Introduction to Wyandotte County

It’s spring and the ranchers are doing Mother Nature’s work, burning the prairie. A line of fire rolls over the Flint Hills, reducing the grasses to char. Half the slope is burnt black but the other half mixes the yellows and oranges and browns of the waving landscape. It undulates into the horizon like so many voluptuous women lying on their sides, the contours of their bodies repeating the texture as far as I can see.  The pinks and purples of the sunset soothe like the crackling of a warm fire. The hills tease my eye into thinking I can actually see the curve of the earth.

So many Americans see Kansas on a weather map and think flat. But on the eastern end it isn’t so. Between the Kansas and the Missouri Rivers, the land tumbles from high bluffs to rolling hills and finally to the flat and expansive Plains. Once Lewis and Clark arrived, white explorers and hunters and trappers moved through the area regularly. Less than thirty years later, in 1830, Indian Tribes still living east of the Mississippi began to displace the Plains Indians as they moved into the area courtesy of Andrew Jackson and the Indian Removal Act.

Present day Wyandotte County, the land my grandfather’s house sits on, the house I was born in and the house I live in now, ended up in the hands of the Delawares.

The white folk stayed, including Moses Grinter who operated a ferry back and forth across the Kansas River on the military road between Fort Leavenworth and Fort Scott. The house he built for his Delaware wife, Anna and their children, still hails the river and the valley beyond. Four small rectangular windows frame a square balcony on the second floor and a covered porch on the first. He surely stood there of an evening watching the ferry churning back and forth, moving men and horses and their supplies The rooms in his home are spacious with fireplaces in all four quadrants, warming the bedrooms and the parlors. The bed and the armoire, though large and ornate, take up barely one end of the room. An ancient crib rocks close to the fire.

The Missouri winds to the north and to the west of Grinter Place. Look straight up and to the left to the old place where the Wyandots (French trappers called them Hurons) hoped to build a city they called Quindaro.

More Coming Soon..img_0533Photo from The Afro-American Community In Kansas City, Kansas: A History, Community Development Program, 1980.

Inspiration Two?

Sometimes a thesaurus works. Sometimes free writing helps. Sometimes reading someone else’s work helps a writer find inspiration. Glenn North, Kansas City Poet supplied that inspiration yesterday at a reading on the campus of a community college that must remain unnamed.

In a 30 minute reading, he spoke about political poetry, the haiku form and ekphrastic poetry. His poem, “Lynch Family Blues” hangs next to the painting, Lynched Family in The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Arts. Go by and check it out.

He also taught me the real meaning of the “spoken word.” When he began to recite “The Prodigal Poem,” his tone was so conversational, I didn’t recognize it as a poem at first. But it is–a powerful  poem.

Check out his book, City of Song.


My students–freshmen and sophomores at an urban community college–routinely tell me they have no inspiration; they have writer’s block. I tell them that there is no such thing as writer’s block–“inspire” means “to inhale” or to breathe. Writing is just work, I say.

But that isn’t completely true. I’m messing with them because the point of the class is “critical thinking” and I want them to apply that concept to the ideas I throw out in class too.

In fact, my copy of The Merriam-Webster Thesaurus (Yes–old school) tells me “inspiration” means “a divine or seemingly divine imparting of knowledge or power.” I would bet a great majority of my students believe in a Higher Power, but, frankly, we just ain’t got time to be infused with the Holy Spirit–the paper is due next week!

So how do we get to work? One way to grease the creative wheel is to open a thesaurus or a dictionary and browse.

Look: Synonyms of of “inspiration” include “afflation, afflatus and inflatus.” Those words sound like “flatulance” which reminds me of an entire comical series of events focused around bathroom humor (or scatology or “obscene humor that is concerned with excrement and excretion) that I need to work on. Voila: Inspiration.


Black History Month Reading

Surfing the news channels, I stopped by CNN and Anderson Cooper 360°. Trump’s gang had just published a list of terror strikes that were supposedly un or under reported, and Cooper and his pundits were asking themselves why and how this administration gets away with its shenanigans.

At the same time, I was browsing an old favorite, Invisible Man. Ralph Ellison’s narrator reports his grandfather’s final words. Calling himself a traitor, the old man tells his son to “overcome ‘em with yeses, undermine ‘em with grins, agree ‘em to death and destruction, let ‘em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open.”

I glanced back to Cooper 360°, where I couldn’t ignore the parallels between the book’s themes and our current political quagmire.

Except for the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary (two (female) republicans stepped across the line), the Republican controlled congress has voted unanimously for Trump’s cabinet. Will our elected leaders “yes” our megalomaniac president to “death and destruction”? If so, how bad will it spill onto the rest of us?

I was disgusted and embarrassed for all of us as I read the stinging description of the Battle Royal. But the final four paragraphs of the chapter–the narrator recounting his dream about being at the circus with his grandfather–punched me in the gut. He opens a series of envelopes, the last one containing this message: “To Whom It May Concern,…Keep This Nigger-Boy Running.”

When Trump Tweets, he’s keeping us running. When he nominates people who are hostile to the institutions they will be leading, he’s keeping us running. When he presents “alternative facts,” he’s keeping us running. When he issues travel bans to immigrants, we’re running. Most importantly, when he colludes with foreign governments, he’s keeping us running.

Invisible Man was first published in 1952. We’re still running.

If you haven’t read or reread this amazing book, you won’t be disappointed. Pick it up to pay tribute to our history during Black History Month. Reading it feels like resistance.


America: The Third World

In 1993, when I came back from Africa, I went to the Mission Mall to get a haircut. I was early, so I headed to the ladies room to tinkle. In the stall, I discovered I was stuck on an island: no toilet paper. The dearth of toilet paper struck me as particularly funny, considering Africans referred to it as the American’s prayer flag.

But as I continue to notice the signs I have become alarmed to discover the United States devolving into a third world country.

Most frightening, as I was searching around the web last night, I looked up in time to see Elizabeth Warren being shut down and shut up by Mitch McConnell (and the other henchmen of the so-called President of these United States) as she tried to read Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter in response to Jeff Sessions.

I was struck, again, by the parallels between this America and the Africa I’d loved and left in the early nineties. At that time, African women did not frequent bars, as patrons or as waiters. They didn’t routinely work outside the home except as domestics. There was only one other female University professor at the two branches of the National University of Rwanda. If they were married, women couldn’t open and use a bank account unless given permission by their husbands. Birth control pills were not available, nor were abortions, and, of course, if you could believe it, rape didn’t exist!

I should not be surprised that men are still trying to render us silent. After all, we elected a man who brags about “grabbing [women] by the pussy.” And so, I would like to say to men who try to silence women: if you are ever able to grow a pair of balls, I will happily grab them for you and squeeze…hard.