Culture

Saying Goodbye To The Queen Of Soul The Wakanda Way

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

If you happen to be in Detroit today for The Queen of Soul’s Homegoing ceremony you’re getting the real life version of Wakanda culture or African American tribalism. The celebration of black cultural pride and unity is on full display for Aretha Franklin. And how deserving, considering what she gave to all of us. To describe the week long ceremony as moving would be a disservice. Watching the memorial service was powerful. Especially in the era of Black Lives Matter, Color of Change and all the other social justice movements dedicated to improving the lives of black people and other minorities in America.

The Queen of Soul is going home. She’s leaving behind a country still in turmoil with itself and being led astray by the most incompetent administration this country has ever seen. Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States, wants to “Make America Great Again” when it’s impossible to find a time when our country and all her people felt that greatness he’s fooling the willing with. I prefer Stevie Wonder’s message at the funeral service when he said, “Let’s make America love again.”

The outpouring of grief and celebration for the passing and life of Aretha Franklin is a moving tribute to a life well lived. A life lived under the brutality of the most powerful government black people helped create. We must never forget that America owes its power to black slaves forced to construct her under cracks of whips and some of the worse treatment ever inflicted on a people. And yet, Aretha Franklin overcame the America Trump wants to revive by turning her inherited unjust circumstances into magic. Magic that will carry on from generation to generation like the lessons of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s perhaps no coincidence that her death overshadows one of the most powerful, and to some, heroic men in America that for years influenced, wrote and help enact laws that have negatively impacted people of color; keeping blacks and other minorities from gaining the equal footing that has long eluded them despite their contributions to this country even before her birth in 1776. Senator John McCain, according to congressional record, voted in line with Trump’s position 83 percent of the time. He even voted to confirm Kristjen Nielsen to be Secretary of Homeland Security. And yes, the same Homeland Security that carried out Trump’s disastrous family separation policy at our southern border. However, considering McCain’s softening it’s fitting for the bona fide war hero to go home with a queen.

The journey has been a long and hard one and yet Aretha Franklin got to be. Through her music and civil rights work, she made America great for all her people. Unlike this administration, she brought us together, helping a nation of diverse people overcome their struggles. It’s also a testament to our resolve and strength as a people—black people—that makes Franklin’s funeral service comparable to a real life version of the Wakanda tribes. Detroit belongs to Aretha today and Wakandans would agree.

Black people have a unique way of celebrating the departed and Franklin’s homecoming is nothing short of all that beautiful blackness and culture. New Orleanians are known for their festive and unique funeral rituals that celebrate the lives of the departed. This rite of passage or ceremony is not foreign in other black communities in America or in other parts of the world, making our unity as a people even more significant. We’ve been broken but we’re still standing strong, and for the most part, united. That’s why we dance and sing at funerals. It’s our strength as a people that inspired us to sing in fields during forced labor and torture during slavery, or sing directions to escape the bondage of slavery for freedom. Aretha Franklin took our people’s singing to another level. In addition to her incredible talent as one of the greatest singers the world has ever known and her audacity to demand respect when she grew up in a world that told her she didn’t deserve it … it is her spirit of unity, love for her family and community that we’re left to build upon. And that’s more than enough.  Wakanda forever.

 

The Arts And Humanities In Trumps World

Editors Note: This piece was also featured in DCReports

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

When it comes to the state of the Arts and the Humanities under Donald Trump’s administration, not much has changed other than his lack of action, his proposals to eliminate all funding for the independent federal funding agencies and his refusal to attend major cultural events.

The four new board members Trump said he would appoint to the National Council on the Arts were finally announced earlier this month. They are; Charles Wickser Banta of New York, Michelle Itczak of Indiana, Barbara Coleen Long of Missouri and Carleton Varney of Massachusetts. If these nominees are in line with Trump’s personal palate for art, Americans for the arts and humanities should prepare for the Scott Pruitt’s and Betsy DeVos’s of the art world. Funding for the arts hasn’t changed by much, but that’s only because Congress voted to restore money for the programs in the 2018 spending bill.  Trump’s proposed budget would have phased out all arts and humanities funding.

Victoria Hutter, spokesperson for National Endowment for the Arts, said “all of the NEA’s major funding programs have remained the same or seen slight increases.”  That’s true for now for the NEA and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

Trump shows no interest in arts and culture. He skipped the Kennedy Center Honors, hasn’t given out any NEA or NEH awards, and became the first American president to suggest eliminating NEA and NEH all together. Lady Bird Johnson probably said it best, “Art is the window to man’s soul…” never mind. That may not be the best quote to use when it comes to Trump and the arts considering his attempt to undermine its importance in American society. Lady Bird’s quote, though poignant, clearly doesn’t cover Trump’s “soul window” because his window is covered with gold colored tin foil.

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) joined the National Council for the Arts earlier this year. In addition to set functions and advisory roles, members are tasked with recommending individuals and organizations to receive the National Medal of Arts, a prestigious Presidential award. She said, “It’s clear from his repeated proposals to eliminate funding for both agencies that President Trump doesn’t appreciate the important work of the NEA and NEH or understand the incredible value they bring to our communities. That’s disheartening to see, especially because funding for these two agencies is such a miniscule part of the federal budget. But the loss of funding would be felt hard throughout the country. That said, I think the Trump era has shown that the arts and humanities do have allies in Congress—Democrats as well as Republicans. Twice he has proposed eliminating funding and twice it has been denied. This year, Congress actually gave NEA and NEH funding a $3 million increase. And for next year, the House has approved an additional $2 million increase on top of that.”

Bipartisan Congressional support for continued arts and humanities spending was on display just last week in amendments to the Interior Appropriations bill, which funds both agencies. A member introduced an amendment to reduce the two budgets by 15 percent—or $23 million each. The proposed budget cuts failed by a vote of 297-114.

Trump’s lack of interest or value of the Arts and Humanities isn’t a surprise considering his character and boorish behavior. But his attempts to destroy the national endowments for the arts and humanities should be of concern to anyone who considers the arts and culture valuable parts of our American identity.

 

 

 

 

Thanks Trump! The Global Shaming Of America

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

America is being shamed by the world. And it’s all thanks to President Donald J. Trump and his clan. It’s clear, we have an unusual leader at the helm. Unfortunately, the helm is leader of the free world and that’s terrifying af. It’s rare when the world speaks with one voice. And right now it’s chanting loud and clear across Europe, “We hate you Donald Trump, Go Away!” Even the State Department is cautioning Americans abroad to keep a low profile. And, believe it or not, the word Trump actually means Big Fat Problem Baby in Na’vi! That’s why they made a huge baby Trump float to “welcome” him. It’s true.

But, in all seriousness, the take away from this stance is positive and negative. It’s uplifting to know that most people, world-wide, don’t want to blur the lines that separate right and wrong for greed’s sake. This collective stance against Trump and all he represents—arguably, the worst of mankind—makes the negative response to his visit even more poignant, especially on the heels of countless terror attacks in the region and a wave of anti-immigration moves from the top down. I mean for God’s sake, Brexit happened!

On the other hand, it’s deeply disappointing to see the man who represents us as Americans not only behave badly in all social situations but is pushing to advance policies that divide and weaken us here and abroad. Rather than move us forward as a world that stands as one and beholden to goals rooted in humanity and prosperity, Trump is trashing his opportunity to make the world a better place for all of us. And that includes taking care of planet earth, allowing future generations to experience the miracle of life, nature and the universe.

With a decreased status as the world’s super power, thanks to China’s hot dragon breath behind our neck, America is perceptibly floating on “the Nile” River tap dancing away like Fred Astaire because the show must go on despite what’s at stake; nuclear war. President Trump’s performance at the G7 Summit in Europe didn’t go any better than his current visit across the pond. Remember the iconic photo of the G7 leaders looking down at the petulant child-man with all the power? I’m still embarrassed.

But seriously, is he that clueless and unprofessional?! Leaving the queen waiting? … Walking in front of her and just embarrassing himself and by default, the rest of us decent and good Americans? The. Queen. Of. England. Had. To. Stop. And. Go. Around. Him. While. He. Was. Puffing. His. Chest. And. Chin. Out. I cringed watching him walk with his chest inflated, chin up in the air and that ever present stupid, and spoiled, jerky brat look on his face. Keep in mind, Trump goes out of his way to treat women poorly. His lack of respect of the queen is right in line with what he embodies; misogyny. From refusing to shake hands with Angela Merkel, throwing skittles at her, insulting and rating women’s looks and boasting that he can get away with sexual assault. When it comes to modern social norms, Trump is revealing that manners and respect for others didn’t matter in his household when he was growing up. Only he did; shame on his parents.

And considering his hostile policies targeting immigration, you’d think his family never migrated here from one of the countries protesting his European visit; Scotland. His mother migrated to the U.S. from Scotland, paving the way for the life he now lives. Nevertheless, the hypocrisy that keeps him afloat is astounding. His current and third wife, First Lady Melania Trump is accused of lying on her own visa application… It’s hard to think back to her appearance on Larry King Live to support the birther movement to discredit Obama’s birth certificate. She clearly hiked Mount Audacity in Pandora…

The blatant racism, bad behavior, hypocrisy, bold-faced lying and shameful unprofessionalism from this family and the entire administration is astounding and dangerous because it sets the tone of normalcy and precedent for our nation, the world and future leaders.

From Britain to Scotland, people have taken to the streets to voice their disdain for Trump. And yet he doesn’t care that the world hates him and all he represents; American greed and culture. The world can literally see Trump … chosen “democratically”… grabbing America and the rest of the world “by the pussy” and we can’t move his little hand away.

Our democracy is hanging in balance and Trump, propped up by his supporters and enablers couldn’t care less. Why? Because they want to win; even though the prize is debasing American values.

The press plays a crucial role inflating the Trump blimp. Being their bread and butter makes coverage of him and his family increasingly disheartening. And, at times even laughable if there wasn’t so much at stake, making the laughter morph into instant pain and concern. World renowned expert on culture, Edgar H. Schein says culture is very hard if not impossible to change. But in the age of Trump one can argue that American culture is rapidly changing right in front of our eyes. Thanks Trump!

Partisanship is part of the fabric that formed our country. As a nation, we will never see eye-to-eye on how to govern ourselves or lead the world. But that’s what makes us innovative and progressive people. That’s why we have three branches of government, the Constitution and Bill of Rights to ensure our cooperation and coexistence with one another; a diverse people working to overcome a painful past and striving for racial, civil and economic equality. Unfortunately, the hive that accompanies Trump are like biblical locusts dead set on destroying everything in front of them. Who knew Roe v. Wade would be in jeopardy after all this time?! Don’t be surprised when bible thumping conservative lawmakers call for segregation across the land as they work to weaken the working class.

The election of President Obama revealed a dormant racist underbelly anxious to rear its ugly head; an attempt to reverse racial progress. And everything was Obama’s fault. Even rain couldn’t escape being blamed on the man. The trend, “Thanks Obama!” became fodder. Lawmakers at the highest levels of government were more interested in seeing him fail than move the country forward together. It’s those race-obscured blinders that has us waste deep in Russian election meddling today. A serious national security threat. Trump deflecting his involvement with Russia in swaying the election by pointing fingers at Obama is not only par for the course, it’s telling of the continued partisanship that has crippled our democracy.

Trump shames us at home and he shames us abroad. And his party remains silently complicit while feverishly turning the wheel of progress backward to fit a country and world that only values those with golden toilets. The wealthy, the ignorant and the racists among us are the only ones benefiting from Trump. And, the indictment of 12 Russians accused of tampering with the 2016 presidential election won’t phase him or his supporters. This, despite publicly being asked by Trump to hack our security system. Sadly, their “Make America Great Again” slogan touting patriotism as their rationale for standing behind the antithesis of what a great American actually looks like, lives on. Josiah Gilbert Holland once said, “The soul, like the body, lives by what it feeds on.” Perhaps it’s Trump’s glutinous soul diet that needs an overhaul for him to become the human being this world needs. But, I won’t hold my breath while I cringe.  Thanks Trump!

 

Heraldry Blankets The Cradle Of Mankind’s Identity And Culture

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

Ceremony, rank, pedigree, membership of a noble family, values and culture are the statements behind family crest’s, tribal totems, coat of arms and all forms of heraldry. Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle and wife of Prince Harry had the distinct privilege to design her own crest or coat of arms when she became a member of the British royal family. This is significant. Here’s why: The practice of this tribal symbolism and identity dates back to the cradle of mankind. A crest is the emblem of a clan or tribe. Although Markle being biracial, a divorcee from America or any other ridiculous disqualifier one may add, shows significant progress as it pertains to tolerance and acceptance at the highest level of society’s totem pole. Creating her own emblem highlights the personal but also our collective legacy as black people. Royalty is not new in African culture but Markle joining the British Royals as a member of their family is progress we can all support, unless you’re a racist witch like Princess Michael of Kent who wore that awful racist brooch to have lunch with Markle. Her statement, using a brooch like First Lady Melania using a jacket, spoke loud and clear.

Although history points us to the medieval times when knights personalized their shields with a  coat of arms, the practice actually goes even further. Europeans aren’t the only ones who personalized their clan, family, unit, position or tribe. These kinds of symbolic statements can be traced back to ancient times before the fall of Rome and the birth of the middle ages. Symbolism has always played a vital role in society. There would be no society without symbolism. Human beings and their respective clans have used flags, totems and other forms of tribal and religious heraldry to distinguish themselves from each other since recorded history.

Markle’s crest had me thinking about my own family’s crest or heraldry. Luckily, after going through some family photos I found one. The image is of my great uncle and Paramount Chief of the Pamaka people of Suriname, Grangmang Forster. Pamaka people live on several islands within the country but our main island is Langetabetje. My grandfather, Nikolaas Forster, served as Captain alongside his older brother Grangmang Forster who is holding our tribes symbol or crest in each hand. In one hand he holds a pineapple and in the other a fire breathing dragon. These two symbols are the Pamaka people’s crest. It essentially says; we can either get along, or we can get it on. It represents who we are as a people just like Markle’s crest identifies her family and what she values.

When explorers were sent out during Europe’s great age of discovery they were slow to understand the customs and institutions of the people they came across, explained author Marvin Harris in his book; Cannibals and Kings. He writes, “Although the Europeans exaggerated their “savagery,” the majority of these village communities collected enemy heads as trophies, roasted their prisoners of war alive, and consumed human flesh in ritual feasts. The fact that the “civilized” Europeans also tortured people—in witchcraft trials, for example—and that they were not against exterminating the populations of whole cities should be kept in mind (even if they were squeamish about eating one another). Harris goes on to write, “Explorers encountered fully developed states and empires, headed by despots and ruling classes, and defended by standing armies. It was these great empires, with their cities, monuments, palaces, temples and treasures that had lured all the Marco Polos and Columbuses across the oceans and deserts in the first place.” It’s not hard to surmise what influenced knights to create their own coat of arms. In our modern times this practice would be called cultural appropriation.

From China to India and South America, explorers found a diverse people with their empires and worlds unto themselves, each with distinctive arts, religions and yes, even heraldry. To believe that heraldry, crests or coat of arms are solely a European invention started during the medieval times, is to deny the mere existence of the people they discovered across the oceans, deserts and jungles of the world. Markle’s crest, in many ways, is the return of the rightful royals of the world. A family crest is more than a pretty design, it’s a deep rooted cultural connection to our past and the cradle of mankind’s identity.

 

Old Orchard Beach In Maine Is A Gem

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

It’s that time of year when everybody wants to go on vacation and enjoy this long awaited summer. Here’s a suggestion for those looking for a simple, relaxing good time away from politics, the media and the internet feed; Old Orchard Beach in Maine.

There’s a lot going on in the world and it can be overwhelming. The beauty of Old Orchard Beach is that it highlights the peacefulness and simple joys that life has to offer; a quiet beach, good food, friendly people, easy going drivers and room to walk around the small beach town. Oh, and everything lobster and seafood that’ll make you consider a lap band after you’re all done. I love Old Orchard Beach. In many ways it’s a town that seems to pay no mind to the fact that it’s part of a larger country in social and political turmoil thanks to the divisive and hostile administration of President Trump. You won’t see any political signs of any kind. No one seems to be interested in taking sides, argue over or even talk about politics. At least not publicly at any of the establishments we visited. I didn’t hear one mention of the president, immigration, Fox News or CNN. And what a relieve it was to simply enjoy being. Something that’s very rare these days.

Old Orchard Beach has a stillness that’s incredibly welcoming and therapeutic in our hectic times. But, don’t let the stillness fool you. There’s plenty to do! The colorful shops and restaurants along East Grand Avenue will keep you busy walking and browsing all over the place. The daily Carnival with old school rides, games and food galore provides a dreamy nostalgia of days long gone. The Pier is packed with a variety of shops and the entertainment tourists travel there for. Old Orchard Beach reminds me of times when things weren’t so intense and aggressive. And people weren’t quick to call the cops for ridiculous reasons on minorities like a young boy accidentally mowing a piece of a neighbors lawn, a family visiting their neighborhood pool, or a little girl selling water to earn money to go to Disney Land. Civility resides here.

The summer season there is relatively short; Memorial Day to Labor Day. The town hibernates with its remaining 8,000 residents that call Old Orchard Beach home year round. Another reason to consider visiting the area is its proximity to Portland. The short 30-minute drive there is worth the reward of experiencing a lovely and quaint city. The marina there is definitely worth a visit too if you don’t mind waiting for a seat. It’s a popular spot. And the seasonal workers mainly from the Caribbean add to the beauty of the local culture. There are plenty of pubs to visit and some even brew their own beer.  Commercial Street offers all the shopping, eating and drinking you can handle. It’s a great little port town.

In Old Orchard Beach we stayed at the Alouette Beach Resort. They offer a variety of room rates and room sizes. It’s truly the perfect summer vacation getaway, especially for families and folks looking to have an affordable and relaxing good time.

 

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America’s Journey To The Promise Land

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

May Day Speech

 

Thank you for having me. I’m honored to stand here before you this evening, a member of the Resistance to the many injustices that are unfolding right in front of our eyes all across the country.

But make no mistake…racism, sexism, bigotry, homophobia, police brutality that largely impact people of color, and all other forms of discrimination isn’t necessarily getting worse.

It‘s getting filmed. It’s not hard to surmise that our humanity is at stake. We are living through an all-out war on decency, truth and reason. But, we must remain hopeful.

Let me take you back for a moment…

African Americans, free and enslaved, have been part of U.S. history from the start of European settlement. Their forced labor under bondage, pain and suffering, created an economic boom that propelled us to become the most powerful nation in the world. Slaves drove this country’s economy. From the tobacco, rice and cotton fields… black people built this country under the cracks of whips, and enduring some of the most brutal conditions inflicted by white people. Slaves even built the White House that now stands as a symbol of our Unity, Strength, and a Beacon of Hope for the rest of the world.

And yet, here we are, almost 400 hundred years later, still struggling to bring about racial justice and equality for all Americans. The recent opening of the Lynching Memorial is a stark reminder of the collective pain and harsh existence of black people in America. But, like those in the struggle before us, we must remain hopeful.  I share this historical account with you because for us as Americans,  a diverse people, to truly come together and overcome like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned, we must first recognize the pain and suffering of black people in this country. Other minority and disenfranchised groups have suffered as well, but none have borne the brunt of this country’s brutality than African Americans.

America has to face the ugly truth of race relations in our country. And racism isn’t a Waffle House problem. It’s not a Starbucks problem. It’s not a Cracker Barrel problem. It’s an American problem.   Dr. King said, “Peace is not simply the absence of conflict, but the existence of justice for all people.” In the midst of all the media uproar surrounding the White House Press Secretary’s hurt feelings about her eye shadow made of lies, I want to tell you about iconic Journalist Simeon Booker who brought the 1955 murder of Emmett Till to the forefront of national news. He was born during segregation.

The year before his birth in 1918, thousands of African Americans marched in silence down New York’s Fifth Avenue to protest lynching and racial oppression. The group was met with counter protests and riots by white people. These riots, attacking innocent black people, swept across the country and lasted until 1921. These are historical facts. Simeon Booker was born into a hostile world.  And yet he grew up to become a pioneering journalist, author and chronicler of the Civil Rights Movement. His life is a testament to the strength and resolve we must all hold on to, as we continue the work toward creating a more just country and world for all of us. Especially now, when those in power want us to believe that; wrong is right, lies are alternative facts, war is peace and slavery is freedom.

The media plays a big role in our collective culture and humanity. The media has a responsibility to project the real Man in the mirror.

Because Truth Matters. Chronicling the truth like Anne Frank and speaking truth to power matters. James Baldwin said, “The image of America we grown up with looks ideal in movies and pictures … for white people.” Unfortunately, the portrayal of black Americans is not only false, but morally damaging and demeaning to the people that helped built this country through the brutal practice of slave labor.

So, we have to show up and truthfully capture the story of our struggle like Simeon Booker did.

We have to show up and be counted in this struggle, forever securing a place in history like Dr. King did.

We have to show up and demand change like Malcom X did.

We have to show up and use the power of love like Ghandi did.

We have to show up and fight for each other, despite our differences, like JFK and Bobby Kennedy did.

We have to show up like the South Koreans did, united on common goals, when they took to the streets in mass numbers to demand change.

And, we have to show up like Comedian Michelle Wolf did at the White House Correspondence Dinner when she spoke the truth about all the lies coming from this administration and shining a light on the Media that benefits from it all.

It’s going to take all of us. Good people from all walks of life, all over the country, to bring about the change we’ve been after for too many years; racial and economic justice.

We can no longer afford to find comfort on the sidelines of history by not participating in the greatest democracy ever known to man. When the Speaker of the House callously fires the House Chaplain for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, reminding those in power of the benefits of social and economic equality and looking after those less fortunate, as they cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans … Folks, you know we’re in trouble.

James Baldwin said, “Ignorance allied with Power is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

So, we have to show up like Baldwin did.

Simply minding your own business, keeping you head down and your mouth shut can no longer be an option. Not when the days of Hitler and McCarthyism are once again upon us like a bad reoccurring nightmare.

We have to collectively combat all forms of hate.

That’s why we protest like Colin Kaepernick.

The journey has been long and hard, but we must remain hopeful and inspired because there’s no turning back to the “Make America Great Again” days this administration is aiming for. Instead, let’s aim for the America Langston Hughes talks about in his poem; Let America Be America Again, “The land that never has been yet—And yet must be—the land where every man is free.”

It’s time to break through.

We cannot overlook the urgency of this moment because our country needs healing. We need fairness and, we need justice. How ironic and perhaps spiritual, that to overcome our struggles, is to reach back to the days of Sitting Bull, guided by the 12 Lakota Virtues:

  • Humility
  • Perseverance
  • Respect
  • Honor
  • Love
  • Sacrifice
  • Truth
  • Compassion
  • Bravery
  • Fortitude
  • Generosity and Wisdom

…To finally bring about lasting peace to all corners of America. From the Valleys, Mountain tops and all across the Plains of our beautiful country. Dr. King said, “Let Freedom Ring … For There will be neither rest or tranquility in America until that happens.”

 

 

 

 

Who Controls The Conversation At The Pub?

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

Recently, I stopped by a local pub to meet friends for drinks and conversation.  The evening went as usual; a lot of laughs and sharing of all kinds of stories. One particular story stood out to me and touched my heart deeply. I was profoundly saddened by a Reuters News report by Goran Tomasevic titled: Inside the Congo camp haunted by an unknown war. The conflict details the ethnic strife between Hema herders and Lendu farmers that’s partly blamed on the breakdown of the government there.

The report highlighted the story of two sisters. Their images are seared in my mind. The youngest bore a large scar across her face and her older sister is missing part of her arm. Their family and village were attacked by men wielding machetes. It’s a tragic story but one that must be told in my view as we work toward understanding the causes and impact of Man’s brutality toward Man. It seems like the world is on fire. As soon as we hear about a bombing in the Middle East, we’re faced with our own domestic terrorism. If some disturbed individual isn’t shooting up a school or mall, they’re shooting up a Waffle House or anywhere they can find soft targets; innocent people. It’s a lot to take. And sometimes it helps to talk to friends or family about these conflicts, which is what I was doing on this particular day at one of my favorite pubs. Earlier, I shared the images of the sisters on my Instagram account to help bring attention to the pain and suffering being felt by the most innocent among us all over the world; children. Mind you, this story comes on the heels of yet another chemical attack in Syria with children and babies among the victims. I feel helpless…

For me, talking about these tragic stories helps me deal with feeling powerless or simply to vent about it. And, that’s what I was doing sitting at the bar talking to the person next to me. We were sharing a conversation about the conflicts around the world when I brought up this particular story I read on Reuters. I took out my phone and showed him the images of the sisters. Although the conversation was between the two of us, the bartender overheard me talking about the conflict in DR Congo and walked over. I still had my phone in my hand with the image of the older sister on it. The image was a close up of her beautiful face with tears streaming down her cheeks. The bartender looked down across the bar and told me to put it away. He said he didn’t want me to show people the picture or continue to talk about what’s happening in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With a look of shock on my face, I asked why. He replied, “I want to keep the conversation light here.” I responded by saying, “Why do you think you can tell people what they can or can’t talk about?” He said, “Because I’m the owner and I say what is or isn’t allowed in here.”

His response to a private conversation at a bar made me think about this issue deeper. Can a barkeep dictate what you can and can’t talk about? What discretion does a bartender use? Are people only supposed to talk about “lighthearted” topics at their local watering hole? I posed this question to another friend. And her perspective was similar to mine but she added the issue of a hate group attempting to recruit people sitting at a bar, or someone blatantly being racist. If a bartender hears this, is it their responsibility to stop it? What type of conversation is permitted at a bar? Are tragic news stories taboo topics when sipping an IPA? Are we not allowed to share images with our friends at a bar that are readily available on most major news sights that show all kinds of tragedies that tear at our heart strings? Who sets the tone of bar conversation if there is such a thing? And most importantly, who controls the conversation at the pub?

 

Dear New Orleans: An Open Love Letter

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

Dear New Orleans,

I love you. It’s not the birds and the bees and the 1,2,3’s… It’s much more than that. My love for you is cosmic, as if personally crafted just for me by Greek Gods aligning the stars.

Granted I haven’t been to every city in the country but you’re my favorite by far. I love how your people talk. Their accents are like no other. From every “baby “and “sweetheart” and “good mornin’ everyone” greetings from strangers on the Trolley… I love you. I love the swag that’s all yours and how every “I got you” is as firm as a promise or a handshake. It melts my heart and restores my faith in the goodness of Man. NOLA I love you because you have a charm that traces her many roots to the days of Rose Nicaud, an eighteenth-century slave who’s enterprising vision to sell coffee as a street vendor is probably why Starbucks exists today, praline vendor Mary Louise who’s independent streak shaped your taste buds and food culture, Mr. Okra who sang the praises of his vegetables into the hearts and pots of your wonderful and incredibly hard-working people, and the first Creole nun, Henriette DeLille, who helped educate slave children when it was illegal to do so. Even living legends like, Dooky Chase, Trombone Shorty and the street musician with his washboard instrument who proudly tells folks he encounters about being in a music video with CeeLo Green create a sense of belonging in the deepest parts of my heart and soul. And, I love you for that.

 

 

New Orleans, you are a magical place that reminds me of our collective muscle and mission as Americans. You’re the blueprint of the coming-of-age of America or the turning of a page in our cultural journey. When We were Us; working with great struggles—racism and inequality—toward that common ideal Hoover, JFK and even Obama talked about. Everyone working together to improve life in our country and to make their own American dream come true; whatever that is. New Orleans, similar to New York City, you make room for folks to express themselves and believe again. And, make money doing it too thanks to that charming allure that only comes from you, NOLA. Your glory brings people flocking to your streets practically begging you to take their money as if dazed by your voodoo love potion. Perhaps that’s why I love you too.

I fall in love in many ways exploring your streets and your customs. Your black roots and especially your music foundation remind me of my own value, beauty and place in this world. It reminds me of my strong bond to a larger black culture. Still, I see myself in all the faces of your people. I see myself in the new immigrants struggling to speak a new language and having to swallow the intolerance of those with a long history in your bosom. I see myself in the exhausted faces of mother’s and father’s going to and from work, facing the onslaught of tourists seemingly without a care in the world and blind to the pain and struggles expressed in their sweaty faces in a still deeply segregated city. I hear the pain of senseless violence in my friends voice when he talks about the murder of his father. And unfortunately, violence is part of your identity as you sit rated as the 3rd most dangerous U.S. City. I sympathize with this harsh reality that impacts the most vulnerable of your people. I still love you.

I see myself in the artists that flock to every corner of you, unleashing their natural talents for all the people to see. From the New Orleans Jazz Market to Bourbon and Frenchman Street, NOLA your people don’t disappoint when it comes to talent. And don’t even get me started with the drag queens! They represent the freedom that is unique to your people and I see myself basking in that freedom too. They make me feel fierce on solid ground. Then, there’s these amazingly strong women of comedy that make their rounds throughout the city making people laugh out loud, allowing me for just a moment, to forget all the woes of the world. I found myself in Black Girl Giggles, an all black female comedy group. All of these experiences make me love you. I saw myself in New Orleans. And, for a brief moment, I felt planted like one of your historic oak trees. I was home for the first time in my life.

Perhaps it’s the nostalgia of my birth country Suriname that reminds me of home when I’m in your part of this vast world… it was a time when life was simpler, when there were no deadlines to meet, tests to grade, no future plans to ponder and worry about, no expectations to meet or live up to, and when life was happy. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I love you because you make me happy, again. I don’t remember where I left my happy but I’m grateful to have found it in you, New Orleans.

Listening to the Trolley conductor on the 94 line berate all kinds of people— except the fumbling tourists—although made for a cringe worthy ride to the cemeteries, it reminded me of your flaws. Nevertheless, I love you because your flaws reflect the harsh realities of life and that there’s more humanitarian work to do. Even the frustrated Trolley conductor who exclaimed during his rant that, “the only good people in New Orleans are the tourists cause they’re the only ones here not trying to pull one over on ya’,” didn’t force a change in my heart but rather presented a challenge to see beauty where others don’t. I accept and love you, warts and all.

Everyone has a unique story about their New Orleans. Some are romantic and wonderful and others share stories of the heartaches that you’ve caused. NOLA you’re not perfect. In your beautiful eyes, New Orleans, some only see pain, poverty and the brutality that comes with being poor. This uncomfortable truth is compounded by simply being born black. And yet, you go on singing, blowing your horns and dancing…charming revelers to join the processions of merriment that are symbolic of the joy you express in the midst of this pain and the harsh realities of life. The story of New Orleans is the story of America. And the story of America is the story of race. And race is a vivid factor in New Orleans. It’s clear to see walking across Tulane and Loyola University or taking the St. Charles Street Trolley. You hear it in conversations shared without the guards of political correctness. It’s unapologetically expressed in jokes and with the uniquely black culture tradition called 2nd Line Sundays. Black people are free to be black and proud in New Orleans and conversations about race seem to be more prominent, and mostly accompanied with laughs and light-hearted banter. Blackness is celebrated despite the unequal economic playing field and the blatant racism being exposed in its bare sense across the country thanks to an administration sympathetic to this shameful part of our American story. And that’s a refreshing page turner for someone who calls New York home.

I love you NOLA. I love how you’ve come full circle in our cultural journey, forging ahead with the promise and dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and all those who have fought for a more just and equal country. From the days before and after Jim Crow, to the first black women innovators and the city’s first black and female mayor, LaToya Cantrell, from the food to the hospitality and music culture, and despite the noticeable divide amongst your charming people who take on each day like their hard-working ancestors, New Orleans there’s no city in the world like you. And as Kojak would say; who loves ya baby? You’re beautiful.

 

 

 

Op-Ed: The Reality Of Arming Teachers

 

Editor’s Note: Sandro Sehic, PhD is a Writer and adjunct Professor based in New York. Sehic’s writings cover an array of current events and topics that lead to national debates. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. He can be reached at: sandrosehicphd.com.

 

 

In response to the recent mass shooting that occurred at a high school in Parkland Florida, numerous ideas about preventing further mass shootings have emerged and came from many different individuals, groups, and organizations. Mass shootings are officially a top political issue. There is not a single day that goes buy without a shooting in America. And they have become very deadly. Sometimes victims are numbered in dozens and unfortunately they include the most innocent members of our society; school children. The members of our society who need to be protected the most are left alone with their teachers at the mercy of well armed mass shooters. This is not acceptable and cannot be tolerated any longer. Parkland, Sandy Hook, Columbine, are some of the bloody places where dozens of young innocent lives were lost. And now we are the ones who should be blamed. We adults have failed to protect our children. A father whose daughter was killed in Parkland, recently stated that we protect embassies, airports, concerts but we don’t protect our schools. He also stated that mass shootings could happen only once and not anymore. One school shooting should change everything. After Columbine we should change the laws that would prevent mass shooters from committing these horrible crimes.

Similar to what we did after the 9/11 terror attacks. After 9/11 we changed the laws, increased security at the airports, created Department of Homeland Security, and destroyed the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and a similar attack has thankfully not happened again. Now we have to do the same thing to prevent further mass shootings especially in our schools attacking our children. Some political figures, including the President of the United States, proposed legislation that would allow teachers to carry guns inside the schools. They claim that teachers would be able to take down mass shooters and defend children. I’m a teacher working in public schools since 2007. I do not have my own children (yet). But I know that many of us have fatherly/motherly feelings towards all children that we work with. Our paychecks are extremely low but we do not hesitate to use our own money to buy lunches and food for those children who cannot afford it, we do not hesitate to use our own money to buy school equipment for those children who cannot afford it. And we can’t even claim those expenses on our taxes and most of us don’t complain about it. And in case of mass shootings, teachers are the ones who use their own bodies to shield students. In the case of fire alarms or lock-downs we’re the last ones who leave the building. Not because we have to but because it’s instinctive. It’s a teacher’s natural reaction to want to help, protect and safe lives. Even so, it seems we are at the cross road where teachers have to choose if they’re willing to secure and protect children with guns. That said, this is what lawmakers will have to know about us teachers and these guns.

  • What type of guns are we going to carry? It seems that mass shooters are using semiautomatic guns such as AR-15s. That’s a very powerful weapon. So, a pistol will most likely not be enough to stop a mass shooter with a semiautomatic gun. Just take a look at the police officers who had to apprehend a mass shooter with a pistol. A pistol against an AR-15 is like a butter knife against a sword. Therefore, you better provide teachers with powerful guns; guns that will make us equal or stronger than the mass shooters. In addition, we’ll need bulletproof equipment.
  • Teachers will need combat training. Yes, that’s right. We’ll need combat training, and not just a regular handgun safety training course. In the case of a mass shooting, teachers will have to take their guns and go out to the hallways and hunt down the shooter or shooters, (Columbine). Schools are like labyrinths full of hallways, rooms, corners, floors, stairs, etc. We’ll be in a similar situation as the NAVY Seals or Green Berates when hunting a terrorist. Also, we’ll have to be able to recognize a shooter and an innocent bystander. This is crucial because the goal is to protect the students that look like the typical school shooter(s). In essence, teachers will have to be trained like Special Forces. And the training has to be extensive because teachers will have to develop their new skills to be warriors with excellent marksmanship skills.
  • SWAT teams will have to be able to recognize the difference between teachers with guns and the mass shooter(s). As a teacher mandated to carry one of these supposed guns, I don’t want to be killed by the SWAT team when they arrive.
  • During a shooting, what happens with the students whose teachers had to pull out their guns and go after the shooter(s)? Are they left alone in the classroom?
  • Most teachers in elementary schools are females and I’ve learned that most of them hate guns and are afraid of them. So, then the question becomes; Do we want a female teacher to go after a mass shooter with an AR-15?
  • As far as the extensive combat training is concerned; will that be something that will be provided by the local school districts, or will that be a requirement of the institutions that educate future teachers?
  • Many times, students have turned against teachers. What are we going to do if the student tries to take the gun away from the teacher?
    These are some of the many important questions on this proposed option. I have personally interviewed 14 teachers from Upstate New York. Interestingly, only one of them said that she would be willing to carry a gun in school. Others seemed to be horrified by the idea. During my student-teaching seminar back in 2007 my mentor told us about political candidates from Wisconsin proposing laws to mandate teachers are armed in their classrooms. We laughed at the idea. But now, it may very well become our new reality. When school districts across the country are consistently complaining about low budgets, where will the money come from for the expensive guns and the expensive combat training? Guns aren’t cheap and neither is the training that will certainly be required for every American teacher. However, one thing that I find interesting is the fact that politicians who make such proposals don’t consult with teachers and educators; those who work in schools and educate children and know the situation first hand.

 

Blackboard and hand making a sign with pointed finger

If they would ask me, this is what I would suggest:

  • I strongly believe that each school needs armed police officers that will protect schools in addition to regular security guards. That’s something that we can have without additional costs. The local government, the state, and even police departments can assign officers to guard their schools.
  • Each school will need “a security room” that will monitor hallways through cameras, answer calls from the teachers who need security assistance, and contact the local law enforcement agencies, ambulance, and fire departments in case of an emergency. This simple security system is used in many supermarkets, malls and other public institutions but not in public schools. The personnel and the equipment necessary for this security strategy/system are already available in most, if not all schools, but we just have to organize it better.
  • Each public school must have designated entrances that will consist of two doors. First door will allow visitors to step into the secured area with a metal detector and the second door will allow visitors to enter the school once they go through the metal detector. These days, people can just simply knock at any door on the school building and someone will open it and let them in. This will have to change in the future. This is something that can easily be done.
  • The first-floor windows will have to be barricaded so that no one can get in, but can get out in the case of fire.
  • Lockdown procedures are available in most schools. Children and staff usually go through those drills at the beginning of each school year. Now, what’s missing in these procedures is parent involvement. In some cases, and this is what I’ve experienced firsthand, is that some children refuse to cooperate in the case of lock-down procedures by purposely making noise and trying to attract the shooter. Yes, some children do not know how serious it is and therefore the parents should instruct their children on how to behave in case of a lock-down.

These are my expert recommendations as a teacher with a PhD in Education. I welcome your thoughts and suggestions.

 

Public Broadcasting In The U.S., The Changing Media Landscape And Its Impact On Global Policies

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

A visiting media scholar from Jagiellonian University in Poland, Dr. Rafal Kus, gave a poignant public lecture for the United Nations Association at the Unitarian Universalist Church in New Hartford on Thursday. Dr. Krus was invited by Utica College’s Communications and Media Department thanks to a grant from the Erasmus Program of the European Union. Dr. Krus specializes in the study of American television media.

The local United Nations chapter—Upper Mohawk Valley Chapter of the United Nations Association—is tied to a global network of UN supporters and educators dedicated to educate, inspire, mobilize and strengthen the U.S. system in order to achieve the goals stated in the UN charter. The talk, which aims to do just that, focused on public broadcasting in the U.S., media and politics, and the impact of media systems in the world.

Part of the goal, according to organizers is to learn how U.S. foreign policy has been shaped by the international media climate and how it relates to the United Nations. There’s currently a bill being considered in Congress that aims to slash funding to the UN And Greg M. Smith who serves as Vice President of the local chapter, UMVUNA, says the cuts are in addition to the UN reducing its own budget by $200 million. “Now the United States is saying an additional $250 million needs to come away. That’s problematic because if we do that then we’re going to lose some of the seats we have within the United Nations. And, without a voice or a presence in committees we don’t have a voice in what happens within the United Nations and very easily the UN could become the League of Nations which we all know didn’t’ do very well to prevent WWII.”

The full talk can be heard here: