The Gospel According to John

The passing of U.S. Congressman and Civil Rights icon John Lewis last Friday turns the page on an important, painful and, ultimately, redemptive chapter of American history.  As the numerous and well-deserved tributes to Lewis have said, he literally “walked the walk” for racial justice his entire adult life, and most famously across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965.

I never had the privilege of meeting Mr. Lewis; but I was fortunate enough to have heard him speak at Morgan State University in 2011.  Along with several hundred other faculty, staff, and students, I crammed into the auditorium for a glimpse of the living legend.  I admit that I do not recall exactly what John Lewis said that day; but I have never forgotten how his voice rumbled with passion and purpose.  Somehow John Lewis had transported us back to the 1960s during the height of the Civil Rights struggle.  But as was his way, he did not allow us to remain frozen in the black and white images of history.  He reminded us that injustice and inequality are tireless foes, and it was our responsibility to confront them with the same fierce and urgent determination that he and his fellow revolutionaries had shown all those decades ago.

In an earlier blogpost I wrote about my devotion to the Fourth of July and my deep love of the Declaration of Independence (“You, Me, and Freddie D”).  Those words are sacred to me; but they meant even more to John Lewis.  First as an activist and later as a servant-leader in Congress, he held America accountable to the bold principles espoused in its Founding Document.  That, my friends, is genuine love of country.  John Lewis saw our shining potential as a nation; but he also understood that only the intense heat of sustained protest against discrimination would unleash that potential.

It is often said in the African American community that “we are our ancestors’ wildest dreams.”  If this is true, then surely John Lewis absolutely exceeded anything that the Founders would have dared imagine even in their darkest nightmares.  

To the end of his life, John Lewis continued to invite all Americans to stand up and commit ourselves to the fundamental promise embedded in the Declaration: “…with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”  

We have our marching orders; and there are still bridges to cross.  See you on the other side, Mr. Lewis.             

The Party Line

****This post was originally published in my Morgan State University blog, Mind Over Morgan.****

WARNING:  This post contains images that some individuals may consider to be offensive.

The beginning of the academic year is a time of tremendous hope – a natural response to a campus suddenly filled with new students and the promise of marvelous things to come both in and out of class.  But like many things in life, this rosy image is quickly tarnished by reality and our own human frailties.

College is and should be a time for experimentation and pushing familiar boundaries.  For it is here that many students try on adulthood for the first time.  New friends, new experiences, and new temptations are absolutely par for the course.  And the veritable ground zero for this rite of passage is the campus party (or the off-campus bash which, of course, is even freer of the restrictions imposed by university or parental authority).

The images above are from a postcard that I found last week on the Welcome Bridge.  The postcard promoted a party that was to occur last Friday night.  To say that these images are suggestive is a laughable understatement.  The clear implication – at least to young heterosexual males – is that attending this party might result in an encounter with a partner quite willing to indulge in some very adult behavior.

I am and have been called many things, but “prude” has never been among the terms used to describe me.  Yet especially in the evolving aftermath of the Ray Rice scandal and the Federal investigation of sexual violence on college campuses, this portrayal of women is at least wildly inappropriate and tasteless, and at worst, an endorsement of the objectification and abuse of women.

I do not know if the organizers of “Caribbean Candy Crush” were cognizant of how their advertisement fit into the maelstrom of recent events.  My guess is that they only wanted to tease us into parting with our money and consuming cheap alcohol.  What could be the harm in that?  Yeah.  Right.

I hope that what they actually did was stir feelings of concern — and perhaps a fair amount of good old-fashioned disgust and anger.  Violence against women does not occur in a vacuum.  It is, however, nurtured by silence and complacency.  The campus of Morgan State University cannot allow itself to become an incubator for misogyny.  I call upon the entire Morgan Community to come together and develop policies and procedures that balance our commitment to the First Amendment right to free speech with our moral obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of women.

Let us show our daughters – and our sons – that freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin.