Thursday, March 31, 2005

Crying Black: An Open Letter to Michael


IT HAS BEEN BROUGHT TO OUR ATTENTION - that you, Michael Joseph Jackson, hereafter referred to as YOU/YOUR, have issued a petition to have YOUR Black Card reinstated for the explicit and sole purpose of establishing grounds of a conspiracy against YOU on the basis of YOUR membership in our organization, Black People of America, Inc. - specifically aligning your recent plight with that of such Black luminaries as Muhammed Ali and Nelson Mandela. In essence, you are, what we here like to commonly refer to as, "crying Black."

But according to our records, YOU breached organizational protocol in the 1990's when YOU de-kinked your hair, whittled off YOUR chin, pulverized YOUR nose, and bleached YOUR skin beyond human recognition in every effort to destroy the slightest physical trace of the Motherland on YOUR person, and then - and then {INSERT NECKROLL HERE} exited our organization without so much a farewell letter - without so much as even a goodbye.

We wept.

But We, Black People of America, Incorporated, are - if nothing else - forgiving. We have excellent news! We have a special place for people just like you.

According to our most recent by-laws, for those exiting our organization without completing an exit interview - YOU may receive a temporary "cry Black" pass which may be used once, and only once, but which will expire on Juneteenth. But first, you must complete the following BACK-TO-BLACKNESS interview honestly and to the best of your ability:

1. Have you looked in a mirror lately?


2. What the Hell were you thinking?


3. Again, what the Hell were you thinking?


4. Seriously, what was it like being White?


5. More importantly, what does it feel like being White and then having your Whiteness taken away? (Feel free to use all of the whitespace you need. Use extra sheets if necessary.)


6) In hindsight, was being Black the first time really that terrible?


And as a bonus question, to receive a 2-month supply of WIC vouchers:

7) In 50 words or less, why did you it ?
(Feel free to substitute 'it' with whatever is most uncomfortable for you to talk about.)


Once you have completed this interview, we require that you hand-deliver it to the address below:

Black People of America, Inc.
ATTN: Keisha Hightower, Deputy Mother of All Black People
123 East Compton Blvd
Compton, California 9022_

(Go around to the back because the frontdoor is broke.)

Normally, we would process your request in 2 to 4 weeks as the waiting list to 'cry Black' is very long, but because you are a celebrity we will express-process your order in 2 to 4 days. If this is not soon enough for your current needs, you may want to try these people to see if they may carry an extra 'Cry Black' pass.

All the best,

Black People of America

Monday, March 28, 2005

Change is Gonna Come



We've all felt it.

I reached into one pants pocket:


I reached deep into the other pocket:

Ten... Twenty... Twenty-five... Twenty-six... cents

Here at the far reaches of E, it would cost over forty dollars to fill up my tank. I can remember when just one dollar a gallon was high. And sure, I could settle for a lower grade gas, but I'm a hard-working man. Why should I settle for less?

I stared longingly at the fuel pump. Then, at my thirsty tank. Then, back at the fuel pump again.

After all, desperate times do call for desperate measures. And payday seemed soooooooo far away. Besides, no one else was around...

But when I considered the news headline,


and my black-and-white mugshot attached to it - my parents, my friends, the bumper stickers, the Five Point vendors pushing T-shirts urging to free me from jail, the marches... the shame, the shame. I considered all of this and swiftly decided against it.

But the shiny change jingling in my pocket did give me a bright idea. In the far reaches of my laundry room, in my apartment, was a plastic bag. But not just any plastic bag - but one containing dozens, even hundreds, perhaps millions of shiny nickels and dimes and quarters just waiting to be poured into my tank!

For days, for weeks, for months, for years it has sat waiting and fattening for such a moment. My...

dum, dum, dum, dum......

Change Stash!

Time for a visit to my friendly neighborhood Coinstar machine!


A person with more pride might have felt embarrassed: climbing out of a fume-powered Infiniti, walking through the Kroger Supermarket parking lot on a cell phone, carrying a 10-pound plastic bag stretching far beyond its natural limit from loose change. But I wasn't a person with more pride: I was a brotha riding on E.

Cell phone still pressed to my ear, I asked, "Where is your change machine?" to a clerk who obviously wanted to be anywhere but here this Saturday morning.

How rude of me, I thought, a tad too late.

Without a word, she banished me to a far corner of the store.

"_e___a, I'm gonna hafta call you back. It's about to get serious up in here!"

And I dumped my bag of spare change - two years worth - into the Coinstar machine and, for five minutes, watched the metal coins feed down, down, down into its wide, guzzling mouth.

Ten dollars, twenty dollars, thirty dollars...

And the total kept rising and rising. It was like playing a slot machine, except there were only winnings!

When all was said and done, I had Fifty-four dollars and seventy-six cents. Sure, Coinstar takes 8.75%, which is a little steep, but considering that I only had air and lint when I walked into the store, I felt pretty good about myself, ready to fill up my tank of gas.

Before leaving, I checked the reject slot to see if any coins were left. When gas costs over $2.30 a gallon, every nickel counts.

Ironically, there were no U.S. coins, but there were five MARTA tokens. Maybe converting coins into dollars isn't the change I need.

Who's down for public transit?

Friday, March 25, 2005

2005 Goals: Quarterly Review

IT'S SPRINGTIME and time for... dum, dum, dum, dum... My first 2005 goals quarterly review! If you will recall, I posted my 2005 goals here for all the world to see. Now, a moment of truth as I give a progress report.

Things ain't lookin so pretty.

In the Career goals section, I get an F-minus. Of the 12 goals I set, only 1 is in motion. No new publication credits, no website, no start on writing a play, no building of a wardrobe for performance - no, no, no, no. The only thing I've done is to give at least 1 free performance a month.

Action Plan:

1) Talk to Paul about the website.

2) Write a plot summary for the play.

3) Send out a new batch of poems for publication.

In the Health section, I get a D. I'm actively engaged in 3 of the 5 goals. I am eating more vegetables, doing a leg workout once a week, and drinking more water. As for my target weight of 168 pounds, I'm failing miserably. Opening the year at 162, I actually lost 5 pounds while in South Africa eating my own cooking. Not cute!

Action Plan:

1) Start eating breakfast to gain more weight.

2) Intensify the chest workout.

In the Spiritual section, I get a C. I've been adequately pursuing 3 of the 4 goals. (I haven't been to a church yet this year, where I said I would attend once every two months.) But I have taken a platonic friend out at least once a month, sown before reaping, and meditated consistently each morning in South Africa - though I've gotten sidetracked upon my return.

Action Plan:

1) Get thee to a church!

2) Get back to morning meditation!

In the Financial section, I get a B-minus. I've significantly cut down on eating out. I've put a dent in my awful Capital One card, and I'm actually ahead of schedule on making $5000 as an entrepreneur this year.

Action Plan:

1) Be creative and create financial opportunities for your writing instead of waiting for them to come to you.

As for Relationships, I get an A. I'm calling more often, saying No more often, giving more compliments, and am doing better at visiting my parents. Yeah!

Action Plan:

1) Keep up the good work!

In the Miscellaneous Personal category, I'd give myself a B-minus. I've been arriving early for most engagements, I've cleaned out my closet, and I've done a so-so job updating the blog.

The thing at which I've been most successful is exposing myself to new experiences. I've touched African soil, eaten chakalaka, performed a poem for a Zulu high school, tried a couple of different Atlanta restaurants (Two Urban Licks and South City Kitchen), seen a play with nudity ("Take Me Out" at Marietta's Theatre in the Square), learned some words in Zulu, seen a film in Zulu ("Yesterday"), and learned (hands-on) about the art of printmaking.

Action plan:

1) Get the book club involved in a community project.

2) Plan a trip to the Carribean.

And finally, regarding Self-Improvement, I'll give myself a B-minus. I'm engaged in pursuing most of my goals - attending at least 6 plays, learning 5 new recipes, completing the 1st year of my MFA in Poetry - and planning the others - swimming, Spanish, acting lessons. I feel pretty good about it.

Action Plan: 1) Keep on keepin on!

Overall, my F-, D, C, B-, A, B-, and B- average out to around a C or C+. Which means I'm passing, but I've got a lot of room for improvement. And as for the dreams, none of them have happened yet, but I'm imagining they'll begin to fall into place as I improve on reaching my own goals.

If you took me up on the challenge at the beginning of the year and set your own goals, what is your progress report? Feel free to share.


Monday, March 21, 2005

Scene at the Golden Corral

LAST SATURDAY EVENING AS I WAS HOTSAUCING my catfish at the Golden Corral at North Point, I heard a hoodish voice rise from the White sea of suburban patrons:

"These goddamn kids cain't control their fucking mouths!"

A hush blanketed the restaurant. I slowly turned around.

Directly behind me, 30-or-so Black teenage girls at tables: some with spiral curls, others with swoops, others with wraps, but all with blank faces, staring across the generational gap at the slim Black man with scowling eyes and bared fangs. His flattened hair and red eyes looked like he'd had a rough day life.

Outside the window, a bus: Boys & Girls Club of Southeastern Michigan.

Detroit. It figures, I thought.

Apparently, he was one of their chaperones. And so, the middle-aged man had succeeded in getting the future to shut its f*cking mouth, but he had also unwittingly succeeded in making himself the evening's featured act.

Suddenly, I felt my skin glowing. A spotlight?

Seated next to them, now, we were all on stage. As hundreds of eyes focused on our area, I felt like we were the only Black people in the entire restaurant, and it occurred to me that my party of six might be associated with the larger travelling group.

Now that your a$$ is out, what now? I thought.

But the man lowered back into his seat without incident, still scowling. That would be, unapologetic. The buzz of the Saturday evening crowd resumed. I turned back to my table and returned to hotsaucing my fish and to our conversation.

Ironically, our conversation was about the disproportionate numbers of Blacks serving on the front-lines in Iraq and what we can do, as a race, to create other opportunities for ourselves.

"Well," I said, "that's one example of what not to do," as I stirred my rice.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Christianity vs. Monstrosity: My Take on Brian Nichols

EVERY MORNING SINCE HIS CAPTURE last Saturday, Brian Nichols' face has been plastered on the front page of the Atlanta news. And rightfully so, as he is now notorious, having carried out the bloodiest killing spree in the city since Mark Batton murdered 9 and injured 13 in the Buckhead daytrader shootings in 1999. In case you are unfamiliar with Brian Nichols' story, let me bring you up to speed.

Last Friday, Nichols, 33, was being retried for the rape and false imprisonment of his ex-fiancee in Fulton County Court. En route from detention to the courtroom, Nichols overpowered his escort, deputy Cynthia Hall, took her pistol, stormed into the courtrooom, murdered the judge, Rowland Barnes, a court reporter, Julie Ann Brandau, and a sheriff's deputy, Sergeant Hoyt Teasley. Then, he fled down several flights of stairs, into a parking garage and carjacked several different persons, including Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter, Don O'Briant, whom he pistol-whipped across the face.

Nichols, 6'1", 200+ pounds and athletically-built, then fled on the subway to the Buckhead district where he mugged two tourists and, later that evening, fatally shot an off-duty federal agent, David Wilhelm. Nichols then stole Wilhelm's truck and sped to Duluth, a suburb about 30 miles northeast of downtown, where he held a 26 year-old woman, Ashley Smith, hostage in her apartment overnight.

On Saturday morning, Nichols released her unharmed. Shortly after, Smith called 911 to turn him in and Nichols walked into the morning waving a white rag, ending 24-hours of bloody violence with no contest.

It sounds like a made-for-TV movie, and it is all alleged, of course. But the court of public opinion has already handed down its verdict.


"Oh my God!"

"What a monster!"

I heard it before I saw it, sitting in my cubicle last Friday morning. And this is always how it happens. Usually, I ignore it.

When there's breaking news, the towncriers with TV's in their cubicles or video on their desktops disrupt the routine office frequencies of phones and faxes to alert the other villagers who are drinking coffee or IM-ing or playing Hearts or (heaven forbid) actually doing work.

This particular morning, I actually happened to be doing work. The technician on the other end of my phone in Kentucky said, "Thank God it's Friday... except down where you are in Atlanta."

"What do you mean by that?" I asked.

"The courthouse shootings?"


"Where you been? The prisoner who escaped and shot up the judge. It's all over the national news."

For once, maybe I should have listened to the town criers.

As I pulled up, I thought, What in the world could this guy have done to get on the national news? Then, I kept saying to myself

Not one of us... not one of us...

Not that it really mattered. Murder is terrible regardless of who pulls the trigger, but Black men have a bad enough rap already.

"When they catch him, they oughta kill him!" and "The death penalty, for sure!" and "What a monster!" I heard White voices say with vitriol all over the office.

And before his picture came up, I knew...


But what to do with Brian Nichols is not about race at all. It is about humanity.

First, I should say back up and say that I do not believe in the death penalty under any circumstances. Allow me to present a typical exchange when I encounter a death penalty advocate:

"You mean to tell me that if someone brutally murdered your mother and father that you wouldn't want them put to death?"


"Well, what if they raped your mother and your father before they murdered them."


"Well, what if they burned them alive before they murdered them?"

And the list of unimaginable tortures continues - unimaginable, that is, except in the mind of the death penalty advocate, whose mind is teeming with details of unthinkable acts. What kind of mind dwells on such things? What kind of heart? A savage one.

Which brings me to my point about the death penalty: It is savagery. A common argument for the death penalty comes from the Bible - more specifically, the Old Testament:

And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
- Exodus 21: 23-25 (KJV)

If one is to literally apply this logic to all crimes, then what is the punishment for Nichols' original charge of rape? Is he to be raped himself? If so, who will do the raping?

It is here that the logic becomes absurd because he who commits the raping of the rapist becomes a rapist himself. It follows that he who murderers a murder becomes...

Further, there are many laws of the Old Testament which no longer apply to society today. Furthermore, the Bible later says regarding the Old Testament laws:

We are delivered from the law, that being dead.
-Romans: 7:6

Which is to say that our Judeo-Christian society is not - in practice, nor in intention - solely based on the Old Testament. Many of the laws of the Old Testament including animal sacrifice (Exodus 12:1-7) and slavery (Exodus 21:2-11) do not apply to our society today. We have been delivered from this law.

But my point is not really about the Bible, nor is it to give a sermon. My point is really, again, about humanity. Now, one might believe Bible and humanity to be synonymous, but the public outcry against Brian Nichols has been anything but human.

Mind you, I do understand the need to heal and to understand, but executing Brian Nichols increases neither healing nor understanding. Modern courts of law are not in the business of ordering the gouging out of eyes or chopping off hands and neither should they be ordering the execution of bodies. Again, it is savagery.

True, what Brian Nichols did was brutal, but the real monster in this is not he, who snapped and commited murders under the pressures of being retried for rape. The real monster is the person who would sit in their 4-bedroom house with a car which cranks and a job which is secure and money in the bank - the true monster is the person living in the lap of luxury who would call for Brian Nichols' execution.

The most Christian behavior in all of this has been by the person who had the greatest right to be un-Christian and vindictive and savage and monstrous - his final captive, Ashley Smith. If anyone has a right to demand Nichols' death, it's her. But, she doesn't.

One may argue that Ashley Smith only did what she did and said what she said to survive - that perhaps she didn't really mean the kindness in her mouth. But who are we to question a real Christian's heart?

It was, in fact, Ashley Smith's kindness which saved her own life and saved the lives of others Nichols may have potentially killed if he continued to flee. But how Christian would it be for Ashley Smith to have treated Brian Nichols with humanity and to have not really meant it?

Not very Christian at all.

But in the greater scheme of things, this tragedy was about purpose. If one believes that God created us all - all with a unique, divine purpose to live - then one must believe that Brian Nichols' life serves some purpose. And I believe that it is God's - not man's - place to determine when that purpose is complete. If Brian Nichols is executed, then he becomes just another of many murderers who've been executed. Will this deter others from murdering?

Man has been murdering since Cain slew Abel - thousands of years ago.

But I digress. I do believe that Brian Nichols should be justly punished for his crimes, and I believe that just punishment is life imprisonment with no possibility of parole.

What good is that?, one might ask. A waste of tax dollars, one may say. But I believe that, should Brian Nichols' become reformed within prison, his testimony, as a living example to other prisoners to straighten up their lives while they still have a chance, is infinitely more powerful than his closed-mouth testimony in death.

When I look at Brian Nichols face on the frontpage each day, I look into a mirror.

I don't see a monster. I see my Self.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Return to the Slave Plantation (Part I)

TODAY, I GOT THE BRIGHT IDEA to take a fieldtrip to a slave plantation. I figured I could make it a daytrip - drive a hundred or so miles, spend a couple of hours, and do research for the next poem in my series on a dark-skinned African-American girl named Kenya.

Then, two thoughts occurred to me: Being 30 years old, fairly well-read, and having lived in Georgia all of my life, it was odd that 1) I, myself, had never visited a slave plantation and 2) I didn't even know the name of a slave plantation.

Since I live smack dab in the peachy pit of slavery, as opposed to, say, Minnesota or Hawaii, I figured it should be no problem for me to find a relatively local one to visit. I mean, there's the major slave port in Savannah, horizon after horizon of cotton, and the fact that, in terms of land area, this is the largest state east of the Mississippi River. Surely, between all of this history and square acreage, I should be able to roll out of bed and timewarp to 19th century slave life, right?


Since my own knowledge failed me, the first place I looked was my friendly neighborhood search engine, Google. I searched for 'georgia slave plantations', which gave me over 58,000 entries, page after page on the history of slave plantations in Georgia - no places to visit. Useless.

So next, I added the word 'tourism' to the search and, voi la!, the first thing that popped up was:

Georgia State Parks - Jarrell Plantation Historic Site

My first thought, Never heard of it. But I was excited nonetheless. So, I double-clicked and eagerly read about what would be my chance to view a slave plantation through my character, Kenya's, eyes.

Nestled in the red clay hills of Georgia, this cotton plantation was owned by a single family for more than 140 years. It survived Gen. Sherman's March to the Sea, typhoid fever, Emancipation, Reconstruction, the cotton boll weevil, the advent of steam power and a transition from farming to forestry.

In 1847, John Fitz Jarrell built a simple heart pine house typical of most plantations and made many of the furnishings visitors see today. In 1860, the 600 acre plantation was farmed by 39 slaves....

Now that I'd found one, I wanted to know them all! This led me to the metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce site. I gave them a ring:

"Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, how may I direct your call?"

"I'm interested in visiting a slave plantation, and I was wondering if you could give me any recommendations."

"One moment while I direct your call."

As I was on hold, something troubled me about the exchange. Was I too direct? I felt like I should be phrasing my request with more sensitivity or reverence. I was asking for recommendations on visiting slave plantations, after all - not good places to get pulled pork.

"Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, how may I help you?"

"Yes, I live in Atlanta and I was wondering if you have a list of slave plantations that I could tour within, say, an hour or two of the city."

There, more words, more... reverence?

"Hold one moment while I search for you."

After about 2 minutes on hold, the operator said, "I'm sorry this is taking so long, my system is very slow today."

I must admit that I did not expect this. I expected that the Chamber of Commerce would be swimming in the names of plantations. I figured that it would be like asking about where to find peaches, , where I could find an all-White country club, or where I could find Margaret Mitchell's dead body

Finally, the operator came back. "I'm not finding anything," she said.

"What?" I said, before I knew it.

"Oh, I'm sorry, here we go."

"There's Jarrell Plantation in Juliette, Indian Creek Plantation in Dawsonville... Barksdale Bobwhite Plantation in Cochran..." and, over the course of about 5 minutes, she gave me the names of over 15 plantations. But why the prolonged searching? It seemed like there should be something ready-made - a pamphlet, a brochure. I mean, slavery accounts for over a century of Georgia state history. Or maybe I was just being too particular.

So, next I whittled down the list to sites within 2 hours of Atlanta. Then, I googled each location to whittle a little more. Several of the plantations featured coons and foxes as hunting destinations. After narrowing the list down to 5, I decided to dial up Jarrell Plantation. That would be, back to Square One:

After about 10 rings, a woman lowly answered, "Hellooooo..." I think I woke her up.

"Yes, is this Jarrell Plantation?"

"Yes... it is."

"Yes, well I'm calling because I'd like to visit a slave plantation, and I see on your web-site that you have a museum. I was wondering if you could tell me a little about your... uh, the plantation."

"Well, what would you like to know?"

I would say that this is like pulling teeth. But it just occurred to me that she might not have any.

"Well, I've lived in Georgia all of my life and, today, it occurred to me that I'd never visited a slave plantation. So, I received your name from the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. I'd like to know what I can expect to see if I come visit."

"Oh. Well, we have the master, John Fitz Jarrell's house, which was built in 1847. It is in good condition and... still intact. It also contains several pieces of furniture from the period, which are likewise in good condition and... still intact. Additionally, after John Fitz Jarrell passed, his son, Dick Jarrell built a sawmill, a cotton gin, a barn, and outbuildings which are all... still intact-"

As she rambled on reading what sounded like notes from the website, my mind became rather... not intact. It was wandering. Suddenly I had flashbacks of my 7th grade class trip to the Cyclorama, a panoramic Civil War painting, conspicuously absent of Black people. Which is to say, this trip to a slave plantation was becoming less exciting by the second.

"Where will you be coming from?" I heard a voice say through the phone.


"Well, I should probably tell you," she began, "that we don't have any slave cabins."


"Before you get in your car and drive all the way down here, I thought I should tell you-"

A slave plantation with no.... slave cabins? Perhaps I'd been presumptuous, but what good is visiting a slave plantation if you can't observe the life of slaves? This was what I had been looking for and didn't even know it. This was not a wasted call, after all.

"So," I asked, "do you know of any places in Georgia that do have slave cabins?"


My heart dropped.

"Well, yes, I- I-... There is one, I think, down near Savannah-"

"Do you know the name of the plantation in Savannah?"

"It's, oh... I can't recall right now, but if you're in Atlanta, you may want to try the Atlanta History Center. I'm sure they should have the name-"

Are you a part of some conspiracy, Mistress of Disinformation?

I can't recall how it ended because I think I started dialing before I even hung the phone up.