Black man talks members of KKK to cede their robes

The following is a repeat of an earlier post written four years ago. It remains relevant today. Our blogging friend Jill highlights weekly a few people who are shining lights in our world. Typically, these folks fly under the radar screen, as they do what they do to help people, not garner publicity. They are all about substance over optics.

Daryl Davis is one of those people. An African-American man, Davis has a mission to reach out and befriend members of the Ku Klux Klan. His goal is to change hearts and minds and he has successfully influenced over 200 members of the KKK to give up their robes, which he collects.

Davis grew up mostly outside the US as his father was in the diplomatic corps. He said his school classes included the children of other diplomats from around the world. So, he was gaining a very open-minded education interacting with others. He notes if he grew up here, his education would have been either segregated or pigeonholed limiting interaction with diverse people.

Davis said he did not experience racism until his family moved back to the states. In fact, he did not believe his parents when he learned he was being maltreated because of the color of his skin. He was incredulous that people could be so cruel for such an inane reason.

Davis recognizes that bigotry has to be taught. No one is born hating or demeaning others because they are different from them. Their parents and other adults have to teach kids to be racist or bigoted. So, he would seek to change those learnings by having open conversation. Per the link below, he says how can someone hate me without even knowing me?

He is an overtly friendly and approachable man. Having seen him laugh, I would say he is cherubic in a St. Nick like way. He does not insult, he asks questions and tells folks what he believes. When a KKK person said they burn the cross to light the way for Jesus, he would say you worship a different Jesus than I do. Jesus lights the way for you.

Through these matter-of-fact discussions, he gets people to think. He has studied the KKK and through reverse examples , he can illustrate the absurdity of certain claims. When he appeared on Bill Maher’s show, he astounded the other guests into silence just to listen to what he had to say. For the longest while, even the host remained silent, which is rare for him.

Please check out the attached link to learn more about him. “Bigotry has to be carefully taught” says the famous Oscar Hammerstein song from “South Pacific.” The converse is also true. Let’s teach kids and speak with others about being open-minded. It begins with conversation. Thank you Daryl Davis for showing us how. You are to be commended.

http://www.npr.org/2017/08/20/544861933/how-one-man-convinced-200-ku-klux-klan-members-to-give-up-their-robes

Fierce Kindness

A mantra of mine is “do not mistake kindness for weakness.” Watching CBS Sunday Morning, I learned a new term “fierce kindness.”

Kindness exists in people of all colors, shapes and sizes. From the CBS Sunday Morning show, the focus was on an Indianapolis man who works with children to repair donated run down bicycles for donation to others. Another segment looked at a Boston doctor who serves the homeless community, a journey that started over thirty years ago.

The doctor noted he was told to set aside his stethoscope and soak a few feet. What he learned, by helping someone with their feet, they are above him telling him how they feel. When asked what is the most important thing to do when seeing a homeless person – look him or her in the eye and say hello.

The bicycle fixer shows kids the path of kindness. He said it is ok to be fierce with kindness.

I found this helpful, as many people see kindness as a form of acquiescence. It is not. We can disagree without being disagreeable.

That is what civil discourse is all about. Civil is an important part of the discourse equation. Name calling, shouting down others or smugly denigrating someone who disagrees with you, is not civil.

Treating others like you want to be treated is what these two men are teaching others. Be kind. And, it is ok to be fiercely kind.

When I see folks who are doing the right thing against the pushback of others, fierce kindness comes to mind.

The racist incumbent in the White House

In a article by Justin Coleman of The Hill called “Santorum: ‘Huge mistake’ for Trump not to condemn white supremacy at debate,” the former Senator chastised the president for not condemning white supremacism. Per The Hill’s article (a link is below):

“Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R) on Wednesday said that it was a ‘huge mistake’ for President Trump not to condemn white supremacy during the first presidential debate against Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Santorum said in an appearance on CNN’s ‘New Day’ that Trump’s refusal to denounce white supremacy was a ‘bad error,’ saying the president has “condemned these groups before.”

‘But for some reason, he didn’t and I think that was a huge gaffe,’ the former senator said. ‘And it’s been typical of the president when he gets backed into a corner he doesn’t like to be forced to say something.’

‘He made a huge mistake, and again you can’t say anything other than disappointed,’ he added.”

This is not the first time the president has failed to condemn white supremacism or has uttered racist remarks.

– Trump’s comment about good people being on both sides in the Charlottesville, VA white nationalist march and reaction that led to one woman mowed down led to his Jewish National Economics Advisor Gary Cohn to decide to leave the White House after he passed a tax bill.
– Trump settled a court case for housing discrimination against African-Americans, and then had to be taken back to court as he did not honor the settlement.
– Trump placed a full page article accusing the Central Park Five (all African-American teens) of a heinous crime. They were convicted, but the conviction was overturned.
– Trump used derogatory terms against Native Americans in public testimony as he was losing casino business to Native Americans.
– Trump for several years continued attacking President Obama for not being born in America, the “Birther Issue.” Would he have done this is Obama was 100% white?
– Trump referenced not wanting immigration from “s**thole countries” when he decided to unwind an agreed to DACA for the Wall funding deal made verbally earlier in the day.
– Trump made reference to the four new Congress members to “go back to where you came from” as they were women of color.
– Trump announced his candidacy referencing the “rapists’ coming in from Mexico
– Trump supported the right for his mostly white followers to protest (with guns) in state capitols to re-open the economies, but references the multi-racial Black Lives Matter protestors as “thugs.”

While I am not perfect, it is pretty clear the president has made many racist remarks, which make him racist. Further, I am hard pressed to not call Trump a white supremacist sympathizer. But, don’t take my word for it. His attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen said under oath to Congress, “Donald Trump is a racist, he is a con-artist and he is a cheat.” Why did he lead with racist?

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/santorum-huge-mistake-for-trump-not-to-condemn-white-supremacy-at-debate/ar-BB19zId5?ocid=msedgdhp

Two great talents, two big hearts pass away

Rightfully so, the passing of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a huge loss for our country. Her diminutive stature belied the large intellect and courage to fight battles, first for herself, and then for women and the disenfranchised.

There are several stories whose theme is around the only woman in the room, be it the first female rocket scientist, Mary Sherman Morgan, or the first black female NASA mathematician, Katherine G. Johnson. Ginsburg was often one of only a scant few women in the room, be it Harvard or Columbia law schools or when she first joined the Supreme Court following Sandra Day O’Connor. Being told you do not belong, either directly or implicitly, requires a courageous heart.

Ginsburg was unable to get a job with a law firm since she was a female and a mother. Her husband, Marty was quickly able to gain employment as a tax attorney, but his very learned wife could not. So, she taught law. So, when she finally tried an appellate case regarding gender discrimination, very few knew the constitutional law as well as she. She knew the documented discrimination that existed in the law and what had to be changed. And, her track record on gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court was excellent, losing only one case. The movie “On the basis of sex,” starring Felicity Jones, is an excellent drama telling her story.

Yesterday, another person passed away, who will not be as known to non-football fans, but his supreme talent was only exceeded by his heart. His name was Gale Sayers and for seven years, was one of the most exciting football players to watch as his ability to stop, start, change direction and run kept defenses at bay. He was the youngest player to be inducted in the NFL Hall of Fame at the time. Yet, his heart may be what people will remember most.

When he joined the Chicago Bears in the mid-1960s, the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act had only recently been passed. The African-American Sayers befriended a white ball player named Brian Piccolo. They became friends, teasing each other often while competing for the same position. They both made the team and were roommates on the road.

But, the story unfolds later that Piccolo gets cancer and is dying. Sayers and his wife were by the Piccolos’ side the whole way. When Sayers was given an award for a courageous comeback after an injury, in his speech, he told the audience of the courage of his friend Brian Piccolo. He said “I love Brian Piccolo. And, I hope you will love him, too.” He then asked for their prayers for God to love Brian as well.

The story is captured in the excellent movie “Brian’s Song,” starring James Caan and Billy Dee Williams. I wrote a post a while back which I will link to below, which said “Brian’s Song” was the first movie where a man was allowed to openly cry. Truth be told, I am tearing up as a type this.

Let’s remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Gale Sayers. Both are national treasures

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/brians-song-the-first-movie-where-men-could-watch-and-cry/

Kentucky police force benefits from hiring social workers

From an article in The Guardian called “The US police department that decided to hire social workers,” a path forward can be gleaned. Here are a few paragraphs to provide a sense. The full article can be linked to below.

“In 2016, the Alexandria, Kentucky, police chief talked the city into hiring a social worker – and four years on, the current chief sees the program as indispensable. In 2016 he decided to try a new approach: he talked the city into hiring a social worker for the police department. ‘To an officer, they all thought I was batshit crazy,’ he said of the police.

The current police chief, Lucas Cooper, said he was ‘the most vocal opponent’ of the plan at the time, thinking that the department should be using its budget to hire more officers for a force he viewed as stretched thin. But now four years later, Cooper sees the program as indispensable: it frees officers from repeat calls for non-criminal issues and gets residents the help they needed, but couldn’t get.”

Just recently, a Utah boy with Asperger’s was shot by the police after his mother called alerting them to the boy’s inability to calm down when she returned to work. Last year, a North Carolina man who called the police for help when he was having a schizoid disorder was killed in his own home because he would not put down a knife when the police arrived.

These are not rare occurrences. People with mental illness may not be sufficiently cognizant to respond to commands, or they may fearful of what is happening. Unless an attending officer is used to seeing and working with people who have mental health issues, it is quite difficult to avoid the use of force when commands are not followed.

In human services agency I was involved with, the licensed social workers used a model called “trauma informed care.” This approach let them focus on the traumas that people face. For example, a woman and family who are domestic violence victims have PTSD issues. So, if they lose their house, as well, there are two sets of trauma to deal with.

To be frank, the “defunding the police” movement has chosen a poor choice of words. Too many view it as taking all funding away – the key difference is using more wisely to serve and protect. Hiring more social workers who are licensed to offer counseling will let the police focus on other alleged criminals.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/sep/19/alexandria-kentucky-police-social-workers&lt

Shut the front door – common ground can be found

I am not sure when it happened, but “shut the front door” became a funny euphemism for a more colorful saying. I have witnessed it being offered up as an excited way to say the person cannot believe what has just been uttered. I will leave you to your own devices to substitute the more colorful metaphor.

So, with this in mind, please feel free to utter “shut the front door” on these truthful events or comments:

– Novak Djokovic, the top-seeded men’s tennis player in this year’s U.S. Open, was disqualified after accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball during his match. On occasion, tennis players are prone to slam a ball with their racquet when they hit a bad shot. Djokovic hits the ball harder than almost anyone on the planet. The good news is the judge is alright and Djokovic was concerned and contrite after he did it, he apologized afterwards and spoke of his poor judgment later. Common ground after an unfortunate incident.

– Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an American hero, especially for her groundbreaking work for women’s rights. She had a colorful and exemplary career, and her love of opera is renowned. Apparently, she and her conservative justice Antonin Scalia both loved opera, so attended performances together. Common ground can be found if we look for it. Note, it is reported she was allowed to participate in a few operas in full costume, but only in a non-singing background role.

– Joe Biden and John McCain were friends. McCain was renowned for his Senate trips to visit troops or improve relationships abroad. Given McCain’s POW status for five years, where McCain refused to be released unless others were, he was against torture and maltreatment of prisoners of war. Biden accompanied McCain on these trips, along with a few other Senators, and mutual respect and friendship blossomed. Again, common ground can be found if we look for it.

– I read Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi used to write letters to each other. During 1909-10, “Gandhi solicited permission to redistribute Tolstoy’s writings among Indians, and Tolstoy in turn was pleased that his ideas were being put into practice. This collection of letters gives the reader an insight into this meeting of two great minds,” per GoodReads. Going one step further, Martin Luther King was inspired by Gandhi’s civil disobedience approach. Common ground over standing up to disenfranchisement.

Shut the front door. Common ground can be found in the unlikeliest of places. I did not mention the line judge’s name, as fans of Djokovic have been less kind. Yet, unlike an infamous politician, he recognized his mistake and made up for it and told his fans to cool their jets.

Monday musings – insignificant or significant

Life offers many experiences from the insignificant to significant. Approaching my 62nd birthday, I can share that more than a few things people believe are significant are not really important. Conversely, little insignificant things may have been gateways into something more meaningful. As Robert Frost wrote, the road not taken has made all the difference.

The girl or boy you did not ask out, as your friends labeled the person too different, might have opened your eyes to wonderful experiences.

Being prevented by your parents from attending a party may be mortifying for a teen, but does not make that big a difference in the big scheme of things.

To this point, the most well-adjusted Hollywood couples, live away from the superficial Hollywood scene. They crave the reality, not perception.

Being genuine is far more important than being popular. Choosing to help or listen to someone with a problem, is far more important than being “liked.”

Changing your mind on a major decision may prove embarrassing, but it is usually for the best. Life events are worthy of as much introspection as possible. I have never regretted unwinding a major decision.

Saying “no” may be unpopular, but it is also more than fine to decline. People sometimes overcommit and end up letting people down.

Take the time to ask your older relatives about your heritage before it is too late. I still have unanswered questions, especially after doing research online. Knowing your lineage and history is gratifying, even if the history reveals some warts. Our kids love to speak of their roots.

Finally, one of the things my wife and I miss with the COVID-19 limitations is talking to people we encounter on our travels, near and far. A trip to Ireland was seasoned by chatting with Oola, who grew up in a corner of Belgium, very close to two other countries, eg. Take the time to talk to folks. It may make all the difference.

Caleb’s Crossing – a good book with a dose of history

Take a surprising true story – the first Native American to graduate from Harvard in the 17th century. Season it with a historically appropriate context. And, mix in a story told through the eyes of a growing young daughter of a minister and you arrive at “Caleb’s Crossing” by Gretchen Brooks, who is a Pulitzer Prize winner for her 2006 book “March.”

Bethia Mayfield is the girl growing up in the settlement of Great Harbor on what is now called Martha’s Vineyard. Her father has an earnest effort to convert and educate members of the Wampanoag tribe on the island. While Bethia is not allowed advanced schooling given her gender, she listens to her father’s lessons to her older brother, Makepeace. Since her brother is not the best of students, unlike his younger sister, she gets the benefit of hearing the lessons repeated.

As she lost her twin brother in a terrible accident, she wanders the coast, woods and meadows. She befriends a a Wampanoag boy about her age. She eventually gives him an English name of Caleb. He is as curious to learn as she is and he teaches her about where good berries can be found and how to fish. He also teaches her his language and vice-versa. Yet, other than taking her berries home, she must keep her learnings to herself.

I will stop there as not to reveal too much plot. If you are a woman, this book will exasperate you at times. You will pull for Bethia throughout and wince when she does headstrong things that her mother cautioned her about. She will acknowledge that she may have said too much on occasion in the book.

While Bethia and her story is fiction, there are many parts of the story that are true. Brooks points these out at the end of the book, as she does not want her book to replace history. Yet, so much is unknown about Caleb and another Native American Harvard student, that the story is a good teaching aid.

“Caleb’s Crossing” is a good book. It is not a can’t-put-down-read, at least to me, but it is entertaining. Men will find it of interest, but women will likely be more invested with how it portrays the subservient nature of girls and women in the mid-to-late 17th century and how Bethia overcomes obstacles.

Predicted and predictable

Nate Silver is the genius behind 538, one of the most accurate predictors of election results. 538 weights various polls based on their relative veracity. What his polls showed in 2016, after the late Comey announcement, that while the median favored Clinton winning, Trump could win within acceptable standard deviation. People focus too much on the median and not the range.

With this background, Silver said something of import recently, that many of us have said less succinctly. He said the COVID-19 contagions that are cropping in schools and colleges are both “predicted and predictable.”

When people get together without strict adherence to social distancing and mask wearing, exposure to COVID-19 will occur. And, the virus spreads exponentially, not arithmetically. This means when ten people get it, they infect ten more, who infect ten more…This is why the president was forewarned of the pandemic risk in January by US intelligence and why his misinformation and mishandling is so problematic.

Let me go further. If all people don’t wear masks, socially distance, wash hands and act with some common sense, COVID-19 will be with us much longer. I know we want to get back to normal, but managers, owners, deans, school executives, and elected officials must understand that corralling the virus cannot occur unless we all do our part. Even if a vaccine is created, a recent survey said only about 70% of Americans would take it.

This is why telling people the truth is so critical. Only then, will people follow instruction. And, sadly in the absence of truth tellers who must be supported not demeaned, conspiracy sources get listened to. As an example, measles had been eradicated in the US, until the anti-vaxxers spread their conspiracy information and now it is back.

Further, unless we have a president who tells the truth, we will not solve many problems. And, as an epidemiologist and historian said, telling the truth is mission one in dealing with a pandemic.

Freedom Summer Project – a needed revisit with a voter suppression and racism afoot

With a president who attacks the voting process (without dearly protecting it) and does not speak out against racism in our country, this past post on a terrible time in history is relevant of what we must not become again. The only change is adding six years to the time elapsed.

Fifty-six years ago this summer, over 700 students from across the country, joined in the Civil Rights battle in Mississippi, where African-Americans had been demonstratively and, at times, violently denied their basic civil rights, especially the right to vote. These students joined together with the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNNC) under the guidance of Bob Moses, who had been slowly organizing SNNC since 1960. These students, were predominantly white, but included all races and ethnic groups.

The fact that many were white helped bring further attention to the ongoing tragedy going on Mississippi, perpetuated by those in power as the young students lived within the African-American community, taught through Freedom Schools young students about African-American history, literature and rights, items that had been absent from their curriculum. The Freedom Summer project can be viewed up close with an excellent documentary shown on the PBS American Experience. A link is provided below.* I would encourage you to watch the two-hour film as it can tell a story that requires footages of violence, overt racism, and brave people who spoke up, like Moses, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rita Schwerner and countless others.

Hamer is the face of the effort as evidenced by her speaking passionately in front of the 1964 Democratic Convention committee about how she was arrested, beaten, and tormented when she and others tried to register vote. Schwerner is the widow of one the three Civil Rights workers, Michael Schwerner, who along with James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, were abducted and killed by the KKK who came to abet the efforts of those in power in Mississippi. The widow rightfully pointed out the fact that two of the abducted (at the time) were white, was the only reason people in America started paying attention. She noted it is a shame that many African-Americans had died or were injured merely trying to exercise their right as citizens. Before the 1965 Voting Rights Act, less than 7% of African-Americans in Mississippi were allowed to register due to ostracization, intimidation, and complex constitutional literacy tests.

Since I cannot begin to do justice to this subject, I encourage you to watch the documentary. It will make you ashamed that this could happen in America, while at the same time making you applaud the magnificent courage of all involved, especially those African-Americans who had lived and would continue to live in this Apartheid like state once the freedom summer students went home. Yet, it took the deaths of these three young folks to galvanize and empower people.

It also took the organization of a more representative Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party of whites and blacks that went to the national convention to unseat the representatives sent by the state party, who were all white. Since morality was on their side, they almost succeeded, but they ran into the politics of Lyndon B. Johnson, who used his power to squelch the effort for a greater good – he could not help in matters if he did not get elected and he saw this as a means to interfere with that mission, no matter how noble the cause. LBJ accomplished great things for African-Americans, but politics is an ugly thing to watch up close and he looks manipulative in the process.

While their efforts fell short at the convention, their efforts were huge contributors to the passage of the Voting Rights Act the next year. But, one of the young folks who went to the Freedom Schools and is now a PhD., noted that learning about their African-American culture and civil rights that had been denied them, may have been the greatest achievement. I applaud their efforts and bravery. We still have a way to go and are seeing some battles having to be refought with several states passing restrictive Voter ID Laws. Three states have had their new laws ruled unconstitutional, while others are in court now. Yet, just because our President is multi-racial does not mean we are there yet. So, let’s keep in mind the battles these brave folks fought and not let their civil rights be stepped on again, no matter how cleverly masked those efforts.

* http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/freedomsummer/