Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Beginning August 2016 - My Journey of Self-Discovery

When I was eighteen years old I had this dream of walking the length and breath of Guyana to experience the beauty of the land and its people and to share my faith. I began that enterprise somewhat, concentrating my walks along the coast, particularly on the coastal area west of the Demerara River. For me, that was a period of self discovery as I engaged in a pursuit that I never knew I had the courage to pursue. I would do those walks on weekends, resting my head (most of the time in church buildings) wherever night caught me. Other endeavors put a hold on my dream, but I never stopped dreaming. This year, more than ever, I started to feel that stirring again, that yearning to walk the country. It was one of the key reasons for my leaving (in June of this year) the Stevenson school, the place at which I worked for the past twenty-six years and the institution that has had the single most impact on my life. 

So here I am, about to fulfill my dream of walking (backpacking) the length and breadth of Guyana. I have shared my intent with some people, and the response has been from enthusiastic encouragement, to the enterprise being characterized as crazy. Some have (and rightfully so) expressed concern for my safety given the proliferation of crime in Guyana. Of a truth, the Guyana that I intend to walk is not necessarily the same Guyana I began to walk in 1980. However, I refuse to allow fear to prevent the fulfillment of my dream, choosing to focus on and to entrust my life to that which is good about my country rather than to be intimidated by that which might be bad about it. That said, I do intend to be careful and not to be foolhardy. 

I will not lie to you; I am a bit scared, but I have done this before. The technical know-how, the physical conditioning, and the skills are there. I am a seasoned backpacker, having participated in and led adult backpacking trips in various terrain and weather conditions here in the mountains and wilderness of the eastern United States. In addition, my training as a Boy Scout and as a pioneer in the Guyana National Service has prepared me for managing tropical rain forest conditions. The fear is more about the unknown, and I am glad that that little fear is there as it will help me to be careful. 
Moreover, I am placing this endeavor and my well-being in the secure hands of God and in the prayerful thoughts of family, friends, and well-wishers.

This walk along the length and breadth of Guyana is essentially a spiritual enterprise for my own self-development, but I would also like to use it to help sensitize our national consciousness to all levels of violence (homicide, rape, suicide, bigotry, etc) in our country, to promote racial harmony, and to highlight the beauty of Guyana. I am not presumptuous to think that mine would be the only "voice" being raised; I am simply adding mine to those already raising awareness out there. On a personal level, my objective is to reconnect with the heart and soul of Guyana (the land and my people) and to use the journey as a means of recalibrating and clarifying my future pursuits. I depart for Guyana on August 23, and I expect to begin my walk on August 29. I ask for your prayers and your positive thoughts. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Joyous Anticipation of Reunification

Somewhere in Djibouti, that tiny country on the Horn of Africa, a woman is filled with joyous anticipation. She, along with her husband and her three beautiful young children, recently made an eighteen hour boat trip across the Gulf of Aden from war-ravaged Yemen to Djibouti in preparation for a flight to New York City. As I sat in the taxi-cab, Mohamed, the driver, couldn't contain his excitement. He hadn't seen his daughter in twelve years, he told me. I said to him that I could imagine the joy that his wife must be experiencing at this time at the prospect of being reunited with her daughter. He said that she was beside herself with joy. 

I couldn't help but feel the happiness of Mohamed, his wife, and his children and be thrilled that happiness had found a family in this world that has in recent years seem to be out of control. But this joy and happiness that Mohamed and his family is currently experiencing is something that millions of Yemenis do not know - ordinary humans caught and trapped in a war not of their own making, but trapped in a war caused by the political ambitions of a a few in Yemen and of the ambitions of U.S.-supported Saudi Arabia. Somewhere in Brooklyn, a family prepares to celebrate the arrival of a daughter, a sister, a brother-in-law, two grandsons, a granddaughter, two nephews, a niece, three cousins. Somewhere, millions yearn just for a little peace.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

An Inspirational Book Par Excellence

Selwyn Collins's book, "The eartHeart Knows" is essentially a journey, as the author puts it, "a journey of discovery". And while it represents the author's journey, it is or can be every person's journey. As such, the book is an invitation, an invitation to participate on that journey. And what a journey it is indeed. The reader who suspends judgement as he or she participates on this journey cannot be the same by the journey's end. Along the way is the encounter with the Divine, a struggle to understand the Divine, to understand the nature of the individual's relationship with the Divine, and most important of all to understand the self. The book also assumes and is premised on the possibility of happiness while acknowledging the necessary challenges along the way in the pursuit of that happiness. 

The essential message (and a rather powerful one too) of "The eartHeart Knows" is that the individual (I Am) is Love, Peace, Joy, Courage, and that the individual (I Am) is worthy of Love. A careful reading and examination of the book will make this obvious. This is not a book to be read in a cursory manner or to be read in one sitting. It is as rich as pure honey is rich and as such should be taken in small portions, digested, and ruminated upon. It can be read sequentially and can also be opened to any page and read randomly. Reading it in the latter manner will not an any way compromise the essential message to be gleaned therein. In addition, this is a book which pages can be read over and over and over again without the words and message becoming meaningless by virtue of repeated readings. The gems you will find therein will never grow stale. Such is the power of Selwyn Collins's book.

Mr. Collins definitely has a way with words. He is like the eloquent and golden-mouthed John Chrysostom. His words of wisdom are not only such, pregnant with wisdom, they are also richly poetic. There is a beauty and an elegance in the construction of the words and thoughts in the book, placing it not only in the genre of Inspiration but also in the genre of Poetry. As an inspirational book it certainly serves to uplift the human individual and does so in excellent fashion. One cannot walk away from an encounter with this book or with the words in this book and not be moved to seriously pause and consider his or her relationship to self, to others, to the world, or to the Divine. It not only uplifts and inspires, it also challenges the reader. And the choice is always clear, and the way to make that choice given with gentleness, understanding, and with the recognition that despite our inherent weaknesses we are certainly capable of improving ourselves. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

Do You Remember "the Butcher of the Balkans"?

If you don't, then it speaks to your forgetfulness and to how easy it is for stuff to be bombarded into your consciousness and then replaced by new propaganda items. Well let me remind you. In 2001 and 2002 we were sold by U.S. led NATO and its media cronies CNN and others that the President of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, "was an evil genocidal dictator who was to blame for ALL the deaths in the Balkans in the 1990s." Sounds familiar? They likened the former president (who died suspiciously of a heart attack in his cell during the trial) to Hitler. The news was rife with the evil doings of this man, and the pundits and commentators had us eating out of their hands as they vilified and demonized him day after day. Of course the so-called police of the so-called free world was going to make sure that the "butcher" got his "just" desserts. And after all, if the US and NATO said Mr. Milosevic was a war criminal then it must be so - like the way that other "butcher" (the one from Baghdad) had weapons of mass destruction or the way some current leaders are evil - like Putin.

Well, it turns out that in its March 24, 2016 judgement against Bosnian-Serb President, Karadzic, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) exonerated Mr. Milosevic, determining that he was not guilty of war crimes during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. What the tribunal found was that, on the contrary, Mr. Milosevic was forcefully critical of the human rights abuses during the war and was in strong disagreement with those who allowed or turned a blind eye to them. Far from the evil person the western media and the U.S. and NATO made him out to be, the tribunal's findings suggest that Mr. Milosevic was a highly principled and just man. Incidentally, the tribunal buried its findings on Mr. Milosevic hundreds of pages into the guilty verdict on the real war criminal, Karadzic. It was as if they did not want the findings on Milosevic to be found. It has been over five months since the ITCY's findings have been released, and we have yet to hear about Mr. Milosevic's exoneration in the western press. Well, we shouldn't hold our breaths.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"They prefer us when we are dead."

I met Keith about a year ago. He is two years younger than I and lives on Columbus Avenue about a block away from Columbus Circle in Manhattan. He was born in New York City and grew up in Harlem with his parents and his older sister. Life was difficult for his parents, but they managed "by the grace of God". He is quite proud of his older sister whom he characterizes as a tough black woman. Through hard work and much effort she was able to pay off the mortgage on a beautiful brownstone in Brooklyn. 

Keith attended high school in Harlem and successfully completed requirements for graduation. Immediately after high school, he joined the Army (in which he spent three years) and was posted to Germany. He recalled that this was around the time of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. Keith suffers from epilepsy. He said he managed to get past the Army screening system because his epilepsy was not the severe kind. He has also been suffering from hernia for the past several months and has been put on the waiting list for treatment. The wait and the pain has been interminable, but Keith fights on.

Unfortunately, Keith lives on the street. He has been living on the street since he left the service in the late eighties. When I asked him how he was able to survive the streets he said that it was only by the grace of God. Keith does not looks the part of the unkempt, unwashed homeless as he tries his best to stay clean. He laments the country's treatment of its veterans, saying that they are preferred dead rather than alive. Nonetheless, he continues to survive "with help from God". His tenacity, his resilience, and his faith in God has impressed me ever since I got to know him. Whenever I need to find my balance in this teetering world I seek him out. God bless you, Keith.

[photo art by Brian Morrison]

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Actively Listening to That Which We Have to Say

Black people here in America are concerned about the violent consequences (for many of its black males) of race-based policing. We are saddened by, frustrated with, and angry at this state of affair, but it appears that hardly any attention is being given to our concerns and hardly any empathy shown when we verbalize our feelings. In order to subpoena the consciousness of the American people vis a vis our plight, and since no help has been forthcoming from other quarters, we formed our own movement. While there are some who have shown support for our cause, the majority is largely silent. When they do speak, it is usually to discredit our movement (charging us with being anti-police and with promoting violence) and to vilify those of us who engage in protest. In addition, they attempt to stipulate how we should express our narrative, even down to the exact words we should use, charging us with being exclusive when, in fact, we are decrying our exclusion (in practice) from the held principle. Further, they insist on telling us that racism is not the problem, that we are being divisive, that we are playing the victim, and then admonish us with the usual boot-strap, an-eye-for-an-eye-makes-one-blind, and we-need-to-come-together cliches.

No one listens to us. How is it possible to establish trust when you go to someone to talk about your plight and how you feel and that person completely invalidates your feelings or concern, suggests that your problem does not exist, and asserts that you are the problem. No one listens to us. So what do we do? We go to the only ones who will truly understand. We talk among ourselves. We talk about the disparity, the injustice. The logical corollary of this kind of venting is a feeding of our own frustration and anger rather than objective sharing that allows from some catharsis and the exploration of possible solutions. What is more is that some of our young people feel that there is no recourse, making them prime targets for the likes of the misguided New Black Panther group which advocates arming black people as a way of tackling our concerns. While I fully understand the frustration that might birth such a response, taking up arms and using violence is not the solution, neither is it the solution that the majority of black people embrace.

So we want to be heard, but someone has to be willing to actively listen to us. Active listening does not mean that you must agree with us. It means recognizing that our "reality" as we describe it must be "real" for "us" - that the sadness, frustration, anger, pain, victimization we feel must be real for us (note: for "us", not you, our reality). Secondly, actively listening to us means universalizing our experience, namely, reflecting back to us your understanding that no one should have to feel/experience such as we are experiencing. Thirdly, actively listening to us involves asking us what we think you can do to help minimize that which we are experiencing. Denying our experience, suggesting we are playing the victim, and telling us what we need to do, instead of bringing us together and establishing trust, drive us away from you. Listen to us.

[photograph by Ric Couchman]

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

On the Matter of Lives: Principle and Practice

Last night a friend of mine asked what I thought of the Black Lives Matter movement. Affirming my unequivocal and full support for the movement, I told him that it was important in that it places front and center the systemic social and economic conditions under which blacks live in this country and challenges the response for change in these conditions. He retorted, "All lives matter," and proceeded to berate the movement. I told him that the universal principle was not that which was in question, but that was as far as the conversation got. He gathered his things together and walked out on me. Thankfully, he has since called to apologize for the manner in which he exited. I gather that the current state of things is putting a strain on many friendships.

The statement, "All lives matter" is a principle that no thinking human being can deny. However, in this country that is all it is, a principle. It is not effectively put into practice, at least for Blacks. The treatment we habitually receive represents the exception to the "all lives matter" principle. The facts bear this out, with the deck stacked against us in education, employment, housing, and criminal justice. So when we say "Black lives matter" we are certainly not denying the importance of the lives of those for whom the principle is a reality. We are demanding inclusion in a principle from which, in practice, we have been summarily and effectively excluded. 

[photo art by Ric Couchman]