‘Greenleaf’ brings family and journalism to the small screen

22 Jun

I was going to watch the OWN Network’s Greenleaf, no matter what, since my nephew Lamman Rucker is a principal character. The fact that Keith David and Lynn Whitfield star in it too and Oprah Winfrey is an executive producer and has a recurring role were attractions.

That writer and producer Craig Wright, whose credits include Lost and Six Feet Under gave the show some cred for me.

After watching the premier last night, though, what is most intriguing in my mind is that the story about a Tennessee megachurch, and an uber wealthy black family, centers around Grace Greenleaf, a disillusioned preacher prodigy, prodigal daughter, and (yay!) a truth-seeking journalist. She seems to be the only one, aside from her Auntie Mavis, played by Winfrey, who is interested in getting to the bottom of her sister Faith’s death. She and Mavis are the only ones willing to confront the open secret that a family member is a sexual predator.

Until Spotlight, the Academy Award-winning  film based on the true story of my former Boston Globe colleagues who uncovered a massive international scandal about child sexual abuse by Catholic priests and the complicity of the Catholic Church, I hadn’t seen a movie or television show that portrayed journalism in a way that rang true.

I’m counting on Oprah, a journalist at her core and a victim of sexual abuse herself to get it right. And in the meantime, I’ll be watching it as a proud auntie too.

Would Congress pass Father’s Day today?

16 Jun

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Note: I wrote this four years ago, including the line about Donald Trump! Happy Father’s Day.

 

Ebenezer didn’t seem to have much to say about Father’s Day. He didn’t acknowledge it in his columns. He never mentions his own father — whose name, Joseph Ray, I have had to glean from his marriage licenses. He doesn’t utter the name of his stepfather (He might not have liked that term; let’s say his mother’s husband) James Alkins, whose name I found by piecing together information from obituaries and death certificates. And since he was not a father at the time of his New York Age writings — and would not become one until he was 50 years old — he didn’t have any first-person insight to offer.

When I look at the history of Father’s Day, it makes more sense. Although Mother’s Day gained full recognition in the United States in 1914, Father’s Day would not gain equal status until 1972, when President Richard Nixon made it a permanent national holiday.

The effort to recognize fathers began in 1910 by Sonora Smart Dodd. Her father, William Jackson Smart, a Union Army veteran who reared his six children in Spokane, Wash. after his wife died in childbirth, deserved more props, Sonora thought. After hearing a Mother’s Day sermon in 1909, Sonora told her pastor that fathers should have a similar holiday. According to Wikipedia, she initially suggested her father’s birthday, June 5, but the pastors didn’t have enough time to prepare their sermons, and the celebration was deferred to the third Sunday of June.

So what happened between 1910 and 1972? Politics, according to Wikipedia.

A bill to accord national recognition of the holiday was introduced in Congress in 1913. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson went to Spokane to speak in a Father’s Day celebration and wanted to make it official, but Congress resisted, fearing that it would become commercialized. President Calvin Coolidge, [a Democrat] recommended in 1924 that the day be observed by the nation, but stopped short of issuing a national proclamation. Two earlier attempts to formally recognize the holiday had been defeated by Congress. In 1957, Maine Sen. Margaret Chase Smith [a Republican] wrote a proposal accusing Congress of ignoring fathers for 40 years while honoring mothers, thus “[singling] out just one of our two parents.” In 1966, [Democratic] President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers, designating the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. Six years later, the day was made a permanent national holiday when [Republican] President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972.

It’s a good thing. Can you imagine the current Congress trying to pass a law recognizing Father’s Day? I can just imagine House Speaker John Boehner insisting that President Obama was trying to gain political advantage by spending time with Sasha and Malia. Donald Trump would probably insist that the president’s daughters are not really his.

Of course, I’m just being silly. I hope . . .

But when we despair over the attempts to pass campaign finance reform or a jobs bill or to hold on to the Affordable Care Act, keep in mind that it took Washington 60 years to fully recognize Father’s Day.

Have a happy one!

Memorial Day reflections

28 May

In his New York Age column in 1934, my father wrote, “President Roosevelt in an address to more than 50,000 persons on Memorial Day, denounced three groups as those capable of retarding the country’s progress.”

He then quoted Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s speech delivered in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on May 30, 1934, titled “The Selfishness of Sectionalism Has No Place in Our National Life.”

 “These groups are those who seek to stir up political animosity or to build political advantage by the distortion of facts; those who, by declining to follow the rules of the game, seek to gain an unfair advantage over those who are willing to live up to the rules of the game; and those few who, because they have never been willing to take an interest in their fellow Americans, dwell inside of their own narrow spheres and still represent the selfishness of sectionalism which has no place in our national life.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt

My father continued: “These groups, optimistically observes the President, ‘grow less in importance with the growth of a clearer understanding of our purpose on the part of an overwhelming majority.’

“Obviously, Negroes might wish they could subscribe to the Chief Executive’s optimism, but existing conditions are hardly conducive to such. With unyielding prejudice of the South not content with its morbid environment but rearing its head in the allegedly democratic North, Negroes fail to observe to an appreciable extent the decline of those whites who represent the ‘selfishness of sectionalism.’” Ebenezer Ray

Ebenezer used FDR’s words as a jumping off point to talk about just why black Americans might be less optimistic than their president. He cited as examples the barring of blacks from the House Restaurant in Washington, DC. and the refusal of Blumstein’s, the largest department store in Harlem in his day, to hire “Negro” clerks, despite the fact that 75 percent of their patronage was from blacks.

This column came up while I was searching my father’s writings for some Memorial Day wisdom.

Things have changed. Many of those who have witnessed an African American family residing in the White House for the past eight years might find it hard to imagine that black folks were once barred from eating in the House of Representatives dining room.

Harlem now has Magic Johnson movie theaters, Starbucks and a Whole Foods, who hire plenty of black folks and other people of color, even as many of those workers are being priced out.  Earlier this week, Michael Henry Adams, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times, titled, “The End of Black Harlem,” in which he examines the gentrification that has rendered this cultural Mecca increasingly unaffordable to those who have made it their home for decades.

Barack Obama, Shinzo Abe

U.S. President Barack Obama, right, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shake hands fter laying wreaths at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, western, Japan, Friday, May 27, 2016. Obama on Friday became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the site of the world’s first atomic bomb attack, bringing global attention both to survivors and to his unfulfilled vision of a world without nuclear weapons. (Kimimasa Mayama/Pool Photo via AP)

But some themes in Roosevelt’s Memorial Day speech, are frighteningly resonant. Far from Americans gaining a “clearer understanding of our purpose,” as the president put it, those who represent “the selfishness of sectionalism” appear to be gaining ground. The presumptive Republican candidate for the U.S. presidency, Donald Trump, epitomizes those who “seek to stir up political animosity or to build advantage by the distortion of facts,” while his supporters “dwell inside of their own narrow spheres.”

Ebenezer likely thought FDR’s speech did not, in today’s parlance, “go hard enough.”  But perhaps the president was trying to appeal to his country’s better nature.

That’s what presidents do.

On Friday, President Barack Obama laid a wreath at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and delivered a speech reflecting on the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 at the end of World War II.

“We stand here in the middle of this city and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell,” Obama said.  “We force ourselves to feel the dread of children confused by what they see. We listen to a silent cry. We remember all the innocents killed across the arc of that terrible war and the wars that came before and the wars that would follow.”

Obama went on to say: “My own nation’s story began with simple words: All men are created equal and endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Realizing that ideal has never been easy, even within our own borders, even among our own citizens. But staying true to that story is worth the effort. It is an ideal to be strived for, an ideal that extends across continents and across oceans. The irreducible worth of every person, the insistence that every life is precious, the radical and necessary notion that we are part of a single human family –  that is the story that we all must tell.” Barack Obama

We must not surrender our ideals to those who distort facts to gain unfair political advantage or  dwell inside their own spheres.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DNA test results just in

14 May

Just got my DNA  test results from Ancestry.com. No real surprises here, I guess, but interesting, nonetheless. More thoughts to come.

 

Ethnicity estimate

A ‘Confirmation’ that subtlety can make for good TV

30 Apr

I just watched HBO’s Confirmation, which told the story, but mostly the back story, of Clarence Thomas’ appointment and ultimate confirmation as an associate justice to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991. Unlike my reaction to FX’s  The People v. O.J. Simpson, which I found much too painful to endure, I found Confirmation oddly  validating and inspiring, even as it steered clear of taking a hard side. Some reviews have described it as boring, particularly compared with the 10-hour O.J. miniseries. (I’ve only watched one episode.) But I had lived through the salacious version of the confirmation story  –  the real-time television saga of 1991.  I was glad that in the age when reality TV pervades every aspect of our lives, including presidential politics,  a historical drama could be produced without hysteria in every scene. I was happy to see Kerry Washington, whom I’ve loved since I first saw her in Save the Last Dance, show her understated emotional range as Anita Hill, and Wendell Pierce’s controlled and searing portrayal of Thomas under siege. Jeffrey Wright as Charles Ogletree was an added treat.

Back in 1991, I wrote a few columns about the Thomas, Hill and the confirmation process.  Here’s one that imagines a big screen portrayal of the hearings, with a bit of commentary on Hollywood.

Copyright: The Boston Globe, October 1991.

Copyright: The Boston Globe, October 1991.

When Doves Cry

30 Apr

Minutes after the news broke that Prince Rogers Nelson had died, my phone started blowing up. “Prince!” one friend simply wrote. “How are you? I’m so sorry,” wrote another. “Purple Rain. Midnight Show Opening Day! A Good Memory,” wrote another old friend.
I was both comforted, moved and amused by the texts, emails, Facebook posts and phone calls from people who have known me from different stages of my life over several decades. I did love Prince’s musicianship, his artistry, his energy, his sexiness, his introverted nature, his insistence on being himself. I dug out an article published about me in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1986 when I visited my hometown. Over the years, I’d been a bit embarrassed  about my response to the question about my favorite movie. After all, I remember hating Purple Rain the first time I saw it, with its misogyny and horrible acting. But I loved the music and went back to see it several  times, so it was an honest answer.  And in honor of his Purple Majesty, I embrace it.

Copyright: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 9, 1986

Copyright: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Feb. 16, 1986

 

It happens here, and now

20 Jun
In this photo taken June 19, 2015, photos of the victims of the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., are held during a vigil at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington. The black church has long been the cornerstone and sanctuary for African American life. It has also long been a target for racists and white supremacists trying to strike blows against the African American psyche. The latest attack came Wednesday in Charleston, South Carolina, when 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof joined a prayer meeting inside historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and shot nine people dead, including the pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and other ministers. (AP Photo/Glynn A. Hill)

In this photo taken June 19, 2015, photos of the victims of the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., are held during a vigil at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington. (AP Photo/Glynn A. Hill)

From his columns, I know my father as someone who believed America thought too much of itself when it came to racial justice.

He often used his writing to remind readers that while the United States was promoting itself around the world as the land of the free, it had a lot to answer for at home. He chastised white American leaders who responded vocally to the scourge of Nazism, but were mum on “the many injustices to which Negroes of America have been subjected during the past many years.”

“Truly, the oppression of Negroes in America is of a more subtle nature than the present ruthless persecution of Jews by the Nazi regime,” he wrote, but “there are individual cases which compare remarkably well with the deeds perpetrated by proponents of the brown shirt and swastika.”

dottings_1_7_1939

The New York Age, January 7, 1939

Much of that column, published in the New York Age on January 7, 1939, was devoted to an incident a few weeks prior involving a wealthy black Chicago businesswoman  — Noblesse Boyd  — who was racially profiled, jailed and charged with vagrancy in Indianapolis for the crime of wearing an expensive coat.

But that weekly offering also referenced lynchings, including one notorious case in which several members of a family — the Lowmans — were brutally murdered by a mob in Aiken, South Carolina, in 1926.

“It Happens Here!” was the title of that column.

And it happens still. It happened in America on June 17, 2015, when nine black women and men were gunned down during bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston by a white supremacist who allegedly spewed racial epithets along with his bullets.

The dead are Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; Hon. Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr., 74; Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45, and Myra Thompson, 59.

I refuse to utter this terrorist’s name or publish his photograph, as it will just give him another platform for his hatred. But photos show him wearing a jacket with the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia. His neo-Nazi and Klan inspired diatribes appear to be well documented. His terror indeed compares, as my father said, “remarkably well with the deeds perpetrated by proponents of the brown shirt and swastika.”

“It happens here,” Ebenezer Ray reminded his readers in 1939. As we approach Father’s Day 2015, I am forced to say, “Daddy, you were, and still are right.”

The (private) life of Riley

4 Jun FILE - In this May 27, 2015, file photo, Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry is joined by his daughter Riley at a news conference after Game 5 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals against the Houston Rockets in Oakland, Calif. Curry has been named The Associated Press 2015 Male Athlete of the Year. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

 

I confess. I am under the spell of Riley, Warrior Princess.

I wait with bated breath for the next time I can get to see her don an invisibility cloak, disappear under a press conference table, then reappear, headband gone, ready for her next conquest.

I, like the rest of the world, watch as she melts the hearts of the most jaded sports reporters who abandon their worries about looming deadlines and just let this pint-sized super hero take them away.

I swoon as I watch her father, Steph Curry, multitask, deftly responding to questions about offensive and defensive strategy on the basketball court, while putting on his daughter’s bracelet and keeping an eye out to make sure she doesn’t run away with the mic or bonk her head.

When the Warrior Princess disappears behind the dark curtain, we escape too, from extrajudicial police killings; from Boko Haram and ISIS; from the widening wealth gap and the evaporation of affordable housing; from super storms and drought. For just a few minutes, we too can be two again.

But that’s just the problem. We, the public, with our cell phones and Twitter accounts and Instagram postings, too often act like toddlers ourselves. We – often led or followed by the mainstream media – have an insatiable hunger for proximity to fame. But then we get bored, forget about boundaries, insist that our hunger be sated, without regard for the toll our constant demands have on those whose lives we covet.

So we wait, until we can snap photos of the Warrior Princess turning into a teenager, rolling her eyes at her dad’s bad jokes or wearing her skirt shorter than we deem appropriate. Soon someone is training a long lens on Riley’s first kiss. We are speculating about what is in that red cup or whether that’s a cigarette in her hand or something else.

And when Steph and her mom, Ayesha, invoke her right to privacy we, like toddlers, pretend not to hear, toss our once favorite toy aside or worse, we bite, or stomp away in a fit of pique and insist that her parents are not playing fair.

I am dazzled by Riley, Warrior Princess, and the image of a free, black girl full of joy and self-confidence. I am inspired by the image of the healthy African American family, a tender, humble superstar athlete, husband and dad. But I think it’s time to let Riley go back to being what she is, a little girl.

Managing the public spotlight is a lot like parenting: You have to set clear boundaries from the get-go, or risk losing your moral authority for a long time to come.

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