Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Let's Be Real

If you don't believe in God--bless your heart. I respect your belief, I support your right to believe it, and for those of you that need material proof of God's existence (He/She/It/Them/They) and haven't received it, I trust your perception of material proof as it applies to your life.

And for all of that, I am psychically, physically, mentally, and spiritually unable to understand your experience. I have always believed in God. I have never had a crisis of faith based in doubt of the existence of the Divine. Please do not get me wrong, I have spent a good part of my life cussing God out for everything from bad dates to my junior year class pictures (please see exhibit A, the offending picture, posted here for your amusement--no...that is NOT the missing third Indigo Girl). And when it comes to proof, I have enough empirical data to make a Nobel Laureate blush. Dr. Erik Streed, the closest person I know to a Nobel Laureate (his graduate advisor won the Nobel Prize in Physics based on the research they did together when Erik was a lab slave) might poo poo my "loose" definition of "empirical," he would be forced to admit that either there is a greater force at work in the universe or there is a yet undiscovered sub-sub-sub-sub atomic particle that he will discover by putting frozen Kool-AID into the CERN Accelerator and adding a dash of lime just as the collider reaches energy output of 3.5 TeV per beam, which he will then redirect using a kaleidoscope while singing "Grease Lightning," and mimicking the mating ritual of the Pakootiekootie bird, which, incidentally, he, himself, discovered in the fossil record and then, using leftover skin cells from Joan Rivers' last face lift, a section of skin from Carnie Wilson's latest gastric bypass, a dash of leftover love lube from a secret butter bath romp between Oprah and Gayle, and an Eggo Waffle, proceeded to clone the Pakootiekootie.

All of that to say is that I am right. Erik is wrong. God exists. Now let me tell you why.

I tried to relapse today with all of my might. I mean short of selling my ass for drugs or training Mimzy to run a meth lab out of her kennel, I gave it the good old addicts try. And let me tell you it was sneaky. Hold on to this trip into the the Misfiring Synapses of Brandon's Frontal Lobe. David and I are moving our open relationship in to a broader scope. I have actually been really proud of myself for not completing giving in to my abandonment issues or losing my mind over things that a year ago would have had me calling on the name of Jesus and raising the TSA security level to whatever the hell comes after orange. But there have been things that have stuck in my craw (and rightfully so). Last night, I couldn't fall asleep because my brain was desperately trying to figure out what the hell was at the core of my discomfort/annoyance/etc. Around 3am, I figured it out. This morning, I didn't trip. And after a rocky moment or two, David and I had a sleepy, half-finished, but ok conversation.

Still with me? Good.

I actually recently dealt really well with am online situation here at home. And we laughed about it. But today is where the synapses were listening to Katy Perry and took that song Fireworks quite literally. So, I figured...hey... I can look at Craig's List. Well, since i am looking at Craig's List, I might as well look at Manhunt. Oh well since this gay with a delicious booty messaged me on Manhunt, and I am on Manhunt anyway, I might as well read the email. Well since I am READING the email, I might as well respond. Oh. wait. what. You are partying (aka crystal meth), well I can entertain that notion. Well, you know, just because I go meet this guy at his place and there is crystal meth there doesn't mean that I have to do it. It was right about there...just after I got out of the shower and had gotten dressed and was about to head out the door that the Lord took a hand. I decided to call the guy just to firm things up. And he didn't answer. I called again, and again, and about 40 more times, until the guy shut down his phone. I was stomping around my house cussing and kicking and screaming and pissed off. I was acting a fool, but in my head, it was all very justified and logical. It wasn't about the drugs! It was about this person that would have had me standing outside of his front door and not answered. It was about the lack of manners and the general upbringing of this heathen with the great ass.

Here's where God intervened again.

I caught myself in the mirror, and at that moment I realized just how ridiculous I was acting. I had rationalized myself about a minute away from doing something really fucking dumb (in the past, I would have realized it, and I would have kept right on going. Hell, YESTERDAY, I would have realized it and kept right on going). And let me not be the saint here. I did, once I calmed myself down, sit back down at the computer and spend about five minutes checking out Manhunt and seeing if there were any other opportunities that could get me out the door and high. That is when two things happened. I slammed down the cover of my computer, walked towards the bathroom and chanted to myself, "FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT."

Then I prayed.

The Lord didn't answer. He texted.


Actually, it was a friend of mine that lives in my hood, and he texted to tell me that he had just gotten laid off. Within one minute another friend texted to ask if I would go with him to Callen Lorde to get an HIV test done. It may not have been Jesus per se on the line, but the Lord works in mysterious ways, and he spent all that time with 12 men in the desert, so it makes sense that he would use the gays as his post-crucifixtion messenger. GayT&T!!

Nothing like a dose of real for real life problems to put your momentary psychosis into check. And all of this ties into another God-moment I had recently.

Last Friday, I got to see a woman that I love deeply and dearly. Her name is Makeeba Browne. Keeba and I lived together for only about four months when I was out in Oakland. We moved into our house a day apart. She was going through some things when she moved in. She had just moved to the Bay. She had lost someone very close to her not more than a year before. She was black woman in a white ass world, and she had carried a lot on her shoulders. Some of that was those things that life puts on us that aren't really ours but we have to carry and learn to set down anyway. Some of it was things that she picked up because, well, too many of us learn that we were meant to suffer. During our time together, I was also a hot mess, do not let me tell all her tea and none of mine. But if you scroll back in this blog, you can read mine, in detail, with footnotes. Anyway, I digress. Over the course of those four months I learned several things about Makeeba: 1) she was absolutely beautiful beyond her own comprehension. Real, true, amazing beauty. 2) Behind her beautifully sharp tongue there was a beautifully vulnerable spirit that, if you made the mistake of confusing vulnerability with weakness, would snap your neck if necessary. 3) She was wise. Like old old old ancestor wise and deeper than I can ever hope to be. I am not being self-deprecating here. This girl is wise like still rivers that run deep, chocolate brown currents and sensual eddies that whisper gettin' over stories to Guinea-children. I have moments of clarity, but Makeeba is one of my teachers. 4) I loved this woman desperately. There is a story I won't share, but she will know that there was one night that we spent together, and she may have thought that I was comforting and taking care of her, but that night, in her rawness, she was holding on to me and lifting me up. For real for real.

So, Keeba and I met for breakfast last Friday. Seeing her walking down that street was like seeing the sunlight finally come to understand its own brightness. Keeba always dazzles me. But this day, I was almost blinded. Keeba ain't no saint. Lord no she aint, and she inherited the same hoochie gene that I got, but even when she is not ready to DO the work she knows she needs to do within herself...she KNOWS it needs to be done. And I could see that this woman had been WORKING. At one point in our conversation, Keebers said something really profound. I can't remember the exact words, but it was something like, "I know that I am supposed to be here. I know that the universe wants me here. Because try as I might to take myself out of Creation and do what I am not supposed to be doing. The Universe takes care of me! The UNIVERSE takes care of me.' And she was right. She and I have found ourselves in situations that, quite frankly, if they had gone the wrong way would have meant that we wouldn't be here right now. That isn't an exaggeration. If the Universe had closed its unsleeping eye for a quick minute, I woulnd't be writing this blog right now. And let me tell you, when it comes to addiction, I have lost people I know to this disease. I can name three people that I went to rehab with that are now dead. And, truthfully, there ain't a lick of difference between what they were doing and what I have done. Situation might be different. Particulars might be different, but in the end, the risks were the same. And anyone that plays Roulette can tell you...when your number hits twice in a row...and then another number hits twice in a row back to back....that right there...is the finger of God spinning that wheel. And we never know when they are going to call a change of dealer.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day: I've Been to the Mountaintop

In celebration of Dr. King's birthday, I would like to honor the good doctor by reprinting here his final speech, "I've Been to the Mountaintop," which he gave the night before he was murdered in Memphis, TN. The speech was given in support of the sanitation worker's strike, and it highlighted doctor King's commitment to radical economic justice. It is my favorite speech of the many brilliant orations given by Dr. King, and I read and listen to this speech at least twice a year. The words are power but hearing him speak it is life changing. You can hear the full audio of the speech at American Rhetoric. God bless you Dr. King. Thank you.

I've Been to the Mountaintop

Thank you very kindly, my friends. As I listened to Ralph Abernathy and his eloquent and generous introduction and then thought about myself, I wondered who he was talking about. It's always good to have your closest friend and associate to say something good about you. And Ralph Abernathy is the best friend that I have in the world. I'm delighted to see each of you here tonight in spite of a storm warning. You reveal that you are determined to go on anyhow.

Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world. And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, "Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?" I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God's children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn't stop there.

I would move on by Greece and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon. And I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality. But I wouldn't stop there.

I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn't stop there.

I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and aesthetic life of man. But I wouldn't stop there.

I would even go by the way that the man for whom I am named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church of Wittenberg. But I wouldn't stop there.

I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating President by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn't stop there.

I would even come up to the early thirties, and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but "fear itself." But I wouldn't stop there.

Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy."

Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.

Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee -- the cry is always the same: "We want to be free."

And another reason that I'm happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn't force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.

And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn't done, and done in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I'm just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period to see what is unfolding. And I'm happy that He's allowed me to be in Memphis.

I can remember -- I can remember when Negroes were just going around as Ralph has said, so often, scratching where they didn't itch, and laughing when they were not tickled. But that day is all over. We mean business now, and we are determined to gain our rightful place in God's world.

And that's all this whole thing is about. We aren't engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying -- We are saying that we are God's children. And that we are God's children, we don't have to live like we are forced to live.

Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we've got to stay together. We've got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh's court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that's the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.

Secondly, let us keep the issues where they are. The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we've got to keep attention on that. That's always the problem with a little violence. You know what happened the other day, and the press dealt only with the window-breaking. I read the articles. They very seldom got around to mentioning the fact that one thousand, three hundred sanitation workers are on strike, and that Memphis is not being fair to them, and that Mayor Loeb is in dire need of a doctor. They didn't get around to that.

Now we're going to march again, and we've got to march again, in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be -- and force everybody to see that there are thirteen hundred of God's children here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out. That's the issue. And we've got to say to the nation: We know how it's coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.

We aren't going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don't know what to do. I've seen them so often. I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle there, we would move out of the 16th Street Baptist Church day after day; by the hundreds we would move out. And Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth, and they did come; but we just went before the dogs singing, "Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around."

Bull Connor next would say, "Turn the fire hoses on." And as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn't know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn't relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denominations, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water. That couldn't stop us.

And we just went on before the dogs and we would look at them; and we'd go on before the water hoses and we would look at it, and we'd just go on singing "Over my head I see freedom in the air." And then we would be thrown in the paddy wagons, and sometimes we were stacked in there like sardines in a can. And they would throw us in, and old Bull would say, "Take 'em off," and they did; and we would just go in the paddy wagon singing, "We Shall Overcome." And every now and then we'd get in jail, and we'd see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our prayers, and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was a power there which Bull Connor couldn't adjust to; and so we ended up transforming Bull into a steer, and we won our struggle in Birmingham. Now we've got to go on in Memphis just like that. I call upon you to be with us when we go out Monday.

Now about injunctions: We have an injunction and we're going into court tomorrow morning to fight this illegal, unconstitutional injunction. All we say to America is, "Be true to what you said on paper." If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn't committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we aren't going to let dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren't going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on.

We need all of you. And you know what's beautiful to me is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It's a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tell it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, "When God speaks who can but prophesy?" Again with Amos, "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me," and he's anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor."

And I want to commend the preachers, under the leadership of these noble men: James Lawson, one who has been in this struggle for many years; he's been to jail for struggling; he's been kicked out of Vanderbilt University for this struggle, but he's still going on, fighting for the rights of his people. Reverend Ralph Jackson, Billy Kiles; I could just go right on down the list, but time will not permit. But I want to thank all of them. And I want you to thank them, because so often, preachers aren't concerned about anything but themselves. And I'm always happy to see a relevant ministry.

It's all right to talk about "long white robes over yonder," in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here! It's all right to talk about "streets flowing with milk and honey," but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can't eat three square meals a day. It's all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God's preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.

Now the other thing we'll have to do is this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal. Now, we are poor people. Individually, we are poor when you compare us with white society in America. We are poor. Never stop and forget that collectively -- that means all of us together -- collectively we are richer than all the nations in the world, with the exception of nine. Did you ever think about that? After you leave the United States, Soviet Russia, Great Britain, West Germany, France, and I could name the others, the American Negro collectively is richer than most nations of the world. We have an annual income of more than thirty billion dollars a year, which is more than all of the exports of the United States, and more than the national budget of Canada. Did you know that? That's power right there, if we know how to pool it.

We don't have to argue with anybody. We don't have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don't need any bricks and bottles. We don't need any Molotov cocktails. We just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, "God sent us by here, to say to you that you're not treating his children right. And we've come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God's children are concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you."

And so, as a result of this, we are asking you tonight, to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. Go by and tell them not to buy Sealtest milk. Tell them not to buy -- what is the other bread? -- Wonder Bread. And what is the other bread company, Jesse? Tell them not to buy Hart's bread. As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now, only the garbage men have been feeling pain; now we must kind of redistribute the pain. We are choosing these companies because they haven't been fair in their hiring policies; and we are choosing them because they can begin the process of saying they are going to support the needs and the rights of these men who are on strike. And then they can move on town -- downtown and tell Mayor Loeb to do what is right.

But not only that, we've got to strengthen black institutions. I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank. We want a "bank-in" movement in Memphis. Go by the savings and loan association. I'm not asking you something that we don't do ourselves at SCLC. Judge Hooks and others will tell you that we have an account here in the savings and loan association from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. We are telling you to follow what we are doing. Put your money there. You have six or seven black insurance companies here in the city of Memphis. Take out your insurance there. We want to have an "insurance-in."

Now these are some practical things that we can do. We begin the process of building a greater economic base. And at the same time, we are putting pressure where it really hurts. I ask you to follow through here.

Now, let me say as I move to my conclusion that we've got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We've got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school -- be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.

Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to Jesus, and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. At points he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and throw him off base....

Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side. They didn't stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the "I" into the "thou," and to be concerned about his brother.

Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn't stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn't be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that "One who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony." And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem -- or down to Jericho, rather to organize a "Jericho Road Improvement Association." That's a possibility. Maybe they felt that it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect.

But I'm going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It's possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, "I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable." It's a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles -- or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you're about 2200 feet below sea level. That's a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the "Bloody Pass." And you know, it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked -- the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"

That's the question before you tonight. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?" The question is not, "If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?" The question is, "If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?" That's the question.

Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.

You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented black woman came up. The only question I heard from her was, "Are you Martin Luther King?" And I was looking down writing, and I said, "Yes." And the next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that's punctured, your drowned in your own blood -- that's the end of you.

It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I had merely sneezed, I would have died. Well, about four days later, they allowed me, after the operation, after my chest had been opened, and the blade had been taken out, to move around in the wheel chair in the hospital. They allowed me to read some of the mail that came in, and from all over the states and the world, kind letters came in. I read a few, but one of them I will never forget. I had received one from the President and the Vice-President. I've forgotten what those telegrams said. I'd received a visit and a letter from the Governor of New York, but I've forgotten what that letter said. But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I'll never forget it. It said simply,

Dear Dr. King,

I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School."

And she said,

While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I'm a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I'm simply writing you to say that I'm so happy that you didn't sneeze.

And I want to say tonight -- I want to say tonight that I too am happy that I didn't sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters. And I knew that as they were sitting in, they were really standing up for the best in the American dream, and taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been around here in 1961, when we decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation in inter-state travel.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been around here in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their backs up. And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can't ride your back unless it is bent.

If I had sneezed -- If I had sneezed I wouldn't have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see the great Movement there.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been in Memphis to see a community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering.

I'm so happy that I didn't sneeze.

And they were telling me --. Now, it doesn't matter, now. It really doesn't matter what happens now. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us. The pilot said over the public address system, "We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with on the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we've had the plane protected and guarded all night."

And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.

And I don't mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I'm happy, tonight.

I'm not worried about anything.

I'm not fearing any man!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Theater Review: Jomama Jones

Last night, I hopped off the E train in SoHo and was greeted by a slap directly to the forehead by Old Man Winter. As my brain crystallized and froze over, I whispered a prayer for my boy Kenyon Farrow. The prayer went something like this:

"Dear Baby Jesus, please let this show be good tonight. I know the ticket is free. And I know I would walk across lava to get some face time with Kenyon. But I have lost three toes due to this arctic air, and if this show ain't no good, I am going to chew off three of Kenyon's and sew them on my feet. Hey Glory. Hallelujah. Amen."

I walked into the SoHo Repertory Theater, into a narrow hallway, which was packed on both sides by bundled up theater-goers. I was greeted by an adorable Asian woman that looked like she'd been molested by Ziggy Stardust. At the same time, I saw Kenyon, Asian Ziggy gave us a card on which to write a wish, and Kenyon and I sat down to obey her interstellar command.

Shortly thereafter, I noticed the sign for the bar, and Kenyon noticed the sign for the bathroom (he is much more evolved than I am). A few moments later, we were climbing the stairs and about to grab our seats, when I grabbed Kenyon and said, "I might be tripping, but I am fairly certain that the gentleman seated in the waiting area is Djola Branner, a friend of mine from Minneapolis that teaches in Amherst, MA."

It had been a few years since I'd seen Djola, so I erred on the side of not feeling foolish by screaming his name and having it turn out not to be him. Kenyon and I went to find our seats, and who should appear but my friends Christian and Mark. Immediately, my expectations for the show were raised. Kenyon has impeccable taste, but Christian has flawless taste. Between the two, I was expecting this performer to get up on stage and shoot rainbows out of her eyebrows.

Waiting for the show to begin, Kenyon and I ended up in the last row (in a very small theater, so the view was perfect), and into the theater walks the possibly Djola Branner. Well, the only open seats were right next to me, and as the possible Djola climbed over me, I squinted at him and said, "Ain't you Djola?" He looked at me a little startled and said, "Yes, I'm Djola." And I said, "Lord it's Brandon from Minneapolis."

Right there we had ourselves a reunion. It was fantastic. Djola thought I was still living in Oakland, and I had to let him know that I'd been in NYC for almost two years (way to keep up, Djola). We loved up on each other for a minute, and then the show started (beforehand, I found out that Djola knew the performer, who had spent some time in Minneapolis as well).

From the minute the lights dimmed and the curtains were drawn back, I knew that I was about to be changed for good.

Onto the stage walked Jomama Jones and the Peaches. I had to rub my eyes, and I almost made a collect call to Heaven, because when Jomama took the stage I thought, for a minute, that Miss Lena Horne had faked her own death and was now doing independent theater in lower Manhattan.

Jomama Jones, a character created and lived by Daniel Alexander Jones, was everything that I didn't know I needed. Combining original music, dance, storytelling, theater, lots of campy drama, and beautifully poignant moments, Jomama Jones took us on a journey that was never overtly anything but was subversively genderqueer, all about liberation for people of color, woman powerful, and responsibly communal. It would have been easy for this show to bludgeon the audience, instead, it gently and firmly carried the audience along with it, waking up the best in each of us, and helping us to see each other as a united community.,

Jomama Jones is the best in everyone of us.

Helga Davis and Sonja Perryman were the primary backup vocalists and co-performers along with Jomama, and let me tell you that when these women sang NOTHING else existed in my world. Helga has one of those voices that is vaguely reminiscent of Tina Turner but only in the way that it crosses over into the "traditionally" masculine, snatches you up by the back of your neck, and makes you call out to Jesus. And Sonja's voice was soul sexy smooth, like warm honey on cornbread and fresh maple syrup straight out of the boiler. These women not only sang, they LIVED.

It was a blessing to see Jomama Jones last night and to experience the beauty of that character, the storytelling, and the amazing cast and musicians that made it all come alive. For Tamar-kali and for Jomama Jones, I owe Kenyon Farrow a deep debt.

Thank you Jomama (Daniel), Sonja, Helga, and the rest of the cast. You have a forever fan right here. And how wonderful to get to share the show with an audience that included new and old friends. One love y'all.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Transphobic and Racially Confused

DISCLAIMER: I am a board member of the Audre Lorde Project, a New York based organization committed to the liberation of queer, trans, and two spirit people of color. The following blog is in no way reflective of the thoughts, positions, or opinions of the Audre Lorde Project, its staff, or its board. This is my personal rant on my personal blog, and as such I will say exactly what I damn please.

This letter is in response to a series of transphobic blog postings at the blog The Dirt from Dirt, including one which targets the Audre Lorde Project.

Dear Dirtywhiteboi67:

Let me begin by saying that I fully respect your right to belief what you would believe, to live your life as you would live it, and to identify how you would identify. As long as your beliefs and actions do not infringe on the right of others to believe and act in a way that is consistent with their best selves, then I will defend your right to do and say as you will.

However, when your beliefs and actions actively impede the right of others to express themselves in a way that is uplifting and powerful, is centered on their own personal truth, and reflects their own best selves, I have a problem.

Namely, I have a problem with your consistent and ugly bashing of trans folks and their right to be and live openly as transgendered individuals. From your vitriolic rants on your blog, which remind me of something I would find on the 700 Club or perhaps hear coming from the pulpit of the Westboro Baptist Church, it seems as if you have had severely negative personal experiences around your own struggle with identity.

From your blog, it would appear that at one point in time you may even have identified as transgendered, perhaps had elective surgery, and then later came to a different understanding of your identity. It seems, perhaps, at that time, instead of looking closely at your self and taking a moment to really conceptualize and look at the different ways that sexism, homophobia, transphobia, gender identity and the complex interactions between those issues created a circumstance where you were unable to see yourself clearly--- thus leading you to make choices for yourself that you later regretted--you instead lashed out at segments of the queer/trans community in a manner that is more reflective of self-hatred than any reasoned critique of your own experience.

I empathize with you. As a person of color that grew up in the upper Midwest, I had a hell of a time finding accepting spaces as a mixed race individual. I wasn't black or Latino enough for the blacks and Latinos. I wasn't Native enough for some Native people, while other Native folks wanted me to identify as Native to the exclusion of all else, and though I am half white, claiming whiteness would be an idiocy. I had to find my own way, and it involved some transformative and empowering experiences as well as some shitty and painful experiences (some of which were flat out created by me in my stumbling attempts to navigate a multiplicity of identities within complex communities that exist within specific socio-historical and political realities).

I could have handily blamed all black, Puerto Rican, Native American, and white folks for my own mistakes and missteps. But, frankly, since the only common factor in all of the equations surrounding my struggle with identity happen to be me, then it made sense for me to start at home. I looked closely at what I wanted from community, what I wanted from myself, and what I expected from community. I learned about how internalized racism and homophobia, classism, and other oppressions worked to have me see my own as enemies. Once my eyes had been opened to that insidious reality, I refused. I refused to see anyone with whom I shared a common or related struggle as an enemy.

This did not and does not mean that I fail to hold my allies and compadres accountable for the ways they participate or have participated in oppression or policing of identity or gate keeping or any number of other ways that we hurt and harm one another in an effort to feel safe in our identities. But this does mean that I will not lift myself up or find comfort in denying the existence, or the right to justice of anyone else that is fighting for their right to live free and liberated lives. It seems this is a lesson that you have failed to learn. I am sorry for you for that.

Having said that, here is the part where you as a white person need to shut up, sit down, and never ever speak again. You as a white woman do not now have and never will have the right to EVER SPEAK or COMMENT or in any way have an OPINION on the right of queer and trans people of color to self organize around our commonalities. You do not now nor EVER have the right to lay claim to one of our family, and here I am speaking clearly of Audre Lorde. While I did not know Audre, I do know Barbara Smith, Carmen Vazquez, Katherine Acey, Mandy Carter, and about a dozen of Audre's friends, and they all agree that she would have happily seen herself in communion with other queer folks of color, period. So, your righteous indignation on behalf of Audre is just another example of white folks trying to lay claim to people and figures that are not their own. From Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas down to Audre Lorde, I would invite you to keep your hands, feet, and words off of them and out of their mouths. Audre Lorde was a lesbian, and she was proud of being a lesbian. But she was a powerful black woman, and you do not get to speak for her. How dare you. Such blatant racism and life and legacy claiming by a white person is disgusting.

In the end, I would gladly and with all of my heart still sit on the board of directors of the Audre Lorde Project even if the only community it EVER served were trans and genderqueer people of color. As a biological male with all the privilege and power that entails, it is my responsibility to use my privilege to support the right to self-determination of my allies, and I do that with pride. I support the Sylvia River Law Project, I support the trans leadership of the Audre Lorde Project, which, Dirtywhiteboi67, is an organization committed to the liberation of all queer (gay, lesbian, bisexual), and trans, two spirit, same gender loving, pato, joto, punk people of color. Your personal hang ups do not now and never will define us, our work, or our liberation.

I sincerely hope you find the healing you need. In the meantime, I'd hope that you would sit down and learn a little bit of history. Because, sweetness, it was genderqueer and trans people of color that led those riots at Stonewall. It was the very people that you hate and vilify that made it possible for you to live your life in the way that you are living it---no matter how flawed and destructive that life may be. I sincerely wish you the best.


W. Brandon Lacy Campos

Friday, January 7, 2011

Word of the Day: Snufflesnout

It's a new year, and I am announcing a new occasional blog series at My Feet Only Walk Forward. In addition to Interviews, Everyday Heroes, the Political One Liner of the Week Award, Reviews, and the One Liner of the Week Award, I am adding Word of the Day.

Now and again, I will make up a word or overhear a word that is just too good to pass up. Sometimes it is an everyday word used cleverly and sometimes it is a word that with a subtle shift in pronunciation changes it from Jessica into Jem (truly outrageous!).

Synergy! Sorry...I was momentarily caught in a 1980s cartoon vortex. We now return you to your occasionally scheduled program: Word of the Day.

Last night, I was asleep having dreams of God knows what (and elephants). I can't remember what the hell they were doing or why I was dreaming about them but the elephants were there...and they were up to something. Just as I was dreaming about these elephants, back in the real world (Shakespeare Sister anyone?) David poked me.

That is when, in my dream, at the same time, an elephant also poked me with his trunk. So it makes complete sense that I would yell, out loud, in my sleep: SNUFFLESNOUT!!!

I woke myself with that miraculous word. David asked me what I had just said, and I said it again. Snufflesnout. And I meant it. It was the most logical thing to say. Snufflesnout. Of course.

The sound of the word was so absolutely ridiculous that I started laughing uncontrollably.

I was pretty sure that I was going to puke if I laughed any harder, and then David went right ahead and said the damn word again out loud. I fell over on my side with my head in the pillow trying to catch my breath. I even tried whispering the word, snufflesnout, just to see what would happen, and I almost met my end choking to death from laughter.

And that, is why I submit to you, the first ever My Feet Only Walk Forward Word of the Day: Snufflesnout.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

One Liner of the Week Award: Emily Berube

Last week, on Christmas Eve, the Berube family gathered for their annual gift exchange. David, his Mom and Dad, his brother and sister-in-law, and his niece and nephew gathered in the family rambler in Bristol, CT.

This year, Mitchell acted as Santa passing around gifts. Each person opened his or her gift and made the obligatory oohs and aahs as well as thank yous.

At one point, Mitchell hands his sister Emily one of those plastic candy canes that are filled with various candies, small toys, etc.

This was the following conversation.

Me: "Hey Emily, what's that?"

Emily unwraps the candy cane and looks askance at the various small pieces.

Emily: "A chocking hazard."

And that, Elves and Reindeer, is the One Liner of the Week.