Hoop Dreams and Faith


We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.
-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I was fortunate yesterday to experience a range of special occurrences on the Martin Luther King Holiday, that taught and reinforced powerful life lessons. The choir of which I am a part was asked to sing both the National Anthem and the halftime show for the game in Washington between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Wizards. As one can imagine, this would come as quite an honor for any group as it did for us. Weeks of preparation and rehearsals were conducted to prepare us for what we anticipated were the big moments, on an NBA stage, at mid court in front of 20,000 people.

This moment held a particular significance for me as someone who from the earliest days as a child had dreamed of playing in the NBA. After years of school games, AAU games and summer camps, that dream feel short as it does for most in my college years. Lacing up a pair of hi-tops to step onto the court during the game struck me as being as close to that dream as I’d ever get even all these years later. So for both of these reasons the excitement of lining up, taking the court our introduction and singing seemed for the moment to be the highlight of the day.


The anthem and Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” along with an energetic version of “We Shall Overcome” were very well received by the crowd and brought applause and congratulations from many for the remainder of the afternoon. However our biggest moment would come after the game.


You see prior to the game, we had been asked to visit a young man sometime who had a rare form of cancer for which there is no cure, a former basketball player himself who had been visited by the Wizards players and brought court side to a game. Just last week he had been given two days to live and we were asked to “make a joyful noise” if we didn’t mind visiting him. A quick poll and a phone call or two and the choir was on its way after the game to Children’s Hospital to sing songs of faith, encouragement and prayer with Jawhar, his family and friends and hospital staff. Hardly a dry eye was in the room as members offered words of encouragement and hugs.

Ironically we had thought the most anticipated moment would come at mid court. Instead, the most significant time of the day arrived far from lights and cameras. The most meaningful applause we heard was not in the arena, but that of our special guest making the substantial effort it took to raise his arms and claps his hands slowly after each song we sang.

In five days, Jawhar will celebrate his 19th birthday. We will be back to celebrate it with him in song. He may not realize his dream of playing in the NBA either, but with faith and strength, and determination we pray he achieves a much more important goal; a long life.


For more on Jawhar Stokes, please see a related video on his visit to the Wizards game earlier in the year here.

Is There a Problem in Your Family?

The More we are aware of and discuss these issues the better prepared we are for them.

A Buick in the Land of Lexus

Mental-Illness 2



When you have a kid who’s “challenging” (euphemism for “major pain in the ass”), receiving a phone call from his preschool teacher at 8:30 at night is NOT a good thing. You know she’s not calling you at that hour to gush over what a little darling he is.

At 3, my son was defiant, intense, uber-intelligent, willful and aggressive. Hence the phone call from his preschool teacher, asking,

“Is there a problem in your family?”

Mrs. Katz-  in your vast experience educating 3-year-olds, have you never encountered this type of kid? Even the best 3-year-olds make you want to drink in the daytime.

I’m sure it’s hard to be an underpaid, overworked preschool teacher with Little Dude in the room, making his weird-ass noises and destroying furniture and what not. But, lady – this is your JOB.

Did she really think I was going to sigh with…

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When Silence Kills


While I am optimistic about what 2014 holds for many of us, I must begin this year on a somber note. A growing epidemic is sweeping the country affecting people regardless of race, gender or age. Mental illness in its many forms from depression, to anxiety, to bi-polar disorder is having a negative impact around the country. Sadly if left untreated or even under-treated mental illness can have tragic consequences. Suicide is now the leading death by injury in the country surpassing car crashes, according to the American Journal of Public Health.

Far too many people go through their days feeling inadequate, hopeless, numb, isolated and lonely, even in the presence of loved ones friends and family. Many of these family members and friends may even be unaware of the inner struggles of their loved ones. For others the problems are well known, but solutions to the problems aren’t knowledgeable to them.

Many who face these challenges are afraid to seek treatment or counseling because they are afraid of the stigma they may face from others. Often they don’t want to admit they have the problem as their pre-conceived notion of the condition may actually be worse than the reality of it. Of course the denial and lack of assistance only reinforces their inability to cope with the problem and perpetuates a negative cycle.

Too often friends and loved ones can also add to the problem even though they are well intentioned. Frequently someone subtly reaching out for help is greeted merely with a passing “keep your chin up” or even a “just pray about it” guidance from parents or loved ones who do not recognize the warning signs of something more serious. While a positive attitude for some or faith for others play a role in combating these conditions, they may not be sufficient on their own.

In the face of such challenges, what can be done to help? Well for those suffering from conditions that are persistent seek help from parents, spouses loved ones and friends. Many houses of worship also have support organizations for such issues. Additionally seek professional treatment where guidance can be given from clinical experts.

For those who may have someone facing these challenges in their life, be patient, be encouraging and listen. Direct them to many of the above resources mentioned when the issues are beyond your ability to fully grasp and comprehend. Above all, do not merely assume that an apparent cry for help isn’t ” a big deal” or that it will pass. It may be the first and last warning you hear. It is important for your friends and loved ones to know you can support them with love and not judgment not just for that day but for as long as it takes. With education and understanding we can help remove some of the dangers from and illness that is claiming far too many lives.

A Renewed You


“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery

We will hear the phrase “a new year a new you” more times than we can count in the coming days. New Years Day often brings about a rash of emotions from relief and excitement that perhaps a challenging year is behind us to hope and exuberance for a better year to come. However lost in all of the new year’s resolutions is the reality that no magic lies in the moment between 11:59pm and 12:00am. Goals and achievements made in the coming year will not occur merely because the calendar had changed.

Perhaps this explains why gyms are filled to capacity on the first days of the year and not nearly as full by the end of the month. Too often we get wrapped up in the emotion and the concept of the newness of the new year and avoid practical steps to ensure that something actually changes as we would like it to.

A few helpful tips to turn good intentions into reality:

1) Reflect.
Take sometime to review last year taking inventory of successes and failures. Explore reasons for each.

2) Revise.
Adjust your goals and plans into realistic targets based on where you are now. Plan to “checkin” on your progress monthly.

3) Remain.
Be the person still at the gym by the end of the month. Be persistent and committed to the plan you have put in place.

Through these steps you can become something more realistic than a new person( how many times can you create a new you anyway) you can become renewed with a keener focus and more confidence in the path that 2014 will take you.

Wishing you a blessed and successful New Year and Renewed You in 2014

End-of-the-Year Countdown List

A great way to keep track and score of the year gone by.


Sometimes at the end of the year, we dwell on our failures and live in hopes that the New Year will bring better days. But if we take a closer look at this year, we will realize that it wasn’t all bad.

Therefore, I encourage you to write an end-of-the-year countdown list? Now I know you may be thinking, what is that? It’s a list that you create of the good things that have happened in your life during the last twelve months.

This is how you get started. Write or type the numbers 1 (representing January) through 12 (representing December), with each number on a separate line. And put at least one thing good thing that God did for you during that month.

It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. An example may be how God allowed you not to miss a day of work in the month of…

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The Power of Accountability


Unfortunately, past, current and future headlines have and will continue to include cautionary tales of leadership and organizational flaws which open up non-profit organizations to civil, legal and even criminal allegations and charges. Regardless of innocence or guilt, these situations are certainly unwanted, serve as major distractions and can often derail or even destroy an organization. The good news for organizations, is that through a strong accountability system most of these instances are avoidable and at the very least, can be addressed before they become full-blown crises.

Accountability is often considered in a negative context as something that is limiting and punitive. In reality, a strong accountability structure empowers an organization, particularly in light of would-be funders and clientele. For organizations of all types, corporations, nonprofits, churches, universities and others, instituting codes of conduct for organizational leaders and staff are essential. In order for everyone to be held accountable, common set of standards to which they are to be held to must be established and agreed upon. These standards include ethical codes of conduct which cannot be violated. They should extend across all areas of the organization from financial transactions to actions conducted on “company time.” Secondly the organization must institute a systematic manner by which it reviews and monitors adherence to these organizational standards. This can include monthly or quarterly performance reviews by executive staff or the board of directors.

Obviously these standards, their origins and their compliance will vary significantly between say a church and a corporation, but the principles are the same. One of the key areas of focus in the area of accountability is communication. These standards must be commonly shared, written and published in organizational literature such as an employee handbook, contract, board handbook etc. Policies that are unequivocal in their standards as well as their consequences combined with personnel who monitor and are held accountable can help prevent abuses of power. In the end an organization is only as strong as the accountability its foremost leader faces. Ideally individuals would hold themselves accountable, but it never hurts to have safeguards and responsibilities in place for our leaders. While they are often capable of great things, they still are sometimes subject to human failings. Even greater achievements often accompany those who are equipped both with a strong moral compass and a surrounding system to reinforce their character.

A Dream Moment

lincolnOn Wednesday August 28,  President Obama, Clinton, Carter, the King Family and hundreds of thousands of people celebrated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington on the National Mall. As I reflected both on the march and the stirring photo above from 1963, I was amazed with what it must have been like to walk out from under the shadow of President Lincoln, the “Great Emancipator” and into a sea of humanity of still seeking liberation and the equality promised by President Jefferson who’s memorial sat off in the distance in front of Dr. King.

A symbolic moment that changed the country literally and figuratively not only served as a continued impetus for social and civic change and civil rights, but also served as a key expansion of the notion of self-less service to others and helping one’s fellow man. Nowhere are the concepts more put into practice and appreciated than within the non-profit sector where consideration for others is paramount on a daily basis. Those of us who serve in this capacity understand that where we are diminished in part we are diminished as a whole. We are only as strong as the weakest among us and a society that ignores the problems of the poor while enjoying prosperity built off of their backs is bound to fail. Dr. King said it best when he stated,

“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

The work of so many who provide, food, clothing, shelter, education, counseling, job training, mentoring or just small gestures of kindness, uplift humanity every day. By doing so we not only enhance those we serve but ourselves as well.

Detroit Will Rise Again


In the days since Detroit declared bankruptcy and in the days coming many have and will continue to ask how the city could have arrived at this point? For many Detroiters the question is not how we got here, but how the city staved off bankruptcy for as long as it did. While this comes as little surprise to any longtime observer of the city, it is still no less of a painful time. Seeing a city you love make such dubious history as the first city of its size to file for bankruptcy still stings. Those taking merely a superficial glance will blame Democratic leadership; those left holding the political hot potato which had been Detroit political office the past 50 plus years, corruption or union involvement. That of course only tells part of a much more complicated story. It belies the fact that Detroit enjoyed continuous population growth for nearly 130 years from its initial years in the early 19th century to the 1950 swelling to over 1.8 million people before it lost residents for the first time under Republican leadership. The city hasn’t added more resident than it’s lost since. Of course finger pointing at this stage is about as productive as re-arranging the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic.

Far more useful is a discussion centered on solutions. The city’s plight has reinvigorated such discussions by many of the city’s community stakeholders in the business, philanthropic and government sectors. A three-pronged approach would be most productive. First, a comprehensive examination of the social, economic, demographic and political factors which combined to cause a 60 year Katrina-type perfect storm which has gradually laid waste to so many of municipal institutions from education, to basic services and public safety in a once fully functioning and bustling city. Second, a short-term strategy of financial and municipal restructuring as it pertains to the delivery structures of basic services from fire, to schools, to emergency and hospital services, and police among many others.

Third and just as important if not more as the last point is an innovative approach to urban planning and development which starts with the city’s core. If Detroit is to rebuild, it must start with one of the driving reasons why people move to cities in the first place, industry and employment. In its early Detroit was primarily a trading post for fur and other goods, it would gain international renown for its manufacturing prowess during the last century. Now it must identify other key industrial specialties, to build and attract business around. One such significant effort among many others; is spearheaded by Quicken Loans head Dan Gilbert and is centered around technology, attracting the likes of Google and Twitter and countless other small startups, is already underway in a once bustling downtown corridor anchored by the old Hudson’s department store along Woodward Avenue. Any major development strategies must be first linked to Detroit’s neighborhoods, creating pathways to employment through community organizations as well as to suburban and regional cooperation, a reality which has eluded the Detroit metro area in its truest sense for several decades.

The Detroit of today isn’t the same city that greeted my grandfather, who when he arrived in the Detroit in the prior in the years preceding World War II, found a bustling city full of opportunity for those who were industrious. He would find a city full of opportunity yet still teeming with the reminders from the deep south as the city’s second African-American bus driver he would endure racist taunts as riders would disembark the bus when he boarded for his daily run. He would ignore such daily insults and go on to become a successful entrepreneur of several companies within the city.

Nor is it the same city that my father experienced as a Ford auto worker in the 1960’s who experienced the booming years of a bustling Motown sound as well as the result of years of pent-up anger and frustration during the 1967 civil unrest. The Detroit of today isn’t even the Detroit I recall in my youth where the summers at spent at Belle Isle were warm but facing growing violence across the city’s neighborhoods as crack-cocaine made its presence felt during the 1980’s.

Detroit often synonymous with innovation and ingenuity which gave us the American Automobile later transitioned the machinery which did so into the arsenal of Democracy, spurred urban freeways, developed the first suburban mall, gave the world the Motown sound will once again have to reinvent itself. Over 200 years ago, shortly after the fire of 1805 destroyed most of Detroit, one of the city’s leaders, Father Gabriel Richard penned what would become and remain the city’s motto, “We hope for better days, she will arise from the ashes.” Those words were never more true than they are today, and reflect the sentiments not only of this Detroiter but countless others across the city from business and civic leaders, to faith-based and community organizations to many of the city’s residents who resiliently continue to live and work in a city which has seen better days and will see better days ahead.