“Robert Johnson”

A boy is born to a dirt poor black family in Mississippi. He is raised by a single mom, tho he goes on a quest at one point to find his dad. He drops out of school. Has health problems, specifically eye problems. Most of those around him have no use for him. He does weird stuff, like playing a wire attached to this home’s wall. Also plays the harmonica and “Jews Harp.” He grows up and becomes quite the lady’s man. A handsome guy, but short and slight. A “bad drunk” who can get quite loud, a pensive man who is quiet when sober and on his own. He wants to settle down, falls in love, gets a 16 year old pregnant, and is thrilled to become the father he never had. But the young woman and the baby die at childbirth. He manages to move on himself, and ekes out a living, even earns some acclaim. But it is his 29 recordings that live on far longer. Over time, there is worldwide consensus: This young black man is the father of the Blues and perhaps the greatest Blues musician of all time. Everyone has a story about how they first heard his music, and how that experience changed their lives. Keith Richards says he was confused — he knows who was playing the first guitar, but who was playing the second? (Spoiler alert: it’s just one guitarist.) Eric Clapton talks about how he went through a deeply “religious” period where he wouldn’t associate with those who did not accept this young black man into their lives, with those who did not acknowledge this man’s unique greatness. Yes, am talkin’ the Robert Johnson blues. Young black men needn’t become the father of the Blues. They shouldn’t die before their time, either. And if we are to succeed as a nation, we need to find better ways to be supportive friends and neighbors to them. I thought about this today at the Chicago rally for Trayvon, as Jessie Jackson spoke. Jessie happened to be right next to another young black man as that man was killed with a gun, by the name of Dr. King. Young black men needn’t become Dr. King. They shouldn’t die before their time, either. And as someone who got sent to the principal’s office in middle school for refusing to say the Pledge because “There isn’t liberty and justice for all,” today’s best speaker, a 12 year old girl, inspired me to make my own pledge: If we get to the point as a nation where there is indeed justice for all (repeat, justice for all), I will say the Pledge. And I will mean every word. Until that day, we all have a great deal of work to do.


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Gregg R. Baker

Gregg R. Baker

Humanist, social scientist, pianist, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Tenured/Commissioned U.S. Foreign Service Officer, dad, soulmate and knowledge seeker.