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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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IF: Making Allowances

The sixth chapter of the book of Isaiah tells the story of the profit Isaiah.  He was called to lead the children of Israel back to the heart of God.  The problem was that the people had a strong loyalty to the king.  King Uzziah had been a great king and experienced many successful victories for his people.  The story is told that his success was the cause of great pride.  This pride caused his separation from God’s will.  With Uzziah still on the throne, Isaiah was in danger of being killed if he spoke up about the direction of the people of Israel.  Verses one thru five gives an account of an experience that Isaiah had with the Lord in the year that Uzziah died and he was finally freed to do the very thing he was purposed to do.  The New American Standard version of the Bible records:

(1) In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. (2) Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  (3) And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” (4) And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.  (5) Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined!  Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” Isaiah 6:1-5 (NAS)

This experience is a perfect way to illustrate the power of making allowances without making excuses.  In verse three, Isaiah saw the Lord on the throne and recognized that he was holy.  Holy in Greek is pronounced kaw-doshe, which means clean, pure or perfect.  At the moment that he noticed the perfection of God he took a look at himself.  Verse five describes his reaction to his reflection.  He basically says shame on me since I am ruined.  The King James Version uses the word undone.  In Greek, undone is pronounced daw-maw, which means to fail, perish, to be brought to silence or coming apart at the seams.  At the realization of the greatness that is before you it is easy to see your inadequacies.  It is even understandable that you would feel like your dreams are coming apart at the seams.  In chapter eight will discuss how to find the appropriate balance between triumph and disaster.  However, here we deal with your realization that it will not be easy capture your dreams when it is resting among the stars.

I really enjoy this story for several reasons.  If you are a person of faith then you have to appreciate Isaiah’s experience.  It is very closely related to our own salvation experience.  It is a story of accomplishing that which God has called you to do but this portion of it reminds us of two very important realizations:  1) God’s holiness and 2) our hellishness.  It is God’s perfection that causes us to make allowances for our imperfections.  Now I use this story here because it has significant meaning even for those that do not hold the same faithful values that I hold.  Isaiah had a goal to accomplish.  He had to completely transform the spiritual behavior of his people.  He had to show them that the way that they were doing things was not right.  Not only did he have this great cause before him, he also had to do it in the face of a great and popular king.  This may be too far fetched for you but what about your goal or aspiration.  If you have something that you aspire to do and it is greater than your present situation then you too can have feelings of inadequacies.  If you have ever thought that you were not good enough or were not qualified to do something that you really wanted to do then this story is still about you.

Making an allowance for the doubt of others goes no further than acknowledging your own doubts.  It does not imply that their opinion of you should become more valuable than your view of yourself.  I am not asking you to give attention to everybody’s opinion about what you are doing and how you are doing it.  In fact, I am actually telling you not to spend your time that way at all.  Doing so will yield you nothing but negative results.  Great leaders are those that maintain a respect for their position.  These are the people that are always assessing the job they are doing and comparing that to what they know needs to be done.  Even if they feel completely qualified to do the job they are doing, they are still reverent towards the job itself.  They understand that to do their job well is much bigger than them. They realize that excellence requires hard work no matter who you are or how qualified you are.  I could fail.  I could give my opinion and be wrong.  I could work hard for something and not attain it. Those are possibilities and if I do not recognize them then I will not be prepared to overcome them.  Remember that there is always a positive and negative potential response to all suppositional situations.  Being prepared to overcome the potential negative responses require you to have spent time thinking about it.  However, expecting the positive response requires you not to spend too much time focused on the negative.  Kipling suggests here that you should have trust in yourself and your abilities but also have the humility to make allowance for the doubt of others.  If you take only one thing away from this chapter or this book, remember that other people will only have the power to kill your dreams if you give them the power.  Making allowance means that you must know the adversity you are up against if you intend to overcome them.

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