On CNN’s coverage of the 47th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act

August 7, 2012

While laudable for its length, the content, and context of CNN’s story on the History of the 1965 Voting Rights Act on Sunday August 5th, 2012 missed its mark. There’s enough blame to go around for producers, editors (for the wrong time-line), and the guests for not maximizing a teaching moment during “prime time”.

 

It was good for Rev. Young to begin by saying (almost “tongue and cheek”) he was born in New Orleans, and in order to vote in November he will be required to show certain papers he might not be able to obtain, or locate. That’s “meta-talk” for Black folks, meaning “Houston we have a problem”.

 

The least challenge at the polls during the upcoming voting season will add to what will already be a more volatile voting experience this time around. Efforts to reduce vote fraud by placing additional demands on voters for specific identification are reminiscent of the “Jim Crow” laws of my home state of Mississippi. Then, over 450,000 African Americans were eligible to vote in the state, however less than sixty thousand had been allowed to register.  Of course having to guess the correct answer to questions like how many Black Eye Peas does it take to fill a gallon jar helped keep the numbers down until after the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Soon Mississippi became the state with the largest number of Black elected officials in the nation.

 

While the questions will probably not be as tricky in 2012, without public education campaigns about new voting rules in those states where new rules will be in place, the impact will be no laughing matter, especially in close races and there will be many.

 

To use today’s media platforms effectively, the few of us who have access to them must be savvy enough to know when to “reflect” and when to “think”. All pundits could help the public now by focusing their attention on the “buzz” on the street of America about new voting rules, what states are involved, what are the new requirements? We need more about “now”, and less about “then.” This ain’t gon be our mama’s election!

 

While seeing civil rights icons on split screens with CNN anchors covering civil rights issues makes a great visual, if the content does not increase the viewer’s political or civil literacy rate, the experience is nothing more than eye candy. We have just about three months to educate the public about something many of us are taking for granted, including many folks considered to be well educated and politically savvy.

A “climate of consent” for gun violence via policy or practice is a dangerous game

July 24, 2012

A nation cannot create a climate of consent for gun violence via policy or practice and not expect a culture to emerge that finds sustenance in such a climate.  The shooter in Colorado did not create the climate; he simply took advantage of it. Like the hijackers on “9/11” he did not commit a crime until he entered the theater and pulled the triggers.

He did not use a fake name to purchase his ticket, or his arsenal, and the hijackers did not use fake names to buy their tickets, or box cutters. The shooter in Colorado took advantage of access to a side door that should have been un-accessible to patrons except in case of an emergency. The hijackers took advantage cock pit doors that should have been hardened. And,  like the hijackers who literally died on the scene, the killer in Colorado also died on the scene because who he was before he began his carnage died the moment he pulled the trigger on the first weapon in the theater. I would bet there is no law against releasing chemical aerosol irritants with the intent to create mass hysteria in theaters in Aurora, or any place else in America for that matter before this incident.

It is important for us to remember that in the history of warfare, and of the world there has never been but one successful defense against suicide attackers which is …identification, isolation, and elimination.

An Open Letter to the people of Aurora from a “9/11” survivor

July 23, 2012

I lost my fiancée Sarah Miller Clark on flight #77 that crashed into the Pentagon; her son lives in Aurora.  One of my first calls on that fateful day in 2001 was to him in Aurora. Of course one of my first calls after learning of the incident at the Century Theater was to check on Sarah’s son, and my aunt who also lives in Aurora. I am happy to report both are well and safe.

 I offer my prayers and condolences to the victims and their families, and forgiveness to the shooter. I know it is difficult in these days immediately after such an event to contemplate “forgiveness” however I  attribute my ability to get on with the business of attending to all of the various issues the families will have to tend with to my decision immediately offer forgiveness to the perpetrators and their families. It freed me to get on with the business of jumpstarting my own healing process, and it freed me to make the necessary plans to bring positive closure to the immediate experience of losing my loved one, and to consciously use every opportunity to speak about the experience to highlight the “life” qualities Sarah exhibited so that even in her death she could be a beacon to others.

 In the days ahead there will be much to parse; decisions on a memorial service, handling the deceased bills, mail, phone service, automobiles, clothes, keepsakes, estates, the list goes on. Add to this the constant television coverage, the replays, the comments of friends who want to say something but are at a loss for words,,, the moments when the horror grips your entire being; the days when a “big cry” lingers constantly  just below the surface and seems constantly stuck in your throat.

 There will be days when you will stare at your loved one’s belongings; the places they once slept, or ate, or danced, their toothbrush, clothes, shoes, (one of the hardest things to deal with will be what to do with their shoes, for some reason many “9/11” survivors remembered more about their loved ones shoes, than other items) of the places they loved and the fact that they are no longer with you on this plane will seem overwhelming. My advice is that you allow these feelings to flow over you, and if necessary, cry, you will find it very helpful. In many case I gave Sarah’s work suits, dresses, blouses etc. to organizations providing assistance to women returning to work. I gave most of her shoes to survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

 Expect the experience to be surreal. It is. Be mindful of your need to eat, although you will not want food. Work out, as exercise is important to relieve the stress; Pray for it is true that God not only answers prayers, but also “Pray-ers.”

 Finally, use every opportunity to assure children you come in contact with in your City, and elsewhere to encourage them to live without fear, love and pray without ceasing, and to continue to believe that despite events such as this America is till the best country in the world to be a citizen of, and that your city Aurora will emerge stronger, more unified and that you are assured of your own healing and renewal.

I wish you healing and the power to forgive.

 John Milton Wesley

John Milton Wesley lost his former fiancée Sarah Miller Clark a Washington, DC middle school teacher and one of her students 11 year old Asia Cottom on flight #77 that crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11’01.

Shooting in Colorado could cause fear in children

July 21, 2012
It is important that adults do not overlook the impact of the Colorado tragedy on the psyche of young children. The round the clock television coverage showing the wanton disregard for age by the shooter could be frightening for children. I suggest limiting their access to the ongoing coverage, and be prepared to engage them in conversation should they bring up the event, or a similar subject. Be mindful to end all conversations with children about such tragic events with assurances of love and protection, and reminders to always remain alert.

July 20, 2012

If the Obama administration convened a high-level meeting this morning following the shooting in Colorado and did not include the Secretary of Health and Human Services,(HHS)  they are showing a blatant lack of understanding of the nation’s state of affairs. This crisis is not one to be parsed by “the big guns” exclusively (the president, vice-president, heads of Justice, FBI, DEA, Homeland Security, the National Security Council, ATF, etc.) ;on the contrary HHS’s role in our homeland security must be redefined if we are to reduce the climate of consent for mass violence. The shooting of congresswoman Gifford and others, and this shooting speaks volumes about our collective mental health.

Johnmiltonwesley's Weblog

If the Obama administration convened a high-level meeting this morning following the shooting in Colorado and did not include the Secretary of Health and Human Services,(HHS)  they are showing a blatant lack of understanding of nation’s state of affairs. This crisis is not one to be parsed by “the big guns” exclusively (the president, vice-president, heads of Justice, FBI, DEA, Homeland Security, the National Security Council, ATF, etc.) ;on the contrary HHS’s role in our homeland security must be redefined if we are to reduce the climate of consent for mass violence. The shooting of congresswoman Gifford and others, and this shooting speaks volumes about our collective mental health.

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It’s time for HHS to be invited to the “Homeland Security” table

July 20, 2012

If the Obama administration convened a high-level meeting this morning following the shooting in Colorado and did not include the Secretary of Health and Human Services,(HHS)  they are showing a blatant lack of understanding of nation’s state of affairs. This crisis is not one to be parsed by “the big guns” exclusively (the president, vice-president, heads of Justice, FBI, DEA, Homeland Security, the National Security Council, ATF, etc.) ;on the contrary HHS’s role in our homeland security must be redefined if we are to reduce the climate of consent for mass violence. The shooting of congresswoman Gifford and others, and this shooting speaks volumes about our collective mental health.

St. John Barrett: Thanks I love you man.

July 19, 2012
ImageAt age 14 I stood on a “turn row” in a cotton field in the delta of Mississippi listening intently to a small transistor radio as attorney St. John Barrett accompanied James Meredith to his forced enrollment in Oxford, MS at Ole Miss. In that moment he was one of the most hated “White Men” in the civil rights movement. I will never for get the expressions on their faces, as I will never forget the tension in Mississippi at the time. Ole Miss was considered “sacred ground” to be defended from integration at all costs. This man St. John Barrett had stepped forward to challenge the “status quo.”

Later as the media covered the riots that followed Meredith’s enrollment, ( people were killed, he was charged as a result) I was amazed at the calm and cool of John Doar (who would a year later defuse an escalating potentially violent confrontation during the march following Medgar Evers’s funeral in 1963 Jackson,) and St. John Barrett who was always by Meredith’s side.

Then in 1963, after my “Godmother” Fannie Lou Hamer and another of her colleagues were beaten severely while trying to register to vote in Winona, MS I realize the same guy I had seen with Meredith was now representing Mrs. Hamer in the case presented to the Justice Dept. Now after Mrs. Hamer was beaten (she and the other females with her were forced to lay on the floor, raise their dresses exposing their rears, and were beaten with metal pipes covered with leather) she came home to our little community in Ruleville, where she lived (our families share-cropped together) and the talk of the town (Black community) was the extent of the bruises, the fact that the sheriff had ordered two Black prisoners to do the beating, and the amount of blood on the women’s underwear. St. John Barrett had them bring the clothes to Washington in plastic bags to give the lawmakers a “first hand” look at the brutality of segregation. The clothes were exhibit “B”, the fact that Ms. Hamer and her colleagues could barely walk was Exhibit “A”.

I would later learn that the reason I no longer had to sit behind a piece of “white tape” on Greyhound and Trailways buses (as I traveled up and down highway 49w) was because St. John Barrett had called for the enforcement of the Interstate Commerce Commission laws during the same period of time he was helping Meredith, and Mrs. Hamer.

I always wanted to say “thank you” to St. John Barrett, and I never got the chance. I just kept the intent in my mind and heart. I had no idea he had moved less than ten miles from me, to Ellicott City, MD, or that he was in the hospital (Howard County General) less than ten minutes from my front door. I never even told any one how much I wanted to thank this “slim” “lanky” “White Man” for risking his life to help me and people I loved.

Then one day one of my church colleagues sends me an article, and says …”I work with the sons of the man who represented your “God Mother” after she was beaten in Winona! I first stared in disbelief; the great organizing intelligence was at it again.

So finally, I get to say “Thank you to Mrs. Barrett, and her children for loaning him to us, and to St. John…”Thanks. I love you man.” I have re-opened his guest book for 30 days. My hope is that others (especially African Americans) will reflect, visit the guest book and leave a message for Mrs. Barrett and family.

Romney gives the NAACP a piece of his Mind:

July 13, 2012

 

So Mr. Romney goes to Houston where my sister (a retired Air Force Nurse I might add) is attending her first national NAACP convention and tells her and others in attendance he will “get rid of Obama Care”.   The audience responded with a sustained “boo” which Romney ignored, or pretended not to hear. The delegates were unaware they had been “knee jerked” into a starring role in Mr. Romney’s plan to move further to the “Right” to win in November. His calculated “baiting” prompted an anticipated response that elevated his image as being the direct opposite of President Obama, and set the stage for his speech that followed in which he touted his “On Message Consistency”. Needless to say my sister was awed, and couldn’t wait to share her awe with me.

Later in the day Mr. Romney is quoted using the word “they” in referring to the NAACP audience, and having a series of talking points to buttress his decision to go to the convention and “speak his mind”. I admire his team’s “gall”.

However, I hope they are aware that they are not playing the best team the NAACP, or Africa Americans has had on the field, or have to put on the field.  That team is made up of “Black voters”.  They also fail to realize that many of us who studied under, and worked for NAACP CEOs like Dr. Benjamin Hooks, as I did, and others who knew Dr. Roy Wilkins, as I did and walked with him at the funeral of Medgar Evers in Jackson, MS in 1963, as I did, or former NAACP presidents like Kivi Kaplan (who was Jewish) and a member of my HBCU’s  (Tougaloo College) board of trustees and who gave me my first summer job in Boston in 1967; are still alive! And though we were absent, we aren’t afraid of the ghosts of what Roland Martin so aptly labeled “code words”. Nor are we ignorant of “soft prejudice.”

I cast no dispersions on Ben Jealous and the current NAACP national Board; they are still finding their way. To suspect Romney to use the invitation to address the national organization and stage a “defining moment of defiance” and not stick to a “common ground” theme would have smacked of political paranoia. To have “read the tea leaves” before hand and using the convention caucuses to alert the delegates that such a thing could be planned for a national television audience by the Republican candidate would have been to Machiavellian. To have armed the delegates with a planned “pregnant pause” for Romney’s antics would have been too “old school”; too Bayard Rustin, too Bruce Gordon, too Lillie Carol Jackson, too Thurgood Marshall, too Enolia McMillan.

So Romney took his shot. He stood before NAACP convention delegates from across the nation and told them what he knew they did not want to hear and cashed in on the “gimmick” hours later before an audience “more like him”.

The mostly Black delegates gave Romney a standing ovation at the end of his speech; by then they had wiped the surprised looks from their faces. Romney having pulled off his first real showing of “back bone” on national television during the campaign darted off to his next campaign stop claiming the Right’s “high ground”. Mean time the nation’s premier African American civil rights organization’s delegates will return to their communities to share the historical moment with their friends and neighbors and (hopefully) to ask Mr. Romney in November when they vote “do you hear me now?”

Want Change? Don’t be Hood-winked;Be Vigilant!

March 26, 2012

Lots of folks showing up now  in the “hood”  and elsewhere wearing a “hood”, when in fact if they had gone to the “hood” when the folks in the hood were crying out for justice Sanford, Fla. would have been a different neighborhood.

The difference between the “virtual media leaders” of today and leaders of Dr. King’s era is that, Dr. King showed up (as he did in Memphis) as soon as the cry for help was heard, and not after the cameras appeared. He didn’t send out Press Releases on his itinerary while in town, or line up multiple media interviews to maximize his appearance or involvement.

If you added up all of the audience potential of the “virtual media leaders” converging on Sanford, Fla. now that Trayvon Martin has been killed, and applied it to just one of the earlier incidents involving African American males having their civil rights denied by the Sanford Police department (multiple cases were documented long before Trayvon was shot), watch Captain Zimmerman would have responded differently to Trayvon’s presence. He would have been aware that despite Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law there was no “climate of consent” in Sanford for him to use “deadly force” and in fact the order by his dispatcher not to pursue would not have been an arbitrary practice, but an (active) Sanford Neighborhood  Watch policy.

As a result; if Zimmerman claims “self-defense”, pleads the 5th (to avoid self-incrimination), his defense team presents evidence his wounds were defensive wounds, he stands by his claim “he was returning to his truck and was attacked by Trayvon,” and there is any evidence (video, eyewitness, etc.) or otherwise to back up his version of the story, at most he will be charged with violating Trayvon’s civil rights. He would avoid the risk of perjuring himself (like the murderers of Emmett Till did) by not testifying in his own defense, and like Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, if tried once and acquitted, there would be no appeal because of “Double Jeopardy”, and there could be no claim of perjury because he would not have testified in the first place.

Emmett Till wore a hat, however as his murderers later pointed out to Author, William Bradford Huie, it wasn’t Till’s hat that enraged them but his head (mindset).  As it was not Trayvon’s hoodie but his presence, and sense of entitlement in Sanford that created the perfect storm for his death, which could have been avoided if one of the “virtual media leaders” had showed up when the brothers, fathers, and mothers of sons who preceded Trayvon in Sanford, cried out for help.

 

Rolannd’s Dilemma: Loose Lips Sink Ships

February 9, 2012

In this “new normal” few of us understand how to handle the “gay issue” especially those of us who are heterosexual. Simply put… and truth be told we just don’t understand it. We don’t really understand the lifestyle, the relationships, the hows, the whys, who’s who, what’s what? and even worse our egos make it hard for us to admit…we just don’t really understand the culture, despite the fact that many of us have friends who are same sex couples whom we love dearly.  So, when it comes to language, education and intellect is no protection in today’s media minefield.

I have known Roland Martin for almost ten years now since he was editor of a Black newspaper in Chicago. While we have never been “running”  buddies we have been in each other’s company on many occasions when both us  were speaking at the NABJ in Las Vegas, The NAACP Image Awards in Hollywood, meetings in Detroit, Chicago, Washington, DC.  We have a very close mutual friend Danny Bakewell who is the former head of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA).  In such social settings (formal and informal) he has always been kind, careful in his speech, thoughtful, sensitive to those of different persuasions, and “on his toes” in terms of being a “self monitor”; aware of how and what he was saying might/could affect others.

However, while ignorance is no excuse, Sunday’s incident reminds me of a friend of my uncle Will had when I was a kid growing up in the delta of Mississippi in the 1950s. The friend’s real name was Percy (I think) but I had always heard members of my family refer to him as “Funny”, so when he came home with my uncle in 1955 and I walked in from school and saw him I gave him a big hug and said “hey Mr. Funny”, and there was a hushed silence in the room, followed by a big laugh by the “grown folks” present. Only later did my uncle Will explain to me that “Funny” was just something grown folks said to describe a certain kind of lifestyle, but that was not his friend’s real name. Go figure!  I thought it was his “nick name” since everybody down south seemed to have one. Mine was “Bubba”, and although my real name was John Milton Wesley, because I was known as my grandmother’s “son” and her name was Sarah Sanders, I was known as “Bubba Sanders”.

 Years later when I arrived up south in Baltimore I began hearing the term “gay”, and I thought it referred to folks who were always “happy”, gregarious, until it was explained to me that the term referred to people who preferred to pursue relationships, and social interactions with people of their same sex.  My initial verbal response was “wow!” followed by “okay”.  My reasoned reaction was, “we are all created equal”, and to each his own.

Still, I had never experienced the level of homophobia down south that is so obvious “up south.” The idea that someone would be discriminated against, or harmed because of their color was something I learned to live with here. I knew the language to survive in both environments when the issue was race. But the idea that what I faced because of my color as a child, and as an adult would be visited on someone because of their sexual preferences such as being  beaten, or denied services, such as housing only became clear to me when I became a Human Rights Investigator in Howard County (Maryland) in 1982.

So Roland Martin’s slip of the finger on Sunday as he watched the Super Bowl perhaps in the comfort of his home with friends and family carefully tweeting away (as he is known to do by those of us who know him, and are his twitter followers (of course I “Follow” him, he does not “Follow” me) is more an indication of ignorance than malice, arrogance than attitude, and latent intolerance, than ridicule.  Add to this the fact that as the power of the African American voice has diminished over time due to integration, the fragmenting of the African American family, church, vote and economic base, and has been a steady growth in the political and economic power of members of “gay” communities nationwide. Much of this growth has occurred right under the noses of African American and they are still unaware of it until they, or someone they know crosses “the line”.

People in Baltimore have to look no further back than when Paul Graziano at the time Baltimore’s new Housing Commissioner misspoke early in 2000 in a bar in Fells Point, or Isaiah Washington lost his role on Grey’s Anatomy for comments about a fellow actor.  

 The real wake-up call for Roland now will be the fact that while high profile “punditry” gives you immense popularity because of its reach, it robs you of a constituency because in an effort to be impartial you run the risk of becoming disconnected from the very folks you are purported to be representing by being selected/hired as a pundit.

Being in or out of the closet when gay is a choice, being Black, more often than not is obvious. So the only constituency who can come to his aid is Black owned media. Other heterosexual pundits, or media colleagues of both races have to walk a tightrope on this one less they reveal…”which side they are on”, and it’s the “wrong” side depending on where they are and who is listening.

On the other hand the GLAAD community should not be expected to be silent when such comments are made by someone who speaks to such a large audience, the teaching moment is too obvious, and the target is too soft and too rich.

 

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