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Friday, January 30, 2009

What's My Purpose?

I originally started working on this back in July of 2008, so it's a little outdated (as you'll see from the first paragraph), but the main point still applies.


A couple of weeks ago, while driving to work and listening to the Tom Joyner Morning Show, i heard that they were looking for a new "commentator" to replace Tavis Smiley, who has obviously lost a lot of cool points in Black America due to his lack of support for Barack Obama.

After hearing the announcement, my first thought was that i should apply. But that thought was immediately replaced by doubt. Why would they consider me? Who am i? Surely they're looking for someone with some national credentials...

After praying over it, and getting words of encouragement from several friends (biased as they may have been), i decided to submit my name.

Well, i never received a phone call, and i soon learned that they had picked their finalist--or at least seven out of what was supposed to be eight finalist. This of course made me revisit all of the original doubts i had about applying. So it led me to do some reflecting. Why would they consider me? Who am i?

As a teen, i went to school at the Bronx High School of Science, at the time one of the top ten high schools in the country, and still pretty high on the list. After Bronx Science, i attended Cornell University, where, after becoming politically conscious, i played key roles in several student movements, including two that led to building takeovers and received national press coverage. One of the takeovers led to the formation of a Latino residential program which still exists today. Ironically, the issues involved in these student movements, financial aid, housing and racism, would become a part of my community organizing for the next twenty years.

At the local level, i participated in an election that defeated a mayor Selma, Alabama who had been in power for 36 years--the same mayor, by the way, who was in power when Bloody Sunday took place in 1965. That election produced Selma's first Black mayor, and now, eight years later, i am participating in a national election that could possibly produce this country's first Black president. And in between those two elections, i've learned more than most ever will about the reality of electoral politics in the South.

I've walked on dirts roads as far away as Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and other dirt roads throughout Dallas County, Alabama. And one day, once i get past the two books that i already have outlined in my mind, my third book will focus on the similarities between those two sets of roads and, more importantly, the similarities between the communities that those roads serve.

I've witnessed Hurricane Katrina, and i remember the feelings of anger and frustration as i watched hundreds of thousands of Black New Orleans residents simply being left for dead. I remember how challenging it was to turn those feelings into concrete action as i joined with some friends to open a temporary shelter in Selma and to drive a bus down to New Orleans to bring back as many folks as we could. We never made it to New Orleans, but we made it to the Mississippi Gulf Coast--to places like Gulfport and Biloxi--where folks were dealing with their own forms of hunger, sickness, and, perhaps most importantly, despair.

We brought many of the folks we found to the shelter, and months later we would use that same shelter during "Katrina on the Ground", a spring break project that saw almost 3,000 college students volunteer their time to help rebuild in New Orleans and Mississippi. i remember telling those students that Katrina represented the Emmett Till moment for THIS generation--a moment and event so traumatic that it could launch a new generation of activism. And so, i wasn't very surprised when a short time later, thousands of Black folks, largely youth, descended on a town called Jena.

I've had some great mentors, some who worked with Dr. King and others who worked with Brother Malcolm. i've learned from elders who so loved our cause that they were willing to risk their lives, and sit in prisons, and give up their livelihoods just to build a better world. Some have taught me how to be a better activist, and others have taught me how to be a better person, and every day i pray that i have been a worthy student.

And through it all i have tried to be the best husband and father that i can be. i have learned alot about how to balance commitment to family and commitment to community, and i've learned the heard way not to neglect commitment to self. And to my surprise, i've found that my most important relationship is my relationship with God, and i've come to believe that if that relationship is properly nurtured, the others will follow.

So at the end of the day, the bottom line is this: i've got a story to tell. It's a story about love and hope, freedom and faith, politics and pain. To some, including my younger self, it will appear a story of black and white, but that's just a mask for and a symptom of what's really a spiritual battle between right and wrong, light and darkness. And if there is a battle being fought, then we must also be clear that it is a story about power. Not the "reckless and abusive" power that King talked about, and not the absolute power that corrupts absolutely, but power nonetheless.

Yes, i've got a story to tell, and i'm going to tell it to whoever will listen.

Will YOU listen?

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