A first step in breaking down barriers

Many of us have written about how divided we are as a nation. We are more divided than ever, but what does not get written about enough are what brings us together. We do not hear or read as much about the good news stories or people just getting along. Our friend Jill does a weekly post on these kinds of good news stories, but her frequency of covering good news is greater than that of most news publications.

One of the things I have observed in my many years is people will set up we/ they groupings, even when they do not need to or it serves no purpose. I recall a true story from 1987, when a large housing development we moved into had a North side and a South side. At a party, I heard someone make reference to “those folks in the North side” not being good people like us. Really, I thought. This person made up an artificial group to fear and ridicule. Now that is inane.

So, the first step to breaking down barriers is not to create them. Try to avoid we/ they groupings. If we do that, there is no one to blame for our troubles but us. A good step down this path is do not identify yourself as a member of a group unless you actually have to in response to a question. I am guilty of taking pride in being an independent voter, but even that is a grouping. I do that to get my message heeded by members of political groups, but it is still a banner I am waving.

When I hear or see people put down someone for the way they look, worship or love or their heritage it builds off we/ they barriers that have been created. For a diverse country, we tend to complain about the most superficial of things. Just taking food as a counterexample, think of the rich diversity of choices we have as consumers to eat a variety of foods from around the world. We even have “fusion” restaurants that blend together tastes from Asia and Mexico or Italy and Greece, for example. A Hawaiian pizza did not originate in Italy and Fried Chicken and Waffles is alleged to have started in California not the south.

If we can eat these wonderful foods from diverse sources, I think we can break down a few barriers. Think of it as breaking bread with people with different backgrounds. If we did not eat a variety of foods, we would certainly live in a bland world. And, think of how more seasoned the conversation will be as we delve into histories and mutual interests.

So, test yourselves. Lessen the identification of groups. Don’t define yourself by where you go to church and especially not how you vote. An old line comes to mind that is less applied now, but don’t ever bring up religion or politics at a party, as it will start an argument. If you must, focus on an issue at hand, not the grouping. The one group that matters is the human race. Let’s be better human beings.

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)

Thursday throwdown – a trip to Asheville

My wife and I just got back from a couple of days in the mountains in the very eclectic town of Asheville. I am not sure if the people watching or the mountain viewing was more enjoyable. We did walk in the North Carolina Arboretum which is a lovely spot, so the views of the flora, statues and mountains did take the prize. What is nice is we met folks from Kansas, Minnesota, Michigan, South Carolina, Iowa, etc. who were visiting or had moved.

We went to see the wonderful performer and actor Cindy Williams, of “Laverne and Shirley” and “American Graffiti” fame tell stories about her career and explain behind the scenes stuff with various footage she cared to show. With the help of a “stage-hand” actor, she regaled us for ninety minutes. The stage-hand offered comic relief and helped punctuate the story telling. Williams’ self-deprecating humor charmed us, but when she got too full of herself, the stage-hand would help bring her back to earth. It was funny how they planned that.

We watched some of “Laverne and Shirley” growing up, but it was amazing to see the physical comedy they brought to the table. Penny Marshall, who has passed away, would rival Lucille Ball in that arena, but she was ably supported by Williams. One of the crowd asked in the Q&A if either of them ever got hurt, and she shared that Marshall did suffer a severe sprained ankle. She said the rehearsal prepared them for the acts. I did like that she said if something did not make them laugh in rehearsal, they improved or scrapped it.

It was truly nice to get away on one of our small trips. We love taking day trips and over-night trips reasonably close by. We stayed in a marvelous bed and breakfast, which is our wont, and enjoyed speaking with the guests and staff, who suggested a couple of restaurants. If you do go to Asheville, the Biltmore House (and gardens) is its most famous tourist attraction, but there a number of other places – spas, waterfalls, hiking, golfing, canoeing, antiquing, etc. that might peak your interest along with the eclectic downtown.

What are some places that you like to visit nearby? Are the places in the Carolinas that you frequent?

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.

Mormon leaves the church taking his money with him

A technology billionaire has sent a letter of resignation to the Mormon church noting the reasons why he and his family are leaving. Jeff T. Green notes while there are some fine people in the church doing good things, the church itself is doing harm to people. He said the Mormon church is antagonistic to women’s rights, civil rights and the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.

In an article in Newsweek called “Utah Native Billionaire Jeff T. Green Quits LDS, Says Mormonism ‘Hindered Global Progress” by Danny Villarreal, the following excerpt can be gleaned:

“Jeff T. Green, thought to be the wealthiest person hailing from the state of Utah, recently wrote an open letter to Russell Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), announcing his resignation from the church along with 11 family members and a friend.

I believe the Mormon Church has hindered global progress in women’s rights, civil rights and racial equality, and LGBTQ+ rights,’ Green’s 900-word letter stated.

Although the Mormon Church has made modern efforts to publicly atone for its past policy positions, the church has funded anti-LGBTQ initiatives, including a 2008 ballot measure to overturn same-sex marriages in California. The church also has a long history of demonizing people of color. Official LDS policy banned Black people from entering Mormon temples until 1978.”

Green will be making an immediate $600,000 donation to support LGBTQ+ issues, but has promised the lion’s share of his $5 billion fortune will go to causes shunned by the church.

In another public display to get the Mormon church to treat the LGBTQ+ community better, Mormon Dan Reynolds, the lead singer of Imagine Dragons, helped lead a concert for at risk youth in the church. He has been trying to push the church in the directions that Jeff Green sees far too slow movement. Here is a write up from the online press Vulture in 2018 about Reynolds’ efforts.

“Dan Reynolds did everything right. He served as a Mormon missionary and attended the Church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He then got married and fathered three children. Reynolds also started a band, and now, at 31, he’s the singer in Imagine Dragons, arguably the biggest rock band in the world. Plenty of rock stars have nontraditional pasts, but Reynolds is different: He’s using his platform as a very famous straight man to advocate for LGBTQ rights, and in the process he’s alienating his band from its fans and himself from his own faith.”

This is how change occurs. It takes a grass roots effort embraced by some very public figures who can use their money and gravitas to get people’s attention. Regardless of faith, the words of Jesus can be found in multiple religious texts – treat others like you want to be treated. No caveats. No ifs, ands or buts. Let’s truly honor Jesus’ birthday by doing our best to remember those words.

https://www.newsweek.com/utah-native-billionaire-jeff-t-green-quits-lds-says-mormonism-hindered-global-progress-1661959

https://www.vulture.com/2018/11/why-imagine-dragons-is-fighting-for-lgbtq-rights.html

God is not an American

I wrote the following piece about ten years ago. It is even more pertinent today with a few voices in the halls of Congress saying and acting out toxic things and behavior. We need our elected officials to represent our better angels, not our worse demons.

“And we pray to our Lord
Who, we know, is American
He reigns from on high
He speaks to us through middlemen

And he shepherds his flock
We sing out and we praise His name
He supports us in war
He presides over football games”

Don Henley of The Eagles in “Frail Grasp of the Big Picture”

I begin with these song lyrics as they come from a tongue and cheek song about how we lose sight of the big picture with misconceived beliefs that make us focus more on our differences rather than our common problems. The provocative title of this blog is to state an obvious point that is oftentimes lost on people of strong faith in our country – God is not an American – he is bigger than that and so must we be in our thoughts and practices.

Our country has been taken hostage by a very ardent religious right whose intolerance is causing us to be worse citizens of the world and in our own country. The greatness of our country is our diversity and we should embrace our various cultures and coexist in our vast melting pot. There is a reason our founding fathers believed in a separation of church and state. Their parents and the founding fathers themselves left religious persecution in England to begin a new life in our country. So, it was imperative to them to grant the liberty of freedom of religion, but separate that from the state of government.

We need to be more tolerant and respectful of everyone’s beliefs. I have observed in my 32 years as an adult those who are the least tolerant of others, tend to require the most tolerance of others in dealing with them. As we are human, we bring our imperfections to bear on every issue – we are all biased in some way, prejudiced to some degree and generalize when we should not. There is a body of people in our country who have tended to treat all Muslim Americans, for example, with a generalization based on the acts of a few who have imposed terror on the world.

The flak over Lowe’s and other sponsors dropping ads for a documentary about Muslim Americans is very unfortunate. The documentary is designed to be inclusive and show Muslims are not terrorists. The group who caused the issue has a mission of maintaining and improving the moral character of the US. To me, this group is hypocritical, as a key tenet of morality is treating people fairly and tolerating our differences. We teach our children this in our own home – respect people’s beliefs and treat people like you want to be treated.

The same holds true with other disenfranchised groups – such as gays and lesbians, immigrants or people of color who are still fighting an uphill battle. Or, even the Occupy movement. Each group deserves respect, the same freedoms and an attempt to understand their views. I am reminded of the WWJD bracelets asking “what would Jesus do?” From my studies of the bible, Jesus tended to hang out with the disenfranchised people more than He did the Church leaders. In fact, He had a disdain for the hypocrisy in some of the leaders of the day. I am not saying Church leaders are hypocrites as I work with many in our charitable efforts to help the impoverished, but I do believe we need to focus more on inclusion, compassion and tolerance rather than highlighting our perceived sins and imperfections.

When we witness intolerance, we should identify it as such and call it out. This is easier said than done. At a very minimum, we should not advocate such behavior or, if we can, help the person see the other side of the equation. That is the only way we can break down the barriers. If get people to see another’s point of view, that will promote greater understanding of our differences.

Finally, this is bigger than America. The world has looked upon us to be the “shining light on the hill.” They need us to be the moral compass we once were. That is one reason why those outside of the US favored Barack Obama 4 to 1 over John McCain. They saw him as a beacon of hope. That was an unfair burden to place on anyone, but for an African American to win the most important job in the world, showed many that we are a great country.

My wife likes to sing the old song when I make a comment about our lack of tolerance – “United we stand, divided we fall …” So, let’s relish our freedoms, embrace our differences, be inclusive in our mindsets and work together to solve our problems. And, let’s pray to God for help in granting us wisdom and compassion to address our problems and those of others. I hope He does not care who wins a football game.

Bigotry is a lousy money maker (a reprise)

The following post has been dusted off from four years ago as a result of the current NC Lt. Governor Mark Robinson’s pride in his slurs of transgender and homosexual folks, that have gone largely unanswered by fellow Republicans. I will not repeat them here, but it should be noted his remarks have not set too well with many. The Charlotte Observer has two editorials from yesterday called “Lt. governor’s rants about fake issues do real harm” by the Editorial Board while the other is called “‘Filth’ sends an old message to LGBTQ in NC” by a columnist in the Raleigh News and Observer.

I have written before how coexisting and capitalism are not at odds with each other, in spite of the attempts of some through bumper stickers to show you should pick one or the other. History has shown, it is far more economical to coexist. Why? More customers. And, more customers means more jobs.

In my home state of North Carolina, we have forgotten this equation. In early 2016, our General Assembly rammed through a discriminatory law called HB2 in a special session taking just ten hours. I recognize fully the transgender bathroom portion of the law gets most of the press, but the piece which has caused the most consternation in the eyes of businesses looking at our state and ruling bodies of the NBA, NCAA and ACC, is the elimination of LGBTQ people as a protected class who should not be discriminated against.

The transgender portion was sold on fear without much data to support its issues. So, it is hard to back away from something its supporters made people scared of. But, let’s set that part aside and focus on the LGBTQ part. While there are proponents of HB2 who will argue the bathroom law should remain, the denial of protection to LGBTQ folks is flat out unconstitutional.

The proponents of the law said it is only the cities that are impacted by this law due to larger populations of LGBTQ people. Legislators in rural NC say what does it matter if Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro don’t get sporting events or new businesses? The economic dilemma for the rural parts of the state is this concept of revenue sharing. A portion of sales taxes from larger cities are distributed throughout the state to help finance smaller investments and pay for services.

The less money in the big cities means less money for the state. And, our entire state has damaged its reputation not just around the country, but around the world. I have read that some members of the General Assembly say they had no idea there would be such a backlash. The answer to these legislators is you did not take the time to know passing the law in ten hours.

I firmly believe HB2 should be fully repealed. Its treatment of transgender people using a sledgehammer approach to legislation is unjust. There could have been a more surgical answer. So, short of a full repeal, let me offer a compromise.

  • eliminate the LGBTQ discrimination feature in its entirety before you are made to by the courts. This feature is unconstitutional. Period.
  • eliminate the feature on restricting a city from having a higher minimum wage; cities who have larger economic competition and cost of living should have the right to allow a higher minimum wage than the national one. This feature needs to be vetted more than it was by itself.
  • change the transgender portion of the law to do the following; if a person has a formal document indicating a gender different from his or her birth certificate, he or she should legally have the right to use the bathroom he or she identifies with.

Again, I believe the whole law should be repealed. Yet, this compromise should help the state move forward before these business decisions not to move, expand or hold events here are more recognizable in our economic growth. The scary part, as shared by Chamber of Commerce recruiters, is we have no idea how many organizations did not consider North Carolina.

Jesus told us to treat others like he we want to be treated. It is the right thing to do as well as the economical thing to do. Bigotry is not much of a money-maker.

As a Christian and independent voter, one of my pet peeves is when so-called leaders, misuse their mantle and convey bigotry. Whether they are ministers, CEOs or elected officials, we need them to be among our better angels and be inclusive. To me, a chance to be inclusive has been missed by the relative silence of others leaders in the same party. The same goes for the other party, when one of its elected officials goes astray.

Diversity is an American strength (a reprise)

The following post was written almost ten years ago. It remains true, although there are fervent groups that want to tell people that they have superior rights and claim on this country. We would be a very boring and less talented place if we did not let our entire citizenry have opportunity.

Having lived more than half a century, (plus ten) it never ceases to amaze me how varied we are as a people in our great country. America is truly a melting pot and our diversity is at the heart of our greatness. Quoting the line of Bill Murray’s character in the movie “Stripes,”our forefathers have been kicked out of every country.

I mention this now as we have a wave of intolerance that permeates our public debate that is unhealthy. The marketers learned back in the late 1980’s (and leveraged further with the advent of social media) to segment the audiences. Unfortunately, we have taken this segmentation to a fervent level in political debate. People get their so-called news from biased sources which perpetuate generalizations and stereotypes. People walk around with their own set of facts. Stephen Colbert termed this “truthiness” and he was on point in his observations. So, some folks have been led to believe that most people on food stamps are African-Americans. That is not true.

In the book “That Used to be Us” that I have cited numerous times and encourage all to read, there is a highly pertinent and very illuminating anecdote about our armed service, in particular people staffing a naval vessel. The allied and opposing forces were amazed by the diversity of our navy and military. The book references a ship of women, which was a misnomer, as the leadership of the ship included several women. The allied and captured opposing military initially only wanted to deal with men, but when they witnessed that the leadership were women and competent officers, they were impressed. What also impressed them was Caucasian, African, Hispanic and Asian Americans working side by side. The opposition had presumed all Americans were white. These diverse teams of people working well together were clear messages that people with perceived differences can not only coexist but function as a unit.

This was not always so in our country, but it is amazing what can happen over time. We still struggle with civil rights issues, but we are in a much better place than we were back in the 1960’s, although we seem to have backtracked some. The oppression of lesbians and gays is slowly dissolving, but it is the 2000 version of the Civil Rights movement.

I think most Americans are tired of the evangelical right legislating their version of morality on the rest of the country. I go back to “what would Jesus do?” He hung out with the disenfranchised more than the church leadership of the day. He would speak of the Golden Rule, which is as good today as it was then. So, as a self-professed “old fart,” I would say we should call out intolerance when we see it and defend those who are being put down. LGBTQ+ people deserve every right and opportunity that other citizens have in this country.

Yet, it goes beyond that. The Middle East will not be as successful as possible as a region until women have the same rights as men. Using an example from Malcolm Gladwell’s book called “Outliers,” if you limit your talent pool to only half of the potential candidates, you are competing with your arm tied behind your back. His specific point was Canadian hockey identified at early ages what they believed were precocious kids. What turned out to be the truth, the precocious kids were merely older than their competition based on age cut offs, so were more skilled because of their maturity not talent.

If a society puts down its women, they are dismissing the opportunities for success as a people by 1/2. It is not lost on me that over 50% and closer to 60% of college students in the United States are women. And, I was not surprised when the two top winners of the Intel Science prize for high school science students were girls. One of these young ladies may have come up with a cure of cancer. Her thesis is being tested as we speak. The second place winner is not only female, she is also homeless. So, she had more working against than anyone could imagine. She is very much involved in marine biology.

So, taking just this first example and placing her in Iran or Afghanistan, this young lady, who may have discovered a cure or, at least, a significant treatment of cancer, would likely have been suppressed or even killed for going to school. It does not get any clearer than that. This is why the separation of church and state is critical. Misguided religious zeal is not a good thing as it holds back the opportunities for all.

Yet, we have some of the same intolerance in America. We have a misguided focus on things that may be very important to the religious body of people, but infringe upon the rights of others. Most people who are overtly religious understand this, yet we have a zeal that causes people to say and support positions that run counter to why we are a great country. I do not know the original author of this quote I believe it may have been Upton Sinclair back in the 1950’s, but when I first heard it was back in the early 1990’s, It was used to reference the Republican Party’s catering more to the evangelical right. A Republican leader at the time felt this was a slippery slope and said “When terrorism comes to America, it will be carrying a cross draped in the American flag.” This was before the ostracizing and assaulting of gay people, the emergence of extreme White nationals, the killing of Black people by law enforcement officers or vigilantes, the Koran burning minister in Florida, the military funeral picketers from the small mid-western church, the foiled plot by a Christian terrorist group to kill Detroit police and other examples.

We cannot and must not support intolerance. When we hear it and see it, we must call it out for what it is. Being tolerant and inclusive of others is not only the right thing to do per the Golden Rule, our constitution and our ideals, it means we as a country can be more successful. We are embracing the rights for all of our citizens to contribute to our society and make us greater than we can be as individuals.

The Harmony Project – Sing, Serve, Share – an encore

The following brief post was written five years ago, but deserves an encore performance given its theme. It is a quick read, so please indulge a few minutes of your time.

What do you get when you have a choir which does not require auditions? You get a tremendous amount of harmony, but not just the musical kind. From a recent CBS Sunday Morning report, David Brown has formed a choral group whose primary purpose is to bring different kinds of people together to sing, serve and share.

Based in Columbus, Ohio, its members must serve the community in various community projects, as well as practicing and performing. During the interview, Jane Pauley talked with what sounds like the set-up to a joke – a CEO, a warden and a Rabbi. These diverse people epitomize what the group is all about – getting to know people who are different from you, then realizing how similar we are.

Brown has even taken this concept into the warden’s prison where female inmates have their own chorus. Recently, the incarcerated chorus joined the larger one for a performance, which brought down the house.

Brown’s history has been one of being diverse. It started in high school when he moved into a new school district and was the lone white student at an African-American school. In college, he came out as a gay man. So, getting along as the non-main stream person has formed his bent toward diversity.

The Harmony Project is such a positive effort to bring out the best in us. While these examples happen on a daily basis, we need to celebrate them and our humanity by sharing our common threads. This is what America is all about. It is not finger pointing and hate speak. Let’s bring America together by celebrating our diversity, as well as these common threads that bind us.

American Utopia – an excellent musical by David Byrne

For those of us who came of age in the 1970s, the name David Byrne may be familiar. Yet, the name of his group, “Talking Heads” likely will ring a few more bells.

For the past few years, David Byrne’s “American Utopia” has been well received on Broadway. Fortunately, before COVID-19 shut down Broadway, Spike Lee filmed a special performance with Byrne and his multi-national troupe. It is a memorable show that is airing now on HBO. Below is link to a HBO trailer.

Dressed alike in gray suits, sans shoes and ties, Byrne and his eleven performers blend their talents in a choreographed marching band of various drum kits, guitars, a keyboard, and various and sundry instruments.

Only two of the songs appear to be popular Talking Heads’ songs – “Once in a lifetime” and “Burning down the house.” The latter sounds better than the released version with added percussion.

He also adds new music and that of others. Byrne explains the songs beforehand and includes an introduction of the band as they build the next song instrument by instrument.

Another highlight occurs when he says he asked permission from Janelle Monae to do her song as a plea for justice for a list of killed black people. This was filmed prior to the terrible deaths this year, but Lee adds a memorial at the end of the song.

Byrne makes observations throughout about our country. In one telling moment, he encourages people to vote, using the audience lights to indicate how many 20% represents that vote in local elections. He also noted in the 2016 election only 57% of Americans voted. To me, this indicates the voting problem in America – it is not fraud, it is not enough people are voting.

Yet, the highlight is the wonderful music coming from the stage produced by many different nationalities, races and ethnicities. That is what America is all about.

https://www.hbo.com/specials/american-utopia