Monday, June 12, 2017

Let Truth’s $10 be worth more than two cents

Sojourner Truth...
News in 2015 that Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman were selected to be featured on United States currency was at first blessing. Now it’s feeling more like a curse.

              The facts, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury: the front of the new $20 will feature the portrait of Harriet Tubman, whose life was dedicated to fighting for liberty. The reverse of the new $20 will depict the White House and an image of President Andrew Jackson.

              The new $10 will celebrate the history of the women’s suffrage movement, and feature images of Sojourner Truth, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Alice Paul, alongside the Treasury building. The front of the new $10 will retain the portrait of Alexander Hamilton.

              The new $5 will honor historic events that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial in service of our democracy. It will feature Martin Luther King, Jr., Marian Anderson, and Eleanor Roosevelt. The front of the new $5 will retain the portrait of President Lincoln.

...Harriet Tubman. Don't confuse them.
              Initially I was overjoyed by the word that Sojourner Truth, a Battle Creek resident, would be gracing the $10. An abolitionist and women's rights activist, Truth was born into slavery, around 1775, as Isabella Baumfree in New York – a northern state (hey, just keeping it real).

              The person who claimed ownership of this cherished human being was Colonel Charles Ardinburgh. She was sold to John J. Dumont when she was 10 years old. Wonder how her mother and father felt about that? But I digress…

              Though her given name was Isabella, she referred to herself as “Sojourner,” a move said to have been made after hearing the name whispered to her from a higher power. Later she added “Truth” to uphold her mandate to preach nothing but truth to all people – especially men. Truth spent much of her career in Washington, D.C., then eventually moved to B.C. when she lived out her days.

              Why the history lesson? Perspective.

              Positioning activists of color and women on U.S. currency will suggest to a lot of folks that America has arrived, with respect to equality and social justice. Indeed, imprinting such human symbols on greenbacks that pass through the hands of people – both on our soil and around the world – carry subliminal meaning. The message? That declarations such as “We the People”, “Justice for All” and the like are factual embodiments rather than as of yet unattained aspirations.

Rally at Sojourner Truth Monument in Battle Creek
There’s the rub. So much of the time oppressors are soaked in their own self-centered frames of reference that reality is effectively white washed. And with it the truth.

              The United States continues to suffer from debilitating social diseases. These maladies are perpetuated, in part, by people who systematically elevate icons of justice to pedestals of reverence. In turn, they are then co-opted and appropriated so as to benefit the status quo. In the case of Truth, Tubman and other newcomers on our currency, to profit capitalism. More specifically, neoliberalism.

              As any marketing person worth their salt will tell you, when it comes to mass communication, perception quickly becomes reality. Bang it enough in print, online or on TV and fantasy becomes fact. That’s because we’re too lazy to want to discriminate between hype, opinion and fact.

              Placing a handful of individuals on dollar bills will ultimately result in the same failed thinking that resulted from the successful election of a single individual of color as president: that there’s no longer “a problem.” Sadly, nothing is further from the truth. America continues to have its collective head in the sand.

              Though the bills are still years from going into circulation, the good thing is that these nontraditional icons being placed on our money is promoting critical conversations. At least in some quarters. Conversations related to racism, sexism, poverty and other social ills plaguing us. I’m encouraged by that. By all means continue these discussions. At the same time, let’s not allow small wins like new small faces on dollar bills distract us from the big picture challenges facing us.

Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at

Monday, June 5, 2017

Martin Luther King is more than his "I Have a Dream" speech

One of these men was 5'7" - the other was President
Quick: what was the age of Martin Luther King when he was assassinated? Simple question - one that can easily be sourced via Google or any other search engine.

The answer might surprise you. Once you know, keep it in mind. So that when his name comes up in conversation you can remind others of the incredible work this man engaged in during his youth.

Yes, his youth.

Most everyone who knows the King name is familiar with his dreams of peace and unity. But he was younger than most think. And in terms of legacy, I suspect there are generations of people (young and old) who are barely (if at all) aware that he stood for so much more. And that he took action in the name of all who are vulnerable - no matter their identity (race, gender, ability, social class, etc.).

See the short commentary by Michael Eric Dyson on the whitewashing of Dr. King's legacy.

King was arrested upwards of 20 times and assaulted at least four times. His home was bombed, he was subjected to personal abuse, and through all this, he emerged as this nation's premiere civil rights leader.

Click to see/read Michael Eric Dyson's take
And let's keep it real: yes, he was a person who was flawed and made mistakes. But that only proves he's human - like the rest of us.

He emerged on the world stage while in his 20s. A young black man influencing American culture. At the age of 35, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He spoke truth to power. Just a few short years later, he made the ultimate sacrifice.

Please, whenever his name comes up (and not just during the national holiday in his name), share Dr. King's age when he was killed. The goal? To remind everyone, young and old, what can be accomplished (and what is being achieved) by folks of all ages. And that there are young bloods out there who are putting their own lives on the line in the name of social justice. It's happening today. We just have to recognize...