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I still can't get over that LinkedIn post that you sent me about Louis Armstrong. I almost put it on my pile of things to "read later" as I'm not a huge fan of jazz, although I loved him in the movie "High Society" with Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly.


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I figured the subject line, "Connect these dots … Louis Armstrong," would pique your interest.


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Well, it did. Although when I first started reading it, I couldn't figure out what a Jewish family who immigrated from Lithuania had to do with one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time.


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Hence the subject line. It is one thing to hire a young black boy to do odd jobs for your business, but that is very different from treating him as if he was your own child, making sure he was well-fed, and treating him with kindness and respect.


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Just think about that. Today, a white family caring for a black child may be more common, but that was back in the early 1900s. It must have been almost unheard of and a brave thing to do.


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And that was on top of any discrimination the Karnofskys may have been experiencing for being Jewish. But they, of all people, would understand the importance of feeling "free" of the prejudice and stereotypes that prevent you from reaching your full potential.


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I think for anyone to feel truly loved, nurtured, and accepted is a gift, but in those days, it must have felt like a miracle.


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Is it a "gift" or should it be a "right"? Regardless, as if that was not enough, they also introduced Armstrong to music. Not only teaching him Russian and Jewish songs, but helping him buy his first musical instrument.


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It sounds like his life, when he was with them, was filled not only with love, but the power of music. I can't help but wonder if he'd have become one of the greatest musicians and composers with such a unique style and sound (both with his voice and his trumpet), if not for the Karnofskys.


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There is no way to know, but their impact on his life was significant enough that for years Armstrong would wear a Star of David around his neck to remind him of their kindness.


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But even if he hadn't "become" Louis Armstrong, I'd still like to believe he'd have had a better life because of them. I'm sure there are many other stories like his, we just don't know about them.


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I am surprised you did not mention Michael Oher and the movie "The Blind Side," especially since we are a storytelling society, and once you hear these stories, it is hard to forget them.


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No kidding. I've always known that sometimes very simple things can make a huge difference in another person's life, but I never really thought about the power of giving someone the "freedom" to be something more.


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Freedom is often taken for granted by those that have it, while prized and fought for by those who do not. But, I am not sure that you can just "give" someone true freedom, as I do not think you are talking about civil rights issues.


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I'm not talking literally. I'm talking in terms of confidence, of opportunities, of not feeling restrained by stereotypes or misconceptions. I think, and I never realized it before reading about Louis Armstrong, how by being appreciated and respected for who you are and given opportunities that others might take for granted – your life can become something truly wonderful. And very different from what it might have been.


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Yes, it can. Now, imagine if everyone had the right to pursue their potential. But, was that not what the Founding Fathers were thinking when they drafted the Declaration of Independence? When they wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."


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It's funny. I was going to ask you what you thought we should talk about for our July column, as we always try to tie it to Independence Day. But I guess this fascinating story about Louis Armstrong couldn't be more perfect.


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Not to mention, he celebrated July 4th as his birthday.


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Seriously?!


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Yes, although after his death, it was discovered that his actual birthday was August 4.


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Do you think it was intentional, or did he genuinely believe he was born on July 4th?


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Or, maybe it was his way of celebrating his independence.

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Photo by Epiximages on iStock


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I appreciate that bullet points may not be the typical approach to Mother’s Day, but it seems appropriate to me …
  • Be sensitive to those people whose mothers may no longer be with us, especially given how many have been lost to COVID
  • If you have lost a mother, remember they are always with you – in your heart and in your memories
  • Remember Mother’s Day also includes all those “unofficial moms” and “mother figures” who are like second (or replacement) moms
  • And, last but not least, If you’re a mom, try to enjoy the day by doing something for yourself, as today may be the one day you can get away with it


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This year I write about Mother’s Day with a heavy heart and still much raw emotion, as our mom passed in December. My pragmatic side (yes, that’s usually Black’s area although she did sound somewhat warm and fuzzy above) knows that she had been 94 and led a full life, but that really doesn’t make it any less sad or fill the emptiness. But I find myself, when I least expect it and triggered by the most unexpected things, finding comfort in wonderful memories. And although Black’s first bullet point hits too close to home for me, I’ll try my best to focus on the other bullets.

Wishing all moms a very Happy Mother’s Day!

Design by Sawyer Pennington, Underlying photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

At speaking engagements, Black will often ask, “Who likes math?” followed by, “Who likes money?” As you can imagine, a lot more hands go up in the air for the second question than the first. But imagine if she asked if money made them laugh. It’s probably safe to say no one would say, “Yes.” Although they’d be wrong because people laugh (and learn) at basic, but potentially life-changing, stories about Red and how, when it came to money, she was clueless and intimidated.

It could be the story of Red putting her theater degree to good use as she freaked out about vocabulary. Especially since she was a straight-A student and avid reader who prided herself on her vocabulary. (If words set her off, Black could only imagine the “scene” that would have occurred if she had asked Red this handful of questions.) But Red’s financial crisis did prompt the ever-pragmatic Black to envision the power of a sitcom with entertaining money episodes because … Money IS A Laughing Matter!

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Design by Sawyer Pennington, Underlying photo by Ye Jinghan on Unsplash


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I had no idea that April was “Second Chance Month” until you sent me the official proclamation. I find it interesting that in the midst of juggling our usual million and one Red & Black things, your interest in criminal justice, which I know you consider a “passion project”, is as strong as ever, maybe even stronger.


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It is not intentional, sometimes “passion projects” find you. And, when you least expect it.


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Or where you least expect it! Only you would take a “field trip” to a men’s prison.


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I will not get on my soapbox about how our education system contributes to the criminal justice problem. I will never forget a friend of mine who was formerly incarcerated telling me, “Rehabilitating people makes the assumption they were habilitated in the first place.”


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When you stop and think about that statement, it’s pretty powerful! But I have to smile as once upon a time you, and I, used words like “offenders” and “prisoners” until we learned how our choice of words could be dehumanizing.


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Says the woman who once believed in the idea of “lock ’em up and throw away the key”.
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