Just before becoming the pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, Reverend Dr. William J. Barber developed ankylosing spondylitis, an extreme and very painful form of arthritis. In this excerpt from The Third Reconstruction, he recounts the three months he spent in the hospital, when, having reached the depths of despair, he received an inspiring visit from an “amputee angel,” and eventually learned firsthand the incredible power of people standing together.
I learned a great deal in Martinsville about moral leadership—more than I realized at the time. But I did not know what was next for me when our family moved back to North Carolina in 1991. Preaching had helped me find a voice of moral dissent, but my father had shown me long before that you don’t have to pastor a church to preach. I was at the core of my being a preacher, but I knew that preaching did not have to be my job. In fact, I had begun to think I might be more effective if it weren’t. The pastoral work of managing a tight-knit community was not without its challenges and frustrations, which inevitably took time and energy away from public justice work. One of my aunts kept telling me I needed to stop trying to be a lawyer. I wasn’t sure what I was trying to become, but I knew I wasn’t in a hurry to find another church.
The problem with presidential elections is that they stop us from seeing what’s really going on in our culture. Obsessed with the latest wins and losses, the latest political punditry, we stop keeping our eye on the ball and get distracted by the spectacle of corporate-funded rituals of “democracy.” So while most of us were glued to the Iowa caucuses, real change was happening in the world.
Yes, I mean the new Barbies. Not Barbie singular, but Barbies as in different shapes and sizes and skin hues and hair textures. If you haven’t seen Mattel’s Fashionistas line, check it out here. Of course the real revolution is both racial (e.g. Black Barbie used to have white hair), but also bodily. In addition to impossibly thin and busty regular Barbie, there are now curvy, petite and tall Barbies.
This is the second entry of our Montgomery Bus Boycott Turns 60 Series. About two months into the Montgomery Bus Boycott, times start to become dangerous for Martin Luther King, Jr. and his family. Death threats over the phone are coming in daily to King’s home, most of which Coretta Scott King answers. Aware of his role as a leader, Dr. King turns to his faith for strength and resolve in the face of danger. Sixty years ago today, the danger arrives on his porch in the form of a bomb. This excerpt from Stride Toward Freedom brings us close to the reality of fear Dr. King lived with, and the resilience of the King family.
One night toward the end of January I settled into bed late, after a strenuous day. Coretta had already fallen asleep and just as I was about to doze off the telephone rang. An angry voice said, “Listen, nigger, we’ve taken all we want from you; before next week you’ll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery.” I hung up, but I couldn’t sleep. It seemed that all of my fears had come down on me at once. I had reached the saturation point.
Flint River Bridge, Flint, MI. Photo credit: Andrew Jameson
In the tragedy of Flint, Michigan’s lead poisoning crisis, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is one of the heroes. Last September, Hanna-Attisha, director of pediatric residency at Flint’s Hurley Children’s Hospital, stood up at a press conference and presented research suggesting that the city’s water supply was poisoning its children. The number of kids with elevated blood lead levels—five micrograms per deciliter or more—had doubled, she said, and in some neighborhoods, it had tripled.
What are U.S. workers to do about the problems presented by the gig economy?
The past year saw a number of prominent liberals offer policy ideas to mitigate the worst elements of precarious employment. Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich proposed that companies pay into a common benefit fund for the gig workers they employ. Left-leaning think-tank executives, academics and even a few union leaders signed on to a manifesto declaring that portable benefits were the solution to easing the lives of precarious workers.
They’re off the mark. A lasting solution can’t simply address the obvious lack of benefits—it must tackle the real problem: the power differential between gig economy workers and the big businesses that control their labor.
Happy Publication Day to pop music critic and culture journalist Rashod Ollison and his memoir Soul Serenade: Rhythm, Blues & Coming of Age Through Vinyl! In Soul Serenade, Ollison tells his story of growing up gay in central Arkansas, searching for himself and his distant father, and how the consoling power of soul music guided him through the tough times. We caught up with Ollison before he geared up for his book tour, beginning today in Virginia Beach, VA, to ask him what writing the book meant for him and the inspiration that went into it. Check his event calendar to see his tour dates. And once you settle down with his book in your hands, put on his playlist featuring the songs that brought his memoir to life.
As a genealogist, DNA has intrigued me ever since its first promotion as a consumer product in 2003. That was the year Dr. Rick Kittles launched African Ancestry, a company that specializes in uncovering the genetic origins of people of African descent. It marked twenty-eight years into my personal research into a family tree that winds from the backwoods of Mississippi and Alabama through a Great Migration terminus in Chicago. All along the way, one thing I longed to know more than anything else was the root of my continental African origins. This was in spite of the tangled morass of genes that include a copious assortment of Europeans that resulted in me looking more white than many white people I know.
My phone buzzes one more time. I look over at the glowing screen to see that I have been tagged once more in the Ron Clark dance video from his school in Atlanta. I nod, give a half smile at the screen, and continue on my school visits. Today, I’m in the Bronx, and am working with a group of students who are researching cell division so they can add a layer of complexity to their rap song on mitosis and meiosis. The three young men I am sitting with are concerned because the simple rhyme scheme they have developed thus far isn’t going to cut it. This realization hits after they overhear a pair of young ladies perform their rap on the reproductive system that cites recent research in biology and comes replete with choreographed dance moves to match the verse. My phone buzzes again. I am tagged in the Ron Clark video again. My response this time is two fold. My first is: Damn, this white boy got some rhythm. The second is: I feel sorry for anyone who thinks they’re just gon’ “Hit the Quan” to academic success. The fact is, if you ain’t got Clarks rhythm, and the structures are not in place to support and validate such a transgressive approach to teaching, you will fail miserably. In fact, you may end up doing much more of a disservice to the students than a traditional school would. Ron Clark works at a school that is named after him with a certain funding structure, certain rules of conduct, and very particular philosophies. If you do not have any of these structures in place, or any strategies for circumventing the ones you are bound by, I feel bad for you son...You’ve got ninety-nine problems and Hittin’ the Quan in school is one.
Every year, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is celebrated as one of the greatest orators in US history, an ambassador for nonviolence who became perhaps the most recognizable leader of the civil rights movement. But after more than forty years, few people appreciate how truly radical he was. For Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we present to you an excerpt of Cornel West’s introduction to The Radical King—now available in paperback—a collection of Dr. King's writings curated by Dr. West. In it, he unearths the Dr. King the FBI and the US government knew to be radical, every bit as radical as Malcolm X.