- Author: frank mcpherson
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, “If you can't fly, run. If you can't run, walk. If you can't walk, crawl, but by all means, keep moving.” These are the words and thoughts that Dr. King articulated so well, when he spoke to a group of students at Barrett Junior High School in Philadelphia only six months before his death, on October 26, 1967. As we celebrate MLK Day and reflect on our nation's history of intolerance, prejudice and discrimination I would like to take an opportunity to deliver a more positive message. A message that pertains to our youth, a message that we can all deliver as we engage not only with our own children, but also those with whom we work and serve. It was Dr. King's blueprint for Life!
In his speech, Dr. King laid out three fundamentals to help students reach their full potential. These elements of a successful life are as true today as they were then. I would argue that they also apply equally to adults as they do to children. First, believe in yourself, believe in your own dignity, your life has significance and purpose. Your feelings, thoughts and beliefs are all components of who you are, and they count. Do not let anyone make you feel less because they are not in line with what others believe.
Second, be determined to be the best that you can be. Strive to achieve excellence in all that you do. It doesn't matter what you do, what matters is that you take pride in what you do, and that you do it well. At all levels in life, you will engage with others who depend on you, on the work you do and how well you do it. Can you reflect on your work and be proud of it? If so, you did it well, if not strive to do better next time. You will undoubtedly have failures, we all do, do not give up! Learn from your experiences, good or bad, they are building blocks, and each one is a part of constructing the best you that you can be.
Finally, his message imparts a commitment to eternal principles of beauty, love, and justice. It is our commitment to these principles, which enable a flourishing society. Give back, and improve our community, our country, and our world. Do what your able to do and contribute in the ways that allow you to “Give Back”. Improving the lives of others is the best and most rewarding thing you can do. It will help you toward your road of self-actualization and reaching your full potential.
Dr. King outlined these three principles to a group of Black youth in 1967. Fifty years later, life for Black youth has not changed significantly. In some instance's statistics have actually worsened. According to the Brookings Institute, Racial and Ethnic disparities continue to impact Black youth; “half of Black Americans, born poor stay poor, most Black middle-class kids are downwardly mobile, Black wealth barely exists, most Black families headed by a single parent, and Black students attend worse schools”. As we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, I want to encourage all of you not to not only remember his legacy but also help Black, and other youth of color, to “Keep Moving”.
As we approach the holiday season, I want to wish all of you “Happy Holidays” The Pandemic has forced us all to adjust our lives in ways that were unimaginable just 12 months ago. The sights, sounds and smells of the holidays are all around us, however, it has become a necessity to celebrate in ways that are new and unfamiliar to us. Families and loved ones are being forced to celebrate from afar, and children may not have the benefit of having their grandparents, aunts, and uncles close by.
This year is different in so many ways, however it does not mean that we should abandon our celebrations. We can come together remotely and keep gatherings small and intimate. No matter how you choose to celebrate, I wish you health, good fortune and happiness throughout the holidays and the new year ahead.
Most Holidays, in the United States are rooted in cultural or religious beliefs and not everyone chooses to celebrate them. That being said, “Happy Holidays in December means “Christmas” to many of us, however there is also Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. As we begin the season, I thought I might reflect a little on the traditions of these holidays.
In Europe, Christmas is celebrated the entire month of December, celebrating numerous holy days and other festivities. The season generally starts with “Advent” on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, where one of four candles is lit on an Advents Kranz (wreath), and an additional one is lit each Sunday until all four are lit. Some countries also celebrate St. Nicholas on the 6th of December, where children who have been good throughout the year receive cookies and sweets, while those that misbehaved, receive a lump of coal.
In some European countries, gifts are given on Christmas Eve, followed by midnight mass, while celebrations in other countries take place on Christmas day. The 12 days of Christmas stretch to Jan 6 or Epiphany, the day the Three Kings delivered their gifts to the Christ Child.
In Australia, Christmas falls during the summer. The popular thing to do is go camping or go to the beach over the holiday. They decorate a native Australian tree, called a “Christmas Bush” whose green leaves and flowers turn red during the summer. The holiday meal might consist of eating prawns on Christmas day, and having a BBQ on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. They tend to have impromptu street parties and often carol in the streets.
Norwegians celebrate the festival of lights, a promise of longer days and return of the sun. The French celebrate with the most anticipated culinary event of the year, Le Reveillon de Noel or Christmas Eve feast. Within each region, chefs put on elaborate multi-course feast, lasting for hours and highlight various regional specialties. In England, they celebrate many of our American traditions, however, children remain the focus.
Starting December 10, our Jewish communities will start their 8 day celebration of Hanukkah, celebrating the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem. During the second century B.C., the temple had been occupied by Syrian oppressors, who dishonored it by erecting an altar to Zeus within it, where pigs were sacrificed.
In 166 B.C., a Jewish priest by the name of Judas Maccabeus led a revolt, started by his father and four brothers. Using guerilla tactics, they were able to drive the Syrians out of Jerusalem within 2 years. In celebration, the Maccabees rebuilt the alter and lit a gold candelabrum with seven branches, called a menorah. To re-dedicate the temple, the menorah was to burn continuously; however, they only had enough oil for one night. Miraculously it burned for eight days, providing them time to find a fresh supply of oil. The Hebrew calendar is based on the lunar cycle, so the actual date for Hanukkah changes every year.
Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. Celebrations revolve around lighting the menorah. Each of the eight holidays, another candle is added to the menorah. A ninth candle, called the shamash (“helper”), is used to light the others. Typically, blessings are recited and traditional Hanukkah foods such as latkes (potato pancakes), rugelach (a rolled pastry with various of fillings), and sufganiya, (a jelly donut) are served. Gifts are normally not exchanged, as the holiday is a religious holiday, however traditionally money is given to charity so that the poor would have the funds to purchase candles for the menorah. Other customs include giving money to children, playing games, such as dreidel (spinning top), and attending services.
Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Africana Studies at California State University, created Kwanzaa in 1966, following the Watts riots in Los Angeles. Kwanzaa is celebrated each year from December 26 to January 1. The word Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” meaning “first fruits” in Swahili. In creating the holiday, Dr. Karenga combined several different customs that celebrate the harvest celebrations from the Ashanti, native to Ghana, and those of the Zulu tribe, the largest ethnic group in South Africa.
Similar to Hanukkah, a special candle holder called a kinara is used in the celebration. The kinara holds seven candles, three red on the left, three green on the right and a black one in the center. The black candle represents the black people, red is for their struggle and noble blood that unites all people of African descent, and green signifies the rich land of Africa and hope that comes from their struggle. The black candle is lit, then red and green candles are lit alternately starting from the outside, moving toward the black candle in the middle.
The seven candles represent seven core principles, they are:
- Umoja: Unity - To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
- Kujichagulia: Self-Determination - To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
- Ujima: Collective Work and Responsibility - To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems and solve them together.
- Ujamaa: Cooperative Economics - To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
- Nia: Purpose - To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
- Kuumba: Creativity - To always do as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
- Imani: Faith - To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
Kwanzaa celebrations normally include food, singing, dancing, storytelling, poetry reading and African drumming. Gifts are given primarily to children and always include a book and heritage symbol. The book should emphasize the African value of learning and the heritage symbol reaffirms African commitment to tradition and history.
Although all of these celebrations and customs vary, family, food and goodwill tend to be a message seen in all of them. As such, I want to wish all of you and your families the best that the holidays have to offer. I also want to wish you and your loved ones, good health and prosperity for the New Year.
For additional information, below are resources referenced
As we close for the Thanksgiving Holiday, I want to take a few minutes to wish you and your families a Happy Thanksgiving.
For many of us, Thanksgiving has traditionally included a four-day weekend, time with family, lots of food, football, and parades. This Thanksgiving, I encourage everyone to consider, the first “thanksgiving”, a simple gathering of pilgrims, giving thanks for what they had been blessed with and not the holiday we celebrate today.
The Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock on December 11, 1620. Their first winter was bitter and harsh, 46 of the 102 original pilgrims lost their lives and it was only with the help of 91 Wampanoag Native Americans that the remaining pilgrims survived. To celebrate their survival, the Pilgrims and Native American Indians jointly celebrated a traditional English harvest festival to give thanks.
Thanksgiving wasn't celebrated again until 1676, when the community of Charlestown, Massachusetts celebrated their good fortune of having recently defeated the same native Indians whose ancestors helped the pilgrims survive that first harsh winter at Plymouth Rock. One hundred years went by before Thanksgiving was celebrated again to mark the victory of the 13 colonies over the British at Saratoga. In 1789 George Washington proclaimed it a holiday, and in 1863 Lincoln proclaimed it to be on the last Thursday in November. In 1941, Congress sanctioned it as a legal holiday.
Understanding the history of Thanksgiving gives us perspective as to why and how we celebrate the day of “thanksgiving” today. Over the years our customs have changed. This year, I hope we come together to celebrate common purpose, reconcile differences, share our victories and struggles, teach our young and continue to extend ourselves to those less fortunate. Celebrations this year will not be the same as in past years. This year has been filled with turmoil and for many of us, this has meant staying away from those we care about most.
The Pandemic has changed everything we do. This year family gatherings are not encouraged, shopping is discouraged, and air travel is not recommended. Many of us will be at home this year, either alone, or gathering with our immediate family. Even with these restrictions, there are still things we can do to enjoy the holiday. There are ways to keep our gatherings small. We can create new experiences, gather remotely, prepare a favorite recipe over video chat, prepare a traditional recipe, drop off food, notes, and gifts of gratitude to family and friends
Finally, I want to encourage all of us to be thankful for what we have, health, safety, adequate food, clothing, shelter, and many material blessings. This winter, and holiday season, I encourage you to communicate with someone in your life (verbally, by email, or write them a handwritten note) and let them know that you appreciate them. It will make them, and you feel better. Our community has faced many challenges this year and we have gotten through them seamlessly, thanks to YOU! This holiday season, please take good care of yourselves and each other. -Frank
A few readings on the history of Thanksgiving and Native American views of this holiday.
That all depends, we are living in a turbulent and challenging time. COVID19, demonstrations and racial unrest all disproportionately impact communities of color. These are also the communities we serve, work and live in. Individuals that make-up these communities are not the only individuals impacted; we all are!
The last 3 weeks we have seen a massive collective response to systemic racism and there has never been a better time to stand up and be heard. Do not be paralyzed by the fear of taking criticism. We have an unprecedented opportunity, whether a person of color or a member of the LGBTQ community, celebrating 50 years of Pride this month. Just as the gay rights movement that we celebrate today was ignited by the Stonewall riots that occurred in New York in June 1969, the murder of George Floyd may well be the spark that ignites the movement against racial injustices, “Globally”.
Since the murder of George Floyd, I have had several meetings and forums on racial equity with members of my team. Some were able to express feelings that had been silenced for way too long, others said that I don't understand and asked why? Stories were shared, emotions stirred, tears shed; all reflecting the pain of the moment. Conversations were real; yet no judgment was passed.
Being both biracial and multicultural, I have also experienced various forms of prejudice, racism and discrimination throughout my entire life. As the son of an African American father born and raised in United States and a Caucasian mother born and raised in Germany, discrimination has been something I have dealt with since early childhood. Much of my childhood was spend growing up in Germany with a single white mom, who refused to marry my black father, only to escape the racism that was prevalent in this country during the 60s and 70s and still is today. My pain, although not always having had the ability to clearly understand, define or express the injustice, was real, nevertheless. I was 11 years of age before my mother finally conceded to marry my African American father and come to this country. However, prejudice and racism did not stop there, but that is another story.
As we continue to have these discussions of healing, unlearning the stereotypical messages about our race and the race of others, there will be moments of enlightenment, awakening, discomfort, discouragement, pain and healing. Annaliese Singh states in her “Racial Healing Handbook”, there are five steps that we can all take now. Know your racial identity, learn the history of racism, catch yourself in the flow of racism, be a racial ally and engage in collective healing. I encourage you to take part in the healing process to read this or other books that are available on the subject.
My blog will be about us, events that impact us and those around us. Topics will be relevant to the work we do, the impact it has on our lives and the lives of others. It will be a discussion on self-improvement, maximizing team impact, building a better organization and maximizing our impact in the communities we live in. My goal for all of us is personal growth and development, reduced stress levels, improved health, healthier relationships, increased productivity, peace of mind and greater resiliency. Welcome, to Frankly Speaking.
SF Bay Area County Director
Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo & Elkus Ranch
As Nancy Pelosi stated, "Today, America mourns the loss of one of the greatest heroes of American history: Congressman John Lewis, the Conscience of the Congress," He fought for freedom, equality and human rights all his life. The son of Alabama sharecroppers, he organized and participated in the lunch counter sit-ins in Nashville Tennessee. He was part of the original 13 Freedom Riders and delivered the keynote address at the historic march on Washington in 1963, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. In his keynote address, Lewis stated; "We all recognize the fact that if any radical social, political and economic changes are to take place in our society, the people, the masses, must bring them about."
In 1965, at the age of 25, he participated in what was known as “Bloody Sunday”, the confrontation on the Edmond Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. That day, he and others in the crowd were tear gassed and beaten with baseball bats, lead pipes, billy clubs, and chains.
In 1986 Lewis was elected to congress, and served 17 terms in the U.S. House of Representative. He was an advocate for healthcare reform, called for measures to fight poverty, create education opportunities for minorities and oversaw multiple renewals of the voting rights act. In December 2019 Lewis disclosed that he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
New York Times opinion writer, Margret Renkl, interviewed Lewis in January 2020 in which she quoted Lewis as stating. “I have decided to do what I know to do and do what I have always done: I am going to fight it and keep fighting for the Beloved Community. We still have many bridges to cross. ... With God's grace I will be back on the front lines soon. Please keep me in your prayers as I begin this journey.”
Lewis was a civil rights icon, who spend a lifetime fighting for racial justice. Through the decades he risked his life and blood for freedom and justice, his fight with cancer was one he could not win. He passed on July 17th, 2020.