Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Story From Segregation

The popular phrase used now to define the community structure needed to sustain and protect our children is "It takes a village."

Well, where I grew up in Frederick, Maryland, we didn't need a catchy phrase to know that as children, there were plenty of adult folks looking out for us. Sometimes we thought there were too many! We couldn't get a way with anything without someone calling home to tell our parents (yes I said parents in the plural) or to give us a good tongue-lashing about questionable behavior.

One of those folks was Warren Dorsey. Mr. Dorsey, who is turning 90 years old this year, had been a principal at Carroll Manor elementary school in the county, and is close friend of my parents. Mr. Dorsey is always writing - he loves the written word. He sent this story to me recently, and I share it with you now. As with all of Mr. Dorsey's writings, there is plenty of food for thought, and this one is no different. The story is based on an event in Mr. Dorsey's life.

DUNK THE NIGGER, by Warren Dorsey

I grew up in a small rural town in the southern part of Carroll County, Maryland. The years spanned the presidency of Harding, Coolidge, Hoover and F.D.R. The community numbered about 1500 people, with about fifty being African American. Segregation was absolute with only incidental interaction between the races. Minorities lived on the edge of survival as a reality of daily life. The only opportunities for employment were as domestics for women and menial day labor for men. Most of life was a struggle to keep body and soul together.

Our world was defined by a boundary that included the shack-like house we lived in, the church we attended and the one-room school established just prior to the First World War. For many members of our community, an entire life could be spent without leaving the boundaries of the home-church-school enclave. I was born in this world I describe 90 years ago.

The people of my rural community established a volunteer fire company as protection against fire loss. Funds to buy equipment, and for operations, were raised mainly by an annual carnival. This annual event was the one time persons from the African American enclave were permitted to attend an area where the majority group assembled. Even then we were only permitted to access a limited few attractions and only then on a strictly segregated basis.

There was one booth that attracted droves of the people of the community. I don’t recall the exact designation above the booth, but it featured a large tank of water with a seat above the center that was connected to a triggering lever that could be activated by thrown baseballs. A person was perched on the seat and if a baseball was thrown against the tripping lever hard enough, the seated person was sent splashing in the tank of water. The person on the perch was an African American. Throngs of the majority community would stand in line awaiting a chance to get a shot of throwing baseballs hoping to trip the activating lever. The actual name of the attraction is completely lost in my memory and is replaced by a chant of those in line – “Dunk the Nigger.” The clamor to succeed in sending the man on the perch into the tank of water was surreal.

Every time the man on the perch was sent splashing in the tank of water he would scramble out of the tank, position the seat and the trip lever, and climb back onto the perch with the satisfaction he had survived the onslaught.

I awoke from a dream recently and I had an eerie feeling I was again on the carnival grounds of my youth. There was a vast crowd assembled under a banner that read “America the Beautiful” and everyone was shouting, “Yes, We Can.” Euphoria abounds. And suddenly the scene changed. Only a line of people leading to the tank of water remained. Perched above the tank on a seat attached to a tripping lever is an African American with a sash across his chest that read, “Yes, We Can.” The people in line all wore a button bearing the word, “No.” The line of people was made up of a vast array of groups and individuals. There were: 1. “Talking Heads” from the print and electronic media. 2. “Suits” from federal, state and municipal governments, 3. “Birthers” of every description, 4. “Town Hall” loud mouths, 5. “Extremists” from all walks of life, 6. “Baggers” and a conglomeration of countless others. This was a diverse group of people, but they all chanted one refrain – “Dunk the Nigger.” They all eagerly awaited a chance to toss baseballs with the hope to see the man on the perch splash into the tank of water.

Only a few of those in line were successful in hitting the trip lever, however they seemed to get a measure of satisfaction out of taking their shot.

After each splash down, the man on the perch would scramble from the tank of water, reorient the seat, reset the trip lever and climb back to his perch. The episode was repeated until the last one in line took his shot. At the end, the victim of this repeated ordeal returned to his perch, but this time there was a group of multi-ethnic singers gathered around him. They draped his shoulders with a “Coat of Many Colors.” A sight challenged man was seated at a piano singing and leading the group of singers in a rousing rendition of “America.” Above the din of the singing, I heard a cultured voice intone the phrase, “The Dream Lives On”.

The dream sequence seemed so surreal. I found myself reaching to the heavens, as my mother often did when she was steering me and my siblings through the maze of a segregated life. I kept repeating, “Father, help your children, lest they fall by the side of the road.”

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Conservative Political Action Conference

The Conservative Political Action Conference(CPAC) starts today in Washington DC. The events of the past year should make this one of the most "energetic" conferences in years.

President Obama, the economy, healthcare, and the Tea Party Movement and its impact will probably dominate the dialogue. Alas, I can't attend to experience the conference firsthand.

It would be great to hear from those who are attending. Simply comment on this post, and share your thoughts on the conference. You can also allow me to follow you on Twitter.

I'm particularly interested in hearing about the minority representation at the conference and the overall themes presented by the featured speakers.

Is it all just "red meat for the believers", or is there a more balanced and realistic, "what can we do to help solve the critical issues facing us", flavor to the dialogue.

This should be an interesting few days.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My9 New Jersey Now: February 14, 2009

Political Analysts George Dredden and Bill Pascrell, III debate Governor Christopher Christie’s emergency joint session address on the current budget crisis, executive orders to freeze spending to schools and transportation, and pension reform.

Click on link below to view.

My9 New Jersey Now: February 14, 2009

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The New Jersey Assembly Finally Gets It

Thank you Assemblyman Jon Bramnick!

This week the New Jersey Assembly held bi-partisan hearings to hear from the public about the problems facing us. Over 125 people showed up to testify. Finally, the state’s “peoples house”, truly engaged the people in the governing process by actually asking their opinion about how to address the states ills.

Incredible.

Why I thank Assemblyman Bramnick is because he has been clamoring for a long time to get the public engaged with the legislators to help fix what ails us.

Back in the summer and fall he held public hearings to solicit the public’s ideas on how to combat the corruption in the state. Yours truly actually testified at one of them.

Cudo’s also must go to new Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce.

Both of whom have been longtime advocates for public participation in the legislative process, and surely must be pleased to see this bipartisan activity actually take place.

What is amazing, however, is that there are some politicians who are grousing about the hearings and didn’t want them to happen in the first place!

Let’s get this straight-the people elect the politicians; the politicians propose and adopt the laws; and the people must abide by and follow those laws. Apparently, some politicians would rather come up with all the solutions to the states’problems themselves (with the “help” of special interest groups) rather than solicit the opinions of the folks who put them in office in the first place!

Now obviously, I said all the above with “tongue in cheek” to make a point.

What is the harm in allowing the public a voice in the process? As a former government administrator, I can tell you the only problem is that it takes time and you have to listen to some not quite so good ideas to get to some really good ones.

What is wrong with that? I have found that when you allow folks to express themselves and feel part of the solution to the problem, they actually are more understanding of the difficulties in providing or implementing the remedies.

I hope this era of bi-partisanship really does become something that is the norm rather than the exception in state government. People are tired of the partisan bickering and juvenile behavior of some of our elected officials. They want real solutions to very real problems and they really don’t give a damn who is in power so long as the problems are resolved.

Thankfully, this new era of leadership in Trenton seems to “get” it. Hopefully, this is not just window dressing. Our quality of life and fiscal health depend on it.