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My Bad Habit

I have a bad habit of telling people that I decided to leave the State Department while I was flying over Africa. Somewhere between Nairobi and Ndjamena; Monrovia and Ouagadougou; Khartoum and Johannesburg…where doesn’t matter; it’s the story that resonates with strangers–by myself, faraway from others, distant and defeated.

But that isn’t true. I actually decided to leave the Department years before, after I met a black man named Eric Sheppard.

Eric is the founder and president of Diversity Restoration Solutions (DRS). DRS is a Virginia-based international trade development firm specializing in linking together U.S. and African Diaspora businesses, organizations, and individuals with their African business counterparts through trade, business, and cultural relationships. Through his network of partners, Region 7 Network Initiative, DRS is providing a solution to support the “new” Africa for business and cultural relationship-building opportunities. This solution is named Xodus 2019 Homecoming and is a movement that leads up to the 400th anniversary of the African transatlantic slave trade in 2019. This homecoming in 2019 will culminate with the opening of DRS’s first trade, business, and cultural center in Banjul, The Gambia.

Recently, I asked Eric, “Why is DRS launching its first ‘culture restoration’ success story in The Gambia?” He replied, “The time is now to ‘heal’ from the pain of this tragic holocaust through educational, cultural, and business exchange programs.”

When I asked why he felt the need to be involved in this project, Eric’s answer was short and simple. “My DNA took me to West Africa. I followed Alex Haley (he opened the door) to The Gambia because he traced his roots and inspired me to do likewise.” And it resonated.

Those within the DRS network are living and breathing reminders of our nation’s horrible slave past. And like Eric, many of them have DNA ties to The Gambia and other parts of West Africa. I had the honor of meeting many of them during a planning meeting last year outside of Washington, D.C. I learned a lot that day, not about slavery and Africa, but about the heart and soul of what this is all about: these people are not doing this to remind white America about this horrible period. They’re not doing this to point fingers and blame others. They’re doing this to restore cultural and business ties with their homeland.

There is something else that resonated when I first met Eric Sheppard. Eric walked away from his comfortable life in America, a good job with the Defense Department, and a steady paycheck.

So back to that day I met Eric…well, let me hit the “restart” button. I actually met Eric months before in Banjul; we were there to attend a trade development conference. I was sitting pretty…a comfortable job at the State Department, sending me to faraway lands whenever I felt bored and longed to travel. Eric was shifting his part-time small business focus to opportunities in West Africa. We talked that day, but that was about it.

Then, about a year later, we met in Washington and that is when Eric, with his strong and determined wife beside him, told me that he traveled to Africa only once and came back to America and decided to walk away. “Giving back to those who need the most,” is what he called it, and I could see the passion and unwavering commitment in their eyes.

I sat there that day and decided silently that I was going to do the same. I didn’t know when, or how, or who was going to be by my side. But I was also going to walk away one day…so I could also give back.

To make a long story short…Eric was much faster, braver, smarter, and more passionate than me; he went there once and figured it out; I traveled to Africa more than twenty times during my 1989-2011 tenure at the State Department; I waited until 2011 finally to walk away, begin living, and start growing passion.

It is a pleasure to recognize a brave pioneer, another likeminded believer in giving back and growing passion–Eric Sheppard.

So let me tell you now why Eric’s project is so important. I love West Africa and places like Dakar, Senegal, where nearly tiny innocent-looking islands dot the sea. During slavery, cities like Dakar were human transport centers. Just within eyesight of the city port is Goree Island, the sight of the infamous “Door of No Return.” If you’ve ever been there, it is this one small passageway through the thick rock wall that will always be etched in your brain. But beyond this tragic piece of history is the in-your-face tragedy called astute poverty. It consumes places such as Senegal, The Gambia, and every other inch of West Africa and the rest of the sub-continent.

So what does Eric and the DRS have to do with this? That’s an easy one so let me begin.

I’ve heard it all: There’s so much poverty; where do you even start? The problem is just too complex. I can’t make a difference, can I?

So this is what I say: I embrace private enterprise wholeheartedly, and I believe that the economic theory of capitalism is strong because it is the only thing that truly works. The trickle-down isn’t perfect and is never fast or heavy enough, for obvious reasons. Too few hands are reaching down to pull others up; too many people forget to send the elevator back down after they get to the top; too much greed and selfishness. But private enterprise, pulling others up, and giving back via business and trade beats handouts and government intervention hands down.

This is the reason DRS’s success in The Gambia and elsewhere in Africa–building new commercial linkages between our private sector and theirs–is so important. It might be a slow start, but it’s a start.

So let me close this one where I began–talking about my bad habit. The truth is: my bad habit wasn’t fudging my story. My bad habit was not seeing the possibilities staring me down, not feeling the passion growing inside of me, not listening to my own inspiration, and more than anything, not following the many others who had chosen to step up and walk away a long time before I came around.

Don’t let a bad habit slow you down. Step up and be a part of the solution as small as that might seem.+

It’s a small world, so write about it.

D.A. (Dennis) Winstead

Award-winning International Author

Inspirational Blogger and

Founder and Head of

Color Him Father Foundation

….

To learn more about Diversity Restoration Solution’s 2019 Homecoming Project and how you can partner with Eric A. Sheppard, go to www.diversityrestoration.com.

Also be sure to read Eric’s monthly restoration message in the New Journal and Guidenewspaper in Norfolk, Virginia, one of the nation’s oldest African-American owned and published newspapers. Eric Sheppard will pen exclusive monthly columns on the 2019 Homecoming Project, providing updates and progress reports leading up to 2019. Please take a moment and click on the monthly stories and share with your family and friends around the world.

January 2013 – Where is Our Promised Land?

February 2013 – African Heritage Month

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Passion Fruit & Politics – His Name is Jimmy

His Name is Jimmy

 With Santa heading to town in a matter of days, on December 20, I found myself with the spirit of Christmas roaring inside of me—yes, I said it and a merry Christmas to you too. So to lighten the air, I set aside all those useless political rants I’ve lined up and chose a kinder, gentler message for the New Year. I’m sure some folks will be overjoyed by my sudden shift from politics to the other part of my brain…the side I really love to write about—growing passion.

So, throwing the ugly, finger-pointing politics aside, and ready to write a story about growing passion, I wondered for days, “If it’s not politics, negative push, and shoves, corruption, and lies…what on earth would I, D.A. (Dennis) Winstead, write about?”

Now don’t get it twisted; I have plenty of passion to write about. I left the bowels of the State Department and the U.S. Government simply because its waste and indifference smothered every ounce of passion out of me. I walked away from Washington, D.C., with the clear understanding inside of me that I was going to get my passion back and keep it this time. As God is my witness, I will get it back…some way, some how, one day. Now think of something, Dennis. Start writing. Time is running out.

Even during the week I was back in Washington, D.C. to meet with folks about my foundation, I kept my eyes and mind open for something good. Color Him Father Foundation seeks ways to inspire and motivate working fathers to create a nurturing home environment for their children, and except for the snow day, my planning work in the nation’s capital was for the most part a success. But nothing in Washington inspired me, so I headed home for the weekend in North Carolina.

On that Friday, I spent a good part of my day in Raleigh visiting my alma mater North Carolina State University, and that night, I found myself at a group book reading at the one and only bookstore in Wake Forest. I took Dragon Bones: Two Angels Leave at Sunrise with me that night. I was there to talk about my writing and read a few pages. But I was anxious to get it over with and was restless as I waited for my turn.

Blah, blah, blah….how much crap can you say about a book before you run out of…crap? My own personal reflections have clearly placed me in the right box. I love to write books, but hate promoting them; I love to place my character out there for the world to see, but hate it when a world of readers don’t even open their eyes. I hate to explain my writing, dumb-down the stories, or apologize when someone doesn’t get it. I am an introvert, not an extrovert…clear and simple.

So that night I sat there the entire time thinking about my other passion, the only one that truly gives me pleasure when it forces me to stick my head out of hiding and become an extrovert. My fatherhood foundation does that for me, and after spending so much time in Africa and other impoverished nations, it comes as natural as enjoying coffee in the morning, tweeting and messaging, and brushing my teeth at night.

But not all of it is easy; a good message is not enough. You have to have messengers too. I realized on a daily basis the difficult search for those fathers and husbands who can talk about fatherhood with passion. In this equation, there’s also doubt that I may not find those people out there who can talk, set examples, and inspire others to focus on fatherhood. So that’s where I was…mentally…that night at the bookstore in Wake Forest…when I finally heard Jimmy speak.

Jimmy, a good-looking, soft-spoken thirty-seven-year-old Latino man, told us his name, Zehad Jimmy Boksh, and then proceeded to explain his names’ significance. His mother named him Zehad after his grandfather whom she loved and wanted to honor. Jimmy’s mother left his biological father when Jimmy was just a toddler but God brought him a new father, and name, soon after.  According to Jimmy, this man was kind and loving and became Jimmy’s father in heart. He loved Jimmy as his own and had always wanted a son named “Jimmy.”

That’s why Zehad’s name was changed to “Jimmy” at an early age and explains why he never knew his real name was Zehad until his middle school years, but at his early age, he chose not to embrace the name. When Jesus saved Jimmy, the name Zehad, which means “submission to the will of God” in different languages reappeared. Zehan’s scriptural significance resonated, especially when he found out that he was the only Zehad Boksh in the entire United States. Jimmy credits God for showing him this to prove to him how God set him apart since the day he was born. “His purpose and plan for me is good as it is for anyone one who will seek Him with all of their heart, mind, spirit, and strength.” Jimmy added that he credits his whole existence on God’s love and belief in him.

All this may sound over the top or convoluted for those who wear their family and given names on their sleeves and rarely inside their hearts, but it was clear from the start of Jimmy’s reading of his book My Name: A Poem of Confession and Restoration that this brave and spiritually rich young man wore “Jimmy” on his sleeve, but Zehad and Boksh were tattooed on his heart.

Jimmy began each of his poems with “My name is Jimmy…” and always ended that commencing line with a confession. His first was: “My name is Jimmy and I am not perfect. When I was a boy, still tender and innocent, I was told that I was ugly and I believed it.”

Jimmy proceeded to list all of his imperfections by confession: vanity, greed, lust, judging, resentment, worry and doubt, blaming others, selfishness, hypocrisy, and more than anything, being a bad husband and father. Let me share with you Jimmy’s “Bad Husband” confession that so utterly resonated with me and everyone else in that bookstore that night.

I have been unfaithful to my wife. I have mistreated her with a level of disrespect that no person deserves. I have not valued her as a teammate. I have contributed to destroying her dreams. She has experienced repetitive outbursts of anger from me. I have had a selfish, controlling influence upon her life instead of a free one. I have allowed my moods to make her feel like she has to walk on eggshells in my presence. I have treated her with little kindness and little patience. I have kept track of her mistakes and have held them against her. I have lived our marriage as if it revolved around my needs instead of her needs. My love for her was conditional. I have lived as a divider in our family instead of one who unites. I feel like Satan himself. My heart is evil.

I sat and cogitated that night…what a horrible husband and father Jimmy must have been before Christ came into his life. But time seemed to move fast that night because Jimmy made a swift move from confession to restoration, exhibiting how Grace truly works…fast and miraculous transitions.

My wife was in the hospital on bed rest while she was carrying our third child. She was in the hospital for three weeks. During her hospital stay, I was responsible for her duties as a wife and mother of our two children, as well as my own responsibilities as a father and husband. I was seriously challenged. God helped me every step of the way. He helped me home-school our son, and keep the house running, pay our bills, run daily errands, and all the other responsibilities that come with operating a home and caring for two children. He also helped me by providing other people alongside of me who devoted their own precious time to helping me. One morning in my heart, I was saying to God: ‘Lord, my wife is in the hospital. You know that I have to home-school our son, and take care of our daughter. You know that I have to keep this house running. You know that I can’t work right now. You know that we have bills to pay and money doesn’t grow on trees. Lord, I need something from you.’ That moment I was sitting on our couch in the living room and God gave me a vision of my wife and me standing in front of an audience. In the vision, we were pastors, and the Holy Spirit allowed me to see that the people in the audience thought my wife and I were perfect people. After the Holy Spirit revealed this to me in the vision, I began telling the audience why they need not look at us as being perfect people. I began to confess my personal sin in front of them. As I was confessing my sin in my vision, I immediately grabbed the laptop and started typing. This is how God started writing (my) book.

And this, my friends, brothers and sisters, is how fast confession ends and personal restoration begins.

Thank you, Zehad Jimmy Boksh, for sharing this with the world and me. You’re an inspiration not just to husbands and fathers, but to all people. But that’s not what this story is about. I am selfish and self-centered…a lot of times…and I found myself being selfish and self-centered after Jimmy ended his book reading. You see, it wasn’t about me selling ten copies of Dragon Bones that night. It wasn’t about me selling one. Book sales don’t matter to me; let me repeat myself, my journey from now on out is to find fatherhood passion–that builds and strengthens the family–and transplant and grow it in Africa.

So let me finish by telling you what this means to me. Remember how I talked about my pull to be that extrovert when I talk about Color Him Father Foundation, fatherhood, and the family. Remember how I talked about the difficult search for those fathers and husbands who can talk about fatherhood and the family with passion. And remember that doubt that I may not find those people out there who can talk, set examples, and inspire others to focus on fatherhood. And then I heard Jimmy speak that night at the bookstore in Wake Forest, and all that silly, useless cogitation became moot.

Thanks to Jimmy, I now know those husbands and fathers are out there and that clarity was just what I needed to close out 2013 and bring on the new year.

I wish you all a safe, happy and prosperous New Year.

God is good; life is good; live it well and with purpose.

D.A. (Dennis) Winstead

. . . . .

To order Jimmy’s book you can email him directly: jboksh@gmail.com

or download an electronic version at amazon.com.

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Passion Fruit and Politics….That Arab Spring Stench

Have you ever wondered what it smells like when chickens come home to roost? It’s not the kind of chickens that Chicago-based pastor Jeremiah Wright talked about when he bashed white America as our soon-to-become President sat and listened. And it’s not the chickens that our President envisioned when he claimed “times are…um…transforming.”These chickens smell like those who are freed and then find out they have no leadership that will to truly lead them out of bondage. America had our Founding Fathers to lead us; the Israelites had Moses; I can list them all, from generation to generation…if I had the time, but that list would end with the coming of the Arab Spring. The people there have organized thugs like the Muslim Brotherhood to lead them out of bondage; it has failed miserably everywhere they have been anointed and has left American diplomacy with its britches down once again.I remember the day I read President Obama’s Cairo Speech, the one that told the world he was not only going transform America but the world too. I was still working for the U.S. Department of State and it scared the daylights out of me. All I could do was wonder why so few others in Foggy Bottom weren’t shaking too…they are, by the way, the brightest of the bright, the best educated, and the elite we are suppose to look up to. I could see their wringing hands and concocting faces as our great new leader called us arrogant and apologized to anyone who would listen. And none of them asked why. What did we do to deserve such? And why is our commander-in-chief saying it to people who wouldn’t know democracy if it fell on their faces. But I didn’t have to ask. I knew the reason so few stopped to seek such answers, and even fewer cared about the dangerous direction we were taking.I know those fools aren’t bothered. Why should they, especially when cushy window offices, free parking, promotions and pensions are at stake? Why should they care when they publicly, and proudly worship…in mass…every word their master said? I mused all this and more as the concept of timing and accountability came to mind. You see…most of those involved in the Department’s reckless decision-making will be long gone–on to another State Department assignment to botch–by the time this next fallout is realized. That’s the value of being able to bid for assignments every three years; nothing is ever accomplished; it’s just temporarily managed. And, just like that tree that falls but never makes a sound if no one is there to hear it, those responsible for the fallout are never there to be held accountable? “The fools have already left the building,” speaks volumes when no one is left to speak out, explain what happened, and account for all the poor leadership and bad decisions.

In essence, there’s no need to cogitate about all this; one only has accept the truth: that a moral compass inside the bowels of the institution created to represent the United States of America overseas has been missing for a long time and so has character and integrity. But I do cogitate more as the truth hits me like a ton of bricks: sadly most documentation to prove that our moral compass, character, and integrity are missing is also missing, and that’s the point I’m about to make.

I was so hot and bothered that September day in the office. Actually, to call it an office is somewhat misleading; my current part-time office is in a basement, inside a big white mansion hidden away inside Atlanta’s Country Club of the South. My job requirements take up just enough time to cover my bills; the rest of my time is spent writing fiction, blogging, and managing my foundation. So that day, at the so-called office, I was wrestling with the shredder, and it was getting the best of me. My tailspin started within a few seconds.

“What’s wrong is this doggone shredder!” I yelled out as I wondered whether I’d lost that edge I’d acquired so long ago, working for the United States Government, so far away from home.

That edge? What edge is that? I can hear people asking. But, yes, I did have that edge, because the State Department forced it on me like everyone else working there…to learn to shred like the best of them.

“Yep, we all had to learn to shred, get good at it…fast as hell they’d say…as we loaded paper, paper, paper, and more paper into our designated shredders. And we were timed to the very second. At the time, I didn’t think too much into this; I suspected mostly all American embassies around the world had regular shredding drills. The ones I worked in sure did and I, D.A. (Dennis) Winstead, would never tell a lie about such a trivial matter.Yep…we’d be told to keep a section of our safe full of shredding drill documents, and once a month, the surprise shredding drill alarm would go off. That is when everyone would have to grab his or her saved shredding-drill documents and run to their shredder and then start…shredding…instantly. And we’d all hear about if it we didn’t meet our target times.

I never paid too much attention to anything when I was away working at some embassy. I had enough to worry about…people to dodge…so attention to shredding was nothing new. In fact, as is the case in most things I do, I found utility in the shredder too. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, where I was posted during 2000-2002, I was given the hash name “Paper Boy” because before every Saturday afternoon hash run, the harriers had to find shredded paper to set the running trial. As for where all this shredded paper originated, it was always either the American Embassy and the British High Commission that stepped up and delivered; our two compounds were always the ones that had shredded paper to spare and it seemed most of the time the Americans had more.

Kid you not. I’ve seen even more, and I have even witnessed a minute-by-minute real shredding…real meaning trained embassy shredders set in motion, not a drill, but the real McCoy. So here is that story.I’m thinking some of you will remember Bill Clinton’s “War on Serbia.” It was the one he tried to sell as a NATO-led operation, but it was his mistake and he eventually had to own it. Needless to say, it was one U.S. engagement we never should have entered…very similar to what almost happened in Syria…and it ended up being a huge embarrassment for America. I was working on the midnight shift, helping to staff the Serbian Task Force inside the State Department’s Operations Center when the doo-doo finally hit the fan. U.S.-led NATO planes had been bombing Belgrade like there was no tomorrow, for several months, and then it happened. On May 4, 1999, a bomb struck the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and killed three Chinese civilians. The next night, the China Task Force was placed in adjacent office space next to us, and it soon became clear how angrily the people in Beijing had taken the news. The American Embassy in Beijing was so bombarded with angry protesters that the leadership inside wasn’t sure whether the security perimeter would hold. And that’s when the shredding started…Beijing time.

I saw it all that night on my computer inside the State Department’s Operations Center because, like everyone else staffed in the 24/7 Operations Center, I was watching all the cable traffic and reading all the eyes-only emails coming in from all over the world. Mostly everything coming in was mundane and useless, and that’s pretty much how those late nights inside the Operations Center went. But that night, sometime between three and four o’clock in the morning, communications coming in from Beijing caught my attention.

“What’s that number?” I asked when I saw the first short one-line email pop up. It was marked Top Secret/Embassy Beijing and it read simply “98%.” About five minutes later, a second email read “96%.” And then a third, “93%, came in about seven minutes after that.

The response back to me was “The Embassy is shredding documents,” and then a curt “They’re shredding fast. “Good,” was said before the control officer in charge that night prepared to walk away from my terminal.

“Should I do anything?” I asked next.

“Not unless the emails stop coming in,” was her simply reply. That night, I had the pleasure of watching the American Embassy in Beijing go from having 100% of its highly sensitive documents shredded in a matter of two hours.

So what does all of this have to do with me, working in the basement, in that white mansion tucked away inside Atlanta’s Country Club of the South? Well, that day I was fighting with the shredder was six days before the first anniversary of the Bengazi attack. The news was focused on Syria…and you know all the chatter: Are we going to bomb? Will American boots be on the ground? How can we afford another Middle East conflict? And how in God’s name can we pick between one side that is allegedly gassing civilians and the other side allegedly beheading Christians. How could we possibly pick sides? They’re all evil.

My answer, like so many others voicing their opinions that day, was simple: we can’t; we shouldn’t; we mustn’t. But on September 5, 2013, that’s not what the State Department was saying and that’s not what the White House was saying either.

We know the truth even if the press doesn’t, so I will make two points and then end of this nonsense called blogging:

One, I can only imagine all the documents being circulated around Washington that were formulated to argue one side over another but later that day shredded after the Russians stepped up and saved the day;

Two, I can’t help but wonder what the U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens was doing inside that Bengazi bunker, during those final hours while being attacked by an army of terrorists. Shredding, I supposed, but that’s my opinion.

My grandmother used to say to me, during those times when I told her about all those smart people I was working with in Washington, DC—how they all come from such good schools; they are all so connected; and they speak so many foreign languages. I was naïve back then, drinking the Kool-Aid and believing everything they said. But she would always reply like she was the smartest person in the world…and she was. “It don’t matter how many languages those fools up north can speak. If they don’t have the God-given common sense to think on their own…it doesn’t matter.”

The point being…we all must use common sense, think on our own, and always be able to back up our debates with proof and documentation when called upon to do so. That’s called accountability, and when really tough situations like Syria come into play, God forbid that we don’t have the documentation to back it up.

We’ll never really know what ever really happens in the end, but we should know and we should demand to know. That’s called transparency and it never comes into play inside the State Department; remember Hillary Clinton answering nothing about what really happened in Bengazi? I do and I’m still not surprised she’s getting away with it. They all do; it’s in the smoke-and-mirrors playbook…for a game where truth doesn’t matter.

So where do you go from here? I have my own common sense and learned behavior to offer: Just manage your expectations wisely and always remember that those in charge are trained to shred everything they don’t want others to see. It’s just sad that some of our best have probably been killed while shredding documents and those in charge in Washington are still covering it up…by more shredding.

I hate to dwell on the negative, but I will just end it here by asking whether anyone has ever driven by a chicken processing plant. You know those places…rural Delaware, eastern North Carolina, Alabama, or Mississippi. Oh yeah…that smell is what I’m talking about…the stench of all those chickens roosting. The Arab Spring is starting to smell just like it. If only those inside our embassies could shred that stench, but they’re only allowed to shred the stuff they don’t want others to see. I’ve made that part of the story clear…right?

I just hope one day, during more free and open times, we’ll all know how things “really” transpired in all these countries…Egypt, Syria, Iran, Tunisia, and Bengazi, Libya. But we won’t and if you’ve really been paying attention, you already know why. No, I’m not ragging on the mainstream media this time or the lies coming out of Foggy Bottom. It’s those damn shredders I don’t trust, and unfortunately, they’ll never go away.

Just saying…†

It’s a big world…write about it.

D.A. WINSTEAD
Award-winning International Author, Conservative Blogger, and
Founder and President of Color Him Father Foundation

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Passion Fruit and Politics – Layers in Liberia

I have two friends who have absolutely nothing in common except for me. But their worlds met one day and because their worlds met, I learned something new, I grew, and I was blessed.

My…rich…friend told me that day, “You need to put yourself out there, get above the fray, let yourself know people better and let them know you.”

I didn’t take long to respond, my wall already up and tightly secured. “You’re crazy,” I replied. “Why would you say such a thing?” All this and more poured out of my brown-eyed Scorpio mouth. “I don’t dig into people’s lives, and I let only a few dig into mine.”

I couldn’t have been more honest. Most days, I would rather stay at home with my dog and write, mainly because I consider myself still in recovery; working in Washington, DC almost finished me, especially after I realized I gave Washington, DC twenty-three years of my life when it deserved about twenty-three seconds. I was in the bowels of its center of gravity; I saw the world on Uncle Sam’s tab, five times, maybe ten; and I saw it all…one human disaster at a time, poverty and hopelessness and then went home to my spoiled life. But I still felt…slighted, unappreciated, and victimized.

“You had it easy—in that government bubble you thrived in—and they handed you everything, including all that stuff you’re writing about,” I am often reminded. “You were warned, D.A. (Dennis) Winstead, so don’t blame them for all of the relentless waste and in-your-face cronyism that pushed you out. Now it’s time to pick yourself up, clean off the stench of politics, take the bull by the horns…and move on to the real world; you walked away, so you have to move on; so do it.” I can only wonder why everyone didn’t say these things to me and if only they did it…a little sooner.

Lord Have Mercy on my crazy soul…I was dying to get back at some of those shameless parasites in Washington, and I loved every second doing it. I was defeated and wanted nothing but to write about it…alone and battered. But the problem is: I spent more time digging at those parasites than figuring out how to write good, easy-to-read fiction. And the truth hit me way too late in the process…no one wants to read about grinding axes and personal baggage. It doesn’t read well, it doesn’t sell well, and it certainly doesn’t help you move on. When I finally took the time really to read my first novel, I wanted to send a refund, a sympathy card, or an apology to every buyer. Soon after, I made a strategic decision to give a freebie to each of them when my second book was released. The problem was most of them never came back to read more. I wasn’t surprised. I understood. I knew the reason.

I’m not even sure when I finally realized an even bigger truth: the best way to get back at cronies is to move on. This is because they can’t; parasites can never leave their hosts. Too many little minds too comfortable in their little, controlled worlds; too many little minds trying to make it right for everyone, and in doing so never running out of taxpayers’ money. What a pile of…. I cogitated a lot during my so-called recovery. But beyond these truths and that bitter pill called “reality,” I know I should be thankful for the opportunities handed down to me. They gave me the opportunity to see the world the way so few get to see it. They picked up my tab and paid a salary way too high and a benefits package way too generous. Taxpayers should be crying, not me.

That said, I guess it was time for some changes and it just so happened that a Muslim African emailed me out of the blue that same day. I first met Mohammed Sheriff Alusine in Johannesburg about six years before. We were on official U.S. Department of State business…I was the trainer and he was a trainee. But I noticed right away that Alusine had history; all Africans have history, but he was different–smart, and motivated, yet shy, reserved, and seemingly thankful of every little thing that came his way. I knew Alusine was from Liberia, a country where civil war literally tore the country apart many years ago. He in some way looked like he’d live through one, and that was what I recalled as I read his email.

“I really enjoy reading your books,” Alusine told me. I was of course shocked; very few people take the time to tell me such things. So I replied, saying, “Thanks. I appreciate your kind words” and then he said more in a pithy review.

“The brevity of your characters encouraged me the most. I know we all have to recognize our own inner strength to face real life situations. Their intriguingly determined minds and unpretentious nature reveals to me that one has to maintain a practical outlook to life…there is no ideal world…we only have the real one!”

Needless to say, this hit me like a ton of bricks. Some of my fans say that I have a knack for weaving a tale of mystery and suspense. I always offer a fascinating and illuminating perspective of culture, traditions, and history of various lands, usually Christian lands stricken with deep sadness. I apparently write with empathy for my characters and offer catharsis to my readers through the difficult journeys of healing that they endure. And I create understanding of the human condition across many times and cultures. But they never say anything about that other side of me–being out there, that real person that isn’t carrying around baggage. It seemed that was exactly what most saw when they read my writing…baggage. But this…relatively poor…black man from Africa…gets it. He understands me! He understands my writing! Why? How can anyone understand my writing?

So with this reference point, I took my…rich…friend’s advice to task. I asked Mohammed Sheriff Alusine about his history. He told me he left Liberia three years before the civil war, to study in Khartoum and Kuala Lumpur. He was not in Liberia when his family fled into neighboring Guinea. He didn’t have to tell me more; I knew how refugees in Africa live. But he did tell me about his mother–who not only had twenty-three children but was also a successful businesswoman–found herself alone and ninety miles away from the refugee camps when fighting spilled over into Guinea.

According to Alusine, his mother escaped violence by hiding in the bush and later wandering in the rainforests. During this trying time, she survived on wild fruits, roots, leaves, and unsanitary water, dodging not only the senseless fighting but also wild animals. She stayed hidden for several weeks until she showed up in a village in neighboring Ivory Coast. There she was met by relatives and taken back to Guinea to join her family. They thought she was dead, so I could only imagine the…African-style…jubilation.

Alusine ended his story by sharing the expected: “My mother depended on prayers, faith in Allah, and hope for survival…for faith and hope were the last things she had left. I will never forget seeing her when I returned home in 1998, after eleven years abroad. Without doubt, she had been highly traumatized, but her faith had quadrupled. She had changed a great lot…in ways that I could never explain.” He finished by saying that his mother remained a changed person until March 2008 when she collapsed into a coma. While sitting by her side, he watched her peacefully slip away only to be told by a family elder that she was departing on her journey back to her Creator, Almighty Allah, to receive her rewards. After three months in a coma, his mother, a deeply faithful Muslim mother, departed this earth. She left behind a strong, brave family.

Two days later after my correspondence with Alusine, I told that…rich…friend how I reached step one:  I asked a person I considered a dear friend, something personal, expecting the worst, and waiting to hear all of it. You see, I hate sad stories; I always have and always will. I love and have come to expect happy endings even when I knew–deep inside–they wouldn’t come. I told her I liked the way it felt…finally. And she told me that I should write more foreign tales of mystery, difficult journeys and healing. Write more about happy people…faraway people who are thankful and have that deep faith so many of us lack. And this time make it real…no baggage. I agreed wholeheartedly.

I can thank my two friends…one rich, one relatively poor…for my renewed faith in my writing. One told me to get back out there, get to know people and real life, and write about it. One told me a simple fact of life: there is no ideal world; we only have the real one to live in.

So with all this said and done, the time to stop bashing make believe United States Government cronies in fictional stories has come…and my cogitation hits the restart button. Stop writing about all that baggage and get over it. Get the move on D.A. (Dennis) Winstead, and start by ending that push and shove muck you’re trying to write. It’s not that hard to move on. It’s not rocket science; it’s plain old common sense. It won’t hurtso bring your writing back to your roots, your homeland, and over to the positive sidehere in America. Ah…back to America.  I can do that. I can write about Americans, being American, living the American dream. I can do it.

And then my never-ending cogitation takes another 180, as my relatively poor…friend of mine came back to mind. He’s the one with very little, but thankful for everything he has and I’m instantly drawn back in. Yes, I have some free time on my hands and plenty of good old African lore stories. Maybe this time I’ll write a true story, set in a resilient and proud faraway land. Maybe I’ll write about Liberia; it is the land where slaves who wanted to return to Africa ended up after our civil war; they use the American dollar, speak English, and it’s full of beautiful and strong people. They just had their own civil war…odd when you think about it. And odd it may be, but odd coincidences always make for good writing. Maybe I will write about Haja Madusa Dulululuy, a beautiful and strong Liberian woman, mother, grandmother, and faithful sister in so many glorious ways.

So much to write, so little time, and….

No! Not Again! Stay away from my cogitation. No! Stay away!

Oh my goodness…good Lord. I’m confused again.

It’s a small world…so write about it.

D.A. (Dennis) WINSTEAD

http://www.DAWinsteadBooks.com

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Passion Fruit and Politics – Egypt in Waiting

I’m always one country behind the truth…just like a lot of folks in Washington, DC.  And I muse a lot too, for way too long sometimes. But I don’t mind; I earned this “too-late” posturing honestly, after twenty-three long years at the U.S. State Department. So, I found myself writing this essay one late afternoon, August 14, 2013. That morning it seemed that Egypt had officially fallen into all out civil war—young rebellious believers in democracy versus the Islamic Brotherhood that seemed to take over Egypt with the blessing of Leader and Commander President Obama. I was nearly finished by the time I got a call from the Washington area. Needless to say, I wasn’t anxious to answer; it was a 202 area code and I hear from the National Republican Committee about twice a week now. And because I am so eager for our nation to straighten up and fly right, I usually give—point being, give once-give every time…give forever.

I give what I can when they call me, but that isn’t much. I don’t have a penny to spare, having left my cushy job at the State Department to write, and we all know that striving writers are probably poorer than striving actors, dancers…teachers. But that day, the call was from someone I worked with at State during the good years before 2008. She had something to tell me and since I…was only writing fiction at the time…I listened, heart pounding, blood flowing, eyes closed and expecting the worst. You see, mostly everything coming out of that building in lower Foggy Bottom is scary and unbelievable, even in the eyes of those inside.

So this former colleague of mine told me that one of our former bosses at the State Department had just been promoted to senior Foreign Service and this is where my writing turned a 180.

First of all, let me put a few things in perspective: once you reach the senior Foreign Service point at the State Department, you’re almost ensured a slot as an American Ambassador one day. “So what?” some I know will surely ask. “She deserved it. And our country deserves her. We’ll be in good hands…right?”

Wouldn’t it be nice if things were so simple? Unfortunately, in Washington, most things aren’t. Things are never simple…and fair, I muse as I listen to our President telling the world that his Administration will take no blame for what is happening in Egypt, all of it playing out on television in our safe and distant worlds. Obama and his team of spinners seem to be on television everyday–blaming everyone else but him and his Administration, for everything that goes wrong. And it seems most days, that everything that is going wrong…covers everything. And as I listen to him, while I’m reminded of the old days working under this newly promoted senior official, I can only cogitate and write. Why? Why? Why? What the hell is going on in Washington!

So today, as I cogitate and write, trying hard to figure out where America went wrong and wondering whether America will ever get back on track, my doubts overcome my spirit fairly easily.

And after a few more minutes, the news moves from Egypt to Palestine where the newly appointed Secretary of State is trying to revive peace talks. Egypt is burning; we still don’t know what happened in Benghazi; and Putin snubs our leadership every chance he gets–all this and Kerry is trying to settle the score in Jerusalem.

Kind of like painting the front house shutters when the back side of your house is falling in, I think practically every day when I see what Kerry is up to. Smoke and mirrors…State Department…smoke and mirrors…State Department…smoke and mirrors, two peas in a pod while the U.S.’s perception overseas is falling from the sky. It didn’t take much longer to find the need to put a few more things in an even deeper perspective…away from the President, his mindless blame-dodgers in the White House, and the rest of his cronies in Washington, D.C. Instead, I decided this time to muse on his extended network of blame-dodgers and cronies. Public Sector employees are supposed to be unbiased, but we all know they’re not…the IRS bell ringing in my head.

And the unbiased truth be told, everyone with a human brain knows that most career workers in Washington would rather fall on a sword than abandon the progressive leadership, and that also goes for the United States Department of State. I worked for those fools for twenty-three years, so I know how they roll, especially those blame-dodger cronies inside. Of all these parasites in Washington, those in the State Department are most predictable and much of what I wrote about in my first novel The Seventh Priest: Offering Day reinforces this truth: The U.S. Department of State is led by smart, unbiased, civil servants who want to succeed; they are led by blame-dodging cronies who want to stay in their cushy jobs.

My first book, The Seventh Priest, was set in Sudan during the end of the long-awaited peace agreement that ended the country’s fifty-year civil war. When horrible terrorist attacks started in the heart of Khartoum, north and the Christian south, those in the know in Washington seemed to know exactly who to blame, even before real intelligence was collected, analyzed and interpreted…mainly because we’d already chosen the other side to end up winning…the Egypt and Syria bells ringing in my head.

But to make a long fiction short, my point throughout the story was simple and much more focused on what seems to happen in most American embassies around the world. The elephant in that room, in the heart of Khartoum, wasn’t an Islamic terrorist cell in the north, or rogue Christian rebels from the south. And it wasn’t the ancient Nubian curse that I ended up blaming it on. The elephant in the room was the blame-dodger crony American Ambassador who thought she knew everything and didn’t need to listen to anyone else. And this elephant in the room would say and do anything to make her and her country look good to her crony allies back in Washington just so she, an American ambassador, could keep her cushy job back in Washington and rise to the top of cesspool.

In The Seventh Priest, Tony Rodder (the good civil servant) figures out why Lucy Kibbles (the know-it-all elephant in the room) is unable to admit that she is wrong. “The reason is she and others like her believe that everyone else–the less educated, and non-elite–lack the ability to perform at their ivory tower levels. For most people, admitting when you are wrong is a fundamental part of our maturity, our character. But for those wishing to rise to the top of that cesspool, admitting even the simplest of mistakes can be a fatal flaw. ‘Don’t ever forget, future American ambassadors are never wrong.’”

I continued my diatribe by connecting the intelligence dots. “U.S. Ambassadors are the ones with primary responsibility to interpret and analyze country-specific information and report accurate, unbiased assessments back to Washington. So, if most of them are too hardheaded to admit when they are wrong–or entertain opposing arguments–then chances are a lot of what they report back to Washington policymakers is inaccurate.”

So how entrenched are they…these blame-dodging cronies who get paid a lot of money for reporting inaccurate information to Washington decision-makers? Let me list a few diplomatic rules of play:

1–a growing number of American ambassadors would rather be wrong than risk being right; Washington mentality never rewards risk-taking; therefore, all the risk-takers have left that sad city.

2–an ambassador’s own survivability is maintained by a highly protected and veiled buddy system that relies on one blame-dodging, risk-adverse crony pushing another up; the one assurance of all of this is simple: anyone who goes up against this buddy system will be destroyed.

3–an ambassador’s advancement to the top is an entitlement; success is tied to towing the line, not…success. Don’t worry about performance, don’t work too hard and don’t take risk…just do as I say and you can rise to that top just like the others did.

4–an ambassador will always look good to those back in Washington even if the country he or she is responsible for is falling apart.

5–at best, half of all analytic reporting back to Washington is unbiased and accurate.

So back to Egypt and our American ambassador posted there…I pulled the following from the Internet:

Anne Patterson joined the Foreign Service in 1973 and was promoted to Career Ambassador, the highest rank in the career Foreign Service, in 2008. She has been Ambassador to Pakistan (2007-2010), Ambassador to Colombia (2000-2003) and Ambassador to El Salvador (1997-2000). She has also served as Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, as Assistant Secretary of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, and as Deputy Inspector General of the Department of State. Mrs. Patterson has held a variety of economic and political assignments in her career, including economic counselor in Saudi Arabia (1984-1988) and deputy assistant secretary for Latin America. Mrs. Patterson has been awarded the Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award twice, in 2010 and 2008, and the Ryan Crocker award for expeditionary diplomacy in 2010. A native of Arkansas, Mrs. Patterson is married to retired Foreign Service officer David Patterson. She graduated from Wellesley College.

Need I ask, did any red flags pop up? Am I the only one who sees another entrenched blame-dodging, risk-adverse crony elitist? Am I the only one dying to ask: how the hell can the Ambassador to Pakistan get rewarded for her service there? Wasn’t this around the same time our diplomatic relations with Pakistan imploded? The place is a gigantic quagmire…a national security disaster that showed zero progress during her tenure there! Am I the only one who sees the same connection to Egypt? And am I the only one who sees another award coming down the pike for another elitist blame-dodging, risk-adverse crony who’s managed to ruined another nation and destroy another American ally? United States Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson practically slept with the Muslim Brotherhood, presumably under orders from her bosses back in Washington. And in the end, as almost all our foreign policies end up, it was a resounding failure.

One day Madam Ambassador Anne Patterson will have to come out of that rock she’s hiding under, but I’m still left to wonder how long it will be before she is put back out there and how many just like her are waiting in line. Excuse me for musing more…remember people, it’s the State Department…smoke and mirrors, two peas in a pod while the U.S.’s perception overseas is falling from the sky and those responsible for our failures are filling their trophy awards back in Washington.

So with all this in mind, I eventually make it back to this person who was just promoted to senior Foreign Service. I wouldn’t pick on her except for the fact that she knitted at her desk almost every day I worked under her…all day sometimes.

“That can’t be true; she couldn’t have knitted all that time?” I can hear all y’all asking. And I’m confident enough to reply. “No. I’m not saying she knitted every second she was at her desk…claiming to work, getting paid to do nothing. Sometimes she took a break, to dole out orders to her underlings or to “Yes, sir; Yes, ma’am” to folks higher up on the pecking order. But most times, yes, she knitted.

Now, don’t get me wrong; don’t get this bit of information twisted. I have nothing against knitters. I have neighbors who knit, in groups sometimes, and I like them all. I just don’t like people who waste taxpayers’ money and then get rewarded for it, especially in offices I view as vital to our…economy.

Economy? Did you just say economy?” In my mind I can see the questions popping in peoples’ heads. “What the hell does the State Department have to do with the economy? Don’t you mean foreign affairs, counter-terrorism, national security?”

“No,” I would have to answer with despair in my voice. “You see, the State Department did support U.S. companies back in the day, eagerly promoting U.S. technology, innovation, and manufactured goods and services to overseas buyers. Back in that day, before 2008, American exports translated into American jobs. Back in that day, success in business was not linked to racist thievery like it is now. Back in that day, successful businesses meant one thing: more jobs. Back in that day, jobs were something we worked for, not something we talked about in speeches. Yes, back in that day, thousands of U.S. companies received commercial advocacy through the State Department, and…back in that day…it wasn’t shunned or passed directly toward political contributors.

Looking back now, I can’t blame the resource people for the demise of commercial advocacy at the State Department. They must have heard it too–the head of that office is knitting all day. That office can’t be busy; it can’t be doing any work with that kind of waste in charge. It doesn’t deserve our limited resources. It needs to go.

And I’m disappointed to say, it wasn’t the Obama Administration that did us in. You see, crony progressive thinkers don’t come and go with the Presidency; they stay in Washington regardless, hidden away during good years, but still doing their dirty work. I can honestly say: the bowels of the State Department hate capitalism and free enterprise regardless of who’s in charge. I saw it at its best during 2000-2008. Trade-not-Aid sounded nice and worked well with outsiders, but getting State insiders to support business was like pulling teeth. Obama’s arrival to Washington only solidified the end and the end came quickly. So don’t let our conservative leaders tell us that the left can’t cut programs. The State Department’s business advocacy function has for the most part disappeared, and the crony bureaucrat responsible for some of its demise, the knitter that did zilch to promote American enterprise and technology overseas, has now risen to the top in the State Department.

Wow, ouch, so sad, so clueless and idiotic, and yet it still saddens me to add…so predictable. After all our inability to learn from our mistakes, I’m still watching Cairo and much of the world go down the toilet, Palestine laughing, and Putin giving us the middle finger while blame-dodging, risk-adverse, wasteful cronies are rising to the top in Washington.

Oh yes, the world is changing fast; we’re no longer in charge, and even if we were, our moral compass is lost. All this and more while those responsible for this drop are filling their war chest with useless awards and selling their souls to become ambassadors.

Just saying…

It’s a small world…write about it.

D.A. WINSTEAD

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