Guest Post | “Safer in War Zones” by Steven Beckford

Today we continue our series of perspectives on #BlackLivesMatter, racism, police violence, and living Black in the United States.  Today’s post was written by Steven Beckford, someone I’ve known since he was a tiny tot. He has served in the United States Air Force for more than 15 years. Here, Steven provides a sobering perspective on what it means to serve a country that does not value him as person because of the color of his skin.

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Because I serve in the United States Armed Forces, people have been asking me how I feel in light of everything that has been going on, so here are my thoughts. [Please note: These are my individual views as a citizen of the USA who happens to serve his country].

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Aura Rosser, Stephon Clark, Bothan Jean, Philando Castille, Alton Sterling, Michelle Cusseaux, Freddie Gray, Tanisha Fonville, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Charles Kinsey, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin.

This is a small number of incidents that occur too frequently as it relates to Black lives and police brutality.

When people protest police violence against Blacks peacefully and respectfully too often the mainstream narrative becomes about patriotism or the American flag.  Think about Colin Kapernick. Although his “taking a knee”–a respectful posture–was about resisting police brutality, far too many people twisted the issue and made it about disrespecting the flag.

I grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana. My mother’s side of the family is from Mississippi. Growing up I thought being called the n-word was normal. I thought that being mistreated by the cops was normal. I found myself handcuffed and ankle-shackled at times just because I was driving a car that didn’t fit the supposed Black stereotype, so cops assumed I had drugs on me. I have been denied entry into stores with my friends because we were Black. The assumption was that we might steal something, so we had to go in one at a time to be better “monitored.” I have been a passenger while my older sister was pulled over. I have had to watch police berate her and call her a Black b**** for literally no reason at all.

Despite all of that, I joined the military. I served and continue to serve with honor. However, when I turn on the news, I see how people care more about the perception of unity than actual unity. When I go into a store in uniform, I am treated kindly; when I go to same store in civilian clothes, I am treated with far less than respect.

I have felt safer in actual war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan than I have in America. Why? Because there I know who is trying to kill me and I can actually defend myself. In the United States it’s hard to know who an actual enemy is.

I am a member of the United States Air Force serving my country proudly, but I am apprehensive about returning to the U.S. not just to live, but even to visit.

I not only have to watch people who could be me, my brother, my sisters, my mother, and friends die needlessly but I am also forced to witness different treatment for whites.  We all witnessed it. Think about Dylan Roof.  This white guy went into a Black church, prayed with the congregation, opened fire and actually killed nine people, and was then taken for a meal before being taken to prison.

I am sad, angry, and tired of this. Because of the response to George Floyd’s murder, people say “this time is different” and have hope that America will change. I am not sure I’m as hopeful.  I’ve heard that before. How many “this times” do we need? Someone can call the cops on me while I’m out birdwatching and all they have to say is that I am Black. That’s a near death sentence for me–a death sentence because cops responding to the scene will automatically treat me as a threat that should be and can be put down with little to no consequences. If you do not believe me, research the names mentioned above, and look at the penalty for most of the officers.

This isn’t just about the killings.

This is about honoring confederate leaders, people who wanted to keep Black people enslaved. There is no Fort Pol Pot, no Hitler Air Base. It is in America that we honor those who wished to oppress.

This is about a national anthem for which we cannot even sing the full song, because of lines such as: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave’/From the terror of flight and the gloom of the grave.”

I am just tired… I am tired of all of this… I am not here pleading for special rights… I am not asking for the considerations that America has given to the Japanese after placing them in internment camps during World War II.  I am not even asking for the benefits that America has given to the Native Americas… I want the guarantees and rights that are supposed to come with being an American. I want to be treated equal.

Can America just give me that?

Photo by Tammyatwt on Pixabay

Guest Post | “Four Wishes” by Donna Akiba Harper

When I wrote Dear Friend, my response to systemic oppression and violence against black bodies, at the beginning of the month, I did not plan to write or post about the subjects again, but frankly, it has been difficult to think about anything else–especially when here we are in the same situation less than two weeks later. 

Many of my friends have been sharing their thoughts and reflections via Facebook and Instagram posts, so I decided to use my “Microblog Mondays” [until further notice] to share some of their perspectives on #BlackLivesMatter, racism, police violence, and living Black in the United States.

Last week I shared a friend’s garden reflection/analogy. For todays’s post Dr. Donna Akiba Harper, a colleague and friend, who lives in the Atlanta area, shares her thoughts on police violence. The exasperated tone of her piece echoes my own feelings.  [This is an excerpt of her post]

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Rayshard Brooks should not be dead. With all the protests in Atlanta, all over the nation, and all over the world because of the killing of black men, women, and children, why? Why did [now Former Officer] Garrett Rolfe shoot with deadly force? Was he trying to incite violence? There was no reason to use deadly force. Those of us who are not experts are not alone in this thinking. Florida Rep. Val Demings, a former Police Chief who is now in Congress, doesn’t see why deadly force was used against Rayshard Brooks.

In regards to the situation we find ourselves in over and over again:

  1. I wish people would STOP calling the police for everything. We should have teams  of social workers/psychologists who can be called in situations that involve people who are not “committing a crime.” A man running naked through an apartment complex (Anthony Hill) has other issues. A man who is sound asleep in the drive-thru lane of a Wendy’s (Rayshard Brooks) has other issues. I wish we would stop depending on the police to handle everything!!! We don’t need them for non-criminal acts. We need trained social workers/ psychologists.
  2. I wish police would consider the circumstances when they are called. If the “crime” is passing a fake $20 bill (George Floyd) or selling loose cigarettes (Eric Garner), that’s petty. Write a citation! There’s no need to arrest someone for any of those petty “violations.” Thus, there can be no “resisting arrest.”
  3. I wish there would be no more “no knock” warrants. Ever! Anywhere! If the folks who want to “open” cities and states in the era of COVID-19 can walk around outside with huge guns–but that’s no cause for alarm?–how is the “suspicion” of drugs or weapons inside a home enough reason to break into someone’s home at night? Breonna Taylor and Kathryn Johnston were killed by police breaking into the wrong home!!! They should not have died that way!
  4. I wish there would be no more chokeholds or knees on necks, ever! In fact, I wish police would use deadly force only as a last resort–in response to deadly force being used against them. Overall, vast training in de-escalation needs to occur, within police forces AND within the general public. We all need to learn strategies to reduce the anger and violence that so often erupts–in domestic situations and in public, and especially with police. I wish we would learn better ways to deal with everything.

I plan to contact my local police precinct to ask about these things. I figure if we all get busy with local issues and if we press our U.S. Representatives and Senators to pass federal laws, we can bring lasting change.

Things absolutely have to change.

Guest Post| “A Garden Reflection” by Danille Taylor

We are each other’s
harvest:
we are each other’s
business:
we are each other’s
magnitude and bond.

Gwendolyn Brooks

Photo by Photo AC on Pixabay

Today’s post was written by my colleague and friend, Dr. Danille Taylor. She wrote this reflection after working in her garden and seeing the connection between her work and the work in which we must all engage to undo the isms that are destroying humanity.
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I was in the garden yesterday in 90 degree heat digging out weeds. I put a perennial bed in an area where the builder planted bamboo. I contracted to have soil and new plants put in. It was much too much work for my new knees, but the bed wasn’t prepped properly. The bamboo is tenacious! I can neither stomp it out nor can I use poison because of the new plants. I have to dig down and extract the roots. This is tedious back-bending work that requires the right tools so as not kill the new plants–my beauties. I may have to keep weeding for years to rid the garden of the bamboo, but as the gardener, it is my responsibility to protect my beauties. If I get lazy or forget, the bamboo will take over again.
***
Ridding this world of all the ‘isms, greed, and inequities requires that we all be gardeners. There is no quick medicine or vaccine. There is only consistent, diligent, hard, and loving work to destroy the roots. But we have to have the right tools.
Each period requires old and new tools, but we must understand the old to be effective now. The energy of Black youth has brought us to this moment much as it did fifty years ago. They are railing at the bamboo that has them in a chokehold.
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If need be, we’ll plant a new garden and properly prepare the bed making sure the soil is rich and nurturing. No poisons allowed. We must remember the “bamboo” may still be there, so we’ll have to be diligent in identifying and uprooting it. We have knowledge and lessons of the past and tools of the future. We will sweat. But the wonderment and beauty we cultivate will feed us. As we weed and dig to extract roots we must not lose our joy.  We see the beauty of the garden we are cultivating.
***
Live, breathe, love, and work.

Photo by Photo Mix on Pixabay

Guest Post: “Woke Up to the News” by K.C. Dulan

Photo by Michel Kwan

We’ve all been touched by suicide. Whether it was the death of someone we know or someone we admire, we’ve felt the coldness of that loss for which the answers never satisfy. We may not understand why, but God knows. He is most intimately connected with us, even when we feel detached from Him. As I mentioned in “He Comes Walking,” He is well-acquainted with human suffering, including the desperate, hopeless suffering that leads to an individual’s taking his or her own life.

In a post that first appeared in Medium on June 8, my friend, K.C. Dulan, ruminates over the whys and hows and urges us to truly see each other and give “rest” in life instead of death.

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Woke up to the news of another suicide of a high-profile individual.

The second one in a week.

And I wondered; how many more died invisible deaths by suicide in-between the two?

Unseen. Unnamed. Unheard.

Wondered about the “why” as the rate steadily climbs.

Wondered about the “how” — how to make it stop; because the truth is those that are willing to DO something about it are often barely treading water themselves.

And I worry about them all…

The doers.

The grinders.

The healers.

The seers.

The feelers.

The bearers.

The wanderers.

The ones who are not readily seen as broken, but are givers — constantly breaking off pieces of themselves to be consumed by the needs and wants of others until nothing remains.

They DO whatever needs to be done regardless of their own mental or emotional capacity and promise to take care of themselves just as soon as this one more thing is done.

They GRIND, determined not to be average and in pursuit of “greatness” or “success” before they have clearly defined what that truly means…and what it really costs…for themselves.

They HEAL (everyone else). Make us laugh, entertain us, show us the world, teach us to love…they stand in the gap or endure public flogging for standing up. Or sitting down. Or marching. Or taking a knee.

They SEE and accept the brokenness in others but are ashamed and cannot forgive or accept their own.

And they FEEL the wounds and pain of humanity and yearn for others to feel it, too.

They BEAR the burdens of their fellow man…shoulders raw, backs bent from carrying the weight of the world.

They WANDER seeking safety, seeking hope, seeking solutions, seeking solace, seeking peace.

People say it’s a selfish act…

Interestingly committed by those who often give the most of themselves –

The warriors doing battle without the armor of selfishness, narcissism, and individualism on the front lines against hate, apathy, indifference, injustice; refusing to take up space with their own pain and suffering;

Those whose internal, looping tapes – embedded by the unrealistic demands and expectations of others – tell them over and over again that they are NEVER enough. No matter how much they accomplish, it will never be enough.

Those who have been sold the unsustainable lie that they are nothing unless they “stay grindin’” — when the very definition of “grind” is to REDUCE (something) to small particles or powder by crushing it.

Until… “IT” becomes the only way to find rest…

How ironic that we then say

Rest in peace.

Rest in freedom.

Rest in power.

It’s all they ever wanted.

If only we could give it to each other in LIFE instead of in death.

#Pleasedontgo #Pleasestay #Youmatter #Youareenough #Iseeyou

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About the author: K.C. Dulan is oddly optimistic that Love will win. She is the wife of one, mother of three, daughter, sister, friend. She is a quiet warrior who is passionate about family, community, faith, and justice.

Guest Post: “The Moral Moment” by Dr. Blue

As much as I would love to use today’s blog post to write about fun and lighthearted things as we enter the weekend, my heart has been heavy all week. We began classes for the semester a few days ago, but just before my first class, I ran across a photo snapped on the first day of class a couple of years ago–a sidewalk chalk protest: Mike Brown should be on his way to class too.

“Mike Brown should be on his way to class too.”

As I tried desperately to block out Charlottesville, Virginia and a failure of leadership to provide a moral response, I felt the chilling reality that this could have been Brown’s senior year in college deep in my soul. I voted Tuesday with no hope. It was just part of the process, my right as an American citizen, my duty as an African American. All week, I listened to children who are afraid and talked to students who are now very watchful and careful about their surroundings in a southern city where sightings of the confederate flag is not uncommon.

The question that came up time and time again, “What do we do?” What can we do?

Today’s post (which begins below) was written by Dedrick Blue, D.Min, Dean of Religion and Theology at Oakwood University. In response to the events of the last week, Blue calls us to reach inside and decide what we will do. The question is not “what can we do?” The question, he points out, is “what will I do?” We must answer that question for ourselves and make the decision to act.

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Each of us will come to a moment in our lives when moral decency will beg for response. These are times of great moral and spiritual crises that test our metal and our faith. These defining moments shape history and shape our personal history. We have come to that moment.

As our nation grieves over the tragic events in Charlottesville, VA which left three dead and 19 injured at the hands of violent-sanctioned white supremacy, we are obliged to pause and reflect upon the meaning of the moment.

While some may argue over whether a Confederate statue should survive, be clear that was not the issue. The issue is whether people–black, brown, yellow, red, Jew, Muslim–should survive. The statue is just a symbol of the genocide perpetrated by white supremacy upon people of color and those not conforming to white Protestant, Anglo-Saxon phenotype.  Those white supremacists are unequivocal in their assertion that the inanimate statue has a greater right to American soil than breathing persons of color. They assert that the history of white supremacy and genocide is the true history of America. In this, they are both right and wrong. Rebellion and genocide are part of our history, but they are not to be our trajectory or our destiny. And certainly, genocide is not to be memorialized as something noble.

Our great Republic has never been perfect. And yet, this nation with Her hands and conscience soiled by chattel slavery, chose to repudiate Her past and march forward toward a more perfect union. This of course was not without costs. Our nation lost nearly a million of its citizens in a Civil War. The backlash from Reconstruction gave birth to Jim Crow and “strange fruit on southern trees.” Churches were bombed, buses were burned, leaders were assassinated, children were incarcerated and voters were intimidated in this march toward a more perfect union. Like Abel, the blood of those sacrifices cry out for justice from America’s soil, and plead that those sacrifices be not in vain.

Now we have come to this moment in our nation’s history, when the President of these United States has chosen to ignore the sacrifices of our bloody, glorious past. My first reaction is to say that he seeks to resurrect the demons of racism and white supremacy. However, truth be told, that ghoulish specter has never ceased to stalk our heels, and continues to lurk in our bedrooms and boardrooms. That poltergeist shoots down unarmed boys in the street, snatches healthcare from senior citizens, sits in legislative councils, and rewards robber barons with tax cuts. And now in this moment, we see our President acting as a medium to call up and invite that demon to sit at his welcome table.

Let us be clear. This is a pivotal moment in American history. It is a moment when this nation will either rise once more and strive toward her credo that “all men are created equal” or will slither back into the quagmire of its racist history.

But this is not just a pivotal moment for America. It is a pivotal moment for each citizen of America. For what is America if it is not each of us? America is not just a government; it is a people bound together by constitution and geography, but even more importantly, bound together by ideal. This moment now tests not only the government but also that ideal. We as a nation and as a people are challenged in this moral moment to vociferously repudiate the demons of white supremacy. We must not be silent now. We cannot run for cover or place our proverbial head in the proverbial sand and pretend that if we ignore it, it does not exist.

Neither can we retreat into apocalyptic passivism which takes the position that all these things are just signs of the end and Jesus will fix it all when He returns. If we choose to be silent now then, we do so at the peril of our souls. For our streets are stained with blood, our children cower in fear, and evil parades with torches of terror in our parks. Real people are dying.

To call upon our God to act, but refuse to act when God calls is spiritual schizophrenia at best and downright hypocrisy at worst. The God we serve is not only moved by injustice but moves against injustice. The examples are replete in Scripture. I need not repeat the stories of God’s intervention for the slaves of Egypt; His denunciations of oppression in the Book of Micah; or His admonition in the Torah to embrace the widow, the orphan and the stranger.

God acts!

We also learn from Scripture that in the time of moral and spiritual crisis, God not only moves into action but He also moves people into action. Moses had to agree to go to the most powerful ruler in the world and demand release of the Hebrew captives. In another era, God called upon a woman named Esther to reveal to the king a wicked plot to destroy the Jews perpetrated by the racist Haman.

God moves against injustice, but He uses people as His agents. And each of person has to come to that moral moment when he/she has to decide that the call and the cause are greater than the comfort of willful ignorance.

Every generation must face its moral moment. Martin Luther King, Jr. faced the moral moment on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Rosa Parks faced the moral moment on the back of a bus. Heather Heyer faced the moral moment on a back street in Charlottesville.

This now is our moral moment. We must choose to hear the call and choose a response. The call comes to each of us in a different way. I dare not be so bold as to declare how God speaks and how He speaks to you. But I will be so bold as to say that God does speak and He always looks for a response.

One of America’s greatest statesmen, Dr. Martin Luther King, declared:

There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right. 

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Moral decency demands a response!

–Dr. Dedrick Blue, Dean of Religion and Theology, Oakwood University

Photo from Pixabay

Guest Post: “Walks with Chandra”

The week promises “cruel and unusual punishment” with little time for fun, so my friend Cy volunteered to write a guest post for me. Here, she shares photos from a few of our photo walks.  She very thoughtfully stages photos for her Instagram feed, so maybe, we can convince her to write a post with some of her IG photos one day.  Maybe, we can convince her to start a blog too!

Thanks, Cy, for taking a little of the burden for me this week!

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“Begin where you are with who you are. In order to go where you want to go creatively, you have to start somewhere.” Julia Cameron~ Walking In This World: The Practical Art of Creativity

Two years ago, I joined Instagram, became a planner addict, and started taking photos with my cell phone. These things happened because of my walks with Chandra. Our walks are not for exercise. They are art walks, the kind that inspire me to see a tree or a cloud as art. I am interrupting her blog to share some of the photos I’ve taken on my walks with her.

I’ve never considered myself a photographer, but I’ve taken some cool photos. Of course, Chandra’s photos show much more skill than mine, but I think my photos have improved because she has shared a bit of how to look at the landscape.  My photos have been shot with a Samsung Galaxy S5 and S6.

Image

“Light and Shadow,” Photo by Dr. Cy

This image (above) was taken after Chandra pointed out to me how the light and shadow played against the side of a building. We were taking photos of trees that day, but like a good teacher, she saw something more interesting and we changed course for a few moments.

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“Light and Shadow II,” Photo by Dr. Cy

This image (above) was taken on the same day, just a few feet away from image one. The same concept of light and shadow is emphasized.

Cloud

“A Walk in the Clouds,” Photo by Dr. Cy

Sometimes, we just take photos of the same thing over and over. One day we took photos of clouds only.

Image

“Tree in Bloom,” Photo by Dr.Cy

This image is of a blooming tree. Chandra had seen the tree the day before and we made a special trip to take photos of it the next day, but in less than 24 hours the tree had already lost some of its “blossom” fullness.

"Tree in Bloom," Photo by Dr. Cy

“Tree in Bloom,” Photo by Dr. Cy

Same tree, different perspective.

So, let me know what you think. Has Chandra been a good teacher?