Speaking out against mass incarcerations

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On July 18, 2017, I had a proud moment when I walked into a public meeting and introduced myself as the chair of black lives matter at the First Unitarian Society. Years of preparation had led me to that moment at the meeting to close the Milwaukee secure detention facility. Since I took over as chair almost 3 months ago I have been quietly, in consultation with the the black lives matter cabal, been searching for an issue where we could help to fill in the gaps and have a meaningful impact.

At the meeting of our black lives matter collaborative in June I had recommended that we join and announce our support for the coalition. But that was different from standing before this room of family members and ex prisoners and saying that I was with them. I had decided that this was the cause. We had listened to a heart felt presentation this spring about the lives of thousands of people locked away for crimeless revocations and I was moved to action.

This was a start for me and I felt welcome pronouncing my name and finding, to my surprise, some of the people in the meeting were also with our black lives matter collaborative. I am always say that you can start anywhere so we did. I am hoping that the people in the room will begin to recognize as we begin to make changes together. We have a role we can play in ending mass incarceration. I need your support.

Time to write again

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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.

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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.

What more is there to say?

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This has been one of those horrible weeks where one looks out into the city and sees chaos. I am not going to repeat everything here because if you have been awake you have seen the murders of two black men and the equally horrendous murders of police yesterday. It seems that we are making the same move over and over. A black person encounters the police for seemingly innocuous reasons: routine traffic stop, for example, and the police officer becomes unusually aggressive. When the black person attempts to respond he or she is either pulled out of their vehicle or shot while still in the car. The person may also be tackled, pepper sprayed and shot dead. The family becomes angry and asks for justice for their loved one. There is an investigation, very rarely a trial and even there there is no conviction for the taking of black lives on the street.

The president is often part of this scenario as white racists claim that having a black president has divided the country. One former congressman even threatened to kill President Obama and then deleted it. This most recent tragedy was twisted by the fact a one or more snipers in Dallas took advantage of a peaceful protest to begin opening fire, killing and wounding.

So, those are the facts. The NRA and the politicians they own will saw, how dare anyone try to limit unfettered access to deadly weapons, high powered magazines and everything that goes with it. One possible answer came during the press conference held by the Dallas chief of police and the mayor who mentioned that their police department is trained to de-escalate conflict. That was part of the sadness that they must be feeling. They want to be able to protect citizen’s rights. That sounds like a reasonable and sound approach to take.

It is not time for war, as the New York Post screamed. It is time for comfort, sorrow and solutions. Black lives matter is not about murder. It’s about freedom and dignity. We want the police to treat us the way you would want to be treated.

The horror

I am reading a long article in Mother Jones magazine by Shane Bauer an investigative journalist who took a $9 per hour job as a corrections officer in a prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America. Bauer details under-staffing motivated by profit, neglect of inmates, neglecting inmates mental and physical health and conditions that would shock any caring person. Bauer looks into the company’s history arising from the swamp like a primordial beast. The opportunity for profit created by mass incarceration needs to be eliminated permanently.

I remember how republican lawmakers howled when President Obama began allowing prisoners access to federal Pell grants to help further their education.The idea was elegant in its simplicity: educated prisoners will be more likely to obtain jobs, and benefit society. There are other proposals aimed at eliminating some of the draconian 3 strikes and your out laws that helped fill prisons. But one of the first places to look for reform is by shuttering the private prison industry and driving it out of business. We cannot continue to abuse our fellow citizens this way.

I urge people to read the article by Bauer and other stories and join groups like the ACLU that are helping to defend prisoners.

Dear white people

Today was a day away from our mental health consumers as the Milwaukee county mental health and substance abuse contracted agencies attended a session designed to educate us about white privilege. The presenter was a very dark skinned man named Dr. Eddie Moore. The presentation is part of a year long series by the change agents program designed to help improve outcomes by making us more familiar with the concerns of living in an increasing more diverse society. Dr. Moore had grown up in a black neighborhood , became  addicted to drugs and remained involved with them until his first job after completing his bachelor’s degree. He didn’t clean up his act until he was forced to do so by his employers with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Dr. Moore is in an interracial relationship and lives with his wife and children in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He is an experienced presenter and he and his wife own their own businesses.I was active on social media throughout the session, first complaining about hunger, then being disappointed by the quality of the food. I was sitting at a table with the staff at our agency who work for one of our other programs so I only see them at our Monday staff meetings.

I would estimate that 30% of the attendees were people of color. This included agencies and staff of Milwaukee County. Ours is one of the few agencies owned and operated b African-Americans so it was a little tricky taking about the ways that our policies may have been influences by the concept of white supremacy. There is also the problem of introversion versus extroversion. I was sitting next to a small quiet young woman waiting to break into the conversation at our table which was dominated by the more talkative people.

The program included an action plan which started with educating ourselves about the issue . I went to the library and checked out Color Blind Racism by Leslie C. Carr, My First White Friend by Patricia Raybon and Whiteness a Critical Reader.

I also admit that as an African American worker I have a certain amount of privilege regarding the consumers I assist. However, that is a topic for another discussion.

 

retirement

 

A People’s History of the United Statesl

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Liz and I have been reading our much anticipated 150th anniversary edition of The Nation, a liberal publication. I subscribed to the magazine off and on over the years when I was feeling progressive I had hoped at different periods that the socialist projects in Cuba, Vietnam and Africa would take root and bring prosperity. And yet I wanted to be a part of some sense of social change.

When The Nation advertised the subscription including the anniversary edition I jumped at it.  I wanted to share it with my little sweetheart. When I pick up the magazine and browse through, it’s amazing to think that something begun in the anti-slavery era could still be with us today. All the great writers are in there and there are so many stories about the great villains of our times. It’s like the much beloved book A People’s History of the United States.

With Donald Trump waving his penis around like a mad man, it’s refreshing to read intelligent people somewhere in America. I long to talk with James Baldwin, I.F. Stone, Emma Goldman, John Steinbeck, Alice Walker and Martin Luther King, Jr. and the only place I can these days is in The Nation. It will brighten your day.

 

 

Having story corps moments

I am such a big fan of story corps. The is the npr program of short intimate stories often between family members. Today I heard the story of Bayard Rustin, the great civil rights icon who lived in New York City and was gay. Rustin met and fell in love with a much younger man Walter Naegel in the early 1980s.This was very unconventional because gay, lesbian and bisexual relationships were not legal. Not to even speak of transgender rights.

The only way for them to have a legal relationship was for Bayard to adopt Walter, which he did. I never knew this about Rustin and hearing the story on the weekend of the great victory for equal protection under law for marriage equality was fabulous. There are people whose memories are preserved and shared with so many of us because of this wonderful program called Story Corps. Walter said that when Bayard Rustin died, he told his friends, “we’ve lost him.” Indeed Bayard was a man who meant a lot to many different people. Thank you.

Another tender moment I heard this evening involved Priya Morgentern and her sister Bhavari Jaroff rembering their father Ken Morgenstern. They had recorded their story together as Ken was struggling to live with Alzheimer’s disease. He still remembered his family including his wife who had died 4 years earlier. Although the end was near he remembered how much he loved them all. He had no regrets at all. When Ken died, they played a part of the story corps interview for people to remember him.

The final story was the most recent, with Wil Smith, a father who went through college as a single parent. He secretly kept his daughter in his dorm room because he could not afford off campus housing. Although Smith’s story also ended in death, he inspired his daughter with the way he had put himself through school. That was being a father.