You're Beautiful

I don't know whether this post belongs on

But, I figured that it "fer sure" did not belong on CAT Tracks.

Bottom line, I just felt like talking about it...

There are no signs here, although I may have awakened at 5:55 a.m. I was too disoriented to notice for sure, but it was close.

You see, I had a dream.

Oh, there were no visions of a future where skin color no longer mattered, no future characterized by universal brotherhood, and for the purposes of this post, no reference to "good hair".

No, it was just a dream about Julie.

It wasn't even a "good dream"...I never even saw her face, just knew that it was her. We did exchange a few words...

In fact, it was actually a "bad dream" of those anxiety dreams, fraught with struggles to find one's way in unfamiliar surroundings...needing to get somewhere, thinking you were finally there, only to turn down another unknown path.

Dreaming of Julie is's only happened a handful of times during the two-years since her passing. In fact, I've still got one or two fingers left on that hand.

I think I know why this particular dream occurred...two major events that triggered an episode of PTSD...Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I kid you not...

As reported in CAT Tracks, I had occasion to relive some very bad times at the end of October. Due to Julie's vigil, passing, and burial in October, that month brings me discomfort. With that backdrop, came the first of the two major forces placing me further on edge...a long overdue "day in court" for James Gibson.

Julie's mistreatment by Cairo School District Number One has already been documented in these pages. James Gibson was a similar victim, his "exile" having now doubled Julie's in length.

I'm not going into the details of James' plight, but there is an even closer connection between the two "victims". In fact, Julie (in keeping with her life's mission of reaching out and helping others) started James on his path. It was on August 17th (Julie's birthday) in 2005 that James Gibson received first word of what would become a four-year-and-counting battle for his livelihood. When he exited the superintendent's office, he just happened to bump into Julie, whose ever-active antennae sensed something was wrong. True to her personal motto, Julie told James..."Don't you quit!", and directed him to contact "Ronnie"...that "Ronnie will stand up with you."

As life would have it, James' hearing before the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (after several postponements) occurred on the 27th and 28th of last month. In addition to those two days, I spent two days in Carterville, IL and two days in St. Louis, MO working with James and his attorney to prepare his case. Reliving those events while simultaneously remembering my personal loss...well, stressful.

And, then, last night...

A week ago, an icon of our little town passed away. To allow her large and scattered family the opportunity to make arrangements, the visitation was delayed until last night (with the funeral to be held today.) As a public service, I posted her obituary on our union website, CAT Tracks.

Should have read the obituary more carefully...

When I drove to the local funeral home that was listed in the obituary (as being in charge of arrangements), I passed our local Catholic church. There were several cars parked in front. On a Friday night? I know Catholics now have the option of attending "Sunday Mass" on Saturday night, but what's with Friday night? (And, this time, I WAS sure what day it was...that not always being the case in my retirement.)

A couple of blocks later, I found out. The funeral home was dark; the parking lot was empty. Aha...the visitation must be at the church.

Retraced my steps and parked my car. Since most Catholic funerals at the church are held downstairs (for ease in transporting the casket), I headed for the Chapel...which proved to be dark.

And THAT was the second "major event" that I credit for producing "my dream". It wasn't really stressful, although the occasion - any funeral - may have accentuated the experience. However, it was different...can't remember the last time I was in the upstairs of the church, the regular place for holding mass..."back in the day"...when I served as altar boy. There may have been another funeral, but, otherwise, it would have been back before Julie and I were married.

No, the walls didn't shake, but, there was a certain irony. No lights! Oh, there were some in the main church, but the hall and steps were dark. Actually one of the sons of the deceased was spending his time finding and setting up portable spotlights to increase the lighting inside the main church. No...don't think this was a "sign", except that the person who is usually in charge of turning on the lights was late.

However, returning to a scene from my pre-Julie life coupled with last month's reliving and remembering Julie's "unfinished business" and her "final journey", well, maybe a dream was due...

As with most dreams, the details quickly slipped away after awakening...

Julie and I had gone to some restaurant with our Illinois Education Association UniServ Director and her IEA Attorney (although HE resembled James Gibson's attorney; Julie's attorneys were female.)

Before arriving at the restaurant, we had had an argument in the car. No, not Julie and was me arguing with the attorney and our UniServ Director. (To be honest, I think I over-reacted. They were outlining the school district's "offer". They were NOT going to put her back to work and they were going to pay her like 10% of the salary that she would have earned if they had not fired her. Well, I snapped...didn't even let them complete their sentence. I jumped into a "kill the messenger" mode, trashed the IEA and NEA, talked about their mommas. (Uh, actually, I don't think I did the latter, but I was definitely guilty of the former. Hey, it was MY stress dream...I was entitled!)

Anyway, all of a sudden we are in a restaurant...a cavernous restaurant...a looong flight of stairs to the main seating area, but other elevated seating areas everywhere. My first problem was in not being able to find a plate or utensils. Finally found a bowl, but then all the food disappeared...then, it was there, but I couldn't reach it...then it was there, but when I tried to put it in my bowl, it would fall to the floor...then it was in my bowl, but it was mystery items floating in what appeared to be dishwater...then I noticed that our party was leaving, but I couldn't find a place to set down my bowl.

Next thing I know, we are outside the restaurant, walking down a path toward the parking lot. Julie has scampered up ahead. I look over a railing and see her running down a long flight of stairs. When I look back at our attorney and UniServ Director, they have this puzzled look on their of those "Uh Oh" looks. They have come to the realization that we must have come out a different exit to the restaurant than the one we entered. They turn around and head back from whence we came.

I go looking for let her know what is going on. When I get to the top of the stairs where I saw her last, Julie is there. I tell her what has happened and we head back to the restaurant. When we get there, it has turned into a fairgrounds, it's night, and the others are no where to be seen. Being the dutiful husband, I ask Julie to take a seat on a bench and I will go find the others.

I venture off, but for some reason I don't go very far. When I get back to the bench...

Fortunately, it's not what you might's not what would be the fitting continuation of an anxiety dream...that Julie has disappeared...that I have to go searching.

When I get back to the bench...Julie is still there. I sit down on the bench and Julie says..."Thank you for coming back for me."

And THAT is when I awaken...

As is my routine, when I got out of bed, I went directly to the computer. No e-mail...since my return to bed at 3:30 a.m. (Where is everybody???)

I remembered that I had already checked all my CAT Tracks sources for news...except one. The Southern Illinoisan tends to hold their posting until 6 a.m. When I went to the site, there was nothing worthwhile for my purposes.

My foul mood returned and I started grumbling about the Southern Illinoisan Website. They changed it a few months back...for the worse, in my humble opinion.

In fact "OPINION" is part of the problem. Used to be, you could go to the Website and they would have little pictures of the "Op-Ed and Commentary" contributors and you could easily click on a link to take you a specific person. Trust me...I do NOT do Anne Coulter! (If you do not know of her, consider yourself fortunate indeed. I wish I were so lucky...)

The one person whose opinion I did follow was a gentleman unfortunately named Leonard Pitts Jr. He is an African American who takes on bigots of all colors, including his own. He doesn't mince words and I usually find myself offering an "Amen!"

Well, with their new format, I haven't been able to find Mr. Pitts' postings. (Oh, I could have Googled him and found them, but for some reason I didn't.) Today, as I grumbled, I clicked on a link for "Opinions" and up popped the listing that I had found previously...just a listing of "Opinion Pieces" with no identification of the author. Whatever...

One unattributed title caught my eye..."Hair doesn’t make black beautiful". I wondered what that was about...wondered if Ann Coulter was going off on the First Lady or even the closely-cropped President.

Surprise, surprise...Leonard Pitts Jr. Seems that Mr. Pitts had something to say about African American women and their fixation on "good hair".

This article resonated with me...

So...a rare dream and a happenstance encounter with a favored Op-Ed contributor prompted me to offer up this post and this article...

Hair doesn’t make black beautiful

By Leonard Pitts, Jr.

An open letter to African-American women:

It's about the need to be beautiful, I know.

As goals go, that one is neither extraordinary nor gender-specific. But it's different for women, isn't it? A man's sense of self worth is seldom endangered by crow's feet. On him people will say they convey "character." On a woman, they convey wear.

And if it's different for women, it's different and then some for women like you, saddled not just with the need to be beautiful, but also with 400 years of racial baggage, 400 years of ginormous Jemimahs, shrill Sapphires, ugly Aunt Esthers and angry Angelas seared into the public mind, 400 years which say you "cannot" be beautiful if your lips are too proud, or your skin too dark or you don't take that nappy hair God gave you and make it look like the hair he gave somebody else.

As you may have guessed, our subject is "Good Hair," Chris Rock's new documentary on the industry of African-American hair care. The comedian has called it the "blackest" movie he's ever made. Truth is, it may well be the blackest movie "anybody's" ever made.

That's not to say other people would not get the jokes or the thesis: that in the search for "good hair" - i.e., hair that is straight and fine like white people's - black women burn their scalps with corrosive chemicals, buy thousand-dollar weaves on teachers' salaries, and support, according to Rock, a $9 billion industry of which black folks own virtually nothing.

But being black, having been inculcated with that sense of lowered worth they feed you right along with your strained peas, will enable you to nod knowingly when Rock recounts the moment one of his young daughters asked him why she doesn't have "good hair." It will allow you to laugh in recognition when women describe the elaborate rituals of protecting their hair once it has been straightened or weaved. It will require you to wince in pain when Rock tries to sell black hair at a weave shop (weaves are often human hair from India) and is refused because "nobody" wants that kinky African stuff.

The very notion of "good hair" springs from that same wellspring of self-denigration that offers the N-word as a fraternal greeting and once filled our newspapers with ads for skin-lightening creams. It suggests the difficulty of loving oneself when one uses as a yardstick of worth another culture's physical standards. As in an old episode of "M*A*S*H" where a Korean boy wanted the doctors to fix his eyes and make them look "American."

But of course, there was nothing at all wrong with his eyes. And "good hair" - I preached this to my curly-haired son who grew up mystified that his hair fascinated so many people - is any hair that covers your head.

Unfortunately, saying this is like shouting in a hurricane. A million media images tell us beauty looks like Paris Hilton - and "only" that.

So go on, sister, do what you do. I ain't mad at'cha. But neither am I fooled by your chemicals and weaves.

I am your brother, your father, your husband and your son. I've seen you in church with big hats on, giving children the evil eye. And at the jail on visiting day, shoring up that wayward man. And at the bus stop in the rain on your way to work. And at the dining table with pen and paper, working miracles of money. When I was a baby, you nursed me, when we were children, I chased you through the house; when we were dating, I missed half the movie, stealing sugar from you. I saw you born; I took you to your prom; I glowed with pride when you went off to school. I have married you and buried you. I love your smile. A million times, you took my breath away.

You are the rock and salvation of our people, the faith that remains when all hope is gone. So if it's about the need to be beautiful, maybe it's time somebody told you:

You already are. You always were.

LEONARD PITTS JR., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132. Readers may e-mail him at Leonard Pitts chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. every Wednesday on

What's a post without a song...

I "reprised" the title of this post from an example I provided in the "Epilogue" to "The Book" admission that on occasion I did sing.

And when I sang those words to Julie, well, I meant every word...

For the reasons given by Leonard Pitts, Jr., Julie never thought she was beautiful...or even attractive. Julie could never see what I saw in her.

Although Julie was smarter than me, she always put herself down for only having a high school education. Julie was proud of her "World History Teacher" Ronnie; but, it was I, who would sit in awe as Julie gave life to European History learned from her fact-based historical novels. I told her often...YOU need to go teach my class...YOU make it interesting...they would pay attention to YOU! Julie would not/could not accept the compliment.

Physical beauty...all you have to do is look at the pictures posted on this website!

Take the two pictures on the Home Page...

The one on the indicated, my favorite. Julie hated it...was embarrassed by it. Julie couldn't get past the "bad hair" and the gap in her teeth. I never even noticed, captivated by the eyes and the smile.

The one on the right...Julie actually liked that one, for all the wrong reasons. Julie liked the hair...the store-bought wig that Ronnie helped pick out for the occasion of her IMRF campaign...the "good hair". And her smile (still subdued from years of trying to hide "the gap")...NO GAP, having employed braces to correct that common African American trait.

Don't get me wrong...Julie Newell was NOT "trying to be white", although many (of both races) accused her of doing so because of her intelligence and her proper English...and, yes, marrying a white man.

But, Julie Jones had been raised in a "whites only" culture. Julie Jones went to racially segregated elementary schools. Since her mother felt that the white schools were better, Julie went to the predominantly white Cairo High School instead of the all-black Sumner High School. It was Julie Jones' senior year - 1968 - that the two schools were finally merged...14 years after the United States Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education decision struck down "Separate, but Equal".

It would be 16 years later - 1984 - before the United States of America would publicly recognize that a black person could be beautiful. Yep, 1984 - eleven years after I married Julie Jones - that Vanessa Williams would break the "beauty barrier" and be crowned Miss America.

So, self-esteem problems for Julie Jones Newell? You betcha!

After all, Julie was only human...

But, it didn't make Julie a bad person.

In fact, I believe it is what made Julie the special person she was. Rather than letting the bastards get her down (if you will pardon my "French"), Julie was moved to compensate...probably over-compensate. Lacking in self-esteem, Julie was desperate to be of worth, desperate to prove herself. And, yes...probably to be liked.

Julie was determined to prove, in the words of Jesse Jackson, that "I Am - Somebody!"

Julie Jones Newell was indeed BEAUTIFUL, possessing a God-given physical beauty that paled when compared to the inner-beauty that shown forth through her self-sacrificing deeds...even when confronted with the multitude of obstacles that caused her to be dubbed "Jobetta" by those who knew her best.


I know, I know...where's the song?

I'm a Jon Bon Jovi fan.

One of those days that I was listening to "Julie's Radio Station", a song began to play..."Thank you for loving me." Wasn't sure of the singer, although the voice was sure familiar. Googled the song...yep, Bon Jovi.

I thought to myself..."Self, if you were still writing "The Book", that would have been a good entry." In fact, I had it on my "possible list" before I heard the Elliot Yamin song that I featured in the aforelinked "Epilogue".

Well, in the midst of the October reliving and remembering outlined above, I bought a new (to me) Jon Bon Jovi CD (actually released in 2007.)

When I gave it a listen, well...

I burdened my friends with my lament, but managed to restrain myself from "going public".

I won't, I won't...and meant it.

Until this morning...until I typed my account of the dream, the line above about Julie sitting on the bench, about me sitting down beside her...

"Seat Next To You"
By Jon Bon Jovi

Long slow drive down an old dirt road
You've got your hand out the window, listening to the radio
That's where I wanna be...

On an old park bench in the middle of December
Cold hard rain fallin', can't find no cover
That would be alright with me...

Hard days, good times, blue skies, dark nights
Baby, I want you to take me ... wherever you're going to
And Baby, say that you'll save me ... a seat next to you

In the corner booth of a downtown bar, with your head on my shoulder
Smokin' on a cheap cigar...that would be alright with me
In the back row of a movie or a cross-town train
I wanna hear your voice whispering my name...that's where I wanna be

Hard days, good times, blue skies, dark nights

Baby, say that you'll take me ... wherever you're going to
And Baby, say that you'll save me ... a seat next to you

Life is like a ferris wheel, spinnin' around
When you get to the top it's hard to look down
Just hang on ... we'll make it through
Save me ... a seat next to you

When you get to the gates and the angels sing
Go to that place where the church bells ring
You know I'll come runnin' ... runnin' to find you

Baby, say that you'll take me ... wherever you're going to
And Baby, I want you to save me ... a seat next to you
A seat next to you
A seat ... next to you
A seat ... next to you