On Independence Day, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile

This past weekend was “Independence Day”. It was my first 4th of July back in the United States and I just didn’t want to celebrate.  I love the United States and I am so proud of the fact that I am a United States citizen.  I am even more proud of the fact that I am an Iowan.  For those of you that know me well, and especially those I met while living abroad, you know that I cannot shut up about Iowa on any given day.  It courses through my veins and the Iowa niceness literally cannot be stopped at times.  However, being proud does not stop me from telling the home I love that we are wrong.  Tough love as it were.  We are wrong for allowing our country to continue to put people in the ground because we have concocted this view that they are scary or delinquent or violent.  Black people are not what our school history books have told us they are.

I was encouraged to watch the documentary “Slavery By Another Name” this past week.  I took Saturday to do so and have had a slow boil of anger bubbling up ever since.  This documentary provides us with information regarding the time between the abolition of slavery and World War II.  It tells of the convict leasing system that allowed private industry to hire convicts for pennies and continue to keep Black people under a system that led to more Black death and more Black folks locked up for ‘crime’. It allowed me to understand the beginnings of our prison industrial complex and why we can’t seem to change the way we view Black people in this country.


A week after watching Jesse Williams proclaim to us all why Black lives really do matter I was again defeated by the damning evidence presented in this documentary.  I was feeling gutted and very unpatriotic going into Monday.  I spent my time with my family on Sunday and Monday – got to enjoy the innocence of my nieces being silly – and then it was back to the grind on Tuesday.  A grind that I have been happy to be on since starting my new job in May.

Then on Wednesday the name Alton Sterling started floating around the Facebook and Twitter worlds.  I can’t bring myself to watch another video of a Black man or woman being brutally taken away from this world.  I can’t do it.  As Luvvie Ajayi says – it’s a snuff film – and I for one won’t be partaking in it anymore.  She also spent a lot of time discussing how we protect white life and animal life – those videos get taken off of social media quick so we don’t have to see it – but Black life?  Nah, it gets paraded around with no regard for LIFE – played automatically like it is for sport.  I did, however, listen to a fifteen year old weep for the loss of his father and that is something I will never forget.

Then I wake up today – Thursday – one day after learning about Alton Sterling to learn the name Philando Castile.  This is a man who was shot in his car after being stopped for a taillight being broken.  Again, I will not be partaking in this video watching.  I will not be complicit in this awful reality we live in.

What I will do is continue to provide people with information and continue to talk to others about realities that they may not believe exist.  I will continue becoming involved with my local NAACP chapter and try to bring more white people together to discuss these things and find outlets for being a true ally.  I will do so because it is right and I am tired of going to sleep every night worrying that the next hashtag will hit directly home.  I did not return to the United States to stand idly by.  You shouldn’t either.

Why I am here for Starbucks and #RaceTogether

Starbucks, the coffeehouse company that can be found on a corner in most big cities around the world, has released it’s latest initiative and they partnered with USA Today to do so. The initiative is called Race Together and from what I see it is creating an opportunity and space for us to have conversations about race. A space for us to discuss what race means to us and to hear what it means to others.

The most legitimate critic I have seen thus far is one of my favorite organizations called Race Forward. They are an incredible organization that also publishes one of my favorite magazines, Colorlines. The director of Race Forward, Rinku Sen, penned an open letter to both Starbucks and USA Today to partner with them in a different way.

While I am here for Rinku Sen and Race Forward every day of the week and every day of the year I find that I am still happy with what Starbucks and USA Today are doing. I understand when Rinku Sen says:

“But just any old conversation won’t do. A conversation that leads to something other than frustration requires preparation, a systems analysis, and potential solutions that reach beyond changing individual mindsets or behavior. We have to address the rules that govern our institutions and shape our lives — many of which appear to be race-neutral in their intention, but are far from neutral in their impact.”

The thing is, I completely agree with her. However, what about the folks that don’t have these tools yet, but they want to get involved somehow? If we want to get people involved that don’t study and follow these things regularly then Howard Schultz and Larry Kramer have created a place to start. This excerpt from their letter shows me that they are not trying to create any systemic change, but they are trying to at least give us all a space to listen to each other and to understand.

“For all our country’s progress, barriers to social justice and economic equality exist in far too many corners. RACE TOGETHER is not a solution, but it is an opportunity to begin to re-examine how we can create a more empathetic and inclusive society — one conversation at a time.”

However, I also hear this:

Starbucks staff in my neighborhood have already spent years doing Nobel-level work on being patient with white people. #racetogether

— jay smooth (@jsmooth995) March 17, 2015

I am not naive enough to believe that this will end things. I can give you a full list of systemic issues that I believe need to be addressed and discussed everyday. It makes it hard for me to breathe with how much systemic change I feel we need, but I also see the value in letting people open up and talk about stuff.

This initiative also hasn’t popped up out of the blue either. Howard Schultz held forums internally across the country to discuss how people were feeling about the movement that was happening, what their everyday experiences have been, and what they feel needs to change. He essentially let people speak and be heard. And I believe firmly that all people just want to feel validated and heard. So, if people are willing, why wouldn’t we give this a shot? Maybe this initiative will create more social justice advocates or at the very least create some understanding.

For those of you that know me well, I don’t tend to agree with Fox News often, but a piece penned by Juan Williams is also speaking to me when he says:

“No one knows when they might hear an eye-opening insight; hear a compelling thought or an inspiring story. But the cynical pose closes the door to those moments.”

We can make the jokes and create our witty tweets, but afterwards let’s sit down and chat. Almost everything I have learned in my life has came from me listening to someone else and what they think.

Here is one of my personal favorites that has came up over the last few days:

Barista: Your total is $5.45 Me: You can just put that on my reparations tab. Thanks. #raceTogether

— Zach Stafford (@ZachStafford) March 17, 2015

And then I also hear this:

“But just as I don’t want the government to facilitate discussions whether I like it or not, the same applies to this idea that Starbucks employees should be forcing their customers to do the same when all they wanted was a cup of coffee and a break from the routine of their day.”

I just don’t see anywhere in the initiative’s information so far that requires anyone to take part. It is only encouraging baristas to write the hashtag on the cup, not requiring. It is then the patron’s choice as to whether or not they engage. Part of this entire movement is making people comfortable with being uncomfortable. And I am here for that all day.

And as long as your conversation doesn’t go like this you should be fine.

What do you think? Let’s dialogue.

Find more resources regarding #RaceTogether here and more about Race Forward here.

Black History Through Movements

Today’s guest post is by the always incredible Jeff Horton. Jeff has lived in Japan for 10 years and is originally from the Bronx in New York. We’ve known each other since I moved to Japan in 2011 and he continues to inspire me everyday. Please enjoy the thoughts below and let me know what you think.


“We shall overcome. We shall overcome. We shall overcome, someday”.

These peaceful protest words of the 1960’s were my first exposure to Civil Rights movement history that I learned as a first grade student in my multicultural elementary school in Harlem, New York City in the mid 1980’s. We were taught a lighthearted version of history where whites and blacks did not get along in the past. We were fed this idea that racism was a mere disagreement between cultures and not the total oppression of a people because of the color of their skin. Now, being an educator myself, I realize my teacher had to show us a history where although there were injustices we were not to blame anyone specifically as to alienate that person/group of people, but rather to just move forward and try to do better than our ancestors did. By taking these steps towards a brighter future “we shall overcome” is what I learned in that classroom. And I believed every word of it because almost all of my friends in elementary school were white. I had felt that we had overcome racial injustices and were on the path to racial equality for all.

“All power to the people”.

Moving from the 60’s to the 70’s, where the far more aggressive and far-left Black political leaders, the Black Panthers, attempt to lead the Black community towards prosperity. Their militant position on Black Nationalism, Maoism, anti-capitalism, anti-fascism, anti-imperialism Marxism-Leninism, Revolutionary socialism, and anti-racism put a negative spin on what Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers worked so hard to get for the Black community. With such powerfully Black led groups growing in power, the government began to lay down laws that would directly affect the Black and brown communities; specifically drug laws. In the 70’s, Richard Nixon led the country in the “war on drugs”. Nixon declared the use of drugs in America “public enemy number one”. With this policy enacted, police began to comb the dangerous/bad (i.e. Black and brown) neighborhoods arresting all that were suspected of drug crimes; both consumption and sales. “All power to the people” had been taken away and given to the government to silence those that would try to oppose its authority.

“One Nation Working together, For Justice and Equality Everywhere”.

The NAACP comes to the foreground in the 1980’s. We see such Black leaders such as Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton take political stances fighting for such things like affirmative action and equal opportunity rights for people of color to have a fighting chance both academically and for job security. At this time we also saw the first possible candidate for a Black male president (Jesse Jackson), which was quickly thwarted once the media got hold of the Reverend Jackson calling New York City “Hymietown”. In addition, we see the government began to fear the Black community more and more thinking they would rise up and topple the government. This led to government pushbacks on Black communities with such programs as Reganomics and Black entrepreneurialism. Both of these policies were put into place to raise the already wealthy class to a whole new level of wealth whilst having the Black community sell dangerous drugs to one another (crack cocaine and malt liquor) destroying Black communities. “One Nation Working together, For Justice and Equality Everywhere” was slowly turning in to dividing a nation into inequality for everyone.

“Can’t we all just get along?”.

With the absence of strong Black leaders in the 90’s we see a drastic increase in police violence towards its Black citizens. We first see the savage beating of Rodney King after a high speed car chase in Los Angeles in 1992. His pleas for the officers to stop what they are doing to him go unheard as they continue to beat him into complete submission. Although the ruthless beating was caught on tape, all of the officers were let go without any charges. We see an even bigger spike in racial tension in the 90’s when O.J. Simpson is accused of brutally killing his (white) wife. The divide in the US was crystal clear. Many white US citizens believed him to be guilty and the Black community believed him to be innocent. When O.J. was acquitted the Black community felt like they had “won” something because for the first time a Black man was able to beat the system like a white man would have been able to do much more easily, but it was a win for the Black community none the less. Towards the end of the 90’s we see an even bigger spike in police brutality towards the minority community when we saw the (once again) videotaped incident of Amadou Diallo. Police officers shot at this young, unarmed Black man 41 times while hitting his body 19 times. This brought to the forefront of what was really going on in Black and brown communities.

Justice for Trayvon”/”Hands up, Don’t Shoot”/”I Can’t Breathe”.

Within the first 15 years of a new millennium, police brutality has become the center of national attention. One of the biggest sparks of bringing police brutality to light was the death of Trayvon Martin. This began a snowball of claims coming from all over the country against the police. Most recently have been the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. With the body count still increasing day by day we are having grassroots movements pop up such as the #BlackLivesMatter group, who have pledged to bring the injustices that go on around the country to light. The general public has decided to stop turning a blind eye to the obvious prejudice that still runs rampant in our legal system. The cries of the people are relentless and share a similar spirit to that of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. Throughout the decades we can see how racism has affected Black communities through the words they chose to represent each movement. We have gone from “We shall overcome” to “I can’t breathe” and everything in-between.

“All Lives Matter”
Through the trials and tribulations of recent events, the Black Lives Matter movement has taken a lot of flack for its outcry of inequality for Black and brown people. They have been criticized that their message is exclusive and divides people even more than they already are. People have even tried to counter the Black Lives Matter movement by saying that the message should be All Lives Matter. While I wholeheartedly agree with the message that All Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter is not ready to support such a broad statement. By claiming that All Lives Matter at such an early stage of this revolution you cast a shadow over the truth about racial inequality in the United States, that Blacks have been treated more like property and laborers than people for centuries. Blacks make up only 13% of the American population, but make up 80% of the prison system. John Legend recently stated at the Oscars, “there are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850”, which goes to show the state of Black lives after nearly 6 decades of “civil equality”.

From the bottom of my heart, I believe that All Lives Matter will become a part of the Black Lives Matter message, but not just yet. Black Lives Matter needs to move forward with everyone hand in hand to show that people from all walks of life are willing to help the most disadvantaged. Fighting together – Black, white, Asian, African and Latinos – we stand strong showing that through a movement for Black lives we make a positive contribution to the future of all lives.

Marvin’s Black History Timeline Part 3

The Chosen One!

We survived. We gained power. We have successful Black public figures, stars, sports figures, politicians; the whole kit and caboodle. But, we don’t have justice, things are not the same for us as they are for others, we are treated like second class citizens, we’re beat down, murdered; you name it and we’ve lived and felt it. What!! There is a brother, not named Jesse Jackson, who is running for president!! Must be a damn joke, who the hell is he? Where in the world is he from? What? When? Where? HOW? Wait a minute…this brother is young, smart, cool, and funny. Not only is he smart – he is intelligent and charismatic. Both whites and Blacks are listening to him; especially the young who are looking for hope and change. The poor Blacks like him because he shoots ball, talks like them, and has some roots in Chi-town. The older Blacks think that he is the Chosen One, the Black Jesus come to lead his people. Stop! Almost, but not all that, that is too much for one man! He ain’t Jesus, but he has given us a new pride to take things to the next level. We can do this if we try.

2008 Sen. Barack Obama, Democrat from Chicago, becomes the first African-American to be nominated as a major party nominee for president.

• On November 4, Barack Obama, becomes the first African-American to be elected President of the United States, defeating Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain.


The Now! The real color of America and the broken machine!

As a child born in the 60’s, I was born at a special time, a turning point in Black history. Knowing the past injustices and living in the hood, but also being a baby boomer and enjoying the 70’s / 80’s / 90’s and on, without ever having been physically or mentally touched by racism, but know that just under the skin it is (and has) always been there. We talk and live and think differently from whites, but it doesn’t mean we don’t want the same thing. The 10% that messes up things for everyone are the ones we need to reach, the true niggas with no goals, self esteem, family or community values.

But we must now go back to the Rosa Parks incident and use what was so successful for us. Boycott, strike, don’t work for or buy things from prejudiced establishments, use our economic might to change laws, and to fight the battles that can’t stop a bullet.

We must clean up or own yards, police our own people, find that one binding factor that touches us all and that we will all listen to, but sadly enough it’s been staring us in the face the whole time.

Unite in an economic battle. Don’t buy Nike, buy Black. Screw McDonalds, eat at the Soul Food Factory. Tiger, Jordan, Denzel, Jay-Z, Beyonce, and others have the power to unite us. They must do this for their people; the people that made them.

No more twerking or Worldstar fight clips. Wake up brothers and sister, you can still be cool and have fun, but use dignity, common sense, and what we have that can help bring up those that don’t. No handouts, but programs that teach them and put them into a positive economic environment.

That’s the dream Martin had. Now we must live it, just do it, be it.

Lastly, maybe (just maybe) when Obama’s term is up, he can focus on getting the real message out to his people. I still have hope that he is the One!