Tag Archive: black

  1. For the Love of God

    Leave a Comment

    Pastor Carlton Lee, who lived in Ferguson, Missouri, as a kid, is the Brown’s family pastor. His church, Flood Christian Church, was burned down during the riots following the decision of the Michael Brown court case. He was at Yale as the keynote speaker for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, Let Us Break Bread Together. In his interview with WKND, Pastor Lee showed photos of flaming buildings, lifted his jeans to reveal rubber bullet marks and recounted grim anecdotes that portrayed Ferguson realistically, yet with infectious hope for the future.

    Q: Can you tell me a little about your background? Did you always want to be a pastor? What obstacles did you face in becoming a pastor?

    A: I never wanted to be a pastor. I grew up in the church. I actually really wanted to go into theater. And then, all of a sudden, maybe when I got older, I was like, “Mmm, this is not for me.” I like doing plays here and there, but memorizing lines never worked well for me. But that’s what I wanted to do. My mom suggested, “You really need to be a lawyer.” And I’m like, “No, Mom, I really don’t like school like that.” But my background is education, believe it or not, go figure, the guy who does not like school. But you know, I don’t get involved in school in that I’m a teacher, but I do love being around kids. I love helping kids.

    Q: So, you have four kids — how does Christianity influence the way you talk about race to your children? What do you want them to learn about it?

    A: Well, number one, I never want them to get any type of hate in their heart. I tried to shelter my kids from seeing the news at home, because it showed so much, but it didn’t really work out that well because my oldest son is 12. Someone came up to him and said he saw his dad on the news. So, when he found out what happened, my 12-year-old son started to get real angry. And I told him, “Man, we don’t hate. We don’t hate them; we still love them. It’s my love of Christ. God gets up on the cross and says, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

    Q: A lot of news sites have recorded you saying you believe it was white supremacists who caused the fire. Why do you believe that? Why do you think they did that?

    A: Well, we received so many death threats, 70-plus. Three weeks prior we had someone show up to the church and say, “I will kill all of you niggers, throw you all in the church and set you on fire.”  Also, three weeks before the church fire, my dog was poisoned. A six-month-old pit bull, fully trained. We had to put her to sleep because she bled out.

    Q: Correct me if I’m wrong, but other news sites are reporting that Flood Christian Church [Lee’s church] was three miles outside the downtown city of Ferguson, where most of the violence was taking place.

    A: That’s incorrect, it wasn’t three miles outside of Ferguson. Ferguson is only a stone’s throw away. It would be like the equivalent of right here [the Study Hotel] to [Battell Chapel], where I did the speech. The thing is, there was a police barricade blocking any way to get there. I was having problems getting to my church because of the streets [being] blocked off. So how the hell did someone get there? That was my question for the longest time: How did someone get there? And it just so happened that a police officer passed, saw some chairs in my church on fire, and was like, “Holy crap, they have set this dude’s church on fire.” And he called me and said, “Get your tail down here right now.”  And I said, “No man, I’m out here trying to put out fires.”  I was literally trying to run in and put out fires with my coat.

    [Later] I was beating the hell out of the looters who came up to mom-and-pop stores. Listen, I can’t protect these big businesses. They’re fine — they have better insurance policies that will cover them, but these mom-and-pop stores that are struggling? Come on, guys, chill out with that. They broke in to a cleaners, and stole all of the clothes from the cleaners. They broke in to an auto-tire store and drove off with a car. It was that kind of stuff; it was just that crazy.

    Q: What is your congregation doing to support a positive environment after the events that have happened?

    A: We still continue to do our weekly outreach events. We go out and feed the hungry. We minister the people in the community. We’re still doing those things. People know our church is a safe place.

    Q: For those in your congregation, you preach non-violence. Yet some people in Ferguson have been violent, and that’s what a lot of the media covers. In what ways do you encourage non-violence?

    A: Number one, here’s the thing — it’s not as violent as the news is making it. They made it seem like there were just a million people out there [rallying]. No, there’s only a handful of people. On the night of the decision in Ferguson, there probably were about 15,000 to 20,000 people. Not even 10 percent, less than five percent of people that were [there were] causing violence. The majority of people were standing against it. What we teach at the church is, in order to keep acting in a non-violent way, don’t put your hands on anybody. My verbal approach has to be that of love. I can disagree with you all day long, but I can still do it in love.

    Let me tell you, the movie “Selma” was like a fairytale compared to what we had to go through in Ferguson. The crap we went through in Ferguson, it was some serious, serious stuff. There was a police officer one time, she was so scared. She stood and she was shaking. I said “Ma’am, I can tell you’re very afraid, have them move you to the back of the line.” And she stood there with her riot stick: a wooden stick, with a metal piece inside of it. I said again, “Ma’am, you’re very afraid, and these guys over here can see that you’re afraid, move to the back.” She wouldn’t move to the back. So I called the captain over and I said, “Hey, do me a favor, and move her to the back.” He asked what was going on, and I said that she is very afraid and these guys are looking at her like savage dogs, and they want to get you guys, and they probably are going to go for her first. He moved her to the back.

    Q: At a church service, Rev. Al Sharpton was quoted by the Washington Post saying, “What happened Monday was just a comma, not the end of a sentence.”  What do you think we need to do to get to the end of the sentence, and what does the end of that sentence look like?

    A: We have a list of several demands we have requested. The Michael Brown Law, which consists of all police officers in the state of Missouri having to wear body cameras — body cameras that they’re not able to turn off. They also have to spend some time out of their car. We’re not asking them to stand outside when it’s cold outside. What we are saying is to spend some time outside your car, in the schools and spending time in the community.  We are asking for a civilian review board [with the power to subpoena officers]. In most police forces, the state has taken over. We’re saying that’s okay, but let us be a review board with some power to make suggestions that go into place. Also, we’re asking if there’s a shooting, a special prosecutor be brought in. The prosecutor has been there for 24 years, he’ll be there for another four years. The police and prosecuting attorney, they’re in bed together all the time. How does that make sense?

    Q: A while ago, there was a protest in New Haven about the Michael Brown decision. There was woman in the street who got a loudspeaker and said something along the lines of, “I don’t care if you see me on the street and think I’m a slut, think I’m a whore, or judge me for my skin color. The problem is when you shoot me for it.”   What I’m trying to get at is, do you think it is just about the way officers are trained, or is it a deeper social issue that needs to be addressed before we can see progress in this area? Is it just body cameras?  Or is it the inequality underlying it all?

    A: It really boils down to equality. Black kid, white kid, Asian kid, a life is a life. I am a pastor, these are my regular clothes, and I get pulled over and harassed by the police all the time. My wife asks all the time, “Why do they pull you over so much?” It’s not because I’m doing anything bad; we’re just not treated fairly. Treat us fair, that’s all we’re asking for. I got arrested, arrested for walking on the sidewalk. I told the police office, “You got to be the dumbest person ever. You’re really arresting me, for walking on the sidewalk?” My younger brother, who is 17, will pull out of my parents’ driveway and gets pulled over all the time. Everything on their car is legal, but he gets pulled over all the time.

    Q: As a pastor, how do you get through to well-meaning sympathizers who can’t grasp what it’s like to be a minority facing discrimination?

    A: You know what I tell them to do? Because I’ve done this several times in the last couple of weeks. I tell them, simply, to hang out with me for a day. Literally, hang out with me for a day, and you will see the life. It’s a different type of life we live almost. A white guy told me [about] white privilege, and I asked him to explain it to me. He said, “If I drive drunk, I get a ticket. If you drive drunk, you get your tail beat and go to jail.” Then he said, “If we were walking down the street together, holding the same things, wearing the same thing, both our hands in our pockets, you would fit the profile of a suspect or criminal. Me? I’m the guy that’s going to be the victim.”  Then he told me, “How many times have you walked across the street and people start doing octopus-arms: grabbing and holding their things close to them. And locking their doors.”  I told him I never paid attention to that, but it happens quite often.

    Q: What do you want Michael Brown to be remembered by?

    A: He was a martyr. He was a martyr for social justice.

    This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

  2. 50:13 Thinks Inside the Box

    Leave a Comment

    I sat in seminar on Wednesday afternoon and read the first page of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” The “atmosphere,” Whitman proclaims in the poem, is “for my mouth forever… I am in love with it.” The “smoke of my own breath,” he says, is “my respiration and inspiration.”

    Those lines — an expansive embrace of the world, transcending the body — entered my mind on Wednesday night, as Leland Fowler (DRA ‘15) stood on a bed frame, slowly tightening a noose around his neck, and said: “Couldn’t see nothing but my breath, hanging there in front of me, my last breath.” His character is a man who, rather than being in love with the atmosphere, is in bitter and perpetual battle with it.

    A sense of being trapped in one’s own body — that is the predicament articulated so well in Yale Cabaret’s startling one-man play “50:13,” written by Jiréh Breon Holder (DRA ‘16) and directed by Jonathan Majors (DRA ‘16). The audience is seated so as to surround a prison cell which has been placed in the middle of the Cabaret’s small venue, and its members are forced into the uncomfortable position of watching Fowler through bars, illumination coming from two harsh, white lights. Dramatic tension is built into the set: how will the audience penetrate the cell? How will Fowler’s character, Dae Brown, escape it?

    At the play’s start, Brown has three days left in prison, and he yearns to be reunited with his girlfriend and infant child. A young adolescent boy occupies the cell adjacent to his, and Brown, having grown fond of him, feels urgently impelled to teach the boy all he knows of black manhood before his sentence is up. Over the course of the three days, Brown transforms occasionally into his father and his grandfather, immediately and impressively switching into new accents and body languages — in short, as one would hope an actor could, becoming a new person.

    The boy in the next cell over is not actually portrayed: Brown addresses him by looking into a camcorder outside the cell which broadcasts to four television screens on the cell’s sides. So when Brown tells the boy, “You gotta know when to sit still, do your time, and survive,” he is looking into the eyes of every audience member — each of whom is put in the place of the young black man and therefore becomes Brown’s pupil.

    Brown’s body is caged, but throughout the 50-minute production, his spirit escapes the cell’s confines through feats of memory, music, love and humor. When he reads aloud a letter from his beloved, he is suddenly in her bed again. When he slips into the role of his sharecropping grandfather, he is transported to Fulton County, Georgia.

    Most remarkably, toward the play’s end, Brown breaks out into an a cappella reworking of Tupac Shakur’s “Hail Mary.” He starts off sitting sullenly on the edge of his bed, but soon a bounce enters his step and musical backing begins to play. “Come with me, Hail Mary,” he sings, drawing out “Mary” across four notes. Fowler possesses a superb voice, and the performance is achingly beautiful. Why does he sing? How does the song fit into the plot? I don’t know, but I’m sure that’s the point. His joy is beautiful because unexpected.

    The show’s central sequence is surely the telling of the lynching story: the grandfather’s firmness in defending his little girls from bullying, the ensuing showdown between the families, the horrifying explosion of violence and the final noose-tightening speech. “I was a man,” he says defiantly. “They saw me be a man.”

    One is left to hope that being a man, and being a father, will entail a very different life for Dae Brown than for his grandfather and for his father, who, we learn, first met Dae in a prison cafeteria.

    His girlfriend’s letter says that Brown’s son is on the verge of taking his first steps, and so when Brown leaves prison, he is eager to witness the milestone, invigorated by the thought of his family’s bright future. But like “Hail Mary,” with its melancholic undertone, Brown’s optimism is tempered — by having to abandon the boy in the neighboring cell and by his violent cultural inheritance.

    Brown reaches the show’s end, then, hopeful but humbled. I’m sure playgoers will feel the same way.

  3. What should you be for Halloween?

    Leave a Comment

    In a pinch? WKND knows just the thing — simply take this quiz and find out which quick, easy and minimal-effort costume is right for you!


    1. Choose one:

    a. Black cat

    b. Blackberry

    c. Black eye

    d. Black nail polish


    2. In your dreams you find yourself most often:

    a. Naked in a public place

    b. Falling in love with an object of fixation

    c. Running away but unable to move

    d. Shining in conversation


    3. Your biggest Halloween turn-on is:

    a. Fishnets

    b. Papier-mâché

    c. Extremely lifelike gore

    d. Cleverness


    4. What is your Halloween activity of choice?

    a. Drag show

    b. YSO concert

    c. Liquor Treating

    d. Costume Party


    5. What is secretly your biggest fear?

    a. Being forgotten

    b. Clowns

    c. Death by fire

    d. Making a bad joke


    6. What’s your #1 reason for going to see an R-rated movie?

    a. Partial nudity

    b. Milk Duds

    c. Disturbing images

    d. Thematic elements


    7. Name a sound:

    a. Moan

    b. Silence

    c. Shriek

    d. Murmur


    8. Pick a phrase:

    a. Beauty is only skin deep.

    b. Clothes make the man.

    c. Live and let die.

    d. I love big parties. They’re so intimate.


    9. Pick a Shakespeare play:

    a. The Merry Wives of Windsor

    b. The Tempest

    c. Macbeth

    d. Troilus and Cressida


    If you answered mostly a), you should be an Eroticized Animal. Bumblebee, lady(love)bug, sex kitten, Playboy Bunny – the options are limitless. These costumes can be purchased at a store near you. Alternatively, make them by hand: just get a headband, some felt, pipe cleaners and a little glue and you can whip together bunny ears or antennae in no time!


    If you answered mostly b), you should be an Unexpected Object. Examples include: box of cereal; bag of Cracker Jacks; Tide to Go; retainer case. Here execution is key — so long as you really make yourself look like the thing that you are attempting to be, no one can really make you feel bad about your outfit. And that is what Halloween is all about.


    If you answered mostly c), you should be a Gruesome Phantasm. The tried and true example of this is the ghost that, paradoxically, bleeds at the same time. You can either buy a gory costume with blood dripping down it, or you can just throw a sheet on and splatter it with red paint. Alternatives include monster mask, rotted corpse and zombie.


    If you answered mostly d), you should be an Obscure Cultural Reference. Examples include: the guy from “Spirited Away” who floats around and says nothing; Courage the Cowardly Dog; Mrs. White from Clue. Some people will say “Aha!” and nod knowingly when they see your costume; it is for these gestures of approval that you strive.


    If you answered equal parts a), b), c) and d), and/or in case of emergency, you can resort to a Pun-Dependent DIY Outfit. Examples include: forklift (you holding a fork up in the air the whole night); peacoat (coat with many peas on it); a blanket statement (blanket with the word “STATEMENT” on it). Beware: these may involve lengthy explanations to people who don’t understand what you’re “supposed to be” (that most dreaded of Halloween questions).