Required Reading for Real Estate People: The Color of Law (2017)

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

by Richard Rothstein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I hesitated before clicking Five Stars, this is not an easy book to read.

Not that it’s poorly written, it is written particularly well, it is the material that is difficult. Like coming up on a car wreck. You look because you’re human, but you don’t want to. Maybe looking gives you an idea of what happened and that helps keep us alive? The Color of Law might be like that, something that we don’t want to know, but awareness might help keep us going, as a society.

My real estate career spans four decades, from the 90s through today, beginning as an appraiser and ending, if this is my last role, running a big MLS. During that time I have witnessed the S&L Crisis, Y2K, the Dot Com bubble, the Credit Crunch, the Great Recession, Quantitative Easing, and now a global pandemic and another ground-war in Europe. Most of that time was in Alabama so I have also seen rebel flags, de-facto modern segregation, and fresh racism. Reading Color of Law brought those experiences into sharp focus and provided needed context for understanding the long tail of redlining in America.

Wealth is based mostly on property in this country. It is a simple fact that large segments of our population were systematically denied access to that vehicle until relatively recently. The impact of that reality on non-white prosperity and wealth creation is immense, hard to measure it is so large. I don’t know what can be done about it in 2022 except maybe to push harder for transparency and fairness and to actively invest in those communities still without housing security. America will have to fix this problem to survive another 250 years.

Color of Law is required reading for anyone in organized real estate, PropTech, or Fintech.

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The Parable of the Boxes

We all have a box to fill, metaphorically, but that’s not the most important question. The question is not even related to the size of the box, although, we might have to eventually unpack that too. The most important question in this story is, do you even know you have a box?

So. Picture a box. A cardboard box. Square. Brown. Smelling of paper plants and, I don’t know, cardboard places. It has a bottom, sealed with tape, and a top, open with the four flaps sticking up, waiting to be folded into place and taped shut. Closing it. Ready to pack away.

We have all done that: pack a box. When moving like we just did, or, helping someone move. Or taking donations somewhere, or packing holiday decorations for the season. It’s a process of selecting what will fit, wrapping it up, and then nestling it into an available space inside the yet unfilled box.

At some point, I realized something about life and that box. Something that a simple box taught me about responsibility, work, and greed.

So it goes like this: we all have a box to fill. In my case, I am a married man with two daughters so, just to start, my box has to contain all the stuff we’ll all need as a family to prosper. Their health care, clothes, food, pre-school, after school, furnishings, a house, and, I don’t know, a pony! Not to mention their sports fees, and dance. Pets. Trips. Clothes. I meant to say clothes twice.

Then, my wife needs stuff in our box. Can’t forget about her. Her health care and car, her clothes, her eyeglasses, hair salons, nails, shoes, landscaping, wallpaper. I am just hitting the high points. Plus there is the saving for college, my health care and car, and long-term disability, taxes, and student loans. The list of things I need in my box is getting pretty long. It’s starting to look like the pre-flight checklist for a 747. It’s in its own 3-ring binder now.

During my 20s and 30s, when the kids were little and my box was so very not full, not close to full, I worried about everything. I hadn’t put the things in my box that the world, and my wife, and especially her parents, but also my parents, expected me to have in there. It felt like people were always looking into my sad, half-empty box. It was stressful. But, I worked hard and had some lucky breaks, and eventually achieved financial success.

By that time, I had paid for school and all those other things and had decided my box needed to be big enough for a boat. Then a house on the lake, and a different boat. That all made perfect sense. Lots of people’s boxes have boats in them. Congratulating myself, I decided that plane tickets would fit in there. Maybe a stack of them. So, we traveled all over. It turns out, if you stretch, you can fit a dozen of trips to the Caribbean in that box. Maybe two!

That’s about the time it occurred to me, probably in the Caribbean, that my box was on the hefty side. Like Jaba before he met Princess Leah and trimmed down. More importantly, that lesson taught me there was a lid, or there should be, on that box.

Maybe it would help explain if we flipped that over…

What if the box has no lid? What if it just stretches and stretches so that “full” is not even a thing. That means that your life goal is… more. It sounds simple, but there is a huge problem with “more” as a goal.

More is not achievable. More is not reachable. More is not a place we can do and celebrate being there. More is not a state humans can accomplish. More is extractive. Demeaning. Ultimately more is wholly destructive. More is never over.

The alternative to “more” is that lid on your box.

Here’s the recipe: Decide what needs to be in your box. No really. Make a list like your engineer friends (or be you, you know who you are) of all the Things. Don’t be shy about it, my box had a Porsche and a Waverunner in it, so. No judgment. Log it all in a spreadsheet and tape it to your treadmill or something. That’s your list. But once you get there, instead of stretching the box, decide that means “full”, tape it closed, and move on.

Move on where?

IDK, you’ll be all smart by then and you’ll know. Maybe pick someone’s still unfilled box and start over there? Maybe someone who might not have had the luck you had? Either way, just know, that boxes can be filled. Life might not really even start until you’ve filled your own box and begun to live for someone, something, bigger than just “more”.

North Carolina

My wife and I moved to Wilmington last summer for no reason other than we like the area, the water, and the proximity to our daughter in Durham. After 50+ years living in and around Huntsville, Alabama, we decided to trade freshwater for salt, river for the ocean. We bought a house near Wrightsville Beach without going in it. We just trusted our Realtor to walk through and FaceTime the important stuff. We asked him to smell under the sink and in the bathrooms. Was there a litter box? A smoker? Mold? There was not and he gave us the All Clear. Thankfully, we loved the place when we got there a few days later. We like the neighborhood too and have already made new friends. Nancy, the walker of Odie the rescue dog, and Vinny, the semi-retired music producer. Wilmington is a nice little town and is everything we were looking for.

Wrightsville Beach

Then, in the early fall, an old friend called looking for ideas for a corporate search he had been hired to do for the Raleigh Regional Association of Realtors. They hired him to find a new CEO and to create and fill a new position to run their 16,000-member MLS. I gave him some names for both positions and, in a few weeks, he called back to discuss it. He was having trouble finding someone for CEO and understood it would be hard to fill the MLS position with an open CEO. After thinking about it, I told him that I might be interested in the MLS position as long as he did not hire an asshole for CEO! He suggested that I come up for an interview anyway, which I did, just to see what I thought of the people and the opportunity.

A few weeks later, he called back and said that he was thinking of taking the CEO job himself. With that, I told him I would take the MLS position if they offered it to me. They did, and I did, and I started December 1. So, in the last three years, I have worked for three companies. That is remarkable because in the previous twenty years I have worked for two, both started by me. In January 2018 I sold Solid Earth to FBS after running it for 20 years. Then, FBS decided to spin the Solid Earth assets off to another company in 2021 and I went with them, to TRIBUS. TRIBUS is a bespoke Brokerage software vendor of CRM and websites and is owned by close friends Eric Stegemann and Katie Ragusa. They were very interested in the Spring project and created an MLS division for the product, and the team, to live and grow. After a few big wins at TRIBUS, the Spring project and team is safe and poised for growth.

Downtown Durham

With Spring safe, I was able to think carefully and comfortably accept the offer to run the MLS in Raleigh. The MLS is called Triangle MLS and covers the Raleigh Association, the Durham Association, Chapel Hill, which is called the Orange and Chatham County Association, plus the Johnston County Association in Smithfield. Altogether, that is 16 counties in north-central North Carolina. My primary goals are to: develop better relationships with the stakeholder associations, build a culture of transparency at the MLS, and develop a rational data sharing agreement with all the large MLSs in the region so that Triangle members never have to operate two systems to accomplish their work.

I will try to chronicle some of this as we go through the year. It should be an exciting time!

Politics 101: Leadership

I have an idea why America is so polarized, or one reason anyway. When you think about hiring a Congressman or a Senator or even a President, one of the primary things we expect from them is Leadership. But Leadership implies a direction. Lead to where? Until we have an idea where we want to go as a Nation, I doubt we’ll agree on the best person to take us there.

I am not running for office, but these are the kinds of things I am thinking about. Let’s see if anyone still wants to support me.

Border SecurityI would like a leader that will make the borders work. The reasons I want a functional border are: it supports the maintenance of the minimum wage, it increases public safety to know who is coming in, and, last but foremost, it is the humane thing to do. I believe in the words on the Statue of Liberty even though I know they were always aspirational, America has never fully lived up to that sentiment. Still, it’s the right thing to strive for as a people. To be the light at the end of the tunnel for victims of political violence. I think those people should come in first, even before economic migrants justifiably seeking a better life. I would like a leader who can lead us to a place where the border is safe, and where the countries now producing the migrants become societies that are sufficiently sustainable to stop or even reverse the flow. Empower Central Americans to go back, don’t force them, it only creates an abusive cycle. It’s like we have set up a Ninja Warrior obstacle course along the southern border and only the swift and fit make it in. That’s not right.

Abortion – Science matters to me because it’s the only legitimate path to objective reality. It is a process, not a place or a person or even a discipline, by itself. It is a process described and extended by Sir Francis Bacon in his book The Great Instauration, which I read in a graduate History class. Bacon was extending the work of early “scientists” like Braya, Galileo, Kepler, and Boyle. These men dragged us out of a world where truth was defined by the Church and by men who looked exclusively to the past for lessons. Pouring over Plato and Aristotle and ancient Greek writings they sought to take guidance from the scholars of history. Bacon argued rightly that truth can only be truly known by testing in the real world. If wood floats in the Atlantic, it will also float in the Indian Ocean and the assertion can be tested. By proposing a truth, or law, and then having other people test it, over and over again, most people will generally come to accept the results as objectively true and empirically proven. That is science, and it’s why we have drugs and air conditioning, and anesthesia. So. If science is something we can build on (and it is) then we should, as a people, try and act on facts that are proven and real and not make up or ignore them because they are challenging. That brings us to Abortion.

Science tells us without much doubt that what we call “life” starts early in a pregnancy. Abortion is the intentional taking of a life, so that is almost always wrong. To be clear, I personally am not in favor of humans ending human life on any level at any time ever. That goes for the Death Penalty too but I’ll come back to that. Not that I have made most feminists angry, I also want to talk about why our culture finds this issue so hard to deal with. Until the wide availability of birth control, women who wanted or needed to work “outside the home” were simply not allowed to do that. Relationships, both wanted and unwanted, produce babies necessarily and the mothers of children take care of them. What else is there to do? So, in a real way, birth control emancipated women and girls during my lifetime (I am 56) and the impact has been enormous. Women contribute in an unmeasurable way to the advancement of our race outside the home, in Congress and Space, and in the Operating and Board rooms. I am convinced we need their full engagement if we are to survive as a species. That means that unplanned children simply cannot be a part of the future. So if we have to protect women’s rights, and abortion is bad, what is the answer? My answer is to focus on reducing unwanted pregnancies and increasing access to morning-after pills. Whatever we can do to reduce aborting babies very far into pregnancy since science tells us they are alive. If abortion is necessary according to a doctor, for whatever reason, I am fine with that. If a woman is raped and feels that giving it up for adoption would be too traumatic, I am don’t think we should stand in the way of that. So, generally speaking on this subject, reducing abortions to zero would be my goal, as long as the kids that are adopted are given a chance to thrive.

Climate Change – See my view on Science-as-a-Process above. For a long time, I found the argument for manmade atmospheric warming a stretch. More troubling, it was being advanced by the far left who had long advocated for the reduction in fossil fuel use, big cars, meat, sprawl, coastal development, etc. Amazingly, I thought at the time, all of these things are connected to Climate Change. It’s like the left discovered a phenomenon that checked all their boxes at the same time. It smelled funny to me, and there was a scientist at UAH who was a friend of a friend and a major skeptic. I enjoyed his gadfly statements in the national media that included the “Huntsville, AL” byline. But, the data has stacked up and become impossible to ignore. Humans are almost certainly having a measurable impact on climate and we should take what steps we can to address it. The horse is “way out of the barn” on this one and it could very well be too late, given the Developing World’s activity on top of ours. Where science can find a solution to emitting less, or in recapturing what’s already out there, those are probably smart investments.

Income Inequality – A friend wrote that this is like gunpowder in the basement. A little is desirable, several tons and the place cannot be made safe. We have myriad social programs in the US that have tried to address this problem, something we call “generational poverty”. I was chairman of the board of a faith-based organization working to help people get ready for housing. At Triangle MLS, there are efforts underway through outreach, the Foundation, affiliation with programs like Landis, and programs that provide direct downpayment assistance. Ultimately, I believe solving income inequality is the Moon Shot of our time.

Visit The Azores

My wife and I got to visit to The Azores with our daughter, her husband and his parents. The take-away from our trip was a new enthusiasm for all things Portuguese and for The Azores, Saõ Miguel in particular. It is not the easiest place to get to, flights from the US are limited, but it’s not all the way across the Atlantic so the flight is not that long. It’s also easy to get here from Lisbon.

Check out this video of a hike we took with the amazing guides from Azores4Travel. It was fun hiking around the caldera and then relaxing in the natural hot springs. Elatario was more than a guide, he was a friendly Island ambassador who took his time to show us around and make us feel welcome.

Full Day Hiking in the Azores

On Monuments: A Moderate’s View

In 2017 when the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville resulted in the death of an innocent bystander, I became convinced that the monument on the courthouse square in Huntsville should be moved. Not destroyed, not ripped down, not hidden away, but moved to a more appropriate location. The general consensus, back in 2017, was to move it to Maple Hill Cemetery, or Constitution Hall, or the Historic Huntsville Train Depot. But before that finally happened, I was to have an education in white privilege, local and national politics, race, and, finally, humility.

To try and move the discussion forward, back in 2017, we decided to host a Speaker Series event at OTBX where three friends came to talk through solutions. John Kvach (then) Professor of History at the University of Alabama in Huntsville served as the leader of our discussion. William Hampton from Huntsville Revisited and Donald Christian from the Order of First Families of Alabama Territory organization and me. I was on stage because I own the bar, and also because my Great, Great Grandfathers (plural), and several Great Uncles fought in the conflict for the South. The monument is dedicated TO my family. Also, my Grandfather was robbed and murdered by an African American man in 1965 literally across the street from the monument on the west side of the courthouse.

That evening more than 100 people packed into a space that holds 55. It was a nice mixed crowd, honestly, probably the most diverse group to visit OTBX to that point. An older interracial couple from Madison came just to see where a discussion about race might go. I was humbled, astonished and encouraged by the turnout and the vibe in the room. There was not complete agreement, not at all, but we talked through it and were able to hear and verbalize our thoughts and ideas. It ended with a promise to do it again.

William shared his experience growing up in South Huntsville when it was almost completely white. He graduated from a large High School where he was one of a handful of African Americans. Donald was a student at Fifth Avenue Elementary School when it was desegregated by Sonny Hereford III in 1965. His experience was fascinating, made more so since Sonny was with us that night, in our little beer store. Donald recalls it as disruptive and chaotic. A year when no one really learned anything. It was obviously a necessary step for a civil society to take but it was an anxiety-producing troubling time for the humans actually living through it, of all races.

I shared a story about my murdered Grandfather, and how he worked to promote Huntsville to Washington when they were discussing moving the base. He was a community leader in Huntsville, ran for Mayor, and served as Chair of the Chamber of Commerce and several other positions. He was known in town as a straight shooter who would not suffer racist and routinely gave credit to blacks, happy to have their business. When he was murdered, my Dad said that white and black farmers came into the store for months afterwords, bringing my Dad the money they owned my Grandfather. Small pieces of paper were stuffed into a paper cigar box with $5, $10 written on them. Many were signed with the customer’s mark, an X, since they were presumably illiterate. None of that mattered to Jerry Wayne Houston who beat my 77-year-old Grandfather so badly that he later died from the attack.

But it is more complicated than that. In the 1850 Census of the United States, Jeff Fowler, my Grandfather’s Grandfather is shown living in Lincoln County Tennessee with his wife Sarah and three children. In the “Occupation” column, next to Jeff’s name the census taker wrote “Overseer.” If you study the records carefully it is apparent that my family’s history is complicated. There are documented interracial marriages, slaves, murder victims and overseers. Its like a LifeTime Movie.

So we talked about our stories, got some penetrating questions about the monument, and generally had a positive, friendly time. We all agreed that we wanted to avoid a spectacle like Charlottesville. We were convinced that we could move the monument, together, as a community, without the hatred and vitriol that we saw elsewhere.

We had a second event later when Kelly Fisk Hamlin from the Rocket City Civil Rights project came and presented her Thesis. She shared her research with us including interviews with black leaders and some of the original employees at Redstone Arsenal. The influence of The Army in Huntsville’s Civil Rights experience was significant. The Army hired an African American Personnel director and took other steps to ensure that black applicants felt at home and might be encouraged to apply.

Then there was George Floyd, Briana Taylor, and BLM and the issue of monuments came up again. The monument in Huntsville was still sitting next to the west entrance to the Courthouse and I felt a need to say something. So, when a group of downtown business people contacted me and asked me if I wanted to communicate my thoughts to them, and to the media, I agreed and contributed to this article. It struck a chord with some people and invoked the ire of others. An organization that I belong to DHI lost members because they wrote an article in support of moving the statue. The number of people who felt strongly enough to cancel their membership surprised me at first. But after the membership list was updated and I saw which names were missing, I realized that I should not have been surprised.

Most of the missing names were known to me. Reflecting on the list that day in the office I realized that some of them were among my oldest friends. Families with whom my father was friends, and in two cases, I know that their Grandfathers were friends with my Grandfather, the murdered one. While I don’t keep up with everyone’s politics, I was surprised that the Old Huntsville families were more opposed to moving the monument than other people I knew. Not all Old families felt this was but the number surprised me.

From this experience came a realization. First, as I told other DHI members, we do not want their support. Their support of the organization is not necessary for its success indeed their presence is counter to everything the group believes in and stands for. The group of downtown business people who came together around this are united in their beliefs about few things. But to a man, they believed that moving the monument to a museum was the right thing to do, and second, that it was the smartest thing to do for Huntsville’s future. It’s the same thing my Grandfather advocated for back in the fifties. Racial violence and discrimination is bad for business.

UPDATE: With the monument safely at Maple Hill, there are still people who want to move it back to the Courthouse. In case it was somehow missed in my original statement, I do not want to remove all Confederate Iconography from the world. However, where they exist on public property and are configured in such a way as to honor the principals on which the Confederacy was founded, as the monument in Huntsville says, then they should be moved. Not destroyed. Moved, to a more culturally appropriate location on a case-by-case basis. Where they cannot be moved, they should be recontextualized by the addition of some, hopefully creative, visual annotation.

Honoring the fallen is almost never wrong, and I do not thing memorials should be removed. There are some however that are clearly problematic. The Huntsville Monument says on the base that it is dedicated to the Principals on which the Confederacy was founded. That is different than dedicating a statue to the men that fell. Plus, it’s position on public land adjacent to the entrance to a courthouse is also problematic. A statue with this dedication was placed there for a reason.

Looking forward. I will be encouraging elected officials and those who aspire to any office to publicly refuse to accept donations or support from any Old South, Lost Cause, backwards looking ex-wannabe Revolutionaries in their party. If you feel you need that support to be elected, you are not part of the New South and the next generation of leaders.

17 years and counting, creating value for MLSs

I was doing some research online and found some old images of Charlottesville’s consumer website, We built it for them in 2003 and it’s been up since then, delivering leads and value to the members of the MLS.

Over seventeen years, the site has, of course, been updated many times as the technology evolved. Solid Earth has provided the service the entire time, through two acquisitions and multiple platforms. While some things change, the important things never do. The point of the site, the only reason it’s there at all, is to make an authentic, direct connection between consumers and our Broker-members.

This week, we learned that CoStar has purchased HomeSnap and with it the BPP project. This transaction is no doubt good news for many because they have successfully created enormous value for their stakeholders. We bring that up because it underscores a strategic point we’ve been making for years. Creating that connection with the consumer is hard, it takes years of dedication and expense. Then, one day, a big brand can come along and buy it, insinuating themselves into a conversation that had been binary, direct, between the MLS and the public. This week, a big brand did just that for MLSs all over the country.

Spring, from Solid Earth, offers a clear alternative. Dozens of Solid Earth customers across America heard the news today and felt no anxiety. They still own their brands and are still providing a durable connection to their markets. A connection in which they may confidently invest to bring their value proposition to the homebuyers and sellers in their cities. Over time. Seventeen years, for example.

YTD Performance of a Spring MLS Portal

If your MLS would like a more direct connection to the consumers. A better channel through which to tell your story, the story of why they should use a professional in their next transactions, the story about why ethics matters, why standards matter, why fair housing and workforce development matters, Spring might be the right vehicle for you. Email Matt Fowler at Solid Earth to talk about how a Spring MLS Portal might benefit your organization.

Monumental Huntsville

They finally did it, they moved the Confederate Monument to historic Maple Hill Cemetery into a more historically correct context. It now sits amid other memorials to soldiers who fought and died in the terrible conflict that so defined nineteenth-century America. It’s too bad it took so long, but I am glad it finally happened for several reasons that I would like to explain.

Image from WHNT Story

Those men who fought and died for The South include two of my Great Grandfathers, and a number of Uncles, and cousins. There are wide swaths of this history about which I am very proud. My relatives were men like Davey Crockett, Daniel Boone, Issac Criner, and John Hunt. Having pushed back the British, they came out into the western wilderness to seek their fortunes when “The West” was Tennessee. Their lives and hardships are impossible to imagine but are easily visible in Maple Hill by reading the dates on the stones. Their lives were short and difficult. We have come so far, we cannot really understand what they endured so we could live in this place, in relative peace and affluence. I have a deep respect for them and for their accomplishments.

But it is right that the monument was moved away from our County Courthouse. The base of the monument says that it was dedicated to the “Principals on which The Confederacy was founded” and those principals undeniably include the subjugation of Africans. It is true that most Confederates did not own slaves, but they were nonetheless compelled to violence against their new nation by their own separatist, rebel government. A group of men who were intent on preserving a way of life that depended on using, not paying, a group of people as if they were livestock or farm implements. Pointing out that there were other aspects of the conflict besides slavery is deflecting. It was about slavery and these men fought for its continuance.

It is not true that the slaves were happy. It is not true that the monument was to honor Southern Culture. It is not true that moving the monument erases anything. It is not true that everyone in favor of moving the monument is a liberal Democrat. It is not true that no one noticed the monument before.

It IS true that my family moved here before everyone reading this post, the deed says 1803 so let’s see someone beat that. It IS true that the monument is offensive to some people, and they notice it every time. It IS true that leaders recruiting people to Huntsville wish this was not on the Courthouse lawn. It IS true that celebrating a racist, rebel movement in a Federal city is counterproductive. It IS true that Confederate monuments are bad for “SmartCity” brand creation.

So, I am feeling relieved that it’s gone and no one got hurt. I am relieved for Huntsville that we got through this without earning a reputation like Charlottesville or Birmingham. I am relieved that our “protester friends” get to see that their voice does matter. Relieved is not encouraged though. I have read too many comments today for me to feel very encouraged about the environment in which we live. For me, I will just say a prayer of thanksgiving for wisdom and for safety, and for my community to move forward, away from hate, faster.

Florence, Wow.

Yesterday a friend sent me a Resolution passed by the Republican Party of nearby Lauderdale County. Here are some excerpts for your Saturday morning reading: (full text below)

“The Lauderdale County Monument to the men of the County who served in the Confederate Army in the War between the States 1861-1865 fought against oppressive taxation and for states’ rights in an army that included African-Americans in support and combat roles, was dedicated in 1903 and has stood in front of the county courthouse for 117 years.”

“We are urging the Lauderdale County Commission and Florence City Council to honor their oaths of office and follow the law! We are also calling on all of our elected officials to declare their position on the matter,”

I too am calling on public officials to declare their position on the monument in Madison County. This resolution, which passed unanimously, is seriously flawed and shows that they have not in fact read and studied the history even though they apparently think they have. They even refused to call it The Civil War but instead use the worn out Lost Cause phrase “war between the states”. They are clearly Lost Cause believers and apologists for the Confederacy, an uprising based in our own state that sought to overthrow the government of the United States.

Saying that the Confederacy was about “states rights” is like saying Black Lives Matter is about Health Care. The confederacy was a white supremacist movement lead by people who wrongly believed blacks were not fully human and rightly believed their economic systems would collapse without free labor.

I have written extensively about this in the past but it is important to repeat that the war was absolutely about slavery and the South’s right to continue a system of oppression and brutality. The economic structure of the South was based on the use of black families as farm equipment and personal property. The South asserted that it was their state’s right to determine the justice of this practice and no northerner had the right to interfere.

For more context, read The Cornerstone Speech from Alexander Stephens. Watch Ken Burns short film on Confederate Monuments and, here’s a new idea, ask a black friend what they think of them. As Burns said in his film “they are symbols of institutionalized racism in our culture” and have no place in Civil Society.

For me, they are best moved and not destroyed. Move them to a museum where they are placed in context with other now better-understood symbols from our troubled past. No one is seeking to erase anything or destroy anything. The request is that these statues cease to publically venerate the “principals on which the Confederacy was founded” (from the base of the HSV statue).
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Meridian Street

There is a small community in northeast Huntsville called Lincoln Village. 15 years ago a good friend and pastor started a conversation with a little girl who turned into a commitment and lead to a big project called Lincoln Village Preservation Corporation.
Today LVPC owns that little girl’s house and dozens around it. The place has been transformed into a real neighborhood where families live and work and encourage their kids in the -rather excellent- neighborhood school, which LVPC also owns and operates. The project is, in the vernacular, Faith-Based in a way that we really mean. By Faith-based, Lincoln believes that all of the work that was accomplished belongs to God and the Holy Spirit he left here on Earth with us. That is what is happening at Lincoln, despite the involvement of the flawed and broken sinners that he calls to work and to leadership. 
So it is with some emotion other than pride that I share these stats with you. I am proud of the kids and what they have done. But I am astonished at the accomplishments of our Creator.  Something well beyond and not quite the same thing. It’s more like awe and maybe fear. Like when you stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon. It’s beautiful, yes, it’s also so much bigger than I am that it’s scary. Anything that enormous, that close to you, just gets your attention. Lincoln is that kind of place.
I have included some stats about the school in this post and I want to post some more in the next few weeks. I just rolled off as Chair of the Board at the end of July and I want to leave a few records of my time there. I have been blessed to be involved with some amazing people working with “non-profits” but Lincoln is a truly special place. 
So, here are some stats. My big takeaway is: our kids are as smart as your kids. Maybe smarter. That is not amazing or even surprising. It’s just that they do not come from a culture that values academic achievement, so they don’t. But when they are shown how valuable, how transformational, a book or a formula can make them. They get it. They are empowered and they excel. Check these out! 
Note: while I am super-pumped about Lincoln’s scores, it is important to realize that we have less than 100 kids compared to over 20K in the City system. We are making a difference in the lives of our families but so much more needs to be done if we are to impact the whole city like we have Lincoln. Like the Holy Spirit has I mean. I am convinced that we do little more than make things more complicated. 

Lincoln Outperforms

If you are inspired at all to get involved in changing the city, I’d suggest you reach out to Lincoln. Come to the website and look at the volunteer opportunities. If you can’t, and you should, you can always donate too.

Racisim and Alcoholism

So I am from Alabama, the Heart of Dixie as it was called when I was growing up. I grew up on a farm north of a mid-size southern city known for its tolerance and diversity and my private school was integrated with the kids of most of the non-white professionals in our little town. Black kids, South Asian kids, Koreans and Chinese kids were my friends. But I knew racists. My grandparents used the “n” word. I once saw a cross burning driving back from Nashville late one night and I knew people who spoke in demeaning terms about the entire black community, depicting them all as untrustworthy and lazy, things I knew not to be true.

Out on the farm, a black family lived in a rental house at the back of the property and worked the land, fixed the fences and cared for the livestock. The children of this family, 21 of them aged one to about 20, we’re my best friends and we played and later worked together every summer and many days after school. I grew up knowing there was something different about the way they lived. About their expectations of themselves and of me. It bothered me on some level I could not then understand.

Recently I have been thinking about racism in the context of the immigration fracas going on in America this year. Like the racists I knew in growing up in Alabama, there are people who legitimately believe that a Syrian Terrorist is going to move in next door to them and blow up their local church. While that is about as likely as one of my friends from school doing that, some people believe it. They read hyperbolic media reports designed to scare people and they are scared. After all, they’ve never actually met a Syrian person and they have no personal experience or context that would push back on the media reports and the statements of their less well-travelled and/or well-read neighbors and friends.

I also have also had considerable experience with alcoholism and alcoholics. My wife and I helped run a homeless ministry for five or six years, we have some alcoholism in both of our families and we own a beer and wine store. There are homeless guys I know who have lost every single thing and relationship they had and they still choose it over a better life. I don’t know many who have beaten it, most are dead of organ failure, Esophageal varices or some related malady. The ones who did beat it usually had something in common, they were inspired by someone or something to finally put it down and choose a better life. Someone got through to them and they had a transformational experience that made them see what life could be life without the drink.

In my opinion. That’s what we have to do with the racists and undereducated people who think other cultures are a threat. So let me pose a question, do you think the homeless guys would stop drinking if I called them names, denigrated their pasts, their actions, their beliefs and their culture, such as it is? I think they’d pull away from someone like that and tune them out. Worse, I think they’d be hostile towards someone like that.

Why do we think racists are different? They have a world-view that is uninformed and leading them down the wrong path. They probably inherited it to some extent from their parents and family and peer group. They honestly believe their way is the only real way to live. When we yell at them, threaten them and insist they change their views it only drives the wedge deeper and convinces them we are crazy and could never be relevant in their lives.

So here’s my takeaway. When you encounter someone who is against more immigration into America or someone who does not believe all the claims about Climate Change, try not to hit them with your “Science Matters” sign.

Instead, try and get to know them. See what makes them tick.

Maybe stop insulting them.

Introduce the anti-immigration guy to your immigrant/first gen friends, there are a lot of them in Huntsville and most are KILLING it (not killing red necks but starting companies, inventing things, hiring people and generally kicking ass).

And don’t call the Climate Change person a “Denier”, thats insulting and just incorrect. I personally do not doubt the science but I do doubt the guy with an agenda telling me about the science. The earth is warming, and I think we are contributing, but how much? Will it really stop rising if we reduce CO2 emmisions? I keep seeing that chart that shows temp rise with and without the Paris Accords but is there any evidence at all that will work? Again, I don’t doubt the science but not every climate change assertion made by Al Gore is real. There is overreach in their arguments that also happen to line up nicely with their social goals, adding more suspicion and cynicism from critical thinkers, like me.

Slowly, and with some finesse, you can convince people that a life where you include people produces a better quality of life and they will make new friends in the process. But there has to be a relationship first.

We have to learn how to do this again in our country. How to reach across the aisle and across the street to engage each other in an honest discussion. Today all we do is yell insults at each other and it won’t change the mind of a racist any more than it will change that of an alcoholic.

Behold the Lamb

I really love the Christmas album and show from Andrew Peterson and friends called Behold the Lamb. If you don’t know it, add it to your Holiday Mix. Love this song in particular. While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks. So good. They have the show at the Ryman in Nashville every year, usually Sunday and Monday nights since it’s so popular.

While shepherds watched their flocks by night
All seated on the ground
The angel of the Lord came down
And glory shone around

“Fear not”, said he, for mighty dread
Had seized their troubled minds
“Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind”

“To you in David’s house this day
Is born of David’s line
The Savior who is Christ the Lord
And this shall be the sign”

“The Heavenly babe, you there shall find
To human view displayed
All neatly wrapped in swaddling bands
And in a manger laid”

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Christ is born
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Christ is born

“All glory be to God on high
And to the earth be peace
Good will henceforth from God to man
Begin and never cease”

What if you could scholarship a kid to Lincoln for free?

What if you could redirect half of your taxes to your kid’s school? You can! We’ll sort of. In Alabama there is something called the Alabama Accountability Act and it allows  taxpayers with an Alabama Income Tax Liability to choose for themselves where their tax money goes! I know it sounds too good to be true and there are some hard parts for the schools but the bottom line for the taxpayer is easy: put your money in the general fund or in your local schools, your choice. Oh and if you are fortunate enough to be an AMT filer, this is cashflow positive for you, ask your accountant or tax preparer.

If you are interested in doing this, estimate your Alabama Income Tax Liability before the end of 2016 and go to There you will see a menu on the left that includes a Donate to an SGO option, it looks like this:

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 1.00.26 PMWhen you click Donate to an SGO you see a screen like this:


That screen shows that Alabamians can still donate up to $22 million more before the cap of $30 million is hit. It works like this: If you owe the state $1,000, you pay $500 using the screen above in calendar year 2016. Then, after you pay your $1,000 taxes in April of 2017 you will receive a $500 rebate from the state. It is cash flow neutral for the taxpayer and due to some rules, it is cash flow positive for Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) filers. Ask your tax professional about that part.

So there is no catch, no more paperwork, just this one screen and a month or two without your rebate check. If you owe $13,000 in income tax to Alabama your “donation” could scholarship a child. Imagine doing that while having it cost you nothing at all.  Please. Take the time to do this.

Redirect your Alabama taxes to local schools legally

Last year I posted about this in December. This year I am a few months earlier because I am going to beat the drums on this one until everyone hears me! Here’s the simple truth of the matter: Alabama has a poor track record educating our kids. We have challenges on this front to be sure, we have a poor population without a tradition of educational advancement. We have a subculture, white people and non-whites too, that lacks a culture of academic achievement. Still, we spend less on education that most states, tie funding for schools to an antiquated property tax structure and struggle to re-zone our communities to match the patterns of population shifts. As a state, we have a big problem and poor track record of being able to solve that problem.

In Alabama we have a mix of public schools, private schools, independent schools, church schools and now charter schools. Public schools are funded by the Alabama Legislature and by local ad valorem taxes (ad valorem taxes mean that you have to pay a portion of the value of any real estate you own to the county each year). As a way to help fund schools that are trying something different in poor neighborhoods, the Alabama Legislature voted a few years ago to create a fund of up to $30 million dollars. Families with children zoned for a Title 1 school (that is a school with a high percentage of free lunch kids) can apply to one of several Scholarship Granting Organizations approved by the State for a scholarship to a competing private school.

This structure empowersScreen Shot 2016-09-06 at 1.00.26 PM the parents of kids living in or near poverty to do something about the difficult school environment in most Title 1 schools. Now, instead of moving across town, they can apply for a scholarship that will allow them to pay $6,000, $8,000 or $10,000 a year for elementary, middle or high school kid respectively to attend a private school. To me, this is a great way to try and see if those kids can do better in another environment, without having to be wealthy.

So, here is your task for today. Call your tax advisor and tell them that you want as much as the law allows to be redirected to one of the Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs). There are two that support Lincoln Academy so please choose one of those. They are RocketSGO based in Huntsville and Scholarships for Kids (S4K) based in Birmingham. Either will work for our purposes. Your tax advisor will use the My Alabama Taxes website to enter the amount of your “donation”. It’s not really a donation since you were going to pay it to the general fund anyway if you had not been allowed to redirect the funds. If you need help with this or if your tax advisor has questions please send them to me.