First Christmas Away From Home


I will be back in my hometown of Buffalo on Monday night. Christmas brings up all kinds of mixed emotions and expectations. I will be seeing my mother and my older sister and my nephew and his family. This is a season of dread, becoming nauseated after hearing yet another version of Silent Night at the mall. This is an annual pilgrimage for me seeing what changes have taken place back home and working role in the family dynamics. I might see if it’s possible to stream a black holiday classic movie.

This year is more challenging than ever as I have fought with my body to achieve a certain level of health. My two main presents are to myself: I had tied to quit working a few months ago and then I accepted a job a few weeks ago that begins in early January.  My new supervisor has called several times and I have filled out all kinds of paperwork so I guess this is going to happen. The second gift is that of my functioning mostly pain-free body. I have an appointment with the VA on Monday to get the remainder of my ear wax removed before getting on the plane.

I am quick point out to all who will listen that this holiday is something very different for everyone. There are the people seeking asylum who are facing family separation and even death trying to find a better life for themselves and their families. There was the hear wrenching story of a young girl who died in a prison camp yesterday. There are the pictures of hundreds of Yemenis on the brink of starvation. There are the survivors of the journalists who were killed attempting to shine the light of truth upon the evil deeds of powerful people. There are the people whose stories were told in the song First Christmas of loneliness, abuse and fear.  There is the loss of democracy caused by the state legislatures in Wisconsin and Michigan. And finally there are people being spat upon by racists who don’ even know them but feel cIt is a time to reflect on our hopes and dreams and resolve to find a way rejoice and be glad in it.

Festivus is on the way!


You know it, girl. The signs are up around Brady Street in Milwaukee announcing the upcoming holiday called Festivus on December 23rd during which no one is obligated to give presents, exchange greeting cards or be nice to people that you dislike. This is actually perfect for introverts like me. You can however air your grievances. I posted something on Facebook about the event and one person responded that he was working on his.

My body has been airing its grievances for years. I run to the bathroom more than ever. The cartilage in my toes is gone. Even before I knew that it existed. I have a pinched nerve in my neck and sometimes I can barely raise my arms above my shoulders.

When Festivus rolls around, I’m gonna have a lot to talk about.  You can respond and discuss your favorite Festivus stories. Have fun with it.

Jazz is what brings us together




I disagree with my mother and sister about almost everything. Including my name. So for the sake of our sanity I felt it was best to live apart from them. Several states away, in fact. Better than to have awkward meals and long silences. This has worked well as mom is 93, my sister is 72 and I am a youthful 66. We have avoided appearing in the newspaper in a article about how we died under mysterious circumstances.

Many of my best memories involving my family include jazz. I am listening to Horace Silver on Spotify as I am typing this. My older sister is a big fan of Lee Morgan, Clifford Brown and Art Blakey. I can recall her playing Clifford Brown in her bedroom and being fascinated by this. I guess what I most like about jazz is the staying power of the music. I can listen to songs from 50 years ago and they sound as fresh as when they were originally recorded.

My advice is find one thing you can agree with and stick to it when you come home for the holiday. For me, what works is jazz.

The Valentine’s day stomach flu


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.

A wonderfully diverse mental health party

I enjoyed myself last night at the holiday party for a mental health organization.The party was held in the hotel also owned by the organization. This is a for profit business owned by a man who immigrated from Malawi, a landlocked country in southern Africa. The company has successful mental health and drug rehabilitation operations. But the most remarkable part of the company is the Days Inn located near 6th and Walnut. The hotel replaced a run down facility for people with developmental disabilities. The very modern website boasts of their conveniences and location near downtown. The building was filled with horny young white men last night. The staff is diverse, the beds are firm and the appetizers are fresh. Although I brought a dish not to be shared, the staff had prepared a feast with spicy Hispanic food.

I am thinking it might be a good place to have some of these mental health meetings instead of using Serb Hall, where I nearly froze my cojones in the restroom. The rooms were very reasonably priced and I witnessed a young woman from Illinois checking in with a friend and asking about where to get breakfast. When you go someplace other than where you might normally venture, you learn something new about Milwaukee. We are a city where many of those who are most in need to services can’t find people who look like us when we are most vulnerable.

I say, let’s look around and see what the barriers are to a culturally intentional mental health workforce. But we aren’t going to get there with meetings in which I am the only African-American male. Let’s include the black man who attended social work school with me at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and now works for the Center for Veterans Issues. Is there another black male peer support specialist? If so let’s find him and groom him to take over my role someday. And let’s not forget other peoples of color who have been missing from the discussion.

We need advocates who look and sound like the people for whom they are advocating. It’s not enough and nor is it appropriate to have all white staffs who look as though they were cut from the same mold. Spend a day and spend money with others and hear their stories. There is more. Come find us.

Seeking the wellspring of my heart

I am working on this year’s first vacation and I think it will  include a wonderful organic farm not far from Milwaukee called Wellspring.  Just the name itself sounds wonderful. My older sister received all of the farming genes from our mother. That freed me from years of dirt daubing. However, I did do a little work in a community garden when I lived on the east side of Milwaukee, which is known for its gardens. The site includes a youth hostel so it will be affordable. I t was always one of those places I heard about in meetings and put on my list of places to visit. Sort of like a bucket list only much cheerier.

Things to do before you have some incurable disease, although I’m certain I can find a snappier name. I also want to visit the Field Museum in Chicago, which is the incredibly huge and nearby. Perhaps I will take the train and leave the car at home. I got that part of the idea from an old friend. I would hate for anything to happen to the car while on a vacation and be stuck with the hassle of finding a replacement. I just got my notice to renew my license plates and the car runs very smoothly.

As for the museum, Illinois is always enticing us to visit since we’re right next door. A day or so among those ruffians who like trading last place with the Milwaukee Brewers will be long enough. I am hoping that their excitement from the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup will have died down.

Finally, two Milwaukee museums interest  me, the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum. The art museum has a wonderful exhibit of African-American artists and one of my Facebook friends Mutope Johnson has been promoting it. Because of my work schedule it is practically impossible for me to go see it without being on vacation. The children’s museum fascinated me because I was told it was unlike any other in that the museum was very experiential, a hand on type of thing. The commercials make it seem like so much fun, too. Betty Brinn is actually within walking distance of the art museum.

I will want to budget for buying art prints and a visit to some wonderful restaurant. It would be best to use one whole week  but I also need to go see my family for Thanksgiving. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. I need to do some more planning. My family is too wonderful to stay away from for very long.

The most lethal sniper in America was killed

On Memorial Day I heard an interview with a man who had written a story about the most lethal sniper in America. As a peace activist I tend to avoid listening to these kinds of stories but yesterday, thinking about the sacrifices military men and women make for our country, I decided to sit and listen and I was richly rewarded.

Chris Kyle was a Navy Seal who was credited with killing more than 100 people during his military service. But arguably the most important work he undertook was in his civilian life working with veterans who had experienced post traumatic stress disorder. Nicholas Schmidle, a staff writer for the New Yorker, wrote a story about Chris Kyle including the tragic ending in which he was shot by a deeply troubled vet he was trying to assist.

Listening to the story about Chris Kyle was part of  my attempt to understand the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I also watched Democracy Now rebroadcast their story from last year’s veterans protest in Chicago outside the NATO meeting. I saw veterans ashamed of their military service returning their medals to the United States government. There was a powerful testimony from a mother whose son had killed himself on an American military base who was angry that the government had told the world he had died in combat. And I heard a song Hero of War about the horrors our government has told young men like Chris Kyle to inflict during our long occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These stories are relevant during the ongoing debate over how much America needs to be involved in the destruction taking place in Syria. I hear about formerly middle class families sleeping in half bombed out buildings after fleeing their homes. I ponder questions of right and wrong, the President’s moral authority and whether and when solving our own problems at home will ever become important.

What are we really aiming at when we send snipers out? Who is the ultimate target of our drone attacks? When will we decide that the body count is high enough for us to be able to ceasefire? I urge my readers to ask yourselves these questions while you look into these stories that I have discussed.