July 4th. Independence Day 2020.
Undoubtedly, today is historic. The complex and rooted nature of the many inequities, inhumane acts, and injustices that presently exist throughout our communities, nation, and world typically necessitates action or, at the very least, expression (i.e. words, art, protest). I don’t have the answers yet, and I don’t know if I ever will, but I will continue to listen, learn, search, understand, laugh, love, and live under the standards that propel a mission of creating a better, brighter future - characterized by standards of accountability and responsibility, among others - for the living and coming generations of humankind. This post, I hope, is a small reminder.
I’ll do my best to be brief. The pride of a nation - of a people, even - can and, perhaps, should be inherently and reasonably good; with humility, one should be able to celebrate the upheld beliefs, morals, and values of a society, bound together by principles and standards that continually define and protect the rights of each human while comprehensively understanding the history and events that led to such profound forms of expression, for better and for worse.
Yet, personally, to approach this particular day with pride brought forth a feeling of conflict within me: a dialectical tension between celebrating the good works of so many individuals, groups, and communities-at-large in the past and present and recognizing - and holding accountable - the harmful, often reprehensible acts of so many individuals, groups, and communities-at-large both in the past and present. Defining both the character and standards of morals, values, and beliefs introspectively and implicitly may be necessary to cultivate a line of communication explicitly. Yet, there may be some doubt about the possibilities of change under the current circumstances. Try talking with your neighbor, asking the tough questions; you may or may not be surprised, but, personally, I have found this approach to be enlightening and insightful toward not only improving my own life but improving the lives of others, including the aforementioned neighbor.
Nonetheless, I hold hope that this post - just one in the array of hundreds of millions - acts as a reminder of the suffering that paralleled these celebrations today. Injustice, inequity, and inhumanity - including their counterparts (i.e. justice, equity, and humanity) - surround the human experience in innumerable variations. The moments and movements count. The significance of July 4, 1776 and its both succeeding and prevailing forms of expression (e.g. Bill of Rights, Constitutional amendments, resolutions, laws, acts, etc.) does not impact the world if the movement towards, at the time, equitable taxation, representation, and unalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” was lost. Both then and now, these ideals become a moving target, and, thus, the result of hitting the metaphoric target depends on the unity and trust of the people involved. Therefore, despite the uncertainty of each day, I hold hope - and strive to work - that lines of thought, reason, rationality, and humanity that hold accountable myself, my local community, state, nation, and world will see the light of day, bringing about a better, brighter future.
In the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, “Wise up, eyes up.” Rise up.
Be kind to one another.
Stay healthy, safe, and well; sending peace, love, and good vibes.
June 19th. Juneteenth. Freedom Day. 2020.
I hope this personal sentiment finds you healthy, safe, and well.
Today and in the days, weeks, months, and years to come, you will likely encounter a plethora of different forms of stories, facts, figures, lies, truths, voice, silence, tributes, perspectives, meditations, celebrations, confrontations, reflections, introspections, discussions, pontifications, aggressions, temptations, dehumanization, marginalization, discrimination, trepidation, setbacks, deceit, fights, failures, successes, losses, wins, recoveries, love, care, ideas, problems, solutions, and questions.
I posit that we – humankind – are defined by all of this and more.
And it matters. We can do better.
We believe. We, as human beings, frequently persist in developing, questioning, and cradling belief and hope despite the difficulties and obstacles that stand before us. Whether morally right or wrong, our beliefs typically shape the intrinsic and explicit interactions with our tribes, communities, families, and, not least, ourselves. In the free world, you hold the right to disagree; this is imperative to understand at the start of any discourse. What needs to be said and what’s actually said are often two positions separated by oceans of impulsive rhetoric, irrational thought, ignorance, arrogance, bias, and – dare I say it – belief. On this day and after long, careful thought, I seek to fulfill meaning by voicing a perspective on belief. As with just about all matters of the human experience, the integration of life’s most intimate values, morals, and beliefs, expressed by an individual, is contingent upon an innumerable array of factors that yield a seemingly infinite number of results, so take it, leave it, or ask questions. I’m here.
At this point, you may be wondering: who is this guy? what the heck is he talking about? does he think he’s better than me/us? why would I read this or even hear you out because, in all honesty, is there even a point anymore?
Well, I seek to answer the call to each of these questions. It’s important. As a friend, you may just see why. I hope you’ll be patient with me and read on. There is a point.
Who is this guy? Well, that’s one of those questions I’ve been searching to answer for a while now. 24 years actually – okay, okay, maybe I didn’t start really searching until my adolescence, but it doesn’t negate the search. Truth be told, it is often the case that our childhoods are characterized by complexities, which may be seen as equivalent to the complexities of adulthood. It is my belief that anyone at any point in his or her life can seek out the understanding and discovery of his or herself, despite whatever privilege he or she has been inherently given throughout life under the condition that he or she strives to understand those privileges. I digress. The answer to the original question lies in the statement: I am me. Perhaps that is a redundant statement, but it is important to note. It’s important because it may be one of the first steps to understanding each other, enabling the growth of empathy, compassion, and belief between oneself and another. You can ask questions about and to me. You can engage in conversation with me. You can glean a bit of my journey from stories – experiences defined by emotion, thought, and expression. You can argue a point. You can talk to me. You can try to understand my happiness, my sorrows, my plights, my anger, my fears. I am not merely talking in abstractions. This can apply to each person on this planet. My understanding of me, like anyone else, and the limited reality that confronts me each morning is – for better and for worse – personal and subjective, yet it encapsulates a journey that, frankly, will take the writings of a memoir to capture properly at some point.
What you see on social media is a fraction of what life is like for me, and, though I know the degrees of which are different for everyone else who is active on social media platforms, I believe this limited purview has become evident in the activities of our daily social media use. Typically, in the online world, you’ll see a piece of me; I’ll see a piece of you. Don’t get me wrong; social media can influence people in as many beneficial ways as detrimental ways, but, when we meet face-to-face and talk (whether virtually or physically), we uncover more than the static presentation of the social media presence. We see dynamic human connection, and, typically, that’s how we’ve come to know each other. This matters and is proven by the recent protests that have sparked calls for reform, action, and protections for a just and fair society. I want to be clear; what I am talking about does not justify the disparagement and desecration of communities, businesses, and people by those – whether in a position of authority or not – who seek to take advantage of a pressing situation. According to the International Telecommunications Union “Measuring Digital Development: Facts and Figures” publication in 2019, an estimated 4.1 billion people use the Internet out of the world population of about 7.7 billion people. Relative to the rest of the world, the disparities among those who do not have access to the Internet fall mainly in Africa and South Asia, though, according to the same report, there are interregional differences. The historical context and implications of education, opportunity, and development are undoubtedly omnipresent in the lives of the privileged, whether privileged by race, socioeconomic position, nationality, education, or access to resources (e.g. the Internet, healthcare, shelter, water, food). These elaborations seek to illustrate the personal stake of what’s being said, knowing full well that there will always be more to listen to, learn from, and love. If you have questions, please ask them. This is a piece of me. I am here.
In sharing this sentiment, I strive to highlight, at least, one of the many possibilities in answering questions of belief. Therefore, we must dive into the second question: what the heck is he talking about?
I am talking about accountability. I am talking about responsibility. I am talking about standards. Often, the word “self” is applied in front of the aforementioned concepts to distinguish between the necessary components of holding oneself accountable and responsible and holding others accountable and responsible. The liberties and freedoms that have been granted to a people by the immeasurable sacrifices of the lives – characterized by those who worked, spoke, fought, sat, walked, and died, in some cases quite literally, for the hope of a better future – are embedded within the ideals of a free society, and, in this particular case, American life. The continued education, understanding, development, and evolution of the ideals of American life, which presumably strive to embrace the moral, free, honorable, equitable, and just treatment of each citizen, are quintessential to honoring and respecting the sacrifices of thousands of generations that led to our modern life. The U.S. Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation, Amendments 11 through 27, and the massive and necessary blanket of legislation that has shaped the landscape of American life is upheld contingent upon our involvement. There are real problems and threats to these ideals in the current world, and, though I am only one person to speak from a place of privilege, I believe it is my duty among others to speak freely, openly, and honestly in addressing the standards I’ve set forth in my own life and under the freedom afforded to me in the U.S. This statement is imperfect. I’m imperfect. No one is perfect. Yet, I’ve come to know a necessary sense of humility and reflection in order to learn, grow, understand, and address the inequitable standards of our society and those which affect my life. Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist and world-renown author, has talked about the outcomes of equality; in his book “12 Rules for Life,” he discusses this topic in depth and posits that the outcomes of equality are misconstrued to some degree and that personal accountability and individual responsibility will typically correct for the injustices of equity throughout the world. To his credit, he acknowledges that this is an incomplete perspective as it requires the necessity of a solution of alternative means. The suffering of revolutionaries throughout history, whether highlighted by American Revolution colonists and soldiers, the network of the Underground Railroad, Women’s Suffrage and Liberators, LGBTIA+ marchers, and many others (e.g. educators, religious & political refugees, immigrants), defines the necessitation of accountable and responsible behavior and action. In my opinion, equitable ground can be found in the ongoing small-but-meaningful discussions of individuals of diverse backgrounds, who typically manifest peaceful resolution and reform in the problems that face their daily lives. Systemic problems (e.g. racism, sexism, abuse of authority) play a pivotal role in these discussions because, without addressing their existence, there is too often a continued growth to the impact of these systemic problems, which can create an irrevocable rift in society.
Thus, responsibility and accountability become paramount to the moral fabric of the individual and collective natures of our existence.
This leads us to the next question: does he think he’s better than me/us?
In short, absolutely not.
Those of you who know me well know that my mission is often one of peace, love, and good vibes, and, for those of you who don’t know me, my hope is that you can see this mission evidenced by my works in community work, professional work, academia, music, photography, and a multitude of other endeavors. This question is pushed forth by the social comparison that can be made culturally predominant, yet there is something to be said for many individuals who have become cognizant of this looming question and decided to mindfully approach life in an alternative fashion. In essence, I strive to ensure that I take care of myself so that I may, if given the opportunity, take care of others. I’ve found peace and solidarity in the recent words of Emma Watson, “I see your anger, sadness and pain. I cannot know what this feels like for you, but it doesn’t mean I won’t try to.” In contrast, there are many individuals, like Breonna Taylor, who won’t ever get the chance to speak again. Change is painfully and begrudgingly slow, and we should do better. Reform and resolution should take precedence at any level, and, in theory, representatives and authorities who hold the power to effect change on a collective level should hold themselves personally accountable and responsible for representing the needs and rights of their constituents, which can be systematically affected on a daily basis. In turn, I don’t see myself as more or less human than the person next to me, but I do strive to understand the value that I place on who I am so that I may be able to help others find their own value, wherein accountable and responsible standards may, if possible, take shape.
It is necessary to address the final question: why would I read this or even hear you out because, in all honesty, is there even a point?
It’s not my prerogative to promote any certain way of feeling about the words and expressions I’ve detailed throughout this sentiment. My responsibility lies with holding myself personally accountable and responsible for the feelings, thoughts, actions, and behaviors that define my life. Being a student of psychology, I often emphasize the importance of mental and physical health and the link between the two. There are problems within the fields of work relating to mental health and physical health, but there are many individuals who work tireless to help alleviate the suffering. In essence, this whole expression lacks completion if we don’t acknowledge one of the key themes of the entire sentiment: belief. You, the reader, may – and likely do – hold beliefs that are different than my own. The point of this message is that I believe. I believe in me. I believe in you. I believe in hope, peace, and solutions. I believe in justice, equity, and moral sense. I believe in truth, education, and humility. I believe that we can create a brighter world for both the living and coming generations. I believe we can do better.
Justifiably, there are various gripes to take up with this perspective. Some may call it naïve, unrealistic, fantastical, or just plain stupid. Personally, I choose to believe in the good of humanity. The education and exposure around Juneteenth this year will hold a special place in history. After talking with people of different backgrounds, I’ve come to know that these views aren’t universally held, yet I believe – and have experienced to some degree – that the ability of humans to develop empathy, compassion, and sustainable love for themselves and one another is powerful and inherently-bound to our individual and collective natures. There are abhorrent atrocities in this world, both at home and abroad, and the enabling or disabling factors that lead to tragedies of any degree need to be addressed. This world is complicated. The people who inhabit it are complicated. I’m not sure I have a perfect solution to address the individual and systematic problems of the world, and I’m not sure anyone in particular has a perfect one either, but you can be sure that I’ll continue to work on it both by myself and with others through the vessels of education, development, community outreach, and meaningful belief. For now, I believe that we can start by talking to one another about our beliefs and what solutions we can bring to the problems that affect the daily lives of ourselves and our fellow humankind.
I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to work with individuals of various backgrounds, professional and personal, through the fields of academia, theatre, music, film, hospitality, and community work, and this sentiment strives to act, in part, as a gratitude letter to each individual who opened my eyes to principles and differences in the human experience that undoubtedly matter. I’m incredibly grateful these experiences; they involved tough conversations, laughs, There are many issues that I didn’t get the chance to address in this writing - perhaps a book is in order - but I hope the message of hope, belief, and human endeavor finds you healthy, safe, and well in your world.
As I see it, the integrity and honor of our character as Americans, linked with the world through our humanity, is held together, in part, by the unforgiving fabrics of accountability and moral responsibility. Megan Phelps-Roper, former member of the Westboro Baptist Church – an American church built upon a complex set of beliefs that deprive from Christian faith and once her home – and author of Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving & Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church, outlined a process that, I believe, is one of the best processes for reaching common and equitable ground with another individual who may hold different – and, sometimes, radically different – beliefs than yourself. I have outlined the process below, and I suggest taking some time to view her TED Talk and/or read her book when you get the next chance, detailing her experience in finding this process and understanding her beliefs (www.ted.com/speakers/megan_phelps_roper).
1. Don’t assume bad intent.
- Most of the time, the disagreeing person has a different view of the situation and will think that their position is self-evident, meaning that it should be obvious why someone else should see it the way that person does. The majority of disagreements don’t start with someone who deliberately wants to hurt the other person; it is more likely that the person has a perspective to which you don’t understand yet.
2. Ask questions.
- Ask the “why” questions:
“Why do you believe that?”
“What brought you to that understanding?”
These kinds of questions can open doors of understanding and reasoning to the other person’s perspective. It is absolutely necessary to ask questions, and it is one of the more difficult steps to take in the initial stages of disagreement. By asking questions honestly and with authentic interest, you start to develop a cognitive understanding (or picture) of where the other person is coming from and why they hold the position they do.
3. Stay calm.
- Most likely, this is the most difficult step to face during face-to-face
communication. Scorn and hate often stems from immediate emotion and response to the confrontation of disagreement. Resource and tech buffers like letters, social media communication, and geographical distance can be effective in automatically defusing the explosiveness of disagreement. It takes practice to become mindfully aware of your emotional state through a conversation, especially disagreements, but, once you are aware, you can control your response to triggers and verbal jabs used by another person, and effectively eliminate the hate and scorn factors of the disagreement.
4. Make the argument.
- You have a position and perspective that counts just as much as the other person’s, so be sure to make the argument for your own position. By implementing the first three steps, you can effectively make the argument for your position on level playing-field with the other person. You start to bridge the gap of understanding between your perspective and the other person’s perspective.
5. Take heart.
- Change takes time. Use these steps continuously to develop your own understanding of the other person’s perspective, and you may start to see that the other person will start to to develop their own understanding of your perspective. In time, one will usually discover a common ground of empathy and love with the other person.
Thank you for your time and understanding in taking in this personal sentiment. This acts as a small commemoration of the day - June 19, 1865 - in which word reached the final group of slaves in Galveston, Texas that the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been proclaimed by President Lincoln two years prior on January 1, 1863. So, on June 19, 2020, amidst the presence of a global pandemic and both national and global uncertainty, I strive to learn and educate myself. As said by many others, I understand that I can never understand, but I will stand. I will speak. Moreover, as echoed by many individuals in the past weeks, months, and years, posting on social media, peacefully protesting in the streets, donating silently, educating oneself, discussing tough topics with friends & family, and using your voice freely and responsibly allows you to be an instrument of the good. We can do better.
Be kind to yourself and each other.
Hope these words find you healthy, safe, and well; as always, sending peace, love, and good vibes.
Below are some educational and action-oriented resources for your perusal, should you choose to embrace them.
Remember this day.
Remember these days.
Remember this time.
Remember their names.
Remember their stories.
Remember what we didn’t do.
Remember what we did.
Remember why it mattered.
I don't have all of the words yet, but I will.
For now, stay safe, healthy, and kind, as much as possible.
With a heavy heart and restless mind,
sending peace, love, and good vibes.
It's not enough.
This is information - this is a start.
It’s not everything. It’s not enough.
There’s more to be said. There’s this for now.
Please read and use responsibly.
Stay healthy, safe, and kind to one another.
Sending peace, love, and good vibes.
SOME RESOURCES REGARDING
EDUCATION, ACTION, LISTENING AND VOICE
(please read and use responsibly)
EDUCATION & ACTION:
Campaign Zero | Online platform and organization that utilizes research-based policy solutions to end police brutality in America. | joincampaignzero.org
National Education Association EDJUSTICE - Black Lives Matters At School | Resources for educators and facilitators to spark ongoing movement of critical reflection and honest conversation in school communities for people of all ages to engage with issues of racial justice | neaedjustice.org/black-lives-matter-at-school/
National Black Women’s Justice Institute | Works to reduce racial and gender disparities across the justice continuum affecting Black women, girls, and their families, by conducting research, providing technical assistance, engaging in public education, promoting civic engagement, and advocating for informed and effective policies | nbwji.org/
Philadelphia Anti-Violence Project | Philadelphia organization with 30+ years of mission-led work to reduce the entire cycle of violence by providing intervention, prevention, and support programs | avpphila.org/
National Urban League | Enabling African Americans and other underserved urban residents to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights. | nul.org
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) & Pew Research Center | Fact sheets, statistics, and criminal justice trends of incarceration and disparities. | naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet/ | bop.gov/about/statistics/statistics_inmate_race.jsp | bjs.gov/ | pewresearch.org/…/shrinking-gap-between-number-of-blacks-a…/
EVERLASTING TIME Campaign for Letters to Political Prisoners | Starting point for research of the abdication and release of various political prisoners throughout the world | https://everlastingtime.cargo.site/letters
LISTENING & VOICE:
State Representatives, Legislators, U.S. Congressmen & Congresswomen | Contact your local, state, and national representatives to voice for further legislation regarding both law enforcement the judicial system operations | openstates.org/find_your_legislator/ | house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative | senate.gov/senators/index.htm
Register to Vote & Use Your Constitutional Right as a U.S. Citizen | Take heed of the representation in our public institutions and take action to ensure your voice is heard through theirs | vote.gov
Black Lives Matter - Regional Chapters | Chapters focus on variety of issues concerning racial injustice, police brutality, criminal justice reform, Black immigration, economic injustice, LGBTQIA+ and human rights, environmental injustice, access to healthcare, access to quality education, and voting rights and suppression. | blacklivesmatter.com/
Pennsylvania Voice | Statewide network and partnership of 30+ organizations that aims to build an inclusive, just and reflective democracy throughout Pennsylvania. | pennsylvaniavoice.org
Social Media Responsibility (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) | Use social media platforms responsibly and respectfully, and listen to your neighbors, community members, essential workers, non-essential workers, and many others to start conversations - don’t assume bad intent, ask questions, stay calm, take time, have a discussion, be mindful, and be kind to one another.