My First Mammogram — Part 2

Real Men Do Wear Pink


And Breast Cancer

It has been a month since I posted a column about the experience of undergoing my first mammogram. And I promised I would keep you updated about my progress.

On Tuesday, April 28, I saw my doctor again after finishing two sessions of taking antibiotics she had prescribed for what she and the radiologist believed to be an infection in my right breast.

Please remember that there was what appeared to be swelling or “fullness” in that breast. There was also tenderness and pain. The doctors were especially concerned because of my family history: My mother died of breast cancer in 2010, after battling the deadly disease three times.

Each time it recurred, it was much more aggressive than the previous occurrence. Finally, at age 95 and literally worn out, my mother decided not to submit to any more surgery, and believed that radiation and chemotherapy would do more harm than good.

Several months after that decision, she died peacefully in her sleep one night. She had gone from being 120 pounds, down to about 80. But she was ready to go, and knew her shepherd would welcome her.

As for me, I didn’t sleep much the night before my doctor visit earlier this week. All sorts of things dashed in and out of mind. I was also nervous while waiting in the examining room for my doctor to come in. When she finally did, I told her that the 20 days of antibiotics seems to have been somewhat beneficial. There was less swelling or “fullness” in the breast; very little actual pain, but still some tenderness around the nipple.

After she probed, prodded and asked several questions, she had a smile on her face, which helped to lighten my mood. She said she believed the “spot,” or infection was gone. I shouted, “Yes!”  — but only inside my own head.

I knew there was a “but” — and there was. “We won’t know for sure until there’s another ultrasound and mammogram,” she said.

Remembering the pain, discomfort and overall strangeness of the previous mammogram, set in a place (The Women’s Breast Center) where I felt out of place, I began to negotiate. “How about just a follow-up ultrasound,” I asked, “but not another mammogram?”

After thinking about it for a few seconds, she said, “Okay, I’ll put on the referral just a follow-up ultrasound.” But when she saw the smile beam across my face, she added a caution: “But if the radiologist determines you still need a second mammogram, I’ll have to concur.”

My smile shrank. She gave me the referral form requesting  only the ultrasound test, and told me to call promptly to schedule the procedure. It’s been a day or so now, and I haven’t called, yet. Don’t worry, I will.

But I still hold out hope that I won’t have to face the sadistic robot, “Klaatu” — that imposing mammogram machine — again.

Stay tuned.




What price a community’s soul?: Spring break and The Almighty Dollar

Spring Break:

Rapes,  A Mass Shooting

And Other Debauchery


Several residents of the normally tranquil community of 12,000 in Panama City Beach, Fla., are deeply concerned that the annual rite of spring that brings tens of thousands of college students swarming to their hotels, restaurants, parks, beaches and city streets has gotten out of control recently.

“Chaos,” is how many  of them — and even some city officials — are referring to the gatherings that occur in March and April, featuring plenty of bikinis, swim trunks,  alcohol and drugs.

But the truth is, this prolonged, anything-goes party has been out of control for years. City and law enforcement officials, and many residents, have held their noses, breathed huge sighs of relief — once the students vacate the city limits — then clean up the mess and count the money the students pump into the economy. According to recent published reports, the economic boost, this year, is estimated at $90 million.

That’s a powerful incentive to overlook the excesses, the petty and serious crimes, the injuries, the overall nastiness and disrespect, and the cheapening of the community’s reputation and its desirability as a place for families with children.

What price will a community pay for its soul? That’s the question many have had to face in the past, or are facing now in this age of service economies and economic viability tied mainly to tourism and throwing big parties — Mardi Gras, Super Bowls, The Olympics, Spring Break, Freaknik.

Spring break in Florida and Atlanta’s old Freaknik, however, with the possible exception of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, seem to be in a category of their own.

The anything-goes attitude — with open drinking and drugging, sexual taunting and assaults, nudity, brazen defiance of local laws, and vulgar public displays, such as urinating on lawns in residential areas — appears to be the order of the day.

The tendency, so often, is for those tasked with enforcing the rules and regulations to look the other way, because strict enforcement will tick off those who have come to expect lax enforcement. The fear is they will pick up their beers and their wallets, and do their partying and spending somewhere else.

This season in Panama City Beach has been especially disturbing, however. In Mid-March, a 19-year-old, unconscious woman was allegedly gang raped on the beach — in broad daylight — while hundreds of other partyers watched, took cellphone pictures and video — or simply ignored it. Not one of them did anything to stop it. No one called the police.

The horrific incident would have escaped authorities’ notice, if police in Alabama — while investigating a shooting — hadn’t run across a cellphone video that showed the alleged crime in progress, and turned it over to police in Panama City Beach.

According to media reports, the woman who was the alleged victim of the assault told authorities she believes she was drugged before the incident, and that she didn’t report it because she couldn’t remember it clearly enough to do so.

Three men have been arrested in the case, so far, and charged with sexual battery, multiple perpetrators. Police say there may be other arrests. Two of the three in custody are students at Troy University, in Alabama, according to media reports, and the third is a student at Middle Tennessee State University. News reports say the Troy University students have been suspended by the school.

Even though the alleged sexual assault took place about two weeks before a shooting that injured seven people during a spring-break house party, it did not come to authorities’ attention until after that incident. A suspect is being sought in the shooting, too.

And it’s not just these particular incidents that have many residents riled up. According to reports, spring-break events have led to more than 1,100 arrests this year; the number of reported sexual assaults has doubled over last year, from  six to eleven, and the number of cases involving suspects considered armed and dangerous went up six-fold, from three last year, to 18 this year.

Those are staggering numbers for a community of just 12, 000 residents. But the city’s spring-break population swells to between 250,000 and 300,000, and the event seems to get bigger every year.

That was typical of the Freaknik spring-break “celebration” that grew to rule the city of Atlanta, after modest beginnings as a small picnic among college students who were mostly from the Washington, D.C. area, but attended colleges in Atlanta in the early 1980’s.

At its height in the mid-90’s, the event drew upwards of 250,000 revelers from around the country; and as its numbers swelled, the event became more and more raucous, and more disruptive to the lives of residents and the operations of the city.

There were times when city streets and interstate highways were shut down by thousands of parked cars, while their partying inhabitants were out preening, dancing, socializing, taking photos and videos of the goings-on and the massive disruption they were causing — as if that was the way things were supposed to be.

There many reports of wedding parties trapped and not able to make it to the church on time; of ambulances with emergency patients on board stuck in impossible traffic, trying desperately to get to hospitals.

There were many arrests for drunkenness, drug use, sexual assaults and other crimes. I know, because I was an editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time, and for a while, was the editor in charge of Freaknik coverage.

Those of us at the paper dreaded it each year. The moving, no-holes-barred, and often X-rated, feast was a nightmare to cover — to try and figure out how to deploy our troops; where the kids would congregate; how law enforcement might react; and how those assigned to cover it could move freely amid the chaos. We even had to consider if we could guarantee our reporters’ safety.

The same attitude that was at work at Freaknik — until the big party was basically shut down by city officials beginning in 1996 (when Atlanta was preparing to host an even a bigger party — the ’96 Olympics,) is that students will flock to it because it allows them the kind of freedom they can experience no where else, in no other part of their daily lives.

They can be their worst selves; they are anonymous travelers, partygoers in a strange land, where the only people who know them and their families are the comrades they bring with them.  That anonymity knocks down all the barriers. They can become simply one among a faceless crowd (mob really,) free to act however they want, free to satisfy long-pent-up desires and wishes, free to be hooligans, boors, Bacchanalia lovers — all under the banner of The Foolishness of Youth.

For too soon, they will have to clean up their acts, put on their business suits and go to work, taking care of families, and trying to make a mark on the world.

Students attend these events and act the way they do, because they can. They know anything is permitted, that officials will turn their heads because of the revenue generated by these monster parties. If officials crack down on the gatherings, strictly enforcing the rules, then the partyers will move on to another venue, where city leaders welcome their money — if not their debauchery.

City leaders in Atlanta, under then-Mayor Bill Campbell, eventually had enough of Freaknik. The city refused to grant permits for venues requested by those who wanted to hold events for the crowds. Police cracked down with strict enforcement, and the crowds faded. The revelers soon moved on to Daytona Beach, Fla., for awhile. I don’t know if Freaknik is still a “happening”; don’t hear any rumblings about it anymore.

The point is, yes, such events help fill a city’s coffers; create jobs, and can breathe new life into the financial health of a community. But at what cost? That’s the question Atlanta had to face, and is the question now before Panama City Beach’s leaders.

Eventually, a community must choose. How long do you continue to hold your  breath and hope that nothing much worse will happen? Is the chaos and carnage worth it?

What price your soul?

How many pieces of silver?








Order In The Court: a little kindness, please

The 53-year-old man standing before the judge in an Indiana courtroom, recently, might as well have been holding up a sign that says: “Will go to jail for food.”

At a time when we are continually being told that the Great Recession of 2008 is behind us, that unemployment is down, that companies large and small are hiring again, and consumer confidence is on the rise, what David Potchen told Lake County Judge Clarence Murray wasn’t what the judge was expecting to hear.

As reported by the Post-Tribune and chicagotribune.com, Potchen, who was before the judge because he was accused of having robbed a local bank, told Judge Murray he would plead guilty to the charges — if he could be assured that Murray would give him the maximum sentence of eight years in prison.

The judge, to say the least, was, at first, intrigued, and by the time Potchen finished his story, the man behind the bench was deeply moved.

“I hope to God someone reads about this and offers some help to you,” Murray said, according to press reports. “You’re not a throwaway, Mr. Potchen. You have value, sir. I’m always optimistic and hopeful that there are still good people out there who believe freedom is important.”

Potchen’s story:  The former welder, who had served two-and-a-half years in prison for a robbery in 2000, said he walked into the bank with a shotgun, this time, gave the teller a note demanding money, took about S1,600, walked outside, sat on the cub, and waited for police to arrive.

He was a desperate man and didn’t know where else to turn. He had been laid off from his $11-an-hour job at a rail car company, then lost the room where he was living in a local motel.

“I begged the guy don’t lay me off,” he said,  according to published reports. He said he would forfeit his health benefits and not seek a raise, if that would save his job.

It didn’t.

Things got so bad, he said, that he tried living out in the woods for a while, but just couldn’t take it anymore. “I couldn’t bear the thought of losing everything again.”

Now, there have been other cases, in other cities, of homeless people wanting to escape the frigid blows of winter, or mentally challenged street people seeking a safe place to crash for awhile, to get away from predators and others who hassle them. But in those cases, generally, such people might commit petty crimes hoping to land in jail temporarily, until they can figure out a better option.

But Potchen was insisting on the maximum sentence, because — being a convicted felon — he knew it would be difficult, if not impossible, for him to find (to his mind) a better long-term solution.

He had told the judge that, in his predicament, he felt like a throwaway.

His defense lawyer, Stephen Scheele, argued that his client just wants to work. “You have a fellow who is charged with doing something very serious,” he said, “but his motive by all appearances was not to rob this bank to enrich himself, but rather to put a roof over his head.”

Scheele said in a later newspaper interview that if a Post -Tribune reporter had not been in the courtroom that day, nobody would have heard about Potchen’s story. But as the paper, itself, reported, people all around the region did hear about it, and some of them wanted to come to Potchen’s aid.

Job offers started coming in from as far away as New Jersey, the paper reported. A shift supervisor for a company in Goshen, Ind., that manufactures frames for RVs, told the paper the company is always looking for good welders. “If they could arrange some kind of housing for him, I could carpool him in,” he said.

When asked why he would offer to help a man in Potchen’s situation, the shift supervisor said, “There’s a lot of ex-convicts in the world, sir. I had some legal trouble myself. But we’re always looking for people who want to work. We’ll see. We’ve got things to do if he wants to work.”

Offers of housing and donations of clothing followed. And after a considerable amount of complicated legal steps, including appeals to the parole board to release a hold on him, Potchen walked out of the Lake County Jail a few days ago.

We don’t know what kind of “end” this story will have, but, at least, there’s a happy “now.”

Apparently, Judge Murray’s optimism, belief in God, and his faith in the generosity of people who know a good cause when they see one, paid off.

Lake County obviously has a wise man on the bench. And the power of the press is not completely gone.






Harper Lee’s Big Secret, uh, Sequel

Go Set a Watchman, the To Kill a Mockingbird sequel that

is also a prequel, has the literary world on pens and needles

What is being called an historic literary and cultural event set tongues wagging across the globe when it was announced recently that literary icon and beloved author, Harper Lee, would be publishing a “new book” this July.

And no wonder, the stunning news came in the wake of the author, now 88 years old, soberly declaring just a few years ago that she would not be releasing another book. At the time, she bolstered that declaration, saying, ” … all I have to say” was said with the publication of her then one — and only — novel,  To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960.

That book, which according to industry reports has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, is a classic, on par with the best literature America has to offer, and it’s Pulitzer Price-winning pedigree helped spawn a classic, 1962 movie of the same title, and was also a driving force behind Lee being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.

The news of the new novel, however, was a seismic tremor. Fans and others who followed the “very private” author’s life, as much as is possible from a distance, were suddenly concerned that the elderly writer — who was reportedly suffering from hearing loss and macular degeneration, and had also suffered a stroke a few years earlier — might be incapable of handling her own affairs, and could be the victim of selfish “handlers” bent on exploiting her fame for their own gain.

Still others fretted that the new book might not be up to Lee’s high standards, which might be why it wasn’t published previously, and that it’s publication now would taint Lee’s reputation. These fans also believed that Lee — if she were truly in control — would not allow the publication of this book.

I have to admit I had some concerns, too, even though I was hoping, big time, that Lee was still in control of her faculties and publication of the book was what she wanted. This is such a rare occurrence — in my lifetime anyway. According to reports, Go Set a Watchman was written in the 1950’s, before To Kill a Mockingbird. The book includes many of the same characters who appear in the other book, but is set about 20 years later in time, when Scout, the young-girl narrator of To Kill a Mockingbird, is a working woman, who comes back to her small, Alabama hometown to visit her father and friends.

Lee’s editor at the time supposedly convinced her to shelve Go Set a Watchman and try to tell the story through the eyes of the young girl, Scout, which Lee did, to much praise, accolades and honors.

The earlier, unpublished book was then lost among other papers for decades, and only found late last year. Lee, herself, reportedly thought the manuscript was a goner. Concerns surrounding the elderly writer’s health and the mysterious circumstances connected with the discovery of the long-lost novel, led Alabama state officials to conduct an investigation to determine if Lee were physically and mentally capable of deciding how she wanted to handle her affairs.

That investigation concluded that she is — and as her literary agent has said — she is as quick-witted as ever. That is comforting and exciting news for those of us who appreciate her super-sized talent, her humanity and concern for others — evident in her work — and her determination to live her life in her small town and not be blinded by the bright lights of the big city, fame, fortune and the unrealistic demands of those who expect to virtually live in the back pocket of those they admire and literally claim for themselves.

She decided she didn’t want to be worshiped by fans, hounded by the media, or have to answer to others’ expectations of how she should live and what she ought to “give to the world.”

Too many other celebrities: great writers, singers, painters, dancers, etc., succumb — and fall down that rat hole she so carefully avoided. And, as her literary agent said: Although others painted her as a recluse, because they couldn’t get close to her, she was not a recluse — just private. And bully for her.

The day after Go Set a Watchman’s July 14 publication was announced, the book was already No. 1 with a bullet on Amazon.

Hooray for a woman who apparently lived her life in proper perspective.


The Man Upstairs, Religious Freedom

From “The Sayings of Money Back,” the oldest, living rapper…

I know y’all didn’t ask, but I got a lot of pet peeves. Folks always asking me, “Money Back, why you talk about religion so much?”

Folks don’t listen. I don’t talk about religion. Other folks talk about religion.

I talk about God — And Us.

How we act and how we oughta act, how we livin’ and how we oughta be livin’. Including me. Yeah, me, too. My foot slips on the path sometime — I ain’t gon’ lie.

God ain’t religion, though.  He’s God. He’s Life. Big diff’rence.

Religion is whatever folks wanna make it. Then, they can’t wait to argue with somebody about it.

But another thing been bugging the hell out of me lately is all these people talking about “The Man Upstairs, The Man Upstairs.”

And they be saying it, you know, talking about God. I don’t even believe they know it, but they dissing God.

They oughta read J.I. Packer’s book, “Knowing God.” He’ll set ’em straight. I read it clean through, and I’m a slow reader. Especially when there ain’t no pictures.

Pay attention to “Chapter Four,” and I betcha that little light in they head’ll come on bright as them fluorescents in Walmart.

The man upstairs? That ain’t God. That’s Jake, The Supa — and y’all know you can’t count on him for nothing.

Heavens knows, if your sink happen to back up — and even if you got water all over the floor, leaking down on them poor folks below you — Lord ‘amercy, don’t call Jake.

It might be a week later ‘fore that scoundrel show up. Then, you got to grease his palm to git him to do something.

Worse yet, you got to grease his palm just to git him to take your calls in the first place.

And he got that big, nice apartment upstairs — and don’t have to pay no rent!

Hell, I git religious just thinking ’bout that crook!

Another thing … and I know a lot of y’all git antsy when I talk about these things,  but …

I read online a few weeks ago (Yeah, I got me a computer and one of them smart telephones. Some folks say it’s smarter than me.) where a Islamic Court in Saudi Arabia sentenced a 20-year-old man to death, ’cause, the court said, he renounced his Muslim faith.

Whew! According to the online report taken from the Saudi Gazette, the young fella posted a video online that showed him tearing up a copy of the Koran, and hitting it with a shoe. A shoe?  Beats me, but …

Saudi Arabia follows Sharia Law, this report said, and under that, what they called “apostasy” demands the death penalty.

Over here, you can rip up just about anything you want, stomp on it, pee on it, set it on fire. And then just walk off without even cleaning up the mess.

And yet, a lot of folks here — in Indiana, Arkansas, Georgia and other places — arguing and fighting like crows over a thirty-pound June bug about what they say is religious freedom.

I may not be the teacher’s pet, but, did I miss something?

My First Mammogram

Color Me Pink:

Men, Mammograms

And Breast Cancer

Earlier this week, I had my first — and I hope, last — mammogram. And I can tell you that my wife has not been completely straight with me, over the years, about this procedure. Whenever I would ask her how it went, she would just quickly say, “It was uncomfortable.”

Well, I’m here to tell you — for me — it was really uncomfortable. Not quite as uncomfortable as, say, when a car, under which you are working, slips off the jack and falls on you.  Well, perhaps I exaggerate a bit. And while you’re “uncomfortable,” the technician tells you not to breathe, not to move. Or, you’ll have do it all over again.

When it was finally over, I complained to my wife, who is a veteran of these procedures. She looked at me, shook her head, and declared me “a wimp.”

I knew that look. It said: This test has proven itself countless times and helped hundreds, no, thousands of women discover the early signs of cancer that allowed them to get immediate treatment and save their lives. Don’t write anything that would scare women into thinking they should avoid this life-saving procedure.

I get it, and I encourage all women who discover anything out of the ordinary after a breast self-exam, and certainly most women over age 40, to get a mammogram and to push the other women in their lives to get the scans, too.

But, for me, this was new territory. A couple of months ago, I realized that my right breast was tender to the touch and was fuller (more fleshy) than the left breast. It would hurt whenever anything touched it, or If I moved my arm in certain ways. I figured I needed to get it checked out, because, in 2008, I’d had a similar experience with my left breast.

Of course, I was worried then, because I knew that the actor Richard Roundtree had been diagnosed with breast cancer many years earlier. He had survived it; is still with us, and still working. So, I knew that it was possible for men to get it. But, I didn’t know of any other male who had the disease, and I was under the impression it was pretty rare among men.

I guess that makes men with breast cancer special, but I didn’t want to be that special.

In 2008, my doctor ordered an ultrasound scan, and it was determined that there was “abnormal” tissue in the left breast under the nipple. I then saw a surgeon, who operated, removed all of the tissue in question. It was sent to a lab for examination and determined to be abnormal, but  not malignant. Thank God!

There was extreme concern on the part of my primary care physician, because my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer three times. After the first battle with the disease, each succeeding occurrence was more aggressive than the previous one. At the last occurrence, she was 95 years old — and tired. She said she wasn’t going to submit to any more surgery and wouldn’t agree to chemotherapy or radiation. She was done!  She added that “God made this body, and if He wants to fix it, He will. Whatever He decides is fine with me.”

She made me and my two brothers promise that, come hell or high water, she would not have to leave her home of 40 years until the end. After several months of in-home hospice care and my brothers there with her, providing around-the-clock care, she slipped away peacefully one night.

This week, after being told the time to show up at the Women’s Breast Center for my test, I was extremely nervous and feeling pretty awkward, too. I had been told to make sure I parked in the “Pink Parking Lot” connected to the medical office building and the hospital. Inside, everyone I encountered was female, the receptionists, technicians, everybody.

When a technician came out to get me from the waiting area, she called for “Mrs. Fuller.” I stood up; she look puzzled, then smiled. I was led to a room, told to remove my shirt, given wipes with which to remove the deodorant from my underarms, and handed a robe. When I sat down to wait for her to return, I noticed the imposing machine for the first time. It was a sobering sight, reminding me of Gort, the huge, humanoid robot protector of Michael Rennie’s character (Klaatu) in the classic 1951 sci-fi movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

One of the difficulties for me — and probably for many men — is that there isn’t that much tissue in the breast area to corral to get a good specimen for the vice, er, arms, er, mouth of the machine. I thought the technician would have to pull the flesh of my chest off the bones. The pressure was enormous, and it was difficult to not breathe or move. But finally, both breasts were done, and it was time for the ultrasound scan, which, by the way, was a breeze compared to dealing with Gort.

Now, let me say that the technicians I encountered were very professional and very pleasant, but they would not give me a clue as to how I did. I tried to read their faces to see if I could pick up any hint of what they had “seen,” but they kept telling me that a full report would be made to my doctor and I would have to see her for the results.

Having never experienced a mammogram, I waited nervously for my doctor to call. Time seemed to crawl by. Then, two days after the event, she called and explained that there was, indeed, a “spot” detected in my chest, but she and the radiologist believe it is an infection, a bacterial infection.

She said it seems to have some sort of fluid in its center. She prescribed an antibiotic I was to start taking immediately. After a month, I am to go back to see her, and then get a follow-up ultrasound to see if the growth has disappeared. If it hasn’t, she cautioned, then we will have to take additional steps, including surgery to remove the growth — and have it tested.

I was relieved, thanked God, and felt a deep appreciation for those friends and family members, who knew about the situation, and who had prayed for me and encouraged me to stay positive.

But, in the back of my mind, I keep thinking, “It’s not over — yet.”

I remember how, when cancer gripped my mother the first two times, we all were so confident that she would beat it. But then, there was that third time …

Because she was/is my mother, she and I, of course, have a lot of things in common. I just hope breast cancer isn’t one of them.

Stay tuned …


God’s not dead; He ain’t even sick

Word, Word, Word for days …

The noted rapper-philosopher, Money Back, takes the stage:

In a world gone mad since  The Big Fall,

You got all these folks talking off the wall:

God almighty don’ give up the ghost.

You believe that rap, you might be toast …

Word — God ain’t dead, and that’s not all,

If you feelin’ me, you’ll heed the call.

Word, Word — Word for days …

With the Right Rev. busy dialing for Dollars,

trying to put a bow on that big ol’ jet … Even he ain’t seen the blue sky yet.

God’s not dead, He ain’t even sick.

The mayor and fire chief battling it out in court — for all the marbles, big and small,

Trying to prove who’s heard the true call …

Word — God’s not dead and He still the judge.

Black men and white cops falling by the side. So much lead and blood, you ain’t never lied.

ISIS chopping heads, dealing out threats.

Word — God’s not dead, and He ain’t finished yet.

Terrorists attack in Paris, France. Tunisia and Yemen, the same ol’ dance.

Gang wars in Sweden, Mass graves in Iraq — and over and under the lip, Netanyahu’s flip-flop-flip.

Boko Haram, Columbine, Red Lake, Aurora, Newtown, Atlanta, G – A …

God’s not dead, and  He’s still on the way.

He’s not resting, not taking a break, not checking out spring on Saturn’s lake.

He rested one day when the world was done. But never sleeps, and He ain’t one to run.

No, God’s not dead. He’s feeling His oats.

With the President  and the Republicans fighting about EVERYthing — and you’d think Hillary’s emails were the holy grail …

But somewhere along that Beltline trail … is that slippery wide road straight to hell.

Word Up — God’s not dead; He ain’t even sick.

Elvis left the building and Michael’s gone, too; No matter how you feel, that’s the real deal. But God Almighty, The Most High, Most Holy — is still at the wheel.

God’s not dead, and that ain’t all…

His reservation’s been set since before Time, and to bet against Him ain’t worth your dime.

Word to the crowd, all out loud: He’s still coming, coming on a cloud,

And not like a child all meek and mild. Not riding in a manger, and not like a lamb…

Coming on a cloud so bright — it won’t even matter if it’s day or night.

You’ll see Him at once — in all His might. And no matter how you run, you can’t run out of sight.

I hope it ain’t winter in June, but — like He said — it could be soon.

Word, Word, Word all night.

GOD AIN’T DEAD ——– Aw’ight!

( Money Back looks out at the crowd, throws down the mic, then Obama-struts off the stage.)

The announcer walks out, shaking his head.  Picks up the mic. “Mr. Money Back will next be appearing in Macon, Peoria, Dallas, Rome and Tel Aviv. Thank you —- and good night.”









The Commander-In-Chief and Me

It goes without saying that there are a lot of reasons why Barack Obama is president of the United States of America — and I’m not.

The list, obviously, is long. But  what has been churning over and over in my mind lately is his seemingly endless amount of patience, which, I guess, springs from a deep reservoir of self-confidence and capacity to forgive.

Despite the way many among the ranks of the nation’s staunchest conservatives try to paint him as weak, slow to act and, often, indifferent, he is a rock, albeit it a thoughtful one, not given to knee-jerk bristling and idle threats, just to appear strong and decisive. When he says he wants to give diplomacy a chance to work, before using more violent methods, he means it.

But, again, his ability to be incredibly patient has me scratching my head. The recent revelation that two senior members of the U.S. Secret Service — one of them the No. 2 person on the president’s security detail — are accused of crashing a car into a White House security barrier, allegedly, after a night of drinking at a local bar, prompts me to write.

The duty of these men and others like them, remember, is to protect the president and his family from harm — from terrorists, crazed fence-jumpers and even, yes, drunks who run into the fence around the president’s yard.

If this were just the first embarrassing lapse on the part of the agency’s supposedly highly trained, dedicated and determined officers, the president’s calm sense of patience, and his continued confidence in the man he picked to straighten out the agency a few weeks ago, would be understandable.

Alas, this is not the first deeply disturbing incident that, I think, has put the president, his family members and others in serious jeopardy. It is likely just the grace of God that something horrible hasn’t happened, considering the apparent ineptness of those who traditionally have been characterized as willing to risk their own lives to protect the president’s. Since Barack Obama has been president, there have been far too many such confounding episodes to give any American citizen the confidence that their Commander-In-Chief and the leader of the free world is well-protected.

Just in the last six months, as a recent Associated Press report will attest,  “several top agency officials, including former Director Julian Pierson, have been forced out amid revelations of multiple, serious presidential security breaches.

“In September, a Texas man, armed with a knife, was able to climb a White House fence and run deep into the executive mansion before being apprehended.” That man, a war veteran, pleaded guilty to charges in the case this week and is awaiting sentencing. Earlier, in Atlanta, agents were surprised that an unauthorized man, armed with a gun, managed to get on an elevator with the president. Fortunately, the man apparently had no intention of harming the president, but, even so, the lapse could have led to tragedy.

Another major embarrassment for the agency, and a black eye for the nation, occurred nearly two years ago, during the president’s trip to attend the Summit of the Americas in Cartogena, Colombia. The trip was marred by allegations of agents and military personnel consorting with prostitutes and consuming copious amounts of alcohol. According to published reports, one local prostitute claimed  she could have easily obtained confidential, and highly sensitive, U.S. information — if she had been so inclined.

A recent internal investigation, according to the Associated Press, concluded that there were, indeed, serious problems in the agency. And a panel of former senior officials determined that the agency was too insular. Given all of that, I was surprised to see the president, on Thursday, following the revelation of the Secret Service gate crashers, calmly insist that he still has full confidence in  recently appointed Director Joseph Clancy, who is, by all measures,  an agency insider.

What’s even more troubling is that Clancy, the man picked to clean up the agency, according to published reports, didn’t even find out about the gate incident until days after it occurred. Does that sound like he’s really on top of things at his agency?

Nevertheless, a White House spokesman quickly confirmed that President Obama still believes Clancy is the right man to fix the problems. “Nobody has higher standards for the Secret Service than Director Clancy,” said Eric Schultz, according to the Associated Press.

OK, OK, I told myself, that’s just for public consumption, right? Behind closed doors, maybe President Obama was jumping up and down on the table in the war room, yelling at the top of his voice and throwing things against the wall to get the point across that he is pissed and isn’t going to take it anymore. I say that, because that is probably what I would have done.

But, like I said, he and I are different. For one thing, Barack Obama is one of the coolest dude’s I’ve ever seen. Just the way he walks — he’s got swagger for days, and the way he talks — he takes cool to it’s outer limits.

Part of me admires his sense of calm, collected control. There is one other man, whom I have encountered in my life, who exhibited that kind of calm at the center of his being; Oliver Tambo, who was president  of the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa, during the days of apartheid. I once sat across a table from him during a meeting in an editorial conference room at The Atlanta Journal- Constitution. His sense of being totally centered-down and calm has stayed with me all these years. And from what I’d seen of Nelson Mandela, and know about how he handled his many struggles, he must have been that way, too.

But, I just hope my president, Barack Obama, doesn’t let  cool betray him. Sometimes, you can be too cool.









“Black or White”: Kevin Costner Almost Made Me Cry

The movie “Black or White” opened in limited release at the end of January, with Academy Award winners Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer in the principal roles. I saw the trailers and the advertising push, and immediately thought that — while I was glad to see Costner out with another movie — it was not something I was dying to see. I believed I could already conjure in my mind the plot and what the director, Mike Binder, might be trying to sell. I assumed it would be mushy and stereotypical — another one of those heavy-handed attempts to show us that even crusty, old, white conservatives aren’t racists simply because they don’t like, and don’t want to be bothered with, black people. And they have a heart of gold, if you just dig deep enough. I wasn’t going to fall for the okey-doke.

But my wife and two friends said they really wanted to see it. I relented — and I am glad I did.

Here is the story line: A recently widowed and still grieving grandfather (Costner) suddenly finds himself having to raise his interracial granddaughter alone — no longer with the help of his beautiful and wise wife, who knew how to negotiate the difficult waters separating the two families who were a part of the little girl’s life. The girl’s paternal grandmother (Octavia Spencer), who got along well with the wife of Costner’s character, but never with Costner’s character himself, decides to seek custody of the granddaughter. The little girl is torn, believing she will have to make a choice between two families. Both families determine to fight for what they think is right.

I was captured by the truths of this movie and transported to another place, a place deep inside myself. I forgot I was “at the movies,” and felt I was just watching real people live their tangled, often gut-wrenching lives in front of me. At the same time, the movie reel inside my head was showing feature films from my own life, back to the days of growing up in Jim Crow Atlanta, where my mother often took me with her to the fanciest department store in town (Rich’s), not because she wanted to, but because she needed me to help her buy the right-sized clothing. In those days, black people could spend their hard-earned money in Rich’s, but they couldn’t use the dressing rooms, so my mother would find a dress she liked, then hold it up against her body and ask me if it looked like it fit.

And there were the protests going on all over the South, the Freedom Riders and Martin Luther King, Jr.,  Ralph Abernathy, Joe Lowery, Andy Young , Hosea Williams, John Lewis,  Fannie Lou Hamer, and so many others putting their lives on the line for freedom and equality. And, yes, Lester Maddox, who, before he became Georgia’s governor,  was famous for running black people out of his restaurant with an ax handle.

My mind also flashed to all the talk about there being a post-racial America after the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first black president. And then, other reels dredged up from my subconscious mind showed Trayvon Martin shot to death in Florida, Michael Brown in Missouri, Eric Garner choked to death in police custody in New York, and 19-year-old Renisha McBride shot  to death on the porch of a suburban Detroit home where she had gone to seek help after an early-morning car accident.

It was the realities on the screens in the movie theater and in my head that made me cry.

Post-racial? There is nothing “post” about race relations in America these days. In many ways, it certainly appears that we have lost some valuable progress. Maybe because so many of us were thinking things were better, we slacked off in our vigiIance to keep fighting to move beyond the bad old days. But just from looking at the numbers of violent incidents between whites and people of color, and the skyrocketing rise in the purchasing of guns and ammunition in this country, we may actually be going backwards, not forward toward a mutually life-saving future.

The Costner movie reminded me just how difficult — and fraught with tensions — race relations can be. It is something that has to be taken up intentionally, daily and worked hard. As if our lives depend on how well we manage it.  They do.

In my own life, I have seen how honestly working to overcome fears of differences and mistrust — and relying on the love that, deep down, you know should be there — can transform relationships. I have three beautiful “black” daughters and two of them are married to beautiful “white” men. It was difficult for me in the beginning, because I believed that I had failed, in some way, as a black man and as a father to my girls. I’d always heard that girls looked for men to marry who embodied the characteristics and traits they liked in their own fathers. I was crushed. But my daughters finally realized what was going on with me and told me that they did pick men who reminded them of me, and had qualities they saw in me. They were like me — only the skin color was different.

The transforming thing is, after that, I started seeing  some of those qualities, too. And it didn’t take me long to grow to love those guys. They are not sons-in-law anymore, but sons — my boys.




Time to bring Danny Ferry in from the cold

Former Atlanta Mayor and United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young is right. Suspended Atlanta Hawks General Manager Danny Ferry has been punished enough — more than enough. He should immediately be freed from the doghouse and allowed back into the office from which he made the key deals, player personnel moves and other decisions that have transformed the Hawks from a team that won only 38 games last season, to one that now stands atop the NBA’s Eastern Conference, ahead of  the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers, teams early prognosticators said would leave the Hawks in their dust.

But Lebron James’ Cavaliers and Derrick Rose’s Bulls , so far, have barely looked like they belong on the same floor with the Hawks. At the All-Star break, Atlanta was sitting at 43 wins against just 11 losses, and with more than a quarter of the regular  season left to play. That’s five more wins than during the entire regular season last year. No matter what happens the rest of the way, this Hawks team has had a remarkable run already, one that has made Atlanta’s fickle  — and sometimes fair-weather fans — take notice. And with the flops of both the Braves and the Falcons earlier, the team that nobody  thought  would set such a blistering pace — perhaps except for Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer — has bolstered this city’s sense of pride and given many who were ready to give up on professional sports here a reason to cheer with renewed  gusto.

And that feels good!

Ferry’s offense?  The ostracized general manager has been on an indefinite leave of absence, I believe without pay, since it was revealed that he made derogatory and racially insensitive comments about then-free agent player Luol Deng, who is African, during a conference  call with Hawks ownership and management last June. That revelation set off an investigation by the team that dredged up even more incendiary remarks by controlling owner Bruce Levenson that cast aspersions on the team’s fans and criticized game operations, including the choice of music and promotions used to boost attendance. Shortly thereafter, Levenson announced that he would sell his interest in the team. The announcement of Ferry’s leave quickly followed Levenson’s news. And it was reported last month that all members of the Hawks ownership group — that collectively had been known as the Atlanta Spirit — had agreed to sell their shares in the team and Phillips Arena. That process is said to be ongoing.

Andy Young, known for his reconciliation skills during his years in the civil rights movement and beyond, recently told a local television station — according to a report in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution — that if he were running the Hawks, Ferry would have never been isolated from the team and left unable to fully enjoy the success his management acumen had produced. When asked whether Ferry should lose his job, Young responded, “Hell, no.” He went on to say, “We’ve got a good team, we’ve got a good general manager. We just need to get a unified ownership, and I hope that ownership is grounded in Atlanta.”

According to the AJC, Young said he was speaking out at the urging of friends who believe Ferry is “getting a bad deal.” He is right. Ferry’s punishment has not fit the crime. I have followed Danny Ferry’s career since his time as a player at Duke, and there is nothing in me that tells me he is a racist. He made some unfortunate comments, which should have been handled differently. You don’t punish stupid remarks with the guillotiine. A hefty fine and a short suspension would have been sufficient.

Hawks management, however, has indicated it will likely wait until the team has a new owner and let that person or group make the decision about Ferry, as if that is the fair and proper thing to do. It is not. It is the cowardly thing to do. Don’t let a man who has been hung out to dry in a move that was overkill to begin with go on twisting in the wind indefinitely. Value what he has brought to the organization. He deserves better.