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!



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.


September 11, 2012

In the fall of 2008, someone asked me what I would do if Barack Obama was not elected President of the United States of America.  I responded that I would “get a rifle and barricade myself in my house” and I meant it!  The   American economy was on the verge of collapse.  Many of us believed that if Barack Obama did not step in and stop the hemorrhaging of the American economy that we were doomed as a country.

Barack Obama stepped in and stabilized the economy.  Four years later, convenient amnesia has caused most Americans to forget how Bush and his cronies ravaged the economy.   Americans have forgotten how cheap gas and milk were in 2008.

Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind — George W. Bush was not invited to the Republican Convention in August but no one seemed to notice. His absence was barely mentioned in the media but everyone knows why he was conspicuously absent; he disgraced the Republican Party, let down those that foolishly voted for him and inexorably damaged the good citizens of the United States of America.

The focus this election year is on the Obama Administration and the revisionist are zealously blaming Democrats for every problem that has occurred since the Great Depression and people are buying it!  I’ve been in this skin long enough to understand that when problems arise scapegoating increases.  With more Americans on welfare than at any point in modern history, it’s pretty easy to blame Obama.

Americans will not blame their extensive use of credit, bad money management and One Percenter envy as the root causes for their economic woes.  It’s much easier to point fingers.

Leveling The Playing Field — Barack Obama has proven that brothas are capable of being good Chief Executive Officers.  We as Black Men have understood our capabilities for all time but in America we had been denied opportunities because of fear of what others have known about us for a millennium.  Barack Obama was given an opportunity to become CEO only because the whitest men in America managed the country so badly that the nation was on the verge of chaos.  Now that the hysteria has died down, Bin Laden is dead and Iraq is no longer a daily news item, Americans can revert to bigotry and nihilistic behavior that we as a nation covet.

I used to accuse my ex-wife of burying her head in the sand and ignoring issues that she was presented with daily.  I have come to discover that most Americans deal with life in that manner.  When presented with problems or certain truths, most people fall into a trance like state of denial followed by blame.   We immediately engage in evasive circle talk or we get angry at the source of  problem.  The first acknowledged Black President of the United States of America has become an easy target for people struggling in the worst economy since the Great Depression.  Like the Republican National Committee, most people have dismissed George W. Bush as simply a bad mistake, a fluke in judgement of the Ninety Nine Percenters that actually believe we elect the U.S. President.  That political naiveté will motivate some to forgive the One Percenters of their greed and avarice.  Many will trust another very rich man from a Royal American Family to dutifully help the needy proletariats.  They foolishly have that hope over and over and fail to come out of the trance that might cause them to realize that capitalist take no prisoners.

On this particular day, my patriotism, my hope for America is that Barack Obama will be given another opportunity to guide American out of the economic dirge that greed thrust upon us.   May GOD help and preserve America.


July 24, 2012

Back in the day, I recall sitting in my bosses car listening to Martha Jean “The Queen” Steinberg on the radio before I went back into my work place.  The Queen who graced Detroiters with the “word” each weekday at noon stated that there was a “plague on black men” and that the only way to fight that curse was through obtaining salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ!  I did not normally listen to The Queen because I was typically working at the time of her broadcast.  That day I had run an errand for my boss which caused me to be in his car.  I always have the radio on while I’m driving.  I was channel surfing to find some music, as I was riding.  For reasons that I did not question at the time, I left The Queen on and listened to her full commentary.

At twenty-five years of age it was hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea of a curse of biblical proportions that only affected black men.  As time has moved forward and black on black crime has reached epidemic proportions and as many men are in prison as those leading productive lives, I have come to realize that Martha Jean Steinberg was a prophetess imbued with the divine ability to see the chaos that was encircling black men.

I did know, at age twenty-five, that black men had moved from pyramid builders and conquerors, to the most reviled men on the planet.  Over the years, I chose not to contemplate “why” we transitioned from what some might consider a state of grace to the worldwide derision that has been heaped upon us.  That is/was too big of a question for any man to try to answer and remains a topic that will not be resolved on this blog.

My chore, my duty, from my perspective, has always been to help improve the collective karma of black men by my good deeds.  I know that there are other men like me – GOD fearing, raised in healthy home environments and are dedicated to a life of service – who are making conscious efforts to improve our communities and by virtue of our good deeds are improving our collective lot in life.

Even back in the day, when I heard those prophetic words, I was alarmed but not afraid.  I was raised by a GOD fearing woman who knew the value of prayer.  My mother instilled beliefs in me, at an early age, that have sustained me throughout my journey.  My father taught me courage and I have since learned not to fear what I do not understand.  My father’s father came from a culture that helped me to understand, in a rudimentary way, the necessity of working for ‘good’ karma.  My father understood.  He used to warn me that “what goes around, comes around” which motivated me to be mindful of my treatment of others and to respect the planet, as I moved forward.

As I was writing this, a man walked into a movie theatre and shot seventy people.  The man who committed this atrocity has been described in the media as a “typical American boy”.  The idea that he is typical of the male that is being raised in small town America is a frightening prospect but is in fact a reality.  The atrocities committed in Oklahoma City and Columbine in America’s “heartland” were done by typical American boys.

America the Heartland is raising mindless sociopaths throughout our nations who are incapable of emotions that help them intuit that killing large numbers of people, raping children, beating and or killing their wives, girlfriends, boyfriends or children is wrong.  From the day they open their eyes the media assaults them with mindless violence with no remorse displayed by the perpetrators.  The television becomes a babysitter that inundates them with violence, mayhem and sexual ambiguity.

Back in the nineties, whenever I went to the home of a friend or relative’s home, the entire family would be sitting in front of a television beating each other virtually senseless on-screen.  Not only did the victor kill the on-screen nemesis, he or she was also rewarded with the defeated person’s soul!  As a student of psychology I was alarmed by what I was watching and loathed the implications.

In this new century, we are seeing the impact of all of the negative programming that those innocent minds were subjected to.  When twentysomething men get angry or believe that they have been slighted they go and buy real weapons and go into public venues and kill at random just like they learned playing video games.  But the death and mayhem is real.  But is it real to them?

I know that I’m guilty of pop psychoanalysis on many many issues and do so without doing a thousand page dissertation or the benefit of having seven or eight letters behind my name.  I do so in the name of old skool empiricism; the study from which all other objective sciences evolved.  I made a decision, at an early age, that objective truth was something desirable to obtain.  Study at the University helped me understand that truth is relative.  Professors caused me to discover that my opinion is as valuable as anyone elses provided I’ve taken time to perform research of my topics and that any supposition that I make can be independently verified.

After stating my objective goals, subjectively, I’ve been black all of my life;  I’ve been over six feet tall, since I was twelve.  I was co-parented by a large black man who suffered far worse than I for being a large black man.  I was raised by a black woman from the south who had experienced things that she never wanted my brothers and I to be subjected to.  Between the two of them I learned to live on my feet and not on my knees.  I was taught that NO ONE WAS BETTER THAN I and I was beaten into humility to prevent me from ever believing that I am better than anyone.  I was taught to humble myself before GOD not man but at the same time to respect all that HE has made.  I had my parents and people like Martha Jean to serve as constant reminders of how I should comport myself as a manchild.

I sit here at my laptop trying to figure out why so many younger men and women were not taught those values.  I wonder out loud why so many disrespect life especially human life.  I don’t have the answer but I do know that if they had MORE GOD and MORE PARENTING they might be less likely to commit atrocities against other people and our planet.

I was raised to be a ‘typical American boy’ but I have been treated as if I were a thug, since I was about fourteen because of my height and color.  All I’ve done, since I was twelve is work, pay taxes and vote.  I am an American patriot that would give my life to protect my country and my President.  What a dichotomy!  I know from experience that appearances are rarely what they seem.

The plague that Martha Jean ‘The Queen’ Steinberg foretold affects all men in America.  With prayer and dedication to GOD by every conscious man and woman, we may be able to circumvent the evil that has been cast upon us but it will require that we first understand the problem then work at eradicating it.  That will require that we change the American dialogue that supports atrocious behavior of the so-called majority.  We must redefine what “typical” means from a behavioral perspective and focus on real conduct and understand the pathos that we have come to accept as normative when it is in fact perverse.  And may GOD help us.

Americans In Wonderland

June 6, 2012

American voters have very short memories and tend to have an elitist attitude when it comes to most issues. Many believe that voting conservatively somehow aligns them to the rich and powerful. That just aint so! The vote in Wisconsin will impact negavitely on every Union movement in America. As unionized labor is dismantled, the whole country will suffer. One hundred years ago, Americans including children were paid slave wages. Fifty years before that, American Capitalist owned slaves! In the 21st Century we are moving backward instead of forward.

Pension funds are being elimated for people that work now. Pensioners are being taxed. 401 funds are being mismanaged by those responsible for their management and many sit calmly by because they don’t feel that it IMPACTS ON THEM! And wages are getting lower and lower. Most unemployed people over 50 will never get another job that pays a competitive wage.

One of my favorite musicians – Eugene McDaniels – once wrote: “Nobody knows who the enemy is cause he never goes in hiding. He’s slitting our throats right in front of our eves, while we pull the casket he’s riding!”

The rich and powerful only care about the rich and powerful! By the time the middle class wakes up, it will have been too late to do something about it!


May 30, 2012

When I was a young man, black folk were finding out a lot about Afrika and Afrikan customs.  I discovered, through my studies, that young Afrikan boys, at a certain age, were segregated from the women and girls and were forced to engage in ‘rites of passage’ that would graduate them from boys to men!

Notions of hunting a lion or leopard assaulted my young brain in an idyllic way.  That knowledge of Afrikan rites of passage helped me assume the posture of an “urban warrior”.  I came to view the training provided by my father, with the help of my older brother, as guidance in my path to manhood.  Like traditional cultures, by 13, I was acknowledged by my father for my budding manhood.  I was encouraged to assert myself, as long as I was not disrespectful to my parents or other elders.    The penalties for being too full of myself were undefined but I knew they might be severe and could have included my untimely death at the hands of enraged parents!  My father’s mentoring propelled me forward and caused me to abandoned any fears that might inhibit my desire to  interact with other men.  The world revealed itself to me as something to embrace and not to disparage.

In the sixties and early seventies, pride and ethnicity and pride in one’s ethnicity were burgeoning themes among Blacks, Latinos and other non whites in this country.  That ethnic awareness brought with it very macho notions of manhood and the delineation of family structure.

The ‘powers that be’ were threatened by the positive ethnic assertions that also promulgated civil unrest and demands for greater access to American dreams..

Here in Detroit, after the “Great Insurrection of 1967” dope houses selling heroine sprang up in virtually every neighborhood in the City.  Crime rose exponentially with the increase of heroine use in the hood.  Men and women, who were once proud of their roles in their given communities became slaves to brown powder.  They pandered themselves as they abdicated their roles in the family dynamic and the community at large.

By 1970, the “Free Love, Do Your Own Thang Movement” was in full swing.   The movement brought with it marijuana, mood altering drugs, rampant promiscuity, communal living and the unintended dismantling of the nuclear family.

It is not my intent to do a sociological treatise on the perversion of American Society or the erosion of the nuclear family, but I would be remiss if I did not identify what I believe are factors that have contributed to some of the current social trends in our culture.  The subject of this blog is the net effect of all of the changes we have endured, since the early sixties.

I learned at the University that as deviant behaviors (actions and activities outside of what is considered mainstream) become more widely practiced, those behaviors are incorporated into what then becomes considered mainstream behavior.

In 1950, nuclear families consisted of a man, his wife and their progeny.  Sixty years later, most households with children are female dominated, white females have the most pregnancies out-of-wedlock, over 50% of all legal marriages end in divorce and more so-called minority children are born in this country than white children.  Same sex marriage and marriage between people of different races are no longer illegal.  Medical marijuana is sold in many states despite federal regulations that prohibit its use and sale and prescription drug abuse is the prevalent form of addiction in the United States.

Times have changed.  Life is far more complex than it was when I was a young boy.  I found out about sex from reading my father’s Playboys.  One time I got hold of a Tijuana Bible.  I watched an 8mm black and white pornographic movie one time.  There were however easily accessible references that provided instruction about sex that I could obtain by typing in a few words on a keyboard.  I did not have access to pornography on a disc in a player or the ability to watch people having sex on cable television.

Puberty was confusing but I was able to figure out how to proceed with on the job training!  I was not confused by irresponsible media, as to what I should or should not do.  That is NOT the case in the twenty-first century.

I found this image on the internet on a social media site.  It disturbed me on many many levels.  I encountered a kid like this on Woodward Avenue, in midtown Detroit,  a few years ago, as I was waiting for the bus to go downtown.  I was struck by his overtly feminine attitude because it seemed to be a parody of what women actually do!

Back in the day, there were effeminate men but most of them attempted to keep a relatively low public profile.  It seems today that there is no taboo associated with displaying an effeminate affect, in fact, there are younger men that seem to take great pride in being overly demonstrative about their sexual preferences, in public venues.  It has become trendy to shock old skool fools like me and behave outlandishly in public.

I was seated next to three young black men at the bar at Fishbones in Greek Town last summer.  The fembot sitting closest to me was almost screaming, in an effort be heard above the other conversations and the televisions, at the bar.  He seemed determine to describe his most recent sexual exploit to everyone at the bar!

The movement toward a more feminized posture has moved well beyond sexual ambiguity. Once relegated to musical stages in the seventies and metro sexuality in the eighties and nineties, outlandish gender bending seems to be en vogue.  New Age media has positioned effeminate men, macho women, transgendered individuals, geeks and nerdy personas as preferred personality types.  Heterosexuals are viewed with a degree of contempt on television and in the movies often the brunt of jokes or constantly engaged in buffoonery.  Times have changed.

To Be Or Not To Be.  I may be wrong but there are people – mainly men that are “threatened” by men who feminize their appearance –  who react violently when they encounter these fembots in public.  I don’t condone homophobia or assault.  Personally, I think men that assault feminine men have sexual issues and are secretly attracted to the men they assault.  I wonder out loud: what is the payoff for men to parade around in skinny jeans and makeup at the risk of an ass kicking by other men or social ridicule by people in their neighborhoods or by their families?  Call me crazy but I see a lot of this conduct as a cry for help.

I don’t have a lot of one on one contact with men between the ages of 20 to 35.  Most of the information I obtain about them is anecdotal; coming from women within those ages, from their parents and the media.  Or as I noted, I encounter them on the street or in social situations.  I discount a lot of the ‘character studies’ that come from the media because the media’s proclivity for dramatic delivery.  The feedback from women and family members is subjective but very consistent in terms of what they are reporting about men in that age group.  I know men of  my age group whom I consider my peers and can compare how we behave as a group as opposed to our sons and grandsons.

What I see in the community at large makes me afraid.  I encounter hyper macho young men that feel like the best way to express their manhood is to denigrate womanhood and adopt a predatory approach to other men and the community.  I see a lot of young men developing a stereotypical view of life of the streets that is mainly derived from the media via hip hop and from loose confederations of other young men.  I’m certain that their behavior is a direct result of their severely dysfunctional home lives and limited access to positive male role models.

How do I know this?  I tutored young men for several years in the Partnership in Education through the Michigan Department of Education and more recently managed a case load with adolescents applying for disability benefits with the Disability Program for the Social Security Administration.  I have had a lot of contact with at risk youth from the ages of about 8 to 18.  The population of “at risk youth”  is growing exponentially in American communities.  Even the ‘best and the brightest’ feel obligated to engage in some degree of thuggery to be accepted in their respective communities and many times take those exploits to far.

Time and experience have taught me that if you don’t reach boys by the time they reach puberty they are almost impossible to manage if they have a history of problematic behaviors.  And trust, the juvenile justice system is about containment not rehabilitation.  After the second or third incarceration, there is little hope that a man-child will become a responsible productive citizen.

One need only turn on the news to hear about young men murdering women who refuse to continue to go out with them or when their women get pregnant by them and the fools don’t want more children or they murder their wives during a dispute or after the women ask for a divorce or they murder their parents because of minor disagreements or drug use or gang affiliation.

In this day and age, blacks make up 50% of the population in this country that die a violent death.  Even sadder is the fact that 93% of the perpetrators of those murders are black.  We as a people have cried racism each time a white person kills a person of color but remain silent about the atrocities we as blacks commit against one another.

Too many young men are dying and many more are being incarcerated.  These issues do not bode well for the future of American society.  If we (as in every person over the age of consent) are to stabilize life in the community by reducing crime, incarceration rates and deaths by violence, men like me (grandfathers) and men with young children (fathers) have to make a conscious effort to effect change in our communities by being the best parents that we can be and by being leaders in the community; by reclaiming our status as warriors.  We all have ideas about what being a warrior is because we all watch public television.

The hard part of our charge is doing what we know we should be doing by changing how we comport ourselves.   Society has reached critical mass.  If we as men do not assert our roles in our given communities we will not have any impacts on outcomes.  And we will have no one else to blame.


February 3, 2012

I was recently involved in a protracted discussion on Facebook about mental health awareness.  The discussion centered on the fact that one person in three will be personally affected by mental health issues in their lifetime.

When I worked for the Michigan Department of Public Mental Health, about twenty-five years ago, it was estimated that one person in four was affected by some form of mental affliction.  It is an unfortunate sign of the times that as the number of people who may need some form of treatment, has increased significantly, as services for the mentally challenged have become virtually nonexistent.

Back in the day, when someone was having a personal crisis, typically the police were called.  If the problems could not be resolved, after the peace officers arrived and no one was physically injured, the person in crisis might be taken to Detroit Receiving Hospital, Eloise, Northville Regional Psychiatric Hospital, or Clinton Valley Center and receive treatment without cost to the consumers of services or their families.  In the mid seventies, through the late eighties, Michigan had one of the best mental health service delivery systems in the country.  It was also one of the most expensive.  Folks like me were paid handsomely to care for the mentally challenged.  Although the mental health code required that an individuals’ course of treatment be completed “in the shortest practicable time”, once the chronically mentally ill or developmentally challenged were placed in a facility, many would be interned for the remainder of their lives.

ELOISE PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL image provided courtesy of

State operated hospitals like Eloise became havens for the mental and developmentally challenged.  At one point, Eloise housed over 7,000 consumers.  Families would literally drop off consumers at the door of the facility.  At one point, Eloise housed over 7,000 consumers.  In the early seventies, there was a public outcry, regarding the safety and well-being of consumers in overcrowded institutions, all over the country.  In the mid seventies, an effort was made to begin housing consumers in the least restrictive environments.  Here in Michigan, homes were constructed  and apartment buildings were renovated to accommodate consumers.  The program that the Michigan Department of Public Mental Health created became world renown for its innovated approach to the care of consumers of mental health services.
I was part of the movement of consumers from institutional to residential care.  At the beginning of my career, I worked at the Coldwater Regional Center as a social worker/case manager.  I managed group homes, nursing homes and a dormitory on the campus of CRC, that housed residents that required medical monitoring.  The CRC facility was well run and the consumers were well cared for.  During my time there, I personally witnessed direct care workers, all of whom were classified civil servants for the state of Michigan, treat the consumers with care and compassion.  In some cases, the direct care staff treated the consumers better than their own children!
When I moved back to metropolitan Detroit, I worked at the Macomb Oakland Regional Center.  I was the chairperson of interdisciplinary teams, that included a physician, a psychiatrist, a registered nurse, a dietician, and occupational and speech therapist.  The interdisciplinary team monitored the care of each consumer that lived in community based housing.  I also provided case management services for group homes and facilities known as Alternative Intermediate Service facilities.  The AIS facilities were in newer homes or small apartment buildings that were supposed to be transitional housing for developmentally challenged consumers.
Having come from an institutional setting, I was confronted by a prevailing sentiment that facilities, like the one I had worked at in southwestern Michigan, were evil places where consumers were “fenced in like animals”.   I objected to that characterization, made by one of my co-workers, one night when a group of co-workers had gone to a lounge after work.  The director of case management services jumped to the defense of the attractive female co-worker who made the scurrilous indictment of institutions, and informed me that my attitude was detrimental to the goals of the MORC Program!
I learned rather quickly that I was dealing with a group of DMH employees that had a cult like devotion to the goals of de-institutionalization.  Fortunately for me, the skill set that I brought to Macomb/Oakland helped me develop a reputation of being a “fixer”.  Throughout my time at MORC, I was assigned homes that other case managers had failed to properly manage.  I would go in and fix problems.  Once the problems were resolved, I would be sent to another home in to clean up someone else’s mess.
The problem that I encounter more often than not was the fact that the cart was leading the horse.  Many of the providers of services, were former state employees or hard-core business people who were more concerned with the financial bottom line than the care of the consumers.  I became a guerilla social worker.  I would align myself with the home manager and the direct care staff, parents and guardians to ensure that the consumers received good care.  I went to great lengths to avoid open confrontations with providers because I readily discovered that my bosses would go to great lengths to preserve their relationships with providers, at the expense of case managers and ultimately the consumers.  I was just a big grunt that civil service had ‘encouraged’ the agency to hire – but that’s another blog!  My managers and co-workers would do nothing that might get them excluded from the lavish soirees that some of the providers would have from time to time.  My invitation always got ‘lost int the mail’ but my consumers were happy and well cared for.
In the late eighties, an associate of mine, that worked inside of state government, informed me that The Michigan Department of Public Mental Health , which was the second largest state agency, was being dismantled.  After 5 years of racially contrived abuse, sliding off of poorly managed Oakland county roads in the winter, and having to witness in silence atrocities that exceeded anything I had been exposed to while working in the ‘bad ole institution’, I had had enough.  I dusted off my resume’ and became a desk jockey in the Department of Education for the Disability Determination Service.
While working a MORC, I quickly grew tired of cronyism and the politics that go hand in hand with millions of dollars to service providers, in Metropolitan Detroit.  When I was employed at Coldwater Regional Center, I had to deal with politically charged situations that arose between Community Mental Health Agencies and the Department but it was childs play in comparison to the political machinations of religious organizations, ambitious state employees and the greedy.
The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions.  Act 258 of the Mental Health Code of 1974 was an ambitious document that detailed how consumers should be treated by providers of mental health services.  The Act essentially opened the door for the development of group homes and specialized facilities for consumers of mental health services.  Act 258 inadvertently led to the demise of those services, that were once touted as the best in the nation!
As the de-institutionalization machine moved forward, the idea was to eliminate the middlemen-classified civil servants and facilities that required a significant portion of the annual state budget-and give that money directly to community mental health agencies.  By the early nineties, the 800 pound gorilla formerly known as the Department of Public Mental health was no more.  The shift from a state funded service delivery system to a system funded by private insurers was supposed to provide better more efficient services to consumer.  The theory once implemented proved to be a disaster for consumers of mental health service.  Today, if you have no insurance or have no ability to obtain insurance, you are essentially, as we say in the hood, “ass out”.
These days, when the police are called, here in Detroit that mentally challenged person is taken to jail or if no one else has been injured, they are taken to Detroit Receiving Hospital, kept for evaluation, for a short period of time and released back into the community.  Jail or temporary internment in the psych ward at Detroit Receiving have come to replace treatment in a state operated mental health facility, for the uninsured.  Low income consumers that have Medicaid have access to treatment through Neighborhood Service Organizations and private agencies.  I have found however, that consumers have a tendency to change providers frequently and have little or no continuity of services because of the intricacies of Medicaid/Medicare.
The mental health service delivery system in the state of Michigan, as it was envisioned almost 40 years ago is nonexistent today.   Consumers, sit in hopeless despair in their homes, wander the streets or end up in jail, when the are unable to cope with their issues.  As a former agent for a provider of those services, I am angry about the events that led to the dismantling of those services.  The baby got thrown out with the bath water!


December 5, 2011

At the end of 1999, I found myself at a precipice.  At that point I knew intrinsically what I was lacking to become a “whole person”, yet I had not been able accomplished that feat.  I knew that I needed to change,  so I began making drastic changes in my life, in an effort to preserve it.  Part of that change involved moving in a more spiritual direction and learning to be less pragmatic in my approach to life.  I prayed for change and change in my life began.

One Sunday morning, as I was sitting at home watching Sunday Morning on CBS, it occurred to me that I had developed a great degree of expertise in many areas but was not working to improve my spiritual self.  I realized that I knew very little about the church personally or The Church as a cultural force in the community!  I had to ask myself: ‘How is it that I know so much about so many things but have never sought to know the thing that many others, including my family members,  view as the foundation of the community?‘  I knew that I had to rectify that dilemma, so I started going to church more often.

I come from a family with three generations of clergy.  My maternal grandfather was a Baptist minister and my maternal uncle is a Methodist minister.  Both are named Walter.  Much to my mother’s chagrin, I sidestepped that legacy.  My younger brother, Reverend Mark Timothy O’Bryant received the calling.

As a child, I lived in an environment that was rich with spirituality.  I have always understood the value of prayer and positivity.  I have always had a strong personal relationship with the Lord but at an early age, I found myself ambivalent toward The Church,  in part due to what I perceived as bourgeois indulgence and politicization of western religions.

In my youth, I was quite the revolutionary minded proletariat who viewed Jesus as a militant religious figure who was later demonized by western man’s ambivalence toward historical religious figures.  I have always tried to model my life as I believed HE lived HIS life as a man when HE walked this earth.  Jesus delivered his sermons in the fields and in the streets.  HE had no fear of men and the institutions that they created.  HE brought men and women together in the understanding that GOD governs our existence not men.  I knew early on that if average men used Jesus as an example as to how to behave as men, we could live good exemplary lives.  There is a contemporary phrase “what would Jesus do”.  I incorporated that notion early on in my adult life and I know that I have made better decisions than I might have in many many situations because of Jesus as a role model for my conduct as a man.  I never felt that I needed The Church as an institution to give that insight to me.  I thought that a spiritual connection to the My Personal Savior was enough.

Throughout my life, I have been intrigued by religious and spiritual figures.  I was impressed at any early age that men like Martin Luther King Sr. changed their names and lives and outlooks because of men they admired.  Malcolm Little became El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.  Cassius Clay became Muhammed AliMahatma Gandhi sacrificed wealth and comfort and eventually his life to change the world he lived in.

I have also been a long time admirer of the Dahli Lama, who reminds me of Jesus, because of the trials and tribulations that he has endured, due to his convictions.  What I know of him comes from the media and what I know about his religion is largely anecdotal.  In my early professional days, the most pious man who I knew was a Buddhist.  He was a Korean born doctor that I had the privilege of working with, during my time at the Coldwater Regional Center.  We developed a camaraderie as I did with most of the men that were not from the local community.  Of all of the men I worked with he had piety; a quality that most men I know simply do not possess.  We would talk one on one from time to time.  Our discussions about his religious values piqued my curiosity for eastern religion and offered me a broader outlook on religion per se.

I met a writer, some years ago that is a practicing Buddhist.  I attended a Buddhist Ceremony with her, but the experience that I had was tantamount to eating a Pop Tart while craving Red Velvet Cake.  My media fueled image of what I should encounter was simply not met.  I decided the day I attended the Buddhist service that I would withhold any subjective judgments that I entertained regarding Buddhism until I had the opportunity to experience how other sects practice the religion.

A few years ago, I attended a wedding of a friend.  She renewed her vows with her husband in a traditional Catholic Wedding that included mass.  Typically when I’m in church, I find myself preoccupied with things that have nothing to do with the ceremony.  On that Saturday, my mind was clear and I was in the moment!  I found serenity, in a pious way, that I had not experienced, since my childhood.  It whetted my spiritual appetites, in a way that I had longed for, for many decades.

Not long after that experience, I began attending New Mt Vernon Missionary Baptist Church where my brother had become the assistant pastor.  I began attending the church in an effort to support his ministry, as my dear mother had done up until her death.  I began attending church regularly for the first time since childhood.  I hung in there all spring and summer of 2010.  When football season began, I fell off!

Throughout the fall season, I watched Sunday Morning and the NFL pregame shows with much guilt and some remorse.

At the beginning of this year, I renewed my pilgrimage to church with vigor.  I began dividing my church time between four churches: New Mt Vernon, Vernon Chapel AME, in my old neighborhood in Conant Gardens, Faith Clinic Church of God in Christ, pastored by my good friend Rev. Dr. Zachary Hicks and Peoples Community Church, an inter-denominational church that I have attended, since my early childhood.

I am working to understand the custom and intricacies of The Church.  My longing to fill that spiritual gap in my life has led me to return to Peoples Community Church  in the north end; a place in which I find comfort and familiarity.  And I surprisingly know many of the ‘customs’ of the church that have remained constant for the past 6 decades.

Peoples Community Church recently celebrated its 57th anniversary.  My parents began taking my brothers and I to Peoples Community, when I was a very young child.  I sit there now during service and am overcome by the memories of the time I spent there in my youth.  My father, who was a painter by profession, worked at the church, from time to time.  My older brother and I played in the basement of this historic institution, as he worked.  Now when I sit on the main floor of the church, I am overwhelmed by those memories but most importantly, I feel that I’m part of this institution.

Peoples Community Church remains as the one of the few constants in my life.  My parents are gone.  The founders of the church are gone but when I am sitting in those pews, I am home.


August 30, 2011

When I was a student at Michigan State University, I sustained an injury to my left hip that left me unable to walk more than a block before my back would begin to spasm.  I went to a physical medicine specialist on campus who treated me on the condition that I allow his pre med students to participate in my treatment.  That worked out until he put on his professor cap and refused to understand that my physical state was interfering with my studies.  We parted company.  I found a chiropractor on the west side of Lansing.  He began “treating” me by giving me an adjustment and taking x-rays of my spine with a silent x-ray machine.  When he showed me the picture of my spine, at my second visit, I wanted to collar him up.  I knew immediately that the film he showed me was not of my spine.  The picture of the spine looked like it belonged to someone with kypho rotoscoliosis but I wasn’t supposed to know that.  I was desperate for help and my conventional source of treatment at the University had let me down.

I went to the chiropractor faithfully for weeks.  He would adjust my hips, spine and shoulders, followed by a lecture on the virtue of walking.  At the end of the 7th session, he announced that he was moving out-of-state!  Judging by his demeanor, leaving the state did not seem to be a choice of his making.  His quackery had caught up with him.  I never saw him again nor did I receive a final bill for his services.  He left Lansing like a thief in the night.

My cynical physiatrist and my quack chiropractor had let me down but the experiences served as motivation for me.  It’s my body and I won’t get another one!  I had to come up with plan C.

I lived on Harrison Road, on the western border of campus, right across from an intra mural practice field.  At night the field was just several acres of plush green grass.  I began walking around the field at night.  When my muscles in the lower back betrayed me and began to spasm, I would lay down in the grass and look at the sky.  After a few weeks, I was able to walk without my muscles conspiring against me.

Like many of the lessons learned, during my time in East Lansing, the value of walking became one of the most import.  In 2000, I moved out of my home on the eastside and found an apartment one block from my place of employment behind the historic Fisher building, in an effort to once again preserve my health and well being.

When I turned in my leased Lincoln Town Car, in the fall of 2005, I decided to forgo the expense of a vehicle altogether.  I walked or caught the city bus for almost 2 years.

By the fall of 2007, I grew weary of fighting with cab drivers and having to leave 2 hours in advance of appointments to ride SMART busses.  I bought a car.  In order to continue my regimen that had increased my lung capacity and caused me to lose about 30 pounds, I began going out to Belle Isle and walking a 2 mile route that I created for myself.

I now go to the island year round but I have developed a fondness for walking about in the winter.  There is virtually no traffic and only the hardiest people are on the island walking or riding bikes.  I usually wait until it’s dry and at least 30 degrees farenheit before I go out there.  I wear 4 or sometimes 5 layers of windproof clothing.  I almost always encounter an older white gentleman – who has to be over 70 – walking around in a winter hat, a scarf around his neck, a jogging suit and a thick pair of gloves!  He makes me feel like a real punk all bundled up from head to toe!  I do take my 2 pair of gloves off when I take pictures.

There are on the island swans that seem to be more visible in the winter than during the summer months.  Today, I tried to sneak up on what I thought was a stork but as soon as I got within 30 yards of it, it flew out of my cell phone camera’s range!  In the spring of 2010, I got within 50 feet of  what looked like an eagle but it flew away before I could get a closer look.

Canadian geese were in abundance a few years ago but like the albino deer, they mysteriously disappeared from the island.

There is an abundance of wild life on the island.  Black, brown and gray Squirrels frolic seemingly without regard to people or cars; Gulls, Finches, Sparrows and pigeons flock to vehicles that bring them bread and burrowing furry animals the size of fat cats live at the water’s edge but disappear when the island gets too congested.

I went to throw away an empty water container and discovered two baby raccoons snuggled in the bottom of a trash container.   Momma stashed them in what seemed to be a safe place but failed to extract them before we space invaders took over the island.  My walkabouts allow my urban ass to be one with nature for a few moments in time.  I spend as much time as I can afford to on the island.  Like the inhabitants, I tend to shy away from the droves of people who come to the island on the weekends and evenings, during the spring and summer.  And I stick to open areas.  I used to go into the interior of the island to feed the deer but a few years ago the deer vanished without a trace.  A confidant informed me that City managers decided to quarantine the deer in the zoo before the last Grand Prix.  The confinement led to their untimely demise.  Bureaucrats rarely think outside the fiscal box.

I extended my course today and went over to the fish pond between the Conservatory and the Aquarium.  The fish heard me coming.  When I stepped down to the gates, the fish swam to the edge of the murky pond.

The Friends of Belle Isle have been patiently lobbying the City to reopen the Aquarium.  I attended some of the meetings hosted by Kwame Kenyatta, in 2010, but  it’s still unclear to me as to the reasons the City refuses to turn over management of the facility to a group that is interested in preserving this historical venue.  I know that Belle Isle is relatively low on the list of priorities that the City of Detroit has but it is truly one of the greatest treasures that the city possesses.

There is a movement in urban areas to get back to the earth; to create gardens, to ride bikes and other vehicles that require physical exertion.  People here in Detroit are renovating public parks, so that they will have a green space for their children to make use of.  Even if you don’t live near a park you can walk during your breaks at work or find a safe place to walk after work or on weekend.  You will find that its good for your body and your spirit.


July 31, 2011

Back in the day, before public sector employees were so much fodder, those in the know understood that we were vital to the operation of government.  Public employees were viewed as assets to state governments and providers of quality services to consumers.  That unfortunately is no longer the case.  The servants of so many have become the scapegoats of politicians that want to be re-elected and of failing state economies that steal from the poor so that the rich won’t have increased tax burdens! 

Public employees generate revenue for state economies and as consumers we help local municipalities to thrive.  At one point in the remote past, public sector employees received generous pay and cost of living increases that kept us at par with private sector employees and guaranteed that vital services to consumers were consistently provided.  In addition to good pay and benefits, many of us were the recipients of service awards by our respective agencies, as tokens of acknowledgment for our service to the public.


I received this padfolio, some years ago, from my employer the Disability Determination Service of Michigan, as a service award.  It didn’t get much use in my paperless work environment but now I use it every day in my current profession as an advocate.  The message on the front cover serves as a personal reminder of my past efforts as a civil servant and my ongoing dedication to service.  This award and the others that I received over the years, mean a lot more to me now than they did when I received them because I no longer have to deal with the petty aggravations – coming mainly from unhappy managers with dysfunctional personal lives – thrust upon me in the workplace each day.  At this point in time, I’m better able to focus on the positive aspects of my time as a state employee.  I can view my years of “service” in a perspective that was not possible in the past.  I understand now that I was blessed by having what what was once considered a “good job” and I was fortunate enough to leave state service before the national demonization of public employees began. 

I had the television on as I was working a few days ago.  There was a news report that the State Police post at Cadillac Place, in midtown Detroit, was evacuated because of a bomb threat.  The work day of almost 5000 people has been disrupted 2 or 3 times in the past two years because of  some miscreants’ need for attention. 

When I worked at Cadillac Place and we had to evacuate the building because of some potential threat, the Detroit Fire Department had to come to the scene.  Emergency Medical Service personnel had to be on hand because some people had to literally be carried out of the building because of physical limitations.  A few employees were unable to return to work because of the physical trauma they sustained as they rushed down stairs to exit the building.  A bomb threat demands that an overworked Detroit Police Department Bomb Squad be on the scene, and possibly risk their lives to diffuse situations.  The jerks that plant fake bombs and pull fire alarms when there is no emergency are the same fools that complain about wasteful government spending.  It never occurs to them that hundreds of thousands of dollars are wasted when they pull those pranks and more importantly lives are put at risk because of the dangerous scenarios they create.

This past month, the nation has experienced record high temperatures of 95 degrees or more.  The men and women of the Police and Fire Departments have to put on 35 or 40 pounds of gear in 100 degree heat and face potential injury or death because of fools that have petty grudges against some branch of government!  It’s hard for employees to feel appreciated when duties are performed out of dedication to service and for the public good only to have to deal with threats real or implied while at work and then go home at night and see politicians on television taking ideological stands that impact on our abilities to work effectively.  

The governor of Michigan and the gangsters that control the House and Senate passed a bill last March that effectively allows Marshall Law to be established in any municipality that is taken over by an Emergency Financial Manager.  Contracts negotiated between labor organizations and employers can be nullified by Emergency Financial Managers.  Public employees are under assault. 

When I was part of the “system” I understood that I had a significant role in the management of the state of Michigan.  The jobs that I performed impacted on consumers from every part of the state and in some cases on people in other parts of the world.  I know that many others understand intellectually how their roles as public servants impact the lives of others.  It hurts to watch politicians get in front of television cameras and state that public employees are essentially a waste of good money!  Many of us in the know understand that politicians have motives for making such claims.  They may have a business relationship with someone who would like to have a lucrative state contract or a politician may have taken large amounts of money from someone in order to be elected or to remain in office or they may come from a part of the state that believes that the wrong type of people are employed in state government! 

Downsizing state government has never produced the results that politicians envisioned when the proposals to make those cuts were put on the table.  I worked for the Michigan Department of Public Mental Health when the Blanchard Administration (NOT THE ENGLER GANG!) decided to close facilities that housed mentally ill and developmentally challenged consumers.  The sentiment in the early eighties was that it would be easier to funnel money to county Community Mental Health Agencies to care for consumers instead of paying the salaries of thousands of state employees who managed or provided direct care to consumers.  The plan looked like a good idea but never came to fruition.

I was with a former Lafayette Clinic employee, watching the news, the day the last consumers were forcibly removed from that facility.  My friend cried like a baby, as we watched the police struggling with mentally ill consumers literally being thrown onto the street!  That was 20 years ago.  Since that time, the funding that was supposed to go directly to county agencies has been budgeted out of existence.  There is no Michigan Department of Public Mental Health.  There is no comprehensive program for mentally challenged individuals in Michigan any longer.  There are no publicly funded mental health facilities where an acutely mental ill individual can be taken for a short respite.  Now the police are called when someone is having a momentary crisis and that person is taken to jail.  A few days later that consumer is back at home creating problems for his or her family or on a street corner entertaining commuters or standing in front of a building harassing passersby for spare change!  The vision of the Blanchard Administration for community control of mental health services never materialized.  The families of mentally ill or developmentally challenged consumers have very limited options these days. 

The state of Michigan once had an international reputation for its care of developmentally and mentally challenged consumers.  When I worked in one of those “restrictive” institutions, I personally witness consumers receiving loving compassionate care.  The support that state employees provided as direct care providers, social workers, case managers, psychologist, psychiatrist, physicians, dentist, pharmacist, ophthalmologist, radiologists, speech therapist, dietitians, physical therapist NO LONGER EXIST!  The utopian dream of a less restrictive community based service delivery system is accessible to those whose families can afford to pay out-of-pocket for such services.  When most consumers end up in the hands of overburdened police departments you and I pay for their mismanagement!

The Engler Administration brought charter schools to Detroit in an effort to raise standardized test scores among students.  Almost 20 years later, the public education system is worse off than it was in the early nineties!  Charter schools have failed to better educate the children of metropolitan Detroit.  Public school teachers, administrators and other personnel have been forced out of a system that once flourished.  Politicians promised that the system would be reformed and that students would become highly literate, ready for enrollment in colleges and be able to compete in the job market.  The reality of that late nineties charter school scheme in the early 21st century is: Detroit residents per capita have literacy problems that rival those in underdeveloped countries.  Many charter schools that opened in the mid nineties have closed because of loss of population, lack of funding and in some cases due to corrupt practices uncovered by the media or watch dog groups.  Privately managed charter schools have not produced the new intelligentsia!  Who then will lead the country in the future?  

The current gang of thugs in Lansing plan to eliminate much of civil service as we know it today.  The plan is doomed for failure.  Contracted services, over the past 20 years have failed to replace the quality services that public employees provided at some point in the past. 

I remain active in the state’s largest employee union.  Existing state employees are over burdened by expanding case loads.  Employees work more and are paid less.   In the past decade, my union, the UAW has made 400 million dollars in concessions to the state employer only to be told that what we have sacrificed is not enough.  Back in the day, we unionist were always on the look out for attempts by employers at eroding our bargaining units.  States like California and Wisconsin declared financial emergencies and effectively stripped their unionized employees of all of the rights they had negotiated in good faith.  Michigan’s new Public Act 4 of 2011 makes that possible in any municipality or school district in which it is enacted.    

As a child, my parents worked tirelessly to make sure that my brothers and I thrive in an environment free of the “isms” that ruined the lives of many people of color in this country.  They faithfully served our familial interest for our collective good.  When I went away to college, a man whom I respect a great deal informed my freshman class at Michigan State University that we had an obligation after we obtained our educations to make a contribution – to be about service to the community.  I knew at age 18 that I had a bill to pay forward. 

Throughout my early life, I learned the value of service.  In my adult life, I have been able to keep that commitment through my work in the community.  I remain committed to service each day as do many many others in every community in this great country.  I only wish that all elected officials had that same committment to the electorate as they promised when they were vying for office.