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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Year End Thoughts...

As this strange year winds to a close, I found myself pondering a few questions...
  • Remember when planes that took off landed where they were supposed to and didn't get shot down or lost at sea?
  • Remember when the police were thought of as investigators and protectors from injustices, and we trusted that when they arrived on scene, everything would be okay? People would do what they were told, the police would respond accordingly...
  • Remember when you thought of Robin Williams, and you just couldn't help smile because he was always just so darn funny?
  • Remember when no matter which news channel you watched, you got an unbiased, non-partisan account of what was going on?
  • Remember when Matthew Shepherd tried to hold a boy's hand in Wyoming, it got him killed, and we thought, Gay people will never have any equality in this country? 
  • Remember after 9-11, when we as Americans came together, and we thought we were overcoming the racial inequality within our nation?
  • Remember when Ebola was a topic of a sci-fi movie starring Dustin Hoffman or Gwyneth Paltrow? 
  • Remember when the majority of professional athletes were thought of as "the good guys"? 
  • Remember when the chasm between the rich and poor didn't seem like the Mississippi cubed? 
  • Remember when we thought the Cold War was over and the Ukraine was just an ally of Russia?
  • Remember when the weather was a topic of conversation over coffee and not a potential for disaster? 
  • Remember when we celebrated our soldiers coming home, no matter how that needed to happen, no matter who we exchanged for them? Remember the parades we would throw for our veterans who provided the very freedoms that allow this blog to be posted?
  • Remember when the favorite princess in England was Diana and the adorable kids were William and Harry? 
  • Remember when getting hacked made you think of Matthew Broderick or someone accessing your email and not causing a potential airstrike from North Korea? 
  • Remember when pouring ice over your head was simply a way to wake up?  
  • Remember when college sports were amateurs playing for their schools and not a business paying its leaders (coaches) millions to teach our youth what it means to be a student-athlete?
  • Remember when women in the Middle East stayed silent and would not even be considered for a Nobel Peace Prize for doing just the opposite? 

  • Remember when being an American meant other people looked on in reverence and wanted to be just like us? 

Yeah, me neither...

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Two Wrongs...

There have been many versions of Michael Brown's death, of Darren Wilson's actions, and of the aftermath. What has happened this past four months in Ferguson and around the nation has hinged on emotion and on issues much deeper than race, socioeconomic status, and prejudice.

Stepping back from the emotion, the facts are irrefutable. A strong-armed robbery. DNA and blood in the patrol car. Conflicting eyewitness testimony. A suspect pursued by a cop. A cop shooting an unarmed civilian.

Regardless of how it happened, Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown. These facts are part of the irrefutable hand dealt that August day. But to play a card from John Grisham's deck, how would the shooting have played out differently if it had happened in New Haven, Connecticut, and both the police officer and the victim had been white?

Even if the races were different, the deeper issue is that Darren Wilson isn't white: he's blue. And that is the saddest reality of all. Many people of ALL races don't trust cops, no matter the cop's skin color. I have witnessed that mentality in my own friends, family, and in my former and current students. As a general rule, a large population in this nation don't support cops, they don't help cops, they don't believe in cops, and worst of all, they prevent the police from doing the job necessary to keep peace and order in our communities. They only want police when it is self-serving.

To show their disgust with the legal system, Ferguson residents and the despicable people drawn there honored Michael Brown by breaking windows, looting, and setting fires. That's how they choose to react to a verdict they don't agree with. Their demonstration included burning down their fellow residents' businesses, to inciting violence in their community, to actions that could have harmed their neighbors, friends, and family. How does that honor Michael Brown? How does that show a dissatisfaction with the legal system? How can anyone justify committing crimes to show dissatisfaction with what they felt was a crime that took Michael Brown's life?

Ferguson, Missouri has brought to light the biggest disease in this nation and one that must be treated, if not cured.


We are a nation built on it, consumed by it, and guilty of perpetuating it. The media is responsible for viral reactions. Racism is contagious. And classism is the most easily Socially Transmitted Disease of all.

If we don't do something about the disease, the epidemic will lead to a plague. Because Mahatma Gandhi understood it when he said, "An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind." We may already be going blind as a nation, but we are witnessing the worst symptom of a diseased nation: there are too many people screaming and far too few are listening. Instead of raising awareness for change, the carriers choose to raise a fist. If we don't find an antidote soon, we may be beyond a cure.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Times Change Slowly…

I watched a true film today called Fruitvale Station. Only hours before, I read about Michael Sam being an instrument of change as the first gay football prospect in the NFL. We have evolved, but times move slow. Oscar Grant was a young black man trying to do the right thing. Society has changed so much yet so little. In the wrong place at the wrong time intersecting with a white gang banger from prison two years earlier. But when the two cross paths on New Year’s Eve on a train, the latter was the aggressor. Many witnesses recorded the entire incident as police dragged boys off the train. White cops pulling black guys off the train. Not the white bangers. And then it went all wrong. The cops got aggressive. Physical. Even though Oscar was cuffed, lying on his belly, a cop pulled his gun, and shot this young man in the back. Michael Sam, a survivor…a young man who has survived losing a two-year old baby sister, an older brother who disappeared presumed dead, two other brothers shot and killed during his formative years. But Mike channeled his energy into football and excelled. From a small coastal town in southeast Texas, Sam was recruited to Mizzou, and he grew. But it wasn’t until he unveiled being gay in August 2013, that he released the burden of the secret to his teammates and his coach, that he became a giant. Tied sack records, led a team to an SEC championship, and won SEC defensive player of the year. He announces his lifestyle to beat the leak to the press. His draft status? Mid-third round to fifth… In the words of journalist Dale Hansen, “the best defensive player in the best conference in football and he’s a third round pick at best? Really?” Oscar had a good heart and a volatile temper. But he tried desperately to do good. To be good. And witnesses corroborate his last day of having fun, of celebrating New Year’s Eve, and then of being profiled and brutally murdered in Fruitvale Station. It sounds like a story from the 60s, maybe even the 80s, but surely not the late 2000s, right? Wrong. 2009. Racial profiling. Homophobia. Internalized fear, judgment, even hatred. We are all different colors. We are all different people, like different things, have different beliefs, and view the world differently. Our perceptions are different because our lives are different, our upbringing is different, and our outsides are different. But our insides aren’t so different. We all bleed the same color, need the same sustenance, and cry the same tears. Oscar Grant was judged by the color of his skin, but his history will generate conversations about profiling, about judging, and about trying to break down that ever-present barrier. Michael Sam is trying to break down a newer barrier. He could have passed. He did not have to out himself to his teammates. He could have stayed hidden in a closet. Instead, he has opened the door for kids of color, for athletes, for a society that needs to recognize that we are all human. How can our predilections in the bedroom impact how people interact with one another? What right do people have to judge others for the color of their skin or their sexual preference? The same people, as Dale Hansen put it, the very same people who want the government out of our lives but yet they want them in our bedrooms…. Time changes slowly. Oscar Grant was a victim of that truth. Of how little ground we have gained. Michael Sam is trying to be an instrument to propel that change. If we stand by and do nothing, then we are doing something: we’re holding the Oscars and Michaels back. If you’re silent, your silence is your voice. Have a voice. Stand up. Embrace change and our differences. Don’t let the loudest voices be those of the likes of the Westboro Baptist Church. Strip away color and money and sexual orientation and gender and age… and ultimately we should be left with a society seeking human equality. One about love, about peace, about acceptance. Life moves slow. It’s up to all of us to be an instrument of change.