This is America: Her Fire Within

Childish Gambino’s song “This is America” quickly became one of the most popular songs of the year thanks to its viral video and the messages of racism, police brutality, and gun violence that he expertly raps on in the song. I too, enjoy the song. Although it is difficult many times to talk about our problems and faults, the only way to grow and fix them is by first acknowledging that they exist. The things Childish Gambino spins rhymes about are part of America. But that America is not what moved me to write tonight. I was moved to write about the America that Mr. Rogers (yes, that Mr. Rogers) so famously quoted years ago:

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It is easy to watch with sadness and let the despair creep into your heart as you watch coverage of the Camp Fire, which has quickly become the most deadly fire in California history. At the time of writing this 81 people have been killed and over 12,000 family homes have been completely destroyed. Many people have been were only able to get out with the clothes they had on their backs. Stories of people abandoning their cars and jumping into a lake reservoir to swim to an island in the middle to escape the flames as they destroyed their cars have become familiar fodder in newspapers. The stories that bring the tears to me involve the animals and the pets that are often left behind. I have to change the channel before I start to cry like Russel Crowe in gladiator Рthe ugly cry.

Time and time again, though, I am continually drawn back to these stories. The fires in California have reminded me of everything that is good about this place we live. It has reminded me that people are general good at their core. It has reminded me that decency and love and compassion will always win out over meanness and hate and indifference. That may strike you as odd, but just read a few of the following stories as proof that what I say is true.

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Josh Fox and Tracey Grant offered to let Mr Brundige stay with them for as long as he needs. Photo Credit: CBS News

Lee Brundiage is a decorated World War Two Veteran, who at 93, lived alone in the house that his wife designed for the two of them after she passed away a few years back. He was taken in by Josh Fox and Tracey Grant who met him while they were serving donated hamburgers at a displacement shelter. Grant invited him to stay with them as long as he needs. For the first two nights he slept in his truck in their driveway with blankets provided to him by the couple until they insisted he move inside to avoide breathing in the toxic ash. The couple have said he can stay as long as he needs.

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Dane Cumming, on the left, with 93 year old Margaret Newsum whom he rescued from the the fire in Magalia, CA. Photo Credit: California Waste Management

Dane Cumming was doing his daily waste management route when he noticed Margaret Newsum who was standing in her front yard trying to see if she needed to call someone to come get her to escape the fire. Newsum is 93 years old, and she also broke her back in a fall about 8 months ago. Dane Cumming helped load her up in his garbage truck and drove her to family members 2 hours away. She later learned that her home was destroyed about an hour later when the winds had shifted.

Allyn Pierce is a nurse who manages an ICU at a hospital in Butte County. He drove his Toyota truck through the fire twice on his day off in order to pick up patients and nurses after learning nurses refused to evacuate until all the patients were gone. At the end of the harrowing ordeal, Pierce posted a viral instagram post of his truck where somehow he was miraculously able to keep his since of humor by saying his truck now had a toasted marshmellow custom paint job.

A student athlete from Paradise High School  missed the state qualifiers for Track and Field due to the fire, rival runners in the nearby town of Chico offered to host another event to give him a chance to compete. He was cheered on by his former rivals as he successfully qualified for the state championship in the coming weeks. The Paradise High football team was due to play in the playoffs, but they had nowhere to stay or to train for their upcoming game. The San Francisco 49ers opened up their practice facilities for the team team to train and stay for several weeks. They even invited the team, all of whom lost their homes to the fire, to join them for the national anthem before a recent game.

Perhaps one of the most uplifting things (IMHO, of course) has been the big businesses putting their profit margins aside to help those affected by the fires. Hotel Chains in the California area and AirBNB are offering free or discounted rooms if they have them available. Uber and Lyft are offering free rides to evacuation zones and shelters. The¬†VCA Animal Hospital,¬†Humane Society, and¬†LA County Animal Care Foundation¬†are assisting shelter and feed displaced pets ‚ÄĒ and are accepting donations, as well. Comcast has opened hotspots to allow people to let their loved ones know they are safe.¬†Verizon¬†has provided evacuation centers with communication stations that provide free calling, texting, and data. Lastly, in an act that can only be described as quintessentially American, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (a company created by everyday entrepreneurs that has grown to the 5th largest brewery in the nation) has created a formula for a brew it is asking breweries all across the country to create and donate 100% of the proceeds to the survivors of the fires.

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As a person who tries to see the good in people, I believe the America that Childish Gambino refers to is the smaller piece of the American fabric. That is sometimes America. To me, THIS is America. The actions of everyday people helping their neighbors. Helping Strangers. Helping animals. Helping each other.

This is America. The place were when people cry out for help, there is no such thing as democrats or republicans. Or black and white. Or rich or poor. There are only Americans helping Americans.

This is America. The place where firefighters and EMS and police run into burning buildings or charge into burning forrests to put out the flames. To save their fellow Americans. To save the pets of their fellow Americans.

This is America. The place where in times of crisis nothing else matters more than getting through. Then going on. Then surviving. And as Americans have done for generations, once we have survived, we give thanks, and hopefully give back to those who need the help more than you do. It has happened time and time again in the history of our nation. As we move into Thanksgiving tomorrow, consider giving thanks by donating to one of the relief organizations below, and by reminding youself that no matter what negativity we see on the news or read in the papers, that this is America, and as long as we stick together, everything will be ok.

-WB

Los Angeles County Animal Care Foundation: The Los Angeles County Animal Care Foundation assists emergency response and disaster relief efforts through its Noah’s Legacy fund by providing supplies, training and equipment, including animal safe trailers that provide temporary sheltering for pets whose owners have evacuated.

American Red Cross: The American Red Cross is assisting residents in northern and southern California to help find shelter. To make a donation visit the redcross.org, call 1-800-RED or text the word REDCROSS to 90999.

Humane Society of Ventura County: This nonprofit is accepting donations to help animals displaced by the Woolsey and Hill Fires. It is taking in domestic animals, such as dogs, cats and birds, as well as livestock.

CCF Wildfire Relief Fund: The organization helps provide long-term recovery efforts to those impacted by California wildfires. The relief fund has also created local initiatives to help those affected by the fires. Click here to learn more.

 

Thanking and Writing on Veteran’s Day

November 11th in the United States of America has been what we know as Veteran’s Day since 1963. Originally called Armistice Day, it was formally changed to Veteran’s Day in 1954. We celebrate Veteran’s day on November 11th because on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month the armistice with Germany went into effect ending World War One. Many Americans go out of their way on this day to to thank veterans for their service to our nation (something we are all guilty – myself included – of not doing nearly enough on a regular basis). Coincidentally, into telling you why its celebrated on November 11th, you might have noticed that today is the 100th year since the end of the war that was originally known as the war to end all wars.

Although I think war is a terrible thing, we must face the facts that it has to be used as a last resort to defend what we believe in, to protect American citizens, and to keep tyranny, terrorism, and extremist violence from spreading to further parts of the world. As a historian, I have come to love Veteran’s day because it has allowed me to learn about just a few of the stories of the brave men and women and what they have done serving and protecting the United States of America. Just Google it. I am not going to tell you my favorites – I want you to do your research and come up with your own. IN addition, I have family members (including both Grandfathers) who have proudly served and countless friends who have and who still do.

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Two of my personal heroes throughout history have been Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Aside from sharing a friendship with one another they led two of the greatest nations on earth through WW2 and one of the darkest chapters of human history. They are revered in both countries for this as well as their abilities in the oration department. Both men were excellent public speakers. Obama once said he watched FDR’s war speeches before he gave big speeches while he was on the campaign trail. While thinking about what I wanted to write on this Veteran’s day, excerpts from each of their speeches came to mind.

Churchill gave his “We Shall Fight…” speech before the House of Commons on June 4, 1940. He had just taken over as Prime Minister and France was quickly losing in their fight to maintain control of their country with the Nazis. Following the sea rescue of the majority of British Forces from Dunkirk as part of Operation Dynamo the British morale effort was quickly deteriorating when the public heard of the British retreat. They also left behind a majority of their tanks and artillery weapons. Churchill had to describe a great military disaster, and warn of¬†a possible invasion attempt¬†by the¬†Nazis, without casting doubt on eventual victory. To do that Churchill said the following:

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen into the grip of the Gestapo and the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

It is considered to be the greatest oratorical moment of Churchill’s career. It was so rousing and moving the many members of the liberal party – who were not fans of Churchill – could be seen openly weeping at its conclusion. Sadly, there is no recording of Churchill giving this speech, but Gary Oldman gives the most magnificent performance of his career in¬†The Darkest Hour if you are interested. The 4 minutes it takes for the speech only will give you chills.

The speech that came to mind for Roosevelt was similar in terms of the situation in which the speaker gave it. On December 8, 1941 FDR spoke before a special join session of congress where he asked them to declare war on the Empire of Japan. Roosevelt ends the speech by asking Congress to declare war, but the final statement before the request is what has always stuck out to me. In perhaps one of the most important speeches of his career Roosevelt was able to call Japan cowardly and assert the eventual victory of the United States by saying:

Always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

What sticks out to me in both of these speeches is the confidence. Both leaders were certain of eventual victory even¬† though they had just been through humbling defeats for their respective nations. The more I think about it, however, the more I have come to realize why they were able to do this. When it comes to the military, we as citizens of this nation, and Churchill and Roosevelt, as leaders of nations trust our militaries. We trust our military to keep us safe. To defend America’s interests. To do what is right. I do not know this for certain, but I believe those who have served and those who still serve do so with pride and trust. They trust that we will honor and remember their sacrifice of time and service by taking care of them when they get home. They trust we won’t forget their sacrifices by making sure they have the tools and the resources necessary to live a good life long after their military careers are over. Right now, we have broken that trust. We are failing to live up to the deal, even though our veterans have not yet let us down once.

To Prove to you that we are failing to live up to our end of this trust agreement, consider the following facts:

  • Veterans under the age of 50 are twice as likely to commit suicide has their civilian counterparts.
  • 30% of all veterans have reported having suicidal thought.
  • Unemployment rates are often double the national average for our veterans.
  • 40% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans can name at least one person they served with who has committed suicide. 24% can name at least 2.
  • 2 out of ever 6 men who are homeless served in our nation’s military for at least one year.
  • Veterans are 7 times more likely to suffer from substance abuse issues.
  • The repeated failure of the Veterans Administration to get these Veterans the help they need.

If the above examples are enough to serve as examples of our end of the broken trust I do not know what to tell you. I am not placing blame on any one government, party, or person. We are all guilty of taking this important agreement for granted. Our Veterans have protected and have served. Now it is our term. We must serve and protect them. And there is no better day to start. In an effort to right our wrong and to help us live up to that agreement with our veterans that is important for our nation’s survival I spent a few minutes before I wrote this post and I emailed my elected officials, both at the state and national level. I plan on calling the national officials offices on Monday as well. As a way of thanking our veterans, I humbly suggest you take the time to do this same small thing today. To make it a little bit easier for those of you who live in South Carolina, at the bottom of this post, I have attached links to where you can write our representatives as well as the phone numbers for their offices. To those of you who have not served in our nation’s military, I leave you with the words of FDR’s cousin to think about:

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To those of you who have served and for those who continue to serve, I sincerely thank you for what you have done for me and this nation. I thank you for the sacrifices that you made, as well as the sacrifices that your family and friends had to make as well. The debt we as a nation owe you, can never fully be repaid. Please know you and your safety are continually in my thoughts and prayers. I am and continue to be in awe of your courage, dedication, strength, and bravery. You are the best that America has to give. You honor the ideals of what America stands for daily, and so on this Veteran’s Day, even though it is not nearly enough, I give you my undying thanks and prayers for your continued protection.

With Gratitude and Thanks,

WB

Senator Lindsay Graham

  • Email
  • Greenville Offices
  • Washington D.C. Offices:
  • 290 Russell Senate Office Building
    Washington, DC 20510

Senator Tim Scott

  • Email
  • Greenville Offices: (864) 233-5366
  • Washington D.C. Offices: (202) 224-6121
  • 717 Hart Senate Office Building
    Washington, DC 20510

Representative Trey Gowdy

  • Email
  • Greenville Offices: Phone: (864) 241-0175
  • Washington D.C. Offices: (202) 225-6030

Don’t live in SC, but still want to contact your representatives? Click here to find out who they are and how to reach them.

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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Sexism, Scandal, and Stolen Moments

Like Many Americans, I watched the US Open Ladies Tennis Finals yesterday afternoon when Serena Williams played Naomi Osaka for the Grand Slam title. Had Williams won, this would have been her 24th Grand Slam Title, and would have tied her for the record with Margaret Court. My hope is that she will win 2 more grand slams and Margaret Court will fade into oblivion for her bigoted views, but that is a story for a different article. At this point, we all know the outcome of what will go down as the most controversial women’s final in US Open history. Williams was denied a 24th title and Osaka came out victorious, but neither lady went home happy as a result of several controversial calls by referee Carlos Ramos. I was content to not write about this. Partially because so many people were talking about it and partially because Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post¬†wrote without a shadow of a doubt the most eloquently written view on the subject¬†– if Jenkins doesn’t win a Pulitzer for that commentary I would be highly surprised. I was content to let Jenkins have the final word, but then I awoke this morning to the news below:

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I am dumbfounded by this move and I cannot fathom what type of malarky the United States Tennis Association is going to come up with to try and defend an indefensible position. Time and Time again the US Open and United States tennis has screwed Serena Williams over and time and time again she has been vilified by the public and most of the press as a hysterical ABW in the throws of major meltdown. Each time, Serena Williams has emerged and changed the sport of Tennis for the better. Each time Serena has showed the governing body of a sport that is almost exclusively played by wealthy whites that there is room for all types of people in tennis – both those with and without melanin in their skin. Whether or not the USTA and the US Open every thank or realize just how important Williams has been to the game of tennis remains to be seen. But if they don’t realize it by now, then they probably aren’t going to and that just makes them as stupid and unappreciative as they currently seem.

serena-williams-us-open-2018I am not going to go through the minor details of what happened on the court during the finals. There are a million different videos from every angle imaginable. I will be the first to admit that I, along with millions of other Americans, wanted Williams to win yesterday. I always prefer an American win and I have loved and respected Serena since the days when you could hear her coming a mile away because of all the beads she had in her hair. Last night Serena abused her racket, but the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lookalike referee took a note from the Iranian dictator’s playbook when he abused his position of power. and that is far worse.

When trying to think of the reason or reasons I support Serena the most, I ended up coming up with other athletes I like. In tennis along with Serena and his sister Venus I routinely cheer for Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray. In football I like Deshaun Watson, OBJ, Russell Wilson, and DeAndre Hopkins. Baseball turns me into a Nationals fan because I am a big Bryce Harper fan. Basketball has me pulling for Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook. Swimming I rooted for Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. Soccer I of course like most of them, but I digress because at this point we are getting away from ability and moving into physical appearance.

I thought about Serena and what she has in common with every single one of these people, and if you know any of the above names its not hard to figure out why I cheered for them. Every single one of the people on that list has passion for success in their sport and they are not afraid to show that passion on the court, field, or pool when they compete. The reason I gravitate towards Williams and Nadal in tennis is because I find tennis players like Federer and Djokovic boring to watch because they play so stoically. I like watching Steph Curry show off on the court and I like watching the swag that Russell Westbrook has when he walks into the stadium before a game looking fly as hell. Same thing goes for DeAndre Hopkins, whose instagram makes him seem more like a model for Emporio Armani than a player for the Texans. That is why I never had a problem with all the antics of Baker Mayfield when he played for Oklahoma. Yes, he was a show off, and yes, he could be obnoxious, but at the end of the day he could always back it up with his performance.

Each of the people I mentioned above has won and lost on the international stage. Each of the people above has received calls that both did and did not go their way. Each of the people above has showed their ass and looked like a petulant spoiled child. However, the only person above who has been treated and then reported on in a grossly unfair way has been Serena Williams. When the men on the list above show out and act unprofessionally they are NEVER called out on it the way Serena is. They are called passionate, or people say they are hyper focused, or in the zone. When Serena does it she is called hysterical or people throw out the word Meltdown. Just look at the tone of many of the headlines that were used last night and earlier today.

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Granted, two of the above publications are owned by Rupert Murdoch and that fact alone means they really aren’t worthy of using as toilet paper, let alone reading the fact remains the same: No male professional sports figure in recent history has EVER been called self-obsessed, narcissistic, or having the “mother of all meltdowns,” which is especially disgusting considering the fact that Serena Williams almost died giving birth less than a year ago. The majority of the people who tweeted or commented or spoke negatively about Serena used one word that is so sexist and disrespectful that I can’t even understand why it is still in use in polite conversation: hysterical. Since I do teach history for a living, allow me to give you a history lesson on the sexist word hysterical.

The root word of hysterical is hysteria. Hysteria means ungovernable emotional excess. The origins of the word hysteria comes from the Greek word for uterus and because of this, hysteria was used as a medical diagnosis almost exclusively for women and carried a variety of broad symptoms including¬†faintness, nervousness,¬†sexual desire,¬†insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in the abdomen, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and a “tendency to cause trouble”. This was used as a medical diagnosis starting in the Victorian era in England and was not discontinued until 1952. The term hysterical is almost exclusively used when a woman is upset or angry. With many incidents involving professional athletes, that term has been thrown around, but I have yet to find an instance when it was used with negative connotations towards a man.

In regards to Serena’s three penalties all I will say is this. The first penalty for coaching is ridiculous. The fact that coaching is not allowed is just plain dumb in the first place. The fact that a player can be penalized for the actions of their coach when a player did not even see the coach is wrong to me. I think the rule should be changed, but if the governing bodies of tennis are going to leave it in place than it needs to be routinely enforced across the board. There needs to be a judge watching each coach at every match and they need to call it each and every time they are playing. In regards to the second penalty, I have no problem with that. It is in the rules you cannot abuse your racket and Serena clearly abused the hell out of the racket. I take umbrage with this penalty more than any other penalty, and here is why.

By giving Serena a penalty for coaching, he is saying that Serena was trying to have an unfair advantage over her opponent during the match. Essentially Carlos Ramos (who has spared with both Venus Williams, Andy Murray, and Rafael Nadal in the past) called Serena Williams a cheater without using the word. The fact that an umpire can assault someone’s character in the middle of a championship match is bad enough; and for those of you wondering or skeptical looking at my assertion of assault of character, that is exactly what Ramos did. To call someone a cheater is to say that don’t have the grace, dignity, and class to win without an advantage. It implies the only way they got there was to lie and manipulate their way there.

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Serena Williams is the antithesis of what he has described when he called her a cheater. She is a woman who came back from the brink of death after giving birth to make it to two Grand Slam finals less than a year later. She is a women who agrees to multiple extra inconvenient drug tests each year so people will know she doesn’t cheat. She has fought racism and sexism in her sport long before standing up for injustice was a popular thing to do. Starting with Indian Wells¬†and continuing with her fight for equal pay, Serena Williams has spent most of her professional life in the public fighting for what is right, even when she knows it will cost her in the court of public opinion. When Ilie Nastase made vile, racist comments about what color Serena’s biracial baby would be before she was born, Serena responded with class and grace by quoting Maya Angelou’s famous poem “Still I Rise.” When John McEnroe has repeatedly made sexist comments about Serena Williams she simply and cooly replied by politely asking McEnroe to respect her and her privacy. Most recently, when the chairman of the French (a country with a huge racism problem) Open banned Serena’s cat suit, which she wore for medical reasons, because he said it did not respect them game, she responded by wearing a tutu to the US Open and posing playfully for photographers before the match.

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I have a news flash for the chairman of the French Open. People respect the game of Tennis BECAUSE of Serena Williams. Both McEnroe and Nastase were reknowned for the on-court behavior in their time. So was Andre Agassi. Currently, so is Nick Krygios. None of them ever received penalties back in their day that were as severe as Serena’s penalties were. None of them were accused of hormonal meltdown in the press. When the press still writes of all of those individuals there is a touch of longing nostalgia for the excitement they brought to the court- even if it was unsportsmanlike and disrespectful. However, because Serena is a strong confident black woman who stands up for herself in a white sport, she is demonized for it. It is high time this changes and changes quickly.

There is not a person alive today who has not at some point thought about how they want to be remembered after they are gone from their career or this world. Most of us hope we will be remembered fondly by our love ones. We hope we will be remembered for the contributions we made in our career fields. I personally hope I¬† will be remembered as someone who left this world better than he found it. When McEnroe, and Nastase, and Agassi, and countless other men in other sports are long gone they will all be remembered fondly. They will all be remembered as some of the greatest to ever hold a tennis racket, or club, or glove. When Jimbo Fisher is fired from Texas A&M several years from now, people will reminisce and say “remember that time ole Jimbo lost his cool on the officials when he played Clemson?” There will be a hint of positivity to the question. God knows if Serena had said the words that Jimbo Fisher clearly said to not one, but two referees last night, she would have been banned from tennis for life. And nobody referred to it as a meltdown. He simply, lost his cool. Or gave the refs a piece of his mind.

BJKSerena Williams will be remembered differently, but this time she won’t be remembered differently because of her race or because of her sex. She will be remembered differently because she is different. Serena Williams will be remembered differently because the respect she brought to the sport through her struggle to bring equality to the sport while she still kicked ass on the court at¬†the same time. It is not always popular; Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova can attest to that. But King and Navratilova did not fight for gender equality and LGBTQ rights both in tennis and outside tennis. They fought so people like Serena and Venus wouldn’t have to. And when they weren’t completely successful, Venus and Serena continued the fight. Now it is personal for Serena Williams the tennis player – mom. The women who had already been a multi-hyphenate added the most important one to her title.

Serena Williams, in my opinion is the greatest athlete of our generation. Notice I did not say female athlete. I said greatest athlete. She has nothing to be ashamed about from last night. She was robbed and so was Naomi Osaka. Neither will be able to get the moment that Carlos Ramos stole from them back. All because he couldn’t take the tone with which a woman talked to him with. At the end of the day though, Serena Williams displayed grit, determination, strength, beauty, and class. She did us proud, but most importantly, she did her daughter proud. And that is all she should care about. Keep going, Serena! Number 24 is just around the corner. Immortality is yours for the taking!

-WB

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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

Demi’s Disease and America’s Apathy

Over the past few days I have watched the train wreck that has been Demi Lovato’s overdose; and let me be clear – when I say train wreck I mean the discussion of Demi Lovato’s private life with anyone outside her family, inner circle of friends, and the media. I have watched as shows like Inside Edition, Entertainment Tonight, and “reputable” news organizations like NBC and CNN have reported misinformation, untruths, and disgusting speculations. It is almost as if they are celebrating an earth-shattering event in the private life of someone for sport.

What has disheartened me more than the media’s ass backward’s commentary has been the comments from average Americans as the relate to both a celebrity struggling with addiction and as they relate to the¬†disease that is addiction. It is 2018. Doctors and scientists have studied, investigated, and released reports ad nauseam. Just about every report or study has told us virtually the same thing – addiction is something we don’t fully understand, but we do know enough to state that it is a lifelong chronic disease that is very hard to beat. So all you Judge Judys shouting for people to stop being lazy, put the crack pipe down, and get off the couch so you can find a job can have several seat, pick up a book on addiction and educate yourselves.

I minored in sociology while I was in college. After the intro to sociology class I took at Clemson I had to take 5 more upper level sociology classes. I tell you this not to try and prove that I am an expert in the field because I am NOT. However, I am interested in the subject and that is what led me to choose 3 of those 5 classes on addiction and substance abuse issues. The professor who taught those three classes and the information I learned while studying the information changed my thoughts on addiction, mental health, treatment for substance abuse, and criminal justice involving drugs in this nation.

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Demi Lovato has bravely shared with the world that she is an addict. Demi Lovato has bravely shared with the world numerous times what she does to stay sober. Demi Lovato has bravely shared with the world how hard it is to stay sober. Demi Lovato has bravely shared with the world that she has relapsed. We should get one thing very clear about that last sentence:

Demi Lovato is NOT a morally weak person or failure in life because she suffered a relapse!

What do addiction, diabetes, hypertension, asthma, and high cholesterol all have in common? All of those chronic conditions has relapse rates that fall in between 40%-60% chance of having a relapse in the condition at least one time after diagnosis.¬Ļ None of those other conditions carries the same stigma that addiction has. None of the people suffering from high cholesterol or asthma are looked at like degenerates or moral failures that those who are battling addiction do. It is wrong and unfair to label these people as weak and cast them out of society. They are not lepers and we have got to do more to first, change the conversation on addiction and second, help this people who are struggling get back on the road to recovery again.

Addiction affects 21 million adults in this country and another 2 million people between the ages of 13 and 17.² It does not discriminate and no racial group or economic bracket is more predisposed to suffer from addiction than any other group. This nation spends 442 BILLION dollars every year on drug abuse.³ Imagine where we would be as a country if we spent some of that money on effective treatment, education, and prevention of drug abuse instead of spending it on funerals and incarcerations. There would be many friends and family members of many American families that were still living their best lives.

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I care about this more than because it involves Demi Lovato. While I do consider myself a fan of her music her openness about her struggles with mental health and addiction are what I respect her for most.  On a personal note, I lost someone very close to me to a drug addiction. We went out on quite a few dates, but life brought us together at inconvenient times so it never progressed to much more at that time to us remaining Facebook friends. A year or two later we reconnected after drifting apart, but his addiction kept us apart. After it got worse than I had seen it in any of the previous instances I made the decision for my own mental health to break contact for some time. It was one of the most excruciatingly difficult decisions I have ever made, but at that time I could not watch this person  waste away and become this shell of the person I knew.

I didn’t here from them for a couple weeks. I just prayed everything was ok and they would get help. Then I got a facebook message. It came at 2:45 Thursday Night/Friday morning so I knew they were using. I sighed and went back to bed, but I didn’t sleep much the rest of that night. For the next six weeks I didn’t hear anything. Talking to a mutual friend of my friend who was fighting in a general conversation a comment was made about him that confused me. When I asked what he was talking about he told me that our friend died of an overdose several weeks back. I immediately googled and found the obituary. They died 2 days after that last Facebook message on Sunday morning.

It took all my strength not to throw up at the restaurant table we were sitting in. I had not even known. I didn’t get to go to the funeral. I never got to say goodbye. There are so many things I never got to say.¬†Addiction does not just hurt the addict. The people who love someone living with addiction suffer as well. It changes relationships and can cause wounds that never heal. There will always be a part of me that is stuck on this. I still think about whether or not I made the right decision. I wonder what I could have done. There has to have been a way for me to help more.

Maybe if I had responded that night then Andrew would still be here. That I will never know. But I do know this: Staying sober and in recover is really fucking hard and If we don’t stop looking at people who are living with addiction as terrible failures and start treating them with the love, care, and compassion they need then we are going to lose more than my friend Andrew. And for the rest of my life, losing that one is more than enough.

-WB

If you are suffering with an addiction, please seek help! If you need help reach out and ask a friend or a loved one for help. I love you and will be there for you. So will your friends and family! Here are some resources local to the Greenville area if you need them! All you have to do is take the first step.


¬Ļhttps://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery

²https://www.samhsa.gov/disorders

³https://www.usnews.com/news/at-the-edge/articles/2016-12-19/drug-and-alcohol-abuse-cost-taxpayers-442b-annually-new-surgeon-generals-report-finds

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 Рeven 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.

Dear Fellow White People: An Open Letter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-WB

Opened Eyes: Checking My Privilege to Experience Poverty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our state would be a much better place.

Our Nation would be a much better place.

Our world would be a much better place.

Love YourNeighbor

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

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

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

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

-WB

 

 

 

A First Lady’s Feisty Legacy

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

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

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

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Photo courtesy of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.

As a teacher, one of Barbara’s biggest legacies that she leaves behind is close to my heart. Working tireless throughout her public life to combat the problem of illiteracy, Mrs. Bush recognized how important the ability to read was for our society. As her husband was running for President, Barbara Bush founded the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. She gave speeches up until the last 6 months on the topic.¬†A staggering 36 million adults in the U.S. have low literacy skills. One in four adults cannot read above a 5th grade level, and research shows the single greatest indicator of a child‚Äôs 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