The Other DMX Lesson

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

Let me first extend my deepest sympathies to the family, friends, and fans of DMX (né Earl Simmons). Full disclosure: I am a Traditional Jazz, Bebop, CuBop, Afro-Latin Jazz, Tin Pan Alley, Soul/R&B, Johnny Mathis music fan. Aside from a couple of Rap tunes, I am not much of a Rap/Hip Hop fan. My former students keep me up-to-date on the genre. So, this blog is not going to be filled with memories about when I first heard this very talented man who died too soon. I do hope, however, that DMX’s passing does more than have us publicly bemoan the perils of substance abuse, but rather, we Black folks start thinking seriously about mental health. I have no way of knowing if DMX had any form of mental disease, but a lot of drug users do…

Way back in the day, a friend as close as a brother, had a pattern of woofing down about FOUR 16-ounce Schlitz Malt Liquor Beers, coupled with about a fifth of Vodka, in one sitting over a couple of hours. Yet, I never saw him drunk. He would sleep 8 hours, then get up fresh as a daisy and go to work the next day. This was his daily ritual. He never had a hangover, if you can believe that. I couldn’t understand how he did it. Later, he was diagnosed with “Mania,” often an early symptom of Bipolar Disorder. The excessive booze was his way of self-medicating, of literally slowing down his brain that was constantly racing on all cylinders. The excessive alcohol made it possible for him to function, even if it was an unhealthy way to get some relief.

Now, drug abuse can cause mania, but drug use can also be a response to the mania itself. When I learned that DMX—a long term, off-and-on-again substance abuser—had a massive heart attack that put him in a coma with little brain function, I wondered if the source of his inability to permanently kick his drug habit was rooted in an undiagnosed mental illness. I don’t know. We may never know, but it is certainly a possibility.

We, in the Black community, have a serious mental health crisis precisely because, en masse, we don’t take mental illness seriously enough. Mental illness is not prayed away; it has to be treated. We casually and often humorously say that people have “lost their minds,” but sometimes they have actually done just that—lost their minds. A failure to seek treatment or to encourage someone to seek treatment means the disease gets worse. Sometimes, as in the case with my old friend, using both legal and illegal substances are signs of a larger problem that, if identified, can be successfully treated.

As of this writing, it has not yet been confirmed whether DMX’s heart attack, subsequent coma and death were the results of an overdose on opioids or some other drug. Even though the majority of opioid addicts are white, we have too often dismissed opioid addiction as strictly a “white” phenomenon, forgetting that there were/are glaring racial disparities in opioid addiction diagnosis and in addiction treatment. We can’t even afford to recall, with nostalgia, those days back in the mid-20th century, when there were virtually no statistics on “Black Suicide” because back then, for the most part, Black folks rarely, if ever, committed suicide. That day is dead and gone too.

Today, the second leading cause of death for Black youngsters from the ages of 10 to 14 is suicide. Let me repeat that: Today, the second leading cause of death for Black youngsters from the ages of 10 to 14 is suicide. And now it is estimated that Black children are more likely to commit suicide than white kids. When you have time, just read the data: Addressing the Crisis of Black Youth Suicide.

No matter what mental or physical problems led to DMX’s erratic drug habits and premature death, it was fairly obvious that he was an immensely talented man. We will read one tribute after another in his honor. Inevitably, people will mention how he “battled his demons.” They will easily recall when they heard DMX say something profound, something that changed their lives. What too many of them will not say is when they noticed a change in his behavior or habits or health or moods, and then tried to do something about it. And that’s not just a problem, it’s a shame.

Let’s do something more palpable than wring our hands and hang our heads in prayer. Say something to friends and family members when you witness erratic behavior and/or substance abuse. Pay attention to your own mental and physical health. Pay attention to your children’s mental and physical health. Call a psychiatrist, a physician whenever you believe it necessary. Ignore people who tell you that you are over-reacting. Help stop the trend of us losing too many of our people much too soon. Àṣẹ.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

#ImWithKap: A Lesson My Father Taught Me

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved

I did not watch Super Bowl LIII in my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia largely in protest of the NFL’s mishandling and mistreatment of Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers who decided to kneel during the National Anthem in protest of continuing police brutality and murders of Black people and other peoples of color. Soon his friend NFL player Eric Reid joined him. Reid is back at work playing football, but Kaepernick is still without a job in the prime of his life.

Now, I don’t expect Kaepernick to be strapped for cash or without friends, even though he has been vilified by many people. The seven Atlanta artists that painted murals of him all over my beloved city of Atlanta in what artist Fabian Williams (aka @occasionalsuperstar) named #KaeperBowl, are certainly a testament that a lot of us think what Kaepernick did was right. (And the artwork of him is stunning, just visit: #KaeperBowlMurals.) Yet, I know that in many ways Kap is alone.  No one else has lost a job for doing something like kneeling during the National Anthem. In the midst of all that #ImWithKap hashtagging, I never forget that he’s really by himself in a lot of ways. So I will explain why I boycotted the Super Bowl and will continue to boycott the NFL.

I could say many things about the abuses heaped on my people, Black people, the historic abuses of slavery and rapes and beatings, as well as the abuses that seem to never end, such as police brutality. These certainly factor in my protest, but they really are not the reason why #ImWithKap.

Back in 1973 when I started Saint Joseph High School on Courtland Street, the boys’ varsity basketball team, The Hawks, lost a lot of games. It wasn’t until my second year that we saw improvement. My Dad always took me to these games and in many instances, Daddy was a lot of my classmates’ ride to and from the game. My father spent more time with me than the average soccer Moms of today spend with their children. He was always present and accounted for.

Well, I remember one night St. Joe’s boys’ varsity basketball team was just a few minutes away from actually winning a game.  We were going crazy in the bleachers. I don’t even remember the name of the school or the team we were playing, but I do recall that there wasn’t enough time on the clock in the fourth quarter for the opposing team to ever catch up and possibly force the game into overtime or win outright. Victory was ours; and then it happened. Daddy started cheering for the other team. “Come on now, you can do this!” “Let’s go! Let’s go!” I looked at him like he had lost his mind; and I prayed that none of my friends saw him give these pep talks and cheers to a team that was playing against us.

When we won, we all ran around screaming and jumping and shouting.  I headed back to the bleachers to ask Daddy what in the world was he thinking cheering for the other team. He stopped me from finishing the question and looked me dead in the eye and said this.  “Joy, look over there at how that team’s fans have left. No one is cheering for them. No one is in their corner. Never, ever forget that when someone or a group of people have done their best, have given their all, but it’s obvious they are not going to win and not going to prevail, that they still deserve to have someone standing with them always in their corner.” I’ve never forgotten that lesson. Daddy cheered for the underdog his entire life.

Colin Kaepernick had Eric Reid to join him in taking a knee against police brutality. My Daddy would have loved Eric Reid for that. As I trekked around Atlanta to take a look at all the murals painted of Colin Kaepernick by some of our most brilliant Atlanta artists, I knew that if Daddy was alive he would not have simply gone with me, he would have gone out ahead of schedule to watch these artists paint these murals. I know my Daddy. He was always ready for an adventure, and particularly one steeped in protest for the protection, respect and benefit of our people. So…

I’m not solely “with Kap” because, as a historian I can dredge up 400 plus years of offenses against Black people; nor am I specifically “with Kap” because there have been so many instances of police abuse against Black people in these last several years. I’m “with Kap” because my Daddy loved us as a people. #ILoveUs✊🏿✊🏾✊🏽✊🏼. #ImWithKap simply out of respect for my father. Àṣẹ.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Aretha: A Mini-Multi-Ethnic History Lesson

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved

Aretha is/was international and global and pro-Black and pro-people of color long before those phrases became buzz words. But you already know Aretha. She’s part of the soundtrack of my/your life. If you were paying attention, you know about her activism, her once offering to pay Angela Davis’ bail; and the hurt in her voice at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral.  My Dad was there. When he got home he said, “This is the only time I’ve ever heard Aretha sound so destroyed.”  But let’s consider the setting at Atlantic Records that nurtured her after her dad, the Reverend C. L. Franklin decided that Aretha’s voice was as secular as it was sacred; that her piano-playing was as inventive as anyone out there. I always, always wanted Aretha to make an instrumental album of nothing but her on piano, but I digress…

Ahmet Ertegün, our brother from Turkey, along with Jerry Wexler, founded Atlantic Records with the mission to produce some of the best Rhythm and Blues and Soul music ever. They succeeded. Not long after they made Ray Charles a household name, they signed Aretha Franklin, who reigned as Queen on a record label that had no shortage of music luminaries: Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, The Drifters, The Spinners, The Pointer Sisters, The Modern Jazz Quartet, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, Donny Hathaway, Roberta Flack, The Bee Gees, and the list goes on.  The early days for Aretha consisted of recording sessions with musicians, the majority of whom were young white men from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a tiny town that still does not have 15,000 residents. The Black brothers in the band grew up with Rhythm and Blues, but these white musicians took a turn toward the Blues and Soul Music and never, ever looked back. These cats backing Aretha produced some of the most poignant, memorable, timeless, and soulful music in the twentieth century.

Beginning in the early 1960s, Arif Mardin served as Aretha’s principle producer for over two decades at Atlantic Records. Mardin, another musical genius from Istanbul, Turkey impressed the hell out of Dizzy Gillespie and Quincy Jones, so much so that after meeting these two Black American musical giants in 1956 after a State Department-sponsored concert, he became the first recipient of the Quincy Jones Scholarship at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. After Mardin graduated in 1961, he went to work for Atlantic Records. Aretha acknowledged him as the positive turning point in her career.  Together they churned out the hits all of us already know.  He produced that incredible gospel album “Amazing Grace” that everybody still talks about, and still plays.

So what is my point?  Well, the whole concept of globalization has always existed in music and the arts; and it, for damned sure existed with Aretha; and for people of color.  That multi-ethnic colored world that some white folks fear, the one that seems to be suddenly upon us has always been here.  You’ve been grooving to it, remember?  But know this: I don’t just know my people when I see them; I know them when and where I hear them. Marinate on that for a while. Rest in Paradise Queen of Soul, Aretha Louise Franklin.

Copyright © Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Remembering Belinda (Lynn)

By Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2017.

(In memory of Belinda E. Fanning, August 1952 to August 2017)

A good friend

was laid to rest,

one who could

make you laugh

until your sides

split open,

one who could

play-the-dozens

until it drew a

crowd of

laughing witnesses,

one who nicknamed

me

“Yellow Biscuit,”

and

whose father

nicknamed

me

“Mosquito,”

one who my late Drew

loved and always

razzed,

DELIBERATELY.

Her laughter was

never muffled,

but

contagious and

deliberate

and natural.

To this

day,

I don’t trust

any

Black person

so prim and proper

that they suppress

their laughter.

As Drew used to say,

“If they don’t feel

better

after

having been around Lynn,

if they don’t like Lynn,

then something’s

wrong with them.”

I’m so glad I got

to tell her

over and over

again that he

was right.

 – Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2017.

 

Still taking some time away from blogging for a while…So, you are welcome to read my older blogs until I return later (trust, there is some good stuff in my archives at my blog)…I have to get my dissertation finished, and blogging and responding to every little detail is not on the agenda…In the meantime, stay focused, and stay woke, and for God’s sake don’t fall for the easy answers because the news media is full of “easy answers.”  Do your research.  Think for yourself.  Peace and Blessings. I will see you when I see you.  — Leslye Joy Allen

 

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

A Few Hyperlinks…

by Leslye Joy Allen

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

I have to thank my academic and theatre families for reminding me that what I say and do matters more than I think it does.  They remind me to keep pressing on.  For those that asked, here are the archived hyperlinks to some segments of WABE’s Closer Look with Rose Scott and Jim Burress that I participated in as an Atlanta historian and as a native Atlantan of my beloved hometown.  Just click on any of the titles/hyperlinks below and then scroll down to listen to these archived programs on SoundCloud.  Thanks to all of you for your support. Enjoy!

June 6, 2016: Closer Look: Emory’s New President; Muhammad Ali; And More

August 12, 2016: History and Rebirth of Manuel’s Tavern

Sept. 22. 2016: Closer Look Special: How The 1906 Race Riot Changed Atlanta

Jan. 3, 2017: Closer Look: Kasim Reed’s Legacy; Community Planning; And More

March 2, 2107: Morning Edition: Can We Communicate History Better During Black History Month?

 

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.