Archive for the ‘Vernon L. Johnson’ Category

My name is Vernon Lloyd Johnson, and I am many things. A violence prevention advocate and practitioner, a youth initiatives coordinator, and as I like to put it, an interdependent ally. When I was 11 years old, I was robbed and assaulted. It took me awhile to adjust to my surroundings, and to trust the communities I stepped into. I soon realized that being an advocate in Chicago’s violence prevention movement requires me to put it all on the line, and that includes my life, my dedication, words, and attitude. I am okay with that. I can not be afraid or scared of the very people I intend to help. I can not look down upon them and make judgements neither. This is the essence of being an interdependent ally. Other people’s struggles is always connected to your own oppressions, and in unison, you embrace and support one another. There is no neighborhood I will not venture into, and no young person that I do not want to have a profound touch of positivity on.

I recently held peace circles for elementary girls on the west side of Chicago. They are the bright stars I see in the night even if it is still daytime to them. There are so many trauma informed situations, environmental, and societal issues that restrain Chicago youth from reaching their potential. I call it ecological oppression. Oppression at a multitude of levels that creates a negative and lasting perception that these young people begin to internalize. Those young girls have already seen many forms of interpersonal violence, bullying, loss of loved ones to violence, jail, or due to health-related ailments. They suffer the brunt of emotional, psychological and physical abuse from those who have issues that they wrongly displace upon them. Communities are ravaged by poverty, health disparities, and other issues. Amidst all of this, these young girls were able to tell me their stories. I told them that I saw them as royalty for having the bravery to share their experiences. Their puffy wet eyes looked up with a spark of surprise and an awkward feeling of happiness and peace they did not foresee. There has to be a reclaim on hope and value of life for our young people. The human spirit is the only unbeatable variable on earth. That ideology has to filtrate from the individual, to the community, and to the policies that effect people so that we may see the positive social change we all yearn for in the great city of Chicago.

-Vernon

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Have you ever seen the movie the “Matrix?” It is a sci-fi action thriller that took on an interesting plot and scenario. Essentially, people were plugged into machines to have their lives simulated. Neo or “The One” has figured out that his reality is not reality. He can see and alter the actual coding in the simulated environment, to make it simple, he the shit. We should all aim to have that perspective as Neo did. Although, that clout of perception can be disguised in a multitude of ways. In the movie, some people did not want to wake up out of the pseudo-reality they created for themselves, and would even try to stop or kill Neo in his fight against the machines. This introductory story will prove noteworthy later on.

I have a short list of guilty pleasures that includes watching reality televisions shows that have demonized African-Americans, I log into World Star Hip-Hop which includes a bevy of topics such as sex, violence, ignorance, constant objectification (women, men, children, etc.), and more violence and sex. I see these things as a mixture of curiosity and allowed ignorance on my part. Yes, allowed ignorance, this is something that I just made up. I think it is a credible word. To me, it means that I am self-aware of the digressive act I am about to partake in, but I do not internalize it. That means I can watch these things, and you will not hear nor see the effects of what I have seen infused into my thought process and actions in my life. Whereas some folks watch these things on television, and internalize what they are seeing into their thought process in having a relationship, how to raise children, how to dress, and even how to talk to people when situations have heightened (it seems fighting is the only answer on most these shows). Another bothersome factoid is how people in similar situations as these reality TV stars are the main ones who criticize them. That is an another blog post in itself in the sheer lack of vulnerability and ownership of one’s actions and feelings. The television shows fail to show the majority of people who have similar situations. For instance, if you are a man who is playing several women (Stevie J), and have several children, a television character may make this look appealing (he usually has a lot of money or makes you perceive that). Some real men may try to live out this fantasy to only have made things more difficult for themselves and those around them. In reality, many of these same types of men in similar situations suffer from depression, no employment, child custody battles, little time to see their children, little education, and have turmoil in their relationships with their partners. It creates a revolving cycle of bullshit. Please excuse my French. These are the vertical messages being fed into society. There are more stereotypes, generalizations, and people who gave up in fighting those stereotypes and generalizations. This is where people lose sight.

Some people do not know how to tell the difference or even worse, do not want to tell the difference. Remember the movie “The Matrix?” The scariest people are those who recognize and act on their ignorance and ratchedness a midst the consequences. Is this not similar to the behavior of many people we see in reality television shows? The hordes of people who yell “Worldstar” as they record an event that could lay them behind bars? I guess there are folks who are Neos, some who are agents, and some who are people who do not want to wake up. Which one are you? I do not want people to feel bad for watching these things (I don’t!), instead, I pray you have the vision to know the difference. Love, hope, charity, and faith.     

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Your life’s value in this world is like tomorrow…it never ends…

I was unemployed at the end of September 2012 from my previous position. It came at a vulnerable time for me, and came fast. Because of the complexity of bureaucracy, I along with two of my co-workers lost our jobs. Due to our supervisor’s pride and mismanagement, as innocent bystanders, we lost our positions. Immediately, I could not but help to think about my co-workers who had major obligations that I don’t have (homes, family supplement income, car payments, etc.). I also thought about how my money helps those around me time to time. I guess I care more for those around me than myself, especially when it comes to a fruitless commodity like money. I was not upset at my former supervisor, instead I’m thankful for her. She gave me a job before I even graduated with my master’s. The essence of God’s love is forgiveness, and moving beyond a trapped mentality of man’s blind anger. I’m free and a man who struggles to progression, but makes the effort regardless without excuses. My worth is not solely economic. I did think about student loan payments, bills, etc. I didn’t let it consume me. I think in terms of confidentiality of your situations, it’s best to find a resolution before telling the masses. Even with the money, I didn’t let it consume me because humility of the past would not let me. Instead, as ALWAYS even when no tragedies have not taken place, I prayed.

I think sometimes as a black man, my culture and peers take money to the pinnacles of extremes. Some folks actually condense their lively worth into employment. This comes to no surprise due to the images and many interpersonal interactions and responsibilities that demand such thinking to take place. It sickens me. It can be demoralizing losing your job, but some people are not equipped for adversity. I poured faith over it all. I know good hearts may not get everything their way, but I know people with intrinsic motivation and perseverance can work through those hardships. I know people who have, which springs hope. Even without those examples, my faith would be unwavering. I have had tougher situations in my way both internally and in our world. There have been times when I wanted to smell and see blood pour, but weakness will then overflow within me. God and love would no longer dwell in my heart. I think part of this is why I am at peace with death and reciprocally so, living. The love and faith I have is limitless, it can only be conjured and illustrated through dreams. I say this deep stuff to point out that life is more than the money in your pocket or the job you have. Furthermore, money does not guarantee happiness. Often times braggadocios folks long for the relationship you have with your partner, the humility and confidence you display, the warmth and peace in your heart, thus your demeanor, or your unselfish attitude, even if it is for their benefit. Essentially, things without empirical value.

A great book to read is called, “The Wealth Cure,” by Hill Harper. He talked about how he was diagnosed with cancer and the materialistic items a day before his diagnosis he savored, was now obsolete in importance. After his successful surgery, he worked on things that didn’t need money, thus, real wealth. He worked out more, ate healthier, worked on some internal battles to become a better man (being in healthy relationships, put aside pride, being with family, assumptions and judgments of people eliminated, etc.). I remembered how lucky I am to have the people I have in my life, the opportunities I have, the short and long-term goals I have accomplished and will do in the future, my faith, and my constant journey towards being uplifted with peace as the by-product. I have learned to persist as a method of utility, no matter the situation.

People often let situations define them, then they are set on a path for a future of disappointment. I see this daily, and it can be hard, but it is harder for a single mother who is in your situation without education or a support system. It is harder for someone who has a felony record, and wants to do right, but is discouraged when filling out an application. It is harder for someone who grew up in DCFS, and has no family or mentors to show them what to do. My future is nothing but bright colors on a canvas going in different directions and patterns, but bright. Our journey never ends with tomorrow, this keys my excitement. Being pessimistic is not an excuse to be negative. It is hard for us all, so shut the hell up. Be appreciative for breath. Be grateful for your family and friends. Have faith. Do these things always and not just when something bad happens on your end. The test of humility is a lifetime ordeal, and not just in moments. In terms of my employment, check my LinkedIn. But to summarize that, a circle of people who were unselfish intertwined and placed in my life by the act of transference, all gave my rose color. Share my story…

-Vernon Johnson

“One ever feels his twoness, –an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” -W.E.B. Du Bois

This quote from W.E.B. Du Bois’s Souls of Black Folk, illustrates in a few phrases the struggles and victories I have learned and navigated thus far in my professional career. I’m not a seasoned vet when it comes to professional experiences, but I have constantly strived and succeeded in my ventures not for my own selfish aspirations, but to obtain the things every American wants, freedom, liberty, and happiness.

I have experienced racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice that have haunted the duality of my identity in the workplace. This is how the world is unfortunately; people do not care about your feelings, you getting opportunities, or your education and experience. Some people rely on their privilege more than anything to get them through. Social capital serves privileged individuals well, meaning there are people who have high paid positions just because they know someone and have no practical or educational experience in that area.

As a black man, it is incredibly difficult. Some people would rather you do service type of jobs your whole life no matter your educational experience, than for you to step foot in a corporate setting. Glass ceilings are hexed onto you; Furthermore, you have to have tough skin. Once in these types of environments, you must be this asexual, kind, welcoming, and non-aggressive being. You are automatically seen as a sexual white flesh-eating predator who is mildly aggressive. You are thought of as dumb, in capable, and lazy. You will inherit much responsibility, and little authority or respect. Praise is non-existent, but more so, constant criticism will be sent your way. I have been attacked in front of and behind my back. People (no matter color, gender, age, etc.) may become jealous of you. I have been thought of as a future failure or wished failure upon. I never reveal too much of my capabilities or networks to people, some folks think they have you figured out. In reality, I have taken very meticulous and planned out steps in my approach. I thank God for giving me the innate ability to sense out people. You will know who is in your corner, and who is not in your corner.

I have been in the middle of awkward racist jokes, I have received looks from people that only can indicate they are looking at a violent and ugly being, some women being afraid of me walking behind them in the workplace, and those moments where you are blamed just because. I’ve been questioned rudely by those who do not possess a master’s degree in my field or do not care if you do. At times, I try to not resort to indirect racism or sexism, but after analyzing the situation, it is. What do I do? I continue to proceed with my actions being respectful, assertive, honest, and do my work with fidelity and rigor. Furthermore, I break stereotypes instead of perpetuating them because I have internalized them or need to act out as a statement of rebellion. Also, I leave my work at work. Humility comes to mind. People want you to act out the stereotypes that face you. Sometimes people will say, “Don’t you get sick of it? Don’t you just want to spaze out, your human!” The answer here is, “of course I do.” If I were in a true state of power or owned my own company, I would act accordingly to those abrasions. Even then, caution must be applied. When you are just beginning and trying to climb the ladder of society’s power structure, you have to make all the right moves. Otherwise, the consequences can be dire. I make it a point to climb that ladder so that I may make the social and policy changes needed to help people who are oppressed. It is my duty to do and be my best.

There have been many who want to keep you at the lowest level of the tandem pole. They expect you to not seek opportunities. How do you go against such a power structure that is meant to keep you out? You work hard, you seize opportunities, and you never give up. Something other than materialistic possessions has to be your motivation. For me, it is my friends, family, my future partner, and my own future family. You cannot expect for these things to come to you, but in the same breathe, you must help those around you to grow and uncover the blindfold from their eyes. Knowing that you can accomplish anything you want in this world is some people’s greatest fear, and your greatest victory.

 

Your Love Never Fails…

Observations seem to be my new vice. I observe everything from people to little bugs climbing through a tiny crevice on an oak tree. I have admiration for the imperfections I see, and I have come to the conclusion that perfection cannot be achieved, but only strived for. There will always be problems. You may have a great job, but you may not have a partner to be happy with and vice versa. Some people are so interesting, and have so many good things to say that could shape and help people’s perceptions on life. Instead, in some instances, people are reluctant to make themselves vulnerable or humble to share the real or hurtful experiences in their lives. People instead hide behind a façade of non-emotional walls that makes for more internalized pain and struggle.

These are the horrid results of  receiving horizontal communication, the elusiveness of having respectability for one’s beliefs and actions. I sometimes wonder if people are so empty that declarative statements such as, “All men ain’t shit,” “Imma do me till the end,” “Fuck these hoes,” etc. are only cover-ups for the emotionally tightly packed luggage that got lost in the baggage claim. Some men cry and are hurt by things done to them, but society and unsafe environments won’t allow for sentimental displacement of these feelings. Some women unfairly and sometimes unknowingly box men into traps of hyper masculinity (violent, aggressive, dangerous). I.e. “I need someone who can put me in my place if I get out of hand.” These type of stereotypes are harmful and take away from the good authentic men in our communities.  Chris Hedges hints at this indulgence into celebrity culture and make believe as the, “Empire of Illusion.” There are good men out there who don’t have a fancy car or money, but may be well educated and will surely surpass many others in due time or what I like to call having “progressive potential.” There are great women out there, whose worth is not formulated on their clothing, sexual past, or any other misogynistic characteristic that is the basis for their potential as a partner.

I know my examples may have a heteronormative sentiment, but believe these traits can exist in any type of relationship. We must remember, masculinity and femininity are gender-based (learned) behaviors. Simply, these are examples of how materialistic and unsubstantiated thoughts can hinder the love people seek so much, and ultimately, what everyone wants. Pride can be the blockage to Maslow’s self-actualization in the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It essentially comes down to this, when you place materialistic and unproven material ahead of people’s intangible potential and goodness, you lose before you begin. Frank Ocean’s “Scared of Beautiful” sums it up beautifully. “Scared of the good more than the evil, scared of the light more than dark, scared of the truth so much more than the lie. I’m scared for you…I’m scared of you…scared of beautiful.”

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Robert Griffin III. There are many roles that fit the mold of presumably, one of the best college quarterbacks to come out in years. He can be described as a Heisman trophy winner, soon to be husband (with a white woman, plays into public scrutiny), son of a two-parent household, exemplary teammate, and is of “bad character?” Does that even sound right? There were unanimous reports of some NFL scouts accusing RGIII of being selfish and not having the greatest character. When these reports were released, I instantly thought back to the first black heavyweight world-boxing champion, Jack Johnson. When you hear comments like that and see the confusion of most analysts from such comments, you cannot help but to see race as the central issue. Many analysts play around this, and will say absurd things like, “Race is definitely not the case.” This only ignores the elephant in the room and does a disservice to society at large. Jack Johnson was braggadocios, married white women, was rich, laughed and smiled in interviews, beat white men in the ring to claim the title, and was a black man born in the great state of Texas. White society at large hated Jack Johnson, and since Jack Johnson, has implemented policies and generalized mannerisms to combat this.  Even when you are sound in physical ability and character, it is not good enough. You will still be criticized and questioned in your demeanor and character. There is a fear of the potential of Robert Griffin III due to the fact he may do it all. He may become one of the greatest quarterbacks in the NFL, and afterwards, go on to have a career in politics by utilizing his degree in political science. When you are a black man in America who possesses human and social capital, you become unstoppable and feared incredibly at the same time. There’s a fear that daughters of white men will love RGIII as a man (not just as a physical sexual specimen or mandingo), that he could voice his opinions on social issues due to his high cognitive abilities, or that he needs to be compared to top quarterbacks or white quarterbacks I should say such as Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers instead of Michael Vick or Cam Newton (black quarterbacks). All this meanwhile,  former top pick quarterback Ryan Leaf is indicted on charges of breaking entry into homes in Montana and steals medications. Although, many sports news outlets make time to run segments on RGIII’s bad character…

The Instagram epidemic (a mentality) is a continued and unfortunate trend that I see amongst my peers and those alike, the idea of class warfare being translated into the realm of social media is scary. Instagram is only an example of this type of starvation for gratification through the verbal demonization of other people’s stake in the social media climate. People like entitlement so much, reality is viewed in disillusion.

To update you, Instagram was the 2011 iOS (Apple) app of the year.  The app essentially allows for a person to take pictures with prefixed color and photo enhancement settings. It also allows for a community of iPhone users to follow a person, very similar to Twitter. You may have noticed a key detail from this information; Instagram was originally for iPhone users in the beginning. Recently, they have released a version that is for Android users. Twitter world was met with much happiness and an overwhelming amount of anger. The anger stemmed from mostly iPhone users who now felt their beloved app was convoluted by “poor” and “plentiful” Android users. The iPhone tends to be a more expensive phone because of the hardware and demand. The Android phone is more diverse since it is software based and not constrained to one hardware maker. Nonetheless, both phones are excellent communication devices for any type of buyer. Android phones actually can cost as much or more than an iPhone depending on the model. Android devices also provide options to multiple service providers that may not be the industry best such as AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, or T-Mobile. Thus, the “poor” Android faithful sentiment. The amount of stereotypes and generalizations around this is problematic as you can see.

In observing the anger on Twitter, I could not see nothing but a fight for class that many people do not even fight for in their realities of life. Instead, just like the ease of daily vulgarity via the Internet, people take to the net for their lack of self-progression in dealing with situations within themselves. People are dealing with the glim realities of life everyday that deserve a voice or effort put into them (Chicago violence, financial burdens, shit that just stresses you out, loss of family member or friend, your children’s schools, policies, etc.). The problem arises from this “sticking of the nose” in the air of your peers when exclusivity is warranted. To take this further as it relates to class and race, most of my peers and followers are people of color. It attributes to this growing problem of energy being put into deductive behaviors in communities instead of reductive ideas. My identifying group and any for that matter, cannot afford to keep up such a demeanor. The developers of such an app are riding on more wealth and white privilege than ever, while I see the majority of my followers squabble amongst each other. This has happened historically repeatedly through policies that have created social norms that can be harmful in communities of color. When you point this out, people will say that the community did it to themselves, and thus, exit their blame. Dividing yourself within your own identifying group can be harmful, especially when it comes to materialistic things such as Instagram. There is no need for an ethnocentric mantra to be implemented here or anywhere. The people who get it did not get upset; instead they concentrated their efforts in something of relevance and had another day. This should translate to all things by retaining in a state of humility.