A Word For Democrats About 2020

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I cannot really comment right now about the recent mass shootings because I am soul weary from it. I will write about it another day. I will only say we need to look very carefully at all candidates on this issue of gun control and the banishment of assault rifles. Democrats also better learn to really listen to young people, those Millennials who out-voted Baby Boomers in the 2018 national elections, if they want to win the Whitehouse and put a reasonable dent in the Republican-dominated Senate.

I watched political pundit Thomas Friedman talk about the possibility of Trump winning re-election on MSNBC, right after the publication of his New York Times op-ed “Trump’s Going to Get Re-elected, Isn’t He?”. It’s a chilling thought. Friedman noted that Democratic candidates for president produced some pretty radical ideas in the first debate: everything from advocating for open borders, to free healthcare for anyone who crossed our borders. He was right when he said most Americans, including many on the Left, are not going for any of this. So, after I listened to Friedman, and watched as much of the two Democratic presidential debates I could stomach, I saw several problems Democrats must overcome in order to win the White House in 2020 and possibly pick up more seats in the Senate.

Democrats must recognize that they are no match for our current president when it comes to spin. The current president is a damned reality TV star. He knows how to spin a story, create a repetitive slogan and throw his base enough raw meat to keep them snapping and cheering. If Trump (who already said as much) murdered a man in broad daylight for no reason, most of his supporters will still support him because they are, after all, frightened white people who are now forced to come to terms with what author James Baldwin tried to tell them a long time ago, mainly, that “the world is not white.” Europeans and White Americans are older than everyone else on the planet save the Japanese. Europe’s average age is 42 years old and that fact is coupled with a low birthrate.  Of course we must also consider that 13 percent of Black American men who voted for the current president too. These are the Black ass, sexist and self-defeating Neanderthals who are scared to death of women being in any kind of control to the point where they would willingly throw their own people (and themselves) under the bus in the antiquated belief that only men, and only white men at that, can get anything done…But I have not the time to digress about the current Massa’s favorite Darkies…let me get back to the demographics that matter.

When you toss in the relative youth of the rest of the world, it gets even scarier for some folks. Across the entire African continent, the average age is around 20 years old. With the continent of Africa, South America, the Caribbean, India and much of Southeast Asia containing young fertile populations, the death knell of worldwide white supremacy is ringing in many white folks’ ears. We already know the kinds of fears our current president stokes among his supporters, but we cannot spend all of our energy responding to his spin and his lies; we have to use them as fuel for some other strategy to beat him because the Democrats are never going to be able to beat him at propaganda, which leads me to something one of my young friends said. His name is John Jordan, Jr. and he’s a Black, 29-year-old entrepreneur and Morehouse College graduate. We trade ideas often.  As Joe Biden seems to be the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president, John said this:

“I’m a millenial and the one thing I know is the world has changed and will continue to change.  Baby Boomers, especially politicians try to act like they know…Biden’s entire candidacy will rest on his ability to show that as an old, white man he can listen and adapt based on what he is learning.”

John, who was mentored by a Black woman, is right. Democrats are going to have to overcome the generational gap and the intra-party gender and racial biases that threaten the best work of our most activist and youngest Congress persons, namely Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley. Our current president has continued to verbally beat up on these four women, not simply because they are people of color, but also because they are women, and young women at that. Tragically, many men of color and white men will not defend women of color whenever those men fear that such a defense will cost them their own personal connections and favor with powerful white men. Additionally, men of a certain age (along with women who’ve learned to adapt to their habits), even when they respect the abilities of women, still tend to expect to direct women. Many of the men I know well over the age of 50 (and I will exit my 50s at the end of 2020), don’t always know how to not place themselves at the center of attention or how to not always have to direct the proceedings.

In my experiences mentoring and/or doing business with well-educated Black men in their 20s to early 40s, I learned that most of them are not terrified of the word “feminist” and can accept direction from a woman, particularly if they think she has a great idea or a better idea. They do not flinch from matters that concern or affect LGBTQIA communities either, but, more often than not, recognize those concerns as inextricably tied to the fabric of our entire community. They tend to worry a whole, whole, whole lot less than their older counterparts about who is going to get the most credit and the most limelight and the most money.  Importantly, they don’t see women as competition, and are rarely as defensive as some of their older counterparts when a woman offers an honest critique. In fact, they welcome these critiques as a way to brainstorm and look for new and better ideas. While I cannot speak for other people’s experiences, I can say the young, college-educated Black men I’ve been privileged to meet and mentor are a breath of fresh air.

So, when Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden got blind-sided by Kamala Harris in the first Democratic debate about the subject of bussing, it was largely due to his underestimating Harris’s abilities at debate, and it was also due to his walking into that debate with a set of assumptions, which are, thank Goddess, becoming obsolete. The second Democratic debate became, unfortunately, one where the candidates spent far too much time critiquing Obama’s policies than expressing in clear language what they would do as president and how they would reverse much of the damage done by the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I really do not care much for Democrats savaging each other, but Harris’ one-two punch in the first debate exposed some of Biden’s weaknesses.

Young adults of all genders, women, and Black women in particular, are underestimated by a lot of Baby Boomers and older folks ALL THE TIME. It dawned on me that Biden could easily have his ass handed to him in a debate with the incoming first-year classes of all-women Agnes Scott College or all-women and historically Black Spelman College with ease. Biden wouldn’t fare too well with the students of all-men and historically Black Morehouse College either. If you don’t believe me, go visit those campuses. Go listen to them. Go sit and answer their tough questions. Better yet, go unprepared with the same old weak assumptions about what you think you don’t have to know in order to persuade these brilliant young women and men to vote for you. See what happens to you.

If Biden remains the frontrunner, and eventually the Democratic nominee for president, and the best choice for beating our current president, then there are two things he needs to correct ASAP.  First, he cannot dig in his heels and shrug off complaints about something he said simply because he feels like he didn’t do or say anything wrong or potentially offensive. I understood what Biden meant when he said he worked with segregationists because I was born in 1960 during a period when civil rights legislation was being passed, and there was no choice but to work with those segregationists.  A young man or woman born in the 80s, 90s or early 2000s would not/will not interpret his comments the same way I do.  So, he needs to get over himself enough to listen to and respond effectively to younger voters who he needs to win.

Second, Black women of all ages vote more consistently and solidly Democrat, more often, and in higher numbers than any other voting bloc. In the last election, this group voted 8 percentage points higher than the national average. Black women’s interests cannot be ignored and will be central to most Democratic victories. Black women, along with Millennials helped usher in a massive wave of Democrats in the House of Representatives with over 100 Congresswomen whose ideas and talents have been muted for far too long. Most of these newly-elected women are Millennials, with enough stamina to weather this current hate-filled political climate and most of them, if they wish to do so, will still be here 40 years from now.

I’ve lived long enough to become an elder. I relish my conversations with young Black men and women all the time. And as one told me, “We respect you because you respect us.” Whoever is the Democratic nominee for president better understand that the overwhelmingly young, Black and women voters that turned the House of Representatives BLUE in 2018 need to be listened to, not talked at. Democrats will not, cannot win without them.

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.

 

Frank Wittow’s Legacy…Nevaina’s Dream

by Leslye Joy Allen

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

The late great actor-director-educator Frank Wittow remains one of my favorite figures in Atlanta’s rich theatre history.  His work with the late, great Georgia Allen was second to none—He placed this multi-talented Black woman in a non-servant role on an Atlanta stage in the early 1960s when the city and indeed the nation were still grappling with the idea that maybe Black folk were more than just the servants of White folk. Georgia Allen had appeared in numerous films and theatre productions throughout the nation and on the campuses of Spelman and Clark Colleges, and Wittow was wise enough to recognize Allen’s superior gifts.  He was simply a different kind of White man. There were no syrupy and useless White liberal platitudes about race relations spewing out of his mouth—he just did what he wanted to do.

Now, Allen predated Wittow’s arrival in Atlanta and she had a much longer career, and to fully honor her contributions to all of the arts and to education would require writing a tome. So, I will save that project for a later date.  Much like Allen, however, Wittow directed, trained, and mentored some of the best performers on the planet and took theatre performances into Atlanta Public Schools throughout much of his life.  He did this almost to the day he died in 2006.  One of his younger protégées had the benefit of his training…

Her name is Nevaina Rhodes—her first name is pronounced “Nih-Von-yah” like “lasagna.”  The first time I saw her perform, I did not know she had any affiliation with Wittow.  When she told me her basic philosophy about acting there was something refreshingly new about her approach to her craft, but also something rather familiar…Let me explain…

You see, when I was growing up in Atlanta, an actor, a musician, a poet, an academic, an intellectual, was simply part of the community in which we all lived.  Importantly, you had to participate in the arts and the humanities, and it did not matter if you had talent or an exceptional intellect or not.  While I adore and admire many younger performers and scholars—and by younger, I mean anyone born after the Baby Boom—I find an increasing number of them who are quite insular; they have fewer connections to each other or with the folk in the communities where they live.  Unlike the Atlanta of my childhood, in recent years I have attended far too many functions filled with musicians, actors, poets, filmmakers, and historians and I end up being the only person in the room who actually knows everybody in that room…

Well, to make a long story short, Nevaina’s conceptualization of Real Actors Workshop (RAW) makes it open to amateur and professional alike.  Her basic theory is that whether you are a professional actor or not, all of us humans act and perform in certain ways depending on the circumstances.  In other words, she insists that, we all are actors. Although she is a North Carolinian by birth, her approach feels much like the Atlanta of my youth, where the long theatre traditions on the campuses of our Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and people like Georgia Allen and Frank Wittow made certain that theatre reached who it was supposed to reach—the people. We were not a community of strangers…everybody knew everybody, which is the way it should be.

I should add that I am writing this to inform you that Nevaina is not only a dazzling performer and an amazing drama coach, but she is also a real survivor. Native Atlantans, in particular, love people with a strong work ethic and those who bounce back when things do not always go as planned.  Less than five years ago, Nevaina miraculously and fully recovered from a stroke that could have easily killed her; and she remained positive while she also endured some personal losses that probably would have destroyed some weaker souls.

Today her Real Actors Workshop (RAW) is headquartered at Dream Café, Atlanta’s first cafe and empowerment lounge, which is owned by Nevaina and her partners, Jay White and Stevie Baggs.  Dream Café‘s premise is simple.  It is designed to be a place where artists, intellectuals, young and old folk can meet and greet and talk and achieve their dreams, over coffee and healthy food.  This concept and these young owners have my support not only because it feels familiar to me, but because it feels right…and it also feels rather cyclical…

Now, I am aware that my hometown has changed.  Nothing stays the same, nor should it stay the same.  Yet, there are some core elements that we must never lose—namely, the ability to connect with each other and exchange ideas.  Not even a semblance of community can survive if we lose this ability.  So, I am proud to call Nevaina a friend. It has been a great privilege to watch her perform; and I have been encouraged by her intellect, her big smile, and her big spirit…I am also certain that Wittow (and Allen) are watching her from that place where great souls go when they leave this earth…So, in honor of them and in honor of future generations, go visit the Dream Café, and write your dream on the wall. Àṣé!

To learn more about Real Actors Workshop (RAW), and Nevaina’s distinguished career as an actor, drama coach, and public speaker, click here: Nevaina Rhodes Inspirational Speaker and Drama Therapy Specialist.

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.