Three Tableaus: Three Purpose-Driven Lives Updated

It’s time to Break It Down!

I originally penned this post over 10 years ago. When I did, the third Tableau lauded my first cousin, Jesse, and his wife Jean, on the occasion of his 75th Birthday, and their 50th Wedding Anniversary. Fast forward 10 years, and nearly three months ago, I had the unmitigated pleasure of being a part of the posse of family and friends that feted them on his 85th Birthday and their 60th Anniversary.

The essence of this post reprises its 2009 progenitor. To close the loop, I amended today’s blog to incorporate this year’s signal observances. Thanks for your indulgence.

Usually this space is reserved for stories of national interest or importance. Occasionally, I have adjusted the focus and turned the lens on people that I know personally, and that most of you don’t; people such as my family and friends as it were. This is one of those instances.

Over the past three weeks I have had reason to reflect upon the concept of mortality, and to contemplate the quintessential and age-old question, “What is the meaning of life?” In acknowledging three separate events, and witnessing two incredibly powerful and special occasions, I joined a throng to say farewell to a dearly departed friend, and partook of an intimate evening with several of my closes relatives, aimed at toasting and celebrating two remarkable milestones.

On Memorial Day I traversed the State (North Carolina) to attend a Memorial Service in Rocky Mount, commemorating the life and accomplishments of a former colleague and friend. Her name was Pamela; she was struck down by cancer at age 46. The temptation is to say that is far too soon for anyone to die. In response to those who do, people of faith offer the reminder that an omnipotentomnipresent, and especially omniscient God is simply too wise to err. And so, it must be, quite simply, an element of the fulfillment of his grand and splendid Master plan.

Perhaps that is why a crowd estimated at more than 1,000 came to say good-bye. Or maybe that is why a diverse group consisting of nearly a dozen men and women approached the podium and sang, paid tribute, and offered remarks that reverently expressed their affection, appreciation, and adoration for her having shared with them individually and collectively, a life well-lived. Just possibly, that is why, even though the sanctuary was filled to capacity at least an hour before the service, the people stayed until the end, to pay their respect to a woman who quietly went about changing the very fabric of communities across the Upper Coastal Plains Region of North Carolina, which includes Edgecombe, Halifax, Nash, Northampton, and Wilson Counties.

On April 3, 1968, the day before he would be killed, The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous Mountaintop speech in Memphis, Tennessee; the last one he would give. In the speech, Dr. King noted, “Longevity has its place. But I’m not worried about that now.” At some point, Pam knew longevity would not be her lot. But she did not waste time fretting about things over which she had no control. There was too much work left to be done to achieve her purpose. So she soldiered on, working to make like better for others. Pam lived a Purpose-Driven Life. I am honored to have known and worked with her, but more than that I am grateful, as part of my purposeGod saw fit for another former colleague and me to be among the throng to say one last good-bye, and to join in celebrating Pam’s life and many good works.

In the movie “The Lion King,” one of the songs on the soundtrack, and one of the fundamental themes of the movie is, The Circle of Life. Stated in basic terms, the concept of the Circle of Life means no one lives forever, but if you have done your duty while on earth, you will have imparted key information to others to carry on when you are gone. Some like Pam are given relatively little time to achieve that purpose.

That’s where my first cousin Jesse and his wife Jean enter the picture. Saturday evening I traversed the State again, this time to Durham. The occasion for this trip incorporated two signal events. My cousin Jesse (Bud, as he was affectionately known when I was growing up) observed his 75th birthday last Monday, and on SaturdayJean and he commemorated their 50th Wedding Anniversary. Actually, those are more than an observance and/or a commemoration; those are both worthy of celebration, and that is precisely what our family members did Saturday.

Jesse and Jean have two children and four grandchildren, and the entire brood was present, and joyfully accounted for, understandably. Everyone made a big fuss, which, naturally, made Jean and Jesse uncomfortable. But there were more of us than there were of them, so they really did not have much of an alternative. The grand kids lauded them with poetry, including a Haiku. Their children took lots of pictures, and made a gift to them of the brand new camera. This was significant because Jean had insisted “no gifts.” Again, what was she going to do? She was outnumbered.

Jean and Jesse have led incredible lives. Both HBCU graduates, they raised a beautiful family, made successful careers, retired and lived to tell about it, and now they regularly make themselves busy, doing among other things, doting on their grandchildren, traveling, catching up with their many friends and relatives, and continuing to pursue their own unique and special “Purpose-Driven Lives.”

Jesse and Jean were married June 6, 1959. When they arrived at 1006 Lincoln Street, in Kinston, North Carolina, my Uncle Jesse and Aunt Kate’s home (Jesse’s parents), I was there to greet them. For the 50 years that have ensued since then, Jesse, has loomed a giant of a man in my life; one of my favorite cousins, a great friend, and a role model, whom I revere ‘til this day. He and his loving bride Jean are among the regular readers of this blog. They will be surprised I wrote this, and Jean, especially, will say I should not have…in full blush, and mean it. I can’t really say I outnumber them, so I suppose it’s fortuitous that I am 140 miles away. Alas, there was still not much she could do to stop me. Moreover, I do not have an apology, but rather a declaration: “I love you both, Jean and Jesse!”

So what of mortality? As I think about the way they lived, and/or are living their lives, it is clear that no matter whether life is short or long, we are called upon to make a difference. The traditional expression of this theme is “to leave the world a better place than you found it.” There is no doubt in my mind Pam did that. It is also clear Jesse and Jean are still actively engaged in making their imprint. I am blessed to have been just one of the many lives they invested in, and helped to shape.

And what, then, is the meaning of life? Clearly that one is trickier. Yet when distilled to its essence, Micah 6:8 (New International Version) sums it up nicely: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” In other words, it is not enough to merely talk a good game. One must engage and put words in to action. As the motto of Fayetteville State University, my undergraduate alma mater compels, Res Non VerbaDeeds Not Words; or in contemporary vernacular, actions speak louder than words.

That’s where the story ended a decade ago. “Back to the Future,” on June 1st, my Bride and I drove over to Durham to join a group of family and friends to celebrate Jesse and Jean as they observed his 85thBirthday and their 60thWedding Anniversary. We converged at Maggiano’s Little Italy well ahead of the appointed time. We took lots of pictures and regaled each other with short stories and anecdotes, and oh yes, ate more food than the law allows…or would allow, if in fact there were laws against epicurean overindulgence.

My own story is a simple one. I’ve known Jesse all my life. He’s my mother’s nephew and my first cousin. He served his country in the U.S. States Army, and made a career in the insurance field where he became an executive in the nation’s largest and most prominent Black Insurance Company. Jean made a career of being an educator, while doubling as a homemaker. I met her on their wedding day. When I reflect on having known someone for more than 60 years, I’m amazed. When I think about having known them more than 60 years, I’m humbled. They are without question two of my favorite people. I call them every week. Several times. They…are the bomb-diggity!

So from an extraordinarily colorful palette I have framed “Three Tableaus: Three Purpose Driven Lives Updated!” I’m done; holla back!

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Obama Plays the Inexperience Card Redux ’19

It’s time to Break It Down!

Posted on August 21, 2019

(Note: This is a Reprised and Amended Presentation of My Original Blog Post)


Today, in acknowledgement of the 12th anniversary of “Break It Down,” As I have done occasionally in the past, I am revisiting my inaugural blog post.

Tempus fugit (Time Flies)!  Yesterday marked a significant milestone in the life and development of “Break It Down!”  I initiated this blog August 20, 2007, on a lark…almost a dare.  That was twelve years (and 633 editions) ago.  Having related the story a number of times over the past several years, I will not repeat the complete details today.

I will note, however, that on that summer’s eve, I contemplated and discussed, in five paragraphs, the experience, or in reality the lack thereof, of then Senator Barack Obama, as he navigated the early stages of his historic Presidential Campaign.  The prodigious parameters of that history were not evident at the time.  To be sure, over the next 14-½ months, he bested the odds and won, not only the Democratic Nomination, but also the Presidency, not so unlike what Donald Trump did in 2015-16.  In so doing, my lack of conviction, along with that of many others, in Mr. Obama’s ability to claim the nation’s biggest political prize, was exposed as a patently errant assessment. Without question, just as many people missed on their own un-Nostradamus like projections regarding Donald Trump’s prospects.

I want to make one more note about the blog.  In addition to this week marking the Twelfth Anniversary of Break It Down, today’s post commemorates the Seven-year Anniversary of my using WordPress as the primary Host Platform for the blog.  The link, is simpler and more straightforward than the Blogger (Blogspot) link,  The site design and presentation at WordPress are cleaner, and less busy than the setup I used at Blogger.  Please note, while I may eventually migrate Break It Down exclusively to WordPress, the blog remains available at both sites for the foreseeable future.

So this was the message in Post #1; five brisk paragraphs and a sign-off:

In an apparent calculated act of derring-do, Obama declares the virtue of inexperience. Gotta love it!

Personal footnote of recollection: I recall Jimmy Carter running the classic “anti-Washington” (i.e., lack of Capitol Hill experience) campaign in ’75-76. You know what, it worked.

The problem was, once JC sent all the reigning bureaucrats & policy wonks home, he was left with an assembly of newbies who didn’t understand how to get things done in DC. The result was that a very smart guy, genuine humanitarian, and erstwhile successful leader presided over what was widely perceived as a disastrous presidency. President Carter’s solitary term was fraught with innumerable policy failures (see the Shah of Iran, double-digit inflation, runaway gas prices, & the outrageous Interest/Mortgage rate morass) and public relations gaffes (remember the killer rabbit, and the failed helicopter gambit).

Fortunately for him he was able to live long enough and subsequently do enough good deeds to distance himself from most of an unremarkable tenure as a one-term president, followed by a resounding defeat by that cowboy actor Teflon guy.

Of course none of that has anything to do with Obama…except in the unlikely event he prevails. If he does, let’s hope he doesn’t take that inexperience thing too far. As W constantly reminds us, getting to the White House is one thing (after all, he’s done it twice), providing prudent and effective leadership once there is quite another.


Posted on Mon, Aug. 20, 2007

Just for perspective, see a news story that the AP carried on the subject that day:


Obama posits virtue of inexperience

What rivals criticize as naiveté, he presents as break from status quo


Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa –Democrat Barack Obama on Sunday tried to parlay his relative lack of national experience into a positive attribute, chiding his rivals for adhering to “conventional thinking” that led the country to war and has divided the country.

In their latest debate, the candidates also said they favored more federal action to address economic woes that have resulted from a housing slump and tighter credit. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson called the current financial crisis “the Katrina of the mortgage-lending industry.”

Prodded by moderator George Stephanopoulos at the outset of the debate, Obama’s rivals critiqued his recent comments on Pakistan and whether he would meet with foreign leaders — including North Korea’s head of state — without conditions.

“To prepare for this debate I rode in the bumper cars at the state fair,” the first-term senator from Illinois said to laughter and applause from the audience at Drake University.

The debate capped an intense week of politicking in Iowa, an early voting state in the process of picking a nominee. The Iowa State Fair is a magnet for White House hopefuls each presidential election.

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., directly addressing a question about Obama’s relative inexperience, said: “You’re not going to have time in January of ’09 to get ready for this job.” Dodd has served in Congress for more than 30 years.

Former Sen. John Edwards said Obama’s opinions “add something to this debate.” But Edwards said politicians who aspire to be president should not talk about hypothetical solutions to serious problems.

“It effectively limits your options,” Edwards said.

Obama said he could handle the rigors of international diplomacy and noted that many in the race, including Dodd, Edwards and Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Joe Biden, voted to authorize the Iraq war in 2002.

“Nobody had more experience than Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and many of the people on this stage that authorized this war,” Obama said. “And it indicates how we get into trouble when we engage in the sort of conventional thinking that has become the habit in Washington.”

The debate, hosted and broadcast nationally by ABC, took place less than five months before Iowa caucus-goers begin the process of selecting the parties’ presidential nominees.

As we reflect upon the Campaign of 2008 it really does harken the recognition of how swiftly time and events pass.  Indeed, I am especially reminded of how supremely confidently the Senator approached his moment.  I shall always recall that it propelled me to write, “Obama Plays the Inexperience Card!” Needless to say, he has gained an enormous amount of experience in the years ensuing since then.

As I wrap this up in 2019, it is with a completely different appreciation for what an inexperienced Barack Obama brought to his job, vis-à-vis what a politically inexperienced Donald Trump is currently bringing to the job. Mr. Obama inherited a fragile country with a downward spiraling economy, a nearly double-digit employment rate, and a foreboding 700,000 job losses per month. By the time he left 8 years later, the unemployment rate had been halved, to less than 5%, the country enjoyed the longest period of consecutive job gains, 75 months, in history, over 11 million jobs had been added, including 1.2 million in his last 6 months in office, while the Dow Jones rose from a slumping 7,949 when he took office to 19, 887 when he exited. No President controls every single lever that triggers all that happens during his (or her) tenure, when things go south, he/she occupies the space where the proverbial buck stops. Conversely, when things trend rosy, he gets a fair amount of the accrued shine.

In that light, Mr. Trump entered office in a much different environment, benefiting from what can rightfully be called the Obama Recovery. Let’s be clear. There is definitely still work to do. But anyone who suggests that Obama didn’t bequeath more and better than he inherited is full of bovine excrement. Full stop!

With that said, these are the salad days of the Trump Administration. It must be said he has delighted his base. At least the ones with whom I have spoken believe he’s the cat’s meow, and they say (whether they believe it or not) he’s been doing exactly what they hoped for when they voted for him. I would suggest that anyone who didn’t vote for, or support him, or who is undecided about supporting him, should let that sink in for a moment or two, or twenty.

Team Trump contends Democrats, liberals, the Main Stream Media, and some nebulous ill-defined entity referred to as the deep state, are solely responsible for all that has stymied or delayed even potential successes by the Trump Administration. So, health care, travel ban (or whatever appellation one cares to affix to it), Transgender Military Policy, Charlottesville Messaging, the Obama wire tapping claim, the Flynn firing, the Comey firing, the Spicer firing, the Priebus firing, the Scaramucci firing, the Bannon firing, and oh by the way dare I say, his tweets…Can we really blame all that on the Party that held a minority in both Houses for two years, and that still holds only one House of Congress, or on a media that has no votes, and presumably no say in who Trump hires in the first place, or fires for that matter, or on the deep state, whatever the Sam Hill that is?

If you are a Trump trooper, you can, and you almost certainly do. If you are not, then you probably think such an assertion is sheer lunacy on its face. Perhaps…just maybe, he is finding difficulty gaining traction because he is not only fighting through an experience deficit, but he is operating with a startling lack of curiosity, matched only by an overabundance of hubris. All things considered, I am inclined to look back on the time when I wrote, “Obama Plays the Experience Card,” and conclude that we (who should be a grateful nation) were considerably better served than with the current inexperienced occupant of the Oval Office. So today, my emphasis is…“Obama Plays the Inexperience Card Redux ’19!” 

I’m done; holla back!

Read my blog anytime by clicking the link: Find a new post each Wednesday.

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Racism: The Source of So Much Angst and Faux Indignation

It’s time to Break It Down!

This is a really short post. In part because nearly everything that can be said about the subject has already been stated or written, ad infinitum, and in part because, for today anyway, as Shakespeare’s Polonius said in Hamlet, “brevity is the soul of wit.”

Being called racist seems to infuriate Trump and his supporters. Perhaps more so than any other appellation, they hate it. At least they say they do. Much has been written, and at least an equal or greater amount said about this matter. The thing is, it’s all a sham, a straw man, if you will. As 2020 approaches, there is a good chance racist will displace deplorable as the term which Trump supporters, surrogates, and sycophants most feign umbrage over being called.

They have developed memes and social media posts, along with a wide array of defenses and other means of pushing back. When it comes to this topic, they have elevated affecting wounded bird syndrome due to the cognomen to an art form. Here’s the thing. In my humble opinion there is a supremely simple solution.

Do not say, do not do, do not tweet, do not defend, do not rationalize, do not ignore, and oh yeah, do not retweet racist things. There’s one more. If perchance, you slip up, or flat out fail at one or more of the aforementioned do not do’s, do not deflect and accuse others of being racist for calling you out for your transgression.

Follow those clear, concise and direct instructions, and I am 100% certain the incidences of people employing the r-word to describe you, or your favorite elected official will quickly, and I might add, not mysteriously, decline to zero. Boom! “Racism: The Source of So Much Angst and Faux Indignation!”

I’m done; holla back!

Read my blog anytime by clicking the linkhttp://thesphinxofcharlotte.comFind a new post each Wednesday.

To subscribeclick on Follow in the bottom right hand corner of my Home Page at; enter your e-mail address in the designated space, and click on “Sign me up.” Subsequent editions of “Break It Down” will be mailed to your in-box.


A Weekend in Chiraq: Mourning In America

It’s time to Break It Down!

Chicago has many nicknames. Chi-town. The Windy City. Second City. City of the Big Shoulders…and a number of others make the list as well. One that has emerged in the last decade or so that most Chicagoans are loath to embrace is Chiraq.

Just as the name connotes, Chiraq, a sobriquet given to what is now America’s third largest city, Chicago, was invoked because there are more murders and violence occurring Chicago than in the war in Iraq (and Afghanistan) during the height of the conflicts. A number of observers claim walking the streets of Chicago is like walking in Iraq with all the murders, robbery, gangbangs, and other acts of violence.

Those of us even remotely aware of national news reports know of the mass shootings that took place in El Paso and Dayton, yes Dayton, not Toledo, Mr. Trump, over the weekend. The shootings commanded the headlines and news cycles, and they should have been highlighted. Both communities are set to receive visits from Donald Trump this week. That alone will ensure that the coverage will continue for days to come.

There is a discussion that is ripe to be had on these violent displays that pop off periodically across America. Chances are, before too much time has elapsed, we’ll move on, not because we have forgotten the mourning and disconsolate families in Texas and Ohio, but because another episode will have jumped off somewhere else.

But for just a few minutes, I’m going to focus on Chiraq. This weekend, in Chicago, seven people were killed, and 53 others were injured, due to having been shot. According to ABC 7 Chicago, the carnage was comprised of several shootings, accounting for the dead and wounded. So why do I choose to shift the focus when El Paso and Dayton are already being analyzed?

It’s simple. First, Chicago labors under a steady barrage of shootings, and worse, killings. Second, the vast majority of those shot and/or killed in Chiraq’s mean streets are black. Third, and last, the scourge of gun violence has wracked Chicagoland for years.

Last week Mr. Trump attacked the City of Baltimore, as among other things, worse than the Southern Border, and a disgusting place where no human being would want to live. No indication he offered to extend any energy to correct the problems, although four years ago, when he was running for office, he suggested he was just the elixir the city needed:

Donald J. Trump



: Can we drop


off in the middle of #Baltimoreso he can show Obama how it’s done?” I would fix it fast!

7:31 AM · Apr 28, 2015

What a difference four years makes! But I digress. Back to Chiraq. Last October, Trump directed the Justice Department to work with law enforcement in Chicago to “straighten out the terrible shooting wave” in the city. I’m not sure exactly what steps “all the president’s men” have taken to counter the violence, but, if this pass weekend, like many that preceded it, is any indication, there is still a fair amount of work to do. Selah!

The chaotic state of life in Chicago’s black and poor communities is borne of the fundamental breakdown of systems, including the family unit, basic law & drug enforcement, access to guns, and local politics. While some of the same elements plague other communities, it’s fair to say Chiraq has been roiled by a relentless perfect storm. So far in 2019, more than 1,500 people have reported having been shot.

Most conversations about gun violence in Chicago start with the observation that Chicago, as well as Illinois have stringent gun laws. However, gang warfare, accessing firearms for jurisdictions outside the city and state, and acquiring firearms illegally all contribute to the pervasiveness of gunplay in Chicago.

What can turn around the injurious prevalence of Chicago shootings and the resulting death spiral?

Let’s be clear, there is no silver bullet. Pun intended.

Donald Trump will not wave a wand and make it disappear. Neither will local or state politicians. However, it is conceivable that if all levels of government, federal, state, and local, collaborate in crafting a Marshall Plan, complete with research and funding for executing the findings and recommendations, a solution can be found. Rhetoric is not the answer. Contentious bickering is not the cure. Partisan rancor does not hold the solution. However, here’s a thought. The President of the United States, who, incidentally, is president of all the states, cities, and towns…and all the people in them, should actually be engaged in promoting a collaborative initiative rather than posting sketchy tweets tearing down communities where he thinks none of his supporters reside.

So tomorrow, feel free to return your attention to the national news. But today, take a moment to reflect on the seemingly never-ending stream of tears shed by ChicagoansA Weekend in Chiraq: Mourning in America.”

I’m done; holla back!

Read my blog anytime by clicking the linkhttp://thesphinxofcharlotte.comFind a new post each Wednesday.

To subscribeclick on Follow in the bottom right hand corner of my Home Page at; enter your e-mail address in the designated space, and click on “Sign me up.” Subsequent editions of “Break It Down” will be mailed to your in-box.

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