Four Days in November

“We need men who can dream of things that never were.” – John F. Kennedy

On the occasion of the anniversary of one of our nation’s darkest moments, I have an impulse to reflect. For a moment, let’s forget the conspiracies, the adultery, and legend of a curse. Let’s instead remember, that for a brief shining moment, there was a time referred to as Camelot (Thank you, Mrs. Kennedy).

I don’t want to talk about the fact that he was murdered–not yet. President Kennedy’s assassination is what history chooses to remember.  Lost as a footnote is that President Kennedy, Eternal Dreamer, tried his best to create an America that fit his vision, be it flawed or righteous. My view of history is not long as I’ve spent only three decades as its student. It is colored by the grainy black and white images of a motorcade, blood-stained pink suit, a wife cradling the head of her husband having herself tried to scurry over the trunk of the convertible. This was his last day.

But what of  his 1000 days in office?

We’re so soiled by the unforgiving mark of violence and the truths that tumbled out afterward, that we forget how this president and administration once sat comfortably in our fawning. It is often said that this is the president who inspired a generation. But what gave him such distinction? What was it about this wealthy son turned politician that moved a generation to become unmoored from apathy? And did we ever reach the high standards he boldly espoused?

It’s not as if John F. Kennedy appeared from a misty fog. This is a man whose future was assured from birth. History reminds repeatedly of the storied background of the legendary Kennedy family. Whispers of a fortune made nefariously surround that history. Yet, what family in these Americas who find themselves fortunate enough to be members of the 1 percent have not been made so on the backs and fears of others. It’s a symptom of white privilege. Perhaps the Kennedy family was visibly ruthless in his pursuits while others do so with backbiting smiles and false encouragements. He was given all the privileges of wealth, avenues to an education that shaped his enlightened vision of the world. Indeed, it is an easier life to pursue when money is of no consequence. John F. Kennedy pursued it with vigor.

I often wonder how much truth lived in President Kennedy’s loftier words. He challenged a nation to be its best self, while  faltering to his worst at times. He moved the nation to embrace the arts without cynicism and arrogance. He cautiously entered the Civil Rights arena in a deeply fractured, racially segregated country. He encouraged others to seek public service.

Whitney: A Brown Girl’s Reflection

Photo Courtesy of Warner Brothers

“Share my life, take me for what I am.”

I’ve been trying to write this for four days. On Saturday, the world watched as Whitney Houston’s family and friends celebrated her life with a beautiful homegoing service in a place where she always felt protected. New Hope Baptist Church’s pews were filled with not only famous friends but also those who knew Whitney Houston as Nippy, the tall beauty who grew up in New Jersey. We were reminded of something we all might have forgotten through her public struggles. Whitney Houston was a person with a soul, a mother, and daughter, a friend, a human being.

My introduction to Whitney Houston was in 1992 when “The Bodyguard” was released. I was then an eleven-year-old girl brown girl. Brown, in the sense that I was different and in the minority. Little girls have idols. You know those people you look to when you learn how to dream? Idols. Typically they share our gender and skin; if we’re lucky they also share our hopes. Whitney Houston was exactly that for me. To see this beautiful woman with a perfect smile held in such high esteem, on television and in magazines did everything that I needed. She was the first Brown woman I saw outside of my family who I recognized as beautiful. It’s as shallow and profound as that. She was an example of Brown beauty. I needed that. A lot of Brown little girls and women needed that.

Quite poetically Whitney Houston sang the words, “Share my life, take me for what I am,” while on a meteoric rise to the pedestal that some would relish later knocking her off. It wasn’t a title she lobbied for; she only wanted to sing. It was the media who wanted her to be their princess. Dancing with Kevin Costner on the big screen. On Clive Davis’ arm with a perfect, grateful smile. That’s who they wanted but she was never truly the media darling that the people behind the scenes manufactured. She was Nippy. And she gave us over twenty years of her talent and struggles. Like anybody else her wish was to be as human as everybody who called her name in adulation. To be loved through her faults and missteps. And held up when her strength failed.

We didn’t give her that. I say we because I’m guilty. I loved her while she reigned but I also felt the shame of her troubles when she stumbled. As though I had walked a perfect road all of my life. I was troubled by the stories that painted her as an erratic addict with no sense of who she’d once been. For my own conscience, I wanted Whitney Houston to be the songbird on a stage with a glamorous designer clothes singing without effort. That wasn’t my right. It wasn’t any of our rights.

And now, she’ll rest. All the unkind truths and words don’t follow her into peace. Because she didn’t really belong to us, or even to her family. She belongs to God and that’s where she has returned to.