October 07, 2003

Pantheon


Pantheon
I remember, back when I was embroiled with the whole discussion about Harry Belafonte accusing Colin Powell of being a house slave, my brother & I bantered back & forth about the need for role models. At the time, I really scoffed at the notion. I couldn't think of any living, breathing person that I'd idolized & tried to emulate as a child (Captain Kirk most certainly didn't count).

But an odd confluence of news helped me to realize that, it wasn't that I didn't have role models, but, in fact, they were so important to me that I'd taken them for granted. They were a part of who I am.

So, after doing a bit of excavation, here are some of my own personal heroes.


Kurt Schmoke
Kurt Schmoke was the first elected Black mayor of my hometown, Baltimore, MD. We'd actually had a Black mayor just prior to Schmoke, namely Clarence "Du" Burns, an old-school veteran of big city machine politics who inherited the job when the current mayor, William Donald Schaffer, became the Governor of Maryland in the middle of his seemingly billionth term. Schmoke, a Yale man (nobody's perfect) and former Rhodes scholar, was intelligent & urbane, a stark contrast to Clarence Burns, who butchered the King's English and barely had a high school education. Needless to say, as a nerdy Black kid in a good old boy school in a crumbling urban city, Mayor Schmoke was an inspiration. He took a real drubbing in the press for advocating the legalization of hardcore drugs, but, given the urban disaster that was the crack epidemic of the late 80's & early '90's, I know the mayor saw what a joke the drug war was. After over a decade in city hall, Mayor Schmoke is now the dean of the law school at Howard University. He's also been rumored to have been seen on the campaign trail with fellow Yale classmate, Howard Dean.

You know I had to work his name in here SOMEWHERE, didn't you?


Kweisi Mfume
OK, so, first, disclaimer: this brother is family. My brother's wife is his cousin and they were raised like siblings. But I doubt he would recognize me outside of the presence of my family.

Having said that, most people know him as the current President of the NAACP, or perhaps as the former head of the Congressional Black Caucus. To me, he was my Congressman. In many ways, Mfume is the exact opposite of Kurt Schmoke. While Schmoke was the golden boy of Baltimore City College, en route to the Ivy League, Mfume was running the streets and staying in trouble under his slave name of Frissel Gray. He eventually found some sense and, apparently, the motherland, at Morgan State before venturing into a career of community activism & politics. My first memory of Mfume was when he ran for congress against St. George Cross, a fatter, shadier, and less-eloquent Baltimore version of Al Sharpton. Cross tried to derail Mfume's campaign by revealing to the public that he had several children out of wedlock. Little did he realize that massive portions of the Baltimore City populace have several children out of wedlock themselves, and they were more offended that Cross thought it was a bad thing. Mfume won in a landslide. If he wanted, he could have become mayor after Schmoke stepped down in a landslide, but he felt his energies were best devoted to a national agenda at the NAACP. Of course, the fact that the NAACP HQ is in Northwest Baltimore probably didn't hurt either. He grew up as a ne're-do-well in a bad neighborhood in a bad city and was able to recontruct himself from the grown up into a titanic figure on the American scene. Mfume, to me, is a living embodiment of what is possible.


Eddie Murray
Baltimore had been a one-sport town years before the Colts left like thieves in the night on a Mayflower moving truck. To put it mildly, they sucked. And, since losing to Broadway Joe & the Jets in 1969, they'd only been back to the Super Bowl once.

In that same stretch of time, the Baltimore Orioles had been to the World Series five times, and won twice. The Orioles ruled the city, and, long before anyone had ever even heard of any of those guys named Ripken, the king of Memorial Stadium was Eddie Murray.

Talk about a black icon. Eddie didn't talk to the press. Eddie didn't smile. He didn't even like it when the crowd went crazy and chanted his name "Ed-die! Ed-die! Ed-die! Ed-die!". The brother just went out there and hit home runs. Just a pissed-off Black man in a tighty-whitey '70's baseball uniform who absolutely did not give a damn that his afro did not fit inside the cap with the cartoon bird on it. What, you got something to say? I didn't think so. Man, when I was 10 years old, watching the O's smack around the Phillies in the Fall Classic, Eddie was better than Shaft in Africa.


Benjamin Banneker
I pretty much summed up my feelings about Benjamin Banneker in an old Macroscope post entitled "The Brother Who Trumped Einstein". But, just for the whirlwind version: Banneker was a free black farmer in a slave state a century before the Civil War who taught himself mathematics so that he was able to public his own almanacs, predict a theory that, in many was, was a precursor to special relativity, do the surveying & design of Washington D.C., and even attempted to predict his own death. I was a little black boy in a Gifted & Talented Math program in the same slave state when I read this. I LOVED this man.
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