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Extra Special Juneteenth (Thank you Ms. Opal!)

The Juneteenth Festival this weekend will be a special celebration, both here in Fort Worth and nationally. A signing ceremony in the East Wing of the White House made Juneteenth, the 19th of June, a National Holiday. Words cannot express the joy and pride I felt as I watched President Biden sign the bill and hand a pen to our beloved Ms. Opal. Many prayers have been answered. Let the celebration begin!

Tuesday, the Senate unanimously passed the bill and sent it over to the House where it passed with bipartisan support on Wednesday. I’m at Opal’s Farm all day so I didn’t here of the passage until last night’s 10 o’clock news. I never call anyone after 10:00 PM (I was taught a call after 10:00 better involve blood or it was completely socially unacceptable), but I had to call Ms. Opal right away. “You did it”, I cried.

“No, WE did it”, she said. “There have been so many people along the way who made this happen”.

I wouldn’t have expected any other answer. That’s the kind of person she is. I’ve learned much about true humility from Ms. Opal, but she earned the title “Mother of Juneteenth” from her many years of persistence and dedication to a vision. Many others worked to make this day a reality, but it was a “little old lady in white tennis shoes that gets in everybody’s business” (her description, not mine) that blazed the path forward.

She personifies Juneteenth. That’s why the holiday has come to mean so much to me. Her constant reminder that “no one’s free until we all are free” echoes through all we do at Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm. I’m amazed and proud I get to be a part of it all.

I’ve had the honor and privilege of serving as the Farm Manager for Opal’s Farm for the last three years. I’ve listened to the stories and the history that I never knew. One story has always stood out. On Juneteenth, 1929, when she was only twelve years old, her family home was burned down by a white mob upset by a Black family moving into their neighborhood. I’d heard the story through media reports, but it was Ms. Opal who told me the one detail that had the greatest impact on me. She told me she decided that day so long ago “that I was going to hate what they did, but I wasn’t going to hate them” (the white mob).

That a twelve-year-old girl could have that spirit of love and forgiveness was astonishing to me. It makes perfect sense when you see her today. I’ve learned more about loving and forgiving others in the last three years than I did in the previous fifty!

Ms. Opal, I’m so proud to be a small, small part of your journey. Thank you for all you have done – not just for me, but for all of us. I’ve prayed diligently for this day. To see you honored in the East Wing of the White House by President Biden, Vice-President Harris, and so many members of Congress was the

was an honor to know, love, and be loved by you. It still doesn’t make my heart swell as much as when you said you were my grandmother too!

That being said…

Opal’s Farm will not be a Cowtown Farmers Market this weekend. We’ll be with Unity Unlimited, Inc., Ms. Opal, and hundreds of others for an extra special and one-of-a-kind celebration. Please join us at 10:00 AM for our walk with Ms. Opal from Evans Plaza to the Tarrant County Courthouse. The celebration continues with the I Am Juneteenth Festival at Panther Island Pavilion beginning at 3:00 PM and followed by fireworks at 9 PM. What a better way to begin celebrating freedom for us all.

Image: President Joe Biden hands a pen to Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., after signing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, in the East Room of the White House on June 17, 2021.
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When is Enough, Enough?

My friend Tquan called me yesterday afternoon just to check on how I was feeling after the events of the past week – the murder of Daunte Wright in Minnesota and the NBC 5 story about virtual “slave trading’ by ninth graders in neighboring Aledo ISD – https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/carter-in-the-classroom/students-of-color-slave-traded-by-other-students-in-online-game-at-aledo-school/2603399/.

I’m so grateful for Tquan and the other members of the Be the Bridge group I’m a part of. Be the Bridge is an opportunity to address issues of racial reconciliation with other folks seeking the same end. I’m grateful that my church has begun to speak openly and more frequently about race and racism, and more importantly, to listen and value the diversity of God’s kids. The relationships that have begun to form are a blessing.

Feelings are still difficult for me to figure out – at least on the spur of the moment. All I could tell Tquan is that neither incident surprised me but left me feeling a deep sadness and perhaps a bit numb – so much so that I’d taken a break from the news for the last two days. However, I hadn’t yesterday…

I hung up the phone and the NPR story came on about Daunte Wright. His mother and his grandmother were speaking. “You took him away from us.” Their words of unspeakable loss and cries of anguish broke my heart and feelings erupted like the explosion of a long dormant volcano. I began to sob uncontrollably as I barreled down I-30 toward home.

I know what it is to lose a child. The pain is indescribable. It cuts so deep that words cannot convey it, nor can the real damage be visible. It slices to the very core of your being. The thought of one’s grandkids without their father, of the coming Christmases, Thanksgivings, and birthdays steals all joy and hope. It leaves you permanently scarred and broken. A piece of your life has been taken away forever.

Still, I can’t even imagine what it’s like to lose a son to murder – especially murder at the hands of those who claim to serve and protect. They call may try to call it an accident, but it is murder plain and simple. The traffic stop itself was an intentional act. The racial profiling and treatment of People of Color by the police was, and is, an intentional act.

News reports have differed on the reasons why Daunte was pulled over. Many are saying it was because of an air freshener hanging from the rear-view mirror. The ACLU reported last night that the stop was made because of expired registration. It doesn’t matter. The real reason, the one unsaid, is far more insidious – being pulled over for driving while black…

An air freshener hangs on the mirrors of many of the vehicles I pass every day. I’ve never been pulled over for it. I have been pulled over twice for expired registration. I had simply forgot about it. I was told to go get it taken care of and let go without a ticket. Then again, I’m white…

If Tquan called today to see how I was feeling it wouldn’t be difficult to name the feelings – outrage, anger, and furious. When is enough, enough?

I’ve already begun to hear the excuses made by many of my white acquaintances. “He should’ve just cooperated”. They wouldn’t have pulled him over without good reason”. “He shouldn’t have resisted”. Such responses are expected. Systemic racism runs deep. White privilege can’t possibly understand what systemic racism inflicts on People of Color.

The bottom line is a gun never should have been drawn in the first place. Had Daunte been white it would not have. There couldn’t have been an “accident”. Besides, if a twenty-six-year veteran police officer cannot tell the difference from a 9mm handgun and a taser, they have no business serving as a police officer.

There are no excuses. Enough is enough. Call it what it is – murder. Daunte died less than a year and only a few miles away from where George Floyd was brutally murdered by Derek Chauvin. There have already been over 230 people killed by the police since January 1st, 2021. How much longer, Lord?

Photo by Jakob Rosen on Unsplash

Yes, Tquan, I’m mad as hell. That’s how I feel today. Somewhere, buried deep in my spirit is hope that maybe we’ll realize enough is enough. Groups like Be the Bridge are moving in the right direction but there’s much to be done. Ms. Opal Lee, my mentor and friend, reminds us “that if hate can be taught, a person can be taught to love”. I hope and pray that the feelings of anger I have are felt by many others. I hope they’re channeled into positive action that teaches all of us how to love God’s kids better. I hope and pray I don’t hear the anguished cries of mother, grandmothers, and families because another child was taken by police violence.

“We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” – Howard Zinn, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train (1994)

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“There are sufficient resources in the world for the needs of everybody, but not enough for the greed of even a significant minority.”- Millard Fuller, The Theology of the Hammer (1994)

God has taught me the true definition of enough. Let us labor together to provide enough for everyone…

Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash