I once stood behind Ted Kennedy in a long line at the Kennedy airport. He was a very large man, and given his stature and public position, he could have requested and received special attention and privileges. He stood quietly and patiently with the rest of us waiting for his turn at the counter.
Listening this morning, to an NPR discussion about the career of Ted Kennedy, many commentators mentioning his many legislative accomplishments, one person called in to mention Chappaquiddick. The way the caller referred to this incident, was as if one spectacular failure in lifetime, was enough to negate the part of the life that was lived well, and was studded with worthwhile work. It is interesting that people who see themselves as guardians of the morality of our society seem to focus exclusively on the moments of failure, and behave as if that were the only thing that matters.
Without knowing the heart of another person, how does one know enough to condemn them for one or two significant failures in life, without knowing what might have gone on inside the mind, heart and conscience of the "guilty" person. Whether there was regret, shame, penance, forgiveness or rehabilitation. It is a narrow and harsh judgement to reduce a life so public and so filled with accomplishment to a one-dimensional condemnation.
Any life lived in private or public, deserves a look and evaluation that makes room failure and success. A fair evaluation should include a full look at the life being remembered, and a realistic dose of compassion for the difficulty of living as many years as Ted Kennedy lived. I honor him for his many successes and I allow that no life is without sobering and regrettable failures.
Tags: Ted Kennedy, forgiveness, public life, chappaquiddick, death, accomplishment
Our well-known local poet, Sojourner Kincaid Rolle signed copies of her new collection of poems, Black Street - Poems. This book "seemed to come together in a fairly short time" Sojourner told me, "five weeks from when the Center for Black Studies Reasearch agreed to publish it in time for my annual Langston Hughes reading on April 3, in fact" she says, "I had been working on it for quite some time. I first had the idea for the book shortly after I recorded a cd by the same title three years ago. The cd only had three poems, Black Street, Millenium Poem, and The Queen I Am, but I knew I wanted to create a companion book which included other poems I had written on the Black experience. Some of these poems likeThe Blues That Set Me Free, were written and published nearly 20 years ago. Sweet Home Hallelujah was actually turned into a one-act play and was produced in 1996. Milllenium Poem was written ten years ago when we were all summing up the past century and stocking up for Y2K."
On that Thursday evening at Chaucer's, she says "I was elated throughout the reading and signing. I was in one of my favorite places - a bookstore - surrounded by my friends, supporters, and the staff at Chaucer's - all gracious and complimentary."
Her poems are full of visual and musical imagery that vibrate with color , rhythm and sound. Many are history, such that even reading them, sound like they are stories being told aloud. I asked her if she had any favorite lines or poems and she told me, "of course, this is like asking me to choose among my loved ones. I feel so strongly about most of the ideas expressed in the collection of poems. There is more to say but I feel this set stands for what it stands for. Each poem is a response to some call. The title poem, Black Street, represents a certain coming out firmly and forthrightly to all who, through the years, consciously or unconsciously, subtly or explicitly, negate or subjugate the Black experience in America. I am proud to have produced this "speaking-up" poem."
She says that she is "just as proud of 'Inseparable' which I read at the unveiling of a commissioned painting of Barack Obama and again at a pre-inaugaration event held at Trinity Church. If I had to choose a line which I would like history to remember it would be this:
Each breath infinitessimally mingled; each drop of dew a composite.
It is often said that everything we write is autobiographical. I tend to think that is true with a few exceptions. In my case, I believe that my history is everybody's history. We all live on Black Street."
In the poem "Sweet Home Hallelujah" she evokes Harlem throughout the years, from it's Renaissance to it's sad decline, and great rising up, but still recalls the "rafters where our voices sang and closes with a great "Hallelujah, AMENhotep!'
One of my favorites, of which there were many, is about family. The poem, Grace, about her grandfather, begins,
"I had forgotten how good a word is grace
It's curvature and elegance;
simple and timeless. "
The book was dedicated to the poet Langston Hughes, and she quotes him, as he says,
"My seeking has been to explain and illuminate the Negro Condition in America and obliquely that of all humankind".
Later on in her collection she seems to speak back to him in her poem, Standing on the Place Where Langston's Ashes Reside.
In humble apropos
Standing within the circle
That holds in loving care
All that lies between-
All the tellings
All the signifyings
All the ironies
All the justifyings.
In silent repose
A boundless legacy.
Threads in the fabric
Of all that cloaks us -
A variable perfume
A mutable augur.
Sojourner says proudly in A Poem that Ends in Love, that "I Am a Black Poet". She is also a community activist, peacemaker, has taught poetry in our schools and in prisons, she is the Community Liaison for The Center for Black Studies at UCSB.
Santa Barbara is richer for her uplifting and creative presence here!
For more information about the book, Black Street, visit