Category Archives: Social Issues

Affirming Beauty

There’s been a whole lot of talk about hair over the last week or so – more specifically African American hair. First there was the Sheryl Underwood statement that shocked and offended quite a few folks. Then we go somewhat past/through that, only to finish the week out with a local school reported to have sent 7 year old Tiana Parker home, not for bad behavior, not for any type of contagious or communicable disease, nor for a school emergency, but because of the way her hair was styled. I always seem to have a hope when I read these types of stories that it just couldn’t be true. Approximately 3 months ago, an Ohio school decided to ban Afro Puffs and braids/twists, and they have since apologized and an apology was in order along with the removal of the ban. And now it happens again with young Tiana.

I was pretty pissed off about the entire situation, hurt that a child was hurt in this way; and then I stumbled upon the most beautiful response to date, designed by Dr. Yaba Blay with contributions from a host of African American women with Locs and encouraging messages for Tiana Parker. Here it is.

There are many responses that are needed. Does pressure need to be put on the Debra Brown Community School administration? Absolutely. Should there be an outcry of injustice, discrimination and misuse of the establishing of policies? Most definitely!

Some would argue that the school was within their right because after all they did state in their policy that: “Hairstyles such as Dreadlocks, Afros or Mohawks and other faddish styles are unacceptable.” To say that Tiana’s dad, Mr. Parker should have known better and just submit himself and his daughter to the rules, is to miss a more serious offense –  that this should never have been a policy in the first place, in that it is an objection to the type and texture of African American hair – hair that grows differently than straight hair, is curly and tightly coiled without any chemical alterations, and therefore by default must be styled differently.

The style of an Afro and/or Dreadlocks are not “faddish” by any stretch of anyone’s historical awareness or imagination. What is the deal with African American hair and the interest and fascination? Why is it that I, even as an adult, whether in institutions of higher learning or interacting with some straight haired folks in other settings, can run into folks who feel the need to “touch” my hair and be somewhat offended and put off by my response of no?

Historically speaking, many Black folks began a process of straightening our hair in order to fit in and be accepted by a dominant, and racist society. Today, several African Americans still straighten their hair – chemically, flat ironed, etc – for most that I know who still straighten their tresses, it is not at all about acceptance, it is just what is normative for how we were raised or because of personal preference for a straight look. I don’t knock them, I used to have my hair chemically relaxed too. As a teenager I waited in anticipation for getting old enough for my parents to allow me to “relax” my hair. So, I get it. We could talk about these types of surface aspects forever, but unless the underlying issues are addressed, such as why all this even matters in the first place and why policing hair styles/textures is wrong. As I see it the following are a few reasons actions such as those of DBCS and others matters.

It is an important issue because it is about identity, the partiality that is shown regarding the value of some and not others, and the shaping of young minds regarding images of self and love of self. Children will receive messages of inferiority throughout life, but to receive this message from one’s own race/culture of people is a huge slap in the face – no matter what the motivation for the policies.
The reason the decisions of the school are viewed as wrong is because it denies an entire cultural group the privilege of celebrating our culture; the policy tears down rather than builds up – doing harm instead of good; and it reinforces the message of conformity and the need to suppress our true selves. It encourages assimilation and suppression of our cultural markers of identity – elevating one way of being human above another; it is the politics of acceptability all over again.

Perhaps it is embedded in our psyche so deeply and for so long that it is almost impossible for some to unlearn it or even realize that something is wrong and of need of being unlearned. Who knows??? But, Tiana and others like her have a plethora of people in their corner, encouraging and holding them up.

Advertisements

We Can’t Just Get Over It

I don’t usually rant, but I just need to say that I get a bit annoyed when some White folks try to tell Black folks how and how not to respond to injustices. Telling folks who are hurting to get over it, put it behind us, move on, you’re overreacting, and let it go are just not acceptable. And yes, I have heard and read all of these statements.

Our anger, our fear and our frustration are not just about Trayvon, it goes so much deeper than that; the extensive history of racism and inequality plays a huge role in provoking the thoughts and feelings that we have; AND an awareness that based on how we have historically seen things play out causes feelings of despair.Our pain is the result of cumulative experiences and a constant lack of resolve and change within society. So, no one can ever tell us how to feel, how to be, and how to respond!

If those who are white are tired of hearing us (and our allies) talk about this, perhaps they should consider that they are not the only ones who are tired – we too are tired – of decade after decade of the same old ill treatment and disproportionate discrimination. If you are weary of us “whining and complaining” or “playing the race card.” keep in mind that we too are weary, weary of racial profiling, weary of constant subtle and not so subtle messages that we are not as good or as valued as our lighter brothers and sisters.

So, when we say this is about race, it is not solely about the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case, it is inclusive of a frustration with a judicial system and societal norms of suspicion regarding who and how we are as Black folks. SO YES, it is about race, racism, and we can’t keep ignoring and denying it.

System Fail… Again

photo credits: unknown

photo credits: unknown

In the case involving George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, last evening the jury pronounced him not guilty. The verdict shocked me, angered me and saddened me. There is absolutely no way George Zimmerman should be able to walk the streets for killing an innocent 17 year old kid! He was NOT defending himself, that rainy night in Florida, the only defense he needed was his car, which he should have stayed in, and a gun, which he should have never used. The shouts from the crowd of “the system fails again” is well understood. The system has been communicating for years that African Americans bodies are not as valuable as others. I am so angry and frustrated that it is difficult to put words together.

If Trayvon Martin had been born white he would be alive today. That has been established beyond all reasonable doubt. If he had been white, he never would have been stalked by Zimmerman, there would have been no fight, no funeral, no trial, no verdict. It is the Zimmerman mindset that must be found guilty – far more than the man himself. It is a mindset that views black men and boys as nothing but a threat, good for nothing, up to no good no matter who they are or what they are doing. It is the Zimmerman mindset that has birthed a penal system unprecedented in world history, and relegated millions to a permanent undercaste. Trayvon, you will not be forgotten. We will honor you – and the millions your memory represents – by building a movement that makes America what it must become. RIP. – Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow

 

Now that I have dried a few tears and have tried to silence the outrage in my soul over the Zimmerman verdict heard last night, it is my hope that I can put words together in some way or another. My first reaction to the verdict was anger, and then sadness, and eventually outrage! Trayvon Martin is dead and the man who killed him gets to walk away from the crime without serving any jail time. For a brief moment as I awaited the verdict, I had some hope that maybe, just maybe the judicial system would work in favor of an innocent, unarmed 17 year old kid walking home from the store. Even though our history in America has done nothing to even encourage such glimmer of hope.

According to Robert Zimmerman (the brother of George), our judicial system is one of the best and actually works well. A statement that would not likely ever be voiced by African Americans and other brown skinned bodies, especially Black men. The system is slanted against African Americans disproportionately – the evidence repeatedly bears this out. And even when a Black teenager walks home from a trip to the store, folks are willing to suggest stupid stuff like “he was armed with a sidewalk” – what kind of BS is that?

This of course is not the only stupidity and ignorance that has been spouted off by those in favor of the verdict. Here are a few more:

  • This was not about race
  • My brother committed no crime
  • Trayvon was not only armed with the sidewalk, he was armed with his fists
  • Trayvon was not the victim of a murder/crime
  • People are playing the race card

Of course there are more ridiculous words that have been uttered, but I think you get it by now. It is still just as unfathomable to me today as it was over a year ago, that a man driving in a neighborhood with a gun sees a Black male walking in the rain with a hoodie on in “his” neighborhood and assumes he is guilty or “up to something” even though he was simply walking home – yes that’s called racial profiling!

This strong, or at least heavy set grown man with a gun, exits his car to follow the Black guy – a young man who has no idea that the guy pursuing him is neighborhood watch.

If anyone needed to and perhaps did stand their ground, Trayvon would have been justified in defending himself against this stranger walking up on him for no legitimate reason. But instead, this young victim gets blamed for his own murder. This SCREAMS injustice!
A teenager’s life was taken from him unnecessarily.
George Zimmerman is not an innocent man event though he’s been allowed to walk free
An innocent child lays dead in the grave, a guilty man goes free, and Trayvon’s parents are left not only to mourn the loss of their son, but also to endure the outcome of a justice system which provided no justice for them. 

I pray for Sabrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. I pray for African Americans who once again have had to hear the underlying message that our lives do not have value and intrinsic worth. I weep for those who insist, perhaps due to blindness or at best denial, that race does not factor into this situation.

Justice was not served yesterday. Utter disregard for the value of brown skinned people and the legitimizing of racism is what happened yesterday evening. This hurts like hell (yes, I did just say that). And as much as I wanted to ignore the pain that I felt last night and the sorrow in my heart today, sometimes we just need to sit with our pain for a bit – not spiritualize it or stuff it down in the name of taking action, but just acknowledge it and cry as much as we need to.

Last night and even somewhat today, the only prayer I could offer was in the form of tears. Sometimes the tears are the prayer – no fancy words, and for the most part, no words at all, just tears flowing from a place of deep pain and anguish.

Still weeping….

Depression Confessions

Kevin Breel: Confessions of a Depressed Comic

Breel, the young brother in the video above says a ton of significant things – he’s worth listening to. For instance, he says:

…what you really fear the most, isn’t the suffering inside of you, it’s the stigma inside of others. It’s the shame, it’s the embarrassment, it’s the disapproving look on a friend’s face; it’s the whispers in the hallway that you’re weak, it’s the comments that you’re crazy – that’s what keeps you from getting help, that’s what makes you hold it in and hide it.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where if you break your arm, everyone runs over to sign your cast, but if you tell people you’re depressed everyone runs the other way – that’s the stigma. We are so accepting of any part of our body breaking down other than our brains and that’s ignorance….

In thinking about depression, I long for the day when the stigma is no more; for the day when people don’t look at others strange because they voice that they suffer from it; the day when it is as normal to talk about your mental illness as it is to talk about your physical illness. This longing means that we have work to do. It will not just happen and it will not happen overnight. But I believe that it can indeed happen.

By no means am I an expert, neither am I qualified to give medical or professional advice; but some of the things I know to be important regarding the Clinically Depressed are:

1. Dismissing is Dangerous: We should never dismiss a person who bravely admits that they struggle with this illness. They more than likely already feel isolated and alone – your reaction matters.

2. It’s Not That Simple: Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is complex and multidimensional. Everyone who suffers from it will have a different experience and a different path toward wholeness.

3. Illness is Actual: Make no mistake about it, MDD is an illness. It doesn’t care how much faith you have or don’t have. And sometimes it takes a person a long time to get well, even after they are able to seek out the help that they need. Patience is required. We don’t try to make physically ill people heal immediately, the same care should be taken with the mentally ill person.

4. Wellness is a Process: Prayer, psychotherapy, self care strategies, supportive, patient friends, and if necessary, medication, are a powerful combination on the journey through depression. Depression is sometimes situational and other times biological and chemical.

5. Needs Can Be Discovered: If you don’t know how you can help or what a person needs, love and respect them enough to ask them.

6. Suicidal Thoughts Are Powerful & also Preventable: When someone tells you that they desire or plan to end their life, don’t ignore them. Take their pain seriously. Abandoning them during their time of need is not the most helpful approach. If you can hear the cry for help, don’t ignore it.

Resources: Suicide Hotline and Suicide Prevention and another, Crisis Chat.
Not Alone: Reflections on Faith and Depression – Dr. Monica Coleman

7. Deadly Combinations Exist: Silence and isolation can be deadly – literally. Courage to speak up and reach out for help is life giving and when someone reaches out to you, be supportive. If there was ever a time to demonstrate true friendship, that time is now.

These are just a few observations and insights – brief and not at all exhaustive.

Do you know someone who suffers from depression? Are you one who suffers from depression? Will you help or get helped?

Seeing Red

It’s difficult for me to understand why some believe it is ok to discriminate against an entire groups in society because they don’t like or agree with who they are. The Civil Marriage Equality issue is the place where this thought flows from. Baffling though it is to me that biases would get in the way of a society making space for all of its citizens to be regarded with dignity and respect, I had to also pause and think/consider how my and others silence impacts those who are being treated less than equal.

As a plethora of red images adorned facebook newsfeeds and my profile pic stayed as it was; as I listened to claims of some that we must fight this in the name of “the Bible says…,” my frustration with Proposition 8 contenders increased.

Credits: Human Rights Campaign

Then I moved to a place of wondering if I was courageous enough or vocal enough. This thought extended to a deeper place of wondering how silence “feels” to my LGBT friends and relatives. When they are getting beat up/jumped by Christian folks in the name of “the Bible says,” what goes through their minds as others stand by watching the fight rather than jumping in to protect them and stop the beating? For me, this is not about theological perspectives on homosexuality, this is about basic human dignity and fairness. This is about seeing all persons as valuable and worthy of respect. To be silent about these things is problematic – whether it is this issue or any other societal issue. Sure, a red equality profile pic may seem like a small gesture to some, but what is small to one may very well be big to another.

It can’t be denied – silence and stigma are powerful and at times even lethal. They produce shame and result in more harm than good – oppression in its ugliest form, creating internal turmoil for those who are subjected to it.

Apathy. Neutrality. Slothfulness. Ignorance. All of these are fairly easy approaches to adopt when the pain is not personal – when it’s somebody else’s struggle (side note – I’ve discovered that this is all too true in the area of race/racism and White privilege too – we must not ignore the impact of race even once the issue of marriage equality is settled, I fear that we will). Worrying about who will receive you or reject you based on your decision to be vocal is rather selfish when you really think about it – many LGBT folks go through worrying about the backlash/fall-out of self disclosure all the time, the difference is that it is more personal in that it involves not only being out as an ally, but full disclosure of who they are.

It perplexes me that many who oppose marriage equality do so on the basis of a sin argument – an argument that has proven ineffective at best. It doesn’t appear to even be about God and what pleases or doesn’t please God, the tone I hear from many is that it is about “us” and how repulsed we are by same gender loving relationships. Besides, trying to draw people to Jesus in this way is so futile.

It disturbs me that many who vocalize condemnation are not equally committed to walking with folks on a journey of growth. It is nonsensical that anyone would expect couples who are already married or who have been in committed partnerships for multiple years or have begun the process of gender transformation, to change their gender back to what they were before or abandon their partners [and children if there are any]. For kindness sake, let’s think this through rather than lazily relying on fundamentalist, surface dogma!

Also of concern is when Christians say things to fellow Christians that leave you with the impression that Christianity is a monolith; as though you are somehow not a Christian because you believe something different than what they believe about an issue. It is as if to say “shame on you, all Christians should think like this about that,”  because there is after all though only one perspective/understanding possible. Truthfully I am growing weary of the arguing. Surely we are all sensible enough to know that it is impossible for multifaceted people can arrive at one simplistic response or interpretation of issues and for that matter, scripture/the Bible.

Marriage equality is a social, political and economic issue that we must not ignore or be silent about. And beyond that we must never forget that is is not the only issue of equality that needs to be addressed in society and more specifically by the Human Rights Campaign. It is a big issue, an important issue, and an issue among many other issues.

*Photo Credits: Human Rights Campaign

It Could Have Been Me…

“It could have been me, outdoors, with no food and no clothes; or just alone without a friend, or just another number with a tragic end.” Hawkins

But what do you do when it is you? Ever wonder what homeless folks do all day? If you were homeless what would you think about? Where would you go? How would you care for your basic hygienic tasks (especially as a woman)? Who would you talk to? What would you talk about? If you were looking for a solid job, where would you prepare your resume? Where would you get dressed to prepare for the interview? What address would you put on your application? If you have a medical condition that requires medication, how will you pay for it?

 

I’ve heard many sing the lyrics of the song that I mentioned above, heck, I’ve sang them myself. But as a person who is nowhere close to wealthy or even close to being financially comfortable, I can’t help but pay attention to the reality that not only could I be next, but there are people right now – tons of them, who have no place to live.
Poverty has no respect for what season of the year it is – Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall. It has no regard for how your body will feel outside unprotected from the elements. If your money is gone, and your support systems are nonexistent, and the prospects of employment are nil, you are stuck!

 

Twice a week I make a journey to classes that require me to enter a well known Midwest highway. At the immediate entry point of the highway I look to my right and there are bags, clothing, and a host of additional items spread throughout different spots on the grass. At first I simply wondered what was going on and figured someone must have been setting up for an event or something. But each time I passed this way I saw the same items scattered in various places. As I looked more closely I discovered that the items I was seeing belonged to people – but not just any people, people who have no place to call home.

 

Too often we fail to actually “see” those living in poverty. Some shake their cups for spare change, hold up signs saying “homeless, please help, God bless you,” and most folks who are not homeless simply hold our heads down, roll up our windows, and make every effort not to make eye contact with people in need. Certainly, there are some who run game and hustle. But we must not forget that some are legitimately in need. Even if we are not able to tangibly assist them, perhaps we can acknowledge their humanity by making eye contact and referring to them as “sir” and “miss” when we encounter them.

 

Every homeless person has a story. Every homeless person is human – with feeling, thoughts, desires. And in the US, there are ample resources to go around. There is enough for everyone to have basic needs taken care of, yet poverty still exists. Could it be because of greed or injustice of some other kind?

 

By no means am I attempting to be a killjoy regarding expressing appreciation to God for your blessings. However, to stay at a place of rejoicing over what we have without consideration and care for those who do not have is misplaced and misappropriated gratitude.

 

Just rambling and thinking out loud…

 

The Black Church, Obama, and Gay Marriage

I am about engaging with conflict and being ok with disagreement. I am about diverse and vast views of the Bible while still maintaining my spiritual journey with God. And I am about the spiritual ethos laid out by Billy Graham at the 1996 inaugural luncheon of then President Bill Clinton when a reporter asked him why he was in the presence of an obvious “sinner” such as Clinton; Graham stated: “It is God’s job to judge. The Holy Spirits job to convict. And my job to love. I’m here doing my job.”  – Dan White Hodge.

Read the entire post HERE.

Think About It…

“The Christian community has only ever known one way to handle same-sex sexual behavior: take a stand and keep a distance. Productive dialogue comes from cognitive insight and can only be accomplished through an [embodied] posture of humility and living as a learner.” – Andrew Marin

 

The Church and The LGBTQ Community.

***This is the unscripted/unedited version of what’s on my mind***

About a year ago I fearfully shared my journey as it concerns the subject of homosexuality. You can read it HERE. Though it is not my tendency to cower in fear and be silent when the occasion calls for speaking, I found myself hesitant. Here I am a year later and the core of my being is moved to a point where silence is no longer sustainable.

I didn’t wake up one day and decide that I want to care about Gay/Lesbian folks. I sincerely believe that what is happening in my heart is the moving of God within me. I care about people – period. I also hold a special place in my heart for groups of people who have historically been marginalized and even ridiculed from pulpits in churches. Preachers have proclaimed messages of “get right because it is wrong” without providing love and support and seeing the LGBTQ Community as human. We can do so much better!

The reality is that caring will cost me. On some level it is costing me now. By caring and being a voice I risk losing friends, having people who KNOW that I love God question my role and calling as a spiritual leader or pastor; I risk being misunderstood, rejected and encountering those who believe that the only role I have as a spiritual leader is to tell the LGBTQ Community that they are living in sin and need to be changed. I believe there is a better way to interact with the LGBTQ Community – some of whom are my Christian brothers and sisters.

Human sexuality and God’s view of it is not nearly as simplified as some lead others to believe. The Church’s silence is at times deafening and our shunning is destructive. I absolutely believe that we not only should, but can do better.

Yesterday, President Barak Obama gave voice to his affirmation that same-sex couples should be able to marry. Members of the LGBTQ Community rejoiced. Some members of the Christian Community were outraged,others agreed with him, and still others were silent (whether because of ignorance, fear, apathy or something else). Whether we believe homosexual practice is a sin or not is really not the point to harp on. At the heart of the matter is the issue of humanness, equal value and learning HOW to love people well.

I don’t have all of the answers, but what I do know is that we need to be open:

1. To authentically enter into people’s stories

2. Listen for the purpose of understanding (not to fix or convince of our perspective)

3. To thoroughly think through what we say we believe & why we believe it

4. To consider that whether right or left, Christian or not, Gay or Straight, we each are capable of being right or wrong

More to come on this subject in future days. In the meantime I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments or privately.

It’s Not About the Hoodies!

Photo Credit - Flickr_bMethe

My first post on this topic was filled with so much pain and emotion that my thoughts were incohesive, and I believe that is ok. Though my heart is still broken, hopefully this one will be clearer.

This past Sunday many churches and groups across the nation held what they referred to as “Hoodie Sunday.” Individuals stood in solidarity with Trayvon Martin’s family through this action. I commend churches and others for supporting the family in such record numbers and celebrate it as a great thing. But if we stop at making it about hoodies and skittles we fail!

It’s trendy to get in on this by wearing a hoodie, and make claims to care (and perhaps all involved actually do); but what will we do after this “big” case? People of color are being profiled, targeted, discriminated against and even slaughtered every day. These are individuals who will never make front page of a paper, be a blog post, cnn video or protest rally. And the silence prior to Trayvon has been somewhat deafening. And yet, rather than be too cynical I consider that maybe this situation is what we need to put a little fire under us and move us to a place of saying enough is enough. Let’s hope so. Here are some observations to consider that flow from the current situation at hand.

Unanswered Questions
There are questions in this tragedy that remain unanswered. Did Trayvon confront Zimmerman (the 911 tapes indicate that Zimmerman followed Martin)? Did Zimmerman feel threatened by Martin? Why did Zimmerman deem it necessary to shoot and even more importantly, why did he deem it necessary to shoot to kill? Why have the Sanford police department delayed arrest for a month? There is much that we don’t know….
What we do know is that Trayvon Martin is dead and his family and loved ones are experiencing intense grief. We also  know that death did not have to be outcome. We know that George Zimmerman is eleven years older than Martin was and weighed approximately 100 pounds more, and pursued Martin when instructed not to. The 17 year olds death was  unnecessary and avoidable – still it happened.
We know that the Sanford police department made certain that Martin’s system was checked for drugs and alcohol (even though he was the one dead), and failed to do the same with Zimmerman. Seems absurd to me!
Systemic Racism
As an African American woman I am intimately acquainted with racism. It is not an individual challenge, it is systemic. There are structures and power dynamics that work against people of color (not solely African American) in this nation called the US. And the truth is that systemic racism is more difficult to eliminate. People do not give up power easily. For those who make people of color feel as though we are somehow imagining that racism still exists, the disproportionate prison rates, reactions from dominant cultural groups when race is mentioned, and even educational institutions provide ample evidence that we are not naive and overreacting. It matters not whether individually we are the ones who put the structures in place, what matters is that we take responsibility for eradication of systems and structure that are oppressive to people groups.
Cultural Callousness
I hate that Trayvon Martin, an innocent teen is dead! And I wonder if perhaps this is one of the incidents that can be used to move society from a place of apathy and cultural callousness to a place of cultural sensitivity. Trayvon is not the first African American teen to be the recipient of violence. This type of thing happens all the time and we fail to care deeply enough to act and say enough is enough or even more importantly to engage in preventative measures. It’s time to change!
Societal Biases
It matters not how spiritual or not spiritual one is, all cultural groups have their biases, preferences and affinities. This is normal, natural. The trouble arises when we move beyond biases to a place of disregard and disdain for those who differ from us. Biases are not license for hatred, discrimination and violence. I do not often take things personal, however in the middle of the Trayvon case and all of the emotional pain it causes, I read an article and tweet reactions to the popular Hunger Games and admittedly it sent me over the edge. The overt racist comments by not just one, but many nearly took me by surprise. Perhaps this is because most racist individuals I have encountered are not as blatant.
I then read of another hate crime towards an Iraqi woman and became even more baffled by the audaciousness of any cultural or racial group to see themselves as somehow greater than another. We’re better than this aren’t we? In the depths of my being I believe that EVERY individuals is precious and valuable because of our Creator!
Additionally, there are those who minimize the realities of racism and biases as though we are somehow imagining these things. To deny a person their right to their stories is to insult their equality as unique creations of God. To deny a person’s story is to see them as liars, disrespect them, invalidate their experiences and further exasperate the issues of inequality.We must deny no one the right to have a story!
So, like I said, it’s really not just about hoodies, it goes much deeper than that. And the question remains, what are WE going to do about it from this day forward?  ” Now we must go from wearing hoodies to transforming the hood as we fight for justice! – Dr. Frederick D. Haynes, III

Who Cares?

Photo from chron.com

Two words have been on my mind for the last couple of weeks – “Trayvon Martin.” I have turned the revealed details over in my head and heart and respond with an appropriate feeling of anger at the apparent injustice of it all. I did not know Trayvon and I do not know his family, causing some to ask why I care. The only response I can muster up to such wondering is “why don’t YOU care?”

I have deeply spiritual and human reasons for caring. My heart aches as I wonder what it might have been like for Trayvon to journey from the store to his dad’s home only to have the entirety of his being filled with fear as he peered down the barrel of George Zimmeran’s gun, never anticipating that his trip to the store might be the last trip, the last pack of Skittles, the last bottle of iced tea.

In the Martin, Zimmerman case, it is difficult for me to believe that the “Stand your ground law” in Florida is designed for people like Zimmerman – based on the 911 calls, Zimmeran was following Martin even though instructed not to do so. Zimmerman is about 100lbs heavier than Martin was. Zimmerman was armed and Martin was not. The mere reality that Zimmerman followed this teen because, according to his perceptions, he looked suspicious is cause for the law being in place for people like Martin – who really seems to be the one whose life was in danger and threatened? And even if Zimmerman was in danger (which I doubt), did he need to shoot to kill?

Assumptions regarding racial motivation on the part of Zimmerman (whether false or true) serve as a reminder of the yet existent pain of racial inequality in the US. Being Black in America still means encountering individuals who will view your very existence as a threat and see your skin pigmentation and way of being as “suspicious.” In many cases “looking suspicious” only means I look different than you, have different mannerisms, hair texture, and wardrobe.

Social stereotypes still exist – can’t even where your hooded sweatshirt when it’s raining, especially if you are an African American male. And rather than focus on the injustices surrounding Trayvon and other “Trayvons” of society, we still have individuals like popular TV personality Geraldo Rivera spouting nonsense that suggests that Trayvon’s death was as much his own fault because he was wearing a hoodie. But as Eugene Cho says

Hoodies don’t kill just as short skirts don’t rape. Focus on the injustice and not the wardrobe.

The stark reality is that even without the hoodie, Trayvon still lived in his brown skin.

I love my lighter brothers and sisters – sincerely, but the subtle hints that we are overreacting and simply reading into things when we insist that racism and racial profiling are the real experiences of the African American race is an insult that only causes the societal realities to continue. We are not yet a post-racial society as some would suggest, therefore more work is yet to be done.

Dr. Martin Luther King’s quest for “Strength to Love” reminds me to continue to love others even through the experience of anger and outrage – and this love is to be for all.


The question in all of this is will we care enough to be disturbed to the point where inaction is nearly impossible?

Earthquakes, Tsunamis and God

Earthquake Response by the U.S. Navy
*Photo by Fox News Insider

I don’t get the theological connection that some attempt to make between natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis and the like and God. Without disrespect intended to my parents and other many others from former generations, I acknowledge that I had parents who made us shut everything off and sit quietly when storms arose because in their words “God was talking.” In essence these words and this practice lead me to believe that when natural storms or disasters occur, God is trying to get through to us and that He had to cause such destruction in order for us to pay attention.

I wonder why God is our default when tragedy strikes. Why is it that some believe that God – through natural storms, is doing so to punish the people he created? Church leaders and political commentators alike embrace the belief that we are in trouble with God, thus the earthquake. Earlier this week Glen Beck alluded to his belief that the earthquake in Japan was a “message from God” to get people to clean up their act. And sadly, a few Jesus followers would agree.

After all Jesus did say that earthquakes would come – that was His prediction many years ago. Maybe the fact that Jesus said when we see these things (earthquakes) taking place we should have a heightened awareness that we are moving closer to His return, is not about his causing these things in order to communicate the message of His return.

Maybe He mentioned it to communicate His awareness of how messed up His creation is and announce His desire to rescue us from this chaos. Maybe His love for us is so deep that He weeps when He sees the destruction that these disasters cause… and maybe He anticipates an end to the pain even more than we do.

What Jesus did not say was that “I will cause earthquakes to occur.” There is a difference! Deep within us is a desire for answers to the question of “why?” Why this, why them, why now? The longing for answers to the unexplainable and intensely painful is part of the human experience. But I have lived long enough to know that the “why” question is not always answerable. Sometimes, it’s just more helpful to ask “what next?”

Unfortunately, many of those who blame the behavior or “sin” of people who experience calamities are not as likely to give equal energy to extending a hand of help, resources, or prayers and reaching out to help people pick up the broken pieces and start over. Grieving with those who grieve is also something that we are instructed to do.

I can keep it real and say that yes, I find myself a bit annoyed when I hear pronouncements of judgment regarding those who are in pain/suffering through natural disaster. In essence I believe that people have multiple foundational beliefs about who God is, and from those foundational views we build ideas and explanations regarding what is accurate. For some, God is nothing more than a strict disciplinarian who will beat us down if we stray from the path He desires. I used to believe that way (I think), but today I believe that God is loving, God is just/fair, and that God is good. Are there consequences for wrong actions – of course there are, but are natural disasters punishment/consequence for human behavior/wrong action/sin? This writer believes that the answer is no.

What do you say?


Fair Judgment?

By now, many have heard of the story of the Ohio woman who was sentenced to jail time for falsifying records to send her children to a better school though it was outside of the scope of her residency. Though I normally don’t dive into topics such as this, it is difficult for me to remain silent. The story of Kelley Willians-Bolar grabbed my heart and simply left me shaking my head.

Without a doubt, it cannot be denied that a crime was committed. And for that there must be a consequence. However, in this case any sane and humane individual would have to beg the question – “Did the punishment fit the crime?” Not only so, there are some larger issues in this case that we can gloss over if we decide to simply place all of the emphasis on Williams-Bolar’s actions. Issues such as

1. A broken educational system – if the school environment where her children should have attended were better quality and equally resourced, would her actions be the same?

2. Issues of poverty and inequality – The climb out of poverty is no easy climb, especially within a system that has been historically unequal. No matter how far we have come in the issues of class and race, the reality is that we have lots more ground to cover.  I believe that Williams-Bolar is just another example of a single parent trying to figure out how to make the climb out and up. Of course now, because she has been “made an example of” it will now be even more difficult for her to move ahead.

3. A flawed and at times prejudiced judicial system – Not only does the question of race have to be raised, we also need to take into account that she is not a repeat offender – she is a mother trying to get ahead and not only care for her children, but was also attempting to better herself educationally. Again, the question is not whether a punishment should be enforced, but what type of judgment is fair and right?

On another note, as I followed this case I couldn’t help but reflect on another story in the news just days prior of a school bus driver found intoxicated while transporting multiple school children, endangering their lives and putting the lives of other drivers at risk. Her penalty – 480 hours of community service, fines, and probation with the absence of jail time.

To borrow from Elon James White:

“I’m not saying Kelley Williams-Bolar was right. I’m not saying she shouldn’t have to pay what she owes to the local government. I’m saying to make an example of a poor mother with a family on her first offense is unconscionable. To think this reasonable is to ignore the reality that we live in and the shades of right and wrong that appear in so many offenses.”

Williams-Bolar’s actions, though wrong, are only a very small part of the equation. Placing an emphasis on her actions while ignoring the circumstances that surround her actions and setting them in the proper context of societal and systemic ills is a greater offense. Judging Williams-Bolar is incomplete in that it fails to address the root causes.

What are your thoughts on this story? I would love to hear from you in the comments

Poverty and Gratitude?

The video speaks for itself and leaves me somewhat speechless. Some will view this and say things like “God, thank you that I have food to eat” and “thank You, it could have been me without food.” Those are legitimate, but if it stops there and doesn’t move us to a place of deep sadness or prayer, and better yet, action to do our part to alleviate poverty, what good is stopping at gratitude for what “we” have in abundance. Just one woman’s opinion…