Mr. W and Forgotten History Fridays

I would like to introduce you to Mr. W and his AP US History class. I invite you to accompany him and his students on their journey to learn about history outside of their textbooks.

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“Who can tell me about the Slocum Massacre?” Mr. W asked to an eager classroom. His 11th grade students were now sitting up in their seats in anticipation of another “Forgotten History Friday”. The last few minutes of class each week had become a weekly tradition- a chance for the students to learn another piece of history that was not found in their textbooks. Some weeks the lessons were funny, other weeks inspiring. Today though, the students had a sense of dread as Mr. W asked the question, his ominous tone giving a hint of the lesson to come.

“Something bad?” Jenny asked, hesitantly. This garnered a low rumble of laughter from the class, though this was more reserved than normal and it was obvious no one had heard of this event. This did not surprise Mr. W. Unfortunately, he was used to this event being unknown or purposely forgotten over the years. He took a deep breath and started slowly, as this was one lesson he did not want his pupils to take lightly.

“Yes, Jennifer. You are correct. In the first decade of the 20th century, there grew a community of African-Americans in a city in East Texas, named Slocum.” At this last statement, a groan passed through the classroom, the loudest one coming from Max. He was the class president, class clown, and secretly one of Mr. W’s favorite students. His intelligence was matched by his heart and desire to learn. But, he had just interrupted Mr. W’s lesson which warranted him one of Mr. W’s notoriously harsh inquiries. “Care to explain, Maximus?”

“No Sir, I’ll let you tell it. My apologies.” Max tried to hide his growing frustration by being overly polite.

“Well, don’t hold it in. If you have something to say, share it with the class.” Mr. W. replied, in a more encouraging tone.

“I don’t want to ruin your lesson but early 1900’s in Texas, a majority black community, and the title of the story is the town’s name, Slocum, Massacre. I mean, if I had to guess, I’d say something happened between the black people of Slocum and white people from another town and the black people- either all or most- were slaughtered by the white people. And because we’ve never heard of it, no one was probably ever actually punished for it. It was swept under the rug of atrocities that are no longer spoken of. And those families…” Max’s speech had quickened and at this, his voice was starting to rise. Rather than stop him, Mr. W decided to let him finish his thought. “…Those families probably left their homes, lost their belongings; lost their fathers, brothers, sisters, and mothers. Nobody ever paid reparations and I am willing to bet that no one can or will really say how many people were ACTUALLY killed during this horrendous event.”

The other students in Mr. W’s 11th grade AP US History class were in stunned silence, looking from Max to Mr. W and back to Max. This wasn’t the first time Mr. W had decided on a tough topic for “Forgotten History Friday” and over the course of the year, the students had become more willing to tackle the tough topics head on. This deduction from Max was yet another reason why Mr. W enjoyed having the young leader in his class.

Mr. W wanted Max’s words to sink in with his classmates, yet he knew those same students were waiting on his validation. With a sad, yet relieved look on his face, Mr. W. finally broke the silence. “Yes class, Maximus is correct on all accounts.” Chatter started immediately, as the students tried to process what they had just heard. Knowing that more questions would follow, Mr. W. tried to calm everyone down. “Alright class, would you like to know the full story?” A unanimous “yes” arose in response. Mr. W proceeded to explain the events that led up to July 29, 1910 in Slocum, Texas.

He described the largely African-American town 100 miles east of Waco, which even had some black-owned businesses. The opposing sentiments of adulation amongst the black community and disbelieving anger amongst the white community after Jack Johnson (an African-American) had defeated James Jeffries (a white man) in the heavy weight world championship. He told the class that that fight was a topic worthy of its own Friday. The lingering bad feelings after a white man tried to collect a disputed debt from a well-respected black citizen. The tipping point for a prominent white citizen coming when a black man was put in charge of gathering people for a road improvement project.

To ensure this stuck with his class, Mr. W quoted from an article discussing the incident, “Rumors spread, warning of threats against Anglo citizens and plans for race riots. White malcontents manipulated the local Anglo population and, on July 29, white hysteria transmogrified into bloodshed.” As he paused for a moment, he noticed the color had been drained from some of his students’ faces.

“Transmogrify?” Benjamin asked quietly, breaking the silence that had swept over the classroom.

“To transform in a surprising or magical matter.” Ade answered, even her normally chipper voice subdued.

“Nothing magical about this.” Geoffrey retorted, his carefree attitude evaporated like water on a hot summer day in West Texas.

Mr. W knew these were tough stories- egregious events- for teenagers to hear. But they were old enough and deserved to know that not everything about this beautiful country was pure and perfect. He went on to tell them about the two-day event in which, according to William Black, Sheriff at the time, “Men were going about killing Negroes as fast as they could find them, and so far as I was able to ascertain, without any real cause. I don’t know how many were in the mob, but there may have been as many as 200 or 300.”

He discussed the 150 African-American ministers that penned a letter to President Taft imploring him to act, and the response from the attorney general. He finished with the trial- no one was ever prosecuted or held accountable. Understanding he may have taken it a bit too far- some students looking sick to their stomachs- Mr. W. wanted to bring everything together before the dismissal bell released his students for the extended weekend.

“You may be wondering why I decided on telling you about this event in history this week. One, it’s history that has been buried and forgotten; unfortunately, some of the recent events have caused me to appreciate the famous quote, ‘those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.’ Two, I want you to understand the significance of this event. In other towns in that region black people make up on average 20 percent of the population; in Slocum, it’s around 7 percent. And lastly, I agree with what is inscribed on the bottom of the historical marker commemorating the event and those lives lost: ‘Only by shining a light on previous injustices can we learn from them and move toward a future of greater healing and reconciliation’. “

He paused, making eye contact with each one of his students. “We need to be aware of the horrendous events that have happened in our country over the years or we will be lulled into a false sense of security instead of continuing to work together to make this a more perfect union, obtaining true equality for all people.”

As if the school bell had decided to let Mr. W impart some final wisdom on his pupils, it rang right as the last syllable sounded. “Have a wonderful weekend, class! Do your own research. And don’t forget your history.” For once, Mr. W was sure this last statement would hold true.

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I hope that from this first episode you understand my purpose behind Forgotten History Fridays. Though the characters are my own creation, the Slocum Massacre is an actual historical event. Any thoughts or constructive feedback is welcome.

-David A. Brown-Dawson, 11 March 2017

Happy Tears – 10 Reasons

I wrote this article in the days following President Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in July of 2016. In light of his time as President and Commander-in-Chief coming to an end, punctuated with his Farewell Address, I figured I’d share my thoughts from a few months ago. While there were a few edits that I wanted to make as I reread the words, I chose to leave the words as I originally wrote them. Here it is:


I shed tears watching President Obama address the nation at the Democratic National Convention. These were happy tears. And here’s why:

  1. Seeing the leader of our nation speak so optimistically yet realistically about the current status and future of our nation is refreshing. Being outside of the country, a lot of what I see with regards to the news is negative and disheartening. And I’ll be honest, the events of the past few weeks had me down. However, our overwhelming response to come together as a nation, to love, and to pray with each other during tough times convinces me that while some may use our differences to divide, it is our acceptance and celebration of our differences that make us THE UNITED States of America.
  2. Seeing an African-American man, the son of an African man and an American woman, in the highest office in America and the leader of the free world, is a powerful thing for me as a young African-American man to see. It is hard to put into words and I may not succeed, but I’ll try. Representation is very important. When I, as a young minority, see a minority (man or woman) in a position of authority and in the highest position of national service, suddenly nothing seems impossible. Nothing seems unreachable with hard work.
  3. While he may have been passing the political torch to Hillary Clinton, it felt like he was passing the torch of leadership and service off to me, and other young men and women like me. We are at a critical time in our country’s history. As he prepares to leave office it seems that he wants to ensure that just as he has tried to improve the nation and set up our generation for success, we are ready and willing to accept the immense task that lies ahead.
  4. The speech made me think of all the amazing people I have met, the great friends I have made, the teachers and coaches that I have learned from over the years. From all ethnicities and backgrounds. It made me reflect on just how blessed I have been throughout my life and how blessed I have been to have lived my life in the United States of America.
  5. He has had to endure a lot and has been in the spotlight over the last 12-plus years and he has been an upstanding citizen. I learned a long time ago not to put people on a pedestal; instead, take the character traits and actions that you admire while understanding that everyone is human. I believe he has chosen to hold himself to the highest standard because he understands how many people look up to him.
  6. He loves his children. My dad is my superman and to see the love that President Obama shows to his children and when speaking about them, reminds me of the love my dad has continually shown me and my siblings over the years.
  7. He loves and respects his beautiful, intelligent, and driven wife. The relationship between President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama (who has not aged a day in the last eight years!) is one of friendship, partnership, and love. Knowing that it has not been a perfect marriage, but it looks to be an enduring one- built on a firm foundation- is encouraging. I have seen this love in my own parents growing up and it is beautiful to see it reflected in the leadership of our country.
  8. President Barack Obama has helped forge a path in the road for young black men like me to believe that serving this country in any capacity and at every level is possible. I know he was not the first black senator (Senator Hiram Revels, 1870) or the first black man to be fit for the office of the presidency. Those who are around my age and children across the nation have grown up knowing that any position and every position can be held by a person depending on their character and merit and not the color of their skin. We are getting ever so close to truly realizing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream that we would “not be judged by the color of [our] skin, but by the content of [our] character”.
  9. In a time when many of the black men held in high regard are athletes and musical artists, men like President Obama, General Colin Powell, Lieutenant General Charles Q. Brown, Jr., Dr. Eric Thomas, and many others show that there are other ways for black men to contribute to society. I mean no disrespect to black athletes and musicians as I know that many of them do tremendous work within their communities. What I mean is that while it’s cool to see a black man known as arguably the most athletic person to step on the court, it is also cool to see a black man with abilities that extend beyond the court. Into the courtroom. And the operating room. And the board room.
  10. I have full confidence in this nation that I love and have dedicated my life to. While there is still work to be done to realize true social justice and true racial equality, we have come so far in the last few decades. We as the current young leaders have the capacity and responsibility to continue and complete the work that those before us started. The progress made shows the tenacity of America and what can be accomplished when we respect each other, listen to each other, and work together to make this a more perfect union.

My hope is that I was able to convey why I am so inspired by Barack Obama. He is my president. He is my Commander-in-Chief. And he looks like me. He looks like us. My heart is full. May God Bless the United States of America.

Signed,

A young man who firmly believes in his country and who truly believes that anything is possible.

David A. Brown-Dawson, 30 July 2016


 

May God continue to bless the United States of America.

-David A. Brown-Dawson, 14 January 2017

Three Years In

Three Years In

Three years ago, I was graduating and commissioning from Texas Tech University. I knew where I was going to be stationed and part of what I would be doing until I came on active duty. However, even then I could not have imagined all the amazing people that I would meet, relationships I would form, and memories I would make. The last three years have been a period of decisions that led to growth, life lessons that led to maturity, and an abundance of experiences that have left me with cherished memories. In appreciation for the last three years and in anticipation for the next three years- where life will take me, who I will get to meet, who I will get to work with, and who I will be able to spend more time with- I would like to take some time to reflect.

I remember graduation day like it was yesterday, and my family and friends that came to Lubbock to celebrate with me. I remember getting emotional as I was taking it all in (I may have sweat a bit from my eyeballs). It was a truly humbling and encouraging experience. In addition to my immediate family, there were aunts and uncles, God-parents – people who knew me from the time I was a baby. I remember Chancellor Kent Hance’s “Dream No Little Dream” message and him saying “I looove Texas Tech!” I remember thinking about where the next couple weeks after graduation would take me- from Texas to California, to Florida for a football tournament, and then to Washington, D.C. to begin my internship with Congressman Sam Johnson. I was full of excitement and energy to continue my journey and see who I would meet next.

My time in DC was incredible, as I have alluded to previously. My time back home with my family was much-needed. And my experience living overseas has been an amazing. My time in the military has shown me just what can be accomplished when a group of people have a common mission and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it done. I have been blessed with leadership who passed along their wisdom and experience while imparting in me attributes of a well-rounded leader. I have had coworkers (enlisted, civilians, and officers) who have encouraged me and taught me more than they may know. And I have been blessed with family and friends that have looked out for me, prayed for me, and checked in on me when I needed it most.

All that to say this: the last three years have been a whirlwind of learning, growing, and improving. I know I have much more to improve upon, much more to learn, and much more growth ahead. With that will inevitably come mistakes and setbacks. I am encouraged by the strides I have made over the past few years, thanks in large part to the people I have been around. Thus, I am excited about the next three years of my life- the knowledge I will gain, the experiences I will have, and the people I will meet.

The end of the year is always a good time to take stock of your life, count your blessings, and set some new goals. Appreciate each 24-hour opportunity you receive, and make the most of it. I wish you the best as we finish 2016 and enter 2017.

Merry Christmas and may God bless you.

-David A. Brown-Dawson, 15 December 2016

History and Those Who Teach

History is my favorite subject. Being an engineer, I love math. But there is something about learning and understanding history that is both exhilarating and empowering. Over the past few months I have had a hunger for learning more about my family history, the history of the world, and the history of different societies. In doing so, I wanted take a moment to highlight a couple of my favorite history teachers for the tremendous impact they have had on my life, whether they know it or not.

I believe that sometimes we hide from history because we are afraid of what we will find or are embarrassed by something we or our ancestors did. Thanks to my teachers, I gained a realization that it is better to understand history (even the horrible atrocities), than to cling to ignorance and claim that a certain event or action did not happen. Once true history is understood, we can work together in order to ensure that certain atrocities, injustices, and decisions are not repeated. Additionally, we as humans have created ingenious systems and structures, reached amazing physical heights and depths, and completed almost unbelievable feats. Finally, as you understand parts of history, you begin to gain a better understanding of yourself, where you fit in on this planet, and how to better serve in your community and around the world.

From my history classes I learned that while, as the saying goes “the victors write the history”, there are always multiple sides to a story or an event. Depending on where one grows up, there is a tendency to get locked in to this idea that the leaders of that society were perfect and anyone who opposed them were evil. Ms. Laubacher, my 10th grade World History teacher, showed me that in order to truly understand a situation, it is important to try to see it from both sides. This has translated to me being open to understanding multiple perspectives when hearing a story and in approaching situations. Her passion for history and for educating students came through every day in the history-based activities we would do, the videos we would watch, and the conversations she would initiate.

My 11th grade AP US History teacher (and Mock Trial coach) Mr. Hill was incredible. His dry, witty humor and hilarious stories kept us captivated and made his tough tests tolerable. He forced us to think. He taught me a lot- not just about the history of our country but about how to approach learning history. He instilled in me that it was important to challenge what is being taught and ask questions until I understand. This is a lesson I took to heart in my approach to learning for the rest of high school, throughout college, and in my current profession. And yes, I was (and still am) that guy who asked a ton of questions (usually good ones).

Unfortunately, these two teachers have retired from their official teaching careers. They dedicated their lives to educating the youth of their community and in my humble opinion, they both did a brilliant job. I know for a fact that they inspired some of their students to become educators and I hope they know how much they are appreciated. While I only highlighted two, I had many amazing teachers, and I know there are a lot of wonderful educators out there today. I challenge you to share your favorite teacher and how they impacted you. I would like to see our educators held up in the high regard they deserve- they have the immense task of educating the leaders of tomorrow.

A sincere thank you to Ms. Laubacher, Mr. Hill, all of my teachers and professors, and to all of you who have chosen to devote your lives to educate others.

 

-David A. Brown-Dawson, 16 July 2016

Congressman Sam Johnson – A True American Patriot (Part 1)

In the fall of 2013 I was in my final undergraduate semester, finishing up Air Force ROTC, and working in Texas Tech University’s Office of Research and Commercialization led by then-Vice Chancellor Jodey Arrington. This job afforded me the opportunity to see the great work that was being done across TTU’s campuses and learn about the various ways research is commercialized and tracked. I received an email about a program that Texas Tech offered- the President’s Congressional Internship. One of my co-workers Chelsea, had participated in the program a couple years before and told me how amazing it was. Knowing of my interest in public service and that I was heading toward commissioning, she suggested that I apply and if possible work for the Congressman she worked for- Congressman Sam Johnson.

With the help and encouragement of some people I will introduce later, things worked out very well and in the spring of 2014 I had the honor of interning in Washington, D.C. for Congressman Johnson of Texas. I could not have asked for a better man to serve under. Congressman Johnson is a retired Air Force colonel and pilot who flew in Vietnam and Korea. He was shot down over Vietnam (which resulted in a broken arm and back), spent over six years as a prisoner of war (enduring torture and spending over three years in solitary confinement), and returned home with honor (to his wife and three children). That in and of itself makes him a hero. The fact that he decided to continue serving after he was released, and then followed up his military service by faithfully serving his country as a United States Congressman is amazing.

Sam Johnson is a true American hero, and one of the reasons that I decided to start this project. I want to acknowledge the individuals who have had an immense impact on my life. Sam Johnson taught me that there are still humble patriots willing to do whatever it takes to leave their country and their world a better place. In his book, Captive Warriors, he discusses the political atmosphere surrounding that time frame and its impact on military readiness. Most importantly to me, he also discussed how his faith in God, his love for his family, and his belief in his country got him through the over three years of solitary confinement that he was forced to endure. Let me stop for a moment… over 36 months; over 1,050 days spent locked away from family, friends, wingmen, and under austere conditions. I could not have asked for a better man to have worked for during those crucial months between commissioning into the Air Force and entering active duty.

Prior to working for Congressman Johnson, I never fully understood or accepted when someone would say “Thank you for your service”. However, after my time in his office and reading his book, I recognized that they weren’t necessarily thanking me, they were thanking those men (like Congressman Johnson) and women on whose shoulders I stand.

Final Note

One of my first days on Kadena Air Base, I decided to pay the gym a visit. I was shocked and encouraged to see that the gym is named after one of the men Congressman Johnson served with during his time as a P.O.W.- Brigadier General James Robinson “Robbie” Risner. Congressman Johnson wrote of Gen. Risner in his book; of his devotion to his fellow warriors, of his leadership, of his loyalty.

Thank you Congressman Johnson for your continued service, your humble spirit, and your selfless sacrifice.

 

-David A. Brown-Dawson, 4 May 2016

The People We Meet – My Why

Life is all about the people we meet. Throughout my first quarter century of life, I have met many amazing people- some I have known since birth while others I only interacted with for a few minutes. I am convinced that I would not be where I am today if not for each of those individuals with whom I crossed paths. My early life experiences have reinforced how vital and valuable real relationships are and that you never know from where they will stem. In my research and reflection, I have found that many times people do not realize the true impact they have had on someone’s life until it is too late- the tradition is to thank them at their funeral. In the words of one artist “people never get their flowers while they can still smell them”. I want to change that.

This project is to show appreciation to those who have impacted my first 25 years of life and to show my gratitude to God for placing the right people in my life at the appropriate time, though I must admit I did not always realize this during some of those moments. This project will by its nature give you some insight into the people closest to me and possibly revealing personal weaknesses. At first I did not like this idea and it may well be the reason I have been putting this project off. However, I now realize that it is more important to acknowledge and show appreciation to the people who have helped me get to where I am (and by no means do I feel as if I have “made it”) than it is to worry about possibly divulging information (read: embarrassing stories) that may be used against me in the future.

In the ensuing posts I will tell you about some of the people that have left a lasting impact on me over the years. I challenge you in turn to share some of the people who have made those lasting impacts on your life. Perhaps the most important part of this project is a challenge as much for me as for you: write a letter to those people who have impacted you (your “impactors”) and tell them thank you. Lastly, I am truly curious as to what your thoughts are and what happens when you reach out to thank your impactors. If you feel so inclined, please share your experiences- after all, we are all experiencing this life together and perhaps we have some common impactors.

There’s a saying: be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Here’s my modified version: be kind and open, the people you meet may change your life forever.

I am humbled, honored, and excited that you have chosen to go on this journey with me. Shall we?

 

-David A. Brown-Dawson, 3 May 2016