“All Means All”

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January 16, 2023- The process tends to loop around in circles, sometimes spiraling forward and other times heading back the other way.

April, 1959- A tough-looking boy, a bit older than me, rode up on his bike as I was walking back from the south side of town. He said his name was Richard; that he was a Creole from New Orleans and that I looked like a money man. I was eight, Richard was probably ten. I showed my empty pockets and he sniffed and rode off. “Next time, Money Man!” I didn’t see him again until we were in Junior High. He was into other things by then, and never bothered me. I later learned, from another Black child, that Richard no one in his life, except his Grandma, who was a custodian at the high school.

June, 1963- A seasoned jazz saxophonist, named Wilton Felder, sat down and recorded a re-arrangement of “Lullaby by JS Brahms”. It was nothing close to a lullaby, when he was finished. Mr. Felder was expressing his rage-at the murder, in 1956, of Emmett Till; at the murder, a few days before the recording, of Medgar Evers; at the many instances of cruelty towards people who looked like him . He was in no mood to offer gentle comfort-and so he made the piece soar to the heavens-loud and angry. The performance was terribly prescient. Three months later, four young girls, dressed in their Sunday finest, were blown to bits by a crazed bomber, as they waited in a Birmingham church.

April, 1968- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to a group of sanitation workers and others who were gathered in their support. He remarked that the people were “headed to the Promised Land”, and that he “may not get there with you”. That night, as he took in the night air of a Memphis spring, he was sent to the hereafter. Far to the north, in the mostly white town where I was coming of age, a few of my friends mused aloud, about going over to a black neighbourhood in the next town, and stirring things up. The father who overheard those remarks forbade his son from taking part-as my father would have, if I had even wanted to be part of such a thing. As it was, I only wanted to see black people treated fairly and my heart was broken. I went on home.

June, 1969- Communication was not my strong suit, as I entered Basic Training in the U.S. Army. Having had little direct experience with African-Americans, I found that I had committed a few faux pas. Lavern was already a beaten-down, world-weary soul, at age 19. He desperately wanted to be understood, and had a hard time expressing the ways in which people like me had hurt him. A sharp-eyed friend advised me that some other black trainees were talking with Lavern, and looking my way. I spoke with a mutual friend, who was also black; the two of us sat down with Lavern, and got things amicably settled.

September, 1969- One cold morning, at Advanced Individual Training, in Indianapolis, I was having a hard time waking up and must have had a sour expression on my face, as we gathered at the latrine sinks, to shave our faces. Wayne was spring-loaded and outspoken. He thought my scowl was directed at him-and put me on notice that this was not acceptable. A more even-tempered black colleague explained that this was how African-American men communicated with one another-direct, full-in-the-face. In this way, I was being let inside. I had no further issues with Wayne, or with any other person of colour, the rest of the time I was in the Army. Direct, and to the point, always worked.

July, 1995- I was getting ready to cross a busy street, in St. Louis, with my wife, son and our hosts. Of a sudden, a hand grabbed my arm and pulled me back-just as a car came speeding along in the inside lane. The man who saved me had appeared to be on drugs-but he was aware enough to keep a stranger safe. This gave the lie to our hosts’ musings about black people being worthless. There was no further racist talk coming out of their mouths during our visit.

All these years later, one of the main speakers at today’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service asked, among other things, how many friends of colour each of us had. It was a rhetorical query, intended to get us thinking. My unspoken answer is, “Many, but nowhere near enough”. The keynote speaker then underscored this question, saying that ALL people’s lives indeed mattered. To that African-American, female pastor, everyone was due respect and accordance of dignity-even if they act despicably.

All people means all people.

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Justice Is A Long Haul

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November 24, 2021, Grapevine, TX- “The best beloved of all things in my sight is justice.”-Baha’u’llah.

Tonight, after sundown and all day tomorrow marks the 109th observance of the Day of the Covenant, a day set aside by Baha’is to honour the life of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. This happened because He was born on May 23, 1844, which was the very day that al-Bab, Herald of the coming of Baha’u’llah, declared His own Mission to the world. ‘Abdu’l-Baha would never have countenanced anything on His behalf which would have taken even a smidgen of attention away from honouring al-Bab, on that day. He acquiesced to letting the Faithful devote one day a year in honour of His life: November 26, by solar reckoning. When we switched to observing several Holy Days by lunar reckoning, there came about circumstances when the Holy Day falls a day or two before 11/26.

The Covenant between Baha’u’llah and His followers, of which ‘Abdu’l-Baha was the chief Exemplar, is an agreement rooted in justice. Divinely inspired justice is hardly a matter of an imagined deity tossing lightning bolts at miscreants or any kind of deus ex maxina, for that matter. Like its more human derivative, true justice is a process. and a therefore a long haul.

I mention all this because there are times when a person who commits a moral failing, but not a criminal act, may be found innocent of criminal wrongdoing, by a jury of peers and continue to suffer within self and within the wider society. History is replete with such cases, and no names need be mentioned here.

There are also cases where a person, or people, are found guilty of criminal wrongdoing, by a similar jury and the wider society finds agreement-with a minority of people begging to differ. We saw such a verdict rendered today. The matter in question took a long time to resolve, as several commentators have observed, with some further allusions to the ongoing investigations into the affairs of January 6.

Justice is a long haul. The perpetrators of the murders of Emmett Till and of Medgar Evers, as well as the killers of the little girls in the Birmingham bombing of 1963, were brought to justice with all deliberate speed-but the convictions held. The alleged assassins of John F. and Robert Kennedy and of Martin Luther King, Jr. were brought to swift justice-either judicial or vigilante, but were they the sole killers-or even the actual ones, or were they just convenient scapegoats? I have my doubts, especially following the recent revelations regarding the assassination of Malcolm X.

The justice which meshes with that described by Baha’u’llah is potentially an arduous process, one that merits careful contemplation, on this Day of the Covenant, which leads us into the American Thanksgiving. That it is so, does not diminish its importance in our lives.

A Child Is A Child

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November 19, 2021- I have friends and family, on both sides of the Chasm, when it comes to discussions of race. Just so we’re clear, I am dead set against ANY policy or action that limits or prevents a person from following his/her life plan-so long as that plan does not itself involve limiting or preventing another person from following theirs.

It started, in a sense, with Emmett Till. When he was killed, I was four. An older cousin saw the news on TV and commented: “That is just plain SICK!” I asked what was sick and he told me that a kid, not much older than he, was killed by some crazy people in a place called Mississippi. I knew that name, because the older girls in the neighbourhood spelled it out while jumping rope. It bothered me, from that time on, that adults would kill a child.

As time went on, I witnessed and experienced all types of adult behaviour towards children-mostly good, but some very wicked things as well. I was, thankfully, never beaten or abused-but I knew plenty of boys and girls who were.

Growing up in a mostly White town, I saw and heard people of all ages-including some of my mates, express hostility towards people of other racial groups. In fairness, they were just as caustic towards people of other European ethnicities. I never felt such animosity towards anyone, but as the saying goes, “You stand in chalk, you inhale the dust.” It took time in the Army and frank discussions with people of other backgrounds, in which I chose to listen more than talk, for me to truly understand their experiences.

It is the duty of adults to teach teens in the ways of maturity. Maturity, as my father explained to me, means not rushing furiously into a situation, unprepared and likely overmatched. Now, we see what happens when the reverse is true. Kyle Rittenhouse went into battle, in his own mind, against an imagined foe that he barely understood, and of whose diversity he was completely ignorant. Someone in his life owed him a hand of restraint- not a violent hand, but a firm one.

Like many people in adolescence, he seemed to think he was capable of rising to the occasion and fending off those who had trouble in mind. Ironically, it was not the thugs on the periphery of the social justice movement whom he faced down, that awful night. It was three grown men, who likely fancied themselves allies of that movement, coming at him, a boy of 17.

I question how he was able to bring an AR15 with him, when the minimum age for BUYING such a weapon is 18. Yet, there it was, in his hands, after who knows how much training and practice he had been given in its use. Even people in the military, who are, with rare exceptions, 18 and over, have to have a minimum of eight weeks of training in the handling, use and maintenance of firearms, especially automatic weapons. Kyle should not have been there alone. Adults should have been with him, and then as a force of restraint.

There is, additionally, the research into the maturation of the human brain. The brain is not completely formed until the age of 25, if then. I look back on myself, in my teens and twenties, and sometimes shudder that I am still alive- my parents’ best efforts to raise me aside.

We are, however, in a crisis of adulthood when, once again, people at the street level are left trying to explain to the wider society why People of Colour are frustrated and angry-while not exactly hearing the voices of reason from those above them, in the halls of power. We are in a crisis of adulthood when a child is castigated in the court of public opinion, publicly coddled by a sitting judge and probably just as confused as he was on that awful night. We are in a crisis of adulthood when the voices of the nation’s leadership use vitriol, rather than step back, breathe deeply and foster healing. We are in a crisis of adulthood, when we just go back to the same sides, across the Chasm, that led us here in the first place.

A good-hearted, gentle family member remarked this evening that she just wants to see love for everyone. She is a conservative Christian. I am a gadfly, who leans progressive, in most matters. My sentiments, though, are the same.

A child is a child; raise him (her)!

July Road Notes, Day 21: What Matters Most

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July 25, 2021, Fairmont, MN- The passing driver fairly screamed at me, through a closed car window, as I stood on the grassy median of the quiet secondary road, waiting for the traffic light to turn in my favour, as I brought breakfast back to my motel room. I could see his scrunched up face, long after his car had passed by. An old veteran, sitting outside the motel, witnessed the whole thing and muttered something about some people not having enough to do with themselves. Such was the morning in Hudson, Wisconsin, where “morning people” seemed to consist of the energetic truck stop counterman, the cheerful motel owners, said old veteran and yours truly. Everyone else I met was either strung out about something, or just not ready to wake up fully.

Once I got on the road again, it was with a plan to visit the Minnesota State Capitol, in St. Paul, then go to George Floyd Square, in Minneapolis, and connect with a second cousin who lives in the area. I drove to the Capitol area, finding Minnesota has kept pace with its eastern neighbour, in terms of the majesty of its seat of government.

The Minnesota State Capitol, St. Paul
The Quadriga, or Progress of the State

https://www.mnhs.org/capitol/learn/art/8857

The above link describes the gilded copper figures shown above, and called The Quadriga. The four-horse chariot is driven by the male figure, who represents the State. The female figures represent Minnesota’s agriculture and industry. The four horses represent earth, fire, water and wind.

“Winter” garden, east side of Minnesota State Capitol
Minnesota State Capitol, viewed from State Veteran’s Memorial
Cathedral of St. Paul

It was upon driving to the majestic Cathedral of St. Paul, some six blocks southeast of the Capitol, that I got a call from my cousin. She and family live on the St. Paul side of the Twin Cities, so my visit with them was moved up. What a delightful group! They met me at an area coffee house and spent about thirty-five minutes, before we all had to move on with our days. I’m ever grateful to be able to connect with far-flung family. D and her mate have each done well in life. Their daughters will follow suit, from all I noted this morning. Teenagers often go through periods of self-doubt (as do the rest of us), and their feelings deserve to be taken seriously, yet I see a very solid drive in both girls. This little unit is going to be just fine.

Gathering at a Caribou Coffee Shop (above and below)

From family reunion of sorts to honouring sacrifice, I drove to George Floyd Square, on Minneapolis’ south side. Parking well away from the square, I spent about an hour in prayer, listening and carefully contemplating the faces and descriptions of each shooting victim whose death is commemorated there. There was only concern and compassion being shown, by both those visiting and those who are tending the site.

The late John Lewis called for “Good trouble”.
Amanda Gorman had it nailed.

George Floyd Square, Minneapolis

Call it untidy, messy, or even inconvenient, if you will. I would say the events that led to this site’s establishment were very untidy, extremely messy and most inconvenient-for the people who have suffered, and, ultimately, for those who brought about their suffering.

Say Their Names Memorial Cemetery, 37th Street, south of Chicago Avenue, Minneapolis

A dedicated crew of volunteers was busy, at this collective memorial for African-American people of colour killed, under questionable or objectionable circumstances, over the past sixty-six years. One of the earliest such victims, Emmett Till, would have turned eighty years of age today. When he was killed, I was four years old, and he was fourteen. I barely remember, the very next day, one of my cousins mentioned that a “coloured boy”, not much older than he, had been killed by “some crazy people” in a place called Mississippi. I didn’t know who coloured people were, nor where Mississippi even was, but I knew it was wrong for one person to kill another. It was also strange to me that a child should have died. Death was for old people, like my paternal grandfather, who had recently passed away-and he was not all that old.

It is still strange, and I still regard such atrocities as crazy. It would be the same, were any group of people to be subjected to such treatment-regardless of age, or of “race”.