Posts Written By L Parker Brown

Soul-Searching with a Cup of Java

It’s overcast outside. Grey clouds are threatening a downpour at any moment. On autumn days like this one, I like to put on some easy-listening music, grab a cup of coffee and sit and think.

I call it quiet introspection.

People who know me say that I am transparent. I admit that I am also opinionated. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Holding my tongue not only belies who I am; it agitates me like an itch that gets worse the more I scratch it. There are some things – not many – that I will not speak openly about unless I am asked, and my answer may be brief but candid. Depending on the topic, my advice is if you are not prepared to hear the answer, then don’t ask the question. It’s a play on the axiom, “Be careful what you wish for; you just may get it.”

Someone else’s viewpoint about an issue is their opinion, and mine is mine. They may argue that my perspective is wrong, but I will not change my mind to appease them. By the same token, if someone disagrees with me, I won’t try to change their mind, but I will let them know that I feel differently.  Everyone has an opinion (though, but some folks would never admit to it). The best thing for strengthening an opinion is having reliable information to support your position. For instance, if I say that over half of the people in this country drink coffee every day, that is my opinion. If I say that a Reuters study shows that 64 percent drink it daily, I’ve backed up my opinion with data provided by a verifiable source.

I try to be open-minded to suspend judgment and to accept without condemnation things with which I don’t entirely agree. I am no more perfect than the next person, and I wouldn’t think of casting the first stone. But what I am not – is a hypocrite.

This nonconformist does not follow the herd. I will not pretend to believe that day is night, left is right, and what I perceive to be wrong is right just because society may dictate it or because everybody else thinks it’s okay. Nevertheless, my doctrine is simple – live and let live.

My mother was dutifully religious. I consider myself more spiritual than religious, but the disadvantage of being a child imbued with a strict religious upbringing is that it sticks with you through adulthood. Mother has been dead for six years; however, in my mind, I still hear her quoting Proverbs 22:6. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

I don’t know how many times I heard her say that when I was growing up.

Sometimes we deviate. That doesn’t mean that we forgot the lessons. God bestowed us with free will, and fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, we make a conscious choice to choose the other of the two roads in our path instead of the trail we were taught to follow.

Since the scriptures prophesize that we “all have sinned,” sometimes I think that trying to walk a righteous path is futile. If I could say that to mother now, she would immediately remind me that the Bible also says that each of us will be judged according to our deeds.

So, I reiterate that I will live and let live. But I refuse to be fake. Sometimes even when I go along to get along, I feel like a fraud. Anyone who wants me to accept them for who they are must, in turn, take me for who I am. Because we disagree doesn’t mean that we have to be nasty about it. It merely means that we have a different point of view.

Indian philosopher Krishnamurti said, “The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.” I haven’t reached that peak. Maybe I never will. But I don’t worry about it, because I have plenty of company on the concourse level.

It takes an extraordinary person to look at something – anything – in a completely neutral manner. Can someone be open-minded and critical at the same time? Is it feasible to think that even the smartest person can observe something and not draw a conclusion? I wonder. Because someone doesn’t publicly express an opinion, but that doesn’t mean that he or she has not formed one?

There is nothing like relaxing to some easy-listening music, a cup of coffee, and quiet introspection – in my opinion.

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Visiting Black Lives Matter Plaza–Part 1 of 2

Last Sunday, I took a walk through the valley of the shadow of death. OK, I’m being overdramatic. However, the nearly empty roads along the generally bustling Sixteenth Street corridor resembled a scene from the Twilight Zone. Hardly anyone was on the streets.

Until that day, aside from a doctor’s appointment and a couple of outings to the store, I had not wandered outside my home since mid-March. That’s when the COVID pandemic showed up like an uninvited houseguest and drove everybody into isolation.

My first time taking the 6.04 mile walk along Sixteenth Street happened on 911. Planes had flown into the twin towers in New York, and another crashed into the western side of the Pentagon. Reporters broadcast that a hijacked plane, later identified as United Airlines Flight 93, was believed to be heading to the White House or the U.S. Capitol. Subsequently, that aircraft crashed in a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. D.C.’s Metro service had been canceled, and everyone was scrambling to move away from the business district ahead of another anticipated terrorist attack. I had no choice but to take the long, solitary walk home.

I had not rewalked that path since retiring a decade ago. Until Sunday, September 13, Grandparent’s Day, this energetic nana decided to challenge herself, to see if I could still go the distance. My purpose was twofold. I had been yearning to visit the area north of Lafayette Square (nicknamed the President’s Park) since June 5, 2020. On that day, hundreds of demonstrators turned out to protest the murder-by-cop of George Floyd. Later, the defiant D.C. mayor renamed the block Black Lives Matter Plaza.

A longtime history buff, I wanted to visit the area and feel the history. To walk the path and stand on the spot where the late Congressman John Lewis made his last public appearance on June 7, five weeks before his death.

So at 7 a.m. Sunday, my daughter and I leave my home and trek over to Carton Baron. From there, we head south. I’ve lived all my life in Chocolate City, and the scenic, tree-lined 16th Street, bordered by nicely manicured lawns, clean sidewalks, and charming houses, has always been my favorite thoroughfare.

Sixteenth Street runs north-to-south in a straight line. If you start at Eastern Avenue in Silver Spring, Maryland, and go south, you’ll pass picturesque homes, the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Rock Creek Park, and Carter Baron. Also along the way are several foreign embassies, including the Embassy of the Republics of the Congo, Cambodia, Lithuania, and Angola.

Near the halfway point of our excursion, we stop briefly in Malcolm X Park. I’ve loved that place since I was a teenager and used to visit there occasionally with my friends. Also known as Meridian Hill Park, the property sits across the street from Howard University’s Meridian Hill Hall. The Hall was one of Howard’s dorms until the building was sold in 2016. The developer plans to convert it to rental housing.

Continuing downtown, we pass Scott circle. Mounted in its center is the equestrian statue of Civil War General Winfield Scott. A short distance away, on the right-hand side of the street, the National Geographic Museum stands temporarily closed. Its windows boarded-up since the George Floyd protests. We go a few more blocks and 90 minutes after we started our trip, we cross K Street and arrive at Black Lives Plaza.

At the entrance of the plaza, on the right-hand side at the corner of 16th & K, stands the Regis Hotel. (Decades ago, when I worked in a government affairs office in the building directly across the street, it was called the Sheraton-Carlton.)

As I stand there, reminiscing, I remember spring 1991. I am watching from the fourth-floor window as Queen Elizabeth and her security detail exit the hotel, climb into her motorcade and drive away. How thrilling, I think at the time, I’ve seen the queen. She was in town then, visiting President George H.W. and Barbara Bush. I later learned that the queen also toured some areas of the city with Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon and other locals.

It was that same window that I rushed to one morning about a year later, after hearing screams coming from outside. I looked down to see a young woman who I later learned worked for Xerox, being dragged beneath the back wheel of a box truck. Pedestrians screaming and gesturing eventually caught the attention of the oblivious driver, and he stopped the truck a few feet beyond the entrance of our building. Paramedics rushed to the scene and extracted the women from beneath the truck. She survived. News reports revealed that the truck driver, who had numerous prior driving violations and was subsequently fired, said he had not seen the woman when she stepped off the curb.

My old workplace building has a new facade and now houses P.J. Clarke’s restaurant. Posted in front of the structure, to the left and right of the double doors, are two large Black Lives Matter signs. Nearly every building on that block and several nearby have signs of assorted shapes and sizes displaying the same persuasive message.

On the same side as the Regis, at the opposite end of the block at H Street, is the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Police cars stationed at both ends of the block restrict vehicles from entering.

There are only about a dozen people in the plaza. In front of the building alongside the Regis, four or five young people are seated in a semi-circle in what appears to be folding lawn chairs. They look as relaxed as if they are socializing in their living room. I wonder if they are some of the numerous activists who participate in the protests that have been ongoing intermittently since the death of George Floyd. (Continued in Part 2)

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Visiting Black Lives Matter Plaza–Part 2 of 2

Lafayette Park lies at the northern end of the plaza. The once bright yellow, all capital letters leading up to the park that seems to shout “Black Lives Matter” have dulled, and the asphalt has huge cracks in some places.

The park is encased by a black wire fence that appears to be about 8 feet high. Positioned against the fence, near the small passageway for pedestrians, is a large orange triangular-shaped street sign that instructs readers to “Watch for Black Lives.”

As my daughter and I walk through the entrance behind the wall, I am wondering – Is there only one way in and one way out?

Upon entering, I see that behind the taller fence is a jersey wall, and behind the jersey wall are decorative safety bollards. The bollards are slightly taller than fire hydrants. A fence behind a fence behind a fence. I ask myself – All of this to keep the public away from a statue?

The outer fence is papered with flyers. Some of them show photos of black people who have been murdered by police offices. Many of the papers are imprinted with relevant messages. One states, “Trump must go.” Another reads, “Hello and #F*** Trump.” The explicit was spelled out. There is a photo of a young man I do not recognize beneath the caption “Rest in peace.” There is another one with a picture I remember immediately, young Trayvon Martin wearing a gray hoodie.

The statue of President Andrew Jackson that protesters attempted to topple – until forced back by law enforcement officers – still stands in the center of the square in front of the white house behind yet another fence.

I feel happy to have made that trip. It doesn’t matter that after I returned home, I forgot the cardinal rule to be followed after every workout – stretch. I paid the price for forgetting.

By the end of the day, and in the two days following, every inch of my body is aching. My ouches have ouches. Sitting down and standing up is a struggle. When I say that I had to drag one leg behind the other to walk across the room, I do not exaggerate. My body felt like it had been hit by a bus. Epsom salt baths gave little relief.

As much as I dislike popping pills, on Monday night, I took a couple of extra-strength Tylenol and did a few gentle stretches before carrying my ice pack to bed with me. By Tuesday afternoon, I was feeling a little better, and by Wednesday, better still. Today, I am almost up to par.

Although my mind constantly reiterates the mantra of “The Little Engine That Could,” my body reminds me that I am no spring chicken. Nevertheless, as long as my health prevails and granny doesn’t fall and can’t get up, I will continue to challenge myself.  I know I can. I know I can. I know I can.

 

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Confession of a Bookworm

The pandemic has forced many live television programs to improvise. TV personalities who previously shared a broadcast desk in the studio have relocated to maintain social distancing. With some trepidation, news anchors, and the hosts of my favorite program, The View – are broadcasting from their homes. Certainly, they are aware that while viewers are listening to their talking head, we are observing the scene behind them.

I shamefully admit that I know that I am not the only one looking to see if the camera will reveal dust bunnies or a water ring on a shiny wooden tabletop or a picture hanging crooked on the wall. I also know that it is unlikely that the television audience will see those flaws because, before going on air, every conscientious TV personality will make sure that everything that can be caught by the eye of the camera is perfect. A lot of businesses may have closed since the pandemic began, but house cleaning services must be thriving.

Frequent users of Zoom will tell you that if there is a blemish within camera range or a zit on your face Zoom will magnify it.

Aside from small children and pets who thoughtlessly make an unexpected appearance behind the broadcaster, there is one thing that I notice is often prominently displayed. Books. Most of them are stored on bookshelves; others are cleverly placed on a tabletop to the left or right of the speaker, and sometimes adjacent to a vase of flowers or framed photos. Above all other props, books dominate.

I am not ashamed to admit that there have been a few occasions when the bookworm in me has slithered up close to the TV, sometimes tilting my head to read book titles behind the person at the forefront of the screen. I’m looking to see what books I don’t own and perhaps have never heard of that I think I might like to read. I’ve given up trying to whittle down my booklist. It’s impossible, because every time I check-off a book that I’ve finished, I wind up adding another one or two or three to the “must-read” column.

When I was working, I was buying books like a numismatist collects coins. With my bookshelves overflowing, I began storing books in boxes, on the closet shelf, on the nightstand, anywhere and everywhere in my home where there was space. For years, I used to promise myself that after I retired, I’d have time to read every book I owned. But when that time came, I discovered that the more time we think we have, the less time there is. Just as a job and things related to it like commuting, overtime, out-of-town travel, etc., leaves little time in each day for leisure undertakings – like reading – being retired doesn’t mean the time won’t get consumed by other activities. (Ah, so many books, so little time.)

Not to be judgmental, but I find it inconceivable that there are people who don’t like to read. I know some wonderful people who admit it. Certainly, they can read, and they do – only when necessary. Perhaps because I’ve had a love affair with books all my life, it is hard for me to imagine anyone who does not feel the same way, but you know – different strokes.

Educators tell us that books are nourishment. Brain food. Not only do they educate and entertain us, they also increase our vocabulary and improve our analytical and writing skills. I’ve found that reading also has a soothing effect. Can’t sleep? Grab a book, get engrossed in a chapter, and see if you don’t soon nod off.  Listening to an audiobook can also send you straight to dreamland.

I totally agree with booklover and 15th Century philosopher Desiderius Erasmus who believed, “Your library is your paradise.” His more familiar statement describes me to a T, “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.” Don’t tell the fashion police, but I’d rather be a bookworm engrossed in a good book, then a fashionista dressed to impress.

Before I die, I aim to finish reading every book in my collection. Sometimes, I think it might be intriguing to have inscribed on my gravestone, “Here lies a bookworm who read every book she owned.”

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Getting It Off My Chest

Have you ever had something bother you so much for so long that you finally decide to get it off your chest? Although I’ve been retired from the workforce for years, this letter is one that I’ve wanted to write ever since I left corporate America.

I’m doing it now because recent news stories concerning systemic racism have resurrected suppressed feelings. Although throughout my working years, my experiences in the workplace were overall pleasant, and I had an excellent working relationship with the majority of my managers, there were a few exceptions. There were a couple of places I worked where the racism of the person for whom I worked was as evident as a massive zit on the nose.

One manager was a pretentious, conniving woman. She reminded me of the lead character in the film The Devil Wears Prada. The other was a short, balding, overweight man who reminded me of the Pillsbury Doughboy. It is to him that I address this letter.

Greetings You,

I know that it is customary to include dear in the salutation of a letter, but there is nothing dear to me about you.

Years ago, for several months too long, I worked indirectly for you, under the supervision of an upstanding man who was everything that you were not. He was kind-hearted, polite—a gentleman. I often felt sorry for my boss because you came to be his boss as an accident of fate.

Before your arrival, we had a well-run, pleasant office. To my knowledge, there was little or no office drama or backstabbing among the staff members. If there was, I never saw it. And then you arrived on the scene. It wasn’t long before the milieu of the office changed, for worse. Perhaps you fooled some of the other employees and associates, but you didn’t fool me. You soon showed who and what you are.

At first, I tried hard to get along with you, but my effort didn’t last long. I am not easily fooled by covert racists. Closet racists – as I call people like you – are much more dangerous than apparent racists who do not attempt to conceal who they are. And you, in my opinion, were and may still be, a closet racist.

For whatever reason, you never approached me directly with your concocted critiques. You assigned others to do your dirty work for you. Did you think that I did not know the source of sudden criticisms that did not begin occurring until after you arrived? I treated you with respect as I did everyone else in the office, but because I did not kowtow to you as some did, I think you perceived that I did not fear you. You were right. I didn’t. My mother raised us to be decent, friendly, respectful people, but not bootlickers.

The tension between you and I got so bad sometimes that I imagine that when you looked in my eyes, you saw the stereotypical angry black woman (I doubt if anyone else did. No one else ever brought her out.) If that is what you perceived, then we are on equal footing, because whenever I looked at you, I saw Bull Conner, David Duke, and a white robe wearing, pointed hood, Grand Dragon. Not only did I learn about snide remarks that you made about some other black people in the office, I also noticed that you treated black staff members differently. Your racism may not have been evident to all, but it was to me. Sometimes I think you had every staff member there – black and white – shivering in their boots for fear that one misstep with you and they’d risk losing their job, but I did not fear you. Some people have a higher tolerance for racists than I do.

The thing about closet racists is that they think that they are good at concealing their hatred. It would take an apocalyptic change to salvage people like you. You may doubt it, but I was as happy when I left there as you were to see me go.

Understandably, a lot of people remain silent about racism in the workplace because they value their jobs. If I were not happily retired, I might maintain my silence, too. After all these years since I left corporate America, systemic racism still exists, and people like you are still the head fish.

Today’s younger generations are the civil rights era soldiers reincarnated; only they are more outspoken. They are less timid, stronger, stout-hearted, resilient, challenging, and if necessary – although I believe the majority are peaceful protesters against the system – they will fight back. I have seen on tee shirts worn by many young people the ominous statement, “We are not our grandparents ….” What’s more, other people, brown and white, even your children and grandchildren, are allies. They cannot purify racists, but they can and are fighting systemic racism along with the old soldiers who are still standing.

Well, I’m glad I finally got that off my chest.

Sincerely,

Your nemesis.

One more thing, have you ever heard Sam Cook sing A Change is Gonna Come? Take a listen, watch the video, and think about it. Significant change may not come in my lifetime or yours, but it’s coming.

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