Open Letter to Maya Angelou

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Dear Maya,

I must admit when I first heard of your passing, I was shocked.

Though I am not sure why.

What I mean is that although you lived a life that is equivalent to two, or maybe three full lives, there was something about you that seemed indestructible.

I would not have been a bit surprised if you would have lived passed 100.

I remember watching the TV version of your first autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

I was mesmerized. Your story is my story.

You see my brother and I were abandoned by our parents and sent to live with our father’s mother in rural Mississippi.

Although my grandmother was the symbol of strength in the face of crushing challenges, I still carry the feeling of inadequacy with me into my middle age.

Unlike you, I have yet to repair the relationship with my mother.

As a child growing up in Mississippi, thoughts and memories of my mother haunted me.

I often daydreamed that my mother would suddenly appear and take me and my

brother home with her to Illinois where we would live happily ever after…..

My how I envied you and your brother Bailey when you finally got to go live with your mother in the north (St. Louis)!

Just like you, I always felt that I was the ugly duckling born of a beautiful mother.

My dearest Maya,

Although there are many parallels in our lives, please know that if I live to be three hundred years old, I will never possess the intestinal fortitude to endure and survive the many “tests” that you have been given:

Rape..

A teenaged mom…

Jim Crow…

But then again, If God meant for those adversities to be my destiny then I guess I would have had to endure.

But what I do know is that although I may have endured and survived, I would have never accomplished what you have:

Cabaret entertainer…

Civil Rights organizer…

Writer…

Poet…

Television writer, Director…

Actress…

Professor…

Legend…

Maya, you are truly a phenomenal woman that no fashion model could ever compete.

I love you Maya!!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drugs, Demons, & Drags: Flipping Over America’s First Black TV Superstar

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flipwilsonshow

Hi Readers,

While I consider myself an avid reader of the Black experience, I particularly love reading African American biographies.

I just finished reading a newly released autobiography about legendary comedian Flip Wilson.

In my tween years, I remember the comic legend for his outlandish Geraldine character.

Remember Geraldine?

“The Devil made me do it”.

Lol.

Compared to today’s Black comics-Black and White, Flip cut a wholesome figure.

He was safe…….

Especially Geraldine

A la Madea…..

A La Bill Cosby….

But oh readers, if only you knew.

Let’s rip the mask off of Geraldine and reveal the pain and flawed Mr. Wilson-first name Clerow!!!!!!

His seriously “humble” beginnings….

While we Americans love a good Horatio Alger rag to riches tale, Flip’s tale is more like “Hags to Bitches”!!!!!!!!!

Let’s ponder for a moment……

Think of some raw comics who use their life experiences as fodder for their acts.

According to Flip’s biography, his mother abandoned the family.

Flip’s father was left to care for over a dozen children of varying ages with Flip either being the youngest or one of the youngest.

Apparently, his father-chronically unemployed, left the children to fend for themselves.

As a result, young Flip was fanned out to abusive relatives and hellish foster homes.

From being forced to wait to have a meal to severe beatings which left lifelong scars, I am astounded that comedy and the desire for laughter could have manifested itself in little Flip.

Escape

In an attempt to escape the slums of his native Jersey City, Flip lied about his age and joined the United States Air Force as a way out.

The one poignant issue that stood out for me in this point in his life is that he was still faithful about sending money to his abusive family and the man he thought was his biological father!!!!!

Flip, who was apparently the darkest of all of his siblings was criticized constantly by his dad for his deep dark complexion.

His older sister revealed in an offhand manner that “pops” was not his father.

Thus explains the interest a family friend took in Flip-his real father!!!!

From a predictable tour of duty marked by the “required” racism he faced (this was in the 1950’s), Flip started to realize his gift and passion for comedy…..

Paying those dues

Bill Cosby…

When we think about the comic giants of the 1970’s Bill Cosby is right in the mix!!!

Cos, it seems was the prototype-the goal every comic worth his weight in ambition and talent tried to emulate.

And believe me, Flip had that ambition baby!!!!

For years, he traveled the chitlin circuit enduring hunger and homelessness.

Heck, he even gave himself a fifteen year plan.

Fifteen years?

I would have probably given up after fifteen months.

Readers, can you seriously see yourself in an unstable career trying to battle it out for fifteen years before deciding to walk away?

Still pressing on after much heartache, the Flipper finally got a chance.

Enter Redd Foxx…

Thanks to perhaps the greatest Black comedian of all times and beyond, Foxx on live television proclaimed Flip as the funniest comedian alive!!!!!!

Right on Time

After Foxx’s endorsement, Flip got his chance to be seen by a national crossover audience.

Thanks to a little luck, business savvy and perseverance, the Flip Wilson show was born.

The Flaws and the Demons

I was mildly surprised but not totally devastated to realize that Flip was human….

He was a mildly neglectful father who involved his young children in helping him to package his drugs.

His kids would all form an assembly line and help dad roll his marijuana!!!!

Quality Time…..

After seeing the writing on the wall due to the volatile nature of the early 1970’s, Flip decided to end the show to spend time with his children.

Daddy Dearest

It would seem that being the product of a broken family, broken community, and broken foster care system, father of the year would have been Flip’s blind ambition.

Maybe in his warped sense of reality he was…..

As his kids grew older, he had a schizophrenic relationship with them which continued towards the end of Flip’s life.

A Tragic Figure

While Flip is one of the few comic legends that I admire and respect, he will always appear as a tragic figure to me.

I am not judging.

I am not blaming Flip.

Imagine walking in Flip’s shoes and enduring the sick racism, and abuse from family and enemies.

It is good that he had the gift of laughter and the endurance and desire to bring it to the masses.

What if he didn’t have the gift or desire?

I hate to think of the alternative.

Bitter Black man?

Turning his rage in on himself, his family, and community?

With these odds, maybe Flip isn’t a tragic figure after all but a replica of endurance and the best of the Black experience.

Hats off to Geraldine.

Eat that Madea!!!!

Until next time…..

How Black America Can Heal and Thrive in Wake of the Trayvon Verdict

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Trayvon-Martin

Hello Readers,

FYI,

I decided to wait a couple of days after the shocking Trayvon Martin verdict before I rendered an opinion.

I learned the hard way the difference a couple of days can make!!!!!

Suspense….

Shock….

Disbelief….

Anger….

Pain….

Betrayal….

These are the gamut of emotions that I experienced the night of the Trayvon verdict as I sat watching continuing CNN updates.

Suspense you ask?

It was more like a deep anxiety coupled with great anticipation.

After all, the numerous CNN Pundits and analysts kept referencing past high profile cases in which the jury held lengthy deliberations.

I remember discussing the case a couple of days earlier with relatives and I informed them of the high probability that Zimmerman might get off.

Then, I thought because of the expectations of African Americans to see justice served for Trayvon, that the all-female jury would at least bring back a conviction of manslaughter.

The screams…..

Admittingly I did not follow this case as closely as I should have.

It was when I heard the screams on the 911 tapes and the testimonies of the mothers of Zimmerman and Trayvon that I suspected and on some level knew that “guilty without a doubt” was not really proven in this case.

Please note that doesn’t mean I believe that Zimmerman is without a doubt 100% at fault for Trayvon’s untimely demise.

I was deeply angered after hearing the 911 dispatcher tell Zimmerman that he did not need to follow Trayvon.

Why did he get out of the car?

To some Zimmerman may be herald as a hero.

If I am being honest, I would want someone as diligent as Zimmerman guarding my community.

For the majority of us, our homes are the biggest investments that we will make in our lifetime.

As evidenced across this country, it doesn’t take long or much for a comfortable middleclass neighborhood to fall into disarray and poverty.

However, with that being said, Trayvon was clearly profiled. It is unfortunate that some blame a garment for his death.

Though I am not a hoodie wearer (being a dowdy 42 year old woman), I have an innate common sense to know that a dangerous predator come in all types of clothing!!!!!!

As one of a few Black faces in a predominately White suburb, I am most anxious around those “safe” White people-thanks to the statistics on the majority of America’s most notorious serial killers.

With that being said, I am hurt and angry…..

Black America is hurt and angry….

My beloved brothers and sisters, where do we go from here?

Do we give up and accept this verdict?

Why has there been such an intense and emotional reaction to Trayvon’s murder?

Young Black men die everyday in America’s roughest urban areas either by the hand of another Black male or the police.

I honestly can’t remember another outpouring of outrage on the behalf of African Americans about injustice in my 42 years.

Emmett Till…..

This is what this verdict feels like to me.

Having been born in 1971 and really come of age in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I can’t begin to contemplate the deep hurt, anger and anxiety behind this verdict due to a “jury of Emmett’s peers”.

Speaking of a jury of peers…..

Six Women- Five White and a Black Hispanic….

Did we really expect justice?

As a wannabe feminist, I feel a sense of betrayal.

(This is a discussion for another time and another place-believe me)

Anyway readers I digress!

The Healing in the aftermath of Trayvon……

Black America is a terrific mess at this moment in our history.

If I have to describe our situation right now, I would say broken!!!!

In one segment of our population there is obscene wealth.

In another there is crushing poverty.

And, not to mention the not so healed scars of slavery that manifests itself daily through colorism, backbiting, etc.

Again I ask the question, where do we go from here?

The tragedy would be to protest and retreat!!!!

Consider If we would have beat a mass retreat after the Till verdict…..

No, we got angry….

We woke up….

Some of our beloved entertainers decided not to let Emmett’s death be in vein.

Although we have a Black president, we can’t really say that we have harnessed his election to truly eradicate racism and stress from our daily existence.

I’m sorry but some days I still feel as if we are bearing the heavy burden of slavery time Blackness!!!!!

Thus, we can’t rest on the achievements of our forebears.

Clichéd maybe….

The right to vote and rocking that vote is more vital than ever.

Please fathom that the high incarceration rates are in direct proportion to the voting power we lose-especially in the Deep South.

From the unschooled to the most highly educated amongst us, we need to make some intelligent noise in this area-especially in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling.

Take a moment to conceive what would happen if every African American in this country of voting age rocked the vote?

In rural suburban and major metropolitan areas, we could serve on juries and really deliver fair justice.

Justice would ring from every hamlet across America that we have managed to integrate!!!!!

How can a focus on voting rights help us to heal you ask?

When we go to the polls to vote, we are voting for issues as well as candidates.

What are the contemporary issues for us?

Violence, education, poverty, jobs, housing-these are pressing concerns for a majority of African Americans at this time.

Imagine if we were able to combat all of these issues through the political process?

We would definitely heal because a person who has all of his or her basic needs met, are free to pursue avenues of prosperity and happiness.

Take the insanely wealthy among us….

Especially the not so politically conscious athlete or entertainer!!!!

Money, Hoes, all a Nigga knows… was (and still is) a mantra for those intent on living that over the top lifestyle!!!!

This element among us is thriving in a sense because they are granted respect by Black and White America.

They possess that self-confidence to exist on many levels in American society.

Imagine if we as a whole got to that place?

Thriving……..

What does that mean for someone who has healed?

This may not be a good example but I often think of former drug addicts.

Once that addict has sought help for and kicked his addiction, he is ready to thrive.

He can only imagine the possibilities that await him with a sober life and mind.

What does post healing and thriving look like for us?

Restorative family units.

Hello beautiful sisters, queens, instead of the other derogatory terms for our women.

Hey Brother instead of that noxious term we often use with the mistaken belief of love and tenderness!!!

Whole people who can successfully challenge the new forms of racism that the dying arch conservative among us can dream up!!!!

(Make no mistake about it, racism is never going away-we will just handle it better)

The disconnect between the generations will be eradicated.

Segregation this time will not hurt us spiritually.

I don’t mean segregation in a negative sense.

I am talking about those safe spaces that are acutely needed -not just the stoops, beauty and barbershops.

The classrooms, boardrooms, state capitols and Capitol Hill.

To truly honor Trayvon, let’s not succumb to the helpless rage that will lead to mass scale violence and riots.

Make some noise!!!!!

Economic protests and boycotts.

Graduating at the top of our high school and college classrooms.

A 100% high school and college graduation rate for every African American boy and girl.

Know our history in America, on the continent and the world.

Finally (and perhaps the most important)-wealth and financial independence.

Ponder for a moment if we owned the businesses and banks in our communities.

Reflect if every African American adult owned their own homes free and clear and had substantial savings, as well as conscious politicians fighting on our behalf?

This would be similar to the invaders in foreign lands who are a small percentage but own everything and wield real power!!!!

For now this is just a dream but could one day be a reality.

Stay strong Black America and keep Trayvon alive!!!!

(Sorry for the long and ranting post)

Until next time…….

Gone but Not Forgotten

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Wayne-Williams

There is a program called Find Our Missing on a new television station (TV One) aimed at older African Americans.

This program airs content about missing African American youth. It is heart wrenching to watch this program. Mainly it is hurtful to me because of the unbelievable pain a parent must feel when their child goes missing. It is one thing to deal with the death of a child but the not knowing is very harrowing for anyone who has a missing loved one. Watching this program often times reminds me of the splintering of families that occurred during slavery. In essence, it is the same thing. Imagine on the African continent when loved ones were either sold or kidnapped by slave traders and taken to the new world never to be seen or heard from again. Finally, we have a program that is dedicated to finding our missing youth and reuniting our families-especially since the African American family is already a fragile entity in 21st century America.

After viewing this program, my mind wandered back to all of those murdered children in Atlanta in the late 1970′s and early 1980′s. These children were missing for a short while but were eventually found dead.

Those murders have haunted my dreams for years. I guess it is understandably so since I was the same age as those children. I often wonder what would have become of them if they would have been allowed to live.

I am a very imaginative person. When I think of these children, I think of little people who would have grown up to become pillars of the community.

However, I am not so naive as to think of the reality that would have awaited them.  Most, if not all of those child victims lived in some of the most impoverished neighborhoods in Atlanta. Odds are, some of them who have become products of their neighborhoods simply because of statistics.

The verdict is still out for me as to whether Wayne Williams is actually the murderer. In actuality he was only convicted of the murder of two of the victims and they were legally adults.

It seemed for me that there was never any justice for these unfortunate youth. I find it abominable that with all of the advanced resources at the disposal of state and federal law enforcement agencies that these cases have not been cleared. I guess in essence they were cleared following the conviction of Wayne Williams.

In recent years African American authors have tried to immortalize the lives of these victims. Books such as Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones and These Bones are Not My Child’s by Toni Cade have reawakened these murders in my conscience.

Eventually I would live in Atlanta for eleven months in my late 20′s. By the middle 1990′s Atlanta had become an African American mecca. While living there I would often ask long time African American residents about the murders and it seemed that the murders for some had faded from memory. Those memories are still vivid to me. As a child in Mississippi at the time of the murders I often thought that it would only be a matter of time before the murderer would come after me. That’s just how close to home those murders were.

Even now I often think of these victims. They may be gone but they are not forgotten. As a community we should commemorate the untimely demise of these youth just as we commemorate the passing and birth of our heroes such as Dr. Martin Luther king. Jr. and Malcolm X.

Click here to view interviews about these murders:

http://www.youtube.com/embed/eVGtYduN7oc

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