What About The Children?

“Willful blindness: You are responsible if you could have known and should have known something that instead you strove not to see.” Margaret Heffernan

Breastfed, bathed and clothed in neutral gray organic pajamas, covered with a tender blue hypoallergenic blanket, a baby sleeps peacefully and trustingly in a grey bassinet cradle that is close enough for Mom to keep a watchful eye while she and four friends enjoy an at-home girl’s night out that includes drinks and smokes.

Who is this baby? Could be one of approximately 1,200 children (six months to four years) referred to in a study published in the Journal of Nicotine and Tobacco (December 5, 2018) in which “15% were found to have levels of Cotinine, a byproduct of the body’s breakdown of nicotine, comparable with what would be found in an adult smoker.”

The American Heart Association, CDC (Center for Disease Control) and Cleveland Clinic among others say second-hand smoke (SHS) contains more than 7,000 chemical compounds, of which 200 to 400 hundred are toxic and approximately 70 are “known” to cause cancer.

Assuming only two of the four women are smokers and each smoked three cigarettes during the evening, this baby whose Mother is “keeping a watchful eye” is inhaling a minimum of 14,000 chemicals, 400 toxins and 140 cancer causing agents.

Newborns, say Harvard School of Public Health, exposed to SHS by parents (and other caregivers) are at higher risk for attention deficit, hyperactivity and other developmental disorders. According to The American Lung Association and others, exposed babies are at increased risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), experience acute respiratory infections and frequent buildup of fluid in middle ear.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that preliminary studies show a possible link between SHS exposure and later-in-life cancer. The American Heart Association report that exposed children can have early stiffening and narrowing of the arteries causing premature cardiovascular disease. Other possible risk factors are emphysema, obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and insulin resistance – a precursor to diabetes.” The (ADA) American Dental Association has identified a “moderate risk of increase in cavities in the teeth of exposed babies.

What is this smoke? SHS is (1) the combination of smoke from the burning end of a cigarette and other tobacco products (2) the exhaled smoke which is said to contain more toxins than the smoke inhaled by the smoker.

Third Hand Smoke (THS) is the invisible and unavoidable residue that remains in the environment on surfaces (skin, hair, clothing, toys, bedding, furniture, utensils, walls, floor, food, etc.) after tobacco has been smoked. This smoke accumulates and penetrates. As reported in the Public Housing Smoke-Free Report, the effects of smoke in units occupied by long-term smokers has penetrated the sheetrock and is “so bad,” the walls cannot just be treated and resealed. So, in addition to the SHS inhaled by the baby comfortable and protected under its hypoallergenic blanket, it will, long after girl’s night out is over, ingest at
least another two hundred Fifty (250) chemicals left behind in the form of THS.

There is unquestionable agreement among a broad spectrum of experts and interest groups that there is no acceptable level of smoke to which people, regardless of age, can be exposed. It is this agreement that led to state-wide comprehensive smoke-free laws to ensure non-smoking adults that they are protected from SHS and THS in public and private places while they do business, eat, learn, socialize, travel, work and chill.

This is not to say children do not derive any benefit from this law. But what good is it to 37% of America’s children who are inhaling smoke in places where they sleep, eat, learn, play, travel and chill? What difference does it make when their respiratory and brain health, like that of the breast fed, baby wrapped in the tender blue hypoallergenic blanket (and no doubt will be secured in a Raven HX car seat for travel),has already been compromised even though he has lived only 135 days of his 79-year life expectancy (based upon 2015 trends)?

It was 1964 when the first surgeon general ‘s report was issued on the danger of cigarette smoke. Fifty-four (54) years later we have failed to fully protect children from SHS and THS in their home and in automobile in which they travel. And now, they face another smoking threat: Marijuana
This writing is not, as stated in a June 1, 2014 article in the NASW (National Association of Social Workers) News, “Whether marijuana is beneficial to the sick or whether people should have the freedom to choose for themselves.” It is about the question posed by the author, “What About the Children?” Children exposed to marijuana smoke “breathe in 400-plus toxins. And what if they live or interact with adults who are both cigarette and marijuana smokers?

It is prompted by conversations I had with teachers, a school nurse, parents and school administrators who are concerned about the frequency with which adults, who between 7 and 9 a.m., are bringing preschool children to school or coming to elementary and high schools with or regarding their children “wreaking” with the smell of Loud Marijuana. This raises questions about how the toxic load these children are carrying dictates their behavior and their learning experience that day.

If, let us say, the results of studies on children’s exposure to marijuana smoke are only partially true, these children may begin their school day with what is called “Minor” effects that can last from between two (2) hours and one (1) day and may include “drowsiness and lethargy followed by lack of coordination, irritability and confusion.”

When children come to school from homes and/or in cars that has exposed them to SHS every child and adult in the classroom can experience the effects. So, school which is thought to be a smoke-free-zone where children, especially the very young, will be shielded for a specific number of hours each day become yet another place where their health and development are at risk.

What to do?

Ask and answer honestly the question Heffernan puts to us in Willful Blindness: What are the forces at work that makes us deny the big threats that stare us in the face? Without answers to this question and the genuine support that comes with it, school personnel will not know what to do officially. I am paraphrasing but was told about a school that posted a sign telling parents not to come in the building if they smell like Loud marijuana. Although not ideal, this is one option. It is an attempt to deter. But, it is I think, also the kind of action taken when leaders know something must be done but given factors such as racism, implicit bias, inequality in education, the importance of welcoming and engaging parents as partners, Politics, and uncertainly about organizational, board and community support they are equally or maybe more concerned about capsizing the boat they will rock.

What do we know?

Exposure to tobacco smoke including medical marijuana, e-cigarettes and vaping is a threat to a child’s physical health and brain development

“Lower income, less education, frequent residential moves and fluctuations in the number of adults within the home is associated with high smoke exposure.”.
Parents love, care for and want the best for their children. Many, even some who are attempting to keep their home and automobiles smoke-free, face challenges from family members, house mates, friends, and acquaintances; some of whom have had life-long smoke exposure.

Some parents who are working diligently to safeguard their children from smoke have misconceptions about the source of SHS and its impact. In her Dissertation Head Start Parent Perspective on Child Exposure to Secondhand Smoke in the Home (2018), Dr. Christiana Abani Bekie reports, “More and more of them started to say, ‘Oh, no, we don’t smoke tobacco – we only smoke marijuana because that’s natural.” Others writers confirmed misconceptions of parents who said children are not exposed when a car window is down. Or I only smoke after the children go to bed. Responses of parents with whom I spoke included my children eat healthy and take their vitamins every day or I spray the house, keep air freshener in the car or air the house out.

Some parents, relatives and service providers distrust the science. This was courageously expressed by E.G. Fowler, Executive Director of Northwest Regional Housing Authority. “…I smoked too. I didn’t really believe what I had been hearing about the dangers of secondhand smoke. I thought it was all hype…” Case in point – a parent told me of a relative scheduled to be drug tested for employment who used the urine of a pre-school relative and still failed. This is consistent with a 2016 study that reported THC found in the urine of children exposed to second hand marijuana smoke.

Where to start? Identify, work with and learn from partners

PHAs (Public housing agencies), public and charter schools, Head Start and other early childhood programs provide services to the same populations. As of July 31,2018, all public housing in the country is required to implement HUD’s Smoke-Free Policy. This means no smoking is allowed in living or work spaces, common areas or on the grounds. (A PHA can establish a smoking area outside but must follow specific and strict guidelines.) Their report, Implementing HUD’s Smoke-Free Policy – A Guidebook) which speaks to the challenges, including resistance, also describes their process and the partners with whom they are working to engage and support tenants and employees in changing their thinking and their behavior.

DEHSU (Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit: The University of Illinois School of Public health and Stroger Hospitals are Affiliate. PEHSU “work with health care professionals, parents, schools and community groups, and others to provide information on protecting children and reproductive-age adults from environmental hazards. They also work with Federal, State, and local agencies to address children’s environmental health issues in homes, schools, and communities. The basic services of the PEHSU includes outreach, education and training

Funded by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Smoking Cessation Leadership Program whose mission is “to decrease smoking rates and increase the number of health professionals who help smokers quit by leading smoking-cessation education and advocacy efforts across the country.”

According to Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, 70% of American Smokers want to quit. Six percent succeed. Smokers with college degrees have an eleven percent success rate as compared with three percent of smokers with less than 12 year of schooling. Most smokers do not participate in smoking cessation programs and activities.

Promote the use of Apps such as QuitSmokeFree.gov and LiveHelpCancer.gov. `

Using what brain science tells us about what we pay attention to and why, engage parents and other partners in developing an educational media campaign around, “What About the Children?”


Healthy People 2020 Initiative has a tobacco control objective to substantially reduce the number of children, and adult exposed to SHS. But, because drivers’ response to voluntarily stop smoking when children are in cars has not yield meaningful results, the Public Law Health Center does not believe that objective can be reached without legislation. To this end, seven states (California (2001) Arkansas (2006) Louisiana (2006) Maine (2008) Utah (2013) Oregon (2014) Vermont (2014) Virginia (2016) and Puerto Rico have passed a law that demonstrates their commitment to provide their children comprehensive protection from SHS and THS. On July 1, 2019, Indiana will become the ninth State.

And “The Land of Lincoln?” Well. on January 21, 2014, State Senator Ira Silverstein proposed Senate Bill 2654. The bill as enacted by the states (and Puerto Rico) mentioned above would “fine Illinois motorist caught smoking up to $100 (miscellaneous offense) when there are passengers under eighteen in the car. “An American Lung Association representative testified that toxic levels of smoke in cars can be far greater than in homes.” The proposal was approved by a Senate health Committee. However; State Senator Patricia Van Pelt who represents westside neighborhoods including the West Loop, Little Italy and Garfield park, spoke to concerns expressed by some other black legislators and a lobbyist for the African-American Family Commission: “The law might be used by dishonest police to hassle African-American Drivers. I understand and agree with the health goal of the bill but we are constantly harassed all the time. It doesn’t matter that I am a senator. I’m harassed. It doesn’t matter what my son is doing, He’s harassed. I feel that the suffering that a child may have as a result of smoke is far less than what happens when they lose their parents.” (Reported in the News-Gazette)

March 4, 2014 the Bill was amended to say only the driver of the vehicle may be ticketed for the offense and motorcycles and convertible motor vehicles in open-air or top down mode are exempt from this provision.

July 11, 2014 the bill was referred to assignment (Senators Clayborn Jr., Harmon, Lightford, Althoff, Righter)

January 13, 2015 the status was reported as Session Sine Die meaning there is no definitive day for reconvening at a hearing. In plain English, it is dead.

On January 1, 2019 Senate Bill 2514 became law allowing state law enforcement agencies to enforce the Smoke-Free Illinois Act and charge violators a civil penalty ranging from $100 to $2,500.00. This, in case there is any doubt, is our state legislators’ answer to the question, What about the children?


Are You A Leopard? Do You Have Spots?

We simply cannot understand the long chain of consequences arising from what we do, or even the origin of our own impulses. Reinhold Niebuhr

Let me start with three points about which I want to be crystal clear.

1. In my opinion, Brett Kavanaugh should not sit on the Supreme Court because he will join other conservative-leaning judges who have demonstrated a high level of disregard for human rights, civil rights and environmental rights and responsibilities.
2.. I am not defending Dr. Christine Ford’s allegation nor am I disputing what Judge Bret Kavanaugh believes to be his truth.
3. I am not saying or implying that Dr. Ford or any victim should, as several women asked me,”have kept her mouth shut.” Speaking up and out validates experiences, feelings and effect, increases awareness of and intolerance at work and other places where it is not safe for a woman to be a woman.

Instead, this is just me thinking out loud on paper about beliefs such as, “If you lie, you will steal, and “A leopard cannot change its spots,” the related assumptions and the decisions” and actions that can sprouts from these beliefs.

That elephant that has been sitting, virtually undisturbed, in the middle of the nation’s living room for centuries is sexual harassment in the workplace. It was 2007, when Tarana Burke, an African American activist disturbed it by starting ‘MeToo’, without the hashtag. Burke intended to give voice to “Survivors of sexual assault in underprivileged communities.” But, since the effects of a disturbance, is at best unpredictable, it is not surprising that other women – more prominent women – followed her lead and propelled us, for better and for worse, into a global movement that makes it impossible to pretend not to see that 24,000 pounds in the middle of the room.

But it was President’s Trump’s nominee for the Supreme that compelled another woman to take to the national stage and say “MeToo.” Of what did she accuse this sexual predator? ‘He pushed me into a bedroom, turned up the music, put his hand over my mouth to stop me from screaming, held me down, laughed drunkenly and attempted to remove my clothing to force himself on me. I thought he was going to rape me. I was afraid he would accidently kill me. I was 15-years old.’ Who was he? A sitting Judge on the D.C. Court of Appeals, Bret Kavanaugh. He was 17. The year,1983.

Dr. Ford said, “My motivation in coming forward was to provide the facts about how Mr. Kavanaugh’s actions have damaged my life, so that you can take that into serious consideration as you make your decision about how to proceed.”

The now fifty-three (53) year old Bret Kavanaugh’s response to the now fifty-two )52) year old Christine Ford’s allegation: “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. “I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”

And, for the victim, the trauma can show up as a diminishing sense of physical and psychological safety, self-blaming, shame, unworthiness, fear, and/or an uncleanliness that is not easily exfoliated. Thus, the impact on fifteen (15) year old Christine was no less devastating and enduring than for the each of the victims (most of whom was older than she) who came forth in 2017 and 2018.,

On its face, this is not good. The accusations against Judge Bret Kavanaugh had a number of people concerned about his ability and maybe even his willingness to protect Roe v Wade and support other rights of women that would come before the court during his lifetime of service if he was confirmed.

While the saying, “Time heals all wounds,” is not applicable to sexual harassment or sexual assault, should it matter that there are no known allegations of sexual misconduct against Bret Kavanaugh for the last 35 years?

A 2009 Juvenile Justice Bulletin states, sexual offenses against teens by teens “surge” during mid and late teens but 85-95% of sex-offending youth have no arrest or reports for future sex crimes (1999, 2002, 2007). Those who have a future arrest, it is far more likely to be for non-sex crimes such as property and drugs. While this does not mean none of the 100 plus adult sexual predators did not sexually abuse as a teenager, it does seem to indicate that sexual misconduct as a teenager is not a predictor of behavior and attitude toward women as an adult.

In less than 18 months, over one-hundred powerful, high-profile men have been fired, resigned, stepped down, or suspended for workplace sexual harassment and/or assault. The number of victims attributed to each man ranged from several to multiple with over 200 being the highest number reported for one man. Characteristically, these men had:

(1) acquired status in the industry in which they worked for ten (10) years or more (2) connections with key people in related industries (3) personal wealth, (4) power over the careers of women (5) Threatened to or ended the careers of some women(6) a cadre of people who served as gatekeepers and protectors.

Is there an appreciable difference between the 17-year old Bret, referred by some as a rapist, and the one-hundred plus men ranging in age from early thirties to eighties with some engaging in predatory practices that began before the 1970s or 80s and continued until they were #MeToo-ed in 2017 or 1218?

Dr. Ford described 17-year old Bret as a, “stumbling drunk.” The second accuser and some who knew and socialized with him from senior year in high school through his freshman year in college, the time frame of the accusations, shared similar memories of Bret as “belligerent and aggressive when he drank excessively which he often did.”

Judge Kavanaugh, on the other hand, adamantly disagreed and remembers himself, as someone who “liked beer, sometimes had too many but “never drank to the point of passing out or not being able to recall what happened.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, “Juveniles account for one-third (35.6%) of those known to law enforcement to have committed sexual offenses against other minors. Of those who are identified, 46% of child-on-child sexual abuse occurs between the ages of 15 and 17 at school or an unsupervised activity.

This may be alarming but should not be surprising when coupled with what brain science is telling and teaching us about the not-yet-fully-developed adolescent brain on alcohol. When the teenage brain which generally does not reach maturity until middle twenties (24-25) is saturated with beer and other alcohol, it’s frontal lobes cannot assume full responsibility for self-control. The cerebellum cannot assume full responsibility for eye-hand coordination. The hippocampus cannot assume full responsibility for keeping track of what the drinker does. The hypothalamus cannot assume full responsibility for regulating bodily functions and monitoring heart rate and body temperature.

Another factor is the amount of alcohol the adolescent brain is forced to tolerate on each drinking occasion. An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (2014) asked, Why Colleges Haven’t Stopped Binge Drinking: decades of attention with not much difference and a 1983 self-report survey, “The Drinking Patterns and Problems of College Students” which included 6115 college students from every state reported 20.2% were heavy drinkers.” These and others identify
binge drinking as a common practice among college and high school students. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, defines binge drinking as four (4) or more drinks guzzled down in rapid succession. While the survey did not use the term “binge drinking,” the letter written by Bret (1983) to seven classmates attending a party at a rented beachfront property that said, “warn the neighbors that we’re loud, obnoxious drunks with prolific punkers among us,” seems to imply they would be binge drinking.

Also, tolerance for the “immediate negative effects” of binge drinking is higher for the adolescent than for an adult. Therefore, the adolescent brain carries a higher toxic load which may be why this type of drinking causes an “alcoholic blackout” – not the same as passing out. Because the hippocampus is not fully functioning, an adolescent experiencing a blackout is “fully awake” but may have little or no memory of events or behaviors.

This alcohol-induced anemia would not absolve the 17-year old of Bret from the sexual aggression of which he is accused. And since, based on my limited knowledge, neuroscience is not definitive about memory recovery of the 17 to 24-year old binge drinker, 53-year old Bret may well have, as some said, “lied under oath.” That would be troubling but it would also be another story.

Given what we know, on the one hand about teenage brain development and the low rate of recidivism and the need, on the other hand, to continue to, “Grapple with the gravity of harassing behavior,” what moral reasoning goes into determining if a person alleged to have been untrustworthy 35 years ago is still as untrustworthy today?

Peer pressure and peer influence is both positive and negative. But, during early and late teens, children are especially vulnerable to their particular peer group. This, according to social psychologist and others is the reason for the carefully crafted self-presentation that shows itself in behaviors such as clothing and how they are worn, drinking, dancing and interactions between members of the opposite sex. This is driven by an emotionally charged need to belong and the approval that comes with it. This make an additional demand on a brain whose ability to assess risk and potential consequences is developmentally incapable.

If the Bret who was “never a legal drinker in high school because the drinking age was increased to 21 on July 1, 1982” and the writings in his high school year book that prompted “1947 Red Scare” type of questioning, are indications of who he is today, should it not be easy to find examples of his disregard for the law and proof of sexual misconduct that occurred during his eleven years on the Circuit Court of Appeals – 2006-2017?

Albert Ellis, founder/author of Rational Emotive Therapy coined the phrase, “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” This is Inductive reasoning that would hold all the time for everyone were it not for the X-Factor, IF. This can only be true all of the time and for everyone if everything remained constant meaning individuals and their environments do not change. This does not, however, mean it is never true. But it is safe to say it is not true more often than it is true as evidenced by us imperfect adults who were to some degree, in our youth, “Marked by rashness, proclivity for risk, and inability to access consequences, but came through that phase of life and are now on the other side of it with our secrets in tack.

This is after the fact. Bret Kavanaugh, for better or worse, is a Supreme Court Justice. But this whole process is an opportunity to ask, what does this mean for we will do with what we know in the future? Knowing is not the problem. It is being willing to ask, ourselves and each other what kind of reasoning are we applying to make the “decision about how to proceed?”

The endless work done by Juvenile Justice advocates on behalf of incarcerated young children and early teens found guilty of first-degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault and aggravated battery with a firearm to determine where they should be tried (Family or Adult court), where they should be imprisoned and for how long they should be punished offers insight into the kind and quality of decisions that are made when the question, “What do we do with what we know,” is asked and answered over and over again.

The 2012 Supreme Court Juvenile Justice decision held that the practice of automatically transferring juveniles 17-years old and younger to adult prison to serve mandatory life sentences is unconstitutional (except in rare cases) and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. And, the 2016 expansion of that ruling includes resentencing and/or paroling juveniles, and when warranted, applying parole retroactively. All because “A teen who commits a crime, even a terrible one such as murder, is not forever defined by that one act.”

In her opinion Justice Elena Kegan wrote, “Adolescence is marked by “rashness, proclivity for risk, and inability to assess consequences.” But she acknowledged, they also have a heightened capacity for change.

This raised questions about the rights of the victim and family members against the right of a guilty-as-charge adolescent. Thompson of the University of Michigan acknowledges the pain and offers the following. “Concentration on the crime. misses the point of the Supreme Court Ruling. Nobody is disputing the heinousness of the crime, no one is disputing what led them there… but based on the science, is it or is it not cruel and unusual punishment to condemn to life someone whose brain is not fully developed?

So, if it is reasonable to consider reducing the life sentence of a 17-year old who is guilty of first degree murder, felony murder and mutilation, thereby, increasing his chances for early release because he is demonstrating the capacity to change from an adolescent “marked by “rashness, proclivity for risk, and inability to assess consequences, to a responsible adult, must we ask whether it was reasonable to attempt to keep Bret Kavanaugh off the Supreme court because of the allegations that stems from sexual aggression when he was 17-years old?

Let’s suppose the answer to this question is “Yes.” That only leads to other more pressing questions, at least for me. Does this start us down the “Leopard can’t change its spot,” slippery slope? If so, are we prepared for the slide?

Shamed Anybody Lately?

“There is no job that’s better than another job. It might pay better, it might have better benefits, it might look better on a resume and on paper. But actually, it’s not better. Every job is worthwhile and valuable.” Geoffrey Owens

While standing in one of several rush-hour lines in my neighborhood grocery store another customer said, loud enough for others, including the cashier to hear the following words dripping in hydrochloric Acid,“Wouldn’t last a split second at my job. You need to hurry up. I don’t have all day…”

This reminded me of what was done to Geoffrey Owens in September 2018 at Trader Jones in Clifton, New Jersey more than 700 miles from Chicago.Customer, Karma Lawrence, uploaded a picture to Celebrity sites on the worldwide web of the former Cosby Show actor cashiering and bagging groceries at Trader Joe’s

Unlike Owens, who described himself as being “initially devastated.” But said because of an outpouring of support, “the shame part didn’t not last very long,”
The world will never hear how the cashier at my local store felt. But, both were shamed. One in person. One online. And, the valuable service those customers received from the cashiers was not acknowledged.

For instance, both customers needed their groceries bagged and most likely expected it to be done by a skilled bagger whose understanding of product placement guaranteed the shell on each of the twelve eggs was intact and every slice of bread was still perfectly shaped when they un-bagged them.

Shame Researcher, Berne Brown says, “Shame is an epidemic.” Its symptoms are a diminished sense of worthiness, belonging and connection and an unwillingness to be vulnerable. As Maslow reminds us, belonging is a basic need. And, through out their book Connect, the authors emphasize the relationship between feeling connected and being able to appropriately regulating one’s behavior.

The few people with whom I spoke seem to agree with Brown. They believe shaming is common and will continue to increase because of intolerance and impatience. It is also, they think, egged on by the entertainment industry and the anonymity offered by the worldwide web.

There is general agreement that shaming is publicly calling out an individual to make others aware of a behavior believed to be inappropriate or unacceptable and maybe typical of the group to which that person belongs.

Someone asked, “Is it ever appropriate to call someone out? This is a reasonable question to which I answered, “Yes; if you are as clear as you can possibly be about your motive.“ Most of the time, “calling out” that is not self-serving is done privately or as quietly and quickly as possible. The person might feel ashamed but will not be shamed.

With the understanding that constructive criticism, feedback that is hard to hear and other technique used by the appropriate person to facilitate growth and positive change is not the same as shaming, I can think of absolutely no reason for a customer to shame an employee.

Robert Fuller, author of Somebodies and Nobodies overcoming the abuse of rank offers a wide-angle lens through which we can look at job shaming. Fuller suggest that shaming will continue as long as rank is used as a weapon. Rank, however is not the problem. Family, the first group in which we participate is hierarchical and therefore rank its members by age, title and sometimes gender. And, like other groups, does so to facilitate its ability to function effectively. It is what an individual does with his or her rank that matters.
Fuller calls this Rankism and says it is “not so much a new kind of discrimination as it is the common denominator of all other underlying forces that give the familiar ones: (age, class, disabilities, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation) their capacity to inflict damage.”

Rankism, which is not a natural outgrowth of rank, is an effective and convenient camouflage for any of the isms. It is intended to diminishes the worth of one person while artificially enhancing the worth of another. It positions the nobody (the person who is ranked) against the somebody (the person who is practicing rankism.)

For instance, the customer at the Chicago store appeared to use classism (dress) and ageism (several decades older than the cashier) to imply (1) You are deficient. (2) I am important. You are not. (3) I am intelligent. You are not.)

Karma Lawrence, the customer in New Jersey ranked Owens by using classism. She “Felt bad for him.” She didn’t understand how he “Ended up a cashier.” Not only was he a cashier, he was “Non-union and wearing a dirty shirt.” Her message to the world, even though she is part of three demographics: African-American, female and same-sex that have experienced untold shaming: He is a use-to-be: a nobody that use to be a somebody. It apparently never occurred to her that Owens, for whatever reason chose to work that job. Therein lies the problem.

Every once in a while, we get an opportunity to ask, “Am I who I think I am?” Lawrence has provided us with the opportunity to answer that question by taking full responsible for the rank we have. After all, it is our attitude and values that determines how we use our rank.

Some of the people who strongly opposed Lawrence’s treatment of Owens used phrases like working a regular job, taking a job beneath him, working a job because of bad life choices, the best he can do, are de-valuing the work and therefore the person doing the work. It also is not unusual to hear comments such as “You’re just a…, Do you know who I am, Let me talk with someone in charge, You sure you know what you’re doing, You don’t look old enough to…. This is how rankism is practiced and perpetuated.

The vast majority of the seven million plus women and men who work in retail cashier-ing and perform other jobs that make life easier for the rest of us, will not, when they are shamed, have the outpouring of support offered to the former actor. So, the only thing to do is be guided by a truth spoken by him: “Every job is worthwhile and valuable.”

Is This Really About Respect?

It goes without saying, Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul earned the right to be celebrated with respect and honor.


There are a few things I read and saw in the media that in my opinion, seemed not to be just about honoring and respecting the life of Aretha. But the one thing that has some of my friends, associates and social media agquaintances in the grip of distress is Ariana Grande’s short, over-the-knee-thighs=showing-short dress. 

That dress is causing them to forget the good book says,“A man of wrath stirs up strife,and one given to anger causes much transgression.” (Proverbs 29:22) It is also motivating them to verbally tattoo her with unrighteous labels such as slut and classless, and accuse her of deliberating wearing the dress to “steal attention away from Aretha.”

So, was the dress short?  Yes. Was it appropriate by African-American standard for church or a funeral? No.  Does her dress warrant the wrath of God? Did she disrespect the church? Did she disrespect Aretha Franklin? Absolutely not to all three.

There are standards for how to dress when you come to an African American church for a funeral but they frequently get violated and most times by people who grew up in the church. I am not the only African-American woman who has seen African-American women in their 20s wearing short dresses to church and funerals. And as, someone said, the church elders, look at them the way they looked at Ariana, shake their heads and wonder what this world is coming to.   I am not the only African-American woman who have seen African-American women who have not been 25 for a decade or two, have on things that are cut too low and fit too tight by church standards. And, those same church elders look at them and shake their heads and wonder what the world is coming to.


Ariana was invited to “perform” at a home-going not attend a funeral. I looked at what she wore to perform at other venues. Comparatively, it seems she was thoughtful about what to wear: The color, minimum jewelry which was understated, the lace to cover her cleavage and the style of the short dress. The pony tail; she’s stuck with. It’s hers.


Ariana Grande is 25.  She is not African-American and probably has limited knowledge of our traditions.  Question:  Why didn’t, as Smokey Robinson said, someone on her team, talk with her?  Equally important, why didn’t at least one of the African-Americans who were organizing this event, check with her team or talk directly with her about what was expected in terms of dress?  If someone had that conversation and she knowingly violated the expectation, that’s a different story. (It still wouldn’t make her a slut).


This raises another question for me:  What is this outrage about the short dress really about?  People are ragging on this young woman about her dress with such intensity, and yet some of them – far too many- are making excuses for a 60-year old man who claims not to know the difference between holding a woman around her waist and pressing his finger into her breast.  Now, the Bible says, “Do not Judge.” That means that I need to give Bishop Ellis the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe he has some kinesthetic issues. But, is he also visually and emotionally challenged?  The look on her face announced her discomfort. He not only kept his fingers pressed into the side of her breast, he pulled her to him when it was clear she wanted to distance herself.  And He has, I assume, been around for #MeToo.  I’m not judging.  I’m just saying.

A partial answer to my question: What is this really about? is stated or at least implied in the following social media comment:

“He apologized over and over. Let’s be done with it. She on the other hand should be apologizing to the Franklin family as well. What she wore was inappropriate for a funeral and especially for the fact she was performing. Her stylist or agent and even Ariana should have known to dress with respect.”

There are others statements.  But this defense of the Bishop’s behavior makes the point. And, will, I hope prompt to you to ask the same question of yourself, your family, your friends.

Haven’t we said, “Let’s be done with it one too many times already?”








And For What?

Let’s see. A Black man murders five and injures seven white policemen and two non-police citizen during a peaceful gathering intended to protest  the killing of Black boys and men by white police officers. A Black man murders three police officers – two white, one black and injures two others. A white man murders 49 LBGTQ people socializing at a night club. A white man murdered nine men and women during a prayer service in their church. Dallas Texas. Orlando Florida, Charleston, South Carolina, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Sixty-six more people dead- taken out of the mix – 12 injured. And for what? Because the men who pulled the triggers lost their humanity and their humility.

The two Black men are no different than their White counterparts. They are murderers – plain and simple. They just wanted to kill White police officers just as the White man in Orlando just wanted to kill LBGTQ people and the White man in Charleston just wanted to kill Black people. As I was reminded, one of the police officers killed by the Baton Rouge murderer is Black. That is true. But, maybe in the mind of the murderer the second worse thing you can be is a Black police officer. Or maybe his death is what is meant by the saying, “when you dig one ditch, you better dig two.”

People’s feelings and opinions range from this is wrong to they got what they deserved. Be that as it may, these murders must not be given and does not deserve a speck of credit for increasing awareness of, causing an awakening about or bringing renewed energy to the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Black lives did not matter to them. Their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and other family members did not matter to them. They did not care that their families will live with the choice they made the same as one must live with the affects of a painful debilitating disease. They were incapable of considering, how, for generations, their actions will slowly but sturdily suck the nutrients from their family’s tree.

The little Sister of the Dallas murderer, no doubt unduly influenced by her older Brother’s beliefs, said the day before his rampage “These cops need to get a taste of the life we now fear.” Her words would have just been rhetoric had he not killed the very people she thought deserved to die. While I think she is too young to understand the full implications of her words, that does not matter now. Those words, as Faulkner explains in Lights in August, “will just be there inside (of her), lodged between memory and forgetting, musing quiet, steadfast, not fading and not particularly threatful, but of itself alone serene, of itself alone (and) triumphant because nothing is ever escaped.”

These men are not messengers. They are not an inspiration. They are not leaders. We reserve these identities for Black men and women who say, “I am standing in the gap of injustice until it is closed.” And then they stand without that senseless and self-destructive eye-for-an eye mentality. That is what Civil Right Activist Fannie Lou Hammer did after she lost her job and her home simply because she registered to vote. It is what Dr. Martin Luther King did after he’d “been to the mountain top.” It is what Nelson Mandela was doing when he was imprisoned for 27 years and it is what he continued to do after his release. It is what Harriet Tubman was doing when she made “nineteen trips” to the South to free over “three hundred slaves” and what she was doing when she said, “If I could have convinced more slaves that they were slaves, I could have freed thousands more.”

It is hard to paint a verbal picture of the raw emotions that can get stirred up when an action by the police reminds us that cities across this country have for years treated police brutality as if it is a figment of Black people’s imagination. The conglomerate of inequities in the criminal justice system has caused many of us to ask what will it take? But, most of us are shaken by how this question might be answered at the extreme. And so we, one way or another, let our hearts be guided by questions Dr. King asked in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, “will we be extremist for hate or will we be extremist for love? Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or will we be extremist for the cause of justice? The vast majority of us, take a deep breath, count to ten, hug each other, dry our tears and intentionally act out of love and justice. It is not easy but we do it anyway.

These men chose to be extremist for hate and to preserve injustice because it is what they believed in. So we have to remember that their acts of violence did not contribute anything to the Black Lives Matter Movement. And, should not take anything from it either. Those who have taken “The movement made them do it’ stance is no different than these men. Those who are blaming the movement are pulling a different kind of trigger hoping to turn others against the movement and therefore against an undeniable truth. All of us need to be in America’s face so American can face its historical shame. But, killing white police officers and blaming Black Lives Matters is not the way.

Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “It is not surprising that those accused of horrendous deeds and the communities they come from, for whom they believe they are committing these atrocities almost always find ways out of even admitting that they were indeed capable of such deeds. They adopt the denial mode, asserting that such-and-such has not happened, when the evidence is incontrovertible they take refuge in feigned ignorance.”

When it comes to justice for black men, women and children, this is what the criminal justice system is doing. This is what police departments are doing. It is what the Fraternal Order of Police is doing. It is what local politician are doing. It is what some police officers are doing – denying and then feigning ignorance.

In their own way, it is what these men would have us do – deny that they used a legitimate social movement as an excuse to satisfy their personal agenda and then either killed themselves or forced someone to kill them because they did not have the guts to stay here and face the people on whose behalf they claim to have acted. But the majority of us will not let them get away with that. Forgive? Yes. Excuse? No.

We will not excuse their actions because Black lives do matter. We want our children to know why Black lives matter. We want our children to know what we (Black people) do and do not do because black lives matter to us and what other people do and will not dare do when Black lives matter to them. And, equally as important, we want our children to understand, as our ancestors did, “Nothing is ever escaped.”

Whose “Bad” Was It? Whose “Bad” Is It?

And there are people still in darkness, And they just can’t see the light. If you don’t say it’s wrong, then that says its right.
Solomon Burke

1917: The Labor Union in East St. Louis who, after the strike ended, told its white members, ”Drastic action must be taken to retard this growing menace,” (referring to Negro immigrant coming from the south and those who “are already here.”) thus causing 39 blacks to be killed, a two-year old to be shot and thrown into a burning building, 100 plus black people to be shot or maimed and 5000 to be driven from their home, would not have incited the riot if black people who wanted and needed to work had not allowed themselves to be hired into union job. Right?

1920: The racist white mob who carried out the “Black Holocaust, “by burning every home, business and church and murdering children, women and men would not have done so if Black people with an entrepreneurial spirit, had not, through self-determine and faith, responded to segregation by making the Tulsa, Oklahoma Greenwood District so successful it was known “Black Wall Street. Right?

1954: The White people who burned crosses in front of a house, shot through the house ten times with a rifle and finally, because the family refused to accept what they called “reasonable offers to leave”, bombed the house.  But the White people would not have had to do this if the Black family had not moved in the White suburb of Louisville. Right?

1955: Missippissians, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam who gouged out Emmett Till’s left eye, shot him in the head, bashed his face in and threw his body in the Tallahatchie River would not have done so if this 14-year old Black boy had not said, “Bye Baby” to a white girl as he was leaving the store. Right?

1958: The State of Virginia would not have had to sentenced the Lovings, Mildred, a black woman and Richard, a white man to a year in jail for violating its 1924 Racial Integrity Law that prohibited marriage between “people classified as “white and people classed as black” if Mildred and Richard just had not fallen in love. Right?

1963: The Ku Klux Klan would not have bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church and killed four little girls if Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and other has not campaigned against racial injustice and fought for civil rights. Right?

Keep in mind that these are just six examples of race-related atrocities rooted in America’s “one-drop of blood” rule. This rule ranked Black Americans lower than White American thus giving White Americans permission to enslave, beat, murder, lynch, rape and deny our pursuit of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” without fear of meaningful consequences.

So whose “bad” was it? Ours for having that one drop of blood or the individual whose hand was stained by it or the society that provided the towel to wipe it off?

It saddens me that these  questions have to be asked but when people imply the gunman who killed 45 people and seriously injured 53 more would not have done so if two men had not been seen kissing or if LBGTQ people would simply avoid PDA (public display of affection) or if “those people” would “stop disobeying the Word of God, the questions  must be asked and some attempt made to answer.

Robert W. Fuller, in his book, Somebodies and Nobodies. Overcoming the Abuse of Rank, provide some answers for me. Fuller would, I think, say the gunman “suffered” from Rankism which according to Fuller is a claim to superiority.” It allows us to see our group as somebody and other groups as nobodies. Rankism justifies  “maltreatment, discrimination, disrespect, discourtesy, disdain derision and condescension. It is the “Mother of all isms” because it is the sources from which all forms of discrimination gets its “lifeblood.”

in my opinion, the Orlando terrorist attack is an example of how rankism “Erodes the will to learn, distorts personal relationships, taxes economic productivity, strokes ethnic hatred and why it causes “dysfunction and sometimes even violence, in families, schools and the workplace.”

Given that, I visualize a Sexual Preference Rankism Ladder. Those who identify as heterosexual, rank higher than a homosexual. A heterosexual Christian ranks higher than a heterosexual who is not Christians. A Christian heterosexual who also believe homosexuality is a sin, ranks higher than all the others. And, the highest rank belongs to the Christian heterosexual who believes it is his or her responsibility to assist God in executing “great vengeance” on homosexuals. The gunman and those who, whether they intend to or not, offer justification for his actions are high up on this ladder.

Your rank on this ladder makes you a more deserving “somebody” than those on the rungs below you. This is how you acquire your sense of somebody-ness. Like so many things, once you get it, you want to keep it so you conform to beliefs touted by  the people with whom you are ranked.

In The Science of Fear, Daniel Gardner, calls this “pooling information. “One person knows only what he knows, but thirty people can draw on the knowledge and experience of thirty, and so when everyone is convinced there are loins in the tall grass it’s reasonable to set aside your doubts and take another route to camp.” The problem comes when all you do is just take another route. There is no attempt to verify the facts – Did you see lions? How many were there? Who did they attack? What happened at the time of the attack? But there is no space in rankism for independent thinking. That is what makes it so easy for ranked people to treat rhetoric that makes no sense as if it is an inarguable fact as plain and simple as one plus one equals two.

Thomas Merton (No Man is An Island), reminds us that “one of the moral diseases we communicate to one another in society comes from huddling together in the pale light of insufficient answers to a question we are afraid to ask.”

Pooled information breeds empowerment. Armed with information sanctioned by those with whom you are ranked gives you the authority to practice “Rank-based discrimination.” Rank-based discrimination breeds what is thought to be justifiable violence. Its purpose is to remind the lesser somebodies that they are nobody compared to you and those with whom you are ranked. And, what is the point in being on the top rungs of this ladder if you cannot demonstrate to the world your willingness to fulfill your moral obligation to keep the nobodies in their place by any means necessary at any time and any place.

And so on June 17, 2015, 21-year old Dylann Roof, empowered by his rank, walked into a prayer service at the Emanuel African Methodist Church. sat for an hour, then shot and killed nine black men and women because, “You rape our women and you are taking our country.” And, consistent with the arrogance rank-based discrimination can breed he “let” a woman live because he wanted her to “tell them what happened.”

So the man who, on June 12, 2016, carried out, as President Obama called it, an “Act of hate” that has altered all of our lives forever, cannot be understood for anything but his hatred. This 29-year old killer and coward who used his pool of contaminated information to spray his hatred in an Orlando night club is no different than the killer and coward who sprayed his hatred in a place of worship in Charleston.

As Fuller points out, we have all been “No-bodied” by somebody and if we are to tell the truth, we have from our perceived rank, “no-bodied somebody else. And most of the time, we can offer an apology and it will be accepted. But when we even think about justifying the actions of a man whose beliefs allowed him to openly identify with a hate group who ranks itself so superior that its members reportedly throw people identified as LGBTQ (self or assumed to be) off a roof, there is no apology long enough or strong enough to undo the destruction to which we are contributing. So If we want to rank ourselves superior to people whose lifestyle and life choices are different than ours, we can do that. We just have to remember, what history has shown us, Rankism, in the final analysis is about power – about lording it over somebody you have convinced yourself is a lesser somebody than you. And, we’ve been living with the results of that for how many year now?

So we can place the burden of the Orlando “Bad” on the shoulders of the LBGTQ community or we can embrace Solomon Burke’s wisdom: “We got try to feel for each other, let our brother’s know that we care. Got to get the message, send it out loud and clear.”

Who Is Shaping Our Kids’ Sense of Self?

A child’s self-concept is learned.  He senses, feels, and assigns meaning to external stimuli in his life.       Jawanza Kunjufu

The Whole Brain Child (Daniel Siegel, M.D and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.) talks about the downstairs and upstairs brain.  The basic functions of the downstairs brain are innate reaction and impulses, fight and flight, anger and fear.   The upstairs brain facilitates sound decision making and planning, control over emotions and body, self-understanding, empathy and morality.   At its best, the brain is integrated.  The upstairs monitors the downstairs; the downstairs monitors the body.

Brain integration occurs when children are supported in learning to use their brains just as they are when learning to ride a bike. Even kids growing in the most supportive situations have to develop the skills needed to effectively use the upstairs brain rather than giving in to the reactive downstairs brain; also known as the primitive brain.

So imagine kids, mostly males (ages 7- 20) involved in an activity that requires them to lie, run game, steal, duck and dodge business owners and the police, carry a persona that can be interpreted as aggressive or potentially violent while living with the threat of being arrested.  Then, ask yourself which brain are they learning to rely on?

This writing is about that activity and related behavior that puts kids brains at risk because they’re caught up in a game of hustle and be hustled between guilty White people and African-American adults.  Both are liabilities.  White people because they allow themselves to be hustled.  African-American adults because they are using our kids to play white guilt like it’s a fiddle without regard for how this can shape African-American kids’ sense of self and the impact it can have on how they perceive their place in the world.

Here’s what’s happening.

The young “hustlers-in-training” have flyers asking for money to support sports teams associated with public schools, private schools, churches and community organizations or groups such as the Southern Little Rock Association for the Deaf.   As I understand it, the kids are instructed not to let the hustled take a flyer which might be why the kids extend them the way you would a tissue on which you have blown your nose.  Thus discouraging the hustled from reaching for it, let alone touching it.

(I bought a flyer asking for money to buy uniforms and equipment for “S.O.S.A.D (Save Our Sons and Daughters) Youth” whose “goals and dreams is to play in the ALL AMERICAN YMCA NATIONAL SOFTBALL FINALS.”  The team location: YMCA, 6330 S. Stony Island.  I called.  The YM has no such team.   (SOSAD NFP started in Detroit, Michigan in 1987 but show no activity since 2002)

Anyway, kids who don’t have flyers cradle a box of Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies – the ones generally purchased in bulk from wholesale grocery houses.  But, from what I observe, the cookies are props, maybe to show the African-American male’s willingness to do whatever is necessary to earn an honest living even if it means publicly laying his dignity prostrate at the feet of the very people who, as one grown hustler said, “Think a black man ain’t shit.”    I refrained from asking the obvious question.

Although young males, up to early teens, also work the streets, their primary assignment seems to be inside of businesses.   Some of the hustlers are young but obviously too old to be in anybody’s elementary or high school.  Then there are older men who claim to be coaches or sponsors.   They work the streets and are almost never seen with the kids on whose behalf they are hustling.

Here’s how it works.

Young kids, mostly males, go in Starbucks, Panera and other eating establishments three or four at a time.  They walk through the way you do when you want to get the lay of the land.  Then they split up and go from table to table asking customers for money.  If a customer’s cell phone is on the table a kid might put the flyer on top of it. When he picks up the flyer, he takes the phone and break for the door.  All of the other kids follow.   I have, on four occasions, seen kids snatch a wallet or purse.  Whatever the thievery, try to imagine the commotion that must be going on in the downstairs brain of these young kids.  The “excitement’ created by this kind of primitive behavior probably cause their bodies to feel like a working garbage truck sounds.

On weekends, some kids come in the same business several times a day.  Sometimes Managers let the kids leave on their own.  Most of the time they ask them to leave.  Some kids just leave.  Some refuse and leave when they get ready.  Others leave a trail of profanity behind them and if the manger is white, they remember to call him a racist.   Managers say they don’t call the police, the kids know they’re not going to call.  “So, one manager asked, “What can we do?”

This is not the behavior of kids who are being developmentally appropriately silly so when you say, “Boy, what is wrong with you? they run and giggle so hard they almost knock each other down and all you can do is shake your head.   These kids are being coached and monitored by what Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed) calls sub-oppressors – people who become oppressors of their own people.   They employ the same tactics as drug dealers:  give the shorty a few dollars to do their dirty work because they probably won’t get stopped.  If they do, they probably won’t get arrested.  If they get arrested, they’ll just go to ju-vey.

An eight-year old who came into Panera verified this.  During our conversation, I asked, “How would you feel if I came into your business bothering your customers? “I’d be mad,” he said.  “What would you do?”  “I’d tell you to get out.   Our conversation ended with me saying, “I want you to go home.”  His response: “I can’t. My Father is outside.”    And, he was with four other children – one girl, all under the age of ten hustling their hearts out while he stood watching like their overseer.   Granted this man may not have been the kid’s father but he was real grown.

So, I asked myself, am I witnessing African-American sub-oppressors making people who are ashamed of their history of oppression pay?   Could be.  What if this is about reparations?

Contributors to Should America Pay?  Slavery and The Raging Debate on Reparations, believe masses of African-Americans are engaged in a reparations movement because, “They have not lost the memory of the historical atrocities inflicted upon them and they will never forget or dismiss the continuation of this mistreatment by this country.”    Molly Secours, also a contributor who identifies herself as a middle-aged White woman, believes reparations are due because of “all of the subtleties that prohibit people of color from walking though the world with the same ease and privilege that most Whites enjoy.”  In a Case for Reparations (Atlantic Monthly, June 2014) Taneshi Coates says America will never be whole until it pays its debt to African-Americans who are systematically shut out of wealth-building opportunities.

People are genuinely attempting to work through the complexities associated with America paying this debt but hustling sub-oppressors are not among them.  And neither are guilty White people.

In The Content of Our Character, Shelby Steel says, guilt “makes us afraid for ourselves and so generates as much preoccupation as concern for others.   The nature of this preoccupation is always the redemption of innocence, the reestablishment of good feeling about oneself…. It can lead us to put our own need for innocence above our concern for the problem that makes us feel guilty in the first place.”

Nine and a half times out of ten, our kids are hitting up White people for money.  This gives me some sense of what sub oppressors are filling their heads with.  And, it makes me think Shelby might be on to something.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched kids walk right past me and other African-Americans and take their appeal to the white person.  Now, unless white people suffer from a collective visual impairment, there is no way they don’t see this too.  I have ease-dropped on my share of conversations between the hustler and hustled. The kids approach White people with just the right amount of deference.  The responses that “Make Me Wanna Holla” include –  You’re going to be the next Michael Jordan?  Who is your favorite football player?   I bet this is a big help to your Mother.  It’s nice of you to help your school out.

I know from experience, White people are good at asking questions but I have never heard a hustled White person ask the questions I and other African-Americans asked:  Do you have a school ID?   Does your school have a website?  Why does your coach have you out here collecting money?  Do you have your coach’s phone number?  Can I get a receipt for my donation?  But, I guess one does not ask questions if as Shelby says, “An ill gotten advantage is not hard to bear – it can be a mark of fate – until it touches the human pain it brought into the world.”

Guilt, reparations and hustling.  And our kids are doing the asking and the collecting.  African-American sub-oppressors willing to accept a dime, a quarter, a dollar as payment toward a debt that is bigger than most of us can comprehend is using “make whitey pay” as an excuse to hustle.   And, guilt-ridden White people willing to pay because “Blacks, then, become their redemption and as such, they must be seen as generally less than others with needs that are “special,” “unique,” “different.”  (Shelby)

I’ve talked with a lot of African-Americans about this.  Most are concerned about what it means for our kids.  “What can I do?” they ask.  But, sadly, it’s more a statement of resignation than an action question.  To those who justified this activity by saying, “They’re just trying to make a little money, Yvonne,” I say, “This is not training for budding entrepreneurs.   And, to those who said, White kids “do the same thing.”   I say, “White privilege is not transferrable.  African-American kids, even in 2016, cannot move around in this society with the same fluidity as White kids.  All this does is make them more vulnerable than any kid ought to be.

It is not ok for our kids to be running from a place of business because they have stolen something or to be “evicted” because they are doing something they have no business doing.

It is not ok for us to be asking the same question store managers are asking.   And, it is not ok for us to leave our children’s understanding of how African-Americans are and will response to racism and racist practices in the hands of the guilty and the hustler.

So what can we do?

For starter, we ought to follow the lead of those African-Americans who don’t give these kids money:  The message – I do not approve of what you are doing.  We can also put voice to this in our homes, churches, community organizations, CAPS programs, youth groups, parent meetings, mentoring groups, schools, theater and other arts.   We can use this as an opportunity to engage in dialogue around a salient point made by Coates: our focus needs to be on systemic racism rather than the individual racist.  If we do this, we make individual white people responsible for their own guilt and the hustler responsible for earning his own living.   We force them to leave our kids out of their self-serving mess.

Most importantly, we need to wrap our kids in the blanket of protective factors we know are required for their brain health.  These include positive socialization, consistent and growth- producing guidance and disciplinary practices and modeling from authentic cultural bearers and community influencers.

By the way, people employed as teachers, coaches, youth development specialist, etc. who are encouraging our kids by making flyers for them ought to be fired.  Trusting the fox to watch the hen house makes no sense.  To paraphrase Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man) we don’t need African-Americans who render our kids invisible simply because they refuse to see who they are and what they can become.













To Whom Does Black Lives Matter?

Unless we look the beast in the eye we find it has an uncanny habit of returning to hold us hostage. Desmond Tutu

Who might they have become? What might they have done? What might we have learned from each of them that none of us will ever know. How might we all, race, ethnicity, class and gender aside, be different had each of them lived?

Who knows? These are questions about which we can speculate but never hope to answer. But, they form the basis of my wondering when I think about African-Americans from utero to 83 years of age who are dead. I am not talking about African-Americans who are dead due to catastrophic illnesses, or horrible accidents or suicide or because they went to sleep and did not wake up. As much as these deaths can leave love one’s swimming in tears with hearts as fragile as egg shells, there is some vestige of rhyme and reason that makes for a kind of healing born out of hope. I am talking about African-American infants, toddlers, young children, adolescents, young adults, middle age and senior citizens who are dead because some other African-Americans (primarily men) decided like so many whites (primarily men) they did not deserve to live. And what for? White men murdered African-American for being in their neighborhood. African-Americans murdered other African-Americans for being in their hood. One group motivated by racism and separatism. The other by drugs and separatism. White men’s greed put African-American families at risk. African-American drug dealers/gangs’ greed puts the African-American families at risk. Both are representative of capitalism at its finest. So, when the torch passed to 2016, several thousand African-American could not join us in singing “Old Lang Syne,” because either the policemen or another African-American murdered them. No matter how you frame it, it is the same thing.

The violence in the African-American community by African-American and the violence against African-American men by policemen is not an iceberg lettuce and hot-house tomato sandwich held together by a slice of white bread on top and a slice of brown bread on the bottom. So we need to deconstruct the arguments used to build the comparative analysis intended to prove who is the worse murderer: African-American “Thugs” or police, specifically the ones who are “white racist.” It is a stupid, self-serving comparison because 11-year old Shamija Adams who was murdered when a stray bullet tore through the wall of the home she was at for a sleep-over has been dead 18 months and is no less dead than 17-year old Justus Howell murdered by police during a confrontation  a few days ago.

For the benefit of my loving friends who will demand to see my long birth certificate to authenticate my blackness, I am not giving credence to the justifications offered by FOX NEWS, Donald Trump and other Insensitives that imply police will stop killing us if we stop killing each other. But I am also not giving it to those who say we will stop killing each other if white people would just give us good jobs, etc.
It is true that we, African-American are responsible for the shooting deaths of most African-American. But it is also true that most white, Hispanic, Asian, Native Americans, etc. kill people in their racial/ethnic groups. But, what is true of other groups put African-Americans on front street because of the indisputable evidence that black lives have not and do not matter in America in the way they ought to matter simple because we are Americans.

The Black Lives Matter Movement is a timely and necessary movement that ought to be unnecessary. But it isn’t. So in-your-face action is the only way to bring attention to the behavior of men and women who have legal, professional and moral obligations to serve and protect but also have the permission of the systems that extended these obligations to murder African-Americans. Not only do they have permission to murder, they can do it knowing they have the guaranteed protection of the blue code of silence. For years, the gate keepers of the code – federal, state, local political leaders and the legal system, have been so efficient, policemen who disregarded their obligations can do, as a police investigator said about an arrested murderer, “Go have a beer and a burger as if nothing had happened.”

A goal of the Black Lives Matter Movement is, I think, to call attention to laws, policies and day-to-day practices that makes this continued blatant disregard for black lives possible not to position the value of black lives against the lives of other groups. This attention, it is hoped, will lead to the kind of systemic change that will make this the last time people will have to ask, “How much do Black lives matter in Chicago? In America?

White American keeps answering this question but only when forced to and in ways comparable to patching the levees but not repairing them so they would not break. But, it is not like white American does not know what to do to make sure everyone is clear about what she or he is suppose to do and not do when a people’s life matters. Its walls are covered with laws, acts, articles, amendments, codes, bills, mandates and other sources of communication to get the word out: White Lives Matter

It is bad enough that white American keeps acting like this question is too complex to understand let alone answer definitively. But why are we, African-Americans even having to ask this question?

What, God forbid, if black lives never matter to white American as much as they ought to? Does this mean our lives will never matter as much to us as they ought to? If this is the case and policemen continue to murder us and we continue to murder us, I and others will, on January 1, 2017, be wondering what thousands of other murdered African-Americans might have become, might have done, might have taught us?

Zora Neale Hurston, stated in Their Eyes Were Watching God, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” What year is 2016 for African-Americans?

Want Your Child to Go to A Failing School? Hell No! Education Is Too Important

I imagine there are several reasons people did not vote for Rahm Emanuel in the February Mayoral election but the one that gets repeated and discussed most often by Black people is closing 51 Chicago Public schools, most of which were in the black community. Most of the people I talked with about the upcoming election and the kind of Mayor I think Chicago needs at this juncture are still angry enough about the school closings to vote for a candidate they acknowledge when pushed, is unquestionably less qualified. The prevailing message: That will fix Rahm! The problem is, it will in my opinion, fix the rest of us too.

In an effort to broaden people’s thinking or at the very least make myself feel better, I asked what I believed to be the next logical question, “Why do you think he closed the schools?” The answers mentioned most often: “He is looking out for his business cronies.” He is going to replace public schools with charter schools” (which by the way are public schools.) He doesn’t care about the black community.” “They’re South side children. He gives less than a damn about them. All he cares about is the north side. He takes from us to give to them.” “He doesn’t care if black children get killed.” So I, motivated by my belief in the power of fairness, said, “But none of the children who went to receiving schools have been shot or murdered. Is he still the “Murder Mayor?” The silence that followed was deafening. Most telling is not one of them (at least 20) mentioned academic performance as a reason for closing the school. This prompted me to start the remainder of my conversations with “The 51 schools the Mayor closed are known as “Underperforming” or “Failing” schools. Should they have been closed? Eleven of twelve people said, “No” because they are neighborhood schools, the majority is in the black community and children have to cross gang territories to get to the new schools. My next question, “Would you want your child, grandchild, niece, nephew, etc. to go to those schools?” The answers: Twelve resounding “No’s.”

People are angry because the schools are closed. They believe a racist has once again robbed the black community; taken something of value from black children and yet none of the “I-am-not-voting-for-Rahm-because-he-closed-those-schools” people want their children to go to the schools they are mad at him for closing. I dropped, maybe on purpose, the interviewer’s ball so to speak and did not ask, “Why?” But one person, young with preschool children and a budding career said, “Education is too important,” which I suspect, reflects the thoughts and feelings of the others.

In less than three weeks, Chicago’s next Mayor will be seated but the dust that has been stirred around how we think about quality education for black children will not settle as easily, I hope. The very fact that all of the people with whom I spoke would not send their kids to a failing school but are stringently angry about the school closings ought to raise some troubling questions for all of us. We ought to be asking, “Whose kids do we want to go to those school? Does this mean we believe there are black children for whom the education offered at these underperforming schools is good enough? Beyond race, who are these children? What characteristics make them “eligible” for such schools?

There are a multitude of things to consider when we think about how this cluster of schools in the black community got in the shape they were in. I venture to say there are a variety of reasons and more than enough blame to loop around a few times. One thing for sure, if we are in the mood for truth telling, is the children who attended these schools have been the political football CPS, CTU and other political and community leaders including parents with white hands and black hands and brown hands have passed, ran and carried to their goal lines.

Talks of closing some of these same schools when Richard M. Daley was Mayor met with the threat of not being re-elected. Turnaround efforts at some of these schools were met with resistance in the form of rhetoric comparable to what has been said about closing schools during the recent protest. And, where turnaround was implemented, the schools ‘ status did not change substantially. But, some people believe, as was said by a demonstrator, “He’s making a big mistake.” Bigger I suppose than black children continuing to be educated in schools in need of cost prohibitive repairs; schools that are under resourced; schools with enrollment that is far below capacity; schools where the academic performance of too many children for too many years has been below anything that ought to be acceptable to any black student or black parent, and any principle or teacher in any neighborhood school? So, to hear a black person say, “Those schools were not that bad,” ought make us ask out loud, “Compared to what?” And, “How bad does a school have to be to not be good enough for black children?”

Some people said if closing is the only option, it does not need to be done right now. When, I wonder, will it be ok to do it? Four years from now? No, that will be too soon because the fifth floor will be up for grabs again. Candidates will be scared of not getting elected and they, along with their constituencies will be passing and running with that football. And the children. Well, they can wait until…

Some people think the Mayor would have shown higher regard for the black community if all of the schools had not been closed at the same time. The Mayor could have, some said, closed the schools over, let us say, a three-year period. Had this option been acceptable to CPS, some people might have felt victorious because they “showed” the Mayor. The problem is the number of black children who would then be waiting to be rescued from underperforming schools will not directly affect the education of any of the children in the next Mayor’s family. And, if this appeasement plan were implemented, how would we decide which children deserve to get out first? Well, maybe we can employ the model our white southern brethren used to decide which “colored” people were smart enough to vote.

A primary point of contention for people who fought to prevent the school closings is the importance of the neighborhood school. Protest signs held by children and adults announced, “We love the kids. We love this school.” “Its where they feel most comfortable.” “School is their second home.” Who can argue with the value of going to a school that is just a hop, skip and jump from where most of the children in the surrounding neighborhoods go? Just thinking about it can give you goose pimples but what if the neighborhood school is not what it used to be? What if it has not been that for a while? What if it no longer needs to be what it was? If we keep under performing school open while we figure this out, what do black children do especially since words that are said to have been spoken for the first time in the 13th century still holds true: Time waits for no man?

Opponents argued that black children and black neighborhoods and black parents were disproportionately affected by the closings. That is sadly true. Alumni whose children and grandchildren are attending the same elementary schools said the “school is like a family where people look out for each other.” That they fear the lost of this “village” is understandable. An adult said, “To lose that sense of belonging and that sense of community must be a traumatic event for a child.” And a little girl talked about being worried about being new and fitting in. These heartfelt emotions and beliefs are about attachment and should not be minimized. However, when we insist on keeping these schools open are we suggesting that black children lack the resilience to adapt to new environments? Are we suggesting that they would not, even with psychological support from the parents, teachers and community leaders, choose other schools that offer greater opportunities for academic achievement and life success?

“Protest signs held by children and adults announced that child safety is a major concern. This is as it should be. I do not know a parent for whom this is not true. And, I cannot imagine a principle or teacher for whom the safety of students is not a top priority. But, does safety and high quality education have to be pitted against each other? Does quality education for black children have to be defined by trade offs?

CPS Teacher, Craig Allen Cleve’s, describes school named for famous African-Americans as touchstones of possibilities and promise,” and asked in his article “CPS Kick Black History to the Curb, ”Where do African-American children go for inspiration, when the institutions bearing the names of such eminent individuals are eradicated?” This implies that there is a positive correlation between student performance and the person for whom a school is named. Robert Henry Lawrence, the first Black Astronaut, Mary Bethune, advocate for women and children, founder and President of Bethune-Cookman College and Arna Bontemps, novelist, cultural historian and professor are just three famous black people whose names are on underperforming schools. If Cleve’s premise is true, does this require us to ask, “What happened?” And, how would the names attached to these schools make a difference in student performance were they to remain open?

Failing school, underperforming school is a brand. Children, those who attended and those who did not, clearly understood the value of this brand. And, as is repeatedly discussed in marketing literature, a brand engages customers on the level of their senses and emotions and therefore influences their perceptions and motivations. So, just as the black community is disproportionately affected by the closings, the same can be said for a child who attended one of these “Failing” schools. While a failing school is not an indication of its students’ abilities, the students bear the burden. And the brand, I suspect, eventually had more of an impact than the name of the famous black person for whom the school is named.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, worked with a Commission headed a by Frank Clark, former CEO of ComEd who is known and respected for his commitment to improving the quality of life for Black people. Clark said, “I came out of retirement for one reason – a better education for Chicago children.” And, yet his reputation and involvement in the process was not enough for Black people who are mad to conclude that as hard as it might be for children to leave their neighborhood schools, closing them was the best thing, the only thing that made sense if the decision was for and about children and their future.

Closing these schools is not going to fix the problems. It is just a few significant steps in the right direction. As warned by Frederick Hess, author of The Same Thing Over and Over, we cannot, should not “romanticize” school reform. But we had to start somewhere. Closing 51 failing schools will not be any easier on some distance tomorrow than it was on that day in 2013, when CPS finally had the courage to say out loud and in public for the nation to hear, “It is not ok for the words ‘failing” and “school” to be in the same sentence, especially when black children, even those in the best circumstances, have to be prepared to face the invisible challenges that come with succeeding in “post-racial” America.”

Is CPS prepared to keep its word? We’ll see! But, they said it now. And they cannot take it back.

Can You Do It Just For You?

The story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short.” Abraham Maslow, Humanistic Psychologist

I was writing this as 2015 made its entry. It did so without asking my permission or apologizing or delaying its entry to give me more time to finish my 2014 business. It did what the New Year is in the habit of doing – beginning without any regard for what I think, feel or want.

I’ve had a lot of practice ending and beginning of years but have nothing profound to say about how to best prepare to end one and beginning another. What I can tell you is that my awareness that the year is coming to an end begins in the fall, the season poet Emily Dickinson accurately describes as “A little this side of snow and that side of haze.” It’s the season that increases awareness – awareness prompted by wonder rather than worry. At least that’s how it is for me. It’s nature’s slideshow of leaves that turns from shades of green to an amazingly beautiful array of colors and then casually flutter to the ground that starts me wondering about a question I ask myself and answer on the first day of every year, “How satisfied am I with the way I lived my life the last 12 months?

The 2014 answer is “Somewhat” which means not as dissatisfied as I could be but not a satisfied as I hoped I’d be. If 2014 issued me a report card; my average grade would be “C” with 4 ++++. I can hear people who know me saying, “You’re too hard on yourself.” That is true sometimes but this grade is well earned. If my 2014 grade was based just on what I did, it would be an “A” because the things I did, I did well. But life doesn’t work like that. Living, learning, giving, receiving and growing is affected as much by what we don’t do as by what we do. So, my “C” with four ++++ reflects decisions I didn’t make or actions I didn’t take because not taking them was the easy way out or things I did that were simply an excuse for not doing something else that was clearly more important or things I insisted I wanted to do and either started them but didn’t complete or never got around to doing more than talking about them.

I have repeated this behavior often enough not to do the negative self-talk it is so easy for us to engage in when we don’t keep our commitment to ourselves but apparently not long enough not to have to say, “No” for the umpteenth time when asked “Are you taking piano lessons?”

Playing the piano is my “Just-for-me-thing.” As seem to be typical of people who keep putting off doing their “Just-for-me-thing” it’s easy for me to visualize myself playing the piano and imagine the satisfaction I would feel. But, when it came to using the space in between January 1, 2014 and January 1, 2015 learning to do something I have wanted to do since I was little (which was a while ago) I did little more than talk about it. Despite this, I believe “just for me things” are necessary because of what they can mean for the body, mind and spirit and how they can demonstrate what “To thine own self be true” means on an individual level.

So what is a “Just-for-me-thing.” It’s either something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t done, something you enjoyed doing but don’t do anymore with any degree of regularity or something you need to do stop doing.

“Just-for-me-things” meets two board types of needs: self-actualizing and stabilizing. Self –actualization, according to Dr. Abraham Maslow, Founder of Humanistic Psychology, is “The desire for self-fulfillment; to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.” On the other hand, I define stabilization as one’s desire to achieve his or her “normal” and doing what is necessary to maintaining it.

Self-actualizing just-for-me-things are described as something people need to do but not because it is required but because of how “rewarding, and emotionally fulfilling” they are. My Friend Beverly said, “My Just-for-me-thing,” is singing in a choir. My favorite memory is of the choir singing Peace Be Still. When our voices blended, I’d feel as if we were one voice proclaiming a universal message.” Cindy’s” Just-for Me-thing” is providing affectionate care for four-legged family members. Caring for cat and dogs, especially those who are ill and reaching the end of their life is a comfort to everyone. Shirley, who knew in first grade that she was an artist, paints scenes that are “vacations on canvass.” Paint feel “natural” to Shirley,” like something I am suppose to do. “ These are just three examples of people who have no doubt about what their “Just-for-me-thing” is. And, yet Beverly hasn’t sang in almost 20 years. Cindy works with pets occasionally, Shirley goes months without picking up a paintbrush and there’s me who bought a piano I never used and paid for lessons I didn’t take.

Stabilizer “just-for-me things” are described as things people’s need to start doing or stop doing. They’re life style changes that, if made, can potentially improve the quality of one’s life. The need to stabilize an area of one’s life: physical health, mental health, fitness, education, employment, recreation, social interaction and religious or spiritual practices, etc. requires an investment in doing something just for you.

Unlike self-actualizing needs, unmet stabilizer needs are visible to others either because of how they show up on our bodies or influence our thinking. But more importantly, they tend to have a profound impact on our interactions with others, including strangers. Just as there are positive consequences from doing self- actualizing “Just-for-me-things,” there are generally negative consequences for not doing stabilizer just-for me-things. Would Larry’s toes have been amputated if he ‘d done the “Just-for-me-things” his doctors recommended? Is the horsiness in my favorite Nephew’s voice the beginning of something that will make him wish he’d done a “Just-for me-thing – stop smoking cigars? If Sherry had done her “just-for-me thing” – going away to college on scholarship, instead of meeting her boyfriend’s need for her to stay in Chicago, (If you love, you won’t go) would it have prevented more than decade of despair that has come with three babies, three daddies and drugs. The answer to these questions: “Don’t know.”

Whether we’re talking about unmet self-actualizing or unmet stabilizing needs, I think we wonder as Shirley did, “Why so many of us put off doing the things that gives us the greatest satisfaction or would afford us a higher quality of life?” Cindy thinks its because we’re afraid of appearing to be selfish. That’s understandable when neglecting self become a habit that’s viewed as you’re doing “unto others as you would have then do unto you.” While this is an important guideline for reciprocity, most of us, especially women don’t know how to practice healthy selfishness. Therefore we think we’ll do our ‘just-for-me-thing” tomorrow but for far too many of us that tomorrow never comes. If that tomorrow never comes for a self-actualizing need it is sad but not devastating. But when it doesn’t come soon enough to meet a stabilizer need, the price may be greater than we are emotionally prepared to pay.

The explanations most often given for not doing our just-for me-things” are not enough time or money. No doubt, people are busy, some more than other. But, time, which doesn’t discriminate, is our to use however we will. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Time Use Survey, the average American over 15 spends 2.8 hours per day watching TV. Neilson reports that the Average American over 2 years of age spends 34 hours a week watching TV and eMarketers reports adults spend approximately five hours daily on non-voice mobile devices. Could we borrow a few hours a week from this form of leisure for “Just-for-me-things”? I asked my friend, a piano tuner, “How much time do I need to devote each week to learning to play the piano? Her answer: a one-hour lesson and 1 hour and 50 minutes practice per week. Gym (Health club memberships) can meet both self-actualizing and stabilizer needs. Either way, a 2014 study reports that 67% of Americans who hold a gym (health club) membership never used it. Some things require both time and money; some one or the other. If my scanty research means anything maybe they are not the intruders. So if we can’t blame them, maybe the question, I need to ask about piano lessons and you need to ask about your just-for-me-thing is, “Am I worth it?

Doing Just-for-me things are, in my opinion, as essential as earning a living wage, eating healthy and sleeping but unlike these necessities, you can live your entire life and never do them. The reason: nobody can make you do them, punish you for not doing them, talk you into doing them or love you enough to get you to do them. Don’t do them. They don’t get done. They don’t get done because they’re the things nobody can do for you but you.

Today is the 12th day of the New Year. There are 353 days, 8472 hours left in this year. ” I can devote 850 of those hours to learning to play the piano. But will I? That is the challenge all of us face when it comes right down to it. Do I do unto me and them or just unto them? Only time will tell. I don’t know about you but when fall comes again and the leaves turn colors and flutter to the ground prompting me to think about my end-of the-year question, I will know whether I am still among those Maslow speaks of when he says, “The story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short.

Happy 2015, whatever that means for you.