Happy Birthday, Harvey Milk- The Hero Who Gave Us Hope

Today would have been the 98th birthday of Harvey Milk. For the average American, that might not mean anything to you. You may not even know who Harvey Milk was. But to the LGBTQ+ community, Harvey Milk is a hero, an icon, and a martyr for the cause of LGBTQ rights. Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in the United States. He was elected to the San Francisco Board of City Supervisors in 1977. 11 Months after his election, Milk was assassinated by a fellow member of the Board of Supervisors. The Mayor of San Francisco was also assassinated. In the few years before his election and his short time in public office, Milk became the Hero of Hope to the gay community.

harvey-milk_happybirthdayI am a history teacher. I am the person who was more excited to register to vote than I was to go buy a pack of cigarettes. I follow politics and current events so much that I can see my family tune out as soon as I open my mouth about politics 97% of the time. You would think I would have learned about Harvey Milk at a young age, but this could not be farther from the truth. I did not learn about Harvey Milk until 2008 as a freshman in college. It wasn’t a history book I have to think for teaching me about Harvey Milk either. History books in this nation leave out the stories and struggles of minority groups far too often. The people I have to thank for acquainting me with Harvey Milk are Dustin Lance Black, Gus Van Sant, and Sean Penn. Yes, you heard me correctly. I said the Academy Award winning actor Sean Penn.

In 2008 Sean Penn won an Oscar for playing Harvey Milk in the film titled Milk. The film was written by Dustin Lance Black (who you might have seen in the news for being the boyfriend and now husband of British diver Tom Daley) and directed by Gus Van Sant. Black and Van Sant are openly gay and both were nominated for their work on Milk. Black won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. His acceptance speech is less than 3 minutes in length and it changed my life.

At the 2009 Academy Awards, Milk was one of the few films that I As I watched the Gay Super Bowl Oscars that year, Black’s speech left me in disbelief. Yes this is a ceremony filled with people who are stereotypically liberal leaning in their political beliefs. But seldom are people so blatantly plain in their speeches. Here was a rather handsome man telling me that very soon LGBTQ+ people who have equal federal rights across this nation. And wouldn’t you know it – he was right!

 

Not having seen the movie, I googled the film and was astounded I had never heard of Harvey Milk, his story, or the film before the Oscars that night. A second google let me know I could pay $2 and watch the film at The Astro Theater in Downtown Clemson, SC. The Astro was Clemson’s version of a dollar theater. It typically showed films that had already been out for a month or so. It did not look like much on the inside, but I loved it for the historic charm it had. I skipped a science lab to go the next night. To this day, I don’t regret that decision.

 

 

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There were 4 other people in the theater that night. All 4 of those people were part of “the family.” We did not sit together and we did not know each other, but I had seen some of them in passing on campus before. I could effuse compliments about Milk until I am purple in the face so I will not go on and on about how much I love it. I will simply say that film changed my life and I will be forever grateful for the real Harvey Milk’s message of Hope and advocacy that are shown in the film. As the lights came on I tried to wipe the tears off my face. I started to get embarrassed until I saw the other 4 people were doing the exact same thing. Although I never became more than Facebook friends with any of the other 4 people, each time we saw each other in passing on campus, we would always nod and smile at each other. We shared a form of ourselves that evening that we had not shared with many people up until that point. The older I get the more I think certain things in this universe are connected. Call it God, or Karma, or my personal favorite juju. There was a shared connection between us and Harvey Milk that night. And it was life changing.

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The publicity poster from the film. The entire cast is phenomenal. 

This was the first film I had ever seen that depicted multiple main characters who were LGBTQ in a positive light. It is the first film I had seen that showed the power of my community when we stood up and advocated for ourselves – when we fought back against the people and politicians who sought to silence us and belittle us. The film goes through much of Milk’s adult life. It shows a closeted Milk living in New York City and keeping his sexuality a secret and follows parts of his life up until his assassination. Milk later moves to San Francisco in the 1970s. San Francisco became a haven for gay men in the 60s and 70s and Milk opened Castro Camera on Castro Street in the city. He lost his first election for the Board of Supervisors, but he quickly became a uniting force in “The Castro” – the area of the city made famous by the Castro Theater and the district with the largest concentration of gay people.

Once San Francisco moved away from at-large districts to area based districts Milk easily won in the heavy LGBT Castro District. Harvey Milk was a bridge builder. He united minority communities of all types and advocated for those groups regularly as part of the Board. He was instrumental in helping the city pass a gay rights ordinance at a time when many other cities were passing ordinances and ballot indicatives which were extremely anti-LGBTQ in nature. Milk was passionate in his belief that only by people in the LGBTQ community coming out and acknowleding their sexuality to their friends and family would opinions on LGBTQ people change for the better. Milk said :

Gay people, we will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets. … We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I’m going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out.

Sadly Harvey Milk would not live to see his beliefs become reality. He was taken by the bullets of an assassin in his office in city hall. In the video below, you will see US Senator Dianne Feinstein announce the deaths of both Moscone and Milk. If it looks like Feinstein is confused she has good reason to be. She just identified the bodies of both Milk and Moscone to police. As she tried to feel a pulse on Harvey Milk’s neck, she stuck her fingers into the hole left by the bullet that hit Milk in the neck.

White was a disgruntled former member of the board who had resigned, but wanted his seat back. both Moscone and Milk opposed putting White back on the board. White snuck into city hall, shot the mayor in his office before walking to Milk’s office and shooting him 4 times. White was arrested later that day. In response to the shooting, thousands of people from across San Francisco rushed and descended upon the Castro that evening. They marched silently with candles in a spontaneous memorial vigil in honor of Milk. To this day, it remains one of the most beautifully eloquent responses to an act of violence that this world has ever seen.

White was convicted months later of voluntary manslaughter for both killings and was sentenced to just 7 years in prison of which he only served 5. After the lenient sentencing was announced, the outrage in the LGBTQ community led to several nights of rioting throughout San Francisco in what have since become known as The White Night Riots. Harvey Milk’s friend and another icon in the gay community, Cleve Jones, led the way from the Castro towards city hall shouting “Out of the bars and into the streets!” By the time they reached city hall a thousand people were ready to riot. This is the impact that Harvey Milk had on the gay community. For a community that so often felt lost, alone, and vilified by the rest of the world, Harvey Milk was and still is a beacon of hope. The harbinger of hope was and still is a martyr for the movement. That movement is ongoing and we won’t stop until we accomplish what Milk set out to accomplish.

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Milk was featured on a US Postal Stamp in 2014. You can still order it on the Post Office Website.

I have always felt a connection to Harvey Milk – but in more ways than just the obvious one. Harvey milk taught at one point and while in California he was one of the driving forces behind the defeat of Proposition 6, which was an initiative on the California ballot that would have banned gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools. I have always believed that the LGBTQ community if far too concerned with their “own” letter in the acronym. As long as the L or the G part got their rights then who cares about the T or the Q? Harvey Milk knew that the only way for us to succeed was to help each other – and that included other oppressed minority groups as well. Lastly, and perhaps the most tragically of the connections, I was born on the tenth anniversary of Milk’s assassination. I find it somehow comforting in a weird way that a day that brings pain and anguish for many, brought happiness and joy to my family (or at least I think it brought them happiness and joy).

Hope will never be silent. As long as people have hope, they will always be capable of rising above the circumstances that life throws at them. Where there is hope, there is the undeniable chance that the human spirit will win out over despair. Over fear. Over anger. Over hate. The story of Harvey Milk was a pivotal turning point in my life. It changed a fundamental part of the person that I am today. The story of Harvey Milk saved Dustin Lance Black’s life, and it will continue to save the lives of countless people – but only if it is told. At the conclusion of his Oscar acceptance speech Black ends by thanking God for giving us Harvey Milk. I thank God for giving us people like Black, and Van Sant, and Penn who were brave enough to fight to have the story of Harvey Milk told. And yes after thanking God for them, I too thank God for Harvey Milk. Happy Birthday, Harvey Milk. Thank you for your sacrifice. And Thank you for the gift of hope.

-WB

imageTo learn more about Harvey Milk, go to The Harvey Milk Foundation website. The Milk foundation was founded by Milk’s nephew, Stuart Milk, and his former campaign manager, Anne Kronenberg, and it seeks to continue to strive for Milk’s dream of a better tomorrow – a tomorrow in which there is equality for all and a world without hate.

Modernizing the Monarchy: The Lasting Mark of Meghan Markle

101639799_hi046910891-2760294655-1526784510277.jpgGrowing up in school, history was my favorite subject. The history teachers I had were awesome storytellers and history is full of all sorts of stories. Sometimes the stories are heartbreaking and sometimes they are triumphant. However, the stories are always lessons that those of us living in the present can learn from. We can learn how to be better and make the world better for those who come after us. The lessons from today’s royal wedding will rightfully go down as historic and they should. It is absolutely groundbreaking what a divorced American bi-racial feminist commoner who is the direct descendant of an emancipated slave has done by saying the words “I do!”, and here is why.

As a lover of history, the British Monarchy has always fascinated me. If I were a true historian I would have chosen it as my specialty. Before I decided to become a public school teacher, I seriously considered becoming an academic historian. The schools I looked at the most were schools with strong European History programs (specifically strong in Anglo-Franco policy relations). While my focus would most likely have been on Elizabethan England (let’s face it… who doesn’t love a queen who wears over a pound of makeup on her royal face?), I have always found the monarchy fascinating. It is an institution full of pageantry and tradition since the year 1066 when William the Conqueror came to England in the Norman Invasion.

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Its downright criminal. Even her freckles looks beautiful. 

The fact that the British Monarchy has survived as long as it has (with a few minor interruptions here and there) is an impressive fête all on its own. Throughout history monarchies in kingdoms and empires both large and small have risen only to fall victim to revolution and democratization. From ineffective rulers, peasant revolts, and queens who eat excessive amounts of cake, monarchies can be destroyed in the blink of an eye. Especially when most monarchies are predicated on the fact that a minuscule amount of the population controls massive amounts of wealth and power simply for being born of “royal blood.” And although I am an American Patriot through and through, I have a healthy respect for the institution that has led the country that has become America’s closest ally.

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A member of the royal family has a black mother-in-law. Let that just sink in.

The monarchy is an institution built on centuries of tradition and practices that 90% of the rest of the world would consider wrong and outdated. From views on colonialism and imperialism, to the underlying race relations problems that plague the royal family (cough cough… Prince Philip and Princess Michael I am talking about you… cough cough), and a host of other issues that have faced the host nation of the commonwealth realms, the monarchy has come dangerously close at times to losing the support of the majority of the British public. The closest it came was in the immediate days following the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales – Harry’s mother and the parent he most closely resembles in temperament and personality. Thankfully, at these times in history, the British Monarchy has begrudgingly accepted changes and adaptations to those traditions in order to survive.101643963_hi046911763

Many of these changes in adaptations have happened far too slowly and far past the time they should have happened. For example, the only reason Elizabeth became Queen was because her father did not have any male heirs. If he had, they would have been King even if Elizabeth had been older. The laws of succession were not changed until right before the birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first child, Prince George, was born just 6 years ago. The first Earl of Snowden was the first commoner to marry a king’s daughter in 400 years when he married Princess Margaret and divorce was not permitted until they divorced in 1978. The first British commoner women to marry into the senior membership of the royal family was Catherine Middleton just under 10 years ago. But this moment is bigger than any of those moments.

101636854_hi046905176Meghan Markle is eerily similar to Princess Diana in many ways, but there is not an adequate comparison to describe what The New Duchess of Sussex did to modernize the monarchy. Meghan Markle is a self-describe feminist. She is divorced. She is bi-racial. And “worse” yet: she is American. The only other American to marry into the royal family has been Wallis Simpson, who married Edward VIII, Elizabeth’s uncle who abdicated in order to marry her (Queen Elizabeth’s father was the second son). Wallis Simpson died in the 1980s, but she is still one of the most controversial and hated members in the history of the British Royal Family. To most people, myself included, this is extraordinary and it represent a new type of royal family – a type that is part of the lasting legacy of the Princess of Wales.

Princess Diana knew the royal family needed to get rid of the stuffy and stiff outdated images they had. She changed the country with her humanitarian efforts around the world. For touching AIDS patient in the early 1990s to walking through fields of landmines, Diana showed the human side of the royal family. At her death, the Prime Minister called her the People’s Princess; it shouldn’t be surprising that her children – the biggest and most impressive part of her legacy – have followed in her footsteps. Since both the Duke of Cambridge and the Duke of Sussex have become adults and started advocating on behalf of causes they care about they have signaled a changing of the guard in what it means to be a part of the royal family. I would go so far as to say that it is because of William and Harry that the monarchy has brought the number of anti-monarchists in Britain to under 10% of the population for the first time in decades.

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I promise I did not cry. I just got a piece of dust in my eyes.

Watching the wedding I am proud of the assertively American touches that Meghan Markle put on her wedding with the man who is 5th in line to the British Throne. When her father was to ill to walk her down the aisle she radiantly walked the first part of the way herself before having Prince Charles walk her the rest of the way. Her first dress was made by the first British women to head the Parisian house Givenchy. Her second dress was much more revealing and also designed by an independent female designer. In edition to her feminist touches she also put her stamp on other pieces of the ceremony as well – and the look on some of the faces of the British Royal family show just how much the changes Meghan Markle added were needed.

Three of my personal favorite touches to the ceremony have NEVER been seen in a royal wedding in the history of Britain. I would go so far as to say they have never been seen in St. Paul’s chapel before. The leader of the Episcopal Church in America, Michael Curry, gave the sermon for the ceremony and it was a doozy! Curry is the first African-American Episcopal church leader which is historic enough, but his evangelical delivery was both inspirational and added some much needed jazz to a crowd of stuffy aristocrats. A gospel choir sang a beautiful version of the song “Stand By Me,” which is according to Kensington Palace, a song that holds special meaning to the couple. Lastly, a prodigiously talented 19 year old Black British cellist played pieces so beautiful it made Doria Ragland, Meghan’s mother, tear up. #BlackExcellence and #BlackRoyalWedding were trending on Twitter. Black American Royalty (Oprah and Serena Williams) mingled with Black British Royalty (Idris Elba…. yes GOD). I am going to go out on a limb and say that is the most people of color that have been in St. George’s Chapel at any point in its history (Britain is 87% white).

While there was much happiness on this special day for both of them, I am left feeling largely sad for both of them for very different reasons. I come from a large family where for the most part, we all get along. Harry had to go throughout this day without his mother. Losing her at 12 set Harry adrift for about a decade before he finally got in touch with the person he is today. I do not think he has ever truly forgiven the press and the public for the way they treated his mother and I know he strives to live up to her legacy every day. However, I was not just sad for Harry – I was also sad for Meghan. She is giving up quite a lot for this marriage, and I truly hope and pray for her that it turns out to be a fairy tale worthy of Walt Disney magic.

Meghan Markle had a career in the public eye before this marriage, but it has to have been hard having to go through something that is supposed to be such a joyous family occasion with only her mother. I know not having her father there was undoubtedly difficult, but it gave us a moment to see a rare tender side of Prince Charles we do not normally get to see. In addition it gives us a moment to see the strong woman that raised a strong woman. I am still in awe of the amount of grace, dignity, and refined poise that Doria Ragland carried herself with throughout these past few days. After looking on as she tearfully beamed with loving pride at her daughter, it is not hard to see how Meghan became such a strong woman – she had a great one as a mom, whose footsteps she could follow in.

 

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In closing, I cannot help but think the weather today is Princess Diana’s doing. Had it been a typical rainy British springtime afternoon, many people would have said that it was Diana crying tears of joy at how happy she was for Harry and Meghan, but this would not have been true. Diana lived her life with with a humanizing grace and radiant beauty that was contrary to everything royal at that point. That is why today was never going to be anything but sunny. A typical day would have been overcast and dreary. So Diana gave us the exact opposite. I don’t claim to know what Diana, Princess of Wales hoped and dreamed of for her children while she was still living, but I do know this: Princess Diana would be so enormously proud of the man that her son has become.

I see so much of Diana in Harry. Perhaps this is why I always have had an affinity for Harry. In my opinion, Harry was always the cute royal who could do no wrong. Naked partying in Vegas only made him more appealing. We could all see ourselves partying in Vegas so what was the big deal? When he quickly apologized for the Nazi Halloween costume, we quickly accepted the apology and put it in the past. We justified this terrible decision as a cry for help. A boy who lost his mother at 12 is going to make some bad decisions along the way, we said. Harry is the royal with personality and sex appeal (Did anybody else see him bite his lip during the wedding after telling his beloved she looked beautiful? It was swoon-worthy). If Diana was the people’s princess, then Harry is the people’s prince. And the people’s Prince could not have chosen a better bride.

I have two hopes for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. I hope royal matrimony is nothing but happiness for two people who are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside. After the broken childhoods experienced by both, they deserve years of bliss. Lastly, I hope the public has learned their lesson. I hope and pray that we give them the space to try and raise a family with as much normalcy as you can, when a member of the royal family. We failed miserably with Charles and Diana. We must not fail again.

-WB

Dear Fellow White People: An Open Letter

By now most people have heard about Lolade Siyonbola and what happened to her earlier this week, although you may know her more as the Yale grad student who committed the crime of “sleeping while Black.” If you are confused here are the basic details of the story as reported by CNN. Siyonbola was working on a paper as part of her Master in African Studies. She was working on the paper in the common room of the Yale Hall of Graduate Studies, where her dorm room was located. As she was working, Siyonbola fell asleep and awoke to Sarah Braasch, a philosophy grad student, who came into the room calling the police on Siyonbola saying she cannot sleep or be in that common room.

The police arrived and detained Siyonbola for over 17 minutes as they questioned why she was in the building. They still requested to see her student ID card ever after she unlocked the door to her dorm room to prove she lived in the building. Part of the hang up that required the police question Siyonbola for so long was the preferred name on her ID card did not match her official name in the School’s records. Eventually Siyonbola was allowed to go and the officers told Sarah Braasch that she should not have called the police because Siyonbola had every right to use that room. The Facebook live video that Siyonbola recorded on her phone is below.

This should incense you for several reasons; the most astounding of the reasons why being the fact that this is the 4th time in a matter of two months that a white person has called the police on a person or a group of  people of color (non-white) for simply doing something as innocent as waiting on a friend in Starbucks. Or taking a tour of a college campus. Or loading their luggage into their car after staying at an AirBnb on a trip to visit a friend. Or even having a family barbecue in a public park.

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Was calling the police really that necessary? The only answer  is no and if you don’t think so you have a problem.

Every single one of these people must have grown up in Mayberry living right next door to Opie Taylor, because that is the only thing that I can think of as to why these people might have called the police. They must have grown up in a city devoid of people of color and it must have alarmed them so much that they did not know what else to do other than call the police. All sarcasm aside, you and I both know that is not why these people called the police. These people called the police because of the extra melanin that the so-called “criminals” possessed. For the people who called the police as well as the people who are defending the actions of those who called the police, I have news for you: if you don’t try to live in a world where people of all races and ethnicities are seen as equals in the eyes of their fellow man, you won’t enjoy living at all after we get to 2040, and here is why.

As a teacher of Human Geography, one of the units I cover is Demographic Geography. Demographic geography is the study of the ways in which spatial variations in the distribution, composition, migration, and growth of populations are related to the nature of places. To take it out of the index card definition I would have my students write it is basically the study of how groups of people are shaped by the land and their other surroundings. This is the section of geography that deals with things like birth rate, death rate, rate of natural increase, and other geographic numbers. These numbers have turned population geography into a science. By studying these numbers throughout human existence and their current numbers we have transformed population geography into a science that is surprisingly accurate when it comes to predictions that are made by population geographers. The prediction that most geographers have made involving race is that by the year 2040, white people will no longer be the majority in America.

The Horror! The Danger! Call Uncle Bubba! It is time to start prepping the bunker now!

All jokes aside, the statistic is true – Based on population projections that have been surprisingly accurate up to this point, the racial make up in America is changing. America is becoming less white christian and more of everything else. And despite what you may think, this is a good thing. For far too long in this nation we have not had much needed conversations on race. Avoiding the topic of race is comfortable now, but in the last several years it has hurt too many people when the issues came boiling to the surface. If we had these conversations years ago when we needed to then maybe Mike Brown would still be here and I wouldn’t have students wondering if their parents or older siblings are going to be deported. We still have people carrying around the Confederate flag, for God’s sake!

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Charlottesville. Virginia. July 8. 2017. What is going on, America?

Think about that! There are still people in this nation who support the Confederacy and its ideals. They do not see the confederacy as the morally crippled from the start failure that it always was. They see it under the guise of “The Lost Cause.” This is as laughable as it is stupid. The Civil War was a cultural group of rich white Americans that decided its choice to abuse and trade humans endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights was more important than upholding and defending the United States Constitution many of them swore to protect. Any attempt to explain it as otherwise directly undermines the future stability of this nation.

Clearly by avoiding the conversation things are not working. Continued avoidance and silence is going to lead to more problems for our nation down the road, and that is what brings us back to 2040. As a result of several demographic statistics, the white majority will be gone, and it would be generations before they could ever regain a majority, if they even could. First, when you break down the average age of each racial group in the United States, whites are significantly older than minority groups. This means there are less child-rearing women who are white actively having children. In addition the average number of children born to white women is significantly lower than the average number born to black and Latina women.

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The millennial generation is already the most diverse generation in the history of this nation. 46% of millennials are non-white. Perhaps that is also why it gets the distinction of being the most accepting generation when it comes to relationships outside our own racial group. Next year, in 2019, millennial will officially be the largest generation in America. This is a good thing – and as a millennial myself I am excited and proud to be the generation that leads the way in fixing our race relations problems. If your generation won’t lead the way it is high time millennial step up to the plate and show you how it is done.

The only possible reason that I can think of that would explain the behavior of all these white people calling the police on people of color for no reason is their fear. White people must be afraid of retribution. White people must be so scared that as a result of their horrible treatment of many groups of people over color at the hand of white people that they are terrified of being on the receiving end of the very same treatment that they perpetuated on groups of colors for decades. That is the only thing I can think of that would explain these actions. And you know what? The continued fear of people of color is making things worse. It is doing nothing but alienating white people from everybody else as seemingly out of touch bigots who are clinging to power because we feel we are superior.

image-26Thankfully, the views are slowly changing.  The majority of Americans (although still far to low of a majority) see immigrants in this country as something that makes America stronger and not as a burden. This bodes well for our future since the two fastest growing populations in the United States are immigrants from Latin America and from Asia. However, the second part of this chart is the sad part. If you look at the breakdown of the strength/burden question by race, white Americans are the only demographic group to be below the 50% mark. Once again, it makes White people in this nation seem narrow-minded and racist. The majority of white people are neither narrow-minded nor racist, but until they start speaking up and standing up for their non-white brothers and sisters this problem is only going to get worse.

The closer we get to the year 2040, the more visible the demographic shift will be. As people start to realize the impending change, they will rant and rave and rail on about America and how she is losing her ideals and the other traits that make up America. Instead of fighting a losing battle on race (which if your advocating for a White Nationalist America you deserve to lose anyways) 25 years down the road lets solve the problem now by openly having a dialogue with our brothers and sisters of different ethnicities to make sure the America we live our children is the best version of America there is. Will it be painful? Yes. Will it be uncomfortable, and hard, and sometimes frustratingly slow? Yes, but it is what we need. It is what America Needs. The first step to solving a problem is admitting there is one. We have a problem with race in America. Now let’s start fixing it – and let’s do it together.

-WB

The Fool-Proof Way to Improve Your Life and Our Country

Most of the readers of this blog are living in the United States. The majority of the people who read this are going to be American citizens. While I freely admit that America is not perfect – she has her flaws just like anybody else; however, up to this point in my life, there really is no other country that I care to live except here. Americans get a bad wrap with how we feel about our country. We are considered arrogant and self-righteous by many and disliked by others because we seem to mess in the affairs of other sovereign countries. The picture that comes to mind is often something like this: american-flag-overlode

For the record, The American above are obnoxious, sure, but I still love their spirt. There is something charmingly American in their obnoxious dedication and devotion to our home. If there is one thing that unites all Americans more than anything else, it is their desire for America to succeed. Americans know that when the United States succeeds, they will reap the benefits of her success. So listen up, because here is the number 1, fool-proof way for Americans to help improve our country:

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Voting for major offices and elections typically takes on a Tuesday in November. The primaries to decide who is able to run in those general elections are held sometime before that.  In South Carolina, our primaries are usually early in June. This year they fall on June 18, 2018. In order to be eligible to vote in those elections, you must have registered to vote by May 11, 2018. For those reading this when it was originally posted. That is this Friday.

Local elections have a bigger impact on your daily life than national elections do. In order to make this post short, sweet, and to the point, I created this infographic that explains the top reasons you should vote in local elections! Enjoy!

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The Top 10 Easy Ways You Can Appreciate Teachers

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week here in the United States. As a teacher, I probably do have a little bit of bias when it comes to what I am getting ready to say, but I know I am right when I say that teachers are the most overworked and underpaid and underappreciated profession around. Education is the only career field I can think of that has to deal everyone – even those without education degrees – throwing their two cents in about how we can fix our flawed educational system. Let me remind you: opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one, but we do not always need to see yours. In addition to dealing with people’s “magic fixes” for our educational system we also get to deal with statements like “you only work nine months out of the year anyway. How could you possibly expect a higher salary?” I could do 10 whole blog posts where I discuss how much rage that brings me. And yes, I have actually had someone say that to me.

With all that said, I do not want this to be negative. I want this to be a celebratory post because teachers are so important to our society (not to toot my own horn, but – toot toot!). So without further ado and in no particular order, I present to you the top 10 ways you can thank and appreciate your teacher this week:

  1. Write your teacher, your child’s teacher, or your former teachers a letter explaining how much you enjoyed them or you enjoyed their class.

While yes it would be nice for a higher salary and all that jazz, at the end of the day, every single teacher I know wants to feel like they made an impact in a student’s life. We definitely don’t get told enough when we do so take the time this week and let us know.

2. Support us in the Classroom.

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I am sure everyone has seen the cartoon above at least once before so you know it is definitely true. Every single year of my teaching career I have parents try to talk me out of assigning the grade their child earned and instead give them a grade they did not deserve. Support us when it comes to the grades your child earned because I will not compromise my integrity and forge a grade and we could really use your support to get your children to see they need to do better. Once you make them see that, we can all three sit down together and figure out how we can help them do better. We could also use your support in regards to behavior and discipline. For the record. Little Timmy is telling you lies. He WAS talking. I DID warn him. Now back us up with the punishment that comes with it.

3. Support Us Outside the Classroom

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Just because we aren’t always in the classroom doesn’t mean you can’t still support us. When you hear people make negative comments about school teachers call them out on it. When we go on strike (I know it is frustrating to you, but we are trying to live and support families – strikes are sometimes necessary), join us on the strikes. Most importantly, however, is VOTE. Vote for politicians who are pro-public education.

4.  Communicate with us more than just when your child is not doing well/in trouble.

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Most high school teachers like myself have over 100 students that we are responsible for imparting knowledge to. It is not always feasible or timely for me to call home when an issue arises, and it is just downright difficult for me to return every single email or call at the end of the quarter over grades. Sometimes I don’t know something that I should no in regards to your child. It would be nice to know that upfront and after the fact, It also shows us they have a parent at home who cares and we love seeing that. If we communicate with each other early and often it will do nothing, but double your child’s chances of success.

5.  Volunteer to donate supplies or to take some Task off Our Hands.

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For supply money, Greenville County School District gives me $250 dollars for materials each year. That’s it. I have spent at least double that amount and thankfully I have nice parents who are willing to help me out with supplies as well. Most of us work multiple jobs and we still barely make ends meet. We will never turn down supplies. If we can’t use it, we know someone who will. For tasks, we have a lot on our plate. Offering to run copies or coordinate emails to the class, or chaperoning a field trips seem like small tasks, but they are huge weights off our shoulders.

6.   We’ll Take More Coffee/Coffee Gift Cards, But for the Love of God No Mugs!

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Most teachers I know run on caffeine. We could us IV drips. Until that happens, a nice Starbucks gift card goes a long way. Seriously though, no mugs! We have a million. Every variation of World’s Best Teacher you can find, and I have a weird last name so you won’t find one that says, Mr. Boliek. So just save the time and give us a nice Hallmark card with a Starbucks card thrown in and we will feel super appreciated!

7.  We are going to make mistakes. We are humans too – forgive us.

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With over 100 students to look after and with many other responsibilities, sometimes we are stretched to thin and something doesn’t go the way you or I wanted it to. Give us the opportunity to own up to it and apologize. Then forgive us and help us move on. Trust us – when we screw up, it bothers us more than it bothers you.

8. Be Involved and Engaged With Your Kid Regurlarly

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Nothing plays a bigger role in your child’s success (other than their own effort of course) than your involvement in their educational career. I could be the best teacher in the world and if you don’t show engagement and interest in your children’s educational accomplishments then eventually they will stop caring and trying. All it takes is a few questions here and a few “good jobs!” there. Help them with their homework even. It will show that you think education is important and you get to spend quality time with them. It’s a win-win. Or a win-win-win because the teachers usually get better behaved students and better quality work when parents are involved.

9. Get Informed – Know About Current Edu. Events & Policy Issues.

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This one you really should do anyways, but if you aren’t up to date already get up to speed quick. The sanity of your children’s teachers depends on it. And with someone like Betsy Devos running the Department of Education, we need knowledgable parents to help us get back on the right track.

10.  BUY. THE. FREAKING. PENCILS.

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When you see the school supply list at the beginning of the year, and it says pencils and notebook paper, please go buy the notebook paper and pencils. If you take the attitude of “I am not going to buy it because they will end up giving it to them anyways.” then you, my friend, are a terrible person. 99% of the time, teachers end up having to buy materials for their students whose parents refused to buy them the supplies. Most teachers salaries are well below what they should be. Don’t make them pay for items that you can afford for your children. To drive the final point home, let a Target Mom explain why you should buy the pencils.

To all the teachers out their, take a moment and enjoy this week. You earned it. You deserve a lot more than you are going to get. You are awesome!

And to Mrs. Robinson, Mrs. Callaghan, Mrs. Goetz, Mrs. Cothran, Mrs. Norris, Mrs. Van Dyke, Mrs. Henderson, Mrs. Edwards, Mrs. Davis, Mrs. Wharton, Mrs. Butler, Mrs. Carden, Mrs. Henderson, Mrs. Anderson, Mrs. Freeman, Mrs. McKamy, Dr. Wolfe, Mrs. Brown, Mr. Lee, Dr. Ground, Mr. Smith, Coach Cook, Mrs. Barber, Mrs. Bartlett, Mr. Linn, Señora Larrain, Dr. Lochridge, and Mr. Duncan – Each of your played a role in making me the person I am today. In case I never told you then, which I probably didn’t, thank you for what you did. Some of you will never know how much you truly impacted my life and I don’t mean just when it comes to academics. Some of you got me through some very hard personal matters as well. And for that you will not only hold the title of kick ass teacher, you now hold the title of kick ass friend!

 

 

 

The Slander of a Sex Worker: How Stormy Became Salomé

By now the world is well versed in the sexcapades of our current President. Whether or not he cheated on Melania Trump with Stormy Daniels is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. We know he has cheated before – multiple times. Court records prove he cheated on Ivana Trump with Marla Maples while still married to Ivana and their have been a host of women who say they have been in relationships with Trump or have had affairs with Trump while he was legally married to all three wives. One would think that  would be enough to turn the general public that makes up Trump supporters – as well as the GOP – away from Trump, but this not just any President or just any other republican politician. Especially since they claim to be the party of family values.

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Salomé’s Dance. Painting by Gustave Moreau.

Any other republican politician this happened to would be on the receiving end of statements from officials distancing themselves from him, declining his endorsement, and denouncing the behavior. We would also see evangelicals and leaders from the religious right like Franklin Graham outraged at what is being read on our news programs each evening. Especially when our President openly admitted to grabbing people by the pussy.We would hear shouts of “Think of the Children!” But since this is the presidency of Donald Trump we do not get any of that. We instead hear the right offer Trump a mulligan for his past sins, and we hear nothing except the right’s pharisaical and two-faced attempts to turn Stormy Daniels into a modern day Salomé.

Allow me to explain. The story of Salomé is a long and twisted one. Emerging first as an unnamed figure in multiple Gospels of the Bible as a dancer for the Birthday celebrations of King Herod, Salomé and her legacy if she was indeed even a real person has been through many incantations and depictions. The metamorphosis from nameless dancer for King Herod to notorious seductress did not happen over night. Throughout time and throughout art, her image shifted as countless master painters (Titian, Caravaggio, and Gustave Moreau), playwrights (Oscar Wilde), and Hollywood variations (most notably Rita Hayworth in the classic film and Jessica Chastain in the Al Pacino update) on the person that Salomé was moved towards a more seductive and deadly portrayal of woman. God forbid a woman actually own her sexuality and the power that comes with it. That would be absolutely SCANDALOUS!

Salomé is perhaps most known and most infamous for the so-called dance of the seven veils. As a birthday present for the king she was brought forth and she danced with seven veils. The dance was supposedly so inspiring and so enchanting that Herod agreed to grant her anything she wanted. As a friend of King Herod’s wife, she followed the prodding of the Queen to ask for the execution of Saint John the Baptist- his head was given to her on a silver platter. While the title dance of the seven veils was the entire creation of Oscar Wilde, the story has scandalized the world since and turned Salome into a trope that has been used to define women in positions of sexual power into women of no moral standards. Below is the Jessica Chastain version of Salomé’s Seven Veils Dance in the 2013 film Wilde Salomé. The Second video is the Rita Hayworth 1953 version of Salomé – considered so scandalous at the time it took a year to get it released.

While I freely admit (and I am sure Stormy Daniels would agree with me) that Stormy Daniels is not the Virgin Mary, she does not deserve to be turned into a modern day Salomé who is after something or someone. Throughout this entire Trump – Stormy Daniels ordeal these few things have consistently stuck out in her favor:

  1. Stormy Daniels has not changed a major piece of her story  even once.
  2. Daniels is fully cooperating with federal investigators.
  3. Trump has changed his story or had to have the Presidential Press Secretary clarify aspects of his statements or other factual areas of the case.
  4. Daniels has offered to return the $130,000 payment.
  5. Daniels gains nothing from this ordeal other than her good name and reputation – and yes she still has a reputation.
  6. Trump is getting nervous.

Daniels gets no money for going on the morning news shows or for being interviewed by Anderson Cooper – news organizations do not pay for stories. As of right now, it seems to me that all Stormy Daniels is getting out of this is insults and death threats being thrown her way. All of these people hurling the insults at Stormy Daniels seem to focus on one thing: her career choice. As Daniels as now sued Trump for Defamation of Character, people have been quick to pile on just how little character that they think she has. Upon looking at the WYFF4 News Facebook page, the evidence is plainly stated. Below are a few screenshots of what people think in regards to the April 28, 2018 News Channel 4 Facebook post about Daniels’ suit against the President¹:

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The original artwork of Oscar Wilde’s play version of Salomé

The thing that sticks out to me first as I scroll through the comments is how most of the comments questioning whether or not Stormy Daniels has character overwhelmingly come from women- and this is what saddens me the most. The majority believe it inconceivable that someone like Stormy Daniels is capable of telling the truth. They seem to imply the support the president’s assertion that this is all for her to somehow make money off of. Never mind the fact the this president has consistently said some of the most vile, misogynistic, and disgusting things about women. Never mind the fact that this President has been proven to have lied or had this administration lie on his behalf MULTIPLE times. Never mind all that. Stormy Daniels screws people. Stormy Daniels makes money screwing people. Stormy Daniels is a slut and that means Stormy Daniels cannot possibly be defamed.

Humans (along with pigs, bonobo monkeys, dolphins,) are one of the only species of living animal that we know for certain has sex for pleasure. To put it simply, we have sex because we like the feeling that comes with it. Most people enjoy being naked becasue they feel there is something liberating that comes from it. Stormy Daniels found a way to make money off of doing something that feels good while being naked with somebody else. Sometimes multiple somebodies. Props to her. I tip my hat in her direction. Does that mean that Stormy Daniels is a terrible person? Does that mean she is immoral or not capable of contributing to our society? Absolutely Not.

Stormy Daniels is a grown ass woman. Allow me to say it one more time for the people in the back. She is a GROWN. ASS. WOMAN. As long as it is legal under the law, Stormy Daniels can screw whoever she wants, whenever she wants, however she wants. Consensual sex between two (or more – if your into that) able-minded consenting adults has no baring on whether or not a person has character. We have got to get away from a society where sex is something that is taboo, immoral, and wrong. It has dangerous consequences. It teaches women that they shouldn’t enjoy sex and the power that can come with owning the sexuality in all its glory and it directly contributes to depression, shame,  and HIV/AIDS in the LGBTQ communities. Some All people like sex. Some women enjoy sex more than some men do. Some people like watching other people have sex in pornographic videos. That doesn’t make the people in the video or the watchers of the video bad people. There is nothing wrong with any of those things. The sex positive movement is growing, but we all need to embrace it more quickly – especially if we get upset over people starring in adult films.

The adult film industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. It employs thousands of people across the country (mostly California, Nevada, New York, Florida, and surprisingly enough Atlanta, Georgia), both in front of and behind the camera. It brings in billions of dollars in online revenue and the adult entertainment industry conventions that happen across the country bring millions of dollars to the cities that they are held in. Porn is a multi-billion dollar business worth more than the NFL, NBA, and MLB combined, and the reason it is worth more than those three organizations is because people watch it. They buy it. They enjoy it. Do you call the cashier at Dunkin’ Donuts a jackass for selling you a donut and making you fat? I didn’t think so. So stop calling the porn star a slut for doing what you paid her to do and then feeling guilty or ashamed because you watched it.

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Rita Hayworth in 1953 for a Salomé still. The film was produced by Hayworth’s company specifically so she could star in the film. 

One of the people in the Facebook comments of the news page asked if there was any lower she could go. Since she apparently believes the lowest she can go is adult film star allow me to answer that question: Yes, Linda Jameison, there is lower she can go. There is nothing wrong with consenting adults having consensual sex. There is however something wrong with murderers, rapists, drug dealers, bigots, homophobes, racists, neo-nazis, and a host of other groups that spread hate and intolerance. As a teacher, I loathe cheaters of any kind because it is unfair to those who work hard and follow the rules. I also believe someone who lies is worse and lower than someone who makes no apologies about enjoying getting paid to have sex. Donald Trump has cheated on all three wives and it has been proven he has lied multiple times before and throughout his presidency. So suck on that lollipop of knowledge for a while, Linda. If you need some pointers, I suggest you watch some of Stormy Daniels work. I am sure she would be happy to give you some tips. But it will cost you. And there is nothing wrong with that.

-WB

Author’s Note:

¹Just so you can see the article for yourself and make sure I did not randomly pick the posts of people from other articles, if you scroll through WYFF4 article the title was “Trump Sued by Daniels for Defamation” on April 30, 2018. Also I debated about blurring out the names of individuals making the posts, but I decided it was unnecessary since they were posting them on a public page of a news organization’s social media website.

 

Rescued by a Rescue: How a Dog I Rescued Ended Up Rescuing Me

Three years ago this past June I got a phone call that changed my life. A friend I worked with was going to go and rescue a puppy from a large group of dogs that had been seized from a Puppy Mill operation in Spartanburg. Already having 3 dogs I asked if she had the time for another puppy. The emotion in her voice when she said how bad these dogs looked hit me immediately. She said she just couldn’t say no and asked if I wanted to go with her and hold the puppy on the way home so she could focus on driving. Did I? Want to go? Hold a Puppy? With her? Did I?

Does a bear shit in the woods? Does the Pope wear red shoes and a funny hat? Does Rose Kennedy own a black dress? Does Dolly Parton sleep on her back?

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Immediately said yes and we jumped in the car and headed to Spartanburg. As we pulled up to the rescue organization’s building I was unprepared for what I saw. So many dogs had been seized from this puppy mill a large temporary tent had to be set up in order to house the rescue operation. After my friend Liza filled out her paperwork the bubbly and smiling worker took us over towards the entrance to the tent. She paused before walking through the flapped entrance of the tent and turned around. The bubbles and smiles were gone. She said some of the dogs we were going to see had been through a lot so just don’t let it get to you when you see them. Then she turned around and led us in.

I was not prepared for walking through that door. The overwhelming stench hit me immediately. It smelled a little like wet towels. Or like leftover food that had spoiled. But also a little like something else. I was not sure what it was at the time, but looking back on it now, I know what it was: fear. If there ever was a time I could smell emotions like most animals can it was that day. I smelled fear, and I never want to smell it again. Once we got to the point where we got accustomed to the smell I began to look around. The things I saw still haunt me to this day.

These dogs had not just been neglected and underfed. Many had been physically abused. They said some of the dogs had more than likely been forced to fight each other. Many looked as if they were on death’s door. These dogs had been grossly mistreated. That day I was filled with overwhelming sadness. When I think about it now it fills me with a blind rage that is hard to keep contained. If the people bastards responsible for treating animals this way ever read this, I just want you to know one things. You are pieces of shit You are not worthy of the air the I breathe and you certainly aren’t worthy to breathe the same air as those dogs breathe.

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Looking around I was heartbroken. Some dogs had to be shaved because their fur was matted and unclean. Other had bandages on their paws. I saw one dog who had to have an eye removed and the socket sown shut. As I saw these things I began to lose my breath. The tears started coming and I couldn’t stop and I began to gasp for breath. I was having a panic attack. As I choked back a sob I told Liza I would wait on her outside. I run out and  I still couldn’t breathe. A man came over and stood with me holding a puppy. He kept telling me to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth. As I began to calm down I asked if that ever happens to other people. He told me I was the third person today who had to leave.

“This was one of the worst events in our history. In the 12 years I have been working here, I have yet to be a part of a puppy mill seizure this bad,” he said.

Once I calmed down he went back to caring for the animals instead of me and I found a little place to sit and wait on Liza and her new puppy. As I began to scroll through Facebook on my phone I zoned out of my surroundings and entered my own lille world. I was immediately jerked back to reality when I felt a weird sensation on my leg. I jumped up and I looked expecting to see something gross like a snake. Instead I saw the big brown eyes of a puppy on the tiniest body of a Boston Terrier. As he began to scamper away from me in fear I looked around. Seeing no shelter workers or volunteers I picked him up and went to find a worker.

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As I approached the tent a worker saw me and yelled that he had been found. Somehow he had gotten away from the handlers when they were cleaning the pen that this little guy and the other puppies from his litter had been in. I was cradling him in my arms and as I went to hand him over to the worker his tiny little claws attached themselves to my t-shirt. As I went to detangle his claws from my shirt I looked at his eyes. These eyes spoke directly to my soul without even trying. They touched me in a way I still cannot fathom. I looked up at the woman and said I need some paperwork please. She wanted to put him back with the other puppies as I filled out my paperwork. I told her I was fine. I would hold him with my left hand and write with my right hand. When it was clear I wasn’t going to budge she brought me some paperwork. The rest is history.

In the car on the way home I held two puppies. Liza’s puppy and my own. We had to go by Petsmart on the way home. I had not planned on this. I had thought about getting my own dog before, but I had not made the decision to yet. I had no dog bed, or food, or toys or anything like that. Thankfully the workers at Petsmart helped me out and I felt like I had enough to get me at least through the next few days until I figured out what I would still need to get. As I pulled into the driveway and got him out of my car I let him explore everything- the front yard, the backyard, the deck, and inside the house. As the novelty of watching him explore his new surroundings wore off I waited on my roommate/landlord to come home from work. I rented my room in the house that Cameron owned and the sinking realization came in that I had forgotten to technically ask him if I could get a dog – this could end up with us both homeless.

Thankfully, I know my friends well and Cameron immediately smiled when he walked through the door. With that bullet dodged we went about the next few days of getting to know each other. I had yet to come up with a good name. I wanted it to be something good and not a normal dog name (Spot, Rover, Tank, etc.). Looking at the sweet little face he reminded me of a grumpy old man. So I went with one of the most bad ass grumpy old men of all time who starred in one of my all time favorite movies: Humphrey Bogart. I settled on Humphrey instead of calling him “Bogie” because I did not want people to assume I enjoy or like golf or find it interesting, because I don’t- I would rather watch paint dry.

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After about a week of being with each other Humphrey and I were going through the motions but I didn’t really feel anything. I did not feel like I was connected to him or that he found me particularly interesting at all.I was wondering if it was because of his puppy mill past or if I was being a terrible dog parent, but I was disappointed. Then my friend Tyler and I decided a trip to Six Flags was in order. I did not yet know what to do with a puppy who can’t hold his bladder, but thankfully Tyler’s mom volunteered to keep him with her two dogs for the day. As we pulled away from her house, Humphrey looked like I had abandoned him. The heartbroken look in his eyes was so devastating that I almost told Tyler I couldn’t go. The entire trip I talked and wondered about how Humphrey was doing. Im sure it drove Tyler crazy, but as a good friend he got his mom to send picture updates.

When we got home, I am not sure who was more excited. Me or Humphrey. We finally had our bonding moment. After a long day full of hours feeling like that Boy from Homeward Homeward Bound waiting on Shadow to come limping over that hill, we were a family. And nothing was going to change that. This was what dreams were made of. Three years of memories to look back on I can confidently say this: I rescued Humphrey from a puppy mill and it was the greatest decision I have ever made. I rescued him, but the impact he had on me is just as big. We rescued each other.

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Around the time I got Humph, I was in a rut. I wasn’t where I thought I should be in life and I was bored and frustrated with just about everything. He changed all of that. He made dealing with minutiae of daily life not as unbearable as it used to be. He was happy to see me and he didn’t want anything in return other than for me to throw the tennis ball until my arm falls off. As someone who is terrible at throwing or catching objects, he doesn’t ridicule me when the ball doesn’t go quite where I intended it to. He gladly chases after it and hops like a gazelle on the way back. He give me so much more than he takes (minus the time he ate my TOMS – I am still bitter about that) as well. When I am sad or upset about something he is always right there. HE will nestle up next to me and rest his paw on my hand.

After three years together, we know each other so well we and we have some of the same issues. Neither of us are morning people. It takes forever to get us up and moving. We can both clear a room with our digestive issues. We are fiercely protective of the things and people we love, and although we may not be the sharpest tack in the box (my dad says his elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top), we more than make up for that in personality. As far as I can tell, the only thing we really disagree on is Humphrey’s disdain of pickles.

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I wish I loved Humphrey even half as much as he loves me. That dog thinks I am more special than any human has ever thought I was and he is more special than any of the family pets we had growing up because he is mine and mine alone. In his book Marley and Me John Grogan wrote the following.

A dog has no use for fancy cars, big homes, or designer clothes. A water log stick will do just fine. A dog doesn’t care if your rich or poor, clever or dull, smart or dumb. Give him your heart and he’ll give you his. How many people can you say that about? How many people can make you feel rare and pure and special? How many people can make you feel extraordinary?

Don’t pay hundred or thousands of dollars when there are plenty of wonderful fur babies at your local humane society or rescue shelter who will make wonderful editions to your family. You will not regret it. I sure haven’t I gave Humphrey my heart because he gave me his. I do not need a person to make me feel special- he does that all on his own. Happy third birthday Humphrey! I love you buddy!

-WB

 

18813266_10210005962014252_531766187365900374_nTo donate to the Greenville County Human Society in Honor of Humphrey’s birthday and to help other rescue fur babies, click here.

To follow Humphrey on Instagram, follow @humphreybobark or click here.

Opened Eyes: Checking My Privilege to Experience Poverty

Before I begin I want to acknowledge the privilege that I was blessed/lucky enough to have been born into. If we are talking about winning the family lottery I came pretty close to winning the PowerBall. Being born male in an upper middle class stable family where I was raised by both my parents in an ultra-loving home has afforded me many experiences that were not afford to other people. When you add in the extra privilege that comes with being born white, I truly have lived a life that has given me significantly more than I deserve and significantly more than it has given to most people. I feel no need to apologize for this and I feel no shame at this either – I cannot help the family that I was born into. I feel no guilt in this either. I am active in my community and I have made it a point in my life to strive to always fight for social justice in my community when I see and read about things that aren’t socially just. So I am fully aware at how lucky and privileged I am; it is because of that privilege I want to write this – everyone should be able to be as lucky as I have been.

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If you do not understand the concept of privilege, the above quote should help. If you still do not understand privilege, please click here or here for further explanation.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has made it a cornerstone of its church message to be a message of Radical Inclusion and Radical Hospitality. As a lifelong member of Trinity Lutheran Church here in Greenville, I am filled with pride that my church has boldly taken on this message of inclusion and hospitality as something we stand behind and embrace wholeheartedly. As part of that radical inclusion, my church makes it clear that we are a church for all peoples. At the beginning of our church bulletin it states the following:

“We celebrate people of all races, cultures, genders, ages, sexual orientations, gender identities, physical or mental abilities, socioeconomic statuses, appearances, family status, and citizenship as equally loved and valued in the eyes of God and in this place. All are invited to join this community as we worship God, grow in faith, and strive to love and serve one another.”

The amount of pride I feel romans-8-39in my church family for including these words in the welcome we extend to others cannot be stated enough. As a member of a community that is routinely cast out from churches, told they are not welcome, and that they are less than worthy of God’s love it has done so much for my relationship with God, but it has done a lot for other’s relationships as well. I have told many of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters that they should join me at church because the God I love created us all and that my church is great enough to recognize that by welcoming all into the fold. God is a shepherd of all sheep, even the rainbow sheep I joke! Because nothing, especially the way we are born can separate us from the unconditional love that is our God’s love.

As part of the radical hospitality aspect of the ELCA teaching and practices, this evening my church participated in a poverty and homelessness simulation that was facilitated by Beth Templeton with the organization Our Eyes Were Opened. I can tell you as one of the about 100 members of my church who participated that the organization truly lives up to its name. My eyes were opened. I know there is poverty all around me in this great city I call home. I know about the unseen Greenville. I teach at a school were 85% of my students would be considered as living below the poverty line. With that said I have never experienced it firsthand for myself. I have never felt the fear and helplessness that come with poverty. This simulation is as close as I have come to feeling those feelings first hand; and if the feelings I experienced this evening are anything close to the real feelings that my students or neighbors experience on a regular basis I will pray to God this evening and all my future evenings on this Earth I never have to experience that in real life. I will pray to God that my students and neighbors are lifted up and out of poverty. And I will pray to God that he show me a way to be more hospitable, less quick to rush to judgement, and help me find a way to help my students and neighbors in Christ out of poverty as well.

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One out of every 4 children in the United States lives in a food insecure household. Food insecurity is the state of being without a reliable source of affordable food on a regular basis.

In the scenario we were divided up into different “families” or “households” as we worked our way through a month of time in the scenario. Each week during the month last about 15-20 minutes. During the scenario I was with two fellow church members. Our back story was I was a 21-year-old community college student. My other group members were 13-year-old twin sisters. We had a teddy bear who played our 3-year-old younger brother. Our father was incarcerated so I was the technical head of the household. We were given some money (not nearly enough) and a list of expenses for each week before the scenario started. In order to not give away too much of the scenario – because I cannot stress enough how much you should all look into taking it – I will leave a lot of the details of the scenario under wraps. I am going to tell you how it felt.

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18.4% of Greenville residents with income live below the poverty level. 64.8% of those same households have children under the age of 18.

Once we read through our scenario, I felt relieved, but still slightly nervous. Because all three of my siblings were in child care, I knew they would have a safe spot (school) to go during the week. I was also thankful that our rent had already been paid for the month. If we had to pay our rent I know we would have ended up homeless because it would not have been possible. I had a spirit of determination to make it through this simulation. That spirit of determination all but dissipated by the end of week 1. In the first week in order for us to eat I pawned both our television and stereo system. I had some money left over, but it was not enough to pay any of the variety of monthly bills we had to pay. I did not attend community college at all during the first week because I thought it was more important to please my inner fat girl than my inner college professor.

Week 2 I found some religious organizations that were able to help out my family some and I was able to pay a few bills. I was starting to think we might make it to the end of the month. When I arrived home at the end of the week, one of my siblings was arrested and sent to juvenile hall and I had an unexpected bill waiting on us. At this point I cried for the first time during the simulation. I thought I was doing pretty good because I had managed to buy food once again. There was so much happening and I had no clue where to turn for help or what I should do first. I like being in control of my own choices and at this point I was not in control of just about anything. Just like week 1,I did not attend community college in week 2.

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48% of Greenville County School District Students are eligible for free or reduced lunches.

Week 3 of the simulation was interesting because it was a school holiday all week. I had to figure out what to do with my teenaged twin sisters and 3-year-old brother. I chose to take my brother with me and leave my sisters alone at home. This was the first week I figured out the nightmare of going through the process of applying for government assistance. It took forever to go through the line, fill out the paperwork, and wait my turn. Luckily I was approved for an EBT card (food stamps). I stopped sweating for a minute to buy food for the week and pay one more bill. At the end of the week I returned home and sat down to rest for a few brief moments before horror set in. I had left my younger brother at the Social Services office. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen news stories like these on the news and I have been quick to rush and pass judgement on these people. I was filled with a sense of shame. I was capable of forgetting something so important that I would never do in real life – I was no different from those parents on the news. And since I am sure you were wondering: I didn’t go to community college this week either.

As week 4 got under way I was determined to get everything done. I paid one bill and I used our EBT card to by more food. Since this was the last week of the month and I saw we had money left on our EBT card I started to think: I should trade what is left on our card for money so I can use that to pay bills. Something that is technically against the law because it is fraud came to mind as the perfect solution. I did not even think twice about whether or not to do it. I just tried to find someone to buy my card. If it came between me and my family losing our electricity and potentially our home then dammit I am selling that piece of plastic. I couldn’t find anyone to buy the card so the last week of the month I guess we would have lost our electricity. I guess at the end of the day we didn’t really need the electricity because I don’t need to see my community college textbooks since I did not go to class this week either.

As I look back over this activity and reflect on my own thoughts and feelings a few things stick out to me  For the sake of brevity I am simply going to list them below:

  1. If you leave near, at, or below the poverty line you need to be real good at planning. If you are not one of those people who has the skills it takes to sit down and plan out what you are going to pay each week of the month at the beginning of the month you are going to find living super difficult.
  2. Don’t rush to pass judgement on government workers. During the simulation the people in the roles of government workers did not look me in the eye once. Their tone was harsh and cold. Their answers were not helpful in directing me where to go next. However, during the discussion the facilitator raised an excellent point. These workers see the same heartbreaking stories over and over and over again. Day in and day out. At some point you have to close off that piece of caring you have for the survival of your soul. If I worked in a job were I had to look teenaged mothers in the face and tell them there was nothing I can do to help them every day I would have to do the same thing those government workers do.
  3. Acknowledge your privilege. Most of “us” do not see poverty because most of you reading this will be living lives well above the poverty line. I had no idea the poverty line among our students and children was so high until I started working at Southside and did my own research. Most of also don’t see poverty because people surround themselves with people who look, act, think, work, and live like themselves. 90% of the people reading this will be white (my estimation – not scientific), but the people living below the poverty are disproportionately people of minority communities, people who are disabled, and people who are victims of violence, abuse, or sexual assault. People who are different from you. Open yourselves to these people and help them – because you will also help yourself.
  4. We need usury laws in South Carolina. In the State of South Carolina, when you go to get a cash advance or cash a check any of those lending places you go to can charge whatever percent they want. There is no limit. The fact that some of these shady cash advances places take advantage of those among us who need the most help is both disgusting and needs to change. Now.
  5. Stop the “They need to get jobs!” Narrative. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people exclaim that those on government assistance need to get off their asses and find work. Politicians in this very state have likened people receiving welfare to feeding stray animals.
  6. We can make our society better by loving our neighbors – all of them.  During the simulation small little things stuck out to me. Even as my family was struggling to make ends meet I still found myself listening in to other people’s conversations with workers and organizations who were supposed to help lift people out of poverty and offering them my own advice when they got no answers to their questions. Twice during the simulation different people gave me money for bus transportation. And during the last week of the simulation I made eye contact with the pawn shop lady. I am pretty sure she offered my a second amount that was higher than what she originally offered me because she knew I was about to burst into tears.

If we loved our neighbors like we loved ourselves, our city would be a much better place.

Our state would be a much better place.

Our Nation would be a much better place.

Our world would be a much better place.

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It would be a place where there would be no judgement of our neighbors perceived laziness and inability to work.

A place where there would be no hatred of social workers who have one of the toughest jobs around.

It would be a place where children wouldn’t have to skip school or community college to put food on the table for their siblings.

It would be a place full of love and devoid of poverty – and that is the kind of place I want to live. Hopefully, you do as well.

-WB

 

 

 

A First Lady’s Feisty Legacy

I do not know when I came to the realization that I was not as conservative as the members of my family. As I started to develop my own opinion and own views on things, I naturally gravitated more to the left due to many social issues. Although I have voted for candidates from both major parties I have definitely voted for members of one party more than the other. And the party I voted for more, was not the party of Barbara Bush.

With that said, I was extremely saddened by the passing of Barbara Bush on Tuesday at the age of 92. What saddened me the most about her passing was the thought of George Herbert Walker Bush having to live a life without Barbara after living with her for the past 72 years. I still cannot watch that video of President Bush reading the love letter he wrote to her where he gets emotional at the end. I start to ugly cry. If I am lucky enough to have a love half as strong as the love that the Bushes had for each other than I will consider myself a lucky man.

I grew up in a house that thought very highly of Barbara Pierce Bush. She was always spoken of fondly and positively – especially by my mother. Looking back on the conversations and stories and reflecting about my own opinions on things, the life and legacy of Barbara Bush is one of the few areas of “politics” that I do not disagree with my family on the issues. There is something about Barbara Bush that one cannot help but like and admire. With excellent cheekbones (even at 92) and a warm, cheerful smile her personality alone just seems welcoming and reassuring to be around. After learning more about the life this extraordinary women lived, Barbara Bush can rest easy in heaven as she waits on her husband to join her, confident that the gifts she gave her family and to our nation will be treasured for years to come.

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Photo courtesy of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.

As a teacher, one of Barbara’s biggest legacies that she leaves behind is close to my heart. Working tireless throughout her public life to combat the problem of illiteracy, Mrs. Bush recognized how important the ability to read was for our society. As her husband was running for President, Barbara Bush founded the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. She gave speeches up until the last 6 months on the topic. A staggering 36 million adults in the U.S. have low literacy skills. One in four adults cannot read above a 5th grade level, and research shows the single greatest indicator of a child’s future success is the literacy level of his or her parents. I work at a school where the majority of my students read significantly below grade level. It saddens me that my students were not fortunate enough to have been blessed enough to have been born with many opportunities I had and took for granted. It angers me that most of my students have been passed off to be “someone else’s problem.” Barbara Bush realized the importance of the ability to read has in our society. And because of her fight, millions of dollars have been raised to help with childhood and adult literacy and millions of people can read.

As a family-oriented person myself, Mrs. Bush’s fierce love and desire to protect and safeguard her family and the Bush name is something I have always respected her for. My family is so large and has been together for so long I often joke when introducing friends to members of my family I will draw them a family tree later. As thew mother of 6 and the grandmother of 17, Barbara Bush was a lover of family. She was fiercely loyal and protective of her husband, her children, and the Bush name and she surrounded herself with people she could trust. Beneath the Aunt Bea demeanor that Barbara Bush showed to the public was a backbone of steel and a desire to help further the careers of her husband and her children. It is reported that President Bush sat with his wife for hours and held her hand as she passed on from this life. Just typing that sentence has me in tears, but I know she is in heaven smiling – because that is how she would have wanted it. The chance for the eternal reuniting with her daughter Robin (who died in childhood from Leukemia) is something Mrs. Bush spoke about frequently in her later years.

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Barbara Bush would argue this is the most important piece of her legacy. The Bush Family at the Bush Compound in Kennebunkport, Maine in the early 2000s. Photo courtesy of TIME.

As someone who has been called blunt many times before (even though I prefer the term honest), the Barbara Bush humorous quips are legendary around the Washington community. From saying she hopes Sarah Palin would stay in Alaska (me too Barb, me too.) to joking that her Husband could have been Speaker of the house (a not so subtle jab at Former Speaker of the House John Boehner) because he cried during an interview the two did with granddaughter Jenna Bush Hager, Barbara was quick witted and while it would typically turn people off when a public figure would respond in that way, Barbara Bush made it endearing and one of the things you like most about her.

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Barbara Bush holding a baby born with AIDS back in the late 1980s. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

As a person who believes firmly in public service, Barbara Bush devoted her life to public service. She worked tirelessly to further the causes that she believed in and she sacrificed a life of normalcy to further her husband’s career and the values of the United States of America. Barbara Bush leaves a legacy of public service to those society would typically cast off. Following the lead of Diana, Princess of Wales, Barbara Bush was one of the first public political officials to talk about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and was the first American political figure to touch someone living with AIDS – at a time when many people still were unsure of its origins.

Finally, as a person who has always admired strong women – especially strong southern women, Barbara Bush was one of the strongest. Genteel and scrappy at the same time. She was the original Julia Sugarbaker – full of grit and determination. It is this grit and determination that allowed her to win over a liberal bastion like Wellesley College while giving a commencement address there in 1990. Barbara Bush is proof that you can have it all – you can raise a family of successful children, support your husband, and not have to give up your own successes. Like southern women are known to do she spoke volumes without speaking at all. She never publicly came out as pro-choice until writing her memoir in their post-presidency life so as not to damage the career of her husband, but all you had to do was read her facial expression and body language to know where she stood. I see so much of Barbara Bush’s strength in my mothers, grandmothers, and aunts. I was raised by strong women. And every single one of those women is stronger than the men in their lives. Barbara Bush would approve – she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Barbara Bush believed in the ideals and principles our nation was founded on and gave her life in service to furthering those causes. In an interview at the end of her husband’s presidency she was asked what is something that she learned from her decades in public service. Without even pausing Bush responded:

“Every person in our country is capable of offering something to everyone else. Some people give time, some money, some their skills and connections, some literally give their life’s blood – But everyone has something to give.”

What a remarkable and true observation after so many years of giving herself to all of us. Many first ladies have given so much in service to this nation. With the exceptions of Eleanor Roosevelt and Abigail Adams, no other First Ladies have given as much as Barbara Pierce Bush has given. If she were still with us she would ask you to reflect on what you have to give. Since she is not her, I will ask. What is your gift you can give the rest of us? Give it for Barbara Bush’s sake. Give it for my sake. But more importantly, give it for the sake of yourself. You won’t regret it. Mrs. Bush sure didn’t.

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Thank you for giving Mrs. Bush. May the lord bless you and your distinguished legacy of service to your family and your nation. May the eternal rest and peace you now have with your daughter Robin comfort you until you are reunited with your beloved George. May the eternal father hold your family in the palm of his hand as the grieve your passing. And may he bless us with the wisdom to follow in your footsteps as we celebrate your life.

-WB

Killing them a Second Time – Taking Sides in Syria

My friend Madison recently shared an article on Facebook that saddened me both as a historian and as a person who wants to leave this world better than he found it. In the April 12, 2018 article “Holocaust is Fading from Memory, Survey Finds,” Maggie Astor goes into detail about a recent survey completed by the Claims Conference in regards to Holocaust Education in the United States and around the world. The results are both shocking and lead to a worrisome future if we do not do something to combat this dangerous new development. holocaust-knowledge-and_awareness-study

Let that statistic alone sink in. Half of millennials cannot name a single concentration camp. Not a single camp where 6,000,000 million Jews were mass-murdered in addition to 7,000,000 others (Gypsies, political prisoners, homosexuals, those who were physically or intellectually disabled, and POWs). To be fair I can only name 6 camps and recognized another 2 camps, but the fact that half couldn’t even come up with Auschwitz is unbelievable to me. Here are several more surprising statistics from the study:

  • Most Americans (80%) have not visited a Holocaust museum
  • Nearly one-third of all Americans (31%) and more than 4-in-10 millennials (41%) believe that substantially less than 6 million Jews were killed (two million or fewer) during the Holocaust
  • Most adults (86%) know the Holocaust occurred in Germany, but only (37%) identified Poland as a country where the Holocaust occurred despite the fact that more than half of the European Jews killed were from Poland.
  • Two thirds of all adults (67%) could not name or did not know of a Holocaust survivor.

The rallying cry after the holocaust became “Never Again!” Never again would the world stand by and let millions of people be slaughtered by a monstrous dictator. Never again would the world fail to speak up and defend those who cannot defend or speak for themselves. The only problem is the world did fail. The world failed multiple times. The World failed Cambodia. And Armenia. And Bosnia & Herzegovina. And Rwanda. And Darfur. And if we do not act soon, we will be failing in Syria once again.

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Ever since I read Night, Elie Wiesel has been one of my historical heroes. His ability to speak directly to your soul with his use of visual language and writing style is unmatched by any other memoir writer that I have been a fan of. In Night, Wiesel wrote:

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky. Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself.

Never shall I forget.

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Elie Wiesel in the early 2000s.

Wiesel’s writing is not what makes him one of my historical heroes, however. Wiesel is one of my heroes because after surviving the Holocaust – where he lost his father, mother, and sister – Wiesel spent his entire life speaking and writing about his experience. He traveled extensively and gave talks around the world. He met with world leaders and dignitaries to further the cause of peace. Wiesel was even awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 1986. The acceptance speech he gave accepting the prize, and a speech called “The Perils of Indifference” that Wiesel gave in the East Room of the White House in 1999 at the invitation of President Bill Clinton are part of the reason that Elie Wiesel is my hero. Wiesel spoke about the importance of speaking out and standing up any time violence and acts of genocide are occurring in our world. It is because of his words and his views that I know if he were alive today, Wiesel would have been one of the most vocal about the current atrocities being committed in Syria.

 

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Wiesel spoke eloquently on the issue of speaking out against the oppression of peoples throughout the world. He said:

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.

Do I think Elie Wiesel would have been happy that a coalition force of British, French, and American forces bombed Syria earlier this week? Of course not. Nobody should be happy about it. With that said I do feel that he would have realized that was the only option. We have tried the diplomatic world with to no avail. We have tried sanctions and other solutions to no avail. So we drew a line in the sand and said there would be consequences and the terrorist Bashar Al-Assad crossed that line. We followed through we our promise.

We cannot allow a world where chemical weapons use is normal to be a reality. We cannot allow a brutal dictator propped up by the Russian continually uses chemical weapons against men, women, and children to become the new normal – and the reason we cannot allow this to happen is because we already did and we already promised never again. But too many people seem to be forgetting this. Too many people seem to have forgotten the world allowed another brutal dictator to come to power and use chemical weapons to try and gas an entire race into oblivion.

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Elie Wiesel wrote that part of the reason he spoke out was to help people remember. IN his world, to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time. That line in Night makes me tear up every time I read it because I know how important it is to Elie Wiesel. He believes it with every fiber of his being. As a historian I believe it to. We are coming close to killing the victims of the holocaust a second time. It has been 7 decades since the Holocaust so this is not surprising., but we must still work to fix this issue. The scary thing, however, is we are coming dangerously close to killing the dead in Syria a second time. The first reports of chemical weapons being used in Syria was just a few years ago. Watch the video below before you read my final sentences.

Look me in the eye and tell me you can live with yourself if we allow these people to be killed a second time. If you can say that with a straight face you are a stronger colder person than I am. Just as the Holocaust was a watershed moment., this too is a watershed moment. We must not fail. Sadly, we are coming dangerously close. We. Must. Not. Fail.

Unified for America

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This morning I decided to end my Spring Break with a little bit of politics. While most people would rather jump of a cliff than deal with politics and our politicians in our daily lives – especially with how divisive we have become as a society – I will always say how important it is for us to engage – now more than ever – with one another so we can keep going forward. Unified: How Our Unlikely Friendship Gives Us Hope for a Divided Nation, written by South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and outgoing South Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy is a book I can truly get behind. I personally have not voted for Senator Scott and I most definitely have not voted for Representative Gowdy; however, I support the meaning behind this book – which is why I went to Fiction Addiction this morning to pick up a copy and to have my copy signed by both men.

Unified allows Senator Scott and Congressman Gowdy, to use honesty and vulnerability to  inspire others to evaluate their own stories, clean the slate, and extend a hand of friendship that can change our churches, our communities, our state, and our nation by showing us something we all to often forget – that we have more in common that unites us than we do that divides us. Throughout the entire book they discuss different views that each holds – everything from a black man who was raised in the south’s views on law enforcement to a white son of a doctor former prosecutor man’s views on law enforcement. While discussing that and a host of other issues the overall theme of trusting and loving our neighbor comes back to the surface over and over again. I have not yet finished reading the book, but I firmly believe this to be why we are so divided right now: we all won’t to make this country better so badly, that we have forgotten that sometimes our view may not be the right view or the only view. We forget much too quickly and are much too dismissive of the “enemy” and “their view” that they want this country to be everything that it can be as well; they just want to go about doing that a different way.

 

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My copy of Unified, signed by both Senator Scott and Congressman Gowdy. I have got to figure out a way to make my signature look as cool and simple as these two signatures.

I am sure many of you rolled your eyes after that last paragraph or possibly muttered “yeah, right!” under your breath and that is ok. You do not have to believe me, even as I myself and so many others know this to be true. How do I know this? It is simple. While waiting in line this morning I lived it and I observed it with my own two eyes. Living through an experience whether it relates to this or something completely different has the power to change a person’s perspective on a litany of issues. Seeing, hearing, touching, and using whatever the last two senses I can’t remember, are the number one way for people to say or remember something as true. We place importance on direct personal experiences, and as I stood in line with my Nana and my aunt Cathy this morning, my personal experience with a bunch of people I probably do not agree with on a whole lot was nothing but pleasant, happy, and up-lifting.

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In the process of getting my book signed. Shoutout to the lavender staffer who looks like he is shooting laser beams from his eyes at my Nana for taking the picture. 

I got in line about 9:45 this morning. The signing did not start until about 10:30. As I pulled up I was not surprised by the people I saw in line. I may be slightly stereotypical in pointing this out, but I feel it will make my overall message more poignant. The crowd was overwhelmingly white. I do not recall seeing any POC other than the Senator. The crowd was also on the older end of the spectrum. I chuckled as I scoped out the younger end of the spectrum. Yes, most of them did have on cowboy boots and camouflage attire. As I suppressed a smile and stepped into the back of the line with my grandmother and my aunt I silently cursed at myself for not remembering to bring my Apple AirPods with me so I would have some music to listen to. If I was going to be stuck listening to people talk about their hatred of my girl HRC or the first man I was able to help change history with by electing him President of the United States than at least I could try to drown it out with some good Beyoncé tunes. Turns out I did not need any of that at all.

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Shoutout to my new friend Susan in the Navy and Gold Hoodie on the left hand side of this picture. She has one son in the Air Force flying F-16s and another son in the Navy as well. Shoutout to Susan’s awesome sons for their service. I hope they enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed waiting in line with their mom who was having 5 copies signed. 

I did not need to pretend to talk on my phone or my headphones to listen to music because I actually enjoyed waiting in line with these people today. What did we talk about? Yes, we talked about politics some – everyone (myself included) stuck to surface level topics and discussions. There was no mention of Roe v. Wade or Russian Collusion, or anything like that. It mainly was what we liked or did not like about politics in general. More than that though we talked about our daily lives and what we ended up having in common that we would not have known other wise. Turns out my friend in line behind me really enjoys the ABC show Designated Survivor. I told her that I also enjoyed watching that with my dad sometimes. My new friend Susan (I point her out in the picture above) has two children serving in the military. She was wearing a Navy Sweatshirt so after thanking her for both her children’s sacrifice as well as her family’s sacrifice I told her about my love of the tradition on the pomp & circumstance of the Army – Navy Game. She smiled as she told me about attending one of the games. I even found some fellow Clemson fans and I told them how exciting it was to attend the National Championship Game both the time we lost AND the time we won (Shout out to my Tigers – All in Always!).

 

As I started to read the book this afternoon something dawned on me. Those people in line this morning were no different from me. They are mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers. They are sons and daughters. They are neighbors who went to USC. They are friends who went to Clemson. They are our church family members who didn’t go to college at all, or they could even be our neighbors who go to a synagogue or a mosque or a temple instead of a church. They are people who like watching Designated Survivor, people who like watching HG TV, or people who don’t have or believe in cable. Some are even like me and mooch all of those things off of their parent’s charter subscription (thanks mom and dad!). At the end of the day, however, they are people who want a few things that are all in common. They all want the best for their family and friends. They all want their children (if they have them) to have more opportunities than they did. They all want America to succeed. And lastly, but certainly one of more important things I discovered, they all want to leave this world better than they found it.

I may never see Susan or the other great people I met standing in line again and that is ok. Hopefully I left them with the same view they left me with. “The Other Side” is not as scary or different as they originally seem. Hopefully she goes home and tells her two sons “I met the nicest guy standing in line today. And he was a democrat!” in the same way that I respectfully write about her for this blog. Even though I may never see some of those fine people again, and even though we probably would not agree on the right course of action for our nation going forward, I believe she wants what is best for us all. Hopefully she believes the same about me. Hopefully, Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy can help us all realize this. Hopefully, we will all remember that we will ALWAYS have more that UNITES us than we have that DIVIDES us.

Happy Saturday, y’all. Go outside barefoot and thank your stars we live where we do. Both sides of the aisle just might remember a little bit more if you do.

WB

Dr. King – An Open Letter of Gratitude

Dear Dr. King,

It must seem very weird to continually watch in Heaven as students everywhere learn about your life, and more importantly, the legacy you left. I am sure 50 years ago in the hours of that fateful morning that you would have done nothing differently in your life. For that reason alone, you were, and still are, one the greatest peacemaker this world has every known. This letter of gratitude will have several spots where I try to put into words my appreciation for what you have done for me and my life. I am not anywhere close the orator you were and I make no attempt to say my writing is perfect, but I do pray that you can somehow see the importance that I am placing in this letter.

I want to first thank you for giving yourself and your message to myself as well as to the rest of the world. Along with Elie Wiesel, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and Harvey Milk, you are one of the five people throughout my love of learning, studying, and now teaching history who has had the biggest influence on my life, my world view, and my view on what it means to both a man and an American. Without reading your writings, listening to your sermons and speeches, and learning just how much you sacrificed for us in your quest for equality I would not be the person I am today. And as I very much like the person I have become and take pride in both me and my beliefs, you should know you played a part in that.

I was not always aware to the influence you would have on me and my life. Being born a white male affords a person the privilege of not needing to have experienced the injustices that you rallied against to truly understand your message and the meaning behind it. As a result of this, it was not until my 10th grade year of high school that I truly “got” you. Of course, I learned about you throughout my academic career, but I never truly felt a connection with you until my AP Language course in high school. It was around this time in my life when I went through a process of self-discovery and learned about myself in the most authentic way possible. And it was thanks to being under the tutelage Dr. Sara Lochridge, for the first time in my life that I truly felt a personal connection to both you and everything you represent – both in your earthbound form and in the legacy you left us with to this day. IMG_6733

It was in that AP Language course where I was encouraged as a writer for the first time. It was also in this course where I first read Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I instantly knew there was something special about it. Never in my life (up until that point, at least) had a piece of writing – especially a letter that was not even addressed to me – moved me the way your letter did. The dichotomy of power in the letter is something not many people will ever be able to emulate. It was soft and sweet at the same time. It was angry while also being calm and collected. My favorite of all, however, is how it was both accusatory and forgiving as well.

I have often wondered in my life where I would have been had I been alive in 1963 during the March on Washington, or in 1965 in Selma following Bloody Sunday. It is easy for me to sit here and say I would have risked my privilege and status in society and say I would have been a marcher. But after reading Letter from a Birmingham Jail, I can confidently say that I would have worked most of my life to have followed in your footsteps. To have been a drum major for peace, justice, and absolute righteousness. Often in my life, I have also been called a “bleeding heart liberal.” I used to roll my eyes and sigh when the phrase was spoken. As I have become older and more confident in who I am and who I am supposed to be, I wear that like a badge of honor. The same way you wore the badge of “extremist” as an honor. My bleeding heart is partially the way it is because of you.

d260f415519c4795def34c9ba085a995You once said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality; tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever reflects one directly, affects all indirectly.”  This is how I know your heart was a bleeding heart. This is why I take heart in being a bleeding heart. Part of the reason I became a social studies teacher (other than my love of history, of course) is the important most history teachers place on the concept of social justice. We have studied history long enough to know that we all succeed only when everyone has the same privileges and economic opportunities as their fellow-man. So for being one of the original social justice warriors, I once again, wish to express my humble gratitude for setting me on a course of social justice in my life which I know will one day reach that mountaintop you so beautifully sought. Upon reaching the mountaintop, my eyes will overflow with tears as will all the eyes of the others who have striven for social justice in this world. It will be those tears that allow justice to roll down like waters. It will be those tears that allow mighty streams of righteousness to move us all forward.

The last reason I want to thank you is for being an inspiration to another one of my top inspirations. Just like you Harvey Milk’s life was taken by the cruel bullet of an assassin. Both of you had much more work to do on this Earth. Sadly, the world we live in had other plans for you both. Thankfully, however, Harvey Milk said or wrote numerous times on record, the influence that you had on him, Dr. King. So once again, because Harvey Milk had an influence on me, thank you for your influence on him.

mlk_memorial_nps_photoIt has often be debated and wondered where you would have fallen on the issue of LGBTQ equality and LGBTQ rights in our fight for acceptance. Your wife (an amazing woman worthy of a thank you letter in her own right) came out in support of LGBTQ rights and said you would have been a supporter as well. Some of your children have also, but the entire King family does not even agree with what your position would have been. I would argue that I know where you would have stood. Harvey Milk knew where you would have stood as well. That is why you were such an influence on him. In your letter from that Birmingham jail cell, you once said “We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.” This quote is one of many that I know supports my belief you would have supported equality for all Americans – regardless of sexuality. It is always right for us to stand up for our fellow American. You knew that. Harvey Milk knew that. I know that. And some day soon, thanks to your leadership, the world as a whole will know that.

Your end to Letter from a Birmingham Jail was without a doubt my favorite part of any of your writings. You end the letter by going through a list of people and saying that one day, the south will recognize its real heroes. You cover a host of people who will end up being heroes. People like James Meredith. People like the old men and old women who continually risked imprisonment and beatings at the hands of law enforcement to demanded the permission to vote in the nation that was supposed to give that to them as a birthright. You said “One day the South will know when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, there were in reality standing up for what is best in the American Dream.” I wish you had not said the south. I wish you had instead said the Nation. Because I think that is what you truly meant when you spoke those words. One day soon the world will know that those of us who follow your legacy, are being the drum majors for justice, peace, and righteousness. Are we there yet? No of course not. But you know all too well “that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice.” How long until we reach that point? How Long? The answer is simple. How Long? Not Long. And for that, the world, our nation, and most importantly myself, can only simply say once again: Thank you.

With Humble and Loving Respect, Your Brother in Christ,

WB