Tuesday, February 20, 2024
Monday, January 15, 2024
For some reason, and for that reason or reasons I am not quite sure, my mind has drifted off and on back to Frederick Douglass' July 4th speech which was actually delivered on July 5, 1852. In that lengthy presentation he lined out the history of freedom and all it surely means to Americans as they had escaped tyranny of the British. Against the celebrations that occur on July 4th, he posed the question, "What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?" He proceeded to answer in no uncertain terms: "To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery." For the entire speech, you'll find it here.
What, you may ask is the point of that paragraph? Good question.
Friday, January 12, 2024
Thursday, January 11, 2024
I am a fan of stories. I love stories. It's been said that we live in and through our stories and that they give us meaning. We will not remember the three key points of a recent speech or sermon, but we will remember the stories told to flesh out the points.
A long time ago when my oldest grandson was eight years of age, three generations of family sat in a favorite restaurant talking about things of interest, and then the little boy who was sitting across the table reading his book asked me a question, "Why do you work with Black farmers?" Didn't know he was listening. How do you answer a complicated question like that in words a child can answer. Was he really asking about his Poppie, or was he asking about them? I took the them route and simply told him, "because they have been mistreated." He seemed satisfied with the answer. In the years since then we have deconstructed in painful ways how Black farmers in fact have been mistreated. Here is more of that story written in 2007, if you'd care to read it.
Several months later, the setting and topics changed but the questions remained. We were at this little guy's house and he was curious about Negro League baseball. How he landed on the topic is beyond me at this point. It might have been a wonderful book we were looking through by Kadir Nelson, "We Are the Ship," the history of Negro League baseball. The grandson wanted to know about Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and others. For a young child, he wanted to know why Black baseball players could not play in the major leagues against white ball players back then. So, we had a simple conversation about race and justice and inequality. To memorialize the conversation, or so my memory reminds me, he actually drew for me a picture of Paige standing on the mound. That book by Nelson and that work of art by my grandson are prized treasures in my collection. Here is the rest of that story. You can even see the cover of Nelson's book and the drawing of Satchel Paige.
And then just last week another question came from an eight year old grandson. It shocked me. For some reason, I was showing him some photos of the March 1 protest event in front of the White House. He was impressed that his Mema was carrying a sign. I showed him a picture of Reverend Binion and told him a little of his story. I pointed out Lawrence Lucas and shared a few details about him and my relationship with him. I pointed to Willie Head and told about meeting him a lot of years ago and talking with him. I pointed in several pictures to the White House in the background.
You may remember a story about this little guy from a few years back. You can read the letter that I wrote to him back in 2019. You can even see his little hand holding up the sign, "Black Lives Matter." If you saw the complete picture, you would see him chanting that phrase with intensity on his face.
I wrote to him these words: "You have been a part of something huge. You are only five years of age, and you likely do not get it now. You do what five year-old kids do, you read, run, pretend, build forts, play with your sisters, eat Poppie Snacks with me, sit next to your Mema and watch Paw Patrol, and make pretend things out of your food."
But on this particular day, some four or five years after marching in that protest march, he asked me a heavy question while we looked through the photos on the web: "Poppie are you and Mema important?" I was stunned by his question, so I stammered a couple of minutes about knowing people and them knowing us and all, and simple left it there. Then, a few minutes later, I talked to Charla, his Mema. Her reply to me was simply put: "we're not important but the Cause is." Wish I had had those words at the moment.
The next morning, over breakfast, I reminded him of his question. He remembered asking it. It was then that I said, "Mema and Poppie are not important, but the Cause is important." I had his attention so I attempted to say in words and phrases he could understand that Black farmers and white farmers are not treated the same. White farmers get all the money they need to farm, but Black farmers don't. When Black farmers cannot pay back their loans, men come and take away their tractors and sometimes even sell their houses and their land. I think in his young, innocent way he got it.
I have a feeling that this young man and I will talk again.
Sometimes the young grasp things more quickly than us older folks.
Until we have the next conversation, my grandson will continue to read things, watch videos with his Poppie, play with his sisters, skate out front in the street with his dad and sisters, and other kid things.
I can be patient. I can wait for the next conversation. He is already good at asking perceptive questions.
Monday, December 11, 2023
There is something very different about this season of the year. My wife and I have chosen to celebrate Advent, the coming of the Christ child in our home by reading scripture, praying, and pouring over meditations that friends or acquaintances from Abilene Christian University have written. Our church tradition has NEVER celebrated Advent, with the exception of the church we attended in Abilene back in the day. And, I find that very odd.
Something is different this year. I feel a stirring within me.
I ponder the differences between this year and last year or the year before or the year before that. I suspect that there are several things that make for a difference this year. For the first time, obinutuzumab is coursing through my veins. I get it every week or two weeks, sitting in an infusion room for four or five hours as the drip, drip, drip, drip makes its way down the bag, via the tube, into my IV, and into my body. It leaves me very exhausted. One nurse said that it is cumulative. I believe her. It has a mind of its own. Some days the effects are minimal and others I barely drag around.
Then, in about two or three weeks from now, I'll begin taking a pill form of immunotherapy, a pill called ventaxlata, and I hear it will be rougher than the IV drug. We'll see.
My wife and I are cautious as to where we go and when we go and whether we wear masks or not. I've learned that the only two people who are concerned about my body and its low level of immunity are she and I. I do not go to large gatherings, especially gatherings where I suspect that the setting is a petri dish for COVID or RSV or the flu.
Why do I say all of this? Is it an introduction to a larger story?
The short verse is that I was stirred by a podcast from Ecclesia Houston, a message delivered by Sean Palmer, a teaching pastor there, a minister who was at ACU as a student back in the day when Charla and I were there. We know some of the same people and know some of the same stories.
His message which is linked below, is about magi coming to worship the Christ child. Against all odds, they found the child, bowed down and worshipped and left the child with gold, frankencense, and myrrh, not exactly gifts you'd think to leave a child, or to his father or mother. How about sanitary wipes, diapers, formula, baby clothes, or even a toy that rattles.
They knew to head in the opposite direction from Herod who may have come across as a benevolent King, but they knew better.
Frankly, that is where I am this year. In my weakened state, I can only give what I can give to the Christ child. I can only do what I can do. No more no less. One of the gifts I oftentimes bring is the gift of words in prose or poetry form, but this year, more often than not, those words do not coming.
The cancer in my blood, small cell lymphacytic lymphoma, and the medications to treat it, have consumed more often than not my words, emotions, dreams, and wishes.
During this season, I want to offer to the newborn King words of hope on behalf of a marginalized people. If you follow the words on this page, you know who they are. They are Black farmers, women and men whose DNA is in the soil, whose blood is in the soil, who want nothing more than to work the land and to pass the land on to their children and grandchildren. Yet, in the way of their aspirations stands the monolythic agency with its myriad of sub-agencies, the United States Department of Agriculture. It is rife with all forms of malfeasance and corruption. Those who want to do good are often kicked to the curb by those who value sameness over change. Search out the names Stucki and Rosenberg and you'll read what I'm talking about and have heard since 1994.
I'd like to offer them more during this Advent season. On some days, maybe the words and ideas and directions will come. On other days, words, ideas, and directions will not come.
So, all that I have to offer the Christ child in this Advent season is some measley leftovers. Leftovers from fatigue, IV drip, insomnia, and SLL.
Come, o come Emmanuel. Come into our world. Redeem our world. Save us from ourselves.
Here is Pastor Sean Palmer's message for Advent, week one.
Wednesday, December 6, 2023
On this special day of the Advent season, I am pondering “living in between.” We are living within several “in betweens.” We live in between creation and the ultimate redemption. We are living in between now and the coming of the Christ child. We are living in between normalcy and the return to normalcy, if there is to be such a thing. We are living in between what we recall about the politics of our land from years gone by, yearning for a return to civility amongst us all.
Some of God’s children live with a strong eye toward the end times. Some even say that the madness of the world includes multiple signs that we are living in the end times. If we read the book of 2 Peter, then perhaps we can realize that we have always lived in the end times. The living part just gets stretched out.
If indeed we are living in between, especially in between now and the coming of the Christ child, how would the Holy One of Israel have us live? Live and do what? Live and think what? Live and reflect upon what? Live and dream of what?
Living in between for me means making some noise about mistreatment of Black farmers across our land. Toward that end, we write, make calls, and advocate in a wide range of ways. Advocacy toward congressionals is one. For instance, two bills are making their way through the Senate and the House. The Justice for Black Farmers Act of 2023 has once again been submitted by Senators Cory Booker and Raphael Warnock. Some people hold these men in derision, but tor me and my house, we honor and respect them because they have their hearts in the right place. That place is recovery of the Black farmer from decades after decades of discrimination, heart break, and land loss. Another bill has been written that will provide accountability with the confines of the sacred halls of the USDA. Representative Jackson from Illinois understands the challenges of farming while Black in America against all odds. That bill entitled, "Just USDA Standards and Transparency Act of 2023" holds much promise.
So, this morning in the spirit of Advent, and in the reality of living in between now and when the Christ child is born, and in that in between space of when the Bill will be signed into law, I offer this prayer. For those of us who do pray, please feel free to join me.
Lord, lead me to see people who will vote for or against these bills, those who are concerned about history of discrimination and those for whom it is a non-entity.
Lord, lead us to understand the depth of the pain of those families who struggled and lost their farms, and those who are living in fear that even now, they just might lose their farms.
Lord, lead me to a greater sensitivity of what it means to be Black in America.
Lord, lead us to a great sensitivity of what it means to be a Black farmer in America.
Lord, lead me to see the log in my own eye before I point out the speck of racism in the eye of another.
Lord, lead us to be instruments of peace in a polarized world and to reach across whatever isles are created.
Lord, lead me to see the humanity and goodness in people with whom I have many philosophical and theological differences.
Lord, lead us to speak with courage in these perilous days, and to back up that speech with action.
Lord, bring forth hope upon our land that we may live and celebrate as a united people.
Lord, bring forth honesty and faith and resilience to all people so that we can live in harmony with one another.
Lord, prompt all of us to see the coming of the Christ child as a pivotal moment to grab hold of hope.
Lord, prompt the season of the year to bring about all manner of acts of kindness and generosity upon all of us.
Lord, prompt us to respect all of your children, every color, dark or light, because we are all precious in your sight.
Thursday, November 2, 2023
For friends who follow me on this page and on Facebook as well may read between the lines and know that I have a love/hate relationship with medicine. I learned this irony as a child when my father died of a fast-moving cancer when he was only 46 years of age and I was only 10 years of age, and I was his shadow. My mother had a multiplicty of physical and emotional problems, many surgeries, many hospitalizations, and I swore as a teenager that I would avoid hospitals at all costs.
That was a misguided promise to myself as I soon learned that I have my own DNA structure and with it comes a likewise multiplicity of complaints that cut across my father's and my mother's contributions to my health narrative.
In 1997 I was privileged to make an appearance on behalf of Black farmers to a group of attorneys, mediators, and one attorney for the Department of Justice. I've written about that elsewhere and described the contentious setting and how it all turned out. One of the documents admitted into evidence was a white paper I wrote on the diagnoses of Black farmers I had interviewed in preparation for mediation. It was a long and painful list. I saw how white USDA treats Black farmers and observed how the pain and suffering of Black farmers originates and how the medical system treats or rather mistreats them as Black Americans living under the multiple stressors of trying to farm while Black. Strokes, blindness, kidney failure, diabetes out of control, depression, anxiety, paranoia, cancer, widowhood, and more and more.
I remember one gentleman with his wife in south Georgia, sitting with me and another farmer who had introduced them to me. He taught me the word "worriation" and how it controlled his life. His wife agreed. He was dying of cancer. HE SAT THERE, INTERVIEWED WITH ME AND HE WAS DYING OF CANCER. That was painful to know and see and feel. He explained how he got it and in the days since, I have thought of him many times. He died because he was overly exposed to herbicides that are cancer causing, and he was underprepared to protect himself. And, his land had been taken away. I grieve for them even today.You can find that specific story here. America has never been free of racism in medical care. If you don't believe me, listen to that episode. It will stir your system.
I am both a cancer survivor and one with another form of cancer. Back in the day, it was renal cell carcinoma that was found and removed in June 2019. Surgery was actually on June 19 of that year. Yes, Juneteenth. At that same time, I was, uneknownest to me, to be discovered carrying small cell lymphocytic lymphoma, a blood cancer. It has been slowly growing since then, but it has taken off in the last year so, so, my treatment has escalated.
I know the feelings of both surving cancer and then battling it as it rages inside some of my cells.
On one occasion I asked a church member who was a nurse, what happened to people who have cancer and do not have insurance? I could manage treatment thankfully as a result of my wife getting us prepared in retirement. Even cancer meds that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars are zeroed out to me because of insurance and grants the hospital, University of Texas Southwestern, finds.
But, the nurse in response to my question back then, simply said, "They die."
I believed her then and I believe her now. I have collected personal data on a large group of Black farmers since 1994, and I believe they suffer enormously, mistrust the white medical sytem generally, and feel fortunate when they find physicians and hospitals who will see them as people and not based on their skin color. The technical terms are macroaggressions, those systemic factors in place that are seldom removed because they are useful, and microagressions, the daily onslaught of insults made verbally and nonverbally by power people in certain places.
Along the way, my sensitivities have gone up enormously and with much gratitude I have met wonderful people who are phlebotomists, techs, cleaning staff, floor nurses, charge nurses, and physicians at all levels of the hospital system.
Yesterday was one of those marker events. The procedure had to be done, and my medical team felt it needed to be done to rule some things out before beginning "targeted immunotherapy" for my SLL condition.
We arrived early as told at the hospital. I was checked in on the first floor, went to the second floor and was checked in again, and then waited for Joe, the first nurse to call me back. From Joe until I was wheeled out at 4:30 in the afternoon, there were at least nine attending staff. Some names I remember and some I don't.
Nissy had been in nursing for 18 years from India to Connecticut to Texas. She was competent, friendly, engaging, and compassionate. The anesthesologist who was in charge of a nurse anesthetist was also extraordinarily engaging. She shared with me her training, locations, and how she fit into the academic/clinical world. She did not, however, tell me that she spoke Arabic. We laughed that given our mutual backgrounds in academics, she could google scholar each other. I really liked her style. The nurse anesthetist was in my room only briefly with another OR nurse and a young nurse who would be shadowing her. The nurse anesthetist made sure I was ready and shot a small amount of Versed into my IV that Nissy had painlessly inserted earlier.
A young urologist who started at UTSW at the same time I entered as a patient came in and took down vital info and told us what they'd be doing. A couple of surprises, from him to us and us to him. No, I did not have a nephrostomy tube coming out my back. Yes, they would shoot dye up in there for a couple of important purposes. He was likewise engaging, our paths had crossed four years ago, and he was our doctor's chief resident. He'll head to NYC shortly to Sloan Kettering.
Then, the main doctor came in. We hadn't seen him in person since 2019, he was older, and we were older. He, likewise was engaging and affable, asked me a couple of challenging questions and finally understood my answer. At one point he signaled for us to be quiet while he read through everything in my chart. He was very thorough. That's a good thing for a patient lying there. He asked for a clarification and gave us some information that staggered us. What the previous doctor had removed was not just tissue, but was cancer. Yes, the C word, CANCER, and he was surprised that we were not yet in treatment. This is the doctor with hundreds of publications that describe what he does and why as a specialist in the robotics of oncology of the kidney area. Afterwards, he gave Charla a thorough run-down of things.
Then, Charla goes to get the car, and Leena and I are wrapping up. As we wrapped up, she reached over, wished me well, and gave me a big hug. That stunned me. One nurse one time prayed over me while I was in immense pain, others looked embarrassed because they had unwittingly caused me pain, but I had never been hugged by a nurse. That was deeply moving.
Then, on the drive home in the middle of wall to wall traffic on 121, the phone rang, and my hematologist asked, "Do you know the plan? Do you remember the plan?" To which I replied, "Yes, sir, I remember the plan. Let's move with it."
What is the whole point of this? Pain and suffering are universal. Some is a result of our misdoings. Others come naturally as a part of the process of living and dying. Some, however, is a result of malfeasance of powerful people in powerful places who do not give a shit as to what they do and to whom because they can do it with impunity. Mr. and Mrs. Black Farmer who lose their farm and house and livelihood, but Mr. Racist from FSA will retire with full benefits despite his gross, racist mistreatment of these people who simply wanted to farm.
So, as long as my lungs work, and I can breathe this air around me, and as long as I have kidneys that will function, and all of the other body parts that are now 74 years old, I'll continue to write and advocate for Black farmers. Their stories MUST be told.
Their stories are well worth hearing, as time and all allow, because they are good people, decent human beings, many of whom have immigrated to America and to Texas in search of better lives for themselves and their families.
Shame on you if you judge someone by the color of their skin or their accent. Shame on you.
And, may God bless you if you are one of His children who seeks to honor and respect all of God's children, every color, dark or light, because they are precious in His sight, and they may just wind up being your doctors or your nurses or the staff that serve other vital tasks in that hospital that is not quite in your windshield at the moment. Wasn't in mine either back in 2019, but it was then and it is now. I'm just very grateful for the way people care about the sick and wounded in those hospitals.