I Didn’t Get a Chance to Say Good-bye: Dedicated to the Memory of Raymond Johnson

by Dr. Elsie L. Scott

Have you had a friend or loved one pass away during a period when you were making plans to visit him or her? After happening to me when my father passed  during the writing of my dissertation, it happened to me again when my friend, Ray Johnson, passed away earlier this month. I was planning to visit him at the end of month when I traveled to San Francisco to attend a conference. I had not seen him for a few years because every time I traveled to California, I was dealing with family illnesses or deaths.

If I had had the opportunity to visit with my friend, I probably would have talked about some of the good times we shared. We may talk about meeting at his first NOBLE Conference in 1986, not long after he had been appointed Chief of Police of the Inglewood, California Police Department. He had a way of engaging people so he did not have a hard time making friends at the Conference. Little did I know he would become like a brother and one of my dearest friends.

We might talk about the long, NOBLE Board meetings and how he helped me decompress over a glass of wine. We may talk about some of the interesting people we met through NOBLE. We might talk about Harold Johnson with his booming commands at the Memorial March or his testimony at the Senate Judiciary hearings.  Or we may talk about the personalities that emerged from the business meetings at the Conference such as Alvarenga (I don’t remember his first name) from New York who always had a point of order and who wanted the ballots to look “aesthetically beautiful”. We may get caught up on what is happening with our mutual friends such as Bobi Wallace and Donald Hollingsworth.

If we could really reminisce, I would thank him for facilitating my first trip to a Super Bowl. After I told him of my wish to attend a Super Bowl, he arranged for me to get a ticket through Pasadena Chief James Robenson. He did not know that I was going to tell him I needed a ride also. He not only took me to the Super Bowl, he brought along  a tailgate lunch. If you knew Ray, you knew that he had a lot of class. He brought a good bottle of wine that was served in crystal wine glasses and cloth napkins, the works. A limousine was parked next to his car and the people in the limousine asked if they could join our party.

I am certain we would talk about family. I never met Ray’s parents, siblings or his daughter, but I knew all about them. He never met my family, but he always asked about them. I am certain we would talk about my family’s memorial fund created to honor the memory of my father. Ray was impressed with the work of the fund, especially the scholarships we awarded each year. He would tell his wife, Pat to make certain that she continue giving to the fund. (When I spoke with Pat after he passed, she told me that he told her to make certain she got the information on the fund and continued to donate after his death.)

I probably would bring up the article in a newspaper that referred to him as the “Willie Brown of Law Enforcement”. For those who don’t know, Willie Brown was the Speaker of the California Assembly. Ray was compared to Brown, not because of his political engagement, but because of his expensive suits. We would get a laugh about the time that Brown came by to see him to make certain that his suits qualified to be compared to Brown’s.

We would also laugh about the time when Ray was interviewed for Police Commissioner of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The City Manager had selected me to sit on the interview panel. I thought Ray had a great interview, but a Harvard white male sitting on the panel thought just the opposite. I think that from the time Ray walked in, he was intimidated. The Harvard professor made a remark about Ray being too Hollywood. Of course Ray was California to the bone, and I think he only applied for the position because I encouraged him to look at opportunities outside of California.

I would thank him for all of the cards he has sent me over the years. Ray was a bigger card lover than me. I would get Easter, Thanksgiving, sometimes Halloween (and I don’t like Halloween) and of course Christmas and birthday.

I don’t know whether Ray still had his art collection, but if he did, he would proudly explain each acquisition and the history of its acquisition, and talk about other pieces he thought about acquiring.

Ray Johnson was a special man who meant a lot to the people whose lives he touched. He loved his fellow California Highway Patrol officers. From what I have heard about the support being given to Pat by them, I am sure the feelings were mutual.  He would proudly talk about some of the officers who came behind him who he mentored.

The compassionate Ray extended beyond family, friends, and colleagues to the juveniles whose cases he had to review as member of the Juvenile Parole Commission.  Most of these young people will never know what he did to try to help them get their lives on track.

I would thank him and Pat for having the type relationship that allowed me to keep my friendship with Ray after they were married. Ray introduced me to Pat over the phone as one of his dear friends. He was certain we would like each other, and we did. When they came to DC, I had a chance to meet her in person. The cards continued to come from Ray and Pat, and Pat and I became Facebook friends until she decided to close her account. Ray would probably ask me to stay in touch with Pat and check on her periodically to make certain she was okay.

I am glad he found that special woman with whom he could share the latter part of his life. I used to tell him that he was too opinionated, too neat and organized to get married again, but he found the right woman in Pat.

I did not get a chance to say good-bye, but I think he knew what he meant to me. He will be in my memories every birthday (his and mine) and every Super Bowl, at NOBLE Conferences, and in those moments when some incident or something someone says something to remind me of him, or I hear someone with a very hearty laugh like his.

Ray Johnson2

So Go and Run Free

So go and run free with the angels
Dance around the golden clouds
For the Lord has chosen you to be with him
And we should feel nothing but proud
Although he has taken you from us
And our pain a lifetime will last
Your memory will never escape us
But make us glad for the time we did have
Your face will always be hidden
Deep inside our hearts
Each precious moment you gave us
Shall never, ever depart
So go and run free with the angels
As they sing so tenderly
And please be sure to tell them
To take good care of you for me

Author unknown.

Senator Sessions Has Black Friends. So, What?

by Dr. Elsie L. Scott, Director, Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center, Howard University

Many people offering support to Senator Jeff Sessions in his nomination for U.S. Attorney General have stated that he has black friends such as former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson.  So, what?  Senator Strom Thurmond fathered a black child, who he financially supported, while at the same time he used his public service platform to try to deny basic rights to black citizens.

Throughout history, whites have been “friends” with and have had sex with black people while at the same time working to ensure that blacks do not have equal protection under the law.  What is most important to our survival and our thriving?  That he hired a black person or that he tried to suppress the black vote?

It is argued by some that Senator Sessions is being judged by actions he took and statements he made 30+ years ago. Let’s look at his Senate record.

Does it show that he would seek justice and equal treatment for all?  No, it doesn’t. He has consistently voted against the confirmation of judicial  and executive nominees who have been engaged in civil rights activities or who use their positions to support civil rights, e.g., Judge Wilhelmina Wright, Secretary of Education, John King, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Attorney General Loretta Lynch.  He voted against the Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009 and the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013. He has opposed immigration reform that would lead to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

We must not get caught up in symbolic politics such as Sessions’ sponsoring of the Congressional Gold Medal for Selma marchers of 50 years ago. It did not take courage, and it has little or no meaning when this symbolic gesture is placed against his support for Shelby County v. Holder and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965..

The position of Attorney General is the chief law enforcement position in the country.  Little, if anything, in Senator Sessions background indicates that he is the right person for Attorney General at this time in the history of the country.  Presently, the country is divided with blacks, Hispanics, immigrants, Muslims and other minorities fearful of what will happen to them if Senator Sessions is confirmed as Attorney General. They are afraid that they will have nowhere to turn when they are discriminated against, physically assaulted, harassed, and subjected to voter intimidation and suppression.  They are afraid that he will make “states’ rights” the order of the day, leaving them hostage to local and state officials who will show their true colors with no threat of federal oversight.

In opposing the nomination of Thomas Perez for Secretary of Labor in 2013, Senator Sessions stated: “he seems to have a strong bent toward allowing his own ideological and political views to affect his decisionmaking process–all of which is unacceptable for a high position in this government of the United States of America.”  Many argue that Senator Sessions has allowed his ideological and political view to affect his decision-making process. Does this meet Senator Sessions’ standard for the U.S. Attorney General?

Celebrating the Life of Former Congressman Louis Stokes by Dr. Elsie L. Scott

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I met Congressman Louis Stokes when l became President and CEO of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) in 2006. I had seen him at CBC events and on the Hill, but I had not interacted with him.  I was pleased to find that he was always responsive when I reached out to him for assistance. In a town of big egos, he came off as very humble and happy to praise others rather than draw attention to himself. He liked the fact that as CBCF President, I reached out to the CBC Founders and other former CBC Members to include them in CBCF events, and that I sought historical knowledge and context for our programs from them.

His legacy of service is rich, and the fact that there are many programs and buildings named for him demonstrates his impact. A number of buildings around Cleveland bear his name, including the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Administration Hospital, the Louis Stokes Annex of the Cleveland Public Library, and the Louis Stokes Health Sciences Center at Case Western Reserve University. His influence did not stop in Cleveland. He was not a Howard University alum, but a Louis Stokes Health Sciences Library was built on the campus in recognition of the role he played in advancing minority health issues and the health sciences. CBCF has the Louis Stokes Health Policy Fellowship and the Louis Stokes Health Scholarship, and the National Science Foundation has the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Program.

Rep. Stokes was a founding member of the CBC, and the founding chair of the CBC Health Braintrust.  Over the years, the braintrust has addressed health policy issues and the problem of health disparities. The foundation he laid for the Health Braintrust was so strong that it has earned the reputation of being the strongest and most effective of the CBC braintrusts.

In 1999, after spending 30 years in Congress and having made his mark, Rep. Stokes decided to step down from his seat. He selected a woman prosecutor and former judge, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, to succeed him. He knew he left big shoes to fill, but he felt that she would be a great representative for the 11th District of Ohio–and she was.

In 2012, when CBCF published, The Conscience of the Congress, a retrospect for the 40th anniversary of the CBC, Rep. Stokes was asked to write the Foreword.  We were honored to have him accept, but he seemed more honored to have been asked to contribute to the book. In the Foreword, he explains that the 13 founding members of the CBC did not see themselves as civil rights leaders as some would have wanted them to. Instead, they recognized that they were legislators, and that their role was to spread themselves “out as far as we could within the committee system of the House….[M]ore importantly, we could begin to offer a black perspective on important legislation.”  He was proud of the accomplishments of the CBC and felt that the future of the CBC was bright.

Rep. Stokes lived a full life during his 90 years on this earth.  He leaves a rich legacy in his work and in the lives he touched.  Over the years, I have met members of the Stokes family, who are successful in their own right.  I see his influence in Shelley Stokes-Hammond, Eric Hammond, Lesli Foster and other family members. We know they and the rest of the Stokes family are feeling the pain of the loss of a loved one, but we know they will find plenty to smile about as they remember not just the times they had with him, but the positive impact of his living.

Louis Stokes & Tubbs Jones001

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A Letter From Your “Illegitimate Children” on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act

Dr. Scottby Dr. Elsie L. Scott

The term “illegitimate children” is not used very often any more, but at one time, it was used to describe children born to parents who were not married. These children did not enjoy the same legal rights as children who were born to married parents. In addition to not having the same legal rights, these children were often subjected to social discrimination. They were not accepted in certain social circles, and some churches would not even baptize or christen them.

On this the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), we, the African American citizens of the United States are feeling like “illegitimate children”. We are asking why, after all these years, you do not want to accept us as your children. Like “illegitimate children” we did not ask to be brought here, but like them, we have suffered just because society has placed an X on our foreheads, labeling us as less than.

We have done everything to win your love and acceptance. We worked your land, built your landmarks, raised your children and followed your rules, but you still do not want to give us the same rights as your other children. There have been periods when it seemed like you were going to accept us. You changed the laws to make us “legitimate”, but you allowed the laws to be ignored. Discrimination against us was no longer de jure, but de facto, as we suffered discrimination in almost every aspect of our existence.

Fifty years ago, we celebrated when President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. After years of discriminatory laws and practices, it seemed like this legislation would accomplish what the 15th Amendment and various civil rights laws had not been able to achieve. Even though many African Americans registered and voted during Reconstruction, and African Americans were elected to political office at the local, state and national levels, in 1965, no one was thinking that Post-Reconstruction history would repeat itself. They were not thinking that less than 50 years later a Supreme Court decision—Shelby v. Holder—would gut the VRA and states would rush to pass legislation that would disenfranchise many African Americans.

The right to vote is one of the fundamental tenets of democracy. We cannot understand people who profess to believe in democracy but work to deny this right to African American citizens. You continue to hide behind such code words as reducing fraud. We, your black children, say that we are concerned about the fraud you have perpetrated on us–The fraud of pretending that you want us to have the right to vote while continuing to place roadblocks to prevent us from voting.

On this the 50th Anniversary of the VRA, we, your black children, your black sisters and brothers, your black grandchildren are emphatically stating that we are here, and we are not going away. We are not going to accept “illegitimate” status because we have invested as much or more into building this country into the power that it is as you have. We are asking the Members of Congress to come together across party lines (as the Congress did 50 years ago) and pass a voting rights act that will once and for all let the world know that you have removed the “illegitimate” stigma from your black children.

An Open Letter to my Father on Father’s Day and the 35th Anniversary of his Death

Witness to the Truth[The writer’s father, Rev. John H. Scott, died on June 22, 1980. His life story is recounted in the book, Witness to the Truth: My Struggle for Human Rights in Louisiana by John H. Scott with Cleo Scott Brown.]

Dear Dad,

When I first anticipated writing an anniversary letter to you on the 35th anniversary of your passing, it was going to be a cheerful letter.  I was going to talk about the good things that have happened in the lives of your children and grandchildren.  I was going to talk about how proud you would be that our mother’s lessons about family love are being practiced not just by your children, but also by the grandchildren, many you never met.  But something happened on the way to this letter.

I have been distracted from the good in my life to focus on the evil in society.  Last Wednesday night, a white man went to a black church for Bible Study and after sitting in the class for about an hour, he pulled out a gun and killed the innocent people who were assembled.

I thought back to the Birmingham bombing that killed the little girls attending Sunday School, but I also thought back to the Wednesday night that you were shot.  You and most of the family were coming home from Prayer Meeting, talking about the service, when out of nowhere a car pulled into the pass lane, paused and filled your car with buckshot.  If things had gone as the shooter had planned, I would have lost not only you, but my mother and four siblings.

I thank God that he spared all of your lives and you lived long enough to see all of your children become adults.  Rev. Clementa Pinckney will not have the opportunity to see his children grow up because a cold-blooded killer chose to end his life and the lives of eight other people ranging in age from 26 to 87.

The shooter supposedly said to the 26-year old black man who was killed that black men “rape our women”.  If he was concerned about the black rapists, why did he go to a church and shoot 6 black women?

It is not enough that nine innocent lives–6 women and 3 men–were taken, but the many reactions, especially from public officials, have not engendered much confidence that the country is taking away any lessons from this tragedy.  For example, the governor of South Carolina said that there is only one person to blame for the shootings–the shooter.  She and others are not willing to accept the fact that something needs to be fixed to stop these types of actions. One person pulled the trigger, but many others helped to enable him or took no action to prevent such a tragedy.  One person pulled the trigger, but so many others are destroying black people every day through their overt and covert actions. Yes, Daddy, thirty-five years later, we still have a long way to go to address racism and white privilege in the United States.

Daddy, the Confederate flag is still flying at the South Carolina Capitol.  Why?  Because state law mandates a two-thirds majority vote of the legislature to take it down.  I remember when you needed two white people to identify you so you could get registered to vote and you could not find them. Similarly, the black S.C. legislators have not been able to find enough white legislators to vote to remove it, and the governor, who is of Indian descent, has refused to support its removal.  Yes, there are still people who refuse to acknowledge that the South lost the Civil War in 1865.  Some of those same people refuse to accept the 2008 election results when an African American was elected U.S. President.

The magistrate in the bail hearing for the shooter called the family of the shooter, “victims” and singled them out for sympathy.  The Governor of Texas called the shooting an “accident”, but the shooter reloaded and killed people who were trying to pray with him and for him.  I remember pinning a letter to you on the first anniversary of your death saying that at least you left the earth before you had to witness the election of Ronald Reagan as President.   Well Dad, we have elected officials now that almost make Reagan look like a moderate.

Even though there were early reports that eight people had been killed in a black church and that the shooter was a white man, the news networks did not see the need to cut away and give full coverage to the developing story.  Coverage did pick up the next day, but Wednesday night, I had flashbacks to when you were shot–when there was a complete news blackout. If it had not been for the black press, there would not have been any coverage.

What would be your message this Sunday morning if you were still here.  I know that you were a believer in forgiveness because you forgave the men who shot you. But how do you explain forgiveness and God’s will to children who are not able to make sense out of what happened in Charleston?  Your words would be similar to the words of our Bishop William P. DeVeaux who stated, “If you don’t give it up and forgive, you will never get it right.” I know you would explain the importance of forgiveness.  You would talk about what the Bible teaches us about forgiveness, but also the damage that holding in hatred and anger does to the victim.

Since you are no longer here to give me the message I need to move forward past this tragedy, I went to your book, Witness to the Truth, and found these words:

“Never let a hateful or unkind person pull you down to their level….Anger and bitterness give other people control over your mind, your thoughts, and your behavior….Sometimes unforgiveness can even make you physically sick while the object of your unforgiveness generally is not even being affected. On the other hand, forgiveness works on the other person rather than you and it works from the outside in.”

Beyond forgiveness, I know you would want me to see the lessons learned.  You would want some positive change to come out of the killings.  You would not want us be so fearful in church that we will not be able to worship God. You would want to see my faith strengthened by the tenacity and resolve being demonstrated by the families of the victims. You would want us to come out of this adversity with stronger faith and great resolve to chip away at racism, injustice, bigotry and inequality.

Thank you for being a good role model and for leaving me, my siblings, your grandchildren and all who read your book with life lessons that we can apply at a time like this.

Love Always,

Your Daughter, Elsie L. Scott

Congress has more minorities than ever. Can they make a difference?

Reprinted from http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/congress-has-the-most-african-americans-ever-can-they-make-difference

Congress has more minorities than ever. Can they make a difference?
02/05/15 01:45 PM

By Elsie Scott

As the nation begins to celebrate Black History Month, it is a fitting time to note that the 114th Congress has convened with a record number of African American members. For the first time in history, the U.S. Congress has 48 persons of African descent: forty-six in the House (including two non-voting delegates), and two in the Senate. The 114th Congress is also historic because of the record 20 African American women serving in the House.

“The sense of urgency is well placed. The past year has been a stark reminder of the need for a renewed focus on issues that have prevented the nation’s economic recovery from reaching too many black households.”
Elsie Scott
Considering the makeup of the rest of Congress, will the record number of African Americans in Congress make any difference in the everyday lives of blacks and other minorities? The breakdown in the House is 246 Republicans and 188 Democrats; in the Senate there are 44 Democrats, 54 Republicans and 2 Independents. Since all the black members with seniority are Democrats, there will be no African Americans in leadership positions.

Yet, if the African American members of the 114th Congress embrace the founding ethos of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), to serve as the “Conscience of the Congress,” they can have a positive impact on the lives of many African Americans despite their minority status.

That’s true even though close to half of the black members of Congress represent districts that are not predominantly black – meaning their obligations to their constituents may sometimes conflict with their ability to promote an “African American” agenda. Furthermore few of the Republicans presently serving in Congress are cut from the same cloth as former lawmakers Connie Morella, Jacob Javits or Jack Kemp. In fact, a number are Tea Party conservatives who seem intent on thwarting any progressive legislation.

Nevertheless, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), the new CBC Chairman, made clear in his first speech that he and other CBC members did not come to the 114th Congress waving a white flag of surrender. “If anyone has any doubt that this Chairman and this CBC will have any reluctance to fight for our communities,” Butterfield said, “you are mistaken.” He went on to outline an agenda that includes restoring Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, strengthening Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), targeted funding for poverty-stricken communities, and criminal justice reform.

Chairman Butterfield’s sense of urgency is well placed. The past year has been a stark reminder of the need for a renewed focus on issues, from the need for criminal justice reform in cases like the killings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, to a distressing increase in discriminatory voting laws and practices, to the persistent opportunity gaps that have prevented the nation’s economic recovery from reaching too many black households. Fifty years ago, when civil rights advocates fought to pass the Voting Rights Act, their hope was that greater representation in the halls of Congress would lead to greater opportunity, and greater justice.

So it is important to keep in mind that while black lawmakers are a minority in Congress, they make up 10% of the House of Representatives. When the CBC was founded, there were only 13 blacks in Congress, but by presenting a united front they commanded the attention of the president, their colleagues and the country. For example, a boycott of President Nixon’s State of the Union Address convinced Nixon to meet with the CBC.

“When the majority party is looking to pass legislation, or to pass veto-proof legislation, forty votes can form a critical bloc to obtain a majority.”
In the months ahead, black members of Congress can join forces to remove objectionable provisions from proposed legislation. They can add items to bills that are designed to serve and protect the interests of the country’s, poor and underserved citizens, especially its African American citizens. And when the majority party is looking to pass legislation, or to pass veto-proof legislation, forty votes can form a critical bloc that is needed to obtain a majority.

Black members of Congress can also maximize the power of their votes by forming coalitions with groups such as the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) on legislative issues such as voting rights and poverty. Finally, by championing an agenda that advances the causes of equity, protects the rights of low-income Americans, and serves as a voice for the voiceless in the halls of Congress, the black members of the 114th Congress can not only serve as champions for black America, they can be a powerful force for the good of the entire country.

Elsie L. Scott, Ph.D., is the founding Director of the Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center at Howard University, and the former president and chief executive of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation from 2006-2012.