Old battlefields of racism run deeper than the Deep South

Nearly 30 years ago I stood in the shade of a willow tree overlooking a Civil War battleground in Georgia, contemplating the blood that had been spilled on those now lush, green grasses carpeting the rolling hills of Kennesaw Mountain.

After living in the Deep South for close to 10 years, the last several of which were spent in Atlanta, I felt I had a different perspective from many southerners regarding that period of our nation’s history. Admittedly, having come from Oregon, I felt a certain kinship to The South’s identity as a rebel.

Yet at the same time, I found it hard to walk the thin line between recognizing The South’s undeniable history while overlooking the shadows of racism intertwined with it.  Continue reading

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For Dr. King and the love shared by Rufus Valentine

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(As editor of a small community newspaper, I feel we have a responsibility as journalists to inform readers as well as inspire conversation about the things that matter to us as a community and as Americans. To this end, we have devoted a large portion of today’s edition to Martin Luther King Jr., offering perspectives on his message, his legacy, and how the echoes of his speech from 51 years ago are returning to us with even more relevance today. Along with columns from other local writers, activists and letters from readers, I’m offering this very personal piece that is equal parts inspiration and regret…)

As I’ve mentioned here before, I lived in the South for 10 years, with six of those years spent in the suburbs of Atlanta. In the early 1990s, I was a restaurant chef operating in one of Georgia’s largest shopping malls — three stories of glass, sale banners and merchants spanning six football fields’ worth of mall space.

As you can imagine, I’ve dealt with as many personalities as there are seats in a 280-capacity dining room. The fact that Rufus Valentine dug such a deep groove in my memory should tell you a little something about the man’s character.  Continue reading

Only embracing our common thread can keep America from unraveling

imageI generally reserve this place for humor. That’s because I believe in the power of its shared experience, and how that experience brings people together. Good humor transcends color, religion, geography, financial status or political affiliation. It’s devoid of hate and allows us to embrace a common thread woven through our humanity that we all share through laughter.

All living creatures get angry, scared, excited or worried; it’s humor that makes us human.

But there are mornings like this when being funny doesn’t feel right. The events of the past few days have spilled over from a collective cup that has been filling with a bitter brew being served during a time of unprecedented polarization within our country. We are being divided and conquered by fear — of each other, our differences, and a political landscape that inspires the worst in us instead of what defines us at our best.

And we swallow this bitter brew not because it’s what we want, but because it’s all there is.

This week’s shootings in Louisiana, Minnessota and Dallas — like Orlando — are about the kind of fear that breeds mistrust and hatred. It’s also the kind of fear that is fast becoming the oxygen within the current political atmosphere. The more of it we breathe, the more it permeates us, coursing through our life blood and into our hearts until that fear we breathe is what sustains us.  Continue reading

Remember to love each other like Rufus Valentine

Rufus Valentine hands As I’ve mentioned before, I lived in the South for 10 years, with six of those years spent in the suburbs of Atlanta. In the early 1990s, I was a restaurant chef operating in one of Georgia’s largest shopping malls — three stories of glass, sale banners and merchants spanning six football fields’ worth of mall space.

As you can imagine, I’ve dealt with as many personalities as there are seats in a 280-capacity dining room. The fact that Rufus Valentine dug such a deep groove in my memory should tell you a little something about the man’s character.

I’d like to tell you more.

The first time I saw Rufus Valentine was during the Braves’ heyday in February of 1992, when all of Atlanta was anticipating the spring — and a run at the World Series. Essentially, you could be completely naked; but as long as you had a Braves cap on you were considered properly attired by most Atlantans.

So, when Rufus appeared in his red tights, heart-shaped wings, and Braves cap at the west entrance of the Lenox Square mall, most assumed he was there to express his love for Atlanta’s baseball team. Continue reading