MonthSeptember 2015

One Man’s Blueprint For Social Justice For All

Recently, it was my privilege to read a brilliant collection of essays by Dr. Walter D. Greason, written in a clear crisp style for Everyman and collected into an e-book entitled The Engine Of Creation. During my 75 years, I cannot recall learning so much, and being exposed to so many thought-provoking ideas inside a book of only 98 pages, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in solutions to many of the problems plaguing our country today.

How, you ask, could such be accomplished in so short a space? Well, take a journey yourself, and you will see, and at no financial charge. For Professor Greason so desires to share his various proposals for social progress with you, that he makes his fascinating book available for free at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcX9mXEAIS (Greason youtube video on the book)

In the opening section entitled, Education, our generous author offers an essay exploring evangelical Christianity on football fields to the exclusion of other forms and other religions, then in the one that follows, offers an intriguing study of hip hop music, illustrating how, “as a whole, this body of music represents the evolution of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements.”

Now, warmed up, he presents a discussion of individual rights under the U.S. Constitution, and the need for “intersectional analysis” to address various categories of rights such as gay rights, women’s rights, minority rights, and religious rights in order to produce an inclusive society that benefits us all.

And finally, to round out this segment, Dr. Greason presents the reader with three essays connected to teaching. The first offers an analysis of who should be in charge of our educational system, how we measure and should measure success and failure, and stresses the need for innovation. The second illustrates how, through the educational process, young adults around the world are saving lives every day, as well as illustrating the importance of role models and their impact in helping young students build a sense of purpose and identity. Lastly, the spotlight is focused on “unique teaching,” offering keen insights into “responsive instruction,” how “experience remains the best teacher,” and the value of “critical reading.”

It should be noted that Education closes with the wise observation that “teachers who reinvent their classrooms in constant response to the widest range of students deserve celebrity status.” I found myself vigorously nodding my head up and down in agreement as I read the professor’s valuation of what teachers contribute to our society, and he couldn’t be more right than when he advocates that we need to “Take more time to publicly thank and honor them at their school, in the malls, and in your homes.”

The next section, entitled History, is equally stimulating. Opening with an essay illustrating how the media, aided by the digital revolution, bombards us with negative news daily, Dr. Greason demonstrates the urgent “need to tell the optimistic stories of how we survive, adapt, and succeed,” arguing that this need “has never been greater than right now.” To further illustrate this principle of the positive, the succeeding essay illustrates the invaluable contribution of W.E.B. DuBois, who survived, adapted, and succeeded against gigantic odds to teach us “that the right to learn was the most difficult achievement humanity had won in 5000 years of  struggle,” and how  to use that right to create justice and equality for all.

Next, the reader is presented with two essays that together provide a historical overview of how “advantage” was built into American society based on race, religion, and gender,  the development of racial segregation, and the federal, state, and private policies of Affirmative Action. Included are thought-provoking discussions about how “Merit is a lie,” and the need for new standards in economics, architecture and zoning, and urban transportation.

An eye-opening essay follows, about how “consolidation among suburban communities…will reduce municipal tax burdens and facilitate essential conversations about the common values everyone shares.” And the reader will find his or herself pondering an observation by civil rights leader, Ermon Jones, “that communities rely on each other, just as members of a family do,” and making a note to also read Dr. Greason’s book, Suburban Erasure to learn more about how consolidation can be used to increase prosperity and social justice for all.

Highly relevant to the 2016 Presidential election, in the next essay the professor traces the Conservatism of the 20th Century into the 21st, and illustrates how “the small government rhetoric of the 1970s cloaked the longstanding defense of inequality and segregation across the United States,” and why the Republican Party should revisit the legacy of Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower and “speak as citizens committed to women’s equality, marriage equality, and immigrant equality.”

And speaking of immigrants, in a following essay that integrates the issue of immigration into a history of Black History Month, Dr. Greason traces “Free” and “white,” from our country’s origin down to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He then points out that “immigrants from Turkey, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and central Asia have formed new communities in the metropolitan United States over the last decade,” and poses the weighty question: “Are Muslims and Ukrainians the most recent ‘blacks’?” The Irish have successfully managed inclusion into American society, as have Jews and Catholics, “enlargements of whiteness” according to Nell Irwin Painter in her book, The History of White People, cited by Dr. Greason and leading him to a hopeful question for all of us to ponder: “Will the continuing efforts to liberate and uplift African American communities in the United States translate into unimaginable opportunities in these distant, diverse regions?”

Two other essays finalize this segment, complementing those that preceded them, and also serving to further establish a firm foundation for the section on politics that follows.

In the first, the author offers the reader a view of how “new bodies of evidence and new standards of debate” have challenged the central narrative about  American slavery, and provided “powerful new insights abut the nature of the American South and its enduring impact on the nation’s identity at the end of the twentieth century.” And to support this view, and introduce interested readers further, he refers to the works of highly regarded scholars such as Jacqueline Jones, Nell Painter, John Blassingame, Peter Kolchin, John Hope Franklin, and Walter Johnson.

And in the closing essay, authored in March, 2015, Dr. Gleason provides a lesson that America needs to remember: that “the enslavement of Africans in the Americas could not exist without the written authority of the Christian churches of Europe.” It is convenient to forget this, and much effort has been put forth to mask this sad relationship between Christianity and slavery. And it is not a relationship that can be excused as having existed in our distant past. As Dr. Gleason points out, beginning in 1928, Samuel Stouch, a leading voice in the tri-state area of New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, “recruited Methodist ministers aggressively to attract hundreds of members to the (Ku Klux) Klan. By 1940, Stouch had created a home for Klan policy in local law enforcement and criminal justice. His ideas created the coalition that would become the foundation for Frank Rizzo’s popular approach to law and order during the era of civil rights activism in Philadelphia between 1956 and 1980.” And the relevance of this lesson will most certainly promote a better understanding of how the City of Ferguson, Missouri, was operating until the recent tragic shooting forced the beginnings of a turn-around.

Section Three, Politics, sprouts naturally from the strong roots established by Education and History. Opening this segment with an essay about long-term trends in economic growth and transformation of metropolitan areas, with emphasis on the potential of public-private partnerships, Dr. Greason then follows with a discussion devoted to the need for senior leadership. Here he focuses on the exciting potential that arises from the formation of partnerships across changing demographic groups, an advocates the need for and advantages of senior citizens (ages 65-85) joining hands with young adults (ages 15-35).

Then, the third essay, and what I feel is the core problem facing America today, Professor Greason begins by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s concern that “we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. When machines and computers, profits and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism,

materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Having set forth this crucial need to reorder our values, the author then discusses how the Occupy Wall Street movement reflects a global movement, pointing out that “around the world, citizens have taken to the street to reject militarism, materialism, and racism,” but also that “corporations and the voices of their mass media outlets cannot understand the message that these brave human beings communicate.” In conclusion, Dr. Greason offers the vitally important observation and solution that “the Occupy movement has not realized how to make itself heard most effectively…that the mobilizations in urban centers miss the center of political and economic gravity…these voices must be heard in the suburbs.” Further, he advocates meeting “the middle class where it resides,” and suggests occupying suburbs, the World Series, the National Football League, and the Olympic Games.

How interesting, I thought,  as Dr. Greason’s suggestions sunk in. And how relevant to the upcoming Presidential election next year, with all the candidates focused on appealing to the same middle class that he has so intently focused upon.

And as if Dr. Greason were reading my mind, he follows with a fictional letter that illustrates how the corporate structure would respond to protestors through the police authority, reminiscent of how protestors were assaulted during the Selma March and in Birmingham by Sheriff Bull Connors with his dogs and fire hoses during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. I smiled at the hope that such conduct employed today against Occupy protestors, would likewise awaken and arouse the vast majority of Americans to radically reorder our priorities in favor of social justice.

While I believe that these two core essays provide the necessary focus on America’s major problems, along with realistic suggestions on how we can overcome them, in following essays, Dr. Greason also addresses the problem of political polarization and the need to return to the spirit of compromise, as well as the need to end de facto segregation based on “credit ratings that are thinly disguised racial covenants.”

Further essays in this segment begin by introducing the reader to a book, The Age of Fracture, by Daniel Rodgers, which illustrates that “Americans adopted a vocabulary—a rhetoric—of alienation and despair in the last decades of the Cold War,” and how “this transformation of our concepts and the words we chose to represent our world crippled the public ability to craft policy based on the social structures that govern capitalism.” For example, “we made ‘choice’ synonymous with freedom and ‘market’ became the basis of our cultural judgment. The reliance on these kinds of concepts to govern ourselves oversimplified the society…making “the complexity of social relationships and the history of civilization irrelevant to our law and national identity.” In studying this essay, it can be seen that the need to consider the power of our words and ideas, and to reform same, coincides with the need and the ability to reorder our values.

Following in the footsteps of The Age of Fracture, the author then illustrates how The Tea Party and Globalization has been manipulated by the power structure of national and international corporations to promote division amongst the various segments of our society, and “make property…the primary civic virtue, supplanting life and liberty.”

Further in this vein, the next series of essays demonstrate how the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice Roberts has catered to the interests of the corporate power structure, to the detriment of individual rights; illustrates the principles of good government, and advocates that corporate authority should never be allowed “to threaten the fundamental dignity and worth of humanity;” offers an insightful view of how “Professionalization threatens to dismantle the most important accomplishments of higher education from the last two generations; and provides an equally poignant view of how we citizens must tune out the media that make our ideological differences “political sport,” and instead “talk with each other and attempt to resolve these ideological differences—house by house, neighborhood by neighborhood.”

The final cornerstone of Dr. Greason’s blueprint, entitled Economics, offers equally creative ideas to those gifted by its three predecessors. In the opening essay, he traces economic development from the end of World War II to the present, with emphasis on the role that expansive government has played. Then, highlighting the philosophic division that has developed between Liberals “who see government as the common ground where compromise is essential to provide good roads, strong police forces, innovative schools, an open media landscape,” with Conservatives who “assert that private organizations demonstrate the success of individual ingenuity and that governments only interfere with the efficient functions of markets to determine social success and failure, he proposes a seriously unique and highly provocative solution:

“The United States needs to commit to a new vision for our federal and state governments. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, women must take the reins of elective representation. Too many of the men in office have long connections to traditions of frustrating public accountability and abusing the public trust…By 2020, women should be the majority in both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court as well as the majority of governors and representatives in the statehouses.”

Wow! Why not give the women a chance to lead? I thought after turning over this essay in my mind a dozen or so times. I also wonder what they could accomplish with respect to solving another of the triplet problems our society faces: militarism.

After this thoroughly stimulating essay, Dr. Greason follows with a series devoted to separate economic problems, suggesting in the first that we need to create Centers for Metropolitan Growth to help existing and prospective business owners adapt their enterprises so as to be able to “use” mega businesses such as Walmart to distribute new products, then follows with a discussion of “informative economics” to demonstrate how an overreliance on any single form of capital investment creates a stagnant economy, such as happened to Detroit with its overreliance on the physical infrastructure of the automobile industry.

Continuing in this vein, subsequent essays in this section offer insights into: income inequality, the fallacy that a rising tide lifts all boats, and how “new educational initiatives and targeted tax reform” can help; and how unbridled consumerism causes households to lack the basic asset of an emergency fund, and how reducing wasteful spending on entertainment can restore economic balance.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate my strong recommendation to place The Engine Of Creation at the top of your must-read list of books! I believe that you will find this collection of essays most rewarding, because it not only honestly sets forth the serious challenges that America, and our world, faces, but with equal integrity boldly and brilliantly sets forth positive solutions to defeat racism, consumerism, and militarism!

In an era when the news media focuses on the negative, and directs our attention to same, how rewarding indeed it is to have a book that not only teaches positive solutions to America’s problems, but also instructs each of us that there is hope, that together we are not powerless, but actually powerful. And that if we stop our busy lives for a long moment and deeply reflect, we will conclude that there are far more basic principles of justice and equality that join us Americans than the few subsidiary issues that divide us, and that each of us can make a difference by joining one of numerous grass-roots to national organizations that are working daily toward defeating the toxic triplets and building an America with social justice for all.

Two Humble Heroes Of The Civil Rights Movement, Now Angels

Last week, our country lost two special people that made America and the world a better place, as Frank E. Petersen, Jr., 83, and Amelia Boynton Robinson,104, passed away.

Frank, born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1932, enlisted in the Navy at age 18 in 1950, only two years after President Truman had desegregated the armed forces. He began as a seaman apprentice, but a year later entered the Naval Aviation Cadet Program. In 1952, now a Marine, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and the Marines’ first black aviator.

Overcoming severe racial indignities, such as being arrested at an officers’ club on suspicion of impersonating an officer, and then overcoming a fear of heights, he brought new meaning to the noun perseverance. And after flying 350 combat missions during two tours, in Korea and Viet Nam, Frank became the first African-American to command a fighter squadron, the famous Black Knights, then an air group, and finally a major air base.

During his distinguished career, Frank obtained both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from George Washington University, was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, and added yet another first to his list of pioneering achievements: becoming the first black Marine Corps general! Retiring in 1988, after 38 meritorious years as a three-star lieutenant general, he reflected humbly that, “Just to be able to say that you kicked down another door was such a great satisfaction.”

Frank’s fellow angel, Amelia Boynton Robinson, saw combat of a different variety and on American soil. On March 7, 1965, Bloody Sunday, Amelia joined 600 black demonstrators, led by John Lewis and the Reverend Hosea Williams, who set out to March from Selma, Alabama, to the State Capitol in Birmingham in order to petition for the right to vote. The marchers were confronted on the Edmund Pettus Bridge by Alabama state troopers armed with tear gas, billy clubs, and whips. And Amelia, walking near the front of the line and subject to the full force of the troopers’ blows, was knocked unconscious.

In fact, an iconic photograph which was widely distributed by the news media shows Amelia lying insensible on the ground with a white officer standing over her, nightstick in hand. A second photo shows a fellow marcher taking her in his arms and struggling to lift her up. Hospitalized along with at least 17 other marchers, fortunately she recovered quickly, and the extensive news coverage of Bloody Sunday was pivotal in winning wide popular support for the Civil Rights Movement.

On August 6, 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the federal Voting Rights Act into law, Amelia was a guest of honor at the White House. And on the fiftieth anniversary of the historic march, when the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge was reenacted, Amelia, now 104 years old, made the journey in her wheelchair, holding hands with President Obama.

Interviewed last December, Amelia, reflecting back on Bloody Sunday, said humbly: “I wasn’t looking for notoriety. But it that’s what it took,” she added, “I didn’t care how many licks I got. It just made me even more determined to fight for our cause.”

It is my belief that the best way each of us can honor the legacy of these two individuals, who with determination and courage rose from ordinary circumstances to break the barriers of racial discrimination, is to follow their example. God willing, none of us will have to fly 350 combat missions in the service of our armed forces, or be beaten unconscious for peacefully exercising our constitutional right to assemble. What I take from their sterling contribution to making our America and our world a better place, and what I hope you will join me in doing, is starting right this minute, to renew our determination to work for social justice for all people, to make tolerance and inclusiveness a way of living, and to summon the courage to speak and act on behalf of these ideals. In short: Each and every day, be the change in the world we want to see!