Dream it Forward – John Bunn Tells His Story of Being Jerked Around by the System and How He’s Approaching Life Now

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A Stroke of Courage for Standing Tall

In the space of a week, two stories hit front page news that have people shaking their heads and demanding accountability. First came the tragic death of Botham Shem Jean who was killed in his Dallas apartment under questionable circumstances. His family wants answers as co-workers grieve his loss.

Then came the viral video of John Bunn who was recently released from prison after 27 years for a crime he didn’t commit. These stories once again brought front & center the challenges of the justice system. One person is taken out by a law enforcement officer and the other is jerked around by the system.

It’s hard to imagine being one of those individuals, but it could have been. With Bunn having the murder charge wiped from his record he’s trying to stay positive about his future. In one sense it feels like the system is ‘sorry but not sorry’ when situations like these keep happening. What can we learn from it?

Well there’s the hometown tale of a tourist wanting to know more about making Jerk Chicken. That person asked the question, how do you know which chicken is the jerk before you cook it? But the gravity of these justice matters asks, ‘how do we know the system is jerking folks around before it happens?’

Bunn explained that he was intimidated by a police detective who was someone in a position of power. Some people are made to believe that if they confess that they’d be taken care of. Others have even been tricked into going on record with information that wasn’t really the facts of what happened.

But Bunn is a model of courage that makes him stand tall even in the eyes of J.K. Rowling. Maybe that’s because his new lease on life gives inspiring lessons for living life forward, understanding it backward and enjoying the now. He did time for a wrong he didn’t commit. But he also spends time doing right by:

  1. Setting the record
  2. Dreaming it forward
  3. Squeezing the moment
  4. Breaking the clouds

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(Photo Credit: CNN)

During the court hearing prior to his release Bunn was heard telling the judge that he was confident of his innocence. He knew the truth was on his side and that it would eventually come to light. It’s been said that when you do right it will come to light. Bunn was setting the record straight for himself and the system.

While behind bars he remembers falling in love with reading. He says this gave him the chance to take his imagination beyond the walls. He may not have seen how paying it forward could be of any help at the time. But he made it through his nightmare situation by expanding his mind and dreaming it forward.

Bunn says he wants to use his experience to fulfill a greater purpose. So he started a library program for prisons. He also spends time speaking to elementary school kids about the importance of their education. He’s squeezing the moment by turning tears of pain and anger into life-juice that’s like liquid gold.

These situations tend to leave a cloud hanging over those affected. But Bunn’s doing what pilots do on an overcast day. They use on-board instruments during takeoff. That’s their go-to move for breaking through the clouds. Bunn is using his talents and other human/social instruments for breaking the clouds as well.

The system can never replace the time taken from Bunn. There’re still gaps in justice that can make a grown man cry and should make a caring nation weep. No matter the complication or indignation we have for a lowly or unfair plight, Bunn chose to ‘breath out, breath-in’ to keep his spirits up from the neck up.

Tracks: Zion I Kings – The System ft Pressure & Akae Beka  – https://youtu.be/3ZaHo_UFW0o

Rihanna – American Oxygen – https://youtu.be/Ao8cGLIMtvg

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Aretha Franklin – The Queen of Soul Was Rock Steady from Start to Finish

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Tribute to an Icon Who Made us Groove

Most of us can remember where we were when certain major news stories hit the airwaves. It could be the day of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, the passing of Michael Jackson or Prince. These events leave us thinking about what our loved ones or music icons mean to our everyday experiences.

Then of course there’s the news of the passing of Aretha Franklin. She became known as the Queen of Soul for her musical prowess that started at a young age. But it’s not only remembering where we were when that news first broke. It’s also about how Ms. Franklin made us feel in our coming and going.

Long before Video Music Awards were a thing, Franklin was a chart-topper on the Billboard scene. She became the youngest inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. She’s also the most decorated female Grammy winner of all time. That’s another way for saying Franklin was ‘rock steady’ from start to finish.

As the tributes pour in from past Presidents & showbiz figures, we remember Franklin as a person whose music through soul went beyond the mold. Her work was not limited to one genre of music. Franklin made hits across pop, gospel, R&B, jazz and even a little country. If for nothing else her music had S.A.S.S.

Ms. Franklin didn’t get lost in the diva-girl persona that seems to cloud some artists. Her music was usually built around a Storyline. In some cases it became Anthemic. It had a Soundtrack quality to the groove. But it also had Swizzle by delivering ‘soul with sizzle.’ That‘s the Aretha many came to love.

Recording artists, music industry pioneers and fans might not all agree on whether Michael Jackson was more talented than Prince. But they’ll likely agree that Franklin was in a class of her own. She left us with memories from her music that’ll be around for a long time. She also left us some takeaways from her life.

When it comes to the intersection of American history and pop culture Ms. Franklin might also want us to:

  1. Raise our voice in local as well as high places.
  2. Raise our value in a career game and other spaces.
  3. Raise our volume of impact that leaves a legacy for the ages.

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Franklin had the chance at an early age to develop her singing voice at her father’s Church. After honing her chops there she went on to become a hit-maker and crowd-pleaser. She even had the chance to sing at the Inauguration of President Barack Obama wearing that fancy hat which is now at the Smithsonian.

When you look at her music you find the evolution of a career across three record companies. Columbia Records introduced us to her voice as sales weren’t quite through the roof just yet. Then Atlantic Records took us through mid-career as she became a household name. And still the hits kept coming.

Then there’s the partnership with Arista Records which brought a more hip sound to her music. This is probably the period for which her work speaks volumes. More people both young and old came to fully appreciate her longevity in the music biz. Her Kennedy Center Honors in 2015 was like icing on the cake.

Many remember that moving performance of Natural Woman that had the audience drooling at her feet. Even The Obamas were on a Franklin high. So the jury might be out on whether the favorite female artist these days is Cardi B or Nicki Minaj. But there’s no mistaking that Ms. Aretha Franklin was Soul Sister #1.

Tracks: Jennifer Hudson – I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) – https://youtu.be/6BWU5dCYHkY

Fantasia – Aretha Franklin Tribute – https://youtu.be/bRWzzaB-Png

Lebron James and Dak Prescott Set out to Raise their Impact in the Game and Voice off the Field

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Social Commentary – Common Reasoning

The dust might have settled on news that Lebron James is leaving Cleveland and going to LA. But long before announcing that move, ground was broken for the building of a new school. With the arrival of opening day for the I Promise public school, James hasn’t forgotten that he’s just a kid from Akron.

While NBA basketball is in its off-season NFL football is in its pre-season. The rookies get their feet wet and work thru the early jitters while veterans like Dak Prescott work thru some of the normal drills. Pros like James and Prescott are always looking to raise their impact in the game and voice off the field.

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So it’s not surprising that both would sound-off on matters of social injustice. Prescott’s take on the NFL player protests seems to line-up with those who see it as a distraction where the kneeling has been over-played. He feels it’s time to move-on with the business of scoring touchdowns and winning games.

James says he has become more outspoken since the Trayvon Martin tragedy. This hit close to home because he has two boys. But he’s even more disturbed by how Sports has been used recently by some as a divisive force. He prefers it to be a way to unite and celebrate as a positive force.

One way to look at this ongoing challenge is whether we’re dealing with ‘America Turned-up or America Turned-out.’ The things that James is doing to support and empower his community represent America turned-up. The excitement about his move to the Lakers is certainly going to have fans turned-up.

There’s another side to America we’re seeing lately that feels like America turned-out. Consider the news story of a neighbor calling police on actor Ving Rhames saying he’s an intruder when Rhames was in his own house. It’s a reminder of the cultural perception of ‘white is always right and black is always whack.’

On a deeper level, it’s a hint of what could be happening when we see a mound of dirt around a tree that’s not growing or appears to be dying. At first it might look like a big ants nest. However upon closer inspection by turning over the soil, there’s a whole bunch of insects and worms crawling underneath.

That kind of ‘America turned-out’ might be revealing an underside that’s been underground and has been tuned-over in a divisive social climate. As someone on social media put it, it’s like calling 911 has become customer service for people’s fear, hatred and bigotry. That’s the stuff that’s crawling underneath socially.

James, Prescott and others in pro sports set out to be not just players in the game but also impact players off the field. For them it’s about giving youth the chance to realize their full potential. It’s about helping folks stay on the straight and narrow as opposed to getting caught-up in the crazy of tomorrow.

There’ve been so many stories across the country of people being reported to police for strange reasons. From college campuses to gated communities the social insects & worms have been turned-out. So when we say ‘This is America’ do you see it as America turned-up or America turned-out? It’s a no brainer!

Tracks: DJ Khaled ft Justin Bieber, Quavo & Chance the Rapper – No Brainer – https://youtu.be/kxloC1MKTpg

Rudimental & Major Lazer – Let me Live – https://youtu.be/L08uxunfLi4

How Roger Goodell and Channing Dungey Remind us that The Culture War Impacts American History and Dramatizes the American Story

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Social Commentary – Common Reasoning

In the span of a week we’ve seen hot-button social issues jump-off like popcorn. The responses took center stage in this modern age of social media. With the new NFL ‘kneeling policy’ and ABC canceling of Roseanne we see how the culture war impacts American History and dramatizes the American story.

First, NFL commissioner Goodell announced a new policy that would penalize players who didn’t stand during the national anthem. The Player’s union wasn’t happy to learn about it the same time the rest of us did. Now players will have to protest by remaining in the locker room or suffer the consequences of a fine.

Then there’s ABC’s response to Roseanne Barr’s tweet of a racist remark about Valerie Jarrett who was an official with the Obama administration. The show’s cancellation has caused Barr to suffer the consequences of ‘what was she thinking!’ ABC is saying it’s more than just about branding TV shows.

These days we find there’s a battle for ratings that might get tied-in to the cultural wars of our time. So how did we get here? Some think it’s an aspect of the social backlash coming from some ‘identity’ groups that have been feeling left-out or unheard. But that’s how others have told their story before.

When you flash back over the last 100-year history, you find certain events that might explain the ‘what when and how’ in modern life. Going as far back as pre World Wars there was the period governed by isolationist views of ‘not our problem’. This eventually led to some global clashes we read about in history.

Then there was a period governed by segregationist views of ‘separate and unequal’ in American life. This led to the period of civil rights clashes culminating in the 50s and 60s. More recently it seems nativist views have taken root in a weird sense of patriotist, anti-elitism or even anti-intellectualism.

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The recent decisions by the NFL and ABC Entertainment helped remind us that we’re having ongoing culture wars. In a sense there’s the idea that the First Amendment is in flux. But a more important aspect in the culture wars is seeing how it impacts American history and dramatizes the American story.

Imagine how the protest of NFL players has been turned into a culture war around the anthem or the flag. The real story behind the protest is about civic injustice. Think about how the cancellation of Roseanne might get turned into a culture war of ‘what-about-ism.’ In other words ‘what about this guy or that time.’

It’s like dating over a period of weeks and months. You get to learn bits and pieces of a person’s history. Some of this includes where they were born or where they went to school. You’ll find out more about whether they have siblings. After a while you get to know the essence of a person based on their story.

We appreciate American history by seeing through the plot of the American story. This can help us move past the culture wars. People use patriotism to reflect a sense for the ‘what when how’ in American history. But being in touch with the ‘why’ gives meaning and essence to the American story.

Tracks: Rudimental – Toast to Our Differences – https://youtu.be/o_zg-JLjs5I

Kelly Clarkson – Meaning of Life – https://youtu.be/BspHjvU11y4

What’s Wrong With This Picture of America Being Stuck in the Mud of Mass Tragedy?

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Social Commentary – Common Reasoning

It’s mid-afternoon in another American city with local reports of a high school campus lockdown. In years gone by situations like these were normally done as a response to tornadoes or as a safety drill for potential missile attack. But this most recent incident was a response to an active shooter emergency.

With the increasing frequency of incidents like these any reasonable thinking person might ask the question “what’s wrong with this picture of America being stuck in the mud of mass tragedy?” The statistics get rolled-off like the coverage of a sporting event. Is this a new normal for tragedy tracking?

The usual response from authority figures seems to get repeated. They mention things about the mental state of the alleged shooter or the idea of having more armed guards. But the ‘new normal’ response from these officials to the public is “see something, say something.” The unspoken tip is also “do something.”

Well if that’s what they expect of us as citizens, maybe we should also expect our public officials to model the same message back to us. When they see something that keeps occurring, and after they say something about ‘thoughts & prayers’ they might also do something that leads to a solution.

They might apply the same “see something, say something, do something” advice to protect us as citizens. For some reason there’s a bigger push for a travel ban, or immigration ban but not for a weapons ban. For some reason there’s a bigger push to name and describe the shooter but not the problem.

Many years ago there was a growing concern around highway fatalities. The experts from industry and government took a look at the problem. They concluded that one way to reduce such deaths involved wearing seatbelts. Since then a cultural shift has occurred where wearing a seatbelt is now a no-brainer.

There’re similar actions elected officials could take to address the problem of mass tragedy. For example, money for campaign promises might be better used for school safety or mental health or coping-skills education. But this would require a cultural shift in America where certain changes become a no-brainer.

They say the thing holding back some elected officials is their ties to special interests. Some groups take pride in giving these officials a certain status rating. Maybe there’re two actions we can take as citizens to ‘do something.’ One is a citizens rating for elected officials. The other is to advance a parent revolution.

These steps could lead to Community 3.0, A Better Picture of America.” Think about how smart phones keep upping the picture quality standard. Nowadays you can capture first-rate photos with a better pixel rating of the camera. Well a better citizens rating says elected officials are upping the civic standard.

This way we more clearly see them raising citizens rating before special interests rating. We can work together in listening to the hopes, dreams & fears of our kids. We can teach coping skills and prevent grudges becoming tragedies. This way we can all see something, say something and do something.

The Top Stories of Today that Might Make Dr. King ask ‘What is America’s Blueprint?’ – #HometownChat

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#HometownChat – “Smart Community, Special Service, Civic Dreams”

It’s been a wild and crazy time in social anxiety and political discourse over the past few days, and even over many months. The list of mouth-dropping moments is still growing. As the nation celebrates another Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, many consider throwback moments from his day compared to today.

During his time King delivered inspiring messages of hope and social change. Sometimes it was in written form like his letter from a Birmingham jail. Other times it was through his oratorical genius heard in the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. His life’s work continues to challenge the powerful and empower the masses.

There was his 1967 speech to a Philadelphia High School where he asked students to consider their life’s Blueprint. He told them that it’s important to have a great sense of self-worth as well as a determination to achieve excellence. He also encouraged a commitment to principles of beauty, love and justice.

He ended by saying no matter the challenge whether social or personal, they should just keep moving. That’s a theme that would apply today as we consider top news stories and ask ourselves ‘What is America’s Blueprint?’ The answer needs to be more than just political talking points as we consider:

  1. What gives us the honor of being America the brave?
  2. How do we take pride in being America the beautiful?
  3. How do we improve the standing of America the brand?
  4. What keeps us moving towards being America the best?

A tragic fire in the Bronx a few weeks ago took the life of an American soldier. It was reported he went back in the building many times to rescue others. He lost his life in the process. There’s no question that he was an example of America the brave. He didn’t die fighting a war but warring the fight to save others.

These days there’s a fight for truth on our hands. It takes being ‘America the brave’ where loyalty doesn’t get confused with its newest form of lie-alty. Dr. King once said “To ignore evil is to become accomplice to it.” Well, today he might update those words in saying “To ignore lie-alty is to become accomplice to it.”

The Superbowl show lineup is set to include a performance of America the Beautiful by Leslie Odom Jr. The national anthem will be sung by P!nk and the halftime show featuring Justin Timberlake. But it’s more than just a song and a dance in these performances that will help us take pride in America the beautiful.

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King would remind us that we fall short of America the beautiful if we glorify the flag but decry the ideals of the Constitution. We fall short if we elevate hate but denigrate love. We fall short if we multiply our economics but divide our politics. We fall short if socialism benefits the rich and capitalism hurts the poor.

Some recent news stories make us wonder about the effects on America the brand. Having migrated to the US over 35 years ago, there’s a sense for the ‘before and after’ experience. For many, before coming to America there’s a sense of awe and wonder. After coming to America it’s a sense of wonder and awe.

On the inside you see the winning formula of ‘America the brand’ is its diversity. That diversity is built on being an immigrant nation. So can ‘America the brand’ improve its standing by damaging the winning formula? That’s the question to be answered by political leaders if they want America to keep its magic.

These days King might have a problem with many of the policy reversals underway. America’s history has had its moments of choosing between settling or rising. It’s like a bottle of juice or liquor that sits for a long time. They’ll need a little stirring or shaking-up to get the full measure of taste and enjoyment.

King reminds us that it’ll take a drum major instinct to shake things up, keep things moving and get the full measure of America’s promise. Sometimes it’s being a drum major for dignity, for excellence, for purpose. We get to ‘America the best’ by being a drum major for justice or at least standing up for something.

Tip: We’ll keep celebrating America the beautiful and moving towards America the best by being a drum major for justice or at least standing up for something.

Talkback: How are you being a drum major socially, professionally, in the community or in pop culture?

Tracks: Bob Marley – Keep on Moving – https://youtu.be/tsjVzuUg4qo

Andra Day ft Common – Stand for Something –  https://youtu.be/2GhY7qXGx-0

Trevor Noah & James Corden: Two ‘Outsiders’ Trying to Help America See What’s Happening in the Heart

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#HometownChat – “Smart Community, Special Service, Civic Dreams”

It’s easy to explain to people the things about our nation that bring joy. Whether it’s going to an amusement park, taking a road trip or buying the latest hot gadget, we get to savor some of the best experiences. There’re also jarring moments that leave painful marks in our history or sense of community.

That’s where we find ourselves with recent storms and events outside the norms. You could go down the list of media reports that have left us stunned or in despair. In these times it can be hard to know where to turn. So late night hosts Trevor Noah and James Corden are trying to help America get a grip on things.

As two ‘outsiders’ they remind us of a time in history when their countries fell out of love with everyday citizens. For Noah it was Apartheid in South Africa. For Corden it was from the days of British taxation without representation. Now they’re helping America look at itself in a more up-close and personal way.

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The current political climate suggests a desire for an ‘outsider’ to come in and shake things up. As an ‘outsider’ myself, a real and present need is not to shake things up but to wake things up. That’s what we see in America today. One side wants to stoke America while the other side wants to ‘woke America.’

It’s like kicking the dirt around an ants nest in the ground. At first ants might not be immediately visible. But once the earth has been ‘shook’ they’ll come out of hiding in a kind of frenzy. In a sense that’s been a growing factor in America as underground ‘racial feelings’ are now out and about like surround sound.

One challenge is in how we experience this surround-sound effect. Someone might observe the social messaging and take away a certain theme while someone else receives something else. Why is that? Well it might be due to background or personal experience. This often affects how we hear or see things.

Program visuals or surround-sound effect might also depend on watching with a side-eye or wide-eye view. In America, seeing things with a side-eye cause people to deflect but seeing with a wide-eye cause others to reflect. Some deflect an issue as being about the flag while others reflect on social justice.

When sports figures try to bring attention to these issues they get labelled as disrespectful or unpatriotic. This way of seeing things misses the larger point. Of-course there’s the Constitutional argument of First Amendment rights. But there’s also the practical argument of choosing protest over pretense.

The idea behind peaceful protest is to bring attention to those things that we deny due to pretense. We act as if it doesn’t exist or isn’t a problem. This continued denial can return us to a place of Make America Constipate Again. That’s where we become a society of wedge issues as opposed to one of greater flow.

No matter the social, political or personal issues, we get unstuck by the heart doing more to reflect than to deflect. We do less to stoke America and more to ‘woke America.’ Some think maybe we’re on borrowed time. Hopefully one of those days we’ll experience less ‘Side-eye America’ and more ‘Wide-eye America!’

Tip: The difference between trying to ‘woke America’ and trying to ‘stoke America’ is in how citizens are trained to reflect as opposed to deflect on the issues of our time and of the heart.

Talkback: Which side of the street do you live: Wide-eye America or Side-eye America?

Tracks: Whitney Houston – One of Those Days – https://youtu.be/-GW0jZQSmsw

Wyclef Jean – Borrowed Time –  https://youtu.be/ol0expOXrWA