Friday, February 27, 2009

"I'll See You Later/(How Will You Live?)"-Eulogy for Brian David Barton, Febuary 27, 2009, 11:00am

Good morning to you all…to the Barton and Bland families and their extended kinship networks present today, friends of the family, to my fellow classmates of McCluer Senior High School Class of 1997, and all other persons assembled in this place. Today, we have gathered to pay special respect, honor, and more than anything else—we are here to celebrate the life of Brian David Barton aka “Sugar Bee”.

As I pondered over what to say this morning and how to say it, I began to think that if I could ever honor my dear friend and brother this is the ultimate way to do so. When I collected my thoughts to write, and even as I speak now, I ran through numerous experiences Brian and I shared, as I am sure many of you are likely doing yourself. I don’t think you can really help it. To mention Brian’s name is to recall some memory that has great story behind it.

The question I thought about all day yesterday was, “What can one say about Brian that would truly encompass the sheer force of energy that he was?” Brian, as we all know, was a natural comedian. He had the uncanny ability to find humor in almost every conceivable situation, whether you wanted him to or not (my father can attest to that).

vignette [I think once we started fighting after I lost a bet during the NCAA Championship…I think when Duke beat UK for the title. Brian said something that I can no longer recall…I just remember us wrestling on the floor and him just laughing the whole time.]

For those that know a little something about the art of performing comedy the key is timing. So, it’s not just what you say or how you say it, which are very important, but I would argue that one of the most important things in comedy is timing and Brian had the timing of a Richard Pryor or Eddie Murphy (especially when Eddie did Raw and Delirious...of course most of you my age either snuck and listened to those albums or watched the videos without your parents/grownfolks knowledge).

One never envisions that you will have to eulogize a friend, at least not this early in life. One of my old professors once told me, “We never know when or where or how…but all we can do is the best we can in light of our circumstances. We are not always given the privilege of choosing our circumstances but we are always called upon to respond and react to situations.” To put it another way, we have all heard of or uttered the phrase, “you can’t choose your parents,” this is indeed true. Despite the lack of choice we have when we come into this world we can choose how we live. And when you think about Brian I believe that is the BEST we can remember him…”how he lived.” From that I think we all can learn something.

I first met Brian at Ferguson Middle School in August of 1992. If I remember correctly, the school divided the students into teams, and we were on the same team called the Cardinals. That much is not important, but the one thing I remember besides the anxiety of starting the next phase of my schooling was hearing Brian’s laughter. He seemed never really to be phased by the social awkwardness of moving from adolescence into the all-important teenage years. I was always very serious and focused…my goal was to be a pediatric neurosurgeon like Dr. Ben Carson.

Brian helped me to lighten up when I really needed to…and I think in turn some of my seriousness rubbed off on him at times...well maybe not. As we got older he grew to be a trusted friend who I talked to about anything. By the time we entered high school he was one of my best friends.

Once we entered adulthood, Brian and I spoke at length about faith, politics, organized religion, the state of "Black America", and of course hip-hop (the good, the bad, and the ugly). Also, we talked about what we planned on doing as we got older, realizing that we were not the next, but the "NOW" generation. We spoke of how we could be come not just successful but relevant. One of the things that Brian was outside of being funny was that Brian was a thinker. He would call me on his lunch breaks especially while I was going through my general exams and we would discuss and argue about most things. At that particular time we provided an outlet for each other. I was lost in the world of theory and ideas and never really was able to speak in any pragmatic way about what I learned and Brian as able to engage ideas and theory outside the pragmatic, everyday struggles he witnessed at his job and in his community.

Our last conversation was on the Sunday before he passed, I believe, and we spoke about meeting up in St. Louis in April for old times sake, since it had been almost five years since we had connected. We even talked about sporting our old letterman jackets from high school, wondering if we still could wear them (I think I still can fit in mine, but Brian’s might have been a bit snug). I thank God for his life and the joy he brought countless others.

I have come to know that life is a fragile yet seemingly beautiful thing. What will you do with your one-grain of spiritual sand? A better way to put it is what will your legacy be? We often are faced with this question when thinking about the Dr. King Holiday. “What would Dr. King do if he were alive?” “How would Dr. King react to President Obama” and the list can go on and on. Even now only five weeks or so into his presidency, certain media outlets are asking about how will Obama be remembered? When thinking about Brian’s legacy I can honestly say that it is one of laughter, love, and sincerity. Those words sum up “how he lived.”

He laughed and brought laughter to others. He loved his family and close friends as they did him. Brian was also sincere…the way I have proven sincerity in the past in those closest to me outside of my family is seeing whether or not they can help me do some work. Now, some of you, how know me, know that I grew up helping to maintain and train horses, and aside from what many would consider a “dream” to own horses, it is more than a notion to talk about the work involved for the upkeep of such animals and the property they are kept on. You can assume mowing grass, fixing fences, busted water lines and a horse may periodically get out from time to time, but there is one chore that separates the men from the boys, the loyal from the untrustworthy…that chore of chores is cleaning stalls. If you are unfamiliar, that is simply cleaning out the manure from a horses stall and replacing it with a fresh bedding of saw dust…think of it of cleaning out a hamster cage but on a much, much, much larger scale.

At any rate, I could always count on Brian to help me out…rain, sleet, snow or shine, if I needed a hand Brian wouldn’t hesitate to help a brotha’ out. Even when he had been working at White Castle’s on one of those late night shifts he would still come by and help. That to me was a true friend and it was the essence of sincerity that permeated through Brian’s spirit.

Pray for the family—for strength, encouragement, and love…above all love. It is said that time can heal wounds, but while that may be true in this moment of bereavement shower their family with as much love and support as you can. Think of them not just now, but think of them next week, next month, two, three years from now…in the times that lay ahead embrace them with love.

Love is unqualifiable and unquantifiable…simply put you should never be able to articulate love in my view. I believe that all sacred texts, regardless of religion define love. Each book lays out the parameters and ways in which love can be measured. If none of those explanations works for you, just think of the way that Brian would do for you. I’m sure that at some time or another Brian has engaged each of us with one of kind humor and charm. His infectious smile will always be remembered and was part of what made Brian the man that he was.

His smile encompassed not just his humor, but his intellect, and his heart. His smile was more than just a smile but it was part of his response to his circumstances. Brian was never a melancholy or down person. I saw Brian at life low valleys and high peaks and his smile was always the same, and again, there is something to be learned from that.

The question however, is “How will you live?” Right now we are each filled with hurt and sadness, but the hope we each must look to is how Brian lived while he was with us. He chose to live—will you? Will you think of reaching out to that friend or loved one you have not spoken to in a while. Will you complain about your circumstance or work to transcend them? Will you chose to live? As I stated earlier we cannot determine our circumstances but we can craft our response. Try to be more relevant. Try to live…and live fully. We do not know how long any of us has. I recall speaking to my grandmother, who is now ninety-seven years young and asking her how she looks back at her life and she mentioned that, “it doesn’t feel as though it has been that long…but I am just thankful for each day that I am here, because I cannot control that.”

If nothing else Brian showed each of us how to laugh even at ourselves. I think encapsulated in his laughter, quick-witted candor, and the numerous other characteristics and strengths he possessed a purposeful life.

Brian was a friend and brother in the purist sense. I refuse to say goodbye to him. As we pay our respects to his earthly remains I will speak to him as was customary when we were about to end our phone conversations. Peace man…I’ll holla’ at you later my dude.

Friday, February 20, 2009

You will be missed homie...

Under normal circumstances I would not do this, as I believe that some things are better left to be dealt with in the privacy of those close to you, but I think that the situation calls for some recognition. Yesterday afternoon a dear friend of mine, Mr. Brian Barton, transcended this existence. He was my best friend and long time classmate going back to seventh grade. There is no quantifiable way to write about the myriad adventures we had, going from adolescence to adulthood. Nor is it possible to write how much this brother meant to me...and so many others.

Brian was a young brother that was always the life of the party and had the comedic timing of Richard Pryor or Eddie Murphy. His always infectious smile was a welcome sight in the most difficult situations. In recent years Brian and I spoke at length about faith, politics, organized religion, the state of "Black America", and of course hip-hop (the good, the bad, and the ugly). Also, we talked about what we planned on doing as we got older, realizing that we were not the next, but the "NOW" generation. We spoke of how we could be come not just successful but relevant.

Our last conversation was on this past Sunday, I believe, and we spoke about meeting up in St. Louis in April for old times sake, since it had been almost five years since we had connected. Hell, we even talked about sporting our old letterman jackets from high school, wondering if we still could wear them. I thank God for his life and the joy he brought countless others. Everyday we hear about folks who leave the "land of the living" as my grandfather speaks of it, but it never really hits home until someone that you know passes.

The picture I posted above pretty much sums up the character that Brian was...he seldom (at least in high school) looked at the camera, as he always wanted to look like he was a model or just really stoic. If memory serves me correctly, I think that picture was taken like our sophomore or possibly junior year...and what a time we had. Basketball games, thinking about college, who we were (and were not) going to take to Homecoming or Prom, and the countless hours we spent on the Playstation at Chris Clarks' house. The ironic thing about the picture is that a fellow classmate emailed it to me yesterday recalling some old memories. I thought to call Brian after seeing the picture, but thought, "I'll reach out to him later this week." That time never came.

The Creator giveth and He surely taketh away. How or why is not for me to discern or contemplate I believe. I will, however thank God for his life and the time he was here. I will never forget my friend, my comrade, my brother. When I graduate my dude...a piece of this Ph.D. will be dedicated to you homie...I did not forget those times when you called during the most intense parts of this process to make sure I hadn't lost my mind completely.

Brian was the brother I expected to be in my wedding (when and if I got married), he was the brother I expected to have a nice libation with after I graduated from Cornell.

My prayers remain with Brian's wife, and the rest of the Barton family.

Brian "Sugar Bee" Barton

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Still We RISE!

The recent New York Post political cartoon depicting two police officers shooting a "trained chimp" and commenting that "They'll have to find someone else to write the the next stimulus bill," is more than just mere satire. I spoke to several close friends and family members about the issue and there were some that commented that the authors of the stimulus package were not President Obama, but a group of economists. For a brief moment I agreed with that assumption, but still was angered because the face of this grand scheme to save the dying American economy is none other than our 44th President, Barack Obama.

As began to mull it over last night I really saw that there was no possible way that the cartoon could not be more than what it is...racist. However, rather than being something new it is more of the same racist ideology that has struggled to, and succeeded in some ways, in facilitating the creation of Africans and African Americans as subhuman and fit to endure the ill treatment and thought given to them by their fellow white Americans. In my search for context I thought back again to George Fredrickson's timeless treatise, The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817-1914 (I have mentioned this book on my blog before and I think it is well worth the read).

In the ninth chapter entitled, "The Negro as Beast: Southern Negrophobia at the Turn of the Century," Fredrickson discusses how so called "experts" of the alchemist study of phrenology, as well as other physical sciences, attempted to create a sustained understanding of Darwinist philosophy that explained African American "degeneracy". Such "scientific" studies were employed as the basis of, and accepted as, fact-- if not gospel truth. More importantly, the fact that such unscientific and racist dogma disguised as fruitful intellectual discourse was readily accepted by white Americans at the end of the nineteenth (and well into the early twentieth) century speaks to the entrenched nature of the warped, twisted, and indeed inhumane and incessant need to create a mythology that made the sons and daughters of Africa ripe for extinction.

White Americans, not just in the South, took heart in the fact that they would help mother nature in this biological process of genetic elimination through wanton violence against African Americans, commonly understood through the hangman's noose.

Therefore, there is no justifiable way that in a nation wrought with a history of racial antagonisms that after the election of the first African American President of the United States that such a so called satirical cartoon can be tolerated. However, I recognize too that some are more concerned about whether or not they will have jobs in the next year to really be too concerned with the strange fruits of racist ideology in print media. Their concerns are much more pragmatic and personal--and I sympathize with that train of thought.

The question now is why are we still fighting against the specter of institutional racism? Well, I will tell you. Racism is not dead and has not met the untimely demise that those who want President Obama to symbolize some grandiose post racial watershed moment would like to think. The even larger inquiry I have is why should we care at all about the "Black Image in the White Mind"?

For far too long African Americans, the poster children of the dispossessed of this great nation, have had to engage in physical, political, socio-economic, spiritual, intellectual and emotional warfare with their Anglo counterparts. The response to such actions must take place on several fronts that embolden the mind, body, and spirit to its most righteous levels to illustrate that greatness is still attainable.

To that end, I took sublime comfort in OUR First Lady, Michelle Obama, who spoke to a group of 200 schoolchildren in the East Room of the White House encouraging them to look far beyond the historical figures found in their text books and to "think about the extraordinary people who live in your own world--all those folks who play important roles in black history and American history every single day."

Her words are the rebuttal needed. It is very likely, and I would contest that their have not been so many black and brown faces in the White House since the slave labor erected the structure in 1800 (when President Jefferson moved in...though work continued up to 1809). Despite it all, the last stanza of Maya Angelou's most powerful poem, "Still I Rise" rings in my ear and should be the intellectual and spiritual backdrop for the children that were in the East Room of the White House yesterday:

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

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Negrointellectual by Vernon C. Mitchell, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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