The Distinguished Gentleman from Massachusetts

Up until today, when I watched the clip of Edward M. Kennedy’s speech to the Democratic National Convention in Denver, I hadn’t thought of posting anything about his passing. What else could I say or add? The New York Times has given the most thorough and elegant appraisal of his life that will probably be read in any newspaper anywhere. Whatever I know about Ted Kennedy I learned from newspapers and history books, not from personal experience. Then I paused at the thought, that his work didn’t touch my life personally. This guy has a tremendous body of work in the U.S. Senate, he championed civil rights and kept pressing forward for legislation that would make universal health care possible in the United States. (Despite well-publicized accounts of gun-toting, unruly rabbles at various town hall meetings, I believe that most Americans would be in favor of reasonably administered universal health care.)

He kept the late President Ronald Reagan from weakening the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which originally gave blacks the right to vote and outlawed hurdles that would stop others from exercising that right. So from civil rights to other provisions we take for granted, like the Americans with Disabilities Act, this man has had a tremendous influence on us all. I don’t think the Kennedy legacy is a myth at all. For all the obvious advantages that their connections gave them in American society, they used their influence to try to make people’s lives better. It says a lot about an individual when he doesn’t rest on his family’s wealth and just hang out, but goes into Washington politics for goodness sake, and racks up accomplishments that improves people’s lives. It speaks to empathy and compassion, and the grit and will to stick to the work until you have something good to show for it.

Like many other great men, his legacy is mixed. I’m sure the parents and family of Mary Jo Kopechne, a former teacher, never got the closure they needed after her death. His reputation suffered permanently for that, and considering the fact that an innocent life was lost under shady circumstances, well, who can blame the doubters. But I don’t think he was an evil, selfish murderer. He has probably been sorry for that episode right up until he died, and that’s an awful burden.

I hear that President Barack Obama will give the eulogy at his funeral. What an honor. And it’s fitting too, that President Obama would be chosen to say goodbye, on behalf of all of us, whose lives are better in more ways than we realize because of Senator Kennedy’s work.

Anyway, here is a clip of Senator Kennedy’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August 2008. It is inspiring for many reasons. This man was battling brain cancer, but like he said in the opening, nothing would keep him away on that special night. And although I respect Republicans and give them due credit for their roles in making America (in some ways) the envy of the world, only the Democrats, in my opinion, are sincere in empathizing with people, struggling along with them, and helping them rise to reach their potential and lead better lives. From my lone perspective—and believe me, I read extensively from a wide variety of pundits, politicians and preachers—only the Democrats embrace all the ideals of justice, fairness and inclusiveness for everyone. Without hesitation.

I grew up listening to both Republican and Democratic speeches. And while the Republicans always have a way of making me feel excluded, the Democrats make me choke up every time. Over passages like this, from Senator Kennedy:

We are told that Barack Obama believes too much in an America of high principle and bold endeavor. But when John Kennedy thought of going to the moon, he didn’t say “It’s too far to get there. We shouldn’t even try.” Our people answered his call, and rose to the challenge. And today an American flag still marks the surface of the moon. Yes, we are all Americans. This is what we do. We reach the moon. We scale the heights. I know it. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it, and we can do it again.


A ‘Something New’ Preview: I Can Do Bad

For better or worse, Tyler Perry is making his mark on the American entertainment industry and cutting a new path for African-Americans in film. We can sit around and debate where that path is taking us, but I’d rather not. I’ve said it in a previous ‘Guess Who?’ movie review that I personally think Perry’s films leave a lot to be desired: plausible plot lines, well-drawn and charismatic characters, elegance. But like it or not, his stories appeal to a lot of African-Americans, enough to give him the financial independence and influence it takes to get his feature films distributed broadly. Each success has a multiplier effect on his film production career and his genre of filmmaking. I wish Perry could make that creative leap and produce a story without predictable, soap opera-like narratives. But maybe he doesn’t want to. I’m sure that in everyday life, there are people who carry on like the over-the-top characters in his films. And maybe that’s his point: Here are their stories. Learn from them or leave them alone.

With that, you should know that previews of Perry’s new movie “I Can Do Bad All By Myself” are circulating on the Internet. It’s due in theaters on Sept. 11, 2009, and I hope that’s not a bad omen. That I am mentioning the movie here ought to tell you that there is a ‘Guess Who?’ romance embedded in the bigger story. Basically the protagonist, April, is a heavy drinking nightclub singer who lives off of her married boyfriend. When her sister’s three kids are caught burglarizing a house, Madea’s house, the matriarch basically drops the kids at April’s feet with the message: ‘Get your life together and help your family.’ Sandino is a Mexican immigrant and handyman who … can’t you tell where this is going? Take a look at the trailer. I’ve included it so at least I won’t be held directly responsible for giving anything away.

This story originated in 2000 as one of Perry’s stage plays, according to Wikipedia. As far as I can tell from the previews for the movie version, there are five reasons to go see the film:

1. Gladys Knight!

2. Pastor Marvin Winans. Just put a Winans in a decent performing arts venue and I’ll probably show up.

3. I won’t be pretentious. The Madea character cracks me up—that is, when I’m not shrugging and acknowledging her homespun sagacity.

4. Mary J. Blige!  And for good measure, here is her music video based on the song in the movie.

5. Taraji P. Henson has pipes. She can blow. The chile cu’ saaang almost just like Gladys n’ them.

Peace & Quiet

My, oh my how time changes things. About 10 years ago, when I was still in my roaring 20s, and long before that, I used to be totally indifferent about suburban towns. I couldn’t understand what was so attractive about them. Sure, the houses were big, beautiful and richly furnished, but why choose the prettiness of places like Cranford, Westfield or Ridgewood, when one could have all of life’s conveniences at their disposal while living in a major or second-tier metropolitan area? Not to mention all the fun people in their 20s can scare up in a big city! I have always loved city life, and I probably always will. But after an errand out to Mamaroneck in Westchester County last week, I put a few more points in the pro-suburb column.
We drove out to Mamaroneck to look at a station wagon. Hubby’s friend was selling the car because he and his family are moving out of the country for a few years. We need a bigger car, because between Baby’s car seat and my little sister, we’ve sort of outgrown my trusty Corolla. This car is older, but has been gently used and meticulously maintained, so we saw this as a quick solution to our problem. (We eventually did buy the car, and I’m pretty happy with it. Little Sister, too. You should see her strutting over to the car in her wedges and sunglasses, popping her gum and reclining on its plush leather seats. Too much.) Anyway, Hubby’s friend directed us to the highways and major county roads to test drive it. As we made our way through historic and upscale towns like Rye and Larchmont, respectively, it was a revelation. Not once did I hear any sirens, spousal arguments or gunshots. No neighborhood drunks ambled their way past our house, no snoops watched my front door (although I’m sure these cosmopolitan suburbs have their share of uppity nuisance neighbors) and I didn’t see one prostitute. I felt like I had just gotten over a headache.

I asked myself several questions. Is this how other educated professionals live?  Why aren’t we doing this? We could live in a town where the quality of the schools, hospitals and other public services are not always in question. I’m sure people in Westchester County have to deal with their share of nonsense, but coming from a community that the rest of the world sees as dysfunctional, I felt like it couldn’t be all bad. I happened to marry a left-leaning guy who has no use for places like Larchmont and Rye. He calls these places “crusty”, knowing that I’ll get annoyed and chide him,  “Just say upper crust! G-d!” Then I realized the property taxes on these pretty little, well-kept farm houses probably equal my annual net salary. Yes, my company is that cheap, and life in New York is that pricey. When I was growing up in Paterson, Mommy would always listen to news radio in the morning. During the traffic report, the announcer usually gave an update on roads passing through ‘Sleepy Hollow’ and other places that sounded weird to me. It sounded surreal. How could any place in the world, which I assumed to be as ethnically diverse and restless as inner cities, ever be so tame and sleep inducing?

Baby'sFeetFor a few moments, I wondered what it would be like to raise Baby in a place like that. But the thought of paying nearly the equivalent of the U.S. median income in property taxes quickly brought me back to my senses. It could never happen. Hubby and I would have to have the sort of intense, demanding jobs that would drive him to chain smoke and push me to knock a few back several times a week, just to unwind. We probably wouldn’t be very nice people to be around on a typical day. And then what sort of parents would we be to this precious little girl? Newark definitely makes me want to roll my eyes and cover my face in shame on occasion. But at least we are able to make a reasonable life here. We can take time out to read interesting books (the excellent book in this shot, near Hubby’s foot is titled: ‘Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?’) I can blog and share my insights with you gentle readers. I spend so much of my free time with Baby that Hubby remarked today: “Sometimes I think you two are siamese twins.” I haven’t exactly completed the assimilation process—ditching the inner city for suburban life in any one of America’s upscale towns. Still ‘dealing’ with the inner city. We are OK, though, me the child of Jamaican immigrants and Hubby, with his left-of-center, off-color remarks about “prissy”, sorry “pretty” places like Westchester County.