There are two kinds of systems, hard systems and soft systems. Hard systems are the ones like the mechanical gears in a clock or watch with physical parts that can be replaced. Occasionally foreign objects somehow get lodged in the intricacies of the moving parts in a physical system and our first thought is that the system has broken. Upon closer look we find that all that is required is for someone or something to remove the object and that allows the system to regain its functionality. Soft systems are the ones that involve programs, plans, objectives, goals, perceived outcomes, and most importantly people. It involves people to run the system for the benefit of other people. The economy, politics and church are soft systems. These systems don’t always work the way the plan or program is designed to work but that’s the beauty of a soft system. It can be changed to address the challenges and gaps in accessibility for the people the system is suppose to serve. It’s also the evil of the soft system because it can be changed to accommodate the goals of the person or persons who run the system for their own glory. At this point some would say that the system has broken when in fact the system is not broken it’s merely running the way the one person or persons wants it to run. What becomes broken are the people the soft system is supposed to serve but doesn’t. The longer the system serves itself the more broken the people become. Brokenness is painful and garners distrust and fear. Christ understood this and focused his ministry on healing a broken people in a system that was serving itself. By the grace of God there was still hope amidst the brokenness that enabled a broken people to hear Christ assure them that the system is not God. God was in fact greater than the system.
The Road To Jericho – The lectionary text this past Sunday on a Priest, a Levite and a Samaritan could not have come at a better time. A man goes down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Now the road to Jericho is a 17 mile road that drops 3600 feet and winds and turns as you descend. Historically the road is often frequented by robbers and to travel in any direction by oneself was done at great risk. While the story doesn’t tell us why the man was making the journey, it really doesn’t matter, we know one reason Jesus tells this parable is to answer the question about who is our neighbor. But in light of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and the other 134 African Americans, who fell into the hands of police and died in the past six months – the violence in this parable is what stands out for me the most. Additionally, several other things stand out. First, this question of “who is my neighbor” is is being asked by a lawyer, someone who has studied the Law of Moses and set apart to serve God’s people. Second, two of the three, the priest and the Levite also set apart to serve God’s people, are those whom we would expect at the very least to stop for the neighbor who was left for dead at the side of the road, but instead do nothing and in doing nothing helps to perpetuate the violence.
Those with the means to pick and chose their neighbors have the privilege to look for a place to live they believe is safe. But not everybody has that luxury. To survive they often take these roads to Jericho. Today, these roads both long and short are taken at our own risk. These are the roads between the places where a living is made, a person buys their groceries to get better prices, or even where one has traveled for vacation or simply to visit a friend and the places they call home. These are the roads that travel through varying neighborhoods of people of color and dominantly white neighborhoods as well. In other words every road is potentially a road to Jericho. If one has ever been stopped, frisked or followed (even into their own neighborhood as I have), you’ve been on that road. It doesn’t seem to matter where you are. Yet the road itself is not the issue nor the problem. Everyone has the right to travel that road to make a living, get better prices or visit a friend, with a reasonable expectation that they will reach their destination safely, without provocation and without worrying about whether someone (especially someone of authority), is lying in wait to rob, steal, maim or abuse their dignity as a human being. (to be continued)
Today began with a dream – while in the sanctuary of a Church I was called to turn and look. As I looked I saw Father Smart standing off to the side holding a wooden cross in his hand high in front of him. Needless to say I was stunned and frightened and immediately woke up – Father Smart died ten years ago – now reaching the end of the day, still thinking. God is good!
For weeks I agonized, holding on to my old phone service for as long as I could. But the cost of it went up and it no longer became the most affordable plan for me. Yet, somehow, I just couldn’t let it go. For some wacka-mole reason I thought having that unlimited data meant that I was special in some convoluted way. The reality was that I was just being foolish, no different than some crazy extremist who refuses to recognize when a change was obviously the necessary and economical choice and quite frankly – sensible. I gave myself a deadline for changing and when the day arrived I effortlessly made the switch, no agony, no pain. In fact I was most at peace with the decision. Freed from the bondage of a phone plane, my new reality was in alignment with my spirit. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. John 10:30. We must allow ourselves to let go of the past that no longer makes sense in our lives in order to allow the new to begin to take purpose and move us forward that we may live more freely and more at peace.
“My only concern was to get home after a hard day’s work.”
Rosa Parks was born Rosa Louise McCauley on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her childhood brought her early experiences with racial discrimination and activism for racial equality. After her parents separated, Rosa’s mother moved the family to Pine Level, Alabama to live with her parents, Rose and Sylvester Edwards—both former slaves and strong advocates for racial equality; the family lived on the Edwards’ farm, where Rosa would spend her youth.
Taught to read by her mother at a young age, Rosa went on to attend a segregated, one-room school in Pine Level, Alabama, that often lacked adequate school supplies such as desks. African-American students were forced to walk to the 1st- through 6th-grade schoolhouse, while the city of Pine Level provided bus transportation as well as a new school building for white students.
On December 1, 1955, after a long day’s work at a Montgomery department store, where she worked as a seamstress, Rosa Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus for home. As the bus Rosa was riding continued on its route, it began to fill with white passengers. Eventually, the bus was full and the driver noticed that several white passengers were standing in the aisle. He stopped the bus and moved the sign separating the two sections back one row and asked four black passengers to give up their seats. Three complied, but Rosa refused and remained seated. The driver demanded, “Why don’t you stand up?” to which Rosa replied, “I don’t think I should have to stand up.” The driver called the police and had her arrested. Later, Rosa recalled that her refusal wasn’t because she was physically tired, but that she was tired of giving in. The police arrested Rosa at the scene and charged her with violation of Chapter 6, Section 11, of the Montgomery City Code. She was taken to police headquarters, where, later that night, she was released on bail.
When Rosa arrived at the courthouse for trial that morning with her attorney, Fred Gray, she was greeted by a bustling crowd of around 500 local supporters, who rooted her on. Following a 30-minute hearing, Rosa was found guilty of violating a local ordinance and was fined $10, as well as a $4 court fee. Inarguably the biggest event of the day, however, was what Rosa’s trial had triggered. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, as it came to be known, was a huge success. The city’s buses were, by and large, empty. Some people carpooled and others rode in African-American-operated cabs, but most of the estimated 40,000 African-American commuters living in the city at the time had opted to walk to work that day—some as far as 20 miles.
With the transit company and downtown businesses suffering financial loss and the legal system ruling against them, the city of Montgomery had no choice but to lift its enforcement of segregation on public buses, and the boycott officially ended on December 20, 1956. The combination of legal action, backed by the unrelenting determination of the African-American community, made the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott one of the largest and most successful mass movements against racial segregation in history.
Although she had become a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement, Rosa Parks suffered hardship in the months following her arrest in Montgomery and the subsequent boycott. She lost her department store job and her husband was fired after his boss forbade him to talk about his wife or their legal case. Unable to find work, they eventually left Montgomery; the couple, along with Rosa’s mother, moved to Detroit, Michigan. There, Rosa made a new life for herself, working as a secretary and receptionist in U.S. Representative John Conyer’s congressional office. She also served on the board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
On October 24, 2005, at the age of 92, Rosa Parks quietly died in her apartment in Detroit, Michigan. She had been diagnosed the previous year with progressive dementia. Her death was marked by several memorial services, among them lying in state at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C.
“One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.”
James Earl Jones was born on January 17, 1931, in Arkabutla, Mississippi. His father, Robert Earl Jones, a boxer and actor, was largely absent from his life growing up. At an early age, Jones was raised by his maternal grandparents in Mississippi before moving with them to Michigan. He is of African, Cherokee, Choctaw and Irish descent.
Jones developed a severe stutter in childhood, which left him terribly self-conscious and shy around other children. He generally didn’t speak until a teacher helped him out of his silence during his high school years. “…I had a great English teacher who believed in language,” Jones later told the Hollywood Reporter. “And he looked at a poem I wrote and said, ‘It’s too good for you to have written, so to prove you wrote it, please stand up in front of the class and recite it from memory.’ And I did it without stuttering. So he used that as a program to get me to talk.”
James Earl Jones made his Broadway debut in the late 1950s in the play Sunrise at Campobello. On the stage, Jones had a career breakthrough in 1968: He starred as boxer Jack Jefferson (a character based on real-world fighter Jack Johnson) in the Broadway drama The Great White Hope. The performance brought him his first Tony Award. He also starred in the 1970 film version of the play, for which he received an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe. Famous for his distinctively deep and rich oration, Jones began one of his most iconic film roles in the late 1970s: providing the voice of Darth Vader in George Lucas’s Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983).Jones thrived on TV as well, winning a pair of Emmy Awards in 1991 for his leading role on the dramatic series Gabriel’s Fire and his supporting role on the miniseries Heat Wave. He thus became the first actor to win two Emmys in the same year in the drama category. In 1993, Jones published the memoir Voices and Silences, which looks at both his career and early family life.
Over the years, Jones has received many accolades for his contributions to the arts, including a Kennedy Center Honor in 2002 and an honorary Academy Award in 2011. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences bestowed the award to Jones “for his legacy of consistent excellence and uncommon versatility,”
“When I’m dead twenty-five years, people are going to begin to recognize me.”
Scott Joplin’s exact date of birth and location is not known, though it is estimated that he was born between the summer of June 1867 and January 1868. Born to Florence Givens and Giles Joplin, Scott grew up in Texarkana, a town situated on the border between Texas and Arkansas. The Joplins were a musical family, with Florence being a singer and banjo player and Giles a violinist; Scott learned how to play the guitar at a young age and later took to the piano, displaying a gift for the instrument. Julius Weiss, a German music teacher who lived in Joplin’s hometown, gave the young pianist further instruction. Joplin was also a vocalist and would play the cornet as well.
Joplin left home during his teen years and began work as a travelling musician, playing in bars and dance halls where new musical forms were featured that formed the basis of ragtime, which had distinct, syncopated rhythms and a fusion of musical sensibilities. Joplin lived for a time in Sedalia, Missouri in the 1880s and in 1893 he fronted a band in Chicago during the World Fair. He later settled in Sedalia again while continuing to travel, with the waltzes “Please Say You Will” and “A Picture of Her Face” becoming his first two published songs.
Joplin studied music at Sedalia’s George R. Smith College for Negroes during the 1890s and also worked as a teacher and mentor to other ragtime musicians. He published his first piano rag, “Original Rags,” in the late 1890s, but was made to share credit with another arranger. Joplin then worked with a lawyer to ensure that he would receive a one-cent royalty of every sheet-music copy sold of his next composition, “The Maple Leaf Rag.” In 1899, Joplin partnered with publisher John Stark to push the tune. Though sales were initially slight, it went on to become the biggest ragtime song ever, eventually selling more than a million copies.
Joplin was intensely concerned with making sure the genre received its proper due, taking note of the disparaging comments made by some white critics due to the music’s African-American origins and radical form. As such, he published a 1908 series that broke down the complexities of ragtime form for students: The School of Ragtime: Six Exercises for Piano.
Joplin continued to work on various musical forms and formed his own publishing company with his third wife, Lottie, in 1913. By 1916, he had started to succumb to the ravages of syphilis, which he was thought to have contracted years earlier, and was later hospitalized and institutionalized. Joplin died on April 1, 1917.
Ragtime would enjoy a resurgence during the 1940s, and then in the ’70s became a hugely popular classical genre that also entered the U.S. consciousness via film—”The Entertainer” became the theme song for The Sting, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Joplin’s Treemonisha was also fully staged in 1975 on Broadway. The following year, Joplin received a special posthumous Pulitzer Prize, honoring the man who shaped a genre that influenced decades of music.
“Being a star has made it possible for me to get insulted in places where the average Negro could never hope to get insulted.”
Samuel George Davis Jr. was born on December 8, 1925, in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, with the infant initially raised by his paternal grandmother. Davis’s parents split up when he was 3 and he went to live with his father, who was working as an entertainer in a dance troupe. When his father and adopted uncle went on tour, Davis was brought along, and after learning to tap the three began performing together. They would eventually be dubbed the Will Mastin Trio.
After the war, Davis resumed his showbiz career. He continued to perform with the Will Mastin Trio as the star of the act and also struck out on his own, singing in nightclubs and recording records. His career began to rise to new heights in 1947 when the trio opened for Frank Sinatra (with whom Davis would remain a lifelong friend and collaborator) at the Capitol Theatre in New York. A tour with Mickey Rooney followed, as did a performance that caught the ear of Decca Records, who signed Davis to a recording contract in 1954.
Later that year, while driving to Los Angeles for a soundtrack recording, Davis was seriously injured in a car accident. The accident resulted in his losing an eye, and he would use a glass eye for most of his life. His recuperation also gave him time for deep reflection. He converted to Judaism shortly thereafter, finding commonalities between the oppression experienced by African-American and Jewish communities.
Despite what appeared to be a free-swinging playboy lifestyle, a lifetime of enduring racial prejudice led Davis to use his fame for political means. During the 1960s he became active in the Civil Rights Movement, participating in the 1963 March on Washington and refusing to perform at racially segregated nightclubs, for which he is credited with helping integrate in Las Vegas and Miami Beach. Davis also challenged the bigotry of the era by marrying Swedish actress May Britt at a time when interracial marriages were forbidden by law in 31 states. (President John F. Kennedy in fact requested that the couple not appear at his inauguration so as not to anger white Southerners.)
Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, the multitalented Davis continued his prolific output. He maintained his musical career, releasing albums well into the late ’70s and getting his first #1 chart hit with 1972’s “Candy Man.” Davis appeared in films such as 1981’s The Cannonball Run, with Burt Reynolds and Roger Moore, and 1989’s Tap, with Gregory Hines. He was also a guest on a wide variety of television shows, including the Tonight Show, The Carol Burnett Show, All in the Family and The Jeffersons as well as the soap operas General Hospital and One Life to Live. But while his career continued, with the performer embarking on a lauded tour with Sinatra and Liza Minnelli during the late ’80s, Davis’s health began to fade.
But while his career continued, with the performer embarking on a lauded tour with Sinatra and Liza Minnelli during the late ’80s, Davis’s health began to fade. Davis was a heavy smoker, and in 1989 doctors discovered a tumor in his throat. The fall of that year he gave what would be his final performance, at the Harrah’s casino in Lake Tahoe. Shortly thereafter, Davis underwent radiation therapy. Though the disease appeared to be in remission, it was later discovered to have returned. On May 16, 1990, Sammy Davis Jr. passed away at his home in Beverly Hills, California, at the age of 64. Before his death he was honored by an array of his peers at a February television tribute.
“Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.”
Born on April 25, 1917 in Newport News, Virginia, singer Ella Fitzgerald was the product of a common-law marriage between William Fitzgerald and Temperance “Tempie” Williams Fitzgerald. Ella experienced a troubled childhood that began with her parents separating shortly after her birth.
With her mother, Fitzgerald moved to Yonkers, New York. They lived there with her mother’s boyfriend, Joseph De Sailva. The family grew in 1923 with the arrival of Fitzgerald’s half-sister Frances. Struggling financially, the young Fitzgerald helped her family out by working as a messenger “running numbers” and acting as a lookout for a brothel. Her first career aspiration was to become a dancer.
After her mother’s death in 1932, Fitzgerald ended up moving in with an aunt. She started skipping school. Fitzgerald was then sent to a special reform school but didn’t stay there long. By 1934, Ella was trying to make it on her own and living on the streets. Still harboring dreams of becoming an entertainer, she entered an amateur contest at Harlem’s Apollo Theater. She sang the Hoagy Carmichael tune “Judy” as well as “The Object of My Affection,” wowing the audience. Fitzgerald went on to win the contest’s $25 first place prize.
That unexpected performance at the Apollo helped set Fitzgerald’s career in motion. She soon met bandleader and drummer Chick Webb and eventually joined his group as a singer. In addition to her work with Webb, Fitzgerald performed and recorded with the Benny Goodman Orchestra. She had her own side project, too, known as Ella Fitzgerald and Her Savoy Eight. Following Webb’s death in 1939, Ella became the leader of the band, which was renamed Ella Fitzgerald and Her Famous Orchestra.
A truly collaborative soul, Fitzgerald produced great recordings with such artists as Louis Armstrong and Count Basie. She also performed several times with Frank Sinatra over the years as well. In 1960, Fitzgerald broke into the pop charts with her rendition of “Mack the Knife.” She was still going strong well into the ’70s, playing concerts across the globe. One especially memorable concert series from this time was a two-week engagement in New York City in 1974 with Sinatra and Basie. By the 1980s, Fitzgerald experienced serious health problems. She had heart surgery in 1986 and had been suffering from diabetes. The disease left her blind, and she had both legs amputated in 1994. She made her last recording in 1989 and her last public performance in 1991 at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Ella Fitzgerald died on June 15, 1996, at her home in Beverly Hills.
“For in the end, freedom is a personal and lonely battle; and one faces down fears of today so that those of tomorrow might be engaged.”
Novelist, poet and feminist Alice Malsenior Walker was born on February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia. Alice Walker is one of the most admired African-American writers working today. The youngest daughter of sharecroppers, she grew up poor. Her mother worked as a maid to help support the family’s eight children. When Walker was 8 years old, she suffered a serious injury: She was shot in the right eye with a BB pellet while playing with two of her brothers. Whitish scar tissue formed in her damaged eye, and she became self-conscious of this visible mark.
After the incident, Walker largely withdrew from the world around her. “For a long time, I thought I was very ugly and disfigured,” she told John O’Brien in an interview that was published in Alice Walker: Critical Perspectives, Past and Present. “This made me shy and timid, and I often reacted to insults and slights that were not intended.” She found solace in reading and writing poetry.
Living in the racially divided South, Walker attended segregated schools. She graduated from her high school as the valedictorian of her class. With the help of a scholarship, she was able to go to Spelman College in Atlanta. She later switched to Sarah Lawrence College in New York City. While at Sarah Lawrence, Walker visited Africa as part of a study-abroad program. She graduated in 1965—the same year that she published her first short story. After college, Walker worked as a social worker, teacher and lecturer. She became active in the Civil Rights Movement, fighting for equality for all African Americans. Her experiences informed her first collection of poetry, Once, which was published in 1968. Better known now as a novelist, Walker showed her talents for storytelling in her debut work, Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970).
Walker’s career as a writer took flight with the publication of her third novel, The Color Purple, in 1982. Set in the early 1900s, the novel explores the female African-American experience through the life and struggles of its narrator, Celie. Celie suffers terrible abuse at the hands of her father, and later, from her husband. The compelling work won Walker both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction in 1983.
Three years later, Walker’s story made it to the big screen: Steven Spielberg directed The Color Purple, which starred Whoopi Goldberg as Celie, as well as Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover. Like the novel, the movie was a critical success, receiving 11 Academy Award nominations.
After more than four decades as a writer, Alice Walker shows no signs of slowing down. In 2012, she released The Chicken Chronicles; in this latest memoir, she ruminates on caring for her flock of chickens. Following the release of The Chicken Chronicles, she began working on The Cushion in the Road, a collection of mediations on a variety of subjects slated to be published in 2013.