I’m Upset About a Coffee House in Philadelphia

Last night, I turned on the news and there was increasing coverage everywhere about the Starbucks incident with two African-American men being arrested for ‘trespassing’ in a local store. The incident has gained national momentum and attention to the degree that the CEO has met with the two gentlemen and proclaimed a day of sensitivity training for nearly 8000 stores. I listened to Don Lemon on CNN interview the CEO and ask him whether or not he really believed that ‘one day’ would be a sufficient amount of time to desensitize the discriminate nature of this revealing expose of racism in our country. The CEO didn’t have an answer but expressed an emotional reaction to the controversy.

In a followup after the interview, Don Lemon brought on W.Kamau Bell to speak to the general reaction and commentary of the CEO, Kevin Johnson, of Starbucks. Bell hosts the exceptional series, United Shades of America, (Season 3: Premieres Sunday, April 29 at 10 p.m. ET/PT) on CNN.

To be clear, I’m a white guy reacting to an issue that impacts black people every day, not just an isolated incident in a Philadelphia coffee shop, and that was the general pitch of Don Lemon and W. Kamau Bell’s final commentary. In a manner of speaking they theorized how might a white CEO of a major industry empathize with the reality of racism in today’s society. Certainly, Kevin Johnson is putting a face on a possibility, but I think our society needs to realize that is only a start. Much like the students of Broward County and their efforts to raise awareness in a privileged society, I listened to their final words because I personally am looking for an answer.

I know racism exists. I know I have my own prejudicial misgivings. I think what bothers me the most is when people seem to suggest that not talking about it will just make things better, make things go away. The reality is, by not having dialogue, the resentment, the frustration, the explosive backlash becomes a greater concern than if there were a conversation. The discussion takes time though, takes courage, demands commitment from all people involved.

I think what Lemon and Bell are suggesting is that too often we bandaid the issue, and it rises up again. Tonight, in social media a friend of mine indicated that everything is about hate. What if we actively turned that around? What if we made everything about love? What if we got past the idea that it is easier to despise than it is to put effort into understanding? What if instead of declaring the Philadelphia incident as an anomaly, we admittedly took action to recognize such discrimination exists? We don’t have to define it, we simply have to accept the reality of our society’s ills and the need to open our hearts to admitting the surface level of fear that creates such a problematic mindset is real and not overstated by a liberal versus conservative party of thinking.

I can’t help wonder what it might be like to create dialogue between differing parties without onlookers with agenda and attitude to tear down the chance to allow people to learn from one another rather than destroy opportunity. Seems idealistic certainly, but its really. If we understand each other, we can look one another in the eye. If we remain afraid of one another, then the wall will remain in tact.

In Philadelphia an individual seemingly, well quite obviously overreacted to a normal gathering of two human beings who began their day never imagining their world to be turned upside down by a discriminatory motive. Let me restate that. The two gentlemen in Philadelphia began their days completely aware that at any moment their lives could be marginalized by racial profiling because of the color of their skin. However, in their lives, they have learned it is a necessary reality for them to constantly be aware of a negative circumstance unfolding right before their very eyes.

That happened in a Philadelphia Starbucks, and the two individuals wrongfully arrested created a hailstorm of controversy that speaks to what certain cultures have to accept and go through every day. I’m a white guy, and I don’t have to experience this, but I see it. I’m a teacher and I have students of every race in my classroom, and the one thing I demand of my day, is that every individual in my room is respected as much as the next person. The two gentlemen in Starbucks need to have been treated as equally as anyone else in the store.

The need exists, the dialogue, communication, desire to understand must begin. We cannot continue to simply look away.

Advertisements

CBS Sunday Morning News Gaffe – April 15th, 2018

Melissa DePino - Starbucks - Philadelphia

Melissa DePino – Philadelphia – Starbucks


I’m disappointed in the CBS Sunday Morning news article on the Starbucks empire this morning (April 15th, 2018). Clearly, when the producers first put together the article on Howard Schultz’s successful coffee career, correspondent Mo Rocca didn’t anticipate an incident in Philadelphia would overshadow his focus upon the success of the Starbucks entrepeneur.

(At this writing I am not able to find a link to the Mo Rocca article to share).

When Kai Ryssdal, the CBS Sunday Morning host this week, introduced the article, he initially took the time to report on the ‘breaking story’ of two African-American males being removed in handcuffs from a Philadelphia Starbucks for what appears to have been two Black men sitting in the coffee shop without making a purchase. Further research, NPR article  would suggest they were waiting for a friend to arrive, and when asked to leave, declined, and police were called.

From there the incident blew up and a young woman, Melissa DePino, caught the entire incident on her phone – thus creating this viral video, none of which was covered in Mr. Ryssdal’s initial introduction on CBS Sunday Morning.

Here is where my issue arose. The host introduced the already in place article with a controversial telling of an actual Starbuck’s incident in Philadelphia that in my eyes trumped (sic) the fanfare of the Starbuck success story. Discrimination is not successful, and it is also not talked about. Instead, it remains an afterthought.

I believe this was a missed opportunity by Kai Ryssdal, despite his attempt to include the incident, what was his motive? Was he told by the producers of CBS Sunday Morning News that we must include this incident before running the article on Starbucks, or did he do it on his own? I think the issue of priority raises serious questions about our society and how we choose to neglect or emphasize topics that do touch on sensitive issues versus those that will satisfy the majority of a news article’s listeners.

In her own retelling of the incident, Melissa DePino states in her interview, this would not have happened to her. In other words, because of the color of her skin, she would not have been asked to leave the store without a purchase. Personally, I agree with her, and being a frequent coffee shop connoisseur I can speak frankly and say I have had many meetings with people in coffee shop where either myself or my associates did not make a purchase and in all cases we were never approached to leave – certainly the police were not called to intervene. That would not happen.

In looking at the story and the incident itself, the two men removed did not protest the directives of the police and left without incident while the shop patrons all watched with concern, question and interpretation. Since, Starbucks has issued an apology on Twitter, and the men have been released and the incident is under review. That is all fine, and all should happen, but it still brings me back to my frustration with the CBS article and more specifically how we handle such situations in our society.

We don’t.

We choose to focus on moving away from important dialogue rather than facing it head on. Perhaps this was a golden opportunity for Kai Ryssdal to address the issue of discrimination and make this week’s news story a commentary on the continuing issue that occurs and impacts people of color throughout our society.

I am convinced had Rysdaal rather than run the article on Howard Schultz and his successful career, instead turned the next five or six minutes into a discussion and commentary of the Philadelphia incident there would have been controversy. Producers would have changed jobs in the coming week, and Rysdaal might have risked his own opportunity for further hosting opportunities in Jane Pauley’s absence.

My question is why not take the risk? Why not say we’re going to run the Starbucks story next week, because we have a situation that merits discussion today, that has more impact on our society than we would like to understand. I guarantee there would have been a ratings spike of viewership that would have stayed, rather than change the channel after Ryssdal slapped a band-aid on the discrimination and jumped immediately into the cacao fields of the Starbucks empire.

I’m disappointed that when we see opportunity we choose not to address the important issues of our society that are relevant. I’m saddened by the reality that the dialogue on discrimination continues to take the backseat to anything that will allow us to quickly move away from the issue rather than face it head on.

Let me be clear, until this last paragraph I have not used the word systemic to describe an issue in our society that clearly exists, but I did today watch a major news outlet – CBS News – pass by a wonderful opportunity to recognize the need for dialogue in our extremely mosaic world. The conversations if they cannot occur on a national or international level certainly will be far more difficult to create on a local level. However, they need to. Today Kai Ryssdal and CBS Sunday Morning missed an opportunity.

Where do we begin?

 

When A Mass Shooter Commits Suicide

I feel lost and helpless, out of control,

I cannot fathom the pain that is now endured

by the family, the friend, the community,

the loss of life so random and unexpected,

… and this has nothing to do with the shooter.

 

I’m left in a fury of angst and simple confusion,

I know the emotional drain of being human,

living out our purpose and striving to be,

and like Hollywood, just when we realize …

… and this has nothing to do with the shooter.

 

I think we all think about how a person’s day begins,

the same as yesterday, perhaps a sweet happiness,

or even probably the angst of having to be the machine,

another day of social squabbles and night’s end purpose.

… and this has nothing to do with the shooter.

 

All of these moments we’ve all felt together,

we know the sense of sunshine in the morning,

we understand the beauty of a co-worker,

the laughter of a memo, the reality of our family.

… and this has nothing to do with the shooter.

 

There isn’t a day when we are awoken

by the silly notion of our mortality, when thriving

seems to be our goal. There is no reaction

to the possibility our life will be taken with random …

…. AND THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE SHOOTER!

 

THIS PART has everything to do with the shooter,

because those lives, those people that were so important

to everyone far beyond the trigger of your cowardice,

deserve an opportunity to COME TO LIFE AND WATCH,

WATCH YOU SUFFER INDIGNITY, YOUR FLAWED PURPOSE ON DISPLAY!

Why School Shooting Awareness Matters

IMG_1368

Recently, our high school (not Kentucky) went through a serious protocol called A.L.I.C.E. as a national preventative for school shootings. The word is an acronym for the following: Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate (ALICE).

While as a teacher I have gone through many safety initiatives over the last twenty years that evolved from the Columbine tragedy (April 20th, 1999), this particular program seems to have the most impact. For the last two years, we have viewed a video training session designed around ALICE made by and for the students of our high school. The focus of preventive school shooting training is impactful and effective in letting students know that the concern is real.

In Kentucky, a community is reeling in tragedy. Reportedly, they are close-knit, so early in the morning did the shooting occur that the parents holding crosswalk signs are presently in tears, standing on the sides of the road in wonder. To them, right now, this is very real.

A few days after our training to close the semester before the holiday, a meme revealed present students holding ‘mock’ rifles and guns with the message, ‘don’t go to school today.’ Because social media is culpable, the students were found immediately and the disciplinary process is in motion. The incident created a stir throughout the school and district because, we are a close-knit community, and though our expanse is evident, everyone still does know each other.

What’s important to recognize is when such a tragedy occurs, people we are close to are impacted, in such a regard as there is no measure of one community to another’s reaction. We all have the same emotive responsibility when it comes to the safety of our children.

This commentary has nothing to do with gun control, or the right to bear arms being threatened by a liberal stance on weaponry and our 2nd amendment. This is about our students knowing the reality of our society, and their parents, our parents, our friends and relatives beginning to see just how pervasive this behavior is in our world today.

We turn on the news, and there is tragedy everywhere — terrorism has found a place in our lexicon that is no longer stunning, it is a way of life. We need to know that school shootings do not need to be nor should ever be accepted as a ‘way of life’ a reality that we have to get used to in our world. There is an opportunity to continue preventative manners to such horrific incidents as occurred in a Kentucky high school this very morning.

That measure occurs at home. As parents, as adults, as friends and neighbors we have to take the time to educate our children about the value of life and love. Our kids are inundated with the constant of a violent society, so left to their own devices they will act upon their impulses. We might only hope that having conversations with our children will reduce the potential for such an outcome in any community.

We need to look at all aspects of mockery, and reminders as seriously as the incident themselves. We must keep our children safe by assuring those closest to us that this behavior or resolution to an issue at school is not acceptable. We must have the conversations, while tonight we grieve the loss a close-knit Kentucky community must endure in light of the commonality of a school shooting.

Let’s teach our children the educational value of social media as an outlet for keeping our lives safe and fulfilling rather than one of haunting fantasy and impulsivity. Let’s keep our kids safe.

The Problem with Guns, Pranks & Kids

Recently, the school district I work in experienced a social media crisis when kids posted pictures of themselves with the message — ‘Don’t come to school’ as we prepare to return to the classroom after the winer break. The problem is the students are holding what appear to be weapons — automatic rifles and revolvers — all of which have since been determined to be fakes and not real weaponry. The community is up in arms, and on social media parents are threatening to keep their kids home for the day rather than face the risk.

The local police department has issued a statement saying the students have been spoken to and the issue is resolved and there is no immediate threat to tomorrow’s school day. So I guess I will go to work as a teacher in my classroom, but I know I’ll look around and see a lot of empty desks.

There are a couple of directions I want to go with this commentary. The most important being the realization of how dangerous a precedent these students created with their ‘prank’ behavior. I don’t they realize the repercussions. I don’t think though, from reading the thread of reactions on social media that our society is ready to recognize the consequences of such a harmful act.

Guns scare people today, because their volatility, their immediate impact, their prevalence in schools is defined rather than speculated. The problem I have with these students making a joke of a serious issue is not as much themselves as it is the onlookers. Their joke could be someone else’s literal motivation to carry out a heinous act because it has been revealed and attention has been drawn to the idea.

I think the greatest fear of sensationalism is the action alone. Parents are reeling from this news, decidedly keeping their kids home. Some will eventually transfer schools. The community is frightened by the reality of this incident and this needs to become a teaching moment for our kids.

We cannot simply let it ride as a harmless prank. We must set a tone, and students need to know the seriousness of such an action. The students involved need to be charged with a terrorist act because they created an idea, a dangerous one, that might leave someone else intrigued enough to carry out what they thought was a joke.

We live in a suicidal society as it is. We cannot continue to give our students reasons to make poor and life-changing decisions that will impact their world for the rest of their lives.Our kids are being groomed within a throwaway society that is so impactful they have no idea the consequence that lays before them.

Gun-toting activists need to step it up and recognize this is dangerous behavior and not an over-reaction. Keep in mind, the gun could be your own.

A Christmas Message

We are approaching that ultimate day of family and love and Grace, with all of its beauty, delight, misconception and forgiveness, and I am reminded of where my values first evolved. Going through some papers in my den I came across a picture of my grandmother, we called her ‘Granny’ and I was immediately flooded with the wonder of memory. In looking in her eyes in the picture, I could see the woman that helped shape me and our wonderful extended Irish family into the people we are today. Along with my father’s Nordic influence, we have embraced lives of love and respect that I am proud to celebrate on this Christmas morning.

However, there are always reminders, always moments, forever tellings in our lives that give us pause and naturally ask us each to never forget that the evaluation of our beings is a constant process in our lives.

There are days when I still don’t know who I am. It is Christmas Eve, and I am reeling over a conversation that took place with my family yesterday evening. I know I’m confused, but I am not sure if it is because I am still, at 58 years old, reminded I am the youngest in the family, and I still allow my feelings to interfere with a quiet composure, or am I justifiably irritated by a sense of seeming entitled ignorance. Let me be clear, I love my family and all each member represents in my life; though, inevitably there are times when I need to feel allowed to recognize there are just certain behaviors I feel compelled to not tolerate. This coming from a man whose made far too many mistakes in my own life to throw stones.

I lived a sheltered life, growing up white in a small town in central Wisconsin. I was not exposed to racism beyond what I read in a newspaper, or saw on television. I grew up laughing at ‘The Good Times’ and J.J.’s ‘Dyn-O-Mite’ and ‘The Jeffersons’ making it to the East Side of Manhattan, and laughing at their uncanny ability to muse at themselves. Meanwhile Archie and ‘The Bunkers’ were slaying the dragons of good taste a few floors below in the heart of Queens.

In my life, there were incidents I read about that horrified me, but they didn’t touch me. When Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot, I was listening to the report on a radio in my grandparent’s sunroom, a place where at the time for some reason my grandfather was not sitting in his chair, smoking a pipe, while looking over the harbor of Lake Superior, quietly wondering what his life had measured. He was always reading the paper, always had an opinion, but in the eyes of a 9 year old, he smiled and gave me a pat on the head, for he knew my world was built around waiting when he would take me down to the canal to watch the ore ships steam in. He wasn’t there to see the confusion in my eyes, or my wondered expression when the report indicated that MLK, Jr. had just been gunned down on the balcony of a Memphis motel room.

The time was now around 8 PM, Thursday, April 4th, 1968, and the world as we knew it, continued to turn itself upside down. Racism was suddenly apparent and people were reacting in an explosion of ‘civil disobedience’ across the country. My grandfather has a beautiful smile, and I can visualize it as I write these words, but that smile would turn to a sudden grimace as he would have no words. I ran into the kitchen where my mother was chatting with ‘Granny’ her mother, my grandmother, the woman I would dedicate this writing to and I told them the report.

They went quiet, and quickly turned on the television, which at that time would need to warm up, allowing the riots to already begin before we saw the original pictures of mayhem, starting in the streets of Memphis and escalating in several major cities for the next three or four days. I remember watching storefronts obliterated with bricks and being fascinated, if not a little terrified. The press would later call it the Holy Week Rising, and this horrific weekend would be another in a string of race riots that would mark a cornerstone in the historic bearing of the civil right’s movement and racism in the 1960’s.

I was nine years old, and my greatest concern again was fixing the loop to loop on my matchbox car set so I could run my track around Grandpa’s chair. I looked out the window of the sunroom and saw the Duluth Harbor and the aerial-bridge and all seemed well. I still was too young to realize a world outside our warm and comforting home contained an ugliness it would take me years to understand, a world I still try to define as my involvement in it becomes far more prevalent than that of a young boy playing with toys in his grandparents home, celebrating Easter surrounded by family.

I listened to the conversations turn political that were honestly white noise(sic) in the forefront of my mind, but I knew something important was happening. I could tell by the expressions the faces of all the adults held. I knew the table conversations the remainder of the weekend would be far different than originally planned. We would talk about a nation in turmoil the next few days. We would talk about a man revered by my mother and her mother for his peaceful intent, for his ‘dream.’

It was 1968 and while ‘Granny’ as we know her continued preparation for a probable ham dinner in the coming days, I began to be cognizant of a world outside my own that demanded attention beyond a simple television article. There was clearly nothing simple about the change our country would endure as my thinking would shift from childhood toward adolescence. A civil right’s leader had been gunned down and a people of hope and faith were suddenly halted in their tracks. The death of MLK, Jr. changed my world as I knew it.

I recall suddenly being directed there were certain terms we could no longer use as freely as we once had. The word Negro had transitioned to Black to today’s African-American and its many variation – still today, the term mulatto has now become bi-racial – but the most disturbing and vitriolic being ‘nigger’ a term used quite viciously in my childhood. It was a word we didn’t hear at our family dinners. Granny insisted we recognize tact and decorum in her home. This value was taught to me at a very early age, and I am forever grateful.

I recall years later a specific incident when arriving home as a young adult I had come across a book of jokes, that contained disparaging and racist commentary. I remember at the time feeling clueless of the nature of their impact. I walked into my very white family home and tossed a couple of them around, and was immediately shunned by my loved ones for producing something our world could no longer tolerate. I was mystified and hurt and confused, but more importantly immediately reminded where I came from. The shame and guilt I felt in that moment were overbearing. I took it to heart, and from that day on, recalled again those early values instilled by my grandparents, and as I envisioned a family dinner with Granny presenting as the matriarch of our simple existence, made a pact with myself that I would never ever again partake in such discrediting misinformation of a person of color or culture different than my own.

That moment in 1982 helped shape me into the person I am today. Certainly there have been many experiences in my life that have been integral, but moments like those, when my family reminded themselves and me that we can be beautiful people together in a world where everyone deserves that same element of Grace, I began a journey of sensitivity toward my fellow human beings that I hang onto with every fiber of my being.

So today again, I am reminded of who I am. For a moment I can take solace in the knowledge that our world is one of good, where love and compassion do exist and we live in a society where acceptance and sensitivity to another person’s needs are real. We live in a world where humor and a good joke are real, yet there is also a boundary of recognition that is an earmark of respect that is one of the most important values in our lives.

Today, while I recognize Christmas in the world around us all, I am reminded of my grandmother, ‘Granny’ for the love I know she would wish we all share together in the arms and energy of our family and friends. I am reminded there is truth in the realization that our world is a constant learning curve and we must all recognize the individual merits we bring to whom we are today, together and in the future. The education of our lives as human beings living in a world of constant change is certainly eternal in its mystique.

Love your family, your friends, the man or woman or child or vagrant or executive or definition of difference on the street, your neighbors, the person that cuts you off on the road today while you last minute shop. Love the world around you. Love yourselves.

Thank you ‘Granny’

Have a Happy Christmas everyone.

The Hypocrisy of Faith

Steeped in idol trepidation,

an iconic stature,

a reasonably moral conclusion,

yet,

a stark reminder

is when we choose to know our side.

 

Which side, whose side,

why should we decide

what favor we rely upon to gather strength,

when choices made,

become the standard bearer,

the party favorite.

 

Words bandied about,

tribalism, loyalists, mongering,

fear.

A certain repudiation

turns into a bizarre creationist

fable toward standing on firm ground.

 

Yet the earth underneath my feet

feels unstable, feels temporary,

like a bandaid worn in critical battle,

we are the masses,

we do decide,

whether we choose to believe or we do not.

 

I am the one with faith,

the I have to readily acknowledge,

I haven’t a clue in what direction,

I choose,

will have any great matter,

when in faith I do choose to lose.