A long tragic story

I attended a book signing recently. I almost didn’t go because my back was aching quite a bit. Chris and I had been invited to attend this event by the Connie Williams, wife of the author, Ronnie Williams. Connie and Ronnie are friends of ours. They both attend our church, and Ronnie is an associate pastor there. This blog isn’t a happy-make-you-smile kind of offering. It’s a story that started back in 1960, when things were drastically different for Black folks living in the Southern part of the United States. Of course, as you read this, you might think of recent incidents that strike an air of similarity.

Ronnie’s book is titled, Markham Street: The Haunting Truth Behind the murder of My brother, Marvin Leonard Williams. I decided not the read the book before writing this blog. I’m familiar with the story; however, I’m not even going to write about my recollections. What I do want to write about is the stage presentation that was done at the book signing. It was an emotionally steering event. Ronnie read several passages from his book. When he was about to read a particular passage, his emotions got the best of him. He asked his younger son to come up and do it for him. This passage was from a chapter in the book called, Mother’s Words.

What’s all this drama about? Let me not proceed a step further without telling you. Back in 1960, Ronnie’s brother Marvin Leonard Williams was arrested and murdered by the police in Conway, Arkansas. The coverup of the murder started immediately and the journey from 1960 to the writing of Ronnie’s book has taken over sixty years with no justice to be had.

The facilitator for the stage presentation began by asking Ronnie and a friend of his, Fred Allen, who also was onstage, questions about their high school basketball days. There was lighthearted and sometimes comical banter with this topic. The moderator, who was white, was also a basketball player and a contemporary of Ronnie’s. I must admit, I became a bit impatient with this part of the presentation because I was anxious to hear the details of one of the darkest stories to ever occur in Arkansas history. However, even the basketball tales had elements of racism etched in them. Fred Allen, who was a star basketball player, is now being considered for induction into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

Fred shared a story that painted a picture of how racism prevented him from receiving word of several basketball scholarships. He graduated high school from what was then one of the newly desegrated schools in the South. His basketball coach, who was white, received letters from several colleges interested in recruiting him for their basketball team. Fred was shocked to discover later that any colleges had an interest in recruiting him.

Beside the tragedy of the murder of Ronnie’s brother, there were two trials in the decades that followed Marvin’s murder, a criminal one and a civil one. Neither offered decisions that were satisfactory for the Williams family.

There’s a question that has lingered in my mind for years, and it will until I exit this life: How can any human being end the life of another? I honestly think I would be bothered if I took the life of another in self-defense. I could be wrong, but I think most of us on the planet think likewise. Somehow, I think if we didn’t, death from violence of every kind would take a much greater toll than it does now.

If you don’t, I would like to put a plug in for Ronnie’s book here: Markham Street: The Haunting Truth Behind the Murder of My Brother, Marvin Leonard Williams. The book can be purchased on Amazon.

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

         My late love affair with Africa

If you follow my blogs, you know that I had my first trip to the African continent during the Christmas/ New Year holiday season of 2020/2021. The experience was all I expected it to be. It was wonderful, to say the least. Accompanying me were my wife, my oldest child, a cousin, and his wife. For most of my life I hadn’t given much thought to visiting the land of my ancestors. Undoubtedly, I had unconsciously bought into the untruths that the media and others had weaved about Africa. You know, all Africans are starving, living in trees, that kind of stuff that work to convince African Americans that Africa isn’t the place to be.

Our trip, or should I say our pilgrimage, to Ghana, West Africa was an eye-opening experience. I can say for myself that it was a spiritual experience. We arrived in Accra, the capital city, at night so I couldn’t get a good view of places along the route to our hotel. However, the next morning, with the daylight came a view that was culturally foreign to me. There were people all about, walking in the streets, minding their tiny business ventures on the side of the road. People were everywhere attempting, to their very best, to make a living. As the ten-day tour unfolded, it became apparent that there was a high amount of energy being expended everywhere. Of course, Ghana, as with most African countries, has no government-sponsored safety net. People must work. And work they do.

This ever-present mass of humanity out and about selling their wears was present along the highways that traversed small towns, as we drove from Accra to the second largest city, Kumasi. Kumasi was a different type of large metropolitan area from Accra. It is where the Ashanti Empire existed from 1701 to 1901 when it was annexed by the British. The British colonization of this area didn’t happen without strong military resistance from the people of this region. Touring the Ashanti palace and viewing the exhibits there, gave me a sense of appreciation of how proud and regal the people of this region were and still are. There were exhibits of the kings who had once ruled over this region.

Chris, my oldest daughter, and I have another trip planned for Africa during the latter part of this year. We’re going to South Africa. From all that I’ve read, seen in videos, and heard from others who’ve been there, South Africa will present less cultural shock than any other country an African American might experience on the continent. It has infrastructure and business models that are much like what westerners are accustomed to. We plan to visit Johannesburg and Cape Town. There will also be time set aside for what I call a bloodless safari. I must admit, I’m praying that my health will continue to do well. I’ve lived well, for the most part, over the last twenty-two years with the horrible disease called Multiple Myeloma. Since I’ve written about it before, I’ll simply say it’s an incurable blood cancer. Thus far, it has not prevented me from living my best life.

This love affair I have with the continent of my ancestors is calling me to make at least four trips to its soil. I’ve been to the west. I’m scheduled to visit the south. My bucket list will not be full until I’ve visited some country in the east and north. Four countries out of fifty-four would be minimally sufficient.

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

                    It’s the people…

Recently, I was watching a YouTube channel with content produced by a young Iranian woman named Anaieta. She’s been living in Ghana for a couple of years. She fell in love with young Ghanaian man. They’re married now, and they are happy in their relationship. Of course, I draw this conclusion from a video on which they express some warm emotions about how long they’ve known each other, the quality of their life in Ghana, and things they do to make a living and so on.

Interestingly, as I watched Anaieta’s video, the obvious differences in her and her husband faded into the universality of humankind. Of course, the differences that commanded my immediate attention were the same ones that we humans always notice right away: skin color, hair texture, language accents, those externals that don’t tell the whole story about the quality of one’s character. Beyond that are the invaluable elements that connect them as two human beings who had a social encounter at some point that began their journey in life together. They both have thick accents, as they communicate in the king’s English. Not being a linguist, all I hear are two accents that sound similar; however, I’m confident the differences are strident.

I watched several of Anaieta’s videos, including the one where she introduced her channel. Here, she mentions the similarities in Ghanaian culture and Iranian culture. I found that fascinating, since I too have been noticing similarities in cultures that have old roots. I like watching YouTube videos where someone walks through the streets or a marketplace of a city. I’ve noticed how similar things look in comparing people moving about in Ghana and India. People are often dressed in traditional attire (similar in appearance), balancing things on their heads, riding motorbikes, doing what they must do to sustain life.

Anaieta did a series of videos where she took her husband home to Tehran. I was surprised by this because I, for some reason, thought leisurely travel to Iran was out of the question. I was even more surprised when I saw footage, she shot of them strolling through the Iran Shopping Mall in Tehran. The architecture of the structure was beautiful. The people meandering about inside the mall reminded me of the many malls I’ve been in the United States, the two malls I’ve been in the Ghana, West Africa, malls I’ve been in Canada, as well as other places on God’s green earth. People are just people wherever I go.

As I consider the commonality of us all, I can’t help but venture into what’s occurring in the Ukraine. The people of Ukraine, the butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers weren’t the least bit concerned about geopolitical affairs. They simply wanted to live their lives and live them abundantly by enjoying familial relationships, working daily to provide for themselves, worshipping their God, resting when the need arrived, and doing what was natural for them to live out the rest of their days.

It’s the people of the world who bring the good, common offerings to the table; offerings that can often allow us to reach across borders with open hands of friendship. It’s the governments that make an absolute mess of things, enlisting the wills of our young to wage war about things of which they have no knowledge.

Remember the people. They’re the unwilling sacrifices.

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

            Will slaps Chris

There are certain entertainment options available on television that I don’t watch, the Academy Awards is one of them. The awards were televised last Sunday night. Of course, since I don’t watch them, I missed the world-shattering event that took place. The media was hot with reports of what did happen. Will Smith casually strolled unto the stage and proceeded to slap the host, Chis Rock, across the face. He did this because he felt Chris had shown disrespect for his wife Jada Pinkett by telling a joke about her close-cropped hair do. Jada wears the low cut because of a health condition called alopecia, which has resulted in hair loss.

One must wonder what was going through Will Smith’s mind when he did what he did. However, I suppose emotions got the better of him, and he gave no thought that this would be the slap seen and analyzed around the world. It was a metaphor for so many things. And shortly thereafter, examples of its metaphorical representation would start to surface from the mouths of one talking head after the other.

Will Smith didn’t exercise the best that wisdom could offer when he did what he did. And now the fallout has begun. He resigned from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. I suppose this was a step to get ahead of being removed. I’m sure there will be other repercussions since the Academy is still looking into the matter.

I suppose the big question is whether this display was a true example of a man standing up for his beloved or conducting an embarrassing act that Smith wish he could pull back. Well, I think there’s another question: Should we be spending so much time on this issue when there are numerous other examples of human short fallings currently taking place around the world that are taking the lives of thousands. It seems these days that pop culture garners far more attention from all of us than it in anyway deserves.

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