In the winter of our discontent; there is hope

Clarissa Etter Smith is a wife, mother

Clarissa Etter-Smith and her husband Steve live in suburban Boston.  She is a graduate of the University of Kentucky.


What an amazing few weeks we have witnessed. We’ve seen Supreme Court decisions affirming the legality of the Affordable Health Care Act and marriage equality.The murder of nine people inside Emanuel AME Church in Charleston gave us a glimpse of our president that we rarely see. While giving the  eulogy for Emanuel’s pastor, state legislator Clementa Pinckney, President Barack Obama sang a stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

Healthcare became a right in this country. I often wonder how we became a nation whose people believe you should profit from sickness.  We are the largest industrialized nation where healthcare continues to be a for profit business. As someone who has worked in the business of pharmaceuticals for 20 years, it has sometimes been difficult to look from inside the business to outside and reconcile why we must profit from illness.

Then there is the other side, the innovative medicines and services that have come from this country that allow us, not only to live longer but also to live longer stronger. With those innovations comes a price.  It takes millions to develop one new therapy. Most never make it out of the lab, but the brilliant scientists who do the work, think each time there will be a breakthrough. We must create the space for that spirit of discovery and innovation to thrive.

There is so much to love about this country. While our systems aren’t perfect, healthcare being one of them, we are better than most.

There are difficult issues to tackle. We must look at the underbelly of systematic racism or we will perish. The diversity we see on the streets of our nation is envied in other lands. We are a nation striving for perfection. But the Emmanuel Nine massacre brought the seedy underbelly to the surface. We learned that a deranged, 21-year-old man was able to purchase a gun, walk into a house of worship and gun down the faithful. After the fact, he admitted his hatred toward black people. Pictures surfaced of him posing with the Confederate flag, a worldwide symbol of oppression and hate.

Innovation comes at a cost. Access to Internet content sometimes breeds contempt and destruction.  How do we support love not hate? How do we show bitter, hate-filled  teenagers and young adults that killing is not the answer.  When will our dinner tables be filled with those who don’t look like us, but make our lives richer because of it?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. All I know is that we must stay in the conversation. We must continue to work toward a more perfect union.

The Affordable Health Care Act gives millions access to much-needed preventive care, but it won’t give people healthy, chemical-free food. We must demand that for everyone, not just the wealthy.

Marriage equality, gives our gay brothers and sisters the freedom to love, to share property, to declare on their last days the most pivotal relationship in their lives.

The tragic deaths of nine faithful Christians gives us yet another opportunity to look at ourselves and take a stand for what we want to be: A nation of equal opportunity.

I am hopeful, but I’m not naive.  Now that the confederate flag is down, the question remains: Can we rise above the hatred and oppression it represents?


The sting of the N-word and a perfect gentleman

The late Pauline Knight Ofosu took part in the Nashville Student Movement and the Freedom Rides in 1960 and 1961.

The late Pauline Knight Ofosu took part in the Nashville Student Movement and the Freedom Rides in 1960 and 1961.

A man goes into a church and shoots nine people while they are studying the word of God. Young black men are being murdered for playing their music too loud or walking home from the store with a pack of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea.

The deaths of Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin, teenagers killed in Florida by white men who weren’t comfortable in their presence, upset me to no end. That could have been my grandson or my teenage nephews. The thought of them being targeted simply because of their skin color makes me very angry.

The Charleston murders have shaken our collective core. How could a 21-year-old man hate people he didn’t know? How could his parents, who had to know he was disturbed, purchase a .45 caliber handgun for him as a birthday present? When will this country get serious about addressing mental illness? When will people of color no longer be the targets of racists?

On Sunday, our pastor spoke about the kind of hate that breeds prejudice and racism. Children aren’t born with hate in their hearts, it is a learned behavior.

While running some errands in Kennesaw, GA after church, I attempted to turn into a shopping center but held up traffic for a few seconds because I was in the wrong lane.  The kid behind me, who looked to be in his late teens or early 20s, was furious.   “You f…ing nigger!” he yelled while pulling around me.

Being addressed in that way stung me, but it wasn’t about to ruin my day. My Dad has cancer and my thoughts are on him and the rest of my family.

My first encounter with the “n-word” was much more traumatic because I didn’t understand what the word meant. I did know by the way my 5-year-old classmates said it that it wasn’t a term of endearment!  Me and another black girl were the only people of color at this catholic school in Winchester, KY. Shortly thereafter, my parents moved our family to Lexington, where the schools were integrated and there were never any problems of that sort.

One of the scariest times I was called a nigger was in the parking lot of a Stein Mart in Lexington. I was in my late 20s and must have been walking too slowly across the parking lot while crossing in front of a man in a big truck.  “Nigger bitch,” he proclaimed loudly. We were 20 feet away from each other and I was terrified. In this instance, and the one earlier this week, I was happy the men didn’t have guns because they may have shot me.  All because they were angry and I happened to be the wrong skin color.

Let that marinade for a minute. How ridiculous to hate someone you don’t know simply because they appear different from you.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. looked forward to the day when his children would be judged by their character, rather than their skin color.

I have to ask, are we there yet?

And speaking of character, the day after my encounter with that misguided young thug in Kennesaw, I had an encounter with an elderly white man. I left my jacket on the back of my chair in a restaurant and he bolted out into the parking lot to give it to me.

“You left your jacket,” he said, holding it up for me to put my arms in it. “I just didn’t want you to miss it later.”

It was a great reminder that there are good and bad people in every race. Let’s all start by being kinder to one another.

Words matter — especially one with the history of the n-word.  But we can choose to give it power or we can elect to take away its power by ignoring it.

A few years ago, I interviewed the late Pauline Knight Ofosu, a 1961 Freedom Rider who took part in the Nashville Student Movement a year earlier. She and other protestors were trained in the way of Muhatma Ghandi.

While protesting outside a movie theater, a white man spit in her face. Her reaction was to ask him for a hankie to wipe his spit off her.  He was completely disarmed – – so much so that he walked away without saying another word.

Now how’s that for taking away his power?

Pauline Knight in 1961. She and other Freedom Riders were arrested in Jackson, Mississippi for “breach of the peace.” pauline

“The Best Man Holiday:” A movie that will get you in the spirit

It’s Tuesday night and the parking lot of the movie theater is packed. I thought I was the only person too cheap to pay full price for a movie. Turns out $6 night at Regal Cinemas is a popular spot. A man in the crowd who appears to be a regular, asks an employee: “Why are so many people here tonight?”

“The Best Man Holiday” she responded. “Everyone is here to see it.” The movie — about friendship and forgiveness — doesn’t disappoint. It’s a great way to kick off the holiday season.

Most of us look forward to the holidays with a mix of excitement and dread knowing that anytime you get a bunch of friends and family together who haven’t seen each other in a while — something crazy is likely to jump off.

The friends in “Best Man Holiday” have known each other since college. The last time they were together was for the wedding of Lance — a hunky football played by Morris Chestnut — and Mia (Monica Calhoun), who Lance believed was as pure as the driven snow. Ah secrets: they made for a memorable movie in 1999 when “The Best Man” hit the big screen.

If you saw the original, you know what happens. If you didn’t, you’ll still enjoy the sequel; which does a nice job of catching you up on all the characters. The movie grossed $30 million in its first weekend. Clearly, fans were anxious to get re-acquainted with these friends.

The glitzy set makes us all wish we had a crib like Lance and Mia, who have four beautiful children and what appears to be a picture-perfect life. Writer/director Malcolm D. Lee (Spike Lee’s cousin) does a terrific job getting all the original actors, including Terrence Howard, Taye Diggs, Sanaa Lathan and the always gorgeous Nia Long to star in the sequel.

The movie’s themes will resonate with audiences of all ages and races. The men in our audience seemed to enjoy it too. My 23-year-old loved it and suggested I see it right away. It will make you laugh and cry, she said. (The woman seated next to me cried enough for both of us). After seeing it, I got it. It’s a fun, romantic comedy with some touching moments and memorable lines. It’s a mature holiday movie (leave the kids at home) that some people will enjoy seeing more than once.

In addition to having a great soundtrack (Especially the Anthony Hamilton/Marsha Ambrosius remake of Stevie Wonder’s “As,” the movie showcases the talents of African-American actors and actresses. Watching the sequel, I found myself wondering why I hadn’t seen some of these actors in a while.

Maybe they are picky about the roles they take on; or perhaps they are being passed over for roles because they don’t fit the profile movie makers have in mind for the central characters. Some, like Taye Diggs, have been cast in TV dramas such as “Private Practice,” a Shonda Rhimes creation. Still, I would love to see more of Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long and Regina Hall. These women can act. The same is true for Howard, who delivers some of the best lines in the movie and whose devilish character makes you yearn for a Best Man no. 3!

It’s nice to see young black professionals leading mostly responsible lives. Sure, they’ve had their share of setbacks; yet they’re still very much in the pursuit of happiness on the family and career front. Their conflicts are real and they rely on faith and the bonds of friendship to press forward.