Friday, May 22, 2015

Nine One One, Nine Eleven, Or Right Now

Reportedly, the first-ever 9-1-1 call was placed in 1968, and it was a testing of the efficiency of the system. The first 9-1-1 call I was ever affiliated with was placed in 1974. It was placed from a public phone booth near Chicago’s Dearborn Housing Projects, to the city’s police department, and was my cousin’s response to me experiencing a heroin overdose. Reportedly he called 911 two times, between three minute intervals. It was not until the third call however, when he announced that a white caseworker was unconscious in a black housing project, that an ambulance arrived almost immediately.

In 2001, when the twin tower incident (nine-eleven) occurred, I was a guest in the 73 story Detroit Marriott hotel, that is in very close proximity to Dearborn, Michigan, which has the largest Arab American population in the United States. After returning about 10:00 that morning from a cancelled conference , a note had been slipped under my hotel door informing me that I could stay that night, but that there would be no staff or hotel service available. I decided to stay, even though every body that didn’t live there was leaving by taxi, rental car, boat, or plane to get away from the preconceived danger.

The last 9-1-1 that I was involved in occurred in 2012, right here in Long Beach, California. About 3:00am one morning, our dog CoCo started barking, and my wife Nicole and I got out of bed to witness a man using all the effort he could muster to open our locked door. While Nicole inexplicably conversed with the 911 operator, I held the door knob and used every ounce of strength I had to offset the pressure that this much larger individual was applying to the wooden door frame. One police car finally arrived, then another, but the two police officers stood outside their vehicles with flashlights drawn, and waited until there were a total of four officers before they even approached the assailant.

What i garnered from these three experiences is: 1. Illegal drug use is hazardous to your health. 2. A response should not be entirely based on a group of peoples’ ethnicity or what another group of people think they might do, and 3. Don’t expect others to adequately serve and protect just because they wear uniforms that say they will. Unexpected circumstances are going to take place, yet how we respond is not always dependent on the initial situation because there might be other factors and other people over whom we have no control. What we can do, nonetheless, is prepare ourselves for whatever might take place.

Although I have no regrets toward how I’ve responded in the past, I know that it is imperative that I focus on right now, and do what I can to be prepared for what might happen later. What I’m doing along those lines is simply trying to be a better person today than I was yesterday.  I’m paying closer attention to what I’m doing, than to what’s being done around me. In that way, if a 911 situation materializes, I don’t have to worry about how to react…I can just go with the flow.

I’ll holla…

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Experience 101

Experience is the best teacher, so how do we get our grades? The cut, ‘Hard Knock Life’,from the broadway hit ‘Annie’,speaks to how some people feel about life’s merit system. 

Steada treated, we get tricked  
Steada kisses, we get kicked 
It's the hard knock life!

What I’m hearing is that we want to be accepted and respected, but instead we’re being hoodwinked and rejected. What I’m believing is that life is simple but the way we approach it will determine the amount of hardship we encounter. In short, our attitude and actions will dictate how well we learn from what we’re experiencing. I’m doing my best to accept that people, including myself, are going to be who we are, and do what we do, until we make a spiritual decision to change. If I’m having a hard time dealing with others, or am upset about the situations I find myself in, then  my only option is to change.

Most of you already know about the discomforts I’ve experienced, like cancer, divorce, drug addiction, and racism. What you might not know is that I’ve been lied to, cheated, stolen from, and suffer from bouts of unworthiness and low self esteem. You wanna know how I feel about all of this? I am not alone. We all go through stuff, and as long as we’re living on this earthly realm, …it ain’t gon stop. It’s not about what happens to us, or who we think caused it, it’s about how we respond.

I thank God for my drug life, cause can’t too many people beat me out of money or compromise my financial well being. I knew that pimps, players and hustlers were in the night clubs and houses of ill repute, but now I know that they reside in executive offices and corporate boardrooms as well. I appreciate the illnesses I’ve endured because I’ve come to realize that all the surgeries, medications, herbs, and alternative treatments have their place, but faith and the desire to be healthy is what’s most important in the recovery process. Last but certainly not least, I thank all the haters and naysayers for not believing in me cause you only provoke me to be stronger in fulfilling my God-Given Purpose for being here. That purpose…To be of service to others.

Now don’t get it twisted. There's the good experiences as well, which teach us how important it is to give and to be grateful for what we receive. Y’all actually read my blogs and listen to my radio show. I’ve even been approached by those of you young and old, friend and stranger, who have thanked me for something I’ve said or done to enhance your life experience, and it’s those particular encounters that coerce me into wanting to do so much more.

Everyone, everywhere has had similar experiences, and my contention is that it is through these experiences that we grade ourselves. An acquisition of knowledge is fine, but a Bachelor, Master, or Doctorate Degree in life skills is what makes us who we are. We will continue to  experience life, and it's how we respond to its challenges that will determine our grade point average.

I’ll Holla…

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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Someone You Should Know

We called her GaGa. Maybe it was because she was from Louisiana and it was a Creole idiom for grandmother. Or maybe it was because her oldest granddaughter had a speech impediment early on, and couldn’t say ‘grandmama’. Whatever the case, you might not have known Loretta Davenport Smith, but you knew GaGa.

She came to Chicago in 1920 with her mother Celestine Barber, and at the age of 16 she married Roosevelt Davenport with whom she had three children:  Calvin, Madeline, and Nathaniel. They all lived with Roosevelt’s mother and stepfather Georgia and Earl Jennings, in a kitchenette apartment, at 5526 S. Michigan. 

Times were tough back then because of the Great Depression, and employment wasn’t on an upward swing until America entered World War II in 1941. The Works Progress Administration, formed in 1939, provided hard earned, honest money for Earl and his stepson Roosevelt. GaGa, on the other hand, got involved in what was called  ‘policy’. She wrote numbers for patrons in betting parlors, and delivered numbered slips and money to the policy headquarters located in a basement apartment on 54th and Prairie. Dangerous and illegal, but steady income, this precursor to today’s lottery was one of her earlier means of contributing to the family’s financial well-being.

Now GaGa was very fair-skinned with hazel eyes that turned gray or blue dependent on the color of her attire. Had she so desired, she could have easily passed for white but her refusal to do so caused her to be denied a job at Marshall Fields which her fair complexioned friend accepted without hesitation. GaGa’s favorite phrase, ‘Got to keep on keepin on’ was a never ending stimulus, and she was seldom without employment. She held several ‘legal’ occupations, the most sustainable being a waitress at an army officers’ club. From our conversations, her presence there can ironically be attributed to her being able to pass Hollywood’s ‘brown bag test’.

GaGa’s husband’s unfaithfulness, and her son Calvin’s heroin addiction caused her extreme vexation for several years. After a divorce she met Reon Smith, whom she married, and who was very adamant about moving to California. Wanting to start a new life, and seeing an opportunity to be relieved of her son’s continued harassment for money,  she and her new husband, in their mid fifties, moved to LA. Reon died suddenly a few years later, she remained in LA, but decided, at the age of 70, to return to Chicago.

She moved into a building about 5400 North, in a predominantly white area. At the age of 75 she shared with us that she wanted a companion. When asked why she didn’t pursue one she responded that there were only white men available, and  that she preferred men of the black persuasion. Within a month or so, after being informed that elderly black men frequently gathered at a McDonald’s on 7800 South Cottage Grove, she had moved into a building on 7600 South Maryland, 3 blocks from that particular McDonalds. 

Being the enterprising person she was, Ga Ga had no need to go to 7800 South Cottage Grove. Soon after the move, she came down from her apartment on the sixth floor and noticed an appealing gentleman in the lobby. She leisurely approached him and inquired if he knew how to defrost a freezer. He replied that he did and although the freezer was never defrosted they developed and maintained an intimate relationship for the next 15 years. They totall enjoyed traveling together and alternating their overnight night stays between her sixth, and his fourth floor apartment. According to GaGa , she had never been that happy in her entire life.

Today would have been her 101st birthday. I remember the day before she left this earthly realm, when just before her 91st birthday she announced, “If you want to see GaGa again, you’d better do it today”. I didn’t see her that day but I called that night. “How you doing GaGa?”, I asked. “I’m doing well”, she responded, “Just waiting on my mother”. Evidently her mother came, cause early the next morning, Ga Ga had passed on. 

The GaGa I speak of is my grandmother ya’ll, I love her, I appreciate the legacy she left, and I feel that she’s someone you should know. I ask that you join with me in saying ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY GAGA’, and implore you to at least consider her conviction to ‘keep on keepin on’, despite all odds, cause someday someway it’s gon all work out…in this realm and in the next.

I’ll holla… 

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015


As teenagers, Murray, James, Roscoe, Goose, Larry, Ray Ray and me used to get sharp on Easter Sunday and ride to downtown Chicago. I made it a point to get my shoes shined , even when it snowed that one Easter afternoon. I also recall another Easter Sunday when this rival gang member snatched my brown felt Armstrong hat, the one with the brown and white rope band, and Goose, all in what seemed one motion, ran in a restaurant grabbed a fork and chased the guy about two blocks but without success. For the most part however, Easter Sunday was the time when all seven of us rode the el train together, went to a movie together, and ate together at Ronnie’s Steak House on 100 W. Randolph. Our total expenses on those holiday outings, believe it or not, was less than ten dollars each, and the memories of what we experienced, while being together, were worth much more than money could buy.

It’s now the second Sunday after the Easter of 2015, and I’m sitting in the JFK airport with a four hour layover when my wife Nicole asks me if I’m going to write this week’s blog while waiting for the plane. I let her know that I don’t have a topic as of yet, and that I’m going to take a walk with the hope of being inspired. While walking I spot a shoe shine stand. Without giving it any thought I step onto the platform, take a seat and prop my feet on the two supports. Now I hadn’t given any thought to those Easters I spoke of earlier, but what happened next was the impetus for what I’m sharing with you now.

While sitting there I’m getting bothered cause the operator is on his cell phone and seems more concerned with texting than shining shoes. Just as I decide to get up, he concludes what he’s doing and asks me what kind of shine I want. Somewhat relieved, I look to where his eyes are focused and there’s a sign which reads:

Bullet Proof Shine  $10   longest lasting shine…most protection and conditioning  

Basic Shine  $8   standard polishing…including conditioning and edge treatment  

The Quickie  $5  one coat wonder…gets you to the gate on time 

Being a bit amused, I opt for the Basic and strike up a conversation asking how he got started in the business, and how he feels about what he’s doing. He starts the shoe shine process, tells me that he works for a company, that nobody is watching over him and that shining shoes is a dying art form. This takes all of two minutes and before I can start my spiel, he pats my shoe in the old shoe shine tradition, and says, without even looking me in the eye, that’s $8. I step down give him a twenty and he walks away to another establishment. He comes back with the change, hands me twelve, I tip him two, and I walk away thinking, “Yea, my man, shining shoes is a dying art form and you’re helping to kill it. After all, you didn’t pop that rag one time.

I’m back to being perturbed now, and suddenly the lyrics to a cut, performed by the1970’s group the ‘Dynamic Superiors’ , comes to mind…

Shoe shoe shine used to cost a dime
A penny could buy you plenty.
A nickel was the fare to take you anywhere
Troubles we didn’t have many.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not upset about the money, I’m bothered about how our attitudes have changed and see that change as one of the reasons why our relationships with one another are not what they used to be. When you got your shoes shined back in the day it was by some cat aged 8-80 who was in a barber shop or shoe shine parlor where all the hustlers, pimps, and players would be in and out talkin trash, lying and signifying. No matter how young or old the shoe shine operator was, he was able to hold a conversation with the best of them, cause he knew he might learn or teach a little somethin somethin, while making a nice tip in the meantime. 

He knew he wasn’t gonna get rich, cause the real money was being made in the back. All you OG’s (Original Gangsters) know what I’m talking about and the rest of y’all can use your imagination to figure it out.  Point is people were not constantly focused on the dollar, and on all the gimmicks that distract us from consciously interacting with each other. They were thinking, “How can what I do, make something happen for you.” Be it in a restaurant, airport or what have you, be it the customer or the worker, folk took a little time out to focus on somebody else beside themselves. 

Let’s be like those people if only for a moment at a time. Let’s have that ‘I got somethin for you’ attitude of the the shoe shine man poppin that rag, or the hustler trying to sell him the Brooklyn Bridge. Let’s remember those Easter Sundays with me and Murray and them and look at how much we can share in the time we spend together, rather than what it costs us to do so.

I’ll holla…

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Friday, April 24, 2015

Who's In Charge...Them Or Us?

Would somebody please tell me why we're constantly allowing technology to take our humanity? Case in point. I think I'm calling my friend's number, he doesn't answer, and here's the message I get: "You've reached the voice mailbox of 333-456-7890." First of all, I don't know anybody with the name 333. Secondly, my friend is black and the person answering the phone obviously ain't. So why, if he's not available, or not going to answer the phone, didn't my friend at least leave a personalized message, so that I'd know I had the right number.

Here's my take on the situation. We're becoming so reliant on technology, that we're forgetting that we're supposed to be thoughtful, caring human beings and not the machines that we've created. Let's take a look at where our dependence on just one impersonal communications devices, the smart phone, is taking us.

First of all we're becoming insensitive. We're not taking into consideration that the person calling us might be in a situation that requires immediate attention. Let's go back to the 333-456 scenario. Here's what it might sound like. "Now I know I haven't talked to Mustafa for a couple of weeks, but right now he's the only one that can help me. Who is this white guy answering his phone? Is this the right number or what? " 

Secondly, we're allowing a gadget to relieve the fear of what might happen, and thereby preventing ourselves from enjoying what can happen. We pick the standard message, rather than a personal one, because we don't want everybody who calls to know our name. It might be a creditor, or somebody we don't want to talk to, or somebody selling something that we don't want to buy. Let's stop being 'skurred' y'all. Let em know "Yeah, it's me and whatever it is you want I don't have right now, and when and if I do get it ...I'll holla back. By doing that, we open ourselves up to receive the positive things that a phone call just might bring.

And thirdly, we're compromising our human capabilities cause we're letting machines do for us what we can do for ourselves. Let's quit feeding into that industrialized concept which says, 'time is money'. Time is time and money is money...period. Since you've already spent your money on this new and improved communications device, take a little time to let the universe know that you're in charge and not this little gadget you can hold in one hand or with no hands at all. When the prompter asks would you like to set up your own voice mail response, say "Hell to the yeah", cause I'm still here and I'm responsible for the ground I'm standing on, not this phone I'm holding on to.  

I'll Holla...

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Where Do We Go From Here?

There's a term called 'transference' which can be loosely translated as believing that what I've done to others is what they're trying to do to me. White folk went to Africa, Asia and the Americas for the specific purpose of conquest and control. The fact of the matter is that they 're still benefitting from these subjugations and are fearful they'll lose what they erroneously claim as their own to the people they took it from. 

Some white people think that black folk want to live where they live, have our children go to school where their children go, and eat in the same restaurants they eat in. It’s a known fact that likes attract, and I believe that most of us love living around, going to school and breaking bread with people of our own persuasion. All we black folk really want is access to the same quality of housing, education, food and drink that's available to ya’ll.

Let's call it like it is. Black people were not conquered, and are not still being controlled solely because of the perpetuation of white supremacy and nationalism, it's also because we inadvertently support disunity. We're going to have to quit looking at the differences within our race, quit complaining about what somebody else is doing to us, and figure out we need to do to enhance our cultural commonality. I personally call out to Black churches, black businesses, black organizations, and even black gangs to come together and pool our financial, historical, and especially our human resources to regain our status of a loving, caring and fair minded people. Black folk, I know who we are, I know where we've been, and I know what we're capable of doing. We been through it y’all, so let's get to doing what we know how to do, and stop looking to others to do it for us.

As for everybody else....just do you. I know that if we all adhered to the spiritual concept of treating each other righteously all would be well, but I don't know how to implement that consciousness into somebody with whom I'm not totally familiar. What I can say however is, “Let's everybody go home ya’ll." Where is home? It's where you make it, as long as it ain't in somebody else's house. Later for wanting what somebody else got, let's build something on our own that we can allow others to check out, without the fear of having  it taken from us.

I'll holla....

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Monday, April 13, 2015

The Revolution Might Be Instagrammed

Regardless of our religious affiliation, I’m sure we’re all aware of what’s called the second coming of Christ. There are biblical accounts of what will take place at that time, with references to a lightening-like brightness, the heavens opening up, and Jesus’ appearing on a white horse. The point being made is that the date and time of this event is unknown, and therefore we should prepare ourselves now by dealing with each other in a righteous manner.

I was talking to a minister last Saturday about how the rampant decline of church membership might be due to our capability to access a church’s activities on social media. His feeling was that people were too dependent on technology and thereby out of touch with the spiritual significance of what they were receiving online. According to him, “The only way some people will know about Jesus’ coming is if they happen to be on Facebook at the time.”

Our conversation reminded me of a line from a song performed by a group called ‘The Last Poets’, that line being…”The revolution will not be televised.”  In the context of what we’re discussing however, it will be Instagrammed. Jesus’ message is that we should be morally prepared for the final revolution that will take place on earth. For me, revolutions or changes take place every day, and I’m wondering if we’re prepared for what’s going on right now, let alone what’s yet to come.

I’d like to share four statements which express my feelings on how, when interacting with others, we can best prepare ourselves for whatever might take place.

1. Be willing to honestly share your thoughts and feelings for the benefit of the listener.
2. Be contemplative before taking action that might negatively affect someone else.
3. Be open minded concerning the thoughts and ideas of others. and
4. Be always ready to reassess and modify who you are. 

Saying that you're a revolutionary is an easy task because you don’t really have to care for the well being of others, you just have to act like you do. Being a revolutionary means sacrificing one's own ambitions to meet the needs of the people one serves. The objective is to attempt success from the efforts one makes each day, and to be willing to accept defeat as a catalyst for the next endeavor.

Now I know that revolutionary activity can be displayed on the social media, but despite that possibility, I’m gonna do my best to adhere to the statements I’ve outlined above because I believe in treating others as I would like to be treated. Besides that, when the revolution comes, and it is instagrammed, I want my face to reflect the joy that comes from righteousness.

I’ll holla…

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