Monday, April 29, 2013

Taking What's Yours!

     Life has taught me many things over the past 36 years. Who to love, how to love, and what I should expect, or not expect from others. But somehow, even when I knew better, I expected what was owed to me, because of hard work and effort, should be mine. When I graduated from college in 1999, I was fortunate to be hired by a major corporation, one I thought I would retire from at the appropriate age. I worked hard, showed up on time, went the extra mile, and assisted my colleagues with meeting their goals. Promotions and thoughts of prosperity clouded my outlook; I never saw the looming furlough. I believed upper management when they said I would survive company cuts because of an economic downturn. Early one morning, it happened. I was called into the office, and furloughed. I was devastated! When competing with the possibility of saving money for the corporation, my stellar work record didn't stand a chance. At that point, I decided to take what was mine by right and effort.

     It's been a struggle to find an organization that truly values me, and what I bring to the "table". Even with my best efforts, I never quite get the feeling that my relationship is for the long haul. Working 37 years at the "plant"was never going to happen for me; I was never going to be able to say that to my son, or grandson. The landscape of employment had change, and I resolved not to be totally dependent upon any entity for my emotional, physical, and financial stability. Revolutionary in a sense, this frame of mind has not been embraced by the masses. It's risky! But I find solace in its infinite possibilities. I find encouragement in its openness. Do we wait for an opportunity to follow our passions in life, or do we create the opportunity ourselves?

     Being a professor, or an attorney has always felt like my life's goal. Helping those most vulnerable to abuses, and molding future minds were always admirable endeavors in my eyes.  Life soon showed me that I can not afford to follow the attorney path that I so admired; it was simply to expensive. The professor track was not as expensive, but still, finances proved to be a mighty foe. I worked and volunteered at local schools for career days, etc. Eventually, I started to substitute teach in public schools on my off days just to get a feel for the classrooms, and the students. It helped that I also got paid. Soon after this, I stared and completed a Masters program, which made me eligible to teacher on the collegiate level. Immediately, I started applying for jobs; however, no one was willing to hire me with no experience.  One day, I started talking to an associate about my aspirations, and he stated he believed he could help.  He placed me in contact with his good friend who worked at a local university, and soon, I was being interviewed for an adjunct faculty position. Letting people know my plans, and completing my Masters program allowed me to be in position to take what was mine. The next semester, I was teaching a one hour course at the university. Because of this experience, I obtained the experience as an instructor, and was approached by another college to teach. The second college didn't have the finances to pay me for teaching; however, knowing the bigger picture, I taught my three hour class for free. They were so grateful that they added me to their speakers bureau, which allowed me to have more exposure on their campus as well as in the community. A few months after my class ended, they offered me an adjunct faculty position, and an opportunity to assist with the development of a new program/major of study in my area of expertise. In order to take this position, I had to give of myself first. Teaching without receiving compensation turned out to be the best investment for my future, and the catalyst for me being able to take what was mine.

     My grandfather use to tell me that if I'm true to myself, regardless of how bad life looks, or may get, my gifts would make room for me. He would tell me to aim at the stars, and if I missed and fell upon the moon, don't be dismayed, the moon is still high ground. He would say that there are none that are perfect except our "Father" in heaven, whom I must continually trust. My mother told me that grandma Ella use to say that we must have a strong "constitution". She would say that nobody was going to give me anything, I must work hard for it. When I arrived on my university's campus, I was fortunate to learn from a professor, and future mentor (Dr. Dorothy Perry-Thompson), the courage it took to be authentic. I learned of the strength it took to dance to my own drummer, even when to others I may have seemed offbeat. Collectively, all of the people mentioned taught me that before I could physically take something, I had to mentally take it, and own it. Life was a self-fulfilling prophecy. We can achieve only what we believe we can. It's within all of us to create our own possibilities. Everyday, wake up with the mindset to take what's yours, and live as your most authentic self. And soon, I'm sure you'll find that the more you give, the more you'll have to take because of the abundance given to you. I'll leave you with a quote from Audre Lorde. I read and meditate on these words daily: "If you don't define yourself for yourself, you'll be crushed into other people's image of you, and eaten alive". What have you left on the battlefield of life that's yours to take? If anything, are you prepared to take it?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Government's Purpose

Citizens of organized groups have been trying to impose standards, processes, and rules on each other since the beginning of structured societies. Many, like David Hume and George Berkeley, theorized on the purpose of these standards, and who should be given the task of enforcing them on the populous. They discussed the role of government and the powers that they would have to assume, or be given. Of those that started this journey, John Locke was the man whose ideas on the relationship between the people and their government, as outlined in his Social Contract Theory, outlines the most convincing argument. It is an argument that proves to be the most relevant in relation to the current criminal justice system that exists.

Locke’s ideas had an enormous influence on the development of political philosophy. His writings influenced the American revolutionaries, and his ideas had the most impact in framing the precepts of the modern justice system and it’s responsibilities to the people. Labor creates property, but it also contains limitations to the accumulation of property. When the accumulation of property began to tip the equilibrium scale, Locke believed that it was government’s responsibility to re-allocate wealth equally. This idea resonates in current existing Anti-Trust Laws that prohibit companies and individuals from controlling a certain market, and maintain a certain “equal fairness” in business practices and asset accumulation.

Locke believed that the value of property is created by the application of labor to it. According to his theory of value, humans make objects into property by applying labor. In this view, the labor involved in construction and uses accounts for the large majority of the property value of an object. He believed property was more important than government, and that government cannot dispose of land owned by its citizens arbitrarily. The consistency from this concept to the very foundation of the criminal justice system in the United States, the constitution, can be found in the Fifth Amendent, which states that no person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. Some have even referred to him as one of the earliest supporters of capitalism because of his views on ownership of private property. Locke refers to property in both a limited and expansive way. Expansively, property can cover a wide range of human interests and endeavors. In a limited sense, it specifically refers to material possessions. He believed that all men had the natural rights of life, liberty, and property.

Locke’s Social Contract Theory stated that government ruled with the consent of the people. The consistency of the above idea can be traced to the Ninth Amendment, which states that the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people (Legal Information Institute, 2006). It is also evident in the Tenth Amendment, which states that the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people (Legal Information Institute, 2006). Ultimately, to live in a free society, people must give up certain rights to the government in order to be protected by foreign invasions, their personal interests, and their property. The relationship between the people and government is maintained with the understanding that if government is not performing, or operating in the best interest of the people, the people will have the ultimate authority to change leadership collectively.

It is understandable why John Locke’s Social Contract Theory is still very relevant to today’s criminal justice system and political diaspora. He covers issues concerning the accumulation of property by a certain group, the right of citizens to own private property as well as the rights given to government by the people and the people’s ultimate reserve of that power. Human nature doesn’t change. Individual interests will always be a major goal of citizens. Government’s job is to make sure that individual and collective pursuit for wealth and resources is a fair and lawful one.