Category: Race

Over the Ohio

 

 

The water is wide

Littered with empty bodies

Once young old weak and strong

Mingled with fish and sledge

Along with the memories of those

Who made it over the Ohio

 

To a new home of hope

No land but how brave

Promising to remain 

North of the river

Away from pattyrollers 

Somehow, finally free

 

Their lucky descendant

Starts driving faster

As I take a bridge

One of several I’ll cross

Just hoping for fun tonight

In Cincy or Louisville

 

Leaving Kentucky for Ohio

Trading South for North 

Simply signs on the highway

Beneath the shining images  

Pointing me to a downtown

Or a floating casino

 

Nothing calls to attention

The history or the bodies

Still and real below me

Trapped in the Ohio

Permanently, without memories

Somehow, finally free

 

© Gayle Force Press 2012

A poem by Franklin Oliver

 

 

Survivors

 

 

Hunted and sought

Captured then bought 

Still we do survive 

 

Shackled and chained

Whipped to be trained

Still we do survive 

 

Raped and abused

Scarred, misused 

Still we do survive 

 

Worked just like dogs

Fed worse than hogs

Still we do survive 

 

Freed then discarded 

Our progress retarded

Still we do survive 

 

Separate but equal 

Slavery’s sequel 

Still we do survive 

 

The Movement fights

For basic rights

Still we do survive 

 

A change from the past 

With “Free At Last”

Still we do survive 

 

Dreams still deferred

Our consciences stirred 

Still we do survive 

 

The POTUS is Black

So racists fight back 

Still we do survive 

 

A Movement anew

Now what will we do

 

More than just survive 

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2019

A poem by Franklin Oliver

Neighborhood Watch 

 

It was raining like hell

 

When they cuffed me 

I told the cops

It was simple

 

An eye for an eye 

Leaves the whole world blind 

Just like Lady Justice 

Except that I have a smile 

Not a smirk

On my face 

 

See, Trayvon carried skittles 

But I packed heat 

When I followed George

From his house 

Until he idled 

At the drive through  

 

It’s hard to leave a Krispy Kreme 

Once you’ve seen the Hot light  

And it’s even harder 

After I’ve dropped my whole clip 

Into your chest 

 

I told the cops 

It was simple

Lady Justice is blind

But I can see clearly 

 

The rain is gone 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2017

 

 

If you’d like to hear this poem performed, please check out our podcast.

http://whodeannypod.libsyn.com/may-poetry-pod

 

 

Justified Use of Force (for Botham)

 

 

Every year there are

Untold more of us

An Amadou Diallo, Botham Jean,

Eric Garner, Tamir Rice or me

 

Then a loud clamor

Our broken faces on TV

We ask so many questions

That no one’s forced to answer

 

With sympathy’s short half-life

Most just wait for the noise to stop

So the questions

Can disappear once again

 

Just like us

In our lives

And our deaths

 

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2019

 

Thank God for Ferguson

My US History classes are doing significant work on Thomas Jefferson right now. Thinking so much about Jefferson and his complexities keeps bringing Charlottesville to mind. That led me to dig into the archives for this reflection on Ferguson. We keep seeing. When do we start changing?

FDO- 9.21. 2017

 

There’s a massive difference between being seen and being invisible. That’s why I’m glad Ferguson has become not just a place but a thing. Ferguson is now qualitatively different than every other incidence of police brutality. Mike Brown’s murder was the catalyst for something bigger and potentially transformative.

 

In the past couple weeks the whole world has begun to see what Black people have experienced for decades; the use of state power to intimidate and suppress populations. The police are the clearest example but much of the infrastructure of our society has done the same thing for centuries. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ invaluable article ‘The Case for Reparations’ provides the clearest explanation of the mechanisms behind this reality.

 

Ferguson demonstrates that the police do not always work on behalf of the citizens. In fact, for many in law enforcement, people of color are presumed to be an enemy force. This reality has been astonishing to many Americans but entirely unsurprising to people of color. Very few people of color can really be shocked when we hear the story of Mike Brown or Eric Garner or Ezell Ford or Tamir Rice.

 

What separates Ferguson from previous police violence is that the public response has been handled in such an absurd fashion. Everyone should be appalled at the way the police have brutalized and intimidated citizens who have not done anything wrong. Perhaps more than anything else, it’s the scale and openness in Ferguson that has garnered such attention. However, the idea that this style of policing is new or limited to a single police force is ludicrous. There’s already been some amazing reportage on this.

 

The biggest difference between the public recognition level of Rodney King (an instantly recognizable name for most Americans older than 35) and Sean Bell (who?) ….. is not that King lived but that we saw happened to him. It’s not the outcome of these situations that creates public recognition, it’s the coverage of the situation. Even in the murder of Mike Brown, the authorities have attempted to create a counter narrative that reduces the level of blame for Darren Wilson. Since we didn’t see Brown being shot, we don’t know precisely what happened.

 

Fortunately, we do know what the response to the mostly peaceful protests in Ferguson has been. Those images will linger because they are chilling and astonishing and might well be repeated in dozens of communities across America. The overwhelming militarization of the police makes the visuals more stark and citizen fear more understandable. That clarity matters. Ferguson is likely to provide the most important visuals of 2014 in America. We are Mike Brown and we are Afghanistan and we are Iraq and we are not far enough from being Pakistan or Guantanamo.

 

America is still intensely separated when it comes to race but that often has little to do with where you live, what you like or how you spend your time. Instead, that divide is usually about understanding and experience; the lenses through which you view the world. Those lenses often aren’t chosen by any of us individually; they are usually provided for us. None of us choose what America will expect of us or how America will respond to us.

 

It’s very hard to say this and I need to be clear that I’m deeply grateful that Mike Brown is the only person to have died at the hands of the police in Ferguson. But I am very happy that White America has the chance to see more of the realities of being a person of color in the USA. Now comes the hard part.

 

 

 

More Love for Venus

More Love for Venus

During the 2015 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 numerous finals Venus lost to her little sister, Serena Williams, seem to have added to Serena’s ledger of greatness but diminished Venus. In that earlier 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!

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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!