“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.


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.”


A Father’s Day Salute

On February 13, 1996 a very special man passed away in his sleep. He was 80 years old and had lived a very productive and eventful life. Most important, he had been a dedicated husband to his wife of 58 years and was always there for his four children. Some would consider him unique because he was a Black man and many in society will argue that those kind of men don’t exist within the Black culture. We have been conditioned through literature, music and movies to view the Black man as an irresponsible, unfit husband and father. Too often when we think of the Black man, we have visions of Danny Glover’s character, Mister, in The Color Purple or the ingrate men in Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale. Since McMillan’s publication and movie, there has been a flood of novels about the “Dawg” brothers. Even the Black man playing the role of a policeman was cast as a villain in Training Day. One would be led to believe that good Black men do not exist as husbands, fathers or men.

billwilliamsAs we approach another Father’s Day celebration I want to take issue with the perceptions that have plagued Black men over the years. I want to take issue because the man I described in my opening was my father, Bill Williams.

50thAnniverdary_parentsHe married my mother when he was 22 and she only 17 and they spent their entire life together, and one can surmise at the time of his death they shared a love just as special and beautiful as could be expected.  After my father had passed on, I once asked my mother who she would like to have meet her on the other side. Without hesitation she gave me this look as if to say, “who do you think” and then said, “My husband.” Now that is a love that will transcend time and they will always be united as one. He made my mother feel very special and she did the same for him. He was an excellent husband.

Bill Williams took a very special interest in his children. His advice, at least to me, was always precise and correct. When considering the wisdom that my father shared with me while growing up, I often think of Mark Twain’s famous quote, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” My father was not a rich man but he was a wise man. When I reached the age when girls became very important in my life, he told me that, “your lover should also be your best friend.” After many disappointing relationships I finally got it right when I incorporated his advice and now have married for nearly 25 years. He also told me, “Always pay the IRS a little money and never get a large refund.” I learned that lesson the hard way, and now make sure I don’t get a large refund.

He provided his two boys and two girls with a foundation that led to our successes in life. We all learned the importance of a strong work ethic through his example. He would get up early in the morning and often walk to his job at the United States Post Office in Saginaw, Michigan so that my mother would have the car at her convenience during the day. After peddling mail in freezing weather (and anyone who has visited Saginaw in the winter knows just how cold it can get) all day, he came home, took a nap and then went to his second job as a waiter at the Saginaw Country Club. And he never complained in front of his children, because to complain would leave the impression that something might be wrong with work. He was an excellent father.

Bill Williams loved his family, was loyal to his friends and never complained about his life. He was a Black man who grew up when it was very difficult to be black in this country. But he never succumbed to the temptation to use discrimination and bigotry as an excuse for him not to achieve. He was the first Black man to work in the United States Post Office in Saginaw, Michigan. He became a union leader for the letter carriers when he transferred to Pasadena, California in 1957. He never told his children that they had to be twice as good in order to succeed. He simply told us to be the very best I could, and that worked well for me because to believe you have to be twice as good was to give credence to bigotry and prejudice. As his child, I never thought I had to be twice as good because it would admit that we begin from a position of inferiority.  That word did not exist in our household. No one can define your worth as a human being was his message to us. It is the same message that Black fathers over the century have shared with their children and continue to do so today.

Contrary to what many commentators proclaim, the Black father is not a replica of the past. He still exists and for that reason I extend a very heartfelt Happy Father’s Day greeting to all my fellow dad’s, who have been and are still the pillars that hold up our culture. And to my wonderful and fantastic Dad I say on behalf of my siblings and me.


A Christmas Gift of Love to All Our Wonderful Mothers

Willie Mae Williams, at home in Bastrop, Texas.
Willie Mae Williams, at home in Bastrop, Texas.

Since I first did this post last year my Mother, Willa Mae Williams, has seen another Christmas and is a young 95 years old. My sisters and I feel the blessing from God that she is still with us. For that reason I have decided to share these words of praise I wrote last year, not only for my Mother but also for all the mothers, who have made us a better people. So here it goes once again, my Christmas tribute from last year and still applicable in 2015.

Willa Mae Williams just had a hip replacement on this past Monday and by Friday she was up and walking. What makes this worth writing about is that Willa Mae is 94 years old, and she has no plans of slowing down once she completes her rehabilitation.

Born in 1920 in a small southern town in Arkansas, Willa Mae was part of that great migration of Black Americans who left the South during the early part of the Twentieth Century and moved North, seeking better opportunities and escaping from the ugliest aspect of American racism. She arrived in Saginaw, Michigan in 1933 and by 1937 had married Bill Williams, who was five years older. Their union was a synthesis of the traditional southern culture with the emerging northern culture. She was 17 when she married her husband and 75 when he passed away. Willa Mae dedicated her entire life to her husband and to raising her family.

Willa Mae’s mother, Lucy Perry, at the age of 39 lost her husband to tuberculosis one month before giving birth to her youngest son. At the time she had two young sons, one teenage daughter and a baby still at home.

Despite the tremendous hardships she confronted, Ms. Lucy raised her sons and daughter by herself.

Nina Williams, Willa Mae’s mother-in-law, married George Williams in 1912 and stayed married to him until his death in 1962. She gave birth to five boys and three girls and dedicated her life to raising her family, also.

Willa Mae Williams, Lucy Perry and Nina Williams are no different than millions of beautiful Black women who, over the decades, have dedicated their lives to the family. They have been the glue that has held our culture together. These particular three Black women are the ones that took time to raise my brother, two sisters and me. I am sure that all my readers have similar mothers and grandmothers that assisted them in the navigation through this life. Oftentimes their biggest fears would be that their children would face a hostile environment and respond to it in a negative way. And that negativity could get them locked up or killed.

The burden of mediating with their children to keep them out of harm’s way, has weighed heavily on the Black mother from slavery to the present day. Often times slave mothers would prefer to whip their children than to have the overseer or oppressor do it. Leon Litwack in his historical work, Trouble In Mind, writes that, “During slavery parents were helpless to protect their children from a whipping and they were sometimes compelled to inflict the punishment themselves in the presence of whites to teach the disobedient child a lesson-and to avert even harsher punishment if meted out by the overseer or owner.” (Leon Litwack, Trouble In Mind, Vintage Books, New York, 1999, pg. 25)

After Emancipation, the problems increased because a generation of young Blacks born into freedom never accepted the rules of segregation, and often rebelled against them. Black mothers again took on the burden of explaining to their young why they could not talk back to a white person or fight with a white boy, even if they were attacked. This often caused a great deal of conflict between the mothers and their children.

But through it all, the Black mother never lost her grace and dignity. She brought us up the rough side of the mountain and made it possible for her children to prosper and succeed in life, despite all the inequalities of this society. For that reason, I suggest that during this season of giving, we all give the greatest gift possible to our mothers, grandmothers and in some cases great grandmothers, and that is the gift of love. That would mean so much to them, who have given so much for us. Despite all the hardships, suffering and pain, if they can only hear four ingratiating words from their children, it will make all of it worth while and those words are, “I LOVE YOU, MOTHER.'”


The Fighting Spirit of Barbara Johns Lives On With Kayla Wilson

On April 23, 1951, Barbara Johns, a sixteen year old girl who was the niece of the firebrand minister, Vernon Johns, summoned all 450 Black students attending R.R. Moten High School in Farmville, Virginia to an assembly in the school auditorium. Against the protest of the faculty, she stood in front of the student body and rattled off a series of complaints about the condition of their school. When the faculty attempted to remove her from the stage, she ordered them out of the auditorium.  Barbara recognized the futility to get adults to do what they should, so she was determined not to let them stop the other students and her from eradicating the evil of racism.


She told her fellow students that Plessy v. Ferguson was nonsense and the white apartheid system would never comply with the Supreme Court decision that separate must be equal. As early as 1951, it was the youth that made it known they would no longer attend classes in tarpaper shacks, having to wear coats in the winter to stay warm and dodge the rain in the spring that freely flowed from the roof down into the building. They objected to riding in buses that often broke down before arriving at their school, always a long distance from their homes. Barbara further told the students they should be outraged that their history teacher had to drive the bus and had to gather wood and start the fire inside the school in order to keep them warm.

Young Barbara Johns shouted loudly for all to hear that the students demanded their rights as Americans to equal treatment. Since the adults couldn’t get the job done, then the young people would. The white school board had regularly rebuffed the demands of the adults to improve the conditions in the school, and reneged on a promise to build a new high school.  The adults appeared impotent in their negotiations with the whites, so Barbara and her fellow students decided they would strike. They marched out of the school building and downtown, prepared for a confrontation with the power structure.

After their demands were denied, the students then appealed to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for legal assistance. A week later when the officials from the NAACP arrived in Farmville, under the assumption that it was the adults who had made the request, they were surprised when they walked into a room full of students.  The NAACP lawyers informed Barbara and the students that their strike might be illegal, and they could be arrested. Barbara boldly retorted there was too many of them for the small jail in their town. But if arrested, they were willing to be incarcerated in defense of their God given rights and liberties. Eventually, the NAACP agreed to argue their case and ultimately it became a part of the larger lawsuit, Brown v. Board of Education that led to the famous 1954 United States Supreme Court decision ruling separate was not equal, and that schools should desegregate throughout the south.

Sixty-four years later another young Black student, over a thousand miles away from Virginia has taken on the same kind of racism that Barbara confronted. It has been over a month ago that I first wrote about the courageous Kayla Wilson, a student at Robert E. Lee High School in San Antonio, Texas. She attends the magnet school for the arts and must go there if she wants to pursue her love for creative writing. In an earlier post, I shared with the readers her outstanding poem titled “Ebony.”


Kayla’s struggle is with the name of her school. She finds it incomprehensible that the North East Independent School District will not consider her request to change the name from Robert E. Lee.  I have, in the past, written an article for the San Antonio Express News expressing my unwavering support for Kayla’s position. I outlined four basic reasons for the need to change the name.

  1. Every student should always be proud of the high school from which they graduate. Years from now they should be able to shout to the world that I got my degree from and then name a school with no shame. That is not the case with Kayla. She will always be ashamed to call out the name of her high school. And what is really shameful is that the school board doesn’t care enough for Kayla and the other Black students, and also many Hispanic students to change the name.
  2. Kayla and other Black students throughout this country are being taught that slavery was a terrible evil, however, it is long gone and it is time to move on. But how can she possibly move on when everyday she shows up for school, she is reminded of the tragic suffering of her ancestors when she looks at the statue of Lee right out in front of the school.
  3. Kayla and other Black students are taught that loyalty to country is a virtue and that we all must adhere to the dictates of the constitution that guide America. Kayla recognizes the duplicity in these lessons when a statue of a man who was a traitor to his country, stares at her as soon as she walks out of her civics class.
  4. Finally it is hypocritical for that school board to suggest to Kayla and other Black students that the evils of the past are gone forever and they need to move on. They are taught that we are now in a post racial America because a Black man was fortunate enough to be elected President. When the school board and the teachers tell Kayla that racism is now dead, but still retain the school name as well as symbols of racism in a statue, they are being dishonest.


Kayla Wilson is our own modern day Barbara Johns. Just like Barbara, Kayla has challenged the school board with very little support from the leaders of the community or the civil rights organizations, with the exception of former Mayor Julian Castro who was the first to call for the name change. But just like Barbara, Kayla now needs the legal, political and moral support of her community, and all communities interested in improving the racial climate in this country. The elected officials of the city, the NAACP, the national and local leaders, even the leaders of the Million Man March, should show up in San Antonio and lock arms with Kayla and let her know she has their support. Nothing less than a mass protest is going to force a change in the status at Robert E. Lee High School. This is a case with strong national implications for the future. If the national leaders of the Black community can ask us to boycott Black Friday in November, they can also come to the aid of a seventeen-year-old high school student who is doing the work that the adults throughout the country should be doing.