Monday, June 30, 2008

Street Drumline at the Taste

Walking through Windy's downtown loop provided me with another installment of what's becoming a series of encounters with black men from different walks of life that I'm posting on the ol' SOULution. I'm comparing it somewhat to the Washington Post's Being a Black Man series -- yes I'm an arrogant bastard, what writer isn't?

While walking through the 'Taste of Chicago', I came across a bunch of young brothers beating on buckets doing their street performances.

With his permit dangling from his neck, one of the drummers said he's still been harassed and moved off corners by Chicago's finest. Hmm? Maybe that's bullshit but with the CPD's reputation I find it more than likely true. Something I should definitely look into.

All around the Taste I see mostly young black men drumming, dancing, tapping and entertaining the crowds in an attempt to make an honest dollar. Here's where all the talk about shiftlessness and lack of personal responsibility and thuggery placed on the shoulders of young black men fades away momentarily. Teenage boys and young men flinging sweat as their art pours out to the public for a fistful dollars and cents. Here's where grind meets hustle. Here's why so many ryhme along with Young Jeezy and say they're a 'Go Getter'.

I'm interested in the background story: how much do they make, where do they come from, are they self taught, and where do they go in the merciless winters? Maybe I'll do my AAJ 'art' piece on them.

For a few more photos, go here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Black Kings (pawns, bishops and rooks) of Chicago

Today on my way home I decided to do one of my favorite activities, browse a Borders bookstore, which is right around the corner from my apartment -- did I mention I live in Hyde Park, haters!

Anyway, while upstairs I noticed on the other side of the music section gathered around chattering was a crowd of about a dozen or more black men playing chess. If it exists, am I in heaven? I have never seen and probably never will see this in the Bluegrass, where they use to sing proudly that the 'darkies are gay'.

Seriously, I almost cried. I also realized how my black experience in Louisville, KY has been robbed. This is why black professionals escape from Louisville (wink!) like a field slave from a burning plantation. Even if the city of Louisville were to encourage it I feel like that Kentucky Negro mentality would suffocate it with cultural suicide. It's not that we're all a bunch of riverboat Negroes who are satisfied with nickels instead of dollars, but there's just more diversity amongst black folk in Windy.

Here were black men with different dress codes from different walks of life -- some professional, some working-class, some from the streets, some nerds and others cool but all connected at three simultaneous games with each calling next after a clocked 5 minute game ended.

And all talking shit!

This isn't too surprising, finding brothers playing chess. Go to any public park in Chicago, New York City or L.A. or real big city and you'll find brothers playing this game. We hear so much about Tiger Woods taking over the lilly white game of golf, but few know the name of Maurice Ashley, who is the first and as of 2007, the only African-American chess grandmaster.

"If he take it with the king we got problems," said Steven Jennings. This brother and I talked a lot, mostly about basketball and the recent squabble between NBA stars and former L.A. Laker teammates, Kobe Bryant & Shaquille O'Neal. Most of the brothers took Shaq's side, except Jennings who defended Bryant faithfully.

"This ain't basketball," said one brother.

He wasn't referring to the Shaq v. Kobe debate, but how the game of chess has little to do with luck. It is more about skill, strategy and psychology, he said. Known simply as 'Big Pawn', he had the most original tattoo I have ever seen on his left forearm. It was a giant pawn with his nickname arched around it. He must REALLY love chess. 'Big Pawn' backed up his trash talking too, he never left his seat.

Like anything we do, the conversation was mixed with a playful mix of "jokes and riddles", though there were a few moments when the banter crossed to a heated argument that raised a few voices enough to where a Borders employees had to quiet them down.

I thoroughly love the game of chess. I found that even with what is otherwise a boring game to casual observers, the soulful banter found in barbershops or basketball courts, black men playing any game, sport or hobby adds an ebony flavor.

No matter, I've found my new hangout spot. And another reason I love Windy.

'Big Pawn' makes a move on Bro. Jennings

Monday, June 23, 2008

Honoring George Carlin

"Now speaking of dead people."
- George Carlin

A great freethinker has left. I do wonder, however, if Carlin, who was a well-known non-believer in all myths whether it was demons, unicorns, angels, gods, or centaurs, would even want to be eulogized? I doubt it if the remembrance is wrapped up in superstition. But I can say that the self-described 'old fuck' cheered me up with his grim, vulgar and yet enlightening satire. He called civilization out for some of its silly and lazy euphemisms based on lies and superstition, especially on religion and God.

I'll miss him. Rent or buy his DVDs.

M Dot @ the Academy

For those of you who are completely in the dark about my life and why the SOULution blog has been running slow, I moved to Chicago last week for a fellowship at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. The program is called the Academy for Alternative Journalism, which I was first alerted about last year as a freelancer thanks to former LEO Editor, Cary Stemle.

Thanks Stemle!

Yes, I've fallen in love with Windy. Something that is surely easier to do when you're living in the gentrified version of the historic Hyde Park neighborhood. Still, Chicago is a major metropolitan city with that midwestern authenticity, not dim like Gotham or as fake as Hollywood.

Our first day was the only day we went to the main Northwestern University campus in Evanston, which is by far one of the most beautiful campuses I have visited, with Lake Michigan as a natural aesthetic backdrop. The rest of the program will be at Medill's downtown Chicago campus. Graduate school at Medill is certainly in my future.

One of the interesting connections with my hometown was learning that the AAJ director, Charles Whitaker, was once a reporter for the Louisville Times/Courier-Journal back when the Bingham family still owned both publications. Whitaker, who also used to work at Ebony Magazine, told me today that he left back in '86 almost three months after Gannett bought the C-J.

Maybe you'll see a Q&A in a few days.

So this means that the ol' SOULution will have its usual content but with updates about the fellowship, stories I'm working on, and a few blog exclusives of Chicago events, interesting site, and people, with pictures thanks to my new Nikon S550. Yes, I'm doing it for the haters.

Friday, June 13, 2008

R.I.P Tim Russert

Most of the journalists I respect are best described as rebels or outlaws. Tim Russert was neither. Nevertheless he was a beacon of American journalism at its absolute best.

He was surgical.

Much of the press is a blunt instrument, employing a sledgehammer to perform heart surgery when a scalpel is needed. Chasing ambulances, hulking over police scanners, copying & pasting celebrity gossip, and abbreviating vital information is abhorrent. Yuck!

He was potent.

Watching the merge of entertainment and information in order to dumb it down has created a bastard child citizenry, a mix of BET's 106 & Park with NPR's News & Notes that is unrecognizable to the substantive and shallow alike. It does a disservice to both groups.

He was confrontational (yet civil).

Asking questions has become so hard because people are so sensitive. For good reason I assume, too many people have been unnecessarily harmed or embarrassed in the media. Often inquiry is a chance to explain yourself but we're all afraid of being caught -- gotcha! -- whether we're guilty or innocent is irrelevant if not given the chance to explain.

He was human.

During the broadcasts he talked about being a Buffalo Bills fan, his father, funny stories and small quips, wits and life. He preserved humanity in what's becoming a robotic institution of dead cyborgs who have no enthusiasm about the fourth estate. I won't speak for anyone else, but this thing you call the media, journalism, storytelling or writing is personal to me --- I LOVE THIS JOB.

For me, waking up on Sunday mornings to watch Meet the Press and Tim Russert was my secular sermon. The theme music of Meet the Press and Russert's narration was my weekly World Series. I would pretend to be the host of Meet the Press. Now as an incisive writer, rebel journalist and critical thinker, I often tell interviewees -- "...let me put on my Tim Russert hat on."

Surely we should know neither he or his show was perfect. Journalism in America has taken its share of credibility hits (Iraq War). Still, Russert made this whole experiment called democracy worth it. Once a week he carved out a tiny space in the public sphere that was a thoughtful, critical and open-minded place to participate.

R.I.P. citizen Russert.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Stemle Writes

Cary Stemle is back, blogger than ever! He's in Philly for the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies 2008 annual convention. Give him a look or two or three or more.

From No More False Dichotomies:

It’s always risky to generalize about a new place based on one day in a selected part of it. I can say confidently that the vibe here is much more open and friendly than I might've guessed. You hear stories about the east coasters being so gruff and whatnot, but so far, it seems people here are genuinely nice. By that, I mean, they speak to you easily without the aloof avoidance you find in some big metropolises.

It even kinda feels like Louisville, although the pace here is more forward looking. That seems to go with bigger cities, I suppose, because you can’t wait around for things when there’s so many people trying to get so many places.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The inadequate and unprepared black man named Barack

Was Louisville Metro Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh's comments on WHAS-11, yesterday, wrong? The debate was all the rage locally @ The 'Ville Voice and PageOne. It even broke national coverage on DailyKos. Maybe it was a bit of a pile by the bloggers due to a bad paraphrase chosen by reporter Joe Arnold.

You be the judge.

From WHAS-11:

Metro Council member Tina Ward-Pugh says she’s not convinced that Obama has what it takes to be president…Ward-Pugh says she wonders what the nine weeks between now and the convention will reveal about Obama.

Overall Ward-Pugh's comments sound and look like that of a sore loser. Hillary's farewell lettermakes Ward-Pugh look stubbornly bitter. Maybe Hillary supporters are on different schedules or time zones. In the end, Ward-Pugh's comments are mild compared to truculent Hillary supporters like Harriet Christian, who said that Barack's nomination represented the Democrats choosing an "inadequate black male" -- whatever that means

Hillary supporters angry over Barack clinching the nomination are a mixed bag, some legitimately disappointed that their candidate lost and others unwilling to respect, fathom or acknowledge that a black person won. Yes, even among progressive white limousine liberals there's resistance to admitting a black person is at the head of the table in the Democratic Party.

I predicted sour grapes. It was bound to happen in a historic race between the two biggest identity politics movements in American history. No matter who won, the prospect of either the first black or first female president was going to end.

For the second time in American history white women have been passed by with black men going first. Before you applaud, hold on, ladies. When black men were given the right to vote by the 15th Amendment in 1870, we had a few barriers between us and the ballot box such as the literacy test, grandfather clause, poll tax, Jim Crow and Klu Klux Klan to name a few. Don't say we got the right to vote before you as an accomplishment or proof that sexism is worse than racism when up until 1965, all black people couldn't vote without the fear of American terrorism visiting their doorstep the next day. Do not leave out the context of history.

I do wonder, however, when white women bemoan Barack's victory as somehow borrowing from the power of sexism, do black women figure in their equation at all? For whatever reason I never see, hear or read their point of view on the matter.

The best debate on the subject is still from a January broadcast on Democracy Now! between Melissa Harris-Lacewell and Gloria Steinem. Check it out here.

America's Blazing Saddle

Between writing for LEO and finding an apartment in Chicago, I heard America actually let the black guy win. Ever notice how America always has a surge of racial progress after a period of divisive, national devastation. After the Civil War, slavery ended. After George W. Bush, a black guy named Barack (Hussein) Obama is running for President.

There are plenty of editorials trumpeting the historic significance of Barack Obama winning the Democratic nomination. In both directions we hear exaggerated claims that racism is over or racism is everlasting. Whatever. Klantucky proved the former is a lie; Barack's nomination proves the latter cannot be wholly true.

We know intimately, America's racist foundations and continuations. However, we have committed acts of patriotic treason through the years knowing as much but still able to fight for American ideals even when actively rebelling against the American government and its agents of intolerance. We, the people of this flawed union have waged a beautiful struggle to make it more perfect. It's a better cause than fixing the same busted car engine or reconciling with the same cheating spouse or mowing the same tacky lawn.

Maybe the country isn't worth saving. Utopia has been a favorite for the American mind, seeking freedom dreams in foreign lands, ready to quit America often after one plush tourist visit. Few are willing to admit that those places too are filled with troublesome leaders, backward traditions, state-sponsored brutality and social tyranny. Canada, Sweden, Ghana, Venezuela or Cuba -- conflict is abound.

Quickly, let me undress the messianic dark side of the Obama campaign. I'll say this. Barack Obama is an imperfect, flawed politician for an imperfect and flawed nation. Presently, he represents our better half that occasionally illumines why this democratic order is worth saving. Eventually, however, he'll do or say or represent something ugly. Here's hoping it is later rather than sooner.

Rant over.