Thursday, April 30, 2015

0 "What Would Dr. King Think?"

By: Marvin DeBose

He's our convenient hero. We see him in old grainy footage from the 1960s smiling, marching and giving speeches.

When people yell slurs at him, he is unfazed. When attacked physically, he is calm.

People see him as America's symbol of peace and racial harmony. He's our go-to Black leader for any words of wisdom that address social issues, such as race, but aren't too controversial (Sorry, Malcolm X).

Of course, I'm talking about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who's seen as our our happy-go-lucky, turning-the-other-cheek, loving-his-enemies, courageous leader.

We typically think of him within the context of the last few minutes of his 1963 "I have a dream speech" where he speaks of being a time where people can be judged by the content of their character rather than their skin color. He talks optimistically speaks of being "free at last"... And usually that's where our memory of Dr. King stops.

But what happened after the "Dream"? What happened up until Martin Luther King's death in 1968?

Photo credit: Uptown Magazine

Truth be told, Dr. King was not as much of the beloved all-American that he is portrayed as being. Throughout much of his life, more so in the last five years of his life, Martin Luther King Jr. was vilified. He was called a "troublemaker" by some, an "agitator" by others, and "The most notorious liar in the country" by the Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. Why?

This is because Martin Luther King was a figure who was peaceful, but incredibly defiant to the social order of this country. He was always growing and evolving, and he was even becoming more radicalized in his approach in his later years.

He spoke against U.S. militarism, he advocated for reparations for Black people, he led protests for housing discrimination in the North and South and he worked to organize for poor people calling for a redistribution of wealth.

His optimism toward American racial equality even changed as King, in his later years, would refer to his "dream" of racial equality as "turning into a nightmare" in the US.

In the last speech of his life, King's tone of optimism even seemed change as he spoke of "some difficult days ahead".

Fast forward, to 2015, America has found a purpose for Dr. King now that he's long gone, America's media machine has helped to paint a new picture of King. We've ignored his more controversial quotes and views and created some passive, ever-optimistic, non-threatening figure used mostly a means to chastise, pacify, or even silence Black people who are angry in times of social unrest.

When the uprisings in Ferguson happened, I heard, among many King references, "This isn't Dr. King's dream!"

In the week since the riots in Baltimore have occurred I've seen more Martin Luther King references on social media than EVER.

All of a sudden everyone is a Martin Luther King biographer:

"You know, Martin Luther King wouldn't support this"
"Martin Luther King is probably turning in his grave" 
"What would Dr. King think about this?"

Well, a better question is "What did Dr. King think?"

Let's look at history, because in 1967, Dr. King actually told us what he thinks about riots:

"I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention."

As we can see, Dr. King understood the function and meaning behind riots in America. He didn't necessarily condemn or support them, he just understood them for what they were. He didn't go into a long speech on nonviolence, he just told us that riots are rooted in deeper societal issues which we ignore.

Many people who read this may continue to utilize MLK's quotes whenever they feel the need to tell Black people how to feel about social injustice, but must pose the question:

Where are all of these MLK quotes when police kill unarmed people? Usually, I don't see too many people telling police about "Loving your enemies".

Where is that peacefulness when it comes to our view of any person in our prison system, do we "love our enemies" in the penitentiaries?

Where is this MLK-like desire to work toward racial understanding when we ignore the racism which exists around us everyday?

Where are the MLK quotes when we talk about war?

Who are we to we exploit the legacy of Dr. King in order to condescendingly play moral judges to people who have been raised in a society void of a moral conscience.

If we want to promote Dr. King's legacy the right way, maybe we should be less focused on criticizing a riot and more focused of eliminated the social ills which lead to a riot.

Maybe we should be helping to organize people to create more positive forms of political activism.

Maybe we should examine why so many riots occur in poor neighborhoods...

...Or maybe that's too much work.

If we aren't prepared to do the work to understand the real problems, if we don't have a love those people who riot, the same kind of love which we tell them to have, then we have no right to use that Dr. King's words as a tool to shame anyone.

For such use of his words are empty, hollow and meaningless, and serve as a mockery of all for which he lived and died.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

2 Ferguson: The Product of Deferred Dreams

By: Marvin DeBose

Since last summer, I've begun to realize that American history often repeats itself.

In the past few days since the decision regarding Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson to not be indicted for the death of Mike Brown, I've realized that many of us live in different versions of the United States of America.

More importantly, the past few days have shown me that, its that there are still a lot of us who don't understand that the American experience is very different for different people. And history shows that a great deal of people's experiences in this country are dictated based on race, class and gender.

But depending on which America one lives in, that might not be seen as the truth. So if you've never experienced racism on an institutional level, you might be more inclined to look at a discussion of racism as being excessive or unnecessary.

Or if you've never had to deal with sexism on a structural level, discussions of it may confuse, or even anger you.

The point is, there's still a lot of experiences that Americans live/have lived that we don't learn about. There's a lot of history of which we are unaware. There is a lot of pain and suffering which people have endured, and unless we are willing to listen to the voices of those in pain, their pain will be recurring.

Yet, far too often, we become dismissive of those who seek to connect the present to dark history of the past to the events of the present. We write these people off as being "divisive"or "angry".

Society often paints a picture of them as disingenuous trouble makers without even realizing that they may have just silenced an important conversation which needs to happen more.

Without even realizing it, we've been taught to shun those who talk about harsh realities of this country. Those who speak of things such as racism, sexism, homophobia and classism are sometimes looked at with scorn and contempt. Surprisingly, this scorn and contempt, doesn't always come from hateful people, it often comes from people's discomfort with discussing such things, however, through discomfort there can be growth.

We'll attempt to shut these people up by saying things like, "We're all the human race, end of story." but the truth is, in America, certain members of that human race are still treated in a subhuman manner, and we have a moral obligation, not only as Americans, but as human beings to acknowledge it, address it, or at least be open to learning about it.

It isn't your fault that different forms inequality such as racism, classism and sexism exist in America, you didn't create it, none of us did, but we are all connected to it. It isn't a problem to acknowledge these problems, however, it is a problem to act oblivious to inequality and shut out those voices of pain as if silence will make it disappear.

America doesn't need silence, America needs healing, and I believe that the first step to healing is listening and learning. Many times, when we do decide to talk about these issues, we become too focused on making sure our personal opinions are heard, rather than the people who are dealing with the pain or the people who are upset. Our ego makes us go out of our way to tell others whose experience we have not lived on how they should feel about the pain they have experienced, or how they should react to situations in which they feel that there was an injustice.

We have to understand that situations like the upheaval in Ferguson don't come out of nowhere, they aren't isolated incidents of random anger, they aren't examples of misplaced aggression, they are rooted in a deep, dark history of structural inequality.

The Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes explained it best when he questioned the consequences of "a dream deferred" in his poem Harlem; that dream being equality in the nation which pledges to "liberty and justice of all":

"What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore and then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load...

...Or does it explode?"

What we're seeing in Ferguson is an explosion of historical frustration, an explosion of pain and second-class citizenship. It's an explosion from a flame that was lit centuries ago.

The question is, what role will you play in this time in history?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

0 "It's Not About Race"

By: Marvin DeBose

For all of the people who are on the whole "it’s not about race" and "Well, looting is wrong too" campaign in regards to the death of Mike Brown, I'm going to challenge you.

I challenge you to look at things from outside of your own perspective. Maybe to you this isn't about race because you've never really HAD to analyze racism... Or maybe you didn't WANT to.

Yet, for Black people in America, especially those from lower-income areas such as Ferguson, Mo. and parts of the St. Louis area, racism is omnipresent. It's in the schools, in the courtrooms, in housing and and even jobs. So when people talk about the role of race in the Mike Brown situation, whether they are right or wrong, they're not "jumping to conclusions", "playing the race card" (Whatever that means) or trying to generalize a whole group of people. They are speaking from AN EXPERIENCE; they are speaking from a history of inequality.

And although some think of racism as something that only exists in extremes (hate groups), or  that "Reverse racism" is the problem, or that it isn't possible for racism to be a big problem in today's America, I'm sad to say that these assumptions are largely incorrect.

I'm not arguing with anybody, I'm not debating anyone. Because honestly, I'm tired of explaining my experiences to people... and frankly, I don't HAVE to, but I do it because it is necessary.

I don't just talk about racism for the sake of debating. I don’t just talk about race because it’s a “hot topic” in the media. I talk about these things because they are a part of my life. When you're a "person of color" in America, you'd BETTER start talking about/understanding how racism works... Because it may save your life.

Even, when I make a post on social media where I jokingly talk about race, there's pain behind that.
So when people are so quick to shout “stop making it about race” or "it's not about race" to people who have repeatedly dealt with racism, it's actually kind of condescending, and pretty insensitive & dismissive of the lived experience of millions of people.

Let's make one thing clear: AMERICA itself is "about race". The social construct of race is one of the things which built this nation. It shaped our history, and influences our present. Racism is so deeply ingrained in our social fabric that to say that something like this "has absolutely NOTHING to do with Race" is almost disingenuous.

The concept of race, despite it being a social construct, has directed influenced the lives that we live today. Period. Everybody knows that... The problem is that not everybody is ready to admit that.

No, I'm not saying "let's blame everything on racism".

I'm just saying let’s not act like the concept of race is so foreign to our problems in America. The situation in Ferguson, Mo. is the product of a racism which America bred. Read about the history of race relations in the St. Louis, Missouri area and tell me otherwise.

So, when you hear people talking about the role of race in a situation and you don't understand why, or you're angered by it, I challenge you to just LISTEN to them.

Don't debate them, don't try to diffuse their anger, don't try to tell them what's racism and what's not.

Just LISTEN to them… You might learn something.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

1 Maya Angelou: The World's Griot

Photo credit:

Maya Angelou 1928-2014
By: Marvin DeBose

In West African culture, the griots, storytellers who often employed the use of poetry and music, have historically been seen as some of the most highly valued members of society. These people were seen as walking history books, full of lessons to impart upon a village. Maya Angelou was a product of this rich tradition.

 For most people, simply hearing that name, “Maya Angelou”, brings words to mind such as, “Wisdom” and “understanding”. Her presence was associated with poise, and grace, and her words were filled with truth and love.

Although many people simply associate her with her countless insightful quotes and thought-provoking poetry, what made Maya Angelou truly remarkable were not just the beautiful, poetic words which she spoke, it was the rich life which she lived.

Born in 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, but raised in Stamps, Arkansas, Angelou, born Marguerite Ann Johnson, lived the life of a true renaissance woman.

In her early life, Angelou was widely known for her immense talent in the performing arts. She was renowned calypso performer, which is a form of Afro-Caribbean dance and music and also spent time working as an actress and a playwright, who toured internationally starring in shows such as “Porgy and Bess” and writing plays such as “Georgia, Georgia”.   

Angelou also worked internationally as a human rights activist, working with Martin Luther King Jr in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as well as with Malcolm X in the Organization of African Unity.
Angelou would also spend years living in Ghana, working as a freelance journalist.

Most notably, Angelou was a world-renowned poet and author. Her thought-provoking writings touched on controversial topics like race and gender, as well as universal themes such as love and parenthood. She is seen as one of the most significant writers in American literature. Her raw, yet profound autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, was ranked by TIME magazine as being one of the top 100 most influential books written in the English language.

Although she has departed from us in the physical form, her words, her wisdom and her spirit live within the hearts and minds of people all over the world.

To many people, for some whom she didn't even know personally, Angelou was a mentor, a mother-figure, and an adviser. Oprah Winfrey commonly cites Angelou as her “mother/sister”. Even comedians such as Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock were known to go to her home in North Carolina to seek her advice.

Angelou once even disciplined rapper Tupac Shakur, whom she worked with in the movie “Poetic Justice”. Angelou witnessed Shakur about to get into a fight on the movie set and she pulled him aside and brought him to tears by asking him, “When was the last time anyone told you how important you are?' Did you know people stood on auction blocks and were bought and sold so that you could stay alive today?'”

Moments like that are testaments to the fact that Angelou was much more than a few witty quotes online, it shows how she was much more than a poet, actor and a playwright. She was a leader whose example helped to bring out the best in other people.

There are many words which can be associated with Maya Angelou's remarkable legacy; however there is only one which suits her best:


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

0 Dick Gregory: A Living Legend

By: Marvin DeBose

Before Dave Chappelle, before Chris Rock, and even before Richard Pryor, there was Dick Gregory.

Comedic legends like Rock, Chappelle and Pryor are well-known for their ability to make audiences laugh while creating a dialogue on sensitive social issues from an honest, African-American perspective. Their ability to combine wit, a humorous sense of irreverence along with storytelling to discuss these issues in front of a mainstream audience is often seen as something fairly new.

Yet Dick Gregory was touching on these issues long before Pryor became a star and before Rock and Chappelle were even born.

Dick Gregory
He was born Richard Claxton Gregory, on October 12, 1932, in St. Louis, Missouri. Born to a family of six children, raised by a single mother, Gregory grew up in poverty for much of his early life and also faced a great deal of discrimination, growing up in Jim Crow-era America.

Yet, his experiences of poverty and racism would develop what he would become as an adult.

Despite the hardships he faced early on, Gregory had a remarkable career as a student-athlete.He excelled at track, to the point where he earned a scholarship to Southern Illinois University, where he set school records in track and received the school's Outstanding Athlete Award in 1953.

However, Gregory's career as a track star was put on hold when he joined the army in 1954. But it was here where he officially got his start in comedy, performing in, and winning, many Army talent shows.

He returned to college after two years of being in the army, yet dropped out due what he felt as the university's lack of interest in his academic success, and more of an interest in his track career.

So, in the late-1950s, Gregory moved to Chicago to pursue a career in comedy, yet it was no easy feat. So Gregory worked for the U.S Postal Service while performing in various Chicago clubs.

Eventually, Gregory got his big break in comedy when, in 1961, he was hired by Hugh Hefner to perform at his Chicago Playboy Club.

From here, Gregory's career took off. His witty and social conscious sense of humor pertaining to major issues of that time, especially race and class, along with his signature calm, yet charismatic, deadpan delivery made him a hit with American mainstream audiences.

He'd go on perform on major shows of the time, such as The Tonight Show with Jack Paar, a job which, interestingly enough, Gregory initially declined numerous times in his career.

Despite the ability of The Tonight Show to catapult the careers of young comics, Gregory's reasoning behind not performing on the show was based on the fact that Black comics were never allowed to stay as guest on Paar's show after their performances.

It wasn't until Paar personally called Gregory and agreed to change the standards of the show that Gregory decided to perform on the show. Although this performance would boost Gregory career and introduce him to a national audience, he began to put a great deal of focus and energy into another passion which he had which was social activism.

At the same time as Gregory's rise in comedy in the early 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement was on the rise in America as well. Gregory, a man who grew up facing racial discrimination and often candidly discussed it in his act, was naturally drawn to the movement.

He spoke at and participated in numerous rallies and protests throughout the South and developed a close relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He toured to raised money for activist groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was arrested for his protests numerous times.

Gregory (left of center) marching alongside Dr. King in Mississippi  in 1966.

Gregory would even run for political office. In 1967, he ran for mayor of Chicago against Richard Daley, and, in 1968, he even ran for U.S. President. Although, he lost both races, his activism and civic engagement continued throughout his life.

Gregory at a press conference along with Muhammad Ali
Not only was Gregory an activist and outspoken critic against racism and poverty in America, in the late-60s, he became a vegetarian as well as an advocate for fitness and nutrition. Later in his late he would strongly advocate eating raw fruits and vegetables and he'd become known for participating in fasts as a part of his activism.

Gregory would also go on to write countless books and become an entrepreneur, selling numerous health products, and also serving as a nutritional consultant.

Today, at the age of 81, Gregory continues his activism, his health advocacy and his comedy, all with his signature wit and social-awareness which has stood the test of time.

His commitment and willingness to sacrifice his career for the issues which affect everyday people has set an example for countless entertainers.

Not only is he a pioneer for entertainers, for comedians, or for African-Americans. Dick Gregory is a pioneer for what it means to be a human being who is willing to risk his livelihood, as well his life, for his principles and his commitment to a better life for all people.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

0 Reinvent Yourself... Like Sinatra Did

By: Marvin DeBose

"Reinventing yourself" is a concept which I first became familiar with as an 18-year old, reading Robert Greene's classic book, 48 Laws of Power.

Greene, who wrote a chapter called "Recreate Yourself" discussing the importance of being able to change, grow and craft your image in an ever-changing environment. At first, I couldn't fully grasp the concept.

I thought, "Why should you have to recreate yourself are if you're already confident in yourself and your abilities?"

But as I grew older and became more aware of the constant change going on around me, it made more sense. Reinventing yourself doesn't mean being inauthentic or changing what makes oneself unique. It's more of a matter of growing, improving, adapting and gaining new skills in order to stay fresh in an ever-changing world.

Photo courtesy of 
Reinvention is a topic of which, particularly, many entertainers and artists have become familiar. As time goes on in the changing, unstable world of entertainment, where trends, styles, and even attitudes come and go, stars must be able to grow, develop and keep up with the times. Artists who do the same thing over and over and don't transform or improve their craft often fade into oblivion. An entertainer who best demonstrated the power of reinvention was none other than Frank Sinatra.

In the mid-1940s, Sinatra was at what many people perceived to be as the pinnacle of his career. He'd performed in front of thousands of screaming, fainting, mostly teenage female fans all over the country. He'd been in numerous films which were quite successful. His concerts were so popular that they were known to nearly cause riots. He was a predecessor of what was to come in American popular music.

Yet, as the 1940s came to a close and the 50s arrived, things began to change in Sinatra's career. He starred in a string of unsuccessful films and his appeal as a heartthrob to teen audiences was starting to wane. By 1950, the boyish, youthful appeal which Sinatra once used to his advantage seemed to be gone.

Sinatra, who was by now in his mid-30s, no longer represented youth, he was balding, he was married and his years of smoking and drinking slowly took a toll on his youthful appearance. He had also suffered a hemorrhaging of his vocal cords, altering the one thing which made him a star in the first place; his voice.

Soon, he was dropped from his record label, and amid struggles in his personal life, he fell into a deep depression. Journalists began to write him off as a "has-been" as new, younger singers began to take some of his shine.

Yet, an opportunity sprang up. A WWII-based film called From Here to Eternity was seeking someone to fill the role of a rebellious, heavy drinking, Italian-American serviceman; a role which fit Sinatra to a T. However, this serious, more dramatic role was drastic change from many of the more musical, romantic, typecast roles Sinatra was used to in the '40s. Yet, he realized that this role would be a chance to reinvent his career and his image.

Sinatra eventually got the role and ended up winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance, and that twist of fate opened the door for a changed, new and improved Frank Sinatra.

This unexpected dramatic performance caused many to be take him seriously as an actor, and he regained some credibility in the entertainment world. He also earned a record deal with Capitol Records and slightly changed his sound, largely due to his work with composer, Nelson Riddle.

Out went the youthful singer who performed in front of screaming teens, and in came the older, more seasoned star who performed for sophisticated crowds in venues like Las Vegas and acting in major films.
Photo Courtesy of

Sinatra would go on to have a legendary career in both music and film and make his mark on the entertainment industry.

But this is not just a story about Frank Sinatra. As we approach the year 2014, this is about YOU.

Since the world is always growing and changing, there is a constant need for us to adapt to these changes and expand our skills.

For example, in the world of academia, many universities have to reinvent themselves to adapt to a new, more diverse, technological generation of students.

In journalism, writers are reinventing themselves to keep up with the evolving field by gaining skills in audio and video production, social media, and photography.

Whether it is in our personal or professional lives, change is something that is constant, and it often shows us that we all face challenges and it reveals to us our deficiencies.

The question is, in what ways will you work to reinvent yourself? What skills will you gain, what new challenges will you take on, how will you adapt to change?

I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

2 Political Labels... and what Really Matters

By: Marvin DeBose

"The liberals are ruining this country", "those conservatives are idiots", "the Republicans are trying to take over", "the Democrats are trying to take control"... Sound familiar?

This polarized, adversarial political rhetoric is something that I see nearly every day. Yet, with so much talk of political groups in this country, it makes me wonder, what do these political labels even mean?

Better yet, what do the people who use them think that they mean?

When you get a chance, ask a few people, "what is a conservative?" Then, ask a few people "what is a liberal?"

What's a Democrat? What is a Republican?

Don't look for Webster's definition, don't look for the political science definition. What are the people's definitions?

Most likely you'll get a wide variety of answers. But with such a wide variety of differing political viewpoints, one must ask, "Why do we need to put these labels on ourselves and others?"

Why does there need to be "Good Guys" and "Bad Guys"? Why do we need to have a "pick your team" mentality?

How about for a while we just forget those labels, let's forget being a "liberal", "conservative", "moderate", "libertarian"... Let's try being human beings with OUR OWN opinions for a quick minute.

Instead of watching political pundits and listen to them tell us what/how to think, let's try developing opinions based on critical thinking, analysis and an understanding of context.

Most importantly, let's forget judging people's character based off of their political views. Let's judge people's character based on more important things, like their love for other human beings.

I know that idea might sound scary to some people, but I think it's worth a try.

Instead of getting into what someone believes in politically or what button he/she presses on election day, let's ask this: Does this person exemplify a love for human lifeALL of human life?

By human life, I'm not just referring to Americans, I'm talking about a love for ALL human life. I'm talking about human life in places like Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. I'm talking about love for young people living in the dangerous streets of The South Side of Chicago. I'm talking about love for people who are incarcerated, people who are addicted to drugs, people on welfare, people who are homeless, as well as for people who are wealthy.

I'm talking about love for Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Agnostics, Atheists, Deists and all other faiths and beliefs.

I talking about love and a feeling of kinship people from all walks of life.

Now, if a person truly believes in that kind of deep love for humanity, then that's a person who's stands for what I for.

After all, isn't that what really matters?

Share It

Pages - Menu

The Mind of Marvin Copyright © 2011 - |- Template created by O Pregador - |- Powered by Blogger Templates