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

 

Say Her Name: Sasha Wall

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Today is a sad day for South Carolina, and most people have no idea. Most South Carolinians will never know, and this saddens me most of all. The only reason I discovered the sadness of today is because I accidentally stumbled across a tweet while reading information about the teacher walkouts in Oklahoma and Kentucky.  Randomly while scrolling through I saw a tweet from the Human Rights Campaign that had South Carolina as part of the 240 characters. As I braced for the worst I clicked on the link. My fears and disappointment were once again confirmed. I shouldn’t be surprised or sad by the news, with the reputation that our state has on accurately covering issues that effect the LGBTQ community – especially when it comes to the “T” in our umbrella of an acronym.

In the early hours of Easter morning, trans woman Sasha Wall was murdered in Chesterfield County in the lower part of South Carolina. She was found dead in her car on the side of a rural road. It is believed the car was left running for over 2 hours before someone stopped and called police. Sasha Wall was shot in the head, neck, and shoulder at least a dozen times. She was the same age as me (29 years old). On Easter morning.

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We should not be shocked at Sasha Wall’s death. Trans women – especially trans women of color – have one of the highest homicide rates in the nation. Wall is the 8th trans woman murdered in 2018. Of those eight trans women, seven were people of color. At the current rate, 2018 will pass the number of trans people murdered in 2017 by the beginning of October.

Most people will live throughout 2018 and they will not know this. They will not know it, because the media continues to not report the facts on the murders of these people. Trans people have some of the least reported homicides in the nation. When add this fact in to the fact that the media reports homicides of people of color at a less accurate rate than the rates of caucasian people, trans women of color were doomed from the start.

What shocks and saddens me more than Sasha Wall’s murder, and more than the fact that many people will never know about this human being is the disgusting and wrong way that Sasha was covered by the press here in South Carolina. Of the papers I searched for in the area, the only two papers to report on the brutal homicide were The State paper in Columbia and The Post and Courier from Charleston. In both papers, Sasha Wall was misgendered and deadnamed. As if being murdered for simply existing was not indecent enough, both papers listed Wall as male and used the name she was given at birth. Both articles made mention of the fact friends, family, and Sasha’s place of employment referred to her as Sasha Wall, yet they continued to refer to her by the wrong name and the wrong gender.

People who look at the Black Lives Matter movement with disgust and disdain are quick to shout that “All Lives Matter! They are quick to express outrage and moral indignation when they hear that phrase. Well you know I hear now? I hear deafening silence. I hear silence from the media. I hear silence from the general public. I hear silence from the shouters of “All Lives Matter!” But most importantly of all, I hear that deafening silence from the others members of the LGBTQ community. For far to long, it has been “every letter for themselves” in our community. The apathy that the queer community has for each other is just more deafening silence. And all of that deafening silence from all of those people fills me with disgust. With disdain. With outrage. With moral indignation.

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Where is your disgust now?

Where is your disdain now?

Where is your outrage now?

Where is your moral indignation now?

You say that all lives matter. Now is your chance to prove it. Now is your chance to walk the walk. To put your money where your mouth is. To put up, or shut up. To prove once and far all that All lives matter. I want to hear your disgust for Sasha Wall. I want to her your disdain for her. I want to hear your outrage for her. I want to hear your moral indignation for her. To help drown out the deafening silence I will be there with you. I will shout my disgust, disdain, outrage, and moral indignation with you. I am guilty of that silence, but enough is enough.

Sasha Wall was a 29-year-old woman. She was a woman who was loved by her family and friends, and she was a woman who loved her family and friends. She was a woman with hopes and dreams and ambitions just like the rest of us. Sasha Wall deserved more. Sasha Wall deserved more than being left on the side of the road like discarded garbage. She was a woman who deserves justice she most likely will never see. I cannot bring her back. But I can and will say her name. I will say her name so somewhere her spirit knows that I see her for the person she was and for all she could have been. I say her name and the names of the other 7 women who deserved so much more:

  1. Christa Leigh Seele-Knudslien, 42 years old
  2. Viccky Gutierrez, 38 years old
  3. Celine Walker, 36 years old
  4. Tonya Harvey, 35 years old
  5. Zakaria Fry, 28 years old
  6. Phylicia Mitchell, 46 years old
  7. Amia Tyrae Berryman, 28 years old
  8. Sasha Wall, 29 years old

May God Bless Christa, Viccky, Celine, Tonya, Zakaria, Phylicia, Amia, and Sasha with the peace in heaven that they were so cruelly denied here on Earth. But more importantly, may be bless us with forgiveness for our deafening silence, and the strength to now and forever more, say shout their names.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Christ has Triumphed! He is Living!”

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As I get older I have noticed a changing of a myriad of  personal views, opinions, beliefs, thoughts, hopes, and dreams that I thought were concretely in the category of “resolute beliefs. For example, in high school I was voted “Most Dramatic” during my senior year for the yearbook’s senior superlatives.

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I know. I was just as cute in high school as I am now. Megan VanGeison hope you are well if you read this!

Based on the picture I should have been given the superlative “Most likely to wear a T-Shirt that is 3 sizes too big, but I guess they skipped that one my senior year. Today my involvement in drama has changed: I still have a flair for dramatics – it makes life more interesting – but the idea of being involved in negative drama is just not interesting to me in the slightest. Negative drama makes that pit we all have in our stomachs seems like a black hole of misery if I am involved. Without the experiences in my life that led me up to this point, I could still be that dramatic high school kid. Thankfully, I am not.

At least I think I am not….

Most Days….

Whatever! I am a work in progress, get over it. Go throw stones at your own house or whatever that stupid expression is.

One of the things that is constantly changing in my head is my view on the universe and the all-encompassing connectivity of everything. Although I want to punch those little creepy anamatronic-robots on the Disney World ride in the face because that song is so obnoxious, I think it speaks directly to this. Our world is a small place in the grand design. Whether you choose to believe there is an omnipotent being somewhere who knows what she is doing (religious), choose to believe in science, choose to believe in the magic eight ball, or even the flying spaghetti monster, most of us will admit that throughout life each of us has those moments where we feel something would happen no matter what previous experiences or decisions we faced. Call it your gut, intuition, karma, or juju (my preferred term for it). We all know it and have experienced it.

One way that I have continued to be shocked by this juju is in church. I have only ever regularly gone to two churches in my life. I have been a lifetime member of one, and the other I attended while I was at Clemson. Although I have not gone to either of those churches as regularly lately as I should or would have liked to, one thing that shocks me every time I go to church (no matter if it is one of those two churches or a different one I am visiting) after a long absence is just how directly the message relates to my life at that moment. It is almost like the church is speaking directly to me. I can feel it acknowledging the burdens I am bringing with me and offering up a song, a sermon, or a reading as if to say “Here. I know you are upset. I hope this helps.”

It has happened numerous times in my life; often it usually occurs around a stressful time or event that I am busy stewing over. It happened yesterday, but the most recent memorable time before that would have been on Wednesday November 9, 2016. I was stunned and still shell-shocked by the results of the election; in an effort to not lose hope I made the decision to go to my church’s Wednesday evening prayer service. The positive juju I received that evening was so perfect for what I needed that I do not even have a word for how similar it was I wanted to hear. Before the service started, my pastor came over and she hugged me and we talked for a few moments. I will keep what said to myself, and she will never know how much that meant to me in that moment – and it was exactly what I needed in that moment. During the service I was able to pray and put my doubt and sadness aside. I left feeling rejuvenated. When I got home, I got online and had a second church service reading Pastor John Pavlovitz’s Stuff that Needs to be Said blog post about the election. Titled “Here is Why we Grieve Today” it summed up my feelings and gave me a sense of peace.

This past Sunday gave me those same feelings once again. Having chosen sleep over salvation for the past several Sundays I had a lot on my plate and donned a cute Easter outfit and went to church. I was late to church, and not in the best mood, this time of year is busy – being a teacher and trying to make it to Spring Break, worrying about doing my taxes, the health of a friend, and stressing over my life had me all in knots. Once again, the message felt like it was directed towards me. During the sermon every issue I was worrying about was directly address and I was given an answer (This is where Hermione Granger would raise her hand and shout “Jesus!” if we were at Hogwarts). We sang Now All the Vault of Heaven Resounds, one of my favorite hymns. I spent the day enjoying brunch with family. I went outside barefoot and threw the ball in the yard for Humphrey. I binge-watched Netflix. The universe once again told me to relax.

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Don’t even try to argue. My dog is cuter than your dog. Or your kid for that matter. 

Upon reflection, yesterday reminded me so much of why I love Easter and why I love Spring. Just like Easter, Spring is a period of rebirth. Everything is renewed – from fresh leaves and blooms on trees and flowers to teachers and students feeling rested over their much-anticipated Spring Breaks. Even the much dreaded Spring Cleaning that some of us do is a time for us to unclutter ourselves of things we no longer need and give us much-needed space, openness, and organization.

For those of us who are Christian, there is a reason Easter and Spring go hand in hand. For those who are not Christian, Spring is still an important time of year – whether you are religious or not. Many other religions have important days in spring. In the Jewish faith Passover is often aligned with Easter in terms of date. Holi is an important religious festival celebrated by Hindus and other Indians around the world. Even the Chinese New Year typically falls in the early days of Spring. Many secular events and festivals bring in the Springtime. The National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C. is a great example.martinluther1-2x

Instead of doing Spring Cleaning in the literal sense (not being able to afford housing has one perk I guess), I plan on doing some spring cleaning in the figurative sense. I make no promises that I will be successful, but I am going to work on embracing the five things that I think Spring is.

  • Spring is Hope→ for me, my future, and my journey in life.
  • Spring is a Renewal→  of mind, body, and attitude.
  • Spring is a Rebirth→ of positive thoughts, and the literal world around us.
  • Spring is a Forgiveness→  of anger, despair, and loss.
  • Spring is a Promise→ of the resurrection, of something more, and of seeing my Papa again.

My Springtime prayer is that I accomplish embracing these things. If I am successful, this Spring and all the Springs that I am lucky enough to experience in the future will be just as magical as I imagine them to be. If I am not successful that too will be ok – because I will have Spring 2019 to look forward to. And I can start the Springtime renewal all over again.

Happy Easter and Happy Spring my friends. May yours be as hopeful for you as I am for mine.

-WB

Marching, Bobby, and The Sound of Silence

This blog post is going to be quite verbose, but if you only ever read one of my postings the whole way through, I beg it be this one. In the short life of Sweet Tea and Small Talk this is the most important one I have yet to write.

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I had a two-sided sign. This was my humorous side. The other side was more serious – which is why I was holding that one facing the direction we walked.

Many of us have bucket lists full of amazing things that we want to do and or accomplish. Some of the things may be trivial to others and some of them probably appear on multiple people’s lists. I have been able to cross a couple of things off my list in my 29 trips around the sun – including swimming with dolphins and traveling abroad to some of the most beautiful places on Earth with friends, family, and even students. One thing that has been on my list since high school has been to be part of a protest movement. I have always gravitated towards those momentous events in our history as humans because they have fascinated me and being a part of a group that has faced systematic oppession multiple times throughout history, I have always felt a sense of community with people who participate in these movements.

I know how that might sound or look. I can already feel your head tilting and your eyes narrowing a bit. I do not by any means want to trivialize the March for our lives or any other movements that this country has seen. I do not want it to seem like I am protesting or marching just to be able to say I was there. I simply at the end of my life want to be able to mean it when I look my God in the face and say I have tried to love my neighbor as myself.

Many times while reading and learning about these heroes I have wondered had I been alive at that time would I have been a part of it myself. I am not foolish enough to think I could ever have led a movement – I am not brave enough or disciplined enough for that. But I do hope that I would have stood up for my fellow man and said “Enough! No More! This is not right! We Shall Overcome!” This is why it will be an honor and a privledge when I look back on my life to have been able to be a part of Greenville’s March for Our Lives march through Downtown Greenville. Our March was led by some amazing young people who were inspired by some other amazing young people from Parkland, Florida. The world is better because they are in it, and they are taking up the leadership role many were born for.

City Police for the event estimate that 2,000 people attended the Greenville, March for Our Lives. What is truly amazing about the event is it was led completely by students. Several college students and about a dozen amazing high schools (one of which goes to the school where I teach, and one who goes to the school where I used to teach) worked with local organizations and planned everything from the March down to who was speaking – shoutout to the young lady from Mauldin who had quite the message for our governor Henry McMaster. I have offically dubbed her Greenville’s own Emma Gonzalez. What has please me the most about the march was how positive and uplifting it was. Everyone was positive in spirt; the counter-protesters were ignored and although we were marching for a serious reason there was love and positivity in the atmosphere -especially as we sang “We Shall Overcome.” My eyes filled with tears at one point during Greenville City Councilwoman Lillian Brock Fleming’s speech. Here is a woman who literally sang that very song with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. urging my students and so many other student to pick up the torch and continue their movement into the future. It will go down in my life as a very sepcial moment, that was again, a honor and a privilege to be a part of. Our little march was even featured on MSNBC at one point during their coverage – #YeahTHATGreenville that we know and love!¹

The March in Greenville went off without a hitch and that is because of the courage, bravery, and determination of some amazing BAD ASS students. Students like Gonzalez. Students like David Hogg. Students like Cameron Kasky. Like Alex Wind. And Jaclyn Corin. And Matt Post. These bravery of these students is inspiring, but their willingness to openly accept the privilege that their skin color provides them is even more inspiring. Many of them freely admit that the affluent, upper middle class, and white backgrounds has led to increased media coverage of an issue that disproportionately affects communities of color every day. That is why it was so important to them to make sure communities of color were well represented in the speakers of the March. 11 year old Naomi Wadler spoke more eloquently than I could every hope to write in this blog about speaking for all of the girls of color who face down the barrel of a gun more than anyone. And when Jaclyn Corin brought out the granddaughter of Dr. King who said she had a dream that enough is enough my eyes that had been brimming with tears all day bowled over. Those were wonderful moments, but David and Emma hold my top moments for the day.

I love the moment in David Hogg’s speech where he boldly states something those of us on the right side of history already know. The people in power our shaking. And they shood be. If they get in our way we will get in theirs. And we will vote. Vote them right out of office and into the unemployment line.

It comes as no suprise that Emma Gonzalez spoke last. She has been the most visible and vocal spokesperson since this whole movement began. While many think she and Hogg and the others are capitalizing on this for fame (the NRA has disgustingly said they wish more of their friends had died) I truly believe they would give all of the attention back for an instance of normalcy in their last year of high school. A year that should be spent getting ready for prom and buying supplies for college. If you havent seen Emma Gonzalez’s speech you must watch it. She spoke for only 2 minutes. And then she filled the TV screen with 4 minutes and 20 seconds of dead air.

Why did she stand there in silence for almost 5 minutes? The answer is simple, and heartbreaking, and goosebumping-giving: 380 seconds. 6 minutes and 20 seconds. That is how long it took for the Stoneman shooter² to take the lives of 17 innocent people in yet another school. 6 minutes and 20 seconds and those 17 people “would never” again. Gonzalez last words should speak to every high school student in every school in every district in America: “Fight for your lives. Before it is someone else’s job.” As she walked defiantly away from the stage, I started crying once again. This time it was tears of joy. As long as these students keep going, I know they will be successful. I only pray that that don’t lose faith or give up the fight.

I was going to end the blog here, but I got to thinking about the power of the silence that Gonzalez provided us with for almost four-and-a-half minutes. It reminded me of one of the greatest songs of all time – in my opinion of course: Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence. Although the song has mysterious origins (Simon & Grafunkel have never truly said how it came to be) most people believe it was written in response to JFK’s assasination. It became a pivotal song during the 1960s counter culture movement and I love how haunting the lyrics are. It also plays a pivotal role in the 2006 Emilio Estevez-directed film Bobby, a film about the assasination of RFK, JFK’s younger brother.

If you have never seen it, the film is brilliantly done. There is no actor playing Bobby Kennedy. The film is more about the people who are touched by Bobby Kennedy’s assassination than the woulda-been President. The final few minutes as Bobby is shot by Sirhan Sirhan, as panic envelops the Ambassador Hotel, the scene is played out brilliantly by actors like Helen Hunt, Elijah Wood, Martin Sheen, Nick Canon, and Lindsay Lohan.

One of the parting thoughts I want to leave you with are the words of an actual speech that Bobby Kennedy gave on violence. While I cannot find the exact date of the speech is rings true now more than ever. Kennedy says he wants to:

…speak briefly to you about the menace of violence in America, which again stains our lands and everyone of our lives. It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of violence are black and white. Rich and poor. Young and old. Famous and unknown. They are most important of all, human beings, loved and needed by other human beings. Noone, no matter where he lives or what he does, can be certain who next will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on and on in this country of ours. Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has violence ever created? Whenever any American’s life has been taken by another American unnecessarily, whether it is done in defiance of the law, or in the name of the law. Whether it is done by a gang in cold blood. Or in passion….. Whenever we tear at the fabric of our lives…. Whenever we do this, the whole nation is degraded. Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence, that ignores our common hummanity….”

As I rewatched that scene over the weekend it left my eyes once again tear stained. Few families have as public a history with gun violence in this nation as the Kennedy family, and the prophetic nature of Robert Francis Kennedy’s words should strike us all over the head in today’s society. It speaks to the current issues we are failing to fix all too well: The rise of gangs. The rise of police brutality and police killing of innocent people. The rise of us losing our shared humanity and existence on this planet. We would all do well to reflect on Kennedy’s words in the coming weeks. This writer knows he will, and he hopes you will join him.

I want to leave you with one final thought that a lifelong church family friend (shoutout to Mama Wannamacher) left me with. They are not her words, and they are not my words. They are the words of the real environmentalist and activist and woman who would be so proud of the students who attend the high school named after her. They are the words of Marjory Stoneman Douglas: “Be a nuisance when it counts. Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join action. Be depressed, and discouraged, and disapppointed at failure & the disheartening effects of ignorance and bad politics – but do not ever give up!”

Join me friends. I don’t plan on giving up. I hope you wont either. Never Again, because Enough is ENOUGH.

Author’s Notes

¹Video Credits for the video showing us on MSNBC go to Meghan Byrd. She, unlike me, was actually smart enough to remember to record the coverage of the March. Thanks Meghan!

²Any Time this writer makes postings related to mass shootings, he will never mention the perpertrator of those vile atrocities by names. I will play no part in furthering the infamy that they so desparately desire.

Act 1: March Madness – The Broadway Musical

I vividly remember the first time I went to The Peace Center here in Greenville for a show. My great aunt “Marcar” took me and my siblings to see the traveling production of Disney’s Beauty and The Beast. She pulled some strings and was able to get us seats in a box. The first time in my life I felt bouije – and I ain’t even sorry about it. I remember wheeling my chair all the way to the edge of the box and resting my head on the balcony. I did not move until the show was over. I was enamored with everything. The costumes were gorgeous, Broadway people are beautiful (jawlines for DAAAYYYYSSS) and everyone sings and dances throughout the entire thing! This is how life truly should be.

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Over the years I have kept every single playbill from every single production I have been to. They are in a shoebox under my bed. I have laughed, sobbed, cringed, held my breath, exhaled loudly, prayed, and so many more actions at these productions. There have been a couple that are rare enough to have made me do all of these in one evening. Many of these shows can teach us so much about life, who we are, and how we can be better versions of ourselves. The theatre going experience is something I wish we could require for all people. It is a vital art form that deserves protected status in our society. What does it need protection from? The constant barrage of attacks to funding and the continued questioning of whether or not it is necessary.

Money Makes the World Go Round. And apparently to use that money you should have something called a budget (I don’t know what that means either). When making budgets you don’t always have enough money and so everybody gets less or somethings get cut from your budget all together.When it comes to making budgets for funding everything from countries to schools, one of the first things that gets cut is funding for the arts and other subjects (including social studies) that get lumped into the category of humanities. This is both wrong and shortsighted. It will save you pennies today but it will hurt you in the long run. If you disagree, thats fine, but you are still wrong and now you go rock on somebody else’s less cultured front porch. Research backs it up.

Studies have shown effective arts integration raises test scores AND increases social learning (empathy, tolerance, etc.) skills that are vital in everyday life. You don’t like that one go and Google it yourself. There are thousands of studies that have come to similar conclusions. And with all that information our current Predicament President continues to advocate for cutting funding or completely eliminating funding altogether for important programs like The National Endowment of the Arts, The National Endowment for Humanities, and dozens of other agencies. I want even mention the millions he wants to spend on a military parade that the military doesn’t even want; I will just leave you with today’s hashtag instead: #overcompensating .

If none of the above sways you on why the theatre is important and why you should go, allow me to give you my personal reasons as to why you should give it a chance. This list could have equaled the number of minutes in a year, but for the sake of brevity, I will keep it to the most important.

#1 – Theatre is Life.

There is a well known saying that says “Theatre is Life. Cinema is Art. Television is Furniture.” While I don’t 100% agree with it putting theatre completely above cinema and television I do feel it is the most authentically human experience you can observe – because you are actually watching people do it. Oprah once struck me over the head with one of her many pieces of wisdom during a commencement address when she said:

“There is a common denominator in the human experience that we all share. We all want to know that what we do, what we say, who we are matters. We want to be validated. Every single person in every single confrontation in every single encounter than you have is really about do you see me? Do I matter to you?”

That speaks perfectly to the crux of every single Broadway Production I have ever seen. I challenge you to try and come up with a show where that is not a major piece of the plot line or one of the character’s journey throughout the story.

#2 – Theatre is for Everyone.

Every Broadway Queen just said “YAS!”  There is a reason the LGBTQ community gravitates towards the theatre. It was the first place that truly accepted them for who they were. There is a reason theatre kids literally glow when they get on stage. It gives them permission to exude the art that is a fundamental piece of their souls. And while they are on that stage people will clap and cheer for them instead of tease or belittle them. Some of the greatest Broadway songs of all time speak directly to this point. While many of us have been moved to tears the lyrics behind these powerful songs are so relatable because we all want to find our place in the sun where we belong. If you would like examples look here. Or here. Or this one too. But don’t forget about this one. And last, but certainly not least, Shrek! Two years ago the Tonys had the tough job of airing on the same Sunday that 49 beautiful souls lost their lives at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. James Corden scrapped his entire opening monologue that was filled with what I am sure are funny jokes to do a somber cold open that was backed up by the Broadway community’s most important stars say this:

It was powerful to watch. It was an elegant remembrance that didn’t darken the whole night of an awards ceremony. It was a hug the LGBTQ community needed. It was proof that somewhere there is a place for us all.

#3 – Theatre is Political Activism

As a history teacher allow me a chance to give you some historical background. HIV/AIDS was discovered and diagnosed in the early 1980s. There was no funding and research being done by the government – President Reagan didn’t even say the word AIDS until the late 1980s. The LGBTQ community was hit hard and the Broadway community was being decimated. Writers, choreographers, musicians, dancers, and singers in the prime of their lives were dying by the hundreds. When they government offered little help the Broadway community began doing it themselves. They have been protecting their own and many others since then. Broadway Cares and Equity Fights AIDS were created and eventually merged into Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. The organization has raised over $285 million for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, education, and research funding. And how might they have done that? By singing. and By getting naked for Broadway Bares. Attending a Broadway Bares is one of my bucket list items.

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One of the only tame photos I could find from Broadway Bares, Google though. You will see what I am talking about in point #4. Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

#4 – Theatre is Sexy, Talented Eye Candy

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One of my favorite things about a show being in town at The Peace Center is it makes scrolling through certain “social networking” apps a whole lot more fun. Most actors (and yes I am including females in this statements) range from early 20s to late 40s. Then men have jawlines and cheek bones for days. I would literally chop of my arm for hair that swoops like theirs does. Ladies have impeccable smiles and legs that come up to most women’s shoulders. And I am just gonna throw this out there. Broadway booties are better than non Broadway booties. On top of all that going for them, they sing and dance. At. The. Same. Time. It is just not fair. If you are skeptical of my analysis perhaps you will take the advice of the lady who sits behind me. She is somewhere in the area we would call middle aged and she comes to the show with her sister. Last time Book of Mormon was in town when one of the Mormons appeared on stage she whispered (my teacher hearing kicked in) to her sister: “he could ring my doorbell any day, but I would prefer he ring at night.” I laughed through most of the first act. Sebastian Stan and Jeremy Jordan are all you need to know. Or you can check out other actors and actresses yourself.

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Sebastian Stan. He even makes the name itself sound sexy.

#5 – Theatre is an escape from life about life.

This one might just be the most important of all. Theatre is about real life, but that only matters because it let’s you forget about your own life for a few moments. You may be stupid. You may be ugly. But you are HERE! Take a load off our your Kinky Boots and let some awesome people sing to you just how wonderful it is when you go “dancing through life.” You will love it! They will make you laugh, make you laugh and beg for more all in under three hours. After its over I will take you to a whoopee spot – and you don’t even have to rouge your knee. Only an artistic medium like the Broadway Stage could accurately portray the bitch of living.¹

To have a full circle moment from where I started in the beginning I will leave you with this: A Great NC State basketball coach who once led the WolfPack to a National Championship. Years later as he was dying from terminal cancer, Jim Valvano let the world in on an excellent piece of wisdom. He said there were three things you should do each day for it to be a good day. Those three things were: Laugh, Think, and Have your emotions be so powerful they move you to tears. Coach Valvano was right. Its a helluva day when you laugh, think, and cry in one day. So go to the theatre, and have yourself a helluva day.

 

¹  10 Points for Slytherin (are you surprised I was sorted there) if you can tell me how many musical references I have in this post and what musicals they came from.  Good Luck!

 

Stephen Hawking: A Life “To Infinity, and Beyond!”

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Stephen Hawking experiences zero gravity over the Atlantic. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

If there ever was a man who lived a life that truly lived every day by the motto we all remember from our high school english classes “Carpe Diem.” that man was Stephen Hawking. Although I agree, Hawking did live his remarkable life by that motto, I feel like a more appropriate motto for Hawking would be one from our old Pixar friend Buzz Lightyear: “To Infinity and Beyond.” In my humble opinion, this is far more fitting of man man who sought to understand the universe and the world we live in – and defied that universe and world by continuing to survive in a world that deemed it impossible for him thrive, let alone survive.

I was saddened when I woke up to the news of the passing of Stephen Hawking earlier this week. I have always been someone who loves an underdog story and while he might not argue it himself, many of us would have put Hawking squarely in the underdog box. What surprised me the most about his passing, however, was definitely my students knowledge of his death at the age of 76. What would my students know about a theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author of note when I am pretty sure most of them can’t even spell the word physicist?¹

I teach high school freshman (typically 14-15 year olds for those unfamiliar with the American public school system) and although the narrative that teenagers of that age are self-absorbed and only care about themselves is dangerously misinformed, pieces of that narrative ring true every now and then. I was confused as to how they would know about Stephen Hawking, someone who refused a knighthood from the British government over their funding (or lack thereof) in the late 1990s? The answer was so simple that I immediately wanted to punch myself for trying to knit with only one needle. I could almost hear Mr. Hawking’s distinct computer-generated voice saying “Bless your heart.”

My students are familiar with Stephen Hawking because, like millions of other people all over this country, they watch The Big Bang Theory. Even though you don’t need me to tell you (because if you watch CBS at all they tell you so often they must think we are deaf or dumb as a post and can’t remember) Big Bang is one of the highest rated comedies on television right now. It originally was about 4 scientist friends with an emphasis on 2 of the 4 (Leonard and Sheldon) and their interactions with the “dumb blonde” (Penny) who moves across the hall from the two scientists who are also roommates. My Papa loved The Big Bang Theory, a show he renamed Sheldon.

Although over the years the show has expanded to included more members (Bernadette, Amy Farrah Fowler, Stuart the Eeyore-like comic book store owner) the general premise has remained the same. One thing that has remained constant since the beginning has been the references to Hawking and his revered status in the physics community. Although Howard has playfully poked fun at the sound of Hawking’s “voice,” the high regard they show him on the show for his role in making physics “cool” to millions of people has been one of the few unbroken rules on the show. The episode where Sheldon,  who is not crazy, his mother had him tested – is one of most watched episodes of the entire series.

 

For those of you who do not watch The Big Bang Theory allow me to put the clip above into context for you. If Sheldon were a real person, this would go down as the most amazing/most embarrassing moment in his life. For Sheldon this is the celebrity he would most want to meet. If you still can’t comprehend or understand, here is a close list of alternatives of what it would be like:

  • Any of the Boliek Siblings meeting Beyoncé. Or Blue Ivy. Or Rumi. Or Sir. Or Solange. Or pretty much anyone associated with Beyoncé.
  • My dad meeting Ric Flair.
  • Every 20-something female in America meeting Megan Markle and secretly wishing they could club her over the head and trade places with her.
  • Most 10 year old boy (or girl) meeting Batman, Superman, or any of those other “super powered” mans that make up heroes.
  • Every 10 year old girl (or boy) breaking down meeting Wonder Woman.
  • Every gay in America feeling their oats over meeting whichever pop queen it is that slays them and gives them life.
  • Every Trump supporter getting to meet Vladimir Putin to tell him thank you over putting that current monstrosity in the White House.

Now that you have sufficient context as to understand the clip above, I’ll move on. Through his appearance on TBBT and other shows over the years, Hawking cemented what I think will end up being one of the most important pieces of the great legacy he leaves behind: to the delight of nerds everywhere, Hawking made science relevant and cool. After doing some research I now know there are several college courses that focus on the influence of TBBT. Thousands of science teachers across the country (shoutout to my friend Lisa Ms. Howell who has told me she is one them) have been able to use a primetime network sitcom in an actually productive way to help demonstrate a concept or principle. And to the chagrin of animal rights activists everywhere, millions of us who watch the show now can claim to know (although we still don’t probably understand fully) the equation below:

scrod

To those of you still confused allow me to put it in the terms you and I understand. That is the equation that goes along with the thought experiment most of us will collectively know as the paradox called “Schrodinger’s Cat. And TBBT fans everywhere let out a collective “Oh yeah! The possibly dead/possibly alive cat in the box!” For those who don’t watch the she show you can find a detailed explanation here. The author has no desire to pretend to know enough to teach the concept to you.

Putting the humor aside for a second, I want to focus on the lesser know side of Hawking’s life for a second: his earlier years. I myself had no knowledge of Hawking being born in an abled-body until I saw the movie The Theory of Everything. If you have yet to see it, I highly recommend it. It details the earlier years of years of Hawking’s graduate schooling and it includes his romantic relationship with the woman who eventually became his wife. If that is not enough to get you to see it maybe this will: it stars resident dreamboat Eddie Redmayne² as Stephen Hawking. For his performance of Hawking, Redmayne won a host of awards including an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

If you have not watched the trailer above, stop and do it. Towards the end of the trailer, Redmayne has a voiceover where he says a quote that Hawking gave in an interview around the same time his book A Brief History of Time. It is a quote that Hawking lived his life by, and now more than ever, one we would all do well to take to heart:

There should be no boundaries to human endeavor. Where the is life, there is hope.

While many of us would be curled up in the fetal position about being diagnosed in our 20’s with a rare form of early onset amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, but in America more commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease)³, Hawking never once let that stop him on his great quest to understand the relationship between space and time and how they fit together in our universe. Given just two years to live based on knowledge of the disease at that time, Hawking surpassed expectations by surviving for another four and a half decades. Racking up numerous accolades along the way, Hawking gave us research that has helped change the world, but more importantly he showed that people living with ALS – just like people living with countless other disease – are no less capable of living their full lives. All they need is to be given the chance.

If there every was a person worthy of The Today Show’s A Life Well Lived it would be Stephen Hawking. And although I have my own personal beliefs about what happens to us all eventually, I believe that as soon as Hawking crossed over, he had all the answers to the questions he searched so hard to answer. Mr. Hawking, you strove to go to infinity, and now you are beyond. I thank you for what you gave us, and I hope it is everything you thought it would be. And so much more.

 

¹ I include myself as one of those bad spellers. Physics is a hard word. Sue me.

² Although he is a resident dreamboat, I still have a bone to pick with Eddie Redmayne. Nobody should look that good, be a ginger, have cheekbones for days, AND be able to sing. Its just not fair.

³ ALS is a disease that millions across the US have been diagnosed with. Although there is currently no known cure, we are making great strides thanks to an increase in awareness (thank you ice bucket challenge) and great research being done across the globe. If you can spare a few dollars, why not donate to any of the numerous great organizations like The ALS Association, Project ALS, or The ALS Development Therapy Institute. All three organizations are leading the way on finding a cure for this disease. If research continues at the present rate, we should have a cure in our lifetimes.

An Open Letter: From One Patriot to 200 Others

 

WALKOUT

Dear Walkout Patriots,

Today was aninteresting day in Greenville County School District to say the least, and I am sure that it was just as interesting at other high schools across the United States. According to reports on WYFF4 earlier today, you, the students of J.L. Mann High School, were the largest group of students to walk out at about 200 students. To those 200 students I have a few short things I would like to share with you.

  1. You have inspired many and made many people very proud! As a 2007 graduate of J.L. Mann and a social studies teacher for Greenville County it fills me with pride to see you taking matters into your own hands and standing up for yourself. You have truly taken the mascot of our high school from something that is cheered for at a football game, and a living breathing beacon of what you did today! Do not let this moment go to waste. You have the nation’s attention – use it for good. Use it for change. Use it for the hopes we never have to go through another shooting like this again.
  2. You have outraged many and made many people very upset. This is not my way to try and scare you into submission or silence you. This is me being open and honest with you because after today I feel like you deserve this much. The fact that they are upset and outraged is okay. That is what makes this country great. We are allowed to disagree with one another. They are mad- let them be mad. They are upset- let them be upset. With that said, never let their anger, their voices, or their power silence you, intimidate you, or make you question your beliefs or actions. You are on the right side of history, and history will eventually show that.
  3. False Support stains both your character & the importance of this movement.  Many people have used your support of these walkouts as excuses to hurl insults about your knowledge of what is happening in our country. They say you are using this as an excuse to get out of class. I know you and I am surrounded by students like you on a daily basis. I know these people are wrong. But if there are some of you who indeed only walked out to get out of class, I humbly ask you to rethink your actions. You do nothing besides make yourself look bad, demean the #NeverAgain movement as a whole, and continue to add to the narrative that teenagers and young people today only care about themselves.
  4. Don’t be mad at the school district for not “supporting” you. While you may feel discouraged that the district did not support your walkout by telling you not to or by not allowing the media to report on what happened, they are only looking out for your best interest in their eyes. On a hot button issue such as this, the district is right to be concerned. My job as a teacher and the district’s job is first and foremost to keep you safe at the present moment. They made the decision they had to make in order to do that.
  5. Never. Let. This. Moment. Escape. You. I cannot stress this last point enough. You have the momentum of a student led movement behind you. The nation is watching. The world is watching. In your social studies classes you cover many student led movements. Almost every single student led movement in this nation has been successful. Your movement can be successful as well. Follow their steps into the history books., Shout until they hear you. Continue to speak out, speak up, demand to be heard, and VOTE, VOTE, VOTE.

I now would love to talk to those of you who did not walk out today. Because your voice is just as important and valid and worth hearing. I have a few things I would like to say to you as well.

  1. Never be afraid to follow your heart. If you wanted to be a part of the walkout today but chose not to because you were afraid of the consequences or the views of your friends, or your parents told you not to I want you to know that although you did not walk out today, you should never be afraid to follow your heart and do what you think is right. At the end of your life, your regrets should not be long. Always follow what your conscious tells you.
  2. If you disagree with the walk out movement that is also ok. You should never been forced to be a part of a walk out or protest. Your feelings and opinions are exactly that- yours! You are entitled to them. Although you disagree with the actions of your classmates today, I politely ask you to strike up a respectful dialogue with your friends as to why they felt the need to walk out. Who knows? They might change your mind or you might change theirs.
  3. Don’t accuse your classmates of dishonesty. It is not fair for your classmates to point fingers, blame, or accusations of not caring at your feet – so it is not fair for you to hurl accusations of hating the second amendment or wanting to take away guns at theirs. The only way we can possibly get to a solution on the issue of gun violence is by respecting our differences and finding compromises.
  4. You don’t have to walk out, but you do have to participate.  I cannot stress this last point enough. The nation is watching. The world is watching. Do not sit back and apathetically let others make the laws and answers for you. Shout until they hear you. Continue to speak out, speak up, demand to be heard, and VOTE, VOTE, VOTE.

Fellow Patriots, continue to represent the alumni of J.L. Mann High School with class, dignity, and distinction. Continue to be the best that Greenville County School District offers to the world. And about all else, continue to be a patriot:

a person who regards himself or herself as a defender, especially of individual rights against federal government interference.”

With Great Respect and Admiration,

Wynne Boliek

Class of 2007

 

Tootin’ My Own Horn

635515863519347725-letter-to-the-editorAllow me a chance to show off my feathers for a moment because I am Proud as a Peacock about The Greenville News deciding to publish my most recent Letter to the Editor in the paper this morning. With everything that has been going on in the news over the past month related to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting in Parkland, Florida I felt it prudent that we oh, I don’t know, actually talk with some teachers about whether or not arming teachers in the classroom was a good idea. Because if there is one thing I have found after 5 and a half years of being in the classroom its people who have never been in the classroom or have an education degree always have an opinion on what should be done to fix public education.

Like what on rice, they always want to give that opinion as well. Take it from someone who (admittedly does not profess to know all the answers about every education conundrum we face today) is actually down in the trenches every day: we appreciate your desire and willingness to help, but leave it to the professionals and have a seat. That may seem blunt, but education so far is the only career where everyone feels the need to give their opinion – even if they are quite frankly, unqualified to comment. And as the old saying goes, “opinions are like asses. just because you have one, doesn’t mean you should share it. So, without further ado, you can read my letter in its entirety by clicking here. If you have anything you would like to share, by all means leave a comment. Unless you are going to be a negative nelly- then you can take that mess elsewhere.