Browsing Category Activism

Forcing the Smile

Before she died in 2011, my Aunt Sarah often told me that there was one thing that she liked most about my writing. “I like your humor,” she would say. It didn’t matter if I thought a particular post stunk like a wet mop, as long as Aunt Sarah thought it was funny my day was made. My aunt enjoyed humor, and she had an unwavering sense of it. She would crack me up with some of the jokes she told. More importantly, she focused on the bright side of life even in her darkest hour. Oh, how I miss her.

If my aunt were alive she would understand when I say that it’s getting difficult to maintain a sense of humor. The political and social climate we live in leaves little to laugh about or even smile.

In her speech before the 1964 Democratic National Convention civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer said, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” She might not have imagined that fifty years later, her words would become a mantra for people praying for relief in a society that appears to be stepping back in the past toward racial injustice as it steps forward to a resurgence of senseless and criminal acts against black and brown people.

If we are to believe the words of the Preamble to the Constitution, aren’t we (too among) the people entitled to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity?”

Like Fannie Lou was in her day, generations of us today are sick and tired of feeling that we must constantly justify our existence and demand our human rights to life and liberty. We are sick and tired of being inherently suspect and perceived as threatening by people who look for reasons, no matter how irrational, to call the police. We are sick and tired of being stereotyped and presumed guilty until proven innocent. We are damned sick and tired.

We parents and grandparents feel compelled to reiterate the self-preservation talk with our black youths. “I recall a few occasions when one of my grandsons was younger and naïve, his response to “the talk” would be, “But I don’t bother anyone.” And my immediate reply was, “You don’t have to be bothering anyone for someone to bother you. It’s the world we live in.” They are grown men now and have come to understand. I think they get it.

It doesn’t help me to read disturbing articles like the one recently published by the Los Angeles Times. It discloses the findings of a study that reveals that Getting killed by police is a leading cause of death for young black men in America.

I have never forgotten an incident that happened years ago when my son was about 15. I took him and his male friend of the same age shopping. Nordstrom was one of many stores along the shopping strip in a high-rent district in Washington, DC. I knew that prices inside could make a hog squeal, but for the heck of it, I decided to go inside to see if I could find anything I wanted. Within moments after we entered the store, I noticed that an inconspicuous store employee pretending to be a shopper was trailing a short distance behind us. When we stopped to look at something, so would she. After a few minutes of cat and mouse, I was tempted to disregard her unspoken indication that you don’t belong here and continue browsing for the hell of it. Instead, because I was getting pissed off I told the boys, “Let’s go.” We left that store and I have never gone back there. That was over 30 years ago and every time I think about the experience, I get angry all over again.

Whether it is being followed in a department store or pulled over for driving while black, there is no justification for racial profiling and racist behavior. One bad choice or miscalculated move on our part could be a matter of life or death. That is our grim reality, and it is no laughing matter.

I prefer to write about lighthearted topics and would rather not write about my frustrations regarding racism. But I usually express what is weighing heavily on my heart and mind and right now, today, this is it. The subject of racism is exhausting, but we must keep talking about it.

One commonality shared by my Aunt Sarah and Fannie Lou Hamer is that both were proponents of civil rights. My aunt who participated in the 1963 March on Washington, would see no humor in this post, but she would certainly understand it. So would Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who in 2009 was arrested at his Cambridge, Massachusetts home after someone placed a 911 call about someone breaking and entering a residence. Gates was suspected of breaking into his own home. Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson would also understand it. The two African American men were arrested in  2018 at a Philadelphia Starbucks while peacefully waiting for a friend to join them.

I am not implying that Black people don’t commit crimes, but so do whites.

I am sure that Aunt Sarah would understand why there is no humor in this post. She would also understand why I am not smiling as I write this, but I’ll smile again. Maybe tomorrow. I may even write something lighthearted – tomorrow.

In the meantime, if any of you readers have doubts about the absurdities perpetrated against Black people every day read The Root’s list of 100 Things Not To Do #While Black. Some of the things on the list are so ridiculous they might even make you smile as you shake your head at the idiocy.

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My Thoughts of Mumia Abu-Jamal

The following post was written by Kathleen Flax, Guest Author. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this post are those of Ms. Flax and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.

 

 

After viewing “Long Distance Revolutionary,” a documentary about Mumia Abu-Jamal, I felt compelled to express some of my thoughts as presented below.

I spent an afternoon researching a black man named Mumia Abu-Jamal. He is a man who is well known by many Philadelphians.

Mumia was a radio disc jockey for a hometown favorite station, WDAS. He was also a journalist and an outspoken activist for the black community. He became a visible and openly staunch supporter in Philadephia for what was labeled by the city as a “radical organization” known as MOVE.

In 1981, Mumia was convicted of the murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner. He was subsequently tried and sentenced to death. The incidents surrounding the murder of Officer Faulkner at the hands of Mumia has always been shrouded by controversy. There were and still are firmly held beliefs, allegations, and theories of a police conspiracy and a cover-up.

What I remember from the report is that Mumia was driving a taxi cab to supplement his income. During one early morning, while driving the cab, he happened upon a scuffle and could see that some Philly police officers were beating his brother. It was reported that he exited his taxi cab and ran to the aid of his brother. What transpired between all of the individuals involved in that scuffle, continues to remain an ongoing discussion and has been debated by many individuals over several decades.

What remains factual, is that the lives of all of the subjects involved in that unfortunate incident:  the Philadelphia Police Department, Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, Mumia Abu-Jamal, his brother, and several eyewitnesses, were forever altered.

My heart is torn and saddened by all that I have read regarding Mumia and the untimely death of Officer Faulkner on the cold streets of Philadelphia. Perhaps it is because I am myself the child of a former Philadelphia Police Officer. My father worked those same streets as Officer Faulkner.

I have read the debates, criticisms, and open discussions regarding Mumia and his lengthy imprisonment. I have attempted to decipher the charges lodged against him and the sentence rendered. As I continued doing research on Mumia, I smile.

You see people; I remember Mumia’s voice of yesterday. As stated earlier he was a disc jockey for WDAS radio station in Philly. I was a young adult when his sultry, hypnotic, voice, and the R&B music that he played echoed throughout my home on many Sunday evenings.

From the time he was incarcerated, I have viewed many photographs of Mumia published throughout the years. My mind’s eye has also kept a certain image of him in a safe place, taking me selfishly back to a simpler, peace-filled time in my own life and small world. I have a self-made poster of Mumia hanging on the wall of my home not far from where I sit as I compose these thoughts.

I created the poster from a flier that I took off of a telephone pole in Philadelphia. The flier was asking Philly citizens for support for an upcoming “free Mumia rally” which was being held sometime in the late eighties. The poster that I created of Mumia has traveled many miles and over thirty years with me. To this day, I continue to hope and pray for Mumia’s exoneration of the charges lodged against him and his ultimate release from prison.

As I gazed upon that photograph of Mumia today on my computer screen, his picture reminded me of another photograph. Ironically, the other photograph was of another incarcerated black activist and lawyer named Nelson Mandella. From the time I was a young child until I was a grown woman, I held an image of Nelson Mandela etched in my mind. I remembered him as he stood tall, round-faced, brawny, a robust forceful looking man. In my eyes, he represented a “true” black man. Mr. Mandella was released in 1990, after serving a twenty-seven-year prison sentence in South Africa. The entire world took notice of his release. His countrymen rejoiced, and his admirers everywhere were elated.

News programs on stations all over broadcast the moment Mandela walked back into freedom. I watched my television with bated breath. Mandela was a heroic icon. Sadly, what I saw when Mr. Mandela walked out of prison caused my heart to immediately sink. I simultaneously became upset, shocked, hurt, and saddened. He who once stood before the world as a tall, brawny, robust man now resembled someone’s elderly grandfather. He was extremely thin, hunched over, gray-haired and was shuffling along with a cane. I cried that day for Nelson Mandella. The flood gates opened, and the tears cascaded down my cheeks. If it were possible to measure them, I’d say that I shed twenty-seven years of tears; and I remember uttering out loud, to no one in particular, “THEY BROKE HIM. THEY BROKE HIM”.

Who would have guessed that this determined, steadfast man, would become his nation’s president after being released from prison? I would be lying if I didn’t say that revelation in itself caught me by surprise a few years later. I still do not fully comprehend how it happened – former activist, lawyer, and prisoner, Nelson Mandela became the president of South Africa.

When I look at side-by-side photos of the young activist, Nelson Mandela and the older President Mandela and then look at photos of a young Mumia Abu-Jamal, and the older man who he is now, my mind screams again, “THEY BROKE HIM. THEY BROKE HIM.” In spite of that sorrow, I smile broadly and refuse to shed tears.

What I have experienced is a personal insight into America. In my opinion, this country still has not learned about the resolute conditioning of the human spirit, the black spirit in particular.

America needs to understand that our physical black bodies are just a vessel. It has been our minds, which you have tried to control, contain, and understand for hundreds of years now, to no avail.

You have beaten, raped, castrated, hung, enslaved, and systematically attempted to destroy our existence since bringing us to these shores. I believe, America, that the thought process of the black man after the tragedy we’ve endured and survived at your red, white, and blue hands have been a factor that you struggle continuously to comprehend. Sadly, I believe your well-documented history of the intentional mistreatment and abuse of the black man, woman, and child, is still acceptable in your country.

I, as well as Mumia Abu-Jamal and the late Nelson Mandela, reside in a world where black people are looked down upon by white people and other races for no other reason than our hue. If anyone should dare to be an outspoken activist towards a nation built on racism and brutality, such as Mumia and Mandela did, there is a chance that they too could face imprisonment; ironically for exercising a human right and one of their Constitutional rights, freedom of speech.

I realize that Mumia is in prison for the alleged murder of a police officer in 1990. However, the question is still being debated here in Philadelphia and around the world in 2019 as to whether or not the entire incident was a set up by the Philadelphia police and Philadelphia politicians to take down an outspoken black activist and journalist.

What became apparent, in my opinion, is that Mumia as a journalist began writing articles and speaking out on the Philadelphia police department’s alleged mistreatment of members of the MOVE Organization. In doing so, he became a target.

When looking at photographs of Mumia and Mandela, I not only reflect on their situations, but on America and her continued mistreatment of black people. Our black heritage and black pride is the one thing that America will never truly understand. Our black honor, black steadfastness, black truths, black beliefs, black strength, black diligence, black resilience, black kindness, black forgiveness, black spirituality, black family, black unity, and our extreme black love for all humankind – that includes even you AMERICA. As wicked and evil as you have been to black people, we still love you.

Our black strengths which you can’t understand nor destroy continues to grow deep and rooted inside of black people. That strength is continuously fed to us by the blood of our ancestors seeping through America’s soil with our every footstep. That particular strength is not external. You will never control or understand its value to us as black people.

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Still Standing

I published my first blog post on September 17, 2010. Potpourri101 had not yet been born. The original blog called bboomersnet.com was consolidated into Potpourri101 in June of 2012.

During my blogging years, I have written many favorite posts. I’ve also written some that I consider bloopers. But I keep writing. I can’t not write. It’s in my DNA.

While reviewing some of the 388 posts published on my site, I came across some favorites like this one, originally published on December 2, 2010, and posted here with some slight revisions.

Stand Up and Be Counted

 “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Those inspirational words of civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., inspire courageous people who not only talk the talk but walk the walk. Ideally, his words also motivate closet activists, people who hesitate to speak up publicly or take action at the opportune time.

We all know someone who loud-talks up a storm behind the scenes, complaining about what “somebody” should or should not say or do, but when the occasion arises for the whiner to speak publicly about the issue, his or her jaws lock tighter than a hard shell clam.

I believe that some people are born activists, while others grow into those shoes. It doesn’t matter how they arrive at being a crusader, what is significant is that at some point they learn the importance of speaking out and championing their cause, whether it is a global effort like Climate Change or working to eliminate homelessness in their community. Activists are mindful of their Ps and Qs:  they prepare, participate, and when necessary, they question. Then, they pursue a course to affect the cause that they are championing – whether it means joining their colleagues in a public protest, taking part in a fact-finding survey, or simply casting a vote.

On the other hand closet activists often avoid publicly stating their opinion, preferring to cower in the shadows and grumble instead of taking a stand. No one is right or wrong all of the time. Sometimes we make good choices, other times bad. But regardless, the point is having enough gumption to express yourself. Don’t straddle the line. Whether you support a cause or disagree with it. Man or woman up!  Let your position be known.

People who have the opportunity to speak up and refuse, basically deserve whatever they get from the outcome of a decision by the majority. Life is a crapshoot, a gamble. Each one of us – from the President of the United States to the homeless person on the street – has limited control over some things and no control over others. It is liberating to be able to state a position, to voice an opinion. You may change your mind later on. You may even regret a decision, and that’s okay. Mind-changing is permitted. But you can feel pleased that you at least had enough backbone to assert yourself. As Malcolm X prophesized long ago, “If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.”

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