Wednesday, June 22, 2011


It is comforting for a parent to hear validation from one’s young adult offspring as he/she refers to something “you always use to say”, or some other precaution that was given when the child was growing up. As real Life experience would have it, that young adult can now see that some of the parent’s admonitions and imposed rules did serve a purpose for the child’s well-being.

Yet, this time for me, it is bittersweet. When my son was of high school age I cautioned against him going out in public with friends who dressed in a manner that could likely cause hassles from authority figures. When he was eleven or twelve years old, I began to engage in conversations with him that I knew parents of most of his friends never had to think about – namely, what to do in the event that he was stopped by a cop. He was always taught to respect laws and those who enforce them. Yet, I knew he needed another lesson as he was on the portal to adolescence and eventually manhood….that lesson, a black mother of a son knows well.

The lesson he was taught and that was reinforced many times during the following years was:  If you are stopped by a cop for whatever reason – whether you are in the wrong, or if you are innocent….the goal of that encounter is to stay alive! We practiced how to speak – the tone, the lack of smart answers, the lack of anger, and no arguing. Most of all, when asked for ID: not to reach for it…tell the officer where it is and wait to be told what to do and how to access it.

I remember that afternoon when my son was skateboarding on the steps of the library on the campus where I worked. The campus security officer told him to stop and he immediately called me to tell me what happened, saying several times that he did exactly what I taught him. He was polite; he stopped; he apologized; but more than anything, this young boy wanted me to know that he had handled himself in the manner which I prescribed.

Sunday, he called to tell me about an incident on Saturday afternoon outside an event in Brooklyn, in which he, his father and Godfather found themselves. They were just standing on the street in front of the building and white cops jumped out of an unmarked vehicle approaching his Godfather over an opened beer in a brown bag. My son described a situation in which the cop’s approach to them was marked by hatred with cursing, denigration and disrespectful tone. I held my breath bracing for the worst. He said that the three of them tried to be polite to the cops; yet, they were belittled, yelled at, and cursed. This was being done to two men with gray hair in their mid 60s. The infraction could warrant a fine (written summons) but the cops decided to take his Godfather to the station to write the summons. In dread, I listened further, while images of Abner Louima in a Brooklyn police station flashed in my head.

They went down to the station to wait for his Godfather only to continue to be treated poorly. When the computer indicated that his Godfather had an outstanding unpaid fine, the officer cursed at him when he saw it on the screen. They kept his Godfather and responded sarcastically to questions by my son. They would not allow them to have the Godfather’s car keys so that they could move the vehicle from the event location.

My son, remembering what I taught him, was beside himself, because he saw first-hand how black civilians can be treated despite all efforts to be polite. He said they answered all questions politely, never argued with the cops, and never showed disrespect. Yet, he witnessed his Godfather, father and himself being cursed at and disrespected for what, he says, was a matter of writing a summons on the spot if the officers wanted to do that.

My son saw white men of authority abusing their power and on the phone he heard me remind him of Amadou Diallo, unarmed, reaching for his wallet for ID, pumped with 41 shots. I told him about the 76 year old Eleanor Bumpurs shot dead in her apartment in the Bronx. I reminded him that when he was a baby we had the Rodney King incident. It is bittersweet to hear my son say that he realized why I kept trying to teach him that the goal is to STAY ALIVE when confronted. It is bittersweet because my newly graduated ivy leaguer saw, first hand, the common denominator.

He told me on Sunday that he had already emailed his professor about the incident. This is the professor of his prison studies class. My son said, “Mom, I read about all of this, but I could not believe what I experienced.” His Godfather was released on Monday, three days later.

My son’s ultimate goal has been law school to assist him with a position in Public Policy. Now, this. God works in mysterious ways and time will tell the out-picturing of his career. However, I know beyond a doubt that what he experienced were defining moments with an indelible imprint.

© Dr. Drayton-Craig, 2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


It was a rainy Saturday morning and I had planned to complete my writing for a Sunday morning speaking engagement. Slow rainy Saturday mornings make well for writing to a backdrop of classical and operatic solos on the radio. In the early afternoon, I paused for lunch and while washing the dishes, I heard the radio voice talking about an exhibition of the work of William T. Trego at the Michener Museum in Doylestown, PA. He painted Civil War scenes. While that sounded dull to me, I continued to listen to what the biographer had to say about his Life and work. Trego was virtually a master at depicting military scenes on canvas and his short Life was wrought with struggles that would be insurmountable to many.

While the Civil War began when he was 2 ½ years old, shortly after that, he suffered an illness, now believed to be polio. It deformed his fingers, hand, torso, and feet. I found myself listening intently while the water ran from the faucet. I put the silverware down and while imagining what the biographer was describing, I contorted my wet hand and wrist, squeezing the fingers shut, and folding the wrist out and backwards. The biographer said that as a young boy, Trego began to paint (his father, Jonathan Trego, was a renowned artist) and in order to do it, he would work at grasping the brush between two fingers of his left hand, then labor at forcing the brush between his contorted right hand. He held the right hand somehow with his left and guided it, laboriously, to the canvas.

I picked up the wet spoon trying to simulate what I heard and slowly moved it over to my right hand. Then I tried to force it between two closed fingers. As water swirled around the basin, I guided the spoon in mid air to my imaginary canvas. I became exhausted from the workout I gave my arm muscles. The biographer continued to describe Trego’s training at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, and L’Académie Julian in Paris. On his way home from Paris, he was jilted by his fiancée en route over the sea, and a suicide watch was imposed on him by the ship’s captain. After the return home, he never quite recovered the artistic success he once had.

My Sunday talk went well and in the afternoon I decided to take a drive to Doylestown to walk around and perhaps to visit the museum if its hours accommodated my visit. I did see the exhibit and it was extraordinary. The sketch of his deformed hand at the start of the exhibit revealed a hand bent in the other direction from what I had imagined. It was more deformed, as well. His masterpieces followed and each had incredible intricate detail, vibrant deep tones, and mesmerizing facial expressions. Conversations I overheard were of patrons exclaiming their amazement at the skilled ability he had to depict terror in the eyes of the cavalry horses. His best known ability was to capture cavalry movement: the sense of horses with galloping legs and hooves in mid air. I marveled that the quality of the vivid detail and sharp coloration was like a 21st century digital photo, done in oil and canvas. Amazing!

By the first painting I was in quiet awe. The woman standing next to me could not contain herself. She came closer to me and said that she had come down from Wilkes Barre (2+ hours away). She burst out, “I have no excuse!” to which I said, “That’s exactly what I was thinking.” She went on to say how she put off so many things in her Life, especially creating art and that there was no longer any reason for her to do so, because she clearly had full use of her body and all of her faculties.

The show motivated me to go full steam at manifesting my dreams and to reclaim my creative abilities. It also inspired me to fully enjoy every experience I have. I stood in the middle of the museum floor, and before I left, I gazed full circle around all of the walls and asked myself, “What are you waiting for?”

© Dr. Drayton-Craig, 2011