#Justise4All No. 20 [Sign This Petition]

NOTE: The following is a petition to help a young Black girl by the name of Dream Shepherd cope with some very serious medical issues she is experiencing at this time. The e-mail for this petition came across my desk earlier this week, and I was shocked to learn that not only is the beautiful individual in dire need of our assistance, but that she is the daughter of my very good friend and music colleague, Ty Shepherd. Upon reading the letter, I contacted Ty to make sure that I could write a few comments to coincide with my signature, as well as share this information with my friends, family, and fans. Per our conversation, I urge you to please click the link below, read the entire message from Dream's mother, Diana, and kindly add your name to the signature list. You would be doing this family an enormous favor by voicing your support for this wonderful young lady, in addition to creating new, more comprehensive legislation that would help patients like Dream be more properly cared for in the future. You have my thanks in advance for that support of this very worthy cause, and my deep appreciation on behalf of Dream and her parents.



#Justise4All No. 19

⟦On Orlando: In Memoriam⟧

*Cishet = Cisgender/Heterosexual **PoC = Person of Color

To be honest and not waste your time, dear reader, I’m not sure anything I have to say about June 12, 2016, hasn’t already been said. I’m sure that in the days, weeks, months, and years that place the tragic attack at Pulse Nightclub further and further into the back of our minds, much more intelligent, compassionate, and critical writing will be authored by people who deserve your attention. In fact, your time might be far productively spent doing something other than going over my thoughts on this horrific moment in time.

Still, you are more than welcome to press on. I didn’t want to let more time pass before getting the last of my thoughts out on digital paper.

Perhaps I can best expiate what’s in my head about this if I stick to a timeline, and so I will. For those who don’t know, June 11th is my birthday. I turned 32 this year. As the last 365 days of my life have been some of the most tumultuous of any that I’ve experienced in the last 1/3rd of a century, what with dealing with my father going through a stressful heart surgery, health concerns, and personal situations that all seemed to present themselves at a fancifully inconvenient time, I was well prepared to use my birthday weekend to celebrate, relax, and express my gratitude to God + The Universe for making it through another one.

The writing, however, was on the wall even before my day began, as the news of the senseless murder-suicide of former Voice contestant Christina Grimmie made headlines at the end of the week. I vetted my feelings about my country’s continued culture of violence, and how a paradigm shift was disparately needed, and tried to make the best of my day. I planned to do my celebrating the following day after my 12pm church gig by heading to one of my favorite spots in Harlem, Loft 142, where I have been going for their #DeBrunch event regularly over the past 10 or so months

I can’t remember what time it was that I awoke on Sunday morning (I’m usually up between 4-5am), but after starting up my computer and logging into Twitter, almost immediately I saw the posts and ReTweets about the unfolding events at Pulse, an LGBTQ friendly nightclub in Orlando, Florida. At first, I thought it was the violent outcome of a fight, something no Gay Man of Color can honestly say they’d be surprised to hear at the end of a long night at an urban club during Pride week. But with a sickening anticipation, I watched the fast moving text scroll like water down the window of my app, with the death toll going from 10, to 20, to 30, and counting. It was like staring into a looking glass, and seeing the worst possible scenarios play out in real time, while you watched, helpless to do anything or contact anyone who could help.

This was not just some one-off shooting. This was something else. Something much, much worse.

As I went about my day, I, like everyone else tuned into the news and their social media, learned the grisly truth of that night; in anguish, I learned about the final death toll, the survivors, the hysteria - and the gunman, who had, as we know now, planned this in advance, and carried that plan out with bloody efficacy.

49 souls, lost to one brief, maddening act of violence. Forty-nine people, most of whom were Gay Men of Color (Latin Gay/Bi/Trans men, specifically), now gone from this plane of existence, because of the prejudice, hatred, and rage of one man, heavily armed, with nothing to lose.

Even now, as I type this, I can feel the acid in my stomach turning and the wash of emotions start to well up in the pit of my ribcage.

To stop the immediate emotional reaction, my critical thinking kicked into high gear, as it tends to do in times of mass physical or emotional trauma. It was the same when I first walked into my family’s home after the devastation left by Hurricane Sandy in 2012; don’t lose it, Joey, I said to myself. Find out what happened and use your head. But whereas the physical wreckage left in my hometown in Breezy Point was, with much effort and a boatload of time, reparable, even with the immense sadness that came with the disaster, this far exceeded anything my realm of consciousness was prepared for.

This wasn’t just a hurricane, which oftentimes does leave bodies in its wake. This was another human being, taking the lives of innocent people, many of whom were just like me. Men, non-heterosexual, non-cisgender Men of Latinx/Hispanic/Black/Indigenous origins, were cut down like beasts during a hunt, mowed down and left to die by someone who viewed them as deviant, inferior, subhuman.

For all the talk I’ve spouted about violence - prejudicial, discriminatory violence in particular - and our society’s addiction to it, and the toll it takes on everyone who experiences it somewhat directly, this brought everything I said home with a cold, unrelenting reality. And it was, for all intents and purposes, too much.

I cried. Wept, actually. I wept for my brethren. As I made my way to Manhattan, I all but held it together as I passed from one borough to the next, wiping my tears and forcing a polite smile to MTA workers as I paid my tolls and kept moving. Time moved in slow motion. I wondered if people passing me in their cars could see my grief, or even registered that my facial expressions were that of someone in the midst of processing this news. I wondered if they knew that a small part of my heart had been irreparably broken. I wondered if I knew this is what was happening, that in my mourning the loss of people I never knew, I was losing some part of myself.

The afternoon passed without incident, and in the midst it all, I managed to have a good time. I realized later that a place like Loft 142, where other GBT Latinx/Black/Indigenous Men were patrons, was exactly where I needed to be. I needed to be among friends, colleagues, brothers in spirit who I knew were going through the exact same emotional trauma as I. And so we smiled, drank, laughed, and conversed together as much as we were able, and for the moment, it was good.

I contacted everyone I knew who was a Non-Cishet PoC friend, and told them outright that I loved them, and thanked them for being in my life. My mother, my sister, and several of my closest friends messaged me with words of love and encouragement. I thanked my Creator for the continued blessing of people who cared about me, and for people to care about. It was unbelievably necessary, and I am unbelievably grateful.

When I got home from brunch, having stayed as long as my constitution would allow, my creative spirit was already speaking to me. I had to do, sing, say something. My mind already knew what cover I would record; I played it on the way uptown. It was a song penned and performed originally by Tom Waits, but made more famous by one of my music idols, Bette Midler. The song is entitled “Shiver Me Timbers,” and whereas its original intent mean to draw on the emotions of a wandering soul abandoning his normal life in favor of a life on the sea, I redid some lyrics and pared down the arrangement so as to make it a fitting tribute to the men & women who lost their lives that morning.

It took roughly two days to complete, but I’m glad I did it, and the response has been unbelievable. Again, gratitude.

I originally thought I wouldn’t have much to say, but, like it seems to always do, my heart had other plans. That said, I won’t keep you, dear reader, too much longer. Over the next several days, I did my best to go about my regular routing, but I found it to be more difficult than even I anticipated. Of course, I vented my sociopolitical frustrations about the shooting on social media, lashing out at anyone or anything I saw to be counterproductive to honoring the dead or working to prevent future violence. The most recent idiocy came from the Center-Right Old Guard, with Senator John McCain alluding to the idea that President Obama’s inaction regarding the Middle East was a prime catalyst for actions carried out by mass murderer Omar Mateen. I won’t bog anyone down with my innate rage concerning White American elected leaders and their continued insistence at turning tragedy involving socially/racially marginalized groups into a political opportunity, but if you could see my face while I write this…well, you get the picture.

I realize that it is far more important to focus on the victims of this heinous crime against humanity, and no matter what happens in the future, they are whom deserve our attention. Their families and loved ones are whom deserve our caring and support. And their Communities - my Communities - are the ones whose voices must be lifted up, whose stories must be told, and whose issues must be resolved if we are to stop this from happening. I cannot tell you how much love I felt when getting those responses back from my friends, and almost all of them responded. That love, that solidarity, is so much more crucial than any legislation passed on the heels of this tragedy, and it is that love that I wish to impart on all of you.

As with so many who have spoken out about the Orlando shooting, I want the world to know, especially those connected to the victims, that I bleed, cry, grieve, and mourn with you. I have shed tears for these beautiful souls, as I know you have. I am working through my pain, as I know you are. And I am confident, as I pray you will be, that someday, whenever that day is, we will find a way to work through this. That we will be stronger and more united in our struggles to fight for a world released from its cycles of systemic oppression, unfounded hatred, and indoctrinated violence. If the love I’ve received this past week is any indication, then I am willing to believe that such a day is still possible. I am willing to believe that a shift in paradigm, a collective change of heart, is still something for which we should all retain hope.

There isn’t much else I can think of to say, so I’ll leave it here. As always, thanks to every one of you for your continued support, particularly at this time. Below this text is the YouTube cover I spoke of earlier in this post. I hope you will take a listen; the names of the known victims are listed at the end of the song. Learn those names. Go and find out about who they were. Say a prayer for them and their loved ones, if you pray. If not, send light and energy to them; you have my promise it’s appreciated. I’ll leave you with one of the best text messages I got this week, from my good friend, Timmy O’Brien. I think it expresses with distinct clarity, everything so many of us have tried to say, and I hope you’ll take it to heart:

“You’re loved, don’t be afraid, remain strong.”


#Justise4All No. 18 [Viral Video]

⟦On Africa, Anti-Blackness, and Supremacist Colonialism⟧

NOTE: The video below is a TEDx talk given in Berlin by Mallence Bart-Williams, regarding the current state of her country, Sierra Leone, and her groundbreaking art/fashion/outreach initative, FOLORUNSHO. Before reading anything I have to say, please take some time to watch her speech. If you are pressed for time, check out the first eight (8) minutes, as they pertain to this post's subject matter.

To find out more about FOLORUNSHO, CLICK HERE

During my time visiting Dad in Florida while he was preparing to undergo surgery, discussions with certain members his side of the family, themselves staunch Conservatives to the point of Irish-American Libertarianism, expressed their vehement disbelief in my worldviews, particularly regarding economics and worker’s rights. As we talked, the age-old, racially charged discussion about unemployment in the US led to commentary about jobless families in the ghetto, with so-called ‘welfare kids’ having cellphones as a point of debate. I shifted the narrative by asking why we weren’t focusing on how places like China were forcing their telecom employees to work sweatshop hours for pennies on the dollar, with little to no right to collective bargaining for better industry standards or pay. They countered by saying that China “wasn’t our problem” and that there were “probably hundreds of people who would be willing to take their place.”

Per the homie @netic, what we didn’t bring up was the fact that many of the natural resources used in tech like cell phones are exploitatively cultivated from the African continent to the benefit of the Supremacist West, at the expense of the stability of African nations, like Sierra Leone (the home of the beautiful speaker in this video) whose territories house said material. The bloody campaigns waged by corrupt organizations to profit from Coltan exports has cost countless lives, many of whom have been innocent children, and worked to undermine various African Gov’t’s, with little intervention on the part of NATO-based countries, yet we continue to use products like cell phones w/o awareness of this issue.

My point here is that whatever those close to me would like to think about my passion for these problems, systemic racism is real, as is clearly evidenced by this topic, in which a violent form of Anti-Blackness exists on both ends of the problem, with a frightening example of corporate corruption on behalf of an aggressive Government stuck in the middle. From the streets of Sierra Leone's most destitute slums, to the housing projects of New York City, the continued social, political, economic subjugation of People of Color by global forces is something which can neither be denied, nor is there an easy fix. Thus Ms. Williams is hardly speaking in the abstract when talking about Karma and nature finally catching up to White Supremacy, should it fail to rectify its crimes against humanity.

And, therefore, neither am I.


Social Media and Racism: Why I shut down my [personal] Facebook page (Extended Post)

On a cool Fall morning - November 15, 2004, 2:24am to be exact - as I was perusing the web on a public computer in the lab during what was my 3rd year as a Vocal Performance Major at The Catholic University of America, I decided to go ahead and sign up to a new website that friends of mine had been gossiping about for the past few weeks. Per their conversation, the site was a network that, in the short nine-month timespan since its official launch, had amassed a following of College and University students that was so vast, it was very possible to find and connect with other young people whom one might have otherwise forgotten altogether, had the platform not been created. Old friends, distant family, even social enemies; slowly but surely, they were showing up on this website, and unlike its predecessors such as MySpace or Friendster, you could be certain it was them, as their public contact information was on display for anyone who was deemed their “friend.”

The website platform, of course, was Facebook.

At the time THE Facebook, as it was originally called, allowed for students like myself to be able to share bits of data, as well as clue in their friends as to their whereabouts, all the while creating a network of friends, family, and associates that was based in real-time connections and personal life experiences. As it progressed, the qualifications for registering as a member expanded from being a registered higher education co-ed, to simply being able to provide accurate data about oneself. Dropping the article prefix, Facebook saw major attention from the mainstream media when incidents such as the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007 saw frightened students exchanging information about where to go and what to do in order to be safe, as well as real-time updates regarding the status of the shooter and the victims. CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his team realized very early on, and through situations like the aforementioned, that this creation had the very real potential to become a world-changing digital platform, and capitalized on that potential with little hesitation.

Today, Facebook is a multi-million dollar business, with its stock value hovering above $100 per share. It’s current head count, as of 2015, is well over 1 billion registered users, and with the global population peaking at 7 billion people, we are talking about 1 in 7 individuals with a Facebook account at any given time, in most parts of the world. Because of its unbelievably expansive network, and registration/TOS guidelines that are decidedly far more lax than its previous versions, a member of this social network can create an identity and be involved in digital socialization in whatever ways they see fit. Through Facebook, you can, quite literally, be whomever you want to be, with the capacity to front that identity and your personal beliefs on as many sub-platforms as you are able. And now, with the advent of paid advertising, public pages, and monetized accounts, if you have the capital to do it, you can become a virtual superstar in whichever fields you choose.

Perhaps this is the reason why I stopped using a personal Facebook page. When you stop to look at it, it’s actually pretty terrifying. For the record, and before I go any further, anyone wondering about my public page can rest easy: til I’m convinced otherwise, it’s not going anywhere. However, as of June, 2016, I have decided to stop using Facebook as a direct social network platform. After building a personal page with a total friends list of over 1500 people that lasted for nearly 10 years, I shut down that original account. After taking a few days off from the site completely, I re-registered a new account, with an extremely limited number of friends, and a decidedly different presence. Still, it wasn’t enough to garner the maintenance of my peace of mind, and so, I deactivated that page, and created a completely private, no-friends account with the sole purpose of maintaining an administrator page with which to navigate my public one.

At this point, some of you are wondering why all the hoopla and exhortations over this. Why would I take myself out of this social media phenomenon, and why take time to write a blog about it?

Why, you ask? Well, if you’ve been following my social media presence over the past two years, the answer should come without too much thinking:

Stupid people and racism. Duh. :-).

During my original tenure as a very active Facebook user, I openly admit to [and am thankful for] being able to connect with many people with very little effort. I was able to share my thoughts, my music, and my information with an audience that would have otherwise taken me decades to cultivate, had I tried to do it manually. I was able to keep tabs on friends who weren’t close by or easily reachable by basic transportation. I got to relive memories with buddies from my old school days. And, most importantly, I got to build up my brand as a freelance musician, using Facebook’s various outlets to draw people to my work and keep them tuned in. That, above pretty much all else, was the reason I hung on in the year prior to my canceling my first account. I see now that it was a poor reason, and understand more clearly just how destructive it can be to find such reasons to stay connected to what had become a toxic form of social interaction for me.

Facebook wasn’t an addiction, per se - not for me, anyway - but it had certainly become a vice; one that had worked to destabilize my already highly distractive mental and emotional state. And it was over the last eighteen months that I got to see firsthand just how easily Facebook could make even the most important people in your life turn into complete monsters.

Myself included.

As I said towards the beginning of this post, a primary reason for my quitting Facebook was the racism that, after a certain point, made itself clear to me on a daily basis through my timeline (on the off chance there are readers who don’t do social media, a timeline is a basic live feed of posts and activity taking place within your network of friends on a given platform). It’s one thing to see things like a comment section on a Conservative news blog to get an idea of just how disgusting White America can be when talking about People of Color in various situations; this is par for the course online these days. It’s entirely another to see your childhood friends, people you grew up and played CYO sports with, talk about things like systemic discrimination, economic inequality, racial profiling, police brutality, and the ongoing struggle of marginalized communities with the kind of utter disdain and outright abusive intent that’s usually reserved for the most vicious of KKK leaders (on multiple occasions, I’ve had guys who went to college and played in bands with me call Black protestors ‘morons,’ and poor urban residents ‘animals’).

To be clear, I had kept a conscious arm’s distance away from talking about race in great detail prior to circa 2012-13. In spite of my intersectional existence as a mixed race Colombian adopted into an Irish Roman Catholic family, and all the material provided by that point of reference alone, I kept even my most visceral commentary on world events relegated to an objective, politically based critique. I recently confided in a friend that it was the execution of Troy Davis that began my “wake-up call,” and that the killing of Trayvon Martin solidified my commitment to looking more deeply into just how much racism was plaguing our world, both at home and abroad. What I found, of course, was that so much of our current socioeconomic trends, political divisions, and violent exchanges are deeply, firmly rooted in the prejudices formed through ethnic differences. Still more urgent was the realization that concepts like racial dominance, anti-Blackness, and White Supremacy were oftentimes at the helm of some of the most poignant moments in our recent history.

Through it all, and looking back, my Facebook page, while still promoting my music and keeping in touch with friends, took a turn towards the socially conscious, as I buried myself in news articles, professional research, and identity politics dialogue to find grounding for my newfound awareness. And my friends noticed. All of a sudden, from the shadowy corners of my friends list, people who had never had anything to say about anything else I was posting (including my LGBT/SGL advocacy) were stating outright on my page that not only was I wrong in how I was analyzing these problems, but that my convictions bordered on flat-out betrayal of both my upbringing and my privilege. In a sense, it’s as if they were saying I was lucky to have been raised in such an environment, and that any overtly critical thinking about that might imply I wasn’t grateful for what I had been given.

Seeing it all in hindsight now, I realized I should’ve just told those folks to piss off and stay the fuck out of my mentions or comment threads.

Yet, I engaged them all, arguing, for the most part, with patience and the preening specificity for which I had already become well known. I was met with verbal grenades. Not that I didn’t lob enough of my own, but the assault on my social media with some of the most magnanimous of postings was just shy of what they now call cyberbullying. I realize now that no matter what I may have said or implied, I didn’t deserve half the crap that was expressed to me through this forum, and should have confronted the people responsible for saying those things directly to let them know that they had crossed a line.

Again, all of this because I had now chosen to own the full scope of my identity, and discover just how much race continues to play in to the majority of our everyday lives.

It was several major events involving racially charged bouts of violence in the US on the part of law enforcement that drew everything I was observing to a head. The shooting of Michael Brown, the choking death of Eric Garner, and the questionable passing of Freddie Gray put me in direct opposition to several high-profile users within my network of Facebook friends. I was basically reprimanded like a schoolboy for pointing out that even in the damage caused during the Baltimore riots by residents, you couldn’t bring back the dead or undo the injustices carried out by local police and civic leaders. I was told that an associate of mine was an idiot for expressing how the arrest of violent White criminals (serial killers included) was comparably low-incident versus the patternistic manner in which People of Color are manhandled when being collared for the most petty of nonviolent felonies. And, what I think was the straw that broke the camel’s back, I was literally yelled at by a friend - a Detective - for stating the bare fact that even in the horror brought on by the bombing at the Boston Marathon, the body count was nearly half that of the execution-style killings at a Black Christian church in South Carolina by a young White Supremacist, yet we still had major portions of our population far more willing to express their hatred towards Muslims as opposed to condemning Dylan Roof for his despicable actions; more importantly, that his actions represented centuries of racial violence handed out freely by White Americans since they brought African slaves to cultivate the land they stole and conquered.

Put simply, it had become a shit show, and I’d grown tired of it.

Today, I hold no qualms about not holding back when talking about topics like race and discrimination, because I realize that the reasons I was holding back before stemmed from the kind of backlash I experienced in the final months before I shut down my 1st Facebook page. I was discussing these subjects with the logically false intent of seeking a middle ground, and even when doing that, I was met with a hostility that was not only undeserved, it was totally ignorant. Sadly, though, in restarting a new page in the fall of 2015, I recognized almost immediately that the people with whom I made the more conscious effort to include in my social networking world so as to maintain some sense of sanity were, in some ways, not much better. It was this period that made me realize that if I was to give my convictions a title, “Radical” would not be far off in describing them. I’m not sorry for that, either.

When I was told by a close friend that I was acting “a bit over-zealous” in talking about these subjects, I saw the writing on the wall. Healthy discussions with like-minded friends would turn into unnecessary arguments and text messages. I was hitting my head against a brick wall I had created, and it was making me even more crazy than when I was dealing with my racist former friends. Finally, after making some claims about the recent X-Men movie, the franchise’s culturally appropriative usage of the Holocaust, and having to explain the nuance in what it actually means to appropriate without being directly offensive, I pushed my chair away from my desk, stood up, and probably said something along the lines of: “That’s it. Enough.” Whatever the words were, they were some of the wisest I’ve uttered to myself in a long time.

Within 48 hours of that conversation, I closed my 2nd account, created my administrator account for my public page, and breathed a sigh of relief. No, seriously, it was like “Waiting to Exhale."

As long as this entry already is, I won’t go on boring you with my life after Facebook. One, because as per said entry, this is all literally over an extremely short amount of time. Two, because the whole point of detaching myself from the instant gratification of interpersonal social media is to regain some modicum of what we used to call privacy. Obviously, in keeping my public page open, I will be expressing my thoughts, as well as sharing my music with my followers, but because public pages have become a monetized effort, it’s less likely that what I share will be seen by people unless I promote it, and contrary to popular opinion, I ain’t shelling out monthly coins just so I can get a reaction from somebody when I talk bout redlining or rape culture. Baby boy’s got bills.

What I will say is that I’m convinced that part of the reason I decided to disconnect, in a sense, is because, whether people believe it or not, whether I like it or not, I’m growing up. Whatever it was that made me snap and get rid of this part of my social media identity, it felt alot like someone saying, “Dude, go do something else. You’ve got tons of other important shit on your plate.” And so, I defer to that voice, and look forward to reshaping what it means to be a thirty-something online. I have found that my other platforms, such as Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, have provided me with a way to express myself in real-time and not be accosted by lemmings who are just looking to be a pain in the ass or are so convinced that I’m wrong they can’t actually hold a decent conversation - this may change, but for now, it’s what it is. For the Nth time, http://facebook.com/pmurraymusic is still up, and anyone on Facebook is welcome to contact me there.

But as it stands, I’m actually excited to see how this all plays out. In some small, unimportant ways, making the choice to get rid of my personal page feels like I did the right thing, and anyone who knows me is well aware that I don’t do that as often as I should. That said, I’ll take the ‘W’ here, and hope that my online future is far more healthy and enjoyable than it has been.

I mean, it can’t get any worse, right?