Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Forever Friends: A friendship for the ages

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Hollywood's shuffle

If you remember Robert Townsend's 1987 satirical movie, Hollywood Shuffle, you'll understand why just about every black actor in Hollywood leaped for joy when Viola Davis won the 2015 "Best Actress in a TV Drama Series" Emmy award for How to Get Away with Murder.

Davis' history making Emmy win (first black actor to win), only served to confirm how limited the opportunities are for actors of color in Hollywood. Like a broken record, lack of opportunity has been a constant theme playing in the background of every black actor's Hollywood hopes and dreams.
Davis' win elevated the status of just about every black actor in Hollywood, at least temporarily. In her acceptance speech, as other black award winners have done, Davis bemoaned the lack of meaningful starring roles for black actors to give them a shot at even being considered for acting's top prizes.

Hollywood has never been a welcoming place for black actors. Look at the history. During Hollywood's darkest days (no pun intended), blacks weren't even allowed to play themselves on screen. White filmmakers used white actors in blackface to play black characters. When blacks weren't being left off the silver screen entirely, they were paraded in front of the cameras as objects of derision and ridicule thus perpetuating negative images and reinforcing racist attitudes toward blacks.

Who can forget the infamous 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation, with its blatantly racist images and black stereotypes. It's no surprise that Hollywood has never pulled this controversial film out of circulation despite black protests and calls for its censorship. At one time, it was the highest grossing film in Hollywood. The Birth of a Nation is still available today. It's been reformatted for DVD on Netflix.

During Hollywood's Golden Age, in the late 20's to early 60's when movie-making was at its peak, black actors were cast as slaves, mammys, cooks, coons, and lazy, slow-witted, jive-talkin' niggas, which was consistent at the time with white society's view of blacks, Hattie McDaniel was the first black actor to win an Oscar in 1940 from the Motion Picture Academy for playing [a] Mammy in the movie, Gone With the Wind. McDaniel, and another black actor, Stepin Fetchit (not his real name), faced much criticism from black leaders for portraying dim-witted or subservient black characters. Even today, calling a black person a stepin fetchit, is still viewed as a racial slur.
Walter White, executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1931 to 1955, pleaded with African-American actors to stop accepting such stereotypical parts, as he believed they degraded their community. White urged movie studios to start creating roles that portrayed blacks as capable of achieving far more than cooking and cleaning for white people.— the Hattie McDaniel story
Even now, Hollywood continues to attract criticism for how it portrays black life in movies and on television. Far from putting its darkie past behind it, Hollywood has merely rewritten and updated the script for a 21st century audience. The stereotyping and typecasting of roles for black actors has not stopped. The slaves, mammys, coons, jiggaboos and jive talkin' niggas have simply been recast as bitches, whores, drug addicts, dope dealers, thugs, gangstas, and criminals for a new generation of black and white audiences whose understanding of their society is shaped largely by these Hollywood stereotypes.
Stereotypical roles in society have been excessively exaggerated by television programs, keeping racism alive and breathing in America. The careful selections of ethnicities in role casting have had an exceptionally large impact on American society. Young television viewers are learning at an early age about race and discrimination and are witnessing the ugly impacts of these issues.—Racism in Television
If anybody thinks Hollywood has changed its ways, think again. Money is what drives the equation in Hollywood. As long as the movie studios continue to make a profit from movies that depict white racial superiority, reinforce white values, while maintaining the status quo as it relates to blacks, Hollywood has little reason to change its ways. Furthermore, unless Hollywood is convinced that it can still make money by embracing diversity in all its facets, and that audiences will pay to see this level of diversity on film, there's no reason for the motion picture industry to change the formula that's worked for it some 100 years or more.

Also, the fact that a few black actors and producers have recently made breakthroughs with such popular shows as ScandalEmpire and How to Get Away with Murder should not be seen as progress. Neither Cookie nor the Lyon clan, Olivia Pope nor Annalise Keating are the kind of character role models anyone should want the next generation of little black kids to aspire to be like. Real progress will come when black characters are routinely included as part of the human landscape of every show on television and in every movie made. Until then, the Tyler Perrys, Shonda Rhimes and Lee Daniels in Hollywood should take their cue from black filmmakers like the late Oscar Micheaux and tell our stories in their entirety the way they should be told. I'm believing that there are enough talent resources and collective wealth within the black community to get it done.
 For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.—1 Timothy 6:9-10

Friday, January 13, 2017

Martin Luther King: The torch is in our hands (Reprise)

March on Washington, 1963
Following is a speech presented at the 25th Annual Upper Merion Martin Luther King Jr National Holiday Celebration on January 9th in King of Prussia, Pa.

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It’s an honor for me to be with you this evening to commemorate and remember the life and work of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Thank you to the planning committee for inviting me and to all of you for coming tonight. Can you believe it’s been 50 years since Dr King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC?

President Kennedy, Dr King and civil rights leaders
I listened to Dr. King’s speech on YouTube recently. His speech is just as contemporary and relevant today as when it was first presented in 1963. I remember the year well, I was just 15 years old at the time. And I remember that my mother wouldn't let me go to the March on Washington because she thought there might be trouble. So I was limited to watching it on television from the safety of our living-room.

Two years before Dr King's speech, I wrote a poem that embodied some of the same themes contained in Dr King's speech. I was 13 years old at the time, and at the urging of my eighth grade English teacher, I entered the poem in the National Anthology of High School Poetry contest. Not only did they publish my poem, but they also gave it special recognition for its depth and maturity. The poem is entitled Man and I'd like to recite it for you now:
Shall we judge a man by his race or creed; or shall we judge him by word and deed? By the good he's done for mankind; or by the memory he's left behind? What makes this man is not his skin. Instead, it's what he has within.
So deep within him it doesn't show; but by his words and deeds you'll know that this is a man of dignity. And by his side you're proud to be. For his memory will leave an imprint in the sand; an impression of greatness that will stand the test of time and eternity; as a beacon of hope for all humanity.
When I wrote Man, I’d never heard of Dr King. But like him, I was influenced by the times in which I grew up; and by the injustices I saw happening around me. Man, the poem, echoes the sentiments of the man we celebrate today.

Like many of you, I am a product of the 60’s also known as the decade that shaped a generation. Who here remembers Motown and the Beatles, Star Trek and the first moon landing, the first televised Super Bowl between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs, Hippies and the summer of Love, Jimmie Hendricks and Woodstock or that fateful day in Dallas?

And likewise, who can forget the Birmingham church bombing that killed 4 innocent, young black girls, the brutal murder of 14 year old Emmett Till, the murders of Civil Rights workers Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney or Medgar Evers, segregated schools, Jim Crow laws, whites and colored only signs, Klu Klux Klan lynchings, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, lunch counter sit-ins, countless marches and demonstrations or that horrible day in Memphis?

Like now, the decade of the 60's was a difficult, if not transformative time in America's history. Dr King galvanized a generation of blacks and whites, Protestants and Catholics, Jews and Gentiles into a moral alliance for the cause of freedom, justice and equality. This moral alliance succeeded in unraveling and dismantling racially discriminatory laws and practices that had enslaved black Americans for some 300 years.

This moral alliance succeeded in achieving passage of federal legislation that outlawed racial discrimination in public accommodations and employment; that restored and protected the voting rights of black Americans, and that banned discrimination in the sale and rental of housing.

At the time of Dr King’s death in 1968, I was a 19 year old sophomore at Washington College in Chestertown, Md. I was the only black student at the College, which at that time had an enrollment of 635 students. After learning Dr King had been killed, I left the College intent on never going back because it had been a less than welcoming environment for me.
I arrived home to Baltimore, only to find the streets filled with National Guardsmen in anticipation of rioting. Somehow, I found out that one of the local churches had chartered a bus to Atlanta for Dr King's funeral, so I got on the bus with them. There was no stopping me this time.

Once in Atlanta, I left the group and made my way to Ebenezer Baptist Church where the funeral was being held. I was determined to get inside the church In spite of not having an invitation or the proper credentials. I accomplished my mission and took a seat in the balcony. When the service ended, I was exiting the balcony just as Dr King’s casket was passing by. I quickly joined the procession of mourners for the long procession to the cemetery. Glancing across my row of mourners, there was Sammy Davis Jr, Harry Belafonte, Diana Ross with the Supremes, and singer Leslie Uggams, who later offered to give me a lift back to my bus. Mrs [Coretta Scott] King, Rev Jesse Jackson, and Dr Ralph Abernathy were in the row of mourners just ahead of us. It was an incredible day.

When I returned home to Baltimore, my mother told me that someone from the College had called asking if I had planned on coming back to school. I guess someone noticed I was missing. That call was what I needed to motivate me to return to school, but now with the determination to make a difference. I decided to confront Washington College's long held practice of selectively admitting one black student every three years, a policy that needed to change. It would not be easy.

By the time I graduated in 1970, there were eight black underclassmen enrolled at the College—the largest number of black students ever admitted at one time (Class of 1973). I also initiated the first black student union at the College. I tell you this is to prove that everyone has the power within to make a difference, to impact the culture for good if he or she chooses.

If Dr King were alive today, he would say that the struggle for justice and equality is not over, that the Dream has not yet been fulfilled, that there is still work to be done before we reach the promised land of true equality, justice and brotherhood.

I have some concerns about state of our country. I am concerned about a generation of our youth that we are losing to drugs, alcohol, crime and gun violence. I am concerned about the fact that more black males enter prison than enroll in college. I am concerned about the high dropout rates in our public schools that exceed graduation rates. I am concerned that in this economy, the job market is shrinking, along with wages.

I am concerned about a growing underclass of poor people who lack the skills and the opportunity to compete in a global economy. I am concerned that our elected officials have failed us by not making our lives better. I am concerned that, as a nation, America has become too complacent and too comfortable with things the way they have always been.

But we must not lose hope. The torch has been passed and is now in the hands of a new generation.  As torchbearers, we must show the way by investing our individual as well as collective time, talent and resources into fostering meaningful relationships with under-served and disadvantaged communities. As torchbearers, we must continue to promote the ideals of Dr King’s Dream in our daily lives. It’s time to go beyond the Dream and make it our reality.

(Photo credits: Getty Photos)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A New Year's resolution for a happier new you

Every year on December 31st at exactly 12:00 o'clock midnight fireworks light up the night sky, champagne corks pop, horns and whistles blow, hugs and kisses are exchanged and well wishes for a Happy New Year greet people all over the world. Most people view this annual end of the year ritual as a chance to start the New Year with a clean slate.

Habitually, some people make New Year's resolutions every year. But I wonder how many of these New Year's resolutions are actually holdovers from previous failed attempts? We seem to regurgitate the same resolutions from year to year (i.e."This year I will lose the weight.") hoping for a different result. According to Clinical Psychologist and researcher John Norcross:
Approximately 50 percent of the population makes resolutions each New Year. Among the top resolutions are weight loss, exercise, stopping smoking, better money management and debt reduction.
Sound like you? Well, you are not alone. Millions of people are stuck in this perennial revolving door of making New Year's resolutions, only to break them a few weeks or months down the road, reverting to the same old way of doing things or to the same habits they promised to change. Let's face it, our human efforts at self-improvement are at best superficial, external, and destined to fail every time. Psychology professor Timothy Pychyl says that resolutions are often a form of cultural procrastination :
[In] an effort to reinvent oneself, people make resolutions as a way of motivating themselves. People [really] aren't ready to change their habits, particularly bad habits, and that accounts for the high failure rate.
Then, there are those who believe that all it takes is willpower to succeed in keeping resolutions (And how's that been working for you?). If willpower alone is all that's needed, you would have succeeded with that first diet or the first time you tried to stop smoking, drinking, using drugs or whatever else you tried to will yourself to stop or start doing. New Year's Resolutions by themselves have no power, says author S. Michael Houdmann:
Resolving to start or stop doing a certain activity has no value unless you have the proper motivation for stopping or starting that activity.
For resolutions to succeed, it takes more than proper motivation. Once you decide you want to make a change, you need a specific plan, organization, time management, peer or professional support to make it work. In "10 Worst New Year’s Resolutions (And How to Make Them Work)," writer Ann Pietrangelo lays out a partial recipe for success. However, Pietrangelo's formula leaves out one key ingredient --- spiritual resolve.
True, we are creatures of habit. Spiritual resolve acknowledges that we are also creatures created by a loving God for a purpose. As such, we are ultimately accountable to our Creator. Spiritual resolve must undergird any desire we have for a changed life. Without spiritual resolve and God's help, our human efforts are nothing more than a house built on sand. The Bible explains it this way:
When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17 TLB
It takes spiritual resolve to surrender your old life in exchange for a new life in Christ. When resolutions fail, God alone has the power to change you. You don't have to go it alone anymore trying to make life work, you have a helper to guide you. Likewise, you don't have to wait until next December 31 at 12 o'clock midnight to take advantage of the offer. You can begin this new year with your sins forgiven and a chance to start your life over. Believe me, it doesn't get any better than that. Happy New Year, happier new you!

Friday, December 23, 2016

The rumor that has been spreading around the world for more than 2,000 years

Who have you told?
We all know how rumors are spread. One person hears or sees something and tells someone else. That person tells another person who tells another, who tells another, who tells another, and so on. Rumors can travel like wildfire through neighborhoods, cities, towns, countries, across oceans, and nowadays, over the Internet. Long before you or I was born a rumor got started that is still being spread around the world more than 2,000 years later.
The rumor is that shepherds were in a field one night watching their sheep when suddenly an angel appeared to them saying: "Today, in the town of David, a savior has been born to you; He is Christ, the Lord. This will be a sign to you. You will find the baby wrapped in clothes lying in a manger (Luke 2:11 NIV)." After the initial shock of this unexpected heavenly visitation, one of the shepherds said: "Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing [check out this rumor] that has happened, which the Lord has told us about (Luke 2:15 NIV)." So, off they went to Bethlehem leaving their sheep behind.
When they arrived days later, they found the mother Mary, father Joseph and the promised baby just as the angel had said. Now these shepherds had a choice, they could have just observed the happenings at the stable, hung around worshiping and getting their praise on and then returned home to the fields. After all, they had busy jobs with a flock of hungry, needy sheep to feed and care for. Instead of going home and keeping what they had witnessed to themselves, these transformed shepherds set out across the land to "spread the word [rumor] concerning what had been told to them about this child. And all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them (Luke 2:17 NIV)."
Today, by the power of the Holy Spirit, this rumored birth of Christ Jesus, the savior for all humankind, which the shepherds spread thousands of years ago, is still being spread around the world on every known continent by Christians everywhere. Perhaps you too are a believer today because somebody told somebody who told somebody, who told somebody, and that somebody told you about the Good News that a Savior called Christ Jesus was born into the world to save us from ours sins. The question now is, "Who have you told?"

Monday, December 5, 2016

A Christmas miracle: When death took a detour

Miracle - A surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.— Webster's dictionary

Not only do I believe in miracles, I expect them to occur in my life in answer to my prayers. Although we don't hear about divine miracles as often nowadays (probably because bad news pushes them off the front page) they do still happen. I know because I was the recipient of a divine miracle on Christmas Day. The following is a true account of my miracle and the events as they occurred that night.

In December 2002, I had been caring for my 83 year old mother throughout her 22 year battle with primary progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS). By far, that year had been the toughest for mother and me. MS had robbed her of the ability to speak and had made eating and swallowing difficult. At the same time, she started having seizures, which gradually became more persistent, progressive, unrelenting and eventually, life-threatening. As a result, mother was hospitalized and given high doses of phenobarbital to quell the seizure activity. We left the hospital 12 days later, just three days before Christmas.

Even though mother couldn't speak, her eyes told me that she was glad to be back home. We both were. After I made her comfortable in bed and checked her feeding tube, I went to bed exhausted. Next morning, the home care nurse came by to check mother's vital signs. That morning, mother seemed oddly detached from the goings on around her. I noticed that she was focused intently on the bedroom window across the room.

After the nurse left, I bathed, dressed, and transferred mother to her wheelchair. She was happy to be out of bed after being in the hospital for so long. We may have lost some ground in our fight against MS during this latest exacerbation, but I told mother that we were not going to let MS get the better of us. We were in this fight together to the end. Sometime later that same afternoon, mother closed her eyes and slipped quietly into a coma. It was Christmas Eve.

For sure, things were not looking good at that point. Nonetheless, I continued to hope that mother would pull through as she had done so often in the past. Taking her back to the hospital was not an option, so I called my sister, and waited for her to come. During the long hours we were alone, I held mother's hand and talked to her. I believed that even in her comatose state, she could still hear me.

Later that evening, my sister joined me in a bedside vigil for our mother. We stood watch as imminent death seemed poised to take our mother from us. I don't remember why now, but for some reason, I needed something from the drugstore. My sister volunteered to go. It was after midnight when she left for the 24-hour pharmacy a few blocks away. It seemed like she was gone for a long time. I wondered if she was somewhere crying? I looked out the window, it was snowing. It was Christmas Day.

Returning to mother's bedside, I reached in to hold her hand. I was startled by how cold her skin had become, like the life blood had suddenly drained out of her. I checked to see if she was still breathing, and she was, but just barely. I hurried to the other side of the bed where hung her 1,000 ml drainage bag. It should have been full since she was still taking in fluids through the feeding tube. Instead, it was empty except for a reddish-brown residue at the bottom. My immediate thought went to her kidneys—could they be shutting down? For the first time, I allowed myself to entertain the real possibility that mother was slipping away. In desperation, I cried aloud,
Mom, it's Christmas Day. Please don't die on Christmas.
As I leaned over mother's bed, I got a sudden urge to use the bathroom. When I returned moments later, I grasped mother's hand again, but something was different. She felt noticeably warmer. Surprised by this, I began feeling for her arms, her legs, her feet, her forehead—her entire body was feverishly hot. I went quickly to the other side of the bed to check her drainage bag. It was filled to its 1000 ml capacity with pale, yellow urine after having been empty only moments before.

Seeing this, I knew without doubt that it was God's doing. God had heard my cry and performed a miracle stopping death in its tracks.
Only God can make death take a detour. Knowing mother, I can only imagine that a negotiation took place just outside Heaven's gates between mom and God early that Christmas morning. I can imagine mother holding up one finger, and pleading with God,
Please God, can I go back for one more day? That's my daughter.
Mom died, but not on Christmas Day. She died the day after on December 26 sometime around 1:00 pm. My sister and I were together when mother breathed her last. This might have been the end of the story were it not for Jesus Christ. Because of Christ, life doesn't end at the grave. Who everbelieves in Christ is assured of eternal life. I can't wait to see mother again to find out what really happened on that fateful Christmas Day.
God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die. John 3:16 CEV

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Why Black History Month still matters in the 21st century

African-American Millennials say they never really learned anything useful during Black History Month activities at school, and they fret that having a formal, month-long observance gives the nation a pass to ignore black history the rest of the year.— Shreveport Times

Today's black youth are so far removed from the events recapitulated during Black History Month that some may question whether Black History Month is still relevant to them?. Obviously, those who think this way have never heard of George Santayana who famously said:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
What self-respecting people throws away its history? It would be foolish to do so. Every generation needs to know from whence it came in order to determine its future course. No one questions if the Revolutionary War or the Holocaust are still relevant today? Black History Month serves to remind blacks as well as whites of how far we've come as a nation since the dark days of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation. Not only that, Black History Month gives blacks a chance to tell their history from their own point of view with no holds barred.

Without a doubt, blacks have an important place in American history whenever the story of America is told. Black History Month plays homage to this fact, and documents it. And while it may be inspiring, indeed, instructive to look in the rear view mirror of black history from time to time, each generation is responsible for confronting the vexing issues of their day, finding their own solutions, and taking their place alongside history. For 21st century blacks, this means speaking out about resurgent issues of racial inequality and social injustice that are not unlike those endured by earlier generations of blacks some 100 years ago in America. Black History Month should motivate 21st century blacks to continue confronting American society until these conditions no longer exist. We can't afford to take the pressure off. Freedom is too important a right to accept anything less..
Up from slavery, black lives have always mattered.
To do away with Black History Month would be like "cutting off our nose to spite our face." Black youth need Black History Month to understand their rightful place in the struggle for racial equality and social justice for their own generation.  The freedom mantle has been passed to a new generation. The question these 21st century blacks must ask themselves is not how far they've come, but where they're headed?

Black History Month recitations must move beyond reciting Dr Martin Luther King Jr's, "I Have A Dream" speech to the question King himself posed in his last book, "Where Do We go From Here: Chaos or Community? "  In that 1967 book, Dr King described the then state of black people in America as follows:
  • Half of all Negroes live in substandard housing
  • Negroes have half the income of whites
  • There are twice as many Negroes unemployed
  • The rate of infant mortality among Negroes is double that of whites
  • In elementary schools, Negroes lag one to three years behind whites
  • One twentieth as many Negroes as whites attend college
  • Of employed Negroes, 75 percent hold menial jobs
The question blacks need to ask of themselves is "How much has changed since Dr King made those observations?"

According to former Harvard professor and theologian Cornel West not much has changed from 1967 to now, despite having a black president in the White House. West has been critical of President Barack Obama for what he says is "a perceived lack of quantifiable social and economic progress in poorer black communities."
Black people have suffered more in this age than in the recent past. Empirical indices of infant mortality rates, mass incarceration rates, mass unemployment and dramatic declines in household wealth reveal this sad reality. How do we account for this irony? It goes far beyond the individual figure of President Obama himself, though he is complicit; he is a symptom, not a primary cause. Although he is a symbol for some of either a post-racial condition or incredible Black progress, his presidency conceals the escalating levels of social misery in poor and Black America. —Black Prophetic Fire (Beacon Press) by Cornel West.
In 2014, The National Urban League released the 38th edition of "The State of Black America"  a report that details economic disparities impeding black progress— unemployment and underemployment, two strong indicators of growth and progress. Without question, there are large disparities between blacks and whites on all social and economic indices.

In the short span of 50 years, the outcry of blacks has gone from "We shall overcome" to "Black lives matter" reflecting a worsening of social and economic conditions in the black community. Without a Black History Month, 21st century blacks would have no idea how these two protests are inter-connected. A newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, DC provides a more permanent and accessible archive for everyone to study black history and its place in the history of America. If Black History Month has anything to teach America about its racially troubled past, it is this— the struggle against racial inequality and for social justice is one that we, as a nation, must win together.
I don't feel no ways tired, I've come too far from where I started from. Nobody told me that the road would be easy, I don't believe He brought me this far to leave me.— Curtis Burrell