Sam Greenlee was underappreciated, disgruntled, professionally disemboweled and perpetually agitated.
His sudden death at the age of 83 offers opportunity for reflection on a man trapped in the suspended animation of one great work that briefly elevated, then haunted, him into his last days. An apprehensive and highly educated foreign service officer who abruptly quit the business of American global dominance in anguished pursuit of a lifetime in written word, Greenlee spawned like a lost child of Ralph Ellison.
He will not be forgotten, but he will also be remembered in the starting lineup of a tortured lineage of creative black literary minds way ahead of their time. From George Schulyer ("Black Empire") to Ellison ("Invisible Man") to Chester Himes ("If He Hollers Let Him Go"), hard shift to Greenlee and then John Edgar Wideman ("Philadelphia Fire"), to Brent Wade (the "Company Man" genius who just ... went missing) and now Todd Craig ("Tor'cha"), they and others are temporary flashes of a fire of brilliant black men's acrimony shared through risky, genre-bending books.
For years I subscribed to the notion of "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt!" It was a mantra that helped a young boy cope with name calling and "check sessions," so that even as you were getting talked about or "checked" you were cool as a cucumber – as long as the person didn't put their hands (or feet) on you.
As I grew into adulthood, I had many a lesson that disproved that notion. And certainly over the past several weeks, we've all been schooled in the power of words and the repercussions of choosing them poorly.
Against the national backdrop of the Donald Sterling saga, we had two unscripted local monologues captured on camera for continuous replay, consideration and deliberation; the first by Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks and the second by my Fox 13 "Insider" counterpart, Andrew Clarksenior. I'll deal with the latter first, as I was directly a part of the discussion with Clarksenior, and the first to check him on his comments.
Donald Sterling's racist rant about blacks last month put a huge amount of focus on professional athletes. Many sports writers and fans have labeled today's athletes as spoiled, ungrateful, prima donnas who have no appreciation for those who came before them.
You can count me in this group. But, if what I have been seeing over the past two weeks continue, I may become a believer in the fledgling view that some athletes are beginning to "get it."
First, NBA players made it clear to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver that they would boycott playoff games if Sterling was not banned from the game. The players won. Sterling was not only permanently banned from the NBA, but the league is in the process of forcing him to sell his NBA franchise.
Thus far the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag has failed its primary mission. Aside from 53 girls who managed to escape in the early portion of the April 14, 2014 attack, not one of the over 200 remaining Nigerian school girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorists has returned home. Does that mean that hashtag activism is a pointless concept or that affecting real change via social media is impossible? Absolutely not.
Successes and failures of #BringBackOurGirls
Created by Nigerian lawyer Ibrahim M. Abullahi, the hashtag has been tweeted over one million times. People all over the world, celebrities and even First Lady Michelle Obama have participated in the campaign. Though a handful of American media outlets reported on the mass abduction in the first week of the crime, updates on the South Korean ferry disaster and the missing Malaysian plane still dominated the international news headlines.
That an embattled African National Congress won the latest round of South African elections was not at all surprising. However, this particular election was a curious inflection point in the post-Mandela era, presenting a number of alarming transitions for what was, up until very recently, Africa's most powerful and stable democracy.
In the wistful wake of legend Nelson Mandela's passing, South Africa reveals troubling signs. The country is not really the relative oasis of continental modernity and democratic self-control that it's hyped itself to be since his historic 1994 presidential win. The elections, in which an entrenched ANC machine barely avoided a split government, injected gloomy uncertainty into South Africa's future, and refractured what little sense of reconciliation there was in the postapartheid era. Such unease threatens to push a fragile country deeper into poverty and resets questions on whether or not its black majority will recover and eventually prosper from years of brutal segregation.
The once hopeful post-colonialist story of South Africa is now battered by crime, poverty and HIV/AIDS, forcing an uncomfortable re-examination. Contemporary South Africa isn't playing out like a feel-good Invictus group hug. Rampant corruption—South African ranks 72 out of 177 on Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index—has always been a tell-us-something-we-don't-know fact of life in the nation of 50 million, as has bribery and laughingstock leadership in the form of current President Jacob Zuma.
I'm so tired and weary of the people who are currently guilting anyone who is sharing light news and celebrity scandal in the place of constant posts about #BringBackOurGirls.
Some people are all on Facebook and Twitter saying "WHY DO YOU CARE ABOUT SOLANGE WHEN 200 GIRLS ARE STILL MISSING IN NIGERIA?" and I am here to tell them to relax and go have a seat somewhere. It's spring. Park benches are now available so people can go #OccupyaSeat.
Are we all so simple and basic that we only have the brain capacity to care about one thing at a time? We are not. Our brains are not Windows 95. We can keep more than one program going at once, and the assumption that our interest in the gist and gossip of Elevator-Gate makes us care less about the 300 girls who were kidnapped in Nigeria is pretty disrespectful.
Are you tired of complaining to family and friends about things you feel powerless to change? Or, as college costs continue to climb and student loan debts increase, do you or someone you know feel helpless that your opinion could make a positive change?
If you answered yes, know that the federal government is giving you a chance – now through May 27 – to speak up during an important public comment period. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) wants to learn more about the quality of career education programs. These programs, offered by a variety of for-profit colleges, have raised concerns about greater student debt and poor employment outcomes. These schools are also large beneficiaries of federal student loan dollars.
If enough collective voices – organizations, educators, consumers and others – speak in support of consumer protections, for-profit colleges' 'rules of the road' can and will change for the better.