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Witness to Change: From Jim Crow to Political Empowerment

August 16, 2020

My country is standing at a crossroads over Human Rights. The USA's path forward will be determined by the November elections -- the most important of my lifetime. 

For the record, I am OVERJOYED with the selection of Senator Kamala Harris as the Democratic vice-presidential candidate. Not only is the first woman of color to be chosen for a major party national ticket brilliantly-qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, Harris is a skilled fighter, which is exactly what Senator Biden needs for the reckoning ahead. 

Since the public murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, I have been asking myself -- as have millions of white Americans -- "What can I do to finally bring an end to the systemic racism upon which the United States was built and that we have never fully acknowledged?" Unprecedented numbers have taken to the streets to legally protest, which I support.

But just as essential as public outrage is the private work that each of us must undertake to actively listen and urgently learn about the history that we were never taught. 

My most recent teacher is Louisiana legend Sybil Hydel Morial, author of WITNESS TO CHANGE: From the Jim Crow South to Political Empowerment. It was my privilege to recently interview her for the Game Changers podcast of the International Women's Forum. 

Born into the dehumanizing segregation of the Jim Crow South, Morial is a life-long activist, educator and author who rose to the mountaintops of political power. A college friend of Martin Luther King, wife of the first African American mayor of New Orleans, and mother of the current CEO of the National Urban League, Morial's perspective on the Civil Rights fights of the last six decades and wisdom on the way forward are compelling. 

Today, I am also thinking of another legendary African American woman who inspired us in different ways. Aretha Franklin died two years ago on August 16, 2018. 

Thousands waited for hours to pay their respects before she was buried here in her hometown of Detroit. Click here for the episode of POWERING UP from her funeral.

Michigan photographer Linda Solomon, whom Aretha trusted to photograph many of her most private moments, captured the soul of Aretha in her stunning book.  Click here for my conversation with Linda talking about her never-before-seen photos. 

The soul and future direction of the United States of America are at stake in the upcoming November elections. 

As I listen to the powerful voices of Kamala Harris, Sybil Morial, and Aretha Franklin, I am turbo-charged for the fight ahead that is urgently calling us back to the front lines. Hope to see you there!

What is Happening to America?

July 3, 2020

July 3, 2020     Auburn Hills, Michigan USA 

This weekend is usually a joyful celebration in my country. The 4th of July is a national holiday, full of fireworks, flags and patriotism to commemorate the signing, 244 years ago, of America's Declaration of Independence from Britain. 

But I don't feel like celebrating. Instead, I feel a combination of shame, horror and fear. 

Shame, for my country's history of land theft and violence against the Native Americans who called it home for centuries before Christopher Columbus allegedly "discovered" it. 

Shame, for the way this country was built on the backs of slaves and the violence, terrorism and rampant discrimination against African Americans that continues to this day. The USA's moment of reckoning over racism, which has triggered weeks of Black Lives Matter public protests and confrontation with police, is long overdue, with 15-26 Million Americans taking to the streets. 

Horror, for the aggression and violence by police and white citizens toward unarmed black citizens. It's been going on for centuries  But now, incidents such as a Minneapolis police officer pressing the life out of George Floyd for 8 minutes and 46 seconds are being caught on cell phones for all the world to see. It's horrifying. 

The images of black American men being violently beaten, shot in the back or suffocated are horrifying and heartbreaking to watch. But they are only symptoms of the disease that is eating away at America's soul. All you have to do is to consider three recent incidents, now witnessed by millions throughout the world, to know that there is something very wrong with America. 

First, Amy Cooper, a young white woman in New York's Central Park was asked to put her dog on a leash by a black man (who was bird watching). Instead of following the park rules and complying, she called the police and played the desperate damsel telling them, "I'm being threatened by an African American man."  She knew exactly how to play our culture's racial cards. Click here to watch. 

Second, unarmed Black Lives Matter demonstrators marching through a gated community to protest at the home of the mayor of St. Louis, Missouri were threatened with weapons by a husband and wife guarding their mansion.

The third incident occurred less than 10 minutes from my home in Oakland County Michigan. An irate white woman, irritated over a verbal dispute, jumped out of her car with a loaded revolver and pointed it at an unarmed African American woman and her teenage daughter. You have to watch it to believe it.  The woman and her husband have now been arrested and charged with felonious assault.  It could easily have been murder. Click here to watch. 

But most of all I feel FEAR. First, because the COVID-19 pandemic is out of control in the United States with no solution and no national leadership in sight. Partly, because too many Americans are refusing to wear masks, because their distorted idea of freedom is more important than any responsibility to other human beings. 

Finally, I'm fearful for the future of American democracy.

 Our problems didn't begin with our current president. The kindling has been piling up for decades. Our 45th president simply lit the match and continues to fan the flames of hatred and fear. 

I think of my country these days as that of an alcoholic on a self-destructive path. For those who love her, it is paintful to watch the USA stumbling toward rock bottom, as the world observes, in stunned disbelief. 

But here is what gives me hope. Throughout its turbulent history, the United States has re-invented itself several times.  Each re-invention was ignited by crisis. 

My country is in the grips of a health, economic, racial and leadership crisis. I believe there are better days ahead, because we are a resilient nation that has lost its way, not its heart. I guess that's worth a few fireworks. 

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