Saturday, December 6, 2014

Say It

Say It

If you do not say it, who will?
Will you remain silent, until
It is too late to matter
Or too long forgotten
You have the power to fulfill
And stop them

If you do not speak, who shall?
Who will disperse and dispel
The ignorance and
The blindness
It must be you, to tell
An utterance

If you never break the silence
How will they receive guidance?
Directions to show
The right way
You possess the license
To inveigh

Don’t lock your voice within
For a life manifests when
The Word spins
Itself into flesh
Let it show, just begin
To profess

JMC 

12/5/14
(c) 2014

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Babylon Prism

Babylon Prism

Babylon, back weh!
With your ism, schism...
Refracting JAH Light
Through your dutty prism
While JAH People unite
You create your division
But you can’t check the light
That we shine from within

You’ve taken our spirituality
And turned it into religion
Replacing our roots and culture
With your own evangelism
Creating doctrines and dogmas
That have fueled fanaticism
But the truth is too big
To fit in your catechism

You’ve distorted our diversity
And you’ve created racialism
Drawn beguiling borderlines
To impose your tribalism
Disposed age-old traditions
For your cold intellectualism
If it doesn’t fit your world
Then you call it “barbarism”

Babylon, back weh!
With your ism, schism...
Refracting JAH Light
Through your dutty prism
While JAH People unite
You create your division
But you can’t check the light
That we shine from within

JAH Ancient Monarchy...
You dubbed it as despotism
Then took Selassie’s Throne
In the name of communism
Today, leaders of the world
Play a game of egotism
We vote in your elections
But we have no real decision

You’ve denied us of simplicity
For your new materialism
Turning women into placards
To sell us your sexism
The earth has been stripped
For your mercantilism
You’ve prostituted our dignity
For your commercialism

Babylon, back weh!
With your ism, schism...
Refracting JAH Light
Through your dutty prism
While JAH People unite
You create your division
But you can’t check the light
That we shine from within

Babylon, back weh!
With your ism, schism...
We burn out all illusions!
We’re free from your prison!

JMC 
11/30/14
(c) 2014


Thursday, November 27, 2014

I Dare Not Be Ungrateful

It has been some lean times. As a nation, most of us are in the same boat economically: unemployment, underemployment, rising costs of living, etc. It is no great wonder then, that the stress of uncertainty sometimes weighs on me and my own family. Being the parents of an 18 month-old daughter while expecting our second baby in January, we know that our livelihood is about more than just being comfortable, but about providing a happy and safe home for our children. Lately it seems harder to manage and stay afloat. Our income is actually less than it was when we were first married due to circumstances and of course a pregnancy that limits job opportunities. At times we worry about paying bills on time, accumulating debt, fixing things in our home, and saving for emergencies and for our future. We know that we just can’t afford certain things, especially during the holiday season, when people are bombarded with advertisements to buy everything and anything. It can be quite taxing on the soul, and the body. It can cause a disturbance in the home and restlessness in our sleep. At least, that is one way to think. 

Notwithstanding all of the very real worries that we have, as a family we have so much to be thankful for! First, we have each other. My wife and I vowed to walk side-by-side though the hills and valleys on life’s road. It is comforting to have this companionship. Some families have a hard time enduring the stress and people often forget their commitment to one another. We have our health, and our unborn child is growing just fine! Many people struggle with chronic illnesses, or have children with developmental problems, and they do not have the means to treat them. We even have great health benefits and insurance due to my job. We have a roof over our heads! In fact, we own it, so we have home equity! We have food on our table! Even when we can’t necessarily afford to buy it ourselves, we have family that helps provide for us! There are hundreds of families in my community who have to depend on food shelters or churches just to have meals for the week. We have employment! Even though one of us is underemployed, we still are earning an income that more or less sustains us. We live in a safe community, where there is no crime and where we don’t have to worry (within reason) about robbery or gunfire! We have luxuries! We have running water, electricity, (which most people would say are necessities), we have cable television, we have possessions!

For all of these things, I give thanks. When I compare all of the blessings that we have to the worries and problems that we carry, it is almost embarrassing. My Uncle’s family lost their entire home in a fire last year. I have a close bredren (Rastafari brother and friend) who has been struggling with unemployment for several years now. I have family members and friends who are battling disease and health conditions. I have friends who live in neighborhoods and in cities where there is severe distress and where crime affects their livelihoods. I have students who are homeless, who are struggling with drug abuse and absence in their families. Even if I had all of these burdens, which would be hard to imagine, I have the air to breathe, water to drink... I have life! During these “tough times” (it seems funny to say now), I remember to wake up in the morning and give thanks to JAH for not being the worst. I give thanks for all of the little things that we have. When I lay my daughter down to sleep, I pray with her and give thanks even though she does not yet understand (although she does say “Amen”), because it is important that we acknowledge our blessings and good fortune. I dare not be ungrateful to JAH, Yahweh, Jehovah, Rastafari... because that would be an affront to all of the blessings that my family has received from HIM. 

Thanksgiving... yes, I know as a student of history that the first Thanksgiving is not necessarily the glorious moment that we celebrate in American mythos. I will not get into the socio-historical controversy here, because that is not my current message. I will however celebrate this day by truly giving thanks on a personal level. I will celebrate it as a day where I can join my family and extended family, break bread, and honor the Most High with a joyful heart! I truly believe that every day should be “Thanksgiving” (sans the overeating), but I am thankful for the tradition that puts a pause in our busy lives and a reality check to our woes and instead reminds us that life is precious, life is good, and we need to celebrate it! I give thanks to JAH Rastafari, to Iyesos Kristos, to Selassie I, for all of the elders and ancestors who guided the human spirit. I give thanks for all that I have and I dare not be ungrateful! Selah!

Give Thanks,
JAHsh

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Post-Racial Rhapsody

I have a story for you, one that you may be familiar with. Most Americans had high praise for the 2009 feel-good movie “The Blind Side” based on the true story of an African-American football player named Michael Oher. In case you haven’t seen it, Oher, aka “Big Mike” starts off as a homeless and distressed teenage boy who is a product of the housing projects, broken family, and then foster homes that he has emerged from.  He is a large young man, hence “Big Mike”, but also a quiet person despite all the trauma of his youth. Eventually, he is discovered for being favorably-sized by a private school’s football team and because of his circumstances Michael is adopted by Sandra Bullock’s character (Leigh Anne Tuohy) and her family. The rest is a great story about overcoming the odds and being included on a team and in a family that would otherwise be alien to him. It is also true as far as I know, since Michael Oher is a real person who is now an NFL offensive left tackle and he has told his own story in an autobiography. Who can show contempt for this true story of showing love and compassion to a kid that many would have just forsaken? Fortunately it all worked out for “Big Mike” and he came across some really cool people that became his adoptive family. Yet, the movie at least, avoided some of the real ugliness that can come from confronting prejudices and blatant racism in society. Perhaps it’s just because it was a PG-13 movie, or perhaps the real ugly possibilities were avoided.

Now, let’s take this story and play with it a bit. What if it didn’t take place in Memphis, Tennessee, but instead, Ferguson Missouri? What if the physically imposing black teenager was not Michael Oher, but instead, Michael Brown? What if “Big Mike” Oher, or Brown, or whatever, was not a gentle giant, but an angry youth with a bad attitude and a propensity for petty theft (like many teenagers)? What if instead of wandering the streets and being found by Sandra Bullock, Michael instead is confronted by a police officer? What if “Big Mike” had a bad day and that bad day turned into bad fortune when an officer probably acting more out of fear than civic responsibility, shot him multiple times? How does that sound for a feel-good movie of the year? Not too good I imagine. The kind rather, that makes you feel rather uncomfortable and disgusted. It’s not the sugary stereotypical, “white savior meets magical negro” one that more people in mainstream America would like to watch. (In saying this, I mean no disrespect toward Mr. Oher or the Tuohy family.) Why do I bring up this alternative story? Because this story is not only in the headlines every minute of the day, but it is also rooted in the unfortunate reality for many black teenagers in America. 

Of course, people have so many things to say about this issue and the Michael Brown case in particular. It is sure to inspire some very confrontational Thanksgiving dinners. In fact, the topic probably cannot be avoided unless it is immediately classified as “too hot for TG” (TG, Thanksgiving… yes, I made it up). One only needs to read statuses on social media or read comments following online news articles to be immersed in a tide of controversy. Some of these comments fall along the lines of “he deserved it”, “he acted like a thug, troublemaker, punk”, “don’t talk back to, or confront cops”, “he was a thief”, and now lately I’ve seen speculations that his parents are affiliated with the Bloods gang. Even if all of the above was true, even if Michael Brown does not deserve the impromptu canonization that he has seemed to receive by many people in the Ferguson community, does that make the police response any less impetuous and the outcome any less tragic? In the end, an unarmed, surly, but probably scared, young black man was gunned down by law enforcement. The particulars right now are unknown, there is much speculation, and other people are more qualified to ask questions and find answers. However, the excuses that are being made for why an officer could shoot this young black teenager are ignorant in the least, and then insensitive and even hateful at their worst. 

I have another story, very brief… it is my own. There was a period of time when I was an acrimonious adolescent male. I was sullen and petulant. Sometimes the slightest thing would put me in a rage. I even had a temper so horrible that my grandmother had warned me with a sincere concern that this behavior could lead me to a path ending in jail. Yes, these are the years before my Rastafari trod! I was self-destructive and I engaged in criminal activities that if I had been caught, I may still be locked in a prison cell. I even had encounters with law enforcement. The difference is that I did not come from a broken family, in fact my family cared for me very much. The difference is that I had education and I did not come from a disenfranchised community. The difference is that if I did things to adjust my behavior or appearance, I could avoid having a target on my back. The difference is… I am white. With a roll of fate’s dice, a change of skin color and circumstances, I too could have been Michael Brown, or Trayvon Martin, or Eric Garner, and it goes on and on. I know all too well the benefit of white privilege in certain situations that I may have shared with these men, or that I did indeed share with friends and acquaintances of mine in my younger days. Whether I liked it or not, that’s how it was. Whether we like it or not, acts of prejudice and even discrimination are practiced by officers of the law, because they are human, and we are often bias creatures. 

There are a few things I just want to set straight before continuing. I know that without police protecting citizens there would be anarchy and chaos in our towns and cities. I know that there are some excellent officers who do all the right things for the right reasons and risk their lives with simple acts of heroism every day.  I applaud these men and women, I thank them, and we should be careful not to paint all police officers or the institution with a broad brush. However, not every person who puts on a uniform, wears a badge, and carries a gun is a fair and tolerant person. There are good cops and there are bad cops. Looking beyond the person, there are cops who do a good job and there are cops who do a poor job. This is plain and simple, and irrefutable. Also, on the other end of the spectrum, the burning and looting of Ferguson and the antagonizing of police is disgraceful. Violence and rioting only perpetuate stereotypes, take attention away from the real issue, and mostly hurt people within the same community. Although the outrage is understandable, the actions are senseless, and adverse to any progress. I condemn this behavior as would most rational people of any background.  It should be noted though that most people protesting in Ferguson and other cities around America are not violent and erratic, they are just practicing their civic right to speak against an injustice. 

So why is all of this still happening in this post-racial America? Why does it seem like we have been “blind-sided” by these heavy racial issues when we thought it was “all good”? Why are the 2010’s looking more and more like the 1960’s? Aren’t we past that? Didn’t we have the Civil Rights Movement, and hey, don’t we have a black president? The problem is that we like to pretend that we are color-blind. It is because we are saturated with pop-culture, television shows and McDonald’s commercials where everyone is mingling and doing just fine and we view it as people just being people; people being treated like they should be, as a good person or a bad person. All the prejudices went out the window a generation ago, all the racialism was “so yesterday”. Yet, even if it is subconscious, or parodied, we still have black men portrayed as the archetypes of strong, super athletic, oversexed, crude, beastly negros and black women as loud, angry and bitchy, and both as ignorant, lazy, and generally unintelligent. It’s there; you just have to a look with a third-eye because it may not be as obvious.

As a Rastaman and as a teacher I am one of the first to tell my students and the people I meet that we are all one and that there is only one human race (a beautiful truth). On the other hand, as a Rastaman and a teacher I am also one of the first to tell them that the social and historical construct of “race” is very real, very complicated, and that injustices, intolerance and preconceptions are still alive and well. In fact, the very reason why so much emphasis is put on “black and white” and not the myriad of other ethnicities and cultures in this country is because of our tumultuous past. Ignoring these facts help no one. There is a more insidious racism in existence now. Old-school bigotry is no longer chic or in many cases even tolerated. To borrow a term from radio talk show host Joe Madison, we no longer have “Jim Crow” but his more sophisticated grandson, “James Crow, Esq.” You can’t just go around saying certain things, but you can absolutely feel them, and you can codify them. For example, President Obama has been one of the most castigated presidents in modern history. Some critics call him everything but the N-Word, and yet they would defend themselves by saying they are simply ideologically opposed to him and don’t think that he is a good leader. What other president has had his birth and American citizenship questioned? What other president has had his religious belief scrutinized as if he was a threat to the American public because he could be a menacing anti-American black nationalist? These examples are not coming from real political concerns or disagreements, they come from irrational fear and mindless rhetoric, aka prejudice. They come from that same little dark place where many Americans have tucked away all of their ugly thoughts… in a vacuum of ignorance where the issue of race has not had to be confronted. Until now… 

That dark place is where, I presume, Officer Wilson went to when Michael Brown confronted him in anger. That dark place is where George Zimmerman went when he killed Trayvon Martin. That dark place is where the team of officers went when they choked the life from Eric Garner, that dark place manifests every time someone crosses the street to avoid a dark person on a dark street in the dark night. That dark place could God forbid one day affect my children if they are perceived a certain way, or my wife, or her siblings and cousins. The dark place instills fear in the hearts of men, on both sides of the color-line. People will say it has nothing to do with color, but it has everything to do with color.

Here we have the repercussion of living in our so-called post-racial America. It is a scary place that looks like something from our history books. We need to have a serious talk and educate ourselves, because history repeats itself. We need to learn from another, we need to take a walk in each other’s shoes; we need to recognize that although we are many colors, we are all one people. This dark place of ignorance, confusion, prejudice, brutality and racial profiling is what we Rastafari people call the Babylon System. It is a system that keeps both black and white, all humanity, in bondage. It needs to be confronted, and turning a color-blind eye to it will not help us. Knowledge is power, Truth is the light… shine it in all of those dark, dark places.

I close with this quote from Dr. King which although spoken in the 1960’s still rings true today: "The majority of white Americans consider themselves sincerely committed to justice for the Negro. They believe that American society is essentially hospitable to fair play and to steady growth torward a middle-class Utopia embodying racial harmony. But unfortunately this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity. Overwhelmingly America is still struggling with irresolution and contradictions. It has been sincere and even ardent and welcoming some change. But too quickly apathy and disinterest rise to the surface when the next logical steps are to be taken. Laws are passed in a crisis mood after a Birmingham or Selma, but no substantial fervor survives the formal signing of legislation. The recording of the law in itself is treated as the reality of the reform." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

Without Doubt or Apology, 
With Love and Sincerity,
JAHsh

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

La Dolce Vita

La Dolce Vita

I knew that very night as I first gazed at you

Across the dinner table in flickering candlelight 
Because the vision of you made my heart imbue
With a love true, beating anew upon first sight

That was four years ago, not long, although

If I unravel time to 2,103,840 minutes
And count every second within it, you will know
That every moment we’ve spent together is infinite 

Like when we stood as one before JAH and men

To become wife and husband, or when, patiently
We waited to meet our radiant daughter, and again
We now soon welcome a new member of our family 

We know this has come because we chose each other

We sing a Song of Songs akin to Solomon and Sheba
For we’re lovers, husband, wife, father, and mother
And with you and me it will always be, La Dolce Vita

JMC 

11/19/14
(c) 2014

Friday, May 23, 2014

What A Joy

What A Joy

I vividly remember
The instant you emerged 
From your mother's womb
And into the hospital room
There I stood... in awe
Beholding my newborn
And after receiving you
I introduced you to our world
My daughter, my Makeda
What a joy to see you!

You were once so little
That you were able to fit
Neatly into my hands...
For the rest of my life
I will relive those first days
As I held you against my chest
Amazed that your mother
And I were your parents
My daughter, my Makeda
What a joy to hold you!

It began when your eyes
Met mine for the very first
Time, would soon show us
The dawn of your sweet smile
And after awhile we heard
Your laughter fill our home
As my heart burst full of
Love for you and your mother
My daughter, my Makeda
What a joy to know you 

Each day brought us a new gift
I was surprised when
Slowly, sounds shaped into
Your first words: Mama, Dada
And rhythm allowed you to
Move and dance, standing
Then taking a chance with
Finding your first steps
My daughter, my Makeda
What a joy to watch you!

Now, twelve months with you
Have become a year and
Soon you will walk beside me
Speaking to your Daddy
There's so much to discover
You, me, and your mother
Have a lifetime together, and
You're our love at the center
My daughter, my Makeda
What a joy to teach you!

JMC
5/23/14
(c) 2014

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

From Four Corners

From Four Corners

He emigrated from the rustic green hills
Of Avellino, Italy, to journey
So far beyond that small universe until
Crossing geographic borders that surely
Could not contain his imagination, and still
Laid a foundation for family, strong and sturdy
He taught me how to wonder; now I know its worth
I'm created from the four corners of my birth

She valued hard work and determination
The keys made for opening an auspicious 
Future, sown by an early education
And I still can taste the Sicilian dishes
Prepared in her kitchen, presenting occasion
For listening to guidance and best wishes
She told me to always strive; now I know its worth
I'm created from the four corners of my birth

She looked through radiant portals of prayer
To help direct her in daily interactions
Finding reasons to live, laugh, love, and to bear
Witness to others with ceaseless compassion
And charity that could not even compare
To her trust in God and saintly satisfaction
She taught me how to have faith; now I know its worth
I'm created from the four corners of my birth

He required no handicap to play his course
In all his endeavors, he remained steadfast
Able to succeed and become a driving force
A man who would not be defined by the past
Using inspiration from the heavenly Source
To produce gladness in his heart, unabashed
He showed me how to endure; now I know its worth
I'm created from the four corners of my birth

JMC
5/21/14
(c) 2014