Monday, September 23, 2013

Final footsteps

The walk seemed different this time.  Each step reminded me that it all is coming to an end.  Soon, I will say goodbye.

The house is empty.  Everything inside was given away.  My only possessions are books, music, art and clothing. My car has been sold.  Only my footsteps and public transportation can get me there.
One step at a time, I’m searching for friends to say goodbye.

The urge to cry hit me again as I approached Ninth Street. Memories of conversations with friends came to me as my steps brought me closer to the coffeehouse known as my office.  I looked inside in search of Sydney before opening the door.  My urge to hug my friend quickened my steps.
She wasn’t there.

The list in my mind exposed a roll call: Owen, Laura, Sarah, Tony, Dave, Lillie, Hillary, Hannah, Charlotte, Pam, Allison.  Names kept coming like graduation day.  More tears.
Will I be able to say goodbye to all my friends?

I paused to catalogue the list by location.  A list of friends at the Beyu Caffe, a list of members of my Saturday Breakfast Club that meets at Parker & Otis, and another list of friends from the Blue Coffee Café. A list of friends I met in Church, and a group of activist friends.  I formed another list of friends who are musicians, poets and visual artist.
Too many friends to count.  Will I be able to say goodbye to all my friends?

I considered days of sadness made better by the hugs of friends.  Each friend holds a place made special by a keen awareness that something was needed in those moments.  Each friend offered a place for me to expose the bitter pain of brokenness.
Glenda, Janice and Betty – they were there the day I wept too hard to preach.  Compassion Ministries of Durham – they prayed with me, affirmed me and allowed me to cry when I could no longer pretend to be strong.

I felt my body quiver as the list expanded. Each name evoked the memory of a weak moment followed by laughter.  I closed my eyes as faces began to replace the names of those with love deep enough to keep me moving.
I will say goodbye to Durham on October 5. I moved to Durham in 1988 to attend divinity school at Duke University.  Since then, I have served two churches, written for numerous local publications and used the pen and pulpit to fight for justice and peace.

I arrived as a champion of the black faith tradition.  I saw all things colored as black and white. I found no need to promote interfaith and interracial dialogue.  I framed God and the work of the Church in ways that limited interchange.
My friends changed me.  They continue to mold me by exposing the hypocrisy of my thinking.  They help me grow by revealing the face of God in things beyond the activity of the black church.

My sadness in leaving Durham isn’t because of the numerous fine places to eat.  It’s not the blooming downtown district surrounded by other pockets of prosperity.  It’s not the emerging jazz scene and other cultural activity like the Art of Cool Project and the Bull Durham Blues Festival that makes it hard to leave.
It’s the people. It’s the diversity. It’s a community willing to grow.

I’ll take a few more steps before my column comes to an end.  Until then, I’m looking for friends to hug one last time.
I’m headed to Columbia, MO to take care of my parents. A big chunk of me will remain in Durham.

A love like this never goes away.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Places in Durham I will miss

Join Carl W. Kenney II at the Beyu Café to say goodbye on Sunday, September 22 from 4:30 pm – 7:00 pm.

Leaving Durham is much tougher than I thought.  I knew it would be hard to say goodbye to the city that helped mold me into the man I have become.  Shucks, I don’t even recognize the dude who came to Durham in 1988 to attend divinity school at Duke.  He got lost in between pretending and self-discovery.

I get on a plane headed to Columbia, Missouri on October 5.  My life will transform into something unlike I’ve known before.  I’m certain I’ll find new battles to wage.  I’m not so sure about who will partner with me in the quest for justice.  I’ll take it one day at a time.

Until then, I reflect on Durham.  The past week has been rapt with personal reflection of the people and places I will miss.  Many have reached out to share their hope and regret.  Others have told me they will be present on Sunday for the farewell party at the Beyu Café.

The Beyu Café.  They don’t have one of those in Columbia, Missouri.  There’s so much I will miss.  So much that I will never be able to replace.

It’s what makes Durham unique. 

So, I came up with a list of the places I will miss the most.  Each has more than a few special memories.

10. Blue Coffee Café.  This one makes the list because of Gwen.  I love that woman.  I love her faith and determination.  I love that she fought through the tough year’s downtown to stay in business.  I love that she has a business in the heart of downtown that has become a hub of all forms of activity. 

9. Duke Gardens. The garden has been my get away spot since I landed in Durham.  Many poems have been written there.  I’ve often imaged getting married there, but, dot, dot, and dot.  Insert missed opportunities.

8. The Carolina Theatre.  It would be higher on the list if Connie Campanaro was still there.  We formed the type of bond that made me aware of the power the arts has in changing minds.  I may miss Connie more than the theatre, but great memories were formed there. Oh yeah, I feel in love there.

7. Bull Durham Blues Festival.  I remember the old days when the festival was held at the Durham Athletic Park.  Everyone was there.  I always left thinking, “this is what makes Durham special.”  I crave the festival returning to its glory years.

6. Bimbe Festival.  I first attended the festival in 1992 when Carl Washington, former director of Durham’s Parks & Recreation Department, asked me to attend to pour libations.  Washington became my best friend until his death.  I attend each year to remember and reflect on his passion for social justice and our friendship.

5. Beyu Café. One day Dorian Bolden, the owner of Beyu, shared his vision for Beyu.  At the time he was working as a barista at Alivia’s at Brightleaf Square. I listened, but filed the conversation in a pile with other pipe dreams.  Did he prove me wrong!  The Beyu Café has become Durham’s hotspot for live jazz.  I love the place because of Dorian.

4. The Regulator Bookshop. John Valentine and Tom Campbell, owners of the Regulator, have been good friends.  They keep both of my books on the shelves and offer consistent encouragement when they see me on 9th Street.  They give meaning to “support local.”

3. Parker & Otis. It’s the place we gather for our Saturday Morning Breakfast Club.  What can I say?  These folks have both changed and saved my life over and over again.  They have loved me through tough seasons.  To say I love them is an extreme understatement.  Members include: Mike Woodard, Naomi Quinn, Heather Linton, Pat Hoffman, Chuck Watts, Amy Laura Hall, George Vaughn, Ken Duke, Bill Goldston, Al Thorn and Pete Eastman.

2. Sincerely Yours Salon.  Glenda Jones, owner of Sincerely Yours, maintained my locs (not dreadlocks.  They are not dreadful) from the beginning until the end a few months back.  The process of locking my hair led to an internal transformation that redefined my life and ministry.  Glenda loved me through the process by offering support and insight that will be missed.  Our friendship, like my hair, is proof that some things may be cut from your life, but the things that matter the most never fade away.

1. Market Street Coffee House. Also known as my office, the former Bean Traders on 9th Street is the home of the “Bum’s Club”.  The club was formed by me and Owen Flanagan, the James B. Duke Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Neurobiology at Duke University.  Members of the club are those who give the impression that they are bums while producing great work. Flanagan is that brother from another mother.  We refute the notion of race and talk about differences in hue.  After my surgery, Flanagan took me into his home to take care of me.  My greatest regret in leaving is that Owen is in China teaching until Christmas.  My office defines me like no other place.  There are so many friends there – too many to count.

Each place is connected to people.  That’s what I will miss about Durham - the love and support of a community.

Durham is home, and nothing can take that away.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Is George Zimmerman payback for OJ Simpson?

I’m beginning to think George Zimmerman is the white community’s payback for OJ.

If it don’t fit, you must acquit, has been replaced with stand your ground.  The former isn’t as catchy, but you get the drift.

Both cases came down to the interpretation of law and lack of evidence.  Both left you feeling ole dude got away with murder.  Both also left a foul taste after everything was said and done. The taste never went away.

Both cases concluded with a collective yell – “We gonna get ya sucker!”

In other words, it’s not over yet.  You can feel the blood oozing through the veins of people Hell bent of finding Zimmerman guilty of something – anything.  If not for the murder of Trayvon Martin, dude must pay.

Sadly, in the cases of both Orange Juice and Zimmy, you only have to wait a few days for them to expose their naked behinds and dirty laundry.  You would think Zimmerman would hide under a rock and shout “Thank ya Jesus” until his wheelchair is too rusty to move, but nope.

Instead of finding religion, Zimmerman has been accused of threatening his estranged wife and her father with a gun.  Days earlier, Shellie Zimmerman had filed for divorce.

George got off for standing his ground, but Shellie is not standing by her man.

"He's in his car and he continually has his hand on his gun and he keeps saying 'step closer' and he's just threatening all of us," Shellie Zimmerman said in a 911 call.

Shellie later said she never saw a gun, and no gun was found.  She says she won’t press charges, but police aren’t ready to dismiss charges.  Police say video of the alleged dispute on Shellie’s damaged IPad could determine if charges are filed.

Although Shellie and her father claim they saw no gun, WKMG TV reports that Mar O’Mara, Zimmerman’s attorney, says Zimmerman had a gun holstered to his body.

I question the judgment of carrying a gun after the case. What’s the point? Does he want to prove a point, or to find someone else to intimidate for waking while black?

It’s that type of poor judgment that led to the murder of Trayvon.  With people already itching for a fight, why carry a gun? Why get stopped, on multiple occasions, for speeding? Why destroy recoded evidence?

“He then accosted my father then took my iPad out of my hands. He then smashed it and cut it with a pocketknife, and there is a Lake Mary city worker across the street that I believe saw all of it," Shellie said in her 911 call.

Shellie brings her own set of matching bags to the party. On Aug. 28, she pleaded guilty to misdemeanor perjury and was sentenced to one year of probation. She had been accused of lying about the couple's financial situation when she testified at George Zimmerman's bond hearing in June 2012.

This may be a marriage arranged by the birds of a feather flocking together club.  You would think both would lay low and allow the smoke to settle instead of finding their way back in the news.  Go hide.  Take a vacation.  Move to another state.  Get plastic surgery, grow a mustache, become an organic farmer, teach yoga, meet the Dali Lama and promote world peace.  Do something different than carrying a gun and starting a domestic dispute.

The other option is to end up like the Juice.  Those crazy ways will catch up with you sooner or later.

Isn’t that what insanity is - doing stupid things while expecting a different result?

I forgot.  That doesn’t apply when you get away with murder.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Considering Syria on the anniversary of 911

Photo courtesy

I love America.  I believe in the old red, white and blue, but something didn’t feel right.

It was the day after those planes landed in the World Trade Center and sent the buildings tumbling killing 2,996 people.  It was one of those days you will never forget.  You can’t forget.  There is no way to forget.

I was driving East on Angier Avenue waiting for the stop light at the intersection of Angier and Driver Street to turn green.  I turned the radio to 107.1, Foxy 107, to listen to the Tom Joyner Morning Show.  I needed some comedy relief to prepare me for another long day of serving people with a myriad of problems.

What I heard wasn’t funny.

Tom Joyner told the story of the planes crashing into the building.  It was a somber moment that forced me to pull off the road as my heart began beating too fast to keep pace.  A list of people came to mind – people I know who worked at the World Trade Center. 

I kept listening.  The worse was still to come.  Words like terrorist attack and names like Ben Laden made it the worst day of my life.  I sat frozen in front of the Orange Grove Missionary Baptist Church for more than 30 minutes after finding the strength to drive the rest of the way.

What followed was a national response that swung between national pride and the desire for revenge.  I didn’t know how to feel.  I was much too vulnerable to trust what came out of my mouth.  None of us knew what to feel, think or do.  So, we found a symbol to purify rage and stir hope.

We picked up the American flag.

What an amazing symbol of solidarity and strength.  It was a statement of pride and determination that offered what the nation needed as we all pondered the next step.  But, was it enough?  Could we trust a response that pitted America against the rest of the world?

Was it appropriate to limit our voice to the lyrics of “God Bless America”?  What about the rest of the world?  Was there room in the national vocabulary for banter that included the human conditions of people around the world?  Was the bombing of the World Trade Center more than a symbol of American pain, or was it a reminder that Americans are susceptible to the type of agony that hounds people around the world?

Was 911 Americas wake-up call after decades of living with the assumption of security?  Had we taken too much for granted?  If so, was the waving of the flag our way of reminding the world that America will repay those who stab us in the back when we least expect being attacked?

Much has been learned since 911.  We learned there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  Many are willing to concede we went to war against the wrong enemy.  The war on Iraq accelerated national debt that led to a major financial crisis.  The war in Iraq forced a regrouping of the Taliban inside Pakistan.  Afghanistan troops led numerous offenses against the Taliban but failed to defeat them.  By 2009, a Taliban led government began to form in Afghanistan with a mediation court.

Then came the Arab Spring.  A wave of riots, and civil wars in the Arab world began on December 18, 2010. Rulers were forced out of power in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Civil uprisings erupted in Bahrain and Syria with major protest in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco and Sudan.  Minor protests have occurred in Mauritania, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Western Sahara and the Palestinian Authority.

The Arab spring is prompted by dissatisfaction with local governments reflected in wide gaps in income levels, dictatorship, human rights violations, political corruption, economic decline, unemployment, extreme poverty and increasing food prices.

In April 2011, the Syrian Army was deployed to quell the uprising, and soldiers fired on demonstrators across the country.  After months of military sieges, the protests evolved into an armed rebellion. Opposition forces are composed of defected soldiers and civilian volunteers. In 2013 Hezbollah entered the war in support of the Syrian army. The Syrian government is further upheld by military support from Russia and Iran, while Qatar and Saudi Arabia transfer weapons to the rebels.

Estimates of deaths in the conflict range from 83,260 and 110,370.

Enter the United States.  Congress in considering entering a war against Syria after President Bashar al-Assad killed more than 1,400 people, including more than 400 children in an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus.

Is this time to wave the American flag?

It’s dreadful watching people die.  We all want this war to end.  The site of children dying due to the exposure of chemical weapons is horrific.  We all want to see it stop.

But the larger question for Americans is how many innocent people will die if we bomb Syria.  Is the potential for greater damage possible after the launching of bombs aimed at helping rebels end the reign of the Ba'ath Party?

Today is the anniversary of 911.  What have we learned since that day?

I’ve learned an important lesson.  When you decide to get in a fight, be sure it’s the right fight.

Otherwise you end up making matters worse.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Black staff member request "white only" greeters at Charlotte, NC church

Makeda Pennycooke

When you get to the pearly gates you want to be met by the best.   According to Makeda Pennycooke, executive pastor of operations at  Charlotte’s Freedom House Church, the best are white people.

Pennycooke, who is black, sent an email to church volunteers stating "first impressions matter" and that the congregation wanted "the best of the best on the front doors."

The staff member at the North Carolina church requested that “only white people” serve as greeters. 

"We are continuing to work to bring our racial demographic pendulum back to mid-line," she continued in the email. "So we would like to ask that only white people be on the front doors."

WBTV reported the story after Carmen Thomas, a member at the church, approached the station out of outrage. Thomas told WBTV Pennycooke wants to attract white people to the church.

"Freedom House believes in a diverse relationship within its membership, reflecting the larger community in which the church resides, doing life together as a church representative of everyone -- culturally, ethnically, economically, and generationally,” officials at the church told WBTV.

The church website reveals only two blacks on staff – Pennycooke and Tracie Frank, the communications director.  The desire for diversity is not reflected in the church staff.  The recommendation for “white only” greeters speaks volumes related to the goal in limiting black attendance.

Most troubling is how Pennycooke was used to communicate the “white only” policy.  Her comments reflect a level of self-hatred common among black people who serve in positions of power on a predominately white staff.  Pennycooke seemingly has issues with her own race.

Central in the discussion regarding Freedom House are the underlying messages that promote an agenda antithetical to authentic diversity.  The church is led by Troy and Penny Maxwell.  The Maxwell’s left Richmond, Virginia to start the Charlotte church in 2002. There’s nothing on the church website to support the church interest in diversity.  The lack of black staff and local efforts to promote unity give the impression that this church isn’t interested in black membership.

The sad part is how Pennycooke is used as the scapegoat.  She is not the pastor of the church.  Her role is an administrative function.  Troy and Penny Maxwell haven’t spoken in defense of Pennycooke.  They have apologized, but one is left believing Pennycooke was used to promote an agenda that markets the church as one for “white people”.

The problem is with her being on staff.  How can she stay given an email she was probably forced to send?  Do you really believe she did so without orders from above?

This story gained traction because Pennycooke is black.  The message from most accounts has been about a black pastor informing membership that “only white” people can serve as greeters.  The assumption is that Pennycooke holds a significant leadership position in the church.  You’re left thinking this is a black congregation hoping to land more white members.

Not true.  This is an overwhelming white congregation using a black woman on staff to keep other blacks away.  This church isn’t willing to share leadership with blacks.  The truth is they have no obligation to do so.  I have no problem with their desire to keep black people away.

My problem is with people who pretend they desire diversity when they don’t.  Yes, it would be more like Jesus to open the doors to all people, but are they ready for what happens when blacks show up in large numbers.

This is another example of a black person being used to promote a white agenda.

Lesson learned? Stay away from churches that pretend to affirm you.