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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.

In Memory of Ruby Dee


by: on June 19th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

I say and say again: actors give breath and life to the words of poets, playwrights, and screen writers. Ruby Dee, a great American actor, has died. We will miss her because the breath she breathed into words contained our own hopes, dreams, fears, anger, and love. Ruby Dee was great because her art was not for its own sake; it was for the sake of humanity becoming both more human and more divine.

Her long career started in the 1940s when opportunities for African-American women to play more than a servant were few and far between. In the 1960s she played Cordelia in King Lear and Kate in Taming of the Shrew. She became the first African-American woman to play major roles in the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut.

One of her most memorable roles was as Ruth in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Ruby Dee played the role in 1959 on stage and again in 1961 in the film version. She continued her long career on stage, screen, and television well into her elder years. She was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress for her role as the mother of a drug smuggler in the 2007 film American Gangster


Iraq is not Pottery Barn


by: on June 13th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

In advance of the Iraq War, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman and Secretary of State Colin Powell both referred to what is commonly known as the Pottery Barn rule: you break it; you buy it. Of course this is not true for most retail outlets, not even Pottery Barn. Customers break things all the time, and the store writes it off as a loss. However, when it comes to American military involvement in Iraq, the quote cannot be true. The United States did break Iraq, but we cannot buy it. We do not, cannot, and ought not own it. Iraq belongs to the Iraqi people and what becomes of the country is their responsibility alone.

In the past few days a militant Islamic group – Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) a.k.a. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an offshoot of al Qaeda– has captured several cities in Iraq and threatens Baghdad. The government of Nouri al Maliki has asked for American military aid in the form of air strikes and drone strikes. The public discourse in the United States today centers on whether President Obama tried hard enough to get a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq that would have allowed an American military presence of several thousand warriors. They also say that the president has not been forceful enough in the Syrian civil war. Some Republican legislators are calling for military action, some Democrats say they see no reason to return to Iraq in any military way.


On the 70th Anniversary of D-Day


by: on June 9th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

I once heard Rev. Billy Graham say that war does not increase death because we are all going to die. I was taken aback, startled. Then I thought about it. He was right. War does not increase death. It does however increase horror and misery and destruction.

Credit: Creative Commons

A few days before the 70th anniversary of D-Day while standing in the grocery line, I saw the special edition of Time magazine in remembrance of D-Day. I was under budget, so I had the extra money to make the impulse buy. I saw the movie Saving Private Ryan, the Ken Burns documentary about World War II, The War, and I have seen many documentaries about various aspects of that particular conflict. Still, I am stunned anew every time I read again, see again, the carnage of war in general and D-Day in particular. The thousands of deaths in that one 24-hour period may not have increased death, but the D-Day assault, as necessary as it was to the defeat of Nazi Germany, increased physical, psychological, and moral injury. It increased nightmarish dreams. It increased broken relationships.

Not only was there an increase in tears and pain, but there was an immeasurable decrease. Young men died too soon, too young. How much laughter and love died too soon? What inventions to add to the sustenance and joy of humanity drowned in the invasion or was shot to death hanging in a tree after jumping into the battle or died on the beaches, too easy targets for German gunfire?


President Obama’s Strategic Goal: Amazing Peace


by: on May 29th, 2014 | 7 Comments »

On the morning of May 28, 2014, I woke, meditated, decided to postpone yoga, and started to gather myself to listen to President Obama’s remarks to the graduating class at West Point. Political commentators kept saying that this would be a speech that would define an Obama doctrine of foreign policy. Why people do not know what the Obama doctrine is, mystifies me. He articulated it in his Nobel lecture in 2009. Still, I waited to see how he would answer his critics who complain that there is no overall structure to his foreign policy.

Maya Angelou. Credit: Creative Commons.

Then there was an interruption in the morning. Maya Angelou was dead. Angelou a poet, national treasure, wise-woman, mentor to all humanity, a force of nature had made her transition and joined the ancestors. After 86 remarkable years, she had left this earth and gone to her well-earned rest. Her words have been with me all of my adult life. They have been with my children their entire lives. Her words nourished my soul and gave me strength to carry on when times were hard. I was familiar with her voice and with her words. Her well-known words:

I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I was familiar with her words that remind me when I am at the bottom of my physical, mental, soul exhaustion, that after I rest, I have to get back to work:

Bringing the gifts that my ancestor’s gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave,
I rise
I rise
I rise.


The Feminine Divine in “The Monuments Men”


by: on February 12th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

When we think of the casualties of war, we think of the physical death of human beings. We think of the physical, psychological and moral injury warriors suffer. We think of the collateral damage of non-combatants killed, thus making the idea of a just war an impossibility. We may sometimes stretch our imaginations to include an injured earth, a wounded natural world where animals die. In the movie “The Monuments Men”, directed by and starring George Clooney, we see other casualties of war – fine art. We see a dedicated quest for a particular piece of art, the Bruges Madonna and Child, a representation of the feminine divine.

The movie is based on the real-life Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Task Force, a group of trained art historians, architects and designers whose purpose was to protect important monuments, buildings, and fine art if possible. They were to also locate and seek to return art stolen by the Nazis. The central question of the movie is whether or not a piece of art is worth a human life. Commanders in the field are loathe to risk the lives of their men over a work of art. If the decision comes down to bombing an important building considered a monument worth protecting and winning the battle, the battle takes priority.

The Allied forces destroyed many monuments during bombing campaigns, even when they were told of their artistic value. This story along with the story of the real-life Monuments Men are told in an excellent documentary “The Rape of Europa.” We see the astonishing number of works of art, religious objects, and everyday household furnishings that were stolen by the Nazis. However, one object becomes supremely important in “The Monuments Men” – The Bruges Madonna and Child.

This work of art depicting the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus was the only sculpture by Michelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime. Toward the beginning of the movie, we hear Clooney’s character – George Stout – tell his men not to risk their lives for a piece of art. However, as the movie unfolds, we see the Monuments Men willing to put their lives at risk for the sake of art.


For Philip Seymour Hoffman


by: on February 4th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Actors help us to see our humanity.

They put on various masks and characters acting within the contexts of various life situations. The best of them guide us to a deeper human truth that allows us to understand ourselves better. When we understand ourselves better, the hope is that we will make better moral decisions and thus do our part to advance the moral evolution of humankind.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of the best and most important actors of our time, is dead, apparently from a heroin overdose. His death is a tragedy for all of us who have seen our humanity more accurately, more authentically because of his relentless struggle for truth. T.S. Eliot said: “Human beings cannot stand too much reality.” When we define truth as that which coheres with reality, we can see that human beings cannot stand too much truth.


The Power of Unity


by: on January 20th, 2014 | Comments Off

MLK and Malcolm X

Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X meet before the Senate debate on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Credit: Creative Commons/Library of Congress.

As far as we know, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X only met once. They were both attending the debate on the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, and they briefly exchanged greetings at the US Capitol. There is a picture of the two men, shaking hands and smiling as if they were old friends who had not seen each other for a long time. History leaves us with a fascinating “what if.” How would the history of the civil rights movement, of the United States, and of the world have been different if these men had a longer meeting? What would have been different if the two had joined forces if such an alliance were even possible? How would the world be different if the two men had lived long lives?

The play The Meeting by Jeff Stetson imagines a meeting between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. in a Harlem hotel room a week before Malcolm’s assassination. According to the play, Malcolm X has invited Martin Luther King to visit him in Harlem, and King has accepted his invitation. The two men talk, not as larger than life national figures, but they talk as two human, all too human beings, in many ways ordinary men who have been drafted by extraordinary times to play an outsized role in the moral evolution of humankind. The question of how to portray this was a challenge to the actors playing Martin and Malcolm. (http://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/black-rep-presents-meeting)

I recently saw the current production of this play by the St Louis Black Repertory Company (http://www.theblackrep.org/) and I was struck by two insights. Full disclosure. My son is a member of the current Black Rep cast. He plays Rashad, Malcolm X’s bodyguard. The three actors in this play seem to all be in their thirties, the same age as were Martin and Malcolm in 1965. My first insight: I was reminded that neither of these men lived to see their 40th birthday. They were young men leading a movement of young people. They were deeply committed to a cause larger than themselves. They were my parent’s age. I was a girl when the civil rights movement was at its apex. Now my son is representing that time on the stage.

I thought about my generation and about the work we did, that we did not do, the work that we are still doing. I thought about this current generation of 30 somethings and their artistic imagination. I thought about the people younger than 30 and what this fragmented world of social networking and smart phones and video games and the surveillance state and the Hip-Hop International Nation, and the Internet means to the project of human rights.

At the end of the day, both Martin and Malcolm were interested in bringing about human dignity. And, here is my second insight. For all of their differences in how to achieve the end result, they both worked toward the same goal of justice for all of humanity through human unity.


A Memo from Santa


by: on December 24th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

To: Christmas Defenders

From: Santa Claus dictated to Valerie Elverton Dixon

Re: War on Christmas

For the past several years, the holidays have been scarred by talk about a “war on Christmas.” In the name of tradition, many of you lament the trend of people wishing each other happy holidays, changing the titles of various parades and pageants from Christmas to Holiday this or that. So, you have defined this trend as a “war on Christmas”, and you have entered into battle.

As you know this is my busy season. In some countries I made my deliveries on December 6, it has been busy for me since Halloween. When I learned of the discussion about whether or not I could be represented as anything other than a white man, I decided to send this memo.

To be brief and to the point: You need to stop.

You are not helping the Spirit of Christmas by insisting that people say what YOU want them to say, represent me the way YOU want me represented, and by refusing to allow the tradition to expand and to grow. Traditions must change in order to maintain. If they do not, they become stagnant, and sclerotic, and they die. The changes you see upset you. Take a look at your angry faces. Listen to your combative tone. Your defense of Christmas is choking the joy out of it.

Let us take a moment to review the history and the meaning of Christmas. The scriptures do not tell us that Jesus was born on December 25th. The ancient Roman world celebrated December 25th as the birth of the unconquered sun. It was a celebration of the winter solstice when the days begin to get longer.

In the fourth century of the Common Era, Chrysostom wrote: “[T]hey call it ‘Birthday of the Unconquered’. Who is so unconquered as Our Lord. . . ? If they say that it is the birthday of the Sun, He is the Sun of Justice.”


Reflections on Madiba: Nelson Mandela and the Power of Dignity


by: on December 9th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Sunday, December 8, 2013 was a day of reflection upon the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected president of South Africa who died December 5, 2013 at age 95. As I reflect upon the meaning of this extraordinary life, I return again and again to his dignity and to the power this sense of self bestowed upon him, even before the South African people elected him to lead them.

Mandela was born into an African royal family, and he was groomed from an early age to be an advisor to kings. And so he was. He became an advisor to world leaders and rose to be the leader of his country and a moral example to the world. This all came to be because of his unyielding determination to be respected as a human being and not to rest until his people were also respected as free and equal human beings. The goal of the end of apartheid [apart hate] in South Africa was constantly before him.

Since Mandela’s death, I have heard many commentators speak of his dedication to non-violence. They marvel at his willingness to forgive both personally and politically. As a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, some have placed him in the pantheon of heroes and sheroes who dedicated their lives to a cause larger than themselves, who worked diligently for peace. Make no mistake, Mandela deserves this recognition.

At the same time, it is more accurate to place him next to El Hajj Malik el Shabazz (the post Mecca Malcolm X) than to Martin Luther King, Jr. or to Mahatma Gandhi. Mandela was a radical humanist in the mold of Malcolm X. He makes a cameo appearance at the end of Spike Lee’s 1992 film Malcolm X reciting Malcolm’s famous declaration:

“We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being, in this society, on this earth, in this day which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”

Mandela was willing to achieve his goal of human dignity for all “by any means necessary.” This included violence against a violent and vicious system and through forgiveness and reconciliation at the moment of transition from an [apart hate] society to a rainbow society where all races are treated equally in custom and in law.


On Friendship and Faith: The Best Man Holiday


by: on November 19th, 2013 | Comments Off

It has been 14 years since the movie-going public has seen a group of college friends come together for the wedding of their friends, a football star and his fiancé – Lance and Mia– in The Best Man. In the movie, the best man for the couple – Harper– has written a novel based on the college days of the group. Tension arises when a secret from the past is revealed and the entire wedding is in jeopardy.

The best man, who questions the existence of God, encourages his friend, the groom, to rely on his own faith to make the decision whether or not to go through with the wedding. Now fast forward 14 years to the sequel –The Best Man Holiday– a movie full of laughter and tears, and we see how these characters have developed over the course of time. Friendship and faith remain the heart and soul of both movies, and, in my opinion, is the reason for their success.

There has been much ink about the first weekend success of The Best Man Holiday, the movie having earned more than 30 million dollars. (http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2013/11/18/245941099/the-best-man-holiday-and-the-language-of-expectations) There is much commentary about the thirst for African-American audiences to see positive images of themselves on screen. I say the movies that African-Americans choose to support are deeper than that. Such is the case with The Best Man Holiday.