Tuesday, January 05, 2021

PLEASE DEAL WITH YOUR SHIT

Let me preface this rant with an apology for my French. For those of you who are sensitive to bad language, I’m sorry, but sometimes I cuss and I wasn’t interested in watching my language for this post.

2021 is the year to deal with your shit! And I am saying that with my whole chest!

I had a conversation with a relative lately who was nasty for no other reason than she could be. No one has ever called her out on her nastiness. She low key attacks friends and family because she is broken and refuses to deal with her own shit, so assaulting loved ones has become her behavior du jour. Her husband endures most of her abuse. Most men would have gone out for a loaf of bread and stayed gone. But he continues to endure her tantrums and violent outbursts. To some degree he enables her bad behavior because he loves her and he wants to be there when things get better between them. I wish him well with that, but I don’t see it happening if she doesn’t start dealing with her shit.

This woman is blessed and she takes that for granted. Personally, I have neither the time, or the energy, to coddle her issues. I have my own damn problems to deal with. I’d go down the list if I thought it would give her something else to consider, but I know I’d be wasting my breath because in her small world everything is always about her.

With the New Year, it’s time for all of us to do some self-reflection. It’s time to take inventory of our needs and wants and assess what’s broken, what needs to be fixed, and what needs to be discarded. Then we need to get to work. My relative refuses to even consider therapy. She doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with her. Nothing that she can’t fix herself. But she would benefit from talking out her issues with a neutral party. Someone who isn’t going to agree with her just because she says they should. Someone who can see through her crap and who isn’t afraid to call her out on it. She needs to face the trauma she’s buried deep in the core of her psyche and begin the work to unpack the baggage she’s been lugging around like a favorite coat. She needs to do what we all need to do! She needs to heal by whatever means necessary!

But healing won’t come if one isn’t willing to put forth the effort. You can’t right what’s wrong when you refuse to ask for help. There’s no coming back from those dark places if you won’t even acknowledge that you’ve fallen down that rabbit hole and can’t find your way back. If you won’t look in the mirror and be honest about the monster you unleash on others to help you cope with your hurt.

It’s okay to be broken. It’s not okay to wave the shattered fragments of your pain around like a weapon. It’s also okay to not want help. It’s just not okay to expect that you can drag those who love you into your hell and they will stay and take it.

Clean away from your own doors this year instead of worrying about what others are doing behind theirs. Be the best version of yourself that you can be and if that means fighting for your sanity, then damn it, get in the mud and fight! Stop worrying about what others think or how things may look. Most folks are too focused on their own issues to truly care about yours. Besides, you acting like a damn fool in the middle of the night and smiling in the morning like no one will figure it out, rarely works. Someone always knows. Someone else is bound to see and personally, I’m not keeping your bad behavior a secret, so you can trust at least one person is going to tell.

Get it together. A well-lived life depends on it. And you can’t be whole if you are investing all your energy in being angry and hostile and a miserable bitch to the very people who are least deserving of it.

So, please, deal with your shit!

Friday, January 01, 2021

DEAR BABY NEW YEAR


Baby New Year, hello! And Happy Birthday!

Let me forewarn you, this isn’t your typical welcome and hello letter. I usually save my end of the year rants for Santa Claus, but I gave him a break this time. I’m sure he was inundated with Santa letters this year with the needs list for many being astronomical. After the year we’ve all had I knew he probably couldn’t handle much more bitching and complaining. Not that I ever bitch or complain. Except maybe about that pony he never did deliver, but I digress.

We are all in a weird space right now and the pressure on your shoulders to get the new year back on track would break the best of us. You don’t have that option. To be blunt, if you screw up, we will come for you. Your predecessor blew it big time, in unfathomable fashion. Hell, all you really need to do now is stand still, keep quiet and not break anything to do a better job than he did. Seriously, no fast moves or loud noises are allowed this year.

We desperately need some peace and quiet. Just a few moments of stillness where we can hear ourselves think. We need to be able to breathe without fear, with or without a mask. Our losses in 2020 have been monumental. I have had to grieve so much that I don’t know how to grieve anymore. Bad news comes and I can’t shed a single tear. I’m completely numb and I have no plans to spend the next twelve months feeling as though I need to keep building walls to protect my heart.

So, the onus is on you to get it right. You’re allowed baby steps for a few minutes. Maybe even a day or two, but then we need you to dig in your heels and get moving. Your learning curve is going to be short and sweet. It’s a lot, I know, but I have faith that you can do it! Many of us will be cheering you on. If you have questions, ask us, not the last guy. We’ve kicked 2020 to the curb. He’s come and gone and couldn’t give advice to a tick on his ass if he needed to. I know the work you have ahead of you is monumental, but the challenge is here to make you stronger, not break you.

But understand, failure is not an option. We’ve had more than our fair share. Our politicians have failed us. Our governments have failed us. Sadly, even friends and family completely blew it this year so we can’t take anyone else falling down on the job and getting it wrong. Most especially the new guy. You’ve got a clean slate. No excess baggage and more importantly, you’ve been warned! It’s not often that we call out the last guy and his screw ups. Usually, we let you figure it out for yourself. We can’t risk it this go-round.

So, welcome, baby! We’re done cooing at you and tickling your chubby cheeks and I’m sure that was good while it lasted. Now, we’re giving you a little nudge out the nest; okay, maybe it’s a swift kick, but I know you understand. Get it cracking, kid, and please know, I’ll be praying daily for your success!

And please, tell Santa I’ll catch up with him later in the year. We’re good with that pony but I’m going to need him to step up his game this Christmas!

 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

WALTER WESLEY WOODY SR.


We bring our family home to die. I used to think it was only a Southern thing because it was only in the South where I saw that done.

Today, we will bury a family patriarch. Two weeks ago, we brought him home from the hospital to die. We knew his time was coming to an end. Doctors and nurses had told us so. But we still held out hope that once he was home, under the loving care of family, that his condition would turn around and our beloved Papa Mook would be his cantankerous self again. That he would go back to loving on his “sweet, sweet girls” and finding fault with the sons who never learned how to sharpen a knife properly. God’s plans were not his family’s plans.

Sitting hospice is never an easy thing to do. You worry over the little things. A raspy cough will make your heart race. You worry for their comfort and pain and the things they can no longer convey to you with their words. You count your loved one’s every breath. You sit and you wait for the inevitable and you pray that you are not there alone when they take that last inhale of air. His eldest son and his youngest daughter were with him in the end.

There was an abundance of love that surrounded him. Energy that flooded the space. His family sat vigilant, everyone taking turns to pull their weight to the best of their ability. Laughter would ring from room to room. Sometimes, tears would, too. The princesses would don their masks to go “check” on him throughout the day. One remarked that she liked to sit with him and the angels who had come to visit, too. Their Papa Mook was much loved!

Walter Wesley Woody Sr. was a man of many layers. He was set in his ways and he would not be moved from his convictions. He took pride in his name and what that represented. He was honored that his eldest son and grandson also carried the same moniker. He was a talented musician who could wield his way around a guitar with the best of the best. He was a master carpenter with skills others envied. Sadly, the circumstances of being a black man in the racially-charged South kept him from realizing the full potential of his talents.

He was a man of modest means, but he lived his life abundantly. He had no regrets, owning every aspect of the life he lived. He was an amazing grandfather and great-grandfather. He loved to take the children fishing when he was able. He told them stories with lessons they may not understand until they are adults themselves. He laughed with his grandsons over their girlfriend problems. He whispered secrets they will all hold until the end of time. Our pretty princesses, his sweet sweet girls, were one of his greatest joys. 

I was always in awe of how he remembered dates, times, and places with the recall as if he were telling you what he’d had for breakfast that morning. He was a walking history book and what he may have lacked in formal education, he more than made up for with common sense. His impact in the lives of his family will be passed down for generations to come. Not even they realize yet how monumental his experiences will be on their future. He was a giant among men, and he didn’t even know it.

Walter Wesley Woody Sr., age 80, transitioned to eternal rest on December 23, 2020. Papa Mook will be missed.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

A BATTLEGROUND STATE


The state of North Carolina has become a coveted battleground state for the 2020 Presidential election. Depending how the voting numbers inevitably fall could make or break either one of the candidates. This election will also show the world what North Carolina is made of; what we value, and what North Carolinians would like to see for themselves and their bretheren moving forward. Good or bad, this election will say much about the people who live here.

I have deep roots in North Carolina. My father was born and raised here. It was my grandparent’s home. My ancestors were enslaved in this state. The racial climate was why my father fled North Carolina. He’d been fourteen the first time he was picked up and held by Durham police. He’d been walking home from the local golf club where he had worked a summer job caddying for the club’s wealthy, white members. He’d made two dollars that day and was excited to take his earnings home to his mother. It brought him joy to feel like he could contribute to the home and help his family.

For three days he sat in a jail cell, no one knowing where he was. When they found him, they were never told why he was being held. One of the officers stole his two dollars, telling him he’d have no use for it where he was going. He was eventually released, never charged, and no one apologized for their actions. He was admonished to remember his place and he was called the N-word as if it were his name. It would not be the last time the local authorities harassed him for no reason. He learned early that being a black male in the South could easily be a detriment to his health.

A year later, at the age of fifteen, he enlisted in the US Army. He lied about his age and his mother signed the papers for him to go. Both he and my grandmother believed he would be safer with Uncle Sam. Military service took him to Germany where he learned a language and a trade. When he returned to the states, he headed north, landing in Connecticut where he met and married my mother. She had been a transplant from South Carolina herself and they bonded over their southern roots.

My father left North Carolina in his rearview mirror, returning only for funerals, the occasional wedding, and holidays to visit with elderly relatives who had stayed. Despite his misgivings about North Carolina, the decision to return after retirement was an easy one. He was a self-made man, financially solvent, with adult children. He was able to pay cash for his expansive home and has been able to enjoy the fruits of his labors.

When I announced my decision to move to North Carolina my father wasn’t overly encouraging. I had a young son and he worried for us in a way that was disconcerting. To some degree I’d lived a sheltered life. Raised in a middle class, predominately white community, I had no true sense of the racism my daddy had endured as a child. What I had faced had been whole-heartedly different, not as overt or as caustic. No one had dared called me the N-word to my face. I didn’t know how to prepare for what I might be walking into.

My first home was in a wonderful neighborhood out in the country. It was a small town that I instantly loved, affording us a sense of community where a little boy could run and play and have no fear. I could not have been happier. I’d rented my home blind, a family friend doing the walk through with the landlord and taking photographs for me to see. I still remember the landlord’s surprise when he discovered I was a black woman married to man who was perceived to be white. But we came with cash and green has always been bigger than black or white has ever been. He did, however, forewarn us to be mindful of our neighbor, saying he was racist and didn’t take kindly to interracial relationships.

Duly frightened, I was mindful to make sure Son-shine stayed clear of that side of the road and I didn’t go out of my way to be a nice neighbor. A dog named Jaxx changed that. He was a massive Rottweiler who loved to explore with his boy. The two would disappear into the woods behind our property for hours on end. Then one day, Jaxx took off next door to explore. Son-shine chased after him and I chased after them both. I apologized profusely as the dog and his boy both climbed the front porch to sit beside the homeowners. Minutes later, the dog was chewing on a bone, Son-shine had a plate of fresh baked cookies and we had made new friends. It would be many months later when I would share with them what had been said, kicking myself for believing what I hadn’t bothered to learn for myself.

North Carolina became home and I have been glad for it. I’ve grown here. I’ve watched my son become a man here. I left a toxic relationship behind, and I found love here. North Carolina has been more good than it has been bad. But never before have I seen the wealth of racism here that has reared its head over the last four years. Neighbors have turned on neighbors, strangers are ugly to each other, and more times than not race is centered around the conflicts. I fear for my black son, my black husband, and I understand that this fear is what moved my grandmother to think it safer to send her fifteen year old son to the military during a time of war than keep him home in a state that did not value his black life.

I worry that North Carolina will not rise above the fray. I fear the hatred that is suddenly running amuck will be validated if the state remains polarized. I don’t trust that  the voices of reason have been heard over the chatter of insanity that’s become so prevalent. I’m scared that this state will cease to be home to many of us who have loved it here. But mostly, I worry that North Carolina will soon be a battleground for far more than this election.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

LOUISE WILLIAMS THOMAS

 


My best friend in the whole wide world buried her beloved mother today. I thought about my dear friend this morning, breathing as I would have admonished her to do had I been there. Praying as I would have prayed with her if I could have been by her side. But I wasn’t there. Unable to make the trip for too many reasons to count. Feeling lost as I imagined the hurt that she was dealing with. Feeling useless as I went through a seemingly normal routine just to get through the day. It felt foreign to me. My friend is the sister of my heart and in all of our many years together there has never been a time when we were not there in body and spirit to support each other through a hard time. Finding solace and comfort in a friendship that has endured and nurtured us when we needed it most. I had been there when her father passed, never leaving her side until well after he was laid to rest. My friend was with me when I lost my son, coming on the first flight when I called to tell her he was gone. Not being physically there to support her was a knife to my heart like I had not felt in a very long time. 

I have fond memories of her mother, the woman who many times mothered me alongside her own daughter. Memories of time spent in her home when I went there for play dates as a child and when I just showed up at her door as a teen. Memories of our parents together and a lifelong friendship that nurtured and supported us. Memories of her admonishments for us to do and be better because she was watching, always having a maternal eye on our doings. Memories of our road trips to Seton Hall University to visit my bestie when she was away at school and had taken up residence in New Jersey. Memories of conversations that challenged my beliefs and sometimes gave me pause. I’ve got good memories!

When life took a turn and it looked like my future was nose-diving South, it was her mother who sought me out, sitting down with me to make sure I was well. When I cried, she patted my hand and doled out maternal advice that I still follow to this day. When I began to write, she encouraged me, supporting my endeavors although she was very vocal about preferring my literary work over my romance. It was only a few short years ago that she indulged in those “sexy” stories, laughing heartily when we teased her about it.

She was regal in stature and exemplified what a well-lived life should look like. She traveled, was well-read and passionate about those things that were important to her. Most particularly her daughter. She was the epitome of grace, with a gentle spirit and a magnanimous heart. She could also be stern, was highly disciplined, and not a woman you wanted to cross.

I was not there to say goodbye. Not there to hold my friend’s hand as she laid her mother to rest. But I prayed. And I held tight to the many memories we shared.

My sincerest condolences to the Thomas family. Sending light and love to my sister, Angela Thomas Graves and my brother, Gregory Graves.

Louise Williams Thomas, you will be missed!

 

 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

DAVID BROOKS, JR.

Roxboro, NC is one of those sleepy communities that is reminiscent of another era. Back in the day I’m sure it was considered a one-horse town and despite the growth, it is still a community where time feels as if it is standing still.

Little happens in Roxboro and the residents are happy to keep it that way. There was little fanfare when a convoy organized by the Klu Klux Klan paraded through town in 2016 to celebrate President-Elect Donald Trump's win. Only a few of the town’s citizens were dismayed by their presence. Local police blocked several intersections along US Highway 501 as they waved their Confederate flags, moving through and exiting the city. Sadly, racism in Roxboro is one of those things that time has held onto tightly.

Law enforcement and local politicians have become proficient at keeping attention off the small community. But anyone who lives there, works there, or who has contact with the town knows that racism is as prevalent now as it was some fifty years ago. It’s usually not overt racism, just that old-fashioned, very Southern, know-your-place-and-stay-in-it kind of racism. Racism that is deeply ingrained, resistant to change, indignant, stagnant, and perpetuated by the descendants of the confederacy. The kind of racism where law enforcement rule with a heavy hand and people of color are sometimes criminalized for simply breathing. That kind of racism with its own set of judicial rules, one set of laws for whites and another set for blacks, the playbook written decades ago on the backs of our enslaved ancestors and sanctioned daily in the Person County courthouse.

Most recently, 45-year old David Brooks, Jr. was a victim of that heavy-handed rule. As it was widely reported, on July 24, 2020, David was fatally shot by a Person county police officer who responded to a 911 call reporting a person with a gun walking on Old Durham Road with a mask on. The officer claimed after issuing an order for him to put the weapon down, that David pointed the gun at him instead, and he was forced to fire. Roxboro Police allege that they found a loaded, sawed-off shotgun at the scene and Police Chief David Hess said that weapon is considered a “weapon of mass destruction” and is not legal in North Carolina.

And here is where fact and fiction diverge, the media justifying David’s death and Roxboro’s law enforcement community and local politicians working diligently to divert attention far from them. David was known to many in the community. He was also known to the local police. In fact, it has been reported that this was not the first time David had an encounter with the same officer who killed him. Allegedly, said officer was reported to have stopped David just a week or so earlier. In that instance, the same gun David carried was deemed legal, returned to him, and David was sent on his way. If this is true, why was this stop necessary or different?

North Carolina is an open carry state. It is not unusual to see white, male residents of Roxboro with their weapons holstered or being carried. Rifles lay in the beds of pickup trucks and for those male residents it would seem to be a rite of passage that only they are allowed. No one ever blinks an eye. Recently, four white males carrying AR15’s stood guard over the granite statue of a Confederate soldier that stands near the intersection of Main Street and Court Street on the courthouse square in downtown Roxboro. Allegedly, calls to local law enforcement were said to have been ignored, no one coming to check the legality of their weapons. They were, after all, protecting Roxboro’s confederate legacy.

They claim David’s gun was illegal. There are many who are challenging that. It is said that David was carrying a pistol grip shotgun with a shoulder strap. David knew the law. David’s father, who once ran for local sheriff, knew the law. David’s family, friends, and the local Roxboro community knew the law. If David was carrying the gun he was known to regularly carry, then his gun was very much legal.

David wore a mask to shop at the local Dollar General Store. Store employees knew David. It was not his first visit to the store. They have said he was always respectful and never a problem. He walked there and was walking home. He did that often. With his gun. David wore a mask because we are all wearing masks to stores to shop now. David wearing a mask was pragmatic during these times of Covid-19. His mask was not illegal.

Local television stations who have aired the dash cam video of David’s shooting admit to editing it to be sensitive to David’s family and their viewers. Edited video typically supports the narrative one would like it to support. Edited video sometimes leaves out valuable facts, most especially when a black man has been shot and killed by a white police officer and the powers in charge want to control the narrative.

Those who have seen the full video question the officer’s account of what happened. David was asked to put the weapon down and some feel he was reaching for the shoulder strap to do just that when he was shot once in the chest. Others don’t dispute that David lifted the barrel of his weapon, pointing it toward the officer as he reached for the shoulder strap. Officials claim the encounter lasted six minutes. The video would seem to show that David was shot a mere six seconds after the officer exited his car and issued the command. Some argue that he fired as David was trying to comply. Others claim David’s actions was malicious, his intentions to do the officer harm.

The officer is heard on audio tape explaining his action, although there was radio silence for almost two minutes as he was dispatched to the scene. What was said over the radio and why were those comments edited out? He said he drove past, and David tried to hide his gun. The video shows David did no such thing. The officer acknowledged exiting his vehicle with his shotgun. Most officers exit with their service pistols. Why a shotgun? For someone known to him? And why a gun at all when the officer in question ALLEGEDLY has a pending domestic violence case against him and should not have been in possession of a weapon at all? That takes us back to the Roxboro rulebook and who must follow it and who doesn’t. But I digress because this isn’t about the officer’s prior failings or his history. Not yet. Nor should David’s prior actions be weaponized against him to support the argument that he deserved to be shot. But it will be if it’s necessary to help justify the police officer’s actions. But one might argue that if prior history warranted David losing his life, then prior history might point to the police officer’s motives for pulling the trigger before any efforts to deescalate the situation were made.

Officials claim David was immediately rendered medical support. That could also be disputed. Secondary officers arrive within minutes of the shooting. Two look down at his dying body as the officer who shot him asks, “Bro, you good?” David is admonished to stop moving a few times. David is frisked for additional weapons as one leg begins to shake violently. The officer who pulled the trigger is heard calling David by his name more than once, so David was clearly no stranger to him. Medical help is rendered when EMS arrives minutes after that.

Battle lines have already been drawn. Arguments abound supporting the officer who was “just doing his job”. Fingers are being pointed at David for not complying with police orders. Everyone has an opinion and those opinions are split down color lines. The police are viewed as saviors and their actions should not be questioned and a black man standing against the status quo was deemed dangerous.

Had David been white would he have even been stopped? Most in Roxboro would say no because they’ve seen how white males holding AR15’s are dealt with. Would there have been more effort made to deescalate the situation? Would the officer who pulled the trigger have utilized that training the Police Chief claims his officers have all undergone for situations just like this one? Why was that training not in play when this cop pulled up on David? If he forgot his training in those six seconds should he even be on the police force? The family has questions. Outsiders have questions. The community should be asking questions instead of closing one eye to every ounce of racist behavior in their fair town. But I digress yet again...

David knew his rights and he was well within them to carry his weapon out in the open in Roxboro, North Carolina. He also knew that not playing by the rules and knowing his place put him at odds with Roxboro’s finest. David believed he was being watched by local police. He believed they intended to do him harm. Some attributed that to David’s mental health. But hindsight shows David knew more than many gave him credit for.

David’s murder is barely a footnote now in Roxboro’s history. Most know David will be blamed for his own death and the officer involved will go back to policing the community like nothing happened. Although officials say they continue to investigate and the shooting is still under review, media attention has moved on to yet another shooting. The most recent in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Another black man gunned down, on camera, by a law enforcement officer. Another spotlight on shootings that happen with regularity with little to no consequences for the police officers involved.

Roxboro Police have been sworn to protect and serve. Clearly, they failed to protect and serve David Brooks, Jr. My condolences to his family and friends.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

#NotThisTime


We are just days from presidential candidate Joe Biden announcing his choice for Vice President. He has said he will ask a woman to share the Democratic ticket with him. Some are hoping she will be a black woman. Others just want to see him in office if it means the current White House resident is promptly escorted off the premises. They don’t much care who he drags with him. Like many, I want to trust that Joe Biden and whomever he selects will make a difference in a world that is going straight to hell, sinking in a mire of quicksand faster than any of us could ever begin to imagine. Because things are bad.

The idea of a female on the ticket isn’t new. But this time it will be different. No one can argue that the women under consideration aren’t capable of doing the job. Not only are they qualified, but they can run circles around most of the men who have ever vied for the position. They are already out here fighting for better. Many have survived a storm or two. I imagine what’s coming will just be another walk through a very dark park and they will have to rise above the fray no matter what gets thrown at them.

It’s what will be thrown at them that most concerns me. Women have to take a lot of shit from men who are threatened by their presence. The horror stories are abundant, more women than not having to endure abuse that runs the gamut from verbal and emotional, to physical and back again. Sadly, sometimes it’s other women who help shovel all that crap, fueling the flames with jealousy and ignorance. I have a college-educated associate who would rather not vote at all than vote for a woman. She still subscribes to the belief that women should be barefoot and pregnant in the home and only men can lead. There are times when we can be our own worst enemy.

What I know is that any female candidate will likely be attacked on her abilities simply because she is a woman. A man with a lesser resume would be considered gold. A black woman will have the added benefit of being attacked for breathing, everything about her called into question again and again. There will be the assumption that she cannot be educated enough, or qualified enough, or just enough period. Because, after all, she is black. I don’t have to imagine the comments and memes that will follow her. I remember what was done to Michelle Obama. How she had to go high when their low was particularly vicious.

We’ll, I’m not here for it. Nor should you be. No matter who Uncle Joe picks, we will have to pull ourselves together and stand against the naysayers. We need to keep the focus on the candidate’s qualifications and the changes she and Joe will be able to affect. What damage rained down against us in the last four years will they be able to repair? And we’ll need to keep the wolves at bay. When the attacks come, we need to unify and shut them down before they can gain footing. We will need to demonstrate the ideals of sisterhood in an unprecedented way.

Recently women have been posting black and white beauty shots on Instagram tagged #ChallengeAccepted. It was intended to be a display of female empowerment. Some have questioned its purpose, and its impact, as we rally through the Covid-19 pandemic. I challenge these same women to be front and center to support the female candidate when she is besieged with ill will and condemnation. Rally around her to shut down the harassment and character assassinations that will have no validity and will only serve to be a distraction from the real issues. Use the hashtag #NotThisTime. Put your activism behind real support of another woman. Support that requires you to actually push back and be about the walk, not just the talk. No pretty pictures required. Just a staunch determination to ensure that the woman Joe throws into the flames will rise like the Phoenix. I dare you to accept that challenge.