“If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say . . .”

It’s Friday again!  I’m sticking with my plan to be grateful with a “hearty” TGIF!  Done!

Well, my Dad’s birthday was July 4th … somewhere around 1910.  I learned a lot from him.  He never graduated high school ’cause growing up on a farm in North Florida didn’t allow for it.  He was the middle son of three brothers – there was Uncle Sammy, the eldest; my Dad; then Uncle David , the Miami Pastor (RIP, Men!). Big Ike always wanted the best for me and was very strict, but tough loving: he didn’t spare “the strap”!  It had become an extra security system when I wasn’t clear on which choices I should make – it worked … and does to this day!

This is my birthday weekend, which has been shortened from the usual “birthday month”!  I had to learn to shorten it as my body can only stand so many festivities!  My Dad and I never had that “conversation” about what it means to be a “black man” in a country suffering from its racist origins.  “We” become the scapegoat for anything wrong and the workforce for anything that needs to be done.  Historically, it is clear that the USA was a country built through pure pilfering and terrorism, taking part in the Atlantic “slave trade” that provided much of the colonies’ “human power” at every level of the spectrum – for FREE!  So, I am a descendant of these folks by a couple of generations.  My grandmother was a “half-breed” and my grandfather, Robert, was a little boy when manumitted.  I never met or spoke with him though I was my grandma Mattie’s favorite grandson who smuggled mints for her into the convalescent unit at Grasslands Hospital in Valhalla, NY where she spent her 104th birthday …  So, I am connected at a few places!

The stories “Big Ike” told about growing up in the country of Central/North Florida usually involved something like this … “The white man showed up on our porch talking some “negative” stuff.  He was holding his rifle, David had his inside of the house and Sammy had a pistol on his lap.  My Dad was the biggest so he told the white man to get off of the porch that he wasn’t invited to …  A few words were exchanged, the white man’s armed friends peeked through the woods to see if they were needed.  Realizing that “The Cook Boys” were ready, the white man followed my Dad’s instructions, and the conflict was avoided …”  Nowadays, with the “evolved slavery system”, they actually have what is called police who have evolved from “slave catchers” in many respects. (No point in calling them … the police …)

I’ve always had an interest in “social psychology” ever since learning that Pres. John F. Kennedy was murdered while I sat in my trombone lesson at Rochambeau Elementary School in White Plains, NY. When I asked if this was a country where they kill the presidents, my parents couldn’t say it with a straight face – “he was trying to help folks like us, John …”.  With the picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. hanging over the compact dining table in the eating section of the living room, they both offered their own style of parenting: my Mother with relentless love, and my Father with quiet but clear and stern discipline.  With all of the “breaks” I had gotten like attending a boarding school in New Hampshire on full scholarship, then on to college at Princeton with a four-year package including “work-study” and a hefty scholarship I received, I had my work cut out for me.  I had graduated “cum laude” from St. Paul’s (with honors) in English, Spanish and Religion and had to maintain a “3.5” GPA (grade point average) in order to keep my scholarship package at Princeton which included mopping floors in the dining rooms after meals.

I pretty much had to figure out that “conversation” that fathers of men of color have to have with their sons … and nowadays daughters!  But once I got it, mixed with Momma’s Love and Dad’s Discipline, I’ve been rolling along pretty cool lately.  I count my blessings that I am here in Puerto Viejo even though we have some “Americans” and others who haven’t quite embraced “the lesson” of equality.  I am prepared to have that intellectual conversation with anyone capable …

Peace and blessings,

John I. Cook, Director

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