Ally.

Photo by Teemu Paananen on Unsplash

When I wrote, “Dear Friend,” a couple of months ago, I did not expect the friend to whom it was addressed to run to me, grab my hands and begin singing along with me, “We Are the World.” However, I did expect her to take a moment and at least consider my words. I did expect her to ask the God we both serve for some direction. That didn’t happen either.

In fact, she reacted very poorly: she accused me of spreading hate, of calling for rebellion [against state-sanctioned violence?], of inciting violence, and of threatening her. Then, soon after sending the message, she blocked me and removed herself from all social media.

She is not an ally.

The next morning, her daughter sent a hopeful message. She apologized for her mother’s behavior, thanked me for my candor, and asked me to pray for her mother. She wrote, in part:

This is an ongoing polarizing conversation between the two of us. I appreciate your leading with love and kindness [. . .]. I think of you and stand with you. As an educator, I will continue to fight for justice for my students.

Even though I was baffled by the mother’s response, one thing was clear–her daughter is an ally. She stands up, she stands with, and she will fight with us for what is just.

If you want to know how to be an ally and what it means to be one–beyond the hollow use of the word by far too many recently–see this post by my blogging friend, writer KE Garland:  Monday Notes: Five Examples of White Allyship.

The work of undoing racism is exhausting, but African Americans and other oppressed people of color cannot do it alone. We need allies–allies who are willing and brave enough to do the work with us.

The Day the Music Stopped

“Hammond: B-3, 9th Ward, New Orleans.” Frank Stewart. 2006 [photo of a photo]

We will never forget. Hurricane Katrina. 08.29.05.


About the Image: I shot the photo of a photo nine years ago while in New York City. The Hammond B-3 organ was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina 15 years ago today [New Orleans, August 29, 2005]. The photograph is part of Traveling Full Circle: Frank Stewart’s Visual Music, which was exhibited at at the Lincoln Center in New York City in 2011.  You can learn more about Stewart, longtime Senior Staff Photographer for Jazz at the Lincoln Center, and his body of work by visiting his website: Frank Stewart.

#ThursdayTreeLove | Unbothered

“Oak Feet”

The campus trees and I have been reunited! I returned to work August 3 [technically], but it had been too hot to visit them. Yesterday was less oppressive, so I was happy to get outdoors when a colleague needed a favor.  While I was walking back to my office, I noticed how beautifully the oak near my building had spread.

“The Spreading Oak” [iPhone photo]

I had to get back to my office to complete a task before leaving for the day, so I quickly snapped the shot above with my phone and promised to return.

I made good on my promise today.

I worked diligently all morning. It was afternoon before I knew it, so I took a five-minute break to clear my head and energize before tackling another task on the ‘must do today” list. Of course, I headed to the trees.

“Intricate Pattern”

Oh, how I missed them the last five+ months! I didn’t have much time, so I walked the circle of trees nearest my building. I stood still for a moment to take in the scene–from the patterns in tree trunks (above) to the tiny magnolia [?] that took root in the foot of another tree (below).

“Magnolia Rooted”

Then, I turned my attention to the oak. I was simply mesmerized by its majesty and by how much it had thrived in the absence of an abundance of human activity. In fact, all the trees seemed unbothered by pandemics and human foibles.

“Hello, Beautiful”

I was reminded of a reading from Melodie Beattie’s Journey to the Heart. In the passage, she refers to the redwoods of California, but I will take the liberty and ascribe her words to “my” trees:

“A Fragment of the Majestic”

For hundreds of years they have been here, patiently seeing things through. Little ruffled them. They just kept on growing for all those years—steadily, patiently, peacefully, calmly. They have been through enough, seen enough, to know not to worry. Things work out. Change happens. Life continues to evolve.

I didn’t see one tree hurrying or worrying. They have been here long enough to learn life’s lessons well.  –Melody Beattie, Journey to the Heart: Daily Meditations on the Path to Freeing Your Soul

“Strong Arms”

My first campus walk since March–a deep, cleansing breath.


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Sisters and Solace

“Sisters.” Photo by Kelli D.

Is solace anywhere more comforting than that in the arms of a sister? –Alice Walker

A few years ago, my friend Kelli posted a photograph of her three beautiful daughters. The two older sisters were consoling the youngest as she tearfully apologized for terrorizing them all day. Kelli had captured such a sweet moment. I asked permission to alter the photo because I felt the tenderness between sisters would be better expressed through a painterly-vintagesque edit.

Is solace anywhere more comforting than that in the arms of a sister?

Guest Post | “Tightrope” by Elle Arra

Photo by Elle Arra

Today’s guest post for our series on living Black in the United States was written by my friend, Elle Arra. I met Elle Arra through her poetry blog here on WordPress. She is an amazing poet and visual artist, and I was delighted to learn she lives right here in Northern Alabama. In fact, we know many of the same people! We have made plans to get together for tea when meeting and greeting are safe again.

In this post, Elle Arra combines poetry, photos, and reportage to share her experience of participating in a protest over the Alabama District Attorney’s refusal to release officers’ body camera footage in the police shooting of Dana Sherrod Fletcher last November.


Suspended above the day’s mundanity and slog,
an ever-present tightrope
black bodies traverse in tandem.
It’s like navigating an ocean built
almost entirely of undertow
while maintaining stride and heft of dreams.

We are not permitted our hysteria
not without it being labeled non sequitur rage.

We walk this tightrope
lilting between full bloom
and languish,
walk with bullets in our backs,
twine around our necks,
asphalt under our skin,
knees on our windpipes,
tree branches in our hair,
blood like rubies cascading,
splayed bone like smooth porcelain,
black skin – ribbons and ribbons,
afro confetti––

Photo by Elle Arra

Sunday, August 16, 2020. I walked the four corners of US 72 and Wall Triana [in Madison County, Alabama] where giant signs were hoisted in peaceful protest of the shooting of Dana Fletcher 10 months earlier. I took photos and spoke with his wife and mother who have had to wedge their grief and mourning between breathing and fighting for justice. I cannot imagine having to take moments meant for private sorrows to fight publicly for transparency—the human and decent thing being denied them.

Photo by Elle Arra

I watched Dana’s now fatherless daughter playing in the grass while her mother, grandmother, and a sizable group gave everything they had to this effort. I took it all in–the focus on their faces, the bullhorn call and response, and the raised signs calling for justice.

Photo by Elle Arra

It was extremely hot and humid that late morning/early afternoon, but the dedicated group spent three hours occupying the four corners of the intersection adjacent to the lot where Dana was killed. People from all walks of life honked as they drove by and elevated their fists through car windows in solidarity. Several vehicles pulled up and gifted cold, refreshing, electrolyte drinks to the protestors. There was beauty in the coming together despite the bitter reasons for the gathering; there was beauty in the union of people of all colors and lifestyles for one common goal.

 

Photo by Elle Arra

On October 27, 2019 Dana Fletcher was fatally shot by a Madison police officer in front of his wife and daughter. Nearly a year later, there still has been no transparency in this matter. According to Alabama law, body camera footage is privileged information, so the District Attorney refuses to release the footage or the alleged 911 call that precipitated Fletcher’s death. Stills from the incident have been released, but these stills do not reveal the whole story.

You can help. Please go to change.org and sign the petition to enact the Dana Fletcher bill making bodycam footage public record.

Photo by Elle Arra

We walk that tightrope,
what a beautiful gait.

––even our dying is a glorious walk home.

To learn more about Elle Arra and her work, please follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

Photo by Elle Arra

[All images in this post captured by Elle Arra with Fugifilm X-E1 f/1.0 1/4000 50.00mm ISO200].

Like Him…

A person who claims to be continuing in union with Him ought to conduct his [her] life the way He did. –1 John 2:6 CJB

This morning as I was meditating on 1 John 2:6, I was struck by all that it means to live in union with Christ and to live as He lived while He walked this earth. I usually journal my explanations  and/or responses to scriptural passages, but instead of paragraphs, a list rolled onto the page.

Live in Him = live like Him.
Live in Him = speak like Him.
Live in Him = walk like Him.
Live in Him = listen like Him.
Live in Him = trust like Him.
Live in Him = pray like Him.
Live in Him = worship like Him.
Live in Him = heal like Him.
Live in Him = share like Him.
Live in Him = empathize like Him.
Live in Him = give like Him.
Live in Him = think like Him.
Live in Him = challenge like Him.
Live in Him = serve like Him.
Live in Him = shine like Him.
Live in Him = love like Him.

This is where my pen stopped, but I’m sure I’d have no problem adding more acts to this list. And that’s just it–this is a list of action verbs! Can you imagine how long [and daunting] this list would be if I had added stative verbs?

Walking in complete union with Christ is work. We are imperfect, fallible beings, so even if this work isn’t impossible, it is certainly exhausting! It is challenging to love and shine like Him when we add all the variables of our daily encounters with others.

But doing this work is worth it!

Through such soul work and through “living in Him,” we are crafted into His likeness, and that is a beautiful thing.


About the Images: I captured the sunset sky images above last month and shared them on Instagram. They “wanted” to be shared here on Pics and Posts too. 🙂

Musings from My Younger Self | I Can Be Me!

“Coneflowers” by Kayla W.

While talking to a colleague a few days ago, I happened across a poem I wrote when I was about 16. I shared a few lines with her and she was “impressed” that I was thinking about something other than boys and getting away from my parents’ rules. I told her I’d share the poem on the blog today, but it requires more typing than I can handle at the moment, so I chose a much shorter “teenage” poem–one that is nothing like the other poem.

I Can Be Me!

In a poem
I can be anyone
I want to be.
I can do
what I want to do
when I want to do it.
I can lose painful feelings to memory
and rejoice in my misery.
I can escape
and travel to ageless worlds.
I can create a world of my own
and destroy reality.
In a poem,
dreams are reality
and yesterdays are forgotten.
Tomorrows never come.
Today is forever.
In a poem
I can be a philosophical moron
or a simple intellectual.
In a poem
I can be anyone
I want to be;
I can even be me!

It has been almost two years since I shared a “younger self” poem! I find a lot of the poems rather “cringey,” to use my son’s word. But there are a hundreds of them, so I’ll try to get over myself and share them a bit more frequently.


About the Image: The cheerful artwork above is the work of my colleague, Kayla W–the person referenced in the conversation about my teenage poetry. She recently learned she’s an artist. 😉 Even if you find my poem cringey [too], please show Kayla some bloggy love. ❤

#ThursdayTreeLove | “Pretty and Sweet”

I am not like the rose, [so] beautiful and enchantingly rare that it seduces you; and when you have fallen so deliriously, it pierces you with its thorns, wounding you so deep.

I am like the hibiscus, pretty and sweet, yet ordinary. You’d find me anywhere—in backyards and graveyards too, but what you see is what you’d get—no hidden thorns to bare.—Diwa

One day, not too long ago, I was checking out my aunt’s “new” backyard–she had recently moved.  As I was taking in the size of the yard—not too big, not too small “for someone her age”—I was drawn to the way the setting sun caressed blossoms spilling over into the back corner of her yard from her neighbor’s yard.

I recognized the blossoms. Hibiscus, right?

But do hibiscus bushes grow so tall? The tree I was looking up had to be at least 10 feet tall.

I did a little “research” and “lo and behold,” I learned that either there is such a thing as a hibiscus tree or hibiscus plants can be groomed into a tree or both. I am not a horticulturist, so please don’t judge me too harshly for not having the fine details.

I’m just here for the beauty.


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

“All Power to All People”

“All Power to All People.” Art installation by Hank Willis Thomas at Burning Man 2018. Photo by Christine B.

It’s time for another brief art lesson [and the crowd goes wild]!

The afro pick (or afro comb) installation above is the work of Hank Willis Thomas, a conceptual artist who works “primarily with themes related to perspective, identity, commodity, media, and popular culture” (Artist’s bio).

The work, entitled “All Power to All People,” was one of the many fantastic pieces on display [in 2018] at Burning Man a “temporary city” built annually in Black Rock Desert in Nevada. According to a New York Times article on the “monumental art” of Burning Man, Thomas’s 24×10 foot tall installation is on tour throughout the United States this year.

Popularized in the 1970’s, the afro comb has a long, long history that dates all the way back to Ancient Egypt and [also] has roots in West Africa. You can read about that here: Combs from Kemet.

The 1970s-style afro pick typically includes the “peace sign” and the “raised fist”–as seen in Thomas’s work.  It was–and still is–a symbol of Black unity, solidarity, collective identity, and Black empowerment.

The photo was shot by my pen friend Christine B, who participates in Burning Man every year. She surprised me last week with a few of these postcards and a very cool “Black Lives Matter” button. 🙂

I was not only happy to receive Christine’s postcards, but was elated that her photo led me to Hank Willis Thomas. A few summers ago, I photographed one of his other installations, but neglected to get the artist information [doh!]. Maybe, that work will be the subject of a blog post next week. Let’s see what time allows.

Be sure to tune in tomorrow for a bit of tree love.

First Day: The New Academy, Hell, and Miracles

My favorite building on campus

Forgive me for what is sure to be a rambling, pointless blog post. Despite my weariness, I promised myself I would write a post today because Microblog Mondays are part of my normal. I need as much normal as I can get these days.

For many complex reasons, my university decided to offer in-person instruction, but students have the option to attend virtually. Today was the first day of classes. I’m not sure how I feel about it. I met students in my office via ZOOM instead of in a classroom. Only a couple of my students are back on campus for in-person instruction. The others are learning from their homes because neither they nor their parents are comfortable with the still rising [COVID-19] numbers.

There’s so much more to think about during these COVID times. There are so many ways of navigating academic life that has been remapped. We wear masks and face shields; place protective shields on our desks; check temperatures and sanitize our hands when we enter buildings; we carry gloves, hand sanitizer, extra masks, and disinfectant spray; we are overly conscious of our hands and face; we remind students to “stay back” the magic distance of six feet—no hugs for those beautiful ones we haven’t seen in five months; we teach fewer students in instructional spaces and try to construct our courses so the students build connections through the digital divide.

To make matters even more interesting–here we are in the hottest part of a southern summer, and the air conditioner in our almost 80-year-old building decided to go on strike. So 95 degrees outside. 105 inside while wearing a mask. I had a taste of hell today.

Strange start to the academic year after an odd too-long/too-short summer. In these first moments, getting through [another] COVID semester seems impossible, but I keep reminding myself, the impossible gives birth to miracles.