A Visionary Has And Has Not Left Us

In the all too brief time I personally knew Mel King, thanks to an introduction by another old friend, Cheryl Holmes Ph.D, I think it can be safely said he would not consider any of his actions throughout his life as deserving recognition beyond what others might or have done.

To him, the importance was taking considerate action which produced results.

One of my most persistent memories was during the early project meetings discussing the adaptation of "Chain of Change", when he would close his eyes in deep concentration before answering a question or commenting on a proposed visual rendition of a theme or sub-theme. That extended to correlating choice of music.

He was very attuned to nuance.

He didn't have to deliberate when reflecting on his past, such as relating the story of his family emigrating to the US, believing in a "land of promise" and realizing treatment as 2nd class citizens; or reminiscing on bygone neighborhoods and their diversity. His wife Joyce would be on hand with refreshments and occasionally, after some initial cajoling, contribute her insights.

Obviously, he was also indispensable in helping to plan the organization of the project.

Many of the photos we could access were from newspaper clippings; one was of a confrontation on the Tent City grounds during the protest in the late 1960's. I observed that (it was because) he wasn't wearing his bow tie, which got him to give up a smile.

We had to terminate the weekly meetings after a few years and the pandemic really changed our course. For the time being it was decided to create a virtual instead of live action presentation.

As you may know there are three stages in Mel's concept: Service, Organization and Institution. The current version is still a work in progress, owing in no small amount to the multifaceted layers encompassing the stages. Combined with technical challenges among other factors, completion is taking a bit longer than anticipated.

Fortunately, a partial preview for the family was able to be provided last year. The full effort will materialize. Another development is underway, about which more will be shared in due time.

Mel gave me a signed copy of "Chain of Change" that included the line "thanks for being a link." It is one of my highest honors.

10.20.1928 - 03.28. 2023. Rest In Power Mel.

What A Difference

As of the date of this post we're more than past the mid-point of 2022. Since the last published post here in 2021 there's been more shooting of black men, women and children.

Too many resulted from highly questionable circumstances ranging from suspicion of firearm possession, profiling, to fleeing a traffic stop to executing a no-knock warrant and self-defense disputes. When available, bodycam footage dramatically highlights the validity of narratives (or lack thereof, particularly attempts at (re)interpretation).

Meanwhile there's been two major shootings within the past 8 months (among others none of which can be considered minor). Those apprehended who happened to be Caucasian were taken into custody without being shot by a law enforcement official. (14 May, Buffalo; 4-July Highland Park).

Voting in the 2020 presidential election had the highest participation rate in American history. It echoes exercising newly granted voting rights in the 1960's.

Voting 1960's

Black people in particular braved hours long lines as well as submitted mail-in ballots that proved to be a factor in Democrats winning the electoral college.

In response, Republicans claimed the process was rigged; challenged the integrity of the ballots in more than 60 court cases (coincidentally concentrated in predominantly black precincts and in swing states) and lost nearly every case. In fact, some voting irregularities that were found were intended to favor Trump. But this was only the beginning.

As of February 2021 GOP state legislatures have imposed and are still trying to impose more restrictive measures on mail-in voting.

Georgia has even made it illegal to provide food and water directly to voters as was done during the 2020 election during a pandemic and inhospitable weather. Contorted from a regulation meant to curb bribery, defies logic and compassion under such circumstances.

Contortion seems to apply to a lot of things lately.

Generally speaking, these types of measures are part of a coordinated strategy of limiting polling places, enacting more stringent voter ID requirements, stacking courts with partisan judges and state legislatures. We're now at a point where anything will be done to support election results contrary to the popular vote including attempts to override using an alternate slate of electors.

Talk about cancel culture.

Looking Back To Look Forward

Chain of Change relates in Chapter 4...In 1967 a peaceful protest led by Mothers for Adequate Welfare against "catch-22" welfare regulations in the Boston Grove Hall Welfare Office, was violently "dispersed" by police. Called "The Police Riots" by the community, initially triggered a violent response by a few, but several days later MAW held a peaceful rally on Boston Common.

It ultimately resulted in recommendations by the Kerner Commission on Civil Disorders for equity in welfare benefits distribution, and relieving restrictions enabling the cycle of poverty.

Over the course of 30 years degrees of progress in some areas was made, but then it stopped and reversed.

There are those who advocate encouraging "everyday people" to run for all levels of office, marshalling the youth vote (evidently well underway on its own) , and organizing. There's also a number of recent books addressing our fractured union, with prescriptions for substantive action.

Decisions, Decisions

The overturning of Roe vs. Wade has galvanized much of America across demographics and cast a different light on the inevitability of the midterm elections, so intensively reported by the media.

The condition of public schools was another flashpoint in the struggle of the 1960's.

In June 2022, "The city of Boston, Boston Public Schools district and Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education have reached an agreement on a systemic improvement plan for BPS. [...] a day before Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley was set to ask the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to vote to declare Boston Public Schools as "underperforming", which falls short of a full state takeover." [excerpts from WCVB.com]

"The Massachusetts Teachers Association has said the Legislature passed a "status quo" budget for fiscal 2022 and that lack of funding creates a disproportionate negative effect on working-class students and students of color[...] we must remember that our public schools - and our public colleges and universities - have been grossly underfunded for decades, [italics mine] [MTA President Merrie] Najimy said." [source: masslive.com Melissa Hanson 7/10/21 "Massachusetts Teachers Association says lack of funding in fiscal 2022 budget creates disproportionate negative effect on students of color"]

The Stages

Organizing and demonstrating ("stay outs") raised awareness of racial imbalance and laid groundwork for more innovation in the 1960's.

We can continue to expect claims of dishonest election results particularly by the party of one who has "raised it" to an art form.

What has become clear is that resistance and overcoming suppression tactics are going to need a multi-pronged approach.

Building economic power to reduce dependency (overlapping into the Institutional Stage of the chain) along with traditional activism, voting and monitoring the process in every manageable capacity, be it poll workers, voter assistants, etc., is now a basic recipe for confronting the distortion of our cherished rights.

And of course it can never be said enough...VOTE!

Volunteering, involvement in school boards and local politics to secure our vote will augment what took place 50+ years ago.

New Links In The Chain

Photo by 99 Films of demonstrator during police violence protests 2020 holding sign
Photo by 99 Films/Unsplash

At this point in time I keep discovering hills and valleys of emotion which I'm sure is, to one degree or another, not a unique revelation. Your emotional terrain is most likely similar.

I am a child of the sixties, and despite witnessing/living through the moment of assassinations of political figures/activists, historic marches and riots, a controversial war and tremendous culture clash, my greatest fears were invasion by communist countries and nuclear war. Concerns over race relations joined the collection around 1965, as close as a sibling.

Those marches and riots were scattered across cities basically on the coasts, some places in the south and eastern portions of the U.S.

While there's been no shortage of tension-inducing events throughout the last 5 decades, recent events have been astonishing. Optimism is seriously competing with cynicism despite some repetition of history. I've read and experienced more than I wanted of a rise in right-wing populism here and abroad. International as well as domestic cooperation and tolerance seemed fractured.

Suddenly within 3 months a world-wide pandemic was officially announced; massive economic devastation resulted; revelations of 3 people killed by police/vigilantes exposed by video/leakage to the press. Inequality in the American justice system displayed yet again.

Photo credit Maria Oswalt/Unsplash

In a recent travesty in Minneapolis, George Floyd was tortured and killed while being "arrested" for alleged fraud in the amount of $20, by at least 1 of 3 police officers with a knee to his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Lung constriction is suspected from another pressing against his back.

This galvanized a nation to protest the long history of police brutality and racism, followed shortly thereafter by a number of cities overseas.

For more than 2 full weeks, with no signs of abating, demonstrations have taken place daily with extensive and diverse participation even in small towns and suburbs. Every ethnic group and across age ranges in unity.

The pandemic made lock-downs and quarantining essential, which fomented protest by those on the right. In at least one instance individuals with assault weapons appeared at state houses vociferously demanding an end to restrictions. Contrasts to law enforcement reaction vs. forceful measures against police protesters are stark. [Compare images of protests against excessive force vs those of lock-down protests i.e. search "Michigan protest state capitol april 2020."]

Chain of Change Grows

In "Chain of Change" Mel King has described historic patterns of racial injustice and disparity, as well as ways it was/can be addressed as stages.

Briefly summarized, one aspect of the Service stage which is first in the chain, is an expectation "to trust the system will work for [black people] -- eventually."

The second stage, Organizational, is realizing equal influence and access in all facets of life: housing, education, employment, etc., is a right. This is emphasized by activism.

The 3rd stage we aspire to (and to a degree have reached) is the Institutional stage; being self-sufficient and controlling our own resources, using a decentralized administration model.

This time, most went straight to the Organizational stage in a heartbeat. Any others who sought to use the unrest in pursuit of selfish or purely anarchic motives (or perhaps to provoke backlash and distract from the core issues) deserve condemnation. They are not advancing the cause.

Events have highlighted serious abuse of executive power in the white house. Military, with and without insignia, was summoned and forcibly removed peaceful protesters from Lafayette Park, tear inducing gas included, so that the president could stage a photo op. He then threatened to send military to all cities where protests were occurring, using the Insurrection Act of 1807, a "major exception to the Posse Comitatus Act."

A number of current and former military officials strongly criticized the actions.

The dramatic global response for supporting Black Lives Matter, even to the point of some police expressing sympathy and solidarity with protesters, has also stripped the veneer of impartiality or emboldened racists to mock George Floyd's death. Journalists, both foreign and domestic, have received that same rough treatment, dodging rubber bullets, flash grenades and swinging shields and batons.

Some police advocate shooting black people more.

Chain of Change advises us to prepare for a cyclical pattern of these stages (in 2020 that section is ironically titled "A Strategy For the 1980's").

[...]Those people who have been exploiting this society are the weakest link threatening to destroy the product of our struggle. Our own changes could free those people, bound by personal greed and the hunger for power. Or, it may become clear that we have to take drastic action to wrest control of institutions and resources from them if we are going to return sanity to the society. We have been patiently trying all the storybook approaches -- alliances, coalitions, self-help, electoral politics. We will play that thread out to its inevitable end. [...]"

Chain of Change 2016 edition, Mel King page 215

The activism has produced some results: there are proposals and some legislation banning choke holds (although not yet national); no-knock warrants now prohibited in Kentucky (christened Breonna's Law); even requiring intervention by fellow officers when witness to excessive force. Calls for reallocation of budgets to social services and small business support has echoed across the country, and in Boston Mayor Walsh has declared racism a public health emergency, with funds dedicated to remedy.

Even monuments to confederate generals and politicians, and similar imagery is being removed. Colin Kaepernick's taking a knee is now an accepted form by many including some law enforcement., and brought an apology from the NFL.

Photo Credit Mike Von/Unspalsh

More substantive work needs to be done.

The Message Is In The Music

Wynton Marsalis eloquently described the relationship between jazz, artists and social activism, essentially saying that jazz is democratic and says we are a republic. It allows for individual expression but it also makes necessary that others be heard and given respect for their individual expression, therefore attempting to achieve a balance.

The hills are alive...

ULEM 100th Anniversary and the 2020 Census (Pt. 1)

Urban League List of Problems 1919
Image from "The Vantage Point" newsletter published by ULEM/President Darnell Williams, dated 16-Feb-2019

The Urban League of Massachusetts Boston celebrated the 100th anniversary of its founding on 16-May-2019. The ULEM newsletter "The Vantage Point" of 16-Feb-2019 featured this image of a typewritten list of problems as "viewed by the League" in 1919.

There are several items that had and still have implications beyond Boston's borders.

At the recent Equal Opportunity and Diversity Breakfast held at the State Street pavilion at Fenway Park, 14-May, diversity in employment was a prominent topic. Some companies related their hiring history consisting of who one knew/how one was related to existent employees; a practice they were in the process of changing.

The construction trade was another area that is undergoing similar change. Among these observations the phrase "There's much left to do" was repeated several times.

Some concerns of 1919 have given way to more broader focus. In 2020 the United States Census will once again be conducted.

At the Urban League Guild meeting on Saturday preceding the 100th anniversary, president Darnell Williams attended and gave the guild members a very informative presentation; one discussion centered on the communities of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan historically low participation in the census.

He said that many don't know that the census figures into allocation of funds from various government sources. (Subsequent research on the internet revealed it can have an adverse impact on philanthropic and non profit sources too.)

It also costs the state in political representation.

"And most importantly, an inaccurate census will
deprive communities of fair political representation in the U.S. Congress, the Electoral College and state and
local legislatures." -- To Be Equal #22 May 31, 2019 Congressional Hearing in Queens Highlights Challenges and
Importance of 2020 Census

Research shows there is significant distrust as to how responses to the census will be used, particularly the newly proposed citizenship question.

Given the past 2 or more years and what we're living through now, the choice is clear that if this distrust prevents full participation, there's a strong probability that dreadful (or worse?) consequences will be unavoidable.

In another post I will comment on more technical aspects to this burning issue, but it is plaintively obvious that merely ignoring the census because of being "too busy" or disinterested, is inimical to the interests of the community.

symbolic census overlay images
Composite image created from public domain images by Brandon Guillermo. All rights reserved 2019.

Why We Are Doing It: One POV

Sly Stone released an album June 30, 1973 called “Fresh” and on it is a tune: “Thankful N’ Thoughtful”. A lyric from that tune is “People got to be reminded, where it’s really at...”

Project Chain of Change takes that admonition/observation/whatever you want to call it...seriously.

History has to be kept in the foreground from a variety of sources whether we’re paying attention or not. Reinterpretation is a constant (and in not a few instances, double-edged sword). I think in 2018 we’re between Santayana’s aphorism “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, and one often attributed to Mark Twain “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

To put it as objectively as possible, let’s agree that reminders can certainly help.

The Landscape

UPDATE from 2018: So we look around us in 2020 and what do we see?

Symbolic Protest Crowd
Black Lives Matter statement

Conflict and movements, insult and injury masquerading as anti political correctness, a torrent of information (or “data”) that generates more questions than answers, and a low signal to noise ratio of epidemic proportions. That’s just part of the cynical view.

There is the countervailing view that what has transpired and is transpiring, has galvanized greater participation in politics including candidates for various offices, and marshaled tremendous demonstrations in response to those who choose to follow demagoguery.

UPDATE 2020: Several events since the beginning of this year has initiated global demonstrations that have, as of this update June 17, been sustained for 22 days.

A more comprehensive treatment of these events can be read here.

The Power of Art

A series on PBS called “Civilizations” examines the impact of art on history. I seem to recall the first episode made the statement “Art Is History.”

For those that needed a reminder of the power of art, this resonates. What we see, hear and acquire knowledge of is framed daily by music and artistic expression. Inevitably we associate all of that experience. Music is the sound-track and backdrop.

Most assuredly that which is conscious-raising transcends time. It brings a new way of seeing things which leads to a new way to see ourselves. It does not matter that the necessity for the message still exists, only that it persists.

Mel King has been acutely aware of music’s impact, if only measured by the music produced from books of poetry he’s written. Dr. Cheryl Holmes, who participated in recording that music had been percolating the idea of a live presentation of the book for several years. Mel’s wife Joyce King, an activist in her own right, is an invaluable contributor with special insight to changing neighborhood dynamics.

Inspiration and Enlightenment

I’ve found inspiration and enlightenment from much of jazz, soul, some gospel and rock, fusion, African diaspora folkloric and Afro-Latin throughout my life.

I chose tumbadores (popularly known albeit a misnomer as “congas”) as my instrument because of the history of suppression, stereotyping and attempts to smother/erase the culture it is a product of. They were a part of a demonstration at Lincoln Center when Ed Bullin’s play “The Duplex” was performed. [https://www.nytimes.com/1972/03/19/archives/bullins-its-not-the-play-i-wrote-bullins-its-not-the-play-i-wrote.html]

Playing tumbadores has always been more than a “stress reliever” for me.

When Dr. Holmes approached me with the concept of Chain of Change I thought the timing was quite right. That perception has been amplified many times over in the ensuing months.

I’ve also seen radical changes in the old Harlem neighborhood where I grew up. I see it all around me now. I never forgot the knock on my door of my first real apartment in the Fenway a couple of years after moving in,  and a woman handing me an envelope accompanied by the somewhat melodious warning-style announcement “You’re going condo!”

More acutely, now that we have video at our disposal, disputes about what is captured is a whole new level of concern adding to the horror of the events.

I arrived in Boston around the time the Tent City protest was reaching a close, unaware of the social strife in housing, but I certainly witnessed the turmoil with busing and conflict between communities (sometimes up close and personal).

The protests, culture and art of the 60’s and being around those “woke” (as the current saying goes), as well as reading (Alex Haley, Malcolm X, Hunter Thompson, etc.), turned out to be a prerequisite. I viewed the right to vote (and the implied fairness of 1 vote per person) as a settled matter through the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

More subtle injustices (i.e. gerrymandering) became apparent as I grew older.
In fact, one of the books I read within the last 12 years that had a real impact on me was “A People’s History of the United States” by professor Howard Zinn.

Talk about an eye-opener!

Now, I’ve read Chain of Change and see a mission to join others in maintaining the message: we must be vigilant and constantly working actively against forces that would tear our democracy asunder. Among those are Mel, Joyce and Cheryl.

We choose to serve...with our consciences...

Some say Boston is the ‘cradle of liberty’.  And I love liberty.

-- Brandon Guillermo

A Link

We have all been here before.

We have all been here before...

But each time we get a little harder, we get a little tougher, we get a little stronger.

We've got to be calmer, we've got to be cooler. We've got to stay together.

I've borrowed (paraphrased) some lyrics from some of my favorite songs that begin to express what Chain of Change is about and what it is to be.

Meeting Mr. Mel King (author of "Chain of Change")  personally in October 2017 was quite an honor and one I would not have imagined happening in my lifetime. I was only peripherally aware of him and his influence on events in my early days of residence in Boston in the 1970's and not fully conscious of the myriad and subtle ways exploitation and injustice can permeate.

I am a child of the 60's. While I witnessed the marches and assassinations and riots that took place (not just on TV) I had yet to comprehend the combinations of ways subjugation and oppression can be levied.

Chain of Change has been an invaluable part of that education.

And now, with an idea first borne by Dr. Cheryl Holmes and Mr. King (with acknowledgments to Ms. Joyce King, his spouse) my awareness has multiplied by an order of magnitude.

[UPDATE: 06/13/18. Ed Tundidor, referred by Dr. Holmes, is now a member of the project team and providing a wealth of experience in digital resources and trends.]

As an artist, I've always seen the arts as a force for change, (even in my most cynical moments) and this work has reinvigorated that outlook. Not to mention events of 2016 and beyond...

So the time has come to expose another layer (or more accurately layers) of the meaning of Chain of Change.

Benefit from the shared experience....

-- Brandon Guillermo, owner of Diverse Elements

Chart Your Course