Thoughts from Week 7 of my Citizen’s Police Academy course

“Stop Ranting about the Problems!!” That was my earnest command tonight, in front of a classroom of elders and peers who were waxing ad nauseam about who is to blame for the degradation of our neighborhoods, the obscene “conspicuous consumption” among the masses, and the election of President-Elect Donald Trump. Their rhetoric was so classic and predictable that I started finishing their sentences. Regardless, they wailed on. So I barked back, “STOP RANTING ABOUT THE PROBLEMS! How about we wrestle with the hard but viable SOLUTIONS!! What pro-active steps are you, we going to take in the coming years?! What we focus on is what we feed, is what grows in size and power. So let’s focus on the solutions.

I offered these suggestions:

  1. Host reading hours on Saturday mornings in your building’s community center or local library. If you believe children don’t know their heritage nor the full history of America, then read it to them from books that present THE FACTS.
  2. If you celebrate Thanksgiving, then make it a point to pay homage to our ancestors and to acknowledge what they had to endure in order for us to be here. Tell your babies the true tales of pilgrims and the native people of this land. There are some serious disputes about who gave whom smallpox blankets and who massacred who. Let’s talk about it all.
  3. During the Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hannukah holidays, volunteer! Identify a local non-profit organization and help them with their office or field work. Give more than you take this holiday season. And when the holiday season is over, continue to volunteer; continue to give. Keep your selfless activities going far beyond the holiday season. Don’t just give someone a fish with your volunteerism. Teach people how to fish for themselves.
  4. Register at least ten new voters between now and the election days of 2017. Host voter education events. I have found the age old ritual of breaking bread together over lunch, brunch, or dinner to be a great tool for galvanizing kindred folks around clear ideas and actions.
  5. Build scorecards for current and new candidates to determine which ones align with your values the most. My new friends and allies at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund will soon send me sample scorecards. I will share them with anyone who asks.[Essential Sidebar: If 40,000 New Yorkers vote as a unified front in 2017, we will decide our new mayor and city council. That equals just 1% of public housing residents in the five boroughs of New York City. If the majority of artists, people of color (POC), women, immigrants, and poor/working class people voted as an organized force, then we would be the new 1% that advocates for the “99.”]
  6. If you do NOT believe in the voting/political process, then please share alternative ideas for how to make social justice progress OR for how to “live off the grid.” All empires fall. If you believe that we are truly living in the last days and times of this particular empire, then give us your take on how we should plan to live in the world if (when?) this one falls.
  7. If your faith directs you to “be in this world, but not of it,” then please follow your religious/spiritual edicts as it relates to “being your brother’s and sister’s keeper.”
  8. Have constant, honest conversations that invoke solutions as opposed having constant bitch sessions about our failings and shortcomings.
  9. If we are to examine our flaws and challenges (and we must), then let’s do so with the intent of working through those failings and shortcomings. Let’s change what we have the power to change and let go of the things beyond our control or influence. It is this approach that keeps me from pulling my hair out. As a bald man, I ain’t got many so I have stay calm and motivated ;-)

I absolutely believe there are practical solutions to most, if not all, of humanity’s woes, no matter how overwhelming those woes appear in the moment. But if we don’t give those practices our finite energy the pathology becomes obese, and the remedy emaciated. Such a belief requires Long Vision that sees our actions at this moment as seeds that we must water regularly to nurture sturdy oaks and elms of the future. Oaks and elms that we won’t see grow to fruition in our lifetime. Be they ideas, laws, books, songs, ethical businesses, institutions, and/or children.

Tonight I pleaded with those peers and elders to do what I ask my students to do. I urged them to dream the boldest fantasy of their future self. No limits, no fear, no psychic static, or noise from haters and naysayers. I urged them to make real a fantasy where we keep our streets and stoops clean; where our children are safe and enlightened; where we follow our callings, live our dreams, and create happiness by our own means and standards. I urged that we envision this life regardless of the obstacles that will definitely arise.

The big difference between failure and success is what we do with the obstacles before us. Do we go around them, under them, over them, straight through them…or do we sit down before those obstacles in defeat? We get to decide. Choice is our grandest tool as humans. Choose wisely, my friends. Our world is at stake.

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