Open Letter to My Brothers

My Brothers, 

First and foremost, I love you and miss our physical connectedness. While I’ve marched beside you over the last week, I’ve had difficulty verbalizing my feelings about the knee turned noose that publicly lynched our brother George Floyd.  Coupled with the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and Sean Reed, and the many other black men, women, and children whose faces were running through my mind – rage consumed me.  It has taken all that I believe in to check my anger. Even now, I am leaning on the power, grace, and resilience of my ancestors, so the words I offer are not an anguished roar too loud to hear. 

I want all of you to know you are not alone in your grief, in your frustration, in your anger.  I am tired of the knee of structural racism on my neck, slowly choking me until my breath becomes faint, and my heart races so high that the only words I can utter are “mama.” I have come to understand systemic racism is linked like the shackles that bound our ancestors in the belly of those ships. The only way we will dismantle it and reach equality is if we name each link of the chains that have us bound in this country.

Like you, I am tired of the police using the phrases “reasonable assumption” and “perceived threat” to defend their racist acts and the destructive illegal plundering of our bodies and lives.

I am tired of the disingenuous calls, emails, and texts from white friends feigning outrage so they can keep their liberal identity intact for the sake of their careers, questioning children, and ego. Yet after they reach out, they go right back to their privilege and biases.  I am tired of people interpreting my truth-telling about the specific concerns of Black people as skewed and lesser than because they want a lofty theoretical discussion that will not lead to action.

I am tired of pandering politicians who are using our pain to further their ambitions. They are with us until they are elected and then during budget season, contract selection, policy development, and hiring; they unfailingly vote against our interest. I am tired of the philanthropic community, building funding playgrounds where only the elite, connected, and subservient can play and do minimal uniformed work. Grassroots organizations and innovative, nontraditional leaders have to wait for the storms and strong winds to blow before they are temporarily allowed to play and never receive funding at the level their work warrants.

Like you, I am tired of the gatekeepers using their power and influence to keep people out rather than providing support to get others at the table. Are we ready to admit that some of the stagnation in our community is because these gatekeepers keep things at a level they can control and prop up the oppression of our people?

Like you, I am tired of the divide between black people born in the United States and those who have immigrated here from various islands. We act as if we had a choice where the boat dropped us rather than acknowledge all of our ancestors were brought to foreign shores shackled. Being born in America has given us no greater privilege, speaking the language of another colonizing country will not ward off oppression. Being divided only fortifies the structure of inequality.

What are you and I to do, what will it take to break these chains finally? Here are a few of my many thoughts:

Hold our white friends and allies, politicians, and power brokers that are awakening right now accountable. Firmly declare it’s not time to straddle the fence, and we care about their actions, not their words. They need to get informed, go more in-depth, and tell us what they are going to do, what they’re going to accomplish. Let them know if they are not working toward a solution; they are not working with us but rather reinforcing the chains that keep us oppressed.

It’s time for us to put that glove on our right hand and place our left hand over our heart. The right-hand needs the glove, so we don’t lose grip on the sledgehammer of justice. Then we break every shackle of this oppressive system.  We can and must break economic inequality, subversive governmental policy and laws, health disparities, and police brutality. 

The left hands over the heart is to ensure we have the tough conversations, and reckoning we need to heal us from the years of trauma and internalized oppression that has kept us from swinging in unified consistency with impact. Deep within us, we remember the cadence of freedom. Our greatness is older than our oppression. Our community, our people, need us to rise in our purpose to make way for the radical imagination of our youth and honor the lived wisdom of our elders.

Again, I love you, brothers. I pray we come together and draw on each other’s strengths. 

Thaddeus Miles

Our Season to Heal

The third chapter of Ecclesiastes teaches all things will have a season. As we enact plans of recovery from COVID-19, I hope that we take all the lessons this response season has taught us to have a recovery season that genuinely transforms us all. Physical distancing, while a necessary tool to hinder community spread of COVID-19, has meant the cultural gatherings intended for comfort and support during trying times ceased. Whether it is funerals, family reunions, cultural festivals, these touchpoints aid in the creation and promotion of healthy, vibrant, and safe communities. And while we are more than our meeting places, they certainly give us strength and guidance in trying times. For this reason, I am asking you to join me on September 12th-13th for a weekend of healing and restoration for the African Diasporic community of Greater Boston and beyond.

 This pandemic is a call to action to address the areas of inequity that have long needed a remedy in our community. From the lack of access to healthy food, educational deficits, and economic vulnerability to unaddressed social-emotional concerns, we have an opportunity to respond with a resolve like never before. Let’s launch our season of breakthrough and restoration through culturally reflective moments of performing arts, remembering our history, health and wellness checks, information sharing, supporting local business growth, and spiritual renewal. During this weekend, we will also honor the youth and young adult leaders who are rising and making exceptional strides for us all. 

I intend to begin with a planning call mid-June and move forward from there. I do hope we will have your involvement. Please feel free to contact me for any additional information.  As we move into this new season for our community, may your work continued to be blessed.

Sincerely,

Thaddeus Miles

A River of Forgiveness

Today Challenge: Choose to love and forgive yourself. 

On my walk this morning, I stopped at a water break in Lowell to breathe in the freshness of the air and close my eyes and listen to the water for a few mins. During the mediation, the word regret came up. In-between my breaths, I focus on what regret is and the harm it causes, I reinforce the distinction between remorse and regret: remorse enables you to move forward, but regret chains you to the past. 

Most importantly, I honored that regret is the lack of self-forgiveness in its purest form, and when you have regret, there is a part of you that not only hates what you did but hates yourself for doing it. 

With that in mind, I decided I needed to take an inventory of what regret has cost me, to consider how regret may have siphoned off my creativity, my peace of mind, my optimism, and my ability to see the blessings right in front of me.

As I open my eyes and saw the beauty and power of the water moving down the river, I decided to see the river as my river of forgiveness, so I release one point of regret into the stream and vision that pain point of regret flowing down my river of forgiveness away for me. 

I ask you to take a moment and listen to the wind and water in the video and allow it to become you rive of forgiveness, drop something you need to let go into it and vision it drifting away for you. #BlackJoy #Forgiveness

A Moment of Reflection

Good Morning, Today challenge, do something different. I’ve decided I’m going to fast from sunrise to sunset every Friday, here’s why.

My Wednesday Morning truth: Over the past several weeks, I’ve acted like all is good by ignoring my feeling of anger, shame, sadness, depression, and anxiety. I’ve moved like I’m not privileged by complaining to myself and others about zoom meetings, long lines at the market, and the boredom of sitting at home. Truth is I can have up to four devices on the internet at my house when my son and grandson are over, and I have every platform Netflix, Hulu, you name it, while others have no or limited access. I can purchase anything in the market I’m waiting to get in, while the person in front or behind me might be limited to what they can buy. I can get up any morning and drive an hour or two to see the sunrise at any beautiful beach in New England, while others have to risk their lives to ride the transit to get to work, by food or medicine, etc.

What am I saying? I’ve lost some of my grace and voice at times over the last few weeks. While I know all the details and doing work to change the impact of the virus, I haven’t truly felt what so many under-resourced black folk are going through right now. Nor have I been as brave and courageous with my voice as I usually am. 

Maybe some of you will fast with me. Perhaps some of you will lift your voice with me. I pray you will take a moment to reflect, tap into your grace, raise your voice, and lead. It’s time for us, so-called leaders, to do something different.

The Beauty of Us

Grace, Joy and Faith”

Excerpt from my Coffee Table Photography Book Published 2/22/2017

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with joy throughout my life. I have been open to receiving it, I have been fortunate enough to be able to offer it to others, and yet, there have also been those times when I’ve impelled it away. Nevertheless, it is always within our reach.

However, as with many of our other inheritances, we struggle to show up for it. 

It is not by chance that I write about joy over the Christmas Season. Much of the joy I recall feeling early on in my life involved being around family; opening Christmas presents and relishing in our traditional holiday meal of collard greens with ham hocks, mac and cheese, cornbread, turkey, ham, chitterlings and potato salad. Desserts of pound cakes and sweet potato pie, rice pudding and vanilla ice cream.   

Sitting here in my mother’s favorite recliner chair, while she lay asleep resting her body on Christmas Eve, having just returned from an early morning drive through the small black community where I was raised from third to eighth grade, Gracetown. My tour of the old neighborhood began on Weldon Street; Weldon, also the middle name my mother gave me when I was born. The community has changed. Where there were once fields, there are now homes. Most of the old wooden homes my friends lived in have been torn down and replaced with newer and more modern homes. It’s also no longer an all-black community. As I gazed out of the car window at what used to be the yards of my past childhood friends, I could hear, “Hey T-Bird, you coming out to play?” 

I drive past Fuller Lane where my cousins lived with their parents, as well as several of my friends. I could visualize the large open field where we’d play tackle football, talk trash, tell mama jokes that led to fights, and laugh – a lot. A right down Dunstan Lane where my sister and I used to walk to school together. I notice the sign, “Thoroughgood Elementary School” and stop at the gate opening; the same one we use to walk through each day. I park and get out of the car to get a closer look. I see the play area where I once participated in track meets and basketball games and other athletic competitions. It’s where I shined as a young man, as an athlete. I circle around the back of the school known as Buffalo Hills, and instantly remember hanging out here with my friends, smoking one of my great-grandfather’s cigars or my aunt’s cigarettes. On my walk back toward the car, I notice those big grassy trees under which I may have kissed a girl or two.  

Head toward the dead-end of Winter Road and on the left I notice that the home where I once lived is no longer there. John’s house remains, though, on the other side of the fence that divided our two communities. I can see the two of us shooting hoops in his backyard and my having to scoot away as his dog was always barking at me. I am reminded in that moment of his parents’ discomfort with having a black boy playing in their yard with their son. However, over time they came to know me and welcomed me into their home and into their family. I truly appreciate their kindness and willingness to overcome the bias many in their white community of Thoroughgood had against those of us living in Gracetown.

I park at the end of the road to take it all in. Rest my head back and close my eyes, and am brought back to my Christmas pasts. 

One of my favorite gifts as a fifth-grader was one of those Panasonic cassette players that recorded voices and songs from the radio. I recorded all of my favorite songs and listened to them over and over again. Songs like Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Sing a Song” and “Shining Star” and The Isley Brothers’ “Fight the Power.” I remember waiting at a local record store in Norfolk to meet the Isley Brothers when a long white limo pulled up and they stepped out with their big hats, cool clothing and platform shoes. The cheers from the fans only enhanced the smoothness with which they adjusted their clothing after they stepped onto holy ground. The way they’d strut their stuff as smooth as silk as they walked into the store made you feel excited about life. 

I couldn’t wait for each Sunday evening to come when I could listen to WRAP-AM 850’s “Oldies but Goodies” radio show hosted by “The Beast from the East, the Magnificent Maurice Ward,” his voice like velvet and high energy, and his careful choice of words always made you feel like he knew what you wanted and needed to hear at that very moment. He always played my favorites, like “Stay in My Corner” by The Dells. Man, I still love that song, and yes, I can hold that long note. I held onto many of the tapes I recorded until they broke, some 30 years later.

Another favorite was the Schwinn 21-inch 10-speed bicycle I got at age 12. The bright yellow frame, with a narrow black seat, the thin tires that barely touched the road the faster I peddled, the handlebars wrapped in a magic black tape to make sure my hands would never slip, the silver hand brakes so steady and strong. I treated that bike was like it was my first car. I purchased side view mirrors, even a signal light set for the rear. You couldn’t tell me anything about my bright yellow car, until one rainy day when I was riding really fast, to avoid the ghost of my neighbor Tom, and went flying, tearing all the skin off my left knee, right down to the fleshy white meat. 

My memory then flashes to my high school basketball tournaments during the holiday season. My mom was raising three children, struggling to make ends meet, to keep food on the table and clothes on our backs. But, she never missed one of my hundreds of games and athletic competitions through the end of high school. She wasn’t like some of those mothers screaming in the bleachers, or jumping up and down on the field, but she watched and felt a sense of pride in her boy; and in herself. I found joy in her joy. And, she found joy in mine.

I hold back the tears as I open my eyes and head back to Mom’s.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a collection of photographs from my childhood years in Gracetown. However, I feel blessed to have enough of a photographic memory that I can revisit my neighborhood from over 40 years ago and reclaim the joy that was once lived there. This reminds me of why photography has become such a passion of mine. Photography transcends time. Capturing the glimmer of life allows the ships of sadness to pass by, even if just for a moment. I particularly enjoy the moments when kids are laughing and playing together. It’s these moments that we must recall when life challenges us through the senseless losses we face each day. As many fond memories I have of Gracetown, I have those that are still hard to swallow. My mind flashes back just then to the neighborhood tragedies that I experienced while living there. The teenager who attempted suicide after his popular girlfriend broke up with him, and how he ended up paralyzed for life. The old man Tom we were all afraid of, whose murder still remains unsolved. I don’t allow myself to stay in the darkness, though. We must let those ships pass us by.  

Joy has been a constant in my life in a variety of forms. The most consistent and present form came in the birth of my son, Laquan, in December 1990. There was nothing like watching him grow through the expansion of his mother’s belly, the flutters of his kicking feet, and the heartbeat rendered through the Ultrasound. Witnessing him inch his body into the world as his doctor tugged at the crown of his head, my baby boy came into the world at 10 pounds, 12 ounces. With his first breath of air, he breathed life into mine. His loud cry brought the fear of fatherhood forward, but his touch told me life was going to be all right. Experiencing his birth was pure joy.

Laquan became a father in May 2017 when his son, Ezra Ignatius Miles, weighing in at 11 pounds, came into this world. My boy got to experience both the bliss and the fear of fatherhood. I am blessed to watch my son grow into a father. Most importantly, this year Laquan and I brought my mom the greatest Christmas gift ever, her first great-grandson.  

Before I left to return to Boston, I asked my mom how it felt to finally meet her great-grandson and to have him here with the family for Christmas. Her eyes beamed with radiance, “I miss that baby boy already; I enjoyed him so much and wish I could have kept him longer,” she says with the sound of laughter in her heart.  

“He made me feel real good, made me feel so much better. So precious. Lord have mercy on my sweet little boy.” He reminds her of Laquan as a baby, she says, “Look at that big boy! Laquan was big, but this baby is bigger than his daddy was! He was just so loving, cuddled in my arms right away. Bless his little heart.” Elated with a warm feeling, she exhales, “That’s Gramma’s Man, that’s who he is, Gramma’s Man!”

– Thaddeus Miles

The Prayer

A friend asked me to post in writing the prayer I prayed during the Blackjoy launch event and the name of the song and artist that played in the backgroud while I prayed.

The name of the song “You Know My Name” by Tasha Cobbs, featuring Jimi Cravity. Heres the link to the song if you want to have it playing while you read the prayer (I started to pray at the 3 min mark).

God we come to you this morning knowing you know everyone’s name in this room.

We come this morning thankful for your Grace.

For allowing us to wake up in the land of the living. We come this morning knowing you’re going to be with us and fill this room with Joy.

We ask you to peel back our layers of shame, regrets, trauma, heartache,fear, depression , envy, and doubt, so you can water that seed of joy you planted inside of us before the world knew us. 

We consecrate this space in your holy spirt Lord and invite you to have your way.

God I also want to say thank you, this time last year I could not fine joy even though I was swimming in an ocean of it. 

I was ready to give up when you surrounded me with brother Conan, brother Shawn and brother ED who stood in the gap and surrounded me with your love, grace, mercy and joy.

Thank you Lord for that covering. I pray that anyone in here today, feeling weary lost or abandoned like I did last year, feels your presence in this place.

May you be magnified, glorified and your people unified in this meeting. For these and many more blessings we pray.

Amen

Thaddeus Miles

The Launch

The #BlackJoy inaugural presentation, The Power of Resilience and Joy, held at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, featured several performances. Author and actor, Remi Adeleke shared his inspiring story of redemption penned in his compelling autobiography Transformed: A Navy Seal’s Unlikely Journey from the Throne of Africa, to the Streets of the Bronx, to Defying All Odds.  Motivational speaker Akeem Lloyd, a youth advocate, educator, mentor and poet, discussed how he is using his life and gifts to enhance opportunities for young people. Slam Poet, Jalem Towler captivated the audience with a powerful spoken word performance sharing his view of blackness and joy. Lastly, Origination, a local dance troop lit up the event floor with two breathtaking performances, Block Party and Umoja wa Africa.

Below are several quotes and observations from attendees. They provide a good example of the hope and the goals of the project. I’d like to extend gratitude to all attendees for singing along and praying with me to start the program off. Your voices were beautiful. Shout out my partners and presenters for your support, courage, resilience, determination and love. #BlackJoy changes hearts and lives on February 17, 2020. – Thaddeus Miles

The event was sponsored by HoodFit, My Brother’s Keeper – Boston, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and MassHousing. BlackJoy is the effort of community leader and photographer Thaddeus Miles to highlight and inspire joy in the lives of Black people

REFLECTIONS of ATTENDEES

BAM (Becoming A Man) Students

“When I went to the Black Joy event it was eye opening. I heard different speakers speak on similar things, things that are troubling or difficult, things that I have gone through too. Listening to the dynamic presenters encouraged me not to always be negative and to stay positive and to support my BAM Brothers. Before attending the event, because I am Hispanic and unfamiliar with Black History, I was not sure how much I would relate to a Back Joy event; but in reality being at that event taught me that we are more similar than different. I felt love and joy there, and I was treated as a member of a community that felt like one big family – and that is what I enjoyed the most about that day.” – SG, Sophomore BAM Scholar at East Boston High

My time at the Black Joy event was very good and inspiring. I really got inspired listening to what Remi and Akeem were saying. What they were saying were things we don’t hear on a daily basis. Things like “I love you” or things like “I’m proud of you”. We don’t get that every day in our society and I’m still not very sure why. Something that Akeem really touched on that touched me is that it’s not normal. It’s not normal that when you’re in your household you don’t receive the word “I love you”. It’s not normal that you don’t receive hugs. It’s not normal at all and that’s something that should change in every community. That hit me hard because hearing those words make me feel better and I don’t always hear those words. Remi’s story was just amazing man…the fact that he had so many downfalls and he’s at such a good place now is just amazing. After falling from the riches and becoming a drug dealer…well a scammer, he’s an actor and was a navy seal. No one can make an excuse for not persevering after hearing his story. His story inspired me in school because there are times in school when I’m not my best, but he made me feel like even if I make mistakes that I can still be #1 or be where I want to be. That’ll forever be on my mind. I even told all my family members about it. – QS

I got lost on my way to MFA and I was really thinking about going home, but I am glad I was able to show commitment and self-determinations and make it to the event because I had a good time listening and learning from Remi, the dances and celebrating the event with my BAM brothers. I enjoyed hearing about Remi’s story and how he never gave up. I want to work hard and try harder in classes this semester because I know I can do better.  – KJ 

Wise and Lovely Elders

I had an amazing time! Celebrating black history with the seniors of UHM Properties was wonderful. The dancers and speakers were great to see. I can’t wait to do something like this again. I thank you all so much for inviting me to this event!”- Minnie Brite-Thomas, New Port Antonio Housing Development

“The dancers were really good. I truly enjoyed it. It was really positive. Maybe it will help young people be more positive and do a little something good for the world, too.”- Shirley Clark, Blue Mountain Housing Development

“I thought it was very nice and interesting – all I can think of is those two words when I remember . I would definitely like to see this again.” – Hattie Shaw, Washington Heights Housing Development

North Shore Community College’s M.A.L.E.S. (Men Achieving Leadership, Excellence and Success) Group

The students of North Shore Community College’s M.A.L.E.S. (Men Achieving Leadership, Excellence and Success) program, along with their peers and a couple of family members, were truly grateful to have had the opportunity to attend the BlackJoy inaugural event at the MFA.  A few students had never been to Boston, and most had not been to the MFA.

During the bus ride when asked what they were looking forward to the most, the majority of students sat in silence with their headphones closely cupped to their ears. Some were not sure what to expect, others too shy to share, and a couple bold enough to simply say “lunch.”

Seeing the looks on their faces as they shuffled through the double doors in awe, in and of itself, filled my heart with joy. As I observed them throughout the event, I was pleased as they shared commentary with one another ranging from curiosity and intrigue, to being startled and emotional.  When the young dancers were on stage, I saw the students engaging with movement in their seats and smiles on their faces.  

– Michele Cubelli Harris, Office of the Vice President, Student Affairs, NSCC

“This whole day was a wake-up call for me. I need to step up my game.”

“I thought the dancers were entertaining and really cool to watch.  The spoken word and the poetry were fire.”

“I related with the speakers experience so much.”

“I want to be an event planner like the man at the podium with the big hat. What do I have to study to do that?”

“I never knew we had a museum like this in Boston.”

“I loved the prayer and the song.  I really needed this.”

“It was such an inspiring day – I loved everything about it. So glad I came.”

“The dancers were dope.  I can get with that for sure.”

“I learned that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from, we can be and do anything we set our mind to.”

“Having been raised in church, it gave me that kind of vibe. I messed with it heavy.”

 “I wish we could do stuff like this more.”

“We gotta keep pushing.  That’s it. Keep pushing.”

“Everything, all of it was cool.”

“The event was unforgettable, nothing I expected. It was powerful, moving and motivating. I left there feeling brave and super encouraged to complete my goals.”