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.

A Micro-History: The 3rd Gender

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This is an extremely tiny micro-history of Gender that is almost never covered in classrooms. While there is enough data available on this subject that fills thousands of libraries, it is particularly important information in light of the recent excessive violence and neglect of our/my transgender sisters and brothers. It is important to remember that many ancient African, Asian, and Native American civiliations tended to identify and accept people who were not easily lumped into a single category defined strictly as male and female. There were (and always will be) a tiny minority of individuals who were/are best defined and/or recognized as not fitting into either of the two gender categories emphasized by the Western world.

As difficult as it may be to accept, gender is a social construct and has an entirely different meaning from biological sex. Western ideologies, which were largely dispersed through domination and conquest, have their value. Yet, Western colonization of parts of Africa, Asia and the Americas also replaced, altered, and in some cases, destroyed indigenous belief systems and cosmologies that were beneficial to the peoples that created them. Hopefully, the following 9 frames will provoke further study about this topic, gender dysphoria (a very real human status), and a greater understanding of people and peoples who do not neatly fit this very Western concept of being either one thing or the other.

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.

Biden, Harris and Cuba

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

It has been over a year since I posted a blog about what Joe Biden needed to do to win the Democratic nomination and the election; and HE DID IT.  He appropriately rewarded the many young women, and many young Black women, who helped get him elected.  He made the woman who shellacked him in the first Democratic debate, Kamala Harris his Vice-President.  He’s smarter than a lot of men I know.  For a change, we Black women do not feel so utterly unacknowledged and unappreciated.  Thanks President Biden for listening to young people, young women, young Black women, and for taking a different path than the typical time-worn, racist and sexist “Good Ol’ Boys” route to victory.  This blog is written, however, in the age of COVID19 and here is some quick information for you to think about in 2021.

President Joe Biden has already begun the process of correcting much of the damage done to this nation by his predecessor, but I want him to do at least one more thing.  I want him to re-establish relations with Cuba.  Obama began the process of normalizing relations with Cuba, and ’45’s’ administration rolled that process back.  Here’s why Cuba is important:  Cuban medicine focuses on prevention first.  Cuba has a surplus of doctors; more Black doctors than the United States; and over 2,000 doctors treating COVID19 patients in over 20 countries…As of this writing, on February 5, 2021, Cuba has had 225 deaths from COVID19 in a nation of 11 million+ people that have a longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality rates than the United States.  During a pandemic, medical knowledge needs to be shared, not politicized.   Pay attention.  Stay safe.  Wear a mask.

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.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen. 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.

A Good Day In Court

by Leslye Joy Allen

Recently I went to court on a routine traffic offense.  Last year, I pleaded “Not Guilty” to this offense and requested a trial.  There is/was no way in hell I was going to roll over for some cop sitting near a corner on a street where the Stop Sign was and remains completely obscured by an oak tree.  Well, after the City of Atlanta finally transferred my ticket to Fulton County Courts—for those of you who don’t know, most of our city is located in Fulton County, Georgia—I arrived on time and anticipated having a long stay.  Well, something different happened.  The Solicitor General of Fulton County, Keith E. Gammage walked in the courtroom.

Gammage told all of us that we were the first group to participate in a brand new program.  This was its first day.  He noted that many of our tickets could possibly be dismissed, and that the Solicitor General’s Office wanted to prosecute real criminals rather than tie up its time with cases involving minor offenses like “failing to yield.” Then the next thing he said floored me.  All offenses for everyone’s minor traffic violations would be reduced to a fine of $75 dollars rather than the $250 to $450 plus dollars that most of us expected to pay if found guilty. My fine, had I been required to pay it, would have been $265.  Gammage stood there and answered everyone’s questions about what plea they should enter to what did they have to do if they couldn’t pay that $75 on their day in court.  Everyone with this $75 fine would have a full 30 days to pay it.

While seated in court and waiting for my name to be called, I made small talk with a Spelman College alum who was also a teacher.  I told her about my dissertation research; and when I discovered that she was a Kindergarten teacher, the conversation shifted to my late Mama (also a kindergarten teacher) and we laughed about some of the crazy things that five-year-olds can do and say.  I mentioned to her that I voted for Keith E. Gammage for Solicitor General after attending a conference devoted to the late Sandra Bland, who tragically died in jail for failing to put her blinker on.  Bland was ordered out of her car by a cop that resented her asking him why she had to put her cigarette out.  My brilliant performance artist-writer-educator-poet-actor-activist-sister/daughter Talitha Anyabwelé organized a “Sandy’s Day” program in her honor.  A young Black woman on Anyabwelé’s panel of speakers named Anana Harris Parris brought up Keith E. Gammage’s name as someone who wanted to help straighten out our criminal justice system.  This same young woman, who worked for a law firm, recalled in vivid and horrid detail how she had been stopped by police one night right in front of her parents’ home when she was a college student. Ms. Anana Harris Parris was physically searched and had her breasts groped by a male police officer right in front of her home.  So when Anana Harris Parris brought up the name Keith E. Gammage as a young Black man trying to do the right thing, I remembered his name…So

as I sat in court, Mr. Gammage looked in my direction, walked over to me and said, “Didn’t I meet you before?”  I honestly don’t know why or how he remembered me.  I told him we did meet over a year ago at a coffee shop in our neighborhood when he was out campaigning to become the new Solicitor General of Fulton County.  We exchanged pleasantries and he handed me his business card.  He resumed wallking around the courtroom.  I turned back to talk with my Spelman sister and told her that I thought he was an impressive young Black brother trying to do the right thing.  She confessed that she was worried about being in court all day.  I totally understood her point of view. When you plead “not guilty” or don’t just pay the fine, the City of Atlanta and Fulton County drags the process out.  Just as she was beginning to worry about having to go out to put money in the parking meter, Keith E. Gammage pulled her aside to speak with her.  When she came back to where I was seated she said that he found out she was a school teacher and since her offense was so minor it was dismissed.  “After all,” he said, “Your money is best spent on the things you need to teach our kids.”  Everyone in that courtroom had only $75 to pay (well below the $250 to $450+ original fines) within 30 days or no fine to pay at all; and for a change being an educator was treated with the respect that it deserves.  Remember the name of Keith E. Gammage because this court date/my court date was one of the very few times it was pleasant.

Copyright © by 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.