Bernette Johnson sworn in as Louisiana Supreme Court’s first black chief justice (Reprint from NOLA.com)

louisiana-supreme-court-justice-bernette-johnsonjpg-8becdea22825d94e

By The Associated Press 

on February 01, 2013 at 12:25 PM, updated February 01, 2013 at 12:52 PM

Bernette Johnson was sworn in Friday as the first black chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, less than four months after her colleagues resolved a dispute over whether she was entitled to the position.

Johnson took the oath of office during a brief ceremony a day after her predecessor, Catherine “Kitty” Kimball, formally retired. A public ceremony marking her investiture is scheduled for Feb. 28 on the courthouse steps in the French Quarter.

“After serving for 10 years as a district trial judge, and then as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, I feel well-prepared for the tasks ahead as the chief administrative officer of the judicial system of the state,” Johnson said in a statement. “I am ready to serve, and excited about the challenges of this new position.”

Johnson filed a federal lawsuit in July 2012 after her colleagues said they would debate whether she or Justice Jeffrey Victory, who is white, had the seniority that entitled them to succeed Kimball.

U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan ruled in September that Johnson had more seniority, but stopped short of ordering the state’s highest court to name Johnson as Kimball’s successor.

The Louisiana Supreme Court ended the racially tinged power struggle in October, ruling that Johnson’s years of appointed service count when deciding which justice is “oldest in point of service” under the state constitution.

Voters elected Johnson in 1994 to the state appeals court, and she was assigned to the Supreme Court as part of settlement of an earlier lawsuit that claimed the system for electing justices diluted black voting strength and violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. She served an eighth Supreme Court district centered in New Orleans until the court reverted back to seven districts in 2000, when she was elected to the high court.

Victory joined the court in 1995, a year after Johnson, but said her years of appointed service shouldn’t count.

Johnson, Victory and a third judge who stood to be second-in-line if Victory’s argument prevailed were recused from debating the matter.

Memories: Birth of a New Creation

To those who check this spot, I interpret your dilligence as a wish for my continued good health as well as  a hope that I have eventually said something of value.

Presently I am in a turbulent health environment   It has snatched from my unrelentless hold onto youth. I conceed.  My body cannot do what it once could. Thus I am constructing bunkers for future onsaults. Sideline about the timing of my stormsThey coincides with those widely spoken of in middle west United States.

This post chronicles events  May 2013 that have become treasured memories. They occurred before the onset of my turbulence.

The memories began  on a fifteen days crossing aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam. The ship departed Fort Lauderdale, FL  and I disembarked at Barcelona, Spain. Before reaching the destination, much drama passed. Click this link to read the details of the sea rescue.

The rescue was exciting. The cruisers gathered on her decks to witness.. When the first rescued was aboard, our humanitarian goose pimples spontaneously erupted into thunderous applauds.

A rescue on the high seas is something to witness. But for me, the skil it took to make this rescue successful was never overshadowed.

Picture an ‘oceangoing’ vessel on the high seas slowly but with much grace approaching a stranded 42-feet vessel. Coordinating the scales of these vessels on a constantly shifting sea that ended in successful rescue of stranded humans is what I believe we subsonciously recorded. Thereby triggering the spontaneous thunderous applauds to honor that skill to save lives. However exciting and memorable these events were not the reason for my trip .

The purpose of this trip was to see the church, la Sagrada Familia. It has been under construction for more than 100 years. Many reasons can be offered but in today’s let-do-it-quickly world that’s a long time to construct anything. The principle human character is Antoni Gaudi. His influence is massive! It invades a huge part of the city.

My hotel is in the Horta-Guinardo district. It was a leisurely 1/3 mile downhill stroll to Sagrada Familia.  Along my downward path, the spires of Sagrada were always in view.

In Neighborhood

Walk to Sagrada Familia

The neighborhood was busy: a relaxed busy.

Within one block

Within one block

It houses hospital complexes,

San Pau Hospital

Within one block

commercial and residential buildings.

Cafes, restuarants were inexpensive.

Speciality shops were everywhere.

Within one block of hotel: A water cascade

Within one block of hotel: A CANDY STORE

The people?  I experienced only friendliness, kindness and desire to be helpful. Now remember my background as we turn in another direction.

La Sagrada Familia is a church built of stone and knowledge but something beyond nature and man directs it. For me, it was a mathematical marvel unfolding before my eyes.

If students of calculus are able to visit the Sagrada Familia, I believe they would experience the same marvel, would desire to learn how it is being constructed and gain a deeper  appreciation for calculus, art and architecture, while witnessing the unfolding of this new creation. Further, they would  learn how la Sagrada Familia was conceived and  how basic mathematical models from their calculus classes are used to accomplish all of this.

La Sagrada Familia is a a new creation. It affirms that spirituality is an integral part of our being. It supports the value we place on art. It attests mathematics’ major role to man in the creation process and it makes clear the power of an economic stimulus in a waning economy.

Enjoy a few photos.

Is this how Gaudi sees himself: a slave to his call?

Is this how Gaudi sees himself?

How Gaudi sees himself?

The church’s exterior.

The entry is a marble slab honoring the Jerusalem pilgrimage.

Prigrimmage to Jerusalem

Prigrimage to Jerusalem

Inside the church: A shot from the rear of the church, looking upwards, a staircase: sanctuary right.

A New Order

This photo ushers forth three significant themes from my memory. The streetcar ascending the hill (I choose to interpret it to be ascending), the embracing couple, the passengers departing the streetcar and those allowing them to depart before boarding: each is a chapter in a dream-come-true story.

Let’s focus on the streetcar. It represents the train of life that slowly advances humanity to a higher awakening. The departing passengers are the old guard. They are at the end of their life journey. The passengers waiting to board represent the new order that is to be tried.

This scene symbolizes my patience to board the life train and ride it into a long awaited new order.

Soon I will depart for my home state to attend the investiture of a high school classmate to be Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court.  This is a historic event.  It begins a new order.

My classmate is not the first female to lead this court but she will be  the court’s first African-American Chief Justice. How can I describe the significance of this uphill trek?

When we graduated high school, Louisiana was among the segregated states in the South.  Its legislation and culture prohibited African-Americans from attending LSU and Tulane, the premier educational centers of the state. Education in Louisiana was separate but  seldom equal. Although Louisiana segregation laws have long been set aside, this investiture makes her one of the sworn to guard exclusion based on racial designations in Louisiana.

The streetcar is advancing  up the hill.

I see myself as a passenger patiently waiting to board the streetcar to this historic investiture.

My great grandparents were Louisiana residents. They dreamed of this day. They died hoping for a new order, but they never saw it. They died in hope. With my weaken but proud eyes, on February 28, I board the life train to witness what they hoped for.

The embracing couple symbolizes a new responsible humanity. It is educated. It knows humanity’s past fears. Education is its only defense against the  pitfalls and lies that ruled previous generations. More importantly, the couple’s education is its only protection against threatening things yet unseen. But they embrace. Their greeting is warm and they whisper into  each other’s ear a vow to never let the sun set without throughly addressing a division between them. They know, all too well, an untreated wound in their relationship is the beginning of a slow death to society.

Their embrace shouts the arrival of the new order, a dream come true – at last!

A Dream Transformation Project

Five years ago my wife and I took the step to purge the  I wish we had …  and  I really wanted, but… feelings we had about certain aspects of our house.

There is no neighborhood better than ours. So ridding ourselves of these deficit feelings meant remodelling was our only option. We did. Now we gleam a sense of  This is the way it should be.

Remodelling is a daunting process. It requires:

  • Having complete knowledge of the desired end,
  • Selecting a good contractor and
  • Exercising patience to project completion.

During the remodelling process, normal living routines are disrupted; thus the fainthearted need not apply.

After much soul searching and discussions, we committed our dreams to paper. Each presented a dream transformation. We synthesized them into a mutually accepted dream plan; constrained by our modest pensions and the possibility that this was likely our last opportunity to live our dream. To make it all happen, we engaged a good contractor. This proved to be our most trying decision.

We interviewed four contractors. All were bore stellar recommendations from their professional association.

We chose the contractor who quieted our logic and emotional soul.  He was the one who never shot from the hip nor varied his story.

Our makeover commenced.

All bathrooms were updated, the house interior and exterior surfaces were painted, living room and dining room were given new wood floors, the common room got a new fireplace insert and each bedroom was given a new ceiling fan. Finally the rear landscapes were redesigned for senior care.

This post focuses only on the master bath remodel.

There we targeted three centers in the master bathroom remodel:

  • Replace the old shower with a larger shower stall,
  • Install a soaking tub to replace the  Roman tub and
  • Replace the five-foot-closet in the bath area with a second wash area.

The old shower, Roman tub and closet were demolished.

New plumbing, shower tile, floor tile, wainscot and a floor warming system were installed.

Removal of the five-foot-closet yielded space for the  second washing area and an antique vanity.

A claw foot slipper tub replaced the Roman tub.

The dream plan provided for more effective lighting and better window coverings. The remodeled bathroom is a well-lighted space that delivers an invigorating bath experience to each user.

At the completion of the project, unexpected avenues had opened to us. Having to reveal our desires for the new living space opened to us to a richer sharing. now we are even better friends.

Remembering Big Willie: Street Racer/PeaceKeeper

On May 19, 2012, Willie Andrew Robinson III, departed this life.

Family and friends gathered on June 2, 2012 at Faithful Central Bible Church, Inglewood, CA to celebrate his life. Many thanks and testimonies were shared about his guidance that advanced personal, local, state and national interests. More importantly the family to which he was the patron proudly attested his impact on their lives.

At death, Big Willie’s life spoke loudest of two devotions. Devotion to his wife, Tomika, and to the organization he founded: the National and International Brotherhood of Street Racers (INBSR). Through this organization, Big Willie attained fame as a visionary and a peacemaker. Throughout its existence, Big Willie had been its only president and patron.

I attended the service. These are my reactions to the events of the celebration.

Prologue

in 1960 Willie Andrew Robinson and I graduated from Walter Louis Cohen High School in New Orleans, Louisiana.

In high school he had two obvious passions: devotion to a long time girl friend and street racing a fully primed but never painted 1957 Olds. Which had the strong pull on him I could not determine.

After graduation, I did not see Big Willie until we attended the closing luncheon of our 50th high school class reunion in 2010.

In 2004 I had the opportunity to converse with Big Willie. I was visiting cousin, another Cohen graduate, when he called to keep in touch. We shared a few moments. He spoke with great enthusiasm about street racing and his organization.

In 2006 I receive a surprise phone call from Willie bless a speedy recovery from my tumor extraction. Then he mused about the possibility of bringing racing to Sacramento.

The closing program of Cohen High School 50th class reunion was the next crossing of our paths. Willie and I shared an eight person round. To me he looked frail and appeared to be spiritually depleted – unlike the Willie I remembered from high school or my telephone chats.

Our exchange was minimum.

I was scheduled to deliver a few thoughts to the class. Before speaking, my practice is to go into myself and orchestrate how I will deliver this presentation to this audience. After the program, he briefly talked. He described a breakdown in route to the reunion.

May 19, 2012

I arrived at the church two hours before the celebration began. Peoples of all races, genders and ages began to arrive as early as 11:00 am. Ages spanned from twenty years to sixty plus years. Many were clad in a colorful black leather vest or a well-worn jacket.

The rear of the vests showed a large picture of a car frantically trying to outrun a pursuing a police cruiser. The phrase, STREET RACERS INTERNATIONAL, encircled the picture.

On the rear of the jackets, the picture showed a police cruiser chasing a car that had been modified for racing. STREET RACERS INTERNATIONAL encircled this chase.

The jacket owners, the old breed, were the older members of the brotherhood. While those wearing vests had less than 35 years membership, the new breed.

Church Preparations

On the right side of the church’s dais stood a wreath bearing the message:

Rest Big Willie

You are with

Tomika

To the right of the wreath was a collection of awards, memorabilia, and event photos documenting important highlights of Willie Andrew Robinson racing leadership. Below is a small sample of the many awards:

Outstanding Citizen of the Year

American Body Building Coordination Committee

Awarded

to

Willie Robinson

for

leadership and service to the community.

Willie had taken 6th place in the American Body Building contest. He proclaimed himself the strongest street racer in world.

Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition

Big Willie Andrew III

Outstanding and Invaluable Service to the Community

August 19,1955

Signed Steve Horn

Member of Congress

38th District of California

Tomika also received the same proclamation.

City of Los Angeles

Los Angeles Human Relation Commission

Certificate of Appreciation for Special Services

Bill and Tomika Robinson

04/07/1994

Signed Ivan Houston

Los Angeles Police Department

Southeast Community Police District

Certificate of Appreciation

To

Willie Robinson

Support “We Do Care Picnic”

September 9, 1995

at

Imperial House

Signed Kenneth Small, Captain

City of Los Angeles

Certificate of Appreciation

Mr. and Mrs. Big Willie Robinson

The National and International Brotherhood of Street Racers

September 8,1995

Signed Rudy Svorinic

Council Member 15th District

I asked everyone whom I interviewed the following questions.

  • What was your life situation when you met Big Willie?
  • What is your present life situation?
  • Why was Willie important to you?
  • What are you doing now to carry on his ideals?

All respondents spoke of the positive effect Willie had on their lives.

Interviews

Donald Galaz

Galaz was the first I interviewed. He bore the title of Lieutenant in the International and National Brotherhood of Street Racers.

I asked him to explain the functions of Lieutenant. He gave me the Senior Hierarchy: President, executive Vice President, Captain, Lieutenant, Sergeant-At-Arms, Public Relations Officer, Racing Control. Then he said that non-senior positions exist and he explained that the organization functioned in paramilitary style.

Galaz: On Life before meeting Big Willie.

I had an serious problem. In 1993, I learned about the racing on Terminal Island. I went to observe and I listened to Big Willie speaking to the racers. He had a positive outlook. One, (an outlook) other than gangs and drugs. He spoke about reaching your full potential.

I interjected, “How was his message different from the message your parents?” He said,:
I never listened to my parents. Big Willie spoke my language. He spoke with heart, earnest … his words pierced my heart.

I asked, “How have you used what Willie has given to you?”

He answered:
I fell back into the same problem. I sort out Big Willie again. He advised me to man up. Now I’m active in the organization. I am all right now. I know where I am going. I make a living restoring classic cars of the 30′s to 60′s. I have a garage. I park some of my restored cars outside. The young guys come by and ask what going on? I talk to them like Big Willie talked to me.

Donal Galaz

At this point, Galaz insisted that I meet Angel. Angel is one of the first member of the organization.

Angel Nieves
Angel identified himself as a member since high school. He began:

it was 1968, the beginning of the organization. I had a passion for racing. The message Big Willie delivered attracted me. He preached elimination of race and he fostered racers are a brotherhood.

Angel interjected:

In those days, Big Willie wore a derby. The derby and his positive messages attracted me. He became my father figure.

“What now?” I asked.

He responded without hesitation:
We continue the fight for legal street racing in a supervised environment. The formula is not changed.

John Nardella
John is a member of 12 years. He is one whom Angel calls the new breed. John summarized my questions with the phrases:

I love racing, Big Willie had heart and that captured me. Big Willie thought it important to bring all people together. His messages stressed peace and happiness. Willie’s goals were my goals also.

Final Call Tyrone was standing alone. He is also one of the new breed. His vest designates that he is a Vice President.

I asked Tyrone the same questions. He eulogized:

Big Willie was a good happy soul, a happy heart, always had open arms, willing to lend a hand to solve a problem.

Final Call Tyrone

The phrase ‘Safe Racing Control’ caught my attention. It was on the vest of a young racer. I asked him to explain the phrase. He said:

I inform the neighborhood that a race was about to begin. Do not back out of your driveway. I watch for stray youth and I promote a safe racing environment.

Suddenly the church sound system blasted:

Fe-Fe-Fi-Fi-Fo-Fo-Fum.

I smell smoke in the auditorium.

Charlie Brown . . ..

The Prelude
Charlie Brown was the first song of a medley of old tunes. It was the beginning of the celebration program. The music enlivened the church. People began to circulate and the chatter became louder. The second song was, Why do fools fall in love?

Most of the tunes were popular during our high school days.

The Celebration Service

During a repeat of Why Do Fools Fall In Love, the sound system went silent and the procession entered the church.

Rev. Jordan Allen, the minister-charge,followed by the coffin bearing the body, the family and selected officials of the Brotherhood.

The procession: The coffin enters the church

Dr.Jean Davis, Big Willie’s youngest sibling, welcomed everyone to the family’s celebration of Big Willie’s life.

Following an emotional moment, she began to share her oldest brother value to her life; and sharing his spirit and his life’s mission.

The value to her life: She described a caring, protective and ever-encouraging brother. Always proud of her accomplishments as a physician and we was a good person.” He lifted me up in all my endeavors.”

Describing his spirit, she told of his gentleness, his large arm of protection around his extended family members, and his desire for peace and reduction in crime.

Of his love for his wife: She spoke of his loyalty and love for her as unquestionable. As if to offer proof she said, Willie changed his birthday to Tomika’s to celebrate their marriage was the beginning of “the two becoming one.”

Of Willie’s altruistic spirit, she gave his short-term goal to eliminate race in the racing environment and of his long-term goal he long to bring all peoples together in Los Angeles.

Of Tomika value to him she said in health, they were always together. And he directs all references to his success to her, the source of his strength. The young physician described her brother as a giant drawing strength from his wife.

When Tomika suffered the stroke, Davis described how Willie meticulously cared for her and struggled to give his strength for recovery. Successful in many things, he was unsuccessful in this attempt.

Dr.Dee , the multi-ranged lyrical vocalist Diane White-Clayton, followed a reading of John 14:1 – 6. Her selection, “You raised me up to be more that I can be…” explained the source Willie Robinson’s earthly success. Obedience to this spirit quieted him and enabled him – to preach brotherhood and to teach peace. The John 14:2 scripture grants him a claim to the promised room.

James T. Butts , Mayor of Inglewood, CA: Said of Willie Robinson:
Very few will be fortunate enough to do something that changes the life of someone. You are one.

Other family member spoke about things Willie told only to them. All emphasized the effect he had on their lives.

A Congressional Delegation from the Office of Janice Hahn, U.S. House of Representatives, California 36th District read the Congressional Recognition and Service to the Community honoring Willie Andrew Robinson III as a Peace Keeper.

Representative Hahn ‘s speech on the House floor labeled Willie Andrew Robinson III as an American Hero. The flag that had flown over the U.S. House of Representatives on the day of her speech and the Congressional Recognition were presented to the family.

Fabian Arroyo, a Sergeant of Sheriff Patrol overcome by resurging emotion from the death of his friend and father figure, told of Willie’s guidance in early days of the Brotherhood. He detailed how their relationship developed into more than friendship.

Steve Sokoroff, the newly appointed Harbor Commissioner told that he was warned to expect Big Willie at his meetings. Willie and supporters attended Sokoroff’s first Harbor Commission meeting.

Sokoroff described this meeting:

Big Willie told us his vision to allow street racers to use Terminal Island for racing. He touted themes of public safety and the need to provide a place for this marginalized group to meet and to pursue their passion. He asserted that permitting street racers to use Terminal Island would be a means through which brotherhood would be developed. I(the commissioner) left the meeting completely in support of his vision for Terminal Island.

Politics delayed the vision for two years. But it came.

During the racing days on Terminal Island, no property was destroyed or damaged. None of the predicted riots materialized. And racers of every ethnic background treated each other as brothers.

The commissioner held up his gold shield and said:
Willie, you were the commissioner. then he presented his shield to the family.

Dr.Dee closed the speaking segment with an emotional Amazing Grace. The color of her voice was sweet, my spirit bathe in it and it was enlivened. When she ended, I could hear other spirits responding,Yes Lord and Amen.

Rev. Allen eulogized Big Willie as the right person for Los Angeles at that time. His efforts help to dismantled the racial and physical barriers between Los Angeles’ peoples. Inglewood began to accept blacks. East Los Angeles was no longer the only haven for people of Mexican descent and the city prospered.

A U.S. Army Honor Guardled by Lt. O. Estrada, ceremonially played taps. The guard folded the American flag that draped the coffin and respectfully present the folded flag to the family. They saluted the deceased for his service to the country.

Taps for Big Willie

Epilogue
When I read the email announcing Willie’s death, an unexplainable need grew within me to attend his dismissal services. Except for the two chance phone calls and the short visit at the reunion, our lives barely intersected. I could not explain the need to drive 380 plus mile to attend Big Willie’s dismissal service.

Making the trip was a good decision. First my attendance reminded me of an important life principle. Second I learned the answer to a question I asked myself in high school.

The testimonies I heard reminded me that a good life is one devoted to helping others overcome barriers that denies full potential. Second, having seen Big Willie’s accomplishments and his response to Tomika’s death, I feel the most important thing in his life was life partner. Loosing her began a downward spiral into frail health and a depleted spirit – that not even the brotherhood could arrest.

Rest in Peace

Willie Andrew Robinson, III

American Hero and Peacemaker

In  this site see the video on the rise of street racing in Los Angeles.

Big Willie Speaking at the reunion

Angel and Galaz: Old and New Breed in agreement

In the church vestibule: A poster of Big Willie Exhorting Peace

Big Willie’s Vest and belt

 

RIP Big Willie

Rain in Sacramento

Today it rained: not a drizzle, but a nice wet rain. By the end of the day, an inch will have been reported. For New Orleans that’s the equivalent of an hour downpour. This is Sacramento. An inch downpour is a day’s activity for our clouds.

 I drove to the shopping center  in the rain. The slouching sounds from the tires on the wet streets and the swoop-swoop  sound made by the wipers blades are music to me. I love to driving in the rain.

Along the main drag to the shopping center, the 60-feet sycamores are budding; the flowering plums – in full bloom, stand on a circular carpet of white petals; and the weeping willows are awaking. The clouds completely cover the Sacramento, casting a white light from the blocked sun rays.

Redwoods line the main drag to the shopping center. Their shapes, forever pointing upwards, display the majesty of this statuesque species.  This is a relative young neighborhood, but the heights are well over 50 feet. They are approaching their maximum height  for the valley floor. Along the coastal strip where they thrive, it is not unusual to point out one in excess of  340 foot tall and over 900 years old.

Typical lays out for redwoods

Returning home, I exit the main drag. The camellias are in full bloom. At my corner the double blossom pink camellias and the single blossom red camellias in my neighbor’s garden enjoy the rain. A few yards away then I am at home. Along my driveway, the double blossom white camellia bushes are burdened but happy. To me, they hail, welcome home.

Along my driveway