Juneteenth

About 20 years ago, I consulted to Clifford Robinson, founder of Juneteenth.com. So, when June 19th suddenly became a federal holiday, I was happy for Clifford. I was happy for anyone who felt “seen” or “centered” or “redeemed” or “triumphant.”

But I was also feeling some type of way. I didn’t quite know why until I saw this:

@CandiceBenbow nailed it.

Still, I wanted to know first-hand if the Juneteenth vibe felt any different now that the holiday had gained white recognition. So, I headed to Oakland for the afternoon.

First stop was the home of Jilchristina Vest at the corner of Center St. and Dr. Huey P. Newton Way, painted on one side with a mural of the women of the Black Panther Party and its first floor converted into the just-opened Black Panther Party Mini-Museum@The Mural.

That event was festive and low-key. A block party featured a DJ, a food truck, and horseback rides. It was a 15-minute wait to get into the museum, which at 1,000 square feet, and still in pandemic days, accommodates just seven or eight people at a time.

I was glad to Venmo the suggested $15 donation on my way in, and even happier I had done so on the way out. Some of the sights seen:

Jil asked us to limit our museum time to 30 minutes. I could have stayed longer, not that there was a lot more content to consume, but because the space echoed with what the Panthers meant to their community. Before leaving, I chatted briefly with Jil and signed her guestbook.

Next stop was the official Juneteenth celebration at Lake Merritt Amphitheatre. I never made it. Traffic and parking was so prohibitive that I parked a mile and a half away and walked downhill to the lake. I passed a UPS truck blaring “What’s a Telephone Bill?”

“Hey, man!” I yelled over the bass. “I am loving that Bootsy!” Dreads in the brown uni lugging a package across the street fired me a raised fist.

When I hit Grand Avenue, the exhaled smoke scent thickened. So did the sidewalk traffic and roar of backfiring motorcycles and 808s booming out of cherry ’64s.

I took a lap through and around the vendor tents near the Lake Merritt Pergola. I saw scant sign of Juneteenth or its historical significance. Instead, I saw this.

My other obligations that Saturday kept me from staying. Maybe that’s a good thing because two hours later and two blocks away:

So, by Sunday morning, I had my answer. “Official” Juneteenth celebration vibe may have changed. Otherwise, same old shit.

Coronavirus Diary: Closure

This Coronavirus Diary must end sometime. That time is now, with the State of California, where I live, officially “re-opened” 15 months after the shelter-in-place-order.

It is a moment of closure in my experience of the Coronavirus Crisis. That’s not to say the pandemic is over. We all experience this situation differently. Those who suffer from sickness or lost loved ones may never feel the pandemic ending. 

For me, even after a gradual return to my old life in the two months since my second vaccination, the state re-opening is a watershed. The re-opening means communal recognition that the health threat has passed, at least for those vaxed, which is an even greater uplift than the relief and joy of feeling safe as an individual.

So, to close this diary, here are highlights of the weeks between my individual vaccination and our communal exultation.

The day after flying to Milwaukee to visit my parents, our first flights in nearly two years, my daughter Eleni and I jogged the bluffs at Klode Park and took time on the beach to thank nature for delivering us.
We timed our trip for “ASAP after vax+2 weeks” so we could see Papa and Lulu after almost two years apart. We celebrated Papa’s 80th with a family dinner about a month after his actual birthday.
Molly hosted me for a much-needed catch-up conversation on the balcony of her new home.
Fire seemed to be a theme of our friend gatherings. Beth hosted a “Jake’s in Town” bonfire.
Molly, Beth and The ’82 Project crew, plus many others, have taken Eleni under their wings when she visits my parents–a source of my great pride in friends and family. Here, Eleni, Mark, Tom, and Liz show off their “Jan’s Pack” bracelets worn in support of an ’82 classmate courageously facing health struggles.
On the next leg of my trip, in Chicago, my worlds started colliding. As a member of the Redwood City Racial Equity Mural Steering Committee, my eyes are opened even wider to murals (which is not to say I’m “woke”.) As a Chicago ex-pat, I follow the city’s news. After learning of The Firehouse Community Arts Center and its effort to intervene in violence among North Lawndale neighborhood youth, I arranged a visit.
Pastor Phil Jackson, who founded the The Firehouse Community Arts Center, welcomed me into his inner sanctum and toured me through the facility. We kicked it for a couple hours, covering our backstories, my writing of “The Black Book,” his writing of “The Hip-Hop Church,” our thoughts on whoever wrote “The Good Book,” other authors (Frantz Fanon for me, Greg Boyle for him), which Chicago Public Schools to call on for a free trial of the Fit Kids program that I represent, how art heals, basketball, sneakers, rap lyric quotations, civil rights history, the movement’s various visionaries, economic empowerment, and too many other topics for my frantic mind to remember. We learned a lot and now know we need to work together.
The day after meeting Pastor Phil, still all about the arts and seeking ideas for my mural folks back in the Bay, I passed this one on Lake Shore Drive while walking from my friends’ place where I was staying down to the Art Institute of Chicago for the Bisa Butler exhibit.
Mind. Blown. “Bisa Butler: Portraits” is the best art exhibit I’ve ever seen. One signature moment was viewing this quilt, titled “Southside Sunday Morning.” The variety of personalities shown in their poses and the distinct differences in the hauntedness of their eyes speaks to the individual and collective experiences of Black people in the United States.
This detail of “Southside Sunday Morning” homes in on those facial expressions.
Another favorite was “Les Sapeurs.”
Look what she can do with eyes and facial expressions in this detail from “Les Sapeurs.” With fabric!
Same here.
And here.
“Four Little Girls, September 15, 1963” grabbed me because it depicts those killed in the infamous 16th St. Baptist Church bombing, including Denise McNair, elder sister of my friend Lisa McNair.
This, and the rest of my favorites from the exhibit, follow without comment.
After the Art Institute, I was tired from about six miles of walking and no food all day. I could not get a Lyft or a taxi, so I set off on foot toward one of the holy grails of Chicago sandwiches and passed this Coronavirus-themed mural in the South Loop.
A shot of the Sears Tower (or whatever they call it now) from the Dan Ryan Expressway overpass near 26th and Wentworth.
Holy Grail
Can’t stop won’t stop the art walks, but I took a lunchbreak the next day with Mark before peeping Pilsen.
The next day, a much different kind of walk–golf with friends.

Those are just the photo highlights. Many one-on-one, face-to-face conversations with other dear friends and family helped me emerge from the pandemic. After isolation, nothing beats breaking bread with people I’ve loved for decades.

Back in the Bay, early June, I miraculously had an in-person business meeting. I wore big boy pants for the first time in 15 months. Now, the lockdowns and quarantines and even most of the mask mandates are officially behind us. Barring the unforeseen, the last steps in my journey through the Coronavirus crisis will be into a pick-up basketball gym in these big boy shoes purchased the day before the courts closed.

Playing basketball with friends and strangers will be the ultimate communal confirmation that the pandemic has passed. With my feet aching, body bruised and maybe bloodied, barely able to breathe, I’ll know that, at least in my world, we’ve returned to full health.

(To read the Coronavirus Diary all the way through, start here.)

Coronavirus Diary: No New Normal

Video from Boundless — an immersive, distance-learning after-school program on which Inkflow consulted to WeXL — shows the adaptability that defies acceptance of a “new normal.”

You won’t hear me say “new normal” although it’s cute and catchy. Alliteration always allures me. But I won’t say “new normal” in the context of the Coronavirus crisis, because I don’t believe it.

Nine months into this mess, facemasks are not normal. Nor are loved ones refusing hugs. Or televised sports featuring cardboard cutouts and piped-in crowd noise, as if to soothe us into submission, lest we hear the truth contained in the silence of our stadiums.

Most importantly, it is not normal for Zoom to serve as school. So, yes, we have adapted to the pandemic. But with all the resilience we’ve shown, saying “new normal” sounds like surrender. I’m more optimistic than that, because even when I’m apart from clients, what we work on together is worth working for.

For example, at The Writing Salon, where I will resume teaching “On Point” and “To Make a Long Story Short” in January, a past session’s student, Erin Lewellen, became a private writing coaching client and has since produced this opinion piece for NBCNews.com and this story about her work to lead Global Citizen Year through the pandemic.

Two more writing coaching clients have joined me, one about my age and the other a middle-school student. If you want a writing coach, let me know.

That work extends to Creative Writing curriculum design and teaching for Citizen Schools, a non-profit that provides enrichment programs for underserved middle-school students. As a volunteer Citizen Teacher for Oakland’s Greenleaf Elementary, I partner with AmeriCorps teaching fellow Emily Yonce on work with students who bear the brunt of the pandemic’s academic fallout due to the digital divide.

My first two years with Citizen Schools, about 25 students personally handed me their poetry collections, comic books, or short stories. This term, just five students log-in, almost always leaving their cameras off, and just one consistently answers our writing prompts.

The cliché, “If I can positively impact even one child…” rings true.

Consulting on WeXL’s Boundless, featured in the video above, was a much different experience. Dozens of fourth-graders at New York City’s Girls Prep Bronx Elementary School participated exuberantly, with cameras and minds turned on, under the leadership of WeXL Founder/CEO Arabella DeLucco and Girls Prep Teacher Danielle Sacks Sierra.

The first season of Boundless had students produce their own video-based stories while learning from luminaries in the worlds of sports, entertainment, and journalism, such as Monique Billings of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, known off-court as a high-quality YouTube creator, and TV journalist and Miss Wisconsin USA 2020 Gabriella Deyi.

Student response to the program provides every reason for optimism. And Boundless might not have happened without the pandemic forcing hands. Still, even if some good comes from the Coronavirus crisis, let’s not succumb to accepting a “new normal.”

Next in Series–Coronavirus Diary: Anniversary

Series starts at Coronavirus Diary: Introduction

Coronavirus Diary: NBA Restart

The new Dames I bought in March are still on my shelf, but at least their namesake is not. Delightfully, Dame D.O.L.L.A., his teammates, and opponents have returned to NBA play.

This is the closest to normal I’ve felt since March 11, when Rudy Gobert’s positive test for COVID-19 shut down the NBA and signaled the start of the Coronavirus crisis. Still, the resumption of all sports — in the name of both the almighty dollar and restoring some creature comforts — is far from a diversion.

Instead of distracting us from societal challenges foremost in our minds, watching NBA games shows us how far from normal we really are. Digital bells and whistles — fake crowd noise from fake fans — taunt us and haunt us with reminders that we cannot gather, that pandemic protocols deprive us of community.

To the credit of the NBA and its players, the league’s restart embraces and emphasizes anti-racism efforts, rather than trying to distract us from those, too. The announcers, interviewers, and studio hosts who advance the platforms printed on the court and on players’ jerseys for the most part do a wonderful job.

If the commentary intrudes on coverage of the on-court action, well, that’s the point of a “no-more-business-as-usual” stance, though the league, the TV networks, and the advertisers they serve desperately need business as usual. They all walk a fine line between inspiring an audience to action on social justice and lapsing into complicity. Already, the most repeated messages and ads are threatening to become, if you’ll pardon the expression, “white noise.”

Aside from a bit of understandable rust on some players, the games are so worth watching. Hopefully, that means the social-justice messages will get through and have their intended effect. Even more hopefully, what we’re being sold is worth buying.

Next in Series: Coronavirus Diary: Back to School

Series starts at Coronavirus Diary: Introduction

Coronavirus Diary: Funeral

Today I “attended” my first online funeral. I would have stood graveside and sat shiva if not for the Coronavirus crisis. My friend’s father passed from an illness that preceded the pandemic.

He was a beautiful man, praised this morning by his widow, with whom he raised three outstanding children. My friend and her siblings all tearfully spoke on my screen, followed by all six of their children, sharing memories of their Papa.

They told tales of his love of family, sports, dirty jokes, and Dewar’s. I also love his family and sports, and we shared more than a few dirty jokes over many more than a few Dewar’s. I raise one to him now while writing.

It hurt not to be there for my friend today. This is the week I usually spend in Milwaukee with my family, and I would have driven to Detroit for the funeral. But I cancelled Midwest plans because my family fears infection so deeply they would not let me visit.

Pandemic protocol also might have kept me from my friend’s family. Even if not, hugs and handholding would have been out of the question.

The only good that comes from most deaths is a heightened sense of the preciousness of life. Mourning together, supporting each other, we are more mindful of what’s important.

It’s an evil irony that we’re deprived that now – at least in the flesh, face-to-face, literal and metaphorical masks lowered – in a time when so many die alone and so many more seek solace.

Still, I give thanks for the life we celebrated today, so well lived that whoever knew him at all will follow his lead in making the most of our time, a time when we know that any breath we draw, even in the company of friends and family, may prove fatal.

Still, the example set by the man we mourn inspires us to breathe deeply of life.

Next post in series: Coronavirus Diary: Swine

Series starts at Coronavirus Diary: Introduction

Coronavirus Crisis: Service

With business slowed by the Coronavirus crisis, recent Inkflow activities focused on serving however possible. For Fit Kids and its partner, Galileo Camps, I wrote this perspective on organizational partnerships.

In collaboration with Citizen Schools, we completed our creative writing apprenticeship. Several remarkably attuned middle-school students continued to show up for distance learning and produced some stunning works of reflection on the pandemic, such as Jeremy’s acrostic poem, and other topics, such as Angel’s longing for homeland.

I even chanced into a Zoom consult with the Tasmanian Tigers Women’s Cricket Team. Don’t ask. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Next post in series: Coronavirus Diary: Re-Opening

Series starts at Coronavirus Diary: Introduction

Coronavirus Diary: The Last Dance

Though many of us thirst for live sports on TV, yesterday’s trickles of the Bundesliga, NASCAR, and a golf exhibition did not satisfy. To drink in the beauty and drama of sport, even though the results were known, “The Last Dance” was a full-on firehose guzzle.

Whether you loved or hated Michael Jordan in the era the TV series covered, changed your opinion based on his interviews in “The Last Dance” or even just learned about him for the first time, the show compelled. A glimpse inside a force of competitive greatness slakes the sports fan’s thirst.

Back in the day, you might have wanted to “be like Mike” without knowing what that meant. Now you know a little more and have new perspective on what price you are willing to pay in pursuit of your goals.

Would you want to “win at all costs” like Mike? Or is that approach now so strange that when you consider the apocryphal Vince Lombardi quote — “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” — you think that winning is nothing?

Answers to those questions have profound implications for how you live your life and others live theirs. That’s what keeps sports interesting, more than the action or athleticism, more than the score. That’s what “The Last Dance” gave us over the last five weeks when we needed it most.

Next post in series: Coronavirus Crisis: Service

Series begins at Coronavirus Diary: Introduction.

I #RunWithMaud

Today, I #RunWithMaud in solidarity with the movement to call awareness to the murder of Ahmaud Arberry, who would have turned 26 today. Today, the movement called for a 2.23-mile run, referencing the date, Februrary 23, that Ahmaud died for running while black.

Quoting from http://www.runwithmaud.com: “Ahmaud Arbery, a fit athlete, was out jogging near his home on a Sunday afternoon in Brunswick, Georgia on February 23, 2020, when two white supremacists saw him, got their guns, got in a truck, chased him down, pulled up next to him, shot him at least two times, and killed him right there on the spot. Ahmaud was unarmed, broke no laws, and did nothing wrong. He was only 25 years old when he died.

“The attackers were Gregory McMichael, a former police officer and retired investigator for the DA’s office, and his son Travis. When Gregory saw Ahmaud running in his neighborhood, Satilla Shores, a predominately white community, he and his son immediately armed themselves with a shotgun and a 357 magnum, hopped into their pickup truck, chased him down and shot him.

Thanks to Craig Brown, who alerted me to #RunWithMaud and who hooked me up with the t-shirt that pays homage to a neighborhood where I lived in Milwaukee for part of my childhood and first came in contact with the beauty and tragedy of black America. In addition to expressing solidarity with Ahmaud, my run was dedicated to Craig; to Doug Glass; to basketball budddies Mark, Willie, and Syd; and to Rep. John Lewis and another of the original Selma foot soldiers, Rev. Jimmy Webb, RIH.

Coronavirus Diary: Signs of Life

The 24 hours since the self-inflicted debacle of watching yesterday’s Korean Baseball Organization debut have revealed new signs of life. The middle-school poetry apprenticeship I run for Citizen Schools resumed on Zoom (actually it was Google, but these days “Zoom” is to online meetings as “Xerox” was to photocopying).

The students were spectacular! We started slowly with introductions, as the Coronavirus crisis has changed my class participants, and moved into a five-minute free-writing exercise. Each student produced beyond my expectations. During general discussion, one of the students typed into chat: “I made a new poem.”

Quarantine poem
During this quarantine I always feel bored
The best I did was watch my brother as he snored
I can’t go outside, I can’t go and play
I can’t do much, so here I lay
I’ve seen all the shows, I’ve played all the games
I’ve read all the books, and tedious they became
So now I’m looking for something to do
I’m trying to find something new I can do.

It was moving to know that these kids still want to achieve, still go want to go above and beyond. That was the first new sign of life.

The others occurred today during my (almost) daily bike ride. I ran into Sydney, my brother from another mother, just walking down the bike path. I’d last seen him at the basketball gym in early March, when it was still normal for us to swap sweat and bang bodies in the fight for rebounds. Today, I told him to give me six-feet, but he leaned in for the elbow bump.

A bit further up the path, the golfers had returned to Poplar Creek Golf Course, so named for its two key physical attributes: one edge of the course fronting on Poplar Street, and the concrete run-off ditch that winds majestically through the back nine. It never smelled sweeter.

Next post in series

Series begins at Coronavirus Diary: Introduction