Honoring our memories

11fieldofhonorI recently stood amid hundreds of American flags placed in memory of men and women who answered the call to serve this nation. I made my way over to a man in a Rolling Thunder vest and asked for his thoughts on the importance of the local display known as the Field of Honor. “They say everyone dies twice. Once when we die physically,” he said, “and again when people stop talking about you.”

My dad didn’t talk about his military service very much. In the summer of 1941, he lied about his age to join the U.S. Navy without his parents’ permission before his 18th birthday. The Second World War was just getting started in the Pacific and, like many other American boys, he was anxious to do his part. Classified as a pharmacist’s mate, much of his 16 years of service were spent as a more necessary combat medic with the Marines.

Much of what I learned, I gathered from a friend my dad served with, Henry Hornak. We had visited Hank and his wife, Dottie, in West Virginia when I was in my teens, and I had called him years later to hopefully fill in some blanks after my dad’s passing in 1981. “Your dad saw some awful things in the war,” he told me. “Most of his memories probably weren’t good ones. I’m glad to share some of those that were.”

We just celebrated Memorial Day in the United States. The holiday is often regarded as the beginning of summer more than a time to remember those who stood in the gap for the oppressed across the globe. My thoughts wander to people like my father, to the courageous stand they took and the friends they left behind. He would go on to lose his first son to the war in Vietnam, a kid whose name I have photographed or rubbed off the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall on more than one occasion, but whose face I can’t recall at all.

The Airborne & Special Operations Museum in downtown Fayetteville is a great place to remember. And it’s a fitting place for conversations with others who remember. The adjacent North Carolina Veterans Park and nearby memorials afford visitors many spots to pause and reflect, and whether or not you or your family is represented in any of the impressive displays, a visit will surely stir a sense of pride and awe for the collective good some of America’s most honorable men and women have accomplished on our behalf.

The Field of Honor is a good place to start. The moving and colorful display will be in place until June 27. You can sponsor a flag in honor or memory of someone you know and love by visiting the ASOM gift shop or the website, Flags are folded and offered to their sponsors concluding the display and can serve as a fitting tribute in the home of America’s finest families.

Downtown parking solution a must

05parkI am glad that the city appears to be moving in the right direction in reducing parking fees during home baseballgames. It troubles me, however, to hear some elected officials say that these are really “user fees,” needed because parking has been “subsidized” by all taxpayers whether they come downtown or not. This is a gross over implication of the facts that doesn’t serve the truth well.

First, downtown property owners and businesses are contributing to the cost of parking through the Municipal Service District tax that they — and no one outside the district — pay. The city is taking $50,000 annually from the MSD tax fund to help offset the cost of parking: $25,000 toward debt retirement on the new deck and $25,000 to McLaurin Parking.

Second, the majority of building owners have title to the ground under their building but not one inch beyond. There are some exceptions, like the owners of Huske Hardware House or John Tyson, who owns much of the 100 block on the south side. Most building owners simply have no place for parking for themselves, their staff or customers unless it is provided by the municipality. This is unique to downtowns everywhere.

Third, the amenities offered in the downtown’s art and entertainment district add quality of life to our whole community — city and county — and if promoted properly, can be a powerful recruiting tool and also increase revenue from out-of-town visitors. People have to have access to these amenities, and only the city can provide that access.

Like other cities, ours provides services that are desirable even if not fully funded by a user tax. It is similar to public schools. I think most people would agree that public schools are essential in a community, especially for families who cannot afford a private school, and deserve public funding — even if they are not used by some taxpayers, like retirees or people without children.

Investing in America

03InvestWe Americans pride ourselves on our diversity. Some of us come from Native American families with millennia-deep roots in this great land. Others descend from people who arrived in time to found this nation. Others hail from families who arrived from all over the world, and some of us arrived much more recently from everywhere. Somehow over more than two centuries, Americans both maintained our diverse backgrounds and melded ourselves into one people, growing into the strongest nation — economically, culturally and militarily — in the world today.

As diverse as we are, for the better part of the 20th century and especially around World War II, Americans largely pulled together. Most of us considered ourselves religious. Our children went to public schools. We read newspapers and later watched network television, so we received the same news, even if we disagreed about it. In other words, we had common experiences. We had “glue.”

Far, far different are we in 2019.

We are as diverse as ever, really more so, but our glue has worn thin. We are more secular, with many Americans describing themselves as “spiritual” but not identifying with established denominations that meet as communities. Our children have many educational options, and charter schools are sharing — some would say draining — the resources of public schools. We now consume more news from sources we agree with and less from those striving for objectivity. Our choices are isolating us from other Americans.

It is as if Americans are spinning off into our own orbits.

Young people are increasingly moving to urban areas for educational and career opportunities, enriching cities at the expense of rural America in that demographic shift. Some see this as the rise of “brain” jobs and the decline of “brawn” jobs, a hard reality to fathom, and it is creating resentment in rural communities. No one can argue that our politics are not toxic. Both the right and the left view those who disagree as “the other,” so different and so incorrect that we cannot understand each other.

Few of the 327 million people in the United States express ideas for bridging our divides with a goal of healing, but an old proposal — one I have long supported — is receiving renewed attention.

National service for young Americans would provide a common experience at the beginning of adulthood, a formative time of life in all societies. It could take many different forms. It could be mandatory, a year or so of service required of all able American young people. This service could take many forms. It could be military. Such service could be educational, health care related, environmental, agricultural, social or cultural. It could be voluntary, as some young Americans are already doing with Teach for America, AmeriCorps and other national, regional and local organizations. Options are likely fluid and endless.

The point is not what our young people do but that they do something both for themselves and for their country. The point is that young Americans pause for a year or so and think not so much about themselves as about their communities and our nation. The point is that we remix and spread our national glue, creating common experiences and bonds for future generations.

National service is politically and economically fraught, and I do not pretend to have answers to how to pay for national service, voluntary or mandatory, or how it would affect existing jobs. Tuition support and student loan forgiveness could make national service attractive to young Americans, but how to structure such programs is challenging.

What I do know is that our communities and our nation will be stronger if we nurture ways to bring ourselves together — if we mix some new glue.

My recommended response to white privilege

04White gives the following definition of white privilege: “White privilege is a term used to describe unearned rights and benefits afforded white people in Western society because of the color of their skin.” I give very little thought or attention to discussions of white privilege. Therein is my recommendation to anybody who will listen. Years of living and struggling with life have taught me that focusing on considerations that do not move a critical effort forward is a sorrowful waste of time and effort.

A friend recently shared a joke with me that illustrates how my comment in that opening paragraph looks in action. The joke has several iterations, but all of them make the same point. This from an internet post titled “The ‘Streetlight Effect’: a metaphor for knowledge and ignorance”:

“A parable featuring the Seljuk Sufi mystic Nasrudin Hodja may be the earliest form of the story: ‘Someone saw Nasrudin searching for something on the ground. “What have you lost, Mulla?” he asked. “My key,” said the Mulla. So they both went down on their knees and looked for it. After a time the other man asked: “Where exactly did you drop it?” “In my own house.” “Then why are you looking here?” “There is more light here than inside my own house.”’

It seems that at every turn, I hear or read about white privilege. The topic has even taken centerstage in the 2020 presidential campaign. For me, the pressing question is what productive outcome will, or might, result from the profuse back-and-forth regarding this matter? All I see is a lot of meaningless talking, increased tension between whites and nonwhites, and a feeding of the notion that nonwhites, especially black Americans, are victims in this country. The result is that we invest tremendous time and effort in a pursuit that does not better the condition of blacks or other nonwhites. This approach excites citizens, attracts attention to seekers of power and probably produces financial gain for some people and organizations.

What is happening is like the joke. Attention is given where it is easy and satisfies the aims of those who contend that negative consequences result from white privilege. The efforts are not directed where they would be more difficult and far less rewarding by way of gaining power and would set people free of the chains of victimhood. No, this is about operating where there is light, not about making a real difference in the lives of people.

Let me be clear. I do not doubt for a moment that advantages go to some white Americans because of their skin color. Note my use of “some.” It seems a stretch to hold that this is the case with every white person. Support for that comment simply requires honest examination of the difficult living conditions faced by many whites in our country.

Given this white privilege condition, the challenge for nonwhites, and for those who claim they want to help this population, is how to best respond in this situation. I read a devotion recently that succinctly described how I respond to this hyper-emphasis on white privilege. The devotion is titled “His affirmation is our contentment” and appeared in the May 2019 Stand Firm magazine of devotions.

The scriptural basis for the devotion was Matthew 25:14-30, the New King James version. This is where Jesus tells “The Parable of the Talents.” In it, a man travels far from his home. Before leaving, he gives varying amounts of money (talents) to his servants. Verse 15 says: “And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.” The man returns and wants to know how each servant used the money they were given. Each of them reports. Two made good use of the money while one buried his and produced no return.

Most of the time when this parable is addressed in a sermon or discussion, the emphasis is on how we should make the fullest possible use of the capabilities or resources God provides to us. However, the devotion writer raised another point. That point has to do with what does not happen between the servants who received the talents. Even though they had different amounts, not one of them complained about those differences. There is no indication of jealousy. Each one decides how to use what they had been given. Two of the three make wise investments, while one does nothing productive. The success- feeding truth that is to be grabbed hold of is that they focused on what they each had and not on the possessions or advantages of others.

A fact of life is that we only have so much time and energy. Wisdom dictates that we invest that time and energy where it is productive. That point shows through in the parable. It seems to me that all the attention given to white privilege discussions only diminishes the capacity of nonwhite Americans for giving attention to endeavors that would prove productive for us.

As I review my life, I see wheel-spinning when I failed to follow the approach recommended in the opening of this column. On the other hand, when I have focused on doing my best to make full use of my capabilities, while not complaining about the natural advantages that others have, life has been pretty productive.

Again, there are some who benefit from white privilege. However, we must not allow barren discussions of the topic to distract us from productive endeavors, from actions that might assist others to successful living and, in general, help make the world a better place. Doing so requires leaving the ease of light and turning from wasted motion while focusing on what is productive. 

Hogs & Rags displays this community’s generosity

02PubPenOn April 27, the Hogs & Rags motorcycle rally held its 14th annual fundraising event as part of the Fayetteville Dogwood Festival celebration. Hundreds of cars and motorcycles lined up at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum ready for a day of music, food and a fun, casual ride to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The Hogs & Rags rally is the largest motorcycle and car rally in North Carolina and attracts all makes and models of motorcycles and cars for the purpose of raising money for three Fayetteville/ Cumberland County nonprofit organizations, rain or shine. This year, it was made possible by Fort Bragg Harley- Davidson, Rodney Sherrill State Farm Insurance, dozens more sponsoring businesses and organizations, and approximately 40 dedicated volunteers. Thanks to them and this community, Hogs & Rags proudly announced this year’s event raised a record-setting $18,000 for the Fayetteville community.

Last week, a special Hogs & Rags sponsor/volunteer appreciation event was held at Mellow Mushroom on McPherson Church Road. Fort Bragg Harley-Davidson and Hogs & Rags cofounder Bobby Bleecker presented the American Cancer Society and the Special Forces Charitable Trust donations of $6,000 each. Fayetteville Dogwood Queens Kelcie Farmer, Rachel Addison McLeod, Amelia Caroline Cook and reigning Miss Fayetteville Dogwood Festival Queen Ashley Rooks were on hand to accept the checks on their behalf. Board member Julie Melvin accepted a $6,000 donation on behalf of the Cumberland County Kidsville News Literacy and Education Foundation. I am proud of this organization and the community that supported them.

I hope everyone had a relaxing and fun Memorial Day and took the time to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Pete Hegseth said it best: “Memorial Day isn’t just about honoring veterans, it’s honoring those who lost their lives. Veterans had the fortune of coming home. For us, that’s a reminder (that) when we come home we still have a responsibility to serve. It’s a continuation of service that honors our country and those who fell defending it.”

Again, thanks to everyone who made this year’s Hogs & Rags event such a huge success. I am extremely proud to be living in such a kind, caring and generous community. Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

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