Violence As a Means of Controlling Black People

Wise words from Bishop Ernest S. Lyght.

Can The United States of America overcome a seeming penchant for inflicting violence upon African Americans in various settings and situations, even in the year 2015?

America has never hesitated to use violence as a means of controlling African Americans. This should be no surprise when one considers the fact that America is a nation that was conceived in violence, the American Revolution. When there were major disagreements about the use of slavery, the nation resorted to violence and engaged in a bloody civil war. The nation has engaged in two world wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the invasion of Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan. There are still other violent conflicts that could be named.

Let’s take a look back in time and briefly summarize the black experience in this nation. It was an act of violence when African men and women were placed into slavery. It…

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After Charleston: An Open Letter to White Christians from a White Female Pastor

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How evangelicals won a culture war and lost a generation

Spot on…

CNN Belief Blog

Opinion by  Rachel Held Evans , special to CNN

(CNN) — On March 24, World Vision announced that the U.S. branch of the popular humanitarian organization would no longer discriminate against employees in same-sex marriages.

It was a decision that surprised many but one that made sense, given the organization’s ecumenical nature.

But on March 26, World Vision President Richard Stearns reversed the decision, stating, “our board acknowledged that the policy change we made was a mistake.”

Supporters helped the aid group “see that with more clarity,” Stearns added, “and we’re asking you to forgive us for that mistake.”

So what happened within those 48 hours to cause such a sudden reversal?

The Evangelical Machine kicked into gear.

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Civil War

I stepped onto my my front porch last Friday night and remembered to breathe. My eyes were tearing up (righteous indignation and MCHM will make you cry), and my head was pounding.  The stench in the air is something I’ll never forget. Licorice is a close approximation – sweet with a pungent bitter kick on the back of the palate – and it was everywhere.

There was a heavy rain falling and puffs of fog and low clouds made the air feel dense, even claustrophobic. Was I breathing chemical-laced syrup delivered by the rain or just “normal” air?

[Whatever that means in the Kanawha Valley.]

across the Elk River from the site of the spill on Jan. 12.

across the Elk River from the site of the spill on Jan. 12.



Wide awake with a chemical with a name I couldn’t pronounce stuck in my nose and mouth, my head hammering in the grip of a vicious migraine I remembered…

to inhale.


Then two things became very clear:

  • I was really angry. The illogical kind of brain-stem anger that helped our ancestors kill big animals with rocks and sticks.
  • And I love this place, even though at times, it drives me completely and utterly insane.

West Virginia was born out of the Civil War, and it seems we are still fighting it.

We say we need the jobs that industry brings to our state, but we carry a BIG chip on our shoulder when it comes to outsiders, who bring the jobs we say we need. We don’t own much of our own land. For decades, others come take what’s in the ground beneath our feet away from us. They keep the money. We keep the misery and stereotypes.

This is the angst of appalachian people. We all handle it differently. Some leave for good. Others try to. Some believe that their suffering serves a noble purpose. For most of my life I have distanced myself from my own roots.

A Civil War of the heart.

I was born just over the state line, barely on the north side of the Mason-Dixon Line, in Cumberland, Maryland. My family, like many West Virginia expats followed economic opportunity. The pursuit took us to southeastern Ohio and to the metropolitan New York City area, specifically to Mahopac, NY and Stamford, CT.

My mom never let us forget our West Virginia roots, though I didn’t really understand what that meant at the time. Robert C. Byrd’s “Mountain Fiddler” album made it through every move, and my parents said they would get back to West Virginia if they ever could. We grew up eating biscuits and mom often added white gravy to hers. A jar of bacon grease sat in the refrigerator next to the butter, and we could always count on my grandfather to take us to a ramp feed during our visits to Summersville when they were in season.

[Grandpa frying up ham in a black skillet with bacon grease and ramps. “Hmmm…fat man knows what to eat.”]

We would drive to Charleston and Huntington to visit THE AUNTS (they deserve their own blog post) and my cousins. In the back seat, us kids always had a contest to see if we could hold our breath through Nitro. This was the 70s, people, and let me tell you the smell of sulfur or whatever the hell they were making in the chemical valley in those days was horrible.

When my family moved back to the state in 1983, I was a full-blown Yankee, which did not play well with the locals. The best thing I can say about the 3 years I spent in high school in Clarksburg was that I learned early that the world can be cruel and unfair.

In the photo on the left, i'm smiling; on the right - I just look shell-shocked. And I was.

A tale two bands. In the photo on the left, i’m smiling (Westhill H.S., Stamford, CT, Fall 1982) on the right – I just look shell-shocked (W.I.H.S. Clarksburg, WV, Summer 1983) And I was.

I was desperate to leave, and I did. I vowed never to come back (note to the young: never say never, trust me on this). I wound up back in the state in the summer of 1996. This time, I moved to Charleston, near the country of my mother’s people. She told me “they” had really cleaned up the valley. It’s true that the smell had improved since my childhood.

But it was still there.

A few years later I read the essay my next door neighbor’s daughter was working on for college admission applications. “I’m trying to find a nice way to talk about how bad the pollution here is,” she told me. “But I can’t say it smells like burnt ass on a college application.”

Uh, yeah.

Walking home from work last Thursday afternoon, I thought about that description as I hurried home to get out of the air, which smelled worse than usual. I checked Twitter, and saw the Gazette’s first story.

Then I waited.

My husband was out of town, so it was just me, the golden retriever and our two cats. The dog knew something was up and spent most of the evening starting at me anxiously. I waited with many of the comforts of someone who lives in a first-world nation; internet, electricity, cable. I was warm and I had enough to eat.

West Virginians worked together pretty well this week. But we deserve answers. Photo taken in the East End Rite Aid, Charleston, WV. Walking distance from my house.

West Virginians worked together pretty well this week. But we deserve answers. Photo taken in the East End Rite Aid, Charleston, WV on Saturday, Jan. 11. This store is walking distance from my house.

I waited for word on when my air and water might really be clean again.

I’m still waiting. Yes, they have cleared the water (mostly) and they say it’s safe.

I’m waiting to trust them.

I’m waiting to shower without worry. This morning, I took my first one since the spill and broke out immediately. I’m not the only one.

Lovely rash after this morning's shower. Decided a small photo was best. :-)

Lovely rash after this morning’s shower. Decided a small photo was best. 🙂

I’m waiting to plan a meal without having to think about whether or not the tap water I boil pasta in will hurt me or my family.

I’m waiting for our leaders to have the courage to do the right thing. Some have shown they do.

I’m waiting for the corporation that is responsible to stand up and admit they really screwed this up. I want them to say they are really, really sorry.

I could wait a long time for all of this to happen.

There’s one thing I’m not waiting on.

The end of the Civil War in my heart. That’s over, friends.

I belong in West Virginia. My heart is hers. And I will fight for her.

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I saw the white sneakers first. My dog approached them with cautious joy, tail flopping from side to side. Everybody is a potential friend as far as golden retrievers are concerned. The sneakers were attached to denim legs and they did not move. It was a good spot for sleep – by street standards anyway. Celebration Station is a 20 year old playground, with plenty of wooden cubbies for kids to play hide and seek in.

Some call the wooden maze home for several hours each night.


I had a friend ask me recently if “I felt safe,” living in the East End of Charleston. It’s true that my neighborhood is diverse in just about every way. The middle class, a few wealthy folks, and the poor are likely to rub elbows in the Rite Aid near my house. Though I’d say that cigarillos and tallboys of malt liquor are the drugs people pick up most there.

Moxxee Coffee, right across the street, is more of a doctor/young-ish professional hangout. Sitting in front of glowing screens, tapping away, becoming hyper-caffeinated on their drug of choice.

Celebration Station is my dog’s favorite place. He darts around the wooden playground equipment, favorite orange ball clenched in his jaws. His eyes dare me to catch him – I never do. Miles chooses when the game is over and stops; drops the ball and asks for a hug as only dogs can.

The playground is adjacent to the local elementary school, where Miles is a bona-fide celebrity. All the kids know him. “Miles, it’s Miles,” they shout, running up to pet him. Miles sits agreeably among them, soaking in their praise and pats on the head. He often looks at me as if to say: “Yeah, this is good. Of course I deserve it.”

And so, yesterday morning, when he spotted the white sneakers – before I did, of course – it made perfect sense that he would be happy. I wasn’t so sure. Which brings me back to my friend’s question, or rather, my answer.

I told her I wasn’t scared, and I remember being a little offended too. This NYC-area street girl be afraid in little ‘ol Charleston? C’mon. Not me.

But the truth is that I was a little scared in that moment. Not that this person would hurt me, or my dog, necessarily, but then again, I don’t react well to being woken up from a deep sleep. I was scared because this person leads a life very different from mine. I’ve had some tough experiences in my life – but I’ve always had a roof (in a house) over my head.

I was scared because the truth of that person’s life was something I didn’t really want to hear about on a Sunday morning. It might inconvenience me. On the other hand, I imagine what having a cup of coffee and some breakfast with this person would be like. What’s their story? How did they get to this point in their life? What has happened to them?

Perhaps my fear lies in the tension of the choice. I decided that Miles I needed to get back on Quarrier Street. “Let them sleep,” I thought to myself. Yeah, right.

For the rest of the day, I looked at people’s sneakers.

photo (30)

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I think about a million different things to write about every day. My dog’s latest piano composition, the lady smoking cigarettes, pushing a cart while trudging down Quarrier Street,  the guy who comes to our back door regularly looking for a few bucks so he can pick up his thorazine (i’m not kidding). While toiling away at my desk, using my best creative energy to write copy for work, I dream about the real writing I could be doing.

Then I sit at my desk at home and can’t think of a bloody thing. Part of it is that I want every word that flows from from my fingers pecking at little black keys to be perfect. Which I know is impossible – and yet, the voice says: “if you were really good, and talented, you wouldn’t have to try so damn hard.”

This is a great falsehood and I know it, but I still trap myself in the prison of perfection. And, so what happens? Nothing. I don’t write for fun or pleasure. I don’t take the time to just let the words come without judging myself.

Too wordy
Too many adverbs
Too many words nobody understands
Not good enough

The litany is endless.

I’ll never forget the first time I picked up a trombone. The slide made it different right away. I loved the fact that I had twist my torso at the right shoulder so I could extend the slide all the way out. “That’s too big for you,” the music teacher said. I was in 5th grade. I’ve played the trombone now for nearly thirty years – nothing motivates me more than being told that I can’t do something.

Red Leaf with droplets

But to get pretty good at it, I spent hours practicing scales and etudes. I didn’t date in college much, because I had to practice. I also listened to any kind of music I could find, and heard it as an extension of music history class. I loved thinking about how Bach and Joy Division sounded alike (It’s called the chaconne or ciaconna). Safe to say I became quite the music nerd and it’s never really left me.

Years ago, I sat in a radio production booth and dreamed about a show that featured interview segments and performances with local musicians. The joy that came with producing that show also came with plenty of hiccups. I taught myself how to use audio editing software, buttoning sound snippets together in front of a grey monitor display until my wrist and shoulder ached.

My production has actually improved from listening to great stuff – and that’s true today more than ever. I’ve written over on my tumblr blog about one such show, Welcome to Nightvale.

Hmmm…I think there’s a theme developing here. I have to practice. E.B. White said once that “Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.”

It’s time for some faith.

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Daily Prompt: The Glass

The glass is always half full when I’m in NYC!

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