This is one of my all-time favorite images. It’s of my best friend, Matt, and his niece Grace. The picture captures so much about Matt…his patience, his gentle nature, his lovely demeanor, the deep importance he placed on family.
He was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer Labor Day 2019. He died 5 months ago, almost to the day. Today was his 53rd birthday.
Matt was literally the brother I never had. He and I fought. We loved. We argued. We conspired. We avoided each other. We taught. We learned and listened. We shared our joys and our failures and our deepest, most dark secrets. I was part of his family and he of mine. There are few humans I have loved more. I count them on one hand.
Happy Birthday, my brother. You changed this world. I miss you each and every day.
I’m about at the end of my several years’ rage over what the GOP has done to this country.
So let me make this brief.
On the day the worst economic data in THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY is released, this jackass, charlatan, idiot of a President, he who has successfully hijacked a once proud and effective political party, he who ignored science and God-given intellect, suggests that we should suspend the upcoming election for the first time in the long history of our great nation, because it’s “not safe” to go to the polls.
Normally, I’d be incensed. I’d be moved to violence and protest and depression. But no. Not today. Not for the likes of Donald Trump.
However, today, a mile from my house, I saw the very best side of America, that side that comes together in tough times, that unites to mourn a fallen hero. Today, the good part of this country buried my Congressman. The good part of this country put down their differences, donned masks to protect each other. The good side forgave a brother gone astray and honored him with a voice. The good side stood up in front of his adversaries and paid his respects. The good side selflessly honored each other, our culture as Americans and a truly remarkable man.
I choose the high road. I choose hope and unity over divisiveness and willful ignorance.
In the words of so many, We Shall Overcome.
I live in perhaps the most racially dynamic city in America. The birthplace and home of Martin Luther King, Jr. The economic capital of the Confederacy. A most prosperous, progressive city where race alone doesn’t seem to matter. Our state is second in the country in lynchings. It has produced such leaders as King and James Earl Carter and Sam Nunn and Ralph David Abernathy. Lester Maddox met potential customers, Black ones, at the door of his restaurant with a baseball bat. The current Georgia Governor pulled every dirty trick in the book to fend off his electoral competitor, a black woman on a mission, to secure his office.
And so today, on the occasion of US Representative John R. Lewis’ memorial, Kiesha Lance Bottoms, Atlanta’s mayor, an African-American woman with deep family roots in Atlanta, paid respects to her Congressman in the historied rotunda of the Georgia capitol.
Never mind that she, recently diagnosed as COVID-19 positive, received the remains alongside Brian Kemp, the governor who has, at every turn, shirked the hard responsibilities of leadership during this pandemic and has famously made masks optional, among other things. Never mind that Kemp called out the National Guard a couple weeks ago due to “continued violence” in Atlanta’s streets. (There was none, only idiots partying on Saturday night and questionable vandalism at the DMV). Never mind that he sued her to stop her measures to require masks and protect her fellow Atlantans.
Anyway, Kemp spoke first. He delivered a generous speech, keeping his remarks safe, acknowledging Lewis’ commitment to equality and justice and solution and bipartisanship. I give Kemp high marks, considering that just Sunday he extended the National Guard’s stay in Atlanta, siting “unrest.”
But then Kiesha spoke. She based her short remarks on Langston Hughes’ poem “Let America Be America Again,” about the false promise of America, the missed potential of this country. The “what could have beens.” The particular “what could have beens” for a for an intellectual, closeted, gay, Black poet. A Negro in the era of Jim Crow. A Harlem radical more comfortable in Paris than pre-War New York City.
And the Mayor, in a most pointedly political speech, brought forward the true nature of our divisive times and squarely laid the blame for our current condition on those that govern the state and the nation. She called for change. She admonished the deception used by those in the hallowed room in which she spoke. She used Lewis’ example to insist on dogged determination, protest and resistance. Yet, she cloaked her pleas in the rich poetry of Hughes and the lush feelings of hope and reflection and aspiration the funerals of great men inspire. She did it decisively and eloquently.
I listened on the radio, in a parking lot, imagining the Governor smiling and nodding politely, his mind elsewhere.
And then, mere feet from him, she closed with this:
“…I was deeply moved when a couple of days ago, Lewis’ Chief of Staff shared with me that the Congressman was intently watching the news of Atlanta and was proud of the leadership that’s been shown.”
“And so, Governor, when the good trouble continues,” she concluded. “It is with the blessings of Congressman Lewis.”
Well done, Madame Mayor. Well done, whomever writes your speeches.
I suspect, though, that it’s you.
Such a strange, laborious, confusing Spring has given way to a hot, weary, festering Summer.
When we passed the halfway point of this treacherous year, somewhere in my depleted reserve of hope I thought, good, the hard part is over.
I guess it is. I don’t know. But Friday, my Congressman died. He died of pancreatic cancer, the same disease that took my best friend just 3 months ago.
Sometimes I wonder if I have the strength to go on. Jobs, friends, opportunities, leaders, hope and pretty much everything that’s mattered disappears. Rational thought, self preservation. Humanity. Gone. Vanished.
Yet, we still live. We still wake up in the morning. The birds sing and the grass grows and things become more simple and clear. I still get angry and I still create. I love more strongly than ever, despite this distance. Summer boils on.
Strangely, I’m OK with it all.
I looked around tonight. The sadness was palpable. The anger only slightly less so.
Peace, John Lewis. You were an icon. You never stood on your bruises or your concussions or your scars.
You stood on principle and hope and promise. And love.
But always Hope.
Thank you, Sir.
I’ve struggled with not participating in the marches and protests and mass gatherings of the last 10 days. My health and the health of my partner and my family remain paramount. Since March, I’ve narrowed my circle of contacts to 6, passed on business opportunities and put off properly burying my best friend. I want to see my 87-year old parents next weekend and have carefully planned that visit since May. It’s been achingly difficult but I’ve committed to not taking any chances with my health or theirs.
Today was cathartic on many levels. Today I found a way, on the bike, to try to understand, to begin to affect change. Shane and I joined a small bike tour of what I’d call How Systemic Racism Works in Atlanta: urban redevelopment sites, kick-ass corporate stadiums, broken streets that have never healed, whole neighborhoods forgotten in pursuit of the almighty dollar. But mostly, promises broken.
All of this culminated in riding past the home of Kathryn Johnston, a 92-year old black woman who was murdered in 2006 by 3 members of Atlanta Police Department’s elite Red Dog unit — a vice squad on steroids since disbanded. Expecting a Drug Den, they ran up her wheelchair ramp, sawed through her burglar bars, kicked down the door and fired 39 shots at her. She was armed and defended herself, getting a shot off before being downed by 5 or 6 police bullets.
The cops had the wrong address.
They went on to cuff her when she died, plant drugs in her house and lie about everything afterwards.
For me, Johnston’s death is the grotesque culmination of every aspect of systemic racism. Racism that’s ingrained over generations and perpetrated in education systems and allowed to fester through economic activity ends up with public servants killing old innocent ladies resting in their homes, in neighborhoods no one cares about.
We must do better. Today, I started anew.
So, you didn’t want to wear a mask because you selfishly thought it impinged on your rights (fact check: you don’t have the right to spread a lethal disease).
So, you wouldn’t subscribe to basic science and keep a safe distance between your untested self and the rest of your fellow humans (fact check: COVID-19 spreads via tiny particles of moisture, which you exhale at varying speeds and velocities…which means, you spray beyond 6 feet when you talk, laugh, cough and sneeze. As do I, a person whose status you do not know).
So, you want all you can grab for yourself and your children, ignoring the plight of others, as your savior, Jesus Christ, commands you to do. You ignore others’ health and well-being through your vote and your political (meaning the whole of society) choices and quit “loving thy neighbor as thy self.” In fact, you do everything to make sure your neighbor doesn’t stand a chance (fact check: death by asphyxiation, knee to the neck, to be exact).
So, did it occur to you that the Niggers that live in your city, your state, your country are your neighbors? Also, the ‘Spics, the Chincs, the Kikes, the Wops, the Faggots, the Gimps — that Tranny using your restroom — all of us, we are your neighbors?
So, let me get this straight, you’re appalled by the violence those people — your neighbors, remember them? those who have nothing left to save except their lives — exact on the symbols of your privilege and the temples of your consumption?
So then, your false bronzed prophet grabs your Holy book and stands before a church that moments before was occupied by your “neighbors” (fact check: he cleared them away with tear gas) and says he’s turning the military against you and us and everyone in the name of “the one law.”
Remind me again about your rights? Tell me about your savior? About how much you love your neighbors?
Well my friend, you deserve what’s coming.
Redemption is a ticket that you long ago traded for the comfort of Walmart, Donald Trump, that tattoo and your lily white ass. Good luck.
They’re going to eat you alive.
My Alma Mater, Auburn, never gets the credit it’s due. It’s been the stepchild of Alabama higher education since before its inception. It’s been the scrappy street fighter to Tuscaloosa’s sophisticated ring boxer. Its National Championships have been repeatedly denied and disputed. Auburn’s academic credentials have never been brought to the forefront. The University’s impact on the State: underestimated and overlooked. Professors taught there because they were compassionate, had hidden talent and thought they could do some good there on the Plains. And perhaps, because they might not make tenure elsewhere.
They tell us we’ve never amounted to much. And if we did, it was a fluke, an anomaly. They tell us we cheat, that we’re less than. They question our every move, shine the brightest of lights on us. They call us a cow college — as if cows are inferior. As part of the Auburn family, you are certainly more well aware of your faults than any outside critic will ever be. You can’t help but be; you’re told of your inferiority at every turn.
The Auburn Creed teaches us to be humble, above all else. To value what matters in life. To work hard. To elevate honesty and the human touch. To appreciate clean sports. To count on what we alone can earn. And we do. And we go on, ALL IN, as family, rebounding after every loss with optimism for the next contest. For we know what matters.
Being the eternal underdog teaches you that it’s OK to lose. It’s OK to make mistakes. And it’s OK if your team doesn’t always grab the brass ring. Sometimes second place is better. Sometimes giving it your all teaches you more than winning it all. Showing up and giving it 100% always wins. That’s the Auburn way.
And tonight, after I watched Bruce Pearl (a cheater, a liar and a damn fine basketball coach), and his team of equals fight back to come *this close* to a shot at the National Championship, I realized once again that there is great value in not winning. There are infinite lessons in losing – more so than winning. The pain of defeat. The inherent improvement that results from licking one’s wounds. The joy and utter exhaustion of giving it all. That fleeting glimpse of what’s possible.
The lessons learned through picking up the pieces, I think, serve one better than sustained victories and constant success ever can.
So, with that, I say: “War Eagle, Y’all!! It’s great to be an Auburn Tiger.” I love this University that continues to teach.
Right now, I realize that the friendships I have, the ones that I’ve nurtured and have been nurtured through for the longest time, are the ones that are getting me through the present.
Foundations are important. For upon them, great things are built.