Why I Love LaVar Ball, and Why You Should Too

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I have been approached several times by people that know me and some that don’t who are shocked that I am a fan of LaVar Ball.  Their faces change and they seem incredulous, but it’s true.  I am 100% on board with LaVar Ball and his sons and you should be too. Let me explain why.

First, we already have too many stories of black fatherlessness in the sports world.  In fact, it seems to be the media’s favorite narrative about professional, black athletes.  It goes something like this: Young, extremely talented superior black athlete, raised by his mom or grandmother, doesn’t know his dad, dad is in jail, dad passed away, dad is not in the picture, makes it to the professional level, buys his mom or grandmother a house, catches passes on Sunday, shoots 3’s on Fridays, makes a lot of money, everyone lives happily ever after.  The end.  Can’t we all fill in the blank with countless professional athletes that fit this narrative?

Then, comes loud-mouth, extremely confident, bold father and entrepreneur, LaVar Ball, and the media and people go crazy.  He’s too arrogant.  He’s ruining his kids.  He should be more humble.  Wait a minute.  Let’s think about it.  You are okay with the media retelling the stories of the fatherlessness of black athletes, but when a black man boldly supports his sons, loves his wife, and sets his family up for success, you have a problem with it? Why is that?

What exactly is LaVar Ball doing wrong?  Would you rather he had walked out on his sons and left them to their mother to be raised?  Would you rather LaVar be his sons’ pen-pal writing to them from prison in an attempt to make sure they didn’t travel the road he traveled upon?  Would you rather he stand in the background-way back in the background-while scouts, media, general managers, and sneaker executives scrutinized, criticized, and planned how they could best exploit the athletic talent of his children?

My husband made the following statement to me earlier today.  He said if you don’t have a purpose for your children, there are plenty of other people out there who will.  That statement carries so much weight.   Yet, people are criticizing Mr. Ball because he has a vision and purpose for his own sons. The business world is designed to devalue an idea or product initially so it can be purchased at a low price and later sold at a much higher price.   They capitalize by hoping you won’t recognize the value of yourself, your idea or your product and you will take the money and sign away your rights on the dotted line.  But the role of a father is different.  His job is to protect you while helping you figure out who you are so when the world comes to capitalize, you already know your worth.  Why are you so angry that Mr. Ball is striving to teach his sons their worth?

So because Nike says that they aren’t worth one billion dollars, Mr. Ball is supposed to cower and change his belief system?  Who is Nike?  Better yet, who would Nike be without Michael Jordan, Lebron James or Kevin Durant?  The same company that has made billions off the backs of black athletes, without ever investing economically in black communities, and showing little commitment towards issues that plague black communities, does not think LaVar Ball’s children are worth a billion dollars.  Why should Nike be able to dictate what LaVar Ball can believe for his sons?  Imagine the company Nike would be if all of its black athletes pulled out…would you even recognize their brand?  Yet, we criticize Mr. Ball’ for being unreasonable and we worship Nike for being a model and genius company.  Humm…

I was going back and forth with a close friend via text messages.  She just couldn’t understand how I could support Mr. Ball and his arrogance.   How could I support someone who said his son, Lonzo, was better than Steph Curry and who said that he, himself could beat Michael Jordan in a game of one-on-one?  I told her that maybe he was going too far, and maybe he wasn’t.  What I do know is this.  Over confidence is much easier to fix than lack of confidence.  What if all the black guys that are incarcerated, hanging on street corners, or working in a redundant 9 to 5, were told by their fathers that they were the best things since sliced bread? That they could do anything they put their minds to?  That they could be the greatest rapper, engineer, scientist, doctor, business owner, artist, singer, or designer in the world?  And on top of all the talk, those same dads devoted their time, energy, and money into making sure their sons had the opportunity to build up their skills and perform at high levels?  How different would the same guys who the world has largely given up on, be if they had heard a few simple words from their dads: “I believe in you.”

Frederick Douglass said “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” That’s why I salute LaVar Ball and you should too.   He has committed himself to building his children up, and in spite of the criticism, the naysayers, or their high-priced shoes, they will not easily be brought down.

Keep building, Mr. Ball.  Keep building.

 

The Gift and the Curse of Being the First: The Obamas

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In a few days, the Obamas will no longer be present. Like the presidents that have come before them, they will attempt to slip into obscurity to make room for the president elect.  I am sure we will hear from them, and occasionally we will see them, but the familiar faces that have dotted our television screens for the past eight years will no longer have the platform or the publicity that being the President of the United States afforded them.

It is all coming to an end. The cool, gait of our President casually and slightly skipping down the steps of Air Force One. The poise, charisma, and sista-girl essence that the First Lady carried all over the world.  The continual transition of Sasha and Malia from young girls to beautiful, young women will now be behind closed doors, away from cameras, and beyond the walls of the White House. Mother Robinson, having done her job as the surviving Matriarch of both families is going home as well. Like grandmothers in Black America have been doing for generations upon generations, she’s watched, listened, and carried the heart of her daughter, the hope of her son-in-law, and the growing pains of her granddaughters within her bosom.  And now, it is coming to an end.

Barack Obama Sworn In As U.S. President For A Second Term

We have all been witnesses to an era that many said would never happen: a black family in the White House-not as part of the cleaning staff, not as part of a visiting group of distinguished guests, not as the entertainment at the inaugural ball-but as the President, First Lady, and First Children of the United States.  You have to admit that it is laughable and Divine all at the same time.  Whether people liked it or not, Blackness would be on display in front of our nation and the world for 8, straight years.  The last had truly become the first.

As with most firsts, there are certain challenges that come with the territory.  There is much scrutiny and criticism, but little guidance.  There is much anticipation, but little awareness about what is to come.  There is the dilemma of trying to prepare for something you’ve never experienced.  There is also the pressure of the realization of how many people attempted to do what you have done and failed.  This is the environment that the Obamas as the first Black family found themselves in; and they lived within that environment with poise, integrity, character and grace.

Did they always do the right thing?  Of course not.  Are they above criticism? Never.  Could President Obama have done more politically?  Spoken out more personally?  Certainly.  But, let us not be so quick to lambaste the President without recognizing that he was the first.  Michelle was the first.  Sasha and Malia were the first.  And as the first, they have provided a springboard that will launch the next Black First Family even further.

Let us honor them for being the first. Let us honor them for enduring an America that uncloaked its racism from the very beginning and spread it all over their presidency.  Let us honor them for reminding America who we are and who we have always been. America has always tried to control the image of Blackness that would be disseminated on the air waves and via television. In increments they would air our successes and in excess they would reveal our failings.   But when the Obamas arrived at the White House, America could no longer control the narrative or the image of Black America. They were forced to deal with our Blackness in all its glory, in all its strength, and in all its resilience.

Yet, the first are easy to forget.  Ask Earl Lloyd. In 1950 he broke the color barrier in the NBA. 33 years later, Michael Jordan would enter the league. 20 years later, Lebron would be drafted out of high school.  Regardless of who you debate to be the greatest, they all must pay tribute to Earl Lloyd for opening the door. earl-lloyd

Earl Lloyd isn’t the only name that has faded into history. Before Oprah there was Madame C.J. Walker. Before Dr. Mae Jemison, there were the hidden figures of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. Before Halle Berry, there was Hattie McDaniels.  Before Cam Newton there was James Harris.  Before Deray McKesson there was Bayard Rustin. Their Eyes Were Watching God long before The Color Purple.  

Every single one of us is indebted to someone who came before us.  Their sweat.  Their labor.  Their blood.  Their failures.  Their successes.  Their journeys.  We stand upon their shoulders. Their break-throughs have carried us and now they have carried us to the White House: The House that slaves built.  The House that secretly sired children from black servants.  The House that ignored lynchings and sanctioned segregation.  The House that pushed the progress of White America and turned a blind eye to the plight of Black America.  The Obamas were the First Family to reside in that House.   Hundreds of years of wrongs, could not possibly be righted within two presidential terms, but the foundation has been laid and it is sturdy, dependable, and most importantly it is irreversible.

#Salute

 

This Ain’t New. We’ve Been Here Before

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Being black in America means experiencing incredible highs and depressing lows. It means experiencing slavery, than emancipation, then reconstruction, then the lynching era, then Jim Crow, then the Civil Rights Movement, then institutionalized segregation, then Obama and now Trump. You see the pattern? After great victories, there are painful defeats. It’s not new. We’ve been here before. The methods may have changed, but the cycle remains the same: You are oppressed.  You are freed.  You are oppressed again. You are freed.  You are oppressed again.  You are freed.  You are oppressed again…you get the point?  This cycle is consuming, debilitating, historical, political, spiritual, and most of all it is capable of being broken.
That’s the good news.  In spite of all of the ups and downs that Black America has faced collectively, you don’t have to keep going around this volatile merry-go-round.  You can choose to stop riding any time you want.  Yes, we just elected a racist, misogynistic, divisive, arrogant, extremely privileged unapologetic white man to be the 45th president of the United States of America.  Yes, he is calling for more law and order while we grapple with the fact that the police that were called to serve and protect all Americans, keep shooting and killing unarmed black bodies with regularity. Yes, the KKK is coming out the woodwork to celebrate and get behind our new president, but none of those things, in my opinion, warrant deep discussion.  What we need to be focused on is how we can put ourselves and our families and thus our communities in a position to thrive within an ever-increasing threatening environment.  Below, are my suggestions for succeeding in spite of the challenges we face:
1.  Recognize You Live in America
America has always been structured to favor certain groups over others and historically our country has proven it will do that by any means necessary.  If it means stealing land from the Native Americans and then taking the least desirable portions of that stolen land and “reserving” it for the surviving people that they stole it from, America will do it.  If it means bringing enslaved Africans across the Atlantic ocean and instituting a system of slavery that lasted in practice for over 400 years, America will do it.  If it means putting Japanese Americans in concentration camps and seizing their homes, assets, and identities, America will do it.  If it means euthanizing young Black and Latino mothers throughout several states without telling them, America will do it.  If it means building private, for-profit prisons and filling them with black and brown bodies, America will do it.  America has proven time and time again that when it comes to maintaining its advantage, it will do it at your expense, at my expense, or anyone’s expense that stands in their way.  Ask the people out there fighting in Standing Rock what America is capable of.  Yes, it is disgusting, disappointing, disheartening, and devastating, but this is part of the package when you are a citizen of America.  There are a lot of freedoms and opportunities, but there are also a lot of restrictions and obstacles.  Knowing that will equip you not to be so shocked or devastated by the challenges.  In other words, control what you can control.  For the most part, we can control ourselves.  We cannot control America.
2.  Get Healthy
I need you to get healthy, emotionally, mentally, and physically.  It is hard to fight when you have to spend so much time fighting your self.  You have to deal with your hurts.  If that means getting counseling, get it.  We cannot continue to pretend to be strong, we must be strong and in order to be strong means being healthy.  Mental illness and depression do not have to define you.  Life is hard.  Life hurts.  Life can be heavy.  I have experienced it firsthand.  I know the pain of losing loved ones,ending toxic relationships, being betrayed and mistreated, but you can not build a home surrounded by your pain.  Actually, let me take that back.  You can build a home surrounded by your pain and that is happening within countless households all over the world.  Yet, in order to live the life that you truly wan to live, you will have to figure out a way to let go of your hurts and heal.  I know I am not mentioning much about physical healing because I strongly believe that if we can heal emotionally and mentally, we will eliminate most if not all of our physical challenges.
3.  Avoid the Compulsion to Blame White People
I really didn’t want to include this suggestion.  I didn’t want to be pegged as one of “those people that blames the victim.”  I didn’t want to be seen as an Uncle Tom or be confused with asserting respectability politics.  Yet in spite of all of these fears of being misunderstood, I have to urge you not to blame white people.  It is too easy and it is too divisive to do that.  Admittedly, white folks have done some jacked-up stuff to black folks.  The Tulsa massacre of all of those black people happened.  The Tuskegee experiments happened.  The Wilmington massacre happened.  Flint water crisis is happening.   Thinking about these things get me mad all over again, but to give my energy, my passion, my intensity to blaming white people rather than improving me is senseless.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize the role white people have played in developing these systems of oppression, but as soon as I begin to blame them I lose.  By blaming white people for my predicament I make them not only responsible for my demise,  I make them responsible for my success. This means I am empowering them to not only keep me oppressed, but I am empowering them to give me their permission to be free.  No one, absolutely no one, needs to grant you permission to be free.
4.  Learn What You Need to Know
I can’t stress enough to you that ignorance has been the greatest culprit of Black America.  We simply do not know what we need to know, and we rely too heavily on outlets (school systems, television-news media, churches) that will never tell us the full truth.  Learning what you need to know is up to you.  Google, read, ask questions, interview people.  Just don’t remain ignorant.  A few weeks ago I attended a workshop and one of the participants shared how during her undergraduate studies, all Business majors had to interview a former alum in marketing, finance, and economics.  She said the business department wanted to make sure that each student was able to talk to someone from the inside before they made their decision about a major or career.  She continued by stating how often the alums would develop relationships with the students and keep tabs on them.  Wow.  Can you imagine how different your life might be had you had the chance to interview someone before choosing your major in college or choosing your career?  What might you have done differently?  What if you could interview a group of men in their late 60’s and 70’s and ask them to share with you things they wish they would have done differently when they were 25, 30, 35.  How could their responses help you?  I know there is a great satisfaction in figuring things out on your own, but do we really have time to keep learning from mistakes when we could learn from other people’s mistakes?
5.  Get Out of Debt
In America, black wealth barely exists. To compound this bleak fact, black college graduates amass much higher amounts of student loan debt when they graduate.  Of course, there are some systematic reasons why the wealth disparities and student loan debts are so high, but we can only focus on the things we can control and when we eliminate debt, we are in a much better position to control our destinies.  We are also in a much better position to help others when we are not bogged down by our own debts.  Michelle Alexander wrote a book entitled The New Jim Crow which focuses on how mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow system that strips black men from their humanity.  It’s a great read.  In terms of modern day slavery, I would say that debt is the new way to enslave people.  Although the process doesn’t happen overnight, nothing is more fulfilling than to be able to live a debt-free life and pass on to your children a financial DNA of debt freedom.
 6.  Give Back
Everyone has something to give that can help someone else.  Too many of us read or hear the word, ‘give’, and we immediately think of financials.  I want to ask you to broaden your concept of giving to include time, wisdom, and energy.  No matter your financial situation or your education level, you have something that can help somebody else.  People are waiting on your know-how.  Young mothers need to hear from older mothers.  Young fathers need to see older fathers.  Our youth are starving for attention.  Can you take the time to listen and engage them?  Can you give your encouragement to someone who doesn’t see any way out of their situation?  Who can you talk off of a ledge-a ledge that you once considered falling from.  Give your leadership.  We cannot keep waiting for the next Dr. Martin Luther King to save our communities when we are capable of doing it ourselves.  Give your leadership to your family.  Give your leadership to your community.  We cannot place the burden of rebuilding and directing our homes and communities to athletes, entertainers, and television evangelicals.  If we relax because Colin Kaepernick takes a knee, or Lebron James posts a message on Instagram, we have already lost our communities.  It isn’t because we don’t need James and Kaepernick to be conscious and vocal, but by virtue of their profession and the constraints on their time, we need people within our neighborhoods and communities to get involved and give of their time, talents, and resources.
All over the Internet people have been posting the famous lines from Kendrick Lamar’s hit song, “Alright“: “we gon be alright.” No disrespect to Kendrick Lamar and I actually like the song, but why do we have to be alright? When I ask someone how they’re doing and they respond, “oh, I’m alright.” I immediately interpret that as “I ain’t dead so I am okay” or I interpret it as “I really don’t want to tell you how I am doing, and this is as much as you get.”  Either interpretation falls short of good news.  I don’t want us to be alright anymore.  I want us to be great.  I want us to be focused.  I want us to be woke.  Alright has got us to this point, but all in will get us to the next level.  Let’s be all in as we navigate this new environment of racism and sexism that is being openly encouraged in our nation.  In spite of what it looks like, we can and we will be successful.
#RiseUp

 

Strange Fruit: The Remix

These police shootings of unarmed black men are modern-day lynchings. Like the brown and black bodies that swung from trees throughout the south, the lifeless, blood-stained, bodies slumped over our state highways and city streets send the same message: “Stay In Your Place.”

This is a very potent message and with each re-playing of the video-killings, the oppressor hopes that fear rather than courage will be the emotion that grips you. They want you consumed with how to keep your daughter, your son, your brother, your husband, your father from becoming a hashtag. They want that fear to consume you until rather than question the system that produces trigger-happy police, you will question the victim.

The media will help you by searching the victim’s past in hopes to find a record of some sort so you can unconsciously begin to distance yourself from the victim because he or she had a prior record or prior mental instability.

If that doesn’t work, you will become consumed with dialogue instructing you how to respond when stopped by the police. It will seem harmless of course and because you are afraid, you won’t notice that the same instructions being given to you to survive are the same instructions given to black people to survive the lynching era: “Do not talk back. Keep your hands where they can see them. Do not become hostile or appear angry. No sudden movements. Say “yes, sir” and “yes mam”.

To top it off, there will be no convictions. The videos will swing from post to post…from tree to tree, but there will be no convictions and the fear will be so palpable by this time that fighting the system will seem futile, hopeless, ridiculous. So rather than fight the system, you fight yourself. You struggle with your blackness and wrestle with your God-given desire to be seen as a fully, free individual. You question your DNA, your ancestry, your upbringing, your community, but you never question the system because FEAR demands your attention and prevents you from seeing the truth. FEAR demands that you criticize the Black Lives Matter movement for having the sheer audacity to fight. FEAR demands that you assimilate to whiteness rather than appreciate your blackness. FEAR demands servitude and you become chained to self-improvement: “If I just get another degree, make more money, live in that neighborhood, marry her skin instead of my skin, articulate instead of ebonicize, post a picture with my white friends underneath the hashtag, #alllivesmatter, maybe, just maybe I will be seen as worthy.”

It’s exhausting fighting FEAR.  Most people succumb to it.  They inhale and exhale it with their words.  They pass it on to their children ensuring the next generation will have to fight the same fight of FEAR rather than success.

Hangings, Videos, Trees, Asphalt, Lynch-mobs, Police, Nooses, Guns, Blood, Tears, Silence.

Don’t let fear win. Fight.

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What I’ve Learned from Prince

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Everyone has a color that makes them shine. Find yours and wear it well.

Get out there and be bold, courageous, proud, and passionate.

Refuse to settle for mediocrity.

Hone your craft.

Practice, perfect, perform.

Take risks.  Better yet, be risky.

Don’t follow the blueprint of mediocrity.

Create your own blueprint.

Dress to impress yourself.

Be generous with your talents.

Guard your privacy.

Recognize the difference in fans and friends.

Love passionately.

Don’t shy away from your faith, even if you’re ostracized for it.

Regardless of your stature, walk tall.

Start.

Fail.

Try again.

Grow.

Evolve.

You can take nothing with you when you leave.

Therefore, die as empty as possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If…

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You talked about Charleston with your friends, but won’t talk with a member of another race and listen to their story, you are part of the problem.

If you stayed up late with your child to watch the NBA Finals, but you turn the television off and refuse to discuss Charleston with them, you are part of the problem.

If you felt for the families of the Charleston victims, but felt the officers who gunned down 12-year old Tamir Rice were justified in their actions, you are part of the problem.

If you sent condolences via social media regarding the Charleston massacre, but you continue to send black girls and black boys to the principal’s office 3-5 times more than you do your white students, you are part of the problem.

If you tell your parishioners to pray for Charleston, but refuse to preach on the current racism here in America, you are part of the problem.

If you honor Senator Clementa Pickney in his death, but disrespect President Barack Obama by calling him things like “boy” or “nigger”, you are part of the problem.

If you shake your head in shame at the senselessness in Charleston, but shake your head in agreement with politicians who want to amend the Voting Rights Act, you are part of the problem.

If your heart goes out to the people of Charleston, but you showed no emotions when Eric Garner cried, “I Can’t Breathe,” you are part of the problem.

If the blood in the pews at Emanuel AME bothers you, while the blood of Trayvon Martin on the ground in Florida caused you to lose no sleep, you are part of the problem.

If you quote Dr. King to help shed some light on Charleston, but refuse to fight for justice, you are part of the problem.

If Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Daniel Simmons,  and Myra Thompson need to be remembered, but black people need to just get over slavery and move on with their lives, you are part of the problem.

If you love black bodies when they walk onto the football field, the basketball court, and the stage, but fear black bodies when they are walking down the street, you are part of the problem.

If you say Dylan Roof is an isolated incident of a hate crime, but the 245 years of slavery, and another 100 years of federally supported segregation were “just the way things were,” you are part of the problem.

Until we all do our part, we all play in our part in creating an environment in America that continues to breed hatred, continues to breed racism, continues to breed denial. The choice is yours.  Will you continue to be a part of the problem, or will you join all the people trying to be a part of the solution?

It’s your choice.  What’s it gonna be?

CharlestonVictors

They Cheer For Lebron; They Fear Tamir

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According to Nike and Lebron James, the city is “all in.”nike-lebron-james-cleveland-cavaliers-together-01

It’s an emotional commercial showing people from various backgrounds uniting with the city of Cleveland and King James to believe that together they can all participate in bringing a NBA championship to the state Lebron calls home.

But Nike is good with getting people to purchase their products while simultaneously making you forget about the obvious contradictions.

Contradictions that many urban cities are facing.  The fact that people of all colors, shapes, sizes, and bank accounts can rally behind black bodies in NBA-apparel in professional sports arenas but those same people will watch a video of 12-year old Tamir Rice getting gunned down in 2.0 seconds by a Cleveland police officer and respond differently: “he shouldn’t have been playing with a toy gun…where are his parents…those thugs need to pull their pants up and learn some respect…”

Tamir Rice

And the contradictions go on and on and on and on in Cleveland.  The King is celebrated.  His image is protected.  The media hangs on his every word.

While Tamir, is vilified. This 12-year old boy that they thought was a man caused officers so much fear, that rather than taking their time, making sure they were at a safe distance, and taking the proper cover, they take Tamir’s life.

And when Lebron was a 12-year old man-child he was already making coaches and agents, salivate for the opportunity to brand him as their property.

He signs a $98 million dollar contract with Nike before he is even chosen by the league. He becomes Man of the Year.  He has achieved the American dream.  He is President Obama’s post-racial America.

His tattoos, his high-school education, his single-parent upbringing in an impoverished community do not make him a statistic.  They make him a King.

They made Tamir a target.

But King James is making his 5th straight Eastern Conference Finals appearance and has a chance to sweep the Atlanta Hawks in Cleveland in front of his home crowd, his family, his city.  The mood is electric.

While protesters yell from outside in the streets that “Black Lives Matter”, Lebron will do his pre-game ritual of putting his “Hands Up” as he prepares to shoot…

Lebron Hands Up

Tamir’s life cut short, while Lebron strives to cut the nets.

Two souls.  Two mothers’ sons.  To young, black men.

Two Americas.

Lebron and Tamir.

Both representing the same city.

One is loved.

One was feared.

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I Don’t Know Bobbi Kristina…

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And neither do most of you, yet that won’t stop people from posting, tweeting, pinning, and blogging about her, or her deceased mother, or her grieving father and family members.  People will continue to create memes, and share posts showing images of the Brown and Houston family.  Their suffering, once again has been put on public display by media outlets, fans, and opportunists looking to make a dollar.

I don’t know Bobbi Kristina, but I do know what it is like to experience a mother’s love.  I know what it’s like to be young, and completely mesmerized by your mother’s beauty and presence.  Growing up, I remember praying to one day be as pretty and as smart and as confident as my mother appeared to be.  I remember the way, I hated to hear family members remind me of how much I looked like my father, when all I wanted to do was look like my mother.  My mother, she always knew what to say, when to say it, and she never, ever gave up on me.

I don’t know Bobbi Kristina, but I do know what it is like to be a rebellious, uncertain teenager trying to find my way and trying to prove to my parents that I knew what I was doing with my life.  I know the feeling of being so angry at my mother while at the same time loving her just as much.  It is an emotion, that I can’t adequately describe, but I know daughters and mothers all over the world have felt those emotions-the weird, love and angry cycle that mothers who once were their daughters and daughters who will one day be their mothers go through.

I don’t know Bobbi Kristina, but I do remember being 18.  I was a college freshman and I was going through one of the most difficult times in my life.  I was depressed.  I was homesick.  I was heartbroken, but I still had my mother to rub my back and tell me it was going to be okay.  Bobbi Kristina lost her mother when she was 18.  I can’t imagine what I would have done if I had lost my mother when I was 18.  My mother has always been a consistent presence in my life.  She’s always been a phone call away and anytime I have ever needed her, whether through a card, or a visit, or even a text message, she figures out a way to get to me.  To imagine, finding my mother, the woman I most admire and the one I have always wanted to be and look like, in a bathtub, unconscious, and unable to communicate with me…I don’t know what I would have done.  I don’t know who I would have turned to.  At 18, to lose my mother would have been unimaginable.

I don’t know Bobbi Kristina, but I do remember being 18, 19, and 20.  They weren’t great years for me.  I thought I was in love.  I pushed the right people away, and I attracted the wrong ones.  I wasn’t sure of who I was or who I wanted to be.  It was a bumpy road, and yet I had my mother in the background, ready to come to the forefront whenever I called her.  Bobbi Kristina has navigated the last three years of her life without her mother.  I don’t know how that feels.  I don’t know how I might would have reacted to wanting to pick up the phone to call my mother, only to be reminded that she is no longer with me.  I don’t know how I would feel to desperately wanting to have one more day, one more hour, one more minute to see my mother’s smile, and feel my mother’s warm embrace, but not be able to.

I don’t know Bobbi Kristina, but I do know all about the beautiful, complicated, roller coaster experience called the mother-daughter relationship, and I guess in a sense I do know Bobbi Kristina, and I do know Whitney Houston, and I do know Cissy Houston, because they and we, are daughters and mothers, and mothers and daughters and we all share this catty, stubborn, soul-stirring emotion called love. Love can make you do crazy, unpredictable things.  Things, that only a mother and daughter would understand.

#PrayForBK

The Houstons

 

This Is What the NYPD Told Me…

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Finished up another interview with a member of the NYPD, a black male with 20 years of service…very enlightening. It may take a little while to compile everything, but here are a few quick takeaways from interviewing both a white, female police officer and black, male police officer, in NYC. This just skims the surface, but I hope it challenges you to re-think and think about the protests and the recent shootings of unarmed black men that continue to happen:

1. Both of the cops I interviewed admitted to being pulled over by other police. For the male cop, he says due to his undercover work, he had been pulled and stopped 100s of times. Although the female officer had been stopped much less, they both responded the same way.  They do not give the officers stopping them any reason to question their motives or challenge their safety.  They both responded that when they are stopped and when anyone is stopped or pulled, listen, follow instructions, and keep your hands where they can see you. The male cop also said his son, had been stopped 100s of times. He tells his son the same thing: if you have a complaint with a police officer, file it later…not during the confrontation.

2. Both cops (who are in different precincts and have no connection to each other), questioned where were community leaders, church leaders, and male role models for communities of color. They both expressed, that these neighborhoods have been “forsaken” and the youth “forgotten”. They both said it is not the police’s responsibility to “parent” these communities. They also both commented on the high number of black-on-black crimes and that black neighborhoods “protect” criminals by not providing information.

3. In the case of Eric Garner, both officers said the paramedics standing by and not offering Mr. Garner help was an issue that seems to be ignored. They differed slightly on Garner’s treatment. The female cop replied, he should have followed instructions. The black cop felt they should have double or triple-cuffed Mr. Garner, and after saying “I Can’t Breathe” 11 times, their responsibility to Serve and Protect him was ignored. The white, female officer said the cop who shot Jonathan Ferrell in Charlotte, was an idiot and needed to be fired.

4. Both cops also expressed the challenge of having young, immature cops who think they know everything and make decisions based on their ideas rather than protocol. One officer suggested raising the age as to when a person can become a police officer.  The male cop used the shooting of 12-year old Tamir Rice as an example of protocol not being followed. Officers are taught in those situations to do three things: time, distance, cover. None of those things were done in that situation. He also replied that it is the officer’s job to de-escalate a situation, not to make it worse.

5. Both cops expressed the daily experience of their lives always being put at jeopardy with every stop or search they conduct.  They want to get home to their families too. In fact one officer said, “if you are between me going home to my family and you going home to yours, who do you think is going home?” They also both agreed there were some bad cops, just like there are bad teachers or bad doctors. This is why both vehemently expressed, listen, follow instructions, keep your hands where they can see you. Both officers also blamed media for unfair portrayals of cops and black males as all negative stereotypes. One was a huge proponent of PALS (police athletic leagues) so officers could “see the people as individuals.”

Lastly but unfortunately, race matters. “they see us differently” was stated several times in the interview and one of the officers said, “it is black kids shooting at us-not white kids…if I see a group of young black males walking on the street, yes I’m stopping them…”

‪#‎ToBeContinued‬

Guilty Innocence

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“But you must have been doing something suspicious…why else would they stop you?” My husband looked at me and although his body language was calm, his tone was much sharper: “Danielle, they pulled me and Tremayne out the car. They threw us against it, took out their guns and started asking us what we were doing.”

His voice is very tense and mellow now as he recounts the events leading up to his car being stopped by the police.

“We won our football game and one of the parents had promised us that if we won the game, they would pay for our meal. We were on our way to the restaurant. I was driving Mom and Dad’s car.  I saw the blue lights and I knew I wasn’t speeding so I was sure the cops had made a mistake. I pulled over and started to open my door so I could get out the car.  Thinking back, that was dumb to try to open my door.  I just didn’t know what to do.  I had never been in that situation before.  They came over and pointed their guns in our face and yelled, “Don’t move. Put your hands on the steering wheel.”  They opened my door all the way and Tremayne’s door, and told us to get on the ground.  They came over and handcuffed us and drug us over the road and sat us on top of the hood of their car.  People were driving by looking at us as if we were felons.  I was 17. I didn’t know what to do. I just knew we hadn’t done anything. All we were doing was going to get something to eat.”

I’m still incredulous at this point so I keep asking questions the way a women can ask those nagging questions that tears a man’s nerves up. “So did you get a badge number? Were you scared? What did else did they do?”

I know I’m nagging, but I had a hard time believing that the cops would pull over two teenagers and hold guns to their heads. We lived in eastern North Carolina. We didn’t live in the projects or the hood or any other suspicious neighborhood. Things like this didn’t happen, or so I thought.

“Danielle, they were pointing guns at us. I wasn’t thinkin’ bout no badge number. It happened so fast, I didn’t have time to be scared. We were driving. I saw blue lights. I pulled over. Next thing I know, I’m being handcuffed and dragged out my car. They are pointing guns. They asked for our IDs. They un-cuffed us, and they looked at us and said we fit a profile description. They didn’t apologize. They didn’t say anything else. They told us to get back in the car. We did, and then we left. I didn’t say one word to Tramayne. He didn’t say one word to me. That was my senior year of high school. I was 17 years old.”

Silence follows. Richard continues driving. Our 5-month old son, Richard III is sleeping in his car seat in the back, and my mind is going a mile a minute. I keep secretly thinking about what Richard might have done, to make those officers stop his car. The mother in me, had to know. If I could just find out what triggered those officers to pull my husband over, I could make sure my son was raised differently so it wouldn’t happen to him.

The only provocation is the color of their skin

Richard and Richard III

I couldn’t even allow myself to imagine  that one day some police officer could pull over my sweet, baby boy, drag him out of his car, and hold a gun to his head. I needed Richard to give me a way to make his story make sense, but I knew he couldn’t. He hadn’t left out anything. There was no other provocation on Richard’s part besides being a black male who fit a profile description. For those two officers, that is all the provocation they needed.

I can’t express to you how that makes me feel as a wife and mother to know that at any given moment, any given day, my hard-working husband and my baby boy, regardless of their character, can be criminalized due to no fault of their own. If they drive in the wrong neighborhood, wear a hoodie, wear the wrong hairstyle, dress the wrong way, look menacing, appear belligerent, fit a description, or crash their cars, they could be pulled over, arrested, searched, seized or shot multiple times. It does not matter that they are innocent.  They are guilty simply because of the color of their skin.

To add injury to insult,  because I am admitting in a public space that racial profiling really does occur, it will be perceived by some people that I am throwing the race card. It will be perceived that I don’t want to accept responsibility for my actions and I’m looking for someone to blame. It means I am making  the job of police officers more difficult by painting them in a negative light. Therefore, some people want me to stop talking about race.  They want me to  forget about the past and move on.  If only it was that easy.

What would you do in my shoes?  My husband is recounting his first run-in with the law, while my baby sleeps in the back seat.  Am I suppose to just sweep what Richard is telling me under the rug, and ignore the implications that it suggests for Richard III?

I guess we could strive to become the most hard-working, educated, well-traveled, articulate, wealthiest, and most powerful individuals in the world, but that does not mean we will ensure that me, my husband or my son escape racism or racial profiling.  Take a stroll on the Internet and read some of the articles and comments made about Our President.  Count how many times someone refers to him as a ‘nigger’.  What happened to Oprah when she shopped overseas?  The sales clerk wouldn’t even show her a purse because she didn’t think Oprah could afford it. Neither her fame or her fortune could protect her from racism.

Remember what happened to esteemed Harvard professor, Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. a few years ago? This former Yale and Cambridge graduate, was arrested at his own home near Harvard Square because the police thought he was an intruder. He showed them his driver’s license and his Harvard identification card, but they refused to believe him.  Dr. Gates has received over 50 honorary degrees, but none of those degrees protected him from the police.

Jonathan Ferrell was working two jobs.  He had attended college and was saving money to return.  He had never had a run-in with the law.  He wrecks his car in the wrong suburban neighborhood in Charlotte, N.C. however, and rather than become a victim of a car accident, he becomes a possible suspect.  A white police officer shot at him 12 times.  10 bullets hit his chest and arms.  Yet, to speak about my husband’s experience, is to play the race card.  Really?

I wish I could say that Richard had no more run-ins with the law, but I can’t. A few years ago, before we were married, he was pulled over again. At the time he was 28. He’s graduated college. He’s had a brief professional football career, playing in the NFL and overseas. He works in the teen ministry at his church. He mentors young males. He’s doing everything the media and so-called experts are suggesting black men do to stay safe.

It’s the middle of the day. Four cars surround my husband’s car. One car is unmarked. The other three cars are police vehicles. A white, police officer comes to Richard’s door. He accuses Richard of not wearing his seat belt. Richard insists he was wearing his seat belt. The officer ignores him.  Another white officer begins to try to question the other passenger, a teenager named Johnny. Richard instructs Johnny  to remain silent. Another white officer gets out his cell phone and begins taking pictures of Richard’s car and Johnny. The officer chides Richard about not being at work. Richard tries to explain that he’s a college graduate and he has a job. The officers don’t listen.  Richard is given a ticket for not wearing his seat belt.  The officers get in their cars and leave, leaving behind my husband to explain to Johnny that all policeman are not bad.  Do you think Johnny believed him? What do you think 17-year old Johnny told his friends about his incident with the police?  Can you blame Johnny for not being convinced that the police are there to serve and protect him?

I really wish we could all just be the human race, and once and for all tear down the social constructs of being black or white, but until I stop hearing stories like my husband’s, until I stop watching videos of men and boys being choked to death and shot down in the street, it behooves me to remember I am a black woman, married to a black man, and together we are raising a black son.  As much as I would like to forget my skin color, the police seem to find ways to remind me.