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What’s Going On?

When it comes to music, Berry Gordy has proven to be wrong about very few things. He personally started the careers of several of the best R&B performers of all time: Wilson Picket, Martha & the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, the Commodores, and the Jackson 5, to name a few.

Whats going on

I’ve said before that Stevie Wonder probably is the most talented musician I can name, all around. That said, I also believe nobody from that era had a better voice than Marvin Gaye.

Gordy not only has an ear for music; he also has incredible business sense. The artists he kept on the Motown label had company-approved sounds and looks. Throughout the 1960s, he made sure of this. In 1971, however, Gaye recorded a protest song titled What’s Going On? It didn’t fit the Motown image, and Gordy called it “the worst thing I have ever heard in my life.”

The lyrics are simple. They are a beautiful summation of the social tumult of the late 60s.

Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, eheh

Father, father
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, oh oh oh

The song is a plea for understanding. It is a cry for solution. It is a song of war and a song of peace, all at the same time. Marvin Gaye (and the other musicians who contributed to the song) looked at all the people they loved that they were losing to senseless violence, from Watts to Vietnam. And they asked, What’s Going On?

Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on
What’s going on
Yeah, what’s going on
Ah, what’s going on

In the mean time
Right on, baby
Right on brother
Right on babe

The 70s weren’t as kind to Gaye as the 60s had been. Less success. Problems in his personal life. Then in 1982, he finally had another huge hit, Sexual Healing, which led to a Grammy win for him in 1983. It was his first. Then, in 1984, Marvin Gaye was a victim of gun violence – murdered by his own father. He had tried to separate his parents during a domestic dispute. In the wake of his death, the world had to ask the question: What’s Going On?

Mother, mother, everybody thinks we’re wrong
Oh, but who are they to judge us
Simply ’cause our hair is long
Oh, you know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some understanding here today
Oh oh oh

Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
C’mon talk to me
So you can see
What’s going on
Yeah, what’s going on
Tell me what’s going on
I’ll tell you what’s going on, ooh ooo ooo ooo
Right on baby
Right on baby

Now we watch, 45 years after Gordy relented and finally released What’s Going On to a surprising success. People got it. They still didn’t know what was going on, but they understood the song, and they connected with the idea that we’re not alone out there. In 2006, Rolling Stone magazine named What’s Going On the fourth-greatest song of all time. It captures our confusion with its cacophonies and still brings us hope with its powerful beauty.

In 2016, the world still bewilders us. Social media helps us see that we’re not alone in that feeling, but it also helps us see that our hopes and fears are perhaps limited compared to those of others around us. I’ve seen some atrocious statements in the last few days. I’ve read eloquent posts from friends such as Emily Virgin, Dallas Koehn, Shawn Sheehan, and Meagan Bryant.

Meagan, in particular, floored me with her statement. She’s a co-worker and somebody who embodies the culture I hope our district can create. It’s there, in disconnected pieces, but it needs to be something we establish with purpose. Find your calling and pursue it fiercely or something like that.

We have strong and talented young men & women walking the halls of our schools struggling with how people will treat them based on the color of their skin. Scared for how they will be treated.

We have strong and talented young men and women walking the halls of our schools who have a calling to go in to public service and struggling with how people will treat them based on the badge they put on. Scared for how they will be treated.

We have strong and talented young men and women walking the halls of our schools who are battling with their own identities and struggling with how people will treat them based on their lifestyle. Scared for how they will be treated.

We have strong and talented young men and women walking the halls of our schools who struggle with professing their faith. Scared for how they will be treated.

I hate seeing on the news or reading that another unarmed black person has been shot by police. I don’t blame all police, though. I hated what I saw last night, death and despair in Dallas, but I don’t blame peaceful protestors who had the right to assemble.

There’s something good to be said for vigils such as this. It’s a sort of fellowship among the grieving. You can do that – grieve by proxy.

What you can’t do is seek justice by proxy. I can hate those who kill innocents. I can’t seek revenge on them, though, by finding someone who looks like them and/or wears the same uniforms.

I also can’t watch, as I had to this morning in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, white men on Fox News talking amongst themselves about what black communities need. Nor can I read another diatribe by nationally syndicated columnists who type for a living and feel qualified to explain how police training needs to improve.

The police last night wanted peace. So did the protestors. One sniper, who fits into neither group, wanted something different. On the Today Show this morning, Queen Latifah summed up how most Americans feel better than I can:

I’m Queen Latifah, but I’m black wherever I go. I deal with the same experiences that other people deal with. I’m also the daughter of a cop, I’m also the sister of a cop, the cousin of a cop and the niece of cops. I don’t want the guns turned on police any more than I want the guns turned on us.

Most Americans want peace, but every day, every week, we see more violence. And we feel powerless to stop it.

What’s going on?

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