Monday, May 30, 2016

Roots: The Second Take. A Black Man's Opinion

Tonight, a remake of the "Roots" mini series makes it's way to the television screen.  I recall watching the original version as a college sophomore in the 1970's while attending a college where European- Americans were the majority.  Seeing a visual depiction of the main character, Kunta Kinte, being taken away from his life, family, and traditions in Africa was an emotional experience to view on television.  Visually seeing a depiction of how Africans were forcefully brought to the land of Native Americans (now called the United States of America) and forced into slavery was something I had never imagined.  The mistreatment and abuse of Africans by European-Americans who were supposedly civilized and intelligent is difficult to understand or comprehend.  What race of  moral civil people would condone slavery as a viable means of promoting progress?  What kind of people would then move on to annihilate an entire civilization of Native Americans?

After viewing the original "Roots" some 40 years ago, my viewpoints and attitudes towards European -Americans was not improved.  Instead I wondered if "they" had left us alone who knows what the future would have been for many Africans and their families?  But, life is made up of many "what ifs?"  We all have to deal with the reality that events occur because they are destined to happen.  Not everything in life has a happy ending.

As this remake of Roots occurs, I am personally stalled in trying to document my family history.  With the help of others, I've been able to track descendants back to 1814.  Those being my great-great grandparents who were slaves in Tennessee when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. United States Census records helped me to track who they were enslaved to prior to the Proclamation.  I understand that it would take some extraordinary research to be able to track my African descendants prior to 1814.  That documentation of the selling of people as property may have been lost or documentation not kept.

As with many African American families, there appears to have been some interaction in my family line between European-Americans and Africans brought to the "United States".  My guess at this point was that it was an interaction forcefully done to my great grandmother's part of the family connection as she was categorized as being a mulatto.  A mulatto was defined as someone who had one parent who was African and one who was European-American.  I wonder if European-Americans discuss  at their family reunions those events when their European-American descendants raped African women brought into slavery?

In my opinion most of my family members do not care about the family tree or our heritage.  They are product of a society and surrounding culture that does not want us to think about or dwell on the facts of our family history.  Our "American" culture does not want us to think about the major immoral and selfish actions which has lead many to declare that the United States is the greatest country in the world.  Those making such "greatest country" statements need to pause and consider just how the United States moved into such a position.

As I read books about the early Presidents of the United States, I am struck by how unjustly and immorally each President dealt with the issue of slavery and how European immigrants to this continent dealt with the Native Americans who already lived here.  It is not a part of the American story that is proudly discussed when someone says the United States is the greatest country in the world.  I would challenge any one to honestly make that statement if they review the facts of how the government dealt with Native Americans and the institution of slavery.  For African-Americans the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and Reconstruction did not last long as the selfish side of European Americans quickly returned to ensure European-American dominance in the United States.

The timing of the remake of Roots is interesting.  Of course I believe this generation of African Americans hasn't been exposed to the full story of our history.  But, I also believe the media and entertainment industry attempts to keep us in a mode of "slavery topics only" mode when it comes to telling the experiences of African Americans.  I hope film makers and others with the finances to make movies back more stories of the development and experiences of African Americans since the Emancipation Proclamation.  Those are the stories I would like to see depicted on television or movies.  Especially those that define how African Americans overcame social, cultural, racial and economic barriers to become successful.

I don't want to see more stories about slavery, black athletes and black entertainers.  Yes, their stories are important.  But, the African-American experience is not limited to tales of slavery, athletes and entertainers.  So tonight we will be shown a recycled story of our days in slavery and a small part of life after slavery.  It's something, but for me it will be, "yeah I already saw this.  Show me the story of the African American experience that we haven't seen."

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Choices - Mentoring Our Youth

Choices.  That will be the topic of discussion during the upcoming months I will spend mentoring a group of Indiana Public School boys in the 5th through 8th grades.  The program, under the auspices of the 100 Black Men of Indianapolis will start back up this Fall even as this year's cycle concludes. After being a mentor for 4 years I've worked in the background the past 3 years.  I've helped out performing the administrative support and grunt work needed to support the mentors who spend time in the classroom with the students.  Now it's time for me to return as an active mentor to share my experiences and knowledge with the youth who want to improve.

The program does what it can to reach as many as students as possible.  It's not a perfect program, but it beats doing nothing to help mold today's youth into leading a positive life.  I have four months of preparation ahead of me.  My goal is to share, teach, and inspire.  Share my experiences and how good and bad choices shaped my life.  Share the critical decisions made by several family members and how those decisions shaped and impacted their lives.  Teach what others either taught me or what I learned through trial and error.  Inspire others to move along the appropriate path to accomplish their dreams.

As I prepare it gives ample time to reflect on my journey.  One event I will share with my students happened when I was 10 years old.  I shared a bedroom in what must have been an 8 x 10 sized room with my older two brothers.  Each of us had a plain bed with no headboard.  It was just a metal frame bed with a thin mattress on it.  It may have been a slight upgrade to the kind of beds prisoners sleep on in jails.  The beds were set against 3 of the 4 walls in the room. We shared a 4 drawer dresser.  There was no television in the room.  No tables, no radio, no games.  Three beds and a dresser.  The only light was the ceiling light.

I recall sleeping in my bed with several size D batteries beneath my pillow.  The reason?  At night rats would come out and gnaw on the wooden dresser. The gnawing sound was of course annoying when you're trying to sleep late at night. To stop the rats from making the gnawing sound I would throw one of the size D batteries against the dresser.  The noise would stop for awhile.  Then it would start up again. My response was to fling another battery at the bottom of the dresser.  From prior nights I had learned to have an adequate supply of batteries stashed under my pillow in case my rat nemesis didn't scare off easily.

I think of those days now and realize that those events served as inspiration and motivation for me.  I was motivated to find a way where as an adult my living condition would be better.  It inspired me to realize that two of the avenues for a black youngster to aspire to success at that time were closed to me.  First, I did not possess great athletic skills for a career in sports.  Secondly I did not have a great singing voice to become an entertainer.  During the 1960s when I was growing up, it was the heyday of Motown in the music industry.  But I knew that Berry Gordy would not be signing me to a recording deal.

I will share with my mentees that I came to the realization that education was my ticket to a better life in my future.  That's the choice I made.  I hope to have my mentees pause and look at their life, then be motivated and inspired to seek education as their path.

I want to show my students that my decision to follow the education path has resulted in my now leading a comfortable life as a retiree.  The background of my students will be similar. African American or Hispanic boys from low income families.  Hopefully some will be from two parent families.  The majority will qualify for free lunches.  That itself will dictate that the mentoring program will need to either be during student's lunch period or on the weekend where food can be served.  One thing the current program learned is that an after school mentoring program without a component to feed the students is a losing battle when the student is hungry.

Choices. It's important to show our youth that they can control their destiny.  They need guidance and the attention of others to help them move their lives forward.  If you have some free time consider getting involved by becoming a mentor in your community.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Re Post - Senators From Indiana Respond to Supreme Court Vacancy Issue

This is a repost.   Technical issues resulted in some paragraphs not being seen.

In addition to my blog on the Senate avoiding taking action on President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, I sent a letter to each of my Senators. Senator Dan Coats (Republican) and Joe Donnelly (Democrat).  Both responded with well crafted form letters created by members of their staff.

Senator Coats who himself is lame duck Senator, provided the standard Republican party line response.  Senator Coats said:

"With the President and Congress divided on which direction to take our country, I believe the best course of action is to let the people decide.  The next President, with input from voters in the November election,should fill the current Supreme court vacancy."

Well if he really feels that way, I suggest Senator Coats resign now as he is not serving the state of Indiana by avoiding action on an issue of importance.  Senator Coats goes on to say:

"One of the most important responsibilities of a United States senator is to provide this input on judicial nominees.  "I take seriously my responsibilities to determine the best way to offer my "advice and consent" regarding lifetime appointments to our nation's highest court.

Senator Coats believes that doing nothing nothing is his way of providing input.  And he takes doing nothing seriously. as he should for being paid $174.000 a year for that honor.

Senator Donnelly's response was only a  tad better.  Donnelly said he would carefully review the nominees qualifications.  But he is doing nothing to ensure the process moves forward.

The U.S. Constitution is being interpreted as saying "advice and consent" as meaning no action need be taken.  So maybe I'll explore the idea that I don't need to pay anymore  Federal taxes until a new President is elected?

Visit to Alabama Gulf Coast

My wife and I just returned from a 4 night stay at the Beach Club resort along the gulf shores in Alabama.  As a young child I recall watching events on television occurring in Alabama during the turbulent civil rights struggles of the 1960s.  Alabama during that era was not exactly a progressive state in terms of advancing the rights of African Americans. I recall the then racist governor of Alabama, George Wallace, making racist statements on television.

Even though it has been some 50 plus years since those days, I did plan a rest and relaxation trip to the Gulf Shores to try the area out.  That event happened this week.  We flew into Pensacola, Florida and drove to the gulf shore area via a rental car.  I was amazed by the number of hotels/resorts along the highway by the gulf shores.  It obviously is a place visited quiet often by many.  Whether those "many" includes African Americans is something I can't address.

Our stay at the Beach Club was great.  We did notice that we appeared to be the only African American couple or family at the resort during those 4 days.  We were treated well at the resort, along the beach front and in the restaurants and stores we visited in the gulf coast area.  Why were we the only black couple/family there?  It could be a matter of the image the resort promotes or people like myself not viewing Alabama as a first choice vacation destination for African Americans.  The brochure and website didn't picture any African American's vacationing at the resort.  Someone visiting the website or looking at promotional material would therefore think the resort purposefully does not feature African Americans in its advertising.  Only the owners and promoters of the resort can address their advertising techniques.

The resort is a location any one regardless of race, creed, or color should experience.  Relaxation at its best, especially during great weather.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Fill the Vacancy Spot on the Supreme Court Or ......

On February 13, 2016 with the death of Justice Scalia, a vacancy opened up on the Supreme Court.  Almost immediately, Republicans in the Senate proclaimed that President Obama should not fill the vacant seat.  The reason or lack of reason was purely political.  Republicans want a Republican President to fill the vacant position.  No other reason.

On March 16th President Obama nominated Merrick Garland as a candidate to fill the vacant spot.  Since then the process of venting the candidate by the Senate has not begun.  Senators who are earning $174,000 a year, which includes taking action on nominees to the Supreme Court, have not taken the first step in the review process.  Republican Senators have decided that their job description does not include taking timely action to vote on nominees for the Supreme Court.

Based on the Senatorial discretion, I had a thought.   What would happen if I decided that I do not want to pay Federal taxes in any form until the next President is elected?  It's the same logic as expressed by the Senators.  Why should I pay taxes if Senators don't have to carry out their responsibilities which they are being paid to do?

Monday, May 2, 2016

African American Movies - Original ideas or sequels. Which do you want?

Barbershop 3 premiered last month.  The third movie in the series of films.  It follows sequel mania that has become popular in American films over the past 30 or so years.  If a blockbuster film worked the first time, create a sequel to cash in on the first one.  Making money not creating cinematic works of art is the key of the sequel.  As of today Barbershop 3 has made $44 million dollars.  It is said to have cost $20 million to make so it is now in the profit zone.

The movie is an economic success for the producers and artists involved.  But, what has it done to promote new stories being depicted about the experiences of African Americans?  Are our stories limited to only showing sequels for a few successful movies?  Surely there are stories about the experiences of African Americans and our progress since the Emancipation Proclamation?  Stories about individual struggles to success. Stories about families overcoming hardships to become successful.

Instead what are we given to view?  Stories about slavery, sequels from previous movies, and stories about maids and butlers.  Yes we see black actors and actresses in the role of the President of the United States.  But,  now that is nothing new right?  Unfortunately we are caught in a dilemma.  We want to support black made films.  We want to see ourselves on the movie screen.  We also have a right to demand different types of movies with new ideas and new characters and story plots.

Those successful movie makers do owe us movies with original ideas.  We've supported their sequels and financed their continued financial success.  Now give us some originality, creativity in ideas and excellence in the form of really original film making.  Tell a story about an African American experience that hasn't been told.  Give us a good dramatic story that defines the multifaceted nature of our experiences.   Don't just give us Ride Along 3, and Barbershop 4.  We are smarter than that and deserve much better cinematic efforts.