Fearful Birthday To Me

By Barney Blakeney

I just celebrated another birthday – turned 66 November 24. Never in any stretch of my imagination did I ever conceive of being 66. What’s it they say – youth is wasted on the young? I don’t know how true that may be, but as a young man I never thought of being this age. It just wasn’t something I could conceive.

Well now I’m an old man – and trying to get older! My Aunt Sarah used to say getting old is a blessing, but it’s so inconvenient! Fellas, they talk about women going through ‘The Change”. We go through a change also. Again, something I never conceived. Back in the day I used to go all night. Now it takes me all night to go. I’m slower, I get tired faster. I ain’t that 25-year-old kid anymore. I guess the trick is to grow old gracefully. Growing older is inevitable. My mom used to say, “just live.”

I’ve lived a good life – some downs, but a lotta ups! And through it all – the doubts and the fears – I’ve had some triumphs, been in some tough scraps, experienced true love, walked through fire and came out the other side. With the blessings of the one true God and the love of a few darn good friends, I’ve had a good life.

But here I am, at 66, experiencing some real fear. My fear isn’t for my personal well-being. You live to be 66 and you must have faced and overcome many fears. I don’t know how much longer I have on this side, but having been here this long I figure I can make through whatever comes next. My fear is for those I’ll leave behind.

The refugees from South America recently reached the U.S. border. They were met by armed U.S. soldiers and tear gas. When Europeans flooded U.S. shores 100 years ago they were met by ‘Lady Liberty’ and welcomed at Ellis Island. Ain’t that a blip!?

Watching the news these days is scary. Mass shootings, hate crimes, police abuse – in my 66 years I’ve never seen anything like this. I’m old enough to have witnessed the violence of the Civil Rights Movement. I thought I’d seen America at its worst.

As one of the most dangerous Black men in America – an educated Black man – I know that Americans can be a diabolically violent people. I know the history of American conquest. I know of the annihilation of Native Americans. I know America’s history of the most brutal form of slavery ever engaged by man. I recently heard an interesting characterization – someone referred to America’s idyllic southern plantations as slave labor camps.

On my journey to 66 I learned how we got to where we are. I started life in the throes of American racism and discrimination. I was born in Old Roper Hospital amidst segregation that separated Black babies and mothers from white babies and mothers. And I’ll be doggone, here I am 66 years later and America still separates babies of color from their mothers. I saw a CBS 60 Minutes news program the other day that revealed in recent months agencies that separated children from their parents at the U.S. border had no plans or mechanism to reunite them later. I mean, how inhumane is that?

As if violent discrimination against immigrants of color isn’t enough, Parliament/Funkadelic called it right back in the day when they produced their 1972 recording album “America Eats Its Young.” American greed and ignorance has resulted in a culture of mass shootings perpetrated by children who’ve learned the four Rs – readin’, ‘ritin’, ‘rithmatic and racism. White kids unleash the lessons they’ve learned upon their schoolhouse peers. Black kids unleash those lessons upon their neighborhood peers.

It ain’t safe to go anywhere nowadays. Go see a Batman movie, get shot. Go to the mall, get shot. Go to the all you can eat chicken wings joint, get shot. Heck, go to church, get shot! What world have we created when a 32-year-old father with his kids at Chuck E. Cheese’s entertainment restaurant is gunned down in front of them in the parking lot? And the shooting that occurred on my November 24 birthday wasn’t the first at the kid’s funhouse!

I was listening to the Tom Joyner Morning Show recently when the crew discussed the tragic November 22 police shooting death of a man who intervened in a shooting at a Louisiana shopping mall. The guy, who also had a gun, was shot and killed by responding police officers.

Reflecting on other incidents when innocent Black men have been killed by police – Edward Snowden, Walter Scott and Philando Castile to name a few – a commentator asked what do Black parents tell their sons about confronting police. Even when they do all the right things, still they die.

When I was writing this piece, voters in Mississippi were still casting ballots to elect a state senator. Among the candidates was a white woman who said she would be up front at a public lynching. She said that while seeking election to public office in a state notorious for the lynching of Black people! How do you do that? In the meantime General Motors closes five of its U.S. plants. This as President Donald Trump promises to make America great again.

I’m still reeling from the thought of reaching my 66th annual milestone. But as I do so, I’m filled with trepidation. We landed a robot on Mars, but can’t feed children in Africa. That’s scary.

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