Browsing Category The Way I See It

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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You Can’t Handle the Tooth

I am not looking forward to tomorrow. Correction, at my age, I am always looking forward to tomorrow because every tomorrow that I wake up is another day that I am blessed to be above ground. What I am not looking forward to on the coming day is another trip to the dentist. The truth is, the cost of dental visits is getting to be the bane of my existence. In plain English, dental care is too darn expensive.

A year ago, after I recovered from having my last wisdom tooth pulled, I promised myself that there would no more dentist visits. I would dutifully continue to brush and floss the hell out of my mouth, but I’ve had it with going to the dentists. So, I said.

There is no question that dentists, endodontists, orthodontists, periodontists, and every other “ist” in the dental profession charge too much. No wonder there are so many gap tooth, snaggletooth, missing teeth, and no teeth people nearly everywhere you look. I’m not saying this to be shaming people who cannot afford regular dental care. I empathize with them. But for the grace of God, I could be in the same situation.

If you never go to a dental visit, don’t fool yourself into thinking that if nothing in your mouth hurts you are fine. Not necessarily. I know that from firsthand experience. I also know that dental care is ridiculously expensive. Over time, consistent and proper dental maintenance cost more than a full set of dentures. According to estimates provided by Healthcare Blue Book, medium pricing for a set of dentures start at around $1,300 and goes up from there.

My pending dental visit prompted me to do some research on how much I have laid out for dental care over the years. Although I have been going for regular visits to the same dentist since the mid-1980s, unfortunately, I did not have the foresight to save every receipt. It was only in early 2014 that I decided to create a “Dental Receipts” file and save everything related to dental care. A few days ago, I pulled out that folder from the small, two-draw file cabinet that contains records for all of my household expenses – insurance, receipts for furniture and appliance purchases; warranties, stuff like that.

Grabbing my calculator, I began totaling all of my dental receipts. In addition to the receipts in the folder, I found a half dozen or so others dating back as far as 2001, that I retrieved from an old purse, a dresser drawer, a too-small pair of jeans, and a few other places.

The majority of the receipts were for dental services from 2/19/2014 through 7/16/2019. They covered expenses for regular cleanings, x-rays, fillings, scaling, a couple of root canals, a crown, and a wisdom tooth extraction. The total for all of the dental expenses that I still have receipts for is (rounded off) $12,000.00. I began getting regular dental care with my current dentist around 1985, so, (although I don’t have receipts to verify it) I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that from the mid-8os to the present I’ve probably invested at least $20,000 in dental care. For those who don’t know it, cleaning alone will run you over a hundred dollars, full mouth x-rays (necessary to locate cavities and other defects), will cost you a couple of Benjamins.

As I said earlier, dental care is expensive, but it doesn’t require a dentist to convince wise people that nothing beats having your own teeth. You can have the prettiest set of dentures or implants that money can buy, still there “ain’t nothing like the real thing.” Cosmetic dentist, Dr. Thomas P. Connelly reminds people of that in his article, “Think Dentures Can Replace Your Teeth? Think Again.”  He also advises that “Many dentists have payment plans, they take credit cards, there is secondary insurance, etc. I’m not advocating getting into debt — I am advocating that there are few things as important as your natural teeth. They are worth the investment.”

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Minding Manners

When I was a child, my mother taught me that whenever anyone gave me a gift, it was imperative to thank the person for it. If the gift was a face-to-face delivery, a heartfelt thank you might suffice. But if someone took the time to mail me a gift, the least I could do would be to write them a note or send a card expressing my gratitude. I do that to this day.    

I taught that practice of expressing gratitude to my children. And I’ve noticed that many – although not all – people I know who are in my age group were also taught that courtesy while growing up or learned it after they were grown. But from Generation X, the Millennials, Gen Z and on down the line, the courtesy of expressing gratitude in return for a gift, service, or favor is vanishing faster than landline phones.

Are people just out-and-out thoughtless or do they take it for granted that courtesy requires no reciprocal action?

Surely, I am not the only one who remembers that, years ago, if you sent someone a birthday card, a wedding or baby shower present, or even a sympathy card, especially if the card contained a monetary gift, we’d usually receive a thank you card in return. It was rare not to hear anything from the recipient, and frankly, it was considered downright rude. Today count yourself lucky if someone acknowledges having received your gift without you having to ask them if they got it. As I see it, the lack of good manners is just another sign of deteriorating behavior in a society that becomes more uncivil every day.

Lest you make the wrong assumption, I don’t give gifts merely for someone to thank me in return. I do it because either I like the person or want to do something nice for them to recognize a special occasion. But I dislike feeling that my kindness is taken for granted. An acknowledgment is not only the right thing to do, its common courtesy. Unfortunately, I must agree with Whoopi’s implication that we are veering away from a do-right society.

Granted, things get lost in the mail, and packages get stolen off of people’s front porch. But if you live close enough for me to bring an envelope to your home, give it to one of your family members, or slip it beneath your door, then that destroys the “lost mail” defense. And if you do nothing more than holler across the street when you see me, “Hey, I got it!” or give me a thumbs up signal, I might consider that action a bit uncouth, but no acknowledgment is undeniably rude.

The practice of saying thank you is so deep-rooted in me that – you can bank on this – if I receive a gift from someone and do not thank them, then I am either incapacitated or dead.

It’s embarrassing to me to call someone to ask if they received a gift I sent. That’s almost as bad as lending someone something and after months of waiting to have to ask for it back. I can easily overlook giving away a couple of eggs or a cup of sugar, insignificant things like that. Most likely, I’ll say, “Keep it.” But when it comes to lending a household item, let’s say a punch bowl, a hammer, even a book (especially a book) I want it back. It was a loan, not a gift. Judge Judy would attest to that. And wasn’t it Shakespeare who wrote: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be?” But that’s another subject for another day.

Several months ago, I sent a sympathy card containing a check to a long-time neighbor after I learned that her mother had recently died. She didn’t phone or send a thank you note. I’ve seen her in passing at least three times since then and has she ever said thank you? Can a paper doll walk a runway?

We are all busy, so being too busy to say thank you is a lousy excuse, and I’m sure that by now you realize that thoughtless thanklessness of people is one of my peeves. Whether someone holds a door for you or shows kindness in some other way, the least you can do is say thank you. Expressing gratitude is more than just a social nicety it shows civility and reassures others that their gesture was appreciated. That being said – I appreciate you taking the time to read my rant and patronize this blog. Thank you!

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Looking Back at The Funeral

I wrote the entry below in my journal on May 11, 2014, the night before Mother’s Day, weeks before my ailing mother died, and days after her doctor called my siblings and me to his office to tell us what I had already presumed. (The fact that this is being published on Father’s Day is coincidental.)

Mother’s cancer had returned after three years in remission and a few months following her breast surgery. It was terminal. Her doctor said that chemo and other interventive efforts to prolong her life had been exhausted. The ire that led me to express angry feelings in my journal later that evening was not the result of the doctor’s disclosure. I became enraged after my sister told me over the phone that she and our mother were writing down service arrangements for mother’s funeral.

I knew that my exclusion from the planning was intentional because my sister and mother were members of the same religious organization and I purposely have no membership with any organized religion. The deliberate slight led me during that telephone conversation to decide that I would not attend my mother’s funeral. (Circumstances, which I’ll later explain, changed my mind. I did attend the funeral. My sister did not.)

My sister, brothers, and I each dealt with my mother’s pending death in our own way. I, as I often do, wrote through my pain, confiding and psychologically transferring my feelings to my private journal. Now, as the fifth anniversary of mother’s death approaches on June 18, I’ve decided to share, in my public journal, a condensed version of the entry I wrote on that Mother’s Day eve. For me revealing these thoughts and pent up emotions is cathartic. Others may see it differently, and that’s okay. And as much as I know I should resist saying this about that; I’m going to say it anyway – Whatever.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dear Diary,

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. What a time to be writing this.

I won’t be attending mother’s funeral. People will wonder why — let them. While the service is underway, I will be here, at home, feeling a lot of things, but guilt will not be one of those emotions. I’ll probably be reminiscing.

Like every good mother, mom instilled pearls of wisdom in her children as she and dad raised the four of us. She never stopped giving us advice, even when we were adults. I remember following frequent news reports about the Jim Jones tragedy in Guyana that dominated the airways, mother and I had many conversations about how easily people are lured into cults. “Stay away from them,” she cautioned.

I detest the fact that mother ultimately disregarded her own advice when she joined an organization that in my opinion, is nothing less. Her decision curtailed our family gatherings and resulted in our family becoming distant in the past few years. I imagine that once mother leaves us we will be more estranged.

So often I think about family gatherings that we enjoyed at mom and dad’s home on holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas until her conversion changed that. I miss those get-togethers. What kind of religious organization restricts members’ from participating in what they call “worldly” activities, birthdays included? How crazy is that?

They like to take control. Mother let them take over her life, and I will always believe that she ultimately came to regret it, though she would never admit it. Dad tolerated them because of mother but he turned a deaf ear to her request that he join a study group and he refused otherwise to have anything to do with the organization. He and I sometimes discussed the irony of the situation. How unfortunate that when he died in August 2006, mother invited them to eulogize his funeral. I don’t think I will ever get over that. It’s part of the reason that I cried so hard at dad’s funeral. I’m still pissed-off about it because I felt that dad was disrespected. If he could have sat up in his casket, pushed the lid off and said, “Hold it one damn minute. I’m not going out like this. Not like this.” He would have.

Although he didn’t regularly attend church, he was a protestant, not one of — them. When arrangements were being made for dad’s funeral, I told mother that I wanted one hymn included in the program. Just one. My favorite, “Amazing Grace.” She told me that was considered to be a pagan song. Therefore it wasn’t allowed. Well, darn, dad and I were both pagans then, weren’t we?

Since mother has assigned my sister to oversee her funeral arrangements, I am certain that I will not be asked if I have any input. Just the same, I am going to keep insisting that the program include the congregation singing Amazing Grace. The same song that I wanted sang at my dad’s funeral. Nevertheless, this woman persists.

Dr. Wayne Dyer says that “The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.” I studied with the organization for a brief period even before my mother did. It didn’t take long for me to decide that I wanted no part of any group that manages its members with what I consider nothing less than mind control. I’d say that exposure gives me props for knowing something about which I speak. Against the protest by my then friend with whom I was studying, I refused to succumb to the brainwashing and, I quit the sessions.

My presence at mother’s funeral would serve no purpose. Feeling as I do now, resentment would most likely lead me to show my annoyance during the service for the group that I feel stole my mother from our family long ago.

They profess to be nonjudgmental, yet they judge others every day, especially people who they label as pagans because pagans are of different faiths and are “of the world.” They spew a lot of hogwash about how they cannot fraternize with people of the world. Oh? Where the hell do they think they are on Mars?

I don’t see where they exclude themselves from taking part in worldly things – except those things they don’t want to participate in like jury duty or the armed services. Then, they quickly become religious objectors — if you can call it that.  They cheer for their favorite sports teams. They buy worldly convinces like automobiles and computers. They’ve even put their literature on the Internet. Are those not worldly things? And just like numerous other “Christians” some of them fornicate, lie, and commit crimes; and then they try to justify the bastardly deeds of their corrupt members by saying, “Oh that person was not truly one of us.” How many times have I heard that used to justify a wayward sheep?

I mourn for the person that my mother used to be. I feel that she was taken away from me a long time ago even though she had not yet left this earth. I have my peace, knowing that she will no longer be under their control. I hope that she has her peace.

An organization that philosophizes to its members that they are God’s chosen while putting other religions down is, in my opinion, hypocritical. Granted — it is every person’s choice to be a member of whatever religious group they choose – or to be a member of none. But what peeves me is when one religious organization condemns others while claiming that theirs is the only “truth.”

Ultimately, I did attend my mother’s funeral. It was my sister who chose not to do so. The unplanned situation that resulted in mother’s funeral arrangements being left to me by my sister was the result of some tense, back-and-forth conversation between us over my insistence that Amazing Grace be sung during the service. The minister my mother had requested perform the service strongly objected to including that hymn or any hymn associated with pagan religion and informed me through my sister that he would refuse to administer the funeral if I persisted. I did. In turn, my sister also refused to have anything to do with making the arrangements or attending the service.

You see her faith advises members against taking part in what they consider services associated with a “false religion.” A funeral is considered a religious service because it may include such practices as the congregation joining in prayer with a “worldly” minister or priest who is not of their faith, and God-forbid the funeral be held in a church. Mother’s was held in a funeral home.

People who purport yourselves to be God’s children — check yourselves. 

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