One man's beautiful struggle and search through the rubble for a suitable hustle

The last month I’ve been preoccupied with police abuse of power, and institutional racism and privilege and education and my startup. I wake up most mornings like my subconsious has been struggling towards epiphany all night. I hustle to capture my daily rationing of genius before kids and dogs and the day ahead tramples the fruit of my quiet contemplation. I woke up today thinking of my father - he had heart surgery last night. My mom called in the middle of the night to let me know that it went great and he was resting. This morning those thoughts intermingled with yesterday’s bombshell of Ray Rice’s release from the Ravens for abuse of his now wife.

Many may not know that my dad was a cop. NYPD. He retired after 28 years and worked transit, a beat in chinatown, undercover narcotics and then corrections. He’s also the one that taught me how abusive police can be and what never to do. Some highlights were - No toy guns ever, black boys with toy guns get killed 2) Never be “smart” to a police officer, especially if you are 3) Watch who you hang around and whose house you go in because when the raids happen everybody gets treated like a criminal 4) Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

My dad also taught as much by his actions as by his words. He taught me to smile and be friendly. He was never subservient but he showed me the power of establishing connections and parallels between you and the other person and watch doors open. If you’ve met him for a second you know my dad is the friendliest, most stranger-talking-to-person that has never been trained by the Jehovah’s witnesses.

When I was 14 my dad and I went to a Yankees game with my friend and his dad from up the street. The game was not memorable. Leaving the stadium it was a few blocks walk to where we’d parked. Amid the cacophony of horns blaring and post-game revelry that was a New York City late night, my Dad turned and started yelling down an alley. “Hey! Cut that out!”. I knew my Dad’s I’m-bout-to-whoop-that-a@$ voice but had never heard it directed at another adult. I peered curiously, squinting into the dark alley to see what had attracted my dad’s ire. Curiosity turned to fear when his arm stiffened and he pushed me behind him with the back of his forearm the way mom’s arm would shoot out when she slammed on the brakes (crazy how nobody wore seat belts then). The man stepped out of the shadows first, his left hand still tightly gripped around the woman’s upper arm - half to keep her from falling, half to keep her from running. The right hand he held up in the air showing an empty palm. “Ain’t no problem here. You can be on your way” he responded. My dad growled “Let her go!. The man replied “like I SAID… NO PROBLEM.. BE ON YOUR WAY”. Ten tense seconds ensued, the woman’s shadow tugged half-heartedly at the man’s grasp, seemingly trying as much to pull him back into the shadows as she was trying to get away. In that frozen moment, a throng of fans walked by oblivious or unwilling to notice the scene in front of them. They looked at us, looked at the man and woman and continued their conversation. Relenting, my Dad said “You put your hands on that woman, that’s a problem”. “Alright sheriff” the man retorted sarcastically, seemingly sensing that he’d won the standoff. My Dad turned and led our group briskly across the street. Almost immediately there was another high pitched yelp from the alley as the man resumed whatever business he was conducting with the unseen woman.  

As soon as we reached the curb, my father asked our neighbor to watch me and turned and ran back across the street dodging traffic as he went. My father yelled “Muthaf@#$, I told you!”. I saw from across the street the man step out of the shadow again and saw the flash of light and heard a bottle break. Mid stride my dad took one exaggerated lunge and unholstered the .38 that was around his ankles. (Yes, it does seem strange in retrospect that he’d been able to enter the stadium armed - but the truth is that my father was a big fan of the “professional courtesy” that fellow police offered one another, and still do, to good and bad effect). I remember being so afraid that the man would have a gun too. I heard the scuffle. I remember the crowd forming and blocking my view from across the street. 

Four hours later, it was 2 AM, my father had given his statement. The woman had run off during the altercation. The man’s shirt was peppered with blood. My dad explained he’d been forced to pistol whip the man because he came at him with a broken bottle. Dad didn’t see the man as a real threat so he left him with a busted nose versus bullet holes. The man lay on the curb handcuffed, feigning having fallen over on his side and being unable to right himself and screaming all manner of epitaphs. The police who were working the baseball game were upset at the paperwork they would now have to do. My mother was pissed when we got home at how late we were out and how my Dad had taken police action with me around. Our neighbor was very patient but from then on we drove separately. But on the way home my father told me how much he hated pimps because they preyed on the weak and exploited desperate women. I remember wondering what a pimp was. He said a man wasn’t a man if he had to put his hands on a woman to feel powerful. He also apologized later, after many a long night behind closed doors with my mother, for approaching that situation when I was there. He said it wasn’t safe for me (almost as if reading a prepared statement).  But when I think back to my ideas about men and women, about how detestable it is to put your hands on a woman and about how no man would sit back and let that happen in his presence - I think about that night and the lesson my father taught me because he refused to look the other way.

This morning my son woke me at 6:30 AM to turn on sportscenter and pour him a bowl of honey bunches of oats - like every morning.  At 8AM we walked to school and he said “Dad, I can’t believe they suspended Ray Rice forever”. I asked him if he knew why. He replied that “He hurt the woman who was going to marry?”. I told him that what Ray Rice did was terrible. That he is big and strong and people think he’s a hero and he has a responsibility to protect people, especially the ones he loves. I said, “Do you remember how mad I get when you hit your sister? How you’re not allowed to hit her no matter what? That you use your words, or you walk away and tell mommy or daddy if she’s trying to hit you but you NEVER hit her back? He nodded. Ray Rice did a terrible thing and now they took away what he loved to do most, play football. He’s also going to lose millions of dollars. Do you understand?” He nodded.               


Today, I woke up grateful for life. My father had heart surgery last night that was nothing short of a miracle. He’s had a challenging 2014. A fall that resulted in a hip problem and aggravated a back injury, a kidney infection and sepsis courtesy of the hospital where he was being treated. And then this latest, for a week his heart and blood pressure were racing uncontrollably. He was unable to stand, labored just to breathe, and was at a terrible risk of having a stroke. We braced ourselves. When he’d had a triple by-pass in 1996 doctors warned the operation had a  ~15 year window before another intervention was necessary. Monday’s operation was a collaboration of cardiologists, internist and specialists and carried multiple if-then scenarios. The first procedure went down his throat to examine his heart and found no clots or obstructions affecting the heart (praise Jesus), the second went in through a artery in his leg and burned away some nerve endings that sent signals to the heart. I got to speak to him late last night and though raspy, he said the relief was immediate.  Today he is recovering well and could go home as early as this evening. Today could have been a very different day. 



"Poor black boys are treated as problems before they are treated as people." - Dr. Javon Johnson

a timely reminder.

(via lemongrabmypenis)


Let us be vividly clear about this.

What the New York Times did to Michael Brown today was not merely slander. It wasn’t a case of a lack of journalistic integrity.

Highlighting that a black teenager was “no angel” on the day he is being laid to rest after being hunted and…


Source (x)


(Source: uastis, via lemongrabmypenis)

This article has some deep thoughts.
1) Education is the largest profession in the US employing a significant number of African Americans.
2) African Americans teachers have historically been underpaid and work in environments with worse conditions and are therefore more likely to be union members.
3) When New Orleans dissolved their contract with the teachers union (saying that they had vacated) and instead turned the city over to charters it not only severed the communities connections with the school, not only changed the makeup of educators to be much less reflective of the community but gutted one of the biggest sources of black middle-class employment ensuring that the African American communities that did recover were considerably poorer demographically.

(Source: Washington Post)

So the question the inspired this 2-part post was “What do I want my children 5 and 7 to know about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr?”  For those that didn’t read part1 here’s where I left off:

It was in understanding the scripture (Matthew 5:38 turn the other cheek) that the true genius of the strategy of nonviolence employed by Ghandi and then Dr. King is revealed. We think of his accomplishments as ideological or legal battles fought and won but that wasn’t it at all. His true accomplishment was to force an oppressor to change their posture and engage blacks as an equal.

What did Martin Luther King Jr. do?   

"Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ended the terrorization of black Americans, particularly those living in the south."

No. I did not stutter, or mistype.  I mean that Dr. King taught systematic anti-terrorism. I can’t take credit for the breakthrough.  I found much of this perspective here.  

Yes, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the NAACP won several legislative victories that enacted or stuck down official laws.  These laws prevented blacks from fully participating in American life, but they only represented a small part a system designed keep blacks in perpetual subjugation.  The power that undergirded this unjust system and kept it aloft was terror. Terror reinforced the written and unwritten norms of unequal protection under the law and callous disrespect for the rights and humanity of blacks.  HampdenRice writes:

[Terror] was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them

White people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment.”  

White people occasionally tried black people, especially black men, for crimes for which they could not conceivably be guilty. With the willing participation of white women, they often accused black men of “assault,” which could be anything from rape to not taking off one’s hat, to “reckless eyeballing.”

This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running. It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people.  

This system of terror was far worse than a law because it existed as a complex set of cultural norms.  The norms were accepted by many whites and internalized by many blacks in the forms of dozens of compensating behaviors aimed at doing everything possibly to not invite the often random violence inflicted on blacks by whites.  The author writes well about how these behaviors are part of a very complex racial identity that it has taken the collective black consciousness generations to come to terms with and still works to undo.  

The real threat to any black that “forgot their place” as being underneath the boot of any white person was not prosecution under the law.  The real threat was being spirited away from their homes, ritually mutilated and left as an example to others as to what happens when they disrupt the “order”. Today we would (hopefully) charge someone with home invasion, kidnapping, sexual assault, torture, premeditated murder and yes, domestic terrorism.  

Dr. King’s non-violent protests at their core were organized systems of collective bravery. Bravery that forced large portions of the American public to change its posture towards black Americans.  That if, in mass, blacks stood together and challenged small elements of the order like riding a bus, or eating at a lunch counter or using a bathroom - in outward defiance of the written and unwritten rules then the informal punishment system would become overwhelmed.  There were too many to terrorize.  Black people began to see that they could organize, that violence would happen but they didn’t have to respond with fear and that they could shame America into seeing what it was doing or allowing to be done.

Here’s what I taught my children.

Martin Luther King Jr. showed black people how to stand up and demand to be treated just like white people. He showed them how to do it without anyone getting hurt or anyone breaking the law (except the bad laws). He taught them to do it all together so that they didn’t have to be afraid of anyone trying to hurt them or even be afraid if they got thrown in jail. America was created so that everyone could have a place where they could be free. For a long time that wasn’t true and everybody knew it, but no one knew how to change it. Martin Luther King Jr. showed the whole country and the whole world that America said one thing and did something different and that when black people stood up and demanded that America treat them better, America got better for everyone.  

Yesterday, Nicole and I were in a cafe making a sales pitch when a woman came up behind me, grabbed my hair and kissed me full on the mouth! She looked about 50, maybe 110 pounds with a short, flirty, colored haircut and I had no idea who she was. She bounced up and down said how amazing it was to see me and said “I hope that isn’t your wife? It IS?! Hi!!! and then hugged her. It wasn’t until she pulled up a chair and began to tell us (and our equally stunned potential customer) about HER startup!” that I wiped the stupefied look off of my face and figured out who this woman was.  

Admittedly she’s on a lot of drugs. “Morphine!” she says quite jubilantly. Judy is an amazing woman and a great friend. This past September I returned to the gym where we were part of an experimental co-ed fitness program “Beauties and the Beasts”.  My life has since gotten too hectic and me too poor to continue going so I workout at home now.  Judy was the only female that consistently did the “Beast” routine and I loved working out with her. Our trainer told me she was sick and I called her. She never called me back. She laughs. “Its hard to call someone back and say.. yeah I’m dying”. Her short pixie haircut was the sign of her reclaiming her life.  It was as much as she’d grown back after the decision to stop the chemo that had added a decade to her face and stripped her shapely physique down 35 pounds.  But in her eyes and her voice it was all Judy - plus a little morphine. She’d beaten breast cancer 13 years ago, amazing her oncologist by having two kids after 8 rounds of chemo and radiation. But it came back for her liver. Her doctors gave her 18 months to live, 2 years ago.

So what did she do? She started a startup, applied to an incubator and launched a nonprofit. There is nothing more inspiring than an entrepreneur with stage IV cancer.  She pitched 4 people on her upcoming fundraiser while we finished lunch. Then she hugged my wife and told her how lucky she was, how lucky we both were and she kissed me once more and said “I love this man”.

I love you too Judy

Ok here’s the setup:

Occasionally my kids come home discussing topics they discussed in school that I’d really prefer they learned from my wife and I.  I want my kids grow up to be strong morally centered individuals. I cringe when I remember the pain that can be inflicted by well-meaning but misguided teachers leading discussions of sensitive topics when there is only one brown face in the classroom. (Think “Let’s re-enact a scene from our social studies book on slavery, Khalid you be the slave” Yes, I’m looking at you Dick Sesso!) Anyway, when my kids come home saying “Daddy, we’re brown-skinned and brown-skinned people celebrate Kwanza, why aren’t we celebrating?” we have to talk. This Saturday it was “Dr. Martin Luther King had a dream and that’s why I can go to school with Hannah.” We’d touched on racism before. My son loves football movies and he struggled through the racially charged plots of “Remember the Titans” and “The Express”. I wanted to know, to hear from me what it meant to be black, what it had meant to be black, but as I learned many times before - you learn very quickly whether or not you truly understand something once you try to explain it to a 7 year old. I realized that I wasn’t sure what I really wanted them to know. I did my research.  Here’s where my search led me. 

A now what I really want to say:

In Matthew 5:38 Jesus says “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” 

Several sources I read note that the “turn the other cheek” is one of the most cited and misunderstood of Jesus’s teachings. This is where I found my answer to what I wanted them to know about Martin Luther King Jr. This is where I learned what Martin Luther King Jr. really did. 

First, some physics. The text is very specific.  It says “if I slap you on the right cheek.”  For me to hit you on the right side of your face I would have to use my left fist or the back of my right hand.  (Try it you’ll see). In that culture, the left hand was reserved for unseemly purposes like wiping ones self - so if you were struck on the right side of your face you were most likely backhanded which, in addition to assault, was a sign of disrespect and inferiority. It was literally adding insult to injury.  

So here Jesus describes the third way of approaching the dilemma. He doesn’t advocate fighting back, he also doesn’t advocate silently acquiescing to either insult or injury. Offering the aggressor your left cheek eliminates the possibility of being backhanded with the right hand.  (Again try it out with a partner).  The aggressor is faced with a dilemma. He can conceded the battle, without you lifting a finger or he must effectively change his posture toward you. For the antagonization to continue he must strike you with his right fist. A sign that he is no longer dealing with a subordinate but an equal.  

This was the wisdom of Jesus’s comment.  Not to subject yourself to senseless beating like some rope-a-dope boxer trying to get his opponent to waste all his energy beating you into oblivion.  Jesus was saying that the physical fight becomes a meaningless squabble. Victory occurs in the middle of the struggle when your adversary, in order to continue persecuting you, decides to engage you as an equal.  The outcome of the resulting fight (which notice Jesus does NOT expressly forbid) is immaterial. Of course this plays out as Jesus willingly accepts punishment for crimes he did not commit and where he clearly had the power to repel any one or thing that would seek to harm him, because, in persecuting him they changed their posture towards a mankind that rejected, denied and persecuted him even as he forgave them.

So back to Dr. King. What did I want my children to learn?

It was in understanding this scripture that the true genius of Ghandi and Dr. King’s non-violent strategy is revealed. We think of their accomplishments as battles fought and won but that wasn’t it at all.  Their true accomplishment was to force an oppressor to change their posture and engage them as an equal.  What did Martin Luther King Jr. do?   

"Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ended the terrorization of black Americans, particularly those living in the south."

What?  No. I did not stutter, or mistype.  I mean that Dr. King taught systematic anti-terrorism.  Here’s what I taught my children in part II. 

My BigIdeasFest talk from half-moon bay outside San Francisco on December the 3rd.  I’d just finished my last StartupWeekend Education event after midnight, hopped on 5AM west coast flight got off and gave this talk at noon pacific.  I was so proud of how far StartupWeekend Education had come and where I thought it could go.  I should have practiced the talk more, I ran out of time and didn’t really get to nail my points at the end, but the talk was extremely well received.  (Big shout out to Nancy at empoweredpresentations for being an awesome designer that really had a vision and ran with the concept!)  Ya’ll know the rest of the story, flew home, got off plane, got fired, the crying is done but I’m so happy that the BigIdeasFest team finally published this.  This was an amazing conference and I look forward to attending next year, talking about (and doing) more big things!