We…

January 15, 2015

We are responsible for everything we see…

We are our biggest problem.

We are our only solution.

We have stolen from us.

We give back.

We are capable of unthinkable evil.

We are capable of beauty beyond measure.

We dehumanize us.

We humanize us.

We are our worst enemy.

We are our best friend.

We hurt.

We heal.

We hate.

We love.

We neglect.

We provide.

We oppress.

We liberate.

We have designed our cages of captivity.

We hold the key to our freedom.

We are complicit to injustice with our silence.

We are incredibly powerful when we speak out.

We may not recognize us all,

But we are all here.

We may not acknowledge our connection,

But we are all connected.

We may not like us all,

But we are all we have.

We are all we have.

We are all we have.

We are all we have.

We are.

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Searching for Ubuntu: Space…

August 21, 2014

A group of about six of my tiniest neighbors―a nine-year-old being the absolute oldest amongst them, a three-year-old being the youngest―just came knocking on my door with giggles and shhhhh‘s. I heard them way before they knocked.

 

Little one, outside the door, in a whispery shout, “He’s probably ASLEEEEP!”

 

Another little one, with less whisper and more shout, “No, no, no! Ryan doesn’t go to sleep early!”

 

Little one, “You don’t know that.”

 

Other little one, “You don’t either!”

 

These two were the same ones who had asked me to mediate in an argument they were having in the courtyard earlier today―a debacle that involved one accusing the other one of liking a girl he most adamantly did not, though he probably actually did―when I was on my way to the store. We settled it, by the way.

 

Shhhhhhhhh!” Giggles. Movement.

 

Knock, knock, knock. Ding-dong.

 

I opened the door and was greeted with smiles, excitement, and all of them speaking, all at once.

 

Oldest one, a little unsure, “Um…my mom said something about come get…the milk?”

 

Me, “Oh yeah, hold on.”

 

I went to the fridge and pulled out a large jug of milk, still in a black plastic bag.

 

Their conversation with me, and each other, continued as I walked to and from the refrigerator.

 

I handed the black-bag-covered milk to him, and he realized how heavy it was, but tried to pretend like it was weightless.

 

We spoke for a few minutes and then they said goodbye and giggled and talked their way back downstairs.

 

It’s times like those when I love living in community the most.

 

That wasn’t my milk.

 

His mom had called me from the grocery store the day before yesterday asking if I had space in my fridge because they were having a great sale on milk. And I did.

 

And that is the story of the giggly kids and my neighbors’ milk in my fridge.

 

—–

I needed that. There’s a lot going on in the world right now. It’s nice to be reminded that as bad as it gets, we’re also still ok.


Tweeting for Ubuntu…

August 7, 2014

Still Searching for Ubuntu…

August 1, 2014

Life is strange. There is a lot going on in the world right now. It seems as though the world is on fire.

gaza

And as we watch it burn, we take sides, place blame, partake in shouting matches, create hashtags, sign petitions, become angrier and angrier with one another, pushing each other further and further away. And the world continues to burn as we fan the flames with our hot breath and, instead of extinguishing it, we throw fuel on the fire. It would do us good to take a step back―a huge step back―and attempt to take an objective look at “us,” who we are, what we’ve become. But it can be extremely difficult to look at us as a whole―whether objectively or not―because it has become so convenient to remove ourselves from the whole that is “us,” that is humanity. We have given up the “us” for the sake of individualism, capitalism, self-preservation, nationality, imperialism, religion, class, gender, sexuality, political agendas, and/or race, to name a mere few.

I frequently find myself at the intersection of not wanting to further polarize the opposing polarities―widening the gap between them by voicing insight from one side or the other―and merely wanting everyone to realize and acknowledge the truth in the reality in which we all live. Unfortunately, “truth” is often relative, as people create and adopt their own “truths” to justify and rationalize the circumstances of their own existences. With this, “truth” becomes a subjective matter of perspective and opinion on what happened, or is happening, rather than an objective, factual account of the events. Then, these “truths” are further perpetuated through media outlets that share the ideals behind them―facts get warped and are taken out of context, opinions get shared and passed along as the irrevocable truth.

And the world continues to burn.

We have broken history up into fragments―polishing the pieces that serve our interests, casting out those that do not, and molding and reshaping some to fit our individual narratives or the narratives of our folk. In doing so, we have tried to separate ourselves from each other―separating ourselves from our joint history, denying, suppressing, and rejecting the history of others in our narratives of solitary histories. And, more often than not, it is true that the  “history” that is most widely accepted is written by the victors, and those accounts of “history” commonly live to serve the agenda of preserving the institutionalized structures of dominance and the dominant culture(s) at large. Simultaneously, the experiences and voices of the oppressed are negated and hushed, and those individuals are subjugated, subdued, and disenfranchised over-and-above the oppression they have already experienced―we dehumanize certain individuals, and add insult to injury by playing the victim when they ask for their human experience to be validated.

If you speak out against racism, you are called a racist.

If you speak out against injustice, you are being unfair.

If you speak out against the atrocities committed by a certain group, you are automatically anti-that-group or pro-another-group.

If you ask us to consider how history has impacted the present, you are living in the past.

I get it, though. We are about 7.046 billion people presently living on earth, and rapidly growing―it is impossible to find a middle ground on everything, if anything. And that’s not even taking into account the billions upon billions of people who came before us, who established many of the realities we now know and accept. All of the people who exist―as did all of the people who have ever existed, as will all of the people who ever will―each have our own entry-point and perspective on the lives we live and the world around us, many of those being starkly oppositional. Our relationship status is forever, “It’s complicated.”

Nonetheless, how beautiful is it when we strive to find commonality, seeking out the humanity in one another, rather than disallowing it? How wonderful is it when we enter a place where diversity is genuinely celebrated, and not used to discriminate? How incredible is it when we are able to cherish each other’s unique cultures, traditions and practices, rather than fearing them?

I am not delusional enough to believe that we will achieve any type of utopia on earth, where everyone lives in perfect unity and harmony. However, I do not think it is irrational to hope for the best we can be, collectively and together―also acknowledging that it is often the deepest of love we have for one group of people, mixed with fear and untruths, that fuels the deepest and ugliest hatred for another group. We convince ourselves it is necessary to hate, fight, and destroy “the other” in order to protect and guard those we hold most dear. We begin to believe that if we, and those we hold most dear, are to survive, we must obliterate “the other.”

This hate is so toxic and destructive, but love is somewhere there at its inception, however misguided it might be. Imagine if we were able to extend that love beyond ourselves, beyond our small circles. Imagine if we were able to move from the viewpoint of “them versus us,” and merely to “us.” Already, I hear retorts of, “But they started it,” and, “What if we decide to love them, put our guards down, and they destroy us,” and, “They are not my responsibility,” and, “But they are a different (fill in the blank),” and “But we are right, and they are wrong!”

And the world continues to burn.

Alas, everyone will not agree on everything all the time, if anything ever. But I wish we would be more open to understanding the history, reality, and perspective of others―most specifically and especially those who we have positioned ourselves against, those who we see as “the other,” those who we have determined are our enemies. None of us live in isolation―from each other or from our shared histories. If we deny the humanity within others, we are denying the humanity within ourselves. When we recognize that we are not islands, that we are all caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality, we realize that “their history” is our history.  We have created each other, whether for the good or bad, and are all caught up in each other’s destinies. This is what Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about in his Letter From Birmingham Jail. This is Ubuntu―I am what I am because of who we all are.

And as the world continues to burn around us, I find myself continuously searching for this awareness―I’m still searching for Ubuntu.


Subway Encounters – Camaraderie…

July 8, 2012

July has come, and brought with it heat. And not just any heat, no! The thick, tangible kind that hangs heavy in the air, pushing down on your shoulders. The kind that turns the most bubbly, optimistic person into a pessimistic fiend, willing to cut you for that half-empty glass of water. Maybe that’s a little dramatic, but you get my drift. It’s hot, and people are irritable.

The Subway’s Underground is even worse, where the temperature is magnified and trapped, with no hope of escape, and no sign of cool fresh air. At some stations, it feels like you’re in a breadbox that’s locked in a closed-up car on a hot Alabama summer day. So, when the trains don’t run as they should, people really start to lose the plot.

I was riding on a train today, on the way back home from a brunch in Manhattan with a friend I’d found out was in town only a few hours prior. The cool air in the air-conditionined carriage felt like magic on my sweat-covered skin, and I was lost in a book. The train squealed up to a particular stop, and a robotic man’s voice came on and said, “This is the last stop. Everybody get the heck off!” Or something to that extent.

Passengers huffed, and sighed, and swore, and went on, as they reluctantly and hostilely exited the train. One man, who others seemed to be avoiding, seemed angry, but even more hurt than angry, really. It was like he took the messed-up train schedule personally. He had genuine pain in his voice, “Man! Come on, man! This is the second train I’ve had to get off of! This sucks!”

He looked around for camaraderie, but people steered clear of eye contact. Maybe it was the daunting tattoos covering the majority of his caramel canvas, or maybe it was the wild look in his eyes, or maybe it was just the sad city culture of avoiding interaction at all cost. Whatever it was, he got no validation; validation that he seemingly needed so desperately. He shook his head and continued talking about how much it “sucked”. I didn’t feel as strongly as he did, but then again, I wasn’t in the inception of train exits that he found himself in. This was only my first. He was in two deep.

I made eye contact, and gave an empathetic head nod. Thrilled, but still angry, he said, “This sucks! This is the second train I’ve had to get off of!” I agreed that it sucked. He seemed satisfied with that. And strangely, he thanked me. He then stood quietly and waited for the next train.

About five or ten minutes passed before our savior train pulled up. My buddy gave me another glance of “we’re in this together” before we both entered two different doors of the same full carriage. It was packed. I stood by the door, but noticed the man had scored a seat. I actually prefer standing on shorter rides, and this ride fit the bill.

I looked up when I heard the man say, “Ay!” There was an empty seat next to him, and he waved and gestured to inform, I thought, the girl standing in front of me that she could take the seat. She thought the same, but responded in disgust, as if the man was hitting on her. She clicked her teeth rudely, rolled her eyes, pulled her “vintage” button-up blouse (that she probably bought at a “thrift store” in Greenwich Village for a trillion dollars) tighter over her breasts that no one was looking at, and huffed, “No!”

The man pulled back with the, “Girl, PLEASE!” look, and said, “I’m not talking to you! I’m talking to my friend…behind you!” Her face turned several shades of red. I struggled to hold back a chuckle, still not realizing that I was said friend. The man waved me over and patted the seat. I looked around, and then back at him, who was looking at me. That’s when I realized I was the “friend”.

I went over and sat down beside my friend. He shook his head at the audacity of the girl, following it up by asking me what I was reading. “James Baldwin,” I said. He nodded his head in warm approval, “That’s good, man! Real good!” I told him I enjoy it, then returned to my reading. He stared blankly out the window, and the train rode through the dark tunnel.

By the time we screeched to a halt at the next stop, I was again sucked into the world of John Grimes. I barely even noticed we had stopped. And then, the most sweet and human thing happened. The man, my new friend, lovingly patted me on the leg. It was the gentle, tender pat a father would give his son. He said, “A’ight, man! Have a good day!” He looked me deep in the eyes and smiled. I told him to do the same.

It’s amazing how the man’s breech of my personal space affected me. I wouldn’t say I go around wishing to be patted on the leg by complete strangers, but his touch was kind, caring, and sympathetic to “our” unspoken human condition. It brought warmth to my soul, and not the kind of warmth induced by the summer heat; the type of warmth you get from holding a cooing newborn. There was more behind it than a mere pat on the leg; a history, an understanding, a true sense that we are in this together.

Just two dudes, connecting on a deep human level over the “suckiness” of the unruly trains, with nothing more to give than some kind words, a pat, a smile, and strong eye contact, and nothing more desired. It was beautiful. It was real. It felt right. And It was a nice reminder that we are indeed in this together.

 


That Place…

July 4, 2012

There is a place that exists, if only in my mind and heart. An intangible place, made palpable by the warmth of a kind embrace, found in the hospitality of a borrowed cup of sugar, and evoked by the recognition of “I” in “you”, and “you” in “I”.

I’ve found this place within pockets of cities within nations all over the world; humanity rules, beauty bounds, love wins, and acceptance outweighs intolerance. In this place, our similarities bring us together, hold us tight, keep us close, and our differences are celebrated, valued, and appreciated, not used to discriminate.

Citizens of this abstract place belong to no one race, class, religion, creed, political party, nation, or belief system, apart from the strong conviction that we are who we are because of each other, that we are in this together, even if we individually perceive or understand what “this” is in different ways.

Likewise, in contrasting places both physical and not, I’ve seen others who attempt to close the windows, shut the doors, and bar the gates to one-another, overcome by fear of “the other”, or possibly, and more realistically, the fear of oneself. In that place, fear holds the power, and selfishness presides. Fortunately, this opposing mindset only leads to isolation, and could never conquer the strength of its more heartening counterpart.

This place is the metaphysical community found in geographical communities. It’s the neighborly way found in neighbors. The humanity, extended or received, in human dwellings.

This place is the spirit of the African philosophy of Ubuntu, founded in the cradle of mankind, speaking to the most fundamental, essential place in our soul, no matter how much we have suppressed, ignored, or abused it. It is the most natural way of “being”, though we have set up our societies in ways that often make it seem unnatural.

But this place continues to breathe, live, sing, dance, and thrive. It is the heaven found within the hell on earth.

My heart has pitched a tent in this place, set up camp, even when my mind tells me that the culture around me is in direct opposition to the values and practices that hold this place together. But with intentional thoughts, words, and, more importantly, actions, this place cannot be overwhelmed by its enemy, but will rather overcome those threatening it with love, kindness, mercy, and consideration.

This place, even in its intangibleness, is my favorite place on earth, because I can live there where ever I find myself. Though, at times have I lost sight of it, briefly losing my way, my internal compass has never failed to bring me back, back to the place I hold so dear. And therefore, where ever I find myself, I am home.

And this…this is my postcard from this place, and I truly hope it finds you well.