Saturday, June 26, 2010

What would Michael do?

There has not been much talk of Michael Vick lately.  Maybe because football season is over.  Maybe because of the headline-only nature of our news media.  Maybe because of the more recent devastation of one of country's most economically influential eco-systems.  Whatever the reason, it was possible today could pass us by without anyone saying Happy Birthday Michael Vick.

Michael Vick's background is not particularly auspicious.  He was born to an unmarried teenage couple & raised in a housing project.  He parlayed his exceptional skill into a college scholarship, but left before graduation to pursue what was a lucrative professional career.  His would have been a largely unremarkable story in the world of professional athletics, including but not limited to being accused of a felony, had he not included gross animal abuses in his repertoire.  The descriptions of the pleasure he took in...well..let's just say you probably would not want him dating your daughter no matter how much cash he pulls in.

So the direct question "what would Michael Vick do" probably does not need to be asked again.  I thought I would instead take a look at what he could maybe have done differently.  Vick's defenders insist that the kind of people who protest his behavior do not have any kind of inkling of what it takes to make it out of the projects, competing with everyone else who wants to make it out of the projects.  Okay fine.  It is also fair to say that as a white woman I know nothing about the kind of racism a black man could face in the American South.  Fair enough.  So let me present a very short list of other notable black men who got out from under Jim Crow:

Arthur Ashe:  It has been a long time since I have heard his name, but Arthur Ashe was first in lot of things.  He grew up in Richmond Virginia & while not a child of the projects, Richmond was a segregated city & Arthur, a small skinny runty boy was no one's idea of a future star athlete.   He did all the normal things, including serving a tour in the USArmy as well as many extra-ordinary ones.  Before there was Tiger Woods, or even Serena or Venus Williams, there was Arthur Ashe.  He used his position as a world class athlete to promote athletics, setting up scholarship programs, publishing historical research, ultimately earning an EMMY for the production of same.  He died of AIDS, most likely received during a blood transfusion, but not before making a name for himself as an activist, in AIDs awareness, but also against apartheid.  Like Vick, Ashe has a famous arrest record:  he was arrested outside the South African embassy protesting Apartheid & a few years later outside the White House protesting a crackdown on Haitian refugees.

Rubin Carter:  Paterson, NJ is not the deep south, but there is plenty of racism to go around.  Hurricane, as he is better known, was indeed a violent child & a violent man, but he is most famous for the crime he did not commit, largely because of the years he served anyhow.  Upon leaving prison, he left New Jersey, he left the US, but rededicated his life to helping others who had been wrongly convicted.

Too famous for you?  Maybe you need someone a little more every-day-joe?  Okay:

Vivien Thomas:  his grandparents had been slaves & his formal education ended with high school.  His personal ambitions dissolved with the onset of the Great Depression & his plan to become a doctor took a backseat to feeding his family.  He took a job cleaning up after the laboratory animals at Vanderbilt University.  The rest, as they say, is history, but at the time I am sure it seemed like the end of a dream.  With  Alfred Blalock, Vivien Thomas developed surgical techniques & tools that changed the field forever.

Cory Booker:  Actually, Booker grew up in affluent surroundings, prestigious education, the whole package.  His parents were among the first blacks employed by IBM, they were the ones that fought tooth & nail to scramble up.  Booker is notable for scrambling back.  For eight years, starting when he was elected to Newark's City Council, Booker lived in one of the city's housing projects:  no heat in winter, no hot water ever.  He left not long before the demolition crews arrived, relocating to a smaller building in one of Newark's most ravaged neighborhoods.  Early last month, he won another term as Mayor.

& for our final look-see how about someone who did everything he could to escape Jim Crow laws, only to be dragged back down by them:

Charles Drew:  I remember learning about Dr. Drew in a film strip (yes I am old enough to remember film strips) on notable negroes; I think the series was even called Notable Negroes in Science.  The film strip was not trying to be disrespectful, that is what many black people called themselves when I was a child.  Anyhow, Drew was born in Washington DC, a community still infamous for poverty.  Attended school, graduated Amherst, so he must have been studious, graduated  McGill University's medical program, taught at Howard College, but mostly he revolutionized the way blood was stored for transfusions, how the white & red blood cells were removed so that it could be handled as plasma.  Without his work, I know I would not be alive today, nor would my sister, nor just about anyone else who ever needed a transfusion.  Still, what I remember most about that film strip though was his death.  He died as a result of a car accident; he might have survived but the closest hospital was a white only hospital & he was not admitted. 

Everything that everyone of these men did could have been bettered by Vick.  He could have donated money, he could have been a spokesman for causes, he could have spoken at colleges & churches, he could have set up summer camps for kids just like himself.  There is almost no too-small effort he could not have made that would not have made a huge difference.  Instead he worked hard, paid much to make sure that violent despicable life people try to give him credit for outgrowing stayed with him.

I said it did not need to be asked, but I am asking anyhow:  what would Michael Vick do?  As far as I can tell, Michael Vick would do everything he could to keep the violent, limited life anyone in their right mind would work to leave behind with him always.  He reminds me of nothing so much as a turtle; you can take that turtle anywhere in the world & it will never leave it's shell.

1 comment:

  1. He didn't need the money. He didn't need a hobby. It comes down to the inescapable fact that he enjoyed torturing and killing dogs.