Sunday, March 01, 2015

Black History Month has now faded into the past, and it's on to Women's History ...

... but before we do that there's March 3rd, Naturalization Day, to get through, and at the invitation of the Department of Homeland Security, I'm to give the address welcoming new citizens and their families and friends on Tuesday in the Craneway Pavilion of the historic Ford Assembly Plant.  This important national event is co-sponsored by the National Park Service, and is staged at many national parks throughout the nation.

It's an honor to have been asked to do so again this year.  I gave the speech two years ago, and those upturned faces -- so filled with emotion -- as I looked down from the platform ... I wonder if anyone remembers a word of it?

I know that the feelings in me as I delivered my words were almost overwhelming.

I'd spent days before trying to justify being the deliverer of those words of welcome.  How could I possibly be asked to give assurance to these new arrivals that the land they were entering would live up to their hopes and expectations?  Especially since my personal history contained generations of pain and anguish of those enslaved in a political system still struggling to overcome its violent past. To have survived into the present under decades of Jim Crow and broken promises offered little comfort.  Could I do this without yielding to hypocrisy and denial?  Was this what my great-grandmother, Leontine Breaux Allen, would have wished were she alive today? Would she have preferred retribution?  Could I do this while remaining true to myself?

The answers arrived at two years ago came about after many hours of tossing and turning, doubts, and sometimes tentative and temporary affirmations.  Those few words that found their way to the paper were arrived at after days of slash and burn editing and tears of frustration. I'd assumed that this would be a one time experience, and that, ultimately, the act of thinking through my position on such an important subject could serve to reinforce a commitment to my work as a federal employee operating inside the circle.

In the end, the speech evolved into a simple but honest statement of my beliefs and a believable declaration of my patriotism.  My sincerity had been sorely tested.

Several weeks ago -- when the request came to be the keynoter for this year's program, my immediate response was, "oh NO!"  I could not go through that again.  No one should ask that of me.

... then it dawned that this would be a totally different audience of new Americans, and that the agonizing is now in the past.  I'd lived through this test of my patriotism; no one was asking that of me.  I remembered that I'd posted that speech on my blog at the time, and that all that was needed now would be to copy and paste it into readable (double-spaced text), and we were good to go!

(Go to the search bar -- top of the left side of the screen, above my picture and the banner, enter Naturalization Day and the speech will pop up after scrolling down.)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A day with the Richmond Police Force turned out to be a day of confusion that ended magnificently!

I'd heard nothing from our Chief Magnus.  He's not turned up at any of my programs over the weeks since he'd presented his invitation for me to participate in his staff training, despite my insistence.

I'd checked with our superintendent to see whether anyone from our NPS staff would be sharing the experience with me, and that he'd had a follow-up conversations to confirm the Chief's invitation.  He'd assured me that they'd had a phone conversation, and that everything was in place.

On the day before, on February 24th as I was watching the six o'clock local news, I heard a segment referring to a "Day of training in the City of Richmond that featured Dr. Lori Fridell and which had police chiefs from nearby cities ...", and suddenly I panicked.  Had I not written the right date on my calendar?  Was the workshop on Tuesday instead of Wednesday -- the 25th?  Had I missed the commitment altogether by some error?

After an almost sleepless night I woke to face the day that might be an embarrassment for me and for our park.  What on earth could have happened ... ?

By nine o'clock I was at my desk hoping to solve the mystery -- but the answers were not forthcoming.  Sent out emails to my supervisors and to our superintendent, who knew as little as I did.  Nothing would clarify the situation short of driving to the Richmond Police Department for a talk with Chief Magnus.  That would mean facing the fact of my embarrassment at being a no-show for yesterday's training.  Met with a staff person who could answer my questions, but he seemed unsure of the needed answer that would solve my problem.

"Chief Magnus is in Southern California today, and is not available."  Something had come up and He'd apparently delegated the entire event to someone else, and there was no follow-up on the original arrangements.  I envisioned that, once he'd left town, his officers told themselves, "we don't need no history lessons; I was born and raised in Richmond, no one can tell me about this town!"  My heart sank as I waited for the day to unfold.

And, no, I hadn't made an error in listing the date.  The workshop had been broken into a two-day experience, and Dr. Fridell had done her training on Tuesday.  And, yes, my workshop (on Richmond's history) was scheduled for Wednesday, and, no it would not be happening in the cavernous Craneway of the Ford Building, but 24 sergeants would be arriving at the Visitor Education Center of our park at 2:15 today (Wednesday).

Of course, no one had thought to update us about the changes as they occurred, and it was necessary to immediately go to the Visitor Center to confirm that it was available for the training to occur at the time they planned to arrive.

Promptly at 2:15 they arrived in plain clothes (for which I was grateful), and -- together with several members of the public -- I gave my usual three-times-a-week theater program complete with Q&A.

It was magical!

They were rapt, engaged, and eager for the history and clearly open to the experience.

I'm looking forward to their return in the near future, with friends and relatives in tow, to share the exciting Visitor Center experience.

... and I think I've figured out just why our presentations seem to be so well-received.  I believe that the fact that most professional trainers in racial tolerance tend to deal with the subject behaviorally while we use the material in a causative way.  This is a new thought and I'm not sure how to better explain it at this point, but over time I'll better understand the concept and will let you know where it takes me.

It's challenging but also exciting whenever I have this feeling of breaking new ground in the understanding of my world ... .


Sunday, February 22, 2015

I'm finding myself experiencing doubt and uncertainty at a time when the audiences are engaged and open ...

... wondering if my message of hope isn't misguided and overly optimistic?

As I recall, this also happened as the result of last fall's trip to Tuskegee and Selma; a time when I was just becoming aware that my talks were shifting toward insisting on the inclusion of black history into mainstream American history, and moving away from separating our stories from the great American narrative.  That trip into the deep South awakened in me something that my western upbringing hadn't prepared me for -- how different is the Black psyche and just why that is.

Last night before going to sleep I read an astonishing speech by U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, one of just two African Americans to  ever serve as federal judges in Mississippi:

Excerpts from National Public Radio:  "He read it to three young white men before sentencing them for the death of a 48 year-old black man named James Craig Anderson in a parking lot in Jackson, Mississippi, one night in 2011.  They were part of a group that beat Anderson and then killed him by running over his body with a truck, yelling "white power" as they drove off."

The speech is far too long to try to incorporate here, and deserves that you look it up and read in its entirety.

Several things stood out and made sleep impossible for painful hours of tossing and turning in the night.

In Without Sanctuary,  historian Leon Litwack writes that between 1882 and 1968 an estimated 4,742 blacks met their deaths at the hands of lynch mobs.  The impact this campaign of terror had on black families is impossible to explain so many years later.  That number contrasts with the 1,401 prisoners who have been executed in the United States since 1976.  In modern terms, that number represents more than those killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and more than twice the number of American casualties in Operation Enduring Freedom -- the Afghanistan conflict. Turning to home this number also represents 1,700 more than those killed on Sept. 11. Those who died at the hands of mobs, Litwack notes, some were the victims of "legal" lynchings -- having been accused of a crime, subjected to a "speedy" trial and an even speedier execution.  Some were victims of private white violence and some were merely the victims of "nigger hunts" -- murdered by a variety of means in isolated rural sections and dumped into rivers and creeks.  "Back in those days, according to black Mississippians describing the violence of the 1930s, "to kill a Negro wasn't nothing.  It was like killing a chicken or a snake."

Public lynching in Omaha, Nebraska
I'm reminded that -- when the Congress attempted to pass a bill against lynching in recent times -- 20 members voted against it and prevented passage.  That we have never enacted that bill remains true to this day.

WASHINGTON -- The Senate officially apologized Monday for something it didn't do -- take a stand against the lynching of thousands of black people. By a voice vote, the Senate approved an apology for failing to enact anti-lynching legislation. At least 80 senators signed on as co-sponsors.  Between 1890 and 1952 seven presidents urged Congress to end lynching. Nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced over that period.  But the Senate, with Southern conservatives wielding their filibuster powers, refused to act. With the enactment of civil rights laws in the 1960s and changes in national attitudes, the issue faded away.

(Washington Post - June 15, 2005)
This most recent lynching took place only a few years ago, and the attitudes that still under-gird such hate crimes is still present in the culture.

I suppose that -- as a woman of color -- I see little difference between the horrific burning alive of a Jordanian man by ISIS in this latest atrocity, and those devastating photographs of charred castrated black male bodies hanging from the limbs of trees in this country as the carnival-like crowds of onlookers, including young children, grin with pleasure below.

This, folks, is who we were not so long ago, surely in my lifetime.  For us to react in shock and horror at the inhumanity of our Middle-eastern brothers in today's horrenduos conflicts may be ludicrous.

We must go back in time and own our own violent past in order to learn to forgive ourselves and, eventually, others who emulate such terrorism.  Only in that way can we influence the world -- by example -- toward positive change.  To pretend that we are not a part of a human race capable or such horrors is destructive to our need to move forward, together, into a more compassionate future. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

We're now deep into Black History Month events ... 
Dr. Lori Fridell

... and the upcoming week holds some challenging assignments:  On Wednesday, February 25th I'll be participating as a presenter for Richmond's Police Department in the Craneway Pavilion at the invitation of Chief Chris Magnus.

Since posting about this recently I've learned that I'm responsible for 90 minutes of a workshop on the city's  history as it was lived during WWII.  The time limit on this portion of the history is mine since this is the period that is relevant to my work with the National Park Service, and before that time there are good records of the times of the city's founding in 1905 up through 1941 in the Richmond Museum of History.  It was during that time that the city's population rose from 23,000 to 130,000 over the course of the war.  This means, of course, if one counts the city's birth as 1942 --the City is at least 20 years younger than I am!  The current population figure is 107,000.  The social changes embedded in those figures are staggering!

The reason for the workshop lies in the fact that Chief Magnus (in these days of "All lives matter") is wanting to have his force further sensitized in race relations; though -- under his leadership -- they're one of the most sophisticated in community policing strategies in the entire country.

That's one part of the workshop; the other is another 90-minute segment on race relations that will be led by a specialist in the field.  After learning her name I went to the website that listed her bio, and found myself with many questions ... may be foolishness, but nonetheless I find myself wondering ... .

Dr. Fridell is an attractive blonde who holds a doctorate in her field.  She comes from the world of law enforcement, so is part of that establishment, and probably has broad experience dealing with that population.   I have none.  However, I find my interest heightened as I try to imagine how a white professional in the field of diversity deals with questions around race before a force that is made of up a significant number of men and women of color.  Does she approach the subject from the point of white privilege?  That surely is the angle that successfully guides the work of one of my heroes, the brilliant and wry lecturer, Tim Wise of World Trust.  If not, then how do you suppose she handles the subject?  How will her presentation be received by such an audience?

As a black woman, my own work is so subjective, so personal, and so embedded in my treatment of that WWII history, that I'm wondering how on earth those two 90-minute periods will blend, if they do at all?

When Chief Magnus invited me to participate in this first of its kind workshop in this city, I clearly asked that he try to sit in on one of my talks so that there would be no surprises.  He agreed, but has not turned up thus far.  I suspect that the invitation came as the result of positive hearsay, and that he has no idea of the content of my talks, or of their effect upon audiences, or how they will interface with the other presenter.

I'm effective as a speaker, and my audiences are clearly moved by those presentations, but will they fit into this format?  I'm planning to simply do my Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday programs before this larger audience combining with the 15-minute film on Richmond's WWII history called "Home Front Heroes," then do my usual commentary and call for a Q&A.

I'm wondering if I shouldn't contact Dr. Fridell with a friendly warning so that she won't be unpleasantly surprised ... .

But then maybe I just worry too much.

... and then maybe I'm simply concerned that a presenter who comes from outside my world of color may deal with the race question not experientially, but in the abstract, and just how does that work in this context?  Maybe I need someone to convince me that this is possible -- without losing something of importance to the predetermined goal of establishing a greater understanding between the races.   Could it be that she will be really addressing the white officers, and that the officers of color will find little of relevance despite the good intentions of everyone involved?

One would think that -- at this advanced age I'd not be still developing questions, wouldn't you?  But the learning continues, and the answers remain just beyond reach ... as always.


Sunday, February 01, 2015

Trying to stand back to get a better view of the present landscape ...
with students from the HAAS School of Business, University of California, Berkeley

... and finding that the busyness is clouding my vision, and causing at least some confusion.

Over these past years -- as my dance card became hopelessly crowded with names spilling into the margins --  the feeling of disbelief grew right along with it.  Try as I might to re-direct the attention to other members of staff, it has become painfully clear that this just hasn't worked as well as one might hope, and that I've managed to attract far more eyes and ears than one small elderly woman might be able to easily manage:

... but January, February, and March, are the months when my services are in greatest demand (Dr. King's birthday month, Black History Month, followed by Women's History Month) and this year is no exception.  I will do events for the Alameda County Transit Authority; the Department of Agriculture; an invitation from the Department of Homeland Security and the National Park Service to be the keynoter for this year's Naturalization Day for brand new Americans; an "honoring" by the local branch of the national organization of 100 Black Women at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco; a talk for the Labor Archives in San Francisco; the training in race relations for the Richmond Police Department; plus my regularly-scheduled 3 times-weekly one-hour talks in the Visitor Education Center and two 2-and-a-half hour interpreted public bus tours each of those 3 months!

I've never thought to put my work into such a list, and I'm almost sorry to have done so here.  It seems foolhardy to even think of carrying such a load of activities at my age, doesn't it?

When I experience it incrementally, one day-at-a-time, it has been manageable.  In retrospect, it looks and is impossible.

I'm certainly being given every opportunity to cut back to something more manageable, but I'm reluctant to say no because I'm being driven by the realization that this might well be my last year of service as a primary source.  My generation is fast drawing to a close.  The deaths of my contemporaries are a constant drumming in my ears and a drain on my emotions, and my sense of urgency grows with each day.  Another of those stalwarts was memorialized a week ago, and it was held on a day when I was too busy to attend ... .

Fortunately, since I don't work from a script so have no need to prepare in any way -- except to just show up with memory intact -- it's fairly easy to just drift from activity to activity without too much stress.  My keynote speech for the Naturalization Day event (the only speech I've ever written since joining the staff of National Park Service) was created two years ago (it's available here in my blog by using the search bar above the banner on the left side of the screen -- scroll down to entry for March 5, 2013).  Since this will be a new audience, I'm guessing that this speech may still serve the need without revision.

... otherwise, I'll just go on showing up and taking my chances with the hope that the words will do likewise!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Introductions are in order!  Meet my first great-grandchild, Patrick Kayden Hebert!

... weighing in at 8 lbs 13 ounces,  and from this photo, the resemblance to his late great-grandfather, Mel, and his grandfather, David, is clearly evident. 

It's at a precious moment like this -- within the first 12 hours of his birth to my eldest granddaughter, Kokee Amanda Reid -- "Ms. Ginglehopper",  and her partner, Patrick, that I find myself wondering if we've prepared a proper place in the world for this brand new little American -- another young black male -- at a time when we're still sorting out whether or not there is room in our world for new males of his race and generation, and whether or not our justice system -- so riddled with imperfections -- will be better able to accommodate them than we've been willing to do over the past century?

On February 25th I've been invited by our truly remarkable Police Chief Chris Magnus to conduct a 90-minute workshop on race relations for his department.  This, as a followup to the continuing street protests occurring across the nation related to Ferguson and New York questionable police shootings. In my acceptance of this great honor, the not yet born Patrick played a major role.  Just maybe -- in this fast-changing young West Coast Bay Area (re-awakening?) city it still may be possible to play a small part in the making of those critical changes to our justice system that may effect little Patrick's destiny over the next decade.    Now that would be a significant legacy, would it not?

There are ways in which I feel totally inadequate to what is being asked of me.  I'm clearly not a trained "trainer" in race relations any more than I am a historian, but a private person sharing an oral history with a public that seems eager and ready to go back with me in time to own the truth as it was lived, apologize for any wrongs as may be appropriate, and then to move forward, together, into a more caring and humane future.  The content of my 90 minute presentation will be simply a re-application of the program offered in our little theater at the Visitor Education Center -- but maybe that's quite enough.  It's what I know.  But if love and hope are firmly embedded in that work, perhaps it's the best I (or anyone else for that matter) can offer in a persistently troubled  nation and world.

If we each contribute what we can to this latest pulsation in the on-going struggle against racial-profiling, undeserved and often unjustified incarceration; and for fairness in the distribution of resources; etc., than could be offered to young black and brown males before now -- then I can't afford to underestimate the importance of any opportunity to effect how we move forward into this future that now holds my great-grandson, Patrick.

Patrick's birth cannot be allowed to be seen as that of a perpetrator!  He is entering life as a much-loved little citizen who is carrying the hopes and dreams of a family who needs the support of society in order to gradually unfold the gifts that he may have brought with him into our  deeply troubled world.

Patrick Kayden Hebert's life matters!

Monday, January 19, 2015

For weeks now I've been saving up my pennies toward the purchase of an IPhone 6 ... .

... a luxury, surely, when I have a perfectly adequate flip phone and -- these days -- except for calls from Dorian -- I'm rarely taking calls except at my office.   In a related case, after being frugal for weeks I've accumulated nearly enough to get myself down to the MAC store after being convinced that I owe myself this one luxury.  (Stupid, since next month I'll not owe myself anything.  The debt will be to my credit card company!)

However, on Friday I woke with the vaguely familiar tightening of the throat and a raspy voice and all signs of the onset of a fresh cold.  Called my physician who suggested that this may be just a common cold, but that -- since this is flu season and -- (despite the fact that I had dutifully gotten my flu shot in October), at my age we need to err on the side of caution.  "Come in and let me check you out and order up an anti-viral."

In a few hours, with prescription in hand I found myself before a pharmacist who informed me that the hospital was totally out of the drug, but that he would make some calls around to see where I could pick it up.  No luck.  Walked back down the hall to my doctor's office who then wrote out a prescription and told me to take it to my local outside pharmacy.  Returned to the hospital pharmacy to release them of the need to continue to try to locate a supply.  The manager took my doctor-written prescription and replaced it with a blue card saying, "you're going to be charged an arm and a leg, but since we can't fill this until another shipment arrives on Monday morning (there's a 48-hour window in which to act before it becomes ineffective against this year's flu bug) you need to present this card at Walgreens and then we can reimburse you the difference between the Kaiser price and that of an outside pharmacy."

Twenty-four hours later (after driving around for what seems an endless search) a supply was located at a pharmacy in the next town of El Cerrito.

Picked up the prescription yesterday, handed my credit card to the clerk, then stood in shock as I signed for the transaction,  $196.83 for ten 30 milligram tiny pills taken twice daily for a 5-day regimen.

My IPhone 6 would have cost $199.

For a few minutes there I considered whether I wouldn't just prefer to suffer the flu for a few days and drive down to Emeryville to pick up my new phone.  I opted to be sensible, but for a while there it was a toss-up.

What ridiculous choices we're called upon to make these days.

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