Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cam Newton: Passing Judgement


In college Cam Newton had been dogged by allegations of academic cheating and stealing. Despite the controversy he won the Heisman Trophy and was the first player selected in the 2010 NFL draft (Carolina Panthers).  In the spring of 2011 he visited the NFL Combine, the place where NFL draft picks perform athletic and mental skill tests for NFL coaches, general managers and scouts. Newton’s performance was horrible, convincing some experts that he was not worthy of winning the Heisman and others that he didn’t have the skill set to even play in the NFL. Newton was criticized after his first appearance in an NFL pre-season game by a  sportswriter who wrote that he was too hesitant.
In the regular season as it turned out , Newton was anything but hesitant. He came out firing. In his first two NFL starts he passed for over 400 hundreds yards in each game, something that had never been done by a rookie. Three games into the 2011 season Newton had already passed for 1,000 yards, another NFL record. Cam Newton went on set the NFL passing yardage mark for rookies, passing for almost 4000 yards in a season. In the process Newton rushed for 14 touchdowns, the most in a season by any quarterback in NFL history. Whether or not he made mistakes in his collegiate career Cam Newton had been judged prematurely and condemned to fail. One mistake he didn't make, was allow what other people thought to become his reality. Instead he responded by having the best rookie season of any NFL quarterback in the history of the sport.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ben Carson: A Mind Is A Powerful Thing To Use

Ben Carson was at the bottom of his class in middle school. In fact, of all the students at his school he was considered to be one of the dumbest. It wasn’t until his mother required him to read two library books a week and write a report on each one that his grades dramatically improved and landed him at the top of his class. Graduating from high school with honors he wanted to become a doctor, but another problem threatened his future career. He had a very bad temper. By harnessing the power of his mind through prayer and determination, he worked hard ro control his violent rage. With discipline Ben Carson became well-educated and went on to become a doctor. He made medical history in 1987 by becoming the first surgeon to successfully separate Siamese twins connected at the back of their heads. At the age of 32 he became Johns Hopkins’ youngest Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery. Ben Carson leaped from the bottom of his class to the top of  the medical field as the foremost brain surgeon in the world. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contribution to the medical field. His remarkable story is depicted in the movie Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story.



Saturday, February 18, 2012

Child Walks Through Polio Then Runs Into Olympic History: Wilma's Journey

Many years ago, during the time of segregation a fragile premature infant was born. It was June 23rd 1940 when the four and a half-pound baby made her early entrance into the world. From the moment of birth her life was an uphill climb. Within her first few years she was stricken with several illnesses. Some of which were life threatening, including an incurable crippling disease. As an infant she was not expected to live very long and after becoming paralyzed as a young child it was said that she would never walk again, but somehow she would emerge, transcend the bleak reality that confronted her and excel far beyond all expectation!

She was the 20th of 22 children born into the despair of poverty and poor health and there was little hope that either condition would change. Her parents worked low paying jobs and with plenty of mouths to feed there was barely enough to make ends meet. Also, the local hospital under the laws of segregation, would not care for the sick child because she was Black. At the time there were only a small number of black physicians to treat Black people. In her hometown of Clarksville,Tennessee, it equaled one black doctor to treat the entire black community. As a result, the heavy burden to provide medical care for the sickly child fell primarily on the back of the mother. She would carry the weight of that responsibility through every illness, the measles, the mumps, the chicken pox, the whooping cough, scarlet fever and double pneumonia.
 As the mother and her child weathered the severe storm of sickness, another illness was developing on the horizon. It would cast more gloom into the child's life. The child was less than 5 years old when her left leg and foot became weakened and deformed. A diagnosis of polio was made and with it a prognosis that the child would never walk again. The paralyzing disease would require that the child have regular professional treatment. Unavailable in their hometown, the mother had to find somewhere else for her child to receive treatment.

It was then that the mother discovered that her daughter could be treated, at a black medical college located 50 miles away in Nashville. Over the next 2 years, the mother faithfully took her child there twice a week until she learned how to walk with the help of a metal brace. With instruction on how to proceed with therapy the mother continued to care for the child at home. It gave the rest of the family a chance to help. For the following 7 years the mother and her children worked diligently to help rehabilitate the child's leg and foot.

Finally, after years of perseverance, at the age of 12 there was a remarkable breakthrough. Led by her unconquerable spirit, the child miraculously walked out of the confining world of polio and into the defining moment of her life. Using just her natural ability, she had out walked the lame expectation of her by a mile, with one step. If the child had never overcome another obstacle, or taken on another challenge after that, her life was already a complete story of inspiring determination, but she did.

This time, it was under much different circumstances. After relearning to walk at such a late age, there was no time for her to allow grass to grow under her feet. She quickly followed the footsteps of her older sister onto the playground of scholastic sports. In junior high school, she joined the basketball team and earned All-State recognition. In high school, she stepped up and led her basketball team to the state championship game. She continued to race forward, and in the process another athletic gift was discovered. Then it was presented to the world. At the tender age of 16, in the 1956 Olympic Games her amazing ability to run helped the United States track team capture the bronze medal in the 4x100 meter relay.

From how she started to where she finished, what she had accomplished was no ordinary feat. Winning an Olympic medal in her shoes was an extraordinary feat. Not only had the child's experience in track been greatly limited by her youth, but just 4 years prior to the competition, she couldn't walk without the help of a brace. Her ability to compete on the Olympic level wasn't even considered to be within the realm of possibility, and yet the crowning moment of her athletic career was still to come.

It happened at the 1960 Rome Olympics. In an unprecedented performance she became the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics' competition. Her quest for gold in the 100 and 200 meter races were both highlighted in record-breaking time. In team competition, despite running with a sprained ankle she help the United States claim the gold in the 4x100 meter relay also in record- breaking time.
As a result of her accomplishments in the world of track and field at the time, she was awarded the title of Fastest Woman in History. She was also named athlete of the year by the United Press. Her name, Wilma Rudolph, and in the process of winning three Olympic gold medals, her endearing performance won the hearts of many spectators from around the world. To the French she was known as the Black Pearl and the Italians affectionately referred to her as the Black Gazelle.

After returning home from the Olympics she was welcomed by a large crowd of people, Black and White. It was the first integrated event in the town's history, a significant step beyond segregation. It was a historic parade for a heroic athlete to celebrate an improbable journey to a mountainous peak, started by a girl who couldn't walk and finished by a woman's triumphant run to greatness!


Ruby's Priceless Lesson

The first African American to integrate the New Orleans school system was surprised on the first day of school when she entered her classroom and found it empty. On that day in 1961 at Franz Elementary in protest of segregation, all the parents of the white students had kept their children home.  Though segregation had been court ordered, the parents detested the idea of their children being educated at the same school as  a black person. The teachers were also upset and refused to teach. Even the principal was unhappy as she begrudgingly enforced the court order. 
Every morning for several days, people in the city, parents and their children mercilessly taunted the student as she approached the school. They intimidatingly stood on both sides of the sidewalk leading to the building and shouted obscenities as the student walked toward the entrance. At first, the student appeared to be undaunted by the hecklers, but soon the unruly people grew more hostile and began to use racially derogatory terms towards her.  Their behavior continued to escalate out of control.  They started to throw things. It became even more serious when violent 
threats were shouted.  A lady threatened to poison the student and someone even displayed  a small replica of a casket with a doll in it. If it were not for the federal agents that President Eisenhower assigned as escorts, the dangerous protestors might have harmed the student.   As the cruelty of the crowd worsened, it became very hard for the child to endure. She and her family almost  gave up trying to integrate the school.

Everyday throughout the entire time that she had been harshly treated while walking toward the entrance of the school she had ignored the protestors, never looking at them or speaking a word. Until one day while moving through the midst of the angry screaming people the child suddenly stopped and turned around and began to speak. The words spoken from the mouth the courageous 6 year-old Ruby Bridges were not words of retaliation. Demonstrating understanding and compassion beyond her years, the child said a prayer asking Jesus to forgive the people for how they were treating her, as he had forgiven those who had mistreated him long ago.  

Perhaps the prayer worked and helped to change the way the protestors treated Ruby. With the passage of time the disapproval of Ruby's presence became less apparent and she became more accepted. By standing her ground she went on to make history by being the first black student to attend school in New Orleans' public school system. 

Ruby had done nothing personally to the people protesting to deserve the kind of treatment she received. She had only entered their school to get an education. Though very painful she responded with love toward those who expressed hatred against her, teaching them forgiveness, one of the most priceless lessons of life.  Her story is told in the movie Ruby Bridges.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Sad Truth: Famous African American Deaths

In the entertainment and sports industries  dietary related illness has taken center stage to close the curtain on the final act of many famous African Americans. There’s a who’s who list  of celebrities and athletes who have passed on from complications of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and dietary related cancers.

Some of the victims were as familiar to us as family as they frequently came into our homes to entertain us. We grew up laughing at their antics on television, dancing to their music on the radio and cheering their accomplishments in the world of sports.
While their talents have been silenced, their voices can still be heard. If you listen closely to this tribute to famous African Americans, you can hear a voice of awareness from the grave that speaks loud enough in death to be heard in life. 
 Excerpt and video from R. House’s, “What to Health Are We Doing!"

Satchel: A Page in The History Book

Denied the opportunity to play baseball because of segregation, Satchel Paige had to wait a long time before he got his chance to play in the big leagues. Paige started his baseball career with the Negro League at the age of 20.  Unbelievably 22 years later, at age 42 he became the oldest rookie to play in a Major League Baseball game. It was as a member of the Cleveland Indians.
Before he played against  what was considered the highest level of competition in baseball, he was a star in the Negro League. Among the teams he played for were, the Chattanooga Black Lookouts, the Birmingham Black Barons and the Kansas City Monarchs.

His antics on the field made him very popular. As a showman, he often played to the crowd, amusing them while he pitched. As a pitcher, he baffled opposing batters. One player said that when Paige’s ball crossed the plate it looked like a marble.

Paige was considered by some of baseball greatest players as the greatest pitcher to ever play the game.  Joe DiMaggio said that he was the best pitcher he ever faced and Bob Feller said that Paige was the best pitcher he ever saw. Even the legendary St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Dizzy Dean said that Paige’s fastball made his own fastball look like a slow change-up.

Unable to compete in his prime against white players (outside of exhibitions games) he was hurt that he was kept out of Major League Baseball for so long. By the time he could compete, because of his age, the playing field was no longer level. He played nearly 20 years after his debut in the Major Leagues, pitching his last game in organized baseball at the age of 60. For what he accomplished, becoming the second player from the Negro League to play in the World Series and the first one elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, he became a Paige in the history book. The story of Satchel Paige, and other Negro League players such as Jackie Robinson and Josh Gibson are recounted in the HBO movie Soul of the Game.  


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Doug Williams: The Most Undervalued Most Valuable Player

Doug Williams was considered by some to be a better than average football player. He still recognized the need to develop his skills. As a rookie quarterback, Williams continued to work to improve. As a result, early in his professional career he achieved a measure of individual success. Each year he increased his pass completion percentage. By honing his skills Williams attained an ever greater level of group success. Through his development the team he played for became more competitive. He was able to the lead the franchise to its first playoff appearance. More impressive, he took them to the post season 3 times in 4 years. Williams and his team once even competed in the NFC Championship game.

Yet, for all of his accomplishments, his worth to the team's whose uniform he donned was questionable. Williams' salary compared to other quarterbacks in the leagues was substantially lower. According to the salary chart of NFL quarterbacks, Hugh Culverhouse, the owner of the team who valued Williams enough to draft him in the first round, undervalued him on the payroll. In 1978 as a starter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Culverhouse paid Williams $120,000. That amount ranked last among NFL quarterbacks and 13th behind 12 back-ups in the league. Among all quarterbacks Williams' salary ranked 42nd. He was even paid less than some third string players at the position.

In 1982, when contract negotiations failed to competitively compensate him, Williams left Tampa Bay and the NFL. Four years later, after a stint in the USFL, he returned to the National Football league with the Washington Redskins. In 1987, during his second season with the team, starting quarterback Jay Schroeder was injured. As a back-up, Williams stepped in to play. He started 2 games and lost both of them. Nevertheless, at the end of the season his team qualified for the playoffs. Surprisingly, Williams who had only played in 5 games during the season, but had a higher passer rating than Schroeder, was named the starter for post season.

As the leader of the team, Williams guided the Redskins through the playoffs and into the Super Bowl where John Elway and the favorite Denver Broncos waited. On the day before the most important game of his career, Williams had root canal surgery. The procedure lasted for hours and left him in great pain. The discomfort was so severe it prevented him from getting a good night's rest. The day of the game, things started bad and quickly got worse. Already deprived of sleep, less than two minutes into the game, Williams and his team fell behind 7-0. By the end of the first quarter they were losing 10-0 and had lost Williams to a leg injury. No team in Super Bowl history had overcome a 10 point deficit. Amazingly, Williams and the Redskins withstood the challenging start and persevered against historical odds.

In the second quarter, despite his injury, Williams returned to the game. As quickly as things had gone bad in the first quarter, they swiftly turned around in the second. 45 seconds into the quarter Williams threw his first touchdown pass. in an offensive explosion he threw three more before the quarter ended. Williams passed for a record four touchdowns in the quarter. Behind an impressive defensive effort, Washington scored 42 unanswered points and defeated the Denver Broncos. When the final statistics were calculated, Williams had set 5 Super Bowl records, total passing yards in quarter (228), total passing yards in a game (340), touchdown passes in a quarter (4), touchdown passes in a half (4) and the longest completion (80 yards). He had the best day of his career on the biggest stage in the world, as the first African American quarterback to start in the Super Bowl.

5 years after Doug Williams left Tampa, a team and a city where he was undervalued, he returned to the state of Florida for the recognition of his worth to the Washington Redskins. His journey took him to a magical place a few miles northeast of Tampa, in Orlando. There he celebrated his performance as the Most Valuable Player in Super Bowl XXII, at a theme park called Disney Land.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee: Destination Greatness

Named after the First Lady at the time of her birth, Jackie Joyner seemed destined for greatness. As a track and field star at Lincoln Senior High School she played volley ball and basketball. She led her teams to championships in each sport.  In her collegiate career at UCLA she set records and earned All-American honors.  Joyner became the first heptathlon competitor to score over 7,000 points. Remarkably, she broke that record six times, establishing a new world record four times.  Joyner-Kersee would go on to excel in Olympic competition.  Over the course of 16 years she competed four times winning six medals (three gold, one silver and two bronze).

In 2000, to give back to the community from which she came, Joyner-Kersee raised money to build a youth center. Jackie Joyner-Kersee, a product of East St. Louis, was voted by Sports Illustrated for Women magazine as the Greatest Female Athlete of the 21st century, leaving no doubt about the greatness she was destined to achieve.



Get The Picture: Vote

As I traveled in the night on the dark narrow road of state highway 15 to Philadelphia, Mississippi there was a haunting presence. In 2012, moving from the present into the past through a peripheral path of darkness, I couldn’t help but to wonder what three brave young men might have been thinking as they made a trip to the same city almost fifty years earlier. I was going there to take a picture of a memorial in honor of them. In 1964, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney were civil rights workers in what came to be known as Freedom Summer.

In the spring of 1964 activists Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney looked forward to a season of change in a climate of racial hatred. As members of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality), the three men were planning to register African Americans to vote in Mississippi that summer.  They had gone to Philadelphia to investigate the burning of a church that had been used for civil rights meetings. With their unwelcomed arrival anticipated, when the men entered the town they were immediately under surveillance. After their investigation, as they were leaving, they were stopped by the police for allegedly speeding. The activists were detained for several hours and denied the right to make phone calls. After becoming concerned when they couldn't make contact with the men, civil rights leaders reported them as missing.

Unknown to investigators at the time, the arresting county deputy, Cecil Price had notified a member of the KKK and arranged for the men to be ambushed. The attack happened shortly after they were released from police custody. As the Freedom Riders were leaving, the deputy followed their car to the edge of town. Before they crossed the county line he stopped the men again and ordered them to get into his car. Then he took them to a road where a gang of Ku Klux Klansmen awaited.  There the men were confronted, abducted at gun-point and taken to an undisclosed location. It was shortly before midnight on June 21.  
Chaney was violently assaulted by the mob of men. His left arm was broken in one place and his right arm in two. Six weeks later on August 4, the dead bodies of all three were found in a dam. It was determined that Chaney had been beaten with a blunt object then shot along with Schwerner and Goodman. The autopsy report also stated that he may have suffered trauma to his groin area. Ironically, the first day of Freedom Summer was the last day of their lives.
Two years after the murders eighteen men were charged with conspiracy to violate the civil rights of the victims.  An all-white jury convicted seven of the conspirators and acquitted eight. None of the convicted men spent more than six years in prison.
In 2005, almost forty-years after the initial verdict the case was re-opened. An  accomplice who was originally acquitted, 80 year-old Edgar Killen, a local minister at the time of the murders, was convicted of three counts of man-slaughter for organizing and directing the slayings. He was sentenced to the maximum of sixty years in prison. Finally, the justice that had long been ignored was served.

We will never know what Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney thoughts were as they made their trip to Philadelphia forty-eight years ago.  Nor will we ever know what they thought as they attempted to leave. The men knew that Neshoba County was one of the most dangerous in Mississippi, but for causes they were committed to they went anyway. Perhaps they thought it would be safer that day since they were not going to register African Americans to vote. As the Freedom Riders were leaving and had nearly made it out of town, they may have thought that their safe return was eminent. Whatever their thoughts were up until then, at some point before the end, the men were likely horrified as the inevitability of their deaths became apparent. 

It was a sunny February evening when I left from Starkville, Mississippi that day. By the time I arrived in Philadelphia to take the picture it was night. Between the surrounding darkness and the lack of familarity I couldn't find the monument. With time limited and running out I couldn't stay to wait for daylight. I left Philadelphia that night with disappointment and without the picture.  

If you are in the dark and  unfamiliar with the struggle for civil rights in this country, hopefully this information will enlighten you. During the 1950's and 1960's these men and others fought for African Americans to have equal rights, including the right to vote. Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney gave their lives to attain privileges that we take for granite today. In this presidential election year and others get the picture, remember their sacrifices and vote.

Emmett Till: The Ugly Face Of Racism

If you haven’t seen this picture before, it’s one that you won’t soon forget. That’s just the way Mamie Carthan wanted it to be in 1955. That was the year that her son Emmett Till was murdered down in the Mississippi Delta. Till was visiting from Chicago that summer and had reportedly flirted with a white woman. The 14 year-old was taken from a relative’s house in the middle of the night, pistol whipped and thrown into the back of a pick-up truck. Then he was taken to a barn where he was beaten. One of his eyes was gouged out and he was shot. A 70 pound cotton gin was tied around his neck and he was thrown into the Tallahatchie River. His body was found three days later. His mother requested an open-casket funeral so that the world could see and never forget the brutality of his murder.

The two men accused of the kidnapping and murder, Roy Bryant and J.W.Milam  were tried and acquitted. It was a gross case of racial injustice in the state of Mississippi. The two accused later admitted to the crimes in a magazine article, but they were unable to be re-tried because of Double Jeopardy. 


Monday, February 13, 2012

Hand from Heaven: The Birmingham Church Bombing

During the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s the Black church was not only a place of worship. It was a place of refuge, a place where Blacks felt safe from the hatred of racism. That is, until the church became a meeting place for the struggle confront racial justice. As organizers started to go against the grain of the tradition of White supremacy, the church became a target of violence.

50 years ago on September 15th 1963, two weeks after the March on Washington,the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed.  It was Youth Day and four girls in attendance that day were killed. The bodies of Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Weslely lied lifeless in the sanctuary. As sacrifices for justice on earth, their spirits were safely taken to heaven by the hand of God.

As for the church, it was badly damaged. The blast had blown a hole in the back of its wall. The steps were demolished and every glass structure was shattered, except for one stained-glass window. On it was a picture of Christ. He was leading a group of small children. The story of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing is told in the documentary 4 Little Girls.