Observations of life by author and poet Charles L. Chatmon
I have been asked many times if Iâm still writing. The answer is yes, as a reporter for the California Crusader Newspaper. Now if you're asking me if I'm still writing another book, my answer might not be as conclusive. Let's just say after all the months of planning Storm Over South Central and plenty of revisions, it's ready to go..or not. My life's in flux right now as I'm struggling over my direction in life after the passing of my father. Most of you who have prayed, offered condolences, said a kind word here or there, thank you (again). The past three and a half months have been difficult as I'm trying to figure things out.
Although I'm in the middle of this challenge, I haven't lost my faith in God, the talent He has entrusted me with, and my sanity. I imagine living this writer life there will come times when you have to ask questions of why you haven't progressed further than you would like, wondering why Author X is much more known than you and why your sales haven't picked up. Outside of tragedy, those questions will come forth.
Seventeen years since the publication of my first book, Iâm still trying to figure this all out. At first it was fun sharing my written works to my family and friends. Then as I moved further in my career, it was not as fun anymore. I found myself competing with other authors who had published their own books and had a lot to say about them. They created brands,''cartels', built a following, everything needed to establish success in this business. I don't have any malice towards the authors who have gained a measure of success. They earned it. It's just the way things were back then.
In this present day, I'm facing a dilemma as a writer. Not too many people bother to stop by my table if I set one up at a festival and no one is interested in the genre I write (poetry). Before technology set writers back, it was a struggle to get readers interested in buying my books. Somehow I made it happen with my first book, the second......not so much. Perhaps a new book will solve those problems, make me feel 'relevant' again in the eyes of readers, the same family and friends and the world at large. Technology's role in today's readership has changed the purpose of writing 'on its head'. There's so much material posted on the web, social media and in print by writers who wish to establish their own voice, it's a challenge to stand out on your own as a writer, even if your goal is to make readers 'think'. It's not enough today.
I'm convinced that even the 1300 plus blog entries written on this blog in the past mean anything to just one person, than it was all worth it. I guess for that reason alone that's why I keep writing and even believe Storm Over South Central will change a few hearts and minds. I still believe that, even when all seems hopeless on my end. Maybe my father's death has given me a new perspective, or maybe it has finally shown me in this 21st Century how futile my purpose of writing has become.
Or maybe, just maybe, it's still all worth it to someone, anyone, you.
Just a short post to thank you all for your support. It means a lot to me.
Here's an update: I'm fine. I have been working on a few projects I want to get out of the way before the end of summer. Hopefully they will see print one day.
Correction: they will, it's just a matter of time. (smile)
I'll be back soon with another righteous post. In the meantime, let your eyes take a feast on the archives.
Unless something drastically changes, this will be my 'official' last word on the oft-mentioned property of Vermont/Manchester. Today was a day I needed closure on this topic and although I wish there was another way, things have settled to what they are and realistically, what's done is done so I'm directing my energies somewhere else.
You readers who are looking at my blog for the first time or may have wondered off and started to come back should note I wrote about this subject years ago Vermont Knolls: We Want Retail. Then as it is now, the residents of this community have requested retail shops, sit down restaurants and a grocery store. The old Vermont Knolls shopping center until 1985 (Koreans moved in the storefronts and 'took over' ) had: a Newberry's department store, Lerner shop, a Thrifty drug store that would serve the best ice cream, a National department store, a clothing store (one of several) and that's all I can recall. As a member of a website where neighbors offer their opinions freely, the above requests of a grocery store, sit down restaurant and other amenities are new additions to the shopping center I used to know. As we move into a new technological age, there is something called e-commerce and Amazon is the king of it. The Kindle is at least ten years old, posing challenges for bookstores and retail outlets to remain open. All one has to do is look at the past decade to see how many bookstores have closed up shop. The reason? Customers are buying books online. Long time department stores are closing down. This is the same reason why stores are struggling.
One should look no further for South Los Angeles's past and current economic blight than Rebuild L.A. Created after the Unrest, this organization was tasked into finding willing retail partners to invest and contribute in the community. We are finding out twenty-six years later not much has changed. We may say we want a Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Sprouts and the rest but how many grocery store chains are willing to invest in this community with the stigma of the movies and negative image continuing to prevail here? I suggest all it takes is one chain to set up shop here and they will find a hungry customer base ready to spend. Alas, they have decided not to move in our direction yet but I hope they will soon.
Taking all of this into account, the residents of Vermont Knolls deserve better. They have encountered so much in the past, so much negativity from our media and a few ''talking heads'. There are a number of residents who are retired and like my late father did, live out their remaining years in a place they call home. A place that will soon have a boarding school, 'affordable housing' and scant retail space (if one can call 50,000 square feet 'scant')) The elders who I spoke with today and known for years may not live to see a project which goes against what they always wanted; a return to a retail nirvana in their neighborhood. Depending who you talk to in this section of Vermont Knolls, it's L.A. County's fault. The other side will say it's the former developer's fault. No matter who you believe, I come away with this one observation: something has to be done to this property. It's been far too long.
I have lived in this area nearly all of my life. Near the end of my bio on my website, it is very clear of my volunteer efforts in the past so no reason to repeat them here. What I can say is that the people of Vermont Knolls deserve better. Our 'elected' politicians, the ones who owe a debt to the community as a public servant should do what's in the best interest of their constituents. "But Charles" someone will say, "didn't the county do what's in the best interest of the community by using eminent domain?"
If that were all to that, I'd say of course. Our politicians did what they had to do. It would help if they listened to us instead of the voices of those who live outside our neighborhood. What is not so tragic about this, it has happened before and will continue unless we all band together in this community as a show of force.
Case in point: my wife and I have attended nearly every meeting, every forum that spoke on this topic. Observation: this non-profit group didn't know about this neighborhood association. This neighborhood council didn't know about this non-profit group. We have so many people in our community who have resources but they aren't aware of each other. If we bring these non-profit groups, organizations, neighborhood associations under one tent, a lot of good could be done in this part of South Los Angeles. One of my former neighbors, deceased, was a leader of a neighborhood council/watchdog group. He was also a mentor to me and owned a house and apartment building so he was very influential on our block. He was the type of gentleman who could bring these groups together to produce change in our community and to put our politicians on notice. What I've found in South Los Angeles is that we spend time saluting our heroes who want to reclaim their time but underneath the carefully crafted media image are individuals who look out for themselves and their allies before the constituents who voted them in office to begin with. There is a word I heard often while I organized the L.A. Black Book Expo. They didn't come from me, but from a gentleman very knowledgeable on this subject:
In the end, that's what it comes to, right? We have to form coalitions, like-minded groups with the goal on community social and economic empowerment. We all do not have to agree at first or not at all. The one goal we should all have in mind is to come together and form a voice that will show others how serious we are. It can be argued the County 'sneaked' this plan through with the help of Metro by not holding town hall meetings to state their case. Congresswoman Maxine Waters once held a forum in February with the goal of lending a voice to a community no one outside wants to hear. Living in South Los Angeles, I have found to my regret that agendas are plentiful here. The noble plans and individuals to work those plans are few. If there is one lesson that can be learned from this, it's to communicate with each other. Find out what organizations, block clubs and non-profits are based in your neighborhood. In the second decade of this difficult 21st Century, unity must be the one and only word that counts. The community deserves that and more.
As for now, I am done discussing this.
Over a week ago, yours truly took the hit for loudly disclosing on social media: LeBron doesn't shake hands at the end? There's your legend right there........ This 'triggered' black folks on my timeline like it was no one's business! The mere fact I pointed out a foul act I believed current (as of this writing) Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James committed at the end of Game 4 of this year's NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors that I thought would be good for discussion, turned out to be a preconceived 'hit' on another black man, one who's accomplished a lot in his fifteen years in the league. My contention with players like LeBron is that I do not hate him, I dislike the noise around him and I find it extremely odd to promote a player to a status of The Greatest Ever when his finals record is sub. 500 (3-6). Perhaps this says more about us as Black people than it is one individual player.
For the record: let me state that Draymond Green of the Warriors not shaking hands with the Cavaliers Tristan Thompson is just as bad and I should have pointed it out. I did apologize for my error when I went back and saw on several social media posts that LeBron did bump fists with the Warriors as he left the court, possibly the last time in a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform. I did mention that 'I stand corrected' so to all of you out there, let me state I stand corrected. The most important thing I hope you the reader gain from this is that we must learn to 'separate' in this generation. A professional athlete's actions on the court or the field are totally different than what's going on in his personal life. If LeBron's doing things off the court to improve his community, that's great. If he's involved in producing media programs which improve his brand, excellent. If he's a humanitarian aiming to improve the lives of his generation and the next, cool. If I as a fan root against him because he plays for the wrong team, he's fair game and not an attack on his personal life, but since we're in this reality where folks may not see the point above, what he does on the court is fair game, what he does away the court, off.
I brought up Kobe Bryant to another author who simply doesn't like him because they support another team and not a Lakers fan as I am. That's cool. We can have those debates because that's what sports is all about, right? Yankees versus Dodgers. Lakers versus Celtics. Steelers versus Cowboys. That was the world was like in the sports world before professional sports leagues, Madison Avenue and brainwashed sports fans bought into the hype that the great player comes first before the rest of the team. I grew up watching championships between teams, not players. Doctor J. was the greatest player of my generation, but he played for the Philadelphia 76ers that I rooted against. Does that mean I'm 'not down' with Julius Erving because heÂ faced the Showtime Lakers when it mattered most in the NBA Finals? Dr. J's personal life and his accomplishments would be discussed briefly on CBS if at all, but they were not part of the story. His 'legacy' wasn't the engine so many of our sports analysts on networks like ESPN, Fox Sports One and the rest thrive on. I would say this year's NBA Finals using 1970's-80's logic could have been just as compelling if storylines focused on other players on the Golden State Warriors-Cleveland Cavaliers instead of the superstars, the records, the statistics, the noise that consumes us all.
The noise ladies and gentlemen, is an endless mishmash of opinions, ranging from one coast to the next. Now that LeBron's focusing on free agency and where he will play next, expect the chatter to be at a fever pitch. Of course, this is all done for ratings and the NBA has a stake in this too. They do not want to go back to filming playoff games at 11:30pm on late night television. I experienced that and in a league with Dr. J, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and many other legends playing at that time, I can see why the league is so dead set on promoting the individual great player over his team. It makes sense, for them.
Does it make sense to us? The honest to goodness sports fan who loves to talk trash online and in person, the fans who buy the expensive seats in the nosebleed section chowing down on expensive food while enduring long lines at the concession stand? Why can't we just argue what happens on the court on or on the field? I find these Greatest of All Time debates laughable because in another twenty years we'll have this same discussion about a different player who may have a better Finals record than LeBron and Jordan and we'll all be in a rush to define him as the 'G.O.A.T.' You know it's going to happen. You know the next generation will have as much disdain as this one when it comes to their players. Their musicians too. Michael Jordan was the best player in my Generation X era, hands down. LeBron James is the Millennial all time favorite. Post- millennial? Who knows?
Let us learn to separate the player from the philanthropist, the athlete from activist, the baller from businessman and we'll continue to debate on whom the Greatest is, and who's the Latest.
Yesterday was extremely hard for me because my father wasn't here to celebrate his special day. It's been a few weeks now since he left us, but every day since that night I feel his loss. My wife wisely stopped me from posting my thoughts on social media, since it would imply that I am seeking attention. I'd rather post them here in the cold digital vacuum of cyberspace so whoever is going through the same experience of losing a father as I have, will hopefully gain some strength from what I'm about to say.
My father and I shared a bond that will never be broken, ever. We were close but not too close. I know that if I needed to talk, share an important word or talk about an accomplishment I've achieved, he would be there. Yes, 'Chuck the Cook' as he was formally known would be there for me proving it more than once on occasion. I can't say enough of the times he would go out of his way to treat our family to a day of amusement parks, restaurants and trips out of the city. There may be one or two of you out there who has never experienced that with your father because of whatever situation you were in, but I can say to a young man like me, those moments meant a lot. Those are the times you sit in the dead of night alone in your room with your arms crossed and head down as you fight through the pain, the loss of a man you cared about. You weep, you mourn, you want to blame everyone and everything, including God that your father isn't physically there anymore but I have to say you must also thank The Creator for the time you spent with him. You have to part your lips and just say thanks for the life you shared with the one role model, the man in your life who you looked up to.
Father's Day from here on out will be a difficult day. It will be one where you watch friends, family on social media pose in pictures with their fathers and you look at the empty space in your home and lament the fact he is no longer there and he will never come back, ever. All you can do is stay away from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, lay down on your couch or bed, close your eyes and remember the days when your father was alive. Remember the sage advice he gave you, the dinners prepared, the laughter from the jokes he said, all of this.
The day has now passed and if the Lord allows, there will be one more to move on and live the life that's in front of me. I cannot forget the life with my father that's now behind me but the man I grew up with for years will never be forgotten. The fact his absence casts a long shadow hurts inspires me to live up to the morals, the attitudes he taught me, the productive actions I learned from and more. I'm deeply proud to have had a father I loved so much and always will. One day cannot define that, and shouldn't.