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Someone asked “what is in a name?” Apparently, a lot. I met a new brother recently, his birth name is Ebenezer but he insisted we call him Ebi. This got me thinking, why? I asked him why via email to explain.  No reply thus far.  I suspect Ebi was thinking about others—he likely figured that Ebi is much easier to pronounce than Ebenezer? I remember a report that found hiring companies in cities like Boston and Chicago were less likely to call in a person for an interview if he or she had a black sounding first name (see Shankil Choudhury, Deep Diversity: Overcoming Us vs. Them, 2015, p. 59).  The odds are greater that Shannon would be invited in for an interview; Sharniqua has less odds. I remember reading about a brown brother named Jose who changed his name to Joe.  Before this renaming, he was not getting frequent phone calls about jobs; however, after he changed his name to Joe on his resume, he started receiving more calls. A colleague, from a country in Southeast Asia, is an immigrant to the United States. Instead of using their given native names at birth, her dad let his fingers do the walking up and down the columns in a white pages phone book in search of American sounding names for his three kids. He renamed his kids; he selected Vanessa for her.  He wanted them to have a better chance of making it in America. A friend named his daughter Courtney—a gender-neutral name—because he did not want her to be discriminated against as a female. A colleague is reading “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness,” by Austin Channing Brown. Brown’s parents named her Austin after her grandmother’s maiden name, but also so she could get job interviews someday. Now everyone assumes she’s a white male. (Brown’s book title reminds me of the Scene on Radio “Seeing White” 14-part series podcast that I highly recommend.)

What’s in a name? By the likes of it, much is in a name.



Relocating to a new or different city is quite stressful. Boxes must be packed; boxes get lost.  Boxes seem to multiply. Furniture gets broken.  A new barber, a new home, a new doctor, new routes, a new church home, and new friends must be found. Something else must be found: being known.

After 25 years in St. Louis, MO, I was vested in the city; and I was known by classmates, by colleagues and students at Lindenwood University (St. Charles, MO), by Waterford subdivision neighbors (Ballwin, MO), by seminary professors, and by church members at West Side Missionary Baptist Church, Washington Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, Union Baptist Church of Chesterfield, the Swiss Evangelical Reformed Church of Hermann, MOand First Baptist Church of Chesterfield.

I think being known (not being famous) is a basic human need.  Everyone wants to be known. That’s why it has been a struggle since moving back to Kansas City, MO—my hometown—born, raised and attended elementary and high schools here.  It has been a challenge because I am not known.  June 2018 marks the fourth year since moving back to KCMO. When will I be known? How long will it take?

I was privileged to be interviewed by my colleague and brother, Denis Haack, Co-Director of Ransom Fellowship on that topic that continues to live on, “race in America”.  Article is here. I am looking forward to the day when we are not discussing race so much but rather, celebrating race!

Trade Schools: Alive or Dead?

I recently posted this on my Facebook page: “When I was in high school, some students boarded a bus and attended Vocational (Trade) School. Here, they learned about trades. I bring this up because I attended a half-day seminar on homelessness in Kansas City. For someone transitioning from homelessness to wanting to buy a home, access to affordable housing is a huge deal in Kansas City (because of income deficiency). One presenter said, “There are so many vacant houses that once repaired or rehabbed would be idea for affordable housing.” He also said, “We have found while the houses to rehab are plenty, the number of rehabbers is not.” So, back to how I began — are trade schools still up and running I wonder? If not, what if the church provided trade training to young people?”

For ‘Underperforming Students’

One comment from a former student grieved me although I anticipated a comment like this.  He posted this on my Facebook feed: “One of the issues is that my generation and near mine were conditioned to look down on trade school and those careers. We were told to ‘aim high which meant not using our hands or doing any sort of labor, that’s for the down and out.”  Another person wrote this, “The attitude of the student body of my school was very negative on trade school.  It was seen as remedial.  It was understood to be for people who were underperforming academically and didn’t have many other options for their future.”

I cannot say that I looked down on these peers when I was in high school because my father (Tracy Bobo, Sr.), my stepdad (Robert E. Frazier), my beloved grandpa (Henry S. Bobo) and many African-American men I knew worked in the trades. For example, my grandpa who was truly a scholar-athlete in high school and who later served in WWII in the Navy, owned and operated his brick masonry company.  My grandpa was an entrepreneur.  To say he was excellent at what he did would be an understatement!  Rather than being an underperformer, my grandpa was an intelligent brick mason and company owner.

Feel Their Absence

Once upon a time, I said, “For those who look down on our neighborhood trash collectors and don’t view their work as important, let them go on strike and we’ll quickly see and smell how important their work is.” Similarly, for those who have this negative opinion of those who went to trade school or make their living working a trade, I say that, if tradespeople would suddenly go on hiatus we would certainly feel their absence most acutely.  Think about a clogged toilet without a plumber to unclog it.  Think about a malfunctioning car without a skilled car mechanic to repair it.  Think about a sweltering hot summer with a broken AC unit and no HVAC technician to repair it. Think about the wiring needed for a recreational room without the services of an electrician.  Think about being aboard an airplane needing a repair before take-off without an avionic technician to address it.

Breakdown of the Family: Another Reason

Sadly, I think when our parents or others communicate explicitly or implicitly that trade work is inferior work, this leads to a shortage of men and women considering and entering trade schools to learn a trade.  I think there is another reason why there is a shortage.  While I did not go to a trade school, I learned basic skills that tradespeople do by watching my stepdad, my dad and grandpa.  For instance, I learned how to run wire for a ceiling fan; I learned how to replace the flushing mechanism in the toilet tank; I learned how to change the oil in my car; I learned how to hold and use a hammer — I learned all these skills by watching my father, stepfather and my grandfather.  With the breakdown of the family, many young men, in particular, do not have any idea how to even hold or use a hammer because dad is not around. I wonder if this shortage of tradespeople, even amateur ones like myself, will become even more common as the human family continues to disintegrate?

Noble and Dignifying Work

Personally, I think those men and women skilled in trades have noble and dignifying work.  I believe as the late Dr. Martin Luther King said, “No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”  Those engaged in trade school jobs – whether it is changing a spark plug or unclogging a fetid smelling toilet or running wire for a ceiling fan – are doing work that has dignity and importance and contributes to human flourishing.  All this makes me think of my nephew, Marcus Johnson.  He is a plumber today and I am really proud of him.  Today, he works for a company but some day he plans to own and operate his business and I will proud of him then too.

I salute all men and women engage in a trade.  Our standard of living utterly relies on your skill and competence. Thank you for your work!

I am a native of Kansas City, MO.  I was born here (actually in Kansas City, KS), raised here, employed here and educated here.  After graduating from the University of Kansas, we – my wife and I – moved and settled in the Kansas City area.  Six to seven years later, we moved to St. Louis, MO with our 1-year-old daughter in tow (our son was born 6 years later in St. Louis).  We settled in Ballwin, MO. We were homeowners in a new subdivision, Waterford.  We built our first house in this subdivision. We lived in this house for 25+ years — many memories were formulated in this house, in this neighborhood, in this quaint subdivision.

Nearly, four years ago, we moved back to Kansas City, MO. After 25 years in one spot, you become known.  And I was known in many ‘circles’ including the Covenant Theological Seminary circle (9+), the Lindenwood University circle (7+), the First Baptist Church of Chesterfield circle (12+) and the Waterford Subdivision circle (25+) to name a few.  The numbers in the parenthesis indicate how many years I dwelled in those environments or better how many years I poured myself into those environments. I poured myself into the city and most importantly, I poured myself into personal, life-on-life relationships.  Needless to say, the transition back to my hometown, Kansas City, has been difficult.

Recently, I had lunch with my dear friend, Elizabeth Dent George, who is also a professional counselor. She helped me to see something: ‘being known’ is a genuine need for all human beings. When Elizabeth moved from St. Louis to Phoenix, AZ years ago, she had to hit the ‘becoming known’ reset button.  Since moving to Kansas City over 3+ years ago, I have had to push the reset button for ‘being known.’ Becoming known again to a familiar and different city, to old and new friends, in old and new circles is a long and arduous process.

One Wednesday evening, I left work and went to the movies to see  Jordan Peele’s inaugural film, “Get Out.” Here are some quick thoughts in no particular order.

  1. Anxiety. The film depicts the anxiety that an African-American partner in an interracial relationship often feels upon knowing that he or she will meet the white parents. This is quite common.
  2. Stereotyping. The film illustrates stereotyping.  I remember teaching a group of white students and many of them shared similar stories to that when the white police officer asked Chris for his ID.  One white female student said, “I was driving and an African-American male friend was in the passenger seat. When we were stopped by the police, the white police officer did not ask me for my driver’s license; he only asked my Black friend for his.” Rose had to come to Chris’ defense. This is a case of using one’s privilege for good.  But how common is this?
  3. Power/Privilege Misused. The film portrays the misuse of power and privilege by the majority culture to serve their own selfish desires. Rose’s dad was a doctor; Rose’s mother a psychologist.  Both used their skills to exploit African-Americans to serve the desire of a white customer. All this began, however, with Rose betraying Chris; she used, manipulated him as she did several others.
  4. Awkwardness. The film portrays how awkward it is when a minority is in the company of the majority culture. To ease this discomfort, Chris sought out others who looked like him…to no avail – they looked like him but were not like him. Yes, it is possible to be lonely in a crowd.
  5. Reductionism. The film shows how a Black life is reduced merely to being a source for someone else’s pursuit of the good life. This is exploitation plain and simple.
  6. Utilitarian. The film exhibits an utilitarian ethic – ‘the end justifies the means’. The ‘Bingo game’ scene was reminiscent of a slave auction (the means).  Chris went to the highest bidder – a blind bidder who wanted to see again (the end).
  7. Beauty of Friendship. The film portrays the sweet gift and beauty of friendship.  Rod, Chris’ friend, despite being ridiculed, pursued Chris and secured his eventual rescue.
  8. Imagination. This film illustrated Chris’ imagination, innovation and ‘quick thinking’. By stuffing his ears with cotton, he was not hypnotized (or controlled) and eventually fought his way out of Rose’s parents’ home.

This morning at 7:30 am (December 13), I met with Captain “Johnson” at the Police Department in Shawnee, KS. Captain Johnson was one of the many instructors in the Citizens Police Academy (September 8 through November 16, 2016). I wanted to get his take on the mistrial of Michael Slager, a white North Charleston police officer and the video footage showing Slager fatally shooting a fleeing Mr. Walter Scott, an African-American. The Captain started our discussion with two U. S. Supreme Court rulings: Graham v. Connor (1989) and Tennessee v. Garner (1985). Each ruling has implications for policing, and specifically when an officer is justified in using deadly force.

  • Implications of Graham v. Connor – a police officer can use deadly force (1) after considering the severity of the crime; (2) if the suspect is trying to flee; (3) if the suspect is a danger to the officer or general public; and (4) when there is a need for immediate apprehension of the suspect.
  • Implications of Tennessee v. Garner – the reasonableness of an officer’s use of force, whether against a fleeing suspect or otherwise, is to be determined from the perspective of the officer under the circumstances that are apparent to him or her at the time.

After watching the video footage of Slager killing a fleeing Scott, Captain Johnson said “this makes me really uncomfortable.” Moreover, Captain Johnson shared his questions with me: (1) What did the officer know beforehand that was not shared with the public (e.g., Scott was considered dangerous?, the vehicle was stolen?, there were outstanding warrants)? [Captain Johnson was quick to say, this did not justify the officer’s actions necessarily] (2) Why did Scott run? [Again, Captain Johnson was quick to say, this did not justify the officer’s use of deadly force necessarily] (3) Did Scott have Slager’s taser? (4) why did Slager shoot Scott (7) times? [officers are trained to shoot until the threat stops] (5) Was Slager driven by implicit bias or explicit bias against Scott? and (6) Why did Slager move the taser? [According to the Captain, this ‘poisoned the crime scene.’  The use of foul language is another way an officer can poison the crime scene according to the Captain.]

“The court decided what Slager did was wrong,” said Captain Johnson, “however, the jury could not decide unanimously if Slager would be charged with homicide or manslaughter.” Thus, a mistrial.

We also discussed Philando Castile, a 32 year old African-American male who was shot by a police officer in suburban St. Paul, MN.  Captain Johnson said that Castile alerted the officer that he was licensed to carry a handgun and was reaching for his wallet at the officer’s request when he was shot and killed.  “This had a horrible outcome,” said Captain Johnson. Captain Johnson said this officer relied on his “training” without thinking (this reminds me of the scene in the film, Crash, when a white police officer shots and kills a young African-American male who is reaching for a miniature statue in his pocket.  These are called ‘furtive movements’ according the the Captain).  I asked, “are officers trained to consider the context first or robotic-ally follow their training?” Considering the context or sizing up the situation is something that officers learn later in their career…sometimes.  And sometimes police officers follow their training to their own detriment.  Here, Captain Johnson recounted the Newhall incident (1970), also called the “Newhall massacre.” Officers were trained to collect their brass after firing their weapons; and they did just that while engaged in a shoot out with two heavily armed criminals. As Captain Johnson lamented, “these slain officers were found with brass in their pockets.”

Captain Johnson said he is bothered by the strife and division in our country.  Me too. We both wished the other a “Merry Christmas.”

The title is a bit misleading because in this post, I ask more questions that make statements.

  • In this postmodern age, authenticity is a key virtue. Trump was authentic to be sure; he was unorthodox to be sure; he bucked the GOP system or the established order. (Yes, another tenet of postmoderns is to be anti-establishment; Trump certainly was during the campaign). Was this part of his appeal?
  • No mention has been made of gender as a factor in this election. That is, could men publicly endorse Clinton but really vote for her in the privacy of their voting booth as the President of the United States of America? Many authors including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (see “We Shall All Be Feminists”) have said that many men have difficulty with a strong female leader. Was this a factor in Clinton’s defeat?
  • Chris Wallace, moderator of one of the debates, asked Trump if he would concede defeat and accept the results of the election.  Trump responded, that he would not if he felt the election was rigged against him.  I don’t recall that question being asked of Clinton.  Did the media give Clinton a false sense of confidence or bravado?
  • Clinton’s message did not appeal or resonate with a “large swath of white, working-class voters.” On the other hand, Trump built a “larger coalition by drawing support from scores of smaller communities.” How did the Clinton campaign miss this? (See “Democrats Seek Fresh, More Inclusive Approach,” Wall Street Journal, November 10, 2016)
  • According to the Wall Street Journal (November 10, 2016) article, “How Trump’s Winning Coalition Coalesced,” “minority voters, young voters and segments of affluent whites did not come out in Obama-sized numbers” for Clinton.  Why the apathy?
  • Both candidates are morally flawed individuals — so something had to give. What tipped the scales in favor of Trump – a man who on the campaign trail said disparaging things about women, about the disabled, about Muslims, etc.?
  • Personally, I am not sure what to think of the word, ‘evangelical’ means anymore. What does ‘conservative Christian’ mean anymore? What is a ‘conservative evangelical’?
  • I hope the campaign Trump was an aberration and hope that the President-elect Trump is quite different.
  • Trump’s misogynistic, racist and bigotry rhetoric has emboldened cowards and have created some insensitive pranksters.  I must protect the vulnerable.  I must call out and confront these cowards respectfully and winsomely.
  • I have said before, my hope is not in the family who resides in the White House or in the one who boards Air Force One. In the end, I know who is truly in control!

Interesting days ahead.

I enrolled in the Citizens Police Academy (CPA) in Shawnee, KS.  Relations have not been pleasant between the African-American community and the police (especially, white police officers) so I enrolled to get an inside perspective or view. I wanted to entered their space or go to their turf. I have completed three (3) weeks at the academy. This is what I have learned thus far:

(1) These men and women doing the presentations, many of whom are police officers, are human beings; and they appear to be genuine and normal. Some of the guys are goofy (my kids charge me with being goofy too).

(2) I am clearly outnumbered in two ways.  Not only am I the only African-American in the class but most of the students are pro-police.  Their positive bias clearly shows; and my cynical bias clearly shows.  However, one of the officers, after class told me, that most whites are pro-police but they cannot tell you why or they have not been very thoughtful about it.  This same officer told me that he is glad I am in the class and that I am asking the difficult questions.  For example, this same officer fields and investigates complaints against officers. I asked him, “how can you be objective when you are biased (he told us that he thinks their police department is really good)?”  His response, “I am almost, always correct or objective.”  I literally laughed out loud at that response! Another classmate asked, “are there more ‘checks and balances’?” I was happy to hear that this officer that evaluates complaints does have additional ‘checks and balances.’ This same officer that evaluates complaints, that can range from an officer being rude, not completing a report, etc., told me after class that he has grown to be a bit more compassionate.  I told him, in turn, that I am cynical because of the ugly history of white police officers and the black community.  He understands; in fact, he recognizes that we, as a nation, have not dealt adequately with the aftermath of slavery. He also admitted that his worldview was at one time very narrow because he lived in a white bubble. I was happy to hear that he began reading about the history of America; and his personal awakening that relationally, blacks and whites did not get off on the right foot, occurred when he was 40 years of age (he is now 52 years old).

(3) These men and women are witnesses to some horrific crime scenes. On the first night, the chief told us that earlier that day some of his officers had found a 3-week old decomposed body. At the break, I asked, “after seeing such things on a routine basis, do your folks get counseling?” He said, “it is mandatory.” And their psychologist decides if the officer is ready or not to return to active duty.

(4) This particular police department has been doing training on race and biased based policing since 2007 (seems to me that it should have started sooner?). And race and biased based policing training is required annually. Again, I am the only African-American in the class so it was a bit satisfying for this white presenter to share with the class some of the foolishness they have to put up with. For instance, the radio dispatcher received a call one night that “two African-American men, who did not live in the area, were walking in the neighborhood.” Some of my classmates thought that was absurd! I said “yes” to myself.

(5) The reason why one may see more of a police presence in a geographical area is because criminal analytics and analysis has shown that these are high crime areas – speeding, burglaries, etc.

(6) There seems to a correlation between holidays that occur on the weekend and alcohol usage and the occurrence of more crimes. Domestic issues typically occur at higher rates around the Thanksgiving Holiday. An officer said he wished that most holidays occurred on Wednesdays and not the weekend.

(7) Generally speaking, the Shawnee Police Department enjoys the benefit of cooperating witnesses.  One officer lamented the fact that their neighbors, the Wyandotte Police Department, does not enjoy such a luxury.

(8) Police officers’ loyalty and camaraderie to each other is quite obvious.  Police officers, from other states, will travel to attend the funerals of slain police officers or officers who die in the line of duty.  And in many instances, those attending do not know the deceased officer on a personal basis.

(9) Force, used by the officer, must be “reasonable”.  The landmark case Graham v Connor (1985) established the rule of ‘reasonableness.’

(10) Police officers can use deadly force to stop a threatening action. They have been trained to aim at the largest mass of the human body – the chest. And they have been trained to aim for the head too (think Michael Brown).  I asked, “why not go for the leg to disable the person?” First, the audience (mostly white) chimed in, and grumbled a bit about this suggestion. Second, another officer said if a bullet hits a certain artery in the leg, a person can bleed to death.  Another officer said, “this is not TV.” I said to the presenting officer (after class), aiming for the chest will likely kill a person and he will never have a chance to change or turn his or her life around.” Oh well.

(11) A police officer cited some of the unintended consequences of wearing body cameras.  One example he gave was finding a unconscious naked woman in a bathtub; that footage will be recorded for perpetuity.  So, I asked about his views on conceal and carry. While he agrees with the right to bear arms (Amendment 2), he also laments the unintended consequences associated with conceal and carry.

(12) These guys and gals must make split second decisions.  For example, one officer gave this illustration (based on an actual case in Arizona): imagine a man with a baby hoisted over his head.  He charges a police officer while threatening to throw the baby to the ground. Should the officer shoot the man or should the officer use deadly force?

(13) Several of the presenters are quite negative toward the media which regularly reports a “white police officer shooting an unarmed man.” (Think Tulsa. I know this was on the presenter’s mind.) One officer clearly ‘tipped his hand’ and illustrated his negative bias of the media.  “The media is all about ratings,” one student said out loud. After class, this same officer admitted to me that there are certainly legitimate cases where officers do get it really wrong.  I brought up Eric Garner and Rodney King as examples.  I said to him, “I know sensationalism is a driver for the media; however,  I wish you had said that during your presentation.”

Many scenarios were role played out at Class #3 around when deadly force should be used or not used. For example, what if a distraught husband comes out of a house with a hand gun pointed to his head while charging a police officer, should the officer use deadly force and stop the threat? If a police officer is being choked from behind, should the officer use deadly force? After these role plays, I raised my hand and said, “my respect for you guys has increased.” For about deadly force, see


A voyeur is defined as (1) a person who derives sexual gratification from observing the naked bodies or sexual acts of others, especially from a secret vantage point. And (2) a voyeur is defined as an enthusiastic observer of sordid or sensational subjects. Basically, a voyeur is someone who likes to “look in” on the lives of others. The film, The Truman Show (1998), portrays wonderfully our voyeuristic tendencies. Unbeknownst to him, Truman Burbank’s (Jim Carrey) life is being televised into homes, into the local diner, into the athletic club, etc. “The Truman Show” is a live broadcast of Truman’s every move and it has viewers’ rapt attention.  Reality TV shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Big Brother, The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Survivor allow us to “look in” on the lives of others. Oftentimes these reality TV lives are scripted (or staged) but nonetheless, we love looking in via our TV set.  When a car accident occurs or when see a police officer interacting with a citizen, we have a tendency to slow down and “look in”. Of course, this is where we get the phrase “rubber necking”.

Another tendency or rather a need we have is to be known.  To be known implies that an ongoing relational investment is required. To be known is normal.  A wife wants to be known by her husband; a husband wants to be known by his wife.  An employee wants to be known by his employer; an employer wants to be known by his employee.  A football player wants to be known by his coach. In many instances, the normal human need to be known has been replaced with the striving for significance. Or maybe we can say, that in many instances, the normal human need to be known has been replaced with the desire for attention?  Some seek significance by posting, writing or saying outlandish and inflammatory things. Some pursue significance, or better attention, by their scanty attire. Some seek significance by embellishing (or falsifying) their educational or professional credentials. Some pursue significance by out performing their peers on the job.  Some seek significance by their home address (or zip code) or by the car they drive or the company they keep. Some seek significance by sharing quite personal and ‘shocking’ information via the various Social Media outlets.

Speaking of Social Media outlets, it seems to me that Social Media — Snap Chat, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. — brings our desire to be known and voyeurism together.  To be sure, some go over board with striving for significance or wanting attention; nonetheless, we like to “look in” while they do.

Perhaps, voyeurism serves our need to be known.  Social media outlets serve our voyeuristic tendencies.  Maybe that’s why these outlets are so addictive for many. The normal human need to be known is normal; what is not normal is the over-the-top ways people seek significance – most of which is unhealthy. Or better, what is not normal is the over-the-top ways people seek attention.