Silence of “we the people” is deadly

“We the people” absolutely cannot be silent and be unaware of what is going on around us.

When I was young, living in Detroit, I and my friends were told how to survive “out there.” We were never to be unaware; we were never to be so trusting that we didn’t, at all times, inspect our surroundings before we got out of our cars. We were never to appear to be sitting ducks. We had to be aware.

“We the people” are too often “unaware,” and it costs us.

Bernard Kerik, the former New York City Police Chief who spent three years in jail for tax evasion, was appalled by what he saw while in prison. One of the things that he said in an interview with Matt Lauer of “The Today Show” was that “if people knew what was going on, they’d be angry. They’d want to change things.”

I read tonight a story about three young African-American youth – males – who were arrested as they waited for a school bus that was to take them to a scrimmage. Police officers showed up and told them to move. They politely declined, explaining that they were waiting for a school bus. According to the story, they were asked to disperse – to go home – several times, and when they refused, they were arrested!

When their coach showed up moments later, and saw three of his players in handcuffs, he asked officers what was going on. The officers said that the young men had been arrested because they had refused to go home, as had been asked. The coach said that they were waiting for a bus to go to a basketball scrimmage – but the officers did not care and threatened to arrest him if he did not back off.

These are law-abiding young men, who were minding their business. They were waiting for a bus. And for that, they were demonized and arrested.

I saw the story on Roland Martin’s site ( and I was enraged. Perhaps I got as angry as I got because I had just watched the remaining segments of Henry Gates’ “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross,” and I was reminded of how much work has gone into getting rights and dignity for African-Americans, but whatever the reason, I was enraged because what was described in the story about the young men was nothing but sheer harassment and an abuse of power.

“We the people” don’t know how common that sort of thing is. “We the people” are too ready to accept media accounts of “crime” on the streets and buy into and contribute to the demonization of young black kids.

My son, thankfully, got through his teen years without being arrested for being young and stupid, or young, black, and in the wrong place at the wrong time. He got through his teens  without being harassed by police officers. But so many young black kids, especially young black males, are not so lucky …and many times, they are guilty of nothing other than being …young and black.

If Kerik is right – that if people see the injustice that goes on they will be angry and will want things to change, then “we the people” need to make sure that these tragic stories of injustice are not ignored. More than that, we ought to look for them and chronicle them so that the American public knows more of what is true instead of relying on the myth of “black badness.”

When the American people saw television reports on how black people in Alabama were being treated, when they saw how victims of Hurricane Katrina – primarily poor and black – were being treated, their backs went up. They didn’t like what they saw. They pressed for justice.

They saw and they reacted …and if that’s what it takes to get popular support for justice, then we need to make sure that the stories of the rampant injustice which is so common for black people – gets notice.  After facts are checked, when we come across stories of this type of injustice, we ought to, we need to , farm it out to journalists, programs and organizations who have the capacity to “spread the word” and garner attention to what is still going on.

Unless we cry for justice, there will be none. Politicians, lawmakers, and others in power count on our being ignorant, complacent, and/or silent. We can’t afford to do that. Too many young black people are being picked off and demonized by a power structure which has much to lose if its political strategy backfires. They need black people to be demonized in order to woo the fearful and fretful numbers of Americans who need to believe that their perception of “the bad Negro” are correct.

Their perceptions are wrong, and “we the people” need to do all we can to shatter the myths.

A candid observation …

Bliss and Blessings

Cover of "The Power of Myth (Illustrated ...
Cover of The Power of Myth (Illustrated Edition)


It is when we suffer tremendous trauma that we are blessed to be able to experience newness of life.


Too many of us kind of just walk through life perfunctorily. We do not want to step out of our comfort zones; in fact, if the truth be told, we are afraid to do that. We would rather be miserable staying where we are than to risk feeling truly fulfilled by going through the trauma that always accompanies change.


My mother died when I was a teen, but her death was probably a good thing for me. Had she not died, I would probably have stayed in Detroit, to be close to her. I would not have gone where I have gone or done what I have done.


Her death jolted me and actually empowered to “go out” and begin to look for parts of myself that I knew nothing about.


Joseph Campbell, in his book, The Power of Myth, talks about we as individuals needing to find our bliss and to follow our bliss.  He said that “if you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living…” He said that when we make a decision to follow our bliss, and begin doing it, “you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open doors to you.”  He says for us human beings to “follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”


Campbell’s advise is so sage, so rich, and so inspiring…yet so many of us do not follow our bliss, because we have not taken the time to figure out, or perhaps to acknowledge, what our bliss is.


It really does not matter how old one is when he or she decides that their current life is just not getting it. In fact, we use age as an excuse to not do a lot of things. As long as we have breath in our bodies and are of sound mind, we are capable of making a change in the direction we are going.


Often, though, it takes a tremendous trauma in our lives, something that forces us to live in a “new normal,” to make us step out on faith and in faith to places we have always thought about but never had the guts to try it.  Change, and the pain that comes with change, is an opportunity, not an omen, it is a time to move forward, not to yearn to go back to “what was.” Change becomes an impetus if we let it. It gives us an opportunity, as we deal with the reality of our “new normal,” to recognize that “something inside you,” says Campbell, “that lets you know when you’re in the center.”


When we get to that point, we experience an exhilaration. We don’t dread what we are doing; because it is our bliss, what we are doing feeds our spirits, and we grow. When we get to that point, we “keep showing up for life,” as a friend recently advised me to do. We show up for life and we find that life is so different than we have ever known.


It takes faith to follow one’s bliss. Ironically, many of us as Christians talk faith but do not know how to access it or use it. We don’t know how to let faith do its double function of feeding us hope while we are in the midst of the trauma of our “new normal,” and to inspire us to identify our bliss, the reasons we were put on this earth, and to begin following it.


There is a Negro spiritual called “Ain’t Got Time to Die.”  None of us have time to die. We have a limited number of days on the earth, and good health is a blessing that too often take for granted. It seems that while we are capable, we might think about trying to identify what our “bliss” is and begin following it. It would be the greatest thing to see one of those doors Campbell talked about that is waiting to open…and to walk through it, finally on our way to the lives we were created to live.


A candid observation …




Who Cares?

Statue, Three Servicemen, Vietnam Veterans Mem...
Statue, Three Servicemen, Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Years ago, while living in Detroit, I was visiting some friends. We were playing a board game and laughing and eating. Out of nowhere, a car backfired, and the husband of my friend was suddenly under the table, his eyes wide, breathing heavily. He had broken out into a sweat and was clearly terrified.

He was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (although it hadn’t been diagnosed at that time.) His wife said that he hadn’t been the same since he returned from Vietnam. He was nervous and edgy; loud noises terrified him, he suffered from nightmares, and just wasn’t the same. To add insult to injury, she said that she couldn’t get the VA to admit that he had anything wrong with him, so she wasn’t able to get him the medical and psychiatric help he needed.  I moved from Detroit soon after and lost contact with my friend; I often wonder how her husband is doing.

Fast forward thirty, forty years and it seems that veterans are not having all that much better luck in getting treated well or in being able to get necessary medical and/or psychiatric help once they get home from war, if what I read and have listened to is correct.

According to an article which appeared in The New York Times, there is what is called a “crushing inventory of claims for disability, pension and educational benefits” for returning vets. ( Far too many homeless people these days are veterans (, many cannot get mortgages, some lose their homes while they are deployed, and reportedly the rate of suicide for veterans continues to rise.

I think about this sad reality as we celebrate this Veterans Day. Clearly, young men and women have sacrificed their lives for the United States.  I am not so sure what the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or, earlier, Vietnam, have been about, but regardless of my confusion, and the confusion of many in our country, young people went and fought.  World Wars I and II vets, wars which seem a little more focused in purpose, produced a slew of veterans as well…and from what I have read, they were not treated much better than present-day vets.  And if white vets have been treated poorly, it goes without saying that vets who are people of color have suffered even more.

It leads me to ask, “America, where is your conscience? How can our government treat vets so poorly?

People who go to war do not come back the same as they were. It would seem that coming back “the same” is impossible. If one gets into a habit of killing other human beings, if one sees ones friends blown away, sometimes in front of them, if one sees horrible suffering day after day, suffers egregiously on battlefields, and really can’t talk to anyone about what the stupid war is doing to his or her mind,  it cannot be expected that he or she would be the same.

And yet, they are treated as being the same. I have seen vets hailed and applauded as they have gotten on flights, on the last leg of their flight going home…or cheered as they have gone off to war. We have somehow, for some reason, romanticized war…and yet, there is nothing romantic about it. After the applause at an airport, after or in spite of the annual Veteran’s Day parades,  the sad reality of “being home” sets in, with nothing the same, and, presumably, not many outlets for help.

These young men and women, too many of them, walk around in torment, unable to function normally. Too many end up homeless; too many commit suicide.

One vet’s experience I read broke my heart.  This young man returned home from war. He was a mess. He would wait for his wife to go to work and “pull the blinds and take out the booze.” He would toy with his gun, sometimes putting it in his mouth, courting suicide. Finally, his behavior became too much for his family. He lost his wife and family, and ended up homeless. ( Sadly that scenario is all too common.

Who cares about the veterans? I mean, in the government, who really cares? Why is there such a backlog of claims for veterans seeking help?  It seems wrong; the country is eager to use these men and women to “fight for America” and when their tours are up, America has little to no time for them. It is kind of reminiscent of how football franchises uses young men to win games for them to help make them rich, but when their playing days are over, the franchise has difficulty getting them help, especially medical help, they need. Many a football star lives a rough life, fraught with suffering, after their playing days are over.

Understanding how difficult it is for vets to get treated with dignity once they get home, the parades bother me anymore. Who cares about these vets once they get home? What is the celebration about? How can we celebrate wars fought if we cannot and do not really honor and take care of the human beings who fought in them?

A candid observation …

Students File Lawsuit Alleging Violation of their Right to Read

Jonathan Kozol
Jonathan Kozol (Photo credit: Steve Rhodes)

A historic lawsuit filed in Michigan against the state and one particular school district claims that teachers have not done their jobs.

According to an article which appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, about 1000 students who are reading below grade level have filed the class action suit.

And I say, “hooray.”

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the students by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), claims that the state and the school district in question have violated the students’ right to read. It cites conditions which have contributed to the situation, including “a lack of books, terrible record keeping on individual student achievement, inadequate heat in the classrooms, and bathrooms in a state of filth and disrepair.” (

Such horrible conditions of public schools attended primarily by black, brown and poor children have long existed. Author Jonathan Kozol‘s works have graphically described the state of America‘s public schools, calling the situation the “shame” of America.

Indeed it is.

The Michigan city from which this lawsuit was filed is Highland Park, which is immediately adjacent to Detroit. I grew up not far from Highland Park. When I was young, the state of Highland Park schools and of Detroit schools was not as dire. I received a quality education in Detroit public schools.

But as the economy has worsened, and, thus, has poverty, the conditions of not only Highland Park and Detroit public schools but of public schools all over the country have deteriorated. According to Kozol, legislators in many cities have argued against putting more money in poor, urban schools, and even against reducing class size, arguing that such measures would be ineffective.

They are in effect saying that black, brown and poor children cannot learn…and that simply is not true.

I daresay that if any child, whatever his or her ethnicity, had to sit in schools that are far too common in America’s cities, he or she would have trouble learning.  Black, brown and poor children are treated as objects, not human beings, in that they are seen as not needing assistance or as being incapable of benefiting from such assistance. Meanwhile, students in more affluent areas have schools which are awarded more funds to do a quality job and boast of smaller class size.

In Michigan, the Christian Science Monitor article states, “two-thirds of 4th graders and  three-quarters of 7th graders are not proficient on state reading tests, and 90 percent of 12th graders fail the reading portion of the final state test.”

My church is operating a Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School this summer. The Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools Program® concentrates on improving literacy of children, especially black, brown and poor children. Class size is 10-1. Books are culturally relevant. The program uses what is called an integrated reading curriculum, designed for each grade level…and the program operates on the premise that all children, including black, brown, and poor children, are capable of learning.

The state of  schools in Highland Park, Michigan, and in so many urban areas is a reality not because the children served are incapable of learning, but because the people who are charged with teaching them or making sure they get a quality education, i.e., legislators, are not doing their jobs. These children are looked upon as objects, not subjects, human beings, worthy and deserving of “the best.”

I hope the 1000 students of Highland Park who have filed the lawsuit win, and I hope if they win that similar lawsuits will be filed all over the country. Frederick Douglass said “power concedes nothing without a demand.” My hope is that more and more students and parents in poor urban areas, where schools are in shamefully horribly condition, will likewise make a demand on behalf of the children who have no voice. Though poor, black, and brown…they are still deserving of a quality public education.

A candid observation …