The tenuousness of making comparisons between President Lyndon B. Johnson's vaunted vote-wrangling prowess and the allegedly ineffectual legislative skills of President Barack Obama was nicely summed up on Wednesday with this tweet:
In 30 years, the left will be asking why current Democrats don't get things done like Obama did & the right will say Obama was a Tea Partier
Although it's meant to get a laugh – and it's hard to imagine a future where Obama's remembered as a Tea Partier – the upshot – that perceptions change over time – actually holds up pretty well.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama joined other dignitaries at a civil rights summit to commemorate the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson's signature accomplishment as president – passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And in a nod to the shoulders that he stands on, Obama said, "I have lived out the promise of LBJ's efforts."
But some Americans, particularly those who lived through LBJ's presidency, wish that President Obama not only reaped the rewards of President Johnson's leadership but also led more like him. And to that point, I recently attended the critically acclaimed Broadway play All the Way, in which "Breaking Bad" star Bryan Cranston portrays the president during the year in which he struggled and eventually triumphed in his efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act.
Seeing the production, two things became obvious: Cranston will get a Tony Award nomination for his performance, and the president he portrays is very different from the president we have today. After I saw the production with a family member who lived through the civil rights movement, she couldn't help remarking about how different Johnson – one of the presidents she admires most—is from the current president, whom she also admires greatly.
Love him or deride him, comedian, relationship expert and talk show host Steve Harvey nailed his advice to a newlywed black couple who recently appeared on his show for the segment "I Love My Man, But ..."
The wife, whose name is Love, recently decided to change her hair from the long, straight weave she'd worn "since I had my first tooth" to a well-coiffed Afro puff. Her husband, McClea, hated it. How much did he hate it? He ran out of the house in horror at the sight of his wife's actual hair, and when he returned, he asked whether she was wearing a wig and, if so, would she take it off. Love has stopped wearing her natural hair "often" because her husband "prefers" her weaves.
Not surprisingly, the husband's reaction didn't go over well with Harvey or viewers of the video that's been making the rounds on social media. Harvey clowned the husband about as bad as actor Samuel L. Jackson did to an entertainment reporter who mistook him for Laurence Fishburne. After the husband repeatedly disparaged his wife's hair—much to the audience's chagrin—Harvey quipped to him, "You about to get your skull opened up." Then Harvey got serious, pointing out the obvious to McClea: "You can't be any more wrong with your approach ... You got to find another way to express yourself." And the kicker: "It ain't your damn head."
I love voting. Every time I go into the booth, I see little girl me, pigtails and all, plaid skirt, white blouse and green sweater, part of my Catholic school uniform. Most of my relatives were Democrats, though my grandmother voted Republican a time or two because "Lincoln freed the slaves." In 1960, I had the privilege of pulling the lever to elect John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the candidate that the nuns at Immaculate Conception Elementary School rhapsodized over.
On the way back from the polls, my mom told me that Negroes (as we were called then) didn't always get to vote, and she shared facts about grandfather clauses and poll taxes. I'll never forget that moment, which may have sown the seeds of my activism. Indeed, when I went to school the next day, and the nun asked if everyone's parent had voted, I took the opportunity to share that Negroes did not always get to vote. I was sent home with a note at the end of the day, and got an admonition from my mom about keeping my big mouth shut. I guess I didn't learn my lesson.
When I stepped onto the campus of Morehouse College at the end of my junior year of high school in Memphis, I was faced with many of the challenges that plague the typical teenager seeking guidance on their post-secondary destination: nervousness, excitement and an insatiable sense of curiosity.
I wanted to go to a place that not only fed my mind, but also developed me into a whole person; a man who would leave with a heightened awareness of the world and with a burning desire to change it for the better. In high school, I was exposed to Morehouse Men who were doing great things in the community. They stood for something larger than themselves and they embodied the term "servant-leader".
I entered Morehouse as a freshman in the fall of 2011. During the week of New Student Orientation "NSO" – a week-long orientation for incoming freshmen – I realized that Morehouse was the place for me and that by the end of this journey, I would be a changed man.
You would think that news of a high school student from a family of African immigrants getting accepted into all eight Ivy League universities would be met with universal celebration. If you thought that, think again.
First the news:
In the next month, Kwasi Enin must make a tough decision: Which of the eight Ivy League universities should he attend this fall?
"Until the killing of black men, black mothers' sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother's son – we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens."
– Ella Baker
The quote above is from Ella Baker 50 years ago, and like so much about this visionary civil rights leader it is still just as relevant today. She was talking about the murders of Civil Rights Movement workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, who disappeared together in Mississippi in June 1964. Chaney was black, and Goodman and Schwerner were white.
Ella Baker was an outspoken warrior against injustice and inequality her entire life, and always, always unwilling to rest. Her words continue to be a rallying cry for all of us who believe our nation still does not see and value black and white children's lives the same way.