2016: A Year of Positive, Accelerated Change

Most of you know that I’m a much more spiritual than religious person.  I have my beliefs and my faith that have served me greatly for almost 58 years.  I don’t go to church regularly, but I watch Joel Osteen on occasion.  I’ve seen him twice and I’ve gotten some good sermons from him recently.  One talk in particular proclaimed this year as one of accelerated goodness and healing, and I embrace it, especially for my mom and other members of my family, as they deal with some particularly tough challenges now in their lives.

Those of us from my generation have seen so many wonderful, uplifting, and enlightening changes, living in no doubt the greatest country in the world.  My testimony is that I’ve had a truly blessed, exciting, and wonderful life because of what’s available to people like myself in the USA.  I have always been provided for.  You know how it is when you’re blessed with good parents.  My God started me out with not only the best parents, but also with wonderful siblings, grandmothers, and great grandmoms!  He connected me with the best friends, teachers, professors, and extended family a person could ask for.  He gave me television, computers, ventilators, electric wheelchairs, cars, and airplanes that got me to Cal Berkeley, UCLA and USC, as well as social workers, concerts, cultural events, and political awareness.  What a life I’ve had SO FAR.

Thankfully, my mom has survived three surgeries for her back this year.  She’s presently back at home with my dad and on the mend.  Hopefully, we’ll be seeing her in California sometime this spring.  I haven’t seen her since last June.  Although we talk frequently (daily), I miss that uplifting and rejuvenating energy that a child gets (no matter what age) from an unconditional mom’s love.  She’s truly my earthly life source, like a car generator.  We need to be together to charge each other up.  My lifelong friend Robin, who I love dearly, had a similar back surgery and is recovering in her upstairs apartment in the valley.  She’s my most faithful/spiritual friend (Hyacinth, you’re a close second).  I wish I could do even more to help my mom and Robin during their recoveries.  I’m sure though that prayers and good thoughts have carried both of these women through their challenging surgeries and in this accelerated year, will bring them better health and more comfortable mobility.  They both have many people dependent and reliant on their positivity to make it through!

Other than visiting her children and grandchildren on the west coast, my mom has a really chaotic and desperate election to get involved with.  This electoral season needs her experience, wisdom, and influence desperately!  My bias leads me to believe that some accelerated change is needed, given the mockery that Donald Trump and the Republican party are making of this critical election.  I believe Democrats have two better candidates.  They almost cancel each other out though, harping on their differences and jockeying for the lead position.  Sanders has many great ideas, but America is a democratic state, “supposedly.”  Sanders will have even worse luck dealing with a Republican Congress to get his ideas and policies implemented.  Like Barack Obama (whose journey to the White House and grace through pressure and prejudice I have been so blessed to share and observe), Bernie, a Jewish-American, would make history were he to win the election.  Yet Bernie has been in politics for years, with marginal positive impact.  Although he will have familiarity with the political process, his voice will be muted and his effect will be diminished by the conflicting Republican reality.

Of course Hillary has her issues too.  While super intelligent, she’s also sometimes stubborn and doesn’t always connect as well with the electorate at large.  Yet she’s connected to the best part of the establishment and most importantly, she’s a woman and we need that change right now.  I think America can be made better by her representing some of the more positive female leaders of the past and present in the world.  I hope that the electorate gives her a vote of confidence, knowing she’s a positive piece of clay that can be molded into something extraordinary if given the chance.  The alternatives we can’t afford.

Now is the time that we need some positive accelerated change to make our domestic and international positions more secure and help us achieve a more just society.  We need a forward thinking administration to address real problems in our country and save the lives of men, women and children in dire need.  We need to affirm the right to equality for men, women, and children of all kinds.  That’s what our president and our electoral system is supposed to be about.   We need a president that can encourage the electorate to vote in better senators and congressmen and women as well as local politicians so they can deal more effectively with local matters such as the recent water crisis in Flint, Michigan.  I remember Jesse Jackson saying when he was running for President that America “can be better than this.”  I embraced it then and I still believe it now.

Barack has done some great things, Obamacare, same-sex marriage, among others.  He is now perhaps in the midst of his greatest political fight and challenge as he tries to achieve political cooperation in order to select a moderate Supreme Court justice who will be accepted collectively and will look at the Constitution as the great document that it can be, not the conservative restrictive document that it’s being presently interpreted as.  Hopefully, we’ll get a Supreme Court that will even more fully champion equality and civil rights for everyone.  If he isn’t able to win this fight, hopefully our next President will be able to achieve this vision.

Lastly, some congratulations are in order.  First, to Peyton Manning.  I guess it wasn’t Cam Newton’s time to reign victorious over the NFL.  God willing, he’ll have other times, like other great quarterbacks have.  Peyton is a great example of overcoming challenges to receive destiny.  And also, congratulations to my friend Brian on finding a house where he can hopefully find great happiness and inclusiveness, which he deserves.  He’s so great to me!

Thanks for listening to my opinions and hopes for the future.  I love all of you for sticking with me, reading me, and encouraging me to keep going.  Your prayers and positive thoughts are highly effective.  I love all of you!

Always,
DJ

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Thanksgiving 2015

DJ – thank you for the [holiday message], and, for your words of wisdom, insight, and, thank you for being you – my friend, my mentor in many ways, and most of all my brother!!

Your strength, love, spirit and wisdom has been not only a source of uplifting blessing for me – but also for my two now young-adult children, particularly as they have struggled through growing into a young man and young woman in this crazy world of instantaneous communication and judgement – trying to make sense of their self, their role in life and their purpose.  You continue to be that source of grounding and strength for them, and for me, whether it is your words in conversation – your emails like below – your simply DJ – the thought of you and your spirit!

I am indeed thank for the Angel that you are in my life – for being part of my family – for being part in particular of my children’s lives – and most of all for being you!
Much love, God bless and hope to see you soon!
Fraternally always!!
You are loved DJ!
Ben

From DJ’s friend Larry

DJ,

“I LOVE YOU” !!!. Far more than you can imagine. I’ve never met a more Loving, Caring,Human than you in all of my travels, and experiences.You demonstrate the utmost in “BALLS” in facing up to,and circumventing the roadblocks,and trials put before you,while focusing on other peoples problems,rather than dwelling on your own.

 I only wish that I was strong enough to exhibit a small percentage of the Love and devotion to others that you unwaveringly exude.You are a constant inspiration to me,and other in our crew,as we move around the world making music. We think,and talk about you a lot,even if we don’t always take the time to stay in touch as often as we would like.

GOD BLESS YOU.

LOVE,

Ragman,Roberta,Roy,Marsh,Justin,Sullivan,Quincy etal.  

“Trying times” means “keep on trying – don’t give up”

I’m troubled by the recent decision by the grand jury in Cleveland, OH, where the group of policemen were not indicted or substantially reprimanded for the killing of an unarmed African American, contributing to the further devaluation of African American and other minority lives.  Also alarming were the cases in Baltimore and Ferguson, MO, which erupted into public disobedience due to frustration stemming from the incident.  We’re still waiting for the verdict of the grand jury and investigation in the case of a 12 year old African American boy in Cleveland.

I’m turning 57 years old next month and have seen much police brutality throughout most of my life.  One of the earliest encounters I had was when my godbrother, Steven Russell, was killed by a police officer while in high school, unarmed and on route to the arcade from an after-school job.  His killer was not indicted and the whole process of investigation was heavily weighted toward accusing the victim, not much unlike the recent Trayvon Martin case in Florida.

All of this victimization and racial abuse seems even more sad in the times of an African American president.  The kind of disrespect and false accusations that have been hurled at him for the past six and a half years create the kind of climate where diminishing the value of African American lives is acceptable.  If the person holding the highest office in the U.S. can be disrespected, ridiculed, and made less of by his political peers and the common man, what chance do regular “John Q. Public” African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and homeless have to be treated with respect and common decency from police officers and the military establishment?  What kind of message does this send to all of our young people?  What type of stability does this establish for the foundation of households and domestic relationships?  It’s a disheartening time.  It seems like Eric Holder was just beginning to scratch the surface on developing policy that could lead to fundamental change in how the political and punitive systems deal with lesser enfranchised people.  I can only hope that Loretta Lynch can continue his investigations and add to the development of more positive and fair treatment of my brothers and sisters.

Social media, cell phone cameras, and other technologies are going to help eliminate the problem.  Eventually, the right type of evidence from the wrong kind of victims is going to be made available and ignite even further social unrest.  I’m hoping and praying that better policy and more egalitarian treatment take place before things get any worse.

I love you all.  Thanks for reading.  Let’s make it better!

Mothers mean so much!

Our mothers have taught us how to love ourselves and others.  They’ve been there for us and they’ve taught us how to be there for others we care about.  They’ve been examples and shown us how to live with the best and the worst of times.  We’ve also seen them endure hardships of their own and those of the people they care about.  One of the first and most consistent lessons that I learned from the man I admire most in my life, my father, was to always care for, support, and revere my mother (“you only get one” he would say).  He not only told me that but he showed me how by the way he loved and supported my grandmother.

All of you that read my messages, check out my Facebook, or view my webpage know how much my mother and grandmothers mean to me.  My mother has been a great source of support, love, strength, and kindness my entire life.  Despite the challenges that come from growing older, retirement, and helping her children through their different difficulties, my mom continues to set a stellar example of grace, dignity, intelligence, and kindness for me, my brother, and her grandchildren.  Even though it’s time for her to focus on herself and her needs, my mother continues to call me twice a day and interact with my friends and caregivers, making sure that I’m being taken care of.  She’s also in constant touch with my brother to make sure that he, his wife, and their children are OK, happy, and well taken care of.

My mom’s been having a particularly difficult time with her health these last couple of years.  We’ve all been supporting and praying for her as she continues to fight head on these challenges to reach a healthier and happier place in her life.  Nothing makes me more proud of my father and my brother than the way they are supporting my mom.  I’d appreciate all of you that read this to think a blessed thought of healing and contentment for my mom at this time, as I do for all of you.

Those unable to have a good relationship with their mother spend much of their life trying to fill that void.  Those who have lost their mothers realize how difficult it is to cope, especially without faith.  I have a friend who recently lost her mother, who was supportive and dedicated to her and her children throughout their lives.  I have another friend who recently lost his wife, the mother of his children.  He continues to represent her memory by being the kind of father and grandfather to their children and grandchildren that we would all cherish.

What I’m trying to say is, no matter what, a good mother, like a faithful God, is the gift that keeps giving.  Although we should do it more often, I think we should take this time to extend our appreciation, love, affection, and gratitude to that person that we mean so much to.

I love you guys!  Thanks for reading.

Wynton Marsalis on DJ

Quote

For about one and a half hours after the gig in San Diego on Saturday night, I stood on the sidewalk outside the backstage area with about sixty high school age students, their band directors and chaperones, signing autographs, taking pictures and fielding questions about everything from, “Should I whip my younger brother’s behind for x, y and z?” to “How many hours did you practice when you were my age?”

As the group wound down and I got into the car to leave, there were three sixteen year-old kids (they looked about that age) that asked for a picture. There was one who was very deeply engaged and he asked, “What does it take to be a really good musician?” I thought for a little while before answering, giving him the impression that I would provide some unknown and highly valuable key and said “You have to WANT to be.”

He searched my eyes for a second as if to say, “Man, are you messing with me?” Sensing his skepticism I said “No, lil’ brother. If you really want to be that good, you will figure out whatever you have to, to be what you want to be.” In the moment I tried to think of some analogy or story to help make the point more simply, but I couldn’t find a good one.

Little did I know that the next day as we pulled into the hotel in Northridge we would be greeted in the lobby by DJ Riley.

DJ is an intellectual of the first order. He is a connoisseur of culture, has been a good friend of JALC from the very beginning and is a purveyor of deep-rooted soul. He suffers from Morquio Syndrome, and has been in a wheelchair with very little limb movement since childhood. You wouldn’t know it by how much smack he talks, but I know it was a challenge for DJ to be here today. He lives in LA, and it takes a lot of planning for him to get around.

He is a broad and long-term thinker, who gives unerring and aggressively positive advice. Any opportunity to hang with him is to be cherished. So far, he has outlived his life expectancy by about 25 years.

I start out by saying to him, “Man, I wish you would have told me you were coming.” And he asks “Why? So you could convince me not to come?”

We talk about everything from the hood to Putin to education reform. He is a true blues man: “Yes, stuff is messed up out here but: Everything gon’ be alright this mornin’. Everything gon’ be alright.”

I’m reminded of a dance the LCJO played in the late 90’s out here in California. It was well attended and well under way, but still the people were just standing around being too shy to get out on the floor. Suddenly, DJ breaks out there scooting around with his electric wheelchair, doing his thing. It was the damnedest sight. Truly poetic. He actually got people out on the floor from a wheelchair.

After the gig as we all laughed and teased him about his dancing style, we asked him, “Why did you do it?” He said, “Man, I came here to dance. That’s what I wanted to do and that’s what I did. Y’all was swingin’. Herlin man! He was playing those drums.”

Yeah, DJ and I laughed thinking back on it. And I remembered that teenager from the night before who was looking for more out of my answer. I should have told him about DJ.

It’s now 4:00 pm and time for DJ to leave and for us to go to sound check. He only speaks in a whisper, so he signals for me to get close enough to hear. “When y’all come around Los Angeles, just assume I’m coming.”

That’s what I should have told the youngster.
~Wynton

DJ-27