I just returned home from an appointment at the Veterans Administration where I was able to reflect on my much improved life. Years ago, when I turned my life over the the VA, I was down on my luck. Today things are much better. I am feeling optimistic about life. I might be able to go to New Orleans next month for a conference. MC3, the mental health quality improvement board, sent me an email asking whether I would like to be a part of their steering committee. The Department of Health and Human Services for Milwaukee County is asking me to participate in an environmental scan to help them understand what is going on. And I am finishing a book Americanah about Nigerian refugees in America and Great Britain.
I am uncertain whether any of these things are related. I am a regular at the MC3 events and I am reasonably articulate. I participate in the small group discussions. MC3 is the group that recently nominated me for the Mental Health Board. It is possible that there is some connection between being on this steering committee and being on the board. My sister Chris would say that I am marketing myself. Let’s get this guy out there in the community.
There have been a few people who were marketed, awarded, publicized in the newspaper and magazines as knowing what there is to know about living with a mental illness and or helping those who have a mental illness. Suddenly, there might be an awareness that they need to have black men as part of these discussions. Too often, black men are the victims of the mental health system. There was a memorial recently regarding Dontre Hamilton a young black man with a mental illness who had fallen asleep in a downtown park and was killed by police. The first thing I would tell this Mental Health Board is to stop killing young black men.
When you check the staffs of agencies that are providing services such as case management you don’t find a lot of black men and yet the people who we have the most difficulty understanding are black men. Is that a surprise? So, hire some of them.
I asked a Milwaukee County worker, ask yourself, what can I do to help? She called my supervisor and told her she thought I was telling her how to do her job. Eventually, the county worker did what I was asking her to do.
The book Americanah tells about the differences between Africans in American and Britain and African-Americans. I have told my facebook friends about this and invited them to comment on the book. It was a very big seller not so long ago. The main character was a Nigerian woman who became a successful blogger. Maybe people will offer to sponsor my blog and I will not be working with people who are living with a mental illness? I seriously doubt that but perhaps something more interesting will happen. Stay tuned.
I have been a member of the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee since the 1990s. Like many people, I was drawn to the many progressive things that the church members did. They were affirming the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry and have children. They supported the right of women to control their own bodies and led a clinic protection coalition when right wing anti abortionists threatened to close down clinics. They marched against American interventions in the affairs of other nations. And I was also drawn to what the Unitarian Universalists did not have, which was a religious creed. No one was forced to believe in the existence of god, which I never have. I have never read more than a few pages of the bible and don’t believe in any form of supreme being.
I also joined the Freedom From Religion Foundation a few years ago because I found that public officials routinely brought their religious views into the lives as mayors, senators and other forms of elected office. They violated the separation of church and state. In that way I felt that they violated my rights.. I am excited when I read of ordinary heroism done not in the praise of some being I consider imaginary. I am able to nourish my friendships and work on doing good for its own sake. I am part of a struggle to help transform the Unitarians from a largely white middle class denomination to a one which welcomes people of color and affirms that my life as an African-American matters. I want to know that these are people who will have my back. That is what I believe.
I am part of a group that has been attempting to launch a chapter of black non believers in Milwaukee. We had a couple of lunches last year at a coffee shop but mostly we exist on Facebook. Facebook is helpful because we are able to exchange ideas. The group has grown and we are up to 38 members. Some of us have posted about trying to organize a meeting for this month. Meanwhile we are able to post ideas and share information. Recently someone posted an article about 10 fierce atheists that was published on Huffington Post. I checked out one woman,Deanna Adams, who publishes a blog Musings on a limb about being a black mother, a professional and an atheist in Houston. She was an active member of the Houston Black Nonbelievers and is now a board member of the Houston Humanists.
Her blog is worth reading as I did tonight. I plan to check out some of the other people mentioned in the article. Most of my inspiration about secularism comes from the Freedom from Religion Foundation which has a wonderful essay contest for students of color. I posted a few articles from Freethought Today on our Black Nonbelievers page. My energy comes and goes so that is why I fall silent. I am very active on twitter which is where a lot of people read my thoughts.
One very interesting thing I checked out was regarding black lives matter. There was an article about the fact two of he founders of the movement are lesbians who intentionally include their vision and that was offensive to on man who became involved in promoting black straight pride. To me our gay, lesbian and transgender brothers and sisters have always been there. We haven’t always acknowledged their presence. Straight black people are not under threat. People don’t conduct referendums on whether straight blacks have the right to marry and their presence in movements is not considered controversial. It is time to make the equal protection clause of our constitution a reality. No more sitting in the back of the bus.
An important step in the process Patricia Raybon took on her healing journey was forgiveness. She had to learn to forgive those real or imagined slights she may have received from white people. She had to stop hating nameless people because there were health consequences for holding onto it. And she had to start forgiving her father who relentlessly drove her to excel. For him it seemed as though nothing was quite good enough. Maybe he didn’t tell her often enough that he loved her. Indeed, it seems that he did the things a loving father would do. Many people will be incredulous reading this and wondering are you serious? I wish my father had pushed me.
I listened to the TED hour about nudging people to push beyond their perceived limits to be able to achieve more and Patricia’s father was a textbook example of this concept. I also listened to a talk by researcher Carol Dweck about her work on the concept of fixed mindset versus growth mindset. Clearly Patricia’s father helped to instill in her a growth mindset being being able to take on bigger challenges.
How do you forgive such a man?To quote from an Aretha Franklin song, oh what a man, what a mighty good man.In my family the role of Patricia’s father was played by my mother. And I have my own forgiveness journey to travel.Patricia relied upon her Christian faith to provide answers and guidance. I will look for answers outside of the church such as a book by Barbara Flanigan Forgiving the Unforgivable. I am not the person I was before I started to read and explore and I am not the person who I will become. The excitement is in the road ahead.
Please, feel free to share your thoughts.
I just started writing again after taking a break for a few weeks and now I am getting visits from a different group of people. Two of the most different have a blog called Devil’s Advocates. They are a lesbian couple who practice some form of Satanism. I thought the idea was very strange but when you read about the women, Sophie and Cassie, they sound quite ordinary. Their self description makes them sound like a very educated couple devoted to family life. Their blog attempts to dispel the myths about Satanism. I am an atheist, which is of course very different from Satanism. I don’t believe in any god and nor do I believe satan exists. I believe that both were invented as a means of social control when we knew a lot less about how the earth actually functions.
Some of the things I have seen Christians write about Satan can be hysterical. I wrote a blog entry Not Today Satan mocking these Christian fundamentalist writings. It might be interesting to see what the actual Satanists have to say about themselves and their lives. Believe me, this is not for everyone. But I think it is important to write about the people visiting and reading me. It’s possible that Sophie and Cassie will respond after seeing this and respond. I will write something about it if they do.
I have been scanning my picture collections to find the right things that match my words. After much searching, I chose the cartoon above expressing a sense of independence and freedom. I was inspired by a story in the latest edition of the Freethought Today which had an essay from Thomas Sheedy, a high school student who fought to get a non religious student group approved at his high school. Sheedy delivered a speech on October 10, 2015 at the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s 38th annual convention in Madison, Wisconsin.
Sheedy is a 17 years old student from New York State. After spinning his wheels for a while and getting nowhere he got the FFRF involved and before he was approved and on organizing meetings. For his hard work, Sheedy received an award for student activism.
I sometimes read stories from non-religious people who feel very isolated because they are surrounded by so many intolerant people who want to literally bring them to Jesus. I have foolishly entered into relations with religious women “looking for love in all the wrong places” because I found them attractive and it was discouraging to find someone who was more suited to me.
I think in the long run it is better to look for the progressive, and atheist people in our communities. They are out there. Reading in the library, jogging down our streets, canvassing for candidates, or reading The Humanist. We will just have to keep following our beliefs and remember that we may inspire people we don’t even know.
I am writing this in response to a training session sponsored by Milwaukee County in which Mark Sanders gave a very religious flavored presentation on recovery. The main focus was on developing cultural competence to work with African-Americans. He incorporated a lot of small group discussions and solicited a lot of feedback. I would even agree with some of what he said. There are consumers who are deeply spiritual or religious. I have several of them but as a secularist I don’t engage with them about something that I consider out of my realm of practice.
As for my agreements with Sanders, I have always focused on the strengths people present which may have been overlooked as they headed toward the cycle of diagnosis and disability. What do people do in their spare time for fun? I mention my hobbies or movies that I might have seen if the situation seems appropriate. I enjoy music which is one of my favorite protective factors. With music on my new computer I seek out you tube. On the way home I heard about an album by Thad Jones and Mel Lewis. I also seek out Cassandra Wilson, Aretha Franklin and Judy Collins. I can spend hours in the music room. Resilience, empathy and being able to identify with others help to keep me going. And although I joke about him, our cat helps to calm me down.
Overall I have learned to filter out a lot that I disagree with in these training sessions. It helped that I mentioned I did not like the presentation on my evaluation. One county worker asked me my opinion and I told her we need to find more secular oriented speakers to talk about African-American culture. Because not all of us are in the Amen corner.