God Shed His Grace?

That ominous feeling we all had when Trump began to gain momentum in the primaries, has gone from just a feeling, to a palpable reality. The “polls” the “experts” will try to act as if they were shocked by the results,  but we know better.  We heard Trayvon plead for his life… We saw Mike Brown’s lifeless body left for hours in the August heat… We witnessed Eric Garner’s last breath… We watched our sister Sandra Bland get tossed like a rag doll. But We never saw justice.

But things have changed right?  We had a black president; for two terms at that.True.  But race relations in America are as bad as they have been since Dr. King’s assassination.  It seems like Obama was able to do some great things for America, but not for Us. He bailed-out Wall Street, brought our troops home, shook Castro’s hand, lower the unemployment rate and killed Bin Laden. Okay, cool. But how has that changed anything for Us? We still exist under the thumb of racism and prejudice in this country.

Something that continued to annoy me during the election, was the birth of a new demographic in America,  known as “non college educated white men.” They are the ones to blame for the sophisticated,  systematic,  school to prison pipeline and ambushing the ballots in Trumps favor? Give me a break. The very educated, wealthy and powerful have always been responsible for the outcome of elections in this country. Poor white folks never owned slaves, they never had any real power. Don’t blame them for Trump’s ascent to the presidency.

There are some very wealthy,  sophisticated and well educated folks  who wanted Trump to win. They may pretend to not like his approach or rhetoric,  but fundamentally,  their elbows are locked with his. And secretly they voted for him. The Klan used to wear white sheets to hide their identity. They have traded their sheets for the ballot box. Old trick new method… that’s all.

I’ve played sports my entire life,  but never shared a locker room with Donald Trump. I’ve had dinner at many tables,  but not with Donald Trump. There’s obviously a deeper dialogue happening among white America. These are conversations that I will never be a part of. I cannot control that reality. I and millions of others in this country can only wait by the proverbial door, in hopes of hearing good news.

Election night had millions of us feeling like one of our loved ones were in critical condition. As time went on, the updates became less promising… Florida…brain dead,  Michigan and Wisconsin…kidney failure…North Carolina…liver failure…Pennsylvania….lungs collapse. .. Ohio… the heart stopped beating… flat line. “Sorry,” the media said, “She didn’t make it.” A hush of silence rushed across the country. Some were in utter disbelief. While others were satisfied, but did not want to reveal their true beliefs.

More than ever, America exists in two realities… One man’s progress, is at the expense of another man’s plight. This is Donald Trump’s America. This is the Make America Great Again that he speaks of. This is democracy?  A bitter pill it is. This is what makes America great huh?

Duane Merrells walks with an upside down flag in a protest Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo. Brown’s shooting has sparked more than a week of protests, riots and looting in the St. Louis suburb. Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Riede

“America, America, God shed hid grace on thee,
And crown thy good, with brotherhood,
From sea to shining sea”

As a little black boy raised in America, I had to learn the lyrics of America the Beautiful for our school’s end of the year musical performance. I was the only black boy in my kindergarten class and I was chosen to sing the solo. Years later I can only laugh at the irony. I did not know any better. The words are sketched in my mind for ever. I just sang it, because I loved the melody and I loved to sing. And now look at how our country has voted….God’s grace might be shedding on thee, but it damn sure ain’t shedding on me.


Obama: Hope or Hype?

The 15th Amendment (1865) gave African-Americans the constitutional right to vote. But 100 years later, most African Americans, especially in the American South, were still disenfranchised.

Less than an hour earlier I had encouraged Sabrina to stay after school for a few minutes, to make sure that all of her teachers had signed her daily progress report. I told her mother that I believed a daily progress report might help Sabrina better manage her own behavior. She seemed to be getting in a lot of trouble in school and nothing we did seemed to work. She complained, like a typical 12 year old should, but she did not leave until each teacher had filled out that progress report.

I remained at work for a few more minutes and later received a ride from a coworker who was heading to Park Slope. She dropped me off just blocks away from the new Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. The new arena looks amazing, I can remember when they first broke ground. Now Brooklyn has one of the most fascinating structures in the entire city.  I had to stop and post a few photos on Instagram. I wasn’t alone. Dozens more would stop and capture this magnificent work of art, on the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues. After taking a few nice snaps I quickly retreated downstairs to catch the Manhattan bound 3 train. As soon as I boarded the train, I looked left and then right, only to see Sabrina sitting next to an empty seat, near the back of the car.

I was surprised to see her because the 3 travels to the west side of Manhattan, she and her family lives in East Harlem. “Hey Sabrina!” Her large eyes grew larger. “What are you doing on this train?” I asked.  “Shouldn’t you be on the 4 train?” “The 4 is not  not running, it’s having problems so I had to take the 3 train instead,” she replied. My next question was, “Do you know your way home from the 3 train?” She shook looked up at me, and softly shook her head.

It was a delightful  1 hour trip Uptown. She was good company, as she had so many interesting questions for me. We talked mainly about school and more specifically social studies. We even began talking about the 2012 Presidential Election.

“Mr. Toussaint, how come a president can only be elected twice? I think that’s a dumb rule.” I explained to her that that was not always the case.

“Have you ever heard of the FDR?” I asked.  “Yeah, my mom takes the FDR to work every morning,” she replied excitedly. “Well that highway was named  after  Franklin D. Roosevelt, a president who was elected four times and he was the only president to do so. He was such a great president that the American people confinued to vote for him.

He never finished his last term because he died from a disease called polio. But after FDR died the rules changed. America is the land of opportunity and wanted to make sure that we gave the people more opportunities for leadership. We did not want to become like some countries who have the same president for 20,30 or even 40 years. These leaders sometimes become out I touch and don’t allow the countries to advance. To hold power for 8 years is a pretty long time; that’s nearly a decade.

I tried my best to make explain. I can tell that it had very little effect. She still thought it was dumb to limit the presidential term to 8 years.

But deeper than her grievances towards the ratification of the twenty-second amendment was her concern about Barack Obama being unseated by Mitt Romney. In her lifetime, she had become accustomed to having a black president. She was too young to understand the Bush Era, let alone understand the possibility of Jim Crow or the need for a Civil Rights Movement. But she remembers how big of a deal it was to have a black president. And for millions of children her age, black, white, Asian or Latino, Obama is their first president. But he might be their last black one .

I asked her, do you think we will have another black president in the U.S.? Confidently, yet reluctantly she said no, with a look of slight confusion on her face. “Not with the way the world is today,” she said. At the tender age if 12, she had already made up her mind (scary thought).

Whether Obama wins tonight or not. For all of us who lived in this time, in this era and moment in American History, we can all say we were there when America elected its first black president.

Will there ever be another? Will Sabrina’s children, or children’s children, have an opportunity to see a Head of State that looks like them? How long will it be before we have a woman or Latino in the White House? Does it even matter? Some may argue that it is not about skin color, gender or heritage, that it’s about the issues. And I may respond, the fact that we may never have another, is the issue.

We finally reached  96 street.  I showed Sabrina a subway map of how far we had traveled; from Crown Heights to the Upper Westside and that we would take the cross town bus to the east side, walk a few blocks north and she would be home.