It often seems that Memorial Day was invented by manufacturers of outdoor cooking supplies, and for many Americans – if not most of them – the last Monday in May is only about gathering the family for a barbecue.
There's nothing wrong, of course, with enjoying the company of people we love in a bucolic and relaxing atmosphere, but it comes as a shock to many people that the holiday's purpose is to force us to remember the sacrifice of Americans who died for our liberty.
The first Memorial Day was, as Yale Professor David Blight observed, actually created in Charleston, South Carolina, by "Black Americans recently freed from slavery, announcing to the world...what the war was about."
Campaign season (which one could argue is endless) is always ubiquitous and duplicitous for me as a pastor. These moments are joyous; making ministry real! Election cycles remind us that those who have a theology or faith-based-belief that does not take into account political developments and social realities have signed a promissory note to ministerial irrelevance. Those who serve in the pastorate must constantly be mindful of how legislation and the appropriation of resources impact those who we are called to serve at a grassroots, neighborhood and living room level.
These same moments are frustrating. The tension rests in the requirement pastors have to calculate the best way to exert our pastoral influence. It has been common place for pastors to publicly endorse candidates directly and indirectly. This is commendable when it has been done through a thorough deliberation and discernment process and not merely to score points in the game of ministerial and political opportunism.
Because I was a horribly ill-behaved child, I found myself shipped from San Francisco to Moss Point, Miss. in August 1969. My mother's plan was that I'd spend my junior year in high school there and live with my schoolteacher aunt, Annie Mae Randall, who was somewhat affectionately known as the "kid breaker."
It was legend that if you did not understand rules, she would beat them into you, but her method was unlimited interrogation, not physical correction (much). In any case, I landed in Moss Point 15 years after the Supreme Court ruled that legal segregation was illegal.
However, by ruling that the Brown decision should be implemented with "all deliberate speed," many towns in Mississippi saw this as a signal to "take your own sweet time." I ended up attending all-black Magnolia High School, while the all-white Moss Point High School was in rather close proximity. A year later, Magnolia became the town's junior high school, and Moss Point High was the school for everyone.
Sam Greenlee was underappreciated, disgruntled, professionally disemboweled and perpetually agitated.
His sudden death at the age of 83 offers opportunity for reflection on a man trapped in the suspended animation of one great work that briefly elevated, then haunted, him into his last days. An apprehensive and highly educated foreign service officer who abruptly quit the business of American global dominance in anguished pursuit of a lifetime in written word, Greenlee spawned like a lost child of Ralph Ellison.
He will not be forgotten, but he will also be remembered in the starting lineup of a tortured lineage of creative black literary minds way ahead of their time. From George Schulyer ("Black Empire") to Ellison ("Invisible Man") to Chester Himes ("If He Hollers Let Him Go"), hard shift to Greenlee and then John Edgar Wideman ("Philadelphia Fire"), to Brent Wade (the "Company Man" genius who just ... went missing) and now Todd Craig ("Tor'cha"), they and others are temporary flashes of a fire of brilliant black men's acrimony shared through risky, genre-bending books.
For years I subscribed to the notion of "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt!" It was a mantra that helped a young boy cope with name calling and "check sessions," so that even as you were getting talked about or "checked" you were cool as a cucumber – as long as the person didn't put their hands (or feet) on you.
As I grew into adulthood, I had many a lesson that disproved that notion. And certainly over the past several weeks, we've all been schooled in the power of words and the repercussions of choosing them poorly.
Against the national backdrop of the Donald Sterling saga, we had two unscripted local monologues captured on camera for continuous replay, consideration and deliberation; the first by Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks and the second by my Fox 13 "Insider" counterpart, Andrew Clarksenior. I'll deal with the latter first, as I was directly a part of the discussion with Clarksenior, and the first to check him on his comments.
Donald Sterling's racist rant about blacks last month put a huge amount of focus on professional athletes. Many sports writers and fans have labeled today's athletes as spoiled, ungrateful, prima donnas who have no appreciation for those who came before them.
You can count me in this group. But, if what I have been seeing over the past two weeks continue, I may become a believer in the fledgling view that some athletes are beginning to "get it."
First, NBA players made it clear to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver that they would boycott playoff games if Sterling was not banned from the game. The players won. Sterling was not only permanently banned from the NBA, but the league is in the process of forcing him to sell his NBA franchise.
Thus far the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag has failed its primary mission. Aside from 53 girls who managed to escape in the early portion of the April 14, 2014 attack, not one of the over 200 remaining Nigerian school girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorists has returned home. Does that mean that hashtag activism is a pointless concept or that affecting real change via social media is impossible? Absolutely not.
Successes and failures of #BringBackOurGirls
Created by Nigerian lawyer Ibrahim M. Abullahi, the hashtag has been tweeted over one million times. People all over the world, celebrities and even First Lady Michelle Obama have participated in the campaign. Though a handful of American media outlets reported on the mass abduction in the first week of the crime, updates on the South Korean ferry disaster and the missing Malaysian plane still dominated the international news headlines.