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Valerie Elverton-Dixon
Valerie Elverton-Dixon
Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar studying ethics, peace theory, public discourse, and the civil rights movement.



Four Santas

Dec24

by: on December 24th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

I am late returning from the North Pole this year because Santa has been on the road. I am one of Santa’s helpers who come to the North Pole every year to help with the preparations for Santa’s Christmas Eve work. I help track and locate children who have moved since last Christmas, so I watch migration patterns closely. This year has been awful for so many children.

One might think that the Syrian refugee crisis, the kidnapping and murder of children in Africa, and the immigration of unaccompanied children from Central America to the United States would not concern Santa, but it does. Many of the children who, with their parents and siblings, have left their homes in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other places to find shelter in a safe country are not Christians, and they do not observe Christmas. The good news is that religion is of no concern to Santa. His care for children extends beyond Christians, beyond the Christmas season, and beyond whether or not the child has been naughty or nice.

Santa cares that children can live in safety, that they have food, clothing, shelter, health care, and education. He cares that children are protected from both structural and personal violence. He cares that children are protected from the hypocrisy and vulgarities of adult life. Children ought to occupy a zone of innocence and of Christmas magic for the few fleeting years that they are children. I say and say again that childhood is so short, and adulthood, if we are blest, is so much longer. The obligations, anxieties, disappointments, competitions, and struggles of adult life last for decades. We rob our children of a precious gift when we rush them into adulthood, even when they seem to want it and seem to be ready for it.

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On Frank Sinatra

Dec12

by: on December 12th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

I have been a Frank Sinatra fan since before I can remember. My parents told the story of me during my terrible twos: I would be screaming about something that had gone wrong in my little girl toddler world, but when Frank Sinatra came on the radio singing “Three Coins in a Fountain”, I would stop screaming, listen to him sing the song, and when it was over, I would continue screaming.

Frank SinatraGenius music and musicians populate the soundtrack of my life. Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, The Beatles, Motown, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Weather Report, Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston, Patty LaBelle, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Michael Jackson, Sting, Al Jarreau, and more. I learned classical music from Leonard Bernstein’s children’s concerts and from my piano teachers in East St. Louis, Illinois. I was, and I am still proud of African-American opera singers such as Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman, Paul Robeson, William Warfield, and the young opera singers that prove the saying – strong women and men keep coming. I loved the three tenors – Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras. I thrilled at the singing of the tree mo’ tenors – Thomas Young, Roderick Dixon, and Victor Trent Cook. Every year I ride around with that year’s version of the WOW Gospel collection playing in my car.

Still, Frank Sinatra was and remains one of my favorite singers, always somewhere in the background waiting with a voice that makes me pause a moment, put my troubles on hold, and just listen. There is a mystery to great art and to great artists. A great singer may not have the most astonishing voice, or the most pure technique, yet, they have a mysterious X factor that touches our humanity in an indescribable, inexplicable way. Frank Sinatra is such an artist.

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When It Is Difficult to Love

Nov23

by: on November 23rd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

How does one love Daesh?

How does one love a racist who uses expletives and excrement to show disrespect for an entire group of people?

Before the tragic terrorist attacks on Paris, Friday November 13, 2015, my mind was occupied with the recent events at the University of Missouri. As a black woman in America, I have been on the receiving end of hateful racial slurs thrown my way, so I know how that feels. I know the sense of vulnerability. However, I must confess the insults never make me feel less about myself, and it always takes a few seconds before I realize that I have been insulted. I am usually lost in thought about what I am doing, where I am going, and what I will do when I get there.

I never feel less about myself because my sense of self is rooted in my faith. When I was a little girl in Sunday School, my teachers told me that I was a child of the king, meaning King Jesus who was one with the Father, the Creator God. I believed them then, and I believe them now. Since then, I have often thought about who or what God is and the character of God’s love for us. I believe that God was before the beginning and will be after the end. God has created all that there is on the earth and in the earth and all the galaxies inside an ever expanding universe. I believe that this creative life force in its essence is Divine Love, and this Love loves me personally. It knows my name and cares about me in the most mundane ways. I pray for God to help me find earrings and parking spaces.

So, I do not take insults personally. I usually wonder: what is wrong with the person who has tried to insult me. Similarly, terrorists do not frighten me. I believe that the same God who protects me every day from “all hurt harm and danger” will protect me from the terrorists, and if S/He does not, I will still give God all the glory and honor and praise. I wonder the same thing about terrorists that I wonder about the racist who wants to insult with words: what is wrong with these people?

What would make a person think it is a good idea to use human excrement to smear a wall at a university dormitory? Do they realize that the first person they must offend is themselves? They have to handle the feces. They have to smell it. They have to lower themselves to pick it up. What do they get in return? Do they think that the insult to another person in any way asserts their own superiority? I do not get the logic because in the end, these actions only make the perpetrator look small and ignorant and more than a little pathetic.

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The Land of the Stupid and the Home of the Scared

Nov18

by: on November 18th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

If we follow the lead of the GOP presidential candidates, the governors of 31 states and various candidates for higher office, we may as well stop singing the national anthem, or to be honest, change the words. Politicians who want to exploit the terroristic tragedies in Paris and in other places around the world to win votes based on fear are reprehensible. They have shown their true priorities, a willingness to say anything for a blessed vote.

On Friday, November 13, 2015, 129 people were killed and more than 300 were wounded in coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, the city of lights. Ongoing investigations have shown that one of the dead terrorists may have been carrying a Syrian passport that, at this writing, is thought to be a forgery. With that scant information, presidential candidates and the fore -mentioned governors have been rushing to say they do not want Syrian refugees coming to their states because the Syrians pose a security threat.

PLEASE. Give me a blessed break.

These people must think that We the People of the United States are stupid or that we have the memory of a mayfly, and its entire life expectancy is only one to twenty-four hours. These politicians must believe that the late Gore Vidal was right when he called the USA the United States of Amnesia. When we consider the acts of terror in the United States, I do not know of any that were perpetrated by refugees. The 9/11 attackers were not refugees but had come into the country as visitors. The Boston Marathon bombers were not refugees. Timothy McVeigh was a United States citizen.

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A Trip Through the Inferno (A Short Story)

Nov1

by: on November 1st, 2015 | Comments Off

Halloween dawned with gray rain falling softy. The sound was soothing, urging her to stay in bed. It was Saturday, so sleeping in was a possibility. She got out of bed just long enough to turn up the heat a little, enough to take the chill out of the air. It was one of those mornings made for staying cozy under the covers, listening to “Weekend Edition” on NPR and falling asleep again if the body says so. She made it as far as the Sandra Bullock interview before she dozed off. The second awakening called for food and something hot to drink. Potato chips and fun sized Snickers along with green tea comprised the breakfast menu because she needed to consume something healthy.

Standing in the kitchen, munching on the candy, waiting for the kettle to boil, she saw a spider descend from the ceiling on a silver thread as thin as a strand of hair. There was no web, only a single spider and a single silver thread. The spider did not scare her, rather she was fascinated by the oddity of the occurrence. She reached for the broom she kept by the door leading from the kitchen to the hallway. She kept an old-fashioned broom in every room, not because she was a neatnik but because she liked the symbolism of male and female – the handle and the bristles – together in an elegant complementarity. She thought the broom was a guardian presence, reminding her of a family legend about her great grandmother, self-respect, and courage.

She swept the spider out of the house onto the patio because she always tried not to kill a spider, paying homage to the African tradition that spiders trap and kill other insects, so they are good luck. She called spiders Anansi after the West African tradition brought to the new world of Anansi the spider who was a trickster, a story-teller, and a symbol of cunning, slave resistance, and survival. Returning to the silver thread that hung from the ceiling, there was something different about it, a special shine, an unusual play of light. She wanted to touch it before she swept it away, but when she tried to, she recognized that it was not a string at all. It was an opening. This was a perceptible, touchable metaphysics more subtle, more ephemeral, something beyond anything earthly mathematics and science could calculate or theorize.

She touched it again and a portal to a new dimension opened. Her curiosity overcame her fear, and she stepped through an open door into a blinding light. She looked behind her, and her kitchen, her house, anything familiar was gone. Then, in a flash, she felt herself falling into a darkness so deep, so thick that she could feel it on her skin. Now she became afraid because this falling was not flying. It was not the free fall of a lucid dream that is terrifying until one reminds oneself that this is only a dream and that the fall with not kill. Relax. Fly.

Soon her feet touched solid ground, but there was still no light, no wall to touch, no stars, nothing to help her get her bearings. She could sense nothing. No smell. No sound. No taste. She had no guess about where in all of creation she was. She did not know whether she ought to walk, run, go forward, back, or to the side. The only thing she could think to do was to call out. “Hello”, she yelled as loudly as she could. Her voice seemed to reverberate against nothingness. Another strange impossibility. So, she stood still for the longest time until the darkness started to recede a little and become dark grey.

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Witnessing History

Aug17

by: on August 17th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

I confess.

If you ask me how old I am, I am not going to tell you the truth. Facebook has a number on my page, but call me Hatshepsut because I am queen of de-ni-al. I do not tell people how old my children are because they will know what a shameless liar I am when I talk about my age. The concept of real age was invented for me. This is where age is determined by good eating, exercise, and life-style choices. It is possible to age backwards.

That said, there are times when we must say what we know about the history that we have lived and witnessed. This ages us. Friday, August 14, 2015, I watched as Marines raised the flag of the United States of America over the US embassy in Havana, Cuba. It is a step on the road to normal relations between Cuba and the United States. This is something that is long overdue, and it is way past time to end the economic embargo against Cuba.

In the United States, we have a tendency toward what I call bogeyman foreign policy. We decide that an individual, group, regime, or nation is evil incarnate. We, the United State of America, are always the good guys in the story. We assign these roles without context or nuance. We ignore the inconvenient facts of history where US policies have made the situation worse. Heaven forbid a leader will say the truth. S/he will be accused of apologizing for the United States. Never mind that there are times when apologies are in order.

I was a little girl when Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution succeeded. I do not remember his first trip to the United States where he met Malcolm X and visited Harlem. I do, however, remember the Cuban missile crisis. My parents and the other adults in my world did their best to protect me from the magnitude of the moment. I had no idea that the world stood on the edge of nuclear war. I knew there might be a war with the Soviet Union. Before bed every night, I got down on my knees to pray while my mother listened. I remember praying that there would not be war. I worried about my Uncle A.C. who was a soldier. I had no concept of the geopolitical strategies or the import of an impending conflict. I only cared about Uncle A.C.’s safety. There was no war, and Uncle A.C. was safe.

Life moved on, and Cuba was not important to my life. In college in the early 1970s, I became aware of how the lives of people of color across the globe were connected in an anti-colonial and post-colonial historical reality. The civil rights struggle was not about civil rights alone, but it was about universal human rights. I studied W.E.B. Du Bois and the Pan-African Congresses of the first half of the 20th century. I studied Marcus Garvey, his Universal Negro Improvement Association, and the truth behind his slogan: “Africa for Africans.” I learned of Malcolm X and his understanding of the end of white world supremacy following the Bandung Conference of 1955.

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Notes on the National Gathering of Black Scholars in Ferguson

Aug10

by: on August 10th, 2015 | Comments Off

The gathering began with a word: hush. It was the first word of a song, “Hush, hush, somebody’s calling my name.” Dr. Joanne Marie Terrell, associate professor of ethics, theology and the arts at Chicago Theological Seminary, lifted her powerful voice to sing: “sounds like Sandra, somebody’s calling my name.”

I know this song because I have heard it all my life in church. I thought: “Is here a Sandra in the Bible?” My mind started its own survey of the text. The song usually calls the roll of biblical characters. When enslaved Africans lost the names of African ancestors, they substituted the names of biblical characters to remember their stories of faith that could give enslaved people the spiritual strength to keep on keeping on in the face of structural violence. However, as Dr. Terrell continued to sing, she added the names Michael, Rekia, Eric, Oscar, John Crawford, and finally: “Sounds like Jesus. Somebody’s calling my name. Oh my Lord, oh my Lord what shall I do? What shall I do? ”

All of these people were killed by police who, when we give them a gun and a badge, become representatives of the state. The people police officers kill are victims of state authority. This song reminds us that they are calling our names, and the question we ask in response to their call is: what shall I do?

This gathering of black scholars was convened by womanist scholars, many of whom are also ordained clergy, to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teen shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown’s death and subsequent police involved shootings spawned what has been called the new civil rights movement. It is known by many names including Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Say Her Name.

Last year when protestors in Ferguson faced police equipped with military hardware who used tear gas on the crowd, womanist scholar/ preacher/teachers came by various routes to Ferguson. Reverend Dr. Valerie Bridgeman came at the invitation of Rev. Traci Blackmon, pastor of Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Missouri. Reverend Dr. Leslie Callahan, pastor of St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Philadelphia came when PICO National Network, a faith-based community organizing group, put out a call. These women and others came to offer the ministry of presence. They came to put their body, souls, and minds on the line for social justice.

About two months before this gathering, through conversations on Facebook and on the telephone, Bridgeman, along with Reverend Dr. Pamela R. Lightsey, associate dean of community life and lifelong learning at Boston university School of Theology, and others decided to gather black scholars and students from across the country along with local activists in Ferguson to think about what comes next for both scholars and activists in this challenging moment. With sponsorships from several theological schools, Chalice Press, and WomanPreach! Inc., the gathering convened at the Center for Social Empowerment and Justice August 7-8, 2015.

We came to answer the question: what shall I do?

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An Open Letter to Bill Cosby

Aug7

by: on August 7th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

August 1, 2015

Dear Mr. Cosby,

I hope this letter finds you. I am counting on social media and the six degrees of separation between every human being on earth, that someone who reads this knows you or knows someone who knows someone who knows you and can forward it on to you. My purpose for writing is to make you aware of the principles of restorative justice, and I hope that you and your legal team will consider this approach within the context of the allegations of rape against you.

However, before I write about restorative justice, I want to thank you for the more than fifty years of comedy, creativity, education, and philanthropy that you have given to this world. I know you are familiar with Shakespeare’s line in the play Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.” It seems that at this time, the public wants to bury the good that you have done while you still walk the earth. I have not forgotten.

Over the years, I have enjoyed all of your television shows. When I was a girl, I watched I Spy on television with my parents. We enjoyed the chemistry between you and Robert Culp. After reading Mark Whitaker’s biography of you – Cosby: His Life and Times – I have a new appreciation for the show. Black actors and singers such as Ivan Dixon, Cicely Tyson, Eartha Kitt, and Nancy Wilson received national exposure thanks to their appearances on the show. My children and I watched The Cosby Show together. They watched The Electric Company and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. It seemed that life had come full circle when as an adult I was again watching you on television – this time the show was Cosby – with parents who were then retired. You have been part of the family.


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The Cost of Cowardice (part two)

Jul22

by: on July 22nd, 2015 | 2 Comments »

When it comes to passing gun regulations, the United States Congress is a group of cowards.

Congress-members of both parties use the second amendment as a fig-leaf to cover their cowardice while they dance to the tune of the National Rifle Association. Republican senators, with the exception of perhaps four, are completely in the pocket of the NRA. Democrats who will vote for gun regulations pay homage to “responsible gun owners” and “second amendment protections” before they speak about Band-Aid measures to prevent gun violence.

The cost of this legislative cowardice is high. In an average year, “over 108,000 (108,476) people in America are shot in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, or by police intervention.” In an average year for all ages, 32,514 people die from gun violence; 75,962 people survive gun injuries. On an average day, 7 children and teens die from gun violence. “Every day, 41 children and teens are shot and survive.” (These numbers come from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence: http://www.bradycampaign.org/key-gun-violence-statistics)

Further, there is the monetary cost of gun violence. According to an article in “Mother Jones” magazine (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/04/true-cost-of-gun-violence-in-america), the annual cost of gun violence, based on 2012 data, is $229 billion dollars. “Mother Jones” reports:

“Even before accounting for the more intangible costs of violence, in other words, the average cost to taxpayers for a single gun homicide in America is nearly $400,000. And we pay for 32 of them every single day.”

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The Cost of Cowardice (part one)

Jun24

by: on June 24th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

The Confederate flag.

Credit: CreativeCommons / DixieSCV.

In February, 2009, then Attorney General Eric Holder, in an address at the Department of Justice to commemorate Black History Month, said we in the United States were “a nation of cowards” when it comes to an honest conversation about race. He continued to speak about the importance of Black History Month and the shame that such was necessary because so much of African-American history has been erased from American history. He thought we ought to dedicate Black History Month to a conversation on race because as the demographics of the United States change, there will be no racial majority. We will need to put racism behind us.

The conversation on race is a difficult conversation to have because it goes to the core of our own identities. While race is a constructed concept with its own history, it never-the-less goes to the heart of the myth of ontological, hereditary goodness. The courage required in this context is the courage to face the reality that none of us is good because goodness is inscribed in our very being. We are not good or bad because our ancestors were good or bad. We are good or bad according to the moral decisions we ourselves make. We cannot inherit moral rectitude.

In the wake of the sad, shocking, heartbreaking, mind-soul numbing murders of nine African Americans at a prayer meeting/Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina by a young man with racist motives, the nation once again faces the meaning of the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia that is commonly thought to be the flag of the Confederate States during the Civil War. It was a symbol that the young white killer used to represent his racist ideals. The flag that flies on the statehouse grounds in South Carolina and in other states in the south is controversial because of its use by whites during the civil rights movement and beyond.

For many Americans it is a symbol of slavery, the bloodiest war ever fought on American soil, legal racial segregation – American apartheid (apart hate) – and a white supremacist ideology. For others it is a symbol of southern pride, heritage, and a way of life. The problem is that the southern way of life is built upon a deception of white supremacy. Let us be clear. Racism and white supremacy are manifestations of a social psychosis found north, south, east, and west in the United States. The problem with people who want to make a confederate battle flag a symbol of southern heritage is that it is love for a fantasy that is not real and that cannot love you back.

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