Behind the Headlines – February 23, 2018

– (female narrator)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by: the WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you.
Thank you. – Tonight, on a special edition
of Behind the Headlines, a local perspective on the PBS
documentary, American Creed. [dramatic orchestral music] – I’m Eric Barnes, publisher
of The Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight
by Madeline Faber, managing editor,
High Ground News. – Thanks, Eric.
– Thanks for being here. Reverend Earle Fisher is pastor at Abyssinian Baptist Church. Thanks for being here. – Peace, brother.
– Absolutely. And Yancy Villa-Calvo
is a local artist. Thank you for being here.
– Thank you. – So we are talking
about American Creed. It was a documentary on PBS, a national
documentary that airs, let’s see, February 27th at 8
p.m., so I get that straight. And there’s information
about it on the website, and it’s various
perspectives on sort of the American experience, the American myth,
the American dream. And for each of you, and
I’ll start with you, Yancy, What is American Creed? What is that notion? What does that idea mean to you? – For me it’s about
the fundamental rights on how this country
is based upon, liberty, life, and the
pursuit of happiness. – (Eric)
And your background. You were born in Mexico. Do I have that right?
– Yes. So I was born in
Mexico, Mexico City, and I’ve been here for
23 years in Memphis. I am not still a citizen yet. – (Eric)
You’re not still a citizen? – (Yancy)
No. – Is that right.
You came here to go to CBU. Do I remember that correctly? – Correct. Yeah
I came as a student visa, and I’ve been here
with many visas, and we just, after applying
for many times, we are now, we just had the interview
for citizenship, but you know, it’s, that
tells you about how long it really takes–
– (Eric] Yeah. – even if you go every
single step of the way. – I didn’t know that. You and
I are on a board together. We’re on the Overton
Park Board together. I didn’t know that. Your husband,
Mauricio Calvo’s been on the show a couple times. He runs Latino Memphis,
– Correct. – Obviously very involved in all the immigration issues
and immigration discussion, or fight, or whatever you
want to call it, right now. You’re an artist. You’re involved
with Memphis 3.0. – (Yancy)
Right. – What else, you’re involved with a whole lot of
things in the city. And you’re a mother. – I’m a mother, yes.
[Eric and Yancy laugh] I’m very proud, and yes, so mainly my art
is about talking about diversity and inclusion. My latest piece is the one
that I’m traveling around to spark a conversation
and question, you know, what are the laws that
are not being inclusive and how can we change them
in order to approach that? And it’s called Barrier Free,
which is now in City Hall, so we are very excited
about that opportunity. – (Eric)
Right. And we’ll come back to a whole bunch
more about that. Can we get Earle
Fisher, Pastor Earle, your definition of this
notion of American Creed. – I think it’s hard to define, and to echo some of
what Sister Yancy just laid out in her experience, number one, I think is
important for us to recognize that the creed,
whatever it may be, is not applied equitably
across the board for everybody, and even if we’re sticking with life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness, that’s paradoxical for most
of the people of color. When you look at policies
that have been implemented and even the Constitution
in and of itself having to be amended. When you think about Memphis, and I’m not a native
Memphian, necessarily. I was born in Ben
Harbor, Michigan, and I came to Memphis in 1999
on a basketball scholarship, to LeMoyne-Owen College
the HBCU here in Memphis. And so when you start thinking
about what it means to travel from the North to the South,
even though Malcolm X said everything south of
Canada is Deep South, then you experience a
certain type of environment and ideology associated
with this sense of being in this notion of who or what
an American Creed might be, and it’s just difficult. You think about Memphis as
the spot of the 14th Amendment and where it got its inception. So it’s just difficult
to try to nail down, and I think what we ought
to really see is people from times past and
even times present just trying to grapple with
what it means to be American. Whatever that creed might be. – You, besides being Reverend, Pastor of new, of
Abyssinian Church, sorry, – (Earle)
We’ll work on it. – We’re gonna work on that.
– (Earle) It’s alright. – We’re gonna get that right. You’re, is it fair to say
you’re a political activist? You’ve been involved in
a whole lot of things, Black Lives Matter, talk
about some of the other things you’ve been involved in
politically in Memphis. – Well first I think the avenue
or the platform that I take to engage in all of
these different measures is rooted in my spirituality. So I’m always at the
intersection of spirituality, scholarship, and
social activism. And of course, if what I
believe about my faith requires that I invest and engage in
improving the quality of life for all of God’s people, then it requires me to engage in certain political discussions and efforts and initiatives, because in order
for us to maximize any social justice potential, you have to have some
type of policy support. So over the past several
years, more and more intensely and more and more intimately, I’ve been involved in trying
to do some community organizing that empowers everyday citizens, especially at the grassroots
and in the living room level. That has led me to
co-found a organization, Memphis Grassroots
Organizations Coalition. I co-founded that with my
dear sister, Tami Sawyer. I’ve been a part
of more coalitions in the past several
years than I can count, but just been primarily
trying to advocate for equity, whether it be economic
equity in justice, whether it be fair housing,
criminal justice reform, so on and so forth. And I’m also, in my spare
time, I guess you could say, a Ph.D. candidate
– (Eric) Yeah– – At the University of Memphis in the Communication Department. And a husband to my
lovely wife, Denise, and all that other stuff, and every now and then
I sleep for 15 minutes. [group laughs] – (Eric)
There we go, there we go. Madeline, you’ve been on the
show before as a journalist when we do journalist
round table back when you worked
at Daily News, and now since you’ve
been at High Ground. But, watching the documentary
and this whole notion, – What is American Creed
from your perspective? What does that mean? – Well personally
I think an American Creed exemplifies sort of the highest
values of us as a nation. That doesn’t mean
that’s where we are. I think that throughout the
documentary, we hear people say, “Oh the American
dream means aspiring to the place you want to
be and striving for it.” And I think more accurately
a verb would be overcoming. I think that certainly
moving forward in life is an opportunity that’s
available to all Americans, all Memphians even, but too often people succumb
to the pressures of racism, pressures of sexism,
pressures of classism, that I think maintain
order in our society. – (Eric)
Yeah. – And so I think to be the
best citizens that we can be and to try to live up to
the creed and these values that are set forward for us, I think it’s our
responsibility to think whose responsibility is
it to relieve the gap between reality and
between the promise that we have of
the American dream. If it falls on the individual, I think we’re
misaligned as a society. – Talk a little bit
about High Ground News for people who aren’t familiar. – Yeah. So High Ground News is an online magazine. We’ve been around for
about four years now, and it’s all local news. And even more so, I’d
call it hyper-local news. We do a lot of
neighborhood-based coverage and embedded
neighborhood coverage. That means we put a team in a
neighborhood for four months, videographer, photographer,
writer, and engagement manager, whose role is just to
communicate with residents about how they feel like
they’re portrayed in the media and sort of what that gap is. How they feel
living in their city when it’s not just defined
by crime statistics. How they feel living
in their neighborhood when it’s not just, oh
the school is closing. It’s what does it
actually mean, you know, to call this place home, and how can we meet
them on their level and sort of leverage the
limited platform that we have to sort of put their
voice in the center of it. – And you all are in a wonderful neighborhood right
about now if I’m not mistaken. – Yeah. One you’re
very close to, Pastor Earle. – Yeah the windy city
[Madeline laughs] of White Haven as they
call it from time to time. – There are so many
different places to go. I think I want to
start with immigration and turn to you because it is, it’s a big part of the
American story, obviously. Immigration of all kinds
of types in the history. – (Yancy)
Right. – And it’s a big
issue right now. It’s a big issue
as we tape this. You know, the Senate
is debating what to do about DACA and the Dreamers, and so one thing that I think, and you hear it in
this debate nationally, and I, you know,
I’m the white guy at the table in this
conversation, you know, so – (Earle)
Literally. [group laughs] – Literally, I am the
white guy at the table, and I remember watching, it was a documentary
about New York, actually. It was Ken Burns’s
brother, Rick Burns, who years ago, almost
20 years ago now, did an incredible
documentary on New York that’s still relevant. And it’s really, it’s
about New York City, but it’s really about
the American experience, and there’s a
whole lot on the… that I just missed when I was
in high school and in college and in graduate school about
the history of animosity and fear of Irish and
Catholic immigrants. And that to me was
one, for me personally, was this eye-opening
moment thinking about the American
experience of, I certainly knew the
history of slavery, I knew the history,
the current history of antipathy towards Hispanic
and Latino immigrants. I kinda missed the
whole depth of hatred of Irish and
Catholic immigrants. I don’t know what my
question is for you, but when you, when you see all
this from certain quarters, real animosity towards the Hispanic immigration
and immigrants, How does, do we get over this? I mean, is it gonna
be like the Irish where we look back
on that and go, I can’t imagine
that that was real. – (Yancy)
That that happened. – That there was
that much hostility toward white male Catholics in
this country, but there was. – (Yancy)
So that’s a very good point, you know, talking about what
other immigrants experienced. And as you mentioned before,
we’re all immigrants. Our parents, our ancestors,
unless you’re, you know, Indian American, then
we are all immigrants. So the fact that as an
immigrant when you’re not living in the country, you have
this US that, you know that, it really shows potential and
you really want to get there because what is portrayed
in the news, what is, “Oh my God, this is wonderful.
This is a wonderful country.” But then when you’re here, then you realize that is
not the case for everybody. So it really depends
on how you look. – (Eric)
Yeah. – Many times, and that
is really sad because even if you, you know,
it you have an accent, or if you don’t live
in the right community, or don’t have the access,
it is really difficult for somebody to reach
that American dream. So it’s hard, but
at the same time, I just feel that people here
don’t see the value that exists in the US as being so diverse. Coming from Mexico, we don’t
have all of this diversity, so when I arrived
and then I met people from Australia and
Malta and you know, countries I’ve never heard of, you’re like, “Oh my gosh,
this is so awesome.” You know, it’s just really
wonderful to be in contact with the whole world in
these small communities, but then the fact that you
should blend and not stand out. That is, I don’t think
that is really what, you know, American means. It is, you know my husband
really talks about a salsa. we don’t blend everything that you don’t recognize the taste, but it’s more enhancing the
flavor, enhancing the color. So the, right now what we see that the Hispanic
population migrates. Why? Because
obviously, you know, our neighbors to the south, so obviously you’re
gonna get more population from the neighbors, right,
than from the North. [group laughs]
– (Eric) Right – So when you look at what
others have experienced and that now it’s
shifting to other groups, and you wonder, well why can’t
we learn from somebody else? – (Eric)
Right. – You know, what experience
has been and how did they feel, and now we are in the other
side, the other position, we’re like, okay,
now I was accepted and I had all of these rights, but now yeah, this is for me,
but not for you. I’m afraid. – (Earle)
Yeah you know I think that’s a beautiful presentation
of the paradox that I tried to
describe earlier, where she’s laying out, A) a line of demarcation between
diversity and assimilation. And I think oftentimes, even
when we talk about America as this melting pot, if you will, it is one that demands a
particular type of assimilation. So going back to what
you were talking about, about some of the Irish
brothers and sisters, I think it was easier for them, even though they
faced certain types of animosity and hatred. It was easier for
them to assimilate. If for nothing else, it was
not as easy to stereotype them at a glance as it
is to stereotype someone in black and brown skin. Not only that, going back
to this issue of policy. My mother has had the
house that she lives in in Ben Harbor, Michigan,
southwest corner of Michigan. North, right? 90 miles east of Chicago. And she’s had that house
since, if I’m 39 now, I think she’s had it
maybe 39, 38 years. In the original deed to that
house, it says in the deed, “This house shall never
be sold to a Negro.” So we’re talking about
a house that was built in the mid-1900s
– (Eric) Yep. – Right, so 1950 or so. So these are policies. These are things that
are published in print that can be leveraged
in courts of law. And I don’t think Irish
brothers and sisters had to manage that type of terrain. And so, as I’m hearing Sister
Yancy lay out, you know, what it means to be a
person of Latino descent, Hispanic descent,
Spanish descent, and what it means
to be somebody else of more English-centered
descent, or white descent, black descent, and people who come
and migrate voluntarily in hopes of certain dreams
versus people who were forced to migrate here under
certain conditions of economic exploitation
of their labor. I just think the
way that we approach whatever this creed is, and the reason I keep saying
whatever this creed is is because I
understand democracy and even American
democracy as a project. To Sister Madeline’s point, it’s not anything that we
have really arrived at. It’s something that
we say we aspire to, and even trying to
figure out exactly what it is we’re aspiring
to sometimes lands us back to this notion of, are we talking about diversity or are we talking
about assimilation? – The housing thing is so interesting, and that
has been a big focus. We’ve done as much
as we can, you know, writing about it
in The Daily News. And we’ve done shows
about public housing here, and talked about that because, and again, my naivete, and
I am the privileged one who could be naive about
some of these things. The history of housing
segregation and red-lining. Exact thing that is
codified in the deed in your mother’s house, that people of color
will live here, and white people can live there, and banks can loan to the people
where the white people are, and cannot loan there to
where the brown people are. There was a great, Diane
Rehm, who is retired, but did an amazing show on
the history of public housing some years ago, I’ll put it on Twitter
or Facebook or something. And it was about, they had
a guy on there who quote, who said, “Look, if in 1950,
you have two working class “families who wanna buy
a house, and they are, “one’s white and one’s
black or of color, the people of color at that time couldn’t buy that house.
– (Earle) Right. – So they couldn’t build equity in the house,
[group agrees] whereas that same
house bought in suburban New York, or
suburban Memphis, or wherever begins
to accrue equity. And then that couple then,
when they get to be 50 or 60, they can use that money
for vacation, to retire, to put their kids
through college. Same African American or Hispanic or brown couple
over here couldn’t do that. – (Earle)
But Irish and a Catholic could. – And an Irish could
by, by, absolutely. – And so lastly I’ll
say, then I’ll try to digress, when I think about, and I’m trying not
to say too much about Memphis in particular, but some of what you…
– (Eric) We can. Sure. – Some of what you,
and maybe we’ll come to it later, but some of
what you just described, when you start talking about
segregated neighborhoods, or even a certain type of
economic gentrification, if you will,
I mean it still exists today, but I’m thinking more
generally going back to this idea of immigration, and more recently as the 45th
President of the United States said this thing about
“S-hole countries.” My response to my people
at Abyssinian was, “There are no S-hole countries, “but you do have a-hole people who produce S-hole policies.” You see what I’m saying? So I don’t think we can
understand our association with individuals and certain
stereotypes associated with them if we’re not willing
to understand the type of polices that are put in place that force people to live in
certain types of conditions. – You all have done a lot
of writing about housing, about Foote homes, the last of the big public
housing projects. Your thought on, you know
there’s a lot in the documentary about economic mobility
– (Madeline) Right. – and that is part of
this American dream. That anybody who works
hard and plays by the rules can become rich and famous,
or something like that. But economic mobility,
again back to, is often tied to housing and
housing projects particularly. The legacy of that, all cities,
but we’ll talk about Memphis, are still paying a price for. – Yeah. So Foote Homes
was built in the 1940s. I mean it was built
during segregation under racist housing policies. It’s the last one
to fall in Memphis, and public housing
was built, initially, sort of as a temporary
fix for people to get back on their feet. But what we see is that
in ghetto-izing poverty, in that particular area of
Memphis where there were just a ring of public
housing complexes, people couldn’t get out
of their neighborhood, and you see
generations growing up within the same housing complex. I think that the American dream
as it’s kind of sold to us, I think actually sees a
longer arc of success. I mean, I was born into
privilege, but my dad wasn’t, and his dad wasn’t, and my great-grandfather
was an immigrant from the Ukraine escaping
the Nazis, you know. And it’s taken all these
generations of, you know, a family that appears
White to finally reach me, and I can be in the
position that I can be in. And families who grew
up in Foote Homes didn’t have that opportunity. – And so, I think
that, you know, there are a lot of
different facets to it. You know, it’s challenging
and in some parts, very damaging to families
who have been evicted from their units, the
420 units at Foote Homes, and scattered across the city. They’ve lost that
sense of community. But I hope that when they return to what is built
up in that place, a mixed-income community
that is just embedded with social services,
wrap-around support to help lift up
residents and move them into a different echelon
of economic mobility. I hope they return to a place
of promise and opportunity that was denied and
actually kept away from them for
generations and decades. – It’s amazing to me that, the degree to which
federal policy, you know, created these
pockets of poverty, and the other one that’s big, and you and I, again being
on the Overton Park Board, and we’re coming up on the
50th anniversary of one part of the fight to prevent
the highway going through the Evergreen
neighborhood, Overton Park. It’s just across town. It’s just amazing
to think about it. I had a friend in town
from Seattle recently, never been to Memphis. We were driving
through Evergreen and Speedway Terrace and
North Parkway, and he’s like, “This is just the most
beautiful neighborhood.” He’s just never
seen such a thing. I said, “Yeah, there was
supposed to be a highway here,” you know, and when you look at where those
highways were put, across the country,
Memphis included, they became pockets,
another pocket of poverty because they were cut
through neighborhoods, often poorer neighborhoods, often through what were
viewed as dying neighborhoods, and often through
brown neighborhoods. And it’s, so it’s just
fascinating to me, I mean it’s kind of
the parallel to housing was federal highway policy.
– (Madeline) Right. – You know, blocking off
communities and cutting out, again economic mobility
that was talked so much about in the show. We have five minutes left here. I would maybe talk about,
it’s interesting, you know, the things, we’ll never
touch on everything that was in the documentary,
but some of the things that bind people. And it was interesting, I think
it was Junot Diaz, I think who talked about in his
neighborhood growing up, it was incredibly diverse. It was kind of what you
talked about that suddenly he got to meet all
these different people and see all these
different people. One would hope that things
like schools would be incredibly diverse
and that would be, and when I grew up, my school out West was
actually fairly diverse, and that’s where I got
to know black people, I got to know Hispanic
people, and so on. In most parts of the
country, the schools are not. They’re segregated still,
de facto segregation. Thoughts on that? – Yeah, definitely. You know I
gained a sense of diversity, and it’s not only
racial diversity, but religious diversity
and economic diversity. It makes you see that it’s not
about an individual person, or individual goal,
but it’s a collective. How can we move forward if
we’re in our bubble, you know? Comfortable lives, and
we don’t make an effort to help those who need it, who have not been
as privileged as us. Then we’re never gonna be
seeing the reality, you know, what others are living, so definitely the
schools have to… Hopefully the government
invests more in education and support more of the schools
because most of the time a lot of the kids
from everywhere, that’s the safe place, you know, that they have for a day,
and maybe some the meals that are only gonna be
consumed that day for them. So having that space that, you
know, we capture these kids, it’s awesome to be
able to teach them, and at the same time make
them aware of their world and circumstances
and also push them to become whatever
they want to become. And hopefully on the other
side, at the level side, law, you know the laws,
being more inclusive, then they will be able
to pursue that dream. – One thing that’s
interesting to me, and we just have a
couple minutes left, not enough time to
talk about this, but there is this
Lynching Sites project, and I don’t know how
involved you are in that, but it’s been, to some
degree it’s an effort across the country
to mark the sites where there were lynchings and to go through a process
of recognition and healing, and I’m not doing it justice,
but it is in Memphis, and I think
it is in most places, been an interfaith effort. – Historically black churches,
historically white churches, churches from all over the city, Where do churches, ’cause those also tend to be, you might think they’d be
diverse, but they’re not. They, I mean, I’m
sure your church is probably
ninety-something percent African-American, you know,
– Right. – Epsicopal churches,
– Right. – Presbyterian, how does
interfaith activity, inter-church activity help, or can it help in
this conversation? – I think it can help as long as it’s
done authentically. I think what we find. So the Lynching Sites Project,
shout out to Randall Mullins, and the group that’s
working with that, and Bryan Stevenson
has had something to do with that piece too. Other projects too
that are faith-based like Reverend William
Barber’s revitalization of The Poor People’s Campaign. I think is something that
is bringing people together. The challenge is to make sure it’s being done
authentically and not being done cosmetically. ‘Cause I think the
desire for us to do this surface and superficial
form of reconciliation without ever demanding
through policy and other types of
corporate practices, that we do some transformation
and some liberation, ultimately means that when we
try to draw people together, whether it be under the
guise of faith or religion, or whether it be under
the guise of education or economic entrepreneurship, until these things are
done substantively, we’re going to continue to
see ourselves in these cycles, and which is why 50 years after the assassination of Dr. King, you still have us on the
front lines trying to fight for livable wages,
putting more in education instead of incarceration,
asking questions about healthcare
and equitable contracting. So of course, faith is a
wonderful, unifying principle, but I think it also demands a
certain level of authenticity so that when we
do come together, whether it be Sunday or
Saturday or Wednesday or Tuesday or Friday, whenever we do come together, people are able to
be their full selves and their best selves. – Is it, we just
have a minute left, so I’ll editorialize
for a second, I mean, it is interesting to me, and again I mentioned
I grew up out West, out in, south of Seattle. I still have family in
Seattle and Portland, used to live in New York. New York, different,
but Seattle and Portland are not having
this conversation. I can just tell you. And when my family comes down, when my friends come down, they are blown away at the
diversity of this city, and maybe, for all it’s flaws, and it is an interesting thing
that they always talk about is that in Portland, Oregon,
you don’t ever have to interact with anybody but a white person. You don’t have to think
about any of this stuff. And so, I appreciate
all your input, and I appreciate
you all being here. Please watch the documentary,
February 27th at 8 p.m. Thanks. Join us again next week. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords]

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