game that reflects a willful indifference to the suffering of Black people. When Botham Jean, a 26-year-old Black man accountant was shot and killed by an off-duty White woman police officer (Amber Guyger) his mother asked the Dallas Cowboys to honor her son at a game the Sunday after Guyger’s trial by conducting a silent protest. The team refused!

The latest insult came this week as the NFL playoffs got underway. As is true every year, unsuccessful teams decided whether or not to keep or fire their coaches. They call it the “coaching carousel.” In 2003 the NFL instituted the “Rooney Rule” (named after Dan Rooney, former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers). This rule requires a team looking for a head coach or senior football operations personnel to interview at least one ethnic minority candidate before extending an offer for a job. This rule is not affirmative action. There is no quota of ethnic minority candidates to be hired. Teams are just required to offer an interview to a candidate of color.

The coaches that were recently hired included a veteran coach (Mike McCarthy, former Green Bay Packers Coach hired by Dallas Cowboys), the Carolina Panthers hired Matt Rhule, a former college coach who has never coached at the professional level and the New York Giants hired Joe Judge, the former New England Patriots wide receiver and special teams coach. He has never been an offensive or defensive coordinator—jobs that seem to be prerequisite positions that Black candidates must have. It is also important to point out the work former coaches like Tony Dungy did to build a pipeline of Black coaches—Herm Edwards, Lovie Smith, Jim Caldwell, Mike Tomlin, and Leslie Frazier. We know there are and were successful Black coaches—Ray Rhodes, Dennis Green, Marvin Lewis, and Doug Williams to name a few.

The NFL is 70-75% Black but somehow Black coaches are not seen as cable of coaching them. It is virtually a plantation system and I cannot bring myself to support it. Some might claim I’m being hypocritical by supporting college football on the one hand but boycotting the NFL. The big difference for me is that college football at least offers the promise of an education (whether student-athletes complete their degrees or not). The NFL can be a lucrative career but the average tenure of an NFL player is 3.3 years (not as long as a collegiate who plays out his full eligibility). Contrast that with the tenure of NBA players. The average NBA player will make $24.7 million in his career. That is based on an average salary of $5.2 million and an average career length of 4.8 years and is $18.6 million more than the career earnings for the average NFL player ($6.1 million) (https://www.businessinsider.com/chart-the-average-nba-player-will-make-lot-more-in-his-career-than-the-other-major-sports-2013-10).

I realize I am missing out on all of the fun and trash talking that accompanies the NFL season. I am missing out on sensational plays and dazzling runs, hits, throws, and catches. But, I put my head down on my pillow each night with a clear conscience. I just can’t with the NFL!

Stay Black & Smart!

“I’m Still with Kap!”

This past weekend many of us who have given up on watching NFL football had a glimmer of hope that we might get to go back to the real national pastime. Former quarterback Colin Kaepernick was planning to participate in a workout to demonstrate that despite not playing football for 3 years, he was still in shape and able to perform at a NFL level. Although I have to say I’ve gotten comfortable not letting football eat up my Sundays (and Mondays, and Thursdays), it would be nice to at least watch the playoffs and the Super Bowl. More important it would be great to see Kaepernick be vindicated and get back to doing something he loved doing.

Alas, it was not to be. The workout venue and rules of engagement were changed at the last minute and only 7 teams showed up. Quickly the media pundits began to expound. “He doesn’t really want to play.” “Why did he show up with a Kunta Kinte shirt?” “Why are all the media here?” The questions went on and on. Some declared that Kaepernick ought to be grateful that the league was “giving him a chance.” Are you kidding me? Let’s look at the facts.

Colin Kaepernick broke no laws. He is not accused of domestic violence or abuse. He is not accused of substance abuse. He was not in a club shooting a gun. He exercised his citizen rights to participate in a silent protest about the condition of Black people and the ongoing police brutality they face in cities and towns all across this country and the person occupying the people’s home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue did not like it. For that he has been essentially banned from the NFL for 3 years. Colin Kaepernick is accused of being an “uppity N-word!” That is it in a nutshell.

What makes this situation even more ridiculous is the number of Black sports journalists and commentators who do not realize that Kaepernick’s only crime is that he refuses to be played. According to his camp he refused to sign a waiver that the NFL presented that would not allow him to sue the league or accuse them of collusion.

The truth is the league DID collude to keep Kaepernick out of football. The settlement the NFL reached with him was designed to keep him from exposing their underhanded, plantation mentality—“You dance to our music ‘boy’ or you don’t dance at all!” So whether they paid him $10 million or $45 million doesn’t matter. They paid whatever they needed to in order to ensure their dastardly deeds were not exposed.

I actually don’t see any reason why Kaepernick should go back to the NFL. He has more of a platform outside of it. He can speak more freely, influence more people (particularly young people), and do it without fear of career ending injury. I’m not worried about Colin Kaepernick. However, I am deeply disappointed in Black folks who continue to carry water for the NFL establishment. They have no understanding of the predicament of every day Black people. They have no notion of the suffering that our children endure in schools and classrooms. They apparently have not been touched by police brutality… yet! They don’t understand that the family of Botham Jean asked the Dallas Cowboys to acknowledge their loved one’s unnecessary death at the hands of a police officer who wandered into his apartment and they wouldn’t do it. All they know how to do is act as sycophants for powerful White men who are just as likely to discard them as quickly as they did Colin Kaepernick. Sorry, I’m still with Kap!

“NO, Wisconsin”

The fight song of the University of Wisconsin is “On Wisconsin.” It is played at all major sporting events and even in a medley at graduations. One verse says, “On Wisconsin, on Wisconsin fight on for her fame. Fight fellows fight, fight, fight we’ll win this game!” However, this past week the UW Alumni association released a promo video to encourage people to come back to campus for homecoming that could only prompt me to say instead of “On Wisconsin”… “No, Wisconsin!”

The video features the University and its students… some of its students. You see students going to class, football games, biking, hiking, playing in the band, eating pizza—all things students do. However, there is no representation of students of color in the video. Unfortunately, this is a familiar racial faux pas for UW. Some years ago the university photo shopped a Black student into the student section of the stadium. Its response was to apologize. More recently, a Black student was spat upon by another student and told she did not belong there (despite her incredible performing arts portfolio). About that same time another Black student was arrested in class in front of his fellow student for doing anti-racist graffiti. The list of racial microgressions is too numerous to enumerate in one blog but every day students of color are confronted with reasons they should not feel welcome or safe on the UW campus. UW-Madison is 13 out of 14 (University of Nebraska is worse) Big Ten Conference campuses in the number of students of color. Out of over 44,000 students there are only 593 African American undergrads and 255 African American graduate students.

Before someone thinks I’m hating on UW-Madison let me be clear, I am not. I was a faculty member on that campus for 26 years. It afforded me a great career. I was the first African American woman to earn tenure in my School (in 1995). I served for 7 years on the University’s athletic board and was the Big Ten faculty representative. But, I understand how institutions work. Some years ago I was asked to conduct a workshop for practicing physicians who made the decision to enter academic medicine (become faculty at the Medical School). One of the first things I told them was “Institutions have no capacity to love you back!” My point was no matter how much you love the university it cannot love you back. I still believe that. However, just because the university can’t love you does not mean it has the right to abuse you.

What makes the video so egregious is the homecoming committee solicited many student groups to participate in the filming and groups of color did volunteer and participate. All of them were cut in the final editing and somehow no one saw a problem with that. This is a pattern that the university must break. It must stop giving lip service to “equity, diversity, and inclusion.” It must stop using the athletic department as its “diversity program.” It must stop pretending that students of color are all here under some “affirmative action” benevolence. Trust me, after teaching hundreds of students I have had my share of mediocre White students (I’ve had some outstanding ones too, so save the White tears)!

I am always amazed (and proud) when I see Wisconsin students of color do great things despite their constant marginalization. As a part of the 100th anniversary of the “On Wisconsin” fight song the university sponsored a contest to re-mix the song. It was the students of color who are a part of our award winning “First Wave” Scholars program who won that award with an amazing update of the song (see, https://youtu.be/Fbe_H5n_1qY ). One of my Black students, DeShawn McKinney, not only led the campus’ “Black Lives Matter” effort, he won a Truman Scholarship for his civic engagement, was a Rhodes Scholarship finalist, and a Marshall Scholarship winner which afforded him the opportunity to student for his master’s degree in Oxford, England. Another of my students, Jonathan Williams won the national “Raise Up” competition designed to encourage high school students to stay in school. He later went on to win a fellowship for a highly selective Masters of Fine Arts Program at the University of Florida. A few years ago Sports Illustrated named the Wisconsin Basketball Team the most politically active one in the nation. Star Nigel Hayes regularly spoke out on injustice (and mounted his own respectful protest at the singing of the National Anthem) and Bronson Koenig made his was to the protests at Standing Rock to both express his solidarity with other Native Peoples and help conduct basketball clinics for the children there. There is not enough room in a blog post for me to detail all the amazing things I have seen scholars of color accomplish on our campus. The university must do better by them.

My undergraduate classes focus on preparing teachers to teach history and social studies. I remind my students that the rich, powerful, and privileged don’t really need democracy. They have ways of getting what they want whenever they want. No, democracy is what the marginalized, disenfranchised, and under represented need. It’s their only hope for true justice and a fair opportunity. So until the university recognizes its needs to attend to the concerns of the most vulnerable among its students (and faculty) we can’t really sing “On Wisconsin.” Our song will be, “No, Wisconsin!”

Stay Black & Smart!

“Gratitude in the Midst of Humiliation”

Today is my last day of 7 weeks of radiation for a recurrence of breast cancer. After living 27 years cancer free I was once again diagnosed with this horrible disease this past winter. I was devastated. For 27 years I have been an advocate for breast cancer research and support for those who were diagnosed—especially Black women. Interesting, we have a lower incidence of breast cancer, but when we get it we have a higher mortality rate. We are more likely to get a more aggressive form and to get it at an earlier age. My first battle I was younger, stronger, and more fearless. I fought through every step of it—surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. I went up against the breast cancer establishment in my town for not having wigs that were appropriate for Black women. I mobilized women in my church to participate in the breast cancer 5K race/walk. I became an advocate for Black women and breast cancer. This time I had a diagnosis of a much less aggressive, non-invasive cancer but aspects of these last 7-weeks have been among the hardest I have experienced.

Each weekday since July 22 I have driven to radiation therapy and back. My husband asks everyday if he can take me. I always say, “No.” Other friends have called or texted to volunteer to drive me and again I say, “No.” My own sense of control makes me want to take myself. In the car for those 20 minutes there and back I think about what I have to face and how to face it. Wanting to have some modicum of control is something you crave when it seems things are spiraling out of control.

Once you become sick, you lose all access to personal modesty. Every day I had to enter a room with youngsters (some young enough to be my grandchildren) and disrobe. In a cold, brightly lit room I laid down for treatment trying to avoid eye-contact. In an attempt to make me feel comfortable the technicians engage in friendly banter, “What else do you have planned for today? Those are really cute shoes you’re wearing. What a pretty nail color you have!” Every morning as I prepared to go I had to make sure I had on a “good” bra (Black women know we have “good bras” and “bras”) to avoid judgment at the hands of young White women (and sometimes a man). I am embarrassed by the fact I cannot shave or wear deodorant on my left side. I’m constantly checking myself to ensure my underarm does not emit body odor. As I lay there taking and holding deep breaths my mind wanders in different directions. As humiliating as this is, I wonder what happens to those Black women without adequate health care? Who is available to take them back and forth to therapy every day? Who buys them new bras so they don’t have to stand in front of young White girls with tattered underwear?

I also lay there thinking of my ancestors. In this 400-year commemoration of the first enslaved Africans arriving on these shores I can hardly imagine the humiliation they felt standing naked upon an auction block being picked at and prodded. Clearly, there is no comparison between them and my situation. Every woman with breast cancer who receives treatment, regardless of race and ethnicity, will undergo what I went through. Most will be grateful for the skill of the health care professionals and the technologies that will save their lives. But, I wonder if every woman will feel the humiliation placed upon Black women in this process? I am grateful for what the radiologist and radiation therapy personnel have done for me over the past 7 weeks. However, I hope never to see them again!

Stay Black & Smart!