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At birth we boarded the train and met our parents and we believe they will always travel by our side. However, at some station our parents will step down from the train, leaving us on this journey alone. As time goes by, other people will board the train; and they will be significant i.e. our siblings, friends, children and even the love of your life. Many will step down and leave a permanent vacuum. Others will go so unnoticed that we don’t realize they vacated their seats. This train ride will be full of joy, sorrow, fantasy, expectations, hellos, goodbyes, and farewells. Success consists of having a good relationship with all passengers requiring that we give the best of ourselves

The mystery to everyone is: We do not know at which station we ourselves will step down. So, we must live in the best way, love, forgive, and offer the best of who we are. It is important to do this because when the time comes for us to step down and leave our seat empty we should leave behind the beautiful memories for those who will continue to travel the train of life

I wish you a joyful journey on the train of life. Reap success and give lots of love. More importantly, thank God for the journey. Lastly, I thank you for being one of the passengers on my train.

“Be a credit to your race.” That was a phrase I heard often growing up. Most black people that lived in the 50s and 60s have heard that phrase and knows what it means. It meant don’t act up, don’t bring bad attention to your family and community, make your family and your community proud of your actions. Be sure your actions contribute to the community’s push for acceptance by the majority. Be a credit to your race.

I don’t know if other people outside the “black race” ever use this type of phase. I’m black. I can only speak from my experience and I heard it often.

It wasn’t until I was much older that I learned that “be a credit to your race” was a phrase that blacks could use with each other, but it was frowned on when a white person told a black person they should be a “credit to their race.” It was sort of like the use of the “N-word”.

The phrase may have had its origins in the desire of formerly enslaved people to be accepted. It may have been used by Booker T. Washington at his Tuskegee Institute, urging his black students to be their best. It may have come from W.E.B.DuBois imploring the Talented Tenth to rise up and help the black race. It may have been at the foundation of the many fraternities, sororities, business groups, academic clubs, etc. that were born out of the separate but equal actions of the Jim Crow era.

In the 50s and 60s you could see the black people that were a credit to the race. They would be the people in Ebony and Jet magazines. They would be the blacks we all rushed to see when they showed up on TV or in sports.

It would be rare to hear that phrase today. Black people are not all alike so they show up in all kinds of ways. There is no set way to be a “credit to the race.” Most importantly, few black people have that old feeling of wanting to impress or please white people.

But that idea of being your best is a good one to me. Making my family and community proud is still one of my desires. But now that I’m older and a little wiser I think the phrase needs to be updated.

First the idea that there is a black race, a white race, a yellow race, etc. is something I’ve learned is false. If you study history you will learn that we referred to people by their geographical location and not their color until the 1600s and 1700s. If you ever notice, there are no people of any color in the Bible.

In 1619 when Africans first arrived at Jamestown, Va. until the 1670s people were classified as African or Negro and English and Christian.

75% of those early immigrants from England to America were indentured servants. Being indentured meant they had a contract to use their labor to pay off a debt. Many of those debts were for the cost to come to the country.

In those early years a few people were landowners. The majority of people were indentured. We usually think of freedom and bondage as opposites. But in America they were both birthed from the same egg, caused by the first revolution.

Many historians point to an event known as Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 as a turning point, the first revolution. Nathaniel Bacon was a wealthy white property owner and relative of Virginia’s governor, William Berkeley. But Bacon and Berkeley did not like each other, and they disagreed over issues pertaining to how the colony should be governed, including the colony’s policy toward Native Americans. Bacon wanted the colony to retaliate for raids by Native Americans on frontier settlements and to remove all Native Americans from the colony so landowners like himself could expand their property. Berkeley feared that doing so would unite all of the nearby tribes in a costly and destructive war against the colony. In defiance of the governor, Bacon organized his own militia, consisting of white and black indentured servants and enslaved black people, who joined in exchange for freedom, and attacked nearby tribes. A power struggle ensued with Bacon and his militia on one side and Berkeley, the Virginia House of Burgesses, and the rest of the colony’s elite on the other. Months of conflict followed, including armed skirmishes between militias. In September 1676, Bacon’s militia captured Jamestown and burned it to the ground.

In the end the rebellion was unsuccessful and a month after Jamestown was burned Bacon died of fever. But the rebellion alerted the landowners to the joint power of the white and black indentured servants and the slaves. They began giving more freedoms to the white indentured servants and placed more limitations on the indentured black servants and the slaves. They increased importation of Africans and decreased the number of indentured servants.

The landowners worked to draw a wedge between the black and white servants. According to the Oxford dictionary in 1671 the term white was first used to describe indentured English servants. Anyone not classified as white was destined to be a slave for life.

The wealthy landowners (slaveholders) had two reasons for their actions. One was to make sure any offspring from the slave owners and enslaved women would follow the status of their mother. And any Christian fathering a child with a black slave would be subject to a small fine. But this did little to stop the practice. The other reason to keep the people divided was to stop insurrections of indentured blacks and indentured whites. There was no way the landowners who were in the minority, could maintain their dominance if the whites and blacks who provided the labor united.

Virginia began to pass a series of laws in the 1670s that would separate white people from black people and make black people perpetual servants/slaves. Instead of their labor being contracted, now blacks were the property of the landowner. The laws would say a master could kill a slave during the act of discipline and it would be okay. With these laws white people didn’t have to value black people’s lives. White people and black people were deemed separate by their labor and class. White supremacy was born.

From then on the lowest white could always consider themselves above the highest black. We suffer from this thinking still today. That is why we say Black Lives Matter!

But really the terms black and white people were made up. Made up to keep people divided. Both white freedom and black bondage came from the same source, a decision/grant by the wealthy landowners.

Black people and white people really both come from the same race, the human race. Which brings me back to my original point about being a credit to your race.

I wish people would want to be a credit to the human race. I wish they carried that weight of always wanting to do their best for the human race, the human community. I wish they would be embarrassed to be caught not acting as an outstanding human being.

If that were the case we would be embarrassed to have so much and not share with those who have so little. We would look out for each other. We would see how we are all in this world together.

Are you a credit to your race, our race, the human race? Are you bringing more value, are you increasing the investment, are you making the world better? If so, I’d say you are a credit to the race. I’d say thank you.

I challenge you, don’t believe the lie. We are not separate. We are all here doing our best to survive. It is not to our benefit to be separate.

Rise up. Be a credit to your race. The human race.

“If you do the things that are easy your life will be hard, but if you do the things that are hard your life will be easy.”

This is a quote that comes to mind whenever I attempt to do something that is new and difficult. I have to remind myself that most things in my life that I can now do well, I failed at in the beginning. I experienced this feeling again recently.

A friend and fraternity brother of mine named Jeff surprised me with a Christmas present. It was a board game called Pente. After the immediate excitement of getting a gift I felt that funny feeling in the pit of my stomach when Jeff said, “Learn this game and them come back so I can beat you at it.”

It was that feeling that comes with unsure competition. I like to compete, but I like to win. When I’m doing something I’m not sure of competing feels like shit. I knew that I would have to learn something new, practice, and perfect it in order to compete. And that also meant I had to lose. I had to fail.

Most of the really big accomplishments in my life began as failures. I was a failure at wrestling and later was good enough to receive a college scholarship. I was a failure at public speaking and ended up a Toastmaster speaking champion in their hall of fame. I was terrible when I began playing chess, losing every match for a whole summer. But later I was known as one of the better players at school.

So, with these past failures that turned in to victories in mind, I will begin to learn this new game. While I’m learning and losing I will learn about the game, its history and origins. I think this may take the sting out of losing and help me keep going.

The losing/learning won’t be fun, but I know what’s on the other side of effort. I also know what’s on the other side of doing nothing. I will learn, I will lose and then I will win and be great.

As you begin a new year with new challenges, remember that we are not always good when we begin. But we can improve, we can get better. If you’re like me, you may have to set aside your ego during the losing/learning phase. But history has shown that with effort we can get better, we can improve. We can all win.

Jeff, thanks for the present. I accept the challenge. Happy New Year.

Thanks to the Pacesetters

Throughout all of history it was believed by everyone that it was impossible to run a mile in less than four minutes. On May 6, 1954 at Oxford University, Roger Bannister proved that was wrong and he ran the mile in less than four minutes.

Bannister didn’t run alone. He had two pacesetters leading him. As is often the case, history seldom remembers the pacesetters. The focus is on the one who broke the record.

Fellow runners Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher were the pacesetters for Bannister. Pacesetters set the pace. Because of the work of the pacesetters Bannister ran faster and at an effective pace.

Thanks to Bannister and his pacesetters, Chataway and Brasher, the month after Bannister broke the record someone else ran the mile in less than four minutes. It began to happen over and over again. Through Bannister’s examples others saw what was possible and consequently nearly 1500 people have run the mile in less than four minutes, including a sixteen-year-old and a forty-year-old runner.

Today, Vice President Elect Kamala Harris is the record breaker. She is the first woman and woman of color to be elected to the second highest position in the country. Her example will inspire others. They will see what she has done and know that they can do it also.

Vice President Elect Harris had her pacesetters too. Many women came before her and set the pace. They managed the race; they cleared the way. There are too many to name but Ida B. Wells, Shirley Chisolm, Barbara Jordan, Susan Rice and even Michelle Obama just to name a few, all helped pave the way.

They showed the country that women can be leaders. That black women can be leaders. And because of their example the country began to get used to seeing black women doing more. They found themselves being led by black women in other areas like school and work so why not politics?

All of us, including women of color, should be allowed to seek our highest potential. We should all be allowed to give and to lead.

I’ve always been surrounded by women that lead – my grandmothers, my mothers, my sisters and friends. They are all strong powerful women. Even the majority of my supervisors at work were women.

I think having women as leaders in our country just makes us stronger. Why would any society want to only use the efforts of half their members? I applaud our Vice President Elect and all those women that came before her.

And remember if you can’t be the record breaker, being a supportive pacesetter is honorable too.

The Four Minute Mile

Some people think only presidential elections matter. They think its only important to vote once every four years. From my experience nothing could be further from the truth.

First if you understand how our government works, you know all three branches are important. We vote for the president and he determines the executive branch. The president chooses the judges for the judicial branch and the congress, the legislative branch has the final vote to approve them. The judicial branches makes judgements of the laws passed by the legislative branch and signed by the executive branch, the president. They are all connected and our vote determines who they are and what they do.

The people we put in these positions make decisions that determine how we will live. For example in the 1890s the congress and the president passed laws saying separate but equal accommodations was equal justice. The Supreme Court in Plessy vs. Ferguson upheld the law. Fifty years, two generations later, following years of discrimination, the law was reversed with the Brown vs. Board of Education decision.

Since the laws these people pass and approve not only effect you but your children, your grandchildren and your great grandchildren I think voting should be taken seriously. That’s how it was with those separate but equal laws. Laws that were passed when my great grandparents could not vote would determine the schools I could attend more than fifty years later.

We must take these laws seriously because they impact us in so many ways. Laws passed by our representatives even effects are jobs.

In the 60s they passed civil rights acts regarding voting, housing, transportation, etc. but those acts were not implemented immediately. The 1964 Civil Rights Act made employment discrimination illegal. But it took black Congressmen like Mickey Leland, William Clay, John Conyers and more to make it work.

I can remember working for a major telecommunications company that was discriminating against blacks and women. It took a consent decree, the justice department and support from congressmen to get that changed. When companies approached the government for rate changes, government contracts, etc. they would be pressured to show how they complied with the laws. This is the reason many of us can work in corporate America or for the government today because companies were pushed by our representatives to comply with the law.

The changes fought for in the sixties, implemented in the seventies, and challenged in the eighties didn’t just happen on their own. They are the result of citizens caring about their lives, their government and their children’s future. The extent to which we understand this will determine if we must repeat the same lessons again.

I’d suggest all citizens take an interest in their government, all three branches. We do this by getting involved, researching, speaking up and voting. In my short life I’ve seen things change as a result of citizen participation. I’ve seen voices and votes transform our government.

I encourage you to vote not just every four years, but whenever there is an election for anything. Do your civic duty and VOTE!

When you look at me what do you see? You see a black man. You see a physically fit man. You see a man losing his hair. You see a smart man, a writer and reader of books. You see how tall I am and a host of other things about my outside appearance.

But if you looked into my eyes, into my heart, and into my soul, you would see yourself. You would see another human being going through life and experiencing life just like you. You would see someone who hurts and rejoices. Just like you. You would be seeing my inside. And it would be just like you.

We don’t really have to look too deep to see the sameness of us all. You could take a knife and cut us and see that our blood, our flesh, and our bones all look the same.

But I am suggesting we look even deeper still. Look completely past the physical person and you’ve got to see their spirit. You’ve got to see their “humanness.”

If you have a small amount of social intelligence, or a wee bit of insight, you’ve learned the importance of looking someone in the eye. They say we do that as a sign of respect. We also do it to show our own confidence.

Eye contact is the most intimate way to communicate with another. And I think it is because when we look into another’s eyes we look past their outside appearance and see inside. When we look another in the eyes they can see our sincerity. That’s deep communication.

If you look a person in the eye and see their humanness, their divinity, it will be hard for you to hurt them. It is when we look at people as “other” or different from us, not human, that we are able to hurt them. That’s why even soldiers must be convinced that the enemy is less than them and evil.

So if you want our society to be a more accepting and loving place, you may have to look some folks in the eye. Now you can’t look people in the eye that don’t look like you or that are different from you if you don’t hang out with different people. You’ve got to socialize with folks outside your normal circle. Then you will have an opportunity to look them in the eye. You will get to see that they are human just like you.

I’ve noticed lately that many of my fellow baby boomers are not getting the opportunity to see others as human and divine. They have less contact with others. They are in their own bubble.

We were the “love and peace” generation. Our generation saw laws change. But changing laws isn’t the same as changing hearts.

Our generation learned to go to school together, work together and even sometimes live close by each other but there still seemed to be something missing. That’s the love part. That’s really getting to know someone different intimately. I’ve gone to school with whites and made good friends since fourth grade but I never got invited to sleep overnight. And don’t think about me dating their sister.

Now don’t get me wrong, I never invited my white friends to spend the night either. And I didn’t suggest that they date one of my sisters. So I’m not trying to be holier than thou, just honest.

Because my generation went to school and worked together, I think we had the opportunity to know each other better. I think we were more tolerant, polite and understanding than we would have been without that contact.

But take away that contact and you have retired folks living in their own bubble and losing the opportunity to look into another’s eyes. Unlike when we were in school together or at work together, baby boomers seem to be the loudest in the social and political discourse. We seem to have forgotten all the lessons of the sixties and seventies.

Now that I’m not in the workforce I try to participate in a number of different groups. I don’t want to just see the world from my bubble.

I participate in my fraternity that is full of black men from age twenty to ninety. I’m a member of a men’s circle where I’m the only black man and a men’s circle where I’m one of the youngest men. I belong to a storytelling guild of cool and over age sixty-five white women that includes Asian, Latin and Native American women and I’m one of the few men. I’m in another storytelling guild that includes more different types of folks than I can list, Appalachian, Jewish and Texas storytellers are just a few. I attend a spiritual center that has LBGT members. I have a diverse community.

But what really makes the difference is something that I see affecting many in my generation. That something is my nieces. Once my nephews married someone that wasn’t black I had a choice to make. Was I going to limit or expand my love? I chose to expanded it.

So my nieces Corina, Stephanie, Lisa, Gina and Amanda gave me great nieces and nephews that are of Asian and Caucasian descent. And you can’t tell me that Mya, Faith, Violet, Kahlil, Jasmine, Jadea, Iesha and Tanajah aren’t all divine human beings. And you can bet their white, Mexican and Asian uncles and grandfathers think they are divine too. We all love them equally.

You’ve got to see the other person as you see yourself. That’s how you do more than just follow the laws required for us to live together. That’s how you get to love. You’ve got to see me. I want to see you.

Recently one of my best friends called me to apologize. He wanted to apologize for not listening to me and over talking me during a discussion we had the day before. It took awhile before I understood what he was talking about. We are such good friends that I hadn’t even noticed. But he said when I was talking about my portfolio he immediately jumped into talking about how good he was doing with his. He said he should have listened and acknowledge my accomplishment instead of boasting about his own.

For a minute I was taken aback. I know friends should apologize when they do such things but so many times we just let small slights go whether we perpetrate the slight or are the victim of the slight.

That got me to thinking about my “real” portfolio. My portfolio of friends. I’ve heard it said and I believe it, that the one with the most/best friends wins. Friends are more valuable than money. My best portfolio is my friends.

A good portfolio is diverse. My friends are diverse. They come in many fashions.

I still have friends from my hometown and from my high school days. I don’t see them much. Nowadays I probably keep up with them on social media. But that’s just a sign of the times. Over the years I’ve gone back home to hang out at clubs, churches and other community places, and I have always felt supported, appreciated and cared for by my friends.

Even if it’s through social media, it is still amazing to me the people that have known me all of my life. Maybe because when I grew up families were large, stair-step families. We would have friends and our brothers and sisters would also be friends. As I’ve gotten older that has led to a wealth of people in my life that have always been there. These people know the core of me. They know where I originate. They know my people. They are a valuable piece of my portfolio.

Then there are my college friends, The Emporia Connection folks.

These are some of the most loyal folks in the world. When we were in college we were all we had, and we supported each other unconditionally. It didn’t matter what fraternity or sorority you were in or not in. It didn’t matter if you came from the city or a small town. We made sure each other ate and survived.

I am blessed to say that a large number of my college friends are still in my life more than forty years later. We stay in touch and see each other as much as possible. Over the years when we come together others outside the group marvel at the depth of our friendship. They say few folks have what we have. These folks are another good piece of my portfolio.

Joining Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. in 1972, has also been a great source of friends for me.

There is a group of Kappas that I’ve known since college and we are extremely close. I talk to these brothers regularly. Over the years we have had annual meetings and vacations together. We’ve watched each other’s lives change. We’ve experienced the change of spouses, the growth of children, changing careers, moves to new cities and a host of life’s experiences.

These guys knew me when I was still short. They knew my first serious girlfriend. They have seen me at my lowest. They know the real me. My portfolio of friends would be nothing without them.

So far I’ve mentioned only friends and relationships that started before I moved to St. Louis in 1980. That is probably only half of my portfolio. But the friends I had accumulated in my portfolio by then would be the ones to teach me how to be a friend, the value of friendship and make me want more friends.

Just like having money can help you make more money. For me it has been the same with my friends. The friends I experienced in the first half of my life made it possible for me continue to gain more great friends.

When I was growing up there was a commercial jingle for Kool-Aid that said, “Make friends with Kool-Aid, Make Kool-Aid with friends.” That became my mantra and my way of making and maintain friendships.

It means you make friends by giving your best, and you do your best with your friends.

I practiced this in St. Louis. I used to have a birthday party every year as a celebration of my friends. When I moved to St. Louis people would charge you to go to house parties, or demand you BYOB, or you had to go to the right high school, be related to the right person, etc. I decided to show them how you should party with friends.

For my parties you had to be invited. Everyone couldn’t come to the party. And everyone had to be comfortable. Anything you thought you might want would be there and you didn’t have to bring a thing. I would have a band and a deejay, just in case someone wanted to dance. I would only serve the best food and drink. It would be good for you and good to you. Only the best for my friends.

Treating friends like this has enhanced my portfolio over the years.

When I moved to New Jersey I collected even more friends. These were mostly fraternity brothers but more importantly they were my friends. I have been in regular contact with these brothers since I left New Jersey. Nearly twenty of them flew to St. Louis for my fortieth birthday.

My New Jersey brothers are solid. No matter where we live now we still stay in touch. Even during the pandemic, we managed to have a Friday evening hooch/party. These brothers are all very accomplished men. They represent many different careers and they all have done very well.

When we all lived in New Jersey in the 80s we challenged each other all the time. We were very competitive. I think that is how we all did so well. We pushed each other.

You know you are a reflection of your friends. Your friends are contagious. You need to have some good competitive friends in your portfolio.

Since moving to Texas, I have made some very good friends. I have even more good fraternity brothers who are friends. I have my storytelling and speaking friends. I have friends from work and church. And now I’m at the age where I consider my brothers and sisters some of my best friends.

I have a very diverse portfolio of friends. I am so blessed.

I was thinking the other day, if I had to tell NaOra, who to choose for pall bears at my funeral, who would I suggest she ask? She knows most of my portfolio of friends, but I would think even she would have a difficult time narrowing the number down to six. Should it be six from my early life, from my college life, from my fraternity brothers, my St. Louis friends, my Kansas friends, or my current Texas friends? What a dilemma!

I can tell you for me having a large and diverse group of friends has been one of the best things I’ve done in my life. If someone asked me how do you get to be rich? I’d say save all of your friends and hold them close. Invest in your friends and the friendship will grow. Appreciate your friends and you’ll gain more than you could ever imagine. Love your friends and you will have a great life.

The one with the most friends wins. Thank God for my portfolio of friends. I’m RICH!

Today, June 6, is the anniversary of the greatest invasion in recorded history, the landing of the Allied Forces on the shores of the European continent in 1944 on D-Day. We have been told many stories about World War II and particularly the storming of the beaches of Normandy.

We’ve seen the movies like Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan, The Longest Day, Where Eagles Dare and The Big Red One. The movies had stars like Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Richard Burton, John Wayne, Sean Connery, Henry Fonda, Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin. The only black actor I remember in a major World War II movie was Jim Brown in The Dirty Dozen. He was one of the featured criminals. He could run fast and died at the end.

These movies provide us with a belief about our country and our heroes. The movies tell us of those who fought for our freedom. They describe true Americans.

The only problem with the movies is that they don’t tell the whole story. That’s why I wish there were more stories with black soldiers because I’ve always known of their great contribution.

I grew up knowing about the 9th and 10th Calvary of Buffalo Soldiers, the Tuskegee Airmen and the Double Nickel fliers in the Air Force. I read about the truckers who supplied General Patton’s forces in the war, making it possible for France to be liberated. I knew blacks had to fought for their country. I learned that from books and doing my own research.

This week I found out more.

Wilbert Leon Thomas, Sr. was my father’s best friend. He has been the one I send Father’s Day cards to for the past four years since my father passed. He was like a second father to me. I have known and looked up to him all of my life.

On May 21, 2010 Wilbert Thomas passed away peacefully at his home. Mr. Thomas entered the world on October 11, 1923 in Wisner, Louisiana. He was the youngest of five children. Mr. Thomas entered military service in the Army in May of 1943 and deployed to foreign service in 1943. First on the beaches of Normandy, he was part of General Patton’s armed advanced. He participated in the famous Red Ball Express convoy, driving at night using “cat eyes” to avoid detection while transporting vital supplies, equipment and replacement troops to the front lines in France during World War II. From France his tour of duty took him to Germany. Mr. Thomas learned to speak both French and German and earned the World II Victory, ATO, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign, and Good Conduct medals.

After the war, Mr. Thomas married his high school sweetheart, Earlina Haynes, in 1947. They made Leavenworth, Kansas their home and remained married for nearly sixty years. Mr. Thomas was actively involved with this church, Independent Baptist Church, the Northeastern District and State of Kansas Laymen Associations, Masons and the Boy Scouts. There was not a day in his life that was not at least fair to middling.

All of Mr. Thomas’ siblings, his wife and three children preceded him in death. He is survived by two sons and two daughters and a host of other relatives.

This is just a portion of Mr. Thomas’ obituary. He was a part of the Greatest Generation that Tom Brokaw writes about. He fought discrimination to serve. He fought in the fiercest of battles, at Normandy. He spoke three languages. He returned home to marry his sweetheart, raise his family and serve his community.

I’ve known Mr. Thomas all of my life and did not know of this service. My mothers tell me that they didn’t know either and they’ve known him forever.

I knew that Mr. Thomas was just like my old man. He always had several jobs – a full time job, a part time job, weekend and extra work, plus being a weekend soldier in the Army Reserves. He was a good family man with stairstep children that matched my father’s children’s ages. He was a singing deacon at church and he made the male choir rock. He was my Boy Scout leader and was always patting me on the back for something I had done. It was always clear that I was his boy’s boy. Just like another father.

So even though I knew and respected Mr. Thomas for all that I knew about him, I would have loved to talk to him about his service. I would have liked to ask him what it was like to see himself and others not included in the movies and the history books. I would like to have known that I had a multi-language speaking genuine hero in my midst.

When you see the D-Day movies or any other movies that define our country it is important to get the full story. Men like Mr. Thomas and my dad were great role models for me. They taught me a lot and help me grow into the man I am today. But as I get older men like my dad and Mr. Thomas seem to be even more important to me and harder to find.

When you include the participation of men like Mr. Thomas in the stories of the making of America, you give more people, black people, a greater sense of ownership and involvement in the country. That can lead to a greater since of responsibility for the county that our fathers and mothers help build. That’s a much more productive attitude than to have black people think only white people built and shaped this country.

We are and have always been in this together. American heroes come from every branch of the American family tree. Let’s include everybody’s story and everyone’s contribution.

If you have a Mr. Thomas in your life, I encourage you to talk with them and share their stories. We are losing our heroes every day and we may need their example, so we can be heroes to the next generation.

Thanks Mr. Thomas. Happy Father’s Day and D-Day.

My dad was one of the most creative cooks I have ever known. During my youth when I didn’t realize how little we had, my dad would make lunch using anything that was available.

At our house I don’t ever remember us having a steak. Not a T-bone, not a sirloin or a rib eye – the closes we came to steak was a stringy cube steak. We didn’t have shrimp or seafood. Sauce never was separated from the pasta and the pasta was always either spaghetti or macaroni. There were just so many foods that I didn’t have and was unaware of until I left home.

But at home my dad could mix pork and beans and rice, or hot dogs in spaghetti or a salad consisting of a leaf of lettuce, half of a pear or peach with a tablespoon of mayonnaise and call it a meal. Whatever was there, he would put it together and that would be our lunch.

Mom and dad worked different hours. So my dad was there for lunch and my mom for dinner. We didn’t know that the cooking role could be gender specific. We just knew that daddy provided lunch and the only thing you could be sure of was it was made with love.

Father’s Day is coming. Do you remember what your father cooked for you? Is there something you cook special for your children?

Our memories can come from many sources. Make good memories. Use food. Do like my dad did. Feed your children love.

“Pick up a brick and hit him in the head!” my dad would tell my younger brother Joey. As a child I would constantly tease and pick on my little brother Joey. We were always very, very close and there for each other but I would still tease him mercilessly.

My problem was I didn’t know how to stop. Or as my folks would say I didn’t know when enough was enough. When we would visit other families my mom would always announce, “Michael doesn’t know how to play.” She would give others fair warning and permission to “deal” with me, because Michael didn’t know how to play.

My parents were very smart. Dad didn’t interfere in my fights with my brothers (sisters was an entirely different approach – ouch!). He let us work our problems out for ourselves.

That was good training.

Eventually Joey was bigger than me and hit me in the head with that brick. I learned to quit picking on him. I even learned how to get along and “play” with others.

During this Father’s Day week I find it interesting how my dad let us solve our own problems. He taught us how to demand respect and to respect others.

I never knew how wise dad was when he told Joey to pick up that brick and hit me in the head. I guess I’m glad he did. At least I learned how to play.

What did you learn from your dad?

Beginning with her birth, my grandmother’s life was a well lived miracle. The times in which she lived were very challenging. But she lived long and left an impressive legacy. That is the miracle.

Mamma Jessie, as we called my grandmother was born a few minutes after midnight on February 14, 1900. Her twin sister had been born minutes earlier on February 13, 1900. Twins with different birthdays. It was a miracle for them to survive in 1900.

In 1900 thirty percent of all deaths were the deaths of children. 165 of every 1,000 children died before the age of five. So just being born and making it to age five was a miracle because the odds were not in the child’s favor.

The top killers in 1900 were infectious diseases; tuberculosis, influenza and pneumonia. Due to the lack of sanitation and regulation these diseases were rampant. Every family, rich and poor, experienced the death of a child. It was so prevalent that there was a name for it. It was called “the empty chair” syndrome.

So, for Momma Jessie and Aunt Essie surviving childhood was a big deal but there was so much more to come. While they were teenagers the country entered World War I and by time they were eighteen the world was experiencing the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.

Can you imagine? Up until then there had been no “world” war. Wars, yes, but not wars that included most of the major countries in the world.

There had always been epidemics and infectious diseases. But not in recent memory had there been such a deadly pandemic.

Millions of people died during World War I, but more soldiers died from the flu than from battle. At that time the world didn’t understand germs and virus as we do now, so they were terrified of the silent killer. So, as a teenager my grandmother was dealing with war, quarantines and a pandemic.

Well by the time my grandmother had reached age of 29 the roaring twenties were over. She had just lived through the racial strife of that decade that began with the Red Summer in 1921. During those years’ blacks were terrorized and many black towns were destroyed. For blacks and my grandmother, the twenties weren’t so roaring.

Then she experienced the stock market crash of 1929. Her thirties were spent during the depression which was a tough time for everyone. She learned to do without and to make do.

By the time she reached her forties the country was involved in the second world war. Unlike the majority of women who were just entering the workforce in the 1940s, my grandmother had always worked. She worked hard and would eventually have her own business.

A lot happened in America from 1900 to 1945, and all of this would have happened before my grandmother was forty-five years old. And she wasn’t even supposed to live that long.

In 1900, the estimated life expectancy for White men was 46.6 years; for non-White men it was 43.5 years; for White women it was 48.7 years, and for non-White women it was 33.5 years. So, my grandmother and aunt were doing good if they made it to 34 years of age.

Aunt Essie, Momma Jessie’s twin died in November 1942. Reaching the age of forty-two wasn’t that bad. It was nine years more than expected. But family stories always tell how Aunt Essie didn’t have the healthiest habits. She drank and smoked but Momma Jessie didn’t.

After her twin sister died Momma Jessie still had four major wars and ten recessions yet to live through – 55 years.

By the 1950s Momma Jessie was a grandmother and had been married a couple of times. Her husbands were soldiers who fought in World War II and the war of the 1950s, the Korean War. It never did end.

In the 1960s there were numerous political assassinations and social upheaval in the country. It wasn’t until 1965 with the Voting Rights Act when my grandmother was 65 that she was guaranteed the right to vote and she still had more than thirty years left to live.

In my sixty plus years, I’ve seen a lot of turmoil and a lot of change. I’ve seen the country go through ups and downs. But I probably haven’t seen as much as my grandmother saw.

I know my life has been easier than hers. I know that I benefit greatly from social changes, technological advances and unearned good luck. I also know that there is a lot more change I’d like to see in the world.

I hope to have my grandmother’s strength. That is a strength that will get me through the rough times. She’s a great example of that. Just the memory of her life and what she endured inspires me.

I also have my grandmother’s prayers. So many times, things go my way and I know it must be because my grandmother prayed for me. I know throughout her life she prayed for her offspring to see a better world and I benefit from those prayers.

Finally, I’m glad I’ve got my grandmother’s genes. If she can double her life expectancy maybe I can follow her example and double mine. It will take all my strength and my courage. I will have to have healthy habits and be smart.

Like my grandmother’s, my life can be a miracle and a life well-lived. I just have to keep it all in perspective.

While observing the impact the Coronavirus is having on education, I began to think about learning. I started thinking about what learning meant to me and how I had learned growing up.

Right now, children are having to learn at home. They have on-line classes and on-line meetings. At the same time, they are at home closer to their parent’s supervision than their teachers.

The parents are learning what it is like for the teachers who teach their children. They are learning more about the subjects. They are also learning how difficult it can be to actually teach, to get someone to pay attention and buy into what you’re trying to convey.

This is all even more interesting to me, in light of all the times I hear people bemoan education. They seem to think you only need a small amount of education. They seem to think educators have a political agenda. I see things differently.

I think when we go to school we learn two things. We learn what is necessary to know to be a functioning member of society. These are things like reading, writing and arithmetic. This also includes those known facts that all intelligent people agree on, like the earth is not flat.

The second thing we learn is how to learn. That is when we learn how to do research, how to write a paragraph and how to learn things we were not taught in school. Most people overlook this part of learning. They think we are only to do the first type of learning which can lead to memorization and regurgitation.

If you don’t learn how to learn you will be stuck saying, “no one ever taught me such and such, we didn’t study that in school.”

When I was young black history was not taught in schools. By the time I reached college it was only brushed over. I had to learn black history on my own. I had to go read books, go to lectures and attend seminars so that I could learn about black people. I couldn’t just say they didn’t teach me. What a cop out.

Recently I was helping a young man I mentor, Cameron, with his schoolwork. There were questions regarding triangles that I didn’t have a clue about. I started doing research. I used Google, YouTube, books and other sources to learn how to help Cameron with his homework.

Before I knew it, about six hours later, I had learned trigonometry. Not only did I learn it but I was able to share it with Cameron. Then I taught it to my niece Sherell who never would have believed she could do such advanced math.

We must learn those things that help us be good citizens and make it through life. But it is so very important that we also learn how to learn. And if we are really good we will learn things well enough to teach and share with others.

I think you can never learn too much. I think regardless of the career path one chooses, they will be more successful with more education. As a matter of fact, from what I’ve seen over the years, the students that take the hardest classes and make the best grades, later make the most money.

It’s a tough time right now for parents and students. But from what I’ve seen, teachers are still available and working hard, the internet is able to handle the excess traffic and most students have access.

I hope they are not just learning but also learning how to learn. It’s the best thing I learned in school.

Self-actualization is one of Maslow’s needs in his hierarchy of needs. It is the highest level of psychological development. It is when one reaches his or her full potential. This only happens after the basic physical and mental needs are met.

I began to think how this hierarchy of needs fits with my current situation Currently, we are in the midst of a quarantine across the country due to the spread of the COVID19 virus. Many people are suffering and many more are in a holding pattern, sitting at home with little to do. We are all at different levels on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

The first level of needs on Maslow’s hierarchy pyramid is physiological needs. My basic needs of food, shelter and warmth are all being met. I have a nice home with all the material things that I may need.

The second level of needs is a sense of security and safety. That need is being met. I am not afraid of anyone breaking into my house or anyone hurting me. I’m safe.

The third level of needs is a sense of community, a sense of belonging and being loved. I’m lucky in this area. My spiritual community has several opportunities during the week for us to get together for music, meditation and lessons. There is always someone calling or writing, checking up on me.

My fraternity brothers have had meetings and happy hours on Zoom. We’ve been able to drink and smoke cigars and talk mess. They are from all over the country and from different times in my life. I’ve enjoyed these brothers.

My storytelling guilds have had meetings on Zoom also. We’ve told stories and shared our experiences. It has been just about as good as our face to face meetings.

My community needs have been fully met.

The next level of need is esteem. This is the need to feel prestige and a sense of accomplishment.

My sense of accomplishment starts with winning the morning by completing my morning run and exercise routines. I’ve been good at this. Even when it’s been hard, I’ve gotten up and got my three to five mile runs in. I’m in good shape.

Writing is another task I need to complete to feel good about myself. I have a goal to write 300 to 600 words a day. I haven’t been as good with this goal as I would like, but I’m getting better. I’m getting more disciplined and it is becoming easier.

Finally, I just feel so much better when I get my chores done. I begin each day with a “To Do List” and I love to cross items off my list. I get a charge of endorphins and feel so much better when I get things done.

So, with my basic physical and mental needs met, I’m in a perfect position to pursue the ultimate need. The need for self-actualization.

Self-actualization is achieving one’s full potential. It’s doing what you feel you were made to do. It’s effortlessly being you.

For me that need is to communicate. I am fully being me when I am informing, inspiring and/or entertaining others. I do that with speeches and stories; sometimes written and sometimes verbal. But I’ve got to speak.
I have had so many opportunities to self-actualize, to just be me. I’ve had speaking engagements and storytelling events. I’ve had to do them in a new fashion, on Facebook, YouTube, Zoom, etc. but I’ve done them. They have kept me alive, kept me going.

That’s what self-actualization is, a chance to keep going, to be ourselves, to do our thing and to serve others. Even in the midst of a virus quarantine we can be ourselves and help others.

We each have our thing. We can all make that thing actually come true. We can self-actualize.

During this time of quarantine, it’s a good time for introspection. Check out where you are. Where do you want to be? What do you want to do? How can you make it happen?

This is a good “down” time and its affecting everyone. It will be interesting to see how each of us come out on the other side. I hope you like me, self-actualize.

“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” – Jim Rohn

The dictionary defines self-discipline as the ability to control one’s feelings and overcome one’s weaknesses; the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it.

Years ago, I learned that self-discipline was my super weapon. I realized that it was my ability to get started, to keep going, to not give up and to do what is difficult that had made the difference in my life.

Everything that was a success for me was first a failure for me. It was the ability to go back again and try that made the difference. It was the constant pursuit, getting back up after being knocked down, that helped me succeed.

I now view my physical smallness as an asset. I was always smaller than everyone else. But I learned from my dad that I couldn’t let that stop me from participating. I had to work harder. I had to look at big goals, bigger competitors, and decide to go for it anyway. By doing this I took a lot of lumps but sometimes I won. And those occasional victories were enough for me to see some hope. So, I would come back again and again and again. And I got better.

Many people run when things get hard or uncomfortable. They don’t have self-discipline. They say that it’s not meant for them to have their dreams or goals and they quit. They don’t know that with a bit more effort they could have won. They don’t know that their dream may be around the next corner.

I always use my wrestling experience as an example of my persistence and my self-discipline.

In high school I wrestled in the smallest weight class available and still was smaller than everyone I wrestled. My first year I knew little about the sport and was always outmatched. I lost every match. That meant every week I would get teased about being a loser. Kids that were not even on the wrestling team thought they were better than me and would challenge me daily.

Most folks would’ve said that this sport is not for me. But not me, I came back out my junior year. This time I won as many matches as I lost. I became just a little bit more confident. I began to associate hard work, learning the moves, and being in shape with winning. My senior year I came back and made it to the state championship. I even received a wrestling scholarship for college. This is after losing every single match my first year.

That was a learning experience.

Most people would rather do what comes easy, what they are comfortable doing. But there is no growth in only doing what you can already do. Just like building muscle, you need the resistance to get stronger.

Running marathons was another self-discipline act for me. It required that I developed a training plan and executed that plan daily. It takes me at least four months of training to run a 26.2-mile marathon. I run at least four times a week; two short runs, one medium and one long run. I start at five miles and work my way up to twenty miles.

But this requires daily discipline. If I don’t keep getting up every day and increasing my mileage weekly, I won’t be prepared on race day. If I don’t eat right and rest properly I will struggle with my runs. All of this requires self-discipline.

Now the way I think you develop discipline is by having a “why”. You need a reason that will motivate you and get you out on the road. In wrestling I didn’t want to be a loser and keep getting picked on. For my first marathon, my reason was that my nephew asked me to run with him and I didn’t want to let him down. At other times it may have been as simple as I wanted another medal, but I developed a “why” to help me stay focused on my goal.

Self-discipline has always been my key to success. The single most important attribute to my becoming successful has been self-discipline. It has help me stay focused on reaching my goals. It gives me the gumption to stick with difficult tasks. It has allowed me to overcome obstacles and discomfort and to push to new heights.

If you are looking for a secret weapon for your success, try self-discipline. It will work for you like it has worked for me.

To have esteem for someone is to admire them, respect them, appreciate them, to value them. To have esteem for ourselves is to admire, respect, appreciate and value ourselves. It seems much easier for us to have esteem for others, but its most important that we have it for ourselves. It’s called Self-Esteem.

Confidence in one’s own worth or abilities produces self-respect, pride and dignity. There is not much we can do if we don’t believe in ourselves. Our overall sense of self-worth or personal value is necessary for our success and happiness.

I think this starts with how we see ourselves physically. If we look at ourselves and see someone who is out of shape, unkept and not looking their best we devalue ourselves. That is why I think one of the first steps to self-esteem is good grooming and a healthy look.

When we workout, eat right and get enough rest it effects how we feel, how we look and most importantly how we feel about ourselves. When we are in this positive mode we correctly feel like we can do more, accomplish bigger goals.

When we like how we look and how we feel we fall in love with ourselves. It’s like we are attracted to ourselves and like being with ourselves. Bob Marley says, “To fall in love with yourself is the first secret to happiness.”

Alan Cohen puts it like this, “ To love yourself right now, just as you are, is to give yourself heaven. Don’t wait until you die. If you wait, you die now. If you love, you live now.”

It was hard for me to love myself. Of course, it started with the way I looked. I was short, skinny and had dark skin when it wasn’t popular. I had nappy hair and a big nose. But the characteristic that defined me was my gap, a gap in my smile that I was told was wide enough to drive a Mac truck through.

Nowadays kids get braces on their teeth to correct their smile. But that was not an option for me. I had to learn to live with my gap. And what I learned was that we smile from the inside. We smile with our whole being and especially our eyes. Once I learned that I smiled and smiled, and no one even noticed I had a gap.

When I began to smile and not care about my gap I began to look better. People seem to like me more. It turned out to be my special beauty mark.

I think being able to smile in spite of my gap made me appear confident, sure of myself, at ease.

It may not be a smile that you need to overcome. It may be some other characteristic. But I’m sure that you notice it more than others. You make it a big deal and others see it as an asset.

Whatever it is that diminishes your self-esteem I encourage you to look at it and conquer it. Decide it is just who you are. Decide it is what makes you unique. If it’s something you need or want to change, then change it. The important thing is to begin to admire yourself, to value yourself, to fall in love with you.

Self-esteem is a value that we must have if we are to be successful and happy. Find your “gap”. Appreciate your “gap”. Love yourself that’s self-esteem.

“Know thy self” is one of the oldest quotes regarding self-awareness. People have been advised of this since the dawn of time. It is important to know yourself. That’s called self-awareness.

Webster defines self-awareness as the thinking skill that focuses on one’s ability to accurately judge their own performance and behavior and respond appropriately to different social situations. This means to be conscious and aware of yourself. It is the ability to accurately access oneself.

The person who lacks self-motivation but wants to be an entrepreneur lacks self-awareness. The person who wants to be healthy but continues to eat unhealthy fast foods lacks self-awareness. Anyone who is not being truthful with themselves and responding appropriately lacks self-awareness.

Stephen Covey says, “Self-awareness involves a deep personal honesty. It comes from asking and answering hard questions.”

When I look back on my life I can see times when I practiced self-awareness and times when I deceived myself. When I first started speaking I was not very good at all. I recognized this and joined not one but many Toastmasters clubs. I knew that I needed to overly indulge in learning speaking skills. I participated in all the contests, took on every challenge and eventually I became good at public speaking.

If I had not been aware of my shortcomings in the area of speaking, I would have kept on doing what I was doing which was nothing. I was just walking around thinking I was a speaker but I wasn’t doing anything to improve. I wasn’t doing what speakers do, speak.

Self-awareness allows you to self-correct. Being aware of my shortcomings made all the difference in the world. Testing myself, challenging myself and being willing to learn is how I became a speaker.

Understanding our thinking and our emotions is emotional intelligence. The key to emotional intelligence according to Daniel Goleman is the ability to monitor our emotions and thoughts. This is the key to understanding ourselves and being at peace with who we are.

We can manage our thoughts, emotions and behaviors. We do this by being focused on what we are thinking and feeling. When we focus on our thoughts and feelings we discover that we can control and manage them.

My method for practicing self-awareness and managing my thoughts and behaviors begins with my self-talk. I talk positively to myself. I encourage myself. I chastise myself. I listen to positive messages and recite encouraging quotes.

I start this practice each morning before I even get out of bed. I have positive YouTube videos that I watch instead of checking my email and Facebook messages. I listen to talks about rising early and running and exercising while others sleep. I make sure that I have running gear that makes me feel like an athlete when I put it on. I pump energetic music thru my earpods.

I do all these things because I know what it takes to get me started. I know that I will feel better about myself all day if I get up and get my run in. I call it “winning the morning”. If you win the morning you’re more likely to win the day.

After my run and a shower I will spend time meditating and planning my day. I do this because I know that I am much more productive when I have a plan. A written plan.

One thing I know about myself is that I love to have a To Do List. I love to cross things off the list. I get such a feeling of accomplishment. It’s like a shot of endorphins.

Since I know this about myself I spend serious time making a To Do List each day. Having the To Do List helps me to know more about myself, what’s important to me, what do I get done and when and why do I procrastinate. It adds to my self-awareness.

There are many other ways to practice self-awareness. You can keep a journal. You can write down your goals, plans and priorities. You can meditate and practice mindfulness. There are also personality test you can take. Or you can just ask a trusted friend to describe you and see how that matches your own description.

Anything that we can do to see ourselves more clearly will lead to self-awareness. Seeing ourselves clearly will make us more honest, less likely to lie, cheat or steal. We will search for ways to improve because we honestly access ourselves.

When we know ourselves we are even more compassionate with others. I think this is why since ancient times we have been told the first law is “to know thyself”. Knowing ourselves is how we successfully navigate through life.

“Yesterday I was clever and I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise and I want to change myself.” – Rumi

What About Time

One of the keys to getting the most out of your time is developing the ability to ask yourself the right questions at the right time. This only takes a few seconds before you begin any given task. More often than not, you will find these few seconds will present new and better ways of doing what needs to be done.

While it is important to manage your time with calendars, diaries and daily plans, effective time management also requires that you manage yourself.

Before you set about any task, big or small, stop and ask yourself whether this is the best use of your time. Perhaps there are other, better ways of achieving the same result. Or maybe it is a task that you are not particularly suited to that another person could do in half the time, in which case you might want to delegate.

If you do decide to take on the task yourself, ask yourself what is the best way to complete it quickly and easily. It only takes seconds to ask yourself these questions and listen to the answers that come.

As time goes on you will get better at this. One of the most important things to do is to learn how to ask the right questions. In general, your questions should begin with the word ‘what’. This focuses your attention and evokes clarity. The remainder of the question needs to ensure that it opens up possibilities, is solution oriented, elicits information and moves you forward.

Here are some examples of powerful ‘what’ questions that would help you focus better on a particular task and make more effective use of your time:

“What is the most important thing for me to focus on at the moment?”

“What would enable me to use my time more effectively?”

“What isn’t getting done that needs doing?” And added to that, “What will it take to get this done?”

“What is the next step for me in this moment?”

These questions can also be used when considering more long-term goals. For example, “What do I want my life to look like in five years?”.

Once you have asked any question you need to take a little time, perhaps one minute, to listen to the response that comes to you. You may find that what comes up in your response is clear enough and you now know the best way forward.

However, you may find that your response lacks clarity. It may include all sorts of thoughts and ideas, but no clear way forward. In this case, it can be a good idea to take note of the thoughts that come to you and break the problem down into smaller parts to find the best way forward. You may find there are more specific questions you need to ask.

However, for the smaller tasks in our day-to-day professional and personal lives clear answers usually come quite easily and quickly. So, before you move on to your next task take a little time to consider whether it is the best use of your time and if so, how you can complete it in a time effective manner.

409369-witch-casting-a-spell.jpgThere are many definitions of a spell. It can be a magic ritual, an incantation or a secret writing. It can also be a covering, a hypnosis, a mezmerizing effect, as in under a spell. Spells are typically administered by witches or those connected with the underworld or some special magic.

Well I have a different view of spells and what it means to be under one’s spell.

All people are basically the same. They experience the same emotions in identical circumstances. They share the same feelings of happiness, sadness, love and fear.

Just like we all bleed red blood we are all the same on the inside emotionally. Because of this sameness many times we resonate with others. We see ourselves in them or we see something about them that we want to be close to.

Though we may seek out those who are similar to ourselves we also seek out those who represent what we aspire to be. In this way emotions can be contagious. We can actually take on the good feelings of another. And of course, that would mean we can take on the negative feelings of others too.

This intermingling of emotions is what I think produces “the spell.” We enjoy being around positive people. We enjoy being around people who see the best in us. We enjoy being around people who are being their best. We enjoy being under their spell.

People that have the ability to put others under their spell have charisma. Charisma is the ability to charm and inspire others, a divinely conferred power or talent. Charisma is a gift given to all but only positive, happy people accept and use this gift.

When people use their gift of charisma they can induce spells on others. Their positive attitudes can be contagious. Then they can begin to make a difference in the world and in the lives of others.

People seldom listen to or respond positively to negative mean people. They respond to those who seem happy and encouraging. People just like good nice people.

It’s a very simple principle and I have found it works in my life. Long ago I learned, saying “please” and “thank you” or “I’m sorry” or “excuse me” go a long way in smoothing out the rough edges of life. It doesn’t take much and the pay off is so huge.

Most people don’t believe this or practice this. Those are the people that are usually wondering what happen. These are the ones that are under my spell!