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African American PTSD

 

I was at once enveloped by anger, rage, sadness, betrayal, paranoia, vulnerability and hopelessness.  The KKK, white supremacists and neo-Nazis were armed and rampaging in full combat gear. The level-headed, upbeat, positive Amy that you’re used to was sitting isolated in her living room, eyes glued to breaking news, heart pounding, respiration elevated, about to burst from frustration.  “NO! We cannot go back to those days!” My screams were inaudible. I flashed back to the America of the 1940’s and 50s, then projected myself into the 2020’s, the years my grandchildren will inherit. “We cannot go backwards . . . I won’t have it!”

I recognized within myself the symptoms of PTSD.  African American PTSD.

As a former psychotherapist, I knew the symptoms, common in veterans. But I have long recognized that people of color, and yes, other marginalized groups also suffer from PTSD.  Mine is a milder form devoid of haunting nightmares.  I did not grow up in the South.  No one in my family was dragged from their bed and hung from a tree to die. I never drank from a colored only water fountain, nor was I ever denied entrance to an integrated school.

But in my own way, through Northern institutional racism, I suffered along with those of my people who experienced such indignities. I couldn’t be a cheerleader, because my blackness did not reflect the school’s beauty standard. My guidance counselor called me into her office and advised that as a colored girl, I need not aspire to the college prep track.

These days, when I attend peaceful protest rallies, I am predominantly surrounded by Whites, and I ask myself, “Where are all the Black people?”  Now I realize where they are.  They are at home, feeling disillusioned and powerless.  Saying no matter how much education we have, no matter how big a house we can afford, to countless thousands of our fellow Americans, we are still just n_gg_rs. No matter how far we’ve come thanks to Martin Luther King and leaders of his era, we endure a segment of America that spawns ethnic hatred.  That teaches six year-olds armed with firearms in kiddy neo-Nazi boot camp that they are a superior race and that hatred is not only good, it’s patriotic.

Nevertheless, I find solace in making my voice heard; through my writing, and through my presence at the many peaceful rallies that I attend. I find hope in the difficult process that we are undergoing. Hatred bubbling under the surface is finally erupting and I see the recent horrific events as a purging of our society. Be assured, PTSD will not define me.  I hold steadfast in the belief that a loving humanity will continue to push forward in my America.

 

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 The Fine Art of Just Being

“Amy, what’s new?”

“Nothing’s new . . . just the same old good stuff.”

“Where are you traveling to this summer?”

“Nowhere, I already live in a vacation destination.”

“I’m defying the urgency to be doing and settling into a season of being.”

Being appreciative for my surroundings, my town, my friends and my family.  Of  being retired, with no time clock telling me when to punch in and out. Living at my own pace—perhaps speeding up today, slowing down tomorrow. Choosing how to spend my time with no external dictates.  Basking in the luxury of nature, the Spa, or my own livingroom.

Part of being is reflecting, relaxing and contemplating. A time of discovering and reclaiming parts of myself that lay dormant, or releasing parts that no longer serve me. Knowing that the life I’m living now reflects my hopes of the past: hopes that are being fulfilled in the present.

You think I’ve stopped striving, dreaming, setting goals?  Certainly not, but now my former type A personality is somewhere around B-minus.  Don’t get me wrong, I admire doing—it got me to where I am today. And yes, I set my sights on new opportunities, but without the pressure to succeed.

“Being? You mean status quo?”

“Certainly not. Status quo implies stagnation. Being is dynamic and creative, going deep within to connect with who you truly are and then letting your actions flow easily from that inner peace.”

Knowing myself, this season of just being will not be permanent. I’ll be off and running on a new project or a new activity. But right now, I’m on hiatus. See you in September

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The Power of Words

As a writer, I am profoundly aware of the power of words, most especially in these times of national discord and divisiveness. Maya Angelou best described it when she said, “Words are things.”  They have the power to encourage and build up, or attack and tear down.  They impact us daily through TV, print and social media.

We live in a world of duality which, in the past year, has intensified into polarity.  What we say has the power to create one nation united or one nation divided.  Through the gift of free will, we are capable of bringing forth change with the impact of our verbal expression.

In today’s political climate, we communicate most often with those who are like us, and fail to initiate dialogue with those of opposing views. Dialogue that could result in increased understanding, shared community, softening of opinions and peaceful coexistence.

I am increasingly concerned about the world we are creating for our youth.  As adults, we are meant to be role models of morality, civility and society’s ideals. We are here to provide inspiration and teach respect.  So I ask myself:  are we as parents, educators, media figures and national leaders modeling behavior that we want our children to emulate?  If I were a young person today, would I have much reason to respect my elders?

Truth, honesty, integrity, respect, unity, compassion. This is but a partial list of words that inspire action.  Words that I would hope to see empowered in our nation today..

I invite you to sign in to the comments section below, and add to my list your nouns, adjectives and verbs of inspiration.  Through the power of our shared words, we can join in creating a societal climate worthy of our legacy.

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Politics and Friendship

   “Well I have to tell you . . . I voted for ________”

You did what!?!?!?”  Words said only in my mind.

I was having lunch with a dear friend.  When I heard who she had voted for, I felt shock and pain.  I thought I knew her after fifteen years of friendship. How could she be my close friend and have that political mindset?

I smiled and said, “Oh, that’s interesting.  Can you tell me why?”

She prefaced her answer with, “This is a free country and I can choose to vote anyway I like.”  Then she went on to tell me her reasoning.  The conversation was adult and civil.  I didn’t agree with her, but I could understand her.  Most importantly, our friendship is still intact.

She went on to tell me that she made the same “confession” during a telephone conversation with a friend of fifty years. That person’s response was “Goodbye and have a nice life.”  The phone was slammed down.  With one x marked on a paper ballot, a friendship of fifty years was abruptly terminated.Similar scenes are repeated across the country. The end result may not be so dire, but many relations  hips are challenged; diminishing closeness and trust.

Would it surprise you to know that neither Hillary nor Donald lose any sleep over our broken friendships? Did you know that neither Donald nor Hillary are even aware that we exist?  So why give either of them the power to steal our joy?When someone votes against our candidate we take it personally. We assume that they’re turning against us and our ideals. But many times, our values have nothing to do with their decisions.  Unfortunately, this past election has brought an inordinate animosity to the surface, and more rifts have occurred not only in friendships, but in families as well

I come originally from New York.  We don’t abide by the rule that religion and politics are not up for discussion.  We discuss these controversial issues openly with gusto.  We gesture with our hands and raise our voices in a process that exercises the muscles of our brains.  When these arguments are done, our friendships survive and are often enhanced.

Suppose we look upon our political differences as an opportunity to communicate, to ask for clarification, and hopefully to understand each other better.

 

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Political Civility in Safety Harbor

There I was, on the corner of Bayshore and 7th Street, waving a sign for my mayoral candidate.  I sensed a presence a few feet behind me, and when I turned around, there was a gentleman with a sign for his candidate.

“I wasn’t planning on being here, but then , . .”, he said.

“Democracy in action.”

We both laughed, and returned to our individual tasks at hand.

Cars drove by in packs, to the rhythm set by nearby traffic lights. Some folks ignored us, others waved or honked. Sometimes at me. Sometimes at him.  He and I bantered back and forth and reached an informal agreement that we’d each leave our posts at 6pm.

Walkers along Bayshore shouted encouragement, sometimes to me, sometimes to him.  Occasionally they stopped for a supportive chat.  There were no boos, no catcalls, no harsh words or bird flipping from walkers or drivers.

“We’re setting a great political example,” I remarked to my friendly opponent.

What a nice break from the mudslinging and accusations that were flying around town.  . Occasionally we exchanged smiles, or chuckled at getting weary.

The 6 o’clock hour arrived; we signaled each other, and headed towards the parking lot.

“By the way, my name’s Amy,” I said.

He returned the introduction with outstretched hand.  “See you tomorrow.”

“Your turn to bring the wine.”

“Red or white?”

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Bring Back the Love

 I awoke one February morning to find two of my friends fighting on my Facebook timeline.  The argument lasted for two days, and they didn’t even know each other. I’ve had people tell me they’re afraid to talk openly with their friends because they don’t know where they stand anymore. I’ve seen hateful words traveling across the airways from folks who are usually loving and kind.  Even in my Safety Harbor cocoon, I’ve heard people snarling behind each other’s backs and publishing all sorts of mean-spirited rhetoric.

What kind of example are adults setting for today’s youth?  Some of the name calling and mudslinging coming from adults today would surely result in suspension, or at least detention if expressed by children in the classroom.

 

Sticks and stones will break my bones

But words will never hurt me.

 

A rhyme from our childhood, but it’s a lie.  As Maya Angelou said, “Words are things,” and yes, they can be hurtful and damaging, with consequences lasting a lifetime.

Do politics shape our values or do our values shape our politics?  Must we treat each other with animosity just because we don’t always agree?  I am a firm believer in the inherent goodness of humankind. I believe that love triumphs over hate. But these days, hatred is creeping up and taking more than its market share.

February is traditionally the month of love. What’s happening?  It’s not just here, it’s nationwide: divisiveness, animosity, name-calling have reached a sudden high.

We are all guided by some form of higher principle, whether it’s God, spirituality, nature or science. We each have a teaching from our childhood that instructs us how to behave towards one another. It goes something like this: Treat others as you would like to be treated. It involves kindness, understanding, respect . . . and yes, love.

Surely we can find a way to bring back the love.

 

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Martin Luther King Jr: His Relevance in 2017

I became a young adult in the era of Martin Luther King’s marches for peace.  As an African American from the North,  my personal experience with racism did not compare to the harshness of the South, but it did take an emotional toll. Although aware of discrimination in the North, I bought into the myth that segregation existed only in the South: probably because that’s where it was supported openly by laws and law enforcement.  I wanted desperately to ride the southbound bus and join Dr. King, but my mother, widowed when I was 17, responded with, “I didn’t work hard to raise you and put you through college to have you killed in the South.”  So, reluctantly, I remained at home, reaping the benefits of Dr. King’s sacrifice.

As we approach the national holiday commemorating the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, I pause to reflect on his message and course of action over fifty years ago, and its relevance to America today.

Dr King, in concert with the media, fathered the Civil Rights Movement. Without the media, the brutality occurring in the South would not have entered living rooms across the country on the television airways, awakening a nationwide conscience, and jarring the federal government out of its states’ rights complacency into direct intervention.  Because of the momentum that he started, and that was continued by other leaders, the lives of African Americans were significantly changed by the desegregation of schools, public places, and housing.  Along with the Voting Rights Act, discriminatory voter registration practices were dissolved.  Those of us living in this era of history were overjoyed, relieved, and unburdened, with the feeling that our lives were changed forever, the expectation that the nation would continue to move forward in our behalf

2016 emerged. Police brutality, which lay dormant, rose to pubic awareness, this time through Social Media, thanks to the pervasive use of the smart phone.  As certain parts of the Voting Right Act ran their course, gerrymandering, new rules for voter identification, and decreased accessibility to poling places were reintroduced in parts of the South, designed to keep Blacks, especially poor Blacks, from voting.

As we slide into 2017 from the backsliding of 2016, concern for the future of minority Americans has resurfaced where least expected. What would Dr. King think to see that Steve Banyon, a known racist with ties to the white supremacist “alt-right” movement, is chosen to be Senior Advisor to the President of the United States. How would Dr. King react if he were to learn that today’s candidate for Attorney General, the man who will oversee the prosecution of hate crimes,  is  Jeff Sessions, who, because of his raciest rhetoric, failed to be confirmed as a federal judge.

This backsliding momentum gives pause to revisit Dr. King’s philosophy of a peaceful response to injustice.  Dr. King would not condone rioting, looting, or any other form of violent response. In his support of passive resistance, his was not a weak passivity; it was coupled with the strength of moral resistance; a strength that spoke to the conscience of America

This is a time for vigilance for all people of minority status in America. We must not respond with aggression or militancy born of hostility.  But when faced with injustice, we must heed the call to action and actively resurrect the philosophy and strategies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The spirit of Dr. King was brought to mind in the recent words of First Lady Michelle Obama, “You cannot take your freedom for granted. Like generations before you, you have to do your part to preserve and protect those freedoms.”

 

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 Love, Peace and Unity for the Holiday

Once again, our country is challenged to counteract divisiveness with love, peace and unity.  In this season, we have the opportunity to reaffirm our country’s creed of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all who live here.

America experienced an inordinate amount of rancor, dividing along political, racial, economic, and gender lines in the post-election days leading up to Thanksgiving.  Some of those feelings were softened, as people sat around the Thanksgiving table and recounted their many blessings. Hopefully, we can continue to soften as we reflect upon the meaning of our holiday season with peace on earth, good will toward all. .

A house divided against itself cannot stand.

We are fortunate to reside in a land where we are guaranteed the right to freedom of speech.  But we are also a civilized nation, and our expression of this right should reflect our civility, especially in areas of disagreement.

Free will is both a blessing and a curse, so there will always be differences of opinion.  Dissension is often grounded in self-interest, but there is a difference between enlightened self interest and the selfishness that dishonors the rights of others.  How nice it would be if we could see the world from our opponent’s viewpoint, glean a modicum of understanding, and reach a state of good will, replacing hatred born of fear with consensus born of understanding.

One way I can approach this season, in a spirit of love and inclusion, is to place myself in the minds and hearts of those whose beliefs are different or even opposite of mine.  I can attempt to see the world from their perspective. I can realize that when they look at me, my viewpoint may be strange and alien. When I disagree, it will be with respect; hatred has no place in the equation. I don’t pretend it’s always easy, but with empathy and compassion, I shall strive to find common ground where we can move forward together for the benefit of all.

At our highest level, there is no us versus  them; there is only us, one human family. In this worldwide human family, we are created with differences. But at the same time, we are urged to love one another in the spirit of peace on earth, good will toward all.

As we near the end of 2016, I invite you to join me in rededicating ourselves to achieve love, peace and unity in this holy season.

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My Litany of Thanksgiving With Compassion

I am thankful for my beautiful home overlooking picturesque woodlands . . .

yet my heart goes out to those victims of Hurricane Matthew who no longer have a  home at all.

I am thankful for my children and grandchildren . . .

yet I grieve with the mother who walks behind the casket of a son or daughter shot down on the streets of America, or on the battlefield of a foreign land.

I am thankful for my recovery from cancer allowing me to dance and play and exude life as before. . .

yet I feel the pain of those still suffering, perhaps with their second or third round of chemo, or even worse, having lost their battle.

I am thankful for my Social Security and pension . . .

yet I worry for those who fall below the living wage, and are unlikely to amass the funds to relax into retirement.

I am thankful for my passion for writing gifted to me later in life . . .

yet I am saddened for those who have ceased to grow, but sit zoned out before the TV in a state of boredom.

I am thankful for my diverse community of friends . . .

yet my heart aches for those who are lonely or outcast.

I am thankful for my beautiful surroundings: sunshine, small town, waters of the bay and gulf  . . .

yet my heart is heavy for those trying to survive in the cavernous depths of rat-infested  slums with no hope of escape.

I am thankful for my Faith which sees me through the hard times that occasionally interrupt the joyous times . . .

yet I anguish for those who feel defeated and hopeless.

I rejoice and give thanks for my many blessings…

yet as I look upon those who suffer, I strive to offer more than just my prayers and a loving heart filled with compassion.

 

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The Benefit of Discord

2016 has been marked with an inordinate amount of discord in the arenas of politics, race relations, and criminal justice.

Long before it hit the media at large, the Black community faced, on a daily basis, the disproportionate targeting of Black men by the police; and with it the cover ups by the blue code of silence.

When I grew up in the North, discrimination was viewed as a Southern phenomenon.  There were no lynchings or Jim Crow laws, so the North held itself blameless.  But institutional racism existed, and is still an only partially resolved disgrace.

Equal justice before the law has been both an American ideal and an American myth. Statistics show that Blacks are arrested more frequently than their White counterparts for committing the same minor crimes.

Birchwood Casey Eze-Scorer™ 12" x 18" Paper Targets at Cabela'sMany police officers are schooled at shooting ranges where the target is a black male silhouette.   The subliminal message imprinted on their minds:  “If it’s black, shoot it.”

Today, the atrocities of murder by cop are being recorded on body cams and bystander smart phones.  What was hidden is now being exposed.  And in some cases pent-up rage is erupting in the streets.  Yet violence did not originate in the “hood,” but in the slave master’s whip emblazoned over generations in the DNA of Black folk. In fact, conflict is an integral part of American history.  After all, our country was not birthed from the British-American Peace Talks, but from the Revolutionary War.

Thankfully, it’s not all bad.  Years ago, my husband was pulled over by a White policeman for driving seven miles above the speed limit.  When the officer peered into our car, he remarked, “Sir, you have a lovely family and I won’t embarrass you with a ticket in front of your beautiful children, so please drive slower and have a nice day.” Yes, this police officer was respectful and kind.  Still, acknowledging the good does not excuse the bad.

“All things work together for good …,” a phrase often repeated in our houses of worship.  The unrest that we see today constitutes the surfacing of anger, distrust, hopelessness and prejudice that fester beneath the surface in the minds of both law enforcement and the communities they serve.  Once buried, these feelings are now erupting, and their existence can no longer be denied. America is purging, and amidst the disruption is a huge opportunity for honesty, dialogue, level headedness, understanding, and solutions.  At its best, healing is the benefit that will arise from discord.

 

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Safety Harbor . . . Preserving the Best of Our Small Town

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People move to our small town of Safety Harbor, not because of long term planning, but because they are called to live here.  How often do folks say: “I visited, I felt it and I knew I must live here.”

To me, Safety Harbor means a sense of community.  People really care. When I walk downtown on Main Street people recognize me and let me know how happy they are to see me.  When I am in distress people are quick to come to my assistance, even if they don’t really know me.

My childhood was spent in a small town with all of those characteristics.  I knew this was where I had to be when I felt Safety Harbor.  For the past five years, I have basked in the arms of this caring, loving community.

With great sadness, I learned that in the name of preserving our beautiful small town, some folk are resorting to hateful tactics that belie the best of what Safety Harbor has to offer.  When a new resident cannot sit on her porch without being harassed by strangers; when a long-term resident is subjected to personal attack and name calling, we must stop and reflect.  Are we preserving the best of our small town?

We are all created with free will, and surely we all have differences in our self-interest.  But are we expressing these differences in the best way when we go on the offensive and rudely attack our neighbors?

Part of our task on earth is to acknowledge differences and create harmony through understanding, civility, and compassion. And just how can we do that?  It’s easier than you may think.

Focus on the issues.

Eliminate words of personal attack.

“Do unto others . . .” Imagine how you would feel if your words hateful were directed at you or a family member.

Now present your views with reason, calm and respect.

There is a national and international climate of discord that is poisoning the airways.  Safety Harbor is like an oasis, a refuge, protecting us from rancor and hostility.  Now, more than ever, we must examine our hearts and our behavior so that we preserve the best of our community. Let Safety Harbor continue to live up to its legacy as a Safe Harbor.

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Face of Terrorism: Face of Humanity

In the aftermath of the Orlando massacre, some people find it easy to label the face of terrorism as an Arab face, a Muslim face. But terror has no race, no religion. Terror bears the face of all humanity.

Since 9-11, many have narrowed the definition of terrorism, with the implication that it is something new to this country; inflicted by outsiders.  When I was a child, untold numbers of Black men and boys were snatched from their beds in the dead of night and hung from trees to swing to their death.  Terrorist acts, not perpetrated by outsiders, but by the solid citizens of the American South—cloaked and hooded.  Back then, the face of terrorism was white and Christian.

In today’s world, it would be irrational for me to label and hate every Southern white Christian. Those who label and hate every Muslim in America are equally irrational.

Terrorism is birthed from hatred. It just takes a subtle mind shift to cross the line and turn hatred into a terrorist act. Hatred must be normalized, justified, supported to turn into terrorism.  The mindset of the segregated Jim Crow south normalized bigotry and racism, turning the terrorism of lynching into an act supported by many in the community at large.  Bad as it was, that terror was localize to a predictable section of the country.

Today we live in a global community enhanced exponentially by the Internet.  A lone disgruntled individual can find a sense of community in support of his hatred. The tipping point into an act of terrorism is always lurking with unpredictability.

Hatred is on a continuum from thought to word to deed. You and I will never escalate to committing an act of terror. But each of us bears responsibility for thoughts and words that contribute to the climate in which hatred is germinated, fertilized, and allowed to grow.

As we reflect on our thoughts of people who are different from us, we can monitor the words that come out of our mouths.  When speaking of Muslims, Hispanics, LBGTs, Blacks, we can eliminate words of hatred and replace them with words of compassion, understanding and respect.

Let our thoughts and words contribute to unity and peace.  Let the face that we show to the world be the face of love.

 

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Honor the Grief

Orlando Memorial 1When I was a little girl and someone died, there was a funeral.  The grownups were all dressed in black, the children in white or muted pastel. The widow wore a black veil.  The air was filled with sadness.  There was sniffling, muffled weeping, and an occasional loud outburst of sobs. There was no doubt that this was a sad occasion, and we were there to console and to grieve.

The wake had already occurred, lasting for two days prior to the funeral: 2:00-4:00 in the afternoon, 6:00-8:00 in the evening—to accommodate those who had to work. Appropriate attire for the wake, though not necessarily black, was navy, brown, or muted pastel. A great loss had occurred, and we were there to console one another and grieve.

After these two solemn rituals, the repast followed: a delicious meal in the parish hall, prepared by the church ladies.  Only then did the laughter begin as folks shared happy stories about the deceased, or any other topic of conversation they chose.  And you felt just a twinge of guilt at the fun you were having as you saw friends and relatives that you hadn’t seen in years.  You vowed to keep in touch, but knew in your heart that you wouldn’t see them again . . . not until the next funeral.

These days when some one dies, we jump almost immediately to the celebration.  Black, though still required of the family, is softened in patterns mixed with white. The attire of respect has changed.  Friends are known to show up to the funeral in bright red.   Here in Florida, some even arrive in jeans or shorts.  The wake is never more than a day; more likely just an hour or two before the funeral.

Don’t get me wrong.  The Celebration of Life is a beautiful event.  It allows us to feel relief that our loved one is no longer suffering.  That they are in heaven with the Creator and the host of family and friends who went before them. We chronicle the joy of their accomplishments and of our happy times together. For that, we rejoice.

I know that when it’s my turn to go, I want folks looking at happy pictures of me, reminiscing about the good times we had.  And when it’s time for the repast, wine will be served. But I’d also like to look down from heaven and see that there’s someone who is feeling the pain of losing me and acknowledging that pain with a simple tear, or gut wrenching sobs.

Let us not hurry past the reality that a great loss has occurred. That death has left sadness in its path. That the rush to joy may be burying the sadness too quickly. In the leap from death to celebration, let us not forget to honor the grief.

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Remembering Orlando’s fallen with sadness and love

Orlando Memorial 3

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From Slavery to Freedom to Safety Harbor

As he stepped onto the stage clad in blue majestic African garb, his presence commanded the room, his voice reverberated to every corner; his strength and courage transcended his ongoing six year bout with cancer.  Frederick Hayes had come home, proclaiming his family’s history from slavery to freedom, to Safety Harbor.

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Moments earlier, in the West African ceremony of libation, his sister Jacqueline Hayes  led the audience in the invocation of those who had gone before, as people throughout the room called out the names of their ancestors to be present on the evening of March 18th in the sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church of Safety Harbor.

For the next hour, we journeyed through the family’s trials and triumphs, guided by the narration of Jacqueline Hayes.  This evening of song, dance and spoken word entertained us, educated us, and touched our hearts. Frederick brought with him years of experience as a professional dancer, having shared the stage with such greats a Ruby Dee and Geoffrey Holder.  He is well known for having performed twenty years in the Boston company of The Black Nativity.

We learned of Great Grandfather Alex Smith, an African brought to Georgia in the chains of slavery. Fleeing to Florida, as a runaway, Alex lived among the Seminole Tribe until the Emancipation Proclamation, when he returned to his family in Georgia. .

Next we heard of Grandfather Charlie Smith, who left Georgia after hearing of the opportunities in the thriving town of Safety Harbor, Florida. Through a connection with the McMullen family, Charlie found both employment and a place to live; becoming Safety Harbor’s first Black landowner.

We became aware of a window of history rarely spoken of in our town. African American Harborites were shooed off the sidewalks and forced to walk in the road as they headed down Main Street.  Charlie’s daughters Ruth and Goldie were the first to successfully challenge this practice, as they strode down the sidewalk of Main Street. In addition, Grandfather Charlie, as he went about his janitorial duties in a local meeting hall, bore silent witness to plots against Blacks, conjured up by those who, in public, hid behind white sheets and hoods.

We learned more of Frederick’s mother, Ruth, a college graduate and beauty shop owner, who married Alfred Hayes of Tarpon Springs. Ruth Smith Hayes, relocated to New York, and subsequently to Boston, where Frederick, Jacqueline and their three siblings were born. When all of her children were grown, Ruth returned to Safety Harbor.

Now the family has come full circle in Safety Harbor, as Frederick came to tend to his ailing mother in 2009.  Jacqueline followed in 2014.

On this special evening, we felt the impact of the family’s history not only through the narration, but through dance, song, and poetry. The performance ran the gamut of emotions; joy, sorrow, indignation, triumph, interlaced with bits of humor. Joined by a talented local six year-old, Frederick brought the story to life through the medium of African dance.  Stepping out of her role as narrator, Jacqueline enhanced the legacy with a dance of her own.  And Frederick’s powerful deep voice was merged with three other vocalists filling the room with songs of their heritage. The evening ended with a heartfelt standing ovation.

By popular demand, Frederick will repeat this program at a later date, so that more of our townspeople can become aware of this important window into Safety Harbor’s African American history. Frederick can be contacted at (727) 712-1068 to deliver his performance to your group or organization.  Donations from the evening went to ease the burden of medical bills incurred by his cancer treatment.

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The Obama Presidency: Black History in the Making

History traditionally pays tribute to heroes of the past, but this Black History month I honor President Barack Obama, a symbol of Black History in the Making. When we think of Black history. segregation, Martin Luther King, and the civil rights movement come to mind. But in reality, today’s events are tomorrow’s history.

As I listened to Presidant Obama’s final State of the Union message in January of 2016, I was reminded of his campaign messages throughout 2008 and his inauguration speech of 2009. He was the candidate of hope, a promise of change. His recent State of the Union address put forth his vision for the future of America. Obama is a statesman, an idealist, a visionary. Somewhere between hope and vision is the reality of the presidency. That reality is one of politics, and politics is not Obama’s strong suit.

His vision for bipartisan collaboration was thwarted at every turn. As I see it, the worst thing that happened to limit Obama’s success was the death of Senator Ted Kennedy. Teddy was a consummate politician; he came from a family of politicians, he knew how to play the game and make things happen. Obama’s idealism coupled with Teddy’s political acumen were the perfect combination. But half of the equation was removed in  2009.

Nevertheless, history books will not be concerned with politics; history books will record his accomplishments, which are many:

  • Ending the war in Iraq
  • Ridding the world of Osama Bin Laden
  • Healthcare for all Americans
  • Repealing the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
  • Turning around the US auto industry
  • Acknowledging the marital rights of America’s gay population
  • Significantly reducing the Bush deficit
  • Acclaimed as one of the most highly regarded U.S. presidents in the eyes of the international community
  • The list goes on. . .

And let us not forget the First Family. The Obamas exemplify the highest standard of American family values. They defy racist stereotypes as they reflect the strength and cohesion of Black families across the nation. Michelle Obama represents the best of American womanhood: intelligence, beauty and graciousness. A double Ivy League graduate, she gave up the promise of a brilliant law career to serve as First Lady. Feisty in the early days of her husband’s campaign, she softened the sharp edges of her words and stepped gracefully into her accepted role. Within the boundaries of charm and grace, she remained her own person. Michelle defied the jealous old biddies who criticized her for displaying her beautifully toned arms and redefined appropriate first lady apparel.

 

Not to go unmentioned are the Obama children, Sasha and Malia. Throughout the first campaign and the 2009 inauguration, they were in the public eye. But once in the White House their parents erected a protective shield keeping them out of the spotlight.

White American children have always been able to say that with the American dream, they can aspire to become President of the United States. Now, with the Obama presidency, children of color can share this aspiration. And they have the image of Black children already living in the White House.

Along with many African Americans I have repeated the mantra, Black history is American history. Well, the Obama presidency has proven this, for there are not enough registered Black folk in the U.S. to have elected him on our own. White America, Hispanic America, Asian America joined with Black America to elect this president.

In the heat of today’s politics, President Obama’s fan base and his critics will queue up along political lines. But history books aren’t concerned with the petty bickering of politics; history books focus on a person’s character and accomplishments or lack thereof. Even if the history books fail to chronicle his achievements, even if the historians choose to diminish his impact, he will go down in history with at least one entry:

Barack Obama was the first Black President of the United States of America.

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We Can End World Hunger

“I don’t want anything, I have all I need.” How many fifteen year-olds do you know who would say this? Yet that was my granddaughter’s repeated response when loving relatives and friends asked, “What do you want for Christmas?”

Thinking back on my own teen years, I had a ten item list of potential gifts stored in my head and ready to recite upon the asking. It never occurred that I had all I needed; I was focused on what I wanted. Just how many of us reach adulthood, unable to separate our wants from our needs?

It was 47 degrees out and the car heater wouldn’t kick in fast enough, so I turned on the seat warmer and within seconds, had a warm toasty body. Who needs a seat warmer in Florida?

My friend just remodeled his kitchen and demonstrated with pride the cabinet doors and drawers. “You don’t have to hold on to close them, they shut themselves with just a tap of the fingers.” Who needs self-closing cabinet doors?

And how many women do you know who groan, “My closet is such a mess, there’s nowhere to put anything. I have eight outfits with the tags still on.” Who needs eight unworn outfits?

We Westerners love the newest, the trendiest, the most expensive grownup toys. They feed our indulgent desires and give us something to show off with pride. But how many of us would take my fifteen year-old granddaughter’s response: “I don’t want anything, I have all I need.”

Perhaps it’s time to shift our focus away from our wants to other people’s actual needs. Whenever our eyes crave another unnecessary indulgence, instead of reaching for our credit card, why not reach for our checkbook and donate the sticker price to a reputable organization to feed the hungry.

We can feed one child, one family, one village at a time by declaring
“I have all I need … I offer you the gift of life.”

 

Thank You Safety Harbor

Thank you, Safety Harbor. This is the first thought that comes to mind this Thanksgiving Season as I reflect on reasons to be grateful.

You are a small town; a real community so like the town of my childhood. A place where I can stroll down Main Street at any given moment and run into a friend, and where the shopkeepers know me by name. And for being a place, where I can walk through the streets well after dusk knowing that I am safe and secure.

The town is a center of creativity that encourages a writing talent that emerged so late into my adulthood. And you provide this platform to share my thoughts. A special thanks to those of you who stop me on the street, with the words, “You’re Amy, I follow your blog.” Where else could a woman of a certain age have a following?

Whether Journey Dancing at the Gazebo or Flash Mobbing in the middle of Main Street, Safety Harbor gives me an opportunity for joyful, uninhibited self expression that keeps my childhood passion for dance alive.

In Safety Harbor, over half of my friends are the age of my daughters, yet we interact as peers. This is a true multi-generational community, where people of all ages get along with respect, and by knowing each other are enriched.

Thank you for your quirkiness, your artsiness.

Open Mic2

For being a place where I can recite Lip Sync 1serious prose at Open Mic, then shift venues and be a blond Tina Turner to a white Ike, and no one thinks that’s strange.
For the restaurants that take time to focus on food which is fresh and organic, supporting a healthy lifestyle. And for the Spa; a social hub, a center of healing.

Thank you, Safety Harbor for your reverence for the creations in nature. From the oak trees, to the parks, to the waterfront, to the sunrise and sunsets, Harborites treasure with awe the creations of nature that enfold.

Sunset Safety Harbor

Most of all, thank you for sustaining me through last year. For nurturing and loving me back to health. This is my tribute of Thanksgiving

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See Previous Blogs on Safety Harbor Connect

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Understanding Black Lives Matter

I think white folk are getting tired of the Black Lives Matter movement given many of their responses:

  • White lives matter
  • Police lives matter
  • All lives matter

Of course .those other lives are as important but to counter Black Lives Matter with that retort is dismissive, diminishes the importance of this new movement, and denies a part of American history that has seeped into today’s world:

  • White lives have always mattered in America.
  • Police lives have always mattered in America.
  • Black lives have always mattered less in America.

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s did much to improve the American mindset regarding the value of Black lives: voting rights, educational equality, equal employment opportunities and housing discrimination were addressed. And most noteworthy, the brutal practice of lynching ceased. Mainstream America was lulled into the belief that all is now well for Black folk. Today the focus has shifted to the longstanding, unaddressed, discriminatory behavior of the police.

Black Lives Matter calls for the end of lawlessness by law enforcement.

Police lives have always mattered. We have laws that are enforced when a police officer is mistreated by the criminal element. But the Black Lives Matter movement is highlighting a truth that has long been covered up: law enforcement officers have not only failed to protect the rights and lives of Black Americans, but they have perpetrated brutal crimes against them under the guise of self-defense, and covered their actions with outright lies. The Blue code of silence is only now coming to light with the advent of the
body cam, smart phone videos, and greater press coverage of outlaw lawmen.

Parents of Black boys have an underlying anxiety whenever their sons leave the house. They instruct their boys in self-protective behavior if detained by the police for whatever reason, just or unjust. Don’t argue. Keep both hands in plain sight. Say Sir. Most importantly, don’t run.

Only last week in the nation’s capital, Jason Goolsby. a young Black student, following the rules of his mama’s upbringing, held open the door at an ATM, allowing a White woman pushing a stroller to precede him. And how was he rewarded for his chivalry? She called the cops, who took him down forcibly. And what was the complaint? Robbery fear.

I have observed a great deal of history in my lifetime and I continue to affirm that we are steadily moving toward a more inclusive and just society. Nevertheless, there still exist hidden and unpleasant truths which, like a festering sore, must rise to the surface, be addressed, and corrected. In these instances, Black Lives Matter serves as a voice for change.

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Harborites At Their Best

I was seated in my car, about to pull out of the Publix parking lot, when I noticed a young man pass by and kick a glass bottle. It immediately smashed into four jagged pieces, all of which landed behind the rear tires of a parked truck. The young man continued on his way. Immediately, another gentleman headed straight toward the broken glass, retrieved it, and when he could not find a trash can, gathered all the pieces into his car and drove away. In all likelihood he saved the truck’s tires from being punctured.

So often we read about, and write about the problematic people in our world. This Harborite inspired me to recall other examples of Harborites at their best and this is what I observed:

I was driving on Bayshore Blvd. heading downtown and noticed an untimely backup of traffic in the distance. As I approached the bottleneck, I saw a young woman in the street. She had exited her car and was bending over to pick up a tortoise creeping across the road. Traffic had stopped in both directions as she carried the tortoise to the grass and safety. No one honked at her; all waited patiently.

Harborites at their best.

Last year at Open Mic, I was reading a gratitude piece about the 15+ people who were helping me with rides, meals, shopping and prayers during my bout with chemo. At the close of the evening a young woman—a complete stranger—came up to me, tearfully put her arms around me and said, “I want to be part of your healing team.”

A Harborite at her best.

One morning on the tennis courts, a teenage boy and girl were playing amazing tennis, but unfortunately they were stuck playing with dead balls. A member of our group walked over to them extending his hand. “You shouldn’t have to play with those dead balls,” and he gave them a brand new unopened can.

Another Harborite at his best.

Many of you read the news reluctantly, or choose not to read it at all, because most of what reporters offer is usually bad news. “Seeing is believing,” they seem to say. But I say if you first believe in the goodness of people, you will see it. So, my dear reader, as you may notice, there’s a comment section below my blog. I invite you to log in and add to the good news by sharing your example of Harborites at their best.

 Sunset Safety Harbor

 

Just One?

Any single ladies in the house? Well, this is for you. You enter a restaurant, eagerly anticipating the scrumptious meal ahead, and the hostess greets you with the words—“Just one?” As the word Just rings in your ears, you murmur a polite “Yes thank you,” but your enthusiasm is deflated. You follow the hostess past the romantic couples, the families with boisterous children seated at tables for the tables for four, six, even eight. Finally, off to the side, near the kitchen, you reach the table adorned with one unlit candle—your table for one. Just one, that is.

The just question is usually followed by the just look—the slightest hint of disdain—she’s not worthy of a dinner companion.   Probably will just order a salad. Probably won’t drink more than one glass of wine. Not much of a tip here. After all, she’s just one. Or the look could be one of pity—poor thing, she has to eat by herself. After all, she’s just one. Just is a synonym for less than, for lack; a word designed to diminish. As you bristle inside, you say to yourself I’m not a Just. In the words of Jesse Jackson, “I AM somebody!”

On occasion, a Just One Guy passes your table. He makes an about face and approaches you saying, “Excuse me, Miss. May I turn this into a table for two?”

In New York, where I come from, a lady dining alone is very commonplace—not at     all noteworthy. She is greeted with a smile, “Table for one, Madam?” said with the slightest tilt of the head, a sign of admiration and respect.

Guess what? We women who dine alone are quite content—no, delighted with our own company. We find ourselves interesting, and as we look around the restaurant, we are amazed by our own observations and profound inner thoughts.

We’re no kind of just. We’re all that!

Strolling 3

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SEE PREVIOUS BLOGS ON SAFETY HARBOR CONNECT

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Redemption

I was admonished for not posting a blog addressing the horrific events in South Carolina. My blogs often deal with difficult topics, but always end in hope and redemption; I saw no redemption in the burning of Black churches as the Confederate flag flew proudly atop the South Carolina State House.

I would not blog my rage: I could not blog about redemption

If we are not safe to worship our God in His house, are we safe anywhere?

The carnage and destruction catapulted me backwards into a state of Black Racial PTSD. I relived the fear and terror of the original church burnings in the 1960’s. I relived the raising of the Confederate flag by the Ku Klux Klan in protest of integration. I relived the snatching of Black youth from their beds in the dead of night to be strung up on trees to swing to their death. I felt the hundred lashes on the backs of my enslaved ancestors. I felt the terror of the African woman torn from her village and tossed into the bowels of the slave ship. With these jumbled thoughts crowding my head, and the wrenching emotions that gripped my heart, I could not blog about redemption.

But then the words of Frederick Hayes at Open Mic jarred me out of my desolation. “Let us hope that the victims of the burnings did not die in vain. Let us hope that their deaths open up a dialogue to put an end to such events.

Therein lies redemption

And I watched as former President Bill Clinton, himself a White, Southern, was moved to tears by the solidarity of Blacks and Whites embracing as the votes were cast to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House.

Therein lies redemption

photo(21)

Not Black History Month

By Amy Bryant

Every year, Black History month rolls around in February, and we Black folk chant the mantra: “Every month should be Black History Month.” The speeches resound, the ceremonies are applauded, many of which are attended (and even organized) by White people. March 1st arrives, and the nation returns to a state of complacent ignorance about Black history.

“There is no objective reality, only subjective reality.” Wise words told to me by Dr Mel Goldstein, a professor at Stonybrook University. From my vantage point, it is relevant to the portrayal of objective historical fact. As a child, my Black history was limited to African “savages,”slavery, Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist, and George Washington Carver, who invented countless ways to use the peanut. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned that the West Coast of Africa was a mecca of higher mathematics; that in African culture, the concept of Madonna and child of the Deity preceded the Christian Madonna and child. Or even that there existed Black slave holders in America. I was raised in a White Anglo Saxon school system, whose history books and curricula reflected the WASP interpretation of reality.

Much of today’s African American behavior recounted in the news reflects a behavioral psychology with roots in American Black History. Without a clear understanding of the past from the Black perspective, today’s behavior is subject to misinterpretation. But if I, a Black woman, was misinformed, miseducated, how can I expect my White counterpart to truly understand my people?

You can start by observing history in the making through the eyes of media that reflect the Black point of view. Brighthouse Networks channel 146 airs a daily program at 9:00 am, News One Now, hosted by Roland Martin. In a panel format, it presents a variety of highly educated Black experts on all aspects of life, and provides a wealth of information for anyone who truly wishes to grasp the minority culture. Ebony magazine, found in most Black homes and on newsstands across America, features Black people from politics, education, business, entertainment, and just plain everyday living.

You have a Black neighbor down the street, across town, or on your job. I would recommend making friends with at least one. Invite them home to your family. My personal experience has been that those adults who grew up among people of other ethnicities are most likely to be accepting of other races. As children, they saw the reality of the goodness in all people. When experiencing differences face-to-face, children see past the lies of bigotry and carry a more pure vision into their adult lives.

I embrace the mantra: “Every month should be Black History Month.”

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I Am A Winner

The Magic of Safety Harbor

By Amy Bryant

I’ve been to Vegas three times and came home with exactly the same money that I wagered, not a penny more. I used to play the lottery; the most I ever won was the price of a ticket, doesn’t count as a win. Actually, I never won anything in my whole life – and that’s a lotta years as some of you know. That is, until I claimed Safety Harbor as my home.

Winner ChairThree weeks ago, I walked into the library chair raffle event, and to the left, high up in the back, was MY chair: the one with the blue heart, some green and a touch of yellow. I already had its spot picked out on my lanai. I put eleven of my twelve tickets into the bag, and prepared to take it home – that is after the two week wait period for the drawing.

Friday night the tickets were drawn. I couldn’t believe it: I didn’t win. Looking toward the heavens, I asked the Universe, “What’s up with this? Someone else got my chair.” But two days later the phone rang, “You won, come pick up your chair. The original winner gave bad contact information, we couldn’t reach them, so we tossed the ticket and drew your name.”

This was the sixth of a string of winnings in the past two years, and I owe it all to The Harbor. I never won anything until I started living in Safety Harbor. In our own special way we all know, there’s magic in The Harbor.

So what were the other five winnings?

  •  A Swedish massage at the Spa for my sexy witch Halloween costume. I didn’t mind being in second place. The top winner was a nine year-old kid and I couldn’t begrudge her the joy of first place.
  •  A beautifully crafted wire LOVE wall hanging by Kiaralinda at Healing the Harbor.
  • A magnificent Dali cocktail table book at a pre-Songfest event.
  • The inspirational book Transform Your Life, won at the Amazing Women’s breakfast meeting.
  • A $95 mani-pedi at the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa guest appreciation party. Strangely enough, this was the only one I didn’t think up ahead of time.

The other five wins were kinda spooky: I just looked at the prizes, claimed them in my mind, and voila, they were mine. Was this some kind of mental telepathy or the Law of Attraction at work? Maybe, maybe not. I already told you, there’s magic in The Harbor. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

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Applause to the Media

By Amy Bryant

The scene opens. There’s a large house in the background, and two White guys creep towards it in the darkness. A sturdy Black man appears, arms crossed, legs firmly planted on the ground, as he booms forth the words, “Don’t even try it . . . I’m ADT.”

My applause to ADT for reversing the stereotype and sending an enormous subliminal message: in this commercial, the Black man is the protector, the Black man is looking after the affluent person’s home. From the well appointed suit he’s wearing, the Black man is earning a good living – and more importantly, an honest living. In this unusual scene, the Black man is the good guy, and the White guys are the bad guys.

Flipping the channels, I come across the beautiful and accomplished Anchor Person Veronica Cintron, delivering the news and standing proudly with her baby bump in full view. Why do I applaud News Channel Nine for this? Because it symbolizes progress in my lifetime – the reversal of limitations formerly placed on women and cultural minorities. The anchor person is a woman, she’s Latina, and her pregnancy, not hidden behind her anchor desk, is out front and camera-worthy.

And one more shout out to News Channel Nine. Although they continue to feed us the typical local news menu of robberies, assaults and murders, they consistently portray the good news in their Everyday Heroes segment. Here, individuals of all cultures, and ages are featured for their unselfish contributions to our local communities, and even worldwide. A grandmother named Nisha Mandini spanned the generations by starting a group for teens to visit people in assisted living residences. She intends for the youth to “build empathy and compassion,” and the elderly to “feel empowered and loved.”

I’m a firm believer in the Law of Attraction: What we focus on is what we create in our lives. It’s easy to criticize the media for its negative focus. That’s the reason many people turn away from the networks. Yes, we need our critics to keep our society on its toes. But when we see the good where we least expect it, we must applaud.