2012 Watch Parties

Previously published in The Washington Post.  

Quentin James, a Prince George’s County youth serving as national director of the Sierra Club’s Student Coalition, joined a crowded State of the Union watch party at Busboys and Poets at 5th & K, Tuesday night, and mentioned a meeting he has scheduled with Vice President Biden on Wednesday.

 

“I think young people definitely were excited about the speech. But they definitely wanted to hear more about student loans and more about getting young people involved in the greening economy,” James said. That’s what he plans to tell the veep when he and a delegation of Sierra club student reps visit the White House.

 

James spoke for just a few minutes after watching the speech with a crowd of very opinionated activists, many of them blogging, tweeting, texting and live-streaming from their laptops at the venue known for its cultivation of activism. Quite different from the crowd a few blocks south on K Street, where the African American Leadership Council’s (AALC) youth contingent prepared to carry the party line, the crowd at Busboys was decidedly more critical.

 

The two watch parties, which I visited briefly, hanging out with my friend, were among 2,700 watch parties nationwide, according to Chicago reporter Lynn Sweet who tweeted about them. In the Nation’s Capitol, and surrounding areas organizations – including the Tea Party Express and the Green Party – hosted watch parties. Families and individuals hosted watch parties in their homes, too. It was déjà vu’ all over again.

 

Remember when we cheered at watch parties, awed by Obama’s nomination acceptance speech, and again at inauguration parties the day he was sworn in? The cheering was noticeably tempered at the two watch parties I attended Tuesday. The AALC’s party for the 40-and young (and some of us who defied the age limit), was held at Lima Restaurant at 14th and K. There, nattily-dressed men in dark suits and white shirts, and young women professionally dressed for government, applauded the part pitch: four million Americans were out of work in the six months prior to Obama taking office; three million Americans have been hired in the past six months.

 

Patrick Gaspard, White House advisor and executive director, Democratic national Committee, Four years later, this January we’re enjoying unseasonably warm days, but so many are out in the cold economically. They have lost jobs, lost, houses, lost hope. We’re told there’s a rainbow at the end.

 

Gaspard, executive director, Democratic National Committee, charged the supporters with delivering the message of this administration’s accomplishments. “You all remember when Barack Obama was sworn in that cold day in January when he stood on the steps of the Capitol, the steps and the Capitol that were built by slaves…” His message was audience appropriate to be sure.  Four years after that fateful day of swearing in our first African American president, we are enjoying unseasonably warm weather, but so many are out in the cold economically, having lost jobs, lost, houses, lost hope. We’re told there’s a rainbow at the end – a rainbow we must help create. He acknowledged the discontent in the black community, but reminded the crowd of its promise. “You all are the most powerful generation of African Americans that ever lived in this country.

 

“We know what we inherited. We know where we come from. We know where we are today,” Gaspard told the not-quite-capacity crowd of young professionals, detailing the commander-in-chief’s accomplishments. “It’s now your responsibility to go out and amplify that message. Let people know we are at a make-or-break point for the middle class.”

 

Back at Busboys and Poets, the crowd of activists, debated whether “the people” are doing their part. The people are challenging the establishment of corporate greed and irresponsibility, they said. Look at Occupy movements across the country. The people are challenging criminal injustice. Recall the case of Troy Davis. A couple of the brothers at Busboys were disappointed that their president had failed to address either of those matters.

 

The mere excitement of the President’s speech and planned watch parties had excited me, harkened me back to the glory days of 2008. That year, that campaign had been exciting beyond anyone’s imagination. This year, my excitement is tempered by the harsher reality of what change requires, what it exacts.  I got the feeling at the watch parties that others’ excitement is tempered as well – for now. But it’s early in the season.

 

 

 

 

eat entertainment – just enough industry insight and relationship drama to keep me coming back.  The show airs at 10 p.m. on ABC. Click here for previews (http://beta.abc.go.com/shows/scandal), and to join the discussion of the show. Cast members will be answering questions live on twitter during the first broadcast tonight.

 

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Grateful for Gifts of a Lifetime

Previously published in The Washington Post. 

By the time you read this blog, last weekend’s record cold temperatures and record October snowfalls will be so – well, “last week”. The Post’s picture perfect snow-covered pumpkin will have melted from our collective memory. We will be in the throes of some new phenomenon or calamity perhaps.  Our world spins quite fast, doesn’t it? But we can slow down as the year draws to an end – and here’s how.  Simplify. We can do it. I am taking my cue from my co-worker’s eight-year-old daughter.

 

Business was slow Sunday morning at the bookstore where I work. So, I had time to chat with my colleague Christia as we awaited customers as the check out station. Our Christmas displays were spread on tables and racks in front of us. Godiva chocolate bars with gingerbread people on the wrappers right under our nose.

 

“Is your daughter getting excited about the holidays?” I asked, thinking I already knew the answer.

 

I really was expecting to hear about the hottest new toys this year and how Christia planned to pay for them on our wages. I don’t have children, and the nieces and nephews I helped mother are grown now, so I’m not feeling the pressure.  But I wonder about unemployed parents and underemployed parents facing added pressure this holiday season. So, I was delighted to hear about Christia’s daughter.

 

“She doesn’t get too worked up about gifts,” she said. “She really cares more about the celebrations, getting together for parties, the camaraderie.”

 

“Really? How’d you manage to teach her that so young?”

 

“She’s never been into getting a whole lot of stuff,” Christia said.  “When I brought her in here to buy a book, I gave her a $20 bill and told her to get whatever she wanted. She found a bookmark for $2.39, pulled out a coupon she had gotten from school… and handed me back my change. She said that was all she needed. A book mark for a book she got from a friend.”

 

“She didn’t even try to keep the change for her piggy bank?” I asked. “That’s pretty cool.”

 

“She’s a good kid,” Christia said. “I feel really blessed.”

 

I’m guessing the child picked up her sense of contentment from her parents.  My mother worked hard to teach my nine siblings and I to be grateful for what we had, but I was down right retarded when it came to these lessons. She had insisted that I wear what I already had in the closet before asking her for more clothes. After decades of resistance and rebellion I get it.  I realize now that I can save money – and time spent on wardrobe management – by opening this golden gift of gratitude my mother gave me in my youth. I was reminded of this gift of gratitude after listening to Christia talking about her daughter’s contentment.

 

I was reminded that the best gifts we give each other cannot be bought in a store or stuffed in a box.  The gifts of compassion during difficult times, the gifts of laughter shared when times are good. Gifts of holiday traditions and family memories are the gifts that last us forever, right?  Tell us some of your most treasured non-material, or inexpensive gifts from family and friends.  Was it a blanket someone knitted for you, giving you cozy comfort for years to come? Was it a small plant you delighted watching as it grew from five inched to three feet tall? Was it 20 years of family feasts on Thanksgiving and Christmas? Do tell – in your comments here. We can simply, slow it down, scale it back when we need to right?

 

My Grandmother’s Rock

We know we are beautiful. And ugly too…. We stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.”

–Langston Hughes

 

BET’s “Black Girls Rock” awards show broadcast Sunday inspired me to honor my grandmothers, who raised me to rock. I grew up with three grandmothers – a hint of abundance from the start, I think. I had mymaternal grandmother, Irene Thomas, recently anointed as First Mother of Tenth Street Baptist Church in Northwest; my paternal grandmother, Sis. Wala Waheed (Willie Tate), honored as a pioneer in the Nation of Islam by the Muslim community at Masjid Muhammad. Then there was my biological grandmother, Grandma Fuller, who told me religion was some silly s*-)!

 

Some of their insight, wisdom, and advice were clear and powerful enough to last me a lifetime; some of it I knew would not fit the world they were leaving in my hands.

 

Grandma Thomas and I debated the merits of dating vs. marriage.  This year we celebrated her marriage 72 years of marriage to my grandfather.  But ten years ago, she and I debated the merits of marriage vs. dating. I was a young woman playing the field – and getting played – when she offered her advice on marriage and men. “Men have to get a license to go fishing, go hunting or anything else they want to do. Make them get a license to be with you,” she told me one day. Confidently, I disagreed, “Grandma I am not a sport, nothing to be played with, not to be owned.” She shook her head, at her wit’s end. I ended up married, but in my own time and on my own terms, I’d like to think. Our needs and values were different, I realized, and that’s o.k.

 

GrandWillie had hung a small wooden plaque inscribed with the words, “Man Makes the Living: A Woman Makes Life Worth Living,” in her home when I was growing up. After a few years of being out in the real world I reported back to her that this bit of conventional wisdom had been set on its head. “Men these days aren’t marrying women unless you’re making at least as much as they make,” I told her. “That ain’t no real man,” she insisted. She had been widowed by her first husband, then managed to live mostly off his pension, plus money she made providing child care for other working mothers, and help from her own children when they began working. My appreciation of independence and self-reliance was different from hers, and that, too, was o.k.

 

I learned much from and with my grandmothers. Over board games, on shopping trips, at religious events, in their gardens, in their kitchens, at their hospital bedsides when they grew old, I learned more than I might ever pen. My relationship with them was better than their relationships with their own daughters. I was their second chance to get it right, and they seized upon it. I am sure GrandWillie, who passed almost three years ago, is smiling on me daily. Grandma Thomas, who turned 92 this year, tells me often, “I love you, and I pray for you every day. I pray for all my grandchildren.” I am sure she does.

 

While I have honored Grandma Thomas and GrandWillie throughout my life, I am just now beginning to glorify Grandma Fuller. Grandma Fuller had 11 babies by a married man. I am leading the charge to dignify her passions, however, unwise they were. She married her “babies’ daddy” when the youngest was a teen.  “Grandma was a ho,” one of my sisters said flatly when I shared this bit of our family history. She was not a “whore,” I insisted. “She was, uh, unconventional.”  She loved who she loved, how she loved, I thought. I had the luxury of marveling at her boldness in love. She had birthed wonderful beings into this world – against so many odds.  (It took her children a whole generation and a lot of hard work to overcome the shame of growing up “bastards.” About ten years ago they initiated the Annual Fuller Family Ball to amplify family honor and celebrate what we have become. But for me, she had set a mold for thinking – and being – outside the box.)

 

My grandmothers were each unique in their needs, beliefs, and family values. I could not possibly have embraced all of what either had to offer, but I am grateful to have collected enough pearls of wisdom from each of them to fashion a fine necklace of sorts.

 

I was happy to see Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight, and Shirley Ceasar, honored on BET’s “Black Girls Rock.” But I found conspicuously absent our honorary grandmother, Maya Angelou, whose poems “Phenomenal Woman” and “Still I Rise” inspired us all. Langston Hughes’s manifesto came to mind as I thought about my Grandmothers – and the many other women (sisters, friends, aunts, and mentors) who have inspired me throughout my life. I am their rock, and they are mine. Black women are complex beings. We are beautiful in our ugliness and ugly in our beauty. But we rock on.

Lord Have Mercy on Jack Johnson

Previously published in The Washington Post. 

As the sentencing for former Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson looms, I began wondering how his closest family and friends are feeling.  I imagined they are sad to see him suffer (although he did it to himself). I wondered whether they tried to correct and rein him in when they could. I considered why his community loved him so.

 

Jack Johnson was not born in Prince George’s, but the County loved him dearly. He championed their cries against police brutality when he first campaigned for the office. Once elected, he continued to worship with them at their churches.  He danced the electric slide with them at their backyard cookouts. He promised jobs to their children, and found money for some of their community projects. He wielded power the way so many wished they could.

 

One elderly fellow in the County told me years ago, “If I was in office all my friends would have jobs!” He laughed heartily, and I understood that he and so many others were living vicariously through Jack. But now what?

 

His arrest was embarrassing to those who voted for him and stood by him through early investigations by the media. (I’ll discuss my personal part in this mess in a future blog. Promise.)

 

Disappointment, betrayal, anger, fury at those who brought him down, outrage at him for being so stupid. All those emotions must have swirled overhead in the County after his arrest and confession.  All these emotions had like clouds when I lived in D.C. and my mayor Marion Barry was arrested, led away in handcuffs on TV.

 

For many of my relatives and friends who moved from the District to Prince George’s as they prospered, seeing their elected leader in an incriminating videos last week was a double-blow to the head.  Jack’s arrest last year had been too painful to discuss. We mostly avoided the conversation for months. But with sentencing scheduled for Jack and his wife next week, I broached the subject.

 

“So, what do you think about the Johnson’s going to jail?” I asked one of my aunts who lives in the County.  She reminded me of how my Granddad had dealt with his wayward sons.  If you do the crime, you’ll do the time. Simple as that.

 

“Honey, when the police came to get your uncle… your grandfather told them, “He’s upstairs. Go on up there and get him. Second room at the top of the stairs. He’s the one in the top bunk.”

 

“No way!” I laughed.

 

My grandmother was miffed, according to my aunt. She wanted to save her sons from a criminal justice system she believed was even more corrupt than her sons.  A generation later my father was the one in our family who would get my teenage brother out of jail while my mother argued that he should pay the consequences for his actions.

 

Seeing Jack sentenced next week will feel to many like seeing a beloved son, a big brother, a favorite uncle going under, felled by “The Man.”.  For me, it will be like watching the community pimp finally taken off the streets.  Without his arrest, he would have continued to exert influence through his wife on the County Council. His bad behavior would have continued – to the detriment of the community he claimed to serve.

 

My grandmother put it aptly when she said, “You got kids out there starving and she’s walking around with all that money in her butt!”

 

The $80,000 Jack told his wife to stuff in her panties could have gone a long way at a food pantry – if community service really was his mission. He was not shaking down wealthy developers to prosper the community – but his community loved him. Or simply looked the other way as we tend to do with our sons.

 

I asked friends on facebook whether they would surrender their son to law enforcement.  Their answers were as conflicted as my family’s – as conflicted as any random group polled in the County, perhaps. Karen said, “Hmm. I always tell my kids if they do something they will face the repercussions of their actions.” I laughed out loud at the comment from LaShawn, my BFF since childhood. “I’m with the grandfather, he’s upstairs in the top bunk! There are consequences to everything that we do or do not do.” Monique’s response was most heartfelt: “My love for my kids is unconditional, but I am certainly teaching them to be accountable for their actions. It’s a tough question to answer because it would depend on the circumstances. If my son was guilty, I would encourage him to turn himself in, help him get the best legal representation he could and be there for support.” Monique added, “I don’t envy any parent in that situation.”