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29 Days of Blackness

Reflections for Black History Month 2024

Join us this month as we celebrate Black History month with 29 days of reflections from Rev Gordon Clay Bailey who serves as a chaplain for The Mountain Top UU and minister of Sepulveda UU Society.

Day 1. As a man of the African diaspora and other parts, I want to give praise and thanks to my ancestors near and far. These individuals and their faith held fast to dreams of an abundant life someday. My / our very existence depended upon a future orientation which allowed them to persevere under difficult conditions. If they did not believe in life and the glories of this universe, then I don’t believe for one moment that I / you would exist.

This post comes from the peoples of the United States and it is simple and profound maxim: “Tell me whom you love, and I’ll tell you who you are.”

Day 2. I am called to be both an observer of life and a participant that wants to suck the marrow / tofu out of the entirety of this journey. In this understanding I have witnessed much, done many a thing I shouldn’t have done, and I have neglected to speak, write, sing, march or create any commentary about life’s unfolding.

Today’s post is about being in the know and acting upon it.

This wisdom comes from the Seker people of West Africa: “To know nothing is bad, to learn nothing is worse.”

Day 3. In my life I’ve been blind to many things. Most of them I did not know that I didn’t know. Truth is, I’ve often deluded myself by failing to see the totality of the picture. In contemporary USA, the people seem to me to be in the same position. The one on the left doesn’t know what she or he has done to the others left, right and center. The ones on the right seem only to care about those most like them. In the end the nation fails, the families break up. The bedrock of society dissolves and we have a great American experiment gone bad. America wake up!

This wisdom comes from the people of Jamaica: “Every day yu goad donkey, one day him gwine kick yu.” (Everyone has their limits)

Day 4. So today I’ve pondered the situation that exists in family situations. Mine, yours, the families in my congregations, and the many families I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited into over the many years of teaching, counseling and ministry. We have created a system that doesn’t work well for many. Too many children, too many siblings, too many children, both yours and step, have difficult times within the system that is typical in our culture. So often in this society where marriage only lasts a short time or children are conceived by couples that don’t last very long, the end result is often a child displaced, neglected, or worse yet, completely forgotten. So what do we do? How do we ensure that every child is loved? When do we stop the insanity and make men and women step up and care, support, love – dare I say parent, as they should? I started this long journey towards ministry a very long time ago. It began as a boy when I realized that not everyone had a family or supports that truly saw him or her and their need. I am determined to be part of a solution that embraces a human paradigm shift. I want to be a part of a family functionality think tank. Not because I’ve been a part of what’s right. But because I need to be part of a present and future where every child is loved, supported and honored for being just who they are. The beloved children of the most high, the children of the universe, our brothers and sisters children, our babies!

Today wisdom comes from the Ashanti people of West Africa: “The ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people.”

Day 5. The Drum beats For The One In Power. This wisdom comes from The Ganda people, or Baganda (endonym: Baganda; singular Muganda), who are a Bantu ethnic group native to Buganda, a subnational kingdom within Uganda. As I write this, I’m thinking about the UN, which says 17 million or more people face starvation because of reduced food production. Blame it on weather patterns in Africa, or other places. I blame it on a lack of concern for the totality of the human family.

I’m also thinking about my life here in Pasadena, and the fact that young black men can’t seem to find employment here or for that matter, in many metropolitan areas around the country.

I’m also concerned with the reality that the crisis that is the black male reality in Chicago, NOLA, LA, NY, or any other inner city black community seems to play no role in the decision making of the nation. What happened to expanding Job Corps? Why don’t we have a New Deal and CCC camps in inner cities, and the rural areas? For whom the drum beats, for whom the bell tolls, for the love of humanity won’t we find answers to the problems of this nation and world? Now of course I’m a bit black-centric. It’s to be expected by the very real situation I live in. I’m a Black American born and raised. Yet the great irony of my life is that I have worked for all people and done it with love. These issues haunt me and my communities like no others. I want so badly to be able to fix things! To feed, house, clothe, educate, dare I say nurture my brothers and sisters of this earth who stand in need. What good can I do? Where will the help come from? Can the people of Earth demand a change in policies? In my pain, I guess I will beat the drum until I find an answer. Seeking wisdom, wanting results…

Today’s wisdom comes from Uganda: “By trying often, the monkey learns to jump from the tree.”

Day 6. Today I felt like crying. Not because I had undergone one of the usual insults or that somehow I had been done dirty by the powers that be. My life in its normal state is basically good. I’ve got love, a home, family, friends, and a career that speaks to my heart on a daily basis.

My tears are for the human family that doesn’t know I am their brother. My tears are for people that hate. My tears are for the sisters and brothers in need that I haven’t figured out a way to help. May my desires to be of assistance and my commitment to being a resource to others be my path. May my life be of service. May I love unconditionally?

Today’s wisdom comes from an American great, James Baldwin (As Much Truth As One Can Bear, New York Times): “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Day 7. So the question of the day that seemed to capture my imagination is: Has the goal of the Black community to integrate been the wrong approach by leadership to living within the United States of America?

And the answer I have come up with can’t possibly cover the more than 35 plus million people this would need to speak to. I can say that given the present situation, and by that I mean the economic situation of a significant portion of the Black community, the goal to live in and with European Americans has been a failure.

But what am I thinking? Most Black people live in segregated communities. It is the rare exception for Blacks, Whites and others to live in the same community, go to the same schools, hospitals, or supermarkets to name a few of the places people go.

In the analysis I’ve come to, I see this as a question best answered by the individual. I see this as an opportunity to engage in Black empowerment, self-direction and Black love. If you feel like building your future in the Black community and going to a HBCU and seeking a Black physician, or real estate salesperson, or any other opportunity that life brings your way, please support your people.

If you want to spend your life with the multiplicity of people of the world community and love, like, live in and among the human family, go for it.

Last point on this: If you are one of the people who is Black and you find yourself not wanting to be around other Blacks, can’t find a way to work with other Blacks, or won’t even consider living near or with other Black people, then keep it moving and live your life. In the history of the human family, many people have chosen to pick a life that others didn’t agree with. I guess President Obama, Bob Marley, Frederick Douglass and countless other men, women and children aren’t accepted by those that hate. But for me, the family of humans has many shades. For me, my goal is to love without reservation. For me as a Black man of mixed legacy, I choose to love my Black community and extend that love to all regardless of race, class, orientation or creed. In the end it will not matter if I was Black and you were different. All that matters is us as a human family working together for the good of all.

Today’s wisdom comes from George Washington Carver: “Where there is no vision, there is no hope.”

Day 8. So my friends, after a long day of meetings, dialogue, and thoughts I’ve come to the conclusion that despite negativity in our midst and in spite of my own failures to achieve all that I hoped to achieve, I believe that the rest of today and all of our tomorrows offers us a collective possibility of success, achievement, and love. You see, no matter what the day brings, like Annie, and many others before and since her have said, the sun always comes out and new possibilities unfold tomorrow…

Today’s wisdom comes from an African proverb: “However long the night, the dawn will break.”

Day 9. People are people. They fight and sometimes kill. Humans seem to have always had a capacity to make war, if the conditions and culture demand. But on a closer examination, history says the warlike cultures became common only over the past 10,000 years—and, in most places, much later than that.

Todays reflection is from an African proverb: “War is created by people too old to fight for those too young to die.”

Day 10. Today, I am struck by the notion of self determination. I know that in life, no human makes it completely alone. Some have done so much by themselves, but the development of a human being requires nurture, compassion, caring, kindness, acts of generosity, companionship, mentoring, feeding, diapering, hugging, and holding amongst other things.

The history of our human family has exceptions that rose from obscurity and neglect to the very top of various fields of endeavor, and yet most of us get at least a modicum of care necessary to make it.

On this day, Opera star Leontyne Price was born in 1927.

On this day, the First African-American governor of the Federal Reserve Board (1966), Andrew Brimmer, was appointed by President Johnson.

These two examples of Black Excellence remind me of the journey that yet has been run, walked, or flown but because others can and did achieve amazing things, I believe we can fly!

Today wisdom come from Harlem, USA: “Day by day, week by week, month by month you can move forward with your dreams. The journey starts the day you realize you cant do anything else so proceed with due diligence.”

Day 11. Today, I can hear the words of my family. The sayings of the old ones. The wisdom that was earned, hard fought, taken, because the opportunities weren’t always there so you had to make haste of what you got. When I was young, I often spoke without thinking things through. Relationships, jobs and opportunities were altered, taken away from me, and even lost altogether.

Todays proverb comes to us via Jamaica WI: “‘Talk and taste your tongue’ is often used to mean ‘think before you speak.'”

Day 12. “A Network of Mutuality,” by Martin Luther King, Jr: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. There are some things in our social system to which all of us ought to be maladjusted. Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear, only love can do that. We must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love. Before it is too late, we must narrow the gaping chasm between our proclamations of peace and our lowly deeds which precipitate and perpetuate war. One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek but a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. We shall hew out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” -Words of Martin Luther King, Jr as compiled in the UUA’s Singing the Living Tradition, #584.

I was so glad my congregation hosted Gerald Rivers. Mr Rivers has enacted the speeches of the late Rev Dr King Jr for over 35 years. He realized his gift for bringing Dr King’s words to life in his teens, and has dedicated himself to keeping alive the spirit and inspiration of King through his awe-inspiring renditions.

I wept the last time I heard this man bring Dr King to life. My own ministry is in debt to Dr King and the call to love one another.

Wisdom from MLK Jr (see above): In the end, my friends, my life will only have value if I have truly touched somebody. May the friendships I’ve made and family I’ve been blessed with know that I love them deeply. But hear me, my friends, that is the easy part. May the strangers I come into contact with and the unknown possibilities of engagement with the other be an opportunity for right relationship, friendship, and love as well. Let no human be my enemy, let every life be valued. May we all be loved and know that awesome feeling!

Day 13. Today’s Wisdom is from the African American Wisdom tradition: “Don’t ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn’t fall in love, I rose in it.” -Toni Morrison, Jazz.

This particular one and some of the others quotes have helped me in so many ways. I’m working on myself today. How bout you? It’s really all about love and the many ways it comes to us. So, I just wanted to shout out for LOVE today in fact that’s my mantra everyday henceforth.

Love today, Love tomorrow, Love for all time!

Day 14. Today’s wisdom comes from the African American community (Academic/Write/Social critic): “To love well is the task in all meaningful relationships, not just romantic bonds.” -bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions.

So, my take away and in fact, my own belief is to live well, is to love, and in that paradigm of living, I’ve found the greatest of gifts. I learned to love myself. I have learned to love those I’m called to love. I even have figured out how to love my adversaries. Once I made this leap of consciousness, once I decided that all people deserve love, once the power of love fully entered my to-do list daily, I began to feel good. May the power of love engage you. May the power of love transform you. May the power of love give you the life you always wanted!

Day 15. Today’s wisdom comes from Frederick (Bailey) Douglass, the African-American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman: “Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground.”

When I think about the days of Douglass, and then look at our own time, I am upset. You see, the days of Douglass were fraught with the necessity of fighting for freedom. Now, this freedom mostly had to do with an ability to come and go, where I might choose to live or work or play. Who I would love, marry, live with. His world was one that was literally Black and White, and Black folks were decidedly the less than, the abused, the slaves.

But if I truly look at the human condition and see in it the similarities of time and situation, I feel that the modern situation leaves me cold and clammy because the fact that a few of us Black folks can move about the nation or world like we’ve got this, doesn’t change the fact that the vast majority of Black people in Africa, Brazil, Latin America, the Caribbean, and even here in the United States, still struggle to have the most basic of rights, the most basic of educations, the most basic needs met.

Even more profound is the fact to me that the capitalist that controls our society, the world, and ultimately even controls the lives of Whites, Asians, Native American, and others, still has the human family in shackles and imprisoned by systems and unjust laws.

The soil of our land is soiled, not by dirt, but by men, women, and corporations that only see you as a creature to be used, sold, or some kind of trash.

People, if you want freedom, get educated, become active in your community, be responsible for your families, however you define family, and take it to the stage with actions that lead to forward progress for the human family.

Please get your plow, shovel, sickle, hoe, pen, computer, hands, mouths, minds, and feet ready to do the work it is going to take to really create a world where freedom reigns and all people live with justice and liberty.

The time is now. Are you ready?

Day 16. Today’s revelation comes to us from the Black Church Community of the USA. It refers to the fact that despite trials, tribulations, and every kind of micro and even macro aggression imaginable perpetrated against folks, people I’ve know all my life say you’ve been blessed.

Today’s mighty words are: “I am blessed and highly favored.”

Day 17. Sometimes, I struggle to keep my head above water. Sometimes, I can’t seem to get things right. Sometimes, I need to remember what I’ve been taught and to put those teachings into practice.

Today’s wisdom come to us from Egypt, or better yet kemet: “Organization is impossible unless those who know the laws of harmony lay the foundation.”

Day 18. On this day, I found myself in the middle of the struggle with the world.  My bills, our kids, The UUA, Hunger, medical apartheid, houselessness, war, child abuse, you name it, my mind was on it!  On this day, I couldn’t seem to get out of my own way.  It is a condition I’d like to never have again, but I know myself at this point in time.  I’m prone to see the struggle.  I believe I was brought forth to be a town crier, to shout it from rooftops: danger, take cover! I’m a caretaker and I want my people and all people to thrive!

So I looked into my heart. I searched my spirit. I opened the computer and books on my shelf looking for answers to why things are so darn difficult. After some soul searching, after some gnashing of teeth, after arguing with everyone that came into contact with me, I remembered a saying my mothers used to quote. Momma said there would be days like these… I learned something all over again as if for the first time.  Often it is better to leave a thing. Let it go in the now. Deal with it later!

Today’s wisdom comes from Harlem, NY: “Sometimes it’s worse to win a fight than to lose.
-Billie Holiday

Day 19. In my solitude, I’ve pondered so many things over the course of my life. Where did the name Africa come from? What is the meaning of life if there is one? If it is right to be good, why do so many wicked people prevail? These are but three of the questions that come to mind now, and yet the most simple of notions haunt me because it is so easy to miss the importance of them.

Today, I’m thinking back on a classmate of mine from Ghana. He was always suspect of the guys approaching him. These guys wanted to be his friend. He was thoughtful about who he let into his circle, and with good reason.

This proverb comes to us from his tribal people, the Ashanti: “By the time the fool has learned the game, the players have dispersed.”

Day 20. What an honor to share my thoughts about one of the greatest Americans, and to try to juxtaposition our contemporary issues to those of long ago. I think these words, albeit not the full quote, sum up my feelings about the situation: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” These words of President Lincoln seem so right, and I wonder if the great experiment that is the United States of America ultimately will fail because of the fundamental disregard for the inherent worth and dignity of all people. We have never treated Native Americans right. We have never treated Pan Africans right. The same goes for Asian and Latinos, but from my position I don’t believe we’ve treated those members of our human family right either. At some point in time, you must stand up for what is right or allow the weight of your lies, deeds, and selfishness to consume you.

Today’s wisdom comes from the USA. The great Maya Angelou. She was an American poet, memoirist, civil rights activist, sister, mother, and wisdom keeper to us all:

“Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.”

-Maya Angelou, “Still I rise,” And Still I Rise (1978)

Day 21. Today’s wisdom comes from my second favorite island. Manhattan is first, then the isle of my dreams Jamaica. “In this bright future you can’t forget your past.” -Bob Marley

So what am I getting at? It’s really simple, my friends. In this life, so many of us are fixated on the future that we can often neglect the present and mistakenly ignore the importance of our own past. But human beings are creatures of habit. And what we’ve done in the past, many of us, if not most, are destined to do again. Just look at your relationships. Patterns of relatedness show themselves. Who we love and whom we surround ourselves with, while not predestined, are predictable to a great extent. The life we lead, the goals we set, even the outcome, so often are a narrative based on the realities of our story or past.

If you want to change the world, if you want to influence others, if you are determined to be all you can be and do all you can do in this life, I believe you must come to grips with your past. Step into the present powerfully and intentionally. Then with the fullness of your unique story, of your God given narrative, find your way into the light of the future, unencumbered and free.

Peace and love!

Day 22. Today’s wisdom comes from South Africa. Nelson Mandela was and is a person I can look to when times get hard for me. His ability to stay focused on his goals for his people, for his nation, remind me often of not giving up! Not Losing sight of the results I want to see. His life is an example of the power of the human spirit to persevere in the midst of evil.

I am grateful for him and his ability to keep his eyes on the prize. I am hoping I can follow just a bit. I dream so often. I get weak and let go, but Mandela showed us after those long years in jail, you still can step into your dreams, fight the good fight, and ultimately see them or some part of the dream come true!

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” -Nelson Mandela

Day 23. Today’s wisdom is old as i can almost imagine. The story of Job has always perplexed me. Why do bad things happen to good people? The losses of Job are beyond comprehension for most of us. Yet, the losses of the many people who have suffered under warfare is painful to think about. Currently, so many conflicts are happening in our world that I look for understanding in history and in sacred text, longing to find answers to the realities of life.

The story of Job shows us an example of someone that keeps faith despite the worst events possible happening. Job is almost beyond the possible for most of us, and yet, if we can find a way even when difficult days come, we just might make it!

This wisdom come to us from Egypt, from the book of Job: “My lips shall not speak wickedness, nor my younger utter deceit. Till I die I will not put away mine integrity from me.”

Day 24. Today’s wisdom comes to us from a tower of inspiration and power. Fannie Lou Hamer showed us strength and resilience when all was looking lost. I’ve gained strength from her story. Mrs Hammer was deeply committed to improving life for Black and poor people in her state. Mrs Hamer, working with the National Council of Negro Women and others, helped organize food cooperatives and other services. She continued political activities as well, helping to convene the National Women’s Political Caucus in the 1970s. Among her many accomplishments, Mrs Hamer repeatedly fought to register to vote as a Black woman and helped over half of her fellow Black Mississipians to do the same. She later co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) with Ella Baker and Bob Moses to oppose the state’s all-white party. We need more folks like Mrs Fannie Lou Hamer!

This wisdom comes from Mississippi: “Never to forget where we came from and always praise the bridges that carried us over.” -Fannie Lou Hamer

Day 25. Today, I woke up with freedom on my mind. Funny, I think it is in a way the very idea that propels me in my life. As a child, while I loved and respected my parents, I didn’t want to be under their control. As I grew and explored the world around me, I came face to face with the constraints placed on me as a Black boy. I cried for freedom and lashed out in angry ways at a society that was mistreating me and others that looked like me. I came to know the story of Harriet Tubman. Went to her house in upstate NY, read about her, and talked extensively with my father, who had known former slaves when he was a young person. Mother Harriet is a hero of mine, and her selflessness in going back into slave territory time and time again to save loved ones and others shows me the way. Freedom isn’t free. The cost of it is the collective energies people have offered in every age.

Today’s wisdom come from Maryland: “If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop!” -Harriet Tubman

Day 26. Today, I woke up remembering the steps in the journey of life that I have taken. Funny thing for so many of us is that we neglect to acknowledge the strides we’ve made. The hills we climb, the deficits we’ve overcome, and the roadblocks we’ve had to get around. I’m not looking to pat myself on the back, but with self respect and dignity of personhood, I think we ought to look at our lives, and maybe even pause a bit reflecting on the journey. It ain’t easy being ourselves. A lot has gone into making us who we are. Please hug yourself. You made it this far!

This wisdom is from Virginia; these words come to us from the educator, activist, freedom fighter Booker T. Washington: “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome. If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.”

Day 27. Today’s wisdom comes to us from the great African American poet, Langston Hughes:

“I, Too
I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.”

I’ve often thought about this poem. It seems almost impossible for me to think within the frame of reference that brother Langston breathes from, and yet, given the fact that I work for a mostly Euro-American institution, and given that I live in a state where the Black population is 5-7 percent, and given the fact that I, too, reside in America, I’ve begun to feel the parallels.

So, today I’m going to remind myself to laugh. Today, I’m going to eat well and grow strong. Today it matters not if the company comes or if I’m at another’s table, for my sense of self is good. I’m intact! My sense of community, my sense of Black America doesn’t require White approval, heck approval from nobody but ourselves or handouts from those seeking to devalue me nor despise me. I’m living my life full of excitement, activity, socially and politically involved serving my community. And guess what? I’m loving the life I’ve been blessed to live. How about you? How are you feeling you? Are you enjoying your life? Are you serving somebody? Do you know you are love expressed?

In the end, sisters and brothers, sing your song, stay strong, do your best, and love deeply.

Day 28. Today’s wisdom comes from Marcus Garvey during the height of the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League): “The ends you serve that are selfish will take you no further than yourself but the ends you serve that are for all, in common, will take you into eternity… If you haven’t confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life.”

I’ve been high, I’ve been extremely low, and today I’m good! The realities of life have both cured me of over exuberance and mellowed my pain when things don’t go my way.

Day 29. So, my father Joseph A Bailey showed me what mattered in this life long ago. He had dreams and when he attained one he set another one to strive for. He traveled a long and winding road to arrive at his final destination. He loved deeply, his mother, sisters, brothers, Lincoln University, PA, his Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, his Masonic community, and countless others. I do believe he loved my mom Helen A Gordon and the three children and five grandchildren best of all. My father, I believe, in his capacity to live life on life’s terms and his ability to persevere despite the challenges of life, the disappointment the world presented him with, and ultimately the heinous racism this nation of ours put before him and his pan African brothers and sisters only made him stronger!

So, on this final day of Black History Month I salute my father. Born in Louisiana, but Harlem through and through. A good son, brother, uncle, father, husband, teacher, activist, lawyer, and so much more. May the Divine keep him and all of our ancestors who did what they had to do to get us to this point in history!