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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Matthew's Ruminations is Moving!

In order to save time and effort, Matthew's Ruminations will be moving to my personal website effective May 13, 2012. Thank you for your continued readership!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Call to Consciousness

Though the state black entrepreneurship has progressed significantly in the past decade, successful entrepreneurs with businesses in urban environments lock their doors at the end of the day and proudly drive to their suburban homes located miles away. Thus, revitalization fails as monies are rarely ever filtered back into inner city residential districts. There have been some instances where initiatives were set into place to make inner cities more conducive for inciting black businesses - creating jobs in real estate, health, finance, and education – simultaneously building wealth and affluence.
Unfortunately, jealousy, envy and fear are caveats that perpetuate the exhibition of intraracial separation amongst the black population; amongst the poor and the affluent; amongst the scholarly and the unintelligent, the law-abiding and the delinquents. Unlike immigrants from Hispanic, Dominican, Jamaican and Asian backgrounds, we fail to take advantage of the opportunities presented to us and instead linger diligently with outstretched hands, anxiously waiting on the divine showering of reparation checks accompanied by our just due of 40 acres and a mule.
Even prior to the Civil Rights Movement, highly esteemed educators like Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) and W.E.B. Du Bois pointed out the lack of support and ambition among the African American collective - the same variables that contribute to the deficiency of success in our community today. Booker T. Washington was an advocate for philosophies fundamentally centered on racial solidarity – developing and depending on our own skills and resources to build communities, housing developments and businesses. He believed that becoming educated in the industrial arts and farming while cultivating virtues of patience, enterprise and thrift would prove to be more fruitful than resistance. The ultimate objective in this notion was to win the respect of whites, which would eventually lead to African Americans acceptance and integration into a higher realm of society.
W.E.B. Du Bois on the other hand, argued that Washington's strategy would serve only to perpetuate white oppression and resistance. He advocated for political action and a civil rights agenda. In addition, he argued that social change could be accomplished by developing a cadre of college-educated blacks he called “the Talented Tenth.” Considering their debate in today’s circumstances, Du Bois’ position would mean that professional athletes, doctors, lawyers, entertainers and politicians who make millions of dollars are responsible for reaching back and helping others (blue collar workers, the poverty stricken and homeless) reach a certain level of achievement.
While Washington’s argument proposes that living and depending on the affluence of those who attained success indeed cripples low-income blacks, rather than encouraging them to prosper through their own labor. However, would placing the responsibility of overcoming as a people onto those who have “arrived” add unnecessary pressure? Most of us stand somewhere in the middle of the aforementioned points, praying for solutions, and pondering ideas that can lead us toward prosperity.
In respect to black intellectualism, we have battled issues with elitism since the nineteenth century. However, today’s “talented tenth” (initially intended to serve as mitigation between underprivileged blacks and white society) seem more socially estranged from disadvantaged blacks than their predecessors were. Practicing Du Bois’s theories; building aristocracy, intellectualism and affluence within our own race may have potentially hurt us and prevented our people from learning and adapting to the ways of a mainstream society.
Even today, elitist attitudes and supreme ideologies are held by affluent blacks who have graduated from Ivy League schools; looking down upon graduates of “ordinary” state colleges and universities. Instead of encouraging and assisting in enlightening our underprivileged brothers and sisters, the upper echelons tend to neglect the masses. While other ethnicities carry out the practice of uplifting their communities as a whole; educating, supporting and funding their deprived, blacks are getting further and further behind in the race to prosperity.
Trudging beyond the stereotypes, obstacles and conspiracies that bind us is the key to triumphing, even in regards to intraracial and intellectual discrimination. The Hip Hop movement is potentially one of the greatest tools we have as a tool to reach urban populations and demographics. Potentially, messages of returning to consciousness, supporting education, promoting legal entrepreneurism, and combating health care disparities, could all be dispersed through this platform.
Contrarily, lackluster content glamorizing spending money on cars, jewelry, clothes and alcohol that the average person cannot afford, perpetuating sexual deviance and anti-intellectualism with poor grammar usage, remains popular among our youth. Why have Hip Hop artists failed to use their mainstream media platforms to deliver strong messages of self-determination, rather than perpetuating gang life, drug dealing, profanity and incarceration? Though part of the “talented tenth” in our community, the lack of initiative and efforts made by many successful music moguls and producers who have made it through the trenches remains disappointing.
If we are to win this race, a new generation of leaders must emerge to create solutions that will eradicate social and economic disparities. Hip Hop artists need to stand up and take advantage of their platform and become the activists that God called them to be. Somehow, the passing of the collective unconscious baton failed to be exchanged in a fashion that would position us to cross the finish line as victors. Elders of the Civil Rights era blame the youth for the extinguishing of our torch; while elongated fingers of today’s youth point back to those who appear to have failed to properly educate, inform and equip them with the ceremonious ignition to carry out the fight. Nonetheless, it is time we learn that America owes us nothing, not even a pair of track shoes to run the course. However, we owe it to ourselves to run harder, faster – by any means necessary. Remember, that which I resist, persists; that which I release, releases me.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Remembering the $17 Million Dollar Witch Hunt of Mike Espy

While contemplating writing an article about Johnny Dupree, African American Gubernatorial candidate for the state of Mississippi, I was reminded of the redoubtable Mike Espy. From 1987 to 1993, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives.

He also served as the U. S. Secretary of Agriculture from 1993 to 1994 and was the first African American to hold the post. He was and still is an idol of mine and at that point in time, he was the highest ranking African American politician in the United States.

In 1994 he was pressured to resign his position as U. S. Secretary of Agriculture amid allegations that he inappropriately received gifts from businesses and lobbyists. After months of media inquiry, Espy announced his resignation. The move was made a couple of weeks after Donald Smaltz was chosen to investigate Espy’s acceptance of gifts from companies and lobbyists that were under the jurisdiction of the USDA.

As many of you may remember, back on August 27, 1997, Mike Espy was indicted on charges of receiving inappropriate gifts, specifically from Tyson and Sun Diamond. Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz presented more than 70 witnesses in the trial; spent $17 million dollars on various phases of the case and Espy’s defense rested without calling witnesses, asserting that the prosecution had not established Espy’s guilt. It is also important to note that Espy wholeheartedly snubbed a plea bargain.

Although Smaltz proved that Espy received the gifts, he failed to demonstrate that Espy did something in return for them. The law allows officials to accept gifts out of friendship or a yearning to establish friendship, so long as the gifts are not for acts of quid pro quo.

Defense lawyers said many of the gifts came from lifelong friends and others were given as harmless acts of generosity. Day after day, Smaltz's own witnesses described Espy as a superior leader who made all decisions on their merits.

During testimony before the jury, the prosecution's chief witness told Smaltz in front of the jury: "God knows, if I had $30 million, I could find dirt on you, sir." Throughout the trial, Smaltz griped that the defense was infusing race into the trial in what he saw as a plea to the mainly African American jury.

On December 2, 1998, Espy was acquitted of all 30 criminal charges and the jury deliberated for only 9 hours. It was reported that one of the jurors stated "This was the weakest, most bogus thing I ever saw. I can't believe Mr. Smaltz ever brought this to trial." This sentiment was also expressed by several other jurors.

Espy celebrated as the jury forewoman broadcasted the verdicts in U.S. District Court. Thirty times she looked at the verdict form and declared "not guilty" as independent counsel Donald Smaltz and his team of lawyers sat calmly at the prosecution table. Barbara Bisoni, the only Caucasian juror, said Smaltz's case "had holes" and that race by no means entered into the two days of deliberations.

"He's not unlike any other schoolyard bully," Espy said of Smaltz. "You have to stand up to him. You have to let him know you're not going to back down, and sooner or later it's going to be okay."
The moral of the story is; when God is on your side, not even a prosecutor with a $17 million dollar budget can convict you. Espy faced immeasurable odds but at the end of his ordeal, he was still standing. He never compromised his character and refused to negotiate a plea bargain. Mike Espy was and still is the epitome of a transformational leader.