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.

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Out of the Fog: A Christmas and New Year’s Wish

Photo of Bank of America Building by
© Leslye Joy Allen

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen

While driving in the early morning hours in my beloved city of Atlanta, I saw the usual signs of city growth:  traffic that can make a Nun cuss, shiny new buildings, massive construction everywhere, people bustling off to work, school and the airport, and homeless people huddled under bridges.

When I witnessed the top of the super large Bank of America Building on Peachtree Street, its steeple-shaped illuminated top seemed to hang in the air in our unusually heavy fog.  If I did not know anything about this building or if I was a kid with a vivid imagination, the sight of that lighted steeple would have given me the best fantasies of flying saucers and aliens.

As I took that quick snapshot of the top of the Bank of America Building it made me think of the Star in the East.  Even when I looked at the top of this building and recognized it in the distance, I knew that what I saw was only one component of the building.  Maybe it was the brightest component, certainly the top of it.  But it wasn’t hanging in the air by itself.  So here is something to think about:

Puerto Rico, Dominica and St. Johns, Virgin Islands still have no electricity. There will be no Christmas lights and there probably will be no lights on New Years’ Eve.  These tan and brown and black human beings have been without power for over 14 weeks at this writing.  And just like the homeless in downtown Atlanta, many folks stay on these islands to protect what little possessions that they have left after hurricanes.  They take cold showers when they can, and eat food prepared from makeshift kitchens.  You may not give a damn about any of this because it doesn’t directly affect you, but it actually does. You may not care about all of these people of color, but you will because they are necessary in ways you may never have imagined.  Remember, no one gave a damn about a homeless brown couple–with the wife being very pregnant–in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago, either.

For much of the past year, many of us have whined and moaned about the current state of affairs in Washington, D. C.  We have often exhausted ourselves with tales of political misconduct and malfeasance and sexual impropriety.  We have listened to racist, sexist, homophobic, and misogynist rhetoric.  And at times, I have to say, I wondered when (or if) anyone was going to get tired of feasting on all of it.

It’s not that these evil things don’t exist; they do!  Yet, in our well-meaning attempts to publicize many of these problems, we often perpetuate our own lack of resolve to change any of it simply by believing that ranting about it on social media does anything more than help us blow off some steam. We often forget that much of this nation is built off and on the backs of people who now lay on the streets in cities all over the nation and throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.  In 2018, let’s plan to get out and stay out of the fog long enought to recognize the rest of the building; and that the top cannot and never has stood without the support from all those floors and a steady foundation.

That’s it for the year folks. If you didn’t understand this post, I’m sorry, but that’s it. I’m tired, happy, at times anxious, exhilarated by our capacity to triumph, glad about the women who no longer ask permission to be great or to do the work they were born to do. I know we can change anything we want to change.  But we can’t do any of it in a fog.  Peace.

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 Messed-Up Religious Narrative

by Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2016. All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

On Easter Sunday morning, 27 March 2016, I received a rather cryptic text message from Facebook.  It read as:

“Facebook Safety Check: Are you affected by the explosion?

Reply SAFE if you’re ok or OUT if you aren’t in the area.”

I got nervous.  I went online to look up if there had been any explosions.  I did not find anything on the Internet that said anything about a recent explosion.  I found older stories about bombings and terrorist attacks in other parts of the world from last year, but not one for Easter Sunday in 2016.  Then I really got paranoid…

I rarely use my smart phone for anything other than an occasional phone call.  I almost never use apps—don’t exactly trust them—and I was slightly worried that this Facebook text might be some hoax going around to see how many people would respond to such a strange message.  If I respond, I thought, I am going to end up with some computer virus…

Reluctantly, I replied “OUT” to the Facebook text. Whoever (or whatever) sent the text would know that I was not in or near this explosion wherever it was, I thought to myself.

I checked the Internet again in about an hour.  The news reports began coming in, stating that some group of Muslim terrorists was claiming responsibility for an explosion in Lahore, Pakistan that killed a minimum of 72 people, and injured over 300 people who were celebrating the Christian holiday of Easter, which commemorates the resurrection of Jesus (Yeshua), the Christ.  The murder of Christians by Muslims would again frame much of the news coverage. The religious narrative would—at least superficially—be a Muslim versus Christian narrative.  That narrative is messed-up…

I have never visited Lahore, Pakistan.  Yet, one of my former professors was born there. Indirectly, my association with him, a man who I consider a mentor and good friend, has introduced me to many people located in or from Pakistan.  I am proud to say that I have given academic advice and encouragement via my Facebook inbox to many young men in Lahore who are either going to college or planning to attend graduate school.   So, Facebook, for what it is worth, obviously assumed that I, an African American woman who is from and located in the United States, might actually be located in or near Lahore, Pakistan.  This time Social Media’s interpretation of who (or even what) I was taught me a lesson via an obvious scan of my Facebook Friend list…

I am not Muslim.  The natives of Pakistan that I personally know and those I am in contact with are all Muslims.  They are Muslims who constantly pray for peace, and who condemn the heinous acts of extremists and terrorists, and who also speak out against racism and sexism and religious intolerance. The American news media, however, has conveniently forgotten to tell Americans that the splinter group that broke away from the Taliban, named “Jamaat-ul-Ahrar,” killed as many Muslims as it has Christians. In fact, the majority of those Pakistanis who died in the attacks on Easter Sunday in Lahore, Pakistan happened to be Muslim.

CNN’s provocative and rather misleading headline was “In Pakistan, Taliban’s Easter Bombing, targets, kills scores of Christians.”  To be sure, scores of Christians died in that awful attack.  Yet, to ignore the random acts of violence by groups like this (including ISIS or ISIL) that have, honestly, killed more Muslims than Christians is to perpetuate a religious narrative that can get us all killed, have all of us turning on each other instead of talking to each other.

If you have half a brain, you know that to single out any group of people as the sole source of your problems is to also invite a group (any group) outside of that definition to do all manner of harm to you.  This all reminds me of the time when one of my history students hipped me to a video where all of a particular department store’s security guards were watching all of the store’s African-American customers.  Yet, while those same security guards were scrutinizing the Black customers, there was a small band of White patrons who were shoplifting at the store. 

I am only a historian and academic.  Yet, I am one who knows that when people do not do their research, when they fail to look below the surface, when they do not think outside the box, when they succumb to easy answers and easy stereotypes because those stereotypes make them feel safe or superior, all of us suffer.  With an Internet that contains volumes of information—some tainted information, and some that is accurate—there is really no excuse for you or I not knowing anything and not questioning those easy answers that our bought-and-paid-for media and politicians and pundits hand to us on a regular basis.  

Do not be a fool.  Do your work.  Do your research.  Now some people reading this will be upset or annoyed by my comments.  Religion for many people is, after all, a cultural, national, and often racial marker.  After all, the first terrorists my people knew were so-called Christians wearing sheets, lynching and torturing Black bodies and burning crosses on Black families’ lawns.  I would hate to think about my ancestors enduring that on Easter Sunday.   Àṣé!

Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2016.  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: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

A New Definition of Brother…

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I had to learn the hard way not to rely solely on

American-born brothers who

talk plenty smack and talk plenty righteousness about

how we Black folk have work to do, but at the same time demand

that I keep my mouth shut about the mess that affects me as a woman and all 

that infects us/we as a people…

I had to learn the hard way that many of my brothers did not

arrive speaking with American accents, but

some had/have foreign accents so thick that I

need(ed) someone to decipher what they were saying, but

what they said mattered less than what they did…

I learned that plenty Josés and Juans and Ahmads and Maliks and

Etiennes and Lúcios and Willies and Sams

 of my world

and my hemisphere

weighed in on matters that affected my life as a Black woman when

so many other so-called brothers assumed that my problems as a Black female

would be handled by someone else or

handled by me by myself…

I had to learn the hard way that my definition of “brother” needed to remain

outside of my typical geographic boundaries of what I/We call the USA

and we either grab hold of each other as kith and kin

or we drown in the waters waiting for

some definition that none of us could live with anyway.

                                  – Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2016. 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 authored by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.  Postings or blogs placed here by other writers should clearly reference those writers.  All Rights Reserved.

 

Guide My Feet…

by Leslye Joy Allen

“Guide My Feet”
(Traditional Negro Spiritual)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I am grateful that my late Mama and Daddy taught me our old African tradition of ancestor worship.   That worship was as much a part of my childhood as was the old Western Judeo-Christian tradition…Now, for those who know me well, you know that I can be the most severe critic of ministers and organized religion(s) that too often fail to act in the best interests of the flocks they claim to serve, lead and protect.  Yet, that is another blog.  Save your breath.  I am only responding to the message(s) sent to me…

I occasionally re-read the poem that my friend actor-poet-writer Charles Reese wrote immediately following the death of my nearly 92-year-old mother in early 2013.  In homage to her, he referred to my Mama as “a Queen,” but he also referred to her as “our newest ancestor.” — Nothing in “Syble’s Poem” struck me as much as that line about her becoming an ancestor.  For people who know my late Mama, they know that certain songs remained in her repertoire right up to the very end of her days here on earth.

I do not need to recount the tragedies that have happened to Black folk in the last few weeks or even over the last year.  Yet, for the last couple of days I have been unable to get the old Negro Spiritual “Guide My Feet” out of my head.  Composed and sung in the caldron of American chattel slavery and passed down from generation-to-generation by my people, I have been singing it and humming it off-and-on for the last couple of months.  At first, I thought I was going crazy.  I must confess that I had a similar experience with “You Gotta to Move,” a Gospel/Blues song composed by Mississippi Fred McDowell.  A few months earlier in the year, I was singing “You Gotta Move” in an impromptu singing session that followed a gathering of my Sistahs that was a combination of good coffee, prayer, testimony, and truth-talking with each other at Dream Café…A few days after that meeting, I ran into a brother in a wheelchair who was singing the same song on a corner in downtown Atlanta.  That had to mean something, I thought…

When I went to my cousin Dexter’s graduation from Morehouse College this past May 2015, the class Valedictorian and Summa Cum Laude graduate Jerek Sharrod Brown burst into “Guide My Feet” before he began his inspirational and spellbinding Valedictory address.   His voice in song was an unexpected, but welcome and perfectly poetic pleasure.  I felt something inside of me shift and move when Brown sang and when he spoke.  I felt something shift again when my cousin Dexter’s name was called as a new graduate of Morehouse College. After all, I remembered when I first held him in my arms when he was still an infant…

Today I decided to see whether the lyrics to “Guide My Feet” would come up in a general search on Google.  It did.  Now, usually when something comes up in an internet search, I typically download it and then email it to myself just to make sure that I have a couple of copies of my research findings in two different places.  Yet, something strange and beautiful happened after I performed my usual ritual…

When I clicked the email button to send my Google search findings to myself, the email did not pull up my personal email address.  Instead, it opened my late Mama’s email address which was and remains a secondary email account affiliated with my own primary account…Sometimes the Creator knows that you need a little help.  Sometimes the ancestors are talking to you…

There are moments when no matter how bad things are or may seem, you simply do not worry and you no longer expend energy on people who do not work in your and your own people’s best interests.   I have reached that moment. More than we know or acknowledge, the ancestors speak to us in small but important ways if WE only listen, if WE only listen…So, Thank You Mama and Daddy and all the known and unknown ancestors and saints…Thank You Goddess…Thank You God…Peace and Blessings.  Àṣé…

Guide my Feet,

while I run this race.

Guide my Feet,

while I run this race.

Guide my feet,

while I run this race,

For I don’t want to run this race in vain.

 

Copyright © 2015 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 blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.