Save Harlem: Historic Hughes Home in Danger

Save Harlem: Historic Hughes Home in Danger

Langston Hughes - sentado a la máquina de escribir
Langston Hughes

A historic Harlem and American landmark is in danger due to gentrification.  African American poet Langston Hughes’ home is in danger of being sold to developers.  Several media outlets released the story this week, including EssenceNews One and CNN.  The effort to save this historic building is being led by local artists Renee Watson and the I, Too Collective.  The current owner of the space, while wishing to sell, does not want to see the home fall prey to the gentrification trend that has been occurring in Harlem — turning beautiful old spaces into coffee shops and high priced condos.  The artists wish to turn the home into an art and performance space, letting Hughes inspire yet another generation of creatives.They are working on raising $150,000 to rent the space via an internet campaign on Indiegogo.

Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was a pioneering poet, playwright and writer, who was active during the Harlem Renaissance. He was the voice of the average African American at the time, using his pen to record pain and injustice. Hughes’ work was written for the average person, not just for the elite.  He promoted young writers and poets, giving many generations a voice as well as an outlet for their creativity.  You may learn more about him through a great piece by the Bio Channel.

One poem of his that I find timeless and inspiring is “I Look at the World”

I look at the world

By Langston Hughes

I look at the world

From awakening eyes in a black face—

And this is what I see:

This fenced-off narrow space   

Assigned to me.

 

I look then at the silly walls

Through dark eyes in a dark face—

And this is what I know:

That all these walls oppression builds

Will have to go!

 

I look at my own body   

With eyes no longer blind—

And I see that my own hands can make

The world that’s in my mind.

Then let us hurry, comrades,

The road to find.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/langston-hughes#poet

Even though his Harlem residence was given landmark status, the residence is still up for sale.

What is distressing to me is what is happening to Harlem in general.

Harlem to me as a New Yorker was the Apollo Theatre, a great place to get my hair done, to get African fabrics and hair supplies off of 125th.  It’s the mecca for African American history in the North, which is where I hail from.

 

I knew it was bad when I went during Thanksgiving of 2012.  My husband and I were meeting friends at an African restaurant in Harlem – and I noticed on my phone that the area was being referred to as “Manhattan Valley”

I said what the H? That area is straight up Harlem, why are folks renaming it?

There is only one reason – re-branding, and making the area more attractive to buyers.  In the process, erase the rich history of the Cotton Club, Apollo Theater, and Frederick Douglass Blvd, and make it something completely new.

A recent New York Times article detailed what I was seeing in my last trip to Harlem in 2012 — historic sites were being demolished, and long time residents were being pushed out for the sake of “progress”.

It’s insulting and upsetting.

Progress need not come with the destruction of history.

The same way we save Abraham Lincoln’s home and other treasures of American History, we must save Harlem and what made it critical to our cultural growth as a nation.

We need to save our history, because Black History is intertwined with American history.

I donated to the Indiegogo campaign — if you want to preserve American history, please do so by donating here!

artist for hughes
Support these artists in saving American History!! Photo from CNN.com
Lyin’ Lochte’s Tragic Overshadowing of the Olympics

Lyin’ Lochte’s Tragic Overshadowing of the Olympics

May I have your attention please?
May I have your attention please?
Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?
I repeat will the real Slim Shady please stand up?
We’re going to have a problem here

Lyrics from “The Real Slim Shady” by Eminem

Will the real swim shady please stand up?

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NY newspapers always keep it real….

Although the lights have dimmed and the closing ceremonies have finished, the amazing accomplishments by the athletes in the last week have been overshadowed by a drama of Olympic sized proportions.

Ryan Lochte and three other swimmers, spun a tale of robbery in Rio which turned out to be completely false.  However, the reactions of some on social media call into question where we are as a country.

Let’s put this in context.  During the week, Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas didn’t raise her hand to her heart during the National Anthem after she received her team gold medal in gymnastics.

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Photo Courtesy of Jet Magazine

No one was harmed. No property was harmed. No lies were told. She apologized for her actions.

gabby apology

Yet her actions were scrutinized to the point of sickness. The “we gave you a chance” narrative became front and center on social media, and she was accused of being “ungrateful”.

Hello, she earned it!! No one “gives” you a place in sports. You have to shed blood, sweat and tears to get a spot. Gabby gave up everything she knew — her town, her family and her time — to qualify for the US Olympic team.

By comparison, Ryan Lochte made the similar sacrifices and won gold. Yet he lied and entered into conduct unbecoming of an athlete. In a drunken episode with his friends, he urinated on the side of a gas station, and trashed a door. He then told the media and Brazilian law enforcement that he was robbed at gunpoint, even going so far as to say the gunman put the firearm to his temple.

If you look at the surveillance video from the night in question, it is clear that he and his companions are intoxicated. They did not even return to the correct taxicab after vandalizing the gas station property.  A man comes up to the cab, and it appears that he orders them to get out. They exit, with wallets out, as if to compensate for the damages.

He has since issued an apology, in which he still paints himself as a victim because he was held at gunpoint after committing a crime.

Whelp, that’s kind of what happens when you get arrested or detained.

Lochte urinated on Brazil literally and figuratively. He destroyed property and lied about it, assuming that everyone would believe his tale of being a victim of violence in a beleaguered 3rd world country. Purportedly this story broke because he told his mother a lie, his mother called the media out of fear/concern, and he continued the lie when asked by authorities in Brazil.

As a grown man, he should have known how his mother would have reacted.  There are stories that my mother went to her grave not knowing about my escapades, simply because I knew that she would panic or react in a certain way.  If Lochte had exercised this discernment, he would not have had this problem.

Even if he decided to lie to his mother, when asked by Brazilian authorities, he could have told them that this was a family misunderstanding, no robbery occurred, and end it there.  He did not. To be clear, he was sober at this juncture. This is another moment of poor judgement.

All of these moments of poor judgement add up to a criminal offense (as often happens).
His lapse of judgement is treated by some as a harmless “boys will be boys” prank. Most boys don’t commit crime. And FYI at 32, Lochte is not a boy. His criminal actions threaten to overshadow all of the amazing work that Team USA has done at the Olympics in Rio. Granted, there is an argument to be made that it is not the worst Olympic scandal in history (Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan come to mind), but it is pretty close.

In the United States, falsifying a police report is a misdemeanor in most states, subject to a fine or a short jail sentence of less than a year.  It is a crime in Brazil as well, likely subject to similar penalties.

What disturbs me is the vitriol Gabby Douglas endured as a result of her actions, while there is a willingness to look past Lochte’s criminal behavior.  There have been some interesting articles on this that I would like to share, by  Emma Gray at the Huffington Post, and one by Charise Frazier at NewsOne.

The question is: is this white privilege at work?

Let me know your thoughts!

“My Life as a Black Prosecutor” via Marshall Project/Vice.com

“My Life as a Black Prosecutor” via Marshall Project/Vice.com

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I was approached as then President of the National Black Prosecutors Association to write an article for this collaborative project between the Marshall Project and Vice. It’s important to note, in a world where 95% of elected prosecutors are white, that diversity is a critical issue, especially in the upper echelons of the profession.  As we explore criminal justice reform, issues in policing and lifting up communities of color, it is even more critical that prosecutors reflect the communities they serve.

“The only way to help your people is to be a defense attorney.”

My father was the first to tell me that, but definitely not the last.

He went on to explain that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and all the civil-rights leaders of the 1960s had great lawyers to call whenever they got jailed for protesting. Without these lawyers, my dad explained, African Americans would never have advanced toward equality.

When I was in college and law school, I was also told that as a black woman, the only way to look out for “my people” and defend the Constitution was to become a defense attorney — and more specifically a public defender.

I followed that path, interning with the Legal Aid Society in New York City while I was an undergrad. A couple of the attorneys I met there formed their own shop, and I later interned for them during law school. But during my final year, I got an offer to become a prosecutor in Florida.

I accepted and never looked back.

Read the rest here.

 

An Open Letter to Bill O’Reilly on Slavery: Huff Post

An Open Letter to Bill O’Reilly on Slavery: Huff Post

michelle-obama-dnc-convention-speech
PHILADELPHIA, PA – JULY 25: on the first day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Philadelphia, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Democratic National Convention kicked off July 25. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Recently, you made comments in an attempt to “fact check” First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. In your comments, you concurred with Mrs. Obama’s statement that the White House was indeed built by slaves, but then you proceeded to state that the slaves were “well fed, and had decent lodging”.

As you purport yourself to be a student of history, it is unfortunate that you did not take the opportunity to educate your viewers on the realities of slavery. You seem, based on your comments, to be implying that slavery really wasn’t that bad, especially if the slave was lucky enough to work at the White House. First off, I am not quite sure where got your facts, because there is no documentation to say that the slaves who performed this task were in fact well fed and housed. There was no “menu” circa 1800 documenting what and how much slaves ate. Additionally, Abigail Adams, who resided in the White House during the latter stages of construction, debunks this assertion in one of her letters, stating “but it is true Republicanism that drive the Slaves half fed, and destitute of cloathing, to labour, whilst the owner waches about Idle, tho his one Slave is all the property he can boast” (emphasis added).

Read the rest here.

Finding Peace in Stormy Times..

Finding Peace in Stormy Times..

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Snowboarding last Christmas in Stowe with my husband

When do I feel free? When am I most at peace?

The question was posed as a result of all of the negativity we are seeing of late in the news. How do we as warriors for change refuel?

It caused me to pause, reflecting as to how and where I regain my strength.

It is in these instances: one, when I am listening to music. That could be in my car, in a spinning class, or on the dance floor (happening less and less these days).

Two, when I am on top of a mountain about to snowboard down.

And three, when I’m with my husband.

Music has always been my freedom. For as long as I can remember, music has the ability to transport me away from any problems or concerns I am dealing with. In my younger days (early 20’s) I would find escape with my friends in the nightclubs of New York and Miami. As I got older — with the days getting longer, and the job became more hectic, I found solace less  on the dance floor, and more on a spinning bike. I discovered spinning classes around the early 2000’s; that same music and emotion present in a nightclub would take me away from my problems for 45 minutes on a stationary bike. For that time frame, I am focused on the task at hand; beat the bike! Of late, I have been going to SoulCycle down the block from my home.  That has been such a blessing and helped me through some tough trials. Other times, taking a drive in my car with the music blasting helps me clear my head. Whether it be dance music, R&B, old hip hop, or even country (thanks to my husband’s influence), I can shift my energy to a better place in a couple songs.

Another great activity that brings me peace is snowboarding. Mind you, I am not the best at it; a good run is when I didn’t fall at all, but there is nothing like standing on the top of the mountain. You are literally on top of the world. The only thing you hear is the whistling of the wind and the sound of your own heartbeat. Then, you jump. As I coast down the slope surrounded by God’s natural beauty, I am utterly at peace.

Until I fall.

The well from which I get my strength is my beloved husband. I have talked about him in prior posts, but I always feel it bears repeating. I married him a little late in life, so it enabled me to really pick the right partner. There is nothing better after a long day or a long week to cuddle up next to him and talk, or even sit in silence. During that time I release all the stress from the day and just enjoy being in the company of the one I love. I have grown to cherish these moments more and more as life, as well as my chosen profession, throws me more challenges.

It is always critical to find what brings you peace or else your tank will run empty. Bad things happen when you get to that point.

So what brings you peace? Sound off in the comments!

M.

Police Shooting Videos in the Courtroom

Police Shooting Videos in the Courtroom

gavel

It’s beginning to seem like another day, another police shooting video.  We’ve all seen the videos — Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, now Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.  The videos go viral, folks become outraged, protests are sparked….but that outrage does not always translate in the court of law. 

Why is it, that if these cases get to trial, that the videos do not trigger a quick guilty verdict? Often the outcome is the exact opposite of that.

The simple answer is desensitization. The video is shocking the first couple times you see it, but after a while, the impact lessens.  The same way we see kids become desensitized to violence after repeatedly playing violent video games or watching scary movies, is the same way jurors become desensitized after the repeated playing of a troubling video.

There’s no real solution — but it is food for thought.  

Ben Hancock at Law.com wrote an interesting piece on this phenomenon.

SAN FRANCISCO – Viral videos of police shooting victims Philando Castile and Alton Sterling in their final moments have left much of the American public seething, saddened and convinced that deep-rooted racial bias led the officers to fire their weapons.

But as compelling as the videos are—and as important as they have become in the broader debate about law enforcement and race—they rarely have the same decisive impact in court that they have on the way the public perceives an event.

Lawyers who have been involved in police shooting cases and dealt with videos as evidence say that often a case rises or falls on what the camera didn’t capture. Attorneys representing accused officers point to a camera’s technical limitations, or the fact that it didn’t see the angle the officer saw, which can wither a criminal or civil rights case targeting the officer.

Sometimes, the more a video is played in court, the less impact it has, and desensitizing a jury to a video’s violence often emerges as a deliberate defense strategy—as does drawing the jury’s attention to uncertainty around what happened immediately before the camera was turned on.

See the rest here.

My Take on Police Shootings in Huffington Post

My Take on Police Shootings in Huffington Post

Please see my latest article addressing the violence we have seen in recent weeks in the Huffington Post. 


THE BLOG

Usually I Wait. 

When there is a high-profile case, a police shooting, something that has tensions and emotions riled up. I wait. I wait until all the evidence comes in, I try not to rush to judgment, I wait in order to look at things as objectively as possible. 
Then I saw the Falcon Heights shooting video. 
And I cried. 
I cried for a woman that I do not know and have no connection to. I cried, because I watch her come to the realization that her boyfriend has just been killed right in front of her. I felt her agony as a victim of crime.

See the rest here

Dating Safety — Are You Ready?

Dating Safety — Are You Ready?

I had the great opportunity of guest blogging on AsktheGal, discussing safety tips when dating. Some came from my own experiences when I was single…others came from horrors I witnessed in the criminal justice system of dates gone VERY wrong. Check out my thoughts — do you have any tips to add? Crazy stories to share? Weigh in!

First dates

So you met this great guy or girl. You’ve made a date.  Your hair is done, the outfit is picked out, and you are ready to step out the door.

Not so fast!!

Are you really ready to go out?

It’s highly likely this is not someone that you met through a friend of a friend, or went to school with.  Most of us are dating outside of our usual group of friends.  In an age of internet dating, we are connecting to people we would have never encountered.  Even if you met someone at a bar or a restaurant, there is no guarantee of who you are really meeting.

So how do you stay safe (and sane)? Here are some tips:

Read more here.

M.

I’m in the Huffington Post!

I’m in the Huffington Post!

Check out my latest piece in Huffington Post “I’m Melba with the Good Hair”!

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Hair: a woman’s crown and glory.

As a little girl, I could not wait until I got to the eighth grade. For my eighth-grade graduation, my mother finally straightened my hair. To me, that meant I was a big girl. I can now do all those fun styles, rather than wear my hair in a more conservative braided style.

For six years after that, I struggled with my straightened hair. I roller set it, I did an “S” Curl (cousin to the Jheri curl) and did a variety of styles, none of which made me happy. Finally, in my junior year of college, I found braids. The heavens opened up and angels sang — what liberation! Other than the 14 hours I spent in the salon getting the braids done, I felt so free! Finally, I could wash and go. No curling irons, no blowdryers, no horrible smell of chemicals burning my scalp in an effort to conform.

See the rest here.