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A Year of Reckoning
Bakewell's New WBOK
Beating the Beatdown
Cauks Gone Crazy
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Damnable Deeds 2004
Danny Bakewell and WBOK
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Borderlines & Other Pieces
Wednesday, 31 December 2008
Vigilante Fever: Cauks Gone Crazy
Topic: Cauks Gone Crazy

Borderline 1.09

Vigilante Fever

Some white folks in New Orleans have turned wild and deadly. It’s time to make them stop.

By J.B. Borders

Let’s face it, Louisiana white folks aren’t noted for their intelligence. Black folks either, to be honest. Nevertheless, it’s seldom surprising when our Caucasian citizenry does something outlandishly knuckleheaded – like voting for David Duke or John McCain in overwhelming numbers or trying to rig rental policies in white communities so that anyone who’s not a blood relative of the landlord is excluded.

 

Unfortunately, such blatant misjudgments often blow back on the rest of us who share living space with these creatures. Sometimes the stupidity rubs off and we get infected with self-destructive foolishness, too. The worst effect, however, is when white stupidity and maliciousness lead directly to the loss of innocent black lives and livelihoods.

 

That’s what we’re confronted with now in New Orleans – reckless white folks terrorizing our community once again. Remember how they acted out during the public-school integration struggle in the early 1960s? Remember how rabid some of them were – foaming at the mouth, screaming and cursing at the top of their lungs? Well, they’re like that again.

 

It’s Cauks Gone Crazy 2, you might say. Three years after the storm, some of these individuals are still in full vigilante mode, brash and crude, attempting at every turn to seize control of any institution they can get their hands on and make it conform to their own visions of a white supremacist eden.

 

Until we put these loose cannons in check – behind bars, in some cases – our well-being will remain at risk.

 

We’ve always had lots of ignorant, whacky whites in the New Orleans area, but since the levee failures in 2005, the behavior of many of our pale-skin citizens has become increasingly more racist and polarizing.

 

The embodiment of this current wave of divisiveness is the New Orleans City Councilperson known variously as Spacey Stacey and Helium Head. It was she who taunted and inflamed public housing preservationists at the council’s December 2007 meeting on plans to demolish the city’s four major projects. In late 2008, it was she who publicly excoriated the city’s black-owned sanitation contractors and accused them of fraudulently billing the government for services rendered. An independent report verified that Head’s accusations were off base, that the contractors were in fact underbilling – not overbilling – the sanitation department.

 

These findings are not likely to halt the attacks on the contractors, however. The crux of the matter is that more than a few white folks find the garbage-collection contracts objectionable simply because the bulk of the work has gone to black-owned businesses.

 

What gnaws at some people is that Richard’s Disposal and Metro Disposal are the primary contractors for the City’s sanitation services, not simply subcontractors getting a small piece of the action. How could this have happened, they ask themselves. Surely something underhanded must have occurred, they insist, for black businesses to beat out white-owned companies for such a sizeable contract.

 

Questions about the cost of the services, the quality of the work, the need for state-of-the-art technology or the qualifications of the business owners are just probes to find a suitable excuse to revoke the contracts and eventually give the work to white-owned businesses.

 

These are standard ploys of economic and social segregationists.

 

Unfortunately, the presumption in the minds of many white people that virtually all blacks are criminals has been reinforced recently not only by the swelling of local jails and prisons with black blue-collar felons, but also by the increasing numbers of black white-collar felons from the school system, the courts, the Legislature, public transportation, City Hall and the business community. Since large numbers of white can’t distinguish us one from another, to begin with, they lump us together in their minds and think all kinds of stupid stuff, such as we must be genetically predisposed to commit crime. That’s it. End of story. Neat and simple. We’re not worth any more time or attention than that.

 

Of course, thinking like a fool is one thing, acting the part is another.

 

Head defends her abrasiveness by saying she’s just doing her job, protecting the public treasury from those who might loot it. That’s the same general rationale several white residents of Algiers Point used in the days after Hurricane Katrina. It was how they justified shooting and killing several black men they assumed were trying to infiltrate their neighborhood for criminal purposes. However, as a recent report in The Nation revealed, one of the men who survived an ambush by these Algiers Point Assassins explained that he and two companions were merely following mandatory evacuation orders and were on their way to the Algiers Ferry stop, which is in Algiers Point and which radio news advisories identified as a pick-up point.

 

Like Councilperson Head, the Algiers Point Assassins flew off the handle half-cocked and acted in error. Unlike Head, however, these vigilantes have almost certainly committed murder. Worse, they have not been brought to justice, even though some of them can be seen on the Internet today sniggering about their deeds as though someone has assured them that what happened in the chaos after Katrina would be condoned. But there’s no statute of limitations on murder. Or do they know something the rest of us don’t?

 

Head, of course, is infamous for blowing kisses to her housing-project adversaries as part of a kiss-my-behind-and-get-lost gesture. She is not the only head case, however. Councilperson Midura, a mouthpiece for the right-wing Bureau of Governmental Research, may be an even bigger Afrophobe than Head. And she doesn’t need black votes to keep her job, so she doesn’t have to make any pretense about her prejudices.

 

Remember Jimmy Reiss and all the reactionary Uptown whites profiled in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times shortly after the storm? Remember the Israeli mercenaries they helicoptered in to guard Audubon Place? Remember the homeowners who loaded up on alcohol and buckshot to personally protect their mausoleum-like homes from what they were certain would be a black horde coming to ransack their mansions?

 

Remember that none of what they feared happened, none of it. But remember that didn’t stop CNN from running pictures over and over and over of a muscular, half-naked, stoned-looking, wild-haired young black man knee-deep in flood water banging repeatedly and ineffectually on the door of a downtown bank with a piece of pipe.

 

Remember, too, the constant loops of footage showing throngs of people from the Iberville project pillaging the Winn-Dixie on Basin Street? Or the shots of policemen attempting to thwart gangs of teens from making off with sneakers, caps and other merchandise from Canal Street stores? In the blink – or wink – of an eye, the script was flipped. Black folks went from being portrayed as helpless victims to being characterized as menacing savages, a standard trope in white-owned media.

 

At any rate, it didn’t take a great leap of imagination to assume the marauding would spread to the dry, higher-income neighborhoods, especially after word got out that the Wal-Mart and the Cadillac dealership had been gutted of inventory.

 

But it didn’t happen.

 

There were rumors, of course, that outside mercenaries had executed hundreds of suspected looters and that their bodies had been shipped in refrigerated trucks to the makeshift morgue at St. Gabriel. And since the city was crawling with national media and aid workers, I and others assumed that if there were any truth to these rumors, it would come out.

 

More than three years later and after exhaustive coverage by the world’s “greatest” media, some of the real dirt is just now coming to light. And even though it is not unexpected, that doesn’t make it any less shameful or disgusting: White vigilantes shooting black people on sight in Algiers Point; New Orleans police officers deliberately allowing a wounded citizen to die without treatment and then burning the body and evidence of their wrong-doing. And don’t forget the killer cops from the Danziger Bridge incident set free by an ethically compromised judge on a flimsy technicality.

 

The Katrina disaster has provided New Orleans with an unprecedented opportunity to reshape itself. And there has been a commendable outpouring of citizen leadership and initiative throughout the community – black, white, Latino and Asian – on a number of issues and across the ideological spectrum.

 

But whether you’re a progressive or a reactionary, you have to admit that there has also been a noticeable strain of anti-poor and anti-black bias among some of the do-gooders and power brokers intent on sanitizing and remolding the city. This make-the-city-safe-for-the-right-kind-of-people-at-all-costs attitude seems to have helped some folks feel empowered to kill presumed criminals with the same zeal but with less evidence than they bring to bear when confronting the Corps of Engineers about faulty levees.

 

This vigilante foolishness must stop now and all miscreants must be brought to justice. Things have gotten too far out of control. It’s time for a community-wide attitude adjustment. It’s time to restore civility and the rule of law.

 

It’s also time to build, support and defend honest black wealth-creation in New Orleans.

 

That’s the perfect resolution for a happy new year.


Posted by jamesbborders4 at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Monday, 19 April 2010 5:35 PM CDT
Permalink
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
The Biggest Fight of Our Lives
Topic: Obama Election

Borderline 12.08

The Biggest Fight of Our Lives

Now that the presidential election is behind us, we can step up the battle to reclaim, repair and transform the black world, including New Orleans

By J.B. Borders

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Charles Dickens wrote famously of the French Revolution, “it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

 

Dickens’s observations seem appropriate once more in describing the swirl of forces and emotions at play today in the United States of America – in the Age of Obama and the Great Depression, Part II.

 

Every era, of course, has an overarching narrative, a grand struggle that threads both large and small acts into a common theme.  In the black world, these grand narratives generally have played out over the course of one-hundred-year periods. And it’s generally helpful to figure out where we are by understanding where we’ve been.

The eighteenth century, for example, was characterized by the domination and degradation of black people on an almost global scale. Then a big push back began and the major story of the nineteenth century became the battle for abolition of the slave trade. Though the state of Vermont outlawed slavery in 1777 and in 1792 Denmark became the first sovereign nation to abolish the enslavement of human beings, it wasn’t until 1888 that slavery was abolished finally in Brazil.

Liberation was the next logical step in this journey and it became the overarching theme of the twentieth century. In early 1885, several of the European nations reached an agreement about how to divide up Africa. Africans themselves objected strenuously to this plan and fought successful wars of liberation in every corner of the continent. But it wasn’t until 1994 that South Africa became the last black nation to win its political freedom.

The Civil Rights Movement in the United States was part of the broader liberation struggle of black people in the twentieth century. Its roots can be traced to the summer of 1905 when 29 leading African Americans crossed the border into Canada and drafted a manifesto calling for full civil rights for blacks in the United States. That organization, the Niagara Movement, later morphed into the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which organized and mobilized hundreds of thousands of people in the fight against legalized racial segregation in the U.S.

The battles and victories of the American Civil Rights Movement were critical milestones and inspiration to our skinfolk in Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, the Congo, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and other pockets of the African Diaspora.

With the election of Barack Obama as 44th president of the United States, we have crossed a major hurdle and entered a new phase of the Black Freedom Struggle – the battle to reclaim and repair black life and to transform us from being the wretched of the earth to being treasures of the planet.

That must be the focus now of all our endeavors great and small – reclaiming, repairing and transforming ourselves. For as long as it takes, in as many ways as we can, we have got to become better people. Healthier, wealthier, smarter, more engaged in the functioning of our homes, neighborhoods, nation, world.

Our objective should be to make blackness synonymous with success. We also need to define success in new ways and eliminate much of the stupidity in our value system. For too many of our young and not so young black men, success can no longer be measured by how early you dropped out of school, how many babies you made, how many times you’ve been arrested, how many other black men you have killed, how much drugs you can consume or sell, how much metal you have on your car and in your mouth, and how much money you can throw away in a night or a lifetime.

This process of transforming blackness from stigma to blessing will be gradual, I realize, and it will fly directly into the face of a long-standing, massive public opinion campaign that seeks to justify the exploitation of black people by making us appear to be less intelligent, more violent and more morally depraved than other peoples – which, in some folks’ minds, makes us more deserving of being messed over.

The Obama election now debunks some of that argument and rationale. But we must be vigilant about holding up our end of the bargain. Not just personal responsibility but collective accountability as well.

No, this will be no easy task. In truth, this is now the biggest fight of our lives.

I got an inkling of the magnitude of this challenge on Election Day 2008 – in the midst of millions of acts of pride, glory and transcendence taking place all across the country.

We had just finished voting, my sweetie and I, and decided to pick up some take-out po’ boys from an Uptown eatery. Behind us in the line to place our orders were three twentysomething, cocoa-colored black men wearing lime-green dayglo vests, hard hats and work boots – construction workers of some sort. They were chattering among themselves but I didn’t pay them any attention. I was trying to decide what kind of sandwich to order.

Then I distinctly heard a voice say, “See, bruh, that’s why I don’t bother to vote.”  I cocked my head in the direction of the comment and then spun around casual-seeming, I thought, to look for the person who had made that remark. My beloved was standing directly behind me and directly in front of the construction crew. Before I could butt in on their conversation and attempt a little information sharing and consciousness-raising, however, she stopped me. She had read my mind and anticipated my next move.

“No,” she said quietly. “It’s worse than you think. I’ll tell you about it when we get outside. No, no, trust me on this one. Save your breath. Don’t say anything.”

Sure enough, after we picked up our order and headed back to my office, she recounted more of what she had overheard. The situation was, indeed, much worse than I had thought.

One of the young men told the other two that he had voted for McCain that morning because Obama was going to raise his taxes if he got elected. Besides, he added, Obama “wasn’t no real nigga and he was in with the terrorists who bombed America.” If he became president, the fellow had insisted, we’d be giving “our country to the Muslims and shit. Fuck that nigga, man. Fuck him.”

That’s what prompted one of the other brothers in the group to say he avoided all that trickeration by just not bothering to vote.

My woman was right. She was disgusted by their stupidity and realized that talking to those idiots definitely would have ruined my lunch too and any celebratory mood that might have remained after casting my ballot.

By the time I reached my office, I had dismissed the young men as victims of the mind-warping effects of right-wing radio. We can’t win them all, I reasoned, as I chowed down on the shrimp po’ boy purchased from a Vietnamese-owned business with a Cajun name in a black neighborhood.

Later that night, I watched election returns on television and saw the throngs at Grant Park who came out to celebrate Obama’s victory. I listened to analysts who reported that 94 percent of all African American voters had cast their ballots for Barack. I didn’t have to wonder about the profiles of the other six percent. I thought immediately of those three construction workers.  I regretted not confronting them and challenging their views. I vowed not to make that mistake again.

Now that we have crossed the threshold of a new era, we must take advantage of every available opportunity to reclaim, repair and transform ourselves.

We are nearly one billion strong, we black people of the world. But we are fractured and powerless, even where we command large nations and have custody of huge swaths of the earth. We are still merely pawns on someone else’s chessboard.  We have to acknowledge, confront and overcome our backwardness.

We are all New Orleanians, you might say. We are far too ignorant and much too dependent. We all live in jeopardy, susceptible not just to natural elements but to man-made conditions as well.

Our quest, even if it takes until the dawn of the twenty-second century, is to transform ourselves from the three stooges in the sandwich shop – or three blind mice – to three wise men and women bearing gifts that make the world a richer, sweeter place in which to live.

We have everything before us, Dickens might say. The first major blow has been struck for our cause. “It is the spring of hope” – the century of Reclamation, Reparation and Transformation.

Time to rise and shine once again.


Posted by jamesbborders4 at 2:37 PM CST
Permalink
Saturday, 27 September 2008
The Moment of Truth
Topic: The Moment of Truth

Borderline 10.08

The Moment of Truth

A new president, a new Depression. And does the Wall Street bailout doom the recovery of New Orleans?

By J.B. Borders

It’s almost here.  D-Day 21. The real beginning of the 21st century, the 2008 U.S. presidential election.  The day the game changes for good.

After all the slimy stunts some Democrats pulled to try and block Barack Obama from winning their party’s nomination, I expected even worse shenanigans from the Republicans in the run-up to November 4.

I have not been disappointed.

This election will be held in the midst of what many experts now call “the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression” – possibly the worst economic meltdown of all times. It’s a debacle triggered by the avarice and greed of millions of Americans, but it was wealthy Republicans who led the charge.

I suspected all along that they would fight like the devil to stay in power and use every dirty trick at their disposal to remain Masters of the Looniverse. I even assumed that there was a strong possibility Condoleeza Rice would be picked for the vice presidential slot as a last ditch effort to counter the Obama momentum.

Black for black. Brainiac for brainiac. And a female to boot. That move could have put a lot of sisters and some of their Latina and Caucasian girlfriends in an awkward position.  But the Republican brain trust decided the situation wasn’t that desperate. Or maybe they just weren’t that bright.

At any rate, the McCain campaign opted to play to their party’s base and stay behind the color line. Though they did indeed pull a woman out of the hat to run for vice president, they went trailer park instead of Park Avenue. Seems it was crucial to find a running mate who wouldn’t make McCain look dumb by comparison. They succeeded. (Remember how much “irrational exuberance” there was over her selection – at first?)

Earlier in the year, I also thought there was a strong possibility the Republicans might engineer an invasion of Iran in an effort to create a crisis that would help keep the presidency in their fold.

I was wrong again. The scamps didn’t invade Iran. They blew up Wall Street instead – and, in the process, tried to raid the federal treasury for an amount equal to the cost of the Iraq war.

There are, of course, right-wingers who blame the country’s financial troubles on “minorities and risky folks” who were granted subprime mortgages by “respectable” lending institutions. But these nut cases conveniently forget that those loans were made under the guise of creating an “Ownership Society,” as Bush the Younger termed it. In fact, he sold it as a cornerstone of his compassionate conservatism agenda – let’s give our less fortunate black and brown brethren and sistren their chance to own a piece of the American Dream, a home of their own. Meanwhile, his handlers were all giggling about it behind his back. They knew it was strictly a hustle. They were following the numbers. They knew those rip-off predatory loans had mushroomed from 8.6 percent of all mortgages in 2001 to more than 20 percent by 2006 – or more than $600 billion in overpriced long-term deals packaged and sold as sure-fire, high-profit securities to other suckers.

It’s no wonder that also in 2006 Wall Street firms reportedly paid out $62 billion in bonuses to executives and other staffers. Much of it was fed by the Ownership Society bonanza. You know nearly everyone who pocketed the bonus money had to realize they were scamming the system somehow. They had to know it. They were the best minds of their generation. And now all they offer in defense of their actions is a bromide like “Don’t hate the playa, hate the game.”

Worse, instead of offering to pay back any of their fraudulent gains, the Wall Street crew now wants Uncle Sam – the lender of last resort – and the folks on Main Street to give them even more money or else, they claim, the whole world’s economic system will go down the drain.

Of course, many in the rest of the world say such talk is pure hyperbole. “We must not allow the burden of the boundless greed of a few to be shouldered by all,” Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, told the United Nations General Assembly a day or two after U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, a former Wall Street tycoon at Goldman Sachs, demanded the $700 billion ransom and the unfettered authority to spend it on his cronies as he sees fit.

Many Chinese experts also think the American doomsday scenario is a bunch of malarkey. They say everyone knows the U.S. economy is on the decline and that China’s is on the rise and that it was just a question of when China would claim the top spot. They say the U.S. sissies need to stop all the whining and start accepting their place as beta, not alpha, dog. Or in the words of that classic Motown tune, “Things just ain’t the same/Any time the hunter gets captured by the game.”

And so, barely 40 days and 40 nights before the presidential election, the chief ideologues of Free Market Rugged Individual Uber-Capitalism have turned the United States of America into a semi-socialist state. They have folded up faster than the former Soviet Union.

If there is any justice in this world, Bush, McCain and their cohorts will continue to flip, flop and flounder until Election Day, when they will be put out of their misery and Obama will be elected president. Given the circumstances, however, that will be cause for muted celebration at best.

The realists among us knew a black man wouldn’t get a chance to run this country and be leader of the free world until it was on the brink of collapse. And we do know some racists will blame him for the collapse even though it was not of his making.

Today, more than 75 percent of the homeowners in the U.S. are saddled with upside down mortgages – they owe more than their houses are worth on the open market. That gap is only going to keep growing unless something is done either to reverse the declines in home values or to restructure those loans. As things stand now, the Center for Responsible Lending estimates an additional two million homeowners will be forced out of their houses in the next few years. A large number of those families will be black. And putting a sensible black man in the White House may be the best opportunity to save their skins.

As for New Orleans, what does this national financial meltdown and bankrupt banking system portend for us?

Though Hurricane Katrina slowed the growth of predatory lending in our city, we’re screwed anyway – in the short term, at least. Bye-bye 100-year levee protection system. Bye-bye new schools, roads, hospitals, jobs. Bye-bye volunteers and crazy fat grants from national foundations. Everybody else is going to be too broke to give away any more money or time to us. We’re on our own – until we can get some foreign aid from China, India, Brazil or one of the Arab kingdoms.

But let’s party anyway. Decision-Day 21 will be momentous, historic and uplifting. It won’t mark the end of our troubles, but we’ve been in tight spots before and have prevailed. We’ll do it again. We’re made that way.

The moment of truth is almost here. Our time has come. Let’s not get distracted, deluded or discouraged. Even if we’re only able to afford red beans and rice for the next four years, the neo-redneck-policy alternative would have been far worse.


Posted by jamesbborders4 at 12:01 AM CDT
Permalink
Thursday, 21 August 2008
Historic St. James AME Church Rebuilds by Serving Others
Topic: Historic St. James AME

Historic St. James AME Church Rebuilds by Serving Others

A landmark institution bounces back

By J.B. Borders

Three feet of standing water, a busted roof, mold-ravaged walls, a congregation that shrank from 400 people to 14.

That’s enough damage to shut down most churches for a long, long time. Most churches are not Historic St. James African Methodist Episcopal, however.

Since being devastated by the flood of 2005, the church has clawed its way back to viability, thanks in large measure to the generosity of volunteers, philanthropies, and the grit of its congregation.

According to Rev. Otto Duncan Jr., 69, who grew up in Historic St. James and had the good fortune to be appointed its pastor three months after the storm, church membership now stands at 233. That’s slightly more than half its pre-Katrina level, he explains, but the pace of growth has accelerated in the past year.

Nevertheless, Duncan thinks it will be another two years before the church is completely restored and repopulated. A new roof has been put on the building, water-logged carpeting has been ripped out, church pews have been stripped and rebuilt, the plumbing and electrical systems are back in operation.

Though there is still a great deal more work to be done and no clear way to pay for all of it, somehow Historic St. James seems to get the help it needs when it needs it.

In May of this year, for instance, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express, through a joint initiative it dubs Partners in Preservation, awarded the church a $100,000 grant to repair its pressed tin ceiling.

In spring 2006, Sabre/BioOne, a partnership between Albany, NY-based Sabre Technical Services and former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, donated $350,000 of fumigation services to remove mold from the church and its parsonage.

Other rebuilding funding has been provided by the African Methodist Episcopal Church (which had 49 of its churches in the Gulf Coast region damaged by the storms of 2005), the Bush-Clinton Fund and donors in Boca Raton, Florida and other communities.

In addition, volunteer groups from churches and universities in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, New York and Tennessee have spent thousands of hours at Historic St. James and its Mid-City neighborhood cleaning up trash and debris, cooking meals, and making repairs.

Volunteers, church members and professional contractors also have worked with the church to repair half of Historic St. James’ 39 affordable housing units. Located in the vicinity of the church, Duncan says 13 of the homes and apartments are occupied once again.

It is fitting that so many people are now contributing to the rehabilitation of Historic St. James. Over the past 164 years, the church has been involved in every major initiative for social justice in New Orleans. It is probably the single most important landmark of the freedom struggle in New Orleans.  To have lost it, would have been a crushing blow.

Founded in 1844 by free people of color, St. James is the oldest AME congregation in the Deep South. The church building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its distinctive Victorian Gothic Revival architecture, was constructed between 1848 and 1851 at 222 North Roman Street.

The AME Church was a pioneer in what today is called liberation theology. An outgrowth of Philadelphia’s Free African Society, which was founded in 1787 as a mutual aid and abolitionist organization, the AME Church set up shop in New Orleans at a time when the city had become a booming river port and a major slave market. Worse, between 1830 and 1850, the white population in New Orleans had more than quadrupled – from 20,047 to 89,452 – and whites had gone from being a minority of the city’s populace, 43.5 percent, to an overwhelming majority, 76.9 percent.

The huge increase in white population was also accompanied by continuous efforts to curtail the economic and political influence of the city’s free people of color, who numbered 11,562 in the 1830 census, grew to 15,072 by 1840 but then shrank to 9,905 by 1850.

It was in this environment that Historic St. James was forged. In the 1850s, the church’s pastor, John Mifflin Brown, was jailed five times “for not excluding slaves from the services of the church,” according to historians Caryn Cossé Bell and the late Joseph Logsdon in an essay entitled “The Americanization of Black New Orleans 1850-1900.” In 1858, Bell and Logsdon report, the city closed St. James AME for what it hoped would be eternity by passing “an ordinance that banned any black organization or church not under the control of whites.”

Three years later, however, the Civil War broke out and New Orleans was seized and occupied by the Union Army. Appropriately enough, St. James AME was where the first regiment of African American soldiers for the Union Army in Louisiana was organized.

In the decades that followed, Historic St. James was involved in fight for equal rights during the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. The church was instrumental in the establishment of the Bienville School for Black Children in 1903 (now known as the Albert Wicker Elementary School) and the initial organization of the Black YMCA in 1905. It also served as the headquarters for the Canal Street desegregation campaigns of the 1960s.

And despite its own hardships in post-Katrina New Orleans, Historic St. James helped ease the suffering of those in the homeless encampment at the intersection of Claiborne Avenue and Canal Street.

“We fed people,” Rev. Duncan says, “and gave them sleeping bags, clothing, personal care products and, of course, Bibles.”

The church also maintains its relationship with Wicker Elementary, providing uniforms and school supplies to students and gift cards and other rewards to teachers.

A retired mental health professional, Duncan says continuing the church’s outreach and service activities are more important than merely restoring its buildings.

“I don’t think our members would be happy if we got our building fixed but couldn’t continue to help the needy in our community,” he explains. “That’s the real work of the church—tending to the needs of people. That’s how we will restore the church as an institution in the community.”

If the past is any predictor, continuing to be a relevant institution will not be a problem for Historic St. James AME Church. It can’t possibly know any other way to function and operate.

Thank God for that.


Posted by jamesbborders4 at 10:17 AM CDT
Permalink
Marlin Gusman: Nice Guy in a Nasty Business
Topic: New Sheriff in Town

Marlin Gusman: Nice Guy in a Nasty Business

The criminal sheriff is making his mark at the parish prison

By J.B. Borders

Marlin Gusman is definitely not your stereotypical Southern sheriff.

He’s not blustery, pot-bellied, sadistic or trigger-happy. He doesn’t even carry a gun. He’s soft-spoken, appears reasonably fit, and believes inmates should be treated humanely, not brutalized or degraded at every possible opportunity.

His guiding principle, he says, is to strive to “make negatives into positives.”

Gusman’s manner and ideas are not simply atypical and nontraditional, however. They are emblematic of a long-overdue transformation of the penal system in New Orleans, a system that has been extremely – and, some might argue, unjustifiably – harsh on people who look like Gusman, men of African descent.

Marlin Gusman, 52, won a special election for Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff in November 2004, nine months before flood waters devastated New Orleans and forced the evacuation of 6,000 OPCSO inmates and deputies from the city.  Gusman was re-elected to a full term in 2006 after his office demonstrated its capacity to function effectively in difficult circumstances.

Prior to becoming criminal sheriff, Gusman had been a member of the New Orleans City Council from 2000-2004 and Chief Administrative Officer for the City during the Marc Morial administration from 1994-2000.

He is, by all accounts, a bright, thoughtful highly skilled executive and a genuinely nice person. The son of a postman, Gusman earned bachelor’s degrees from the prestigious University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Finance and Commerce. He received his Juris Doctor from Loyola University and was admitted to the Louisiana State Bar in 1984. Additionally, he is a graduate of the New Orleans Chamber Regional Leadership Institute and the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government.

Gusman is one of the few local leaders who hasn’t yet been branded an IBM (Incompetent Black Male) or a CPO (Corrupt Public Official) by the usual opponents of African-American progress, though the Sheriff’s Office has endured its share of criticism during his brief tenure.

Gusman’s personality and management style may have a great deal to do with the public’s response to him. He is accessible, forthright and tech savvy, but doesn’t come across as someone stuck on himself. In fact, he’s more likely to make self-effacing comments than boastful ones. “I always have to remind people that I’m not as old as I look,” he frequently deadpans.

All jokes aside, however, Gusman finds himself in the middle of a deadly serious business. The Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s Office operates the Orleans Parish jail facilities, providing for the care, custody and control of incarcerated subjects. The Sheriff’s Office executes all writs, orders, and processes of the Traffic, Municipal and Criminal courts. Sheriff’s Deputies are peace officers with the full authority to conduct criminal investigations and make arrests within Orleans Parish.

The OPCSO also operates within the constructs of a broader national and regional criminal justice system. And as Wall Street Journal reporter Douglas Blackmon points out in his new book, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, southern jails and prisons historically have been an integral component of a system of neo-slavery that ensnared and exploited more than 100,000 African American men for profit and politically-motivated social control for several decades after Emancipation.

“The original records of county jails indicated thousands of arrests for inconsequential charges or for violations of laws specifically written to intimidate blacks – changing employers without permission, vagrancy, riding freight cars without a ticket, engaging in sexual activity – or loud talk – with white women,” Blackmon writes. “Repeatedly, the timing and scale of surges in arrests appeared more attuned to rises and dips in the need for cheap labor than any demonstrable acts of crime. Hundreds of forced labor camps came to exist, scattered throughout the South – operated by state and county governments, large corporations, small-time entrepreneurs, and provincial farmers. These bulging slave centers became a primary weapon of suppression of black aspirations.”

Blackmon goes on to observe that by the dawn of the 20th century, “Sentences were handed down by provincial judges, local mayors, and justices of the peace – often men in the employ of the white business owners who relied on the forced labor produced by the judgments. Dockets and trial records were inconsistently maintained. Attorneys were rarely involved on the side of blacks. Revenues from the neo-slavery poured the equivalent of tens of millions of dollars into the treasuries of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, Texas, North Carolina, and South Carolina.”

Blackmon claims this abusive penal system was dismantled during World War II because it constituted a public relations embarrassment for the nation in its War for Democracy and, later, in the cold war against Communism. What Blackmon’s book doesn’t cover, however, is the return of this massive effort to criminalize and incarcerate black men in the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s, when the Soviet Empire weakened and eventually collapsed.

With no global propaganda battle to wage, forces within the U.S. were free to import drugs, for example, distribute them in black communities, then turn around and arrest and imprison the drug users and petty dealers with no major national or international outcry against these scurrilous policies.

This modern-day drive to rebuild a major industry on the imprisonment of black and poor folk has had a dramatic impact in New Orleans.

According to a report by Safe Streets/Strong Communities – a local activist organization founded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina – the Criminal Sheriff’s Office grew exponentially during the 30-year reign of Gusman’s predecessor, Charles Foti.

When Foti was elected in 1974, Orleans Parish Prison “had a population of only about 800, despite the fact that the population of Orleans Parish was more than 100,000 higher then than just prior to Katrina. By the time Foti left after being elected state attorney general, he had expanded OPP's total capacity over tenfold to approximately 8,500,” Safe Streets/Strong Communities researchers Barry Gerharz and Seung Hong report.

Safe Streets also reports that in 2004, Orleans Parish Prison was one of the top five prisons in the nation with substantiated reports of sexual violence.

County and parish jails like the OPCSO typically house pretrial detainees and those serving short sentences for misdemeanors. Unlike most county jails, however, the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s Office also has contracts to house state and federal prisoners, serving as a de facto overflow prison for the Louisiana Department of Corrections and the federal prison system. The OPCSO is responsible, therefore, for people convicted of violent felonies as well as those merely awaiting trial on trivial misdemeanors.

On his first day at work back in 2004, Marlin Gusman assumed responsibility for what was then the eighth largest population of inmates in the nation – a daily average of 5,800 individuals. Back then, the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s Office (OPCSO) also merited the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate of any large city in America.

At 1,480 inmates per 100,000 citizens, the Orleans Parish incarceration rate was double the U.S. average, which is the highest of any nation on the planet. (A “civilized” incarceration rate is less than 100 inmates per 100,000 citizens. In present day New Orleans, that would translate into an inmate population of approximately 275-300 people.)

Moreover, New Orleans had become the epicenter of a crisis in which one in seven African-American men in Louisiana end up in the prison system, while only 1 in 35 end up in college.

The inmate population at Orleans Parish Prison was and is overwhelmingly poor, poorly educated, black and male. So it is fitting, perhaps, that the task now falls to a black man to help reform a system that has had such a devastating impact on the lives and fortunes of black men.

Today, the OPSCO houses approximately 2,500 inmates in five facilities and plans to expand its capacity to be able to accommodate up to 3,500 beds. The Criminal Sheriff’s Office currently employs approximately 670 people, including deputies and administrative staff members. That’s nearly half the 1,200 people once on the staff. However, Gusman is quick to note that compensation packages for OPCSO employees are now 57 percent higher than when he took office four years ago.

His team seems to be earning its pay. In 2007, the Sheriff’s Office handled nearly 62,000 arrested individuals, which resulted in approximately 200,000 charges. In addition, the office released more than 62,000 individuals. Roughly 45% of those arrested were booked on state charges;35% were booked with municipal charges; 13% were booked with traffic charges; 6% were booked on federal charges; and 1% were booked with charges stemming from Civil Court, typically neglect of family or child support.

If Gusman has his way, however, the OPCSO will be as effective at rehabilitating inmates as it is at locking them up. His master plan for the Sheriff’s Office calls for four phases of new construction that will total nearly $52 million over the next six years. When combined with another $140 million in improvements to other elements of the local Criminal Justice System, which will include expanded police, laboratory, medical and court facilities – along with new offices to house the District Attorney – New Orleans will have one of the most cohesive and state-of-the-art systems in the nation.

Like many other public agencies, the Criminal Sheriff’s Office has been operating out of a combination of out-dated and temporary facilities the past three years while continuing to serve the housing, feeding, medical, education and skills-training needs of its inmates. The OPCSO master plan includes phased construction to build new beds on an as-needed basis, replacing buildings that were destroyed by Katrina or had outlived their usefulness.

Gusman’s vision for the new OPCSO has already begun to unfold. Last month, his organization opened a new $4.5 million temporary Intake and Processing Center. It nearly triples the capacity of the old processing facility and is more efficient to operate. The building also makes architectural statements that the sheriff wholeheartedly endorses.

“This is the type of facility the Sheriff's Office is headed toward,” Gusman told reporters during a recent tour of the building. “Clean, airy, respectful, yet secure.”

Those same qualities are prominent in the photos and artist renderings of the new incarceration facilities Gusman plans to build. They are all designed with lots of natural light, high-tech security systems that require a minimum of manpower to operate, and include several spaces that can be utilized for educational programs.

The education of OPCSO inmates is a major priority for Gusman and a major point of pride. “We gave the first GED exams in the city after the storm,” he points out, “and we gave the second! Going forward, we have to do more if we are going to break the cycle of people coming back here repeatedly because they don’t have the knowledge or skills to make an honest living on the outside.”

The OPCSO already operates a highly regarded Rehabilitative Work Release Program. On average, Gusman says, 77 inmates participate in the work release program. Roughly 30 local businesses agree to employ them. These enterprises include some of the city’s leading hospitality destinations. Another 40 businesses are on a waiting list.

Work release inmates are housed separately from the general population and pay the prison a daily fee of $26.50 for room and board, which amounts to roughly $800 a month. They are allowed to work day or night, seven days a week for as many hours as the employer needs them. Inmates are reportedly paid no less than minimum wage and acquire workplace skills. The money they earn goes into an account controlled by the Sheriff's Office and is given to them upon their release from jail. The inmates' jobs are reportedly guaranteed when their sentences end.

Though the program smacks of the convict lease system of old, it’s actually quite beneficial in today’s economy not just to employers and the Sheriff’s Office, but also to habitually unemployed and underemployed inmates, especially if the alternative is sitting in a cell all day doing nothing.

The OPCSO also operates a highly visible Community Service Program and Neighborhood Response Team that sends out squads of volunteer inmates to assist non-profit organizations, schools and governmental agencies with such tasks as removal of storm debris, classroom painting and house gutting.

“We have to help our community recover,” Gusman says. “We all have to do whatever we can to help the city rebuild. Our inmates, deputies and other staff members all want to help. They’re all eager to volunteer anytime we’re called on.”

The sheriff is also proud of a new Crime Victims Reparations Program that recently opened an office on the West Bank. The program helps victims and family members of victims access state funds to compensate them for crime-related expenses such as lost work, counseling, medical care, even funeral costs.

While the program may be slightly beyond the purview of the average county jail, for Gusman it is part and parcel of his larger, personal mission.

“I didn’t start out with a goal of becoming sheriff,” he is says of the path that led to his current position, “but I was always interested in law and wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to help ensure that there was justice for everyone.”

Justice is not cheap, however. While it has received extra funding from FEMA and other federal agencies since the 2005 storm, the bread-and-butter component of the OPCSO’s current $70 million in annual revenue is the daily fee it charges the city, state and federal government for housing their inmates.

In December, Gusman advised the City Council to increase the $22.39 per diem it pays his office – if the City is serious making public safety and crime-prevention top priorities.

“You get what you pay for,” Gusman explained. "If you want to pay for warehousing, that's what you're going to get. But if you want (inmates) to come in and go out better, we're going to have to pay more."

The sheriff envisions the OPCSO as one big, intensive educational and training complex that provides literacy, numeracy, parenting skills, substance abuse treatment and workplace skills to every appropriate inmate. The department already has an aquaculture division that trains individuals to raise fish for internal consumption and commercial sales.

The investment in human development is critical, he points out, to solving the city’s problems long-term.

Gusman is a unique law enforcement official, not because he’s smart and visionary, but because Orleans Parish is the only place in the nation that has separate Criminal and Civil Divisions of its judicial system. That bifurcation will end in 2010 and there will be only one elected sheriff of Orleans Parish.

Gusman expects to be that sheriff. He’s the proverbial man on a mission. He knows what has to be done and he knows how to do it. He’s just getting started, just hitting his stride.

It’s a nasty business, locking people up. It’s imperfect and not especially effective. But somebody’s bound to clean it up sooner or later. Now is as good a time as any.

Who says nice guys always finish last?


Posted by jamesbborders4 at 10:14 AM CDT
Permalink
Sunday, 25 May 2008
Borderline 5.08
Topic: Dutch to Barack

From Dutch Morial to Barack Obama

Thirty years after Dutch, Obama makes an historic breakthrough using a completely different political style

By J.B. Borders

The Hornets’ season is over but not all our hopes have been dashed. The city’s recovery keeps inching forward and, on the national front, Barack Obama has become the presumptive Democratic Party candidate for the presidency of the United States.

As fate would have it, Obama’s monumental breakthrough comes 30 years after Ernest “Dutch” Morial was inaugurated as the first black mayor of New Orleans. It’s tempting to draw parallels between them as political long shots who overcame incredible odds to snare their respective political brass rings. Tempting, but also too neat.

Though both are the personification of political change, Morial and Obama are products of different eras. Dutch was forged in the Jim Crow South. By the time he became mayor, he represented the last vestiges of the Black Power Movement that helped speed the dismantling of legalized segregation.

Morial’s combative personal style, his refusal to be punked or to play the punk owed more to the tradition of Malcolm X and Rap Brown than it did to the low-key nice-guy mannerisms of Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter or the pretend-tough-guy persona of Ronald Reagan, the hero of ignorant, angry, mediocre white folks then and now.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, is the first major beneficiary of fundraising and political organizing in the Internet age. He’s also a bi-racial product of the post-colonial, post-civil rights global village, a point he emphasizes at every available opportunity.

Obama has also proved all too willing to be manipulated by adversarial forces, based on his handling of the Jeremiah Wright issue and his defense of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. And while Obama’s speech on race was refreshingly candid and conscientiously balanced, it wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of affirmative action or social and economic justice for black folks.

To his credit, Dutch would have been more emphatic than Obama about the need to dismantle racism and unwarranted white privilege. That might help explain why the 30th anniversary of Morial’s inauguration came and went with so little fanfare (save for the efforts of the African American Leadership Project and the dustup over the changing of the convention center’s branding): too many people are now uncomfortable about advocating for remedies to lessen African American inequities in wealth, employment, education, life expectancy, incarceration, etc .

Obama’s no exception in this regard. He can’t endorse too much black justice these days. It’s apparently part of the pact he’s made in exchange for the amazing $300+ million his campaign has raised to date from tens of thousands of small donors.

Remember, that was the early knock against him – the black guy can’t raise enough real money to be a serious player. And those pundits might have been proved right had it not been for one undervalued and unconventional opportunity. For while the Clintons and other Washington insiders had locked up all the usual strongholds of Democratic funding across the country, they had also overlooked a veritable untapped pot of gold in northern California – Silicon Valley, Nerd World, land of the rich and the restlessly visionary.

Silicon Valley is the one and perhaps only place in America where everyone lives to latch onto the next big new thing before it proves itself in the marketplace, even if that big new thing takes the form of a charismatic, mixed-race presidential candidate.

So, through this one-time-only opportunity, Barack Obama had a clear field to become America’s first techno-populist president – if he could downplay the conventional black-white divide and sell himself as a uniter, not a fighter. That’s why he was forced to denounce Rev. Wright. That’s why he and his handlers will kick any other serious black issue to the curb, at least until the White House is secured. No person of color has ever come this close to winning the presidency. He can’t afford to let anything trip him up now.

Obama’s quest has been aided immeasurably by the Republican Party’s nomination of John McCain. After five years of war in Iraq, more than 4,000 American soldiers have been killed and another 30,000 injured. And, according to the U.S. military’s own reports, 1,000 current and former combatants attempt suicide each month. But McCain wants to stay in Iraq for 100 years, if necessary, to bring “peace and democracy” to the Middle East.

He should be the perfect foil for Obama, this John McCain. He should be what Joe DiRosa was for Dutch Morial’s history-making mayoral campaign 30 years ago – a white man so indisputably dumb many of his own people will be too embarrassed to support him and so might vote for a smart black guy instead, especially if the black guy is not too black in appearance or policy.

Still, the election won’t be a cakewalk. According to several polls, 15-25 percent of white voters say race is a factor in their choice for president. So even though Obama will be the patently superior candidate with the more sensible platform, a lot of McCain’s fellow whites will vote for him anyway. In that regard, the presidential election of 2008 will be interpreted as a referendum on racism in the United States. If you’re white and you vote for McCain, chances are you’re racist. It’ll be good to finally quantify that kind of idiocy.

Meanwhile, as Obama’s star rises, Dutch’s luster continues to grow dull. Some people have suggested that the less said about the Morials these days, the better. After all, Dutch’s brother-in-law, his sister-in-law and various members of the Marc Morial administration have seriously sullied the Morial reputation. Some folks insist the damage is beyond repair.  Time will tell, of course. But 20 years from now, on the 50th anniversary of Dutch Morial’s inauguration, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of attention the occasion receives and what the general assessment will be of Dutch’s contributions to the development of the city.

Five years ago, at the 25th anniversary celebration of Dutch’s mayoralty, Xavier University President Norman Francis spoke candidly about the differences between himself and his good friend Ernest Morial. In a nutshell, he described Morial as a challenger and himself as a bargainer, to use Shelby Steele’s recently published classifications (which are a nuanced update of the old “house Negro/field Negro” dichotomy).

I thought about Francis’ assessment a few months ago when he was named the most influential leader in New Orleans by a poll of predominately “white movers and shakers.” True to form, a white-owned publication promptly put a caricature of Francis on their cover, grinning from ear to ear. He was cited for chairing the Louisiana Recovery Authority and guiding its efforts to bring disparate governmental and private sector forces together to rebuild southeast Louisiana.

Though Francis’s work has been truly laudable, the message embedded in the caricature was unmistakably clear: be extra-affable, black people, or be history. Don’t bring any of that glowering, hollering, pissed-off, snarling Negro attitude up in here, up in here. No signifying, loud-capping, snapping or gangsta rappin’ allowed. If you feel your pain, keep it to yourself. Grin and bear it. Everyone knows you’re getting ripped off, stepped on, cleared out. But let’s pretend it’s the best thing for you. Things had to change anyway. Somebody might as well profit from it. Even though it won’t be you, be happy for those who are successfully exploiting the situation.

Dutch probably couldn’t make it in this post-Black Power, pseudo-kinder and gentler era. He’d bust a gut if he couldn’t go off on some sho’ nuff stupidity with his characteristic retorts: Shut up, sit down or meet me outside.

Barack, on the other hand, will be forced to keep his temper in check. Like Colin Powell. Like Jackie Robinson. Like Bill Cosby once upon a time. To break form and raise your voice is to risk being called a lunatic or a divisive element.

Of course, I always say a black person who’s not angry is a black person who hasn’t been paying attention.

Thankfully, righteous indignation never stays out of fashion for long. When it does come back in style once again, maybe Dutch will be one of its exemplars. A lot can happen in 20 years. For certain, 2008 will be remembered as the year a white man was named valedictorian at Morehouse, a half-white man was named executive director of the NAACP and a half-African was elected president of the United States.

 Maybe it will also be remembered as the year we finally started to make things right in New Orleans, America and the rest of the globe.

That’s a hope worth clinging onto for another six months, at least.

 


Posted by jamesbborders4 at 2:49 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 27 May 2008 8:52 PM CDT
Permalink
Danny Bakewell's New WBOK
Topic: Danny Bakewell and WBOK

Walking the Talk
Danny Bakewell Sr., Danny Bakewell Jr., and the New WBOK

A leading activist/entrepreneur spearheads an investment in the rebuilding of his home town

By J.B. Borders

Danny Bakewell Sr.’s life appears to have come full circle. When he was a star football player at St. Augustine High in the mid-‘60s, the stocky teenager lived for the mornings when he would be invited to discuss his athletic triumphs on the late Champ Clark’s weekly sports-talk show on WBOK-AM radio. The appearances gave Bakewell – a working-class boy from the streets of Tremé – an opportunity to have his voice heard throughout the community.

Today, Bakewell, 61, owns WBOK and has changed its format from gospel to talk in order to give other New Orleanians an outlet to have their voices heard. The move has paid off dramatically.

Since Bakewell’s new WBOK emerged in November 2007 with its “Talk Back, Talk Black” marketing slogan, the station has been the buzz of the town. It’s the only spot on the radio dial where African American journalists, elected leaders, issue-experts, business people and regular citizens discuss the pressing topics of the day from frank, intelligent, black perspectives.

Whether it’s the state of public housing, health and education in New Orleans or the various ripples caused by the Obama presidential campaign, WBOK is the place to hear straight talk free of the large doses of racist jibberish found too often on white-owned media, both the left- and right-wing varieties.

“WBOK is the voice of our community speaking for itself,” Bakewell says. “We’re unapologetically black. You can talk about things on ‘BOK that you talk about at the barbershop.”

With witty veteran radio personality C.J. Morgan anchoring the morning-drive program and savvy commentators Paul Beaulieu and John Slade moderating the afternoon conversations, WBOK-AM 1230 is steadily recapturing the glory it once enjoyed in the 1960s as “the big boss sound” of New Orleans.

The resurgence of WBOK can only be chalked up to fate. Bakewell, now a resident of California, had been in the market for a west coast radio station to complement his 2004 acquisition of the Los Angeles Sentinel, the oldest and largest black newspaper west of the Mississippi. He had no interest in a New Orleans station until the WBOK opportunity presented itself in mid-2006. Even then, he wasn’t convinced the deal made good business sense.

Post-Katrina flooding had inundated WBOK’s Gentilly Boulevard headquarters and ruined everything in it. In addition, the station’s broadcast antenna had been snapped in half. At that time, large swaths of the city were still in ruins and it wasn’t clear if there would be enough advertisers to support the kind of format Bakewell had in mind.

One the other hand, he reasoned, the dire state of affairs called for someone to demonstrate leadership and invest in the city’s rebuilding.

“Everything going on in New Orleans is against us,” Bakewell points out. “We need a vehicle where black people’s voices can be heard. I had a moral obligation to buy the station.”

That phrase pops up repeatedly in conversations with Bakewell. He says that sticking to his principles has been one of the keys to his success in business and in life. “Undertakings that are morally and ethically sound are generally financially profitable, too,” he says.

With Bakewell, the point is not just to talk the talk, but also to walk the walk.

Despite the challenges surrounding the WBOK purchase, Bakewell concluded, “I can do it, therefore I should, and I will.”

Though Bakewell is not primarily a media mogul, he is a successful activist/developer who was described by Time Magazine as one of the “leading proponents of urban bootstrap economics” and "one of the most dynamic leaders in America today" by the L.A. Times.

He currently serves as chairman of the Bakewell Company, one of the largest black-owned development companies in the United States. The Bakewell Company brokers and leads revitalization efforts in Los Angeles, Compton, Pasadena and other California communities.  Since its founding 26 years ago, the company has developed, built and managed over 3.5 million square feet of retail, office, industrial and commercial space for such nationally known corporations as Albertsons, Pizza Hut, Hollywood Video, International House of Pancakes, McDonald’s, Rite Aid, Starbucks and others.

The Bakewell Company is also a housing developer. Most notably, it has partnered with KB Homes, one of the nation’s largest residential builders, to construct 380 homes in Seaside, California, on the Monterey Peninsula. The project is heralded as the first major private development on the site of the now-shuttered Fort Ord Army Base.

Bakewell’s son, Danny Jr., 41, is the company president. He’s taller and leaner than his father, but ideologically, he’s a spitting image of his dad. A licensed contractor and graduate of University of Southern California (USC) Real Estate Development and Finance Program, Danny Jr. is equally resolute in his commitment to empower the black community “because we know that what’s good for black people is good for everyone.”

Noel Foucher, the senior Bakewell’s best friend since kindergarten, serves as vice president of the operation. He’s the person in charge of the WBOK project.

“Noel is a seasoned and valued executive,” Bakewell told the Los Angeles media last year. “We know we can rely on his knowledge, experience and demonstrated resourcefulness to drive our most recent acquisition to its maximum earning potential and to do whatever is necessary to make the Bakewell Company a major force in helping the restore the quality of life for so many black families and small businesses that have been displaced.

“I trust Noel’s business judgment implicitly,” he continued, “and I have no doubt that his leadership, expertise and loyalty to the Bakewell Company, coupled with his knowledge and love of New Orleans, will serve both the company and New Orleans residents well. He is not only a valued executive, but my most trusted friend.”

Foucher, who earned all-state honors in four sports at St. Aug before graduating in 1966, also has a soft spot in his heart for ‘BOK. He, too, was a frequent guest on Champ Clark’s show.

Regardless of his success in the business world, Danny Bakewell Sr. is still better known as the long-time president and CEO of the Brotherhood Crusade, a Los Angeles-based civil rights and community development organization he led for nearly 40 years.

By its own account, the Brotherhood Crusade provides direct services to more than 120,000 underserved and disenfranchised South Los Angeles residents annually. It provides scholarships and youth mentoring programs along with community health services and economic development training and support.

The Brotherhood Crusade was founded in 1968 by a group of activists led by Walter Bremond, then an African-American program officer at the Cummins Engine Foundation. Bremond created the new organization to promote charitable fundraising in the black community for black empowerment and social change.

In 1972, the Brotherhood Crusade created the National Black United Fund (NBUF) to help direct African-American philanthropy to black-led organizations. The NBUF immediately established affiliate organizations in Detroit, Boston, Los Angeles and Fort Worth and began spreading to other communities.

After years of struggle, in 1980 the NBUF won the right to be included in the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), a workplace giving program that previously had granted the United Way sole access to that fund-raising opportunity. When the NBUF finally secured the legal right to enter the CFC campaign, it was a breakthrough that allowed several other ethnic and “alternative” charitable organizations to benefit as well.

These kinds of precedent-setting moves became almost commonplace for the Brotherhood Crusade during Bakewell’s tenure.

It was the Brotherhood Crusade that opened the first shelter for battered women in south Los Angeles and successfully confronted drug dealing and gang violence with their Taking Our Community Back campaign.

It was also the Brotherhood Crusade that financed the launch of the first black-owned grocery in south L.A. after the infamous insurrection of 1992. Additionally, the Brotherhood successfully picketed construction sites in the black community that had no black workers or contractors in their ranks. Its troops also shut down two Korean-owned businesses in Los Angeles after African-American customers were killed there by store owners.

And the Brotherhood Crusade led the battle to integrate the Rose Bowl Executive Committee in the early 1990s just as it had led efforts in the 1970s and ‘80s to force institutions to divest their South African interests during the apartheid era. In the 1990s, Bakewell co-chaired the Million Man March, a move which solidified his status as part of the upper echelon of national black leadership.

Ironically, this career-crowning achievement was spawned by Bakewell’s reaction to the racial prejudice he experienced as a young man in New Orleans.

After graduating from St. Augustine in 1965, Bakewell headed off to college on a football scholarship. A couple of years later, however, he married his childhood sweetheart, the former Aline Moret, welcomed the first of their three children to the world, and dropped out of school to work and support his family. He had secured a job waiting tables at the Royal Orleans Hotel, he recalls, and applied for a promotion to a desk job. The manner in which he was turned down convinced him that he had to leave – both the hotel and the city.

Like countless other Afro-Orleanians before and since, Bakewell moved his family out to Los Angeles in search of greater opportunities. In Danny’s case, opportunity came in the form of a job as a community organizer with the Neighborhood Adult Participation Project (NAPP). Though he had stumbled his way into the position, it didn’t take him long to realize he had found his life’s calling.

“I loved it. It was really rewarding work. I discovered that I had a gift for organizing people,” he says. “I could work with them to identify problems in the community, develop strategies to address them and, for some reason, people would follow me when it was time to take action.”

“When Danny believes in something, there is nothing that can stop him,” says Foucher. “He’s relentless.”

Bakewell’s success at NAPP led Walter Bremond to invite him to join the Brotherhood Crusade while the organization was still in its infancy. Soon, Bakewell was asked to lead the organization. He jests that he didn’t have enough sense back then to turn the offer down.

“The Brotherhood Crusade was $140,000 in debt when I took charge. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to overcome that deficit.”

But he managed to do so. And by the time he resigned the presidency of the Brotherhood Crusade in 2006 – to assume the role of board chairman – Bakewell had helped create $5 million in reserves for the organization. Along the way, the Brotherhood had also invested $50 million back into the community in the form of grants, loans, technical assistance and other services.

Like any successful person, Danny Bakewell has harsh critics. In California, he has been characterized as a race-baiter, a poverty pimp and as “The Godfather of South Central Los Angeles.”  While he disagrees with the criticism, he doesn’t let it deter him.

“Everything I have and everything I have achieved is due to my having the courage to fight for what black people need,” he says. “I won’t ever abandon that.”

One of the keys to his success, says Bakewell, is an impenetrable inner circle that includes his wife Aline, an attorney, his son Danny Jr., and Foucher. In addition, Bakewell continues to have strong relationships with many of the nation’s other major black leaders and their supporters. Some of that clout was evidenced when presidential candidates, Congress people, and major civil rights leaders began calling in to WBOK shortly after it came on the air.

Danny Jr. is taller and leaner than his father, but ideologically, he’s a spitting image of his dad. “We’re creating business opportunities for and about the black community,” says the younger Bakewell, a licensed contractor and graduate of University of Southern California (USC) Real Estate Development and Finance Program, “because we know that what’s good for black people is good for everyone.”

A bricklayer’s son, a janitor’s grandson, and a Charity Hospital baby who grew up on North Prieur Street around the corner from St. Peter Claver Church, the senior Danny Bakewell says the positive support he got from the people in his neighborhood – along with his teachers and coaches at St. Augustine – gave him the confidence and belief that he would be successful.

That success, he says, has now “contributed to my being able to come back home and invest in my community.”

Bakewell Media of Louisiana LLC bought WBOK for $550,000 from Willis Broadcasting Corporation, according to radio industry sources. Bakewell has invested an even greater amount in the renovation of the station’s offices and studios. The company has outfitted the operation with state-of-the-art equipment and installed a new 250-foot antenna atop a transmitter building that is raised 12 feet above ground.

Foucher and the Bakewells are extremely proud of the fact that 90 percent of the rebuilding was done by African-American workers and contractors.

They are also proud of the veteran team they have assembled at WBOK, a 20-person staff headed by General Manager Cheryl Charles and Program Director Gerard Stephens. In addition to their talk jockeys, the station also features sports reporter Ty Green and blues DJ Sandra Jemison.

WBOK is too new to be listed in the Arbitron Radio Ratings for New Orleans. However, Arbitron’s “Black Radio Today 2008” report points out that nationally the News/Talk/Information format has increased its listenership from 3.6 percent to 3.9 percent in the past year.

More important, “N/T/I’s African-American listeners ranked No. 1 among all (nine major radio programming) formats in higher education, as 72% had attended or graduated from college in spring 2007,” according to the report.

“In household income, 81% of News/Talk/Information’s Black listeners earned $25,000 or more per year,” the report continues. “Almost 30% lived in households generating $75,000 or more, ranking N/T/I No. 1 in that category. N/T/I was No. 2 in the percentage of those in households earning $50,000 or more.”

The polling data also show that black folks who listen to talk radio are more likely to vote in local, state and federal elections. National trends also show that African Americans are spending more time listening to talk radio. The increases are led by “an impressive 45-minute jump” among the 12-24 age group.

Bakewell says unofficial preliminary reports indicate that WBOK’s listenership is growing rapidly. “We’re the #1 black talk radio in the city.”

 

And the recent addition of Internet streaming has now allowed New Orleanians throughout the diaspora to listen to WBOK’s broadcasts in real time.

Future plans also include remote broadcasts from HBCU campuses and popular community gathering places like Lil Dizzy’s restaurant.

Even with the promising start and all the planned growth, Foucher said he expects it to take two or three more years before WBOK becomes profitable.

Several locally-owned businesses like Metro Disposal stepped up early on to advertise on WBOK, Bakewell points out, “But we still need increased and continued support.”

In the meantime, the Bakewell Company is also in the market for additional media acquisitions. Bakewell says he always had tremendous respect for the black press. “It’s always been the black press that enabled every major movement and business in our community to flourish.”

And Bakewell says we need another mass movement now more than ever to grapple with the growing inequities affecting the black community.

Thanks to his company’s investment, WBOK is now among the ranks of those committed to the struggle.


Posted by jamesbborders4 at 2:47 PM CDT
Permalink
Sunday, 17 February 2008
Borderline 2.08
Topic: Pee Wee Wilson

The Passing of a Small Man

Sometimes the deaths of “unimportant” people can leave huge gaps in the social and cultural fabric of our community

By J.B. Borders

William Joseph Wilson was 80 years old when he died on February 11, 2008. A waiter for much of his adult life, Wilson was not the kind of person who would rate an obituary in either the white-owned media or the black press. He was just one of the thousands of low-wage hospitality workers serving wealthier, more accomplished patrons daily in the city’s hotels, restaurants and convention center.

William Wilson left no heirs to carry on his name, just his wife of 45 years, Adele. He wasn’t particularly religious or civic-minded. The nature of his work rendered him virtually invisible to those he served. As a result, he learned to live his life mostly below the radar of social recognition. Mostly, but not entirely. In certain arenas, William Wilson was highly visible, a colorful character, a New Orleans original and one of the last of a dying breed.

Wilson was copper-colored, barrel-chested and had leathery skin toughened by hours in the sun. He was less than five feet tall and noticeably bowlegged. Those latter characteristics accounted for his nickname, Pee Wee. I called him Mr. Pee Wee since I was more than 20 years his junior. We played tennis on weekends off and on for more than 25 years, mostly at a public facility now known as the Atkinson/Stern Tennis Center.

Mr. Pee Wee was a terrible tennis player but a great student of the game. He knew its history and the styles of its great players. He knew the right way to hit all the shots. He understood the fine points of the game’s strategy, the best equipment to use and the most effective training techniques.

Still, he couldn’t play worth a lick. It wasn’t due to his lack of height or his advanced age. Nor did he lack competitive spirit. He played hard and he wanted to win. His stamina was also decent for someone in his age group. Much as he loved the game, he just didn’t have a talent for hitting the ball consistently. He couldn’t stay focused and maintain his concentration. His mind was always racing ahead to something else. And that was okay with him because he realized where his true gifts lay – talking trash and hustling to survive.

The Atkinson/Stern Tennis Center, which was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and has yet to be restored, is not just a tennis facility. It’s also a social center. And the regular players there are part of an extended network of friends and acquaintances who joke and tease each other and exchange views on current events.

In other words, it’s a barbershop without razors – and its peanut gallery is as much an attraction as the play on the courts. That’s where Mr. Pee Wee came to life. He was the chief smack talker, instigator, aggravator and, frequently, the center of attention. There, he was fully visible and triumphant. He didn’t come to play tennis, he came to talk trash. Moreover, he relished nothing more than showing off his knowledge and getting under someone’s skin or into their head with some bit of foolishness.

He was impish, certainly. But he was also a skilled provocateur. His wind-up would generally begin with an innocent-seeming question: “Say, man, let me ask you something.” And he’d proceed to bring up some topic in the news. Embedded in his question, however, was a position he had already staked out and was prepared to defend, sometimes just to be contrary to the prevailing sentiment: “What made O.J. think he could kill that white woman and get away with it?” or “How much money you think Clinton is paying to support his black child?”

Any reply provided an opening for him to launch into an extended riff on the topic. His disquisition was usually humorous and caustic and would trigger additional comments, disagreements and a broadening circle of participants.  

If you weren’t in the conversation, he would drag you into it. He’d call you by name, “Did you hear what so and so just said? Tell him he’s out of his mind.” And you’d be snared. “What you mean, you ain’t in this? You scared to hurt his feelings and tell him the truth? Or is you crazy, too?”

It didn’t matter if you were trying to play a match on the courts or watching a game on television in the lounge. If you were anywhere in the tennis center, you were fair game.

Also no matter where the conversation began, before it was over Pee Wee would find an opening to throw in his standard zingers about the state of the race: “The only thing a black man wants is a white woman and a pork chop fried hard, hard, hard.” “Everywhere you live is a ghetto, I don’t care how much the houses cost.” “The white man won’t let a Negro go but so far in this country. If you don’t like it, you can take your ass back to Africa and run your own country.”

“I know these things,” he would always say, “because I seen it for myself” or “because I reads aplenty, all kinds of things.” His larger point was that we all need to be better informed and we need to do more thinking for ourselves.

Of course, Pee Wee didn’t have much formal education. He started out in some small, nondescript agricultural hamlet upriver from New Orleans. By the time he was 13, he was on his own, “hustling,” he would say, to take care of himself.

He made his way to the city, shined shoes at first, then stumbled into the world of horse racing. He was a stable boy and a groom and then a personal attendant to a wealthy horse-owning family. For years, he told me, he traveled the racing circuit, from New Orleans to Lexington to Saratoga and all the stops in between.

He got an up-close view of how the rich lived and played. He learned their tastes and habits, their strengths and foibles, their power and reach. He also learned how to comport himself in their world, to anticipate their needs and to stay clear of their furies. He learned that the world was run ultimately by people who used their minds and not their hands. That suited him fine. He was small in stature, not built for a lifetime of hard manual labor. He committed himself to developing his mind even though he knew he was consigned by fate never to amass any substantial wealth or power.

When he met his beloved Adele, he gave up life on the road and settled for jobs in the city’s tourist zone. Then as now, most waiters and servants barely earned a living wage, so Pee Wee developed sideline ventures to augment his income. He bet on horses and fights, he played dice and cards for money, he performed odd jobs at every opportunity. He couldn’t be idle. He was always looking for the chance to earn some extra cash. By the time I met him, that was an ingrained part of his personality.

One year I gave Pee Wee a pair of complementary tickets to the Jazz Fest. He said he had never attended and wanted to take his wife. When I saw him again the following week and asked him how he enjoyed the festival, he admitted he hadn’t gone. Instead, he had sold the tickets to a young white visitor.

His wife had declined the invitation to go festing, so Pee Wee headed out alone. He thought he might give the extra ticket away. But a block away from the entrance, he saw people scalping tickets. He couldn’t resist the opportunity to get in on the action. He sold both of the tickets I had given him, pocketed the money and went back home. He only got $40 or $50 from the sale, but it was the return on his investment, $0, that made the deal too good to pass up.

I didn’t chide him about it, but I never gave him tickets again. One week, out of the blue, he brought me two bottles of wine. It was a gift. He wanted me to know that he appreciated a favor, he said. I knew the wine was probably left over from some special reception he worked and hadn’t cost him hard cash. But it was the sentiment that mattered. I accepted the offering and later drank both bottles. Nevertheless, we hit tennis balls less and less frequently after that.

I didn’t miss the tennis but I did miss our conversations. Among other things, Pee Wee was an expert on the history of South Rampart Street, especially the area between Canal Street and Melpomene. Though many of the buildings that used to be there have been demolished, Pee Wee could still remember practically every structure and business by heart. He knew all the owners and, seemingly, some telling bit of gossip about each. In addition to the entrepreneurs, he knew the gamblers, thieves, big shots, pimps, pawn brokers, whores, tailors and working stiffs who made The Mighty Ramp a center of New Orleans street life until the 1960s.

Once or twice I tried to record his recollections and to take notes. Pee Wee clammed up. “I ain’t telling you this so you can write it down in a book and make money off it. I’m just telling you this so you will know. That was a time, boy. That was a time!”

After Hurricane Katrina, I only saw Mr. Pee Wee once. Eighteen months after the storm, he told me of his ordeal and adventures evacuating to his wife’s relatives in Monroe. By then, though, he was back in his Central City home, working to repair damages throughout the neighborhood. I was struck by how vibrant he seemed. He was still wisecracking and strutting around like a little rooster on his rickety bowlegs. The Katrina episode had given him enough material to riff on for decades to come.

Less than a year later, however, Pee Wee’s mouth was shut for good. He was dead, a cancer victim. Only a small paid notice in the daily newspaper marked his passing.

With his dying we lost William Wilson’s unique gifts and contributions – his insider’s view of old South Rampart Street, his uncanny ability to size people up and push their buttons, his appreciation for the fine points of waiting on people and extracting generous tips from them, his mastery of barbershop-style debating. Small gifts, to be sure, but they made a significant contribution to the social fabric of our community and the transmission of knowledge from one generation to the next.

Pee Wee’s home-going service was held, appropriately enough, at a Central City funeral home. It was eight-rock Christian – strictly old-time religion – with fewer than 75 people in attendance.

The Atkinson/Stern family was well represented at the event. Roughly 15 of Pee Wee’s tennis friends showed up to send him off. He had messed with us all one final time, getting buried on a perfect Saturday morning when he knew we’d rather be on the courts hitting balls and talking trash.

I’m sure he got a nice chuckle out of that. “That was a time, boy. That was a time!”

 


Posted by jamesbborders4 at 10:08 AM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008 12:15 AM CDT
Permalink
Sunday, 20 January 2008
Borderline 1.08
Topic: A Year of Reckoning

A Year of Reckoning

Over the next 12 months, we’ll see either an energized movement for economic and social justice or enough soul murder to last a generation. Which will it be?

By J.B. Borders

Like most people, I wish I had the gift of selective prophecy. I don’t want to know everything ahead of time – that would eliminate a lot of the excitement of living – but there are several matters whose conclusion I would love to know well in advance of their occurrence.

Take this year, for instance. I’d love to know now what we will all know on December 31, 2008 – and how we’ll be feeling about it.

Though every year is critical and crucial in the Black World, 2008 is a special year of reckoning and I can’t wait to see how things shake out.

Of course, lots of important things happen every year. But in some years, the things that happen have more of an impact than in others.

This year will be one of those years when some really big issues get settled internationally, nationally and locally.

For starters, we’ll find out if America is ready for a black president. And whether Barack Obama wins or loses his historic quest to become commander-in-chief of the free world, we’ll all end up discovering a lot more than we’d care to know about the underbelly of America’s political process.

I’m afraid we’re also going to find out how low some people will go to prevent a black man from being in a position to run the country. Sadly, there will be black folks in those ranks.

If Obama doesn’t win the presidency, how his supporters feel about the outcome may determine the mood of the nation for several years to come. Will the hordes of newcomers now flocking to the Obama camp be soured on electoral politics if their candidate gets beaten as a result of the kind of smear tactics the Clinton campaign deployed after the Iowa caucus?

If Obama wins the Democratic Party nomination, the Republican attack squads will make the Clinton dirty tricks look like kindergarten games. If the right-wing hate-mongering succeeds in getting another Republican elected to the White House, it will be interesting to see how close this nation comes to experiencing massive outbreaks of civil disturbance and violent strife.

Soul murder is destruction of the love of life in another human being. Some psychiatrists also use the term to describe the compulsion in abused children and adults to subject others to the “cruelty, violence, neglect, hatred, seduction, and rape” they have endured.

If the 2008 presidential campaign leaves millions of Americans feeling abused and violated, how permanent and injurious will the scarring be? I wish I knew that now.

Also, if Obama ends up as the vice presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket, how will that affect him and the global psyche? Will the VP slot be a true stepping stone to the presidency or just a pen to keep him corralled in until someone needs an inspiring speech? In short, will Obama become the Julian Bond of his generation – a major mind and a compelling voice marginalized in the American body politic and other corridors of power?

On the other hand, if by some hope and prayer Obama actually wins the presidency, what then?

All the same, I have a feeling the Obama Movement/Moment will not be the year’s biggest story. That dishonor will probably belong to the economy.

The looming recession has forced the Bush administration to redistribute wealth via short-term tax cuts to keep the economy afloat. Before year’s end, we’ll know if the stimulus worked.

Such moves wouldn’t have been necessary if the financial services sector hadn’t steadily become the slimiest thieves in history during the Bush years. These folks have aggressively unleashed oodles of unethical products into the marketplace since 2000. All were designed to do one thing only – swindle money from the American working class and retirees.

Whether it is outrageous credit card interest rates and fees, payday loans or sub-prime mortgages, the lords of Wall Street – where lying, cheating and stealing are the order of the day – have been intent the past few years on hustling the average citizen out of her or his hard-earned cash. And it has all been done with the blessing of the American government.

As a result, instead of building wealth, nearly 30 percent of black households have zero or negative wealth. And the sub-prime mortgage crisis will continue to create more losses in African-American households across the nation, through both predatory lending practices and a spiraling rate of foreclosure.

According to one study, black folks have lost between $71 billion and $92 billion over the past eight years as a result of excessive interest rates for home mortgages. Nearly 55 percent of African-American borrowers are saddled with these high-cost loans, according to the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council.

Several of these contracts contain exorbitant pre-payment penalties. So even if a borrower earnestly tries to get out of debt, he or she has to pay huge additional fees. It amounts to 21st century sharecropping.

As more and more folks of all colors walk away from these loans, the losses will continue to rock the financial markets and depress the national economy. This is the year something has to be done. And I suspect Bush’s $150 billion tax rebate is just the start of a larger campaign to put rampant corporate greed in check.

While the national economic crisis will be softened in Louisiana and New Orleans because of high oil prices and the infusion of post-hurricane rebuilding funds, Afro-Louisianians and Afro-Orleanians will probably continue to catch hell all through 2008. We’ll have higher unemployment rates, lower business ownership rates and shorter life expectancies – unless we resolve to do something about our situation.

On the lighter side, we’ll also have a clear idea of how much Bobby-Ji actually dislikes and disrespects us well before the year ends. And at the rate things are going, he may be the only person of color in his administration.

We’ll also find out in the next few months whether Governor Jindal’s ethics reform will be substantive or merely cosmetic. I’m not holding my breath on this issue.

Closer to home, in 2008 we’ll also find out if New Orleans ends up with its first black female district attorney or chooses to go in another direction.

On the continuing anti-corruption front, the year started off with Oliver “Big O” Thomas heading to the big house and Jacques “No Door” Morial getting six months of home detention for misdemeanor tax evasion. Roy “Big Smooth” Rodney, who pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of tax evasion, will probably be given a probated sentence in the next couple of months.

Despite the hullabaloo when these investigations were launched, Morial and Rodney have won “moral victories” against the federal government, which has spent countless thousands of our tax dollars over the past five years trying to pin something on the former mayor’s brother and attorney. The government saved face by getting minor convictions. The defendants saved money by not having their cases continue to drag on. Such is the price of justice.

Several people are also betting that this is the year Stan “Pampy” Barre runs out of info to barter and gets assigned a bunk in some federal prison. Imagine the potential drama if Pampy does time in the same joint where Big O is paying his debt to society.

One thing that won’t be resolved in 2008 is the Bill Jefferson case. Whatever verdict gets handed down in the Virginia trial next month is likely to be appealed. So the case will drag on for another couple of years unless Jefferson gets a plea deal he can’t refuse.

The really interesting local development worth watching in 2008 is the role members of the Talented Fifth are stepping up to play to bring about greater levels of justice and equity in the city. People like former Criminal Court Judge Calvin Johnson come to mind.

Johnson, who retired from the bench at the end of 2007, is one of the attorneys working on a class action suit to have the state provide a decent level of health care to indigent Orleanians.

During his 17 years on the bench, Johnson helped create a drug court and a mental health court to provide more effective rehabilitative services than mere incarceration affords.

If more experienced senior black professionals actively join these struggles for the equitable rebuilding of New Orleans, I imagine the city could be transformed pretty quickly. If they – if we – continue to stand on the sidelines, however, the city will be wheedled from us so thoroughly that it will be generations before we recover the few gains we have made.

So, this is the critical year for solidifying a new mass movement for social and economic justice in New Orleans and around the globe. The old order is collapsing but the new one must be actively created.

The days can’t go by fast enough for me.

 


Posted by jamesbborders4 at 11:01 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008 12:16 AM CDT
Permalink
Tuesday, 4 December 2007
Borderline 12.07
Topic: Beating the Beatdown

Beating the Beatdown

Shifting political realities demand shifting responses from both conquerors and the conquered

By J.B. Borders

“Black people will never gain full equality in this country,” former Harvard Law School professor Derrick Bell declared 15 years ago in an essay entitled “Racial Realism”.

A deliberately provocative writer and thinker whose arguments are fueled by both fact and imagination, Bell argued that even the hard-won achievements we consider to be successes will amount to no more than “temporary ‘peaks of progress,’ short-lived victories that slide into irrelevance as racial patterns adapt in ways that maintain white dominance.”

I stumbled upon Bell’s observation a few days ago, just as I was trying to wrap my mind around the significance of a number of recent local developments and trends that demonstrate the renewed vigor with which a growing number of folk are attempting to reinstitute and reinforce white domination in all spheres of the city’s life.

I had first read Bell back in the 1990s but his ideas had not had much traction for me then. He seemed much too pessimistic, depressing, wounded, defeatist. But the world and this city have changed considerably since 1992. Today Bell’s arguments seem entirely appropriate for discussion, necessary even for those of us committed to living in New Orleans.

Bell’s key point is that African Americans have to stop being delusional and “acknowledge the permanence of our subordinate status. That acknowledgement enables us to avoid despair, and frees us to imagine and implement racial strategies that can bring fulfillment and even triumph.”

Of course, that’s what we thought was happening in New Orleans in the 1990s – that we were implementing strategies and policies to create wealth, justice and fulfillment in the black part of town. Eventually those transformative changes would lead to some sort of equality, many of us genuinely believed. We knew it wouldn’t be quick or easy. We presumed there would be setbacks along the way. But we never for an instant accepted that it would be impossible or impractical to achieve full equality. After all, our people had journeyed from slavery to freedom. Surely equality was within our grasp.

Back in the early 1990s, the impending changes in South Africa offered hope that people of African descent could continue to overcome almost any adversity anywhere on Earth. Back then, the early days of the Clinton presidency offered hope that urban America could be reinvigorated for black folks as well as for whites. Back then, we thought the unconscionable disparities in household wealth, access to health care and education would close instead of widen in the years ahead. Back then, we assumed the impending technological revolution sparked by the spread of personal computers would increase opportunity for the underprivileged and level the playing field across the globe. Back then, we thought there could be social and economic revolution without bloodshed.

We were buoyed by what Barack Obama today would call audacious hope. And Bell’s arguments and prescriptions sounded too much like the pleadings of 1950s Negroes who argued against the marches, demonstrations, boycotts, jailings, beatings and other acts of defiance in the fight to dismantle segregation in the hyper-racist American South.

We would all be so much better off if the Negro stayed in his place and accepted the care and protection the white man provided, the reasoning went. Besides, this was a battle black folks couldn’t win – the white power structure was too strong to be toppled by a rag-tag gang of unarmed, unintelligent peasants and a handful of misguided white do-gooders and Communist agitators. It would be better to not rock the boat and stay in our own world with our own kind and our own way of life.

That argument ultimately did not carry the day but it was important that such suggestions be part of the public discourse back then. And there were moments in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements when the prospects for victory seemed extremely bleak and people needed to examine what it might cost to keep on pushing forward as opposed to retreating or settling for partial gains. That’s precisely when arguments like Derrick Bell’s needed to be heard.

New Orleans is at such a moment now. This is a crossroads in our destiny. By the time summer arrives, the city will be either one incident away from a full-scale race war or one indictment/election from voluntarily surrendering all our power back to white folks and assuming the Darky Position once again.

Many local power brokers are working diligently to make the latter option become reality but conditions will certainly be ripe for the former scenario to be played out, too.

Large numbers of poor, uneducated black folk will no longer be penned up in public housing projects, which have traditionally given many of them a false sense of well-being and security.

Unemployment and underemployment will continue to make it difficult, if not impossible, for lower-income blacks to support their families. Latino immigrants and whites will continue to grab most of the construction and service-industry jobs.

The Asian and Arab business owners monopolizing commerce in predominately black neighborhoods will continue to hire only members of their own clans and not the black people who spend their money in these immigrants’ stores.

Property crimes and other wealth-transfer initiatives against the relatively well-to-do will be attempted with greater regularity by desperate young people possessing guns, moxie and no prospects for the future.

The small black middle class will continue to be under assault as the salaries and perks of their government jobs get squeezed, the sub-prime mortgage crisis claims their homesteads, and the pace of rebuilding in their neighborhoods continues to move at a snail’s pace.

Meanwhile, the black elite will continue to be hounded by corruption investigations and challenges to all their professional services contracts and entrepreneurial endeavors.

In addition, increasing numbers of ordinary white folk will feel emboldened to verbally and physically abuse “inferior” blacks, which, in their minds, means any of us. One of them will cross the line, however, and say or do something to the wrong black person and – Boom! The war will be on.

The Next Battle of New Orleans

I had been trying to visualize how the next Battle of New Orleans would begin when Jackie Clarkson’s election last month to an at-large seat on the City Council made it all clear.

Clarkson now gives the Council its first white majority in a generation. And the way she won the election will likely set the tone for her tenure. When the race for the seat got tight during the last two weeks of the campaign, Clarkson’s handlers whipped out the race card. Her opponent, the Clarkson campaign gloated, was endorsed by Sherman Copelin and Congressman William Jefferson. Readers of the campaign flyer were apparently supposed to infer that these are corrupt black leaders and that electing Clarkson’s opponent, Cynthia Willard-Lewis, would be tantamount to putting the alleged crooks’ crony into a position of greater authority.

Apparently, the ploy panned out. Though overall voter turnout was low, white turnout was high enough to give Clarkson the edge. The black majority voluntarily ceded control of the Council to the white minority.

I suspect we’ll begin to seriously regret this decision before the weather turns hot again. And then one day at City Hall – perhaps a week or so after the Essence Music Festival Empowerment Seminars take place – Spacey Stacey, Munchkin Midura or Wacky Jackie will say something offensive to a Civil Servant Sister. It will likely be some cutting remark intended to impugn the woman’s professional integrity and intelligence.

The sister will, in turn, slap the bejesus out of that person – how dare she speak to me like that! A black male security officer will attempt to intervene. He’ll put his hand on the sister and she will start scuffling with him. Gunfire might ensue. The sister will take the bullet. Whether she lives or dies, her colleagues at City Hall along with the usual strident community activists will stage a protest in front of the offending City Councilwoman’s home.

The police will be called in to restore order. Instead, they will inflame the situation. More violence will erupt. For several days thereafter it will spread across the city, infecting not just poor, predominately black neighborhoods and Canal Street but also the normally-oblivious white enclaves along Magazine Street and the Lakefront.

Another new New Orleans will then have to be confected – one which will provide greater levels of equity to the city’s black population.

I’m certain this is what Derrick Bell envisioned when he advised us to come to grips with the “permanence of our subordinate status” so that we can “avoid despair” and be free “to imagine and implement racial strategies that can bring fulfillment and even triumph.”


Posted by jamesbborders4 at 11:03 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008 12:17 AM CDT
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