Today I was routinely checking my twitter feed when I saw a story about a viral video. A young mother can gone to a center in New York to request child care vouchers. Because there were no seats in the crowded room she sat down on the floor with her baby. She was not causing a disturbance but for some reason the police were called. Onlookers urged the police to leave her alone but instead they were violently tugging at her to get her child. And the police waved a stun gun at the crowd and the mother. She was arrested and falsely charged but public outcry will probably force the District Attorney to drop the charges. More needs to be done to ensure this never happens again. Human services workers need to be retained. I feel strongly about this because I was victimized in a similar incident in Milwaukee years ago. I went to the Human Services building where poor people go and I was looking for a friend who was applying for food stamps and the sheriffs were called on me for standing instead of sitting. Poor people need help not arrests and those who call the police without cause should be disciplined. Brutal police like the ones who violently traumatized the young woman in the viral video in New York should be fired. This is not the kind of America we were promised. Here is a link to a news report about the arrest. https://abc7ny.com/society/officers-pry-1-year-old-from-moms-arms-during-arrest/4868592/
The Black Lives Matter Committee at the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee which I chair, manged to have a successful event on Nov. 18th. We had a screening of The Blood is at the Doorstep which tells the story of the killing of Dontre Hamilton by Milwaukee Police Officer Christopher Manney on April 30, 2014. The Black community arose in protest and people from across Milwaukee including the Unitarian Universalists joined in solidarity. This movement achieved many positive results including the firing of Officer Manney, a commitment by Mayor Tom Barrett that police would undergo 40 hours of training to help them better understand how to deal with persons who were living with a mental illness. In addition the City of Milwaukee made a $2.3 million settlement with the Hamilton family after they filed a lawsuit. However, neither the District Attorney John Chisholm nor US Department of Justice filed charges in the case against Manney and he was later awarded disability based upon the stress that the shooting had caused him.
The story was well known throughout the community and the movie has been shown several times since its premier at the Milwaukee Film Festival in 2017. However, there is still interest in learning more about what people could do to assist the Mothers United For Justice, an organization which Maria Hamilton, Dontre’s mother, founded. News of the event took place through word of and Facebook. Black Lives Matter successfully recruited three co-sponsors: Mothers Against Gun Violence, Mothers For Gun Sense and Progressive Mothers of Wisconsin.
I chaired the event and helped recruit the sponsors. Maria Hamilton was the featured speaker and spoke about her goal of being able to mentor parents like herself who lost loved ones to police violence. Mary Devitt, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, spoke of her commitment to finding justice for the Hamiltons. Khary Penebaker of Mothers For Gun Sense spoke at the event. He detailed his experience as the son of a mother who had committed suicide with a gun. People from the co-sponsoring groups contributed a lot to the success while coping with illnesses and injuries. Like the song said, I get by with a little help from my friends.
Our church has a history of attempts to create more racial diversity and the most recent was in response to the events from 2 years ago which exposed the dominance of white supremacy in Unitarian Universalism. I found that I was not seeing this white supremacy all around me. I just thought, oh that’s how the services are supposed to be. Oh they haven’t been able to hire African-Americans. I was strangely distant from the few African-Americans who I saw due to my introversion.
Last week there was an event conversation across differences which offered an opportunity to talk. One interesting aspect was that there was a small group set aside for people of color. I participated in this group which was more diverse than one would have expected. There were four of us and I was the oldest. Two people were bi-racial in very different ways. While I cannot divulge what we discussed I can say that it made me think about the ways in which my introversion was preventing me from becoming as effective as I believed I could be.
I retired from work recently which gave me more time to pursue committee work. We have a very exciting project underway to develop and submit a grant proposal to a fund created within the church. Our project would provide resources to a small struggling organization which assists mothers whose children have been murdered. I see the project as something I could be involved with in a way that will allow me to overcome my interpersonal problems while aiding the community. I am quietly optimistic that by learning how different African-Americans can be, I will be a better person and a better leader.
If there was ever a song that changed my life it was Young Gifted and Black. I heard the version by Aretha Franklin which was the title track of an album in 1969. I was graduating from high school and going through a lot of changes. I was depressed, becoming more politically radical, facing the Vietnam war and wanting to surround myself with more black people. I was trying to decide which college to attend. There was St. Bonaventure a local Catholic university or Howard in Washington, a traditionally black institution. I was also struggling with depression and my role as a support for my younger brother. i was desperately in love with a woman I had met at a campaign headquarters a few blocks from our family’s house. And there was Aretha and young gifted and black. And I knew that somehow I would survive even if my brother did not.
Since that time I have attempted to live up to the vision of that teenager I still have some years to go, maybe even 20 or more years. What surprises me is that this seems to be a song that most impacted the baby boom generation. Music has changed. Maybe one of younger performers has already created the song for this generation and I have yet to hear it. But I will be listening. She told us “yours is the quest that’s just begun.” There are new quests out there.
One of the more unusual discussions I had with my family during Thanksgiving week was regarding my nephew and his stepfather Richard. Richard is a 60-year-old with the body of a man 20 years older. He has never taken good care of himself and as a result he has developed certain conditions such as diabetes. In fact he is facing the possibility of having his toes amputated before the end of the year and more to come.
Richard did not have a close relationship with his sons and so neither is feeling willing to pay the expense of his funeral when it comes in a year or two. My sister suggested getting one of those life insurance policies sold specifically to cover final expenses. I bought one at her suggestion several years ago. However I am also thinking that I should suggest cremation. But the problem is I will not be in a position to advocate for my body. My solution will be to write down my wishes including whether I would wish to have any and all measures taken to prolong my life. This will be something different from what usually happens in my family where we seldom live a will or final instructions.
I think that Richard might serve the African-American community better as a cadaver at the university medical school. There, they could study the impact of preventable disease on the human body. I am not certain whether he would have to contact the university but someone should talk with him as soon as possible.
African-Americans are infamous for neglecting ourselves. My nephew told about the things he had suggested much in vain for Richard to use in the hopes that he might have a better quality of life. A lot of the women in our family have lived long healthy lives well into their eighties and beyond. However, a lot of the men die relatively young. I have outlived my father by several years.
I saw a movie about a black man who confronted the unhealthy lifestyle choices in his family and began eating and exercising more. It became contagious and they were no longer living with diabetes. Death will eventually come to all of us no matter how healthy we try to live. But we can live longer, long enough to see more generations of our family grow up and long enough to provide good examples for them. There is no need to rush to see the end.
Dinner music was provided by Clifford Brown
I was asked to say grace tonight. The last time I was asked, I respectfully declined but this evening I found these words:
We are all we got.
This is the day.
This is the one
Wild precious life
We are given
So let us find a way
To rejoice and be glad in it
UBLAC (Uplifting Black Liberation and Community) is an organization based in Sherman Park, almost a year old, led by black women. They are drawing many coalition partners together for racial justice work and are an accountability partner for SURJ. Standing Up For Racial Justice Milwaukee is a part of the national SURJ network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice. They align with the mission, vision and shared values of groups such as UBLAC. Members of the First Unitarian Society Black Lives Matter Group participate in UBLAC and SURJ events. Thus it seemed reasonable as the new chair to suggest that UBLAC ask us to host their upcoming potluck. This week we exchanged emails about the idea for August 6th. Unfortunately before we were able to act, the group was able to book another location. When I got home this afternoon I asked whether w might be able to host the next event which will be November 19th. I am optimistic. I hope to attend next moth o become familiar with UBLAC. We are developing our fall agenda for the Black Lives Matter First Unitarian Society.