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.