Friday, July 30, 2010

NYC Politics: Charlie Rangel Begat Ed Towns: Something Is Broken In Brooklyn, Too

 By Kevin Powell

"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."
--Abraham Lincoln

And the drama of Congressman Charlie Rangel continues to unfold with 13 charges of misconduct, even as I type this essay: Mr. Rangel faces a range of accusations stemming from accepting four rent-stabilized apartments and misusing his office to preserve a tax loophole worth half a billion dollars for an oil executive who pledged a donation for an educational center being built in Mr. Rangel's honor. In short, Mr. Rangel, one of the most powerful Democrats in the United States House of Representatives, has given his Republican foes much fodder to attack Dems as the November mid-term elections quickly approach.
While this saga continues, two questions dangle in the air: First, where did it all go so terribly wrong? And, second, did Mr. Rangel begat the lack of ethics also present in the career of his colleague, friend, and staunch ally Congressman Edolphus "Ed" Towns of Brooklyn, New York?

To answer these questions I think we must go back to the 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement's waning days. Dr. King was still alive, but his popularity had plummeted, which explains why, to this day, many people do not know his writings or sermons from those latter years. Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. of Harlem (Mr. Rangel's predecessor) was clinging to his seat amidst ethics battles of his own. The streets of Black America were on fire, as urban unrest became the language of the unheard ghetto masses. And in majority Black communities like Harlem and Brooklyn, Black leaders, emboldened by Civil Rights victories, chants of "Black Power," and a once-in-a-century opportunity for power, rushed through the kicked-in doors, into politics, into business, into film and television, into book publishing and magazines (or started their own), and into colleges and universities heretofore shuttered. It was the best of times and it was the worst of times. The best because many really believed "change" was on the horizon. The worst because some Black movers and shakers were so happy to get inside that they came with no vision or a plan whatsoever for their followers.

Clearly very few even bothered to read Dr. King's landmark essay "Black Power Redefined," which sought to push Black leaders toward a programmatic agenda that included the poor and economically disenfranchised.
And if there were any communities in Black America to test Dr. King's vision, they were Harlem and Brooklyn. Brooklyn has Black America's largest concentration of people of African descent. But Harlem, in particular, was the symbolic capital of Black America, and it was there that the now famous Gang of Four--Percy Sutton, Charlie Rangel, David Dinkins, and Basil Paterson--planned and plotted a course for their community, and themselves. Rangel replaced Powell in Congress and became the dean of New York politics. Sutton would first be a successful politician himself, then eventually start Inner City Broadcasting, a major person of color owned media enterprise; Basil Paterson would be, among other things, New York State Senator, Deputy Mayor of New York City, and New York Secretary of State; and David Dinkins, of course, became the first Black mayor of New York City.
Truth be told Mr. Rangel and his colleagues had an incredible vision and really did nothing differently than their White predecessors had been doing for decades in America: they saw an opportunity for a taste of power and they took it. (And at least the Gang of Four brought an economic empowerment zone to Harlem, something Congressman Towns pretended to want to do in the mid-1990s for Brooklyn, then mysteriously backed away from, instead endorsing then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's re-election bid, with Brooklyn never hearing about that zone again.)

 Indeed, as I was coming of age as a student and youth activist in the 1980s, and as a then-reporter with various Black newspapers in the New York City area, I remember well hearing their names mentioned often. And, to a lesser extent, the names of their Black political peers in Brooklyn like Al Vann, Major Owens, and Sonny Carson. It was awe-inspiring, because I did not know that Black folks were leaders in this way. The pinnacle of this Black political ascension in New York City, without question, was the election of David Dinkins in 1989. For New York was the last of the major American cities to produce a Black mayor.
But something stopped during Dinkins' years in City Hall. Black New York was unable to shake off the catastrophic effects of the 1980s crack cocaine scourge, or Reagan-era social policies. Meanwhile, Black leadership in New York, rather than nurture and prepare the next generation of Black voices to succeed them, did exactly what their White forerunners had done: they dug their heels deeper into the sands of power and have instead become leaders of what I call "a ghetto monarchy." In other words, the community-first values of the Civil Rights era have been replaced by the post-Civil Rights era values of me-first, career first, and control and domination of my building, my block, my housing projects, my district, my part of the community (if not all of it), my church, my community center, or my organization, by any means necessary. For as long as possible. And often for as much money, privilege, and access to power as one can get with a "career" as a Black leader or figurehead.
And that, my friends, is what leads us, again, to the sad spectacles of the two senior most Congresspersons in New York State: Charlie Rangel of Harlem, and my representative in Brooklyn, Congressman Edolphus "Ed" Towns.
For it is so clear that the leadership path of Congressman Rangel begat the leadership path of Congressman Towns. Both may have been well intentioned at the beginning of their careers. Both may very well believe in the goodness, as I do, of public service for the people. But something has gone terribly wrong, the longer they have stayed in office (40 years now, for Mr. Rangel, and 27 long years for Mr. Towns); something that, I believe, has sapped them of their ability to serve effectively. That has sapped them of sound moral, political and ethical judgment. That has led both to be disconnected from the very people they claim to serve, both younger and older people alike.
And you see this pattern with old school Black political leaders nationwide. For ghettos exist wherever you see Black city council or alderpersons. Ghettos exist wherever you see Black state senators and assemblypersons. And ghettos exist for most of the Congressional districts, too, represented by Black House members. 40-plus long years of Black political representation, in record numbers, in fact, but it seems our communities are worse off than even before the Civil Rights Movement.
Now I am very clear that systemic racism has done a number on these communities from coast to coast, from how financial institutions have treated urban areas, to the deterioration of our public schools when White flight became real in the 1960s and 1970s, to loss of factories, and other job incubators, to the often combative relationship between our communities and local police. And let us not begin to talk about the effects of gentrification on urban areas across America the past decade and a half.

But if a leader really has any vision, she or he figures out some way to help the people to help themselves. You simply do not retreat to what is safe, secure, and predictable in terms of your actions, or lack thereof. Doing that means you simply have given up. Or, worse, you just do not care.
For me, no clearer evidence than the other day when I was campaigning for Congress in the Marcy Projects in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, the Marcy Projects made famous in the lyrics of hip-hop superstar and Brooklyn native son Jay-Z. The 60-year-old Marcy Projects is so huge a housing complex that it swallows whole Myrtle and Park and Flushing Avenues between Nostrand and Marcy. It consists of 27 buildings, over 1,700 apartments, and approximately 5,000 residents. And except for areas like Fort Greene (excluding its own projects), Clinton Hill, Boerum Hill, and parts of Dumbo, Bed-Stuy, East Flatbush, and Canarsie, most of Mr. Towns' district is as impoverished, under-served, and as forgotten as Marcy Projects.
There is the sight of several elderly women sitting on benches in the middle of this aging complex, frustrated with the state of their lives, their meager incomes, the bags of garbage strewn about them, and the rats that have created dirt holes so big around each building that a small human head could fit through most of them. When I ask these women where the nearest senior citizen center is, so they could have some measure of relief, they say, in unison, "Right here, outside, where we are sitting now, these benches. This is the safest place we got."

There is the sight of children, pre-teens and teens, running, jumping, over piss-stained asphalt, scraping their knees on the ground filled with broken bottles and broken promises. There also is no community center open in Marcy any longer. Why that is the case, no Marcy resident can tell me. What they do tell me is that Marcy Playground is being renovated. And indeed it is. But the residents feel it is not for them, that it is for "the new White people coming into the area, and the new Black people who have some money."
There is the sight of all those Black and Latino males standing on this or that corner, in front of this or that building, the hands of their lives shoved deep into their pockets, their hunger for something better fed by a Newport cigarette, a taste of malt liquor or Hennessey, a pull on a marijuana stick. And then the ritual happens: a police car shows up, males and females of all ages are asked for identification, are thrown up against a wall, against the squad car, or to the ground, asked where they live, where they are going, why are they standing there, what is in their shoes, in their underwear. Or they are accused of trespassing for going from one building to another, even if they are simply visiting a relative or friend.

This is not just life in Marcy Projects, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. This is what ghetto monarchs like Congressman Towns and Congressman Rangel preside over in Black communities nationwide. Perhaps, once more, they really cared at one point--maybe they really did. But circa 2010, Charlie Rangel's problems are Ed Towns' problems because the apple does not fall very far from the tree. Yes, cite Mr. Rangel's litany of indiscretions, but let us not forget Mr. Towns' own timeline of indiscretions while overseeing his district (see the timeline below for Mr. Towns), for nearly three decades, with, among other things, some of the bloodiest violence in America, the highest HIV/AIDS rates in America, the most under-achieving schools (with a few notable exceptions), and vast disparities between the haves and the have-nots. Right here in Brooklyn, New York.
Is it little wonder that as I travel this Congressional district, meeting with Jewish folks in Boerum HIill, Chinese folks in Williamsburg, West Indian folks in East Flatbush and Canarsie, or African American and Puerto Rican folks in East New York, I hear the same things time and again: "We never see Mr. Towns except maybe when he needs our vote," or, "I have never seen Mr. Towns in my life," or, "I have called Mr. Towns' office many times and never gotten the help I need," or, "I just do not trust any of these politicians at all. They all lie."

This is why voter turnout is perpetually low. This is why incumbents get to stay in office decade after decade. The formula is very simple for electeds like Congressman Ed Towns: Identify the loyal voters and only cater to them (helping them get election poll jobs, or regular jobs, helping their children get into schools, paying for trips out of town to some casino or amusement park or cookout). Stay out of sight of all the other registered Democratic voters, banking on them simply pulling the lever for "Democrats" every election cycle without any fuss or questions. Never debate an insurgent opponent for fear of being exposed for who you really are, and for what you have not done for the community. Turn your political seat into a business, one where your family member and circle of friends and colleagues benefit from the powerful reach of your position.
So why would you want to give that up? Why would you even bother to do more than is absolutely necessary when you are able to enjoy the perks of a long political career without much effort, without much sweat equity at all? Why would you even think that taking on the values of political corruption are unethical at all, if there has been no one to hold you accountable for so very long?

And why would you see that Brooklyn, and the Brooklyns of America, are broken, so very terribly broken, even though it is clear as day to the people in your community?

Kevin Powell is a 2010 Democratic candidate for the United States House of Representatives in Brooklyn, New York's 10th Congressional district. You can contact him at

Thursday, July 29, 2010

 Its time. Its time for change beyond just a campaign slogan but for the Hip Hop generation, the post civil rights generation to take our place as leaders. We are late bloomers. We are now in our 30's-40's and are still having to push aside some of our civil rights leaders who have not willingly pass the baton. We respect them. We honor the path set before us and yet we recognize that times are different and  we need different leadership.

I sincerely support Kevin Powell for Congress.  His sincerity and compassion are to be honored. He has put together a strong campaign staff full of smart, savvy, articulate leaders who understand the needs of the Brooklyn community.

 September 14, 2010 - Vote for Kevin Powell for Congress, 10th Congressional District, Brooklyn, NY.

Who is Your Congressperson? from Kevin Powell on Vimeo.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Love Letter

Dear You:

I've yet to hold your hand or see your smile but I know, you are meant for me. I know your eyes will swim in my soul. I know your hand will provide protection. Your lips will love me right.  You have been made for me and not other. You've waited patiently for me as I have prayed and longed for that moment when I can hear your spirit call my name without the utterance of a single word.

Your heart is towards God and towards his people. Service is your driving force. Love is your fuel. I'm busting out of my seams just thinking of when and where you will arrive. Who are you that has been created to love me? My twin soul understands the passion and longing of this letter. He knows its not out of loneliness, not out of desperation but one spirit calling to another. 

I'm being prepared for you. I'm more than your helpmate. As the trees need the life force of the air I exhale, you need my presence to stand.  I send love vibrations.  I send my desires. I've never seen your smile but I know, somehow, I've already touched your soul as you dream and pray for me to one day stand with you for the rest of our lives. 

Wholeness and Love,


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Silver shadow
Glowing shadow
Shining brightly
For all to see

I remember gazing on this quiet night
The stars were bright as they could be
Wonderin' if things would ever go right
And if there was a spot up there for me

Then one star got brighter by the minute

Strange that it seemed to have my name written in it
I reached for the star and it kissed me with it's light
It made me cast a show that was silver and bright

Silver shadow
Glowing shadow
Shining brightly
For all to see

I never had any good reason
To thank my lucky stars
But now I got a pretty good reason cause
I know I'm gonna go so far

I believe in magic, I really do

With all that's happened
It's got to be true
I cast a silver shadow from the kiss of the light
I knew that I was destined
Starting with tonight

Silver shadow
A glowing shadow
Shining brightly
For all to see
Silver shadow
My future show
Trying to tell me
Of a star I would be

Since I was chosen among the rest
I dedicate myself, I'm gonna be the very best
And my shadow forever silver will remain
And the world will always remember my name

Silver shadow

A glowing shadow
Shining brightly
For all to see
Can't believe I cast a silver shadow
Trying to tell me
Of a star I would be
Hey -yeah

You're my shadow love
Silver and bright, a sparklin thing
Look at my shadow glow
Think I'm gonna be a star, whoa, whoa, whoa, oo, whoa
Look at my shadow glow
Glowing so brightly, this wondrous thing

Look at my shadow glow
Look at my silver shadow, shadow, shadow, shadow

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Black Health: What will it take for us to pay attention?

Working in HIV, I've always had the battle of trying to educate my people on being preventive when it comes to their sexual health. I'm use to the excuses, the blame, etc.  I understand the issues around HIV but what about heart disease?  What about diabetes? What about taking preventive measures to reduce the risk of getting certain cancers?  Why are we the last to understand that our health IS something we can control no matter your economic situation. Yes, NO matter your economic situation. 


There are barriers to access to fresh fruits and veggies BUT you still have access to fruits and veggies. Its called harm reduction.  Its used in substance abuse treatment.  You do what you can to reduce HARM by making the best choices you can make.  Using your EBT card and buying better foods is possible.  There are farmer's markets that accept EBT cards and even WIC.  No excuses.  Make better choices when you can.

Advocacy is within everyone's power and control.  We are just not empowered to know it. Ironic huh?  We have to advocate for better choices in our grocery stores. We have to advocate that our local corner stores and bodegas have more than chips, cigarettes,  candy, and soda.  Write your local representatives about getting more grocery stores in our neighborhoods and we must support our farmer's markets.  MUST.

Those who do have some education around food security, safety, and sustainability must do more to educate others on the Slow Food and Local movements. 

I'm  not being naive about the barriers to health care and health services. Even though I'm not making a complete list, I understand the issue but I'm also saying,  we should always do what we can to live as healthy as we can, no matter the situation. Too often, its taught to those in poverty that they are helpless instead of directing and showing  how to live powerfully no matter what live brings you. There's always better choices. Always.

 Montana's Farmers Market Program

Self motivation

Its one of the of the harder things to come by but one of the most important aspects of survival. YOU have to make the changes for YOU. What are you waiting for?  Why are we, as black people, still dying from PREVENTIVE illnesses.   We die from things we never have to get. That's insanity.  In public health, we have to make programs incentive based because just being motivated to live a healthy life isn't incentive enough. Think about that.   We have to give gift cards and have raffles, etc. etc. just to get the community to listen.  Let's become proactive in how we live. Value your life.                                                       

As I continue my organization, I will continue to look at and study behavioral modification because that's the issue.  Its not just education but the motivation to change and the motivation to maintain healthy living is the goal.  I want black people, no matter where we live, to start thinking about our health collectively and individually.  We can keep our traditions of good soul food but how do we make it healthier?  I went to a family dinner and EVERYTHING had pork in it including the macaroni and cheese.  They put ham in it.  They didn't even realize that the made all the food less healthy by the excessive salt, pork, and over cooked vegetables.  Kill me why don't you? 

Next steps....
Do your research.  Workout.  Make healthier food choices. Meditate and prayer.  We can do this.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


One mo time....

If you dig through my Myspace blogs (gotta be my friend to dig), you will find a lot of blogs on Sisterhood, women getting along. I've worked with women and girls all of my life.  I come from a family filled with strong women.  I understand the importance of female relationships.  Its very important for women to connect with other women.

So why do we still have this breakdown in sisterhood? Why do we still have women saying, "I really don't get along with other females"?  Why do we roll our eyes at each other? Why are we afraid to show love?

I'm not about to write an essay because there are so many reasons why we are were we are today. Sexism being one of the top reasons but lets move toward some solutions with first like simply -  looking in the mirror. Healing starts at home.  When you see another beautiful woman, do you immediately pass judgment or can you appreciate her beauty AND tell her she's beautiful? When you see a man you're attracted to, do you size up his girlfriend to see if you're more attractive?  Do you believe that women are NATURALLY backbiting, vindictive, and so-called "catty"?   Why do you feel this way?  Examine. Could you be the type of female you dislike?

I always think its funny when I hear women say, "I don't have female friends" and yet when you ask them about a couple of close sister friends, those sister friends somehow don't count as "women".  Reminds of Do the Right Thing....remember this.....

Prince isn't 'black' and somehow close sisterfriends aren't "women".....[scratches head]

So what's so good about Female Friendships? 

Consider this from:

  • Longevity – Married men live longer than single men, yet women who marry have the same life expectancy as those who don't. However, women with strong female social ties (girlfriends) live longer than those without them. 
  • Stress – For decades, stress tests focused solely on male participants, believing that all humans would respond in the same manner. When these same stress tests were finally conducted on females it was discovered that women don't have the same, classic 'fight or flight' response to stress that men do. According to the research presented in The Tending Instinct, women under stress have the need to 'tend and befriend.' We want to tend to our young and be with our friends. Time with our friends actually reduces our stress levels. 
  • More Stress - A study conducted by the UCLA School of Medicine found that when we're with our girlfriends, our bodies emit the "feel good" hormone oxytocin, helping us reduce everyday stress. By prioritizing our female friendships and spending time with these friends, we take advantage of a very simple, natural way to reduce our stress. 
  • Even more stress - Prairie voles, a monogamous rodent, have a similar response to stress. When a male vole is put in a stressful situation, he runs to his female partner. Female voles, when stressed, immediately run to the females they were raised with. 
  • Self-esteem - A recent study by Dove indicated that 70% of women feel prettier because of their relationships with female friends. It's no surprise that our self-esteem is highly influenced by our girlfriends; this is important to understand for girls as well as women. 
  • The Health Factor – Women without strong social ties risk health issues equivalent to being overweight or a smoker - it's that serious.

I love my female friends just as much as I love my male friendships.   I have both and I cherish both. Its good for my soul and I find no reason not to love and admire women.  How about you?

Follow the Yellow Brick Road.....

Bottom line - God knows best.

I'm all for being the one to bring about all that I want through the manifestation of will. I understand it and God works in that but God is our GUIDE.  He will point to the road we must travel to live happier, more fulfilling lives but he will give us the desires of our hearts even if its not in our purpose, if we protest much.  This is the manifestation of will. What are you summing unto yourself through your own desires that may not be good for your soul?  Or what are you rejecting out of fear and confusion?

Obedience is better than sacrifice and yet I believe so many would rather sacrifice so they feel they can do what they want. This is the harder road traveled and I've been there. Allowing my spirit to heed to the Supreme Love, to Divine order, to God's plan, its sometimes hard but always necessary. We may want to call ourselves gods but we are not the Creator of all things. So, God knows best.  Yeshua provides life.  I need to continue to Listen to the Spirit of God that taps into my spirit to lead me to a better way, not necessarily easiest, but better.

I've always said that my latter will be greater than my former.  I still believe that GREATER things have yet to manifest.  It is up to me to make sure they do by continuing to follow this road paved specifically for me.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Nobody can be me but me

I wrap myself up in the belief that I am an original. I'm perfect. I'm beautiful. I'm a great creation and create greatness.  Never again will I allow myself to be under a spell of confusion and despair.  I accept that I'm a great work which is daily being perfected.  Nobody can be me but me. 

Manly Manners.....

The other day, I was at the gym and was approached by a young man while I was sweating it out on the treadmill.  He first asked me about my t-shirt.  It was some bootleg shirt that had "Police" on the back.  He asked me if I was an officer.  I said, "Nope".

Of course, he wasn't done.

He taps me on my shoulder. I turn towards him and he says, "I want you!"    My response, "Not right now. I'm working out."  I turn and continue to workout. 

He still doesn't stop trying. He goes to his car and writes his number on a piece of paper and gives it to me.   I just sigh and said thanks. [shrug]

Two days later, I'm walking from the gym and this OLDER man yells, 'Yo gurl! What IS up?"  I instantly said....UGH but then I thought back to the younger man and his approach to me. Why should I expect him to know the proper way to talk with a woman when older men yell down the street YO Gurl!  :/

I greet everyone. If you say hello, I'm the first to say, HI!  I smile. I'm pleasant. I'm not being uppity or overly critical of these men.  I'm wondering why we really have high expectations that younger men will treat our daughters with respect when they have no teachers, no mentors. 

I was thinking how it seems our men need a charm school nowadays - all ages.  This isn't to say that women don't because LAWD knows some of us need it badly but there's more opportunities for women to learn the basics in womanhood.   Believe me, that's a lot coming from me.  I will admit that if a young man isn't in sports or doesn't have a male role model, the opportunities to learn the basics of manhood and manners are slim to none.

The older generation (my generation) needs to step up and teach, correct, and motivate our younger counterparts.  We need to have some respect for one another. Yelling down the street....UGH.   Telling a woman...."I want you"...UGH.  Let's do better.

just my thoughts rolling.....

Thursday, July 1, 2010

How did we get here? Alicia and Swizz

I like Alicia Keys.  I do think she's a talented young woman. I don't have much to say about Swizz beatz.  I'm sure he's talented as well. [kanye shrug]

Ok. That part is done.

Lately, there's a lot of online and well, offline murmuring about their relationship and pregnancy. I will say, this isn't about throwing stones because I would be the first to get rocked out by some stones but learning how to be humble when making unpopular life choices.
The public has weighed in.  He was married. It is what it is. She decided to be with him.  He decided to move onto a relationship before rightfully ending another one.  There it is but now, what we see is a couple who are very proud of their relationship and baby on the way.  Should they be so PUBLICLY PROUD?

Maybe I'm old fashion on some levels. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I wasn't proud.  I rarely left the house.  Even though I had so much support from family and friends, I knew it wasn't appropriate to boaster about being a 22 year old unwed mother.  The baby was a blessing but the situation was not.  I guess this really came to mind after watching Alicia on the BET awards.  They were very proud of their relationships and she was very proud of showing her very pregnant belly.  This isn't to say she shouldn't have performed but where was the humility.  Being an adult does mean you make the best decisions for yourself but it also means you understand the consequences and yes the image you're putting out there.  We live in a time when NO one wants to be a role model because they don't want the responsibility.  Maybe we are to just leave it at the music they produce and stay out of it but its hard when Alicia is rolling around on a piano, not to be reminded of their "situation".   Swizz Beatz himself having harsh words for his WIFE is another sad thing about this situation. Why not just leave prior to developing a new relationship? What are you teaching your son by showing no respect for his mother? [sigh]

There really isn't anything wrong with being humble especially when your life is on display. I hope their love is lasting, the baby is healthy, and their careers remain successful. Just more life lessons.

Its ok to remove yourself from the spotlight and recover from messy decisions.

and yeah.....judge ye not. hmmm.