SLAVERY & THE FISHING INDUSTRY IN SOUTHEAST ASIA

In this May 16, 2015 photo, former slave fisherman Myint Naing and his mother, Khin Than, cry as they are reunited after 22 years at their village in Mon State, Myanmar. Myint, 40, is among hundreds of former slave fishermen who returned to Myanmar following an Associated Press investigation into the use of forced labor in Southeast Asia's seafood industry. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In this May 16, 2015 photo, former slave fisherman Myint Naing and his mother, Khin Than, cry as they are reunited after 22 years at their village in Mon State, Myanmar. Myint, 40, is among hundreds of former slave fishermen who returned to Myanmar following an Associated Press investigation into the use of forced labor in Southeast Asia’s seafood industry. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Myanmar fisherman goes home after 22 years as a slave

I am struck by how very sheltered my life has been. I live in the United States, and although poor, have lived a life of tremendous privilege when compared with the rest of the world, especially those who live in third world countries.

If the primary problems were the lack of food, potable water, shelter, sanitation, education, medical care, and other life necessities, that would be one thing. We could figure out ways to provide some of those things and build the infrastructure to levels of sustainability over time where many of the remaining needs could be met.

It is the corruption and human rights abuses adding hellish dimensions to each of these challenges which make it nearly impossible to resolve them in any way that will stand the onslaught over time.

The realities of abject poverty and starvation around the world are not new to me. In my work tracking disasters and humanitarian crises around the globe I have become somewhat inured to seeing people living and dying amid dire circumstances. But from time to time I will come across a story that will take my breath away with the depths of utter depravity it shows and the unimaginable courage required of those who are fighting incredible odds in order to just survive. Such is the above story of Myint Naing.

The impact of just one person having to endure this hell is tremendous. But there are literally thousands who have been subjected to these horrors. There is, in reality, no word in the English language that is adequate to describe what they have endured and many more who remain undiscovered are currently enduring. The word “outrage” pales in comparison to their plight.

It goes without saying that most of us who are the end customers for the goods provided are clueless of what is being done by the people who commit these crimes against their captives. But should we be? What are our responsibilities for knowing where our goods and services come from?

Somewhere between Myint Naing and the fish which appears on our dinner table are people who are aware of what has been happening and have turned a deaf ear to all of it in order to maximise their profits. Somewhere up the supply chain are others who have heard rumblings and done nothing. Somewhere in the companies who put these products on the grocery shelves are people who may not have been aware of these practices, but it is their responsibility to find out. And they have not.

We can say that we could not have known. We can wring our hands and say that this is not our fault. But are either of these things true? Or do most of us go through our lives concerned with only what is immediately in front of us with no regard whatsoever as to how it got there and why?

We need to ask the hard questions and demand answers from the manufacturers; from agribusinesses; from those in the meat, poultry, and fish packing and canning industries; and from our governments. What are the sources of what we are being sold and are human rights guaranteed for all involved along the supply chain?

But more than that, we need to ask ourselves a very important question: When is enough enough? In our relentless drive to acquire more, to experience more, we are going to any lengths to attain our goals. We are out-stripping our resources in any number of areas, yet, we demand more and we demand it faster.

What price has been paid by others so we can live in the opulence we enjoy?

How many men, women, and children have died so that we can gain whatever status points from the society in which we live, empty acknowledgements which mean absolutely nothing? They shift and change like the wind. What gives status today is passé before nightfall.

This man was a slave for 22 years. Primarily in the fishing industry. He was stolen from his family and his community and held captive for longer than he had lived when he was taken. He was maltreated, his life was under constant threat, he was fed swill, and chained so that he could not escape. So we can have fish for fancy cat food?

We say we want justice and fair practices for everyone, yet, our mindless greed to have whatever “they” say we should in order to have “respect” out in the streets is exactly what drives stories like this one.

In truth, many of us do not care one whit about what it takes to get it to us as long as it is there.

The question is not about the outrageous treatment he received. The question is how many others are going through this particular hell and what we are going to do about it?

So, the next time you go to buy fish from Southeast Asia, are you going to ask yourself who died in order to put that catch on your table? Harsh as it sounds, that may very well be the reality of it.

The next time you want fish for dinner and you are shopping at Walmart, Sysco, Krogers, or another company, are you going to ask yourself the question of where the fish came from and whose life and freedom was on the line in order for you to have the catch that is in front of you?

The next time you go to feed your cat Fancy Feasts, Meow Mix, or Iams cat food, are you going to ask yourself if another human being had to go through the tortures of the damned in order for that can to be in your hand?

Or are you going to be aware and responsible for telling the packing and canning companies that you will not support these horrific practices and instead buy brands that verify their sources are companies who guarantee their employees are treated humanely and their human rights are respected?

We each vote with the dollars we pay to these industries for goods and services rendered. It is the leverage we have to either make these practices stop or to allow them to continue.

Vote wisely.

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REAL LIFE V. NRA LIES

I was 4 years old the first time I held a pistol in my hands and until I started moving around the country 40 years ago, guns were an ongoing part of my life. I was taught how to use them, when to use them, and how to care for them. And I was sufficiently skilled that I was able to gain the respect of my father-in-law who was a policeman and a marksman of some skill. But the one thing I have never done is confuse myself with a person who is capable of taking on the criminal element and coming out on top.

The NRA lies when it says that the only thing that is necessary to take down a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, as the article below so clearly demonstrates. There is so much involved mentally and physically with being able to make the judgments necessary in cases where a bad guy is threatening others with a gun. Many people insist in the bravado of ignorance that they could take care of business. No, they cannot.

It is one thing to have the gun and possess the skills to use it on the firing range. It is something else entirely to have the coolness of mind necessary to be able to employ the skills required to gain and maintain tactical superiority when facing one or more criminals in a public or private setting. As much adrenaline as flows in those moments, and it can be overwhelming, responses MUST be based on rational evaluation and judgment, not the chemical high that comes from the body’s fight or flight responses. Adrenaline skews our judgment in important ways that can get us killed.

Even if one can remain calm and rational to this point, there always the problem of overcoming the natural adverse reaction to drawing down on a person and pulling the trigger. If we are normally moral people, we are intrinsically wired to abhor death and the killing of another human being. We will avoid it at nearly all costs. We cannot do it naturally. It takes conditioning in order to be able to look at someone, especially face-to-face, and tell them to drop their weapon or we will shoot.

Even if we can get the words out of our mouths, the shaking of our hands will tell the criminal that we do not have the internal strength necessary to do it. They will not believe us and rightly so. To kill another human being means to lose all that we were up to that point and enter into a life where the reality we have killed someone will be a constant thought in everything we do. If we are fortunate, it will be below the surface, but it will change us in way we cannot possibly comprehend.

Very few can handle the consequences of taking someone’s life. For most who do, there is something inside of them that becomes hardened to life and distant from all around them, even when the killing was not only justified, but necessary in order to save other people’s lives.

These are some of the things that the NRA does not tell people in their ongoing campaign to make guns and other weapons available to the general population. There is a tremendous human cost whenever anyone is injured and dies in shootings like Charleston and Newtown. But there is also a tremendous human cost to those who respond whenever the criminal is killed as well.

WHAT IF THE CIVILIAN FEELS LIKE THERE IS NO CHOICE BUT TO CONFRONT THE CRIMINAL?

It is frightening to see and hear the number of people who seem to think confronting the bad guy is as easy as spaghetti westerns make it look like it is. There is nothing easy about it and the vast majority of people need to recognise and acknowledge the fact that as much as they want to believe they can do it, their lack of skill and lack of training makes them as much, or more, of a menace than the criminals.

A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE

Once upon a time in 1974 we had some agitators from St. Louis come into my hometown and try to start some racial trouble. This is a small town of then around 20,000 people. The situation became so dire that the governor was set to send in the National Guard in less than 24 hours if it did not stop. Fortunately, it stopped before he had to take those measures.

I was living alone at the time. My then husband was in basic training for the USAF and I was living in a location where no one would have heard anything if someone had wanted to break in and commit crimes. The location was somewhat isolated and my closest neighbors were all elderly ladies who were deaf as posts. They would not have heard a 50 caliber gun go off on the USS Missouri in broad daylight when they were completely alert.

My co-workers at the time were aware of where I lived, how close I was to the action, and were exceedingly concerned for my safety. My comment to them was that I had a six-shot revolver, a shotgun and a bedroom with one door in that was back lit. If eight people wanted to come after me, they were welcome to try, but the first seven would not succeed. The only thing I did was take the revolver out of the holster. Fortunately for all of us, nothing ever happened.

You can say things like that when you are 20. At 61, I would say the same thing, but I understand now that it is far more complicated than I realised at the time.

I have had several situations along the way where I was confronted by someone who wanted to kill me. They were far from pleasant, but the one redeeming factor in all of them was that no one had weapons. If they had, I seriously doubt if all of us would be alive to tell the tale, including me.

So, it is not as easy as it looks in the movies. We need to get real in our discussions about gun violence and understand that having the equipment to go to the OK Corral, being correctly prepared to go, and needing to go are at least three vastly different scenarios, none of which may require the use of guns.


Link to the 10 June 2014 CDN article by Susan L. Ruth.

The NRA lied: A good guy with a gun couldn’t stop a bad guy with a gun

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OP-ED: KANYE WEST

KANYE WEST LEAVING THE COUNTRY BECAUSE IT’S RACIST

In the above undated article from 2014 on MrConservative.com, Kanye West says that he leaving the US permanently due to the ignorance and blatant racism we have in this country. Evidently, what pushed the issue over the top for Mr. West was a racially fueled encounter with a teenager and his wife over the fact she married someone of another race. Mr. West’s response was to punch the teen in the face, something which only served to escalate the situation to the point where the teen issued a death threat against Ms. Kardashian. One can only wonder what would have happened if Mr. West had not resorted to violence.

It is not exactly a bulletin that the US is racist. It has been since its inception. We established this country under the premise that it was moral to enslave people from Africa whom we considered no better than animals and to count them as less than human, just 3/5ths of a person, for the purposes of the census. The usage of the “n-word” is nothing new, nor is the abuse and oppression of blacks and other people of colour.

That Mr. West has chosen to declare his intent to leave the country because he is not going to have his daughter subjected to the inherent racism in much of the US culture makes it sound like he has just discovered this heinous set of circumstances exists and is going to nobly withdraw his family to a position of safety. This preys on the idea that we would both understand his response and feel that his solution was prudent.

In reality, Mr. West has long known this country has some very strong racist roots and that his marrying a woman who is white and fathering children of mixed race would inevitably lead to conflict and confrontation. In my opinion, that is what gives evidence that rather than being genuinely affronted, which surely has happened long before this moment in history, Mr. West is instead grandstanding and playing the race card. So, a racist outburst from a teenager spawns racial violence on the part of Mr. West (an adult) and somehow this is supposed to demonstrate the intractability of the problems and support the rationale that Mr. West, the alleged victim in this case, truly has no other option but to withdraw from this frightful sewer of racism and negativity which he is incapable of explaining to his daughter.

It is beyond comprehension that one offensive, mouthy teenager has produced sufficient confrontation and poses such a danger to Mr. West and his family that he would willingly give up living for the rest of his life in the country in which he was born. It seems much more likely that by leaving the country, he seeks to avoid legal prosecution for assault and to produce an image of martyrdom that he does not deserve.

If Mr. West wanted to do something truly useful to combating racism and the social blight that comes from the institutionalised economic inequality, he could roll up his sleeves, take his celebrity status and his millions, then do something to benefit the people who really do need his help and the help of our entire community. There are a myriad of ways in which he could do this, such as:

    • Lead by example. Rather than assault the young man who insulted his daughter, he could reach out to him and work on building rapport.
    • Provide needed educational supplies and develop new educational programs.
    • Support current job training programs and the development of new ones.
    • Open libraries and recreation centers that have been closed in disadvantaged communities.
    • Work to strengthen peaceful community relations between ethnically diverse populations.

These are just a few possibilities. But rather than choose any of these, he has chosen to whine about something we should all know is fact of American life.

What a tremendous waste of opportunity!

What a graphic demonstration of what is actually more important to Mr. West!

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THE PRICE OF LOVE

Grief never ends, but it changes. It is a passage, not a place to stay.
Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith, it is the price
of love. – Anonymous

He was the sun, the moon, the stars, . . . and to my great delight, I learned I loved him more than all those come before. Our life was full, our joy complete, and fairer skies seemed up ahead, . . . inviting, . . . beckoning, . . . so tantalisingly close, this life we sought that hovered just beyond our reach. These ageless moments ran sublimely through each day like dew drops glistening in the morning sun, echoing great love stories of antiquity. And in this verdant valley of our love, our hearts grew strong, nourished by the peace we found together after decades of war and heartache in other climes.

But the future we ached to have was not to be. The day his precious, broken heart ran out of time and lay unmoving in his chest, my world went black and I plunged into such darkness I feared I never would return.

I journeyed many, many months in that dark land, delirious with grief, yet solaced by the love we shared. Then came the day when I no longer walked among the dead, but made my way among the living once again. I do not know where I had walked in that bleak desert when I lived behind the veil, but whatever hell I left behind, these two things I know: it was his love that brought me out and I will forever be a living monument to what he built within my heart.

– J.E. Clark / 25 May 2015

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LINK: HAVING BLACK COPS AND BLACK MAYORS DOESN’T END POLICE BRUTALITY

I wanted to pass along the link to this article on Baltimore by Stacia L. Brown in The New Republic. It gives much us to think about.

Having Black Cops and Black Mayors Doesn’t End Police Brutality

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COMING OF AGE BELOW THE MASON-DIXON LINE

The older I get, the more I am becoming aware of how very different the home I grew up in was when compared with the homes of my peers. There is so much baggage, so many experiences that I did not have because I was insulated from our culture as much as my parents could possibly achieve, so many things that were not said and possessions not owned so that I was trained to think and evaluate everything in life correctly and did not grow up with the vast majority of the detrimental mindsets that shape the lives and minds of a lot of our children even now.

I went to school with Paul French. He was a couple of years ahead of me and his family was the only black family that lived on the South Side of Hannibal, Missouri. The only black person who was ever in our house was the delivery man for the local cleaners. He was a splendid, very interesting fellow and I was delighted to see him and his wife at the visitation for my mother when she passed away. Some 30+ years after meeting him, he and my mother found out that they shared a birthday, so for my mother’s 65th birthday they celebrated together at his and his wife’s house. Until that time, my mother had never been in the house of a black family. It was an incredibly important experience for her.

For all intents and purposes, until August 1966, my life was devoid of “people of colour”. There was no purposefulness to it, it was just that we lived on the South Side of town where my parents had grown up, went our way, did our thing, worshiped in our small, little church and pretty much did a lot of what my parents had done when they were growing up. Except for one thing.

When I was growing up, I was taught that G-d made all of us equal; that we had equal value before Him; that we were intellectually equal as well as in every other way;  that sin was sin and virtue was virtue, and that neither one had anything to do with skin colour, religion, gender, economic status, country of origin, education, or any of the other bases for racism and discrimination. And that was enforced in everything they did, in everything that was around our house, in everything they modeled. It was pounded into me from a very young and early age that I was to judge people based on what kind of people they were, not on any of the trappings, and I have tried to follow the justice and fairness of that in all that I do.

Did my parents take flak for raising us in this way??? Definitely, but I was shielded from most of that as well. I was well into my adult years before I learned that some of our family members held some distinctly racist viewpoints. For me, because most of it came from the elders, the authority figures in the family, I either wasn’t aware of it, or what I was aware of I handled with “I don’t believe that way, so it is not relevant to me, I am going to keep on doing what I have always done.” There was no opportunity to address the issue and I was very aware that I would have been in a lot of trouble if I had brought it up. So I didn’t. I just went ahead and did what I had been taught.

No, they were not perfect parents. Yes, I was aware that there were endless divisions in our society between people. I knew from the very beginning that I was one of the “have nots,” that I was from the South Side, we were working class poor, and I was never expected to have much more or do much more than I had and did growing up. And definitely never an education. My generation was the first one on both sides of the family where most of us graduated from high school. But I was not really aware of how non-white America lived. I knew they were oppressed. I knew there were people who hated them and throughout our history had killed some of them simply because they were black, Latino, and Asian. But I did not know what that meant, especially in day to day terms.

When my ex-husband joined the USAF, I went from a farming culture to plunging headlong into the heart of the international community. I was around people from all over the world and who spoke a myriad of different languages, ate different food, many times had different religious beliefs. The culture shock was mind-bending and it took me several years to make enough internal adjustments so that I was not feeling like I had walked through a time warp and was on a totally different planet in a totally different universe. But one of the take-aways for me was that I saw people of all races and walks of life working together to accomplish the same sets of goals. Everybody worked together, lived together, fought together, bled together, and died together. I embraced that mindset and did not really look beyond to understand that while the veneer was there, it many times did not permeate the troops as a whole.

When we separated and divorced in 1980, I stayed in Maryland. For the first time in my life, I was in a totally civilian environment below the Mason-Dixon Line, with all that entailed, in a community that was known, in part, as an enclave for the KKK. I did not have a clue, but I was about to learn.

It was all very subtle at first, an undercurrent a little bit below the surface. As a white person, I almost would not have noticed if it had not been for my cabbie friend who told me to go to this restaurant in the center of town that was on a short side street off the main drag. He told me they had great food, but would have a “Closed” sign in the window after 2 PM, even though they were actually open. They only did that to keep the blacks out. I was to pay no attention to the sign, but go on in and tell them that he had suggested I stop in. When I got there, the “Closed” sign was indeed in the window, but the door was unlocked, so I went in, not at all sure what I was walking into. Conversation stopped and everyone looked at me. I explained who I was and gave them my cabbie friend’s name, which was good enough for them to serve me, but not good enough for conversation to go back to normal. I was an unknown, an outsider.

They brought my food to the counter where I was sitting. They were polite enough, but still, not friendly. As I was eating, I looked around. It was a pretty common looking neighbourhood restaurant and visibly patriotic. However, the pictures on the wall behind the counter were interesting. They had pictures of every single American president up to Richard Nixon. Then they stopped. Except for a prominent picture of George Wallace at the end of the photo display. By that time, Ronald Reagan was in office, but they were missing Ford and Carter as well. The question flitted through my head, “Why did they stop at Nixon and Wallace???”

I did not like the answer. Many of my friends were either black, Hispanic, or Jewish. It was not a very friendly environment for me to be in. I finished my food, thanked them, and beat a hasty retreat, never to come back. Years later, the county tore that location down in order to put up a county office building. That the restaurant was gone, and with it their pocket of hate, could not have happened to a nicer group of people. I had no illusions about their hate being gone, just the place where they congregated every day. I am fairly certain that did not deter them, merely change their location.

Having once experienced a few very uncomfortable moments in the “Old South,” I did not need to have a lot of things explained to me that had not made sense before. I had thought that because I had seen what appeared to be a more equitable environment in the military, that the racial bigotry and ingrained prejudice I had heard so much about in the 1960s was mostly a thing of the past. I had been confronted by the inescapable reality that it not only was not a thing of the past, it was alive, well, and flourishing just under the surface . . . and sometimes not even that.

I have learned much in the thirty-five years since then. How I lived for so many years totally unaware of what surrounds me, I neither know, nor understand. It has always been there, only I did not see it. The only reason I can figure out is that because my mind was trained to not think in those terms, I did not look for others to think in those terms either. I should have know better.

Thirty years ago, the NAACP asked the federal government to open an investigation into cases of police brutality and deaths of black arrestees while in the custody of the Baltimore City Police Department. Aside from knowing that Baltimore, like Washington, DC, was predominantly black, I knew little about it. I had started out my sojourn in Maryland in the Washington, DC suburbs and even though I was then living further east in central Maryland, I had never shifted my “community” orientation. I was still a Washington girl at heart and it is a vastly different city than Baltimore. As the nation’s capital it is an international city and I was used to living in an international environment. I blew off the request of the NAACP as so much grandstanding. Little did I know.

Fast forward to 11 August 1997 when James Quarles was shot in broad daylight at Lexington Market. Yes, he was brandishing a knife, but he was never a danger to any of the four policemen who surrounded him. Mace, pepper spray, a night stick, . . . all could have knocked the knife out of his hand and subdued him without having to resort to lethal force, but he was shot in what police described as an unfortunate mistake by a cop with just four years experience who said Mr. Quarles “lunged” at him and he was afraid for his life. I had heard that story before. A lot.

As I went back in my memory and began to tally the “reasons” given in cases where police brutality and excessive force were in question, it seemed that nearly all of them had explanations of the arrestee either “resisting arrest” or officers “were in fear for their lives.” I questioned myself whether or not the BCPD officers were so untrained or undertrained, or the arrestees so fearsome as to give any credence to their explanations. My conclusion was that no police department encounters that may perps that are beyond their capacity to subdue short of violent means or lethal force.

I saw the video of the shooting of James Quarles again, and again, and again, and again, and again. And each time, there was one inescapable conclusion: despite anything that the internal investigation did to try to explain away what happened, it was not a “righteous” shoot. James Quarles did not have to die that afternoon. But he did.

As the years have passed and the body count of arrestees has risen, there has been no way of escaping the truth that some on the Baltimore City Police Department are guilty of gross brutality which has led to significant injury and, in some cases, death. As Baltimore is predominantly black, so are the victims. And in a never ending litany, the police department and the courts have cleared nearly every single case with the assessment that the police actions were justified. I had long since done business with the fact that the streets were mean enough that you could literally be dying and no one would do anything. But it jarred me to my core that a person could be killed outright without cause by the police and neither the government, nor the courts, would do anything. I understood that, given the right set of circumstances, even the fact that I was a white woman would not exempt me from that possibility. And that made me afraid.

When I married, my former father-in-law was a policeman for our local police department. His father-in-law had been a prison guard in the federal prison system. I was used to thinking in terms of cops being friends and reliable authority figures who would help in times of trouble. That is what I had been taught as a child growing up. Nothing prepared me for thinking of cops as enemies and opponents, someone who could do anything to me and never have to answer for it, if it was legally, morally and professionally wrong.

There was one thing about this entire scenario, however, that I could not wrap my mind around. I could understand this type of police brutality and use of excessive force in cases where there were white officers and black arrestees. What I could not understand was how this could be happening in a police department which had a large contingent of black officers and black leadership, in a city which was predominantly black, with a city council that was predominantly black and a mayor that was frequently black. Until Freddie Gray.

Much has been written about how Freddie Gray was arrested without probable cause, placed in the police van without restraint, was denied requested medical attention several times, and was unresponsive upon arrival at the police station. Disturbing as those facts are, they have been played out countless times without having the fatal consequences that they did with Freddie Gray. But the one facet of this case that has pushed it from “I am watching these situations and am keeping count” to “NOT ON MY WATCH!!!!” is the injuries Mr. Gray sustained.

I am no expert, but I am a retired legal secretary who has had any number of cases cross my desk over the years of people who have been injured, sometimes seriously or fatally. Even I understand that giving somebody a “rough ride” where they are handcuffed behind their backs in the back of a van being driven in such a way as to cause injury is not sufficient to sever the spinal cord by 80%. The physics just does not work. If nothing else, the very fact that the arrestee had his hands handcuffed behind his back will provide a certain amount of protection, except possibly to the cervical spine where a sharp blow could do significant damage. But an 80% severance??? The amount of torque required for that type of injury is tremendous and deliberate. It is also not easily explained away, although I am confident that the defense attorneys for the officers who have been charged in Mr. Gray’s death will do their utmost to make it sound like anything but what it is.

We, in Baltimore, are at a crossroads where everything must pivot on the case of the officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray. No matter who wants life to go on unabated with no changes and for these officers to be exonerated, the community will no longer tolerate the status quo. We want answers and we want changes. Now!!! How much we will get depends on how hard we are willing to fight for the changes we need. The price tag for not fighting is entirely too high. It always was.

In order for there to be change, we have to have some extremely uncomfortable conversations.

We need to confront ourselves about our own denial and our own inaction.  We need to confront ourselves, our leadership, and those responsible for the bad things we allow to happen in our communities that we should make sure is stopped. Conversely, we need to confront ourselves, our leadership and those responsible for the good things we need and want in our communities that we continually allow to be delayed by promises never fulfilled, to be stymied by endless red tape, and to be prevented from happening outright by administrations more interested in their own welfare and public perception, rather than the the welfare of and benefits to the communities they were elected to serve. What we need to do is insist upon the infrastructure being established so the necessary programs and opportunities can implemented and completed.

We need to confront ourselves and our leaders about what we allow them to do and say that is destroying us. We need to hold our leaders accountable for everything they do while in leadership positions, including where there is moral failure, and we need to insist that they clean up their act if they want to remain leaders. If they don’t, we need to elect someone else who will be a person of integrity.

We need to stop letting things slide, to stop buying the many lies and excuses we are given by those with glib tongues, to stop using them ourselves to deny problems which are many times self-evident or to diminish how great they are. And we need to recognise and reject the lies and excuses that strip us of our power and ability to fight for changes so justly deserved and long overdue.

The first thing we have to confront is the fact that life in America is vastly different in the white community as opposed to the different ethnic communities that live among us. I say “among us” because “they” do not live “with” us. No matter how thin, there is always, always, always a veil of separation between us. Like the old observation: “Q: When is the most segregated hour in America? A: 11:00 AM on Sunday morning.” Why? Because that is when the vast majority of the “people of colour” – the black, Latino, and immigrant communities of this country – go to their places of worship to be with people who are like themselves, while much of the white community sit in  churches where there are either no people of colour or very few.

We cannot understand what is actually going on in this country and in our communities unless we are willing to listen to all of what is happening, not just what we are comfortable with, or how far we are willing to extend ourselves beyond our comfort zone to hear. We need to hear all of it.

We need to hear the fear, and the anger, and the desperation, and the hopelessness. We need to hear what we are doing wrong and if we are doing anything right. We need to understand realities such as the economic bondage that exists in the low level infrastructures we have built, how when Dollar General types of stores are all there are in the community, nobody can buy decent quality products that they need to live because the stores that sell them are far enough outside of the community as to make them inaccessible on a regular basis, especially for those dependent on public transportation, which includes many inner city residents.

We need to listen instead of talk. We need to respect the communities and their leaders, instead of taking the patriarchal attitude that we know better than they do, that we know what is best for their communities. We need to stop running in fear from everything that is not “just like us” and understand that “our way of life” is not threatened with extinction because someone is not “like us.” We need to instead understand that we are a stronger city because of our diversity, not in spite of it.

The conversations have to start somewhere.

Below are three articles from the NY Times that talk about what it is like to raise a son who is black in America. They deal with what the ingrained obstacles are that have to be faced and overcome, if they can be. Such as, how the abilities of a black child who tries to get a good education are many times met with the assessment in the better school systems and private schools (run primarily by wealthy whites) that they cannot learn because they are black and the reaction of some in the black community that if they do get a good education, then they sound “white.” How does a black child win in that situation? Too many times the answer is that if they do what is best for themselves, then they are seen as anomalies in the white community and traitors in their own. When what they should be seen as is a successful child who has gained a good education, something to be celebrated by everyone.

Please read these articles and watch the videos.

Let’s help start the conversation here in Baltimore and give it more than the cursory lip service it normally gets. Our survival as a community depends upon it.

What Dr. Martin Luther King said has become something of a truism, we have heard it so many times. But it still is the best and only real solution to the juggernaut confronting us. Doing anything less will not work.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

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FILM SERIES

1. A CONVERSATION WITH MY BLACK SON

2. A CONVERSATION ABOUT GROWING UP BLACK

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AN EDUCATION IN EQUALITY

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REMEMBERING . . .

Remembering 38 years ago at this very moment when my life hung in the balance and G-d gave me everything I needed in order to make the right decisions to save my life.

Sometimes seemingly little things can be huge.

If it were not for my fourth grade teacher reading to our class the book “The Yearling” where the father was struck by a rattlesnake and had to keep himself very calm in order to save his life, I would not have had the presence of mind to calm down during a very scary medical crisis that left me bleeding profusely. The providence of G-d to put that experience in my mind 13 years before I needed it has always filled me with awe and fascination.

I have since learned that He does that with a lot of things in our lives that prepare us for those moments when nothing else will do.

It took me nearly 5 months to recover physically from that night which changed my life forever. I spent the summer lying in bed being tutored in chemistry with a focus on nuclear chemistry. That knowledge enabled me to get a job in food service when my marriage disintegrated, gave me what I needed in order to understand the problems presented by the Chernobyl and Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear crises many years after that, and continues to underpin everything I do in nutrition and medicine.

I do not begin to understand the principle that sometimes saves the life of one person while taking the life of another. I have pondered that question often over the years, certainly since that very difficult night. To me, all of life is precious and everyone deserves to die full of days, but the reality is frequently much different.

I am always aware that the days are short and there is much less time in front of me to the day I will understand than there are days behind me when I have not understood. I draw comfort from that and am eternally grateful to be alive. But my heart still weeps for the one who is not.

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