Category: Race

Dennis Green: An Appreciation

 

I was saddened to hear about the death of former Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Dennis Green. According to all, Green truly was what we thought he was: a damn good coach.

 

He was also an important public figure in the great White north of Minnesota. I remain convinced that Green helped ready the Twin Cities for a host of Black leaders. To the best of my knowledge, Green was the Black person t0 ever lead a major element of the Metro community’s public life. (Some might suggest Clem Haskins, but U basketball rises and falls with its winning percentage and has a much smaller social footprint.)

 

Since then, the Cities have had prominent Black civic leaders like Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, Bobby McFerrin, Representative Keith Ellison & head coaches of both the Timberwolves & Vikes. They have all built on Green’s success.

 

My adopted homeland owes him a tremendous debt.

 

RIP, Mr. Green.

 

 

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More Love for Venus

 

During last year’s US Open, I posted a simple request: Can we show some love for Venus Williams?

 

Now that she’s made her way to the Wimbledon semifinals and solidly into the top 10 of the WTA rankings, I want to ask again for a renewed appreciation of a legendary, perhaps iconic American athlete.

 

In case you’ve forgotten, Venus is one of the 10 greatest players in the history of women’s tennis. She’s won seven Grand Slam titles, four Olympic gold medals and revolutionized tennis with her unprecedented combination of power, speed and athleticism in much the same way Martina Navratilova once did.

 

The primary difference between those two is that Martina’s great rival was her foil, not her sister. The epic battles between Martina and Chris Evert elevated both players. The one sided finals Venus lost to her little sister, Serena Williams, seem to have added to Serena’s ledger of greatness but diminished Venus.

 

In my September post, I dug just a bit into the why of the Serena domination, but suffice it to say that Venus’ seven Grand Slam wins underrepresent her excellence. They also only scratch the surface of her historic importance.

 

Now that more eyes are on her again, let’s take a moment to recognize Venus Williams for her trailblazing brilliance.

 

Let’s go, Venus!

 

 

Love for Venus

 

Can we show some love for Venus Williams? Please? PLEASE!

 

No, really. Let’s stop to think about her career. Venus is one of the 10 greatest players in the history of women’s tennis. Seven Grand Slam titles, four Olympic gold medals, a revolutionary combination of power, speed and athleticism and so much more. Yet she’s barely an afterthought these days. BECAUSE HER LITTLE SISTER IS THE GOAT!

 

Before Serena ruled the world, Venus was the one in the vanguard. It was Venus who started living out the experiments of the mad tennis scientist, Richard Williams. Venus was the trailblazer who first wore the beaded braids, first broke down the doors of the country club, first survived the slings and arrows of (thinly veiled) racism, first informed the world that Black girls from the ‘hood could be any damn thing they wanted. That was Venus.

 

It was also Venus who sheltered, shepherded and protected the true Golden Child, Serena, from the media, jealous players and even the mad scientist. She was the caretaking nurturer who made the more delicate Serena secure. It was Venus who suffered loss after loss so graciously. Remember the first Serena Slam from more than a decade ago? Guess who the finalist was, all four times. Venus kept losing to Serena, watching her place in history usurped by her baby sister. While smiling and taking pictures.

 

When women in tennis won their fight for equal prize money, it was Venus who was at the forefront of that movement.  When both Venus and Serena took time away from their sport to pursue other passions, it was Venus who made the public statements, responded to the carping legends and diffused the tension. 

 

While everyone, including me, applauds Roger Federer for his slow, graceful descent from Mount Olympus, please recognize that he’s still the second best player in the world! His tumble has been relatively easy. Venus has fallen from the heights to a far less appealing plane. Now she’s consistently ranked in the 20s, struggling to make even quarterfinals at big events, and has downshifted from ‘Favorite’ to ‘Contender’ to ‘Darkhorse’ to ‘Legend’. Despite her battle with the autoimmune disease Sjogren’s Syndrome, Venus still competes against players she inspired as toddlers. All with inordinate class.

 

So, regardless of how Venus finishes this US Open tournament and her career, I want to take a moment to acknowledge one of the unappreciated greats of the modern athletic and cultural universe.

 

Thank you, Venus. Keep on keepin’ on!

 

 

When Tomorrow Comes #2

I posted this poem just a few weeks ago but since the Recorder article about me and my son, Jake, just arrived, I'm sharing it again. I hope that it will help remind someone that America really is moving in the right direction. Fits, starts, traumas, abuses and all, we are moving toward a better future.

 

FDO

 

I'm seeing integration

expressed in the million different ways

that define America

in the 21st century

 

Neighbors standing across a fence

my almostkindabuddy

prodding the little girl in his arms to smile

while speaking to me

 

Sharing stories of dogs and kids,

potholes and the weather

The small, simple recognitions of community

That are welcome prophecies of transformation

Fleeting, powerful moments of joy and recognition

begging for sustainability and sanction

 

Oh, if only our churches

and clubs and families

would do the unthinkable, could somehow do

the impossible, next generation inevitable

hard work of embrace

 

Ah, the sweet embrace that’s waiting

To be given and claimed

By untold millions

And my own White son,

still learning to be a man

and fully human

 

 

Needing to be told over and over

You are not alone

because Michael Jackson was right

and you, my child and most precious creation

 

 

are the hope and future of our people,

of all the people

whose hard earned righteousness

will lead us,

must lead us, to the glorious shore

of a future

authentically prophesied

with love and deepest understanding

 

Mijo, you ARE the Dream

I only wish I could explain it,

without crying

 

I'm still worried you might confuse my tears

with sadness though really

its all joy

 

So much joy

for the man you will be

and the life you will live

 

My sweat mingles with those unavoidable tears

And my laughter and my envy

and my love and my joy for you

because I wish I could live to know it

 

Still, I am free enough for now

 

In the sacred vestment of love

I am blessed to be the poet

Celebrating the poetry

 

And I thank you for becoming a poem

Of the future

Even more than a prophecy

The clear vision of today

You will help to create

And manifest with your life

And your vision

And every tomorrow

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2015

 

 

Reflecting on John Lewis

 

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic Selma march I want to take a moment to reflect on the life and career of John Lewis, one of my personal heroes.

 

“Registering to vote is an act of commitment to the American ideal. It is patriotic. The Federal Government must decide whether it wants to let Southern Negroes register. It must make that choice this summer, or make us all witnesses to the lynching of democracy.”

 

-John Lewis

 

 

John Lewis was a young college student when he got his start as an activist in the Nashville Student Movement. Lewis was often viewed as the prodigy of the movement as he was the youngest of the “Big Six” leaders of the Civil Rights Movement by a full decade.

 

 

As a co-founder and an early chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lewis first became a national figure during the Freedom Rides of 1961. It was during this endeavor to desegregate public facilities in the South that Lewis was beaten so badly many feared his death was imminent.

 

Continuing his leadership of SNCC, Lewis was one of the speakers at the legendary 1963 March on Washington. SNCC worked throughout the South to develop Freedom Schools that trained nonviolent activists and 1964’s Freedom Summer efforts at registering potential Black voters.

 

Lewis was also one of the leaders of the Selma, Alabama march now referred to as “Bloody Sunday” because of the brutal beating Lewis and many other nonviolent protestors received at the hands (and clubs) of the Alabama State Police. It is this march we celebrated last weekend.  

 

As the sixties came to an end, Lewis became deeply involved in electoral politics. Initially, he became a prominent advisor for Robert F. Kennedy’s Presidential campaign in 1968. For the last quarter century, Lewis has served his country as a member of Congress from Georgia.

 

In some respects, Lewis is considered the conscience of the national Democratic party. It was Lewis' decision to switch his support from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary that opened the floodgates of superdelegates declaring Obama their preferred candidate.

 

Lewis continues to fight for human rights to this day. His efforts to pursue justice have extended well beyond his original pursuit of racial equality to include a whole host of social concerns. Still, he is widely perceived as the most important living link to the Civil Rights Movement.

  

I continue to be grateful for John Lewis. You should be too.

 

 

FDO

 

 

Justified Use of Force

 

Every year there’s a new one

A Diallo, Bell, Brown

Ford, Garner, Rice or me

 

Clamoring loudly

Broken faces on TV

We ask so many questions

But no one’s forced to answer

 

With sympathy’s short half-life

Soon most are hoping for the noise to stop

And the questions to disappear once again

 

Just like us

In our lives

And our deaths

 

 

 © Gayle Force Press 2015

 

 

Justified Use of Force

 

This summer I told a friend that I couldn't write any more poems about police brutality. So here's an old one. Again. I initially wrote this poem in 2002 and when performing it in public through the years have changed/updated the names. Mike Brown  Eric Garner is only the most recent addition to the litany of blood.

 

 

Justified Use of Force

   

Every month there’s a new one

A Diallo, Bell, Brown

Ford, Garner, Rice or me

 

Clamoring loudly

Broken faces on TV

We ask so many questions

But no one’s forced to answer

 

With sympathy’s short half-life

Soon most are hoping for the noise to stop

And the questions to disappear once again

 

Just like us

In our lives

And our deaths

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2014

  

 

Ferguson and Jake 11.30.14

Thanks to Michele Norris for mentioning this post in conjunction with her ongoing program The Race Card Project. There are so many powerful testimonies there, it's worth a close look.

 

FDO

 

 

Today, I'm glad my son is White.

 

That’s a phrase I never thought I’d write. In part, that’s because I identify so much with Black culture and Black history. It’s also in part because, as a Black man, raising a White boy is extremely complicated.

 

Please understand, life at home is as simple as can be expected with a teenager. I’m incredibly fortunate that Jake is a wonderful young man. But life out in the world is filled with constant reminders that our family is jarring to others.

 

We’re jarring to servers who felt they needed to ask ‘everything on one check?’ even when Jake was in elementary school. We’re jarring at the bank when the teller needs ‘help from a manager’ to authorize Jake cashing a birthday check from a grandparent. We’ve been jarring at the mall, convenience store, park or any of the other dozen times I wondered if someone were ready to put out an Amber alert, fearing for Jake’s safety because he was with me. We were jarring the time I got pulled over and very aggressively harassed because a cop saw Jake sitting in my backseat while we drove through a White neighborhood.  Jake’s Whiteness has been a consistent hassle.

 

In one important respect though, Jake’s Whiteness has been a real blessing: I've never given him THE TALK. Of course we've had the sex talk because I’m the responsible dad of a teen. But we've never had the cop talk. Some of you know about the cop talk. That’s the one when young people of color learn the dos and don’ts of interacting with the police. They learn what kinds of behaviors to change, which places should be avoided and what poses to assume. My son doesn’t need to know any of that. If anything, I would say that Jake is wary of the police because of how they've treated me but he doesn't live in any real fear of the cops. And I'm so glad he doesn't have to.

 

Jake will get the automatic benefit of the doubt when it comes to cops. That reality makes a huge difference in my life and the last few days in Ferguson has made that more clear than ever. His inherent (wait for it…) White privilege means that when I'm worried for my son’s safety it's about driving or alcohol or sex. At root, I worry about Jake having a problem based on something of his own doing, having trouble because of a choice he makes. I worry just because he’s my kid.  

 

But I don’t have to worry about Jake being in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong skin. I don’t have to worry that he’ll be Mike Brown or Tamir Rice or Ezell Ford or Eric Garner or Sean Bell or any of the murdered others. I don’t have to worry that someone with a badge might decide to kill my son.

 

Today, I'm glad my son is White.

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2014

 

 

 

 

Blackface

 

The face in the mirror

Is black

Not brown or cocoa

Or anything else

The too nice people

Might try to tell me

Since it’s about opposition

And the power of whiteness

The power they validate

By denying it exists

Comes only because I am

And must continue to be

Black

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2003

Justified Use of Force

 

This summer I told a friend that I couldn't write any more poems about police brutality. So here's an old one.

 

I wrote this initially in 2002 and when performing in public through the years have changed/updated the names. Mike Brown is only the most recent addition to the litany of blood.

 

 

Justified Use of Force

 

  

Every year there’s a new one

A Diallo, Bell, Brown or me

Clamoring loudly

Broken faces on TV

We ask so many questions

But no one’s forced to answer

 

With sympathy’s short half-life

Soon most are hoping for the noise to stop

And the questions to disappear once again

Just like us

In our lives

And our deaths

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2014