The 3:30 a.m. wake up call

jamonAustin (left) and his cousin Jamon

This time, it wasn’t a tweet in the middle of the night about a former Miss Universe. Instead, it was a 3:30 a.m. Facebook post from my daughter Carmen:  “Austin just woke up. He’s crying. I’m crying. Eek this is tough to explain.” Austin is my 10-year-old grandson. Like many of us, he was feeling the aftershocks of our new reality: President-elect Donald Trump.

Austin is a fifth grader in Cobb County, a mostly conservative Atlanta suburb. His school is predominantly white, but thankfully, he hasn’t experienced the sting of overt discrimination.  I pray he never will. His post-election tears, and the tears and fears of other young people are real. His concerns are for some of his Hispanic classmates. He’d heard Trump promise to deport people who are here illegally. Already, in schools across the country, Hispanic and Muslim children have been the target of bullying because of Trump’s campaign rhetoric.  After Trump’s win, Austin worried that his classmates who supported the president-elect would tease those students who wanted Hillary Clinton to win.

We were driving home from skating on Election Day when he told me that some of his classmates wanted Trump to win because he is a millionaire.   That doesn’t mean he’s a good person, I offered.  “My friends say Hillary Clinton had an affair.” No Austin, it was her husband who had the affair.  “Well why did she stay married to him? ”  Whew, this wasn’t a conversation I was prepared to have. But as parents and grandparents, we must always be ready to listen, explain and sometimes correct errors of fact.

The political and religious views of children are shaped largely by their parents. Austin’s classmates were parroting what they’d heard in their homes. Politics are often discussed in our home so Austin is very aware of how nasty this election cycle had become. He said early on that he didn’t like Trump because he was a bully.

This week, as I’ve listened to parents and teachers talk about the election’s effect on our children, I can’t help but feel sad. Our leaders are often role models for our children. Say what you will about President Obama’s policies, he has been an outstanding example for our children. He loves and respects his wife and daughters and has shown an unwavering commitment to education and mentoring.

Now comes President-elect Trump, who built his campaign on a lie about President Obama’s citizenship and has continued to sow seeds of racism and sexism. He has ridiculed women and disabled people, threatened to ban Muslims and created a culture of fear and anger.

My friend Charis, a teacher in suburban Washington, D.C. posted this on her Facebook page Wednesday.

Today was a hard day to be a teacher. In my literary magazine class I asked students to journal their feelings about America, the Election, and the president-elect. While there were definite varying opinions, so many of their responses hurt me to the core. This one came from the sweetest little girl, who also happens to be a Muslim and who proudly wears her hijab. Her last sentence moved me the most. #kindnessmatters

“I am really scared,” the student wrote. “America should have a better and kinder leader.”

As we endeavor to put this election behind us, let’s remember our children and listen to their fears and concerns for our country’s future. They are wiser than we know. And they soak in everything they see and hear.
















Please, don’t sleep on voting


If you can’t stomach the thought of voting for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, think about  James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. Or cast your vote with Viola Liuzzo in mind.

It would be easy to become jaded by the  insanity of this election cycle and decide to sit this one out. You  may be a young person who doesn’t see anything in these candidates’ messages which speaks directly to you.  Or you may view the major party candidates as so  disingenuous  you’re considering casting a protest vote for a third-party candidate.

I submit to you that neither is a viable option. Every election is an opportunity to make your voice heard. Voters in Cobb County did so recently when they sent Commission Chairman Tim Lee packing, in part because of his lack of transparency regarding the Atlanta Braves stadium deal.

And every election is a chance to exercise a hard-earned right. James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were attempting to register African-American voters in Mississippi when they were beaten and shot to death by the Ku Klux Klan.  Schwerner and Goodman were young men in their 20s who came from up North to help register black voters during Freedom Summer in 1964.  Chaney, a native Mississippian, had grown weary of conditions in his state, where he and other African-Americans  were relegated to second class citizenship.

A year later, near Selma, Alabama Viola Gregg Liuzzo was murdered by Klan members who saw her driving a black man from Montgomery to Selma. Liuzzo and her companion, Leroy Moton, were Southern Christian Leadership Conference volunteers helping to register black voters, who were routinely threatened and intimidated at the polls. Moton survived the attack by pretending to be dead. Luizzo, a wife and mother from Detroit, was shot in the face just shy of her 40th birthday.

Whenever I think about not voting, I remember something Rev. C.T. Vivian, a longtime civil rights activist now in his 90s, told me about why he and other protestors believed so deeply in what they were doing:  “We did it to fulfill our humanity.”

When you think about it, that’s not so different from today’s freedom fighters, who have taken to the streets to protest the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland and Eric Garner to name a few. Voting in local elections ensures that the people who believe the same as we do lobby to improve police training and hire more officers who are sensitive to the needs and concerns of the communities they serve.

We are facing the most important presidential election in our nation’s history. Not voting on Nov. 8th shouldn’t be an option.


Viola Liuzzo





A ram in the bush


Lap three. We are sweating, talking and laughing. I’m thinking it’s time for a rest, my legs are sore. Then a stranger, a beautiful brown woman with headphones and an i phone in hand, casually breaks into our conversation.

“I like your jacket,” she says cheerily.  This is the third time since we’ve been walking that someone compliments my jacket.

Several months ago my daughter gave me a bunch of cancer gear: T-shirts, jackets, a shawl, a head wrap, a tote bag — about 15 pieces in all. She picked up these items in the course of her work and gave them to me.  My plan is to donate them to an organization that is promoting cancer awareness or research.  I decide to keep the purple jacket  I’m wearing on the track this morning. It is adorned with colorful ribbons and the words “Hope for a Cure For All Cancers.”

The beautiful stranger tells my friend and I that she has just been diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. We stop our walk and turn to embrace her as she melts into tears. She is afraid. Because her mother is a breast cancer survivor, she has taken a test to see if she carries the gene that causes the disease. The test was negative, making her recent diagnosis all the more confusing. Her doctor has given her medicine to shrink the tumor, her hair has fallen out. She is in her 30s and is the mother of four young children.  Her brother tells her that her diet may be the cause.  She is working out in hopes of losing weight and improving her health. She tells us she suffers from bi-polar disorder and eats to ease her pain.  Sonya and I listen, then do the only thing we know  to do. We stand on the track and pray with her. We touch and agree that while cancer may be the diagnosis, God has the final say.

Then we tell her our cancer stories. Sonya’s husband has been battling cancer for six years. Last year, he received a bone marrow transplant. There are dark days to be sure, but they are survivors, she tells her. I tell her about my father, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer last May.  He survived and thrived for more than a year relying on his faith and aggressively seeking treatment.

Our new friend has four children. She pulls up a family photo on her phone. She has much to live for.  She tells us that God put us in her path. Often when we are at the end of our rope, God places a ram in the bush — something or someone to remind us all is not lost.  As the three of us parted ways on the track, we felt God’s love and presence in our exchange. It’s important to remember that he never leaves us, especially in our darkest times.


Mabel Jean Lockhart: a woman of quiet strength and dignity, now at rest

Mabel Jean Lockhart

Heaven gained an angel on Sunday, and our church family lost a dear friend and quiet leader.

I’ve known a lot of first ladies in my time, but Mabel Jean Lockhart was different. Sure she wore the beautiful church hats and suits that most first ladies are known for but what stood out about her was not her outer beauty or regal bearing.  This woman was a nurturer in every sense of the word. She possessed a quiet  strength that may have caused some people to underestimate her power. Sister Lockhart didn’t preach alongside her dynamic husband. In fact, it was rare to hear her speak in church.

But get her alone and she would give you an earful. A devoted, wife, mother and grandmother, we shared some special conversations over the years. In most of those chats, she was encouraging me in my journey as a wife and mother. I’m sure she did that for countless women, men and children in our church and beyond.

We became grandparents around the same time nearly 10 years ago, meeting the birth of our grandsons with great joy and pride. Whenever we talked, our conversations always turned to our children and grandchildren. She loved her family in a way only a mother can.  Her love for her husband, Pastor Benjamin Lockhart, and his love for her, was a great example for our church family. He often called her his peacock, but she was his partner in every way.  Her strength and passion for the word of Christ girded him for servant leadership.

From her pew on the center right side of the church, she watched everything that happened. Fiercely protective of her husband, particularly as he dealt with his own health challenges, she was always quietly directing. When he went a little too far, or did a little too much in worship, her expression told him it was time to calm down —  to take his seat and rest for a while. In those times, a smile would cross my face. Like me, she wasn’t good at hiding her true feelings. You always knew where she stood.

I will always remember our last conversation, which took place about a month ago when my husband Joe and I stopped by to visit her at her home. We talked about the return of her cancer and my father’s recent cancer diagnosis. She made it clear to us that she was doing just fine because her soul was anchored in the Lord. We looked at old photos, chatted and laughed. We prayed for peace and strength. That day, as always, confidence and assurance radiated from her being.

While Illness may have taken over earthly body, her soul was at rest. In times of trouble, our faith is what grounds us. Our dear first lady knew that well and spoke it boldly.  She is safe in the arms of her father now. No more pain, no more suffering.

Here’s why the “Black Lives Matter” movement matters

     The explainer had become a debate rather quickly.
     I posted a note on Facebook about the meaning of the Black Lives Matter movement, activism which has come under fire by those who feel wronged or left out of its purpose.
Immediately on my posting was grumbling by two white friends about thugs killing cops and a movement pushing black as the superior race.
     But that’s just it: the movement isn’t about uplifting or highlighting anybody specific. Its purpose it to ensure black people are seen as humans and equals in a time many feel black people are wrongly targeted for crimes at disproportionate rates.
     But how do you explain that to someone who isn’t in the head space to receive it?
     Since 2012, there’s been Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. Jordan Davis and Eric Gardner. Freddie Gray. Walter Scott. Sandra Bland. The story plays out the same way: black person, dead at the hands of someone white, or of some authority, unsure if the force used was necessary. Even when it’s clear the use of force was excessive, charges rarely come.
How is that right?
      The reaction locally plays out of feelings left to fester from years of a relationship gone awry. In North St. Louis County, Mo., officers in municipal police forces go untrained, often because of a lack of funds or resources. The goal for many of them is to gain employment in the larger agency, either the St. Louis City or the St. Louis County police. People feel there’s little buy-in from the officers with the community. Bottom line is when you don’t care, you don’t care. 
     So when Michael Brown was shot to death on Aug. 9, 2013, activists began developing a plan to attack what they saw as a gross mistreatment of black people at the hands of authority figures. Others reacted from their own place of hatred for a police force they never felt was with them.
     Opponents of the movement group the marching and debating with the looting and vitriol about getting back at cops and white people. If it’s done in the name of (insert victim’s name here), surely it was for the same effect, no?
     And they hang onto that as a way of discrediting a movement meant to shine light on the disparities in how often a black person loses his or her life in an incident with law enforcement that, on the surface, never elevated to the level of force used.
     Sadly, some people will never understand the motivation behind a movement meant to remind others of our equal value. It’s as if they never saw the law on the books that only counts black Americans as three-fifths a person, or that our right to vote will some day have to be renewed again.
     Viola Davis said it best Sunday night, while accepting the Emmy for best leading actress in a drama: “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win Emmys from roles that are simply not there.”

     Black Lives Matter seeks to open eyes to the fact that even in 2015, with a black president leading this country, disparities in opportunities and how we’re treated by others persist.

Marlon A. Walker is a K-12 education reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has covered communities, municipal government, crime and higher education for several newspapers and magazines during his 10-year career.

Serena and Venus vs. everybody: A win for sisterhood


I love watching Venus and Serena Williams smack those tennis balls around. These beautiful women are fierce competitors, sisters and best friends who always have each other’s back.

Much was at stake when Venus, 35, and Serena, 33, hit center court at Arthur Ashe Stadium for the U.S. Open Tuesday night. This week Serena is playing for history. If she wins the U.S. Open this week, she will have achieved the first Grand Slam in 25 years.   The Grand Slam is to tennis what the Triple Crown is to horse racing.  It is made up of four major tournaments: The Australian Open, The French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. It’s huge to win all four because they are played in different countries at different times of the year on different types of courts.

Last night, commentators wouldn’t let us forget that these sisters each wanted to win, like that was a surprise. Of course they wanted to win! They are and have been among the top women in tennis for nearly two decades. Not only is tennis their occupation, it’s their passion.

I was baffled to hear sportscasters talk about whether Serena was happy or sad to beat her older sister — who gave little sis a great match.  The two have played one another 27 times in tournaments and countless other times in life. They know better than anyone their strengths and weaknesses, and use that knowledge to develop their respective strategies in high stakes matches.

After her win, Serena was classy as always, calling her sister the best player and the best person she knows. The two are also doubles partners. 

Venus, ever the gracious and protective big sister, exited the court quickly to the cheers of the crowd.  Getting beat by her sister didn’t seem to faze her one bit.

What I love about these women is that for 20 plus years they have dominated in a sport that still remains largely white. They have endured the slights, the shade and the straight up racist remarks.   I remember when they rocked braids and beads. Other players sometimes complained that their beads were falling off and littering the courts.

Most recently, Serena has faced criticism about her muscular  physique, which my husband and many other men I know adore.

Through it all the Williams sisters from Compton, California are true to themselves and true to each other. They have worked incredibly hard all their lives and reached the highest levels of their sport. They’ve done so while expressing their individuality without apology. They don’t conform, they transform.   They are shining examples of sisterhood, friendship and excellence.

Please believe: The best is yet to come

God has a way of putting us where we need to be to receive the message we need to hear exactly when we need to hear it.

That’s what happened this morning when my husband and I decided to worship at Ebenezer Baptist Church instead of attending our own church.  Rev. Natosha Rice delivered a word from the Lord that encouraged us to keep pressing forward in the midst of what has been a Job-like season for our family and friends: lung cancer, leukemia, prostate cancer.

And just as one friend was recovering from surgery for prostate cancer, he was hit last weekend by a tow truck driver while riding his bicycle.

In the midst of it all, we know in our hearts that God is in control. Yet in those quiet times — often in the midnight hour — fear and profound sadness creep in.

Rev. Rice shared with us the beautiful story of the devotion and faithfulness of Ruth toward her mother-in- law Naomi. When Naomi’s husband died, this woman who was admired by many lost her identity and became mired in depression. Later, her two sons — who were married to Ruth and Orpah — died; leaving the three women alone. Naomi told the younger women to return to their homelands because she had been foresaken for God.

Orpah left but Ruth stayed with her mother-in-law. She reminded Naomi of the woman she used to be and encouraged her to work through her pain and get back to her old self.

Rev. Rice talked about the power of their relationship to make the point that we need to be our brother’s and sister’s keeper.  Yesterday I was blessed to celebrate a friend’s 60th birthday. For the last five years this friend has been faced with a huge test.   In the midst of her husband’s health crisis, which has forever altered their life together, she has remained steadfast in her faith. God has allowed her to retire from her job, care for her husband and see her daughters marry the men of their dreams. She has watched her husband undergo a bone marrow transplant with cells donated by his eldest daughter.

My friend has been faithful in her Job season. She truly believes that the best is yet to come because of her relationship with God. Her children have risen up and called her blessed. Her friends and family marvel at her resilience. Her husband adores her.

Best of all, God is well pleased, as he was with Ruth — who was blessed with another husband, her Boaz.

Change comes to all of us. As I reflect on the valley my family finds itself in I am encouraged that my father is facing cancer with peace and clarity. I am thankful that he is free of pain. In our seasons of change we must hold fast to God’s unchanging hands and trust his will for our lives.

We must trust and believe that our best days are yet to come.