Inseparable, Through Thick and Thin . . . and Homelessness

Losing His Home Was Bad; Losing His Dog Would be Catastrophic

Psychologists posit that we cannot fully develop as human beings without our relationships with other human beings and the storied African concept of ubuntu asserts that our humanity depends on the humanity of others.

And no less an authority on dehumanization than Hitler seemed to make this connection as well: I read somewhere, years ago, that long before he began sending Europe’s Jews to the concentration camps, he prohibited them from owning pets.

I would not think that our pets are a perfect surrogate for human contact, but there is something in the animal world that informs our humanity, and deepens our connection, paradoxically, to one another.



Photo credit: Jon-Mychal Cox and Haku Production House

Helping Ex-Offenders, Up Close and Personal


The legendary photographer Robert Capa famously said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”

Capa wasn’t referring to telephoto lenses or zooming in close, but intimate familiarity with your subject, or, actually getting to know the people you are photographing.

The same is true for anti-poverty efforts. If your outcomes aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough. Along with a violence intervention program out of Washington DC, the Peaceholics, this Oakland re-entry program, CTEC, is one of the most impressive social service providers I have ever seen, in large measure, because they get close, very close, to everyone who comes their way for help.


Photo credit: Jon-Mychal Cox and Haku Production House

Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, and Celebrating Heroes with Both Bark and Bite

On the anniversary of their deaths, I’ve been thinking all day of Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson. History has reduced both to Hallmark cards, but they were both extraordinarily complicated.

Parks of course, is typically portrayed as a matronly Black domestic who wearily refused to surrender her seat to a white bus passenger in 1956 Alabama. As Danielle McGure reminds us in her sensational book, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance, Parks was anything but a novice. By the time of the Montgomery Bus boycotts she’d been an activist for more than a decade, getting her start, in point of fact, investigating sexual violence against Black women as far back as 1944.

And then there’s Robinson, who of course gave Dodgers’ General Manager Branch Rickey his word that he would not respond to racial taunts on the field. But what I’ve learned only in recent years is that prohibition only applied to Robinson’s rookie year.

After that, all bets were off, and Robinson routinely called white rivals everything but a child-of-God on-the-field. His disdain for the famously racist Yankees manager, Casey Stengel, was such that not even the manager’s wife was immune from Robinson’s heckling.

The legend can never compare to the gorgeousness of reality.

Uncommon Grace — BOSS Rising Stars Awards

In a writing career that spans nearly 30 years, I’ve been blessed to see the spectacular work of some of the world’s finest nongovernmental organizations, or NGOS, as they’re known in the development world.

From Detroit’s Operation Get Down to Brazil’s Landless People’s Movement, from the Mothers of the Plaza Del Mayo in Argentina to the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee in South Africa’s storied all-black township, the best NGOS have the unique ability to address people’s most basic, quotidian needs, while articulating a grandiose but still credible vision of social transformation.

No organization I’ve ever seen is more visionary, or grounded, than Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency, or BOSS, in the East Bay communities that orbit Oakland, California. Consider, as one example, last week’s third annual Rising Stars awards ceremony, which recognizes 20 East Bay youths who exhibit uncommon grace in meeting the challenges of homelessness, mental illness, poverty and even abandonment.

It is a recognition that for some of our young people, just getting through the day, is in itself, a triumph over fear.



Photo credit: Jon-Mychal Cox and Haku Production House