Am I A Waggonist?

“Yute, it tek a Bison fi draw yuh into the Political Arena?” My response, “Yup.” Message response, “Waggonist.” After posting another clip about how Howard University has prepared Senator Kamala Harris for the role of Vice President, and in my opinion, possibly soon to be president, the comment was, “Yute yuh wagon have Turbo pon it tonight.”

The above WhatsApp discussion with a close friend last night was a pointed one. I rarely ever post anything about politics on any of my social media platforms. I find the dialogue that ensues from such a posting often exhausting and void of any real solutions. It is even worse when folks tend to use the gospel message and religion to advance their thinking. Taking scripture totally out of context to do so. Such interactions that are argued over keyboard exchanges always end up in the proverbial “mugs game.’ A waste of time really.

When it comes to any political discourse for me, I ascribe to, and will always remain with the notion that we must simply get out and vote. Our forefathers fought and bled for us to have that right, and we should exercise it. Folks who do not vote, I have no patience for in terms of them complaining of how difficult things seem. Make your vote count. It is that simple. I do not tell people how to vote because that takes me down a rabbit hole that is deep with little avenues for escape for me to come out of it with my sanity intact. The older I get, the more I like to preserve brain cells for things that are meaningful and has impact for me and those attached to me. I keep my political thinking to myself as a CSPAN junkie who started following political musings while growing up in Jamaica watching the Jamaica Labor Party and the People’s National Party, or the PNM and NAR when I lived briefly in the Twin Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

This time it is a little different. My euphoria at last night’s news of Senator Harris being selected as former Vice President’s Joe Biden running mate for the 2020 elections was not borne simply out of an affiliation with any one political party, or political thought. In the moment, I believe I was caught up in the historic nature of it. Was I most proud that Senator Harris has some Jamaican heritage? We who were born on that island have a deep affinity to anyone who is attached to the black, gold and green. Just that connection alone draws the “family” support. Was I elated that she is a graduate of the prestigious Howard University? The Mecca? The Captstone? The Black Harvard? That magical place has shaped my life since I stepped foot on that campus in the fall of 1989. We Howard Bison do not play around whenever one of our own is making moves. I could understand if that is why I was elated. Although impressive, that was not it either. As I processed the news of the day, I went to bed pleased to see another historic moment like we did in November 2008 when Barrack Obama won on election night. The last meme I saw before going to bed was “Howard’s Homecoming has been rescheduled to November 3, 2020.” A little chuckle at how real this moment is for so many.

Here I am, up at my usual 3AM when something is on my mind and I simply cannot sleep. After spending some time in prayer, it slowly started coming to me the reason for my euphoria or joy last night. It came to me as plain as day. I am elated because what we are witnessing right now is the next stage of a shift. A major shift, not only in politics, but a movement that started many years ago, and long before Senator Harris. A shift that started with Sojourner Truth, Harriett Tubman, down the line to Shirley Chisolm, also taking into consideration all the women who fought long and hard for the right to vote and equality. Some of whom are still fighting today in our Congress, state houses and Mayors offices.

As a husband and a father to a daughter, I have always been concerned about how these two ladies in my life engage the world. It is quite easy for them to be ignored, talked over, and in some instances have to adopt an aura of strength that is often times exhausting just thinking about it. They are both extremely smart and confident, but will they ever get a chance to showcase what they can truly do? They have their opinions as well. At first glance, some will relegate them to a place behind someone else who is less talented, less engaged in meaningful discourse, but is neither female or has their skin kissed by the sun. My elation seems to be loosely tied to seeing that slowly being chipped away. This nomination made a psychological breakaway for some young girls and women of color yesterday. August 11, 2020 will be a day that is remembered for some time.

Subconsciously I believe there are four reasons for my joy with the selection of Senator Kamala Harris as the Vice President Joe Biden’s running mate:

First, my euphoria is not predicated upon any one political party winning (although something must give with what we are experiencing right now). That is a civic duty we must carry out. Vote!!!! That is a given. My joy is rooted in the fact that finally women are getting the opportunity to showcase what they can do. Women of color more specifically. They have been the ones to bail us out as a nation on so many occasions. In elections. In our houses of worship. They take care of our families. They ensure that the legacies that we want to leave are intact. They led us to freedom, even though some today still do not know that they are free. That is for another blog post. They are strong. They are caring. They are magnificent. They are beautiful. They are resilient. They are our future. Although Senator Harris will go through a very severe public vetting process, The Mecca has prepared her well. She will be fine. However, a much larger impact with being selected as the Vice President running mate of a major political party is to inspire so many young girls of color to see the possibilities that young men of color saw in Barrack Obama. Board rooms and CEO positions are going to look different, and I am here for it. I worked for Dr. Dorothy Cowser Yancy at Johnson C. Smith University, and as more ladies of color step forward to take up the mantle of leadership in the corporate world, higher education or any other sphere, change is inevitable. They are change agents. This selection is simply another step in that direction.

This truism is real for us all because as I interviewed guests on my podcast who are extraordinarily successful in their fields, there is one common theme among all of them who are above sixty years old. If it were not for the firm foundation of family telling them that they could achieve anything they put their minds to, who knows the path that their lives would have taken? In their youthful days they could not see a person of color being president or hold any major position of authority. President Obama did that for our young men of color. Senator Harris will do the same for our girls of color with this announcement. This seminal moment has more weight to it than we can see or appreciate right now.

At a time when some in our nation are trying their best to return to a time that many would like to forget, it is refreshing to see the courage and grit being displayed to halt that return in various and sundry ways. We must take the small wins and turn them into a series of wins. Victories that push back against a narrative that suggests we are not all equal. A narrative that suggests some folks are more equal than others is antithetical to our moral ideals in my estimation; be it socially, economically, or spiritually. Kamala Harris’ selection says to the world, we are here, and we are not going back to that time. Better yet we are not going anywhere. We are not interested in stewing in the quagmire of indifference, hate and inequality. We are better than that.

The second reason for my joy this morning is that my first ever book chronicles my time at Howard University. It highlights what that institution has done for me, especially as an immigrant heading to Washington DC for the first time. That institution is a special place. It shapes and molds leaders, social entrepreneurs, and people who can change the world. Senator Harris has experienced the pull and push of the HBCU experience. Her nomination will also open the eyes not only to Howard, but all HBCUs across this nation. I currently serve at Morehouse College, and I keep telling people to watch this space. Prior to coming to Morehouse, I spent seven years at two predominantly white institutions. There is a difference in the experiences for students of color. A decade before that, I served another HBCU, and before that served at the United Negro College Fund. Trust me when I say there is a difference. HBCUs are in my very DNA and I can unequivocally state the nation’s HBCUs are special places to nurture the next generation of leaders.

The nation needs our HBCUs more than ever in these times. Vice President Biden’s choice of Senator Harris in one move has brought the nation’s HBCUs back to the national psyche. These incubators of black excellence will again have an opportunity to be recognized for what they mean to the nation. People will come to see that “HBCUs represent less than 3% of colleges and universities, enroll 12% of all African American students, produce 23% of all African American graduates, confer 40% of all STEM degrees and 60% of all engineering degrees are earned by African American students.”  (The Changing Face of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Black Enterprise). “HBCUs educate 50% of African American teachers and 40% of African American health professionals. 70% of African American dentists and physicians earned degrees at HBCUs.” The list goes on and on. The impact of Howard is felt back in Jamaica where many dentists and doctors studied there. HBCUs have an international presence not many know about. Their story just received a much bigger platform with Senator Harris’ selection.

The third reason for my joy this morning is that now the world will know about the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. Not for its competition among other sororities, but for its sisterhood. For the bond among strong black women in the Greek life, Corporate America, and life in general. The support that they have for each other, which is a microcosm of the kind of familial approach that nurtures and support its members. A model in some ways for young girls of color to see and emulate. That same nurturing and support that carried this nation forward, even when our mothers were caring for the children of those who oppressed them. Once again, the strength of the black woman will be on full display. You cannot make this stuff up. I am just silly to believe that this is all a part of a larger plan to bring this nation and the world back together, and I believe it is women of color all around the world who are going to make the difference. Look at the Mayors in some of our major cities. Look at the Prime Minister in Barbados. They are examples of the tsunami that is on the way in terms of leadership changes. I am not a member of any Greek organization and I can see this angle of inspiration very clearly.

The fourth and final reason for my joy this morning is as an immigrant to this country myself, the selection of Senator Harris highlights once again that those families who chose to come to these United States and make a living for themselves are contributors to the economy, culture and traditions that helped to shape it. Immigrants come here and excel in every field they find themselves. You name the field or sphere of influence you see their contributions. Whether it is NASA Rocket Scientist Camille Wardrop-Alleyne, Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick, or even as far back as the contributions of Marcus Garvey or Stokely Carmichael, the voice of immigrants, and especially immigrants of color have made tremendous contributions to shaping our present and our future. As their children navigate the new normal of the twenty first century, there is much to be hopeful for. The melting pot that is the United States will continue to be rewarded for its courage to move beyond what has been and embrace what is yet to come. If we all remember that it is difficult to think big when small has us, and shake off the smallness, we will see a wellspring of possibilities for our world.

So to answer my friend of many years. Yes, I am a waggonist today. Not a waggonist that is pigeonholed into any one political outcome. I am a waggonist because I see change on the horizon. I firmly hold true to the bandwagon effect. You know that bandwagon that gets pushed down a hill, and people sit on the sidelines waiting to see what happens before they get in. They see the wagon leaving, but they do not want to get in because they are fearful of what people might think if they do get in. Well, I have jumped in because I can clearly see where this wagon is going, and in my mind, it is a good place. The wagon is not led by one person per se, but the collective will to arrive at a new destination powers and guides this wagon.

This wagon is going to pick up speed as the grade of the hill is steep, and whatever changes will result from it moving will come with a great sense of alacrity and purpose. I would rather ride in the wagon that be run over by it.

I normally shy away from saying I am a waggonist because of the negative connotations from the ribbing I can get from sporting fans (I am a Tottenham Hotspurs fan which says it all). This time I am cool with it. I am cool with it because I can see my daughter through a different lens. I can see my wife and all her hard work through another lens. I can see the efforts of all the mothers out there through a different lens. I can see the good that can come from this selection of Senator Harris, and it is beautiful.

Peace and blessings.

Trust the Process

Yesterday I was outside with Sharon looking at a new lawn we put in about two months ago. We were out there because we noticed how the weeds seemingly jumped up, and are all over the place. Very distressing. We had a lawn care professional come by and he told us that because after installation we left town for over a month. It wasn’t getting the right care in that month when the grass really needed to “catch.” To me it seems the weeds “caught” faster than the real grass. The funny thing is that the weeds looks just as green and lush. They were well nourished to the naked eye. So nourished they started spreading.

Concerned at the amount of weeds that seemingly sprung up from nowhere, I called the lawn care company we hired to treat the grass when we returned to town. I asked the representative who answered what is the company going to do about all the weeds in the lawn. They were supposed to fertilize, spray and a host of other things to keep my lawn healthy and beautiful. I was puzzled by the amount of weeds. I just could not get past the unsightly look of the weeds permeating my lawn. Weeds of all shapes, sizes and textures. Some with thorns. Some without. Some tall. Some short.

The man replied with three words, “Trust The Process.” He then went on to say, “when you left town for a month after installation was a problem. Your installation was done in mid season. You missed three months worth of treatment for the lawn from the start of the year. There is a program we have to follow with the changes in the seasons. It was simply the time of year you did your installation. The grass does not know that. All it knows is that it needs feeding, sunlight, and care. When you were gone for that month it was not watered the way it should have been, and we were not yet onboard to treat it. Just give us a year and you will see a total transformation. Keep your eyes focused on the end result.”

After I listened to his well reasoned explanation, I realized there was a bigger lesson in here somewhere. I was reminded of the story of the wheat and the tares found in the Gospel of Matthew in the thirteenth chapter from the twenty fourth to the thirtieth verse. What I took from that less than one minute conversation with the lawn care professional is that there are critical timings when we must get things done, and often times we miss the windows. The biggest culprits are procrastination and fear. We need to care and feed our plans, but be careful not to simply uproot the weeds that pop up for fear of destroying everything. I could have pulled up all the weeds I saw by hand, but I would have a destroyed lawn because the patches of dirt that would be left. I was reminded that I shouldn’t pay too much attention to the distractions that seemingly spring up as I am being rooted in what I am supposed to be accomplishing on my journey to my purpose.

All that thinking seems lofty and goal oriented, however if we are truly honest with ourselves, things we thought that should have been done in a certain time frame are not happening. All around us there seems to be the appearance of “weeds”. The weed of anxiety because things are not moving fast enough. The weed of fear as we are currently in a pandemic with no end in sight. The weed of lack because resources are drying up, jobs are being lost, and savings are being depleted by so many who have been laid off and furloughed. For small business owners, the weed of uncertainty of whether the business will survive. The weed of dissatisfaction because of the station in life we find ourselves. The weed of worry about what kind of world we will leave for our children. Weeds everywhere. Just pick a weed and overlay it on your circumstances. Do you see the weeds?

Well if we shift our perspective a little bit we see a different view. There is much more grass than weeds. Just pick up where you currently are, adjust your plans, and get the fertilizer of wisdom and understanding from those who are where you want to be. Spend time with those who are growing through their weeds and find out how to do the same. Allow the weeds to grow right alongside you to make you stronger, not bitter. When the time is right, the lawn will be green and weeds will be gone. Then we can look back and see that the weeds were only an inconvenience on our way to deep and solid roots that now stand firm, healthy, and beautiful. Don’t get focused on the distraction of the weeds, but keep the focus on the end result.

Make the adjustments, change your perspective, but more importantly, “TRUST THE PROCESS!!!!!”

Tag You Are It!!!!!!

It is June 20, 2020, my wife, daughter and I are packing up a UHAUL truck as we depart the City of Ithaca after living there for seven years. A beautiful city with picturesque landscapes and the lure of the lakes simply takes your breath away. We met some great colleagues and had a fun time just enjoying all that upstate New York had to offer. As a matter of fact, before this last day I was posting pictures on Facebook about the beauty of the city as we did the touristy thing in our own backyard for the previous week and a half.

The number seven seemed fitting for our time of departure as it is the number symbolic of completion. New horizons were there for us to conquer, and my daughter was the last one to graduate the high school where all three of my children received an excellent education (a major shout out to Mr. Luvelle Brown, the Superintendent of the school district). Ithaca was a place where I grew to a greater understanding of how to experience and process what we all see in our society today around race relations. It was an educational journey on this topic that continues to linger because it is never ending, and needs constant “feeding and caring.” I would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge all that Pastor Nathaniel Wright of the Calvary Baptist Church has been doing in the community on this topic as well.

Like most families that are moving to a new city and packing up, we underestimated how much stuff we had in our home. We got a shock the night before when we realized that one truck was not enough. We rued the decision now to do this on our own. With our backs hurting, fatigue setting in, and just being plain miserable, we decided to get another truck and split our driving duties. Unpacking the truck and getting a moving company would simply add days to our stay, plus we needed to be in Atlanta, Georgia by June 22, 2020.

Early on June 20th, we drove up to Hanshaw Road beyond the airport to have the auto transport attached to the larger truck, and to pick up the second smaller truck for the unanticipated items. After attaching the auto transport, and picking up the second truck, we drove down Route 13 and asked the permission of the owner of the Fall Creek House if we could park the larger truck with the auto transport in his parking lot because we would not have to move it until we were leaving town in a couple of hours. The owner was gracious and pointed out where we should park. That spirit of very friendly and community oriented focus is what I have encountered with most folks I met in Ithaca.  All was well. The amended plan was working flawlessly.

I packed up some more trash items and made my way to the solid waste facility and took some additional slightly used and new garments to the thrift store that was also on Elmira Road. I returned home and immediately started packing up our remaining boxes. As my wife, daughter and I were packing up the truck, a knock came at our door from a police officer. The front door was wide open, so my wife turned to answer him. I went upstairs to grab another box with my daughter. When we came back down, I heard my wife saying, “we got this truck this morning and have been packing it up to leave town today.” I then stopped what I was doing to listen in on the conversation.

Apparently, someone had called the police department to say that a UHAUL truck had just hit a parked car on the next street over, and he wanted to see if we knew anything about it. Since I was the one who had recently driven the truck, I quickly responded that we knew nothing about the incident, and I said, “I hope they find who did that.” I went back upstairs to grab another box with my daughter. When I came back downstairs, I saw my wife peering through the front window of our home with a deep focus. I stood beside her to get a sense of what grabbed her attention so intently. The police officer was outside inspecting the truck, looking at the front right side. At one point he got down on one knee looking closely at a something.

He did not say anything to me as I continued to pack up the truck. After a couple more trips upstairs in my house and to the back of the truck, he calls me over to the right front tire of the truck and says to me, that the markings on the side of this wheel looks like something consistent with hitting another vehicle. He pointed to a scuff mark on the side of the tire and said he believes it is consistent with an accident. I looked at him with the expression that says, “Are you for real?” I looked at the scuff mark on the tire that was obviously done by it being rubbed against a curb. There were no other colors on the tire or the lug nuts. I said to the officer that his observation was very interesting, and I told him again, “Sir I can state to you unequivocally that I did not hit any vehicles and I have no idea what you are talking about or insinuating here.” He said, he was simply doing his job and wanted to answer a complaint that came from someone who called 911 to say a UHAUL truck had hit their car.

By now, my wife is listening in on the conversation. I asked him if I could retrieve some information from my truck to show that I had not been over to the street in question. I showed him my receipt from the solid waste station that also had a time stamp of 12:08 pm. I retraced the route from there to my home. He also agreed that given the route, I did not have a reason to pass on the street that the incident occurred. We also concluded that there were several UHAUL trucks on the road as it was a Saturday. He said he wanted to look at the vehicle some more. I said sure, and I went back in the house to retrieve another box. My wife then follows me back into to the house and says to me as plain as day, “he is going to tag this supposedly accident on you, please remember that.” I found myself professing my innocence to my wife as well. I knew I had not hit any vehicle. What started to infuriate me was that the supposed accident happened on another street over that runs parallel to ours.

I delivered the next box to the truck and the officer calls me over again. He says that when the call was made to 911, the person said that the UHAUL in question had an Arizona plate and started with the letter “A”. Coincidentally, that was the same state license on my truck, and it started with the letter “A”. I repeated to the officer again, “sir I did not hit any vehicle. I did not drive over on the street in question.” I then asked, “how long ago was this accident reported?” He responded that the call came in about fifteen minutes prior. I then told him, “at a minimum I have been back here long before that packing up this truck. I would not have been driving on the road to even hit a vehicle. The truck was already almost halfway full.” He said, “I understand your position, but your tire has these markings, and the license plate and first letter are similar to what the complainant reported.” At this point, it took everything within me not to lose it. I was not going to be on the news for being disrespectful to an officer or worse as we have seen recently.

I was annoyed, and I started speaking to myself internally saying, “Gerry keep calm. You have been lied on before, and this time any outbursts can have consequences.” It was clear to me that this line of questioning and argument was basically saying that I hit a car and drove off without stopping. Totally out of character for me. I asked one final question. “What direction was the truck supposedly traveling when it hit the parked car?” He responded that it was heading in the same direction my truck was pointed but one street over. In my mind I then asked the rhetorical question, does it make any sense that I would hit a car going in the same direction on another street as I am parked packing up my truck?”

At this point, I professed to the officer again, that I did not hit any cars, and I have no idea how this is going to be resolved. I was not afforded an opportunity to speak to the person who called in the accident or anything. I did not go and inspect the car in question. My biggest mistake in all of this was that I did not take a picture of the wheel that supposedly hit this car. For all I know, no cars were hit at all. I chuckled internally at the time thinking that I was either Superman or Flash to pack up so much of the truck in such a short span of time climbing three and at times four stories in my house. The thought was simply crazy.

The officer said again that he was just doing his job, and that he would like to get some information from me so that he could follow up at a future date. Being a good citizen and not wanting to appear non cooperative, I provided the information. My name, date of birth and my address. I left it at that and continued to load the truck. My wife said to me again, “Gerry, he is going to pin this on you. Mark my words.” At that point, I just kept the packing going, because this incident soured my mood, and reminded me of the first two days we arrived in the city seven years ago. Yet again being falsely accused or an intimation uttered that we were stealing something or being dishonest. I just wanted to leave at this point. It was time to go. A beautiful city but it has had an issue for years it has failed to adequately confront.

Fast forward to Wednesday, June 24, 2020. I received a telephone call from a strange number. I let it go to voicemail. When I finally retrieved the voicemail, I instantly became upset. The message was from a UHAUL representative asking me for details of the accident that happened in Ithaca, NY where I hit a parked car. When I called the representative back, I immediately told her not to pay out any claims, and they should deny the entire thing. I shared with the representative that the police officer who filed that report in my mind filed a false report, and that I would follow up with the Mayor and the Police Chief in Ithaca. When I called my wife and told her what happened, she did not even stop to say, “I told you that was going to happen.” We immediately starting discussing the fact as to why it is difficult to trust anyone in authority within legal professions. She watched the entire thing unfold and noticed the officer’s behavior the entire time. In the final analysis, there was a “crime”, and someone had to pay for it. Why not simply be lazy and say that the only stopped UHAUL they could find close by was the one responsible.

Why did this rub us the wrong way, and why would I take the time to write this blog post? Our country is in a moment in time where it must answer some fundamental questions around police authority, racism, bigotry, hate and a host of other issues all rolled into one. They all seem mutually exclusive, but events in recent weeks and months make them inextricably linked. This conundrum is one huge mess. Regardless of the narrative we see unfolding, continuous devious motives, unprofessional practices, duplicitous acts and mendacious utterances only further a narrative of why people do not implicitly trust law enforcement. It ends with the dripping sarcasm that accompanies the motto: “To Protect and To Serve.” For my wife and I, as black people, that mistrust rises to levels that my white counterparts could never truly appreciate or understand. I have friends and acquaintances who are law enforcement, and I often wonder why they all cannot be like the ones we know and respect. That is utopia, and well outside our reach.

This was not the first time I had to try to defend myself of being falsely accused, but in this dispensation of time, I was searching for a way to connect the dots in a way that I could explain to my three young adult children yet again why we can never let down our guards, no matter the circles in which they will eventually find themselves. How could I explain this. Well the word “tag” used by my wife as a warning provides an path to share a perspective.

As a youngster growing up in Jamaica, at every recess in grade school, we would enjoy a game of “stucky”. Here in the USA the game is called “tag”. It is a game where individuals will run around and try to touch an opponent to relieve themselves of the duty of chasing after others. After touching them, you would hear the shout of “Tag You Are It.” The person who was tagged now became the individual who had to chase others until they tagged someone else to relieve themselves of the burden of being the one everyone should avoid at all costs. It made for great fun, and with so much energy as a young person, we could play for hours and not get tired.

The word “tag” is an interesting one, because in the game, once tagged, you are affixed with a moniker, a charge, or an inference that you are the bad person that everyone is to run away from and avoid at all costs. You are the bad person pursuing the good ones to get rid of this stain that has been placed on you. In a metaphorical sense, this describes the experience I had with this police officer.

As I reminisce on this childhood game and juxtapose it against this experience, I realized that being “tagged” while playing the game also carries with it some psychological discomfort and pain. This discomfort and pain often lead one to anger and frustration, especially when you were not swift enough to tag someone else to relieve the burden of being the chaser. In this experience with the officer, the sensibilities are not around trying to chase someone down to relieve a burden. The burden is automatically ascribed to me because of my knowledge that I am being lied on, and in the moment, I can’t do anything about it. Was it my skin color? Was the officer just doing a sloppy investigative job? Some will debate the point, but some of my experiences in the city (and its surroundings) prior indicate it is the former versus the latter. That is what added to my anger and disappointment felt in the moment, and even now weeks later. Regardless of motive, in the back of my mind I can hear the words yet again, “Tag Your Are It.”!!!!!!

It was a tag that furthers a narrative around the psychological aspects of being kissed by the sun with a darkened hue of skin color and treatment meted out by those who are not. It extends the discussion that law enforcement personnel are prosecutor, judge, and jury when it comes to black people. Am I overreacting? Truth be told, I am not sure anymore, because at the intersection of being a person of color who has had issues in the past with racism, bigotry and hate, coupled with this respectful and cordial interaction with a police officer (with an interesting result), has left me in a space of once again not trusting police officers implicitly. Our interactions are often time left with a blurring of the line between fairness and justice. I left those interactions with, why was I stopped? Was I just profiled? How come my colleagues were able to pass but not me? I was left yet again, with the reality that people of color simply have different reactions to being stopped on the highway, walking into stores, and simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We are tagged before we even get into the game or a conversation starts.

For days I pondered whether I would say anything. I was torn. Ithaca is a wonderful city, with wonderful people, but has an issue hiding in plain sight it seems unwilling to address, or do so only around the edges. My wife and I spoke about it. I spoke about it with my daughter, and one of my two sons. I could not let this thing go. I called and messaged friends who still live in the city and asked their opinion on whether I should say anything about this “tagging.” Subconsciously, I was probably searching for someone to say that I was overreacting. I reached out to my friends and colleagues from other races and nationalities, as well as those friends who are a part of my inner circle. After their customary words of comfort and shock, I was surprised that almost everyone I spoke with had either heard of or experienced something similar. My friends of color directly experienced it, and my white friends had observed it.

Despite those revelations, I still was not convinced that it was my place to say anything. I was okay. I would just do as I have always done. Let it roll off me as water does off the back of a duck. I was alive. My family was fine. I was no longer there, and I would simply record another entry in the ledger of being a black person trying to push forward and make headway for himself and his family. I honestly thought I had let it go, but it was subconsciously still there because of how it happened, and it became another teachable moment for my children. At least one of them.

On June 27, 2020 a colleague from work sent me an article from the Wall Street Journal entitled, “Black Executives Are Sharing Their Experiences of Racism, Many for the First Time.” The contributors were David Benoit and Jennifer Maloney. As I read the article, all sorts of emotions started flowing again. I guess you can say I was triggered again about the incident. I have experienced the sting of racism, bigotry and indifference before, so I guess I was not in the same category of the folks the article spoke about. I have not been silent on the topic before either, but my voice was one that was always lost in the mountain of excuses provided to justify the behaviors that we see now being challenged and pushed back against since the murder of George Floyd. This last trigger was the reminder that I have three children, who have to live in this society that continues to believe that all is well, and if we simply stick our heads in the sand, this problem of race, intolerance, indifference, and put mildly, misunderstanding will go away. At the risk of alienating people I met and have come to respect as friends and colleagues, I decided to share, but frame it in a larger context outside of my recent personal experience.  This is so much bigger than any one person.

With that tension resident in any decision (damned if you do, damned if you don’t), I tried to figure out how best to express my disgust without portraying anger. Fast forward to the morning of June 28, 2020. I expressed in an email response to my colleague, that also included my boss, Dr. David Thomas, the president of Morehouse College. Dr. Thomas responded that I should share because it was yet again another instance of allowing my children to see me being a good citizen and standing up for what was right, and more importantly for what I believed in. Later that day, I settled in for Sunday online worship services. First up was Elizabeth Baptist Church’s service. Lady Chi’lra Oliver preached a word that spoke about being denied by God, and how we should deal with disappointment in different seasons. After listening to her sermon, I jumped on to The Park Church’s worship service, where Bishop Claude Richard Alexander preached a sermon entitled “You Must Handle This.” Well if I ever thought I would have rest from this incident or sharing it, I just received three reminders in quick succession, that this incident must be shared because having a voice, obliges you to find ways to express what some are feeling.

In Bishop Alexander’s sermon on “You Must Handle It”, he pointed to the various agencies that we are tasked with. The first is “Personal Agency”. This simply defines who we are. The value that we ascribe to ourselves, and how we see ourselves. Well I see myself as a human being who should be afforded the same rights and privileges of any other person. How could someone file a report with a charge of wrongdoing, and not give me an opportunity to state my case based on facts and evidence? That alone pointed me to conclude that I must stand and say something.

The second is “Practical Agency.” It suggests that we are what we choose to do. Well in this instance I choose to say something. Whether this incident was racially motivated or borne out of expediency to catch someone who was guilty of hitting a parked car is irrelevant. The actions were wrong and should be called out. How many people who do not have the sense of community or a voice to speak up will simply get placed into a “process” because they did not speak up due to fear or dread of unknown consequences? How many stories now we are seeing of people falsely accused, and in the incredibly sad case of Kalief Browder, going into the system for simply carrying a knapsack? I choose to say something this time with the support of my wife and children.

The third is “Positional Agency.” This speaks to the role and position I hold. For the seven years I lived in this city, I have tried to be a voice speaking to what I have seen not only there, but across the nation. In the fall of 2015 when race, diversity and inclusion matters erupted on college campuses across the nation, it visited our city. In more concrete terms it visited the college campus where I worked, Ithaca College. One of the sparks that ignited the furor on our campus was the suggestion that what happened in Ferguson, Missouri does not happen here. That flew in the face of the lived experiences of the students and people of color around us. Myself included. When the Ahmaud Arbery murder occurred, I was reminded by a colleague of an interview I did on a local show entitled All Things Equal, where I discussed that very thorny incident on our campus in 2015 (

Being the only vice president of color at the time on the campus, I had a birds eye view on how indifference, a lack of knowledge, unfamiliarity with the lived experiences of others, and quite frankly an attitude that this should go away, only allows ignorance to carry the day and unfortunately fester. My positions of standing in the community were tied to the positions I held at one of the two higher education institutions in the city. During those tough conversations we learned there were issues before the fall of 2015. There were issues after the fall of 2015. And I would imagine nothing will change until there is a conscious effort to sit down and try to find the solution. As Dr. Belisa Gonsalez, a professor at Ithaca College suggests, the “solution is in the pain.” Meaning, we can no longer avoid this conversation because it is painful.

The fourth is “Political Agency.” In this city there are some great people. I made some great friends of all races, creeds, vocations and others, but that pales in comparison to the psychological pain and stress that comes along with seeing “lip service” being paid to real issues that our nation is experiencing yet again. The festering of this issue makes an appearance in ten-year dispensations of time. The sense that we can allow ourselves to be taken in with the rhetoric that “this does not happen here,” furthers the pain of others. There are signs and posters all throughout the city that say Black Lives Matter. Allies can be found all over the city. They support initiatives and movements. Wonderful people. For the seven years that I lived there, outside the winter months there are protestors with signs denouncing drones and bombings around the world. We see various signs of worthy causes in windows of homes. We know who we can count on to some extent based on activities on the two campuses and in other small enclaves within the city. In my humble opinion, it is an intellectual exercise, because until folks can live the experiences that so many students and others express, it is going to be tough to reconcile the two. Never mind the fact that driving outside of the ten square miles into the surrounding counties brings with it fear and anxiety for people of color. Such items are rarely expressed but real, nonetheless. Leaders must lead, and in this current climate, calling groups together for discussions might not be enough. Policy and structural changes are needed. That requires leadership.

The final agency is “Economic Agency.” This speaks to where I spend my money. Why is it that people of color do not feel comfortable going down to restaurants on Aurora Street? Why don’t they feel as if they are a part of the community in general? Why for a city so small there is a “black and brown” section, and then there is all the rest? The size and scale of the city does not matter. It is the ethos and under currents that set up the realities.

There is this false sense of security and acceptance that we ascribe to states in the north, and despise the states in the south around issues of race, diversity and bigotry. Living in upstate New York for the past seven years has given me a new perspective, and today I can relate to the quote attributed to Malcolm X that suggests, the southern United States is anywhere south of the Canadian border. I will hasten to say, I try to avoid such generalizations, but some of our experiences in this part of the country affirms that for us. I know some will ask the question as to why a police report filed on an accident insights such feelings. It is simple in the minds of those of us who happen to be kissed by the sun with dark skin. It is the intersection of policing, racism, indifference, and ignorance. They are all in a soup that always has us coming out as the dregs that nobody wants.

I now live in Atlanta, GA, the cradle and birthplace of the civil rights movement. As I sit and watch all that is happening in our country unfold, I am reminded daily by photos and stories of how far we have come, but how much further we must go. I walk past the statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. every day as I go into my office in front of the chapel named after him. After hearing all the “agencies” noted by Bishop Alexander, an alum of this prestigious Morehouse College, I feel duty bound to join the fray to support these young people with letting my voice be heard. Regardless of the sense and sensibilities of folks I met and worked with, but are struggling to deal with this issue. We must call out injustice and unfairness wherever we see it. We must move this particularly important discussion and dialogue from the realm of the intellect, surveys and symposiums that all turn out to be “check the box exercises” to meet an annual performance mandate at work or school. We must pivot towards the realm of the heart. I must feel what my fellow citizen feels. I must hear what they hear that lets them feel less than human at times. I must understand the historical aspects of what occurred in our nation since its founding and embrace the fact that people of color have been purposely disadvantaged, and the remnants of that reality are strong. We need to wrestle with how some of our neighbors still harbor feelings from ages long gone that are backwards and destructive for a functioning society.

I am very proud of this younger generation. They are seizing this moment, and they are going to carry the day I believe. On a recent morning walk during our final days in Ithaca, my wife summed it up best, “our generation was told to not rock the boat. However, this generation is saying tun ova di boat.” We are all going to get to a moment in time when we collectively realize, we can’t fix what we won’t face. The time is now and those people in society who want to see change have to embrace that change and become the change we all seek. Sitting on the sidelines is no longer an option for us all.

Being tagged is usually denoted with something negative. Let us work to flip the script. Let us work to tag people with empowerment. Tag people with understanding. Tag people with respect. Tag people with human values. Tag people with opportunities to be heard. Most importantly lets tag people with love. If we don’t know how to attach those tags, I can assist by asking that everyone read in a dispassionate way this article from the former Mayor of Minneapolis. The title of the article is unfortunate for its political overtones, but the essence of it is one that should give us all pause to reflect. It is what I call the opening of some tough conversations similar to what we had at Ithaca College in the fall of 2015 (

In closing, here comes the fun part, “Tag You Are It.” Now get in the game and let us get to work to move beyond this issue once and for all.

I Can’t Breathe

Just reflecting on all I am seeing this morning (May 31, 2020) and the comments noted. Some folks will never understand because they don’t have a lived experience in this space, but feel entitled to say something out of ignorance. They see things on television and their critique starts there. Then there are those who just choose to remain silent. They are ones who hope this will blow over and in a couple of weeks or months things will be back to normal. I still maintain that until we are purposeful about this issue of addressing the structures, history and economics behind the sins of the past we will continue to return to this place.

Dr. Craig Oliver of EBC Atlanta had a sermon title that said, “From Pandemic to Pandemonium.” How appropriate to capture the “gumbo” of issues that have led us here yet again: Frustration (Calling the police with a lie yet again to get a black man arrested and possibly killed), Grief (COVID-19’s uneven impact on black and brown communities that have historically been underserved), Fear (possibly being attacked or killed while jogging, driving, in your home, at the Walmart, at a park playing), Hopelessness (doors being shut in faces because of color of skin or zip codes), and Rage (the recent killings of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery). With the weight of all that, people of color, in particular black people, simply can’t breathe. The weight of it all is not easily carried. This is not only a physical manifestation, but the mental toll for generations (past, present and future) is also real. I will say it again. We can’t fix what we won’t face.

We Can’t Fix What We Won’t Face

This past Saturday I was interviewed for a new podcast series a young alumni of Howard University recently launched called “HU Move Makers”. I enjoyed the interview immensely despite feeling slightly embarrassed that I had forgotten some of the answers on the history of my beloved alma mater. Nevertheless, it also allowed me to get some interviewing practice for my own soon to be launched podcast series entitled “It’s Easy Son.”

I have done a number of interviews over the years, and this one flowed along well. We got past the discussions around how I became a CFO so young. Other topics included my upbringing in Jamaica, and who were my mentors and advocates through school and my career. There was one familiar question that came up which under normal circumstances I would have answered and dispatched quickly. It was a simple question because of me being a person of color. However, for some reason the interviewer spent some time on the topic for about five minutes or more. For some reason, the question and discussion resonated with me this time in a way I did not expect. It was not until the interview was over and we spoke off microphone that I realized why that one question resonated with me the way it did.

The interviewer asked me how I felt about Mr. Ahmaud Arbery’s shooting. Because the question was asked outside of the formal interview, it had a mental hyperlink of sorts back to the question in the middle of the almost hour long interview. The question during the interview was on the issue of race, diversity and inclusion, but Mr. Arbery’s shooting was not mentioned during the talk. At the end of the interview I was able to contextualize his shooting, and link it back to the question in the interview. Thoughts flooded my mind because of the sinking feeling of “we have been here before and nothing has changed.”

An overarching theme in my responses to both questions (both formal and informal) is an expression I share often: “ We can’t fix what we won’t face.” A simple expression, but one filled with such a powerful truism. It challenges us at our core because the ills of our society are literally hiding in plain sight, yet we lack the collective will to properly address them. This entire topic of race relations, diversity and all their variations are complex ones, but they have one common denominator that always seem to be missing: LOVE!!! Every opportunity I get, I raise this simple missing ingredient to what we are facing on a daily basis both individually and as a global community.

Mr. Arbery’s shooting, in my humble opinion, is another example of the lack of love that some in our society continue to exhibit when it comes to people of color. I am a firm believer that if we lack love, we have no capacity to see beyond what is familiar to us. We can only love the things and people we surround ourselves with frequently. We can only love like minded people from our spheres of influence and comfort. We can even dare to go further and say that our love might be a facade because deep down at our core, we don’t love ourselves. It takes so much energy to hate. We must be exhausted at the end of day carrying such hatred in our hearts. I hasten to say that this generalization is simply to create a juxtaposition for us to sit quietly and ponder what has transpired since February 23, 2020. We have to ask that simple question: Why are we still here?

For those of us who have felt the sting of racism, bigotry, indifference and hostility, we in many ways have created coping mechanisms around activities like jogging or some other form of physical activity. These activities and others are escapes to burn off the stress of it all, and also do something that is beneficial to both our physical and mental health. Now to think we have to add jogging to the list of things we can’t do without concern because of being blessed with this hue of dark skin is another item we have to add to the checklist before leaving our homes. This is especially true if you live in certain states or rural parts of the country. It is another compartment we have to add to our lives.

Since the video of Mr. Arbery’s killing surfaced, we hear some of the old familiar sentiments. “That does not happen around here.” “I never knew that person had such tendencies.” “This is a total shock to this community.” None of the above are true. One thing I learned over the years is that we cannot simply dismiss this issue with “happy talk.” In the case of Mr. Arbery, if the tape had not surfaced we wouldn’t be having this national discussion yet again. It is that same level of inaction on the part of society as a whole that has kept us circling this particular wagon for so long. We seemingly cannot find solutions to it. Every time an event like Mr. Arbery’s shooting happens, I often wonder if God looks at us like he did to the people of Israel, and utter these words, “You have been wandering around in this hill country long enough; turn to the north.” Metaphorically speaking, our north should lead us to a place where there is mutual respect and love for everyone. I have to believe that we will get there. If not, hope dies in this quagmire of mediocrity we have cast for ourselves on this particular matter.

I touched on this issue in my book “It’s Easy Son, Quit Making Things Difficult.” Each decade we go through an exercise where we get outraged and nothing changes. We add new programs that end up being check the box exercises. They never have a lasting change. I wonder why? I know why. Once again, we can’t fix what we won’t face.

This is how I see this current situation. Until people of all races acknowledge that this is a problem, it will continue. Martin Luther King spoke to this point. Malcolm X addressed this point. Marcus Garvey tried to lift the topic to a level of consciousness to share this point. Regardless of the point of view or methodology, I think rational people can admit that to live like this is exhausting. It is even more exhausting for those feeling that they live under a constant state of siege. The mental toll is not to be taken lightly.

If this issue is not addressed comprehensively, the changing demographics in the world guarantee that this exhausting way of life will continue because positions are going to harden. For example, if the predictions that in the year 2027 minority students will surpass majority students on college campuses come to fruition, it has already been baked into the equation for continued exhaustion for us all. You can name anything that most fear is going to happen, and you can see positions and groups hardening their stances to keep things how they are now. We are comfortable right here.

This cannot be our existence forever. This must not be our lot in life as the nations of the world. However, it seems we lack leaders who are willing to sacrifice political or social capital to get this conversation going in a meaningful way. Until we get to that point of embracing that some of us will have to plant trees under which we will never get any shade, we are going to say it is too difficult to start. Then we go through the fits and starts that lead to the self fulfilling prophecy of our current reality that some of us loathe so much.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, I will say it again, we can’t fix what we won’t face. The more people who see wrongs and injustices and look away, the longer this will continue. Hiding behind the comfort of our spheres of influence does not change the fact we have to live together in this world. Excusing the abhorrent behaviors of individuals who share our views is horrid regardless of our relationships with them, but it works as long as I am not challenged to change my perceptions of others.

Watching a pandemic decimate black and brown communities, and sending thoughts and prayers does not erase the history of why these communities find themselves in this predicament. Do we as a collective society truly want to investigate the disparities in life expectancy, economics, and social mobility? If yes, we are going to have to open a different conversation. A conversation that is going to be very uncomfortable, because there are interests who are keen on keeping things exactly the way they are now.

As a person who has dedicated a good portion of my life for the cause of young people achieving a college education, I must say that I see signs that future generations are ready for a change. There is an openness to listen to others. Hopefully a move to be more accountable to each other will cause a groundswell of activities geared towards truly having this tough but long overdue conversation. Who knows, but all we can do is hope that they get it right, versus the divide and conquer tactics that some in society seem to promote to this day. It is truly difficult to think “BIG” when small has us firmly in its grasp when it comes to this topic. Despite that, I believe we are being pushed to doing things differently.

The structures that have been in place to control and minimize people of color since our ancestors arrived to the Western Hemisphere are still in place. The remnants of the harm done over that period of time remains to this day. I must believe and hope that future generations of young people of all races will place that history in its proper context. This weekend we had another first that keeps my hopes high for the future generations. Princeton University had its first black valedictorian in its 274 year history. An eye opener to many, but we are trending in the right direction. Celebrating every milestone and accomplishment will keep this issue top of mind for us all. How is it possible that this is the first one in 274 years? That is the wrong question. The right question is; how can we keep this going? Engagement beats apathy everyday of the week.

How do we deal with this? I am glad you asked. We have to enliven our capacity to love others that don’t look like us. We have to be vulnerable and sit in spaces and time to truly learn what others are experiencing. We have to love the fact that we live in this rich tapestry of humanity on a global scale. We have to love the fact that living in a culturally diverse world enriches us all. We have to love the fact that it is okay for someone to think and act differently than we do. We have to love the fact that debate and discord will bring forth the best solutions when we are truly engaged to solve problems. The bottom line is, we have to build up our capacity to LOVE!!!

If it is one thing that this COVID-19 pandemic has given us is time to reflect. We must reflect on what we think is important in our lives as we exist in this world. Do we want to be living and looking over our shoulders every day while driving, working, playing, and now jogging? My prayer is that the folks who are sitting on the sidelines and always sending thoughts and prayers, will get in the game and try to score some real wins for our world. As an eternal optimist, I believe we can get it done, but we have to start at some point. We now need the smart people to help us determine what is the starting point. Mr. Arbery’s death is a good one if you were to ask me, because his untimely demise is yet another reminder of how swiftly life can be ended because we are afraid or unwilling to confront the underlying issues that have existed for so long.

Unexpected Surprises

Today I got a message that someone called to speak with me about my book. I did not recognize the name or number, and sometimes don’t return such calls. This time I decided to call back, and I am so glad I did.

The caller was a former student athlete of Coach Moultrie from the 1970s. He simply wanted to call and thank me for writing the book, and sharing the story of this great man through my own experiences. At the end of the conversation, I learned that he purchased copies of the book for five of his friends, and they are all sharing the books and stories with a group of young people. To close the call he said that he would like to invite me to speak to the combined group of young people as what I shared in the book is so relevant for them today.

A wonderful man who I hope to meet soon along with his wife. He is a Pastor of a local church. I am sure we will be swapping stories about good ole Coach Moultrie. Always a joy to meet up with fellow Howard University Bisons.

In these times, the little things count. We never know what is on the other end of something that comes our way unexpectedly. Flowing with it can also bring rewards we never could have imagined or envisioned. Faith walking. #itseasyson.”

Resurrection Sunday

This Resurrection Sunday feels a little bit different. It seems pregnant with purpose and possibilities. Every year we are asked the question; “What are you giving up for Lent?” We usually choose something we think we can manage because the fear of failing in the midst of the 40 days. We might choose giving up sweets, or coffee, or negative people. We typically are successful and on this day we rush out to get the sweets or buy a cup of coffee. It always seemed like a rote exercise. It is akin to New Years’ Resolutions. We go hard for 40 days (if that much), and then we return to “normal.”

Not this year. This year we were all forced to go somewhere and sit down and be still. We had to give up a whole lot that we thought we couldn’t do without. We gave up hectic schedules that were leading us to burnout. We gave up the rush hour in the mornings, and fighting the traffic at night. We gave up that sense that what we do and what we have define us. We gave up our feelings of superiority because we might have two or three degrees behind our names. We gave up the club, the golf course, the parties, the happy hours, and the need to always feel that we must be busy at all times.

So yes, this Resurrection Sunday feels different. As I am apart from my family during this ordeal/Lenten season, I find myself living on campus by myself as my commuting between two cities was abruptly stopped due to safety concerns. I walked the campus just to get out of my apartment. In those walks, I got the sense that God placed us all on one big “Timeout.” In these walks I can hear Him saying: you lost your time at the golf course, but you gained time with me. You lost time trying to be a fixer of everything, but you have been fixed with a different perspective. You lost time moving at a mile a minute, now all you have is time to pause long enough to see the beauty and tapestry of the colors of the spring flowers that you had not taken notice of in years. You lost time crunching numbers, but you had a chance to read, relax and rejuvenate.

You looked to the titans of business and what your accounting and finance courses and experiences taught you, but now you realize that the people society often times don’t give a second thought are more valuable than the folks who get the most airtime and press. You have been reintroduced to the importance of doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, first responders, truck drivers, custodians, and so many more. You were reintroduced to see how important teachers are to ecosystem of our society. Without them shaping and preparing the minds of the generations to come we will be in a world of hurt for successive decades. So maybe now we will rank them up there with superstar politicians, athletes and business people.  Just maybe we will find ways to compensate them at higher levels because of what they contribute to our society.

Now, when we walk out of this Lenten season, we must walk out of it with a new purpose. A new focus on community. A new relationship with those who we walk by every day and look down upon because they don’t have what we have. We should have a stronger heart for the poor and needy. A heart for the young person who is struggling with anxiety and depression.  A strong heart for the elderly who are our legacy of wisdom and experience. If we take the approach that we were shut in for a reason, we will come out searching for the answers. We cannot come out of this the same way we went in. It is okay to go back to the sweets, coffee, and the golf course, but take someone along with you who have never experienced them before. Try to repair broken relationships despite who was right or who was wrong. Time is too short. Share a little more and remember we are our brothers’ keeper. We are all in this thing together.

Peace and blessings.