Despite all, Humans Yearn to connect

Right now someone, somewhere is sitting down, at a table perhaps or his or her favorite chair, fingers tapping away at a computer, or scribbling away with a pen in a notebook, crafting words that will soon resonate with many people. This artist will tap into that thing that connects us all. The thing that is nameless and sightless and odorless, yet we all know it exists. That thing that binds spirits. The thing that can get perfect strangers on the same vibe. That thing that a musician somewhere, with guitar in hand, or trumpet or piano keys beneath his fingertips, will also tap into, composing the song, lyric, melody that will soon have many of us singing along, humming in unison. Somewhere an actor is memorizing lines that will soon galvanize us. Somebody, somewhere is unknown, but soon we’ll be hard pressed to recall the time when we didn’t know them. People who connect us are like that. We humans long to be connected to each other.

Yes, it’s true. As a nation, we’re divided right now. The right, the left, Hillary voters, Trump supporters. Politics divides. It always has and perhaps always will. But art, music, words on page, and yes, even tragedy, connects us. Connecting is natural. Division is not. Never has been. Those who seek to divide us do so for selfish, unnatural reasons. We naturally want to be together. That’s why babies and children get along so well. Our natural instinct as people is to come together, gravitate toward one another.

That’s why I love art and music and sports. It’s in these things that strangers think nothing of hugging or high-fiving strangers. It’s a beautiful thing. I know words in the wrong hands can sometimes serve to divide as well, but by and large, from Shakespeare to Harper Lee to King to Gladwell to every author who dare put pen to paper and finger to keyboard, the best of them, the good of them, connect us. Artists, musicians, writers simply lead us where we naturally want to go. So to that writer, that musician, that artist that unknown, whose words are yet to do what fate will soon have them do, thank you for plugging away, thank you for giving of yourself, and we thank God and Infinite Intelligence for your gift. See you soon.

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The Mind of a Playmaker

On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter addressed the nation with what has since been dubbed, ‘the Malaise Speech.” At the time the nation was embroiled in an energy crisis as OPEC (the Middle East group that provided a significant amount of our oil) had cut exports to us, causing gas shortages and long three hour waits at some gas stations. Carter addressed the energy crisis that night, but he also addressed what he thought was the bigger issue in America at that time. I quote, “The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see the crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation.” Yes, the president saw the American people as a significant part of the problem. The president added later in the speech, “As you know there is a growing disrespect for government and for our churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. This is not a message of happiness, or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.”

I was drawn to this speech as I prepared to write my blog post because I believe President Carter’s speech could be delivered this week and still be spot on in describing America today. I believe we also have a crisis of confidence today. We don’t trust government. Church Sunday attendance has dropped significantly in the last few years, indicating we don’t trust that institution much anymore either. Public schools have long been whipping boys of local communities and now some people are even questioning the wisdom of sending their children to college where they’re liable to be brainwashed by the so called ‘liberal elite.’  Some believe that the divide in America along ideological and political lines threatens the very fabric of our beings. Our leaders don’t seem to have the answers. The American people in many ways appear to be catatonic and utterly rudderless. It’s as if we’re not descended from some of the strongest, hardest-working, determined people to ever walk the earth. I often wonder how our forebears would view Americans today. Would they be disappointed that so many of us blame government, the church, Wall Street, schools, our neighbors, just about any and every one for so many of OUR problems. Would they wonder why people believe that they alone can’t fix what ails them?  Would they balk at the number of people who refuse to roll up their sleeves, getting to work, claiming the lives they believe they deserve?

I’m an African-American. My ancestors were slaves, yet they too built this great nation. I’m so proud of my ancestors because I doubt too many races of people could endure the pain and suffering that my ancestors endured, yet survive so that I can sit down in a public library and type out this blog post. I wonder how our ancestors would feel at the Black Lives Matter movement. Would they too get angry at anyone, including other African-Americans for daring to say or suggest that all lives matter? How would they feel about the voting percentages of African-Americans? The high school dropout rate? The crime rate? How would they tackle the issue of black on black crime?

We as Americans have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to make America, great. We don’t need politicians or slogans to fuel our actions.  Everyone has the capability to make her or his situation better. In his speech, President Carter quoted a visitor to Camp David who said, “We’ve got to stop crying and start sweating, stop talking, and start walking, stop cursing, and start praying. The strength we need will not come from the White House, but from every house in America.” And he was right. We, all of us, have the power to make our own lives better. Somewhere along our journey from colonial times to now, we’ve forgotten that. WE have to get back our can-do spirit. It’s how we conquered the West. It’s how we put a man on the moon. It’s how African-Americans won freedom and the right to sit anywhere on a bus, be served at lunch counters, go to any school, and to vote.

All of our ancestors fought diligently for America to get to this point. They looked within and didn’t wait for others to do what they could do for themselves. Americans were Playmakers. I’ll explain the term in depth in future blog posts, but suffice it to say, a playmaker is someone who finds ways to win in whatever situation he or she finds him or herself in. No excuses. No alibis. Doing what is right and just, and getting the job done by any legal and ethical means necessary. We all have an inner playmaker within us. We all have the ability to improve our own situations, be it personally or professionally. We just need to be reminded of that simple fact every so often.

The Amazing Life & Death of Karyn Washington

I discovered Karyn Washington yesterday. I was surfing YouTube, and just happened to stumble across a video about Karyn’s suicide from April of last year (2014). The particular video I saw was all about how Karyn had killed herself because she was a dark-skinned black girl who suffered from the affects of colorism. For those of you unfamiliar with the term. Colorism is discrimination in the black community based on one’s skin tone. Here’s a old childhood rhyme that pretty much sums up how deep the problem with colorism runs in the black community:

If you’re black, stay back.

If you’re brown, stick around

If you’re yellow, you’re mellow

If you’re white, you’re all right

The seeds of colorism were originally planted in the days of slavery and the aftereffects of it are still being felt today, particularly amongst African-American women. Here’s what Denzel WashIngton told his daughter in preparation for her entering show biz. It’s from  a 2012 segment of The Hollywood Reporter “The Actors” series,”You’re black, you’re a woman, and you’re dark-skinned at that. So you have to be a triple/quadruple threat. I said: ‘You gotta learn how to act. You gotta learn how to dance, sing, move onstage.’

As a dark-skinned child growing up in the seventies, I experienced colorism all the time. I’ve been called by other black folk: darky, tar-baby, blackie. Sometimes the words were said in jest and sometimes so as to hurt my feelings. Regardless, they always hurt. For dark-skinned black males, the tide started changing in the eighties with the emergence of several superstar athletes and performers like Michael Jordan, Eddie Murphy, Denzel Washington, Bobby Brown, and Big Daddy Kane. Suddenly it came became quite fashionable to be a dark-skinned black male. Society, particularly black society, okay the females, began seeing us in a different light.  All was now right in the world, right? Wrong! As Denzel’s quote demonstrated, there was no such evolutionary moment for our dark-skinned black sisters. The dark-skinned stigma for black females marched on, unchallenged for the most part. Enter Karyn Washington.

Karyn was a dark-skinned sister. But she didn’t want to remain a second-class citizen within her own race. She built up her own self-esteem, recognizing her beauty inside and out. Then, she set about helping other dark-skinned girls see their own inner and outer beauty. To that end, she founded the website, For Brown Girls. The website, aimed at dark-skinned African-American women, had a central theme of being proud of the skin you’re in and seeing the beauty of it. For Karyn it seemed that the dark-skinned issue for black women was twofold and needed tackling on two fronts. One, dark-skinned black women had to work on their self-esteem. They needed to see, recognize, and believe in their own beauty. Secondly, society had to see, recognize, and believe in the beauty of the dark-skinned black woman as well.

One needed only to witness the online onslaught of vicious innuendo following Karyn’s suicide to understand the battle she’d faced in changing society’s viewpoint, especially within the black community. With no basis in facts, since Karyn did not leave a suicide note, most people claimed that Karyn had killed herself because despite her website and writing and talks to the contrary, Karyn still couldn’t handle or accept being a dark-skinned woman, and therefore she killed herself. Now, let that sink in for a minute. She killed herself because she was dark-skinned was the first thing that came to a lot of people’s minds, namely black people. One very popular online blogger ranted nearly an hour about Karyn’s so called fake self-esteem. The haters underlying message seemed to be: you’re dark-skinned, You can’t possibly be that together. To me, that speaks more to the thinker of such thoughts than it did to Karyn. I don’t know why Karyn killed herself. My thoughts are that it most likely related to depression brought on by the recent death of her mother following a long bout with cancer. But regardless of the real reason, the initial black community response was telling. Our mental psyche is still fragile. Most of us still have self-esteem issues. We self-hate. I hope more people discover the life and death of Karyn Washington. Her 22 years of existence can help others dealing with a variety of issues, including, low self esteem, grief, depression, and self-hate. To me, she epitomized self motivation, self-love, and self-inspiration. She saw a societal problem and set out to do something about it. What an amazing life!

Mrs. Read

One of the things I’m going to do from time to time on my blog is give a shout out to people who at one time or another has inspired, influenced, taught, or has otherwise helped mold me into the person I am today. And I like to think that I’m a good, solid, decent person with my head on straight. (If anyone begs to differ, I’ll apologize upfront for libeling myself) The first of these shouts out will be to people who are still alive as far as I know. Then, I will gradually give shouts out to folk who I know have already passed on.

No one gets anywhere by him or herself. I most certainly did not. And although my journey is not complete, there are many people who had a hand in getting me this far. So without further adieu, I give you Mrs. Ruth Read, my 11th grade English teacher. Now anyone who has seen my bio on my website (www.cedwardbaldwin.com) or at my Amazon Author’s page, knows that I attribute one of my former professors (Elizabeth Doak–more on her in a later post) for giving me the notion to even consider writing as a career. But Mrs. Read inspired me to well, READ. Ironic or funny I know. But, it’s true. She and I had the best time discussing Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter. She just made me want to read a story and reread it until I absorbed every nuance of it. From symbols to characters to setting, whatever. She made reading and English fun. She’s a big part of my foundation in writing and I will forever be grateful to her. So, Mrs. Read if you ever stumble across this post, just know that Curtis Baldwin, Jr. appreciates everything you did for him. I know I was just one of the many students that you taught, but you always made me feel as if I was the only one. In that, you had a gift. THANK YOU a million times!!