Archive for the ‘current events’ Category

TBoH on Facebook

Just when I finally figured out how to create a Facebook Page for this blog, folks are up in arms, quitting the site and criticizing its privacy policies. I can’t say that I haven’t considered it myself. But I’ve decided to respond by adjusting my settings, removing tags and captions, and deleting unnecessary profile information. So I’m still in it for now. If you are too and would like to stay in touch, please “like” our page.

The Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need

While I was working on last week’s post about my financial woes, I had the pleasure of reading to my daughter, for the first time, Dr. Seuss’s book The Lorax. It was always one of my favorite books as a child and its message of conservation and love for all living things has stayed with me. Those trees! Those Truffula Trees!

But this time around, it is the Once-ler who holds my attention. I’ve returned again and again to his pernicious greed, symbolized by two scruffy, disembodied arms, and made worse by the product of his evil deeds – the Thneed, that flimsy, pajama-looking piece of junk that promised to be a “Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need.” Since then I haven’t been able to shake the Once-ler’s ridiculous slogan: “You need a thneed!” In the grocery aisle, in the department store, on the television, we are surrounded by Thneeds and unseen Once-lers who insist “You poor stupid guy! You never can tell what some people will buy.”

Not surprisingly, the term “Thneed” has been acquired new life outside Dr. Seuss’s book. People knit them and share tips on how you can too. Products refer to the book with eco-friendly gestures that don’t always demonstrate an similar awareness of the story’s critique of material consumption. There are iPhone apps, sneakers, and coal companies that hope to earn cultural capital by seeking the Lorax’s approval. Some of the more hilarious iterations of the Thneed have been MC Hammer Pants, the ubiquitous Snuggie, and whatever this is.

Now, even the Once-ler resolved to change his “biggering” ways, so it doesn’t do me any good to judge these folks. There’s a lesson here and I can’t say that I’ve completely learned it yet, surrounded as I am by Thneeds of all shapes and sizes. But I do appreciate Dr. Seuss for the masterful clarity of his off-beat wisdom. “If you can see things out of whack,” he once said, “then you can see how things can be in whack.”

And so, like the last Truffula seed, I leave you with this: a Grindhouse film parody of The Lorax, He Speaks for the Trees!

Haiti Earthquake Relief

Konbit's Class of 2009-2010

We would like to express our deep sadness and sympathy for the people of Haiti after this week’s terrible earthquake. Like many of you, we have been desperately searching for the best way to help. Frieda has several associates who are working directly with Konbit Pou Edikasyon, an educational non-profit that is on the ground right now, assisting children and families in Haiti. (Their name is Haitian Creole for “coming together for education.”) 100% of all donations go directly to emergency relief disaster efforts. Online donations are processed safely through PayPal. Please give if you are able.

With Martin Luther King, Jr. Day nearing, a friend reminded me of his saying, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” But it is the portion of the quote that follows this oft-repeated line that caught my attention this time around:

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

I’m sure that even the smallest donation to KPE, or to other reputable organizations like Doctors Without Borders or The Salvation Army will be a big help.

(This post was originally going to be the first Bayou open-thread discussion. I’ll put that up this weekend.)

A Holiday Wish: “You Cannot Step Twice Into the Same River”

One of the most cherished memories that Frieda and I shared as kids was of my grandmother’s beautiful white Christmas tree, adorned with silver and crystal ornaments and small diamond-shaped mirrors that tinkled like chimes when you walked nearby. No one else we knew had a tree so brilliant. Visitors to the house oohed and aahed, leaning in close to see their reflection in the mirrored branches. We were always very proud.

Today her precious tree, so fragile and so deeply loved, is collecting dust in a box somewhere in a garage. A few days ago I panicked realizing this. Both of my grandparents are gone now and the tree is not being used. It all feels very wrong. I miss those holidays, the silliness and drama of my extended family and the unexpected joys of being together. I had thought that these traditions would last, but now we are all scattered about and every conversation seems to begin with an apology: So sorry we can’t make it this year… Sorry I couldn’t afford a gift… Sorry I forgot to get my card in the mail…

But instead of feeling low or shedding any more tears, I am using this time to reflect on the realities of impermanence. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, as paraphrased: “You cannot step twice into the same river; for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you.” I won’t be able to see my grandmother’s white Christmas tree this year and, even if I could get my hands on those dusty boxes of ornaments, there is no way to relive the past. With each breath, though, I am already creating new memories with a wonderful husband, an amazing daughter, and of course, a special new tree.  I want to be thankful for all that we have – even when what we have is the occasional nostalgia for the way things used to be – without hoarding and clinging to things that can’t last. As another great thinker wrote, “The only lasting truth is Change.” Being mindful of this truth compels me to stop and observe with deep appreciation the world around me right now. I don’t want to miss it!

Here’s wishing you a joyful holiday season filled with peace, compassion, and fresh waters of love ever flowing in upon you.

August 29, 2005

World renowned Graffiti artist, Banksy, makes his mark on a New Orleans levee.

They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God. – Zora Neale Hurston

Lost & Found: The Gates Keepers



By now we can all agree that there is only so much wisdom that can be gleaned from a sound bite, a blurry photo, or a 911 phone call. Teachable Moment. Stupidly. Beer Summit. I’ll see your mama outside!

My own emotional response to the controversy surrounding the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has run the gamut from shock and snarky suspicion to self-righteousness and aggressive indifference. Along the way, though, I have marveled at the surprisingly nuanced social and political commentary that has emerged – not from cable news pundits – but through essays that cite useful anecdotes, acknowledge the unspoken forces at work, and compel us to ask hard questions. In linking these articles here, I take to heart the challenge posed by Lani Guinier: “What might we learn instead about contemporary race matters if we could move beyond the stock stories?”

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New Orleans For Sale?

“If y’all keep paying your money to see it,
should we rebuild it?”



Please take a moment to view this public service announcement that was produced by a local New Orleans production company, 2-Cent Entertainment. It really gave me pause.

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina in the fall of 2005, you could ride through the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans on virtually any street and see cars moving slowly throughout the flooded and ravaged neighborhood.  If you looked closely at the cars, you would see camera lenses protruding from passenger and backseat windows.  Everyone living in the city before the hurricanes knew that New Orleans was a virtual “fishbowl” before the storm.  Only now, the residents and their suffering, were now encased in that thick glass bowl, filled with water. The world moved slowly around them, watching and capturing footage of their misery.  Many of the visitors were from out of town. Most had never heard of the Lower 9th prior to the storm.

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“We Are Not Quitters”


Ty'Sheoma Bethea (Washington Post)

“…And I think about Ty’Sheoma Bethea, the young girl from that school I visited in Dillon, South Carolina – a place where the ceilings leak, the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom. She has been told that her school is hopeless, but the other day after class she went to the public library and typed up a letter to the people sitting in this room. She even asked her principal for the money to buy a stamp. The letter asks us for help, and says, “We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world. We are not quitters.

I am so glad that President Obama took time in last night’s speech to Congress to recognize Ty’Sheoma Bethea and to quote from her letter (.pdf file) about the horrible conditions of her school in Dillon, SC. I admire her determination, and her strength of character, and I am grateful that this country has a President who acknowledges her aspirations. Read the full text of the president’s speech and a local article on Bethea’s appearance, or if you are so inclined: order the t-shirt.

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Eric Holder’s Call to Action

US Attorney General Eric Holder

Eric Holder

Don’t be satisfied with the soundbites and media frenzy over U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent speech at the Department of Justice. Instead, take just five minutes to read his prepared remarks in full.

It is a thoughtful and stirring call, and it makes me consider Black History Month with a new sense of purpose. What more can I do to put his ideas into action in my own life? Columnist Mary Mitchell at the Chicago Sun-Times put it best: “Holder isn’t putting us down. He’s asking us to have courage.”

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Attorney General Eric Holder at the Dept of Justice African American History Month Program

Every year, in February, we attempt to recognize and to appreciate black history. It is a worthwhile endeavor for the contributions of African Americans to this great nation are numerous and significant. Even as we fight a war against terrorism, deal with the reality of electing an African American as our President for the first time and deal with the other significant issues of the day, the need to confront our racial past, and our racial present, and to understand the history of African people in this country, endures. One cannot truly understand America without understanding the historical experience of black people in this nation. Simply put, to get to the heart of this country one must examine its racial soul.

Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race. It is an issue we have never been at ease with and given our nation’s history this is in some ways understandable. And yet, if we are to make progress in this area we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us. But we must do more- and we in this room bear a special responsibility. Through its work and through its example this Department of Justice, as long as I am here, must – and will – lead the nation to the “new birth of freedom” so long ago promised by our greatest President. This is our duty and our solemn obligation.

We commemorated five years ago, the 50th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. And though the world in which we now live is fundamentally different than that which existed then, this nation has still not come to grips with its racial past nor has it been willing to contemplate, in a truly meaningful way, the diverse future it is fated to have. To our detriment, this is typical of the way in which this nation deals with issues of race. And so I would suggest that we use February of every year to not only commemorate black history but also to foster a period of dialogue among the races. This is admittedly an artificial device to generate discussion that should come more naturally, but our history is such that we must find ways to force ourselves to confront that which we have become expert at avoiding.

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Take A Break, People!

MLK, Jr. Taking a Well-Deserved Break

MLK, Jr. Taking a Well-Deserved Break

Plenty of well-meaning voices will tell us in the days to come that Barack Obama’s presidential victory, while historic and worthy of praise, means that the work of racial justice and equality has only just begun. To guard against complacency, the watchful and wounded will be full of meaningful warnings, counseling caution, and with the best of intentions, assure us that we have not yet reached the Promised Land.

After all, where would we be without the freedom fighters who refused to cross one item off our nation’s “to do” list without adding another? The alarming rates of poverty, income and health disparities, hate crimes, illiteracy, and sexual discrimination – the forces of tyranny never stop, so why should we? It makes sense that our guardians would expose the naivete of proclaiming this a “Post-Racial America” – the odd new catchphrase that covers up more than it conveys. Fair enough.

But there should also be time to take a step back and rejoice in the victories, small and large. Perhaps this moment is what King glimpsed on the mountaintop, perhaps not. We’ll never know if we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to enjoy the view. So take a break, people!

Celebrate the very real power of your voice and your vote to express our highest ideals. Get to know the gifted poet, Elizabeth Alexander, who will deliver a poem in honor of Obama’s presidential inauguration. (And give thanks for the unexpected miracles, like a quick-thinking pilot who can crash land a plane of over 150 people in the Hudson River without losing a single soul.)

When I listen to the humbling voices of the elders and warriors still among us, one thing is clear: our Biggest Dreams can and do, in fact, come true. And if we don’t believe that, then what exactly have we been fighting for all this time? So take just a moment to relax, to reflect on what we’ve accomplished, and to gather your strength…for tomorrow.

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The Thought That Counts


“It was crazy,” said a worker in the electronics department who was in the store during the stampede. “The deals weren’t even that good.”

~ New York Times, November 29, 2008

Frieda and I were together after Thanksgiving when we heard the tragic news about Jdimytai Damour, a Wal-Mart employee who was trampled to death by a mob of early morning shoppers in Valley Stream, NY. Several of our favorite blogs, including What About Our Daughters and The Root’s Keith Josef Adkins, have already expressed their outrage and sadness over this incident. And like them, we offer our deepest condolences to the Damour family.

I read the horrifying account of consumers who ran over and around this man’s body without offering aid, and of those who defiantly continued shopping after hearing about his death. I can only hope that the people whose actions – directly or indirectly – led to Damour’s death will be held responsible.

But after I stumbled on the above quote by an unnamed Wal-Mart employee in this article, I felt compelled to reflect more deeply on what I can learn from this awful moment, if only so that Damour’s death means something more to me than the so-called Black Friday discounts that “weren’t even that good.”

I’ve been considering the words that the newspapers have used to describe the scene. The shoppers are a “rabble”, a “stampede”, a “horde”, a “shrieking mob.” Their disembodied fists and shoulders are said to have “assaulted” the front doors until the thick glass shattered. In blurry pictures, taken just minutes before the store opened, there is only a sea of grim, anticipating faces in the cold. After the incident, the New York Daily News has cell phone video clips of EMT works hunched over a body that we know is already dead.

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Witness History on TV One

black_voterTake a break from CNN, MSNBC, and FOX tonight and check out the election coverage on TV One. Our good friend, James Hill, will be a special correspondent in the channel’s newsroom beginning at 7 PM!

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