2017 Heritage Award Honoree
The past few months have been a blur. December I was touring in Spain and the Canary Islands (short video clip of part of a performance there). While in Spain I participated in a Spanish Book Festival to promote ROAD and then returned to a flurry of performances for Kwanzaa ending the month with the honor of presenting at the founder’s, Dr. Mualana Karenga’s, 50th Anniversary Kwanzaa Celebration. I created a slideshow for those who might want to check out what it was like. 50th Anniversary Kwanzaa Celebration slideshow.
The pace didn’t ease up in January as I continued promotions for the book and headed to Nevada to tour schools in Las Vegas, ending with a culminating performance at the Charleston Heights Arts. Possibly the most touching part of the Las Vegas tour was my visit to the West Las Vegas Arts Center. It felt more like a family reunion than a performance as I got to cross paths with friends I hadn’t seen in years.
Early February I flew to Minnesota for a short residency in collaboration with the University of Minnesota Crookston’s Diversity Department. My attaché, Ms. Lorna Hollowell facilitated a memorable visit that included, not only university events but activities in the community as well. I am eternally grateful to her and her visionary programing.
A few weeks ago I was notified that I was chosen as their 2017 Heritage Award Honoree. Did I mention how fast paced life seems at the moment? The award will be presented at the 15th Annual African American Heritage Festival hosted by The Aquarium of the Pacific on Sunday February 26th @ 12:20 pm.
With a little help from family and friends I’m going to live-stream via Facebook. The live stream will begin at 12:10 pm and continue through the ceremony. Live streaming works out great when you’ve got a really diverse collection of friends spread out over seven continents. I’m excited because my West African Drum and Dance Family Dembrebrah has agreed to open the award ceremony and I was also notified that the City of Long Beach Mayor’s Chief of Staff, Mark Taylor, will be in attendance.
If you can attend, I’d love to see you there. If not, join us on Facebook Live.
It has definitely been a long, arduous journey but, after 6 years of self-inflicted mental torture, constant cursing and unexplainable elation, my book Road of Ash and Dust: Awakening of a Soul in Africa is “finally” complete. I am, quite literally, jumping up and down right now! The book is a “coming-of-age” story detailing my first stay in Africa. I’m too old to be embarrassed any longer so I just tried to be as brutally honest as possible in my writing.
If you are one of the fortunate souls to be on my email list then you’ve already received this notification. For the rest of you, I want to invite you to take advantage of the limited time 99¢ Download at Amazon.com. Click Here: Road of Ash and Dust
If you download and enjoy your read of the book then please, please leave a review on Amazon. Books that receive reviews tend to rank higher than those that don’t.
For those of you who’ve already been sending me messages of congratulations. Thank you so much.
I am going to go do something I haven’t been able to do in a long time, take a walk in the park near my home. Sounds simple but writing consumes so much of your life, sometimes the little, simple joys of life fall to the wayside.
Please go and get your copy now and let me know what you think. Here’s another link just incase you missed the one above: Road of Ash and Dust: Awakening of a Soul in Africa
Why I refused to stand for the Pledge
It was 1975 and I was in the sixth grade at Meadows Elementary on the largest military base of this nation, Fort Hood, in the State of Texas.
Just like many other children during that period of adolescence, I was transitioning into my age of reason. I was beginning to understand the world I was living in a different way.
I had grown up learning the sacrifices of men in our family who had served for generations in the U.S. Military. I had also grown up hearing the tales of men in our family who had been lynched. It was the latter that caused a disruption to my developing psyche.
My teacher’s name was Mrs. Johnson and I had a secret crush on her. She was a brilliant woman whose manner was so disarming she could get us to do anything, or almost anything as I soon learned.
The night before this pivotal experience, I had an epiphany. All of my years in school I had been reciting the Pledge of Allegiance without ever thinking what it was saying. That night, for some reason, my 11-year-old brain was reflecting on the Pledge when the words “… with Liberty and Justice for all” jumped out at me.
I remember thinking to myself, “That’s not true, there is no Liberty and Justice for All!”
My limited life experiences were all the validation that I needed to know that the words were not true.
What needed to happen the next day in class became very clear to me. I didn’t tell anyone what I was planning on doing.
The next day at school, when all of the children stood for the morning routine of saying the Pledge, I remained in my seat. I wasn’t scared. In fact, I was filled with such a level of righteous indignation that no one could have deterred me “not even Mrs. Johnson.”
As my classmates said the Pledge, she kept staring in my direction, her hand patriotically resting over her heart.
When the students finished, Mrs. Johnson called me over to her desk. She asked me why I had not stood up to recite the Pledge. This was my moment to show her that my actions were purposeful. I explained to Mrs. Johnson that my pastor had taught me that a pledge is a solemn promise, an oath and should never be taken lightly. I further elaborated that the words, “… with Liberty and Justice for All” would have had me telling a lie. I didn’t feel as though everyone in our country received Liberty and Justice.
Mrs. Johnson pulled out a slip of paper, wrote something on it and told me I had to go to the office and see the principal.
I hadn’t been scared before, but I was now. The principal! Only the worst kids went to the principal’s office. I was in trouble and being in trouble was something my mother never tolerated from her children.
I had backed myself into a corner and there was no way out. I hadn’t thought through the potential consequences of my actions. My fear was heightened, not so much by having to go see the principal, as it was by wondering how my mother would react.
I don’t remember the principal’s name but I can still see his face turning red while reading Mrs. Johnson’s note. He unleashed a torrent of anger-laced statements and spoke about ungrateful youth, sacrifices others had made, and my ignorance. What stood out most was that he kept asking me if I understood and when I answered, as respectfully as I could, “Yes,” he was angered even further.
“Yes, what?” he yelled.
I knew what he wanted and it hurt me to give it to him, but I did.
“Yes… sir.” I replied.
He must have made me reply “Yes sir” about twenty times before he picked up the phone and called my mother at work.
More fear gripped me. Never, ever was my mother to receive a call at her job. This was an unforgivable sin on my part. I had done something that made them have to call my mother at work. I would probably be killed when I got home from school.
The principal told me that I would not be allowed to return to school until I apologized to both he and the class.
11 years old is a difficult age. The hormones, mix of emotions and lack of social equilibrium are the main ingredients of adolescence. I wasn’t sure of anything at this point except that the words of the Pledge were not true.
The school bus dropped me off across the bridge from out little apartment. That was the longest walk home I have ever taken.
I walked in the door knowing my mother was there waiting for me. I steeled myself for an epic spanking. There was no doubt in my mind that it was going to happen. I was about to feel the pain of my decisions in more than one way.
My heart was pounding as I rounded the corner of the entrance into the living room.
There she was, sitting in the lounge chair, but something was wrong. She wasn’t glaring at me in that way that she usually did when I was about to get spanked. She wasn’t biting her lower lip as was her custom whenever anger overtook her.
I was thrown off balance. I wasn’t sure what was going on.
In the most calm voice I had ever heard her speak she said, “Come sit down.” She motioned for me to come and sit on the chair next to her. At that moment, I was really scared!
She asked me what had happened. I couldn’t believe it! I was going to get a chance to tell my side of the story!
I launched into one of the most impromptu, persuasive speeches in the history of orators. I wasn’t going to leave anything to chance. I pled my case using every fact my young mind could gather, familial anecdotes that I had heard from her and many of the elders in our family. I threw in my grandmother’s words for good measure to help sway her opinion.
I remember this like it was yesterday. She placed her index finger over my lips to quiet me. What came next was a pivotal moment in my maturation and growth as a man.
My mother began to explain the power of words and ideas. There wasn’t a bit of condescension in her voice as she spoke to me. She explained that we human beings are not perfect, in fact, far from it. She pulled me closer to her as she told me that we, human beings, are constantly struggling and striving to build something greater of ourselves.
I was shocked when she told me, “You have every right not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.”
I was totally thrown off balance by her statement and struggling to make sense of what was happening.
After a long, purpose filled pause she continued, “The Pledge of Allegiance is not about what “we” are today, but what “you” will help make us tomorrow.”
My mother hugged me as she told me that, because I understood so much, it was my responsibility to fight and struggle to bring the beautiful ideals that we human beings strive for into reality.
I grew that day in my mother’s arms, listening to her words.
The next day I returned to that school on that military base in Fort Hood, Texas with a greater sense of purpose and pride. I apologized to Mrs. Johnson, my class and the Principal, but not for having sat down during the pledge. I apologized for not having understood my purpose and responsibility in bringing to fruition the ideals it expresses.
My mother died only a few years ago. I miss her tremendously but the lessons she taught me growing up still live on through me, the children I’ve raised and my grandchild.
i am truly one of the blessed of this earth to be able to travel the world and share with so many different people of different cultures. I received word recently that one of the most amazing souls I’ve ever met transitioned. His name was Seu Geraldo Tartaruga and he was a brilliant storyteller.
I met him while touring in Brazil. A group of local authors in Rio thought it was important to put us together in a room and just watch what happens. I’m smiling now because my time with him was magic. We sat in the home of a friend of his and share a meal and possibly “billions” of words together. Not kidding.
I always travel with gifts, small tokens that have more cultural significance than monetary value. Before we parted I handed him a gift. He smiled broadly and explained that he also had something for me. I was surprised. It turned out that he and I shared the same custom of gift giving.
Each time we lose one of these brilliant lights, the world feels just a tad dimmer.
I am going to miss you Tartaruga.
Yesterday I was on my way back home driving from Northern California to Los Angeles. I pulled into a rest stop and went to stand out in an adjoining field. I like to break the monotony of driving long distances by stopping to take time and enjoy the beauty of nature and fresh air.
While standing there in the field I noticed a hawk soaring high off in the distance. It looked as if it were headed straight towards me, descending in my direction. It appeared too far off in the distance for me to feel any concern.
I was transfixed watching it glide downwards towards the earth, still in my line of site.
I couldn’t move. I had never witnessed anything like this before.
The hawk’s glide turned into a dive as it seemed to hurl itself towards the ground. It expanded its wings and swooped into an ascending arc, almost colliding with the earth. As it was coming up in its arc it had a large snake clutched in its talons.
The moment was hypnotic. Somehow, what had seemed so far off in the distance was no longer. The upwards arc of the hawk’s flight brought it within inches of me.
I ducked to avoid the snake’s thrashing tail from hitting me in the head.
My momentum in trying to avoid the snake’s flailing body spun me around in the direction of the hawk flying away. I watched it fade off in the distance, over the horizon with the snake still jerking in its talons the entire time.