Aftermath

January 30, 2016

I don’t trust rich people.  And I’m puzzled as to why so many Americans put their trust in the rich and look to them for protection and believe that the rich have the best interest of our nation and its resources.

In my youth, I read The Wealth of Nations and The Rich and the Super-Rich.  Both books filled me with apprehension as well as wonderment.

Adam Smith who is widely regarded as the father of capitalism, stated categorically that someone must be taken advantage of in order for capitalism to work!  His philosophy has been adopted in most of the modern world and capitalism thrives in some incarnation all over the world.  Most industrialized countries with a very few exceptions rely on capitalist principles to drive their economies.

Ferdinand Lund author of the Rich and the Super-Rich revealed to the world that sixty American families control most of the wealth in the western world and care little or nothing for us little people the lumpen.

As a child of the activist 60’s, the knowledge that an elite group of predatory capitalist were responsible for the fate of the entire nation has shaped my political life.

I’ve tried to earn my living in the most benign way I can.  I don’t buy sneakers that are produced by child labor in foreign countries.  I don’t buy gold or blood diamonds because I know that oppressed workers toil in mines to unearth them.  And I buy fresh produce because conglomerates that produce consumable food products are evil.  My hands are not completely clean.  I buy my televisions at Walmart.

I only wish other Americans were as thoughtful about how their spending impacts the rest of the world.  Unfortunately, far too many of us envy the rich and powerful and desire to be wealthy no matter what it may take.   The desire for wealth corrupts human souls.

Young men in our communities savagely murder each other and anyone that may posses something of value they may want.  These days if they suspect you have something of value that they covet they break into your home or sneak up on you in the street and attempt to rob you.  And then they shoot you.

I blame this “take no prisoner mentality” on the notion that one must obtain wealth at all cost.  We know this because the media reminds us via the news, television and movies that “anything goes” when it comes to getting money.  Bonnie and Clyde did it.  Pablo Escobar did it.  Bernard Madoff did it.

It doesn’t matter that all of them paid for their sins.  The media portrayed their quest  for riches as seductive and heroic.  And many many impressionable Americans long to be like them.

Modern Captains of Technology like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg were ruthless in their quest for wealth no matter how benevolent they appear now that they have it.  White collar capitalist skim and steal without remorse and rarely get prosecuted when caught.  Through the media they whisper to the young “do whatever you need to do to succeed”.  And the young are listening attentively.

The Great Divide — The disparity between the rich and the poor is much wider today than it was when The Rich and the Super-Rich was published in the sixties but no one hardly notices because even the poor have cable television, air conditioning units, cell phones, designer knock offs and automobiles.

We have been seduced into complacency.

As I sit in my large apartment in front of my flat screen television from Walmart sipping on my glass of Chardonnay, I harbor the belief that my comfortable middle last lifestyle is something I’ve earned because of years of labor for others.  I try not to think that I’m a willing tool of the Military Industrial Complex.  Some don’t think about it at all!

I realized a long time ago that resistance was futile and I had two choices: I could throw rocks at the system and face prison or premature death or I could work within “the system” and eek out a little credible change by my interactions with folks that might benefit from the things I’ve learned since my youth.

I’ve been an advocate for many years.  And now I’m a griot.  I only hope somebody’s listening.  There’s a great deal at stake.

 

 

 

Legacy

August 13, 2015

Attending Michigan State University and graduating with a baccalaureate degree were my most significant accomplishment in my early life.  After I established my professional career, in an effort to ‘give back’, I became involved in the local and national alumni associations and have done so in some capacity for over 35 years.

This summer I attended our annual alumni cookout and met two board members of an endowment that was created for students at MSU’s, Eli Broad College of Business.  I also sit on the national Board of Directors for MSU Black Alumni which has a sizable endowment at the University.  As MSU alum we are all committed to assisting undergraduates in any way we can.  We’ve been through it so we understand the challenges that students face while matriculating at the university.  We’re doing as much as we can to make sure that students get all the way through the process from application to graduation by assisting them with tuition, room and board, academic counseling, tutoring, and expenses for books and travel abroad.

During our discussion that day the board members and I talked about the issue of legacy.  I mentioned a friend who was a surgeon by profession to the board members, while we were discussing how to better serve undergraduates at MSU.  I mentioned my friend anecdotally because he has become for me the working definition of legacy.

My friend had been the head of surgery at one of the hospitals at the Detroit Medical Center. He retired from his rigorous position at the DMC in his early fifties to become a consultant at the contract agency for Social Security Disability here in Detroit, Michigan.  The Surgeon approached me, shortly after I was hired at the agency, to show me a picture of – “the fastest white man in Michigan” – his son, a sprinter on the University of Michigan Track Team.  Our love of Big Ten Athletics, extra dry Martinis with anchovie stuffed olives and fine dining in the early afternoon made us fast friends. 

Right after his son’s graduation, The Surgeon set the 22-year-old up in a Plumbing Contractor business owned by one of his associates. The Surgeon’s long term goal was for his son to take over the Plumbing business. They had mapped out a long term strategy long before graduation and stuck to the plan.

The money that the surgeon earned, as a consultant at our agency, was also part of a strategic plan.  The money he earned was not for himself but for his grandchildren.  He worked at our agency for almost 15 years, after he retired from the DMC, to insure that his children’s children would have an advantage that most middle class Americans only aspire to have.  

When my friend passed away over 10 years ago, no one had to set up a Go Fund Me account for his home going.  Throughout his work life, while he was a viable earner, he ensured that his wife, his children and his grandchildren would never be in financial need just as his father had done for him, a generation before.  

Knowing The Surgeon and his family, breaking bread with him and becoming a trusted friend, allowed me to have a first hand view of the mechanics involved in the establishment of a legacy.  It’s one thing to understand a concept but when you have an opportunity to see a living example of a concept it serves to enrich your world view.  The Surgeon was among a handful of men – like my father, a few educators and an exceptional neighbor – that left a lasting impression on me and became a source of guidance in this path that I am following.

When most folks die they may have an insurance policy that covers their burial expenses, a house and a bank account. Personally and professionally, I sometimes watch in dismay, as families struggle to bury love ones because of insufficient funds or they fight over the remaining assets that their loved on struggled to accumulate.  While I was married, I watched in silent horror as an in-law squandered volumes of cash – at casinos, on vehicles and on vacations – that took the decedent decades to save.

Americans – particularly Gen Xers and Millennials – seem to have an immediacy about life that precludes saving and planning for their futures.  Post war Baby Boomers like me were part of an emerging middle class.  Our ethics and expectations are very different from our children that have never had the same struggles as we encountered.

I fear for our country and for our way of life because of the ‘in the moment’ attitude many younger Americans possess.  I had a great mentor for over 10 years who taught me the value of legacy.  And long before that I had parents that instilled a strong work ethic in me by example.

Throughout my work life, I’ve given my time to my family,  to the communities in which I’ve lived and to my University.  I don’t feel as if I’ve had any other choice.  As a child of the 60’s, I know that if “I’m not part of the solution, I’m part of the problem!”  Our society has more than its collective share of problems. From an early age I wanted to be an asset to my family and the community.  Knowingly being a liability is too great of a burden for me to bear.  Generations of people have sacrificed their very lives to make life more comfortable for you and me.

Narcissism: The Undiagnosed Plague of Western Cultures

June 17, 2015

I was recently in church and received a text that informed me that I’d sent a family member to the “wrong address”!  So I text the same address that I’d sent to him three times before.  My phone started ringing but I obviously couldn’t answer because I was in the middle of the service.  I got another text asking me to leave the service so I could talk.  The timing could not have been worse, if the devil had planned it.  It was offering time.  My pen refused to work properly but I managed to scratch out enough information on the check in the hopes that the bank would accept it.  I handed my offering off to a friend and went outside and made my call.

Whenever I fail at something, I try and become introspective to figure out how not to make the same mistake twice.  I need to know in an objective way if I did something that caused a given situation to obtain a less than favorable outcome.  I try to use those “failures” in a constructive way.  I knew in this particular case that I had provided enough information to get the family members to the correct destination.  I realized in retrospect that I have historically never been able to do anything right when this individual is involved.

I was fuming.  The incident reminded me of of a cacophony of business deals, interactions with former co-workers and personal relationships, where I had been blamed – by the person I was dealing with – for somehow failing he or she by not performing to their expectations.  And it seemed that no matter how hard I tried, I could never satisfy those individuals.  Was it something I’d done?  Nah!

Some people think that the world is designed solely for their gratification.  I know that we all know someone like that.  We are all self centered to a degree but some are way over the top.  As I stated in the title, narcissism is a big problem.  It affects people all around us and may have a deleterious impact on some who don’t realize that they’re being victimized by someone with narcissistic behaviors.  If you don’t know some of the traits of narcissism keep reading.

Years ago a former co-worker, that I had a great deal of problems working with, after I was given a promotion, accused me of being a “narcissist”.  That particular person happened to be a marginally attractive single female that was new to our office.  She would come into my cubicle each day for ‘advice’ on how to manage her backlog. While receiving my ‘advice’ she would press her bony right hip against my left shoulder, as she talked to me.  I found this to be rather disconcerting. At some point, her daily ventures into my cubicle became a distraction. When it became apparent to her that I was not to be swayed by her absence of feminine pulchritude, she became increasingly difficult to deal with!  She truly believed that youth, her degrees, her membership in a prominent national sorority and past competition in beauty pageants (sic) made her the most desirable woman in our office.  Sorry. I’m no Adonis, but an undernourished woman in her late 20’s with bad acne is not the girl of my dreams!  At the time, I was in a committed relationship with a self centered mature women with beautiful skin and superior skills in the boudoir (but I’ll get to her later).  At that point in my life, I had no desire to enter in a relationship with a chick that came to work each Monday and bragged about her “exploits” with men over the weekend, like some men do around the water cooler. To make a long story short, our professional relationship soured.  She began leaving notes in my mailbox accusing me of everything except being a competent professional.  One of the last notes I received accused me of being a narcissist. That caught my attention because she was kind enough to provide me with a definition of narcissism:

1) inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity.
2) Psychoanalysis. erotic gratification derived from admiration of one’s own physical or mental attributes, being a normal condition at the infantile level of personality development.

That same woman later married and divorced a man that physically resembles me.  But that’s probably just coincidence!  If I said it was more than that then I might be guilty of being a tad narcissistic!

I freely admit to being vain and a bit self centered.  I have no children and I love myself but I reject the notion that self confidence, self esteem and love of self equate to vanity, erotic fixation of my sexual proclivities and ego maniacal hubris.  I am not a selfish lover and I never brag about my capabilities (too much).  I’m a student, never a professor who is eternally grateful to those women who have been graceful enough to share.  I never blame my failings on others.  My alpha parents beat me into humility at an early age to ensure that I would be able to interact well with others.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that I attract narcissist.  Many of the women I’ve been intimately involved with have had narcissistic traits or met the standard definition I noted above.  My co-worker – and no we were never intimate – was the first person that provided me with a name for the type of personality I was consistently attracting. That was about 20 years ago. Since that time, I’m better able to identify people that I’ve interacted with throughout the years that have been narcissist.  And I’ve come to recognize that narcissism is one of the biggest problems that western societies face.  There are a lot of you out there.  Even though psychiatrist don’t consider it to be a mental disorder does not mean that narcissism doesn’t negatively impact daily life.

Narcissus of classic Greek mythology was the son of a god and a nymph who was hung up on his own looks.  We know that it ended badly for him.  In the modern world, mere mortals that are hung up on themselves affect those around them in insurmountable ways. Children of narcissist suffer because they almost never grow up feeling they’re “good enough” in the eyes of that parent who was always the focal point of attention by their devoted spouse, other family members and a host of friends and relatives.  Children are too close to the situation to realize that the focal point of their affection – mom or dad – are kinda stuck on themselves.  Narcissist dearly love their children because the children are part of them and they often love their spouses or other targets of their affection because those persons have managed to divert their attention away from themselves.   The secret dichotomy of most narcissist is that they’re quite needy for the attention of others.  I think I attract them because I tend to ignore them when I meet them initially and never offer them my full devotion.  I’m as interested in them as anyone else they encounter but I’m not into idolatry!  I leave that to their fan clubs.

The first ‘textbook narcissist’ I dated had been hired at my place of work. Her first day, she was brought around to everyone’s office and introduced.  She was stunningly beautiful and looked like trouble. I’ve never been afraid of a little trouble and I’d learned in my youth that the best way to get a beautiful woman to notice you is to get her to notice you first..

Each time I walked past her office, several of my male co-workers were gathered in her doorway.  I’d wave or say ‘hello’ and keep it moving.  After a few weeks, she appeared at my office door. And the rest as they say was history.  But my experience with her also became a ‘teachable’ experience.  Because the next time I had a woman like her, I kinda knew what to expect from her.  Narcissist are pretty consistent in their conduct.  And there in lies the problem. When you’re the focal point of their attention life can be heavenly but when someone else or something else falls in their line of vision you are easily forgotten. That’s okay for me but that can be devastating for an emotionally immature adult or a child!

Children of narcissist may never live up to the expectations of a self involved parent and may never understand why they don’t. I know daughters of narcissist that have never felt “pretty enough” and male children that are not “smart enough” or “good enough” and spend their adult lives attempting to live up to unrealistic expectations established by a narcissistic parent.  That sometimes causes children to feel woefully inadequate.

In the recent past, I had a long term relationship with a narcissist.  I watched helplessly as her grown children tried in vain to be like her or be better than her. That preoccupation stunted them emotionally and kept them from achieving in many many ways.  One glaring deficit was their inability to raise their own children.  They had unfortunately never been taught very basic things that allowed them to be whole so they had a rough time of rearing children.  And it was generational. My woman had been raised by a narcissist and often articulated her perceived failings when it came to her relationship with her mother, her children and after a point with me.  No amount of assurance from me could heal a wound that had festered long before I came into the picture.

I always try to sum up these pieces with something optimistic.  I don’t think I can do it this time.  I meet a lot of people these days that are stuck on themselves.  I think I’ve become aware of them because of the enormity of social media and my own personal experiences.  The whole society seems to be moving away for “us and “we” to “ME, ME, ME”!  It’s a little frustrating to watch because there’s little that I can do about it.  But I get to vent on the world wide web.  And I’m not above doing it at some of those self involved people’s expense.  I’m a tad vindictive!

February Is Out Cold!

February 23, 2015

February, the shortest coldest month of the year is the month the nation celebrates Black History Month.  Why February many have asked?  Some speculate that the month of February was chosen as a slight to black Americans in order to limit the number of days we might celebrate the achievements of African Americans.  And we know from the geology of Afrika that except for the highest elevations the climate is free of snow and ice.  Some believe that the winter season is an additional slight to a group of people characterized as coming from a tropical environment.  Apparently, the assumptions are not based on the facts.

Back in the early 20th century, black historian Carter G. Woodson decided that the second week of February would be designated Negro History Week; a week that coincided with the births of Abraham Lincoln (02/12) and Frederick Douglas (02/14) both of whom were celebrated for the “uplifting” of black Americans.  Woodson’s historic idea was embraced by educators of all creeds who understood the necessity of teaching the historical contributions of American blacks.  By 1929, forty-six states participated in the celebration of Negro History Week.  Nationally the celebration led to the creation of black history clubs and piqued the interest of progressive whites. So despite what you’ve been led to believe, Black History month is deeply rooted in the modern history of our country.  Black History Month was the idea of a black man who had the best of intentions when he chose February and he had the support of the society at the time.

In 1976, the volatile racial climate here in the United States contributed to president Gerald Ford’s designation of February as Black History Month.  Today, despite the derision that some feel in the current sociopolitical climate, black history month is widely celebrated, particularly in the cyber world and all forms of media.

Here in the 21st century an intense debate has developed over the need for a Black History Month.  Some blacks resent the designation because black history is American history.  There are folks like me that understand that one can never have enough information about the black/Afrikan diaspora because of the amount of misinformation and revision that has occurred over centuries about the black experience.

Most American history books and every movie about Afrika shows white or mixed race individuals as the intellectual force behind every innovation be it from science, engineering or architecture or the formation of social structures.  Anyone with a good education knows the assertion – that Caucasians came into Afrika and created art, culture and civilization – is pure nonsense but hype unfortunately reigns over indisputable facts in the modern world.

I was fortunate in my early formal education.  I chose anthropology as a minor and my field of foreign study was Afrika, while at the university. Before my time at the university, I was a militant young man, from a tough urban setting, happy with the color of my skin and proud of my heritage. And I grew up at a time when many of us had a hunger for knowledge of the pre slavery history of the Motherland.

I discovered, during my educational pursuits that man as we have come to know him, evolved and prospered on the Afrikan continent.  At the university I discovered that the text books provided to me during my primary education deliberately misled me into believing that early Egyptians looked like Europeans.  Those deceptions have been perpetuated to this day in all aspects of modern media. Television shows like Jungle Jim and Tarzan depicted Afrika as a place controlled by whites with hidden tribes of white appearing people who thrived and created historical cultures throughout the continent.  Every movie version of Cleopatra depicted the great ruler of Egypt as a Caucasoid female.  The only depiction of Cleopatra that I was able to find, while researching this article – after looking at hundreds of images – that truly resembles what Cleopatra may have looked like came from Renaissance artist Michelangelo’s rendition of her.

The unavoidable implication is that ancient Europeans knew the truth about Afrika.  They had no real choice after exploration of the continent began.  Unfortunately, exploration begat exploitation as Europeans ‘conquerors’ moved into Afrika.  As time moved forward and slavery of black Afrikans proliferated, the view of Afrika and Afrikans became skewed by those that sought to justify the rape of the Motherland.  Afrikans, whom the ancient Europeans regaled as having god like status and who were known as global conquerors throughout the ancient world, were reduced to savages by their exploiters, over the course of three centuries.

Post Reconstruction Americans like Carter G. Woodson understood the value in uplifting the image of people of Afrikan ancestry.  Negro History Week, social organizations and educational initiatives were burgeoning for black folk, at the beginning of the 20th century.  The 60’s and 70’s in America were times of political upheaval, as Americans fought and sacrificed lives to for economic and social equality.

Today in the early 21st century, many have forgotten or simply choose to ignore the tumultuous history that has brought western societies to this point in time.  We need only to look at struggles in other parts of the world to reflect on the struggles that shaped American society.  Unfortunately, it’s easier for some to accept hype and convoluted logic over history; a history that is quite accessible in this information age.

I look forward to Black History Month.  For me it’s a time to learn and a time to educate.  And one can never have enough education.

The Status Quo

July 5, 2014

Donald Sterling was recently recorded telling his Afro Latin girlfriend to keep her associations with other blacks to herself behind closed doors.  Sterling, now former owner of the Clippers Pro Basketball Team has earned billions of dollars from the blood sweat and tears of black athletes, many of whom thought Sterling to be a friend and mentor, only to discover recently that he secretly loathes them.

Talk show host D.L. Hughley posed the supposition that most white men of a certain age hold racist views and most of the call ins to his syndicated radio show agreed with him.  I hope that most of you have had an opportunity to hear the exchange between Sterling and his former girlfriend.  Sterling cajoled her to keep her relationships with blacks out of the public eye, mainly because he didn’t want to deal with the acrimony his friends heaped upon him after seeing a photo of her and Magic Johnson on Instagram.

Hughley also criticized Cliven Bundy, a cattleman angry at the US Government. He suggested that black people were better off as slaves because picking cotton was a skilled trade and now that we have lost our former skills we flounder in the wilderness of poverty, apathy and ignorance.

I know both of these men. My drinking buddy for over 10 years was someone I describe to others as “the whitest man I’ve ever known”. We managed to be friends despite the constant rhetoric that spewed form his mouth.  For a decade, I tolerated his bigoted jokes, even repeated some of them; attended parties he hosted at his home for his ‘One Percenter’ buddies and came to understood the roots of his arch conservative political views.  It didn’t take me long to realize that ‘racist posturing’ was for the outside world and for his cronies. He was consciously upholding a point of view that had been passed down from his father, after the old man had accumulated some wealth and stature, here in America.

I loved ‘the whitest man I knew’ because of our relationship.  We took care of each other as often as men can do that sort of thing. When we went to one of his watering holes where we were sure to encounter his old cronies he would introduce me as his “body guard”.  I would go along with his charade because in reality I would physically defend him against any threat we might encounter in the mean streets of Detroit.  I would also defended him, on occasion, when our black female co-workers verbally attacked him because of the caustic remarks he would make in their presence just to make them angry.

I am not without sin, therefore I no longer criticize others for their perceived bigotry. I know that I often say things about others that I really don’t believe intellectually.  I know that it feels good when I ‘vent’ by calling someone a name privately that I would never dare utter publicly.

“Men change masters willingly, hoping to better themselves; and this belief makes them take arms against their rulers…..” Machiavelli

I grew up in a time of heightened awareness for black men and women.  I marched with King because my parents demanded it but when I grew into manhood, I sided with Saint Malcolm because I’ve never been able to embrace pacifism.  I eagerly bought into the Pan Afrikan dogma of the 60’s and 70’s that I am descended from hunters and warriors not tillers of the soil.  I went to the Black Panthers lair, the Black Topographical Center on Linwood and the Shrine of the Black Madonna in search of information about liberating black people.

As time moved forward, I found far too many people with personal agendas and few with sound economic and political strategies to advance our people.  Brothas in dashikis were selling heroin in our community while exhorting Pan Afrikanism, the Panthers had white women waiting on them hand and foot in their lair and the leaders of the movement were selling their souls for government jobs.

My time at the university enlightened my world view. I developed a better understanding of the mechanics of oppression.  I became less militant and more focused on proactive ways to effect change through working within systems. I graduated and got a job that allowed me to be part of the solution to some of societies’ problems.

At the beginning of my professional career.  I became active in the largest independent union in the country.  I learned the mechanics of power and watched as many in power became corrupted.  I saw in action Lord Acton’s assertion that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

I don’t care if Donald Sterling and Clive Bundy mean what they say about blacks. They are relics representative of belief systems that will die along with them. In any event, their day to day actions do not reflect their words, which is the height of hypocrisy and therefore not worthy of serious consideration.  Only a fool gives power to meaningless words!

When I attended my friend’s funereal, I kept looking at the entrance of the church just waiting for his mulatto child to break through the door, like that scene in the movie Imitation Of Life! That drama never occurred that day to the chagrin of several of us that knew him well because I knew deep down inside that he loved many black people, some in a biblical sense. His actions not his word told me who he was not the comic rhetoric that spewed from his mouth daily.   Most men say one thing then do something quite different behind closed doors.

At the end of the day, I hope to be judged by my actions and hope that my actions are not misinterpreted.

The Rose Garden

November 10, 2013

Detroit

I live in Detroit, Michigan.  I love my city.  I know many many good hard working people here and in the metro area that love this city and this region.  The straits of Detroit provide a pathway for commerce all over the northern hemisphere and open up to the greatest fresh water lakes in America.  A writer friend once wrote that Detroit was the original site of the Garden of Eden.  The older I get the more I believe that she may be on to something.   Detroit is great place to to live.

Detroit founded the French in 1701 is undergoing lots of changes in the twenty-first century.  In many ways the city is experiencing a rebirth.  My hope is that it is the beginning of the Detroit Renaissance.

We elected a new mayor this month.  The media has sensationalized the fact that Detroit’s new mayor is white even though he was the overwhelming choice of the 20%  of the population that decided to vote.

I know enough about politicians to know that the color of their skin is not a predictor of their future performance nor is it a determiner of their intelligence or acumen.  We can only wait and watch.  And some of us will continue to pray for the uplifting of our great city as this new mayor works to create harmony among businesses, civil servants, it;s citizens and suburban interest.

As a native Detroiter, I do know that how Detroit is viewed locally is about to change.  Former metro Detroit enemies will now be our allies.  The Michigan Legislature, which has tried to micro manage the affairs of Detroit for the past few decades, will relax that tight grip they’ve had legislatively and economically and let our city be more self determined.  And the rest of the state will no long be able to unfairly characterize our predominately black citizenry as racist because of the 55% that voted for a white man.  The media will now promote us as a city reborn because they won’t pick on the city as vehemently as they have during the last five administrations!

In the mean time, crime is high, most city streets are dark at night and there is so much blight that it’s hard to be optimistic about the election of one little man with big ideas.  But we remain.

NEVER SAY: “NEVER”!

August 9, 2013

meijers detroit, michigan I had what was for me a historic mini moment when I walked through the doors of the Meijer Store on 8 mile Road for the first time.

I first shopped at a Meijers Thrifty Acres back in my college days at the store in Okemos, Michigan.  It was love at first shop.  I could buy everything I needed at Meijers; food, clothing, liquor and gas.  “One-stop shopping” was truly one of the most innovative marketing  creations in Michigan history.  When I came back home to Detroit, A&P, Kroger and Farmer Jack existed within the Detroit City limits but nothing compared to Meijer.

meijer detroit, michigan

If I needed gym shoes I had to go to the mall.  If I needed a beer, I had to go to the party store.  If I wanted a bagel I had to drive to Southfield, Michigan!  There were no retail stores that compared to Meijers Thrifty Acres!  Super KMarts were still on the drawing board! And nobody else had those piping hot rotisserie chickens that you could buy and then run home and gobble up the whole thing before it cooled off!

Fortunately for me, I only stayed in Detroit for about 2 years after graduating from college.  I ended up in western Michigan where Meijers Thrifty Acres were popping up all over the landscape!  Going to the Meijers in Springfield, Michigan, where I lived for a year, became my social event for the week.  I could wander up and down the isles with my big city bravura, pick up some local talent, a dozen eggs and a gallon of milk!  One Stop Shopping became my mantra.

I found out, while living in the Dutch Reformed Western Michigan that Frederik Meijer had made a secret pledge to never build one of his majestic stores in any urban area aka ‘the hood’.   Ole man Meijer didn’t feel that that urban inhabitants were worthy of his pristine establishments. “One Stop Shopping” would most likely lead to full time shoplifting!

To his company’s credit, people from the hood could work at Meijers and the company has always been an industry leader in the hiring of developmentally challenged personnel.

When Frederik died in 2011, I started hearing  rumors of plans to build a Meijers in Detroit.  I didn’t believe it at first but the rumor persisted.  Apparently his sons value commerce over religious bigotry.  Thank you Doug & Hank!  We vitally need good stores in the hood!

CLOSET PATRIOTS

May 13, 2013

The emergence of Charles Ramsey as the reluctant hero who rescued a woman that had been held captive for the past ten years brought to mind for me at least acts of heroism that countless other black men have committed in times of need.

Charles Ramsey

When I was a junior in college, I found myself in the middle of  a mob scene at a concert that had general seating.  The crowd was literally swaying back and forth, as people pushed their way to the door. People were getting injured, as the mass of bodies smashed together.  A young white woman standing near me became hysterical and began screaming and pulling out her hair!  I grabbed hold of her with my left arm and went into HULK MODE, smashing into people with my right forearm until I cleared a pathway to the door!  When I burst through the doorway, I handed her off to the surprised arena  staff who took her to the triage.  I only hope that she tells her grandbabies the story about the time the big black man rescued her from near death, at the Jethro Tull Concert, back in 1974!

More recently, shortly before the start of a movie, an elderly man was having a heart attack in the theater I was seated in.  I assessed the situation and bolted to the lobby to get the man some help.  When I returned to my seat my wife expressed great surprise at my actions.   We were relatively new in our relationship, so her surprise in part was me revealing the ‘boy scout’ in me.  She knew me as lover and confidant and had become very aware of my street demeanor – the no nonsense proactive threat adverse personae – that I switched on the moment we left the house but she had no clue, before that moment, of my proclivity for coming to the aid of others.  What she witnessed that day changed her perception of me (right up until the day I divorced her)!

I embraced the idea of helping others, at an early age, by routinely witnessing acts of benevolence committed by my mother and father.

My father never articulated his motivation for helping others but I surmised that his dedication to his mother and sisters, his bond with our nuclear family, being the referee in disputes between our neighbors and his love of this country were all part of an earnest compassion for other human beings.  My mother once told me that my father’s feeding of the birds, that gathered in our backyard, in the winter, was a spiritually motivated act of love and compassion.

My mother’s motivation for helping others, was based on her love of Jesus Christ.  She frequently reminded my brothers and I of what Jesus had done, during His time on this plane; how His spiritual presence affected us each day and of what He expected from God fearing Christians.  My Mother devoted her life to service, to our family, our community and the church.  She was literally caring for others right up until the moment that she took her last breath.

Most of my positive influences derived from my family but I was also influenced by the media of the times.  I compared the lives of my older brother and I to The Nelson (The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet) and Clever boys (Leave It To Beaver) because the creature comforts that our parents made for us mimicked their TV lives.  They were idealized role models but role models nonetheless.  

My parents nurtured me so well as child that I had the audacity to become a benevolent adult. 

I have come to understand, over the years that most people don’t expect black men to be benevolent or altruistic.  The media has played a major role in the characterization of black men in American.  According to how we are portrayed, we can be at best superior athletes but at worse chronic felons, unrelenting predators, bullies of women, children and weaker men and are thought to almost always be self centered and nihilistic. Fortunately, we black men are the only ones that understand that we love other people, love our families, many of us love our country; and many of us consider ourselves to be patriots.

crispus attucks

I learned in elementary school that one of the first Americans to die in our quest for freedom from tyranny was a black man named Crispus Attucks.  Most men over forty had their schools, books and magazines, television and movies and information passed down from older members of the community, as the greatest sources of information about those that we embraced as role models.   I am happy that I went through my formidable years before the media frenzy that exist these days began; that demands that the most sensational news be available for a current news cycle.  New media has created attention deficit disorder for consumers.

Dorie Miller

At the start of World War II, Dorie Miller a mess cook on the USS West Virginian became a hero, during the attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941 (my father was also stationed at Pearl, during his time in the Navy).

Knowing the role that that Black Folk have played in the history of this country and the economic impact that our free labor had during this nations formative years, helped me understand that we as Americans are inexorably tied to the fabric of this country and its greatness.  No other group of Americans can make that claim.

I struggled, in my younger years, to reconcile the treatment of black people and the near extinction of our closest relatives the Native Americans with my love of this country.  I have never been fully able to do so because the assaults upon us have been unrelenting, yet I know intellectually that I live in the greatest country on earth.

African Americans as a group have been treated unfairly in every aspect of American life.  And that treatment has had a devastating impact on us as a people.  From a psychological perspective, living in the land of opportunity, while being subjected to institutional racism, has caused too many of us to fall for what my father described as the “okey doke“.  We, as a group, indulge in the most self destructive behavior we can muster.

Today, in the 21st century black folk kill each other over petty differences and during the callous execution of criminal acts.  I read a statement on Facebook that declared that African Americans commit more acts of murder against one another, in a given calendar year, than the Ku Klux Klan or other hate groups have committed against us in the entire history of this country!

I live in Detroit, where young black men shoot victims seemingly on a whim and murder each other routinely.  I know that they do so because of a contempt for life that emanates from self hate.  As children, most of them didn’t have the social support system that young black children had in the forties and fifties.

In the sixties, the Civil Rights Movement begat the Black Power Movement.  The backlash from the Black Power Movement fomented the irrational fear of the black man.  That irrational fear has caused – for reasons too numerous to mention here – the wholesale disenfranchisement of blacks.

Today there is more poverty, illiteracy, drug use and crime in the black community than at any other time in the history of America! Not one single person in our community believes that the root causes of these problems came about because we want to live this way!

Despite my love of my country and my patriotism, America does not love me back.  It’s a dichotomy that I’ve lived with all of my adult life and I’m not optimistic that it will lessen over time.

By 2010,  I knew that if the brotha that was chosen as COMMANDER IN CHIEF OF THE UNITED STATES AND LEADER OF THE FREE WORLD did not receive the respect, by his fellow Americans, that has been historically bestowed upon white men in his position, that it was not likely to happen for the average black man!  Fortunately for us, Barack Obama shrugs it off and does his job.  Me, Charles Ramsey and many other black men, of a certain age, developed that same attitude, as a matter of survival.  We have managed to stayed focused and keep our eyes to the sky!  Pressure makes diamonds.

REFLECTIONS ON FREEDOM

February 28, 2013

Each February, during Black History Month, I am introduced to many historical facts about the Afrikan diaspora and am consequently more politically reflective than usual.  It occurred to me this year that the great Malcolm X died in February (1965) and two of  my heroes; my father Robert O’Bryant (February 2nd), and the consummate orator Frederick Douglass (Valentines Day), were born in the month of February.

This February has been particularly snowy and frigid.  I haven’t had a lot of incentive to leave the house, so I’ve been more involved with reading, writing and social media.  I have limited my TV watching to the news and prime time network shows.  I don’t have cable, so I rely on an  HD antennae to bring erratic signals to my flat screen.  When I turned on the news at 11 am this morning, the transmission on Fox2 was too distorted to watch.  I began channel surfing and discovered the story “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” about artist and political activist Ai Weiwei on the local PBS station.  As I watched in horror as Ai was beaten, hospitalized and later arrested, I was moved by this passionate man and his courage of convictions; a man who like Malcolm and Frederick Douglas was willing to die for what he believed.  His courage, as he publicly confronted the brutal policeman that tried to bash his head in a dark hotel room, was reminiscent of footage I have viewed of men and women in the early civil rights movement here in America.

As I was watched his story, I realized that I take my autonomy as an American for granted.  I exercise ‘freedom of expression’ effortlessly and without reproach.  Ai Weiwei and millions worldwide have been beaten, maimed, imprisoned and murdered simply for expressing their points of view!  That revelation inspired me to write this post.

At this point in my life, I am proud to express my love of my country because of what I have come to know understand about oppression in other parts of the globe.  I know full well, as a large black man, from one of the most racially divided regions in the country, that America has social issues that are as prevalent in the twenty-first century as they were 100 years ago.  I am not politically naive, as I witness the acrimony that Barack Obama must endure, as the first acknowledged black president.  I harbor no illusions about life in America, but as I compare my life to Ai Weiwei and Nelson Mandala, who were imprisoned because of their beliefs, or Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head for detailing her life of oppression to “outsiders”,  I understand that I live in the greatest country in the world!

THE GOOD OLE DAYS ARE BACK!

November 29, 2012

I had a mild case of melancholy recently as I reflected on my childhood, so I took my mentee downtown to Campus Martius to see the Christmas tree and find out if he was game enough to attempt to ice skate.  The tree was okay, as far as trees go but if I had my way folks would discontinue the practice of chopping down live trees and go synthetic.

In refection, I am reminded of the trees that old Miss Doig’s father would cut down and deliver to Courville Elementary each year.   Miss Doig, one of the gym teachers at Courville, was well into her sixties, which made her father ancient, yet each year, he faithfully delivered a tree from his farm to our school.  The Spruce trees from the Doig farm would almost touch the ceiling of the Courville auditorium which would have made them on average 28-30 feet tall.  I know that the tree downtown is fifty-five feet tall but in my child’s mind the tree at Courville was grander because old Miss Doig and her ancient daddy gifted one to the students each year.  I know that form of community still exist but one rarely hears about that sort of thing in urban areas.

This past weekend, we began our outing by having lunch at my favorite downtown eatery: Lafayette Coney Island.  When we got to Lafayette there was literally a line of customers out the door.  Fortunately for the two of us, most of the patrons needed a table for four to six.  There was a table for two near the door where we sat and scarfed down some specials, coneys and chilli cheese fries.

Back in the day, my father would take us to his favorite hamburger joint on one of the side streets where Comerica Park now stands.  We – me, mother, father and my two brothers – would have burgers then go look at the television cameras that had been set up the night before for the Thanksgiving Day Parade.  The J.L Hudson’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was the kickoff  event of the Christmas Holiday Season.  And before ozone depletion, there was always snow in November, so all of downtown Detroit was decorated and to children looked like our vision of the North Pole.

After lunch we got bored pretty quickly, as we watched skaters fall and crash into the barrier of the skating rink.  The rain transitioned to snow, as we snacked on munchies we had purchased on what was once Kern Block.  As we sat rinkside, we got a little chilly, so we walked down to Hart Plaza.

Walking around Hart Plaza without merchant stands, cops, security guards, music blaring out of tinny speakers and thousand of people milling about was a treat for me.   We walked beneath the Horace Dodge Fountain, inspected the statues on the river front and the impressive ‘Stargate’ monument, gifted to the city for our tricentennial.  I’m not sure the kid was as impressed as I was about the artistry of at Hart Plaza.  It is truly a testament to the greatness of downtown Detroit.  The battery on my Chocolate Cherry phone was low, otherwise I would have taken more pictures.

Downtown Detroit is a jewel that is grossly unappreciated because of the incessant dogging by out state interest and national media.  What the media fails to report is: the amount of tourism that occurs in the downtown area. Don’t take my word for it just try to get a table at Lafayette Coney Island or a parking space at Eastern Market on any Saturday afternoon.