Wednesday, January 28, 2015

MLK Day in Houston

Founder of Sparrow Hawk Village Carol E. Parrish wrote, “Once a healthy and vibrant land, our country needs to be healed of past and present violence.” That, i think, is what Martin Luther King Jr. was all about, and the reason huge crowds come out for parades and such on that day we have set aside to honor King each year. This year my wife and i marched in Houston’s parade with Randa Fox and her Not On Our Watch America Foundation, (NOOW), a Houston based non-profit seeking to put an end to childhood sexual abuse, and to facilitate healing for victims.

Now, i’ve never been around Houston before, let alone gotten out to a parade. I knew next to nothing about MLK Day in Houston before the morning of the 19th of January just passed. The theme of this year’s parade was Unity, i heard, a dearly needed principle following the events of 2014, and the nature of the relationships in the United States in their wake. The notion is somewhat confused by the fact that there were two separate and competing parades in very close proximity here. The MLK Grande Parade said they expected 300,000 people at their event that took place more or less simultaneously with the Black Heritage Society “Original” Parade in we marched. Still, a  huge and comparably sized crowd managed to attend our parade.  We walked around 20 blocks, each fully lined with families and revelers.

With over 2 million residents, Houston is largely hispanic. Blacks and whites share a fairly even share of around half of the overall population, give or take, according to the Houston Planning Department. Ours being the Black Heritage Society Parade may help explain in part why there were virtually no white faces in the crowd. There were a few, to be sure, but i think there were more white participants in the lineup than spectators on the way. This truth, and the nature of the group we marched with gave me a chance to make a couple observations that i may not have had elsewhere. In Colorado Springs, a city with many demographic distortions, we really don’t get much of a handle on the pulse of Black politics. We also attended a march in Colorado Springs following the decision not to prosecute in the Mike Brown case. One came away from that expression with the sense that Black America is angry, and the way it went down in Ferguson afterward seemed to support the perception. Not so in Houston. Though there may well have been anger among the crowds, the expression toward us, politically motivated marchers made up of an unusually pale mix of ethnicities, was very favorable; not one heckler attempted to deride our message of protection  against sexual abuse for children. On the contrary, quite many along the route were vocally supportive.

I also found it heartening that many of the banners and signs in and around the place carried messages of unity. The “amens” we heard and general thumbs up we saw in support of Not On Our Watch America were gratifying and encouraging. Maybe the frogs in the pot are beginning to notice the water has heated to a near-boil. That is, maybe the awful behavior of the police around and about, and the stupid wars, and things like rampant sexual abuse in our casual human trafficking and rape culture have finally become so unbearable that we are willing to come together.

Given that some statistics indicate that nearly 30% of U.S. teens experience sexual abuse, i have to know--have to admit--that more than a few in the crowd of supporters we passed were harboring dark secrets. I myself am sure that business as usual is still untenable. But still the degree of warmth we felt from the crowd truly served to buoy spirits. Our ability to share parade chanting rhythms with the group supporting migrant worker rights behind us did the same. Even the group of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition served to advocate unity by its very existence.

I really hate writing about race. There always seems to be some hidden pitfall that lifts someone’s scales. This event was not about that, though, even if MLK Day can not pass in these times without noticing some racial elements. I’ve never been prone to writing about sexual abuse, either; it really never occurred to me to do so. The more i travel around and interact with folks, though, the more i see that most of the women i know have some story to tell about an uncle or a neighbor, or even parents having committed some heinous act or another. These are separate matters, of course. There likely exists some kind of racial breakdown of instances of sexual abuse. That’s not where the action lies, though. Abuse crosses every line we know, and seems at a glance to be increasing rather than diminishing as one might expect in a supposedly enlightened era, and yet very little discussion takes place in public. Randa’s NOOW is out to change that, in as public a manner possible, and our participation in the parade with its friendly crowd was definitely a step forward. I can’t explain how gratifying it was to be so well received by the Black community of Houston as we helped to publicize such a volatile public issue.

Our country has a lot of baggage. Conquest, genocide, unfounded wars, and, yes, child abuse, both sexual and psychic have all come together to build a national identity that needs care, for sure. It’s lucky for us that we have folks like Martin Luther King Jr., and Randa Fox to help us separate ourselves from some dark history and build a lighter present that is better than tolerable, but full of real living, support for one another, and above all, Love. Sure, things are not perfect yet today, but as one of Randa’s myriad bits of literature points out, if we all work together, as we did in Houston, and keep at it, we can and will make things better.

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