Earvin “Magic” Johnson was one of the most dynamic, durable and talented players in NBA history. His natural gifts gave him a distinct advantage over his opponents. At 6’9” 230lbs, he was built like a power forward, but had the grace, ball handling skills and on the court leadership of a point guard. And though his size at his was not customary for a point guard, he became the best point guard to ever wear Los Angeles Lakers jersey. Point guards are typically the smallest players on the court. Their job is to control the tempo of the game by making good decisions with the basketball and allowing the players around them to score, by embodying a pass first, shoot second mentality. But Magic, because of his size, intelligence and smarts, could play every position on the court. His combination of size and speed made him a complete package, a once in a generation caliber of player.
And though Magic had an arsenal of skills, he is best most known for his passing. Magic had an uncanny ability to place the ball in the hand of his teammates from under the most improbable scenarios; like magic. He was so good at dishing the ball around that he didn’t even have to look in the direction of his passes. Hence, “no look pass.” It’s like he had eyes in the back of his head and three arms. A player could be on the opposite side of the court, totally out of position to receive the ball, yet Magic could penetrate the defending team with a laser pass that was only attended for his player’s hands. Squared up with a defender in his face, closing in on him… and POOF, the ball was out of his hands and being laid up by someone else, for two points. And when teams tried to anticipate his passes, he would keep the ball and score himself.
For his entire career he deceived us into thinking he was going left, when in actuality, his true intention was to go right. We thought that he would surely take the open shot, but he actually passed it off to someone whom you forgot was on the court…because you had been so engulfed in watching him. How did he do it? How did he see it? It was unexplainable. But he did it time and time again. You could never predict how the play would end, once the basketball touched Magic’s hands.
As I watch news and read reports about the state of politics in the United States. I feel like I am watching Magic Johnson play again. We are all being told to focus on emanate threat of Islamic terrorists. For a slither of time, some of us would have been duped into thinking that the Trump administration had a legitimate concern about Muslim extremists finding their way into the United States. Even if the World Trade attacks took place over 15 years ago and we had virtually no “terrorist” attacks on American soil since.[i] As a matter of fact, more than 90% of all “terrorist” attacks perpetrated by Muslims are inflicted on other Muslims… in Muslim countries. With the exception of Antarctica, when you look at the facts, the United States might be the safest place on the planet when it comes to “so called” terrorist attacks. Europe, Asia and Africa catch far more hell than we could every dream of.
So while a travel ban was being placed on Muslims in the name of protecting America from terrorists, another play was being drawn up. Social media has been flooded with posts about ICE (Immigration Law Enforcement) going into neighborhoods from Los Angeles, to New York City, to Miami to setup “check points.” Folks are being stopped, searched, detained and deported for being undocumented. The government is supposedly, only going after those with “criminal charges.” Whether the reports of checkpoints[ii] are true or false, Trumps rhetoric towards immigrants has fostered a growing climate of fear and mistrust of immigrants.
A few weeks ago, the Trump administration dribbled the ball down the right side of the court, telling us that Muslims were a threat because of their inherent ties to “terrorism.” But this week they through the ball to the opposite side of the court to our wide open ICE Agents who are allegedly boarding public transportation in places like Flatbush Brooklyn with a huge West Indian population and Flushing Queens, which is considered to be the most diverse neighborhood in the world, with families from virtually every country in Latin America and Asia. It seems that it’s not just about “criminals.”
The African American community already knows all too well about having their neighborhoods heavily policed. Black men very familiar with being stopped and frisked in the name of “proactive policing.” It seems like it will always be a reason to accuse people of color of being suspicious or a threat to America. It seems like all those years of stopping and frisking black people paid off after all. Those same protocols are now being practiced on the Latino and Muslim communities in America.
So what is this all about? Where is the Trump administration really going with their agenda? Unlike Magic, his “no-look” passes and skillful ball handling made those around him better. It made the team better. He led the Lakers to five NBA Championships.[iii] Also, in the game of basketball there are two teams on the court. The objective is to defeat your opponent. However, America is not a basketball court, it is a country. How is all this rhetoric and division making all Americans better? We are supposed to be unified. We should be trying our best include everyone, in our so-called democracy, polarizing and excluding certain groups. “United we stand. Divided we fall.” America is supposed to be a land of opportunity and refuge for those who cannot find refuge anywhere else. A land built on the backs of the same people who are now being systematically pushed away.
It is far too easy to place the blame of our shortcomings as a country on immigrants and people of color. It is far too easy to complain and pull on the emotions of the American people rather than make the necessary changes and sacrifices. America is not perfect, however, it is still one of the safest places in the world. It is still the land of opportunity. We cannot fall for the bait and allure of prejudice, fear and xenophobia. While it may look like hour president is going to work, to solve the problems of our nation, we need to look a little deeper. What is his real agenda? Because I know that expelling millions of immigrants and banning the entry of hundreds of thousands more, will not make America “great again.” But it will continue keep us confused, divided and distracted.
 ICE- Immigration Customs Enforcement
[i] ACLU FACTSHEET ON CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION’S 100-MILE ZONE https://www.aclu.org/other/aclu-factsheet-customs-and-border-protections-100-mile-zone?redirect=immigrants-rights/aclu-fact-sheet-customs-and-border-protections-100-mile-zone
[ii] False Stories About ICE Sweeps & Checkpoints Spark Fear In New York’s Immigrant Communities
[iii] NBA Encyclopedia –Earvin Johnson, Jr.
When Colin Kaepernick decided to kneel, instead of stand during the playing of the Nation Anthem, he positioned himself and changed his status from “the Good Negro,” to “a Problem”. Immediately, his critics became historians, patriots and defenders of all things American. Well, at least from the dominant culture’s perspective. When Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner during the War of 1812, people who looked like Colin Kaepernick would have been considered slaves, chattel, property, 3/5 human being or at best, byproducts of infidelity manifested through the rape of enslaved black women. A little more history will reveal that during the war, that thousands of black people actually fought against the United States on the side of the British, as they were promised to be liberated, if they fought for the British crown. Ever heard of Freetown, Sierra Leone? Look it up.
After all, Britain had abolished slavery by 1808, nearly 60 years before the American Civil War (1861-65). So any historian or person of color might naturally be inclined to believe that the Star Spangled Banner was not a song about justice for all, but a song of preserving the rights, freedoms and liberties and the union of a nation that was built on the oppression of black people; so much so, that they fought to preserve the union, as well as slavery. So to any well-versed and well-read person, black, white or any other label, can clearly see, why someone of color, or any American for that matter, might be dissatisfied with the content, context and history of our National Anthem.
Many have argued that Kaepernick is dishonoring, or disrespecting America and especially its veterans. Well, they have the right to believe that, but up until the 1950’s, our military was still racially segregated. And it was not until the Obama administration, that being openly gay in the military was legitimately addressed, protected and recognized by our government. And if you truly understand our history, America has always been a land of protest and freedom of expression. After all, the Bill of Rights, protects the very actions that Kaepernick has decided to exercise. The first amendment gives all United States citizens the freedom of speech, which also includes freedom of religion, press and peaceful assembly. This means that even organizations built on the foundation of using terrorism to intimidate black people from voting in the late 1800’s, known as the Ku Klux Klan, can have parades, demonstrations and marches, while being protected under that same amendment. This means that Neo-Nazi groups can pass out white supremacist literature and rhetoric to the public and they have the right to do so, under the same amendment. Our unique principles of individual freedoms that are protected by the U.S. Constitution, were supposedly built on these same rights.
However, when I see someone who looks like Colin Kaepernick being attacked for exercising his freedoms, I become suspicious. I begin to question whether my contemporaries really believe in justice for all, or are they just as short sighted as our founding fathers were, when it comes down to race and gender equality. Are they upset because of his complexion, or his privilege as an elite athlete, who just happens to be a person of color? If you feel that not standing for the American flag is un-American, then you must have the same sentiment towards the Confederate Flag, which was a direct dis against our United States. Then you should be just as passionate about the Ku Klux Klan being able to continue to operate after going on a reign of terror that lasted 100 years, as they hung innocent black, men women and children and any brave white folks who dared to stand for justice and equality for their black brothers and sisters. You should be outraged at how the 2nd amendment continues to be the same device used to allow almost anyone over 18 years old to purchase an assault rifle, that was only designed to do one thing —-and that is to destroy human flesh.
However, I do see why some people may be upset with Colin. They are upset because Colin Kapernick has gone from the conventional role of the unassuming, quiet in the storm of injustice, Michael Jordan silent, endorsement filled “good negro” to “a problem.” Our history has always been fine with people of color who simply conform to the system, even in times when the flaws of the system have direct negative impacts on them. We can look at the Trail of Tears, under the Indian Removal Act of 1831, under Andrew Jackson’s presidency. As long as the people of the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Seminole and other nations did not resist leaving their ancestral land and being forced to march 1000 miles to Oklahoma, then they were fine. But if they resisted or protested in any way, they were eradicated. As long as black folks in the South did not show up to the ballots on election day during the Jim Crow years (1877-1965) they were fine. But as soon as a negro tried to exercise their right to vote, they were eradicated. Do you know who Medgar Evers is? Look him up. As long as immigrants work under the table, doing menial jobs for impoverished wages, it is not a problem. But as soon as they begin to get involved in the political process, send their children to school and demand higher wages, “they need to go back to Mexico, because they are taking all of our jobs, committing crimes and leaching off our healthcare system.”
I’m sure that Harriet Tubman was an excellent slave. They say that she was a strong as any man. She probably worked as hard as any slave during her years of bondage; and her masters benefited greatly from her production- as a slave. But when she ran away, she was no longer helpful to them. And when she began to free others, she became a problem. By no means am I saying that a multimillionaire professional athlete is a slave in today’s society—- at least not from a materialistic stand point. But if our argument is that because Colin Kaepernick is wealthy then he has no worries or place to speak out or protest the unjust treatment of some of his fellow Americans; then what is the point in becoming wealthy; to only remain wealthy and not use your influence or platform to change the things that are flawed with our system? May he should just continue making millions and keep his mouth shut. Paying a few black athletes millions of dollars does not even begin to address our country’s battle with racism, discrimination and inequality. And just because Colin was raised by white parents does not mean that he does not understand what it is, feels like to be black in America or that he is not somehow, immune or protected from the same unfair treatment of those who do not have the implied protection of white privilege.
So does the first amendment apply to everyone or does it only apply to some? If you agree that it applies to everyone, then Colin Kaepernick is just as American and patriotic as anyone who has ever spoken out against injustice. He is just as patriotic as Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution, while owning hundreds of slaves on his Virginia plantation at the same damn time; not to mention becoming elected our 3rd president, not to mention fathering at least six bi-racial children with his mistress, Ms. Sally Hemings. These documents were a direct response to the injustice that Americans faced under British tyranny. We were a country born out of a social revolution. But if we are going to have a double-standard about who can fight and speak out for freedom then the flag means absolutely nothing.
Since 2010 I have worked and partnered with a Brooklyn-based nonprofit organization called Community2Community. They help to build self-sufficient communities in Haiti, by working with the community.
The organization is focused on tackling four areas the impacted the people of Piton, a mountainside village just outside of Petit Goave, Haiti:
1. Building a road to allow supplies to come in and out the community, as well as allow commerce and transportation to take place more efficient and effectively.
2. Reforest the mountainside, which had been ravaged after years of excessive production of chabon, which is Creole for charcoal.
3. Providing a centralized clean water source, so that the people of the community no longer have to spend 6-8 hours a day fetching buckets of water to perform their daily tasks; such as cooking, laundry and bathing.
4. Rebuild the school that had been damaged by the earthquake and subsequently destroyed due to a series of hurricanes.
Being a teacher, I naturally gravitated towards the rebuilding of the school. After a few conversations and brainstorming with Marie Eusebe, the found of C2C and I came up with an fundraiser called Change04Change. It started off as a basic operation of having students and staff members bringing in loose change and donating it to our cause, coupled with a bake sale and a few other activities. The homeroom that raised the most money won a pizza party and was celebrated at a school-wide assembly. Our goal has always been that and we have met our goal essentially each year. Our hope is to get as many schools in the New York City area to do the same. But it has not been an easy task.
Five years later, Change04Change has evolved into a more focused and engaging initiative. During the month of May which is Haitian Heritage Month we not only fund raise, but we really engage our students throughout the month.
1.Our Global Citizen Essay Contest– students write essays about what it means to be a global citizen and how they can get involved in assisting with our efforts in Petit Goave. The top three finalists are awarded at our annual Hope and a Future Celebration.
2. Hats04Haiti– students and staff all wear the hat of their choice for a day and give a kind donation to show their support.
3. Flag Day & Dance04Haiti– In commemoration of Haitian Flag Day, students wear the flags of their national origin to school and after school, students who make a donation can come and celebrate at the school’s Dance04Haiti celebration.
4. Hoops04Haiti– The students and staff play each other in a “friendly” game of basketball. It’s a great way to celebrate what our kids already love, but also bring the school together to play for a purpose.
This year something special happened. After years of tension with our neighboring school, as we are in co-located space. We were able to work collaboratively to have a game in which our students played our neighboring school’s students and then the staffs of each school played each other. We all came together for a good cause and as a result have started the beginning of a beautiful partnership between my school, which is a charter school and our neighboring school, which is a public school.
Thus far we have raised nearly $800 but are still well short of our goal of $1000. After sending out a thank you email to all the staff members and everyone involved, the assistant principal from our neighboring school called me down to his office and said “We didn’t make our mark, I want to make sure that you reach your goal of $1000. Let’s have a rematch before the end of the school.”
After a long challenging week at work, coupled with a late Friday night at happy hour, I tried my best to wake up early on Saturday morning, in order to hold on to a promise that I had made. The one week that I showed up late for practice, is the only time we lost. During my post-game speech, I apologized to my athletes and their parents. I promised them, that it would never happen again. How could I hold my team accountable if I wasn’t discipline enough to be punctual myself?
We haven’t looked back ever since. And on we are on a five game winning streak. Next week we play our archrivals; a well coached team from Williamsburg, who has won the league championship; a few times. In my four years as head coach, I have yet to beat them, let alone the championship.
Three seasons ago, we lost to them in the finals, on the last play of the game. Even though we are the favorites this year, we cannot afford to take anyone lightly. I’m sure that my rival coach has some tricks up her sleeves.
There are a few kids on my roster who have been with me since they were 5th graders. It would be nice to send them off as seniors, with a championship trophy.
I was out celebrating with good friends the night before. We decided to meet up in the city for drinks and good music. I had a great time.
We joked around , partied and recited old rap lyrics, as the DJ spent hip-hop classics like Tribe Called Quest and Leader’s of the New School’s “Scenario” and “Slam” by Onyx. I felt like I had traveled back in time, to 1993.
As the night wound down, I realized that I had to get up in the morning to supervise three middle school basketball games. It was a struggle to say the least. An hour subway commute from Harlem to Brooklyn on a crisp Saturday morning is not exactly what one might call fantastic voyage.
I was running a little late because of typical weekend service in Brooklyn. No trains were available for several stops, so I had to take a shuttle to my final destination. Once I arrived at the school, I immediately began to set up. The gym was already stating to fill up with families and athletes from the other schools. The neighborhoods of Bushwick, East New York and Williamsburg had all converged on our gym in Crown Heights.
As the games played on, I finally relaxed and enjoyed the scene. A peace came over me that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I was home. Very few things bring me happiness like serving my people and my community. Mothers and fathers got an opportunity to watch their sons and daughters play basketball on a Saturday morning. The countless smiles, cheers and happy faces made me feel good. I guess this is important to me because even though I played high school and college athletics, I always wanted my family see me compete, but they never did. To look up in the crowd and see your mother cheering you on must feel awesome; I can only imagine.
On Saturday mornings, children in Crown Heights can be out getting into who knows what. But not these kids, they are with us, being kids, they are safe, working in tandem with their peers and learning to be part of a team.
It was tough, just functioning on a few hours of sleep, but it is always worth it. The next Lebron James, Kobe Bryant or Lisa Leslie could be playing at our gym and I was responsible for giving them the safe space to realize their talents. Someone did it for me. So how could I not give back? Personally, I suck at basketball. Football and track were my sports, but I understand the importance of giving children the opportunity to discover their abilities. I get to do that. All it takes is a key, a light switch and a cup of coffee.
I received an email Thursday evening from the league. The final standings placed us as the #3 seed. Playoffs! But now I only had one day to get the information out to my kids and their families. What a logistical nightmare (courtesy of Sandy).
The game was to be played on Saturday at noon, against our league rival. It would be my 3rd time facing this team in the post season. They have an outstanding coach. She does a great job preparing her athletes.
I decided to have a one hour practice before the game. That means I had to wake up early on Saturday, a cardinal sin in the world of teaching. To add injury to insult, the trains were making all local stops from Harlem to Brooklyn (courtesy of Sandy) .
At 42nd street, a shabby, homeless looking woman boarded the train. She reeked of alcohol and she looked as if she had not bathed in weeks. Her hair was matted and tangled. Her skin was wrinkled and had a dark dusty film over it. She looked as if she emerged from rubble from a fallen building.
It is obvious that she boarded the train to silicate donations from riders. I could not make out what she was saying or what her “message” was, as I was listening to Spotify on my iphone 4s, but judging by the facial expressions of the passengers on the train, it must have been inappropriate for, lack of a better word. No one looked like they were willing nor wanted to assist.
She stood about 10 feet or so away from where I was standing with her back to me. Once she was done with her soliloquy, she began yelling something at the passengers and then the unthinkable happened. Out of frustration, she spat on two women passengers who were sitting in front of her. Then she began to walk about the train. The passengers parted like the Red Sea, making room for the deranged women. DAMN! I thought to myself, punch me, push me, kick me, but please don’t spit on me. I would have gone medieval.
The two middle-aged women held each other and began to cry. The train was packed and everyone saw what happened, but no one said anything. People pretended as if nothing happened. You could see the discomfort on everyone’s faces, but no words.
I became angry. My mind said to go over to her in physically remove her from the train myself. But I had to be rational.
At the next stop, many passengers got off. I’m not sure If it was their stop or if they were trying to escape the madness. I immediately sought out the conductor a few cars over. I got his attention and told him what happened. He held the train and I and went looking for her.
I stepped on to the train and yelled out to the other passengers, “WHERE DID SHE GO?!” No one responded. They began to look at me as if I was the crazy one. By now she had left the train. As the train stood at the platform, I continued to search for this crazy woman and then I looked across the platform and there she was soliciting change from other riders.
I told the conductor that she off of the train. I identified her and he got on the dispatch system. He waited for me to board and the next thing I heard was, “please stand clear o the closing doors.”
What made me even more upset than the women’s actions, is the total lack of action taken by those in the train who witnessed the entire ordeal. No one from the MTA came over to check up on the two victims.
And to think, next year fare is going to increase. I kept saying to myself, “I wish a —– would!”– `a la Cedric the Entertainer.
Just to think, after all that, I went on to coach a hard fought game, but we could not pull it off. The final score was 6-16. Ousted once again. We dropped too many passes and missed too many opportunities. Damn, maybe next season.