LIFE

On May 13 of this year I turned seventy-eight, and a horrendous feeling of panic shot through my mind and body. I recognized that I was entering the twilight time of my existence here on earth. For the very first time I felt old. I wasn’t sure if I should stop all that I was still trying to accomplish and settle into a pastoral sense of comfort, and patiently wait for the great crossover. But it didn’t take long for me to jettison that attitude, and acknowledge it was not the years that counted, but the LIFE you have lived. With that transformation of thought, I began to examine those events, both good and bad; happy and sad that I have experienced.

I now recognize that I was blessed to have lived in one of the most exciting decades in this country’s history, and that was the 1960’s. LIFE became quite invigorating and full of promises as Black Americans and their supporters of all races, stood up and confronted evil directly in its face. I must admit my close friends and I living in Los Angeles, California did not join in the great civil rights fight that began as early as 1956 and continued to grow and expand throughout that decade, and into the next. After all we were in sunny California going to college, pledging into fraternities, and dating as many young girls as possible. What did we have in common with oppression in the South.

I can recall quite clearly when that attitude began to change in my thinking and behavior. It happened in June 1963 when Medgar Evers was shot down in his driveway, simply for advocating voting rights for my people who should have long ago enjoyed that privilege. It was also in the hot summer of 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama when Police Commissioner Eugene Bull Connors turned the dogs loose on Black men, women and children marching for equality. It was in 1965 on the Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama when white men (Highway Patrol) hired to protect Black marchers, instead beat them.

I began to recognize the nexus that joined all Black people throughout this country and that was a hatred for us, regardless where you lived, including California. That evil was as old as this country and as far wide as the from ocean to ocean. The evil became more intense as great leaders like Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., told us that we must fight back, granted through different means, but still a fight.

   

Then in February 1965, Black folks living in California on the West Coast, received the news that Malcolm X had been assassinated in New York on the East Coast. Living still in Los Angeles, my awareness continued to grow because I realized that the distances between the two coasts was minimal, and of no importance. Malcolm X. belonged to us, as well as Blacks throughout the entire country. That nexus grew stronger. I could relate to the late-great Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions singing “People get ready. There’s a train a coming. Picking up passengers from coast to coast” That was the train that had room for all of us to get on board and join in the struggle to fight the evil. My awareness was reaching the point of extreme intensity.

My next turning point that essentially sealed the deal for me, occurred on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated from a bullet fired by the evil that just doesn’t seem to die. I recognized then, no matter what you do in life as a career, a Black man must always be aware of the battle he confronts. Nothing should surpass our commitment to that struggle. I do not today, nor have I ever considered myself a leader, but when I read the Autobiography of Paul Robeson, one paragraph stuck with me. He wrote: “The primary quality that Black leadership must possess…is a single-minded dedication to their people’s welfare. Any individual Black man or woman, like any other person, may have many varied interests in life, but for the true leader all else must be subordinated to the interests of those whom they are leading.” I would change the word “leader” to any committed Black, and that clearly defines me in my seventy-eighth year.

That is why my temporary submission to age overwhelmed me, but only for a moment’s time. Then my commitment to LIFE and what it can be from this day on took control. My compilation of experiences, I believe, places me in a unique position to examine our past as Black folks, and suggest what our future should look like. That LIFE is now committed to using my knowledge of our history of struggle, oppression, victory, and courage to join forces with some very talented people to produce a movie on Black Wall Street and the evil that destroyed it on June 1, 1921. And that evil has lived long after its dastardly act, almost one hundred years ago.

With the election of Donald Trump that evil is now feeling encouraged that it has been re-energized and given new life. There is nothing great about what Trump and his ilk represent. I would imagine that class of Americans that practically idolize him, would find nothing wrong with the massacre and destruction that engulfed Black citizens back then. But I am willing to bet that Trump’s followers do not represent the majority of my fellow citizens, after all he lost the popular vote. We must all commit to stopping this evil’s momentum before it again gets out of control as it did in Tulsa in 1921.And that is why I am dedicating my time to put together a team to bring the story of Black Wall Street and its destruction (as I did in my novel, Fires of Greenwood: Tulsa Riot of 1921) to the big screen about the same time as the one-hundredth year of the dastardly act.

I have been blessed with a close friendship with Laurel Stradford, the great granddaughter of J. B. Stradford, the richest Black and a leader on Black Wall Street; and with one of this country’s top photographers out of New York, Adger Cowans, along with an additional team of colleagues, to produce this story. We are committed to telling that story our way. After all my years here on earth (my LIFE), I truly believe that is the way it should be done.

FINDING BLACKNESS

I have a friend who does an outstanding presentation to young Black American men. The title of his talk is, “What I would Tell You If I Were Your Father.” By the end of his talk, he is encouraging the young men that it is time to jettison the “Bling-Bling,” of all the superficial chains, rings, sagging pants, disrespectful and vulgar language for a new lifestyle. But unlike many other black leaders, he does not attack the young for their behavior, but instead tries to explain to them why they have a very negative mindset, one that is destructive and detrimental to their growth and demeaning to their culture. The basis of his approach is to reject the assumption made by many conservatives, both black and white, that the young black man’s behavior is of his own doing. That he is not the victim of centuries of an oppressive system, deliberately designed to destroy the black youth’s feelings of self-worth, of pride in who he is, and of the race and culture from which he comes.

But the conservatives are wrong. Two centuries of purposeful and vicious attacks on the most important principle in the growth for a healthy and positive young man, be it black or white or any other race, the belief in one’s self, is still being denied black youth in this country. But shame on us who have allowed this to happen. Shame on us who admire the negative portrayals of blacks in books, movies and on television. It is like we have come to the point that we get the same kind of enjoyment out of the negative images of the race, in the same manner that whites have gotten for over two hundred years. It is time for us to reverse this trend and change the paradigm. It is time for us to no longer be the exception, but instead to be exceptional. Let us begin to point out the great accomplishments of our race, and the exceptional men and women who have accelerated in their particular fields of endeavor. Let’s do something different for a change and take the high road, instead of settling for the ditch. We accomplish change by finding our blackness as a people and a culture. There is a war for the soul of our culture, and it calls for drastic steps from all who are concerned. Here are a few facts that we all can begin to share with our young; facts they need to know so they will know “they are somebody.”

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They NEED TO KNOW that Blacks excelled as jockeys soon after the Civil War. The first winner of the Kentucky Derby was Jimmy Winfield. In fact, 15 of the first twenty-eight Derbies were won by Black jockeys. And the greatest jockey in the history of the sport was Isaac Murphy who won three Kentucky Derby races and 44% of all his races throughout his career.

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They NEED TO KNOW that Jesse Owens embarrassed the German dictator Hitler who had claimed the German runners were invincible, but defeated them in the 100-yard-dash. In fact, Owens won four gold medals in the Olympics that year, proving that Black excellence was unstoppable.

lockebuncheaydavisThey NEED TO KNOW Black exceptionalism does not end with sports, but can be found in academic circles also. There is no question that Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois was the country’s most gifted scholar of the 20th Century. He was the first Black man to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University and was a historian, sociologists, philosopher, novelist and all around brilliant thinker. Dr. Alain Locke, also a philosopher, attained Phi Beta Kappa status and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University. He was the first Black Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and was known as the “Godfather of the Harlem Renaissance.” Jesse Fausett was the literary editor for Crisis Magazine during the Renaissance. She was the first Black female graduate from Cornell University and first Black woman to achieve Phi Beta Kappa status. Dr. Ralph Bunche became the first African American to win a Nobel Peace Prize for his work toward bringing peace in the Middle East in the late 1940’s. Dr. Angela Davis is an accomplished scholar who has taught at the University of California at Los Angeles and wrote many political tracts critical of the oppression Blacks have suffered in this country.

opptymagcrisismagladyThey NEED TO KNOW that Black Americans have been publishers since 1827 when Samuel Cornish and John Russwum published Freedom’s Journal. Frederick Douglass published North Star in 1847, Robert S. Abbott, the Chicago Defender in 1905 and Edwin Nathaniel Harleston, Pittsburgh Courier in 1907. Black Americans also published some very influential magazines. Dr. Du Bois was editor and publisher of the Crisis Magazine associated with the NAACP, Charles Johnson published Opportunity Magazine for the Urban League, John Johnson published Ebony and Jet, Earl Graves Black Enterprise and Edward Lewis, Clarence O. Smith, Cecil Hollingswroth and Johnathan Blount founded Essence Magazine, first published in 1970.

jb_stratfordluoullawilliamsThey NEED TO KNOW that Black Americans were successful entrepreneurs and that they can accomplish the same. They need to read about the great businessmen in 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma. Blacks had built a self-sustaining infra-structure of businesses, led by the great John Stradford, the richest man on Black Wall Street. He owned the most luxurious 54 room hotel and it was said that it matched for beauty, extravagance and comfort any hotel in the state of Oklahoma. Laurel Stradford, his great granddaughter is presently working on publication of his memoirs, and when they are released they should be required reading in every Black high school in this country. Other business men and women included O. W. Gurley who owned property in Tulsa, John and Loulla Williams and Dr. Andrew Jackson, all a part of the successful business class on Black Wall Street. Tulsa was not the only city where Black businesses flourished, just the most glaring example of success.

The NEED TO KNOW categories are extensive and I could go on for pages writing about successful Black Americans whom we must begin to share with our youth. I know there are many different organizations that are doing that very task as I write. But we must do more and I will continue to write about the successes either on this blog or through future novels and anthologies. Hopefully, you all will do your part and together we can help our young find their Blackness from a very different perspective than what they have received over generations, from a racially biased education system.

When Is Enough—Enough?

Soon after the Martin Luther King Day parade came to an end and folks were celebrating the birthday of the great Black leader of the 20th Century with cookouts at the park, shots rang out in the Liberty City neighborhood in Miami, Florida. Eight people ranging in the ages 8 to 30 were wounded and many rushed to the hospital. In Chicago, Illinois, 39 people were shot, with 10 killed during the King Holiday weekend. That is just the tip of the iceberg as we begin the year 2017 the same way the previous year ended, with our young shooting and killing each other. In 2016 over 700 were murdered in Chicago and that is only one city. Guns have become the poison pill in our community; and poverty along with racial self-hatred the reasons to swallow that pill.

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As our young continue to kill and wound each other, one must begin to question should the Black Lives Matter crowd continue to make their target the police or is it time to turn inward and make that plea to our own children? Do our young killers know Black Lives Matter or do they even care? An additional question to be pondered is what has happened over generations so that some in our race have gotten to the point that they can routinely point a gun at another human being and pull the trigger with no remorse for their dastardly deed. Our neighborhoods are becoming the killing fields of the Twenty-first Century.

hueynewton No doubt we as adults have failed our children to the point that they do not respect their culture, their race and not even the holiday in honor of the man who gave his life so that we all could live better lives. With each new generation, our children become more alienated from society and from their identity as proud Black men and women. In his new novel, The Killing Breeze, to be released early in the Spring 2017, outstanding novelist Tony Lindsay opens up with a quote from Huey Newton. It is appropriate as a summation of the condition of our youth. “The lower socio-economic Black male is a man of confusion. He faces a hostile environment and is not sure that it is not his own sins that have attracted the hostilities of society. All his life he has been taught (explicitly and implicitly) that he is an inferior approximation of humanity. As a man, he finds himself void of those things that bring respect and a feeling of worthiness. He looks around for something to blame for his situation, but because he is not sophisticated regarding the socio-economic milieu and because of negativistic parental and institutional teachings, he ultimately blames himself.” As a result, these young men no longer respect their culture or their race.

The essential institutions for any culture include the family, the church, the schools, the peer group and the governmental body. Over four hundred years of slavery had a devastating effect on the idea of a family structure among Blacks forced over here from Africa. Our ancestors were stolen away from their families when they were captured and sold to a sick bunch of European Americans in this country. There was no such thing as a family structure on the plantations where over 90% of Blacks resided until after the Civil War. Not because Blacks did not want families but because the sick, immoral racists plantation owners wouldn’t allow it to exist. The shift of the Black population from the South to the North, which began in the late Nineteenth Century and continued through World War II did not eradicate the problem, in fact it intensified the break up. Blacks in this country never had the opportunity to rebuild their ancestral relationships with family in Africa, and never had the opportunity to build a new family structure in this country due to a myriad of problems, the key one being the need to survive. Poverty does not lend itself to a stable family structure. Black Americans have struggled with poverty throughout generations and still have to fight for economic survival today. With over 72% of Black babies born into a single family household and the failure of many of the fathers to take on the responsibility as fathers, then the traditional family structure is in danger of disappearing in the Black culture.

One might also surmise that the second key institution, the church, has also failed in its responsibility to the youth and, therefore, to the sustainability of our culture. Immediately following the end of slavery, our ancestors believed the one institution they could count on to deliver security to them was the church. They put all their faith in the ministers who served often as teachers, preachers, psychiatrists, counselors and mentors to our youth. But too often they failed because they were not equipped to provide all these services. So instead, they instructed our ancestors to “Lean on Jesus and He will deliver for you.” They simply quoted from the Bible to “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” But what they failed to teach was, you have to love yourself before you can love somebody else. No doubt, racial self-hatred is a key component in the shootings that happen every day in our communities. Those young folks who committed murders on the King Holiday don’t love King and don’t love their fellow Blacks, don’t love their race and don’t love their culture, because they don’t love themselves.

carter-g-woodsonEducation is the key to the growth and sustainability of a race and culture. School is the institution with the primary responsibility to teach our young how to read and write. But we know our schools are in disarray and are failing the youth, not because of the failure our teachers but the failure to provide them with all the necessary resources needed to teach. There are no more powerful tools than the power to read and write. Those skills are escaping our young to the point that a huge percentage of them cannot read nor write a sentence. A Chinese delegation visiting the United States in the 1930’s, was appalled to learn that Black America put the education of their kids in the hands of a race of people who all along had very little interest in them. Carter G. Woodson correctly identified it as the “miseducation of the Negro.”

Due to the failure of the traditional cultural institutions, the peer group has picked up the slack and fill the needs of our young. Gangs now provide our youth with a sense of belonging. They become the family, they provide the members with an ethical code drawn up among themselves for their survival in a society they feel is out to destroy them. Reading and writing become insignificant and replaced with the ability to shoot straight and have the temerity to aim a gun at another human being and shoot him or her.

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Actually, I haven’t written anything here that most of you already don’t know. The question then becomes when is enough going to be enough. When will we tire of this killing and destruction of our kids and ultimately our culture. The more important consideration is how do we turn this madness around? What can we do as a race to reach our young and share with them the strength and beauty of their people throughout history. And that our ancestors came up the rough side of the mountain and took the brunt of the abuse so that we could live better lives. It is up to each one of us to make a commitment to invest our resources and talents, without consideration for compensation other than we did our best to turn this situation around. I have made that commitment and will elaborate on what I plan to continue doing for the rest of 2017 and for years to come in my next post. Until then, I encourage each of you to think about what you also can do to save our children because Black Lives REALLY Do Matter.

“Make Yours a Happy Home” in 2017

On New Year’s Eve I happened to be driving from Austin Texas back to San Antonio, when a disc jockey on Soul Town 49, Sirius XM Radio (I couldn’t live in San Antonio without XM radio) played one of my favorite songs from the past. My spirits were lifted as I heard the melodic voice of the great Gladys Knight, sang “Make Yours a Happy Home.” Most of you probably know the song comes straight out of the 1975 movie, Claudine, starring Dianne Carroll and James Earl Jones and the musical score was written by Curtis Mayfield. The title to that song is rather simplistic but has profound meaning for all of us. It not only refers to our personal family life, but to the larger community of this country and the world. When we think of the United States as one home with many disparate races, people of different religions and sexual orientations, then it becomes quite clear that we have a gigantic task to try to make our home a happy one.

claudine

Looking back over our history, the years of discontent, anger and turbulence far outweigh the happy ones. This home is always in turmoil and the last year is a perfect example. We just witnessed one of the most contentious political elections in our over two hundred-year-history. As a family with various and differing viewpoints, the presidential race reached deep into the gutter, where congeniality and a decent decorum were lost on both sides of the political spectrum. Much of this dissension is fueled by the age old weakness of racism, a sickness that has plagued this country since its inception.

statue-of-liberty-cryingWith the election of President Barack Obama, we had our best opportunity to actually move forward into a post racial society. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Instead the animosity against Black Americans increased. In his farewell address the President alluded to this problem when he exclaimed, “Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society. Every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hard working white middle class and undeserving minorities.”  That anger also manifests against religious groups, our LBGT community, our neighbors south of the border, and for the first time in our history a certain segment of the population insisted on a wall to divide the countries. I imagine the Statue of Liberty must be shedding a few tears, for the democracy she once represented. The home that she watched over for over a century is in turmoil. King’s dream has actually become Malcolm X’s nightmare.

The United States has always welcomed most racial groups of the world, as well as most religions, people with various sexual preferences, and various cultures to its shores. That makes this country one of the greatest experiments in civilized history. Never before have so many different men, women and children lived under one roof and had to make theirs a happy home. As this country prepares to turn over the power to a man whose success was built on feeding our differences and not what we have in common, the next four years may test this experiment in ways that none of us have ever known. We may become a much more dysfunctional family, during this president’s tenure.

What is just as depressing to this writer is the savagery that has plagued my community. The fact that police all over this country have decided to use our young for target practice is bad enough, but it becomes even a greater crisis when our young do the same to each other. Seven hundred black men, women and children murdered in Chicago, surely tells us that ours is not a happy home.

The major question that confronts all of us is whether we can endure, and will this experiment in civilization ultimately be successful. Given the history of the world, we are still a very young country; the new kids on the block. But we have a tendency to stick our chest out at the rest of the world and brag about our great political and economic system. That claim may be rather premature. Given the direction in which we seem to be going, the future looks rather dismal and we may not survive the test of time.

However, hope is the one universal principal that most writers must possess. In order to create good literature, the writer must look beyond the world as it is and write about a world that can be much better for all the inhabitants. If we would adapt that principle, then maybe our condition can change and even survive the next four years, free of any additional turmoil than what we have faced for the past year. And just maybe this experiment in history will endure, and sometime in the future we can sing along with Gladys Knight to “Make Yours a Happy Home.”

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