We who believe in freedom cannot rest

14 Jul

One evening, while on his way home from service at an Episcopal church in downtown Pittsburgh, my father’s Parkinson’s ravaged body betrayed him and he took a spill. I can still feel my proud parents’ defeat when they returned home from the precinct. The police had assumed that this black man was a drunk.

When I was living in New York, I got home safely one evening after wading though the tenuous streets of my Washington Heights neighborhood only to be confronted by one of my white male neighbors who stopped me at the exterior door to my own apartment building and insisted that I prove to him that I lived there. Intimidated and humiliated, I handed over my keys.  My blood still boils more than 30 years later.

A dozen years ago, I was with friends listening to a summer jazz concert with friends at a local shopping center. Our children, then about 7 or 8 years old, repaired to the nearby Disney Store while we took in the music. The kids returned a bit later with news that they were told they couldn’t play in the store unless they were making a purchase. My daughter confided later that she, the only black child in the trio, was the one who was singled out for reprimand and asked to leave.

Living under suspicion is part and parcel of being black in America. Some of us are lucky enough to have lived to tell these tales.  Countless others, like so many black and brown men in New York City, are subjected to government-sanctioned harassment by the police. Sometimes, as in the cases of Oscar Grant or Trayvon Martin, they are shot dead by those officers or by self-appointed vigilantes.

May Trayvon and Oscar rest in peace. For those of us who still have a voice, there is no rest.

The words of Ella’s Song say it best: “Until the killing of black men  — black mother’s sons – is as important as the killing of all men – all mother’s sons . . .


Blacks and immigration

4 Jul
Immigration Protest

People look out at the Statue Of Liberty while they hold signs Saturday, April 6, 2013, as members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation as well as labor unions, religious leaders, immigrants and immigration advocates rally at Liberty State Park, in Jersey City, N.J. One of several demonstrations being held across the nation under the ‘Time is Now’ banner, the events are being held to urge Congress to pass immigration reform. They want to express their support for proposed changes in federal immigration laws that would put an estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally on a path to citizenship. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

I had an interesting discussion today about whether creating a pathway to citizenship to 11 million immigrants who currently have no legal standing would threaten the already tenuous job prospects of African-Americans.

As the daughter of an immigrant, I have trouble seeing immigrants as “other.”  I think forcing undocumented workers into the shadows while exploiting them for cheap labor is immoral. I think the Dream Act would go a long way to provide opportunities to young people who have been in the U.S. most of their lives. I think denying social services to undocumented immigrants costs us more in the long run.

On the other end of the spectrum, I think we should devote as much attention to improving the educational preparation of black American kids, particularly in the technology fields, as we do to advocating for H-1B visas for foreign workers in “specialty fields,” who are often subjected to a different kind of exploitation. They are often paid less then their homegrown counterparts.

I think New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy and Arizona’s SB 1070, are equally abhorrent.

Earlier this year, Jamelle Bouie wrote a piece in The American Prospect titled  “How African Americans view immigration reform.” He cites research that suggests that immigration is an issue that divides blacks by class: Working-class African Americans are more likely to support restrictive immigration policies than  middle-class blacks. Bouie asserts that Democrats might need to pay attention to this clash of classes to maintain their edge in states like Virginia and North Carolina.  He also suggests that  “if Republicans are feeling ambitious, this divide could form the basis for outreach to working-class blacks.  Insofar that the GOP wants to cleave the Democratic coalition, immigration might offer a way to reach one group of working-class voters.”

Political cynics would love nothing more than to pit African Americans against immigrants and perhaps African Americans against each other.

But as Marian Hill wrote in The Grio:

“At first glance or thought, African-Americans may not inherently see themselves the product of immigration. The truth is, we are. Let’s not forget the roles and heritage of some of our historical figures in American history, such as Marcus Garvey, Harry Belafonte, Shirley Chisholm, Malcolm X, Rev. Theodore Gibson, Claude McKay, and Stokely Carmichael — all of whom were immigrants from the Caribbean. We must also remember that we cannot confront future political and legislative fights on our own without demonstrating solidarity with others who fight for equality, respect, and recognition as part of the American fabric.”

Breakfast with Mandela

30 Jun

One of the highlights of my life  was being in South Africa when apartheid breathed its final breath and Nelson Mandela was elected president. I didn’t think it could get any better until I had an opportunity to have breakfast with President Mandela at Blair House in Washington, DC, a few months later.

I keep this autographed place card to remind me how blessed I’ve been.  Keeping Madiba, his family and all of those fighting for freedom in my prayers.


Fathers: A new generation

16 Jun

Given that this is primarily a blog bout my father, you would think I would have something profound to post on the day we celebrate, well, fathers. But, for reasons already dealt with in this blog, I don’t have a store of rich memories of my dad.

Many of my memories of him are filtered through my mother: “Don’t let your Daddy see that bikini I just bought you.” “Your Daddy told me to come down here and tell that boy to go home.” “Your Daddy would be so proud of you.”


My daughter, Zuri Adele, and her father, Darryl Alladice, in 1995

I remember being very young, maybe five or six and calling my mother an “old hag.” She thought I’d called her an “old bag,” which I kind of liked better. My mother told me to stand outside and wait until my father came home — they didn’t call it “time out” back then. Whatever punishment was meted out for my rude mouth, I’m sure my father did not administer it. He never did. I’m sure he was pretty typical of the dad of the 50s and 60s. The strong, silent breadwinner and hands-off parent.

I’m glad I have his columns to explore. Through them I’m finding that Ebenezer and I are more like soul mates than I would ever have imagined. But when he was writing for the New York Age, he wasn’t a father. If he had a relationship with his own father, it’s not at all evident. I have no idea what he thought of fatherhood, in the abstract or the concrete.

We’re lucky to live in an age when men, including the president of the United States, talk openly about fatherhood.

So here’s to hands-on fathers – biological, adoptive, step and surrogate. It’s your day. Make some lasting memories.

A great night for black actors on the Great White Way

9 Jun

After watching Serena Williams give the Best Performance by a Women’s Tennis Player in the 2013 French Open, I didn’t think the weekend could get any better. But since I blogged about Cicely Tyson’s performance in “The Trip to Bountiful” a few weeks ago, I thought I should follow up.

What a night at the Tony Awards.

Cicely Tyson: Best Performance by an Actress in a Play (“The Trip to Bountiful”)
Patina Miller: Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical (“Pippin”)
Billy Porter: Best Performance by an Actor in a Musical (“Kinky Boots”)
Courtney Vance, Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play (“Lucky Guy”)

From Harlem to ‘Bountiful,’ Cicely Tyson tills the soil for many

24 May

triptobountiful1I hope I can remember where I put my keys when I’m her age, I thought as I watched Cicely Tyson perform the other night. Forget remembering all of my lines in a Broadway play.

Tyson is the central character in The Trip to Bountiful, which is currently playing at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. It’s not that I’m surprised that Tyson is amazing. I’m just appreciative of her longevity, her beauty and her tenacity.

Wikipedia has Tyson born in December of 1933, which would make her 79. The New York Times puts her at 88.

During the performance I kept thinking how Tyson had paved the way for the success of other members of the Bountiful revival cast, which includes Vanessa L. Williams, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Condola Rashad.

I admit, there were times when, even with a few tweaks to the set, (There’s a sign in the bus station that points to a “Whites Only” waiting room.) I was hyper-aware of the fact that a black family’s experience in Jim Crow Texas might have been a little different from the one playing out on the stage.

According to the Times, it was Hallie Foote, daughter of playwright Horton Foote, who wanted to do the play with an African American cast. She’d long envisioned Tyson in the role of Carrie Watts. For her part, Tyson said she’d always wanted to do the play. Human longing for home is universal, she said

“They just took down the house I lived in at 311 East 102nd Street,” she told the Times. “I used to walk by and feel like I could still see my mother in the window.”

Tyson’s parents, like my father, whose birthday would be today, immigrated from the West Indies and settled in Harlem. To say that her mother did not support her choice of career would be an understatement.

“My mother didn’t talk to me for two years,” Tyson said in an interview on CBS’ Sunday Morning.

But Tyson persisted, and she was judicious about the roles she accepted. She refused to take parts that did “nothing to enhance the race itself or women.”

Tyson won two Emmy Awards for her role in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman — one for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries and a special honor for Actress of the Year. She also got Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for her performance in Sounder.

Now she’s nominated for a Tony Award for Bountiful.

Whatever window her mother is watching from, I’m sure she is proud.

‘The Dream is Now’

24 Apr

My father walked off a boat in 1923 and checked in at Ellis Island. He was a black man. His path to citizenship couldn’t have been easy. But he wasn’t forced to hide in the shadows, worrying that he might be deported to Barbados. He was able to pursue his dream and become an American journalist.

Alejandro Morales, Ola Kaso, Jose Patino and Erika Andiola have not enjoyed that privilege. They came with their families as children to the United States, the only country they know as home. They are the embodiment of the American Dream. They’ve been good citizens, great family members and excellent students. Yet their dreams have been deferred by an America that refuses to fully embrace them.

Morales, Kaso, Patino and Andiola are the subjects of a new documentary The Dream is Now, which chronicles these young people’s efforts to earn their citizenship.

Morales has wanted to be a Marine since eighth grade, but he can’t without a Social Security number.

Patino, who graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in mechanical engineering, works low-skilled construction jobs because he can’t get hired as an engineer.

Kaso wants to become an oncologist and was accepted to the University of Michigan, but her future was put on hold while her family’s status was reviewed. During a routine meeting with immigration officials, she was handcuffed to a chair in a basement hallway of a detention center for several hours.

, who has met with everybody from Sen. John McCain to White House adviser Valerie Jarrett as an advocate for the Dream Act, was granted permission to work, but her mother was put on a bus headed for Mexico — in chains.

The film is part of a movement of the same name launched by Laurene Powell Jobs and her organization, the Emerson Collective. Produced by award-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, The Dream is Now, also places their struggles in an historical context. It’s the next battle in the civil rights movement.

Recently, the Associated Press changed its stylebook to include this proviso: “Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant.”

I appreciate the spirit of the AP’s decision. Words have power, and that’s the point. But what I would appreciate even more is for America to stop criminalizing our children.

And yes, Morales, Kaso, Patino and Andiola and other “Dreamers” are our children.

Watch the film
. Join their movement.


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