WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 31, 2018
A Letter to My Brothers and Sisters
Dear Jan, Carol, Bobbie, Kathie, Karen andI pray
Douglass, these words
find you all well, in good health and spirits and enjoying life. This letter has been, in the words of the late, great Sam Cooke, “A long time coming.” Early this morning (6 AM, to be exact) I met with a Men’s Book Club in the basement of our church. For nearly three years, a group of men gather together at that early hour to engage in discussion about our current reading. We have read books ranging from Coates, “Between the World and Me” to “Forty Short Stories” by Anton Chekhov. Lately we have been reading books that have opened a floodgate of memories, walking me down the dusty roads of my youth. “Native Son”, “Five Smooth Stones”, a great book about the The Staple Singers and currently, “Traveling Soul: The Life of Curtis Mayfield.”
Amazingly the books all possess themes and motifs that are so germane to these times in which we live. Well, this morning we began our discussion on the Mayfield book. As I started reading I also went to YouTube on my computer and tuned in to many of the early songs by The Impressions- first with Jerry Butler as lead on songs such as “Your Precious Love” and mostly with Curtis singing lead on songs like- “It’s Alright”, “Keep on Pushin’”, “People Get Ready”, and “Gypsy Woman.” It dawned on me that I knew all of these songs- nearly word for word! Of course you all know how I love music. But for the most part, I have not listened to the Impressions music. By the time I began to pay real attention to music, The Jackson Five were on the seen, as well as the endless number of Motown groups and those from the Philadelphia Sound. I grew up with Enchantment, The Stylistics and The Mighty, Mighty Dells! These songs by Curtis Mayfield’s songs date back mostly, prior to 1964. The only way I could know them, is if someone slightly older than me had been playing them when I was in diapers.
That is when it hit me! As surely as I am writing these words, it came to me that you all- especially our dear late sister Madge, along with you- Jan, Carol, Bobbie, Kathie and Karen, must have been playing, singing, and dancing to these incredibly powerful social justice songs before I started school! I have always wondered where my leaning toward social justice, my desire to add my voice to the trumpeters for justice who have come and gone...came from? As you may know, my life’s body of work and what I am currently giving my life to, revolves around justice, equality and equity for all people- regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, country of origin or culture.
Part of me felt these emotions were given life when I went away to school and became lost in an ocean of idealism and multiple seas of concepts, ideas and thoughts. Surely when I learned that if justice is going to work for anyone it must work for everyone, this pedagogy must have come through some theologian or philosopher. Was it Jim Cone and the authenticity of his dedication in making Jesus and God, a deity with whom black folks could identify? Or was it the early works of Jacqueline Grant and Renita Weems, who introduced to me the concept to wholly embrace the femininity of the divine Creator, as well as the masculinity portrayed in biblical and church history? Why am I wired to fight for the underdog, to stand with the oppressed, to live with and support the marginalized?
Well, when I was listening to Curtis all day talking about “Moving on Up” and singing in his high falsetto, “It’s Alright,” I recognized that I have you all to thank. Along with our amazing parents (also, Madge and Roger) it came to me that I (we) was (were) raised in a cocoon of incredible encouragement. I was nurtured on the rhythmic section of freedomI have you all to thank for helping raise me during some of the most turbulent and challenging times; John F. Kennedy killed before I was 4, Malcolm X killed before I was 6, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. killed before I was 9, the nation was lit on fire with riots-insurrections, from Watts to Detroit. Somehow, in some way that I can only say was the power and presence of God, your outpouring of love and goodness, poured hope and the promise of better days down into my soul. Talk about the power of family. So as I prepare for bed after this day of being inspired by the songs and music of Curtis Mayfield all these years later...something about it all, rings familiar. My ardent and convicting belief here on the last day
music with socially conscious lyrics. Before I was out of diapers, Madge, Jan and Carol were dancing to The Impressions who were encouraging us all to “Keep on pushing.” All of this literally poured into the recesses of my heart. My mind went back to 731 Pioneer, a little black and white television in the front room and the amazing melodies that filled our minds with infinite possibilities, our hearts with endless potential, and our very bodies with the gift of resistance. of
January, 2018 is nothing new. I believe that if we keep on pushing, we will move on up and all people will get ready, for a train is coming. You all instilled that in me. I am deeply thankful.
I love you all!
Your Brother, Michael