Destination NOLA and Hope

A year and a half ago, my friend and December birthday brother, Greg Greenway, told me about a place not far from New Orleans, Louisiana, that was being restored and re-interpreted as a site to tell the story of slavery’s plantation past in a real and unfiltered way.

Greg said that the Whitney Plantation (originally known as Habitation Haydel) had been purchased from one of the sugar companies, by a lawyer, John Cummings, who, inspired by the lack of candor and a need for more historically accurate physical evidenced based examples of this history, had spent sixteen years and over eight million dollars of his own money, to research and restore this site to represent its real truth.
It is a powerful story of human bondage.

Cummings did this to honor the lives of those who, as slaves, made this place what it was and who were integral to the growth of this nation.
And while there are many “plantation experiences” throughout the south, most tend to celebrate “the way things were” during the time when the “peculiar institution” was at its height in America. They choose to focus on the opulence and glory of the period by displaying these large beautiful homes of fancy interiors and expansive gardens, framed in a period charm that focuses on the stories, possessions and lives of the owners. (read: slavers)
The Whitney, scheduled to open in about a year, at that time, and would not be one of those.
Greg suggested that we go to see the place, together.
Now, at the time, I had a number of other things on my plate and so the info drifted into that place where “interesting, but non-critical information goes to hang out and maybe die!”
But, as often happens, I stumbled upon an article in the NY Times about 7 months later and found myself in the position of having more time. I was fascinated by the project.
So I called Greg and said, “When do we go?”

We managed to find a weekend this October that was perfect for us both and, in a burst of synchronicity, our timing was more outstanding than we could ever imagine.
Greg reached out to Rev. Deanna Vandiver, co-director of the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal (www.celjsr.org) who offered to help us make connections for a concert and a church service in New Orleans.
But Deanna also made arrangements for us to take part on an anti-racism workshop that was being sponsored by the center and local UU churches. Too good to be true. It was “Synergy Central” in its most vibrant form.
The trip was on!

Greg and I have shared a lifetime of expansive conversations about history race, culture, music, sports and justice over the course of our 30 plus year friendship. All remarkably connected issues in this land of complexity.

We were born just 3 days apart in 1952 and though our lives began on different sides of the historical and racial divide (with me, as a descendant of a slave named Bibhanna and her “relational physical encounters” with her owner, Williams Carter Wickham of Ashland, VA. and
Greg, a White male child into a family in the racist Southern city of Richmond, VA) our origins were separated by only a few miles, but also by a universe of history and life experience.

Music brought us together years ago and we quickly found that we share a passion for exploring those connections and conversations that will be the only thing that helps our nation transcend our troubled and stories history.

We are a nation founded on oppression and slavery… of many kinds!

And in all of this, we have found our voices, identified our pain and we’ve used education and passion to inform our emotional drive as fuel for inspiration.

We forged a friendship that took us to Louisiana. All in all, 1418 miles of a trip where we took another step into the fire of knowing. We will both be writing about and unpacking this journey for as long as it takes to figure the vibrant reality of making a difference, NOW!

This conversation and the reflectons that surround it, are not easy to express. But this is my start. This is my re-opening of the door. The goal is to make this ongoing conversation the key to our mission to reduce the level of animosity and solve this ever-deepening divide that our present political events have made such a frightful arena of hate, fear and destruction.

There are lives are in the balance. Our lives and the very nature of what we are to become as people, as a country and as a world. Greg and I committed ourselves to the fight against prejudice and racism years ago. With this journey we committed ourselves anew to being part of a community that finds solutions and creates new ways to keep our eyes on the prize of justice and hope.

http://http://whitneyplantation.com

Post Debate Madness

Greetings from the Reggie Road!

Here, in the aftermath of one of the low points in American presidential politics, is a lengthy reflection from one of the true giants of journalism. Former newsman, Dan Rather.
Dan Rather was not a giant because of his entertainment value or his celebrity which he clearly also enjoyed. He is a giant because he, and so many others of his time, believed that getting to the core of the story, verifying the facts, giving perspective without framing a personal narrative and digging until the facts were known was not only the most important thing, but the ONLY thing.

Sure, he and his compadres got it wrong at times. And when they did, they were usually sure to let you know that!

But it was not because of a lack of integrity and effort that they reported the story incorrectly. Verification was the rule, not the exception in their time. And, while they didn’t have a 24 hour news cycle screaming out for whatever you could throw into the mix, they were under the same critical pressures that all journalists face… the principles most often don’t want you to KNOW!

But their news organizations and superiors knew that you are only as good as the evidence you can back up. A far cry from the “get a source and throw it out there” attitudes that plague so many of our current crop of wannabees.

They had more time to dig and craft and dissect. And you were also held to a higher standard of excellence. The pride of the news division was “getting it RIGHT” not “getting it “FIRST!”
Anderson Cooper and too many others in the 21st century  “business of news” that marks our present day, are hollow imitations of the journalists who set the standard for what real news people news can do. They are as much a part of the story they are reporting as the image conscious seekers of airtime they are covering. For them, image too often wins the day. Ask a question  and then profile for looking tough, while the facts lie in the questions left unasked because “We have to move on!”

Rather would never have stood for much of what happened last night. He would have made the falsehoods evident and would have pressed for more details. He would have been a pain in the neck on every point that screamed “Not credible!” And he would have been entertaining while doing it.
His post is well worth the read.

Dan Rather
September 26 at 10:39pm ·
Ladies and gentlemen, whatever civility once existed in our politics is tonight officially dead. Never in the history of televised debates have we witnessed such a show. And that’s what the Donald wanted. A show. He got it, but will he be seen as the hero or the villain?

If you are a fan of Hillary Clinton, I suspect you are thrilled with her poised and confident performance. Perhaps her crowning line was “I prepared for this debate and I’m prepared to be President”. If you are a fan of Donald Trump, his quarrelsome, no-holds-barred approach, often facts be damned, will likely in turn have thrilled you. The question is what does everybody else watching think and how many impressionable voters remain?

Taking a snapshot of the debate stage this evening, two candidates behind podiums, each representing one of the major political parties, it would seem to be the latest chapter in our quadrennial dance with democracy. But experiencing the event, in sound and motion, it was of course anything but.

From the very beginning, the body language tonight was striking. HIllary Clinton, the first woman ever to be on this stage was calm and substantive. Donald Trump interrupted often and slouched and sneered as he turned to address her. This is what Trump’s fans like about him, playing the alpha male at all costs. Clinton seemed completely unflustered, which is what her fans love about her. How this all plays to the majority of viewers and voters at home will be in the eyes of the beholder.

But I was surprised by how much this man who has made so much of the means of television spent not looking into the camera, but preoccupied with his adversary. Trump came across as amped, a pacing tiger ready to pounce on every answer. His Interruptions suggests little regard to the rules. He’s itching for a fight…Wants to swing wildly.

At one point early in the debate Clinton, after multiple factually questionable assertions by Trump said, “I have a feeling by the end of this debate I’ll be blamed for everything that ever happened,” Clinton said. Trump replied, “Why not?” That about summed it up.

Clinton clearly wanted to get under Trump’s skin. She attacked him for getting a hefty amount of money from his dad, challenging the narrative that he was a self-made man. And then attacking his business practices. The headline she was aiming for is Donald the Deadbeat. And then on the issue of Trump’s unreleased tax returns, when Clinton says that was because he may not have paid any taxes, Trump responded, “that makes me smart.” Expect to hear more about this.

Clinton was clearly the policy expert, nimbly jumping from topic to topic, policy to policy. But she was also much more able to paint a big picture than I have seen in times past. I thought she was particularly effective on the issue of race and especially the birther lie against President Obama. She had the facts on her side, but also it was an effective appeal to fire up her base.

In the end, more than all of the specifics, I was struck by how unprecedented was the overall tenor – matching that of the campaign. We once held certain truths to be “self-evident” – that “all men are created equal” and “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These were the lofty ideals that served as a rallying cry for the founders of these United States to choose liberty over tyranny. The man who wrote these words, Thomas Jefferson, and his compatriots were imperfect and in some cases deeply flawed men. Yet their idealism fixed a North Star in our democratic firmament that has guided our ship of state ever since, with some very noted moral detours. Now I fear that the tide of progress is rapidly receding with the fierce undertow of a looming tsunami.

Our Founders believed in reason and the power of intellect. Donald Trump made clear tonight by his wilful ignorance of important issues that he does not. Our founders feared the accumulation of power, they loathed vanity, and tried to build in protections against the demagogues who would appeal to mankind’s basest instincts. Donald Trump relishes in all of these impulses. For him they are instinctual and a prescription for success.

To call Trump a con man, as many have, is a disservice to the art of the con. By its definition a con requires deceit. But Trump has not tried to hide his lies or the sheer unrealistic audacity of his cartoonish policy positions. He has asked the American people to bet on him. The fact checkers will certainly weigh in. The pundits will have their say. But the voters have all the information they need. The judgement is in their – or more accurately our – hands.

I Still Have a Dream!

Hello Good People.

It’s getting dangerous out here in the muck and mire of the present electoral climate. And there is a powerful disconnection trap that people seem to fall victim to with increasing regularity. When the question is asked, “Are we more divided than ever?”  opinions run from wild despair to completely without a clue.      It’s getting to be a hard place to live.

We are not, as a nation, students of history. Most people, when asked, will say “I hate history!” as if the entirety of the human record of existence were some distasteful TV show or some food they hated in childhood.

People seem not to understand that they, perhaps, hate the way history has been taught. By saying  “I don’t like history!”  they immediately indicate their lack of discernment about the importance of knowing what frames your past, present and possible future. That would include the events that created your place in your community or family.

And that certainly takes in the events that have preceded our present list of challenges in the areas of civil rights and those who have

Take for example, the subject of Dr. Martin Luther King.      People love to remember Dr. King as school history lessons too often frame him…standing on that stage, in front of the Lincoln Memorial, saying “I have a dream!” They forget that the beginning of that speech was an indictment of America’s lack of commitment to its own stated principles. Too few people heard or remember those words of critique. And few remember that he was subjected to nonstop, relentlessly focused hatred in word and deed for the length of his tenure at SCLC. His house was bombed. His family harassed and phones tapped by the FBI! This hero’s life was a living hell, with the abuse coming from all sides. Even many of the folks who were working for the same goals found him wanting.

Still, through the maze of resistance, he persevered to lead marches where thousands came out to jeer and scream racial epithets. They threw rocks…one hit him. He was stabbed! He was roughed up and thrown in jail.

With all of that in the past, he is now revered, by most, as a saving prophet of positive change, Harmless and “kindly” in the light of more challenging leaders and more digitally vibrant times.

We, in our own personal  need to make sense of the world, too often tend to remember and frame things to fit our vision of how we think things should be.  But the struggle for civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ  and First Nation rights, (so amazingly highlighted by recent events over s pipeline)  have all been secured, to the extent they have been, by struggle, protest and, in many cases, death.
This is the legacy that we embrace if we are to be truthful about where we are as a nation. Are we divided? Clearly we are!
Our words of anger fly past each other at inhumane speed. And we share our angst with each other in pixels and loud ungracious emails, fueled by the raging rhetoric of the talking heads.

In candidate Donald Trump, we find  a particularly interesting example of how a person with a seeming scant regard for history, can completely get  framing a present situation wrong.  Faced with nearly nonexistent positive numbers in the African-American community, he has, on the advice of his campaign management, embarked on a series of ill-fated “reach out sessions”  to the community he so steadily defamed. And as one who had failed to speak out against past injustices or denounce the efforts of the KKK and other hate groups to support him, he blithely  lurches forward into encounters with groups he has very little knowledge about. Yet, disregarding his scant historical acumen, he has sought to visit churches so that he can tell them how much he truly cares about their issues.
This week alone, it came as a shock to him, when he invited himself to a church in Flint,MI, promising to show gratitude for their efforts in addressing the horrid water crisis of national disgrace. After being welcomed and given the opportunity to speak, he ended up trying to make it one just more campaign stop of criticism and angry stump speech-making.

Rebucked by the pastor, Rev. Timmons, a proud  black woman, he later recoiled by lying about how he was received  and placing  the blame on the pastor for his actions.  Such ridiculous and insensitive conduct will not go very far in closing the gaps  that exist between he and any  of the communities he has spent a lifetime defaming.

Speaking  out to reject hate and changing the actions that work to divide is our only way to truly creating unity in this country.
Dr King had a dream, but its still not yet a reality.                   We’ve come a long way and we’ve got a mighty long way to go!

Onward into the  light!