AFAM News bits – April 2017

You might recall several years ago when Springfield was hit with a major snowstorm and many people who lived on side streets were stuck in their homes for days waiting for their streets to be plowed. I was among them and the rage that I felt was palpable and conveyed to the mayor in a comment in this column. He made the public statement that he was also angry about it. Well, he must have done something about it because the snow removal performance of the city during the recent big storm was brilliant and effective. It involved an apparently well thought-out strategy to clear the main roads just enough to allow traffic to flow, followed by a move to clear side streets just enough to free people from their homes, followed by a return to clearing the main roads and back again to the side streets and so on back and forth until all of the city’s streets (that were not blocked by cars) were cleared of snow. Some of us had hunkered down at home with our office work expecting to be blocked in for at least several days and were surprised to find that we were able to drive from our homes within hours. The only inconvenience – and a reasonable one it was – was the need to clear and re-clear driveways as a consequence of the plows’ multiple sweeps. We’ve got to give it to you, Mayor Sarno. You hit another home run!

Writing for public consumption is a contact sport especially if the writer tackles controversial subjects head on as I try to do. And anybody who does so knows that there will always be people who parse what is written. Sometimes they do so in a constructive way and sometimes not, sometimes in a critical way and other times while heaping on praise. No matter how it is done, I’ve learned that it comes with the territory and to not take it personally whether it is meant one way or the other. I appreciate the praise and I appreciate the criticism. And I invite both and I reflect on them in a genuine effort to improve my work.

But one thing that bugs me a bit is when a reader picks out a detail or a sentence or a paragraph from a lengthy article that is only significant in its isolation from the total article and wants to argue with me about it. I usually decline to engage because it would drain too much of my time. I’ve made exceptions where I had reason to believe the detail or sentence or paragraph had a particular significance to the person that I had not considered even though it might have had little to do with the message of my article, but not often.

The people whom I engage regularly are those who approach me to discuss and debate the messages in the articles I write. Usually a message is an expression of a point of view. Sometimes it is my point of view exclusively. Other times it is a message that is intended to express the point of view of others as I interpret it, especially of African-Americans but not exclusively. Sometimes it is a combination of both. And I recognize, in every instance, that somewhere out there, what I write is being viewed by someone with an alternative point of view, which is fine with me.

I like to think that, more often than not, my messages provoke thought and conversation both pro and con. I don’t strive to stroke. I strive to stimulate thought and discussion and to be an example of the fearlessness that open discussion requires, all while I remain fully aware that “openness” is not so normal. But it is for me. And as much as I view openness as a personal asset that helps my relationships and my writing, I am well aware that it is also a vulnerability that some people would exploit often, I must humbly say, at their own peril.

My recent two articles on Leontyne Price provoked reactions from several quarters, Black and White alike. And both the Black (see the comment on page 25 from a Black Florida PhD) and the White reactions were mixed and different from each other. All of the reactions were diverse enough to make me feel I had done my job.

A Black friend criticized my article on Donald Trump (reprinted on the cover). She was upset that I had negative things to say about Hillary Clinton. And she suggested that it was an anti-women thing. I engaged her because she was sincere and such a good friend not because she said anything that suggested she might be right. After all, Point of View endorsed Hillary for president and I voted for her and I and my wife (and editor), who also voted for Hillary, encouraged all of our friends and family to do the same. But to go so far as liking her was beyond my capacity for compromise. Besides, Germany’s Angela Merkel is my hero. And if Clinton even came close to Merkel’s Obama-like cool and determined integrity, I might have embraced her. The important point, however, is that my feelings about Hillary, as expressed in the article, were peripheral to my message that I hope my friend didn’t overlook.

Recently I had a visit from someone whose name I mentioned three different times in three different articles in what he perceived as a negative way. If I were him, I might have perceived the mentions the same way. To him, my focus on him was personal, which is probably why he never mentioned, and probably missed, the messages in the articles. What I write is never intended to be personal. If I mention the name of a person in a negative context it is usually only because the name is necessary for an understanding of the message. And I do so only if I think the message is more important than hurt feelings.

Of course, there are times when a negative reference to a person is the message. My frequent mentions of former State Representative Raymond Jordan are perfect examples. He is my local example of a post-Civil Rights movement led by Black politicians that swept through Black communities across the country and left them in ruins. From my point of view, Ray and his fellow Black politicians are the story and the ruins are their legacy. It’s not personal. It just is. And I would hope it would be instructional for current and coming generations and for newly-elected State Representative Bud L. Williams.

But I don’t write with expectations that he, and his supporters, and all others will like or agree with what I write, which is why we at Point of View offer all readers the opportunity to respond. Some do and request anonymity which we respect. Others respond and we publish the responses. And some are so vitriolic and devoid of reason that we don’t feel obligated to publish their words. Most form opinions and don’t respond. And that’s okay too.

All I am saying is that I, like so many others, many of whom are far better writers than I am and often more provocative, write for general public consumption and reaction. I expect blowback and encourage it almost as much as I appreciate praise. But I credit myself for being my most severe critic. And I am most pleased when I can honestly say to myself, regarding what I write and the public reaction to it, “Job well done.”

The Springfield Union Station renovation is a wonder to behold. But the real story is Congressman Richie Neal’s dream, while he was mayor many years ago, to make the rehabilitation of what many considered a useless monstrosity a center of Springfield’s attention and a centerpiece of its economic comeback. It has taken decades to overcome the obstacles, the biggest of which were probably others’ doubts, and to bring his dream to fruition. But the job is all but done. And, Richie Neal, the man who kept the dream alive, deserves full credit.

Point of View has started a new column called “Trump Alerts!,” a product of the imagination of our editor, Marjorie Hurst, who probably wanted to take some of the weight off of me and my “Af-Am News Bits.” And I am so relieved! I never thought America would elect a thug and consummate prevaricator and dictator wannabe as its president. And he’s ignorant, too. And he is enough of a narcissist to believe his word is gospel, which explains why his mindless twitters and verbal garbage to his dystopian base are such ripe fuel for my “Bits.” But the diversity and creativity of my “Bits” would be overwhelmed by Trumpisms, which is why Marjorie’s new “Trump Alerts!” section is so appreciated by me as I’m sure it will be by our readers.

“How about a little prudence and patience? The priorities should be jobs growth, social cohesion and an atmosphere, in Washington, of constructiveness. We don’t need any new culture wars – we’ve got enough, thanks! Is the worst thing that could happen in the world right now that a kid from New Jersey can come into Manhattan and see an off-Broadway show seeded with a $30,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts? No, that’s not the worst thing that could happen….The worst that could happen is that Congress is so exhausted as an institution, everyone’s ideologies so played out, that they’re all just playing a part, going through the motions, mindlessly replicating past battles in hope of some new reward.” (Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal, March 18-19, 2017)

How sad! The very people who Donald Trump claims to represent will probably be most harmed by his proposed cuts to the federal budget and they don’t even know it…yet. Those who will most benefit are the rich who will receive massive tax cuts. Poor and middle class folks and the elderly will lose health benefits, food aid, education funding, legal services and arts and humanities support and much more. Cities will lose their Community Development Block grants that aid urban revitalization and Africa will lose the measly $30 million in development aid that was dwarfed by a far sighted China that understands the future benefits of investing in Africa. AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs and all other programs under the Corporation for National and Community Service will be completely wiped out as will be the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Legal Services Corporation, National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. And that’s only a partial list. What is happening to America! ■

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