134th Street

My father was a board member for the Harlem chapter of Habitat for Humanity in the late 90s until his passing in 2001. While I wasn’t privy to the comings and goings at the time, my mom had later told me what made him stand out. Certainly, my parents appreciated the mission of HoH, especially at a time before GenTriFicatiOn accelerated in a post-9/11 New York City – it was to provide some of the working poor a chance to have a home of their own through ‘sweat equity,’ a principle where the future habitats would build their new homes (obviously with help.) Yet it was always perceived as a mission for rural towns far, far away from the urban hustle and bustle. What he understood, what my family understood, was that Harlem wasn’t that different from those towns where HoH put itself on the map.

Bobby was basically the guy who helped interview the people who would move into a handful of rehabilitated brownstones on 134th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. That in and of itself must have been one of the hardest things he ever tried because of how many families were being considered. This meant that chapter members had to go to the current homes of these future tenants, going to places that may have not been the safest to roam, more often than not.

There was a family in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn that was supposed to be interviewed, but quite frankly, some of the chapter members were scared shitless. Red Hook has also undergone significant upheaval over the last 15 or so years, but in 1999, 2000… yeah, you had to be careful. My father – who was born in North Philadelphia, had the nerve to be a black man in the heart of Boston for a few years, and raised a family in The Bronx and in Harlem – was unfazed. He rounded up fellow chapter members in a couple of cabs, a show to the family that at least HE was committed to helping THEM.

It was on this day in 2002 where the plaque you see here was laid in his honor. There’s another name here of another member who had passed on earlier that year, Lucy Watson. She was a woman who I never met, but I am sure shared the same hope for better that he did. When my family had learned that HoH would pay homage to him on the one-year anniversary of his passing, we were asked by the board and the Watson family if both names could be on the plaque.

As if we would have said otherwise, to have even said ‘no’ would have been an affront to both her family and the shared mission both believed in. That we believed in.

On the day of the dedication, one of the residents spoke of how my father was the reason that he got out from dire straits in his life. So many people spoke of his humanity, his empathy, his understanding that people who were pushing for a better life just needing a little bit of help.

I currently live a couple of blocks away from that plaque. Any time I need to get to 8th Avenue, I make sure to walk by to see it. It reminds me of how no matter how imperfect the better among us are or how we may stumble on our path, we are pushing for better. Lucy did. So did Bobby.

Find Your Fight, Then Fight Like Hell

(This is really for Twitter as Facebook already seen it in status form.)

In the city with the largest black population outside of the South, he ensured that aspiring and upwardly mobile black residents would never live in his buildings.

While an insidious crime was committed in the most famous urban park in America, he called for the return of the death penalty for five young minority kids who would be arrested and serve time for an act none had committed. He would never apologize for his charged actions.

He would do the seemingly impossible and manage to run casinos into the ground during times when the now-labeled 1% and wannabe high-rollers were coked up, well fed and happy to give their money away for mere entertainment.

Even in this era of the unending construction boom and mass GenTriFicatiOn, he somehow managed to remain a bit player in his own city, almost a clown among so-called peers who abhorred decades of Richie Rich-like behavior and impressive ineffectiveness as a “businessman.”

He has stiffed thousands in his businesses, cheated municipalities out of tax revenues and gravely insulted the very people that made his home city one of the most prominent locales on Earth.

And yet, with various sycophants in Big Media, this fraud of a human being had been given higher platforms than legitimate leaders. They thought he was good TV, good talk radio, good copy… though the only people who woke up every morning and asked “gee, I wonder what HE thinks about (insert topic here)?” were those very desperate sycophants.

In his second campaign for President of the United States, most in Big Media thought they would treat it like his relatively ignored first – with greater amusement than they would find with people who took politics, government and social concerns seriously. And yet, the moment he said “Mexicans,” they may have recoiled at his comments, but once more saw that… he was good TV, good talk radio, good copy.

As the campaign ran along unchallenged by these compromised outlets, it was Les Moonves, the now-chairman of CBS (and yes, the last full-time employer of yours truly) who said multiple times internally and in public that he may be bad for the country, but great for ratings. His fellow media executives, including Jeff Zucker of CNN and former one-man apocalypse of NBC, amplified the candidate because once again, good TV. (And some of you reading this played into their hands because this was all just entertainment to you, too.)

We can go deeper into the campaign itself, but there’s no need. What should be understood is that when the primaries took place in New York, Big Media made a decision: keep chasing the shiny new toy of Bernie Sanders – who was just a Brooklyn boy… that engaged in a little white flight from the region like many others in the 70s – and don’t drop the bombs that could kill the nativist’s campaign in a hometown that absolutely hates his guts. (Only “America’s Mayor” could have brought such rage up to that point.) They had chance after chance to ensure he would never get past the primaries. They folded.

Let us be reminded of that as the reins of the executive branch of the government are about to be handed over to the biggest sociopath and biggest con man in American history. Be reminded that this could have been stopped long ago by the folks now suddenly doing their jobs. Be reminded that because of their complicity, we have to fight a bit harder than we already were planning to. Most of all, let us be reminded that this is day one of the greatest fight of our lives.

Be encouraged that plenty of us are ready to go to work.

Find your fight, then fight like hell.

Dear 2016

Dear 2016,

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With no regards,
Jason

P.S.: As for your boy 2017, a preemptive…

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P.P.S.: I know there are plenty of people who fight against the whole “this year was horrible” sentiments because they don’t see time as a stable, solid construct. And that’s fine if all corners of society were not built with firm calendars in mind. Since they are, though, we can be honest and say that the last twelve months have been pretty rough on wide swaths of society. (In fairness, on an individual level, many of you may┬áhave enjoyed a bountiful year while others struggled mightily.) The best wish for 2017 is that everyone survives the fight that’s sure to come.

And fight we must.