& DEFENDING FROM
'The State Of Mississippi' Becoming U.S.
A personal remembrance written days after 5/25/20
Here's to the people of Mississippi….
They smile and shrug their shoulders at the murder of a man
Here's to the schools of Mississippi….
Where they're teaching all the children that they don't have to care
Here's to the cops of Mississippi….
No they don't like taking prisoners in their private little war
Behind their broken badges there are murderers and more
Here's to the judges of Mississippi….
When the black man stands accused the trial is always short
Here's to the government of Mississippi….
Criminals are posing as the mayors of the towns
Here's to the laws of Mississippi….
Congressmen will gather in a circus of delay
While the Constitution is drowning in an ocean of decay
Here's to the churches of Mississippi…
The fallen face of Jesus is choking in the dust
From 'Here's to the State of Mississippi' by Phil Ochs
400 YEARS LATER
New stories will be posted on the Blog, and then listed as a link on the appropriate Story Category page (with title, author, image and opening lines)
OUR 9/11 CONTINUES
When the anniversary of 9/11 comes in September, I'm wondering, will NYC hold it's 19th annual, (4) hour long reading-of-the-names ceremony for the 2,753 victims who died?
Actually, I don't really wonder. I'm sure there will be a reading (even if online) for the victims families. 9/11 was a devastating event in terms of loss of lives. Perhaps even more important to why the ritual of the public ceremony endures (covered live in its entirety on all the local TV stations) is 9/11 was the first time the U.S. was attacked and left feeling vulnerable on its own shores (with 75% of the victims white).
Since 400 years ago when Black people were stacked in slave ships and kidnapped to America, we have endured devastating loss of lives (again and again and again), and been vulnerable to attack wherever we sleep. But America has not wanted to say the names of its Black victims (or even call them victims).
Even some of the most conservative commentators and members of Congress are saying there is just cause for Americans to demonstrate. American corporations are feeling compelled to declare that the nation should as a priority address the needs and concerns of the black community, and some on-duty police officers are taking a knee in support. Announcing good intentions when the spotlight is on is a start. Continuing into the darkness of night
So when I sat down today and resumed work on this essay, ‘Growing & Making’, I knew I had to first acknowledge the ‘Surviving & Defending From’ concerns that too often are suffocating black working-class communities. ‘Surviving & Defending From’ are also the upmost concerns in Latinx and immigrant communities.
Where do we go from here? Not just as a country, but as individuals, how do we help bring about change and growth in our communities, or support co-workers and employees who come from those communities? Suddenly the relevance of the essay I had been crafting, 'Growing & Making', is clear. - Trayce 6/3/20
(Check out my essay 'Pets, Kids, & Heartbeats' for suggestions on how business and workplaces can in (low-cost ways using existing resources) be more supportive of their employees.)
A DIFFERENT KIND OF SHOCK
Eight days after 5/25, I participated in a peaceful mass march through the downtown Brooklyn streets, starting at the Barclay Center, near my Fort Greene apartment. As I approached the gathered demonstrators I was shocked; it seemed to me 75% of the chanting, sign-bearing crowd were young white people (plus a few with kids or grey hair).
Over the years, and in a number of states, I've marched in many demonstrations for Black rights, and to improve conditions in low-income neighborhoods. There was usually a small % of white marchers, mostly ones who lived or worked among us. Thus my shock with this majority white crowd. Then my thought after the shock -- Of Course! This is a white majority neighborhood now!
Back in '98 when I moved to Fort Greene it was majority Black and a working-class Black artists mecca anchored by Spike Lee's 40 Acres. And that was my comfort fantasy -- stepping out now into the streets near my home and being surrounded by righteous Black people, chanting and bearing signs. But the truth is -- I'm able to still be in the neighborhood because I have the last rent stabilized apartment in a building of now mostly white neighbors paying market rates.
That night at the march I was initially uncomfortable in the majority white crowd. Don't get me wrong! I was so-so happy to see so many white people out. My adult life, from college on, up until I moved to Fort Greene, I had always lived in environments with a majority of whites. And I certainly appreciate anyone, under the threat of the virus, willing to risk themselves by coming out to demonstrate.
A NEW KIND OF HOPE
I soon was just happy to be at the march, seeing so many people (all wearing masks -- phew!), and they kept coming. When the march got going I was near the start. After many blocks, I stopped and stood off to the side and watched the march, wanting to see where it ended. I clocked it -- fifteen minutes and I still couldn't see an end to marchers, so I stepped back in.
As we took over the streets we passed lines of stranded cars. When I first heard honking my knee-jerk was: the drivers are angry, they want to get through. But as I looked into the vehicles I saw drivers waving and smiling at us. As the march went on, I started noticing that the majority of the drivers I was seeing, including bus drivers, were Black. I guessed that many of the drivers were going to and from work.
As Black drivers and passengers applauded the march, often stepping out of their vehicles to greet us as we passed, I thought: They are happy to see so many people out there marching when they can't. And so many white people marching for Black lives!
Was it finally happening?! Were Black concerns now being felt as human concerns, speaking to the heart and soul of our country?
The commitment of demonstrators to organize marches wherever enough people showed up was surprising and inspiring. Saturday I was out biking at night on a two-way narrow residential street. Out of the dark ahead came flashing police cars crowding both lanes. I veered off towards another street to avoid trouble -- and then saw it was a peaceful parade of marchers behind the police cars -- I estimated 200+ -- followed by a rear escort of police cars. Two people walking by on the sidewalk reversed direction suddenly and joined the street procession, giving it a pied piper vibe. This group was 85% white, in very good spirits.
NEEDING ALLIES WHO ARE SELF-AWARE
The next day I read this article How will our white allies respond when this summer has passed? I hope everyone who marched reads an article like this, as we all begin thinking about what we do next in our everyday lives as they resume.
I believe the white people joining in demonstrations sincerely want to help change repressive conditions for Black people in America. I have interacted with many white people over the years as part of work, community and creative projects, and have found some amazing collaborators who have known how to keep me honest and alert.
That said, I’ve observed some who -- though committed to social change and passionate about their projects / research / models -- are limited by a lack of self-reflection and have trouble being 'listeners' who allow dialogue about what they don't know. For instance, if I respond to the information they share by offering a story from my life and bits of history I see as relevant, I have been told I'm off topic and getting too personal and they get frustrated with me while trying to stay polite. If I say I believe there are some cultural differences between us, I'm looked at like I'm the older person who, you know, is just old.
Often I have felt the need to say aloud and to others how blessed I feel. I have thought some white people around me -- especially if they know I have far less than them economically -- don't get why I need to say that aloud, how blessed, and maybe regard me as a little (a lot) dramatic. They don't know what its like to live on a daily (not statistical) basis in Black communities with limited resources while police cars constantly cruise you (and if you're a Black male they'll cruise you into the majority white neighborhood and it will matter not at all that it's your neighborhood) .
While I am not there, I am there. I can't stop thinking -- There but for the grace of god (and a rent stabilized apartment) goes me -- and tomorrow it could be me.
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise,
so I am changing myself.” ― Rumi
A TIME FOR STORIES
Now we are all faced with the question of what do we do as individuals -- beyond protesting, beyond voting, beyond calling out corporations and your employer (if it need be).
I suggest looking around to the Black people (the Latinx, the immigrants) already existing in the background of your life, where you live / work / play, who normally you would not notice or speak to.
Stop and introduce yourself: "Hi, my name is ___. I've passed you many times..." and share a Story and ask for a Story. With just an introductory hello and an occasional passing exchange of Stories, show someone who has been your background that you consider them a part of your workplace / neighborhood community.
Begin by not knowing anything. Begin by giving someone your time and by listening. And don't be someone who is quick to express interest and say you want to know more, and then don't follow up. Know if you have more resources than the person you reach out to, it is on you to follow-up and encourage them.
Recently a 30s something friend (let's call him Dave), who I see every so often expressed an interest in reading a script I wrote and had been talking about. I sent it, and three weeks later, not hearing anything back from Dave, I followed up with an email. I let him know it was OK if he couldn't get into the script, and in fact it would be helpful to me to know if its opening hadn't engaged him.
Within the hour Dave emailed me back and apologized for not getting back, and that he was going to start reading that week. The next week I saw Dave in person, and he sheepishly confessed to me he had actually been shocked that I had followed up ! He said usually when people he knew sent stuff out (him included), it was great if someone responded back, but you never follow up if a person doesn't respond back.
I told Dave I valued my work, and if I sent it to someone I always marked on the calendar when to follow up if I hadn't heard back. Dave thought that was cool, and something for him to think about.
Whatever our color or age or education level or passion for good causes, it's how we listen, how we follow-up, how we self-reflect, that show how true we are.
READ 'GROWING & MAKING'
For How We Can Support Each Other
WAKING UP AT HOME
(In The Office)
As some conservative commentators and members of Congress say that there is just cause for Black Lives Matter demonstrations and some police officers kneel in support, American corporations also are declaring that as a priority their companies will be supporting the needs and concerns of the Black community (and here's our donation to the NAACP).
Announcing good intentions when the spotlight is on is a start. But in the past such announcements have often been more 'wokewashing' marketing and nothing more. CEOs have fallen short of actually walking their talk into policies and activities to transform their own workplaces into equitable and supportive environments for people of color and women.
Some CEOs in their announcements have tried to be more specific about the next steps they will take at their workplace 'home' (name the reality -- hourly wage employees usually spend more time at work than at their family home).
One CEO statement that I actually thought was heart-felt was by Chris Stang, CEO of The Infatuation (a restaurant recommendation website from the creators of Zagat reviews). He's very specific in listing all he knows their company has not done to promote diversity and equality, and he announces that they will be hiring a Diversity & Inclusion executive immediately (plus they're making a donation to the NAACP).
To all the companies with true intentions to do better, to do more, I recommend that you set up low cost forums to get all levels of employees at your workplace (including janitorial staff and such) interacting in social and learning environments.
DO-GOOD AT HOME !
COMPANY POTLUCK / TALENT SHOW
Offer to host 2x a year a company potluck and talent show / show'n'tell. Agree to provide the space, beverages, and snacks, then poll all your people and ask if they are willing to bring a potluck item and volunteer to help on the organizing committee.
It's potluck because it's about people sharing who they are through food. You announce the event will happen 2x so people know it's not just a superficial 1x event that will not happen again until there's major troubles again.
Set up a Volunteer SkillShare Project people can sign up to share a skill or to learn a skill. It can be skills they use on the job or skills they are developing in their own lives (you don't have to be an expert to introduce a skill to beginners).
There can be one-on-one skillshares done outside work, as well as skillshares for a group (company providing space).
READ ALOUD & DISCUSS
Gather all your staff together for a discussion forum with refreshments. Give everyone printed copies of this essay and my 'Growing & Making' essay, plus pens and highlighters.
Go around the entire room and have participants take turns reading aloud. The essays are broken up into sections. Allow a couple of comments or questions after each section, but decide in advance where in the reading the group will stop for extensive discussion.
Hand out an index card to everyone to write down suggestions for future forums or new policies. End by going around the room and asking everyone to give one word (or one sentence) feedback on what kind of impact the session had on them.
Break for refreshments and one-on-one dialogues.