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Zuri Adele is about to get into some ‘Good Trouble’

8 Jan

Both of my parents were lovers of the arts, from the symphony to the cinema, from backyard talent shows to Broadway. Our family is filled with people with artists’ souls. I think often of my mother’s brother James Browne who worked as a custodian by day and sang with the North Jersey Philharmonic Glee Club for more than five decades, wowing audiences with his rich baritone. Then there are the dancers, actors, jewelry designers in the Ray, Rucker, Williams, Brooks, Alladice clan that just keep coming.

Tonight at 8 p.m.,  Zuri Adele will make her major TV debut in Good Trouble on the Freeform network. She plays Malika, an activist who is going to stir up trouble in the best sense.

The show’s title is inspired by Rep. John Lewis who has said: “I want to see young people in America feel the spirit of the 1960s and find a way to get in the way. To find a way to get in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble.”

As with The Fosters, of which Good Trouble is a spinoff, the show will deal with issues that we have been confronting since before the 60s  — racial justice, police brutality, immigration, women’s rights and LGBTQ issues. The characters in the show have their own contemporary approaches to fighting injustice, using tools that were not available in the 60s, such as crowd sourcing and social media.

They also get into other kinds of trouble as well. And that’s real.

The first episode dropped on Hulu and Xfinity last week and will air on Tuesdays on Freeform  at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time. (Check your local listings.)

No holiday for the fight against injustice

26 Dec

The fire is at hand. Let us organize.

Those were the words of Ulric McDonald Grant, a Barbadian union organizer, who in 1937 was sentenced to 10 years in prison for sedition.

Occasionally, Ebenezer devoted his holiday columns to sentimental musings. But quite often, he used them to remind people that the Scottsboro Boys were still in prison or that white Harlem merchants still failed to hire blacks to work in their stores. He devoted his Christmas Day column in 1937 to inveigh against the injustice visited upon Ulric Grant.

Noting that the case constituted the first time he’d felt ashamed of the “isle of my birth,”  Ebenezer asserted that Grant’s “crime” was that he gave a few speeches in which he vowed to continue to fight against the white planter class.

“What must have made Grant’s remarks all the more ‘seditious’ in the eyes of the law was that they were made following an island-wide disturbance arising out of labor conditions and capitalistic oppression under which the masses, Negroes almost in toto, have groaned for many years,” my father wrote.

He had harsh criticism for a number of players in this case, but curiously, he let the British off the hook.

Much of what is charged up to ‘the British’ is the work of a few West Indian-born and bred ninnies usurping their power in the only manner they know and usurping it badly, occasionally harmfully.

“The entire judicial setup in Barbados which had to do with the case of Grant is of local birth,” my father continued.  “Judge, attorney general, solicitor general and police constabulary. And we find Grant arrested, prosecuted, sentenced to 10 years in prison for an offense which amounted in the most to an attempt to disturb the peace —  an offense  to which a small fine generally meets the end of justice.”


My father expressed disappointment toward Grant supporters for failing to rally to Grant’s aid, but he speculated that many of them were probably swept up in wholesale arrests that were taking place or  “hiding from the accusing finger of this same judicial setup.”

He took aim at local attorneys who did not offer their expertise. to Grant, who faced a jury without legal counsel. “It was regrettable that the Negro lawyers of Barbados did not see ‘a cause’ in a fight for Grant’s exoneration.”

As to the judge in the case, whom he described as being “born of a small-town aristocracy and elevated to his present position by curry-favoring small-town cronies, he sees the right of the populace in a small-town way. The right of free speech was not included in his legal studies.”

On a more hopeful note, Ebenezer said that a West Indian Defense Committee had been formed in Harlem to provide financial assistance to the defense.

“The West Indian Defense Committee has quite a task before it,Ebenezer wrote.

The progress of the world and the right of free speech must be carried home to shortsighted colonials.

I found a brief legal note that indicated that Grant was released early, in February 1942 after the remission of his sentence.  But aside from a few letters to the editor in response to my father’s 1937 Christmas column, I haven’t found much on Grant.  I did find an article in the Barbados Advocate in  2016, in which a contemporary union leader lamented the fact that Grant and several other activists had never gotten due credit for their contributions to Barbados’ decolonization.

So as I celebrate Unity — the first principle of Kwanzaa — I will light a candle for Ulric Grant and all of those whose voices that have filled our diasporic chorus against injustice.













Celebrating longevity

29 Jul

Eva V. Williams, one of my mother’s first cousins, turns 90 this weekend. Two weeks ago, about 200 friends and family members gathered to celebrate this milestone. While as one of her nephews, Russell Irvine, noted in a tribute to Cousin Eva, fewer and fewer elders from that generation remain, an added blessing is that five of Cousin Eva’s siblings were there to celebrate with her. Six of the original 10 are still with us.

Cousin Eva, who worked as a school librarian, did not have children of her own, but she has been a mother to many. Her “radiant, captivating” smile and open heart,  are  her signature.  Thank you, dear cousin, and Happy Birthday.

Happy 120th birthday

24 May


May 24 would have been my father’s 120th birthday.

I don’t know what would resonate with him today, but back in the 1930s, when he was in his mid-to-late 30s, he was given to quoting Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on his birthday.

For three consecutive years, in columns that ran near May 24, Ebenezer would quote the same lines from Longfellow’s “The Spanish Student,” a play in three acts.


“Approaching one of those inevitable milestones imposed by Father Time, this paragrapher pauses in reflection and does a little audible thinking. Methinks Longfellow was correct when he wrote of persons born on May 24. ‘The strength of thine own arm is thy salvation.’ But I think he stretched his optimism a bit far when he said, ‘Behind those riftless [sic] clouds there is a silver lining [sic]; be patient,’” my father wrote in the New York Age, May 28, 1934.

Longfellow actually wrote “rifted clouds,” and in at least one edition, that one line was not about a silver lining. It was, “there shines a glorious star!” Also, I could not find any verification that the 19th-century poet and essayist was specifically referring to those who were born on May 24.

But, ok, Dad.

More often than not, my father used his weekly column for a little of this and a little of that. In one paragraph, he would rail against racially discriminatory hiring practices in Harlem and in the next, he would chide an acquaintance for falling under the spell of Father Devine. Then he’d wax about a social event or musical performance that moved him. Often, he used his column to express his outrage about lynchings and the trumped-up charges against the Scottsboro Boys. During the years when my father was quoting Longfellow in his birthday columns, the United States was in the throes of the Great Depression; Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party had begun their reign. You couldn’t fault him for seeing no rift in the clouds.

These days, the press is literally being punched and kicked simply for the “crime” of asking questions.

A Republican Congress is poised to denude health care, the environment, public education and women’s agency over our bodies.

Our president and his family are raiding our treasury.

Law enforcement officers who kill unarmed black and brown civilians, including children, do so with impunity.

Immigrants are being harassed, deported and maligned.

White supremacists in this country have been given license to spew hate and kill.

Has anyone seen a glorious star lately?

Actually, yes.

When a Supreme Court majority (that includes Justice Clarence Thomas!) rejects North Carolina’s voter suppression efforts.

When reporters fight back with fierce investigative journalism.

When constituents yell “you lie” at those to try to sell us alternative facts.

When we forge authentic alliances strong enough to demolish and deconstruct silly walls.

When we vote like our lives depend on it, because apparently, they do.

So, in honor of Ebenezer’s 120th birthday, I will take a few liberties of my own with Longfellow:

Only the strength of [OUR] own [COLLECTIVE] arm[S] will be [OUR] salvation.

Let’s get to work.


Beyond Vietnam

8 Apr


I returned home last Sunday, inspired, and stirred after a trip to North Vietnam. During the time I was there, enjoying the lush landscape, the rich history, the value of lasting friendships and the resilience of the Vietnamese people, the question that kept coming back to me was “What was the point of the Vietnam War?” (By the way, the Vietnamese refer to it as the “American War.”)

My return to the U.S. coincided with the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s courageous speech “Beyond Vietnam,” which he delivered at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, exactly 365 days before he was assassinated. It was courageous because in speaking out against the war, many – from the White House to the black civil rights establishment – denounced King for veering off script. But King’s point was that injustice at home and military aggression in Southeast Asia were morally intertwined.

Here’s an excerpt:

I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation. This speech is not addressed to Hanoi or to the National Liberation Front. It is not addressed to China or to Russia. Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation and the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of Vietnam. Neither is it an attempt to make North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they must play in the successful resolution of the problem. While they both may have justifiable reasons to be suspicious of the good faith of the United States, life and history give eloquent testimony to the fact that conflicts are never resolved without trustful give and take on both sides. Tonight, however, I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the National Liberation Front, but rather to my fellow Americans.

Since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything on a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

Journalist and author Tavis Smiley visited the campus of Stanford University on April 4 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of King’s speech. The program included a screening of his 2010 PBS documentary “A Call to Conscience,” which provided a political context for King’s anti-Vietnam speech in 1967. Scholars and activists who lent their voices to that documentary included Marian Wright Edelman, Harry Belafonte, Cornell West, Clayborne Carson, Clarence B. Jones, Susannah Heschel and the late Vincent Harding. Smiley threw a bit of shade on former President Barack Obama, who acknowledged in a clip of his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech that he owed his political ascendence to King’s nonviolent movement, but that as commander-in-chief, he could not rule out the use of force. “Make no mistake, evil does exist in the world,” Obama said.

We were reminded of such evil this week after Syria launched another brutal chemical attack against its own people and President Donald Trump responded with a bombing raid.

These are unsettling times, but my trip to Vietnam reminded me that human beings have a capacity for unspeakable cruelty but also, yes, the audacity to hope.

But King warned us from the pulpit at Riverside Church 50 years ago of the “fierce urgency of now.”

I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin, we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

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