“My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.”
The death of author Maya Angelou on May 28 and the murderous massacre in Isla Vista in Santa Barbara County, California, on May 23, 2014, occurred within a week of each other. Both forced me to turn my attention away from work on the final proofs for Journey through the Power of the Rainbow, Quotations from a Life Made Out of Poetry. Then both, in the end, for different reasons, persuaded me to remain as focused as I could and to get the work done.
That last phrase in particular––“get the work done”––stood out because I recalled Angelou using it when noting how prolific James Baldwin (as an author of novels, plays, poems, essays, short fiction, and screenplays) had been in comparison to Ralph Ellison (celebrated during his lifetime mostly for a single history-making novel and collection of essays). Angelou acknowledged Ellison’s towering achievement with Invisible Man but also felt Baldwin deserved recognition for the more extensive body of critically acclaimed work. Therefore, upon her passing, those words thundered through my skull with the full volume of her majestic articulation: “Get the work done.”
It was a wholly different matter in the case of the misogynistic implosion that Elliot Rodger unleashed in the form of a psychotic detonation that took the lives of six people, wounded seven more, and scarred countless others. The introductory essay in Journey through the Power of the Rainbow talks about how the book was inspired largely by social media’s adoption of a certain quote that might have helped Rodger change his troubled mind. It is one that encourages individuals to seek, claim, and celebrate their innate value as human beings rather than suffer from––or make others suffer from––delusions of rejection and insignificance.
The Man in His Mental Mirror
Rodger acted from the perspective of a mental model––or image of the world held in his mind–– that gave him a lot of misleading assumptions and generally bad information. He assumed his experience of college life must necessarily mirror that of the stereotypical representations so often depicted in popular films and TV programs. Otherwise, it meant either he was failing as a human being or others were failing him.
He convinced himself that being a virgin at the ripe old young adult age of 22 was a reason for self-condemnation. He persuaded himself––while enjoying forms of privilege and luxury unknown to most––that others disliked him when he probably spent too little time actually communicating with anyone to learn whether they truly did or not. Or to determine if it mattered as much as he apparently thought.
Please Click to Read Part 2: Maya Angelou, Elliot Rodger, and Getting the Work Done Part 2
When confronted by something too painful, incredulous, or monstrous to believe, a person will sometimes say, “I couldn't even wrap my head around that!”
Such was probably one of the main reasons the international community took so long to respond in any meaningful way to the abduction of the almost 300 Chibok school girls in Nigeria. The emotional impact was, and is, not completely unlike that of seeing for the first time a film clip of the aircraft exploding against the Twin Towers on 9/11. It was an image unprecedented in one’s mental model of what reality is supposed to be and therefore an image one was not able to immediately process.
Who could believe that an army of armed adult men would attack and abduct nearly 300 school girls in the middle of the night? Moreover, in retrospect, why were the girls left in such a vulnerable position in the first place?
For me, once I was able to “wrap my head” around what had happened, I cancelled the article I had originally planned to post for Mother’s Day. In its place I wrote the story Mothers, Daughters, and Slavery Make Disturbing 2014 Holiday News published by Charter for Compassion and in my Examiner column.
Now that we are processing the unfathomable horror, various agencies are devising strategies to help resolve the situation. Influential figures are speaking out. The excruciatingly painful problem is that after almost a month in captivity, it is impossible for the students––some of whom reportedly have been “sold into slavery” or forced into “marriage”–– to come out of this ordeal unscathed. For now, at least, opportunity remains for them to reclaim their stolen dreams and reconstruct their deeply wounded lives.
Mother's Day 2014
At the heart of Creative Thinkers International’s operational philosophy has always been a core belief in the ability of positive creativity to help inspire nonviolent conflict resolution. This is not a romantic notion; it is a crucial alternative.
The blood-and-bone-splattering spectacles of war have come to command most news headlines in the modern world. The maniacal brutality that was 9/11 engraved in the world’s collective consciousness themes and realities intensified by perpetual chaos, terror, and death. It is a chilling prospect, and yet an observable phenomenon, that humanity at this point in history too often defines itself by how efficiently it destroys itself.
Love, it seems, is valued most when violence or disease threaten to annihilate the life that would serve as a channel for it. Men and women discover the deeper nature and beauty of their characters by exposing them to man-made insanities that threaten not only human beings, but the nonhuman forest-, ocean-, jungle-, and mountain-dwelling species that also call the Earth home. Such an inclination is not one that supports notions of sustainable communities or advances based on peace rather than war.
That very dangerous realization is an extremely important one to note. The reason is because the natural and social forces that combine to compose what some call “the human story” are developing in such a way that, like it or not, more and more people you may once have thought of as strangers or foreigners are now becoming neighbors, co-workers, classmates, bosses, employees, and in-laws. Between extreme weather events and more prolonged climate transformations, plus cross-cultural merging caused by man-made atrocities and inter-cultural interactions facilitated by advances in technology, the boundaries that once defined notions of community are dissolving as steadily as shelves of ice breaking off the Antarctic.
Cultural migrations and evolutions are not new. Some have occurred because of genocide or war, such as the almost two million refugees who have fled the pandemonium in Syria to resettle in Turkey and other neighboring countries. There is no shortage of examples of people who have escaped persecution in one nation to rebuild lives in another. There are also opposite examples: such as those African-Americans who left the American South, and natives of the Caribbean who ventured forth in the 1910s and 1920s to settle in New York and other areas of the Northeast and Midwest. It was their hunger for opportunity and adventure that launched the Harlem Renaissance.
The Talk in 2013
In 2013, a lot of talk in the United States focuses on shifting demographics. Commentators point out the increasing business and political savvy of women, the more expansive and inclusive values adopted by the Millennial Generation, Gays’ non-retreating battle for marriage equality, the increasingly diverse population of the United States, and the borderless connections made possible by social networks.
Creative Thinkers International stepped out ahead of the crowd and the curve when the community formed in September 2007. Members then and now recognized that whatever barriers had restricted practices of cooperation and communication in the past need not do so in the future. As with the tumbling of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the time had come to work around divisiveness rather than maintain monuments to hopelessness.
Whatever tomorrow does or does not bring, the artists, authors, teachers, poets, photographers, mentors, videographers, students, and creative others who comprise this online village will always be able to take some pride in knowing one particularly important thing. At a time in history when so many in the world chose to exhibit the worst of what human beings might become, they at least tried to demonstrate the very best of what human beings might become.
29 May, 2013
From the time he was first placed on trial for the murder of Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail in 1989 until his death by execution one year ago, September 21, 2011, more questions than answers have tended to accumulate where the case of Troy Anthony Davis was and is concerned.
As far as any observers––including such trained onlooker as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Amnesty International, and Color of Change–– have been able to tell, Davis was not executed because he was proven guilty. He was executed because technicalities of applied legal practice and questionable choices in regard to his defense failed to confirm his innocence. For the average person, such a distinction is murky at best. For Troy Anthony Davis––and for an as yet undetermined number of individuals––it literally meant the difference between life and death.
The case of Troy Anthony Davis is not one that shall gently disappear inside the shadowy annals of American history. It generated while it lasted too much pain for too many people. Moreover, prior to culminating in the highest dramatic fashion with the executed prisoner’s death, there was that of his mother Virginia Davis only a few months before. And after his death, his courageous sister Martina Davis-Correia succumbed to the cancer she had been battling at the same time she fought on her brother’s behalf.
It shall also continue to linger, inform, and influence because too many issues associated with it remain dangerously relevant. Considerations of race in the American judicial system represent only one such issue. The increasing use of DNA forensics testing ––a technique which the lack of physical evidence in regard to the Davis/MacPhail case rendered inapplicable––under suspiciously unclear circumstances is another.
According to the Innocence Project founded in 1992, “To date, 297 people in the United States have been exonerated by DNA testing, including 17 who served time on death row. These people served an average of 13 years in prison before exoneration and release.”
Troy Davis served 22 years in prison before his execution.
In the case of the slain teenager Trayvon Martin, the shooter George Zimmerman has steadfastly maintained he shot Martin because the teenager had grabbed his gun and was trying to shoot him. This past week, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement issued a statement that none of Martin’s DNA was found on the grip of the gun.
The Capital Punishment Debate
Yet one more reason Davis’s story shall not quickly fade away is because of the ongoing debate over capital punishment. In commemoration of this first anniversary of Davis’s death, a number of prominent advocacy organizations have stamped their names to a mosaic poster of Davis topped by the slogan: “Abolish the Death Penalty.” Towards the bottom of the poster (or to the side in one version) are the words Davis communicated just before his execution: “The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me.”
While people who believe Davis was actually guilty will likely continue to remember him as such, millions have in fact adopted his face as a powerful symbol of both what is most wrong with the American judicial system, and, as what may yet become yet one of the hallmarks of what is most right about it. With that in mind, it is worth noting that the rallying cry used in previous years to bring attention to the case of Davis and others has altered only slightly: from “I am Troy Davis” to “I am still Troy Davis.”
by Aberjhani, founder of Creative Thinkers International
author of The River of Winged Dreams
and co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
More on Troy Anthony Davis & 1st Anniversary of His Death
The headlines skyrocketing around the world at the moment are anything but inspiring. They can, in a sense, be condensed to the observation that a few (possibly a single person) ill-intended individuals created an insulting video that has allowed fanatical Islamic factions to goad generally peaceful segments of the Muslim populace into extreme acts of violence. Whereas just a year ago––actually, just a week ago as well–– many in the Middle East were calling on the United States to support rebel fighters throughout the region, now U.S. embassies are under siege from one end of the Arab world to another.
It’s a road down which too many have stumbled bleeding, screaming, and dying before. Nothing of sustained progressive value has ever been found at its end. The only truly useful final resolve may very well be that of the individual who in the face of blind violence and mindless opprobrium insists on anchoring her- or himself in responses committed to peace.
The quote above is from the well-known poem Angel of Healing: for the Living, the Dying, and the Praying. It offers one proposed form of peaceful response. The following quote is from The American Poet Who Went Home Again and offers, as we sometimes like to say, food for thought:
“Peace is not so much a political mandate as it is a shared state of consciousness that remains elevated and intact only to the degree that those who value it volunteer their existence as living examples of the same... Peace ends with the unraveling of individual hope and the emergence of the will to worship violence as a healer of private and social dis-ease. “
Contemporary award-winning author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.