June 22, 2020 – The Arc of Change

Today is June 22, 2020 and National Onion Ring Day. It only seems logical, doesn’t it, that tomorrow would be National Breath Mint day? Well, it isn’t, but enjoy the onion rings anyway.


the arc of change

I had a conversation via Zoom this afternoon with my friend Michael, a Black man who lives in Philadelphia. We got acquainted through a mutual friend, also from Philadelphia. Since that introduction, several years have passed and Michael and I have stayed in touch regularly.

Today our conversation turned to the events in the country since the murder of George Floyd. I asked Michael how he assessed things today. “I don’t really think anything is going to change,” was his response. I told Michael that I hoped he was wrong but I feared he was right.

My fears seemed to be justified by the news today. Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver in NASCAR, found that someone had hung a noose in his racecar’s stall at the Talledega Superspeedway in Alabama. Wallace had played a significant role in convincing NASCAR to ban Confederate flags at its races. Wallace was to have competed in yesterday’s GEICO 500. The race was postponed until today because of storms and rain.

The bad weather, however, did not deter some NASCAR fans from defying the rules. A parade of fans carried Confederate flags outside the gates and a small airplane flew over the track with the confederate flag and a banner with the words “Defund NASCAR” trailing. Confederate flag fliers are annoying, but those who leave nooses may have broken the law. Earlier today the Civil Rights Division of the Federal Department of Justice launched an investigation into the incident.

NASCAR drivers, crews, and owners walk and stand in support of Bubba Wallace. Source: Fox Sports.

While I write this blog I have the television above my computer tuned to the local Fox affiliate carrying the GEICO 500 at Talledega today. Before the invocation, a long time tradition in auto racing, someone painted on the infield #I Stand With Bubba. Then everyone – racers, crews, owners – lined up behind Bubba Wallace’s car and walked behind him down the pit road for the invocation and National Anthem. Even “The King” Richard Petty of Petty Motorsports was there to support his driver. Richard Petty is the winningest driver in NASCAR history. He is also a long-time Republican who appeared on stage with Trump at one of his campaign rallies in 2016. Petty, at 82 years old, is at high risk of COVID-19 but decided he wanted to be in Talledega today to stand with his driver. Petty’s actions remind us that doing the right thing should always transcend politics.

Richard Petty tweeted his support for Bubba Wallace only hours before the start of today’s rain postponed GEICO 500 in Alabama.

My friend Michael’s pessimism, the noose in Bubba’s garage, and the confederate flag flying fans at Talledega remind me that the arc of change is slow. However slow it is, it cannot stop. Each of us can contribute to the change by doing everything we can to continue the conversation and keep it alive. That, my friend, is why you are seeing so much about this issue in this blog. I want to do everything I can to see the change through.


chickenman – Episode 66

Chickenman finally tracks down the Hummer and makes the arrest. But, is this the only Hummer?


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 21, 2020 – This Normal Dad Doesn’t Want All the Old Normal Anymore

Today is June 21, 2020. Happy Father’s Day!

this normal dad doesn’t want all the old normal anymore

The context in which I often think about “old normal” vs the “new normal” is how life was before COVID-19. Father’s Day was normal in the sense that my son and I got together. We played golf early this morning, had brunch afterward, and I got one of the sweetest Father’s Day cards from him that I’ve ever received.

At the same time, nothing about our Father’s Day get together was normal. We arrived at the golf course in separate cars. We both wore masks. We couldn’t ride in the same golf cart because we needed to maintain at least six feet of distance during the game. At the end of the game we drove separately to a diner that has only recently reopened and is following the distancing and face mask rules.

What really wasn’t normal was that we said good-bye six feet apart. I still hug him and tell him I love him each time we part after a visit, but, of course, today I could only tell him I love him. When it comes to Father’s Day and some of the traditions that build and sustain relationships with those we love and care about, I want the old normal again.

Source: BeWellPBC, Juneteenth Newsletter

However, there is another old normal that I don’t want anymore. It is what became normal for so many of us White people in the U.S. That is the normal created by racial bias which, in turn, has created the conditions of prejudice, threat of violence, and actual violence under which so many nonwhite non-Anglo people in the United States live. This image, which appeared in a client’s newsletter, reminded me about that old normal. Like the sign says, that is the normal I don’t want to go back to either.

Earlier this week my friend Bruce re-posted a video on Facebook which powerfully illustrated that old normal. I also re-posted it and you can also see it here. In an earlier blog post, I had written that I could only know vicariously what my spouse, a non-white, non-Anglo woman, experiences. I have seen her experience much of what you see in that video. I have sometimes been with her when it has happened to her and, yet, my own sense of what is “normal” as a White person prevents me from seeing it clearly. The vicarious experience is not the same as experiencing it personally. If you are a White person, please keep that in mind as you watch that brief video.

Todd Winn, Retired Marine, The Washington Post, June 18, 2020

There is a story about a retired Marine that appeared in The Washington Post that gives us a glimpse of the “new normal” as it relates to race. The Marine squeezed into his old dress uniform, put a piece of black duct tape across his mouth with the words “I can’t breathe” on it, and then stood at attention in front of the statehouse in Utah for three hours as a personal protest. The day he did this it was over 100 degrees in Salt Lake City. His shoes melted as he stood in the sun. He held a sign listing the name of the Black men and women who had recently died as a result of police brutality. His motivation for staging his protest in this way is a powerful reminder of why people choose to serve this country – whether in the military, in emergency services, or in civil service. It is worth reading to learn how Mr. Winn arrived at this form of protest.

Another glimpse of the new normal is seen in protests that continue throughout the country. The protests are comprised of very diverse groups of people. They are made diverse by race, age, sexual orientation, language, religion, and ability. Contrary to the propoganda put out by their detractors (e.g., Trump), the protests are mostly peaceful.

These are just two of the things I see that make me feel as if the “new normal” will be much better than the old for everyone. Of course, before we get there, some things have got to change from the direction they’ve been going for the past few years.

The good thing about being human beings is that we have the power of choice. We can choose what we want to be and we can even choose to be different than we have been, even if we’ve been pretty awful. We usher in the “new normal” when we choose inclusion over exclusion; equity over partiality; and justice over bias. For starters, that’s the new normal this dad wants.


the tulsa fizzle

Happily, Tulsa did not erupt into violence before, during, or after Trump’s rally there last night. It was, in fact, a pretty weak rally. My favorite photo of the rally comes from The Washington Post with this headline: “Trump rallies in red-state America — and faces a sea of empty blue seats.” The office tally in the 19,000 seat arena was 6,200. The outside overflow stage and megatrons were never used.

The Washington Post, June 21, 2020

One of the funniest stories to come out of the Tulsa event was that about the TikTok users who grabbed up thousands of tickets to the event they never planned to use. The idea for doing this came from Mary Jo Laupp, a woman from Fort Dodge in my native state of Iowa. Kudos Mary Jo!


chickenman – episode 65

Chickenman closes in on the Hummer. Or is he really?

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 19, 2020 – Juneteenth & the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Today is June 19, 2020, also known as Juneteenth. In my June 18th blog (which got posted late due to a technical glitch) I wrote about Juneteenth, provided several links to excellent resources about the holiday and focused on the anthem which is associated with it, Lift Every Voice and Sing.

This date is also significant for something that happened 99 years later, on June 19, 1964. After a 54-day filibuster, the United States Senate passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by a vote of 73 to 27. The House passed the legislation by a vote of 290 to 130. President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law on July 2, 1964.

President Kennedy had pushed hard for the passage of the Civil Right Act in the Fall of 1963. When he died by assassination in November 1963, President Johnson took up the cause of its passage and moved quickly on it. On March 26, 1964 the Senate debated the bill. On that day Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X both showed up to watch the debate. The two men met for less than a minute. It was the first and only time the two would ever meet.

Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 fifty-six years ago, there has not been the progress made that was hoped. Today, however, there is some hope that an inclusive, just, and equitable society will finally emerge.


stories of covid-19

There is no good news on the Novel Coronavirus front today.

We are approaching 120k in the number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States. Today, at this moment, we stand at 118,695 deaths. Over the weekend it is likely we’ll hit the mark. IHME is now projecting over 200,000 deaths by October 1.

Dr. Anthony Fauci told The Washington Post that we are still in the first wave of the pandemic. He explains it this way:

The one that we’ve been dealing with over the last few months has been what’s called “mitigation,” namely to, in a very dramatic way, separate the virus from people by the so-called “physical separation” of one person who might be infected from another. That’s the reason why we talk about the distances of physical separation, wearing of a mask, washing hands to interrupt that interaction between the virus and society that has been successful to help contain the onslaught which we’ve unfortunately experienced, which has been very severe, with now 120,000 deaths . . . in 2 million cases in the United States, which is extraordinary. That you would consider a wave.

How do you go from one wave and not have another wave going? Well, first of all, unfortunately for us, we still are in the first wave because even though there’s variability throughout the country, where some places like New York City are going very nicely down, staying down so that they can start to reopen, simultaneously, we’re seeing in certain states an increase in cases and even now an increase in some of the states of hospitalization. What that directly is related to is complicated. It’s a combination of testing more, but not explained completely by testing more, because some of the states really do have a real increase in the percent of the tests that are positive.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, The Washington Post, June 18, 2020

The World Health Organization is reporting that the pandemic has entered a “new and dangerous phase” and the pandemic appears to be accelerating. Yesterday (Thursday) 150,000 new cases were reported worldwide, a new one-day record. Almost half of the new cases are in the Americas.

Just ahead of Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma scheduled for tomorrow night, the state reported a surge in new Novel Coronavirus cases. Yesterday (Thursday) 450 new cases in a single day were reported, which outdistanced the previous one day total 259 by nearly 200. Tulsa had 82 new cases and Oklahoma City saw an increase of 80 cases.

Despite this and warnings from public health officials, Trump is forging ahead with the rally. In do so, he also adds fuel to the country’s other pandemic – racism and discrimination. There are protests planned for the rally and Trump has responded by saying that:

“Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis,” 

Trump, USA Today, June 19, 2020

When you read the full article, be sure to read the response to this threat by William Kristol, former editor of The Weekly Standard.

God help us all. God save us from the Stupid (having or showing a great lack of common sense) and the Ignorant (lacking knowledge, information, or awareness about a particular thing.)


salsa friday

One of our favorite performers is Carlos Vives, who, like Clemencia, is a native Colombian. Anytime he has been on tour in the DC area over the past several years, we’ve been in the audience. Of course, live shows may not be around for a while so we are becoming content with recorded music and music videos. Carlos Vives is best known for the revival of villanato, a nearly lost style of Colombian folk music. Don’t imagine it to be anything like American “roots” folk music. In this recent release, Vives is performing with Rubén Blades a very danceable salsa. Enjoy! It’s a great way to dance into the weekend!


chickenman – episode 63

The Hummer, the Crowned Prince of Wordless Silly Songs, is still on the loose. The Winged Warrior is hot on the trail…kind of…if he can only get into his chicken suit.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 17, 2020 – Dave Chappelle’s 8:46

Today is Wednesday, June 17, and today is Eat Your Vegetables Day. You’ll remember, of course, yesterday was Fresh Veggies Day, so it only seems fitting. I’m happy to report that I am eating my veggies. Clemencia and I love homemade soup and she made a wonderful batch of fresh veggies soup this morning. Tasty indeed!


Chickenman – episode 61

Chickenman – whom we assume is still enroute to see his grandmother with a basket of food and copy of TV Guide – is being called upon to deal with The Hummer.


Dave chappelle – 8:46

I’m going to do something very different with today’s Daily Drivel. I’m going to rescue you from reading but ask that you take a few minutes to watch the video below.

Dave Chappelle is a comedian who is known for comedy which is also commentary on the current moment. His language can be offensive and very rough, so please be advised. His observations, though, are often spot on. He also has a gift for helping people see more clearly, which I believe he is exercising in this performance.

If you are unfamiliar with Chappelle and watch this video, you will see a very raw and brief show (under 30 minutes). You may, therefore, be surprised to know that he has made at least one decision on the basis of his personal ethics and principles. It was a decision that cost him in excess of $50 million dollars per year and also put his career at risk. In this video, you get a sense of the risks he takes with his material and the power of his commentary. You also learn in this video who it is that might have informed his moral and ethical compass.

Before you watch the video, though, I recommend you read this brief New York Times article about it. As the article points out, there are three key references in the video that it will be useful to have in advance for context.

This video was released on June 12, 2020 – five days ago. Already it has nearly 23 million views. It is going to have a whole lot more.

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 15, 2020 – Go Bubba!

Today is Monday, June 15, 2020, which is also Smile Power Day. Smile Power Day recognizes the power that smiles have to make us happier, make others happier, change our mood, improve relationships, send a great customer service message (if we are in business), and even help us live longer. Hey, if it does all that, I’ll take a bunch!

Thank you!

Since posting yesterday that it was time for us to let one of our miniature schnauzers go back to the universe, we received several comments of condolences and comfort. We appreciate them all. I do have an update, though. After observing that Madison has deteriorated even faster than expected since seeing our vet on Saturday and because she is beginning to experience pain, we decided to move the visit from Peaceful Passage up to Tuesday, the 16th. This blog will post at 8:00 AM on the 16th and we expect that by noon Madison will have gone to the place where all good dogs go. Again, thank you for your kind words.

Go Bubba!: a surprising move by nascar

Boomer’s ol’ #9 after a rather nasty crash in the first turn of the dirt track at the Louisa County Fairgrounds in Columbus Junction, Iowa (circa 1959).

I’ve been a racing fan since I was very young. Iowa has a great tradition of dirt car racing – especially stock cars, sprint cars, etc. When I was a kid, they were known as “jalopy races” and my brother-in-law/father figure Boomer raced a jalopy. He won a few, lost a few, and crashed a few in his run as a dirt track racer.

My oldest friend (in terms of length of time, not age) is Mark who still lives in my hometown. Mark and I started going to races together before we even entered kindergarten. Most auto racing at that time was on dirt horse racing tracks at county fairgrounds in Iowa. Since Iowa has 99 counties, there were race tracks everywhere. The Mississippi Valley Speed Club (MVSC) was the sanctioning body for jalopy races in Southeast Iowa. Racing rotated from one track to another, about six in all, each Saturday night. While refreshing my memory on this, I came across an amazing finding! Someone digitized a Super 8 reel of MVSC racing from the 1950’s and 60’s and posted it on YouTube. You won’t get to hear the roar of the engines nor smell the fumes, but you can see some of the action in this 11 minute video.

Video by Mark Kleindolph

When we graduated from high school, I bought a rusted out 1956 Chevy for $50 to convert into a racecar. Mark and I originally had started to work on a 1952 Pontiac but the thing was built like a tank. It was just too difficult to make the modifications necessary. We stripped the 1956 Chevy, Mark put rollbars in it, and, then he took the engine out of his own rebuilt 1957 Chevy and put it into the racecar. Our first race was in West Liberty, Iowa where we didn’t fare very well. Mark got forced off the track in the backstretch and ended up clipping off an infield light pole. My run as an owner lasted only one season, but Mark’s run as a driver and racecar builder lasted a lot longer. Eventually he got some good sponsorship and he competed in the NASCAR dirt circuit. He won track and season championships at many of the race tracks we went to as kids. Of course, by the time he was racing in the 70’s and 80’s, the tracks were redesigned for much faster cars with high banking in the turns.

As kids, Mark’s favorite driver was a driver named Mark Mosier (#17) and mine was a guy name Mike Niffenegger (#76). Though I’d like to think that Mike beat Mark on a regular basis, Mark really had excellent cars and usually won. However, there was this one night I remember very clearly when Mike got the best of Mark in an unusual way. It was at the start of the feature event and as the cars were accelerating, Mike’s drive shaft broke which sent his car tumbling end-over-end in front of the grandstand until it landed on top of Mark’s car. Both were miraculously unhurt, but, of course, both were out for the rest of the feature. Alas, Mike did get the best of Mark that evening. I love the photo from that accident! Notice Mike sitting on top of his car waiting to be helped down.

Growing up in very White, very rural Iowa, jalopy/stock car racing was also very White. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing any Black drivers in the sport through the years that I followed it closely, which was well into my 30’s and 40’s. When I go back to Iowa, I usually try to take in a stock car race while I’m there. In fact, Clemencia goes with me. She saw her first one several years ago and to my shock and delight, she loved it! In fact, her dog walking hat is a souvenir ball cap we got with the 34 Raceway logo on it. In the few times I’ve been back to the raceways in Iowa since moving to the East Coast, I have seen more diverse audiences but not so much the drivers.

The same is true in NASCAR. In fact, there is only one Black driver and his name is Bubba Wallace. He was born in Mobile, Alabama but began his NASCAR career at the age of 19 at the Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. He finished 9th in that race in 2012. I haven’t followed much NASCAR for a few years but when I read an article about Bubba last year, I started following him. I still don’t get to watch much NASCAR but, when I do, Bubba Wallace is my guy.

When Bubba was 15 years old he was the youngest driver to ever win at Franklin County Speedway in Virginia. Since entering NASCAR Bubba Wallace has distinguished himself on and off the racetrack. Seven other Black men have been drivers in NASCAR but none has had the level of success of Bubba Wallace. He’s finished 2nd in the Daytona 500, 3rd in the Brickyard 400 (Indianapolis), and won the NASCAR Truck Series – and he is still early in his career. His potential was recognized by the winningest driver in NASCAR history, Richard Petty, when in 2018 Bubba Wallace was selected to drive Petty’s own legendary #43 in NASCAR.

However, last week Bubba distinguished himself off the track in a different way that took as much, if not more, courage climbing behind the wheel of his racecar. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the protests, he called on NASCAR to ban the presence of the Confederate flag at all of its race venues. To everyone’s surprise NASCAR did just that, going against all of the Southern “good ol’ boy” tradition that had perpetuated the display of the flag for so many years. Shortly after that, Wallace’s sponsor, Petty Enterprises, announced a new design for the #43, which had worn “Petty Blue” for many years. The new design would be all black, with #BlackLivesMatter on each side near the rear of the car, and white and black hands clenched together in unity on the hood.

Bubba Wallace’s new NASCAR #43. Retrieved from Yahoo! Finance.

Bubba Wallace is realistic. He has gotten a lot of support from other drivers but he also knows the support is not universal, especially among fans. Only seven other Black drivers have ever started in a NASCAR race in its 70+ years. He is still the only Black driver in NASCAR today. However, he has demonstrated an extraordinary level of leadership. At age 26 he has found his voice and seized the leadership moment. As a result, NASCAR has made a move away from its culture that I never thought was possible. The next test for Bubba Wallace and NASCAR will be in Talledega, AL for the GEICO 500 on Father’s Day, June 21 at 2:00 PM. This dad will be watching it from home and cheering on #43.


Free Resource for funding collaborations

My friend and colleague, Kimberley Jutze of Shifting Patterns Consulting, has just put out a terrific free resourse. Kimberley, who has a deep background in fund development, has drawn on her expertise and experience to write The Secret to Collaborative Resource Development. She is making it available at her website. Just follow the link and scroll to the bottom of the page where you will find resources, including this paper. The paper highlights the 4Ps of Collaborative Resource Development which are intended to help coalitions, collaborations, and collective change leadership groups bring the needed resources to their efforts. It is an excellent paper and Kimberley is also available to help your group put the 4Ps into action. Check it out!


chickenman – episode 59

Chickenman prepares to race the Bear Lady to his grandmother’s house…if he can get his mind off of Smokey the Bear.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 13, 2020 – Privilege Mixed with Power

Today is Saturday, June 12, 2020, Sewing Machine Day! Sewing machines originated in France in the 1830’s and were patented in the U.S. in 1846. Before sewing machines, all clothing was hand stitched. For this reason, they were an amazing, time-saving invention. If Clemencia’s mask-making is any indication, sewing machines have been getting much more use since late March than they’ve gotten in a long time.

Privilege Mixed with Power

Yesterday I wrote about Kennedy Mitchum, the recent Drake University graduate who convinced the editors at Merriam-Webster to change the definition of “racism” in their dictionary. She has been doing a lot of interviews since the story broke. You can watch or listen to several of them here: WBUR, KMOV, CNN, New York Times, The Guardian, BBC, Good Morning America, MSNBC, and more. I have included the interview from MSNBC in this post because it was the most exhaustive and substantive of those I’ve already listed.

The phrase that Kennedy used in her interview with The Des Moines Register (reprinted in The Burlington Hawk Eye) to define systemic racism is “privilege mixed with power.” I’ve been ruminating on that phrase ever since I first saw it yesterday.

It is an elegant definition that really packs a punch. At an individual level any person can feel a sense of privilege. We’ve all run into those folks, right? They are the ones who park in the handicap spaces without a tag or in the space in front of the store marked “do not park” because they “are only going to be there a moment.” They are the ones who use money to buy their kids’ education at a university with a “good name.” At the individual level, any person, regardless of race, ethnicity, status, religion, gender, etc. can demonstrate a sense of privilege.

However, unless they have power, they cannot make their privilege “the way we do things here” (institutionalization or enculturation). That is what makes systemic racism so dangerous. It is what makes Kennedy’s definition so important. Systemic racism is when people, on the basis of their race, have privilege and they also have the power to institutionalize their privilege. Hence, systemc racism is “privilege mixed with power.”

That brings us to the issue of white privilege. In American society it is very hard to deny white privilege. Actually, the evidence is so overwhelming it is rationally impossible, though that doesn’t prevent some people from trying. Historically, being white in America has not only meant privilege, it has also meant that we’ve had the power. What Kennedy’s definition does is remind us that that is a dangerous combination. As white people with privilege and power, we can create a system that prefers us over any other group. This is exactly what we have done. We’ve created a system, based on our white privilege and our positions of power, that prefers our race over any other in the country. Hence, systemic racism. We built the system, we own it, and it is badly broken. It is past time to tear it down.

Maggi, a regular reader from Pennsylvania, sent me an article from Sojourner’s magazine that I want to quote here and also encourage you to read. The article is an interview by Rev. Romal J. Tune (a black minister) of Father Richard Rohr (a white contemplative Franciscan). I was introduced to the work of Richard Rohr by a colleague in Florida a few months ago. Since that time I’ve been receiving his Daily Meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation (this link will take you to a page where you can sign up for it as well). In this interview, Rev. Tune talks with Father Rohr about the issue of white privilege. The first quote I want to share is Rohr’s definition of white privilege:

White privilege is largely hidden from our eyes if we are white. Why? Because it is structural instead of psychological, and we tend to interpret most things in personal, individual, and psychological ways. Since we do not consciously have racist attitudes or overt racist behavior, we kindly judge ourselves to be open minded, egalitarian, “liberal,” and therefore surely not racist. Because we have never been on the other side, we largely do not recognize the structural access, the trust we think we deserve, the assumption that we always belong and do not have to earn our belonging, the “we set the tone” mood that we white folks live inside of — and take totally for granted and even naturally deserved. Only the outsider can spot all these attitudes in us. It is especially hidden in countries and all groupings where white people are the majority.

Father Richard Rohr

What it is important for us to take away from this definition is that we white folks cannot see our own white privilege, at least not to the degree that we can fully understand it. We need others, looking at us from the outside, to help us see what we cannot. This, of course, reminds me of the Johari Window.

Adapted from: Luft, J. & Ingham, H. (1955). “The Johari window, a graphic model of interpersonal awareness”. Proceedings of the Western Training Laboratory in Group Development. Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles.

The Johari Window helps us understand that there is an aspect of ourselves about which we are “blind.” We just cannot see it. We are dependent on others to help us see that which we cannot see. Ideally, we are self-aware enough to ask others to tell us what we don’t see. When we aren’t so self-aware, they may have to tell us for our own good what we are unwilling to see. This is the function of protests and movements – they help us see what we need to see but cannot or will not.

The “unknown” part of our lives are a bit more challenging for us to explore. Typically, it requires us to consider other’s observations of ourself alongside our own self-discovery. Rohr offers an insight about how that self-discovery can occur:

Some form of contemplative practice is the only way (apart from great love and great suffering) to rewire people’s minds and hearts. It is the only form of prayer that dips into the unconscious and changes people at deep levels — where all of the wounds, angers, and recognitions lie hidden. Prayer that is too verbal, too social, too external, too heady never changes people at the level where they really need to change. Only some form of prayer of quiet changes people for good and for others in any long term way. It sustains and deepens the short term wisdom we learn in great love and great suffering. Forgive me for making that an absolute statement, but I believe it from years of working with people.

Richard Rohr

Kennedy Mitchum’s elegant turn of phrase, “privilege mixed with power” has been a focal point of contemplation for me this week. It has helped me understand more clearly the meaning of systemic racism. It has helped me more clearly understand, too, how my white privilege has contributed to that system.


the view from jeff

Jeff explains: I am usually good with the WFA (work from anywhere) set up, so I took my gear with me on a quick run to see my parents after restrictions were loosened… but none of the usual spaces (university, coffee shops, etc) are set up for working out of.

chickenman – episode 57

Well…this is a stranger than usual episode of Chickenman. It finds him turning down the Police Commissioner’s cry for help to deliver a basket of food to his grandmother in the woods. A noble undertaking to be sure but…what…?


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 9, 2020 – Now, What’s Next?

Today is Tuesday, June 9, 2020 and truly one of my favorite days – Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Day! Strawberry Rhubarb pie is the perfect blend of tart and sweet. Today is also the anniversary of the debut of Donald Duck in 1934. Donald Duck is one of my least favorite of the Disney characters. Maybe because he is just mostly tart.


chickenman – episode 53

Chickenman makes an appearance on the Wallace Helium radio show…no relation to Winthrop Dykstra-Baum.


now, what’s next?

As I’m writing this the funeral service for George Floyd is being broadcast live from a church in Houston, Texas. In fact, it is being carried by all major broadcast networks and a few cable networks too. I am glad that so many are joining in the memorial and celebration of his life. I’m glad for Mr. Floyd that his body is finally being allowed to join his spirit in the afterlife.

Now that Mr. Floyd is being allowed to rest in peace, what’s next?

In 1978 a little Friends Church in rural Iowa was gracious enough to give a 24-year-old with, only and just barely, a high school education, the opportunity to serve as minister to the church. The people of that church were wonderfully patient and incredibly forgiving of me. They taught me far more about friendship, patience, grace and myself than I ever taught them about anything.

In that role I preached sermons on Sunday, visited members and attenders throughout the week, and performed weddings and funerals in between. One thing I learned about doing weddings was that I did not prefer them.

One thing I learned about funerals was that I was comfortable in the presence of death and grief. Was that because I had worked as a teen in cemeteries with my dad as a groundskeeper and grave digger? Maybe but who knows? Whatever the reason, I preferred funerals over weddings.

Serving that little church for three years I was honored to be with several people at the time of death. Each time it felt as though I was in a very sacred place with the person and their loved ones. It was not scary, it was not horrible, it just was. I know. Not every death is like that, but I wish every death were.

For George Floyd the time of death was scary, horrible, and shouldn’t have ever been. I wish I could unsee the last moments of Mr. Floyd’s life, but I cannot. It was nothing like anything I’ve ever seen before in real time, up close. I cannot unsee it and I should never unsee it.

Just a few minutes ago in the service for Mr. Floyd, Rev. Mary White offered a prayer in the funeral service. One line of that prayer grabbed me. I won’t get it exactly right here but the gist of it was this: “When George cried out for his mama, every mama heard his cry.” Truth. It explains, in part, why this man’s death is so different and why the response to it has been so overwhelming and powerful.

Another thing I learned about funerals is that they are for the living, not the dead. Mr. Floyd is out of his pain now and has moved into the presence of his God and his mother again. Funerals recognize and embrace the pain of those left behind. They provide a means for those left behind to release their grief and to finally release their loved one. Sometimes the death of a loved one results in a change for individual survivors.

At the individual level, the loss of a loved one can profoundly change us. We may become more attentive to our own health, we may turn more intentionally to spiritual things, we may make profound changes in our relationships, or we may “step up” in ways that we never did before. As an individual, I’ve experienced change as a result of loss. I’ve also witnessed individual change like this in others.

I am less convinced that the death of one person, no matter how horrific, will change whole groups, including communities, states, and nations. When it comes to Mr. Floyd’s death and the meaning it could have to our society and world, I want to be convinced and have my doubt erased.

The death of George Floyd changes our country and our world only if it also changes us as individuals. As Rev. White noted, when George Floyd cried out to his mama, it changed mama’s everywhere. It also changed a few papas…including me.

Have enough mamas and papas, brothers and sisters, aunties and uncles, sons and daughters been changed? Please, God, let it be so that the answer “Now, what’s next?” becomes plain for all to see. Then George Floyd will have truly changed the world.

The George Floyd mural outside Cup Foods at Chicago Ave and E 38th St in Minneapolis, Minnesota – Photo by Lorie Shaull

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

Tom

June 8, 2020 – Lady & The Baseball Bat

Today is June 8, 2020, today is Best Friend Day! It’s a great day to celebrate and honor your best friend! Since you are still social distancing, it might be a bit challenging to take them to lunch. But you can still meet up with them via Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, or just by phone. Do not underestimate the power of these platforms to strengthen friendships and to even make new friends.


let’s start the week with a little dance…

This video comes from Cynthia, a regular reader in Washington State. Thanks Cynthia! This is a fun flash mob dance from Russia to an 90-year-old tune by Irvin Berlin, Puttin’ on the Ritz, or, since it is from Russia, is that “Putin on the Ritz?” Sorry, bad joke…totally irresistible though.


…And a smile with chickenman – episode 52

Benton Harbor (aka Chickenman, aka “Yo-Yo”) is still at his high school reunion.


Lady & The Baseball Bat

When I first saw her she was just a few feet off the trail in the woods behind a house, which I presumed to be hers. She was bending down to tie a shoe and she had a small, metallic blue baseball bat with her. It seemed curious to me that she had the bat in the woods but I figured she had her reasons. I greeted her, she returned my greeting, and I continued on the trail.

We have a 2.12 mile walking trail that encircles our neighborhood. I know it is 2.12 miles in length because every tenth of a mile is marked for those of us who use the trail for exercise. The markings are also handy in case someone falls or takes ill on the trail. Emergency services will know more accurately where to go.

I didn’t think much about the baseball bat or the woman as I continued my walk. I just kept on moving, focused on making my goal of 3.5 miles in 60 minutes averaging 3.5 mph.

When I got to the opposite end of the trail I met the woman again. This time it was clear that she was walking the trail…with a baseball bat. As we met I moved slightly off the trail (out of range of the bat just in case) and I greeted her again and she returned the greeting again. This time, as I moved on, I found myself wondering why she had the baseball bat.

The baseball bat was a first for me. I’ve seen people carrying a lot of things on the trail, but not a baseball bat.

However, I’ve also heard of people having interesting experiences with wildlife on the trail. Some have reported being dive bombed by birds. Some people have even reported the same thing from bats at sunset – the rodent kind, of course, not those from Louisville Slugger. I’ve run into wild animals on the trail myself. Typically it is rabbits, squirrels, deer, turtles in the pond, and an occasional woodchuck. Of the more intimidating variety, I’ve also seen foxes and a coyote. The meanest I’ve encountered to date, though, are the Canadian geese who are tending to their young goslings on the pond. I give them lots of space when they are hanging out on the trail. One of the grown geese guards the family while the other parents it. The guard goose has a pretty nasty stink eye.

After seeing the coyote on the trail, I went out with a walking stick for a couple of weeks, so I can appreciate that someone might want to take a bat. But, really, a bat?

As I kept thinking about the bat I tried to remember what else I had observed about the woman in our brief encounters. First, I’ve mentioined it already, I noticed her gender. Second, I noticed, generally, her age…probably older than me, which puts her in the late 60’s or even in her 70’s. Third, I noticed she is black.

Mulling over those observations it suddenly hit me (a thought, not the bat) what all three had in common: vulnerability. Each, and together, gender, age, and race made the woman highly vulnerable. It would be easy to rationalize away the bat by simply saying she was protecting herself from the wildlife. I didn’t actually believe that to be the case though. This is a time when the most vulnerable among us are feeling more vulnerable than usual.

At this point the reflection turned inward. “What is there about me,” I wondered, “that makes me a threat to other people, especially to those who are already feeling vulnerable?” Of course, there is that I’m white, I’m male, and at age 66 I’m still in reasonably good shape. I suppose all of these could make me intimidating to some people.

Then I wondered if the lady with the bat thought I might be someone she should fear. There was a part of me that wanted to turn around, catch up with her, and let her know that I’m harmless. However, by merely turning around, catching up with her, and telling her I’m harmless would likely only confirm some of her fear…especially the part that I might be a bit weird. Sigh.

We never really know how people perceive us, eh? I know how I want to be perceived, but threat is in the eye of the beholder. One of the things I’m revisiting in this time is how I am perceived and received by others. That’s not a bad thing at all. How I wish to be perceived is an idealized vision of myself. If I hold that vision before me and strive to attain it, then I think I could be contributing to making this a safer place for all after all. No baseball bat needed.


“what do you want to say?”

This is the question that was asked of people in Minneapolis near the area where George Floyd was murdered on May 25th. Photographer John Noltner documented their answers with words and beautiful portraits. The video below compiles and shares the answers to that question. I have attempted to embed the video via Facebook below. If it doesn’t appear, then simply click on this link: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1378217865699829

When you’ve finished watching the video, visit the National Conversation Project to learn more about ways you can keep engaged. Much appreciation to my friend Beth Howard for introducing me to this video, as well as the National Conversation Project and the photography and work of John Noltner. On May 31, 2020 Beth was in Minneapolis, two blocks from where George Floyd was murdered, giving away pie to members of the community. When we all do what we can, when we can, from where we can, it matters.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health.

Tom

June 5, 2020 – Working Apart Together

Today, June 5th, is National Doughnut Day. However, it’s not really about the doughnut. It is a day that honors the women from the Salvation Army who served on the front lines of World War I. The Salvation Army “lassies” made home cooked meals, including doughnuts, for the soldiers fighting in Europe. The doughnuts were made in hot oil inside the metal helmets of the soldiers. The “lassies” were the only women who served on the front lines except for military personnel. So, as you run to Dunkin’ for that celebratory doughnut today, remember it’s not really about the doughnut.


Working together apart

Recently I helped out a friend who is a columnist on workplace management issues in a business journal. She had received a question from a reader about how to maintain esprit de corps on a team that pre-COVID-19 worked together face-to-face in the same space. Now, of course, post-COVID-19, they are trying to figure out how to work together apart. The question asked how to restore the sense of esprit de corps that now seemed missing. It was a really good question. I decided to share my response to it here because it applies to a wide variety of businesses and organizations facing similar issues at this time. I hope it is useful to you as well.

The “esprit de corps” of a team is an intangible part of team culture. It is, like so many other effective work processes and elements of culture, dependent on the relationships between team members. In the good ol’ “normal times” (pre-COVID-19) those relationships were established and tended to on a daily basis through real-time, in-person, same shared space interaction. Therefore, when you got into team meetings, there was not a need to do as much relationship building because it was being handled outside the meetings. The strengths of Zoom, WebEx, Google Meet, Skype, and the other virtual meeting utilities is that we can still have real-time, in person interactions. However, what is missing is the same sense of shared space and physical presence, as well as the opportunity and time to build and tend to relationships outside the meeting space. 

So, what can you do about that since the virtual work environment is likely here to stay for quite some time?

  1. Slow down – allow extra time in your meetings for people to simply hang and chat if they wish. For example, start meetings 15 minutes early for people to gather and chat and/or keep the virtual room open for 15 minutes after the meeting. My spouse, who teaches online Spanish courses to groups of adults, has found it amazingly effective to allow her students this time to connect with one another. She has seen friendships continue to grow and a clear sense of group cohesion emerge. Alternatively, build into your meeting schedule some semi-structured interaction (see items #3 and #4 below). 
  2. At the same time, be sensitive to the length of the actual work portion of the meeting and remain open to the possibility of disruptions. Remember that you may have employees working at home but now they are also childcare providers and substitute teachers. If children do intrude in the meeting, keep a sense of humor and be gentle. Avoid shaming anyone with comments, eyerolls, or body language. Make your actual business meetings as long as they need to be. Generally, I do not have meetings longer than 2 hours in length. I prefer to keep them much shorter if possible. If you can make the meetings easier and friendlier to attend for those employees who are managing caregiving or teaching at home, it will benefit the whole team. 
  3. Introduce a “conversation starter” for use in the hang out times, until people begin to feel comfortable connecting on their own in the virtual space. For example, I facilitate a weekly group comprised of people from Hawai`i to New York, Ontario to Southern California, who did not know one another until I brought them together. In the first meeting of the group I introduced this conversation starter, taken from the conversation game Vertellis: What was the best compliment you ever received? During the first two or three weeks I introduced the question, but then participants began to offer conversation starters. Now, we don’t really need them, but people still like to do them, so we have one each week. It is a simple way of getting to know one another better. 
  4. Release your inner silly person. These are extraordinary times. Everyone knows that everyone else on the video conference is sitting there in their pajama bottoms, golf shorts, and, god forbid, underwear anyway, right? In this small way, everyone has already released their inner silly person in secret. Let’s take it up a notch by doing something silly together: for example, have everyone wear the same colors on a call; have everyone show up wearing their favorite hat and briefly explain why it is; set aside time for people to share “knock knock” jokes in the chat area; have everyone bring their favorite coffee or tea mug and explain why it is their favorite; and, have everyone use an alias on the video conference – the name of a famous person they admire, an actor, a well-known person in your field, etc. Here’s one I have used in at least two different groups. I ask members go to the website Public Radio Name Generator and generate their own favorite public radio name. Once in the Zoom conference (which is my preferred platform) they change their names to their public radio names. We go by them for the duration of that meeting.

COVID-19 has been an unprecedented disruption to how we do business and work together. I do not believe it will be easy to move into the emerging new normal. We have to dare to be different. Several of my clients are reporting to me that they are actually beginning to feel energized as a result of the lockdowns. They are creating, innovating, and learning new ways of doing their pre-COVID-19 work that they never would have or could have considered before. Frankly, we will be sleepwalking into disaster if we simply try to apply the “best practices” and “the way we do things around here” from the past in the new normal to come. I hope these suggestions will help you not only create a greater sense of “esprit de corps” among your team but also create an upgraded culture of innovation.


devin stone commentary

I stumbled across this guy, Devin Stone, earlier today. I found myself fascinated by his YouTube commentary on the events that took place earlier this week at Lafayette Square in Washington, DC. After listening to it, I did some research. He is a trial attorney in DC and also has a company, Legal Eagle, that helps people survive law school. The commentary that caught my attention is below. It is about 18 minutes long but I found it really interesting and I hope you will as well.


for your reflection

With appreciation to Hope Crenshaw of Teen Health Mississippi for drawing my attention to this bit of poetry of hope. Learn more here about the poem and its the author, Leslie Dwight.


spanish classes filling up…but there is still space!

Clemencia Vargas, my spouse, is still receiving registrations for ¡Charlemos con Clemencia!, Spanish classes taught in the communicative style. Classes begin for the Summer session on June 15. About half the available seats filled up in less than a week but there is still room now. If you’ve been following this blog even sporadically over the past three months you’ve probably met Clemencia here already. Her website now includes some testimonials so you can get a sense of how her students feel about her classes. The Summer session will include students from Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, and, of course, Maryland. If you have a couple of extra minutes today, we invite you to watch this video about the benefits of learning Spanish.


Follow up…

Yesterday I encouraged you to consider a contribution to Teen Health Mississippi to help with the organization’s COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund for youth. However, I did not include information on how to donate. Doh! Here now is a link to Teen Health Mississippi’s donation page. You can use the comment box to designate your gift to the Emergency Relief Fund for youth. Thanks!


Chickenman – Episode 49

The Wonderful Weekend White Winged Warrior is still suffering from amnesia and the delusion that he is, in fact, a real chicken. His efforts to lay an egg in the Policie Commissioner’s office have, so far, been unproductive…thankfully!


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep working for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 2, 2020 – I Could Never Imagine It

Today is National Rocky Road Day in celebration of that wonderful ice cream treat. If you don’t have any of the tasty treat you can make your own. Just add almonds or pecans, mini marshmallows, and chunks of semi-sweet chocolate to your favorite ice cream. Enjoy!


Chickenman – Episode 46

Benton Harbor is forced to reveal his secret identity as Chickenman when his shoe store is robbed. Thanks to a stuck zipper, he is kept out of harms way, but he is still missing some change.


Advice your mom gave you for a pandemic

On Mother’s Day I posted some advice that a mom would give her children when they were young that would still be good advice in a pandemic. I asked people to share some of their ideas. This one came in just the other day from a reader in Hawai`i but with a slightly different slant: Advice from your mother that you shouldn’t follow during the COVID-19 pandemic:

See a penny, pick it up; All the day you’ll have good luck.

See a pennny let it lay; You’ll have bad luck all through the day.

I thought of it when I was at a bus stop the other day and saw a penny on the ground. All my life, I’ve picked up those pennies. But that day, I left it.

Judith, Kaneohe, HI

I could never imagine it

My son and I meet for the first time. We couldn’t talk so we just stared at each other.

When I first met my son, I could not imagine what life would bring to us or bring us to. In the first moments of our first meeting we were both speechless. For his part, he hadn’t yet learned to talk. For my part, I was overwhelmed.

As he grew I introduced him to many of life’s greatest pleasures for an infant and toddler – oatmeal, piggy back rides, pancakes of various varieties, and “All Star Baby Wrestling” which always found him on top of my chest pinning me to the mat. He would giggle hysterically.

Later, as he went off to pre-school then “real” school, we would play more sophisticated games and I would read to him. In fact we made it through all seven books in the Chronicles of Narnia series. He has since read them for himself a few times over.

We had the usual father-son run in’s, complete with temper tantrums. Mine didn’t last quite as long as his, usually. The Famous Tantrum, that still gets told – with only a little embellishment – at family gatherings or other events where we “tell tales” on each other, is the one that occurred in Target.

As he grew into a teen, it was obvious already that he was going to be a pretty good guy. He was fun, funny, caring, and curious. School was never easy for him but he was an extremely smart, disciplined student, and he persevered with wonderful success.

I got to see him fall deeply in twice. The first time it was with the woman he married last September.

In all the time my son was growing up I could never imagine it would be necessary to tell him how to act if he was ever stopped by the police. In fact, I didn’t…because I didn’t have to. He has always been, like me, generally quite polite, respectful of authority, and very white.

That brings me to the second time he fell in love. He is a social worker and he was working in child welfare. He got three very young black children assigned to his caseload. From the moment he became their caseworker, he was smitten. I knew because he couldn’t stop talking about them. We’d meet for dinner and all he could talk about were the three children – the diapers he had changed in Wendy’s, the ice cream he bought and which got dropped in his car, and the funny things they would say to him. His tiny car was outfitted with car seats and he transported them throughout the area to their appointments, supervised visits with their birth-mother, and back to their foster parents.

The first victory he had with them was finding a foster home placement where all three could be together. If you are familiar with child welfare social work, you know that sometimes children have to be split up into foster homes due to no fault of theirs. My son worked extra hard to find a family that would take all three, and he did.

When it was determined that their birth-mother was no longer able to safely care for them, assure their well-being, or help them grow and develop normally, parental rights were terminated and the three were adopted.

My son’s second victory, and theirs, was that the children were all adopted by that same foster family. For a social worker, this was hitting the trifecta of child welfare work: three kids saved from a dangerous situation; placed in the same foster home; and adopted into the same forever family.

What the children didn’t realize at that time, though, is that they got far more than just that family. They got my son and his future wife. Since that adoption my son and, now, daughter-in-law have continued to stay in touch with the children and their family. They visit on holidays and birthdays, with gifts in tow.

Last September, when my son and his wife got married, the three children were at the wedding. Besides the bride and the groom, they had the most important roles in the wedding. They were the flower girl and ring bearers.

We had not actually met them until the wedding rehearsal last September. We understand how he was smitten now because we were smitten by the children and their parents. My son and his spouse do not have biological children, but they are not childless. And, of course, that means we have grandchildren!

Unfortunately, the parents of these three beautiful children will have to do what I could never imagine doing with my son. They will have to teach them how to be black while playing, walking, shopping, running, driving, and simply living.

It is not something my son, his spouse, or I can ever teach them because we do not know the experience of living while black in America. Even more, we could never imagine it.

And that’s the problem isn’t?

We can never imagine it but we can care more. We can care more and watch the horrific videos on the news of black, Latino, Native American, Asian, and other minority and marginalized people experiencing that which we can never imagine. Onto their faces we can transpose the faces of people we know and care about and then ask, “What if that person were my son, my daughter, my mother, my father, my friend…how would I feel? How would I react? What would I want to do?”

When I saw the video of George Floyd under the knee of the Minneapolis cop, I saw the father of these three children. As I continued to look, I could see the face of my friend Kevin. As I looked even closer I could see the faces of those three children who are now a part of our lives. I could never imagine my son in that position, but I can imagine them.

Our limited imagination continues to make us white folks sick. And that means the pandemic of racism continues to infect the America we have created for our benefit…for our privilege…for our white privilege. Our recovery depends on our ability to see more clearly. It depends on our ability to imagine the unimaginable in other’s lives.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your masks, and keep trying to imagine the unimaginable.

Tom