“Can we all get along?”

detroit kids

This 1973 photograph gives me hope. In fact, children have always been our best hope to turn the tide of anger and division resulting from years of negative acts and thoughts about people who happen to be different from us.
The innocence conveyed in this photograph is a powerful reminder that prejudice is a learned behavior. No one is born with hate in their hearts. A child’s first teachers are parents. They determine their child’s attitudes until they are old enough to form their own opinions.

I first experienced prejudice at the age of 5, when children at the Catholic school I attended hurled the N-word in my direction on a daily basis. I didn’t even know what the word meant, but I knew by the looks on their faces and the way they spit out the word that it wasn’t good.

An 81-year-old woman I met recently put the hurt of the N-word in context for me. If someone doesn’t call me by name, she explained, it’s as if I am invisible or don’t exist.
I’d never thought of it that way. For people of her generation, it will never be okay for anyone to use that word.
Back in 1973, Joseph Crachiola was a photographer for the Macomb (Mich.) Daily. As he was driving around Mount Clemens, a suburb of Detroit, he saw these children playing together in an alley without a care in the world, according to an article on npr.org.

In the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, Crachiola reposted the photograph on his Facebook page. “For me, it still stands as one of my most meaningful pictures. It makes me wonder… At what point do we begin to mistrust one another?,” he wrote. “When do we begin to judge one another based on gender or race? I have always wondered what happened to these children. I wonder if they are still friends.”

We’ve been talking about race relations quite a bit lately. I’d like to see us spend more time talking about how we get past the hurt and resentment that has dogged our great country for years.

For me, the answer is simple. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Respect and honor people’s differences. Don’t prejudge an entire race of people based on the actions of a few. Let go of the past and move forward together.

It’s time, ya’ll. It’s time.

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in a 1964 speech in St. Louis.

“Can we all get along?” Rodney King, a Los Angeles construction worker whose 1991 beating by the police was captured on videotape. The officers struck King more than 50 times with their batons after a traffic stop. The officers’ acquittal in 1992 sparked three days of rioting. Fifty-five people were killed and 2,000 were injured. King said these words at a press conference during the riots.

“Fruitvale Station” is artistically and socially brilliant

Rarely is a movie so powerful that you want to scream and cry at the same time. Yet there are moments in “Fruitvale Station” that are as tender as they are telling.

Like watching Oscar Grant (played deftly by Michael B. Jordan) and his beautiful daughter (Ariana Neal) share a secret about a snack.Or the time Oscar tells his sister he will pick up a birthday card for their mother, then selects a card he knows his mother won’t like and signs his sister’s name.

Oscar is at his best when he’s with his family: older men who are role models; a sweet grandmother who shares her recipe for fried fish with someone Oscar has just met; and a protective mother who suggests her son take the train instead of driving to see New Year’s Eve fireworks in San Francisco. 

“Fruitvale Station” opens nationwide on Friday. It is based on the true story of Oscar Grant III, who was shot to death on New Year’s Day in 2009 by a Bay area transit officer who said he mistakenly pulled his gun instead of his Taser. The officer was detaining Grant and three friends after they got into a fight on the train. Make sure to stay through the end of the movie to see the final outcome. I won’t spoil it here.

To be sure, Oscar Grant has some major “failure to launch” issues. At 22, he is late to work so many times he is fired. He has a child and girlfriend he can barely support so he sometimes sells marijuana. He lies to family members and admits to his longtime girlfriend (after being caught) that he’s cheated on her.

The movie takes us through the last day of his life, with flashbacks that show a stint in jail and a dramatic scene between he and his mother, played brilliantly by Academy award winner Octavia Spencer, the defiant maid in the movie, “The Help.”

It’s easy to see how “Fruitvale Station” won the grand jury prize at Sundance Film Festival. The critically acclaimed Indie movie made its Atlanta debut Friday to crowded theaters. With the wounds of the George Zimmerman trial still fresh, the timing couldn’t be better for the production company.

The real gift of “Fruitvale Station” comes from its young, African-American writer and director. Raised in the Bay area, Ryan Coogler tells the powerful story from the perspective of its protagonist and his family. That’s where “Fruitvale Station” excels where other movies fail, think “The Help” which tells the story of black maids through the perspective of a young woman of privilege and “Mississippi Burning,” told from the view of the prosecuting attorney and FBI agent, but based on the real life story of the Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney, three young Civil Rights workers who were murdered in Mississippi in 1964.

“Fruitvale Station” reminds us there are thousands of Oscar Grants out there who are marginalized by society. They are smart, funny and loved dearly by their children, parents, siblings and friends. Despite their flaws, they have praying parents and grandparents who never give up on them.

They, like Oscar Grant, don’t deserve to die. #IamFruitvaleStation.

To learn more about the movie, go to: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/moviesnow/la-et-mn-weinstein-co-uses-social-justice-campaign-to-promote-fruitvale-station-20130717,0,3544023.story

To see the “Fruitvale Station” trailer go to: http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/fruitvale/trailers/

To read more about Ryan Coogler, go to: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-morrison-ryan-coogler-fruitvale-20130717,0,5615209.column

A vacation from my vacation

momimaniimaniptah.jpeg

One day I will learn to really relax on vacation.

Several friends have already mastered this art.

Todd posted pictures of a phenomenal and secluded beach where he and his honey relaxed for a few days.

Curtis not only swept his woman away to a beautiful spot, he proposed! Congrats Curtis!!

Me? I cleaned, cooked and managed to squeeze in dinner with friends, a baseball game, and of course, a little retail therapy in one of my favorite D.C. spots. Since my vacation encompassed the Fourth of July holiday, there were plenty of festivities. But no sight was sweeter than the gigantic American flag hoisted high in the sky by fire truck ladders outside Nationals Field in our nation’s Capitol.

At the top of my vacation to-do list: some quality mother and daughter time. Imani is on her grind hard this summer — taking classes and working. It was fun seeing her in her element, doing her thing her way. Nothing is more gratifying than seeing your children come into adulthood on their own terms. I even got to meet her advisor, who told me she’s going to make a great pharmacist — music to a mother’s ears! Some things never change though. My girl is still getting up a half hour or so before she has to be in class!

Since she attends college several hundred miles away, she doesn’t get home much. So when she’s swamped with the demands of her life, I break away and see her. On this trip, I got to meet a few more of her friends and cook some meals for them. My friend Jan says cooking is a sign of love and I would agree. Nothing beats nurturing those we love.

And we got some things done, like getting her room painted in a soothing mint green and cleaning those dusty baseboards that only mothers concern themselves with. All this activity prompted my daughter to give me a new nickname I rather like: “Hurricane Angie.”

But this hurricane has been downgraded to a tropical storm. Two weeks after my vacation, and I’m ready for another getaway. I’m dreaming of a sunny beach, a cool breeze, and a couple of books I’ve been meaning to read for the last two years. One day soon…

imaniptah.jpeg

Not guilty: The Ghost of Emmett Till

The killing of Trayvon Martin — and the raw emotion it evoked — has some people recalling the horrifying murder of Emmett Till.

Till was a 14-year-old from Chicago who went south to visit relatives in the summer of 1955 and came home in a casket that his mother left open for all the world to see. Snatched from his bed in the middle of the night, Emmett Till was savagely beaten and shot in the head in Money, Mississippi by evil men acting as judge, jury and lynch mob. His disfigured body was weighted down by a heavy object and dumped into a river. Till’s so-called crime: whistling at a white woman in a store.

Shortly after Saturday’s not guilty verdict, Emmett Till was trending on Twitter. The comparison of Trayvon’s death to that of Emmett Till’s is halting. It speaks volumes about the open wound that has yet to heal in America. What happened to the men accused of Till’s murder can hardly be called a trial. It was a travesty, as were all the trials from that era involving white people killing black people.

On its face, the comparison seems far-fetched. At that time, Klansmen wore hoods and hung black men from trees while their wives and children watched like a Saturday night picture show. 

Today, America is supposed to be past all that. Black folks live where they want, go to school where they want and hold high-ranking corporate jobs. A black man has been elected president, not once but twice. Laws have changed and so have attitudes. But the deep scars of slavery still linger and can be seen in absent fathers and the hopelessly under-employed or unemployed. Our young black men are treated as public enemy number one in their own country. Sadly, America is still polarized along racial, political and economic lines. We rarely talk deeply and constructively about the issues that divide us. People post hateful comments on blogs, cloaking themselves in anonymity. Anger and resentment simmer just beneath the surface.

The not guilty verdict delivered in the George Zimmerman case exposed those emotions in much the same way as Till’s murder did, bringing forth the ghosts of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and countless others murdered before their time by fear and hatred.

 

“Another not guilty”
By Frank X Walker
Kentucky’s Poet Laureate

This ache
this follow-you-home
grief is heavy
like after birth

clings to everything
like pollen
in the spring

it is suffocating
like thick smoke
in a house on fire
fueled by the myth
of a post racial
America

this is how Chicago
felt when they spit
Emmett home
in a box

This poem was reprinted here with Frank X Walker’s permission

How we can harness the hurt

For many of us, Trayvon Martin’s death at the hands of George Zimmerman was personal.

In Trayvon, we saw our sons, grandsons, nephews and cousins. In a 17-year-old boy walking home with a bag of candy and a drink, we saw our hopes and dreams. In Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin’s baby boy, we saw our present and our future.

The jury has issued its verdict. George Zimmerman is free. So too, is Trayvon. God’s will be done; for he is the ultimate judge and jury.

Here’s a question for the rest of us: How do we harness the hurt and anger we feel? How do we turn a tragedy into a triumph?

We can hold our sons close and help them understand that their lives matter. We can insist they stand for justice even when doing so seems next to impossible. We can show the talking heads that when violence darkens our door we can stand in peace.

We can help more of our young men graduate from high school and college. We can teach them that drugs, guns and gangs are not the way. That their grandparents and great-grandparents were beaten and jailed for the freedoms we now enjoy. We can be there for them when society puts them in a box based on their age and race.

We can teach our young men that the content of their character is what matters most.

We can fight racism and racial profiling whenever and wherever we see it.

We can create more jobs. We can mentor a wayward child.

We can love one another. We can pray for peace and healing for Trayvon’s family; and for Zimmerman and his family.

We can remember Trayvon Benjamin Martin and what his death has come to symbolize in “post racial” America.

We can vote for people and laws that are fair and just.

We can breathe again and go on.

 

He put a ring on it!!

I love it when people come together in holy matrimony. The news is even sweeter when the union involves someone I care about.

This week I planned to meet Genarlow Wilson to discuss the last chapter of a book we are writing about his life and legal case. We agreed to meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday but I ended up working late so I contacted him about meeting by phone instead.

Little did I know Genarlow had other plans. A couple of days later, I got this text from him: “I got married this morning, we eloped.”

No wonder he blew me off, I joked. He put a ring on it!  I’ve gotten to know Genarlow pretty well in the past two years. His family is extremely important to him. He didn’t have a strong relationship with his father, but is very close to his mother and sister, who stood by his side as his case wound its way to the Georgia Supreme Court.

His is a story of overcoming. At 17, he and five friends engaged in sex acts with classmates at a New Year’s Eve party in Douglasville, Ga. The next morning, a 17-year-old girl accused them of rape. They said it was consensual. But since a 15-year-old girl was involved — and she could not legally give her consent because she was underage — they were charged with aggravated child molestation. Wilson was acquitted of the rape charge, but convicted of aggravated child molestation. In April of 2005, shortly after his 19th birthday, he received a 10-year mandatory prison sentence. Before their cases went to trial, his co-defendants took plea deals and received much shorter sentences.

Wilson and his mother refused to accept his lengthy prison sentence. Thanks to the work of his appellate attorney and several legislators, the law was changed to make it a misdemeanor for teenagers of similar ages to have oral sex. In October 2007, after spending nearly three years in prison, Genarlow’s sentence was overturned by the state Supreme Court. Justices called the 10-year sentence “cruel and unusual” and “grossly disproportionate” to the crime.

He walked out of jail and started his life anew. That new life included a full scholarship from the Tom Joyner Foundation to Morehouse College. In May, Genarlow received his sociology degree after he and other members of the class of 2013 listened to President Barack Obama talk about the responsibilities of being Morehouse men.

It’s one thing to get a job, President Obama said, it’s another to be there for your children; or to be a mentor or leader in your community. Morehouse men, he said, have a duty to make their mark on the world.

For Genarlow Wilson, that mark begins with being a great husband and father. The covenant of marriage is so important. It means being there for one another in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad and in poverty and in wealth.

That’s a tall order. But if anyone can do it, Genarlow and Tiffany can.

Congrats, ya’ll!