Monthly Archives: April 2014

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.