Monday, January 30, 2012

Why Would Arizona Governor Jan Brewer Disrespect Me?!


By now we've all seen it.  But, I think it's a picture we ought to remember, for any number of reasons...

I'm am hardly alone in being angered at the level of disrespect shown President Barack Obama. I feel that it is unprecedented in any number of ways. And I think it should not only be called out, but I think people who feel it is ok, should be made uncomfortable.

I know that there are other precedents who have been vilified. And I know that there other presidents who have been subjected to ridicule. It comes with the office. No matter the crest of adulation with which a man has assumed office, eventually he does something and there are critics. There are even enemies. And those enemies inevitably do and say things that are out of bounds. There are times when it's even public.


It can almost be shocking, when one reads history, at how even some of the Founding Fathers would go after one another, questioning the morality or the ethics of their opponents.


Clinton was called a murderer...

George W.  Bush was called a racist...

Reagan was called derisively referred to as a 'cowboy'...

Nixon was called a 'liar' and a 'criminal'...

LBJ was called a 'killer' for his escalation of the Viet Nam war...

Just before Kennedy came to Dallas, there was a full page ad taken out in a local newspaper calling him 'a traitor'...

No president has been left unscathed. But this is different.

I can't remember, in my lifetime, when a president's legitimacy has been called into question in such disrespectful and venal ways, by other sitting elected officials, who clearly are pandering to a constituency.

There are crackpots and lunatics throughout our society. Many of whom, cannot be controlled. But when other politicians feel comfortable in taking the airways to say and do things that are obviously unprofessional and classless...and then actually search for ways to defend those words and actions, it goes beyond disturbing.

A State of the Union address in which A CONGRESSMAN YELLS, 'You Lie'...

Congressmen actually tweeting and texting during the SOTU...

A SITTING President, forced to release his BIRTH CERTIFICATE in order to quell lingering suspicions that he is not a citizen - flames of suspicions flamed by an entertainer who is threatening to run for office - while real politicians, demure and deflect on the issue, just enough to give those suspicions an air of legitimacy...

They have even supported the calling into question of his academic credentials. Not one Republican leader stood up and called a halt to questioning the education of a graduate of Harvard University, a former president of the Harvard Law Review and a Constitutional law professor!

Nearly immediately after election, LEADERS in opposing party is comfortable in proclaiming that their number one agenda is to make sure that a president, elected by a clear majority, only serves one term. They openly declare this, while Osama Bin Laden is still on loose; they openly declare this while the economy is in shambles; they openly declare this while American troops are fighting not one, but two wars abroad...

And, for years, even the President's religion is questioned, in spite of his public statement of commitment to the Christian faith.

When, under his leadership, Osama Bin Laden the terrorist whose shadow has been cast over this nation's security for a decade - after President Bush had publicly stated more than once, that he had no interest in where he was and didn't think about it. The opposition avoids giving him credit for a clear victory saying it isn't HIS leadership, but the action of the troops! Troops under his command!

And now, Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, publicly wags her finger in the face of the president. She does it in front of the Secret Service. In front of the press corp. In front of the country. And excuses it by saying she felt 'threatened'.

Threatened? By a sitting President.

Again, the continued disrespect: playing into the stereotype of the dark, sinister African-American, who, although president might do...what?!

Let's turn the picture around and take the issue of race out of it for a moment. How would we be discussing this picture, if Obama as a man, was wagging his finger in the face of the Governor of Arizona?

What is particularly sad, that during an election season, a season that is supposed to be about choices this is what we have. Republican candidates are not just questioning the wisdom of Obama's policies. They are not just questioning healthcare, or national defense or economic policy. They refer to him as 'dangerous', they refer to his policies as 'un-American', they refer to his leadership as 'European Socialism' (because in a democracy, there can only be one concept of governance, any other way must be foreign and therefore, sinister).

Of course, there has also been the explanation that those who do and say such thing respect 'the Office' of the President. The suggestion is that you can respect the 'Office' without respecting the person in the Office.

Throughout 2011, we heard that the off year election vote in November 2010 was the 'will of the people' and should be 'respected'. If that's true, then it should be remembered, that the election of  November 2008, by a larger margin and by a larger majority, was also the 'will of the people'. That will is not demonstrated by slavish obeisance to the President's agenda. It is demonstrated by respect for him, as the person in the office. It is demonstrated by the way you refer to him. It demonstrated by the way you express that disagreement on issues of policy.

During the budget battles last summer, House Speaker John Boehner said that he had 'the same responsibilities as the President'. At best that is a clear misunderstanding of the Constitution! Only the President of the United States is directed by the majority of ALL of the American people. To disrespect that elected executive, is to disrespect those who voted for him.

Frankly, that type of disregard and disrespect, is more dangerous to the fabric of our democracy than any policy that Obama or any other President has ever proposed. Legislation can be overturned, but what we see in this picture on the tarmac in Arizona, is something that cannot be corrected in an election. It's the sign of a corrosion at the heart of our country that we mistakenly felt we had overcome four years ago...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr.

Another preaching hero of mine is Dr. James Forbes, Jr.

Dr. Forbes is Senior Pastor Emeritus of the historic Riverside Church in New York, where he served for 18 years. His erudite, sophisticated intellect, is in sharp contrast to the stereotype I carried for years of Christians of his background. Forbes' early spiritual formation in the Pentecostal Church, with its charismatic worship, is usually thought of in juxtaposition to theological scholarship and ecumenical ministry. But throughout his career, Dr. Forbes has demonstrated a commitment to social justice, Biblical preaching and the strengthening interdenominational and interfaith relationships.

Dr. Forbes after retiring from the pastorate of Riverside, Dr. Forbes became the founder of the Healing of the Nations Foundation (www.healingofthenations.com) is a non-partisan, interfaith, not-for-profit organization for the promotion of a holistic understanding of health and wellness. It seeks to broaden the awareness of the inter-relatedness of physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and community health. Healing of the Nations Foundation encourages individuals, families and communities to be seriously committed to achieving and sustaining good health for themselves and to find specific areas where they may offer their support for the health and wellness of others. It seeks to promote conversation and where possible, cooperative ventures across boundaries of faith traditions, professional disciplines and cultural perspectives.


Here is an example of Forbes' gifted insight into scripture and it's relationship to our world's imperative for peace and justice...



Saturday, January 28, 2012

Friday, January 27, 2012

Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton Seeks to Tame City's 'Sea of Poverty'

In an earlier post, I mentioned the great time I and my family spent during the holidays in Memphis, Tennessee and the Mississippi area. We have family in both Tennessee and Mississippi and it's always a joy to visit them.

I also had a chance to check out a special series in the Memphis Commercial-Appeal and found out they like Dallas have a problem with poverty. They also have a new mayor, A.C. Wharton, who promised to reveal an aggressive plan to deal with the economic depression that has a stranglehold on some neighborhoods in that city. Mayor Wharton was inaugarated a few days ago and he laid out his plan in his State of the City Address. I think it lays out a bold plan, that is a blend of public, private and philanthropic solutions to what is for most of our cities, a near intractable problem.



Here's an excerpt...


"Our city’s long-time income disparity is ice on our economic wings.  The number of Memphians living in poverty has essentially been the same for 30 years, and it is simply unacceptable.  We have too many people who are unemployed and even more who are underemployed."

"The density of many Memphis neighborhoods is half of what it was only a few decades ago, and this aggravates the problem of blight and crime and increases the costs of city services.  There are too many vacant houses and too many families struggling to keep their homes."
"That’s why city government will act with an impatience for the status quo and business as usual."
"This is our moment.  This is our time."
"Within 100 days, we will announce our investment in Memphis neighborhoods.  Our neighborhoods are the connective tissue that ties together our work on jobs, education, public safety, and quality of place.  That’s why we will be deliberate in assessing the needs of our neighborhoods, in developing a plan of investment with residents to respond, and in executing a sustained program of improvements."
"These reinvestment strategies will be implemented by a strike force equipped to act courageously and in solidarity with the people in our neighborhoods."
"This is our moment.  This is our time."
We will work in the next 100 days to develop procedures to determine the condition of every park in Memphis, to develop a consistent plan of maintenance and consistent standards for equipment and programming, and to recommend ways to partner with neighborhood groups so city government helps them oversee and operate their own neighborhood parks.
"Neighborhood parks are the backbone of our parks system, and we will ensure the equitable distribution of resources and connect parks to greenlines to open up new opportunities for healthier lifestyles.  We are also working to strengthen the presence of the Redbirds in our city by reimagining our relationships and refinancing costs.  As part of this process, we will also bring competitive baseball back into our neighborhoods."
"Meanwhile, in the next 100 days, we will move to create a new seven-acre park on our riverfront to replace the Lonestar concrete plant.  Before the end of the year, there will be another special place on our most important natural resource: our riverfront."
"The riverfront was Memphis’ first great place.  On the north, there is the construction of a reinvented Pyramid and ultimately, new landscape, and streetscape to upgrade the entrance to downtown off I-40.   On the south, Beale Street Landing moves toward completion."
"Because of these new anchors on our riverfront, we will embark in the next 100 days on a place-making process to find consensus about how we can protect the riverfront while making it more active and vibrant.  Our purpose is not to create a master plan, but to set a general direction for the riverfront that we can all support so it can once again be a force for harmony rather than conflict."
"This is our moment.  This is our time."
"In our neighborhoods, there is no success story more dramatic than our fight to reduce crime.   While our crime rates have seen record drops, our work has just begun."
"In the next 100 days, we will move ahead with community policing programs, reentry programs to return former felons to lives as productive citizens, programs to give deserving youth alternatives to Juvenile Court, Metro Gang Unit, and plans to put more cameras in high-crime areas."
"We will fight gun violence and gang activity, and we’ll do it with a carrot and a stick.  We’ll punish strictly anyone who uses a gun in the commission of a crime, but we’ll also create the jobs that give youths better choices for their lives."
"In addition, the Police Executive Research Forum will begin to examine the Memphis Police Department’s systems, priorities, plans of attack, and manpower deployment.  This review will guarantee that the police department is operating at peak performance.  We are making important progress, but we can do more."
"This is our moment.  This is our time."
"Today, about one in two Memphis children live in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty where crime, blight, and economic vulnerability are all too common.  These high stress environments put the optimal brain development of our youngest children at risk.  In the first three years of a child’s life, research has proven that the brain grows to 80 percent of its adult size; however, in those days, less than three percent of money spent on education is spent getting infants and toddlers hard-wired to learn."
"In two years, city government’s role in education will change but our responsibility won’t.  Research indicates that what takes place outside of the classroom is just as important in determining academic success as what happens inside it.   That’s why city government should take its work to the neighborhoods and to the youngest children in Memphis."
"We must find ways to expand Early Head Start so every child can attend rather than the fortunate few, and we must pilot intervention strategies that give every child a fair start in life."
"Our progress as a city can be no faster than our progress in education.  That’s why city government will always have a job to do.  In the next 100 days, I will convene a special task force to evaluate the best strategies for early childhood development and to make recommendations for investing the money now allocated to school funding so our children are ready for school and life."
"This is our moment.  This is our time."
"As for our neighborhoods, we will make recommendations in the next 100 days to deal with the flooding problems in Memphis.  Our community has 165 drainage basins and 13 are problematic.  It’s an issue that cries out for more than crisis management.  It demands an overall plan of action and a strategic context for action."
"This also applies to anti-blight and clean up programs.  With the merger of three divisions, we have now aligned city services to be more coordinated and have more impact.  However, to succeed, we need the help of our neighborhoods.  Already, we are entering into contracts with grassroots groups to clean up and cut weeds in their neighborhoods.  In the coming 100 days, we will expand this program and build on the lessons learned from last year’s 25-square block strategy."
"This is our moment.  This is our time."
This is a big agenda. But Mayor Wharton appears determined to go big. I hope we can all follow his example. We certainly should all be watching. 
You can read the rest of his State of the City Address here

Thursday, January 26, 2012

We Don't 'Envy' the Rich; We've Got a Problem with Callous Selfishness

Enough with the 'class warfare' whine!

Seriously.

It actually amazes me that whenever the wealth, or income inequality is even mentioned, the retort from those who are either rich, work for the rich or who think one day they might be rich is 'class warfare'.

Of course its not 'class warfare' to denigrate the poor.

Nor is it 'class warfare' to erroneously conflate food stamps and poverty with minorities (principally, blacks and Hispanics).

It's not even 'class warfare' to refer to those receiving public assistance to be living off of someone else's money.

And of course, its not 'class warfare' to suggest that because those of us who get refunds on our tax returns don't pay taxes!

No, it's not 'class warfare'. Many of us admire the rich. A preponderance of Americans want to be rich - or at least comfortable. We don't hate wealth. Americans loathe selfishness. It's callousness with which we have a problem.

Call those who feel this way 'the left', 'liberals', 'socialist' or whatever way you want to denigrate us, the fact is, we have problems envisioning someone in office who campaigns as if the poor don't exist. Or, who if they admit their existence, they are viewed as 'the problem' and the 'cause' of America's problems. And, they are those toward whom we have minimal (if any) responsibility.

It's not the rich. It's the selfish.

Proof? There was, at one time, a rich politician whom young, poor and the middle class absolutely adored. He was wealthy and he came from a wealthy family. He counted the rich and celebrities among his friends and supporters. And there wasn't a poor person who resented or 'envied' him. He spent the kind of time among the poor, learning about their lives and their conditions and spoke about what he learned with humility, gentleness, respect and compassion.

He spoke to the poor all over the country. Poor Appalachian whites, poor blacks in Harlem, migrant farm workers in California. He visited their homes. He got in the dirt with the children. He asked them about their diet. He talked to them about their hopes, their dreams, their fears.

All across the country...


The day after President's State of the Union address, Mitt Romney said he spent the day talking with eight people who were unemployed or who have lost their homes to foreclosure, in Florida. 

Eight...

A New Venture and an Issue that Still Needs Our Attention

For the past several years, I've had the privilege of writing a monthly column for the Dallas Morning News. What's really exciting is that my contributions were a part of the DMN's editorial board's Pulitzer Prize winning North/South Gap series (it's nice to have a piece of a Pulitzer!).

Yesterday, I began participating in a new opportunity: the first monthly column for Dallas South News. Shawn P. Williams, the founder and senior editor of DSN, has become a seminal voice for issues related to the southern part of our city, and I've been an admirer of his since I had the pleasure of making his acquaintance a few years ago. I admire his courage and his journalistic entreprenuership! So I'm looking forward to expanding the conversation about issues related to race, culture, politics and poverty here with CTW, at the Morning News and now with South Dallas News.

The first column, by the way, deals with the laws that are going into effect in Dallas, Austin and throughout the state that regulate payday and auto-title lenders. You can read it here...

Dr. Frederick Haynes, III, pastor of Friendship West Baptist Church, in an earlier column reveals that now banks are getting into the short term lending business, at interest rates as high as 365% - certainly lower than 500%, but, come on!


"One of the most egregious exploitations is an emerging trend among major banks to offer advance deposit loans or bank payday loans. When the bank repays itself, the customer is left with about half of the monies from that deposit, forcing yet another cycle of loan and interest charges to cover other living expenses. Although Wells Fargo was the first major bank to offer this type of loan, Fifth Third Bank, Regions Financial and U.S. Bank all now offer these loans."
"Only bank customers with direct deposits from employers or government benefits have access to these loans. Nearly 25 percent of the transactions occurred with Social Security recipients. Further, older customers were 2.6 times more likely than others to use this type of loan."
"If you’re thinking that this loan sounds like a street corner payday loan, you’d be right. Just like storefront payday loans, these newer bank payday loans charge triple digit interest too. A key difference is that while 17 states and the District of Columbia have enacted interest rate caps of 36 percent or less, federally regulated banks appear somehow exempt from state laws."

While we're making progress, this is a fight that's far from being won!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Wayman Tisdale (1964-2009) - An Inspiration Any Day of the Week!

Perhaps this isn't the way to start the week. It is if it inspires us to be more grateful and joyful.

I confess that I didn't know Wayman Tisdale's story. I knew a couple of things - he was a terrific basketball player who happened to be a popular jazz musician. I also knew that one of the young men who grew up at the church I pastored played in his group occasionally.

After watching an ESPN documentary about him I found out that I was wrong about the first thing I knew: Wayman Tisdale was a terrific jazz guitarist who had a great career in the NBA. I didn't know about his enthusiasm, his joy and his courage. And knowing those things make it seem appropriate to start off the week with his story.


Usually, when you see something like this you hear people say 'His story is more than cancer'. But without Tisdale's bout with cancer you miss his story. I LOVE multi-talented people who don't try and choose between their talents. But Wayman Tisdale's life was a devotion to excellence to the sport in which he made his living and the art through which he made his life. And when he diagnosed with cancer the infectious joy with which he lived his life and his pursuit of excellence never seemed to wane. 

Wayman Tisdale died in May of 2009 at the age of 44. The year before his died he said, "Nothing can change me," Tisdale told The Associated Press, "You go through things. You don't change because things come in your life. You get better because things come in your life." It's just hard to not be inspired by that kind of hope and determination. 

I was deeply moved and greatly challenged by Tisdale's story, by his talent, his faith and by his courage. As a cancer survivor, I know how hard it is to maintain that equilibrium when you're confronted with your mortality. But I also know that something to which you can be devoted beyond your illness, your trust in God and mustering the courage to live a moment at a time, is the only way you can make it. 

Come to think of it, that's not a bad way to start a Monday...or any other day, for that matter. 

By the way, here's an example of Tisdale's music...


Saturday, January 21, 2012

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Ed Sullivan
1902-1974




Television Host, Writer, Entertainer

"If you do a good job for others, you heal yourself at the same time, because a dose of joy is a spiritual cure. It transcends all barriers."


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Is Frisco More Concerned with It's Citizens Than Dallas is Theirs?

Watch this...

                             


Good for Frisco. Good for its city council and good for its citizens! The citizens stood up for themselves and the council put the welfare and the well being of its citizens above the interests of business. Maybe it doesn't happen every time in Frisco...but it happened this time. 

I wonder if Dallas is paying attention?

What am I getting at? Here's what I'm getting at...

The Frisco City Council, in effect, told a battery recycler that it's presence was no longer compatible with the surrounding neighborhood. It represented a health hazard. It was close to schools, residences and was, in general, prohibited the property value and growth of the surrounding area. Granted, the battery recycler was there first and granted the neighborhood had grown up around the area. But, residents decided that this was no longer a hazard they wanted to risk; no longer an eyesore they wanted to see daily. 

And Frisco's city council responded. 

No cries of being ant-business. No cries of bullying. No one telling Frisco neighbors to just go somewhere else. No one called them whiners or called them ungrateful. No one questioned their morality. 

My mind raced back to June of last year, at Dallas' City Hall. 

I and a few supporters of a zoning ordinance to regulate the operation of payday lenders, were exulting in another victory. The zoning ordinance, the second in as many months, passed unanimously. 

But I also noticed, had spoken to, the owners of Gold Metals, a scrap metal recycler in South Dallas. This heavy industrial business is located across the street from a residential neighborhood. The neighborhood is one of concentrated poverty and majority black. Abutting the homes in the area are clubs (dives really), some open late for 'business', others abandoned. Gold Metals shares it's side of the street with other metal recyclers, concrete recyclers and liquor stores. 

In one of the most amazing turn around of civic concern, the council voted to allow Gold Metals to EXPAND its business! 

There are eerily predictable similarities between the Frisco city council meeting and the one in Dallas last summer: Gold Metals had its supporters there. There were employees who talked about their jobs; there were supporters to testify as to their corporate neighborliness; they talked about their long presence in the area (35 years). 

Unlike Frisco, there weren't very many there in opposition. I hadn't signed up to speak on the issue because I didn't know the issue was on the agenda. The council representative for the area had 'hidden' the item on the agenda and had assured the residents of the area that there was no need to show up, because she would take care of everything...at the meeting she made the motion to give the recycler the additional land they needed to operate. 

There is another difference between the Frisco/Dallas council meetings - the residents were in this area first! It's an area in which I spent me early childhood. I first went to the drive-in movie on the spot were the recyclers are.

Suffice it to say that was more than 35 years ago...

I've written before about CitySquare's partnership with Unify South Dallas and our efforts to get the recycling operations moved. While we've not given up, we've seen the power of organized money trump the welfare of organized citizens - especially when those citizens are poor and black. 

I can't be envious of the citizens of Frisco. They acted as citizens and they did what they were supposed to do. I can't be angry at the batter recycle plant owners, or their supporters. They too acted as citizens and did what they were supposed to do. Both in the court of public opinion and by participating in the political process they achieved an outcome that favored the residents. That is the way it's supposed to work. The interests of residents should come first. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

By the same token, what took place at Dallas' City Hall, the interests of business trumped the interests of residents who want to see their neighborhood redeveloped. They want a place where families will repopulate the area - some of the same families who fled to nicer parts of Dallas when highways cut the community in two and heavy industry drove down property values. It can't be done when your neighbor across the street is a scrap yard, contaminating the very ground upon which it sets - and, arguably your property across the street!

In Frisco, the rights of residents trumped the rights of business owners. In Dallas last year, just the opposite happened. Frisco trumped Dallas in the concern it showed for its citizens. 

Come to think of it, maybe I am a little envious...and ashamed. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On Newt Gingrich and Getting Played Like a Fiddle


Raucous cheering. Righteous indignation. Scolding the journalist.

Evading the issue...

Newt Gingrich's proposals over the past few weeks - that 'inner city' youth lack a work ethic because they have no role models to show them how to work. And that blacks ought to demand work vs. food stamps, all play into a stereotype about the poor that allows conservatives to avoid including poverty as a plank in their party's platform.

If the problem with the poor is that they are overwhelmingly minority (i.e. black), unwilling to work, and set poor example for their children then there need be no real talk about how to bring back jobs to the inner city. There needs to be discussion about redevelopment of our urban areas. Nor do we need to seriously talk about job training or education. Let the children work for their education and, as Rick Santorum suggested, get out of the rest of our pockets!

There's a problem with this stereotype however...

It has no basis in fact!

The number of people categorized as poor in America are overwhelmingly white - 31 million whites were counted as poor vs. 10 million African-Americans. And while the primary focus of criticism tends to be TANF recipients (Temporary Aid to Needy Families), the criticism skirts other forms of tax payer funded assistance like Social Security and Medicare. When these forms of welfare are combined with TANF, more than 70% of the recipients of government funded assistance programs are white.

William O'Hare of the Carsey Institute, reports that 44% of all urban poor children are white as are 57% of rural poor children.

And, of course, Gingrich in his tirade fails to mention that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was expanded in President George W. Bush's administration, a strategy begun by President Bill Clinton. Nor does he mention - perhaps he forgets - that the need for food stamps is based upon an economy which spiraled out of control before Barack Obama became president. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, of the 33% of Americans on food stamps 13 million are white, 9% are black.

So whose work ethic and preference for work should Newt Gingrich really be calling into question? And exactly who does Rick Santorum want out of the pocket of working Americans?

Here's a better question...

Why is it so easy to equate the problems of poverty with black Americans in such a way that it is both insulting, paternalistic and based upon such a patently false premise?

Of course, to find the answer, one must go all the way back to Nixon's 'Southern Strategy', Ronald Reagan's mythical 'welfare queen' and George H.W. Bush's 'Willie Horton' ads.

But the facts are, it's much easier to rely on these stereotypes to pander to mostly all white crowds in debates in a southern state and then feign righteous indignation when called into account. It's easier to attack the journalist than it is to tell the truth. And it's much easier to for people in tough economic times to scapegoat their most vulnerable fellow Americans than to demand serious answers to serious questions. It's also easier for a political party to sanction this silliness than it is to work hard at serious solutions that broaden its appeal.

Which begs another question. Next time someone poses the question, 'Why do blacks continue to vote Democratic when it has done them so little good?' Why not ask, 'Why do whites, in southern states and rural areas of our country continue to vote Republican, when almost 60% of them live in poverty?'

When it comes to poverty, African-Americans are a minority within a minority. It's about time the group making up the majority in that category got a little righteous indignation of their own.

They're being played like a fiddle!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Happy Birthday Muhammed Ali - Rumble On!



I think I've mentioned before that I don't watch boxing anymore.

Call it 'good ol' day syndrome' or whatever, I was spoiled - by Muhammad Ali.

I had the opportunity to watch him box during his heyday. Ali-Frazier I, II & III. My friends and I used to argue about whether Frazier or Ali was better - no matter who won. I used to listen to Tom Joyner (then a local radio personality) when he would call Ali or Ali would call him and they would go on and on about his next fight. It was really entertaining leading up to the 'Thrilla in Manilla'. Ali even nicknamed Joyner's sons, 'Killa' and 'Thrilla'.

My 6th grade teacher, Mr. McKnight, would argue that Ali was a disgrace (he always called him 'Cassius Clay'!). Mr. McKnight, a veteran, was incensed that Ali refused to enter the draft! We would argue back in support of our hero! Our teacher's view was the overwhelming attitude of the adults in our world, we were a new generation influenced by the idea of militancy and rebellion.

In 1996, when Ali, trembling, lit the torch at the summer Olympics in Atlanta there was a type of vindication for those of us in that 6th grade class. Our hero was now an internationally beloved figure. That marvelous body and 'pretty' face now being ravaged by Parkinson's disease, was no longer controversial he was simply revered as 'the greatest of all time'!

Today is his birthday. He's 70 years old. Boxing hasn't been the same since he left the 'squared circle'. His grace, his quickness, his shuffle, that left jab. I see it all when I see him, no matter his age or health.

So Happy Birthday Muhammad Ali! Or let me say it better, 'Float like a butterfly; sting like a bee! Rumble, young man, rumble!' 

Rumble on Ali! Rumble on...

Monday, January 16, 2012

Celebrating the Life & Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

There are a few celebrations of the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday that are both local or involve those of us who are local that are interesting and noteworthy.

The African-American Pastor's Coalition will host it's annual Martin Luther King Day worship service at 11 A.M. at the Christian Chapel 'Temple of Faith' CME Church at 14120 Noel Rd. in Dallas. 


The theme of the service is 'Breaking the Chain:  With our Voice, Our Vote and Victory' and the guest speaker will be Dr. William Watley,  Senior Pastor of Saint Philip AME Church in Atlanta, GA.


Later that day at 7 P.M,, The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, will host it's 7th Annual MLK, Jr. Symposium, featuring Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration and the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism for Individual Reporting. The symposium will be held at the  AT&T Performing Arts Center Winspear Opera House 


"The Warmth of Other Suns", dramatically chronicles one of the untold stories of American history: the "great migration" of black citizens who fled the South and Jim Crow laws from 1915 to 1970 in search of a better life. 


And finally, Dallas' Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III, Senior Pastor of the Friendship-West Baptist Church, will be the featured speaker at the Annual Commemorative Martin Luther King Day service at the Ebeneezer Baptist Church, in Atlanta, GA. The service will be broadcast live on WAGA-TV/Fox-5


And to top it all off, you can read my column in this morning's Dallas Morning News about how we really be doing to realize the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Martin Luther King, Jr - He REALLY was a Drum Major for Peace & Justice

Recently, it has been reported that a controversial inscription on the new Martin Luther King Memorial on the Washington D.C. Mall will be changed.

The inscription is 'I was a drum major for justice'. There are those who believe that this excerpt from a sermon of King, preached just a few months before his assassination, is too immodest. It makes it sound as if King promoted himself and, of course nothing can be further from the truth.


While I'm looking forward to visiting the Memorial important, I have great difficulty with attempts to make Dr. King seem too meek and too complimentary to the sentiments of our country's sympathies. I think both the rather severe visage of King in the memorial and the excerpted quote are appropriate. We need a King who jars our conscience. We need a King who aggravates and agitates us, as he did when he was alive.

These days, every effort to call our nation to justice is beaten back by calls for 'unity'. The 'unity' called for is usually challenged as 'divisive rhetoric'.

Pointing out income inequality is a call to 'class warfare'...
Pointing out racism, makes the person who identifies racism and racial insensitivity a racist...
Point to the erosion of our social compact and you are called a 'socialist'...
Point to the need for rational, fair immigration policies makes you 'unpatriotic'

Listen to the message from which the phrase 'drum major' associated with the quote in the memorial and you can see that King was neither benign in his rhetoric nor was he inoffensive in his denunciations. When he pointed out absurdity of white's feelings of racial superiority he said...

[The drum major instinct] leads to tragic—and we've seen it happen so often—tragic race prejudice. Many who have written about this problem—Lillian Smith used to say it beautifully in some of her books. And she would say it to the point of getting men and women to see the source of the problem. Do you know that a lot of the race problem grows out of the drum major instinct? A need that some people have to feel superior. A need that some people have to feel that they are first, and to feel that their white skin ordained them to be first. (Make it plain, today, ‘cause I’m against it, so help me God) And they have said over and over again in ways that we see with our own eyes. In fact, not too long ago, a man down in Mississippi said that God was a charter member of the White Citizens Council. And so God being the charter member means that everybody who's in that has a kind of divinity, a kind of superiority. And think of what has happened in history as a result of this perverted use of the drum major instinct. It has led to the most tragic prejudice, the most tragic expressions of man's inhumanity to man.

King called our country into account by calling attention to its flaws and misadventures.

"And not only does this thing [the drum major instinct] go into the racial struggle, it goes into the struggle between nations. And I would submit to you this morning that what is wrong in the world today is that the nations of the world are engaged in a bitter, colossal contest for supremacy. And if something doesn't happen to stop this trend, I'm sorely afraid that we won't be here to talk about Jesus Christ and about God and about brotherhood too many more years. (Yeah) If somebody doesn't bring an end to this suicidal thrust that we see in the world today, none of us are going to be around, because somebody's going to make the mistake through our senseless blunderings of dropping a nuclear bomb somewhere. And then another one is going to drop. And don't let anybody fool you, this can happen within a matter of seconds. (Amen) They have twenty-megaton bombs in Russia right now that can destroy a city as big as New York in three seconds, with everybody wiped away, and every building. And we can do the same thing to Russia and China."



"But this is why we are drifting. And we are drifting there because nations are caught up with the drum major instinct. "I must be first." "I must be supreme." "Our nation must rule the world." (Preach it) And I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I'm going to continue to say it to America, because I love this country too much to see the drift that it has taken."


"God didn't call America to do what she's doing in the world now. (Preach it, preach it) God didn't call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war as the war in Vietnam. And we are criminals in that war. We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I'm going to continue to say it. And we won't stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation."


He called the church into account, forcing it to face the drift from its mission.


"I know churches get in that bind sometimes. (Amen, Make it plain) I've been to churches, you know, and they say, "We have so many doctors, and so many school teachers, and so many lawyers, and so many businessmen in our church." And that's fine, because doctors need to go to church, and lawyers, and businessmen, teachers—they ought to be in church. But they say that—even the preacher sometimes will go all through that—they say that as if the other people don't count." (Amen)


"And the church is the one place where a doctor ought to forget that he's a doctor. The church is the one place where a Ph.D. ought to forget that he's a Ph.D. (Yes) The church is the one place that the school teacher ought to forget the degree she has behind her name. The church is the one place where the lawyer ought to forget that he's a lawyer. And any church that violates the "whosoever will, let him come" doctrine is a dead, cold church, (Yes) and nothing but a little social club with a thin veneer of religiosity."


"When the church is true to its nature, (Whoo) it says, "Whosoever will, let him come." (Yes) And it does not supposed to satisfy the perverted uses of the drum major instinct. It's the one place where everybody should be the same, standing before a common master and savior. (Yes, sir) And a recognition grows out of this—that all men are brothers because they are children (Yes) of a common father."


King did more than dream palatable dreams. And because of his willingness to place his very life on the line for Divine Truth, he deserves to be called 'a drum major' - whether we say he says it or whether the portion of the text of this message excerpted makes him say that is what he is.

He was indeed a drum major. The question is, are we?

You can read the text of the message and here the audio here.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Black People and the GOP

I have been asked and have heard the question asked, 'Why don't more blacks vote Republican?' And then there is a litany of what they consider to be failures of the Democratic Party to address the circumstances of blacks in America. 

Perhaps there is no better answer to the question than to be found in this essay written by Sophia Nelson, a former GOP staffer after the November 2008 election. 

Sophia Nelson is not without her own bona fides when it comes to her work in the Republican Party and as such, I think it would be instructive to read her concerns...

"Election night was a bittersweet night for me. Like most Americans, and especially as an African American, I found it deeply moving to watch President-elect Barack Obama and his family -- soon to be our nation's first African American first family -- stride onstage for his victory speech. I welcome the positive role models they'll present to black families and the American public at large."

"But as a black Republican, I was chagrined that the political party I've belonged to for 20 years had just suffered a blistering electoral defeat. And that along the way, it had lost 96 percent of the black vote and 67 percent of the Hispanic vote -- the worst showing for the Republican Party among minorities in its 150-year history."


"After such a devastating loss, Republicans will have to do some retooling. We'll have to decide whether we want to be the party that believes in smaller government, lower taxes and less regulation, or whether we're going to be a litmus-test party that responds only to the demands of social conservatives. But most important, we'll have to confront our most disastrous modern legacy: our poor relationship with black Americans, the very people the party was formed to protect from the expansion of slavery into Kansas and Nebraska in 1854."


"That relationship may be lost for generations, thanks to a campaign by Sen. John McCain that seemed to simply concede the black vote. According to one senior aide, McCain had been polling close to 20 percent of the black vote before the primaries ended. But then his "Forgotten America" tour, which started soon after, never seemed to go anywhere. I knew of only one high-level black adviser or spokesperson on his full-time paid campaign staff. The GOP convention was embarrassingly devoid of people of color -- among more than 2,000 delegates, only 36 were black."



"The problem, former Maryland lieutenant governor Michael Steele told the Washington Times last week, is that party officials "don't give a damn." To them, he said, "outreach means let's throw a cocktail party, find some black folks and Hispanics and women, wrap our arms around them -- 'See, look at us.' And then we go back to the same old, same old."
"The party has simply not understood the importance of having highly visible black Republican operatives, elected officials and political spokespersons working for it on an ongoing basis," adds an African American who worked for the Republican National Committee during the administration of the first President Bush. "It's not our message as much as it is our messengers that are killing us.""

"It didn't have to be this way. Only a few years ago, then-RNC chairman Ken Mehlman was aggressively reaching out to the black community. At the NAACP convention in 2005, he apologized for the party's past embrace of racial polarization to gain political advantage. "We were wrong," he said. But Mehlman's efforts, like those of George H.W. Bush and President Gerald R. Ford in the 1970s and, ironically, Lee Atwater in 1989, have never really been followed up on in a way that has successfully made inroads and attracted black voters to the GOP fold..."

"That drew in other African Americans as well. "What the GOP of the '80s and '90s stood for was growth, opportunity and prosperity," one black Republican businessman from Virginia told me. "This is what attracted me to the party." But more recently that message, he said, "has gotten swallowed up by a social conservative agenda that seems obsessed with religion, guns and abortion.""


"I can vouch that being a moderate black Republican isn't easy. My black GOP colleagues and I endure endless ridicule and questioning from other African Americans, including close friends and family members who wonder how we can belong to a political party that is so overwhelmingly white, male, Southern, conservative and seemingly closed to ethnic minorities.
And truth be told, it's sometimes an ill fit. Consider the comments of Shannon Reeves, an African American who started a college Republican chapter at Grambling State University in 1988. In 2003, he wrote an open letter to the party after it was disclosed that in 1999, a newsletter published by the then-vice chairman of the California Republican Party had carried an essay suggesting that the country would have been better off if the South had won the Civil War."


""I am tired of being embarrassed by elected Republican officials who have no sensitivity for issues that alienate whole segments of our population," Reeves wrote. "This embarrassment is different for a black Republican. Not only do we have to sit in rooms and behave professionally towards Republicans who share this ideology, we have to go home to a hostile environment where we are called Uncle Tom and maligned as a sell-out to the community because of our membership in the Republican Party.""



"But black Republicans, he stressed, "have a responsibility, too. We need to be effecting change in our own local communities. We need to run for local and state party chairmanships, we need to be there when the platforms are being decided, and when candidates are being selected to run for office.""

"There are other steps the party can take as it regroups for the future. Republicans need to go to black churches, colleges and other organizations to make the case for the party as a viable option for African Americans. It should mentor and nurture young black Republicans on college campuses, teaching them to canvass, providing paid internships and encouraging them to attend party rules and platform meetings, where real political power resides. It should introduce elected black state and local officials to the national donor base to help them build their coffers for future elections. It should recruit blacks in the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic and in urban districts, offering a Marshall Plan of sorts to rebuild our cities, encourage entrepreneurship and small business start-ups and promote lower taxes for job creation."

You can read the rest of Ms. Nelson's op-ed here





Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What the Tebow Phenomenon Reveals about Us


Let me begin with this caveat, I really like Tim Tebow! I think he's great for the Denver Broncos and I believe he's great for the National Football League.

Now, 'liking' Tim Tebow and honestly assessing where he is as a professional football player is something else. I thought all of the brouhaha regarding his 'mechanics' was exaggerated and unfair.

Until I watched him play...

Of course by now he's improving, but there are some plays in which he's just plain bad. But that's not what makes Tebow Tebow. The team has rallied around him. It seems as if the rest of the team has upped their game in order to make up for his deficiencies. They believe in him. They patiently wait for his maturation as a football player and they celebrate his growth. Now, that means he's a leader. And that's great.

I'll confess, I don't get all of the criticism. Not about his PDF's (public displays of faith). Christians who spend an inordinate amount of time complaining that Tebows faith is not 'respected' tend to forget that there was a time when being a Christian could get you killed. That's still true in some parts of the world. Being criticized for praising God and praying in public isn't that big a deal in the scheme of things. And besides, if we believe what we say we believe, we know that our faith is in a Founder who was executed as a criminal. Jesus never achieved 'rock star status'. As a matter of fact, after His first sermon, the congregation tried to stone Him!

Our celebrity soaked culture believes that Tebow ought to be celebrated for his faith - or at least not criticized. I beg to differ. While Tebow's PDL's are in line with his beliefs. Our belief's that he ought to be safe from criticism because he is a professing Christian shows that American Christianity has a complex because it's bought into a success ethic: believe in Jesus and we ought to be applauded, feted and in line for riches.

What about the people who work hard everyday and don't get rich? What about poor people who struggle daily and are criticized because they're poor? What about the Christians who don't win - at least in this life? And what about their continued faithful commitment to God, even though they don't get to do it on a football field? Does that make their faith any less authentic?

And what are we saying to our kids?

Tim Tebow has a ways to go before he is a very good NFL quarterback. We don't talk about it enough, but he's working on getting better. And, he works, period. Ever seen the documentary that shows his workout? Fierce!

Yet, in social media and in the mainstream media, you'd think that he was simply dropped in a stadium, playing badly and some miracle happens. And it's because he's a Christian. The message: if you've got God, you don't have to be good.

Tebow works hard. My expectations are, at some point, he's going to be a very good quarterback. Not great, but very good. And that's not bad at all. We need to tell our kids that there Tebow's faith makes him work hard to be a good quarterback for his team. If you've got faith, you work hard to get better.

Everyday. And God blesses consecrated effort.

And winning? Tebow and the Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. In overtime. Few, if any of us saw it coming. And of course, it was because of his faith.

But are they're any believers on the Steelers' team? What about them? Does that mean they didn't believe? Or does it mean that they weren't 'blessed'?

Sports has been called 'the toy department of life'. Yet there are some real grown up lessons. Sometimes you have faith and you don't 'win'. Sometimes real faith is demonstrated in how you handle loss. Sometimes faith is demonstrated in the sportsmanship you show after you've won. Or in how you dedicate yourself to the next contest. I have a hard time believe that God is so invested in a sports contest that He needs to demonstrate His Power by making, what is now a very average quarterback, a 'winner'.

Let's just admit it: this is a compelling story. It's a story of perseverance. It's a story of faith, of how someone believes in himself and his God enough, not to trust the experts when they said he wasn't good enough. Win or lose,  you keep trying. God blesses effort, when you devote yourself to getting better. And, sometimes you get better, but you don't win. At least not immediately. But sometimes, its very exciting. And it feels great. And we can celebrate that!

Why can't that be enough?

So...there.

And what about those who criticize Tebow? What I find amazing is that we are criticizing this guy, that there is something irritating about his public display of faith. It's too 'in your face'. It's too...

Well fine. But just a few years ago, we were complaining about being  bombarded by reports of arrests of pro football players. Players in strip clubs. Players doing drugs. Plaxico Burris, in a club, shooting himself in the leg. Going to prison! And most recently, Chicago Bear (and former Dallas Cowboy) receiver Sam Hurd arrested for trying to buy enough cocaine to make him a major drug dealer.

And Tebow is criticized for publicly praying and thanking God for his success?!

There's nothing wrong with Tim Tebow...there's something awfully wrong with us!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Catherine Crier - I've Rarely Been So Glad to be Wrong!

Well this is not what I thought it would be!

I remember Catherine Crier as a former judge who went on to be one of those ubiquitous TV court show judges and then a network/cable TV 'usual suspect' talking head and eventual talk show host. None of this makes me think of someone with particularly substantive views.

BOY WAS I WRONG!

Ms. Crier's perspective on the political climate of our day is rooted in a rational historic, economic and constitutional perspective that deserves to be heard and taken seriously. Let me take that back: it desperately needs to be heard!

For those who have lost sight of what our system is really supposed to produce - healthy productive debate that leads to compromise that reasonably ensures opportunity for all Americans, this is a breath of fresh air. Her book 'Patriot Acts: What Americans Must Do to Save the Republic', is not for those who see the world through a rigid ideological grid, whether they be on the left or the right.

video

I'd encourage you to watch the entire presentation here. It's an important substantive contribution to a political system that is fostering debate that is about a mile wide and an inch thick...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

She REALLY Did It? Yep. Now it's Your Turn!

I'm not kidding, about the time I got in my 40's, I developed a skittishness about heights. I'm not phobic mind you, I still fly with no real problem (turbulence, however, can be unsettling reminder that I'm 35,000 feet in the air!). But, I don't go out of my way to go up to the 50th floor of a building and, I have only been on the roof of 511 Akard (15 stories) ONCE - and that's not accidental.

Mostly I have trouble watching heights - you know, on television, in movies. And I figure, no sane person could possible scale the side of a building, or walk on a ledge - things that I thrilled to see when I was a teen and even into my late 30's.

So when I saw CitiBank's commercial - the one with the mountain climbing girl who stands God-knows-how many feet high, I immediately branded her as insane! And then I remembered how advanced technology is and I assured anyone within earshot that this was computer generated...

Well, not so much.

Turns out the woman climbing a rock tall enough that she could scrape her knuckles on a the under belly of a helicopter, is really on top of the world! Seriously! Now in my book that not only makes her insanity a speculative matter, she really is verifiable certifiable.



But I also thought about something: this young lady has challenged (and apparently conquered) one of the most basic human fears. How 'bout that?! Think about it - she climbed that rock and stands atop it!

We're at the beginning of 2012 and most of us have one of those rock formations we've been trying to climb throughout 2011. Whatever it is, it represents for some of us it represents a maximum investment toward some particular fulfillment or self actualization. For some others of us, it means taking the risk to care - really care - and become engaged in making life better for others. That's quite a mountain to climb! 

This world depends on each of us being the best we can be. It depends upon us being willing to be the best neighbors we can be. There are those who are trying to make this world an exceedingly small place. A place where not much matters but them and the people at their address. It's not bad. It's just small. Especially when we realize that not even the people we love at home can reach their potential without others. 

So climb the mountain...

Care. 

Reach out. 

Give.

 Risk. 

Others will think your crazy...as they look at you from the base of the rock formation they've yet to climb!