Happy Thanksgiving to All!!

On this Thanksgiving morning, I wake and give thanks:

For all who have not lost hope in a world that often makes the effort of keeping it alive so very difficult.

For cheesesteaks and the many places that make them… really well!

For no longer living in a place ALL the time with places that make cheesesteaks REALLY WELL!

For the family of the 43 year old man whose liver I now claim as my own. We share a bond that is beyond understanding despite not knowing each other.

For all of the very talented friends and musicians who inspire and cause me to remember how powerful music is and can be.

For the Sixers, Eagles and Phillies for teaching me OVER and OVER again that the joy of sport is not ALWAYS in the winning. But now that I get it, WIN!

For all of the sponsors, teachers, parents, music volunteers and festival presenters who allow me the joy of sharing what I do and believe in me enough to have me come to do it.

For the pioneers and unsung heroes of civil and human rights who refused to stand down, run away or cower in the face of danger and tyranny…who made a way outta NO way! We owe you for showing us how it’s done now that we have to do it

For my family and loved ones for loving me through all of the years of  being “somewhere else” on important dates. I’m trying to get that to be less the case.

For all of the children that I encounter who remind me that play, wisdom  and wonder are not defined by age.

For my mother, Helen Harris, for making sure I saw, felt and heard things I didn’t want to see, hear or feel… but now treasure.

For my sister Marlene for not giving up on me when I was sick and for listening to me when it was her turn! Thanks to Peter for hanging in there.

For my teachers, mentors, inspirational leaders and friends who have said the right things and live lives of passion and purpose so I could follow your lead.

For Kim for working hard to show that we meant what we said and sang about though the years and for continuing to work together cooperatively with respect and joy.

For another year of joyful support and love from all of you for hearing and responding to my music, past, present and future. And for helping me to build this amazing community of love.

For all who love in the presence of hate so that hate is not the default in this challenging world. This is not a rehearsal. We are on the road together and we will overcome!

 

High in the Air and “Ready to Go!”

Hi Friends and Music Family!
I’m writing this to you from high in Canadian airspace. Now some say that musicians are high all the time, but we don’t need to go there.

I’m making my way back from Calgary, AB where I was performing this weekend with my buds Greg Greenway and Joe Jencks. We played at the fabulous Calgary Folk Club. A true venue of delight if there ever was one. (And there are several!)

By now, many of you know that I’m making my first solo CD! If this is news to you, I’m happy to say that’s it’s a project that’s taking shape in a most remarkable way. After our gig in Calgary, Greg and I are hustling back to the US to push this CD project to the next phase. I’m excited to get this CD done and into your hands and ears. So, Monday it’s ON!

And OMG!!! I can’t believe who’s coming in this week to add tracks to two, maybe three songs. The astonishingly talented Gina Forsyth is staying in the East after NERFA just to do this for me. I’m beyond grateful! If you don’t know Gina’s music, you should check her out in action on YouTube.

Gina was THE person I heard in my head when I began writing the song “Ready to Go!”  And she will also be playing on the song “Hickory Hill,” which will be one of the key moments on the CD. That track also features beautiful cello by Michael Ronstadt and ethereal guitar tracks by Pat Wictor.

That song recounts the day, about 6 years ago, when I visited the site of the Hickory Hill plantation in Ashand, VA, and walked the land with my cousin, Lisa Wickham Haskell. Here’s a picture of my extended family.

IMG_0031

What a powerful, heart shifting experience it’s been for all of us. Here in the picture is Lisa, (on my left) her sister, Wallis Raemer, (on the right) their brother George, his wife Mary, and Lisa’s partner, William Espinosa.

Walking with Lisa on the land led to this final verse;

So now our stories come together,                                                                               across these fields of broken dreams,                                                                              and the blood that binds us all together                                                                              is, indeed, much thicker than seems.

Hickory Hill, we’re on hallowed ground,                                                                     walkin’ side by side, wonderin’ what we’ve found.                                                        Can you see the questions in my eyes now that we are home again?

Yes, they are White! And I am Black. But due to the twists and turns of history and slavery, we are connected to each other. I am a Harris and a Hewlett, but I am also a Wickham. And these are some of my Wickham cousins. We have been getting to know each other for the last 8 years after… well, that’s a long story. Suffice to say that we are embracing this journey of discovery with open hearts and arms.

This project has already opened my heart wider than I expected. I’m hoping that it will do the same for you.

Thanks for taking this journey with me. With your support, we are on our way, and I’m Ready to Go.

Reggie Harris

The Art of Collaboration and Balance

Looking back over the years, it appears that I was born to collaborate! Starting when I was 4 or 5, my mom, my sister Marlene, and I would gather at the piano on a Friday night at home there in Philly, and we’d sing hymns and other songs until bedtime. With the TV turned off and Nana napping in her big chair (periodically waking to smile!) we would take turns and share the verses on songs like  “How Great Thou Art” or “Shall We Gather at the River.”  Occasionally, some show tune from South Pacific, one of the few shows I remember my very religious mom taking us to see in the theater, or a Harry Belafonte song, would find its way into the mix.

It was there that I began to learn how to trade harmonies, as my sister and I began to construct our own arrangements, with lyrics and antics that often earned us a raised eyebrow or a word of rebuke. It was a very happy time and so formative to my later years of singing in church and school choirs. It’s no surprise to me that, with that as background, I have spent a lifetime finding great delight in collaborative musical endeavors.

For over 40 years, as one half of the duo Kim and Reggie Harris, I’ve been blessed to travel the world singing songs: original, traditional, and borrowed. It’s been an effort to add meaning, context, joy, and substance to the community of song that exists… sharing the stories of reality and the dreams of our human connection along with reflections on the challenges that we face.

In that time, I’ve had the opportunity to explore my background, my motivations, my voice, and my being as well as the many critical aspects of the art of listening and responding to others. I’ve led and I’ve followed. I’ve given and taken clues. And I’ve shared in the journey of ‘risk taking’… walking that fine line of self exploration and group commitment that allows one to go beyond the comfort zones of what is known and unknown in both musical and life experience to reach new vistas.

Truthfully, I will admit that, every now and again, there have been some train wrecks of a song or two! But it’s been a rich education and also a whole universe of fun. And the list of amazing artists who’ve become friends and mentors along the way simply boggles my mind. I’m filled to overflowing with gratitude and deep great appreciation for the range of personalities and dream-makers whose passions and skills have contributed so much to my worldview.

A year ago, when Kim and I made a decision to shift our personal and career paths, I embarked on the new phase of this journey as a solo artist. That shift has launched a powerful new landscape of possibility and excitement as I find that my years of collaboration have both enhanced and limited my freedom to soar and grow. This year of touring has brought some vibrant changes in my work and musical life.  Some fans have said, “Wow. I didn’t even know you had THAT voice!” I smile.  I’m having a new kind of fun.”

So, as I move forward with a new vocal freedom and a renewed passion for guitar expression, I’ve also added some focused collaborations with some trusted friends to the reduced partnership opportunities with Kim. It’s a work in progress that is yielding some very cool results and uncovering some astounding skills.

I seek a different balance. And it’s a journey I will share here in writing, on stage, and in recordings as I redefine the lines of a mission I started years ago around that upright piano. And to quote my friend Greg Greenway, “It’s a mighty long way, from there to here.” But it’s a song I can sing with joy!

 

 

 

For Whom the Mind Trolls

Yesterday was one of those days on my Facebook page! The Trolls came calling!

Two of my posts, both political in nature but not accusatory in any real sense, attracted loads of attention from some truly ugly trolls as well as a host of angry supporters of Trump. They came in like fire ants, bearing ill will, hurling insults, using their little demeaning names and posting hate-filled memes at other respondents with no thought of anything but disruption. In more than one case, the troll actually said he was praying for the death of President Obama (who wasn’t even mentioned in my post) and another post consigned our gracious former Prez’s dead mother to membership in a not so well respected profession.

The comments struck me as  piteously unhinged and so very typical of people who have lost their grounding in humanity, hope and/or any kind of faith. Their lack of focused meaning and their vicious rants demonstrated a level of personal and mental dysfunction that has grown more prevalent in our society.  And even more sadly, it’s modeled and mirrored by our present administration and by many in our leadership base. They are the very models of that very same voided soulessness every day.

As much as it was a PITA, I felt fortunate that I was experiencing the onslaught while being here at the Carmelite Monastery in Baltimore, gratefully visiting this amazing group of women who have dedicated themselves to a life of spiritual enlightenment and selfless prayer. It clearly revealed the online antics to be the bizarre workings of ignorance and hate. Being here, with these focused friends also allowed me to center my thoughts and my energy more quickly. I often mention that I work hard to make sure that the ignorance of life and other people’s uncentered actions don’t alter my core. It can still be a struggle. But, that’s what happened! The days spent here have given my core a whole new strength. The conversations and thought provoking interactions with these incredible women have deepened my resolve to be part of the solution.

And, this coming weekend, the joy continues. I will be reconnecting  my Balsam Guys group for our annual men’s retreat. This will be the 15th year that I have been privileged to gather with as fine a group of men as one could assemble, to gain some wisdom and strength. We will once again engage each other in a weekend of non-stop deep sharing of life’s joys and concerns, with lots of laughing, eating, talking through issues, singing, sleeping and more eating. (Did I mention that we eat?) We GO there…. and we make sure that every one of us gets back!

Yesterday was what it was. But having focused friends allows me to center my thoughts and restore my energy more quickly. And the trolls? They come and they go! And yesterday I helped them go quickly by blocking 8 people. These were NOT friends of mine. And,I will not be carrying their energy any further than a push on the button that sent them into the ether of cyberspace.

But I will leave here today still believing that quote from Dr. M.L. King where he said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Love is hard when you’re dealing with people you don’t even like. But today I resolve, once again, to choose to put some love energy in the world, as a balance for whatever it is the trolls are doing. Cuz hate is too great a weight to bear. I’ve still got light in music and in life and another day in which to let it shine!

We still live in the shelter of each other. We need to act like it!

 

 

Come Take Your Seat on the Bus

Greetings and Peace, Good People!

As many of you know, I have been part of the UU Living Legacy Project as Music Educator and a board member, for the last 6 years of so. My activity with LLP has provided me with some of the most incredible and heartrending challenges of my life. The experiences along the way have also birthed some of my most joyful moments as well, as I have been more intimately linked to the history and to the people who have made and, in some cases, are still making our movement for freedom justice powerful and possible. <www.UULivinglegacy.org>

In my role for LLP, I have helped to lead pilgrimages, as song leader and educator, to a bevy of civil rights sites in AL, MS and TN.  On those journeys, we travel together on a bus, stopping 5 or 6 places every day, to visit the museums, community centers, homes and other sites of the movement. Each day, we interact with residents, civil rights veterans and leaders in these communities, that were (and, in many cases, still are) vibrant agents of action in the cause of justice and freedom.

We often hear the stories that you don’t read in books or learn in school. And we sing, eat and share our own stories as we slowly come to know and appreciate the human side of this national narrative.

With my colleagues, I’ve helped plan and facilitate events like the “Marching in the Arc of Justice” conference, which brought together about 600 people from around the country and culminated with 70,000 of us walking together across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, AL, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday.” In that and other outreach efforts, we work to connect both young and not so young to the truth of the past, the present and to plant the seeds of future endeavors of civil and human rights activity. It’s an amazing resource for hope and change.

I thank all of you who have followed these journeys by reading my trip posts and commenting on my photographic efforts to capture, here on Facebook and beyond, what is best seen, heard and felt in person. I have also shared many of these stories with audiences of every age and background in my concerts here and around the world.

It remains one of my deepest and most joyful blessings to be involved in this work. And yet, there is another side to this work, of which many of you are also aware. That would be my embrace of new relationships with my White cousins in the Wickham family. (the family that both owned and provides one half of my ancestry) This growing shared personal roots journey, over time, has enriched us all. I am so honored that my Wickham family lineage is now an integral part of my embrace of heritage and continues to fuel my mission in music and in life.

As we continue together to celebrate our ongoing conversation and relationship as slave/master descendants, we are discovering, anew, that injustice, history, enforced emotional distance and pain can be overcome. It has made the work that I do in schools, concert halls, festivals, centers of faith and with community organization even more fulfilling. As I open myself to further bridge-building work, I inherently find out more about myself and my own need for healing.

So now, as I take on new and exciting projects in the rest of 2017 and beyond, here is one of the next offerings on the horizon.

From Oct. 21st – 28th, a collaborative pilgrimage between the UU Living Legacy Project and an amazing group called “Coming to The Table”, will go forward and is open to the public. CTTT is an organization dedicated to providing leadership, resources and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal the wounds from racism rooted in the United States’ history of slavery.”

This journey could not be happening at a more critical time in America history! It’s an effort to come to terms with the frustration and the incredible longing for hope that I hear all across our land. It engages the desire that we can and must be a part of the change we seek. This is justice in action.

So, here’s the link that will help YOU can be a link. Check out the info…clear the space…get on the bus and take your place!

We’ll ride, sing, talk, laugh, cry and eat together and create new ways to turn the division and acrimony, so rampant nationwide, into something more useful and lasting. We must learn again, as those civil rights heroes would say, to “make a way outta no way!”  To know that there is no try… there is only DO and NOT DO.

Come get on the bus. I’m looking forward to singing with you.

2017 CTTT Racial Justice Pilgrimage – Living Legacy Project
www.uulivinglegacy.org/2017-cttt-civil-rights-pilgrimage.html

The Road is Long…Take a Sandwich

This morning I was reminded of a small cartoon that I saw, years ago, of two men in a hillside, having a moment. One was obviously a “disciple” who was standing in front of the other, pictured as an “Elder/Learned One”. The caption read, “The road is long….take a sandwich!”

This week, as I read and heard the various musings, sharings and outraged comments from millions of Americans who are reacting to the onslaught of actions that this present administration has launched (in its assault on what so many of us hold as true, basic and time tested American values) I found myself forced to face something very real. Most of us are not “struggle tested citizens” in the sense of those in our history who have forged the very freedoms and rights that are now under attack.

Many of us were too young, too insulated or perhaps even too disconnected to get involved in the Modern Civil Rights, Vietnam, Peace or Women’s Movements. For many Americans, this is the very first time that the actions of their government has truly smacked them in the face hard enough to elicit the responses that we are now seeing daily. And it’s hard to see and feel this all around us and not get overwhelmed by it all. We are human and our lives are busy and fragmented. And it hurts!

But this is not new. And the story is not over. We need to gather ourselves and the stories that we either don’t remember or don’t know and get ready to walk the road together…for a while!.        And on this journey, we need to remember that a sandwich, some joy and some company are the things that will get us through.

John Hume, one of the architects of the Northern Ireland peace process. is regarded as one of the most important figures in the political history of Ireland.  He is a recipient of the Gandhi Peace Prize and the Martin Luther King Award, the only recipient of the three major peace awards. He once said “The civil rights movement in the United States was about the same thing… about equality of treatment for all sections of the people. And that is precisely what our movement was about.”
His persistence was legendary and his passion unfailing. And he took great energy and strength from the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his fellow civil rights pioneers and using that as fuel, peace and justice prevailed where many thought it never could.

So as we continue to take on this most recent challenge to our nation’s freedom and justice, we must remember that, in our history, we have all the examples we need to persist and prevail. We need tell the stories of all of the women and men, boys and girls who gave us our legacy for justice. And we need to remember what is there to know in this time that will help us to persist and resist!

James Whitcomb Riley, the author of the classic “Little Orphan Annie” once said, “The most essential factor is persistence – the determination never to allow your energy or enthusiasm to be dampened by the discouragement that must inevitably come.”

Remember too, that self care, on the journey, is essential! So, every now and again,  take a break, find some joy and sing some songs. It’s a long road ahead.

Mitukuye Oyasin (Lakota Sioux for  “All My Relations”)

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus as a Socialist?

 Merry Christmas to All… Peace on Earth and goodwill to those we like?  Or, something like that?

Well, another year of holiday festivities is underway and, in the spirit of the season, we’ve got lights, trees and wonder… all going 24/7, as find ourselves deep into exclamations of joy, celebratory eating,  gift exchange and gift return. Christmas fever… it’s ON!

Many of us have been decking the halls for days and days and, quite frankly, we may be in need of a little reflective downtime.

Yes, tis indeed the season to be jolly.

At least it is for those of us who exist in the category of “ones for whom this season mostly fits the paradigm.”  For the many of us who manage to handle all of the various challenges that the Christmas season, in all of its pomp and commerce oriented glory, sets on our societal tables, we either exult, suffer through  or find our way with luck and good cheer to New Years Eve, where we can make the resolution to do it much better next year.

It would be far too easy to simply comment on the disparity of connection between Christmas “the event we SAY we are celebrating”, and the practices that come due when we hear those bells jingling so merrily at every mall and shopping center around he nation.  It does, after all mean jobs and a fresh wave of employment from Black Friday till the end of December.

And I certainly will not be the first or the last to call attention to the issue of how closely this resembles the man whose name we claim to hold at the center of the celebration.

This year, almost more than any other, it seems to be more of a challenge to hear and see how the angels song of peace and joy is resonating in the populace. Love is not the only thing in the air.

I noticed recently, influenced perhaps by the election of Donald Trump as our next president, that one brand of Christians, notably a great many conservatives and more than a few who identify as evangelicals, have taken to celebrating a new found joy of being able to say, “Merry Christmas”, as opposed to the phrase “Happy Holidays”  or “Seasons Greetings”. The freedom they feel seems to be focused on the joyful fact that they are now about relieving themselves of the necessity to spend time and effort having to think about the fact that everyone in America is not “who they are.”

And in truth, it must be said that, as with other religions and faith traditions, all Christians  are not of the same stripe, opinion or worldview.)

Without getting into a lengthy diatribe about the lack of inclusiveness, the fault-lines of scarcity of thoughtful engagement or  the miss guided anger over “PC,” inherent in that thinking (as if, having to consider the fact that we live in a diverse society of religions and backgrounds, I will point out that this victim perspective of modern day Christians, in America, tires me greatly.  I even had one visitor to my Facebook page tell me that having to say “Happy Holidays” robbed him of the joy of his Christian heritage. Really? I find myself wondering how such a shallow faith have any joy at all? That you actually have to consider the feelings of others in the celebration of the birth of one who is famous for having come to love, heal the sick, liberate the captive and set people free?

In this time, I find myself wanting  to reflect that, unlike so many of  what I call “Christians without compassion,”  Jesus set a high standard for inclusiveness and for politically being on the side of the oppressed and the underclass in his society. I think that we would be wise to follow that example as well as His demonstrated ability to consider “the other”  in his daily life, more fully in ours.

This morning I saw an article in the Huffington Post and it made me smile. Obviously, Jesus did not identify himself as a political operative. But the views expressed in his life and the words attributed to him, are hard to ignore.

Jesus, by his very example, was indeed, a socialist, in the sense that he was working for and concerned about the good of all.  He was into sharing and collaboration (a quality that our Congress would be wise to adopt) and he certainly made a point of connecting with people of different backgrounds as he negotiated his mission on earth.  As I listen to the rhetorical gobbledegoop and endless prosperity based messages from so many leaders and followers who describe themselves as “part of God’s family, it’s not hard to see that this a heavily overlooked, ignored and mostly unmentioned fact that goes unacknowledged in circles that praise, repeat and in my opinion, overuse and commodify Jesus’ name.

Not only that, but Jesus was a vigorous opponent of prejudice, injustice, race and religious hatred, a champion of the poor and an outspoken public activist. (He spoke truth to power with frequency!) That being the case, guess who ought to be speaking out against those very same issues now?
I attended a conference, some years ago, where a very wise and articulate speaker (I wish I remembered his name) said “If everybody who calls out the name of Jesus and who says they are  “a Christian” REALLY took his words and actions and lived them out, the world would be a VERY different place.”
Sadly, too many followers are “Christians in Name Only!”

Oh and, yeah, as an after-thought, his actions and words got him killed! Apparently, people in power prefer to stay there.

Jesus was a wise and wondrous teacher. And perhaps, with each passing year, we need to use this holiday to review what the man at the center of the celebration was all about and really work at passing out the peace!

Merry Christmas!

The Growing Fusion

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”  Desmond Tutu

This morning  I woke up after with the most joy in my heart as I’ve had for a while. The winter Solstice concerts that I shared over the weekend with Kim and our friends Magpie, (Greg Artzner and Terry Leonino)  put me in the right frame of mind to face both this time of lessening light and increased global concern. It has been clearly evident, on every front, that we find ourselves in a time of division and mistrust in America, with all sides firmly in a battle to claim their stake in the framing of this cultural narrative.

We are, apparently, not doing a good job of sharing light in this dark and disordered house.

After 8 years of wrestling with the reality of having our first Black President, we now find ourselves in somewhat of a hangover. Our nation embraced, and then, forfeited the chance to move in a decisive forward direction towards healing our great national dilemma and our deep national shame. We have still not paid that debt that was pointed out to us in the great “I Have a Dream” speech that brother Martin laid out some 5o plus years ago. The dream lies in storage, unpaid.

With that and more recent events as background, I took a trip, last October, with my friend and brother Greg Greenway, (https://c9tuning.wordpress.com) to the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana. (whitneyplantation.com). There, we were confronted with the reality that the last 8 years, as with the first 250,  have been a quandary for America.  A country that still labors to discuss race and oppression, at the most simplistic level, has tried and mostly failed to take on the job of rising into its diversity.  As President Obama said early and often, “This is not about ME, it is about US!”

And we, nationally, leaders and populace alike, answered, “No, it’s about YOU! We’re not ready!”

Standing on land where slaves were denied freedom and yet, through their labor and sacrifice,  made that dream of wealth and access possible for others and for the country to grow and prosper, Greg and I felt deeply that our music was bonding us deeper, as Black and White descendants of that storied past. Each of our families have come forward in this narrative, through the lens of slavery and struggle, to reach this very presently divided America. And yet, the narrative of our own personal histories and the fact that music unites us so powerfully, has made our journey together a window of opportunity to frame something that is deeper than the skin.

On that base, we have pledged ourselves to embrace this mission; to find out what this new dream, rooted in the American dream, can truly become. Together, we are now reacting to history and to the election of one of the most divisive figures to ever run for president with purpose. And it will be with music, story and dialogue that we go forward to explore, expose and lift truth out of the profit driven malaise that has landed us in a place that Dr. Martin Luther King, Howard Thurman, Pete Seeger, Eleanor Roosevelt and, yes, Abraham Lincoln  saw and tried to warn us away from making our own.

As John Adams warned, “Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”

We are inflicting wounds on our national body and psyche at an unimaginable rate. And yet, warnings can only be heeded by those who see and hear with open ears and hearts!

It’s never been more clear to me that music has always been and will be be one of the critical ingredients to bringing some reason to the dialogue we are trying to have in this nation.  While it is true that reaching out to dialogue with all parties  is important, building a cohesive and solidified front with those who have already proven that they have a sense of what a diverse community perspective (in terms of facing our global issues with reasoned and shared collaborative effort) will be the only antidote in dealing with those who seem bent on winning at all costs.

It’s been a real chore to hold a hopeful stance while listening to the chorus of negativity that has been sung so loudly. And yet, as I listen to and read the words of one of our great leaders, Rev. William C. Barber, minister, theologian and President of the North Carolina NAACP, I see and feel a power that can help us all to form coalitions in what is now, the New Fusion Political movement.     It is a movement that recognizes the important fact that, as the great poet Maya Angelou once said, “We have all been bought and sold!” Knowing this, it is incumbant on all of us to remember that, if we stand united, our collective and our individual interests become more able to be served with a sense of inclusion and progressive intention.

In our annual December concert at the 8th Step Coffehouse at Proctors (http://8thstep.org/8thstep.org/Home.html) on Sunday night, we closed the show with the Peter Yarrow song, “Light One Candle. The song articulates the importance of staying in the fight with a positive attitude. Our resolve in the midst of struggle for justice must be one that honors the past while seeking to be proactive in vision and action.

One of the most important lines in the song,  occurs in the third verse and typifies this important aspect of a committed approach. Peter wrote, ” We have come this far, always believing that justice will somehow prevail!”   His use of the word, “somehow ” is a critical acknowledgment that justice is not easily won and is the result of long years of diligent and persistent work centered on hope.  That there will be resistance to our claiming our rights is a given. But the legacy of hope is only secured by commitment to the mission that was begun long ago by others on whose shoulders we stand.

The election weeks ago was a reality check. Mr Trump managed to win, in some remarkable and also mysterious ways, by using the message of anger and dissatisfaction of those who are not seeing their interests included, to his own advantage. It was and is a cynical message, underlined by his solutions which, at every point, seem to serve his interests more than the country at large.             Yet, he rallied millions to his cause and will try to control the narrative.

Fortunately, over 4,000,000 people (and more who did not vote) recognized this sham of leadership and we can now fire up our “fusion movement” to take on the forces of retro -brain just as they are doing now in North Carolina.

As a musician, I see the parallels to this challenge in the songs that have carried the hope and dreams of those from Underground Railroad to the present day movements of freedom, climate change, (which Trump dismisses) equity and to movements of justice the world over. “Keep Your eyes on the Prize”, “We Shall Overcome” and “Wade in the Water” are joining more modern anthems in the mouths of protestor of all races, ages, genders and backgrounds.

We sing the songs that lift hearts and call new people to action. The melody and lyrics of a new America are being written everyday in the minds of a rising tide of thinkers, activists and story crafters.

At a time of crisis in the past, when I was despairing the lack of leadership and possibility, Pete Seeger said this, “Reggie, when things get tough and there is no visible way forward, that is the best time to sing!”  So sing we must, as our cause, it is just!

Teach your children and tell your neighbors. The revolution is still on!

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.