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.

How I Voted 6 Times Today

The United States of America has given me so much. For that reason alone, I love America; not in the obnoxiously loud patriotic American kind of way where I think there is nothing that America can do wrong. She has her faults and is far from perfect. All in all though, I would most likely choose living in America than most other places. And no day is that sentiment ever stronger than on election day. I usually cry at least once over a voting story I see on election day. This was one of those stories:

As I waited in line earlier today to vote and woman came in with the assistance of a nurse or caretaker and got at the end of the line. She was the kind of feisty older woman who looked at the man probably 50 years younger than she was with a look that said “I could take you on in a street fight and win” when the gentleman suggested she could do the handicapped voting where they bring your ballot box out to the car. I immediately liked this women from that interaction alone. As the line slowly creeped forward those of us in line quietly chatted with one another and I eavesdropped in on her conversations. I wish I had gotten this woman’s name, but I do know her birthdate. She told the people around her that she was born on February 10, 1919. This is when I quickly turned back towards the front of the line so I wouldn’t cry and be the weirdo crying in the voting line. I hid the tears with an immediate appreciation of just how amazing the country we live in truly is.

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For those who have yet to understand why I appreciated this story so much, allow me to explain. Suffrage is not a right all Americans have shared equally throughout our history. It was earned and fought for by brave men and women throughout this nation because they believed in the words “We the people” and they knew it meant ALL the people. Women were granted the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment was ratified when Tennessee became the 37th state to ratify the amendment, which it did so on August 18, 1920. And that right there, ladies and gentlemen, is what led to my emotions. That woman was born before women were granted the right to vote. She was born into a country that said she wasn’t smart, strong, or good enough to help be a part in deciding the direction that our nation would go; and in one single lifetime, that has all changed. To me, that is extraordinary.

This post isn’t going to tell you who to vote for. It is not going to try and convince you while one candidate is better than the other candidate (partially because I want you to keep reading and partially because you and I both already know that both candidates are morons.), either. But it is going to tell you how I voted 6 times today. And Maybe when I am done, from here on out, you will vote 6 times on election day also.

I have always voted in every election I was physically able to because that election and that vote is bigger than myself. It represents the people who have given so much so that I was able to do that small act of citizenship. When I handed my identification to the poll worker today and confirmed my address and wrote my name down on the line next to number 298 I didn’t just write my name. I thought back to what I have learned over the years about our nations history and I wrote down the names of 5 other people who all cherished the right to vote that they actually helped changed the history of this place we live.

220px-Susan_B_Anthony_c1855By writing my name I also write the name Susan B. Anthony. Anthony was arrested for trying to vote in 1872 and convicted with illegal voting. Upon her conviction she refused to pay the fine and still it went unpaid all the way to her death. Anthony also founded the National American Women’s Suffrage Association which was crucial in getting the 19th Amendment passed (Sadly, it wasn’t ratified until 18 years after her death). Today it is more commonly referred to as the Susan B. Anthony amendment in her honor.

alice-paul-celebrates-700.jpg20smallBy writing my name I also write the name of Alice Paul. Alice Paul was arrested at least 8 times in two different countries protesting and fighting for the right to vote on behalf of women. She was beaten, mistreated, and when she refused to eat while in prison she was forcibly fed raw eggs through a tube that was shoved down her throat to her stomach. The Process was depicted in the HBO movie Iron Jawed Angels where Alice Paul was played by Hillary Swank:

800px-Inez_milhollandBy writing my name I also write the name of Inez Milholland. Milholland was a woman who fought alongside Alice Paul as a suffragette. The day before President Wilson was inaugurated and arrived in Washington, Milholland helped organize the Women Suffrage Procession where she famously rode through the parade on a white horse in a white dress while wearing a white crown. Inez Milholland suffered from pernicious anemia and continued to travel across the country on behalf of NAWSA. This tragically ended in her early death on the road at the age of 30.

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40leeBy writing my name I also write the name of George Lee. George Lee was a Reverend who was one of the first black people registered to vote in Humphreys County in the state of Mississippi. Rev. Lee used his pulpit and his printing press to urge others to vote. White officials offered Lee protection after he was threatened and intimidated by the Klan on the condition he end his voter registration efforts, but Lee refused and was murdered. Lee was never able to vote before his death despite being registered due to the poll tax.

annie-lee-cooper-played-by-oprah-in-the-filmLast, but certainly not least, by writing my name I also write the name of Annie Lee Cooper. Annie Lee Cooper was a Civil Rights Activists who is well known for marching with Dr. King across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Before this, Cooper tried repeatedly to register in the state of Alabama and was denied even after she passed all the tests that were set up to keep blacks from registering. Cooper stood in line for 8 hours to register and when ordered to leave the registration office by sheriff Jim Clark refused to comply with the order. After Clark’s repeated prodding and intimidating threats Annie Lee Cooper punched Sheriff Clark in the jaw knocking him to the ground. Clark and his officer repeatedly beat Annie Lee Cooper with billy clubs until she was unconscious and then arrested after she was drug through the building into the streets. Oprah Winfrey gave another masterful performance in the movie Selma as Cooper:

 

Although I truly only wrote one name down (my own) today, the whole reason I vote in every election I am able to is because it is that important. It means that much. To be a part of this process is something to take pride and honor in. My vote today was my chance to voice what I want done in this country and I used my vote to honor what Susan, Alice, Inez, George, and Annie Lee fought so bravely for.

So to those of you who didn’t vote today and to those of you who say it doesn’t matter or say I don’t like either candidate I hope you think long and hard about that. I hope you realize just how wrong you are. People literally died for a right that you are taking for granted. And yes, it is technically true that people died for your right to choose to vote or to choose not to vote. But for those of you who decide the latter option is the choice for you, you can have whatever reason and justification you want for that decision. But I am still calling bullshit.

And so are Susan, Alice, Inez, George, and Annie Lee.

-WB

What if Jesus Comes Back Like That?

I have always been the kind of person that follows the news because I place value in being informed about what is going on in the world around me. While I prefer focus on the national news (our local news is pitiful), I do watch my local news and read the paper to see the things that directly affect me. While most people have focused all of their attention on that Washington Post journalist who was hacked to pieces and then snuck out of the Turkish Embassy in piece on the order of the Saudi Crown Prince, my attention has been squarely focused on another issue. I have been obsessed with following the story of the migrant caravan that left Honduras last week. They are headed for Tijuana. Their end goal is to head to the United States to request asylum.

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The path that is going to be taken by the migrants. This only covers the part in Mexico. There are several hundred miles not shown before this part.

You might be asking why I am so interested in this. The answer is quite simple. We are just starting a new unit in my world geography class. This is our population geography unit and it includes, you guessed it, migration. This unit covers migration, asylum, push-pull immigration factors, population density, and population control. To put it quite simply, a global event that is currently happening can help teach my students about 3 quarters of the major themes in our population geography unit. So when my students roll their eyes and ask “when are we ever going to use this?!” I can confidently and excitedly, and nerdily exclaim “RIGHT NOW!”

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These are the current World Geography Standards for Population. This event checks off every single one. 

I have been doing my research and now I plan on introducing this story to my students on Tuesday of this coming week. We will map and track their progress as they move through Mexico. We will research why they are leaving, why they are coming to the US, what asylum is, and a myriad of other issues that this humanitarian issue hits on. Hopefully my students will be interested in what is going on. I have a very large hispanic population which I have heard speaking about it class when I have covered some of the population vocabulary, but I do hope my non-hispanic students take an interest as well. We shall see.

Usually when I bring real world current events into class my students ask me what I think about the issue. I try VERY hard to not let my own political views influence the way I teach. The only “issue” so far that I have given my personal views on to my students has been the Bansky Painting that was shredded after it was bought for two million dollars. My students, to put it in the exact words of one class, thought it was “dumb as hell” for anyone to pay that much for art, but funny that it happened after the man bought it and still has to pay for it. I won’t tell you what they said, when I said it was probably worth more shredded than it was before. When they asked me I told them my opinion (as a follower of banksy for years, I loved it and thought it was typical and genius and right in line with his previous work). So far that’s it this year.

I hope my students ask me what I think should be done with this migrant caravan. Because this time I am going to tell my students what I think. I am going to tell them they are free to disagree with me, just like I disagree with the notion that anyone named lil’ yachty or lil’ uzi can put out any music that is worthy to listen to as long as the disagree respectfully. That is how we do things in my classroom. I want to tell them how I feel because I want to tell them the story of how a country song helped me make up my mind. The look on their face is going to be priceless. My students hate country. Especially twangy country. SO without further ado, please enjoy the country song that helped make up my mind. Then I will tell you how I feel.

I was listening to a radio station I don’t normally listen to when this song from 1996 came on the radio. Originally sung by Collin Raye, the song never was a huge hit, but I have always loved it. When I got to my destination after that commute in my car, the first post I saw on my Facebook feed was related to the migrant caravan. Instantly I thought of the song. It didn’t change my mind. I already believed the current administration is adding their handling of this situation to the long list of disaster that history will judge us by. When my students ask me my opinion I am going to tell them the facts first.

  • There are about 3,500 adults (Mexican Government) and about 2,300 children (UNICEF) traveling in the caravan.
  • The caravan from start to finish will be done primarily by walking the 2,725 mile journey (Google Maps) from start to finish.
  • Most plan on applying for asylum in the United States, but Mexico has already received asylum applications from 1,500 people or families (Mexican Government).
  • The majority of the people in the caravan are ethnically Honduran, Guatemalan, Nicaraguan, and Salvadorian.
  • The World Bank Estimates all of the following statistics:
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      For those in need of a geography lesson the flags from top to bottom are Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala

After I help my students gather and process the facts I am going to have them break up in groups and come up with proposals as to what they think our government should do. I am potentially thinking about the possibility of having my students write letters to the editor of The Greenville News on this topic. When I am done covering this issue with my students, I hope one of them asks me what I think. Because then I am going to tell them. And this is what I am going to tell my students:

I am going to tell my students that I don’t have a perfect answer or solution and I am not sure if we should take any of these people. There are many issues that come with this. I think we should run background checks on these people to see if they pose any threat to America and if they do pose a threat they should not be let in. This could also cause a big issue by causing more people to join caravans if they see us let these people in. This is not an easy issue with a quick fix. This is an issue that has been years in the making. While I would normally stop there with my students, that country song has made me realize I am going to push forward.

I am going to tell my students I think it is a national disgrace when our President uses racist, xenophobic, and hateful language when describing the caravan.

I am going to tell my students that our President of the United States is being a bully when he threatens to cut off foreign aid to the countries the migrants are walking through if they do not stop the caravan.

I am going to tell my students that it violates every international treaty the US has signed and is ILLEGAL to not allow people to apply for asylum or to decide to reject a person’s asylum application before they can apply.

I am going to tell my students that the nation that claims to be the greatest and strongest nation on Earth does not turn its back on a humanitarian crisis it could easily solve on its own or sit down with other nations to figure out a solution.

I am going to tell my students that I will never tell people (who pose our country no risk and who are willing to work and be productive members of our society) who put their lives in mortal danger to flea worse mortal danger that they are not welcome here.

I am going to tell my students that it is shameful that a country like Mexico, where 10% of their population lives on $1.90 a day, has opened their homes and kitchens to the caravan as it passes through its cities and has already offered temporary work visas to many of the migrants while our country has turned a blind eye and sent troops to the southern border.

Last, but certainly not least, I am going to tell my students to think about what they learned in Sunday School and have read in their Bibles. I am going to show my students the picture below and I am going to ask, What if Jesus Comes back like that?

Central America Migrant Caravan

-WB

More Picture of the Caravan are below. These people are risking their lives with nothing more than the shirts on their backs to escape hell. We can and must do better. The whole world is watching, but more importantly, so is Jesus.

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I’m NOT Ok. And that IS Ok. WMHD2018

Please Watch the video below before you continue reading. It relates to what I write about.

Today is many things. Wednesday. Hump Day. October 10th. The 283rd day of the year. More important than all of these things, however, today is World Mental Health Day. World Mental Health Day was started by the World Health Organization in 1996 with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health. In our society it is becoming increasingly clear that part of the reason we so desperately need a World Mental Health Day is as a result of the shame and stigma we attach to the mental health discussion. Attaching the shame and stigma is wrong, dangerous, and doing a disservice to millions of people everywhere.

Each year WMHD has a theme and this year’s theme is one of the most important they have ever had. This year’s theme is “Young People, Mental Health, and a Changing World.” As someone who works with adolescents on a daily basis, I can tell you this could be the theme for the next ten years and we still would not have addressed the needs of our adolescent’s mental health. In a world where teenagers are constantly bombarded with social media, cyber bullying, and marketing campaigns designed around their actual fear, it is a wonder that any of our middle and high school students can function at all.

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Half of all mental illnesses begin by age 14 and that number is growing rapidly.  In terms of the burden of the disease among adolescents, depression is the third leading cause. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. Harmful use of alcohol and illicit drugs among adolescents is a major issue in many countries and can lead to risky behaviors such as unsafe sex or dangerous driving. Eating disorders are also of concern. All of these numbers double or triple among the most vulnerable youth (LGBTQ+ youth, other minority groups, etc). And most heartbreakingly, 80% of all youth who identify as homeless or transient are currently battling mental illness.

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lgbtI teach ninth graders (for those not in America that is usually around 14 or 15 years old. I have had students deal with situations that would leave me in the fetal position on the floor. Pregnancies, abusive relationships, sexual identity struggles, divorces, breakups, and gossip stories have all had students in my room at one point or another trying to figure out how to get through. Like 95% of the rest of the teachers in America, I have no training on how to help students through these issues. We do the best we can while simultaneously walking the tightrope that comes with being a legally mandated reporter, trying to follow district guidelines, and trying to keep the trust with the student. Sometimes I have helped the student. Sometimes I have not. But the process as a whole does not help our students. There is only one thing that will help our young people.

We must start talking about mental health.

We must start allowing people with mental health illnesses to talk about their struggles without looking at them with shame, pity, or sorrow.

We must stop telling people that if you can’t handle something on your own you are weak.

We must praise the people who are struggling with mental health who come forward and ask for help – because it is one of the strongest things you can do.

We must hug the people in our friend groups and families who come forward and say I am not ok. We must tell them that it is ok to feel not ok.

We MUST tell people they are not alone.

Coming from a personal place, I know all of the above are a must because I have found them out to be true on a personal level. Not too long ago, I was not in the best “place” when it comes to my own mental health. I was not where I wanted to be or thought I should be in life. I felt like nothing was going my way and that I had no one to talk to about it. I was embarrassed and ashamed and felt like people would think less of me if I talked about it. So I did what most people who don’t seek treatment or diagnosis do in that situation. I addressed the problem myself. This led me to only get worse by putting myself, my body, and my mental health at even more risk. When I finally admitted to myself this was not working, I asked for help.

I found someone to talk to. It helped. It taught me other ways of coping with my anxiety, my feelings of depression, and my own mindfulness. It gave me permission to not feel okay – and at the end of the day, that was all I wanted and needed. So before I close out this blog post, I want to directly address the people reading this who might have felt the same way I did. Maybe you still feel that way. If you do, please keep reading.

First, please know that you are LOVED, you are VALUED, and you are SPECIAL.

Please know there is NOTHING wrong with you. and that you are NOT alone.

Please know that you matter and that this world is better with you in it.

Please know that if you are thinking of ending your life, that is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Please know that if you need to reach out to someone that I will listen to you (sweetteasmalltalk@gmail.com) and there are other people out there who will listen to you or help you (see below).

And lastly, please know that if you are feeling not ok, that is perfectly ok. Because the rest of us are here to help.

-WB

If you are feeling like you need some help with your mental health, please reach out to any of the organizations below. If you are scared, reach out to anyone you trust.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: This toll free number is 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). You will be connected to your local crisis center and get immediate help. The whole reason Logic wrote the song was because he knew people who personally benefitted from calling this line.

Childhelp: This hotline is a resource specifically for child and adult survivors of abuse. Callers are connected to a mental health professional and even provided treatment referrals.

The Trevor Project: This organization is geared toward LGBTQ individuals, specifically young people. You can call, web chat or text to get some mental health help.

Mental Health America: From depression to eating disorders, this website offers a lot of screenings for users to choose from.

 

 

 

 

 

The Death of Decency: A Maverick’s Mark on America

I had the good fortune of turning 18 in a presidential election year, and I was more excited to register to vote than I was to buy cigarettes and lottery tickets. I was that kid. To this day I remember standing in a massive line to vote in the 2008 Presidential Election. I asked my mother if you usually have to wait this long and she quickly replied no. John Sidney McCain III is the reason that many turned out to vote on November 4, 2008. Had John McCain run against just about anybody else, he would have received my vote. I respected him. I trusted him. I believed in him. I bought into his vision of what America was and how she should move forward. Sadly, John McCain had the misfortune of running against Barack Obama; and as Obama has done for millions, his belief in the audacity of hope spoke to me. I bought what he was selling more than what John McCain was selling. But not by much.

I was honored to be a part of history and cast my vote for Barack Obama. Looking back on it all, I would not change my vote if I got the chance to vote again, but I am left incredibly sad for John McCain. He would have made a stellar president. He deserved to be president more than the disrespectful louse who currently occupies the White House. What I remember about election night, however, other than the excitement over the historic outcome, is the candidate speeches. If you were to ask me about both speeches, I will tell you that the speech winner that night was not the man who was known throughout the world as a Kennedy-worthy orator. The winner that night was the Arizona maverick who swallowed his pain and pride and did his best to unite a divided nation.

I do not remember one word of Former President Obama’s speech, but I remember every word of McCain’s speech. John McCain lost a bitter primary to George W. Bush in 2000. He did not give up the fight for what he thought was right. He lost again in 2008 after fighting even harder than he had the first time. At a time when many other people would have lashed out or given up completely, John McCain stood on that stage and said loudly for all to hear “Barack Obama is my president and I will do my best to help him succeed.” John McCain grieved for 30 seconds, then held his head up high and continued to fight for American ideals in his way. I remember turning to my college roommate (and friend since the sixth grade) David with tears in my eyes saying that was a damn good speech. And to this day I still think it was the best speech of his career.

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As the days have passed, I have cried more tears for John McCain than I thought I would. I have been slightly surprised by this and I have spent time trying to figure out why I have been so saddened by the Maverick’s passing. I have been saddened by the images of the beautifully stoic Cindy McCain and the distraught tears of Meghan McCain. Watching Meghan McCain, someone I have followed for years as the future of the republican party, brought up feelings of my grandfather’s passing and that brought the tears with it. I was heartbroken by the pictures of the 106 year old Roberta McCain being pushed in her wheelchair to the casket of the late senator – it is absolutely wrong for a parent to have to bury their child. It is not natural, not right, and not fair. I have been saddened by the images and the stories of McCain’s time at the Hanoi Hilton as a P.O.W. as well. After spending several days thinking it was a combination of these things making me sad, I had a realization last night as I lay in bed.

None of those things I had thought are what brought my sadness. What brought my sadness was what McCain’s death truly represented. On August 25, 2018, John Sidney McCain III died and he took a piece of America that she desperately needed. With the death of John McCain we saw the death of decency in American politics; and although I grieve for John McCain, I grieve for the last bastion of decency in our political system. Everything I respect about John McCain has to do not with politics, but the fact that John McCain was a decent human being who loved his country and loved fighting for what he thought was best for his county. Everything I respect about John McCain is gone because there is not another like John McCain in our political system right now.

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John McCain got the nickname Maverick because he did not always follow the party line. John McCain voted against repealing Obamacare last year because it was not in the best interest of the nation (and received a phone call of appreciation from former President Obama). John McCain in his long political career only once put getting votes ahead of the right thing and he immediately regretted it. He had this to say about the confederate flag flying over the state capital here in South Carolina:

“I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary. So I chose to compromise my principles. I broke my promise to always tell the truth. And I would like to apologize to South Carolinians and to Americans everywhere who believe racism has no place in our American values.”

John McCain refused to go negative during the 2000 presidential campaign. When operatives of the Bush campaign were saying terrible things about McCain’s wife Cindy who openly admitted to struggling with prescription drug abuse, and his adopted daughter Brigette (who was originally born in Bangladesh), McCain refused to go negative. Even when told these rumors would cost him the nomination from the Republican party John McCain refused to bend the knee. He knew the party was better than that. He knew America was better than that. And when he lost that campaign he was able to sleep at night and hold his head high. And America is better for it. And we are worse off because we didn’t believe in it at the time.

My personal favorite moment from McCain’s distinguished lifetime of public service is the fact that when meeting with a woman in his own state while running for president took an opportunity to defend his political opponent Barack Obama. When that women called Barack Obama an Arab Muslim, John McCain took that time to stop her and tell her that was not true. He called Barack Obama a good man. A decent man. A family man. How many other politicians did that while running for the presidency from the republican party? Ted Cruz certainly did not. Marco Rubio certainly did not. Ben Carson did not. Chris Christie did not. Jeb Bush did not. and we all know good and well that Donald J. Trump sure as hell did not. When John McCain defended his opponent that day, he did more to cement his maverick’s mark on this nation than any other day. That is the day this self-proclaimed liberal democrat elevated John McCain to a pedestal above almost all other politicians. That is the day that I knew John McCain was something special. And that is the day that I know that John McCain was a politician that this nation did not deserve.

On a more cynical note, I am saddened by the death of this maverick giant because I sadly believe the death of John McCain is going to be the beginning of the death of the republican party as we know it. And that is when my sadness turns to anger. I love this nation and I know that my democrats do not have all the answers. That is why I believe so firmly in the two-party system. I believe firmly in compromise. So did John McCain. But the republican party has rejected compromise. They have rejected decency. They have rejected niceties and instead they embraced a cancer on our political system who would and should be a pariah of politics if we lived in an America that was made by McCain.

fd1602a8-936e-4426-9d08-f155a33b72d4-ax006_571e_9John McCain served this nation with honor in the Navy and was a P.O.W. during a war that our current leader evaded with a “diagnosis” of bone spurs. John McCain refused to be released early when given the chance because there were P.O.W.s who had been imprisoned longer than he had. IF I had been given the chance of early freedom I would have sung like a canary and god knows our current leader would have (before finding a cheesy way to write a book about the “art of the P.O.W. release deal”). When given the chance to let his supporters demean and insult his Opponent, John McCain went high and defended their integrity. Our current leader not only took time time to demean and insult his opponent he advocated violence in his name on the behalf of his trucker hat wearing supporters who still don’t see that America was and is already great. When given the chance to lie and steal and defraud the American people John McCain would have none of it.

After thinking about all of those things, my anger turns back to sadness. John Sidney McCain should have been president over the monstrosity that we currently have in the oval office. That is why I am sad. That is why I cry. But then the crying stops. Because I think about John McCain and his last statement that was released by his widow Cindy and his daughter Meghan after his death. In that letter McCain wrote

We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil. We are blessed and are a blessing to humanity when we uphold and advance those ideals at home and in the world. We have helped liberate more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history. We have acquired great wealth and power in the process. …

Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.

Farewell, fellow Americans. God bless you, and God bless America.

I weep as I read that letter every time. But they are tears of joy. John McCain knew all too well that myself and many Americans are saddened and are full of despair at our present difficulties. But John McCain does not despair in America and he never has. John Sidney McCain III believed in America in life and he still believes in America in death. And because I believed in and still believe in John Sidney McCain III I still believe in America – and I hope you do to.

Farewell John. On behalf of a grateful American, please know we are a better people, a better nation, and a better world because of you. God Bless you and your family. And may God bless the United States of America that you fought for. May we live up to your vision of her. Always.

-WB

The Intentional Harm from an Unintentional Governor

Those of you who live in South Carolina may not agree with my views of our current governor, but you would definitely agree with me on one point about Governor Henry McMaster: like him or not, he is a very polarizing figure. For the most part there is no middle ground with McMaster. Many people, including myself, find McMaster to be wrong on just about every issue. Personally, I feel the only reason he got to be governor is because he took a gamble on supporting President Predicament knowing that he would return the favor and select Nicki Haley for his cabinet allowing McMaster to get the job he had failed numerous times to get. Obviously, not everyone agrees with me. Many people think our Governor is doing a fine job – even if he does sound like Foghorn Leghorn.

In yesterday’s edition of The Greenville News an article was published addressing the new Budget that McMaster would either sign or veto for the state of South Carolina. Before I continue to discuss why I disagree with some of McMaster’s decisions, I have a challenge for you: I want you to watch all of the following clip. Don’t skip them, and make sure to watch the whole clip. There is a reason I want you to watch them the whole way through.

All of the above clips were brought to you by Kleenex – because if your face looks anything like mine after watching those clips then we look like Russel Crowe looked in the film Gladiator when he found out his wife and child were both murdered. There is a reason I wanted you to watch each of those clips. I think every single one of those clips is a work of art in some way. More importantly, however, every single one of those clips moved me to tears the first time I watched it. Whether it was the actor, the singer, or the dancer, something about each of those performances touched a part of me with its joy, or sadness, or just straight beauty.

In the first clip, Taraji P. Henson plays Katharine Johnson in the film Hidden Figures. The beauty in her performance when she mortifyingly has to explain why it takes her so long to go to the bathroom. The second clip is three dancers from the Alvin Ailey Dance Studio who represent the main character at three different stages in his life as they dance to the score from the Oscar winning film Moonlight. I would give my pinky fingers and pinky toes for my body to be able to move as beautifully as those dancers. When added with the music from a phenomenal movie movie it takes my breath away. The third clip is from the tv show Parenthood. When Max’s parents have to pick him up early on an overnight field trip after an incident with his classmates because of his Asperger’s, it breaks my heart. The look in Peter Krauss’ eyes and his face as he so desperately wants to take the hurt and the pain away from his child is something everyone can relate to – regardless of whether or not they have children. The last clip is from the musical film version of RENT. Rent is one of my favorite musicals and this scene finds Jesse L. Martin (most will remember him from Law & Order fame) as Tom Collins sing the reprise to the song “I’ll cover you.” Earlier in the film “I’ll cover you is song as a duet between Tom and Angel. Now Angel has died from AIDS complications leaving Jesse heartbroken. It is true love at its finest.

Now that I have explained the clips, back to my purpose for writing this post. I guess that Governor McMaster has not seen any of these films or TV shows. I can tell you for sure he never saw Moonlight or RENT and has never listened to Wrabel. Because god forbid a republican be anything but ass backwards when it come to gay people. Since they don’t exist in the eyes of most republicans. My guess is our illustrious insignificant governor doesn’t make time to see movies, tv or dance performances. He most certainly doesn’t go to the theater so he doesn’t associate with gay people. Otherwise our governor would not have vetoed $500,000 for the South Carolina Children’s Theater, $250,000 for the Charleston Public Library, or $100,000 for a statewide music education program. Out of the 26 billion dollar budget, the moron in charge of our state that it was a good idea to veto those items that count for 0.025% of the over all budget. The asinine excuse of “earmarks and pork” that the governor gave is just downright insulting as well. We all know good and well that if we went through the budget line by line we could find things that were far more worth of the “Earmarks and Pork” title than arts education programs.

"I see the art budget's been cut again."In an effort to keep this post short (especially since I had you watch those videos) I am not going to write about why arts education is vital to every student’s overall education. I am going to post several infographics below that explain why our governor is being shortsighted and is downright idiotic when it comes to these vetoes. Look over them and share them with your family and friends. And then write your state representatives and tell them to please override our governors shortsighted veto. They are easy to find. All you have to do is google “Who are my state representatives” and it will prompt you to type in your address and tell you exactly who they are. Finally, I will leave you with two important pieces of information.

First, As someone who has taught in schools for the past 7 years, one of the greatest things in the world, is to watch a student who most would label as lazy, disengaged, or not interested in school light up with passion on the stage or in the chorus room or at an art exhibition as they proudly discover what they love and were born to do. It is a miraculous moment to watch as a teacher and one I cherish every time it happens.

And Second, since Governor McMaster does not think art has a purpose in the lives of South Carolina’s students, I leave him with this quote from Pablo Picasso:

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Certainly from those two things alone, we can all agree that these intentional vetoes will harm our students and our accidental governor needs to figure that out quickly. $750,000 is a small price to pay if we want our students to succeed in a global world.

Have a great Monday everyone! Don’t forget to check out the infographics below!

-WB

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Teaching in Terror: The Lives Lost to Gun Violence in Schools Since I Started Teaching

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The picture above was one of the happiest days of my life. In the picture along with me are 16 other people, many of whom I consider my friends to this day, were just about to receive our diplomas from Clemson University with a degree in secondary education. We were all so excited. Not all are teaching currently, but at that point we were thrilled with what the future held. We graduated in 2011 and it was not a great time to graduate with a teaching degree. That didn’t matter. We were just excited. This was one of the most emotionally draining articles I have written.

I grew up in a family full of educators that placed huge value on education. Educational success was seen as key that could open most doorways. Upon taking teacher cadets in high school, it quickly became the only career I considered as something I would do long term. I became a teacher to change lives. There is something indescribable about being able to show a 14 year old that they can accomplish something they previously thought was not possible. I have experienced more joy from some of the successes of my students than I have about my own successes. Likewise, I have cried more tears about some of the things my students face than I do about my own life’s hardships.

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I went into the educational field to spend my days that should be spent teaching about cultural diffusion, market economies, and the difference between a megalopolis and a megacity. I did not go into education to spend my days worrying weather or not my students would go home to their parents and if I would go home to my boston terrier. I did not go into education to attend the funerals of my students or my colleagues. But at the rate we are going I have a greater chance of attending the funerals of my students  (or my students attending my funeral) than of living long enough to see Greenville become a Megacity – even with its explosive growth.

America is a great nation. The perks of living her far outweigh the downsides. If you are one of those people who thinks we do not have flaws or that says “America is the greatest nation on earth.” or “America is better than any other nation to have ever existed.” you may want to stop reading now because this will just piss you off. America is not the greatest nation on earth. The greatest nation on Earth does not offer up thoughts and prayers after a classroom full of 6 and 7 years is riddled with bullets during show and tell. The greatest nation on earth does not vilify students who after walking over the bodies of their dead classmates decide that they should advocate for sensible gun control. If you do not agree with those past two statements then you are delusion as as the politicians that have been bought by the gun lobby.

I started my educational career as the replacement for a teacher in March. I have added up the days I have spent teaching since my first day as a teacher that March all the way up until today (Wednesday May 23, 2018). As of today I have been a teacher for 619 days. The pictures below are the are the victims of gun violence in the classroom since I have started my career in education. There are 120 pictures. One day out of every week since I have become a teacher, a student, teacher, or parents was gunned down on school grounds. What day should students play hooky? What day should teachers take a sick day to ensure this never happens again?

As I tried to find the pictures of the fatalities I had to take breaks. This post took days to finish because I couldn’t take that much sadness at once. So many of these kids would have been the best leaders of tomorrow. So many of these courageous teachers were found shielding the bodies of their students. So many parents have had their lives shattered. For at least a dozen of  these fatalities, a parent was dead within the next several years – some from suicide, others from drugs they became addicted to as they tried to survive their pain. I will continue to update this list as these tragedies continue to happen. I pray to God this list doesn’t get to long, but I know it will. The day we decided you needed a bullet proof vest for show and tell is the day we lost our nation’s soul. God have mercy on us all.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-WB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Slander of a Sex Worker: How Stormy Became Salomé

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

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Salomé’s Dance. Painting by Gustave Moreau.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-WB

Author’s Note:

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

 

A First Lady’s Feisty Legacy

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

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

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

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Photo courtesy of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-WB

Killing them a Second Time – Taking Sides in Syria

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never shall I forget.

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Elie Wiesel in the early 2000s.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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