To My Students, Before the Chauvin Verdict

Students,

Today is Monday, April 19, 2021. We are just about halfway through the 4th quarter; there are only 35 school days left in the entire year. I am sure you aren’t thinking about any of that. You aren’t studying or preparing for the upcoming EOC exam either. Most of you, like myself and the rest of the country, are sitting here trying to keep our minds occupied as we await the jury’s verdict in the Derek Chauvin case. I don’t know what the verdict will be, and I don’t know how I will feel if he is found guilty or not guilty. However, none of that matters to me at this point. Before the jury returns with a verdict, I wanted to take a second and say a couple of things to you. I hope you will read it, and I hope you take the words to heart because they come from my heart.

First, I think it is important to stress that nobody wins when the verdict is read. Even if he is found guilty, it will not bring George Floyd back to his family. Not only will George Floyd’s family grieve that he is gone, but Derek Chauvin’s family will also grieve that they will not be able to spend time with him either. That may not mean much to you, and that’s ok. Many of you have told me that you don’t care what happens to him because he is a bad person. I want you to know, that we cannot and we must not allow our hatred for him to cloud our judgment of humanity. We must show Derek Chauvin the decency and mercy that he wrongly and cruelly denied George Floyd; if we do not, then we are no better than he is.

Second, I know that you have been disappointed time and time again by our justice system. You have watched, disappointed, frustrated, and angry that people who could be your mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers are needless denied of their right to bird-watch. Or barbecue. Or jog. Or simply breath. I am not asking you to put that disappointment aside (it would be wrong of me to ask anything close to that). I am asking you to please not give up or lose hope before the verdict is even reached. Our justice system is far from perfect, but the minute that we discount the justice system before it has reached the end of the process is the minute that our nation is in a troubled spot. We must hope, pray, and keep faith in our justice system that it will do what we think is right. Then, if it does not, we must work hard to change it so that in the future it does.

Students, any time you need a marching buddy, me and my sign will be ready!

Third, I want you to know that if the jury comes back with a verdict that you find to be the wrong verdict, I will grieve with you. I will listen to you, I will cry with you, and I will give you space (my classroom) to process the news in a safe environment. I will not tell you to not be angry. I will not tell you to get over it. I will not tell you to move on. The one thing I will tell you is if you do not like the verdict, then you need to work to reform our justice system. If you care that strongly, then be part of the movement that changes it. You don’t have to know how – there will be time to figure that out, but you can’t just sit and complain. You can and you must make sure that future people don’t have to feel the way you feel.

Fourth, is about the world, and your place in it. If the jury comes back with a not guilty verdict, many of you will continue to feel that the world does not value you or your right to life. I can’t argue with that, because every time I try and put myself in your shoes, I end up feeling the exact same way. With that said, if “Not Guilty” is the verdict that is announced I want to make one thing crystal clear to you: even if you feel this nation does not see, value, or celebrate you, there is one place where you will ALWAYS be seen, ALWAYS be valued, and ALWAYS be celebrated: Room 133. I know you probably ignore the poster on the wall right next to my door, that all of those words hold true

Everything in this classroom will ALWAYS be true. Day in and Day out. ALWAYS (even when you talk to much while I am teaching).

No matter how many times we pray for a guilty verdict, but don’t get it; no matter how many times we demand charges and accountability and it is kept from us; no matter how many times we yell Black Lives Matter and it is ignored that you matter. You are worth it. You deserve to be seen. You deserve to not have to live in fear. You deserve each and every chance at a happy and successful life as every privileged white person who has gotten away with something you never could.

My parents never had to have conversation like this with me. Quite Frankly, no parent should have to have conversations like these with their children.

I am down to one last thing students, and this one to me is the most important so please take it to heart. I know that it is going to be easy to discount and ignore what I say because of my race. If you do choose to ignore this, you have every right and I won’t blame you. I know I probably would if a teacher who doesn’t look like me and had never been through the experiences that I had. In my classroom, I have sat and listened to many of you talk about the things you have been through with the police and the justice system. Many times it has brought me to tears listening to your experiences. I have never had to do anything special when pulled over (it has never given me a sense of fear either). My parents never had to have “the talk with me.” When I told you how many tickets or violations that I was able to talk myself out of many of you giggled and made jokes about it, but I know that it hurt and angered you. It should hurt and anger you. Many of you will just think of me as just your white teacher. It is true. I am your white teacher. I can’t change the color of my skin just like you can’t change the color of yours. The one thing I can and I will do, continue to use my privilege to yell, march, protest, and advocate until the rest of the nation believes what I believe: That you are worthy and deserve a chance at a great life every bit as much as I do. That will never change- no matter how many times I catch you texting in class.

I tell y’all all the time if you don’t like something about the way our society is, then you need to change it. I am going to keep telling you that. If you don’t like the verdict when it comes in, then change the system so we don’t keep having to live with these disappointing verdicts. If you need help figuring out how to change and reform the system. I will be there each and every step of the way: you know where to find me.

Never forget how powerful you are or how loud your voice can be.

With great pride, in each and every one of you,

Mr. Boliek

P.S. Stop texting in class. Y’all know that gets on my nervous.

1/6/2021: The 8 Things I Know to be True About the Capitol Protests

You might think I am a loser when I say this, but I cry on election day. As someone who has devoted his life to history and educating people in history, I have always looked at our nation as a nation that every four years honorably and peacefully chooses the course of action of our nation. While many nations use propaganda, intimidation, and fear to decide how to run a nation, America uses the ballot box. That is why I know we are a great nation. That is why I know our nation is exceptional.

People waiting in line for hours in the middle of a pandemic is without a doubt one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

It is now 8 o’clock in the evening on January 6, 2021. I have watched in horror, disbelief, and total shame the events of today unfold. While I am sure over the coming days I will put together something much more eloquent, the things below are the things that I know to be true about today. Some will argue they are opinions or political views, but the historical record will eventual agree with me. So, without further ado, here is the truth about today.

The events of today was a terrorist attack & the antithesis of American Ideals and Exceptionalism.

This was not a protest. This was not peaceful. This was not even a riot. This was domestic terrorism- plain and simple. The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims is how the dictionary defines terrorism. That is what we saw today. Calling it anything but domestic terrorism is wrong and continues to do a disservice to actual people who practice their constitutional right to protest.

This is not America. This is a disgrace. Nothing more.

The blame for this falls squarely on the shoulders of the President of the United States.

No other person is responsible for this. No other person has continued to tweet out lies, factually untrue information, veiled threats, etc. over and over and over again. So when republican congressmen and congresswomen go on television and feigning ignorance as to how this could possibly happen is complete and utter malarkey and is an abdication of their elected duty. Quite frankly, it should disqualify them from being able to hold elected office again. It is high time we call a spade, a spade. For the past four years, we have watched as politicians from the party of Lincoln lie, explain away, and pretend not to have heard the President’s incendiary statements. That did nothing but turn them into sycophants and given rise to a cult of personality situation we have not seen since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Time and Time again, this President calls for violence from his supporters.

What we saw today was the epitome of racism & white privilege.

It is mind boggling to me that an angry, ARMED, masked, and armored mob openly carrying assault rifles was allowed to break into the building that is the the symbol of American democracy. Especially when you consider that time and time again over the past 4 years, peaceful protests that were part of the Black Lives Matter movement have been tear gassed, shot with rubber bullets, beaten, and arrested. Had the terrorists from today’s events been black they never would have gotten into the building, they never would have gotten to the capital lawn, and they never would have been allowed to quietly walk out when they were done destructing property. This should serve as a wake up call to everyone (including the media- who treated this differently than the BLM protests). It is high time we have a discussion about white privilege, and how it is keeping us from true racial reconciliation.

These people would never have been allowed to get that close to the capitol.

Mike Pence & Mitch McConnell did the right thing today. But they are still complicit in trump’s crimes.

They did the right thing today. But that does NOT and will NOT excuse the damage they have done to this democracy. History will judge them as complicit.

Mitch McConnell did the right thing. Today. Mike Pence did the right thing. Today. Make no mistake, though: they are JUST as guilty as Trump of fanning the flames of this insurrection for the past for years. One helped Trump steal a Supreme Court seat. The other has acted as Donald Trump’s yes man as he has tried to take ownership over women’s bodies and kidnapped children from their parents. One has allowed the current President to fundamentally change this great nation and the other has obstructed a decent democratic President so he could ram harmful legislation down our throats for the past four years. So yes, Pence and McConnell surprisingly did the right thing today, but you will have to excuse me if I don’t offer them an “attaboy.”

President-Elect Biden offered Trump an out. Trump was too cowardly to take it.

President-Elect Biden offered the President a way out today. He had the opportunity to point a finger at Trump one last time, but he graciously condemned the violence, called for peace, and gave the President an invitation to address the nation and put an end to what was happening. The President has abandoned any sense of honor and duty and cowardly released a video statement. Did he condemn the violence? Somewhat. Right after that however, he continued to lie and spread information that was not true about this election. This President will go down in history as the only President to be too afraid to disappoint his cult of followers to do the right thing. It is disgustingly shameful, but not surprising!

Really? That is the best you could do? Why did you even bother?

Continuing to hold debate was not only the right thing to do it was absolutely necessary.

I cannot believe I am saying it, but Mitch McConnell and I agree on something for once.

I applaud Schumer, Pelosi, McConnell, and McCarthy for all coming together and agreeing to continue the constitutional obligation of certifying the electoral college results. I applaud all of those leaders of speaking, denouncing the buffoonery, and emphatically saying that the tactics of Russia, North Korea, and Turkey will NOT keep our elected officials from enacting the will of the people. It sends a message that the ideals and beliefs and tenets of American Democracy will never bend, never waver, and never back down to any militia, any mob, or any thugs. Because THAT is the will of the people; and the will of the people, will always win out in America.

Republicans need to know that there will be a reckoning. That is not a threat- it is a wake-up call.

In the video above from Cold Mountain, Nicole Kidman plays a woman from the south who is trying to survive the Civil War. Towards the end of the war and the end of the movie she looks at one of the villains of the movie and says:

There will be a reckoning. There will be a reckoning when this war is over. There will be a reckoning.

Nicole Kidman as Ada Monroe in the film Cold Mountain

I love that scene and the way Kidman says it. There is anger and contempt in her words, but more importantly, there is conviction and firm, unwavering belief in the words that she says are true. She knows she may not live to see it, but she knows she is right. With that said, there is reckoning coming and the republican party needs to get ready. I am not saying that as a threat. I am saying that with the knowledge that the only way for this nation to heal is to acknowledge the pain and destruction the last four years has caused. That starts by giving a firm and unwavering repudiation of today’s events. I firmly believe this system only works when you consider multiple perspectives and ways of doing something. One party does not have all the right answers. But neither party can be allowed to peddle intimidation, fear, and conspiracy theories. Finally, my Republican friends, you cannot cave into intimidation from the mob to maintain your seat, and then put out statements today denouncing the violence. Especially when you helped to cause it.

The party of Teddy Roosevelt, Lincoln, and Reagan is better than the last four years. It is time that Republicans stand up and say that. If they don’t, its time they have a seat away from politics for good.

The rest of the world needs to know that Lady Liberty and the ideals she stands for will carry this day, and every day after because America will never stop striving to be exceptional.

Many of you know me. I am a fairly pessimistic person. I like to think of it as realistic or pragmatic, but you could call it pessimistic. I am a very emotional person. If I think about, pray on, or wish for something to happen and it does not happen, then I am emotional devastated. So if I am pessimistic I am hurt less or pleasantly surprised, I feel like it works out better for my emotional well-being.

With that said, I have ALWAYS been optimistic when it comes to America. I love this nation and I love what she represents to the world. I love that for the past two and a half centuries we have been the beacon that shines on the hill for millions of people. I love that America has the oldest constitution still in use. I love that every 4 years we get to look the most powerful leader in the free world in the face and say if you screw this up we will fire you. Most importantly, though, I love the fact that this nation firmly believes we can always be better.

Antony Blinken, Biden’s choice for Secretary of State, beautifully describes what America Represents to the World.

God knows we have made many mistakes. We have kidnapped and enslaved an entire continent of people. We have kept African-Americans and Women from their constitutional rights. We have denied LGBTQIA people their legal rights. We have tried to bully and intimidate other nations into doing our will and when they refuse we destroy their government and install a puppet state. Sometimes we try to pretend these things did not happen. Thankfully, everyday and average American finally come to the realization that things can and MUST change and they take it upon themselves to change it.

That is why I know the world will eventually see what I see. All we have to do is remind them. With confidence in the American People and their determination to be exceptional we will gain the inevitable triumph. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this stain on our democracy, the true American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. Why? I will tell you why:

What makes us America? Our spirit. The American Spirit. Demonstrated by this clip.

Because. This. Is. America.

And that is what we do.

And God Bless Us For That.

-WB

The Canticle of the Turning…

This morning was a vastly different morning than the morning of my youth. I dont quite yet know how I feel about that (completely, I don’t think any of us yes know), but I do know it was vastly different.

In my youth, whether I liked it or not, Sunday Morning meant going to church. Although I had friends and did have fun at church, it was not always the number one place where you wanted to go. I can recall many saturday nights that coould have been sleepovers that were never meant to be because we had to go home and go to bed for church. Many times, Satudays, were no different than “School Nights” in our hoouse because it unfairly (in my opinion) meant going to bed at the same time we would have on Sunday night to prepare for school on Monday.

Now, as an adult, I relish my time at church. IT truly is where I feel closest to God. It is also where I feel closest to my grandfather who has since passed. I am disappointed every sunday when I still don’t see him sitting outside our Youth Director’s office. I know he is there, like he was every Sunday when he was alive, but he is not physically there. That is not all though. I relish that time becasuse no matter what my week has been like, no matter who I have met that has challeneged my patience, no matter what meeting that could have been an email, I walk out of that holy place a new person. It never ceases to amaze me, but it restores my faith in hummanity and in myself – week after week after week.

This week was different, however. This week was Church 2.0. This was church in the age of Coronavirus. This was church in the age of the anomaly that is the term Social Distancing.

I sat in my underwear, with my parents who were in their pajamas to attend church this morining. We mirrored our iMac to our TV using AppleTV and we watched the services as they were streamed through Facebook live. It was VASTLY different from any church service I have EVER attended. And oddly enogh, I walked away from church with the same restoration of my faith that I have the million times I have walked away from church before. God Truly works in mysterious ways.

Was it different? Yes, it was.

Do I prefer the face to face meeting? Yes of course. I oddly enough don’t even like attending church in your underwear or pajamas.

The older I get, the most I listen to my gut, the feeling my students call jujuu. That conscience or gut feeling that many attirubute to god. He spoke to me today and many others through one of the songs we sang called “The Cantcicle of the Turning.”

I fell in love with the song I heard several years ago, and those feelings of joy came turning back as we sang to our tv screen. Truly, god spoke to us this morning through song. The Question is, were you listening?

My soul cries out with a joyful shout
that the God of my heart is great,
And my spirit sings of the wondrous things
that you bring to the one who waits.
You fixed your sight on the servant’s plight,
and my weakness you did not spurn,
So from east to west shall my name be blest.
Could the world be about to turn?

My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears,
For the dawn draws near,
And the world is about to turn.

Though I am small, my God, my all,
you work great things in me.
And your mercy will last from the depths of the past
to the end of the age to be.
Your very name puts the proud to shame,
and those who would for you yearn,
You will show your might, put the strong to flight,
for the world is about to turn. (Refrain)

From the halls of power to the fortress tower,
not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears
every tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more,
for the food they can never earn;
These are tables spread, ev’ry mouth be fed,
for the world is about to turn. (Refrain)

Though the nations rage from age to age,
we remember who holds us fast:
God’s mercy must deliver us
from the conqueror’s crushing grasp.
This saving word that our forbears heard
is the promise that holds us bound,
‘Til the spear and rod be crushed by God,
who is turning the world around. (Refrain)

Read back over the lyrics, my friends. Listen to what they are saying. Yes, this is an especially challenging time for those of us who love the church. Yes we have been scared and are still scared. Yes, we are confused. But must importantly, YES. GOD. IS. WITH. US.

And for that, my soul cries out with what you know is a joyjul shout!

To my trinity family, I missed seeing you this morning, but until things change, we must keep the faith and the safety of others (like Halleigh) close to our hearts.

To those who do not worship with me, my message is simple: Keep the faith. WE have been through dark days in the past, and we will have many more to get through in the future. We will only be able to do it, together.

God’s Peace and Blessings to one and ALL! AMEN.

-WB

Cold Mountain Wisdom

As I was channel surfing one night this week as men are prone to doing, I came across one of the films that was moved into my top ten list of greatest films of all time. The Anthony Minghella-directed masterpiece that is Cold Mountain originally premiered in 2004 and stars Nicole Kidman and Jude Law and Reneé Zellweger in an Academy Award, Golden Globe, SAG Award, and BAFTA winning performance. In addition to those three mega stars the film also has other major star players in supporting roles including Donald Sutherland, Jack White (from the White Stripes), Charlie Hunnam and Jena Malone. The Soundtrack is also superb featuring music from Jack White, Allison Krauss, and Sting. The trailer is below.

Many people might raise an eyebrow that I put Cold Mountain in my top ten films list but it truly has something for everybody: amazingly nuanced and well written characters, Civil War battle scenes, and a love so deep and meaningful that people are willing to go to hell and back to be reunited with one another. I’d also be lying if I didn’t say that the reunion love scene between Kidman and Law’s characters isn’t scandalously hot as well. In addition to all of this, the movie takes place in Cold Mountain, North Carolina which is less than an hour’s drive from where I was born, raised, and still live. So the scenery has often reminded me of the area of this world that I call home.

Only missing the first 20 minutes of the film, I immediately put the remote down and watched the rest of the movie. However, watching the movie this time something happened that had never happened before. On three separate occasions, I was moved to tears by the dialogue of the film. Confused as to why this happened this time and not any of the dozens of times I have watched the film before, I thought about why this could possibly be, and I was struck by something that was too perfect that I couldn’t not write about it. The reason I had to write about it? It is too perfect of an antidote to the madness that is going on in our world right now. Or, I guess I should say more specifically, the madness that is going on in our country.

The first scene that brought me to tears comes about half way through the movie and is shown in the two clips below (I couldn’t find one YouTube video that contained the entire scene). Early in the film the Civil War starts and it becomes clear the south is at a disadvantage when the Home Guard (the men on the horses who go to the farm), influential men who were able to weasel their way out of fighting in the war who have been tasked with tracking down and killing deserters and those who help them visit the Swanger’s farm. We do not know it until this scene, but the movie has insinuated that the Swanger’s young sons have deserted and they are being hidden on the family farm.

The seconds scene that made me emotional, perhaps the most emotional of the three, is about three quarters of the way through the film. Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman’s character) and Ruby Thewes (Reneé Zellweger’s character) have just learned that the Home Guard, the same people responsible for killing Sally Swanger’s husband and children, have supposedly killed Ruby’s father and another man that Ruby has a crush on. Ada struggles to find the right words to say to Ruby and Ruby responds by saying the following:

The Final scene from the movie that got me all up in my feelings comes near the very end of the movie. To set this scene, Ruby and Ada go off looking for Ruby’s father. While they are gone, they find her father and they also save his life. Additionally, they find W.P. Inman (Jude Law’s character), the love of Ada’s life who deserted the Confederate Army early in the war and has spent the entire movie trying to make his way back to her. The scene in the video below picks up as Ruby and Ada are going back to the farm where they live, and you should only watch the first 2 minutes of the scene if you do not want a major plot spoiler.

As I turned off the movie and started getting ready for bed that night, I made a point to figure out why I got emotional. I have seen that movie probably two dozen times. I even showed a heavily edited version of the film when I taught a social studies elective course called Geography in the Cinema several years ago; and yes, the three scenes are sad, but I have never been moved to tears before. So what made it different this time? Well, as I was working on some art projects the next day, I figured out the one thing that was different this time from all the others: This is the first time I have watched the movie during the presidency of Donald Trump.

In every single one of those scenes, in my opinion, there is is one line that stands out and cuts above all the rest. In the first two video clips it is what Ruby says at the very end that gets to me. In her shock, and grief, and anger, and sadness Ruby (an uneducated backwoods hick, by all accounts) eloquently states “This World won’t stand long. God won’t let it, stand this way long.”

This World won’t stand long. God, won’t let it, stand this way long.”

Reneé Zellweger as Ruby Thewes in Cold Mountain

If you are anything like Ruby Thewes and me, you have felt this ghastly feeling throughout the majority of Donald Trump’s presidency. Through our outrage, indignation, tears, rage, and a myriad of other unwanted but necessary feelings we have lamented how America could have turned to this. How the country that has been the shining city on a hill as a beacon for freedom and liberty could be turned into what many of us see as the antithesis of America and her values. Ruby Thewes may be a fictional character, but she does what every single one of does when we face those feelings: she turns it over to God.

God won’t let it, stand this way long. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve thought that since the genitalia-grabbing gargoyle has occupied the people’s house. I have stared in disbelief as news cameras briefed the American people on what the President has said today (although a game of Mad Libs would probably be more appropriate). I have cried tears of sorrow looking at the pictures of the drowned bodies of Oscar Martinez Ramirez cradling his 3 month old daughter Valeria on the Banks of the Rio Grande River. I have looked at people whom I know and love and respect in disbelief as they try to defend the actions of Trump; and when I am left at a loss for words or for reassurance, I reassure myself by reminding myself that God will see us through this current nightmare.

We will be seen through this, just like our nation was seen through the Revolution. Or the Civil War. Or the Civil Rights Movement and countless other times when our nation has struggled to live up to be the nation we know she truly is. We must remain steadfast in our belief, just as Ruby is. We must constantly remind ourselves that this is not normal. That none of what is happening is okay or acceptable. We cannot waver in our belief that God and his love for all people won’t let this world that Trump and his minions are trying to create last long. God won’t let it stand this way long.

The second scene is one of my favorite scenes in the whole movie. Ruby has spent the better half of the movie reconciling with her father for a terrible childhood and her reaction to learning that he is now most likely dead is heartbreaking. It’s made even better by Zellweger’s impeccable acting. What she says in her response to Ada’s apology, however, is indicative to the way our government has functioned over the last two decades. Ruby places all the hardships that she and the South are currently facing, squarely at the feet of their leaders.

Every piece of this is man’s bull shit… They call this war a cloud over the land, but they made the weather, and then they stand there and say ‘shit it’s rainin’!

Reneé Zellweger as Ruby Thewes in Cold Mountain

If that is not the perfect example of the way our politicians operate, I don’t know what is. We have so-called leaders on both sides of the aisle obstructing the governance of this nation and only looking out for themselves. The Civil War, once it was apparent the South was going to lose, became known as the cloud over the land. Ruby was right though, the people in charge were the ones who made the choice to go to war and now they are lamenting the fact they are not going to get there way.

Both of our current political parties are guilty of doing the exact same thing. It started during the Clinton Presidency and it has gotten worse and worse, and all our politicians seem to do is complain about how they can get nothing done. Once again, Ruby was right: every piece of this is man’s bull shit. And our so called leaders have nobody to blame but themselves. They did this. They created this mess. They made this cloud on our land. And they keep making it worse.

The last clip really got me, but it also gave me the most hope and strength going forward. When staring the man who is responsible for much of the problems and stress in her life and facing the fact that she knew she was most likely going to be killed right then, Ada Monroe confidently looks the leader of the Home Guard in the eye and states what she knows and I know to be true: a reckoning is coming.

There will be a reckoning when this war is over. There will be a reckoning.

Nicole Kidman as Ada Monroe in Cold Mountain

Long after we are through this national nightmare and Trump is no longer President, there will be a reckoning. There will be a reckoning where judgement is passed and a sentence is given. It won’t be just Trump, either. It will be his lecherous family and his basket of deplorable billionaire henchmen who have helped him carry out these illegal injustices. Injustice shall be met cruelly and swiftly with true and lasting American justice. The history books will record the Trump era as nothing more than it truly is: one of the darkest stains on the American Democracy in its history.

It will not just be Trump and those in his administration that have to face a reckoning. It will be those who have stood silent (and therefore complicit) in his racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia. I am under no illusions that every single person voted for Trump is racist. I know that is not true. With that said, though, a storm is coming on the horizon. The 2020 election will be an event that this nation will have to figure out who it truly is. Those of you who are considered voting for Trump, I ask you now to reconsider, because a reckoning is coming and if you are not opposed to all of the hatred that Trump is bring to the forefront of the consciousness of this nation than you are for it. And in this reckoning, justice will be served, Cold Mountain Style.

The Broken Christian Church

Last night I went with a friend to The Tabernacle to see The Try Guys. You probably know them as those four nerds who produce videos for Buzzfeed, but if you still have no idea who I am talking about, you can find their YouTube channel here. While we were walking to the venue I found something that gave me the warm fuzzies as soon as it came into my eyesight. We were passing a large church with bright red doors. If you might be wondering why that made me happy, then you probably did not already know that I was born and raised Lutheran (and most Lutheran churches have red doors).

Side note, if you have never seen a Try Guys video, check them out. There are super funny.

However, imagine my surprise to know that it was not a Lutheran church after all. It was actually St. Mark United Methodist Church in the heart of midtown Atlanta. At the end of the day, however, it is not the denomination of the church that got me excited. It is what that church was boldly flying right down the front side of the church: a huge rainbow pride flag. Yes as in the one used to celebrate and uplift LGBTQ pride and equality.

Growing up in suburban South Carolina, religion is everywhere. It just sorta encompasses everything when you live in the Bible Belt. So much so that during college when I asked a friend from Pittsburgh what the major difference between Pittsburgh and Clemson was he chuckled before saying religion. When I asked him what he meant by that he said back home he knew which families were Italian, or Irish, or Polish. He then went on to say that here he knew who went to the Baptist church, who went to the Lutheran church, and who went to Newspring. Even though religion is everywhere, I am still often met with scoffs or raised eyebrows when I say I go to the same church I grew up in (maybe not as frequently as my pastor would like though).

Usually I am asked some sort of question along the lines of “Oh, I don’t know how you still go to church?” That question pains my soul, but it is often a reminder of just how broken the Christian Church is in the eyes of many people. Luckily, I have never been one of the people who has thought that, although I would be lying if I said I had not come close to believing it before. It just truly saddens me that something that is an integral part of so many people’s lives has become something that is exclusionary and hateful. If you have been paying attention to the news over the past several years, this should not come as a shock, though. Most Christian denominations have been wrestling with the topic of sexuality and how it fits in with the church.

The Lutheran church went through the debate several years ago about their position on human sexuality and LGBTQ clergy members. The largest Baptist church in my city actually left the Southern Baptist Convention over some of its more conservative views. Most recently, the Methodist church as a whole voted 53% in continuing to ban same-sex marriages and LGBTQ clergy members. This was just another disheartening example of why so many of my friends and so many LGBTQ people don’t consider themselves Christians or don’t attend church regularly. However, its not just queer people who aren’t going to church. Millennials are the first age group to see a huge decline in church membership and attendance; 59% of people aged 22-37 who were raised in the church have already left. I fall smack dab in the middle of the millennial age group and have heard from most of my non-church going friends they are immediately turned off by the cries of specific groups of people going to hell simply for loving some one of the same sex. Or for having sex in a loving committed relationship to someone you are not married to.

It was always hard to not take the comments about being hell-bound personally. I have been a lifetime member of my Church and some of my fondest memories revolve around the church. I even love the historic building its in. It has always felt like home. So to even consider a fact that an all knowing god created someone like me in his own image only to damn me to hell never made sense; and although I never truly believed that statement it lead to a lot of years of personal shame and feelings that I was somehow broken. I knew my family and how they would feel and I knew my church and how they would feel, but it didn’t matter. It still sowed the seeds of doubt in my mind about how God felt about me.

Although many people believe the Church is irreparably broken, I adamantly disagree with this. There are many Christian leaders who are leading the way for a more inclusive church – for all of God’s peoples. Two of my personal favorites are Nadia Bolz-Weber and John Pavlovitz. Quite frankly, I wish I was half the writer that John Pavlovitz in posts like this one about the Christian Left or half the speaker Nadia is in this video here. Seriously, how many times have you heard a pastor say something like “Blessed are the sex workers?” Although the voices of Bolz-Weber and Pavlovitz are not as loud as the modern day Pharisees (I’m looking at you Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, and all you other Pat Robertson groupies) they are the true followers of Jesus and eventually people will see that the Christian Church is a big-tent church.

It is not just individual leaders that are leading the way, either. Organizations like Reconciling Works is seeking to show the word that the church isn’t as broken as the megaphone wielding mega-churches seem to make it. The organizations mission states “Working at the intersection of oppressions, ReconcilingWorks embodies, inspires, advocates and organizes for the acceptance and full participation of people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions within the Lutheran communion and its ecumenical and global partners. On their website, you can find welcoming churches that state on the church website plainly that all people are welcome and that their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, documentation status, sexuality, gender identity or employment status don’t matter to the church in any way. If you would like to find a church that is a Reconciling in Christ Church near you, please click here.

The road forward will not always be easy, but there is a way to help fix the church. That starts with calling out the wrongs that our church has done by many different oppressed groups of people and uplifting the work of churches that work every day to make sure every living soul has a seat at God’s table. Which is why it was so inspiring and heartwarming to see dozens and dozens of United Methodist churches here in America rebelling against the vote and vocally standing against the notion that some people are not worthy of God’s love. Hopefully, my church can work with their churches to show the world what the church truly is: God’s love.

On a personal note, my church recently made the decision to become a Reconciling in Christ congregation and I don’t think they will ever truly know what that has meant to me or the other LGBTQ members of the church. It moves me close to tears when I read in the Sunday bulletin the welcoming statement. To know that my church stands with me and many other “undesirables” and celebrates God’s love for ALL of us has been such a loving and humbling experience – for the most part. It would be dishonest of me to not acknowledge this did cause some discord in the church and we did lose members over the decision. Members I considered to be part of my family. That has been disappointing and very hurtful hurtful. It caused quite a few feelings: anger, betrayal, and sadness among them, but after much thought about it, I came to a realization that should have been apparent all along.

The epiphany that came to me was that by continuing to feel those feelings I was making it about me and not about the Church – because at the end of the day, it is clear what my reaction should be. It is perfectly alright for me to have those feelings, but with those feelings should come forgiveness. Because that is what the Lord gives to me for giving it. So although I won’t be perfect moving forward, and I am sure I will have feelings of disagreement about some Christians decisions, I am going to strive to keep moving forward, because the health of the Christian Church depends on it.

So in conclusion I have two things to say. First, If you live in the Upstate South Carolina area and you left the church because you felt like there was no place for you, I am sorry that happened. But more importantly, if you ever get to a place where you want or need to go back, reach out to me and I will take you to my church,* where you will be loved and welcomed while you are there. Just the way God would want it. Second, to those of you who left my church, stay in churches were not everyone is welcome, or continue to thing God excludes people I want you to know that although it saddens me, I wish you know hard feelings and I respect your right as a person to believe what you do. I hope your religious journey gives you what you need – truly I do. I simply and humbly disagree with you and I don’t think it will, because I believe that if I were to have lived in Jesus’ day and I knocked on his door, he would loving break bread with me and welcome me. And if you ever change your mind and start to believe that too, I” save you a seat at my church’s table. God’s Blessings to you all….

-WB

*I say church and not specific church because the views in this post are mine and mine alone and I do not wish to imply that my church does or does not agree with, endorse, or believe any of my own personal opinions.

When Did it Happen?

History is filled the tipping points, or watershed moments, that we can point to as moments in time when everything changed. It can be an event, a place, a person, or even an invention: it really doesn’t matter. That is why I loved history so much as a kid and still teach it today. Using the evidence we have, historians look back and say this is the moment when everything changed. It is often followed with a statement that goes something like “without __________ happening, there would have been no _____________.”

Watershed moments can be tricky, because oftentimes we don’t know they are watershed moments until much after the fact. When we do realize it, though, the evidence is overwhelming. For example, we can now look at Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and the Battle of Waterloo as two different Watershed moments that led to his two different downfalls. The invention of the printing press changed literacy as we know it, and Martin Luther nailing the 95 Thesis to his local Catholic Church door in Wittenberg changed religion as we know it. Finally, the Stonewall Rebellion is now seen by historians as the watershed moment that started the LGBT Rights movement around the world.

In all of the examples above, you can see the exact moment when history is changed (can you tell I am geeking out right now?). The world is invariably better today because of those examples, but a historians job is never done. We are constantly looking at recent history to see if any more of these watershed moments have occurred and what is the result if they have. There is no question we have experienced a watershed moment in our nation’s history in regards to politics and the political parties many of us follow. Well, actually one party: the Republican Party.

The Republican Party, for better or worse, is one of the two parties are nation is stuck following. Over the years, they have had good ideas and bad ideas (for the record, I think the exact same thing about the democratic party. However, Something happened with the Republican Party. We are living in a time when I no longer understand the party of Lincoln and Reagan: two of the greatest Presidents this nation has ever seen. It seems like the Republican Party has sold its very soul and turned into something so grotesque that I am looking at friends and family members and I am left wondering how any decent human being could be ok with any of this.

I have racked my brain as to what we will end up considering the watershed moment of this change when we are 50 years removed from the present. You might think, as I did at first, that the Election of Donald Trump would be the Watershed Moment, but this is bigger than one racist misogynist winning an election (after all plenty of those have won before). Half the nation did not wake up on November 10, 2016 and started belting out the hateful and cheap rhetoric or silently acquiescing their approval of said rhetoric. All of that had to have been there before Trump.

Going forward, I just have one question for Trump Supporters, but more importantly, I have the same question for the many friends, family members, colleagues, and acquaintances that have come to know, love, and respect: When Did it Happen?

When did you start to agree and go along with things that the rest of us consider to unconscionable? When did you become supporters of tactics seen in police states and dictatorships? When did you decide to stop denouncing racism and extremism and thereby giving it your stamp of approval? When did it happen?

When did people with torches and nooses become “fine people?”

When did it become ok to rip families apart and shove them in cages? When did it become ok to deny those people in cages toothbrushes, showers, and basic human dignity products like feminine hygiene products? When was it decided we were now going to allow so many human beings to be shoved into one cage that had they been the actual dogs you consider them to be, ICE agents would be arrested for animal cruelty. When did it happen?

When did this become ok? When did this become what America does?

When did you decide you were no longer bothered by vandalized mosques and synagogues? When did it become ok to intimidate and belittle the Muslim faith? When did a scarf warn around the head as a symbol of deference to God become a symbol of oppression? When did you first start to believe that an entire religion was deemed unworthy of entrance to this nation of immigrants? When did it happen?

When did you start to believe only some houses of worship are worth protecting?

When was it decided that a football player, an alpine ski, a snowboarder, a figure skater, a championship basketball team, and a 4 time world championship female soccer team should be met with shouts of “I hope they lose!” or worse “I hope they break a leg!” for exercising their constitutional right to free speech? When did you start to believe they are getting paid millions of dollars to play ball so they should shut the hell up and dribble? When did you believe that professional athletes should not use the platforms and publicity that have to advocate for a better America for all people? When did it happen?

When did you decide that any family that does not look like your family is a threat? When did you decide that the family my brother and his fiancé are getting ready to start once they are married is less worthy of federal protection and recognition? When did start saying with anger “The only reason they are allowed to get married in the first place is because of one liberal justice?” When did you decide to support a party that is still actively trying to take away my brother’s right to marry the person of his choosing? When did it happen?

When did you decide to support a party that has catered itself on defending white nationalists and neo-nazis? When did you allow the Republican Party to go from the party of Lincoln and Reagan to the party of lies and racism? When did you decide to vote for old crusty white men who believe they know what is best for women and their bodies than the actual women and their doctors do? When did you become the party that gives free passes to rapists, misogynists, homophobes, and straight up assholes? When did it happen?

When did it happen that you moved away from what it means to be a true republican?

When did your views on America and what she represents to the world change? When did stop believing that America should be the shining city on a hill and start believing that the only way for America to succeed is for the rest of the world to fail? When did you decide that people from one of the largest and oldest continents on earth were nothing more than unworthy people from “shit hole countries? When did white people from Sweden become more worthy of existence than black people from Haiti? When did you decide that actual Americans were less worthy of federal disaster assistance because they speak Spanish and have brown skin? When did a desperate father willing to die trying to give his daughter a better life become a something we do not care about instead of a heartbreaking tragedy? When did it happen?

When did you give in to the fear mongering, the war mongering, environment raping, science denying, and branding news you do not like as fake or wrong? When did religion become something that was used to rationalize and defend family separations or marriages only between people of the opposite sex? When did the world become a world that only allowed science or religion, but not both? When did it happen?

When did you give into fear and stop believing in love? When did it happen?

If I were to ask each of you these questions face to face it would end in a couple of ways. Angry shouts about how I am wrong or misrepresenting your beliefs and positions. Many of you would try to flip the script and paint my beliefs and positions in a negative light. Usually, though, they all end the same way: loud and indignant protests of “that is not what I believe!”

My response to that is always the same: Then why are you not shouting that from the mountaintops? Why are you not calling and writing your elected officials and telling them that no of this is normal or ok? Why are going along with any of this? Why are you not being the people that I know and love and respect and standing up and rocking the boat? Why are you letting your silence help the oppressors and not the oppressed? When did it happen?

I humbly beg you to consider the following question and honestly think about it and try to answer it, because the future of the party you support and the future of this nation as a whole depends on it. When did racism, hatred, misogyny, homophobia, islamophobia, xenophobia, and bigotry become things we oppose or only when someone calls us out and forces us to give our opinions? When did it happen?

-WB

Flipping the Peacock…

June is one of my favorite months of the year, for many reasons. As a teacher, I have always enjoyed June because it is the first chance most of us in the trenches get to unwind and breathe after the craziness that is a 180-day school year. In addition, I have fond memories of annual beach trips with family and friends to North Litchfield, Pawley’s Island and Edisto Beach. Finally, if I am being quite honest, I enjoy the days where if I don’t want to leave my house I don’t have to and if I don’t want to change out of my pajamas, I don’t. There – I said it.

This year, however, June is even more important. I would go so far as to say that this June is momentous or historic. What makes this June any more special than any of the other Junes? Why should this one stand out and be celebrated? The answer can be found in tiny little bar on the island of Manhattan in Greenwich Village – The Stonewall Inn.

On June 28, 1969, 50 years ago today, the Stonewall Inn was one of the few gay bars in operation in New York City. The mafia-owned bar with no liquor license was the favored “safe place” of many of societies outcasts at the time (LGBT teen runaways, trans people, prostitutes, minor drug dealers, etc.) and was subjected to monthly police raids. The raid in June 1969 happened on the 28th, but it went differently than previous raids. This time, the fairies stood their ground and fought back.

According to most stories, a large crowd gathered and began questioning why the officers were mistreating and arresting patrons of the bar. Waiting longer than usual for the Patty Wagons to arrive, a butch lesbian names Stormé Delervarie repeatedly escaped from and fought with officers to avoid being arrested. She reportedly yelled “WHY ISN’T ANYBODY DOING ANYTHING?!” before being hit repeatedly with batons and roughly shoved into the wagon. When the crowd saw her bloodied face, they went berserk. At this, Stonewall Sheroes Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera threw bricks in the direction of the officers and through the front window of the bar. And just like that, the modern Gay Rights Movement was born.

Starting in June 1970 and continuing every year since then, a Pride Parade has been held in June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots. As time has passed, the entire month of June has officially become Pride Month; and like clockwork, every year come the grumblings from privileged people in our society asking why a pride month is necessary. That question is quickly followed by someone chiming in to ask why there is no straight pride month.

Usually, I just ignore the question because I feel it is so stupid that to acknowledge it with a response would be to give it more credit than it deserves (which is none). Not this year. This year is too important to the movement to not answer the question. So, to finally silence the critics, here are the reasons why Pride is important.

1. It is a Reminder of our Historic Contributions

You cannot be proud of who you are if you do not acknowledge the past, and history is full of important LGBTQ people who have given the world so much. And for the record, I am not just talking about Broadway musicals, either. Some of the most influential people in world history were LGBTQ people, including Alexander the Great, Hatshepsut, and Leonardo Da Vinci. The world would have been very different now had Alan Turing, a gay man, not created the computer that eventually allowed the Allied Powers to crack the Nazi codes and bring the war to a much quicker end.

Without LGBTQ people, the first woman in space wouldn’t have inspired hundreds of girls into becoming scientists and astronauts. There would be no The Matrix franchise and countless other movies and books. There would be no Sheldon Cooper and no Ellen Degeneres. There would have been no March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. There would not have been heroes on a highjacked airplane who saved lives by sacrificing their own to take back the plane on the morning of September 11th.

2. It is a Love Letter to our Chosen Family

When it comes to our families, LGBTQ people have not always “won the genetic lottery.” Many LGBTQ people are disowned by their families and thrown out into the streets. The majority of homeless youth in this country identify as LGBTQ and while in that moment most people believe they have no place to go and nobody to help, we pick each other up, and we form chosen families. These families run deeper than most biological families, because these families are built on unconditional acceptance and love. In the two video clips below from the historic and groundbreaking FX series Pose, you can see aspects of how Chosen Families form and function. The first clip highlights house mother Blanca’s relationship with Damon, one of her children throughout the first season. The second clip shows how similar house mother’s can be real mothers with an argument between Blanca and another one of her children, Lil Papi.

I have yet to attend a pride related function that wasn’t completely filled with love and warmth. It is nothing but supportive chosen families loving each other and showing their families off. Even the street preachers and protestors are met with love and support. If you have never been to a pride event before, this reason alone is a reason to go – just take some tissues with you for the happy tears that will invariably flow while you are there.

When the world followed President Reagan’s lead and turned his back on the LGBTQ community as thousands of young men began dying of AIDS we picked each other up from the pits of despair and we raised money for research. We buried our brothers and sisters. We became our own families because that was what we had to do.

3. Its a Celebration of Achievements

In the 50 years since the Stonewall Riots, the world has completely changed for people who are part of the LGBTQ community. What was once considered a mental disorder by doctors is now seen differently. In 50 years we have seen:

  • The End of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
  • The End of the Defense of Marriage Act
  • The Legality of Same Sex Marriage Nation-wide
  • An increased push from major politicians to support the equality Act
  • A sitting Democratic President announce support for same sex marriage
  • The Passage of the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Act
  • Openly Gay politicians, included a married gay man currently running for president.
  • Stonewall becoming the first place on the National Historic Monument registry to be recognized solely for its importance to the Gay Rights Movement.

In a span of 50 years, that amount of progress is historic. So forgive us as we celebrate that fact. But if you are a fan of glitter, short shorts, pop music, and yelling “YAAASSSSS QUEEN!,” by all means, come join the party.

4. It is a Chance to be “Normal”

For many people – especially those in more rural or conservative areas – Pride is the only time of the year for people to take advantage of the many things most cisgendered, heterosexual people take for granted. Things like walking down the street holding the hand of their same-sex spouse. Or a quick kiss while you wait on the sidewalk for an Uber. Or walking in your short shorts and tank top to meet your friends for some drinks. Or spending the night dancing with your friends in a club.

It might seem silly that those are brought up, but for most people in the LGBTQ community, it is the truth. There is not a gay person I know who hasn’t received dirty looks, been called a homophobic or derogatory slur, or been on the receiving end of actual physical violence because they were a little bit different. This includes Sean Kennedy, who was a year older than me in high school. He was the first openly gay person I ever met and we had art class together. I always found him funny and he was always nice to me. I learned so much about life in that class from him. Towards the end of my senior year in high school, Sean was tragically assaulted and beaten to death as he left a restaurant in Greenville with some friends because of his sexuality. I often think of him as Pride rolls around every year, because I know I would run into him during one of the events held.

Sean Kennedy. The first and one of the funniest openly gay people I have ever had the honor of meeting and considering a friend.

5. It is Flipping the Bird to All the Negativity.

Society has always had a fear of things that are different from the majority or what is considered normal. This is not just true of people, either. In nature, a flock will attack any bird that is more colorful than the others because being different is seen as a threat. The first Pride was a riot – in the form of a big middle finger to a discriminatory police department. The second pride in 1970 was a middle finger to society telling us we should remain silent. If there is one thing the LGBTQ community has never been really good, however, that would have to be remaining in the shadows away from the spotlight.

Pride is our chance to give those who would seek to keep the LGBTQ community harm or keep us in the shadows a big middle finger. It does not matter whether it is a reality tv President and his homophobic and bigoted followers or if it is a sheriff/pastor who stands in the pulpit urging his congregation to kill gay people. Our middle finger message to both and all the others in between is simple: We exist. We are NOT going anywhere. That in spite of all your attempts to silence us, to change us, to hate us, to scare us, and to kill us, we are not going to be defeated. No now. Not ever.

Why do we have pride? We have pride because we take all the hatred, discrimination, fear, violence, homophobia, anger, and rage that is constantly rained on our community and we THRIVE. How? By turning the rain you have thrown at us into a fucking rainbow. And for that, we will always be proud!

-WB

300 Crusty Old White Men

Grab your carmine capes and big white bonnets, ladies. Or should I say Handmaids? Or maybe it should be Ofreds? It doesn’t matter, in the end. Just know that those of you with a uterus should get ready to lose your basic human rights (Not if this man has anything to say about it though).

This country has gone crazy. I no longer understand the country of my birth. One of the many great civilizations this world has known is falling apart. It is becoming a dangerous and evil place, and we must all work together to stop it from passing the point of no return. This will be easy, though. It will be easy because the culprits are known to us. The root and cause of this evil infecting America is hiding in plain sight. It is a group of people seeking to destroy the liberty that comes with being an American citizen.

Many of you are probably guessing some of the common groups that people throw out as groups that are bringing America down, but to save time and get right to it, allow me tell you.

It is not Muslims. Or Jews. Or Gays or Lesbians. Or Atheists. Or Millennials.

It is not people who speak Spanish. Or French. Or German. Or Arabic. Or Russian.

It is not brown people. Or black people. Or Asian people. Or even Bi-racial people.

The people seeking to destroy this nation are White men. Usually crusty old white men. Men using their elected power to try and legislate what women should do with their bodies. Men trying to use religion as a veiled smokescreen to intimidate and harass doctors into not giving women medical care that they want or need. 300 weak, old and crusty white men trying once again to return this nation to the time when all women were subjugated and ruled over by the men in their lives – both by men they knew and men they did not know.

What 300 white men, you ask? The 300 white men in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi who recently voted in favor of the strictest abortion laws in the nation. When adding all three state Senate votes and House of Representative votes up, the abortion measures passed 335-152. 335 people voted in favor of essentially outlawing abortion. 300 of those 335 yes votes came from white men. White men who have never had a uterus. Who have never (at least in terms of publicly acknowledging) have survived rape situations. Who have never been forced by elected officials into making the choice between a serious personal and private decision and throwing themselves down the stairs or performing an abortion in a back alley with a coat hanger.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortze was write with her tweet. This men are using God and religion and abusing their power to try to maintain ownership of women. If we close our eyes, we will all be living in Gilead before it is all said and done. I refuse to allow that to happen. I don’t currently have my own children, but it will be a cold day in hell before I allow any potential daughters I have be born into a world where they have less rights than the rights of their mother and grandmothers.

“Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.”

-Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale

That quote sends shivers down my spine. If you think about it, it is scarily accurate. That is what these men are hoping will happen. State by state they hope to eradicate the choices women have. Women will not allow that to happen, however. I will not allow that to happen. And it that means I have to throw on a bonnet and cape to stand with my sisters in this country so be it.

At the bottom of this paragraph you will see pictures of the 300 white men. The 300 white men who believe they know better than medical professionals and the 8,944,087 women who currently reside in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. The audacity and arrogance to believe they should be allowed to make private, personal, and in some cases, deeply painful medical decisions would be laughable if it weren’t so eerily close to the country that Margaret Atwood gives us in her novel.

Le monde pleure, puis reconstruit

Today is a sad day for humanity. Notre Dame Cathedral, the very heart of the city of Paris, is on fire. The fire has been raging for the past several hours. It is believed that the entire roof has been lost, including the instantly recognizable spires that adorned the top. Countless treasures that are considered to be priceless have been lost.

Feeling super French in my bird sweater with my just bought French scarf.

Notre Dame was started in 1163 and was not completed until 1345. The Cathedral is in the literal center of Paris and is perhaps one of the finest examples of Gothic Architecture in the world. Some of the most recognizable pieces of Gothic architecture include ribbed vaulting and the flying buttress. Another of the more beautiful pieces of the heart of Paris include the beautiful round, stained glass, rose windows.

Outside view of one of the famous “rose windows.”

Humanity lost a great deal today. Thankfully, there were no lives lost as of the posting of this, which should be classified as a small miracle in its own right. However, what humanity lost was greater than a body county. The world lost priceless treasures that cannot be salvaged. The work of thousands that has stood for 8 centuries is gone forever. Today is a day for grief. For Paris. For France. For Europeans. For people.

What has struck me about this global tradgedy is somewhat ironic. People are tribal creatures. We spend our entire lives putting each other in boxes and dividing one another into “us” and “them.” The divsions, based on race, or nationality, or gender, or sex, or any other trivial issue people like to harp on melted away today. Gone were the divsions, political parties, and divisive issues. They were replaced with universal shock, dispair, and sadness. People stood in the streets next to each other. They cried. They hugged each other. They prayed together. They sang “Ave Marie” together.

We should use this moment to remind us of several things. We should use it as a reminder that everything in this world is fleeting. Even monuments of man’s achievements don’t last forever. There are countless examples throughout history of this being true, but we continue to take the beauty and wonder of these masterpieces for granted. We should use it as a reminder that there will always be more than unites as people than that divides us. Lastly, we should use it as a reminder that we must always celebrate the things in this world that leave us awestruck at their sheer beauty.

That is the only way I can describe what it was like to visit Notre Dame when I was lucky enough to visit a few years ago. Upon entry, I immediately was struck by what I can only descibe as a feeling of awe. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. It was as if my body knew I was standing in a place that was magical. A place that meant something. A place that was holy. A place were God truly was. Looking at the stained glass windows brought me to tears. I was left in awe of a place created by God and by man, and I am changed by it.

Even though today is a day for humanity to grieve. I am hopeful, because I know the history of Paris. And I know the history of France. And I know the history of man. One of the most inspiring things about mankind is the resiliency of his human spirit. We can be beaten down, defeated, and face many setbacks, but we continue to go forward. We have always looked adversity square in the face, given it a big “screw you,” and then proven to adversity that we will prevail. It is true for mankind, but it is especially true for the people of France and for the People of Paris.

There is a reason that the Parisians call the Cathedral “Our Lady of Paris” and the heart of the city. They have learned how to live and how to survive by taking the history of their heart and using it as a map in their own lives. Parisians are fighters, but they are also survivors. They are survivors because their heart is a survivor.

The heart of the city survived the Plague.

It survived the Crusades.

It survived rioting by the Huguenots.

It survived the French Revolution.

It survived Napoleon.

It survived two World Wars.

It has survived fires before this. So it will survive this fire.

The Heart of the City of Paris will beat as long as the people of Paris believe in her. And Parisians will never give up on their lady.

The world grieves, then rebuilds.

Le monde pleure, puis reconstruit.

To My Future Malalas: An Open Letter to my Female Students

Dear Girls,

Today is March 8, 2019. It is a Friday. It looks like it is going to rain. And it also just so happens to be International Woman’s Day. And while that might not mean anything to you now, it is my sincere hope that you recognize the significance and the importance of it at some point later in your life.

International Woman’s Day has been a day recognized by the UN for many years now. It is a day to celebrate the achievement of women, to advocate for their advancement in our society and to denounce things like sexism and misogyny. It is a day that you should get behind. It is a day you should be a part of pushing it forward. To make it visible throughout our nation- especially in the parts of our country where you are challenged the most.

I have never before written a letter to my female students on IWD. However, IWD now takes on a more pressing tone, in your teacher’s humble opinion. There is a sense of urgency because we have a misogynist in our White House (when we should have a woman there). We have a man who openly boasts of sexual assault and called it locker room talk. We have a man who does not see you as his equal simply because you are a woman and he is a man. This is one of the many reasons I do not and will not support the man-child in the White House.

Students, if you have never seen First Wives Club, your homework is to immediately stop what you are doing and go watch it.

To put it more plainly, I choose to believe you. I will believe you and stand with you and do everything within my power to help you if you ever find yourself in a place where someone does something you do not consent to. I will be in your corner in every way possible. I will silence those who say you were asking for it or that you had it coming. I will drown out the chorus of idiots who try to blame you for drinking too much or wearing a skirt that is too short. All you have to do is be brave, hold your head high (because you did nothing wrong), and ask for help. I will come and help you- no questions asked and no judgments made. I will believe you.

Have the strength of a Khaleesi. And when he tries to make you feel small, remmind him who the eff you are.

Since we live in South Carolina, I think it is only fair you know something. South Carolina ranks in the top 5 for states with the worst domestic violence rates. At first, this statistic surprised me, but after 7 years of observation, while teaching, it no longer does. I have seen far too many of my boys harm (both intentionally and unintentionally) my girls. Whether it be verbally or physically, I have seen some of you be used and abused. Some of you could see it and some of you could not see it. Which is why I will remind you after I will believe you.

I will remind you that you should be uplifted and celebrated and loved. I will remind you that you should treat each other as sisters and lift yourselves up together instead of putting each other down. I will remind you that your body is yours and it cannot be taken or hit and that any man who tries do either is not a man at all. I will remind you of your worth and I will remind you of his weakness. I will remind you that any man who does not see you as his equal is not worth your time, money, or love. I will remind you by telling you things like Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but she did it backward and in high heels. I will remind you of all of this, each time you doubt yourself and each time you stumble off the path of greatness you were destined for. I will remind you.

I will remind you that any man worth knowing will treat every moment with you and around you as a privilege.

Finally, my young ladies, I will help you, and in order to do that, I must first be honest with you. Please allow me to check my privilege society affords me as a male and just tell you some things as straightforward as I can. Life is not always going to be easy for you. In some aspects of life, you have a strike against you before you even start. Since many of you are young ladies of color, many of you have two strikes against you. These strikes are simply because you are female. Is it fair? Hell no, it is not! Is it the way it is sometimes in our society? Yes, but not for long. It won’t be that way for long because I will help you. I will help you break down doors, barriers, glass ceilings, and whatever else the sexists and misogynists of the world throw your way. I will help educate those who think a woman in a position of power is dangerous or nothing more than a bitch. I will help you point out those who seek to do you and other women harm. I will be a cheerleader supporter, and source of advice should you ever need it for as long as I live.

Be confident in who you are and what you do. Besides, a bitch is just a Boss In Total Control of Herself.

So with all that said, girls just remember this: You are worthy. You are equal. You are a badass. You are smart. You are amazing. and You are strong. I know all of these to be true because I have amazing women in my life. I have learned many things from all of them, including the fact that I have yet to meet a man who was as strong as my mother, grandmothers, aunts, great aunts, and cousins. I hope you remember those things, but should you ever forget, I will remind you.

I will remind you. I will believe you. I will help you.

I will do all three of those things as much as I need to, but you won’t need it. You won’t need it because of who you are. You won’t need it because of who your sisters are. Your sisters have made herstory.

Your sisters helped put a man on the moon. Your sister helped end segregation. Your sister helped defeat the Taliban. Your sister defeated the Spanish Armada. Your sisters ran, putted, served, spiked, swam, and drove their way into the record books. Your sister flew solo across the Atlantic. Your sister won two Nobel prizes in two different sciences. Another sister just won the Best Rap Album at the Grammys. And others still have won Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, Pulitzer Prizes, Purple Hearts, and Medals of Honor. You sisters did all of this- so smile. Because you got this.

Happy International Woman’s Day to my future Amelias, Cardis, Katharines, Rosas, Maries, Malalas, Serenas, Hatties, Gingers, and (last, but certainly not least) Beyoncés. Now get out there and run the world.

-Mr. B

A New Year, a New House, and a New Resolution

Happy New Year ladies and gentlemen! I hope you enjoyed ringing in the new year with your friends and families where you may be, and I hope you are looking forward to this new year as much as I am. I have always enjoyed celebrating the new year, and the older I get the more I seem to take joy in the fact that I am still living and breathing to see what is going on in the world today. Because let’s face it, some AMAZING things are happening.

We all know how terrible 2017 was so I won’t talk about that, but I was pleasantly surprised at how good the year 2018 was to me. Overall, it was one of the better years in the life of Wynne. I started out 2018 by ringing in 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee with my friends Audrey and Danny. It was the first time I had ever been to Nashville and I thoroughly enjoyed it (especially our NYE dinner. Holy Hell that was good).

Aside from that, the first part of the year was spent annoying my students from last year about how relevant, important, and cool the Olympics are. They were so tired of watching Olympics stuff that I could relate to the curriculum that they would groan when I started talking about it. But hey, let’s face it, the Olympics were big for Team USA. They accomplished lots of firsts and athletes like Adam Rippon, Gus Kenworthy, and Lindsey Vonn successfully used their platforms to further equality and acceptance for all.

If we’re being technical, they’re Canadian. But even Jesus approves of that lift at the end.

February brought fear and sadness to the American classroom once again. And the way things go here in America, I am sure that it won’t be the last time that we are afraid and sad. With the tragic shooting Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, I cried as I watched the events unfold. I am sick and tired of the bullshit excuses coming from the people we elect to lead who time and time again choose the NRA over the future of America’s children. Thankfully, however, it was a little bit different this time. The Parkland kids are different. They are fighting back and it was an amazing thing to see. And because of the Parkland kids, two things happened in 2018.

First, the Parkland kids are the first group of people to give me real hope that we will soon figure out how to fix the gun violence problem we have in America. I have read countless articles about how teenagers are sick and tired of waiting to die curled up on the floor of their classrooms so they have decided to fight back. They organized, and have spoken out, and raised their voices, and are still shaking their fists. But most importantly, they marched- and that is the second thing that happened in my year as a result of the Parkland kids. Learning about the civil rights movement in school was always one of my favorite time periods to learn about. There is honor, courage, and bravery in the people who said “This is not how America should be. And if you won’t fix it, we will!”

In high school, I added something to my bucket list. I decided then and there that I want to participate and be part of a protest or social movement at some point in my lifetime. That sounds superficial and like I am participating just to be able to cross it off my bucket list, but that is not the case. At the end of my life, I just want to be able to tell my grandchildren or my great grandchildren that I was part of something that mattered and that made our world a better place. So I waited. I waited for the right cause. I waited for a cause that directly affects me and my life. In short, I waited for the Parkland kids. The March 4 Our Lives march that took place in Greenville was a huge success. I ended up marching with my good good girlfriend Richard and it was an all-around amazing day.

It was fantastic to be a part of a movement that is bigger than myself. TO the Parkland kids: Thanks for starting this. To the rest of the US: let’s keep the movement rolling!

The summer months brought about time full of traveling to the beach or to educational leadership conferences, or just on the road to visit friends here and there. I enjoyed the much needed time to refresh my batteries and Humphrey enjoyed that I could throw the ball in the middle of the day or that we could sleep in late on some days (he takes after his Daddy in the fact that he is NOT a morning person). As I scrolled through my timeline looking for things I could add, one extraordinary thing happened. As I scrolled through my timeline and came to June I saw many posts referencing Pride and Pride Month (since for those of you unaware June is Pride Month). Thinking about all of these posts I realized something very important. 

It cannot be stated enough just how pivotal the progress that LGBTQ people and their allies made in 2018. From phenomenal movies like Call Me By Your Name and Love Simon to historic scenes and the most inclusive cast on shows like Pose, 2018 was a damn good year for positive recognition for shows about LGBTQ people and LGBTQ people who are working in the entertainment industry. Putting all that aside, though, perhaps the most remarkable progress has come in the area of society’s general attitudes about LGBTQ people and their rights. For example, Greenville had a Pride Rally on a Saturday afternoon in downtown Greenville.

Think movies like Love, Simon isn’t a big deal? Think again. Visibility and representation is important. It saves lives. I can relate to almost all of what these people say.

Think about that! Greenville had a pride rally (Read more of my thoughts from this past year on pride here and here.) On its most iconic and main thoroughfare. What still brings goosebumps to my skin and tears to my eyes is the number of young people and families that I saw in attendance that day. Parents were bringing their young children. Parents were bringing their LGBTQ-identifying teenaged children. Young people were living out and proud. This was inconceivable to me when I was in high school and it still fills me with hope for our future. As the Schuyler sisters sing in Hamilton:

Look around, Look around! Look at how lucky we are to be alive right now.

The Fall months brought about Clemson Football, back to school and a new season of events and shows at the Peace Center. This will go down as the greatest season of the Peace Center that they have created so far. Not only did I get to see Hamilton, but Dear Evan Hanson is coming later this summer. I am ecstatic. In addition, October has brought about one of the largest life changes I have experienced so far. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, Wynne Boliek is now a HOMEOWNER! It is a terrifying and scary thing, but I finally have a cute little townhouse that is just perfect for both Humphrey and myself.

November was a great month as well. On the 28th I turned the big 3-0. I had been thinking long and hard about how I might possibly feel when it came time to enter into my third decade on this Earth. As a whole, I am happy with most aspects of my life right now, but after an afternoon of walking Humphrey on a walk around the circle that I live on, I have decided to christen this decade as the Decade of Wynne. Seeing as how I am only on this Earth for a finite amount of time I plan on using that time to make sure I enjoy as much of it as I possibly can. How do I plan on doing that, you ask? Well, you will be pleased to know that I plan on doing that by allowing myself to do what I want to do without worrying about what other people’s opinions are.

Don’t really like the sound of that or don’t think that’s such a good idea? Well, I am sorry that you feel that way. To make you feel better, the gif below is for you. Enjoy.

Finally, now that I have let you know just what life was like for me in the year 2018, that brings me to my New Year’s Resolution. I have never really set a New Year’s resolution before this one. I am a rather cynical person by nature (although I prefer to think of it as being realistic than cynical), and since resolutions are so notoriously known as something that is quickly broken I never really saw the point in making something I would quickly break. But turning 30 and trying to break my own cynical nature I decided to set one this year. The resolution I have come up with will be good for all in involved, and here is why.

When thinking and reflecting on what my resolution should be I thought about areas that I could be better at something and one thought came to my mind. I love my friends and family members, but I do not always do a great job of demonstrating or showing that love to them or at least as well as they show it to me. Without this very important group of people in my life, I would not be where I am am today. They have seen me at my highs and lows, and they continue to love and support me. To let them know how much I appreciate this love and support, I have decided to write it to them. Not to toot my own horn (screw it… toot! Toot!), but I consider myself a halfway decent writer, which is why I decided to pull out my old manual Olivetti Typewriter and type it out the old-fashioned way. It will come typed by me, in purple ink… because what is life without a bit of whimsy, after all.

To those of you who receive a letter, please don’t feel the need to write back or anything like that. I just wanted to acknowledge to you, in a personal way just how blessed I am to have you as a big part of my life. That’s all. Also, please do not judge my typos. There is no autocorrect or delete button on a manual typewriter.

To those of you who don’t receive a letter right away, that does not mean you will not get one. it just means that I am writing them on a manual typewriter and it takes a long ass time to type out these letters. So be patient.

To everybody reading this, remember to take some time. Some time to let those you love in your life know you love them. Some time to make your communities happier, better, and safer. Some time to make the world more kind. And of course, some time to look around. Look around – how lucky we are to be alive right now!

Love You All!

-WB

Ellen Degeneres Does Not Speak for Me

The Back Story on How We Got Here

Kevin Hart is a good comedian. He is charismatic, and his comedic timing is exceptional. It is easy to see why the Academy would want him to host the 2019 Oscars – especially considering the fact the Academy is desperately trying to lure younger viewers. I was not mad when they picked Kevin Hart as this year’s host. Although he is not my favorite comedian, I recognize his talent. Also, as someone who has not hosted before, he could bring fresh ideas to a show that can be stale and stuffy. That thinking is all in the past, however, and Kevin Hart has nobody to blame for this except himself.

The pictures above are just a small sampling of the several dozen tweets from Hart’s verified Twitter account. Most of the offensive and homophobic tweets come from 2010 and 2011. This means that someone had to spend time scrolling through thousands of tweets and sound bites to try and find one little statement that is offensive or considered not politically correct. I want to start by saying I think this is a dangerous path for us as a society to go down. I do not think it is fair for us to judge a person based on their beliefs from 10 years ago. People change and so do their beliefs. The Kevin Hart of 10 years ago is not the Kevin Hart of today. Just like the Wynne Boliek of 10 years ago is not the Wynne Boliek of today.

‘Actions Speak Louder than Words’

I want to take Kevin Hart at his word. I want to believe him, but I am also a firm believer in “actions speak louder than words.” Kevin, your actions have shown me that you are not sorry. That you think you have done nothing you need to apologize for. Your actions, as well as your recent comments have shown that you feel like you are victim here. That you should be treated as St. Kevin, the martyr. I hate to break it to you Kevin, you are wrong.

Some of you may be sitting there asking well how should he have responded or what should he have done to demonstrate his remorse for his language. I will point to Kyler Murray as an example of how to respond. Kyler Murray immediately released a statement on his own, as well as a joint statement with GLAAD. He statement acknowledged his mistake and he owned it by apologizing. Also, when he was asked about it in interviews he seemed to show genuine remorse for the comments. This is in short, the exact opposite of what Kevin Hart did.

Kyler Murray, Heisman Trophy Winner from Oklahoma and a better human being because he owns his mistakes and tries to learn from them.

Kevin has said on his social media accounts as well as in interviews that he thinks this is nothing more than trolls trying to start up drama. While I will be the first to admit my coifed hair is enviable, the last time I checked, I did not have a bejeweled belly button. Those of us concerned have legitimate cause to be concerned that a person who is homophobic could host the event know as “The Gay Super Bowl.” That a homophobe could host the Oscars in a year in which Rami Malek, Melissa McCarthy, Merhershala Ali, Richard E. Grant, Emma Stone, and Lucas Hedges could all be nominated for stellar performances of LGBTQ characters.

Self-Appointed Spokesgay Ellen

More alarming than all of the reasons above many of us are now concerned that one of the most visible and most popular LGBTQ people in the world has come to Kevin Hart’s defense. On her show this past Friday, Ellen Degeneres gave Kevin Hart 9 uninterrupted minutes to speak his thoughts on the whole debacle. She then interviewed in with the most gentle questioning I have ever seen. They weren’t even playing softball- we are talking t-ball territory. The icing on the delusional cake, is Ellen defending Hart, backing up his claims that those of us who are concerned about his language are trolls, AND THEN saying she things he should still host. She went so far as to call the Academy and try to intercede to get him to host. The videos of this are posted below.

I have loved Ellen Degeneres and her talk show since they have been on air. We share a love of dancing, laughing, and loving life. I genuinely believe she is one of the best people on the planet because she uses her enormous influence and platform for good. On a side note, she also makes FANTASTIC bedding sold at Bed, Bath, and Beyond as well – I have never had a comforter this soft before. This is why I was shocked and saddened and angered by Ellen’s comments. They feel like a betrayal of the community that wrapped its arms around her and stood by her when all the straight people left her after she came out of the closet. A betrayal of the very community that she is a member of.

Ellen is entitled to her opinion. She is allowed to want Kevin Hart to be forgiven and to be the host of the Oscars. What Ellen is not allowed to do is forgive Hart on behalf of the entire LGBTQ community. You don’t get to give a blanket apology. You don’t get to use your influence to bully those of us in the community who are still hurt, upset, and giving the Academy and Kevin Hart some Makayla Mulroney-worthy side eye. You don’t get to say all is well, because all is not well.

An Insult to Two Communities

Ellen’s comments and actions are a betrayal to other communities besides the gay community. Perhaps the biggest betrayal the comments hurts is communities of color – specifically the black community. While long a traditionally democratic/liberal voting group, the black community has been slow to support same-sex marriage. Before its legalization across the country, only 30% of the black community supported same sex marriage. 40% of the homeless gay youth in this country are African-American. 62% of homeless transgendered youth are black. Black trans people are 7 times more likely to be murdered than their white counter parts. Ellen trying to absolve Kevin Hart of his offensive language is more than just wrong – its flat out dangerous. Don Lemon, eloquently and emotional covers this on a segment of his show.

Final Thoughts

First: People will continue to say “That’s gay – stop that!” as an insult and there is nothing we can do to stop that. I have been called derogatory slurs hundreds of times before and I know I will here them again in the future. Even though that word no longer has power over me, it still hits you square in the gut when it is hurled at you (and anybody is says otherwise is lying). Kevin Hart should not have to carry the sins of using that word for the entire world. Kevin Hart could have used this and his platform as a teachable moment to make the world better for all of us and he decided not to.

Second: There is a reason the Oscars is known as the gay Super Bowl. For many of us, especially those of us in rural areas and the south, the movies was our escape from a boring, unsafe, and unwelcome life. For many of us, myself included, the movies are one of the first times we saw someone who was like us. It made us feel not alone and a little less sad and afraid. The movies became our refuge and the fashion became our sanctuary. To have all of that belittled by a man and his toxic masculinity is wrong, disrespectful, and unwarranted. And to have that supported by Ellen make it sting even more.

Third: Kevin Hart Speaks for himself. Through his actions and through his statement he speaks volumes by saying he doesn’t give a damn about the feelings of the LGBTQ community. And I truly believe he doesn’t think he has anything to apologize for – which is why he has technically never said the two words “I’m Sorry.” That alone should speak volumes.

Finally: Although we love Ellen, (more than you do as a matter of fact. We stuck by her when you all fled. Something even Ellen seems to have forgotten) Ellen is not our spokesperson. She does NOT speak for all of us in the gay community. There was no Gay Conclave where we elected Ellen Pope of the gays so she could put out edicts and decrees in the name of the Gays. Ellen speaks for Ellen. And I speak for myself and myself alone – and the words I choose to speak are Kevin Hart, his homophobic past, and his unapologetic actions in the present are both unwelcome and not needed as this year’s Oscars Awards Ceremony.

-WB