Friday, March 31, 2006

on karma

When overspread by extreme vice --like a tree by a vine-- you do to yourself what an enemy would wish. -Dhammapada, 12

Don't you understand (man) universal law? What you throw out comes back to you, star. -Lauryn Hill, "Lost Ones"

Flashback. Senior year of undergrad. For the first time in my tenure at Rutgers, I was sharing a classroom with a number of my closest friends. We were all enrolled in a discussion seminar whose the purpose was to provide support for us during every stage of the writing of our honors theses. Generally, the class took a conversational tone, allowing us to converse easily about the progress we'd made in our research and the challenges that we faced.

True to form, I imagined myself to be at the head of the class. I'd already completed a 10-week summer research program at a prestigious university and worked with a faculty member to generate the 20-paged critical essay that was to serve as the first chapter of my thesis. All that to say - I was further along in the process than most of my peers.

So, when presentation day rolled around, I was fairly confident that my research would be more developed and polished than that of my peers. This was a good thing, as presentation day -with its goal of preparing us for the crticisms that might be issued when we actually defended our theses to the public- carried with it fears of embarrasment and public humiliation. Presentation day provided the more sadistic amongst us with a guilty pleasure, allowing us to harp upon the shortcomings or short-sightedness of another's project under the innocuous guise of playing devil's advocate. In no uncertain terms, it was an opportunity to be mean.

I leaned back in my chair to see what my less-studious peers would come up with. Before long, it became clear to me that less-studious was an understatement. "Is she serious? How ridiculously broad is that topic?" "Lord, if another student of color proposes a project about perceptions of race..." Self-satisfied and judgmental, I was less than impressed with the work of my peers. I kept my thoughts to myself, though. They needed the help of professionals, and I had my own presentation to worry about.

As my turn neared, my emotional climate changed dramatically. Though I'd prepared extensively, I was wrought with doubt. "What if they ask me about a text I hadn't read? What if there was some gaping oversight that I couldn't explain? What if I stuttered? My heart raced. Palms sweated. Hands shook.

Though my presentation evinced a polished project, it also showed that I myself was a mess.

Years later, I'd come to realize that this was a lesson in karmic energy. You see, some believe that karma is a force that's "out to get you". "Karma's a bitch" or "karma will get you back tenfold", they say.

Not so.

I've learned that karma is the universe's way of bringing you face to face with the energy you've put out. Karma is not a bitch and karma is not punitive. In this situation, karma saw to it that I should have a fuller understanding of the ramifications of my self-satisfied and mean-spirited regard for the work of my peers.

Although I had every reason to be confident with my presentation, I was terrorized by the thought that someone might critique me in a spirit of cattiness or with an air of superiority. And how did this image of judgement enter into my sphere of possibility? How did it breach the boundaries of my imagination? Why, because I knew that there was at least one person in the room capable of generating that energy! Someone arrogant enough to silently belittle my work while I struggled to communicate my thoughts. That person was me.

Quite simply, my spirit was shaked when it was confronted by the ghost of my own negativity. I simply could not handle the energy that I myself had created.

I am quite confident that had I not created and released into the universe so much spite and dismissal, the preoccupation with being judged too harshly by my peers with would have never entered my mind. On that day, I got the first whiff of my own toxic energy and, reader, believe me when I say it tore me up.

A lesson learned. Since then, I've endeavored to generate only the kind of energy that I wouldn't mind returning to me. Present unto the universe that which I would have the universe present unto me.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

RBMF: Help Wanted

Though immeasurably edified by the work we do, we at the Rashawn Brazell Memorial Fund are nonetheless aware of our limitations. As we endeavor to strengthen our initiatives and fundraise for our annual scholarship, we realize that we simply can not do it alone.

To this end, we are currently searching for 2 volunteers to serve in the following capacities:
-Organizational Liaison
-Programs Associate

If any of the following job descriptions are of interest to you, and you can commit 8-10 hours of your week to this important work, we encourage you to e-mail the co-founders at today.

The Organizational Liaison will be responsible for furthering our coalition building efforts and liaising regularly with our community partners. Fulfilling this position requires plenty of e-mail correspondance and may occasionally necessitate attendance at meetings (1-2 per month, max). For this reason, it would be ideal for him/her to reside in NYC or NJ.

He/she should possess strong oral, written and interpersonal skills. Familiarity with the NYC and national non-profit scene is a plus.

The Programs Associate will assist in coordinating the execution of our scholarship program and initiatives. This may include (but is not limited to) working with our community partners to solicit applications for the memorial scholarship and assisting in planning events (annual awards banquet, Brighter Days parties, external fundraisers, etc).

Excellent oral, written and interpersonal skills are necessary. Though not essential, it would be helpful to reside in the NYC area, have some experience in event planning or fundraising and/or be familiar with the NYC non-profit scene.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

On the New York Post Article: A Message from the RBMF

As you folks already know, my involvement in the organizing around the murder and dismemberment of 19-year old Rashawn Brazell began right here on this very blog. Indeed, much has transpired since my initial entry about the case. Since Mervyn and I founded the Rashawn Brazell Memorial Fund last year, there have been plenty of successes and not a few disappointments. What follows is a glimpse into the most recent evidence of the dubious tactics of the NYPD and the insensitivity of the press to this murder. Check out the news blog on for more information.

This Monday, the New York Post ran a story on a "new lead" in the investigation into Rashawn Brazell's murder under the tasteless title "GAY BEAU SOUGHT IN BODY-CHOP SLAY". Because the RBMF shoulders the responsibilty of monitoring the case, as well as the coverage of his life and murder, we thought it was important to respond to what we see as poor journalism.

It comes as no surprise to those who follow Rashawn's story, and most New Yorkers for that matter, that the New York Post chose such a sensational title for its story. By now, our frustration with the way the Post treats subjects who stand at the intersection of marginal identities has become commonplace. Are men who are suspected of murdering their girlfriends identified as straight in the headlines accompanying their stories? Of course not, but the Post keeps its circulation numbers up by concocting salacious headlines that normalize racism and homophobia.

Because we are all too aware that many similar stories never get discussed in a newsroom, we remain encouraged that Rashawn's case still garners some coverage. But we must ask, why now? It is clear to us and to
Desire Brazell, Rashawn's mother, that this information is not new. In fact, the police were told about the man in question within weeks of Rashawn's dissapearance last year. Surely, the police must have wanted to bring the man in for questioning at the time Rashawn's body was found. If not, that would highlight, at the very least, a serious lapse in judgment, if not responsibility, on the NYPD's end.

We also know that Ms. Brazell is planning a
march on Rashawn's birthday (April 15) to the 79th precinct station house to demand answers about her son's murder. The police have asked her to cancel her march. To us, it seems all too convenient that the police would suddenly have a lead that necessitated communication with the New York Post, and not the mother of the victim. While that lead may be new to the reporter and the Post, it is all too old for Ms. Brazell and indeed the NYPD.

This leaves us with many questions and not too many answers. We at the RBMF, along with all of you who have taken an active interest in Rashawn's case, are committed to ensuring his story is told in the most straightforward and accurate manner. We also hope that the police are keeping their priorities in order and that they are not engaging in stealth PR tactics, which only serve to bolster the NYPD's cracking facade. As the cases of
Immette St. Guillen and Nicole DuFresne received the appropriate amount of resources from the NYPD, we demand the same for the case of our brother, Rashawn.

Larry Lyons & Mervyn Marcano
Founders, RBMF