American drama at its best: I wish it weren’t so

This past Saturday was one of those unusually warm, late November days in Little Rock. I felt a strong urge to get out of the house. I would imagine you can identify, since you’ve probably been trying your best to stay away from the Coronavirus, too. I just needed some time out to breath fresh air. So, I decided to let the top down on my toy that I keep in the garage and take a ride down to the 7th Street murals to look at the artwork that has taken over the place. The murals are on the walls of 7th street under the train-track overpass.

Bumblebee out of the garage @ Hallelujah Fest 10/2019

The area has had smidgens of graffiti on the walls for a few years that have probably meant more to the graffiti artists responsible for putting them there than anyone else. Since the recent incidents of police killings of young Black folk, protests in the streets for justice and peace, and the crazed political environment we currently find ourselves there has been a rapid growth of socially conscience artwork applied to the walls. Progressive minded people have felt a need to express themselves, using this public venue. The overpass is a few blocks west of the state capitol grounds, making an interesting juxtaposition for the artwork to occupy.

While viewing the artwork and snapping a few pictures, I noticed a couple of artists there applying their skills to the walls. With mask on and social distancing operational, I stopped to engage in a brief conversation with each. Both artists seemed to be folk of good character, troubled by all the social, political, and cultural conflicts that have troubled our society over that last four years. Of course, they both realize that what we’ve seen during this time hasn’t been a recent development, but a burgeoning of symptoms manifested from a disease that has lied dormant for decades.

As I left the overpass, I decided to drive by the capitol grounds. The overpass is at the bottom of a hill that rises to several acres of more level land where the state capital building, the state justice building, the state revenue office, and other stately looking buildings are located. As I approached the top of the hill, I quickly noticed a four-wheel-drive pickup truck coming towards me, with American flags and Confederate flags flapping in the wind. A glance to my left revealed several vehicles arrayed in similar fashion parked on one of the large parking lots. There were also signs which clearly indicated why these folks were there. These Trump supporters were making it known that they don’t agree with the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election. They obviously believed all the unfounded conspiracy theories that have been put forth by the Trump administration of how the election has been manipulated in favor of the Biden gang. I thought for a second about parking across the street to take a few pictures. My good sense quickly told me that that was a bad idea. My electronic version of the Sunday morning edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, our state’s daily newspaper, confirmed what I saw on this fine, autumnal day.

With all the bad stuff 2020 has visited upon our country, wouldn’t working together to bring about healing be a better kind of drama?

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Back to the Future: Diversity for Today from the 1960s

Here’s a blog I posted in February 2016. It was taken from a piece I wrote earlier for a news letter. I think it’s appropriate to reblog it at this particular time. I hope you find it interesting.

oldblessedwordpresscom

A few years before I retired ( January 2013) from my position as associate vice chancellor for Human Resources at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, I  wrote a piece for the campus’ diversity and inclusion newsletter. I’ve had a strong interest in diversity and inclusion work since the late 1980s. I just ran across that piece from years ago in my archives…thought I would share it:

A few years ago, the Chancellor’s Diversity Committee invited Judge Wendell Griffith to campus to be our annual Diversity Week speaker. Being a Trekkie (or is it Trekker?) from the early days of the 1960s television show “Star Trek,” which aired with Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and crew, I remember being transfixed when Judge Griffith began his talk by describing the bridge occupants of the Star Ship Enterprise.
Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the “Star Trek” series, had a vision of what…

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We’re all just human: each just as imperfect as the other

Art put me on trajectory fifty-five years ago that has contributed to landing me at this point of being sick and tired of the world being hung up on the false construct of race. It was in 1965 when this TV show, called Star Trek, came out. I don’t need to tell you what it is. It’s become part and parcel of the very fabric of society. What started to change thinking about race was watching the image of the star ship Enterprise’s bridge. Each week I was carried 300 hundred years into the future when humankind had finally realized that life and all its imagined sentient representations was inherently valuable, each no more or less than the other. You might be saying right about now: That was a fictional representation of a world, a universe that will never be. If you are saying that I beg to differ. The older I get, the more I realize that anything conceived can be achieved. Doesn’t the mind create images from its inventory of experiences? I believe the expanse of thought is limited, except when seemingly unlimited parameters are brought to bear by innovative thinkers. Some of us can rearrange human experiences in our mental incubators to such a degree that the visual product looks like something that was delivered from some far-flung corner of the universe never visited. If you think of Star Trek as a metaphor for how we humans will get along with each other in the future, you might have less difficulty dealing with the concept of alien differences working together on the bridge of the Enterprise.

Recently, Chris and I were out and about on a beautiful fall day. It was one of those days when you just had to escape the self-imposed confines many of us live within due to the pandemic. I don’t remember the full scope of the conversation we were having; however, I do remember Chris referring to some celebrity as being bi-racial. Of course, that has become a commonly used term these days to assign a box for people of mixed-race to reside. For some reason, when I heard the term, I was bothered. My internal voice posed the question to me: Aren’t people in this box humans too? I tried to explain to Chris what I was feeling. I’m not so sure I did a good job. The point I was trying to get across is that I’ll be glad when we look at each other as one individual representation of all. Collectively, we run the gamut of colors, styles, models, as if we were automobiles. But when was the last time you saw people voicing sheer unadulterated hate against any automobile, except for the potentially explosive Ford Pinto?

This mess we’re experiencing now called 2020 has put many of us in the deepest of funks. The corners many have been backed into seem so deep and so expansive, that the idea of escape is a mere flicker in the dark. With all the challenges the world is facing now, why is race a major factor in the general elections in America. As I write this piece, it’s been three days since election day, and we are still waiting on a winner to be decided for our President of the United States for the next four years. News programs are saying this was an historic election, prompting rarely seen numbers to the polls to cast ballots for their favorite candidate, favorite doesn’t necessarily mean most qualified. Having been around for over seventy years and being familiar with human nature to a certain degree, I’m sure race, gender, age and a number of insignificant factors played a factor when each of us marked our ballot.

Being human has its limitations. God help us all.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Love as a one-way street

As a blogger, I try to always be on the lookout for something to write about. My hope is that whatever it is, at least one reader will find it interesting. Unfortunately, my observational antenna isn’t always tuned to the highest level of discernment I desire. This morning though, something came across my senses that stuck with me into the late afternoon. Thus, I had to write about it. I heard the phrase, “Love is a one-way street.” Mind you, I have always known this, but for some reason it resonated very loudly this morning.

As anyone reading this knows, living life has been adjusted in many ways since March of this year. One place where this has happened, leaving some people feeling a bit lost and disconnected is the church. Some members of local congregations have made the adjustment better, realizing that the church isn’t dependent upon a brick and mortar locations to conduct godly business. It’s the spiritual connection that keeps people and activities humming along well as God would have them. I’ve been blessed to be a member of a congregation that has been open to using social media in ways we had never considered before the curse of the Coronavirus pandemic. Older folks are utilizing Zoom, email, conference calling in degrees they felt improbable just a few months ago.

Please excuse the off-topic comments in the preceding paragraph; however, they do connect with the topic of this piece. I’m a Sunday school teacher, and our church has continued to have Sunday school even though we’re no longer meeting at the physical location. There are several classes, offering content and approaches for the diversity one could expect in a congregation of 1,200-plus people. My class meets using conference calling, other classes are using Zoom. Except for the members of my class not seeing each other, we feel a sense of connectivity just as strong as we did before the Coronavirus forced us to make changes.

This morning’s subject was, “The most excellent way”, with the text coming from I Corinthians 13: 1-13. If you’re not familiar with what’s discussed in these verses, let me give you a brief summary. There was a problem in the church at Corinth. People were giving far more value to the manifestation of Spiritual gifts, e.g., prophesying, interpreting mysteries and the like than demonstrating love (agape’ love, Godly love) to each other. The Apostle Paul was writing to make it clear to the members of the congregation that the love of Christ (sacrificial, unconditional, never-ending) had to be in the mix or all the miraculous things performed in the church didn’t matter, when all things are considered.

The class was being facilitated this morning by my co-teacher, who asked the question at one point: Is the love we’re studying about this morning a one-way street? We all knew the answer to that question, but I’m wondering why there was a brief pause before a response was offered. Christ died on the cross without any requirement that we demonstrate reciprocal acts of love. Of course, we can in no way do such, but He does expect us to show, as much as possible love as a one-way street, love requiring nothing in return.

Love as a one-way street is what our country, our world needs in over-flowing fashion right now. All of us going in the same direction.  A prescription for a world never seen before.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Words escape me

I had to reblog this It’s from a blogging mate of mine, who lives in Idaho. These images were taken with an iPhone. Great!

Rangewriter

My mind is whirring with a lot of unpleasantness. Perhaps yours is, too. There’s a lot of ugliness going on around us, no matter where we live or who we are. By evading words maybe I can sooth some souls.

Warren Wagon Road

The narrows; North Fork Payette River

Getting ready for winter

Distant view of Black Tip Mountain. (I think)

Storm Peak & Loon Mountains (I think)

I wanted it to be wolf. Fish & Game expert said large coyote.

Cloochman Saddle Trial

iPhone images

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11- Just a little more about poverty: From what I can remember

This is my eleventh in the series, recalling events in my life from early childhood to wherever I decide to stop writing. I’ve touched on the fact that I was born into and brought up in poverty. Since reminiscing about ones past, tends to have an almost built-in romantic quality to it, I want to dedicate a few words to the more realistic elements of my less than materially blessed upbringing.

The lack of indoor running water, outdoor toilets, less than adequate home insulation to keep the cold of winter outside, bathing in a number 10 oval tub are just a few of the many inconveniences I recall being par for the course living in rural Cross County, Arkansas. These things might be roughing it to some middle-class, suburbanite today (which is what I am), but back in the 1950s and all the 1960s was how my family and I lived.

When I was a small boy, up until around ten-years-old or so, I never really thought that much about being poor, living without few material possessions. When we moved into the house my mom had relocated close to the gravel road, something happened that opened my eyes to just how poor we were. Although we still didn’t have indoor plumbing, we did have electricity and a television. The quality of the pictures was often snow-storm low definition, but Ed Sullivan, Captain Kangaroo, and a host of good old American shows, which had no cultural significance to me, became a powerful misrepresentative image of what America looked like. Looking at these examples of people dressed to the nines and living in homes that might as well had been the Taj Mahal to me, sounded a troubling alarm, “You are poor!” My mother getting us new clothes for school once a year, made possible by putting them in lay-away just didn’t cut it anymore. The Sears-Roebuck catalog was our Aladdin’s lamp, holding the answer to countless wishes for toys, clothing and a menagerie of things that could certainly rescue me from the wretchedness of poverty. Unfortunately, it didn’t matter how many times we might have rubbed the cover, what we desired didn’t mysteriously appear. Instead, basics like clothing and household necessities were the only things that were delivered by the postman or picked up by my mother at catalog store in town.

There are experiences I had as a country kid that I’ve chosen to not write about. You see, the three school buses that transported kids from around the county to Wynne to attend school delivered victims of taunts to their destination of shame daily. The town kids felt that they were somehow better than us. And they made their best effort to choose the most cutting and demeaning adjectives to describe our existence on earth. In retrospect, they were no better than we were; their lot was influenced by the restrictions of racism and discrimination in the same manner as we country bumpkins. Of course, I now find it hard to see how living in a village of four to five thousand denizens, in a rural state would spare them from being categorized as anything but country? Enough. I said I wouldn’t write about this.

I remember seeing images of white guys on television wearing suits and carrying briefcases. They looked quite dapper, and they lacked the collection of dirt and grime about their being I saw on my uncles after they had been laboring hard on C.T. Gibbs’ farm for wages that only lasted from one pay day to the next. (I do want to make it very clear that my uncles and all the poor Black men who did this sort of labor were hard workers, without formal education, doing what was necessary to provide for their families.) I don’t remember any of them ever being unemployed. I told myself in a voice that still rings loudly, even today, that I wanted to be like one of those white guys, going to work in a suit and carrying briefcase. I’m not sure I’ll write more about that point, but I did end up being the first grandchild of grandpa and Sweet’s to attend college, and yes, I did wear suits and carry briefcases to work. My career took me to the point of retirement from the position of associate vice chancellor/chief human resources officer for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in 2013.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

10 – A sense of community: From what I can remember

A road similar to our gravel road

Looking back on my life as I grew up during the latter part of the 1950s and early 1960s, I now realize that my world was exceedingly small. I want to take a closer look at the small country community to which I belonged. I’ve mentioned living on my grandpa and Sweet’s farm. I also mentioned that the farm was located down a gravel road off Highway 64. I want to talk a little about the community that lived down this rough and dusty route to nowhere.

Although we were somewhat isolated, there was a sense of community. There were six Black families who lived in the area. Among them were Sweet’s brother Jessie and sister-in-law Hattie. Jessie and Hattie lived on land that was part of the land farmed by grandpa and Sweet. It had been parceled into three separate areas. All the land had been inherited from Sweet’s parents. Sweet was the oldest of the siblings. I remember the Britts, and two other families that made up this small community of folks who did the normal things small communities do: borrow a cup of sugar when necessary, share vegetables grown in their gardens, visit without announcing you were coming…

At some point after my father died, my mother either bought or was given a house that sat at the corner of Highway 64 and the gravel road. I remember her having someone move the house down the gravel road to a spot in front of grandpa and Sweet’s house. She also had electricity connected to the house. This was made easier sense the house was on land just next to the gravel road. The gravel road had electrical service lines that ran its length. At some point, we got a television and a radio. I remember this house had a living room, a kitchen, and an upstairs room which was accessed by a small set of stairs that led up from the kitchen. Grandpa used his carpentry skills to add two bedrooms to one side of the house. This proved to be convenient for all of us. Larry, William, and I shared a room and our sister, Terri, born later shared a room with my mother.

We were still poor; however, I remember folks down this gravel road helped each other. Uncle Jessie had a pickup truck, and several of us would fill the back on Saturday evenings when he would make his weekly trip into town (Wynne). As a kid I remember these trips to town as being exciting. I would be given a few coins to spend on candy. We would hangout around the Western Auto Store, which was a kind of general-purpose hardware store and Steinberg’s, the Jewish-owned dry goods and grocery store.

Life was simple, as I remember it back then, but I do remember some complications that went with being Black. When we went to town, we had to observe the white and Black signs that separated certain services. And even where there were no signs, we had to be aware of certain protocols. For example, I remember Black folks going to the back of a certain restaurant in town to order food. I don’t remember the name of the place. I now wonder why we even ordered food from there, especially since a short walk across the railroad tracks to what was then called colored town would have given us access to Ms. Evalena’s. Ms. Evalena’s was a greasy spoon that made the best juicy hamburgers you could ever want. And you could walk straight through the front door. For some reason, I can still remember the taste of her hamburgers some sixty years later. Hot, spicy, juicy…yummy!

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Filling up with Bob

Every now and then, I read a blog that moves me emotionally. This is one of those blogs. I hope you enjoy reading this piece from Heidi Viars as much as I did.

Heidi Viars

“One person can’t change the whole world.
But one person can change the whole world of another person.”

I decided to pull into the wholesale gas station. Might as well, even though I only needed half a tank, I was already in town and gas was cheaper here. I leaned against the car and watched the numbers click away behind the Plexiglas. Filling up wouldn’t take long.

When the attendant saw me, he slowly made his way over, nodded and greeted me with a gentle, “Thanks for stopping in.” He wore a yellow vest and a baseball cap. The bill reached over his thin framed glasses. His face was covered with a light blue disposable mask and his hands with latex gloves. From what I could see of his face, I guessed him in his late fifties. I acknowledged him with a “How are you today?” not realizing, the ensuing…

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Music can cast a spell of its own

I had to run out to do an errand this afternoon, after attending online church services. When I got in the car, my radio was set to smooth jazz on satellite radio, as it normally is. I proceeded to my destination, unconsciously being soothed by the likes of Dave Koz, Acoustic Alchemy, Rick Braun, and other contemporary jazz artists. The ride to my destination was relaxing, as I seemingly, without friction, moved down the expressway without the least bit of stress.

After I had picked up the items, I went out to purchase and I was back on the expressway in my cruise mode, Dave Koz interrupted the groove with a talk about the value of music. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say he interrupted since it was his show.  He has this show that comes on SiriusXM Satellite radio each Sunday called The Dave Koz Lounge. Anyway, he made some reference to the times in which we’re living. Of course, he mentioned the coronavirus and the resultant stresses it has caused so many of us to suffer. When he started to talk about how music has a universal appeal and how it can bring relief from many of the things that trouble us, I consciously tuned into what he was saying.

I’ve been a lover of smooth jazz all my adult life. Jazz is a form of music that never grows old. Wes Montgomery’s Bumpin’ on Sunset, which was released in 1965 sounds just as contemporary as Norman Brown’s Up “N” at ‘Em released in 2004. This music genre seems to manipulate the atmospheric pressure around me as it changes, almost unobtrusively, my internal universe.

Music is a powerful force. Whether you’re moved by gospel, rhythm and blues, classical, country and western, whatever trips your trigger. Although I’m predominately a smooth jazz listener, I’ve been known to find myself getting into some of that Nashville stuff, that I call country blues. After all, when a person sings about losing their girl, but they’re okay because they still have the dog and the pickup truck, ain’t that blues?

As I write this, I’m listening to Norman Brown’s Radio station on Pandora. Both my mind and my fingers are engaged. My fingers are literally dancing across the keyboard. Aw, the effects of music. Can you think of a better time when we should all be doing something to take or minds (if for a minute) off what’s going on around us? So, put on your earphones, pop in those ear buds and turn up the volume. Let the right side of your brain explore and create an environment that has the potential for soothing whatever ails you.

I’m old and blessed…I hope you will be too.

9 – Closer to grandpa and Sweet: From what I can remember

Not Sweet, but this is how she did it

As I write more about events in my early life, I find myself remembering more detail, not always enough to tell a complete story, but more. After my father died, things took on a new flavor. There started to be a stronger bond between my mother and me that defined a lot of how my life unfolded until she passed from Alzheimer’s in 2018. I think this had to do with that oldest-child thing. I also recall a closer relationship developing with grandpa and Sweet during that time, more grandpa. I think I should honor them by giving their real names grandpa (Andrew Jeffrey) and Sweet (Emma Wilform-Jeffrey). I included Sweet’s maiden name (Wilform), because I might share a story or two about her side of the family as I go along. Remember, I’m writing this stuff as I remember it. I’ve intentionally decided to not outline anything before sitting down to the keyboard, or query anyone, who might have a better recollection than I.

I can’t help but romanticize a lot of my life before I turned twelve. After all, I was a poor little Black boy, living in the country, surrounded by little in terms of creature comforts, but despite the absence of material wealth, I remember being happy. Without any order, I remember:

  • Roaming through the woods with grandpa, picking wild blackberries
  • Eating watermelons on cool late summer mornings in grandpa’s watermelon patch
  • Helping grandpa feed and water the mules after a hard day’s work in the fields
  • Watching Sweet churn milk and making butter
  • Following grandpa into the woods whenever he went hunting with his 22-caliber rifle
  • Just being a country kid roaming freely without a care from sun-up to sun-down

There’s a song by the Canton Spirituals titled Mississippi Poor Boy that summarily characterizes my life during this time. The following is the introduction to that song:

I come from a poor family.

We didn’t have much

But the Lord’s been good to me

Verse

We were raised in a shack, ya’ll

Sometimes the clothes were thin

That we put on our backs

I look back now at grandpa and Sweet, and I’m amazed at how they had a talent for survival that many would hold in awe today. Neither had much need for store-bought food, except for flour and sugar. Grandpa would trap wild animals for meat, collect a variety of berries and vegetation from their natural settings, slaughter domestically grown animals in the fall, and salt the meat for storage in the smokehouse. And, of course, don’t forget this man grew a variety of foods on his little farm.  I can recall many times seeing nothing in Sweet’s kitchen in the morning, and mysteriously witnessing a bounty on the table for supper. She would, almost lovingly meander into the back yard and attract chickens to gather around her with corn. Once enjoying the non-GMO kernels, she would quickly snatch one up, wring the unwillingly sacrifice’s neck and cart it off to be dressed for supper. She’d also go out back to the shed where she kept an inventory of canned vegetables, select several jars to be cooked as side orders with the chicken. She had this skill for baking things from scratch that would put Julia Child to shame. As she labored, without complaint, over her hot, wood-burning stove, Sweet would sing old-negro spirituals, giving praises to God as naturally as she breathed His air.

Grandpa and Sweet. They just don’t make folks like that anymore.