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“Being…” – Lessons in Svādyāya (an expanded and “renewed” Tuesday post) May 17, 2022

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Be humbly grateful as we find enduring compassion and balance together. 

This is an expanded and “renewed” post for Tuesday, May 17th. You can request an audio recording of any of these practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.)

BEING GRATEFUL

“Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.”

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– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

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“If you’re not happy with what you have, you’ll never be happy with what you get.”

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– Rabbi Noah Weinberg

Yesterday, I ended the practice with a philosophical reminder that life is precious and, some would argue, mathematically rare. It’s a simple idea that most people can agree upon (even when we can’t agree on when life begins – or ends). That’s why we have all those pithy statements life “life is a gift,” “this moment is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present (in English),” and – one of my personal favorites – “your presence in this present moment is also a gift.”

Here’s the thing about gifts though: When we receive them, we give thanks. Even when we don’t like or want the gift and even when we would prefer something else, we say thank you. When we really, truly, appreciate the gift, we might go into great detail about how much we appreciate the gift, why it is perfect for us, and/or how it will make our life better. We may even find ourselves giving thanks long after we have received the gift. In fact, every time we use it and/or think of it, we might express a bit of gratitude. And all of that gratitude is inextricably connected to our happiness and well-being.

What happens, however, if we are simultaneously receiving our blessings in one hand and having them taken away from the other hand? What happens if we are struggling to hold on to our blessings? What happens, if something was passed down to us and we not only took it for granted, we never really gave thanks?

I’ll tell you what happens. We struggle. We fear. We despair. We may even feel hopeless. In those moments, we may not think of expressing gratitude. Or, we may think giving thanks is too hard given our present challenges. And, sure, yes, it may be hard. But, it’s not impossible. In fact, I would argue that it is essential. It is essential that we give thanks for the rights and the blessings that have been given to us. It is essential that we express gratitude for the people (adults and children) who fought and struggled to get us where we are today. To do that, however, to really appreciate what was done for us, we have to know our history.

We also have to get/understand our history – something, I’ll admit, was sometimes beyond me. Even though I’m Brown. Considering I didn’t always get it, I shouldn’t be surprised that others (still) don’t get it.

BEING BROWN

The following was originally posted in 2020. You can practice svādyāya (“self-study”) with this post, by putting yourself in my shoes or the shoes of some of the other people mentioned. You can also practice svādyāya by noticing what resonates with you, what parallels your own experience, and what feels odd to you.

“I stopped explaining myself when I realized other people only understand from their level of perception.”

– Anonymous

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“…we lived in an integrated neighborhood and I had all of these playmates of different nationalities…. I just couldn’t understand what was happening because I was so sure that I was going to go to school with Mona and Guinevere, Wanda, and all of my playmates.”

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– Linda Brown, quoted in a “Black/White and Brown” produced by KTWU Channel 11 (May 3, 2004)

For a long time, most of my life, I didn’t get it. How could I get it, as odd as it is to understand, it was outside of my experience.

I am related to some of the smartest people I know –and I know a lot of really smart people. My father has a PhD and taught doctors, his mother was a school teacher, my maternal great-grandmother and both grandmothers taught Sunday school, and my mother worked with doctors and lawyers – so I didn’t get why they made such a big deal about my grades or my education. I appreciated it when my parents arranged things so I could enroll in special programming (like “Research and Development”), but sometimes I kind of took it for granted. Going to a private school, for instance, was just what my brothers and I did sometimes. Granted, one of my brothers ended up in private school after my parents were informed he would be bused to a “Black school” as part of a desegregation plan in the 80’s (which I thought was beyond silly, but I didn’t spend too much time thinking about why the plan existed (in the mid-80’s!!!). I didn’t get it; it was outside of my experience.

My maternal grandfather owned bars in Houston, like the Sportsman, and supper clubs, like The Club Supreme, which was part of the “Chitlin’ Circuit” (venues owned and operated by and for African-American audiences during segregation). I grew up hearing about the great talents he booked and about people like Sammy Davis, Jr., Harry Belafonte, and the Supremes stopping by the house for dinner. Sometimes I would walk into Club Supreme, look down the dark and dusty ballroom to the stage at the back and imagine what it was like in its heyday. When I walked next door to the Sportsman, owners/editors of newspapers, bankers, and business owners seemed to not only know my name, but also my GPA. Sometimes I thought it was weird – especially when they would tell me they were holding a job for me when I graduated from college – but mostly I just thought part of being a grandfather was being proud of your grandchildren; I figured he must talk about me to his customers because that’s what grandfathers did. I didn’t get it; it was outside of my experience.

“I was kind of afraid at first. I didn’t talk about it very much, I guess, because I was afraid it would get back to someone who would make trouble.”

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– Linda Brown, age 17, in a 1961 New York Times interview

In May 2004, I finally started to get it. It was the 50th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and as people were celebrating, remembering, and producing documentaries, I was doing the math. In doing the math, I finally really understood that Black people not being able to go to the school of their choice wasn’t part of some distant history lesson. It was part of living history – it was part of my family history. The teachers, administrators, farmers, businessmen and businesswomen, police officers, doctors, nurses, insurance agents, authors, truckers, military personnel, farmers, and preachers in my family successfully did what they did – not because they had the economic and educational advantages that they gave me, but in spite of not having what I took for granted. My parents grew up in the South, in the shadow of Brown v Board, in a state where the Attorney General actively worked to keep school segregation legal despite the U. S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling. The people who worked behind the bar and sat on the barstools at my grandfather’s clubs knew me not because my Paw-Paw was some random grandfather proud of his random grandchildren, but because they all understood what I did not: my brothers, cousins, and I were symbols of progress and change. We were proof that the world – or at least our little corner of the world – was getting better, more equitable and more just.

When my grandfather died, people seemed to come out the woodwork. I kind of expected the elders. What I didn’t expect were the people my age, people who wanted to remember and celebrate a businessman in the community who had financially supported the education of young people in the community. They came to celebrate and remember, because they got it.

“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

– Supreme Court Justice (and former NAACP chief counsel) Thurgood Marshall referencing his SCOTUS successor in a Newsweek interview (dated October 28, 1991)

Linda Brown, the student at the center of Brown v Board, was actually part of three school segregation related lawsuits: the one SCOTUS ruled on today in 1954; Brown II in 1955; and a case filed by the adult Linda Brown in 1978 (Brown III), which was re-opened and appealed through the late 80’s / early 90’s. The first case, officially filed as “Oliver Brown, et al v Board of Education of Topeka, et al,” was a class action lawsuit filed by Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP’s chief counsel, for thirteen parents on behalf of 20 school-aged children. However, the case itself was a test case and symbolic of several cases across the country. The case in Kansas was selected by the NAACP as the pilot case, because it was considered more Midwestern than Southern, the Brown’s neighborhood was desegregated (but the local school was not), and Oliver Brown was selected as the named plaintiff because he was a man. (The idea being that a male plaintiff might be considered more seriously by the courts and the ruling might carry more national weight if inequality could be proven outside of the South.)

While the unanimous 1954 ruling is celebrated as a landmark victory, it was more symbolic than anything else. The Supreme Court first ruled that there was no such thing as “separate, but equal” – at least not as schools existed at that time. Then, in 1955, SCOTUS ordered states to desegregate “with all deliberate speed” – but, here again there was no timetable and the interpretation of the very poetic phrase was left not to the NAACP or the plaintiffs, but to the states.

“It’s disheartening that we are still fighting. But we are dealing with human beings. As long as we are, there will always be those who feel the races should be separate.”

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– Linda Brown, in a 1994 New York Times article (around 40th anniversary)

Look around today and you will see the legacy of Brown v Board. There is some positive, some signs of progress; there is also some negative. Were Linda Brown still alive today, she could easily file another lawsuit…on behalf of her grandchildren or even her great-grandchildren. Part of the legacy of Brown v Board is living in the shadow of the Plessy v Ferguson concept of “separate but equal.” We can say it’s the shadow that makes us appreciate the light; but, at some point we need more light.

“I didn’t understand what was happening then, but it was clear that Brown versus Board of Education was a necessary victory. It might have been a little flame, but it served to set off a mighty flame. To me, the impact of Brown is best seen in the increasing numbers of black professionals today. These are the people that, after 1954, were able to have some degree of choice. This surely made a difference in their aspirations and their achievements.”

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– Linda Brown, in a April 29, 2004 speech (marking the 50th anniversary) at Chautauqua Institution

SVāDYāYA I: BEING LINDA 

This year and last year, I started May 17th practice with a visualization exercise inspired by one that Shelly Graf (Associate Director of Common Ground Meditation Center) offered in 2021. As I explained in last year’s post (and in the practice), the exercises we offered are different, except in the fact that they provide an opportunity for svādyāya (“self-study”). My version of the exercise may land different (now that you have the background), but if you have another few moments, please check out last year’s post to read about the visualization and related insights.

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Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “05172020 Brown”]

Linda Carol Brown

“When they won, it set a lasting legal precedent. [Linda] Brown was attending an integrated junior high school by then, and she later recalled the initial desegregation of local elementary schools going smoothly. But over the course of her life, she saw the reality of school integration fall short, locally and nationally.”

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– quoted from the 2018 Chalkbeat article entitled “In her own words: Remembering Linda Brown, who was at the center of America’s school segregation battles” by Sarah Darville (posted May 27, 2018)

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### NAMASTE ###

Svādyāya I: Being Linda (the “missing” Monday post) May 19, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
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[This post is related to the Common Ground Zoom practice on Monday, May 17th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.]

Patricia Rayborn has written several books and essays about race, religion, family expectations, and Oswald Chambers, who asked, “Would I recognize God if He came in a way that I was not prepared for?”

Another way to phrase that is: “Would you recognize the Dharma (Dhamma) if it came in a way that you were not prepared for?” (Or, not expecting?)

Keeping all that in mind, if you have a moment, I invite you to participate in a little exercise. It is an exercise in svādyāya (“self-study”), partially inspired by a visualization exercise guided by Shelly Graf, Associate Director of Common Ground Meditation Center on Sunday. While they had some teachers, staff, and volunteers from the center visualizing, imagining, a future moment, on Monday I used it to guide people back… to some past moments.

“Hey, you know, everybody’s talkin’ about the good old days, right
Everybody’s talkin’ the good old days, the good old days
Well, let’s talk about the good old days
Come to think of it as, as bad as we think they are
these will become the good old days for our children, so um
Why don’t we, ah… Try to remember…”

 – quoted from the intro to the song medley “The Way We Were / Try to Remember” by Gladys Knight& The Pips

Take a moment to get comfortable. Make sure that your breath is deep. Then, imagine your “first day of school.” It can be the first day of school that you remember – which may not actually be the first time you went to a school outside of your home. Conversely, maybe it was your first day at a new school; maybe your first day of school in a new state or even in a new country. Just take a moment, maybe even read this and then close your eyes, and remember what you were wearing and how you felt.

Think about how you got to school: Was it in your neighborhood or somewhere else? Did you walk? Ride a bus? (If so, was it a school bus or public transit? Do you remember what the driver looked like, or even their name?) Did one of your parents drive you (or in some other way accompany you)?

Keep going. What about the other students? How did they look? What were they wearing? Who was your first friend? Or the first person you met that didn’t become your friend? What did your favorite teacher look like? What about your least favorite teacher? What about your principal and assistant principal? Do you remember any of the other staff?

Take a moment to soak up that imagery. Now, imagine the first day of school for your child or a child with whom you are very familiar. Can you visualize the answers to the same questions?

How different is/was their experience from your experience? How many years passed in between?

“Discernment is God’s call to intercession, never to fault finding.”

– quoted from “May 3 – Vital Intercession” in My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers (although it is also often attributed to Corrie ten Boom)

At the beginning of Monday’s Common Ground practice on Zoom, I guided nine people through this exercise (after ascertaining that, between the 10 of us, we had gone to school in 14 states within 2 countries. (I didn’t count the cities, but it was more than 14). I didn’t ask anyone’s age, but my guess is that there was at least one person in the group in their 20’s, several of us in our 50’s, and possibly someone (or two) in their 60’s – and then some in between. And, while there were some overlaps in states, there was some diversity… in the states and in the people.

Suffice to say, if we had talked about it afterwards, we would have shared some similar experiences and some really different experiences. Yet, there we were, all on Zoom, sharing an experience. More to the point: having the resources to share the experience.

And yet, each of us experienced the exercise and the practice in different ways, because of our previous experiences – include those school experiences. More importantly, those school experiences are part of the foundation through which we experience all of our current experiences – even when we share them.

Consider that even when we don’t think about this foundation – and how it influences us – it still plays a part in how we are currently moving through the world. It also plays a part in how we interact with people who had different school experiences – or we perceive to have had different childhood experiences from us. It plays a part in how we make friends (and, to a certain degree, if we make friends with people outside of our first family, tribe, and community of birth). It also plays a part in how we see ourselves (and how we understand our place in the world).

Lack of awareness about those differences – or assumptions about those differences, can create conflict. It can also compound conflict; especially when we are not aware of our preconceived notions and/or biases. Lack of awareness can increase the suffering we experience and inflict, as well as prevent us from alleviating our own suffering.

“When they won, it set a lasting legal precedent. [Linda] Brown was attending an integrated junior high school by then, and she later recalled the initial desegregation of local elementary schools going smoothly. But over the course of her life, she saw the reality of school integration fall short, locally and nationally.”

– quoted from the 2018 Chalkbeat article entitled “In her own words: Remembering Linda Brown, who was at the center of America’s school segregation battles” by Sarah Darville (posted May 27, 2018)

Monday, May 17, was the anniversary of the landmark United States Supreme Court case known as Brown v. Board of Education. In getting ready for the practice, I experienced a little sadness that we are not further along as a country (when it comes to racial and class disparities, as well as gender inequality). I experienced a little anger that, throughout this pandemic, we saw those disparities in who was able to show up for virtual classes and who was walking to their school yard (or a restaurant or Apple store) so they could use the internet. And, while I admire local business owners and wealthy celebrities who support the school systems in their areas, I can’t help but be frustrated that (a) private citizens seem to be doing more than our municipalities (or federal government) and (b) that the private citizens who seem to do the most are those who are most aware of the disparities because they lived them.

Yes, I was feeling sad, angry, and frustrated – even a little judge-y. What I wasn’t feeling was a ton of gratitude. However Brown v. Board of Education, while more symbolic than practical (and apply-able) in 1954 (let alone 1955), was a “first step” for which I personally do feel grateful. In getting in touch with the feeling of gratitude – without dismissing or suppressing those other feelings – I thought about Shelly’s exercise. And I decide to go back. But, I didn’t want to go back in order to pass judgement on anyone’s experience. Instead, I wanted to simply raise awareness around our individual experiences (and maybe consider how we would feel if we walked in Linda Brown’s shoes).

During the practice, I mentioned the details of all three Brown cases (which you can read about in my 2020 blog post) and the ways in which (energetically speaking) we house and process our life experiences. Of course, no discussion about Brown would be complete without referencing Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (who was then serving as the NAACP’s chief counsel).

“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

– Supreme Court Justice (and former NAACP chief counsel) Thurgood Marshall referencing his SCOTUS successor in a Newsweek interview (dated October 28, 1991)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice. (However, I did post a “Brown” playlist in 2020.)

### UPEKŞĀ (EQUANIMITY) ###

Because Every Vote Counted (Part 3): more aptly titled “To Ensure Every Vote Counted” July 2, 2020

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[Surprise! This is an expanded version of two more events I mention during classes on July 2nd: the anniversary of the birth of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. ]

“The issue in this case is not whether declaring a war on illegal drugs is good public policy. The importance of ridding our society of such drugs is, by now, apparent to all…. Precisely because the need for action against the drug scourge is manifest, the need for vigilance against unconstitutional excess is great. History teaches that grave threats to liberty often come in times of urgency, when constitutional rights seem too extravagant to endure.”

 

– Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in the dissenting opinion on Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives Association, 489 U.S. 602 (1989)

 

Freedom. Liberty. Independence. We’ve already established that when Caesar Rodney cast his vote for independence, today in 1776, his vote did not extend freedom, liberty, or independence to all humans within his territory. But, that is not the end of today’s story. Exactly 132 years after Caesar Rodney’s famous ride to cast a vote for independence, a baby boy was born to a railroad porter named William and his wife Norma, a teacher. This son, a descendant of slaves on both sides, would spend his whole life working to extend those freedoms to all and today in 1964 (on his 56th birthday) he would receive a great “birthday present” in the form of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s go back to Baltimore, Maryland on July 2, 1908.

William and Norma Marshall named their son Thoroughgood, which he would later shorten it to Thurgood. The Marshalls were a Black family, the descendants of slaves. William and Norma taught their sons about the Constitution and the rule of law. William even took his sons to listen to court cases, which the Marshalls would then debate. Thurgood Marshall would later say that those early debates with his father turned him into a lawyer. But he wasn’t just any lawyer: he was the “winning-est” attorney in the history of the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS), the first African-American United States Solicitor General, and the first African-American to Supreme Court Justice.

“If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”

 

The Gospel According to John  (8:36) and motto for Lincoln University (Oxford, Pennsylvania)

 

“Veritas et Utilitas (‘Truth and Service’)”

 

– motto for Howard University (Washington, D. C.)

 

“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

 

– Supreme Court Justice (and former NAACP chief counsel) Thurgood Marshall referencing his SCOTUS successor in a Newsweek interview (dated October 28, 1991)

 

By all accounts, Thurgood Marshall was an excellent student throughout high school (graduating third in his class), but started college as a bit of a prankster. He attended Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania (halfway between Philadelphia and Baltimore) and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in American literature and philosophy. His peers included Langston Hughes and Cab Calloway, who would become internationally renowned artists. Thurgood Marshall would become just as celebrated as Hughes and Calloway, but rather than pursuing literature, he earned a law degree from Howard University School of Law, graduating first in his class, and proceeded to change the world.

During the Civil Rights Movement, he argued and won more cases (29 out of 32) before the country’s highest court than any other attorney. After an equally notable career as an appeals court judge – notable in part because Senators from the southern states held up his appointment, causing him to serve the first few months in recess, and also because once he was able to serve none of his cases were overturned – Thurgood Marshall served as United States Solicitor General (winning 14 out of 19 cases). He then returned to the Supreme Court – this time as its first African-American Justice; the first in 178 years.

Both of Thurgood Marshall’s alma maters (Lincoln University and Howard University) are historically black universities (HBCUs). It wasn’t as if he never considered attending a school that was not an HBCU; he didn’t have a choice – segregation prevented him from attending institutions of higher education like the University of Maryland School of Law. In what some might consider an interesting twist of fate, he would not only become known for arguing Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), a school segregation case he argued in his mid-forties, his first major victory working with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was also a school segregation case: against the University of Maryland School of Law. At the age of 26, Thurgood Marshall joined his mentor Charles Hamilton Houston in representing Donald Gaines Murray in Murray v. Pearson, 169 Md. 478, 182 A. 590 (1936). Murray had been denied acceptance to the University of Maryland because of his race. In both Murray v. Pearson and Brown v. Board, Thurgood Marshall challenged Plessy v. Ferguson, 3 U.S. 537 (1896), and the doctrine of “separate but equal.” He won both cases, but only the latter case completely overturned the legality of school segregation.

“What’s at stake here is more than the rights of my client. It’s the moral commitment stated in our country’s creed.”

 

– Thurgood Marshall, NAACP attorney for plaintiff in Murray v. Pearson, 169 Md. 478, 182 A. 590 (1936)

As I referenced before, the Civil Rights Act was signed into law today in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It would also outlaw unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, work environments, and public accommodations. It also expanded the definition of “all men” (as written in the second sentence of the “Declaration of Independence”) to include all people. Over the years, there would be several landmark cases that impacted the application of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One of those cases was decided almost exactly 56 years later (on June 15, 2020), when SCOTUS upheld a portion of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII) as it relates to sexual orientation and gender identity. In a 6 -3 decision, the highest court in the country affirmed that it is unconstitutional for an employer to fire someone for being gay or transgender. Clarence Thomas, Thurgood Marshall’s successor in that he is the only other African-American to serve on the Supreme Court, was one of the 3 dissenters.

Thurgood Marshall believed the death penalty was unconstitutional (Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972)) and supported a woman’s right to choose (Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)). He is not only remembered as a champion of Civil Rights, his name and his work are often mentioned in the same breath as the names and efforts of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. The three men had different backgrounds and so worked in different ways, even in different spheres; and yet they had the same aim: to expand those “unalienable Rights” detailed in the “Declaration of Independence” and ratified by the Constitution of the United States of America.

A spirit of strong conviction (first 5 minutes only)

 

Electric… but not an Electrician

“Like many anniversary celebrations, the plan for 1987 takes particular events and holds them up as the source of all the very best that has followed. Patriotic feelings will surely swell, prompting proud proclamations of the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice shared by the Framers and reflected in a written document now yellowed with age. This is unfortunate. Not the patriotism itself, but the tendency for the celebration to oversimplify, and overlook the many other events that have been instrumental to our achievements as a nation. The focus of this celebration invites a complacent belief that the vision of those who debated and compromised in Philadelphia yielded the ‘more perfect Union’ it is said we now enjoy.

 

 

I cannot accept this invitation, for I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever ‘fixed’ at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today. When contemporary Americans cite ‘The Constitution,’ they invoke a concept that is vastly different from what the Framers barely began to construct two centuries ago.

 

 – from speech given by Supreme Court Justice (and former NAACP chief counsel) Thurgood Marshall at The Annual Seminar of the San Francisco Patent and Trademark Law Association, Maui, Hawaii May 6, 1987

 

“And so we must be careful, when focusing on the events which took place in Philadelphia two centuries ago, that we not overlook the momentous events which followed, and thereby lose our proper sense of perspective. Otherwise, the odds are that for many Americans the bicentennial celebration will be little more than a blind pilgrimage to the shrine of the original document now stored in a vault in the National Archives. If we seek, instead, a sensitive understanding of the Constitution’s inherent defects, and its promising evolution through 200 years of history, the celebration of the “Miracle at Philadelphia” Bowen, Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention May to September 1787 (Boston 1966), will, in my view, be a far more meaningful and humbling experience. We will see that the true miracle was not the birth of the Constitution, but its life, a life nurtured through two turbulent centuries of our own making, and a life embodying much good fortune that was not.

 

Thus, in this bicentennial year, we may not all participate in the festivities with flag-waving fervor. Some may more quietly commemorate the suffering, struggle, and sacrifice that has triumphed over much of what was wrong with the original document, and observe the anniversary with hopes not realized and promises not fulfilled. I plan to celebrate the bicentennial of the Constitution as a living document, including the Bill of Rights and the other amendments protecting individual freedoms and human rights.”

 

– conclusion to the speech given by Supreme Court Justice (and former NAACP chief counsel) Thurgood Marshall at The Annual Seminar of the San Francisco Patent and Trademark Law Association, Maui, Hawaii May 6, 1987

 

 

### MOKSHA • MUKTI ###

 

 

 

Being Brown May 17, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
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(“Ramadan Mubarak, Blessed Ramadan!” to anyone who is observing Ramadan. I typically talk about Ramadan at the end of the season, so keep your eyes open.)

“I stopped explaining myself when I realized other people only understand from their level of perception.”

– Anonymous

 

“…we lived in an integrated neighborhood and I had all of these playmates of different nationalities…. I just couldn’t understand what was happening because I was so sure that I was going to go to school with Mona and Guinevere, Wanda, and all of my playmates.”

 

– Linda Brown, quoted in a “Black/White and Brown” produced by KTWU Channel 11 (May 3, 2004)

 

For a long time, most of my life, I didn’t get it. How could I get it, as odd as it is to understand, it was outside of my experience.

I am related to some of the smartest people I know –and I know a lot of really smart people. My father has a PhD and taught doctors, his mother was a school teacher, my maternal great-grandmother and both grandmothers taught Sunday school, and my mother worked with doctors and lawyers – so I didn’t get why they made such a big deal about my grades or my education. I appreciated it when my parents arranged things so I could enroll in special programming (like “Research and Development”), but sometimes I kind of took it for granted. Going to a private school, for instance, was just what my brothers and I did sometimes. Granted, one of my brothers ended up in private school after my parents were informed he would be bused to a “Black school” as part of a desegregation plan in the 80’s (which I thought was beyond silly, but I didn’t spend too much time thinking about why the plan existed (in the mid-80’s!!!). I didn’t get it; it was outside of my experience.

My maternal grandfather owned bars in Houston, like the Sportsman, and supper clubs, like The Club Supreme, which was part of the “Chitlin’ Circuit” (venues owned and operated by and for African-American audiences during segregation). I grew up hearing about the great talents he booked and about people like Sammy Davis, Jr., Harry Belafonte, and the Supremes stopping by the house for dinner. Sometimes I would walk into Club Supreme, look down the dark and dusty ballroom to the stage at the back and imagine what it was like in its heyday. When I walked next door to the Sportsman, owners/editors of newspapers, bankers, and business owners seemed to not only know my name, but also my GPA. Sometimes I thought it was weird – especially when they would tell me they were holding a job for me when I graduated from college – but mostly I just thought part of being a grandfather was being proud of your grandchildren; I figured he must talk about me to his customers because that’s what grandfathers did. I didn’t get it; it was outside of my experience.

“I was kind of afraid at first. I didn’t talk about it very much, I guess, because I was afraid it would get back to someone who would make trouble.”

 

– Linda Brown, age 17, in a 1961 New York Times interview

In May 2004, I finally started to get it. It was the 50th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and as people were celebrating, remembering, and producing documentaries, I was doing the math. In doing the math, I finally really understood that Black people not being able to go to the school of their choice wasn’t part of some distant history lesson. It was part of living history – it was part of my family history. The teachers, administrators, farmers, businessmen and businesswomen, police officers, doctors, nurses, insurance agents, authors, truckers, military personnel, farmers, and preachers in my family successfully did what they did – not because they had the economic and educational advantages that they gave me, but in spite of not having what I took for granted. My parents grew up in the South, in the shadow of Brown v Board, in a state where the Attorney General actively worked to keep school segregation legal despite the U. S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling. The people who worked behind the bar and sat on the barstools at my grandfather’s clubs knew me not because my Paw-Paw was some random grandfather proud of his random grandchildren, but because they all understood what I did not: my brothers, cousins, and I were symbols of progress and change. We were proof that the world – or at least our little corner of the world – was getting better, more equitable and more just.

When my grandfather died, people seemed to come out the woodwork. I kind of expected the elders. What I didn’t expect were the people my age, people who wanted to remember and celebrate a businessman in the community who had financially supported the education of young people in the community. They came to celebrate and remember, because they got it.

“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

 

– Supreme Court Justice (and former NAACP chief counsel) Thurgood Marshall referencing his SCOTUS successor in a Newsweek interview (dated October 28, 1991)

Linda Brown, the student at the center of Brown v Board, was actually part of three school segregation related lawsuits: the one SCOTUS ruled on today in 1954; Brown II in 1955; and a case filed by the adult Linda Brown in 1978 (Brown III), which was re-opened and appealed through the late 80’s / early 90’s. The first case, officially filed as “Oliver Brown, et al v Board of Education of Topeka, et al,” was a class action lawsuit filed by Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP’s chief counsel, for thirteen parents on behalf of 20 school-aged children. However, the case itself was a test case and symbolic of several cases across the country. The case in Kansas was selected by the NAACP as the pilot case, because it was considered more Midwestern than Southern, the Brown’s neighborhood was desegregated (but the local school was not), and Oliver Brown was selected as the named plaintiff because he was a man. (The idea being that a male plaintiff might be considered more seriously by the courts and the ruling might carry more national weight if inequality could be proven outside of the South.)

While the unanimous 1954 ruling is celebrated as a landmark victory, it was more symbolic than anything else. The Supreme Court first ruled that there was no such thing as “separate, but equal” – at least not as schools existed at that time. Then, in 1955, SCOTUS ordered states to desegregate “with all deliberate speed” – but, here again there was no timetable and the interpretation of the very poetic phrase was left not to the NAACP or the plaintiffs, but to the states.

“It’s disheartening that we are still fighting. But we are dealing with human beings. As long as we are, there will always be those who feel the races should be separate.”

 

 

– Linda Brown, in a 1994 New York Times article (around 40th anniversary)

Look around today and you will see the legacy of Brown v Board. There is some positive, some signs of progress; there is also some negative. Were Linda Brown still alive today, she could easily file another lawsuit…on behalf of her grandchildren or even her great-grandchildren. Part of the legacy of Brown v Board is living in the shadow of the Plessy v Ferguson concept of “separate but equal.” We can say it’s the shadow that makes us appreciate the light; but, at some point we need more light.

“I didn’t understand what was happening then, but it was clear that Brown versus Board of Education was a necessary victory. It might have been a little flame, but it served to set off a mighty flame. To me, the impact of Brown is best seen in the increasing numbers of black professionals today. These are the people that, after 1954, were able to have some degree of choice. This surely made a difference in their aspirations and their achievements.”

 

– Linda Brown, in a April 29, 2004 speech (marking the 50th anniversary) at Chautauqua Institution

 

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, May 17th) at 2:30 PM, to celebrate progress, to remember those who made it possible, and to raise awareness so that we understand what is needed to move forward together. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

Linda Carol Brown

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