Sometimes a wrong calls for consequences and not criminalization

Sunday, June 4, around 8:10pm I entered the booking room of Sacramento County Juvenile Hall with a police officer, a good kid, and a load of emotion.  I was doing a Ride-Along in Del Paso Heights with the Sacramento Police Department.  There would be a roll call with an interesting trivia question and an insightful briefing and interactions to prepare officers to patrol.  Once on the beat, we had a couple relatively minor calls with serious situations to those involved but not too serious in general.  Then we joined a call where four people were already detained at an elementary school following an alarm going off.  When we arrived, four young boys sat on the ground as two officers stood nearby and someone resembling a school janitor sat on a bench out of the way with a large set of keys in hand.  Two of the kids appeared to be about the age of my eleven and a half year old son while  the other two could pass for fifteen or sixteen.  The officers were waiting for CSI to come take fingerprints and attempting to get parent information from the boys.  The kids and officers had already been there for a while when I arrived.  The call came in while I was with two officers who did an excellent job of facilitating an unfortunate and potentially volatile situation with a family who was duped into illegally subleasing and facing an imminent eviction.

 

When we arrived, the kids and officers were calm and one of the officers was joking about the sprint the other had to make to corral the kids who apparently ran upon encountering the police officers.  There was also conversation initiated by the officers seemingly to relieve some of the fear and stress the kids might have been experiencing during this moment.  I stood leaning against a pole looking at the kids and flashing back to similar situations I was involved with from my childhood.  I was appreciating the kids were taking the situation serious while also comfortable enough to interact with each other and the officers.  After standing and listening a bit, I actually sat on the ground with them to be on the same physical level as we talked about them, school, friendships, my kids, sports, and more.  Following attempts to confirm guardian information and make contact, eventually officers came over to take each of the boys for separate one-on-one conversations on what happened.

 

From the discussions with the children, the officers gathered that allegedly the boys went into the Library and one of the children (13 year old) purportedly planned to take an iPad but put it back and all of the boys exited the building without removing property.  According to the officers this was a 459 offense which per Wikipedia is, “Burglary…an unlawful entry into a building or other location for the purposes of committing an offence.”  This was explained as a felony.  As a Ride-Along, the officer I accompanied took the time to explain to me what was going on.  The officers were of the thinking that the child was 14 years old versus 13 years old.  I noted the incorrect age and hoped this would be sufficient to have him released to his guardians as there are cases where being fourteen carries more weight than thirteen.  I pled with the officer to have another discussion with his superiors and personally pledged to serve in whatever capacity necessary to support this child during and after this situation with the hopes he would not go to juvenile hall.  The incident and consequence was escalated and determined that the child had to be taken to juvenile hall.

 

My mind was very focused on the damage that was being done in this situation and the innocence of this child.  When I was sitting on the ground speaking with the kids, this child in particular stood out with his manners and willingness to engage with me and the officers.  Whether it was noting that his butt was hurting from the time sitting on the concrete and asking permission to stand, trying to understand whether I was an officer or not since I came with them, asking one of the officers “how long you been growing your mustache?” or pleading with me to say that he looked older than 11 or 12 because he was 13… The kid was a pleasure to be around without coming off as cocky nor dismissive of the gravity of the situation at hand.  This good kid was about to take his first ride in the back of a police car and to be booked in jail for minors.  When the officer asked the child to come talk to him that last time, it was obvious to me that that kid wouldn’t be seeing the others again that night and I got up and followed.  After being told by the officer he was about to be taken away the child was confused, shaken, tearful, and very afraid.  He spoke of his mom and consequences, he explained that he didn’t take anything, and he wanted it understood that he learned his lesson and nothing like this would ever happen again.  Despite his genuine sorrow and all other factors the officer had to take him.

 

To calm this young nervous soul, I interceded and talked him through the situation at hand and reassured him that everything would be okay as best I could in this awful situation.  The child eventually gathered himself and walked to the police car with me as I hugged him with one arm over his shoulders.  We spoke some as we rode and I was able to get phone numbers for parents and make calls.  At juvenile hall he was booked.  Paperwork filed, shoe laces removed, draw sting taken from pants, assessed by the nurse, clothing and personal property taken, and a full body search.  At one point while the officer filled out paperwork, the young man asked, “will they let me have a fidget spinner in here?”  He was sincere and it was obviously a tool of comfort that he sought to help him through whatever was soon to happen.

 

After leaving juvenile hall and returning to the police car, my words to the officer was “This is wrong.  At a time when cities and law enforcement say they want a better relationship with the Black community, this one incident has done far more harm than good.”  This lead to a very respectful, open and constructive conversation.  That conversation does nothing to help the current situation for that young man who was put in jail for that night.  I do expect it to resonate at least a bit when officer is back on his beat again.  The reality is that the officer did a good job of “policing.”  When it comes to the rules and procedures, I’m guessing it will be found that he and the other officers did everything accordingly.  However, I think a process that would lead to a child to being taken to a correctional facility after he took nothing, caused no obvious material damage, was prepared to apologize, and was honest throughout the process- seems to be criminal in itself.

 

Assuming the allegations are correct, my gut says this incident has taught all the kids that when you make a mistake (illegally entered and considered taking something), realize that you’ve done wrong (stop and put it down), and leave the premises that the full weight of the law will be thrown at you.  So run faster next time because you’re likely not to receive justice.  I can hear others countering me with “the kid broke the law and has to deal with the consequences.”  To me, these consequences create an antagonistic if not hostile response to law enforcement.  I also hear those that say, “they pretty much admitted guilt when they tried to run.”  I respect that view might be the case in many neighborhoods or for many others.  I also understand how that can be perceived that way and I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.  I too was likely to run until I was in my twenties and managed to get somewhat established with work and marriage to where my fear of what I could lose weighed heavier than my fear of what the police might do to me.  Living in an upper class neighborhood today versus my childhood, having a personal relationship with the senior police officers in my city and sitting on the Board for the Police Activities League, I still have to check myself and my instincts to flee for my survival or fight for my children at the thought or possible interaction with police.  Simply saying “they” need to learn not to run is counterproductive if you haven’t explored means the individual (police officer) and agencies (law enforcement) can engage with the community long before interaction occurs with the community.  It’s important to establish relationship and trust that can shift hundreds of years of fleeing for safety in these situations.  And there happens to be plenty of images that suggest maybe a Black man’s odds are better if you’re faster versus what might happen if you’re apprehended.

 

At the end of the night, the officer was encouraging me to come on another day to see how things play out.  He thought this incident may not have been a good example to take away.  I let him know this incident and the others we had (which are worth writing about) are exactly why I did the Ride-Along.  I plan to do more and I plan to encourage and expect the same from others in the community.  I let him know that I don’t like the outcome at all because my ultimate goal is to help bring about a positive relationship between law enforcement and the Black community.  This incident didn’t help that goal in my opinion.  I also let him know that I appreciated his listening to some of my tips throughout the day on going beyond just what’s expected to close  a call and look at means to help the person.  I sincerely appreciated his professionalism in his work.

 

My first priority out of this is supporting the young man along his path to success in life.  He was released Monday morning and is home truly facing the consequences of his actions.  He and I have an informal agreement that he’s going to be a future prosecutor.  I’ll be doing more Ride-Alongs.  I’ll be hosting events to bring together law enforcement with citizens who are wary of law enforcement to establish some respect, rapport, and understanding as we look at the ultimate goal of providing better solutions.  There’s many sides to this.  Please get involved and make difference.  There are lots of emotion, good kids and good police officers whom we need to encounter.20170607_030109_1

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Not so Golden Anniversary- Opportunity to Improve our Future

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In a couple of weeks will be 25 years since I was approaching my high school graduation and had to face the reality of gun violence that resulted in the death of two friends, Tyski Gabriel and Chris “Punkin” Sharper. In seeing many begin to share their resolution for this coming year, I’ve thought lots about Tyski and Punkin and their families. I try to imagine what they would look like, what their lives would be like, and how things might’ve been different for me.

I selfishly wonder what would be different for me because Tyski and Punkin’s death was yet another awakening in my challenging childhood and adolescence. In the days following, several of us adrenaline and anger loaded young men gathered with the goal of exacting revenge on the perpetrators and those who we believed contributed to the fate of our friends. I had withdrawn to deal with my sadness of their death alone and to focus on my part time job and going to college, but received a call from my best friend who told me of the meeting and when he’d come to pick me up. I wanted in and wanted nothing more than to avenge the death of Tyski and Chris. As can be expected, when we met we were poorly organized in how we would retaliate and after lots of talking, scheming, and emotional venting we eventually dispersed. For me I swung between being livid and relieved that nothing happened because I had managed to get a handgun that night in hopes of making a significant contribution and that wouldn’t happen.

I would end up being relieved that circumstances didn’t escalate further causing me to use the gun and I was also determined to find some way to honor Tyski and Punkin. After a ridiculous confrontation later in the school year, my principal, Mr. Henry Young admonished me on being a leader and called me out to honor Tyski and Chris by being successful in life and helping others. For the past twenty five years, I’ve thought of Tyski and Chris a few times a year and it’s always stood as a reminder for me to seize the moment, to do my best, and to make a difference in the lives of others. Though I’ve come up amazingly short in my personal life in many ways, I’m at peace that my life to this point has honored my friends as I wanted and as Mr. Young directed. As I look back at 2014, I realize that my work isn’t done and that I have tons to offer relative to improving life for those who are living in situations similar to that I was reared in. After taking a few years off from being highly engaged in community service, I look forward to upping my involvement in 2015. Surprisingly, I also find myself in a position to engage with law enforcement and communities that have historically had low trust for them.

After spending most of my life hating the police because of my perspective and how I witnessed them treat me, family, friends, and others in the community, I managed to also spend time advocating for families and seeing more inappropriate and dismissive action by law enforcement individuals which further disgusted me. However over the past three years, I’ve gained a broader perspective as a result of many close interactions that helped me view police officers as people and individuals. I’ve sat on a non-profit Board with a Chief of Police, established a relationship with a different police chief, partnered with police officers to find computer equipment for a non-profit, sat on a police hiring board (that was an odd feeling), played basketball with police officers (couple decent ballers), shot guns at a range with officers (that was fun), and even made suggestions for new cadets. Although none of my interactions over the past few years erase my past experiences with police, I have gained a level of appreciation that I never had and even more important is I’ve established relationships with officers as individuals and have seen some of them engage in communities to proactively discuss changes when necessary to ensure there’s understanding of how the police is perceived by the community and possible changes to address.

One might ask, “What does this have to do with Tyski and Chris?” To me, the stupidity that killed Tyski and Punkin stems from the same disregard for and lack of compassion for life that would have a police officer quickly resort to deadly force in certain situations and not others, or have a young man to thoughtlessly take the life of another within his community, or to have a jury not recognize or ignore that police authority doesn’t beget necessity to use any level of force, or that perpetrating revenge on someone that killed a friend is just as sinful and immoral as someone killing police officers who some might feel targeted and plagued by. I believe that if we face the same core problems that resulted in my friends deaths 25 years ago, fewer people will be in the situation 25 years later wondering what their friends lives would be like or how they would look because we would’ve taken action to still have them alive.

Below are my thoughts on practical actions that I believe need to be taken to shift behavior and accountability to improve the lives of all citizens and establish respect between law enforcement and communities where they garner the least trust. I intentionally omitted “training” as it’s very subjective and often used as a means to exonerate or refute blame versus build bridges and relationship. Likewise, I omitted cameras because they do nothing to build relationship or increase the likelihood that officer and suspect will treat each other as human versus serve to hopefully prove blame after something has already gone horribly bad. Hopefully each individual (starting with me) can find a means to see what they can do as individuals to improve the situation prior to or in direct alignment in speaking of the shortcomings of others.

Actions for the community-

  1. Vote in EVERY election possible. City and school leaders will respect your vote even if they don’t respect you based on any bias
  2. Spend as many hours volunteering in a classroom than you will in a bar at a night club or at parties (Go to any school where the help is needed)
  3. Spend as many hours reading with or ensuring children are reading than they will watch TV, play video games, or play on a smartphone/tablet
  4. Yes, I said it. Sorry, more often than not we know those perpetuating violence and crime and we need to face that those individuals are holding us back

Actions for cities and local law enforcement-

  1. Provide financial and promotional incentive for law enforcement to live in high crime zip codes and beats within the city (include in contract where possible)
  2. Incentivize staff with pay or promotion to include citizens from high crime areas on hiring and promotion boards for police officers
  3. Incentivize police officers with pay or promotion for participating in sports, mentoring, and other activities within high crime areas
  4. Don’t participate in the school system’s criminalization of children which is most egregious in communities of color

Actions for state and federal government-

  1. Implement background checks on all gun and ammunition purchases and discontinue sales of automatic weapons
  2. Provide rehabilitation and job training for perpetrators and connect time served with a financial remedy for victims, families, and society
  3. Reward grants to schools that encourage partnership for accomplishing
  4. Reward grants for things done in the “For cities and local law enforcement” section

None of this will change that Tyski and Chris’ families have to deal with their death every birthday, every holiday, every milestone, and every family gathering, but I pray we all engaged to make it better for others. So this year, I send my love and continued blessings to the Sharper and Gabriel families and I recommit to them and Mr. Young to continue to honor their lives.

Addressing “isms” and Criminalization… Model, Teach, Practice, Reinforce

About three years ago I found myself having a conversation with an assistant principal at my son’s middle school. Jacob (now 17 year old junior in high school) was being suspended for a couple days for getting into a fight with another boy after reacting to the boy aggressively stating the word nigga toward Jacob after Jacob told the boy he found it offensive and had asked him to stop saying it while singing a rap song. For that incident both were suspended two days. I coached Jacob on using his words and avoiding violence while equally praising him for taking a stand for things of importance him. As much as anything, I was upset with how we give that word so much power while equally upset with how much a large swath of American society finds it acceptable to use the word or any of the derivations.

Fast forward to Friday, May 2, 2014, where I received a text from Jacob stating, “Something happened at school today I need to talk to you when you get home.” My stomach dropped. I then quickly stepped out of myself to view whatever it was from his perspective and decided he needed to know that he can trust to be honest with me and responded, “Okay” and “No matter what. I love you.” That was one of my biggest steps ever as a parent. I’m the authoritative dad who learned to lead with fear from my mom and my ancestors who largely learned from their slave roots. So I wrapped up what I was doing at the office and headed home… practicing my responses, pushing myself to ask open ended questions but not too many, seeking ways of being supportive and firm, and anything else I’ve failed in year’s past.

When I got home, Jacob was tucked away in his room as usual and made his way to my room to tell me what had happened. He told me of an incident on Thursday at lunch where a group of students opened a window/door to a room used by the Drama Club and how he and a group of friends came to see what they were doing. In the room were some cookies that could be reached of which the group goaded Jacob to take and he complied. After eating some cookies and giving some to his group of friends and the kids that opened the window, they moved on to their normal day. Apparently on Friday, there were more cookies to be taken and someone took cookies and left a note that chided the Drama Club and included the word “faggot” in reference to those involved with the work of the Drama Club.

My first two questions were, “Who wrote the note?” and “Do you know who wrote the note?” Then I think, “Oh shucks, I’m supposed to be helping him feel comfortable right now but I’m angry on so many levels, somebody help me!” He noted that the administrators think they know who wrote the note, it was not him, and the administrators insinuated that the person who is suspected actually attempted to blame the writing of the note on Jacob.

So then I shift from the note and seek to clarify if he took part in the opening of the room versus his involvement being specific to the taking of the cookies that he already admitted to. Needless to say I struggled to deal with any of the “feelings” until my mind was able to understand the facts behind what happened. So my questions continued to focus on the who, what, when, and where. He was adamant that he had nothing to do with opening the room though he failed to report seeing someone else doing it and he admits to wrongly going to the next step of removing the cookies. Anything beyond that, he says he wasn’t involved with. No letters, no visits to the room the next day, nothing. And I believed him, accompanied with several added questions to validate and triangulate.

Now I’m able to include a little of the feeling stuff. Why did you take the cookies? How did that feel? A few of those kind of questions came out and it was good to hear him talking and sharing more than stressed and responding. Some of my favorites are “how do you think I should deal with this” and “how do you feel about the consequences you’re already facing.” Essentially he thought enough consequences had been experienced and those he’s facing (five days of no school) were very fair. Pretty convenient situation from a teenager’s point of view. In the dialogue I was particularly interested to understand how he felt about being accused of writing the note, to understand the punishment levied on all involved with opening the room, and to understand the prime driver of the suspension – opening the room, taking the cookies, or the note. His belief was that his suspension was for the note and the fact that the note likely wouldn’t have occurred had he not taken the cookies. I simply failed to connect taking cookies or being an unknowing accessory to a note that he didn’t believe in to a consequence of five days of suspension. Interesting enough he noted that the administrators were also pursuing suspensions against the students who ate cookies and somehow used a guilty by association argument to justify this.

For his part, Jacob was pretty distraught about any connection to the note because he has a great deal of respect for the Drama Club. Actually as part of his leadership role on the school’s Media Club he frequently worked with the Drama Club. Coincidentally, he spent Wednesday night watching the production of Shrek because he was supposed to film the show on Friday night. Equally so, he was disappointed about giving in to peer pressure and how that manifested in demeaning the efforts and hard work of the Drama Club. I was hoping to hear more remorse about taking the cookies. After having a chance to marinate on this over the weekend, I’m also unsettled around the failure of action to use this as a teaching opportunity regarding the demeaning of others and the insensitive if not damaging words and intent of the note. Jacob doesn’t own that specific action individually, but we as a society do regardless of who the perpetrator was. Silence or lack of effective action is acceptance.

Towards the end of my and Jacob’s conversation, he gave me the letter from the school which took me back to a recent post I made regarding the criminalization of children. Sarcastically, I ponder if I should celebrate that this criminalization occurred in a mostly upper class neighborhood with virtually no socio-economic diversity and very few Blacks or Hispanics versus the usual scenario. After listing the Education Code, which seemingly has no relevance to Jacob’s actions, the letter goes on to state that “Student was involved with other students in the breaking and entering of a locked facility on campus of 5/1/14. Students also took part in leaving an inflammatory note with the word “faggot” written in it as well as taking and eating cookies…” Seeing the words “breaking and entering” in the letter were very frustrating as they directly reference criminal activity and the remainder of the note reminded me that I’m only hearing one side of the story from Jacob. With clear suggestion that he had more awareness and/or involvement with opening of the room and writing of the letter I had to find an approach of confirming his story in a non-threatening manner. Regardless of how low of a threshold it may be, I’m glad I avoided raising my voice, accusations, or any form of threat in the process of confirming his story yet again. My reality is that I was hoping to protect myself from being made a fool when questioning the school and their choice of discipline. I called the school to speak with the assistant principal, but she was gone for the day and this will linger at least until Monday.

In the meantime, I had Jacob call three men whom I love and respect so he could share the experience with them and hear their counsel. From that he heard that 1. They too were kids at one point in their lives and this too shall pass, and 2. Versus just saying sorry within an apology it is much more meaningful to spend time writing an apology to connect with his feelings and equally demonstrate the importance of the apology by investing time in communicating via written word. I like what he heard. I also thought back to my high school days and the incident that happened with Jacob in middle school. When I compare this to what I did in high school and even the fact that just a few years ago he got in a physical fight or assault for those whom choose to criminalize behaving like a child, I find it quite ridiculous for a five day suspension to be the consequence for taking some cookies and being an unknowing and un-supportive accessory to the writing of an unacceptable letter.

In fairness to the situation, I’m still operating with only Jacob’s perspective on the events mentioned. After a low-key Saturday so Jacob could study for an AP test this coming Monday, I had him call all the friends whose names he gave to the administration and I called all their parents to forewarn of potential action the school might also take for those who ate a cookie. If possible, I also wanted Jacob to be able to speak with the person that allegedly accused him of writing the letter as well as to the Media Club sponsor since Jacob was a no-show to film the Drama Club perform Shrek. In both cases, the goal was to gain understanding and to seek or extend forgiveness. I should add, aside from the phone calls to peers, Jacob also made calls to find means to earn money via manual labor with the money to be donated to the Drama Club. It’s these type of actions that I believe bring the necessary understanding, respect, and learning in such a situation versus criminalizing children and suspending them from school. I pray for our school administrators and teachers as the ask of them is high and I pray that my dealings with them tomorrow don’t reflect my current disappointment.

To the LGBT friends that I know and have yet to meet, I apologize for my past history in condoning the hate and ignorance within the note that some ill-informed child left associated with this incident. Unlike the “N” word, I’m not familiar with the usage being pervasive and normal in today’s music or society so there’s no excuse there. And in my case, I can honestly say that I used the “F” word frequent and without relent in my childhood and on to my time in the military. I didn’t begin to gain respect until building a friendship with lesbians in the US Air Force at the time and later to have a great friendship with a co-worker in Northern Colorado. It was in Greeley and Fort Collins that my exposure would grow to understand that my position of “at least gay people have the choice to choose to be gay or not” was at best rude and easily a pilfering of one’s soul. This was only stamped further being that I lived in Fort Collins when Matthew Shepard died there in October 1998. I realize my part in his death. Most important was reciprocating friendship to my good friend Jackie and the many other amazing people who accepted me as a human first.

The situation that Jacob is experiencing is a stark reminder of a step show that some friends and I did at our high school when I was in tenth grade. We reenacted the step show scene from the movie School Daze and aside from the reference of that word, we inserted “Drama” to replace “Gamma” since there were no fraternities in our high school. I’m smart enough to know there’s no connection to Jacob’s situation and my actions over 25 years ago, but I believe the same forces of hate and ignorance that struck us to think that step show was okay back then are still prevalent to allow some child to write the note at Granite Bay High School this past week. It’s also reminder of how disappointed I am that in choosing a place to live that is conveniently locate to my job and resources that are preferred for my family, I also am in a place where all too often “difference” is not discussable. Whether it be broad conversation along the lines of those needed by the young man that thought it was okay to aggressively say the “N” word in my son’s face because it was in a rap song, for the student to scribble the “F” word in reference to the Drama Club, or for my generation who still use both of those words and are probably too fearful to admit how they’ve used them, we need to be able to talk about it and be honest about it. And “we” means that there needs to be more people in the authoritative “majority” opening up and being an honest.

Jacob’s going to be okay and will learn from this- I’ll see to it. I fear those that need it most will not get the needed lessons and very likely be leading our companies of the future potentially without the lessons that were here to learn.  Stop criminalizing children and focus on setting examples, teaching lessons, and reinforcing their learning of critical life lessons that will build them to be great leaders of our future.

Grooming Leaders versus Prisoners

Murder, armed robbery, rape, and assault with a deadly weapon were some of the charges being faced by the young men I spent time with yesterday (Saturday, April 26, 2014) while at the Sacramento County Juvenile Detention Facility.  I sat and listened to them, hugged and dapped them, talked trash to them, laughed with them, gave them pointers on exercise, played basketball with them, and just built rapport.  The time was huge in helping me to correlate many events and feelings I’ve faced as a child and as an adult.

As much as I hurt for the victims of the crimes these young men are charged with, I also hurt  and want for these young men.  For the most part, I related to their stories from my own childhood or from time spent in communities I’ve lived as an adult.  I believe love and structure will do so much more for them and society than punishment and incarceration.  This is separate from the justice, compensation, and help clearly needed for the victims of the charges.

Some of the young men reminded me of myself as an adolescent and I told them that the difference between me being where I am versus having to also struggle through the situation they’re in might simply be because I was a faster runner than some of the friends I grew up with and those friends didn’t “rat” me out when they got caught by the police.  Today, I’m frequently viewed as a clean-cut, no non-sense, up and coming leader in a Fortune 20 company.  And that is an accurate description of who I am and how I carry myself at work.  It’s also frequently assumed that I was reared in a middle-class house with both parents who owned a vehicle, benefited from a private school education, and was an A-B student in school.  All of those are incorrect assumptions.

Despite not liking what I heard from some of the young men at juvenile hall, I related to what was shared with me.   Minus most of the violent acts I could personally associate in some way.  Before the age of 14, I had plenty of experience with the wrong side of the law including criminal damage to property, petty theft, underage drinking, drug possession, and one near-reported instance of breaking and entering and attempted rape.  I was lucky in avoiding a police record.

The summer following 7th grade, I was caught shoplifting in a K-Mart.  Luckily the store officer was also a local police officer who recognized me as one of the better athletes from my All-Star baseball team and I was released to my mom.  At the time, I thought being released to the police was far better than being released to my mom… and so did my behind after getting home.  Less than 6 months later I was questioned by police following significant property damage to cars from rocks being thrown at a train transporting the vehicles.  There simply wasn’t enough evidence to establish a case against me or any of the other potential co-defendants, but again, that didn’t save me from my mom but it saved me from a police record.  The summer following 8th grade, I was shipped to Flint, MI to be with my uncle who was serving in the US Army.  Most of my childhood mates weren’t so lucky to have such an outlet.

Looking back at my poor choices as a child, I believe a 2014 version of me could very easily be one of the young men that I visited yesterday.  In contrasting my adolescence with the young men I spent time with yesterday and guys I grew up with, I found (non-scientific assessment) a few things of note.  1. To a person, they had an “initial” recorded contact with police before they ever got to their current crimes to get them in juvenile hall.  2. One of their early contacts,  was for something that my 17 year old son or others in my upper middle class community could have easily dismissed with a “low cost” attorney, 3. They remained in or were returned the same home environment and/or community following their initial contact with police, and 4. Having no mature or positive outlet to communicate and work through emotional and mental stress without drugs.  Other symptoms include growing up in homes with a single or no birth parent, low-incomes, failing grades, contact with foster care system, access to guns, and incarceration of family members.

Regardless of social situations and personal circumstances, we’re a nation of laws  and it’s absolutely appropriate to hold people accountable for their actions.  Thus I’m more focused on actions that can be taken to prevent or reduce the likelihood of children getting to a point where such serious crimes seem to be an acceptable option based on illogical thinking or external influences.  Regardless of the outcome of the current charges being faced, most of these young men will some day be released and it’s to all of our financial benefit (tax dollars) and personal safety (future crime potential) that their return to society is much improved from the life they lived before being incarcerated.  And who knows, maybe, just maybe they did not commit the crime they’ve been charged with.  As far fetched and unbelievable that might be to some, I had a personal experience of advocating for a young man in 2005 where the police clearly got the wrong person and a high school student was wrongly incarcerated for 5 months.

My hope is we (American society) will work more diligently to 1. stop escalating the criminalization of American children for minor crimes which typically become learning lessons for those above working class incomes, 2. redirect children and their families to community service and improvement projects that include counseling versus places of incarceration following “contact” with police, and 3. treat drug usage more as a mental or medical condition versus a criminal act.  Though, I don’t believe these steps alone will stop the criminal activity of all children, I’m confident they will result in more cases of career leaders and fewer prisoners.  Essentially, I think our country greatly benefits by having more 40 somethings like me who were lucky than to be caught in a rotating door of a criminal justice system that hurts tax payers, brings little to no benefit to our economy, and potentially threatens the safety of others.

I also encourage others to seek the experience I had yesterday.  I’m going back and could use the help of many others to do the same across the nation.

Blessings galore from transforming heartwork

Awaking with the opportunity to serve my world is a daily blessing that I aim to maximize even though it’s easy to limit my focus to the daily grind of work, kids, and home and miss on the opportunity to serve my world beyond myself and my home.  Yesterday, Saturday, April 26, 2014 was filled with countless blessings that had me in a seemingly constant state of reflection and sobriety.

My day started with leaving my house before 7am to take my 17 year old son to Loaves and Fishes where he’s regularly volunteered feeding the homeless on Saturdays since the end of 2011.  After returning home and handling a few errands, I was on my way to the Sacramento County Juvenile Detention Facility, where I spent over four hours with young men who are in the maximum security units as well as a couple other units.  I left there and met a friend for an early dinner that led to a phenomenal conversation about race, gender, and privilege in American society and our workforce.

After dinner, I was so thankful, energetic, and encouraged.  At this point, thinking my day would be “lightened,” I sat with my laptop to get caught up on work and wound up watching the movie Fruitvale Station while doing so.  “Lightened” didn’t happen and the movie stirred so many of the same emotions that were already awakened earlier in my day.  In the backdrop of this day was the news surrounding the comments of the Nevada rancher, Cliven Bundy who’s comments were quickly overshadowed by the alleged comments of NBA team owner, Donald Sterling.  The movie accompanied with the recent national headlines combined to remind me of how the naiveté of so many (all races) would find themselves surprised by such events or in denial of how such comments from these individuals and fate such as in the movie are direct descendents of institutional discrimination, abused unearned privilege, and mental slavery.

I’m thankful for my many failures over the years to productively recognize and address the descendants of institutional discrimination, abused unearned privilege, and my own mental slavery that have resulted in me learning from those failures to now be in a position to personally help others who consciously and unconsciously struggle with those same poisons.  Yesterday was a blunt reminder of the pain, consequence, and inequality that endures in the lives of so many as a result and how I’m obliged to serve my world in contributing where possible to conquer these sources of division and hate.

I love the human race.

The Privilege of Not having to Cut Ties

It would take something connected to privilege to pull me out of a long run of not posting anything on my blog.  That could be a discussion in itself.

Not being able to sleep after going to my own bed following bedtime with my sons, I took a look at my Twitter feed to see what was being chatted about.  There I found a conversation my favorite sports columnists, Joe Davidson @SacBee_JoeD was having with a few others.  Ashamed how disconnected I am to sports nowadays but seemingly Desean Jackson previously of the Philadelphia Eagles was recently cut by the team and there’s speculation and/or conflict as to whether that occurred because of his “ties” to gang affiliation.  Below is the bulk of that conversation.
Twitter Conversation

In reading the conversation, the quotes “Needs to cut ties…, associate carefully…, and careful who you associate” stood out the most for me.  They harken me to my personal situation and a reality that I know is common amongst most I grew up with.  Some background.  I was reared with two siblings by a single mom in subsidized housing projects in Columbia, SC which was frequented by crime, drugs, and violence more than police.  Just as the latter two quotes from Joe are good things to consider in life and I use as guides for my children, those quotes were also frequently used during my childhood by adults and teachers as a reminder of how we as young Black children were perceived and the likelihood of being considered guilty by association had very serious consequences.  Getting any form of a “record” with the police usually meant that they had the right to interrogate, stop, visit, etc. you and your family whenever they chose regardless whether there was any known connection you might have to what they wanted.

What stands out for me is using those words in connection with an adult who was just “fired.”  To be clear, I do not know the full circumstance of why Desean Jackson was cut and after doing some reading it appears most are speculating on the “final” reason for him being cut as there are claims of locker room issues, relationship with coach among other things.  Lots of allegations that aren’t really important to me as all professional athletes (except for those in college carrying a fake “amateur” tag) are overpaid anyway.  Yes I said it.  I also believe those upset about athletes getting overpaid should do something like turn off the TV, don’t go to games, don’t buy jerseys, don’t read the Sports section, etc. and the pay of athletes will change really fast.  I digress and I’m not upset about them getting overpaid- I think it’s great.

Back to the point.  Aside from the connotation of the word “ties” which is also bothering, why should I as an adult have to “associate carefully” or be “careful who I associate with” in context of childhood friends whom I remain in contact with and support in their legal pursuits?  Being Black the statistics show that I am VERY likely to be associated with family members and friends who have a “record” with the criminal justice system.  I don’t like it, but it’s the case.  Please note that I did not say these individuals are criminals of which I’m glad to discuss or debate as I believe criminals are equally common amongst all races and unfortunately some behaviors are criminalized within our society and justice system that make it more likely for racial minorities to have a “record.”  I respect the perception of association and understand the potential negative connotation that comes with who you associate with.  I equally hold adults responsible for the assumptions they make based on the filters they use when viewing others.  In summary, the realities of our justice system make it quite privileged to not be Black if you want to maintain life-long close friendships with childhood friends who don’t have any legal issues.  I don’t blame me or Desean Jackson for that.

So what does cutting ties mean for an adult in this situation?  Don’t talk to those “bad” friends anymore?  Don’t visit friends in jail?  Don’t give money to help with personal situations of your “questionable” friends?  Don’t let them be a part of your “entourage” when you’re taken across the country as a professional athlete to live amongst people you don’t know and trust?  I don’t know what Joe means by when he says “needs to cut ties.”  What I do know, is that we supposedly live in a place where innocent until proven guilty is the law of the land.  I also respect the right of an employer (Eagles or anyone else) to make staffing decisions based on whatever they feel is in their best interest and within the legal rights they have.

And whatever those legal rights are, I don’t think it’s appropriate for Joe or anyone else to suggest that one cut ties with people they’ve spent much of their life being closest to.  Cutting ties seems more appropriate for people 1. in a popularity contest (Obama and the minister, Republicans and the Tea Party, etc.)  2. who are seeking to overcome some past public issue (banks and Bernie Madoff or Allen Stafford, campaign donors and Rick Renzi, Tom Delay or Rod Blagojevich) or 3. with groups that counter your political or religious beliefs.  For me, many of the ties cut with my childhood friends that were running around the projects with me were because of distance (me moving away for college, military, and to work) and inability to communicate as they were hard to reach while in the military or struggling in the criminal justice system.  And if those friends struggling with the justice system reached out today, I would love to hear from them, spend time with them, and want to know how I can truly help them (legally).  And that’s not the business of my employer or anyone else.

So, I’d much rather be a positive nudge in the lives of my childhood friends and receive the reality and humility that they can bring to me unlike anyone else.  They know all the embarrassing moments, most of the firsts, the close calls, etc. that I had to learn from to be who I am today.  In my community, I saw them more than I saw my mom who was doing the best she could which left her frequently unavailable (physically and emotionally).  Don’t get it twisted- I have the greatest mom in the world!  And her commitment to her children proved that for me.  In the same, my mom set the agenda for rearing and my community mostly handled the task.  I’m far from perfect and very appreciative of what I’ve been able to accomplish in helping others in our beautiful world and there’s no way that I would “cut ties” with any family member or childhood friend who’s doing what they can and know how without expecting me to contribute toward anything illegal.  To suggest that Desean Jackson or any other athlete seems misguided.

Build friends, love them, and keep them.

STEM Education Starts Before School

Working in the enterprise hardware space I occasionally find myself frustrated with the amount of time that it takes for the adoption of what I view as obvious and unquestionably superior technology to what is being used by customers or within my industry.  I then step back, relegate myself to “the customer is always right” and seek to find that happy balance of pushing them toward a successful strategy that delivers benefits to their business and their careers while planting some form of go-forward strategy that gets them out of the Ice Age before it’s too late.  What’s interesting is I can have a conversation with the same decision makers about their personal usage of cell phones and the innovator/leading edge thinking of them immediately comes out.  I refrain from telling them that the disk arrays you use that are dependent upon you committing the whole capacity of several drives to create a static RAID group are the equivalent of that brick of a cell phone accompanied by the pager on your waist that you wouldn’t dare be seen with beyond 2010.  I digress.  Not too mention the geek speak specific to Enterprise Storage, but hopefully you get the point.

The place where I see similar or more slowness and where I’m most disappointed about the lack of movement is in the education of US children.  With the opportunities and growth in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) sector (high paying, long term careers) continuing to improve beyond the already high number of vacant positions today, I wish everyone in our society (not just a school problem) were tripping over themselves to have students excel and be ready for these opportunities as early as possible in life.  A relatively low effort area is in math.

While returning from a business trip two years ago, I read about this online education system called Khan Academy (http://www.khanacademy.org).  Upon returning home, I began looking around the site and decided for myself that my oldest sons (16 and 14 at the time) could benefit.  Well, at that age, it takes alot more than me deciding for myself to generate regular usage, but on occasion, it was obvious that they benefitted from it.  That same year, my then “just turned 6 year old” was having the occasional challenge with his first grade math.  Good for us, he also liked television and video games and they soon became currency or incentive to do a little extra practice on his math before watching a show or playing a game.  By the end of the school year that supplemental instruction had him very confident in his addition facts and number lines and understanding the rules of carrying.  He transitioned from being an okay math student that wasn’t very confident in his abilities to one of the stronger math students in the class.

After continuing to work on Khan Academy for nearly half of the summer (typically 30-45 minutes per day), he entered second grade with very high confidence in math and was frequently pulled aside along with two peers to do math work that suited their advanced level.  At some point 2012, I was at dinner with customers from Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) and as usual I was bragging about Khan Academy when one of the managers from CME acknowledged the good work of Khan Academy and challenged my familiarity with an app called Math Bingo.  I’d never heard of it, but after hearing her endorsement along with the fact her kindergartner was regularly doing addition work with ease, I simply had to learn more.

I was able to install Math Bingo on our iPod and Kindles and found a lively, learning experience on the basics of math that the now 7 year old saw as a game.  Equally interesting was that my almost 4 year old son who had recently learned to count to twenty was excited about playing the game also.  Despite this interest and excitement it was obvious that some fundamentals were lacking to grasp the concepts of addition; though that didn’t stop him from wanting to hear the game make the loud blowing sound whenever a Bingo was achieved.  This would initiate a process of developing handmade practice sheets that I alternated with Math Bingo addition levels (easy, medium, and hard) and later flash cards to ready him for Khan Academy.  In less than six months the 4 year old confidently completed two digit addition on Khan Academy, hard level of addition on Math Bingo, and had memorized most of the basic math facts between one and twenty.  Over this same period, the 7 year old had mastered all of the addition and subtraction exercises as well as multi-digit multiplication with a strong start in division.

Aside from being proud of my kids and having pride in their intelligence, what I’ve come to believe is that most children have the capacity to accomplish similarly in math at an early age.  I also contend that the availability and acceptance of today’s technology could help all of our chlidren realize their potential in math far sooner than what’s measured or achieved by any of the current standards.  Technology alone will not solve the deficiencies in STEM education; however technology has enabled education to take a step in the same direction and it’s time for our homes, schools, and communities leverage the technology available to do so.

The opportunity for a lifetime of amazing feats and discoveries rests in the abilities of the amazing children of our world.  Ongoing delay in the rapid adoption of technology to its fullest extent only stands to cripple our nation’s ability to lead our world in realizing its full potential and eventual destiny.