Responding to the Devastating Incident at McNally’s

February 27, 2014

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This quote embodies the gravity of this moment. Dr. King speaks to the intricate complexity that every agent for change must face. The first thing that we must embrace is that we are looking to make progress and we are dealing with humans. As humans, we are emotional beings. Even more, the issue of race in America invokes a great deal of passion on both sides of the argument. However, the focus should be on progress. Progress intrinsically requires movement beyond emotions into rational behavior. If this devastating incident at McNally’s is to spark anything beyond the emotions which it has already harnessed, we must consider action.

The actions required will not automatically identify themselves nor will they inaugurate or perpetuate themselves. They will not be easy. They will require “dedicated individuals” to sacrifice, suffer and struggle for a cause that is greater than themselves. They will require passion. But these passions must not be those of unbridled hatred and anger. Instead, these passions must be subdued and channeled through the filter of justice for ALL. One person addressing one incident may not be able to fully answer the complicated question of why this issue happened. Nevertheless, it can be the pebble that starts a ripple of steps toward justice and equality.

I am responding in like manner to the devastating incident at McNally’s because it is time to change the dialogue. First of all, I do not know Michael Cummings and I do not wish him any ill will. I have no personal ought against him. My distain is against the institution of racism that is hiding in the shadows of isolated incidents like mine. It is chilling that any officer of the law would feel that there are “too many blacks” in any place. It would be equally as forbidding if there were too many Christians, too many Jewish people, too many Asians, too many homosexuals, etc. Our constitution was written “with liberty and justice for all.” Those that uphold this constitution should do so with the same fervor for all people. At the end of the day, Reprieve Blues Band and I have not received an apology from the bar or its representation. Notwithstanding, I forgive.

I forgive because the tenets of my faith teach me that charity and love are greater virtues than hatred and unforgiveness. There have been many people trying to convince the world that Mr. Cummings is a nice guy. He very well may be. I cannot speak to this nor shall I speak against it. Likewise, I cannot speak to any repercussions that may result from his hubristic actions the night of February 22, 2014. What I know is that with great power comes great responsibility. Part of embracing great responsibility means embracing the consequences for our actions. The consequences now faced extend far beyond the scope of my intentions. The events of that evening sparked a dialogue that I hope we will all meet with a greater since of responsibility instead of anger and hatred. Where sit-ins, marches and protest are great vehicles to bring attention to important issues, this devastating incident now has attention and I would ask all stakeholders to consider what actions we can now take.

I do not profess to have all the answers. No person claiming that they do can be taken seriously considering the complexity of this matter. However, I have begun conversations with various stakeholders on what actions we can take to address the racial divide in the city.  Because this entire conversation began with music as the focus, I believe that the music and arts community can come together with the business community to lead lasting change in this moment. My passion has been laying a foundation upon which future entertainers can build a career without having to face some of the struggles and circumstances that I have had to face. Unfortunately, racial tension is only one of many relevant issues. I am preparing to share my ideas on how we can move forward as a community. Instead of sharing frustration and hatred, let me humbly encourage all of you to share yours as well.

Preparing to step beyond this devastating incident towards the goal…

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Chicago Police Officer says “Too Many Black People” at McNally’s

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February 24, 2014

Let’s cut right to the chase, the title says it all. Mike Cummings, the owner of McNally’s (11136 S Western Ave, Chicago, IL) and a Chicago Police Officer, in a drunken rant had the audacity to openly state, “there are too many black people in here” referring to Sunday (Feb. 23, 2014) morning at approximately 12:03am.

Have you ever walked into a room and knew that all eyes were on you? Well, I have experienced that many times in my life. As a young black well-educated, professional male, I have seen my share of uncomfortable situations; however, Saturday, February 22, 2014 is definitely one that will be remembered. I have been in Catholic school most of my life and an active participant in the performing arts. As a result, I have experienced being one of few blacks in a group. This is why I was comfortable agreeing to be the only black member of a band of great musicians. It was the music that drew us together and therefore we all agreed that race would not be an issue. This changed dramatically for all parties involved when we booked a gig at McNally’s.

Reprieve Blues Band” is a new and exciting Chicago Blues Band. The McNally’s booking marked only my second engagement with the band. Understandably, I invited family, friends and members of various organizations with which I am affiliated to come support me, hear some great music, and have a good time. The other members of the band did the same. We were scheduled for a 10pm-1am block. The place was already full by 9:15pm. By 10:30, the place was packed. People of all social, economic and racial classes were shoulder-to-shoulder enjoying a cold cocktail and live music. Just after midnight we finished our second of three sets. It was during this break that I was informed that we would be packing up and going home. The owner, who was visibly inebriated at the bar, explained that he was shutting down our performance because there were “too many black people” in the bar. He handed over our compensation and made it clear that he was shutting it down.

There are so many things inherently wrong in this story. First, a member of the Chicago Police Department (Michael Cummings, McNally’s owner) spread this hatred. It is offensive that this type of blatant bigotry is still on display in 2014. It is offensive that a business owner would be visibly inebriated and insulting paying customers while the doors of his business are still open. It is offensive that such disrespect would be shown to the band that filled the establishment with paying customers on a Saturday night, this further demonstrates Michael Cummings’ hubris. Notwithstanding these offenses, it is most offensive that some people would pretend that this is an isolated issue that does not demand attention.  This owner thought there were too many black people in his bar. This same owner has been charged with the duty to serve and protect ALL people. It is clear that these type of people do not deserve the honor to serve this city or this country. Where does this bigotry end if we do not stand up and demand what is right for ALL people? How can we sit back or do nothing? What happened to me Saturday night could happen to you or someone you love. Telling black people not to support this establishment is exactly what he wants so we have to do one better. We have to spread the word and pass this message along to everyone we know.  We have to expose Mike Cummings for the racist he is and let everyone know what McNally’s is really about. Will you be part of the problem or the solution?

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Can We Talk About Race?

On Saturday, August 24, 2013 in Washington D.C. a historic moment was celebrated and another was created. In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the historic March on Washington, tens of thousands of people from across the country assembled at the National Mall. This prodigious event hosted a great deal noted orators, which included the last living speaker from the original march 50 years ago, Representative John Lewis. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the first African American to bear the title, delivered a very inspiring speech, which included these words:

As we gather today, 50 years later, their march – now our march – goes on. And our focus has broadened to include the cause of women, of Latinos, of Asian Americans, of lesbians, of gays, of people with disabilities, and of countless others across this country who still yearn for equality, opportunity, and fair treatment.

Fifty years after Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. offered a unparalleled vision of racial harmony for America’s future in the form of what has become known as the “I Have a Dream” speech, much remains unfinished. It is both unaccepted and disrespectful to those that paid a price with their life to say that nothing has changed; however, we can all see that there is much work to do.

On today, August 28, 2013, as I watch coverage of celebration of this historic moment and wait to hear the first African American President speak on the subject, the need to advance the dream continues. The speech and the march that took place 50 years ago blazed the trail for the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It was a monumental moment and speech but it also signaled the awakening of a people. It signaled the welding of a people together for the cause of jobs and freedom. 50 years later, jobs and freedom are still in need of labors but too many of us have put down our tools.

During the March last week, Attorney General Holder stated, “This morning as we recommit ourselves to [Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s] quest for progress, we also stand on the shoulders of untold millions whose names may be lost to history, but whose stories and whose contributions must be remembered and must be treasured.” It is on those shoulders that Rev. Al Sharpton delivered an influential speech about next steps. In it he spoke to the black community, saying, “Don’t disrespect your women. Make it clear that you know that Rosa Parks wasn’t no ‘ho,’ and (voting rights activist) Fannie Lou Hamer wasn’t no b—h.” However, he beckoned a new generation to stand up in the face of this new struggle. The content may be the same but the context has changed. In the past, the movement focused on the struggle while those that sought to hinder change focused on the people. In this day and age too many people are focused only on themselves. In so doing, those that sought to hinder the dream by distracting the dreamers have been given the room to succeeded. Nevertheless, I am still hopeful.
Rev. Sharpton reminds us that Dr. King had a dream because “Dreams are for those who won’t accept reality as it is, so they dream of what is not there and make it possible.” To all of those that disagree with the disparate reality they see, it is time to advance the dream. I do not write this to amplify or exalt one side or the other. I am writing to ask if we the people can have a real conversation and I mean a real one. One that is not littered by the pollution of private interest. One that is not parceled by partisan politics. One that is not hampered by hatred and bigotry. I would like us to have a real conversation in this country. One that addresses the reality that Jim Crow died but racism did not. One that adopts the reality that ignoring a problem does not fix it. One that acknowledges the fact the interest of a few will never successfully benefit the most.

I did not see the racism of my father’s generation and my little brother did not see the racism of mine but we have look across generations and see what we have in common. Too many have sought to deny or ignore the problem. We the people mentioned in the acclaimed constitution of these United States includes each of us with roots in these hollowed grounds. We have a lot of work to do and until we have a real conversation there will be no change. I am not asking that we fix the problem tomorrow but there is urgency for action. Problems with jobs, inequality, voters’ rights and much more are real issues that can be fixed in community and in love. Talk about it and then do something.

“If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run, Yours is the earth and everything in it. Which is more, you’ll me a man my son” – Rudyard Kipling

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President Obama Response to Trayvon Martin Case

President Obama on Friday, July 19, 2013 gave a very personal perspective of the shooting of 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin and the subsequent trial of George Zimmerman. In it he offers an explanation for why the case has created so much anxiety within the African-American community.

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July 22, 2013 · 6:41 pm

Does Service Still Matter?

CashierI am a business owner and long-time Dominick’s shopper. Having spent a lot of money with your company over the years, I am very disappointed to share my latest interaction with your brand. On March 26, 2013 my wife and I were in Northbrook for a mini-vacation. We stopped into Dominick’s Store #1719 located at 1340 Patriot Rd, Glenview, IL 60025 where Mr. Mike Trimarco is the manager. I am pleased to inform you that the store was incredibly clean and organized and that my experience in the store was quite pleasant until I arrived at the checkout line.

We waited briefly in the express line with only ten items. Our cashier’s name was Vita. After being amiable with the preceding customer, Vita asked if we were reward members prior to saying hello. My wife and I were excited about our vacation and therefore ignored the lack of friendly service that we have come to expect at Dominicks. My wife hands our rewards card to Vita, who scans it and then places it on the counter without saying anything or acknowledging how inappropriate this gesture was. While scanning our items, she began a conversation with the male bagger whose name I do not remember. Already offended by this rude behavior, we waited patiently for our total. Vita announced our total and then proceeded with her conversation with the bagger. I must pause to inform you that our items were properly placed in bags and doubled where necessary. However, when our checkout was complete, our bags were in front of the bagger, who was leaning on the register enjoying a conversation with Vita as if we were not standing there. I had to reach in front of him to grab my bags once it became clear that he was not going to hand them to us or move to make it easier for us to grab them ourselves.

One school of thought is that this issue was isolated and was the result of two people that chose not to uphold Dominick’s commitment to family, food, value and fun. Maybe they do not understand or agree with their focus on giving “primary attention to the needs of shoppers partnered with the highest standards for all of its merchandise.” Another school of thought is that the poor service we received was racially motivated and the result only of the color of our skin. Either way, this behavior is unacceptable. This formal complaint solicits an apology and disciplinary actions. I am sure that the Dominick’s brand does not accept or agree with this customer treatment and I am hopeful that a resolution can be reached. I am a blogger, doctoral student and business owner.  I do not believe that I deserve great service as a result of those facts. I believe that I deserve great service as a result of the fact that I am spending my hard earned dollars with your brand. I further believe that we all deserve this same quality of service and life here in America based on the fact that we are American and not based on what color we are. On one side of the argument is the hesitation make this matter a race issue. People would accuse me and others like me of “playing the race card”. What I think is important is that we as a society come to terms with the fact that racial issues persist.  When we accept this fact then we can have a REAL conversation about it. Until then we are living in the matrix and not dealing with the heart of the problem.

I sent a letter to the company explaining my experience and I look forward to hearing from them and resolving this matter amicably and expeditiously. I would like to ask you if you would be offended in this situation and if you agree with the decision to address the matter with the Dominick’s brand. What do you think?

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311: They Are Not the People’s Gas

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I had an experience with People’s Gas that I thought was worth sharing because it has happened to so many people. People write blog posts for many different reasons. I want to be explicit about my purpose for this one. I firmly believe that my experience with People’s Gas is one that many American consumers have experienced before and NO American citizens should experience again. I am writing this posting to encourage the kind of outrage that initiates change. Customer service should not be an option in any company, especially one that provides consumers with a necessary service. Handling an issue with this service should not be an arduous task and we must demand this truth.

I recently moved into a new apartment. My wife and I had all of our utility and service accounts setup a month prior to our move in date. Everything was set for the perfect move in. You all already know that this is a fantasy but we did the best we could do to get as close to a seamless move as possible. As the weeks flew by the bills flew in. However, we noticed that there was no gas bill. We reached out to insure that all was well and they promised that it was on the way. Noting this fact we waited for it. Last week, I woke up, took my wife to work and returned home to fix myself some breakfast prior to heading to work myself. I noticed that my stove did not work. After multiple tries I checked my furnace to see if the pilot was out. Faintly smelling gas I called the emergency hotline.  Better safe than sorry when dealing with a gas issue. After giving my information, the emergency customer service person told me that my account was not properly set up and that my gas had been turned off the previous day. He could not transfer me to the regular customer service department so I had to sit out side for an hour waiting on them to come check for a leak or other emergency while waiting on hold to speak to another service agent. After about a twenty minute wait on the phone I was told that our online application had not properly processed and we needed to fax them some proof that we were the new tenants in the unit. (Mind you we were not told this when we spoke with them the previous month.)

That same day, I faxed over all of the documents they requested. I called back to confirm that they received my documents and I was on hold for over 30 minutes having never spoken to a human agent. I admit my frustration hearing, “Your call is very important to us… Please keeping holding”. It did not feel that way as I waited for over an hour and still spoke to no one. I asked my wife to call later as my frustration grew. When she finally got through, she was told that they sent us a notification, which we NEVER received, and that processing the fax would take at least 24 hours and that she should call back then. (WOW!) We called back the next day to be told that the paper needed to be verified, which would take another 24 hours and then they would send a technician, which would be 3 – 5 business days. My wife explained that we both had health issues that required this to be escalated to more of an emergency status. My wife was told that they would “do their best”. Not satisfied with this response, my wife called back asking for a manager. It was on a Friday and the manager told her that Wednesday was the earliest she could do anything. At this time a coworker gave some stunning advice.

We were advised to call 311 (the none emergency police line) and explain our situation. I had never heard of this method but my wife gave it a shot. They listened to our situation and then they called People’s Gas themselves with her on the line to give any important information. MAGICALLY, People’s Gas was now available first thing on Monday morning to reactivate our service. I took issue with the fact that customer service departments are in place to provide service to customers. Why does People’s Gas get to outsource real customer service to the police department? Why do we have to call the none emergency hotline and tell the exact same story to get a completely different result? From this I say to the world, we must demand better of these huge companies that are clearly too big to care about the customers that have unwillingly made them so big.  If they cannot make changes themselves then we must demand it. We must write them, we must tweet, Facebook, blog or simply shout it from the mountain top.  We must let them know we are not happy. If they do not help you then you know that you too can call 311 and they will. I guarantee that the police will tier of doing customer service work for People’s Gas and THEY will demand a change.  Either way, People’s Gas should be about the people and it won’t be if we stay quiet. Comment and tell me your troublesome story with People’s Gas and share this story with someone you know that may be having trouble with them now. There is an answer to the number 311 even when 866-556-6001 doesn’t work. They don’t want to wait on their payment but they expect us to wait on good service. Time for a change!

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Better to Give Than to Receive

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“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” – Acts 20:35

One of the hardest decisions I have to make every day is how I spend my time. With that in mind allow me share an experience with you. I received an email from Capella University inviting learners to a charity event. With a very busy schedule and a big paper coming up, I admit that almost completely ignored the invitation. You might actually be surprised by what persuaded my final decision. Now, there are times in life when we all feel a bit overwhelmed. I admit that I was starting to feel the pressure of being a student, husband, entrepreneur, blogger, worship leader and so much more. Although I am very grateful for what I have, I was also frustrated in and by my pursuit for more. The more that God promised and the more I have been expecting from my labor. That’s when I decided that this event would be a great experience. Let me tell you,  I am quite happy that I went.

Myself and 54 other people Volunteered for an organization called Feed My Starving Children. Feed My Starving Children is a non-profit Christian organization committed to feeding God’s children hungry in body and spirit. The approach is simple: children and adults hand-pack meals specifically formulated for malnourished children, and they ship the meals to nearly 70 countries around the world. Click here to learn more about FMSC and how you can become involved.

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In the first half hour of a two hour session, the staff workers give the same background information on the company shown in the video and train volunteers on how to pack the food. For about an hour and a half volunteers pack as many boxes as possible. It was fascinating to see how quickly the camaraderie, companionship, and competition between groups were developed although there were no specific goals or prizes. If you ever want to see a stellar example of systems-based management then you need to visit this company. Fifty-five people, most of whom had never been there before, were packaging food like we had been doing it for years. Men, women and children were working as hard as they could in a team that represented one of the countries served by this great company. They made it easy and incredibly fun. The experience was only enhanced By conversation with other Capella learners. In less than two hours We were able to pack 90 boxes Which will feed fifty three children.

Separate from my praise of this organization is a universal truth that I hope everyone can take from this. In the two hours that I volunteered to serve other people I didn’t once to think about myself. My tower of issues and challenges was diminished by the act of selflessly giving to those less fortunate than myself. It is so easy to be distracted By life’s ups and downs. But remember that “To whom much is given much is required.” Continue to pursue the greatness that you believe you deserve. Continue to want more out of life then you may have at the moment.  The drive that results from that feeling is invaluable.  However, always remember that as bad as you have it, someone has it worst.  While you are working so hard to get things for yourself, whether it be fortune, fame, recognition, etc., make sure that you take some time to give. Hebrews 13:16 says, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” I want to thank Capella University for inviting me and the Feed My Starving Children organization for doing what you do.  I will be back soon and I hope someone reading this will join me.

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