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Photograph to Poem

Over the last few months, I have seen various photographs and thought about writing poems drawn from them. For the first month or so of my summer break, I’m going to do Photograph to Poem, a project of writing several poems from photographs. The photographs will come from all kinds of sources and I will […]

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If Martin Luther King Were Living

Three days ago, on April 4th, we marked fifty-one years since Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. That awful act changed the course of America’s history. It’s impossible to know exactly how our country would have grown if he had lived. This year, he would be ninety years old. Imagine if Dr. King […]

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Stop Honoring Slaveowners

If freedom lives at the heart of the American idea, then denying people freedom is profoundly un-American. This shouldn’t be a shocking idea. Keeping people from living their lives in freedom contradicts everything America means. Thus, it is time to stop honoring slaveowners. All of them. Even, and especially, those who were presidents, those we […]

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The Wall Is A Racist Lie

The wall has nothing to do with border security. It is a racist applause line, a symbol that translates into “they are not like us,” they are separate from us” and “we are better than they are.” The wall is a lie. On Martin Luther King Day, 2019, as the government is shut down because […]

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Every Brief Breath

On the final day of 2018, I’m going big with a resolution for 2019. Actually, maybe I’m not going big so much as bringing a more intense focus on something I already try to do: slowing down, paying attention, staying vigilant, cherishing every brief breath. I’ve often thought that rushing, pushing myself, whether internally or […]

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Christmas Eve: Beauty & Vigil

Christmas Eve holds a rich place in my memories. When I was a boy, my family would have a dinner of sea food and sausage, a Sicilian tradition I think, and open our presents in the early evening. Then we would stay up and go to Midnight Mass. As a teen, I was in my […]

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Orlando Pinder’s “RETOLD”

Orlando Pinder is a young film maker I’ve known since he was a small child. He has grown into a man of conscience and talent. His most recent work, a five-minute film titled “RETOLD,” shows the people of Chicago’s South Side Bronzeville neighborhood in ways they are not often shown. A neighborhood more broadly known […]

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August: The Perfect Month

Many will say “nothing is perfect.” But to me, August combines the beauty of summer’s warmth, the green explosion of trees, and the joy of returning to school. Where I live, in Washington, D.C., this August bursts with green. The rains of July make the trees a shine. Leaves on oaks, elms, and maples shimmer […]

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My Summer Reading: African Literature – Part 1

Many summers ago, I spent two months at the University of California, Berkeley, reading and studying African Literature. I had just finished a particularly difficult seminary year. I had also just completed graduate school at Notre Dame.  The seminary staff said I could take the summer for retreat and reading. I lived in a large […]

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When Your Doctor Says “Cancer” Part Three

When I was first diagnosed with low-grade prostate cancer, eight months ago, I noted that I would occasionally forget my diagnosis. Perhaps it was the immersive nature of teaching, the normal turns of a busy life. But I would remember, every few days, and it surprised me. Perhaps the mind only lets us hold new […]

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Jesse Jackson, MLK, Ralph Abernathy at the Lorraine Motel, Memphis, TN

MLK 50 Years: What Killed Dr. King?

Fifty years ago today, on April 4, 1968, Dr. King and his group were preparing to leave the Lorraine Motel for dinner at the home of a local Memphis minister. His longtime friend from Montgomery, Ralph Abernathy, was in their room shaving. The young guys, Jesse Jackson, Hosea Williams, Andrew Young, and others, were in […]

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MLK 50 Years: “I May Not Get There with You”

Dr. King knew the movement he led for human dignity and peace was not about him. He knew the movement mattered more than his own individual life. While he knew his part in it, he understood he was only a part of it. It would continue after him and, of course, he was right. Though […]

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MLK 50 Years: Why Was Dr. King in Memphis?

Being a sanitation worker in Memphis was tough work. Black sanitation workers were paid sub-standard wages. They were not allowed to drive the trash trucks which meant they were exposed to weather all day long. But in February, 1968, just months before Dr. King would come to support them, an incident took place which galvanized […]

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MLK 50 Years: Do We Know Him?

Beginning today, the last day of March, 2018, and over the coming month, I will post various reflections on the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. On April 4th, in just a few days, we will mark 50 years since his assassination in Memphis. Our country, and the world, is in deep need […]

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2018: Protest, Write, Heal, and Drum

2018 is here. As my American Literature students know, Henry David Thoreau urges us to “live deliberately.” They also know that Langston Hughes wrote repeatedly about the tragedy of “a dream deferred,” part of which can be understood as the need for intensity and focus in pursuing our dreams. One thing I’ve learned in this life […]

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