Drawn to Secularism

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.

The Valentine’s day stomach flu

love

I have been home with a lot of intestinal nasties the past two days. I slept most of yesterday while my sweetheart used the car. When she asked if I needed her to pick up something from the store I asked for some homemade chicken soup and ginger ale.

She let me know she was on the way home and I slipped out to get her a Valentines Day gift. Conviently there are a bakery and a chocolate shop around the corner. I checked the bakery but they had closed so off to the chocalate shop I went with most of the black men in the neighborhood. I found my trusty debit card and got a nice pair of hearts. I slowly walked home and got back on the futon where I had been all day.

I gave her my gift and was somewhat surprised to learn that the Valentines day card I had seen over the weekend was for her grandson. I went to bed feeling a little sad. However this morning she showed me the card she had made for me saying I was loved. It was like what they say chicken soup for the heart.

I have struggled over the years with Valentines day including having a woman break up with me. Some small things lime this mean more as I grow older. I am listening to jazz, my intestines are returning to nrmal and thinking about being loved.

The poor ask, who will care for us?

80850-walker-evans-depression-era-portraits

In the Sunday Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the front page story asks, are health systems failing a moral test? My question is simpler, who will care for the poor? I have worked in several levels of mental health including apartment programs, the crisis resource center, the mental hospital and case management, for more than 10 years.  And much has changed during that time. The most dramatic is the downsizing of the mental hospital which now sites half empty. At the same time resources have been shifted towards improving people’s access to resources in the community. There are more organizations dedicated to ensuring that people don’t need the things that inpatient care provides.

When I worked at the hospital, nursing staff morale was low because they saw where it was going. I saw former nurses at a recent listening session held by the Milwaukee Mental Health Board. It was hard not to feel some sympathy for them as they talked about the end of their careers while in their 50s and early 60s.

There are multiple sides to this story. There are tragic stories of people who died at the mental health complex. There are people who did not need to be housed in the long term care units who were assisted in transitioning into the community. There are some acutely ill people being turned away from the mental hospital because there are not enough beds and not enough staff to care for them.

The Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex has always served as the safety net for the sickest and poorest of our residents. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel asks which of the profitable existing private hospitals will take it over and serve their patients. People who had no insurance always knew the the county was there for them. But those days are rapidly coming to a close. They asked the advocates what they hoped for but I don’t recall anyone asking the people who sometimes become too ill in the community what they would like to see.  If I was a poor person looking at these choices, I would be afraid. And the nights are still cold.

Patricia’s first white friend

 

girl blowing bubbles

 

Patricia Raybon devoted a chapter to the trauma she experienced when her father, when her father fought and won a battle to build a house in a previously all white section of a suburb of Denver. She was exposed to hatred and ridicule by strangers simply because she was a very dark skinned girl. In school, she was shunned and even ignored by teachers who ignored her protests that her name was Patricia and called her Pat instead.

In the lunchroom a student flung peaches on her hair, which the teacher ignored. It was a time when she almost felt like becoming invisible. But she couldn’t go talk to her father because he was fighting his own battles. H had provided what he thought was best for his family which was a solid roof over their heads in a good neighborhood. It was her job to figure it out.

And suddenly a solution appeared. A blond haired girl named Kerry Monroe said hello one day. And slowly Patricia turned from an object of ridicule to be avoided into a girl with desires, hopes and dreams. She spent a lot of time with Kerry in a normalizing process. After a while, however, she made friends with other students and even became popular. Later on, she regretted moving on from Kerry and even sought her out. How many of you have been in this situation where you were the Kerry Monroe and sought out the black student in your room?

I found myself in similar circumstances in the 1960s and discovered my own version of Kerry Monroe, a friend with whom I listened to the Beatles, the BBC Radio and tried to figure it out. And similarly, I moved on and found a crowd that shared interests with me. I wonder how many people are finding that these same dynamics of racial ridicule and being treated as the other apply to us as adults. How many of us seek out friendships with people who look or sound different from ourselves.

How comfortable are we with people from racial and ethnic backgrounds outside of our own? Because of de facto segregation, we can still live a lot of our lives in a world of our own making away from Asians, Africans, Whites and others we wish to shun. Or we can live intentionally in a rich mosaic in our own and other people’s cultures It is a choice we are free to make because we had our first interracial friendship.

 

 

A People’s History of the United Statesl

celebrate

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.

 

 

#OscarssoWhite

 

I joined onto the hashtag #OscarssoWhite very late although in a way I have always used it. To me, it symbolizes more than than handing an award to an actor or a movie. To me, it speaks to the issue of inclusion or exclusion from society. Although I have good memories of high school, I don’t recall seeing a single black staff member. In fact, the last black staff I remember from school was before I transferred from the black school system in our city into the white one.

So, who were my mentors? Good question. Where I lived, they didn’t use colored people. If your live in a society where no one looks or sounds or acts like you, what does that say? {I should interrupt at this point to tell you I am hearing voices. There is the John Coltrane song Afro Blue playing and singers are belting out the lyrics.) I don’t remember seeing a black police officers during this period, either. It is not surprising that I was alienated from authority. Now, black children have the luxury of deciding whether the black authority figures are more respectful. No, that doesn’t mean getting an Easy A in a class.

When I saw the hashtag I thought of who would you see as an every day person. Yesterday I went to assist a couple of consumers and we went to a grocery store in their neighborhood. I was delighted to see black workers helping to manage the store and provide good customer service. In a way, I way part of the black scenario as I am a deep dusky brown skinned man. When I watched television Monday night I looked to see roles for people who looked like me and was rewarded. I even found black people in commercials.

If your image cannot be shown in the public, then of course you can’t be crossing guards, senators, teachers, doctors or store clerks. Those are the people we value in our society. No, I don’t think that hiring black police, electing black police or giving Spike Lee an Oscar Award will solve our problems, but they are important steps toward equality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

many different colors

 

 

Encouraging the consumers

 

Who knows? The woman in the picture below walking her dogs may be one of my co-workers or someone else’s case manager enjoying herself after work. But maybe should inspire one or more people by setting a positive example to begin walking to the store. Or to go to the Humane Society to pet the animals.

Maybe on a trip the consumer would get all those positive feelings we like to have as people who are not receiving case management. And why wouldn’t someone who is receiving our services want those kinds of feelings? There is a whole world of positive living that people have been describing and maybe we can help provide the encouragement. Instead of talking about medication, let’s talk about what inspires people, what they enjoy doing and what they see themselves becoming.

 

 

woman walking her dogs