Author Archive | Joseph Ross

Remember the Martyrs of Birmingham

September 15, 1963 was a dreadful day in America. It was an especially brutal day in Birmingham, Alabama. Just a few weeks after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, when Dr. King spoke of “The Dream” and peoples’ hopes for civil rights victories soared, Birmingham, Alabama reminded America how painful and costly the […]

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Teaching Year 31: Questions & Hope

Last week, I began my thirty-first year teaching. That number sounds a little jarring to me sometimes, but I have loved this profession so much that the number thirty-one actually sounds about right. I’ve been at this “for a minute,” as some of my students would say. This year has begun very well. After seven […]

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The Healing Ocean

It has always been a healing place for me. When I was a boy my family would go to Corona del Mar and Newport Beach, both less than an hour from where we lived outside of Los Angeles. As little kids we would play in the sand and my parents taught us how to swim […]

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The Healing Gift of Summer

As one who has lived most of his life on the academic calendar, I appreciate and savor the healing gift of summer. It’s not even the specific of summer so much as the connected quilt of unplanned days. Something gentle happens in my mind when I have several unplanned days ahead of me. I have […]

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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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