The R Word

Redesigned Logo for Neshaminy High School

For three days during the week of January 14, I attended a public hearing held at Bucks Community College in Newtown. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) scheduled the hearing to take testimony regarding “Redskins”–the symbol for activities at Neshaminy High School in Langhorne. Donna Fann-Boyle of Cherokee ancestry had been attending Neshaminy School Board meetings since 2012 asking removal of the “offensive R word image”. Her son attended the school. The symbol was emblazoned on uniforms, souvenirs and displayed at the school’s sanctioned events. After her son graduated, Fann-Boyle continued her appearances in front of the board, always pleading for the high school to drop the R word. It was an offensive term to Native Americans, conjuring images of the blood exposed after a scalping.


Previously PHRC had ruled twice in favor of Donna Fann-Boyle, stating that the use of the R word for its sports teams and mascot was “racially derogatory”, creating “a hostile educational environment.” PHRC ordered the school to stop using the term and replace it with a “suitable, non-discriminatory…” name and mascot for its schools. After the School Board appealed this second ruling, the PHRC scheduled this hearing to include a judge and witnesses for each side.


The expert witness for the School Board was Andre Billeaudeaux. He testified to the “culture” surrounding the R word. Billeaudeaux explained that Natives smearing red paint and red clay on their bodies as part of ceremonial rituals. His website includes information of his two published works: How the redskins got their name, about two preteens discovering how sports teams received their names; and The Real Lancaster Legend, about a high school in New York whose School Board ruled that the Native symbol should be replaced with a suitable mascot. Both of Billeaudeaux’s books attempt to justify the R word is established Native American culture.

Billeaudeaux is a retired veteran, a military journalist, television show host and magazine editor. He testified about his current focus on history and traditions of Native Americans through promoting the R Word at schools from primary through college levels. He testified that the R word holds “no racial offense” for sports teams or as “mascots” for those same institutions. He promotes this message at schools across America where Native symbols are under challenge by tribal members for their racially offensive imagery. He is associated with a 501(c)(3) organization called NAGA (National American Guardian Association). NAGA’s facebook page is filled with posts from friends devoted to Native American logos attached to sports teams.

This hearing heard testimony from other school board witnesses: teachers, students, parents and a school board member. Each stated the term was not offensive. Instead they considered the word brought “pride and honor” to the schools. When attorneys for PHRC asked each of them if they knew the meaning of “Redskin”, all knew of the dictionary’s definition: A racist term.

I was unable to attend the hearing the day testimony was heard from the expert witness for Fann-Boyle: Dr. Ellen J. Staurowsky–Program Director of Athletic Administration at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business. The LeBow College website states Dr. Staurowsky to be–

  “…internationally recognized as an expert on social justice issues in sport which include gender equity and Title IX, pay equity and equal employment opportunity, college athletes’ rights and the exploitation of college athletes, the faculty role in reforming college sport, representation of women in sport media, and the misappropriation of American Indian imagery in sport.”


Donna Fann-Boyle testifying on Thursday January 17

Donna Fann-Boyle’s deceased father was of Cherokee heritage from Oklahoma. For the past 31 years Fann-Boyle has made Bucks County her home. She has two grown sons, aged 37 and 20. When she moved into the Neshaminy School District it was her second son’s first year in high school. In her testimony she described her son’s distress from the continuing exposure to an image that offended him. Fann-Boyle had complained to the Assistant Principal and counselor, explaining the historic racism of the R word. After no action was taken by the school’s administration, starting in 2012 she began attending Neshaminy School Board meetings. She testified that over the years she spoke in front of the Board an “estimated 14 times”.
She reiterated the abundance of research material she had submitted to Board members and school staff, often emailing them information with links. Some of that information was published by Native educators about bounties placed on Natives; archeological studies; suicide in Native children; and the proliferation of incorrect history about Native Nation cultures. Fann-Boyle described her annoyance when seeing students dressed in headdresses–not a signature garb for the Lenni-Lenape tribe that inhabited this part of Bucks County.

Fann-Boyle described the pain she experienced seeing Neshaminy High School students smeared with red paint on their faces and their bodies. It reminded her of the oral histories she heard when a young girl.

(Neshaminy High School Archive)


The lessons I had been taught in elementary and high school  stated that only “Indians” committed those horrific deeds. To be clear: Scalping was not confined to one culture.

Scalping has been documented in Europe as far back as the 11th Century. The Spanish Conquistadors landed in South America and destroyed advanced civilizations as they scalped their way north to what is now America .

Did Native cultures witness scalping and mimic it for their own purposes? Probably.

Historians record scalping by settlers in early America, usually for genocide or bounty. In 1755 Governor Spencer Phips the Lt. Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, proclaimed bounty to citizens for each scalp taken from Penobscot Nation people. The Phips Proclamation  paid forty pounds for each male scalp taken from Natives over the age of 12; and twenty-five pounds for each female scalp.

My racial mix is African, European and Native. When I read about the bounties placed on the Penobscot tribe, it reminded me of the bounties placed on runaway slaves in the 1600s when they were hung and/or mutilated.

Supporters of the mascot at the hearing overwhelmingly testified their loyalty. To them, an expression of “honor”. Not one supporter admitted knowing the Phips Proclamation’s history. They insisted there was nothing wrong when students painted red on their bodies and faces,  wrapped a band of feathers around their head then jumped and hooted for their teams.

But this is playacting and is disrespectful. It’s as if students painted their faces black with a thick white outline for lips then strutted across a stage to music.  At the hearing support witnesses continued to slide “Redskins” off their tongues  even though “Skins” now appears on the school’s paraphernalia. Below is an image of the former logo.

Neshaminy High School Football shirt 

PHRC is expected to publish their ruling sometime in July. I am rooting for removal of everything associated with the R word.



The bleaching of America

America is in “Distress”

My images from June 30, 2018 Rise Up Doylestown Rally for Immigration Reform held at Bucks County Court House in Doylestown PA

On every Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day and Veterans Day, my father displayed the American flag from the second floor window of our home. He was too young for WWI and too old for WWII. Daddy kept the home fires burning while two of his brothers raised their hands to wear the Army uniform in the “War to end all wars”. By flying the flag on those four commemorative days, he honored his brothers and his father, a Civil War veteran who died when Daddy was barely 3 months old.

The pole with its attached American flag is stored in a corner of my bedroom. I grab the pole and spread the flag across my bed, pleased the three colors remain as strong as the day it arrived in my mailbox—a Thank You for supporting programs of the USO. But this July 4 is different. How can I continue this ritual originated by my father? Will communities across America rise up to protect our Democracy?

This outrage throughout the Nation escalates every time I hear the president bombarding Americans with his offensive lies; and every time my elected Senators and Representatives disregard the oaths they swore to uphold; and every time Cabinet appointees dismantle regulations of health, safety and the environment placed to protect Americans; and every time individual rights of citizens are repeatedly suppressed; and every time instances of racial or ethnic bigotry triggers violence directed toward other citizens, and finally every time the president attempts to destroy the Free Press with his targeted propaganda.

The warning from Martin Niemollar 1892 – 1984

July opened with a mammoth increase in the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy,  first announced in April by Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions. Following the AG’s order, the U.S. Border Patrol– affiliated with the Department of Homeland Security–stepped up its aggressive separation of children from parents or their adult relatives. What began in 2017 as open animosity toward Blacks and Muslims has now spread to the Latino community. What group of Americans will be targeted next because they “infest” America?

Instead of mounting the USO flag on the pole, it will be replaced with the flag that covered the coffin of our Uncle Charles—one of the two brothers who served in the Army. History has chronicled the uncivilized treatment of Blacks who wore Army uniforms during WWI. My uncle served a mere 41 days before his discharge a month after the November 11, 1918 armistice ended the war. Hospitalized some months later he ultimately was transferred to a VA Hospital where he remained until his death in 1965. I’ve often wondered: What happened during that blip of days my uncle served before his discharge? What cause or causes led to his eventual 25-year confinement inside a VA hospital?

Just some of the questions rolling around my mind. After digging through our family history I hope to share my results in a future post on The Bucks Underground Railroad. For now, America is in Distress and my uncle’s American flag  will be mounted on the pole. . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Backward.

” … Human Potential’

A dear friend of mine– departed since 1995–was committed to helping youth-at-risk. His mantra was:

Mining the greatest resource of all–Human Potential

On this Mother’s Day, I celebrate Mothers who’ve birthed wonderful boys and girls into this World. Many of us have nurtured them so that today they hold deep respect for the humanity of men and women. Many of us (men & women alike) already realize that women bring a unique perspective when included in an arena where there is either a table or meeting or a class room or a boardroom or an elected office. After all, we honed our skills on playgrounds across America. Now we’re prepared to take them beyond here in Pennsylvania on Tuesday May 15. Hundreds of women have declared their candidacy for election to local, state or federal offices.

I am a fierce advocate for those women–98 years ago–who protested that women be granted the Right To Vote. Every time I’ve read or watched media coverage with women who’ve no clue about the sacrifices ours and their sister ancestors endured  to give us the vote apparently never watched the film “Iron Jawed Angels”. This 2004 HBO docudrama  is a strong reminder of the sacrifices experienced by women protesters jailed and force-fed when they went on a hunger strike.

It’s time to Bring Balance into this discussion. Across our Nation there are exceptional women who have announced to their families, neighbors, friends, communities and constituents that they are committed to Bring the Voice.

Alice Paul: Jan 11, 1885 – July 9, 1977

2020 will mark the one hundredth anniversary when women were granted the Right to Vote. Across the Delaware River from Bucks County is Paulsdale, New Jersey. It is the home of Alice Paul. Raised a Quaker, Paul was one of the women who struggled to bring forth the Amendment that allowed women the Right to Vote. Alice Paul was also instrumental in crafting the Equal Rights Amendment–which as of 2017, includes only 37 states to have ratified the U.S. Constitution bringing Equity to All women. Get in your car, take a group of Moms and children across the bridge and visit Alice Paul’s home.

On this Mother’s Day, my prayer is for every citizen to realize another of our Greatest Resource:   Women Citizens: Rise Up.


Excerpt from Chapter 3 – A stitch in time

In January I published a post* about my angst  revisiting a manuscript I finished in 1986. After reading, editing and still polishing, here’s an excerpt introducing the main characters.


The Chevy pulled in front of the Glory General Store/Post Office. A few other cars squeezed in the store front’s cindered lot, promised a long wait at the counter. The raccoon was perched in his cage today. April tumbled out of the back seat and almost mashed her Barbie Doll scrambling onto the porch. Across the street at the gas station a man paid for his gas and watched as the young couple went in the store. He slowly drove his car away from the pumps and parked in front of the bar. Then he swung his tall frame from behind the steering wheel and with long strides crossed the highway to the general store.

Matt Bender the owner, was at the counter ringing up a customer and waved to the young couple. While Sam walked back to the post office boxes, Beth grabbed a small canvas basket and strolled down the side aisle. Oh shit she whispered. I left my list on the kitchen table!

Outside April clicked her tongue coaxing the raccoon, “Benny—Benny come back. You didn’t eat your lettuce!” She crawled toward the cage then noticed the man’s trouser legs. Her eyes traveled up the black pants until she felt a pinch at the back of her neck. She sat back on her heels, staring up at the man who was taller than her father. “Hi.”

The man handed the Barbie Doll to her. “Is this yours? Looks like a piece of the dress is ripped.”

“Uh-huh. Thank you.” Her mouth remained open and she felt her face warming.  It upset her to see the doll’s dress torn.  Only a few days ago the doll was a present for her seventh birthday

The man’s knees cracked when he stooped to her level. “What’s your name, little girl?”

Inside Beth stood in line rummaging through the basket rechecking in her mind the forgotten list. Sam came up behind her completely absorbed in his latest issue of “High Times”. She asked him if he’d picked up April’s hamster food.

Outside the man reached in the pocket of his black cashmere sweater and said, “Look at this … have you ever seen anything like this before?”

Inside Sam was devouring words on the magazine’s page.

“Sam”. Impatiently she shook his arm. “The bag – did you get the hamster food?”

His eyes dragged from the page and he half answered, “Yeah, I know”, and his eyes dropped down again.

Beth rolled her eyes skyward and pushed the basket into Sam’s belly. “Save my place” She huffed toward the back of the store, her lower jaw rigid and her boot heels stomping on the wooden floor.

On the porch April watched the dangling and shiny metal thing swinging back and forth in the man’s hand.

“Well”, began the man, “I’ll trade you…You can have this little chain and coin. Oh…that button is loose—I’ll take that.”

Beth returned to the counter, and greeted Matt as she slid the bag on the counter.

“Hi ya”, he turned to Sam “If you keep reading under these lousy lights your eyes’ll fall out.” Matt was over forty with a thick shock of salt and pepper hair. His ruddy complexion and firm build came from early years working on a ranch and his brief career as a professional rodeo man. A bad shoulder ended his days as a bull rider.

Sam closed the magazine. “Hey how’s business?”

“Place is like a mad house. I’m thinkin’ everybody on the mountain’s in town today.”

Sam gazed out the store window and scanned the lot across the street. In front of the bar, he noticed a tall man just getting into his car. Geez, he thought, that guy’s taller than me. Out loud he joked, “They all must be at the bar practicing for Memorial Day weekend.”

Matt laughed. “Yeah—just three weeks to go. Hah! They better get it right! Now the real blow-out here is the Fourth. You’ll enjoy it. The Glory bar on the Fourth is the place to be. Hey, where’s the little veterinarian?

Driving home Sam briefly chatted the article he’d read in the magazine. Beth casually flipped the pages, listening and nodding at times responding with a “Yeah”, or “Uh-huh.”

April quiet in the back seat, tapped her toes together, clutching her doll in one hand while her other hand, balled in a fist rested on the bag of hamster food. The shiny metal disc clutched in her hand felt warm on her skin. She hung on her father’s words waiting for the right time to speak. ”Mommy.”

“In a minute honey.”

She liked hearing her daddy’s voice, so alive. But she was impatient. “Mommy, I have—“

Beth turned her head and said in a firm yet gentle tone, “In a minute.”

April dropped her head and rested the Barbie Doll in her lap, fingering the features of its face. Why can’t I ever say something? I have something to show them. Well…I promised not to…So …

It was a silent drive the rest of the way to the A-frame. Beth fanned the pages of the magazine, suddenly uncomfortable. First the late start. The forgotten shopping list and on top of that she noticed a button was missing on April’s sweater. Before leaving the house that morning, it was hanging by a thread. She had made a mental note to fasten it when they returned home. She blew air through her lips, upset with herself for not pulling it all the way off and slipping it in her jeans’ pocket. Wouldn’t it be nice for April to have at least one sweater with no missing buttons? That smart ass Ben Franklin was right.

While her mother silently cursed the eccentric and brilliant psychic statesman, April clicked her toes together and thought that tall man was very nice.

*The link to previous post:

I’m done with domestic terrorists

Weapons of Mass Killings in America

I came home yesterday to BREAKING NEWS and a crawl announcing another multiple casualty shooting at an American school. After shouting several MF’s at the screen, I’ve had it. I’m done with these Weapons of Mass Killing. I’m done with what we are actually experiencing: Domestic Terrorism.

America is six and a half weeks into 2018. And on February 14, we watched  television screens as our youngest citizens scurried out of Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. With hands raised in the air, they tossed their book bags on a pile of other book bags while swat teams dressed in black and armed with high powered weapons, carefully guided them to safety. Seventeen people are dead, fourteen others wounded and hundreds upon hundreds of teachers, families and students are traumatized after experiencing the terror caused when a heavily armed man entered their Halls of Learning.

This Is Not Normal.Our children and educators in schools shouldn’t be “practicing  Lock Downs”. ‘Lock Downs’ are for prisons. Please, lawmakers: button your lips and stop uttering that “… this is not the time to discuss gun safety” along with your lame statement of ‘thoughts and prayers’ to the victims’ families.

It’s apparent that legislators–in states and in Washington–greedily scoop multiple millions of dollars from the NRA into their campaign coffers in the name of protecting 2nd Amendment rights. In the meantime, efforts of gun safety advocates and legislators to protect us from these Weapons of Mass Killings are blocked. Time for a different strategy against these Weapons of Killing.

Gun safety advocates often describe the NRA and their complicit lawmakers as having “…blood on their hands…”. I wish to add that some of that blood spills and splatters on to workers in the gun manufacturing industry. My message to Workers in the gun manufacturing industry: Stop contributing to Domestic Terrorism! You must realize your contribution is with every design or test or approval, or the assembling or packaging or shipping or promoting of Every Weapon of Mass Killing.  With the proliferation of guns in America, odds are that these workers are producing weapons that could mistakably kill either one of their children or spouse or sibling or parent or relative or one or more of their friends. Workers in the gun industry should consider finding a different vocation.

Florida Governor Rick Scott spoke at a press conference this morning, insisting that this tragedy could be solved with increased mental health counseling. Standing behind him were law enforcement personnel and hospital physicians whose faces displayed their painful weariness from confronting this tragedy. Sorry Gov–mental health counseling is not the solution, especially since complicit lawmakers recently agreed that individuals with mental health difficulties can purchase weapons.

I’m done with domestic terrorists, followed by chicken-shit lawmakers mouthing their thoughts and prayers every time American lives are murdered by guns.


A Reading List for Black History Month

Harriet Tubman Monument in Bristol Pennsylvania

This past Monday night I had the pleasure of meeting lovely residents at the Montgomery County retirement community,  Foulkeways at Gwynedd.  I had been invited to present OUT FROM SLAVERY, my lecture about the African’s diaspora that began with their capture in the Motherland and their eventual Flight to Freedom.

Many Americans often dismiss slavery as insignificant, often moaning ,”Stop living in the past! …. Move on!” The era of slavery that brought us the Civil War is an event of  importance equal to the Indian Wars or the Lewis & Clark Expedition or the Building of the Railroads or others. This was my eighteenth presentation when at every conclusion, I leave a list of recommended books–non-fiction and fiction–that tell stories of the brave people in the abolitionist or anti-slavery movements and how thousands of slaves succeeded in escaping the inhumanity of their oppressors.

To lovers of history–I offer this selection which is the tip of the iceberg featuring hundreds of other books about this era of our Nation.

BEFORE FREEDOM Edited by Belinda Hurmence. Narratives of African American former slaves interviewed in the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers’ Project.

THE BONDWOMAN’S NARRATIVE by Hannah Craft. This manuscript was discovered by Dr. Henry Gates, Jr. and purported to be the life of a former slave.

BOUND FOR CANAAN by Fergus M. Bordewich. Bordewich weaves the life of Josiah Henson in the struggle of the anti-slavery movement beginning in the 1800s to the 1870s.

GATEWAY TO FREEDOM by Eric Foner. A detailed history of the abolitionist and anti-slavery movement in New York.

KINDRED by Octavia E. Butler. A work of fiction by this African-American author whose published work is in the science fiction genre. This is about an African-American women living in the early 1970s transported back and forth to a plantation in the ante bellum South.

LANGHORN AND MARY by Priscilla Stone Sharp. Sharp’s research into the Stone family’s history brings the discovery of her white ancestor who married a free Black man. Taking place in Bucks County during the 1840s, Sharp weaves true events of anti-slavery and abolitionist Bucks County.

SLAVES IN THE FAMILY by Edward Ball. Ball traces his family’s legacy which begins with his ancestor’s arrival in South Carolina in the 1600s.

THE LIFE OF JOSIAH HENSON by Josiah Henson. Henson was born in slavery and eventually fled to freedom in Canada, often returning as a conductor to rescue slaves. Some of his life is written in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

THE U.S. COLORED TROOPS AT ANDERSONVILLE PRISON by Bob O’Connor. O’Connor has done meticulous research into the colored men who served in the Civil War and are buried in the Andersonville cemetery.

SOMEONE KNOWS MY NAME by Lawrence Hill. A fictional account of a former slave approaching her 60th year who recalls her life from the time she was abducted from Africa to her journey to Freedom.

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD by Colson Whitehead. A fictional account of a young female slave who flees her plantation.  Whitehead creates his underground as a real train buried beneath the earth.

Curiosity always opens that door marked “Knowledge”.



“… Great Again” Really?

Since the infamous “shithole” statement uttered by the President of our United States, the print and cable commentators have reminded us that Trump’s 26% hard core voters are probably applauding yet another racist utterance from his mouth.

I live in Doylestown Borough where during the 2016 campaign season there were LOTS of Trump signs planted on the front lawns of homes. Pennsylvania went for him but the Borough went for Clinton. I wonder how many of those Trump voters in my community still support him, even as he continues to lack dignity or sanity. And I wonder how many Doylestown hard core Trump groupies hate Americans who are Black, Brown, Red or Yellow? Like me.

Six years ago a letter to the editor by a local woman was published in the “Intelligencer”. Christmas, the day of Good Will was a couple weeks away when she wrote:  “Santa Claus used to be a big fat man with a long white beard. Now, he is a skinny black man in a big white house.”

The paper published my rebuttal. As a ‘skinny black woman’, I invited her to engage in a dialogue about race. When a friend offered to facilitate the meeting, the woman declined. Instead she suggested I “go back to Africa.” Chalk up at least One Racist in my community.

Having traveled to the African countries of Egypt, Ghana, and Kenya, it is complicated when the president brands those nations and others as “shithole”.

Five hundred years ago European nations landed their ships on West African shores. They plundered Africa’s natural resources—humans included—shipping them back to countries in Europe, South America, America, or the Caribbean.

The mid-20th Century brought independence to African nations across the continent. After years of observing how their conquerors’ ruled, some African leaders chose to emulate their predecessors when ruling their freed people.

A few African rulers attempted to bring True Democracy. Last year I learned my African DNA traces to Ghana. When I traveled there in 1999, it captured my soul as soon as I planted my feet on its soil. That country–similar to all African countries–holds rich cultural histories that reach back thousands of years.

In 1957 Ghana was the first country liberated on the continent from the colonialists. Its first Ghanaian Prime Minister was Kwame Nkumah, educated in America. In its capital of Accra, there is a monument erected in honor of Kwame Nkumah.

While China crawls throughout the African continent grabbing its treasured minerals, America is led by a fool who continues to lie and who dismisses the second largest Continent on Planet Earth. Chinese funds constructed that monument to the first African Prime Minister who adopted American Democracy. During my 2015 sojourn to Kenya I traveled across roads built by China. China also funded the construction of the rail line from Nairobi to Mombasa.

For this American president demanding Africans stay “… in their huts” proves again his ignorance to America’s reputation around the World and his complete absence of empathy.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and all the Freedom Marchers are weeping down on us from Heaven.

Washington DC Monument to Rev Martin Luther King, Jr.

A work in progress

After sending queries about my manuscript to publishers, only a couple of them had asked to read it. This had happened in 1986 and was my first attempt at writing a fiction novel. Rejection is a bitch. Knocked on my butt, I surrendered and put the manuscript in the bottom drawer of my file cabinet… and moved on.

Then last July during a phone conversation with my sister-in-law she asked about the manuscript. “You should try to publish your book. The time’s right.” She lives in California and her area has been plagued with instances similar to those I’d written into the plot. “Do it!”, she said.

My fiction novel had been written for the mature reader who like me, is drawn to occult novels. Speaking for myself, I’d become weary from so many novels on the shelves of book stores with negative themes. A few days after that phone call I pulled the manuscript from the cabinet. I opened the brown accordion folder and the title page, Call me Alice stared up at me. Looking down at the Artisan font, I could hear the metal ball on my old IBM Selectric bounce and agitate across the blank pages. The “thanks but no thanks” letters crossed my mind, reminding me again that my dream to become a published author had slipped away.

From page one and each page thereafter it was obvious that a LOT of editing was in front of me. Geez. Every chapter needed rewrites. A couple chapters were tossed and replaced with entirely new treatments. The characters—protagonists and antagonists—were as thin as a strand of yarn begging me to crochet them into granny squares. My ending sucked. It was NOT yet the ending. Four more chapters and an epilogue were added.

Throughout those years while the manuscript slept in the file cabinet I pursued other forms of writing, always filling my creative bank with places and people. It surprised me when bits and pieces from those life experiences drifted out and found their way on pages throughout the manuscript.

It’s better than before. I feel confident that it might get published. But before that might happen, four people are reading the manuscript: three women who embrace different essences of metaphysics and/or parapsychology; and a fourth my sister. Two others—a man and women–have also agreed to read it. When everyone’s suggestions and opinions are returned—it’s back to the computer. I’ve a longtime friend who has offered to critique it. She with her doctorate in education will wag her finger at me for bad grammar, sentence structure and all those other things good teachers do for their students.

Wish me luck.

“As for me, I’m ok.”

After my ex-husband Richard Spelts died on July 15 of this year, I helped my daughter Melanie–the only child from our marriage–clean out his apartment. With his only other living relatives in California and Oklahoma, it was her task to responsibly dispose of his belongings. Rummaging through the personal effects of someone who’s died, especially in my case because of our previous 14 years of marriage, I felt as if I was prying. Richard had remarried, but his wife Joanne preceded him in death. As I shuffled through dozens of photographs of the two of them with their friends, he seemed settled … content.

Richard had served in Vietnam from 1967 through 1968. We had married in 1969 and like thousands of veterans who had returned from the battlefield, he too struggled to shed  the demons of war: nightmares, flashbacks, overmedication of alcohol or drugs, sporadic employment, and marital strains. Back then the Veterans Administration had just begun recognizing PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) as a consequence of war that required treatment. Often I had felt hopelessly unprepared to help him toward wholeness.

Richard was a tunnel rat with the 1st Infantry Division. Throughout our marriage he rarely spoke to me about his service. In 1982 he had traveled to Washington, DC for the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and when he returned to Doylestown, a weight began to lift from his soul. When I take into account all our years of marriage, then leap forward to his life frozen in those photographs, I realized the support, love or comfort that I had offered was not enough.

By the time I’d reached the basement separating what to keep and what to toss, I picked up a plastic bag filled with straw baskets, threw it on the trash pile and discovered a tattered box, corners separated and damp, suffocating under that trash bag. I opened the lid and there they were. Letters he’d written while in Vietnam. I’d never seen them, unaware they existed. The letters must’ve been saved by his mother and when Richard and Melanie had flown out to California several years ago to visit his dad and siblings, maybe I guess, that is when they were given to him.

Letters from Vietnam, 1967-1968

I  brought the box home and carefully separated the letters to dry. Many of the envelopes and the letters inside, were difficult to read because the ink had bled into the thin paper. This was sad. Why, I wondered would he choose to carry these to the basement and forget they were there? Since then, with the best of care I’ve attempted to place them in the order in which he had written them. As I strained my eyes to decipher postal dates on the envelopes, I couldn’t help but recall those brief moments he had shared bits and pieces of his ‘Nam service to me. Wounded twice, his letters while hospitalized, described his injury and his treatment.  Always he opened every one of his letters with, “I hope this finds all of you well. As for me I’m ok.”

Richard was 70 when he died of complications from cancers that ravaged his body. In this day and age, 70 is young. However, the cancers from Agent Orange, which Richard had been exposed to had also taken away thousands of other men and women who served in-country during that war. Richard was diagnosed last year with one of the three Agent Orange cancers approved for VA disability. Somehow, according to the caregiver and friend who oversaw all of his medical treatment, a denial was issued which kept him from increasing his 30% disability to 100%.

Numerous times over the years whenever I learn of another Vietnam Veteran who’s cancer took him or her away, I recall a book I’d read in the early 80s, a testimony to the slowness of the Veterans Administration to recognize this horrible killer as an approved disability. If you can find this book, get it.

WAITING FOR AN ARMY TO DIE by Fred A. Wilcox. Published in 1983, he writes about the veterans, families, physicians, scientist and lawyers who dealt with this disease.

Today, Men and Women Veterans are reflecting on their service to our Nation. I think of all of you this day, a special one that Richard, now at peace was not able to.

Charlottesville, Virginia: Let the Design Competition Begin!

General Robert E. Lee may have been a strategic General during the Civil War, but history records another side of him as published in a June 4, 2017 article in “The Atlantic” by Adam Serwer. General Lee was a slave owner and a “Christian”. That religious label explains why, in the excerpt of this letter written by Lee he gave this feeble justification for slavery:

 ” … The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, …” 

Since 2012, I’ve occasionally presented “Out From Slavery” — a lecture to audiences in Bucks County and Montgomery County about the struggles of my ancestors–some from Virginia–who fled to Freedom.  In my family we discovered an ancestor who served as a Station Master from his home in Reading, Pennsylvania, posting coded letters to Abolitionist William Still in Philadelphia. After presenting nearly a dozen of these presentations, I’ve come to realize that racism flourished because of America’s ignorance about slavery’s roots.

On Saturday August 14, 2017 American terrorists–collectively the alt right–swooped down on the sleepy beautiful community of Charlottesville with their racist shouts and assaults. Wrapped around their minimally educated brains were the red baseball caps of the current president’s campaign slogan, ‘Make America Great Again’. Anger soared off the charts when death, hate and bodily injury filled the streets of Charlottesville.

Two Virginia State Troopers, there to protect the lives of law-abiding protestors, died when their helicopter crashed in a nearby golf course: Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Pilot Berke M.M. Bates.  These two troopers had served on Governor Terry McAuliffe’s security team.

Nineteen people were injured, almost all when a demented white supremacist plowed his car into hundreds of citizens in the street. I will not put his name in this post.

Heather Heyer, a resident of Charlottesville died after she was mowed down by that car. Thirty-two years old, she lived her life speaking out for the oppressed. My heart bleeds for her mother whose soul remains strong as she grieves the untimely death of her daughter.

After the government of Charlottesville voted to remove the statue of General Lee from Emancipation Park, the crazy racists climbed out of the swamp and invaded the city. It’s a given that a crane the size of a dinosaur will pull this statue from its base. On Monday August 14 Mayor Jim Gray of Lexington Kentucky announced that two monuments in that city will be relocated to different sites. That same day protesters in Durham, North Carolina took it upon themselves to tear down a Civil War monument in front of the court house.

Throughout the thirteen southern states that fought in the Civil War, their cities and towns are littered with Confederate monuments. Since Charlottesville, city governments throughout the south wrestle with deciding the fate of their Confederate monuments.

About the only land in America where it’s possible these monuments will remain is across the hallowed grounds of Gettysburg National Battlefield. If you’ve traveled there, you observed history in the three-dimensional monuments cast in bronze and mounted on granite. Thirteen monuments of the Southern states. Twenty of the same of the Northern states. And thousands of markers where the remains of soldiers from the north and south dot the green fields of Gettysburg. That land is a reminder to us that when the fabric of America is ripped, we suffer. We lose a piece of ourselves..

In early 2017, Charlottesville approved the removal of the General Lee statue. It ultimately led up to  the tragic events this past Saturday. Now there is an opportunity for Charlottesville to replace that statue in Emancipation Park with one that will speak of inclusion, liberty, peace, justice and tolerance. A monument that will honor the memories of those who Protect and Serve and those who speak out against racism.

Charlottesville, Virginia: Let the Design Competition begin!