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Warriors for Justice

The following post was written by Guest Author, David White.

Think 1955 in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. The murderers of Emmett Till are on trial, and everyone – everyone – black and white knows that the outcome of the case is a foregone conclusion. The prosecution team does the best they can. Till’s Uncle, poor Mose Wright, under immense life-threatening duress, identifies the culprits in front of the crowd in the courtroom, and the murderers still get off scot-free.

Fast forward to 2021, and put yourself in the House Managers’ position at the 2nd Impeachment Trial of Donald Trump. Imagine the demoralizing effect of knowing that you face a group of Senate jurors who are as intractable and oppositional as those in the Emmett Till case. The Managers did an excellent job. They certainly inspired me to want to do more to ensure that we preserve the ideals they so eloquently and fervently advocate.

Their opponent was the personification of autocratic nihilism, a man who would gleefully watch the destruction of the beautiful Capitol building, a structure erected with immeasurable toil, blood, and tears. A man who would encourage an insurrection because voters spoke and he could not find enough accomplices to help implement his devious plan to invalidate the election results and maintain power.

The word that perhaps best sums up what I witnessed from the former president’s defense would be “absurd.” Of course, when your client is the 45th president of the United States, you expect nothing other than absurdity.

Look at some of the imprudent and sometimes humourous outbursts from the trial (with a few personal interpolations).

“Mr. Chairman, the prosecution is being unfair, they’re bringing in evidence that implicates my client, and I feel that is prejudicial and so….uh, wrong”.

“Mr. Chairman, they’re using his words as reported by the media and as promulgated on social media platforms, and how can that be fair? After all, they’re only reports, and who would ever be prosecuted or found guilty on mere reports, even if they are his own words?”

“I declare ‘reports’ to be hearsay and inadmissible and totally unfair”.

“I say they should present their case without reports, without incendiary video, and simply go about fixing the pandemic and racial inequity.”

“Mr. Chairman, we reserve the right to imply that their presentation is fraudulent and hypocritical because we say it is.”

“And we reserve the right to present statements into evidence that are mere assertions and assert them as facts, because – the prosecution is partisan.”

“And we know they’re partisan because they identify as Democrats, except Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney, the numerous other Republican congressmen and women who declared the trial valid along with the over 100 legal scholars of all political persuasions who determined my client was guilty of inciting insurrection. So, this whole trial should be declared a sham, and let’s all go home in the name of unity.”

“Oh, and by the way, the videos they showed with my client appearing to egg on those pre-meditated incursionists didn’t tell the whole story. They forgot the part, somewhere after about the tenth time he said fight, that he dropped in the word peacefully in a totally non-sarcastic manner. As we know, my client does not have a sarcastic, insincere bone in his body.”

“Since they can doctor up videos let me show you some totally out-of-context videos, for several minutes, of numerous Democrats, many of them in this chamber at this time, using the word ‘fight,’ which of course I will present in a nonpartisan manner because we on this side don’t believe this should be a partisan matter.”

“And while I’m at it, let me show some gratuitous videos of violent street incidences involving a lot of people of diversity with the implication that these are Black Lives Matter and Antifa members; not Trumpers acting violently, though not put in any contextual framework because – somehow this is really a trial about Antifa and BLM, and we really shouldn’t be partisan.”

“So, in conclusion, Mr. Chairman what I’m saying is, you can’t find that my client, who called those well-known violent thugs, racists, anti-semites and kooky conspiracy theorists to the Capitol for a ‘wild’ day as Congress was certifying the election that he legitimately loss, but which we don’t have to admit, guilty of incitement, just because he sent them there to fight like ‘you know what’  or they would lose their country.”

“Oh, one more thing, can you call a recess so that I can consult with the jurors as to how to go about assuring my client’s acquittal?”

I brought up the Till case to push back on this notion that I’ve been hearing from pundits that I generally respect, like Ari Melber and Joy Reid, that the House Managers were derelict by not demanding witnesses to “look those jurors in the eye” and tell them about the pain and suffering they’ve endured. Presenting witnesses may have produced more tearjerking drama, but in my opinion, it would not have brought more conviction votes from naysaying Senators who had already – over three days – seen proof of criminal acts.

Just as an affidavit, handwritten by Emmett Till and certified by God, would have been rejected by the Mississippi court, no truth or proof that anyone else could have provided in that Impeachment Trial would have swayed any of the Trump loyalists.  Furthermore, the trial would have descended further into their nihilistic trap and turned into a comedy of errors.

Lawyers for the Defense:  “Mr. Chairman, if they call this witness, I demand that Kamala Harris be called…VP Harris, are you now or have you ever been a member or associate of Antifa or BLM?”

House Managers: “Objection.”

Lawyers for the Defense:  “You can’t object. This isn’t a real court of law, and the chairman is not a real judge. Mr. Chairman, they are being unfair in not allowing me to question my witness as I see fit.” (Moments later) “The defense now calls Rep. Maxine Waters to the stand.”

Back to critiquing the trial, I loved how Chaplain Barry Black designed his opening prayer to touch the conscience of anyone who was listening who had a conscience. He was precise about what the trial was supposed to be about (truth over falsehood, courage over cowardice). And I imagined his majestic voice and prayer emanating from above, delivering a message about good battling evil, and lies versus truth to souls that need saving.

House Managers Jamie Raskin, Joe Neguse, and Stacey Plaskett’s presentations were uplifting, and I was especially impressed by their impassioned, principled exhortations to righteousness. Raskin’s citings of Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, and the Bible were also profoundly inspiring.

Although most Republicans clung to their false prophet, there were some courageous living testimonies on that side, too. Burr, Romney, Cassidy, Murkowski, Collins, Sasse, and Toomey sought and will find salvation in the truth.

Following the Emmett Till trial, Wright and the two other black men who testified against the killers had to relocate away from Mississippi. The fate of the courageous seven Senators in the 2nd Impeachment Trial, along with the previously insufferable Liz Cheney, may not cause them to be run out of town; still, it is not unreasonable to think that a megalomaniacal sociopath and his disciples will try to punish them in every way possible. They are to be commended for their courage.

The “fight” for justice continues, and righteous warriors carry on.

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Booking the Book Deal: First You Have to Write It

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things.” Words of wisdom from award-winning horror genre author Stephen King

The first book I wrote was for my mother. I took my time researching and writing it and gave mother some of the first draft’s initial chapters to read. Several months later, we learned that she was terminally ill. I rushed to complete the book, but death won the race. Mother died 11 months before Legacy was published.

Not long ago, I reread the book and discovered what I perceived as some editorial shortcomings. The downside of being a perfectionist is that you want everything you produce to be flawless. There are times when I contemplate updating the book, but then I imagine mother reiterating what she used to say often throughout her life, “Let sleeping dogs lie.”

I’ve been working on my second book for a while. But procrastination is my nemesis. I can create a blog post in a few hours, but writing a book is ten times more challenging, as anyone who has attempted it knows. As passionate as I am about writing, it is a time-consuming and tedious process, and I have to be in a creative frame of mind to tackle it.

I was a bookworm long before I learned Stephen Kings’ advice about reading to improve writing. However, unless you are fortunate, like some renowned authors, to have a secluded retreat where you go to ply your trade, your writing time could be hindered, as mine often is, by constant interruptions. And interruptions aside when it comes to writing books, time is not our friend.

For instance, I am currently reading The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X. It is a fantastic five-star worthy publication. It clears up factual disputes and provides the reader with significantly more details about Malcolm X than the autobiography. The author, Les Payne, worked on The Dead Are Arising for 28 years. Sadly, in 2018, he died of a heart attack before he could finish the final draft. His daughter Tamara Payne, her dad’s research assistant, completed the book with their editor Robert Weil’s help. It was published last year.

Speaking of time, who hasn’t read The Catcher in the Rye? J.D. Salinger took ten years to finish it.

Writing her book was also a decade-long journey for Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell.

Alex Haley co-authored The Autobiography of Malcolm X and later wrote the acclaimed, 704-page Roots. Factoring in research time and intercontinental travel, it took Haley twelve years to write that book. And boy! It paid off in numerous ways.

Aware of the truth that time waits for no man (or woman), it is inspiring to know that some people don’t hit their literary stride until they are senior citizens.

J. R. R Tolkien took 16 years to finish The Lord of the Rings. He was 63 years old when the book was published.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Frank McCourt, was 66 when he wrote his bestselling memoir Angela’s Ashes.

And the oldest debut novelist on record award goes to Lorna Page. She was 93 years old when her first novel A Dangerous Weakness, was published.

The time it takes to write a book depends on many things, the book’s length and genre, the period spent doing research, and the author’s day-to-day writing routine.

Occasionally, one of my friends will ask my advice on how to publish their book. Here is my two-minute rudimentary pitch.

There are two methods of getting your book in print: self-publishing or traditional publishing.

Self-publish, and you maintain ownership of your book and can keep much of the profits. However, self-publishing necessitates that you do a lot of leg work after writing your book. That means everything from producing a professional product (editing, cover, format, etc.) to marketing it. If you have money to spare, you can pay professionals to help with those things.

Traditional publishing is more costly than self-publishing. It involves hiring a literary agent. The agent will help you put together query letters, a book proposal, a contract, a  marketing plan, book tours. He or she will be your overall pitch person. Literary agents charge a commission (about 15%) on any money that you earn. For every amount they get you in advances or royalties, speaking engagements, or other perks, they will take their cut. They will handle the heavy lifting. You may get an advance, but you’ll give up rights to your book, and everybody makes money off of it.

When I self-published my book, I had to learn the ropes through trial and error. I am still learning, but this time I am a little bit wiser.

Unless you have name recognition (say Terry McMillian or Walter Mosley), self-publishing is the way to go. The investment in self-publishing could be anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. How much you want to spend on your book is your call. For Legacy, I hired a fantastic copy editor before sending my book to a premier (POD) print-on-demand service for self-publishing authors. Comparing the royalties earned from self-publishing to traditional publishing could be like equating a child’s piggy bank filled with pennies to a five-gallon jug filled with quarters and greenbacks. But everything is relative.

With determination, perseverance, and a little bit of luck, any well-written book could mean the difference between a mediocre publication and a Pulitzer Prize-winner. There will be time for learning the ropes of getting your book published, but first, you have to write it.

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Keeping the Merry in Christmas

While radio and television programs are broadcasting Yuletide carols and reminding us to be jolly, COVID is sucking the merry out of Christmas. That sad reality is the reason why this usual glass-half-full optimist is fighting the pandemic blues. I am not alone. I know this because many of my friends tell me that they feel it, too. We compare our symptoms. Short tempers and long-lasting anxiety. Mood swings from hopeful to hopeless. And the WTF (where’s the food) all we can eat syndrome.

Since the pandemic began ten months ago, it has dragged on from season-to-season, and the set of new rules to live by has become old. We’ve all got the instructions memorized. Wear a mask. Practice social distancing. Avoid large gatherings. Socializing with family and friends at birthday parties, reunions, holiday get-togethers, even weddings, and funerals is a no-no. I imagine that some employees are not too happy that this year’s Christmas office parties are zooming. Who doesn’t feel like screaming, “WHAT THE ELF? ENOUGH ALREADY!”

As an (often mild-mannered) spiritual person, I wonder if the global pandemic is a Biblical prophecy and punishment is being levied on humankind for our sinfulness. I suppose that atheists and scientists would dispute that statement; it is an ever-lasting argument. So, I’m going back to talking about Christmas. Foremost, December 25 is a day held in reverence. It also happens to be my cousin Jo Jo’s birthday (a shout-out to you, Cuz), and for wide-eyed children everywhere, it is the day when Santa Claus makes their day.

Unlike Scrooge, I don’t need spirits to show me Christmases past, present, and future. I remember, and I envision.

In my mind’s eye, I am about seven-years-old. My mom and my siblings, and I are cheerfully jockeying around the live Christmas tree in the living room. Dad is seated on the sofa, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, clutching a Kool cigarette between the index and middle finger of his right hand. He is all into watching a John Wayne western on the old black and white TV set as I am into hanging my made-in-school decorations on the tree. Occasionally horizontal line interference forces dad to leave the sofa and walk over to the TV. He sticks his cigarette between his lips, takes a long drag, and then removes it, exhaling a puff of white smoke before tightening a small piece of aluminum foil that is wrapped around the tip of the rabbit ear antenna. The picture clears up and dad returns to the sofa. As he is sitting down, he glances toward the tree at our handiwork and nods approvingly. We continue hanging decorations. Simple ornaments created with Popsicle sticks, Elmer’s glue, pipe cleaners, colored beads, and a red and green chain garland made from construction paper share space on the spiny branches alongside store-bought string lights, shiny, fragile bulbs, and long strands of silver tensile. Some years, we add tiny candy canes – and then we wait. Christmas morning is only days away.

During the evenings leading up to the big day, mother sometimes lets us stay up past our 8 o’clock bedtime to watch televised seasonal specials about Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Old St. Nick. On Christmas Eve, she doesn’t need to tell us to turn-in. We eagerly hurry to bed because we know that the next day will be magical when we awake. In the morning, the joy and laughter of enchanted children fill the air as we gush over the gifts that Santa left under the tree. Our family’s meager income prevented us, four kids, from getting many presents. And often Santa didn’t bring us precisely what we asked for, but we always got a few things each, and for that, we were thankful. Mother’s lessons of expressing gratitude for everything were not lost on me even to this day.

The sweet scent of fresh pine needles lingers in our apartment for days, and it seems to take forever before every stubborn spike that lodged in the rug or slipped into a crack in the aging wood floor bordering the carpet has is gone.

In the postwar era, many parents observed – and children believed in – the long-standing tradition of Santa Clause. Some of today’s contemporary parents feel that deceiving children about Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and other fictional characters hinder a  trusting relationship with their children. So, they don’t adhere to any of the rituals that created beautiful, lifelong memories for their grandparents and parents.

Christmas wasn’t the only day that held magic. I was a curious child. Whenever I would shed a tooth, I would place it under my pillow before going to sleep. The next morning I would wonder and sometimes ask mother how the tooth fairy could lift my pillow and replace my tooth with a shiny coin, usually a nickel or dime, without waking me. Mother played along, leading me to believe that she was as perplexed as I was. I treasure those memories, and I think that mother enjoyed the games as much as we children did.

I know that it is the parent’s prerogative when it comes to observing traditions with their children. Still, I’d bet four calling birds that some of the same parents who say that they don’t want to lie to their children about imaginary characters don’t hesitate to fib to them about other things when it serves their purpose. As I see it, our parents fooling us with myths about the Tooth Fairy, Santa, and the Easter Bunny may have been telling us lies, but they were good lies.

Sometimes, when I am stressed and longing for a temporary respite from everyday living’s harsh realities, reflecting on traditions involving make-believe activities that my family observed during my childhood makes me happy.

Christmas present is eight days away. I doubt if many folks would disagree with me when I say that the best stocking stuffer all of us could receive would be a miraculous, immediate, and complete disappearance of COVID. I’m not promoting fake news, I know it’s not a reality, but nevertheless, that’s my wish for this Christmas.

My visualization for Christmas future, 2021, and all years after that is for love, brotherhood, joy, and peace in the world. That, along with good health, is my wish for my readers and all of humankind.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and may God bless you all!

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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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