November 7th-9th, 2020.
Dear Mr President,
I’ve been thinking a lot about my Dad in the last week, the ideals he instilled, standards he’s set and wisdom he shared with me. In the last few days, its been flashbacks from the hours of C-SPAN that he and I watched together. If he were here, I know we would have been screensharing on zoom this morning.
Over the last four years, I have been struggling with the tightening of tensions that rooted in my body, during the Nixon/Watergate era. When Covid hit and the lockdown set in, I was reminded of the late seventies, when—schoolchildren were offered Ready Kilowatt-the energy saving super hero and we felt the connection, in the aftermath of Three Mile Island. Compounded by the taking of the Iran hostages, we were all afraid to go too far from home and family. It was my choice to be at the kitchen table instead of watching tv with the other kids after dinner. Those times have never left—they are part of what shaped me and what continue to drive my activation for regenerative cultural shifts..
Now, as then, the adults couldn’t hide the stress and anxiety that came with the unexpected separation from loved ones distanced by miles, Young people packing up their dorm rooms in tears… This time, I am the adult and my son was three states away. Feeling the distance along with millions of people, young and old, stiffening as the cold hand of constriction set in.
Then, the eruption of a settler colony’s worth of racial tension, brought more fear for my son’s safety, no matter how close I was. Despite the depression that comes with involuntary solitude—suddenly, the placement of his home-boundednes in a lockdown felt safer than him in his car on the road in a rural setting where an American flag indicates a chilling tone. For myself, flashes of driving through Texas while Black back in 1973.
And in the recent days…
In the recent days, Mr. President, I have been processing the reification of the trauma that culminated in the cold winter of 2001—several days deep in NAACP hearings when I unplugged the cable from my television. Your concession speech ringing in my ears.
Then, reaching for one shining moment of inspiration—and now, again as flashes of November 2000 come too fast, I bring myself to my Dad’s office, and reel back to a Town Hall Meeting with pentagon employees in mid 1993 during the Government Reinvention time… I can’t say I followed through on understanding that effort as a whole. But I felt the human in the Vice President that day.
Much of the time I was appalled when watching C-Span (take the LGBTQ members in the military hearings for instance). And always the conversations in the room were rich with solutions, ideas and ideals… But that day, I watched a man who was reaching out and listening to the people he would be working with—for solutions. He wanted to meet them and their need. From my perspective, this man cared to recognize them for the work it takes to keep such machines running. Machines I wasn’t even sure I believe in. He reached for the “secretaries” and the assistants who carry massive administrative weight and receive not the recognition, tools or likely the pay, they deserve. Strangely—It felt like someone who cared.
That man was you Sir.
I have to admit, I was raised by radically unique humans and my desire for change calls for massive cultural shifts; the likes can never be made by those of us living today, certainly not those, now, in the second halves of our lives or with the tools that brutally colonized the Indigenous stewards of this land and drove humans to enslavement on the way to the destruction of more than land and people. We can not always hold control, nor should we want to, but we can do the best in our understanding and we can do better for future generations.
Most people know my father for his music, for his Freedom call through the decades… Me, I know my Dad for many things, his politics among them. He began to teach me with the songs he chose and delivered with such power, and later, in the conversations we would have—hours spent in debate and idealistic exchange… While audiences waited for Freedom, I always heard “What About Me?” and “Nobody Left to Crown.”
The last really deep conversation, my father and I had about politics was the morning after President Obama won the election. It felt like a tide may have been turning, and perhaps we would see the day come when our people could really rest in the regal presence we bring to the places we go. He sounded so optimistic.
Now, I am being raised by our Youth, many who are exemplifying the directions we might consider. People who choose political power positions often do so with little understanding of communities they “represent” or embodied compassionate presence and those tenets begin at home. They begin with an understanding of family and the ability to nurture others. Many should never deign to even reach for such positions, and without even those capacities, Mr President, do greater damage when they do—and because they do.
It is a tight rope walk between the relative and ultimate truth, where wisdom and breadth meet the mundane inadequacies of earthly societal conjecture.
I am still trying to make sense of the last 20 years. The last five hundred, actually…
When I was called to really stand, social and environmental advocacy was something my friends spent their time on, and my Dad had already passed away. Now folks know me to be on that path. I never planned to become an “activist.” I rather shy from the moniker; looking for ways to describe what happens when your voice, time, activity and creative force are turned to the protection of land, water and future generations. When you join the effort to make safe way for your children with little of the necessary means.
Flash forward (or rewind—time is not linear and less so these days) to a classroom in Union Theological Seminary in 2018. Two Beautifully Regal Black men share a teaching and instruction on the sacred Muslim Ablution ceremony. As the water washes over their feet, with the care to reach between every toe in reverence for the sacredness of the vehicles they be, I was filled with my own reverence. Not only for this tradition I was being given a teaching on, I was moved by your commitment to presence—not only at the event your daughter was hosting, but for the shared initiative. For the earth, for Spirit, for Life, for the wisdom being shared as two beautiful men washed their feet.
The reverence embodied in a father’s love for his daughter is a special place to live within. Again, reeling back to my Dad’s office, sharing wisdom and learning from the generations before me. The pride he had in me and that I still hear about from his friends after his passing—he did revel in my presence and even told his friends stories of my triumphs!
He would have been proud of me on the day I met the President. It was in the courtyard of Union Theological Seminary. A place I’d never guessed I’d find myself, alongside an indigenous elder and an array of interfaith healers, and even less likely to be offering a Prayer in such a setting.
But I was.
And standing across the circle from me was a Father dedicated to protection in the best way he knows.
My dear, Sister-In-Action, Karenna’s Father. His head bowed in reverence, hands folded at his waist with a softness that was mixed with a bit of that pride that roots with every display of grace he raised his daughter to carry into her life and work.
As I prayed for all beings to be free from suffering and the root of suffering. To find happiness and connection and the capacity to live and love and heal in our work together, I could feel the hearts around me sharing in those expressions. And as all of the prayers went up, in as many faiths and more, for at least those moments, the commitment was present.
My Dad was with me that day… He brought, with me, his commitment to presence, the political and social work at hand, the admiration he expressed for you during your career. And somehow, the blending of Environmental, Social and Spiritual ideals my Father set me out on, were what brought us into circle together.
I wasn’t standing at the halls of justice calling for change, I wasn’t shrugging in fear in the chambers of a Catholic institution. We were sharing prayer to lift a weekend of Eco-Ministry as part of an organization working to honor Indigenous Wisdom within the Faith Community, in a time when there is no more valuable work to be done.
Today Sir, as I finish this letter, we are three days into the Biden/Harris call from the AP, and I’m still not convinced. Trying to be. I waited for the ballots to be counted in 2000, I went all the way to December, (or was it January?) before we were handed the deciding blow. I remember the thousands of African American Miami Dade county voters purged from their constitutional rights. I was on the phone with my Dad, watching C-Span and we would be right there today, cautiously awaiting the most famous malignant narcissist on the planet refuse to concede. While I miss him sometimes too much, I give thanks he never had to live these past 1400+ days.
As the entire globe reverberates with cheers of relief following a political assault the magnitude many alive have never felt, I am left with some light, and many prayers that we can all leave this trauma behind…
I wasn’t gifted a Beautiful Black Woman elected Vice President after the Nixon Era, but my niece was after Trump. Even if he steals this one. No matter how Ms. Harris’s politics may differ from mine, I see Black Power in her beautiful smile and I felt the tears in the hearts of every Grandmother and child who sees what I see. Maybe we can move change—even if only in some of our hearts.
Your family is deep in my heart with extra prayers this week. Your badassery high in my mind, and whether we agree on all of our politics, policy or method, you have shown to the world a gentleman with heart and care.
Thank you Sir. You will always be Mr. President to me.
And a song…