Category: Leadership

New Orleans Must Improve the Lives of ALL African Americans

By Jeff Thomas

Many people often say I’m too focused on race. But look around our city. Most of the big social problems are in the African American community. Murder. Car jackings. Poverty. Covid hospitalizations. Drug abuse. Unemployment. The list goes on and on and on. Fixing these problems in that part of the African American community that struggles makes the city great for EVERYBODY. So if you are black or white or Asian or Hispanic and doing pretty good want to live in a safer cleaner city, let’s fix the problems in the ailing parts of our city. Helping poor black people benefits everybody.

Good news is we can do it. And it is not that hard. New Orleans should be a sanctuary city for the poor and struggling African Americans.  Every policy and regulation possible should support this notion.  And given the egregiously regressive and burdensome past, city government should fast track all current, available solutions.   Even a cursory glance at   the plight of  hard-working African Americans  in the city provides ample evidence of the urgent need for change.

Broken Paradigm

Our current paradigm has created and sustains the crime-plagued, underperforming city. Low-performing schools contribute to the highest dropout rates in the country.  Gentrification and low-paying jobs force many into the rental market in our city.  And people who own their homes are nearly 90% less likely to commit crimes compared to those who rent. Though the murder rate is once again the highest in the country per capita.  African Americans in NOLA die at alarmingly high rates. Especially when it comes to young people.  We must fix serious and deeply-entrenched problems here quickly.  It can be done with surprising ease if a coordinated attempt is employed.

THE SANCTUARY CITY MODEL

Characteristics of the sanctuary should include

Combined, these targets will dramatically reduce poverty and improve the quality of life for all our citizens.  With access to good-paying jobs and pathways to home ownership, crime will drop precipitously.  Working men, who earn living wages, will fatten city coffers via property and sales tax payments.  Needing fewer police officers, more money could then be shifted into job training programs. These programs prepare young people to enter the workforce and become taxpayers.

SWB JOBS PROGRAM

The Sewerage and Water Board can be the greatest jobs program in city history.  Billions of FEMA dollars are scheduled to be spent repairing crumbling infrastructure. The board must hire, train and demand excellence from its repair people.  Our ability to pump water is our lifeline. We must invest in training our people to protect our property. The SWB is more important than the NOPD.  SWB must pay enough to enable employees to purchase homes. 

HOME OWNERSHIP

Eighty five percent of people who commit crimes do not own their homes. Neighborhoods where people own their homes are cleaner, safer. And they provide ancillary activities (kids sports programs, block parties, etc.) that promote healthier living.  Living wages help people qualify for mortgages.  City-sanctioned home ownership classes would motivate and inspire people to save for down payments and improve their credit scores.  The soft second mortgage programs should also be expanded.

NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOLS

Working families need close and convenient good schools for their children.  Our experiment with charter schools must shift to emphasize local school excellence.  Good neighborhood schools reduce stress, increase participation and reduce dropout rates, which in turn strengthen families.  Parent-school partnerships are easier when parents are able to access school personnel close to home.  Friendly rivalries centered around athletic and academic achievement will transform educational achievement[  in The Bowl.  Businesses could offer cash prizes to the students who perform best and the schools which achieve great successes.

COMMUNITY POLICING

Police Chief Shaun Ferguson rose through the ranks. And he is a man from our streets who now leads the men and women who patrol our streets.  He says, “The community and police must form a partnership.”  He is correct when he says the NOPD needs citizen support.  Right now, our NOPD is dangerously understaffed. Shifting to 12 hour shifts increases presence on the streets. Good move Chief. Also moving more desk and clerical jobs from police to citizen staffing will enable more officers to get out. And top brass should patrol our neighborhoods. They are our best and brightest. They have the experience and authority to effectively decipher complex situations. Is a shouting match serious?

We know arresting and jailing people for minor crimes, even for short periods of time, has dramatic and real effects. And ironically results in yet more crime.  Instead, community policing operates in an atmosphere of cooperation and respect.  Too often, police have operated with rigidity and oppressiveness. That stifles the community support it needs, desires, and deserves. 

For too long, New Orleans and other municipalities have focused on fines and fees to finance government.  Police decide who gets pulled over and issued a ticket.  Furthermore, rigid rules and immediate late fees from municipal utilities create undue stress in an already overburdened populace. 

In the 21st century, our cities must uplift the lives of all the citizens who make these places home.

It happens everyday in America!

By Jeff Thomas

Black men kill each other at alarming rates all across America every day. Nearly every city’s daily news casts reports, “Today in our city three (or thirty depending on the size of your city) men were shot and killed in three (or thirty) separate shootings.  Police have no suspects in any of the cases.”  And immediately and innately you know that the people killed were black and the killers were black.  This has been going on for the last 30-40 years and no end is in sight.  New Orleans has one of the highest murder rates nationally.  Why do black men kill each other?

First Let’s Dispel a Racist Myth

First thing you have to know is that 99.999% of black men do not commit murder ever in their lives.  That is a fact!  This is not a black man issue.  There is nothing genetically or intrinsically wrong with black men. But the fact remains that daily hundreds of black men across this country are murdered everyday by another black man.  Why does this happen with this subset?

Common factors to Black men murdering other black men

RACE

The first thing about murder is that people usually kill people who are similar to them in many ways, particularly race.  White men normally murder other white men and black men normally murder other black men. 

PROXIMITY

In the black community, these killings are normally city events.  Rarely do you hear of a drive by in the country.  Most of these daily killings occur on the city streets.  People kill others who they interact with.

AGE

Young men engage in risky and violent behavior.  Most of the men dying on our streets are between the ages of 17-35. 

EDUCATION

Nearly 95% have not graduated from college and 65% have not completed high school.   

Socioeconomic Status

100% were not upper class in America. The links between poverty and crime are well documented.  And black men have lived in depression level economic conditions for the last 50 years.

But these are often cited, unsurprising factors.  More salient is what goes into the psyche of a guy who can look into the eyes of another man and pull the trigger at close range or jab a knife with the intent to murder another man?  What are the other factors that contribute to becoming a murderer? Why do Black men kill each other

Habitually Hostile Men

The guy who ain’t never scared and always looking to escalate a situation.  Down for whatever.  Nothing to live for and anticipating the day he will either kill or be killed.  This mindset is cultivated in a limited option, few chances, success deprived life.  This guy has had a number of arguments and fist fights throughout his life.  He hates authority and frequently feels angry or resentful towards people.  He often seeks to overcome a feeling of powerlessness.  This guy is a walking heap of rage.  He is always nothing but a gun and an argument away from murder.

The Disrespected Man

A man who feels like everybody but him gets respect.

For this guy, respect is everything and options to express anger or refutation are often limited.   He often seeks to overcome a feeling of impotence. If another who seems unworthy of disseminating criticism or scorn or generally crosses the line of imagined respect, then a high level of response will be meted out.

The Wannabe

When challenged by a non-believing skeptic, this man often acts in unnecessarily violent ways in unnecessarily violent situations.  Often seeks to overcome a feeling of powerlessness.

Self-Hate

The daily feeling of isolation, powerlessness and impotence is like being a prisoner of war.  One reason black men grab their genitals is to stress their vitality.  Men who have been literally stripped of the ability to display their manhood – great jobs, big houses, educational attainment and all the other accoutrements of modern society- are literally killing to express their power in life.  Twisted but true.

How do outside influencers come into New Orleans and change the trajectory of political campaigns?  It’s more than just millions of dollars.  There must be a vulnerable incumbent.  There must be a national issue that the office affects.  And a dynamic alternative must emerge as a change agent.  The race for Public Service Commission, District 3 is just this kind of race. 

Because of this , this Public Service Commission District 3 runoff election could likely end the run of Lambert Boissiere.  Boissiere is the incumbent and seeks reelection to a fourth term.  That he might lose is a shocking development. Endorsed by Governor John Bel Edwards, Boissiere is a scandal free incumbent backed by the biggest companies in the state. He hails from one of those strong and mighty political families – think Morial, Landrieu, Willard.  These families provide high level public service purely for the public good.  The electorate knows, trusts and elects these candidates.   Yet Boissiere is in the middle of a fight for his political life.

Five major factors work against him. 

  1. Boissiere’s personality
  2. The shifting political tide in New Orleans
  3. Turnout in Baton Rouge versus New Orleans
  4. Dark Money/Green energy attacks
  5. The latest poll results
Commissioner Lambert Boissiere

Personality

Boissiere’ s father, Big Lam, is a personable, energetic, and engaging politician.  He is currently the city’s constable and has been in public office for over 40 years.  However, Commissioner Boissiere, III is less engaging than his father.  He is rarely seen outside of the office and even if you bump into him, he won’t blow you away with his reserved personality.  Critics say he is never around. And considering he is entering his 20th year as an elected official, all that Boissiere name recognition is due to his father.

This is a high-profile position. In fact, this is one of the most powerful positions in state government. The district touches 11 parishes.  The PSC regulates Entergy, Cox Cable, phone companies and trucking companies. Opportunities to create political good will and motivate voters are frequent. Instead of being one of the most well known and loved elected officials in the region, Boissiere is more comfortable in the background.  This creates an incredible political liability and makes him that vulnerable incumbent.

Shifting Political Tides in New Orleans

As social media reminisces with funny little ditties about things “that it ain’t dere no mo” in New Orleans, this parallels the changing political dynamics in the city.  Gentrification, fewer and newer voters, and different kinds of voters mean the Boissiere name is not nearly as important as previous elections. Previously, simply running as Boissiere translated into enough votes.  Not so much anymore. In fact the latest PSC poll shows his challenger leads. So the historical significance of a big name is less important than the desire to improve our climate. Louisiana is ground zero for the impact of climate change. This is a national issue.

Davante Lewis

Baton Rouge Turnout

In New Orleans the only thing on the ballot is this PSC race and some innocuous sounding constitutional amendments.  Expect extremely low turnout.  But in Baton Rouge, there are life changing runoff elections.  The charter school movement that transformed – many say destroyed – the Orleans Parish School system is encroaching onto the Baton Rouge schools.  Candidates squarely on opposite sides of the argument are locked in the runoff.  Baton Rouge also has a hotly contested appellate court judgeship with racial overtones.  And if that’s not enough, a tax increase for the sheriff’s department is also on the ballot.  Even though the Baton Rouge portion of the district is smaller, significantly higher turnout in challenger Davante Lewis’ home area can overtake low turnout across the rest of the district.   And Lewis is a dynamic campaigner. Polished, well dressed, funny and engaging, he is more reminiscent of Big Lam than is Boissiere III. Lewis is a change agent.

Dark Money/Green energy attacks

You have probably seen the attack ads proclaiming Boissiere a stooge of Entergy.  These attacks may be slightly misleading, but they are extremely effective.  They plan to spend of two million dollars in this race. The New York based interest group backs candidates across the country.  They are attempting to green the energy sector.  They want less natural gas and more solar and wind sources for electricity.  We know Entergy just built a new natural gas plant in New Orleans East.  It should be noted that the New Orleans City Council regulates Entergy in New Orleans. 

The attack ads point out that Boissiere’s biggest contributor is Entergy.  They say Boissiere is responsible for your high electric bills and frequent power outages.  Now they are promoting Devante Lewis who made the runoff.  And while the ads say Lewis will not take any money from Entergy, they do not mention the millions of dollars contributed to his campaign either directly or via attacks on the incumbent. But the attacks are working. Just look at the polling.

Latest Polling – PSC Poll Shows Challenger Leads

The latest polling released by Global Strategy Group shows Lewis up by 8 points.  This follows the trend during the primary election, where Lewis narrowly squeaked by Greg Manning.  Lewis rose steadily in the polls during the primary and rocketed to second place in the last week.   His momentum is being buoyed by the new ads that promote his candidacy. This huge swing is surprising.  A complete unknown in New Orleans before this election, Lewis is now leading Boissiere by nearly double digits.  Lewis clearly is tapping into some voter sentiments.

 For Boissiere the election will come down to holding onto and motivating his home territory.  Every campaign comes down to turnout.  Which candidate can get out the vote.  But the only thing on the ballot in metro New Orleans is this race and those boring constitutional amendments. And remember, Boissiere is not the inspiring motivational candidate who is always present in the community. So it is not surprising to analysts that Lewis is pushing ahead.

Call it a nail biter, but the outside money will continue to hammer Boissiere.  If he can’t change the narrative that he is the rate hike king, then expect a new Public Service Commissioner for District 3.

Who Dat the Saints say they gonna beat? Hardly anybody this season. It’s safe to say that operation Dennis Allen has not gone to plan. But here they are somehow still in it. Win tonight, and the Saints are a game back of the division lead. At 5-8, believe it or not. Thus is the state of the NFC South.

After last week’s shutout, this team needs a win bad. Who’s going to step up? Any of the captains? Kamara hasn’t gotten loose in a minute. When was the last time Cam Jordan had a sack? Or Demario Davis a big hit? Players need to step up, and fast.

Because if they lose, it gets tough. A loss would put them down 4 games with 4 to go (see the tiebreaker). Coming back from that would require an epic collapse on the Bucs’ part. Luckily, the Bucs aren’t playing that well either, especially Tom Brady.

Jerry Rice once said that the first thing to go is not speed, mental capacity, or agility, but hand to eye coordination. Watching Brady play this season, you’d think it was arm to eye coordination. He’s been throwing some terrible balls. That underthrown pass to Mike Evans in overtime against the Browns last week that ended their chances was pure 🤦🏿‍♂️🤦🏿‍♂️.  He looked like a goat, not THE GOAT.

Put Up Or Shut Up Time For The Saints

Brady’s decline and recent head to heads should give the Saints hope they can pull this off. If they can somehow harness last year’s D, they just might walk out of Tampa with a win and new life on the season. And to be clear, it will be all on the D. Because there is no sign of any type of offensive explosion coming.

Since peaking against the Raiders, the offense has been terrible. They haven’t scored over 20 points in 3 of the past 4 games. The score line has been 13,10, 27, 0. Consider that 27 against the Rams a blip in an otherwise downward trend.

Cam Jordan Sacking Tom Brady last year

The good news though is that the D has been last season worthy of late. The end of the game stat lines don’t show it, especially against the run. But for the most part they’ve kept the score close enough for the offense to make a move. The problem is the offense just hasn’t taken advantage.

Their 3rd down conversion rate the past 4 games has been 4/11, 4/11, 3/12, 3/11. That’s way too many stalled drives. Excluding the aforementioned blip against the Rams, the Saints have also lost the time of possession by over 11 minutes in each of those games. That has left the D on the field too long. And they’ve worn down and piled up injuries as a result.

Believe it or not, the Saints actually beat the Bucs with this type of offensive performance. In a 9-0 victory last season, they went 3-16 on 3rd down. Given how they match up against the Bucs, there’s no reason they can’t go out and win another ugly game.

As former Saints receivers coach CJ Johnson said on WBOK’s The Sports Report, they just have to stay disciplined and not beat themselves (wait, have you been listening to The Sports Report? Reggie Flood’s booming baritone and coach Johnson’s inside analysis is a phenomenal addition to local sports coverage.)

It’s game time Monday night though. And again, this team needs a win bad. They lose, and in 5 weeks (bye included) the talk on local radio will be about what went wrong and what to do about it during the offseason. Specifically the future of Dennis Allen. This better be one of his better coaching efforts. So it really is put up Or shut up time for the Saints. Because Coach Allen’s job just might depend on it.

Part 3 –Phoenix Rising: Malik, Nate, Sababu & Students United Face Jail & Prosecution

Text

Description automatically generated with medium confidenceDuring the Students United class boycott, the administration at Southern University’s Baton Rouge campus was so determined to stop student protesters police were called to the Historically Black College & University (HCBU) several times. The needless calls ended on November 16, 1972, when two students were gunned down in a cloud of tear gas. They were in front of the administration building when tear gas canisters sent students running north, south, and east. They fell to the ground. According to reports, Brown died on the spot, and Smith passed 25 minutes later at an area hospital. The 20-year-  old Black men were looking forward to graduation.

The officers who killed the students were never indicted, tried, much less convicted. The murder of Smith and Denver is now a 50-year-old cold case that is purportedly reopened. 

The administration targeted the group’s organizers, and warrants were sworn out for their arrests. Some students who were perceived organizers of the boycott weren’t but were swept up into the insanity of arrests and bans and became felons for exercising their First Amendment rights.

Did the students cut classes? Yes. Did they flow onto a football field to boycott the game? Yes. But for trying to get an education that included black history and necessary equipment, housing, inclusion in decision-making, and the opportunity to share resources with the Scotlandville community, the students were vilified, ostracized, and banned from campus for life.

These are their stories:

“We were definitely conscious and definitely not just a few disgruntled students. We were rebels,” said Dr. Rickey “Malik” Hill, a political science major at Southern University in Baton Rouge.

He grew up in Bogalusa, Louisiana, in Washington Parish “when Black wasn’t considered beautiful.” 

When Hill attended high school in the late 1960s, public schools in Bogalusa were still segregated, even though the Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court decision outlawed segregation in 1954. Following the decision, the state legislature banned the NAACP, and the Ku Klux Klan was a constant presence.

Malik was a high school scholar and destined to become a leader. He was the co-president of the student government association. Considered o  of the highest-achieving students from across the state, Malik was accepted into Loyola University. He decided not to attend Loyola. He applied t Southern instead.

Students Face Jail

“I had already made up my mind to be a political science major. I grew up wanting to know why Black people were treated the way they were.” Malik was determined to get a doctorate in political science. His mantra was, “Stay in school, get an education. They can’t take that away from you.”

Malik met several like-minded young adults who formed the core organizers of  Students United, including Nathaniel Howard.

Nate Howard is a “mathematical genius,” Malik said. Like Malik and other Black students in the 1970s, Nate identified with the Black Power Movement. It was a time when Black students defied assumptions that Blacks had to be “good Negroes,” Charlene “Sukari” Hardnett said.

Stephanie and Nate Howard’s Wedding Day

They came of age when there was a raging debate over whether Black people should call themselves. Afro-Americans, African-Americans, or Blacks. Stokely Carmichael’s (Kwame Touré) mantra, Black Power, the Black Panthers’ self-defense organization, and James Brown’s ‘Say It Loud. I’m Black and I’m Proud’ settled the question for young adults in the 1970s.

Nate Howard,  a native of Minden, Louisiana, was an honor student at Webster High School. A tall, slender man, Nate played basketball, but his goal was to earn a doctorate in mathematics. He was an honor student who spent summers in co-op study opportunities at prestigious companies and Yale University, which offered Nate a scholarship.

Like Malik, Nate experienced racism up close and personal. Minden schools were segregated. During his senior year at Webster High School, the government “removed all of our teachers” and replaced them with all White teachers. “We told them, ‘You’re not going to teach us. We’ll teach ourselves.’ Minden High School was predominately White. The government closed Webster High School and turned it into a Junior High School.

“I could have gone to Yale, but I wanted to go to an HBCU. I chose Southern over Yale, Harvard, and Grambling,” Nate said. Two of his math teachers from high school taught at Southern. They looked out for him. During his first year at Southern, Nate had an internship at the Aerojet Nuclear Atomic Energy Program. Also, Nate became Southern’s Student Government Association (SGA) president.

Nate says he was attracted to the Blackstone Society because of the students’ petition to divest in South Africa. The numbers man also had issues with the disparities in funding sanctioned by the State Board of Education. “LSU’s football team was getting as much money as the Southern system. Even today. Look at the per pupil allocation. It’s unbelievable, Nate says with disbelief. 

On October 16, 1972, students from the psychology department, including Sukari, came to the Blackstone Society for help because Professor Charles Waddell, a progressive 27-year-old educator, couldn’t get the resources needed to provide mental health treatments to the surrounding Scotlandville community.

The students drove to Southern Heights to University President Gregory Netterville’s home and shared their concerns and ideas. “We wanted change,” Malik explained. “We got a negative response from Netterville, who said he couldn’t have students running the university.”

L-R: Fred Prejean, Rickey “Malik” Hill, Charlene “Sukari” Hardnett, and Herget “Sababu” Harris Speak to Students United

It was on then. Students Unit members went from class to class, asking students to join them in seeking positive change.

“We were involved in all sorts of things in the Scotlandville community, engineering and agriculture., Malik confirmed. “We thought faculty could help the community with affordable housing and farming. And we wanted faculty and students to share governance.”

Some professors supported the students privately, and others were “pushed out,” former students thought because they were too progressive. Students United became a massive student movement that spread throughout the Southern University system, including its New Orleans campus. “We wanted Southern to be responsive to and responsible for Black people,” Malik explained.

“Sababu” Harris took on the role of spokesman and peacekeeper for Students United. Whenever the police came on campus, students were instructed to stay indoors to avoid confrontation with law enforcement officers.

Sababu lived with his grandmother in Jennings, Louisiana. He started out majoring in electronics technology but changed to electrical engineering at Southern University’s Baton Rouge campus.

Sekai Harris & father Herget “Sababu” Harris

“There were any number of professors that students respected, whose views ran counter to the administration’s regarding our own liberation, advancement, and care, “ Sababu recalls. Engineering Professor Joe Johnson also understood the need to support the students.

 “We wanted a more Black-conscious university with ideals that were better for Black students,” he adds. The engineering students joined Students United to form a coalition to address their department’s and others’ needs.

On November 6, 1972, the administration issued an injunction against Students United and arrest warrants for its organizers: Charlene “Sukari” Hardnett, Rickey “Malik Kamibon” Hill, Nathaniel Howard, and Herget “Sababu Taibika” Harris, Malik’s roommate, and Federick “Fred” Prejean. Warrants also named Lewis J. Anthony, Paul Shivers, Donald Mills, and Willie T. Henderson as organizers. However, they weren’t organizers.

On November 9, 1972, at around 12 a.m. Malik and Nat were on the way from a meeting at “Fred” Prejean’s house. Police stopped the car Nate and Malik were in with four other young people. Initially they let them go, but a half mile down the road, “police cars came from every direction,” Malik remembers.

“They put guns to our heads,” Nate recalls. “They asked to see everyone’s ID. When they saw mine and Nate’s, they took us to the East Baton Rouge prison. ‘Talk shit now, you MF,” one officer told Malik. “We had planned a rally for that day. They wanted to arrest us then. Hunt, the vice president of the administration and chief of security, was wearing a trench coat and pajamas. He told us we were expelled.

Malik and Nate believed there were undercover informants among them and that they were under surveillance the whole time. “We were charged with obstruction and interfering with the education process.

The following Tuesday, they went to Sukari’s apartment. The police had warrants for Sababu, Sukari Paul Shivers, a football player, and Fred Prejean. When they learned that Sukari and  Fred had been arrested before dawn the morning of  November 16, Nate, Malk, Sababu, and several others went to Netterville’s office to demand the release of the arrestees. At least 150 students stood outside.

Netterville told students he was going downtown to the State Department of Education and agreed to rescind the warrants and get the students out. He instructed them to wait for him there.

Twenty minutes after the university president left, all hell broke loose.

“Hunt had called the sheriff already,” and insinuated that Netterville might be in danger or be held hostage by students in his office. That was not true. “Hunt made the third call and asked the sheriff to send officers because Netterville was with many students, but Netterville had already left,” Sababu remembers.

James L. Hunt and Netterville were as grossly responsible for the tragic deaths of Denver Smith and Leonard Brown as the sheriff’s deputy suspected of firing the lethal buckshot and killing them.

LSP Arrest Nate Howard November 16, 1972

“He was not in danger and students were in the outer office,” Sababu adds.

Multiple tear gas canisters flew through the windows. The students hit the floor. “We told the women to stay in the building. Outside, students were running right and left, and the sheriff’s deputies ran behind them. When I came outside the building, I heard them say, ‘There the nigga is. He got a gun.’ I got arrested,” Nate explains.

 “We heard pops. They were shooting tear gas canisters at us. A brother fell to my left and another to my right. They were not getting up,” Sababu says about Denver Smith and Leonard Browm. “So, we ran away from the campus.”

Malik believes the Louisiana State Police were aiming at Sababu, who urged students to stay calm during the ordeal because Smith and Brown were on each side of Sababu as they sat on the steps of the administration building. Sababu later turned himself in to avoid being arrested.

The Students United organizers went to court every day for a month. They were banned from Southern University for life and ordered to pay a $2500 fine.

Crime Scene Video     *Nate is the tall guy getting arrested in the crime scene video.

NEXT WEEK: THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF A CAMPUS TRAGEDY: STUDENTS UNITED FOOT SOLDIERS TELL ALL

Ola Sims Prejean, widow of Fred Prejean,  Brenda Brent Williams, Patrick “Ngwazi” Robinson, and Chester Stevens Speak About Their Experiences.  ###

Whether the holidays excite or overwhelm you, being authentic is key.

Dorothy Firman Ed.D. LMHC, BCC

KEY POINTS

Most of us are being called, in almost every moment, by the world and its demands, its suggestions, its ideas, and its “shoulds.” As the holiday season races in, the mailbox, emails, text messages, phone calls, news feeds, and social media, as well as our friends and families, give us advice, ask for our help, and tell us what is better and what is wrong. Every day we are asked to buy something, give money, or be with people, whether we want to or not. All of this may work for some of us, but it certainly does not work for many of us!

If we have deeply held rituals, ways of being with people we love, and spiritual or religious beliefs and practices, we may find solace and joy in these experiences. But how much do we get pulled off-center because of external pressures? Do we remember how to say “no”? Are we practicing enough self-care to keep us healthy and not overly stressed? Do we know what we love? Where we find pleasure? What we really want to do?

There is, for many of us, the experience (rarely or often) of feeling aligned in body, feelings, and mind. We are at peace. We carry enough certainty to trust our next steps. And we have faith in ourselves. We have made a choice that moves from our highest wisdom and deepest values into action. This might be big—choosing a major lifepath, taking a stand, honoring our call to creativity—and it might be small—that nap we know we need, the kindness we share for no personal gain, the food we choose to eat.

You know this experience. It has been yours on many occasions. Sometimes this alignment with being true to ourselves is hardwon through trial and error, considering and reconsidering, falling and getting up again. Sometimes it happens as easily as the next breath. I suspect it shall always be a process with no clear set of rules.

Yet I know, in my heart and mind, in my body and soul, and out of a long life of experience, that we can help clear the way for the truth of ourselves, to have easier access to the rest of our being: our personalities, our cultures, our families, our habits. How to do this?

How do we clear the way for our own unique truth to guide us?

There are many ways, but here is a list (and with so many more that could be added) that may help us through the holidays and through our lives forever.

1. Stay tuned in to your own deepest values. They will lead you in the right direction!

2. Attend to the information you get from your body (tight or relaxed?), your mind (clear or conflicted?), your feelings (smooth or ragged?), and from your spirit, however you know that. These are powerful clues to what is right for you.

3. Step back from your world enough to see it in its complexity and, especially, to see how your world hooks you. When you see the hooks, you’ll have some choice!

4. Remember to breathe. It is well worth learning how to best breathe for your own capacity to center yourself. There is no one way and lots of how-to’s, but let this be your experience of how slow, deep breathing works for you.

5. Attend to your inner dialogues: the cast of characters that play out in your head are often in conflict with each other and way too often act as voices of inner critics. See them, try to understand them a bit, and know they are not you. “I have these inner thoughts, words, limiting beliefs, and I am more than that.”

6. Pause! We are often so driven by “go fast” consciousness that we forget to pause, forget to smell the roses, forget to give ourselves even a small break. A pause invites being in our world rather than the oh-so-demanding “doing” in our world.

7. Wake up to a sense of purpose in life. Big, maybe, or simply today’s purpose. Goals may derive from purpose, but the purpose is sacred and defines our unfolding, so invite it in as qualities of being: gratitude, love, quiet, creativity, whatever you are called towards.

Dorothy Firman

At peace

Source: Dorothy Firman

8. Take a chance on anything that is important to you and notice that every stumble is an opportunity to take another step.

9. See other beings in the light of your own kindness, caring, and deep wish for peace. Act towards them from that place.

10. Fill in the end of this list with your own knowledge. What you know is deep, true, and it is you. Can’t ask for more than that!

Why Experiences Endure but Presents Don’t

How to give children gifts that last.

By Angela Duckworth Ph.D.

KEY POINTS

“If you buy me Creepy Crawlers, I swear I will never, ever, ever ask for another toy!”

This was my impassioned argument for the must-have toy of the 1978 holiday season. That year, girls and boys across the country begged and pleaded for a machine that made rubbery bugs out of something called “plasti-goop.”

“Won’t you get bored of it?” my mom must have asked.

“No, never! I promise!” I must have insisted.

To my amazement, Creepy Crawlers showed up under the tree that year. I was so excited that, as soon as I unwrapped it, I lay down on my belly, speed-read the directions, and before long, was making a plasti-goop butterfly. It was a miracle. Everything I’d imagined and more.

But by the fourth plasti-goop bug, I was done. I had no interest in making a fifth. The toy gathered dust until, years later, my mom found it in the back of my closet and threw it out.

Scientists have a word for the new getting old and for delight dimming to doldrums. It’s called habituation.

Research shows that we easily habituate to material possessions. In contrast, experiences don’t lose their luster. Scientists sometimes refer to this asymmetry as the experiential advantageStudies also show that the more money you earn, the greater the experiential advantage.

The same year I got (and just as quickly got over) Creepy Crawlers, my dad and I started a Sunday morning tradition of walking to the neighborhood diner for breakfast. I remember what it felt like to hold his hand. I remember our conversations. Unlike a new toy, the time we spent together never got old.

Don’t assume that the best gifts always come wrapped.

Do give young people experiences they will treasure for a lifetime. How about, for instance, a whole afternoon with you, for which they get to choose where to go and what you talk about? As the French philosopher Simone Weil once said, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”

With grit and gratitude,

Angela

THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF A CAMPUS TRAGEDY

PART  2: Students United  Share Eyewitness Accounts of Police Brutality and Murder on an HBCU Campus

There was something very wrong on the Southern University campus in Baton Rouge in November 1972.

Southern University (SU) students formed a coalition called “Students United’. They demanded better facilities, healthy food, an Afrocentric curriculum, progressive professors, shared resources with the Scotlandville community, and a voice in decision making. They also wanted the Southern University system to have its own Board of Supervisors. Finally they presented a list of grievances to University President George Leon Netterville, but their requests were denied.

In 1972, at the height of the Black Power and Black Liberation Movement, thousands of SU students continued the nonviolent civil rights protests launched by college students in the 1960s and early 1970s. At that time, Southern University was the largest HBCU in the nation, with at least 10,000 students.

Black college students joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), CORE, SCLC, and the NAACP. They marched and protested for voting rights, equal opportunity, and an end to de facto segregation. Still other students engaged in boycotts on college campuses to effect change.

Denver Smith & Leonard Brown

In 1970, four students were killed at Kent State University in Ohio on May 4. And two others were gunned down at Jackson State University on May 15 while protesting the Vietnam War.

On November 16, 1972, to disperse student boycotters at Southern University’s Baton Rouge campus, police opened fire and killed Denver Smith and Leonard Brown.

Students United at Southern University’s Baton Rouge campus refused to be educated at an HBCU run by 12 white males on the State Board of Education. They decided to take direct action. They would boycott classes until the administration heard their concerns and negotiated with them.

Several students were among the core group that organized the class boycott. According to interviews conducted with Students United organizers, they were all leaders.

Among those who bravely stepped up to negotiate change were Charlene ”Sukari” Hardnett, who launched the organizing effort in the Psychology Department, Herget “Sababu” Harris, Ricky “Malik” Hill, and Nathaniel Howard. Others joined the boycott, including Frederick Prejean, Ola Sims (who later married Fred), Brenda Brent, Patrick Ngwazi Robinson, and Chester Stevens.

Students Share Eyewitness Accounts

These are their stories:

Sukari Hardnett

The resignation of Charles Waddell, the new chair of the psychology department sparked the boycott. According to Hardnett, Waddell left after requesting better resources and not getting them. He was a progressive educator who supported the students’ desire to reach out and provide mental health services to the Scotlandville community.

Other professors also resigned due to the lack of facilities and equipment to fully prepare students for careers in psychology, engineering, social sciences, and other fields.

 Sukari was a member of the honor society and the president of the Psychology Club at SU. She transferred from LSU to Southern because “I had problems with racist instructors,” she explained.

Before the 1972 boycott, Sukari organized a protest at a theater that allowed children to see X-rated movies. The theater was dirty and unkempt, and the owners kept the exit doors locked. “It was a black business being exploitive,” she adds. “We prevailed and kept children out of X-rated movies. They cleaned up the theater and unbarred the exit doors.”

As a result of that experience, Sukari learned that peaceful protests and direct action could create positive change. She began organizing fellow students to address the loss of qualified, progressive professors after seeing that nepotism led to hiring unqualified professors who had relatives in the administration.

“When we saw the conditions of the dorms and the food, and that students were not getting the academic support they needed to advance, more students joined the boycott to address those issues,” Sukari continued.

Students Share Eyewitness Accounts

“We wanted the university to be more Afrocentric and teach students about their civic duties,” she said. Southern had resources to help Scotlandville where “conditions were terrible. What the university was doing was “preparing students to perpetuate racism.” 

Students from the psychology, engineering, social sciences, and other departments joined the class boycott, which began on October 16,1972. At one point, nearly 99 percent of the student body met in the men’s gym for daily updates from Students United organizers before campus officials blocked them from using the facility. Undeterred

“We were civilly disobedient,” says Sukari. The students enacted the nonviolent protest steps initiated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the SCLC.

 “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action,” King wrote in his Letter From A Birmingham Jail.

“You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches, and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored,”

And that’s precisely what Students United did.

They presented their grievances to Southern University, President G. Leon Netterville, marched seven miles to the State Board of Education and marched to the Louisiana Capitol to petition Governor Edwin Edwards to act on their grievances.

Netterville refused to negotiate in good faith. He listened to the students’ demands but refused their requests. The State Board of Education had initially declined a meeting with the students. However, Jesse N. Stone, Jr., Esq., the Assistant Superintendent of Education, met with Students United.  

L-R Students United Meet with Jesse Stone, Jr. at the State Capitol. L-R: Fred Prejean, Bobby Gilliard, Southern Digest (newspaper editor/photographer, Jesse Stone, Jr., H. Sababu Harris, Charlene Sukari Hardnett.

“We had a good heart. We wanted to do right for our people,” Sukari said. At 4 am, there was a knock on her door. It was the police with a warrant for her arrest in the pre-dawn hours of November 16, 1972. Sukari was in jail when she heard about the campus unrest and that Smith and Brown were killed. ‘I felt impotent. I couldn’t do anything but listen to the radio. The sheriff refused to set bail. I heard that students went to the administration building to meet Netterville and tell him to get us out of jail. We never heard from him.”

Police arrested Fred Prejean and Lewis J. Anthony Sr. that morning. Sheriffs tried to arrest Herget “Sababu” Harris, but he wasn’t home. The students were charged with inciting a riot and interfering in the educational process.

Students United members met virtually for the first time in 50 years: Video

Next Week: THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF A CAMPUS TRAGEDY                                                                                                      Part 3 –Students United – Phoenix Rising Victories                     

Race for Governor is Spicy As A Two Piece From Popeyes

Who knows what Attorney General Jeff Landry pulled off in that back room, but when he emerged, he emerged as the chosen one. The golden child of the Republican Party of Louisiana (LAGOP’s) executive committee sent to lead us sane citizens down a path of utter despair and destitution. Unless that is…if John Kennedy decides to stop him. Yes, Mr-Awe-Shucks-Call-A-Crackhead-John Kennedy.

Landry’s anointment wasn’t televised. But the LAGOP was so eager to ward off Kennedy from running, that they endorsed Landry for governor before any other Republican could officially enter the race. Of course, feathers ruffled. And a whole lot of hemming and hawing ensued. Billy-my-daddy-helped-build-this-party-Nungesser was especially rankled.

One of the LAGOP’s top executive members is Eddie Rispone. You should remember him. Last governor’s race, he came 40,000 votes away from running us aforementioned sane citizens off to Texas to join our Katrina family.

The Race For Governor Is Getting Spicy

As far as Kennedy goes, he hasn’t said if he’s getting in the race or not. But there’s no reason he shouldn’t run for governor. Yes, given his clout, he could rot in his senate seat if he wanted to. But that would be so low aspirational.

If he has any legacy type aspirations, he’d read the room. He’s 71, pretty long in the dentures now. Career-wise, he doesn’t have any type of ascending trajectory going on. His party is in the minority. So leading a committee isn’t in his near future. Neither is getting one of his non-whack-a-doodle bills passed. If he wants to leave his mark among the legion of Louisiana politicians, then there’s no other choice but to run for governor. He just won’t crackhead is way into the Louisiana hall of fame. Fellow Republicans are waiting with bated breath.

Billy Nungesser is one of them. With Kennedy taking his time, Nungesser bides his time. He’s now talking about making a big announcement on his birthday, in January. That means he’s shaking trees and kissing major ass in hopes that enough backers and favorable polls emerge to justify a run.

Wait, you do remember Billy Nungesser, right? Former Plaquemines Parish president? Our present Lieutenant Governor? Famous protector of Lauren Daigle. If not, just google his name and the BP Oil Spill. If you don’t find a picture of Nungesser parting the gulf with one hand and single handedly rescuing an oil-soaked pelican with the other, then you just aren’t searching hard enough.

Nungesser is no fan of Landry. Nungesser was probably ready to take it to the streets after the LAGOP’s endorsed Landry. Surely, he was set to proclaim that he single handily kept tourism alive during COVID. Oh and how he stood up to the Wicked Witch of New Orleans after she demanded a bigger piece of the state’s tourism pie. Then of course, for all the cultural warriors, there’s his defense of “poor” Lauren Daigle. If Kennedy hops in the race though, Nunguesser will be back out in the field hustling tourists and conventions by the time the race is over.

The Others

State Treasurer John Schroder is also among the rumored candidates. He is the biggest name of the others. These other potentials will probably decide not to waste other people’s money if Kennedy opts in. Senator Bill Cassidy was testing the waters. But he was pretty much told that Trump impeachers need not apply.

Democrats

Helena Moreno (D)

You probably don’t know it. But yes, we do still have a Louisiana Democratic Party. The sitting governor is part Democrat depending on what angle you look at him. As far as potential replacements, they don’t have the big statewide names. Early polls show current New Orleans City Council President Helena Morena is the best bet. But she must decide if she wants to run for governor or save her money for a mayoral run. Recently, Shawn Wilson, Louisiana Transportation Secretary and a Democrat, is on record saying that the midterms gave him hope that Louisiana could elect a black man as governor. Pundits immediately questioned his political acumen.

Can a Democrat win statewide in the foreseeable future in Louisiana?

Other names being thrown around are Luke Mixon and Gary Chambers. But voters just rejected Mixon’s senate bid, emphatically. So why would they ever think about electing him as governor? And though Chambers placed second, his runs for multiple offices and campaign tactics are starting to diminish his seriousness as a real candidate for any office.

With the Democrats on the ropes, that just leaves one candidate for us to root for. His name is entertainment. Other than that, we got nothing to look forward to.

To be clear, a governor Kennedy would be as equally deplorable as a governor Landry. Choosing one would be like picking which bad taste you would like in your mouth. For entertainment purposes though, we should be hoping for a Kennedy run.

First, it would piss off a lot of state Republicans. Second, it would divide some loyalties. Third, watching Republican on Republican violence for months would be fun.

So somebody hit up Kennedy. Tell him to hurry up. If he needs encouraging, I’ll even chip in on his filing fee.

The Race For Governor Is Getting Spicy

PART 1: LAW PROFESSOR CALLS FOR ACCOUNTABILITY FOR MURDERED STUDENTS & BANNED STUDENTS

By C.C. Campbell-Rock

Governor John Bel Edwards apologized to Southern students last Wednesday. It came 50 years to the day that students protested and boycotted on Southern University’s Baton Rouge campus. The protest ended in arrests, the murders of two students, Denver Smith and Leonard Brown, by law enforcement officers, and a campus shutdown.

A state court banned at least nine students from the campus for life.

Edwards signed the formal proclamation in the Old State Capitol rotunda.  Several of the enjoined students looked on during the 50th Anniversary of the November 16, 1972, tragedy.

In commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the tragic day, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a formal letter of apology to the students and their families:

“Fifty years after the senseless tragedy of November 16, 1972, when officers wielding the power and authority of the state of Louisiana unjustly killed Leonard Brown and Denver Smith, it is time to try to make amends,” said Gov. Edwards. 

 “In those dark times, Louisiana failed to uphold its highest ideals. And in the aftermath of that senseless tragedy, the harm to our State and to the Southern University community was exacerbated by the punishment of those students who endeavored to stand up against the unjust treatment of the Black citizens of our State. It is only right and just for the State of Louisiana, to make amends to those who were victims of injustices perpetrated by the State.”

A few weeks earlier, Southern University Law Professor Angela Allen-Bell planned the commemoration. She entitled it Cold Case: 50. She worked closely with the banned students. Thankfully Southern University administrators lifted the bans. However, students remain banned because only a court can drop the bans.

The NAACP State Conference and Professor Bell sponsored the event. Cold Case 50 is the collaboration between Professor Bell and her Civil Rights & Racism project. Also law students and the LSU Manship School of Journalism contributed to the Cold Case Project. The law students investigate unsolved murder cases.

In a video, Bell shared her perspective of the incident that affected all the students and their families. She spoke about faculty members who supported the students, student leaders, and the ongoing national  student movement.

On the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the student protest, Bell wanted to do something beyond the hashtags and symbolic gestures that occurs annually.

“Parents were left with dead students, no justification for these deaths, no answers from the school, State, FBI, or the judicial branch. We have created a system where the government continues to witness harm like this in the Black community and assumes no accountability and role as a protector of people of color in this country. Yet, the constitution guarantees that protection will occur in an instance like this.”

So, we traumatize these victims. We traumatize the community that has been on the receiving end of a message that there is no value to your life in an instance like this. There is no need to hold someone accountable when they take the innocent lives of black students. This creates distrust between people in the community and official state actors. That has yet to be addressed. I hope that on this 50th Anniversary, we do more than make this an occasion, but an opportunity to do the work of accountability, truth-telling, narrative change, and reparations.

We need action now. The department of justice has had this case open for too long. It’s a case that should have been solved and can be solved.

Body of a murdered student after police descended upon the campus

Bell also spoke of the false narrative about Students United. They said they were aggressive, militant, and violent.

“There has been a false narrative painted, not only in Southern’s case and across the nation about students’ protest. The students’ actions were noble, honorable, innocent, and appropriate,” Bell attested.

The students’ list of grievances bears out Bell’s contention. Students United boycotted classes and tried to negotiate in good faith with administrators to no avail. Southern University President G. Leon Netterville turned a deaf ear to students’ requests for African American studies, better housing facilities, healthier cafeteria food, sharing agricultural products and services with the Scotlandville community, Afrocentric-minded professors, and a seat at the table where decisions were made about the educational process.

Instead of working with the students, Netterville called the police to stop the students’ month-long boycott. Not only had the police been on the campus the week before the murders of Smith and Brown, but core organizers of Students United had been arrested and charged with obstructing the educational process.

On the morning of November 16, 1972, police arrested  four students. So students went to meet with President Netterville  and ask that he get the students out of jail.

Sheriff’s deputies and the Louisiana State police descended on the campus under the false narrative that students were holding the university president hostage. They weren’t. The police brought a military-style swat vehicle capable of shooting tear gas canisters. The students called this rig Big Bertha.

THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF A CAMPUS TRAGEDY

Students present that day say they couldn’t understand what the police were saying on the bullhorns. The police testified they were telling the students to disperse. When the students didn’t move from the steps of the administration building, law enforcement threw tear gas canisters at students. As students began to run, Smith and Brown fell to the ground. According to reports, Brown died at the scene, and Smith died at a hospital. 

The is the first of a series of reports on -THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF A CAMPUS TRAGEDY

Next Week: Part 2: Students United Share Eyewitness Accounts & Impact on Their Lives

Kids Are Waiting In Line To Get Into Prison, And That’s So Louisiana

The situation – no more room at the Inn

Bit of history – the Louisiana Office Of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) has been traditionally terrible, at everything

Solution – release some kids, build another center, house some kids on death row

Going forward – down ballot implications

Conclusion – see the excerpt

Excerpt: That there are kids, mainly black ones, literally waiting in line to be housed in the state’s juvenile prison system is a clear sign of how much the state has failed those kids..

The situation

Business is booming down at the OJJ. Right now, you couldn’t get a bed at one of its facilities even if you carjacked and killed somebody. Last week, the OJJ’s head and 2nd in command released a joint letter letting all know that there is no more room at the inn. All beds are full, statewide. On top of that, there’s even a 53-person waiting list. Imagine that! Juvenile prisons are full. Our state penitentiaries must be gushing with envy. For years, full capacity was a goal they could only dream of. But look at them now. While statewide penitentiary rates are down 24%, the OJJ is gobbling up more kids than it can handle.

Bit of history

This is surprising. You’d think word would’ve circulated on the street that being housed in an OJJ facility is the last place you’d want to be. If you’re not being beaten by a fellow inmate, you’re being beaten by a guard, or raped by one and driven to suicide if you happen to be a teenage girl at the Ware Youth Center in Red River Parish.

For years, the state’s juvenile justice system has been so Louisiana – big talk and little follow through. The state vowed to get its sh*t together about a decade ago. Following a Missouri model, the new focus was supposed to be rehabilitation over punishment. Jail cells were to give way to dorm-like centers, where kids could reflect on how and why they ended up there. Of course, the state failed to fund the necessary and qualified security for all this reflection to take place. Instead violence and abuse quickly took place. Kids rioted and wrecked a center in Monroe. And with so little security, the center in Bridge City has seen one escape after another.

Solutions

Apparently, the head of the OJJ did some deep soul searching and concluded that he was no longer the man for the job. So he quit, shortly after releasing the no room at the inn letter. Presently, the OJJ is working on prematurely or belatedly releasing some kids to make room for those on the waiting list. And of course, they’re also working on building more dorm-like detention centers.

Renovated Juvenile Facility at Angola

The state just spent over a half a million dollars converting an old death row wing of Angola into one of its dream dorms. But as anyone who’s seen one of those horror movies like The Amityville Horror or Poltergeist where a new house is built on rotten land could’ve predicted that this wouldn’t go well.

First the townspeople had a fit. Then as if haunted by the ghost of its past, the state fell right back into old habits. Not enough money was included in the funding. So this shiny new renovation doesn’t have enough security to house the intended kids. The result: the state has spent over a half a million dollars to house 5 kids in a space meant for 24. That’s so Louisiana.

Going Forward

Expect all kinds of down-ballot ruminations until something is done. With state juvenile jails full, more strain will be put on the local ones. And with local jails not equipped for rehabilitative purposes, kids will probably just dangle in purgatory.

Conclusion

That there are kids, mainly black ones, literally waiting in line to be housed in the state’s juvenile prison system is a clear sign of how much the state has failed those kids.

The underlying condition plaguing the population is poverty of course. Louisiana is the second poorest state in the country by federal standards. It also has the second highest rate of childhood poverty, the third worst medium income, and only 27% have a college degree. If this state was a business, the BBB would rate it an “F”.

But generational poverty leads to generational crime. And until the state exorcises that demon, expect business to keep right on booming down at the OJJ.

A Yes Argument and A No Argument

Be Thankful!

I remember the year I tried to boycott Thanksgiving. I was 19, entering that necessary but annoying phase of young self-righteous and half-informed quasi-pro-Blackness. But I drove home anyway because students were essentially kicked out of dorms for the holiday. As soon as I hit the door, the aroma of greens, fatback and yams hit me in the face like a Tyson hook. My grandmother (whom I had tipped off about my plan on the phone earlier) turned to me while stirring the greens slyly.

“You gon’ eat, or what?”

I’d never tasted greens that good before.

Let’s get this out of the way: To celebrate Thanksgiving requires a bit of contortion from those of us who try to be socially conscious. The image of Pilgrims eating peacefully with American Indians at a shared harvest feast presents a faulty view of the founding of this country—one typically framed as though there was a willing handoff between Native and White. This obscures the history of violence and oppression, and it also manages to both legitimize and whitewash our country’s terrible actions toward its indigenous people. As a Black American who works every day to hold our country accountable for its rampant racial inequality that is a continuum of centuries of racism, terrorism, and genocide, Thanksgiving is truly a tough holiday to process.

The love that Black people have for the Thanksgiving holiday flies in the face of our shared history with American Indians. The oppression of the white majority defines that. The holiday’s special place in the Black familial and religious tradition, however, is full of the same contradictions of pain and joy, stark awareness and carefree celebration as are all our traditions.

For Black folks, celebrating Thanksgiving appears to be no less troublesome than celebrating many other American holidays. Independence Day celebrates White men establishing their independence from tyranny—while they passed down worse tyranny to others. Even religious holidays at the center of Black American culture carry the complex history of both salvation and enslavement.

The fact that we celebrate and participate in so many traditions that are so fraught with contradictions is a central part of our complex American story. We have always found ways to subvert the tools of supremacy and infuse them with our spirit while being forced participants in it. Slave food became soul food; spirituals born of pain and struggle became jazz, gospel and blues. Religious holidays became reasons to escape from the hardships of slavery, then from sharecropping and Jim Crow. They were opportunities to fill up on those soul foods, to revive the spirit in gospel and blues, to reunite families flung far first by slave trades and again by the Great Migration, to rebel with joy. As the central harvest celebration in the United States, Thanksgiving has embodied these things the most.

The entirety of Black American history has been a play on the razor-sharp line between subversion and submission. It is my view that our embrace of  Thanksgiving falls within the former. But it can only continue as such if participants are willing to consider the intersectionality of plights among Black people, Native American people and all people of color. Perhaps, then we’ll realize that there is a shared history of holiday ambivalence and complicated feelings about many of the institutions and rituals that we know as “American.”

But until then, the secret ingredient in them greens? That’s rebellion. Tastes good, right?

Vann R. Newkirk II


No, Thank You!

Picture this: As two newlyweds settle into their first home, the wife prepares a pot roast. Before she cooks it, she cuts off the tail end. Her husband asks, “Why’d you do that?” “That’s how it’s done,” she replies. “Does it make it cook faster or get juicier? Who taught you that?” he presses. “My mom has always done it that way,” she answers.

So she calls her mother.

“Mom, why do you cut off the tail end of the pot roast?” Her mother says, “I don’t know, my mother has always done it that way.” She then calls her grandma: “Why do you cut off the pot roast’s tail end?” “I don’t have a pot big enough for it to fit in, baby,” her grandmother responds.

For the sake of tradition, our people tend to have firm ways of thinking passed down for generations that have gone unchallenged—some of which are rooted in falsehoods. Thus, I have the same debate with my family each November. I ask them, “How can we honor a day that celebrates the White man’s Manifest Destiny, a legacy of slavery, land robbery, culture wrecking and the outright extermination of both wild beasts and tame men?” They say, “We know this country’s history, but Thanksgiving’s about family.” I say, “If that’s so, why not have our own day rather than adhere to someone else’s?”

“Shut up, boy, and pass the sweet potato pie!”

Don’t get me wrong. I have fond childhood memories of auntie-filled kitchens spreading wonderful smells throughout the house (until that one relative brought over a stinky pot of chitlins) and football blasting on the TV (usually the Washington team that will not be named). But as I grew older, the hypocrisy of giving thanks as part of a celebration based on genocide was even funkier than those pig intestines.

For me, Thanksgiving is reminiscent of a favorite slave meal: pig’s feet, ears and tails—others’ scraps we had to make do with. I can’t reconcile coming together over the same soul food that killed Big Mama to dismiss the struggles of our Native brothers and sisters. Thanksgiving itself is not about kin but about domination and exploitation, so why not instead establish our own cultural traditions like we did with Kwanzaa? Why not have a Harvest Day on Black Friday? (since the term “Black” is positive in the English language on that day) There are 365 days in a year. You can get your Black family together some other time, I promise. 

Kymone Freeman