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BY: Sam Curtis
I recently watched a program on TVONE called Unsung. This particular episode featured the troubled life of Phyllis Hyman. This well done Bio has caused me to reminicse about my first Phyllis Hyman experience. I was in New York on business and had completed my business the evening before. Since my travel day would be a Friday, and the flight would not have permitted me to spend any considerable time in the office, I decided to spend the weekend in the big apple. Part of my morning relaxation on this particular day included watching Good Morning America (“GMA”). These were the pre remote control days so the channel remained the same. Airing immediately after GMA was a show that gave you a summary of the weekend happenings. I had already planned to go to a place called the Cookery to see Alberta Hunter and was on my way to the shower when my eyes glimpse the presence of Gregory Hines, Judith Jameson and a tall slim beautiful sister. I had never seen any of these folks before. The slender sister’s name was Phyllis Hyman, and she along with Hines and Jameson was promoting the opening of a Broadway show they were appearing in called Sophisticated Ladies. Phyllis broke out in the Ellington song “I Got It Bad and That ain’t Good”. I was mesmerized by her voice. All I knew is that I wanted to hear it again, so I definitely would be making a trip back to New York to see this show. A month later I returned, got tickets for the show and I was blown away. I could not get enough of Phyllis Hyman. I went to the mall to buy any and all recordings by this woman. I still have my LPs.
Some ten years later I got the chance to meet this woman in Washington D C’s Blues Alley. Arriving early, I patiently waited at the bar for her first show to start. Thanks to a friend I had VIP priviledges. Ms. Hyman came out to the bar were I was sitting. Although she was guarded in her approach, she acknowledge my presence and we exchange some small talk. Later on, we had a nice conversation after she found out I shared the hometown of her father. At the time I was not aware of this fact. Her eyes lit up with excitement. The conversation was delightful, and the show was the icing on the cake for a memorable evening at Blues Alley. I was still Hymanized.
A few years later, I had a young 19 year old working in my office for the summer who was a Phyllis Hyman fanatic. On this particular evening she was scheduled to see Phyllis Hyman perform. I shared with her my memorable evening at Blues Alley. She was so excited. The next day all she could talk about was Phyllis Hyman. She too could not get enough of Ms. Hyman. Not only did she own every recording of Ms. Hyman, but she knew all the lyrics.
On the night of June 30, 1995, I received an emergency voice page from my young impressionable employee asking frantically that I call her right away. Before I could ask, she dropped the terrible news on me. Phyllis Hyman had committed suicide. I spent most of the night on the phone consoling her, for she had been severely fractured by Phyllis’ intentional death.
I could not satisfactorily explain why the ever so talented Phyllis Hyman had taken her own life. One of the reasons is because I really did not know until the recent TVONE Bio.
Apparently, Phyllis Hyman suffered from bi-polar disorder. Also known as manic depression, bi-polar disorder is a biological disorder which impacts the functioning of the brain’s pleasure center. A chemical imbalance causes the brain to experience unusual shifts in a person’s mood, energy and ability to function. The mood swings are more severe than the normal ups and downs of everyday life. While in a manic or upbeat mood, the illness can bring extreme pleasure,resulting in excessive behavior. However on the down swing, the illness which is sadly misunderstood by the general public can cause unendurable suffering, thus prompting suicide.
Bi-opolar disorder can be treated with mood stabilizing medication and psycotherapy. Although they have several different types of mood stabilizers, lithium was the first drug approved by the food and drug adminstration for treatment of the illness.
Phyllis had been diagnosed with the illness and was being treated with lithium. Like so many other bipolar sufferers, the medication left her in a zombie state of mind. This state of mind interferred with her creativity as a mesmerizing song stylist. This was something that Phyllis Hyman or any other creative mind found intolerable. Eventually she self medicated on alcohol and cocaine. Her inabilty to submit to the proper treatment for creative reasons coupled with the everyday demands of the entertainment business led to her June 30, 1995 demise.
Now some thirteen years after her untimely death, many who knew and loved her including my 19 year old employee are left wondering what could we have done to prevent the tragedy. We can’t bring Phyllis back. Although many have tried, we can’t bring back the mezmerising impact of a Phyllis Hyman song. We can’t recapture the long lost Hymanizing rapture. We can however, end our ignorance about mental illness and learn more about bipolar disorder. By treating mental illness as an illness and not a stigma we will be in a position to know what to look and listen for when people suffering from the illness reaches out to us for help. Embracing mental illness as an illness and not stigma will also free the suffers to reach out for help. We all are subject to the influence of mental illness in some form.
Recently, a young teen diagnosed with bi-polar disorder reached out to an Internet audience for help. Instead of receiving a helping hand, he was met with a dare. Police found Abraham Biggs Jr. dead in his father’s bed, 12 hours after he first declared on the Web site for bodybuilders that he planned to take his own life. He took a fatal drug overdose in front of the Internet audience. Although some viewers contacted the Web site to notify police, authorities did not reach his house in time.
Radio personality Tom Joyner had a better result, when a caller by the name of Steve called and reach out to the morning talk show for help. At first they were dismissive asking the young man to stop joking and directing him to talk to his preacher. Joyner and his radio crew eventually realized that they were dealing with a serious problem when Steve informed them that he did not think he would make it through the morning. A discombobulated Joyner was able to contact life coach Iyanla Vanzant who assisted the young man on the air by asking questions, listening to his problems and permitting him to resolve his difficulty by talking it out.
It is often said that no one wants to listen to your problems. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to listen. For Phyllis’ sake as well as many others who have ended their lives as a result of mental illness, let’s take the stigma out of mental illness and treat it for exactly what it is, an illness. Let’s put an end to our ignorance so we can see and hear the warning signs and save a life. Stop the rain. Stop the pain.
Posted 5 years ago at 10:49 am. Add a comment
Color me exasperated
By Allen Johnson, Greensboro News & Record
This week’s column, adapted from an earlier blog post:
An irate caller phoned last week. The woman, an African American, wasn’t so sure Barack Obama can call himself the same. Or whether anyone else should, either.
An African American is someone who is descended from American slaves from Africa, she said. The president-elect does not qualify.
And she was pretty worked up about it.
Numerous letters to the editor have argued that point as well. One of the more recent letters contended that Obama arguably has a bigger claim to the term “African American” than most other Americans of color.
Other letter writers have complained that Obama hadn’t made as big a deal about his white mother as he ought to. (Actually, it was nearly impossible not to hear her compelling story, in Obama’s books, in campaign ads, in his thoughtful Philadelphia speech about race and in print and broadcast coverage of the campaign.)
Still others have disputed that Obama is the first black president. He is “bi-racial,” they say, since his mother was white and his father was Kenyan.
This bothers me a little, as if it gives some people comfort in viewing Obama in the same light as Tiger Woods — that is, as not a regular, garden-variety black person.
It gets curiouser.
Letter writer Philip van Lidth de Jeude of Carrboro argues that Obama’s white mother and Kenyan father make him “more truly an African American than most of those in this country designated with that term.
“And if the truth be known,” he added, “most of them are multi-racial, as we define the term, as there is practically no one in that ethnic group who doesn’t have some admixture of Caucasian, Native American or some other ethnic group.”
Van Lidth de Jeude has a point. In fact, some black people prefer not being called African American. But the term’s growing acceptance is rooted in the need for many more of us to reclaim roots and self-awareness that were systematically stripped during slavery.
On van Lidth de Jeude’s final point, I fully agree. All you have to do is look around to see the many hues of black folk. In the racial parlance of apartheid South Africa, many, if not most of us, would be considered “colored.”
So vexed and confused did it become about who’s what and why, Americans even at one time created a twisted brand of racial math.
Remember, Homer Plessy, in the landmark 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson Supreme Court case that upheld “separate but equal” accommodations, was only 12.5 percent black. Plessy’s great-grandmother happened to be black.
But by Louisiana law, that was enough — and made him unfit to ride in rail coaches with white passengers.
Such laws that mixed math with race caused all kinds of complications that would seem silly if they weren’t so sad: For instance, you could be considered one race in State A and another in State B.
The norm I grew up with was much simpler: If your physiology contained even the teeniest fraction of “black” blood, then you were black. Period. Whiteness was purity. Blackness was, well, anything else.
That’s why it was even possible for a “black” person to have a lighter complexion (freckles and all) than a “white” person. Some in the black community (which has its own hang-ups about color) described these folks, derisively, as “high yellow.”
And it’s why some black people actually “passed” as white in the days of segregation. I saw it firsthand during the waning days of segregation in Greensboro, when going to the movies meant using a separate lobby, refreshment stand and seating area for most black patrons. But not all.
Some of my “black” friends were so fair-skinned they could be seated on the main floor of the Carolina Theatre — while the rest of us were consigned to the balcony.
Then, of course, you could really split hairs and point out that a white immigrant from Africa could be as accurately called an African American as anyone else.
Color me exasperated.
As for the point of all this debating back and forth, I’m not sure.
Is Obama the first bi-racial president?
Is he the first black president?
Is he the first African American president?
I’d vote for all of the above.
But I won’t lose any sleep over it. As a 49-year-old white reader from Jamestown, Duncan Chapman, wrote in his letter about Obama’s race: “This should not matter either way!”
One thing is certain: No one who looks like Obama has ever before occupied the Oval Office.
Let’s just say he’s the first person of color to be president.
And call it a day. A new day.
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Posted 5 years ago at 2:56 pm. Add a comment
Pardon My Exception
By Richard Cohen
Tuesday, December 2, 2008; A21
Soon after Bill Clinton pardoned Marc Rich, the former president and I had a brief telephone conversation. I had been downright heated about the pardon, a lot angrier than I had ever been about Monica Lewinsky. Clinton implied that I had things historically backward. Long after the Rich pardon had been forgotten, he said, the Lewinsky scandal would remain a vivid memory. That day is yet to come. The Rich pardon is back.
The vehicle for this lingering echo from 2001 is the choice of Eric Holder to be Barack Obama’s attorney general. Holder was Clinton’s deputy attorney general, and he played a significant role in the pardon. When asked by the White House what he thought about a pardon for Rich, Holder replied, “Neutral, leaning towards favorable.” These four words have stalked him since.
Rich was a commodities trader who amassed both a fortune and some influential friends in the 1970s and ’80s. Along with his partner, Pincus Green, he was indicted in 1983 on 65 counts of tax evasion and related matters. Before he could be prosecuted, however, he fled to Switzerland. There he remained, avoiding extradition and eventually arranging to be represented by Jack Quinn, a Washington lawyer and Clinton’s onetime White House counsel — in other words, a certified power broker. Quinn did an end run around the Justice Department’s pardon office and went straight to Holder and the White House. With a stroke of a pen, justice was not done.
Holder was not just an integral part of the pardon process, he provided the White House with cover by offering his go-ahead recommendation. No alarm seemed to sound for him. Not only had strings been pulled, but it was rare to pardon a fugitive — someone who had avoided possible conviction by avoiding the inconvenience of a trial. The U.S. attorney’s office in New York — which, Holder had told the White House, would oppose any pardon — was kept ignorant of what was going on. Afterward, it was furious.
When I tell people that I am bothered by the choice of Holder for attorney general, they invariably say that everyone is entitled to a mistake. Yes, indeed. And I add for them that in almost every other way, Holder is a dream nominee. He has been U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, a judge and a well-regarded lawyer in private practice. Moreover, to my personal knowledge, he is charming and well liked by his subordinates. A better attorney general nominee you’re not likely to find . . . the pardon excepted.
But the pardon cannot be excepted. It suggests that Holder, whatever his other qualifications, could not say no to power. The Rich pardon request had power written all over it — the patronage of important Democratic fundraisers, for instance. Holder also said he was “really struck” by the backing of Rich by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the possibility of “foreign policy benefits that would be reaped by granting the pardon.” This is an odd standard for American justice, but more than that, what was Holder thinking? That U.S.-Israeli relations would suffer? Holder does not sound naive. He sounds disingenuous.
Holder sounded just as disingenuous when he told a House committee that he did not “reflexively oppose” the pardon of a fugitive because “I had previously supported a successful pardon request for a fugitive, Preston King.” King, a black civil rights activist, chose to be tried for draft evasion in 1961 rather than submit to what he considered racist treatment. After his conviction, he fled to Europe. The two cases are not in the least similar.
As noted, any person is entitled to make a mistake. But no one is entitled to be attorney general. That’s a post that ought to be reserved for a lawyer who appreciates that while he reports to the president, he serves the people. This dual obligation was beyond the ken of George W. Bush’s attorney general once removed, Alberto Gonzales, whose idea of telling truth to power came down to saying “Yes, sir. Yes, sir.” On Guantanamo, domestic spying and Bush’s “l’État c’est moi” view of the presidency, Gonzales was a cipher, and the damage of his tenure still needs to be repaired.
Holder was involved, passively or not, in just the sort of inside-the-Beltway influence peddling that Barack Obama was elected to end. He is not one of Obama’s loathed lobbyists; he was merely their instrument — a good man, certainly, who just as certainly did a bad thing. Maybe he deserves an administration job, just not the one he’s getting.
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