Saturday, February 28, 2015

Where do you sit and The Cross and the Lynching Tree

I had a conversation with one of my grandsons after breakfast today.  That is not unusual except for two things.  One, he lives across the street, so we rarely have breakfast together. Second, we talked about a book I was reading by James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. I was not much older than him when the story I tell below happened. It was one of those times in which the cross and the lynching tree collided, not literally but symbolically and historically. The fact that my friends had to sit apart was an artifact of those horrific times. I was more na├»ve then. He is more informed now. He cares deeply about these sorts of things.

After that conversation, I remembered this post from days gone by. And by the way, I still tally who sits where in church.

For several months now, I have been noting on Sunday mornings exactly where members of my family sit in church. I sketch out the pews on a piece of paper and note who sits where. Sometimes we sit on two rows.  Sometimes we take up almost the entire length of one row.  One of my grandsons asked why I did that.  My response to him was that I just wanted to remember. 

Sometimes the grandsons sit between their mema and me.  Sometimes they sit to the left and to the right of us. One Sunday it will be one grandson to the left or the right and on another Sunday, it will be another grandson.  Always the same people, but we often sit in different locations. There seems to be no rhyme or reason, just the will of folks at the moment.

I remember from days gone by a rather curious and demeaning decision about where people were to sit.  It made an impression on me, or in some ways it may have scarred me or spurred me on.

The small town church I attended was having a "gospel meeting."  The meeting started on a Sunday and ended on a Wednesday night. In my zeal to invite people to attend the gospel meeting, I invited members of the black church of Christ in town  to attend. I was in my mid-teen years and worked at a grocery store, probably the point of contact with African American brothers and sisters.  So, on a given evening, five or six of our brothers and sisters showed up for church. It caused quite a stir. We greeted them, shook hands, and nervously invited them in to sit.  I was actually glad to see them. Others were noticeably distressed.

At first, my black brothers and sisters sat on the very back row in the small church building on the right side of the auditorium.  Then, with a burst of energy, some of the men of the church went into the back classroom and brought out two old pews from days gone by.  These pews were placed to the front and left of the pulpit from which the preacher would be preaching.  There the pews were placed and there our African American brothers and sisters were invited, or rather told, to sit.

It was an embarrassing occasion. It was the mid-60s. Brothers and sisters in Christ were troubled by the social rules of the day. Lost are lost. Black is black. White is white. Invite, maybe. Sit together, no.

This act of segregation and separation actually caused more of a distinction than would have happened if they had been allowed to sit on the back row.

I felt guilty about that then and I bear some of the scars now.  Through my naive and well intentioned actions, some of my people embarrassed some of my people.  Some of my people were embarrassed by my people. What was perhaps usual and customary for them at the time was new and novel for me. That scene is still emblazoned in my memory.

I was not a political man, or even a political kid.  I just was on fire for God. Just trying to do right in the world.

Those were the times.

I was just a kid.

On those days when I note who sits where in church, I remember.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Putting black land loss in its proper context

I just posted the following to the site. I think it is important enough to repost here.

Thanks to the authors for allowing this.

The following excerpt from the pens of Drs. Spencer Wood and Cheryl Ragar and their article, "Grass Tops Democracy: Institutional Discrimination in the Civil Rights Violations of Black Farmers" (2012), captures the importance of land for the Black community.

The Grant place has its own conflicted history. Stepping out of Gary’s front door and looking east, you see, with a little imagination, a once-thriving agricultural enterprise surrounding Matthew and Florenza’s (deceased 2001) house. The house, now occupied by Evangeline, Gary’s sister and eldest daughter of the family, is a “project house” built around 1935, during the New Deal Resettlement Administration’s experiment in land reform and active involvement in the area. The machinery, in sheds filled with the trappings of farm life, sits unattended as do the out buildings and garden. A glance northwest toward the timeless Roanoke reveals an innocuous brushy wood lying in the middle of a farm field, unkempt and untilled. The indentations scattered throughout the wood are the sunken graves of the former enslaved who once worked the plantation that has since been partitioned to yield part of the Grant farm.

The cemetery of the enslaved stands as a poignant reminder of the area’s slave-holding past, connecting the struggles of the Grant family to a much larger and more inimical tradition of racism and racial inequality. The Grant family farm stands, listing for the time being, in staunch defiance of the persistent mechanisms used to maintain racial inequality. It represents emancipation, equality, and opportunity. Sharing physical and cultural space along a continuum from bondage to freedom the farm and cemetery symbolically encapsulate the colonial origins of global racism and nearly five hundred years of struggle.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Black Land Loss Summit: Howard University, February 20 and 21

Willie still farms on a place his grandfather purchased years ago. His modest single-wide sits beneath a beautiful oak tree whose limb stretches across the sandy loam road named for his deceased wife. His candor and gift of hospitality caught me off guard, as did his stories of how he almost lost his land.

It was a "ball and chain," he said, the practicalities and the humiliation of working under a supervised account, something that the white farmers did not have to do. He could not buy used equipment that would serve him well. He had to buy what the supervisor told him to buy. He got poor advice from an agent he trusted and lost money on his corn crop and pig farm operation.

While other farmers were getting their farm loan operating money in December, he would get his in April or May. That was too late to lease the good land, purchase the best seeds, get fertilizer into the soil. While his crops were just beginning to break through the dirt, his neighbors' crops were maturing. "My darkest days were when I would get a letter in the mail saying they were going to foreclose on me."

To supplement the family income, he had to drive hours away from the farm. His children grew up without him. His wife had health problems. She was diagnosed with asthma. She died from congestive heart failure. All, Willie says because he could not afford good medical care.

He came very close to losing his land, the land his family owned for generations. He prevailed under Pigford I. He barely kept his land.

His story is deep with themes of struggle and resilience. The stories left me stunned.

"My name is written in the land," he said. His story is written on my heart. I am committed to telling his story and stories of other farmers in places and spaces where they cannot go.

The stories must be told.

You will find more information at:

Would appreciate your support in getting black farmers to the summit at Howard University on the 20 and 21st, Washington, DC.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Summit is Coming

The list of names is impressive, perhaps the most impressive of any BFAA Summit in recent years.

The effort needs your help in raising funds to send Black farmers from their farms in the rural south to Howard University for the Summit.  Here is a link that describes those needs.

Here is a photo that is powerful as well. Thanks to Shoun Hill for his creative photography that captures the people and the work.

This of presenters includes farmers, Pete Daniel, Cassandra Jones Havard, Spencer Wood, Gary Grant, Ridgely Muhammad, and others.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Historic Wiley College

A while back my wife and I meandered along some new and old trails from New Boston down to southeast Texas. The scenery was wonderful, the food was great, and the conversations along the way were inspiring.

We were especially interested in walking the campus of Wiley College. We had heard about the school for several years, but the Denzel Washington movie, The Greater Debaters, placed it higher on the list. The afternoon was a bit dreary with a slight mist in the air. We parked and headed onto the campus. Immediately a young woman asked if we were visitors.  We replied in the affirmative and she stopped to chat with us. She told us the story of her path from Memphis, Tennessee to Marshall, Texas, her interest in music, and how in the week to follow, she was going to meet Denzel Washington. The young woman with the unique name and story, Diamonique Jackson, you can hear more of her story here. She was amazing both in person and on the stage in those two videos. Not long into our conversation, another college student, Terrell, joined us. Also from Memphis, he was on the Wiley campus to get a degree and job in the tourism and hospitality industry.

A distinguished gentleman also walked by and called out to us, "Are you visiting?" "Yes, we are."  "Then come to hear students discuss JFK's death tonight. At 6:00 there in the library."  We thanked him and he went on.

At 6:00 we returned to the library. There was the young musician, participating along with 30 or so other students in a variety of groups, debating and discussing a variety of theories about President Kennedy's assassination. Professor David Whitehead skillfully led the class and the presentations. The students competently presented their materials and handed in their papers to Professor Whiteside. One student had graduated the previous year with a degree in chemistry.  She had also worked on last year's debate team. She was proud of her school's national championship. Here is one picture. Hope you enjoy it.

We were stirred. On the same campus as the debaters. Students with inspiring stories. A professor with a passion for his material and his students.

Glad we dropped by.  Would like to have stayed longer.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Where has the time gone: Thinking About Then and Now and Points in Between

My journal for 5/6/08, Tuesday, is decidedly understated for such a significant day in the story of Charla and Waymon Hinson. It simply says, "Told -- Reese, faculty, staff, students -- Charla told office staff." That was the day five years and a few weeks ago when we had reached our decision to move to Ada, Oklahoma to work for the Chickasaw Nation and to develop its family-oriented programming. I remember that the man who would become my administrator and then later my Secretary, Department of Family Services said, "We will take you whenever you can get here, but the earlier you come, the more you'll be able to shape policy; the later you come, the more you will work to program policies that someone else developed." Or something like that. I appreciated his candor then and now.

And so, on that day, I announced to the students and then later had to reiterate in a supervision setting to one who had not attended the original meeting that I was indeed leaving.  It was a hard conversation, one of many between then and August.

Just a few days later, I wrote a post sharing with students and the few readers of my blog what the move was all about.  You can read that original post here, if you'd like. That was a meaningful post. It contained what was important to me then and what is important to me now.  So, the last few days, I have been reflecting upon that post against the current status of things. Here are a few thoughts.

I love what I am doing.  I love the people with whom I get to work. It is stirring to consider working with an incredible Tribe, attempting to bring family systems theory, or "family ways of thinking," to this part of the world, and to anticipate that it will make a difference for years to  come.  Those things keep me moving day to day. Connecting the old ways with this current time and place.

At that time, my position was that of director of one office with input in two other areas. Today, I am honored to serve the Chickasaw People and other American Indian People as well as employees of the Nation and anyone who touches the life of an Indian child via my role as Executive Officer of a division that has seven offices and more to come. It has been a learning curve of immense proportions. Trust has been both obvious and unspoken by leaders of the Tribe.  They know and I know why I am here and the end toward which our efforts move, that of serving the People.

Five years ago, we anticipated a clear linkage between the Tribe and my former university in Texas. That did not happen and perhaps won't happen for a variety of reasons. Disappointing, and time to move on. Instead, I am committed to enhancing the quality of MFT education in Oklahoma and within the Tribe. Various partnerships have been forming across the state and within this small city. It involves advocacy and efforts at the state regulatory board and legislative levels. It also has involved intentional conversations with universities about efforts the Tribe is bringing to the table, so to speak.

Within the Tribe, and this particular area of work, we are developing a Family Therapy Training Academy with its three tiers, a ten module, year old project; supervision of supervision which is being produced by quality employees and a professor from a nearby university with an MFT program; and the ongoing monthly case staffings. Yesterday was a good illustration of these efforts as we brought an outside speaker to our employees and offered CEU credit for the licensed employees. It is an area of which I am most proud and pleased. The benefits for the People are seen often.

Five years ago I wrote of a desire to continue working in the area of African American farmer and advocacy efforts by developing teams of student advocates around here. Frankly and disappointedly that has not happened. Charla and I are still deeply committed to advocacy efforts. We support the movement. We speak often in public and private places and spaces of these efforts. BFAA and its supporters are among our closest friends. Here is an incredible article that lines it all out. These are good friends.  These people are my people. We communicate often with members of those early justice teams, following them as they make differences in the world in all of the places in which they live and walk. They know who they are. Here is one of the efforts of these good people, students then, advocates in the real world now.

I will die with this effort close to my heart. We have much to do there. There are unspoken conference presentations. There are unwritten research articles. There are undeveloped land loss summits and music events on the soil of Tillery, North Carolina. There are unwritten posts on this blog.

However, and that is an important however, there have been deep and rich advocacy efforts on behalf of Indian people. Administrative decisions have been made, programs have been developed, leaders have been hired and appointed, and there have been great front line staff and clinicians hired. Stories from their efforts in the tornado relief effort fill my heart. From the upper reaches of NW Oklahoma City to the farthest edges of the Chickasaw Nation service area just north of the Red River, and from east to west here in the service area, people are being served. Advocacy efforts of various sorts are occurring for the Native People.

Enough!  We have indeed moved from Abilene to Ada, from Texas to Oklahoma, from a university to a Nation of the Indian People.

We will continue to work on behalf of African American farmers.

At the end of the day, so to speak, this was the answer to a calling, a "yes" to the next chapter of our lives and work. We are glad we made it.  And I say "we" intentionally. Most "I's" of me come with the "we" of us, Charla and me. Always has been. Always will be. The way it is meant to be. So, yes, these people are my people regardless of skin color, race, gender, and ethnicity. We move on to drum beat of righteous causes.

For those who read the words of these pages, please feel free to respond.  Thanks for following.  I hope we can continue to stay in touch on behalf of the causes of righteousness within our land and in our world.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Whatever you want to call it

We live in perilous times, though probably not much different than any other time. In the news, on the television, and on our smart phones there it is. Tales of suffering and woe, tragedy and loss. Though there are numerous and plentiful stories of miracles, or heroic efforts, or heartwarming acts, the losses are there. They are global, they are country specific, they are community laden, and then they are personal.  From around the world to my back yard.

There are numerous attributions. Beyond our control. Acts of God. Willful theft. Some with no one to blame. Some intentional. Some careless.

A loss to people and property and lives these days are the stories in Oklahoma with the myriad of tornadoes that have touched land and life.

Losses of immeasurable sorts go back to the days of Jim Crow when lynching was upon the land. People and groups took what was not theirs to take, lives of people. Striking fear in the heart of people of color who did not know who or whose would be next. In Hale's work, Making Whiteness: The culture of segregation in the South, 1890-1940, it was public theater. People came and watched and even left with souvenirs.

I cannot use that word, lynching, because it is not a part of the culture of my people, though it is a part of the stories of people for whom I care deeply and with whom I have worked since the early to mid-90s.   I do recall an African American professor who described theft of her original work on Emett Till as a lynching. Another  African American professional in the midst of social and organizational mistreatment called it a lynching. Genocidal.

Trail of Tears is another story or set of stories of loss, and again, not my story, but stories of people for whom I care deeply and with whom I have worked since 2008. Loss of land, culture, language, and identity. Perilous losses.  A blight on the history of this land. Genocidal. 

My personal story of loss pales by comparison. A bi-cultural team, a bi-cultural group with their stories of suffering and loss, and academically fine-tuned processes for the social sciences. Agreements to honor their stories confidentially bound to specific names. Agreement to coauthor. Materials written by me, then written by me for a group, and then with no advanced warning, out in the public domain with no attribution to the writer/s and group participants. The work of a group appropriated or rather mis-appropriated by one. The ironies are striking. I still have the original documents. Who did what is very clear. Professionals still wonder as to how and why it all spun out this way. Frankly, I do as well. 

I still recall the day when upon reading a published piece, I thought, "that reads like something I would write." True enough.  There it was.

From there, relationships lost, vilification and other things. Lessons learned, and some relearned: I exist in an institution only insofar as I help to perpetuate that institution's ideals, sometimes we vilify the whistle blower, ethical codes contain both aspirational and enforceable aspects of professional life, justification does not make right, and among other things, the one who has lost something has to decide what to hold on to and what to let go of. I do, though, ponder what goes on the head of the justifier and the protected.

I will spend some time over the next few days with those who have lost much. I will also spend time with those who have spent time with those who have lost much. My losses are minimal compared to those who have lost much if not all: my African American friends' ancestors, my American Indian friends' ancestors, my employees' friends', and the citizens of this state and others.

I will still advocate for those who have lost their lands by various and sundry egregious means. I will still advocate for those whose land, identity, culture, and language were taken from them. I will still advocate for righteousness in all of our dealings.

May God have mercy on us all.