Monday, October 28, 2013
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Thursday, June 27, 2013
Sunday, January 15, 2012
At first I thought I heard it wrong. So I looked up from my computer to pay attention and really listen. No, I wasn’t wrong. The Kmart commercial boasted of steep savings during its Martin Luther King Jr. sale.
Eeww. Really? A Martin Luther King Jr. sale? Something about it made me shudder, kind of made me feel icky.
But it’s a feeling I’ve felt before when I’ve seen tasteless party fliers with half-naked black women’s shiny breasts, thighs and backsides exposed next to a bottle of luxury liquor advertising Martin Luther King Jr. “unity” parties at nightclubs.
The commodification of the King holiday feels disrespectful and wrong, especially because he advocated for economic equality and financial empowerment.
In the midst of high black unemployment, a flat economy and a global movement to distribute wealth it is time to revisit King’s advocacy for economic justice including a living wage and affordable housing – needs that remain elusive for many Americans today.
On today, what would have been his 83rd birthday, the sight of Martin Luther King Jr. Day sales and party fliers make me sad and even a little angry that his image has been hijacked this way.
This is America where capitalism and profit reign supreme. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. However, the reduction of King’s legacy to a weekend sale is too much.
At the King Memorial dedication last October many of the speakers at the National Mall connected King’s concern for the poor to today’s Occupy Wall Street movement and his Poor People’s Campaign which called for Congress to help people of all ethnic backgrounds climb out of poverty.
I don’t know how King would feel about a Martin Luther King Jr. sale. But I know I don’t like it or the shake-what-ya-mama-gave-ya nightclub posters bearing his image and name.
So I won’t be sipping on Martin martinis at a bar or catching any King holiday deals at department stores this year or any King Day in the future.
I respect him and his legacy too much for that.
Saturday, January 14, 2012
His work improved the lives of generations of Americans in ways they could never imagine.
His fearlessness motivated others. His actions made this country better. He was a revolutionary thinker whose ideas were ahead of their time.
I’m not talking about Steve Jobs, the Apple founder and technology genius who lost his battle with cancer at age 56.
I’m talking about the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth the civil-rights icon who worked alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.Shuttlesworth died in Birmingham, Ala. He was 89.
Shuttlesworth’s courage to fight state-sanctioned racial terrorism and his willingness to challenge a system that brutally annihilated those who dared to confront it deserves some attention too.
This is not an attempt to diminish Jobs’ brilliance and contributions. There is no doubt he ushered America, and the world, into a new era of technological sophistication.
But civil-rights heroes such Shuttlesworth merit our gratitude and at the very least some of our attention because so many of them are dying.
Shuttlesworth’s death particularly resonates with me because I had the honor of interviewing Shuttlesworth in his home in Cincinnati in 2005. I travel streets bearing the name of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati, Ohio with my former colleague photographer Lisa Miller for a story we were working on for the King holiday.
I called Mr. Shuttlesworth, told him about my story and requested an interview. He consented. He was a sweet, polite and humble host. I was in awe. I could not believe this man I read about, whose picture I’d seen in books was just very nice.
We stayed in his home for more than two hours, well beyond the interview. He spoke off topic and went on tangents about his experiences in Southern jails, at brutal demonstrations and strategic meetings. I waded in his words, soaked up his stories and marinated in his wisdom.
My story didn’t turn out the way I wanted. A lot of Mr. Shuttlesworth comments were edited out of the final piece.
But that afternoon with Mr. Shuttlesworth in his home remains with me. He told me he fought so hard for me, a black woman, to be able to pursue a career as a journalist and for my white colleague and I to be able to work and travel together without risk.
I was hurt when I woke up this morning and flipped between national and cable news channels and see extensive coverage of Jobs’ death and not a single story about Fred Shuttlesworth’s death. Maybe I just missed the Shuttlesworth stories. I hope that’s the case. I doubt it though.
Because of Jobs I have a MacBook laptop computer, iPod Touch and iPhone.
But I have freedom and opportunities because of Fred Shuttlesworth.
Jobs helped make my life easier.
Shuttlesworth helped make my life have possibilities.
Both men leave a significant mark on America and the world.
I just wish Fred Shuttlesworth would get some more attention for what he did for this country.
He deserves it.
Originally published 10/6/11
Or at least parts of her did.
Cells were extracted from Lacks’ body without her consent and used to help develop countless medical advancements including cancer drugs and Parkinson’s medication. Some of her cells were even shuttled into space to see how they would react in that environment.
Lacks’ cells never died. They were multiplied several times over and are still alive today helping major medical and pharmaceutical companies develop health treatments and make millions of dollars off them.
But Lacks died penniless in 1951 at age 31 of cervical cancer. Her descendants have struggled financially. For years they never knew about the millions of dollars earned off their ancestor’s body.
Journalist Rebecca Skloot wrote about Lacks’ life in last year’s New York Times best-seller The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Skloot traced the journey of Lacks’ cells across the globe. She also tracked down Lacks’ descendants and helped them learn how Lacks’ cells were used in scientific and medical research.
Skloot founded the Henrietta Lacks Foundation to help Henrietta Lacks’ family and others. Some proceeds from the book have already helped Lacks’ relatives with dental work, a hearing aid and college tuition and books.
Lacks’ cells were the basis of major medical developments yet some of her descendants, with their lack of access to health care, have not been unable to fully benefit from what she contributed to medicine.
Lacks’ story, which is being developed into a film by Oprah Winfrey, is a reminder of this country’s shameful history of medical ethics, especially among African-Americans. Lacks’ legacy also shows that the pain of inequality is not in the distant past. The sting of injustice still pinches the relatives of the swindled while the pillagers’ descendants still profit.
Yuri Kochiyama is a revolutionary in every sense of the word.
For the past six decades the human rights activist, who was comrade of Malcolm X and embraced him after he was shot in 1965 at the Audubon Ballroom, has been at the forefront of the movement to gain equality for people across the globe.
Kochiyama, a Japanese American, was first exposed to injustice during WWII. Her father was arrested after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and her family became part of the 110,000 Japanese Americans to be forced by the U.S. government to live in internment camps.
Kochiyama and her husband moved to Harlem in the early 1960s. It was there that she nurtured her six children and her passion to fight injustice. Kochiyama worked with black parents to improve schools.
After meeting Malcolm X at a political event in the 1960s Kochiyama became acquainted with him and they wrote one another during Malcolm X’s life-changing hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. As Malcolm X prepared to make what would have been his final speech he was shot and Kochiyama rushed to the stage and held his held during the final moments of his life.
Kochiyama, who has said her commitment to human rights is connected to the black liberation movement, still continues her activism today. The release of Mumia Abu Jamal is among the issues she advocates.
Her work is chronicled in her biography Heartbeat of a Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama. An incredible documentary Mountains That Take Wing: Angela Davis & Yuri Kochiyama - A Conversation on Life, Struggles & Liberation also gives insight into what motivated her activism.
That film shows Kochiyama in recent years at rallies speaking intensely through a bullhorn, leaning on her walker and fighting stronger than ever for human rights.