A Real Life Star Trek Hero Nichelle Nichols passes away

The following is an encore post to someone who deserves an encore – Nichelle Nichols – who passed away yesterday at the age of 89.

After the first season of the original “Star Trek” television series, African-American actress Nichelle Nichols was speaking with a prominent public figure about her role as Lt. Uhura. The public figure noted “Star Trek” was the only show he watched regularly with his children. Nichols told the man she was leaving the show, but he encouraged her to reconsider, which she did. He said you are a role model showing Blacks and Whites that there is a place for women of color in key roles in the future .His name was Martin Luther King.

She took that inspiration seriously and did far more than I ever knew until a recent documentary enlightened me. The Scyfy network has written an important piece called “NICHELLE NICHOLS’ NASA ‘WOMAN IN MOTION’ DOC BOLDLY BLASTING OFF FOR ‘BLACK HISTORY MONTH.’” Here are a few paragraphs, with a link to the full article below.

“A new documentary is boldly tackling one of actress Nichelle Nichols‘ greatest achievements. In addition to playing the iconic Lt. Nyota Uhura on the original Star Trek TV show, Nichols used her pop culture influence as a fictional space-farer to help pioneer a NASA recruitment program in the 1970s and ’80s that hired the first astronauts who were women and persons of color.

Directed by Todd Thompson (The Highwaymen), the documentary features exclusive interviews with Neil deGrasse Tyson, George Takei, Pharrell Williams, Martin Luther King III, Al Sharpton, Vivica A. Fox, Walter Koenig, Rod Roddenberry, Michael Dorn, Guy Bluford, Charles Bolden, Ivor Dawson, Frederik Gregory, Benjamin Crump, and, of course, Nichols herself.

The movie’s title refers to the company Nichols founded (Women in Motion, Inc.) that brought over 8,000 African American, Asian, and Latino women to NASA. Thanks to the actress’ work, the agency became one of the most diverse institutions of the U.S. federal government.

‘We are thrilled that Woman in Motion will be getting its U.S. premiere and launching the Fathom Events Celebrates Black History Month series next month! This is a great American story with incredible global impact,” Thompson said in a statement. “Nichelle Nichols helped create the brighter future we are living in today by proclaiming that space exploration is for everyone. It’s a simple but very strong statement that opens doors and allows all humankind to boldly go!’   

‘We are proud to bring pioneer and role model Nichelle Nichols’ inspiring story in cinemas across the nation,” added Fathom CEO Ray Nutt. “It is an honor to have Woman in Motion as the debut film in the inaugural Fathom Events Celebrates Black History Month series.”‘

To see Nichols speak of her efforts later in life is a treat. She is a very dignified person and understands the importance of these earlier efforts. A key comment was during a speech she made in the 1970s to a large group of NASA people. She looked out in the audience at all of the white men and observed “Where are my people?” The NASA leader heard her and asked for her help. She said she would do so, but did not want to be a figure head. She wanted to help make a difference. And, she did. She did her part to help NASA “boldly go where no man (or woman) has gone before.”

Nichelle Nichols/NASA ‘Woman in Motion’ documentary boldly blasting off (syfy.com)

Same-sex marriage protection passes a hurdle

In an article called “47 House Republicans vote to write same-sex marriage into law” by Anthony Adragna of Politico, the good news reverberated in the hall of the Congress. It still must pass muster with 60 Senate votes, but it is encouraging. Please contact your Senators and ask them to vote in favor of this bill.

The full article can be linked to below. Here are the opening few paragraphs:

“Democrats loudly cheered from their side of the chamber as the bill passed 267-157, with 47 Republicans backing it, including members of GOP leadership such as Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and National Republican Campaign Committee Chair Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.). Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) voted no.

‘This bill makes crystal clear that every couple and their children has the fundamental freedom to take pride in their marriage and have their marriage respected under the law,’ Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in floor remarks.

A 2015 Supreme Court decision required states to recognize same-sex marriages, but Democrats urged a codification of the policy in the wake of the court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade last month. In a concurring decision, Justice Clarence Thomas voiced support for reconsidering the court’s earlier same-sex marriage ruling.

The short bill, which faces an uncertain path in the 50-50 Senate, would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996 that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. It would also require states to recognize same-sex marriages, as long as it was valid in the state in which it occurred.”

Note, when the two more prolific attorneys who have pled cases before SCOTUS argued for same-sex marriage when California’s Prop 8 case was in question, they noted that other folks had no standing on the issue. Plus, they argued that these are folks want to be in a recognized relationship and want to start families. I agree.

Again, please reach out to your Senators and let them know where you stand on this.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/47-house-republicans-vote-to-write-same-sex-marriage-into-law/ar-AAZLcDb

Letter to the editor – concerns over attacks on others

I sent the following brief letter to my newspaper this weekend. It will likely go unprinted, but I want to share it with you in case you would like to modify and use. Maybe it will get printed somewhere.

Reading about the increase in verbal and physical attacks on LGBTQ+ citizens or the denigration of the rights of women or people of color concern me. This is especially troubling when it comes from people who espouse the teachings of Jesus. When he said treat others like you want to be treated, he offered no caveats. Full stop. If we would only follow that one rule, which is so important it is called “golden” and also appears in in other religious texts, we would be in a much better place with our civility. We have two ears and one mouth, we should use them in that proportion. We all deserve such treatment.

People died for our country to preserve the freedoms for all its citizens. That guy Jesus chose to spend most of his time speaking to and hanging out with the disenfranchised people in his time. We should remind ourselves why would they choose to do that. Our country has had fits and starts of trying to live up to our ideals. Yet, we should never stop trying to be the best version of ourselves.

Standing – what does that mean in a legal sense

I am not an attorney, but I got a good sense of what “standing” means in legal terms when the Supreme Court decided that same sex marriages were OK. They ruled that other people did not have “standing” on the issue. In other words, if two gay men get married, others are not impacted by their decision to marry.

The same holds true about issues around contraception, interracial marriages and abortions.

“What does standing mean legally?

There are three constitutional requirements to prove standing:

  • Injury: The plaintiff must have suffered or imminently will suffer injury. …
  • Causation: The injury must be reasonably connected to the defendant’s conduct.
  • Redressability: A favorable court decision must be likely to redress the injury.”

The same holds true about issues around contraception, interracial marriages and abortions, which seem to be in the news the past two days. I was sharing with our friend Jill, if certain groups want to try to make contraception illegal, they truly have no standing on the issue. But, good luck with that. Not only do the significant majority of women and men want contraception to be available there is a correlation between using contraception and fewer abortions. The last data point I saw said a very significant majority of US Catholic women want contraception in spite of the Pope’s position.

I saw one Senator back track off a stance on interracial marriages. He realized quickly his position was in quick sand. When Loving v Virginia was upheld by a vote of 9 to 0 by the Supreme Court, interracial marriage was legally permitted and could not be outlawed by a state. The last data point I saw was over ten years ago noting 13% of all marriages in the US are interracial. That statistic is likely higher today. And, just watch any TV commercial. The couples in the commercial are quite often interracial. That is a sure indication that train has left the station.

The issue of abortion is one that is in the forefront. Some would argue the deceased never was able to have standing, but Roe v Wade created a pattern a governance that provides guardrails on what women can and cannot do. While I personally would not suggest an abortion, I am a man and it is not my body. I certainly have no standing over another person’s body. So, I support a woman having governance over her own body. Plus, there is a correlation between greater poverty and increased family size.

Let’s take this one step more. People who tend to argue against Roe v Wade the most tend to be folks who would also argue for the government to leave us alone and let us live. The hypocrisy of this contradiction resounds. So, if government can rule a woman’s body, then we should fine or jail people who put themselves and others in jeopardy. Gun ownership – no more. Drinking and driving – more severe punishment. Obesity and taking up our healthcare spend as a result – fines for the extra cost of care. Passing along STDs or HIV, jail time. And, so on.

The majority of Americans want Roe v Wade to continue. Those who want it overturned may be like the dog that has caught the bus. Now what are you going to do? My fervent request is for women and men to tell these folks what they think by voting.

We need you to be better than you are being

I keep thinking of a message that needs to be universally communicated to all elected and appointed officials serving our needs and what I keep coming back to is the simple statement – we need you to be better than you are being. I recognize this blanket statement applies more readily to large handfuls of elected officials and it varies in degrees of needed improvement, but it could be said to each one.

The corollary to this statement is we need you to stop the tribal BS. The last time I checked, the oath that these officials pledged was to the constitution of the United States of America. Not Russia. Not a political party. Not a populist who couldn’t spell truth, even though the first three letters begin his last name.

Before the segmented marketing and pseudo-news shows began in earnest back in the 1990s, elected officials used to campaign off rhetoric and govern off facts. Now, with this segmentation, 24×7 news cycle and opinion guard dogs, the officials are governing off rhetoric. And, rhetoric is a nice name for sales schtick. In essence, use or create a reason to sell a product or story and hammer the message home. Fear sells. Always has. We are told to fear the other. It is not your fault.

What continually frustrates me is many of these folks know they are being untruthful. Some know they are blatantly being untruthful. And, sometimes the lies are overt. Yet, they do so anyway. To me, that is Machiavellian. It is also a breach of trust. They listen too much to spin doctors and their sycophants who tell them how to pivot away from negative news.

We must let them know we are frustrated by their lying and embellishing. We must let them know we need them to honor the position they hold and do their best to serve us, even on tough issues, where the message is harder to swallow. We need them to be closer to among our better angels, not our worst demons. At the very least, we need them to be better than they are being.

I have actually communicated this message to several elected officials, some I can vote for or against and many I cannot. It is heartfelt and pleading at the same time. It very likely does not do any good and I am sure my name is on a list as a squeaky wheel. I ask that you email, write or call your elected officials and beseech them with this or a variation of this plea. I also encourage you to write to various news sources and share your concerns.

Maybe, if more than a few of us do this, it might sink in more. I would start with those you feel are more reasonable than some of the more strident folks in office. They may at least understand your plea.

Critical Race Theory – letter to the editor

My newspaper printed my letter to the editor today. Here it is for your review, comment and use. Please feel free to edit, but note my newspaper has a 150 word limit. Yours might be different.

“It has become apparent that one party has decided to use anti-critical race theory as its new bumper-sticker slogan, akin to Build That Wall.

So, should we not talk about the Birmingham church bombing, Greensboro Four, Edmund Pettus bridge, Wilmington coup, Emmett Till’s horrible murder, Tulsa massacre, slavery, red-lining, voter suppression, genocide of Native Americans, and more?

If we do not teach and learn from our history, especially the bad parts, we are destined to repeat them. Our history is one of imperfect people sometimes failing to live up to our ideals.

We should know what, when and why things happened, especially if it is ugly.”

The Lavender Scare (a repeat post dedicated to the Florida legislature)

Seeing the legislation passed in my home state of Florida, I am embarrassed that legislators could not think of anything better to do than limit discussion about various topics including the rights and challenges of LGBTQ+ people. I wrote the following post about a true event in US history that gets painfully little historical discussion. My mother was a teacher in Florida, so I wonder how she would feel with people ready to report her if she said the wrong thing.

My wife and I watched an informative documentary on PBS last night called “The Lavender Scare.” This show documents a lengthy period of US government sanctioned discrimination against homosexuals that lasted from the early 1950s to mid 1990s.

The scare evolved directly from the efforts of Senator Joseph McCarthy who led the “red scare” as he carried out communist witch hunts. He turned his eye toward homosexuals saying (without data) those who worked in the government were susceptible to communist blackmailers. Yet, unlike his communist witch hunt publicly dying due to his “lack of decency,” as an attorney to the Secretary of the Army called McCarthy under oath, the Lavender Scare gained footing.

To my chagrin, I learned former General Dwight Eisenhower campaigned for President on this issue and signed an executive order in 1953 to identify and expel homosexuals from government positions. This saddens me because of the obvious discrimination, but also because the former General said earlier the UK team led by Alan Turing that broke the Nazi Enigma code saved 750,000 lives and shortened WWII by two years. Turing had to hide that he was gay, so Ike’s executive order in 1953 would have kicked Turing out of employment had he been his boss in WWII – what would have happened if Turing would not have been around to impact the war?

The fact this government sanctioned discrimination lasted until it was ceased by President Bill Clinton is a shame, as well. Multiple tens of thousands of excellent public servants were kicked out of jobs they loved and did well. And, many could not get good employment in the private sector due to their FBI file. One of those was an astronomer named Dr. Frank Kameny.

Yet, Kameny did not sit still. He became an advocate for gay rights pushing a ball uphill. He wrote letters to Congress members, some of which were caustically responded to giving variations of the same harsh response. He organized protests and would help those who lost jobs. And, he was able to save some jobs, one who spoke five languages and was later decorated for service to the NSA. Kameny was awarded the “Medal of Freedom” by President Barack Obama for being the grandfather of the gay advocacy movement.

Sadly, there is a movement today led by some exclusionary religious leaders to condemn gays and foment their discrimination. My thinking is this is a backlash to the US Supreme Court approving same-sex marriage a few years ago. But, it goes deeper than that with a president who has laid the groundwork for divisiveness to occur with impunity. He did not invent divisiveness, but is not preventing it either.

Let me be frank. We are the land of freedoms and civil rights. Unless someone is harming you, you have “no standing” to deny the rights of others. I personally am offended by bigotry in the pulpit as I see this as a grievous dereliction of duty. Yet, that person has a right to say what he wants – provided he is not inciting violence or hate crimes. If the latter is true, then that is not a protected right.

Please watch this informative documentary. And, let’s do our best to avoid going back to this dark period. There was one gay postal worker who was to be expelled in the 1950s, but his boss stood up for him saying I know this, it does not bother me and he does a good job. The gay employee kept his job. We need more of that in our country and less of the hate speech

Sidebar: Disney Corporation, a major employer in Florida, has announced the removal of political funding in Florida as a result of this legislation.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night – a Paul McCartney encore

I wrote the following post about six years ago. Sadly, it is even more relevant today with efforts to hyper-politicize issues to garner votes under the guise of critical race theory, book banning and strategic voter suppression.

The title is from a line of The Beatles song “Blackbird” which is a tribute to the struggle for African-Americans for their civil rights. The song was sung by Paul McCartney with writing credits to both him and John Lennon, although McCartney was the lead.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Here is what McCartney said about the origin of the song in an interview in 2002.

“I’ve got a poetry book out called Blackbird Singing…..I was in Scotland playing on my guitar, and I remembered this whole idea of ‘you were only waiting for this moment to arise’ was about, you know, the black people’s struggle in the southern states, and I was using the symbolism of a blackbird. It’s not really about a blackbird whose wings are broken, you know, it’s a bit more symbolic.”

I added McCartney’s quote as I wanted the clarity around what the song means. African-Americans are still fighting an uphill struggle for their civil rights. What has happened in Ferguson, Cleveland, New Jersey, Charleston, Charlotte and Baltimore is tragic, but evidence of the disenfranchisement of African-Americans. The lack of opportunity, the malaise, the maltreatment, the deterioration of the neighborhood, the lack of respect given to people of color in our country continues.

I have noted before that Warren Buffett has said he was born lucky. He was born a white male in America. All three components of that phrase are important – white, male and America. Yes, he worked hard, but he was afforded opportunities that African-Americans do not get.  Not only do many whites like me have a hard time knowing the challenges of being black, but we also do not fully realize the advantages of being white. As I wrote recently, as a white man, there are not too many places I cannot go no matter how I am dressed. But, there are far too many stories of how a black man can be dressed in his Sunday best, yet still be stopped by the police and think “be careful as this may be the last thing I do on earth.”

I would encourage three things. First, please do not look at those committing violence and rioting as indicative of the African-American community. The community knows this is not the path forward. Second, people who look like me need to do our best to understand the challenges we have in America for people of color, but also for all people in poverty. Third, as always, talk is cheap. These issues are complex and solutions have to address many underlying concerns. There are no sound byte answers as some politicians have espoused.

I mention this last point as we must address the wide disparity in American between the “haves” and “have-nots.” This is not just an African-American issue. It is an American issue, as most people on food stamps are white. Please re-read this previous sentence. Poverty exists in urban areas, in rural areas and even in the suburbs. We have to stop the “war on poor people” and make this a “war on poverty.”

We must invest in our infrastructure and deteriorated assets repurposing them. This will spawn jobs as well in places where it is needed. We must revise our minimum wage to be consistent with a living wage for one person, which varies, but is just over $10 an hour. We must invest in education at all levels. We must embrace the Affordable Care Act as it is helping so many people and fully implement it through Medicaid expansion in the remaining 20 odd states. For some politicians to say we have a poverty problem and be against the ACA is hypocritical and shortsighted, especially when it is working pretty well.

Remember McCartney’s words and lets help these folks with broken wings learn to fly. To do otherwise, goes against what our country is all about and any of the teachings found in religious texts.

Civil rights up close

The following is repeat post from three years ago. With the purposeful white washing of history to not inform students of the terrible acts committed in our country, we are masking greatly needed, but ugly lessons. These lessons are supposed to be ugly truths. That is why they are taught.

My wife and I visited the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, NC yesterday. Why Greensboro? It is built on the location of the first African-American sit-ins at the “whites only” Woolworth’s restaurant counter. The counter and chairs remain as they looked back in 1960 when they were sat in by the Greensboro Four: David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr., and Joseph McNeil.

The museum is excellent, but very sobering that such treatment could occur in a land that was supposedly free. And, as our Congress debates the rationale for reparations for slavery, what should be included in the debate is people suppressed, tortured, and/or killed during the Jim Crow period. Seeing and hearing the story of Emmett Till or the Birmingham church bombing which killed four young girls is breathtakingly sad and maddening.

I have written before about the horrific lynchings which often accompanied degradation of the poor soul’s body before and after his death. Death by hanging is a slow death and horrible things were done to the victim to make them feel worse as they died. What kind of evil can make men do that? Black men were lynched for looking at a white woman too long or at all. The great Billie Holiday captured the sadness in her song “Strange Fruit,” referencing strange fruit swinging in the trees.

The Jim Crow period rivals the horror of slavery for a key reason – these were acts committed on supposedly free people. But, their freedom was “contained” in a box of voter and economic suppression. So, Jim Crow was an orchestrated modus operandi to keep Black folks down. Whites who tried to help were also ostracized. And, what is also disturbing, too many ministers found bible verses and preached differentiation and segregation.

We must loudly condemn actions and words today by hate groups who say another group’s rights are subservient to theirs. Nazism, Apartheid, slavery and Jim Crow are part of the same demonization and hateful fabric. It is not supposed to work that way in our country. Our elected leaders are supposed to be our better angels. When they fail to lead in a manner closer to our ideals, we need to tell them so. Or, find better leaders.

A few tidbits on Black history month

Let me offer two must see movies about two American heroes – Bryan Stevenson and Dr. Vivian Thomas. Michael P. Jordan plays Stevenson in “Just Mercy” about defending Black death row prisoners who were convicted of crimes they did not commit. Stevenson faced unbelievable push back, but eventually was very successful in saving the lives of wrongfully convicted people.

Mos Def plays Thomas in the movie with Alan Rickman called “Something the Lord Made.” He was the Black surgeon who worked closely with Rickman to devise a medical procedure to save babies who died from lack of adequate blood flow, called Blue Babies. Being a Black man who had been a carpenter, he was not initially allowed to operate on White babies, even at Johns Hopkins. Yet, his carpentry skills gave him very adept hands who could perform this delicate surgery better than his co-founder could.

This movement to whitewash history to paint over the horrible and violent actions of people in power to those who do not have it is misguided and inane. We must learn from history whether it is the atrocities of slavery and the Jim Crow era, the Native American removal and genocide, the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, or the discrimination against other groups for perceived sins such as during the Lavendar Scare or Communist witch hunts. And, for those who want to pretend things did not happen, listen to Billie Holiday’s version of “Strange Fruit,” go to a civil rights museum close by such as in Greensboro or Washington, or Google Emmet Till or the Birmingham church bombing.

Yet, we must never forget America’s greatness is built on the input of a diverse melting pot of people. We have overcome actions and eras where those in power were none to kind to people who did not look like them (see Tulsa, Wilmington, NC where successful Black business people and elected officials were violently put down, eg). Yet, we did. But, we cannot back track on this progress kowtowing to the narrow-mindedness of pretending those things did not happen.

If we backtrack, not only is it the wrong thing to do, it is economically harmful to the whole country.