A few words on Trayvon Martin

April 17, 2012 § 4 Comments

  • Dannaer Fields, Bobby Clark, and William Allen KILLED April 6, 2012, Tusla, OK | more
  • Trayvon Martin, KILLED February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Fl | more
  • James Anderson KILLED June 26, 2011 in Jackson, Miss | more
  • Danroy (DJ) Henry Jr., KILLED October 17, 2010 in Thornwood, NY | more
  • James Brisette and Charles Madison along with those wounded in the Danziger Bridge Victims, 2 KILLED 4 WOUNDED September 4, 2005 in New Orleans, LA | more
  • Amadou Diallo, KILLED February 4, 1999 in New York, NY | more
  • James Byrd, Jr. BRUTALLY MURDERED June 7, 1998 in Jasper TX | more
  • Fred Hampton, KILLED December 4, 1969 in Chicago, IL | more
  • Emmett Till, ACCUSED AND KILLED August 24th-August 28th, 1955 in Money, Miss | more
  • The Scottsboro Boys, ACCUSED AND TORMENTED SINCE March 25, 1936 in Scottsboro, AL | more

Justice is a blind goddess

To this we blacks are wise:

Her bandage hides two festering sores

That once perhaps were eyes.

Langston Hughes penned this and other poems in the wake of the Scottsboro case; the legal lynching that supported the indisputably false claims of two white women who alleged that they were gang raped by nine black teens onboard a Southern railroad freight train headed from Chattanooga to Memphis in 1931.  Despite flawed eye-witness testimony, contrary medical evidence, and the sworn testimony of Ruby Bates, one of the accusers, that she had never been raped let alone touched or even spoken to by any of the defendants, the trials proceeded with guilty verdict after guilty verdict being handed down by all white judges and juries.  Altogether the Scottsboro Boys as these young men came to be called spent years of their lives in Alabama prisons experiencing first hand the horrors of the American prison system and Jim Crow justice.  Being innocent was as inconsequential then, as being young, black and alive is today.

In 1931 it took twelve days for the Scottsboro Boys to be accused, arrested and on trial for their lives, and they were innocent.  Yet it took forty-six days for George Zimmerman to be arrested and charged with killing unarmed Trayvon Martin.

So as supporters and mourners, pundits and politicians discuss the charges of second degree murder against George Zimmerman, I am reminded about those who came before him, the murderers who beat, bludgeoned and drowned Emmett Till; the accusers who sent innocent boys to jail and defamed their character to protect a lie; the badges and bullets that recklessly smoked out the lives of DJ Henry, the Danziger Bridge victims, Amadou Diallo,  and Fred Hampton; and the miscreants who hunt and kill black people for sport.

I am reminded that our life upon this earth is but a breath and that for many in black America this is a bare life.  It is a life lived in juvenile detention halls, prison industrial complexes, urban and rural ghettos, underfunded schools, public housing projects and low paying jobs.  Spaces set outside of the political/moral life of the larger society .  And this bare life subjects us to modes of violence that are steeped in the middle passage, the plantation economy and the Fugitive Slave Act.  You see every generation that comes of age in America has to unlearn these legacies, least they be doomed to repeat them over, and over again.

As the mother of a son, a black boy, I am reminded that he will one day be 17, 18, and 19 years old.  That he will one day walk down a street, perhaps alone, and so to me the President’s comments don’t seem so strange.  What is strange to me is that many would rather focus on the bounty placed on George Zimmerman by the New Black Panther Party, or question black-on-black crime statistics rather than the fact that Trayvon Martin was not the first nor the last victim on this list.

I am sorely reminded of the irony, that statistically many young black people have  the same if not fewer life chances in an emancipated, post-civil rights, supposedly post-racial America than their ancestors did in the aftermath of the Civil War (more).  Finally, I am reminded in my closing thoughts, that this list is incomplete.  That there are hundreds of other names, victims of violence, men women and children who suffered not because of what they said, or did, or wore but because the color of their skin so incited others to violence.




Hughes, L. (1956). I Wonder As I Wander:  An Autobiographical Journey. New York, NY, Hill and Wang.

Alexander, M. (2010). The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In the Age of Colorblindness. Jackson, Tenn, The New Press.


James Brissette Jr., 17 – killed

Ronald Madison, 40 – killed

Susan Bartholomew – wounded

Leonard Bartholomew III – wounded

Lesha Bartholomew, 17 – wounded

Jose Holmes, 19 – wounded

“Negroes who have lived South know the dread of being caught alone upon the streets in white neighborhoods after the sun has set. In such a simple situation as this the plight of the Negro in America is graphically symbolized. While white strangers may be in these neighborhoods trying to get home, they can pass unmolested. But the color of a Negro’s skin makes him easily recognizable, makes him suspect, converts him into a defenseless target.” The Ethics of Living Jim Crow, Richard Wright-1937


A Certain Death

July 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

unfair justice 2

Moments after the verdict in the George Zimmerman case was released, moments after watching his attorneys and legal team smile, pat him on the shoulder, and congratulate themselves, moments after not hearing one word about the deceased Trayvon Martin from the Judge’s closing remarks, a sea of words flowed through my body.  Course, angry words played on my tongue. Sad, defiant words rose and fell in the back of my throat.  Bitter, resentful words settled in my heart, and after a few hours of restless sleep, three final words tugged at me until I finally wrote them down.  A certain death.

We all know those who have come and gone, people whose lives were lived to the fullest or those whose breaths have been fatally cut short, and while death becomes an unwanted friend to us all, certain deaths leave us hanging on the edge of tomorrow wondering what or who will be next, Trayvon Martin’s death was this kind, if not for the simple reason that there was nothing certain about it.  The word certain comes from the Latin words certanus, certus, and from past participle of cernereto which means to sift, to discern, to decide.  It is akin to the Greek word krinein to separate, decide, judge, and Old Irish criathar, to sieve.  On that Sunday in February, there were perhaps many things in Trayvon Martin’s life that were certain, his relationships with his family and friends, what he planned to do during the next week, what he wanted to eat for dinner and even where he wanted his life to go after high school.  One thing that was not certain was encountering George Zimmerman on a simple walk home from the 7-Eleven.  Unfortunately for Trayvon, all the uncertainty of his encounter with George Zimmerman was overshadowed by the certain ways in which his seven-teen year old black – male body was criminalized without cause by Zimmerman, whose emergency call voiced, “These assholes always get away.”  The uncertainty Trayvon would face in those moments was also overshadowed by the certain way in which George Zimmerman followed him – wielding his pistol, even after he was advised not to.  Perhaps the only thing that was certain for Trayvon in those last few moments of his life were that if George Zimmerman had a gun and the gall to use it, he was in trouble and so he screamed for help, but no one came.

I reflect upon these moments within the contexts of certainty and uncertainty to say that if we properly sift through the particulars of this case we will see that George Zimmerman was predisposed to make the fatal shot because in his mind and heart he was certain that Trayvon was a threat regardless of proof.  So if Zimmerman is to shoot and kill Trayvon, to murder him with impunity – what does that mean for the rest of us?  It means that certain deaths are acceptable by the state, and certain excuses for murder are within the laws of reason.  It means that Trayvon, like so many other black youths throughout this nation’s tragically racist history was always living a bare life in which his humanity was debased to the point of political and legal indifference.   There was no justice for Trayvon on Saturday, but like many of you have said this verdict ushered in a second death, and this death certainly affects us all. It declares to these United States, which lives are expendable in a court of law, or as one of my friend’s stated, “This is what it means to be the child of slaves.”

The most contemptible part of this saga is that neither Trayvon’s death nor George Zimmerman’s actions are exemplary.  This is not the first time a person of color was unjustly murdered and their perpetrator set free.  And while the internet trolls will want to bring up stats on black-on-black crime, and the various media outlets will want to temper our reaction with “legalese” citing case stats, reasonable doubt and other comments that make it seem as if the system did in fact “work,” those of us who are left to send our sons and daughters off to school or just down the street, will have to seriously weigh the risks.  We will have to pray fervently that we and our children will not be profiled and or attacked.  We will have to teach our kids how to survive in their own backyards, and most of all we will have to teach them the names of every victim including Trayvon Martin.

Certain deaths remind us that life is fleeting, and we must live it to the fullest, while others – whose origins are more uncertain remind us that this world we have created is not fair and for those of us whose work takes us to the front lines of race in America we see that systemically the roots of racism can not be undone overnight or in one sector of society alone.  We must address it in housing, education, voting, justice, incarceration, entertainment, employment, and even in our houses of worship.  Certain deaths remind blacks in particular that we have been enslaved in this country longer than we have been free, and each new freedom continues to bring uncertain consequences.


Check out the NAACP Petition to urge the Department of Justice to open a Civil Rights Case against George Zimmerman here: http://www.naacp.org/page/s/doj-civil-rights-petition

Victims Virtual Mural.001

Things I Learned From My Mother

May 8, 2011 § 2 Comments

Do not be alarmed.  The Prude Papers has not been on vacation.  Instead, we like most of you have been preparing for Mother’s Day, and what a special day it is.  To help commemorate this day, I have solicited two very fine writers to pen a post that builds upon the phrase, “Things I learned from my Mother.”   It is likely that all of us have at one time or another learned something from the mothers in our lives.  Perhaps that knowledge was passed on knowingly or unknowingly, at our bequest or by happenstance.  In some cases these tidbits, sayings, credence, and even mistakes have become some of the greatest lessons of our lives.  It is my hope that you will join me in celebrating the Mothers featured in this post, as they like so many mothers may never get written in history, nor paraded across the T.V., but they have been given one of the most important tasks in life, raising you and I.  One thing I learned from my mother is how to celebrate other mothers.  I am glad to pass it on here.


Charles R. Merab – Age 35

I learned all the important things about life from my mother. Below is a list of a few things I learned from her over the years. If you are reading this mom, I just want to say thank you for making me the man I am today and I love you from the bottom of my heart.

Trust In God For Everything

Through the hardships of the war in Liberia, my mother clung to God and her faith. She was strong and full of hope in those difficult times. My mom taught and still reminds me to put God first at all times.


Mom constantly reminded me to have pride in myself, my family, and heritage. Never be ashamed of where I’m from no matter the situation.

Man Of My Word

I can still hear her now, “If you say something, do it.”  She taught me to always try to keep my promises because a man is only as good as his word. If I can’t do something, then say so.


Mom taught me to be patient and, in her words, “wait for my time in life.”  Live within my means and don’t try to keep up with the others. Don’t rush life.

Care For Others

Mom taught me to go out of my way to make others feel comfortable and special.  To be kind and gracious and help others as often as possible.


 JMakandale, 29                 

My grandmother is not someone you would pass by on the street and, overcome by the trailing scent of baked cookies and homespun comforts, turn to for solace.  My grandmother grew up hard, tasted a small measure of working-class comfort when my grandfather’s post-war factory wages allowed her to raise four children to adulthood, and suffered the archetypical fate of Great Migrant immigrants in the post-industrial decline.  True to story, she also carried the weight of raising her addict-eldest’s children with her, long past the age where her fingers could move from arthritic claw to hold me or my brother’s small hand with any ease.

In a world where sharing is caring and the private is headline news, my grandmother believed that you should never tell anyone more than half of what you know.  She kept roots and leaves hung around the house and only told me within the last couple of years, now that I am nearly thirty, that our last name is likely nothing more than an army transcriber’s mistaken read of my illiterate grandfather’s halting self-identification.  As my grandfather lay dying, she tap danced for him – and neither me, my cousins, my aunts nor uncles have any clue where she learned to tap dance.

My grandmother did not teach me to expect ease, comfort, or compassion.  The most abiding lesson I learned from my grandmother is the transcendent power of something larger than yourself, your family, the institutions and people who give shape and definition to life.  My grandmother, naturally blessed with perfect pitch, was an extraordinary musician.  She could sing, play piano, beat out a percussion section with any kind of kitchen implement, and make you understand the unfathomable nature of an omnipresent god as she roamed the grimy streets of our ‘hood,’ overpriced and under fresh produce in hand, singing “By the Rivers of Babylon.”  In a different time, a different place, in a different body or race, my grandmother would have been destined for sell-out crowds and klieg lights.

Neither quiet-natured nor church-bound, she filled the house with ragtime, blues, funk, and her insistence that all of her offspring learn to play at least one instrument and to sing – as much as to embody her orchestral imaginings as for any sense that it might enrich our lives.  Whether by accident or design, however, it did, and the few of us who have made a life for ourselves outside of the ghetto are those who have been most shaped by my grandmother’s passion for music.  My aunt makes her living as a musician, my uncle fills the long hours of his bus-driving job with remembered horn riffs, and I, as I criss-cross the world, still sing “By the Rivers of Babylon.”  My grandmother did not teach me to worry much for Zion, but I did learn from my grandmother to find the road to Zion, marked by poly rhythms and a careful balance between vocal and instrumental harmony and melody.

Poem No. 1

May 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Seasons Greetings to all who dare

The Month of May is finally here

We’ll walk, we’ll skip, we’ll jump, we’ll run

All in all we’ll have some fun.


But wait there’s just one minor problem

Will the rains come down like they did in autumn?

Will they trickle down our little cheeks? 

Or will they beat down on our backs so heavy?


Fear not my friends for you will see

The sun will rise with a happy glee.

This was perhaps the very first poem I wrote, save a limerick or two in fifth grade.   I wrote this poem in the sixth grade, back when sixth grade classrooms were similar to fourth grade ones in that you did not switch rooms between subjects and one teacher covered all your science, math and social studies basics.  Yes, this was before middle schools began popping up like wild mushrooms ushering us all into pre-teen angst and adolescence a little sooner than expected.

It was free-time, and my teacher Mrs. N. had given us a poetry assignment.  I decided to begin mine early, during free time.  As I wrote I do not remember thinking too hard about the lines, perhaps it was because the words came from a place of longing.  You see I lived in a city just south of Lake Ontario and east of Buffalo, NY where:  Winter had a way of lingering far too long, Spring always came and went much too quickly, and summer was a long sticky walk through hot air which often resulted in bad hair.  And so it was not surprising that  I longed for spring, and everything that came with it.  Easter, spring recess, and the dandelion seed heads that seemed to pop up everywhere around our yard.

Proud of my little work of art, I asked my mom to take this poem to work and type it out.  With these few whimsical scribblings that began on lined notebook paper, I began to see myself not only as a poet, but as a writer in all its heartbreak .  So now, as the month of May commences and thoughts of spring bask in the air, I think of this poem and of myself as a naive sixth grader, a burgeoning writer and a willful optimist.  I share it in the hope that despite the headache and heartache, unexpected loss and destruction, good news and bad which we heard, saw or experienced of late, each of us will usher in a little sunshine at this time.  Mine comes through poetry, what’s yours?


Dandelion Image From: http://www.movingonbydesign.co.uk/gallery/gallery%20five.htm

Poetry Image From: http://www.ops.org/middle/kingscience/STAFF/SPECIALISTS/LIBRARYMEDIASPECIALIST/tabid/356/Default.aspx

Farm Fresh Hash

April 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

A food blogger and  photographer I am not, but as I do fancy myself an inspired Home Chef I thought I would post this recipe because it actually serves dual purposes.  It provides a quick and delectable update on my vow to join a CSA this spring (Which I Did), and it gives you something to try and leave comments about – which I hope you will (wink wink nudge nudge).

I searched Local Harvest and found a CSA in my area that came highly recommended based on earlier user reviews.  I contacted the farm owner and asked if I could pay for a one-week trial.  To my surprise he offered to GIVE me a share at no cost for the following week.  At first I hesitated because I wasn’t looking to get a handout, just a sample of what they had to offer.  To this, he  shared his personal testimony about how he changed his diet via the fresh organic produce grown at their farm, and how this shift along with accepting help from members of his community during a trying time in his life taught him that sometimes you don’t have to say anything but “Thank You.”  For me, this was not only a lesson in the benefits of community supported agriculture, but in the humble art of gratitude as well.

So here we are  six weeks later and so far so good.  I admit I was a little apprehensive having never done this before, and there were one or two items that did not arrive in mint condition; but overall the CSA has helped to regulate how much we spend on groceries each week, and I always have something fresh to cook with.

This past week we received a box filled with Rainbow Chard, Sweet Potatoes, Yukon Gold Potatoes, Onions  Cherry Tomatoes and Grapefruit to name a few.  Without thinking about it too hard I did a quick search using the words “Vegetarian Hash” and found a recipe that complimented this weeks share perfectly.  The best thing about this recipe is that you can make it in any way that suits you  by adding or omitting ingredients, and trying different types of greens.  I added Turkey Bacon and eggs (some CSA’s also offer meat and egg shares in addition to produce) so mine is not Vegetarian, but it is fresh from the Farm.

Farm Fresh Hash Recipe adapted from Cooking Light

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small sliced onion
  • 3 slices of chopped turkey bacon
  • 12 ounces yukon gold, red or sweet potatoes cut into small 1/2″ cubes (about 3-4 cups)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons smoked paprika, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, divided
  • 4 cups thinly sliced trimmed Swiss chard (about 1 large bunch)
  • 3-4 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) shredded cheese (Gruyère, Cheddar, Parmesan Your Pick)
  • 1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan. Add onion; cook 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add potatoes and garlic; cook 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in 1 teaspoon paprika, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add chard; cook 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Using a spoon, push potato mixture aside to make 4 egg-size spaces. Crack 1 egg into each space; sprinkle remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon paprika over eggs. Cover and cook 3 minutes; sprinkle cheese over potato mixture. Cover and cook 2 minutes or until egg yolks are lightly set.  Serve with fresh fruit for breakfast, lunch or a light evening meal.
  • Since the folks in my house like their eggs well done, I poached them for seven minutes in a separate pan       and then added them to the hash mixture to finish cooking.

You “Went Natural,” But What About Your Hair?

April 22, 2011 § 1 Comment


Hello folks.  So begins our new series entitled Naturally You which takes a look at the phenomena of “going natural” what that means in general, to you personally and to me as a prude person.

Usually the idea of “going natural” is associated with the conscious decision to stop using chemical products to treat the hair including relaxers, texturizers, soft perms and the like.  Unfortunately I have found that for many women the idea of “going natural” stops here.  When it comes to styling, cleaning and conditioning, there are many well-known brands making less than truthful…ok, phony claims to naturality, while still caring for your natural tresses using the same harmful ingredients used to care for your unnaturally processed hair.

Another predicament to “going natural” is that many women have to relearn their hair’s wants and needs after so many years of applying heavily concocted creams, gels and other notions to their hair in order to achieve a particular look.  This in turn leads some to simply trade one chemical for another damaging treatment.  A relaxer for a texturizers.  I’ll see your perm and raise you a press and curl.  I should know because more than a decade ago when I first decided to “go natural” I spent a year and a half telling people that I was chemical free, only to apply a texturizer once every six months.

Thus, the idea of “going natural” has to extend beyond the absence of known chemicals to encompass the entire process through which we relearn our hair’s chemistry, make conscious purchases to maintain our hair’s integrity, and understand that the idea of “going natural” must evolve into a whole way of life rather than claims to a particular hair style?  In other words we are not simply heads bobbing around without arms, shoulders, legs and the like, so we have to consider how the use of chemicals in one part of our body is equally harmful in others.  That said, would you apply the same pomade or styling agent you use in your hair, to your underarms?  How about your back and neck?  If not, then it goes without saying that your beauty closet may need some cleaning out.

When I began rocking my truly natural hair, sans texturizer there were very few products on the market for natural hair.  On top of that I couldn’t find a salon in the city that would trim my ends without first wanting me to press my hair straight.  Shampoos and conditioners presented their own set of challenges as I walked up and down the isles of my local beauty supply store (You know the one that gives you your items in black plastic bags and is named just that “Beauty Supply”) looking for that magic potion that would give me spring without frizz, sheen without soaking and bounce without a pressed bob.  I was desperate.  On one exasperated occasion I grabbed a packet of frizz-ease off the shelf, took it home and greedily prepared my hair imagining that I too would go from frizz to ease without a chemical process.  Now as someone with thick, coarse hair that immediately doubles back at the first sign of humidity, it doesn’t take a lot to imagine that this was a mistake.  You see, I hadn’t yet learned to listen, to stop telling my hair how I wanted it to look and instead allow it to show me how it wanted to be.  I think that for women and black identified women in particular the notion of taming ones hair has been hard-wired into us since pre-school.  We must press it, dye it, fry it, gel it, cream it, stick it into place.  We are the conquerors and our coifs the fateful mountains.  It took some time, but eventually I got over trying to have this look or that look and just allowed my hair to fall into its rightful place on my head.  It wasn’t long before I discovered that my hair liked minimal fuss and effort.  In fact it was perfectly happy to grow (once I left it alone long enough to do so) and to lock and so that’s what we did.

Dixie Peach, by the late and truly inspired Varnette Honeywood accurately and vividly depicts the black hair ritual called "Pressing"

Now that is my Hair Story, yours will be different.  The main point of it is that our hair can tell us a lot about ourselves and by “going natural” we can extend these Hair Stories into our other daily regimens.  What is your skin telling you?  Well about five years ago mine was telling me that it was over burdened.  I washed it twice a day followed by a witch hazel toner, squirt of moisturizer and over priced face scrub twice a week.  This regimen, which I swore by for many years was only serving to dry out and tire my skin.  For me, less is more in every way, so I try to give my hair, my skin, and the rest of me, the best that nature has to offer.  In the process I discovered that a bit of quality ingredients actually go a long way.  This means looking for soap and washing detergents that are sulfate free; selecting non-toxic  cleaning products, and eating foods that are whole unprocessed, pesticide and preservative free.

Since we are all at varying stages in our hair journeys I do not mean to preach to the converted, nor to overwhelm the masses.  This is an introductory post that asks us to consider all our ways, hair included when we talk about “going natural.”  Upcoming posts in this series include an interview with one entrepreneur who is doing just that.

For Additional Voices on these Subjects check out:




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