Nevermore…

photo credit: flickr

photo credit: flickr

By Acasia O.

Baltimore has a place in my heart and a chapter in my book.  Random fact: I started my loc journey at a natural hair salon in Baltimore, MD six years ago.  During that time, I was one of roughly 15 participants in a summer research internship (RISE) for underrepresented minorities and had secured a great opportunity to conduct research through Johns Hopkins University’s pediatric AIDS clinic.

That summer was sweet like penny candy, soft serve ice cream and Domino Sugar. My love and I were in our second consecutive summer health research internship together and enjoying Charm City, making frequent trips to Dominion Ice Cream, taking walks around the campus hand-in-hand while fireflies flashed us a thumbs up and crickets chirped their shrill tunes. We stayed on the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus, shuttled the bumpy streets to the medical campus in East Baltimore daily, where for 10 weeks, we worked a 9-5 that offered mentorship, and required seminar attendance and delivering a final presentation on our 10 weeks of data collection and research conclusions. Those were the days of crashing ultimate frisbee games, waiting for the shuttle in a long line in sweltering heat and learning the news of Michael Jackson’s death.  Those were the days of watching Robin Thicke at Artscape in his former glory, and running downstairs every evening to catch a dorm-cooked meal by my love.

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Photo Source: Flickr

Those were also the days when I was reminded that walking home in broad daylight didn’t exempt you from assault, burglary or battery.  Those were the days when, one morning on my way to work, I learned that a gang shot up the memorial service of a rival gang member and a shooting was reported right near Johns Hopkins University Hospital.  For those who know or have spent any significant time in Baltimore you know it has its thorns, to put it lightly.  I would often marvel at the pockets of ‘safety,’ surrounded by a sea of poverty and waves of insecurity.  While my now husband earned his Masters in Public Health at Hopkins, nary a day went by during the school year when I wasn’t worried about him. But beyond the constant news reports and alerts of shootings and beyond the boarded up row houses and broken glass windows and flashing blue lights at the lamp posts on the corner down Charles Street.  Beyond the massively huge and saturated graveyards, the constant cry of the ambulance and the littered pot hole marked streets is a city with a noteworthy story to share and hear.

"Washmonument" by Brlaw8 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Washmonument.jpg#/media/File:Washmonument.jpg

“Washmonument” by Brlaw8 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

The residual energy and grit of Baltimore’s industrial heyday lingers over it like dust particles that
dance and sway in a beam of light.  The one-eyed mascot of the Natty Boh brewery watches over Charm city, donning his signature handlebar mustache. It’s the home of the Ravens, Orioles, sister city to Bremerhaven, Germany (Chris’ birthplace!) and stomping grounds of Cab Calloway, Edgar Allen Poe, Babe Ruth, Jada Pinkett Smith and Nancy Pelosi to name a few.   I felt and still feel a certain way about Baltimore.  It was home for 10 weeks one summer and my biweekly weekend get away when visiting my love during grad school. It’s the place where I lost my favorite earring in the harbor near Fells Point, and the spot where I witnessed my husband run his first marathon. It’s the city that I would visit almost every year in high school when my folks took their youth group to visit the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum.  It’s the city where I trekked to to complete my Masters’ Thesis and the city where I fell in love with Old Bay and scotch bonnet hot sauce on my boiled oysters, Hot Mustard’s Korean Bip Bim Bap and an ice cold beer at The Brewer’s Art.

It’s also the city where, like Jesus did at the news of Lazarus’ death, I wept while driving past the Baltimore City Detention Center, a tomb in its own right, holding broken men and women beguiled by the lure of fast cash and easy money and those falsely accused and slandered by “a system whereby they lynch men.”   It’s the city where mayors move in and out of office like 18-wheelers at the truck station, only a matter of time before they fall asleep at the wheel or break down to the pressure of the power pipe as either a victim themselves or a perpetrator complicit in the schemes and crimes against humanity that plague cities largely inhabited by people of color.   It’s a city where the level of poverty in some neighborhoods makes you wonder if you’re driving through a 3rd-world nation despite being in a major U.S. city.

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Photo source: Flickr

The murder of Freddie Gray while in police custody adds yet another stain on Baltimore’s already tarnished tapestry. And while the city, for the last few years, has been striving to make progress in revamping its image and reversing its reputation of heroin abuse, teen pregnancy and violence, my hope is that the latest attention on the city will result in people asking the question “Why?” Why is Baltimore in the state that it’s been in for decades?  And why would people loot, riot, vandalize or whatever you choose to call it all in the name of justice?  And why don’t more people see the pain of a people who are so broken, so ignored and so undervalued that they manage to destroy their own property and streets while crying out? It might not make sense, but neither does redlining, education disparities and breaking your own neck, spine and voice box.

When a person is suicidal, while some would ask “why?” and do what they can to prevent a suicidal attempt, I would hope that folks wouldn’t mock or try to attack that person for trying to take their own life.  When someone is the victim of abuse, neglect or financial assault, we don’t lambaste them, taunt them or shame them.  But folks have and they do and that’s the problem.  Baltimore is, in my observation, in need of radical transformation.  I often wondered what it would take for the city to bounce back and clean up its act.  I have often wondered why it was left behind and ignored. And with everything that’s been going on over the last week, I wonder what it will take to restore the city. How long before the systems and environments have to be radically changed before we see the healthy transformation?

When a city’s gangs unite in solidarity to protest injustice, you begin to wonder if you’re in the twilight zone. But, if you’re like me, you also begin to wonder if there will ever be a day when these gangs can take their influence to positively transform their neighborhoods.  And further, you wonder if there will ever be a day when politicians and law enforcement officers stop feeding off the power pump and start striking at the root of the problems instead of pruning the symptoms. But ultimately, when will people start to understand that the Baltimores and the Fergusons and the Oaklands of the country are manifesting symptoms of a larger problem that, if not properly addressed, will continue to fester and eventually explode?

Photo credit: flickr

Photo credit: flickr

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Shot of Novocain and a pair of shades

By Acasia O.

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Jared Frondu

I now live in another country, a place where my most persistent reality includes getting acclimated to a new culture, meeting new people and finding a job.  I also happen to live in the Middle East, a region of the world that is most often depicted as war-torn, unstable, and connotes terrorism to those who aren’t from here. The local news stations don’t reflect the modern events of my homeland, not the way I know they do on American news networks. Before moving, I was aware of the local protests and riots that took place throughout various neighborhoods and seasons in my new home. Fueled by the frustrations from the Arab Spring of 2011, there are tire fires and road blocks not too far from where I live. The weary find ways to express their frustration, and to be honest, I don’t feel threatened, worried or as if their actions are a cause for concern but a natural progression of what happens in most situations when marginalized people get fed up. In fact, the reality of the unrest in my new home didn’t phase me, because I left a land where unrest and frustration with the ways of life are bubbling over like a pot of water over a high fire.  I went from one area with an underlying problem to another area with an underlying problem.  And, as far as I know, very few countries have little to no social maladies. Before moving abroad, I used to worry and wonder if I or my husband would become one more statistic or hashtag in the Russian Roulette of America where we might encounter that one officer who doesn’t think twice about pulling the trigger and blaming us for resisting arrest while in a chokehold, wearing our seat belt or already impaled by the bullets lodged in our weeping backs. Because we are in the Middle East, and my prior knowledge of this area was informed by reports of non-natives, I also had to combat this notion that I would be living a catch-22 where residing in America while black was a daily risk but living abroad as an American was also an invitation for assault and hostility, especially given the most recent threats and historic sentiments against the ‘Leader of the Free World”. Not only would we have to remain vigilant in the U.S. but now, there’s another layer of awareness and protection we have to assume because we’re not from here and, contrary to what we want to believe, everyone doesn’t like the U.S.

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Photo Credit: Len dela Cruz

I don’t know what’s going on back home in the the land of my birth. I’m somewhat removed, not by choice but because when you live eight hours ahead of Eastern time and your daily routine doesn’t include watching TV or skimming online news sources, you tend to miss out on the latest happenings both in and out of country.  But thanks be to God for pouring out the spirit of innovation which brought about social media.  It’s not a muted source of information.  To be honest, there is a level of respite to be found in the distance and space between me and that cruel, cold and carcinogenic reality of racial terrorism and white fragility that threatens the progress of our nation. There’s a lot of brokenness and sometimes I wonder if it’s better to just win the lottery, purchase an island and go about life in my own little corner of the world. But then I think about the indigenous people who, once upon a time, lived on their land masses and went about life in their own little hemisphere of the world, before someone invaded, killed, kidnapped and all but exterminated them. And that’s when I realize, as much as I want to escape, ignore and detach myself from it all, even if I press mute, the scenes, emotions and reality will still be there.  If a cop shoots a person in the back and no one is there to hear it, the bullets still make sounds.  If a cop cuffs a corpse, it’s still crazy and absurd. And if we choose not to return to America to raise our family, the system still exists. So, do I turn off the TV all together and go about life detached from a world I may eventually return to, a world that my family, friends and community still swim in?  Do I press mute, silencing the sounds but not the images? Or do I leave the volume on, knowing that for each story, each replayed scene, each report and post on social media, I risk becoming numb and unfazed by an appalling new norm? These are the questions I ask myself while living in a region of the world that, according to multiple “news” sources, is unstable and full of hate. Yet,  I watch, from afar,  the hate of those living in my unstable nation, metastasize into psychological disorders, amnesia, apathy and a social paralysis that will eventually turn the infirm into the walking dead.

Coolikan Podcast #1 – Racial Healing, Reconciliation and the Church

#TeamCoolikan

On August 7th, Coolikan member Acasia Olson boarded a train and set out on her 10-day cross-country campaign to promote racial healing and reconciliation in the U.S.  During her time on board, the nation experienced a flare up in race relations as Michael Brown, a young unnarmed African American male, was shot by a cop in Ferguson Missouri.  Acasia continued hosting conversations on race and racial healing with people across the nation in hopes of learning what we as a nation can do to heal and dismantle racism.

On this episode, we talk about race, reconciliation, the Church and the need for this nation to heal.  

The honest intersection of confronting an unjust society as a disciple of a loving and radical God:

“God, I don’t want to believe that you died for all these people who [stole, lynched, lied, shot and oppressed].  Just like you died for me you died for them, and I am struggle to accept the fact that you did…How do I learn to see them with the heart and love you have, because you died for them like you died for me…”

Honorable Mentions:

Pastor Matt Chandler Speaks Up White Privilege  – Article here

PSA: I don’t want to hear about TWERKING anymore

by Obehi Janice

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I wrote this last week Wednesday when the discussion was still high.)

I don’t want to hear about twerking anymore.

I italicize twerking because according to my Facebook timeline, it’s an exotic form of dance movement that defines the Black female race. The foreign, the exotic, and the unknowable deserve an italic.

I don’t want hear about twerking anymore from ANYBODY because every time it’s brought up, I feel like Black female bodies are under attack, whether we twerk or not.

Who are we, Black women?

I’d love to hope that we are all daughters of God.

I’d love to think that our righteousness is not found below our backs but within our hearts.

To the father, mother, artistic team, and deluded fan base of the little-White-girl-who-should-not-be-named: SHAME ON YOU.

Shame on you for supporting her exploitation of Black female bodies
Shame on you for allowing her to use her body as a tool for sex
Shame on you for permitting her to lick her lips
Shame on you for “re-defining” sexual power
Shame on you for fetishizing her youth
Shame on you for reducing her soul to a tacky base line

Shame.

Value and Worth: Hip-Hop, Trayvon Martin, and a Message to the Black Boys of America

by Elise Lockamy

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“Canaan, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

Without hesitation, he stood up gleefully and shouted, “I am going to be President of the United States!”

In this post-acquittal era of the George Zimmerman trial and the wrongful death of our martyred son Trayvon Martin, I’d be just as delighted if my elementary school-aged cousin had said, “Alive.  I want to be alive.”

Here’s what I can’t swallow, or seem to be able to have non-Black peers acknowledge, and that’s that if Trayvon was White, he would be alive today.  Zimmerman found him suspicious because he was a young Black male walking around the neighborhood, fitting the same profile of a former neighborhood burglar.  That other guy – Black. Trayvon – Black. Trayvon – dead. Killer – free.  I weep.

Trayvon’s unidentified body lay in a morgue for hours.  He was just another one of “them”.  Another Black male profiled and deemed unworthy of life.  I weep.

Trayvon Benjamin Martin was shot and killed on February 26, 2012.

I maintain that he died on February 5, 1995, the day of his birth, the day he was born a Black Boy in America.
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I sat in the congregation, afro in full force, as the Black missionary from Cameroon relayed all the wonderful things the church was up to.  There were healings and trips to heaven.   Ministry students were powerfully walking in their spiritual gifts.  The school was becoming the equipping ground for nation-changers.  The missionary acknowledged the congregants who monetarily supported the ministry and thanked the rest of us for our spiritual support.  She told anecdotes of her cultural re-adaptations to the United States.  She went on to mention that she was appalled by the music and television shows she saw on VH1. And then my sister, this sister with beautiful dreadlocked hair who had captured the ears of the mostly White congregation said, “Hip-Hop is killing this generation.”   I cringed as most in the audience nodded and clapped in agreement.  I still cringe.

Art, in its unmodified form, is an outward expression of the meditations of the inner-man.  Worshippers know that when Kim Walker-Smith or Richard Smallwood begin to use their instruments (vocal and otherwise) to exact adoration to the Father that it’s coming from a rich soul, and anointed with the Father’s presence that’s able to transcend time, space, and mode of hearing.  See it’s coming from the spirit.  When I listen to Hip-Hop, sometimes filled with meditations of bigotry, sexism, self-hatred, pain of the fatherless, and a dearth of hope, I know it’s coming from a broken spirit, a lost inner-man.

Hip-Hop is not killing this generation.  A lack of identity, value, and self-worth, rooted in the Father, is killing this generation.  We #Coolikans like to say that somebody lied to us.  Well somebody not only lied to our brothers, he or she stopped speaking to them altogether.

Ponder this – if people only paid attention to you when you achieved on the basketball court or the football field (and pushed your body to its physical limits in the process), wouldn’t you too only see value in another’s body?  I am not surprised that many songs feature the sexualized female form.

Ponder this – if the only opportunity you had to engage society’s influencers occurred when you had as much money as they did, wouldn’t you too want to equate your worth with your earnings and flaunt what you have? I am not surprised at the stronghold of materialism that is heard throughout popular music today.

Ponder this – if your father never came home and you never saw an engagement of fraternal love (between him and his intimate circle), wouldn’t it also be easy for you to slander a brother in a song?  I see how easy it is for some songs to drudge up imagery of murdering another person.

I have to ask – what have we (women, fathers, the education system, the jails, the ghettos, society-at-large, and dare I say the church) been telling our Black boys about themselves that drives them to the continued oppression of themselves and those around them?

Hip-Hop is not killing this generation.
___________________________

A couple days after the verdict was announced, a radio personality challenged listeners to call in and share what they will now tell their sons as a result of the tragic death of a beloved son and the acquittal of his killer.

A fierce mother called in.  She was angry. She was hurting.  She told that she will now tell her son that he is a member of an endangered species with a target on his back, viewed as a threat by all who manage or bother to see him.

I want to tell our fathers, sons, uncles, brothers, and cousins something else.2115162_orig

You don’t wear a target.  You wear a crown.  The Father says that you are kings.  Don’t look in the mirror and see a reflection of a workhorse, a mere athlete or entertainer, or a slave.  See a reflection of a Son of God, worthy of the calling of leader and lover.  For generations, your power, gifts, and talents have been feared.  I do not fear you.  I celebrate you.  Deaden your ears to the evil whispers of those who envy you and want to see your demise.  Awaken to the promise of abundant living and the esteem of a Father who sees incredible value in you.  Charge into Fatherhood and take back your families.  Charge into the boardroom and rip the price tag off your back.  Take it all back and stand firm.  He, the glorious Father, is with you.  

The songs of life (not fear and death) that will be sung, once the truth about His sons is revealed and celebrated, will shake the Heavens and draw us so close to the presence of God that we’ll be able to smell his fragrance.  That’s where Trayvon is, in His presence.  That’s where we all belong.