Why Do We Hate Each Other? Abortion Rights and Civility in Politics

Politics

The first inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009 celebrated America’s unity in diversity. Activists from the Civil Rights era were among the honored guests, and his inaugural speech won praise from Republicans and Democrats alike. Obama’s emphasis on unity was a constant theme that echoed throughout his political career and into his post-presidency work. In particular, he highlighted the civic duties and obligations that Americans owe to one another.

It was a moment to honor the hard-fought legacy of civil rights that had helped bring Obama to the presidency at a critical low moment in American history. It was also a moment in which Obama hoped to bring the entire country together after a bitterly divisive campaign. Obama consistently tried to evoke the common bonds that hold Americans together as a means of softening the political, cultural, and ethnic animosities that had flared up around his candidacy and election.

The Loss of Civility and Nuance in Politics

Obama’s successor was his opposite in many ways, particularly with regards to his rhetoric. In his inauguration speech in 2017, Donald Trump talked about “American carnage,” painting a bleak and terrifying picture of the state of the country. Far from “making America great again,” Trump’s presidency may have taken America farther down the road to lawlessness, corruption, violence, and hatred than we have ever been. We are more divided than ever.

The “carnage” didn’t stop with Trump himself, his administration, or any specific politician in today’s Republican Party. It continues to morph and metastasize among a relatively small, but increasingly grievance-filled, raucous, and influential group of fellow citizens. 

At no time is the divide more apparent than when the issue of abortion comes up. 

A Formerly Bipartisan Issue Has Become Divisive

The 7-2 majority that decided Roe in 1973 was heavily influenced by Republican appointees on the Court. And in deciding 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed the core principles of Roe, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor—a Ronald Reagan appointee—wrote that, regardless of any jurist’s personal views, there is a necessity to “define the liberty of all,” rather than attempt to legislate one’s “own moral code.”

However, Trump supported the defunding of Planned Parenthood and the overturning of Roe v. Wade. And, while he later tried to walk the statement back, in early 2016 he told interviewer Chris Matthews that he supported “some form of punishment” for women who have abortions. His supporters, buoyed by the violent imagery consistently present in his rhetoric on a multitude of issues, are now acting in ways that threaten the lives of women, girls, other people with uteruses, and pregnant people across a big swath of the country. 

Trump’s legacy has deeply impacted social policy through the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe. The three justices he appointed—Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett—formed the core of the 5-4 majority that voted to overturn the precedent of protecting privacy and bodily autonomy enshrined by Roe half a century ago. 

The Decision’s Impact Is Already Being Felt

From members of Congress being influenced by conspiracy theories to local and state officials with extremist positions, the rhetoric around abortion is now turned up well past the boiling point. A number of states have already passed draconian anti-choice legislation that has resulted in needless tragedies. “Bounty” laws in Texas and Oklahoma encourage bystanders to collect money by suing fellow citizens suspected of even “aiding” an abortion.

In Ohio, all abortions, even when pregnancy results from rape or incest, are now banned after six weeks. When a 10-year-old Ohio rape victim had to travel to Indiana to obtain an abortion, the story became fodder for a vicious disinformation campaign that attempted to discredit the journalists who reported it and the Indiana doctor who treated her. The doctor has received threats that made them fear for themselves and their family’s safety.

In a combination of reinstating a 1925 law and creating new legislation, Texas has made it almost impossible to obtain an abortion. One woman told reporters how she lost an desired pregnancy after experiencing a premature rupture of membranes. Although there was almost no chance the fetus would survive, the hospital forced her to continue to continue the pregnancy because her doctor detected fetal cardiac activity. Only after the infection came close to killing her and she insisted a medical ethics panel review her case, did the state allow her to have the abortion that likely saved her life.

Are We Going To Uphold Essential Freedoms Or Destroy Them?

Barack Obama immediately denounced the Court’s overturning of Roe, saying it represented an assault on “essential freedoms” that people have come to rely on. In remarks that echo Sandra Day O’Connor, he said the ruling subjected the “most intensely personal decision” anyone can face to the “whims of politicians and ideologues.” When and if grassroots activism and local, state, or federal legislators will eventually restore these basic human rights remains to be seen.

School Shooter Drills – More Harm Than Good?

Race

Protection from Fire

In 1851, panic and chaos after a false fire alarm at a New York City school resulted in tragedy when dozens of students died in the evacuation. It was obvious that school officials needed to do a better job of teaching schoolchildren how to stay safe in an emergency or in case of an evacuation.

In 1901, the governor of New York mandated that all schools practice fire drills as part of their responsibility to keep students safe. Safety drills like this became increasingly common as the country continued its rapid industrialization and packed more and more students into its public schools.

By the 1950s and ’60s, regular, precision-timed fire drills across the country were helping engrave school safety routines in the minds of students.

Dubious Safety from Nuclear Attack

It was also at about this time that our parents or grandparents began diving under their desks in what we now see as comically inadequate drills on what to do in case of a nuclear attack. These “duck-and-cover” drills, part of the civil defense ritual of the Cold War, got their name from a nine-minute cartoon produced by the government in 1951. The character Bert the Turtle was designed to teach kids, in a non-threatening way, how to keep themselves safe, with Bert demonstrating how he ducked into his shell to avoid the environmental hazards of firecrackers. “When danger threatened him,” the jaunty song said, “he never got hurt.” The naivete in itself is painful today.

Post-Columbine Shooter Drills

Fast-forward to 1999. Two high-school students at Columbine High School in Colorado murdered and wounded 13 and more than 20 people, respectively, before killing themselves and ushering in the age of school shooter drills. After 2012, the sense of urgency around active shooter drills in schools only increased in the wake of the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. There, a 20-year-old gunman killed 20 children and six adults before turning his weapon on himself.

Almost every public school in the country now practices detailed active shooter drills. In Florida, they are mandated by law.

But do they actually keep kids and teachers safe?

In the opinion of a growing number of experts, the answer is “no.”

Clear Harm without a Clear Benefit

While parents, schools, and our wider society should do everything possible to protect children from gun violence and other dangers, the more detailed school shooter drills, many of which feature graphic images and role-playing as victims of a massacre, are negatively impacting students’ mental health. This effect is exacerbated when schools use the sound of real gunfire and realistic-looking toy weapons to lend verisimilitude to the exercises.

As more and more children experience sleep and other disturbances induced by highly detailed, “extreme” drills that feature teachers being shot with pellet guns, students lying on the ground covered in fake “blood,” and the like, some teachers’ unions, gun control advocates, and mental health professionals are recommending that such drills be banned. Lending support to this recommendation is some observers’ concern that would-be school shooters could learn how to avoid the most elaborate defenses from their participation in the drills as students.

Meanwhile, the principals in a training industry focused on school shooter drills insist, even in the face of this pushback, that their methods save lives.

As parents and counselors focus on children’s trauma, gun control advocates point to the fact that extreme shooter drills fail to address the root cause of the problem – namely, the easy access to assault-style weapons that finds a parallel nowhere else in the developed world.

Common Sense Solutions

So, how do you help kids build reliable skills of self-defense in preparation for an event that is still only remotely probable without subjecting them to trauma?

Some states have listened to these critiques and are codifying into law the kinds of school shooter drills that are acceptable. They are working to eliminate the hyper-realistic scenarios that child development experts and safety authorities say are inappropriate and unhelpful. They are looking for age-appropriate trainings developed through a trauma-informed lens. This looks to most informed observers like the right way to proceed and offers schools the opportunity to drill on general lockdown safety techniques applicable to a variety of emergencies.

Alabama recently passed legislation mandating these more general types of lockdown drills. Virginia law exempts kindergarten and pre-K children from being part of safety drills for the first two months of the school year. New Jersey law specifically prohibits any type of role-playing using even simulated gunshots, blood, and weapons.

Consensus is coalescing around a practice that informs students of the facts about school shootings and other dangerous situations without theatrics, accompanied by basic run-throughs on building evacuation techniques, sheltering in place, and even fighting back when no other option is available. This is the classic “run-hide-fight” rubric still most often recommended by law enforcement.

It bears mentioning that realistic simulations can be especially inappropriate for children from urban centers and Black and brown communities. Heedlessly implementing these techniques shows a lack of empathy for students’ personal histories with violence and runs the risk of reinforcing already-existing trauma.

For the sake of future generations, let’s work to get this right.

How Black Women Entrepreneurs Are Still Facing an Uphill Battle

Entrepreneur, Race

A 2021 Harvard Business Review report revealed that Black women in the United States are starting businesses at a higher rate than white women and white men. The HBR report, produced in collaboration with the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, found that 17 percent of Black women in the US are involved in founding or nurturing businesses. By comparison, only 15 percent of white men and 10 percent of white women are starting or running a business. 

There’s one problem here, though: Despite their demographic being one most likely to start companies, only 3 percent of Black women end up operating fully fledged, mature businesses. 

Analysts point to several factors contributing to such a substantial drop-off.

Less room to maneuver

Black female founders are over-represented in businesses dealing with wholesale or retail and those operating in the social service, government, healthcare, and educational sectors. Less than half of white female founders operate in these sectors, contrasted with more than 60 percent of Black women who are founders in these areas.

These business sectors so heavily chosen by Black women entrepreneurs tend to be already well-populated marketplaces, and hence offer stiffer competition and lower margins. Businesses in these sectors also tend to be smaller and more informal, accounting for a big part of the lack of traction. 

Fewer resources to draw on

Black women in particular tend to encounter barriers to accessing business capital. Part of this is because, in the Black American community, there is far less generational wealth than among other ethnic groups. 

Historically, majority groups in the US have enjoyed liberal and consistent access to capital, key relationships, and other societal resources necessary to successful entrepreneurship. This uneven situation simply continues to reinforce a cycle in which a lack of resources puts limits on the ability of Black entrepreneurs to build successful companies, which in turn hinders their access to resources.

In 2019 the average Black family in the US possessed only about one-tenth of the wealth of the average white family. Due to formalized and informal discrimination, segregation, and other forms of systemic racism, little has changed on that front in the more than 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1863 Black Americans owned an estimated one-half of 1 percent of all the national wealth in the US; in 2019 that figure had risen only to slightly more than 1.5 percent, although Black Americans make up about 14 percent of the population.

All too many Black American women have faced obstacles specific to their demographic when they decide to start a business. And one common refrain is that this lack of generational wealth is one of the main hindrances in getting them started, and supporting them as they continue. 

Running up against outdated thinking

One of the other factors standing in the way of Black female entrepreneurs is that venture funders and investors tend to be wary of extending funding to them. Despite recent gains in society’s understanding of the importance of diversity, along with the particular strengths of Black women, many funders still see a white male when they picture a founder to whom they would extend capital. That is beginning to change, though, as more opportunities and grants are becoming available to founders from non-white backgrounds. 

In 2021 Black women founders raised $494 million in the first half of the year. This represents almost $200 million more than the total raised by Black women in all of the previous year. But these gains were still only a small part of the total funding dollars directed to female-led start-ups in 2021. To be precise, businesses with one or more Black female founders took in only 2.6 percent of the funding extended to all female founders in the first half of the year.

Because of the difficulty they can experience in accessing capital of any kind, about three-fifths of Black women founders provide 100 percent of the start-up capital for their entrepreneurial projects themselves. This is despite the fact that Black professionals are disproportionately struggling under debt. Black Americans are more likely to assume higher levels of debt to fund their college educations, and they are less likely to be homeowners, additional factors tracking as part of the lack of generational wealth and collateral.

Realistic solutions 

First, lenders and funders need to immediately confront and challenge their own innate biases when it comes to non-white and non-male founders and entrepreneurs. They also need to ask themselves whether the questions, procedures, and requirements they present to all applicants are the same. If they’re not doing it already, these power players need to implement an education and training program that will create a more equitable and fair experience for all entrepreneurs.

University-based incubators and other institutional resources in higher education can also play a role by reaching out to Black female students and alumni with support for entrepreneurial ventures. Studies show that about 75 percent of Black female entrepreneurs have earned at least a four-year degree. Their schools are well-positioned to assist them with collaborative projects and resources for building entrepreneurial skills and accessing needed connections to capital.

When banks, venture capital funders, and educational institutions make connections with Black female founders, they also stand to gain from the entry of a greater diversity of viewpoints, experiences, and ideas into their ecosystems.

Poet Amanda Gorman exudes hope even as Black oppression remains | Commentary

Politics

By JASON CAMPBELL GUEST COLUMNIST |FEB 09, 2021 |

“…Scripture tells us to envision / that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree / And no one shall make them afraid…”

As Amanda Gorman spoke those words during the inauguration last month, I felt a chill — the hairs standing on the back of my neck. Praised for her diction, eloquence and intellectual accomplishment, Amanda Gorman has made her mark, subtly changing our prevailing expectations of Blacks in the spotlight. While Black culture is inextricable from music and entertainment in our country, with her bold words and melodic verses Gorman showed that Black excellence is far deeper and broader.

Now we are days later from again hearing the words of our first national youth poet laureate. This time her backdrop was not the West Front of the Capitol but our most iconic sporting event—the Superbowl.

“…Let us walk with these warriors, / Charge on with these champions, / And carry forth the call of our captains!

We celebrate them by acting / With courage and compassion, / By doing what is right and just. / For while we honor them today, It is they who every day honor us…”

Six months ago, at the beginning of the NFL season, many of the athletes joined the national chorus of cries for justice and reform. While only two teams played Sunday, all 32 took solace when Amanda Gorman took the stage.

The power of sports in this country has always been tremendous, but there is a shifting tide in America where inequity and inequality will no longer remain obscured just because a game is on. As a young Black boy growing up in Washington, D.C., I pleaded with my parents for season tickets for the team that at one time had broken the racial barrier by fielding Doug Williams — the first Black quarterback to be named Super Bowl Most Valuable Player. Now, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — the newly cemented Super Bowl champions — have four Black coaches in the top coordinator positions, another proclamation that Black men can succeed not only between the lines but outside the lines as well.

In the past 12 months, empty fields, dark courts, and silent stadiums have given us the opportunity to focus our national attention on matters of life and death, but the struggle for racial justice in this country is nothing new. Fifty-two years ago, Black Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists during the Olympic Games in Mexico City as the “Star-Spangled Banner” began playing — a silent protest of the appalling treatment of Blacks back home in the United States. Many years later, Colin Kaepernick and LeBron James have followed their example, this time kneeling to push forward national conversations.

Being a Black sportsman has never been easy. Critics argue that professional athletes are well paid and thus have little to complain about, but sadly their opinions may often serve as the only voices for their voiceless brothers and sisters. Surely Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali are smiling down from above on the current crop of outspoken sports icons because they know all too well playing sports in a society that reveres you as an idol but does not embrace you as a human is not tenable.

Amanda Gorman’s meteoric rise in the national consciousness has been inspiring but should not lull us into thinking we have reached our goal.

We have not.

She represents hope and a deep-rooted excellence that has been buried by historic levels of oppression ready to be unraveled. Sunday was a reminder that our destiny is tied to our dreams. If we are to learn anything from her let it be that even in the darkest of days, we all have light to share, or as Ms. Gorman said far better:

“For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it…”

Op-ed: US Capitol riots, MLK Jr. Day remind us there are still two Americas

Race

By JASON CAMPBELL CHICAGO TRIBUNE |JAN 15, 2021

Unlike many other Black residents of Washington, D.C., I had the luxury of visiting the U.S. Capitol building as a child. I walked within the red ropes side by side with my mostly white middle-school classmates — wearing a long-sleeve button-down shirt and slacks — knowing that because I am Black I could find myself in trouble for something as simple as speaking too loudly.

As an adult, I watched Jan. 6 as that same Capitol — the seat of our democracy — was stormed by an angry, predominantly white pro-Trump mob determined to stop a joint session of Congress set to certify the presidential election results. They destroyed property, assaulted journalists and condemned anyone on their destructive path. Images and videos showed many police officers at best unprepared and at worst unwilling to stop the attack.

Why does society tolerate different expectations for Black men? How can anyone deny that there are two Americas? And yet, many do.

I read a quote from a fellow Black male physician on Twitter, “We’re not asking you to shoot them like you shoot us, we’re asking you to NOT shoot us like you don’t shoot them …”

Eight months ago, George Floyd was murdered under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. Black Lives Matter supporters and others filled the streets in protest over the summer. Yet, since the murder of George Floyd, police in American cities continue to murder unarmed and nonviolent Black men. In contrast, how can one explain the docile handling of those insurrectionists at the Capitol except as the latest and starkest evidence of America’s oldest and most vile double standard. As Americans, we can no longer ignore the threat of white nationalism and white supremacy.

To understand this monumental occasion, we must retrace our steps in history. The federal government relied heavily on enslaved labor to ensure the nation’s new capital city could receive Congress when it moved to the District of Columbiafrom Philadelphia in 1800. Enslaved Black laborers — rented from their owners — were involved in almost every stage of the building’s construction. Now, as we’ve seen through the footage from Jan. 6, the Capitol employs Black men who wear police uniforms and maintenance uniforms. From building the Capitol to cleaning the debris left behind to protecting those inside, Black men continue to put the very nation that too often forgets about them on their shoulders.

As another Martin Luther King Jr. Day approaches Monday, his words reverberate as loudly now as they ever have — “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Eugene Goodman — a Capitol Police officer — faced challenge and controversy directly when he put himself in harm’s way and utilized a measured response toward the mostly white assailants. His nonviolent actions likely prevented the mob from entering the Senate chambers. His actions likely saved lives. This is what we, as Black men, also deserve in our interactions with police officers.

The more important question, though, is how do we move forward now as a nation? We must focus not only on the people storming the Capitol but on the policies that have made two Americas possible. We must work to undo the laws and practices that enshrine inequality in this country.

For decades, our nation has confined its focus on Black history to the shortest month, February, as Black History Month. This past year has forced us to confront and acknowledge our nation’s Black history month after month — a discussion we all must keep up to move forward.

“You Want Our Talent, But Not Our Humanity” – The Start of Another NFL Season

Athletics, Race

The start of the football season began with an embrace of unity. What followed? An outpouring of boos from the socially distant crowd at Arrowhead stadium.

American sports are at a crossroads. In times of fear and uncertainty, we often look to athletics to provide joy, inspiration, and clarity. But social justice will no longer afford our national pastimes the ability to obscure our collective lens. Indeed, only the past few months without sports—those empty fields, dark courts, and silent stadiums—have given us the opportunity to focus our national attention on something far more important: police brutality against Black men in America. 

Being a Black athlete has never been easy. There is far too much pressure to keep your head down and to, “just play.” Yet never have we needed more from our most prominent Black icons. Recently, professional athletes, recognizing their reach and the power of symbols, have raised awareness of long-burning issues. Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali are smiling down from above because they know all too well playing sports in a society that reveres you as an idol but does not embrace you as a human is not tenable.

As a Black boy growing up in Washington D.C., I was nine years old when I pleaded with my parents for season tickets to see my favorite football team. My home team, Washington Football, had at one time bucked the status quo by fielding Doug Williams, the first Black Superbowl-winning MVP quarterback. I marveled at what the players had achieved on the field, however, as a child I did not see beyond. 

As a Black man, I still marvel at the athletic achievement, but I know now the more important achievements are cultural. Fifty-two years ago, Black Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists during the Olympic Games in Mexico City as the “Star-Spangled Banner” began playing—a silent protest of the appalling treatment of Blacks back home in the United States. Many years later, where Tommie Smith and John Carlos once stood in protest, Colin Kaepernick and Lebron James have knelt, using their influence to start national conversations. From fists heard around the world to kneeling under the flag the debate continues as Americans are fiercely divided on whether kneeling is dishonorable or appropriate, muting the original reason for the public display—police violence towards Black men. 

Each game day, we applaud Black men for athletic achievement, but every day, we fail to protect them in society. Too often we take the violence as a given, requiring parents to continue having grim conversations with their Black sons on how to navigate themselves safely in our current America. But, at this given crossroads society must now adapt as we adjust the lens.

Seattle Seahawks Head Football Coach Pete Carroll, addressing the media, said, “We all are seeing the truth of how Black people are being treated in our streets and … law enforcement is a huge issue to our guys, because they’re frightened for their lives. They’re frightened for the lives of their loved ones and their children.” 

Coach Carroll is right. There is a Black man in your life who needs you to listen to his story, to understand the daily challenges he faces because of the color of his skin. To know that he fears for the safety of his son.

Coach Carroll continued, “Our players are screaming at us… Can you hear me? They just want to be respected, … [and] accepted just like all of our white children and families…”

As another National Football League season starts, we must use this as an opportunity for advancement. We must honor the work being done by so many to fight for justice in America. You want our talent but not our humanity and that will no longer go unnoticed. 

America is on fire and I am burning.

Life, Race

America is on fire and I, a Black man, am burning. The suffering is unbearable. There is no relief. 

I am not responsible for the blaze, but I get blamed for its destruction. I don’t know how to escape the searing heat. But what would escape even mean? This is my country, my home. When the pain drives me to beat back against the flames I am scorned, derision coming down like ash. I am told I am fighting my country, when I am fighting to save it. 

My heart breaks. I see those with the means to help me put out this fire, but they do nothing. I yell, I scream, I wave my arms and beg them to help. They look at my panic with confusion.

First there was George Floyd and now Jacob Blake. Peaceful protests and now violent riots flood American streets as the conversation on police brutality continues. 

After I published a recent editorial, a reader wrote me, explaining why a few Black men—no longer alive to be celebrated on Father’s Day, to watch a daughter earn her diploma, or to watch a son have a child of his own—should have expected the lethal violence they received.

“From all appearances, it seems that George Floyd’s death was the fault of at least one officer. But that wouldn’t have happened if Floyd hadn’t tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. How difficult is it not to pass counterfeit currency?”

“Eric Garner had been arrested 20 times for selling illegal cigarettes. He had to know he would be arrested again. And when he was, he resisted. He was a big guy, bigger than the officers who tried to arrest him. If he had not resisted, he would be alive today. How difficult is it not to resist arrest?”

“Laquan McDonald would not have been killed if he hadn’t been high, walking down a Chicago street waving a knife, slashing tires and stabbing windshields. The office who shot him had no business doing so, but all of that could have been avoided if McDonald had just obeyed police orders. Everyone has a legal duty to obey a police order.”

These responses and thoughts are the acrid smoke of the fire, poisoning the air we breathe. 

The smoke burns in our lungs, saps our strength, and obscures the way forward, making progress even harder. Anyone who blames a Jacob Blake or a George Floyd for his own death is blaming me for a fire I did not start and that alone I cannot extinguish. 

As fire burns hotter and the temperature rises, I am scared. I am desperate. I know I am burning because of the color of my skin. 

I feel like giving up but what would that mean? Would that mean that I would need to be open to accepting that shooting an unarmed man seven times in the back or kneeling on a man’s neck as he begs for his life is ever justified? What if others say the man is a “criminal”—what then? 

But I know I cannot give up. How could I when I see young Black and Brown boys in the flames around me, watching me, looking up at me? I see their terror and I know I need to show them that being afraid is nothing to be ashamed of, that courage is working for justice and peace in the face of your own fear. I need to show them that they deserve, as much as anyone, to tell themselves every morning, “I, too, am America.”

The power of Black women like Kamala Harris and my grandma

Race

Special to The Seattle Times

Now is the time to elect a Black woman as vice president, and I need not look any further than my own 97-year-old grandmother to understand why.

Often overlooked, Black women are at the center of the American story: They are and have long been serving in public and private spheres, as backbones of families and communities, as academics and intellectuals, and as political and civil rights leaders. Right now, many are nurses and physicians on the front lines of COVID-19, devoted to fighting a disease that threatens us all. 

The writer Janet Mock once wrote, “My grandmother and my two aunts were an exhibition in resilience and resourcefulness and Black womanhood. They rarely talked about the unfairness of the world with the words that I use now with my social justice friends, words like ‘intersectionality’ and ‘equality,’ ‘oppression,’ and ‘discrimination.’ They didn’t discuss those things because they were too busy living it, navigating it, surviving it.”

In 1923, in an America that legalized racism, inequality, hate and discrimination, my grandmother Florence Elizabeth Carmichael was born. As her 97thbirthday approached, I called to ask what she would like as a gift. After a long pause, she said, “Nothing.” Given how much she has accomplished, though, her answer was fitting: She grew up a poor Black woman in the Great Depression who, despite overwhelming adversity, earned a university degree during the Jim Crow era and raised two daughters to become international leaders in their respective fields. What more could I give her? 

Her firm rooting in a family of shared sacrifices and responsibility helped my grandmother overcome countless challenges in her America. One of eight children raised by a single mother in Millville, New Jersey, my grandmother didn’t hear many words of encouragement — but she saw plenty of action. Her mother, with the wrong skin color, struggled to find work outside the home. After many years she found a job as a seamstress in a clothing factory, but the elation she must have felt did not last long. Daily, she would be given a quota of garments to sew; unlike her white counterparts, however, the more she produced the more she was told to make. Despite the grueling work, and her doctor’s recommendations to quit, she returned. Watching her mother dress for work each morning, my grandmother would look up and see immeasurable anguish and fierce determination.

In 1963, Florence earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from American University at a time when few Black women were college educated. Both through actions and words, she instilled the same ambition in her two Black daughters. Ask my grandmother what she did for Alicia and Lucile, and she will tell you there is no formula. Early on Lucile took a liking to science, which resulted in a science kit for Christmas; Alicia enjoyed dancing, which led to ballet class. These were small fires Grandma turned into burning dreams. Florence may not recall what she and her daughter discussed each night at dinner, but the effect of those nightly conversations is apparent. They led Alicia Adams to become vice president of international programming and dance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and her younger sister, Lucile Adams-Campbell, Ph.D., to become the first female Black Ph.D. epidemiologist in the United States.

Why is now the time for a Black woman as vice president? Black women are proven leaders. Evidence of their ability to thrive in the face of adversity, their capacity to inspire and their commitment to future generations is everywhere you look in America. Those characteristics are as necessary as they have ever been and will be pivotal in unifying our country, in showing Americans in blue states and red states that we are one. 

Like my grandmother, so many Black women will tell you they need nothing. We must honor their lived experiences by committing to resuscitate the soul of America, by building a more just and more equal society.

In her long career as a public servant, Kamala Harris has demonstrated her commitment to that cause. She has her own set of scars representative of the perseverance of herself and many women of color. She is the missing thread needed for the restoration of the quilt of America’s soul. And she is the vice president America needs and deserves for the uncertain future ahead.

Commentary: Father’s Day and the moments stolen from too many black families

Fatherhood, medicine, Mentorship, Race

Originally published in Chicago Tribune, June 18th (online) & June 19th (in print), 2020

I once attended a funeral where the pastor asked the audience, “How do you continue to believe in God when your father has been taken from you?” I did not have an answer as I tried to pat my eyes dry with the few crumpled tissues I had.

For me, this Father’s Day will be another annual occasion where I will pick up the phone and on the other end will be the voice of a kindhearted, compassionate and articulate man. I will wish him a happy Father’s Day, and when I ask him for details of his plans for the day he will note that a day of relaxation awaits him. Next, he will inquire how things are for me with an unparalleled yearning, and once he has been informed of any new happenings an exchange of “I love you” and “See you soon” will conclude our conversation.

Yet for some, Father’s Day has become unrecognizable from the celebratory day it once was.

Ask Michael Brown’s father, Mike Brown Sr.

In America, black men are rarely seen as innocent and are sometimes even invisible.

Wearing my cloak of visibility — a doctor’s white coat — I kneeled on the ground recently with my head bent over in prayer and protest for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. The hardened and unforgiving cement left me wanting to change the position of my knee to lessen the discomfort, but I refused. Out of my periphery I saw other protesters switch their dependent leg. Some stood up, while some began to kneel on both knees to soften the unilateral pressure on just one.

But some pain cannot be lessened. The image of George Floyd with the knee of another man pressing into his neck — the man’s hands casually in his own pockets as he balanced himself on Floyd’s neck — is one. “Please, I cannot breathe,” he cried out prior to calling for his mother. Floyd’s words reverberate those of another black male, Eric Garner, who in 2014 was killed under police custody while uttering the very same last message. This is another example of a transformed Father’s Day that will never be what it once was.

Ask Ben Garner — Eric’s father.

Growing up, my family went to church almost every Sunday, but especially on Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I’d be the last one to get up but after a shower and dressing in my Sunday’s best I would rush into my parents’ room —tie in hand. I would pass the tie to my father, and he’d stand behind me slowly crossing one end over the other. Then he would come around in front of me prior to securing the tie and sending me to admire the wonderful job he had done.

When I played soccer, if I looked to the sidelines there he was sporting his vest and transitional lens eyeglasses — the one where the lens changes to dark when one steps outside into the sun. I am sure those eyeglasses earned him the nickname “Mr. Cool McCool” by my teammates.

And, as I walked across the stage to receive my medical degree, I distinctly remember hearing, “Go Dr. J” coming from his seat. The joy of watching his son become a physician, when his own father could neither read nor write, is a moment I am sure he will never forget.

These are key moments that fill picture books, but for some families, those books will be left empty: Rayshard Brooks will not be there when his daughter scrapes her knee while learning to ride a bike. Ahmaud Arbery’s father will not see his young man become a father himself one day; he will forever be frozen at the age of 25. George Floyd will not be there to screen his daughter’s potential boyfriends as a rite of passage that encompasses being a “girl dad.” Michael Brown — 18 years old — had an entire future lying ahead of him with countless Father’s Days, but his father will only have the memory to replay of that smile that used to walk in the door — Skittles in hand.

We cannot go on like this. It has taken a once-in-a-lifetime mix of events: a pandemic, economic fears, political polarization and an untimely murder to clear the opaque lens through which society views us to see that we are and deserve more. This is the time to see the exhaustion in the hearts of black families who have to watch as another Father’s Day is altered due to racism and police brutality. And, we are tired.

Ask George Floyd’s 6-year-old daughter, Gianna.

Jason L. Campbell, M.D., M.S., recently known as The Tik Tok Doc, is a physician resident in the Department of Anesthesiology at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Oregon.

Growing up a Black man in America: Why our souls are on fire

Race

June 1, 2020 at 2:19 pm, Special to The Seattle Times

I was 7 years old when my mother yelled at me, “Stop. Listen. Stop. If you don’t start listening to me, then you’re going to get yourself killed one day. Because the cops will only say stop once.”

Like many young boys of color, the only thought I had in that moment was for my mother to release me from her tight grip and allow me to continue on my way. Many years later, many shootings later and many deaths later related to police brutality, America is at a tipping point. The souls of men of color are on fire much like the buildings and streets of America. America’s truest colors are showing, and it is a frightening sight.

In 2016, I sat in one of the largest football stadiums in the country. As the national anthem began playing, Colin Kaepernick was mocked for kneeling peacefully against police brutality only moments before the same men applauded the Black athletes whom Kaepernick symbolized. Yet another example of how being a Black man in America can feel as though our actions are continually viewed as incorrect. Protest peacefully? Wrong. Protest with violence? Wrong. On the athletic field, we are viewed as equals, but in society this bar of equality has been fractured and, some might argue, destroyed.

When and how does inaction change to action and listening result in transformation? I sit with the rage of my Black community, and I march with the nonviolent protesters. I write with no distinct answer, but there exists a perpetual myth that halts the conversation of progress: Only certain Black men become the result of such police brutality. I assure you that what has occurred with George Floyd or Ahmaud Arbery can happen to me or any male with my skin complexion. Understand, we as Black men are not given the benefit of the doubt. When I leave my home, I do not walk around with a sign that reads, “Dr. Campbell, former student-athlete at Emory University, Graduate & Former President of The Ohio State University College of Medicine student body, M.D., M.S.”

I am just another Black man.

In 2011 — as a recent graduate of Emory University and AmeriCorps member — I had just dropped my girlfriend off at her home in northeast Washington, D.C. I was driving my mother’s Lexus sedan when I fell asleep at a red light — exhausted from a 60-hour week of service. Five seconds later, I awoke. I lightly pressed my foot on the gas pedal and began advancing through the red light a moment before it turned green. As I recognized my error so too did the police officer in his car. Understandably, he pulled me over. It is what happened next that puzzled me. An Asian-American officer approached me. I was wearing a Ralph Lauren jacket, button-downed collared shirt and slacks. I provided him my ID and registration. He ran the plates. I explained it was my mother’s car, and then he asked, “Do you have any weapons in the car?”

“No,” I responded, calmly. “Mind if I check?,” he asked.

“Not at all,” I said as I stepped out of the vehicle. He dropped to one knee and looked under the car seat while reaching his arm as far as he could. He then stood up, handed me my ID back and wished me a good night. In reading this there will most certainly be a level of anger toward either my willingness or my inaction of combating his prejudice at the moment. However, a compliant voice then now allows for a provocative pen. I was alone, on a dark street in the middle of the night. It was the police officer and me.

I was just another Black man.

The concept of anti-racism has newly emerged through the weeds of complacency. This concept is the only way to move forward as a non-Black ally. The moving walkway of discrimination, prejudice and bigotry favors the racist and standing still places one in this jurisdiction of hatred. To antagonize their message, one must walk by actively fighting, disrupting and dispelling their racist tones — both overt and subtle.

In the book “The Fire Next Time,” James Baldwin wrote, “You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being …”

When one watches the video of George Floyd on the ground with another man’s knee pressed into his neck, it is nearly impossible for these words not to haunt one with a distinct level of truth and accuracy. Irrelevant of profession or walk of life, we deserve an America that gives us the benefit of the doubt or at least an America that allows us to breathe.