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.
Debby Irving traveled a path from isolated childhood to involved and doing good work in the inner city during her adulthood as she explained in Waking Up White. She raised money, taught school, attended diversity workshops and generally was a good person. But it seemed that her experiences were h0llow. The hollowness resulted from the fact she had not confronted her whiteness. She had grown up thinking that childhood was like every else’s. The baby boom men came home from the war, got married, went to school on the GI Bill and bought a house financed with government assistance. But her aha moment arrived when she enrolled in a course at Wheelock College in Cambridge, Massachusetts on racial identity.
She saw a move Race-the Power of an Illusion that uncovered the history of government enforced discrimination in housing, education and almost every area of life. We have been running in an uneven race. In the white privilege workshop, Dr. Eddie Moore illustrated the concept of white privilege by using a movie that showed a white person at the starting line several steps of the black runner. As history progresses from the 1600s until the 1960s the black man finds himself slipping further and further behind. Finally in the last 20 years, the black man begins to break new ground only to be struck down by shortened life spans. African Americans die much earlier than white people in America. The black man in he race was Patricia Raybon’s father and the white runner was Debby Irving’s father with generations of privilege.
We must do what we can to help remain in the race. The picture above is the famous jazz musician John Coltrane who died at age 40 after a life struggling with heroin addiction and alcoholism. So, this blog entry has many purposes. One is to tell of the racial awakening of Debby Irving as she understood the various advantages she had enjoyed and was unable to see for so many years. But another purpose is to encourage African-Americans, including me, to live healthier lifestyles. My mother is 92 so I have a long way to go before I sleep.
I decided to use my Dr. King floating holiday to be off from work. Veterans Day is our other floating holiday. i am grateful for the accomplishments of Dr. King as I lived through the civil rights era. In a way, the holiday and the struggle that it took getting passed represents a victory for all African-Americans. Although others might not see it that way, I was clearly excited seeing something recognizing our achievements in America. We who were brought here under horrible conditions and lacked basic dignities, and being considered less than human.
Even today, with an African-American, Barack Obama as President, there are people who use his presidency as an excuse to unleash the most vile and racist epithets imaginable. They have no respect for the leader of our country and none for the struggle of our people. That is why we must hold ourselves up on the days that are not named for us. Tomorrow I will celebrate myself as I honor Dr. King’s memory by assisting the consumers who depend upon me. I think Dr. King would have wanted it that way.